I suppose everyone has some thoughts on life and how they’ve lived it. Writing them down seems not the least bit immodest.
My stepson and I did not have much in common. He was a tall, forty-something kid. Good looking to the point of classically handsome. He was genetically kind with a genetic heart problem that, along with the resultant vulnerabilities, ended his life too soon. The testimonies of his friends revealed a gentle-man who never criticized from anger and whose consideration for others overrode almost everything but his commitment to doing what he thought important, well.
I can’t honestly say that I’m the complete opposite of Bill, but I have a long way to go to be even comparable. And we did share a couple of points of contact. We were both aspiring writers. He a screenwriter and me, novels. His mother and I are still pealing away the layers of his one movie, looking for the kid who wrote, directed and acted in it. But probably our most passionate point of contact was that he and I both love oatmeal cookies.
His candidate for world’s best was the Subway recipe. I had to agree that it was a contender but I like the crispier types better. In the last few years of his life, oatmeal cookies and writing made for consistently great conversation. I thought of him this morning as I spread a little peanut butter on a local cookie. I think he would have liked it.
The photo was taken in Bogalusa, LA, in 1965, the year after I graduated from the University of South Carolina.
If you’ve only read my books or only recently started coming to the site you may be asking yourself, “again?” Most of my early life I was a political news junkie and verbal blogger who could be counted on to try and shift any conversation to my leftish politics. I suppose I thought it was what I knew something about. I certainly had a passion for it. Then in the early nineties I made a personal move toward serious meditation and all of that other stuff increasingly felt irrelevant.
I still meditate. Being an early riser I carve out fifteen minutes a day and often more. But the intensity of the earlier years has gone. I’m not sure why but I am sure I could still use more than I’m giving it. Nowadays, I try to tell myself that what happens to politics in the U.S. no longer matters but when the NYT, or even the local Tico Times prints an article on inequality or racism, I feel the gore rising again.
I recently wrote a four-page polemic on racism and the future in which I attributed the ability of a minority of Americans to strangle government to the structural aspect of gerrymandered congressional districts and an emotional aspect called racism. Actually, I lump all the “anit-isms” (anti-gays, women’s equality, etc.) into the same category because the same people seem to hold the same fear of diversity. Since I consider myself a left-of-center type these days, the polemic seems to herald a shift back into the fight.
Just a few years ago I would have embarrassed myself to be so strident.
The racism aspect is particularly upsetting. Having grown up in the South and having participated as a youthful racist, most of my adult life was spent denying my own racism and “fighting” it in my public life. These days, I’m willing to accept the possibility that we never fully discharge it once it settles in. That certainly appears to be the case in the American polity. It is most evident in the Republican Party but I don’t think the Dems are exempt. Neither, of course, are members of other races.
Today, I think of myself as a recovering racist who has to keep his guard up. I thought that was true of American political culture also, but if it ever was, the guard has surely dropped.
What now? My two published novels have strong racism themes although they are primarily focused on the Indigenous. My next two are under construction and those themes are still prominent.
The one thing I am sure of is that political motives cannot take precedence over telling a good story and pushing my writing to new levels.
This blog is about my commitment to donate 25% of my Amazon revenues from The OLIGARCH, to a Guatemalan charity. But first, an editorial.
The American racial experience from 1865 until 1965 (2015?), is nothing to crow about. The underlying racism in the White nation permitted a continuing degradation (including a virtual enslavement) of the Black nation. It was most obvious in the South where I grew up and developed my own attitudes. But the underlying racism was everywhere. And still is, in spite of our better selves.
In Guatemala, the left wing rebels came to realize by the early seventies that the insurrection could not be won by trade unions, intellectuals and students alone. The peasantry also had a lot of complaints against the government and were obvious allies in the cause. And over half the population was comprised of them. They—many, at least—responded.
The problem for the peasants was that they were mostly Mayan. They lived a distinctive lifestyle in distinctive communities. They were Indians. And like Blacks in the U.S., were already despised at some level by a large part of the more “white” population.
The end of the Cold War brought a dramatic reduction in support for the military government. The official Guatemalan response was a cynical (realistic?) “now you’re here, now you’re not” attitude towards the Yankees. Of course, the Afghans (Charlie Wilson’s War) and Iraqi Kurds had the same complaint. You love us while you need us but when that ends, where’s the love? And arguably, in Guatemala the oligarchy was winning the fight at the time and had little motivation to negotiate without the pressure from the U.S. But just prior to the end of the Cold War, the war in Guatemala had taken a truly nasty turn. It left a truly nasty legacy.
Vigilante and death squad violence was already well known by the Indigenous. But in 1974, under the leadership of a General-turned-President Laugerude, the fight took on a serious focus on the Indigenous. These policies were continued by another general turned president, Lucas-Garcia in 1978 and brought to an incredibly violent head by a third, the evangelical Rios Montt. Thereafter, while the overt violence may have lessened in terms of volume, the nature of the violence remained horrific under yet another general/president, Mejia Victores.
It is unrealistic to expect that the underlying racial attitudes of the Guatemalan middle and upper classes that tolerated these excesses, evaporated with a peace treaty.
How to win the peace?
Like the U.S., if the Indigenous Guatemalans are going to create opportunity and safety, it is largely up to them. My friend and San Francisco resident, Joe Messina, found this project of the Slow Food-Sonoma County North. Here is the description from their website:
2002: Slow Food Sonoma County North nominated AMIDI (Association of Indigenous Women for Holistic Development), a group of 40 Guatemalan Mayan women, for the International Slow Food Award in Turin, Italy. AMIDI won first place for their operation of raising hens for eggs to sell at market. Since then, AMIDI and our convivium have developed an ongoing relationship of mutual education and support based on agricultural traditions, food preparation, cultural values around food, and Slow Food concepts. We have established a scholarship program for both children and adults; raised funds for safe, ventilated, fuel-efficient wood burning stoves for each AMIDI member; created a market for their traditional, handmade table weavings. Our convivium has brought their leader to Sonoma County for educational visits that inspired her to teach AMIDI women to create raised beds for vegetables and farm organically; keep bees; adapt agriculturally to climate change; protect the soils from erosion through reforestation; grow, dry, and sell traditional Mayan herbs that are medicinal; and learn to improve coffee cultivation techniques.
Here is a link. Hope you’ll donate also.
This happens to me a lot. I’ve gotta stop it and finish the work I’ve started.
At a reader’s recommendation, I added an epilogue to The Oligarch. Like most epilogues, this one ties up some loose ends and suggests a future for the family. It is short and mostly, “tell.”
Unfortunately, the future includes a character that I like a lot. She started out as a “he,” but before the first paragraph finished itself, he had morphed, without surgery, into a big, strapping, beautiful, indigenous, female teenager. She has a mind of her own. What’s not to like about that?
She arrived with an idea.
The big idea is that this story is written from a single point of view: hers. If I can keep the raucous sex, violence and expletives tamed and get inside the head & heart of a 17 year-old girl, it might be a YA story. But what do I know? Maybe 17 year-olds are into that stuff these days. Big step for an old guy.
I started writing a prologue for her story based on the epilogue of the last. The prologue is in the “show” tradition, all action and dialogue. Backstory is dribbled into dialogue and internal events. It’ll be next year before that book is done, so if I publish the prologue in the next few weeks, you probably won’t remember it when I try to sell you the new book.
When I wrote the epilogue, she was going to be a doctor. But as the prologue unearths, she has had a change of heart (I think), and may become something else. “Stories” became a compelling part of her life. Maybe she’ll be a writer/journalist, or maybe a female Michael Crichton. All of the above? Stay tuned.
One of these days I’m going to have to learn to outline before I start writing.
The writer is hunched over his laptop.
Knock on the door.
“I’ve just got to read this to you.” And she plops on the edge of the bed. My wife is not a sports person but on the recommendation of friends she bought, The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. The sport is competitive rowing.
She was a soccer mom, and before that a swimming mom, but the sports held no fascination for her. If her kids had chosen differently she could have been a lawn-bowling mom. I know this and I’m curious about what she’s found.
She’s at 56% when she finds the, you gotta’ hear this, part. She brings me up to date on the protagonist’s struggles and what the coach has done to help him tap his considerable talent. Then, as the first word of the text drops from her mouth, I hear her voice catch.
As she reads the tears roll, little ones, but they keep coming. No matter, she keeps on reading. “It’s about how these poor boys learned humility through their struggles,” she says.
Something about this story has reached this point for this reader and she is with the storyteller in the most vulnerable way. It means something to her. No one else has underlined this part. This reader is inventing the story with the author now, and D.J. Brown should be proud.
“Bookmark it so I can find it later,” I say. She leaves to keep reading.
Later, I’ve finished the sauté and she stands at the dining table, reader in hand. “Wait,” she says, “I’m right at the end of the race in Poughkeepsie. Washington is at 4o strokes per minute and they are coming up on Cal.” She pulls out her chair, “Well,” she says. “Well, well, well.”
What more can a writer ask?
I’ve been writing about the reflective reader over several blogs and I suddenly know why. I’m married to one.
Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their epic Quest For the Gold at the 1936 Olympics. [Buy Here]