Friday, October 15, 2010

"Perfect Sheets of Rain" -James M. Turner's Beyond the Comfort Zone

I like the opportunities that “blog tours” offer authors and their potential audiences. I just read James Turner’s Beyond the Comfort Zone, and I hope lurking readers of my blog will visit his web site and re-think what “adventure” means and what motivates our choices in life and in death.  Listening to a CNN interview with Ingrid Betancourt fits with what I think about Jim Turner’s book. Betancourt’s book, Even Silence has an End, has just been published. She has an incredible story – as I listened to her and watched the video clips I remembered when she and her compatriots were released from captivity in Colombia, she after six years!  She talked about not being the hero she might have wanted to be in moments; that she and her fellow captives lived in “the mud,” emotionally too – but in the mud there were and are diamonds. She braved not only the terror of captivity and living in the jungle, but threats on her life by men, animals, elements, and the fatigue and fear itself. Obviously she has courage – she was a presidential candidate at the time she was captured. When she could bathe, she bathed in the river with piranhas and snakes and all manner of other creatures. The men were horrible, she says, not sensitive at all to a woman’s needs, and the jungle habitat exacerbated the insensitivity. What does it mean to be civilized? What does refinement do for us, and how do we evolve ourselves?

Last month I attended a two-day class on the Spiritual Philosophy of the Joy of Health, which helped me to think again more deeply about the Ethical Values and the behavior I (and we humans) live as an Ethical Being.  How do we define love?  What have I accomplished in my life? What have I learned?  Each life adds to our knowledge of what it means to live.  A friend talked about his early philosophy of life: do all and everything I can and need to do while I have the vigor – I reap what I sow! 

I used to think more in terms of having something physical to show for my efforts as the validation (success?) for my choices. I still feel this way, but my perception of what “having something physical to show for my efforts” has changed, deepened. Knowing what motivates me and why, and responding to such a deep call to “do something,” regardless of the perceived risk, shows me how well I “know myself.” This shows me also how well I know what it means to be human! If I don’t know what it means to be human, how can I help myself and contribute to the growth and joy of humanity as a whole, as an energy being?

James Turner offers a vividly told story (“memoir/thriller,” as one interviewer suggested) of his life experience which began in England and took him to Southeast Asia, a region he loves as his own. His love for the people and the energy of the place, the land, shows throughout. 

“The next day unable to sleep I awoke early, brewed a fresh pot of coffee and took it outside onto the balcony seating myself in my usual chair. In the distance monsoon rain clouds, inky black and laced with lightening, raced across the valley floor some forty miles away. Perfect sheets of rain, their edges crisp at that distance, fell from each group of black cotton candy and shafts of bright amber light separated each group of clouds. Like torch beams they illuminated swatches of the lush green rice paddies beyond the Hang Dong road all the way to Doi Inthannon. The golden singular spire of Wat Suan Dok rose majestically two blocks to the west seemingly painted in 3D relief against the shifting backdrop of the oncoming storm. It was an awesome sight.” (118-119)

Turner’s background, beginning with an interest in music that took him to a precipitous climb of a rock-star career, seems dizzying, exhausting, and thrilling. It led to his marriage breaking up, and to a re-evaluation of Now, what?

He describes the gravity of the situation – having undertaken an entire change of life, home, family, leaving behind what he had known as his life for an entirely new environment where he didn’t know the language and didn’t know a single soul. At first his isolation overwhelmed him. He quickly overcame this sense and took upon himself the education of the Thai culture – the language, the people, the smells, sights, customs, history, each nuance he could absorb and discover. 

“Tucking into the succulent handmade sausages and fragrant coffee, I allowed myself to remember a life before Burma, and wondered what life would be like post this tangential interlude. Hoping above all I had the fortitude to rise again, now that the shroud had been pulled from my own perceived reality. “ (294)

Turner is clearly an adventurer, someone who appreciates the flavors and beauty of life as he knows it.  I laughed out loud in places (such as the late-night “massage” place where they and other patrons stumbled over each other in their attempt to escape the police raid. The scene he describes is hilarious! You’ll have to read it to get the whole picture). Turner feels the compulsion to help these girls and boys who are trafficked, treated so inhumanely – and in the course of following his friend’s prompting too, he learns the complications of people in other circumstances and environments and what making each choice might mean to them. His own world-view grows exponentially.

“Had we, I wondered, done something important? I hoped the girls and that young boy would come to understand the chances we had taken, the reasons why the events of today had taken place. I hoped that they now stood a chance of some kind of future, and I wondered on the lives of the few we’d had to leave on the other side.” (349)

Jim answered some questions for me when we talked about his new book.

What are the responses you've gotten so far from your book? Have your friends and family read it?
Response has been outstanding so far, it really seems to resonate with people on a very personal level. I'm very grateful for that. As for friends and family, I learnt long ago in my life as a musician that you have to develop a sense of honest critique of your own work, after that the public will let you know soon enough how good or bad it is. Friends and family will seldom offer the candour you need to make creative decisions, they are really just a salve for the soul. The question you pose which may sound like 'What do you think?' should perhaps be re-phrased 'tell me how great this is, my ego needs it!' From the people I know personally who've read it the reactions vary from pride to incredulity, it is a ride quite far from the edge.
How do you define friendship? Are you and Franco still close friends?
It's difficult to define friendship because it operates on so many levels that are often unique to the individual. For me friendship is something that is earned through your interactions with others and is something offered without conditions. I'm not sure that what Franco and I had could be called friendship in the sense I defined it above because if I am honest, at the time, our relationship was a complicated transactional mix of friendship based on need. He seems to have disappeared back down the rabbit hole he appeared from, friends tend not to do that. But I hope I have portrayed him honestly, flaws and all. I certainly get asked a lot of questions about him 
How would you define integrity? Have you changed your definition of integrity since you made the choice to directly engage in interrupting "human traffickers"?
I think integrity is doing the right thing when the world may never know and having no thought of reward for your actions. I think my sense of what integrity is has remained pretty solid despite my encounters. Sadly it has also brought to my attention how much the world is lacking in it.  
What is your definition of humility? Tell us about someone you know who is humble, and how they live this energy.
Humility is always leaving the door open to the possibility that you may be wrong in your belief of a firmly held concept, and that everyone has something profound to teach you. I think anyone who says they are humble, probably by definition isn't.  
Who are some of your favorite musicians? Why?
Players like David Sanborn for defining a particular sound for an instrument. Singers like Al Green for moments of emotional perfection in a recording. Composers like Ennio Morricone for marrying music to picture in such an extraordinary way consistently over so many years. 
Why Southeast Asia?
It's a region I've been travelling to for many years (decades now) and it is steeped in all the aforementioned qualities of humility and a gentleness that has to be experienced to understand. Not to mention it has some of the most exciting cities and beautiful scenery anywhere on the planet - in my opinion anyway.  
Do you believe that as humans we live many physical lives?
It's a nice idea isn't it. I'm not sure that I believe it, but I do see that a belief in this (in certain cultures) creates a spiritual framework where there is little guilt directed by an omnipresent religious body - as in judeo christian beliefs. If you don't get it right, well just come back and try harder. I'm also reminded of a frequent sight on the fruit stalls of Thailand, where wasps the size of your thumb are being gently collected in a plastic bag or bottle to be ushered away to safety. I can't imagine that happening in NYC or London. I certainly like the way a belief in reincarnation encourages a respect for the personal right to live of every being - be it a cockroach or a humming bird. 
What does compassion mean to you?
You do ask some very difficult questions! I believe that compassion is the salient, acted upon belief that every human being has a right to a chance at a life of substance and meaning as they define it. And that people are flawed and fail, and should not be punished for doing so. Now,....on to the meaning of life......

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