Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sharing the Gift of Love

A Christmas gift suggestion
This is the time of year when so many people, events and tasks clamor for our attention that I feel almost apologetic for adding one more, but you can sense already, can’t you, that I am going to anyway. Why? Because this is the holiday season more devoted to love and loving kindness than any other we have. To that end, retaining love as our foremost consideration, I suggest for those on your Christmas list a love story you and they may have missed. It is a profound love story, not just about the love of spouse for spouse, parent for child or friend for friend, but a love that asks even more. A young Black woman, illiterate, yet discerning and witty accepts a behest from her mother, one that has kept her lineage alive through centuries of trials and suffering. The behest: To love the world – no exceptions. Miss Imogene assumes this responsibility through the politically divisive, racially charged 20th century, with nothing other than a deep faith in goodness, the ear of her dear friend and cart horse, Polly, and an inner strength which she comes to know only through her trials.

Reviewer Patricia Macvaugh described what drew her into the story: “…I was compelled to see if loving the world, that world of hate and ugly racism, was truly possible.” And her conclusion: “I hope to channel Mrs. Imogene Ware as I walk through this world of ignorance, terrorism of all kinds, and cruelty to Mother Earth. It isn't easy, but she [Miss Imogene] never said it would be.”

There is always another way; there always is. That is my raison d‘etre for being a novelist, to offer such stories. This Christmas you can make the gift of love tangible by sharing this novel set with those you love easily as well as those who challenge you. It is a compelling story of a lone Black woman attempting to contend with the life destiny bestowed on her through where and to whom she was born – while struggling to save and salvage the lives of others, especially one particular white child originally in her care.

Available in Paperback or Kindle Format from Amazon

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Ultimate Thanksgiving - The Opportunity to Live a Life on Earth

How many of the billions of inhabitants of this planet have any idea how rare it is to have been born here as a human being? Do I? Do you? Do we sense or even know what we are capable of. Move past technology. That’s child’s play compared to the nature of life lived from our own individual stashes of  conscious intelligence that permit us to choose past instincts, beyond our DNA, to touch the eternal while woven into a fabric of daily life and trials. How many of us use this chance to explore our real nature, to employ this moment to exceed the limits of habit and name and gender and old stories? A trail head to this worldly journey, which turns us within, is our willingness to accept this earthly experience as it is… period… without judgment… so that the roll of the dice that put us here we will count as a win and know, as we’ve never quite known, what we have to be thankful for and why.

Let a king of poetry, W.S. Merwin give you a sense of it in his poem “Thanks”

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why I Write – Revisited

It was one of those mornings where when I started my morning pages, I did so in the shadow of doubt once again. I asked for the umpteenth time, will I ever find a community of people who read what I write? I’ve had this conundrum going for a while asking: If my life is truly committed to awareness of the reality of self as lived on this planet, why do I care if my books are read or not? Is there a lie in there that I’m unwilling to own? My morning pages offered a place to investigate that question once again: Why do I write?

Quite clearly it came to me that I do not write out of a desire for success, meaning sales, or I would have packed it in a while back. Nor am I seeking recognition. I’m not one who requires kudos to keep going with something I’ve chosen to do. Though feedback is pleasurable and appreciated, being a judicious person by nature, I feel capable of assessing my work. As well, I find much satisfaction from doing it the best I can. So if not that, what then draws me to write?

But of course… First and foremost, I am drawn to sharing ideas with others who, like myself, are curious, thought-provoked and open to seeing things anew. There is no more beautiful moment in a day than when I recognize commonality with another, be it through their writing or in actual meeting. I write to continually clarify my own awareness about issues we deal with as human beings and with the anticipation I will end up sharing this exploration with others doing likewise. Nothing is more delightful to me than a group of people in earnest discussion over what matters to them. Since I am not naturally social, especially at this point in my life, books represent a marvelous bridge to a greater whole and especially now to an international whole with all the  broadening possibilities that offers from those with differing perspectives. In my heart of hearts, that is why I write. Not to inflate my self image (had to look at that one closely) or to corroborate my ability, but to connect. My entire life has been one long exploration of connection or failure thereof. I know of no grander experience than when I can share a moment with another human being where we both realize we’ve touched each other deeply.

Such an occurrence can happen fleetingly in the check-out line at Kroger’s or longer within the heart of a meaningful discussion over coffee or for a lifetime if we meet the right mate. But the point is connection reveals to us the greatest of all truths – that there is only One – in endless, vibrant, creative, wondrous expression, adding a dimension of awe to life on earth. When we meet there, as Rumi attests: When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase, each other no longer make any sense.

I read authors who provide that opportunity to me, and I love them
for it. I write to do the same for others, to present a story they recognize and ways of interaction within it that can give rise to examination and perhaps discovery of new ways of seeing. At the same time, there is a shared moment of abiding connection, a starting point for dialogue, which if we intend, can last a lifetime. And with each meeting, we are reminded that the most precious of all human experiences is to re-ignite those embers which flame into everlasting recognition that we are all one-and-the-same, yet mysteriously unique. Such a memory is fraught with an unparalleled sense of peace and joy. That’s where I live. That’s why I write.

I’ve started a discussion on my Author’s Page to explore our mutual experiences of human connection. Click on the link below and add an example from your life. I put up one to start things off. The discussion is entitled: Human Connection. Looking forward to hearing of your deeply held moments in life.

Then scroll down to Christina Carson Forum

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Seeds that Grow Our Stories

The creative process, the one that brings us all so much pleasure either through being the creator or the recipient is indeed a strange bird. Somewhere seemingly out of the ether an idea begins to emerge. It reminds me of when I was a child and had my first
experience growing crystals. Have you ever grown a crystal?  Ah, a positively magical affair, especially to a child. You’d get your Dad to go the druggist and buy whichever chemicals were legal for you to have that had been listed in the crystal-making book you were reading. You’d make a supersaturated solution of each one of the chemicals by mixing them in water, suspend a thin twine tied to a stick which spanned the drinking glasses you’d snuck out of the kitchen…and wait. Within a day or so, the tiniest of crystals would emerge on the cord and then one would start to grow. Sometimes they’d get as big as my thumbnail. It was astonishing—these beautiful crystals from ostensibly out of nowhere – ruby red, sapphire blue and diamond clear, depending on the solution. There was a critical time period, however, which you couldn’t predetermine, in which you had to harvest the crystal or the solution begin to dissolve it and take it back.

I have always sensed that stories come into existence in just that way. Somewhere in the back of our minds saturated with intellectual and emotional experiences, a seed exists around which a story begins to form. What is that seed? That is an interesting question, for if you find it, you can watch the marvel of the creative process that unfolds. The novel Accidents of Birth began in just that manner.

I was sixteen and about to have some minor surgery. My mother had tucked me in at the hospital for a three day stay and being an independent child, almost obnoxiously so, I suggested I was just fine, and she need not come again until it was time to go home. I had never been in a hospital. I had no idea how much empty time there was lying there. There was nowhere to go, no TVs and no one to talk to as hospitals were much emptier those days. By the time late afternoon of day one rolled around, I was beginning to rue my offhanded dismissal of my mother, until the sound of soft, rhythmic singing came from down the hall followed by a gentle rap on my door. I said, “Come in.”

In response, an aging Black orderly came around the corner. His hair was salt and pepper gray, his face a deep rich brown and his eyes gentle with concern. Seeing me all alone, he began to fuss over me as if I were his blood daughter. I was awed. I had never had anyone treat me with such loving-kindness, let alone a total stranger.

Come morning, I realized it wasn’t a chance happening, for when the orderly came then, she was a forty-something year old Black woman who proceeded to care for me in the same inclusive manner, making me one of her own. Her kindness knew no bounds, and I lay there in wonder. She stayed with me until the prepping for the operation was over, and I was wheeled off.
I saw those two several more times before I left the hospital. I wanted to say something to them, but I couldn’t understand all I was feeling at that young age. I was a kid. What did I know about life and all its glaring contradictions?  But…I never forgot what it felt like to be loved like that.  

Over the years, that seed drew from all the experiences that made up my life, and eventually formed a story I would have never imagined writing – me, white, from a racist family and having always lived above the Mason-Dixon Line. Then, a protagonist emerged, a woman who was illiterate, quirky, filled with earthy wisdom and, yes, Black. That was as startling to me as any crystal I’d ever grown. Mrs. Imogene Ware came into my life, created from that original seed, and retold in her own way that sixteen year old’s experience:

“We sit quiet again. Then I git up, walk over to where she set an reach out to her. She come to me like she a frightened little child, an I hold her tight an stoke her hair, coo to her, an tell her over an over she be fine. Tell her over an over I love her so, juss who she be, an I always will. They be no doorways where love live, nothing that open an shut. They be no time where love live, nothing that begins or ends. But she don' know that, an my heart weep fo' her.”

          It took me years to grow into a place where I could write this story, have the maturity and the openness to let it come to and through me. Three days in a hospital with two incredibly caring souls gave me a gift beyond the obvious, however. It predisposed me to look at the Black culture throughout my life, and collect examples of its beauty and goodness. In the process, I met some exquisite human beings, Black women leaving their mark on the world. Out of that came Accidents of Birth, a story wrapped in the brutality and racism of the 20th century but told as a profound love story, for the seed of this novel was love.

Some final words from Miss Imogene pondering like she so often did as she and her cart horse, Polly, traveled up and down their farm to market road:

“It clear to me now my mama didn't leave me with no suggestion. She leave me with her life. She leave me knowing my work be to love this world too, like she did. An sittin right here at the edge of this road ponderin' on what lies ahead a me, it feel more curse than grace, but that juss 'cause I be scared. An then as I look at the people round me, I see they be livin' out what they be left by they mama or they papa. An it don' seem to matter whether you respected them or not, just being round 'em for so long, who they be an what they believe seep into ya. An it don' look like no easy thing to be achangin' that. But by God above, there muss be some way to use what we learn to make our chiluns' lives kinder and happier, not juss repeating our woes. Then I chuckle quietly as I think of the years of slavery, an racism, an poverty, an disease, an it occur to me history don' seem to favor that notion. Well, I do, indeed I do.”

And so do I.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

America – Have the Dreams Ended

“When the legends die, the dreams end.
When the dreams end, there is no more greatness.”

So said Tecumsah, leader of the Shawnee. Who better to understand this quote than the aboriginal peoples of this land? Tecumsah’s words returned to me after watching the poignant documentary, One PM Central Standard Time, a telling look at a period in American history. This film, cleverly structured, wove together the life of Walter Cronkite and John F. Kennedy when their paths irrevocably crossed on November 22, 1963. Cronkite was a king among journalists, the father of the evening news to Americans of several generations. We read him, listened to him on radio, and when television came in around this corner of history, we finally watched him, this epitome of a hard driving newsman set on being the first to voice every story he caught. The movie takes you into the old-time wire rooms where the news was gathered, and lets you relive the challenges with which the news industry dealt having no internet, no cell phones, but only pay phones to relay their stories. It introduces you to newsmen who honored their profession with
their adherence to a code that insisted on confirmation, not innuendo or speculation. At that time, we could trust the voices of the great newsmen, and in that world, Walter Cronkite was top of the mark. Like crawling up into your grandfather’s lap each night, America came to Cronkite for a voice offering the comforting assurance that the truth would be spoken.

On the other side of the print page of that era was a youthful, charming, handsome man, his intelligent and gracious wife and their young family—the Kennedy's— a symbol of vitality and possibility to which Americans warmly related. Like the sun of a new dawn, here was this president, beginning to reach his stride and take a heretofore inward-looking nation out into the world with a view toward peace and prosperity. We began to experience ourselves as charitable toward and curious about those beyond our boundaries. The love children, the hippie movement, the revolution in music were not agents of this change but an affirmation of the uplifting sense of well-being that existed in the America of those times. Our homegrown values of respect, taking responsibility, keeping one’s word and extending a helping hand were still intact, values that ensured citizens they could better themselves. Values which underpinned hope, created legends and engendered dreams. It was a beautiful time to be an American.

That ended at 1:00 PM Central Standard Time in Dallas, Texas with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and it placed Walter Cronkite in a moment of great decision. He wanted to be the first to break that news, but the lack of phones made it impossible to track down any voice of authority to confirm the story. The practice was that reporters would go to the nearest pay phone, call into the wire room and instruct the person who answered the phone NOT to hang up, thus keeping the line open for them. But that limited available phones even more. As much as he wanted to be the voice of that historic moment, he would not break the story because it had not yet been officially confirmed. His next challenge was that he couldn’t go live on TV as it took about a half hour to get those old cameras ready. So he delivered a radio-type message transmitted over the TV while the audience stared at a gray screen, listening. His voice echoed through their homes and places of work saying only that it was reported that John Fitzgerald Kennedy died at 1:00 PM Central Standard Time but it was not yet confirmed. He delivered this horrific message clearly and without sentiment. His tears came later.

And so ended an era. News quickly became a commodity that was bought, sold and traded without the ethics of the earlier time. It became a place to reach stardom rather than honor. The country became more deeply entrenched in a war that awakened the bully in American politics, instilling the notion we could rightfully tread onto foreign soil without invitation or a by-your-leave. The values that had retained this great nation’s capacity to re-balance itself when it leaned too far right or left, tottered toward greed rather than compassion, or avowed lies instead of truth began to disappear from the political arena, the newsroom and our families. Taking responsibility for our acts, the fastest way there has ever been to rectify a situation, lost favor as an American choice.

We of that generation saw the legends end with the death of JFK and our dreams end April 4, 1968 when the last great dream speaker this country had, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. So if Tecumsah was right, and I sense he was, our time of greatness may be over.

Watch One PM Central Standard Time and, in the face of this upcoming election, see what you think.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Revisiting Hiroshima

When I started to write this blog, I glanced at the calendar. The date was August 15, and it surprised me to note it was a red number on the calendar. I wondered what had happened on August 15 to warrant that. When I read the fine print, it informed me it was VJ Day, the day the Japanese admitted defeat nine days after the bomb fell on Hiroshima, confronting the world with, in the words of George Keenan, “The conquest by human beings of a power over nature out of all proportion to their moral strength.”  We had reached the point where we had become able to annihilate our species in a blink.

People often say things come in threes and so it recently was for me with, of all things, Hiroshima. After finding out it was VJ Day, I reflected on the fact that I had just watched the movie Mr. Holmes, the film version of Mitch Cullin’s stunning novel, A SlightTrick of the Mind. A significant and unexpected backstory involved Hiroshima. And that very week, I had started American Prometheus The Triumph and Tragedy of J. RobertOppenheimer, the so called father of the atomic bomb and project manager for the Manhattan Project that brought it into being.

I have had an inadvertent connection with Hiroshima since childhood. We had a small library in our home, unusual for families such as mine but a delight for me. I learned to read early and unbeknownst to my parents, I took books off the shelves and up to my room to read them. Dante’s Inferno was an eye-opener to a youngster such a me. I couldn’t understand the words, but the woodblock prints were quite an education. From there I moved on to a very thick book about Galileo. It took me a while to plow through it, but his life amazed me. Then one day I found this slim little volume with the title Hiroshima by John Hershey. I had no idea what it was about, but began reading it that night. To say I lost a modicum of my innocence by the time I had finished those 30,000 or so words would have been an understatement. It terrified me as it was still the era of the cold war where we would have drills at elementary school, filing down into the basement and facing the wall with our arms over the top of your heads. The teacher promised us if the bomb came this would save us. 

We grew up under the seeming imminent threat of The Bomb, only I had the pictures in my mind of those six people in Hiroshima, whose stories of that day and beyond, the slim book told so vividly.
Like most things with human beings, taunt us long enough with any fearsome possibility, and we eventually find a way to accommodate the terror to a point of minor interest. It is a useful tool on one hand but a dangerous one on the other for it allows us to relegate critical issues to a place of seeming unimportance. Thus The Bomb is no longer a topic of conversation as it was in the 1950s, but in truth the potential misuse for it is considerably more possible today.

Our most acceptable cop-out is our agreement that as individuals we are powerless in the face of such devastating possibilities. And yet any country’s population has within its grasp the most awesome power for change – the views parents instill in their children. Unfortunately, if you watch preschoolers of this era, you would see an alarming rise in self-indulgence, violence and anger without the ameliorating capacity for respect for all that lives under the sun, which can be so deeply humanizing. Imagine that power inherent in atomic warfare in the hands of a new generation, which has never read that slim book, spending their childhoods instead watching unfettered violence on TV and in films while playing video games with the rest of their spare time where they can be administrators of death and destruction. Let us not delude ourselves. Tremendous power for change rests in the hands of parents if they are but willing to make parenting a true priority. We raise kids today, but far too few are actually parented.

I remember during my last year of university, being deeply disturbed by the Vietnam War. I heard through the grapevine that one of my professors, a world class organic chemist, was anti-war. Desperate for an adult view of all the concerned me, I knocked on his office door and asked for his help. Of course my question was a foolish one of youth. I asked him what he would do if he were I. To his credit, he took my concern seriously, however, and offered me a response that brings me a shiver even today. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling for some time. He said, while still looking there, “I was involved with the Manhattan Project.” Then he turned to me slowly, boring holes through me with his stare. He continued. “I feel to this day, I should have been more aware of the nature of that project. I was young. It was exciting. I can’t tell you what you should do, but I can tell you this. Whatever you decide be absolutely certain you can live with the consequences.”

No adult had ever taken me so seriously, and no adult had ever offered me such valuable advice.

The Bomb is real. The increasing level of violence and anger in this country is real. The group of people who have the greatest power to change our future are not those found at the nation’s capital or in the nation’s boardrooms. They are the parents of this nation and their power is real. The only question is whether they’ll take their role to rear thoughtful, humane children as seriously as my professor took his as an educator, when he stopped to share a terrible grief and a great truth with one young woman whose life was ennobled forever by it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

So You Want To Be in the Moment

In 1975, a concert never to be forgotten by anyone who thrills to piano music and lyrical jazz took place in Köln, Germany. An American pianist sat for 66 minutes and improvised a musical composition. Keith Jarrett, totally part of every note he played invited an audience to meet him in a place where even the spaces between the notes were musical. You can hear him humming to himself at some points, tapping his foot at others and even sighing. He was there in the heart of reality—the moment, and he took those who were willing with him.

The composition he created was complete unto itself, not unconscious rambling. To my writer’s heart it would be akin to creating a novel in one sitting of a quality that smacked of an edited, proofread copy ready for printing. It is the sort of art we can create, life we can live, were we willing to leave our minds behind and instead hand ourselves over to our resident power, that which gives us breath at its most basic level and exquisite creation at yet another.

People refer to Jarrett as a genius. I think it’s much more than that. He is, for whatever reason, a human being who knows how to tap the source of life within himself, to dissolve into the moment—as Pama Rab Sel addresses it: “I mean most particularly the intense, specific moment hidden within the apparent motion of mundane activity both within and without.”

There is much talk these days of being present, living in the moment, being mindful. In most cases such talk is merely an idea we employ to assuage a growing emptiness as life goes on without any lessening of the mundane or increase in the extraordinary. So when another human being comes along who’s willing to step off the edge into the heart of the moment in a manner he can share with others, it behooves us to step off with him. As one reviewer, Jesse Kornbluth, states, “He doesn’t pay rapt attention; he is rapt attention. And so are we when we join Jarrett there.

Jarrett was 30 years old at the time of the Köln Concert. He didn’t sleep for two nights before the concert. The piano was a Bosendorfer, not his favorite. He’d had a bad Italian meal. He was, he felt, so unprepared to play that he almost sent the engineers home. But then he went home instead, gave himself over to the expansiveness of the reality that contains us, is us and sat down at the piano to make the Köln Concert history.

We tend to misconstrue the moment as some sort of heightened experience, something grand, out of the ordinary. It just doesn’t happen to be so. Rather it is life experienced when freed from mind and its constant prattle.

In the words of Pama Rab Sel: “ Whatever has been is gone. Whatever will be does not yet exist. In this space we reside. Don’t give it another thought. Expand this space. Sustain this moment….Remain steady in the Stillness.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Short Story - Rx

The first time he saw her was in Exam Room #2, sitting on the edge of one of the two chairs in that small boxy space, her legs thrust out in front of her crossed at the ankles, her hands clasped loosely in her lap, her shoulders hunched. She was peering straight ahead, yet even in profile, the intensity of the blue of her eyes caught his attention. He paused in the doorway to stare. They were the color of an October sky when the dust of autumn has finally settled and the air is clean and crisp. She was an older woman, but there was nothing withered or weak about her. His stare appeared to register with her, and she turned her head with deliberateness, stopping when her eyes locked on his. She didn’t speak, she didn’t have to. Her raised eyebrow and the cock of her head said: “Can I help you?” Supposedly, that was his question. He felt momentarily disoriented as he crossed the room to the other chair, which was at his desk. He tapped his fingers on it for a few seconds, but then sat down.

His day had been humdrum. He was beginning to feel more a factory worker than a doctor. An assembly line of aches and pains filled his days. It made him susceptible at this moment, open to play along, and he replied, “I don’t know. Can you?”

Her response came nonchalantly, “That depends. What’s the matter with you?”

He thought his answer would call her bluff. “Well my friends say I’ve gotten too serious, not much fun anymore.”

Instead, she laughed aloud. “You’ll be happy to hear that’s not terminal. There are lots of pills for that, or so I heard.”

He didn’t want to stop the repartee. It broke this increasing tedium of his days, something he’d not imagined about doctoring back in medical school. “What if I didn’t want to take a pill? What would you suggest?”

“Well, that’s the harder option. You'd actually have to do something.”

Her candor was refreshing.

“Like what?”

“Get to the root of things.”

“He paused. He wasn’t quite sure what she meant. You mean something like psychoanalysis?”

She rolled her eyes, a sardonic smile on her face.

 “No, more like a ditch digger. You pick up the shovel and you start to dig…into yourself.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Most everything.”

A tad unnerved by that response, he contemplated reasserting his control over the situation when she said, “I’ve spent decades being honest with myself. How long have you spent?” She dropped her head and looked at him sideways awaiting his answer.
The room was as still as a stifling summer’s afternoon. He felt her stare now as he studied his appointment book. He saw he had no more appointments for the day, no easy way to get out of this situation except lie. And he knew she’d know. He didn’t know how she’d know, but there was something about her he found both unsettling yet intriguing.  “I lie a lot.”

She nodded slowly, agreeing. “Most everyone does only they have a multitude of more respectable names for it. It’s boring, though, because it insures that nothing meaningful happens between the liar and the lie-ee.” She chucked at her newly invented word.

“How can you not lie?”

“You tell the truth.”

His voice gave away his impatience. It turned flat. No longer playful. “Surely you realize there are so many things people don’t want to hear.”

“That’s not the problem. It’s your discomfort at being unable to talk with them truthfully that actually bothers you.”

He felt uneasy. He didn’t know where this was going.

 She continued. “You see yourself as the one with the answers. Unfortunately in your line of work there far fewer answers than there are questions, and that’s where the lying begins.”

“So in order to be honest, I need to tell people I don’t know what their ailment is or I do but don’t know how to cure it and leave them with that?”

She felt the irritation in his reply, but ignored it.  “If you remember, I said, ‘Dig.’” Yours is a more taxing profession than say law, because in law, you can play with the ideas that have already been set down in case studies much like a chess game. It’s logical, open to reason and limited only by the need to adhere to black letter law. You, however, are in a field of endeavor that backs into infinity.”

She tucked her feet close to the chair, stretched up, leaned back against it and clasped her hands behind her head. Her red hair glowed in the soft settling light of the late afternoon as it streamed through a high set of windows to the west. Her unblinking stare rested on his face.

“So I suppose you are waiting for me to ask what you mean by being backed up against infinity.” His response was testy. He was ready to be done with this conversation. He had enjoyed its novelty, but it had gone too far.

“First tell me this, for it’s not like I have all the time in the world to spend with fools,” she said. “You’re annoyed. Do you know why?”

To finish story click here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Interconnectedness is the Law of the Cosmos, Isn’t It

I’m not enamored with rubbing my face or anyone else’s in our less than thoughtful acts as human beings. This video, however, redeemed itself for me from its otherwise frightful message in this way. It demonstrates simply and graphically the consequences of our misunderstanding about how our world, and the universe in which it exists, operates. Every act of every human being upon this planet creates effect, the majority of which is usually unknown to us unless we have something like this video to capture even part of it. But here’s the enigma. On the one hand, as we see it, we are but dust motes in an infinite eye, yet on the other hand, every event of note through our history tracks back to the powerful endeavor of single individuals. How can we live effectively in a world in which we see ourselves and our acts as both inconsequential and of great consequence? What is the frame of reference that can accommodate that conundrum, the one that might allow us a view much more integrated than thinking only in terms of this or that.

I see only one myself. It’s a quantum step literally. It starts with an avid curiosity about and then a nurturing of the notion: Interconnectedness is the law – recognition that everything we do affects something or somebody somehow. It makes “the breeze off butterfly wings in Tokyo creating a typhoon for California”, a popular description of quantum effect, seem child-like up against this intricacy that can only boggle the mind of reason.

We can object to this concept of interconnectedness but then there are scenes like Midway Island, 2,000 miles from the nearest shore of any other country, to bring us back on point. And the underlying beauty as well as the ultimate irony is this:  to live from this cosmic law creates the very life that dreams are made from—whole, serene, satisfying, engaged and significant.
Rumi understood. Let him tell us:

Out beyond ideas of
wrong-doing and right-doing
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase,
each other
no longer make any sense.

We need to meet there more often.

With thanks to a dear friend, Ralph Miller, for once again exploring the net and sharing his finds with me. Much appreciated, Ralph.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

How ‘Bout Your Small Adventures

I have been fascinated most of my days to see the commonalities of life regardless of where or into which culture I peer. I guess as a young person I was fooled by the outward trappings of new and interesting places into believing those who lived amongst them would somehow experience life differently from me. Through spending a summer in Colombia as a 16-year-old, moving to the Canadian prairies, sitting on a stump speaking with a Cree Native about 21st century life for his people and asking a Vietnamese fellow traveler on a boat ride from Saigon to Vung Tau how he can be so civil toward Bert and me, I realized we are capable of relating to one another in a productive and meaningful way, regardless of those seeming differences. The deciding factor is our attitude – do we choose to rise above our differing beliefs and cultures to reach a common ground.

The beauty that is us, we as human beings, resides in us at a level I call reality. When we touch that place within ourselves, we rise beyond the petty, confining views we’re taught to use in looking at the world and begin to sense the nature of what connects us. When we open to the possibility of connection, our conversations, our associations change, and we behold one another in a way that lets us see through the superficial to what’s real. Those moments bathe us in such clarity that we cannot forget the richness of the experience; those memories are ours to treasure forever. I’m sure you too can remember moments where everything clicked, when you and someone else unexpectedly shared from that beauty, making you unafraid to just be yourself.

I was set on this course of reflection upon reading a poem from an unknown Inuit reviewing his life, one most of us would consider as radically different from our own. I wanted to say to him over time and distance, regardless of the worlds that separate us: I have
been where you have been. How good of you to remind me of this eternal connection we have with all things. The poem’s title was: “I Think Over Again my Small Adventures.”

I think over again my small adventures,
My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big,
For all the vital things
I had to get and reach;

And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing,
To live and see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

In the late ‘60s, I meet a teenage Inuit girl from Banks Island. If you look on a map, you’ll see that’s up near Santa Claus. I was fresh out of University and had lived on the US east coast all my life, so stories of her life fascinated me. Her people were still connected by their old ways, even though “civilization” had invaded their domain and called them into the 21st century. I can’t remember what I expected to hear from her as we wrote back and forth to each other, but aside from going to a theater to see a movie, something she’d only heard about, we talked about life as if we were sisters. I had taken cross-cultural training at that point in my life and had finally surrendered to the realization that our actions across cultures, our responses to overt acts could indeed be very different, even in primal relationships like mother to child. But I know now that that teacher had not spent enough time “sitting on stumps” to realize that when we dig deep enough, there is only one great thing we all share, the light that glows within us and around us, which we can all recognize due to the underlying fact of our inborn connection with one another and all things no matter who we are or where on this earth we abide. And then I further understood that it is not our seeming problems that create trouble among us, but rather the lack of honest desire to get clear about our nature - to see our adventures as they truly are.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beware the Barrenness of a Busy Life

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. Socrates noticed that a rather long time ago. He was the one who issued the warning. I wonder if people were as harassed back then scooting here and there, strained by commitments and buried in work. When you see movies of those times they appear to me as positively idle compared to this life we’ve created around us. But something had Socrates say that.

It struck me the other day as I labored away to answer letters that had piled up in the several months-long busy season our business creates twice a year. I had grimaced every time I looked at the stack, feeling the throes of commitments I’d made to a speedy reply. But strangely, every one of the 25 letters waiting on me started out the same way mine did… “I truly apologize for taking so long to answer. I have been so busy.”  Most of the letters were international, so it appears the busy life has somehow gotten to us all.

I do remember periods in my twenties where spare time was abundant. The major difference that I can see was that I had no computer (they didn’t exist then) and no TV. Instead of watching, I knitted, read, had compelling discussions with friends, sewed most of my clothing, took walks with no intended destination and made all manner of gifts for those I loved. It was a full life. It was not a busy life.

I read a curious article a week or so ago about the concern employers have presently over employees not taking their due time
off. I didn’t get to read to the end of the article to get the whole picture, because I was waiting for printed material in a store. When it was done, a perfect example of what I’ve been talking about, I jumped up and ran off to accomplish the next thing on my list. But the gist of the article was that we require the refreshment of time away and the occasional break or holiday to refurbish so many essential parts of being, and people have just not been doing that with increasing consequences to the workplace and home.

What is more worrisome is that we are now training up the youngsters of our culture to see the world as a race from point to point. When Bert and I work at day cares, the most common word spoken to children as their parents pick them up each afternoon is, “Hurry up, come on, let’s go, let’s go.” There is no languid hand-holding and quiet strolling to the car, delighting in one another’s company while sharing the events of each other’s day. Instead
little feet pound the floor trying to keep up, while heading on to the next event of the hour. I don’t think our youngest generation will carry any memories of lying in clover fields watching clouds float by or sprawled on a nighttime hill with their parents letting the marvel of the starry sky awe them. We will not be a better people for this lack. Wonder and awe feed us as much as meat and potatoes, only they feed what is deep within us, the place from which curiosity, creativity and intuitiveness bubble up like a forest spring. And such moments of rest and repose keep our hearts not just healthy but open and kind.

A few nights ago, Bert and I sat on the back step shelling peanuts. We didn’t talk. We just enjoyed the simple task, the closeness of one another, the song of a mocking bird in the dark that surrounded us and that life asked nothing of us but returned a sweetness that fills me still. Barrenness is for deserts not people, and I’m not sure busyness has much to offer for itself either.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Night the Moon Touched the Ground

It was just another ordinary fall evening. A friend had been visiting our farm having come up to give us a hand with some renovations before winter set it. She always enjoyed her stays with us, and we enjoyed her skillful carpentry and great company. Living as far north as we did, visitors from our former life down south were rare to non-existent. So Pearl’s 400 plus mile trek to our place in northern Alberta was more than appreciated.

While we kept on with hauling hay and combining grain in the face of fast approaching winter, Pearl refurbished the outside of the old house we lived in. It had been one of the first in the district we’d been told, the living room often used as a courtroom when local behavior deemed such decision making processes necessary. I still remember the first land tax notice we received. The home place acreage where the barn and house were located was worth less than a similarly sized parcel of crop land. I laughed and asked my mate if he thought the home actually lessened the value of that piece of land. It was serviceable but old indeed.

On the particular day in question, Pearl had finished a new set of stairs leading to the closed-in porch. She was testing them out, sitting on the top one having her afternoon coffee and cigarette. Since we didn’t smoke, she never smoked in our house. She was always respectful that way. I had just come in from hauling hay ready to start evening chores. I had a cow to milk, chickens to feed and sheep to bring close in for the coming night before we sat down to eat. The days were already shortening, so I hurried along to get chores done. A beautiful sunset was stretching out across this big sky country in shades of mauve and burnt orange and the air had a nip to it reminding me of what was soon to come.

When supper was over, Fred went out to his shop to work on some equipment repairs, I was separating cream and making butter and Pearl took her coffee out into the brisk evening to once again sit on her new stairs, relax and have a smoke. She had been out there about 20 minutes when all of a sudden, I heard the door open quickly and her whispering voice, tinged with alarm saying, “Christina, come out here – quick.” I was in the middle of washing the separator, but I stopped, and began to dry my hands on a tea towel. Her head poked in the door this time and she was even more insistent. “Hurry!” 

There was a definite look of fear in her eyes. I wiped any leftover water on my jeans and jumped into my wellingtons. I came out the door and turned to the east where she pointed. “What is that?” she asked, pointing perhaps 80 yards away toward the end of the barnyard. She was standing behind me as one does when they feel the need for protection. I was standing stock still in awe of what stood before me. 

“Pearl” I said over my shoulder, “what are you smoking?” Then I giggled.

She was in no mood for humor. “What is that?” She was dead serious.

“Pearl, that’s the moon.”

“No,” she countered.

“Yes it is.”

Before us sat a huge orange ball. It appeared to be two to three stories tall in diameter. It looked like it was sitting smack on the ground, as if you could walk right up to it and touch it. It was a sight I will remember the rest of my days.

I turned to Pearl who still looked a bit disbelieving and asked, “What did you think it was?”

“A UFO or something.”

I laughed softly and said something about damned city-slickers, and then I gave her a hug. We both laughed like young girls sharing yet another secret of life as we watched it all too quickly begin to seemingly shrink and rise.

I have felt since a child that the great tracts of nature are an ongoing gift to us humans. They stand just at the end of our lanes, just out beyond our back yards or in my case, at that time, just where civilization melts into wilderness; and there they are. In the words of Wallace Stegner:

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”

And that wild country includes not just what is on the ground with us but the alluring, incalculable vastness of what also lies above us, especially on nights when it appears to have come for a visit.

Here’s what one such “moon visit” looked like in Wellington, New Zealand. Do take a peek.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Christina Carson Blogging: The World is not an Easy Place

Christina Carson Blogging: The World is not an Easy Place: Several Christmases ago, I received one of those gifts that keeps on giving – a full set of Mary Oliver’s works. I still haven’t read the...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The World is not an Easy Place

Several Christmases ago, I received one of those gifts that keeps on giving – a full set of Mary Oliver’s works. I still haven’t read them all. That means only there are treasures on the shelf just waiting for me to take them down and be newly awed and inspired. Today, I reached for The Truro Bear and Other Adventures. Not one essay and eleven poems in, Miss Mary caught me again. The poem was entitled “Turtle,” the story line being Ms. Oliver watching the inevitable as a turtle follows a line of soft, new brown teal chicks following their mum around a pond’s edge, while mother duck attempts to get them across the water without harm. When the inevitable becomes reality, Ms. Oliver has this to say:

…my heart will be most mournful
on their account, but listen.
What’s important?
Nothing’s important
except that the great and cruel mystery of the world,
of which this is a part,
not be denied.

Ms. Oliver has grown most wise in her years dedicated to
observing and understanding nature—both that of human beings and the natural world. And her vast talent lets her reveal it on a razor’s edge of poetry which can separate the painful from the poignant without nicking either.

It is a more recent development in my life, this willingness to let the world be, to drop the need to slather everything with meaning such that what lies beneath is used to support my momentary needs rather than disclose its inspired truths. The mystery asks only that we remain open-hearted, and invariably, if we’re willing, it reveals how we can live fulfilled in our day-to-day struggle in a world seemingly more cruel than great. 

The end of Ms. Oliver’s story has her finding on a city street in summer:
… a dusty, fouled turtle plodding along—
a snapper—.

She then says she knew what she had to do.

I looked it right in the eyes, and I caught it—
I put it, like a small mountain range,
into a knapsack, and I took it out
of the city, and I let it
down into the dark pond,
into the cool water,
and the light of the lilies,
to live.

That’s the part of the mystery that’s fascinates me the most, noting its subtle, silent resolutions, the unimagined calm that always, I mean always, follows, even in the face of our most distressing struggles. And amazingly, whether we understand or not, we are included in its sweet, enduring comfort.

The world is not always an easy place, but it is never without wonder and, sooner or later, grace.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Creating or Mimicking

I recently met the late Srinivasa Ramanujan in a magnificent biography by Robert Kanigel which I reviewed on my blog site. I bring him back up in this blog because Ramanujan taught me something of value. Even though his area of creativity was mathematics, I saw its application to those of us who are writers, for in a sense, art is art. And when a person delves into the mysteries of pure mathematics, they indeed are involved in a creative process not unlike someone who faces the blank page or empty dance floor or musical score without notes. How these thoughts came together was when I was reading an article in Writers Ask a quarterly publication by GlimmerTrain. The article was a compilation of interviews from a large sampling of writers, seeking their thoughts on research they do to write their novels. The line that caught my attention was this:

“…Then when I’m sure about the structure of my story, I almost always go back and review a few of [Raymond] Carver’s endings to make sure I haven’t overdone it.”

I love Raymond Carver as a poet, essayist and short story writer. He was a most talented man. Interestingly, like Ramanujan, Carver had little education were he to be compared to the writers in the interview. I remember reading somewhere about the moment he saw his first magazine and realized there were such things, so humble were his beginnings. His greatness came from a combination of a life lived hard yet honestly and his fierce determination to get his view of the world onto paper. He had influence along the way in the form of his editor, so much influence that he eventually had to break off the relationship. His integrity required of him that he find his own way. So it was with Ramanujan when he wrote in his reference letter while seeking a position that would compensate him for doing his work:

“I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a university course, but I am striking out a new path for myself.”

There is a reason for this parallel thinking and that is because true
creativity is wholly the creator’s work. Yes, we have mentors, but we must seek them not for how they do things but how we respond to what they are doing. Then it is ours to discover how we can get a similar response from our readers. There is a fine line between mimicry and creativity. The mockingbird can’t be faulted for his amazing reproduction of the sounds around him, but he will never trump the warbler for sheer ethereal songs. As artists, we must be ever so encouraged to find out what it is within us that we are driven to share and be equally driven to have it be our unique contribution, one that spills out of our own life through our own exclusive means of expression.

I can’t ever imagine ending one of my short stories like Carver did for I don’t see or feel the world as he did. His way often amazes me and makes me shiver with the power of its effect, but it is not how the world appears to me. I must find an equally powerful and effective way, but it must be mine. For in writing we need not only tell the truth but also be the truth, for that is what gives fiction its sense of reality.

Author Kanigel gives us one further bit of realism where creation is concerned. When he observed the life of Ramanujan, the greatest mathematician since Newton, Kanigel confirmed this:

“His success did not come entirely through flashes of inspiration. It was hard work. It was full of false starts. It took time.”

But what is possible through creativity is genius, and the beauty and awe that result from that cannot be compared to  work that mimics the art of another.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

An Extraordinary Man

I don’t get much time to read when our business hits its busy season, but I continue to snatch a few moments here and there to read what I am realizing is an amazing story about someone I would never have known existed had it not been for Robert Kanigel and his compelling biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan. 

The book is entitled The Man Who Knew Infinity and relates the life of an Indian mathematician who is deemed the greatest mathematician since Newton. With next to no formal education, let alone in pure mathematics, he explored the nature of numbers and their relation to each other and the world with a depth that keeps mathematicians 95 years after his death still working to understand all that he bequeathed them. And yet, Kanigel has presented this story with the intimate grip and wonder of a riveting historical novel.

Ramanujan’s early years were marked by poverty often to the point of his going hungry and suffering a surfeit of failure as he repeatedly flunked out of school, unwilling to finish any courses not related to math. His was the loneliness and misunderstanding that many a prodigy endures, and the depth of understanding shown toward this period of his life by author Kanigel is masterful. As he remarked about Ramanujan’s movement toward recognized genius:

“His success did not come entirely through flashes of inspiration. It was hard work. It was full of false starts. It took time.”

I have not gotten far into what is a substantial book, but I am finding the character of Ramanujan portrayed with discerning sensitivity toward the man, his culture and the unfamiliar domain of genius. As well, for the first time in my life, after struggling through calculus and differential equations years back, I am beginning to understand what math is actually about. Kanigel is an outstanding science writer as well as biographer.

The inspired part of Ramanujan’s story begins when he realizes he must find a situation that takes care of his basic needs but allows him to focus entirely on his work. He begins the search to find employment with only his notebooks tucked under his arm, filled with his equations as a reference. Acquaintance by acquaintance, step by step, after much rejection, a letter sent to Professor G. H. Hardy of Trinity College Cambridge introduced him to someone brilliant enough in his own stead to recognize who Ramanujan was. Ramanujan wrote in his letter to Hardy:

          “I have had no university education but I have undergone the ordinary school course. After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at mathematics. I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a university course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as 'startling'.”

Quoting K. Srinivasa Rao, "As for his [Ramanujan's] place in the world of Mathematics, we quote ... Hardy's personal ratings of mathematicians ... on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, Hardy gave himself a score of 25, J.E. Littlewood 30, David Hilbert 80 and Ramanujan 100."

It was fortunate for Ramanujan, mathematics and the world at large that G.H. Hardy took the Indian genius in and gave him a chance at productive years of work, for the young wonder lived only 32 years. 

Modern applications of his work are affecting areas of science and medicine that did not even exist when Ramanujan was alive. He died in 1920 leaving a legacy of math so advanced that some of it is still not comprehensible to modern mathematicians, though it is still avidly studied.

For a captivating read by an insightful and talented writer, charge
your kindle up (or buy the book) and be ready for many days of insights into the aspirations and struggles of this brilliant man, genius being no assurance of an easy life.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Religion is Kindness

So said the Dalai Lama when asked what his religion was. To be honest, I have to admit that when I first heard his answer to that question, I didn't get it. I really had no idea about the nature of kindness. To me, it was someone being nice or considerate or civil and that seemed hardly the basis for spiritual accomplishment in my book. But the other day something happened to change all that.

I was putting individual packages of photographs together for our next sale, looking at these dear children we’d photographed and thinking about what I see at childcare facilities these days when Bert and I sit there for long hours selling photos. These are young children, babies to five-year-olds. In the photos, our very talented photographer has captured them in a safe moment of connection with her, so we see them bright-eyed, innocent, and often smiling or laughing. But increasingly, she has had to bring them out of seeming endless moments of acting out in ways that past generations rarely saw among those so very young. 

There is growing defiance in young children today. They exhibit anger, dis-trustfulness, resistant and defensiveness, attitudes that are not at all endearing. A reasonable question is, what is happening within families and our society that children appear so reactive and disrespectful? It hit me, as I sat there looking at them - kindness is disappearing from our personal interactions, replaced by a growing sense of self-absorption that is now filtering down to our children.

All of a sudden while looking at them, I felt my frustration and sadness of seeing them afraid, not listened to, their innate curiosity and innocence locked away and increasingly difficult for them to find, lift away as something in me stopped judging and instead felt only kindness toward them. It is difficult to put into words how extraordinary the sensation was, but I felt how their compensatory reactions would melt away in the face of true kindness. I think more than anything, children need to feel safe and accepted. Such safety soothes their fears, the ones now initiating their harsh reactions. I could feel how cooperative children would be from the get-go, if kindness was what redirected their misguided behavior, if kindness eased their embarrassment, if kindness was their teacher, if it received them in its arms to set them free later calm, renewed and appropriately redirected.  

That was a big step for me as I had never known kindness growing up, and I don’t think I’m alone in that respect. I knew discipline, orders and rules taught through manipulation and shame, but I never felt kindness. There was no real safe harbor there, no unconditional status. There was market place mentality – you do this and you’ll get that. As I grew older, I actually didn't believe in kindness, it seemed too soft to effect appropriate change. But in that moment of inspiration, I realized only kindness has the power to provide a true learning environment, only kindness turns our hearts, only kindness breeds trust. If instead, we order our children around, demand certain behaviors and force their responses, all that can ultimately result is fear and frustration that then spawns endless emotional reactions such as anger, hurt, resistance and retaliation. Kindness, on the other hand, is love in action. It engenders an environment where we can let down our resistance and defenses and truly learn. I believe our trust issues stem from lack of kindness in our lives and without trust, every request calls for reconsideration before we can offer ourselves to that moment. Living without trust is life in isolation. The degree to which today’s children are shut down is the degree to which they find so little terrain they sense as trustworthy.

Kindness creates a different sort of interface than any other human behavior. It expects nothing. It is a state of being where there is no need to rant, boss, diminish or judge to get children to turn away from their hurt-based actions and acknowledge new choices. There is no greater joy than living among kind people, and, concomitantly, there is no greater sorrow than people so completely untouched by kindness that it can no longer tempt them to drop their defensive choices and join in its peace and safety.

I now understand why His Holiness referred to his religion as kindness for it is by its very nature infinite in source and endless in its capacity to heal.