Ten things ‘What’s Left’ and ‘Nearly Canaan’ have in common

Considering that they were drafted 30 years apart, I thought these two novels would have nothing in common.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here are ten overlaps.

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  1. American Midwest. Southern Indiana for Cassia. The Great Plains or somewhere similar for Jaya and Joshua.
  2. Asian spiritual practice. Tibetan Buddhism for Cassia’s father. Hindu-influenced yoga for Jaya.
  3. Relationship and family focus. Five generations for Cassia, including her close cousins known as the Squad. Three same-age couples for Jaya, plus her in-laws and landlords out west.
  4. Livelihood. Family-owned restaurant and real estate for Cassia’s clan. Nonprofit public services for Jaya.
  5. Women in business. Cassia’s whole family, from her great-grandmothers down to herself. Jaya in nonprofits management.
  6. Career uncertainty. Cassia’s cousins have difficult decisions to make about whether to stay with the family business or find other livelihoods. Three of the spouses in Nearly Canaan struggle in their search for suitable employment, while the other three are caught up in their professions.
  7. Far West. As a young adult, Cassia works with clients across the western half of America, while Jaya and Joshua eventually relocate to the Pacific Northwest.
  8. Death and loss. They’re central to both books.
  9. Food. Cassia has all of that Greek heritage. Jaya and Joshua move to a land of orchards and fresh seafood.
  10. Restaurants. Cassia’s family owns a landmark café. Jaya is introduced to Joshua where he’s a flippant waiter.

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Any of this appeal to you?

If one approach doesn’t work, here’s another

The Bible often offers multiple versions, often sharply contrasted, as if knowing that we, as humans, will keep thinking and asking this and that without seeing the fuller picture behind words and our preconditioned concepts.

These versions say, in effect, “OK, you don’t accept that one, you don’t get it, so how about taking the matter from this angle?” Sometimes the facts or accounts even contradict themselves, especially in details, to get us to start questioning our assumptions. The whole point, I sense, is that ultimately the issue is unanswerable, along the lines of the conclusion of Job’s struggle. You just have to look at it in utter awe.

In an approach that says in effect, “OK, you didn’t understand this story, now try this one,” seems to assume, “You’re going to keep asking questions, thinking, circling, so let’s short-circuit that flow,” because much of what’s really at hand is beyond logic. No wonder in the big Job scene, God finally erupts in righteous indignation.

Quite simply, there are many times where words just can’t convey an awareness of the infinite. Or even a fleeting sunset. Or hope or love.

What can you think of that goes far beyond the ability of words to express fully?

 

Colleges closed down 50 years ago this spring

With all of the college students furloughed home to study online, it’s hard to believe the last time American campuses shut down was springtime a half century ago. Make that the ONLY time.

It was different, though, in several key ways.

The kids weren’t told to pack up and go home. No, we stayed together rather than scattered.

The strikes came from the students and then faculty as a protest against administrators and national events, rather than orders from the top-down.

They were triggered by the slayings of unarmed students at Jackson State in Mississippi and Kent State in Ohio by police and national guardsmen. (Sorry about the pun.)

There were other factors as well.

For those who are interested, my novel Daffodil Uprising covers much of that experience.

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What’s happening today reflects a much different generational divide.

We shared a dream, and our career options appeared wide-open, though they chilled greatly in an economic downturn later that spring. We felt a hippie kinship across much of the nation. And we were angry.

By the way, we weren’t burdened by tuition debt, much less one we’d likely never be able to pay off over our working lifetime.

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At the moment, the generational divide I’m watching is an attitude many have that Covid-19 is just for old folks (like me) or those with preexisting conditions (like some younger people I’m worrying about). Some of them think they’re immune or won’t get truly sick. As one I overheard saying, “I’d take a coronavirus for the team.” Oh, dear.

Let’s get real. I’ll go back to that report from France, where half of the intensive care beds were occupied by people under 30.

Still, there’s much more in this generational divide that’s simply festering. We ignore it at our own peril. What’s your take?

Coronavirus fuels a news storm unlike any other

The Covid-19 pandemic is an ongoing news story unlike any other we’ve seen.

Most news reports are about things that have happened – past tense – but this one is more a matter of watching things coming our way, threatening to happen in the near future.

Add in the two-week period between the time of infection and the appearance of symptoms, there’s even a sense of something ghostly in the air, a present tense that’s uncomfortably ethereal.

The closest similar coverage I can think of comes in sportswriting, as in anticipating an NFL game coming up, say, next Sunday. There, though, there are only two possible outcomes, it’s a limited time span, and a score will settle the matter.

The unhealthy emphasis on public opinion surveys regarding upcoming political elections might also fall into this future-tense focus, though we still see reports of candidate appearances and policy positions along with charges and countercharges.

With coronavirus, though, the scope spreads across many beats rather than something only on the sports desk or political reporter. It’s not just medical and health fields but also stock markets and economics,  education, transportation, technology, even lifestyles as well as sports and politics as we go into lockdown and shelter-in-place. Americans aren’t used to being confined anywhere, especially with their mate.

Well, we are also seeing potential major changes in the way we do many things in the years ahead. How much will online meetings catch on, for instance? Or what will happen to local retailing? It’s all fascinating.

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There’s one other ongoing story that might emerge along these lines. Climate change.

Let’s see if experience with one leads to an increased interest in the other.