The Ties that Bind US Together

The results of the recent election have sent many of us into a tailspin. My first impulse was to withdraw from the world and create a cocoon for myself, which I actually already inhabit in Northern California where the government passes sensible laws about legalizing marijuana; reducing access to guns; caring for the environment; and honoring everyone’s rights.

%ef%bf%bc%ef%bf%bcostrich-copyPhotos of ostriches hiding their heads in the sand fascinated me when I was a child and still do. While I would love to imitate this behavior, I know it isn’t productive. I can’t just wait out the next four years and hope Trump and his administration will self-destruct in the meantime.

But I do worry about this interim period and how to view my fellow Americans. I find myself eyeing colleagues, friends, and neighbors suspiciously. Did s/he vote for Trump? Even strangers come under scrutiny. When I’m standing in line at my favorite market, I wonder about the checker and what his/her politics are, as well as my fellow shoppers. I also wonder why I should care so much.

A country that prides itself on being the most successful democracy in the world needs citizens that not only can read and think critically but also feel bonds that go beyond family and close friends. If we only hurl insults at one another, how can we discover the ties that do bind us together?

With family, I have a shared history and genes that help us to transcend our difference. I recently spent several days with my older sister in Ashland, Oregon. She still lives in Canada and flew to San Francisco where I live. I then drove us to Ashland so we could attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival together, the first time we’ve done something like this without our spouses in over 25 years.

In 1963, I moved to the States because I felt trapped by the provincialism I felt in Alberta at that time. Though uneducated then, I instinctively knew I would dry up and die if I remained there. California has offered the kind of nurturing environment I needed, one where I could flower and embrace my more liberal tendencies—on all levels. My sister, a lovely woman, has chosen an opposite direction, and, in fact, in most instances we live at opposite poles.

She is an evangelical Christian who believes that hers is the only true religion. More eclectic, I find her God is too small and take sustenance from many different faiths. During this trip, I could sense she was still trying to “save” me and told her of my concerns. She admitted she didn’t want to die and lose me forever. If I didn’t believe that Jesus was my savior, I wouldn’t go where she hopes to end up. Though she has a college degree, apparently she can’t grasp that I also have strong spiritual leanings and my own understanding of what might face us beyond this earthly life.

So while we were able to connect in terms of our shared family history, and have many common values (she couldn’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump and is puzzled as to why Americans fear a single payer health care system), we essentially live in contrasting worlds. But we are bound together both by our Canadian heritage and also by a willingness to step outside of our comfort zones where we can meet in multiple ways.

Surely we Americans also belong to a large family with shared memories. While we won’t always agree on certain things, if we accept the family metaphor and want to find ways we can interact positively, then maybe these next four years won’t be the disaster we fear. But we must be willing to step out of our familiar, safe communities and discover the many ties that do ultimately bind us together.

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It’s Not Fair!

In the SF Bay area, we’ve had some extremely warm days recently, something we aren’t accustomed to, especially in San Francisco and the other nearby coastal regions. Most of us have been delighted to sit out in our yards at night and enjoy this new balmy climate.

But then I read in the paper recently that the planet recorded its hottest September ever, reminding me that while I’m luxuriating in these above-average temperatures, the weather extremes are killing the planet. It’s a startling and disturbing statistic.

It also illustrates how what is positive for one person may be a negative for another. Food is an example: I love food and eating is one of my great pleasures. Fortunately, my metabolism (and exercise regime) keeps my weight under control. Yet others who don’t share my genetic makeup and who also love food struggle to fight their temptations. As my niece Jada said when she was two years old and I was beating her at a game, “It’s not fair!”

When I realized the downside of what was giving me pleasure, it also reminded me of the bubble many of us live in. We have so many pleasurable distractions, especially in America—if we follow sports, we cheer on our favorite teams; our food supplies are abundant; TV, the Internet, and so much more floods our days with images and information; cultural events abound in small and large cities. It’s easy, then, to distance ourselves from the many tragedies plaguing the earth.

Our relatively benign condition in North America reminds me of pictures I saw as a child of ostriches with their heads in the sand. Those images absolutely fascinated me. I returned to them again and again. The story was that they hid from danger in this way, but that explanation is apocryphal and ostriches really don’t engage in this behavior. They are smarter than that and so are we. But on some days, I do wish I were one of those ostriches my young self loved and could hide from all of the tragedies that bombard us. And on some days I do.

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.