Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know

We are all human, analog creatures, never completely this or that, and we all slide in and out our of better selves as we make our path in this world.

Every so often I write something I like. I reread it and think I’m not sure where that came from but that’s profound. Then it passes, of course, and I go on writing normal stuff.

I had that experience when the lead sentence here showed up while I recently wrote a post about world peace for my qigong instructor and friend at Flowing Zen. None of us are completely this or that, and it’s worth remembering in our current heated political climate. It’s also worth remembering as we each reach inward, embracing ourselves for what we are.

What I am is a worrier, among other things, and I know in my heart that it is tied to my story-telling abilities. If you want a mind that makes up exciting scenarios from everyday events, well then, you get a mind that sees exploding cars, intricate scams and paranoid plots around every corner.

But there are limits to how much worrying a healthy person can do, and, to be honest, recent events in the international arena have catapulted my concerns to an unhealthy level. That’s where coping mechanisms come in.

Last November, I developed a new habit to calm my mind. I already do qigong, which is wonderful for creating calm, and I do a good bit of yoga as well. Gardening helps also. But sometimes I’m sitting at my computer and I read something disturbing and I need a quick reboot without leaving my seat. Sort of an “instant calm.”

And that’s when I play solitaire. I go to the World of Solitaire site, zip through a two minute game while breathing deeply, and somehow I’ve trained myself to emerge calmer. I don’t know why it works, but for me it does.

“Where do you the get the ideas for what happens in your stories?” It is a question I get asked. Okay, I do get many ideas from the things I worry about happening. But every once in awhile, I am able to get one from something that kept me from worrying, like in the scene below.

I got a real kick out of how my psychic hero Ariel finally sorted out a particularly complicated set of future probabilities. I hope you enjoy it too.

She wandered back into the hut she shared with Teddie and Vanida, and sat the kitchen table. She was trying to save the last bit of battery on her phone and her computer, so she aimlessly dealt out a hand of solitaire from a deck of cards that had been provided. She had played the game years ago on a computer, which made it more fun because it was easy for the player to redo moves.

But this would work to relax her. She started the game, doing the obvious first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which of your important choices will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

She kept dealing and thinking and replaying and after awhile she wasn’t so much paying attention to the cards as she was in a sort of trance. Teddie was the Two of Clubs and her mom was the Queen of Hearts and for some reason she was the Nine of Spades. The man who ran Reel News was the King of Diamonds, of course, but there were two of them; no, not really, the Jack of Diamonds was pretending to be the King which made no sense.

The worst of it was that the Ten of Clubs was trying to get that Jack to kill Queen of Hearts who could only be saved by the King but he wouldn’t know it and the Jack of Hearts who was Nell could stop the King of Diamonds but only if the Queen of Clubs who was Yuden did some random thing she probably would not do.

Ariel leaned forward and put her head between her knees and took deep breaths until the dizziness subsided. She could do this, use this, to see the arbitrary combinations and how the little things worked together in ways in she’d never understood before.

She dealt again. And again. A different sense of how events tied together began to connect for her as she used the cards to sort out a complex tapestry that would have confused her logical mind.

After awhile Camille came in and lit the gas lamp, saying nothing. A little later Fernando brought her a sandwich. She mumbled thanks but never touched it. She just kept playing.

Not long after Teddie and Vanida tiptoed by her as they went to bed. Sleep came early in a world without electricity. By then, every card had taken on at least one identity or location or time. Some had many of them. It didn’t matter. After a while the confusion subsided and the interrelation of all of them made perfect sense to something deep within her brain.

(Images shown are from the various victory images used at the World of Solitaire website. They add an extra bit of fun to the game.)

(For a companion piece to this post, see Worry about those you love and write about what you know.)

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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,)

 

 

 

Words we need

You’ve noticed a lot of things we don’t have a word for. And, if you play word games like I do, you’ve also noticed a lot of reasonable letter combinations that don’t make a word. I mean, I get that wiqxm isn’t going to be in the dictionary. But what about lete? or dife? These would make excellent words. Why isn’t anyone working to pair these two needs together?

27-Courage-22Well, it turns out that there are people who are.  Recently I joined a group of speculative fiction writers who meet weekly to bounce ideas off of each other. I shared with them how when I wrote d4 I really needed a word to describe a memory of the future. I tried out “premory” and the more I used it the better it worked for me. In the end, premory and premories made it into my book 64 times and the story read the better for it.

Sharing with other writers in my genre has been wonderful in many ways, and one of them was discovering that night that every single one of the other writers in the group had done the same thing. Sometimes you just have to make up a word. I’m told by one of our more literary members that Shakespeare did this all the time, and we use some of his creations to this day. (Dishearten. Eventful. Eyeball. Seriously, eyeball.)

Well, new words have to be created somehow.

On the flip side, there are a ridiculous amount of words that most of us do not know. I stumbled on a wonderful blog post the other day called “Emotions We Feel but Can’t Explain” on a blog called The Girl who Feared Oblivion. It’s a fine blog and a fun article and it introduced me to JAOUSKA (a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head), RUBATOSIS (the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat) and any writer’s favorite, FINIFUGAL (wanting to prolong the final moments of a story).

Yes, I aspire to have my readers experience finifugal as they near the end of my books, and then to have them engage in a little jaouska as the hold conversations with my characters.

And yes, I aspire to create the words lete and dife in my next novel, or at the very least ot and le. There is no questions that ot and le both need to become English words, and the sooner the better.

 

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.

 

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.”

Taking care of your own kind (a science fiction quiz)

It has been decided that one of the finer features of the human race is that humans do not only think of themselves. When it comes to survival and even happiness, this species usually takes quite good care of those they love, often makes sacrifices for others, and sometimes even risks their own lives for those they identify as being “one of their own kind.”

Recent world events have caused certain entities to ask the question “What exactly constitutes ‘your own kind’?”

You have been selected to take the following very short quiz. Please tend to this matter soon. Quite a bit may depend on your answers.

your own kind 2There is no need to send the completed form anywhere. Merely answer, even in your own head, and the information will be received where it is needed. Thank you for your participation.

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 ….