Plastic-Free Life Redux: A Story of Independence

[4th of July fireworks over Lancaster]

Plastic-Free Life Redux: A Story of Independence

A couple months ago I sent a letter to the four biggest local grocery stores in my area, espousing the benefits of removing single-use plastic packaging from their myriad array of fresh vegetables. I wasn’t asking them to literally change their whole operating strategy, but to just quit wrapping things that don’t need it in plastic, and to provide reusable bags for the veggies we may want to buy loose, but not too loose; we don’t want them rolling around in our carts and we don’t want to have to put them in paper and contribute to further deforestation of the planet since decimating old growth forests may be even worse than disposing of single-use plastics.

Before I tell you what happened, let me just say that I read a completely unnerving statistic the other day, that is, only two out of ten people consider themselves environmentalists – a mere 20%.  Now maybe it’s me, but we’re in the midst of a sixth global extinction where dozens of species die off daily — up to 1,000 times the background rate as a result of human activity — and yet, only 20% of the population is tuned into that. Por que? Por qua? Say what?! Exsqueeze me?

Does that mean we’re going to blow up in a final brilliant conflagration of CO2 and methane igniting from the spark of some poor bastards e-cig?  And if we’re trying to change the world, is 20% even enough to change anyone’s mind?

Actually, it’s quite possibly as Greg Braden points out in his book, The Isaiah Effect. We only need 1% of a given population to work toward an imagined end in order to change the dynamics in any given area.  But, and it’s a big but, we’re going to need to need more than one percent if we are to not just curtail, but reverse the growing crisis that is climate change.

Anyway, back to the grocery store. Weeks went by and since no responses were forthcoming, I figured it was time for another round of letter writing, and then — a Christmas miracle — I got an email from the assistant manager at Wegmans (located in seven states and growing!), a lovely woman who was happy to report on all that Wegmans was doing in service to the environment.

For example:

— they got rid of plastic straws and just have paper straws now;

— they’ve reduced the amount of seafood arriving in foam containers;

— their uniform shirts are made partially from recycled plastic;

— they are “passionate” about sustainability;

— they have replaced their single-use plastic in NYC (which banned it) with reusable packaging or paper bags;

— they sponsor an event on earth day where you could trade your old single-use plastic bags in for a reusable one; and

— at the front door of every store they have recycling bins for plastic bags, cellphones and batteries.

Pretty impressive, huh? There were other things Wegmans was doing, but I couldn’t write them all down fast enough so this is just a partial list. Anywho — it appears that Wegman’s is on it and getting better everyday so maybe this cultural reconstruction project will be an easier lift then I thought.

What can you do to be cool like Wegmans?   We can all start with a look at our daily consumption of goods and services. By taking a waste-light approach to life we can have an impact on lessening our waste stream, and ultimately, the effects of climate change. Reducing at the source by looking at how we eat, what we shop for, and where we live, to name a few, will give us the freedom of sustainability, allowing us to be truly independent from the tyranny of a waste-filled life.

pam lazos 7.21.19

Posted in climate change, plastic bag, plastics, recycling, sixth extinction, Sustainability, Uncategorized, waste, waste as a resource | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Courage

[summer sky © pam lazos]

 

If you read my original post about The Twelve Virtues of the Merchant Priests, as suggested in the book, Sacred Commerce, my goal was to reflect upon and write about the 12 virtues discussed in the book — honor, loyalty, nobility, virtue, grace, trust, courage, courtesy, gallantry, authority, service, and humility — once a month for an entire year.  The 12 virtues of the merchant priest “automatically lift us to a higher octave of being,” something today’s world is in dire need of, I believe. While I may have missed the once-a-month boat, I’m determined to finish the list even if it takes a couple years. 

Next up:  Courage.

 

COURAGE

What do you do when everyone you depended on for guidance is gone?

So I am a little kid again, lying in my childhood bed, long awake, with my fears about Infinity intact.  

I can’t sleep because the world is a much bigger thing than even my rambling and wide imagination can wrap its little hands around, and time, because of this Infinity thing, is just downright scary. 

Dad comes in, asks why I’m still awake.  I confess my fears about the world in general, math in specific, because without math, it seems, we wouldn’t have this issue of Infinity.  

I’ve been thinking about Infinity and Heaven together and wonder if I died tomorrow, assuming I even go to Heaven, would I be 10 forever?  And would my baby brother be there, still an infant, or has he grown up a bit?  I want to ask him, but I don’t know where to start.  It’s late and I’m already worried about too much to add his answer to that mix.  Instead, I reach for my dad’s hand, a comforting thing in the dark.  A few tentative words bubble up, gain some confidence, ask their friends to join in creating a sentence.

“Do you think our souls really live forever?”

Yes, I do,” dad says.  “What that looks like though, I have no idea.  Sometimes you just have to have a little faith that it will all work out.”  He squeezes my hand.  “That probably doesn’t make you feel much better right now.”

I don’t know why the answer satisfies me because it’s nothing different than what I’ve already been told, but it’s honest, and he’s my dad; he always makes things better, and even when he can’t, sometimes just holding someone’s hand in the darkness of unknowing is enough to keep the terror on the other side of the door.

Since he’s here, I tell him about a lump on the back of my head where my head and neck meet, but just on the right side.  It wasn’t there yesterday, and I only just noticed it in my insomniac state.  It hurts when I touch it.  I worry that it means I’m going to die, but I don’t want to hear the answer to that question either so I say nothing more.  Dad rubs it for me.  

“So you think you might have a brain tumor and are going to die?”  

I nod.  The man is downright prescient.  He chuckles, rubs the lump again.  The pain disperses, not entirely, but enough.

“You’re fine.  It’ll be gone tomorrow.”  He leans over, kisses my forehead.  “But you need to stop worrying and go to sleep.”

The next day the lump is gone.  

Was it the power of positive thinking?  The law of attraction?  A lymph node that drained during the night — one where I slept soundly because my dad told me Infinity would work itself out without my help? My complete and utter belief in anything my dad says?

It doesn’t matter because it’s a new day, the sun is shining, and I’m only 10.

Fast forward decades.  I’m a mom, among other things, answering the same kind of obscure questions from my kids, but I am unable to answer the biggest one: 

What do you do when everyone you depended on for guidance is gone?  

I say this:  

There exists in nature a remedy for every malady.  

The answers have always been inside you.

Have the courage to become that which you seek.  

And if that doesn’t work, you can always dial me up on the other side. 

pam lazos 7.14.19

Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Economies of Scale – #WATWB

Economies of Scale

A couple lawyer friends and I have decided to meet weekly to talk about plastics recycling. Ever since I was in law school, so many moons ago, I’ve been thinking about this issue and am disappointed that our government still hasn’t taken it on.  So we’re going to draft a little recycling bill and see what happens next.

Now before you go rolling your eyes 🙄 about already having too many laws on the books, let me just say this about that. Nobody in business ever does anything just to be nice. If there’s no ROI – return on investment – then it’s not going to happen no matter how much of a goody do-gooder is in charge. Even Ben and Jerry’s wants to see a profit.

So how do you convince people that plastics recycling is important, probably on the top ten list of important things if we are ever going to reverse the dire predictions of doom and gloom that have come to depict 21st century society?

Without a recycling law, you don’t.  And here’s another fun fact:  a law with no enforcement authority is just a suggestion, and we are way past the time for that kind of experiment.

The typical definition of economy of scale is “a proportional saving in cost gained by an increased level of production,” meaning, for example, the more widgets you make the less they cost to make because all your set up costs will be incurred only once. What if we turned this concept on its side and applied it to recycling? What would that look like?

Well, for starters, virgin products would cost more than recycled ones — because of a tax scheme, of course — which would encourage business to buy recycled plastics. For such a big change to work, though, the government has to be involved because they are the only ones who can write laws and make people pay taxes.

On the island of Dominica, the government is not only banning some single use plastics like straws, utensils, plates and styrofoam, but they are also making their island climate-change ready by burying utility lines and generally increasing the island’s sustainable nature.  Why are they taking such extraordinary measures?  Well, a year after Hurricane Maria, Dominica is still working through the aftermath and the rubble.  They see the future and it looks like more of the same so they are taking steps to ensure the next hurricane doesn’t wipe them out for good.

What if we could get a few other countries to follow their lead?  Maybe we could make a dent in this climate change crisis thing coming in hard and fast.  Let’s get our economies of scale hats on and find a way to make recycling profitable for the consumers, manufacturers, recyclers and end users.  If the tiny island of Dominica can do it, so can the rest of us.

I’ve created this post for the monthly We Are the World Blogfest.

Our co-hosts for this month’s #WATWB are:
Sylvia McGrath,
Susan Scott,
Shilpa Garg,
Eric Lahti,
and Belinda Witzenhausen.  Please head over to their pages and read awhile.

pam lazos 6.29.19

Posted in Uncategorized | 35 Comments

Dark Desires

Dark Desires

Award-winning author Ronel Janse van Vuuren mainly writes for teens and tweens, though she is known to write mythology-filled short stories for anthologies aimed at older readers. Her dark fantasy works, usually full of folklore, can be viewed on her website and on Goodreads.

When she’s not actually writing, Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers.

Ronel is a native of South Africa (so she also writes in Afrikaans) and we met virtually in the blogosphere.  I enjoy her entertaining and enlightening posts, especially the touching stories about her dogs so I asked her what I could do to help promote her new book, Dark Desires.

Ronel responded with a guest post, a most endearing one as it mirrors the various topics that I like to talk about on this blog:  ecosystem deterioration, the lack of access to clean water for many; the overall degradation of the environmental health of the planet; you know, fun stuff.  And who knew the Fae kingdom suffers from environmental pollution much the same as the rest of us?

Here’s what Ronel has to say about how environmental pollution has infiltrated her fictional world of the Fae:

 

Radioactive – the Effects of Pollution on the Fae

Pollution is a horrible fact of life. We see it in the smog in urban and suburban areas; the melting polar icecaps and glaciers; the rise of freak weather patterns; the eyesore in the Pacific Ocean choking marine-life; the death of the Great Barrier Reef; factory run-off creating a mass growth of algae in the ocean that dies, leading to oxygen-poor water. The list goes on. Some people take action against this: recycling, composting, walking or cycling instead of driving, reducing their carbon footprint in measurable ways. And there are, of course, others who turn a blind eye and do their best to re-open the hole in the ozone.

But pollution isn’t just the things we can see, taste, smell, hear and touch. Some of it goes unnoticed. Some we don’t even see as pollution anymore.

The fae in Dark Desires are affected by pollution much more than are humans. Car exhausts, aerosol deodorant, smog, burning rubbish, weeds, leaves, paint fumes, building materials such as iron, brick and mortar, and so much more affects them in ways that we have stopped noticing. Pollution saps them of their Glamour — their magic —  and weakens them. It takes everything in Tasha to stay conscious during a school day.  For fun, she chose the song Radioactive by Imagine Dragons to sing during karaoke because it describes her life among humans so well.

If pollution has this effect on creatures so in tune with Nature, what is pollution doing to the planet and the rest of us?

 

Synopsis for Dark Desires

Iron and fae aren’t friends. But Tasha has no choice but to be in the human realm: her very life is at stake.

High School isn’t much safer than Faerie, though. Clicks, falling in love and navigating day-to-day activities are dangerous enough without the added dread of being unmasked as being otherworldly.

But when something happens and everyone reveals their true selves, Tasha has a choice to make: will she save them from the curse thrust upon them and reveal her true nature, or will she let them die and remain safe?

Want to read more?  All of Ronel’s books are available for purchase from major online retailers.  UBL: https://books2read.com/u/ba0W56

Sign up to be notified of new releases, giveaways and pre-release specials – plus get a free eBook – when you join Ronel’s newsletter. https://mailchi.mp/020d96f05055/ronelthemythmakernewslettersignup 

Connect with Ronel online

Twitter: https://twitter.com/@miladyronel/ 

Pinterest: https://za.pinterest.com/miladyronel/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17528826.Ronel_Janse_van_Vuuren 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/miladyronel/?hl=en 

Amazon author page: https://amazon.com/author/roneljansevanvuurenmythmaker  

Website of Dark Fantasy Author Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Ronel the Mythmaker: http://www.ronelthemythmaker.com/  

Thanks Ronel, for sharing a bit of your Fae fiction and dog wisdom with us.  Good luck with the book launch!

6.23.19 pam lazos

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Finish Line

[photo by H.G. Reifsnyder]

***

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my father. This one was taken over three decades ago by an old BF who, years after my father died, thought I might like to have it.  My dad died in January 1994, a quarter century ago now, and while it’s true, time does heal all wounds, it doesn’t remove the scars that build up over them.

I don’t think about my dad every day the way I did when the wound was fresh, nor have I ever been to those same depressive depths that I experienced in the year following his death, a depression so deep you couldn’t find me with a periscope.  Those were the dark days, the lost weeks, the months when every thought brought more sadness than I could assimilate and just breathing hurt.  It took me the better part of two years to shake the pain.  Sometime after surfacing, I wrote the piece that follows.

Oh, the hours my father and I would sit at the kitchen table and talk and snack and drink Greek coffee and smoke cigarettes (a habit I gave up long ago, thankfully).

“Come shoot the shit with me,” he’d say, and hours later we’d still be talking, my mom long gone, off to watch a television show or something.  How I long for even one of those hours with him, a bit of time to unload some of the troubles of the day, to have his ever attentive ear and always excellent advice.  Someday again, I’m sure, but for now, I’ll have to make due with my memories.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Hope you’re having a nice coffee somewhere, and that you finally quit the cigs.

Finish Line

It was Christmas and my father was dying. Not by degrees, as he had been doing since his operation to remove the cancer that had taken over his once healthy esophagus, but quickly and inexorably like Genghis Khan, invading Eurasia, decimating the local population. Years of cigarette smoking had finally grabbed my father by the throat. Now, one operation, two years, and some fifty pounds lighter, he’d stopped eating.

December 28 — Gus’s birthday. I met my parents at one of their favorite restaurants, an Italian place halfway between their home and mine. My father insisted we go despite a lack of appetite. He knew what he was doing, taking my mother out one last time, his birthday his excuse.  Gus ordered shrimp and ate a single one. No linguine, no broccoli rabe, no crusty bread. Just one lousy shrimp, cut up into smaller than bite-sized pieces, and even then it looked hard going down.

The next day my mother reported my father had almost driven off the road going home. He’d fallen asleep. I wasn’t surprised given that the breadth of his diet of late would leave a Yogi lightheaded. My father had never fallen asleep at the wheel. He was a salesman and drove for a living, shuttling cigarettes from news agencies to grocery stores and beyond, wherever his wares were in demand. Never mind he was working; his car gave him wings. Every day, he’d have lunch with a different client, swapping jokes and stories. It wasn’t the job he should have had, what with his quick, analytical mind and steel-trap memory for historical facts and figures. He should have been a lawyer, but he was born to Greek immigrant parents who’d fled to the U.S. to escape Turkish persecution and they had their hands full assimilating.

Now he could neither eat nor drive. The fluffy blanket of life that had enveloped him for sixty years had become flat and threadbare.

A couple days after the driving incident I went to my parents’ house. My father had been under self-imposed house arrest since his birthday. He was not eating, barely drinking, certainly not driving. He was a shell of his post-operation self which had been a shell of his former life-embracing self. Like a mirror reflecting back an image onto another mirror and then another, the image bouncing on and on into infinity, he was growing smaller and smaller without ever actually disappearing.

My mother was her typical strong, stoic self. Instead of crying, she swept: the kitchen floor, the bathroom floor, the living room, the porch, the driveway, wherever you could take a broom or vacuum. Sweeping grounded her, kept her tethered to an earth that would soon be devoid of her husband of thirty years. Sweeping was her medication, her chocolate, her daytime soap opera.

In a show of solidarity, I would have liked to sweep too, but I hated sweeping.  I dealt with difficulty better while in motion:  I walked the dog; I ran errands; I drove back and forth between our residences about a million times. Keep moving was my mantra.

So off I was about to go on some very important errand when my dad announced he wanted to go with me. Me as the driver; he as the passenger. I was at that moment in life when the parent and child roles reversed either through infirmary, dementia or some random insidious disease on the seemingly endless list of modern medical disasters that may afflict our parents. How many times had I ridden shotgun with my father when he ran the Saturday morning errands to the bank, the bakery, the gas station? Too many to count.

“Last ride in the van,” he said as he struggled to climb in despite my ready assistance. The lump in my throat had all the properties of cement block.

Before he got sick and for as long as I can remember, my father loved the horses. He and my mother would go to the racetrack many a Saturday night. My mother went because she loved my father, but my father, he was addicted. Sometimes he would drive midweek by himself all the way to the track just to place a bet, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, listening to talk radio the whole way. In a perfect world, he would have been a professional handicapper – someone who picked winning horses for a living. It involved skill and addiction to risk, two things he possessed in great quantities, but there’s really no job security in handicapping, and then there was us, his family. So he sold cigarettes which paid the mortgage and sent us to college — it just didn’t make him happy. He was the most joyous and most despondent man I knew, possessed of more character in any given minute than some accrued over a lifetime. He was both vice and virtue – a self-contained yin and yang – a pure divine spark of God’s light and dark.

Now he was close to dying – my rock, my strength and all those things dads are supposed to be. I was a sensitive, self-critical child. My dad had talked me off the proverbial ledge more times than I’d care to admit. Surely every father does this for his child? Ah, but I knew better. Few men had the wit, the intellect and dead-on observational qualities of my father. He could read people like they came with instructions, a quality I unfortunately did not inherit. He could also hold a grudge like nobody’s business, but I digress.

Now he was leaving. If I felt like throwing up, imagine how my mother felt?

It was a testament to his strength that he lasted two more weeks without food and only a few sips of water now and again. Unable to sleep, he’d wander the house like a ghost, catching cat naps in his living room chair when he got tired. I’d keep watch on the couch while my father sat in his armchair. By morning, he’d be watching me sleep. Even in dying, the strength he exhibited was remarkable.

“You’ll always be a giant in my eyes,” I whispered.

In response, he teared up, pretty un-giant-like by men’s standards, but proving my point. Gussie was unlike most men. He embraced the entire range of his emotions with the verve of one who knows just how satisfying a good belly laugh, a good cry, and all the space in between could be. So while his body disintegrated, his mind shouldered on and in those last weeks he spoke with almost everyone who loved him and more importantly, made amends with everyone he’d ever disagreed with over the years, asking pardon for his part in the disintegration of those friendships. In the end he had created his own absolution, needing no priest to do it for him.

That last night he laid down for the first time in the hospital bed we’d rented a few weeks earlier. We had put the bed in my room so I slept there next to him in my childhood bed, listening to him breathe. At 4:30 A.M. I woke up, knowing something was about to happen. I clearly heard a voice, maybe my own Higher voice, say, “If you turn around now you can watch him leave.” I froze in terror unable to move. How long I stayed that way I don’t know. When I awoke a couple hours later, my father’s body was cold, his spirit gone.  Perhaps it would have been too much for me, watching him go.

We sprinkled his ashes across the finish line at the racetrack which is what he wanted. Gussie had a friend who had a friend who got us into the track a few hours before it even opened.  I stood there, dead center of the finish line, and tipped the plastic bag, meaning to sprinkle the ashes from end to end.  Gussie had other plans. 

The wind picked up and ashes swirled everywhere: on my clothes, in my hair, even up my nose, giving me one final kiss before another sudden wind change scattered them in a billion purposeful directions.  This time I did see him go. 

I often wonder if the horses who ran that night felt his spirit there, cheering them on as they thundered across that finish line. I know I still do.

pam lazos 6.16.19

Posted in father's day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

La Familia Que Escribe Juntos…

La Familia Que Escribe Juntos…

(The Family that Writes Together…)

My dear friend Lydia Isales with whom I had worked for over a quarter century retired a few years ago.One day she was there and the next, up and out. A stellar lawyer and zealous protector of the environment, an editor and proofreader, she lent her eagle eye to the editing of my novel, Oil and Water, and another zillion legal documents. She took those very transferable skills into retirement with her, turning them into a vocation and maybe one day, a second career. She had been writing stories for Ezines, but then I heard something else was in the works — a novel she and her husband and son were working on in a three-way collaboration. Now, I had relied heavily on my husband’s commercial diving expertise when I wrote Oil and Water, but actually writing the book with him never crossed my mind.  It sounds so unprecedented and out-of-the-box that I knew I needed a moment to sit down with Lydia and the family with a list of questions over a virtual cup of coffee (she now lives states and states away) and get the skinny on this new endeavor.

Rather than the traditional interview, this prolific group of writers is going to tell you what it’s all about in their own words.  I’ve added bracketed information here and there to fill in a bit of background information. 

Take it away, Lydia:

Lydia – Alan [Lydia’s son] has always been a writer. He started writing in elementary school and his writing has always shown such imagination and superb plot lines. He has always enjoyed fantasy books so it wasn’t a surprise that he first wrote in that genre. But hey, what a surprise, a Mom proud and boastful of her child. [Typical modest Lydia — I ask her about her and she talks about Alan.]

After I retired in 2014, I had a beginning sentence pop into my head. It was followed by a few other lines. So I wrote them down and saved that paragraph. It took me a couple of years to get back to it and another year to finish a 7-10 page story. 

When I became ill with two “aggressive” cancers, I wrote a couple essays as therapy.  I had a yearning to someday tap the underrepresented market of Puerto Rico [Lydia’s father was Puerto Rican and her mother is American; Lydia grew up in Puerto Rico where her dad was a practicing physician.] as the setting in a piece of commercial fiction and maybe join the two of them [husband David and son Alan] in writing a book. 

The three of us started throwing around ideas of writing a book together and what wondrous fun it would be. We started sharing bits and pieces of things we would want to see in the story; a story not yet defined in any way.  Alan wanted to incorporate boxing, I wanted to include Puerto Rican sayings at the beginning of each chapter, David was interested in placing it during an intriguing historical time. 

It reminded me of an interview I read once of the Farrelly brothers who said something about walking around with a notebook and when something funny occurs to them, they write it down. Then they take those notes and write a movie script. When they described that to someone they were told, “but you can’t do it that way, that is not the way to write a movie,” and perplexed they said, “we can’t?” That always makes me smile when I remember that interview and feel a bit inspired by them.

In October 2017, I sent David and Alan an email telling them that I thought I had discovered our setting and time period. That led to our next few group meals, which included Alan’s wife Ankita, to discuss the characters; each author was assigned the task of creating a central character. We knew it would be a historical murder mystery, my favorite genre. 

Alan wrote some pages first, laying out the murder scene. It was those pages that led each of us to start writing about ‘our’ character, still without the outline of the book.  We then shared those pages with each other. Discussion again ensued. This led to more writing. When we had a total of about 100 pages, David took it all and started piecing it together. He consulted with us on what he was thinking and assigned us rewrites of some sections, but undertook many of those himself. Once we had that edited version, we were all full of ideas of what we wanted to include and started a list of scenes, characters and plot lines. I was the lead on doing lots of research although each of them also did lots of research relevant to their sections. The book really took off then; after about a year and  many iterations later, we had a first full manuscript.

Throughout, David continued to have the lead on ensuring we were consistent and constant with editing and such. Alan really kept an eye out for ensuring we clearly expressed each character’s depth and complexity. After one particularly frustrating evening, we agreed that after full discussion on a given matter, if we were still not agreed, a 2-1 vote would be binding. [How democratic!]  That ended up working.

As an example, David and I had some discussions just among the two of us, along the lines of:  “You just wait, I know Alan will agree with me.” We painstakingly made sure we presented it to him as neutrally as possible so he would not know who was rooting for which choice. Of course, sometimes he came up with a third choice!

Writing does not come as easily to me as to David or Alan but I have found a creative outlet in that it helps me with my serious health situation. It is therapeutic.

I am a fan of Submittable as a source for where to submit short stories, both fiction and nonfiction. In 2018 I had three short stories and one essay published: two stories in Rigorous, one in Label me Latina, and an essay in Acentos Review.

I would like to continue to write with Puerto Rico as the backdrop; it is such a rich, untapped source. We have all three started to discuss a sequel but not in any concrete way yet. I am dedicated to the agent search at the moment.

Thanks, friend, the whole experience sounded exhilarating, especially the dispute resolution process!  But you neglected to tell us the title of the book.  Or is it a secret?

The working title of the book is The Dead Time at Aquirre.

Compelling!  We’ll save the synopsis for when you are closer to a publication date.

Now, let’s hear a bit from Lydia’s husband, David: 

 

 

David – Becoming an author? Serious consideration started when I traveled from Philadelphia to Atlanta to move Alan to a new job. He had written his first fantasy novel, and being an unofficial editor, I found the experience intriguing. During the journey long south, I mentioned some ideas I had and with his encouragement, we discussed a plot.  I had already jotted down a few interesting scenes involving character interactions and medical facts that I felt would pique a layperson’s fancy. On returning to Philadelphia, I dove in.

 

My writing schedule can be in fits and starts, but I’ve always been one to embrace flying by the seat of my pants. I abhor routine.  I generally find my best writing is in the morning, after my mind has had a good night’s rest.  I began writing during my last two years of doctoring. Sometimes I would query Cathy, my office manager, for a woman’s perspective and sometimes I’d ask patients or their parents (I’m a pediatrician), if their field was pertinent to a character or plot line. My favorite inquiry was to an EMT. I asked him if he had any colorful terms for a suicide by hanging. He broke down after I pestered him long enough.

“We call them ‘wind chimes’,” he offered with some embarrassment. 

This crass description of suicide was incorporated into Second Chance.

If I hadn’t become a doctor, I’d probably be teaching. Nothing gave me more pleasure than to have a knowledgeable patient – and I don’t mean someone who spouts off about the latest drug, or what they read on medline sites on the internet. To describe a medical condition in simple layperson terms was a particular joy I felt during patient interactions. In writing Second Chance, as well as the follow up novel, Bucket List, I carried a similar desire to teach my readers medically related topics that were introduced.

As far as writing a novel together, I was first a reluctant participant, expecting hurt feelings would be in the offing once critiques were shared. Each of us was responsible for a central character, and I was pleasantly surprised that after permitting the ‘tweaking’ of our pride and joys, I think we all felt our characters benefited. For example, if differences on a character’s actions or emotions were expressed, votes were cast and majority decision ruled. The lesser players were written by anyone who wanted to do it. In the end, having three authors was not the hell I expected. It’s not unusual to have three subplots in a story, so it afforded each of us an independence most writers need. And we found weaving the three together was not difficult at all.

Lydia was the first to express an interest in collaborating on a novel, and she quickly expressed a desire to place it in Puerto Rico, her birth place. With few historical fiction novels centered on the island having been published, it was an easy sell. After a little research, the Spanish-American War rose to the top of the list. 

Thanks, David. It’s great to see family unity surviving what may have, at times, devoted into a contentious situation.  Sounds like something you may be willing to do again. 

Now let’s hear from the third member of this writing triumvirate, David and Lydia’s son, Alan.

Alan-Ideally, I give myself a half hour to an hour a night to write or edit, hopefully a couple hours a day on the weekends; realistically, it ends up being three or four nights a week, enough to stay engaged in the story, not enough to burn out with everything else going on. I started writing in college, and same as probably everybody it embarrasses me to read what I wrote when I just started. And yes, I’ve been writing while being a practicing forensic scientist, though it can get difficult to balance that.

When we started writing this book together, it was more like we settled on the idea that there were no recent books that we were aware of based in Puerto Rico which surprised us since the island has such a rich culture that could be explored in popular literature. From that, we settled on different characters we wanted to write, and we each would write a chapter from our chosen character’s perspective, share that with the others, and build the story from there, step by step. The structure and plot evolved as we got deeper and deeper into the story, editing each other’s work and discussing how we wanted the story to progress.

As for my work experience showing up in my first book, A Dragon’s Bloodline, I think a bit of it does — not the science, which wouldn’t fit in that world, but in the way some characters look at evidence of crimes and violence, and the analytical pattern of their thoughts. And while it’s true that I have a lot of different interests, I enjoy writing because it lets me indulge my imagination, and get lost in different worlds and times; I especially like thinking of scenarios that I haven’t read or seen, and trying to imagine how people would react in those situations, and then try to build a plot around those scenarios. I think I inspired my parents to write (I was first to publish something, even if it was self-published) rather than the other way around, though we may disagree on that. But they certainly encouraged my writing career, reading my stories and giving me their comments, even editing. They could see I enjoyed it, and I think for them that was enough.

I’ve never made a point of trying to convey messages in my stories; but think about it, and I hope I give people a sense of wonder, at the complexities underlying life, and encourage them to think and imagine.

Given unlimited options for my writing, I’d prefer to keep writing books, playing with different genres, challenging myself; that’s what I’ve found helps my writing the most, trying to write something different than I did before, in a different style or from the perspective of a type of character I haven’t written before. My two biggest influences on my writing are Robert Jordan and Terry Pratchett.  Jordan because of the incredibly complex and detailed world he created in his Wheel of Time series, and Pratchett because he was able to find humor in every subject.  Beyond that, I always got a sense that while [Pratchett] had a clear-eyed view of humanity’s many frailties and flaws, he was still able to find something redeeming about our struggles.

I hope to have three or four more books written ten years from now, both with my parents and some of my own fantasy stories. We certainly have enough ideas to write at least that much, it’s just finding the time to put them down. However, at the moment I personally have only one book out, A Dragon’s Bloodline, independently published on Amazon.

Thanks, Alan!  You’re an inspiration, as are your folks.

We’ll be watching for The Dead Time at Aguirre and I look forward to spreading the word when the book launches. Thanks so much, Ackroyd-Isales clan.

pam lazos 6.9.19

Posted in author interview, blog, book promotion, environment, Uncategorized, writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

How to Change Your Mind

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan is a rock star.  Not a shooting star, not a fleeting 15-minutes-of-fame star, not a one-hit wonder, but an honest to goodness Influencer, someone who moves the populace, sometimes in small increments, at other times across large swaths of thought, toward a better tomorrow. 

I just finished reading How to Change Your Mind, What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, and it was, in a word, illuminating.  

Pollan’s has written other books, seven, actually, books like Food Rules (“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” which cautioned against eating anything with more than five ingredients, especially if you can’t pronounce them); and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (a breakdown of the true cost of growing food) both of which have changed the way we as a society think about food.  

The thinking behind Pollan’s work is grand and millennial — as in time, not people — and always represents a departure from current accepted thought.  His suggested methods to institute change are not massive, but often a return to a simpler way, and when instituted, can be far reaching — like small ripples on a large lake with an underground spring that connects to groundwater that ties into a river that ultimately flows to the ocean, i.e., gradual change that shifts society in a direction, a more long-lasting variety that generally outlives it’s creator. 

In The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how ideas are spread in society and the types of people that spread them: mavens — those who know a lot about things and want to share their information with you; connectors — those who know a lot of people who do a lot of different things and want to share their connections with you; and salespeople — those who are naturals at selling a product or idea and making it sticky so that everyone wants to own or be a part of it.  In modern day parlance, these people are called influencers.  (Granted, in the internet age, there are said influencers such as youtubers who have become famous for applying makeup or making a sex tape who do not move the world to a better place; they are really just gaming the system.)

Pollan is both a maven and an influencer.  It’s obvious from his books that he’s done the research.  How to Change Your Mind starts in 1938 when lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD was first synthesized, and loops all the way up and around to present day via 1955 when an amateur mycologist, R. Gordon Wasson, purposely ingested a mushroom, one that the Oaxaca Mexicans called flesh of the gods, and which contained the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin that caused strange visions.  Two years later, Wasson published an article in Life magazine and the magic mushroom craze was born.  

Pollan’s in-depth look at first the natural history of the fungi, the government regulations that have blocked mushroom research and development for decades; the experts in the field of mycology (relatively few, sadly, since science is discovering that mushrooms are capable of assisting us with a great deal of things from improving mental health to removing plastic waste from the planet); the LSD and mushrooms craze in the 60’s and how that hurt the mushroom movement; the healing nature of psilocybin (used by the Aztecs for thousands of years); and finally, his own foray into mushroom healing is riveting and insightful, making the case for further studying the use of psilocybin, particularly in a society awash in mental health issues like major depression which affects as many as one in 12 adults.

After reading How to Change Your Mind, I am convinced that Pollan is right.  Like Columbus, Pollan went in search of a new world, one that began inside the mind and moved outward, one that connected him to all life on the planet and beyond.  Like Columbus, he may not have been the first to cover this terrain, but he documented his experience in such a way that the rest of us could tag along, reaping the benefits of what he discovered on the journey.  We may be years or even decades away from incorporating such mind-expanding awareness into our world, if ever, but the job of the influencer is done.  The case has been made and the facts are there for all to read and decide upon — and that is the beauty of having a mind to change.

pamlazos 6.2.19

Posted in book review, butterfly effect, influencer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments