Today early morning, I run through the village my regular route to the Nile. People cry, “Very good, sport!” with a thumb’s up. A boy on a donkey runs beside me for a bit. Past the awakening shops to a place in the shade where sweet Turkish coffee awaits me, along with a breakfast of eggs and mashed peanuts with butter, made fresh in the village, bread, cilantro and flafel. The boiled eggs come from one man and are taken to the man who sells peanuts from a small cart, where he mixes the eggs with the crushed peanuts. This man has been selling peanuts from the cart since forever. This is life.
Check out the link to my essay on how I freed myself of extra baggage and took off traveling two years ago to find inspiration for my writing. Thank you Amy Oestreicher!
“It doesn’t matter if I am in a café in Phoenix, wrapped in blankets on a freezing night in the Sahara Desert, or writing with a view of Arenal volcano, four fans on full blast to keep the sweat from landing on my computer. I could be in a penthouse suite overlooking the Bosporus, or on a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, or maybe a train across India (a goal of mine). Each space has an atmosphere that speaks to my spirit and sparks my imagination. Each view, whether dark or light, colorful or noisy, joins together to become an added layer in my life.
The shrinking of my possessions has meant the growing of my freedom. The giving up of a static living space has opened a door to the universe. I am not bound by one location, one thought or one experience. My feet move in any direction I point them, light and free. ”
When I was awarded the New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Award for Reflections from Istanbul, an excerpt from my childhood memoir INTO THE WORLD, I was asked to write an introduction, something about my motivation and approach to writing. I recently received the print edition of the anthology and I re-read the introduction, which I hadn’t seen since I sent it off a year ago. With the insidious rise of fear and hatred across America and the prospect of a third World War looming, the introduction and this manuscript are especially vital now. So, here is the introduction:
It is appropriate that I received news of this award as I was on my way to Marrakech. Writing INTO THE WORLD has been a lesson in endurance, working on it when I can, because it is something I am compelled to write. And I can say that this magical part of the world, Morocco and Egypt in particular, were perhaps the biggest influences in my life from those childhood traveling adventures. So for many years, I kept that dream alive, that determination to come to Morocco and to finish the book. I am blessed to have that dream become a reality, with the added bonus of being able to work with children while I am here.
I am a traveler and I travel where and when I can, through words and pictures and through mountains and valleys and cities and villages. This is a gift that I have been given and I am grateful, although it can be a burden to be so driven, and I do not take the responsibility lightly. When I write, I do it with my whole heart and mind. It is my way of knowing that I exist and that what I do on the planet matters. My hope for INTO THE WORLD, and everything I write, is that it will fight against irrational hysteria and turn people’s consciousness away from fear towards unity.
We are all strangers in a strange land, even inside our own skin. We can never truly know ourselves or even those who are closest to us, but that doesn’t stop us from trying, each in our own ways. And so life is essentially a lesson in the acceptance of loneliness, whether we live surrounded by loved ones or on an isolated mountaintop. Understanding that we are all in this same predicament is, ironically, what gives us compassion towards one another and brings us closer together.
“Conservemas la Naturaleza y aseguremos la Vida al Mundo.”
~ Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, teacher in the Maleku school.
Maleku school children, their teacher, Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, and Daniel Spreen Wilson
On July 6, 2016 I landed in Liberia, intent on staying near Lake Arenal for three months, maybe longer. It’s now September and the time has flown by. I am returning to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and then, I will probably come back. I haven’t quite had enough of this beautiful place yet.
During my time here, I’ve had the joy of conducting the My World Project with Maleku youth on the Reserva Indigena Maleku. There are only about six hundred Maleku left in Costa Rica. They have been rounded up and given land on which to live. Meanwhile, much of the land they used to call home has been cleared in order to create pastures and fields. Many Maleku are now farmers. The Maleku can no longer build their traditional homes, since the palms they used have become endangered. Kind of ironic. The Maleku are not the ones who caused the plants and animals to become endangered. Yet, they are the ones whose lives have been changed forever because of it. Now they must live in cement houses that do not “breathe.”
Everywhere I go I meet people who offer to help with My World Project. And I have people contacting me who want to do it in other places around the world. So, day by day, this community is growing.
As happened in the Sahara Desert, I had no idea when I got to Arenal how I would make this project work. But I have always found if you open yourself to possibilities, they will find you. Sure enough, I met a great guy, Daniel Spreen Wilson, who founded La Reserva Forest Foundation. This great nonprofit has taken upon itself to help reforest the Maleku Indigenous Reserve, allowing native animals, such as the Mantled Howler Monkeys, sloths, reptiles, amphibians and tropical birds to once again live in their natural habitat.
Daniel has been here for thirty-three years and speaks fluent Spanish. So I was very thankful to have his help. Together we traversed the bumpy road from Lake Arenal to the reserve. We met with the teachers in three schools. So far, we have been to the first school to do the program and we go to the others over the next week.
From Africa to the Americas and beyond, what are children telling us with this project? Well, they are telling us that they love their natural world. They love their lakes and rivers, mountains, forests, deserts and oceans. They love their plants and animals. They love their families and their traditions. They love peace. They are interested to share their ideas with other children around the world who feel the same.
What they don’t want is the continued destruction of their worlds by outside forces. Not only is their natural world being destroyed but so is their spiritual world, meaning their traditional ways of life. And the drug culture that is now so prevalent in the United States is slowly but surely invading their lives as well. These are not just clichés to be switched off because we have heard them a thousand times. These children do not know the meaning of a cliché. This is the world they live in. This is what is happening to them. These are their real day-to-day struggles. These children see very clearly, without anyone having to tell them how express it, that their worlds are being destroyed.
Perhaps we should listen more to our children.
A BEAUTIFUL WORLD…AND A VIOLENT, FEARFUL HUMAN RACE
Here I am in this little Pueblo in Costa Rica, overlooking Lake Arenal. Book of Angels was just released, volume two in the Night Angels Chronicles, and I’m doing publicity. I have jumped into the infinity pool. Like Sera in the River Styx.
The cries of the suffering rise to heaven and I’m doing publicity.
Even as a child, I heard those cries. At night, I used to run to my dad’s study and plead with him to tell me why there was so much suffering in the world. But he could never give me a satisfying answer.
THE WORLD HASN’T GONE MAD, HUMANS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MAD
The world isn’t mad. The world is just fine. Humans are mad and we always have been. Why is anyone surprised by what is happening in the world right now? Look at history! Look at the history of the human race FOREVER. It has been one act of madness after another.
The majority of people in the world! They suffer horribly and constantly, with little relief. If one child is blown up by a bomb; if one child is raped; if one child is told mercilessly, over and over for their entire childhood by a disturbed adult who also suffered horribly as a child, that they are worthless…that is one child too many and it can never be corrected.
We can’t make it better. There is no justice, only compensation.
BUT HOW ABOUT ALL THE INSPIRING STORIES OF SELFLESS ACTS OF COURAGE?
We love to hear inspiring stories of acts of courage. The problem is, in order for an act of courage to occur, something terrible needs to have happened. first We exalt people who perform courageous acts in war. But this is what I want to know: Why does a war have to happen, why does hell have to open on earth for us to start acting courageous? Why does someone have to be drowning so that someone else can save them?
Why does it have to be this way? Is it some kind of perverse spiritual law? Good and Evil, yin and yang must be balanced?
Action and reaction.
Something bad happens, therefor something good happens.
Lazarus died. Jesus took compassion and brought him back to life. How wonderful. But Lazarus died again, didn’t he? In fact, he had to go through the experience twice. Did he suffer again the second time? What was his second death like in comparison to the first?
I am most interested in how Lazarus felt about dying again. Was his fear of death worse or had it taken his fear away?
Because that’s what this is all about. The fear of death. The fear of the unknown.
FEAR OF THE APOCALYPSE
Christians talk about the apocalypse. It was a big topic in our family and in our church, one that struck hear into my heart. The elders claimed to be authorities on the apocalypse. Elaborate charts were made, based on in-depth studies of Revelations. The conclusions they reached came right from the mouth of God.
I have news for you. For the majority of people down through history, and for most people right now, they experience the apocalypse in their everyday lives.
Imagine telling someone in Dachau, “hey, no worries, the apocalypse hasn’t happened yet!”
Oh yes, it happened. It happened for the people in concentration camps; it happened in the trenches of WWI; it happened for those killed by Stalin.
It is happening in Syria, in Turkey, in Nigeria, in Lebanon.
For every police officer and every black man killed in the United States; for every child that is shot up in a school…they and their families have experienced the apocalypse.
It’s happening right now as I write. In Munich, shooters killing in a McDonald’s, and they say it’s happening in other locations in the city. If they turn out to be Terrorists, they are not afraid of death. I would like to learn more about this attitude towards death. Because, we are all going to die. They obviously have a different outlook towards what that means.
I’m trying to make sense of it. But really, how can I?
“Experts” analyze the “facts” and draw conclusions, even though they are just as disturbed as everyone else and just as influenced by their personal agendas. How quickly they are called upon and they gather around like vultures, feeding off the carcasses, because this their chance to make a splash in our media-driven society. Who wouldn’t want to rise above the masses, to make their life have a little more meaning by becoming the new pundit. Put a new spin on an old thought, so that people go, wow, this must be true. Get yourself on the hottest late night talk show and expound.
It’s the Hunger Games.
It’s the Roman Colosseum.
It’s American Football.
It’s the Nightly News.
Has anyone seen the movie, The Year of Living Dangerously? I watched those shadow puppets, mesmerized. It powerfully illustrates how blind we are, how we only understand the world through a “glass darkly.”
What then must we do?
Life is suffering.
This modern-day obsession that we were born to be happy is a joke. What is that based on? Where is the proof? Show me. To believe this is an insult to every person who has grown up in pain and suffereing. It is an insult to every person who has grown up oppressed. I don’t think there are any children who when asked what they want to be when they grow up responds with: I want to be a murderer; I want to be a drug addict; I want to live in a ghetto and fear for my life; I want to be raped and tortured to death…. Every child wants the same things: a safe home; a family that loves them; food on the table; maybe even a story read to them at night. But most never know what any of that means.
I’m sorry, is that depressing?
TRAVELING INTO MOMENTS OF HAPPINESS
I don’t find it depressing. I find it to be liberating. It allows me to be honest. It means I’m not trying to fool myself out of desperation, or justify my elitist and separatists ideology.
If I can sit for a moment in peace.
If I can watch a sunset without distraction.
If I can find stillness in the storm.
That moment is everything. It lives forever when I let it be.
But the moment I start to think of that moment…it is gone. Another moment has taken its place. And then another. I can never capture a moment in time. I can only look back on it. But looking back is also another moment in my life.
MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING
I learned this in marital arts. I train to stay focused. To discipline my body and mind and to uplift my spirit. I train to feel, in each moment, that I am connected to the energy of the universe. It is my way of being. Everyone can find their own way.
I travel for the same reason. To connect with life. I am free of possessions. I live simply and without constraints. In this, I have been fortunate. Most people don’t have such an opportunity.
MOMENTS PASS LIKE CLOUDS IN THE SKY
Each moment of pain or pleasure, joy or sadness, comes and then it is gone. They cannot be brought back. If I experience one moment of peace and joy, I am fortunate. I am blessed.
Trump? Clinton? Do you really think anyone can reach that pinnacle of power without selling their souls to the highest bidder?
Imagine if we all shrugged and turned our backs on power. Imagine if everyone found beauty in small things.
When we pursue that path to the top, we are either destroyed by the journey or we slowly but surely compromise every bit of integrity we’ve ever had.
Of course, we tell ourselves that we haven’t. Humans are very good at telling ourselves stories and believing them with desperation.
At the end of the day. all the wealth and power won’t mean anything. We come into this world naked and we go out the same.
THE SECRETS TO THE ORIGINS OF LIFE
It is a mystery that I explore in the Night Angels Chronicles.
What if we could discover the Secrets to the Origins of Life? What if, by opening a book, we could gain the knowledge of God? What if we could answer the questions to the basic mysteries of life that, with all our supposed advancement, we are no closer to answering?
How Did We Get Here?
What Happens When We Die?
What IS Life??????
We see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.
Should humans, in our present state, know the answers to these questions?
How dangerous would that be?
But perhaps, knowing the answers, we would then rise to the highest level of consciousness. So, what is keeping this knowledge from us and why?
Isn’t this lack of knowledge and our obsession with knowing the root of all our fears?
What saves me in these troubled times?
Nothing, absolutely nothing, except my accpetance that I don’t have the answers.
Right now, I am going to sit on my balcony and watch the sunset. And let it be…..
I want to thank Christine for hosting me. This is my first experience writing a post in an exchange with another author and it was fun! Here is my post about how my traveling experiences inspired Book of Angels and the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, with photos and everything! The photo featured here is the seventh century Swiss castle I lived in as a child.
Inspiring view from my balcony, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.
It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.
As artists our struggle is to be true to our own voices, not some else’s. An artist shouldn’t feel a burden or obligation to set an example for the entire world. They shouldn’t feel that they have to reflect the beliefs or opinions of a certain segment of society. Pressure should not be put on an artist to “set a good example.” Or to change people’s political or moral views.
The first books I created were beautiful and sweet children’s books. The Rumpoles & The Barleys series, which I wrote and illustrated, will always be favorites of mine. I am blessed to know they have been a positive force in the lives of children around the world. On the other hand, I always knew I had so much more to say and I fought for years to be able to say it. With my creative nonfiction works and the publication of the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES, I feel I am finally an artist who is true to myself.
Artists create from a deep place inside. It takes courage to go to that place and to let it out. Sometimes this can be horrifying. Sometimes it can be beautiful. Sometimes it can be painful. Sometimes it can be sweet and innocent. Playful. Brutal. Violent. X-rated.
My art (and I mean my paintings and drawings and writing) is mostly fantastical worlds of escape. This is because I find the real world to be horrifying on so many levels. I don’t have answers to the world’s problems. Well, actually, the world doesn’t need answers, it is humanity that needs a makeover. I don’t think we have even come close to figuring out those answers. Or perhaps we are afraid of them…or…I just don’t know. Due to my personality, my life experiences, my spirit, I am compelled to create art that uplifts and brings a ray of light to the darkness. That said, my art can be quite dark in its reflection of my own experiences and the suffering that I see around me.
As a woman artist, once I was married and had children, I was told over and over in many different ways, all of them painful, that I should put aside my compulsion to create, for the sake of my family. That my art should no longer be important. I had a husband and children now. They should be my focus. Of course, they were my focus. But I did not understand why being a good wife and mother and being an artist wasn’t possible. I couldn’t give up creating on paper. I couldn’t give up my imagination or the stories inside of me. Not any more than I could give up breathing. This was a difficult time for me as an artist and as a woman. And it went on for many years.
At various times, I have been told by the men in my life, that they needed to guide me. That I wasn’t a real artist, I was just pretending. That I needed to stop because the amount of time I spent doing my art didn’t make sense monetarily. Once, a drawing that I had worked on at night when my family slept, was thrown in the fire the next morning because it was “worthless.” My nose was broken as a punishment when I painted a picture that did not measure up to my husband’s standard. My writing was ridiculous and why would anyone ever want to read it? I should give up. I was a bad wife and mother because my focus wasn’t completely on them. Anyway, I was far too shy and I had no ability to “sell myself.” On and on. Even when I was finally a free woman and I was seeing someone “in the business,” he told me I should leave it all to him. I didn’t have the experience or the personality to know what was best or how to present anything.
My children are grown now and I am without “entanglements.” I am traveling and writing. I embrace all my life experiences. It comes out in my work. It is coming out right now as I write this! I have remained true to my love of fantasy and now I can indulge it. Fantasy is what got me through the darkness. I love creating that darkness in my writing. And then filtering in those moments of light. I know how it feels. I lived through it. How tragic it would be if I had given up. To think that if I had listened to those voices I would never have written Key of Mystery or Book of Angels, or gone on this NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES journey.
We all live through darkness. We are all artists trying to express ourselves. Art is so powerful. It can uplift us. It can spiral us further down. A song or a poem can inspire kindness to a neighbor. Or it can lead to murder and suicide. It can incite riots. It can spark a revolution. It can bring reconciliation. I can’t judge any of that. I don’t understand enough about the forces and motivations behind it all, on a spiritual level.
For so much of my life I was bombarded with angry, resentful voices of society, telling me what I should do with my art. If I had listened to all those voices and let them guide me, I would have lost my balance and fallen too far into the darkness. With my spirit, with the way I see the world, how would I have faced each day?
How can I breathe if I can’t tell a story?
“For me, this is a way of life. It isn’t a “cause,” it isn’t a “movement.” I can’t put some spin on it. There aren’t any buzz words. It is how I choose to live, and I really can’t help it. It is so much a part of who I am.”
Honored to have this interview, by Constance A. Dunn, published in The Missing Slate, an international arts and literary magazine. The interview tells about My World Project and the backstory leading up to it. Here is a brief excerpt from the backstory…
“I went on a personal quest…I met a woman named Alma Woods, who was responsible for single-handedly getting the Watts Library built. And to illustrate the politics, they didn’t want to name the library after her, they wanted to name it after some big-wig politician and there was a huge outcry and they had no choice but to buckle under public pressure and name the library after her. She was a simple lady, lived in a simple house in Watts and I would go and visit her and “sit at her feet,” as it were, she was a real guru, she taught me so much! She would take me around her neighborhood and I saw Watts through her eyes. If there were kids loitering outside the liquor store she would reprimand them and they would hang their heads in guilt and listen to her. She was respected. She was fearless. I grew to love her. She encouraged me to follow my heart and not be afraid of where it led me. It was after that that I went into Central Juvenile Hall and talked to the principal, Dr. Arthur McCoy, an older version of the nutty professor and the most amazing human being, and he let me start teaching there, along with the amazing teacher in the girls’ school, Cheryl Neely.
Like a beautiful, magical web, one person has led to another in my life. Not big celebrities, or what you would call “movers and shakers,” but the salt of the earth people. The ones who really have the power because they don’t care about it. They are the ones who truly balance the good against the evil. The ones we never hear about. I know I use the word amazing a lot, but really, there is no better word for all these people.
Although I live a simple life, and in fact, as a single mother, I have often struggled to make ends meet, somehow, through sheer determination and for the love of it, I have managed to write in some of the most astounding places. The views from my windows and terraces have inspired my works. How insipid and flat would be the world of the Night Angels if I had not climbed the dunes of Merzouga or walked the streets of Istanbul? Here are twelve of my favorites, so far…
1. LAKE BLED, SLOVENIA
This was my view, once upon a time, when I was writing at Lake Bled. You can see the castle rising from the mist, perched on the rocky ledge. My inspiration for Professor Strejan’s castle in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES.
This lake, that I came to as a child, just ten years old, and then as a teenager, vowing that I would come back and live here, and low and behold, I did as an adult. My daughter is half Slovene. I lived here when it was part of communist Yugoslavia and I still consider it my second home and visit often. I have many dear friends here and it is a place I always feel welcome. What a treasure.
2. FEZ, MOROCCO
This most breathtaking view of Fez has a special place in my heart. After one month in the Sahara Desert without hot water, or even a real shower ever, or proper heating (don’t get me started), my friend Lux and I escaped on the night bus to Fez, where we found the most fabulous hotel in the Medina and climbed our way to the top to sit and drink martinis and be inspired, her in her art and me in my writing.
What’s not to love about writing in a room like this, in the heart of the Medina?
3. LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND
This is Ouchy, near Lausanne, Switzerland, on Lake Geneva. The little pink building towards the left is where I stayed with my daughter and my niece. I was working on my childhood memoir, Into the World, and had traveled all this way to visit the 17th century castle I had lived in as a child; chateau d’Echendens, on a hill above the city. In the mornings I ran along the lake side and the day we went to visit the castle…well, it was as if I was back there again as a child, running through the streets of the village after school, being chased by the children, who wanted to fight me and my sister, because they were convinced we came from the land of “Zorro,” since it was the only American TV show, besides Perdue dans la Space (Lost in Space). My sister and I would climb over the castle wall and peer back and taunt them.
4. DJERASSI ARTISTS RETREAT, BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA, USA
This is the view from my time at Djerassi in Northern California, where I spent one week living in a pod-like room with this amazing view, and working on Key of Mystery, book I in the Night Angels Chronicles.
5. ISTANBUL, TURKEY
And I suppose you could say my favorite place ever, the penthouse terrace on the steep little street, just off Istiklal Cadessi, in Beyuglu, Istanbul. From here, I could watch the ships come and go on the Bosporus, the knife that slices through the East and the West, the inspiration for Into the World and the Night Angels Chronicles.
6. MARTHA’S VINEYARD, UNITED STATES
I guess they are all favorite spots. This is Martha’s Vineyard, where I have been three times as a writer’s resident at Noepe. I think I will keep returning. There is something magical about this island in October when all the tourists are gone, the shops close for the winter and it is just the ghosts of the past.
7. LAKE ARENAL, COSTA RICA
Where I spent one month of bliss, in Costa Rica, writing every day. First, in a house overlooking Lake Arenal, then at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, right beneath the active volcano, and last, on the coast, the sunsets held inside of me forever.
8. SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO
Here is the view from my monkish room in the Sahara Desert, in Morocco, where I spent one month writing. It was not an easy time. But the magic is apparent. Birds were my constant companion, flying in and out of the open window.
9. SEDONA AND PHOENIX, ARIZONA, USA
Sedona and Phoenix, where I spend quite a lot of time, visiting my son and his partner, and writing, writing! These are both views from my rooms where I write.
10. OJAI, CALIFORNIA, USA
Closest to home, and what feels most like home, is Ojai. I go here on many weekends just to get away and write and see a peaceful perspective. The horse always says hello to me.
11. TYRONE GUTHRIE CENTRE, IRELAND
Here, the most brooding and mystical place, where I must return, Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in Ireland. This was my view from my bedroom window. This was and is pure magic.
12. HAMBIDGE CENTER, GEORGIA, USA
And here, the little cabin I called my own while a resident at the Hambidge Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. My very own cabin, where I was free to dream and create.
Most appropriate to end with the street that I walked up and down, to and from my penthouse flat in Istanbul. I would return there in a second. I think Istanbul, so far, is my favorite city, and my most city to write. I would say Ireland, so far, is my most inspiring countryside.
I say, SO FAR, because who knows what my favorite will be tomorrow?
I’ve been back in Los Angeles a little less than a month and I’ve already taken off for one of my favorite homes away from home, Ojai, and my favorite simple little hotel, Ojai Rancho Inn. I am quite adept at packing up and taking off for locations near and far. This one is just 45 minutes away, and I have escaped many times to find peace and inspiration. It has helped clear my mind so I can reflect and write.
The simple yet comfortable rooms.
The very rad little bar.
And after having been away for four months, traveling from Costa Rica to Morocco, this is truly like coming home.
Where would my writing be without Ojai? It’s sustaining energy has contributed to Night Angels Chronicles, Into the World, Letters from Purgatory, and so much more. And now I breathe in and close my eyes and smile..and sip my cabernet and listen to Spanish music. So many things to think about.