Us vs Them

Jews detained during the Vel D’Hiv roundup in Paris, 1942. Photo: Public domain.

Say the name “Auschwittz” and most people cringe. But fewer cringe at the name “Vel’ d’Hiv” where, on July 16, 1942, a crowd of 13,152 people, 4,115 of which were children, were rounded up, kept for days, and eventually processed into places like Drancy, “the French antechambers to Auschwitz,” as described by author Tatiana de Rosnay (Sarah’s Key).

What astonished me as I read about this, and a point made again and again by the few survivors, was that the arresting officers were not German, but legitimate French police.

In this age of superhero movies, we like our villains and heroes in black and white. The good Allies, the evil Nazis. But history isn’t so easy.

How does one get from civilized to Auschwitz?

“Us and them” is possibly the most toxic concept ever adopted by humanity, whoever the “us” or “them” of the current day. “Us and them” makes “other than us” not just different, but less than. Take “less than” far enough, and you get Auschwitz. Or Vel’ d’Hiv, where people jumped from the stands just to avoid what they knew was coming.

Something to think about the next time you tip your server, look down your nose at someone, or decide on your employee’s wage.

We need difference if we are to have all the pieces to a thriving society. “Other,” that is to say “less than” is a concept that creates fear and disdain, and is one we can do without.

Completely.

Long Dark Teatime

So this is what that feels like. This Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul.

Finished my first draft of my first complete novel on my birthday in 2018. Ground through my 974 page Franken-novel over the next 2 years. Almost wrapped it (in spite of knowing it had issues) in November, 2019 for my mentor who wanted to retire that month. Kept pushing for that ending until March 2020 where I encountered Lisa Cron’s Story Genius class on CreativeLive.com and I promptly crashed.

Shellacked (ie polished to a fine sheen) pile of peanut butter (ie. formlessly gets everywhere wile going nowhere). Concurrently, I was also pushing ahead on finding a new writing mentor. (Results: Too busy; too busy; can’t afford; can afford but a little on the frighteningly new age-y side…) Find someone and am treated to 2 pages of free editing wherein I hear all the ways I will have to cut up my baby to make it commercially viable and find myself actually asking if I really want to be a writer after all (something I have pursued for the lion’s share of my life).

That is what this feels like: A razing swath of large-scale self-doubt, decimating forests of thought, blanching the once lush fields of creativity. Highway cinderblock sized fear around whether or not I have the chops, will have the time, the strength, whether it is already too late.

And around my feet the Swamp of Sadness whispers its life-sucking notion that maybe I hate this book (series) I’m trying to write. Maybe I hate it a lot.

And I’m tired. Wrestling the plot logic together through this mammoth thing only to be told (or realize myself) that it is ALL WRONG! (*head-desk).

And yet it glimmers. And yet it whispers: don’t give up. You can fix this. This bit here…and this bit there…you could…you could…

Can I? Will it be what I hoped for when I am done? Or some unrecognizable commercial hash that leaves me empty?

Oh, I remember this feeling! The feeling in the first ever half marathon I ran (not realizing “trail” running is a whole other beast than “street.”) When joy and challenge and hope are all stripped away and there is nothing left but the limping, dogged determination to finish, not even win. Because alone, out there, there’s nobody to care if you quit. Only you. So limping jog to hobbling walk, you push on. And on. And on, while reality fades away and the only material thing left is the dust beneath your feet. Even the race marshals have packed up. You cross that invisible barrier of the finish line without any witnesses. Except you. And maybe your spouse. But you know you made it.

This is my writing marathon. My Trail Race. My mountain.

On the up side, apparently I have a literary voice.

Now!

I am continuing my pursuit of a daily blog entry.

Yesterday’s course work (How to Find your Dream Job & Power of Habits on CreativeLive) put the idea in my head that a blog should be there to help people with something they need help with.

Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of a single thing that I know that would help anybody. I sat with the idea for a bit.

The only notion I came up with was the lessons I am learning on this writing journey.

The biggest one to date is the importance of a daily writing practice and the idea that you need to do in NOW. Not after the house, the kids, the job, the volunteer mission. If you are called to the writing life, you must live it and live it today.

There are other folks to specialize in all those other tasks. Not to say that we don’t have responsibilities. These other factors that enrich our lives need to be put them in the right priority. I’m just saying you need to set the big rocks in the jar first, and let the sands of life fill in around it.

Kids fed, house functional, friends & family loved, then you are good. You are allowed to carve out that daily hour or three or whatever you can make work. Commit yourself to it. Don’t rationalize your way out of doing your works of magic, your vital task.

If I have one enduring regret, it is that I didn’t take my career as a writer seriously sooner.

Daily practice. Do it now!

Snap

For fourteen years I have stared at a stack of some 20 to 35 boxes piled in my basement around our little kitchenette.

This last two weeks (Spring Break) I tackled them with a vengeance.

It was like wading through a leaf strewn forest and repeatedly springing giant silver-toothed bear traps, like the ones in cartoons.

But the experience was no joke.

I got an overview of my life to date. I saw how time had slipped away while I was busy doing “other things.”

Other than what? Dunno. Paying attention to my loved ones and writing spring to mind. Building a relationship with one particular soul that I was gifted the opportunity to know and raise, instead of what happened.

Many painful stabs of memories.

I find myself asking how much of the dark past needs to be remembered and documented? For posterity? For honesty?

Or can we just let it slide away with the tide of time? Does it go away then?

Wander Wishing

After some appointments downtown, I found myself not yet ready to depart the urban environment. Sunlight called me down the street lined with old snow, skims of ice and puddles.

In as little as a block I went from the yuppie-ville of high-end breakfast places and trendy lunch outlets to sketchy people in rough clothes who ignored social cues and openly stared as I progressed down the street. I keep forgetting my hair is purple now.

I suppose the health and Rehab centre on the corner contributed to this urban underbelly feel. I kept walking, and found a tiny violently pink shop that looked to be no more than a single room. I think I’d like to visit it, no matter what the menu.

Rounding the corner, I found brick business buildings of a bygone era, still rife with detail, a street that still gloriously sported a row of mature trees, and a chap with crutches who said, “Nice colours!” as he walked by.

The road dipped down and the brooding shadow of a concrete overpass loomed. It seemed both post-apocalyptic and whimsical as its serpentine path arched away a few scant yards above.

The flavour of the people felt hunched shouldered and hard edged, like they might ask you for a few dollars, and then insult you if you didn’t pay (which happened) or maybe just wonder what right you thought you had walking in their neighbourhood.

It is as close to a bad part of town as I think this city gets, which, all in all, isn’t very bad, thankfully.

I passed a huddle of people and belongings piled under an orange tarp beside a wide empty lot just before a narrow old elevated bridge. There were tattoos and dreadlocks aplenty among the scattered goods, but one man, naked to the waist, etched in ink showed a surprising inclination to industry that I hadn’t expected to see in a street person as he swept up a pile of debris along the edge of the sidewalk. As if this was his home, and this his own front yard.

Poignantly, it may have been.

It made me want to go speak to him. But a woman alone? Would it be wise?

Still, I experienced a surge of respect for the man, wishing now I had had more courage.

Perhaps that is why Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs.

Eyes Full of Dollar Signs

Awkwafina
Awkwafina
Supertree Grove, Singapore
Supertree Grove, Singapore

How did it happen?

I think it started with looking up 10 Parkour Tricks for Beginners. Suddenly I was on a success and money safari through the interwebs.

I bumped into fascinating people like Simon Sinek and Seth Godin and even sat through some Tony Robbins all talking about success. Sir Ken Robinson was there. Even Dr. Phil.

All of them had key things to say to the entrepreneurially minded. How to tackle adversity. What real leadership looks like. What kinds of life habits have impact.

All good stuff. But one has to be careful that one doesn’t get sucked down the rabbit hole.

As one deeply concerned about finances since my lay-off back in October, the topic of money grabs me.

And yet I hear the advice given by certain people to the high earners out there and it isn’t “build a bigger table” to share what you have. It’s upgrade the quality of your life.

Buy the business class airline ticket. Get the better trainer, home chef, cfo (financial officer). Throw the extravagant house party with all your friends. Spend it on yourself.

Self.

The biggest idea the new rich can think of as to where to spend their money is “on me.”

Doesn’t matter that x-number of people are homeless in the town where I live. I deserve a well-stocked four car garage.

Doesn’t matter that the women’s shelter can’t afford any more beds. I need more lattes.

Doesn’t matter that cancer is still unsolved. I need another x-number of square feet on my house, and the pool.

I heard that most people in the world live for under $500 a YEAR.

What if we built planes to have an equity class. Take the extras from Business class and spread it evenly over all the seats. What would that kind of world look like?

What if there were only Moderately Crazy Rich Asians, but everyone got to be one?

Maybe JK Rowling is on to something.

Target Rich Environment

Take ten squirrels, put them in a small cage and shake it. (Don’t really do that. It’s cruel). That will give you the frantic state of my brain some days.

As always, focus for me is a challenge.

Do I take those master classes? Work on learning Chinese? Or the guitar? What about my flute skills? Should I write more on the novel(s)? Or focus on developing short content? Poems? Short stories? Film??

And on the home front, is it purging things to the garage? Or painting? Plumbing anyone?

Spring soon. What about the yard? Veggie garden? Or just maintenance? Fencing?

Weeding? The Faerie Garden! What about that?

How to calm the critters?

My strategies thus far have been:

1) Know yourself

2) Choose/discover your life mission

3) Prioritize the “squirrels”

4) Break down each “squirrel” -i.e. project- into bite sized pieces (Don’t use actual squirrels. That’s cruel).

5) Schedule the pieces and take a two week run at the new schedule

6) Tweak and adjust from what you learn in live practice

7) Repeat as needed until task is done, item is learned or habit is set

(28 days to learn a new habit)

Rewards for successes are probably a good idea too.

And tea. Tea is good.

What are your strategies?

Quests & Voyages

I am continuing the quest to purge my house of excess stuff.

Took a look at the Fantasy Book Shelf, a sacred space in my home.

It was surprising and delightful to look back at just the titles and remember all those fantastic voyages, the writing that ignited my passion for fantasy, the authors like old friends.

It was intriguing to be pushed to remember who I was when I read those books, or where I first read them.

I did not linger long. Memory often brings me acute emotional pain.

So I merely glanced, and tasted again of that luxurious season of library trips by bike, stacks of books on the corner of my bed, and afternoons reading in the sunshine of the giant window of my room…and of course rainbow dragons!

Dog Day

The more I get to know myself, the more I hate me.

The expression “this went completely pear shaped” is indicative of something that was an unmitigated disaster. Well, I am pear shaped, both physically and metaphorically, and I am restless for change.

Change comes in uninspiring increments so small one can scarcely see them. It also comes with pain. Faith is the only antidote to keep one trying to slog it forward in the face of the unrelenting headwind.

They are trimming the trees on the boulevard of my street and anxiously I peer out my window, hoping they will not destroy the thin strip of beauty that makes living in a city this size almost bearable.

There’s nothing I can do about it. The trimming must happen, to protect cars and homes.

How does one prune a pear tree? And when will spring come?

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