Olympic Medal Reality Check, 2016

“US Exceeds all Expectations in Rio” crows a headline here in the US today. Um, maybe not so much.

This is my second Summer Olympics to offer a different way of looking at Olympic glory.

This post is not a commentary or criticism of the training, dedication, sweat, pain, and success of the  individual athletes themselves. Every bit of praise to them, each one, even if their post-competition behavior was reprehensible. Each one earned her/his right to compete in the Olympics through bone-deep commitment, and earned whatever victories they achieved. Good for them!

Instead, this post seeks to serve as antidote to the bombardment of chauvinistic posturing that overlaid the TV coverage. This country seemed to crow about their athletes’ medals as if the country somehow could claim the glory of its athletes. I don’t mind a little ego attachment: the Icelandic soccer team in the Euros created a phenomenon that is very rare, and beautiful. But the jingoistic posturing of the US press was embarrassing to me, and I suspect many other countries had their own tiresome version of it.

Folks, it’s not about how many medals a country “won”. No country won any medals at all. Individual human beings won those medals. No country sweated for them. No country ran a step, or performed on the rings. No country broke a bone. The Olympic oath is to “the glory of sport” and not to the aggrandizement of national ego.

So here’s a different way of looking at the medal count, one I feel is more true to the spirit of the Olympics: medals by population. I took the medals won and divided by a multiple of 100,000 in the country. The results are eye-opening! Forget about the massive training programs and the most expensive coaches and the best technology available.

The winner of the Olympic medal race, just as in 2012, turns out to be — drum roll — Grenada. One medal, won by an athlete from a nation of 107,000 people. USA won 121 medals, which with a population of 324.1 million puts its medal accomplishment at 43rd in the world, not first. Interesting. To achieve the equivalent Grenada’s one-medal-in-100k people, the US would have had to come away with 324 medals. Not even close.

What big-power, big population, big investment country would openly admit that the top ten Olympic countries are all quite small in population? It says something extra about the dedication of their athletes, I think. Additional praise to them for their grit and excellence.

Below is my full spreadsheet. I think the top countries on this list deserve national praise, if any is to be doled out.

2016 Olympic Medal Rank by Population

Iguazú Falls

A week ago I returned from a trip to Argentina. I’d never traveled to South America before, and since it was the only continent (not counting Antarctica) I had yet to visit, I was excited. Even though I know South America has far more to see and experience, Iguazú Falls will remain the highlight of my trip — a profound spiritual experience.

On landing in Buenos Aires we took a shuttle to the other airport and flew directly to Iguazú. In planning the trip we’d learned there was a moonrise trek every full moon to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic section of the falls, and we managed to get tickets our party of ten. After a briefing by a park ranger we took a little train to the beginning of the walkway across branches of the river. The moon rose, and after a kilometer or so we came to the lip of the falls. I have no photos, but it was spectacular. We stood dripping and awe-stricken in the jungle night, and I’m glad we did it. But the following morning I realized how little we had actually seen.

IMG_0758Nothing prepared me for the sheer size of the cataract. A million gallons a second, I was told. 275 distinct waterfalls across almost three kilometers, the brochure said. Identified in 2011 as one of the planet’s seven wonders of nature, a plaque said. Data became meaningless. It was overwhelming. Over the next day and a half, I evolved through three ways of experiencing what it was.

The first phase was the most obvious: Spectacle. Immense, breath-taking. Every few IMG_0718steps I encountered a new vista to photograph. I was one of dozens recording the spectacle.

IMG_0738As I hiked the trails and catwalks, I gradually adapted to the magnitude of the spectacle. The falls became a kind of New-Age Inspiration. To my amazement and profound embarrassment I caught myself thinking psychobabble banalities and projecting them onto the natural beauty surrounding me. “Even this tiny rivulet is part of the massive river.” “We spent IMG_0726thousands of dollars to be here, but this tiny orchid lives here for free.” As I said, embarrassing. When a sophomoric slogan with Biblical overlays, “bloom where you’re planted,” came spewing out of my old ministerial subconscious, I had to turn away from the water in shame. Fortunately, that one also broke the spell which had me believing I was in charge of what my experience meant.

I abandoned my desire to project petty human IMG_0743“lessons” onto whatever this immense force of nature was doing. I finally stopped taking pictures to simply stand still and be open. It seemed to be roaring at me to listen. So I did. It became my teacher. I can’t put what it taught me into words, but I did feel its message enter my IMG_0738body, which shivered and swayed to receive it. It changed me. That is its enduring gift to me.

Blood and Dirt Excerpts

If you’d like to read the opening chapters, I’ve got Blood and Dirt excerpts sprinkled around the internet, plus a few blog interviews. Here’s a map to get around:

August 21st with Clare London – Interview and first half of Chapter One

August 22nd with Jon Michaelsen – second half of Chapter One

With more to be added! You’ll be able to read at least the first two chapters this way, maybe more.

Next stop, August 28th with Elin Gregory

Blood & Dirt Releases Soon!

Blood & Dirt 02 -Ebook FinalIt’s been a long time coming (because it took months longer to finish than I had originally planned), but the digital version of my new Russ Morgan mystery Blood & Dirt is scheduled for release from Wilde City Press on August 19th! The print version will follow within days. I’m happy to say it will include Enigma, the first Russ Morgan story, which was too short to have a print run of its own.

I’m thrilled it will be out in time for UK Meet 2015 in Bristol. Thanks to Wilde City Press, I’ll have print copies there to flog. Um, I mean, sign.

I’m also grateful that readers spoke up about Enigma, which I envisioned as a one-off story, never imagining that Russ might have more stories to tell. Sometimes the author really is the last to know that a story might be the beginning of a series.

I like Russ a lot, too — and only partly because we share the similarities of being a Colorado native with psychic sensitivites and long-term sobriety. So thank you, readers, for saying you wanted more of him!


Gate Keepers

In 2009, Arsenal Pulp Press published a collection of essays framed as intergenerational advice to queer youth, called Second Person Queer, edited by the inimitable team of Richard LaBonte and Lawrence Schimel.

I was glad to have an essay in the collection, “Letter to a New Generation of Gate Keepers”, in which I sought to address what I see as the sacred, spiritual gift of same-sex wiring. It was the first time I’d raised these thoughts in public, and they helped clarify my sense of purpose in writing fiction: to explore the power and beauty of same-sex attraction, and the possibility that gay men hold a particular responsibility within the spiritual ecology of humankind.

It would be presumptuous of me to speak on behalf of those wired differently from me — I’m a cisgendered gay man — but I can speak up as one such. I do hope others will take up the thread, though, and write from the sacred place they occupy in the wisdom circle.

At any rate, in the wake of celebrations for the US Supreme Court ruling of June 26, I am prompted to offer this essay from 2009. It was already clear to me then that the tide had turned in acceptance of non-heteronormative orientations and gender identities, but I had no idea the rush of that tide would be so swift as it has become.

I’ve posted the essay under “Free Reads”, the second menu item under Publications in the menu bar. I hope you’ll take some time to read it and see whether it rings true for you or for your queer friends as you know them. Or you can use this link here.


Letter to a New Generation of Gate Keepers

Letter to a new Generation of Gate Keepers

I’m writing this letter to you in the fervent hope that you will come to believe something. If you don’t believe it now because it seems too crazy or impractical, I ask that you put the idea aside gently, making room for the possibility of believing it at some time in the future. This idea is the single most important thing that I can give you. When you do believe it, you will see with new eyes and new heart as the world offers unexpected possibilities to you—possibilities invisible to most.

You have been given a great and sacred gift—you are gay. Some peoples called us “Two-Spirited,” and held an honorable place for us in daily life. You might be surprised how many cultures viewed men like us with respect. That, as you well know, has not been the historical experience in mainstream North American culture.

I want you to believe that your being gay is not a meaningless fluke. You are gay for a reason—the Universe has entrusted you with stewardship of a certain kind of spiritual consciousness and power that no heterosexual man can ever carry. It is entrusted only to people like us.

I’m not saying this to make you feel grandiose. I’m saying this because you have important work to do. This work is found on a spiritual path that is open only to men like us, and traveled by comparatively few of those to whom the path is open at all.

When I say a spiritual path, I want to make sure you understand the distinction I draw between religion and spirituality. Religion is a formal system of doctrine, behaviors, and belief that offers to codify our relationship to universal spirit. I see spirituality as the evolving, unstructured, and direct individual experience of universal spirit. For some, the highly defined paths of religion provide an adequate spiritual experience. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But for others—and I think you are one of them—the inner guidance of the soul leads away from and beyond the comfortable certainty of those conventional structures. That begins a much more demanding journey, but its rewards are unspeakably beautiful and full of creative power.

The spiritual path for many of my generation focused on awakening—realizing that in spite of being taught that homosexuals were broken, disgusting, or pathetic, we were spiritually and morally right to be ourselves. We lucky ones then learned to live openly, insisting that we be given the same societal and legal rights that heterosexuals enjoyed. I think it’s fair to acknowledge that this spiritual awakening among us was resisted and condemned most vehemently by followers of religions who did not see our openness as a spiritual awakening at all, but the work of their devil. Although many of those religious folk might not agree, that battle is over. Spiritual awakening won.

Now a bigger job lies ahead precisely because that awakening occurred, and I think the job belongs mostly to you and your generation. What is homosexuality for, in spiritual terms? What does it mean to be a spiritually alive gay man bringing his unique gift into the world?

A beginning point in understanding the sacred gift of homosexuality is self-evident: you are different from the majority of human beings. Regardless of what ethnic or cultural minority a gay man might belong to, he is still a minority within that. I believe we are supposed to be a minority.

The core of our gift is the energy of the other—so similar, yet mysteriously different. Being different doesn’t mean better than others, but it certainly doesn’t mean less than, either. In our generation, some sought to establish an in-your-face defiance to honor our difference. Others wanted to get married and raise children in the suburbs, complete with dogs and a station wagon. While I don’t think either of those interpretations of our spiritual awakening is wrong, I also don’t think they are adequate models to guide your generation in expressing the beauty and power homosexuals can bring to society.

Bear in mind that our generation had very few who modeled for us what being openly, authentically, and triumphantly gay would look like. While we had many wonderful inspirational elders like Leonardo da Vinci and Walt Whitman to look to, we had almost no social mentors. We had to be our own cultural midwives. Defiance and assimilation were two of our most important experiments.

Some will suggest that you really are just like a heterosexual except for the incidental fact that you love your own gender. I disagree. I tell you that the reverse is wonderfully, shockingly true: you happen to love men because you are wired up radically differently from heterosexuals. I don’t think gay men should be concerned about assimilation or being defiantly different any more. There is no more need to be either artificially different or artificially similar to heterosexuals. Finding out what it means to be naturally, authentically both similar and different will lead you to spiritual power.

When I was coming out, I was fascinated to read that the Dagara people in West Africa call homosexual men Gate Keepers. In their way of seeing, Gate Keepers are responsible for maintaining the living connection between the earth and the spirit world. If this living connection between the invisible and the earth is lost, the earth will die. What an interesting vision—that the very survival of the earth depends on homosexuals!

What if this spiritual role of Gate Keeper were true not just metaphorically but literally? What if the job of every gay man was to keep certain energies alive in the earth, without which the earth would perish? I am absolutely convinced it is so.

How can you find out what—if any—of this is true for you? When I finally accepted that I was gay, I was a minister in my mid-forties, married, with a family. Since then my journey as a gay man—including divorcing, declaring bankruptcy, changing careers, getting sober, building a new life, surviving a pulmonary embolism, needing surgeries for cancer, and marrying a wonderful man—has required one thing of me: to listen to what originates from the other side of the particular Gate I keep. Any advice that I have for you is based on what I’ve learned by that listening.

Listening is a challenging and inexact discipline. It took courage for me to listen. What I heard through my Gate was so different from what I heard around me, often different even from my own internal voices. Learning to listen like this takes practice. As you practice, you will discover astonishing things about yourself and the world you live in. I suggest you try doing something gentle to raise your receptivity while you are listening. Meditation, writing, and music have been important for me. Tai chi, gardening, or working with animals could be just as effective, I think.

To listen well, I think you must cultivate a sense of wonder. The clever, bitchy ennui that has been fashionable among men like us serves no purpose in Gate Keeping that I can see. At the risk of seeming naïve, celebrate your happiness in small things—it’s great exercise for the spiritual ear. Being delighted to see things anew and to be amazed by the familiar will improve your ability to listen. Be open to noticing little surprises at the periphery of your perception and imagination. Not every such surprise will be a message from the spirit world seeking your attention, but some might be the envelope, so to speak, containing a message.

Practice kindness and friendship, hallmarks of spiritual strength. I can’t emphasize this enough, so I won’t try. Gate Keeping is a discipline of the heart, and through the heart you will find your tribe of like-hearted souls—straight and queer, all together.

This work will change you and, through you, the world around you. Whether those changes seem small or big to you, they will be profound. There’s much more to Gate Keeping than I’ve put in this letter, but I expect this is plenty for now. Think of Gate Keeping as a performance work-in-progress rather than a static, well-defined job. Given the chance to exercise, your spiritual gifts will grow and evolve with age. Learning to share those gifts with the rest of the world is a lifelong project from which there is no retirement. We lucky ones, we grow old and get more time to practice, more time to feel the fulfillment of being a Gate Keeper. May you be lucky, too.

You have a wonder-full path of pioneering ahead of you. You are a young man of remarkable quality and gifts. If there is anything I can do to assist you, to encourage you, to support your growth, I’d consider it an honor to help as I can. After all, my fulfillment as a Gate Keeper requires that I assist your generation in carrying our spiritual gift in ways that mine could not. But you will have to ask me for my input—otherwise I may offer more advice than you want!

I am certain that you and your fellow Gate Keepers will become more adept than we in my generation have been. Then you will help the generation after you in the same way. Only through this continuity will we ensure that the particular Gates between the visible and invisible for which gay men are responsible are sustained, that they flourish. I don’t know how you will do your part, but I am certain you will keep your Gate beautifully. Blessings in profusion to you on your journey.

© 2009 Lloyd A. Meeker, all rights reserved

Heading West for the L.A. LLF Reading May 15th

After a week of dithering about whether it was “the sensible thing to do” (Of course it’s not! It makes hardly any sense at all, financially or logistically.) I’ve decided to attend the LLF-sponsored finalists reading in L.A. on May 15th. I had a big coupon from Southwest Airlines and deccided to splurge. Even if it isn’t the sensible thing to do, it feels right and I’m excited at the prospect of meeting and reading to a completely new audience.

So if you’re in West Hollywood, or feel like driving distance to attend, I’d love to see you there!

It’s on Friday May 15, 7:00 pm at the County of Los Angeles – West Hollywood Branch Public Library, 625 N San Vincente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA, 90069

It feels deliciously extravagant to be flying from one coast to the other to read from The Companion, as if I were a famous author with hundreds of thousands of adoring fans clamoring for an appearance in the city of stars. Still, the event is for 2015 finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards, and I are one. I have to remind myself of that every now and then.

L.A. is simultaneously seductive and repulsive to me, and I’m looking forward to being back in the Endless City. It may not be Emerald, but it sure seems Endless to this reclusive writer. It’s been a couple of years. And The Companion is set in Los Angeles, just a few miles from where I’ll be reading. That ought to count for something!

I hope to see you there. There will be at least seven other finalists reading from their nominated work, too. I haven’t read all of them, but I can tell you that the ones I have read are stellar, and I’m willing to bet the others are, too. You’ll have a feast of good fiction excerpts, and admission is free!

A Wild Two Weeks!

Just coming up for air after a wildly eventful two weeks. Not sure what happened astrologically or in some other energies I don’t manage, but it was like a dam broke and washed down my river without doing a stick of damage. Instead, cycles that have been in “pending” mode for months all sprang forward as if the Cosmos had flipped a switch.

Unnerving — and exciting! So here’s the executive summary:

LammyFinalist_Small_Web_v3Wednesday, Mar 4 I learned that my novel The Companion is a finalist in this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. A week later I’m still giddy about it, and probably will be for months to come. For someone who writes gay fiction, this is huge, and would have made a stellar week all on its own. It’s the equivalent of being nominated for an Oscar for us. Bob and I immediately bought tickets to the awards ceremony June 1st in New York.

An hour after receiving the news, I was in a rented a car driving to Orlando for the Dreamspinner Author Retreat. Not sure I needed a car, it felt like I could have floated there on my cloud of euphoria. Come to think of it, I could have saved twenty bucks on road tolls each way if I had!

March 5-8, I had a chance to immerse myself in the Dreamspinner community. Many authors I hadn’t met in person, but I felt right at home. Moreover, Elizabeth North, the Publisher, gave a truly visionary speech, outlining events and sales performance of last year, and the plans for the year coming. In a publishing environment where reported sales have leveled or declined, the increase in sales at Dreamspinner was breathtaking.

Later, in a meeting with Elizabeth and her Editor-in-Chief Lynn West I was thrilled to learn more of DSP Publications, their new publishing arm dedicated to mysteries, fantasy, horror, thrillers, anything that isn’t strictly romance. Best news of all was the gearing up of Itineris, their imprint focused on heroes undergoing spiritual or metaphysical growth in their stories. Since that is my core interest, I was thrilled that I’d found a home for those stories.

Needless to say, I left feeling like my spiritual journey stories like Traveling Light had finally found a place to land, and that was like having a door open onto a spectacular new garden for me.

On the 9th I got a call from Wild Rose Press, and learned that they want to contract Blood Royal and its sequels. Another huge leap forward! I wanted to re-release the story under my own name instead of Rowan Malloy, so I pitched the story to Wild Rose Press in February during the Florida Romance Writers conference. It happened fast, and I’m thrilled with the outcome!

Then on the 10th we closed on our house. Whew! A process begun back in October of last year. It’s been a fragile, erratic process, with lots of problems. But it happened! On the 11th, the movers arrived and we pulled up stakes. Can’t wait to set up my new writing nook! Will post pics when I can.

Still lots to do before we’re settled, but I wanted to post this update. Must take some vitamins…

What’s the best thing to happen in your week?

In Praise of Cognitive Dissonance

For years, I had a quote pinned up on the wall of my workspace attributed to congressional historian Daniel J Boorstin: “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance, but rather the illusion of knowledge.”

With Mercury about to station retrograde October 4th, this is the ideal time for me to deliberately relax my grip on certainty, check my reality compass and make some room for discovery.

I’d like to share with you something of my respect for disillusionment – the loss of illusion. Discovery is an essential part of any plot, from clues in a murder mystery, to trust (misplaced, real or withheld) in a romance, geographic exploration in an adventure, or finding inner strength in the Hero’s Journey. While the need for profound discovery is always present in our stories, the context for the discovery is infinitely changeable.

Perhaps the first important variable is the protagonist’s own attitude toward discovery. That could be the beginning of his character arc: he may believe he doesn’t need to change, or that he is self-sufficient. He may believe a situation is hopeless. He may believe he is not worthy of love. Discovery is where the story gets really interesting!

An altruistic young person, full of optimism and naïveté, might believe that his altruism is a good thing, and should never change. He approaches the world of commerce as if everyone were as honest as he is. That person soon finds out that altruism, if it is to be a kind influence in his life must be tempered with realistic caution.

While I rhapsodize about the profound value of cognitive dissonance, I don’t enjoy the pain and sadness (or embarrassment!) I can feel when a cherished belief proves to be false. I believe emotional pain is probably the worst teacher of reality – certainly one of the harshest. The problem is that so often it’s the only teacher left to us because we’ve rejected kinder ones. We can be so damn stubborn about what we’re certain is true.

When faced with a discovery that disrupts his personal view of reality, a character can stay focused on his lost belief or welcome his new knowledge. This is great material for the character arc, because the transition is seldom easy, in novels or in real life.

In the case of Shepherd Bucknam, the protagonist in my new novel The Companion, disillusionment is a great but pain-inducing ally, in two particular instances. When the story begins, he doesn’t see any need for him to change. Privately, he carries a bitter disrespect for his dead alcoholic mother, believing that she didn’t really love him. He is also afraid that a recurring nightmare foretells his violent death.

In both these matters he discovers that what he thinks is true is not true at all, and the shock of discovery opens him to new experience and real growth as a human being. What happens next? Well, you’ll have to read the story to find out!

And I sincerely hope you do…

An earlier version of this post appeared first on Tara Lain’s blog.

The Companion Blog Tour Articles and Reviews

Since Friday I’ve had interviews and articles posted on fellow author blogs, part of my effort to get the word out about the release of The Companion.

Thinking that some of those posts might be interesting to you in the meantime, me and my 500-lb gorilla marketing buddy are sharing the links to a few of them.

Raine O’Tierney                       Vastine Bondurant                  Tara Lain

Thanks to Raine, Vastine and Tara for hosting me on their blogs.

It will probably be a while before enough reviews come in to give me a feel for the book’s general reception, but The Companion already has two reviews so far, with others scheduled to appear later in the week. Here’s the first, from Portia de Moncur at MM Good Book Reviews. Thank you, Portia! My gorilla thanks you, too!

Another interesting and very different review is at Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews, where I also do a video reading of a scene from The Companion. Hope you check it out!