Thursday, December 1, 2011

Johnny Depp, etc.

It's no secret that I adore Johnny Depp. I've been a fan ever since the opening moments of the first Pirates movie, when Jack Sparrow sashayed down the dock with that endearing wobbliness we've all come to know and love. In fact, that's when I began writing The Wager -- on the very night I returned from my first showing of Pirates in July of 2003.

So back in 1986 I had not yet discovered the unique and quirky charms of Mr. Depp. The television show that launched his stardom, 21 Jump Street, had not yet aired, and his movie debut, A Nightmare on Elm Street, was the type of film I avoided. Johnny was completely unknown to me when I made my first trip to England in late 1986, and it was then I began to recall a past life -- a life in which I was the loving wife of a handsome eighteenth-century Irish musician.

You see, much like my character, Ravenna Evans, in The Last Killiney, I remember my past life in Georgian London. I wrote a book about it (The Singer's Wife: The Reincarnation of Mary Carter), so I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that I've spent nearly twenty-five years proving to myself that my memories of that past life are real. I've kept notes, drawn pictures, and traveled extensively all over the UK, researching the husband that I remember. His name was Thomas Carter.

What does this have to do with Johnny Depp? Well, just this:

On the left is a poster for Johnny's 2006 movie, The Libertine. On the right is a poor likeness of Thomas Carter (my husband from the past life I remember) which I sketched in 1986. The drawing does not resemble Thomas Carter much, but there are certainly similarities with The Libertine press photo. One has to wonder if part of the reason I'm enamoured of Johnny in the first place is because of some resemblance in the cheekbones between past-life husband and modern inspiration. Thomas Carter's bone structure was pretty nice.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The End Of The World As We Know It?

A friend called me last night to tell me about a newly discovered Mayan artifact which supports the 2012 Apocalypse Theory. Apparently, in addition to a 1,300-year-old inscription in Tabasco, Mexico, there is now a second Maya reference to the ending of the 13th Long Count. A brick was found -- one of thousands -- at nearby Comalcalco with an inscription -- also one of thousands -- mentioning the date December 21st. Folks who are quick to see conspiracies and prophecies jumped on the discovery, and suddenly it was all over the news: more evidence for the end of the world.

Except this isn't exactly the case.

First of all, the new Comalcalco brick does not even mention the year 2012; instead, it references only December 21st (which could be in any year, not just 2012). Secondly, respected archeologists (Linda Schele among them, who is one of my heroes) have repeatedly said there is no evidence to suggest the Maya expected anything special to happen in 2012. They referenced many events far, far into the future, and December 21st, 2012 -- although significant because it marked the end of the thirteenth bak'tun -- was just one of several dates, and not even the last one. Also, the brick in question has been kicking around for years in the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, so it's not a new discovery. And the brick and its inscription were not meant to be seen by anyone, either; the brick was designed to face inward, toward the center of the building, with its outward side covered in stucco (just like the thousands of other bricks in the construction of the building at Comalcalco).

Finally, the monument at Tortuguero -- which sports the first and only mention of the complete date of December 21st, 2012 -- was meant to commemorate a steam bath. Tortuguero's king at that time, Bahlam Ajaw, apparently had a birthday on which date the sun shone in the same position as it will on December 21st, 2012 -- hence the mention of that particular date. Nothing to do with apocalypse. No comets. No poles shifting. Just a nice monument commemorating the opening of a religious bath and the king who would probably use it.

Still, it does make me wonder. The Tortuguero inscription mentions the god Bolon Yokte, who was present at the start of the thirteenth bak'tun in 3114 BC. According to some interpretations, this god will return or "descend" from something black (a black sky?) on that date. Sounds pretty scary. I hope Bolon Yokte isn't too nasty of a guy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Still Trying to Figure out Karma

One of my fellow author-friends on the Kindleboards suggested that I should try blogging about my everyday life, and about topics that interest me other than those actually mentioned in my books. Well, here's my first attempt. Animals, past lives, the unfathomable magnetic draw of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his hilarious sayings, the sexiness of Johnny Depp, hurricane force winds, the value of trees...these are just some of topics occupying my thoughts these days, but right now I'm thinking about the meaning of life. Specifically, whether Karma exists. Heavy subject, that. Yet it's one I've been pondering pretty regularly since last year, when my poor little cat died from multiple issues (stroke, kidney stones, Pancreatitis). Why does all life on earth seem to be organized around the experience of suffering? What good is pain? What does it do for the soul? And why did my Persian cat, who couldn't possibly have wracked up any bad Karma, suffer through an agonizing last week of his life?

Lately I've been reading a lot about the Near Death Experience, and I've been watching television programs in which people describe their encounters with death. These folks talk about moving toward the light, going into a warm, comforting and brilliant presence that some attribute to God's love. There they are met by dead loved ones, and are often shown a playback of all the deeds they'd committed while alive -- a "life review" in which they not only feel their own emotions during the replay of every event, but also the emotions of those they'd interacted with. During this life review, some Near Death Experiencers are asked what good they'd done...and this is the part that troubles me.

You see, good is in the eye of the beholder. One person's good deed might be another person's worst nightmare, depending upon one's sanity, society, species, etc. I'm sure there have been plenty of murderers who thought they were doing victims a favor by killing them. And the concept of good for a typical 20th-century American is probably not going to match that of a native of a remote tribe in the Amazon. Also, what about animals? They don't make choices between good or evil. Some animals never even lay eyes upon another of their kind except for rare chance encounters for mating, so these animals don't even have the social interaction in which a good deed might occur.

Good is a human idea. Good is a device that keeps our human society functioning smoothly. Good did not exist in the time of the dinosaurs. And yet there seems plenty of evidence that, not only do animals have souls -- presumably dinosaurs did, too -- but they also go to the very same plane of existence as ourselves upon death. So what "life review" for them? Before human beings arrived on the scene, what did a Near Death Experience look like for a T-Rex, for example? Were dinosaurs shown their worldly deeds? Was a Tyrannosaurus made to feel the pain of the Brontosaurus he ate for lunch?

All I can surmise is that the question "What good have you done?" was asked of these Near Death Experiencers because it would somehow initiate a more productive life when they returned to our earthly plane. Perhaps that question -- and indeed the whole life review itself -- only occurs in the Near Death Experience, not the Death Experience.

Because I know my little cat had a soul. He had thoughts and feelings. He felt love and pain. But for him, there was no right or wrong. So how could the Near Death Experience apply to him? Whatever laws of Karma exist must do so outside of time and outside of human society. If Karma is real, it must be a natural phenomena, like gravity, that applies to all living things.

I guess it's something I'll still be pondering for years to come.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Morning Walk

The Morning Walk by Thomas Gainsborough

In The Last Killiney, a painting serves as the heroine's wake-up call and cue that she has lived a past life in the eighteenth century:

Hanging in one of the many alcoves of the National Gallery, it had been a life-sized double portrait by John Singleton Copley that had stopped Ravenna dead in her tracks. Like many of its time, it featured a couple in fancy dress walking their dog. Never mind that the woman looked exactly like Ravenna; no, that wasn’t even the most disturbing thing about the picture. It was the husband in the portrait who had jarred her heart most. Just the sight of him had brought out an irrational response, a terrible sadness defying explanation. She’d felt friendship and loathing for him, each emotion as strong as the other. This was not the boy from Disneyland. This was not the Irishman. This new man, with his elegant, careful pose, was someone Ravenna had pitied, not loved.

Resonance, that’s the best way to describe it. It’d been as if there were a bridge between paint and flesh, a portal between that life and this one. Ravenna ached with misery as she read the picture’s title. “Lord and Lady Launceston, or ‘The Evening Walk,’ 1788. Wedding portrait of William and Elizabeth Hallett, donated by the Hallett family of Wolvesfield, Devon, 1840.”

In the original draft of The Last Killiney, this painting had instead been a very famous picture: The Morning Walk by Thomas Gainsborough. This huge double portrait had indeed jarred me during a trek through the National Gallery in one of my earlier vacations in London. It called to me the same way Copley's picture -- which doesn't exist, by the way -- called to Ravenna, alerting her that something about the painting applied to and resonated with her deepest soul. In my case, it reminded me of my past life as Mary Carter, who met her husband, Thomas, in the late 1780s -- the same era in which Gainsborough's portrait was made.

I later changed the picture in the story to a fictional one, with John Singleton Copley as the artist, as it turns out Gainsborough couldn't have painted a portrait in 1793 -- he was dead by then. But the names of the sitters remain in the story: Elizabeth and William Hallett. And, funny enough, the inspiration for William Hallett, or Christian as he's called in The Last Killiney, was the actor James Spader. Can you spot any resemblance between Spader and Hallett's portrait? In my mind, I'm sure they look exactly alike. :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jay on Protection Island

This is me in 1986, dressed up for a silly picture to pass the time on Protection Island during my youth. I spent every summer, all summer, on this island from the time I was four years old until the government took our family's property away in the creation of the federal wildlife refuge.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Nimpkish River

In July of 1792, when Captain George Vancouver visited what is now called Broughton Strait, he encountered the people of the 'Namgis First Nation:

The next morning showed the village in our neighborhood to be large; and, from the number of our visitors, it appeared to be very populous....

The Ty-eie, or chief of the village, paid us an early visit, and received from me some presents which highly delighted him. I understood his name to be Cheslakees. He acknowledged Maquinna to be a greater chief; as he also did Wicananish; but, so far as I could learn, he did not consider himself to be under the authority of either. On inquiring if Maquinna was at the village, he answered in the negative, saying they seldom visited; and that it was a journey of four days across the land to Nootka sound, which from hence towards the S. S. W. is about twenty leagues distant.

Accompanied by some of the officers, Mr. Menzies, and our new guest Cheslakees, I repaired to the village, and found it pleasantly situated on a sloping hill, above the banks of a fine fresh water rivulet, discharging itself into a small creek or cove. It was exposed to a southern aspect, whilst higher hills beyond, covered with lofty pines, sheltered it completely from the northern winds. The houses, in number thirty-four, were arranged in regular streets; the larger ones were the habitations of the principal people, who had them decorated with paintings and other ornaments, forming various figures, apparently the rude designs of fancy; though it is by no means improbable, they might annex some meaning to the figures they described, too remote, or hieroglyphical, for our comprehension. The house of our leader Cheslakees was distinguished by three rafters of stout timber raised above the roof, according to the architecture of Nootka, though much inferior to those I had there seen in point of size; the whole, from the opposite side of the creek, presented a very picturesque appearance....

At the conclusion of this visit we were entertained at the house of an elderly chief, to whom Cheslakees, and every other person paid much respect, with a song by no means unmelodious, though the performance of it was rendered excessively savage, by the uncouth gestures, and rude actions accompanying it, similar to the representations I had before seen at Nootka. The song being finished, we were each presented with a strip of sea-otter skin; the distributions of which occupied some time. After this ceremony a song from the ladies was expected; and during this interval, I observed in the hands of the numerous tribe that now surrounded us, many spears pointed with iron, clubs, large knives, and other weapons with which they were not furnished on our first approach to the village. I was not altogether satisfied with this change in their appearance, though I had every reason to believe their intentions were of the most inoffensive nature, and that it was most probable they had thus produced their arms to shew their wealth, and impress us with an idea of their consequence; I deemed it, however, most advisable to withdraw; and having distributed the few remaining articles we had reserved, Cheslakees was informed I was about to return; on which he, with his relations who had attended us through the village, accompanied us to the sandy island, whither I went to observe its latitude.

Some few others of the Indians attended us on this occasion, whose behavior being orderly and civil, they were permitted to assemble round me whilst observing. They were excessively amused with the effect of the sun's rays through the reading glass; and the extraordinary quality of the quicksilver used for the purpose of an artificial horizon, afforded them the greatest entertainment, until our business was ended, when they in a very friendly manner took leave, and confirmed me in the opinion, that the martial appearance they had assumed, was purely the effect of ostentation.

- Captain George Vancouver, quoted from Vancouver's Discovery of Puget Sound by Edmond S. Meany, 1907.

In The Last Killiney, Paul is attacked by a First Nations party near the site of Vancouver's meeting with Cheslakees.

Cheslakee's Reception

The village was called Xwalkw. Its location on the northern shore of the mouth of the Nimpkish River, or Gwa'ni, was along an important overland route between the First Nations groups of the Inside Passage and Nootka Sound, where most Europeans went to trade for sea-otter furs. Because this was a well traveled route, it was not a member of Cheslakees' village that attacked Paul. Instead, men from elsewhere were responsible, probably having heard of Vancouver's ship passing through the area and thinking that Paul was capable of repairing muskets. That's why no one in Xwalkw knew about Paul's death, or appeared hostile in the slightest when Vancouver went ashore.

Here's how the village would have looked when Vancouver visited, as portrayed by Jonathan Sykes, one of the voyage's midshipmen: