Who’s your Psychopomp?

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

As for qualifications, I have camped on the south shore of the Gulf of Corinth at the mouth of the River Styx and crossed it several times. So have all the other residents of Akratas. No that won’t do. (The Ancient Greeks believed that Charon, the boatman ferried them across the River Styx to the Underworld. They were buried with coins on their eyelids to pay him for his service.)

As a child, I was shut in boxes. Maybe that was my early training.

At a certain point in my life, the recently dead started turning up, usually sitting in a chair in the corner of my bedroom. Just sitting. Never talking. Or in my dreams, they phoned me, never saying anything sensible and never answering questions. My father’s spirit persistently offers advice such as ‘Buy lottery tickets’. He was a villain on earth, but he has spent 30 years on the other side and seems to be a reformed being. He even shows up at hospital bedsides to comfort those he once harmed. So they tell me.

Somewhere along the line, my family started to assume that I was a conductor of the dead, a psychopomp. They didn’t use that word of course. It is not a role I aspire to. At the moment, for example, I have a recurring image of a man who has passed over, but doesn’t believe in the afterlife. He is huddled in a fetal position with his ears covered, pretending he is not conscious. I repeat the 23rd Psalm to comfort him and, alternately, offer to give him a swift kick.

I’m not religious at this point, but I remembered that comforting song of David, and thought it might help – Josh, let’s call him Josh. If you feel inclined, you could join me in your own way, encouraging him to “Wake up! Wake up! It’s not so bad. You really are forgiven.”

When I uploaded my e-book, Hour of the Hawk, Amazon called ‘psychopomp’ a spelling error. An aberration, a delusion, perhaps, but not a spelling error.

Creating my main character, Joanna Hunter, I saddled her with that ‘ability’ as well as a conscience which speaks to her in her great aunt’s voice, admonishing her to fulfill her duty.

Her first duty is to attend to Tom Braddock who has been mauled to death, in his own backyard, by an angry bear. Well, of course an ‘angry bear’. He would hardly have been killed by a grateful, happy bear, even though he did persist in feeding his bear friends honey in a tire swing. And the bear had good reason for being angry, although not necessarily at Tom.

There are other deaths. It’s a murder mystery after all. But those Departed have enough imagination to manage on their own.

As you will, no doubt, when the time comes. Just be sure to cure yourself of the idea there is a hell. Pretty sure we are doing our stint there, right here on earth. Like my father we may have much to learn in the afterlife, but as a school it’s much more like Play Mountain Place than the boarding school Prince Charles attended. It seems to me, the afterlife can be whatever you think it is. With night school courses in empathy.

For heaven’s sake, don’t call on me to guide you.

To purchase Hour of the Hawk as an e-book go to joycehowe.com. It will be available as a paperback from Amazon in January 2018.

 

Advertisements

To e-Read or not to e-Read

This week, I read another pronouncement by a Book Lover that he, bibliophile that he is, would never consider reading an e-book, he being Joe Queenan, who has written a memoir One for the Books. Robert Fulford, critic for the National Post calls the memoir “a funny, fractious and ecstatic book about his (Queenan’s) life as an obsessive reader.”

Queenan spends 2 hours a day reading and claims to have read 6,000 books since he was 7 when he began reading to escape his violent, alcoholic father and emotionally distant, manic-depressive mother.

Well, good for you, Joe, and la-dee-da. Who hasn’t? Who didn’t? And I swear I have already given away that number of read books while still retaining a couple thousand more. You can see Joe has rubbed me the wrong way and I haven’t read his book yet, but I intend to enjoy it nevertheless.

In addition, Fulford reports that Queenan refuses to read any book in which the character attends private school, including Catcher in the Rye, self-actualization books, books described as “luminous” and he considers To Kill a Mockingbird a historically suspect novel about Just the Nicest White Man Ever. That is not the end of the list of what he will not read.

Queenan enjoys the sensual experience of the book as object, the feel of it in his hands, the visual impression of print on paper, the smell, the memories evoked of where and when he got it.

Fulford, himself, recounts the 3 life rules he taught his daughters: 1. never fold down a page, 2. never leave a book open face down, 3. never leave the house without a book.

Once we have enjoyed the irony of the fact these are supposed to primary life rules, we can evaluate them. Number 3 is – it goes without saying – undeniably a prime directive. You can endure the interminable waits that transit companies, airlines, hospitals, doctors, and city hall throw at you with your mind buried in a book. Today I watched a young woman walking up from the main bus route reading every step of the way. And I have a friend who got a ticket for reading in a traffic jam. Well, they weren’t going anywhere!

Personally, I do not regard books as sacred. They are too important.

I do not turn down corners except in dire emergencies. Having said that, dire emergencies do arise, times when the bookmark has vanished and there are no available sales slips, transit tokens and certainly no dollar bills, here in the Great White North, to make do as markers. Since many of the mysteries I read are 3rd or 4th hand or more, I spend time straightening other people’s dog-ears. I would never dog-ear a library book nor would I underline or write in one and more than once, I have wanted to hunt down someone who did. Their comments are without exception puerile. (Look that up, desecrator!)

My own books are a different question. I write on the back flyleaf reminding myself of ideas that struck me as interesting and noting the page number. I generally don’t underline but I might note a word at the top of the page to help me find the idea later. Of course, I read in the bathtub, although not in the shower. Of course, I read at my solitary table at home and in restaurants. Of course jam gets involved and grease, but never ketchup. I hate ketchup.

Once my young daughter came home indignant that her school librarian had told her that never, never, under any circumstances, should she read, even her own books, in the tub or at the table. Daughter and I just shook our heads in pity: librarian was not a true reader.

A true reader is omnivorous and will find books wherever possible -in discard bins, big box bookstores, second hand stores in mouldy basements and, of course, in e-readers. Even Robert Fulford, Queenan’s reviewer, confesses that he read One for the Books on his Kindle.

I have an old Kindle that my sister, Georgia, gave me. She has its twin. Mine is still in her name, so whatever book she buys also downloads to mine and vice versa. I bought Lee Child’s new book A Wanted Man and she also downloaded it. She did wait until I had finished; otherwise, we would have got confused. It would have automatically gone to the last page of whoever had used it last. Note to Lee Child: if I had bought the hardcover, I would have loaned it to her.

I love the Kindle for that reason and because I can hear about a book and have it in my hands in seconds. (Full disclosure: I have also published an e-book Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. See 115journals.com) So if I am snowed in or too sick to go out, if I can’t get to sleep, if I need to consult a book I don’t have, I can find it easily on Amazon and download it. It all goes on Georgia’s charge card!

Apparently, it is now possible to download e-books from our library, but I haven’t got there yet.

I can’t write notes on the back flyleaf of an e-book. I can’t even keep a record of page numbers -there are no page numbers, just % of book read – and ideas, but I am dealing with 5 year-old technology and I’m betting other tablet users can. It is annoying to go back and search for a reference as I had to do when writing the post “Jack Reacher: a long way from Virginia”. But it was not impossible and was no doubt instrumental in building me new neural pathways, so necessary in one of such advanced years.