Day 16. What Rules? What Road?

Planning doesn’t work particularly well here on the playa. In fact, today it doesn’t work all. I’ve signed up for a couple of morning chores at my camp, and after dutifully completing them, I have this idea to go spend the hot middle of the day checking out four events found in the program, instead of napping or laying in the shade like I’ve done the previous two afternoons.

I down a breakfast of scrambled eggs mixed with salt and vinegar potato chips (delicious, you should try it) and get on my trusty bike filled with enthusiasm for the day ahead. It’s a great mix I’ve selected. First, I’m going to go get a facial. Then, it’s off to a camp serving ice cream cones. How cool is that. Then I’m going get a reading to find out what my spirit animal is and finish it all off with a henna tattoo.

Except the facial-giving camp informs me they are doing facials tomorrow, not today, and I must have read the booklet wrong. I’m totally welcome to have a seat and chill for awhile though ….  I sit awkwardly for a few minutes, certain I have read the booklet correctly, before giving up and moving on.

The ice cream camp turns out to be demonstrating how to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, which is not only cool but like minus 100 degrees cold. The camp is filled with many if not most of the children at Burning Man, and their parents, and my odds of getting an ice cream cone appear to be slim to none. I mean what kind of adult pushes little kids aside to get ice cream? I consider pushing aside a few of their parents, but my better nature triumphs and I move on.

The spirit animal man gets his wisdom from turning over a deck of special cards, and I have the misfortune to show up right before a group of eight others. Flustered, he rushes through me, and I’m not sure if it’s a lizard, koala bear, or wolf I share a kinship with but I do get that I need to be following my dreams while having a plan B. Okay. I could have told him that, but I try to put sincerity into my thank you.

I spend about half an hour trying to find the henna tattoos, located at 4:00 in center camp. (Later I learn the Center Camp area has its own clock system unrelated to the main roads.) Hot and cranky, I finally give up.  This has certainly turned into a shitty day.

Then I stumble upon friends and next thing I know I’m on an art car with some sort of south seas theme. It takes us to a memorabilia-filled tiki bar tucked into a bus and I’m drinking rum drinks and talking to a psychiatrist about phobias when I meet an older burner at the bar who’s been doing this since the early 90’s and he kisses my hand and suddenly I feel so welcome here.

But there’s no time to linger. The person I’m closest to has friends getting married at sunset and he’s realized it’s getting late. Suddenly I’m following him on my bike, pedaling as fast as I can to catch up with a bridal procession that is heading out towards the temple.

“She’s a trained opera singer,” he whispers to me as we get off our bikes and the bride, dressed in a sort of Victoria’s Secret corset, picks up a guitar and prepares to sing. The setting sun glitters off of the groom’s grey and black sequined tux as he listens to his beloved’s song of love. I think I have never attended such a beautiful ceremony. This has certainly turned into a fantastic day.

Do I have a rule of the road to glean from today’s experience. I suppose I do, but I’m more inclined to say “What rules? What road?”

I do have a song for the day, though. Lights and Music. It captures the sound that accompanies me across this magical desert.  Enjoy it at the end of this post.

Once the wedding party starts dancing, I head out to the deeper playa, to enjoy the art that comes alive in the dark. I wander around for hours, marveling at how fast things change, and wondering why the nice folks that put this shindig together even bothered to print up a booklet listing the events.

Maybe they do it just because they have a sense of humor.

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

What I want to be paid

There is so much wisdom hidden in our words. I got fascinated a while back when I noticed that there are only two things we spend. Money. And time. Most of us are  comfortable wasting the second but not the first. Yet, which is more valuable? I’ll argue that time is. Money can be replaced.

Then I noticed there are only two things we pay. Money. And attention. The modern digital world seems to recognize this dual value system more than we do, as it sells our attention for money every day. Which would you rather use to pay your debts? Money is easier, isn’t it? At least you know exactly what you are giving up.

I was complaining to a family member about feeling underappreciated in one arena of my life, adding that the real insult was this involved volunteer work for which I wasn’t even being paid. Can’t I at least be paid compliments? I asked. If not that, then maybe pay me a little respect?

Wait a minute. It looks like there are more than two things we can pay. Our language contains so much truth.

Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!

I now count four ways for us to pay one another. Money will certainly buy you a lot and it takes care of most situations, but sometimes paying attention matters as much, or more.

Paying someone a compliment can be worth more money than you can afford, and all the more so if it is genuine. At the least, it will be remembered well after any money that changes hands is spent.

Who doubts that the act of paying respect is a currency? When I say “you are worthy,” I say “you are worth something.” Being told I am worth something is, well, worth something to me.

So pay attention and pay some respect. If you pay a sincere compliment while you do that, our very words recognize that you have given something of value.

Which matters more to you, money or respect and appreciation? I bet you are going to answer money, unless of course, you have ever had the misfortune of trying to stay in a job you need, where you are treated with no respect and receive little appreciation. It does tend to make you rethink your priorities.

All this language analysis has had an effect on me. I’m trying to spend my time more wisely, and pay attention to where my attention goes. It’s got me seeking activities where we all pay each other plenty of respect and lots of compliments.

After all, isn’t the object of the game to be happy?

 

 

Pay Attention

We spend two things and only two things, as far as I am aware. Time and money. This fact fascinated me a while back and I wrote a blog post called Spending Time, advocating for using the same care in how we spend our hours and our days that we give to our finances.
Something similar clicked the other day when I was asked if I was paying attention. Interesting term, I thought. What else do we pay? Besides money of course. I’ve been trying to think of anything else, but so far I have not been able to.*
Not sure why I keep getting hit with heart attack ads but it is a little creepy

I write about the future here, and the idea of time and attention as a new form of currency rings true. Note the way online ads compete for your attention. The whole thing with Face Book has made us all painfully aware that we are the product being sold by companies on the cutting edge of technology. Just today, I had to click my consent to new terms for Yahoo. Basically the terms said I understand they will use all content I provide in any way they please. 

Why do they want this data? It is not that I am inherently interesting to Yahoo, Google or Apple. They want to use the data to place specific content where I see it. They want my attention, or rather to sell my attention to their advertisers.  My attention is worth money, it turns out, if I have demonstrated an interest in the advertiser’s product. Once they have my attention, they take up my time, and they hope for some of my money. These are the things I spend. These are the ways I pay.
I like these ads for earrings better!

The scarier part is the idea of using my predispositions  —  my politics, my spiritual beliefs, my hobbies and interests, and even facts about my health, my job and my family — to not only sell me products but to also incite me to action. Attend a rally? Support a cause? If you know enough about me, will you know exactly what buttons to push to get me to act?

Maybe you will. Unless, of course, I pay a great deal of attention to what I see. I predict one of the rising costs of democracy, and of personal freedom, in the brave new future we are creating every time we touch our keyboards, will be the necessity to pay close attention to what appears to randomly flash before our eyes.
Assume you are seeing any online content for a reason. An algorithm somewhere calculates you are likely to respond in a way someone else desires. Do you want to do so? Maybe you do, maybe not.  So pay attention. Your attention matters.
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*After writing this post, I began to think about how we pay another person a compliment. Interesting. Expect a post on this idea soon.

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I received this book as a gift from someone who knows me well and shares my tastes in science fiction. He kept eagerly asking if I’d started it yet, but something about the book held me back. It’s big, it’s translated from Chinese, and has physics and geometry all over the cover. “I’ll read it next,” I kept saying.

Next finally came, and I loved this book. I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

What I liked best (besides all of the above):

  1. I’m not so big on historical fiction, but the window into China’s cultural revolution of the 60’s was fascinating, and it shows some chilling parallels to the wave of populism currently sweeping the west.
  2. The author allows this tale to develop at it’s own pace. He tells it in a non-linear fashion, going back and forth in time more than once, letting the reader learn more with each visit. This worked well for me and I appreciated the lack of gimmicks often used by other authors to grab and hold the attention of a reader. Cixin Liu has a tale worth telling and he knows it.
  3. The science is amazing, and to the best of my limited knowledge, accurate.
  4. The number of women scientists in this story is unusual and refreshing. I wonder: does this reflect reality in China, or the needs of the story, or the  desire of the author? Why-ever, it was a pleasant plus for me.
  5. I had little appreciation for the challenges of translating such a story, bridging not only the gulf between vastly different languages, but between different perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge of history. The translator, Ken Liu, does an excellent job with subtle, short footnotes intended to provide just enough context to the western reader.
  6. Most significantly, just when I thought there could not possibly be a significantly new variation on a first contact story, this came along. I feel like blurbs on this book already give away too much of the story, so I will only say I’m impressed with the originality of Liu’s approach. It will leave you thinking.

What I didn’t like so much:

  1. Liu doesn’t spend a lot of time inside his character’s heads, showing the reader the emotional motivation for their behavior. This sparseness works, for the most part, but a little more would have been nice.
  2. I said the science is amazing, and it is, but some narrative devices used at the very end pushed my limits of credibility.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories that inform while they entertain, and/or books that encourage them to think.

Two personal notes:

  1. Having written d4, a book of my own about the survival of the human race and how our behavior now could impact our fate in a few hundred years, I felt something of a connection with this tale and it probably resulted in my liking this book even more.
  2. I was impressed by both the author and the translator’s postscripts for the American edition at the end of the book. Both were insightful, but this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Yeah. What he said.

After I read the passage above, I would have liked any book the man had written.

If I’d only known then …

I’m making an effort to get out more. Specifically, I’m working to engage with other writers, both in person and online. I want to broaden my base of knowledge before I start on my next writing project, one I hope will keep me happily making up stories for many years.

It occurred to me today, while listening to a woman describe to us how she sold her first novel to HarperCollins, that much of what writers crave to know is “what do you know now, that you wish you’d known then.” We give this advice, and we ask it of others, almost endlessly.

I found myself visiting with the woman next to me, who is on chapter one of her first book. “Who is it you are writing for?” I asked her. It’s a question I wish I’d spent more time pondering, back when I was in her shoes. If I’d only known then how helpful that question is. I tell her so, and she nods in appreciation. She is doing what we are all doing at this meeting –  gathering little grains of information from others to soften our learning curves.

Our speaker is Heather Newton, author of Under the Mercy Trees, a book about a southern family. She lives nearby, and published Under the Mercy Trees in 2011 after spending years writing it. She is now sending her second novel to an agent to market.

Yikes. I started writing in 2011 and have written six books since them. I’m certain mine are not of the same literary quality, but I wince when I hear her best nugget of what she wishes she’d known back then. That’s right, she thinks she rushed too much, and sent her first book out before it was the best it could be, squandering opportunities to impress. There is a wisdom in that, of course.

One of the oddities of self-publishing, especially electronic books, is that it can be a never ending process. Hidden typos that reveal themselves can be fixed at any time, and all recipients point forward get the improved manuscript. The first time I made such a fix I felt guilty, like I was cheating by correcting something supposedly etched in stone.

I’ve long since gotten over that. Why penalize myself and my readers for having missed something initially? It serves no purpose.

In my case, my books were born with links to supplemental material, such as music and photography that tied into the story. I thought it was clever and fun, but it gummed up the works for some readers and turned out to be almost impossible to maintain. So, over the last couple of years, I’ve been going back and eliminating the links and the references to them. In the process, I clean other things up too, as I find them, because why not.

I am almost done with this process on d4, the last of the books to contain links. I’m pleased with the result, and will probably do some advertising and giveaways to celebrate this new and improved manuscript. What a shame I couldn’t have gotten this final version in front of my initial readers. Wouldn’t those reviews be better? More copies have been sold?

I can’t go back in time, any more than I can see the future, no matter how often I write about characters who can. Would I have written better books if I’d only known then what I know now? Of course I would. Hell, I’d have lived a whole better life with that kind of knowledge.

Or, at least I like to think I would have.

 

 

If you could see the future, would you want to?

It’s a big choice. Move in together? Go back to school? Retire early, have a child, take the trip of lifetime, marry, divorce, or quit your job? All of our lives have a dozen or so of these pivotal decisions. We often aren’t sure which path to take, but we do know that whatever choice we make, it will effect us for as long as we live.

good sign 3So here’s the question. If you could see the future, would you want to? Let’s not go as far as having you see it every day. We’ll keep it simple. How about supposing that you have the option of being granted precognition only for each of your life’s major decisions. Say yes to my gift and you will be given premonitions for each remaining big choice you have to make. Do you want that?

Before you answer with that quick yes or no, consider. How does precognition work? (For the purposes of this discussion you do have to agree that it does work, at least in the imaginary world we are discussing.) What you probably want to know in each case is what decision will make me happiest.  Hmm. That’s complicated. Happiest when? At first? Overall, averaged over your entire life? Or would you rather go for comparing the single happiest moment along each path? Or how about the fewest miserable moments?

While you are reflecting on that, consider that your choices also have consequences for others. Would you like to know which decision results in the greatest happiness for the most people? Or maybe you’d just like to know what choice brings more joy into the lives of the the people you care about a lot.  By the way, can you even define that group? How about the ones you haven’t met yet?

Lucky for you, the make-believe premonitions I am trying to grant you are not so dependable. You don’t get statistical results. You get something akin to snippets of enhanced videos. You’ll experience a few seconds of the sights, sounds, smells and emotions you are going to encounter if you go down that path, along with a little knowledge about your situation at the time. I’ll make this easier by giving you an example.

You’ve quit your job and you are moving to a new location of your choosing. You’ve narrowed it down to three places. People, climate, opportunities and ambiance all interweave into different advantages for each.

If you take my gift, you’ll see yourself in one location, standing miserable in the rain. You did like the idea of Seattle, remember? The scene shifts. There’s you, surrounded by friends laughing. You don’t care that it is raining outside. You have a sense that this is a celebration, and one of something important. Oh no. Now your alone on your couch crying. Does it have anything to do with what you were celebrating? Maybe not. Wait. Your holding a bloody knife in your hand. What? You glance down and see that you are cleaning a fish. Good grief. You take up fishing in Seattle? Forget that.

What about Sante Fe? Charleston South Carolina? The images and feelings that go with them march through your brain. Is that baby your child? Your grandchild? Does this little person make you happy? Or does it matter if they do? Does this little person cure cancer? Is curing cancer really a good idea? Your head is starting to hurt and you’re thinking that this seeing the future was not such a good idea.

IMG_1105That’s because the future is what you always knew it was. A mess of events and emotions that will take you through highs and lows and all the boring stuff in between as you love and live and make the best of things wherever you are.  It is true that maybe Seattle or Sante Fe or Charleston would have brought you something particularly special or awful and maybe that would have been good to know.  However, odds are much greater that all three choices will bring some good, some bad and whole a lot of whatever you make of it.

So take my gift or not. The secret is in knowing that it doesn’t much matter whether you do or not.

(For more thoughts on how my characters’ superpowers might affect their lives see my post Not writing books about shallow people leading exciting lives.)