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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Did we just witness the dawn of America’s four party system?

One the most fascinating parts of being clairvoyant, I think, would be having a sense of when times are changing. Of course, they are always changing, but I mean the really significant stuff. You might not know it, but World War II doesn’t happen, at least not like it did, if the heir to the Austrian throne doesn’t get assassinated twenty-five years earlier in 1914. You probably don’t have your cell phone, at least not as good a one, if Russia fails to shock us with their successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. And so on.

I suspect that you and I have have lived through times that changed the world in large ways, but it takes years to see the effects, especially in an age with cable news shouting about the significance of everything every minute of every day. But someone like my character Ariel would know right away, finding herself overcome with dizziness as the probabilities shifted heavily one way or another.

I don’t have any of my characters superpowers, but today, I’m going to pretend I do. I’ve got a feeling that at the end of last week we witnessed the birth of the U.S. having in essence a four party- system.

How do we get four parties? Well, the Tea Party, embodied in the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, has been around since 2009 and has a clearly articulated platform that is often but not always at odds with mainstream Republicans. It’s connected loosely to the already-established Libertarian party, but differs with many Libertarians on social issues. At it’s worst, this group wants almost no government, except for that needed to enforce it’s socially conservative legislation. The group is not known for it’s tolerance or its compassion. At it’s best, the tea party calls for fiscal responsibility and fights for everyone’s right to privacy and self-reliance. The Tea Party has shown that is can work with moderate Republicans when it has to, and with Populists when it must. In truth, though, this group would rather not work with anybody, and it truly dislikes the progressive agenda.

Moderates used to come in two flavors, Republican and Democrat. Today both are feeling endangered, and I’m going predict that they eventually join forces. This group best represents the establishment, as they are not in favor of anybody’s extremes. As such, at their worst they support adding more wealth to the wealthy, and keeping power right where it is. At their best, they support stability, cooperation and a stable economy, at least for many, and they do have a core belief in tolerance of others. This group can find common ground with the Tea Party, and with Progressives, but is just put off by the populist movement.

Progressives have long been around as the left wing of the Democrats; they became more visible with the growth Green Party in 2000 and gained a strong voice with Bernie Sanders in 2016. At their worst they are painted as radicals and socialists, representing too much government spending and control. At their best, they are the party most willing to help the average person, which gives them overlap with the populist movement. They are the most tolerant of all the groups, giving them common ground with moderates, and they are the most anxious for positive change, making them the most popular with our youngest voters. They hold a deep dislike of the Tea Party.

Finally,  there are the Populists. This group was largely disregarded until Donald Trump gave them a voice in 2016, but I do not think they are force that will go away anytime soon. They tend towards being socially conservative, and are not known for their tolerance of anyone outside of their own group, giving them some common ground with the Tea Party on social issues. However, many of them favor a strong social safety net and policies that will benefit the working class over the rich, giving them some room to work with progressives on financial policies. The group they really dislike is the moderates of the status quo.

What do you think? How am doing at predicting the near future of politics?  It’s been a fun exercise, and I’m already speculating about what sort of legislation might get passed by different coalitions. Time will tell if I’m anywhere near correct.

Should I hope for calm or cheer on the storm?

djiThe words “The Dow hit 20,000” may not mean much to you, but if you are lucky enough to have some savings invested somewhere, you probably do know that it is worth more on paper today than it was last October. And you are probably happy about that.

But does this high-rising Dow really mean that our country is on the right track? That could be a possible explanation, if it weren’t for the fact that the stock market is far too moody to behave so simply.

In my opinion, the health of stocks as a whole is a sort of aggregate thermometer of how calm the wealthiest parts of America feel. Money, big money and big institutions, appear to care little about politics and a lot about predictability. The stock market fumbled and finally did it’s housing-bubble fizzle on George Bush’s invasion-laden watch. Then it rose steadily in the midst of Obama’s alleged socialism. I think that those with a lot of money understood that life was stable then, and that there was no real socialism to be found.  Stocks floundered in the late stages of the election, hating the whole mess right along with the rest of us. They likely would have risen in relief at the election of either candidate.

moneyI don’t think Mr. Dow (actually short for an index of large companies known as the Dow Jones Industrial Average) got overly excited until Mr. Trump began to put forth his cabinet nominees. As their wealth and ties to institutionalized money became apparent, major investors began to consider that the next four years could be exceptionally good for big business.

But will they be?

I wrote a book about prescience, the ability to see into the future and understand the true likelihood that an event will or won’t occur. Constructing the plot of d4 forced me to spend quite a bit of time considering how such an ability could work.  What’s more, several of my characters were attempting to use their prescient skills to make money in the stock market, so I ended up learning quite a bit more about Mr. Dow Jones and all his friends, too.

crystal-ballI think the market will get very nervous if our new president’s ill-considered interactions with foreign governments raise the possibility of an international crisis of some sort. I think the market will become unhappy if the 2016 election results are tied more firmly to Russian influence, and a rocky period will follow until the matter is resolved, possibly with the president’s removal.  I think the market will level out and become bumpy if internal protests and unrest continue to grow, or if the 2018 election proves that the majority of the American people truly do want a regime change.

How likely are these events? Well, my talented and courageous character Ariel could answer that question if she were real, but alas, she is not. As her creator, I have no ability to foresee the future. My confidence that the 2016 election could not possibly turn out the way it did certifies that I should not be trusted to make predictions.

But I do have investments. Thanks to a 401K and several years with one company, I have a little account, some financial security and a personal interest in seeing the stock market happy.

And, I have a passion for social justice. I want to see my nation at peace, behaving with compassion and inclusion within our borders and outside of them. I want to see the current administration hamstrung as much as possible regarding its horrible agenda and I want to see it exit as quickly as it can.

cropped-lightening-2These two aren’t compatible interests. I could hang on to my little investments for four more years, hoping that politics goes smoothly and that I will make more money. Or I could sell everything now while the Dow is happy and then hope for the worst for our current regime. Or hedge my bets and do some of both. Oh, if I only knew how this all was going to go.

That’s why the stock market is a gamble. I don’t know what the next four years will bring and neither does anyone else. But I do know that I have to go with my principles instead of my pocketbook. I’m going sell investments and move funds to safety, and then sit back and cheer on any storm that returns America to the compassionate values that I hold dear.

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?

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.

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.)