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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.