What Do You Give Up?

I recently read an early draft of the novel, Passion Blue, published in 2012. It has been well received and I am eager to read the published version. The story revolves around Guilia, a girl living in fifteenth century Italy, who is trying to change what she believes is a deleterious fate. Her horoscope (and casting horoscopes was considered a science in fifteenth century Italy) seems to indicate that she will never marry. In the fifteen hundreds, females had very little rights and it was only though the protection of marriage that they had anything like a secure life. Or so Guilia thinks, so she tries to change her fate through sorcery.

When she gets sent off to a monastery, where she discovers the world of painting, it becomes obvious that this, not a husband, is where her passion and security lies. However, Guilia stills holds to her original idea of a husband. She thinks she knows better than the stars what her fate should be and to that end she tries to command them to her will. The consequences of her decisions is the plot of the book.

The book’s theme, that of free will versus fate intrigues me. It opens up the idea that, with our limited scope and experience, we think we know the way our world should go, and try to arrange events accordingly. It makes me wonder if most of the heartache in life comes from trying to force our idea of free will on fate. Which is not to say that we can only let things happen to us. There’s a finer distinction here that I’m struggling to understand.

I once read in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, something that went like this: “if you want to control a sheep or cow, give them a bigger pasture.” That seems counter intuitive to the idea of control, but I think what that phrase is doing is challenging our idea of control altogether. That it is saying that control in the larger sense is about the control to let things become what they are meant to become. We cannot see what the overall tapestry is, since we are only one thread in it and have the viewpoint of only seeing the threads nearest us. So we try to arrange our limited threads to a picture that does makes sense, not realizing that the bigger picture is already perfect.

Toward the end of Passion Blue (at least the draft I read) one of the nuns tells Guilia: “there is always sacrifice, you always have to give something up”. And I’m wondering if that is the free will. What do you give up, to obtain the freedom to live expansively within your fate. I’m thinking that ultimately what you give up is the idea that you have anything to give up–that free will and fate are anything different at all.



Road Trip

I am somewhere in western central Pennsylvania. As I look out the window of the Econoline van in which I am a passenger, I see miles of forest and white snowy ground. The forest looks youngish—50 or so years old. And I wonder if all of this part of Pennsylvania was deforested before. It is a grim landscape, empty of human habitation except for deer blinds dotting the pencil forest. I can’t decide if the grimness is the lack of human touch or the ghost of too much human touch. Too much mining and logging: too much poverty, both natural and human.

The deer blinds speak of, not sport, but necessity. The need to eat during the long winter months. The grinding hardship of not enough.

The possibility inherent the Northeast, where I live, is scrapped here by the absolute necessity of simply existing. The luxury of liberality has not yet made its appearance. This is a land of iron and coal, of solid and heavy values. This is the sea anchor to the East coast’s flights of fancy. The flights of fancy which in turn, lift up the heavy practicality of the Midwest.

And so I realize that we all contribute. We need each other.




At a whiskey drinking little get-together last month with a new French friend, Richie, Michel and I got onto the subject of being rescued, as in, “Mayday” which comes from the French, “m’aider”­­­­­­––help me. We had been talking about sailing and ocean storms and the type of person who likes to go to sea and risk their life. Richie likes to watch storms at sea on the TV; Michel and I are both sailors with blue water experience, so we like to experience storms at sea in person. But perhaps ‘like’ is not the appropriate word here since there’s not much to ‘like’ about being soaking wet, cut and bruised, sleep-deprived, nauseous, and fearful of dying at any moment. Maybe ‘appreciative’ is a better word.

 In our coddled twenty first century Western world of home and hearth, we experience adrenaline surges as spectators. We root for our favorite sports teams; anxiously watching them live on TV. We watch reality shows that pit people with dangerous situations, just like the ancient Romans did at the coliseum. Participating in virtual, rather than actual adventure takes away the contrast. Taking away the contrast takes away the appreciation.  And life should be appreciated. As the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki was fond of saying: “Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. Because your life is going very, very quickly.”

The acronym SOS, I learned from Michel, stands for “Save Our Souls”.  This tugs at my heartstrings, as it seems so touchingly archaic. It speaks of a time when people held the soul, that anchor of life, as something rare, unique, and precious–something with weight and worth. I can’t really think of anyone thinking up the words “save our souls” in this day and age.

SOS today would more likely stand for “Save Our Stuff”.

If You’re Worried About Paper Books Going the Way of the Dodo


People want what they can’t have. I can’t speak for cave person days, but I can speak for early US history days. I used to live in a house that was built in the early seventeen hundreds, which for the United States, is early indeed. It was built fifty years before the United States was the United States.

In the Great Room of my former house, the original walls were finished with twenty inch wide panels of chestnut board, feather edged so they fit together hiding the seam, and planed smooth by hand. Today we would drool at such boards, and they would be worth a great deal of money in their patinated chestnut state.  However, in the seventeen hundreds, chestnut trees grew large and freely. Their lumber was the workhorse of the building trade.  Paneling a room in chestnut boards wasn’t a statement of status.

But painting them was.  In early eighteenth century colonial America, paint–since it was not necessary for survival–was an indulgence. A painted wall was a statement of  well-to-do-ness.  And so the feather-edged chestnut walls in my eighteenth century house were painted a popular color called Prussian Blue. To my modern eyes, the painted walls were a god-awful color—a faded electric blue that in no way reminded me of the softened past. Hard to fathom that in the time, this color was the height of fashion. But it was. And in great part because it wasn’t easy to come by.

So paper books are not in danger of becoming extinct. Just as soon as having a printed paper book becomes hard to come by, having one will be desirable. Desire creates markets. Markets need products.

Tastes change, but the human quirk of wanting what is scarce will never change.