Democracy Now has been following the Fire Drill Fridays sparked by Greta Thunberg’s clear voice — a youth crying in the wilderness of world and national houses of legislation which remain deaf to the urgency of acting to protect the planet and life everywhere. Jane Fonda is busy stirring a national day of civil disobedience EVERY Friday on the steps of Capitol Hill. Listen in:
In the past few days we have learned that major investors and businesses are getting in step with climate action. BlackRock investing firm announced they would no longer invest in businesses that are not meeting climate change objectives.
“Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” Mr. Fink wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times. “The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.” ~ New York Times 1-14-20
Microsoft announced a Net Negative carbon footprint plan to reduce its emissions and to eliminate its carbon footprint completely by 2030.
The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world’s climate. Already, the planet’s temperature has risen by 1 degree centigrade. If we don’t curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic. ~ Microsoft Commitment to Sustainability
The Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon, and the Starz television series (now in its 5th season) have garnered millions of followers. In my previous post I shared my own personal journey through the world created in Gabaldon’s books. I conjectured why it won my heart like nothing I’ve experienced as a reader. I wonder, why is it such a phenomenon now, 27 years later? [Diana’s first novel, Outlander, was released in 1991.]
Critics might chalk it up to escapism in a world gone mad. I believe it’s something else.
Key elements infused throughout the stories are 1) the possibility of creating a new order of things; 2) the kind of personal freedom Americans believe they have but which in fact has been eroded since sometime around the industrialization of America. Our freedoms are regulated or qualified to the point of handcuffing almost any endeavor unless you are rich in which case you can evade regulation.
In Gabaldon’s world of Outlander, we experience lawless times in the nascent Republic, and times of terrible oppression in Scotland. The author does not sugarcoat any of the times, but rather plunges readers into the horrors of slavery, violence against women, and brutal policies imposed on the poor and oppressed. Diana’s novels are not for the faint at heart nor are they romantic novels in the strict definition of that genre. Diana’s wave is so huge in the book world that it has created its own genre.
Diana Gabaldon possesses a sense of humor; she includes chapter titles such as “Meanwhile, back at the ranch , , ,” to keep readers engaged in her complex plots. Yet, like a deep current in the troubled waters of time – from book 1 to book 8 – there is an abiding theme and what I would describe as a ‘force’. The theme, in my opinion, is “we are all in this together” and the force emanates from this idea: true love lasts through the slings and arrows of human history, and it is the only real thing that defines the human pageant across time.
The Theme: We are all in this together.
The books are about family. We see it first in the Highlander clans at a time when survival depended upon that unit of cohesion among people. Then we see it in frontier times in American history with pioneers, and among colonies. The major characters of Jamie Fraser and Claire Fraser form the warp while secondary characters, children, and animals form the weft or woof. The hues and texture are provided by historical events and circumstances.
The Force of Gabaldon’s Story: Demonstration of love that is immutable.
Over and over we experience the love of Jamie and Claire, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, of comrades in arms, of communities and of nations. Gabaldon shows us which ones last and which ones don’t; we are left to consider why and why not in ever changing scenarios. Passionate love, filial love, maternal love, brotherly love, and patriotism are all in there in their fullness: strong, vulnerable, imperfect and humanity’s signature trait. Diana sharpens our understanding of immutable love by contrasting it in darkness: jealousy, resentment, pure hate, unhinged violence, or the worst perhaps — negligence.
The answer to my question [why does Outlander appeal to millions today?] seems obvious only now that I have read the entire series twice and listened to interviews with the author. This long developing narrative and its unforgettable characters provide a way forward in the complex, otherwise discouraging world humanity has created for itself. Think about that: 1) We are all in this together (connoting we are responsible to each other); 2) Love, the greatest force in the world, is immutable (it can’t be changed or touched by any force no matter how diabolical or egregious).
The stories show the impact of our actions, or lack there of, and the fact that history is made together. It is counter intuitive if you think about it. Is true freedom being alone to do what you please? Or is true freedom something achieved only together (as families, as groups, as nations, as a world community)?
Finally, I think we experience Diana Gabaldon’s own journey to answer that question. We time travel with her characters jumping from historical periods and back. She probes to understand those times and ours even as it is unfolding today, at this very moment. Will we, her contemporaries, choose love over hate, and work in a family or community to provide a home, a town, a nation that is worth fighting for?
I would love your comments on what you think makes Outlander such a compelling body of work.
When I was at work at Arizona State University, little did I know that I was crossing paths with a person who would soon become an internationally known author with a fan phenomenon that continues to grow. Diana Gabaldon is author of the Outlander book series.
The first book which set off the chain reaction, Outlander, was published in 1991. Probably I felt the Earth tremble but didn’t know what it was. I was crossing a river of my own, thinking about writing a book, but didn’t get around to it until 2003. Literally, I crossed the Colorado and would eventually find my way to Phoenix and Arizona State University still clueless of the Gabaldon earthquake. Her eight books have sold over 35 million copies in 26 countries and are printed in 23 languages.
Outlander was a phenomenal success; 7 sequels rolled-on-out into eager fans hands all emanating from an incredible mind — with the 9th in the series due in 2020. See Diana’s website for updates. http://www.dianagabaldon.com/
Diana is a generous writer, sharing more information with her readers than any other author I’ve ever read, and actively engaging them on her website, in literary groups, her blog, and more, answering questions and engaging readers the world over. She has also published tomes called Outlander Companions that give readers a lot of background information on history, medicine, time-travel, etc. (Well, she was professionally a science historian and well trained to record and report with deep attention to detail, and also the weird little anomalies in human affairs.)
I’d heard about the TV adaptation from my daughter in law but didn’t get around to watching it until the 4th season, which in turn sent me on a wild adventure watching all the previous episodes and season, then buying and reading the entire series of books. I’ve started to reread book 5 and 6 in anticipation of the 5th TV season on Starz.
What prompted me to watch the Outlander TV series was a novel I was drafting about a young doctor whose mother’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Wales. [This is partially my own heritage along with Scottish and Irish ancestors who emigrated, and traveled down into the Appalachians where they settled.] My character is an intuitive who wishes to learn more about natural remedies and practices of her mother’s home country especially after she has just finished a long residency and is deciding on her path in the practice of medicine.
In the fall of 2018 I was taking a course in Arthurian Legends, and reading about Welsh and Scottish history when I happened to stream Outlander to see what it was that had millions binging on Starz.
Diana’s mind is vast. That is the best way I can explain it. Matched with master storytelling which from all I’ve read is a natural gift, I could not stop reading, and when one book was finished I felt like my oxygen mask had been yanked from my face. I literally crawled into the closest book store gasping for the sequel! Later I ordered ahead so that there would not be days of blue lipped waiting. This was behavior never observed in myself before. I’ve become a fan of both Diana and now the Outlander cast members and writers of the adaptations.
What is it that has seized my mind and heart with such power, joy, and keen interest? I cannot express it yet but its something like this: characters that lift my spirit reminding me that we can be better than we think we can, and we can end up doing good even when we just stumble into it. It’s about intent. It’s also the story of a great love that stands the test of time and tragedy and never seems to be shredded or dulled by it. It’s the story of my family’s emigration, it’s the story of our nation’s early history, it’s about science (which I love and have worked in for my career) and it’s about a woman whose mind and skills are challenged to help others.
Finally, Diana has created a woman, Claire, who is a sort of hero for me and many women in even this modern day, maybe more so in our time. She says what she thinks, she never goes back on her word, she is imperfect and vulnerable, and she wants to be loved through and through by her man. Diana has created that man for her in Jamie Fraser who matches Claire’s strengths and provides a protective and totally absorbing love affair whose flame is inexhaustible.
And there is lots of humor! Thank you Diana for making fun of us along the way. If we can’t laugh then it IS a tragic affair, this life we all strive to live and make some meaning out of. She possesses a great sense of humor and puts her characters in numerous embarrassing situations.
I find the books healing in a way, like a balm for my tattered soul — tattered by the banal world I’m living in, the broken hearts, the disappointed people, the loss of a framework in which to live in this fractured time. The story is stabilizing. The people care about and love each other and even when the way is not clear, the characters choose a safe way forward. And to think, Diana is still rolling-out their lives, showing us a way forward. The fact that Claire and other characters time-travel adds a mystery to it all and opens up unique possibilites for the author to explore and compare historical times and mores, and ask interesting questions such as, “Can history be changed?”
What can I tell you. I am a goner. Diana Gabaldon has captured my imagination and my heart for the time being. And I am grateful.
The most recent Climate Change Summit (COP 25) came to an ignoble end with few agreements among the member countries on coordinated decrease in carbon dioxide and methane pollution. This in the midst of reports flooding media about new or more advanced warming impacts on ecosystems pole to pole, ocean to ocean.
Yet this sad result is not surprising, is it? With one of the largest, and longest contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere bailing out of the Paris Agreement (US), it has complicated and weakened the coordination and commitments of countries to less than 2 degrees Celsius warming by 2050.
What’s more ,the most vulnerable places, already experiencing life threatening changes in the earth, sky, and waters, can’t pay for the kind of adaptation necessary to assure some form of well-being, forcing migrations and/or conflicts. All results that are predictable due to a lack of responsibility for each other.
Regionalism and nationalism are dangerous in light of global problems that we can only solve or mitigate together. Why should Americans care that our President, White House, and half the voting public have chosen to turn their backs on the world of which we are an integral part? Because it is just ignorant not to recognize that the well-being of countries worldwide benefits us in terms of security, wealth, and health. Any grade school child can conjure that.
All political affiliations of voters must urge their representatives to get off the barge heading for annihilation and start building in the safe guards for what is already wide spread destruction. We are right now teetering on massive problems caused by ever greater warming.
Its great we have a strong economy, wonderful. We’ll need it. Let us not bury our heads in the sand. If Climate Change goes against your religion, I suggest you sit down for a long chat with God. I am sure our Creator does not want his progeny to kill life everywhere so that we can have more money in the bank.
A great country must be a wise one. A great citizenry must strive to use logic and prudence when playing with the very requirements for life. We cannot play God by tweaking the stock market. But, that is what we are doing. Chasing the Almighty Dollar, eyes shut, bellies full, and souls in tatters.
My life is bountiful. I am surrounded by great books, talented writers whose sweat and tears have brought me a pleasure beyond words: worlds unto themselves, characters that are real and redeemable no matter what they do or have done, and a story that seizes my imagination.
As Tom Hanks’ rich voice delivers The Dutch House (Ann Patchett) into my living room, I chop veggies and set them to steaming, make a salad, or sit in my fav chair with hot tea, curled up under a yummy throw, the narrative rolls forward, jumps back, jumps forward, twists and turns, resolves, unwinds — windows opened to the full narrative of The Dutch House. Danny and Maeve are siblings who experience a tragic turn of events and are thrown together to survive. The narrative loops in long conversations between brother and sister — sitting and smoking in the car watching the moonlit house long after they were booted out of their family home. They return to The Dutch House at many points in their lives as a sacred space, a return to the scene of the “crime”.
The house is the center of gravity in the centrifugal forces of their lives into which we are invited to observe, consider, wonder where its all going. Hoping. Brother and Sister over their lives, work out what happened to them and how their lives have unfolded through the decades. Maeve’s coping is funny, maddening, and finally restoring while Danny lives on a stream of anger and resentment.
Maeve is the center force of Danny’s youth painted in realism so layered I felt I knew her as a sister. Danny’s very different way in the world is counterpoint, funny, and defining through whom the writer adds shading, depends a line in Maeve’s portrait. We can see its gonna be a masterpiece. I felt it coming.
Folks, it’s life presented just as it is, all its colors and shades, all its flavors. Life. I believe it’s the best book Ann has written — a culmination of all she has learned about life, marriage, and family and sibling relationships, about the unexpected, about serendipity and forgiveness. Danny tells the story of his sister, Maeve, and what a woman she is. Their continuous conversation over five decades of their lives, forms the stream of consciousness of writer and subsequently readers.
It is deftly delivered. Listen to an excerpt here.
To writer friends: Ann wrote the story, hated it, threw it out, and rewrote it which she shared in an interview recently. Listen here.
There is a small farm called Dream Acres. It is not of my dreams. It is real. Its curving meadows lie adjacent to the place where I live. My living room and bedroom windows look out on it whereby I view its seasonal changes and the daily coming and going of bird, cow, coyote, raven, buzzard, airplane, and farmer. I observe the delicate changes of light and wind, rain, and cloud on its surface.
When I first arrived here I was annoyed that I could hear the eternal drone of an interstate, and that another busy thoroughfare bordered the other end of the farm. I watched the cows to know if it bothered them like me, or, to discern if we all had just given-in to it. A perpetual state of mourning as it were.
Days and months passed and the cows came onto the meadow to graze and went to sleep in the barn at sunset. Years passed. New groups of cows and steers adjusted to the long, narrow meadow and the grassy sink hole with its gnarled, sturdy tree at the bottom — the only feature in an otherwise green grass and golden reed sea.
I also adjusted to living high above the meadow and its constant presence in my life on the third floor of the apartment complex. I suppose some bovine members might meditate on my comings and goings which are as regular as their own. What do they think of me? Alone above the earth looking down on moonlit nights when they have chosen to sleep under the stars on warm nights, or during the rainstorms or frosty mornings when I check on them to make sure they are alright?
Early on I began to photograph the meadow with my cell phone camera. I shared photos on Facebook and here on WordPress. Later I learned that old friends, John and Erin, had taken a painting class and asked permission to paint the little farm. I can’t wait to see what they see from the photos. I guess the little farm is now seen by dozens of people as the place where I live.
When I was growing up, my family visited another small farm in east Tennessee – Watauga. My grandparents’ farm. It was on these yearly visits that I formed a loving attachment to Earth. One cannot live without it, no? Like an umbilical cord it ties us to our origin and stabilizes us through the storms and droughts of daily life.
Remembering the beloved place I envied the cows at Dream Acres who lie warm upon its grasses under the stars, breathing the scents of soil, grass, pungent odors of manure, and the sweet air. Some long ago memory–blood memory–rises in my subconscious and I feel one with the Earth standing on my little porch under that same canopy of stars just as my relatives from Scotland, Ireland, and the Appalachians, all farmers. All coming and going with the meadows and mountains that formed the borders and vistas of their lives. I guess I come honestly to my nostalgia for small farms and their secret lives of which I am blessedly welcome at Dream Acres.