Feeling at home

I was welcomed home a year ago, when I attended Burning Man for the first time. Over the course of my days there, this began to seem less strange. In some ways, I had stumbled upon a community of like minded souls, and I was home. That feeling, more than anything, is why I want to go back.

Last week, I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention (better known as Worldcon) at the amazing convention center in Dublin shown above. No one welcomed me home when I arrived, but after a day or two I realized they may as well have. This wildly varying collection of geeks are my people, too, and I feel every bit as at home with them.

What is surprising is the many things I found in common between these two different events, both of which spoke to me with such force.

Be you.

I’ve never meet two groups of people so dedicated to encouraging humans to be who they are in their hearts. From the wild array of costumes (and lack of clothing) at Burning Man to the colorful masquerade ball at Worldcon (shown left), everyone can let their inner light shine.

Participate, don’t observe.

Worldcon does not sell tickets to attend. It sells memberships in the organization, and being a member allows one to come participate. Do not expect to be entertained. At either place. They are both very clear about that.

Don’t be an asshole.

I found the culture of tolerance and acceptance as strong at once place as at the other, although I recognize individual experiences do vary. Not everyone may succeed every moment, but the aspiration of being both human and kind is a huge thing.

Do be capable.

Burning Man has its ten principals which include radical self-reliance. Worldcon just expects you to step in and handle the registration desk, or provide tech support, or whatever else you’ve grabbed a volunteer ticket for, and to do it as well as you can. Everything is done by a volunteer, and usually it’s a somewhat befuddled and inexperienced one. Everyone else is expected to be kind while the volunteer figures things out. It works better than you might think.

Among other things, I got to run the spotlight for the opening ceremony and for the Hugo awards, It was a position for which I was only marginally qualified. No one cared. Everyone thanked me very much. I had a lot of fun (and a terrific seat for both events.)

Be a community.

Along with the radical self-expression and individual competence, there is a sense of being a family. At worldcon, name badges let an attendee specify preferred pronouns and unisex bathrooms provided a space for everyone to be comfortable.

Worldcon went out of its way to accommodate those with access issues. Such efforts aren’t possible out on the playa, but the custom of gifting and the encouragement of assisting those in need of help has much the same effect.

Worldcon has been going on for 77 years now, attracting 5000 or so attendees to multiple countries. Next year it will be in New Zealand and I doubt I’ll be able to go. There are people who’ve attended for twenty or more years in a row.

Burning Man has it’s root in 80’s San Francisco. It now attracts nearly 80,000 people a year, many of whom have attended for twenty or more years in a row.

I’ll never be able to do that either, but I will be back at both events, hopefully many times. I think when you find a place in this world where you feel at home, you need to grab on to that. If you’re lucky enough to find such a thing in more places than one, well …. lucky you.

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at And the winner, she is …., at  An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!  at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

Road to Reality

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Dianne Burnett and her autobiography Road to Reality.

Author’s description of the book:

Get ready to laugh. Get ready to cry. Get ready for a whirlwind of an adventure. Settle in for a powerful, poignant story of inner strength and courage-and get a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the making of Survivor, the world’s most popular reality show.

Spinning their mutual love of exotic adventure into gold, Dianne Burnett and her former husband, TV producer Mark Burnett, co-created Eco-Challenge, an expedition-length racing event televised on Discovery Channel that catapulted them into the arena of reality TV and set the stage for Survivor-a modern-day Robinson Crusoe with a million-dollar prize. But Dianne and Mark’s fairy-tale marriage did not survive their Hollywood success . . . she found herself left behind, her contributions unrecognized. She lost her partner in life and began to lose her identity. In that experience, she found an opportunity to grow.

A fascinating, fast-paced, heart-warming “page-turner,” The Road to Reality takes readers on a roller-coaster ride-complete with a zesty romance, as well as the ups and downs of going for your dreams-while it imparts the lessons learned as Dianne discovers what really matters in life is something beyond fortune and fame.

Excerpt:

“Di, imagine us rafting down those,” Mark said, pointing at the foaming, churning waters as the helicopter suddenly dipped lower. I looked down at the rushing Colorado river tipped with whitecaps. No, thanks. Just flying around in a helicopter was plenty daring for me. I pulled baby James tighter, and resumed my silent chanting of The Lords Prayer, my typical pastime when in whirlybirds.

“And over there,” Mark said, pointing to looming cliffs, “they’ll repel 1,000 feet down feet down the sheer faces.” I imagined sliding down a rope that stretched the length of the Empire State Building and shuddered. It was the spring of 1994, and James and I had flown to Utah to be with Mark on the latest phase of planning for our first Eco-Challenge already being billed as “the toughest adventure race in the world.”

My Review:

One can’t help but admire both Dianne Burnett’s courage and her heart as she pours the story of her life into this unusual autobiography. She appears to do her best to be honest and fair as she details her role in the creation of the first big reality TV show, Survivor, and how her marriage to the driven man credited with the final product fell apart.

This book is not an angry tirade, or a plea for sympathy, and it could so easily have been either. Rather it is story of a woman struggling to maintain relationships with her own divorced parents, with the two sons she loves deeply, and with a man whose idea of marriage seems to have been to largely roll her into his tumultuous world, until he didn’t want her there any more.

In the telling of the tale, there is love, adventure, stories of strange experiences, and a lot of the day to day coping that makes up most of our lives. I found the author surprisingly easy to relate to. I suppose the “mom thing” helped.

I especially appreciated her gift for beautiful description of the many exotic places she visited. Here is how she describes her lodging in Morocco. I’ve been there, and what she says is both poetic and accurate.

My mouth kept falling open at the intoxicating detail: arched windows
peering onto inner sanctuaries, hallways wrapped in gorgeous patterned
tiles, magnificently crafted wood furniture with mother-of-pearl
inlays, lacy lattices, marble columns, cut-out metal lanterns that reflected
star patterns on the floor, and glass lights that splashed even more color
around the bright rooms.

I also appreciated the many gems of wisdom scattered throughout. She and I have led very different lives, yet this resonated.

I took a vacation—by myself—wanting to reflect on where I was at in my life and where I wanted to go. Travel, especially traveling alone, has always helped me clarify who I am—separate from my everyday life and the things that define me at home.

My biggest frustration with the book was that I felt the approach didn’t quite do her amazing story justice. Too many parts of the book read almost like a laundry list of events, particularly the couple of chapters devoted to her life before she met Mark. Not that her childhood wasn’t interesting; I just think the material should have been saved for another book.

So many events, from an encounter with her new husband’s angry ex-wife and her two identical triplet sisters, to making it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in spite of her fear of heights, deserved far more space than they were given, in my opinion. Other events, conveyed equally briefly, could have been deleted to serve the cause of better dramatic effect.

That being said, there was still so much I liked about this book. It held my interest, and stuck with me whenever I put the book down. I cheered for the author throughout, and all the more so as she fought for the strength and compassion to survive a difficult divorce and emerge on a healthy and happy path of her own.

(Rating: I gave this a 2.9/5 and rounded up to three stars on other sites.)

About the Author:

Dianne Burnett is an author, producer, and actor of stage and screen. She is also a philanthropist and entrepreneur. Dianne and her ex-husband, Mark Burnett, joined their creative forces to invent Eco-Challenge, the impetus for Survivor, which kick-started America’s reality-television show craze and went on to become the longest-running and most lucrative reality TV series of all time.

Following the success of Survivor, Dianne produced and acted in the stage play Beyond Therapy at the Santa Monica Playhouse, served as Executive Producer of the indie film Jam (which won Best Narrative Feature at the Santa Fe Film Festival), and acted in Everybody Loves Raymond. In memory of her mother, Joan, who lost her battle with esophageal cancer in 2010, Dianne formed Joan Valentine—A Foundation for Natural Cures, a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource for those seeking alternatives to traditional medicine.

She also recently launched a multimedia platform and social network: called theotherside.com, it explores alternative views on everything from relationships to health. Formerly of New York, Dianne now lives in Malibu, California, with her family.

Find her on Facebook, visit her on her blog, and buy Road to Reality on Amazon.

Dianne Burnett is giving away a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Nobel Gift card!

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops and find many more ways to enter and to win!

 

If you are interested in a review from me:

My protagonist in Shape of Secrets is a human chameleon who solves a murder, so I am predisposed to reviewing stories on this blog featuring interesting shape shifters, or any soft-boiled crime novel with an unusual premise. Because much of the story takes place in the South Pacific, I also have a soft spot for any book involving islands.

I am not interested in reviewing stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review BDSM erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review, contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Day 25. Backing Up

We have a day of rest here in Las Cruces, and I spend it soaking up all the current events I can. I’ve been a news junkie all my life; high school debate and a journalism major will do that to you. I’ve been cut off from all but the most intrusive headlines for 24 days now and I need a fix.

The friend we are visiting shares my passion, as does another friend of his I’ve never met but with whom I share a lively email relationship. We three agree to meet for coffee and its fun to get to know this new person in real life.

We spend a satisfying few hours ranting about the sad state of affairs in the world (that is what news junkies most love doing) and sharing our predictions for how our current mess is going to end (that is the other thing news junkies love to do.)

My husband (not a news junkie) agrees to a take-out dinner so we can watch even more news together. Isn’t that sweet…

Leaving our place to get the food, my friend backs up on the long driveway, misjudges and hits a tree. He’s going slow and there is no damage, but he has to laugh at himself. “Just broke one of my rules,” he says. “Never back up more than you have to.”

It’s a such wise insight that I immediately adopt it as my personal rule #25.

Tomorrow we will leave this pretty little casita, and the stunning distant mountain views, and head to Dallas.  For tonight, I’m content to yell at the talking heads on TV as my friend and I debate what’s going on.

This song has seen a resurgence in popularity lately and I’m glad.  It’s a favorite and it fits this day well.

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

 

Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be

Participating, as opposed to standing around gawking, is valued here, so as I planned this trip I sought out a place where I could contribute to make the magic happen. It’s Monday morning. The dust is resting and the sky is blue here at Burning Man and I’m off for my first shift as an assistant stage manager for the Center Cafe.

I like the idea of this stage, where only original material is performed twenty-four hours a day. Years of writing self-published science fiction has left me with a huge soft spot for artists of all types who summon up their inner muse and then unveil those fragile creations in front of a potentially hostile world.

When I arrive, I find a universe that is gentler and more accepting than I hoped. Staff and performers hug, compliment and encourage. Some acts are polished and great fun to watch. Others are raw creations, not ready for prime time elsewhere. Yet, they are cheered on by this coffee-sipping audience that seems to understand the fragility of nascent artistry .

I receive quick and generous praise from everyone for being a warm, helpful and happy human. How odd. Is this worthy of praise?

Then it occurs to me. Back in the default world, I often work at being less helpful than I want to be. Less warm, less encouraging. I make an effort to smile less. I’ve had decades of signals from others that my natural behavior is at best odd and at worst downright annoying.

Here? I’m not doing that. And they seem to like it. A lot. Wow.

After four joy-filled hours of finding kind words for everyone that crosses my path, I’m high as a kite. I’m being myself and it is more fun than I’ve had in a long while.

Burning Man is considered by many who don’t know much about it to be a yearly drunken and drugged-out Bacchanalia involving sex, nudity and general bad behavior. Yes, I suppose there is some of that, though I’ve encountered little to none.  Camp mates tell me most of the hard partying I’ve heard of will happen late in week when non-participants pour in. The little that is happening now? You really have to go looking to find it.

Thanks to people I’m close to, I already know of other sides to this event. There is the self-reliance of erecting what is essentially a tent city for 80,000 in a place where the alkaline soil is so damaging that there is zero plant and animal life. That’s right: no cacti, no lichen, no ants, no scorpions, no bugs. Nothing lives here, except for a lone type of microbe in the soil. And 80,000 people for one week every year.

There is also a sense of community. We help each other; we give gifts of words, actions and things. As I leave the Center Cafe I wander around, stumbling on the sizable AA area set up to encourage burners who need to avoid altered states. I stop at the mobility camp, providing aid to burners likely to find life here even more challenging.

I can see the temple in the distance. Each year it is designed by a different artist. Over the course of the week it will be filled with notes and photos and memorabilia from those who have died this past year, along with musings and memories that are meaningful to this year’s participants. Sunday night, after the man has burned and the weekend crowds are gone, the temple will be set aflame. I’m already fascinated by this and I pause outside the tent of the temple guardians. Maybe one year that will be me ….

I climb a platform to look over this rapidly growing tent city. I found it a little presumptuous when I entered on Saturday and was given the traditional greeting for this event. Welcome home.

This isn’t my home, I thought then. But now, I can see how in some way it just might be.

Today’s rule of the road? It is a bad idea to pretend to be meaner or more miserable than you are, just to make meaner and more miserable people like you.

Today’s song? I had a few ideas for this one, but I finally settled on Jewel performing with a live orchestra. Give this video a few seconds, she does appear and I’ll think you enjoy what you see.

 

 

 

 

Day 12. I Want to Scream.

This is the day when I’m tired of driving, and exhausted by road construction and the desolation. I don’t want to listen to any of my music any more. I can’t get comfortable. Every little town looks like the one in this picture. Nothing sounds good for lunch, so I don’t even bother to stop. I recognize I’m getting cranky.

Then I hit a one lane stretch of road, and just miss being part of the group  getting to go through. I wait for 25 minutes, with my left arm baking in the sun, turning red as I simmer. I’m totally cranky, now. It’s time to get off the road.

I’m lucky this is my last day of driving until day 19. Tomorrow my journey makes a drastic change as I head into the wild for six days of camping. I’ll be out of my car and off the grid, and will resume posting my rules of the road and my song of the day once I’m back.

Today’s rule of the road? Sometimes you are cranky. It’s alright. That’s when you focus on something else instead.

I let my mind wander to tomorrow and wrote this in my head as I was baking in the noon sun, wondering when my lane would be allowed to go forward.

Listen. Hear that sound? It’s your heart beating, happy to be alive and hoping for an adventure. Go with it. Take that last step and start your journey.

Once my car was moving again, I found the music that spoke to the restlessness in my soul. It was classical, the most up tempo and passionate classical pieces I could find. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was great, and this version by a UK group called Sky captured every nuance of my desire to JUST SCREAM. I played it a few times and felt far better.

 

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

Be Yourself? Which self?

“Just be yourself.” I’ve been given that suggestion hundreds of times, and it was particularly unwelcome coming from my waitress who I suspected had indulged in a few too many free shots at the bar.

In a way, it was my own fault. I’d broken one of my cardinal rules and shared a piece of personal information with this complete stranger. Once she knew I was apprehensive about meeting my fellow diners, she proceeded to offer a steady stream of unwanted advice until they arrived. This morning I’m still miffed that my oblivious husband tipped her 20%.

But bad restaurant experiences aside, that is a horrible piece of advice. Pretty much anything you do or say is yourself. Some sides of you are more likeable, or more fully developed, or more integrated into the whole you, but if it is coming out of your mouth without an intent to lie, it is you.

The problem is that we are all complex creatures. I have a squeamish side that gets nauseous at little things. I also have a this-is-an-emergency side that steps in and deals with the grossest of injuries if need be. I’m not faking either one. I’m not a simple person, and neither are you.

So when people tell me to be myself, my answer is “which self?” I’ve got at least dozen different genuine responses in my head to anything you have to say. Some may lead to a budding friendship, others to hostility. Over time you might get to know most of those sides of me, but which one do I let you see first?

This dilemma of defining the real me has recently spilled over into my writing, or more accurately into the marketing of my books. I love my book titles and my book covers. They are the real me. However, I’ve been told by those I respect that neither titles nor covers are helping me sell books.

After quite a bit of reflection, I’ve decided that being effective is also the real me. I’m practical and I like to achieve my goals. My goal is to find more readers. So, the real me is renaming my books and has sought out a professional to provide covers that will be a lot more like the one shown here. (It is for someone elses book about an appearance changer.)

What will those new names be? I’m having a lot of fun deciding on them. What will the new covers really look like? I can’t wait to find out. I’ll be sharing some of both here over the next few months, and if all goes according to plan a new crime novel about a gay genius who can change his appearance will be released in early January 2019.

The real me can’t wait.

 

I love to be loved

I’m on a difficult quest right now. I’ve produced something amazing, I think, and I’m not sure what to do about it. The product is six novels. Their cost has been most of my free time for six years. The answer to my quest lies in why I wrote these books to begin with. So, I’m forcing myself to take a deep dive into my real motivations, no self-delusions allowed.

Why do I write?

Yeah, I’ve establish that I write for fun and to learn things, both of which have been terrific, by the way. I write for the less admirable reason of keeping myself sane, or at least having an outlet to explore the darker things in my head. I think that one is going fairly well, too. I do write hoping to make a little money, and that one hasn’t worked out as well as expected.

The hardest one to admit? I write to be cool. To be admired. To be praised. For the little bump of status it sometimes gives me even while thinking I’m above such things and don’t care what others think of me. Because of course I do care, as we all do. What varies is how much we care, and how much we let it control our actions.

Much of each of my main characters is me, and I suppose that is typical. Zane, the hero of y1, is an A student who is used to commendations and who struggles when others deem him average or worse. I had a start in life much like Zane’s, leaving high school as editor of my school paper, an almost solid A student with a cup full of debate and speech medals.

Zane struggles to make A’s in his work place just as I did in mine. This exchange between Zane and his new boss came from my heart.

“Zane, this is just perfect. Just the way I hoped you would grab onto this project.”

Zane thought about how very good it felt to have someone be proud of him. He was getting an “A” again. He was Brainy Zany. Goddammit, he had missed that guy.

This raises the question of whether writing novels has really done much to make me feel valued.

Well, it seems to have impressed family and friends, but one would hope that would be the case. I’ve also had some great reviews from total strangers and I admit their praise has made me glow inside.

Writing is not a great way to get nothing but praise, however. The first review from someone who hates your book is crushing, and inevitable if you are getting a lot of real reviews from strangers. For every acquaintance at a party who was impressed by the idea of my novels, I’ve met two bookstore owners or other authors with better pedigrees who turned their noses up at me.

The highs are high, but the lows are plentiful. If I really was doing this for love and admiration I would be far better served adopting a puppy.

Yet, we all crave what we crave and I apparently want to be appreciated and admired as a writer. So be it. Guess I have to keep at it, learning and improving, until what I write is worthy of the all the praise I hope for.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, My Eye-opening Second Reason for WritingI write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions and Remember My Name.)