Yes, some men are from Mars

The kernel of this passage is insightful, but it got reworked and retold in a much more humorous vein in my novel What’s Left.

Well, he had every reason to feel out of place, I suppose. He might as well have been a Tibetan or a man from Mars dropped down in the middle of America. But reincarnation would assume that Iowa was the right place for him to be growing up, that he’d found the right set of parents and right surroundings, and that would mean I’ve been overlooking a lot.

~*~

Well, the alienated individual is one complex issue to take up. Just look at Kafka. Cassia’s having her own struggles, so let’s concentrate on those, especially as she’s becoming aware of surroundings that work in her favor, unlike those of her father’s youth.

Perhaps nobody’s in a perfectly right or wrong place. We usually make do, as best we can, although I’ve lived some places where that could be challenging.

What’s been “right” for you where you are? Or, if you’d rather, what’s felt “wrong”?

~*~

In my novel, the renovated restaurant could have looked like this. The pizza oven at Little Creatures, Fremantle, Western Australia. Photo by Gnangarra via Wikimedia Commons.

~*~

 

Ten crops of the Yakima Valley 

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state and an agricultural mecca.

Besides the well-known crops of apples, hops, and grapes, let’s consider:

  1. Barley
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Pears
  5. Apricots
  6. Cherries
  7. Mint
  8. Asparagus
  9. Eggplant
  10. Hay

~*~

Not necessarily in that order.

Magnetic center as a point of growth

I think it was in Peter Ouspensky’s writing that I came across the concept. He argued that having a foundation in  an activity that requires patience and long training is essential for anyone hoping to grow in spirituality.

Simply put, practicing an art, a sport, a craft, a trade, or the like provides the stamina for personal religious enhancement. He called it the magnetic center.

It’s not a passive pleasure but rather active, with deferred gratification in terms of results. It requires doing something for its own nature rather than some final event or production, even though such things might provide inspiration. What’s important is the means itself rather than the end.

These other activities aren’t a substitute for spiritual progress, which can come about by undertaking any number of tested traditions, but it does offer a solid starting point.

Maybe there are exceptions, but I still find it an interesting insight.

What do you love to do as a disciplined practice?

 

Do you ever feel trapped by your family?

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s brothers and cousins — the ones she calls the Squad — are essential for bringing the story fully up to right now. It’s their turn to move forward. What do they want to do with their lives? What does this family mean to them?

Cassia makes her own bold decision for her future — one I sense is enabled by their solid identity.

But there are the other cousins — the ones from the other side of the tracks, the ones who don’t fit in and never will.

So it’s not just about the family restaurant.

~*~

As she noted in an earlier draft, comparing her mother’s side of the family to her father’s:

From everything I’ve seen, his family wasn’t warm or truly close. They did what they were supposed to. Had what they were supposed to. Basically, they followed orders. So what Baba found and embraced with Manoula’s family was more disorderly and conflicting and yet also affirming when it came to his own existence. Privacy here is not taken for granted. Thea Nita, for all of her love of solitude, would spend far more of her working hours surrounded by the public, where the action and people were. Maybe that’s why the Buddhist meditation held such appeal for Nita and her siblings — it was one time they could really focus on themselves alone. 

~*~

There are flip moments when I’d say my family was defined by the TV programs we watched together. Think of the TV dinners we ate on those TV trays we set up between us and the screen (black-and-white, for the most part). Even the pizza we ate on very special nights, scraping off the toppings to eat separately from the dough and its crust. Or the burnt popcorn we ate afterward.

Cassia’s close kinship was more active than that, but working with her father’s photos did give her a place of retreat.

Do you ever feel trapped in your family? Or in your social circle? At moments like that, where would you rather be?

~*~

 

Ten reasons I enjoy living in Dover

I’ve lived here for 20 years now, and worshiped here for another dozen.

Dover is the seventh oldest permanent settlement in the U.S. – and the oldest in New Hampshire. We’re preparing for its 400th anniversary in 2023. Did I mention I love history? We’re surrounded by it.

We’re also close to the ocean in one direction and mountains in the other.

Here are ten more things I appreciate.

~*~

  1. Right size. With 30,000 population, it has a small-town feel. We can stroll to a viable downtown from our house, have a drink or dinner if we wish, or just up the block to the bank or around the corner to the drugstore. That sort of thing. Even walk to Meeting on Sunday.
  2. Speaking of walking. The Community Trail, tucked in behind backyards and sometimes along the river, is a gem.
  3. Quaker Meeting. We’re the fifth oldest church in the state, and the first that wasn’t part of the government-backed Congregational denomination. First Parish, meanwhile, was the first congregation in the entire colony. It has an incredible organ.
  4. Greek-Orthodox. Its members have been an important part of the community for more than a century now, as I’ve been learning. The annual festival every Labor Day weekend is a blast.
  5. Ecumenical engagement. The twice-a-week soup kitchen the local churches provide is only part of the action. Immigrant sanctuary movement support has been extraordinary.
  6. The indoor swimming pool. For a senior like me, it’s a bargain. The locker room is tucked in under the children’s museum, which Dover lured away from Portsmouth, itself a reason to be proud to live in town. Oh, yes, let’s include the 50-meter outdoor pool at this point.
  7. Our hospital. It’s now a subsidiary of esteemed Mass. General, rather than being taken over by a for-profit corporation. Again, as a senior, top-flight medical access is a prime consideration. It’s within walking distance, too.
  8. The waterfall in the heart of downtown. It’s a pleasure to watch, along with the tide level below. There was nothing like this in the part of Ohio where I grew up.
  9. Proximity to the state university. Many of its students rent apartments here, and the school runs a regular public bus service through the region. Concerts, lectures, sports events, and the library are a plus. You should know hockey is hot here.
  10. Access to Boston. A comfy bus service to Logan airport and South Station runs hourly, and Amtrak’s Downeaster links to North Station with five trains each way daily. Apart from a small spur to the shipyard through Portsmouth, all of the railroad traffic to and from Maine passes within a block of our house. You can take the Downeaster in the other direction to Old Orchard Beach or Portland or even Freeport, home of L.L. Bean, if you wish. Riding the train’s fun.

~*~

What do you treasure about the place where you live?

 

Trying to deal with a foreign language

When we have foreign guests staying with us, I have to watch is the need to speak slower and more distinctly. (Well, that’s obviously on hold during the Covid outbreak, though we have heard from one back in China assuring us she’s fine.) The exchanges can start to sound comical, even before I face the difficult challenge of using smaller words. Me? Smaller words? Look, we have more than 200,000 in the English language for a reason!

You can imagine our situation when they’re Chinese students here for a month or so as they volunteer at ono-profits internships. Somehow, shorter visits just don’t seem to rise to the more complex communications.

~*~

My daily Spanish lessons raise the translation issues from an opposite direction, but I think I’ve crossed an important threshold there, one that goes beyond vocabulary.

Have you noticed how a spoken language becomes a musical line rather than individual words? My wife remembers her shock learning that “come on” was two words, not one, as in “cumon.”

When the Duolingo voice tells me, “Type what you hear,” I know to write what I’m supposed to hear rather than what I actually encounter at fast speed.

You could say that in common usage our sentences lose all of the spaces between words. In Spanish I sometimes notice this more as a rhythm across where a word should be between two other words rather than hearing that word or even a letter itself.

Somethinglikethispoorexample.

Rather. Than. Some. Thing. Like. This.

I’m also noticing that the endings of some words are vanishing, as they do in so much French, especially a final “s.”

Must happen in English, too, ‘cept we just take it for granted and naturally fill in the meaning.

Now, as for all of those hearing-aid solicitations I keep getting in the mail? I doubt they’d help my Spanish any.

What do you have to say here? (Please type slowly and distinctly.)

When one road’s blocked, try another

Sometimes details advance a story. And sometimes they raise unnecessary hurdles. In my novel What’s Left, what Cassia discovers about her deceased father (her Baba) is much better than this. So I cut it.

Hey, how many 12-year-olds would even know what a biochemist is? Or, for that matter, 16-year-olds, depending on when she’s making the connection? You still get the drift in the final version.

Under a different system of education, he might have become a biochemist or mathematician. He had leanings that way, which were not supported over time. So instead, he became a photographer — a very adept one who leaves behind what I’m finding to be an astonishing archive of social upheaval and redirection.

~*~

Oh, my, she wouldn’t ever say that last sentence, would she? Of course it had to go!

The point of her observation, though, remains pertinent. Many kids are thwarted at key points in their development, not just educationally, either.

What would you say has been a crucial obstacle in your past? How have you coped? Has it changed the direction of your life?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my novel What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

~*~