The Demons Will Have Their Say

Today as I plotted out a design, I found myself thinking about my fellow creatives. It often happens when I’m intently focused on something. There’s a gate that opens and in walk the demons to have their say. It’s not anything like letting my guard down. It’s more like leaving the door ajar knowing they’re out there.

Today the demons told me those I allowed to get the closest to me, those who managed the difficult, mined trek to my heart all shared one thing with me and with each other. We have more than a passing acquaintance with demons. It’s a more artistic way of saying we’re more than a little bit crazy.

But as one of my more possessed fellow creatives told me, we’re friends because our demons play well together. At first I thought he meant us, the me and him, together, outside himself. But then I understood he meant our individual demons, the ones inside us. We come with our own population.

We can’t tame them, he told me, because then we couldn’t create. The demons also must remain semi-feral or they become a detriment instead of a benefit. He was absolutely right. The moments when you’re deep into your art is very much a fugue state. It’s just you and the demons having their say.

There were times in my life when I was so focused on writing or drawing that I didn’t hear anything around me. People, music, phones, the everyday activity of life. None of it was there anymore. But what was inside me wanting to come out was startling and demanding in its clarity. It shouted above everything else. It took over.

I suspect such states are why creatives are often labeled bipolar, schizophrenic, or any other convenient excuses to explain why society forces creative people to split in two in order to live and to create.

I’m not saying these labels were inaccurate for some. I knew at least two, maybe three creatives whose need to create was driven by really dark forces inside themselves. It was either let them out on the canvas or get devoured by them a piece at a time until there was nothing left to sustain that resembled a whole person.

The thing about art is that it’s about as close to truth you can get. What you see on that canvas, on that wall, in that music, in those words, that’s a truth most people never experience. They don’t know what it’s like to come out of that fugue state and see yourself nakedly exposed. It’s bound to make anyone a little bit crazy.

"The demons backed down at the honesty that came from him, because it meant they could no longer torment him with the truth." from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor's Books and Art Ursine Logic

The Joy Of Solitude

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone
…” from Alone by Edgar Allan Poe

Today I received a text asking me how I was enjoying my time off now that my book was finished. I never know how to explain it’s not a job. It’s who I am. It’s like asking me how I was enjoying not being part of myself. But It’s one of those things that unless you live in the same kind of skin, you’ll never understand. I just tell them I’m having fun.

In between writing other stuff, I’ve been filling my digital sketchbook with future paintings. It’s my latest obsession. I want to turn the digital and other resource heavy art into more organic elements. But a return to a purer form loses its intent if I replace one with another that takes the same amount of resources, only from another source. So I will be exploring “painting” with existing resources, maybe fabric scraps pressed flat, dirt, ground up leaves. It’s just one of many projects on my want to do list.

But no matter what art I do, I always have to write. For me it is more than putting words on paper. It’s how I process myself and the world around me. I write it. I always have. During the hardest times in my life I wrote it away for a few hours. I could create any world, any reality, any person I wanted. It’s what allowed me to live in the other world, the one outside my imagination, the one I didn’t understand and that didn’t understand me. I knew I could write a better one. I could make it kinder, more tolerant, less judgmental, more loving, and best of all I could write myself completely understood. I wouldn’t feel like the weird kid on the block. I wouldn’t stand out. I was comfortably me. The other world simply could not compete.

My comfort with solitude allowed to live only part time in the other world. My ability to write away my pain, my despair, my bouts of depression allowed me to survive. My art exposed too much of me, but my words kept their secrets. That’s why I must write. It’s not a choice. It’s who I am. It’s who I have always been. So in between the art, I write.

When I was writing all three books, I made word sketches of each character in my novels. It allowed me to get to know them, to make them consistent from one book to another, and it still allowed them to change without losing their basic character.

This last week I expanded those sketches to share with those reading my books. I’ve lived with them for a long time now, longer than some of my relationships or friendships. They were at times more real than anyone in the flesh world. So I’m introducing you to them as my friends, the people I’ve held dearest to my heart for several years. They can be found in this blog in several posts, along with my daily art.

These different projects allow me to do art and words every day. When I do this, when I make the time for just me to make that happen, I grow more centered, more content, more in tune with myself. It’s hell on my social life, but that’s nothing different. I’ve always been my own social life. It cuts way down on the bullshit.

My new novel When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Art and Books Ursine Logic

The Healing Power of Music and Love

Aquia was the character that fit my personal archetypes the most. He was the dedicated professional musician I’ve been around most of my life. I grew up with the endless practice, the constant rehearsals, the recitals, the performances. My adult friends followed the same path through music and the arts. They prepared, they practiced, they created, they performed, and then they started all over again.

It was often a lonely existence, and I used Aquia to show the diverse sides of that kind of solitude. Like all professional musicians, Aquia needed time alone to create, to practice, to perfect his craft. He only emerged from this solitary state to play with others who experienced the same solitude in the same way. When all the different instruments played together, it was the music that spoke a language they all understood. It connected them to each other as powerfully as the most passionate of lovers. But to get there, to arrive at that moment required many hours of loneliness, with little time left over for relationships with anyone else.

Our isolation doesn’t appeal to those who seek a more diverse settlement than one of mostly musicians. We often seem deliberately cloistered to others, but we need to be in order to perfect our craft. Not many understand it takes hours of practice a day, continual practice. We are not the best of companions.

from When The Last River Dies

As a special protege of the Mystics, Aquia was often separated from the other children. He was also set apart from the others by his intelligence and his ability to speak about ideas beyond the understanding of his classmates. The only place Aquia experienced a sense of community was with the other RiverHome musicians. He was most at home among them. He felt they understood him. They were his family and he was theirs. But unlike many of his fellow musicians, something else drove Aquia.

Aquia wanted to understand the inner world of himself. His training with the Mystics, and the hours he spent alone showed him pieces like separate parts of a composition, that he wanted to bring together. Music taught him to see the patterns, and he approached his desire to learn the truth of his parentage the same way. But his path was shaped by his heart; it defined his place in the pattern.

Aquia believed love was the solution to all the world’s ills. It resonated because it fit into the pattern shaped the same way a piece of music resonated with his senses. Music was not an intellectual process for him. It was an emotional one that developed his ability to give and receive unconditional love. This ability was as much a part of him as his musical talent.

Reynard struggled to describe the strange hope he felt in Aquia’s presence. The perfect world he described were the ramblings of a madman. Love was not a legitimate basis for laws. It was an emotional pit that chewed up humanity and then dared it to come back for more. It was the weak point, the threadbare piece of fabric civilization clung to in desperation, knowing it would eventually tear itself to shreds. And yet, Aquia gave it all such a patina of truth, that Reynard felt wrong for doubting him.”

from When The Last River Dies

Aquia’s friendship with Yewen helped him give shape to his sense of connection to a larger whole when he played music, because Yewen understood how everything was connected to itself. The notes that echoed through the canyon were carried on the breath of those who came before. The more Aquia understood his connection to everything in nature, the clearer his own path became.

Aquia smiled softly. “Perhaps you are right. But it is more than what I see. For me, music is also physical. I not only hear it, I also feel it. When I play, I feel the vibration against my skin, inside my veins, and in the rhythm of my heart. There is no inner or outer world in such moments. It is one feeling, one emotion, one continual sound that uses me to vibrate with the universe.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies


Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic

Companion Visions

Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with readers were about the Spinywort. I often get asked if I was describing Peyote. It’s a difficult question because the visions it created in the characters and its effects were drawn from many sources, some experiential, others from descriptions both personal and academic. I would say I described the effects of a multilayered wort that drew from the door blown open by Peyote, the skies opened up through LSD, and the spirit healed with Psilocybin.

I grew up in the desert. I came of age during the Carlos Castaneda and the Peyote Cult years. It was also the time of Alan Watts and Timothy Leary. One of the convenient categories to compartmentalize the emerging interest in knowing thyself was the Human Potential Movement. I drew heavily from that time.

Another influence I used to build my characters and describe their visions came from Carl Jung, especially his book Psychology and Alchemy. I drew on his perceptions of spirituality, the human psyche and religion, but especially mysticism. I wanted to include many versions of the same truths.

They believe their purpose is to pry open the cracks of awareness. They don’t proselytize or seek to convert. They merely offer access to the SpinyWort flower and provide help through the process of ingesting it. But they believe you own your vision, and so they resist any explanation or reading of symbols. They feed you, shelter you, and send you home when it’s time.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Another influence that led to the writing of this book came from a fascinating conversation I had with probably one of the purest scientists I’ve ever met. He always claimed, in spite of his scientific purity, that he was a spiritual person. When I asked him how he reconciled those two sides he responded there was nothing to reconcile because it was all memory. Spirituality was knowledge that lived inside him and all he needed to do was to go within when needed.

Their ancestors, the ancient Magusans, saw visions that convinced them a vast inner world existed inside us, and we carried around many lifetimes of knowledge we didn’t know we possessed. They suspected, based on their studies, that the secret of human consciousness lies buried somewhere in all that knowledge.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

In the end it doesn’t matter how you get there; hallucinogenic drugs, plants, mushrooms, meditation, chocolate, what matters is that before you can love another, before you can love the planet and its people, you must first learn to love yourself. That means you have to do what has been said many ways over the centuries, you must learn to Know Thyself.

There are two sides to the upright beast. One walks with his skin inside. The other walks with his skin outside. But the flower of truth marks the path, and the flower of the SpinyWort shapes the truth.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Books and Art by Kate Taylor Ursine Logic

The Natural World Of Self

I always considered myself part of nature. Not as religion or dogma, but as an inseparable part of my larger self.That’s why I used the entity called Nature to show how the characters and events were connected to each other. I made it the basis of the Monastery of the Trees’ teachings, where the monks were taught nature was a living entity no different than anyone or anything else.

The monastery’s move away from an omnipotent god didn’t leave an empty space behind. It filled itself with a truth they lived by each day; the belief that humanity and nature were not separate entities.”

from When The Last Tree Dies

The Monastery of the Trees was not so much a spiritual presence in the books as it was a conscience that tried to repair the damage caused by people to the planet. But they understood the natural world existed with or without humanity. They knew it was foolish to try and separate themselves from nature or to think humanity could abuse it and not inflict damage on themselves in the process.

In all three books, nature featured as prominently as the characters. I portrayed them all as one entity that grew stronger together. That’s why the artists who painted nature in human form were able to convey such emotion. They painted the agony of nature’s destruction because they felt it inside themselves.Their works of art warned if humanity didn’t repair the connection with nature and each other, then neither humanity nor the planet would survive.

I also wanted to convey the tenuous existence in the dystopian landscape created by endless droughts, raging firestorms, and decades of rampant greed. Nature does not need humanity. Humanity needs nature. My characters understood this, and they survived by their ability to adapt to change, because nature constantly changed and adapted.

Nature is not sterile. It is ever changing. It is fertile and resilient. It changes with the seasons. It adapts with new information, new experiences.

from When The Last River Dies

I also wanted to show how hopelessness, poverty, and desperation did more than destroy the earth. It left the discards of society open to manipulation by the Preacher Billy’s of the world.

I wanted people to understand our behavior, our actions, our way of life affected not only us, but our neighbors, our villages, other villages, and the planet. We are not separate, only separated. Until we understand our connection, until we come together and make it whole again, nothing will ever change.

The valley changed. The river changed. And the people changed. But not right away. And not enough. We still have human caused disasters. We still lose far too many lives in futile wars. But some of us are starting to understand we are not nature’s masters, but her caretakers. That is why in the villages around us, in the foothills of Anahita, and deep in the farthest canyons, you will see many who live with one foot in the future, because they know the cost of not doing so is too great.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine logic

The River Daughter

For many years those who saw Arman Peace’s dramatic depictions of nature as a sensuous woman, wondered about the model in his paintings. When Aquia came through the tunnels, they learned she was his aunt, Coventina, the spiritual leader of Anahita, and the lover of Arman Peace.

The villages of River Valley are ruled by rotating volunteer councils, but Anahita is the only one headed by a spiritual leader. Her name is Coventina. She is descended from the first River Daughter, and she is revered for her wisdom. Few remember a time without her, but she has only ruled since the death of her husband several decades ago.” A soft smile touched Aquia’s lips, as though a secret hid behind them in wait. “The whispers say her touch can heal the most wounded soul. And they also say that same touch can burn through the skin and destroy the unwary fool.

from When The Last River Dies

Coventina visits one of Arman Peace’s paintings of her. It was painted to commemorate the day they conceived Dante. But she continues to seed the trail of half-truths about her love for Arman Peace, one which is the yearly festival devoted to the celebration of love. The residents of River Valley believe it kept alive the memory of the man she loved with all the passion and heartbreak of good myth. Coventina has her reasons for allowing them to continue to do so.

As you get older, my young novice, you will understand how little separation exists between those you loved and the time that passed. It becomes all one thread that weaves our hearts to one another. You can cut it. You can burn it. You can bury it. But there is no way to destroy every single thread, and all it takes is one to hold the memory inside you forever. Just one solitary thread.”

from When The Last River Dies

In the third and final book Coventina, during her final days, reveals her reasons for keeping the truth hidden. She hands the secret to her grandchild, Calistina, the new River Daughter, to hold as she held it for all those years.

Coventina’s gaze drifted to the tall peaks visible through the small window cut into the stone wall of her cottage. “Human follies are perpetual. Societies grow and fall, and then they grow again only to fall again. Right now, we are climbing back up, digging our knuckles into the dirt. This is the time to decide the future, to make the decisions necessary to move forward.” She turned her focus back to Calistina. “Your generation will make those decisions, not mine. And you will have to continually defeat those who resist change, those who won’t cede power until the fires consume them. You will have to lead from strength and inspire from hope.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Books and Arts Ursine Logic

The Philosopher Artist

The character of Arman Peace never appeared in any of the three novels, but he was a presence in all of them. Everything we know about him came from other people’s memories. That’s how we learned he was the one who shaped Yewen and Lilyani. That’s how we learned he was the one who changed the life of Anahita’s spiritual leader, and whose blood will run through its veins forever.

Arman Peace’s dramatic and tragic works of art that depicted nature’s destruction at the hands of humanity won him fame, but it was his philosophy that drew students to his classroom. They valued his classes not only for the art training, but for the life changing insights they gained from listening to him speak. He taught them to understand they were not separate from nature, that everything was connected to itself.

He told me healing only came after we learned to make what we remembered and how we remembered inseparable. Only then would our memories remain pure and untouched by forces outside ourselves.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies

But unlike the other students, Yewen did not choose Arman Peace as a teacher. He was not an artist, nor did he have much interest in art. Arman Peace sought him out as his student, not to learn about art, but to learn about the inner world of the artist, to understand how creativity grew in some but not in others. He wanted him to understand the artist was inseparable from the art.

Arman Peace knew this was a way in to the understanding already rooted inside Yewen. He saw in Yewen a pure connection to nature, a depth of understanding that he was connected to every other living thing.

Part of it came from his training as a monk from the Monastery of the Trees where he learned without the forests, the planet could not survive. But Arman Peace believed Yewen was destined for more than an objective receptacle of facts about the need for forests. He saw him as the powerful protector the forests needed to preserve them for the future. Arman Peace knew from their first meeting that was Yewen’s true path, because an understanding of the connection was already in place.

If the forest burned that was fine because we lived in the city. If there were no more fish in the lake, that was fine because we preferred meat. We became insular and insulated, immovable forces caught in the amber of our own ignorance.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

As Yewen began his search for Arman Peace, the man, he started to understand how clearly his path was seeded by the mystical artist. Arman Peace knew he couldn’t teach him how to speak to his inner world enough to create art that came from inside him. That was a path Yewen needed to walk on his own to gain the insight needed to bring forth what lived inside him.

But what Arman Peace taught him and the other students was the important lesson they came to learn. The ills of the world were caused when humanity split itself off from nature, when humanity began to treat nature as a separate part of themselves, as a commodity, as a force determined to wage war against them. He made them understand only when they reclaimed that connection would the planet finally begin to heal. He knew in Yewen they finally found their needed voice.

Maybe future generations will look at the paintings and demand a world where the air is clean enough to bring back the birds, the butterflies, the flowers, and even the stars. They existed once, and somewhere they still exist. It is up to humanity to find the crack in the worlds so memory and the present can occupy the same place once more.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Art and Books Ursine Logic

Keeper Of The Trees

Yewen, a monk from the Monastery of the Trees, is also the Keeper of the Tale, as his story is the one that follows a constant thread through all three books. He also changes the most from the first book to the last, as he transitions from Yewen the monk, to Yewen the man.

When we first met him he held the position of not only Scholar Monk, but also Keeper of the Trees. It was his responsibility to not only store knowledge to help future generations save the last of the forests, he also was required to share his knowledge with ten other monks. At no time was he allowed to include his opinion, state a preference, or deviate from the accepted teachings.

“He paused so he could draw it precisely from his memory; monks of his standing were not allowed to improvise when they spoke of material gleaned from written texts. “The more we separate ourselves from nature, the more we distance ourselves from our own growth,” he recited.

from “When The Last Tree Dies

His life began to change when he was taken prisoner by Dada Roach and left in a damp, dark dungeon to die. When he was near death he began to feel a connection with all those who suffered in the dungeon before him. He started to talk to spirits, and he imagined conversations with friends that went far deeper than any words they shared.

When Artemis’ music reached down from the great hall, it pulled Yewen back from the death he was convinced occurred. After his rescue from Dada Roach’s prison he realized he couldn’t go back to the life of Yewen the monk. He couldn’t return to a life of sterile objective facts. By the time he met Aquia in the second book, he already made the decision to not return to the monastery.

“Before I teach anyone else, I need to understand what I’m teaching. What good is it to describe a tree if you’ve never experienced one up close? That’s what I did. I described things without ever experiencing them. I need to live what I know so I can make it mine, so I can personalize it. Only then will I pass on something worth saving.”

from “When The Last River Dies

In the third book Yewen shapes the pieces of himself that will become Yewen the man. When Aquia gifted him with a flute and taught him how to play, he began to understand another neglected world lived inside himself. Through the visions and spiritual encounters, he starts on a path to greater understanding of not only himself, but of others as well.

“I never made something that came from me before, something that needed pieces of me to exist.” Even though he was schooled by Arman Peace, and he spent much of his life around artists and musicians, it was always as an observer, as a learner but never a participant. To create something, to draw an emotion from inside himself and then transform it into something non-verbal to share with others was to Yewen, before now, a form of magic. And now he was one of the magicians.

from “When The Last Ocean Dies”

Kate Taylor Books and Art Ursine Logic

The Anti-Goddess

The character of Olivia is one I like to refer to as culturally complex, because how you perceive her depends on your cultural biases. She elicits strong emotions in some because she gave up her children to fight for peace. They loved her strength as a woman, as an independent voice who gave up everything to fight for her ideals. But they also wanted her to be a loving, nurturing mother figure. Some were angry she was not. How can you make her so indifferent to her own children?

Because Olivia doesn’t speak just for herself. Every day women around the world are separated from their children through incarceration, poverty, homelessness, and violence. Olivia represents those women. Her choices may seem cruel to those on the outside looking in, but many women face the same choices everyday and many choose the only selfless option, the one Olivia chose.

“She told him about the children’s camp outside the prison, the village of piecemeal huts where food was scarce, the water toxic, and disease rampant. She described how the children waited for their mothers to finish serving their sentences, because they had nowhere else to go, no one to care for them. He still saw the piercing glare of her black eyes, the demand that he see her choice through her eyes, not his own. I didn’t give you up. I saved your life.

from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES

Characters, like people, are multidimensional. Olivia’s relationship with Sam is simple and uncomplicated, but it shows another side of PeaceTown’s pragmatic leader, and the reclusive artist. Through each other they explain the powerful hold of inspired purpose. Like all those passionately committed to their causes, neither Sam nor Olivia could be anyone other than who they are.

But they connect because they are both driven by separate paths to the same destination; Olivia in her fight for peace, and Sam in the use of his art to bring awareness to war’s destruction of nature. They understand this passion in each other and therefore they understand each other. When you strip away their outer identities, Sam and Olivia are the same. It’s what allows them to eventually develop a rich and satisfying friendship.

In many ways Olivia is the anti-goddess. Although she possesses the required strengths of power such as assertiveness, independence, and intelligence, she is not an icon for any one person or group. She is more like a military officer in charge of her own army, commanding respect but rarely love or affection. She is like the book that brought her fame, The Art of Peace, often described as a work everyone quoted but few read. That also describes Olivia.

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic

Blood On The Canvas

The character who draws the most questions is Artemis. I get asked if I based him on someone I knew, and while writing about real people is never a good idea, this is a yes and no answer.

Artemis is the type of man I was often drawn to in my younger days. Moody, highly creative, immensely talented, and possessed of an intelligence far beyond that of the herd. Like Artemis, many were social misfits who never really fit in anywhere. Their only salvation was their art, their music, their ability to write about the traumas in their souls.

So yes, there are some points of truth in my creation of the character. Artemis is not anyone in particular. He is not one man I knew, but many. But he is also my most archetypal character. He is the moody, dark prince haunted by demons from horrific events in his past. He is the withdrawn, alienated child who found a voice through music, art, and literature. He is every man who drew me to him by living with his shadows exposed.

And that’s what I suspect drew readers to him, especially the creatives.They knew his demons personally. They played music with them. They painted them. They wrote them. And they knew deep down inside every one of them were all self-portraits. That was their blood on the canvas, their tears that fell with the notes, their agony on the page.

But for those who knew what it was like to support an art, the duality of self became second nature. There was the artist, and then there was the person who was someone else to support that art. They lived this double self and they saw this duality in Artemis.

But the creatives also understood the double bind he caught himself in with his art. He could not leave himself out of it. He could not set aside what he felt when his fingers touched those strings. On the surface he was the talented harpist who drew his listeners to him so completely, he was like a hungry spider stocking his web. But what was also revealed was the inner world that caused his blood to mingle with the music. It exposed him, as their art exposed them. They knew what it was like to be stripped bare of all protective covers.

The blood he spilled of himself and others made him the man who brought his audiences to tears with his music. Creatives understood without the demons, without the darkness of the past, without the inner trauma, anything that came from them and from Artemis would be one dimensional. So they bled as Artemis bled and by doing so they shined a light on themselves for others to see. His honesty became his only real protection against the demons, just as their art served the same purpose for them.

Artemis looked at her with something between a warning and indifference, and she sensed he no longer was Artemis the harpist, but someone different, someone more feral, more lethal. He reminded her of the panther in a painting she rescued from a burned out building. He seemed even more lean, hard and wiry, more wild than tamed. His long black hair pulled back from his face and tied in a tail gave him the look of a mythical creature.”

from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic