And that’s the way it was, June 28, 1888

One of my best antidotes for information overload is history. There is something calming about returning to a world devoid of smart phones, cable news and (yes) blogging. Today, I was delighted to learn that exactly 129 years ago Robert Louis Stevenson left San Francisco for the South Seas.

Ah, islands in the Pacific. I am fascinated by that swath of the globe, although I’ve only managed to touch it twice. And Stevenson’s Treasure Island was certainly in the back of my mind when I wrote y1. I suspect that his more famous Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has helped inspire every writer after him who tried to craft a meaningful villain.

But there is more to his story. He was a Scotsman who studied civil engineering and law, and then upset his parents by opting to become a fiction writer instead. (They weren’t too happy when he became an atheist, either. History is silent as to which bothered them the most.)

Then he went and fell in love with an American divorcee, who he married. Although he had lifelong health issues, he traveled widely. He wrote about the importance of finding joy in ones life, even though he found himself at death’s door several times during his journeys.

After 1888, he spent most of his time in the South Pacific, settling with his family in Samoa. He died there and was buried overlooking the sea.

I’ve included a couple of my favorite quotes of his here. He was more of an inspiration than I realized.

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 10, 1947, June 15, 1984, June 18, 1972, and June 30, 1940.)

 

 

Caring About Far Away Places

My stories make it obvious that I love places that require a difficult journey to visit. Greenland. Bhutan. Antarctica. Tierra del Fuego. A small village in Nigeria. A lake in the Mountains of Guatemala. If it’s hard to get to from where I am, I love to write about it.

No place is more remote to a Texan that the island nation of Kiribati. This south pacific country of 100,000 people is made up of 33 low-lying coral atolls with a total land area of about 300 square miles. More spectacularly, it is the only nation on earth to set inside of all four hemispheres, and it covers a million square miles on the globe.

The map is from a wonderful website about Kiribati, which I referred to frequently when I was writing y1. Visit JANE’S KIRIBATI HOME PAGE to enjoy this bit of Micronesia.

Someday I hope to visit this place that I spent so much time learning about but I understand that I better not take too long. As the melting icecaps raise global sea level, the low lying atolls of Kiribati are becoming submerged. Leaders of this country have been planning a national exodus for years, seeking asylum for their descendants once the nation is completely under water.

In the meantime, Kiribati and it’s nearby neighbors are doing their best to raise awareness of the drastic effects climate change is having on this part of the world. The well known 2015 Paris Climate Agreement grew out of years of work, shepherded along at yearly United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change. The yearly gathering for 2017 will be hosted by Kiribati’s Melanesian neighbor, Fiji.

In spite of my own country’s lack of recent leadership regarding climate change, I will be cheering on the representatives of Polynesian, Micronesia and Melanesia as they take the world the stage.

As I watch with dismay as the United States turns more towards nationalist politics, I’ve been trying to discern where my own fascination with all the rest of the world began. I have this theory that music is a powerful tool for introducing ideas, and I remembered hearing a particular song as a child. I didn’t think I could find it, but luckily the song title is part of the lyrics and, like almost everything else, there it is on YouTube. Very old fashioned, although the beautiful voice of Sam Cooke brings a magic that transcends the decades.

Imagine yourself on an island in the South Pacific and enjoy!

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door, Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away PlaceAs Far Away Places Edge Closer and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”

Reason number one: Love makes us happy, and happiness is wonderful.

Several times now I’ve posted about a report on which countries have the happiest people. I’m intrigued that six attributes account for most of this variation, and I summed them up as health, wealth, freedom, love, fairness and kindness. I’ve already written about the first three and today I’m thinking about love.

life lessons6Now, the people doing this survey were not asking questions about romantic love, wonderful as is it. They used a broader definition, by asking something more like “do you have people in your life that you care about and can depend on?” This careful wording included family members and close friends along with intimate partners, and as far as I’m concerned it covered every type of love inclined to bring one happiness. (Unrequited love for someone who does not know you exist doesn’t exactly bring a lot of smiles. A spirited discussion could be had as to whether it is love at all, but that is outside the scope of this post.) Suffice to say, if you have people, or a person, you care about and who care enough about you back that you feel you can count on them, then you have love. Lucky you.

love wins2. “Love Wins” has become associated with the LGBTQ community’s struggles for marriage equality and other rights. I’m a heterosexual woman with a 34-year traditional marriage, and an avid supporter of equality in every sense for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Zane, the main character in y1, is gay, and I did my best to present his love affair with Afi as a beautiful thing to be cheered on by anyone with a heart. In the real world, friends, relatives and co-workers of mine are LGBTQ, and every time “Love Wins” it makes me smile too. Love is funny that way. It likes to see more love.

SPLC3. Love wins every time that hate does not. I’m also an avid supported of the fine work that is done by the SPCL (Southern Poverty Law Center) even though donating to them means that I get a lot of letters from them asking me for more money. It’s okay. I glance through them all and give when I can. Recently I got one such letter that moved me more than usual. It discussed the nine people killed a year ago in the white supremacist attack at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, and noted that “Hate won’t win” were the brave words Alana Simmons spoke to her grandfather’s killer in Charleston.

Yes,“Hate won’t win” are brave words coming from someone who has been grievously wronged, and the words brought a tear to my eye. I know that love wins every time that hate does not.

cosmic conduit 24. The last reason has to do with music. I’m fixing up the music pages on each of my blogs, and today I was expanding my post about David Guetta and Estelle’s One Love.  As the lyrics to One Love say …. “if we stand together than we’ll be okay.” You know, more love wins kind of stuff… and it’s what got me started on this post.

Think of how many great songs there are about love. Luckily, far more than those about fear, hate and hopelessness, although I will concede that there are a few great songs about those emotions too. Yet in the grand overview of musical topics, love wins and I’m glad.

I’d forgotten about exactly how I’d referred to the song in the book, and when I found the excerpt it made me smile.

Joy felt like she was living two lives at once. In one life, she taught Samoan third graders by day, dressed demurely in lightweight long-sleeved tops and loose colorful skirts to her ankles, and pretended to be Afi’s wife by night. Given the vast number of options open to humanity in 2010, it wasn’t a bad life. She wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t hurting, she had a friend nearby, and she was doing useful work. Life came a lot worse.

In her other life, she sailed the ocean, barefoot in a tank top and gym trunks. Her hair blew free while her body moved softly with the thunk of the boat hitting the waves and with the rhythm of her latest favorite song. For the past few weeks David Guetta and Estelle’s One Love had been about every third selection on her MP3 player, and when she wasn’t listening to it she was generally singing the song in her head while she imagined Toby’s hand on her thigh as he sat at the helm of Miss Demeanor. She would see his hint of a smile as his fingers started to rise higher up her leg and then each time he would turn to her, with his soft brown eyes asking her a question. As the song picked up tempo she felt herself smiling her answer back to him and then he always set the sails and they went below deck where the song was playing loudly and life was very, very good.

Of course, that other life existed only in her mind. But anyone who had ever been in love would know that it was the more important of her two lives.

Ah, yes, that romantic love stuff does bring us joy, even when it is just in our imagination.

I confess to having a weakness for amateur videos that make me feel like I am standing right  at a concert and this simple and seldom viewed video of One Love being performed at Electric Zoo in 2011 took me in with its tag line of “right place right time last song.” I’ve had that feeling and it’s a fine one. Go ahead and sing along with the audience, and enjoy letting love win in one more way.

 

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

Are you “performing,” or performing?

I get the idea for this blog post while I’m doing yoga, right when I am instructed to be “totally present in the now.” This is a common prompt for anything involving meditation, but the problem is that the instructor takes it one step further and asks us to reflect on what keeps us from doing so.

“I know, I know” the eager student in my head clamors.  She likes getting answers right. “I replay scenes from the past, and I concentrate on tasks and I worry about the future.” But then another voice in my head speaks up, and it is less anxious to please.

“Just how effective a human being do you think you would be if you didn’t focus on getting something done?” it asks. “Performing the tasks that help you survive is what buys you the freedom to sit around and chant om and do this other shit.”

“Shhhhh!” I hush both voices, and then just when I finally have things under control, the yoga instructor joins in the conversation.

true voice 5In fairness, he is a profound individual, and on occasion he will mix his own insights into the class practice and this always enhances the class for me.  This day, he has an answer for the question he has just asked. And he wants to share that answer with us.

“Performing,” he says. “You can’t be present in the now when you are performing.”

“I got that one!” the eager student yells in my head. “Performing tasks. It is one of the three things I said. You heard me. I got it. And I get extra credit for coming up with two more answers, too.”

Only it turns out, I didn’t get it. My yoga instructor is not concerned with my performing tasks or my living in the past or the future. He seems to think those are pretty trivial problems. He is hoping to help me avoid acting like I am someone who I am not. He believes that you can only be present in the here and now, when you are authentic.

Okay, that’s another idea. Decades ago we told each other not to be fake, but recent years have introduced the similar concept of personal authenticity. I like the nuances of this new word better. Unfortunately, though, the contribution from the instructor gets the various voices of my monkey mind going once again.

“Do you even know what is authentically you?” one asks. “Good student, good mother, good worker, good wife. You’ve played roles all of your life. When didn’t you?”

“Well yes, we all play roles to some extent.” my calmer and wiser monkey mind chines in. “It doesn’t mean those aren’t facets of the real you. They’re just not all there is to you.”

“Go deep beneath your roles and your accomplishments,” the instructor continues. He is managing quite well to be part of this conversation. What the hell. I take a deep breath and try to distance myself, to become the objective observer he is urging me to become. What do I see?

Psychedelic 16I see a soul sitting quietly on a mat. She cares deeply about things, but has learned to muffle the intensity of her emotions as their force often bothers others.  She wishes to be liked, and she knows that people seldom enjoy another who is too passionate. She is a ridiculous goody-two shoes (is that even still an expression?) who hates injustice, despises bullying, and truly believes in living an honorable life. She exaggerates to tell a story but won’t tell lies, and she would rather be by herself than with most people. Finally, she has never felt like she was normal and she thinks people would like her better if she was.  She has no idea how to go about being so.

“That’s it,” the instructor says. “Reach for the authentic you.”  I occasionally wonder if the man is telepathic.

The woman on the mat looks up at me and she smiles.  She is usually happy, but I know that she is happiest when she is writing. When something she writes comes out just the way she wants it to, she wants to stand on top of a table in a crowded place and scream “yes” several times at the top of her lungs, but of course she knows that would make her even less likable. And possibly incarcerated.

We are moving into end-of-class shavasana now, and a quiet corner of my monkey mind points out that I haven’t exactly been silent throughout today’s practice. No I haven’t. I’ve enjoyed this search for the true me, though, and think that it has been as good as enjoying the quiet in my head would have been. Many paths to the top of the mountain and all that. Today, this was my best way to be in this moment. I think that it doesn’t get any more authentic than that.

(As for what my monkey mind had to say about focusing on the past — see my post Bring back the good old days? on my z2 blog. For thoughts about my never ending preoccupation with performing tasks — see my post Frittering life away? on my c3 blog. And for my concerns about planning for the future, see Prepare for the worst? on my d4 blog.)

When I wrote this scene in y1, I was scratching away at the idea of a person’s authenticity being tied into doing the things that they love. Now I’m even more sure that is true. Enjoy this short excerpt.

“What’s this?” he asked Toby, lifting a large bulky paper sack out of the dinghy.

“Tonight’s entertainment,” Toby replied. Afi’s eyes widened as a single, almost forty-inch-long fire knife fell out onto the sand, its regulation fourteen-and-a-half-inch blade glistening. There was a fire wick and a small can of outboard motor fuel.

“It was just sitting there when I walked into the farmers market,” Toby confessed a little sheepishly. “The man was quite happy to sell it to me, and I figured you could use it to at least start getting back in practice.”

fire dancingAfi shook his head in disbelief and Toby thought he saw a hint of tears in Afi’s eyes. “After dinner I want you to show me and our new crew member what you can do with this,” Toby said.

So after food was finished, the knife and wick were prepared, and as the very last glimmer of light vanished off to the west, Afi did a careful hand spin with the burning baton. Then he tried a slow figure eight. Then a cautious toss and catch, followed by a slightly more confident toss and catch behind his back. Then a bolder under-the-leg throw. He was grinning now, and the muscle memory was coming back. Joy and Toby watched in increasing wonder as Afi’s hesitant movements transformed, until he was confidently moving the glowing stick to the beat of drums only he could hear in his head.

He began to stomp his feet as he moved, adding head movements in the Kiribati style. Toby and Joy gained a sense of the rhythm to which Afi was moving. Joy began softly clapping with the motion, adding a little percussion. Afi grinned in appreciation and she clapped more forcefully. As his movements sped up, her clapping sped with them, and the two of them were working together now to create the performance. Joy clapped. Afi spun the fire knife. Toby watched in absolute fascination. Finally, by the end of the dance, Afi had become a whirling, glowing swirl of orange flame, powered by Joy’s now jubilant participation and by his own sheer joy in the exhilaration of doing something that he truly loved.

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.

 

Writing for a Cause

blessed weird 2I had no intention of writing for charity when I began my first novel in the collection of six interrelated stories that I wanted to tell. Much of the action in my first book x0 takes place in Nigeria and as I did my research I became fascinated with the organization Doctors Without Borders. I learned that it was formed by frustrated French doctors who were forced to remain silent about the starvation in Biafra during Nigeria’s brutal civil war. Today they send physicians worldwide with the charge of never keeping quiet as regards human suffering.

That’s incredibly cool, I thought. In a burst of altruism I decided to donate ten percent of my proceeds from the book x0 to this organization. Be it a little or a lot, it seemed a good way to put something back. And that was that.

Then I had this idea of creating a blog for each one of my six novels with the URL’s all matching. Much to my surprise the second URL, the one for y1, was already taken. A little research showed that it belonged to an organization called To the Power of One that was headquartered in Hawaii and worked exclusively to develop self-sufficiency throughout the Pacific. This was surprising because much of the action in my second book y1 takes place in the Pacific. While x0 explores the theme of how we are all alike, y1 focuses on our own uniqueness and self-sufficiency. It was just too good of a fit. I pledged ten percent of the proceeds from y1 to them.

By the time I finished z2, I admit that I was sort of looking for a cause. Racism plays a major role in this book about time and changing attitudes and I often turned to the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center for information. It’s a nonprofit civil rights group dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry. It wasn’t difficult to decide to continue my unintentional trend and earmark ten percent for these fine folks as well.

Lest I sound more generous than I am, it is fair to mention that my husband and I have a fairly dismal record donating to charities. We mean well, we really do, but we tend to be too busy or having some kind of costly emergency ourselves and giving money to worthy causes just doesn’t seem to happen. On the other side of the coin, we aren’t relying on my writing to pay our mortgage or buy groceries, which at this point is a good thing. So while we can always use a little more income, it’s not so difficult for me to make a pledge like this.

Have I done it yet? I set a threshold of a certain number of books sold before I would declare the check big enough to be worthy of sending. So far only x0, first published on Kindle in February 2012 and in paperback in December 2012, has sold enough copies to qualify, although y1 is getting close.

So yes, I sent the check off to Doctor’s Without Borders a few weeks ago, and just got back a wonderful little letter acknowledging what I was doing with my novel and thanking me for it. Terribly cool. I’m going to frame it and hang it in my study. I had no idea that being an author would have the potential to provide joys in so many ways.

(Thanks to the Facebook page Blessed are the Weird for the wisdom pictured above. Please drop by and give them a like.)

Note that this post was originally written for an Orangeberry Blog Tour and has also appeared at Kindle Nook Book, Writers & Authors, Paws on Books, and Blog-A-Licious Authors.

You’ve got to have a dream

From the Musical South Pacific

From the Musical South Pacific

The world has changed a lot since  that day in late July in the early sixties when my younger sister had a Hawaiian party for her birthday. We wore hula skirts made out of pink tissue paper and piled into the station wagon to all see “South Pacific” which was making a second run at the town’s only theater.

Check out at least the beginning of this video showing a Polynesian woman trying to get an American soldier in WWII to fall in love with her daughter.

It’s over fifty years later.  Yes, movies have clearly come a long way.  Yes, the concept behind the scene could be considered offensive.  And the message of the song itself?

musicYou’ve got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream? How you gonna have a dream come true?

Yeah.  Still right on the mark.  Thank you Rogers and Hammerstein