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Discovering Americans


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

                I just returned from a reading at Aimee’s school. It was basically a debate about who really discovered America. The class is spinning off their unit on Native Americans to investigate immigration and all of its various incarnations. I’ve long wanted to write a book on immigration.

            It was a precious moment because all the six people debating—Aimee among them—are all either temporary residents of the U.S., or they have very interesting immigration stories themselves. In our family, we have a mother whose ancestors were on one of the first ships bound Westward, a father whose grandfather immigrated in the early 1900s through Ellis Island, a son who is American but who was born in Switzerland, and a daughter whose birth parents are Chinese, was born in China, with American adoptive parents, and who has been an American citizen since she was a toddler.

            To attend this lively debate, I left what I was working on my computer right as I was including a quote from Lyndon Johnson from 1968, speaking about Red Cross humanitarianism. “On every battlefield, a flag of mercy flies. Its white field bears a Red Cross—the universal symbol of human compassion. Under that flag, there are no enemies, no racial or religious animosities. There are only brothers.”

            It’s true of my work with the Red Cross that I now call friend a person from almost every country in the world. I’m blessed that way. But I’m bemused that people can’t see that we’re all the same even without knowing people from all walks of life, from every country.

            My daughter Aimee--while working on this very debate about immigration with her school mates from every corner of the globe--is still subjected to penetrating, often rude, questions. They roll off her back like rain off a duck. She’s resilient, and she wants to be liked. I’m more feline, and I get my mother cat’s fur ruffled. But when my ire lessens, I’m able to see the lesson in what these people ask or say.

            One Chinese American girl told Aimee that she wasn’t as Chinese as she herself was. Apparently that meant that Aimee is not Han, as her friend is. This friend ironically was born in the States, while Aimee was born right on the banks of the Pearl River near Nanjing. I don’t know how anyone can get more Chinese than that. It makes me sad that this kind of discrimination exists in an elementary school child, and it saddens me more that my daughter has to question who she is. When all she is—all we all are—is a person, a human being, an individual.

            Another child, American this time, told Aimee her parents probably gave her up because they needed to have another child who was a boy. Now, I’ve had this talk with Aimee, as I was certain the topic would come up. Yet it made me angry that people think they can predict why Aimee was left to be adopted, when we, as her parents, don’t have any idea. Women give their babies up for adoption for any number of reasons in developing countries and in developed countries, too.

            Back to the play. The play’s whole point was that if anyone discovered America it was the Native Americans. Yet even the Native Americans are on record as having come from Asia—in other words, immigrants of thousands of years ago. The nation’s first immigrants? Perhaps.

            Does it matter now? We’re here. We’re living together, working together, forming families together. Perhaps it’s time we concentrated more on our collective future than our disparate history.

            So my musings on who we are and where we come from and where we are going—as a nation, and as  humanity—continue. And I continue to hope that someday, everyone will realize that we are all from the same family, that we are indeed, one.

In Tribute to A Sunny Spring Day


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

I’ve been writing with great zeal. I most recently finished a stewardship report on the China (Sichuan Province) earthquake for the American Red Cross. I also have what seems to be a play in progress. My reader seems to be pleased with it, although I’ve only finished the treatment and character arc. I received high praise from a famous writer this week, which I would post, but I want to protect her privacy. I want to share something, though. So instead of my own thoughts this week, I’d like to share a fable—Aesop’s Fable to be exact—that has influenced the way I see life this week.   Here’s hoping you enjoy it for the first time, or that it brings back warm memories. In these harsh times, we need to remember that warmth will get us more than force.

The wind and the sun wanted to prove which was stronger. When they saw a traveler coming down the road, the sun said, “I see a way to make a final determination. Whichever of us can cause the traveler to take off his coat will prove that s/he is stronger.” The wind began blowing with all its frigid might. The harder s/he blew, the tighter the traveler wrapped his coat around him. Finally, the wind gave up. Then the sun cameout from behind a cloud and shone a ray of light down on the traveler. Guess what happened? The traveler became warm, then hot, then—took his coat off.

Sometimes we think we have to wrestle with something or argue with someone to get our way—when shining our light—our SELVES—is all we need do. 

 

Sciatica and C-Span


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

                I’ve had sciatica on and off since my first pregnancy. It’s what my girlfriends and I used to joke about having eons ago when we didn’t really know what “sciatica” meant. I was supposed to be going out somewhere, but instead I found myself cradling my hot water bottle, nestled against the sofa cushions watching C-Span. I love C-Span. I love unrehearsed television, and I love that it might feature an author one day, a Congressional debate the next. On this particular day, it featured a session at the World Economic Forum.

            Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, was the moderator for a panel that consisted of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Defense Minister of Afghanistan, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, and the better-late-than-never French Foreign Minister, co-founder of Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders). I learned a lot from this discussion, the most significant thing being that the international community spends $30,000 USD to build a building in Afghanistan; Afghans can build a building there for $10,000. OK, maybe they have to pay a few people off or do a few favors in the meantime, but why isn’t the international community turning some of the building monies over to the Afghan citizens for them to build themselves?

            So I was left with much to ponder. I was also left embarrassed for my government by the way Richard Haass introduced himself and the way he didn’t introduce the panel members. He introduced himself as a sort of aside, as if either it didn’t matter who he was or rather, that everyone there already knew who he was. He then went straight to the questions for the panelists. Or should I say straight for the jugular.

            Surely someone who has served time overseas knows that places like India and Pakistan, with a history of British colonialism, expect not only a proper introduction but to be able to introduce their own topics. Roberts Rules of Order and all that. But that wasn’t the worst part. Mr. Haas began the entire session by asking the Pakistani PM in a rambling sort of way: “Do you agree with Americans that there is little to no hope for your country?”

            What kind of question is that?! My mouth was agape when I heard it. The Pakistani PM deflected it admirably, though, by replying that he had meant to begin with an introduction to the situation on the ground, but now he would answer Mr. Haass’ question. He spoke of improvements in his country, and how far they had come, and how many in his country wanted democracy, about his own election. He spoke of ways to give Pakistanis hope in the future, and how hope would eventually stamp out terrorism, which he felt was born of desperation.

            Why did Mr. Haass point his finger? Why were his questions so full of cynicism? Is it impossible to think that Pakistan will one day have hope? That the world will be full of hope?

            I think not. I myself hope for Pakistan, Mr. Haass. I see reason to hope. The world must hope, for in concentrating on the negative we perpetuate the negative. By putting world leaders on the spot, we alienate our country and our position. By spreading only arrogance, we breed hostility, not hope.

            I look forward to a session at a future forum in which the moderator focuses on the positive first. Then we’ll be getting somewhere.

The Age of Aquarius


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

                Did you know we’ve officially entered the time the (in)famous play Aquarius spoke of? Yes, on Valentine’s Day, the day dedicated to the patron saint of love, a Libra moon entered the seventh house of relationships. Jupiter and Mars aligned in Aquarius in the twelfth house, signifying a time of transformation. Just like the song. Why then, if we have entered an age when “peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars,” do we feel such uncertainty?

            The answer may be found in quantum physics, which is much more verifiable, if not more logical, than astrology. Quantum physics has proven that there must be chaos before progress. Thus, the old adage, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Simply put, if you desire change in your life, something must move. For something to move in your life, you must move it. If you don’t move it, nature will find a way to move it. And nature is a bit more forceful than we are. It knows where and how to apply force. For us humans, understanding where to apply force and how much force to apply involves great skill, and might I add, intuition.

            It can seem like dark times. The President has told us this is no ordinary recession, and its waves are reverberating around the world. America is at war with two countries and another faceless (or many-headed) faction. It’s worse outside of America. People with an annual income of $40,000 are among the world’s wealthiest people—the top 4 percent, actually. Places like Darfur seem caught in an endless cycle of war, famine, and destruction, and its people are as guilty of denial as the world that sits by doing little.

            Not only do we have all these problems to deal with, the people who led us here, who gave us comfort, kissed our bruises, guided us to our careers—who made it through the “great” depression and World War II  are dying at a rate of more than 1000 per day. The Greatest Generation is leaving us to fend for ourselves down here.

            Yet I’d like to be on the record as saying that it’s all going to be fine. Our forebears left us with what we need to carry on, or they wouldn’t be leaving. Plus, a new sort of vision, perhaps a vision we were born with, because after all--we are a much different generation than our parents-- is needed to forge the ebb and flow of this new decade about to dawn.

            Old solutions aren’t going to work for today’s problems. Isn’t that the definition of crazy, anyway? Trying the same thing over and over expecting different results? As evidenced by today’s economic quandary. As evidenced by the American government’s prior delusion that Iraqis and Afghans would greet the U.S. military invasion waving American flags.  As evidenced by a decaying social welfare system. A sub-standard school system that tests more than it teaches. As evidenced by a world that can’t breathe (the number of people with asthma has doubled since 1980) and a world that is coping with more natural disasters than ever, and yet can’t pay its medical bills, let alone deal with its larger spending deficit.

            We’re equipped to handle this new era, with all of its baggage. We created it. We can re-create it. We just have to step up and meet the challenge. Join in the effort. Find tomorrow’s solutions to today’s problems. Help your neighbor. Work on paying off your debt. Pray. Know you were put here for a reason. Together, we can navigate this swollen river, hurdle over this huge bump in the road. We can do it more quickly than any of us believe possible, if we do it together. When we look back, we’ll know we were a great generation, too. Just a little different than any one that preceded us. Different because we needed to be different.

Cats, Humans, and Our Masks


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

                We adopted a new cat a couple of months ago, the day after Thanksgiving. She is small and sweet, the paradox of our previous (ma)lines, who were all heft and hulk and reminded me of furry little John Waynes. We renamed her Harley because her face is reminiscent of a Harlequin’s mask. It’s a face all dressed up for a ball that she’ll never go to—half gray, half caramel. Her name became even more appropriate because she zips around every morning like a racy purring motorcycle.

            Long before the new name, when we were falling in love with her, the PetSmart worker told us she’d always be a lap cat, never a cat that would play with us. She also told us Harley was only two years old. We set out to prove her wrong on both predictions, and we turned out to be right. She’s at least four years old, and she loves to play. But sadly, she was also wrong on all counts. Harley is not a lap cat. She’s a rub-around-the legs cat. She’s a jump-and-catch-the-mouse cat. In two months, she has sat in my lap only once. I’m not sure what moved her to put her trust in my lap, but ever since then, she has become even more elusive.

            She may have been abused. She may have been handled roughly in the shelter. She may just not trust us because she lost the person she loved most. Whatever the reason, she’s made me think about my own level of trust of the human race, and how it’s more jaded now than when I was new to friendship, love, and even work. I’m not as open even with those who are dear to me as I once was. I’m not even as open with myself. I pretend like I’m all together, don’t need a thing, don’t let anyone get too close to know I have problems, don’t let anyone get close enough to wound me. Yes, I wear my own Harlequin mask.

            I have friends who are dealing with how much to trust in romantic relationships, but even being past all that, I can see the hurts that I once had cropping up again in my daily interactions. I’m sure no one notices it but me because I’m an extremely friendly person. Yet I have my “stranger” side, as Billy Joel once put it.

            The antagonist in Incongruent is very much a Harlequin character, if one were to mythologize him. He wants so much to love and be loved. He comes forward, rubs his soft fur, purrs, startles, runs and hides under the dining room table or drives like mad back to his home, or even his homeland. I wonder if Harley realizes that by not receiving our caresses, by not settling into our laps, her life is colder. I hope she does, and that she eventually opens herself up to receive—for in doing that she will be giving us a wonderful gift.

Oneness in the World


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

I wrote this poem, which appeared in my church bulletin, when I was 14 years old. It’s a bit idealistic, but I post it now in honor of this week’s historic inauguration.

 

Oneness in the World

You may think your religion better than mine,

But both point to the fact that God’s Divine.

Regardless of color, race, or creed

God has called us to His need.

 

Hand in hand and heart to heart

We each must do our own part.

God’s love is not just near,

God’s love is always here.

 

We must learn to accept His grace

And remember He does not see our race.

If everyone could clear their eyes

World colors would not be despised.

 

Use faith to spread His word

So the world’s problems will be deterred.

God’s pathway is open for you

Let it be open unto others, too.

 

Help the world and one day we’ll see

That all we need is Unity.

If you build it, will they come?


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

                A friend asked me today what  I would do if I had no fear. I immediately told her I’d get on the next plane for Gaza.  I know most sensible people would deem that a foolhardy thing to do, but I so want to run away from this computer and live. Even if it was just for one more day.

                It’s the end of Inauguration Day. The weather cooperated. The crowds cooperated. The speech was inspiring.  So why am I sitting here with a great emptiness ?

                The entire time Obama was speaking, I was thinking that what he was saying could have been my words.  No, I don’t want to be President  of the U.S., nor President of AnyCountry. Since I was born, I have believed that I am here to make a difference, though. And it’s frustrating that I have made so little difference. The people’s lives I’ve touched are still making the same mistakes they always have.  Everything from using credit to live to not taking their meds on time. Everything from shopaholism to alcoholism to workaholism. Unbalanced. Many out of control. Meanwhile, I sit here churning out words, telling other people’s stories. Most of my life has been lived out on a blank white sheet of paper. I’ve fought it, tried to run from it, but it’s what I do best, and most of the time, I’ve succumbed to destiny, which has been alternately exciting and boring. I’m not sure how much of a difference these words have made, nor even how many have been read.

                I used to say I could and would write about anything and everything.  So I wrote about snow shovels  and retro-running, pet hotels and insulated tubing. Eventually I graduated to writing about things that meant more to me—famine in Ethiopia, AIDS programs in Iowa, and psychosocial outreach for caregivers. Big ideas read by a relatively small audience.  So I decided to write a novel—a second novel, in fact, as my first novel Moments on the Edge won the Hollins (University) Fiction Award, and then life took over and I never tried to get it published. The first novel was about the interconnections between a woman from the Industrial Revolution and a much younger woman in the Sexual Revolution. In writing Moments,  I found though I was masterful at characterization, I was much less masterful, even lousy, at plot. I put the novel aside and wrote about radon and slow lorises instead.

                Until  I was 40 with two children. Until 9/11 occurred. This time would be different, I convinced myself. This time I would finish all the novel’s revisions. I did. Now I find myself waiting, again, for someone to read my work—to give me feedback so it can see the light of  readership. The novel has been called “a work of importance” by my peers. I tell the students at Career Day that peers matter, that publishing isn’t everything, that it’s the process that reaps the real personal benefits. Yet, writing is meant to be read.  

                Life is not meant to be written nor read. Life is meant to be lived.  As a writer and a lover of life, I have struggled with this paradox. Travel and humanitarian work exhilarate me. Writing brings home the paycheck. I am lucky that I have been able to work both into my life until I had children. Lately, though, the writing has taken over the major portion of my life—partially because of motherhood, partially because of family illness, partially because of my own aging and inability to continue to perform 20 tasks simultaneously.

                When I tell people I want to get more involved with international work, they protest, and say I’m sorely needed here. When I tell them I want to travel, they tell me I don’t need to travel; that I have the ability to convey  a place and culture without ever having visited. When I tell them I’d like to do something besides write, they tell me to stick with what I know…what I do best. Yet what am I doing here to make any sort of gain for anyone? A designer recently told me to cut copy so he could make his photo larger, adding “nobody reads these things anyway.”

                Frustrations such as these led me to write Incongruent.  It brought together my personal and professional desires. It was all mine. I was able to speak in a way that I was unable to in non-fiction, to say things in a way I hope will stimulate lively discussion and thought. And it took me to Lebanon, to confirm what I’d always fantasized it would be like. I arrived six weeks before the Israeli/Hezbollah War. I left a changed person.             When the taxi was taking me to the airport, I was filled with tremendous grief that I might not see the Middle East again. I had never been anywhere that felt so right, so much like home to me, other than perhaps Paris. I didn’t have any reason to think I wouldn’t return at the time, other than it had taken me so long to visit it once. In the Beirut airport, I dismissed my sense of foreboding as merely lingering energy from all the violence those runways have seen.  Soon enough, though, the violence returned, and I wonder if I will ever see Petra or Jerusalem or drive along the Damascus Road again. I miss the beauty of the landscape and the bustling of Lebanese streets. I miss the young grocery clerk who told me not to fish for extra change for a purchase. I miss the vendor in the mountains who told me I had beautiful eyes, and I replied that no, WE had beautiful eyes. I miss the elegant lady who gave me directions one day in French, Arabic and what might have been Portuguese. I miss the taxi drivers.  I miss the waiters. I even miss the noise—the lack of traffic lights, the abundance of beeping.

                So now I wait once more. Yes, I’m writing. Yes, I’m doing a little humanitarian work. Yes, I’m doing the soccer mom circuit. Yes, I’m even doing a little domestic traveling. Yet I yearn for that passionate spark I felt in the Middle East.

                I believe but can’t confirm it was Hermann Hesse who said, “I have no place in my life for things and people without passion. I want my life to burn like a thousand suns.” I have attempted to live by that principle, and I do my best to take all the risks presented on my path. Yet I am also a woman who meets her responsibilities head-on, without regret. Still, there is no place I’d rather be right now than in the Middle East, making a difference.  I pray to be able to do that before I die, God willing. But for now, I’ll spin my stories of others, hoping I’ll be in there somewhere, so someday someone will  know what I stood for.

            Hesse also said, “Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin.” I hope that both of his statements reflect my life, in some small way. Life, Writing. Writing, Life. Maybe they aren’t incongruent after all.

Scandal


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

My apologies to my regular readers for my silence over the holidays. I had the best of intentions of writing while working and traveling, but I have now learned my lesson—I will not attempt to  post when on the road. From now on, I will leave a date upon which I will return, so you will not be looking for a new post that doesn’t arrive. At present, I am not traveling often, so please know the winter will have regular weekly posts and that you will be notified if circumstances change. Here is what I’ve been thinking about for the last week or so:

Scandals. Why are they so all important at the time they occur and seem so trivial a century—even a decade--later? I’ve begun reading yet another book about a famous (or might we say  “infamous”) affair. The book is well-written, absorbing, and receiving very positive reviews. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan “reveals what we expect to get from great fiction: timeless truths about ourselves,” says the New York Daily News. “A fascinating love story enriched by important themes and spiced by a famous character,” oozes the San Francisco Chronicle. “A glory to behold,” pronounces New York.

            This first novel, historical in context, details a relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and  Chicago feminist Mamah Cheney, an affair that ended both of their marriages. Even so, an affair I had never heard of. A woman I had never heard of. Yes, the two loved passionately. Yes, they were considered a Chicago scandal. Yes, their relationship forever changed their lives. I won’t ruin the ending for you because I haven’t read it myself.

            Yet as I read each intriguing page, I wonder how such an affair is now considered “obscure” (a word from yet another rave review) if it once forever changed two people’s lives—and not all for the better? As I turn each page, I see Monica Lewinsky’s and Bill Clinton’s faces. I remember the themes of the Broadway play Wicked, which dares examine scandal in the context of perception versus reality. I remember several former colleagues who had to leave their jobs because of an extramarital affair. I’m not saying that adultery is moral or to be condoned. I’m just asking why we fixate on it as a society, why we want to send these people out of town on a rail—why we enjoy seeing their downfalls.

            But for the grace of God go I.

            Of course, I’m the one who feels sorry for everyone in some form or another: everyone from the hanged dictatorial despot to the politician with his (why is it always his?) hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar. I especially feel sorry for politicians and other celebrities who are forever under the microscope and who may lead lives of total integrity, but make one fatal move that stalls or ends their careers.

            I’ve been pondering all of this as I’ve been pondering God’s forgiveness and human frailty at Christmas time, a time He/She was supposed to send down someone who would wash away our sins. If so, why are we still so obsessed with everyone else’s?

            In Loving Frank, the fictional Mamah calls her choice one “in harmony with my own soul.” If we were made in God’s image and given free will—and Mamah wasn’t mistaken about what her soul was telling her—then why do we judge her that decision? I wish more details would appear that would elucidate what went on in their minds as well as Frank’s and Mamah’s souls, so that we might learn from what was not an easy or easily made life decision. The book is historically accurate, based upon personal correspondence from Mamah Cheney. Yet the correspondence between Frank and Mamah is gone with the wind. And Frank is predictably silent on the topic of his relationship with her. Yet they lived together in Europe for many years.

            The novel is particularly interesting to me as a writer because I touched on the themes of unrequited passion, love, “soul mates,” and adultery—not to mention arranged marriage, fundamentalism in religion, cultural mores, and rigidity of principle—in my novel Incongruent. I struggled to treat these themes in an objective manner. Who knows if I could have dealt with them as objectively if I’d been in such a situation or my name had been splattered all over the headlines? I do know that no one will ever know the full story of Frank’s and Mamah’s love, any more than they know about any love affair that begins, any more than they will know the full story of any marriage that ends.

            And that’s my point. How can we judge that which we do not know?

            Scandals. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place without them? All they cause is a lot of static…static that eventually dissipates but can ruin lives.

The Gift


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

The Christmas before my friend Laura died, she gave me back my plant. Actually, she gave me back some shoots from my original plant, which had evolved from another shoot off its parent plant circa 1978. The office assistant at my first job had given it to me when I admired it. The plant had lived through a lot in its various incarnations, including the breadth and depth of Laura’s and my entire friendship.  

It was a hearty plant, flourishing through my early single dating days, my first years of marriage. Then a sudden overseas move found me searching for a new home for it. Of course Laura became its new nurturer. Nowhere did it thrive with more abundance than under her green thumb. That’s what Laura did best—nurture.

Which made it all the more sadly ironic when she was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. We whom she nurtured would have given anything if a little nurturing could have saved her. But of course it couldn’t.

She brought the repotted plant shoots over  with an angel statuette symbolizing happiness and a cloisonee heart ornament—her last Christmas gifts to me. She was still trying to take care of everybody else.

“Take good care of it,” she told me. And then stated what she really was thinking: “It’ll die anyway.”  I dismissed that thought, cancelled it for both of us—then and there. It wasn’t that I didn’t think she wouldn’t die; it was that I knew she would. Today, the next day, ten years later, twenty, thirty—we’d all go, including the plant. I just didn’t want her to go yet.

Fast forward to last Christmas. I found myself in a plant shop begging the owner to save this plant. An exotic variety of prayer plant, it not only linked me to memory, it linked me to Laura’s nurturing abundant soul, which I can still feel around me from time to time. I’d show Laura I could keep something alive. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let it die. Not yet. Not now.

The shop owner was shaking her head and telling me it wasn’t worth saving. She urged me to buy a new one. But she stopped short when I told her with tears in my eyes that it was a very sentimental plant.  She repotted it and gave it lots of water and some food—told me that was all she could do. We’d have to see if it responded.

The plant did respond, somewhat. The spring and summer brought up new shoots. Some just as quickly withered; others stayed the course.  Enough that I thought it was going to survive the odds. A month ago, it began to waver again. It looked so forlorn I thought about letting it go. What to do with a plant that has been with you your entire adult life? A burial? A funeral? 

I watered it. I fed it. I repotted it again. I put it in the shower, as Laura had always done. Yet if for some reason next month, it isn’t alive any longer, I’ve promised myself to let it go. It’s done the job it came to do, for ever so many years. I admired that plant so many seasons ago, not knowing that decades later, it would get me through a season of profound grief and loss. A grief that I have now bridged.

Yet it might just stick around after all, for another season, for some reason I’ve yet to discover. I checked on it just now. It’s still alive.


Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.



“My books are the books that I am, the confused man, the negligent man, the reckless man, the lusty, obscene, boisterous, scrupulous, lying, diabolically truthful man that I am.”

--Henry Miller

 

I saw a wonderful movie last night, The Fall. It’s a superb blend between fantasy and reality, and the cyclical effect they have on one another. Art imitating life, and vice versa. It’s an artist’s and a traveler’s delight, with vivid colors, original costumes, and striking landscapes. It was shot in many different countries. If I was an envious person, I’d be envious of all that travel lavished upon the actors.

The movie prompted more thinking about the way I write. I start with reality, usually a life problem of my own I want to sort out and solve.  Then I usually dream about the problem, which is a sure sign I need to write about it. I usually journal the problem,  and then I begin to write creatively about it, deviating step by step—revision by revision--from the reality, but drawing ever nearer the truth—you guessed it, in a circular fashion. Usually the fifth or sixth time I journal about the problem, I either have a solution, or it becomes a story. Sometimes the story simply stays in my head, waiting for the day I want to access it from my memory bank. Sometimes the story ends up on paper.

With each iteration, the characters and plot change incrementally. The final result is a merging of different forms of my reality (past or present) and different snapshots of my fantasies and dreams (my imagination or desired future).  This method explains what some authors call a composite character, for example. I may never have met the character I’m writing about, but I have met his or her character traits. I may never visit Sudan, but I’ve dreamed of it several times, and I have been in Africa in conflict zones. I may only be dealing with a potential future, but since the future is fluid, dealing with possibility provides a grounding that helps me arrive at some sort of balance and decision. In addition, fiction is the best grief therapy I’ve ever discovered.

As I write, the story takes over, and the problem disappears. I either purge the problem on paper, or I arrive at a solution, or both. In the end, it’s a win-win situation. I end up cleansed, and readers—be they many or few—end up with a story to read. And maybe, just maybe, my story will help them arrive at solutions to their own problems.

See the movie, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.