And That’s Why They Play the Game

red-soxWe are traveling during the final games of the regular baseball season, and it’s causing my husband a great deal of hardship. His beloved Red Sox have been on fire, winning eleven games in a row, and he has had to content himself with replays seen on my computer and games viewed on a small screen in the middle of the night. Worse yet, no one here in Europe cares.

So it has fallen to me, as a good travel companion, to listen each morning to the endless remaining permutations of possibilities for Red Sox success. Over one breakfast, Boston had at least secured a wildcard slot. By another, they had to lose every single remaining game to not win their division. Various future scenarios offer home field advantages, and each loss by other successful teams in the division changes the formula. The configuration even left him temporarily rooting for the hated Yankees this weekend as they played a team close on Boston’s heels.

I don’t really care about baseball, but I do care about him, so I try to pay attention while he speaks. Still, my mind wanders.

riverWe’ve been on the road nearly two weeks now and in a macro sense the vacation has gone as planned.  You know, we’ve shown up where we were supposed to be, when we were supposed to be there. No glitches. But that’s sort of like the Red Sox showing up to play their games, isn’t it? Yes, being there is essential, but it is the other stuff that makes it interesting.

Who could have predicted that the Douro Valley would be such a frustrating place to drive that we would be content to make several dinners out of our breakfast leftovers rather than brave the roads? Who could have guessed that a full moon rising over the Portuguese countryside would inspire us so much with its beauty?

One might have guessed that the GPS would get us into trouble, but who would have thought we’d manage to high center our rental car so thoroughly on a tiny mountain road that it would have to picked up by hand and moved? I certainly didn’t see that one coming.

p-seaNor did I imagine the twenty or so whales we got to watch playing in the late afternoon sunlight of a boat tour, or the wonderful custard-filled tarts that are everywhere. I didn’t know that hot coffee in a big cup would be quite that impossible to find or that a single difficult-to-use espresso machine could frustrate so many half-awake people at once. Why is the air circulation here so bad? Why is the bread here so good?

The original idea for my novel d4, outlined many years ago, was that everyone at some point in the future develops prescience, and they all know what tomorrow will bring, as well as the next year and the next decade. Every human understands how they will die, and when. My overall thesis was that this society would be sad and bored.

My feelings about predestination and freewill have changed a lot in the decades since I thought this one up, and I like to think that my story telling abilities have improved also. I recognize now that such a tale would be hard to tell well and I like the array of my partially prescient characters in d4 much better. But the original story idea has me thinking.

roadIn an hour or so, Boston is going to play New York, and they might clinch the title in their division. Computer models have them likely to win by three points, and odds makers are favoring Boston heavily. You don’t have to be a sports fan to recognize that in spite of this, the Red Sox might well lose tonight. Because of that, my husband can’t wait to watch the game.

And a year from now, the things I will remember most about this trip will be all the wonderful and the difficult things that surprised me. They will be what made the trip interesting. Tonight, I’m thinking about how we don’t show up just to be somewhere. We show up to find out what happens once we arrive.

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria on my x0 blog, and The Moon Rises on my c3 blog,)

 

 

 

Prepare for the worst?

I’ve always been a believer in “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” I suspect that is why my monkey mind is staging a quiet revolt today in my yoga class.

The instructor says “be totally present in the now.” This is a common prompt for anything involving meditation, but the problem starts when he takes it one step further and asks us to reflect on what keeps us from doing so.

dream“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.

“You don’t just worry,” it says. “You prepare. You plan ahead. Those fantasy scenes you love to invent allow you to try on various scenarios and practice problem solving before it is crucial to your survival.”

“You mean I’m not a day dreamer and chronic worrier?”

“You probably are that too,” my monkey mind concedes.  It tends not to sugar coat things for me. “But if you never let yourself live in the future, you wouldn’t make plans. You’d pay a ton more for airfare, and find every Bed and Breakfast you ever want to stay in is sold out. Admit it, you do more if you plan, and you do it better.” Monkey mind is convincing and I’m thinking maybe this yoga instructor has it all wrong and I should be living more in the future, not less.

evolver 1“So you’re going to turn into one of those crazy survivalists who waste their life and resources stockpiling a cellar to live in in case the word falls apart?” I appear to have grown a second monkey mind, and this one is having none of this focus-on-the-future argument.

“You can prepare without paranoia,” the first monkey shoots back.

“You can plan ahead while still being in the here and now,” the second one retorts.

“You can have this discussion later,” my inner self says firmly. Both monkeys disappear, along with the dreams and worries that matter so much to them. I breath slowly. For just this moment, tomorrow will take care of itself.

My character Ariel has a special relationship with the future, having an innate ability to see the most probable outcomes in front of her. It doesn’t stop her from worrying either, as this excerpt from d4 shows.

“I am glad I met you,” he said. With that he turned and left the little conference room quickly, like he needed to use the restroom badly or had just remembered an important call he had to make. Ariel watched him go in silence, as the remaining board members left still talking among themselves, oblivious to the bit of drama that had just occurred.

There was no question that Baldur had just set off the most unusual premories that Ariel had ever experienced. Ariel considered whether it was because the man would somehow play an important role in her life. Was it possible that he too had her curse? On the other hand, she had been so shook that she might have imagined his response to her. Finding another person with precognitions like her own was incredibly unlikely. Ariel had decided long ago that what she could do had to be very rare, or the world would be so different.

So she needed to get a grip, and do her job and stop worrying about this future stuff. She needed to become far more familiar with exactly what Baldur’s professional needs were and do her best to see that her firm met them. She thought that it would also be a good idea to find a way to avoid touching him ever again.

(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 my never ending focus on performing tasks — see my post Frittering life away? on my c3 blog. And find out what my yoga instructor thought the problem was at Are you performing, or performing? on my y1 blog.)

A radio wave is that long?

emsRadioWavesOne of the things about writing magical realism, at least the way that I do it, is that you are always trying to explain mystical, magical things in terms of believable science.  I am fascinated by this fuzzy boundary between the astonishment of the enchanted and the astonishment of what modern science tells us.

I had great fun learning more about the simple radio waves that keep me so entertained while I drive, and then tying this information into my theory of how precognition works. Enjoy the excerpt below, taken from a conversation held when my prescient hero Ariel first meets the Inuit Siarnaq, who shares her gift.

Then when you are done reading, let NASA tell you a few surprising things about radio waves.. 

“So we must be tuned to different frequencies!” Siarnaq continued on, pleased with his discovery. “You understand science. You understand radios.”

“I studied them in school, don’t remember much.”

“Well, I work a lot with radios. They are an important part of communication here in my world. Do you know how long a radio wave is?”

“Long. Like maybe feet long.” Ariel was pretty sure of that.

“You people still know what AM radio is?”

Ariel rolled here eyes. “Yeah. It’s the stations you turn to for sports.”

“Okay,” Siarnaq agreed. He pointed out the window. “The waves for AM radio are like from here to that building down the road.”

“Really? That big?”

“Your FM radio waves?” he went on. “More like just from me to you.”

Ariel got the analogy. “So I’m an FM radio seeing things more closely and you’re an AM radio seeing things further away. How cool is this? What are other waves? Microwaves? Longwave radio? Are there other kinds like us, but in other frequencies?”

“I don’t know,” Siarnaq shrugged. “Lots of other Inuit tell the future, but they all use tools for their fortune-telling, and no one seems as sure about their predictions as I am.”

Sneaky Weather Forecasters

iceI almost cancelled everything I had planned for today, thanks to the dire weather forecasts that began to appear yesterday. Freezing rain, freezing drizzle, wintry mix, snow turned to ice — you get the idea No matter what you call the stuff it wasn’t going to be good to drive on. And everything I needed and wanted to do today involved driving.

But I woke this morning to cloudy skies and no precipitation and thought “Those weather people have done it again. I should know better.” A quick peek at the revised hourly forecast showed that all my favorite climate prognosticators had snuck back onto the internet and revised their predictions overnight. The morning was to be no worse than cloudy, and I now had more like a fifty percent chance of either rain or freezing rain by mid afternoon.

end-is-nearTo me, this seemed a little like the prophets who predict the end of the world and then revise the date of the apocalypse when it fails to materialize on time.  The second time around It just isn’t as scary. So I grabbed my stuff and an extra jacket just in case and headed out to do the things that needed doing.

The morning went well and I was pretty proud of myself for not being intimidated, but by noon it began to change.  I charged ahead even though it was in the mid thirties and raining. By mid afternoon we had dropped into the twenties and whatever you chose to call the gunk falling from the sky, there was no question that it was starting to coat the road in a most unfortunate way.

zig ziggler 1I cursed the entire weather forecasting profession and my reaction to it and canned my last two errands and headed for home. I slid into the ditch as I turned into my subdivision and then I took a minute to reflect on the wisdom of ignoring  a well informed forecast.

In my novels, even people who have super powers that enable them to see the future do not see absolute certainties. Why should I expect the real-life non-prescient dweebs who extrapolate current climate conditions to be infallible? They give an educated guess, no more. The closer the event gets, the more educated the guess is. And the more it should be considered.

So next time I’ll listen to that updated forecast. At least, that’s what I promised myself as I barely caught the rail as I slid onto my front porch.

I’ll always be glad to see you

eyeDon’t be offended, but I’ll always be glad to see anyone. Or anything.

Last November I wrote a post called I see what you mean in which I described my eye problems over the last year or two and how they have made me aware of how much I rely on vision. Metaphors of vision for knowledge (I see what you mean) and experiences (travel and see the world) abound for good reason. Worse yet, while I know it is technically possible to write fiction without my sight, I can’t imagine doing so.

Why am I writing about this again? Well, the itching discomfort has returned and no amount of eye drops is helping anymore. I hate going to the doctor. I dislike medicines. Yet the the problem is becoming too big to ignore, so I have an appointment Wednesday. And I don’t want to go.

27-Courage-17We are back to the old issue of uncertainty, and oh if we could only see the future. Maybe the problem is minor.  I should go and get this off my mind already. Maybe it is major and time is not my friend. If I get my butt in there, the outcome may be better. And maybe it is awful and my life will never be as good after Wednesday in which case I’d rather just not go. Except for this eye thing, my life is pretty good now and there is a big temptation not to mess that up.

What to do? If only I had my character Ariel’s gift  for seeing the future. But of course, Ariel sees probabilities not outcomes. Maybe the best she could do is say it is like 50% they don’t find anything wrong and give me stronger eye drops or some other such trivial thing, maybe 30% I really need something done fast and I’ll be so glad I went and let’s say 20% I’m screwed.

What do you do with that kind of knowledge anyway? Now if Ariel could tell me there was a 99% chance of the first two outcome, that would be helpful. I’d go to the damn appointment and get this done. Or if she could see a 99% chance that Wednesday starts a downward spiral in my life that I never pull out of, then I think I’d just go for a walk instead.

Do you see what I mean? I write stories about superpowers and the otherwise typical humans who have them. I spend a lot of time wondering how those superpowers would actually work. Precognition that sounds like a weather forecast and is about as useful isn’t much of a superpower at all, is it? But insight into a future that is nearly determined would be helpful indeed.

danceI think I’m back to Schrödinger’s poor cat, existing in her box both dead and alive until someone takes off the lid and the universe must go one way or the other.

Today, I’m a woman who is slowly going blind and I am a woman with a minor but chronic eye irritation. Tomorrow, I’ll be the same. On Wednesday, however,  a very nice optometrist will take the lid off my box and then he and I will know.

I wonder if Schrödinger’s cat was smart enough to be frightened when she heard the person coming to take off the lid?

The Oddest Predictions for 2016

This is a blog about seeing the future, and all of the lovely, messy ramifications of anyone being able to do so. Therefore, it only makes sense to take a good look at some of the more interesting predictions for 2016.

Who makes these forecasts? Everyone from self-proclaimed psychics to extrapolating news analysts have weighed in on what 2016 is likely to bring. The following prognosticators were selected based on their popularity, using a simple test. I typed “predictions 2016” into my favorite search engine and looked at everything that showed up in the first two pages that wasn’t about predicting entertainment awards or sports team successes. (Surely we can agree that both of those are another whole subcategory of seeing the future.)

spirit science 2Then I picked the prediction or two from each that I found to be the most interesting. A surprising number of everyone’s predictions were just sort of what you’d expect. Things like “global unrest will continue” or “men’s suits will remain cut close to the body” abound. So, just for fun, let’s look at the predictions that were, well, less predictable.

Dr. Carmen Harra, a best-selling author and clinical psychologist, goes out on a limb predicting that North and South Korea will join forces soon and that a global event in 2016 “will ask people to step out of their homes and march through the streets” resulting in an unprecedented protest.

Fortune magazine mostly focuses on stock market and other business predictions but steps out of their comfort zone to suggest that 2016 will be a great year for advocates of legalized marijuana, and for scientific advances in addressing Alzheimer’s disease. They also predict further rises in the price of almonds, of avocados and chocolate. (I’m okay with the almonds but nooooooo, not avocados and chocolate.)

Balkan prophetess Baba Vanga has predicted that next year we will see the end of Europe as we know it. According to Vanga,  Europe will cease to exist in 2016 and the continent will lose almost all of its population.

Writers at Forbes took a step away from their usual focus on money matters to make a series of predictions in the world of physics. Many were esoteric, but readers of science fiction will appreciate the prophecy that 2016 will bring the first direct detection of gravitational waves. Note that this is one of the last unverified predictions of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and it could lead eventually to successful human attempts to manipulate this most poorly understood force. So, if you’ve been waiting for the real hover boards that use anti-gravity to float in the air, if Forbes is correct, there is hope.

Business Insider took a stab at predicting men’s fashions, declaring that in 2016 men’s hair will start to get longer, the man-bun trend will die the slow death it deserves, and most guys will have something they wear on their wrists every day in 2016.

The Atlantic predicted that the renewable-energy sector will grow rapidly in the year ahead and the fact that we can now instantly access all of humanity’s collective intelligence with a small device pulled from our pockets will finally start making society more productive in 2016.

Psychic Jeanne Mayell and her students predict refugee riots in Europe, the U.S. military going into Syria, and the Pope becoming ill and possibly (but hopefully not) dying.

cosmic conduitThe Washington Post focuses on U.S. politics and at least one writer there predicted that at some point this year, we’ll see President Obama truly lose his cool, and we will see conservatives turn on Paul Ryan. Furthermore, the Post carried a prediction that Donald Trump will become a news analyst after his bid for the presidency fails.

A UK psychic blog predicts a massive earthquake in Himalayas, a Japanese island sinking beneath the sea, and a comet/asteroid that is missed by most astronomical observatories and comes close to Earth.

Chris Cillizza, writer of “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post, predicts that fusion will emerge as a viable long-term alternative energy source in 2016, and R&D biotech company Calico will become the world’s hottest company. He goes on to forecast that the markets for drones, driverless vehicles and industrial robots will boom. Ominously, he also predicts that Ted Koppel’s “Lights Out,” which makes the case that a major cyber attack on America’s power grid is likely, will prove prophetic.

The sources of all of these forecasts are quick to point out how difficult it is to get predictions right. Chris Cillizza wrote “it’s worth recalling the prescient words of economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith: There are two types of forecasters: those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know.” He added “I’ll let you decide which I am.”

The author of the UK psychic blog demurred that “I am fallible – and our skeptical friends will quickly highlight anything I get wrong – so do not be fearful of the future or see these predictions as inevitable. I get a lot right but some wrong too.”

My favorite, however, was the writer for the Washington Post who concluded with “I’m extrapolating outward from what I know now, and I predict that this prediction is wrong.”

For more year end fun consider whether it really is an honor to be person of the year, read about my best New Year’s resolution yet,  take a look at the top women of 2016 and catch 2016 plans for world peace.

The Future of Christmas

treeI write speculative fiction because asking “what if” is my favorite form of mental entertainment. Today I bought a Christmas tree, and a gift for a child I’ll never meet, and I started the process of figuring out what to buy for my own already well-supplied family.  While standing in line to pay, the speculative part of my brain kicked in, and I began to wonder what Christmas would be like in a hundred years, or even two. In my novel d4, I try to get my readers to think 337 years into the future, all the way to the year 2352. So then, what do you think Christmas will be like in 2352?

  1. Will there be such a holiday? Will the world have moved away from organized religion and its celebrations entirely? I know many Christians worry that someday there will only be a secular holiday season. If church attendance world-wide continues to drop, maybe this could happen. Or perhaps another religion will manage to convert so much of humanity that its traditions will replace Christian ones much the way Christian customs wiped out pagan celebrations. It could be an existing religion, I suppose, but I think something so sweeping would almost have to be something entirely new that takes hold over the next hundred years. What do you think? Is this possible?
  2. Will there even be humans left to celebrate it? You know: asteroids, aliens, computers taking over, epidemics, nuclear war and so on. Or will the humans who are left be far to concerned with mere survival to celebrate anything?
  3. On the other hand, maybe human existence has become so easy and pleasant that the need for holidays is all but gone. Every day is party day when your replicator can make you anything you want for free, you know. Christmas could be something history buffs remember, back when there were needs and wants.
  4. Perhaps the trend to commercialism continues, with the world’s yearly economy now dependent on the population of earth overspending every December. Perhaps laws dictate how much each family must spend as a minimum. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which the ads start in February, and the decorations go up in August. By October the gift-giving slackers begin receiving notices from the state.
  5. Then again, maybe Christmas is much the same as it is now, except we finally get hover boards and flying cars. About time.

What I do know is that those who try to predict the future by extrapolating from the present make poor predictions. All of my above scenarios are extrapolations, and sure to be off of the mark. Check out this paragraph from d4:

Baldur stared out of his office window, considering black swans. Not real black swans, of course, but the theory for which they stood. As a man well schooled in all types of economics, Baldur was acutely aware of the occasional occurrence of an event that was outside of the realm of normal expectations and yet appeared so obvious in hindsight. He knew these metaphorical black swans by definition went on to produce significant consequences, and they were thought by some theorists to in fact be what drove human history.

I’ve come to agree that “Black Swans” are the main agents of changing the future in significant ways. Whatever December 25, 2352 is going to look like on earth, the big differences between now and then will be due to things that have not occurred to you and I, and yet will appear very obvious in hindsight.

One other way to try to imagine what sorts of changes 337 years could bring would be to look harder at a Christmas Day 337 years ago. I couldn’t find much specifically from 1678, but I found this wonderful excerpt from The Painter’s Apprentice, a book by historical fiction writer Charlotte Bettes. It is from her December 2012 post called Christmas in 1687, on her blog which is simply called simply Charlotte Bettes. Please check it out and contrast the day she describes with your own celebrations this year. How different is it, really? And do you think the characters in her story could possibly have predicted those differences? No, I don’t think they could have either.

For other slightly offbeat looks at Christmas, see my posts “Christmas is Not about Love, but“, “The Women of Christmas” and “Duct Tape and Christmas Cards.”

 

I see what you mean

eyeAm I glad to see you. As a matter of fact, I’m glad to see anyone.  Or any thing. You see (no pun intended) I’ve been having some trouble with my eyes lately. They’ve had a rough five years or so, with my squinting at a computer screen all day in my office and then coming home and squinting at a screen while I wrote.  To add to the problem, I thought I was too busy to get my eyes checked and about a year ago my barely adequate glasses become totally inadequate.

Nature does have ways to talk to us however. My eyes started to hurt and I’d see little flashes of light sometimes and guess what? Then I found the time to get to an eye doctor. He prescribed some strong computer glasses and supported my getting special yellow lenses to help with the overdoses of blue light I was getting and, as far as I could see, things got better.

Then, I moved and they started to get worse again. At least, the pain in one eye returned along with an annoying itching, mostly at night. So I sought out a new optometrist who listened to my saga and spent a lot of time looking at my eyeball. It appeared that somewhere along the way I’d scratched my cornea, and I’d treated my eyes so badly ever since that it had not healed. So I got put on a regimen of eye drops and ointments. Both of my eyes like this attention and feel better, although my symptoms haven’t totally subsided.  I see the eye doctor again in February.

The experience has made me see how much I rely on my eyes. I live in the country and need to drive for groceries, along with everything else but air and water. I live to write, and while I know there are ways to write fiction without vision, I’m not sure I could ever manage them. I’ve put a lot of recent effort into fixing up my new home. Much of it has been to make it look nice, for me, and to emphasize its mountain views that I love. Would I even want to live here if I could not see? The other thing I yearn for is to travel and see the world. Would I even want to go if I was blind?

I had reason to consider some of this when I was trying to describe Ariel’s gift as I wrote d4.  She sees the future. To me, that means that she literally sees images in her head. Of course, someone blind from birth could also have knowledge of the future. This lead me to consider whether Ariel simply saw things, or knew things as well.  They say that “seeing is believing” but we all know that seeing and knowing are two different things. I decided that Ariel did both. By the end of d4 blindness became an element of the story I was telling, in ways I had not expected.

AuggieWhile I was writing d4, I was also enjoying a TV show called Covert Affairs and one of my favorite characters in it was Auggie, a CIA agent who was blinded while on a mission in Iraq. I was moved by the way that the character combined his frustration with strength and competence. He never made blindness seem easy or trivial, but he also showed how those without sight can contribute and enjoy life.

Now that I’ve given some serious thought to how important my eyes are to me, I’m resolved to take better care of them. They are going to get rest, and good glasses and time off the computer and all the eye drops they want. But, as I see it, it also won’t hurt to let Auggie inspire me a little, letting him take the edge of my fear of going blind.  Better care. Less paranoia. Both should make a difference, right? I hope so. We’ll see ….

 

Save “Minority Report”, an intelligent look at seeing the future in the future

surfing rainbowsThe little boy in the desk next to me in first grade insisted that there were other earths. I thought that the little boy was cute but crazy, and I went to the school library to investigate his strange claim. Yup, these things were called “planets” and they were real. Wow. Who would have thought. My attraction to him only lasted another month or so, but I have been fascinated by outer space and by science fiction ever since.

Today, I have a degree and years of work experience in the field of science. When it comes to reading and writing, science fiction is my first and greatest love, even though I am probably overly critical of sci-fi based on bad science. Mind you, I don’t object to no science. If the writer gives me a soul searching story of love and growth and in the process invokes a barely explained phenomenon called, I don’t know, whiskey holes and they are what allow the story to happen, I’ll go with it. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. What I can’t handle is explanations that are just plain stupid or wrong.

For example: the Back to the Future movies. Fun, but such bad science. The universe doesn’t get unraveled by time travelers. People vanishing into nothingness as their adolescent parents consider not marrying does not fit with modern physics of the past fifty years. In fact, most of the time when the story involves either predicting the future, or traveling to the past or future, modern science gets thrown under the bus to accommodate improbable plots.

I’ve been pleased to run across a few television exceptions recently, and then been distressed to discover that the ratings people do not share my tastes. Last year I found the short lived show “Almost Human” to be a fascinating look at the near future. It brought both brains and heart to the question of when does artificial intelligence become a life form and not a machine. What a shame it was cancelled, while sillier shows with more action or name recognition were kept.

This year, I was dubious about a TV series based on “Minority Report”, an okay film of several years ago. The pilot episode quickly established that the writers had found a clever way to pick up the story years later. While some things, like clothing, show a suspicious lack of change, other elements like the ubiquitous advertising, are clever and ring true. Episodes are spiced with amusing references to the past, like the photo of Obama that shows up on the money.

minority-reportThe plot itself revolves around the three “precognitives” once used by the police to predict and stop murders before they happened. Freed and given new lives, the three precogs part ways in a believable fashion. One uses his gifts for wealth and pleasure, one remains hidden and fearful, and the third is driven to help people. This last precog, Dash, joins forces with a cop and is the hero of the series.

I gave the original movie bonus points for postulating that the near future is almost set in stone but not completely. The possibly that a would-be murderer might change his or her mind at the last minute is the basis of the famed minority reports that the police chose to ignore in the movie. In the TV version, this probability curve idea plays a larger role, as Dash and his newfound friends set out achieve a less likely outcome than murder, time after time.

I really like how there is no angst about altering timelines. No one starts to vanish into thin air because Dash has changed the future. The writers understand that a lot of different things can happen and only the most likely one is murder. I appreciate that the show keeps this clean and simple, much as I believe the universe does.

I was hopeful that this series would continue to provide intelligent food for thought about both our near future and about how seeing ahead into the future might work. However, once again whoever rates sci-fi shows on TV has different tastes. Ratings are low and falling according to a fascinating blog about science fiction TV likely to be cancelled. I don’t know how one goes about trying to save a show, but this post is my contribution. If you like thoughtful sci-fi and haven’t seen Minority Report yet, consider watching it. And if your TV set is one of the few used to determine what shows live and die, please, just turn it on to Fox on Monday night  9 PM EST. You’ll be doing the rest of us a big favor.

Putting your mother’s fears to good use

Ariel is in her mid-twenties and is adept at yoga. I’ve practiced a much simpler version most of my life, and only recently begun to explore the art more. I’m now taking classes, learning to breathe better, to chant, to try harder positions, and to be open to the unexpected.

There was such a surprise on Friday. “We’re going to go back to when you were in the womb.”

“We’re going to what?”

Apparently I was attending a class for a branch of yoga that believes that we inherent issues from our ancestors in general, and from our mother in particular during gestation. In fairness, maybe all branches of yoga believe this, I’m not sure.  Anyway, the goal of today’s session was to heal some of the problems arising from our pre-birth experiences.

“That’s ridiculous,” the cynic in my head says.

“Oh be open,” I reply. “Give this a try.”

As my breathing slows, becoming deeper and more regular, I recognize that I do know quite a lot about my mother’s state of mind when she was carrying me. She was afraid, very afraid that she would lose me. She’d had two miscarriages already, and she and my dad had begun talking about adoption.

I feel her fear. I breathe. I tell her it’s going to be okay, I will be her first child.

zig ziggler 2But wait. She’s scared about more. She’s scared that I will be born, and will change her life in ways that do not entice her. She’s never particularly liked babies, and she feels bad about this. She has a job she loves, directing the content at the local radio station.  She’s good at it too, and obviously will be quitting soon. Some guy not half as capable as her will take over, and get to do all day what she loves.

She adores my dad and their dates, she loves to dress up and fix her hair to look like Liz Taylor and go out to dinner and have “highballs”. She likes trying to be glamorous, she’s driven to have a lifelong love affair with my father. A baby is not going to make that any easier.

Oddly enough, I am not at all bothered by her ambivalence at my arrival.  It makes sense to me. When I had my own children, I was conflicted about work and child-raising, but I had choices.  She has none and it seems a shame. I understand why a part of her dreads my birth. I want to tell her that much of it will be okay.  She will come to love me, she will do a reasonably good job of raising me, and decades later we will be friends. She’ll never get back her career, but she will keep my dad’s love and do many other interesting things.

I tell her that I think she should let go of the guilt about the way she feels. Unfortunately, I also know that wrapped in that guilt is another layer of fear. She is afraid that her lack of enthusiasm is somehow causing the miscarriages. She is driven to please my father, and having children is very important to him. If she loses me, she strikes out for that magical third time. She will be deemed not capable of producing his child, as they move on to adoption. The adoption will really be for him, because she is even less excited about the prospect of raising the child of another woman than she is about raising her own. But she will do it, for him, even though she is afraid that she will do it poorly and that he will think less of her because of her failures.  So much fear, so much worry.

“It’s really going to be okay,” I tell her. “You’ll have a second daughter eighteen months later.” I know that problems in that pregnancy will convince her not to try for more, but my father will adore his two children and be content. Raised in a highly patriarchal rural culture, he will insist that he has the perfect family and he will instill confidence in his two daughters and give them every opportunity. I will benefit greatly.

“See? It’s all going to be okay,” I assure my pregnant mother.

“You never lose the emotions that overwhelmed your mother while she was carrying you,” the instructor says. “But you can learn to work with them, and mitigate them.”

Seriously? Okay, maybe I am a little inclined to worry. I do fret a bit about all the possibilities. In fact, when I wrote about Ariel’s premories and how the futures she sees the near fringes of probability cause her distress, I was thinking about my own tendencies to imagine less than likely possibilities and get concerned about them. “You know, a tornado could come through and blow that thing over.” That sort of thing.

Good grief.  Am I life long worrier because of my poor mom? That seems a very unfair thing to lay at her feet.

True voice 7Of course, all that worrying about the outliers is where my stories originate. Every plot, and every plot twist, comes from the same part of me that frets about finding a bear in the woods. The instructor has moved on and in fact the entire class is moving into the restful meditative savasana pose that finishes each class.

I know that I am now supposed to clear my mind. Let my thoughts turn into wisps of clouds that move on in a bright blue sky. But I have one thing I need to say first.

“Mom. Just in case this guy is right and you’re the source of these crazy worry stories that fill my head and my life and my books, I just want you to know that I’m putting all those fears of yours to really good use. So thank you.”

That’s it. On to wisps of clouds and blue sky and total relaxation.