Feeling the Change, from Painful to Positive: My Small Part Matters

Generally, we humans don’t change our lifestyles unless staying the same is more painful. Change, after all, is uncomfortable and difficult. If nothing bad has happened yet as a result of what we do, we’re inclined to believe it never will. Delusional, yes, but that’s human nature.

I suspect that those of us who regularly do things others think of a disciplined actually have powerful imaginations, experiencing future consequences vividly in the present. If this, then that, and it will feel terrible. Or wonderful. Or conflicted.

I do some slightly disagreeable things because I’d feel worse if I didn’t do them. For example, every time I see plastic litter lying in the street or snagged on a thorny plant, I picture that piece of trash floating down the river, choking birds and fish and turtles, and I visualize the trash islands in the Atlantic and the Pacific. The problem is tangible and ugly. It’s also easy to act. All I have to do is pick the thing up and either recycle it or throw it in a trash can. A minor inconvenience.

It’s been different for me with climate change, though. I grasped it intellectually and as matter of principle, but I never felt personally responsible the way I do when it comes to keeping plastic out of the Rio Grande. I can’t see my CO2 output or instantly clean it up. Denial was easy. After all, I drive a fuel-efficient car, and live in a really small apartment. I’m not wasteful.

But I drive that little car a lot. Everyone in small towns in New Mexico does—if they have cars. We accept it as part of life that we have to drive one to three hours for specialty medical care and for a lot of our shopping. Truth or Consequences has plenty of music and art, but we don’t have sports medicine orthopedists or dermatologists. So we drive. And I never questioned it.

Until Australia started burning. People I knew were in the middle of a climate-related disaster. I saw pictures of the orange skies, heard news stories of people huddling on beaches, trapped between the fire and the ocean. And then there was the firefighter I heard on the radio describing how he had to take a break after six weeks on the fire line because he was so overwhelmed by hearing the screams of the koalas and finding their little dead bodies “curled up like babies.” I felt that. Deeply. I’m part of the problem. No excuses. Those are my koalas. It’s an emergency, and it’s today, not ten years down the road.

I can’t put out the fires. I can’t do a lot of things. Can’t make medical specialists move here, or alter our local retail offerings. But I can buy a modestly priced used electric car and cut my driving-related carbon footprint substantially, doing my small part.

I felt inspired, committed to participating in a positive future when I made that decision. New Mexico is headed for a clean energy transition. The process is complicated and flawed, but we’re making a start. We use enough clean energy now that an electric vehicle is the equivalent of a car that gets 60 miles per gallon. Even my 40 mpg Fiesta doesn’t match that. And as the energy mix gets cleaner and cleaner, EVs will contribute less and less to greenhouse gases. I’ve contacted people at all levels of state and local government about the need for better EV charging infrastructure. And I found my dream car online.

Working out the details of actually acquiring it and owning it is proving more challenging. Much more challenging. The car is long way off. More about that later, as I deal with RV parks, The Mexican Bus, all kinds of cords and plugs, and the possibility of having to cave in and get a smart phone. Yep. Change is uncomfortable. But so is staying the same. I have to do something. It may turn out to be an adventure.

A New Mexico Mystery Review: Murder at the Petroglyphs by Patricia Smith Wood

Once again, Patricia Smith Wood has crafted an intricate puzzle of a mystery. In short, tight chapters, she reveals the discovery of a death, and the process of solving how a body came to be where it was—but this is no simple question of who done it. The twists and surprises keep coming. Wood’s books always give my brain a good workout trying to follow the clues. The relationships among her cast of professional and amateur sleuths makes the involvement of amateurs more plausible than in the average amateur sleuth mystery. Another reason to get involved is this: Harrie McKinsey has prophetic dreams, and in one of them she sees the dead body at Petroglyphs National Monument.

There are so many facets to the mystery, so many contributing investigators—FBI, CIA, and Albuquerque Police Department, as well as Harrie and her friends and colleagues at her editing service—Wood did well not to have major subplots. It’s unusual in what is technically a cozy mystery, but it was the right choice. Most cozies have romantic subplots, but the central characters here are in established relationships. Most cozies are comic. Though many of the characters in this book display a natural and engaging sense of humor, it isn’t a comic mystery. It’s cozy in the sense of limiting onstage violence and having amateur participation, with much mystery-solving taking place over dinner or coffee.

I enjoyed the various Albuquerque settings, from restaurants to major parks like the Petroglyphs to local secrets like the Hidden Park, and even an airfield used by drone enthusiasts.

Many scenes take place at Southwest Editing Services, Harrie’s business. I was surprised at the importance of paper copies as well as electronic copies of manuscripts in a professional editing service. I’d thought paper was a thing of the past, but apparently not. I learned something.

I would have liked a stronger thread connecting the opening and the ending. The title, the cover, the first chapter, and park ranger Nick Ellis’s deep connection to the spirits of the ancient ones made me expect more continuity on this theme. In fact, I initially expected a different kind of story altogether. Harrie doesn’t come across as having a mystical connection to the land and its history, so the sudden transfer of what has been Nick’s spiritual experience to her felt as if an editor said to bring that theme back. Harrie is already psychic about her life and family, and having her new dream come from the spirits struck me as out of character. A couple of backstory chapters and a few chunks of expository dialogue also felt like afterthoughts or requests for additions, rather than integral parts of the otherwise tightly woven plot.

The wrap-up of the mystery plot was one-hundred-percent unexpected, even though I figured out the borders of the puzzle. The explanation scene is realistic and well-structured. (I’m always grateful when a book doesn’t have one of these clichéd confessions from a killer holding protagonist at gunpoint.) Wood has real skill with crowd scenes. She can juggle six or eight people in a scene and never let the reader forget any of them.

Complexity is what she does best. If you like a mystery that puts your mind to work, you’ll enjoy this one.

Cold Day Run

It was thirty-nine degrees today, with wind at fifteen miles per hour. In the spring, when it blows at twice that speed on a regular basis, I would call that a light wind. But it’s not cold in the spring. It’s normally not cold in the winter, either, for which I’m grateful. I have a low tolerance for low temperatures. Still, I had to get out and run. The weather had been even less inviting for the previous two days. A third day without prolonged outdoor time would have been far worse than wearing the winter running gear I’ve so seldom needed since moving to Truth or Consequences. My mind and body crave nature, light, and movement.

It would have been easier to stay indoors, but less rewarding. The sky was brilliant New Mexico blue, and no one else was out on the trail. No humans, that is. On my third loop, there were fresh deer tracks, signs they had been there just before me. By the end of my run, my face was cold, and my fingers and wrists deeply chilled through my gloves, but I’m glad I braved the weather. It was uncomfortable at times, but whenever I turned a curve that took me out of the wind, I cherished the reprieve and communed with the winter sun.

I have a list of unpleasant tasks I’ve been crossing off, one by one, but a few remain—and they’ve remained on that list a long time. I have to remind myself that the actual doing of the difficult thing is less stressful than thinking about doing it.

 

Book Review: New Mexico Ghost Stories by Antonio Garcez

The land of enchantment is full of ghosts. Some of them scare you; some are just showing up for work. This book starts off with Santa Fe, where apparently some of the scariest ghosts in the state reside. A few are bland, but many of them are hair-raising and bone-chilling. Other parts of the state have some dark and terrifying ghosts as well, but not in such concentration.

Hospitals are, as one might expect, often haunted, as are private homes. However businesses, especially restaurants, have a disproportionate share of ghosts. A frequent pattern in haunting emerges. The former proprietor or employee of a business, or the former resident of place that’s now a business, stays around and does innocuous but strange things. I’m sure these events are startling and even frightening when experienced individually, but after a while, I began to wonder why deceased women tend to haunt in white dresses and red dresses. And why female business owners in particular are most inclined to keep showing up for work after they die.

There are a few gentle, loving ghosts who come back to visit family, and even the ghost of a monkey who died on his way to be in a circus.

The author occasionally spends too much time, in my opinion, on background stories that aren’t ghost stories, but for readers unfamiliar with New Mexico, this is probably valuable material. His writing style can be clunky in places, and he overuses exclamation marks, but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise rich and intriguing book. He collected the stories one by one through interviews with people who experienced each ghost, and his accounts of these meetings give depth to the tales.

*****

Yes, I know this is not remotely holiday-themed, but I finished the book and wanted to review it. I wish all my readers the best of the holiday season, in whatever way you celebrate it.

Fast

Noise fast. News fast. Brain clearing. I need it all. It’s necessary to be informed, and to be informed in depth, but I need space inside my mind as well. I took Thanksgiving as a news fast. After spending time with a good friend, I went out walking in the remarkable rain that moistened the desert for two and half days.

I try to stay out of stores during this season as much as possible. My family doesn’t do a gift exchange, and I want to avoid catchy pop Christmas tunes that stick in my head. I heard a particularly “cute” one in the laundromat four days ago, and it still intrudes to grate on my mind now and then. I need a good dose of classical music to rinse my synapses.

As I listen to Beethoven’s seventh symphony, I realize how important silence is in music. The dramatic, suspenseful pauses as well as the tiny spaces in which the musicians take a breath and the fractions of seconds that are neither one note nor the next. Without silence, there’s no structure, no movement, no pattern, no melody.

I took a walk under the full moon tonight with no sounds but my steps.

New Release: Shadow Family

The Seventh Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

An old flame, an old friend, and the ghost of an old enemy.

 As the holidays approach, Mae Martin thinks the only challenge in her life is the choice between two men. Should she reunite with Hubert, her steady, reliable ex-husband? Or move forward with Jamie, her unpredictable not-quite-ex boyfriend? But then, two trespassers break into Hubert’s house on Christmas Eve to commit the oddest crime in the history of Tylerton, North Carolina.

Hubert needs to go home to Tylerton and asks Mae to go with him, though it’s the last place she wants to be. Reluctantly, she agrees, but before they can leave, a stranger shows up at her house in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico looking for her stepdaughters, bringing the first news of their birth mother in seven years—news of her death.

The girls are finally ready to learn about her, but she was a mystery, not only to the husband and children she walked away from, but also to the friends in her new life. Now her past throws its shadow on them all. Through psychic journeys, unplanned road trips, and risky decisions, Mae searches for the truth about the woman whose children she raised, determined to protect them from the dark side of their family.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

*****

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Stillness and Silence by Amber Foxx

My Thanksgiving post on Ladies of Mystery.

Ladies of Mystery

Greetings from the ultimate holiday minimalist.

In my work as a writer, I aim to create conflict and tension. In my other occupation, I do the opposite.

I’m teaching my regular Thursday evening yoga class on Thanksgiving, as I’ve been doing for the past few years. Not many people come on the holiday, but a few do. I’m grateful for being alive in my body, capable of movement, awareness, breath, and glimpses of quiet inner space. Grateful for the teachers who’ve passed down this tradition of wisdom and well-being. Grateful to my students who allow me to share it.

I’ve attended a few retreats during which meals were fully silent or silent for the first ten minutes. It made me aware not only of the taste, texture, and aroma of the food, but also of the companionship of others, the deep quality of their presence.

A yoga class always ends…

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