Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Snowy Spring Morning: A cold, damp, starving artist and cold, damp, starving birds

(Credit: Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker Magazine, March 7, 2011)

"Starving artist" is acceptable at age 20, suspect at age 40, and problematical at age 60. Robert Genn

It is through... Art and Art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence. Oscar Wilde

I'm an ambitious self-publicist out of necessity. I've never been one to miss an opportunity because I've never had any illusions about how hard it is to survive as a painter... It's been an extra driving force to be able to prove the sceptics wrong. Stuart Pearson Wright

This is one of those crucial moments: It's Sunday morning, it's snowing, the birds are ravenous, and I found just the thing to make this early spring experience memorable:  in a recent edition of The New Yorker is an article on the perfect starving artist: This guy had consumption, died after a brief, romantically dysfunctional life, and actually had a wonderful talent.

Modigliani! Ah, yes, you're the one we think of when we think of Paris, cold garrets with troubled plumbing, tuberculosis, much alcohol, many lovers, illegitimate children, and early death, but not before, finally, at the very last moment, being recognized as a great artist. In fact, when I was visiting the National Gallery of Art in D.C. last week, I found myself face-to-breast with this very same nude--let's call her the ur-woman--and was self-conscious of my desire to stare at it for longer than my wife would have thought appropriate. What would people think? Everyone else seemed to glance at it, avert their eyes, and move quickly on to something else lest they be thought lascivious--or worse. This is America, after all, land of a lingering, tragic, trickle-down Puritanism.

Never mind. Something about this era in the history of art resonates with me at some deeply satisfying level. So, stare I did, up close and personal. The wonderful thing is that, up close--very close--it not only does not lose its appeal, but it's attractions increase. The brush strokes look like they were made yesterday, the texture left by the artist's technique allow the viewer to imagine Modigliani just stepped back to allow you to take close peeks, first at the model, then at the painting, then the model, then the painting..... Maybe you'll go out and have a drink or ten drinks with him later and you can witness him throwing glasses around the cafe and having a public battle with the mistress who you just watched pose for him. Wouldn't that be a fine thing? But I don't know, I could always go to some city right now and find an artist who is starving and get drunk with him and watch him make a fool of himself and abuse his girlfriend. But it just wouldn't be the same unless someone had already paid a couple of million bucks for one of his paintings and written an article about him in The New Yorker.

 Is the foolish dog, barks at the flying bird. Bob Marley

As for the birds, I'm glad I'm in my toasty house and not in some cold, damp attic in Paris slowly drinking. whoring, and coughing myself to death. I might not appreciate them as much as I do. As it is, I'm drinking my coffee confident that this snow is an extremely temporary interruption in the inevitable arrival of real warm weather and the birds know this, too. As for specifics on the birds, we have juncos, brown-headed cowbirds, red winged blackbirds, grackles, robins, tufted titmouses, sparrows of some variety, and cardinals, all crowding around the feeders and where I spread the seed on the ground. I can't let them starve on this cold, dark, damp day. As Modigliani had his benefactors, I shall be theirs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Find Solace in Art and Sunshine, Kids and Comraderie

Here's my quote for the week from none other than President Lincoln. When you hang out in Washington, you are unavoidably steeped in the perennial--and perennially ignored--wisdoms of history. And when you are steeped in history it's hard to avoid that feeling that no matter how bad the world is, we have been here before.  In other words, we have all learned the lesson that we never learn the lesson. Pity Mr. Lincoln, pity Mr. Obama.

As Lincoln said, "We are now engaged in a great civil war....." and yesterday, Obama entered into one of his own, this one in Lybia. Any easy answers? When very smart people can't agree on what to do, what are we, the common people, to think? Is there really any wisdom in the "common wisdom"? Where would we all be now if the 16th President had simply said to the South in 1860, "See ya'll later. Good luck with your Confederacy" and thus saved 618,000 lives? But we engaged in that civil war for the lofty purpose of holding the Union together. We are engaged in this civil war to keep the oil flowing--oh, yes, and to save the common people of Lybia from genocide.

Never mind. I turned away yet again from the madness and found some solace in a peaceful place: the sculpture garden at the National Art Gallery. It was a beautiful day, weather wise, and I found a seat in the sun on a bench and watched troops of middle schoolers out on their spring field trips pass by. I chatted up a couple of middle-aged guys (one in German, which was fun and nice see that I can still speak that language as badly as I used to). The other said he worked in one of those big marble buildings next to the garden and why not come out and get some sun and bring his work with him? He took my picture and I took his. The combined innocence of art, warm sunlight, a cool breeze, easy comraderie, and the chatter of the young people, had the sought after magical effect: I was able to become mindful and this allowed me to stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is okay. And maybe it is.

The writer being mindful in the National Gallery of Art sculpture garden on a spring day. Just like in high school sports, I'm still riding the bench, but now it feels very nice. Or maby I'm part of the exhibit--Title: Man Being Mindful in the Sun

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Washington This Week: I seek refuge from world events in waxy celebrities.

Bill Clinton Waxes Strong in Spirit at Madame Tussaud's

My week in Washington is going something like this: trying to integrate what greets me every morning on the news. You know, the on-going horror in Japan, and the unspeakable cruelty in Lybia, and a stupid presidential candidate wanna-be who thinks the Battle of Lexington, one of the most important events in American history, was fought in New Hampshire.

I'm struggling to mix all that in with my take on what a generally fine world we live in and how pleased I am with things and come to grips with the rotten luck of some of my fellow sentient Earthlings.

What to do? Yesterday, as I was making my meandering way along the busy sidewalks and through the statued parks and squares down to Union Station (seventy pounds of 22-carat gold leaf in the ceiling!), I happened by Madame Tussaud's wax works. I stopped by expecting the worst and the worst would be people who looked like they were made out of wax. Like Bill Clinton. They got him about right, though, but not Hillary. They nailed Jimmy Carter--perfect,

 but made a hash of Lincoln, thus:

 They had Brittany Spears hanging upside down with her breasts heaving (Really, they pump air into them. Oops, I got her all turned around. But, she's got her hang ups as we all know).

 and they put Opra on a diet, removing at least 100 pounds of the famous flab, so:

Johnny Depp, well, he was okay, and he did catch me off guard with his eyes. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, spun around, and just for an instant thought he was--well, not made of wax.

Nearby to Mr. Depp was Madonna, sprawled on a couch. Wait, is that Madonna or just some woman who doesn't really look very much like Madonna?

And maybe, even if you were drunk enough, would you think this looks like Bob Dylan? Really? What about the hair?

The eeriest of all, though, were the old presidents, the ones we never saw on television and didn't know what to expect. Like this one here--but I can't remember who it was now--oh, yeah, James Buchanan, I think. He spooked me, though. The eyes again, I guess.

But I did get to chat up Barack and Michelle. Boy, are they tall. An impressive couple.

Monday, March 7, 2011

As Spring Struggles to Get In the Door, the Writer Comtemplates the Wisdom of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the cultivation of open-hearted awareness of one's present-moment experience.The practice of mindfulness is beneficial for people experiencing anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and physical symptoms related to stress or disease. Through mindfulness we can see clearly, accept, and gain freedom from the suffering brought on by our automatic thoughts and assumptions. We can experience the joy of being fully present in our lives, learn from difficult times, and be open to compassion for ourselves and others. Vickie Fine

Yes, yes, yes, I'm a skeptic. In fact, let me write that with a capital S--Skeptic. But there is this thing I have about Buddhism. After spending a lifetime scouring the world for religions that make sense, and finding none, another look at this ancient philosophy reveals some common ground--some, just some.

While Buddhism does not embrace the irrational beliefs of other religions (holy ghosts, devils, spirits, etc.) Buddhism does include the notion of reincarnation. There is no rational evidence to believe in ghosts or spirits or reincarnation either, period, and I challenge you to provide it. And the other unfortunate irrationality that Buddhism shares with other religions is their negative take on sex.

Yesterday, I was listening to an NPR radio program on which a woman, who had spent years traveling the world's exotic places studying Zen Buddhism, described her adventures. She said that while spending a year meditating, she was instructed to forgo the following: stealing, cheating, lying, and sex. Seems to me it's counterproductive to vilify the reason we are all here, but most religions seem to do it.

Back to the point at hand: Where Buddhism gets it right--really right--is with the theory and practice of mindfulness. No spirit-ghost-afterlife mumbo jumbo here. No worshiping of some fearful, vengeful god, no praying for forgiveness for sins (lying, cheating, stealing, and sex, mostly). No, mindfulness is something real you can wrap your brain around.

There are lots of books out on this topic, all offering relief from your particular neurosis via mindfulness, but the wonderful thing about mindfulness is you don't have to be a bull goose looney or a Woody Allen-type neurotic to benefit from it. Even the emotionally fit among us will experience a pleasant rush of relief in taking your mind off autopilot for a while and focusing on your awareness of your awareness of your awareness--of the moment, that is. Your breathing, the feelings in your body, the sounds around you, your heart beating, your....It's a huge relief, in any event, to slow down and become, if only briefly, a part of your own life, a life that is screaming by at warp speed and will be over way to soon

                                                                          Move slowly, smile, breath.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's March 1st: The World Burns (nothing new there) but Spring Beckons and the Writer Re-Writes

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Oscar Wilde

“I wrote a script for a guy, and he said he liked it but he thought that I needed to rewrite it. I said, Screw that, I'll just make a copy.” Mitch Hedberg

There's another Oscar Wilde quote about writing that goes something like this: "Yesterday I spent four hours taking out a comma and today I spent four hours putting it back in." That's the idea anyway. I'll bet he was talking about the final stages of re-writing something. It could be a term paper or a poem or a short story. In my case it's a novel.

I'm right there at the  point where I'm about to tell myself, "Okay, it's done already. Now you're spending entire days putting in and taking out commas. Screw it, let's make a copy." Still, it seems whatever place I open up the manuscript to, I find something egregious that needs changing. Not just commas, but idiotic, clumsy, over-written phrasing. And what about that new scene I'm thinking about inserting right in the middle of the book? Should I or shouldn't I? I've learned to trust my instincts when I write, but now, with the manuscript nearing its final form, my instincts are all muddled.

The good news is that yesterday, whilst raking up the winter detritus of our front yard, my wife found the wonderful flower pictured above, a very fine crocus. And then I went out to my sailboat and she posed for this lovely photo--kinda of an old, retired guys Playboy foldout with no staples in the middle. Ah!

So, mad dictators, savage politicians, and  commas, and clumsy phrasing be damned, it's been a long, cold winter and these first harbingers of Spring will be enjoyed--celebrated, even. I've done all I can for humanity this week and I'm going to enjoy the spoils.