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.

Expectations

ATVYou’ve had this happen, right? By the time you finally get around the seeing the movie that everyone has told you that you have absolutely got to see, you wonder what all the fuss was about. Or, a friend talks you into doing something you do not particularly think you will enjoy, and it’s way more fun than you expected. For me, this describes “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and my first time on an all terrain vehicle, respectively. Not that good and actually rather fun.

It also describes my recent attempts to edit my first and second novels, irrespectively. I was proud of x0 when I wrote it and frankly anyone who ever finishes writing a whole entire book ought to be very proud. After I finished my second book, however, I got used to people telling me how much better it was than the first. Really? How bad was the first?

I charged ahead into the third book and the fourth one and although I liked hearing about how my writing kept improving, it also nagged at me. Finally I decided to give x0 a little clean up. Maybe I could just take out a hated adverb here and an unnecessary conjunction there and it would still be the same book, but a tad better. So I did and it helped. While I was doing it, though, I kept thinking, this isn’t so bad. It’s way better written than I expected.

from y1Naturally, it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and do y1 as well. I figured it ought to be an easy process, because it was so much better to begin with, right?

It must have been good for me to find out otherwise. I wrote that sentence? Not that the book is bad. It isn’t. It may have the best plot I have come up with yet. The problem is that as I gained confidence in my story telling abilities, my sentences seem to have become longer and more convoluted. A snip snip here and a snip snip there made a world of difference. I finished the process last week, and the fun story hasn’t changed but some of the more difficult to digest pieces of it have become bite sized. There is more punctuation. It is better now.

I did find a few gems in it that I had forgotten about and enjoyed discovering. The narrator in y1 has a bit more of a tendency to wax eloquent, and this can be both good and bad. It isn’t surprising, however. The real life people whom I admire are full of great quotes, so I should have seen that one coming.

(Read about x0 getting a makeover here. For a limited time the new x0 is available on kindle for only 99 cents and the new y1 is only 99 cents too!)

 

 

Seldom does anything bad come from dancing

d4 ad

Every so often my characters surprise me with their wisdom. I’ll be writing away, happily trying to convey some occurrence crucial to my plot, and one of them will interrupt the action with a remark that causes me to pause and wonder where that came from.

Yesterday I sent the manuscript for my fifth novel off to my editor Joel. Big happy moment. I like to give the beginning and the end one last read before I do that, and I stumbled across the scene above. The fire dancer from Kiribati, Afi, has always been wise in my mind, and here he was once again surprising me with something insightful.

It might not have struck me except for the fact that I am mildly addicted to another blog. Every day Cathryn Wellner sends me a short blurb about something that gives her hope, and most days whatever she has found gives me hope as well. Yesterday she wrote about Officer Jeff Krebs of Kansas City Missouri, a man who is a lousy dancer, but uses his poor attempts at street dancing to reach out to the generally mistrusting youth around him. Visit this post Ferguson, Missouri is not Everywhere, nor Everyone and while you are there you may wish to check out some of her other dollops of good cheer.

You can also go straight to the video of Officer Krebs dance here. It’s not particularly impressive footwork, but he lends support to Afi’s point. Good things generally come from trying to dance.

 

Who do you think you are?

unknown 1Lately I have been absorbed by the idea that each of us is less an entity and more a sort of probability cloud. Those closest to me cannot say with absolute certainty how I will behave under a certain set of circumstances. They can, however, make a good guess and they will be right more often than not.

Does not being totally predictable make me wishy-washy? Inconsistent? Or does it confirm that I am multifaceted and even intriguingly complex? It probably depends on who you ask. The fact is, none of us are the same person day in and day out. We have our moods. Wisps of memories become unexpected triggers and we say things that are rather out of character. We love papaya but for some reason cannot stand the taste of mango. Let’s face it, we are each kind of sort of a certain way, but not always, and never completely.

I like this idea of a probability cloud as it applies to all kinds of things. d4 has forced me to think hard about the future, and to speculate on the extent to which it is firmly fixed and the degree to which it is ruled by wild chaos. Neither end of the spectrum feels like truth, and I go with a universe in which order and the unexpected strive for balance. I think it has to do with the ways in which the macroscopic world mirrors the microscopic and perhaps even the telescopic as we all go whirling through space kind of sort of in a particular location, moving in a certain direction, but never absolutely so.

The other day my husband did something odd. I don’t remember what it was, partly because it is his personality to behave a little erratically. What I do remember is his response to my “what was that about?”

“I want to keep you on your toes,” he laughed. “I don’t ever want to become too predictable.” He needn’t worry, he never will. Remaining hard to predict is part of who he is. I wouldn’t expect anything else, even though maybe every once in awhile I should.

Many Paths in Costa Rica

I’ve just finished a week of qigong in Costa Rica, enjoying mountain views, fresh food, water and air, and a recharge of the practice that I began with some skepticism a year ago. Last year I came at the encouragement of an old college friend. This year I bring people of my own, hoping that they too will take to this ancient Chinese art the way that I have.

Dalai3My daughter is an avid practitioner of hatha yoga, and at first she finds the quiet simple exercises underwhelming. As the week wears on, however, she devises ways to blend her more extreme stretches with what is being taught and our instructor, or sifu, is patient with her hybrid efforts. Yes, there is a place for both in her life, she concludes, and she is glad that she has come with me.

My husband is one of the least limber people I know, and he starts the class out relieved that the exercises are relatively tame. He is also the ultimate do-it-yourself person and as I watch him in class I realize that in spite of the years he has spent as a high school teacher, he accepts instruction rather poorly. He can teach and he can collaborate, but just listen, watch and do is barely in his repertoire.

Late in the week, our sifu mentions that we need to accept that not everyone we try to include is going to embrace qigong the way that we have. He is probably talking to many people, but I feel like the comment is meant for me and is about my husband. Unfortunately, he uses a phrase that causes a visceral reaction in another whole arena. “You must accept that not everyone is ready for qigong,” he says. No, I scream back in my head. Don’t use the word ready.

Ready implies that there is only one way. As a Catholic child in a small Catholic town, I was taught that not all Christians were ready to become Catholics and we should help prepare them lest they be relegated to a lesser place in heaven. Later, evangelical Christians shook their heads at me when I argued with them about the narrowness of their faith, assuring me that I would come to believe what they did when I was ready. At least they hoped so, as they just hated the idea of my being tortured for an eternity.

I wasn’t ready for Eckankar, or ready for EST and I’m still not ready for any organized religion that asks me to accept that it offers the only way. I’m not an only kind of gal. One of my favorite quotes from Buddha is that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, and this quote alone has helped me embrace qigong.

I’m also not one to suffer in silence. At the next break I take my sifu aside, and share my discomfort. He is a very reasonable man, and a reflective one as well. After a few seconds of thought he agrees that I have a good point. During the next class the word ready is stricken from the record. “Qigong isn’t for everyone,” he corrects himself. “Others have other paths and it is good to accept that.”

Yes, it is. My husband has agreed to practice qigong for thirty days and now that he is no longer being instructed he is beginning to show a little more enthusiasm. We’ll see. Maybe this is a path he will want to walk along with me, for awhile at least. I still hope so, but if not it is okay. He needs to walk his path.  I need to walk mine. You need to walk yours. We all need to let each other get to the top of the mountain using the route that is best for us.

How do your find your path? I think that you know it in your own heart. You just have to stop and listen.

 

For more on my own personal story of my Costa Rica qigong experiences please see
1. Embracing the Yin in Costa Rica,
2. Finding Forgiveness in Costa Rica
3. Breathing Deeply in Costa Rica and
4. Animal play in Costa Rica

If you would like to know more about qigong, please visit Flowing Zen
Also please drop by the Facebook page of Dalai Lama Daily Quotes and drop off a like for the great image above.