The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

After writing a book that takes place in India, and making online friends there, I follow the news from this amazing South Asian country. Much of it is positive and even uplifting.

Countless stories of personal courage and altruism fill the Times of India section called Good News Stories, and everyday headlines tell tales like how the tech savvy country was barely affected by the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware that froze computers in over 100 countries worldwide.

And yet, India has once again made the headlines in the United States with a horrific rape. This time, a jilted lover and his friends abducted and ultimately murdered a young woman on May 9. The details are horrible.

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

That is unfortunate at any time, but especially now. Thanks to recent events, my own country is seeing a surge of hate crimes with intolerance on the rise. Our world is facing a growing epidemic of nationalism, the frequent outgrowth of which is more hostility, a lack of international cooperation and even wars. Right now, we need all the cross-cultural empathy that we can get.

It’s a delicate matter to feel a sense of commonness when learning of a bad situation that we don’t think would occur in our own culture. (Of course, we could be wrong about that.) But surely it is no stretch to identify with the anger and loss of the victim’s family, with the sense of fear and outrage in the community, and with the confusion and shame of the perpetrator’s family. These all extend well beyond the specifics of the crime, and are woven into the stories of mayhem and destruction of any sort, in any place.

Far away places. They can be scary. They can be easy to demonize and hard to identify with. That is, until we look at the deeper emotions behind the events and see the common threads. Then we can weep for others and wish healing for them, because in our hearts we, too, know what it is like to face sorrow and find the strength to move on.

Enjoy this relaxing duet of two icons of Americana, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as they sing about “Far Away Places.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

Backing Down, Making Nice, and Saying Goodbye

I’ve been in something of a daze since November 9, the morning after the election. Words are my medium, and yet for all of my fear and frustration, I felt mute once the results were in, silenced by the forces of “we all need to pull together now and accept what has happened.”

I tried to be in this place, I swear I did, but after a week or two of hearing the improbable words “President-elect Trump” I wasn’t even close to being there. So, it was something of a relief to me to be included in on the following email from one old friend of mine to another. My friend said:

I recall you never warmed to Hillary, but I appreciate that you overcame your misgivings to vote for her. The likability debate always perplexed me, particularly from other women. We’re not electing prom queen here, or favorite mom or grandmother. There’s been a 30-plus year drumbeat from her Republican detractors about what a conniving b—– she is. A lot of it is raging sexism and just general Clinton hating. News flash: Things were pretty good when Bill Clinton was president, but let’s bash Hillary for her pantsuits and not being warm and fuzzy enough. During the election, I’ve taken these attacks on Hillary very personally. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism, and now ageism, in my life. I don’t suffer fools gladly, and neither does Hillary, a quality that is seldom appreciated in women but OK for men.  And when Hillary takes the knocks, I feel them.

I do know plenty of Trump supporters and the fact that they sincerely believe they made the right choice only scares me for this country.

Really? You thought the narcissistic cretin was a better choice than Hillary, I would say to them? The guy who penned in the media and egged on his sycophants to jeer them? Are you familiar with the First Amendment?

You think it’s OK to diss a Gold Star family? To mock a disabled person? To build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it? To challenge our president’s birth certificate? To have an inner circle of racists and con men who spread utter lies in their fake news outlets? To barge into a dressing room with naked young women who work for you? To brag about grabbing women by their pussies? To insist that women who aren’t beautiful (in your opinion) be gotten rid of at your clubs? To build your empire by cheating the little guy? To brag about not paying your taxes? To refuse to release your tax returns? To threaten our allies? To suck up to Putin?

And so on.

This is not a normal Republican, with a platform that I might disagree with but could understand on some level. Trump’s platform was mostly fear of the other, pent-up racism against Obama and general paranoia. During the debates, he dodged intelligent discourse in favor of “such a nasty woman” and “crooked Hillary.”
I don’t need to listen to Trump supporters, or respect them, either. Many of them DO seem ignorant. How could you listen to the debates and not come to a basic conclusion about who was the superior candidate? Wait, you didn’t listen to the debates! You didn’t need to! Anyone would be better than Hillary!

I’m not interested in a Trump supporter’s convoluted explanation of why they aren’t a racist, homophobic, and so on. If they voted for Trump, they were saying that all of the unforgivable things he said and did, and will continue to do and say, were preferable to voting for one of the most qualified candidates we’ve had.

As we move forward, I’m proud to be with the people who won’t normalize Trump’s behavior. With a Congress that is stacked in his favor, it won’t be easy.

These days, my theme song is, “I won’t back down.”

Yeah. Exactly what she said. And just in case you don’t remember the Tom Petty classic, here is a memory refresher for you to enjoy.

It’s been almost two weeks now since I received that email, and I keep looking for signs of hope that the governing of these wonderful United States is not going to be reduced to a reality TV show, wherein contestants are egged on and judged in one man’s twitter account. I’m not seeing a lot of hope.

What I am seeing are signs that there are people from all walks of life who share my concerns: people with whom I might have guessed that I had little in common. My sports loving husband had me listen to an interview with the San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and at the end I stood up and cheered. From the evangelical Christian point of view came an article written by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers of Oklahoma City that reminded me of the compassion and love embedded in true Christian faith. Meanwhile trans woman, atheist and civil rights activist Danielle Muscato tore into The Donald on twitter and her words could not have reflected my own thoughts better. Either. What these three people have in common in my opinion is that they are compassionate and aware humans.

So, yeah, instead of being able to find encouragement in The Donald’s excellent cabinet picks and his swivel to embrace the importance of the job to which he has been elected, I am having to take comfort in the words of those who are as appalled as I am. As for the folks who thought any change was good change, well, I am not ready to make nice.

In fact, that wonderful tune from the Dixie Chicks is probably my theme song right now. Remember that this song was written in response to the outrage fans expressed when the Dixie Chicks criticized George Bush for invading Iraq. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, view it through the eyes of 2016, a time when evading Iraq looks incredibly stupid and yet George Bush doesn’t look half as inept as he once did.

There is one more song running through my head these days. I’m updating the music page for this blog, and I’ve gotten to the last song referred to in the book c3, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” recorded by Patty Loveless in 1993.

It’s true that my least favorite thing about country music has always been its tendency to be overly sentimental. So when “How Can I Help You Say Good-bye” was suggested to me for c3 by my country music consultant, I winced. Then I played it through a few times just to try the idea on. Yes, it made me cry, but behind those words designed to easily coax out tears, I heard a wisdom about accepting the pain in life. The more I played the song, the more the underlying message spoke to me, until soon it made it’s way into the end of my book and onto the short list of country songs I do like.

Today I’m thinking that there is message in there for me. We say goodbye to all sorts of things in life; childhood friends and those we love and ideas that matter to us. Having a woman president meant a lot to me, perhaps more than I realized before the election. For all my righteous frustration with the childishness of the incoming administration, I need to let go of the idea that I am going to see a woman president anytime soon, at least in the next four years. I’m particularly fond of this simple version of the song performed live on television by Patty Loveless.

Accept and move on. That doesn’t mean backing down on my principles.  It does not mean making nice with the people who put us into this mess. In fact, hanging on to what I believe and refusing to look the other way regarding hateful behavior is going to help me get out of this funk. I’m determined to find a way to say goodbye to a world that is not going to be, and then to work my hardest to see that four years from now I’m singing a very different kind of song.

It’s never too late till it is

Every once in awhile I know exactly what my husband means and those rare moments of perfect communication are gold. Such was the case with his “it’s never too late till it is.” Because it isn’t. You follow me?

27-Courage-27I still have the short-lived vantage point of watching those both a generation older and younger than me make decisions, and am always sad to hear someone decide that it’s too late for something they want. Education, relationships, children, adventures, the challenges of climbing a mountain or starting a business. My wise partner is right. Time can make some things more difficult, even much more difficult, but only we decide they are impossible. Until of course they are, at that moment when all of our chances are gone and we’ve done whatever it is we are going to do in this life. Nothing is impossible until then, and instead of finding the thought morbid, I find it oddly uplifting.

Of course, this bit of wisdom is unlikely to make it onto t-shirts anytime soon. Our culture is poorly suited to thinking about our own death, at least for more than a fleeting and uncomfortable second or two. That is why I was surprised when I continued with my task of updating the page on this blog about the music referred to in c3. Near the end of the book, my eighty-something telepath Maurice picks a song to relax him as he tries to use his telepathy to accomplish something that has never been done before by a telepath anywhere. Being a West Texas boy and life-long fan of Buddy Holly, he goes for the classic early rock song “That’ll be the Day.”

Only I wasn’t all that familiar with the lyrics to the song. They go “that’ll be the day … plonk plonk plonk … that I die.” I think that “that’ll be the day that I die” is an old expression roughly equivalent to “when pigs fly” but it is a little odd given our collective desire to never think about dying. The song came out in late 1957, and the day that Buddy Holly died was February 3, 1959.

My character Maurice, in his late eighties, probably thinks about death more than I do and I like to think, after the fact, that the fictional Maurice likes this song even more for its disturbing reminder of mortality. Being old, or at least being old well, takes courage and Maurice has an abundance of that. Please enjoy the short excerpt below to see what he is attempting.

That is how one lovely evening in mid-April Maurice found himself settling on to his couch to try something that had never been attempted. Teddie’s mother Lola was with him to make sure that he remained physically well, but she had sworn to remain mentally removed.

Maurice took a long swig of the sweet iced tea that he loved before he settled back and closed his eyes. Lola offered to put on some music for him while he relaxed and waited for the group in India to be ready. He was a West Texas boy through and through and still didn’t think that most country music held a candle to his favorite musician, Buddy Holly. Certainly not the modern stuff. He smiled as Buddy’s 1958 hit “That’ll be the Day” filled his living room and his mind.

Well, this would be the day that he would ride along in a young girl’s mind as she left her own body behind in the Himalayan dawn. He would join her as she danced into the air to travel through what Olumiji called the abode of light. In this world of waves, she could, incredible as it sounded to Maurice, find a friend a thousand miles away. Then both she and Maurice would desperately look for clues to the friend’s exact location, proving that one never knew what a day would bring.

I was so happy to find to find this wonderful recording of Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing “That’ll be the Day” live on the Ed Sullivan show on December 1, 1957. Go ahead, take a sixty year walk back into time and enjoy!

You can also listen to and purchase this classic at Amazon.

(If you enjoy reading about how the favorite songs of characters in a book can enhance a story, check out my post on greed and the Metric hit “Gold, Guns, Girls” at Never Enough on my blog for the novel d4.)

Heads Carolina

I moved to Texas in 1989.  I didn’t particularly like country music then and I still don’t. But the seventeen year old hero of c3, Teddie, loves listening to the stuff. Each of my books has a nine song soundtrack that reflects the taste of its main character, and for this book I needed to find nine country songs that I actually liked and that fit well into my novel. I wasn’t sure that it was even possible.

asheville

Asheville NC

Lucky for me country music turns out to be a much wider genre than I realized, slopping over into rock and folk with some fun stuff around those edges. Even better, I had help from from a country music fan who knew my tastes and kept feeding me possibilities. Before long, I found more country music to enjoy than I expected. I don’t think that I’ll ever listen to a lot of it, but I have to admit that each song that I ended up using spoke to me in a certain way. Some told stories I appreciated and some made me feel stronger and a few brought tears to my eyes in spite of how silly that made me feel.

All nine songs I picked live in my playlists now, though in the end I developed a clear favorite. The 1996 hit single that launched Jo Dee Messina’s career, called “Heads Carolina Tails California”, made it into the book about the time that my husband and I began talking seriously about leaving Texas. We’re nomads at heart and we’ve been here a long time. For the last couple of years we’ve considered Oregon and New Mexico and Northern California and North Carolina. I put the song into c3 to tie into Teddie’s desire to get out of Darjeeling. However, the truth is that I played the song over and over for myself as well as we struggled with our decision. I even thought of suggesting some sort of coin flipping ceremony to my husband, who occasionally is oddly open to ideas like that.

Time passed, c3 got finished and published and d4 is in the works. Our plans somehow gelled and we made our selection, no coin toss needed. It’s “heads” for us. Carolina won, after we spent a week in the Asheville area this summer and felt like we had found a home. We’re off house hunting there in a couple of months. Meanwhile we are packing stuff up here and starting the home selling process. It’s not quick when you’ve gown roots as deep as we have, but we’re as exhilarated as Jo Dee is here as she sings the song live.

Isn’t it funny that it doesn’t matter what the genre of music is? In the end your favorite songs are always the ones where the lyrics seem to be speaking directly to you.