Excavating Hidden Treasures: A Writer and Sleuth’s Favorite Tools

One of my favorite tools for excavating human story and motivation is the Noteboard. A good brainstorm needs a wipe away tool and short of toting a large dry-erase board around, the Notebook is ingenious.

 

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The Noteboard

It opens up to 35”x15” and is divided into note size sections and includes a marker with an attached eraser. Contained within a machine-washable pouch that acts as another eraser, any sleuth can simply wipe away any monster, zombie, alien, or downright malevolent foe.

If you have an idea, a story, or just like wiping the slate clean, The Nobeboard is available at https://thenoteboard.com or Amazon.

 

 

 

The Power of Truth Empowers Us All

The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. – Carlos Santana

In preparation for NaNoWriMo 2017 (National and International Novel Writing Month), I made the declaration that I would not put a single drop of alcohol to my lips. Living in wine country, that is saying something.

Day 4, my word count has been healthy, but I had a TERRIBLE day at work. My plan had been to come home and write again, but the toxicity at work had reduced me to a knot of pain. In fact, my response was so visceral that I thought I might be having a heart attack or stroke.

And so, I had a couple of glasses. Yes, I broke my vow.

I am an Empath and that is something with which I am still learning to live. Most of my life has been filled with the admonishments, “you’re too sensitive” — “you need to be less sensitive” — “you need to find a way to protect yourself” — “you need to find a channel for pain.” The list of warnings is as much a source of dread as the actual overload of meanness in our current culture. And then there is the pesky little problem of my struggles with cancer.

Sometimes, there is a certain synchronicity in the news. An article popped up on my news feed, http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/01/health/wine-moms-strauss/index.html. It wasn’t the Mom part of the article that hit a nerve. I was never one of those Moms who had to self-medicate or avoid the day with my kids. I was too madly in love with them to want any of my time with them to end. Back to school was a time of sadness for me and the empty nest terrifies me. My kids are the best thing that has ever happened. But there is a part of me that understands why some Moms feel differently.

There is something about lack of fulfillment and powerlessness that is invoked in the article. That is something I understand. My first novel is a story of rising above disempowerment. My second novel will no doubt do the same.

Powerlessness is something with which all humans must contend. Even those who are unconscious of their own motivations instinctively seek to maintain their own power, if not to gain more than their fair share. Writers are probably the best psychologists because the grist of their trade is in ferreting out human motivation.

Issues of power, who has it and who doesn’t, will perhaps be the greatest challenge to the evolution of humanity and the greatest threat to our condition.

“But things have always been like that,” my Mom reminds me.

Yes. They have. But they don’t have to remain that way. If we accept that humans have the ability to transcend their past to create a better future then we must also accept that our individual actions have the same power. Society is comprised of many moving parts.

Individual action becomes collective.

The gross inequalities that continue to flourish are something that we allow. We are complicit. The last election reminded me that fear of losing power is a great motivator and a great divider.  

Becoming mindful of our fears is a certain way of empowering ourselves to transcend our differences.

As a woman and a person who continues to grapple with the undercurrents of trauma within a family torn from its comprehensive family and tribe, the legacy of powerlessness is one that will continue to haunt me. It is one with which reservations today continue to grapple. As a Buddhist, I have the tools with which to understand the tenets of suffering and the path that poses the healthiest way (for me) to continue my journey through consciousness.

But spirit moves differently for us all. Mine is but one.

It is one I had to enlist yesterday when so much sadness and toxicity overwhelmed me. While we continue to measure ourselves monetarily (a human construct), we will continue to be averse to correcting some of the real consequences of our distribution of power. I am not a disbeliever in money. It is a tool of exchange and people will probably always need some motivator for something more extrinsic than the absolute collective good and absolute equality. But there are times when the grossness of inequality is downright unfair and I do not believe anyone likes a stacked deck. In a world where the combined net worth of the two wealthiest people is $178.6 billion dollars, it is hard to imagine that same world includes so many unaccompanied children who suffer the indignities of landlessness, starvation, and destitution. They are children without power. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/10/unaccompanied-minors-refugees-serbia-afghanistan-pakistan-children-migration/  Adriftness is another power construct that must be understood by mixed bloods.

Should we care? “What can you do? We have no power to change it.” My Mom reminds me.

Perhaps not. Yet then again, we have the power of individual action.

I do not have to contribute to the debt of suffering in this world and I can be that story. Our stories have great power. They always have. In the winter when the days were short, families and tribes told their stories. Our oral histories are ancient and they continue to describe and transform our world.

It is our stories that maintain our power. The human condition evolves through the power of story. Now, more than ever, we need it.

We cannot look away and we cannot consign those who have been disempowered to the “out of sight, out of mind” reaches of our mainstream forgetting.

Refugeeism is our collective dilemma. In a flat, hot, angry world, their lack must be our want because each one of those thousands has a story and every story is precious.

Some of the toxicity with which I dealt yesterday involves the single-minded pursuit of money and there is a real ugliness in the manner in which some people seek that tool as if the tool itself has more power than their own humanity — an energy that is inhuman in itself.

It is that very ugliness against which I self-medicated last night — an ugliness against which so many of us struggle.

Today, I renew my vow, I will continue to write a story, and I will imbue it with truth. The power of truth empowers us all.

 

 

Embracing the Ebb & Caring for the Soul

The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter, and the spirit heals with joy. ~ Proverb

This has been a hard year. In the midst of so much sorrow, I watched as some profited from others’ misfortunes.

There was darkness. One storm followed another, both natural and un-natural and, everywhere, loved ones were caught in their wake.

Everyone survived, but our country is wounded. It is as if one giant fracking occurred down the middle.

I had to re-find my light and my voice. After a reunion with my kids, some good old-fashioned house cleaning, and a return to a clean diet, I am ready to begin anew and there is no better time than All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain.

Coming to terms with grief is a way of honoring transitions. Rumi said, “your grief for what you have lost lifts a mirror up to where you are bravely working.” Samhain. It is the night into the day of the year when the veil is the thinnest and we may commune with those who have gone before us.

But it is also the time for trickster ~ a reminder to not take ourselves so seriously.

It is the in-between time. The betwixt and between.

It is a great time to assess health, spiritual place, and the path chosen within community. Social media and individual attainment of wealth makes it easy to forget community, but we are all in this together.

So tonight, I light a candle for my ancestors and loved ones who have passed. I light a candle for the spiritual journey of tomorrow, and I light a candle for this fragile and beautiful world.

Tomorrow, I write.

 

Photo by Lyndsey Marie on Unsplash

Can Consciousness Save Us?

Should we care about artificial intelligence, AI?

As someone pointed out to me, it’s doubtful it will really replace drivers because a computer cannot make the same type of judgments. If a situation occurred in which a driverless car had to choose between avoiding a child and hitting 2 cars or vice versa, it would logically have to choose the child. A one versus two scenario. Logic at its extreme. Therefore, it is a long ways off to driverless cars. There is no morality in IA or AI.

It’s been a long time since I did coding and it was COBOL, Basic, and a smattering of Fortran at that, but I still know something about programming logic. And I was involved with systems analysis for a couple of years, albeit quite a few years back. I have sometimes been accused of being too logical and super organized. But there is a beauty to its logic.

The dilemma of judgment for the driverless car is one of either/or. The same type of logic in coding. In all of our statistics and actuarials having to do with car accidents, I am sure it is easy enough to write code to account for just about every possibility including the either child or 2 cars case. Throw AI and its access to those stats into the mix and I have no doubt driverless cars are around the bend.

I don’t have a problem with driverless cars. I love technology as much as the next person. Since that makes me part of the problem, I like to be mindful of that part.

But they will put a lot of people out of work and labor problems have a tendency to get violent.

 

AI should make us all nervous because those who are involved recognize there is a dilemma, but they declare its inevitability. On its face? A true conundrum. One of our making.

Hawking thinks the moon is a good staging ground for Mars. Gotta reach it by 2020. Elon Musk is all for Space X and Mars and amazon throws itself into the mix with delivering the necessary goods to space travelers (I’m assuming Whole Foods will be delivering ready made organic meals?) Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge admirer of innovation and the thinkers behind it. But I have a couple of questions.

Is it okay to throw our hands in the air and jump planet? Moon as staging platform for Mars? Does that really address the greater human problems? Who gets to go to Mars and who stays on Earth until there is no more space or air or beauty?

And what is the point when all that is beautiful is used up and has perished?

Do we take our philosophy with us? Do we take our deep thinkers or only those who can entertain? Or better yet — our extroverted political types?

Something tells me, many will not take this fast moving change lying down.

For me, I love the beauty of this one Earth. And to be fair, all those innovative thinkers are taking steps towards sustainability and curbing our part in climate change.

But, humans have given much credence to the concept of progress. I believe it was inherent in the cry of manifest destiny. And progress is certainly a part of evolution. But the one thing humans have also been fully capable of is checking their own progress when it goes awry.

After all, what is consciousness? It is something we profess to have. Perhaps, it is our greatest leverage against the excesses of our own progress.

It’s sort of worth hanging around for.

 

Measuring Our Differences

As we measure and take stock of our differences, it’s important that we not make them weapons.

The attack on the mosque in London is in the news this morning and it has provoked a response from social media.

Retribution

retaliation

anti-terrorism

terrorism.

As I continue to write my second book and stare down the mouth of the really big things happening in the world, I can’t help but have the same feeling as during the past election.

I see fear and it is palpable.

Fear that our world is changing faster and further beyond our measure than the majority of people can comprehend.

Perhaps the killer believes those who attend the mosque are the reason for the change.

Perhaps those in the mosque believe he is.

The camera lens remains tight and focused on small features. Or perhaps, it is focused on the carnage right there and then.

A wider angle would show a crowd in shock. Further out, it would show people busy with their lives — a sense that the world and their time within it short.

No time. Precious time.

A wider angle still would show a world in turmoil.

A world changed by us.

A world in which ancient forests are regularly clearcut, slashed and burned. Tiny microbes marching forth as it happens. Ebola killing gorillas and chimpanzees by the thousands pushing them to the margins of extinction.

A world in which polar bears cling emaciated to the shores and dream of dinner.

A world in which artificially intelligent machines will one day save us before they replace us.

A world that dreams of leaving this place and colonizing a planet on which we will have to breathe artificially created air and eat artificially created food.

A world that can splice out a defective piece of DNA and insert a replica of the good, but that can also change an elephant into a wooly mammoth. A world that can take that same technology and clone ourselves.

A world that can insert hardware and software into our brains to make us competitive with the artificially intelligent machines we’ve created.

A world in which all of the above technology can be crowdfunded and augmented through open sourcing.

Think about it.

Are the people leaving the mosque so different from us?

Is the killer so different from us?

Fear makes us the same.

 

Today, I Am Crazy

That’s with a capital C.

It’s gray outside — matching color inside.

I contemplated ordering a pad by Knock Knock to begin for the first time in my life a revenge list.

My son learned a lesson about the meanness of people yesterday and I want to throttle the culprit. No. That’s not strong enough. I want to B#$T the crap out of him.

But I have always been a proponent of nonviolence and leaving the whole karma thing to the universe. And so I will not. But I love knock knock’s take on asserting some action into a sense of helplessness. When it comes to me, I can envision a grander scheme … but when it comes to my kids? I’m not so thoughtful. I fume. I seethe. I rage. Truthfully, the list is looking better all the time — I’m beginning to see the humor in documenting the transgressions. It is a reminder that karma is not so direct. This culprit –because of his own lack of empathy and his own sense of meanness– will create his own cause and effect in the world. I know this. I have seen it enough times.

Begrudgingly, I must wish him no harm. He will bring his own suffering into his life.

So, what is really bothering me besides the gray outside my window?

For one, I am dealing with cancer again. It can be dealt with, but I am back in the orbit of cancer care.

I am a prisoner whose parole has hereby been rescinded.

I struggle again with conditions related to previous cancer care and they are all compounding simultaneously.

Little things keep arising — the well pump at the chicken coop needs to be replaced, my car needs an oil change and the few days I have off are filled with doctors, the garden needs weeding, the fence we want to put in to stop the dogs from eating everything is expensive, the hens need saddles because my rooster is careless and all anyone can come up with is putting him down or setting him free to the elements, all of which are not options, and my eyes need better attention from me — the list is endless.

And all I want to do is be home and spend time with my family.

Watch Bloodlines.

Eat popcorn and dessert for breakfast.

To write.

To research.

To live.

To dream.

And so I am avoiding life. This morning I did research for my third book. My quirky protagonist falls under the spell of a very smart crow. Well, she also falls under the spell of his sidekick who is human, but he is … well, human. What can I say? I am already in love with the bird. After watching the documentary Secret Life of Crows and watching YouTube videos and reading Corvus blogs, I now envy their lack of a neocortex.

Which reminds me to not overplay all this self-conscious angst.

The gray too will pass. And it is this precious moment we have, this life we are given, that is worthy of being grateful.

And I am.

Little problems or big problems? At least I have them.

And so I have one more thing to add to my bucket list on this stormy day … I want to witness a murder of crows.

A grand amassing of brilliant birds … now, that would be worthy of a party.

Small Moments

Last night, I faced west and watched the sun fade.

Most nights, I am awed by the beauty of the impending night.

The sky a burst of color, I grabbed my camera and took a series of pictures, but a camera can never truly capture the wonder of the moment and all the other ineffable and impermanent points of life.

I have a couple of friends who take incredible pictures that seem to capture the beauty, but I wonder at what price. It is the totality of experience that is so compelling and can only be experienced in the moment. Distracted by capturing the ephemeral, does not one lose it?

Last night, the breeze was dry and warm and crickets reminded me that summer encroaches. A cow mooed. Another answered. Children laughed in the neighbor’s yard.

The sun did not set on the day. It welcomed the evening. The transition was soft and playful.

This morning, I rose early to face east. It is a reminder of the arc of life. Since moving west, it holds more meaning than ever. To the east rests part of my heart, my daughter lives 2,042 miles away.

The morning sky changed so much from the previous evening. A couple of scissor tailed flycatchers pipped from the top of the oak tree. My rooster called as my hens squabbled down in the coop. Morning traffic carried across the hill from the road to the country. Sounds of familiarity that root me.

Small moments, many times, is time unfolding — the self unfolding – even as each is wrapped within itself and conditioned to a sense of timelessness.

In seizing the day, perhaps we lose the heart of 1,440 minutes … each a moment of possibility. Each a chance to break open the heart and know it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness in Flux

It is often difficult to separate chaff from grain — to winnow the wheat in the harvest — the truth from that which becomes hidden. The concept, of course, requires some judgement, but that only infuses things with potential conflict.

Sometimes misunderstandings become dogma.

When we don’t understand first intent or first “discovery,” we lose track of the moment and the moment becomes a ghost of myth.

There is a line of thought outside the Buddhist community that Buddhism is a technique brought to the West by hippies who ventured forth into Buddhist lands, converted, and brought it back thereby imbuing it and infusing it with very Western thinking.

This “forgets” the thousands of immigrants from Buddhist lands who have been venturing beyond their own lands for eons.

It also “forgets” the ways in which all religions and all thoughts are evolutionary. There is no stasis in human endeavor. Just as there is no stasis in this universe.

Even a rock will not stay in place.

So the question is, did immigrants bring Buddhism to the West and did it shape shift outside original areas? Or was it brought to the West by Westerners who imposed their own formative thinking upon it?

My bet is on a little bit of both.

In an ever interdependent world, the rock both acts upon and is acted upon.

 

Life in Texas …

… or is it just for the moment?

Yesterday, someone asked me where I am from.

I struggled with the question and more with the answer. It turns out it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Well where were you born?

The Philippines.

The Philippines? What were you doing there?

Well, I didn’t have a lot of say in the matter, but it was as good a place as anywhere to be born. My Dad was busy tramping around the jungle and making friends with the last of the headhunters. He had an uncanny way of fitting in anywhere.

When we left the Philippines, we settled in California.

So you’re a Californian?

Well, sort of, but most of our close friends were from elsewhere and it’s where my Grandmother ended up with her sisters, but they were from the Blue Earth area of Minnesota. From the old Winnebago now Ho-Chunk stopping off from all their “removals” area. But they were always trekking back and forth between Minnesota, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Arizona, and California. I’m not sure they thought of themselves as set either. They traveled the mountain passes of the West by whatever means they had. They were quietly fearless. But my Mom’s family is from Virginia and they’ve been there since 1607 so if someone has roots it’s her.

So, you consider yourself a Virginian?

No, not really. I was only in Tidewater Virginia for a total of 5 years. I lived in the D.C. area for 9. I lived in New York and Connecticut for 25 years. Maybe, that’s where I’ve been the longest, but I definitely don’t consider myself from there.

So, where do you consider yourself from?

It’s a good question.

And so here I am. I am here at the moment. In Texas.

I am of the moment.

Living in the moment is as good a place to begin and end as any.

The view from my window is beautiful and I am mindful of my moment in its midst.

And so I write.

It’s a good moment.

 

Inspiration Point: A Daughter’s View

A lot of things changed that summer. Let’s take it back to 2008, when things may have seemed more simple, easier, but for me, it wasn’t. Sure, I was the typical teenager who did not really understand what it meant to have all the responsibilities I have now. But everyone has a past and everyone has been through difficult times. That was that time. I could go through the painful memories and make myself sound so brave, make my family sound so brave, but it is not about that. Truth is, we were all terrified.

During the summer of two thousand eight, my family and I went to Bryce National Park. It was the summer after my freshman year. We made a trip of it, a trip to see different national parks, as this is something all four of us enjoy to do as a family. We revisited one of my favorite places in this universe, the Grand Canyon. We also saw Zion National Park, Lake Powell, Salt Lake City, and Bryce National Park. Bryce immediately spoke to me. It spoke to my heartbreak, my darkest fears, my dreams. It spoke to my spirit. When I looked out upon the vast landscape, covered in the most vibrant red and orange hues I have ever seen, I knew I would never experience anything like it again. It was almost as if anything that was troubling me, anything that was hurting me, did not matter. At least not for a little bit. That trip meant so much to me because it gave me hope for something better. My mind dreamt of all the things I could accomplish, knew I would accomplish in the future. And I have, and still am.

Bryce National Park has several lookout points, perfectly named Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. And that is exactly what Bryce is for me. It is the sunrise and sunset of national parks. It fills me with inspiration, passion, and gratitude.

I have a perfect memory. I spotted this beautiful grey tree, spiraling every which way. Trees always looking different, no matter where you travel. They have their own identity. This tree had no leaves, it was bare, but still looked vibrant and healthy. As if it was happy to be there just like I was. My brother and I have a picture with the tree, entwined in the branches, as if we belonged there. It is still one of my favorite photos. I do not know why that moment meant so much to me, but it still does.

When I stood at the edge of Bryce, with the wind whipping around me, birds soaring high above me, and the sun covering me in a warm blanket, the air smelled fresher. Being able to look out upon a landscape and be able to see for miles and miles is something very special to me. Nothing binds me. Nothing gets in the way.

I believe that the places we travel to, places we call home, and places we wish to see one day, shape who we are. We carry those destinations with us. Bryce changed me in a definite way. It gave me hope and happiness when I was struggling to find it. The beauty and uniqueness of this place left me in awe. It is hard to explain in words what Bryce looks like, or what it does to me, to anyone. But that is the beauty of it. I do not have to explain the impact it had on me, because I know it was real. I have an everlasting connection with that beautiful place. And one day, I will be able to go back and reminisce on those memories, and feel that connection once more.

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