Ray Foy's Literary Journey

Ray Foy's Literary Journey

Ray Foy worked in Information Technology in the southern US for over 30 years before becoming an author of speculative fiction. His stories and writings seek to understand humanity's situation, project the possible consequences of current trends, and inspire hope in dark times

You can find Ray's work via his website at www.rayfoy.com.

5 Stars
Ray-view of "Tracks" by Robyn Davidson
Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback - Robyn Davidson

This is a marvelous little book. It is at once, inspiring, scary, and thoughtful. For me, it has earned a place beside Wild (Cheryl Strayed) and The Camino (Shirley MacLaine) among my favorite works of personal enlightenment found through the seeker’s journey. It is distinctive, however, in being grittier, less “ethereal,” than is usual in such memoirs. I think that comes from the honesty of Ms Davidson’s self-examination. As such, the book tells a tale that many people will be able to identify with, even considering the scope of what Ms Davidson did.


What she did was to travel across 1700 miles of the Australian outback in 1977 when she was 27 years old. Tracks is her memoir of that journey.


Ms Davidson spends very little time on her life before the journey. There was no single event that she relates as being the reason for doing what she did. She simply starts at the time when she arrived in Alice Springs and began looking for someone to teach her camel-handling, and for a job (in that order). It was her intention from the start to make the trek with camels (to carry her provisions; she mostly walked the trip) and she spent the most of two years learning how to do that (and she’s an obvious animal lover). This prep time is a major part of her story and she spends almost the first half of the book on it.


As for her reasons for making the trip, she tells of two major ones. The first is that aspect of self-discovery that was her main driving force. As she says, she did it “to unclog my brain of all its extraneous debris.” Like Thoreau, she wanted to be alone and vulnerable so she could see reality in its unmitigated form. In recounting this, she provides the reader with an intimate picture of the Australian desert of the 1970s.


She also wanted to know the Aborigines in their natural environment. She wanted to discover their culture in their own context. She offers a lot of commentary on this. What she finds is, to me, a residual of a tribal culture that the current global culture is hell-bent on exterminating (I refer you to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael books for insight on this).


Tracks is very well written. You can see why Ms Davidson went on to be an author and travel-writer. Her prose is solid and her storytelling is engaging enough to pull the reader along (there are a few Australian colloquialisms that necessitate explanatory notes, but they just add color). She is not as metaphoric as Cheryl Strayed or as ethereal in tone as Shirley MacLaine, but she is a pleasure to read. She is also brutally honest in what she relates, whether it be the trials of working with camels, suffering the idiocy of boorish Outback men, dealing with a psycho camel-handler, or balancing the purity of her journey-of-discovery with her relationship to National Geographic photographer, Rick Smolan (who beautifully photographed Ms Davidson’s journey).


Ms Davidson’s memoir is very introspective and she weaves her observations throughout the narrative. You would expect this in a “personal discovery” book, but she does it very convincingly. Following her thoughts in trying to understand her journey is very compelling and the postscript essay she added in 2012 shows that process still going on with her.


What really grabbed my attention, though, was a few mentions of Ms Davidson’s encounters with the paranormal. They are outstanding because they are in such stark contrast with the rest of her writing, which is very no-nonsense and down-to-earth. I take this as another confirmation that most people don’t believe in the supernatural until they experience it.


I highly recommend Tracks as a memoir of an epic journey of enlightenment by a very capable writer. It’s also a window into a particular time before CGI movies, the Internet, and chem-trails. It is a powerful addition to the literature of self-discovery, and to my list of favorite books.

4 Stars
Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe - Dawn Tripp

This novel is an account of the life of the American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, as imagined being told by the artist herself. It is set mostly in the 1920’s and 1930’s and concerns O’Keeffe’s storied relationship with another American artist-photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. And it is very much the story of a relationship, loving and not, and of O’Keeffe’s struggle to not drown in it.


Before reading this book, I was only vaguely aware of who Georgia O’Keeffe was. And I only read the book because I won it in a writing contest. I found it good enough, however, to hold my interest trough 315 pages.


I think Dawn Tripp is a very good writer and my 4 stars rating of this novel is mostly for the quality of her writing. Told completely in first-person and always from O’Keeffe’s point-of-view, it always felt true to the work’s subject—as if it were O’Keeffe telling her story. We come to know her through that telling, and that is due to Ms Tripp’s good work. The character revealed as O’Keeffe, however, struck me as flawed, however good her art was.


Of course, all people are flawed and Ms Tripp did well to not make this book a PC version of O’Keeffe’s life. I was able to relate to a lot of O’Keeffe’s life as an artist, to her finding a wider world in New York of her time, but being driven to stay true to her original vision. I even related to her struggle to stay true to herself, to find and hang onto herself as a person. I can’t agree with the extent of her vilification of Stieglitz, however. It seems to me she carried that too far, and her struggle to find herself was tipped too far in the direction of self-absorption. But again, telling O’Keeffe’s story such that the reader can see these nuances in a life and have feelings about them, is a testament to Ms Tripp’s skills as a writer.


I think that O’Keeffe’s life is being revisited today as kind of a feminists’ anthem, though O’Keeffe herself would not have thought so. What I found most endearing about the book was O’Keeffe’s attitudes towards art, and her passion to live for it (indeed, that passion is shared by artists in the community described—Stieglitz, Toomer, Dove). And I can take to heart the advice O’Keeffe has for artist wannabes:


There is only one piece of advice to give: “You want to be an artist? Go home and work.”


Yes, whether painting, composing, or writing, to be an artist you have to do the work.


Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe, is well-written, and if you’re a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe, of relationship stories, or even of artist stories, you’ll likely find this book to be great. If that’s the case, then I can easily recommend it.

4 Stars
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times - Pema Chödrön

This book’s title caught my eye at a time when I felt like things were falling apart for me. I’ve long been open to the teachings of Buddhism and so I thought I might find some insight, even comfort, in Ms Chodron’s words.


And I did, but this is not a “hand-holding,” “feel good” book. It’s blunt in its view of life as, I suppose, Buddhism tends to be. The feel of the whole was, to me, “suck it up and soldier on.” But do so with the insights of Buddhism and an enlightened point-of-view. And so when facing one of those inevitable times when we are losing it all, we can find an understanding of what we’re feeling when Ms Chodron says:


We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.


She illustrates this by describing a pivotal moment in her life when things fell apart. In her youth, her husband left her and she felt that loss of her whole world with anger and fear. But out of that experience she found Buddhism, a new life and a new vocation. She eventually became thankful for the experience, and that is a major theme of the book—the idea that life is all beginnings and endings. If we can understand that, and accept it, we can go a long way in coping with the bad times.


Fear is what we’re trying to cope with in those bad times. As she stated in the above quote, we are afraid of loneliness, death, and aimlessness. She asks us to understand that at the start of the book, and then goes on to offer insight to help us deal with it. She states what her whole book is about when she says:


What we’re talking about is getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye—not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and thinking.


I could go on and on with such quotes—there are so many quotable passages in this book. Also ideas that have helped me. Such as that things are just not what we think they are; we really don’t know anything and so we must be careful in our judgments, even judgments as to what is good and what is bad (see chapter 1). Because we never know how things will turn out.


When in emotional pain, people tend to return to those places they’ve found comfort in the past. There are times, though, when those places fail us, or don’t offer enough comfort. If you’re at such a place, then this book might be of help. It is likely to be, if you can understand and accept the basic cause of our unhappiness according to Buddhism. Ms Chodron states it as:


Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly.


From there, you can go on to find out what you can do in your life to address samsara. And if you can find, ironically, that chasing happiness does not bring happiness, and running from pain does not eliminate pain, then you’ll be at a point where this book can help.

5 Stars
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About 666 but Were Afraid to Ask
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About 666, but Were Afraid to Ask - John Hogue

John Hogue has always been something of an iconoclast, and in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About 666 but Were Afraid to Ask, the icon he blasts is the very Number of the Beast as noted in the biblical Book of Revelation—666 (or 616 depending upon the calculation of Greek letters-to-numbers pulled from which ancient manuscript).


Actually, Mr. Hogue is not blasting the “Number of the Beast” idea itself, but rather the fearful superstition assigned to that number from shoddy interpretations of St. John’s writing. In this little book, he tells us to “lighten up” about this number. It’s just a number. We take it way too seriously out of our religious biases and unfounded beliefs. He likens it to the hypocritical stigma attached to public talk of sex, prior to David Reuben’s pivotal book put out in the rebellious 1960’s, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (hence, this book’s title).


Mr. Reuben’s book pointed out the obvious hypocrisies of our attitudes about sex, and Mr. Hogue takes a similar tack by showing that “666” is an association with evil that is made more from superstition than scholarly research. He says:


It isn’t the number that makes one afraid; it is the projection of fear programmed in an indoctrinated mind.


And he goes on to quote Revelation chapter 13 verse 18:


Here is the key; and anyone who has intelligence may work out the number of the beast. The number represents a man’s name, and the numerical value of its letters is 666. (or 616, if you rely on earlier surviving editions of this passage.)


Indeed, if you check the New Oxford Annotated Bible Revised Standard Version commentary on page 1505 (1973 edition), you’ll find a note on this verse that says:


Of countless explanations, the most probable is Neron Caesar (in Hebrew letters), which, if spelled without the final n, also accounts for the variant reading, 616.


Interestingly, the other versions of the Bible I checked (1972 Thomas Nelson edition of the King James version, and the 1976 Broadman Press edition of The Good News Bible) didn’t make that point. That may say something about belief vs scholarship.


Mr. Hogue makes his point that 666 could just as easily have been translated 616. But it wasn’t, at least in popular Bibles, and so “the Word of God” says the number is 666.


Now there are implications of the Number being 616 that Mr. Hogue goes into and supports with other passages from Revelation. I had actually made note of these implications myself in my youthful days of faith, but chose to ignore them. I see that dynamic in effect all around me every day and I think this book is Mr. Hogue’s attempt to shine a light on it.


In shining that light, Mr. Hogue makes an assertion as to what the book of Revelation is NOT about (around location 149 in the ebook), and that, I think, is the profound message of this book.


Mr. Hogue quotes Nietzsche, in full, on the “God is dead” idea. I’m not sure I agree with what Nietzsche is saying here (or anywhere else) but Mr. Hogues offers an interesting commentary on it that he punctuates with quotes from Osho (whom I find more agreeable). This is the weighter side of this book that balances the lighter parts.


And it is with a lighter part that Mr. Hogue ends his book. In his trademark lightness of being for a serious subject, he gives us a version of The Twelve Days of Christmas that is filtered through the traditional interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It’s clever and funny, and (if you can keep an open mind) enlightening.


Everything You Always Wanted to Know about 666 but were Afraid to Ask is fun and educational. You can learn about the origins of 666, why it’s considered an “evil” number, and why you might want to reconsider that viewpoint. Mr. Hogue is well educated in considering and reconsidering such subjects, and provides a good pivot point for the seeker who is looking for the reality behind such cultural icons. A book like this, that is fun-loving even as it provides introspection of a serious subject, can help those so-seeking.


Give it a try.

The Mountain Bike Trail
The Mountain Bike Trail

I believe that much of literature, whether fiction or not, is a recounting of what we do and what we learn. My second hiking excursion was enlightening to me and I wrote a journal entry about it.




Source: http://rayfoy.com/rays-journal/the-mountain-bike-trail
Hitting the Sandhills Trail

I have so much going on right now: much work in the day job, possible consulting work (IT), pushing on my novel to get it ready for editing, some book reviews due, checking out a local writer's group. 


In the midst of it all, I need to stay active, and I want to follow in the footsteps of some literary hikers. So I'm foraying into the world of hiking and backpacking. Last week, I journaled about my training. I also took my first hike on a real trail in a State Park. I journaled about that too.


You can find the journal entry here:




Sandhills Trail Bridge

Source: http://rayfoy.com/rays-journal/hitting-the-sandhills-trail
Taking a Hike: My Latest Beginning
Taking a Hike: My Latest Beginning

“…a religious pilgrimage has always been one of the most objective ways of achieving insight.


So says Paulo Coelho in The Pilgrimage.  I've started testing the waters of hiking and backpacking, and so maybe will do my own pilgrimage one day. Inspired by Mr. Coelho, Cheryl Strayed, and Robyn Davidson, I've made tentative first steps. If I keep it up, I’ll commit it to my journal. Here’s my first entry:




Source: http://rayfoy.com/rays-journal/taking-a-hike-my-latest-beginning
5 Stars
Ten Predictions 2016: And the Fire and Ice Prophecies
Ten Predictions 2016: And the Fire and Ice Prophecies - John Hogue

John Hogue’s annual books of predictions are an ongoing “Heads Up!” for humanity based on prophetic writings, scholarly research, a study of current events, and oracular intuitions that have proven uncannily accurate (such as in correctly predicting the US presidential election winner since 1968).

Ten Predictions 2016 is no different. It is a timely and important read as the human situation worsens. These are unprecedented times that can unnerve the strongest of any souls that are paying attention. It seems few are, but they can find a rich source of relevant information and keen insight in Mr. Hogue’s writings, including this little E-book.

My best description of this book is that it’s a roughly 100 page essay about prophetic traditions and current auguries told in eleven sections (10 chapters and an Epilogue) with each containing specific predictions concerning global issues that culminate or take off in this year of 2016.

The epilogue is a special one about what Mr. Hogue calls the “Fire and Ice Prophecies” that I found to be of particular interest. I expect it will be so to anyone who is concerned about the chaotic state of Earth’s climate and what it might lead to.

Even beyond the trials wrought by climate change, it seems the walls are closing in on humanity in ways too overwhelming to consider, let alone write about. But Mr. Hogue does just that, providing commentary with prophetic overtones on a host of subjects pretty much covering our situation. It can be a lot to grasp, especially if you’re just now waking up to it all.

In his book’s 10 chapters and epilogue, Mr. Hogue discusses and makes predictions about:

* The NATO-led war against Muslim extremists;
* Developing trends in the world economy and the possibilities for a larger Depression;
* What sort of weather extremes we’ll see in the coming year;
* Human migrations spurred by wars and weather;
* The US presidential election season—the winners and losers;
* The potential for an American Reich;
* The consequences in suffering from the greed of corporate agribusiness;
* The future of cable “news”;
* The subtle fuels for the decentralization of world societies.

Even leaving aside the prophecy and prediction parts, I highly recommend this material for the sheer sake of getting an accurate view of what’s really going on in the world. I follow a lot of alternative and world news sources that reveal a different tale of what’s going on than in all the hokum of the US mainstream media. Because of this, I tend to mostly agree with Mr. Hogue’s writings and have to take his auguries seriously.

If you’re into prophecy and want to make a list of specific predictions from this book, you can certainly do that, because they are there, sprinkled among the longer prophecy essays (I’m making a distinction of prophetic themes containing predictions that Mr. Hogue may not have intended; I just see it that way). You can track them and judge for yourselves, most are short-term. And some, frankly, I hope he misses.

And Mr. Hogue does talk about “missed prophecies,” and so adds to a theme of “what prophecy is and how it works,” that he’s addressed in many of his prior works. It’s an enlightening discussion for anyone used to the idea that real prophecies are “reading from God’s script.” He sounds the note of personal responsibility that we can assume for the future and so perhaps be less predictable.

About a third of this E-book is an extended essay on the “Fire and Ice Prophecies.” This is how Mr. Hogue refers to voluminous sets of writings through history from such prophetic luminaries as Nostradamus, Stormberger, Cayce, biblical prophets, and even older, that address our climate future. In a nutshell, there’s two “competing” streams of prophecy—one that predicts an overheated, Hell-on-earth, and another that looks for a new ice age (in our near-future).

Climate science endorses the idea of ice ages being preceded by a period of global warming. Such a period can build up a lot of energy in the world’s climate that can be released in a short time (a decade or less) in monster storms and rebound into widespread ice cover that doesn’t melt over the summer, and so launches an ice age. Think, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Coming Global Superstorm, both works that Mr. Hogue refers to in Predictions 2016.

So an ice age starting after a period of global warming is scientifically viable, and is likely even the norm in Earth’s geologic past. And historically speaking, the earth is due for another ice age. The question is: will it happen this time?

In “Fire and Ice Prophecies,” Mr. Hogue examines the prophetic traditions regarding this question along with the related science and current happenings in nature. From this research he reaches a conclusion and a prediction. I think his conclusion is a likely one that’s even supported by recent scientific findings. It’s a hot topic that makes for a chilling read.

Prophecies or not, the human situation looks pretty bleak when you examine it closely. Predictions 2016 does examine it closely and it can be disheartening, even when taken with Mr. Hogue’s sprinklings of playful prose. In the end, he offers the hope he offers in most all his works on this subject by linking to a long essay called “Noah’s Ark Of Consciousness” on his website. It’s a mini-biography where Mr. Hogue shows how meditation has helped him get through his own hard times and come out fiercely alive and aware. It’s his recommendation of a powerful tool that can help us cope with these perilous times.

Predictions 2016 is the first of three books that Mr. Hogue has planned to contain his predictions and commentary on events for 2016 and 2017. You can check his website (hogueprophecy.com) for details. He has decided to stretch out his “annual predictions” this way since changing events can make it tough to keep up—even for a prophet.


4 Stars
Change Your Energy, Change Your Life
Change Your Energy, Change Your Life: 11 Simple Principles to Happiness, Success, Fulfillment, and Joy - Mike Kemski

Change Your Energy, Change Your Life is a self-help book based on the author, Mike Kemski’s, life experiences. Mr. Kemski describes his childhood as one of some awful deficits: poverty, parental abuse, drug abuse, and run-ins with the law. Finally, a failed suicide attempt motivated him to rebound from rock bottom to a happy and successful life. But his rebound was not facilitated by finding Jesus or any N-point plans for obtaining wealth. It was from painstakingly figuring out what the solid principles were to living this life, and acting on them. He found 11, and explains them in this book.

What I like about Mr. Kemski’s book is the experiential nature of it. That is, he’s telling us what he discovered, how it helped him, and how we can discover and make application of the same for ourselves. What “the same” is, is a set of truths that can transform people’s lives if they become aware of them and act upon them. Doing so, systematically, puts people into a process of transformation that Mr. Kemski calls BANABU: Building A New And Better Universe. His idea is that if people use these principles to transform their lives, they’ll also be transforming other people and the world around them.

Mr. Kemski has apparently made a career of teaching these principles, which might lead you consider that the book is another infomercial. I didn’t find that to be the case, however. In my opinion, he is simply expressing some classical truths that have helped people through the ages, usually incorporated into one or another religious or philosophical system. The value of Change Your Energy, Change Your Life, is that the book pulls these truths together in an accessible and helpful way.

It’s not that Mr. Kemski is stating the obvious. It’s more like Sherlock Holmes’ distinction between “seeing” and “observing.” And becoming aware of these principles is Mr. Kemski’s first step in making use of them.

So, for instance, you may know that there is good and bad in life, but you must become aware that there is a duality of opposites in everything. When you realize this, and see it all around you and in the experiences of your life, you’ll be able to make use of it. You’ll see that negative experiences and situations can be a prompt to overcome and reach your next level. And you’ll see that solutions are to be found within problems.

And it’s the same for all the 11 principles. Mr. Kemski makes the point that the principles can be used “stand-alone” or together as a system. It seems to me that his 11 principles are actually 11 chapters in building upon a certain line of thought, and that the actual number of principles could be expressed as fewer. They would be no less the powerful, even so.

In expounding upon the principles, Mr. Kemski advances some themes that form his core philosophical views. One view is that life is mechanistic and not supernatural. That is,

…we are governed by a set of principles that we must adhere to in order to get those things [that we want].

I see this as another way of saying “we must cooperate with the universe.” But Mr. Kemski also seems to be admonishing people to not buy anyone’s snake oil. Good things and riches won’t come into your life because of happy thoughts, but because you are deliberately generating a strong, attractive energy that will bring into your life those things you need and want. But the facilitating medium for getting you those things, will always be people.

Mr. Kemski tells you how to generate that strong energy, giving you some simple exercises to do so. In fact, he provides a link to his website where you can download (for free) a workbook of exercises to help you see and utilize the 11 principles. (I have the workbook and will go through it, and probably report on my experience with it).

Change Your Energy, Change Your Life strikes me as a very practical book. It is not mystic or religious, but is a thoughtful expression of what one person has learned about overcoming adversity and despair. And as such, it is a helpful guide for the rest of us as we struggle with adversity and despair.

The practical and mechanistic nature of the book, however, make it an operational guide for living, rather than a manual for spiritual fortification. It’s like an exercise program that will build your emotional and mental muscles, but it won’t help you through times of grief or existential crisis. For such as that, you should seek other avenues. But Mr. Kemski’s book can be a very good companion text.

Updated teaser page for "Power of the Ancients"

It is the year AD 2327 by the reckoning of the High Sages of the Order of Gaia at Sedona...

Source: http://www.rayfoy.com/dentville.html
Break of Poop Stories
Break of Poop Stories

I don’t often do writing contests, but I did one recently for a shot at the prize of Yann Martel’s latest novel. It was a fun experience with an unusual contest. I wrote a journal entry about it, here (click the picture).



Source: http://rayfoy.com/rays-journal/break-of-poop-stories
Thoughts on Lovecraft's "The Street"

I’ve been wanting to read H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, and finally started a compilation volume. It’s all very good, paranormal, extrasensory stuff, except for “The Street,” which is a thematic outlier for him. But what really struck me was how contemporary it is in its tone of intolerance. I had to make a journal entry about it.

Source: http://rayfoy.com/rays-journal/living-on-the-street
5 Stars
Ray-view of Trump for President: Astrological Predictions
Trump for President: Astrological Predictions - John Hogue

So who is Donald Trump? Is he a rich, racist, misogynist, conceited clown who makes outrageous comments that only ultra-right-wingers could love? Or is he a ultra-savvy real estate tycoon who has amassed fortunes by wheeling-and-dealing in the richest and toughest markets in world capitalism?

According to John Hogue in Trump for President: Astrological Predictions, he may be both. He might also be next US president, if his stars align.

In 156 pages and 14 chapters, Mr. Hogue presents his take on who Donald Trump really is, what his chances are for winning the 2016 US presidential election, and how he would likely govern as president, all based on Trump’s astrological birth chart. While his book is heavy on astrological reckonings, Mr. Hogue also pulls from news reports, history, his personal experiences with Geminis, and Mr. Trump’s own writings, to paint his picture of “The Donald.”

The portrait he comes up with is of a man more complex than usually seen in the news or on The Apprentice reruns. We are shown a man with issues, but also with a record of material success who has the potential to use his abilities at this unique moment in history for the common good (even as he unabashedly promotes and adores himself).

There is a lot of astrology in this book, as you would expect since the title proclaims it to be a book of astrological predictions. It is, however, balanced with a lot of straight-forward prose, as well as with explanations and interpretations of the astrology jargon. In fact, Mr. Hogue even provides, in Chapter 3, some definitions for many of the astrological terms he uses. Getting a handle on these will help reduce any jargon intimidation you may have. I think it will also help to keep in mind that:

1. Trump is a Gemini.
2. His “ruling planet” is Mercury.
3. His “Ascendant” Zodiac sign is Leo.
4. His Leo Ascendant makes connection with the planet Mars (in his birth chart).

This will make sense as you read through the book.

There is also a link (this is an ebook) in Chapter 1 to a graphic of Trump’s birth chart. It’s interesting to see, though it would only be meaningful to someone who knows astrology and who could refer to it while reading the book. From that chart, we get a personality profile for Trump that shows him with what I take to be classic Gemini traits: restless, always thinking, love of beauty and luxury, iconoclastic, flamboyant. Then Mr. Hogue further describes him as:

“…a Leo-Ascendant Gemini living large and loud about himself. This rising sign with a Martian chaser grants Trump high energy on overdrive, along with an emperor’s way with people that can be at one moment dignified, regal and in the next unguarded, Gemini-Sun driven moment, bullying, rude— filling the room full of yourself uninvited or taking up all the air in a presidential debate.”

With this baseline of Trump’s personality, Mr. Hogue goes on to talk about how Trump will affect the 2016 US presidential election, and how it will affect him.

Like Bernie Sanders on the Democrat side, Trump is a Washington outsider (though I think Sanders is more closely aligned with the Democrats than Trump is with the Republicans). That these two “outliers” have emerged in each political party strikes me as interesting. Mr. Hogue attributes it, and I agree, to people being especially fed up with the two parties at this time. In the past, this was a big help to third party candidates (think, Ross Perot), but these days, the rules are stacked even more to prevent any success for third parties. Consequently, these outliers are running within the established framework of the “two party” system.

Of these two candidates, Mr. Hogue predicts that Trump will get farther. Though both threaten the corporate darling candidates (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton), Sanders won’t survive the primary process and will humbly cast his support for Clinton (unless something takes Clinton out of the race). Trump, however, will not do anything humbly. Mr. Hogue sees him winning the Republican nomination and going against Hillary in the general election.

Among other points made by Mr. Hogue are:

* Trump most always gets what he wants, and he wants to be president.

* There is an outside chance that Trump will not get the Republican nomination and so make a powerful run as a Third Party candidate. But his best prospect for beating H. Clinton, is as the Republican candidate.

* If elected president, Trump has great potential to oppose the corporate 1% (he is one of them, but a maverick), keep the US out of nuclear war, and bring the US to a renewable energy based economy (or at least start the process). In fact, Mr.  Hogue says a lot about Trump’s potential to do good for the US and the world—if he can heed good counsel and keep his “evil twin” under control.

* Trump would likely get along with Vladimir Putin, thus helping to avoid WWIII. In fact, Putin and Trump have defended each other in the press and exchanged favorable comments about each other (this is my note, and I’m getting it from Russia Today). Mr. Hogue notes that Trump’s first two wives were Slavic and that Trump has done a lot of business in Russia.

* Trump is badly misinformed about, and missing the boat on, global warming/climate change. So far, Trump has parroted the line that it’s all a hoax promoted by scientists who profit from the research of it. Mr. Hogue points out that this is BS and that Trump desperately needs someone to set him straight on the issue. This would be especially critical if Trump became president, because heroic action taken by the next president to mitigate global warming may well determine the fate of humanity (and in my opinion, of all life on earth).

* Mr. Hogue makes interesting comparisons of Trump to a couple of historical figures: Richard Wagner (also a Gemini) and Alexander the Great. The similarities he sees are mostly in the areas of philosophical mutability (i.e., Wagner ranted anti-semitic a lot, but was a musical genius who became more tolerant in his old age), and in the tendency to overreach in their endeavors, much to their detriment (Alexander tried to push his conquests into India, but wasn’t successful).

All of this provides a more balanced view of Donald Trump than you’re likely to get outside of doing a lot of reading and research yourself. Even so, Mr. Hogue is not politically supporting Trump in this book. Rather, he is trying to provide a real understanding of a man who is an American icon and who has been, and will be, a very major part of the 2016 US presidential election. He shows us that the man is neither a buffoon nor a messiah (although he may, at times, behave as the former and consider himself, at times, to be the latter).

I have to admit that when I first learned that Trump was running for president, my reaction was, “Yeah, another nutcase for the Republicans.” His off-the-wall, right-wing comments tended to support that opinion. Then he made some comments that I thought were right-on: like condemning the allegations of Putin murdering journalists, and noting that Hillary was the more culpable for having innocent blood on her hands; and then saying that he was happy that Putin was kicking ISIS butt in Syria. I found these opinion extremes coming from Trump to be confusing, but Trump for President makes some sense of them.

I must also note that Mr. Hogue makes quite a few predictions in Trump for President. Some are repeats and expansions from his previous books (actually, his ongoing work) and some are new. They are all worth taking note of. In fact, reviewing them would be a study in itself. As I’ve said before, we live in an age of converging calamities and to survive we need all the insights we can get.

So let me just quote a few of Mr. Hogue’s predictions from this book, so as to whet your appetite:

* “Short of any unforeseen health issues, the Democrat nominee will be the anathema of right-whinging wingers, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”  (chpt 7)

* “I predict the winner of the election will gain the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency from Colorado and Nevada.”  (chpt 8)

* “I predict a very large turnout for this national election, primarily if Trump is pitted against Clinton.”  (chpt 8)

* “The economy isn’t getting out of this current Great Depression. It began in 2008. It’s only flat-lining until the next dive starting in 2016.”  (chpt 14)

* “[REDACTED] is going to be the next president, taking my streak to 13 and 0. No one else the Republican’s front has a chance to make that prediction wrong.”  (chpt 8)

As I’ve noted, this is a book of astrological predictions. Or I should say, it’s based on astrological predictions. Though he considers himself an astrologer, Mr. Hogue makes it clear that astrology is not a science (I think, though, that a case might be made that it “sired” astronomy). He considers it his chief tool for divining that allows him to reach beyond the surface of things to touch something deeper and so gain insight.

As he said in an article on his website:

“…I use divination techniques only long enough to trigger something far deeper and more profound that’s “between the lines” drawn hard and unrelentingly by “astrologism’s” technical purists.”

What he finds between those lines is coupled with scholarship and careful research into “what’s happening now,” and so produces something well-informed that should be noted. In other words, a work such as this goes well beyond “fortune telling.”

So I highly recommend Trump for President: Astrological Predictions as a topical work on the “force of growth and reconstruction” that is Donald Trump. In these momentous times, it’s another clue.

5 Stars
Ray-view of The Razor’s Edge
The Razor's Edge - W. Somerset Maugham

From its widest scope, The Razor’s Edge looks at the meaning of life from at least six different viewpoints. Those views belong to six characters (or seven if you include the author, W. Somerset Maugham, who plays himself in this novel), all of whom live in the privileged classes in the years between the world wars in the early twentieth century. Most of their life-views are similar, except for that of Larry Darrell. Prompted by his experiences in WWI, Larry becomes a seeker-of-truth and so comes to eschew (for himself) the materialism of his rich friends. His existential crisis drives him to abandon the US for Paris, leaving his fiancee behind. To his friends, he is a bewilderment, and he stimulates conversations about his nonconformity but makes no converts. The book is largely an examination of Larry’s search for spiritual enlightenment contrasted to the materialistic pursuits of his friends, especially Elliot Templeton.

The Razor’s Edge was twice made into movies, in 1946 and 1984. I saw only the 1984 one where Bill Murray played the part of Larry, and it varied significantly from the book. Still, it piqued my curiosity enough to see it a couple of times and to finally read the novel, which is much better.

In the novel, Larry Darrell returns from WWI, where he served as an aviator, to Chicago and the rich friends he grew up with. He is engaged to Isabel Bradley, but his changed perspectives make him delay the marriage so he can return to Paris for a couple of years where he intends to search for some meaning in life beyond the conventional. Isabel waits for him, but after the two years she finds that Larry doesn’t want to return to the US. He feels his journey of enlightenment has just begun and he doesn’t want to abandon it. So he splits with Isabel. She returns to the US and eventually marries Gray Mautrin, a well-to-do man who affords her the comfortable life she desires.

Larry continues to seek the spiritual life in France, Poland, Germany, and finally in India. When he has achieved a degree of enlightenment, he tries to save the life of the “wanton woman,” Sophie MacDonald. Sophie was a childhood friend who had a penchant for poetry, but she became an alcoholic and drug addict in adulthood. She gets with Larry for a while and seems to be trying to reform, but she falls off the wagon before they can marry (through the machinations of a jealous Isabel), and she abandons him.

Larry recovers from the loss of her and carries on his quest until he finds redemption in the spiritual. His old friends in Chicago find their own sort of redemption in their more materialistic pursuits.

This story is told solely from the viewpoint of it’s author, W. Somerset Maugham (as a character in the novel), who relates the other characters’ stories as they are told to him. Mr. Maugham was an English novelist known for pulling heavily from “real life” to provide the characters, themes, and plots for his stories. It seems that for The Razor’s Edge, he had a conversation with a man who had sought and found enlightenment in India, and it impressed him enough to base a novel on it. That man was the model for Larry Darrell, and there have been those who tried to deduce who it was. I think a good candidate was found, but I’ll leave that discovery as an exercise for the reader.

Mr. Maugham seems to have been an astute observer of life, and it shows in the character portraits he paints in The Razor’s Edge. These are recognizable characters, even for those of us who don’t frequent the haunts of the “upper classes.” He paints in-depth characterizations for the two characters who are opposites in many ways, yet alike in others: Larry Darrell and Elliot Templeton.

Elliot is an uncle to Isabel and is acquainted with all the other characters. He is rich and very materialistic. He lives for rich society and attending parties where he can hobnob with the wealthy, the famous, and the royal. He is connoisseur of art and wine, and may even deal in art on the black market. But, as with all the characters in this novel, he is not a “black and white” personality. There is plenty of gray in him. Though shallow in many ways, he is very caring. He  provides for his sister in her old age, and for his niece and her family when they are wiped out by the crash of 1929. He becomes a Catholic in order to make social connections, but he becomes such a pillar of faith that the local Bishop considers his faults as only “surface.”

Larry Darrell, for all his spirituality and good humor, shows himself to be very self-centered and one-track-minded to the point that he can be quite abrupt with others. He leaves without a word of consideration, and appears unfeeling towards those that love him.

Such grayness in personality is typical for all the characters in this novel, and it adds a big dose of realism beyond most such works. Consequently, I identified with many of the feelings expressed, or at least, recognized many of them. For instance, there is a general consensus among the characters that Sophie MacDonald is just a low-life, born that way, and it’s the only way she’ll ever live because that’s the way she wants to live. For instance, Isabel says of Sophie:

“Evil doesn’t spring from good. The evil was there always. When that motor accident broke her defenses it set her free to be herself. Don’t waste your pity on her; she’s now what at heart she always was.”

I’ve heard that sentiment expressed many times, and it may not always be unwarranted. I have, indeed, known people who seem to just desire to live at a very low level. In this novel, it seems that’s what Sophie wants. Even so, in the midst of it all, she asks Mr. Maugham for a signed copy of one of his books. Apparently understanding his doubts, she tells him: “I can read, you know.”

And in her youth, she wrote poetry. So maybe people shouldn’t be written off so quickly. Maybe, she’s just given up on herself too quickly, or is so fearful of death and loss that she wants her joy now. The way she puts it:

“Life’s hell anyway, but if there is any fun to be got out of it, you’re only a god-damn fool if you don’t get it.”

And with that attitude, it’s maybe understandable why she breaks off her engagement with Larry. Though Larry is sincere in wanting to help her, it may be that she understands their incompatibility more than he does. She tells Mr. Maugham:

“Darling, when it came to the point I couldn’t see myself being Mary Magdalen to his Jesus Christ. No, sir.”

Larry is hurt by her abandonment of him, and by her eventual death, but he is the ardent seeker. He keeps on seeking.

And it’s Larry who is the most interesting character for me in this book. He’s the most interesting for all the book’s readers, I’m sure. Though he is flawed in the way he handles social relations, he is single-minded in his search for enlightenment, and will not allow any detriment to his quest.

Larry’s nonconformity is a bewilderment to his friends. They cannot understand why this rich young man does not want to follow the usual pattern of going into business and making more money than he can ever spend, get married and have a big house and fill it with lots of kids. They say of him:

“Well, he can get a job.”
“That’s just it. He’s not trying to. He seems to be quite satisfied to do nothing.”


“A man ought to work. That’s what he’s here for. That’s how he contributes to the welfare of the community.”

These attitudes that Mr. Maugham describes, struck me as so very similar to the story Daniel Quinn tells in My Ishmael about the young man, Jeffrey (in the chapter, “My God, It Isn’t Me!”).

For such people, the normal way of the world is just not enough. It seems Mr. Maugham understood that. And so when Isabel begs Larry to leave Paris and return to “normal” life in Chicago, Larry says:

“I can’t darling. It would be death to me. It would be the betrayal of my soul.”

I can understand that. There are people like that, and Mr. Maugham says of them:

“…there are men who are possessed by an urge so strong to do some particular thing that they can’t help themselves, they’ve got to do it. They’re prepared to sacrifice everything to satisfy their yearning.”

Part Six of the book contains the conversation Mr. Maugham has with Larry concerning the time Larry spent in India, and the ultimate illumination he found there. It is, apparently, an accounting of the real-life conversation Mr. Maugham had with the person he later recreated as Larry Darrell, that so impressed him that he had to write a book around it. In this section, Larry is presented as more verbose than he is anywhere else in the book. He is talkative, and he tells of what he experienced, and learned, from the wise men he found in India.

This part was represented very inadequately in the film version of the story I saw. Mr. Maugham presents it beautifully, and, I think, expresses the idea that enlightenment comes to each of us (if it comes at all) very individually. For Larry, it was a moment of seeing, really seeing, the sunrise:

“…I can’t tell you, so as to make you see it, how grand the sight was that was displayed before me as the day broke in its splendor. Those mountains with their deep jungle, the mist still entangled in the treetops, and the bottomless lake far below me. The sun caught the lake through a cleft in the heights and it shone like burnished steel. I was ravished with the beauty of the world. I’d never known such exaltation and such a transcendent joy…I had a sense that a knowledge more than human possessed me, so that everything that had been confused was clear and everything that had perplexed me was explained. I was so happy that it was a pain and I struggled to release myself from it, for I felt that if it lasted a moment longer I should die; and yet it was such rapture that I was ready to die rather than forgo it…”

There’s very much more in this book, and it’s very quotable, so I’m giving no spoilers here.

As I’ve indicated, this is a much more character-driven, rather than plot-driven, book. And as such, Mr. Maugham says a good bit on a number of things. One that struck me as interesting was his thoughts on money, specifically, on having enough of it. At one point, Larry is considering giving away the wealth that allowed him to travel without concern for money, and live truly day-to-day. Mr. Maugham advises him against it with words that indicate the true value of money beyond any greed to just accumulate it:

“It’s given me what I value almost more than anything else in life—independence. You can’t think what a comfort it’s been to me to think that if I wanted to I could tell anyone in the world to go to hell.”

And then, Larry has an interesting comment about writing and publishing when he tells Mr. Maugham about the book he wants to produce:

“I’m only writing it to get all that material out of the way, and I’m publishing it because I think you can only tell what a thing’s like when you see it in print.”

In other words, he wants to use writing as a way to process all the experiences and ideas he has accumulated, and see it all as a whole in the form of a book. I can understand that.

So I really liked this book. I like that it’s not shallow, with the characters either good or bad. It’s also not a condemnation of rich people and an advocating of poverty as the path to enlightenment. Rather, like the Buddha, it suggests a middle path.

I highly recommend The Razor’s Edge for anyone looking for insight into finding themselves.

Star Wars

I never expected the Star Wars movies to be a "force" for all of my life, but it seems to be so. I've followed the movies as a fan all these years and recently saw the latest one (episode 7). It's time I said a few words about it in a Journal Entry.

Source: http://www.rayfoy.com/3/post/2015/12/star-wars.html
5 Stars
Ray-view of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" by James Hilton
Good-Bye, Mr. Chips - James Hilton, H.M. Brock, Edward Weeks

It is easy for me to see why this little book, hardly more than a novella, is a literary classic. It touches on themes common to the human condition, and on scenes that most of us have played out in one form or another. It strikes chords we can all hum along with. It is a collection of passages from a good man’s life, that we can rummage through and always pull out something with which we can relate.

The plot vehicle is of an old man, Arthur Chipping (called, “Mr. Chips”), remembering his life as a beloved school teacher (or “school master” since this is a very English novel). So there is, of course, the major theme of “growing old.” Mr. Hilton distills that theme by means of a lot of flashbacks to episodes in Chips’ life. In doing so, he never looses the thread that this is all Chips’ recollections in a present time-line. But first, he provides a preamble, as such, that speaks to the experience of aging:

A great joke, this growing old— but a sad joke, too, in a way. And as Chips sat by his fire with autumn gales rattling the windows, the waves of humor and sadness swept over him very often until tears fell so that when Mrs. Wickett came in with his cup of tea she did not know whether he had been laughing or crying. And neither did Chips himself.

You recognize that feeling when you reach a certain point—when most of life is behind you, and you look back and try to come to terms with it all. Just what that entails is very specific to everyone who has ever lived. At some point in the process, though, it involves joy for remembered love, and tears for what’s been lost.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips reads like a long short story. Events are related from Chips point-of-view, but the overall POV is omniscient. That is, Mr. Hilton moves to the views of other characters when it’s suitable and he offers much comment, from a detached viewpoint, on Chips and the situations of his life, and how it all affected him.

Mr. Hilton introduces the reader to Chips when Chips has retired. He is renting a room across the street from the English boys’ school where he taught Latin and History for over forty years before retiring in 1913. He is still active and alert (even witty) though we get the impression he is rather staid and set in his ways. But that impression might not be completely accurate. Mr. Hilton implies such with a curious phrase in referring to Chips’ daily routine that ends in a slumber that is not so much different from his waking:

For his days and nights were equally full of dreaming.

It seems to me that the reader can take that phrase a couple of ways. Dreaming can be an avoidance of life, or a quixotic challenge to humdrum living. Chips’ life, I think, touched on both.

In his first 25 years of teaching at his school (Brookfield), Chips worked very competently, and was well-liked, though he was considered “…a dry and rather neutral sort of person.” But, in a nutshell, he worked himself over the years into a rut. Mr. Hilton’s description of Chips’ rut is specific to pedagogy, but is still apropos to most of us:

…giving the same lessons year after year had formed a groove into which the other affairs of his life adjusted themselves with insidious ease. He worked well; he was conscientious; he was a fixture that gave service, satisfaction, confidence, everything except inspiration.

Chips didn’t inspire because he was not inspired. But then he found Katherine Bridges, a young woman 23 years his junior. She was a radical for that time, believing in women’s suffrage, coed education, and even admiring socialist thinkers. Still, the attraction of opposites hit her, and she and the conservative Mr. Chips were soon deeply in love.

…and they were married in London a week before the beginning of the autumn term.

Chips’ marriage to Katherine was his “goodbye” to his staid, uninspired life. Kathie invigorated and inspired him, and it was apparent to everyone who knew Chips. Though he had always had a sense of humor, it came to be his defining trait during this period, to the point that friends and students came to anticipate the clever remarks Chips had to say about anything.

This change was the result of the influence of a good woman. One who was very compatible with Chips, though it would not appear so at first blush. Kathie did not change him so much as she brought out what was inside of him all the time. Mr. Hilton tells us:

She made him, to all appearances, a new man; though most of the newness was really a warming to life of things that were old, imprisoned, and unguessed.

We are very fortunate, indeed, if our cold, imprisoned, and unguessed potentials can be realized at any point in our lives. Showing us that transformation—the need for it—is a great joy of this book.

So while there is that idea of “inspired change,” this story is mostly about the changes that come through simply living: the passage of time, what we lose, regrets, sad and fond memories. That theme is amply shown in the scenes of Chips in his old age, but is foreshadowed in a scene where Chips meets a young man about to be shipped off to France at the start of World War I.

The man had been poor as a child, but part of a group from a poor school invited to play football (soccer) one year against the richer lads at Brookfield (an event resulting from the urging of the Brookfield staff by Chips as prompted by his wife). The man remembered, fondly, that day and the kindness shown him and his schoolmates by Chips’ wife:

‘One o’ the best days aht I ever ’ad in me life. Wish it was then and not nah— straight, I do. I’m off to Frawnce to-morrer.”

Facing an uncertain and harsh future, the man was desirous to return to a better time. He could not, of course. Life and time will move on.

Chips’ life at Brookfield during WWI is the other big time recounted in his story. He had retired by the time the war started, but the loss of staff to the war caused the Chancellor to ask him to return to his duties at the school. He did so, gladly, and even became acting Head of Brookfield when the official one fell ill. When the man died, the school governors asked Chips to remain as Head for the war’s duration.

This time was as inspiring for Chips as was the time of his marriage. And he grew in a similar way.

For the first time in his life he felt necessary— and necessary to something that was nearest his heart. There is no sublimer feeling in the world, and it was his at last.

Chips was a steady, calming influence on the students and staff during the war years. At one point, he even continued a Latin lesson while German bombs dropped outside. He simply thought the room they were in was as safe as any shelter, and they just as well continue lessons until they couldn’t.

With the war’s end, Chips returned to his retirement, but maintained his connection to Brookfield. He entertained students, showed up at school functions, and contributed every way he could on small duties (like editing a school directory).

As Chips had grown from the love and inspiration of his wife (she died two years after their marriage), he also grew from his time at Brookfield. The school became a replacement for his lost wife, and its staff and students became his family. He grew in that relationship in a way that is rare for a person to do with their job. Of that relationship, Mr. Hilton tells us:

It was a service that gave him freedom to be supremely and completely himself.

How very rare. But he was only able to achieve that relationship, I think, because he had loved Katherine.

The end of the book relates the end of Chip’s life. There is a pleasing balance in that relating, with the images of routine and sleep shown at the first of the book. Indeed, Chips’ death is depicted as him greatly needing to sleep, and of finally going to sleep, and dreaming of  a roll-call of students sang to him as a chorus.

What I see depicted so brilliantly in the account of Mr. Chips’ life is the very bittersweetness of this life. Especially, as applied to the lives of ordinary people, common people, good people; to those who are extraordinary in their commonness. Us. And among us, the inspirations we give to each other, allow us to in turn, inspire.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a short book. Mr. Hilton wrote it quickly in 1933 and felt it was as complete as it needed to be. That’s probably true, although it is obvious to me that the story could easily have been expanded into a novel of greater length. Would it have been better that way? I think maybe so. It would have added greater dramatic impact to all the scenes of the pageant of Chips’ life, especially of his marriage and the war years at Brookfield. And it would have made the ending even more touching and satisfying.

But even so, I rank this book as among my favorites—along with Mr. Hilton’s other great novel, Lost Horizon. It is a meditation on life: the living of it, and the ending of it, and how it is so greatly enhanced by the sharing of kindness and love.