Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut and J.R.R. Tolkien Ended My Relationship

When I was dating, I met a brilliant young man. In fact, many said he was a  genius. I was thrilled. I had someone to talk to about literature and nerdy things, sci-fi and fantasy. Little did I know as we traded classics in these genres that these same books would end our flourishing romance. Tolkien heralded the death knell, but Vonnegut sealed the coffin.

We were sitting in his bedroom one sunny afternoon, on his bed, side by side. We were getting comfortable and he decided to take off his shoes. I noted that he had a lot of hair on the tops of his feet. I had never seen that before.
He remarked, "Just like a hobbit."
Oh, yes, I remembered that was how they were described. I blinked, a bit disturbed as I looked him up and down, for indeed, he looked very much like a hobbit. .My world turned surreal.
He continued: "You know, they said at the end of Tolkien's books that humans mated with the remaining species like dwarves and hobbits, and that is why there are people of different statures and body builds. Maybe that is why you look the way you do. You're part elf."

Suddenly, I was no longer in America, but in some ruined, magicless, future version of  Middle Earth. Since I was being pigeon-holed into the world of Tolkien, I was quite sure that my ancestors had been of the race of mighty tree elves. I thought of my proud Numenor heritage as I looked over at him, an obvious hobbit. Then at  that moment, as ridiculous as it was, I thought, "In the name of my mighty race how can I marry a hobbit? Would not my great ancestors roll in their graves at the thought of the sacrilege of those two races combining? Was I not desecrating my imaginary heritage? Would not the Grey Havens belch up its contents in an angry wave at the very thought?"

Still, somehow our relationship limped on. Like Legolas and Gimli, we traveled unabashedly together, though many noted our incongruity, and some remarked upon it, especially my college girlfriends. Well, they did not actually remark, but kind of laughed at me. Still, I persevered. I believed that the physical was unimportant. It was the soul that counted. I saw much in this self-professed hobbit, in the way Gandalf saw much in Frodo. He was witty and logical, but like a hobbit, he could also be stubborn and a bit traditional, especially about women's roles.

While I sung his praises to others, defending my choice, he thought of me as a foolish, flighty elf. I expected the adoration of Gimli for Galadriel, but he was treating me like I was Samwise,  He would explain the simplest things, assuming I was not as intelligent or educated as he was. He sought to control and manipulate my behavior in a variety of ways. But I came from a proud matrilineal people. Everyone knows how handily Galadriel held Celeborn's family jewels at her command, and here this Hobbit was riding me. It was wrong. If I was an elf, I should be treated like one, with respect, and deference, the way I was treating him. Why was I being treated like the silly hobbit in this relationship?!

Then Kurt Vonnegut came into my life. I unearthed a tome called Welcome to the Monkey House from among the books my father had left me. In it I began reading a story about Billy the Poet. That week the hobbit called and asked me what I was doing. I told him.

"I'm reading about a beautiful girl named Juno who lives in a dystopian world, where everyone is a virgin and sex is frowned on. She is kidnapped and deflowered by Billy the Poet, who sent her this poem:
'I'm five foot two,
With eyes of blue,
With brown hair to his shoulders-
A manly elf
So full of self
the ladies say he smolders.'
What do you think of the poem?" I asked him. It sounded a lot like him, a guy who thought much of himself and less of others, a guy who would rape a girl because he thought it was logical and for the greater good.

"I don't know," he said, annoyed.

I went on: "Afterward, Billy tells her 'You're angry because I am such a bad lover, and a funny-looking shrimp besides. And what you can't help dreaming about from now on is a really suitable mate for a Juno like yourself.'

I could hear him swallow. He knew the end was near, but he refused to go gracefully. No. He went down like Gollum holding onto the ring. I suppose a bit too late, he realized he had something precious in me.
Though the message had been wrapped in an unsavory package,  I learned from a short story that I would never be happy until I met a man who was my equal mentally and emotionally. I wanted a man who would treat me respectfully, who would honor me, appreciate me, the way I would him. I wanted a man, a good man, and I found him after I finished with the hobbit.

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reviews and the Myth of Trying to Please Everyone.

I recently put my book in the YA category just to see how those readers would receive it. A friend of mine told me my book was YA. I was not sure about that, but now I am more convinced by the confused and mixed reviews that it may not belong there. I read each review I received like I thought an author should, so I could improve my writing. Unfortunately, the reviews were all over the place. Some said my book was a light, easy read; others were confused. Some understood the profound nature, some didn't know what I was talking about it.  Some wanted more of this. Others wanted more of that. Others wanted less of this. Other wanted less of something else.  Most loved it the way it was.

This triggered in me a memory of one of the earliest tales I read when I was a girl. I read it in Hebrew for school. It was called "In order to find acceptance in the eyes of everyone."   I like the English title better, it is simply named, "In order to please everyone.”

A father and son and a donkey start off on a journey together. They are heading out to market. It is a beautiful day. The father and son walked side by side next to their mule. On the road, they pass some travelers. The group of men start laughing at them.

“Look at those fools walking next to perfectly good mule when one of them could be riding! What dolts!”

So, the father looks at the son and kindly picks him up and puts him on the back of the mule. They go along happily for a few more miles until they meet another group of older people on the road. The older people stare at them and shake their heads.

“What a pity!” one says. “Such a shame to see how disrespectful young people are these days. A fine healthy boy riding a donkey while his old father has to creep along. How disgusting!”

Well, the young boy loves his father. He does not want to be disrespectful. So, he jumps down and immediately make his father ride. They go a few more miles like this enjoying the day talking about what they wish to buy at market when they run into another group of people. These people frown at them as they go by.

One person says in a not too quiet voice, “Look at that big fat man riding the donkey while his little, skinny child has to walk in the dust and dirt. The child will perish and the fat man will go on not caring.”

Well, the father loves his son. He loves him to pieces. So, he pulls him up in front of him. (He does not get down himself because that would give others cause to say something bad about his son again). Now both are riding.  Ahh! Now things are good. Everyone is riding and comfy. The father and son are both happy. Proudly, they ride by the next group, heads up.

“Look at those oafs riding that poor mule to death!” a person in the group cries as she passes. “They are being so cruel to that animal! They are both healthy! Why should they torture that scrawny beast to death with their tonnage!”

So, now the father and son both get down  and scratch their heads. Well, they can’t walk beside or ride on the beast. How will they get to market?  So, the little son makes the final suggestion that will please everyone. They pick up the mule and carry her kicking and braying on their backs to the market. When they get there they are all terribly uncomfortable and sad.

So, what does this mean for me as an author? I enjoy the praise, then read the criticism with a grain of salt. I try and see if any of it is valid, and if  there is something I can do about it without changing everything and without destroying the integrity of the story I wrote. Usually, except where grammar is concerned, the answer is no, so I continue writing something else. (Also, I read the great reviews a few times to inspire me to go on, if I need it. I also read a valid bad one to keep me on my toes.  Then I forget them and keep on writing.)

Reviews are great when they are great, but they are opinions and everyone’s is different. It would be nice if we could make the whole world smile, be happy, and whole, but the truth is we cannot. We are lucky if a few people truly understand us and connect with us in this life, and it is for them that I write. So, thanks for the great reviews! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Only Creation Myth With a Male God, I’m Going to Believe in….

Maitani - Creation of Eve, from the facade of the Orvieto Cathedral
When God finished creating Eve, he looked down at his work and smiled.

“Damn. I am really doing some fine creating today. Look at those lumps and bumps. The curve is the best shape I ever made, and I've used it to maximum effect today.  I am a genius. That is some sweet sugar right there.”

God glanced at Adam and frowned. “He’s all lines and angles. Not my best work. A bit primitive.”  God thought a bit. “Well, Why should I give her to him? He’s just a pale stinking shadow of me.” God flicked Adam into the cosmos and woke Eve. He said, “Come to the arms of your creator.  I gave you life, now let me show you how to live.”

As Adam hurtled through the stars, a Goddess caught him in her baseball glove. She saw that he was good and decided to keep him and make much use of him.


From the "Gospel of Gender Equality."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Narcissus the Robin

"You lookin' at my woman?"

With the coming of Spring (finally) we now have a pesky American robin in our yard, whom we call "Narcissus"(and occasionally "dumbass"), who constantly attacks our windows, or, rather, his reflection in these windows. For those unfamiliar with the myth, Narcissus was a youth who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water to the degree that he stared at himself until he dropped dead. In this case, the obsession is the same, but it's self-hatred that fuels the interest. He views himself as such an attractive rival for himself that he must put an end to things out of jealousy. 

Caravaggio's "Narcissus"
I did notice though that when another bird, a flicker, came near, he did not attack it but ran away. Also, since there are about five-hundred robins around the neighborhood that he is completely oblivious to, I do not believe he is spoiling for a fight. So, we have theorized that this bird has decided to take on the one adversary he knows he can defeat--himself--and is definitely not an alpha male. 

All day long, we hear Narcissus flapping against the glass, pecking and clawing with his feet. Pulling down the blinds doesn't deter him, and I don't want to put shiny metallic streamers or black plastic netting all over the outside of the glass, as has been suggested online, since I am terrified of seeing dumber-than-a-rock him hanging upside down or tangled up like an early Christmas ornament in it.

I have therefore settled on a two-prong approach of occasionally showing myself in the window and making wild gestures along with ignoring the ruckus. I've accepted his behavior as something even a human male might do and am therefore more tolerant. Man and bird do not differ that much. Man keeps away other males from his mate by placing a shiny ring on her finger, which, like the metallic tape I could hang in the window, is supposed to frighten other males away. Unfortunately for robins, they do not have enough lining in their nests to purchase a diamond encrusted bird band for their seasonal beloved, so they must go birdo-a-birdo instead, which can also happen among homo sapiens. 

P.S. We have also noted that Narcissus is alone. Perhaps it is just too early to find a mate or it is the fact that he spends so much time attacking our windows, he has none to meet a girl or make a decent nest. Yes, we found the nest. It is in the crotch of a birch tree. It, unfortunately, looks like crap, like the kind of nest a man who attacks his reflection all day would build. Well, Darwin is proven right again.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Broken Myth of "How I Met Your Mother"

Ha ha! It was you all along!

I thought I'd write something about the How I Met Your Mother finale while it is still somewhat fresh. I know that in a week or two, discussion of it will disappear like most topics in our information-overloaded age, and even I won't care anymore, so I'll strike while the iron is warm.

I've always enjoyed HIMYM--it's funny, smart, and often touching--but the series finale episode disturbed me from the perspective of storytelling and the way it undercut the mythology established during the years of the show.  

According to Joseph Campbell's well-known Hero's Journey or monomyth, most stories follow a basic archetypal pattern. The hero has a goal to achieve and encounters many trials on the way, receiving advice and aid from a supernatural helper (who is expendable) and making use of certain talismans or magic objects before receiving his just reward. For nine years, the Mother (Tracy McConnell) was clearly presented as Ted Mosby's goal, his prize, in the mythology of the series. There are magical objects or icons, like the yellow umbrella or the bass guitar, and near encounters designed to create a mystique about the unknown Mother who will also be the love of Ted's life, his soul-mate. Many an episode speaks of Ted finding "the One," even the finale. With all this intense build-up, it is shocking to discover that the Mother is not Ted's soul-mate, nor his reward in the hero's journey but just the expendable supernatural aid. 

Tracy giving wise help
As viewers, we probably should've seen this coming. Actress Christin Milioti was surely cast in part for her waif-like, ethereal appearance. Earlier appearances of the Mother during the final season were strange examples of "wise help." In Platonish Tracy meets Barney by chance and convinces him to pursue Robin; she consoles Lily in The Locket, runs into Marshall by coincidence in Bass Player Wanted and gives him advice, and lastly convinces Robin not to bail on her wedding in The End of the Aisle. Each of these seemed annoyingly magical and guru-like at the time. Turns out they were just examples of the writers assigning the Mother the role of magical  fairy, who, like Mary Poppins, comes to set a lot of things right before going away, or, in this case, dying, which she again takes with otherworldly stoicism. In fact, we don't even see her die or have a funeral, so she could very well have simply gone back to fairyland (which would actually make her part of "Meeting the Goddess" in the Hero's Journey, still a transitional step for the protagonist, not the culmination).  

In this scenario, Robin is Ted's true love. Tracy's true love was Max, the boyfriend who died, and she dies to be with him. Even the kids sagely suggest that the sum of every narrative told by their dad is that he has the hots for Robin; the story of "how I met your mother" is relegated to being a sub-plot, and Tracy and Ted are a temporary bookmark. This is all fine and good (a lot of people like the chemistry of Robin and Ted) except for the fact that, for nearly a decade, we have been primed as an audience to see Tracy as Ted's eventual soul-mate, and it's terribly disappointing to have the rug pulled out from under us. It spits in the face of the whole build-up, the entire mythology. The writers try to soften the blow by minimizing the Mother's place in some of the last scenes where it is very much "the gang" at McLaren's plus Tracy, who is relatively silent and isolated from the group (other than kissing Ted). We see no mourning, no funeral either. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect of diminishing her value. And this is also where the writers blew the chance to recover something of the storytelling after they wrote themselves into a corner with the necessity of having a Mother who is not Robin. 

If we had a death scene or a funeral, we as an audience would have some closure, and the place of the Mother in Ted's life would have been elevated instead of a "snap your fingers and she's just gone" sort of goodbye, glossed over as if the whole relationship were insignificant. Tracy's death gets much less time than Barney's discussion of his "perfect month." It's emotionally vacant. Robin could have attended the funeral and consoled Ted, being there for him and his kids in the six years that followed, which is more of a plausible reason for the kids to love "Aunt Robin," who seems to have stayed apart and on the road for all that time. How would they have known her much otherwise? This could, in turn, open the door for a situation where the kids declare that Robin has been "a Mother to us" while Tracy was their "Mom" (which is what they call her). "Robin practically raised us," one of them could say. In this way,  "How I Met Your Mother" could at least have referred to Ted and Robin rather than being just the title of a sub-plot. 

P.S. Ultimately, Ted does fulfill his Hero's Journey in that he becomes the "Master of Two Worlds" at the end. He has had the domestic life expected by most people--a wife and two kids: a boy and a girl--and now will have a romantic, adventurous life with (infertile) Robin, his blue French horn, chateau wedding and hot air balloon. He can have his cake and eat it too.

P.P.S It's truly evil that the producers of HIMYM are making us buy the Season 9 DVD to see an alternate ending. I, for one, will not buy it but wait for the spoiler to be revealed online. Will you buy it?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ode to New York City, 'cause that's how I roll

Having gone bi-coastal recently, I've been thinking of my old NYC, which I haven't seen for more than a year, and decided to pen a quick ode:

I love the humans of New York, the miasma and madness, the sacred and profane, the melting pot of minds. I love the filth on and all over everyone and everything. Ah, the humanity. The unexpected. The music and vulgarity. The songs of stupidity, wit and wisdom. The utter clash of everything. The colors, the food, the noise, the smell of piss, the pile of people with eyes deeper than the dawn. New York, New York is a hell of a town.  

Feel free to wax poetic about Gotham in your comments to me below.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Tree Still Grows in Brooklyn

I read recently about a friend’s sorrow for a lost tree and remembered when I was a girl how attached I was to a tree growing near the property line between my house and the neighbors in Brooklyn. I was very ill at the time. The doctors did not know what was wrong with me. I could not remember a lot of my past, nor did much stay in my short-term memory, and, worst of all I had lost my ability to read. Words did not make sense on the page.  I had always been a sickly child, an asthmatic, and books had for most of my life been my only constant friends. The loss of my ability to read was devastating.  I felt like the world had shut me out. I stayed in my room most days unable to go to school. I stared out of my window at a tree. A young wild cherry that seemed to have sprung up overnight.  I watched it with pleasure, feeling strongly connected with it as if my spirit and its were bound. Then one day after another fruitless doctor’s visit I came home and saw that a big bough of it had been cut off.

I asked my mother about it. She said she would ask the neighbor. He said it was leaning over onto his property that he would cut it back as much as he saw fit. When she came back, I argued that it was our tree. He had no right to cut it so viciously. He left open wounds all over it. My mother said she would speak to him again, but nothing changed. He would put up his ladder and lean over and cut limb after limb of the tree. He said he knew best. The tree was trouble and since we were all females in the house, we didn’t know how much trouble a tree like that could be if it was left to grow.  He said he would not cut much more, but he did. I felt so helpless. Everyday there was less of the tree. He left ugly white wounds all over it.  I feared it would die of shock or bleed out. I peered out of the window at him unable to do anything. He kept cutting and shaking his head at it. He said legally he could do what he wanted. My mother shrugged. She could do nothing. “I told him,” she said, but he didn’t listen.

In despair I went to my grandmother. I told her the neighbor was going to kill the tree. I knew he was. I had this sinking feeling that if the tree died, so would I. We were so much alike, both on the edge of everything. Like it, I was so sick, and I was not getting better. There was no help, only symptoms. I wandered into my grandmother’s bedroom with the shutter door and wide queen sized bed. She had the biggest bed of all us. She lay in the middle of it on the white sheets.

“What can I do?” I asked my grandmother, tossing myself disconsolately in a side chair.

She said my story reminded her of a poem she had learned in school as a girl. She sat up a bit and spoke dramatically: “Woodman spare this tree! Touch not its leafy boughs! For in its youth it sheltered me, And I'll protect it now.”

I did not know that is was a poem by George Pope Morris or that she had mis-remembered it a bit. All I knew was that it was perfect. I wanted to say that to the neighbor, shout it at him, paint it on a rock and hit him with it.

“Why don’t you just hang it on the tree?” my grandmother asked.

That would also work. So, I wrote it out in my best handwriting on a bit of cardboard. I painted it with a big tree and child sitting under it. Then I used a string to hang the placard on the branches kind of facing him. I was really shy and would never have done any of the things I had thought about like yelling or throwing. I was barely brave enough to hang my sign on the tree.  I climbed up hurriedly and placed it, then ran back into my house.

Again that day, he took out his ladder to start trimming the tree. I ran and hid in my grandmother’s room not wanting to watch him killing it.

Later my mother came home. She had a strange smile on her face. The neighbor had come to her and said, “Okay. I won’t cut anymore.” He took the sign I made with him. I guess he kept it. I learned that soft words and poetry work better than yelling and getting angry. He spoke to me after that. He learned that I was sick. He was less imperious and more gentle. He told me stories. I grew to like him. My tree grew too. It got big. It gave fruit. Birds came and ate, and I got better. 

Have you had an encounter with a special tree? I'd love to hear about it.

Woodman, Spare That Tree
by George Pope Morris (1802-1864)

WOODMAN, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth-bound ties;
O, spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand --
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I've a hand to save,
Thy axe shall hurt it not. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

To React is Human, To Respond, Divine

Image by Brandon Stanton, HONY
I enjoy following Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York (or HONY) because it often reveals the profound wisdom of the "human on the street." One entry in particular from a South Asian couple is particularly meaningful to me:

"It is important to maintain your equanimity. You cannot let yourself get too ‘up’ or too ‘down’ based on your circumstances."

“Too ‘down’ I understand. But why not too ‘up?’” Stanton asks.

“Because the higher your mountains are, the deeper your valleys will seem. You should not react to the world. You should respond, but not react. A response is an action based on logic. A reaction is an emotional state. Your reaction will not change the world. Your reaction only changes you. Your response will change the world.”

Count to ten. Walk away. Breathe out.  Stew. I am still in my reactive stage of development. I react less than I used to, but when anything happens that I don’t like--rejection, waiting, disagreement, harsh unexpected things--I react. All my demons come to the fore like pigs after slop. They feed on my joy, my positive energy. They whisper the songs of my youth: “You're no good. Everyone hates you. No one will ever understand. You are alone. You should be afraid.” I used to struggle against them and claw for the light only to slip more into darkness. Now I am aware that they are there. Now I watch them.  I say, "Tomorrow it will be better. I am tired now. No, I don’t know what the future holds. All is for the best.” I do not engage. I do not listen. I say, only if I must, that I do not know. I treat my reactive demons like I would a madman on a New York street corner who shouts mindless epithets at me: I run the gauntlet and pass them by. This seems to innervate them instead of me. Their assertion cannot stand against logic, the freedom of the moment, or the unknown. Soon I forget the disruption ever happened, and the negative voices fade away. Then in the place of demons comes a response, well-crafted and wise, emerging from the calm of my thoughts, as if hidden in the flow of all the fear that had been clothing it, masking it, protecting it was an invaluable truth that is mine only if I am worthy of facing down all the lies to get it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spirituality and Shameless Self-Promotion

Bagged, unbagged, or both
Now comes the part where I try to spread the word about my debut novel, The Innocent. Am I the only shy writer? I used to read about famous reclusive authors (Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger anyone?) who hunched over their writing tablet, sweated and tortured themselves over producing the prefect prose, then staggered to a publisher, plunked down the manuscript with a grumble and lurched away back to the darkness of their word-a-torium or labor-wordium, or some such cave-like place where they wrote. Many years later, a small obituary would be written about how, sadly, they were found dead in the gutter like Poe. That was my dream of being a writer as a child.

Now I have to promote myself. Unfortunately, this is completely against my modest, ego-destroying lifestyle. How can you destroy the ego while promoting how great you are? There is the rub! I find myself torn between the greedy little kid in me that wants to be queen of the writing world and the sublime being in me who doesn't give a shit.  All day long I go back and forth: "All bow down to my lyrical sentences and profound sayings, and make me queen of the written word!"; "Oh, please! One day I am going to die. Nobody who ever died wished they had another dollar or sold another book. Fame is nothing. You can't take it with you"; "But money is good to have now"; "Money can't buy you what is important in life!"; and on and on.

So, I have some things to work out karmically. I know I shouldn't care, but I want to give writing a try. I know the world is an illusion and a game, but I want to win this game. Why? Maybe because my mother never loved me or my dad died of AIDS. Or maybe because deep down inside I know I am a good writer.  Perhaps, that is the middle path.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Precious Book Hoard

A dozen copies of my first novel, The Innocent.

I just got my first box of my own books from Amazon! I am so excited. They are so lovely to me. I am so happy to see them.  I suddenly feel like a miser. I want to hoard them in piles all around me.  I envision stacks of my novel in a vault piled to the ceiling. I am rich. Rich! I don’t want to give even one away. I want to keep them with me forever. My precious! Gollum! Ahem.

Then I showed one to a librarian at our local public library. She thumbed it and opened it and turned it over in her hands. Careful! Careful! I thought even though I knew it was meant for her. She wanted to read it. Oh, God! One of my babies, my fledglings, was hopping out of the nest.

No! Why? Stay with me where it is safe. I love you. I felt like I was walking around with a box of adorable puppies and people were scooping them up and taking my heart away with them.

Then my precious was gone. The librarian said she would read it on her vacation. I was happy and sad and scared. Happy that someone would want to spend their vacation time reading my debut novel. I went back to the car to drive home. The book’s twin was in the back seat. It would go too, quite soon, to a Goodreads reviewer in the Netherlands.  It already had a destination. They all had to go into the world like children who had grown up and were heading off to college. That was what they were meant for. Like my character in The Innocent, Alexa, they had wings, so they could fly.  

Any other authors want to share the panic attack they had when handing out their first book?  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Self-Help Books as Wise Help

Self-Help Books

I love inspirational books like the The Power of Now and Women Who Run with the Wolves. I enjoy reading wisdom worth passing down.  I even feel as if I have changed afterward or that I struggle to change myself afterward. They put me on my guard, and I try to follow their words, but then, after a few months, I backslide. My father said to me once in a dream that I was his most stubborn child. Perhaps I am; I know I only learn things from experience. I only know life lessons in my bones from living them. Only when the universe grabs me by the throat and shakes the snot out me do I change. Only when it applies vise grips to the thumbs of my ego do I notice it. Only when something shakes me to the core, growls and snarls at me with hair up and dares me to keep going on the wrong path that leads into its teeth, do I turn around and head another way. Only when I have fallen can I get up. It may be because of my First Nations genes. I was brought up to understand that only by experiencing do we truly learn. So, we make decisions, some right some wrong. It is how we learn.

A story that exemplifies this is about two Native American men in a boat, one old, one young. The old man knew the river well, each stone, each gill. It was the young man’s first trip down the river. As they paddled along, the old man looked up. He saw the younger man was taking them right into some rocks, but he said nothing even as they headed straight for them. "Why?" one may ask. The boat might be damaged. They might capsize. Why not say something? Because many things may or may not happen. The only sure thing was that if he spoke, the boy would never become an old man who knew the river so well, each stone, each gill.

So, where does that leave books that inspire? I think of them as the wise help in Joseph Campbell's stages of the Hero's Journey. They may appear with a word, a phrase at a critical time in our lives, an insight that will help us on the path. I do not think any words can take us all the way, but they can shine the light when we are ready to go through the next door. They can give us hope when we lack it. They can illuminate the troubled path behind us so that we can see our suffering for what it was: an obstacle on our way to betterment. So, read books, watch movies, look for omens, for words of guidance. Someone who has gone before has left you help along the way. It is only waiting for your eyes to find it, your ears to hear it, your mind to grasp it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I just came across this quote by Franรงois de La Rochefoucauld, a French nobleman of the 17th century, author of several collections of maxims: 

"True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen" 

Oddly, this quote is very similar to one from a main character in my novel, The Innocent, a 12th-century knight with a very similar surname: Cristien LaRoche. 

In the novel, Cristien talks about true love too. He says, “True love came, unlike the way it did in fairy tales, after a long time, years. It was a well-molded sword, tested and pounded, shaped and honed in the fires of passion and then plunged deep into the cool maw of reality until the flame was all but gone. It was the thing that survived the burning, that lived on after the war, honed and sharpened, true and unyielding, a thing of legend rare as Arthur’s sword. I had heard of it but never witnessed it.”

The universe is so cool and weird!

P.S. Yesterday, while driving around, I was thinking about the obstacles that can be created critics, those who have the power to make the path of a writer more difficult, when I stopped behind another vehicle. The license plate read "GATEKPR." Apropos, I thought. Today, I continued to contemplate the challenges of a writer's life, the difficulties of publishing and promoting, when I pulled up behind another vehicle with a vanity plate. This time, it read "NVRQUIT." Signs from the universe to keep doing what you love!

I know I'm not the only one, so dare to share some serendipitous happenings in your life in your comments.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Myth of Why I Write

    (Icarus when he fell into the sea; woodcut by Jorg Breu)

I am a great lover of myth. Not myth as in lies or fairy stories but real myths that speak of human truths, of what is important for us to pass on to each other, of what ancient cultures felt was important to keep sacred generation to generation.  I will give an example of the use of myth. One could say to a child, “Listen to your elders,” only to watch him roll his eyes and walk away. Or one could tell the story of Icarus and how he flew too close to the sun. The hearer may not even understand consciously what the story is about, but the story will stick like a hook in his mind and sometime later, maybe many years later, he may say, "Oh. Now I know what that meant.  Now I know the importance of that story.”

I come from a storytelling family. It seems many of my elders loved to talk about our ancestors. Maybe it is because we are part Native American that oral storytelling is in our blood. Maybe I like myths so much because to make a six-year-old sit down and listen to family history, my great-grandmother had to make it exciting. Now that I am older, I think of myths as the sugar that helps the medicine go down. When you are giving the cold hard facts of life (…One day you and I will die. There are bad people in the world. Bad things happen sometimes even when we have been very good. Mom and Dad are not perfect.  Do not be afraid…) to the young, the unfledged, the innocent, it is always best to couch it, to coat it in something palatable. The storyteller definitely doesn’t want to scare the bejesus out of her audience. So, as an act of kindness, the burning coal of truth is hidden.

Or perhaps it is a test to see if one day the listener will take the truth from its pretty wrappings. I see this gentle exchange as an act of hope on the part of the storyteller, hope that the listener will sometime soon be strong enough to pull back the filmy gossamer layers, and even though she or he sees something hard, something scary past the pink cotton of words that she will forge ahead anyway because she is not the same child who first heard the story. She will have hard hands and a tough mind and even when she gets to the last of the wrapping and something odd and squishy appears, something  a little ugly or dirty, she will still pull away that last scrap and find the pearl, the gem, the beating human heart, the truth that she was given.   This is why I write; this is why I wrap terrible truths in pretty flowery words and why I love myth.  

Myth lovers, what do you see as the uses of mythology?