Plutocrats for the Plutocracy!

Republican presidential candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, and Donald Trump both speak during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

My next book – coming out in May! – is sort of a prequel to Way of the Serpent in that the protagonist, Malia Poole, recounts her memories of what life was like during the last half of the 21st Century. Some of these memories deal with political changes during those years so I thought that now – in the midst of an especially tumultuous American election year – might be a good time to share some of Malia’s observations.

“I finished high school in our neighborhood there in Philly at what was called at the time a public school. It was, as I recall, supported by some local governing body. There were still a few local governments in the late 2020s and elections were held for various offices of the state of Pennsylvania as well as the United States of America right up to 2044. I only voted a couple of times after I became eligible in 2033. Hardly anybody voted by that time. We were resigned to the fact that the so-called governing bodies – from city councils right up to the Congress and President of the United States – were all a sham. The turnout for elections kept dwindling, and eventually almost all of those who voted were people who had been paid or otherwise obligated by their employers (that is to say, by the plutocrats) to vote for the “right” people. After the 2044 election, the plutocracy decided that their wealth would be better spent on less divisive entertainments, so elections were discontinued.”

There are also a few insights in this passage, a conversation between Malia and her friend Lio:

“You realize, Malia, that governments are on the verge of becoming obsolete,” Lio said. “Already they work only at the bidding of the plutocracy. And now more and more of those elected to government positions are themselves plutocrats. At some point they’ll stop convening the legislatures and parliaments, close the presidents’ and prime ministers’ and governors’ offices, pay the judges one last time and send them home with fat pensions. And we won’t notice the difference, because there won’t be any.”
“What will happen to people like us?” I asked.
“As long as we behave ourselves like good consumers, we’ll just keep doing our part to keep them rich and getting richer.”
“That’s not what I meant.” I scowled at Lio. “I meant people like you and me.”

People like us (this is me talking again) should be very, very concerned about this election. I don’t think we’d like the 22nd-century world I’ve imagined in my books!

Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.

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Where Are You From?

"Trying To Blend In" 8 x 10 framed, $300

“Trying To Blend In” 8 x 10 framed, $300

My collegiate study abroad was the summer of 1969 at the University of Graz, Austria. There I met two women – mother and daughter – and when I asked them that time-worn, tedious question “Where are you from?” they looked confused. I believe they were originally from Bulgaria, but due to politics and undisclosed personal matters, they were officially stateless, traveling around Europe on United Nations passports.

“How marvelous!” I thought at the time. “How liberating to not be tethered to one country and one identity, to be free to move about the world unburdened by someone else’s prejudices about your origins!” I didn’t discuss this with the mother and daughter, though now I fervently wish I had.

I’ve developed some new perspective on this question of stateless persons over the years and especially during the past year as I’ve watched political turmoil and violence turning people loose in the world with nowhere to go, nowhere to belong, nowhere to call home. We call them refugees or, more politely, migrants.

The world appears to be increasingly full of such people, the effluent of conflict and economic catastrophe. Just yesterday I read an article about Nepal, where children born of a Nepali mother and a foreign father cannot claim Nepali citizenship except through a difficult and highly uncertain political process. Without their official citizenship certificates these people “cannot vote, open a bank account, sit for many official examinations, register the birth of a child, buy or sell property, get a passport, or even obtain a mobile SIM card.” They are effectively stateless persons.

Instead of loosening the restrictions of social and political participation, we appear to be getting more and more chary about according citizenship and belonging to our fellow human beings. My youthful infatuation with the notion of global citizenship, one planetary society, was naïve. Although we may be annoyed when people ask the question, we all want to be from somewhere that loves us.

Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.

Lessons From the Art Studio

SOLD Morning in the Garden of Eden. 18 x 12, acrylic on lokta paper

Almost a year ago, I moved out of my art studio to devote myself full time to writing. Do I miss my studio? Of course I do – wonderful days full of surprise and discovery spent in the company of my beloved handmade papers and amazing colors and mediums. And fellow artists. I miss them, too, although I still go visit them in their own studios (one of which used to be mine).

I learned some important lessons in that art studio, some of which continue to serve me well in my writing. I was reminded of one of those lessons when I saw this quote (posted today by PEN America on Facebook):

“I think the difference between being a person of talent and being a writer is the ability to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish.” ― E.L. Konigsburg

Paintings are statements – images that inspire you in the moment and that you speak onto the canvas (or, in my case, paper) to the best of your ability. But you don’t go on forever rephrasing them. If you do, you will become your own worst obstacle, inhibiting your ability to receive the next inspiration, to make the next statement. If you keep reworking, you may end up with an amazing painting, but there will likely be several more – perhaps equally worthy of having been shared – hidden within it. In painting, there comes a moment when you have to look at a work, wish it well, sign it, and hang it on the wall. Let it speak its piece while you move on to the next thing, attend to the next inspiration.

The same thing holds true in writing. Write the story. Finish it. Polish it just enough. Publish it. Move on. So what if it’s not the whole story? The next one will add its own statement and then also the one after that.

Coming in May: Shadow of the Hare – Book II in The Recall Trilogy! 

Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.

Love and Romance

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Valentine’s Day inevitably (intentionally) brings up questions of Love and Romance, and today it prompted me to examine the romantic relationships of the characters in my Recall Trilogy. Result? I’m forced to admit that my characters appear to have somewhat complicated relationships. Do I want to talk about that? I think I’d rather just give you a few examples.

Here’s Jenda Swain in Way of the Serpent:

Jenda had always found a companion, a lover, on each of her previous eight sabbaticals. The first was the only serious one, leading, as it had, to her marriage to Benjamin Cohen. That marriage had lasted only until Ben’s next leave. All of Jenda’s subsequent sabbatical relationships had been carefully circumscribed. In light of this experience, Jenda was finding Luis-Martín Zenobia unnerving.

Now Malia Poole in the forthcoming Shadow of the Hare:

At some point, Lio and I became lovers. I can’t say we fell in love, because it wasn’t like that, or at least not like the stories I’d read about people falling in love. We started hanging out together. Lio became my best friend…

Finally, Jonathan Swain in Book III of the Recall Trilogy, Flight of the Owl:

I’d always been drawn to Dextra, although not in a sexual way. My years as a monk and then as a retreatant had left me with a more deliberate sexuality than most. That’s hard to explain, I guess. Let’s just say I’d learned how to avoid being driven by my hormones into thoughtless entanglements. I’d learned how to decide for myself and I’d never decided to become entangled with Dextra. I was never sure how she felt. Understanding women’s feelings wasn’t part of my monastic training.

You see what I mean? Complicated. You may now proceed to psychoanalyze the author.

Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.

Happy Lunar New Year!

MONKEYfire

Although I am neither an astrologer nor a prognosticator of any proven reliability, I would like to offer a few observations regarding this Lunar New Year.

The year we are leaving behind is the Year of the Wood Sheep. Sheep, as we know, are gentle animals who move about in herds, becoming easily distressed when left on their own, lost with no sense of direction, crying plaintively. In some eastern cultures, the sheep year is instead a goat year. We also know a thing or two about goats, especially scapegoats. “Wood” or “wooden” are terms often used to convey a sense of thickness, unresponsiveness, lack of intelligence.

The year we are moving into is the Year of the Fire Monkey. Unlike sheep, monkeys are lively, jovial, emotional, unpredictable. In stories, they are often tricksters. As for the fire, well, fire burns wood. Fire is one of the most useful tools ever domesticated by humankind, but also one of the most dangerous.

Based on these thoroughly idiosyncratic observations here is my prediction for the year ahead: things are about to get interesting!

Here’s your appetizer.

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If you’ve been meaning to read my book – Way of the Serpent – but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet, here’s a little temptation: I’ve posted an excerpt on my website! I hope it will be tantalizing enough to get you involved and eager to know what happens next. The sequel is coming up in a few months!

Read the excerpt from Way of the Serpent here.

Buy from Amazon or from a local indie bookstore.

Halfway When?

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I find it intriguing that various cultural calendars choose to mark not just the obvious things – full moons and new moons, equinox and solstice – but also the positions halfway between. In the Tibetan ritual calendar, the half-moon days are equally as important as full moon or new moon and are marked as Guru Rinpoche Day and Dakini Day, with appropriate ceremonies.

In traditional Ireland, the primary named celebrations of the annual round – Samain, Imbolg, Beltaine, and Lughnasa – fell halfway between the solstice and equinox days.

February 2nd is recognized in our country as Groundhog Day, but it has deep connections to Irish Imbolg, “a pastoral festival celebrating the coming into milk of the ewes”. There may also have been some weather divination associated with Imbolg, a possible origin of our Groundhog Day.

I muse over all of this as a reminder that time – as well as the way in which we measure it – is all relative. The protagonist of my next novel – Shadow of the Hare, which will be published later this year – had similar thoughts after she moved out of the city and into a remote rural community:

“As the weeks extended into months, I kind of stopped keeping track of time. It’s all relative anyway, gauging our distance from some event in the past or some planned, imagined future, organizing our activities within the diurnal/nocturnal cycle, across the flow of seasons. (…)

“When I first arrived, I still felt the need to know what time it was, positioning my little digital clock on my table like some deity in a shrine. As summer heated up, I noticed that people would begin to say ‘good afternoon’ well before my clock declared midday. Similarly, on an overcast day, they might continue to offer ‘good morning’ long past noon. I soon relegated my clock to a dresser drawer; I had no further need of its guidance.”

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! Happy Imbolg! It will all come ‘round again.