Blog

Featured

What’s it all about?

“A Beginning is a very delicate time.” Those words are as true when starting a blog as they were introducing the science fiction epic Dune.

Experienced bloggers suggest, “it’s essential to identify the scope of subjects to be covered.” It may also be helpful for the reader to know if they are invited to comment and enter the conversation. I hope that readers and visitors will join in a dialogue about the subjects raised.

With this platform, I’ll try to do four things.

First, discuss a few things about the stories I have written, or am currently working on. I invite feedback from my readers–what moved you? What bored you? What was confusing? Or what else did you want?

Second. The future envisioned in The Doorkeeper’s Secrets includes a radical revision (some might say renewal) of the social dynamics in the culture. How such changes might impact our society is a question I would like to discuss. What other changes would you like to see or not see in later installments?

But I believe most important is the examination of the economic assumptions that have guided policies for centuries. If we are to get to a future that is more respectful, egalitarian and compassionate, we must look at how people are rewarded for their skill, energy, wisdom, and life-blood.

Finally, it may be of most interest to other writers, I am told, that writers should say some things about their writing process.

I invite you to join in a dialogue about the subjects raised. I want to encourage a respectful, probing, and thoughtful conversation about the issues.

Also important is what we do not want to discuss. Most of us have strongly held beliefs and positions on the current state of our nation, world, environment, religion, and our political leaders or processes. There are many places to air our views on those subjects. We don’t need another.

What I want to focus on are the positive steps and changes we can envision for tomorrow. Once we picture a better future, we can begin the steps to get there.

Featured

Welcome to my world

 

Since February of 2014, I have spent a few hours most days in another world. No, not an alien abduction, nor a secret passage through a wardrobe or rabbit hole. I could say this place is my creation. Or that it’s the culmination of my hopes, values, and ideas. Or just maybe, I could tell you a little more of the truth.

The story of the Doorkeeper’s Secrets (and the books that will follow) came to me in a dream. I told my wife the story. She said, “You should write that up.” Of course, I had to put some flesh on the bones. After 270,000 words, I found a stopping place.

The next two-plus years were spent learning about writing fiction, publishing, and editing. Now at 128,000 words, it’s much better for you, dear reader.

So what’s this future like? It’s imperfect. Greed and stupidity raise their ugly heads. Some in power want to stay that way, even if it means disregarding the principles everyone is “required” to observe. Deception, kidnapping, and murder are tactics employed by the few, who would have it all.

But for the most part life in 2094 is pleasant.

There is no unemployment. More to the point, everyone has a job they are fully qualified for and like. Each person’s work fits his or her gifts and inclinations.

Homelessness is a thing of the past. Everyone has a dwelling sufficient to meet their needs. As situations change (i.e., increase or decrease in family size) different accommodations, in line with the new conditions, are made available.

Everyone receives the highest quality medical care. In fact, all are expected to see a doctor, nutritionist, and counselor at least annually.

Poverty, hunger, or violent crime are basically non-existent. However, security forces are much smaller than today. More about those ideas in future blogs.

I invite you to join me as we follow Marie on her journey of discovery, danger, and service.

 

Starting Over

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever thought what we would create if we could start over? Not just in our personal lives, as fruitful as such reflections can be, but our whole culture.

What if we took the resources, technology, infrastructure, and skills we currently possess then reorganize their distribution and use? What if we could restructure the economy to be more appropriate, fair, inclusive, and progressive? What if we created a system that rewards compassion and initiative rather than greed and manipulation?

When I began developing the inspiration that became The Doorkeeper’s Secrets, it quickly became obvious that many aspects of life needed to be different. Central among those differences are work and money.

I had the privilege of working for 48 years at a fulfilling job. It kept me learning, growing and using skills. It’s also a job I continue to affirm as valuable and true.

In the course of my work, I’ve met and/or counseled people who hated their jobs. Sometimes it was because of the people they had to work with or take instruction from. But more often, the dislike of work came from disillusionment.

Of course, some parts of many jobs are less appealing: writing reports, documenting encounters, and researching the company manual to be sure you haven’t broken any rules come to mind. The disillusionment may also come from a perspective that the thing you have given your life to is relatively insignificant–or you no longer believe in the mission–or the vision has changed.

Sometimes, at midlife people desire to choose another path, but realize they cannot “afford” to start up in another field. A driver’s education instructor in a public school expressed the dilemma when he told me, “I would rather be teaching outdoor survival skills. But I can’t because I have two kids entering college in the next four years. It would take ten years to build up a reputation and client base to earn what I now make. During the time we’d lose our home, cars, and savings. Assuming I don’t have a career ending accident or illness.”

For my friend, each day was a drag. His life passion no longer matched his job.

What if he could have retrained for the job he loved without putting everything at risk? It would require a complete reorganization of how we treat work and finances.

As for money. What if every young person were raised knowing they could be trained for a job they would find meaningful and enjoyable, without concern for what it will pay. What if the person who repairs streets and the University President (with the same years of experience) made the same?

What if people did a job because of “love for the work” and had what they need for participating in the economy. More about a possible future economy in future posts.

 

The next paragraphs provide a glimpse into some of the inner-workings of my mind as I write the series.

While working on The Doorkeeper’s Secrets, it became clear to me, that none of this is possible without a renewal of the emotional contract. In the context of The Sheltered Cities Series, a complete reweaving of the fabric of society was initiated by President Jim Earldrige (in the 2050’s).

Key to making the “Plan for the Future” (developed in the 2040’s) work is a renewed commitment by citizens and leaders alike to a society that functions for the good of all. That foundation includes five primary principals: Community, Vigilance, Faith, Respect and the Common Good.

I’ll address each of these over the next five posts. Maybe you have some ideas to share about a new start. I welcome your comments.

Thanksgiving–Not Just a Day

Thanksgiving is not just a day but a season. It is no accident that the Christian season of Advent begins shortly after the US’s national day thanks. The whole season from harvest (preparation for lean times); to the diminishing of light (shorter days); to the anticipation of a new future (increasing light, warmth, another planting, and harvest); and the cycle repeats.

I use Christian language because that is my faith stream, but I’m aware of similar celebrations in other faith traditions. It is time to be grateful. We remember the creative, life-giving spirit that sustains us and all other life on earth.

 

As individuals, the Thanksgiving season calls us to remember those who have supported, encourage, challenged and assisted us: parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, spiritual leaders, our heroines, or heroes. None of us would have become the people we are today without a lot of help. That is true if we think we are “sitting on top of the world,” or are depressed and despondent.

Those of us who think we are primarily responsible for our success, must stop and remember the people who believed in us, called out our better efforts, and supported our endeavors (financially as well as emotionally). Likewise, when we see someone who does not “measure up” to our standards (no matter how broad or narrow those standards may be), then we must remember they too had “help” being pushed down to the place where we encounter them. In fact, where we observe them now, maybe a significant advancement over how they were a few months or years ago.

At the very least, we are called to give thanks that we could have easily found ourselves in a similar situation without the support we received.

Even if we claim to overcome “great odds,” or that the “deck was stacked against us” we had help along the way.

The story goes that a new patient went to see a psychiatrist. While explaining his reasons for coming he haughtily proclaimed his many achievements in business, personal wealth building, and his fame. To punctuate his successes he said, “… and I’m sure you’ll appreciate what I had to go through when you discover I was raised in an extremely dysfunctional family.” The patient waited for a response. The therapist looked up from his notepad replying, “There is no other kind.”

 

At every holiday, there are those who do not get the holiday because of their work. Keeping us safe (military, police or firefighter) maintain health (nurses, doctors, or other medical personnel) or care for us in other ways (those who keep the transportation system working, the power on, and countless other responsibilities). Thanksgiving is a time to remember them with appreciation.

Expressing gratitude is one of the signs of a healthy relationship: lovers, parents, children, communities, schools, hospitals, business associates, customers, as well as state, national and international leaders. But the appreciation needs to be real. We don’t say thanks to the state legislators who passed a tax bill giving the wealthy and small businesses breaks while putting the burden on the poor and those who attempt to assist them.

 

In the future envisioned by The Doorkeeper’s Secrets and other books in the Shelter Cities Series expressing appreciation is encouraged. Not only in person but also through anonymous commendations. The compliments are collected electronically and shared with each person during their annual visit with his or her counselor.

Of course, that is all in the future. But what about now? We often hear that our society is divided and becoming more so. What if we could find a way to celebrate and lift up those behaviors that are supportive and build up the common good.

From time to time the “Opinion Line” in the local newspaper prints a note of appreciation for “the stranger who found and returned my (wallet, driver’s license, cell phone, etc.) or paid for our meal ….” Appreciation is a good thing.

Maybe I disagree with much of what a person says or does, but observe an act of kindness, gentleness, or standing up for someone unable to do so without help.

What do you think readers? Would our lives be richer if we started looking for acts of compassion and respect rather than focusing on the dysfunctional all around us? If that occurred even in a small way, would that begin to create a greater sense of unity?

If we can begin to see good in others, and our culture perhaps we can address the conflict, anger, fear, and differences all around us. We must address our problems from a perspective of strength and stability—supporting one another may be where we start.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To Plan or Not to Plan?

Wisdom from many writers says – “Write what you know.” Well, I know a few things for sure. Not many, but three maybe four things I know. One of them is: To Plan is Better than Not Planning.

A friend has a wall plaque which reads, “No Amount of Planning Will Ever Replace Dumb Luck.”

It is true that sheer circumstance may produce unexpected results. Some people seem to live by the mantra of “Luck will see me through.” The problem about depending on luck – is that it’s just as likely to be negative as positive.

Those of us who want some control over our lives –  Plan. Another message on a wall: “If you have no Destination Then any Road Will Do. The Problem is – you Won’t Know When You’ve Arrived.”

Planning begins with a “Destination” in mind. A goal is essential to any plan. What is it you want to accomplish? What skill do you want to learn? What place do you wish to visit?

Anything from a secure retirement, or a beautiful garden, to a family gathering at Thanksgiving works better with a plan.

Planning involves steps. The Thanksgiving dinner purchase and preparation of food (keeping in mind who is allergic to what) arrange a space (including keeping the belligerent family members apart) making invitations and dozens of other details. The dinner doesn’t just happen because it’s the 4th Thursday in November, and everyone’s going to Aunt Joann’s.

One of the great things about plans is that they can be changed. If you have a procedure, you can modify it when an emergency intrudes, or the situation changes or new information presents itself. But without a plan, you may be blown about by the winds of change, and end up somewhere you did not intend.

Plans are not chipped into stone. They need to be living, growing and adapting. There must be an evaluation to see if goals are being reached, and sometimes the findings lead us to replace all or part of the plan.

Planning helps us anticipate the obstacles we may encounter along our journey. If a surprise pops up – well at least we have experience making adjustments.

The Doorkeeper’s Secrets has a social and economic foundation: “The Plan for the Future.” Developed decades before our story begins, it outlines policies supportive of an interdependent society, with true “Liberty and justice for all.” It’s the elements of compassion, integrity, respect, and dignity mandated by “The Plan” that is under attack. Our protagonist finds herself in the middle of a controversy with more power than she wants.

IMG_20170730_151742635One more “wisdom slogan” about planning: “Life is what happens while we’re planning something else.” The real key to happiness may be our ability to unite our plans along with all the surprises that come our way.

 

 

Collaboration and Interdependence

If the human race is to have a future, we must learn to be respectful and honor the dignity of each person’s contribution. In other words, we must listen to one another and learn from each other as we seek the common good; collaborate and become dependable.

Today, if someone is called a “collaborator,” it’s often an accusation. Suspicion of collaborating with the enemy of one’s nation, company, family, political party, or religion may be grounds for dismissal from work, friendship, or society.

However, most collaborations are positive: Rogers and Hammerstein, Lewis and Clark, or Ben and Jerry’s are only a few. When parents agree on discipline principles for a child; when educators agree on the essentials for a course of study; or when communities develop infrastructure plans we see this skill at work. To collaborate is simply working with someone else on a project. It’s the essence of teamwork. No baseball team can win without each player contributing their skills at the right time—both at bat and in the field. When a batter hits against a pitcher, she or he knows there are eight other players on the field ready to take charge and make the best of the situation.

Teamwork is similar to interdependence. To be in an interdependent relationship with colleagues, spouse, or friends means each person contributes their best to the situation. Interdependence happens only when those involved are dependable. Everyone must carry their weight, because all others are doing the same.

So why are we talking about this? Well, my picture, in The Doorkeeper’s Secrets is based on a cultural shift. The change required includes moving our economy and social structures away from greed and competition toward collaborative and interdependent leadership and relationships.

When I learned about leadership from a collaborative stance, it quickly became the only kind I wish to offer. Interdependence means it is not all up to you – whether you are at the top of the organizational chart, or think of yourself as a “flunky.” It’s a gift to know all the ideas and wisdom (in or out of the organization) is available for the asking.

We can begin taking steps in a cooperative-supportive direction. Some are small like looking for “Fair Trade” and “Ethically Sourced” marks on foods we purchase. Recycle and buy products that are at least partially made of recycled materials. Other actions include supporting cooperative ventures; seeking sustainable everything (especially energy) and asking our politicians what they plan to do to ensure a habitable planet for the fifth generation.

The future of planet earth is bright because we can work together to address issues. We have wisdom, intellect, and technical capabilities sufficient to address and solve many of our problems. In my picture of the future – we do. The real question is: will we?

 

The Future of Safety

It seems that every few weeks we have another newsworthy shouting. The frequency appears to be on the increase. Such events are almost commonplace.

Analysis following those events often includes statements like “‘Americans’ love their guns.” A statement conveying a pessimism about any significant restrictions on these weapons.

Since the Las Vegas shooting, I have been thinking about weapons and safety in the future. I am an optimist. I believe we can produce a safer tomorrow. But it is clear to me, as a writer and human being, our current violence trajectory must change, if we possess any hope for a tomorrow based on dignity, compassion, and respect.

Two thoughts occur to me. One about how our people developed such a dependence on guns; and the other about reducing violence. So how did a nation founded on justice get so violent–the antithesis of just behavior?

When I was a kid most of the radio dramas, and early TV shows promoted for children were “Westerns.” (before Howdy Doody or Mr. Rodgers; and yes, I am old enough to remember radio dramas).

Most plots are similar. Some bad characters with guns would come riding into town shooting up things and threatening people. The townspeople were all milk-toast types who just wanted to get along. But soon one of the outlaws would do something unforgivable (often having to do with the virtue of one of the locals).

Then someone confronts the gunslinger who insists on a showdown at noon on Main Street. They meet the next day and either prove that right will always win, or not. Then Marshal Dillon or Annie Oakley show up to “… put things right.”

Even as a kid I remember wondering why the town lets the bully terrorize them? So, they are all shaking in their boots, and poor shots, but there are 45 to 100 of them, and only one “gunslinger” and a few cronies. With everyone working together they could route out the bad guys.

So, from the frontier days, the U.S. has been taught that bad guys misuse gun and good guys (with better morals and skills) overpower the outlaws. One problem is, nowadays, we can’t depend on the good guy being available when the abuser shows up. Particularly true if he walks into places where people are unarmed, or they ambush from the seclusion of hotel rooms, movie theaters or towers. Thus, people think they need a weapon to defend themselves, and the more mass killings, the more pressure for individuals to “be prepared to defend themselves.”

Well, that’s the mythology we’ve grown up with. It is clear our present path leads to greater chaos and the dystopian futures predicted by many. So, how do we exchange this philosophy, for one giving us a more optimistic future?

In my version, we come to grips with the need for personal safety and keeping weapons out of the hands of those who would abuse them.

Some suggest today’s violence problem is largely about mental health. Well of course it is. In my future, everyone sees a counselor at least once per year. But for now, how do we use stable mental health as a condition for gun ownership? I may be well-balanced at the moment. Everyone is subject to loss of stability with events such as an illness (physical or mental), emotional disruption, or some unanticipated unpleasant life change (divorce, death of a loved one, demotion or firing). An imbalance comes, and the available weapon becomes a temptation often producing disaster.

In the version of the future portrayed in The Doorkeeper’s Secrets, there are few guns. Law enforcement uses stunners (an advanced form of Tasers); active duty military has weapons when in a war zone or training; hunters may own hunting weapons that are securely locked up at a hunting preserve; plus, everyone wears “smart outer garments” preventing assault or injury.

Perhaps one key is to stop glorifying the “rugged individual” who does everything on his or her own. I believe there is more than one of us because we need each other. I need and benefit from the work, ideas, and values of many people I will never meet–so do you. From the food I eat to the car I drive to the electrons bringing this message to you–we depend on the gifts of others (even if we pay for them). Society will work for more people when we become more collaborative.

Collaboration will be the subject next week.

 

Utopian?

Sarah Begley writing in October 9, 2017, Time Magazine points out we have had few utopian stories catch the interest or attention of the reading public. She names only five such classic novels–the most recent of which is the Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler.

At the same time, we’ve had a boatload of dystopian books and movies. As I read the article, I began to ask is my novel what everyone has been waiting for? Or is it doomed to be ignored because it is not gloomy enough? Only time will tell.

The essence of all faith is driving us toward something better. For many, the something better is to be found only in the afterlife. For others, faithfulness is about improving life here and now. Even those who place their trust in country, job, or the things money can buy do so with the belief that those things will bring fulfillment.

So if we all desire our lives to be transformed, then why the resistance to stories that suggest that it happens? Part of the answer is that we humans feel accomplishment in the struggle and the doing more than the end result. Some may measure their sense of self-worth by the size of their bank account. But for most of us, money becomes a means to an end. We use our money to get what we need, or desire. Our most profound sense of value often comes from the efforts that enabled us to reach our goals or at least get closer.

Sarah Begley points out, “One obvious roadblock to writing good utopian fiction is that perfect societies are, well, perfect–meaning they don’t leave much room for narrative tension.” If that were true life would be rather dull.

So what about The Doorkeeper’s Secrets? Well, it is based on the belief that we can treat one another better. All people deserve respect, dignity, and an opportunity to contribute to society. Furthermore, we two-legged creatures are smart enough to address, listen, and solve most of the problems we face today. In some cases, solutions will mean making adaptions to compensate for the lack of attention to areas like the environment.

Is it “pie-in-the-sky” to think that we can develop an economy where everyone has a job they enjoy, a decent home, nutritious food, medical care, quality education, and personal safety? A place where differences are honored and seen as learning opportunities. A culture where no one becomes a slave to the economic giants and none get rich off the labors or ideas of others.

Since I believe that kind of world is possible, I have written about it. So where is the tension? For one thing, not all states have accepted the new model. Also, there are some who will do anything to undo “The Plan” and get back to being rich and powerful–even if it means letting millions die. Finally, there are some inherent weaknesses in all collaboration centered social orders and the story explores at least some of those.

I hope you will join me in my future. Then we can decide if it is utopia or just another failed attempt at human maturation.

 

Three Stories I Don’t Need to Tell

There are three types of stories I don’t intend to write. While there are likely some hints of each, if you are looking primarily for one of these, you probably need to search elsewhere.

  1. Dystopian Future. There are many books and movies painting a dismal picture of humanity’s up-coming days. In such stories, a hero needs to arise, fight against overwhelming odds, and bring a glimmer of hope for a brighter tomorrow.

There are others who write such stories very well. Dystopian stories work from the assumption that things will get much worse before they can be better. Of course, there are dark elements in my work; they fuel the conflict the heroines and heroes must address. But the primary focus of my work is the possibility of increased health, compassion, respect, and dignity for all. The dark forces are the outlier, not the other-way-around.

  1. Kids Can’t Trust Adults. “Trust no one over thirty” was a saying back in the 1960’s. We read/hear numerous tales where the adults are too preoccupied with their own world to pay attention, much less help the youth address a problem. So it’s up to the young to save the world.

My protagonist is 19 years-of-age. However, once she figures out where the real threat originates, she seeks and receives help from several older people. Some she has known for years, and others she has just met. Part of the dynamic of her dilemma is discovering who is trustworthy.

  1. The Token Man (or Woman). I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen too many stories where one gender (or race) has all the brains, responsibility, compassion, or power and the other is only a clueless buffoon, “eye candy,” or obstacle to be conquered.

My main character is a strong, intelligent female. She works with and seeks the advice of other capable, responsible men and women. For her to prevail, she must take wisdom wherever she finds it—even from her sworn enemy.

There is a place for all of these styles of story. However, writing them is not my calling or gift. So I am trying to do something different.

More about that next time.