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Kafka In His Writer’s Burrow For World Book Day

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A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious.

However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of that time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers.

In it, a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

Something Kafka himself attempted to do.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/87/34/8a/87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf.jpg

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Getting Published In New York In The Old Days

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Over The Transom

My friend Google tells me that “over the transom” is still a viable term. In this case it refers to a manuscript accepted by an editor submitted cold – perhaps even from the dreaded slush pile.

At any rate, my manuscript for A LOST TALE was accepted “over the transom”, and I was asked to New York to meet the editor. Although I had experienced and appreciated Montréal, Toronto, London, Berlin and other large cities by that time, I had not been to New York. Many events of that trip are memorable, but none more than my “lunch” with the editor.

The editor took me to a dark and trendy place for a late lunch. There were not many people there and, restaurant fiend though I am, the food was not my top priority. Discussion of “the work” and proposed changes was more on the menu for me.

As I sit across the table from my editor, I can not help but notice a man seated by himself beside the wall. He is tieless and shirtless and, though the lighting is dim, what there is reflects from his naked skin. He sits with a beverage and seems to hum to himself.

My editor is discussing both the menu and some confusion he perceives at the beginning of my novel. I note items on the menu unknown to me and am doubly confused.

The shirtless man at the other table increases the volume of his humming and eventually a waiter goes to him and has words. The shirtless man has words back, but they sound like gibberish. At my table the editor suggests something from the menu and I happily comply. There is wine.

Whilst I eat and listen to suggestions, the shirtless man is spoken to by two other waiters. As I (wisely) restrict myself to a second glass of wine, two uniformed policemen enter the restaurant and approach the shirtless man, whose gibberish had increased even more in volume. In the course of a few minutes three other uniformed police officers – one of them female  – arrive on the scene. They are now ranged around the shirtless man and his table. I finally tell my editor what is happening behind him and why I am not concentrating fully upon his suggestions. He turns around.

Two of the officers remove the table from in front of the shirtless man. Two others, one on each side of him, haul him to his feet. It is then that we see his shirtless state continues all the way to his naked feet. The female officer takes the tablecloth from the table and drapes it around him. The four male officers form a circle around the naked, shrouded man uttering his gibberish, and hustle him from the restaurant. The female officer picks up what appears to be a pile of clothes from beneath the table, and a pair of roller skates, and follows them.

I say to my editor that I have never seen anything like that.

My editor concurs.

History, Poetry And Religion In A Cathedral For Evensong

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[Bishop John Medley (John Fredericton)]
Yesterday a writing colleague, Robert Hawkes, launched his poetry book about a Nineteenth Century Anglican Bishop, John Medley. An intriguing aspect of the launch was that it occurred during an Evensong service, in the very cathedral  where Medley had been bishop.

I am so sorry to have missed the event, not just for the book launch, but because it was a part of Evensong.  My interest in this service is explained in the following blog, that I posted last year, around the time of Remembrance Day.

~~~~~~~~~~
An evening church service is a favourite of mine – even as a child. However, it has fallen out of favour and is no longer regularly offered.

Trusty Google helped me find one last Sunday. Not only an Evensong, but a Choral Evensong. And not only choral, but it was dedicated as a Remembrance Evensong. I was coming in, out of the cold, in style.

It was held in St. George’s Church – also know as the Round Church for its shape. www.roundchurch.ca

I had been in the church as a tourist, but not for years. A 5pm service in November got me there at dusk. It is a large church, complete with upper balconies. It is close in proximity to the Halifax naval yard, and I wondered if there would be some military presence. As it was, an officer in uniform read a lesson, while a military chaplain gave the sermon.

Not having been to an Evensong for decades, I don’t know if it was a large or small congregation. My guess is there were thirty or so people present, plus 10 in the choir, plus 2 ministers, 1 verger and the organist/choir director.

I would say that Evensong is a modified Morning service, perhaps more fitting for the time of day. In addition to a choral choir singing selections on their own, there were hymns that are favourites of mine. “Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past”  “Abide With Me” and three (3) stanzas of “God Save The Queen”. How close to heaven can one monarchist get?

As an added surprise (which would have made my father ecstatic) it was a High Church Anglican church, and even had incense. Perhaps that explained the choral choir.

At the end, after the procession had left, the large and booming organ belted out a selection by César Franck – Pièce Héroïque“. Members of the choir returned and sat in pews to listen.

When it was completed and people started to leave, I had a tiny ageist and sexist lapse. Two little, white-haired ladies got out of their pew to leave. Walking slowly before me, they talked of the music. I thought they were going to complain about the (admittedly) lengthy organ recital.

“Oh, that music,” said one.

“Yes,” said the other, nodding.

“It’s one of my favourite pieces.”

“I know what you mean.”

100 Years Ago Love Goes So Terribly Wrong For Kafka

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When I wrote my novel, Kafka In The Castle, filling in all of Kafka’s missing diary entries,  after a few months of writing, I found something very interesting. The day/month/year I was writing about, mirrored the day/month/year in which I was writing.

 

For example, if the 03 of July was a Friday in my writing year, it was also Friday, 03 July in 1917.

 

It was an exciting surprise, and made (I think) for more immediate writing.

When Kafka became so ill he he took leave from his employment, he stayed with his sister Ottla in a village, hours from Prague. The following recounts the visit of his fiance,Felice.

 

Here is 23 &24  September from Kafka In The Castle.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

23 September 1917

The trials of Felice. The trials of Franz. As they are put together in this obscure little village – with animals and harvest and the clatter of waggons without.

Because of the war, her train journey an ordeal of thirty hours. Only to reach this destination. This lover who doesn’t …even have the grace to love another.”

That is something F. can understand.

 

24 September 1917

The two days Felice spent here a trial of misery. A trail of misery. Even – I suspect – when she slept.

It is fortunate that I am ill, for it lets her see me in life, the way I am in spirit. The`me’ she would have to fight against. The `me’ which is always opposed to her.

We shared quiet meals, grateful and annoyed by Ottla’s constant chatter. As good a hostess as possible to this strange, sullen couple.

Ottla must have been thankful that her chores took her away as often as they did. I had no such excuses, yet could offer nothing in their place.

F. and I were truly left to each other, and any thoughts she might still have about us getting married must surely be removed.

When we did talk, it was about the change in seasons, the harvest (she took an interest), her work in Berlin. About my health when I seemed to tire (my weariness not all caused by being sick).

We rarely held hands on our walks – just briefly, in the minutes as we returned.

The few kisses were perfunctory.

Not even for memories of things past.

Writer Zombie Meme Takes A New Twist

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I’m not sure why people approach me on the street with the conviction I’m a writer. This has happened a number of times, out – as they say – of the blue. When I ask why they think so, they become defensive. I have learned just to say ‘yes’ and let the conversation meander from there.

Of course, when I give readings or lectures or talks, it is to be expected that I’m a writer. That’s why I’m there. Even if I don’t wear a name tag (which I dislike with passion). I believe I’ve learned not to read too long (regardless of the great material), but I can chat and answer questions about writing until the cows come home to roost. Clichés with a twist a speciality.

In addition to being narrowed-in on as a writer, I have been mistaken for dead authors. In this situation I do believe I must make some comment. For the sake of the dead as well as myself. Although I believe I can still make a good impression as a person who is alive, even here I have run into trouble. A taxi driver did not want to believe that the writer he mistook me for was dead.

“I never heard that,” said he.

“It’s true.”

“Are you sure?”

“He’s been dead for years.”

“You look just like him.”

“Not in his present state,” said I.

The taxi driver did not find me humorous.

A few days ago, however, a new wrinkle was added to my apparent Zombie life.

I was sitting on a park bench,waiting for a bus and watching the bustle of the city pass by. A man of middle years, puffing on a Vapour, settled on a bench across from me. After a few additional puffs, he stated – not asked –

“You’re a writer.”

“Because I’m using a pen?” (which I was, though I was fiddling with sums)

“Who did you write for?”
“Write for?”
“Between 1959 and 1966.”
“What do you mean, ‘who’?”
“Where would I have seen you?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I wrote for some newspapers back then.”
“No – not that.”
“But that’s what I did.”
“When you worked for Hemingway.”
“Earnest Hemingway?”
“I’ve read his books?”
“Oh.”
“You edited his books.”
“I did?”
“You were his editor.”
“I would have been too young to be able to do that.”
“What book did you like?”
“Of Hemingway?”
“You know – which one?’
“I’d guess The Old Man And The Sea.”
“People say that. They’re wrong!”
“They are?”
“It’s a terrible book.”
 
To prove there is a God, my bus arrived.
DE

The Mask Of Death Leads To Sundry Places

[Death Mask of the Duke of Wellington]wellington-death-mask

My two gals, Alison Alexandra and her friend, Amanda, are on a sea voyage. A voyage via a freighter, and not a cruise ship. They stop in the ports where the freighter stops, and they take visits of the town if they so desire.

On one of their times on shore, they decide to visit a Police Museum. One of the exhibits is a Death Mask of a hanged murderer. They take great interest in this, noting the repose of the face.

This incident is based on an event in my own life. I melded parts of my experience into my characters afternoon visit during their day ashore. This had not been on my mind when I started this particular chapter.
I once taught a workshop on Supernatural writing. For my workshop I took advantage to take my students on a field trip to see the death mask of a historically known poet. The death mask was conveniently on view in a display case in a near-by building.

None of them had even heard of ‘death masks’, let alone seen one. I invited them to

incorporate the idea into their writing exercises. Some did, some did not.

However, it’s possible this visit to Death elicited the following story from one of my students.

My student and her husband had purchased a new house. Cleaning and renovations eventually took them to the back loft area, which was piled high with decades of accumulated detritus from a long life.

They cleared out beds, and boxes and newspaper piles, and magazines, and bundles of clothes, and on and on. Near the end of this process, my student noticed a “clump of something” on one of the wooden beams of the loft.

Getting ladder and flashlight, her husband climbed to see what it was.

It was the end of a number of knotted bed sheets.

DE

When Writing Spooks Television

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I am currently writing a *perhaps* novel (that is, perhaps it will be a novel), though I suppose  I should find out if it is a novel since I just passed the 200 page point.

In my current project, following the escapades of Alison Alexandra (entitled Stones for short), my erstwhile activist, Alison Alexandra, is a passenger on a freighter (that takes a limited number of passengers) as it delivers goods from port to port.

I’ve done a fair amount of online research into these freighter cruises as I, myself, would much prefer such a trip over the very crowded (and expensive) Cruise Lines.  But, I will research anywhere that might help my cause. So, a couple of nights ago, on television, there was a documentary about the most recent, largest, and most extravagant Cruise Ship as yet built.

I was very interested in following its construction. I was also very interested in seeing how it was run, taking into consideration the thousands of people who had to be tended to. The delivery of provisions, the kitchens, and the massive amount of work necessary to clear out thousands of folk and then greet thousands of folk on the same day, was fascinating. Not a freighter by any standard, but basic principles were the same.

Then the documentary followed the ship on its first cruise.

Now, back to my reality. At the same time as writing original material about Alison Alexandra, I have been putting a hand-written manuscript of a novel finished a number of years ago into the computer. I do one thing in the morning, and the other in the evening. So far – no problems have arisen.

My hand-written manuscript is set in the 1300’s. The first part depicts a two year voyage from Italy to China and back. Both the voyage and events in China are described. And then, the arrival back to Italy. For four straight days, I have been transcribing the docking and aftermath of the ship at Civitavecchia, Italy. It is the closest seaport to Rome.

On television, before my eyes, after a day of writing, the Cruise Ship I had watched from inception to voyage, pulled into the port of Civitavecchia.

Maybe I should take a cruise.
 

DE

Civitavecchia (image)http://www.cruisemapper.com/images/ports/81-e23a9f4fb2887.jpg

When The Government Changes from “Kafka In The Castle”

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Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason.

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands.

Look after each other.

DE

Letters Of Reality Or Romance

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Dear Eustace:

My mind confronts so many intangible truths that you sometimes seem

– or is it just hope on my part –

to be my only peg of reality.

Have you noticed whenever we finally believe

we know the reason for something which happens,

it often occurs that the real reasons are exactly the opposite

of what we supposed.

Everything walks a line

– as narrow as those upon this page –

between profound revelation and mindless absurdity.

As I look through my window,

the shadows cast through the trees on the next building,

take the shape of a French poodle carrying a parasol.

Is even Nature absurd?

Yours,

Margot
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Margot:

Nature is nothing but reality,

only the intangible can be absurd.

As I’ve said too many times

(and why do I repeat myself yet again)

you spend too much effort

– and wasted effort, for how can it be other –

on futile quest and query.

The only truth to be found is in sour milk

or pleasant fornication

– these things are real, these things exist.

Absurdity is kittens playing

or the Prime Minister’s latest speech.

These things we look at with amusement

or contempt

– we know not to expect much from either.

Quit you silly endeavours

and join the world which surrounds you,

not the one which your head surrounds.

All important answers can be found between someones legs.

Yours,

Eustace

 

DE

(image)http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2463292/images/o-HANDWRITTEN-LETTER-facebook.jpg

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