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?