Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cats, Kids and Passion

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel accomplished! Today I successfully took both the cat AND the toddler to the vet and made it home again without my hair standing on end from stress. This is all the more worthy of note seeing as the cat, who needed to be there, most certainly did not want to be, and the boy, who did not need to be there for any reason beyond not being able to stay home alone, was very much interested in getting into everything. Plus, I think I should get bonus points for doing this while seven months pregnant.

I'm definitely getting to the point at which leaving the house requires having a very good reason. It's hot, and I'm carrying around a space heater in my belly. If the toddler breaks away and dashes off, I will look like a penguin scuttling across ice if I try to run after him. In order to get me out of the house, one of three things has to happen:

1. An appointment I really shouldn't miss. I admit it was rather tempting not to worry about getting the cat her shots, but then, this is the most high maintenance cat ever, and if I didn't then something catastrophic would be bound to happen. (Seriously, this cat does not seem to understand that part of being a cat is being easy to manage. She's allergic to poultry, and recently had enough issue with the non-poultry food we were giving her that we were on the verge of having to go home made!)

2. We've played with all the toys, read all the books, have nobody available for a play date, and I can't justify letting the boy watch yet another half hour of Jonathan Bird's Blue World. And even then, sometimes it's easier just to let him throw the dirt in the potted plants onto the floor than bother to leave the house.

3. There's something I'm actually passionate about doing. But let me tell you, the threshold is pretty high. I love going swimming, for example--it's so amazing to feel weightless at this particular stage of pregnancy. And yet the hassle of putting on the swim diaper and the bathing suits and the sunscreen and packing the bag and driving to the pool and making sure the boy doesn't swallow too much pool water and getting showered and dressed in a humid changing room with a boy who doesn't realize the floor is disgustingly dirty and then getting into the hot car and undoing all the feeling of refreshment granted by the pool is really a bit too much to handle sometimes.

It's crazy how many worthwhile things in life require actually having passion before we're willing to do them.

Back in college I joined a group of aspiring game developers. We called ourselves GeeQ, and each of us, over time, earned nicknames. One day I brought a bottle of Passion Fruit drink to the group, and when I finished it a friend of mine asked "So are you full of... passion now?" (Cue eyebrow wiggle.) And from then on I was Passion GeeQ.

A while later my then boyfriend (now husband) and I went on a trip to Haiti to help with some medical work there. We had a lot to do and needed to stay focused, so the team made it clear this was not a romantic getaway. One night toward the end of the trip we were asked to talk about our experience there. The first thing out of my mouth was, "The theme for us this trip has been passion." Of course, I meant it as passion for what we were doing and compassion for the people who came to the clinic, but everyone else chose a rather different interpretation of my words.

So "passion" has been following me around for a good while now.

Lately it's come back again. At the beginning of the year I gave myself two major writing goals to complete before the new baby comes: to write the first draft of a new book and to finish a polished draft of another. I've done both, and with some time to spare.

I didn't count on having yet another book idea spring up on me and beg to be written.

It doesn't make sense to start a whole new book right now. I'm two months from my due date. What with all the appointments and general weariness that come with pregnancy, chances are not good that I would be able to finish this book before baby.

And yet, I feel so passionate about the idea. I simply can't stop myself from writing it.

That's how it is with passion--even if the thing we're doing doesn't make sense, we feel compelled to do it.

So I am. I've started writing. I don't know what will happen or when the book will be done, but I'm going for it.

What are you passionate about?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Research Book Recommendations: Poor Economics and The Bottom Billion

I don't know how I would write without having research materials right at my fingertips.

Actually, no, I take that back. I remember when I used to write without doing research. I remember how awful, how terrible, how truly dreadful those early manuscripts used to be. They were like playing pin the tail on the donkey--I had a vague idea that there was a donkey somewhere ahead, but I had no idea where or how to reach it. So I made things up and pretended that what I made up was a fair substitute for how reality actually worked.


Well, I know better now, though it is still so very difficult to get all the details right.

How do you know when you've done enough research? Someone told me once that you know you're finished when the information you're discovering is all something you've seen before in another context.

Of course, if that's true, there are some topics that would take years to research properly. Sometimes we don't have that much time.

I think I've stumbled upon one of those topics myself lately. I've been interested in the idea of a story set in a very poor environment. But what does that level of poverty actually look like in the day-to-day? I honestly had no idea.

So I've started doing some research, and I began with two books that have each turned out to be quite a revelation.

The first:

Poor Economics

The intent of this book is to explore what sorts of aid (if any) are actually helpful to the poorest populations. What do they need? Food? Chlorinated water? Bed nets? Will they actually use these things? Should the items be free or subsidized or what?

Some great questions, and I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. So as a side note, if you give regularly to charity, you might consider reading this book to get a better idea of where best to send your money. The book doesn't come right out and list particular charities it recommends, but it does give some insight that you might use to come to your own conclusions.

Where Poor Economics really excels is in detailing how the poor make decisions and why they do things that might seem (to us) to be illogical. After finishing this book I feel so much more aware of how daily life actually works for those who live in extreme poverty.

The second:

The Bottom Billion

This book takes much more of a top-down approach. The major questions asked are: 1) What traps are keeping poor nations poor? and 2) What can we do to help them?

So far I've read only the first part of the book, which attempts to answer question 1 (and which is certainly the more relevant to my research). Whereas Poor Economics gives a good look at the perspective of the individual, The Bottom Billion has a lot of great information on a larger scale. For example, why is it that having one major rich resource can be detrimental for a poor nation? I would have found that idea completely mind-boggling until seeing the data laid out in this book.

So this too is good information for me, because it helps me to think about the setting of the story. (It helps that a lot of the details also fit very well with ideas I already had!)

Together these two books have gone a long way to getting me started on this research path. I probably still have a ways to go, but now at least the framework is laid out for me and I can see more clearly the areas where I might need more information.

So, if any of you similarly find yourselves in a place where you need to do research on poverty, these are an excellent place to start!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fair Chocolate

I love chocolate. I think about it all the time. (No really. All through lunch all I can think about is the chocolate square I'm going to have for dessert.) I talk about it. I bake with it. And, of course, I eat it.

There is really nothing like good chocolate. So rich. So smooth. So delicious.

It's easy to forget that chocolate is a luxury.

After all, it's everywhere. Just this morning I was at the grocery store picking up food for the week, and I noticed a display with cheap chocolate candy on sale. It's so easy to find. Days that I don't have some kind of chocolate in my house are rare.

But for a lot of people, chocolate is far from common. It may not even be something they've tasted before. And you know who doesn't typically get to eat chocolate?

The people who harvest cocoa.

In fact, the chocolate industry is one (of several, unfortunately) that frequently relies on child and slave labor. Cocoa farming practices aren't often monitored, and workers' rights are usually neglected.

In other words, my chocolate habit has reinforced slavery.

That revelation isn't something I should just say "*gulp* Oops!" to and move on. It makes me angry! I want to do something about it.

The good news is that I can. By choosing what I buy, I can support fair practices around the world. How? Here are two great resources:

Free2Work grades companies based on their policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights. You can see at a glance which companies score high, and which score abysmally low. It's eye-opening to skim through the chocolate companies and see just how few have good scores.

Fair Trade is a certification that tells you with a simple label that the goods are produced using fair, sustainable practices. More on what Fair Trade means here.

If I'm really serious about caring for the global community, I need to make some changes with how I buy chocolate. It's a luxury. If I can't afford the more expensive fair trade, then I don't need to buy it. When I do buy it, I need to be conscious of which companies I support.

This will be a challenge for me. As I said above, chocolate is everywhere. I need to be mindful of where my money goes. But this is a step that is important to me to take.

Today chocolate. Tomorrow... one of the many other industries listed at Free2Work. It'll be a process, and it might be hard at times, but these are choices I can live with.