The dawn of a new year always makes me think about what I would do if I could do anything I wanted for a year. What would I do if it was my last year on earth? What would I put on my bucket list? Or instead, what if the new year was the beginning of a new and long life, one unfettered by the past? What would I do? Hmmm seems like both lists are the same. So in honor of that thought, here’s what I will do in 2014.
I’ll give up my house and my car and live like a computer-toting, wild-writing gypsy.
I’ll travel everywhere. And I’ll fall in love every day. I’ll fall in love with carnival-like people who wear strange-colored clothing and tell the most surprising tales. I’ll fall in love with fantasy-inspiring places, from blue green mountains to gray and decrepit city blocks. I’ll fall in love with mind-expanding ideas whispered to me by mysterious, coffee drinking geniuses and I’ll fall in love with the simplest of experiences. Maybe a flower growing from the crack in a city sidewalk or a woman singing as she bakes bread in a flour-dusted bakery. At night, I’ll dance in the protective blanket of the dark. Then in the thin light of early morning, I’ll set the dawn-gold lion of my imagination free from his cage and write.
To travel and write is to fall in love with the world.
I’ll sit in cafes and at bus stops and listen to fascinating people. Everyone has a good story to tell. I’ll be patient, coaxing and encouraging until people give up their stories, their histories and their secrets. I’ll let the scents, tastes, sounds and colors of the past wash over me through their words until I feel that I’m really living their history. Then I’ll write everything down, but not their secrets. In this way, I’m a bad journalist; I keep people’s secrets.
I’ll watch plays in London and New York. I’ll go to Italy and eat, go to Russia and drink, go to Japan and eat and drink. I’ll visit all of my friend’s houses around the world and surprise them by coming in their front door and saying, “I have missed you so much.” We’ll laugh and cry and talk for days. Then I’ll be off again.
I’ll look at art everywhere: Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, London. I’ll feed orphans in India and dream about hobbits in New Zealand. I’ll go to the opera in Milan. I’ll find the fun in every place and find what is meaningful.
I’ll dance everywhere. And learn languages. And study painting. I’ll paint pictures and give them away to people who have hidden beauty inside of them.
I’ll help strangers anonymously by leaving them money in tiny Japanese gift envelopes. The less money I spend on myself, the more I can help others. I’ll see people reading my books on subways and trains but they won’t know I’m the author of the book they are reading. I’ll watch their faces for signs of emotion, rejoicing when they laugh and when they cry.
I’ll go to a church I’ve never been to and sit in the back or sing in the choir. It doesn’t matter what the religion is; the voices will be heavenly.
With the true heart of a gypsy, I’ll see the world as it really is and fall in love with it. Then I’ll set the dawn-gold lion of my imagination free from his cage once more….
… and write.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin
When I was nineteen I went to Mexico for a year. I thought I would learn a little Spanish and return home the same person I was before. But living overseas changes the traveler and I returned home a different person.
I lived with the Lorenzo family. Senor and Senora Lorenzo were school teachers. They worked hard all week but every weekend there was a party to attend. There were weddings, Quinceanera and family parties. When the music started, grandparents, parents and children all danced together. And they often danced until 3 am. When the children were tired, the parents picked them up and continued dancing while the children dozed on their shoulders. For the Lorenzos, any celebration was an excuse to dance. I couldn’t imagine my family in America dancing together for any reason.
The first words I learned in Spanish were cantar, bailar, disfrutar, Sing, dance, enjoy. And I learned to celebrate life with abandon.
Next I went to live in France and I learned to enjoy the simplicity of eating and conversing with others. I learned to never talk about politics or anything upsetting at the table. The French believe it’s healthy to only talk about pleasant things while eating. Consequently, they spend an extraordinary amount of time talking about food and its preparation. Not too surprising, the first words I learned in French were les miette or bread crumbs and the names of various kitchen utensils.
In Japan, I learned the grace of living in a crowd. The first words I learned were Sumimasen, Gomen nasai, Arigato Gozaimasu. Excuse me. I’m sorry. Thank you. And eventually I found the stillness within, necessary for being at peace amid the chaos of Tokyo.
When I finally moved back to American soil, I chose Hawaii, the most exotic state I could think of. At first, personal transformation happened much more slowly in the familiar American setting.
But Hawaii has a generous spirit and it is here that I learned about courage. Not just the courage to take my young daughter and move to a state where I knew no one, but the courage to find true happiness by joyfully anticipating change.
A Hawaiian healer once asked me, “Are you going to let the cruelty of the past kill you?”
“No, of course not,” I replied.
She smiled. “It happens every day. People allow their bad memories and past negative beliefs to destroy them. But think about this, the past has nothing to do with the present and even less to do with the future. Leave your past behind you where it belongs.”
Dare to be courageous.
Dare to be fulfilled.
The opposite of victim is Victorious.
Like most children, my daughter is always asking for things: my help, a new book, or my permission to do this or that. But my daughter’s latest request is for me to live to be 130 years old. The reason for this is that she is planning to live to a ripe old age and she wants us both to die on the same day. “Then I will never be without you,” she said.
“If I live to be 130 years old, I’ll look just like Yoda! I’ll be three feet tall with three gray hairs across the top of my head,” I complained.
“That’s perfect! You would be so cute as Yoda.”
I groaned. “Well, it might be easier to live to be 130 than to actually become as wise as Yoda.”
“Oh, you can do it.” (My daughter is my biggest fan. Actually, I’m pretty sure that she is my only fan.)
Just to make my daughter happy, I started planning a healthier lifestyle so that I might have a remote chance to live to 130 and I also wondered how someone goes about becoming wise. I thought about it a long time and still had no clue how to acquire true wisdom when my daughter said, “And I want us both to die of laughter.”
And suddenly that seemed like the wisest thing of all, to die of laughter in the company of those you love most. What could be wiser than that?
Twenty years ago, I traveled through Nepal with some friends. Even though we were traveling on a shoestring, prices were so low that we were able to hire a car and a driver and tour the entire country. Along one narrow, treacherous stretch of road, men were working to widen the road by blasting away rock from the mountain side. We had to stop while they worked.
As we waited, I looked out the car window and saw a young woman working in the rubble. This caught my interest immediately since I had seen very few women working in any capacity since I arrived in Nepal. Her back was to me and her long skirt and hands were covered with dust. As I watched, she filled a large basket with rocks. After she filled the basket, she took a long strap-like handle attached to the basket and put it around her forehead so that she could carry the basket on her back. I thought to myself, this is the worst job in the world! I was beginning to feel very sorry for this young woman who was doing such back-breaking work, when she turned to face me. I was shocked to see that she looked extremely happy, almost euphoric, as if she was the most successful woman in the world.
I’m not sure why she felt this way.
Maybe she was providing for her children or helping out her parents.
Or perhaps this job gave her the freedom to do things that she wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
This got me to thinking about what success really is.
Most Americans feel successful if they have a lot of money in the bank, a beautiful house and a nice car. But I have never seen anyone look as successful as that young Nepalese woman.
In second grade, I wrote my first short story. It consisted of five lines. That night I walked in front of the TV, obstructing my family’s view and announced that when I grew up I was going to be a writer.
My parents were horrified.
“Writers don’t make any money,” they said. “You’d better be a teacher like we are.”
“But words are magic,” I said.
My parents scowled.
Clearly, they didn’t believe in magic.
Looking at my family history, they did have something to base their fears on. My great-uncle was a brilliant inventor and a gifted poet. He lived comfortably on the money his inventions brought in but he was forced to give his poems away for free to the local newspaper. It was the only way he could get them published.
I stopped talking to my parents about writing but my dream of becoming a writer didn’t die. In college I took one creative writing class. It was a very traumatic experience as the students were hyper-critical. At the end of the semester, the professor singled me out and gave me some advice.
“Do nothing in your life but write. But don’t write for publication; they will ruin you. Instead find a benefactor who will support you and your art. Don’t get a job. Don’t get married. And whatever you do, don’t have children. Just write.”
Then he added, “And don’t live your life like a character in a novel or you’ll lead a horrible life.”
With that he left. I was so overwhelmed that I put my head down on the scarred oak desk and cried. For the next ten years I followed none of his advice. Instead I tried to please my parents. I wrote very little. I lived my life like a tragic character in a novel. My professor was right. It was a horrible way to lead a life.
It wasn’t until I went to Japan that the urge to write took over my life. During the day, I taught school and I had so many ideas that I didn’t have time to write them down. I practiced remembering the ideas to write down later when I had time. I could remember twelve ideas in one day but if I had more ideas than that, I lost them forever.
I did nothing at night but write. For the first time in ten years, my life made sense to me. And I remembered the wisdom that I knew instinctively in second grade.
– “Words are magic. With words, we can create unlimited universes. We can do anything, be anything. Words can heal. Words can solve problems. Words can save the world.” -K. Ford K.
Will Amazon take over the publishing industry? I wouldn’t bet against them. Currently Random House is the largest publishing house which means it has more than the lion’s share of control over which books get published and which don’t. But Amazon has taken a big bite out of that share.
Last year alone, 764,448 self-published titles were produced (not all with Amazon). Random House only published 289,729 books. Gains on ebook sales are up 300%. And traditional publishers are still re-releasing some older books rather than take chances on new authors. That means there are plenty of excellent quality books that cannot get published the traditional way. Not so long ago, authors who were tired of rejection put their manuscripts away in a drawer and no one ever read them again. Due to the self-publishing revolution, that has all changed and the book marketplace has become a richer place because of it.
As Amazon and other smaller online publishers take the place of traditional publishers, book bloggers have taken the place of all the corner book stores. They sell titles online instead of on our local streets. And what a thriving community it is. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the next ten years brings.
Sometimes people ask me where my ideas come from. That’s kind of like asking where my dreams come from. Usually when I’m writing, my dreams just spill out all over the page. But once in awhile I can pinpoint exactly where an idea comes from. The other day I came across something like that. It’s something I lifted right out of my childhood.
Part of my childhood was spent in a Colorado mining town that had seen better days. Abandoned buildings were everywhere, left over from the gold and silver rush days. In the summer time, I walked to the swimming pool every day with my friends. As we walked, we sang pop songs girl-group style. We were always in search of an adventure such as taking turns almost drowning in the river (accidentally, of course) or trespassing into abandoned buildings where the floor boards could give way any second and send us to our death. If we were feeling really brave we might see who could walk the farthest into an abandoned mine before running back outside to safety. I was definitely not the winner at this game. Dark, creepy mines full of hidden shafts and rotting timbers terrified me.
To get to the swimming pool, we took back alleys where there were even more abandoned buildings than on the main streets. One building in particular had been locked up tight. Whoever left the building didn’t want anyone to go in it ever again. But the boards, nails and locks that had been put on the building long before I was born were no match for the dry rot that summer. It caused the entire front of the building to fall right off and into the dusty yard.
From then on the building was open like a dolls house and my friends and I were fascinated. On the first floor was a stage with wine red velvet curtains and painted backdrops. There were tables with chairs stacked on top of them as if they had just cleaned the floors and were ready to open again the next day. Upstairs there were twenty tiny rooms, each one with a small iron bed frame and room for little else.
Of course we climbed inside and danced on the stage. We went up the dangerously rickety staircase too but each of the twenty rooms was locked up tight.
We loved the stage so we played there often. Then one day an elderly neighbor walked by. “This was The Cribs. It was called that because of all the tiny rooms,” she said. “Lots of young women worked here in the old days. They sang and danced every night for their customers. You could hear the music all over town.”
“What happened to them?” I asked.
She just shook her head. “I don’t know. A few of them stayed and married. I don’t know about the rest.”
I had forgotten about the Cribs until I started writing about it. Suddenly the Cribs came back to life and I created a whole town around it called Valentine, Nevada. The town lives and breathes on the page, and so does this almost forgotten event in my childhood, The Cribs, the abandoned whore house at the end of town.