Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

The Courage to Write

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


“Be a writer.” has always been my answer to the question “What do you really want to do?” It was my real answer, even when different words came out of my mouth.  However, I didn’t really believe this was genuinely possible for me and there were plenty of people to tell me so. I once even took a writing class from someone who spent most of the class talking about how little money we would have to learn to live on if we wanted to write. I stayed with typing for a living.

Then along came the internet. It was free. Writing a blog was simple – no publisher, editor or permission needed. This was when I discovered the real reason for not being a writer. It was fear, big fear. I discovered I was afraid of writing in public even more than speaking in public. When you speak in public what you say may be forgotten in a few hours. When you write in public it is there forever. Even compliments made me feel queasy. I went back to typing. I believed that “Fear means I am not a writer.”

At some point in the last few years I read the book:

The Courage to Write – How Writers Transcend Fear  — by Ralph Keyes

He writes about all the various fears experienced by writers both famous and beginner.  He illustrates real life examples of  fears about beginning a project, fears about publishing, fears about critics, fears about being ignored, fears about success and fears about failure

Even Margaret Atwood, icon of Canadian literature is quoted in the book:

“You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer,” said Margaret Atwood, “an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a    river.” 

Now, here is a whole book that contradicts my belief, “Fear means I’m not a writer.”

We’re taught in writing class that clarity, truth and personal honesty are what make good writing – precisely the characteristics that make one feel exposed in public. I realize this statement  could be equally true: “Fear means I am a good writer.” Honestly, fear doesn’t mean anything about what kind of writer I am. What matters is what I believe and how that affects me.

There is one particular line from the book that has been haunting me:

“…you should write as if you were already dead and it no longer mattered what anyone said about you.”

 I’ve reached an age where I can no longer pretend that I have my whole life ahead of me. Each year I feel the possible allotment shrinking. Now it comes down to the simple — do or not do. How do I want to spend the rest of my days?  Someday I will be dead anyway. Here’s to living and here’s to writing.


Spring 2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013


The Tao – Some Things Never Change

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The philosophy of Taoism is 2500 years old. Sounds like life really hasn’t changed as much as we might think it has.

…In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and pure,
the earth is serene and whole,
the spirit is renewed with power,
streams are replenished,
the myriad creatures of the world flourish, living joyfully,
leaders are at peace and their countries are governed with justice.

When humanity interferes with the Tao,
the sky turns filthy,
the Earth is depleted,
the spirit becomes exhausted,
streams run dry,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct….

…When rulers live in splendor and speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land and the granaries are empty;
When governments spend money on ostentation and on weapons;
When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible,
indulging themselves and possessing more than they can use,
while the poor have nowhere to turn.
All this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

How Can I File Life?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In our information society everything needs to fit into a category. I find myself resistant to creating categories for my writing. Life is all inter-related. Our biology runs the thoughts we think and the philosophy we create. How can you file life?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a mother for twenty-two years that I have trouble thinking in categories. As a parent I have been involved in all the activities that are necessary to make a human being grow up healthy and happy.  I have not spent my life focused on one task, topic, specialization or career.  There is no specialization; there is only life.  When you live with children you teach spelling while peeling potatoes and conduct conflict resolution while driving down the freeway.  You wash the floor when the baby is sleeping and stop half finished when she wakes up.  As parents we don’t have the option of saying, “That’s not my job,” or “I’ll feed you tomorrow when my project is done.”

Our lives are affected by events on a global scale.  The fruit we have for breakfast is affected by the weather in Chile.  Economic conditions in China affect my life in ways that I am not even aware of. Like weather and other natural phenomena, life is a chaotic system where all the variables are interacting.  Life does not fit neatly in a file cabinet. 

Prior to the industrial revolution one person could build a whole carriage. A carriage builder could innovate, create and improve his work as time went on. A factory worker does not have that control over his product. He builds the same pieces every day and he does his work the way someone else tells him to do it. The mechanization of the industrial revolution has predominated the workplace to the point where we take it for granted. Everyone has an assigned job description and those are the tasks that are demanded and performed. We spend our days of gainful employment functioning like a machine.

The defining characteristic of living things is that they grow and adapt by responding to changes in their environment. This is a characteristic most of the modern workplace does not allow. We’re not allowed to stay home to get more sleep or come in a day later because it’s cold out.  A single celled amoeba can move away from noxious stimuli but, as an employee, we are not allowed to go home when the boss yells at us. Perhaps much of modern stress and depression is due to the fact that we are not permitted to function like living organisms.

As we constantly force ourselves into the mechanical model, we have lost touch with our biological nature. We forget that we need to breathe, drink and eat like every other living organism. As we have lost respect for our physiology we have lost respect for the rest of life on earth as well. We’ve forgotten that we are part of  the earth and dependent on the wind, the sun and the rain for our life.  We are not separate like the parts of a car or television. We constantly cycle the earth’s substance through our bodies.

Donella Meadows writes: “Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But now look, where is that line? This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat it, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale not-me.” 

Life is complex and interactive with everything flowing together. The categories we create are only an invention of the mind to keep things separate.


Life in the 21st Century

Friday, July 27, 2007

When I read commentary on current affairs I wonder if I am the only person excited about being alive in the 21st century. Thirty years ago 2007 existed in a future that I couldn’t imagine. Prospects looked bleak, if they existed at all.

The invention of the nuclear bomb and rapid acceleration of technology had created a frightening view of the future. The media talked endlessly about an immanent nuclear holocaust. The church was preaching the coming of the end of the world. I had nightmares about fireballs rolling across the horizon. I worried about surviving nuclear winter.

In school, we studied the book, 1984by George Orwell. In the “future” of 1984 humanity lived a grim existence controlled by the surveillance of thought police. Cameras and microphones monitored all movement and every conversation.

The movie 2001 Space Odyssey featured an independent minded super computer that killed people to maintain its control. It was thought that computers would soon surpass human intelligence. Having a superior intelligence suggested that they might have the ability to enslave us. (Today, anyone who has tried to get Microsoft Word to change an I to an i is not worried.) Here we are in 2007. The sun is still shining, the grass is still growing and the end of the world didn’t happen. Certainly civilization faces challenges in this century. However, when we look back through history, was there ever a better time to be alive?

We have conveniently forgotten there was a time in human history when people ate their enemies. Three hundred years ago, North Americans were going to Africa to steal slaves. Now North Americans are going to Africa to provide medicine for AIDS, drill wells, build orphanages and adopt children. Thirty years ago, I remember hearing that women shouldn’t work in sales because they couldn’t travel and stay in hotels all alone. Now a woman can command the space shuttle and no one argues about it.

The population explosion, increased travel, economic globalization and the internet have created the beginnings of a global consciousness for the first time in human history. Issues such as nuclear proliferation and global warming are making people realize that we are all in this together. Human beings are beginning to understand that we cannot murder and pillage other societies without hurting ourselves. In a global society all tribes and ethnicities are forced to interact. “Don’t talk to strangers” is no longer applicable. In a global society there are no strangers.

Paul Hawken, long time environmentalist, entrepreneur and author has written a new book about the changes happening in global culture titled Blessed Unrest. In his talk about the book (well worth listening to) he describes how over the years he had accumulated business cards from environmental and social justice organizations. He found himself wondering just how many such organizations there are in the world and discovered that no one had compiled this information. As he researched for himself he found 30,000, then 70,000, then 100,000 organizations and the numbers continued to grow. Currently, he estimates there are between one and two million organizations dedicated to social justice and environmental issues. If you were to scroll the names down a TV screen, like movie credits, they would run twenty-four hours a day for four weeks. These organizations are spread throughout the world, across every tribe, culture and class.

Each organization has its own particular mission but their missions don’t contradict each other. Whether they are working for access to water, for workers’ rights, for sustainable housing, to protect forests or for the right to read, they are all working to make the world a safer and healthier place. A database of organizations is being compiled at In the past all social movements, such as political and religious ideologies, have started with a leader and become more fragmented as they grew through time. This is a movement that began fragmented and is growing together as independent parts of a larger network. Hawken sees these organizations functioning as a global immune system, each doing its part for the greater good.

If organizations for social change are not readily visible, then the work of individuals is even less visible. For every individual who joins an organization there are many others who are quietly applying these principles to their own lives. Individuals in every country and culture focusing on the greater good as they earn their living and care for their families.

News reports and commentary focus on the problems and challenges facing the world. Poverty, war, terrorism, and environmental destruction can be seen as the illnesses of the world. Just as we are unaware of our immune system at work, we are unaware of the millions of people who are creating, nurturing, healing, protecting and growing to make the world a wiser and healthier planet.

Without a leader and without a guidebook, individuals across the planet have embraced the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That is exciting!

WordPress Blogging Tip

Friday, July 20, 2007

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER copy and paste from Microsoft Word into WordPress. It inserts hidden formatting that makes things go crazy. It may look fine in one browser but look all messed up in another browser. Even when the post is deleted the formatting seems to stay there. It took me more than a whole day to learn this.