Stand with those under attack: A simple gift you can give for free

There are a lot of messages out there at this time of year aimed at getting you to give to good causes. And many of those causes really do help people--ensuring that hungry people eat, refugees receive shelter and sick people get care. 

It is very gratifying to have enough to give materially. But maybe you are not one of the people who can. Or if you do give materially, you may want to give in other ways as well.

Creative Commons image by Fdecomite of

Creative Commons image by Fdecomite of

Right at the moment, many people are feeling that the future is bleak. There is sorrow at every turn and a looming sense of potential disaster. It is easy to become pessimistic and resort to hunkering down in our own homes, hoping the storm will pass us by.

I've been feeling that way myself and fighting for inspiration in my writing. It's humbling that the answer came to me from my younger brother.  And he probably has no idea he proposed something so actionable. 

Here's how it happened. My brother said he was going to write a letter to the local newspaper. I'd heard him saying how concerned he is about the rise in vocal racism and the apathy of many others to respond. He used to be quite idealistic and recent events had brought him nearly to tears. He's also living out in a rural area that voted nearly 70 percent for Trump, so what options did he have?

I thought I knew what to expect of his letter to a local paper. He's diplomatic, but still I thought he would try to talk some sense into his neighbors one way or another.

He did a bit but he also put something else in his letter: "I invite immigrants into this community. I will protect you physically and emotionally... People of color, people who look different, act different, are different are welcome here in this valley."

I've heard many people say they want to stand by immigrants, people of color or Muslims. And that's nice and all. But mostly we are saying these things in our bubble, whether it's on Facebook or among friends. 

We're not only not persuading anyone not to be racist, we aren't even telling the people in need of support about this. But my brother hit on a good idea, a new spin on writing letters to local newspapers. Don't write to persuade people who probably won't listen to an opposing view. Don't write to officials who aren't going to change their policies.

Instead write your letters to the people who are now living with the greatest uncertainty and fear. Address them directly.

Think of Christian refugees from Syria celebrating their first Christmas in the United States while being harassed for being Arabs. Imagine a Muslim child learning to read English opening up the local paper for homework and finding your letter. Then write with that audience in mind.

Creative Commons image by the Oregon Department of Transportation

Creative Commons image by the Oregon Department of Transportation

Tell your friends and imagine a flood of such letters. 

I welcome you. I stand by you. I am a friend. I want to have people of color, people speaking different languages, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Pagans. Hindus, people of varied gender identities and people of all shapes, sizes and talents in my community. We would miss out, if you were not here. We would be poorer and our town would lack its interest and sparkle. I want you here and I will say it openly. I won't be silent if there is hate speech or hateful policies. I am sorry for these terrifying times. I, for one, stand with you. 

There are a great many of us who agree with these statements, but we mostly say them to each other. Let's say them to the people who feel excluded and attacked. Let's start a campaign of letters to our communities, rather than to officials. 

Go ahead and make it specific. Write to foreign students or immigrants or women who have undergone an abortion or people with visible and invisible disabilities or the quiet people of non-Christian faiths who repeat "Merry Christmas" cheerily without ever hearing their own holidays mentioned. 

You will touch someone deeply, almost certainly make someone's day or week. And if enough of us do it, you will also open the hearts of others who may need to look beyond their personal experience to believe in good people of every kind. It doesn't matter if you are also personally one of the people affected by the uncertainty. There is still someone out there who will be glad to hear you stand with them.

A holiday letter seems like an overly simple thing to give. But under some circumstances it can be a great gift.

And thank you for reading my writing this year. I wish you comfort, simple joy and shared love in this season.

How not to get mad

I might have been annoyed this week. But I wasn’t.
I live in the Czech Republic and the president is Milos Zeman. I’ve been watching his political career for nearly twenty years, since I was an intern at the main English-language newspaper here in the mid-1990s. I’ve always noticed that he has some sort of muscle anomaly in his face. I don’t agree with his politics most of the time but I did think it was refreshing that a politician with such a physical difference became president.
Then this week he did something very, very, very… irritating. He went to lunch in a small town and before he got there his event team went in to check out a nice restaurant. They liked the space and everything about the place, except for two of the employees. One had a visible physical disability. The other was clearly developmentally disabled. Both are regular employees of the restaurant, serving customers and earning wages and tips. But the president’s staff said they couldn’t serve the president. The restaurant was required to give the two employees mandatory leave and hire temporary workers from a hospitality school.
Now as many people know, I’m legally blind. So... I found this news item disturbing.
My husband pointed out to me that one doesn’t have to be directly associated with the irritating news of the world to be affected. He was similarly disturbed by listening to a radio program which made a case for why same-sex spouses in a legal partnership are not allowed to adopt children, including the children of their legal spouse. So, if you are gay and you are married and your spouse has a child, you are not allowed to adopt the child to ensure that the child has a parent in the event of the death of your spouse. The reasoning? Children must have both male and female influences. They apparently forgot that single women and single men are allowed to adopt.
Okay, our children are adopted from orphanages where many other children wait for parents who are open-minded about ethnicity. So I guess we feel associated with that issue too, but is anyone really unassociated with these sorts of issues? If you don’t have a family member who is affected, you surely have a friend who is.
The world can be disturbing.
And so it is good to have a sanctuary, some place where the world can’t intrude. Even if that’s just a corner by a window that’s well-suited to reading or a spot under a favorite tree.
I have always made a sanctuary for myself, even when I traveled. I’ve lived out of a backpack for years at a time and I kept a candle, a handful of pretty pebbles, some tea, a tin cup and a alcohol burning mini-stove tied up in a scarf. This I could spread out anywhere – and did – on a rock in the Himalayas and on the floorboards of a shack in the Amazon jungle. It made a place of peace.
Now I have a larger sanctuary. I am lucky to have a little house with heated tiles on the floors and a warm fireplace. I even have a garden outside full of maturing trees and herbs. And these days I have the luxury of being alone in this place to write for several hours a few days each week. That is a great privilege indeed.
And so, I really wasn’t all that irritated this week, even though I was tempted.
Instead I listen to my children playing in the other room. I can hear them playing with their collection of letter stamps. I can hear the soft sound the stamps make as they push them against the ink cushion and the “thunk, thunk” as they stamp them onto pictures they are making. I can hear the whack as one child hits the other with a stamp and the yowls of protest. I call a truce, backed up by Mama-power, and they sit separately for awhile until they are calm. Then they resume their pictures. All the while I am making apricot cobbler and I don’t have to turn my head to “see” what my kids are doing.
So, the Czech president can have his bland lunch. This time I’m not irritated because he’s got nothing on me. I am sorry that he doesn't know about the richness of all the senses of the body and all the uniqueness of the mind. I'm sorry for him. There will be days when my ire is raised but not today.
The peace of my writing sanctuary has brought me to the half-way point in my first draft of the Kyrennei Series Book Four. Don’t get too excited, if you’re an avid reader. It is still a rough draft. But it is coming along and the computer demons have been largely appeased.

Being a rebel with a pen is a lonely job but someone's got to do it. We're here to support each other. Keep in touch. Write a comment below and tell me what you do to keep from getting mad. I love to hear from you.

Secrets of the firelight writer

I suppose I could just keep it a secret and let you go on thinking that my eyes are closed in my author picture because I’m looking into the bright flames of a campfire at night.

But it’s bound to come out eventually, so it might as well be on my terms.

It wasn’t easy for me to come up with a “picture of the author” that I could use on a website, particularly a website for a book aimed at ultra-picky urban fantasy and dystopia readers. That’s because, to put it bluntly, I don’t look very cool.

For one thing I’m pushing 39, my hair is going a bit gray and I’m too eco-friendly to go in for harsh dyes. But that’s not the real problem. It’s my eyes.

I don’t personally think my eyes look that bad. But then I don’t have an eye-contact obsession, the way most people on the planet do. I have never been able to understand that common human fetish exactly. Eyes are beautiful. At least they are when I can gaze at them up close in a photograph. But I have never experienced that instant connection that happens when people make eye-contact.

That’s because I can’t see well enough. I’m not totally blind, but close enough for most purposes.

I can’t see anything but smudges of darker color where the eyes should be when I look at someone’s face during a conversation.

I’m told that the eyes are the window to the soul.

So, what does that make me? I guess I am a house with shutters. I don’t mean to be. I love intimate connection with another person on a soul level--through words and voice or through the touch of a friend’s hand. But to those who are used to reaching that connection through the eyes, I must be frustrating and off-putting.

The problem with pictures of me is that not only do my eyes not make eye-contact correctly. They also don’t open all the way. This apparently comes from a lifetime of squinting to see a world that is forever out of focus.

While I don’t think squinty eyes are that terrible to look at, I don’t want to distract people who I don’t know yet with that little detail. I want to be seen first as a whole. And I would like you to try reading some of my books, before you leap to conclusions based on one little physical characteristic.

So, that’s why I spent several hours with two photographers, a tripod and a Summer Solstice fire, struggling to catch a glimpse of me that could be authorly without being retouched in photoshop. I love the result, though whether or not it makes me look cool is a matter of debate.

Still the issue itself is on topic.

The Kyrennei Trilogy takes that murky issue of what is cool, who sets beauty standards and who makes the unwritten rules of society and pinpoints it with a laser beam.

I don’t look cool--not by the standards of 2014 pop culture, not by the even by the more middle-aged standards of parenting-as-a-competitive-sport mommy clubs, and certainly not by the hyper-beauty-conscious standards of urban fantasy.

But if you ever wondered about who makes the rules, I’ll can tell you. Read this.

The story isn’t about me anyway. It’s about you because if you read The Soul and the Seed, you’ll be going on a trip to the other side of the mirror. And I’ll be staying home in my cozy little gingerbread house and writing furiously to keep you there.

P.S. This is my first post on the Rebel with a Pen blog. This is where I plan to mouth off a bit, give good reasons to get riled up, spread the word about people doing amazing and hopeful things and find a path to spiritual healing. At its deepest, hidden core The Kyrennei Series is about healing. It is about the hard edges of the world and about how we find the strength to stand for our own souls. And so, as a Rebel with a Pen, I’m going to keep doing just that.