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Tutu & the Dalai Lama on Finding Joy

The Book of Joy on my desk, in front of Saraswati, Hindu goddess of creativity.

 

I had planned this as my next post, but it's even more appropriate after the recent passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who was a great gift to humankind, with so much wisdom to impart, in this case in collaboration with the HH the Dalai Lama in The Book of Joy, with Douglas Abrams, (Avery/Penguin 2016)

 

And because of my own personal quest to maintain happiness (and defend it as appropriate) in the midst of the current world, this 'book report-style' post is enormous.

 

Here are the top six quotes that moved me – and the rest are in ten pages (wow!) sorted by topic by me*...

  • "The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous." Page 49
  • "Grateful people do not seem to ignore or deny the negative aspects of life; they simply choose to appreciate what is positive as well. Page 247 "Gratitude moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack into the wider perspective of benefit and abundance. Page 242
  • "It is that ability to see wonder, surprise, possibility in each experience and each encounter that is a core aspect of joy. Page 241
  • "Schadenfreude is an outgrowth of envy. Mudita [being heartened by other's joy] is a natural outgrowth of compassion." Page 141
  • "Unforgiveness seems to compromise the immune system ... disrupting the production of important hormones and the way that our cells fight off infections. Page 237
  • Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope." Page 122

 

What is Joy?

"There is a Buddhist teaching that says what causes suffering in life is a general pattern of how we relate to others: Read More 

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Is Optimism a Progressive Stance?

Two of my very favorite people in the world, (one a senior citizen and one a millennial), both recently complained that there's more wrong with the world than right and, luckily for me, I was reading "Utopia for Realists" and "Humankind: A Hopeful History", two books by the optimistic Dutch writer Rutger Bregman. I did not have to foam at the mouth and blather in pained disagreement because I had the statistics at hand.

 

Here's why there is great reason for optimism:

  • "Where 44% of the world's population lived in extreme poverty in 1981, that percentage is under 10%.
  • The number of people suffering from malnutrition has shrunk by more than a third since 1990. This year of the world population that survives on fewer than 2000 calories a day has dropped from 51% in 1965 to 3% in 2005. Read More 
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The Map of Paloma’s World

My vision of Calexicobia, and the towns where women would cast off their oppression to travel to Tartatenango.

In inventing the world in Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar, I wanted the names of the hometowns of women to recall the drudgery and limitations they left behind. Here's a map of the world surrounding Tartatenango:

  • To the south, Montemadre: Mother's Mountain, and El Cuadrillo: the bolt or lock.
  • Near Tartatenango: Caketown, is Escoba: broom and Hilado: yarn, as well as El Dolor: the pain
  • also, La Ceiba Grande refers to a common tree in Colombia
  • Villahermosa: Beautiful village
  • the Magdelana River, the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta marsh, and the Cienaga del Tigre are all actual places in Colombia
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Animals Carry the Magic in Jaguar Paloma

In fiction, people are driven by motivations that have to be carefully explained and that are required to make more logical sense than happens in reality. So, when you're writing magical realism, how do you introduce magic? In my new novel, Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar, animals fit the bill. Without too many spoiler alerts, here are some of my favorite animals:

  • Crows are harbingers of guilt and entrap a key character
  • Insects descend on the village and carry away chicks
  • Monkeys steal the wigs from brides and carry them like babies in the jungle
  • Goats being driven to market won't leave Paloma's side, with dire consequences
  • Ducks react to Paloma and stockpile eggs like the opposite of cannon balls.

There are many more examples and I hope you'll enjoy discovering them in Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar.

 

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A Personal Story in a Fictional Land

Balcony in Colombia. Photo by JW

Though Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar is set in the jungles of Colombia, it's an intensely personal story of my actual life.

 

For example: I am a single-mother-by-choice and so have experienced firsthand the ridiculous stigma put on single mothers. I've been assaulted nine times in my life, though never raped, and so am part of the global community of assault survivors, like the women of Tartatenango. I live in California and have experienced firsthand the anxiety that's caused by drought and extreme weather. That's also why this book is set in Calexicobia: an entirely fictional place, but one in which my personal location – California – can be part of the story, not exclusively someone else's country. And the intense love between women, sexual or otherwise, is one of the cornerstones of my life as a bisexual and a radical feminist.

 

Here are some other key ideas from a recent "Interview with the Author": Read More 

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#MeToo in Macondo: New Novel is an Homage to Gabo's Women

The author at the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Museum, the house where he was raised by his grandparents in Aracataca, Colombia.

My novel Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar has been inspired by the Colombian classic.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the finest books ever written, in my opinion. I have read it five times and the last time through, the relationships and positions of the women started to jump to the foreground. Here's where it took me, and how some of my new novel, Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar, has been inspired by it:

 

Legitimacy's Paper and Cake

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's (Gabo's) novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is set in the town of MacondoPilar Tennara, the saloon keeper, and Ursula, the matriarch of the Buendia family, were among the founders of the town. They had walked through the swamp together before insisting that Ursula's husband stop their wandering and settle. Ursula gave birth on the way, so I had always assumed that the two women grew close as a result.  Read More 

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Magical Realism Emerges in the New Book

Art on a hotel wall in Colombia. Photo by JW

My new novel, Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar, is in the genre of magical realism.

This is my first volume of magical realism. It's a style I love to read and have always longed to write. And it has been creeping into my writing over the years. For example, in The Mandrake Broom the protagonist doesn't age like others do because of a potion given to her by her mother. In A Slender Tether, the doctor in "The Gong Farmer's Tale" is sealed up in a cave by a bear. There is a tiny bit in Straight Uphill when an extraordinary people arrive to honor a hero of World War I. But this is the most extensive use of magical realism in my writing to date, and it was absolutely the most fun I have ever had writing anything.

 

Here are some of my favorite visuals from Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar

  • I love the monkeys in the trees with the wigs, the way they cradle them like babies.
  • I think Dr. Valdez is so precious. The image of this waist-high light, his bioluminescent hands moving towards across a dance floor. That's the image that made me want to include this character. Read More 
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Cosmic Brides and the Dancing Dead

Latest sighting of women in the past: spirts honored in early Europe were willies -- girls and young women who died without giving birth and therefore donated their fertility to the good of the agrarian community. These willies spent "their nights and days dancing in the fields and forests" the way living girls did. Also honored was the Cosmic Bride.

 

Here are some great visual images and tidbits from The Dancing Goddesses by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.

 

"There existed a very special group: young women born into the clan who have died before having any children – hence not ancestors of the living but still belonging to the community. Most important, they have not used their natural store of fertility. So, people reasoned, if we're especially nice to them, they might bestow their unused fertility on us. Because unmarried girls in the living community spent much of their time singing and dancing together,  Read More 

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Katharine Tynan, Author of the Irish Renaissance

Always on the lookout for under-represented women, I have found Katharine Tynan in "The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature" taught by Dr. Marc C. Conner, Washington and Lee University, The Great Courses Plus.

 

A prodigious writer, Tynan (23 January 1859 – 2 April 1931) penned more than 100 novels, five autobiographical volumes and several volumes of poetry, but is most frequently mentioned because of her substantial influence on William Butler Yeats.

 

"In sowing the seeds of the renaissance of Irish culture, Hyde, Russell, and Yeats were joined by another figure, the poet and novelist Katharine Tynan, a good friend of Yeats and a prolific author whose career spanned many decades. She was an important poet even before Yeats, having published two volumes of poems in the 1880s and more than a dozen books in the 1890s," Conner says.

 

Her poem 'Any Woman', expressed the centrality of the woman figure in Irish mythology."

 

"Tynan and Yeats met in 1885 and already she had formed a weekly evening gathering over literary conversational ideas, a sort of small literary salon of Dublin writers. She and Yeats soon became confidants and exchanged many letters over the years. As Yates emerged as a young poet, and then became a major poet...he would try his ideas out on Tynan, gauge her responses, and he formed many of his aesthetics of poetry through his correspondence with her," according to Conner. Wikipedia suggests that Yeats "may have proposed marriage and been rejected, around 1885."

  Read More 

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Why Nuns Make Great Characters in Historical Fiction

Recently occurred to me that...

A few great things about having nuns as characters in historical fiction is that:

  • It can be assumed that they are better educated than their neighbors and so capable of more. They could be one of the few in the story who could read a manuscript or a secret ledger. They can read edicts for the village, putting them in a position of power, and letters for the individual so they are privy to information that others won't possess.
  • They have been brought up to be leaders. They organize things and investigate/snoop/assist so there's an excuse for them being the center of attention, or one of the key powers in the story.
  • Nuns have more of their own agency and freedom to move about the village and surrounding area which makes it easier for her to move through the story, unencumbered.  They visit the sick and isolated, and so can be a conduit for information or communication from afar.
  • They are also protected by a level of sanctity that can lessen the chance of assault, because no one wants to write about that.
  • Nuns are excused from the typical social or sexual obligations women face with men and so can co-exist with men in a story without coupling up.
  • It is reasonable for a nun to be an orphan or a cast-off from her family, or at the very least 'stationed' away from her family, so you can get away with a truncated backstory. They have fewer resources to call upon (no father/brother/sister to come to the rescue) which can increase tension in the story and keep this character focused on/dependent upon the protagonist.
  • Her room and lodging can also be extremely sparse so there doesn't have to be a lot of description of decoration and dressing.

So, I think nuns are very handy.  However, the downside is that  Read More 

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