Monthly Archives: September 2016

227. Mentors in Detection

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants.”
             John of Salisbury, Issac Newton, and a million lesser lights attempting false humility.

What pen name? What market? What can we steal? . . . Correction. Not ‘steal.’ If you copy from three or more authors, it’s ‘research.’”
               Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love, and in a half dozen other novels in almost identical words.

There is very little in this world that is new and unique. We all borrow from those who went before. Some people borrow from giants, some borrow from pygmies.

Some people borrow from Shakespeare and screw it up royally. Some people borrow from third rate writers and turn the result into something memorable. But we all borrow.

I have made no secret of my mentors in science fiction, first Andre Norton, then Robert Heinlein. I write only a little like Norton and nothing like Heinlein (I would pay real money for his touch with humor.) Nevertheless, they both live in my head, all the time.

There are a thousand other authors whose work has moved me, but Norton and Heinlein got there early. Only Harold Goodwin (John Blaine) and the Bible got there sooner.

Over in Serial, my novel Raven’s Run is being serialized. It is a “men’s adventure”, a genre that is no longer recognized. In modern parlance, it would probably be classed as a thriller, although the tension level is really too low for that. It is also something like a detective novel, but not much. Genres today are so small and tightly defined, that RR crosses several of them. It resembles the Travis McGee books in that way.

In connection with mentors and influences, I will be covering three detective series next week along with one spy novel. McGee was a real influence on my writing. The two Fathers taught me a few things, but they are basically just stories I like. I’ll explain the Shrike when I get there, next Thursday.

Detective literature started with Holmes, both in the world at large and in my reading. I read him when I was in high school, and I still do, occasionally, although it is harder now that I can lip synch all the stories. I didn’t read other detective stories – or Westerns for that matter – until I was writing science fiction and fantasy full time and needed something to cleanse my mental palate between writing sessions.

McGee was by far the best and most influential. I’ll talk about him next Tuesday. Dashiell Hammet never appealed to me, but Raymond Chandler was superb. Robert Parker’s Spencer was great for the first ten books while he was imitating Chandler; after he started imitating himself, they went down hill fast. I enjoyed Chesterton and Greeley enough to give each his own post next week.

Quite a few of the authors who come to mind were actually writing spy stories, like the gritty early James Bonds before they degenerated into farce.

There were authors with a few books whose work stuck with me. E. C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case was worth reading. So were the few Bertram Lynch mysteries by John Vandercook. That particular series was a recent discovery, in ancient, battered copies at my favorite underfunded library – you know, the one that never throws away a book. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is the series I am working my way through now, since I have read the covers off all my previous favorites.

To be certain that I didn’t forget any old friends, I went through several “best detective authors” lists on line. There I found Alistair MacLean (author – under a pen name – of The Black Shrike) and John Buchan. I would not have called them detective novelists, but they are among my favorites.

Not every detective lives in contemporary England or America. I fully enjoyed the five or six Cadfael novels I read before the spell wore off. I own and frequently reread every Judge Dee book, and Bony (Napoleon Bonaparte), the half aborigine Australian detective is very nearly my all time favorite.

Raven’s Run 17

Everything seemed intact. The line to the sea anchor was becoming chafed where it passed through the anchor bits. I should have pulled it in somewhat, but that was out of the question. All I could do was let it out three feet to keep it from chafing further.

Up forward, the motion was severe. When the Wahini crested a wave, the deck fell away beneath my feet like a high speed elevator dropping from penthouse to basement. The line to the sea anchor was as hard as a steel rod; droplets of seawater danced on its vibrating length. I felt like Ishmael on a Nantucket sleigh ride. No amount of reason could convince my senses that we were moving backward more slowly than the waves. My eyes knew that we were surging forward.

I returned to the main hatch. Raven was there, her hair a black bramble in the wind. I took the canvas, hammer and nails, and dragged the hatch closed. The frame was shattered, but there was nothing I could do about that now. I simply nailed canvas over the hole, and trimmed it with my knife. Then I slid the hatch half open and clenched the nails over inside, took a last look around, and went below.

Raven was waiting. She looked so melodramatically woeful and bedraggled that I had to smile. I said, “Where were we?”

It took her a moment to shift mental gears; then she smiled too. “We were in each others arms,” she said. “Were! Now, you are going to tell me whether or not we are going to sink.”

I motioned her to the transom seat and sat opposite her, bracing my feet against the ship’s motion. “No, I don’t think so, but we’ll never come that close again and live to tell about it. The wind seems to be dying down just a bit, and the Wahini is riding properly again.”

“So we’re all right?”

“No guarantees, but probably.” I decided not to tell her about the Wahini’s inherent instability. “How do you feel?”

“Scared. Fine other than that, I guess. Tired. I haven’t gotten much sleep.”

“Me either.”

“So who was doing all that snoring?”

I smiled. I had to admire her for trying so hard. From a cruise ship, to near drowning, to this – she appeared to be holding up well. I wondered what it was costing her.

“What is happening to us?” she asked.

I explained about the rogue wave and the broken boom.

“Does that mean we are stranded?”

“No. It means we may have some heavy repairs ahead of us when the storm lets up, and that we may take longer to get to Marseille.”

She bit her lower lip and asked, “Will we have enough food?”

Another point for her, for intelligence this time. Not many people would have thought of that. I said, “Don’t worry.”

“I have to worry. I’m the one that got you into this mess.  Because I’m here, you have two mouths to feed.”

I shook my head. “No, Raven. I’m not putting you off. Don’t worry because there is plenty of food aboard. We stocked the the Wahini for two before Will had to fly on ahead. If we are much delayed, we may run out of luxuries like coffee, but we won’t go hungry.”

“I don’t want to be a burden.”

“You aren’t.”

She laughed bitterly. “So who went out to repair the damage and who stayed inside safe and warm.”

“This conversation could get tiresome. No, I didn’t invite you aboard; but you didn’t choose to be here either. There is no blame involved, and nothing to apologize about. You are welcome aboard, Raven.

Very softly, she said, “Thank you.”

“I think I could get to like you very quickly.”

Her face lit up. She couldn’t have looked happier if Ed McMahon had knocked on her door with ten million dollars. I wanted to say more, but I sensed a reserve in her, and the last months had left me emotionally drained. Perhaps that was part of the reason I was falling for her so hard and so fast. Not that I needed a reason beyond the fact that she was beautiful and we were alone in mid-ocean. If you rescue a mermaid, you’re expected to fall for her. more tomorrow

226. Cyan is Not Forgotten

I’m not complaining, honest.

Publishing is a strange business, and you couldn’t pay me enough to be an editor. Still, I haven’t mentioned Cyan since May ninth, and that is a problem.

I started this website about a year ago in support of Cyan, which had been accepted for publication as an e-book. Not self published, which offers no guarantee of quality, but published by EDGE, Canada’s premier publisher of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

So what happened? Nothing very terrible, or very unusual. The editor who was handling EDGE-lite, as they call their e-books, decided to work full time elsewhere. I would guess from the vagueness of some emails I received that this decision took a while to make. I don’t know any details, and I wouldn’t give them if I knew. I’m not a fan of gossip. Anyway, the handling of my book has changed to a new editor, and that always leads to delay.

I finally got the word of what had happened in July, from Brian the publisher.

I am writing this on September fifteenth; I have mentioned before that I hate deadlines, so I try to have my posts ready well in advance. I expect word soon on what will happen next, but I can’t wait any longer to comment.

I have followers who have been with me for over a year, and new people who drop in every day. The former have probably been wondering what happened, and the latter have never heard of Cyan. So here goes.

Cyan returns to the style of science fiction in which the restrictions of relativity were exploited as plot elements. It gives a full picture of the exploration and colonization of one planet through the eyes of characters who are somewhat larger than life, in a tone designed to attract the general reader as well as hard core SF fans.

The story begins en route to the Procyon system on board the starship Darwin with her crew of five men and five women, and details their explorations. The planet they discover, Procyon A III – Cyan – stands straight up in orbit, with no inclination and no seasons. It has bands of unvarying temperature, from burning desert at the equator to permanent icecaps. Near 40° latitude is a broad band of eternal springtime.

Just as the explorers are falling in love with Cyan, they discover a group of creatures who have the beginnings of intelligence and culture. For the first time, Man has encountered a truly sub-human species. They call the creatures Cyl. Viki Johanssen, their anthropologist, recommends denying colonization to protect them, but Keir Delacroix, the crew leader on whom the novel focuses, will not endorse her proposal. 

The remainder of the book deals with this conflict and much more.

This is the first part of the summary I sent EDGE; I have chopped the last 342 words to avoid spoilers.

Scattered among the last year of posts are discussions of and excerpts from Cyan. You could go to the tag cloud, but it wouldn’t help much. The earlier posts were not tagged (I was still learning how to do a blog) and many of the later ones bear mention of Cyan without being primarily based on it.

I could bring you an annotated index of Cyan posts, as I did for early posts at 212, or I might recycle them. It all depends on when Cyan is going to be published.

Cyan is not forgotten. Stay tuned.

Raven’s Run 16

The hatch was canvas covered plywood, framed with oak. Something had punched a fist sized hole in the plywood near the back and the whole thing was jammed. I forced it open. The wind, fierce as it was, seemed to have abated slightly. We were once more on an even keel, riding to the sea anchor, but at a sharp angle to the waves. The Wahini’s main boom had torn loose from the harness that supported it’s outboard end at the mizzen, and was dragging in the sea along our port side. The mainsail was still furled between gaff and boom.

It actually seemed to be improving the way the Wahini met the waves, but I couldn’t leave it in the water. I did not have a spare mainsail; if we lost this one, we were dead in the water. Maybe literally. The sheet seemed to still be intact, so I tried hauling it in. The great mass of wood and canvas bent double, and I knew that the sound which awakened me had been the boom breaking. I released the sheet and threw the bitter end of it around the base of the mizzen. With that new angle I could drag the furled sail back toward the boat with less damage. To the sail; not to me. I had to brace one foot against the mizzen and put my back into it. Near the end, I had both feet on the mast and was lying on the deck with the sheet around my shoulders, heaving with my thighs, then taking up slack. Like doing deep knee bends to lift a Buick out of a well. When the sail finally came back aboard, I lay panting and sweating before I could get up to lash it to the deck.

Raven was standing with her head out of the hatch, looking scared and helpless. I moved to the pump, a hefty, old-fashioned type set amidships with a pair of short handles like an old pump handcar. I went to work. The pump dredged up gallons of seawater, smelling of gasoline and colored with ketchup and coffee grounds, and dumped them on deck. Passing waves quickly swept it clean again. Raven said something, but I lost it in the screaming wind and just shook my head. I put my hand on top of her head and pushed gently. She gave way and I stuck my head through the hatch where she could hear me.

“Forward, through that door, in a cardboard box marked canvas. Bring me a piece of scrap, at least a foot square. Then look under the ladder, beside the engine, high up on the left. You’ll find a tool box. Bring me a claw hammer and a dozen roofing nails. Those are rough gray nails with big flat heads.  OK?”

She nodded and I let her go while I shifted my harness line and worked forward. I scrunched along with my feet in the scuppers and my hands on the edge of the cabin house while the wind tried to pick me up like Dorothy and carry me away. Definitely, this wasn’t Kansas. more tomorrow

225. Somewhere in America

Leap Alan Hed has been around all summer. If you want to look up the rest of his story, go to the tag cloud and hit Leap.

From Leap Alan Hed, somewhere in America, to a favorite cousin,
(I can’t tell you exactly where he is. Someone might find this.)

Dear Anne,

I’m still on the run from the news media and from those who would write me in as President.  I’ve been on the road now for about six weeks. I’ve lost weight and grown a beard, but anyone who looks closely could still recognize me, so I stay hidden most of the time. That was almost a blessing at first. The high Rockies were beautiful when I could stay there. It has been getting colder every day for a while now, and I have had to come down, so I am once again hiding too close to people.

I thought the desert would be open and empty enough for me to go unnoticed, but it isn’t. I stumbled onto a deserted shack and made myself comfortable last night. Then I had midnight visitors. Five Mexicans: two young men, one young woman, a child, and an old man. They must have been a family. You could tell they were just over the border and on their way north looking for work.

Donald would have crapped himself to be caught by a bunch of “rapists and murderers”, but, of course, they were just frightened people, looking for a little peace. And hungry. Both hungry in the long term sense that had sent them looking for work, and hungry right now. I don’t speak enough Spanish to matter, but sometimes smiles and gestures are enough. I shared my food with them. I cooked up all I had, but it wasn’t enough. Tomorrow I’ll have to take a chance and find a place to buy more.

They left this morning before the sun came up. They were very quiet as they went, but the child’s voice woke me. The old man was last to leave. He is probably my age but he looks a hundred years old. He saw that I was awake, so I said, “VIa con Dios,” and he made a little wave as he slipped out the door. I wish them well, but I fear for them. I fear that they will be caught, or die in the desert as so many do. And I fear for what will happen to them after November.

Damn these people who chose Hillary and Donald, and now they hound me to run as a joke President. I’ll bet they thought it was funny, when it all started. Well, very little of this seems funny to me now.

I’d better quit so I can mail this when I go looking to buy food. Anyway, if I get any angrier, I’ll set the paper on fire just touching it. Soon November will have come and gone, and I can come out of hiding, and see you and Ted again. Bake me an apple pie, say November 15th, and I’ll be there to eat it.

I wonder what will become of my new Mexican friends in November?

      Love,
      Leap

Raven’s Run 15

Chapter Five

The storm’s masterstroke came just after dawn. What actually happened, I never knew for sure. Perhaps some freak combination of waveforms resulting in a rogue wave much higher than the others. Perhaps the waves had changed their period and the Wahini was out of synch, and caught still rolling to port under the influence of one wave when a second one added its force to the first. The reason was irrelevant; only the result mattered.

I was shocked fully awake by a sound like an explosion, a shudder that ran through the hull and the sickening feeling of overturning. I sat up so quickly that I slammed my head against the overhead, but my curses were cut off by a firehose spray of salt water in the face. Before I knew it, I was out of the bunk and standing with my feet on the side of the cabin, looking down through the portholes into green swirling water that went all the way down, miles down, to the deep ocean floor.

Wahini was lying on her side. Raven’s bunk hung above me. Her eyes were like twin coals glowing in twin caverns, her mouth worked with fear but no sound came out. She clawed at the ropes that held her canvas restraint in place and came slipping out like the sudden, final rush of birth. I caught her as she fell.

Wahini’s masts must have been nearly horizontal. If she had had even one stitch of canvas set, it would have driven her down that last degree to her death – and ours. Instead she hung there for agonizing seconds that felt like years, mastheads just above the surging waves, rail buried, cabin sides buried so that we could look down between our feet out the porthole into the green depths where Leviathan sleeps. 

There was absolutely nothing I could do. Not even pray. Raven’s hands were making furious crosses, forehead to waist, shoulder to shoulder. Please, God! Please! Another bucketful of water came in the broken hatch and washed the canned goods, ketchup, and coffee grounds around our ankles, covering the portholes and hiding the sight of the depths that lay beneath us.

We braced each other up, arms wrapped around each other, trembling in the darkness, helpless as mice beneath a lion’s paw.

Slowly, regally, Wahini found her feet. The cabin side slid sideways beneath us and we scuttled back to the narrow floorboard. Wahini groaned around us.

I swallowed my heart, and as the fear-buzzing numbness faded from my ears, I became aware of the fact that I was holding Raven in a close embrace. She had buried her face in my chest and the scent of her hair was strong. Raven black. Long, firm body pressed close and trembling. And I had no time for her! I disengaged gingerly, cooing reassurance and cursing our timing. more tomorrow

224. I Have a Theory

voicesThe debates are tonight, and I’m confused. I’ve been following this election closely for a year, and it just doesn’t make sense. Why the Democrats nominated Hillary is a puzzle, and why the Republicans nominated Donald is a mystery.

Hillary Clinton is entirely unappealing, but not crazy. Donald Trump probably isn’t crazy either, although he is working very hard to appear as if he were. It should be a no-brainer. People should be holding their noses and voting for Clinton, or voting for a third party, or refusing to vote at all. But that isn’t happening.

Why?

I have a theory. Actually I have three, that came to me after months of head scratching.

First, let’s look at two philosophical positions, beginning with belief in the zero sum game. In sports, which are supposed to mirror life, there are winners and losers. Ties happen, but they are an aberration. We have overtime, and double overtime, and photo-actuated timers that measure to the hundredth of a second, all to avoid ties.

If you believe in the zero sum game, then if America is losing, it’s our own fault – or more accurately, the fault of those in power – and it doesn’t matter who starts to lose when we begin to win again. As Donald said, “I am a winner; I like winners.” He does not say, “To hell with the losers,” but it is implied.

The other position is laid out in the notion that, “A rising tide floats all boats.” That is, if we do things right, everyone can come out better. Despite ten thousand kindergarten teachers pushing cooperation, this is not a position most Americans are comfortable with. Those who have won think it’s stupid. Those who have lost think it doesn’t work.

Hilary said, “We are stronger together.” I personally prefer that position, but I can fully understand how voters being rubbed up against the hard edges of America would see it as fluff.

Will those who favor the zero sum game support a self-proclaimed strong man, hoping to hold on to what they have at the rest of the world’s expense? And hoping that Donald won’t simply take for himself what little they have left?

And what of those who favor the rising tide? Will they, if they lose faith, go running, crawling, gagging to the master of the deal?

Is it simply a matter of fear vs. faith, with fear winning?

Theory number two is everybody’s theory. For the farmers, auto mechanics, and truck drivers I grew up among, Donald wins the “who would you rather have a beer with” contest. Just look at him on the campaign trail, the impish smart-ass that you can never pin down in an argument. Everybody who has lived his life among working men, knows many Donalds. They are the life of the party in every beer joint, ignorant but unflappable. Now look at Hillary on the campaign trail. Her face looks like the reason they all came to the beer joint in the first place. Everywhere she goes, Hillary plays the woman card; grumpy old men silently counter with the ex-wife card.

Prejudicial argument? Certainly, but we all live with images in our heads, and when those images match up with the faces we see on TV, it is a strain to keep logic from flying out the window.

So much for men of my age. Theory three deals for young voters, for whom the candidates look like father-image and mother-image. (And Bernie looks like the wise old grandfather you can trust when your parents are going squirrelly.)

Donald looks like the father who will bluster and foam at the mouth, then give in and let you do what you please. Hilary looks like the mother who will stand over you until you eat all your vegetables.

It is a terrible thing to realize what images we carry. I hope we Americans can get beyond them and vote for substance.

Doing what the voices in your head tell you, is never a good idea.

Raven’s Run 14

The hollows between the waves had become like caverns. Wahini would crest a wave then plunge down into the trough with such speed that it seemed as if she would bury her bowsprit and keep on driving clear underwater. I could no longer trust my steering to prevent disaster. I had been up so long that I could hardly trust myself to stay awake. I had to put out the sea anchor.

It was a clumsy device of boards and welded chain that Will and I had fashioned months ago, hoping we would never need it. I turned the Wahini into the wind and dropped it off the bow on a long line. I paid out the warp until it coincided with the period of the waves and the Wahini settled into a wild but regular pattern of motion. The sea anchor dragged her bow around, holding Wahini’s head to the wind as she worked the waves. She seemed to move forward while actually sliding backward under the press of the gale. As we crested each wave, the sea anchor snubbed the bow down until green water came over and shot a thin sheet the length of the deck. Then the wind would catch the full height of the masts and Wahini would shake her head like a horse with a harsh bit in her mouth. Down the face of the wave then, nearly plunging through the swirling surface and on down to the sea floor miles below. In the trough, crashing into the face of the next wave; then struggling, shuddering, up to the next crest to repeat the cycle.

I lashed the wheel amidships and waited. I had been without sleep for thirty-seven grueling hours, but I had to stay long enough to know that I had done all I could for Wahini. Finally I slid the hatch back and went below.

All was chaos. The crazy motion had been magnified below decks. The latch on one of the food cabinets had broken and canned goods were rolling around underfoot. A bottle of ketchup had broken, turning the narrow deck into a smear of bloody-looking broken glass, mixed with grounds from the overturned coffee pot. The blanket I had wrapped up in was half soaked in the mixture. Raven was in her bunk again, clinging with both hands to keep from being thrown out as the boat shuddered and staggered from wave to wave. Her face was full of terror and seasickness.

I said, “Look,” and showed her how to adjust the canvas restraint that would pin her into her bunk so no motion, however violent, could throw her out. Then I replaced her seasickness patch and dug out a pair of chocolate bars. She refused hers, so I ate them both.

I shook the broken glass out of my blanket, wiped the worst of the ketchup and coffee grounds on the edge of the transom, crawled into the bunk opposite Raven’s, and fell instantly asleep.

#          #          #

My night was broken. Every hour – it seemed like every five minutes – Wahini’s wild motion would bring me to wakefulness and I would lie staring into the darkness, feeling her drunken dance with the storm and gauging her condition. Eventually I would drift off again, and an hour or so later wake again with that steel-twisted feeling of helpless. So it went, all night. I made no move to go on deck. Unless Wahini lost her sea anchor and I had to makeshift another one, there was absolutely nothing I could do to make things better. There was no reason to look out for other ships. If one were bearing down on us, there would be nothing I could do to avoid it. It was better to just sleep and wait. more tomorrow

223. Arrogance

When famous writers speak of writing, other writers take notice. It doesn’t hurt if they have a Nobel prize to their credit.

Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”

Interesting. I was much impressed by his observation when I first read it during the seventies, as I was just starting to write. Decades later, it still seems sound.

Harlan Ellison said that the thing a writer needs most is arrogance.

Maybe, if well mixed with competence, but even then I have some doubts. Ellison had plenty of arrogance, and he was about the best short story writer ever. But if you drop in at wikiquotes and read what he has to say there, you might wonder if arrogance and competence alone are enough. Decide that one for yourself.

Regarding ego – and a strong ego is first cousin to arrogance – take a look at the words Rex Stout put into the mouth of his fictional character Archie Goodwin.

“If your ego is in good shape you will pretend you’re surprised if a National Chairman calls to tell you his party wants to nominate you for President of the United States, but you’re not really surprised.  (Champagne for One, p. 5.)

That sounds like something Donald Trump might enjoy reading.

What Hemingway, Ellison and Stout have in common is the unstated understanding that they are talking about success on a national or international level. Ego approaching arrogance and an unfailing shit detector are necessary.

They are not enough.

One of the great American lies is that hard work will bring you success. Every time an Olympic gold medal winner is interviewed, they say with mock humility, “I wasn’t particularly talented, but I worked hard for my success.”

Whereupon my Hemingway-brand shit detector goes off like a fire alarm.

Take a thousand swimmers. Let them each work equally hard. One will win the medal and nine hundred ninety nine will fail. Fail! Yes, I said the F— word. Fail. Only the N— word is more feared.

I hear the kindergarten teachers shouting, “We are all winners!” No, we aren’t. Telling impressionable children lies like that is child abuse.

I hear middle school teachers saying, “The only difference between winners and losers is how hard you work.” There goes my shit detector again.

“If you don’t work hard, you won’t succeed.” That might be closer to the truth, although I’ve known some successful incompetents. Just go look at some of the novels sitting on book store shelves. “If you work hard you will succeed,” is simply a lie.

So, writers (who else would be reading this?), listen to your shit detector, have the ego to believe you have something to say, and the arrogance to believe that it’s their own damned fault if the rest of the world doesn’t listen. Work hard. Don’t give up.

And get a good day job.

Raven’s Run 13

There is no accounting for what drives the engine of memory. In the midst of storm and danger, my mind went sailing again on a Swiss lake, on board one of the lovely old paddle wheel steamers. It was my first trip from Geneva to Montreaux by way of Luisanne, fresh out of the Army and happy to just play tourist. I stood for hours watching the bow wave curl back in smooth mustache of green water, probably dreaming of crossing an ocean in my own small ship. 

Funny thing, the mind. Here in the middle of screaming wind and angry seas, I should have been remembering scenes of similar violence in my past. The shock of cold, swift water as my canoe overturned in the rapids of the Canadian sub-arctic; or crouching silently in the dark, waiting with Greta for East German guards to find us. Instead, I remembered my first entry into Luisanne by steamer, with swans slipping gracefully and unconcerned out of the way. Beyond the embarkation pier were parks and a marina where I had spent an hour admiring the sailboats. The swans had come to beg crumbs, and I had shared part of my bread-loaf lunch.  Young swans – cygnets – as dark gray and ungainly as Hans Christian Andersen’s ugly duckling, trailed in their mothers’ wakes.

When I returned to the dock, two young femmes were sharing a park bench, singing to the guitar one of them was playing. They were perhaps fourteen, as fresh and awkward and innocent as cygnets. They were singing in English, with accents that said they were French. Suzanne, Leonard Cohen’s first real success, a song full of pain, disillusionment, and wry bitterness. Their sweet voices curled around his salt-sour words, singing of things they could not possibly understand. It made the words more bitter, and the beauty of their innocence more poignant.

When they sang that “the sun came down like honey”, the scene came together in my mind in one unbreakable gestalt. The awakened innocence of the girls, the honey warm air, the clear, flat green water with mountains rising up in the distance across Lac Léman. The sound of birds in the bushes; the swans parading awkwardly on dry land down near the marina. I took it all in – a small satori – and it was mine forever, to rise up again when least expected.

Like now, cold and stiff and a little fearful, caught in the midst of a gale a thousand miles from safety. With another girl, more awakened than innocent. With waves that rose up all around me, awaiting a moment’s inattention to destroy both of us. more tomorrow