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A gesture of peace?

peace 1No, that can’t be right.

Every once in awhile you read something so bizarre that you do a sort of mental double take. This happened the other day when I read that the classic hippie peace symbol from the sixties had its origins in satanic worship. What?

Well, it turns out that a fairly common misconception is that the peace symbol is based on the Nero cross, once used to represent the torture of Christians by the Romans. A few years ago the Huffington Post carried an article about a Christian school in Holland that destroyed 3,000 of its calendars when a student in one picture was discovered to be wearing the symbol on his jacket.

Thank you That's a Good Sign

But, the misconception simply isn’t true. According to the Peace Day website, the peace sign first appeared on letters from the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War after it was designed in 1958 by British artist Gerald Holtom for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The design came from superimposing the semaphore letters “N” for nuclear and “D” for disarmament over each other.

The other common peace sign is a hand gesture in which the index and middle fingers are raised and parted, while the other fingers are clenched and the hand is held with the palm facing outward. It was originally used to symbolize V for victory in Britain during WWII, but by the 1960s, the “V sign” became widely used as a symbol of peace. As a victory sign, the symbol’s origins do include a story involving satanic worship, but not the way one might think. It was well know in Britain that Hitler’s inner circle was fascinated by the darker sides of mysticism, and British occultists were sure that the Nazi swastika was based on an ancient evil symbol. The story is that in 1941, Aleister Crowley, a British occultist, suggested using the V-sign as a magical foil to counteract the swastika, and that the usage caught on from there.

peace sign handThe story could be true, as Crowley not only had contacts in British intelligence, he actually worked as a consultant for them to help them better understand what Hitler might be hearing from his astrologers and other mystic advisors. The very idea of the hand symbol for peace being derived from seeking a magic symbol to counteract the evils of the Third Reich is appealing. Wouldn’t it be nice if, as we casually use it today, it could help ward off some of the evils of our times as well.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in writing

 

More in Common

This post is barely about recently murdered British Member of Parliament Jo Cox.

That’s because it’s kind of about how the book x0 was supposed to take place in Saudi Arabia, where my book’s hero, the oil hunting geophysicist Lola, was going to run up against all manner of things she did not understand or agree with, but as a budding telepath she was also going to learn that she had far more in common with those around her than she knew.

peace1Only the book ended up being about Nigeria instead. You see, in 2010, when I started to write it, Americans on the whole considered Nigerians scarier than Arabs. I had just taken a job with a Nigerian oil company where I often worked late in a common room and couldn’t help but overhear the phone calls of my young, male Nigerian co-workers as they called home. These “nefarious” young men spent their free time helping their younger siblings study for exams, assuring their mothers that they were eating well, and telling their girlfriends how much they missed them. I watched them struggle to overcome physical disabilities, inadequate training, and prejudice while noticing that all of that was usually overshadowed to them by their worries for those back home.

And I thought, we could not be more different demographically, and yet how is it that the same things occupy our hearts and minds? It was an eye opening revelation. So, thanks to a handful of Nigerian geologists, Lola went on to have telepathic experiences in Africa, and part way through writing her story I added this to my dedication:

to my Nigerian coworkers and friends, with thanks for reminding me every day how the ways we are all alike are so much bigger than the ways we are different

But this post is only kind of about x0.

That’s because according to The New Yorker’s beautifully done coverage of Jo Cox’s funeral, Brendan Cox spoke about how his late wife had —

“come to symbolize something much bigger in our country and in our world, something that is under threat—her belief in tolerance and respect, her support for diversity and her stand against hatred and extremism, no matter where it comes from. Across the world we’re seeing forces of division playing on people’s worst fears, rather than their best instincts, trying to divide our communities, to exploit insecurities, and emphasize not what unites us but what divides us.”

It was an eloquent tribute, made all the more fitting given that the words she used in her first speech in parliament were

“[we] have far more in common than that which divides us.”

This blog is about the fact that I never heard of Jo Cox before her murder, although I wish that I had. I’d like to write a dozen pieces about her, even though I’d stay away from the subject of Britain leaving the EU because it seems to me to be an internal decision that the people of Britain were entitled to make.

No, more than anything, this post is about Jo Cox’s core values.

And it is about how I believe with all my heart that what she said holds the secret to world peace.

others

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2016 in Nigeria, peace

 

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It’s a VUCA world out there, people ….

person of interest2I’m a big fan of the TV show “Person of Interest” and last night I watched the long awaited first episode of Season 5. It has turned into a story about two warring supercomputers, one of which is good. Good supercomputer had to be totally rebooted last night and as it became reacquainted with its human helpers, it considered the amount of death and mayhem they had inflicted during the fight for goodness. To no science fiction readers’ surprise, it ended up deeming them every bit as bad as the bad guys.

The supercomputer has a point. When does what you are fighting for become irrelevant due to the amount of carnage and pain you have inflicted? Is the answer really “never”?

Enter an article in my to-be-read file called “The Madness of Modern War” published on the blog Alternet and written last month by William Astore. I stumbled on it this morning and it fed right into my funk about the moral ambiguities of fighting for peace. It begins

Since 9/11, can there be any doubt that the public has become numb to the euphemisms that regularly accompany U.S. troops, drones, and CIA operatives into Washington’s imperial conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa? Such euphemisms are meant to take the sting out of America’s wars back home. Many of these words and phrases are already so well known and well worn that no one thinks twice about them anymore.

fighting2Things do have a way of coming together like this, don’t they? The truth is, life under the watchful eye of good computer would be a whole lot nicer than human life on bad computer’s watch. And life in the freedom loving  U.S.A., for all of its faults, is orders of magnitude better than anyone’s life under the rule of the Islamic State.

So exactly how horribly is one morally entitled to behave in order to achieve an outcome destined to provide more freedom and joy for all?

I fall in the camp that believes there are limits. Something you do remains something you have done, and it stretches your capacity to do the unthinkable. I worry that good guys can become bad guys by imitating them. I think that part of a moral compass includes having lines you will not cross, and directions you will not go.

Let me be clear. I will fight for my own life and my liberty, and thank the others who do it for me. But I will not pay any price to purchase those things, and I like to think that I have the courage to accept that.

Peace2You don’t think you agree? If your life, or your freedom, required you to push a button and wipe out every living creature in Australia, would you do it? Would you let someone else do it for you? How about just half of Australia? Just a quarter of it? Okay, exactly how much of Australia are you willing to destroy? How about if we change the country to Somalia? Syria? Sweden?

It’s a messy question, isn’t it? As a species we can identify some actions clearly on one side of the line and others clearly on the other, but it is all that grey area in-between that gets us into so much trouble. How about we begin by at least agreeing that there is a line. That’s a start.

William Astore concluded his article with

If the gray zone offers little help clarifying America’s military dilemmas, what about VUCA? It’s an acronym for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, which is meant to describe our post-9/11 world. Of course, there’s nothing like an acronym to take the sting out of any world. But as an historian who has read a lot of history books, let me confess that, to the best of my knowledge, the world has always been, is now, and will always be VUCA.

Well said.

 

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2016 in peace

 

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Too much!

say and learnI drew this up this in my head the other night when I couldn’t fall asleep. This is my brain on overload.

So you can see that I had this post in mind before I read Danae Wulfe’s brilliant post Too Many Books but she gets full credit for getting me to sit down today and write this. I am bursting out like the weeds on my front lawn. I am filled with ideas to write about. Blogs, short stories, and wonderful new twists for the book I am working on now all pop in and out of my head. Are they all that great? I’m sure they are not, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t found the time to write down half of them. The point is that I have SO MUCH to say I can’t contain myself. It must be the spring air.

Then I walk into a book store, or have a conversation with another writer I respect. (I did both last week and I think that is what set me off.) Suddenly, I realize that I haven’t read anything recent. Or important. Not to mention keeping up with the news which any sensible person should be doing these days. Then there is research for my volunteer position, professional growth in my real life job, studying up on how to grow a garden in the mountains and okay, you get the idea. How can I possibly be this old and still not know so many things?

life lessons14My yoga/qigong brain tells me to take a few breaths, it will all be okay. The problem is that my monkey mind is considering staging a coup because it is starting to suspect that all these meditative arts are the main reason I don’t seem to have enough time to write or learn as much as I want. A rebellious faction tucked deep in the cerebral cortex thinks I need to be quiet and learn more. I seem to have a populist revolt going on over in the right brain that favors running away to an obscure foreign country and just writing my heart out. The parent in my head thinks I really out to finish unpacking the rest of my crap before I do either. And the child in my brain would just like to sit down and color for awhile.

It’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it? There are too many things I want to do. People rely on me. I’m curious about my world. Okay, okay, I recognize that there are worse situations in which to be. Still, what I need is a forty-eight hour day in which to get everything done.

A tiny voice in the back of my brain whispers to me. “You can have a forty-eight hour day, you know, any time you want. Just cram two days together and call it one day. What’s to stop you?”

I have to laugh. Yeah, it’s not really the same but I could do that and maybe I’d feel better; like I just had a long nap and got a whole lot more done that day.

“It’s kind of brilliant,” I say to the tiny voice. “Maybe I should put you in charge for awhile.”

It whispers back to me. “Don’t worry. I already am.”

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2016 in being better, writing

 

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Back to Building a World of Telepaths

I’m finally picking up momentum on book six of the 46. Ascending collection. I can always tell because that is when I start to have fun writing the story. I work with a very loose outline, and discovering what it going to really happen in my book is, well, my idea of a good time.

This final book was always suppose to be about all five of the main characters introduced in the previous novels. I joked about writing five prequels and then the real story. I still think that is the way it is going to go, but so far I’m pretty immersed in the telepathy part.

x0 was about empathy and compassion and how sensing others thoughts and feelings would ultimately make for world peace. e5 introduces my first evil telepaths, and I am having too much fun devising what set of circumstances would lead a person to become less empathetic as they learn more of how others feel and think.

emI’m lucky to be close to someone who is in the process of getting her Master’s Degree in Social Work right now, and given my journalism schooling and penchant for writing, I’ve been called upon to proofread a few papers. I enjoy doing it, but can’t help gaining perspective as I read. I am learning more about the concept of privilege  — white, male, western, hetero, cis, wealthy, healthy, pretty, young — there are a lot of variations here — but the concept that I am ordained by God or nature to be better than you seems to hold the key to failing to care about you at all. Why wouldn’t a human who is certain of his (or her) greater importance be deaf to the pain of those lesser? Might they just find it annoying? I think it depends on exactly how superior these people think they are. Maybe if they had a superpower, like telepathy …..

This line of thought has also given me a new lens with which to view current events and with which to better understand history. My husband is reading a biography of Charles Darwin right now, in part because Darwin will also play a role in the book I am writing. He recently read about Darwin’s dismay at economists using his theory of natural selection  to support Thomas Robert Malthus’ economic theory. In a nutshell, Malthus postulated that human population would always grow to exceed the food supply and that the poor and the weak needed to be allowed to starve so that the stronger humans could thrive. It would be an understatement to describe the theory as controversial, but can’t you see vestiges of it in some current policies? 

I like books that make me think.  I like to write books that make me think. I’m glad that just because I make up worlds with superheroes in them doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a good look at humanity and a chance to wonder about what makes it tick.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2016 in empathy, writing

 

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“Sense8” and “What’s Up?”

“You’ve got to watch this show. It’s just like your books!”

Heroes-Original-CastThe first time this happened it was Heroes, which premiered in 2007, when the novel I had been toying with in my head for 20 years was starting to take shape. I’m the one who saw the loose connection with what I was trying to do as I watched this show about otherwise normal people with superpowers who were learning to cope with what they could do while learning to work together.

Maybe I should give up now? I thought. “But no. The popularity of this show means people like this kind of stuff. Maybe it means I need to start writing.” So I did.

Kiefer-Sutherland-Touch-Season-2-Cast-Photo-1024x576The next time it happened it was “Touch”, which premiered January 2012, less than a month before I released x0 on kindle. My daughter, who had already read x0 and a draft of y1, alerted me after she saw the show. “Mom, it is so much like what you are trying to say. I guess it was, kind of, and kind of not.

It turns out that I liked “Touch” even better than “Heroes”. It was a little more metaphysical, a little less about cool but unbelievable super powers. No flying, that sort of thing. To be honest I was proud that my daughter thought my ideas were in the same ball park. I saw every episode and was sad to see “Touch” go off the air in 2013.

Then last fall my son gave me the news.  “There is this new show on Netflix and you’ve got to see it, Mom.  It is so much like your books.” By this point he had read all five of them and I admit that I drug my feet on this last one. What if he was right and this story line was finally going to be the one that was too close to my own?

sense8We got Netflix up and running on the new TV and settled into to watch episode one of “Sense8”. Once again, it was an intriguing metaphysical superpower story about the connections between all of us. I loved it, even more than I had loved “Touch” which I had loved even more than “Heroes”. Yes, yes it kind of was what I was trying to say but of course it kind of wasn’t too and of course it said it with completely different characters and story lines. I was coming to understand that my great themes were not exactly new and they could be told afresh many times and many ways, and the telling by others didn’t diminish my own message which would always be subtly my own.

And then I saw episode 4. If I had to pick one thing that will always and forever make me think of x0, it is “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. I’ve loved this song since it came out in 1993, and as a new writer I wanted so badly to reference some of the lyrics in my book while I was writing about troubles in Nigeria and how they appeared to Lola in the U.S.

“No problem,” some people told me “Just use the lyrics.”

“Don’t even think of using them,” others warned.

4 Non-Blondes: click for official video

I took the upright but truly naive approach of contacting the owners of the rights of the song. I was lucky, Sony/ATV Music Publishing owned all the rights. For two months in 2011 I negotiated with a wonderful Licensing Analyst named Lacey Chemsak who must have thought I was crazy as I haggled over fees and number of copies like I was negotiating an arms deal. In the end I paid Sony $200 to the use the text you will see at the end of this post. Was it worth it?

Logically no. Of course not. But we don’t live in a logical universe, do we? You see, on came episode 4 of Sense8, with the scene below. I stood up, surprised at hearing “my song” in this series. Then I stated to sing along and for one moment the interconnectedness of me and the Wachowskis and 4 Non Blondes and all the other people who see the interconnectedness of things and all the characters in Sense8 and those in my books and hell everybody in the whole world came together in my head, and tears ran down my face and it was better than being drunk or high or even having an orgasm because this was so fucking incredible and I couldn’t stop singing or crying.

“Look at you,” my husband said laughing because he didn’t know what else to say and then he looked at me again and didn’t say anything and just let me be.

The song finally ended and I wiped away my tears and felt kind of silly. It didn’t matter. My newly discovered connection to “What’s Up” and “Sense8” had been the best $200 I ever spent.

Enjoy “What’s Up” as it appears in the show.

Here is the excerpt from  x0:

Lola’s coworkers did not discuss Nigerian politics with her much in the office unless Lola specifically brought something up, so it wasn’t until late in October when Lola was doing a lunchtime internet browse that she came across a BBC article from early October titled “Will amnesty bring peace to Niger Delta?”

Amnesty? That sounded hopeful. As she started to read, Bob walked by, singing in his head one of the many great oldies he had managed to amass on his iPod. Where did the man find so many good old songs?

What’s Up?” had been the 4 Non Blondes’ 1993 hit, coming out the year that Ariel was four. Lola loved it, and the two of them had sung, actually, screamed it together whenever it came on the radio when Lola was driving little Ariel to preschool.

In her BBC article, Ms. Duffield described talking to taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and hotel clerks in the Niger Delta region who were all hoping for peace as they watched militants hold disarmament ceremonies which involved relinquishing guns, rocket-propelled grenades, explosives, ammunition, and gunboats. Gunboats??

And so I wake in the morning and I step outside And I take a deep breath and I get real high / And I scream at the top of my lungs / What’s going on?

The BBC article added that while no one appeared to have given up their entire arsenal, the quantity of weapons released, presumably for cash, was significant. Concerns had been raised that no independent monitors were tracking what was being done with the weapons, and this caused worry because in the past, corrupt officials had sold confiscated guns, which had then made their way back into the hands of a wide variety of criminals.

And I try / oh my god do I try / I try all the time, in this institution.

The article noted that another major obstacle to peace was that there were now thousands of young men in the region effectively unemployed, given that their previous full-time profession had been guerilla fighter. Their resumes included kidnapping, blowing up oil pipelines, and stealing massive amounts of crude oil.

And I pray / Oh my god do I pray / I pray every single day for a revolution.

The government plan, according to the article, was to retrain these young men in new skills. It noted that they were already being processed at centers where they were being asked about their other career interests. Other career interests??

The BBC said that retraining would be a daunting prospect, and that in the case of failure, the young men would likely return to their previous activities.

And I realized quickly when I knew I should / That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man / For whatever that means …

She looked at the photo of the giant pile of automatic weapons. Seriously, right now in Nigeria there were actually thousands of angry young men filling out employment questionnaires??

Twenty-five years and my life is still / Trying to get up that great big hill / Of hope … for a destination.

Finally, enjoy this well done review of Sense8.

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2016 in music for peace, Nigeria, oneness, writing

 

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The Way I’ll Survive the U.S. Election Season

Every once in awhile I stumble across something I like so well that I just have to re-post it. Thanks go out today to Mundane Spirituality for this effort to inject more peace into our politics. Well done.

Mundane Spirituality

I have a friend with differing political beliefs, and we like to talk about a range of issues where we differ. He loves animals and wants to ensure their protection; I like animals, too, but am more passionate about human rights. He has strong feelings about healthcare reform; I have strong feelings about education. We disagree on how best to promote individual and national safety.

In spite of these differences of opinions over policies and potentialities, my friend and I love our conversations. He noted that, while we sometimes have completely opposite opinions, we listen to each other, understand each other’s point of view, and don’t treat the other like an idiot for thinking differently.

So that’s my goal this political season in the U.S. – to listen to people, to hear and understand their point of view and why they hold their opinion, and not demonize them for holding a different opinion than me…

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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in writing

 
 
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