Tuesday, March 30, 2010


My dear friend, Jan Morrill, just returned from India and I asked her to be my guest blogger today. I know you will enjoy her experience. To read more of Jan's work please visit her blog:

I recently finished reading a book that changed the way I look at the world, not only as a human being, but also as a writer.  It is called “Wabi Sabi for Writers,” by Richard R. Powell.  It is a complicated philosophy to explain, but to summarize; it is a method of developing the way one looks at the world in order that she may find even the simplest objects fascinating and beautiful.  It is a way of finding beauty in imperfection.
India was the perfect place to put this philosophy to work.  During the first part of my recent visit there, I sat in a comfortable tour bus, where from my window I watched masses of poor, even homeless men, women and children. Many times I turned away because a particular scene filled me with pity, helplessness, anger, even guilt that I watched them from the relative luxury of an incongruous tour bus.

Day after day, my bus window was filled with images of thousands of people lingering along garbage-filled streets. Stray dogs sniffed the ground, desperate for any morsel. Cows strutted royally, weaving in and out of traffic at will. Pigs foraged piles of garbage, perpetual smiles on their faces.

At first, I wanted to go home. I missed my well-ordered, sanitary world. My well-fed dogs. I turned away from the window—the outside world, too foreign to me.
But by journey’s end, using the principals of wabi sabi, I’d begun to look at the Indian world differently.  I found beauty everywhere.

I began to zoom in on the small scenes within the larger scene—the countless conversations taking place between men; women whispering secrets to each other as they walked together; children chasing down the street, laughing along the way.

Many areas had central water pumps where women gathered to collect water in large urns. The spectacular colors of their saris were as bright as spring flowers on a tundra, a rainbow against the gray ugliness that surrounded them. They chatted and giggled as they moved the pump handle up and down to fill the urns. Once full, they placed the urns atop their heads and carried the water away, slow and graceful, their saris flowing like clouds around them.

Another scene-within-a-scene was the central bathing area. It consisted of a large concrete tank filled with water—green-tinted water. Even in the near-freezing temperatures of the northern cities—New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra—men and boys gathered around, naked but for scant underpants and a smile. They joked and teased as they soaped themselves.  They lived wabi sabi lives, finding joy in simplicity, imperfection.

Night brought darkness and a change of scene. As the sunset, lean-tos sprang up along the broken walls of the city. One-by-one, the residents of these temporary villages lit campfires, using garbage for fuel. Women stirred the scant evening meal in small pots over the fires, their saris glittering in the flickering light.  Again, beautiful and fascinating simplicity.

When the last warmth of sunlight had disappeared, orange flames dotted the sidewalks and streets like twinkling lights on a tree. Children chased each other, weaving around the campfires and stopping at times to warm their hands. Hunched around other flames, men talked, their faces expressive, hands animated.

Each day, I looked forward to watching the children of India play. As with the adults, Indian children spend most of their daylight hours outside. Without electricity, it is dark inside the houses. And without electricity, there are no televisions. So, the children run, play with each other, ride bikes, build forts, create games with sticks, stones, garbage.

One day, I watched a woman sitting next to a man I assumed was her husband, as he laid stones in a sidewalk he was repairing. She looked fragile, and all but her eyes were hidden behind a dingy veil. Her eyes were dark and hard, almost angry. I stared at her, imagining stories about her life. I surmised so many different tales, but each had the same conclusion—she’d live unhappily ever after with her difficult lot in life.

For a brief moment, our gazes met.

Though a bit intimidated by her eyes and uncomfortable being an American who watched her from a window on a tour bus, I waved at her. And smiled.

Her eyes brightened. She removed the veil from her face and smiled the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen.

She tapped her husband on his back, and he turned to look at me, too. The tired lines on his face disappeared and he, too, smiled and waved at me.

We shared a tiny moment of happiness, and it transcended poverty and wealth.
 Richard R. Powell says of wabi sabi:  It is an intuitive way of living that involves noticing the moments that make life rich and paying attention to the simple pleasures that can be over-shadowed by the bustle and excess of our consumer society.”

I realized that often we too focused in pursuing excess, like a horse with blinders, we gallop toward what we consider a better life. And in doing so, we pass right by the simple pleasures in life. A warm conversation. A good laugh. A chance to play. A smile shared with a stranger.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Next year Neal and I plan to return to Scotland to visit our ancestral heritage. My great- great- great- great-grandfather Leslie came to America in the 1800's. I'm searching for anything that would tell me about his decision to come here, and about the family he left behind.

Neal is a Campbell. He doesn't have a direct link to his ancestor(s) or when his branch of the Campbell Clan came to America. But to look at him, it is undeniable that he has Scottish blood.

I'm anxious to return to Scotland and see more of it. Neal also has Welsh heritage, and we both have Irish ancestors also. The Irish blood is evident in my daughter, Olivia. While she and I were backpacking in the UK, she was often mistaken as an Irish lass, that is until she spoke.

It is fun to try and find our roots. Here in America the citizens are like a fabric woven of many threads. Some of those threads are evident in our faces and body structure, others are evident in our souls. When I am in the UK or Scotland, I feel I'm home. I'm sure that when I visit Ireland, one day, the same homecoming sensation will wash over me.

I love being an American, but I also honor the homelands where my stories began.

Humankind is a beautiful tapestry, isn't it?