A Piece of Peace

EMU logoFifteen years ago, I got a master’s degree in conflict. I was one of three North Americans in a cohort of 27 students. These were memorable people, some of whom have since died trying to light candles in the howling darkness of our capacity for hatred and violence.

Conflict work is scary. It can kill you, it can break your heart, but war WILL kill us and break our hearts–also possibly put an end to our troublesome species–unless we find a way out of it. So…

fighting-horses_1854144iOur professors were amazing people. Some had helped dismantle Apartheid in South Africa. Another had diffused civil war in the Basque region of Spain. A third was instrumental in helping Bolivia rely less on drug money to fuel its economy. They told stories that were curiously devoid of the pronoun “I.” Their stories were “we” stories, or stories about the local leaders who’d taken the initiative to ask for help.

Help was often present in these places in great abundance. War is expensive, and unless you’re an arms dealer, reform and rebuilding are usually the better alternatives. So the PhDs, and missionaries, and non-governmental Kittens-KittensFightingUsingLightSa (1)organizations (GMOs), flock to the scene, sprinkling knowledge, grant money, and faith initiatives all over the troubled waters.

Those efforts, we now know, aren’t likely to generate lasting change. Why? Because the best intentions can degenerate into bickering, competition, retribution, and more of the conflict the combatants were invested in for so long.

creditThe experienced peacebuilders, whose names will never be known outside the small community of peacebuilders, have learned that when they come into a terrible situation–a city wrecked by riots, a civil war that has killed millions, a nation on the verge of collapse–the first people they have to identify are those few, odd souls who can see what could happen if peace were allowed to take hold.

gandhiThose people, those crazy, visionary, hopeful, irrational, even stupid people, hold the image of the mountaintop in their hearts, they see the motivation for finding a way forward, even if they can’t see the way itself. The peacebuilder’s first job is to find those people, and give them a place to sing their song, paint their canvas, write their poetry, or tell their stories. They usually are the artists, the writers, the poets, not the academics, the politicians, the religious leaders, or the “experts.” They dwell on the fringes, their vision nurtured in obscurity.

futureWhat creates movement in a positive direction isn’t fancy theories or sophisticated science or big money–those can all contribute to change, but they can’t make it last.

Change becomes transformation when passion, hope and love give it wings.

What do you hope for? When you think about your children and grandchildren, what changes do you wish you could make to leave them a better world?

A Beautiful Marriage

kissing-sailorv4May 17, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. If you ask my dad about the magic behind this long, mostly happy marriage, he will tell you squarely and emphatically, that my mom is the reason the whole thing stayed between the ditches. Stuey had some luck, landing in the right place at the right time professionally, and he worked hard–he also played hard–but Colleen was the one who decided the marriage was going to live up to its potential

goslings08Mom and Dad had the basic old-fashioned deal. He earned the paycheck, she managed the home. This deal still works for a lot of couples, though few of those couples have seven children. After a set of twin boys, and a girl, Mom had a slight gestational hiatus. Dad must have thought three kids was a big enough family, but Mom told him she’d get “fat and civic-minded” if she couldn’t have more kids.

minionsFour more children showed up in eight years, and I think even Mom was a little nonplussed by that abundance. While Stuey was off making big science, going on expeditions into the wilds of British Columbia or out to the Galapagos Islands, Mom was stuck home alone for weeks at a time with uppity teenagers and wild-eyed college students.

And lots of laundry. Merciful powers, did that woman do endless laundry. Laundry EVERY DAY, and this goes back to the days of the old wringer washer, and a triple-rope clothesline in the back yard. Cooking for nine people was no day at the beach either, and yet Mom had a hot meal on the table every night at six.

wringer washerThe woman worked her behind off, for decades, and in addition to creating a comfy, pretty home for us, she entertained nearly constantly. No graduate student ever spent a holiday alone far from home, no visiting professor ever wanted for dinner invitations.

As an adult, I can see that in many ways, my Dad was the more dependent spouse, and he will say as much. Mom made the decision, over and over, to be what Dad needed. His gifts were more limited–he was best at being a college professor, and he tried hard to be a good dad. Mom was and is the magic that connects Stuey to a larger circle, that keeps him challenged to be his best self, and whose love has created a setting in which Dad–a shy, retiring, sometimes easily frustrated man–can shine.

years of loveWhat strikes me about their marriage is the degree to which each partner contributed what they could, be it clean laundry, a steady paycheck, a hot meal–along with good faith and acceptance of the other person. And yes, for those who’ve asked, my parents are very definitely the inspiration for Percival and Esther Windham, of course.

If you could choose one couple to feature in a romance novel as the role model for a mature, loving relationship, who would you choose, and why?

 

 

A Well Earned Ambush

times_square__new_york_by_nravemaster-d4bzwgmI don’t think I qualify for “social anxiety disorder” but my dials are certainly set a few clicks beyond “introvert” compared to most people. If I can’t have days of solitude every week, I start to snap and growl, productivity drops, and sleep suffers. For the past week, I’ve been in the office until all hours, getting ready for an audit of my foster care files by the State of Maryland.

audit-magnifying-glassAll work on the case must be documented including time, date, duration, location and nature of the task performed. To the minute, no confusion of dates or cases allowed.

This kind of detail/paper work drives me round the bend. My contracts are also up for re-competition, and the proposals are due in about ten days. Fortunately, I love to write, but unfortunately, the proposal requires a lot more than creative writing–it requires details, documents, references, insurance certificates, budgets, affidavits… Oh, bring me my hartshorn!

glen finnan monumentBUT I’m not entirely without the self-care clue. I scheduled a massage for Thursday afternoon, the day before the Big Audit. I was mostly ready for the State, and I’d been looking forward to the massage.

Except, I have a condition called restless leg syndrome, and it often rears it’s oggly head (or foot, as the case may be), toward the end of the day, when I’m restless legtired. Halfway through the massage–my big, soul-sustaining treat–I start to twitch and jump and jiggle.

Restless leg doesn’t hurt, I tell myself. It’s a just a nuisance, like thyroid disease, Lyme disease, taxes, loneliness, state auditors, post-travel credit card balances… I’m little-girl-crying-300x225in the lobby, writing the check, making the next appointment, and onto the Muzak comes a quiet, classical piece.

The Barbara Adagio for Strings has be to be the most sad, honest, wrenching composition I have ever heard, and I hadn’t heard it for years. (If you want to break your heart, watch this version, which is set to images of 911.) My busy, competent, highly functional, has-an-answer-for-everything cuddleself just started bawling. Stumbled out to the truck, and went Pathetic for the next half hour.

I HATE being a lawyer sometimes. It’s hard, it’s not a good fit for me, and I don’t have the type and volume of energy to do it as well as I’d like to. I miss my dukes and ladies, I want to go for a ride on Sir Regis, and figuratively offer a rose to a small child. I want my mom, and my daughter with me, not thousands of miles away. I want to rest, thoroughly, not just until the dogs have to go out.

All of those real, understandable, human needs, would probably still be duct-taped into silence by my deadlines and duties, but for Mr. Barber giving me a tap on the emotional shoulder. I called my daughter yesterday, I talked to my mom single_purple_roseand my dad, I scheduled lunch with a writin’ buddy for Wednesday, I called another writin’ buddy last night.

Solitude is fine, but solitary confinement is wrong, even for me. I needed Mr. Barber’s reminder, though it landed with the force of a blow on my to-do list and on my heart.

When was the last time music, art, dance, a sermon, a book, a poem, a flower garden, brought you home to yourself?

 

What Works for Me

washington-dc-300a061009Before I focused on child welfare law, I spent about ten years in the Washington, DC, area, working for what the locals call, “Beltway Bandits.” These are the companies who live off federal contracts. Some were small, but most were large. Very large. Before I opened my own law practice, I worked for three different Fortune 100 corporations, everyone of them “leading edge,” in their respective field.

We were all on time to work, and willing to put in extra hours to get the job done. We adhered to the dress code, we sat where we were assigned to sit, and we observed the codes of conduct laid out in the employee handbooks.

washington white male boardsAnd we were about as inefficient and backward as it’s possible to be and still make a profit.

We know now, for example, that companies with diverse boards of directors are more profitable than companies that seat only white guys on their boards. The diverse companies tend to be better places to work, and to have a more flexible response to changing market conditions. It’s good business to diversify your board of directors, but we’re actually losing ground in this regard.

washington diverseWe also know that brainstorming, a mainstay of corporate problem-solving, is likely to produce fewer and less workable solutions to any given problem, than if people are tasked individually with devising solutions. Many of my traditionally published author friends report that their book titles are still the result of a group of people (who mostly haven’t read the book), sitting around a whiteboard, tossing out ideas in brainstorming sessions.

DC traffic jamsWe know that the contribution of women in mixed corporate groups is devalued compared to the contributions of men. An outspoken guy will be viewed as knowledgeable and helpful, an outspoken woman is pushy. And yet, most corporations insist that staff be available in one place during one set of hours because “meetings” are the lifeblood of corporate communication.

Tired colleaguesTurns out, the more meetings a company has, the less efficient it is. The more workers it has contributing from home, the MORE efficient it is, and the greater the job satisfaction of its workers.

My point is not that Corporate America is Dumb. It’s not. Some corporations are brilliant, others are high heelsvery backward. My point is this: Nobody was enjoying their commute in DC traffic all those years ago. Nobody gained IQ points because they put on a tie or high heels. Everybody sat in meeting after meeting, and thought, “I could be getting so much done at my desk…”

And yet, we suited up, schlepped the commute, and showed up for all those meetings–and still do. That’s the weight of organizational culture, and it’s just as heavy with churches, wild flowershomeowners’ associations, families, and cultural affiliations. The larger the organization, the more effectively it shuts down our own sense of what’s working and what’s not, what’s right and what’s wrong.

This is part of why we vote all alone in a private booth, traditionally go to confession alone, and usually undertake therapy one on one or in very small groups–because there’s danger in numbers. When honesty, integrity and creativity matter (and when don’t they?) the large group is seldom the best option.

What’s the largest organization in your daily life, and where is it a bad fit for you?

To one commenter, I’ll send flowers.

Rest in Pieces

cat small bedThe question most frequently asked of writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

My most frequent answer: I get them in bed.

Last thing before nighty-night, I try to read over any new material I’ve worked on that day. If I don’t have new words, then I read the last scene in the work I’m trying to add to. Then up to bed, and into my read-for-pleasure book, I do go.

cat fat on bedIf I’m setting an alarm, I set it for an hour before I should get out of bed. When it goes off, I take my thyroid meds (best on an empty stomach), then roll over and drift. In that drifting, “I can drowse if I want to,” place, I will often get good ideas. I rarely get whole books from that hour, but I’ll get how to open a scene, how to close a scene, what a scene needs to accomplish.

cat reading bedAs I traveled around Scotland–Scotland, my bestest place ever!–the ideas dried up. Weeks went by, and nothing came to me. In Scotland?!

I’ve diagnosed the drought as having three sources, at least. First, I had very little solitude. At the Gaelic college, on the ferries, in the accommodations, I was seldom alone. (I was in great company, though, and that’s worth a lot.) Second, I was worried, much of the time, about what was happening at home–with family, with the law office.

cat dog bedThird, I wasn’t getting adequate sleep. Whether because of different periods of daylight, strange beds, lack of physical routine (no tread desk), no animals around me, lack of writing time, lack of solitude and unstructured time, anxiety, menopause, or anxiety, I simply couldn’t rest. My drifting hour eluded me, and the well went dry.

I’m home now, and the drifting hour came through with this theme for today’s blog. I knew good sleep was essential for a healthy weight, adequate energy, proper memory function, management of anxiety, reduction of systemic inflammation, rational decision-making, and support of the immune system, but I hadn’t pinpointed how much it has to do with my writing process.

cat feetWell, duh. I had to learn this lesson in law school thirty years ago, where my mantra became, “You can manage four years of working full time and going to law school five nights a week IF you get adequate rest.”

Women are affected by a lack of sleep more than men are, and women need more sleep than men. For the ladies, sleep deprivation results in higher risks for diabetes, heart disease, aggressive feelings, and depression. (For the men, it seems to result in a lack of ability tell if a lady is interested or not.)

cat cuddly sleepSo I learned more about what I need to write on the trip where I wrote almost nothing, and I learned once again, you can manage a lot of you’ll guard your rest.

Sleep deprivation is seriously bad for us. How do you know you’re not getting enough rest, and what do you do about it?

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Neil Oliver’s History of Scotland–you can watch it in bed.

 

Homeward Bound

Scott's viewTomorrow, if all goes according to plan, I’ll fly home, after more than a month in Scotland. I’ve had a terrific time here, knocked off some bucket list items, and had no major mishaps that would make travel far from home difficult. If I had to list the highlights, they would include…

10. Seeing terrific scenery. There’s wonderful scenery back home, too, of course, but after driving across the US at least twenty times, I was ready for some new sights. Scotland haz ’em.

Grace at dunvegan9. Revising my definition of a “big” country. Scotland is no larger than South Carolina, but what it lacks in square miles, it makes up for in millenia of history. A sense of substance can come from years as well as total area.

8. Appreciating certain aspects of home much more. Scotland’s roads are minimally adequate by US standards, which can make even a short distance a tedious journey. Handicapped accessibility in Scotland also has a long way to go, though admittedly, retrofitting a 13th century castle for wheel chair access is probably cost-prohibitive.

7. Seeing other aspects of home with new eyes. One Scottish friend pointed out to me, “You Americans assume Government can’t do anything right, and that privatizing is the Grace at Eilean Donanway to make sure something is run well. We know better. We’ve seen industries destroyed by privatization, to the point that the Government has to step in and take them over again at enormous cost. Profit motives do not necessarily equate to good services in every industry.” Erm, OK. My friend may not be entirely right, but he has a perspective on “Americans” I can’t learn at home.

6. Seeing home right here. My grandmother was a MacDonald, and like many of that name, her father came from the Old World to settle in Nova Scotia. The Clan MacDonald Center on Skye tells a story that on some level, is also my family story. I wasn’t expecting that.

5. Learning a bit of Gaelic. A week long intensive class didn’t get me much past “hello/good-bye/I don’t understand,” but I had fun, met terrific people, and was in an environment where I could use the few snippets of Gaelic I learned. Good for the brain!

Calanais four up small file4. Scarfing up tablet. This is a dessert that’s mostly butter and sugar, and with a cup of tea or coffee, it’s Scrumptious. After a meal in a Scottish restaurant, your coffee or tea comes to the table with a small square of tablet. The friendliness of this gesture, and the sheer pleasure of the little sweet, will be much missed when I’m home.

3. Enjoying the occasional glass of wine. When I was at my Gaelic classes, all the students stayed on the same very small college campus. The drinking age is 18 here, and the cafeteria offered a selection of wines. Almost everybody had a glass of wine with their meal, and meals were not hurried. The wine was no big deal, just a part of enjoying food and friendly conversation. Nobody overimbibed, and the drunk driving laws here make our “tough” laws look laughable. Hmm.

shetland2. Enjoying the people. I met the most lovely, interesting, terrific people. Yes, we have those in abundance at home too, but my books are set mostly in the UK, and catching snippets of the point of view that my characters might share was delightful.

1. Freeing up some slots on my bucket list. I drove in Scotland, safely. I saw three castles I’ve long been curious about. I traveled to the Outer Hebrides and saw the Standing Stones at Calanais, which means on my next trip, I can go see the Orkneys… and then I want to get a peek at the Shetland Islands, walk the Fife Coastal Trail, do the West Highland Way….

What’s your idea of worthwhile travel?

The Wages of Love

How to fly a horseSo I’m still trundling around Scotland (with limited internet–sorry), and that means I actually finished reading “How to Fly a Horse,” among other books. One of the topics dealt with in that little tome was how to inspire people to their best creative efforts. The author’s conclusions reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with my sister Maire.

Maire-Maire is a very talented quilter, and has an eye for what fabrics will make an interesting combination, and what patterns while join them in the most pleasing combination. She quilts by hand, and enjoys every aspect of the process, from choosing the fabrics to top stitching the final seams. She made me a quilt to celebrate the birth of my daughter 27 years ago, and when I sleep under that quilt, I feel safe and warm and loved.

Author Patience Griffin's "Gandigow Star" quilt

Author Patience Griffin’s “Gandigow Star” quilt

Maire works terribly, horribly, awfully hard in a management capacity at a medical practice. Long hours, big stress, many sad stories, and there’s Maire, with one of the kindest hearts you’ll ever meet. I asked why she didn’t sell her quilts, and look for a job that was less stress.

She said that the quilting was for her soul, and attaching a dollar figure to it would take some of the joy from it. The quilting was “hers,” and turning it into a business would take some of that away. At first, this struck me as not very sensible. Here’s a lucrative skill she enjoys plying, and there’s a job that’s really hard. The money was by no means the same, but money isn’t everything, is it? A quilt business might lead to a quilt shop, some extra savings, quilting classes, articles in quilting magazines… why not follow that dream?

child-problem-solvingTurns out, Maire was onto something. When experiments are run that offer some people monetary prizes for coming up with creative work, and other people are offered nothing for tackling the same problems, the people who stick to the challenge because they’re enjoying it come up with much more interesting and viable solutions than the wage earners.  These results were easy to duplicate, too.

ipad-workerThink about that. On the one hand, if we want to kill creativity, the best way to do that is pay somebody a wage in coin. On the other hand, we define success most often in terms of material wealth and financial security, not happiness, life-satisfaction, and creative self-expression.

Though, of course, the spider who spins is a she, not a he...

Though, of course, the spider who spins is a she, not a he…

watering canNo doubt, this is an area where common sense and balance play a role. Children need to eat, the bills must be paid, but sooner or later, the soul must be nourished too–though nobody tells us this, (and nobody especially tells our menfolk this). I’ve learned to reject big advances for my books, because I don’t want to “owe” anybody a book. I’ve so far always met my contractual obligation, but having that dollar sign hanging over my head was only creating anxiety and distraction,

Is there an activity you keep safe from the dollar sign? One you’ve thought about making commercial but shied away from? Is there a job that killed your creativity, or–it’s been true for me–one that brought it out?

Again, I might not be able to respond to comments, but I do want to hear what you have to say!

Coin of the Realm

heather grad smallMy daughter is in her twenties, which I recall as a tough decade. As she’s said, nobody warns you that being a grown-up is hard. Adulthood looms like a bedtime-less, three-desserts-a-day, self-determined wonderland of freedom, but the reality is harder and scarier than we can imagine… at least for a while.

money binSometimes, Beloved Offspring beats herself up for not being through with her education, other times, she beats herself up for not being entirely self-sufficient financially. In both cases, she faces a much steeper climb than I did–my education was nearly free, and minimum wage went a lot farther–but she can’t realize that. Something she said the other day reminded me of a notion raised in my divorce mediation training nearly twenty years ago.

Show-UpWe were talking about alimony, and the instructor made a disquieting point: The assumption in all cases of alimony is that financial self-sufficiency is the hall mark and sine qua non of adulthood. People who can’t “pay their way,” are to be scorned or pitied, and if they are disabled, well, there’s a good chance they’re freeloading–or so we might suspect.

keep-calm-and-work-hard-1269Our public policy bears out this thinking. Anybody receiving public assistance must not only prove they’re job hunting and put in volunteer hours, but they must accept offered employment and then turn their children over to strangers to care for. Those strangers are paid meager wages (because anybody can do child care?), but we favor employing two people at low wages, to allowing a parent to raise his or her children for even the first few years–doing much of the same work as the day care center–without any compensation at all.

Caring_for_our_elderly1This is one example, though I realize it’s not without complications. Nonetheless, the SNAP program has the lowest rate of fraud of any government program, and most families use it for less than nine months, so it’s not a bad example. Another example: In Australia, if you’re staying home to look after grandma, you get a subsidy for that. Here, you’re supposed to pay exorbitant amounts to strangers to do the same job, and generally do it far worse than you would.

We are conditioned to think if what we’re doing is uncompensated, it doesn’t matter, or at the very least, it’s not “adult Artist school little girl painting watercolors portraitwork.” This devalues care providers of all kinds, devalues creativity, devalues students, devalues retirees, and all the people whose gifts are creative and emotional rather than easily “employed.”

I know we need people to work outside the home, and to work in jobs that are unappealing. I’ve dipped ice cream, washed radioactive glassware, bussed tables, and so forth, but always with the assumption that those were stepping stones. When I got a “real” job, I’d be self-supporting.

realWe can’t all love our jobs all the time, but why isn’t love–which is at least as important to our wellbeing and sanity as food, clothing and shelter–valued as highly as coin? I consider a life without money, and that’s bearable. I’d need to barter, to keep good friends around, and to be a good friend.

But a life without love… you couldn’t pay me enough to tempt me to try that.

I can’t respond to comments as easily as I’d like to this week, but I do want to hear your thoughts on love, work, and money.

The Drudgery of Genius

How to fly a horseI’m traveling around Scotland lately, and being away from home and office routines has meant I have some time to read. Right now, I’m making my way through, “How To Fly a Horse,” by Keven Ashton. The subtitle is: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery.

I’m enjoying the heck out of this book, even though it’s not a romance–it’s not even fiction, but the author is concerned with certain fairy tales that most of us buy into early in life. These fairy tales contend that creativity happens when geniuses like Einstein and Mozart take long walks in the woods, and then the Good Fairy of Inspiration taps them on the shoulder with her magic wand, and gifts them with a Big Bright Idea.

better mouse trapWe believe, says Ashton, that the person with the better mousetrap is going to clean up on the stock market and be long and fondly remembered for their contribution.

We believe that two heads are better than one, and brainstorming will result in more ideas, and better ideas for how to tackle a problem than we can come up with on our own.

Turns out… not so much. Ashton cites one peer-reviewed, replicated study after another to show that everybody has the ability to create. Creativity does not rely on having a high IQ or on bolts from the blue; and rather than being lauded and celebrated, dyson vaccuumthe person with the better mousetrap is often resented and ridiculed. Ashton also demonstrates that brainstorming is a pretty non-productive way to tackle a problem. We generate more and better solutions (at least initially) working individually, NOT in a group.

People come with differing levels of ability certainly, but the factor Ashton points to that distinguishes those who contribute new ideas and inventions from those who do not is, for the most part, persistence in the face of doubt, and an ability to view setbacks or failed experiments as a source of insight.

James Dyson, who invented those spiffy, bagless vacuum cleaners, tried more than 5000 prototypes before he hit on a cost-effective model. Judah Folkman, who figured out that cutting

Judah Folkman, MD

Judah Folkman, MD

off a tumor’s blood supply can kill the tumor, labored for more than 30 years before his contribution was recognized. For most of that 30 years, he was ridiculed and disrespected by the surgery-chemo-radiation “experts,” whose treatments come with devastating side effects.

I’m getting a lot of inspiration from acornthis book, about the value of persistence and solitude, about the myth of a creative elite. Einstein and Mozart were geniuses in their fields (also complete doofs in other regards), but most of their achievements came from persistence and hard work.

I can persist, I can work hard. Whew!

When has your persistence in the face of adversity paid off? When have you wished you threw in the towel sooner? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of “How To Fly A Horse.”

From the Land of What If

cooSo here I am, in Scotland!!!

I’m so happy to be here, too! For a little while, I can leave the lawyering on the other side of the ocean (Yippee!), get away from my routines and some of my responsibilities, and go sniffing after new story ideas.

Travel is tiring, but it also wakes me up. Traffic moves in different patterns here, which means even in something as simple look rightas crossing the street, I have to be alert and look the “wrong” way, lest I get flattened. Because accents are thick and varied (lots of Eastern Europeans working at the hotels in Scotland), I have to listen to everything everybody says more carefully.

What are the rules on the trains for eating and drinking? Where are the handicapped seats and is it OK to sit in them if nobody needs them? Gads, which coin do you need to get into the loo at the jack nicklaustrain station? In Heathrow airport, I walked into the mens by accident, because I wan’t paying attention and the signs are different.

Walked out at about Warp seven, though the only guy I’d surprised was laughing at me as I did.

Being away from home gives me a chance to try on some things that aren’t possible at home. Last night I popped up to Dundee from Edinburgh to train_1618801chear a concert. I could go door to door from the hotel to concert hall–more than sixty miles–without sitting butt in automobile. Took the train and walked, which might be part of the explanation for why I see so few obese people here.

And as I stood around on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, I could try on this one too: Nobody here has a waverlygun they can carry around wherever they please. Nobody. Not the cops (except a few and in extraordinary circumstances), not the robbers. I can be stabbed or clobbered with a tire iron, but not shot, much less shot with a high powered rifle or semi-automatic weapon legally obtained by the owner. Do I feel more safe, or less, and why? Is the sense of community stronger or weaker? Interesting, and nowhere in America could I investigate those same realities.

YES voteThere are problems here. Scotland voted in September by a very narrow margin not to become independent, but the last minute promises made to ensure that outcome haven’t been kept. We hear talk of succession back home, but this was a national referendum that nearly, nearly passed, and probably will pass in the future.

US voter turnoutHow are the Brits dealing with that discussion? Why is Scotland’s voter turnout nearly 90 percent while we–who have twice the percentage of population living in poverty, far more elderly and children living in poverty, ghastly infant mortality statistics, far worse savings rates, and mediocre-at-best health care (France has the best)–can’t get out half those numbers for our by-elections? What is going on?

goodiesI wouldn’t ask these questions if I had stayed home. It’s a bad reflection on me, but I probably wouldn’t even THINK these questions. I’d putter around in my little life, writing my little stories, managing my little cases, and seldom consider a larger context.

So travel is broadening my horizons, and I’ve barely been here 72 hours. If you could travel anywhere, cost no object, logistics no object, where would you go, and why?

To one traveler–commenter!–I’ll send some Scottish goodies. (Might have to do some comparison shopping first, aye!)