Ninety-five Degrees and Rising

There’s a humorous song that Johnny Cash used to sing about a homestead being flooded by an over-flowing river.  It’s called “Five Feet High and Rising.”  So you can see where I got the inspiration for this title.

Almost everywhere across North America this week people are suffering from the heat.  As I sit here in my cabin right now, the outside air temperature is in the low 90s, while the temperature inside has just hit 80.  I used to have an air conditioner in my cabin, but it was as loud as a jet engine and so I removed it.

I know, I know, dumb thing to do, right?  But you have to understand that after a few hours of it, I was almost deaf.  Even with ear plugs stuffed into my ears and while also wearing noise-canceling headphones, my ears still ached from that cooling unit.

Hearing and sight are the two most precious of all senses.  If you lose both you’re cut off from the world, and who wants that?

However, this post is not just about the temperature outside, its about loss.  There are so many things you can lose in the world.  You can lose love, you can lose family, you can lose friends,  happiness, health, wealth, your senses, your faith, your mind, perspective.  And with everything that I write about in this blog, these are things that anyone can write about.

For instance, what about faith?  Do you think faith is just religious belief?  Some would cheer for others losing their religious beliefs.  These are the small-minded and self-righteous and petty people.  They want everyone to believe as they believe.  If they don’t believe in a god, they want everyone to not believe in a god.  And how does that separate them from those religious fanatics who want everyone to believe in their particular god or understanding of that god?

Fanatics are that way, whether they are believers or non-believers.  They want everyone the same.  They want everyone to be robots.  Well, if you want a world of robots, then build those robots and after kill yourself, because there’s no room for you in a world of robots.

That last paragraph is the beginning of a great synopsis for a novel.  It’s filled with irony and conflict, crisis and climax, for if a group of either religious fanatics or a group of fanatical scientists and non-believers created a robot world, a planet of Borgs, as in Star Trek, what place would independent thinkers have?  None.  Either the machines would come to kill them or they would be so lonely and ignored and forgotten that they would no longer want to live.

But wait, some might say, what if you made the machines self-aware?  Then they would want to interact with you.  You would be there god, their creator and they would want to know you.

Talk about real irony!  Create a world of robots or androids, or even Borg and then make them call you GOD?  Go against everything you believe in just so that you belong and aren’t lonely?  How trite.

And what a great story it could be.  But only if you really understood what it means to be human.  You can get that understanding from some books and from certain movies, but mostly you can only get it from life experience.  You have to live life to write about life.  You have to love.  You have to experience joy and happiness.  You also have to experience working for a goal, to know what failure is and how to overcome it.  How to find happiness even if it seems like the world doesn’t want you to be happy, but only to suffer.  But you don’t have to worry about understanding suffering, because we all suffer something.

You don’t have to hate to understand hate.  Nor do you have to experience violence, either as victim or the one who commits violence.  The world is full of enough people who hate, who fear, who commit terror and other acts of violence.  There are more than enough liars and cheats, more than enough dishonest people, far too many who are self-righteous, who only love themselves.  If you have empathy, which gives you the power to understand others, then you can understand both the victims and the victimizers.  But you must also understand the persecutors.  If you don’t know why someone does something, how can you write about them?

And here is the hardest part of all, no matter what you write, you have to understand forgiveness.  Why?  Because if you cannot forgive you will always suffer from the actions of others.  And if you suffer, your characters will suffer.  And if your characters always suffer, your readers will suffer.  If your readers suffer too much, they will turn away from you.

Readers like happy endings.  Or at least, the promise of a happy ending, that the characters will forgive and heal, that they will find happiness and suffer no more.

If you won’t give your readers what they want, they won’t give you whatever you want.  They won’t respect you.  They won’t like you.  They’ll stop buying your stories.  They will forget you and move on.

There’s more than just religious faith and readers want characters with faith.  Faith in themselves, faith in their friends.  They want characters with faith in society, faith in their families.  They characters who believe in themselves.

Speaking of faith, I have faith that this heat wave won’t last forever.  It’s not as bad as the Summer my family and I rebuilt our farmhouse out in the countryside of Northern California.  That Summer makes all others pale by comparison.

The day we laid down the living room floor burned.  Our thermometer, outside in the shade of a cottonwood tree, said 121 degrees.

They didn’t have decent sunscreen back then.  I wore a long-sleeved gray shirt, with the collar turned up to protect my neck.  I had on a wide-brimmed hat.  I wore leather gloves to protect my hands from badly aimed hammer strikes and from the dryness of the plywood flooring.  And from wood slivers.

I drank gallons of water but never needed to pee because I sweat it all out.  The days leading up to laying flooring boiled, with temps in the 100s.  The days and weeks afterwards were even more broiled.

We went to bed at sunset and rose before sunrise.  When we shingled the roof, we had but a few short hours before the composite shingles were too soft to work with.  Buy 9 AM they were soft and gummy.

And after the roof was covered and we worked inside, without electricity or air conditioning, you weren’t seared or broiled, you baked.  No one who was over- weight that Summer ended the Summer over-weight.  No one ate solid food.  You drank water, iced tea, sodas.  You ate watermelon by the ton.  You slurped warm ice cream (think chocolate milk, but warmer).

And as Summer ended, rain came.  First warm and sticky, then cold and damp.  You went from wearing as little clothing as possible to wearing sweatshirts and coats.

All heat waves come to an end and this one will, too.  Have faith.

See you out there.

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