Archive for March, 2008

Remembering Dith Pran

March 31, 2008

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has posted a moving Appeal to the Chinese People on his Web site that begins

Today, I extend heartfelt greetings to my Chinese brothers and sisters around the world, particularly to those in the People’s Republic of China. In the light of the recent developments in Tibet, I would like to share with you my thoughts concerning relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples, and make a personal appeal to all of you.

Another staged tour of Tibet took place over the weekend, this time with carefully placed Tibetans and, from some reports, fake monks in the monasteries. No independent questions were allowed.

Today, Fiction Daily remembers Dith Pran, who died Sunday.

Most people know Pran from the film “The Killing Fields,” which told the story of what happened to him when the U.S. left Cambodia. He worked with N.Y. Times reporter Sydney Shanberg and they became as brothers.

In 1979, after Pran lived four years under the Khmer Rouge, working as a rice farmer, sometimes eating as little as a mouthful of rice in a day, he reached the border with Thailand.

In  an interview last week, Shanberg said Pran was constantly moved by a deep desire to tell the stories of what happened. When he at last reached Thailand, he wanted to stay and tell refugees’ stories, until Shanberg persuaded him to return to the U.S.

Pran was a photographer. I saw one of his prints at a friend’s house once and it was a beautiful image. A man who felt deeply for the world, who saw so much suffering.

In college, in a political science course on Asia and the Far East, I wrote a research paper on Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The year was 1980, and very little information was available. I remember trying to navigate through the reports, found mostly in magazines, from Reader’s Digest, Time to more consequential reports, to determine just what happened in Cambodia. In the end, my professor wrote this comment: “Nice job of tightrope walking.” I remember feeling that I still had very little idea what really happened there, but that I needed to understand.

“The Killing Fields” was released in 1984. It also featured Spalding Gray, who died in 2004. The documentary by Jonathan Demme of Spalding’s one-man show about his experiences making the film, “Swimming to Cambodia,” is priceless.

It is estimated that two million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge, which ended with an invasion by Vietnam in 1979.

Photo of Mr. Dith, 2006. Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Tibet monks under seige

March 28, 2008

Prayers and concern continue for our Tibetan brothers and sisters, especially the monks living in Lhasa who bravely disrupted the staged tour of their monastery yesterday.

Reports from Tibet today say they are being “re-educated.” They must declare that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a terrorist and denounce him as a separatist.

This report is chilling, not only because of the profound untruth of that statement. What is most disturbing is the mind of a government that would make such a statement and require people to utter it.

Tibetans are living in deep fear, based on their ethnicity. If someone doesn’t call this ethnic cleansing they’re not paying attention.


Happy weekend reading.

Photo by the Associated Press

Mackerel Sky

March 27, 2008

Today I am posting a new story, Mackerel Sky. I began it some time ago, I think in 2004, and completed a major revision last August and then revised again in January.

Feel free to download and print. If you enjoy it please share it with others. You may find the story link here.

I hope you will send or posts your comments.

All eyes are still on Tibet, where earlier today during a carefully orchestrated tour of Lhasa, a group of brave monks shouted to journalists, “Tibet is not free.” The article is here.

Lushpix Illustration

Daniel Johnston

March 26, 2008

A quick entry this morning before heading to a meeting, another meeting, sign some documents, bank … away from writing all morning but things must be taken care of.

We saw an awesome documentary last night, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, about the brilliant songwriter Daniel Johnston and the mental illness that has taken him on a perilous journey as an artist.

If you haven’t heard his music, check out Beck’s cover of “True Love Will Find You in the End” which is available on iTunes.

Daniel Johnston’s site is here

Wikipedia information about the film is here

Terry Gross (Fresh Air, on public radio) will talk with Pico Iyer today about His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It will probably be available as a podcast download later.

Before the week ends, I will post my new story (newly revised, that is) “Mackerel Sky.”

Queen for a day

March 25, 2008

Two more people have been reported dead as protests continue through Tibet. Fiction Daily launches prayers for peace. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is on the cover of this week’s Time magazine, and inside a thoughtful article by Pico Iyer and a deeply moving photo of His Holiness in prayer.

Yesterday I had an utterly unexpected afternoon that in the end reminded me how freedom and spontaneity open our minds and our lives.

After an intense morning at work, I was stir crazy and decided to take my car in for an oil change. Dropping off the car, with no place to go, I started walking. Where would I go? What would I do?

A few steps later I found myself walking along Greenville Boulevard … carrying a plastic shopping bag of items from my car … I felt liberated, without a destination.

I decided to hike to the Barnes & Noble, and about 30 minutes or so later, I was there. No problem. I also visited the bird store next door to get nesting material for my chickadees.

By this time, Greg was finished with work and we picked up the car.

Walking along the boulevard yesterday I felt oddly peaceful … all those cars rushing by made me feel grateful I wasn’t among them.

Away from my car and computer, I had plenty of time to think. All the technology and gear that is supposed to make our lives easier — it’s an illusion, or “maya” as the Buddhists say. In fact, the things that speed up our chores only whip up our life into a frenzy, making it unmanageable.

I felt relaxed and at ease yesterday watching all that rushing around and it reminded me to keep away from the computer as much as possible when writing and working. Though that’s difficult since I write on the computer, and certainly enjoy the exchange of ideas I find on the Internet.

Still, I must remember to think and dream away from the computer … and that’s the lesson of yesterday. It was strange how alien from the world I felt … one step removed from crazy just walking along that busy highway … but I was free as a bird.

Writer banned

March 24, 2008

Happy Monday in Fiction Daily-land. The sunny days are helping with the traditional writer’s melancholy that can strike in late winter. After a trip to my mother’s house on Saturday, I returned with some new plants for the garden. I played wild kickball with my sister and niece, and had a wonderful time.

The crisis continues in Tibet and my thoughts and prayers are with the Tibetans and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, that they be happy and free of suffering.

Last week I read about about the British writer Sebastian Horsley being denied entry to the U.S. on Wednesday.

Was he a suspected terrorist? A kidnapper? A drug smuggler? No … no … and no.

So what was his crime? He was honest. He was daring.

He was direct and shameless in writing about the marginal world of prostitution, drug use and the artfully depraved. He dresses outrageously … top hat, nail polish … and apparently drew suspicion upon his arrival here because of his candid responses to the immigration officials’ questions. He was detained for eight hours. He arrived in the U.S. to promote his new book, Dandy in the Underworld.”

Let me be clear: He should not babysit children. Nor should he deliver any high school graduation speeches. But as far as I can tell, he has no interest in doing anything like this. He makes no effort to conceal his experience or his interests in the shady underbelly of humanity.

And for that he is banned? His honesty should instead be applauded.

I can’t agree with a national policy that turns away an artist at the gate because “the authorities” don’t like his style … in fashion or in relationships. Those policies suppress basic human creativity. I do not agree with his choice of lifestyles but I honor his freedom to write about them.

When we suppress creativity, we are clamping down on the very breath that distinguishes us from other mammals. We are denying the expressive force allowing us to transcend this clay world for the unseen one.

(Reuters photo)

Special Saturday post

March 22, 2008

Continued crisis in Tibet today as Chinese authorities vowed to “resolutely crush” protests in Tibet. John McCain, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called for Peking to find a peaceful solution and emphasized the importance of human rights among modern nations.

Chinese are calling for friends, family and neighbors to turn in the 21 so-called “most wanted” activists. You can imagine the terror that has caused among ordinary people, who are torn between real personal love and fear of the state.

I learned what years of living in this duality can do to people when I lived in Prague, Czech Republic: It leaves them vacant in appearance, with eyes that stare ahead at nothing, unable to bear the present moment. I saw countless men who were walking ghosts, many of them having their first beers at 7 a.m. and passed out by the afternoon and left on the streets. I would step over them on my way home to work.

Germany has also called for China to ease its crackdown. China, meanwhile, has said it would now ban live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square, the site of a 1989 protest that ended tragically when protesters were gunned down.

Networks planned to broadcast images of the square to show the new and improved China. Now, Chinese authorities fear anything that is not closely policed.

Meanwhile, soldiers have fanned out across the country and are stationed in what can only be called a military invasion of the countryside and Tibet.

It is useful during this crisis to remember His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is unruffled, though unwavering. When journalists told him about the terms the Chinese called him (including “jackal”), he chuckled in his deeply warm manner and said that could not bother him, he was just a Buddhist monk.

Pelosi in Tibet

March 21, 2008

More troubling developments in Tibet today as Chinese troops pour across the countryside, turning small villages into armed bases.

Many kudos to Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker from California. She traveled to Dharmsala, India, to show solidarity with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees living there since 1959.

She was leading a Congressional delegation.

“If freedom loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world,” Pelosi said before a cheering crowd of thousands.

His Holiness gave Ms. Pelosi a gold kata, or scarf. His traditional greeting to people of honor is to give them a white kata, so his gift shows the heightened level of feelings during the crisis.

Chinese authorities have categorized the protests, largely by Buddhist monks, as “violent.” From what I am reading, the “violence” committed by Tibetans was to throw rocks at police.

The monesteries at Sera and Drepung are shuttered. Drepung monks have a center in Atlanta, and were key hosts during the visit by His Holiness in October. They also perform the “Mystical Arts of Tibet” dances, music and sacred chanting. If you would like to know more about their beautiful music, listen to the Sera monks here.

ABOVE: The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, and vice speaker of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Dolma Gyar, right, appear at the Namgayal complex in Dharamsala, India, on Friday. Gurinder Osan / AP

Untruth & oppression

March 20, 2008

Yesterday’s entry quoted Chinese officials calling His Holiness the Dalai Lama a “jackal in monk’s robes.” I offer the photo above, of Chinese soldiers at work, and invite a comparison to the photo of two days ago of a 72-year-old man wearing yellow-and-maroon bedsheets. Who is the jackal? (With apologies to the jackals.)

His Holiness today asked Chinese officials to meet with him — at any place of their choosing. It is also heartening that Britain’s new prime minister, Gordon Brown, has announced he would meet with the Dalai Lama in May, his way of applying pressure on the Chinese to stop their crackdown. (It is a refreshing change from the former PM Tony Blair who became the last man standing in supporting the Iraq invasion.)

I offer a few words from the Dalai Lama, taken from the Peacebuilding Summit I attended last October in Atlanta.

Now, all the major religious traditions carry this message .. the message of love and compassion. With that, if some conflict happens, then spiritual reconsideration, tolerance … and (for) all lifestyles, contentment, self-discipline. These are all wonderful things in society. We really need these things. (When) we posses these things, (when) we keep these things, then families will be more happy, more calm. Also at the community level … more happy, more calm.

Therefore … various religious traditions have the same potential to provide these good things, not necessarily to convert… so I think our work here in the religious field is not for propagating religion .. but to take those valuable things that come from religion and that should be propagated. That is important.

At another level .. a close relation among religious traditions is very important. How can we talk to other people about the importance of compassion when we ourselves are fighting? What do we want them to say? First, you should re-unite.

Visit the Dalai Lama’s Web site to read his press releases calling for peace and non-violent solution to this crisis.

(Photo by David Gray / Reuters)

Sadness of the Dalai Lama

March 19, 2008

Today continue thoughts and prayers for a peaceful resolution to the oppression in Tibet and for meaningful autonomy for Tibetan people.

The Chinese have turned up their aggressive language and continue to blame His Holiness for the violence and protests.

Chinese authorities warned today there is a “life and death struggle” with followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “a fierce struggle involving blood and fire.”

Tibet’s Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, told a teleconference of regional officials, according to the China Tibet News, that “The Dalai is a jackal in Buddhist monk’s robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast.” Chinese authorities call the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, an “epicenter of lies.”

Such attacks are painful for anyone who has read even a few paragraphs of writing or ever heard His Holiness speak. He is an epicenter of love and compassion. These words show the depth of distortion, untruth and brutality at the foundation of this Chinese administration.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has responded, “I say to China and the Tibetans — don’t commit violence.” He suggested the Chinese themselves may have had a hand in it to discredit him.

“It’s possible some Chinese agents are involved there,” he said. “Sometimes totalitarian regimes are very clever, so it is important to investigate.” He said that “if things become out of control,” his “only option is to completely resign.” This step would not change his status as Dalai Lama; he would resign as leader of the Tibetan government in exile.

On the issue of independence, he reiterated that what he is seeking is meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people.