Lohland needs an Uplift

 

It was 2004 when I wrote my first book. Although I had been writing stories my entire life, Lohland was the first completed novel. But I didn’t publish it until 2009, after having written and published two other books.

Lohland - cover

I recently reread the book and decided it needs a new edit. Apart from some grammatical errors I missed then, it is clearly written by an inexperienced writer. Nevertheless, apart from wanting to write a stronger start, I still like the story in general.

Of course, since 2004, certain things have changed, especially in the way people communicate. The idea of teens with mobile phones was only just emerging, for example, and following directions on Google during a trip was less common. Today’s young readers – only just over a decade later – might wonder why Kaie does not use his mobile more often, but those are changes I cannot make, since the story revolves around celestial and calendar events that are correct for 2006, and so are the factual aspects of the story: the engineering projects that specifically deal with global warming.

Written with a young adult protagonist, Lohland was created less for the sake of the story than for the sake of presenting an alternative view of social life and education. That might not be the best approach to writing a story, but at that point, I had my design ready and that was my motivation.

However, I was also already aware that what one personality type considers a utopia, may be the complete opposite for another type of person. Being only thirteen years old at the start of the story, the protagonist, Kaie, has no say in the decision to move away from his home – the location of which could be most any Australian or New Zealand town – where he and his siblings each have their own bedroom with plenty of space to play loud music, a big garden, a swimming pool and many other luxuries. He resents the idea of exchanging all that for Lohland, not only because its non-traditional lifestyle does not suit his personality, but he questions the sanity of moving to a country that lies below sea level in a time when “global warming is real”.

Lohland is a fictional city state, but set in the real environment of the “low lands” of Western Europe, in an area that has significance, both historically and climatologically. The family’s emigration back to this part of Europe is set against a visit to the highlands of Scotland, as well as against the original discovery of New Zealand during The Golden Age of the Dutch Republic – Zeeland being the Dutch province New Zealand derived its name from – and the way each country remembers the significance of these events differently.

Thus, the somewhat utopian aspect of the story comes with the organization of its fictional city state, its calendar, living communities, celebrations and education system, but the environmental aspects, the engineering projects that are described and the architectural and historical information, is non-fiction.

The book was written to give teens and young adults an alternative to the doom and gloom they have to grow up with today, and the message reflected in the story is that there is more than one way to live a rich and rewarding life, that freedom is not about the space one lives in, but about not being judged or imposed on by others, and that global warming is not the end of the world; that young people can get involved in building a new future.

Until I have the time and money to publish a new edition, I have dropped the price of the eBook. Printed copies are still available via the printer’s website and my own, but they reflect the cost of shipping from New Zealand, which lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is therefore far away from everything.

Thank you for reading.

Autonomous Individual

I am a writer for social progress and a positive future for all the people in the world. My books are based on a deep understanding of group psychology and what motivates individual people. This understanding includes the notion that not every reader will be able to accept my books.

To create a better world, change is needed; we need to change some things we are today taking for granted, even if we believe that those things are dear to us. Change cannot happen in a stagnant and dogmatic world. My job, as a writer, is to wake up the masses to the need for change.

It is well known that all innovative ideas get a lot of resistance, because most people will not accept something until it is confirmed by their environment. Novel ideas usually require a tipping point – a point at which enough people accept it for it to start spreading, sometimes aided by support from a celebrity or authority. Of course, soon after this acceptance, it tends to become dogma, because these same masses want everybody to believe what they do, so that the few who still resist the idea are dismissed as much as the originators of the idea were.

That is because, by their very nature, most people take things at face value and judge according to the current beliefs without putting them in context. Consequently, they’ll get indignant if you even suggest they might have believed differently only a decade ago. Good examples are ideas about ethnic and gender equality and, more recently, sexual orientation equality, as well as notions about beauty. And not only social ideas, but scientific ideas, like the environmental issues, need a tipping point.

Consequently, speaking out for innovative ideas or against the way the world functions today, tends to not be welcomed – especially not by those who are doing well in today’s world; those in power and those who naturally follow or are quite cosy not thinking about social change.

In short, if a writer for social change wants to have an impact, the reader needs to be ready to be woken up. They need to be able to reconsider the beliefs and truths they have grown up with, and to suspend judgment. People who are used to getting their opinions from their environment or from authority – even if they are not always aware of that – will feel an inner resistance to reading what opposes such notions.

My books are written to achieve a re-evaluation of our norms and values. Readers who are not, by nature, autonomous individuals, will feel uncomfortable reading my books. It makes no difference what age you are, because this is part of your personality. Some adults will not grasp the underlying message of my stories, while an 11-year-old of the right personality will get it instantly. I am therefore not hereby making accusations or dismissing the people who naturally follow or don’t like social change. I am only saying, you might not like my books:

In the Real World follows two 16-year-old cousins, who, when trying to make sense of real world issues like war and human rights, find themselves in conflict with their school about obedience and uniforms. Although it starts on Anzac Day, the story could be set in any location, as it deals not with the actions of war, but with the emotions of it – emotions that exist in all people.

The protagonist of Soup and Bread is Vonnie, a healthy 11-year-old, whose carefree life is disrupted when Mum decides she had enough of fussy eaters, and the new boy at school accuses her of being a bystander to the bullying. After a confrontation with serious health and food problems in other children, Vonnie learns that she can use her own “lucky” body and mind to speak out for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Lohland follows Kaie, who turns from an easy-going 13-year-old into an obnoxious teen when his parents decide to move to the independent city state of Lohland – which lies two hundred meters below sea level in a time when “global warming is real” – and which means he has to give up his comfortable home, his language, his calendar and the celebrations he is used to. But his boycott ends when he discovers the architecture and engineering works needed to keep his new home safe from global warming. Could he help make a positive difference for the future?

 The Happiness Inquisition is a novella, primarily written for adults, but suitable for age eleven and up. It begins with the victim of an act of child abuse being admitted to hospital and, through the eyes of five point of view characters, each of whom has a role to play in the events that lead to the tragedy, deals with the judgment of a society that thrives on guilt induction.

Of a Note in a Cosmic Song is the title of a five-part science fiction novel that spans eight years in the lives of a large group of space colonists. From the heartbreak of deciding to leave their planet, through the cabin fever of space travel and the desperation of the political and environmental unrest of their arrival upon their new home, the books take the reader with the colonists on a high-tech journey from the oppressive planet DJar to the mysterious and eerie Kun DJar. No matter how advanced, it takes more than technology to colonize a whole new world.

All eBooks are currently on sale and can be purchased directly through the links provided, both ePub and Kindle format. Print copies can be ordered directly via my website, but they are priced to include shipping costs from New Zealand.

Thank you for reading.

To Vote or Not to Vote

In many countries there are elections looming and consequently articles and activities tend to be centred around the polishing up of candidates, who in turn try to blacken each other, while simultaneously trying to get the interest of all those people who have not yet shown much interest in voting – to encourage them.

And the social media are a popular way of doing so: There is currently a message going around Facebook that reads: “Not voting is not rebellion, it is surrender”.

I don’t know who coined that slogan, but they seem to imply that people who do not vote do so because they want to rebel against authority. That in turn makes me think that this message is probably intended for the young people who are generally believed to be rebellious and who in today’s climate are less politically active than those during the last decades of the twentieth century.

And who can blame them?

But I don’t want to discuss the hopeless future or details about specific political actions or countries; I want to talk about the sentiment behind this message.

By using terminology associated with wars, like “rebellion” and “surrender”, the message implies that voting equals fighting for democracy and if you do not do so, you are giving up your right to having a say – your voice – in the decision making.

The message appeals to moral duty – that you owe it to your country to participate – and exactly because of this choice of words, this message strongly resembles that with which governments ‘convince’ young people to join the military: they paint the picture of an enemy to which surrender means losing your freedom and equality and this message is usually accompanied by the idea that the alternative is tyranny, where people have no such rights.

But let us consider those ideas for a moment.

Rebellion is protest against authority, but in a true democracy the people are the authority and thus should have no cause to rebel.

And rights, like the right to life, freedom and equality are human rights – each human being acquires them by virtue of being born. So where do politicians get the idea that they can claim them as theirs to hand out as they see fit? Why should we be grateful to them? And where are those rights when a government resorts to conscription during a war or when they make voting compulsory?

The belief that a vote equals a voice is instilled in young children from the moment they set foot in school, so that, by the time they are at the age where they can vote, most have internalized that as a truism that is not open to consideration.

You have probably heard the question of whether a tree that falls in a forest when there is nobody there to hear it makes noise. Similarly, we can ask: If somebody shouts in the middle of a forest or a desert and there is absolutely nobody there to hear it, is it still a voice? Is there any use of expressing your freedom of opinion, if nobody can hear it?

And we can turn the question around and ask: If I shout in the middle of a cacophony of other noises, so that what I say gets drowned in the onslaught, is that having a voice? Is that having a say in the running of a country – which is what democracies claim: that of rule by the people for the people.

If I have an opinion and I express it, but nobody can hear my voice, am I really contributing to the rule of the people, or just to the general noise levels? Is a voice actually a voice in a deaf world?

Now, there are two manners in which democratic countries promote the idea that voting equals having a say. If you vote in a referendum you are allowed to say yes or no to one idea. The context, details and alternatives of that idea are not considered; you say yes or no, after which they count the votes and then decide whether or not to pay attention to this majority input: thus yes a vote, but not a voice.

If you vote for a politician, you vote for celebrity. They make all kinds of promises that are intended to win your vote – they openly admit that. After the elections, the votes are counted so the greatest celebrities get a seat in the government, which is composed of representatives of different political parties, so that all issues are reconsidered, regardless of any promises made, because the assembly as a whole has different priorities and will decide on new laws without consulting the people and there is no mechanism in place that allows the people to call the politicians on their promises or to remove them if they fail. Again yes vote, no voice.

To equate a vote with having a voice is buying into a deception.

To have a voice in an honest democracy, would mean being able to express your view, to be able to explain it and get a considered answer on it – to be treated as an equal instead of a number and take part in the discussion process. A voice without somebody to hear it is not having a say and such a vote is equal to putting a pebble in a jar.

Voting for candidates is equivalent to voting in a Miss World contest – they also get to say what they would do to make the world a better place in order to make the best impression.

And who, in reality, is this enemy we cannot “surrender” to by not voting?

Is it a foreign nation ready to invade? Is it a tyrant with grandiose ideas? Is this enemy we invite by not voting an enemy from outside?

Or is it coming from those who won the last popularity contest? Is it those who held a referendum about some important issues and then ignored the results? Is it those who sell the nation’s natural resources to multi-nationals that use dangerous methods of extracting them? Is it those who will gladly stick the nation’s money into buying military supplies instead of providing for the poor? Is it those who forcibly remove children from homes if the parental methods are not in line with the latest fashion? Is it those in power, who employ the police to force people to stop protesting against such measures?

In short, against whom are we defending our right to a voice, to equality and freedom if we vote in elections?

The enemy implied are the politicians – the same celebrities who need our vote to get more popular. Those who benefit by keeping a political system that relies on elections.

Politicians, of course, are ridiculed plenty. Douglas Adams called them lizards and asked why we keep voting for lizards. The answer is that we have the choice between lizards and lizards.

In the meanwhile, these lizards happily share in the ridicule, because the jokes only add to their celebrity and in the end they get to sell out the land, take away the children and send the police after those people who protest that. And if you call them on that, they turn around and say, “you had a voice, so shut up already”. In the end, when things start falling apart because of the consequences of their choices, they get to retire and write their memoirs, because they are celebrities. In the end only their voice was heard.

Now, as explained in other posts, I am not saying that politicians are by definition corrupt or liars or power mad – It isn’t that simple. Most politicians start with the best of intentions and that is exactly the problem, because it is very difficult to convince a person who is totally immersed in his faith that the system may not work. But we need more than intentions to save the Earth from pollution and the people from another war.

To start with, we should stop calling politicians “leaders” – they are not. A few years in university and a popularity contest don’t make a person capable of insightful decision making, of understanding the long-term consequences and of selflessness – the natural traits of leaders – on the contrary, a system that relies on popularity invites exactly those who look at the short-term future, who make decisions based on how popular an idea already is and withdraw from public life when things don’t work out.

Note that I am not and never will be in favour of tyrannies, where power hungry self-important people threaten and abuse their population. But to believe that it is the only alternative to a democracy is to believe in a fairy tale. Obviously, there is no system where every person will be completely free, but honest leaders admit this and don’t deceive their people.

So, is not voting surrender to the enemy? No, not if the enemy are those people who help your country to economic and natural disaster. Not if the enemy are those people who will take away your kids if they don’t like your parenting style. Not if they are the people who will not take any definitive actions to save the Earth, because it may make them unpopular. Not if they are the politicians that get their power through elections.

Voting is surrendering to the dictatorship of the mob. Not voting is a principled stance against a deceptive system and a call for honour: if we want to have a voice and freedom and if we really want to save the Earth, we need a change of political system. We need leaders who are in it for the long-run and who own their decisions instead of buying them. A captain doesn’t jump ship – a true leader does not retire.

If the majority of people would refuse to vote and make a stance to demonstrate that, would demand answers to their concerns and their voices to be acknowledged, and would demand the immediate dismissal of any politician who doesn’t come through on the promises made during the elections, then we could start talking about having a voice; until that time, the slogan is a deception.

Not voting, en masse, is the only way to change the system from party politics to true democracy and more equality and freedom. As long as we keep voting, we keep putting celebrities where leadership is required and no decisions will be made, because their only concern is for the amount of votes in the next election.

I must mention that the stakes in Scotland are different at the moment, since the people are actually voting in a referendum for freedom from an outside ruler and their referendum question is a closed question that can be answered by yes or no.

Calendar Play

Having not posted for a while due to moving house, I want to restart with a light-hearted topic for the holidays.

December (“the tenth month”) is a month of celebrations; the month known for Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas, among many other religious holidays. That is because the winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere) falls in December.

The period around the winter solstice is traditionally celebrated with lights – to counter for the natural dark of the season, and many cultures have ceremonies going back to ancient times, honouring fire or the sun, or, as in the Hindi festival of Diwali, celebrating good winning over evil.

Yet, since most of the currently dominant cultures of the world originated in the northern hemisphere, we, in New Zealand, end up having Christmas lights in the middle of summer.

Christmas, like many celebrations, is a hybrid of different cultural aspects: the nativity displays and the name “Christmas” are of Christian origin, while the idea of Yule tide with its log burning have a Celtic background.

In Roman times, the winter solstice Saturnalia celebration included lamps to guide one’s journey through life, decorating homes with greens and with lights, receiving coins and eating cakes – Sound familiar?

Evergreens were also used in many Germanic and pagan rituals around the solstice. This makes sense, because evergreens are a natural symbol of eternal life – nobody would take the bare branch of a deciduous tree to symbolize the turn of the seasons.

Hence, Christmas as the celebration we know today was not accepted by some Christians until as recently as the late eighteen hundreds. The Puritans that lived in much of New England prohibited the celebration, so the children there had to go to school or risk being expelled.

In addition to each culture having its own special celebrations, each family also tends to have its own traditions during these times. I know of one family that goes to the cinema on Christmas Day. When I was young, we had large family gatherings, but my own (dislocated) nuclear family celebrates the Dutch “Sinterklaas” – which in The Netherlands takes place on the 6th of December – on Christmas Day.

Sinterklaas, the original Santa Claus, is derived from Saint Nicholas, who according to legend brought children gifts on his saint’s day, and the story goes that he still does. But while Father Christmas spends the year on the North Pole, Sinterklaas lives in Spain and his helpers are not elves but black boys called “Zwarte Piet” (black Piet).

There are two going explanations for these black helpers: The original, which must be rooted at least as far back as when the Moors ruled Spain, assumes that people who live that far south are black. The second explanation, which became popular once holidays to Spain made the original story too transparent even for children, is  that the boys get black from crawling in and out of chimneys delivering the presents. Sinterklaas does not have a sled that flies through the air, but a white horse with which he rides over the rooftops, yet, just like Santa Claus, he is on the look-out for “naughty” children. Now chimneys are becoming scarce, gifts are usually left at the door in a big jute bag.

The tradition of giving children gifts with Sinterklaas instead of Christmas is pretty much universal in The Netherlands, and many families have some sort of “surprise and poem” tradition, in which the actual gift (which is of less cost and importance) is hidden inside a crafted joke, usually made of recycled material or cardboard. This joke is meant to make fun of something the recipient did during the year. A rhyme is attached to the gift to explain this crafty joke (since not everybody is born with the gift of making these things obvious).

Since I dislike the giving gifts for gifts’ sake – the moment you hand over the present, the paper gets ripped of; if you’re lucky the words “thank you” are uttered and that’s it – I reinstated this Dutch tradition in my family when the kids had outgrown Santa Claus. This way each person gets the proper attention for the time spent making the craft work and it takes us three or four hours easily to exchange a few gifts, while the weeks of ‘secret’ preparation are just as much fun.

This year, due to being late with thinking up and creating the craft projects due to our move, we have decided to postpone the celebration to New Year’s Eve, a decision that was easier for me and one of my children (being P personality types) than it was for my J-husband and daughter, who put more value on traditions being kept where they belong.

And that brings me to my discussion about calendars, since it is the importance that people attach to their own belief-related traditions and ceremonies that have always stood in the way of a world calendar being universally accepted.

The purpose of a calendar is to calculate or signify important events (agricultural or religious) and to organize business and civil life for people to get together, since people need to use the same calendar and clock if they want to be able to meet up. Yet, throughout history different cultures have used different ways of dividing up the year, the week and even the day – some measure days from sunrise to sunset; others from midnight to midnight, and on some calendars the week begins on a Sunday, instead of the traditional Monday, which confuses the idea of a “week end”.

The Gregorian calendar – which is the calendar we use – is a solar calendar that, despite using the word “month”, measures time between vernal equinoxes and thus the position of the Earth in relation to the sun (not the moon).

Some calendars are purely lunar (like the Islamic calendar) and go by the phases of the moon to divide the year into 12 equal parts (to add up to 354 days) that do not coincide with the seasons or the solar year.

Most other calendars are lunisolar (like the Chinese, the Hindu and the Hebrew calendars) that make adjustments, usually by adding days or weeks to the lunar year so it coincides with the solar year.

The Mayan calendar, like many calendars of the Middle and South American region, is a Tzolk’in calendar, that is based on 260 days and allows for smaller cycles inside bigger cycles.

Changing the Calendar:

The Julian Calendar, in use since Roman times, counted a year as 365 days and six hours (which is almost eleven minutes more than it takes for the Earth to move from Vernal Equinox to Vernal Equinox) and so it had accumulated almost eleven days too many by the time the Italian philosopher Aloyisius Lilius designed his new calendar (named after pope Gregory XIII) in 1582.

To realign with the Vernal Equinox, the accumulated days were removed and the new calendar was introduced that same year. This new (Gregorian) calendar solved the problems of the Julian calendar, including the way the leap years were counted,  yet it still allowed for the old ways of the churches calculating the date of Easter. The new calendar also retained the Julian numbering system of years that began with the Christian date associated with the birth of Christ – which is why many people today still use “BC” or “AD”. It also retained the misnomers of the months September to December, which according to their names are the seventh through tenth months, but thanks to July and August having been inserted by the Roman emperors are now actually the ninth through twelfth months.

Soon the Gregorian calendar was in use throughout Europe, but other countries did not accept it until much later, like Britain in 1752, Japan in 1873, and China in 1929, by which time the number of accumulated days had grown to 13 days.

In 1792, during the French Revolution a new (decimal) calendar and clock were instated in France; a system that was truly original and based on the decimal system, yet the clock never worked, since it was too big a change from what people were used to, and the calendar also did not last, because the new government was overthrown by Napoleon twelve years later. It might have not lasted anyway, since the months were given names that referred to the weather in Paris (which was still under the influence of The Little Ice age)  – the days were given names of plants, animals or minerals – while the holidays were strongly France-only focused.

Today, many people feel that we should reform the calendar once again, this time not in order to adjust for accumulated days or to a decimal system, but in an effort to unite all the people of the world with a calendar that is not predominantly Christian and that is user friendly – in that it fixes the dates to a specific day that is the same every year (a perennial calendar).

There have been several proposals, among which the “International Fixed Calendar”, which counts thirteen months of exactly twenty-eight days and one or two intercalary days. It adds the thirteenth month (named Sol) between June and July, but otherwise retains the naming system. The problem I see with that is that the names of September through December are still misnomers, while “Sol” is nice for midsummer, but only in the northern hemisphere.

The first workable solar perennial twelve-month calendar was designed by  Gustave Armelin in 1887 and it has been actively promoted thanks to the efforts of Elisabeth Achelis and The World Calendar Association since the early twentieth century. This proposal – that is opposed by the different religious groups because for Muslims Friday tends to be a holy day, for Jews it is Saturday and for Christians it is Sunday, so that they all consider the seven day cycle sacred – is regular, simple and easy to understand. It still has twelve months and weeks of seven days, but each year (January 1st) starts on a Sunday; each quarter has three months  and 91 days, in which the first month has 31 days and the other two have 30. In this way, the  first day of the year and of every quarter falls on a Sunday; every second month in the quarter starts on a Wednesday and every third month of the quarter on a Friday. The last day of the year, day 365 or “Worlds Day” is added as an intercalary day, and so is a leap day after June 30th once every four years.

Apart from religious objections, there have also been objections of some governments, namely the USA, so that the proposal was rejected in the UN in 1955. The hope to make 2012 the start of the new World Calendar also having failed, the organization (TWCA) now aims for 2017.

So, why did I write all this?

Because I love playing with calendars and with all the ideas we assume to be pretty fixed. For my science fiction series (Of a Note in a Cosmic Song), which plays in another solar system, the colonists struggle with their different clocks and calendars, since the planets they travel between each have a different revolution and rotation, which influences not only the length of their year, but also their hours of daylight. It took me months to draw and calculate all the different possibilities of planet revolutions and rotations, before I had a system I could use.

In my teen novel (Lohland), the independent city state Lohland divides its Earth year into eight “stations” that each have seven 6-day weeks and a number of holidays. This number is adjusted to align with the solstice or equinox. The holidays are all related to celestial events or to stages of life, so that there is no favouritism to any religion.

This story was actually written to accommodate the calendar I had designed (as well as the education system) and introduces new names and a six-day week, which I consider a necessity with so many people today job sharing or needing to cut back on their work hours. I also added my Sinterklaas celebration (but without the saint), since I wanted to show that you can keep the traditions, even if you change the date or the meaning.

Lohland calendar 001

Personally, I think it is high time that we restart our calendar (including the numbering of the years) to reflect the changing times and a united Earth population, and if we are going to make changes anyway, why not change the whole calendar once and for all in every way?