Not a Country of Immigrants

Citizens of the USA are almost all immigrants and their descendants. Were this not so, only Native Americans would hold citizenship here.

The United Arab Emirates is not a country of immigrants. For the most part, only the descendants of native Emiratis may hold citizenship. Those who move there will never fully belong, and neither will their children, no matter now many generations their ancestors have been there. As a result, about 80% of the population of the UAE consists of expats (and non-citizen residents who are the descendants of expats). The 20% who are citizens benefit from a wide variety of benefits involving land, housing, healthcare, and education, among other things. They run the country.

The UAE is a modern nation, newly built out of an almost uninhabited desert. Over the past sixty years, oil wealth and air conditioning have allowed thriving cities to spring up where only a few thousand people once huddled along the coast.

Visitors can’t help but be impressed with how clean and safe Dubai and Abu Dhabi are. Everything seems new and shiny, and helpful people abound.

Yet, if you begin to ask questions (something I have a habit of doing) you will find that most if not all of the friendly people serving your coffee and carting your luggage are not Emiratis. They are from Indonesia and the Philippines, or from India or Pakistan. Most (but not all) are Muslim, and they are in the UAE seeking a better life, just like your Uber driver in most US cities. The big difference for them is that they know they and their children will never belong.

So, why do they come to an Arab nation that is so determined not to be a country of immigrants? Well, the UAE is arguably the richest land of opportunity near their original homes. They appreciate the clean and safe environment, too. For many, the common religion is a big factor. They like the lack of income tax on money made here. In short, it is the best alternative for them.

Expats are held to a high standard of good behavior, here, and if deported they can never come back. Our guide brags about how the UAE led the development of retina scanning. Ours have been scanned and recorded when we entered the country, we are told. I find the fact chilling. They have the right to do this? I guess they do.

The point of the retina scanning is that no fake passports will work for those who are not welcome to come back. The UAE makes sure all expats know this.

I’m from a nation that has a horrible history of having overrun those who originally lived there. It’s something to be ashamed of, but after its ignoble start, the USA did become a land of welcoming opportunity to many and I was raised to be proud of that. So, I find the clearly articulated nativism of the UAE disconcerting.

I remind myself that one travels to learn about other lands, and other lands do not have to have the same philosophy as my own homeland.  Of course they don’t.

I look up the definition of “nativism” to make sure I am using it correctly. It is the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. Yup, I’m using it right.

The UAE is full of wonderful sights and wonderful people. I’m so glad I visited, and I’d recommend the trip to others. However, I prefer the messy but welcoming enthusiasm with which my own homeland once greeted others seeking a better life, and I look forward to the day when the USA returns to being that sort of country.

 

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 …

 

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.)

 

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.

 

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.”

How the light gets in

photoWhen you work as a consultant, as I do, you end up in a lot different kinds of unpleasant work spaces. There is the big room that requires industrial strength head phones to concentrate, and there is the office awkwardly shared with your supervisor who has no where else to put you. But the worst for me, personally, is the dark cube tucked into a windowless corner where the sun never shines. Not knowing if it is raining or sunny, or even day or night, wears at me. I’d have been awful on a submarine.

My latest assignment had put me in just such a place, until I had the bright idea to bring a globe into my office. It’s decorative and kind of pertains to my job and it almost fit between my desk and the wall. I just needed another inch or two.  The office manager took pity on me and my minor attempts at interior decorating, and okayed scooting my cube out a bit so that the globe could stay. Lo and behold. Once the scoot was made, a small piece of metal kept the two cube walls from joining perfectly.  I now have a crack in my walls.

raising5I maintain several different blogs. I have a blog where I write about peace and I like to feature photography and art about the subject. It’s fairly easy to find. I have another blog where I write about joy and photos of happiness are even more ubiquitous. But how do you picture hope? That’s a tough one.  On this here blog, which is about hope among other things, I’ve used the sun breaking through clouds and an image of a small plant shoot coming up in barren soil. Hope is a harder thing to picture. At least for me, it used to be.

No longer. If the door across the hall is open, sunlight now seeps in through the crack in my wall and what a difference it makes. My whole attitude at work has improved, and left me pondering the many wonders of letting a bit of joy ooze in through an imperfection. More than once I’ve found myself humming lyrics that go “there is a crack, a crack in everything …. that’s how the light gets in” and wondering where in the world I got those words from.

A minute on Google just solved the mystery. Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” is either the world’s most depressing song about hope, or it’s the most hopeful song that could be written about a depressing world. I’m going to go with the latter.

I now have my own photograph of what hope means to me and it’s a simple picture of a gap between two office cube partitions. Better yet, I found this fine video of “Anthem”. It gives Cohen’s poetic lyrics superimposed on images that just might make you feel like it’s not that bad after all. Give it a try.

One more plus — I just found a great post about this song on another blog called That’s How the Light Gets In. It’s worth checking out, and this day just keeps getting better.