Living Forever on a Greek Island

Skopelos

Skopelos

After the first few weeks, I didn’t know what day it was.

By that, I don’t mean that I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Tuesday. I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Saturday. The only day I ever knew that summer was Sunday, which was marked by church bells and the voices of the psaltes (singers) in the nearby churches.

Once the churches quieted, that day unraveled like every other day, until again, on some seemingly distant and arbitrary morning, the psaltes would be heard and I would know it was Sunday again. Continue reading

The Last Island: An Update

San Diego Books Awards
The Last Island’ is one of three Finalists in the Contemporary Fiction category of the 2014 San Diego Book Awards.

In addition, the novel was recently an Amazon Literary Bestseller in the U.K.

Thanks so much to everyone for their support.

All the recommendations, shares, retweets, purchases and reviews are sincerely appreciated.

And if you haven’t read it yet, the novel is available worldwide here: The Last Island.

The Novel vs. The Theater: The Final Days (A One-Act Play)

Moby Dick on Stage

Thar she blows!

(A courtroom.  The Judge sits at an imposing desk.  There is a gavel to the side.  He flips through a few pieces of paper, then looks up.)

JUDGE:  Okay.  Theater versus Novel.  Couldn’t work this one out?  Twitter, Facebook, shortened attention spans, no reason to leave the house, is that it?  The novel is dead, the theater is subsidized, so you’re going to battle it out… because you think there’s only room for one of you.  Okay, let’s get on with it then.  Theater, looks like you’re up first.  You’ve chosen to do ‘Moby Dick’ as if written by playwrights in ten lines or less.  You may begin.

(He glances at the paper on his desk.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  The playwright is William Shakespeare.

(Ishmael and Ahab stand in the courtroom.  Ahab has a jug of wine.)

AHAB:  The whale waxes desperate with tails and fins.

ISHMAEL:  To let it be, or not to let it be, that is the question.

AHAB:  Something is rotten on this ship of Pequod.  Here, have some wine.

ISHMAEL:  You drink it.

AHAB:  After you.

ISHMAEL:  You go first.

AHAB:  No, you go first!

(The Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  The playwright is Tom Stoppard.

(Ishmael enters from one side of the courtroom.  Ahab limps out from the other.  They meet.)

AHAB:  Who’re you?

ISHMAEL:  Call me Ishmael.

AHAB:  Is-mail?

ISHMAEL:  Close enough.

AHAB:  So you’re the new postman?

(The Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  Aristophanes.

(Ahab enters and sees Ishmael standing alone.)

AHAB:  Tell me?  What do you think of the fishermen on this boat?

ISHMAEL:  They’re all buggers.

AHAB:  And the Nantucketers?

ISHMAEL:  Buggers to a man.

AHAB:  And the rest of the country, what about them?

(Ishmael thinks about this.)

ISHMAEL:  By heaven, that’s a lot of people and almost all of them buggers.

AHAB:  Then how do we stand?

ISHMAEL:  We’ve been beaten by the buggers.

(Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  Neil Simon.

(Ishmael alone.)

ISHMAEL:  Traveling to New Bedford has been a whole new education for me.  I’ve found employment on a whaling ship run by a guy named Ahab.  This guy, Ahab’s got only one leg and he’s as tough as one of Momma’s chicken roasts.  Come to think of it, Momma’s chicken roasts had only one leg as well.

(The Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  David Mamet.

(Ishmael and Ahab arguing.)

ISHMAEL:  What whiteness?

AHAB:  The whiteness of the whale.

ISHMAEL:  The whale?

AHAB:  The whiteness of it.

ISHMAEL:  Whale of whiteness?

AHAB:  It means something.

ISHMAEL:  Whiteness?

AHAB:  F—ing whale’s a c—.

(The Judge forcefully smacks the gavel.  Sighs.)

JUDGE:  I went to law school for this?  (reading)  Okay, the next playwright is Samuel Beckett.

(Ishmael and Ahab.)

ISHMAEL:  Is this ship moving?  What are we doing out here?

AHAB:  We’re trying to find the whale.

ISHMAEL:  How’s your leg?

AHAB:  Swelling visibly.

ISHMAEL:  I can’t go on.

AHAB:  Let’s jump overboard.

ISHMAEL:  Okay, let’s jump.

(They don’t move.  The Judge waits.  Eventually, he smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  Anton Chekhov.

(Ishmael and Ahab.)

ISHMAEL:  There’re no whales left.

AHAB:  No whales left?  Forgive me, my dear Ishmanov Yashmael, but the ocean is so big that
there must be more whales.

ISHMAEL:  The only thing about the ocean is that it is so big.  Look, Varya Ahabovich, my dear
friend, you must stop whaling and sell the fishing boat or else start transporting people to
Boston.  There is no other way out.

AHAB:  In the old days, ten, twenty years ago, you could’ve walked to Boston on the backs of
whales.  Leave me alone!

(Ahab limps out of the courtroom and shoots himself.  The Judge smacks the gavel.) 

JUDGE:  (reading)  Oscar Wilde.

ISHMAEL:  So your intent is to go after that big, white whale again?

AHAB:  That is exactly my intent.

ISHMAEL:  What if you lose the other leg?

AHAB:  So be it.  At least, I won’t find myself pacing in a circle.

ISHMAEL:  But my dear, Ahab, to lose one leg may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

(Judge smacks the gavel.  He looks around.)

JUDGE:  So…  that’s it?  (flipping through papers)  All right, Novel, you’re up next.  Let’s see, you’ve chosen to do ‘Oedipus Rex,’ as if written by Cervantes, Tolstoy, et al.  This is a story about a man who kills his father and then sleeps with his mother, right?  Sounds charming.

(He smacks the gavel.)

BLACKOUT

You can purchase ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

A Manifest and Shining Sanctuary

Manifest and Shining

Manifest and Shining

I stared at the ceiling and thought that each of us has our own unshakable, fundamental truths that we cherish and from which all other thoughts and emotions derive.  My own truths were passionless and simple: that this world is cruel and predatory, that human greed and selfishness are appropriate and, perhaps, even necessary responses – and that redemption is the delusion of fools.  I thought I knew Kerryn’s truths as well: despite all she’d been through, she believed this world to be abundant and benevolent, a manifest and shining sanctuary meant to be shared by all its sentient creatures.

I wondered if we were both wrong . . . if we were both right.

You can purchase ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

Practice for Eternity

The sanctuary

The sanctuary

Kerryn:  “It’s a sanctuary. And this place – like all places could be – is merely the physical manifestation of the thoughts and desires of the creatures that inhabit it. That’s what I think. Some animals and some people want love, so there is that, others want tragedy, so there is suffering, others want to fight, so there are wars, some want to have what others don’t, so there is scarcity. We find what we seek. But this place is not part of that outside world. It’s a sanctuary, made up of only the thoughts and desires of the beings who enter into it. It’s timeless. It’s like practicing for eternity.”

You can read more from ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

Reflection

On a trip to New York City last month, I strolled over to Fifth Avenue where the Scribner’s Bookstore building is located.  I could have made my way blindly, since I’d taken these exact steps five days a week for almost four years.  Now, nearly twenty years later, I could almost see my younger self reflected back as I peered into the storefront window: a drowsy commuter in an ill-fitted suit, dreamy and impatient and uncertain.

But this wasn’t an instance when, to borrow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words, “the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled into a single gorgeous moment.”  Rather, it was an occasion of less transcendence as I realized that the future at which I’d arrived and the future for which I once hoped would, in fact, never be mingled.  And I’m not so sure that in these days of rapid technological progress such a mingling is possible anymore.  Yet it seems that we can’t help ourselves from believing so.  For what else is a dream, but the hope that the wistful past will become the fulfilled future?

Scribner’s, the eponymous retail store of the publisher of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, was once the architectural manifestation of my dream.  The large and severe squares of glass fronting the building, the stoic, marble staircase and book-lined walls were, to me, a promise and an answer.  I visited every week, in rain and snow, and amidst the sirens and taxi cabs and homeless men.  I imagined having a book of my own in the window of that cathedral.  One day, I wanted to be able to point and say, “I wrote that.”

But the novel was slow in the making.

In the meantime, I married, moved to Europe, had a family and settled in California.  I wrote stage and screen plays and enjoyed some success, but it was a novel I desired – the novel being an unfiltered communication between writer and reader and possessing a permanence and immediacy that those other mediums, vibrant as they may be, lack.  So the novel was always there, the Ithaca that for more than twenty years called to me… and that I finally wrote.

My journey had been a long one.

Now that my novel is to be published, the Scribner’s building no longer exists as a bookstore.  I’d known that, of course, but last month I needed to see the building once again, to reinforce the understanding that no novel of mine will ever appear in its window.  That it’s unlikely that any novel by any writer will ever appear there again.

But whatever sorrow I felt at having been too long in the writing was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude.

For as I stood there, twenty years gone from the dreamy commuter I’d once been, I realized that in some small way I was confronting the wisdom of the ages, wisdom that’s as old as Homer (by way of C.P. Cavafy): the Ithaca of Scribner’s Bookstore had given me the journey, without it I may have never set out.  But it has nothing left to give.

That’s exactly as it should be, because by now, older and possibly wiser, I should have understood what all such Ithacas mean.

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

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Below is a video of Sean Connery reading the poem ‘Ithaca’ by C. P. Cavafy, with music by Vangelis.  It’s a little over four minutes long and worth every second.