Day 7. Like Tears From a Star

Didn’t think to look at the weather forecast, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I needed to get from Omaha to Hays Kansas today and the drive was going to get done, rain or shine. It turned out to be rain, and lots of it. Much of the day was like driving through a car wash; even with the wipers on high not much could be seen. At least today Google and I agreed on the best route.

I put Hays into this trip because it is the deepest of my roots, the place where I was born and raised, where I came back to be married, and where both of my parents are buried, along with any other ancestor who died after arriving in the U.S. It’s been six years since I was here, and as I cross into Kansas on Highway 81, the rain and the destination combine to form a sense of melancholy.

I have a playlist called 26 songs for sad times. (Yes, I really do like making playlists for everything.) Starting it is a good call; everyone of those 26 speaks to me behind the steady thwank of the windshield wipers, and in that odd way, their sorrow eases mine.

Sting’s Fragile let’s me morn the losses in my life, the people who used to live in Hays and welcome me with enthused and open arms whenever I came to town. Water flows from my eyes, like the never ending rain, and like Sting’s famous tears from a star.

I end the medley the way it began, with Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness. It helps me understand Rule of the Road #7. It’s okay if some of your travels make you sad. You can even embrace the sorrow.

The rain lets up as I turn onto Interstate 70 in Salina and as I head west, the sky turns blue. As I approach Hays. I coax myself out of the car to a take selfie by an old limestone sign. The truck whiz past me and I know; tomorrow will be a different sort of day.

(For all posts from this 28-day journey, along with my rules of the road and my song for the day, see Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles, Day 2. Rules of the Road, Day 3. Rule Three: Just Don’t, and Day 4: Be Where You’re At all on my d4 blog. Then check out Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect. and Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn. both on my x0 blog. You can find Day 7. Like Tears From a Star on my z2 blog. Yes, the daily posts will keep on coming until day 12. Then …)

Remember My Name

Do you want to be famous? Why?

The idea of strangers knowing who I am and caring about what I do holds no appeal for me, but of course individual tastes do vary. If you crave your ten minutes of fame, or ten years of it, I wish you well.

There is one thing I do want from you, though, although I suppose it makes no more sense than fame. I want you, or a few people in general, to remember my name. Wait, my name isn’t important. Just remember what I said. Remember something I wrote.

I’m tearing apart the reasons I’ve spent years writing novels, as a way to find a path forward for me, the books I’ve written and my future writing. So far I’ve acknowledged that I write for the sheer joy of it and for the massive amount of things I’ve learned. I write for therapy and play money. I write for praise.

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

“Why don’t you just have children?” you may ask. Excellent question. I did that and they’re wonderful. If all goes well, I will leave them behind. Whether any of them will go on to produce children of their own remains to be seen, but I don’t think my desire to leave something of myself on this planet should be a driving factor in our relationship. They’ve got their own paths to follow, and that may or may not include passing my fine genetic material along.

Years ago I read a book of short stories called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Each tale takes place in an eccentric bar, and involves a mildly sci-fi premise. To the best of my recollection only one character who wanders in is female, which is maybe why her story stuck with me. She’d lived for centuries, long enough to see every one of her descendants perish until finally she had none. The knowing made her sad. Like I said, the story stuck with me.

“Well, you could get out there and do some good works and leave your mark on this world that way,” you could suggest, and a fine suggestion it would be. I think we should all do that, and I’m trying to do my part. But, it’s not the same thing.

We are each driven by what we are. I want to write something that outlives me. Maybe I’ve done it already and maybe it is yet to happen. Either way I’ll probably never know. Based on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, I see how not knowing can be a better thing.

Whatever the situation is, though, it sounds like I better keep writing.

But first, I’m going to take a minute and enjoy this great video.

 

(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 I love to be loved.)

 

Smarter, kinder and living in 2017

Laughs are precious these days. I turn on the news or open my computer with a vague feeling of dread. It’s always nice to be surprised by a little humor instead, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorites from Facebook. Links to like are at the bottom of the post. Please do.

Along with my growing appreciation of anything that gives me a smile, I notice that I am also becoming bolder in expressing my opinions. This week I had my first letter to the editor published in our local newspaper. Encouraged by how easy that was, I just sent in my first ever Op-Ed piece, a guest editorial on North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill. In case you haven’t heard, you are watching NCAA championship games being played in South Carolina right now because North Carolina has a law that so blatantly discriminates against the LGBT community that even the NCAA will not hold games in our state.

These days I find myself compelled to share my true beliefs with friends, relatives and strangers once they confront me with theirs. I’ve never been one to argue politics, and I still won’t be the one to bring the subject up first. I like getting along with people. But I’m also finished pretending to be disinterested, uninformed or hard of hearing when others express opinions with which I don’t agree, or worse yet which I find abhorrent. I wish to treat people gently and to listen to them with respect, but allowing myself to thoroughly disagree has improved my state of mind almost as much as the humor.

Part of my growing politicization is that I have decided that I do not have to apologize for thinking the following:
1. Education is a wonderful thing. However you make your living, knowledge makes you a better person.
2. Open mindedness is a wonderful thing. What ever your religious beliefs, being hateful to any group does not please anyone’s God. I think every holy book on the planet is pretty clear about this.

This does not make me an elitist or a snowflake. Education makes us smarter. Open-mindedness makes us kinder.

Finally, the past few months have brought me back to reflecting on two of my favorite topics: time and change. I am astounded that a large group of Americans (larger than I thought) believed that they could live in the same town they grew up in and do just what their parents did and they were somehow guaranteed that would make them a good living. This is basically an assumption that society won’t change over time. Of course it will. Moving, learning new skills and adapting to a changing world are part of survival.

Furthermore, much of this same group seems to believe that someone promised them that their culture, ethnicity, religion or social beliefs would always reflect the majority view just because they once did. Demographics and societal norms change. It makes more sense to work to improve the world that it is, than to fight to make it the way is used to be.

Most people like their cell phones and enjoy their iPods. I suggest that they wake up to the fact that that those are not the only ways that 2017 is different from 1957 and consider embracing this new millennium. They might find that it has a lot to offer everyone.

(If you enjoyed the humor, please go to Facebook and visit and like Neil Degrasse Tyson Fans, Paid Liberal Troll, and Liberal Progressive Democrat.)

Have you ever broken a law?

I used to teach a class in ethics as part of a training program for my company. My co-instructor liked to start off with this question. Have you ever broken the law? Most people would shake their heads.

Didn’t borrow any of the down payment for your first house from you parents? Never tried recreational drugs? Underage drinking? Never saw any of it occur and failed to report it?

By this point much of the class was shrugging or looking sheepish.

guidelinesNever ran a stop sign? Crossed the street on a red light? Exaggerated the value of your clothing donations on your income return?  Never double parked or jaywalked or even drove a single mile over the speed limit? Ever?

She had their attention then, and we generally went on to have a pretty lively discussion about what it means to be a law-abiding citizen. I liked to talk about Jack Sparrow’s famous quote that his pirate code was really more of a “guideline.” The fact is, we all consider some laws to be guidelines, particularly when we believe that consequences of our breaking them will not hurt anyone. The perception of which laws this applies to changes over time

In this class we talked about bank robbery versus littering. When I was young my parents would never have considered robbing a bank, although they did habitually take towels from hotels, assuring me that it was included in the price of a room. I later learned otherwise. My parents certainly considered laws against throwing trash out of the car to be a suggestion, along with any requirement to wear a seat belt. Like I said, times change.

Laws change, too, as do penalties and enforcement. When society begins to deem that “this law is serious” the hope is that the increased scrutiny and greater fines are made public first, not used as gotcha fundraising, and that the changes are uniformly enforced among all income levels and ethnic groups. (I know. That’s the hope.)

insider-tradingMuch of the purpose of our particular class was to end up in a discussion about business ethics. My company worked with many different countries, all of which had laws against bribery, but many of which had cultures that considered those laws as guidelines. We also talked about insider trading, and how its acceptability has changed over time. I like the example from the 1980’s movie The Big Chill, when Kevin Kline tries to help his close friend William Hurt by tipping him off that a company is about to be acquired and its stock will shoot up. A friendly gesture? Or ten years in jail? You be the judge.

nutshell I’m remembering those lively discussions and wondering how my former co-workers back in the Houston area are feeling about illegal immigrants. It’s an emotional topic, today more than ever. Because z2 is partly about immigration, I did a fair amount of research on the subject as I wrote. My main source was a wonderful book called “Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell” by David Weissbrodt and Laura Danielson, which used humor and antidotes to help illustrate the changes in both law and perception over the decades.

My one grandfather was brought here at two years old and never knew the country of his birth. I’m pretty sure that all eight great-grandparents of mine arrived from Russia with no paperwork; some of them didn’t even know what country they were going to. Half of one family ended up here, half in Argentina. Oh well, at least they weren’t in Russia, where authorities were cracking down on them for having immigrated from Germany a century earlier.

taboojive2You see, at one time the world was a place where people fled danger, hoping and expecting that those elsewhere would allow them to start a new life if they just worked hard and didn’t make trouble. Paperwork was a guideline. As long as they didn’t hurt anyone, it was really okay.

We live in a different sort of world now, but not everybody has caught up. We have people who were brought here as children by well meaning parents who didn’t think they were doing something that awful. We have those who came here even recently believing that the worst a generous and kind country like ours would do to them would still be far better than what they were facing from tyrants where they were.

We have every right to make our borders completely non-porous today if we so choose. Cost versus benefit, compassion versus safety; these are debates worth having. But when it comes to how we treat those already here, it would serve us well to remember.

choicesThe text we used for our ethics class was a wonderful  book called How Good People Make Tough Choices by Rushworth Kidder. It talked about the main ethical dilemmas facing moral people. Loyalty versus truth. Short term thinking versus long term thinking. Individual rights versus social responsibility. And my personal favorite, mercy versus justice. Our most passionate discussions were about this last one, as we tried to get our participants to understand how often we as humans want mercy for ourselves, our loved ones, and those like us, and how stridently we demand justice for everyone else.

I’ve been thinking about that class a lot these past three weeks, and wondering if I could try just teaching it to passing strangers on street corners. Would anyone stop to listen?

Two enemies talking

Cronin1You never know what will make your day. Today it could so easily have been the angel food french toast that my daughter made for brunch, but as we were clearing the table she gave me a gift that brought an even larger smile to my face.

“Did you read the article I sent you?” No, I hadn’t. “It’s about a black musician who befriends KKK members and then they quit the organization.”  She knows that my novel z2 is about racist groups, and that I am fascinated in general by any person who manages to reach across a divide of hatred and create healing.

So I read her article from Liberty Voice  about Daryl Davis, member of The Legendary Blues Band and author of Klan-Destine Relationships, a book about the twenty plus ex Klan member that this black musician has befriended. The man sounds sincere and admirable, not to mention courageous.

All the people who have reviewed his book have praise for it, except for an odd review from a professional book review company, and they call the book a “futile and pointless volume”.  It is an oddly harsh review, and its shrill tone seems to be what is pointless. I notice that the book and reviews are from 1997, and the 2013 article sent by my daughter says that Davis is working on a sequel.

I hope that the sequel is good.  I hope that it’s well received. I hope that this man keeps on making all sorts of unlikely friends because we all need to learn to do more talking and less fighting.

Check your pulse

pulseI was putting on a piece of jewelry yesterday when it reminded me of something my husband did nine years ago that angered me. Almost nine years to the day, in fact, and I know this because the events are tied into my birthday so the timing is unfortunately easy to remember.

Click here to like the Dalai Lama

Click here to like the Dalai Lama

Nine years, I think. That’s too long a time to stay mad. Certainly about one of those bits of behavior that any girlfriend would shake her head at and agree I can’t believe he did that, but which, in the grand scheme of truly awful things that humans do to each other, was pretty insignificant. I remember reading somewhere that human cells replace themselves at a rate such that every seven years we are made up of completely new material. What a wonderful concept. I realize that my husband is not the same man he was nine years ago, literally, and therefore it’s about time that he should be forgiven for inconsiderate behavior.

As I apply a little make-up to a face that is not the face it was nine years ago, I take this a little further. We do all change, albeit slowly. What if you could only be held liable for wrongdoing committed over the last eight years? I mean, what if society really accepted that as truth? How much personal guilt would be washed away? How much would forgiveness change families and friendships? Hell, how different would our world be if our penal system was designed around this belief?

Click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

Click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

Everyone would be totally liable for their recent behavior, no excuses. But eight year old behavior? No, that was another person, long ago and far away. You can’t even remember what they were thinking. As I start the daily fight between my hair and the hair straightener, I am warming to this new approach to life, to this idea of a total reboot after eight years.

Then I make the mistake of getting on the internet, to verify my new found insights. Damn. Guess what? The seven year cell replacement story isn’t true at all, as this online naturalist and several of his friends are all happy to explain. Some parts of your body grow new cells at an amazing rate, and some don’t. Your colon, for example, is all shiny and new. Your brain? Not so much so. The neurons in your cerebral cortex are yours for life.

Seriously. The Dalai Lama deserves a like.

Seriously. The Dalai Lama deserves a like.

Maybe this physical fact doesn’t negate the wisdom of the original insight, I think. Those neurons may be there from birth, but the heart, mind and soul that they feed with information is a work in progress. That is one of the beautiful things about life. We change, we grow, we hopefully improve. Forgiving ourselves and others lets us move on, lets us move forward in time. We we can chose to embrace this progress without regard to how fast our body replaces our cells.

I had the good fortune to be born around the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful confluence, because each time I face another year on this earth, I am reminded to be grateful for all that the past years have brought me. This year, I’ve decided that I’m not going to be grateful for the past. This year, I’m concentrating on gratitude for the future, and for all the hope that the very concept of change brings.

And that’s the way it was ….. er, is …… er, will be

crystal ballI’ve just finished chapter 3 of my fifth novel, d4, and am already engrossed in this story about the future. I am so caught up in it, in fact, that I’m beginning to neglect this blog, which is centered around a book that focuses on the past. Yet past and future are at their root the same topic, aren’t they?

In that spirit, tonight I am pretending that I live in the year 1013, and can peer a thousand years into the future. Tomorrow, on October 16, what will I see?

In 384 years, a woman named Jadwiga will be crowned King of Poland, although she is a woman. A woman can run a country?
In 793 years, a French queen named Marie Antoinette who is famous for her extravagance, will be guillotined. Sounds a bit drastic.
In 869 years, England will found its first residential college for women. It is going to take over eight hundred years for me to be able to live in a dorm?
In 916 years the first family planning clinic will open in the United States. Wait, one can plan their family?
In 964 years, China, now home to amazing fireworks displays, will detonate its first nuclear weapon. I’m guessing that these nukes aren’t just bigger and better firecrackers.
In 978 years, Wanda Rutkiewicz will be first Pole and the first European woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. What is Mount Everest? And why are women climbing it? October 16 seems to be a very good day for Polish women.

How do you think I’m going to feel about the direction the human race is headed?