Frittering life away?

I get a lot of ideas for blog posts while I’m doing yoga. Some would say it is because my brain relaxes and stops talking. Others might guess that I’m lucky enough to have uncommonly profound yoga instructors. Normally I’d go with both of the above, but not today. This post comes from my mind’s refusing to agree to do what it is told.

detailI am instructed to be totally present in the now. This is a common prompt in a yoga class, but problems begin when we are asked to reflect on what keeps us from being so. “I know, I know” the eager student in my head clamors.  She likes getting answers right. “I replay scenes from the past, and I concentrate on tasks and I worry about the future.” But another voice in my head speaks up, and it is less anxious to please.

“Just how effective a human being do you think you would be if you didn’t focus on getting something done?” it asks. “Performing tasks that enhance your chances of survival, and even add to your comfort, is what buys you the freedom to sit around and chant om and do this other shit.”

This particular voice has a bit of a hard edge, but I think it makes a good point. I spend a lot of my day performing tasks that range from spraying stain remover on my laundry to interpreting seismic signals on a computer screen to keeping my car on the road. It is true, this focus on the minutiae of everyday life occupies a lot my thoughts, and as I focus on successfully performing a task, it takes me out of the here and now. Yet, it puts food on my table, keeps me safe, and enables me to wear clean clothes. In short, it makes me a functional human.

But do I want that to be a bulk of my existence? Henry David Thoreau said “Our life is frittered away by detail.”  Am I frittering away too much of mine? I’m ready to hold a robust internal discussion on the subject when my inner mind intervenes, hushing the talk and putting my focus back on my breath.

I’ve been doing yoga now in some form since college, and a few years ago I added qi gong to my daily routine. Yet it was the research for c3 that taught me the most about meditation. I had to learn quite a bit before I could write a scene like this.

Jampa walked up to his favorite rock to meditate. No, it wasn’t his favorite rock. He wasn’t supposed to have a favorite rock. All rocks were fine. If this rock were occupied, he did not want to risk disappointment and worse yet irritation with its occupant. He chose this rock today because it was an effective place for his meditation, and as a young monk in training, Jampa knew that meditation was important.

As he slowed his breathing and concentrated on the Eight-Fold Path, he felt himself slipping into the deep trance for which he was known. Those far older than he marveled at the discipline with which Jampa could let go of the chatter in his mind and the speed with which he could move into the intense contemplation that was the realm of the dedicated Buddhist monk. The truth was, no one had ever taught him the technique. He had been doing it for as long as he could remember.

Jampa had little memory of living with the traveling caravan that had dumped him at the monastery door, but he thanked them every day for the mercy that they had shown him. He was told that he was six or seven years old at the time, and had been purchased by the caravan months earlier to fetch water and do chores.

The men complained to the monks that once they started their journey westward they discovered that the little boy was often useless because he would unexpectedly go into these deep trances. They wished to make a gift of him to the monastery.

The monks had, of course, accepted the gift and made the little boy one of their own. Thus, Jampa had received his name, and had become a devout Buddhist and a citizen of Bhutan before he was eight. For over five years now he had successfully hid the real secret behind his meditative abilities from the men who taught him, and who luckily thought that his going into such a deep trance was a powerful religious thing.

lennon1So I channel my character Jampa as my breath slows and softens, as my muscles relax, and as all my internal arguments cease, at least for the next hour. One last bit of analysis flickers from a deep corner of my mind. Perhaps this temporary peace is useful too? Yes, I answer softly. I think that it is.

(As for what my monkey mind had to say about focusing on the past — see my post Bring back the good old days? on my z2 blog. For thoughts about focusing on the future, see Prepare for the Worst? on my d4 blog. And find out what my yoga instructor thought the problem was at Are you performing, or performing? on my y1 blog.)

Books by an armchair traveler

It’s true.  I write books about places I’ve never been. My problem is that I want my characters to travel the world, and yet I’m limited in where I can afford to go. So I research, get help, get more help, and research some more.

c3 was my most challenging book in this regard. Most of the action in c3 takes place in Darjeeling India, in the little known nation of Bhutan, in Bangkok Thailand and along Thailand’s famous beaches. I had a fascinating time learning about each of these locales and as I wrote I fell in love with all them. In the case of c3, I was lucky enough to have four wonderful beta readers from India who helped me with accuracy and local color, and I was also able to make use of some wonderful books, the internet and well-traveled friends to fill in other gaps in my knowledge.

The internet, of course, was my most versatile tool. As I wrote about Bagdogra Airport Teddie and Michelle making their way to India, I was able to see what they might see as they arrived at the Bagdogra airport. Having these ongoing visuals made the book easier to write, and a lot more fun.
Enjoy this short excerpt about their flight.

Teddie had been to Ireland, to France and to Hawaii, so she had some idea of how miserable a long flight was on a full plane. Still. Two crying babies, one on each side? Come on. There ought to be a law.

Bagdogra Airport2Michelle, who clearly was far more excited than Teddie was about this adventure, as everyone else kept insisting on calling it, had slept through three out of the four major bouts of wailing. Now, she was wide awake and eager to explore the Frankfurt airport for a few hours before the girls boarded the second plane on to Delhi and then yet a third on to some town Teddie couldn’t even begin to pronounce. And then that would be followed by a three-hour car ride. Teddie, for her part, just wanted to sleep in a bed, preferably her own soft and cozy bed, but at this point any real bed would do…

The flight to Delhi was full too, of course, and Teddie had already been warned, many times, that from this point forward she should expect large crowds of people crammed into less space than she was used to or would like. India, only about one-third the size of the United States, had over three times as many people. It was going to be part of the cultural adjustment that was going to make “this adventure” so enriching.

 

A feminist looks back at Valentine’s Day

candyIt always was a problem holiday, wrapped as it was in girlie expectations of flowers and candy. I understood that the female, of course, was expected to do for him also, usually by way of, wink wink, you know. It had enough of that underlying sex for treats aspect to it to make me cringe, but I couldn’t help wanting to acknowledge the day. I was still a member of my culture.

My friends always asked. Did he get you flowers? Take you out to dinner? Somewhere romantic? My answer was always a slightly sad no.

roseMy friends would sigh. “It wouldn’t have hurt him to at least, maybe, bought you a single rose or something.” No, it probably wouldn’t have. But I knew that I was sending out mixed signals. I was one of those girls who was usually in a relationship, and with the kind of boy who thought Valentine’s Day was stupid. Not surprising, really, given my own independent beliefs. Still, why couldn’t he make one tiny exception and buy me some dark chocolate? Then I would have had had something to tell my friends. Besides, I like dark chocolate a lot.

Finally, and to no one’s surprise, I married one of those independent thinking guys who had declared early on that no collective of greeting card salesmen and florists was going to tell him when to act romantic, dammit. And they didn’t. I got used to telling people that we didn’t celebrate February 14, and I focused on sending cute cards to relatives instead and just bought my own chocolate. Problem solved.

sparklyFunny thing. As the years went by, Valentine’s Day began to seem more and more like a contrived holiday to me as well. I bragged about how he was too smart to buy me $70 roses. Then one year he surprised me with a silly card. Just for fun, he said. It made him think of exchanging valentines at grade school class parties. I laughed and the next year I got him a silly card too. That became our little tradition, the exchange of a card, the goofier the better.

Then a few years after the card tradition started, we somehow got in habit of making a special meal sometime in mid-February, on a night that was convenient. It included lobster and sparkling wine and maybe even some sort of chocolate dessert. It became our own secret celebration of love, held on a day of our choosing and far from the crowded restaurants with their over-priced menus designed for the occasion. This worked for us, and all was well.

Then, this year happened. The fancy meal was had Saturday night. The cards were exchanged Sunday morning over coffee. By Sunday evening, I was done with Valentine’s Day and happily writing away on my blog when I was informed, with just a touch of petulance, that dinner had been ready for awhile.

You made dinner? Of course he had, I was told.  It was Valentine’s Day, so would I please get off of my computer and come eat the chili rellenos he had made for me because he knows how much I like them.

Why did you bother to do that? Because it is Valentine’s Day, he told me. And because I love you.

Oh. Well now. If that doesn’t just make up for all the flowers and candy I never got and said I never wanted, I don’t know what does.

So, Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday about loving someone. If you celebrate it right, there isn’t a better occasion on the whole calendar.

blooming

(Text from “The Word Virus”)

I’ve waited my whole life for a woman president, but

I saw this on Facebook, and you can imagine how the rest of the post went. Because I have remained politically undecided up until now, I was surprised by how sad this post made me.

time2I considered that all manner of male politicians have come and gone over my lifetime, but only one qualified woman has ever been a serious candidate for the US presidency. That alone means that I would like to see her win.  And I have to ask, is this discrimination? Or just plain foolish? Well, let’s look at some facts.

As a disclaimer, I consider myself a pragmatic, slightly left-leaning moderate who wants to live in a safe and fiscally responsible country in which the rules are fair, or at least are becoming more fair and not less so. I would like to see compassion triumph over other concerns.

As you might guess, I like a lot of Bernie Sander’s politics. I don’t particularly like him, however, because I don’t see him being an inspiring leader of all Americans, or a particularly effective representative to the rest of the world. I’m not sure I want him to be president, even though I like some of his ideas.

On the other hand, at one point in my life, I was a Republican. It was long ago, during a time when one could believe that the GOP was really on the side of the small business owner (which my parents were) and on the side of personal freedom (which I was and still am.) Over the years, the party has split into those who fight for advantages for big business and those that have turned their social agenda into a justification for inserting government control into life’s most personal matters. I’m sad that the sort of Republicans I once respected are not running for president.

True, some of the remaining candidates are less scary than others, but that is a low bar to cross. Rand Paul’s sense of the importance of most liberties (not just those valued by the far right) inspires my respect. John Kasich has yet to say anything terribly unreasonable (that I’ve heard), and in this strange year that is worthy of commendation. Carly Fiorina (yes, I realize she is a woman too) lacks qualifications for what is arguably the the most important political office in the world, and she has failed to show the sort of leadership abilities that would make me want to overlook her lack of experience. (Railing against Planned Parenthood based on a falsified video does not constitute leadership to me.) So it is hard to imagine a scenario in which I am voting Republican in 2016.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton. Am I rooting for her just because she is a woman? She is ridiculously qualified. She is intelligent and she sharers much of my politics. I believe that she has a good heart. I was very impressed with her testimony in front of congress and I believe that she would at worst do a decent job of governing this country.

But she isn’t perfect. In my case, I’ve held back on my support because she’s too hawkish and her ties to established politics and to big money in this country are closer than I’d like. She has yet to charm me, to melt me with her sincerity or warmth. She’s not perfect.

However, I’ve voted for nine men for president, and none of them were close to perfect in my mind, or in reality. I didn’t expect them to be. I’m pragmatic, and election after election I picked the person I thought could win and also best represent my desires on how this country should be run. I had no use for Ralph Nader or his supporters late in the 2000 election, when the chance to be noble and alter history for the better was cast aside for hubris.

sungazing3So why am I now anguishing over this particular candidate’s lack of perfection? Maybe my issue isn’t supporting her because she is a woman at all. Could it be that I am holding her to a higher standard because she is one? Have I really bought into the belief that I will follow a good man or a nearly perfect woman? Deep down, do I think that a female can only lead us well if she is a head and shoulders above all the males who could lead instead? I sure hope not.

So back to my question. Am I guilty of discrimination? Inverse discrimination? Is this whole discussion just plain foolish? It’s time for me to make some decisions.

This is it. I’m thankful to Bernie Sanders for pushing the conversation and the democrats away from the status quo. I would love to see him play a role in the new administration. I hope many of his ideas receive serious consideration. But now that he almost won Iowa, I have to say that I really, really hope that he doesn’t march his way to a nomination. It would be unfortunate enough if he got there on enthusiasm for his outsider’s ideas, without due thought on the part of his supporters as to how good he would actually be at the job of president. But it would be particularly sad if part of his successful march was an ingrained tendency on our part to demand more of a female candidate.

So tonight, I’ve made my decision. I think that we have a chance to make history as a nation, and a chance to elect a decent leader at the same time. I think it’s high time for girl to be president. I’ve waited my whole life for it, damn it, and I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.