There was a time when I lived in a luxury apartment in Tokyo and I had a housekeeper four days a week. I hate to admit it but shopping was one of my hobbies. In my defense, I must point out that Tokyo is like a giant shopping mall and it’s impossible to walk down any street in the city without glittering shop windows enticing you in. Yet deep spirituality and serenity coexists alongside the blatant materialism and quest for money. All of these things are evident every moment of the day in the chaotic melange that is Tokyo life. I’m not complaining. I love Japan and for all its paradoxes, I embrace it all.
When I left Japan and brought my daughter to Hawaii, all of that changed. There were no more shopping excursions and I had to work very hard just to put food on the table. I sometimes complained about the work, but I didn’t miss the shopping trips.
Now we live in a little wooden house that was built over a hundred years ago by a Chinese immigrant. His name was Tam and he was the eldest son from a large family. He came to Hawaii by ship and carried with him a small, bitter olive tree in a ceramic pot. He tended it carefully on the journey so that he could plant it in his new home. He knew that he would be homesick and he wanted to have a familiar taste of China.
When he got to Hawaii he built a small house in the upcountry of Maui. He planted the olive tree in an auspicious corner of the yard where it flourished in the fertile soil. Then he planted a yellow, bamboo grove so that when the wind blew through the trees, it would sound like China. Next he planted what his neighbors told him he needed to sustain himself: banana, mango, lilikoi, guava, papaya and taro. He tended pigs and chickens.
He brought his family over from China, among them his younger brother, Eddie Tam who would grow up to become one of Maui’s most illustrious mayors and he added on to the house to accommodate his family.
We were lucky enough to move into the house just after it was remodeled but the outside looks much the same as it did in Tam’s day. The Chinese olive tree towers over the house and shades the street, pelting innocent cats and playing children with olives when the wind blows. The rain beats down on the corrugated tin roof and the wild descendants of Tam’s chickens run through the yard chasing my cat into her hiding place under the house.
Not a day goes by that we are not grateful for our little Hawaiian house.
Some years ago my daughter came home from school with an assignment to create a power point presentation on her family history. I told her what I remembered about my family and then urged her to call her father in Japan. He had always been very quiet about his family history but because it was a school assignment he rallied to the cause and sent photos and stories of his famous ancestor, Jirocho.
My daughter and I were both astonished to discover that Jirocho was a 19th century folk hero, known as the Robin Hood of Japan. Legend has it that he was a young, charismatic samurai who started out as nothing more than a common gambler. In time he became an undefeated super-swordsman who rushed to the aid of the innocent in Edo era Japan.
His legend grew until over one hundred films were made about his life and adventures. Twenty five of these were silent films that have been all but lost. For most, only the still photos survive. No one knows just how much of Jirocho’s legend is true but he was very famous in his own lifetime and he was the only person to ever receive a commendation from the Emperor Meiji.
Though many of his exploits were probably embellished, Jirocho himself was not prone to exaggeration. Late in his life, someone asked how it was that he had never been defeated in a duel. Jirocho replied, “If someone was skillful enough to defeat me, I ran away!”
Good stories are what we are made of. Share them and we live forever.
Daniel Defoe’s novel, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, was based on the real-life adventures of Alexander Selkirk, a Scotsman who was a sanctioned pirate, capturing and plundering enemy merchant vessels for the Queen of England. This swashbuckling privateer dreamed of returning to England a rich and admired man, but life took a strange and unexpected twist for Alexander Selkirk.
In 1704, Selkirk was First Mate on her majesty’s ship, the ‘Cinque Ports’. The unfit Captain, William Dampier, was determined to round the dangerous waters of Cape Horn in a stormy sea. The worm-eaten ship was badly damaged when it finally limped into the Pacific, barely making it to a tiny uninhabited island sometimes used by pirates.
Captain Dampier, who had made every wrong decision, made yet another one and decided to set sail without repairing the crippled ship. Rich merchant vessels sailed these waters and Dampier dreamed of the loot they could capture.
Rather than risk his life on a ship that was sure to sink, Alexander Selkirk decided to remain behind on the island and await rescue. The Cinque Ports left him, finally sinking off the coast of Peru with all hands drowned, save eight men, seven of whom spent the rest of their lives in a Peruvian jail.
Nighttime was the worst time as he heard strange howling noises coming from the beach. Fearing that they were sea monsters come to shore, he hid in the rocks, screaming in terror until he fell asleep from exhaustion. He didn’t sleep for long. Soon he was awakened by the sharp pain of island rats gnawing at his feet. Eventually he discovered that the howling noises came from sea-lions and not monsters.
Selkirk thought he wouldn’t have long to wait for rescue but weeks turned into months and he resigned himself to making his home on the island. He had brought only a few things with him from the ship: his bedding and clothing, a rifle, a pound of powder and bullets. He also had a hatchet, a knife and a kettle. And to pass the time he had a Bible, his mathematical instruments and a few books.
Without human companionship, his loneliness consumed him and on many occasions he was close to suicide.
He explored the island and found freshwater springs as well as wild goats and cats left behind by Spanish ships. There were fat turnips and sweet cabbage trees, Jamaica pepper and Malagita for seasoning. He found sweet black plums which were difficult to get; they grew on high trees in rocky terrain. He also ate tender turtle meat and rich crawfish which were as big as lobsters. At first he found it difficult to eat meat and fish without salt and bread, but in time he grew accustomed to these simple tastes.
Selkirk built a hut out of fragrant pimento wood, covered it with long grasses and lined it with wild goat skins. Almost out of powder, he began running after the goats to catch them and soon wore out all of his shoes. His bare feet became hard from running on the rocks.
The big rats that gnawed on his feet at night were still a problem, so he tempted wild kittens with goat meat until he had tamed a hundred cats. They slept in his hut with him at night, keeping the rats at bay. A few of the cats even followed him like dogs on his hunting expeditions. He also tamed goat kids. Sometimes in the moonlight he danced with his cats and goats for company.
Vigorous exercise kept him in remarkable shape and in time he began to find joy and tranquility in his solitude. He practiced devotion with prayers, meditation and reading the Bible, his cats always close by. In time he gave up speaking altogether and relaxed into a blissful state that he had never known before. His adventure became an inner tranquil journey that few ever experience.
Four years and four months later, he was found by an English ship but Selkirk was indifferent to being rescued. The sailors had to talk him into returning to England and even stayed for some time with him on the island before he was ready to leave. They knew Selkirk was a good privateer and they wanted him to help them capture rich enemy vessels.
Selkirk worried most about his hundred cats. They were so tame that they were semi-dependent on the goat meat he fed them and he knew they could not all survive without him. When the sailors finally convinced him to leave the island, it broke his heart to leave his cats and he cried like a baby until the island was out of sight.
Selkirk returned to England a rich man from his pirating but he never adjusted to life in civilization. Without the vigorous exercise, he lost both strength and agility and he frequently voiced regrets about leaving the island. He was never able to get used to drinking alcohol again and the food did not agree with him. For a time he lived in a cave in Scotland. And at the time of his death, he was planning to return to the island. He once said, “I am now worth 800 Pounds, but shall never be so happy, as when I was not worth a Farthing.”
It took fourteen years of researching, writing and promoting but The Wife of John the Baptist is finally published and in my hands. After spending so much time with these characters, I love them so much that they are like family. From the curious, intuitive Hessa, the young Greek woman who falls in love, to the charismatic John, a man whose destiny would lead them both into the wilderness and into a future that neither one of them can control.
Now available on Amazon: http://amzn.com/1493722468
Some early reviews:
“This would make a wonderful movie if any producers are listening.”
“Captivating story and gorgeous prose. An original story set in a unique time period. A very satisfying experience. Highly recommended. Stunning!”
“I had great expectations for this book by K Ford K, and it did not disappoint me. It has all the elements I love, leaving me with the desire to hear/read/feel more from this author. It transported me to an individual’s life in another time and culture, and I felt as if I were a fly on a wall, observing it all. I am intrigued by the thought of fate as being created unwittingly by those who believe they will outsmart it. I loved the story’s unexpected twists and turns, a surprise for me around every corner. However this story was dreamed into being, in reading it I am reminded of my enchantment with the writings of Joan Grant and Diana Gabaldon. When a story is portrayed so clearly, I am left hungry to watch more of the larger picture “movie”!
A winter cold-snap in Maui means wearing a sweater to the beach (unthinkable). It means digging through our clothes looking for a pair of socks and wondering if we even own any socks. It means preheating the oven in a vain attempt to heat up the house. A cold-snap in Maui doesn’t mean below zero, it means below 70 (and we complain endlessly about the cold). Our noses run, we shiver and huddle. Our cats become insistent lap blankets and we build frozen sandmen on the beach. Okay, not frozen but cute.
I’m writing a new book on creativity. Not sure why I’m doing this right now since I have several novels just waiting to be published, but creativity is a subject that is very dear to my heart and one that I have been thinking about most of my life. I was an unusually creative child. My teachers labeled me, ‘the most creative child they had ever seen.’ (I think all children are the most creative I have ever seen) My professors urged me to do nothing but write, and not to write for publication. They felt it would ruin my creativity. Could be.
But what exactly is creativity? Is it a hard to define, multifaceted way of problem solving? Partially. But to understand creativity we can’t just look at it as an academic problem. Creativity is not just a mental activity. It’s a well-spring, a fountain of emotion and expression. On some level it is deeply spiritual, connecting parts of our experience together in unusual ways. Creativity demands physical response. We must act on it when inspiration strikes. In that way, it’s almost like a physical need. Highly creative people certainly feel that they have a physical need to create. This need is so strong that it ranks right up there with the physical drive to eat and sleep and have sex and sometimes supersedes all of those.
I just found this definition on the net: ‘Sadness is the wellspring of creativity.’ Well, maybe, but so is happiness, excitement, boredom and the deep stillness of having nothing to do. Creativity can come from every aspect of our lives and just as there is no easy definition of creativity, there is no one solution to the problem of how to teach and increase it in our lives and in our society. I can offer one possible reason why there is less creativity in our busy lives. Our lives are too full of stuff going on. Too much time watching TV (don’t have a TV). Too much time on the internet (guilty). Too many endless details and to-do lists (definitely guilty).
Creativity is as complex and multifaceted as life itself. I’ll even go so far as to say that creativity is not quite the same thing for each individual. Our experiences are far too unique to define in only one way. Creativity is a never-ending prism, a labyrinth of endless possibilities. Creativity is a delicious dream from which I never want to awake.
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?