A better word than joy?

I knew from the beginning that my second novel would be centered around the theme of joy. My first novel was all about our connection to others; I wanted this one to celebrate the authenticity of being oneself.

Because I’m the kind of person who gets carried away with an idea, I decided to center the action around the place on the globe that was exactly opposite of Nigeria, where my my first novel took place. Turns out that location is just south of the equator, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This fact might have discouraged someone else, I but I was determined to introduce this symbolism of opposites into my already half-developed plot. So I delved deeper and discovered the island nation of Kiribati, and began to write a novel that encompassed a swath of the sea.

Just as “peace” seemed an inadequate word to describe x0, “joy” barely touched the surface of my overarching theme for y1. What I wanted was a word that meant

the sheer exhilaration that can only be found when a person is true to who they are.

We do need a word for that.

The book was orange in my head. Orange for sunsets over the Pacific and orange for crazy-strong exuberance and for all that glows. This had to be a book about the fire within.

I already knew that later in the series I would write a book that was blue, and it would be about the virtues that tug us in the other direction. I’m still struggling to find a single word that encapsulates the theme of my blue book, but I know that it is about something important, too.

Why would anyone call a collection of books 46. Ascending?

I spent most of my free time over the past six years writing a collection of six novels. I’d never written a book before and, now that I’m finishing the last one, I’m starting to puzzle through what possessed me to do such a thing.

It seemed like fun? I’d always wanted to write fiction? Why the hell not?

Part of the answer lies in something I wrote today to put at the end of the sixth book to explain to any curious reader who had stuck with me exactly why I called this collection of books 46. Ascending.

Here is how I explained it.

  1. It is an I Ching hexagram.
  2. It is what I came up with when I decided that my six proposed books could be made into an I Ching hexagram. Those with a female protagonist would have two lines and those with a male protagonist a single line and book one would be at the bottom and book six at the top because I was pretty sure that was how you were supposed to do it. I thought it was a cool idea.
  3. The lines make Sheng, the I Ching hexagram number 46, as I discovered when I looked up the above cool idea.
  4. Sheng answered the question that bothered me most. The question was not “will my books make money?” or “will I sell a lot of books?” It wasn’t even “will these be good books?” or “will I enjoy writing them?” Those would all have been fine questions. But, this I Ching hexagram answered my question “should I do this or not?”
  5. Researching Sheng, I read that “it is a time of development and progress, the direction is correct” and “hexagram 46 shows a time where a steady progression will occur where the predicted outcome is positive  and “keep working on your plans and maintain confidence in their success.” Those all sure sounded good to me.
  6. My research on 46 Ascending also put this quote in front of me. It is always better to fail in doing something than to excel in doing nothing. – Chinese Proverb . It is undoubtedly a good quote for anyone contemplating anything.
  7. I learned that Sheng was also referred to as the Symbol of Rising and Advancing, Ascending, Ascension, Rising, Promotion, Advancement, Sprouting from the Earth, and Organic Growth. Who can argue with all that?
  8. Sheng’s details included “The emphasis is on upward motion, from obscurity to influence, with growth that is supported by adaptability and an absence of obstacles.” and “Make a sincere effort to apply resolute effort against the forces of inertia, bending around obstacles that arise, and good fortune will follow.
  9. In other words, everything I read about the I Ching hexagram told me loud and clear “write the damn books.” So I did.
  10. Was the universe talking to me? Was I talking to myself? Am I lucky I didn’t put the lines in the reverse order? Those are all great questions. But the one I started to consider was how well did the hexagram fit in with the books themselves.
  11. If you asked me what this collection of books was about, from the beginning I would have told you it was about how all humans have so much more potential than they realize. We can improve, we can rise, we can ascend. Climb the mountain. Move towards the light to the south. You know. Grow.
  12. So this collection of books is named after an I Ching hexagram that not only got me off my butt and writing, but just happened to perfectly describe what it was I was trying to say. Go figure. At the least, it seemed reasonable to name the collection of books after it.

What I don’t address at the end of my novel is the question “did writing the books make me happy?” It’s an important question, but it’s important to me, and not really to my readers. That makes it a more appropriate topic for my blog.

Well …

I can tell you that I wrote these books filled with a sense of energy and purpose unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Many days, writing wasn’t just what I wanted to do, it was all I wanted to do. It was an addiction, an obsession, and a nepenthe against all the world’s ills. I let it consume me, and I enjoyed the ride.

I emerge at the other end, tireder, older, fifteen pounds heavier and with six years of my life mysteriously gone. But, I was lucky enough to have five people in this world who loved me throughout this process and I was lucky enough to have a way to make a living while I wrote that kept serious worries away. Neither is to be taken lightly and for both I count my blessings.

Everybody always tells you to pursue your passion in life. I don’t think that “everybody” has much of an idea of all that really entails. It changes you in ways you do and don’t like. It’s not always fun. It doesn’t always turn out well, certainly not in the Hollywood kind of way.

But once you’ve done it, you can’t imagine not having done it, if that makes any sense. Like not doing it wasn’t even an option, or at least it shouldn’t have been.

Is that happiness? I’m not sure, but I think it might be something even better.

 

Smiling my way across Kenya

I have the opposite of a resting bitch face. My default expression, through no effort of my own, is a smile. When stressed, I often smile more without knowing it. There are plenty of times this is a problem, like every incident of corporate layoffs in which I was ever involved. Trust me, there is no role during such an event in which a smile is appropriate.
It has been an advantage at times, though, yielding me more tips as a waitress, better treatment at airline counters, and dozens of compliments on my good attitude even when my attitude sucked. But no where does this quirk affect me more than when I travel. The further from home I go, the more I smile. Sometimes the expression is genuine, because I love being on the road. Sometimes, I don’t even know I am doing it.
I’ve just returned from one of my furthest journeys ever, a trip to Kenya which got me thinking. What do people do here in the US when you smile at them?
1. They smile back
2. They say hi and maybe try to talk to you.
3. They try to sell you some thing or some idea. Depending on circumstances, that might include the idea of hooking up with them.
4. They take it as an invitation to do harm, attempting to scam or rob you.
I think we can all agree that the first is rather nice. The Kenyans smile back, too, and I carried home the images of hundreds of their smiles. It seemed to me that (with some exceptions) their culture encourages smiling, and it was a delight to have women and men, young and old exchange this simple greeting with me.
I’m less comfortable with having strangers talk to me, but luckily one of my travel companions was not. We made a great team. I did the smiling and then she engaged in the ensuing conversions, much to her own delight.
Sales is another matter. My travel group preferred to buy our trinkets in little shops with established prices. I’ve never understood the charm of haggling, and I respond poorly to pushy sales techniques. I found myself forcing a determined pucker when our van slowed to a stop in traffic and the inevitable crowd selling bracelets and fruit approached us.
Then I thought about similar places in the US. Selling anything to stopped cars is illegal back home, but instead we find beggars with signs detailing their woes and girls’ softball teams asking for donations to attend tournaments. Wasn’t this enterprising foot-based sales force far more admirable? I think so.
In fact, I don’t remember seeing a single beggar in all of Kenya. Or a single homeless person. Granted, there were huge swaths of Nairobi which I never entered, but in a country with an unemployment rate of nearly 40%, the major highways are lined with people trying to make a living, not folks asking for a handout. It seems to me that the people of Kenya embody the virtue of self-sufficiency to an admirable extent. You would think that the American Tea Party would love this place, and ought to be praising the people of Kenya as an example to lazy Americans. Why do I get the distinct feeling that few of them have ever traveled this far, or would be impressed if they did?
For all that hundreds of people tried to sell me things, not one tried to sell me their ideas. The Kenyans I met were proud of their indirect association with Barack Obama, but otherwise left their politics and mine out of the conversation, along with religion and philosophy. There was a feeling of acceptance, of you’re-entitled-to-be-you and I’m-entitled-to-be-me that also reminded me of what Americans aspire to, and often fall short of these days.
The most unfortunate result of a resting smile face is that one can inadvertently invite scams and thieves. It was worth noting that in spite of all the warnings I received before I left, I and my party encountered no theft, no unwanted attention, and no attempt to cheat us. While I’m not naive enough to think it doesn’t happen here, a combination of caution and planning seemed sufficient to avoid problems under normal circumstances and most of the Kenyans with whom I interacted made me feel as safe or safer than I feel at home.
This is not to say that poverty is not obvious, even from the road. The average monthly wage in Kenya is under a hundred US dollars, and even though the cost of living is much lower, this little bit doesn’t go far enough. I’m sure there was hunger and disease, hidden from my view.
What was in my view, however, was people who had very little but were not, in general, miserable. There is a difference between poverty and misery, and that is something I think we tend to forget in the US.
What did I see in Kenya? I saw smiles and I saw hard work and I saw people willing to help each other and even a stranger. I saw curiosity and I saw tolerance and I saw people who appeared to be enjoying their lives.
When I arrived in Nairobi, after 36 hours of travel, my face was in its resting smile mode, with me exhausted and grumpy inside. When I left eight days later, the grin on my face was genuine, warmed by the charm of so many people who had smiled back at me.

I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them

“Please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” the commander in chief tweeted because …

  1. Military policy now is announced through twitter??
  2. The between 1,500 and 15,000 transgender people currently serving in a wide variety of capacities (out of 1.3 million on active-duty) are somehow eroding “military readiness and unit cohesion” at least according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who really ought to know??
  3. our current president just couldn’t resist finding yet another way to surprise and dismay his staff with another poorly thought out idea to appease his far right base while disrupting the lives of those he knows little about??

I guess it must have been all of the above.

Which takes me back to my blogging theme for this month. It’s not about what people deserve, it’s about what you believe.

I believe, along with Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero John McCain, that “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving.”

I believe that policy changes that deeply impact the lives of of anyone should be well thought out, based on valid reasoning, and carefully and compassionately communicated.

What our current president deserves is to be treated the way he treats others, which would involve having his safety and well-being crassly used by another as political chum.

However, I believe in adhering to my own morals, and treating people well, even if they do not deserve it. So, I hope we find a way to remove this man from office soon, and put him out to pasture where he can live out his days playing golf, eating cake and harming no one.

It’s not what he deserves, but it’s what I believe.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Top Requirement for a Superhero, Believe, It’s About What You Believe, and Believe in Tomorrow.)

None of us are normal, if we’re lucky

My friend’s husband often brings her coffee in the morning. He confessed to me that if he really wants to make her smile, he brings it to her in a mug that matches what she is wearing. “Don’t tell her about that,” my friend responded. “Now she’s going to think I’m crazy.”

true voice 8Well, yes, wanting your coffee in a mug that matches your clothes is probably not normal, but my friend should know by now that I never thought she was normal, and I honestly don’t know anyone else who is either. So no worries about the color thing; it’s just another quirk.

Did you know that I code all of my to do lists? I have seven different symbols I use, depending on whether the task described is a household chore, or related to my writing, or a favor for someone I love. Seriously. I do this. Is that normal? Probably not, but it makes me happy.

Which gets me back to my current fascination with happiness. A few weeks ago I wrote about a report generated by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University about which countries have the happiest people. The results  came from asking people to evaluate six parts of their lives which account for most of the variation in world happiness. I summed these six up as wealth, health, love, freedom, fairness and kindness.

Today, I’m thinking about the freedom part.  We usually consider freedom in grandiose terms, as in the right to free speech, or to bear arms, or to choose our own religion. Obviously these are important topics, but I think it is the little freedoms to be ourselves that make for true delight.

Yes, we all do have to fit in enough to function at our jobs and be able to relate somewhat to our friends and family. Past that, though, it’s the goofy little things about us that make us smile. Getting to be quirky, our own harmless kinds of quirky, yields not only happier people, I believe that it also yields healthier ones — physically and mentally. In other words, acting a little odd doesn’t make you crazy, it helps you to stay sane. And once a society starts to tighten the constraints on individual expression, that society gets more pathology, not less.

good sign 2We tend to take the freedom to dye our hair purple or own six gerbils or collect rugby memorabilia as a given, because no one passes laws against these things. But society has other ways to force us into abandoning our happy little habits. Work places, living spaces and organizations all impose restraints which should be for the good of the group but which sometimes seem designed more for conformity. Religions restrict behavior in ways intended to be for the good of the individual, but many edicts seem to be more about simple control. Perhaps most effective in today’s world are the many public ways we have of shaming each other into conformity. From commercials that make fun of the outliers to posts on social media, we exert a pressure on others to conform to the styles and tastes of the herd.

I contend that the endless struggle to be normal is much like the endless struggle to make more money and have more things.  Up to a point it yields a certain amount of happiness,, and then after that it just doesn’t make a lot of difference. In fact, endlessly chasing after the money to buy the latest possession (yes, I’m talking about you iPhone 6s Plus) is like endlessly trying to have the latest possession to fit in. Neither is really going to make your insides glow with joy. And now we have a study to prove it.

(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 meFour Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

 

 

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.

How odd are you?

normal 1A book about oddity. That’s what the most recent reviewer of y1 said it was and I can see how a reader might think that.  To me, it’s much more a book about how each of us is odd, and how the world works so better when we allow ourselves to be what we are, and allow others the same privilege.

Imagine for a minute a world in which people did not feel compelled to convince others to share their particular faith, political ideals, style of dress, sexual preference, or taste in anything. Offering is one thing. Compelling is another. You being different from me does not make you wrong. It also does not take away from how wonderful I am. The only glitch is that your “true self” does not get to be a bully who forces everyone else to be like you or to pretend that they are.

normal 2Thanks to good old Facebook, to a delightfully fun page there called Hippie Peace Freaks and to the Dalai Lama and his Daily Quotes for the these contrasting reminders of how important it is to be your own unique self.