Did you know nonprofits are a big part of the economy?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Jaya resumes her career in nonprofit enterprises – a field she left in moving to the Yoga Bootcamp from Manhattan.

Running nonprofits turns out to be a management specialty – and they are a major player in the economy, even if you don’t read a lot about them in the business section of the newspaper.

Here are some considerations.

~*~

  1. The nonprofit sector accounts for $65 billion of the U.S. economy – 5.4 percent of the gross national product.
  2. Nonprofits hire a tenth of the workforce – more than national defense, construction, real estate, and space exploration combined.
  3. There are more than 1.2 million public charities and foundations in the country.
  4. Only one-third of the organizations file with the IRS, leaving the rest off of the economic radar.
  5. The 950,000 public charity organizations – ranging across arts, culture, education, health care, and human services – comprise two-thirds of the nonprofits sector.
  6. Most of them are small. Nearly 30 percent of the public service organizations operate at under $100,000 a year. The largest group, 37 percent, runs between $100,000 and $499,999. The largest group, of $10 million or more, is just 5.3 percent of the organizations but doles out 87 percent of the money.
  7. Nearly half of their revenue comes from fees for services and goods – ticket sales, tuition, hospital fees, membership fees, and product sales. Another third comes from government programs and grants. The remainder comes from donations (15 percent) and investment income (5 percent).
  8. Religion is the largest charity category, with a third of the pot, followed by education, 13 percent. Other standouts: Health, at 7.4 percent; arts, culture, and humanities at 4.1 percent; environment or animals, 2 percent.
  9. One in four Americans volunteers time and service to these causes. Their volunteer service, averaging 52 hours a year per person, is valued at $1.5 trillion. They also donate $358 billion in fundraising.
  10. The total assets of public charities in the U.S. comes to $3.7 trillion.

~*~

Do you donate to any nonprofit groups? Do you volunteer? Do you rely on their services?

 

Back to gut issues

Once Cassia gets a clearer picture of her father’s past, she can ask her aunt Nita more pointed questions.

Here’s some of what she learned before the final revisions of my novel What’s Left:

He just felt Vietnam was wrong. Said he sensed it in his bones. I think he was beginning to identify some of his bloodlines that support pacifist witness, once he started looking into genealogy just a few years before his passing. These are all part of what he called the hidden histories that Americans need to know.

~*~

In another deleted passage, she hears her uncle Dimitri’s take on the newspaper work her father was doing:

The public doesn’t want to admit there’s corruption or deceit in their neighborhood. They’ll take umbrage at anything that would satisfy your pursuit of honest revelation or artistic perfection. No, why should you prostitute yourself?

~*~

In an early consideration of what Cassia’s father might do if he settled in with her mother’s family, we had this:

Nita interjects, Don’t you know I’ve been asking around? Would you believe there really are some opportunities for a first-class freelance photographer? And not just weddings or anniversaries? Even if you’ve never been to a football or basketball game, don’t forget you can shoot them and make decent bucks? How about a crying need in the performing arts, too, for somebody who knows the ropes?

Well, that seemed a bit unrealistic. Besides, his career — thanks to her family — was enabled to flow in a more fulfilling direction.

~*~

Cassia’s father is essentially struggling to find the right places to deal with the public. In his case, his talent with a camera is part of the equation.

Have you ever been pictured in the newspaper? What was the occasion?

~*~

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this comedic figure from the province of Myrina (circa 330 BCE), based on a play by Menander. Unlike the Old Comedy Period, Meander wrote about everyday people, much in the style of a modern sitcom. It’s possible that this statue represents the character Knemon, from Menander’s play “The Grouch” (Dyskolos/Δύσκολος), Location: Louvre Museum, Paris. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

~*~

 

Where King Salmon reigns

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. Though they live in desert, it still spawns salmon.

Oh, what a fish.

~*~

  1. There are eight commercially important species of salmon in the Pacific, and nine in the Atlantic.
  2. Some species can reach five feet in length and 110 pounds in weight.
  3. The body color changes, depending on habitat and the mating seasons. It’s not always the dark orange we see on our dinner plate.
  4. They have a lot of natural enemies, including big fish, whales, sea lions, and bears. Commercial and sport fishermen take a big toll, too.
  5. They’re healthy food, rich in proteins, Vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. They can survive three to eight years in the wild.
  7. They travel thousands of miles from their freshwater spawning areas out to the sea and then return to their birthplace to spawn more. They can climb up to 7,000 feet elevation from the sea to accomplish this. Most will then die of exhaustion.
  8. They do not eat any food during the time they swim upstream to spawn.
  9. Swimming upstream, they can jump two yards in the air.
  10. A female Chinook salmon can carry more than 4,000 eggs.

It came as a harsh realization

I have no fondness for any of the offices I’ve worked in. They were all impersonal, and for the most part institutional. The best one, on a college campus, was a former dormitory room with painted concrete-block walls. The newsrooms were more like sweatshops. One, at least, made an effort in remodeling, but there were some other negative factors.

A few of my home writing spaces stand a notch higher, though I had some where I sat cross-legged on the floor to type.

Well, come to think of it, the one I really miss is the second-floor studio I converted from a bedroom in the townhouse I rented on the hilltop in Manchester. Everything was in reach there, and I did have a good view of the street and sky. Not that my current third-floor lair is anything to complain about, apart from running up against the sloping ceiling.

I really had dreamed about converting the top of the barn into my author’s haven but see no need to do that these days. The fact is, we really need to downsize, now that it’s just the two of us rather than five. And now that my work’s mostly digital, I don’t require as much storage space for filing cabinets and mailing supplies.

How about your own working spaces? Employment? Kitchen? Workshop? Hobbies?

Remembering radical politics

As Cassia examines her father’s photographs in my novel What’s Left, she sees his generation from a fresh perspective.

Here’s her impression before I greatly condensed it in the final story:

That evening, back in her apartment, we sit down with more of the photos.

What I sense now is an unfathomable well of aimless, restless energy on the verge of erupting. The tattered crowd’s seated on the ground for a rock concert. It mills about, waiting for something to happen or someone to appear. It walks en masse down a city street or country highway. It’s lovers clinging to each other in desperation and escape. It’s an angry look while puffing on a cigarette — or a pipe or roach. It’s shirtless, braless, sunburned, tangled. 

There’s the happy streak too — defiantly so. And the frenetic dance that could become a tarantella. If only it had been channeled! Directed into sustainable communities, given meaningful work, paid livable wages, engaged fully in public service.

Some powerful forces have run hard against us, Nita says grimly. They set out to destroy it before it overran them.

And?

We were scattered. Not that our causes ever ended. You know, the peace movement. Racial and sexual equality. Educational alternatives. Environment and earth-centered economics. Natural and organic foods, even glutten-free. Fitness, spirituality, music, art … it all continues. You just have to pay attention.

~*~

As the passage relates, many vital social concerns remain.

What would you like to see happen to society in the future?

~*~

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this. Fried eggplant (“small crabs”) from Τα καβουράκια restaurant in Agios, Georgios, Santorini. Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Wikimedia Commons.

~*~

 

I’m owning up to fantasy and the paranormal

Never thought I’d be writing a ghost story, but that’s what happened in a chapter toward the end of What’s Left. Actually, it kinda dictated itself.

In retrospect, it looks pretty natural, considering that Cassia’s trying to recover her deceased father. What happens along the way, though, is that she uncovers a lot about her other ancestors, too, and from there she begins realizing the crucial impact many people, past and present, have in shaping her future.

The ghost story wasn’t all my idea. I was inspired by one in the novel whose structure I was adapting. The two chapters, for what it’s worth, are quite different.

The poet Gary Snyder, quoting an ancient Chinese folk song, has noted that the traditional way of making an ax handle was to take another one and use it as the model in making a copy. Likewise, I wanted something other than the usual 20- to 24-chapter novel and, as it turned out, the structural model for the new story remained intact. It didn’t quite hold for Daffodil Uprising, but it was still useful. The model also had me looking at each chapter as a panel or tile that might be moved around independently, a concept that didn’t entirely remain in what emerged.

As for the ghost story?

Remember, I’m coming from a “just the facts, ma’am,” career in daily journalism. Verifiable facts. Cold, hard facts. As for emotions? In fiction, I might stretch that to reporting what individuals say they’re feeling, but beyond that? Well, as I’m learning, fiction allows me to record how something feels, rather than how it empirically is. A lot of that awareness, by the way, came about for me in my revisions with Cassia.

Still, when it comes to ghosts, remember – little of my writing is conventional. So my ghost story winds up being humorous, rather than scary. Got a problem with that?

I might add that living in New England, I’ve become aware of how many people admit having ghosts in their houses. Even highly educated, otherwise rational folks. As far as I know, mine’s an exception, unless the specters inhabit that room we still haven’t discovered after 19 years here – the one housing all of the things that have gone awol, one by one.

~*~

I’ve previously posted on my aversion to genre, and that includes fantasy, especially of a paranormal sort.

But Cassia had me reconsidering that. I mean, I loved the Hobbit epic back in college. And what do I make of my appreciation for mythology or even Wagner’s Ring Cycle? Where is the line drawn?

So as I ventured on to revise the novels dealing with Cassia’s father (remember, she was nowhere on the horizon of my radar at the time they were written and published), I felt a new liberty. Why not employ elements of fantasy and paranormal, especially, in addressing the ’60s? They really do seem to fit the story.

I’ve long had a fondness for surrealism, which was a central strand of my subway novel. But my new thinking about fantasy now infused the revisions there, too. The second half of Subway Visions is livelier that way. The book is no longer an image in search of a narrative.

My novella With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses also was framed on a surrealistic leap. The characters, though drawn from different points in history, were never ghosts, but seeing them from a fantasy perspective certainly made the revision easier as I realized it could fit into the third book of Tender Connections, my series about Jaya.

A related novella, Kokopelli’s Hornpipe, likewise benefitted. Its basis was mythology. What, a flute-playing giant cricket couldn’t also be fantasy?

To pull the two novellas together as a single book, I really needed a third novella, and Miller at the Springs emerged to sit between them. It easily slipped over the limits of hard-and-fast for me and was a delight to write, even when I had no idea where it was headed.

The three now fit neatly, I think, into The Secret Side of Jaya. Let me know what you think.

Gee, I wonder if I’ll ever have a place to include dragons? Or …

~*~

Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!

We’re coming up on what would have been the big 50th anniversary Revels Christmas production

Every December, the Boston Revels produces a new winter solstice celebration that now plays to 18 sold-out performances in Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre. Or did, before the Covid-19 restrictions.

From their first round in 1970, the shows have grown into a unique hybrid of storytelling, theater, dance, concert, audience singalong and other participation. Each year focuses on a different corner of the world or a historical event.

Guest artists bring their traditions to the company, and the costuming and sets are always spectacular. Nobody could forget the big canoe that came flying out over the audience in a Canadian show a couple of decades back.

Well, this year’s production won’t be live in the flesh, but rather a streamed online retrospective. I don’t really know how to count it. Still, if you go to the revels.org website, you can attend a virtual show wherever you dwell. Admittedly, it won’t quite be the same.

Here are ten we’ve especially enjoyed.

~*~

  1. Leonardo da Vinci. This was founder John Langstaff’s final appearance with the troupe, and it focused on three different cities in Renaissance Italy.    
  2. The road to Campostela. The culture of Spain’s Galatian region was featured in this homage to the pilgrimage known as The Way. Storyteller Jay O’Callahan was captivating, the flamenco was quite moving, and you wouldn’t forget those Spanish bagpipes.
  3. Wales. There’s more to the British enclave than Dylan Thomas, though it did provide the timeframe for this production.
  4. England’s Crystal Palace. How truly Victorian.
  5. Venice in the 1500s. The music wasn’t all Italian and Latin, by the way. The Croatian, Sephardic, and Turkish pieces were all hits. And the story was a delightful comedy.
  6. Acadia and Cajun. We followed the life and expulsion of this French-speaking people from Canada to New Orleans. The big tree at the back of the stage kept shifting color as needed, and the stream of immigrants into exile seemed to be endless, even though it was only the chorus of children and adults repeating their exodus toward the audience.
  7. Nordic. Six languages, including English, big slices of the Kalevala myth, and a lot of polkas. The Scandinavian fiddles are distinctive.
  8. Armenia and Georgia. I loved the economy of this one. The first act centered on a pilgrim in Armenia, where the Christian church took root at the foot of Mount Arrat, the landing place of Noah and his ark. From there, the second act followed him one locale over, to the Republic of Georgia. Though so close together, the traditions were also strikingly different. The Revels headquarters is in Watertown, a major center of Armenian population and culture, so finding a great cantor was no problem.
  9. Scotland. Langstaff had a passion for Britain, and its folk culture is deeply engrained in the Revels DNA. We didn’t get to the acclaimed Irish show, but this one included reels we still dance in New England as well as songs familiar and rare.
  10. American roots.  Last year’s show started at a rural radio station somewhere in the South and covered a lot of ground by the end.

~*~

What live Christmas season events have become part of your tradition?

 

Sustaining the teaching — and the teacher

Until the next-to-the-last chapter of my novel What’s Left, the resident Tibetan Buddhist master, Rinpoche, stays largely in the background.

He’s a stabilizing influence of Cassia’s family, all the same.

As she realizes, in earlier drafts of the novel:

I am impressed by Baba and Tito’s roles — the entire family’s role, in reality — in establishing the Buddhist institute. Our charitable foundation was established as a vehicle to support Baba’s research time as well as the institute and the new Pan Orthodox church — along with college scholarships for family children as well as those of many who’d worked for us. The foundation, then, was another enterprise from Dimitri’s socialist cognizance as it blended with our growing spirituality.

The family’s financial security was especially important in supporting her own parents through some transformative years:

For my parents, it provided enough income for them to pursue their dreams, even before we kids came along. Manoula’s share of the dividends and, I’m inclined to think, a consulting stipend from the company itself also allow Baba to focus on establishing the Tibetan institute here. For the first year, the Tibetan research operates out of their apartment, along with our publishing setup. And then, with Rinpoche in place, the institute settles into a small house more or less in the middle of Mount Olympus, where the guru can live in proximity to selected students the way Baba had.

But over the years, their individual practice wavered. With Barney, for instance, as Rinpoche explained:

More and more, we argued. Your Baba could still converse with him about these matters, but Barney kept quoting another teacher, far more permissive than me. What he allowed, we wouldn’t. But a few years ago, that guru died of complications of his wild lifestyle. It was scandalous.

As for her aunt Pia?

Rinpoche tells me she attended the weekly sessions with Theos Barney and the rest of the family, but her heart remained with the church.

And then Cassia has more pressing matters:

Pain? You say it’s an illusion, not real.

Oh, I’ve had some long discussions with your priest about that! From a Buddhist point of view, pain’s not real the way material things aren’t real. That doesn’t mean they don’t get in the way. You just have to learn to see through them. You can’t refuse to directly examine an obstacle, though, and expect to be liberated from it. You just have to remember what’s beyond it.

The mountain?

There’s no avoiding it.

~*~

In Cassia’s family her father finds much more than a circle of faith. He gives and receives support in everything he values.

How do you support others? Is there one place you feel is especially important? What causes or organizations do you help?

~*~

Tibetan Buddhist double-dorje emblem. To me, it looks almost Greek Orthodox.

~*~

What is it about Memphis?

In my novel Yoga Bootcamp, Jaya’s guru is a native of Memphis, there on the Mississippi River.

And much of the action in my novels Nearly Canaan and The Secret Side of Jaya takes place in Arkansas, right across the river.

It’s more influential than I’d thought.

Here are ten tidbits.

~*~

  1. It’s populous. With a metro population of more than 1.3 million, Greater Memphis is the most populous locality in Tennessee. However, the city itself has 650,000 residents, making it second behind Nashville.  
  2. FedEx headquarters. The airport is the world’s second-biggest cargo operation.
  3. The river. The busy shipping port moves 11 million tons of cargo a year, much of it arriving by train or truck.
  4. King Cotton. Half of the nation’s cotton is traded at the Cotton Exchange on the riverfront.
  5. Music. Sun Records (founded in 1950) became the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s. It was the first label to record Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. It was sold in 1969 and eventually moved to Nashville. Meanwhile, Stax Records (1959-1976) was a fountain of the Memphis Sound, mixing blues, rhythm and blues, and soul.
  6. Graceland. Presley’s mansion is visited by 600,000 tourists each year. In America, only the White House attracts more.
  7. Civil rights. The motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in 1968 now houses the National Civil Rights Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate.
  8. Edible flesh: The city is the largest livestock and meatpacking center in the South.
  9. Fire up: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest each May offers $110,000 in prizes.
  10. Namesake: It’s named for the city on the Nile in Egypt.

~*~

Ever been there? What struck your fancy?