Day 23. What’s Your Reality?

I’ve spent several days at Burning Man, which I think we can all agree is a world unto itself. Now that I’m back in what burners call the default world, I seem to be hyper aware of the fact that none of us live in quite the same reality as each other.

We choose different forms of entertainment, and of news. We spend time with different sorts of people. We treat our bodies differently with our food, our rest and our recreation. Our surroundings, which we have some ability to choose, vary radically. It may be amazing that any of us agree as much as we do.

The point is really brought home today when I go visit my husband’s brother and his wife at their ranch. I admire these two a great deal. Years ago they made a choice to live off of the grid, growing or raising most of their own food, hauling in their own water, generating their own solar power. Their food is pure, their bodies work hard.

The vision has morphed somewhat, allowing more modernization and convenience, but they still live a harsh and solitary life in a stunning location. Today’s big news is that they have found a way to have hot running water. They’ve both just taken their first shower at home at the turn of a knob since they began this life about a decade ago. They are quite pleased.

For all that I find their place beautiful, and their choices admirable, I realize that I’m glad I don’t live their life. I enjoy hot showers and baths, among many other creature comforts.

Then I realize, I don’t have to be them, any more than they have to be me. I choose my reality, more or less, just as they’ve chosen theirs.

Isn’t that nice?

But as we visit with each other, it’s helpful to remember that we communicate across a membrane; they in their world and me in mine. While it may be less obvious once I’m back in the town where I live, I vow to remember this insight. Rule 23. It’s a good one for the road and off.

As to the odds of each of us getting to end up in the reality that truly suits us? I think Jimmy Cliff had it all figured out years ago …

 

A better word than hope?

Soon after I began writing my third novel, I realized that it was going to center around the theme of hope. I’d already gone with such lofty themes as peace and joy in my first two novels, so when it came to the big words in life, I felt like I was on a roll. It helped that my protagonist was an aging athlete, and I wanted to him to find the one thing that I’d noticed aging robbed humans of most often.

But hope wasn’t quite the word I meant, any more than peace and joy had been with the first two books. I was trying to talk about refusing to let go of fears and animosity from the past, and refusing to give others a chance based on old experiences. And I was talking about the belief that humans cannot change, that they cannot learn to be, or choose to be, better.

Having already written two stories that took place on opposite sides of the globe, I decided to place this third tale more or less halfway in between. That took to me to the southern reaches of North America; to Belize, Guatemala and Southern Mexico. It also to took me to my own home in Houston. “Hope” looked to be a perfect theme as my research led me to the history of the civilizations and their clashes in this heated part of the globe.

By now, I knew I was doing a rainbow with my books. This was fueled by my love of physics and my fascination with light (or more correctly the electromagnetic spectrum) and I was already planning to give light waves a starring role in this third story. The fact that rainbows had been used over the years to symbolize racial harmony, and LGBT acceptance, was an added plus.

The rainbow thing meant that this book had to be yellow, which was perfect. Yellow is for bright sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day. Yellow is for the first flowers poking through the winter snow. My book was bright yellow for a word that means

the belief that the ills of the past are not an inevitable part of the future, and the knowledge that life can be better, and will be better, if we do our best to make it so.

We do need a word for that.

 

(For more thought on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy? and A better word than courage?)

 

Missing the Eclipse: There is Always Another?

I’ve wanted to see a total eclipse of the sun for as long as I can remember. I was a child who was fascinated by astronomy. By sixth grade I’d read every book that Jefferson West Elementary School had on the subject and I’d moved on to the Hays public library and was making pretty good progress there.

But it takes money, often a lot of money, to get the the remote locations in which that thin strip of totality seems to always lie. So, imagine my excitement when I read last February that a swatch of total eclipse was going to reach from Oregon to my home state of North Carolina.

Then, imagine my reaction when I realized that I would not be here for the big event. Days earlier I had booked non-refundable airline tickets for four to Kenya for the safari trip of a lifetime. No, the eclipse would not be visible in Kenya. No, the tickets could not be changed. Maybe I should have checked, but seriously, who looks at a schedule of eclipses before they plan a trip?

I cut my losses, focused on the excitement of my upcoming journey, and tried to ignore the ever-increasing hype about the eclipse as mid-August approached.

I had a great time in Kenya. And, the good old reliable sun provided me with a lot of beautiful photos, so I didn’t feel completely cheated out of celestial beauty.

Meanwhile, some of those closest to me headed over to nearby Charleston SC for nature’s big show. Our home near Asheville wasn’t in the path of totality. But, we have kin in Charleston, and it seemed like  a terrific place to view an eclipse: all that wide expanse of ocean, all those great restaurants and things to do, and a relative’s condo that was available for free.

Only the total eclipse didn’t happen quite as expected. Yes, the moon passed in front of the sun for a couple of minutes, but it never got dark, like in the NASA photo shown at the top of this post. It was more dusky, like part way through a sunset. According to some theories, light from outside the totality band was reflected off of the ocean, preventing complete darkness. Whatever the cause, an iPhone captured totality like this. It was a cool experience, according to those who were there, but not quite the extreme event they were lead to expect.

I’m in Charleston today, thinking about the eclipse that I missed. That was about 28 days ago and we are back to the new moon. This time, the moon won’t pass directly in front of the sun, at least from where I am sitting. But it will from somewhere, even if that somewhere is out in space.

Sooner or later, I hope to find a way to put myself directly in that shadow. Will the experience live up to all of my expectations? Maybe. Maybe not.

Meanwhile, here is how the sun, and that invisible new moon, are looking today in the Charleston area, just one full cycle of the moon later.

Not too shabby. If this is the best solar event I get to see for awhile, I’m not going to feel so bad about it.

 

Still a Sunrise?

Going for a stroll in Kenya

I arrived back from Africa on Saturday, and the first thing I encountered was more people from Africa. Specifically, I had two Uber drivers. One, from Ghana, took me to where I was staying overnight en route and the second, from Sierra Leone, took me back to the airport at 6 am to catch my final flight home.
I had been visiting Kenya, which sets about 3500 miles away across a continent from both of these men’s homes, yet their faces lit up when they heard where I had been. Both had been in the US for years, trying, in their own words, to make a better life.

My travels had added a new layer of understanding to what they meant.

Sun on the horizon in Kenya

I had spent some time talking to my Kenyan guide, learning about his life and his hopes for his four-year-old daughter as she grows. He is determined to see her become well educated, even though such an opportunity was beyond his reach.

What would you have studied?
“I wanted to become a lawyer,” he laughed. “Obviously that was impossible in my situation.”
As we traveled, I couldn’t help but notice the way he negotiated his way through the problems we encountered. Your instincts were good, I thought. You’d have made a fine lawyer. But I kept my thoughts to myself.
“What do you hope your daughter studies?” I asked.
The question seemed to make him sad.

The U.S. presence in Kenya

“She won’t have so many options to choose from,” he told me. He’d been careful to keep most of his opinions to himself as we traveled, and this is probably a wise thing for any travel guide, anywhere, to do. But for just a moment he spoke from his heart.

“It doesn’t bother me that you don’t appreciate all the opportunities that you have in your country. What bothers me is that you don’t even recognize that you have them.”

He’s right, I thought. We don’t recognize it. Most of us have done little to nothing to create those opportunities and yet we not only see them as normal, we act as though they are our birthright.
Perspective is one of the many and better benefits of travel.
This week, it introduced to me three men. One is working hard to provide his daughter a better life. Two have left their families, friends and cultures behind to seek better lives for themselves.

George Washington’s chair

Stop me if I’m wrong here, but isn’t this sort of hard work and goals that we are so proud of in the United States; the very thing we believe built this nation?

I ask because while I was doing all this listening and thinking, white supremacist groups in my country were carrying on to a frightening degree. Others are still clamoring to cut immigration way back to keep all these “undesirables” from coming in.

I once heard a story that George Washington had a chair decorated with a sun along the horizon and that Benjamin Franklin said “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I… know that it is a rising…sun.

Sunrise at Dulles

I thought of that story as the cab driver from Sierra Leone dropped me off at the airport and I was treated to the sight of the sun rising over Washington D.C.

Hey America, do  you think that it is still a rising sun on that chair? I think it can be, but only if we are smart enough to recognize the things we take for granted and strong enough to refuse to let fear and bigotry be our guide.

Believe.

What should determine your behavior? How you feel at the moment? What you think of those around you? What those around you think?

All of those things do have an effect, even if we don’t think they should. But my current favorite film focuses on a different answer, and it’s got me thinking.

The way you behave should be largely shaped by what you believe in. And if it isn’t, it’s time to take a hard look at either your behavior, or your beliefs.

I can give you a long list of things I do not believe in, and an even longer list of kind-ofs to which I can add many qualifiers. But today, I’m forcing myself to make a short list of simple virtues in which I firmly believe. Virtues that can shape my everyday actions, you know, Wonder Woman style.

This should be easy. I have plenty of beliefs. I’ll pick one.

I believe in tolerance. That means letting me be me and letting you be you. Yes, I can hear the qualifiers creeping already. No one should tolerate one human harming another. Okay, I agree. But what do we do on the fringes? The barely harming that some say isn’t harming at all?

Image result for confederate flagI live in North Carolina and the confederate flag is a great example. I cringe when I see it. I have neighbors who find that intolerant. I find the flag itself intolerant. We are at an impasse, my neighbors and I, each unwilling to tolerate each other’s intolerance. What a mess.

So let me try another word. I believe in inclusion. Young, old, all races, religions, sexual orientations and body types. We are all beautiful. Except, of course, for the people who think we are not. They’re ugly.

Try again. I believe that we all need to accept each other as equally valid expressions of what it means to be human. No one gets excluded from anything based on the bodies they were born into, the cultures that raised them, or the personal preferences they now have.

Hey, I think that works.

That does not mean we have to tolerate each other’s bad behavior. In fact, at some point we have to act to stop it. And no, I don’t know exactly where that point is but I am sure it exists.

I believe in tolerance. I do. Tolerance means you’re beautiful, because you are a miracle and  I’m beautiful because I am one too.

We both need to act like it, and that is my belief for the day.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Top Requirement for a Superhero,  It’s About What You Believe, I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them, and Believe in Tomorrow.)

 

Concerned, But Not Wanting To Offend, Canada Quietly Plants Privacy Hedge Along Entire U.S. Border.

Too funny not to share.

The Out And Abouter


“And we’re happy to pay for it,” say a united front of Canadian premiers, national leaders, mayors, citizens, and casual acquaintances, of the newly planted hedge that has sprung up seemingly overnight, running unbroken for 6,416 kilometers, along the world’s longest undefended border.

“Sometimes the best way for neighbours to get along, is a little bit of privacy. Even in the winter. Even when you have to break frozen ground to get it. Even when your neighbour has spy satellites and a penchant for caching electronic communications. Even then, a hedge can’t hurt.”

A continuous growth of Cherry Laurel, the overnight hedge stands an average of two meters high, and is expected to grow to be at least double that by the end of Donald Trump’s first term, when a review of the green screen is planned. At that time the hedge will either be topped with barbed wire, or…

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Does Marvin Gaye know what’s going on?

I’ve enjoyed blogging about each of the forty-five songs I refer to in my five books, and today I am writing the last of these posts. For no particular reason, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has that distinction. It occurs near the end of z2, when much of the group comes together for New Year’s Eve, and the words to the song provide impetus for solving part of the puzzle of the mysterious Maya artifact.

cmkqowgweaeubypIn fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a song about hope. Written in 1966 by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it became a hit in 1967 when it was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It basically says I’ll be there to help you , because no force is big enough to stop me. It’s the last part of the that message that gets my attention; the idea that nothing can be so big and so bad that it can’t be overcome by someone who wants to make things better. I’m not feeling terribly hopeful these days; I guess I really need to hear this sort of thing. I must not be the only one, as I and over a hundred thousand other people have enjoyed this simple and classy early video posted a few years ago.

Looking up more information on Marvin Gaye (who is usually associated with the song) I found a wonderful fan page for him and learned that in the tumultuous year of 1969 he became frustrated with the type of music he was writing, wanting to turn towards topics that were more socially relevant.

The timing makes sense. In 1968, twelve elections ago, two fairly unpopular presidential candidates ran against each other while their policies sharply contrasted with a controversial war and a good deal of racial and political unrest. I would guess that Marvin Gaye didn’t want to only sing happy, hopeful songs for lovers. He wanted to weigh in on the social issues of the day.

According to the fan page

… in 1971 What’s Going On was released; the first song Marvin Gaye produced himself. The album explored topics such as poverty, discrimination, politics, drug abuse and the environment. Barry Gordy was reluctant to release the album because he doubted its potential commercial success. Despite the reservations, What’s Going On was an instant hit and groundbreaking work in the soul music genre.

It’s easy to see why. In a unique sweet and sour style, the title song contrasts a cocktail party sound with harsh words about the times. The song opens with … (From Metrolyrics)

Mother, mother there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying

Let’s face it, these are apt lyrics for today, and they got me thinking about how much 1969 and 2017 have in common. They had an unpopular war, we have unpopular wars complicated by global terrorism. Racial tensions then had grown out of the fight to eliminate legal segregation, today many of us of all colors are reeling from a plethora of incidents with the police that make us question how far we have really come towards racial equality. Two high profile assassinations, police brutality during the 1968 democratic convention and the sight of 250,000 war protesters marching in Washington left the people of 1969 angry and confused. Today, we face the inauguration of a president whose election was aided by a longstanding enemy nation and fueled by groups chanting about building walls and talk of registering members of a minority religion. Times change, but sometimes they seem to circle back around, and revisit the feel of a bygone era.

I sought out a video of “What’s Going On” and found this one which has been enjoyed by almost NINE MILLION people recently. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that Marvin Gaye understood something about the problems of 2017.

Father, father we don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate

Of course, he went on to write and perform many more songs before his tragic death at age forty-five, and he left a wide and varied legacy in R&B, soul, funk, jazz and pop genres. As I enjoyed researching and learning more about him, I realized that I like all of his music, although the hopeful song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the wisely prescient “What’s Going on” are my two favorites.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

As the background characters say in the video, “right on.”