About B Gourley

Bernie Gourley is a writer living in Bangalore, India. He is currently writing his first novel entitled CHASING DEMONS. He is a martial artist, yogi, and world traveler.

DAILY PHOTO: Props

Taken at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum in July of 2018

POEM: Notes on Being an Introvert: or, Weird

Most people turn a spigot to control the flow of the informational self. Opening the valve at will, and adjusting the flow as the pipe diameter allows. I have a hammer and a dam. Slamming the hammer into the dam yeilds nothing the first knock, and only a few droplets seep through over next several frantic smashings. Then spews a deluge of stone and water. Fortunately (or unfortunately,) by the time the flood crests, everybody has found safe ground elsewhere — usually.

“One-track mind” is a pejorative label, a criticism of an obsession. But the best one can aspire to is a two-track mind. Track One is what you are aware of, and Track Two is being aware of what you’re aware of it — metacognition. [Some Buddhas may be able to mirror it out to a third level, but not me.] Sure, one can juggle things in and out of Track One like a spastic circus worker, but it’s still a one-track mind. And dialing in Track Two is like tuning into one of those cross-country super-stations back in the radio days. The ones that only came in clearly in the stillness of the dead of night, and, otherwise, tipped into static with the slightest provocation on this spinning, orbital world.

My point is that I require a track for actions that usually take place down below the waterline, in the engine room — i.e. eye contact, smiling, etc. So when my one-track mind is occupied with information flows, I’m staring off who knows where — looking like the person who peers over your shoulder at a clock or at the prettier person he wishes he was talking to — but without recovery, because I’m oblivious to what my eyes are taking in. Worse, sometimes I remember to juggle “make eye-contact and smile” into Track One, and then I realize after the fact that I stared down an interlocutor with a maniacal grin until he excused himself, worrying I might have been sizing him up to make a coat of his skin.

Lest you think me wallowing in the mire, there’s a sweet upside. Under the right conditions, I gobble up and manage information like one of those giant harvesters that chews through a 200 acre cornfield in a day — separating grain and chaff — and stowing it away neatly. And, putting my body in motion, I can dive a mile inside, losing my Self and becoming blissfully enamored with this electric life.

Then there’s that aspect of me that I used to feel a curse, but have come to embrace: my inability to give two fucks about things that drive “the normals” to frenetic lunacy, such as:

  • collecting and squirreling away bits of matter
  • sports teams (A digression: I’ve always found spectator sports to be like being invited to watch a party through the window from the outside. I see why the athletes are fervent about it, but can’t figure out why anyone else would care.)
  • the need to be loved by every single person I come into contact with — that must be exhausting
  • the need to feel that I understand the world (I love the chase, but I’m like a mutt chasing a Mack truck. Catching it would prove fatal. It might not crush my body, but it would crush my soul.)

I’ve been thought many things:

  • People-hating: Untrue. I see each person as a bright and splendid sun. Warming. Soothing. Invigorating. Burning. Scorching. Cancer causing. And, ultimately, fatal. “The poison is in the dose,” as they say. Catch me without sunscreen and I’ll flee. With it, we may know some time together. My wife seems to be the only one free of this harsh and curious radioactivity.
  • Arrogant: OK, it’s not wrong that I be thought arrogant, but it’s usually in ways and degrees that do not hold. I once heard Neil Gaiman say something to the effect that a writer must balance humility with the lunatic overconfidence of a seven-year-old schoolboy. To clean out the attic before it explodes out the windows and into the street requires an inexplicable degree of comfort with everybody seeing the skeletons, sex toys, and unused fitness equipment you’re putting to the curb.
  • Depressive: Perhaps, in the days I felt the need to be someone else, but more likely just drained from the time-release vampires.

BOOK REVIEW: As You Like It by William Shakespeare

As You Like ItAs You Like It by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This play tells the tale of Rosalind, the daughter of an exiled Duke whose dominion was usurped by his brother, Fredrick. Rosalind goes into the woods with her best friend — the daughter of Fredrick, Celia — where her father is living in banishment. For a twist, she adopts the disguise of a man. As it happens the [proper] Duke’s forest attracts several other visitors in addition to its usual country folk, including the three sons of Sir Rowland de Boys, one of whom – Orlando – falls madly in love with Rosalind (who has by that point disappeared into the guise of a young gentleman.)

This play uses several of the common plot devices of Shakespearean comedies, including: mistaken identity, girls dressed as boys, the love triangle, and letting the audience in on a joke about which the play’s characters are kept in the dark. As it’s a comedy, you can correctly assume that all works out for the key characters — in fact, things work out quite neatly for everybody. In fact, Rosalind-in-disguise, conducts a scheme that results in a four-way wedding including not only her and Orlando, but also Orlando’s brother Oliver to Celia, a shepherd to a shepherdess, and a clown to a wench.

Of course it’s good, it’s Shakespeare. As for how it compares to the other comedies, I’d put it in the same ballpark as “Much Ado About Nothing” and slightly better than the middle of the pack. However, I have seen that some consider it the best of the comedies. I didn’t find it to have the tension of “The Merchant of Venice” or the intrigue of “Tempest” or “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but it’s clever and has some well-known pieces of writing, probably most famously the “All the world’s a stage…” speech. If you haven’t read it, get on it.

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POEM: Legacy

i blacked out on the launch pad
so, if you came to see me soar
sorry you had to hear me snore
i’ll not, today, become the fad

i remember my dear, old dad
he broke the very speed of sound
but I can’t claim I was around
i’d trotted off to Leningrad

but powering down made me glad
i can’t rocket into that cold night
a tragic rider with Quixote’s sight
my only hope lies in going mad

what great men have gone this way
cursing in the light of day

POEM: Nonsense

pounding out a soul song
read it right, don’t get it wrong
wait for cops to come along
and move me back to my cell
 
there is an iron kind of hell
i heard the cry and felt the swell
after life had rung my bell,
and doused me in a sea of hope
 
seek out neither king nor Pope
you’ll end up hanging by the rope
a poor and pitiless lonely dope
who never learned right from wrong

DAILY PHOTO: Snail on a Leaf

Taken in October of 2019 in Auroville

There are so many things in this life that I wish to — but cannot — understand. One is how this snail moved his entire house onto a leaf barely wider than said house and a fraction of its weight. Riddle me that.

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Boulevards by Aditi Sriram

Beyond the BoulevardsBeyond the Boulevards by Aditi Sriram
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I came across a reference to this book on someone’s blog, fortuitously, a week before our first trip to Pondicherry. And I finished reading the short book during said trip. Pondicherry, technically now known as “Puducherry” but more often than not called “Pondy” by Indians, is a fascinating place on India’s coast with the Bay of Bengal. It’s both the name of the city and the Union Territory (UT) of which it is part. [The book deals mostly with the city, but it does explain the UT briefly.] UT’s are generally smaller than States and are usually managed by the national government. The UT of Pondicherry consists of four discontiguous pieces of land.

There are a few facts that stand out in making Pondy unique within India, and the book deals with them all in some detail. First of all, Pondicherry was a French colony and this is reflected both in the cuisine and architecture on offer. Chapter 6 focuses especially on the city’s French history, but one will find discussions and references of that past throughout.

Secondly, a famous member of the Indian Independence movement turned Karma Yogi, Sri Aurobindo, set up shop here after fleeing the Brits. This resulted in “Auroville” (an experimental township intended to be a utopia that sits a short drive from Pondy) as well as a large Ashram that owns a lot of property in Pondy proper. Sri Aurobindo’s lead student turned collaborator (called “Mother” by Ashramites) apparently bought up distressed property at bargain prices. Chapter seven deals extensively with Aurobindo, Mother, and their legacies in terms of Auroville and the ashram, but – again – these individuals are touched upon throughout. If the reader is looking for the skinny on any controversies regarding Auroville, they are only touched upon obliquely. [Moving to Auroville is said to involve surrendering all of one’s wealth into a communal collection, which is a common trait of cults.] Mostly, Sriram just includes some of the views of locals, which range from weakly positive to unenthusiastically negative.

Finally, while Pondy has this distinctive colonial history and an influx of international visitors to the Ashram, it can’t be forgotten that it’s literally surrounded by Tamil Nadu, and so there is that flavor throughout as well. People may hear about the unique flavor of Pondicherry and how it tends to be tidier than most Indian cities, and they might be expecting that it’s like being in a different country. Rest assured, the Indian influence dominates the landscape, it’s just that it’s diverse in a unique way.

The book mixes history from ancient to modern with discussions with current residents about current issues. When I say “ancient history,” it should be noted that there is an old Roman outpost called Arikamedu a short drive out of town, and it is discussed in the book. Travelers should note that the artifacts from the Roman era – including Greek and Roman pieces – are kept in the Puducherry Museum, and the ruins at Arikamedu are from more recent visitors (though they are photogenic if you’re willing to take a little effort to get there, which involves meandering around some small lanes and sandy roads.) One of the most interesting history-centric chapters is three, which tells the tale of the beautiful prostitute, Aayi, who had a water well built that kept Pondicherry hydrated during both pre-colonial and colonial times.

I found this book to be interesting, and I learned a few things that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. If you’re traveling to Pondicherry, or have an interest in the city, it’s worth checking out.

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DAILY PHOTO: Aayi Mandapam

Taken on October 6, 2019 in Pondicherry

Built at the behest of Napoleon III to honor a prostitute whose well provided water to Pondicherry for many years.

There are many versions of the story. The gist of the one I read is that this lady-of-the-evening was stunningly gorgeous and — as a result of all her customers and shrewd financial planning — she was rich. When the King came by he was angry that she had a nicer house than him, and so he had it burnt down. However, by volunteering to build a  well of unparalleled output and hygiene for the people of the area, she put the King in a rough spot in which he could neither have her executed nor force her into his harem.