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Category Archives: being better

Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….

fruit flies like a banana. Thank you Groucho Marx, because this day needed a little humor.

Today, day 21, has the longest single drive of this adventure, and in addition we re-enter Mountain Time and lose an hour. We’re already preparing for a long day through Utah and Southern Colorado when an old friend in Durango contacts me out of the blue.

Next thing I know we’re texting and we’ve changed our route to go through his town and have lunch because isn’t this amazing. Yes, it is great to see him, but throw in a little road construction and a couple of other longer stops than expected and we arrive well into the dark, 14 clock hours after we left.

Not a problem, except this Airbnb is along the unlit and poorly marked dirt roads west of Trinidad. Our host’s verbal directions are vague (and not entirely accurate) and once we make a wrong turn, my phone is so flummoxed it shows us heading across a pasture, which we clearly are not.

Frustrations are rising, so I call our host and describe our location. Yay for good phone service. She directs us back to a good starting place and then talks us, landmark by landmark, to the edge of her long driveway where she meets us with a flashlight to guide us in. Some Airbnb hosts go well beyond the expected. Yay for nice people.

We make a vow we’ve often made before, to allow more time tomorrow than we think we need. I decide this promise is worthy of being a rule of the road and more. I’ve been told the easiest way to reduce stress in one’s life is to leave early. Allow plenty of time and you don’t get hassled. I promise to take this lesson seriously once I get home.

The frazzled nature of the day has me craving soft music and pretty sounds as I get ready for bed. I think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, maybe because we’ve driven through so much of the area settled by the LDS. I’m not particularly religious, but an old spiritual is wafting through my head as I settle down for the night and I look to see if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir ever sang it.

Of course they did, and it’s beautiful. I realize I’ve felt like a wayfaring stranger a lot for the past three weeks, and after a long and difficult day, the song brings me peace as I fall asleep.

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in being better, peace, travel

 

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Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.

Heading down the road this morning, and my sister wants me to turn my 5 /12 hour, 367 mile trip into a six hour trip. The mileage is about the same but I’d be keeping to the less driven State Highway 20 which, she swears, lacks the wall-to-wall trucks Interstate 80 is known for. You will have a better day, she insists.

Okay. What’s half an hour? I figure out early to turn my phone off, so I don’t have to listen to it trying to reroute me down to 80 every five minutes, and I head out into the corn fields. Literally, there are corn fields on every side of me as far as the eye can see.

Should I have gone the other route? Should I have planned for this route ahead of time and found a place to stay in Sioux City instead? Should I have filled gas before I left because it doesn’t look like there are a lot of gas stations out here in these corn fields? Should I this? Should I that?

I hush myself. Rule six needs to be no second guessing, I decide. The cornfields are lovely. The trucks are few. Iowa stretches on out to the sky. The day is mild, so I roll my windows down low and turn my music up high. The corn won’t mind the noise at all.

I open my play list of songs about being on the road, and sing along with the first one that happens to play. It fits right in, and I think even the corn likes it.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in being better, travel

 

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Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.

I’m five days into this road trip, and yesterday one of my personal heroes died. Aretha Franklin was lots of people’s hero, and today the media is filled with tributes to her and snippets of her music.

I’m also into day three of a visit with my only sister. We live nearly a thousand miles apart, both of us in small towns not easily reached, We try to see each other once a year. The first couple of days are always of flurry of missing each other and getting caught up and then by day three we rediscover the many ways we are different.

We’ve gotten better at smoothing over those inevitable rough edges, I think, and it all boils down to a single word. I respect the person she is, and vice versa. She respects my beliefs even when she doesn’t share them. I respect her right to have different tastes. She respects my right to have different priorities. She gets to be her, I get to be me. And we both treat each other with — let’s spell it now — R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

It does wonders for us and I swear it would do wonders for the rest of the world too, especially in those areas where it is sorely lacking. I’m going to make it my personal Rule of the Road #5.

Thank you, Aretha Franklin, for all the music you gave us, and for all the inspiration. Tomorrow, I’m heading southwest into Nebraska, seeking song #6, and my sixth rule of the road. Tonight, I’m just going to enjoy the music.

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

 

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2018 in being better, music for peace

 

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What’s the Point?

If you spend too much time analyzing why you do things, you end up doing nothing.

That’s my conclusion after forcing myself to spend a few weeks considering why, I mean really why, I spent the better part of seven years writing novels. The question is reasonable, but enough is enough. I’m cutting myself off at seven reasons.

Reason #7 is? It is my most audacious yet, that’s for sure. I want to change the world.

What exactly do you want to do with the world, you might ask? That is a reasonable question, too.

And here’s the thing. I do know. It’s sort of a problem, isn’t it, when you think you know how the world should be?

Yet, I’m certain. We need more more empathy. More kindness. More gratitude for what most of us do have, and more generosity with it. I want each of us to behave as though we are going to live every single other person’s life, and soon. I have this theory that if we behaved in such a way, we would be entirely capable of  turning this planet into a paradise.

If I’m going to reform something, shouldn’t I start with myself? Yes, of course I should, and I’m working on that. Be the change you want to see and all that. Some days it goes pretty well, other days not so much so. I am trying.

It doesn’t alter the fact that I’ve got this burning desire to tell the stories in my head, and soon as I get started telling them, this desire to make the world better while I’m at it kicks in. If I wrote for no other reason, I would write because it is my way of trying to improve things.

I’ve answered two questions for myself. Thanks to all this analysis, I know I need to keep writing. I understand that I need to write my way, for my reasons, but that I also need to give care and effort to reach more readers, because being read is integral to several of my key motivations.

Thanks to this understanding, and some excellent advice I have received recently, over the next few months I will be revamping the 46. Ascending collection one last time. Then, my books will get new, more market-friendly titles. I will pay a little of my own hard-earned treasure to buy them genre-appropriate covers more likely to catch the eye of new readers. I will do what modest amount of advertising I can, but only after I’ve researched the most effective ways to use my limited funds. It will be a final push to make the most of what I’ve created.

Then, I will move on and create something new. And yes, I’ll probably be hoping to make the world better with it, too.

(The above photos are of three of the six displays I made and hung on the wall of my writing room to motivate me and keep me going over the past seven years. They got the job done. I’ll be posting the other three on my other blogs soon.)

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books,  My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing , I write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, I love to be loved and Remember My Name.)

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2018 in being better, empathy, writing

 

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This Is Not a Garden: Thoughts on Ecology and Immigration

I’m taking a series of gardening classes and this first one is about ecology. My brain is out of practice at paying attention to an instructor for three hours, and it’s already decided this first session is not what I came for. I’m consumed with figuring out how to grow more than three tomatoes a year and I can’t see how learning about ecosystems is going to help. My mind tries to wander off into some other odd territory.

To stay focused, I dutifully draw my own version of this triangle the instructor is discussing, explaining what kinds of plants will thrive in what sort of situation. As I finish, something clicks. Not about plants, but about humans.

Yes, I get how the adaptable plants win in a harsh environment. Witness the dessert cactus, the marshy sea grass and the northern lichens.

In places of havoc and tragedy, where death is frequent and unpredictable, I can see how plants that put most of their energy into procreation survive as a species. Ferns, ground covers like clover, and the common dandelion persist amid fires and flood.

I’ve labeled the top of my triangle “lucky plants” but these are not the instructor’s words. The top triangle is a well kept garden, given plenty of water, sunshine and fertile soil. The instructor says if you remove human care, the plants will not all stay in their neat rows in the proportions the humans have selected. Some will thrive and some will dwindle, and which does what is determined by how aggressive the plant is. Yes, in a place where life is easy, over time the more aggressive plants win.

I think humans have some sense of this and, to our detriment, some of us have taken to applying this philosophy to our politics. Allow me to explain with a diagram.

True, we have our own societies which have adapted to harsher climates around the world. The dessert, the far north and the Australian Outback all present challenges. When the situation is extreme enough, human populations face little competition for their niche.

Yes, historically, populations at the mercy of ongoing wars, and of natural disasters like frequent floods, wide-spread disease or famine, have tended to have more offspring, in hopes of having some survive.

It’s at the top of the triangle where I think we run into trouble.

First, I don’t think we begin to understand how the plant kingdom is interconnected and really works. So, this particular view of ecology may not be fair or accurate as far as plants are concerned. But even if it was ….

…. we’re not plants. We lack the gift of the plant kingdom, to obtain all we need from the sun and the soil. In return for having to devour other life to stay alive, we get mobility. With that comes the chance to rapidly alter our locations and to shape our environment.

We’ve got these terrific brains that get us in all sorts of trouble, but also allow us to improve our landscape and increase our resources. We can think our way into trouble, but we can also think our way out of it.

We have hearts. I don’t mean in the literal sense, though those are great, too. We have empathy and compassion and somewhere deep inside a sense of the way we are all interconnected. In our souls, we don’t want a life of ease at the expense of having others suffer. We aren’t oak trees crowding out the pines or killing off the grass. We can pretend otherwise, but a healthy human feels sadness at another’s loss.

We need to understand that we don’t live in a garden and we don’t have to beat others off with a stick lest they try crowd us out of it. We need to build our policies based on the philosophy of being entirely capable of working with others to make the our environment better and safer for all. With the sense and compassion that are our birthright as a species, we could have a planet in which we all thrive. So put those sticks away.

Class is ending and I gather up my notes and doodles. No, nothing in today’s class is going to help me grow more tomatoes. However, I think I might have a great idea for my blog.

 

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in being better, oneness, peace

 

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Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59

I traveled 8000 miles to see Mount Kilimanjaro, and I almost missed it. It’s true that I also came to see lions, elephants and zebra in the wild, and to have an adventure with my relatives, but Kilimanjaro was near the top of my list of reasons for making a daunting journey that took three plane flights, eighteen hours in the air, four vaccinations and sixteen days on malaria meds.

Unfortunately, the 19,341 foot former volcano that rises 15,000 feet up off  the plains of Tanzania tends to be covered in clouds in August, which is something I didn’t know ahead of time. On the drive to our camp, we got to see the very top of the peak poking out above the clouds, impossibly high in the sky. At the very end of our stay, we would get to see much of the base of the mountain glowing in the sunrise. But my one chance for the best, the fullest view, happened when I was busy reading a guidebook to Kenya. I know, it’s ironic. And I should have read that book before I left home.

My amateur photo

Earlier, I’d noticed the clearing skies overhead, and gone for a walk trying to get a better vantage point and figure out exactly where on the haze-covered horizon the mountain would appear in our camp. I couldn’t find Kilimanjaro on my walk, but I did find another tourist who appeared to be Chinese and who was doing what I was. Only he was equipped with a much better camera, and he had a compass.

He spoke a few words of English, and I speak no Chinese, so our exchange was pretty simple. He held his compass out to me, trying to remember the words for the four directions, then gave up. It was annotated in Chinese characters, but had Arabic numbers, and because I’ve worked with compasses it meant something to me. I found 180, and suggested south, he agreed happily and showed me the exact setting where I could expect to see the mountain if it ever appeared. I thanked him, we both pointed to the thick, low clouds and shrugged.

About half an hour later I was sitting on the porch to my tent, engrossed in reading, when he came running by. “Mountain! Now!”

I hope his photo looks like this

I jumped up and followed him. Three tents down he’d left his son waiting, and as I ran to a better vantage point, the two of them hurried off with his camera, exchanging animated exclamations. I realized that he’d probably traveled as far as I had to see this, and it likely meant as much to him as it did to me. Maybe more. Yet, he’d given up a few precious minutes of his viewing time to alert me, a total stranger who would never have known about it if he had not bothered.

Why?

Maybe he recognized a kindred spirit, a lover of mountains and photography, or of compasses and secrets of nature that seldom reveal themselves. Or maybe he is just one heck of a nice guy. I’ll never know. I do hope he got some great pictures.

Thursday, September 21, is the 2017 International Day of Peace. I always write about it on this blog, and I try to wish happiness to someone I’ve met in the past year from far away. This year, times being what they are, I’m starting my greetings a little early.

My photo from the next day

I don’t really know anyone from China. I’ve never been there. I don’t hear great things about it. But now I do know one man from there who bothered to tell me that Kilimanjaro was visible.

So, happy International Day of Peace, random Chinese man in tent 59. I don’t know what either of our governments are up to these days, but you demonstrated how alliances are forged. May your life be filled with many sudden bursts of kindness like the one you shared with me, at the foot of a mountain in Africa.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Like Eating Crab, Still a Sunrise?, Replacing me with … and Smiling my way across Kenya)

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2017 in being better, peace

 

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It’s About What You Believe

kind2I learned to love Kurt Vonnegut decades ago, based on reading only six of his earliest and most famous works. Much later, I tried to read Breakfast of Champions and couldn’t get through it. I never even tried his later novels. He’d changed. I’d changed. Or maybe, I’d just gotten from him the one message that I most needed to hear.

For all that I loved his cynicism and his humor, this one quote was it. The words have stuck with me through decades of living.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” — God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

That’s right. All that wit and imagination of his, and this was my main take-away. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that was disrespectful, although I think Mr. Vonnegut wouldn’t have minded a bit.

I’m attempting to summarize what I do believe in and it’s been an interesting exercise. Am I dying soon? Planing to run for public office? No, neither. I just really liked the movie “Wonder Woman” and it got me thinking.

What do I believe in so strongly that I want it to shape my behavior?

At this point, you might be concerned that too much of my personal philosophy comes from science fiction, but I’ll argue back. Stories of a speculative nature throw out a lot of societal constraints found in other frameworks, making it a fine realm in which to develop one’s code of ethics. It is absolutely where I have developed mine.

And I have the fictional Eliot Rosewater to thank for my most central belief. If I can’t be anything else, I want to be kind.

 

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2017 in being better, other authors

 

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