Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Way

By Christina Carson

Lin Yutang, a contemporary Chinese writer/philosopher, one of the first to become familiar with the ways of the Western world, wrote that if he wanted a toilet he’d buy American Standard because they work or if he required a tunnel through a mountain, he’d hire an American drilling company for their tunnels actually meet in the middle of the mountain, but if he wanted philosophy, he would turn to the East, for to him Chinese philosophy was more representative of life than that of Western philosophy, thus more useful. Chinese philosophy can appear unsophisticated to a Westerner, its point being primarily to direct people to peace and harmony while recognizing how immaturely we can behave. Whereas Western philosophers, according to Lin Yutang, are people who dive to the bottom of the sea, glory in their profundity but remain in serious danger of downing; they can get so tangled in their ideas.

You see the ancient Chinese language is a conceptual language meaning one that requires the user to conceive or intuit objects of thought. From a western standpoint, we might call it spacious and free-wheeling in that it doesn't demand users to march in straight lines to the rhythm of grammar or tie everything up in time and relationship. It is less like a strict parent and more like a mellow grandmother whose experience has shown her just how much sense children actually have. It is truly the philosophy that can accommodate the seeming conundrum of life – that of being bound up in human form, while pitted against the vastness, the abstraction, the infiniteness of the cosmos.

Our western language, on the other hand, is perceptual. We get our taste of the world through our senses and let our mind interpret that input as fact. We then arrange that information in straight grammatical lines and rigidly specified patterns of subject-object, time and relationships. That’s why for us, when we first sit down to read the classic work of Chinese philosophy, the Tao Te Ching, we read it either like basic rules to live by or something so abstract and tenuous that it eludes us.

The other day, Bert, my husband, found yet another translation of the Tao Te Ching. We have many, but we are always curious. This one by Jonathan Star is a definitive edition by a Westerner who has worked for years to appreciate the Chinese orientation so that his translation would not impair the power and mystical spirit of this timeless work. It’s a beautiful translation and now in my 6th decade the Tao Te Ching is beginning to share its wisdom with me.

We could have lived without modern toilets and drilling through mountains, but I agree with the rest of what Lin Yutang suggested. We can no longer live with any philosophy that doesn't clearly point us toward peace and harmony.

Tao Te Ching Episode 9 (Jonathan Star)

Grabbing and stuffing—
there is no end to it
Sharpen a blade too much
            and its edge will soon be lost
Fill a house with gold and jade
            and no one can protect it
Puff yourself with honor and pride
            and no one can save you from a fall

Complete the task at hand
Be selfless in your actions
            This is the way of Heaven
            This is the way of Heaven.

Christina Carson, writer
Novels of substance and story

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Uncommon Thoughts on Book Promotion

By Christina Carson

In response to the less than rewarding experiences of a friend’s recent promotion of her new release, I again find myself standing before the question: How do new indie authors establish themselves in an overstuffed market when they have no platform?  So here’s my take on what I call The Realm of Incredible Odds.
There will always be what we call challenges. There will always be what appear to be negative influences, unfair circumstances, unreasonable demands and those with no ear turned toward us. If I've missed one of your favorites, you can add it in here: ____________. Okay, now we have that out of the way. Let’s look at something different.

Both my husband and I have been in The Realm of Incredible Odds at least twice before. Let’s face it. Can you imagine a girl from the east living on a homestead in the far north of Canada caught in the romance of bringing an almost genetically bankrupt breed of sheep into the circle of world grand champion without having ever touched a live sheep before she started?

Or then there was my husband, a boy enchanted with speaking after watching Southern Baptist preachers, but stymied by a shyness that made it almost impossible to say his name to a group of strangers, who went on to become a most successful international professional speaker for over 11 years.

There is a realm that fascinates us with its call of the wild while filling us simultaneously with despair and dread. That’s The Realm of Incredible Odds. It’s always been with us; it always will be. Here are some thoughts for you to ponder on how to operate in it successfully.

The first thing that needs doing is to come to a solid understanding of what you must be to succeed. In the midst of everything pointing to the contrary, both Bert and I needed to see ourselves as the one thing we weren't – a speaker in his case and a shepherdess in mine. Yes we both wanted to be those people, but no facts supported that. So it became apparent that facts, as we understood that word, weren't the answer. What we needed instead was the capacity to become aware of ourselves as that which we wanted to be: a shepherdess who reclaimed a breed of sheep to world class status and a speaker of great success.

The way to this new view of oneself, however, is neither hard work nor mindless affirming or envisioning. It takes a certain sort of action. That action is governed by answering the question: What would you be doing, if you had no doubts that you were a writer capable of producing works of enviable craft and ones that supported you financially. 

This is a serious question, not to be quickly sloughed off as old hat. And only you can answer it for you. You see, we inform ourselves of the “facts” of the world on an on-going basis by our thoughts and our actions. You presently engage in a mind-numbing number of thoughts and actions that say just the contrary to your dream. If you don’t believe me, take a serious look at what you tell yourself are your chances in The Realm of Incredible Odds. Then take a look at what behaviors you choose which reinforce those beliefs.

We are conditioned to think that hard work is what it takes to succeed. And that is not to say we don’t invest hours of work in any project that concerns our dreams. But that hard work must relate to the way things actually work in this world, not to activities that represent penance or commerce (I’m owed in proportion to how much I produce). The universe doesn't owe anyone anything. It gives to those open to receive. And that’s the hitch.

I guarantee you, you have no idea at this moment how much of what you think or the manner in which you respond, informs you that you are not worthy of your dreams. The reason for this is that we are conditioned to be able to say one thing while believing another and NOT EVEN NOTICE the contradiction.

If you care to succeed in The Realm of Incredible Odds, then it is also time to open to the notion that the universe doesn't operate in the manner you been taught to believe. It doesn't reward the supposed good and punish the supposed bad. It doesn't even have such categories. It operates by its own laws, and, if you want to succeed under seeming adverse conditions, you need to align with those.

In times that don’t look as difficult as these current ones for writers, the old hard work scenario may misleadingly look like what brings success. That’s only because we find it easier to imagine and believe that we COULD succeed with better odds. But in times that appear on the edge of hopeless, we can’t pull the same results off by simply working harder. That is where our misunderstanding of what truly creates results finally trips us up.

There really are no such things as incredible odds. It only appears that way to our conditioning, the thoughts and actions that are encumbered by knowing ourselves as finite beings. For in fact we are anything but that. Most people, when confronted with these uncommon notions go back to what they know, bang their heads on the wall, work their fingers to the bone and then quietly let their dream slip away. So I ask you, what could it hurt to ponder for a while on these uncommon thoughts about how to succeed as a writer or anything else, for that matter?

Watch for my next blog where I’ll introduce you to a profound American
voice who speaks with great clarity about our conditioning that limits us so.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Take your Kids to the Woods

By Christina Carson

It’s spring, or close enough for horse shoes as the old expression goes. I opened one of the Mary Oliver books I had not yet explored, Blue Iris, and when I came across her essay entitled “A Blessing” it was as if a closet door creaked open and out fell box after box of childhood memories so dear to me. They were from what I call the early time – up until I was about ten. I lived on a
country road, though not very deep in the country, but I had only to cross our property and the neighbors on the west, and I was in the woods. I was fortunate to be born at a time when kids could still roam, and though I had a couple of close calls with harmful people, when kids get to roam they grow resilient, exhibit more common sense and feel more confidence in themselves. 

In the summer, I would be gone in the woods until lunch, then back out until supper, for the forest held endless wonders, friends and treasures for me. Plus I wasn't told, “Don’t get dirty,” as I ran out the door, a phrase I hear thrown at little kids today to what avail I don’t know. We wore old clothes outside; we didn't see that as unkempt. We were free to become part of the world we played in.  

Precious memories of those times I carry with me always. One of mine was the Saturday morning my dad said to my brother and me, “Let’s go cook our breakfast in the woods.” He was a traveling salesman, gone two weeks, then home for a weekend, then gone two weeks again. The To Do list when he got home was always long. But that weekend, he took us down to the woods, showed us how to make a fire, put some old logs around it to sit on, then fried up bacon and eggs creating an aroma I've never forgotten these 60 years later. When we were finished, we washed up our pans and forks (mum’s rules were you don’t bring dirty dishes home), learned how to kill a fire and then went adventuring. We even came across a woodchuck that hissed and chattered at us as we learned how to respect wild things. I don’t know if we ever did it again, but my point is, once was enough to deliver the message kids need so badly: you matter to me. We issue a lot of empty words these days, thinking we don’t have the time to do much more. But showing is always more powerful than telling where the heart is concerned.

It’s ours as parents or grandparents to ensure our children grow up with a deep love and respect for the wild places. These places, whether a tiny patch of bush, a park, or a giant forest offer something that all too often is not available from the people around us. The woods model balance and harmony. The woods demonstrate what life looks like directed by wisdom rather than intellect. The woods offer the most effective salve for our souls – beauty. If you make your children comfortable in the woods that is the legacy you leave with them.

Mary Oliver shared one of her precious memories of childhood in the woods in her essay, “A Blessing.” She and her girlfriend spent much of their 16th summer living in a tent in the woods. Here is an excerpt from her memories.
We ran out of money and reported a falsehood to our parents, and went on with our potato, orange, candy-bar diet, and felt utterly wonderful….What we saw filled our minds. What we saw made us love and honor the world. And dear readers, if anyone thinks children in these difficult times do not need such peaceful intervals, then hang up the phone, we are not having a conversation….Happiness and leaves—they went together. The tender dripping of water on the tent roof, from the maples, or, once, the realization that a baby skunk had taken to one of the cots we slept on and was, on a rainy morning, in a sound sleep. Think of us—or think of your own children—in a tent that leaked only a
little,…—think of us watching that very little skunk curled in the best blanket, opening its eyes sleepily and then closing them again; think of our silent and entirely happy laughter as we too went back to sleep.

Take your kids to the woods. Bring along a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you can’t cook where you go, but get out there in your old clothes, treat dirt like the ally it is, and, as you quietly munch your sandwiches, cuddle up not only with the world around you but also with each other.

We do this often, this ruminating about life. 
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Monday, March 10, 2014

Thank You – the Sentiment behind the Oscars

by Christina Carson

I was listening the other day to the acceptance speech of Jared Leto who had been awarded best supporting actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, an extraordinary movie which took 20 years of sustained effort to surface in mainstream theaters. The movie could support a blog of its own with its tribute to the kindness and inventiveness of the human spirit when asked to rise above the petty.  But where my mind gave pause was in another part of the speech. It marveled at the affective power which resides in the words: thank you, for Hollywood actors are full of such on Oscar Night.

The thank you that we hear all the time is not what I’m talking about, however. That thank you we’re taught to say in gratitude, softens the edges of a rather rough world, but in truth we don’t owe to anyone or anything, not when we understand our true nature. Rather the power of thank you as I see it lies elsewhere. The only gift that is truly ours to give is the one that says in deed, and sometimes word: at the heart of things you and I are one and the same. Jared realized he’d received such a gift and thanked his mother, the pregnant high school drop-out of years past, not for his physical life but for the gift of truth she’d given him. His gift took this form:
“Thank you for teaching me to dream.”

That took me back in my own life, to a mother, the next to last born in a family of 14 kids whose own mother ran off and left the last two children to grow up thinking of themselves as somehow responsible for their mother’s traumatizing choice. But mum took the opportunities that came her way and to her female child, growing up in the ‘50s no less, she said, “Christina, you can be anything you want to be.” That was not premeditated, nor planned, and it was definitely NOT something commonly heard by young girls in the 1950s. Betty Crocker owned the day, and girls wore skirts or dresses, and on Sundays, gloves and veiled hats. But I heard a woman say that to me when she shared this deep knowing of her heart and gifted me with that monumental truth. I don’t know if she even recalled herself saying it, and it never came up again. But the deed was done, and it changed the course of my life.

The most precious gifts are not those you can touch with your hands. Rather they are wisdom shared. They are truths modeled; the speaking of them merely helps us notice. They are infused with acceptance, honor, passion, honesty, vision, vitality. They are gifts of great value. When people turn to you and say thank you for these, they are actually saying thank you for giving me that one thing that truly made a difference to my life.

I strive to make my written work something deserving of your thank you.
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Monday, March 3, 2014

How Wolves Change Rivers

by Christina Carson

Once again, one of Ralph Miller’s finds has made my day. Stop. Stop right now and treat yourself to a good big helping of wonder in this short video:

   How Wolves Change Rivers
          When will we get it, that the eyes that cannot yet see earth as an interconnected whole, are not those that should look on this earth of ours and try to orchestrate its future. We have one role overall to play in the great scheme of things: Do No Harm.

Then we have another, in the words of Mary Oliver:
"Pay attention.
Be astonished
Then tell about it."

Thank you, Ralph.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Seeing Truth through Fiction

by Christina Carson

You could say that’s why I write. I could have written non-fiction. Actually, I did for years. Then I realized the power is in taking the reader along for the ride. If I wanted to wake someone up to the fact that things are not as they so believably seem, people have to have an experience, something that cracks the smug certainty that they already know what’s true and what’s not. Fiction is a fine place to do that.

My experience came with a baptism by fire through a seeming innocuous course I signed up for while working with different First Nations people in northern Alberta.  The course in cross-culturalism was my introduction to the fact that how I saw the world was only one of many ways to see it. Don’t think I accepted that notion easily. I wanted to believe I could readily mix with and understand another culture, be helpful – you  know, the great white missionary syndrome. But the instructor guffawed cynically.  “You’re wrong,” was all he replied.

You didn't know me then. Those who did called me bulldog and not just behind my back. I took a verbal bite into the nape of his neck and said, “Surely there some fundamental level at which we can relate, something as basic as mother to mother?”

“Maybe,” he conceded slightly, “but your example isn't it.” 

“See you tomorrow,” I threw at him with the cockiness that was going to be wretched out of me later that night.

I lay for hours trying to find an example that would prove him wrong. About 2:00 AM, I gave it up when I remembered reading about how Vietnamese mothers, in situations where a whole village in hiding was about to be revealed by their crying baby, chose to smother the child instead. I had held them as monsters. But that night, I realized they valued the life of community and family above that of the individual, while I been taught the individual was important above all else, honoring the actions of an entire patrol killed in the search for one of its own. And as I began to attempt to defend my view over theirs, I was introduced to a version of Einstein’s concept of relativity. Who could say who’s right? I was seeing the nature of the human mind, the human thought process, the product of bi-polar activity where there was nothing we could know or understand except through comparison. That meant our beliefs didn't represent Truth; rather they were the result of agreement, not universal law.

This realization ate at me, but nobody seemed to hear it through my non-fiction accounts. So I began to write fiction, sensing from my own experience how hard we fight against such ideas intellectually, but how tough it is to deny them when experienced. My challenge was to become a caliber of writer that caused people to experience contradictions, not merely read them.

In Dying to Know, Calli Morrow is in the throes of saving her life. So it is rather stunning for her to realize that the way she’s been taught to see the world is somehow involved in this life threatening
 Dying to Know
situation she finds herself in. She says:
“I knew in that moment, we were never meant to surrender our childlike innocence, to trade a world in which we fit like a glove for one that hung on us like ill-fitting hand-me-downs. However, all about us insisted on our membership. And instead of a handshake or a mystical password as entrance into this spurious society, we agreed instead to share a lie, the one that says we’re safe, secure, and fulfilled living this way.”

To her credit she works to undo that conditioning, attempting to save her life on many levels. That is an option for anyone who allows themselves to realize that their beliefs have no basis in fact.

Her Inuit friend, Joe Kuptana, a world-class Sculptor with a different worldview than hers, helped her on her way. He had just told her to engage more deeply with her art as a starting place for change:
“You mean I should engage with my artistic endeavors nonstop?” Calli asked Joe.

“I didn't say anything about artistic endeavors. When you live from your art, you know what’s real and what’s not, what’s true and what’s not.”

 “So that’s why you get on me for endeavors that are art only in name?”

“Yes. The gift you waste is not the lack of turning out pieces to hang on the wall. You waste the experience of life as I learned it from my elders-direct, natural, with no pretense or lies.”

Even our present-day science has run into the wall our conditioning has created, for it too now knows there is no such thing as objectivity unless we separate ourselves from our conditioning and see what’s left.  

Calli said it this way:
As if my normal flaws and limits fell away, I relived my innocence. That age before my vision clouded over like a sooty window letting light neither in nor out, before I accepted that beauty, joy and oneness had opposites.

Novels can take us to the truth in the midst of their fiction. It’s not that the reader necessarily feels what the protagonist does, but that the situation is vivid and trustworthy enough that the reader can chance touching that scene or situation with something other than their mind. It is in such a moment that truth speaks to us all.