Cultural Differences

Love of Reading

Monument to Jules Verne

I assume that people who read my newsletters love to read as much as I do. Reading is the best form of escapism. It’s a way of stepping into another life, another world. It can be completely immersive and totally consuming. You can read to match your internal moods or to shift them into a completely different direction. Reading is awesome fun. I’m sorry for those who don’t know this. That said, even some great stories won’t be great for every reader or even be appropriate for a particular time in their lives (or circumstances in the world). I have been reading a lot lately, catching up on the giant pile of books that I acquired during the height of the pandemic but never got around to actually consuming. My pile is still very high, but I did discover some gems and also some books that are simply not for me (or not for me right now). I am getting better at putting those books away partially read — that’s a new skill that I just recently learned. Prior, I felt that I had to read to the last page (appendixes included) once I’ve started a book. Now, I am…

Cultural Trauma

Bloody 4th of July

I felt devastated by the shootings in Uvalde. How could we have allowed this to happen? The video of the police response was recently released. Hundreds of gunshots can be heard. The police carefully edited out the screams of the children. I can easily imagine my own children’s voices…and I can’t even… The mass shooting during the 4th of July parade in a sleepy Jewish suburb of Chicago was another blow. A close friend grew up there. Her backyard neighbor was one of the killed, and she spent hours trying to learn the fates of her classmates. The little boy who will grow up without parents, for what? What do we get to gain by equipping ourselves with weapons of war? The guns used in these two and most other mass shootings were made to kill people. They are very at it. Why do we need these weapons among civilians living in a peaceful nation? America is very efficient. If it ever came to us needing weapons to defend ourselves from enemies, I’m sure we can distribute them to those who know how to use them — our national guard in no time. Apocalypse is great to watch in the…

Coming-of-age in the Modern World

How we see ourselves

There is a whole genre of coming-of-age stories — stories that describe a transition from childhood to adulthood. The transition could be fast, forced by some external events, or painfully slow. And sometimes, it might not happen at all — we all know people who we charitably describe as having “arrested development” issues. This is how Wikipedia defines the coming-of-age genre, too, adding: “Coming-of-age stories tend to emphasize dialogue or internal monologue over action, and are often set in the past. The subjects of coming-of-age stories are typically teenagers.” But is it correct to place teenagers as protagonists in coming-of-age books? In Victorian times (1937 to 1901), the female protagonists used to be about fifteen or sixteen — girls of marriageable age! For these children, coming-of-age meant going directly from playing with dolls and right into a marriage bed. Boys were perhaps a bit older, 17, their swords changed from wood to metal over the telling of their coming-of-age stories. Think of The Vicomte De Bragelonne or The Count of Monte Cristo, written in 1847 and 1844, respectively. The young count and Edmond were just teenagers when their stories got started. Edmond got to live to be an old man.…

Jolabokaflod

Aurora Borealis

Jolabokaflod is Icelandic for “Christmas Book Flood” and it is a very old and wonderful Icelandic holiday tradition. Basically, in Iceland, books are considered the perfect gifts for the holidays. In this small northern country full of Aurora Borealis winter skies, there are five books published each year for every thousand Icelanders! There are only 319,000 people who live on this far north island (about one-third of the population of San Francisco), so that makes 1,595 new books per year. Hardback books are given as presents and are read through the night of Christmas. Reading is the national sport of Iceland. As a reader, I can’t imagine a more wonderful tradition! As a writer, I want my books in the hands of all those voracious readers. (Did I ever mention that one of my stories partly takes place in Iceland? “Pigeon”, check it out.) Due to the COVID pandemic, most of us will be pretty isolated these holidays. There is a strong chance that those who socialized heavily for Thanksgiving will be paying the price for that this Hanukkah, Festivus, Christmas, and New Year. CDC issued an advisory that those who spent eating turkey outside of their “pandemic bubble” should…

Where Can We Go When It’s Savage Outside?

2020-09-09 View from the window into the fire

COVID had us all isolated from one another, the West Coast fire hellscape has us locked-in — can’t even open a window. Instead of fog, the foghorns sing for the smoke swirling around the Bay Area and around the Golden Gate Bridge. Between the politics, pandemic, and fires, it’s easy to get stuck in negative emotions and thoughts. The other night, I was in full panic mode when I realized that there was nowhere I could turn to get a breath of fresh air…not for hundreds of miles! Below is the view from our window last Wednesday, when the skies turned red-brown and ash fell from the sky like rain. I imagine that lots of people find it difficult to cope. But history teaches us that we are not the first (or the last) to enjoy a little sojourn into hell. History is full of unspeakable horrors, and what we need to remember is that we live in the times when horror is more of an exception than a rule (at least in America, at least for the majority). That’s why we are so freaked by horror, it feels like a novelty. The ancient curse of “may you live in…

We are all immigrants in the land of COVID

A masked American family in 1918

I think human souls are tied to the land that bore them, shaped by it, created to fit the terrain, the weather, the language, the culture of the motherland. When transplanted into a new land, forced or otherwise, souls need to conform. They get broken somehow, edges filed away, bones cracked, empty spaces are hidden or forgotten. That’s why it is easier for kids to abandon their old homelands and immigrate to a new homeland — their souls are still flexible. Adults never truly adapt, they are forever broken, torn away from their motherland. And people who leave their birthplaces when they are somewhere in the middle — not quite adults not really children — become strange misfits. On the outside, they look like they belong, but scratch below the surface and there are surprising gaps and unexpected breaks in their psyche. America is the land of broken souls. “First-generation” or “foreign-born” comprise as much as 13% of all Americans (per 2013 census), more than one in ten! In many ways, immigrants are the most vulnerable population — these are the people who will never quite fit into the fabric of their new homes, they will forever remain tied to…

On the Magician Spectrum

Magic Made Here

There are two extremes on this spectrum: people who are externally motivated and those who only need what’s already inside them to get moving on a project. No one is always internally motivated and no person always needs an outside push to get started, but one thing for sure during this quarantine — those who are mostly internally driven do better. It is the same problem that people who are self-employed or who work from home face — not everyone is suited to that life. And for those who are now forced into it, depression looms. For those who can’t spin gold out of thin air or conjure dreamscapes or invent a new life and a new way of living, life becomes so dull that hours drag and days lay heavy while months and years slip away. Those who are able to make new things — artists and writers, housebuilders and gardeners, twiddlers and toymakers, composers and musicians, leather crafters and basket weavers, computer engineers and software designers, potters and jewelers, mathematicians and scientists, filmmakers and universe builders, gymnasts and mountain climbers…makers of all kinds — are never bored. There is never enough time to do all that’s inside our…