Thursday, August 21, 2008


I had lunch with a writer friend, Carrie Lowen, yesterday. She writes a wonderful blog at And we were talking in part about Courage to change yourself and your world.

I find it amazing that so many people are afraid of so many things, so afraid in fact, that they will stay in a bad situation because the “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”. But if you don’t push yourself out of your fear, you will have a miserable life. Not in all cases, but in some cases.

Like Carrie, I have a habit of fearing something which will lead me to go out of my way to do exactly that thing that brings me face to face with my fears. Crazy, huh? Not really. There is only so much procrastination I can stand before the urge to just jump off the metaphorical cliff becomes too much to ignore and I really can’t stand all the messing around a minute longer.

Facing your fears makes you less afraid and more confident in yourself. I have two examples.

Like a lot of people, I had a fear of public speaking. My throat would dry out, I’d be shaking and be a total basket case just thinking about it. A few years ago, I had the job of training people on software and as luck would have it, I somehow got nominated to do this because nobody else would do it. The other people literally got notes from their doctors’ so they wouldn’t have to do it. The first time I tried to conduct one of these training sessions, I started coughing because my throat was so dry and tears ran down my face from the incessant coughing. Someone had to take over for me. Instead of thinking “Oh my God, that was the worst, most embarrassing thing ever and I am never going to do that again”, my thought was, “Okay, so that was the worst thing that could have happened, so it’s got to get better from here.” And you know what? It did get better, the more often I did it. I got to a point, in fact, that I would be excited about performing the training sessions. After all, I was getting a bunch of people to do as I instructed and being a writer, I do like my control!

The other scary thing I did was travel by myself around the world. At first I was in New Zealand and Australia (where I spent over a year - it was great!), then while hitch-hiking with a British woman who had just gone through Asia, she encouraged me to go. I thought, well, I’ve come this far, why not? So I got all my finances in order (I worked in Australia) and began my travels in Asia with Singapore. The situation didn’t become real until the plane was landing in Singapore at 8pm. It was dark. I didn’t know anyone. The instructions I had were “take a bus to this street (I think the street name was Bencoolen Street) and someone will find you and give you a place to stay”. I was freaking out. Was I insane? Had I gone totally off my rocker?? But the flight was landing and I couldn’t go back to Australia because my visa was already four days overdue. So, I followed the instructions, took the bus and, once there standing on the street, someone found me and gave me a place to stay for one American dollar a night. Afterwards, I figured that if I could do that, then I could do anything.

Sometimes courage is just a leap of faith that somehow, someway, everything will turn out. I don’t take outrageously foolish risks, but I do take calculated risks in both my professional and personal life.

Being a writer is a calculated risk. My first book should be published soon and I am doing my best to make sure it’s a success. My only job right now is writing. Is that foolish? To some people, maybe. If you have children and financial obligations that don’t allow you to initially do what you want to do for a living, then you have to start smaller. My first book was written in the evenings when I had finished my money-making day job. The second book is a full-time job. I get to set my hours, I get to study my craft on my own time, I get to do what I want when I want to do it.

Freedom is good but it comes at a price. Just like courage is good but it, too, exacts a price while also extending a branch of hope, of optimism for the future.

Courage takes you on a whirlwind tour and, if you can find it in yourself to hang on, it’s a great ride. You discover more about yourself and your capabilities than you dreamed possible. Most people try to ignore the fact that you can change the entire course of your life in one second. One second is all it takes to make a decision. It takes many more seconds to actually see fruition, if you see it at all. Even if you fail, you still have expanded the boundaries of your life and psyche. So it’s not really a failure at all, but a journey of self-discovery.

I have a saying, “If you don’t make at least five mistakes a day, you’re not trying hard enough.” Success doesn’t teach you fortitude. Failure teaches you in unimaginable ways. The saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again,” is so simple but so profound. A failure is not a bad thing unless you learn nothing from it and it scares you away from what you want.

So please, try, try again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Meaning of Life

I never seem to think of ‘The Meaning of Life’ unless I watch Monty Python.
No, I don’t think the meaning of life is to give birth to fifty children and then have to give most them up to medical experiments.

This seems to be the ‘general’ course of a life in the very loosest interpretation I can think of: you’re born, you go to school, get married, have kids, grow old and die. Pretty damn boring. And depressing. I mean, who wants to basically live life like a paint-by-numbers template where one already knows one is doomed to tedium, boredom, pain and death from the moment of birth?

But is that the meaning of life? That no matter what you do, you will eventually die? I don’t mean to be morbid but when you’ve never fit into the paint-by-number mould (and who does?), what is the purpose of life? Everyone dies. That is an incontrovertible fact. Maybe, even though there’s a basic template (i.e. you’re born and sometime later you die), maybe we’re not supposed to color inside the lines. Maybe we’re supposed to mix up our own colors and use these individualized colors to create our lives. Maybe we throw away the pre-made template and create our own pictures of our lives.

I don’t have children. So I don’t have that immortality of the line thing happening. And when you don’t have children (or at least for me), you begin to wonder “Is this it? Is this all there is?” When you don’t see a thread of your DNA going into the future, your progeny taking up the journey of life where you will eventually stop, what is the point?

Most people’s lives center around their children, grandchildren. They see off into the distant future knowing that most likely, a part of them will be there to see what will happen. So they live their lives on a day to day basis--waking up, showering, getting the kids ready for school, going to work, chauffeuring the kids to soccer, ballet, music lessons, eating, sleeping, making love and then repeating some or all of it the next day. Your days are full and the future is some dark, distant island to where you’ll eventually arrive intact.

Then the kids go away to college or to live on their own, leaving you and your significant other staring at each other wondering, “How the hell did this happen and what do we do now??”

And like those people who didn’t have children, they, too, start wondering about the meaning of life. We’ve all heard the sayings, “your life is what you make of it”, “the one with the most toys upon dying wins” and the ubiquitous saying, “money makes the world go ‘round”.

One of my favorite quotations comes from Don Snyder--"Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story". And I think that’s the meaning of life--giving your love to your parents, siblings, spouses, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, your best friends, boyfriends, girlfriends et al. Pouring your love into your work and personal life, discovering what you love to do and why. That which makes you happy. A deep and abiding awe for life, in all its glory, in all its messy misery. Drinking deeply of whatever life has to offer you and doing something positive with it.

With one life to live, there isn’t a lot of time. Do something positive with it and maybe life will do something good for you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and China

I just spent the last few hours watching the opening
ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing. To say that the ceremonies were impressive is a massive understatement. I am awed-I don’t think I’ve ever watched anything on TV or anywhere else and just repeatedly said, “Oh cool,” or “No way,” or “Holy Cow”. Plus a few other unprintable, but complimentary, things. Of course, no city or country has ever spent as many resources, both cash and otherwise, on the ceremonies as the Chinese did. I read that the figure was something like USD$100 million. With that kind of cash, it’s no wonder that the ceremonies were spectacular.

But the fact that Beijing and China got the Olympics leaves me somewhat uneasy. I mean, something like 500,000 Chinese people are in prison for political crimes or dissension. A round-up of ‘undesirables’ happened in the last few weeks to get rid of some of the unattractive aspects of China’s society in Beijing. Pollution is a major problem because they seemingly have no emissions laws. And I have to wonder, how much of the ceremonies’ accoutrements were paid for through the use of slave, prison and child labor? Add generalized human rights abuses, plus the issue of Tibetan independence from China, and suddenly the lavish displays of the ceremonies seem to be a case of smoke and mirrors-sort of like hiding the dirty socks under the bed during an open house.

The Chinese nation comprises one quarter of humanity and their economic might can no longer be ignored--they’re a major player on the world stage. The fact that their influence worldwide will only grow makes it vital that the west and the east find some way to get along.

I wonder how long it will take the people of China to demand that their government act in a socially responsible manner. I’m not sure if it will ever happen. At least not in my lifetime.

But other things have happened during my lifetime, like the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union, that I hadn’t expected either. The former Soviet Union and all of its former countries are still struggling to create identities and places for themselves in the world. From what I hear and read (and you can’t believe everything you hear and read), the former USSR is like the Wild West, a pretty well lawless land with sporadic attempts at lawfulness. I doubt if the former USSR will sort itself out for at least another hundred years.

But there’s a difference between the Americas (the US and Canada in particular) and the basically new independent states of the former USSR. Americans and Canadians (not including the aboriginal peoples) came here to start new lives and initiate new ways of thinking: being independent of thought and movement. People who came here wanted more than they could ever dream of in Europe in the 1600s--after all, if you weren’t in the upper classes, you were out of luck. So the people who originally came to America and Canada were more…motivated to succeed in a hostile environment than their brethren in Europe who stayed where they were. The immigrants who came here worked hard and the smart ones were financially successful, without having to have a title.

The peoples of the former USSR were basically peasants in a feudal system before communism came along. Do what you’re told and don’t argue. Keep your head down. And with communism it was just more of the same. Do as you’re told, don’t argue, don’t draw any attention to yourself. So, unlike Canada and the US, they have little experience in governing themselves and little experience in having to work hard to get ahead--because with feudalism and communism, there was no way to get ahead.

Europeans learned from their American and Canadian cousins and were able to gradually change their institutions to reflect and meet the needs of the general populace. Even exceeding the social policies in America and Canada. Once the French Revolution turned bloody and horrific, the royalty of other European countries realized that they would have to change or the same thing would happen to them.

So America, Canada and Western Europe were able to slowly morph into societies where individuality was not suppressed and where people were not forced into servitude to people who had more power and money.

The former USSR has not had the benefit of this slow morphing--they were dumped into a system of government they didn’t understand and they are still fighting their way through the morass.

Back to China. China loosened the strings on its economy, what, 10-15 years ago? They had the Iron Rice Bowl before that which they discontinued. I think the Chinese government knows that they can’t just dump their country into democracy without a long adjustment period. I hope.

I hope that as they become more familiar and more comfortable with the workings of a market-based economy, they will realize that trying to hold onto power, which is an astronomically expensive proposition, is not good economics. Imprisoning people is expensive. Keeping Tibet under their thumb is expensive. These things are not benefiting them. These things are like albatrosses around the economic and social neck of China.

I think and hope the Chinese government is performing a massive social engineering experiment to turn feudalistic peasants into independent, thinking, dynamic people. People who don’t rely on their overlord, emperor or government to tell them what to do, how to do it and why to do it. How to think.

And after watching those thousands of drummers beating their drums and performing their movements in synchronicity, I know that the Chinese are a freakishly (and I mean this in the most flattering way) organized people. They’re like the Germans of a new ancient world.

I want communism and human rights abuses to stop in China. I want Tibet to have freedom from oppression. And maybe, just maybe, they’re moving in that direction. Just really, reaaally slowly.

Confucius said, “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

I hope the progress doesn’t stop.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Meaning of Love

Love. A four lettered word that can seemingly make life sweeter or cause your life to be an unmitigated hell. Weird thing for a romance writer to be saying, right?
As I love starting with definitions, says love is:

1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.

2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.

3. sexual passion or desire.

  1. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.”.

That and about 17 other meanings for the word “Love”. But these definitions don’t seem to accurately describe the feeling of love.

We’ve all heard the lines:

Love makes the world go ‘round, and

Love’s a bitch.

The line between love and hate is thin.

It would seem that we’re very conflicted about love. And love seems to be different things to different people, so how do you know if your definition of love is compatible with your sweetie’s definition of love?

According the the New World Encyclopedia:

The romantic love of knights and damsels, called courtly love, emerged in the early medieval ages (eleventh century France), derived from Platonic, Aristotelian love, and the writings of the Roman poet, Ovid (and his ars amatoria). Such courtly love was often portrayed as not to be consummated, but as transcendentally motivated by a deep respect for the lady and earnestly pursued in chivalric deeds rather than through sexual relations. (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Philosophy of Love). Well, chivalry sounds sort of nice but very frustrating for the individuals involved.

Romantic love distinguishes moments and situations within interpersonal relationships. Initially, the concept emphasized emotions (especially those of affection, intimacy, compassion, appreciation, and general "liking") rather than sexual pleasure. But, romantic love, in the abstract sense of the term, is traditionally referred to as involving a mix of emotional and sexual desire for another person.

And what about those cultures in which you don’t even meet your spouse until the marriage ceremony? Do these people learn to love each other? Tolerate each other? There doesn’t seem to be any data that suggests that arranged marriages are more prone to divorce than love-based marriages. Or is that a cultural thing as well? Are people in these cultures less likely to seek divorce/estrangement because it is not as accepted, as it is in the predominant cultures of America, Canada, Europe and Australia.

And then there are sub-cultures such as BDSM, D/s, DD and TiH relationships where, in some cases but not all, the participants insist that they love their partners despite the fact that there’s physical, emotional and mental pain involved.

I think love must go back to your childhood experiences. That’s where you first learned about love. Or hate. Or abuse. If you grew up in a basically loving environment where there was no physical, sexual, verbal, mental or emotional abuse, then you are probably likely to relate to other people (who you love) in a healthy manner. But if, like most people, you grew up in even a somewhat dysfunctional environment, then you might need to examine your desires and needs more closely. Know what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.

I guess it comes down to this: if the person in your life fulfills your needs and you fulfill their needs and you are happy with each other, then that’s love. If your needs or your partner’s needs are not being met and one or the other or both of you are not happy, then that’s just misery. And you both deserve something better.

But who am I to say? I just write romantic fiction. I’m still trying to figure out the reality of it.