Keep your eyes open and be ready to fall in love

Curious Attractions by Debra Spark

Curious Attractions by Debra Spark

So I’ve just started reading this book of essays on fiction writing by Debra Spark called Curious Attractions. Actually, I’ve only finished the first essay and I’m already inspired to post about it.

That first essay is called The Trigger – What gives rise to a story? I’ve long had theories about this subject for my own work. I’ve noticed that my most compelling ideas seem to come at, as Dickens might say, “The Best and Worst of Times.” Emotionally vulnerable points – times of elation or immense sadness, great days or days I’d rather forget.

The idea for The Ocean Between Lost and Found came around Thanksgiving in 2011. My aunt, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had visited my sister’s house from her care home to enjoy the holiday with us. Turkey and apple pie consumed, the day turned to evening and we needed to get her back . Back then, she was having a lot of trouble with one of her legs. She often couldn’t make it work quite right. As we tried to get her into the car, she fell in the cold, snowy driveway and it took four or five of us to maneuver her upright again. There was a moment I didn’t think we’d be able to do it. I’ll admit it – part of me wanted to cry in that moment.

Eventually we got her back to her home. The nurses asked my brother-in-law and I to wait in the hall while they helped her into her night clothes and into bed for the night. Everyone was exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally.

We stood in silence for a few minutes, until he asked me a question that would set me on a multi-year project. See, my brother-in-law’s a bit of a maritime expert and he knew of my connection to Japanese culture through my practice of kyudo. The disastrous Tohoku earthquake and tsunami had occurred just that previous March. So of course he wanted to know: Had I heard about all that debris from the Japanese tsunami spinning in the Pacific?

And the rest was history. See, I was particularly vulnerable at that moment. It was not the best of days. And – I believe because of that vulnerability – my eyes were open. I was prepared to fall in love with an idea, a concept, the characters that filled it. And I did. With that one question at that precarious moment, several disparate concepts that had been floating around in my head for a long time suddenly coalesced into a single something that enthralled me.

As Spark’s essay on this same subject (which I encourage you to buy her book and read) ends, she tells a story about being with a group of women writers on an outing one day. They were visiting a cave in Wisconsin that Spark describes as a “rather tacky tourist spot.”

The women in the group were predominately single at the time, and Spark mentions her relationship status affecting the mood of the day: “…my sense of that day – and it may have been a projection of my own situation at the time – was a shameful female irritation that there weren’t any good guys around. I don’t remember much about the cave, save that the walls were creepily veined and that the tour guide turned off the lights so we could experience the complete darkness of the cave. When the lights were flicked on, there was Lorrie [Moore], taking notes. Notes! I thought. What could she find here?”

Lorrie Moore would go on, two years later, Spark reports, to publish a story named “The Jewish Hunter” in the New Yorker, which took place partially in a fictitious cave. The work was clearly inspired at least in part by that day in Wisconsin that Spark herself admits she didn’t have much enthusiasm for.

“…I felt something else, too: jealousy. Sure, we’d all met the guy, but only one of us had the skill to fall in love.”

Keep your eyes and hearts open, writers. And be ready to fall in love. With the world, with ideas, with life. That’s who we are.

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Corporate Philanthropy: Earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters

Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco for the Dreamforce conference from Salesforce.com. It was an amazing conference on many levels. There were over 100,000 attendees, thousands of technical and business sessions, even a free concert from GreenDay and Blondie.

What really impressed me, however, was the 1/1/1 philanthropy model of the Salesforce.com Foundation:

  • 1% of employee time is donated to charitable efforts
  • 1% of the company’s equity is donated to charitable efforts
  • 1% of product resources is donated to charitable efforts

This approach allows the company to provide important relief in a major way, such as the effort to help Haiti following the devastating earthquake suffered by that country in 2010.

The above video was presented during the keynote session for the conference. Trust me, I’ve been to lots of these technical conferences before. The opening session or keynote usually goes something like this: “Thanks for buying our stuff. Here’s a bunch of new things we’re going to come out with. Please buy more of our stuff.”

This is why I was somewhat shocked to watch Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, spend nearly 40 minutes of the two hour session talking about philanthropy. Not just touting what his own company has done, but also encouraging the attending companies and individuals to do more.

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Corn from castles, kyudo and tsunami debris

It’s been a busy few months for kyudo, Japanese archery, here in Georgia. In late July, we had the 2013 IKYF American Seminar in South Carolina, a major event that includes multiple Japanese Sensei traveling to the U.S. to further our teaching. Then, in September, our local organization GKR (Georgia Kyudo Renmei) demonstrated once again at JapanFest Atlanta, a great weekend.

Now, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be demonstrating once more at the beautiful Gibbs Gardens in North Georgia, as part of their new event, the Japanese Maples Festival.

Outdoor kyudo events in autumn always remind me of the first time I visited Japan, back in the fall of 2008, because I received my first exposure to kyudo during that trip, watching an informal practice in the inspiring Meijii-Jingu dojo. The beauty and serenity of kyudo entranced me then and still does to this day.

I was fortunate to see much of Japan during that trip, from Tokyo to Kyoto all the way up to Takayama. And smaller cities like Nara, Kamakura and Matsushima.

Corn with soy sauceAll those places were memorable, but for some reason fall also reminds me of one particular day in the city of Sendai, when we traveled to the top of a mountain to visit Sendai castle. It’s not the grandest castle in Japan, nor the oldest, but the view is extraordinary. It was a quiet day and in the courtyard, there was a lone vendor selling grilled ears of corn. That was the day I found out in Japan, they use soy sauce on their corn, not butter. That was the day I had the single best ear of corn ever. No hyperbole, promise.

As is often the case with such treats that stick in our minds, I always assumed I’d get back there to enjoy that corn again. It was just a matter of time. A place like Sendai would always be there to visit, after all. In fact, I journeyed to Japan once more, a couple of years later, but didn’t make it to Sendai that trip. But that was okay, I knew there would be a next time.

Then, in March 2011, the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck. And Sendai was right in the middle of the devastation, threatening my certainty of the city’s continued well-being.

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