Proud to be Irish

Dalai8My husband is 100% Irish-American, and in spite of the three generations that form a wall between him and the old country, he feels the tie. Maybe it is the 100% part — all of his family history and traditions come from the same place. Maybe it is the 16 years of catholic schooling he got along the way.  Today, he is proud of his heritage in a new way. The people he has to thank for his genes and much of his outlook surprised the world.

They didn’t hold a bitterly fought election on gay marriage in which one side managed to barely out talk the other. Instead, they voted in droves, as parties ranging from conservative to liberal stood up and said “it’s wrong to oppress people”. As a group, the Irish do know a thing or two about being oppressed. As a group, it looks like they’d as soon see less of that in this world.

The odd thing is that many in Ireland continue to hold very traditional religious views. I’ve gotten to visit the island four times, and wouldn’t particularly describe it as a hotbed of progressiveness. However, I would describe it as having a culture in which being openhearted is considered a virtue. My thoughts are that, as a group, the Irish just voted to put warmth and kindness ahead of politics or religion. You have got to love that. I plan to drink a Guinness or two tonight to celebrate. Go Ireland!

 

 

This box goes everywhere with me

I wrote it in bold magic marker, lest the cardboard container get mixed in with the books going to storage or the dishes going to Goodwill. When I realized what I had started, I smiled.

Dalai 10I was making a “happiness box” and filling it with my most precious treasures. Over the next month and half I will be living four or five different places and staying in several hotel rooms as I coordinate a move across country with the timing of selling a home. I will actually couch surf, a little unusual for a professional woman my age. Outwardly, I say it is going to be no problem. I’m a highly flexible human. The child inside me knows otherwise. She is scared about having nothing to hold on to, and she is the one who started this box.

First thing to go in it? The bowl I like to use for popcorn. Makes sense. You can pretty much do popcorn anywhere. It never fails to bring cheer. Second item – my favorite glass for wine. My inner child isn’t really a child. The lady within wants a cloth napkin she can use anywhere, and the wanderer in my head has added my passport. Yeah, I ought to keep that with me anyway.

This box isn’t even half full yet, and that’s good. There are a whole host of other folks that live in my brain, and they are all clamoring for something small to hold on to. It is funny how having one small container forces you to select the things that really matter. As I continue to pack, I suspect it will be surprising what some of those things turn out to be.

Happy yet?

fractal 2Today we did it. We signed the document that says yes, in exchange for x amount of money minus y amount of concessions and repairs we will leave our home which we love and go somewhere else. We will allow it to be filled point forward by strangers whom we will probably never will meet.

In some cultures this would be a monumental, every-few-generation sort of event. In other circles, our sadness is hard to understand. We’re a little embarrassed about it, frankly. We like to think we are not so attached to our possessions and that our spirits have been longing for the freedom to roam.

pat polacco 2But like most things, it’s not a simple choice. This is a beautiful place with space for gardens and the front porch on which I’ve now written five novels. Yes, we’d keep it if we could. That is, if we could without having to work so hard to keep it beautiful, and without continuing to work long days in a windowless office just to afford it. It has come to consume our resources of every kind, and we chose not to accept that. We choose a little house, with far less yard and fewer things that break, and we will cherish the time and the freedom that little house will bring.

Are we happy yet? Well, we are relieved that the deed is nearly done. The best I think we are going to manage tonight is “bittersweet.” That will be followed by a lot of hard work. I mean actually putting our furniture into a truck and driving cross country kind of work. Will we be happier for having done all this? We think so. We hope so. We’re going to find out.

For more about letting go of one’s old life and moving on, see my post “How full is too full?”

Learning as you go

The story of Biafra’s failed struggle for independence moved me so much when I researched my first book, x0, that I spontaneously decided to pledge 10 per cent of x0’s proceeds forever to the international aid organization that was born out of the conflict, known in the U.S. as “Doctor’s Without Borders.”

At the time I was sort of feeling my way along with this whole book writing thing anyway, and with the idea of blogging as well. I made a blog called Face Painting for World Peace to discuss everything from Nigeria to telepathy to, well, world peace. Turns out that I’ve enjoyed keeping up the blog ever since, and been proud to send a couple of checks off to DWB as well.

When y1 came along, it seemed like I needed a second blog. I wanted it to make the URL http://www.tothepowerofone.org to be similar to the x0 website http://www.tothepowerofzero.org. I liked the symmetry. However, that web address turned out to already belong to a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty throughout the Pacific Islands. Wow. y1 was about Pacific Islands. I decided that was pretty amazing, and meant that ten percent of the proceeds from y1 were destined to be donated to To the Power of One. So while this organization was in no way involved with or endorsed my book, I encouraged the readers of y1 to visit their website and consider supporting them. Because, well, it just seemed to fit.

Healing Light 1Several months ago I finally got around to sending that first check off from my y1 sales. At least I tried to, and was sad to see that To the Power of One had vanished from the web. I was unable to find another organization that they had perhaps morphed into, and concluded that for what-ever reason, the group no longer exists.

It’s not like I have a lot of proceeds from my books to donate. If you know a self-published author you probably realize this. But a promise is a promise and I was determined to send my small check off to someone. But who?

Afi, one of the main characters in the book and Zane’s eventual love interest, is from the islands of Kiribati. These low lying Pacific atolls will likely be one of the first causalities of climate change as rising sea levels submerge an entire nation.

I looked around for a group working to abate climate change in sensible ways and I was delighted to discover the World Resources Institute.

According to their website WRI’s mission is “to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.” You can hardly quarrel with that. The organization receives top ratings from GuideStar, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, the Better Business Bureau and Philanthropedia. They organize their efforts not just around climate change,  but also around clean energy, food, forests, water and cities and transportation.

So off my check went, and now I get regular updates (and requests for more money) from them. It’s okay.  I like them and what they do and I like the idea that y1 is in some small way making a contribution. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I started this, but then none of this adventure in writing novels has turned out quite like I expected. I’m learning as I go. I think that’s a fine thing to do.

 

with a breath of kindness blow the rest away

New Year’s Eve plays a role in y1. Each Dec. 31 since I wrote the book, I find myself thinking of adolescent Zane throwing up on coffee liqueur as he attempts to greet the new year like an adult. Creating this scene required a better sense of balance than most. I meant to capture both the fear and joy of letting go of childhood, and in fact of letting go of anything, in such a burst of determination that it leads to inappropriate behavior. I wanted my readers to cheer on Zane as he tried to be older, in spite of their hopeful disapproval of children drinking alcohol. I wanted them to empathize with how the process of releasing the past is seldom an easy one for any of us. Metaphorically, a lot of us end up with our heads over the toilet bowl when we try to move on.

farewell 2014That is what New Year’s Eve is about, isn’t it? Drunk or sober, alone, with family or friends or surrounded by loud strangers, we each find out ways to release the joys and failures of last year as we resolve to be stronger, better, and happier during this next trip around the sun. Some of us do it from the comfort of our couches, others while setting off fireworks in our front yard. (At least if we live in the country in Texas we do.) Some will acknowledge the moment with a quick sigh as they go on about their work, keeping hospitals running, drilling rigs drilling, and streets safe for those who had the luxury of deciding what they wanted to do tonight.

New Year’s Eve is an ending and a beginning, whether we like it or not. Maybe that is why so many of us drink so much. There will be jobs, relationships, possessions and habits that won’t go with us through 2015 and we know it. Replacements and voids will be there instead when we greet 2016. They’re gone or going. Say good-bye. It’s not an easy thing to do.

A friend shared the above saying with me, and it has become my New Year’s resolution. I’m going to work a little harder to keep what matters healthy. I’m going to make a better effort to send the rest softly on its way.

Here’s a gentle kiss, 2014, with gratitude for all the good times, and for all the lessons, too. Welcome 2015. With a breath of kindness, blow the past year away.

 

 For more thoughts on letting go, check out my post Face Painting for World Peace.

 

 

Kiribati, Peru and a review of “Interstellar”

11116389_sToday I learned of a short, moving post called “The Last Generation of Kiribati“. It’s a beautifully done look at how climate change is destroying the small island nation I wrote about in y1, and how it is doing so in a time frame in which natural geological changes simply do not occur. Parents in Kiribati are literally looking for foreign countries to take in their children before the oceans rise too high, and hoping they will be granted at least refugee status over the next several years as their island nation ceases to exist.

I seldom speak of my family on these blogs, but those who know a little about me know that my fictitious family of reluctant superheroes was loosely modeled after my own. The son who inspired the character Zane never worked in pharmaceuticals, and as far as I know he has never shape-shifted, but he does labor in the arena of mitigating climate change. As I write this he is in Peru, part of a massive congregation of concerned citizens of earth trying to nudge the world’s governments towards addressing the fact that seven billion people can and are affecting the life support system on which we depend.

Which brings me to the last time I saw my son. We share a love of science fiction and saw “Interstellar” together at an Imax theater. Let me rephrase that. We both enjoy good science fiction, and share a distaste for the unbelievable disaster movies that climate change has inspired, from the plot holes in Waterworld to the science holes in The Day After Tomorrow.

There are some of both in Interstellar, too, but I found the devastation of the blight and dust storms convincing. Growing up in Western Kansas may have helped, but honestly, as far as threats to the human race go, the slow destruction of crops and a growing inability to feed the world felt plausible.

7267479_lI pretty much forgive anyone who introduces worm holes so that the plot can include space travel. Come on, if you want your folks to get out of the solar system you’ve got to let your writers have worm holes, so no quarrel there. I even gave the movie points for creative use of a strong gravity field and for having the plot revolve around how heavy gravity effects the speed at which time passes. Even the acting and dialog weren’t bad. It was a solid B+ in my opinion.

In fact, I only had one persistent quarrel with the movie and it was the underlying premise. I do love the idea of going to strange new worlds and settling them. In fact, my chief career ambition for most of my childhood was to become a science officer on the star ship Enterprise. So I studied science, and learned what a delicate balance it is that sustains us. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. Temperature and pressure. Tiny micro-organisms and worms and bugs. There is a whole complicated ecosystem that gets the food on our tables and keeps our hearts and lungs working for a lifetime. I wish that if this planet fails us — or more accurately if we fail it — that we could simply pack our bags and start elsewhere, just like they do in the movie.

But I fear that isn’t so. We don’t just need dirt to make a world, or air we can mange to breathe for awhile. Our body’s long term survival depends on the complex inter-related support of millions of creatures that all evolved here, on this particular planet. Everyone one of them needs things to be pretty much they way they are here. We can’t all pack up and go. Not nearly that easily at least.

I studied geophysics at a school that supplies talent to much of the oil industry, but we’re not all climate change deniers with our heads buried in the in the sand, and some of us have been on board with concern for decades. My adviser had a poster featured in his office. It was a picture of the earth from space with the caption “Good planets are hard to find.” And so they are.

Light Within 1Tonight, I think of that poster and the movie “Interstellar” and the feature on Kiribati. I think of my son and all the nations represented and the politicians and agendas and posturing that is going on in Lima. I hope, against much evidence to the contrary, that common sense will prevail.

Meanwhile, I did learn to love Kiribati from my research and after I finished writing y1 I resolved to go visit it someday. It looks like I better hurry.

 

Choose your placebo wisely

candyI’m giving the Smashwords.com version y1 a light dusting while I wait to get d4 back from my editor, and I came across the article from Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley that inspired a fair amount of my plot. Begley took a hard look at multiple studies and concluded that for those with mild to moderate depression, anitdepressants were just expensive candy. In fairness her full report is considerably more nuanced, and well worth reading. It raised her to hero status in my mind. Those who make a living writing for publications that rely on advertising will seldom be found telling uncomfortable truths about products sold in the same pages.

magic wandAs I reread her work today, a whole different aspect of her article struck me as odd. Placebos. What an odd concept. If you were doing a clinical study on the effectiveness of any medication, why not simply give half the people in the trial the medicine and tell the other half that they are not getting it. We all know why. People who think they are getting medicine sometimes get better based on belief alone. Real measurable illnesses can be cured by the power of belief, albeit not predictably or reliably. Of course that outcome needs to be removed from any study.

Doesn’t this strike anyone else as incredibly strange? The entire medical community and bulk of society accepts that a placebo can cure a physical illness. You’d think somebody out there might be working to develop better and more effective placebos.

wiineAs this line of reasoning wound its way through my brain, I realized that I already use  a lot of placebos to stay healthy. I just don’t call them that. I call them vitamins, which I continue to take in spite of reading that they are a waste of money and the average person gets all the vitamins they need from their diet. I call them immunity boosters, the things I take to fight off a cold even though evidence of their effectiveness is dubious as well.

Now that I think of it, my favorite placebo is a nice glass of red wine. Some might refer to this as self-medicating, but as far as I am concerned the wine is taken each evening to stave off heart problems. There is also the green tea I drink every day to ward off cancer (and because I like it) and the bit of dark chocolate I allow myself and oh yes the Greek yogurt that I love that does something, I forget what.  Maybe calcium for my bones? I think I need to be taking something to improve my memory. Does anything involving caramel and salt improve brain function?

Seriously, none of these things in moderation are hurting me a bit and I’m willing to bet they are helping my general health a little, just maybe not to the degree I think they are. It doesn’t matter. I’m healthy as can be and have been so photofor decades, and my firm belief that my indulgences and choices make me stronger is no doubt playing a part. The placebo effect is everywhere, not just in clinical trials. If used right, it’s a very good thing.

Lately I’ve found myself thirsty at night and I’ve started keeping a glass of water on my nightstand. I’m also not sleeping as well as I used to (getting older does that) and I’ve convinced myself that better hydration is the solution. Wake up at 3 a.m.? Don’t think about the project at work or trying to sell the house or worry about the kids. Take a big drink of water and go back to sleep. Water does put you to sleep, you know. At least I think it does. Apparently, that is what matters.