Friday, February 26, 2016

An American stands out in Mali

The airport is small and crowded. We’re the only foreigners and are surrounded by Malians as we wait for out flight. The men could almost be in uniform as they are all dressed alike in khaki pants and short sleeved shirts.

We introduce ourselves to one of the men and ask where, in the US, he is from.

“How did you know I’m American?” He gestures to the crowd around us. “I’m dressed exactly the same as everyone else here and I’m black.”

“Well …” How do we put this delicately? “Your walk, your stance, your haircut all scream US.” We hesitate and then say, “You’re black, but your skin tone isn’t at all the same as the Malians.”

“You know,” he says, “I’m dean of the school of architecture at UofX. I came here to study the buildings, to see how they keep them cool in such extreme heat. I’m looking for ways to conserve energy back home, and in an ideal world, to eliminate the need for air-conditioners.” He smiles ruefully. “I thought that if I dressed like everyone here, I could blend in and travel unnoticed, so to speak, but I’ve been spotted as a foreigner every time. Now I know why.”

We nod, not at all surprised. “And what did you find out about the buildings?” we ask.

“Mud brick homes are built with two ceilings about three feet apart. The heat is trapped in between and the homes are surprisingly cool.”

We’ve slept in one of the buildings in the compound pictured above and know that it was a comfortable temperature, but mud brick buildings in the US? Not likely. We tell him we hope that he can find a way to create a natural air conditioning effect and wish him well as he heads for his plane.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Wise words from the Indian helped me be a better teacher

They troop into the office, the injured student and his or her gaggle of friends who cluster around the hurt one chattering away. I chase the mother hens out and deal with the injury, be it physical or emotional.

Then I meet the Indian.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name or even what he looked like, but what he said is vivid in my mind all these years later.

He was from South Dakota. In Canada we use the terms aboriginal or first nations, but he eschewed those saying, “I don’t understand you, here in Canada. I don’t need fancy words. I’m an Indian.”

And the words that I remember all these years later? They spoke about his philosophy for raising children.

He said that his system was to take the best from Dakota culture, from Jewish culture, from American culture, or any other he came across, and meld them into a way of thinking and acting that benefits children. And what benefits children is what benefits all humans.

Two of his examples loom large in my mind.

The father who got a call from the police saying his son was in jail the very first time he soloed in his father’s car. The father went to the police station and his first words to his son were, “I love you.”

The woman who lay in the hospital bed dying, the members of her family silently watchful in the crowded room—science can measure the medical benefits of the presence of others—don’t isolate the ill.

I went home that night thinking about my own actions and knew I was guilty of missing the boat in some critical instances. When an injured or upset student came to the office accompanied by a gaggle of friends, the first thing I did was chase the friends out and isolate the student. Now, I knew better and I soon found that letting the gaggle stay invariably reduced the stress for the injured student and calmed the situation for everyone, myself included.  

I wish I could remember this wonderful wise man’s name, and the name of his organization. I wish I could write to him to thank him. I can’t do those things, but I can honor him by writing about him as I have done here.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Is a novel a novel without a love story?

Valentine’s Day and love is in the air—and in my books. I couldn’t imagine writing a novel without a love story and at least a bit of hot sex. But love in my books also includes love of family and friends, of life and laughter, and of fellow man.

Love prompts our characters to do many things, to experience a range of emotions that sometimes (often?) takes them down the wrong path. But then that’s good in a book, right?—builds tension, creates suspense, keeps us reading.

In my Em and Yves series, to underscore the action, I created a love triangle, between the heroine, the alien controlling her, and her human lover. Sparks fly, jealousy reigns, emotions run high and play havoc with the story line. In fact it takes four books to sort it all out and yes, there is a happy ending for isn’t that what all love stories deserve?

When the Sun was Mine is a story of love between two strangers; an old lady, who may or may not have Alzheimer’s, and a young girl just graduated from high school. Circumstance brings them together, initial skepticism and fear grow to respect and liking and love, and they offer each other more than they would have thought possible. Yes, the story has its sex bits too.

Mali to Mexico and Points In Between, a collection of short snippets from my life, shows how important people are to each other, and how they, and travel, broaden our perspectives of the world adding deeper dimensions to our love of life.

Happy reading and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Friday, February 5, 2016

It's the I-5!

It’s a beautiful sunny day in May and we’re off on a bit of an adventure. We take the ferry to Salt Spring Island to meet our friend, Wesley Clark. We own one of his paintings and we want at least one more for our new home.
Wesley meets us at the ferry terminal and takes us to his new place. He’s carved a space in the woods for a cabin and a studio. The first thing we notice as he drives into the yard is the wooden fish sculpture on the fence. Beautiful, but it wouldn’t fit in our condo.
Wesley gives us a tour of his property. Wesley builds. His wife gardens. Both the buildings and the gardens are works of art in themselves.
We go into his studio and two new paintings—so new they’re not even signed yet—hanging on the wall across from the door snag my attention. They’re dark and gritty and edgy—vertical stripes of black and grey with a few—very few—touches of color.
Me: Oh, I like those.
Wesley: They were inspired by a road trip to Mexico.
Me: It’s the I-5!
Wesley: That’s exactly right. I can’t believe you knew that.
Me: How could I not? You’ve captured the horrors of that drive too well.
And he has. The endless streams of traffic, the dull grays of the tarmac, the guard rails, the minute glimmers of green on each side of the roadway—the monotony.
We move on to see his other paintings. His works are varied. Primitive pieces, landscapes, nudes, abstracts … My favorites are the primitive shaman pieces, but we already have one of those and another would be overkill. We settle on an abstract full of dramatic color, but I’m drawn back again and again to the I-5 pictures.
Do I buy one of the I-5s? No and yes. I do not want the black pictures that so vividly depict the agony of that drive that we did more than once and yet I do. Wesley offers a compromise showing us his first I-5 painting—also vertical stripes, but with more color. They’re not as gritty or edgy, but this picture will look great in our entrance and be a wonderful reminder of the time I instantly “got” a piece of abstract art.