The Boy in Santa Marta

Beach in Santa Marta

The last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about a boy I met just over a year ago. We didn’t exchange anything like words, but there was another sort of exchange, one that is hard to describe. But I’ll try…

I’m sitting on the seawall of a Caribbean beach; not a fancy resort beach, but a public beach in the heart of the Santa Marta. It’s a gorgeous, glorious morning despite being as hot as hades, and I’m just feeling relieved it isn’t as blasting hot as yesterday – yet.

I’m alone because Brad is swimming. Various people wander by, and then this boy comes up and sits on the sand about ten feet away from me. He looks around 16 years old, and he’s truly dressed in rags. He’s as skinny and sick looking as some of the homeless dogs we’ve seen around, and almost as thin as the dead dog we passed on the street the day before, it’s ribs like hoops rising above its sinking body.

I am nervous. People who are desperate, do desperate things. People who are in pain, hurt others. I have a daypack that carries things this boy can sell to buy food, or drugs, or whatever he desires. All he has to do is grab it and run. No way can I stop him.

And then he looks right at me with the most haunted eyes I’ve ever seen. They simply defy description. A passage from Graham Greene’s book, The Quiet American, explains better than I can:

Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.

I simply can’t imagine the things this boy has gone through, the horrors he’s lived. I feel like my heart will break for him. I wish I had money to give him, but I’m not carrying any.

He motions to me, and I realize he’s asking for a drink from my water bottle. I toss it to him, and he gulps down about half of it, then carefully replaces the lid and goes to toss it back to me. I shake my head and motion that he finish it. He gives me a smile in thanks, then downs the rest. A minute later, he gets up, nods and smiles goodbye to me, and continues down the beach.

What I still don’t understand completely is why this encounter struck me so hard. Giving a homeless boy a bottle of water? It seems like nothing, and I’ve given to a lot of homeless people. Why does this time stand out?

I think it’s because of the exchange between us.

My gift to him was water and kindness and truly “seeing” him, and I believe he recognized and appreciated that.

His gift to me was a profound example of extreme courage, and a simply bizarre strength and resilience that left me in awe. So many of us in his situation would dissociate and go numb, or become bitter and hard. There was no numbness in his eyes. No bitterness. He was just quietly, openly bearing the pain in his life.

Even now, that encounter makes me cry. I hope and pray that his life is better now. I hope and pray that if it hasn’t gotten better, that he is strong enough to bear it. I know I’ll always be grateful for our encounter, and I’ll always remember him. True courage is a hard thing to forget.

Character Love

Today I’m writing on my script, and I’m simply in love with it. There’s nothing quite like creating something from absolutely nothing, pulling entire beings from the ether, and bringing them into the world in a blaze of expression and beauty.

My characters have a tough time. They are often in despair. They don’t believe they can face another challenge or climb another metaphorical mountain or survive another second without going completely batty.

But I see something different. I see that they are achingly beautiful and magical and perfect. I wish that they could see themselves the way I see them, and they would understand that they could conquer anything. At the very, very least, they’d feel better about themselves.

And it makes me wonder, is that what we’re like, as humans? Are each of us just simply amazingly beautiful, and we just don’t know it?

Are we THE POINT, and yet have no understanding of that?

Here we are, just taking everything so seriously, trying to accomplish, to acquire, to overcome, to rise above – and I sometimes think that maybe the point isn’t the overcoming or accomplishing or any of that stuff. Maybe the point is growing in our beauty, becoming brighter and more profound. Becoming more aware and alive and vibrant. Becoming more us.

I’m incredibly grateful to witness my own characters’ journeys, these poor beings who I put through such tortures in my stories, knowing that when they come out the other side of their particular fire, they’re going to glow like the sun. And they are going to see that in themselves; they’re going to see how they’ve changed and why.

We should all be so fortunate.

Apologies and Get Out While You Can

It seems that even before I started blogging, there was copious advice out there on how to get people to read your posts. As years went on and the internet chatter got louder, there were more and more experts out there who could guide you in acquiring readers. Now, I receive numerous emails per week giving me advice on how to increase my readership. I even get them in comments through my blog, and ironically, I’ll probably receive some (that I’ll erase) even on this post.

For years, I’ve told myself that to “make it” as a writer, I needed to write lots of content that was important to my readers. I made up blogging schedules that I never kept for long, tried to dream up content that people might like, and basically put on the shackles of what I was “supposed to do.” I also felt like a failure when I didn’t keep the schedule or create enough content of value.

In other words, I did a crappy job and I felt terrible about it. But I’ve discovered a new way to blogging happiness. I’m firing myself.

From now on, I’m going to write what I like, when I like to write it. My posts don’t have to be worthy of my readers;  they just have to be worthy of me – and my standards aren’t nearly as high.

So, fair warning, future posts are not going to be well studied, or wise, or inspiring. In fact, they’re probably going to be random and weird. That’s not a promise either though. Boring and mundane is just as likely.

So if you know you can’t take it and you’re not my mom or my best friend, unsubscribe now. I will not blame you! And no, this isn’t a Lemony Snickett ploy to intrigue you. One of my biggest “gifts” is overwhelming, almost uncomfortable sincerity. Sorry.

And yet I’m not really sorry.

However, I am sorry for not being sorry. So there you have it – a sincere apology.

Blessings!

The Indominable Power of Quiet Acts of Courage

I interviewed a woman last week, and WOW, was her story amazing. She is a lifetime volunteer, always giving, sometimes receiving, and so incredibly humble that she had a hard time reading the article that I wrote about her. One story she told really struck me:

She has volunteered for most of her life and continues to do so, but a compassionate act (to me, a form of volunteering) brought her to live on the island. She was part of the military, stationed in Ontario, when she heard of a single mother asking for help. The single mother, also in the armed forces, was about to be deployed to the west coast, and was desperately asking for a volunteer: would anyone trade postings with her so she could stay with her child and existing support system? The woman I interviewed volunteered to go in her stead, even though she was sacrificing her own home, her own connections and support system. Even though she had to leave a new relationship, a relationship that couldn’t overcome the distance between them.

This was told to me in her quiet voice like it was nothing, and it would have been easy to have taken the story in the way she presented it, like it was no big deal.

But it was a very big deal. That one act of compassion irreversibly changed the lives of at least three people in a massive way, and possibly four if you take the budding relationship into account.

In a world where the audacious gets the story, where the louder and more obnoxious the acts or words are, the more attention they get, I want to put her story forward.

Quiet acts of courage can change the world. None of us are powerless.

Five Books – Five Authors – Five Unique Forms of Characterization

Hook, Line and Sinker, by Ev Bishop

Ev Bishop has an incredible understanding of human nature which makes her books stand out as being unusually authentic. While romance is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect in some circles, her skill is definitely worthy of respect from any reader. I only wish I could write characters as warm and engaging. They feel like living, breathing people, so much so that you almost start developing relationships with them! Add the romance and some action, and her River’s Sigh B&B series is a total winner.

A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny

I absolutely love the character of Armand Gamache. I would even go so far to say that he’s my favourite book character of all time. I’d love to write a character as great. Heck, I’d love to BE a character as great! With her Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery novels, Louise Penny leans toward having one truly great character carry the story – and being a master of complex plots doesn’t hurt her either. Definitely worth a read.

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book was very different, especially compared to her better known, Eat, Pray, Love. Not a lot happened in it – and yet I found it oddly intriguing, even captivating. The story basically followed a woman from before she was born (by writing briefly about her parents) until the day she died. The entire book seemed a character study, and though the story was strange in that the plot didn’t follow a usual form, I enjoyed it. I recommend this book, but only if you don’t mind a slower read.

The Gate Crasher, by Madeleine Wickham

I enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s work, so when I saw a copy of The Gate Crasher, written under her penname, it seemed a good find. Though the protagonist was a con artist, I thought she’d surely be redeemed in the end, and so I was going happily along for the ride, forgiving her when she did things that were thoughtless and unkind, simply because I believed she would learn from her experiences. Fast forward to the end: I think she changed… it was briefly implied that she changed… I’m sorry, but that’s not enough for me. The question of the story – will Fleur learn to love, and abandon her destructive ways? – was not answered. With The Gate Crasher, I felt conned.

The Humans, by Matt Haig

Matt Haig has written a story that is unique, quirky, surprising, heartwarming, and even a bit terrifying at times. All together, it was simply wonderful. An alien inside a human body, sent to kill the family of the body’s previous owner, told from the first person point of view of the alien. The premise certainly gave Matt Haig opportunity for fresh characterization and storytelling, and he took full advantage of it to great effect. And not with just the alien character, but with the human characters as well. And the dog! And it’s a love story too, albeit a peculiar one.

And now that we have come full circle back to romance, I will bid you adieu. I hope you try some of the books!

To My Brilliant Subscribers

Any QuestionsYes, I have questions – for you!

What is your biggest challenge, in relation to what I can give to you in this blog?

What do you want to see here? Do you want to learn writing/publishing stuff, dream about travel adventures, recieve food for thought from my random insights, or be entertained by my misadventures (and I have lots of misadventures; the latest, a brush with death, aka: the Black Widow!).

Or is there something completely different that you would like to see here?

Who are you – a writer, a reader, a seeker, a creative? One of my supportive family members?

My goal here is create something of value with my blog, as much as I am able. To do that, the first step is to discover what you would find valuable. Feel free to send your response to angela@aydorsey.com if you want it to be private.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Crowd of Awesomeness

crowdI’m not complaining. Keep that in mind as you read this. It’s just I have too many ideas for books, movies, articles, and more, and choosing which to work on seems almost impossible some days.

Though it doesn’t seem like a curse, this is the bane of many writers: too many beautiful, compelling stories shouting out how engaging they are, how clever, how they’re the most fun, most striking, most worthy to be put into physical form. At this very moment, I have eight solid ideas in my head – five screenplays, a novella that may turn into a series, and two non-fiction books – and that doesn’t include the blog posts, short stories, poems, or memoir pieces that are malingering in my head or on my computer in various states of completion.

Out of sheer necessity, I’ve developed different ways to chose one story from my crowd of awesomeness to work on.

To begin with, I follow my passion and work on the project that calls the loudest. The problem with this can be that one project may be deafening on Day One, another on Day Two, another on Day Three – which means I have to practice crowd control. These are my crowd control tools:

Ask myself: which project is my top priority in relation to my long, or sometimes short, term goals? Short term trumps long term only if it’s a firm commitment, like a deadline. Why does long term usually have priority over short term? If a short term goal doesn’t support the long term goal, it shouldn’t be there to begin with.

Ask my writer support group what they think. The right writer support group is a profound resource. Hint for Success: If you don’t have one, get one. Then ask them.

Ask a writing mentor friend, someone who has been there and done that. If I don’t have a writing mentor friend in the discipline I need, I hire one, and talk to them about what project might have the most potential. And I really listen, even if it hurts. Note: it usually hurts.

Work on more than one project at a time. I can do two in a day, and sometimes three, with a couple hours on each project. Sometimes, to keep my brain from completely frying, I diversify the form of writing. For example, today I am writing a blog post, editing my current script, outlining my novella, and thinking about a non-fiction book. And though I’m not complaining about the writing related activities, I will complain about the bookkeeping I have to do. Ugh.

There is one more thing that I do, and not just as a last resort, simply because I like it so much. This activity solves all problems, not just this one: walking and talking… but that is an entirely new blog post, one I definitely want to write.

Someday.

When it starts shouting at me.

Star Trek and the Ego

kirk and spockI’ve been thinking a lot about ego lately, and just recently came to some intriguing thoughts. I think ego has been getting a bad rap in some ways. Let me explain:

Ego has an important and even life saving job: to protect us in a sometimes cruel world. In childhood the ego works overtime to build these protections around us, keeping our tender, beautiful selves safe from the harm that a sometimes unkind world may inflict. It does this with little direction from the interior self – because most of us are weak as children, whether that weakness is based on having no cultural power or being in an abusive situation or simply due to our own naiveté in a confusing world. To use a metaphor, the ego builds a structure around us to shelter us, a fortress, a house, or for those who grow up in a kinder environment, maybe a cottage.

Then, when we enter on a spiritual path, whatever that path may be, the ego – which has been doing the best it can to protect us – is suddenly the bad guy. We want to get rid of it, disenfranchise it, diminish it to the level of a barely tolerated pet, if we want it to continue existing at all. We tear down the structures it built around us as fast as we can (though it can take years or even decades), and think of the ego as opposed to soul.

I honestly think that for a while, ego might be opposed to soul. I mean, how would you feel if your lifetime’s work was being torn down by a boss who hasn’t been much of a boss until now. It would suck.

But I believe there comes a time when soul and ego can pretty much look at each other and realize they are stronger together. The ego’s job is to protect, and it can only do that job well under direction of the soul, the higher self, the spark or fire or blazing inferno within.

And where does Star Trek come into it?

Captain Picard and Riker. Captain Janeway and Tuvok. Captain Kirk and Spock.

The Captain and their Number One.

The ego is Riker, or Tuvok, or Spock. The Number One is the one who makes things happen in this world. Without it, the Captain is handicapped. The Captain is the one with the wisdom and vision. Without the Captain’s guidance, the Number One does things that are detrimental in the long, and sometimes short run. They need each other to be the strongest they can both be.

Just a weird thought that I thought I’d share. I’d love to hear what you think of the relationship between Soul and Ego – or whatever labels you use. I’ll use your labels too, if you tell me what they are. 🙂

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I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: adventures in travel, career, personal growth, and more. If you are interested in following my haphazard posts, sign up here. Thank you!

Magic Realism Realized

I knew Gabriel Garcia Marquez was from Colombia, but until I went there, I didn’t realize how his homeland must have influenced his work. They call Colombia the land of magic realism, and it’s very fitting. Colombia is very REAL, and by capitalizing it, I mean more expressive, more colourful, bigger, and louder than the understated colours and culture I’m accustomed to. But it also has an otherworldly magic to it, a surreal energy that is entirely it’s own and very hard to describe – so I’ll describe it with an event.

On the jungle hike, we had a half day to do whatever we wanted. Instead of swimming or accompanying Brad on adventures, I wandered down the Buritaca River and found a big boulder that had been sculpted and smoothed by centuries of river currents. I meditated for a while, then lay back, fitting my body into the boulder’s gentle curves, shut my eyes, and allowed the rush and tumble of the river to carry my thoughts away.

I’m not yellow butterflysure what made me look up but minutes later, I did, just in time to see a flash of butterscotch yellow. A butterfly.

A moment later, a second butterfly, this one creamy yellow. Then another, again yellow, but brighter.

I sat up. Facing upstream, I saw them coming. Not in hordes or flocks or whatever you call masses of butterflies, but one by one, like sparkling yellow jewels, each one precious, each unique, each incredibly luminous in the sunlight as they flew toward me.

Brad’s morning wanderings eventually carried him downstream as well, and we sat on the boulder that was as much art as rock – and we watched dozens, then hundreds of yellow butterflies pass by, letting the updraft from the rushing water carry them along. A butterfly highway.

To this day, when I think back to that morning, the entire world seems just a bit more lovely, a touch more wondrous – but there’s more to the experience than remembering the beauty. When I’m feeling down or going through a difficult situation, and I remember that in the jungle, glowing yellow butterflies fly en mass along a rushing river, it is as if each butterfly picks up a bit of my sadness and stress, and flutters away with it.

Magic realism? Residual magic? I don’t know. But it is REAL, at least to me. And I am infinitely grateful for that experience.

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I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: adventures in travel, career, personal growth, and more. If you are interested in following my haphazard posts, sign up here. Thank you!

Ciudad Perdida

Two days later, we hiked into Ciudad Perdida. The trip up to that point had been amazing: the cloud forest vegetation and flowers, the river, the indigenous dwellings, coca plants, and so much more.

The second day of hiking, we passed an elderly indigenous woman on the trail. She asked with hand signals for a hiking stick from a woman in our group, then with stick in hand, flipped a scorpion out from beside the rock at her feet, and proceeded to pound it to death.

Weird Catepillar

Weird Neon Catepillar

Another time, Quapak, our guide, told us that a snake had bitten a mule right there – and he pointed to the creek bank I was standing on. Two days later, when Quapak hiked back, the mule was still at the water’s edge, but it was dead. Needless to say, I crossed with exceptional care.

I was pretty happy to not see a snake close up, or a tarantula, but I was a bit disappointed that there were none to be seen from a distance. However, we did see this strange creature, which to me, looks like it could be related to a nudibranch if we’d found it underwater.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

 

Finally, on the morning of the third day, we crossed the Rio Buritaca, and climbed the 1,200 stone steps into Ciudad Perdida, gaining 400 meters (over 1,300 feet) in less than a kilometer.  It was a brisk climb but not as challenging as that first day when we climbed 640 meters (2,100 feet) beneath the blasting afternoon sun. Now, trees, some with hundreds of pounds of epiphytes attached, towered over us, vines hanging to the ground.

At the entrance to the city, we made an “offering” to show respect to the indigenous culture. I gently tossed a leaf into the sacred circle, and after a shared minute of silence, we walked into the city, which consisted of stone walled circles, filled with earth, the platform foundations of the houses that had once been there.

The city was abandoned about 400 years ago, though the local people continued to use the site for ceremonial purposes. Only the Mamo (the medicine man) and his family continue to live there, a short distance from the main circles.

Circles and stairs.

Circles and stairs.

These days, thirty more people also live nearby – soldiers. An observation post is on the mountain above the highest circle, and the soldiers keep watch, fully armed and ready to protect the visitors.

The stone circles became bigger as we moved higher on the ridge. As in countless civilizations around the world, the more successful families had the biggest circles and the best views. When the rest of the group stopped at the biggest circle, the one reserved for community gatherings, Brad and I kept climbing, up and up, from circle to circle.

Finally at the top, with only the military post higher, we looked back to see our group grown small below. Oropendolas built hanging nests in some tall palms nearby, their tail feathers flashing yellow in the sun. A pair of green parrots flew by, and then a red bird, and one so blue it looked startling against the blue of the sky. Beyond the stone city itself, the expanse of mountains and valley stretched to the horizon, the first mist of the day starting to gather among the trees.

I was standing in a lost city in South America, something that a year ago I would’ve thought was impossible and, considering our financial situation, irresponsible. Okay, so maybe that part hadn’t changed.

A beautiful view.

A beautiful view.

 

 

But the sight before me, the almost audible hum of energy in the air, the cry of the birds as they enacted their eternal dance, the vines swaying rhythmically to the hot breaths of wind, even a hiker’s laugh from down below – they combined to make that experience far more “real” than the cost, and in that moment, the cost became permanently irrelevant.

So I guess at the end of my life, I’ll die a few thousand dollars poorer, but that’s okay, because I have no doubt that I became much, much richer during these few hours at Ciudad Perdida. And that’s what I call good value.