Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

January 2012

 

Here it is again, that time for review and resolutions. I can’t claim to be at all like our lady Queen, who apparently spends Christmas Day in seclusion, and passes the day quietly with prayer and meditation. I rather wish I could be, as I’m sure this sort of activity is very good for one.

But I do go in for some review of the past year. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I do the other? sort of thing. And I try to remember the good smooth bits rather than the sharp pointy ones. It’s the things that have been neglected or left undone that tend to nag at me, though. Particularly in the area of writing.

Writing is like embroidery: you’ve really got to want to do it. Because it’s so easy to do other things instead: gardening, visiting, shopping, the dread and ever-present housework, the whole business of what the world is pleased to call reality. Then there’s the terror of what used to be the blank page: the blank screen is just as bad. A writer once ruefully remarked that in order to write you sit down and open a vein. Genius Meryl Streep apparently rings her husband at the start of every shoot, and says things like, ‘Why did I ever think I could do this?’ He says, ‘You say that every time.’ She replies, ‘No, I don’t. Anyway, I can’t do this.’ Then, of course, she does.

It is sadly obvious that I do not resemble Meryl in any way. With initial terror conquered, I start enthusiastically, and then another terror creeps up on me. That of getting stuck. This terror is exacerbated by the little demon who whispers in my ear that what I am writing is all drivel. So at the beginning of every year I tend to think of the number of suspended manuscripts I have cluttering up my hard drive. Not to mention the anachronistic bottom drawer of my desk. I managed to finish a short manuscript just before Christmas, and tell myself that that at least is something.

The project that really haunts me is one involving the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, best known for his novel Zorba the Greek, as it is called in English. I am ingloriously stationary at about 15,000 words. One reason for this is that I am overwhelmed by Nikos, who had prodigious energy, and achieved a truly staggering amount in his 74 years. I don’t think he had a relaxed moment in all his life, what with writing plays, novels, poetry, translating demanding works, travelling extensively, and then writing beautifully about his adventures, writing school text books, working for the Greek government, and as a journalist for the distinguished newspaper Kathemerini, while maintaining a dazzling correspondence with various luminaries of his day and age. Then there was the reading: he never went anywhere, I believe, without a copy of Dante.

He fitted a personal life in there somewhere.

Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Well, Nikos was the living proof of that wise Biblical statement. He was born in 1883, in Heraklion, Crete, then still part of the Ottoman Empire: Greeks were locked into their section of the walled city every night, and the gates were unlocked every morning. Nikos’s family was no stranger to fear: as a small child, he was taken by his father to look at the corpses of three Greeks, hanged for their part in an uprising against the Turks.

‘Why did they die?’ asked the child.

‘They died for Liberty, God bless it,’ replied his father, and insisted he kiss the bodies.

Small wonder, then, that Nikos’s subsequent view of life was somewhat bleak: he considered life to be a very brief and often troubled period between the twin abysses of birth and death. He did not believe in salvation, and was always subversive, so that he found himself in a lot of trouble, to put in mildly, with both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches. The Greek church refused him burial in hallowed ground, and the day after his funeral a leading cleric thundered: We have buried the AntiChrist.

Many people in many places got Nikos and his philosophy wrong. He never gave up his belief in God, but had his own ideas about how God Himself needed Man. He did not have much time for the Ten Commandments, but reduced them to one vital one: that of Harmony. His idea was that we need to be in harmony with ourselves, with our fellow man, and with the natural world. All ideas worth the mulling over, to say the least.

So that is my New Year resolution: I am resolved to think about Nikos and his ideas a great deal more, and not to be haunted or daunted by him, his achievement or his life.

And then there’s the matter of harmony…

Gillian Bouras

 

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