Zen for Ten 23: What Will You Do?

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.” – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

This post feels haphazard to me, but I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of days and wanted to try to put it together. It includes some thoughts about where art fits in the world, and also, in the video below, a short preview of the events for To Love A Stranger coming up next week.

Last week I wrote about launching a novel and what might be next on the road ahead. I’ve been thinking a lot about that question of “what’s next,” especially – always – in light of the things going on in the world. Particularly, last week, the terrible incident in Portland, Oregon, in which two men riding a bus were killed when they tried to stop another man from harassing innocent women.

A couple of days ago, I learned that one of the men who died tried, with what may have been his last words, to “tell everybody on the bus that I love them.” I grieved hard for the life that was lost: that someone who had so much love to share had died so pointlessly. The idea that “we should try to live up to his memory” didn’t offer much comfort. What sense does it make to lose a good person for no good reason? How is that fair?

At the same time, I wondered about the man who had committed the crime. What drives a person to hate so much, and to be so scared, that it makes sense not only to lash out with your hatred, but attack anyone who gets in your way? What kind of life does someone have, what kind of messages is he taught, that lead him to do horrible things? How is that fair?

I was thinking about all of this when I ran across the quote up above, by Terry Pratchett, one of my writing heroes. “There isn’t a way things should be.”

Pratchett himself, a brilliant writer of firework-like creativity, ran into the essential unfairness of life with the onset of his Alzheimer’s disease. He was fifty-nine when he was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). In his essay “The NHS Is Seriously Injured,” he wrote, “When in Paradise Lost Milton’s Satan stood in the pit of hell and raged at heaven, he was merely a trifle miffed compared to how I felt that day. I felt totally alone, with the world receding from me in every direction, and you could have used my anger to weld steel.”

Pratchett died in 2015, at sixty-seven. As his Alzheimer’s progressed, he never stopped working. The things I admire most about his work, his ability to make us laugh and make us think, his ability to reflect our own world back at us in the disguise of fantasy and change our view of it and ourselves, stayed with him in everything he wrote. His message stayed consistent, and I believe that message kept him going. Things are the way they are. What are we going to do about it?

I’m thinking a lot about my role in a world where, it seems like, bad things happen every time you look around. Good things happen too, but that can be hard to remember, and those good things can sometimes be hard to find. In a time of change in my own life, what am I going to do about what I see around me?

What I have, right now, is art: the music I play, the words I write. I know what I’d like to do with them. I’d like to use them, however and wherever I can, to try to help people connect with each other. The world is full of problems, and we can’t apply the tools we have to everything at once, so we have to choose. I would like to use my tools to build bridges. I would like to use them to cut through shadows cast by fear and hate, and in place of those shadows, spread light.

In the video below, I’ve shared another excerpt of To Love A Stranger, along with one of the pieces of piano music that’s featured in the book. When I made the video, I hadn’t really planned this post out yet, so it maybe seems a little over-cheerful given what I’ve written here. On the other hand, maybe it doesn’t hurt to end on a happier note; in this case, looking ahead to what’s next for To Love A Stranger and what these words, and this music, might do.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. See you next time.

P.S. For more info about purchasing To Love A Stranger, and on the launch party next week, please visit the book’s page.