Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Danger of Holding onto the Past

I'm tired of listening to people who are mired in the past--as if everything about bygone times was idyllic and halcyon.  Nothing remains the same, and life is made for moving onward.  Years ago, scores of Americans who deemed themselves upwardly mobile abandoned their roots to live in cheap suburban tract houses.  They consequently condemned their children to fantasy lives of privacy fences and manufactured domesticity.  Many of them were quick to condemn those who wanted anything other than what they deemed a conventional, domestic life.  They lived their lives as they wanted, and that was fine for them if they wanted such a life.  However, no one should by judged or condemned for rejecting the white picket fence or suburban living.

We all should have lives that work for us, and sometimes that means abandoning the socially conservative ideas of the past.  Not all of us are comfortable living the lives of others or adopting their often judgmental values. Don't misunderstand.  I enjoy nostalgia. It often reminds me of the good times in my childhood.  I love old pictures as well, and I belong to Facebook groups like "Ain't Dere No More," but I'm not--and should not be--bound to some outmoded concept of what others think is "the good life." To one generation, that may have been a white picket fence in the burbs.  For another, that might mean living a Bohemian life Uptown, in the French Quarter, or in an artist's flat in Paris or New York.  No narrow-minded individual should have the right to judge other adults for their lifestyle choices or think that they even have the right to an opinion.  Of course, some misguided and narrow people think they have such a right.

I am first and foremost the bootlegger's daughter.  I do what I must to survive.  My father forged his own destiny, and I recently finished a manuscript based--somewhat loosely--on his life.  As a kid, my father delivered ice for the still existent Pelican Ice Company.  When the Depression claimed the life of his first wife, he bootlegged so that the family could survive.  The Depression killed his wife, so he wouldn't play by any governmental rules.  He later booked and trained racehorses.  In that way, he is very much like Jude Mooney, my protagonist.  My father didn't regret the past, but he didn't idealize it, either.  When people said to him, "I remember when an apple was a nickel," my dad would clip back, "Who the hell had the nickel?"  Both of my parents forged their own destinies.  My mother, my father's fourth wife, married him even though the neighbors told her he was a "racketeer."  My mother didn't care.  She knew what she wanted.  I'm not saying her life was always easy, but she told me she didn't regret anything.  She'd really liked "the old bugger."  Daddy was seventeen years older than she.  Like my parents, I respect the past, but I don't make a shrine to it.  Some people think doing so is the only way to honor the dead and feel that moving on is almost sinful.

As a writer, I've forged my own way as well.  My female characters often defy the conventional roles and stereotypes.  Nuala in LOVE AT WAR and Grainne in PIRATE WOMAN throw aside the roles ascribed to them by society,  Nuala becomes a covert operative during WWII to gain vengeance on those who killed her husband.  Grainne defies the traditional role of an Irish chieftain's daughter, running her husband's sea interests.  Of all my heroines, Harley in THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW was in some ways the most tragic to write.  She is mired in grief for a past that is dead.  Only when she lets go of that past can she breathe again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Illusion of Safety

I'm writing this after Hurricane Isaac roared into coastal Mississippi and Louisiana, destroying lives and property.  Many these days feel frustrated or fragile.  Some judgmental people in other parts of the country wonder how we can live where hurricanes strike.  We wonder how they can live around tornadoes, earthquakes, and crippling snow.

 For all of us in this world, safety is an illusion we foster to keep ourselves sane.  Of course, there are things people can do to minimize hazard.  In areas prone to hurricane damage, people can evacuate to higher ground. They can raise their homes.  In places prone to tornadoes, people should drill to find safe havens in the event of such a natural occurrence.  All of these things are sensible precautions, but they are only that--precautions.  For most of us in this world, we live with the belief that our lives will
drone on in a mundane fashion until we die in our beds.  We rise in the morning, pack the kids off to school, head to work, and then head home in the midst of rush-hour traffic.  Most of us also are not willing to face a stark reality: Our concept of safety is a manufactured idea.  No matter what steps we can take to minimize danger, it is part of our daily lives.  Some people live in the grip of war, fearing for their safety every day, and the reality is that any of us could find ourselves in the midst of war.  All someone has to do is bomb us or fly planes into an iconic building, and we, too, are at war.  Other people live in the grip of grinding poverty and crime.  Our self-created concept of safety is as transient as the proverbial moth consumed by flame.  We live in a world that is the antithesis of safety.  Mad people walk into movie theaters, shooting innocents who have gathered to watch a film.  Others walk into houses of worship, intent upon murder.  Still other cold morons abuse their own children, placing those kids on a path to self-destruction. Other idiots pit dogs against each other in cruel fights.  (I'd love to see them in the path of a hurricane with no shelter!)

My dad died when I was quite young.  We had to leave the home I'd known since I was a child.  Early on, I learned that things change and that things can be taken away from us.  In my books, my characters also face this reality.  In LOVE AT WAR,,  Nuala puts herself in harm's way to avenge the death of her husband.  So determined is she to avenge his death that she willingly places herself in the arms of the enemy.  For her, facing death is second to obtaining her revenge.  In PIRATE WOMAN,, Grainne O'Malley faces other pirates and stares down the gun barrels of her British oppressors in order to defend her family and clan.  In THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW,, Harley Michel faces a less tangible danger--danger to her heart.  As a grieving widow, she must decide if she'll risk loving again.  She places her soul and sanity at risk when she enters an internet dating site and meets a man who holds both promise and danger.

All of my protagonists faced risks, but they chose to take those risks and live life to the fullest, and that's my point in this post.  We never know when danger will find us, but we have to live life fully. As Tennyson said in the persona of Ulysses, "I will drink life to the lees."