Day 4: Bloom here

That has got to be rule four. Be here now. Bloom where you are planted, even if you are planted here along the Mississippi River for only four days.

I’ve spent two nights at my sisters and have two more nights to go. This is the longest stop of my 28 day journey, save one, and half of my brain at least is already worrying about the trip ahead, checking on reservations, considering needed supplies. No, I tell myself. Stop it. Just stop it.

This is precious time. The river is wonderful, the company irreplaceable. I settle back into my seat on the boat. Is there a song for this? Of course there is.  Here it comes, live from all the way back in 1969.

Day 3. Just Don’t

Day three. Today I’m off the road enjoying my sister’s hospitality, and her boat. She and husband Gary like to drive up and down the Mississippi, eating, drinking and feeling the wind in their faces. It’s not a bad way to enjoy life.

We stop for lunch and my sister insists I try one of the many flavored long island ice teas. I’ve already had a glass of Rose and it’s only 11:30 and hard liquor doesn’t sound good …. but this is vacation, and who could resist a blood orange long island ice tea. Two sips into it and the headache starts. Bad idea. I should have resisted it.

Rule three, I decide, is if it doesn’t sound good to you, don’t order it. Don’t eat it. Don’t drink it. No matter how much your sister likes it, or how much you like your sister. Just don’t.

I invoke rule two, forgive myself for the mistake, and go back to slowly sipping Rose aboard ship. The wind blows through my hair and I decide, headache or not, this is going to be a good day. My sister reminds me of what our father used to say on days like this….  Now this is living. He was right, it certainly is ….

Is there a song for this kind of day? Of course there is ….

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

Day 2. Rules of the Road

Day two.  499  miles (7 1/2 hours of driving, 9 hours in car). A journey from the Ohio River along the Indiana border northward on I75 to Indianapolis, then west to Bloomington, north to Rockford and then a ride through beautiful countryside on highway 20 west to Galena Illinois. The back of my car remains packed and secure as I play my music heading down the road.

Only today my music keeps getting interrupted by Google Maps. The app is experiencing ongoing frustration because I have chosen to take a slightly longer route and not drive through Chicago. Nothing against the windy city, it’s a great place and I know it because I once lived there. I just don’t want to drive through it.

“We’ve found a route that is 19 minutes faster,” it chirps as soon as I’m on the highway. “Touch screen to accept.” It continues to try to route me through Chicago for the next four hours. An algorithm apparently cannot comprehend why I’d rather drive extra minutes to enjoy rolling countryside and less traffic.

About 3 hours into my trip I remember that I’ve left something at the Airbnb. It’s sentimental; in fact it’s a lightweight blanket with my name on it, a gift from long ago that I often take when I travel. I’m not willing to leave it behind, so I arrange to send my host PayPal money to express the blanket to me at another stop. It’s a stupid expensive mistake and I’m being hard on myself for making it.

The number one rule of the road is to make sure everything is well organized so you don’t spend all of your time looking for things and can easily see if you are leaving something behind, the sterner part of my brain insists. And it is right, that is a key to having a hassle free trip. But there are lots of rules of the road, and I decide rule number two has got to be to forgive yourself if you break rule number one and leave something behind.

Yesterday I found a song of the day as I was driving into Louisville. Today I have a playlist called Songs to Make You Smile and it is filled with odd and old tunes. Most of them do make me smile, and Lady Gaga’s Telephone and The Weather Girl’s It’s Raining Men make me laugh out loud.

As I drive along 20, enjoying the lovely view that cost me an extra 19 minutes and so distressed my GPS, I finally hear what I know is the song of the day. I’ll be at my sister’s house in a few minutes, enjoying time with someone I love and seldom see. This is what it’s about. The world doesn’t need better organization and more efficient routes. What the world needs now is ….

Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles

So if the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, does the journey of 6000 miles begin with 6 steps? Just wondering ….

This morning I left for a 28 day trip, the longest I’ve attempted in decades. The first 12 days will involve me driving over 3000 miles by myself, in a car loaded down with a bicycle, tent, air mattress, camping and cooking supplies, food, and all the clothing and necessities of life for four weeks. Oh, and lots of music stored on four different devices with three different ways to play it. I may be foolish, but I’m not stupid ….

During these first 12 days I’ll be staying with 7 different Airbnb hosts, and if tonight’s lodging gives any clue, it’s that this will be interesting. I’ll also be retracing significant places from my past, something it is time for me to do.

Today’s trip was easy; six hours and 382 miles. Starting out with a short day enabled me to have a leisurely exit from my home in Western North Carolina, and to enjoy the beautiful drive from Asheville NC to Knoxville Tennessee along I-40.  Then it was north along I-75 to Lexington Kentucky.

Crossing state lines reminded me of how knowledgeable we humans are as a group. The speed limits in Tennessee tend to be around 60 mph, and the observant driver soon realizes the actual enforced speed limit must be around 70, as that is the average of what everyone is driving. Kentucky has a 70 mph posted limit, but by the time I am a few miles into the state, the average speed has risen to more like 85, with drivers riding on my rear bumper if I drop much below that in either lane. Okay, new state, new rules.

I cross the Ohio river and arrive at my first stop along the southern edge of Indian about 6:30 p.m. My hostess is friendly edging over into chatty and when she starts in on her own recent travels I make excuses to go to my room. Glancing over my shoulder, I see the TV turned to Fox News. Oh dear. Best avoid discussing politics. My room looks much like the photo, but is decorated in a more religious fashion than I would have expected. Hey, tolerance for all spiritual beliefs …. Still, I think I’d best avoid conversation in general, so I hunker down in my room, planning my route for tomorrow.

I wonder what adventures this trip will bring. My character Ariel doesn’t know the future, but she sees numerous possible events and has a sense of their probability of occurring. She’s not sure what will happen, but she is sure it will be one of the things she saw.

Me, I spend my day driving imagining all sorts of crazy occurrences. You know what the difference is between me and a precognitive like Ariel? I don’t know what will happen either, but I can be damn sure it won’t be anything I came up with.

I did entertain myself today by deciding to pick one song each day that best describes the feel of the day. Today’s song? Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones. It had me at

“Don’t ask her why she needs to be so free. She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be.”

Yeah. Then there was “No time to lose, I heard her say. Catch your dreams before they slip away.” Yeah again.

I may not be at all sure what this trip will bring, but I am sure about why I’m doing it.

Enjoy a 1990’s Mick Jagger singing this classic.

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

As Far Away Places Edge Closer

An entourage from the White House is on a foreign tour right now, and my social media feeds are full of humorous images like the ones I show here. Given my political leanings, I find them funny even while I recognize the gravity of the situations.

In truth, it is more than news reports and twitter jokes that bring what were once far away places into my living room. I’m not the only one in my family infected by the travel bug, and those I am closest to are often far away. These days, their photos catch my eye as I’m online.

Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to my own significant other as he heads to a foreign country for the first time without me. It is an exciting opportunity for him (and a great chance for me to get a lot of writing done.) But he is a reluctant traveler, and the ease with which he heads off reminds me of how much smaller and more comfortable the world has become. Places that once seemed incredibly remote are now merely “two plane rides away” and “a trip I hope to make someday.”

Is a shrinking world a good thing? We now feel the pain of distant events in new ways. The sorrow they cause is difficult, the increased desire to help is laudable.  I was searching for a video of a song to convey that feeling, to stand in contrast to the various videos of “Far Away Places” that I posted on my other blogs.

I found this instead and realized that it was perfect.  Maybe that’s because it’s about the way the world could be. Or maybe, it’s about the way it really is and we just tend to forget..

 

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door, Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, Caring About Far Away Places and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

Is it over yet?

I admit it. At least once a day now I type “election news” into my search engine and hold my breath. I can’t help myself; it’s a little like not averting my eyes from a traffic accident as I pass by. Now what, I mutter as I clench my muscles while the headlines roll in.

stressedImagine my stressed-out surprise today when the second news item was about how much stress this election is causing us all. Yes, according to ABC News nearly half ( 46 percent) of likely voters “describe the election as a source of stress in their lives, including roughly equal numbers of Clinton and Trump supporters. Nearly a quarter, again among both candidates’ camps, say the stress is serious.”

Well, it looks like we finally all have one thing in common and you’ve got to love what it is. We all can’t wait for this thing to end.

Because I can’t do anything to make November 8 come any faster, I’m thinking about what I can do to try to make November 9 better. The best thing I can think of is to can say this.

Please vote.

Whatever you believe or don’t believe, no matter how much you do or don’t like the choices in front of you, we are all going to feel better on November 9 if this election has the greatest percentage of registered voter turn-out ever. We’ve all heard all sides, more times than we wish, but if many of us hide under the couch that day then we will all have to wonder if the outcome reflects the difficult choice that the majority of our people would have made if forced to choose.

Yes, many of us aren’t going to be completely happy about everything. That doesn’t mean we should not weigh in on the real choices before us. And yes, roughly half of us are going to have to work hard to understand what in the world the other half was thinking. I remain hopeful that everyone, myself included, is capable of making that important effort and moving forward.

Florence and the MachineWhile dealing with my own stress, I’m also in the process of looking at the last song referred to in each of my books. This sort of thing keeps me entertained. Because d4 is in part a book about working for the greater good, and finding the balance between that and ones own desires, my hero Ariel goes through much as she struggles to do what is right. As it all comes together in the end, I have her listening to one of my favorite songs, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”.

But because everything takes me back to politics these days, playing the video that I link to in the electronic version of the book makes me think hard about this particular election. If you haven’t heard the song in awhile, check out this from the 2009 British musical event called “T4 on the Beach. ” It does a wonderful job of showcasing lead singer Florence Welch, a nice job of capturing the crowd and even a decent job a making you feel like you are on the beach outside of Somerset, England. And in spite of all of its Brexit issues, right now England seems like a relatively peaceful place to be.

Because “Dog Days are Over” makes my personal list of top ten favorite songs ever, I smiled the entire time I wrote the scene of Ariel’s rescue and the comfort provided to her by this music. Enjoy a short except below, and then, don’t forget to vote. The dog days will be over soon.

(From Chapter 28) Ariel thought that the beautiful small Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður would now always be one of her favorite places on Earth. As Toby’s rented speedboat made its way to the barren, snow covered docks in the deepening afternoon twilight, the many wooden buildings stood out in the remaining light, beaconing with the offer of comfort.

It had been difficult to hear each other as Toby used the expertise he had gained from years at sea to speed them safely back to Iceland, so talk on the trip back to shore had been minimal. Rather, Mikkel had gently placed earbuds in her cold ears, and then put his own dry, warm hat over her head while he played a song for her. It was Florence and the Machine singing their anthem of happiness “Dog Days are Over.” The message that her ordeal had finally ended sunk in as she enjoyed the music. Fatigue and emotion took over, and she let herself cry in relief.

Rooms were available at the small hotel in town. Better yet, there was a liquor store, and—bless these fine people—it was open too. The thoroughly chilled, damp foursome received food and care, and warm, dry clothes all around. Thankfully, they were asked remarkably few questions about why they had needed to rent a boat this time of year in the first place, or why two people had left the harbor in the morning and four people had returned before nightfall.

 (For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be Alright,  Our brand is crisis?, and We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much)

Bulletproof

Every so often one finds a song that they really like the first time they hear it, and they still like it dozens if not hundreds of times later. I’ve got a few of those, and La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is one. So when I was assembling my largely-female-indie-artist playlist for d4, I was delighted when my music expert recommended it.

Why so much love for this song? It’s always hard to say why you like something. I’m a “words” person when it comes to music, and the lyrics are just so clever. You’ve met this guy. You know this lady. You’ve seen the dynamics. But it’s more than that. The very concept of being bulletproof appeals to something deep within. It doesn’t just mean being immune to his manipulations. It also means not being afraid of icy ski slopes or catty store clerks or traveling alone. The lyrics speak to me about being stronger; for the next presentation at work, for the next nasty book review, for the next thing that strikes fear into me whatever it is.

Yet it is more than the lyrics. The infectious beat and sing along melody is part of what make it all work for me. I found this video from a live performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 2010 and it captures every bit of that. I can hardly keep from waving my arms along with the crowd while I watch.

No, I can’t explain why I like this song so much. But I hope you enjoy it too, as well as the short excerpt from d4 showing how I mentioned the song in my book.

She decided to take Friday off work, and Eoin did not object.

“Any special plans?” he asked.

“No. Just preparing,” she said. He didn’t ask for more.

The day turned out to be one of those unusual winter days when the sky is bright blue and the temperature climbs into the sixties. Ariel smiled at her good fortune as she took the little car the company leased for her and headed north out of Dublin, planning to drive for as long as it sounded good, and then to stop and do yoga somewhere along the shore.

Ireland doesn’t have much in the way of sandy beaches. Much of the coast is ancient granite and volcanic remains, and much of its rocky core is old limestone, formed from the remains of tiny sea creatures that led happy lives nearly half a billion years ago, back when Ireland was located near the equator and no mammal had yet set foot on the Earth. Ariel reached for her music, and spent a minute picking her song. She decided on “Bulletproof” by La Roux; it was the perfect choice.

 She drove far enough to find a rocky bit of shore that was deserted, spread out her mat, and worked on clearing her mind. The poses came to her in a random sequence, without thought. The table. The cat. The bow. The plough.

Her goal was to calm down, and gather her strength. To make herself as bulletproof as possible.

Downward dog into a cobra into a sun salute and repeat it again. Warrior poses. Low warrior. Warrior two. Warrior three. She had skills, she had advantages, and she had back-up. She finished her routine concentrating on balance, holding a strong tree pose while she gazed at the far horizon.

She was ready. Now, she needed to go do what needed to be done.

You can also listen to or buy La Roux’s “Bulletproof” at Amazon.

Coincidence? I think not.

“I don’t believe in coincidence.” Hard-boiled detectives say it, new age psychics say it, and conspiracy fans whisper it while glancing behind them. My own philosophy tends towards the interconnections of things, so I echo the thought too. No where in my life is the strange interrelationship of information more apparent than when I do research for my books.

coincidenceEach of my novels has been boosted by my own discovery of one or more connections that I found amazing. Southerners really fled to Belize after the civil war hoping to form a new confederacy? And I’m in the middle of a novel about the civil war and modern Belize? Wow. The nation of Kiribati once straddled the international date line? There actually are only two roads into Bhutan?

My crazy excitement as I discover facts that aid and abet my convoluted plots has become a familiar high now, and it remains one of the reasons I continue to write. I’m finally back to creating the sixth and final novel in my 46. Ascending collection and the plot thickens as my research goes on. Some connections will become central to the story, others will be trimmed down to a mere mention or less. But the discovery of them all leaves me high.

Equally delightful is finding connections between the stories in my books., because the collection always was meant to be about the surprising and even beautiful way that parts of life intertwine.  I dealt with one such example today.

spirit science 3I always run the names of my characters through a search engine. When I was writing y1 and I wanted my Kiribati-born fire-knife dancer to chose to call himself Afi, the Samoan word for fire, I checked it. Most references were to a San Francisco based musical group called AFI, short for “A Fire Inside”. Wonderful, I thought.  Maybe I can refer to their music in this book. So I listened to it.  It was haunting, filled with songs about cold and grey and winter and death. I liked it, I even liked some of it a lot.  But I didn’t think I had ever heard music less suited for a story about fire dancing in the South Pacific. So I put it aside.

Three years later I was writing d4, the story of a clairvoyant young woman facing life-altering challenges in Iceland and Greenland. As I searched for music to evoke the cold bleakness of her situation, AFI came to mind and their song “Love Like Winter” nestled its way onto her MP3 player. Here is a short excerpt from the scene.

(From Chapter 23) She fretted and dozed at the Reykjavik airport for more than five hours before her small plane finally took off into a cloud-filled night, with pockets of slightly warmer air causing it to bounce around mercilessly. Ariel turned on her trusty music, only to find herself listening to the old indie song “Love like Winter” by the San Francisco group AFI. It was good music, but it made her shiver in her seat as she held on tight to her armrest. She forced herself to search for a happy future premory, anything that would assure her that she would be alive in a week or two and need not worry.

Some of the far fringes returned nothing but blackness, and Ariel realized with a sinking feeling that those were futures in which she had ceased to exist. Very faint, unlikely, but planes did go down in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, and if you considered everything, then that future without her was there.

Once I referred to the song “Love Like Winter” in the book, I had to find the best video link.  I was so happy to discover this one of a live performance at Lollapalooza Brasil in June of 2014.  I love the passion of the band, and the passion of the crowd as well. I watched this video quite a few times, in fact, and liked it better each time. I now have to say, I think that “A Fire Inside” is the perfect name for these musicians.

You can buy AFI’sLove like Winter” at Amazon.

 

Never Enough

Greedy characters in books and movies are usually the bad guys. So I find it odd that in real life many people are willing to overlook or even praise greed in their leaders. Why is it not okay in fiction to want more than you need, more than you can use, and even more than you can have without hurting others, and yet to some this becomes an admirable trait in the flesh?

I see some of these people and I just want to scream “Listen to him! He sounds like the villain in half the movies you saw last year.” But no one enjoys being screamed at, so I keep quiet and write about greed instead.

I enjoyed the Metric song “Gold, Guns, Girls” before I began my first draft of d4. As my character Baldur evolved and greed became his defining characteristic, I knew that this wonderful song had to become one of my hero Ariel’s favorites. It shows up like this in Chapter 20.

Once he was inside her apartment, he waited patiently. She wondered what his instructions were if she ran. She saw no point in finding out. Going to work for Baldur was exactly what she needed to do right now.

Once she boarded the plane, Ariel put her earbuds in and turned up her music. The last thing she wanted was to make polite conversation. She treated herself to every snack in the well stocked little jet, but forced herself to avoid the alcohol, tempting though it was. She needed to stay sharp.

A courteous co-pilot checked on her twice, but otherwise left her alone. She laughed aloud when Metric’s song about insatiable greed, “Gold Guns Girls,” came on and wished she had a set of speakers with her so that she could blast the song out for the whole plane to hear.

For my link to a performance of this song, I picked this concert in Montreal in 2012. It’s a simple, clean video of excellent quality, but my favorite thing about it is how well you can see Emily Haines’ face as she performs. She is a serious artist, but an occasional hint of smile let’s you see how much she is enjoying herself. It’s fun to watch.

You can also listen to or buy Metric’s “Gold Guns Girls”  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 mortality and the early rock classic “That’ll be the Day” at It’s never too late till it is on my blog for the novel c3.)

Carried Away

It is a world filled with those who seem to go crazy about everything from the inane (Emojis) to the disgusting (zombies, still? Yes, apparently. 2015 did see a movie called Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse).

So as I work my way through posting about the songs in d4, it was kind of refreshing to listen to lyrics about getting carried away by love. Or lust. Or even just complicated human emotion with no Emojis needed. I have to admit that the lyrics to Passion Pit’s “I Get Carried Away” aren’t totally clear to me, but I like the feel of the song, and many days that is more than enough.

From Chapter 18. “Fine.” Ariel’s tone was colder already, and they said very little while the valet got the car. “Was this whole weekend just so you’d have something to do while you waited for this meeting?” she asked as she pulled out into traffic.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I brought plenty of work with me,” he said, immediately realizing that perhaps that had not been the best response. “Ariel, this has been the best two days I have had in a long, long time, and that is the truth. I had no idea that this was going to happen when I told Cillian I’d stick around for this Sunday evening get-together.”

He gave her a helpless look but she ignored it, turning her music up instead so that it was plenty loud enough to prevent any further conversation. Unfortunately the song that happened to be playing was Passion Pit’s new hit “Carried Away.” Ariel liked the song, but today the lyrics hit too close to home. Mikkel didn’t say another word, but she saw him smiling as she changed the song in irritation.

I was impressed by this simple yet well done video of Passion Pit performing “I Get Carried Away” at Lollapalooza Chile 2013. You get nice close-ups of the performers and also a few chances to enjoy the energy of the crowd  responding to the music.

I also like this far more widely circulated video of Passion Pit performing “I Get Carried Away” on Saturday Night Live in October of 2012.  It’s fun as well, with close-ups of all the band members as their love of music (and their lack of showiness) come through.

Finally, you can also listen to or buy Passion Pit’s “Carried Away” here at Amazon.