A Man and a Puppy in Moorea

 

Due to one of those time glitches of scheduling travel within travel, Hunter and I spent about three hours in an open air restaurant waiting for the ferry to take us from Tahiti to Moorea. It wasn't the lush view of the mountain or the sun glittering on the lagoon, but at least it had comfortable tables and the breeze was cool. I watched the people passing through, ordering lunch or snacks or Hinano beer. A tall man with sunglasses and a puppy ordered a beer and sat toward the back alone. I might not have noticed him at all if it hadn't been for the puppy. It looked like baby pit bull, its belly resting against the palm of the man's hand, and it observed the world with the stoic gaze from its blue eyes.

I watched other people, birds, played imaginary tetris with containers. At one point Hunter tapped me and indicated that I look at something over my shoulder. It was the same man holding the puppy near the railing as if showing it something below. When I turned back to Hunter he was holding his hand on his chest, his eyes wide with shock. "I only wanted you to see the puppy. If I would have known he was going to hold it over the railing I wouldn't have made you look."

Moorea from the ferry

Moorea from the ferry

He was mostly joking, the puppy hadn't been dangled, and soon the man went back to his seat, and later he took his empty beer back to the counter and walked away. I was surprised later, at least an hour, that he was still there. I wondered if he was waiting, like us, for the ferry. I'd assumed he was a local and as such he might have known that the ferry had a limited schedule on Sundays. Eventually I lost track of him again, as we purchased our tickets and boarded the ferry with cars and mopeds, families counting suitcases, a group of teenage girls from some kind of sporting event, excited to order the swirls of pale chocolate and vanilla soft serve and french fries from the snack bar in the middle of the ferry. Eventually we escaped the din of the dining section and went to the front where we watched the lush tree covered atoll approach.

We debarked into a chaotic port and waited for mini tractors to unload the pallets of luggage from the yawning belly of the ferry. People around us chatted in French and Polynesian but eventually we found transportation to the Intercontinental Resort: the local bus. It was sparsely crowded, but the seats were small enough that Hunter and I could not sit near each other and keep our luggage, too. I wedged my suitcase into the aisle seat and clamored over it, ready to see what I might see out my bus window.

But as I was settling who did I see sitting opposite me alone on the bus but the same man with the puppy from the ferry restaurant. He did not smile at me or in any way acknowledge my presence, even though we'd sat within a few meters of each other for literally hours and I'd given the puppy plenty of glances. He didn't acknowledge the puppy resting against his chest either, except the occasional brushing whups on its nose as he moved it from one arm to the other.  I began to wonder what kind of culture this was, in regard to animals. Everyone I'd met so far had been warm and friendly to...other people. For all I knew this was some kind of dog-fighting initiation. For all I knew the puppy could be this man's lunch. 

I turned my attention to the window. Moorea is not a big island and the local bus gave me a chance to see plenty of locals gathering at the beaches and walking from house to house. I could smell the dinners from the ahi ma'a, the way of cooking food long and slow in banana leaves in an underground oven. There were dogs too, untethered and at ease, ears bouncing and tails making slow circles as they maneuvered from yard to yard. It rained softly, and I saw one of those rare sights no camera could justice, a rainbow over the mountain. It put it me in mind of my long dead sister, who had saved pictures of rainbows and painted them.

The bus had stopped and there was movement, but I was lost in my own thoughts and wasn't paying much attention. We were at a village. Outside my window a girl with long black hair straddled a bicycle. I couldn't see her face, but her posture was that of a young person, and she held out her hands in reception. I couldn't tell if she was happy or sad, but I could see the face of the man handing her the puppy.

I knew that face. The man at the ferry restaurant had been a stranger to me, but in his expression now he was as familiar as my own face in the mirror. I didn't know if the girl was his wife or his daughter or girlfriend, but I knew her happiness was reflected in the joy in his face as he held out the puppy to her, and I knew that man's heart, then, like I know my own. 

When you travel you think you’re getting away from it all. But you can’t get away, not really, because wherever you go, you take yourself with you, and that includes all your habits and judgments and predisposed states of mind. What you can do though, is see humanity through the lens of another culture, and that alone makes the trip worthwhile.

 

 

 

Where I Get My Protein

The single most common question vegetarians and vegans get is "Where do you get your protein?" There is an obvious answer, and as with most things regarding food that answer is scattered, smothered, covered and chunked with everything from boring science to outright propaganda. The short answer is that they get their protein from the food they eat, because all food is made up of some combination of three things: protein, fat, and carbohydrate. 

A related question is usually along the lines of, "So you have to eat weird spongy bricks floating in water, or mushy beans all the time?" Nope. Fruits and vegetables have protein. Broccoli, spinach, peanuts, figs, sunflower seeds, potatoes, strawberries, corn, avocado, peppers, barley, cabbage, and any plant you can name all have protein. A person who only eats plants (fruits and vegetables), can get enough protein without even thinking about it. Still not convinced? Have you ever seen a bull? Over two thousand pounds of muscle and bone, and it all came from plants.

 But, like an omnivore, a vegetarian who eats junk food will be unhealthy.  "What's an omnivore?" or, more disturbingly, but sadly not more uncommon, is the follow up question, "You still eat chicken, right?" 

So, here's a list of diets and their definitions. 

Look into my eyes

Look into my eyes

Carnivore:  Eats animals almost exclusively. Cows, pigs, chickens, fish, sheep, snails, crickets. If you want a cheat sheet, you can remember the basic tenet that if it has eyes it's meat, but that's not foolproof. Best to go back to the tree of life classification systems from your Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Sand high school biology to really understand what an 'animal' is. Fun fact: some animals, like cats, are obligate carnivores, meaning they couldn't survive on a vegetarian diet even if they wanted to. 

 

Omnivore: Eats a combination of animals and plants. This would seem to be the diet with the widest range of food choices, but oddly, in my personal experience and my observations of what other people eat, most omnivores are really carnivores with the exception of small amounts of potatoes (french fries) and corn (breading) added. Fun fact from The Omnivore's Dilemma: Chicken McNuggets contain more corn than chicken.

 

 

 
too pretty to eat

too pretty to eat

Pescetarian: Eats plants, but also fish. Sometimes wrongly classified as a type of vegetarian, hence the combination of pesce- meaning fish, and -tarian, as if to imply vegetarianism, but, no. Fish are animals. Possibly the mistake came from the pre-Nemo era, when fish were not considered cute enough to be animals. 

Now things get murky, and the eye-rolling, defensiveness, name-calling and fear-mongering really begin. Introducing the VEGETARIANS!

Lacto-ovo Vegetarians: As sexy as the name is you'd think it was going to be special. Nope, eats plants, but also eats dairy products and eggs. You can subdivide these categories further into lacto only or ovo only, but the division is usually based on allergies or taste preference.

cluck and moo

cluck and moo

 
eggplant flower

eggplant flower

Whole Food Plant Based Vegetarians WFPB: Eats plants. No dairy or eggs. This category is sometimes further restricted by allowing no oil (no means no. No coconut, no olive, no fun). The focus of the WFPB diet is on foods that are minimally processed. The diet is designed for health and the components of the diet have been vetted by numerous scientific studies. It is a de facto vegan diet, but it should be distinguished from the practice of veganism, which encompasses more than nutrition, as described below.

 
An animal sitting on a plant.

An animal sitting on a plant.

Vegan: Often considered the strictest diet, although it's not a diet at all, but a lifestyle choice. (However, if you are just comparing the diet aspect, WFPB-no-oil has more limited choices than a vegan diet. Example: oreos) The basis of veganism is to completely avoid consumption or use of any product derived from an animal. Vegans don't eat any animal products, including honey (bee slave labor). Vegans don't wear leather or silk coats or shoes, they don't take medications that are suspended in gelatin (derived from hoofs), or from continuously impregnated mares (Premarin-a portmanteau word coming from 'pregnant' and 'mare').  Veganism has strong ethical underpinnings.  Vegans see all living things as part of a balanced ecosystem, and make choices that benefit or at least do minimal harm to that connected system. 

Lucas Cranach the Elder painting of A and E with an apple. The original fruitarians.

Lucas Cranach the Elder painting of A and E with an apple. The original fruitarians.

Fruitarian: Eats only fruit (which includes seeds). This is a real thing, or so I am told, I have never actually met one. Fruitarians can be further restricted by eating only fruit or seeds that 'fall' from a plant. But before you fall off your paleo horse from laughing consider this fun fact: Dental studies of early hominids have shown that our ancestors ate a primarily fruitarian diet, making it a more accurate definition of a paleo diet than the reducing diet of the same name that is in vogue these days.

How I Discovered Mindfulness

When I was very young I would sometimes, for no reason at all, be overcome by an anticipatory bliss, a punch in the solar plexus that feels like hunger and satisfaction shaking hands, and think to myself, “I wonder what’s going to happen next.”

Occasionally a wonderful thing did follow, like a present or a story, or the opportunity to touch a turtle shell. But everyone knows the cause and effect of anticipating a thing and then getting it. What I’m talking about here is a subtler experience, where the result of the anticipation didn’t impact how or why or when it happened. It was merely a state my mind tended to enter apropos of nothing.

As I got older, the time between those hopeful sparks grew until they faded completely. I regained the ability when I began to think about and write science fiction, where my imagination created possibilities that outpaced reality, or skipped over to a world where the most debilitating issues still plagued humanity. But it was a deliberate kind of optimism, squeezed from my orchard of life’s-not-fair lemons. In daily life, I learned not to ask what might happen next, and I learned the hard way to never make the assertion, “It can’t possibly get any worse.” I muddled through, though, head down and shoulders hunched, until a cornucopia of very bad things happened in a proportionally very short amount of time. Some of those things didn’t stop happening, either, and still continue to this day. I became very cautious, slow to dip a toe into the unknown, preferring an ‘evil that you know’ kind of stance. I became very still and cautious, the modern day equivalent of buttressing myself against the monsters lurking beyond the horizon. But even tiptoeing past the monsters, coated in invisibility spray, isn’t enough to stave off the possibility that there is no set amount of bad things that can happen to a person. My invisibility spray would be washed away in the rain, or I’d sneeze and be back at square one, fighting a tidal wave with a sword, drowning no matter how hard or fast I parried.

Finally, too exhausted to go on, I threw off all my armor, all those little tricks and incantations against doom. I would only concentrate on the next minute. There were many terrible things all around that minute, before and after, but I was only going to focus on what was contained in the space and time within which I presently existed. Now, I am only brushing my teeth. Now for this minute I am only going to chew and swallow. Now I will open this door. And so, minute by minute, I swam out of the abyss. Eventually I hit a smooth patch and I was able to visit the realm of ordinary people once again. 

Because I didn’t want to be dragged into those depths again, I began to take steps to fortify my mind’s fortress. I started walking, outside, in parks and around water whenever possible. I started reading about mindfulness and yoga and happiness and life hacks. I made lists and goals and even managed to take back some time that modern life was siphoning off me by the jugful. I discovered, of course, that what I had been doing as a life-saving measure was already a foundation for an entire way of existing, and had been in practice for thousands of years.

So here's what I discovered, and it's a momentous thing. It's the secret to life. More specifically, it's the secret to filling the vessel of time that will take the shape of your life with meaning.  So, here it is: Mindfulness is an awareness of the content of the present instant you are in. That doesn't seem like a big deal, and you probably experienced mindfulness when you read that sentence. So why isn't everyone doing it all the time if it's so great? Well, mindfulness is difficult to maintain beyond a few seconds. If you don't believe me, try and do nothing but be aware of your surroundings for sixty seconds, without having a thought about the future or the past. Mindfulness is so slippery that an entire discipline has been developed around it, which you might know by the name meditation.

Meditation, sadly, is a loaded word in our culture. Somehow people associate it with religion or hippie political movements or incense-waving woo-woo. But meditation in its simplest form is the practice of mindfulness for a set amount of time. This regular practice will increase the amount and quality of mindfulness. Meditation teaches you how to be mindful, but the end goal is mindfulness. Not to be too alliterative, but the more mindfulness one's minutes are, the more meaningful one's life becomes. No one, not even the oldest, stillest, up-on-the-highest-mountain-peak monk is mindful all the time. It's merely a state that you can enter at will, and anyone can do it, at any time. And once you get into that habit, you'll find yourself asking yourself, with all the anticipatory bliss that lies within you, "I wonder what's going to happen now."

If you're interested in investigating mindfulness meditation, check out David Cain's blog http://www.raptitude.com/, where he has several ebooks about how to meditate, and a month-long class for beginners called Camp Calm.

 

 

How To Know if You Are a Writer

 

 

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” -Thomas Mann

"Writers write." -Anonymous

 

We are all writers. If you are reading this, then you have written something in your life, because writing is simply putting symbols together into strings of comprehensible meaning. You already know that you can write, little-w write. You want to know if you are a Writer. Big-W. But as the above quotes demonstrate, it isn’t an easy question to answer, and no pithy quip will do. Anyone who has story inside them and wondered if it should come out has pondered this conundrum. Am I a Writer? Should I be Writing? How do I know if I have what it takes?

 

Some of us began our writing journey with this idea: Being a writer is a momentous responsibility. It should be heralded by a visitation from someone who knows the deal, a tap on your shoulder to say, “It’s time.” That was me, most of my youth. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but I kept waiting for the guru with the lamp to light my path so the words could find their way out. It never happened. I had to turn the damn lamp on myself.

 

Or you may know that an outward sign is silly, that a writer’s quest begins within. But you have responsibilities. You have a job, and bills, and maybe people who depend on you. How do you balance all the demands of life and a writing career? There's already a shortage of time in your day.

 

You might even be one of the lucky ones: You’ve given yourself permission to write and you’ve got a story and the bills are getting paid, independent of your contribution. But you're still at a loss. How does the story get from me to the that sacred unicorn known as the ‘reader’? Or you might have other issues. In fact, if you’re human, you have other issues. Your parents want you to be a doctor, not a writer. You don’t have thumbs. You're dyslexic. Jupiter isn’t in Aphrodite until next century. Whatever the excuse you're using to keep the story inside, I promise, can be surmounted.

 

Welp. I’m here to tell you how you can answer all those questions, and more. Here’s a test to determine if you are a Big-W writer. You don’t need to purchase anything and you don’t need any special materials. You will need something to physically write on. Pen and paper or a digital medium with the capacity for saving your work so that you can see it at some point in the future. The one thing you will need in abundance you can’t purchase, and that thing is patience. Fortunately, patience is an unlimited commodity once you’ve trained yourself in it. The test takes time, I won’t lie, but you will have the time for it. No matter how busy your schedule is, the big W test adapts to you.

 

Okay, ready to begin? The exercises should be done in order. If it isn’t expressed, you can do more than one in a day or you can skip days in between, but try not to let the slack time between steps stretch longer than a week or two.

 

Step one:

This one is easy and you probably already know what it is. Today you are going to write. You can write anything you want, but you must devote yourself to the task for at least fifteen minutes. That’s it. If you can’t think of anything to write, try googling writing prompts, but don’t include the searching part in your fifteen minutes.

 

Step two:

Today you are going to write again. You can continue whatever you were writing from step one or write something completely new. This time you can write for as long as you want, but you must write at least 350 words.

 

Step three:

Today you are going to create an outline for a complete but short story. You can use the components of the prior days or something new, it can even be that an abbreviated version of your magnum opus. An outline should include the following elements: A sentence describing the beginning, one for the middle and one for the end. The names of the characters. The thing that changes. You can spend as long as you like on it, but if it feels too uncomfortable to come up with an idea, you may add an explosion.

 

Step four:

Write the story from your outline in step three. The story can be the novel you have dreamed of writing, but try to only include the bare bones, the most important parts. If you feel like you can’t write this story within a week, that’s okay. Take the last day to add a few sentences to sum up the parts you didn’t get to for cohesion.

 

Step five:

Put that story away. You are not allowed to look at it again until I tell you to. Instead write something new. Decide whether you liked the timed writing or the word limit and let that guide you. Remember to set a goal, the minimum being either x minutes or y words.

 

Step six:

Repeat step five, but using the schedule of your life for how often. Keep doing this for one to three months, until you have a finished story or chapter or a completed vignette or essay. You can also try writing with friends, timed sprints, dictating and transcribing, doodling your scenes, or imitating the style of your favorite author.

 

Step seven:

Today you aren’t going to write. Today you are going to read what you’ve written. If you can, try reading it out loud. Not to judge it, but to ask these questions: Did the character/status quo change? Was a conflict resolved? If you can’t answer those questions, then think about how you can add those things to what you’ve written, or how you can add a section which includes those things. Don’t write the changes or additions this time. Only add notes to yourself for how you will do that.

 

Step eight:

Write the changes from step seven. Allow at least one day but no longer than one week to elapse between step seven and eight.

 

Step nine:

Read what you’ve written and change anything you’re not happy with, but make sure that at least one 24-hour period has elapsed between step eight and step nine. Make sure that the finished product is legible and as free from typos as you can make it. If it isn’t a complete story, at the least try to have a self-contained segment.

 

Step ten:

Prepare yourself. This is the point where many get tripped up. It may be the hardest step of all, but it’s crucial that you not skip it. You must let someone else read this thing you have written. It can be a writing group, another writer, a friend, or an anonymous (or not) online venue, or a teacher or mentor. However, it should absolutely not be your mother, spouse or offspring.

 

A note on step ten: Step ten is really the divider between little w and big W, and step ten won’t mean anything if you can’t do step eleven.

Step eleven:

Whatever the response the reader gives, say thank you and nothing else. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree or don’t understand, or if they don’t give the amount of feedback you’d like. Step eleven is about gratitude, not fulfillment.

 

If they’ve given you written notes you can go over them at your leisure and consider whether to make any changes based on the critique. However, it is your story and ultimately only you get to decide how it is told.

 

Step twelve:

Today is a special day, and it’s one that you must prepare for. Today you are going to devote entirely to writing, so make sure you clear your schedule, make arrangements for an unencumbered day off of work and inform your family members that you will not be available for at least eight hours. Ideally, this step would be accomplished in a closed room with no other people around, so if you can swing getting a hotel room or the use of a friend’s empty vacation home for the day then do it. Don’t set up anywhere where people who normally expect things from you are. Go to a library or a coffee shop at least, but try to go somewhere where you can spend at least eight hours uninterrupted. Once you’re settled in, turn off your phone, turn off all access to email, google, texts. That’s right, no internet. No distractions.  Today is an entire day of you and your writing.

 

Write, scribble, outline, or brainstorm, for a minimum of 45 minutes, but don’t write to exhaustion. Take a break for no longer than fifteen minutes. You may check your phone if you must but only if you can limit yourself to fifteen minutes. Once you’re satisfied the world has not crumbled without your thumb’s exertion, turn everything off again, and start writing for another session of 45 minutes to an hour. Take a good long break at some point for a meal. But try to complete seven 45-minute sessions of writing.

 

Marathon writing, like marathon anything, is hard. Don’t expect to come out of your first one with a gold medal. But don’t surprised if you end up with a real sense of accomplishment, either.

 

Step thirteen:

So now you have a veritable treasure trove of material from the blood sweat and tears of step twelve.

Put it away.

 

Remember that story I made you hide from yourself in step five? Today you’re going to take out this cooled manuscript that you haven’t thought about in months and read it. Do you think it’s pretty good? Do you think it needs a tweak? How would you feel if someone else read it? Now ask those questions about what you wrote in step twelve.

 

Finally, think about this. What is a Writer? What have you become? You’ve probably figured out by now that some version of these steps is how writers become Writers. Every published work you’ve ever read encompasses one or some combination of the above steps. Pick the one that works for you and go with it, until it doesn’t and then try another. Continue forever.

 

One final thought:  If you don’t know the answer you can always go back to step one and go through it again, because there is only one limiting factor to being a Writer, and that is whether or not you do it.

Enter Sandy's mind

This is my blog. It's going to be about the things I'm interested in. In case you are worried about the consequences of some radical quantum of information entering your mind from mine, here's a short list of things I will probably blog about:

Writing: I write fiction. I'm particularly interested in the craft of writing, and the various paths to publication. On this blog I will be mostly writing about the creative process of writing and getting published.

Reading: I read a lot and books are something I like to talk about. I read as varied and widely as I possible can.

Philosophy: I am very curious about all that exists and the intersection between reality, nonreality, and my mind.

Food: I like to eat. I've been a vegetarian for over a year, and I'm exploring veganism. 

Mindfulness: I've been exploring this topic long before I knew this was what it was called. I'm fascinated with the study of getting better as I get older, and I'm patiently waiting for the world to catch up to the utopia I've been expecting for over forty years.

Other miscellaneous interests: Cats, humor, television shows, music, yoga, and video games.

Things that I'm not interested in: Politics and religion, in so far that they are used for shock value. That goes for things that are controversial for the sake of getting attention and subjects that cannot be discussed rationally.