Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton & James Patterson

The President is MissingTHE PRESIDENT IS MISSING. Okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t like James Patterson. Oh, he started out pretty good–I enjoyed some of his earlier works when he was writing his own stuff. Then he became the Master Money Machine and well, you know the rest of the story. Ghosting, partnerships, series that he had the idea for and others implemented. Not that I’m jealous, mind. Hey, someday I, too, will be a multi-millionaire with zillions of best sellers to my credit.

I don’t like Bill Clinton, either. And that’s because of his questionable White House ethics, not because he isn’t brilliant, which I happen to think he is.

So I was really prepared to trash this book when to my surprise, I found I did like it after all! I think these two had fun collaborating to create this instant best-seller, similar to the Rat Pack making the first OCEANS ELEVEN movie in Las Vegas. And that esprit de corps shows.

There are the skills of Patterson, with his masterful sense of pacing and his one-page chapters. The book is tailor-made for Hollywood and I’ll not be surprised if it appears in the theaters one of these fine days. The book has all sorts of action-packed adventures and is full of car crashes, helicopters, and mysterious passages. Oh, yeah.

But the real highlights of this book are the pieces of authenticity that only Clinton as a past president (the real kind) could add. The in-fighting in a Senate hearing. The true anguish when a president must give an order that gets someone killed.

If you read nothing else in the book, don’t skip Chapter 128. (Which comes after the one-page Chapter 127 and the half-page Chapter 126.) This is the President’s (Clinton’s?) address to the nation explaining the real cyber-danger the country finds itself in. It runs nine dense pages (proving Clinton wrote it, not Patterson!) and outlines what our country is capable of being.

“The American dream works when our common humanity matters more than our interesting differences and when together they create endless possibilities. That’s an America worth fighting–even dying–for. And, more important, it’s an America worth living and working for.”

To which I say, Amen.

I hope that these two write another book or two together. Clinton brings out the best in Patterson’s writing, and Patterson creates a venue where Clinton’s intelligence can still be heard.

I gave it four stars instead of five because of uneven editing. The two voices could blend together better.

Who ever said life would be easy?

Agathla Rock

I’d looked forward to seeing the immense rock on the Navajo Reservation near Kayenta, Arizona. I wasn’t disappointed. This volcanic monolith rises over 1500 feet, straight up.

Agaathla Peak, meaning “much wool” in the Navajo language, is so named because of the tufts of deer and sheep wool caught in its sharp rock edges and deep crevices. In the summer with the thunderheads building, there is nothing more beautiful. The eagle was lagniappe.

Then I got to wondering. Had ever anyone climbed to the very top? If I asked a Navajo wise man, he would probably look at me as though I’d lost what few brains I had left and shake his head. “Bilagaana,” he’d mutter.

You’re probably on the right track if it’s uphill.
~ Anonymous ~

 

Barreling along

barrel cactus

This is a commercially planted group of golden barrel cactus, also known as mother-in-law cushions. I know this because no self-respecting barrel would choose to grow this close to another, just like a wise mother-in-law (without the thorns)!

Barrels have a single blossom in the spring. You can see the remains here. What I like is their representation of both the short-term represented by the fading blossoms and the long-term potential of life. Living beings often grow slowly in the desert, taking time to put down roots. Under the right conditions, barrels live to be over a hundred years old.

These cacti remind me that we do not need a reason to exist–sometimes it is okay to just sit there and look beautiful.

Observe the space between your thoughts.
Then observe the observer.
~ Hamilton Bordeaux

Having new eyes

barred shadows

In the hot Arizona summer, any point of shade is welcome. Here, the barred shadows represent a wooden arbor overhead, providing more an illusion of shade than actual shade itself.

But instead of looking for relief from the sun, perhaps I can appreciate the beauty of the precise latticework echoes and the way they transform once again when they hit the brick walk.

Layer upon layer the world reveals itself to us, when we pause to look closely.

The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking
new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust ~

Roots and wings

roots and wings

It was a sweltering hot afternoon when I encountered this pond in the midst of the Arizona desert.

What a delight, this surprise of the water where there shouldn’t be any. I valued the clarity of the mirrored reflection in the water where I received the gift of two mountain views, one pointing toward the heavens, the other diving into the watery depths.

Our lives and dreams present such a dichotomy to us. If we only pay attention, there are always two sides to every story–whether we hear or in this case, see, it.

Good ideas need landing gear as well as wings.
~ C. D. Jackson ~

 

 

Book review: UPSTREAM–Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream by Mary Oliver
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although wildly famous for her lyrical poetry, Mary Oliver has become my new favorite essayist after Ursula le Guin. Both women in their 80s (Le Guin recently passed away), both astute wise women.

Mary Oliver’s poetry came from early roamings and ramblings in nature. The eponymous essay in the book describes how she waded upstream while her parents waded downstream. She got lost, but loved it, and has been wading upstream ever since.

Until she moved to Florida in 2005 at the death of her partner, she had spent 50 years in Provincetown near the ocean, and her essays pay tribute to this beautiful place.

She includes essays on favorite authors: Whitman, Wordsworth, Emerson and a surprise to me, Edgar Allen Poe.

She describes how she made a one-room studio out of salvaged wood and other materials. She strung a wire to it because she wanted to light a lamp like a beacon that she could see from her main house.

What I like about these essays is that they have a sharp-edged attention to detail and a lyrical swing to the words that makes them almost poetry in their own right. For example, her first essay ends, “Teach the children. We don’t matter so much but they do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen…And the frisky ones: inkberry and lamb’s-quarters, blueberries…Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school.”

I respect the poet’s skillful use of language, and I love her philosophy of life.

Dance like no one is watching

agave and eucalyptis

I caught these three at play on a windy day in the Thompson Boyce Arboretum in central Arizona east of Apache Junction. It seemed as though the huge agave plant had invited the eucalyptus tree to dance a tango while the palms waved in chorus.

The scene reminded me of the Pixar movie, Toy Story, in turn a riff off the Tchaikovsky ballet, the Nutcracker. The toys come to life when no one is watching just as these huge plants had done. Are we not like those objects, with the ability to come to life whenever we chose?

How much richer our lives are when we relinquish fear of what “they” might say and live our days according to our own North Star of intention.

 

 

 

 

My heart’s not in it

hollow stump

You are perfect the way you are, and you need a little work.
Suzuki Roshi

I wondered about this Ponderosa pine stub. Usually when a tree hollows out, often by a lightning strike, it shows a scar on the outside, where the cambium layer has been breached. Here, the outside layer of the tree was perfect, but the center heartwood was missing.

What would it mean to be a person without a heart, standing tall, but dead inside like this tree, lacking a heart? I hope to never find out.

Blowing in the wind

mountain grass on windy day

The question is not what you look at,
but what you see.
~ Henry David Thoreau.

I encountered this dry bear grass waving in the wind that always seems to blow near Flagstaff, Arizona, on a hot summer day.

The grass became a metaphor for the winds blowing through my own life.

Sometimes we bend to life’s winds, sometimes we resist. The important thing is to remember that we, unlike the grass, have a choice into which directions we grow. Through mindfulness of the forces we encounter everyday, we can decide when to yield and when it is wiser to resist in order to build a richer life experience.

Always looking for more

young skunk cabbage

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.
~ Oprah Winfrey

These young skunk cabbage were flourishing on a trail near the Museum of Northern Arizona one morning and I was struck by their vitality. There had been no rain and the ground was rocky and barren. Yet there they were.

What they had was enough: sun, air, a quiet place to grow.

I wonder if sometimes I am too focused on what I want and not enough on what I truly need to make life worthwhile.