Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Review of The Watchman’s Rainbow and Other Works, by Bill Wyant

ISBN: 978-0-9600201-0-2 (paperback)

DISCLOSURE: For four years the author of this collection of short stories, plays, essays, and poems was a student in my creative writing classes held through an extension program offered by a community college in West Virginia. Most of the pieces that create the seemingly disparate yet unified tapestry of this collection were developed in those classes; I edited many to varying degrees and published early versions of The Watchman’s Rainbow at the literary site for which I am Founding Editor,
That said, my objectivity could rightly be put into question. With sensitivity to such a probable circumstance, what follows is more of a book report than a book review. I have chosen this modification of my approach over the prospect of abandoning the work altogether for one simple reason:
These works are well written, exquisitely researched, and, as the author tells us in several of his Author Notes to the various sections, he has lived at least to some degree the realities that he has crafted into his fiction.
Constituting the bulk of the page-count for this collection, The Watchman’s Rainbow is a geopolitical action-thriller in the tradition of  le CarrĂ© and Clancy. It takes as its focus the drug wars between the United States and Mexico, although, as writers and able readers know, we do not read or care about subjects when it comes to fiction—we read and care about people. And the person at the core of this collection of stories and theatre-like interludes is Amos Sanson (a pseudonym) who is coming to the end of a long, successful career as a watcher for a cabal led by a man named Simon Stoddard (think Charlie directing the Angels or the voice on the Mission: Impossible recordings). As we first meet Sanson he is struggling, akin to Sherlock Holmes (a character with whom Wyant, like myself, has great affinity) with whether or not to retire in the face of the fact that he is no longer the man he was, mentally or physically, although the villains—and his employers—are making it hard to walk away.
It was clear from the first day Bill brought the bones of The Watchman to class that his knowledge of the watcher’s world was impressive (he has nearly 30 years of experience in the “active and reserve component Army … [with] qualifications in military intelligence and special operations” according to his bio) and put him squarely on a research level with le CarrĂ© and Clancy.
His commitment to improving as a writer (and, truth be told, he was more than proficient to start) put him on their level in other ways as well.
The Watchman’s Rainbow boasts an intriguing cast of international secondary and tertiary characters, plenty of action, and many insights into the geopolitical realities of the twenty-first century.
Showing his range, Wyant follows up the novella with five poems, the first of which, “The Master Mysterian,” is an homage in quatrains to none other than Sherlock Holmes. He follows this up with a poem about the first literary detective, C. Auguste Dupin (a creation of Edgar Allan Poe). The final three poems cover Reality, War, and Death.
After the poems, Wyant offers two one-act plays. The first takes as its subject the Monongahela River, in north-central West Virginia, and its importance and function through history. A life-long resident and champion of the area, Wyant explores over the course of centuries of development one of the defining features of the river: the struggle between economic profit and protection of the environment. As a playwright and social justice activist who spent seven years researching and producing historical fiction in north-central West Virginia, I can vouch for Wyant’s historical research and authenticity of his characters.
The next play, titled Parlor Games, is one for which my theatre company gave a staged reading, with myself as director, as part of an evening of new one-acts several years ago. It is a tragic tale of gossip and jealously in a small town. It reads as well as it plays on stage.
The collection then offers a non-fiction section of essays on the state of the twenty-first century. Fans of only fiction might be tempted to skip them, but that would be a mistake—Wyant synthesizes his professional work as an analyst and deep thinker with his creative writing, situating the essays in the nexus of fact and fiction, drawing on the works of George Orwell, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and Jack London to observe and prognosticate—ala Amos Sanson—on the current geopolitical landscape and its obstacles and hopes.
And so we come full circle, or, more aptly, go from one end of the rainbow to the other.
The collection closes with a brief essay on the “Greatest Generation” and an Afterword.
The Watchman’s Rainbow ends with a cliffhanger, so I hope we will be reading more from this experienced and talented author in the not too distant future.

Monday, April 1, 2019

A Review of The Before Heaven I Ching: Reading the Text of Creation, by William Douglas Horden

(Ithaca, NY: Delok Publishing). ISBN: 978-1794535985 (paperback)

Modern life is admittedly complicated and complex. I am just old enough, having turned 50 last November, to say that it wasn’t always like this. Not to this degree. Ubiquitous technology, overpopulation, climate change, and shrinking resources have resulted in a fast pace, profound changes lurking like subtext between the sure-faced politicians assuring Business as Usual, and multiplying reasons to not be hopeful for the future.
Tools of divination and insight—such as runes, astrology, Tarot, the Kabala, and the I Ching—can be helpful as organizing principles. If you listen closely and take what is useful, they have a way of burning away the blinding, disorienting, low-lying fog the artifacts of the twenty-first century have produced. Given, as stated in this book, that we take in much more information than we can process, tools such as these are essential to creating Stillness and taking stock of where you are. Glimpses at what is really at work in your life, the forces that are helping and hindering your journey, can bring the Attention and Awareness that just might save your Soul.
For the past several decades, William Douglas Horden has focused on the I Ching. Of his more than twenty published books, eight of them are part of a series that concludes with the book being reviewed. And all of the others—either directly or by way of energetic and experiential connections—further inform the ancient tool of divination and spiritual practice called the I Ching.
Interested readers should read my previous reviews of the author’s works for the details on Horden’s background and training, which are extensive and impressive. This review will focus solely on the current volume at hand. 
For the past decade I have been using Horden’s books to interact with the I Ching, starting with The Toltec I Ching, which I first received for review almost to the day ten years ago. With each book subsequently published, I have gleaned new insights and have been honored to have readings of the I Ching from Horden and to have him stay in my home on several memorable occasions. He was even a guest on one of the paranormal investigations I do with my wife, offering invaluable insights on the mysteries of death and what’s beyond.
The Before Heaven I Ching, as the author writes, “is not a book about how to use the I Ching or engage the Oracle on the level of divination. It is, rather, an interpretive text of the symbols of the I Ching, which are, in turn, interpretations of the living symbols of Creation” (7–8).
Because of this attention to symbols, the book has a vibrant energy, progressing, like some of the other tools I mentioned, as a journey of the Soul. It is a journey of Transformation, of Transmogrification. One that does not start at Point A and end at Point B, but that is circular, cyclical, and never-ending.
Colin Wilson, in his book The Occult (1971), has nothing but positive things to say about the I Ching as a tool for accessing what he calls “Faculty X”—connection with a higher state of consciousness that is essential for humankind to self-actualize and escape an empty life of malaise and harm. What Horden has given us in this book is a trail through the jungle to Faculty X, although we must do the work—of studying the symbols, of meditation and contemplation, of connecting with the symbols on a level beyond speech, where their energy is most resonant and connected to the Universe.
One of Wilson’s closest friends was the poet Robert Graves, who had an abundance of Faculty X experiences. Wilson talks at length about the powerful intuitions and higher-consciousness experiences of poets. It should be noted that within Horden’s bibliography are four collections of poetry. This is no coincidence. The interpretations of each of the 64 hexagrams, within their major interpretive sections (an introduction, Hexagram Sequence, and Mantic Formula), are poetry of a high and resonant order.
The final section for each hexagram is Intent, which presents what I treat as koans corresponding to each of its six lines. These are beautiful statements, rich in imagery, which can be used for contemplation or even as reminders for daily living. One of my favorite examples of the former is, “The god of rain does not come begging for a drink of water” (50) and of the latter, “Patience in the face of complexity is not a weakness” (41).
Some of the Intents are also stated in what can be embraced as Goals—as a rebuttal, a alternative to the Agreed-Upon State of Things that the military-industrial-intelligence complex (aka the Corporate Oligarchy) sells as THE ONE AND ONLY WAY. Start by placing John Lennon’s “Imagine…” before these two Intents, both taken from the 41st hexagram, Contentment:
“Governments cured of competition, fear and domination” (140).
“Religions cured of hatred, arrogance and zealotry” (140).
And, if we focus hard enough, purely enough, “Imagine…”
“Watchtowers and ramparts lie in ruins for lack of need” (147)
It’s easy if you try. This book can be your tool.
To those who have studied either a specific spiritual system or a plethora of them, the core concepts will be familiar: balance and harmony (reflected in the Outer Nature/Inner Nature symbols for each hexagram), the visible and invisible, attunement, entrainment, communion, concentration, birth–death–rebirth, ritual, awareness, and intent.
For those with a more philosophical/psychological bent, the work of Jung, centering primarily on Alchemy (prima materia, hieros gamos) and Archetype, is threaded all throughout. The tone and topics of the text remind me strongly of Jung’s style and foci in works like The Red Book. 
Horden’s beautiful text explicates numinous spaces—Dreamtime, the Spirit World, the In-Between World, the Imaginal, the Nagual—as furnaces of creation, of places where we go when the illusions of the prevailing Reality and the Conscious mind fall away. Horden’s text resonates with sacred writings such as the Upanishads.
If you want to clear the fog, let this book be your candle.