My name is Ken Decroo, and I’ve been wandering the Baja Peninsula for over 50 years. I keep coming back to this land and its people as though she were a mistress–she has the unique ability of reclaiming herself and keeping the core of her character, and has been a centering, constant support for me in a high-speed, plugged-in world. More at Welcome!
My good blogging friend, Dawnliz, posted some great insights on giving, or more importantly, the fact that we don’t give because of our fear of giving to “fake charities or cons.” This reminded me of an incident that happen on one of my adventures in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. I felt compelled to share this story during the holiday season.
Many years ago while motorcycling through Mexico toward the Guatemala border I came down with the famous intestinal malady know as Montezuma’s Revenge. I was incapacitated to say the least. I held up in a small pension slowly getting sicker. After several days the innkeeper, a kind lady, took pity on me and procured a doctor who sent me to a pharmacy just down the street.
I was weak, shivering from chills in spite of the tropical heat. I paid little attention to my surroundings as I fixated on my goal of reaching the pharmacist and the medicine that the doctor assured me would put me right. After a brief wait and a few pesos, I slowly made my way back towards the bed and toilet of my room. I really wasn’t sure I could negotiate the block or so on account of my light headiness and weakening body.
I had only made it a few steps when a campesino stopped me and asked for 38 pesos. My first reaction was to ignore him as I was in need a toilet and wasn’t sure I would make it back to my room. But there was something odd about him requesting an exact amount, 38 pesos. Further, there was an anxious strain in his voice that seemed urgent.
As I stopped to engaged the man, my mind ran the tape that he was coning me and that besides losing a few pesos I was going to lose something more embarrassing before I reached the toilet in my room. He told me he lived on a rancho near by and that his daughter had disenteria, dysentery. I decided that even if he was making this up, he had taken the time to put together a proper story that was filled wth emotion and even some technical words. In short, I decided he had earned the 38 pesos. I gave the man a 50 peso note. I was so intent on making it back to my room, I never noticed if he entered the pharmacy.
Over the next few days I was able to return to the world of solid foods and cold beer again. Finally, I felt ready to travel and gassed up my moto and began packing. I had all but forgotten the little Indian and his urgent request. Just as I was making ready to point my moto further south, the campesino came running down the narrow cobblestone street waving something in his hand. I immediately thought he was going to put the touch on me again and ready myself for a quick escape.
Something quit amazing happened instead. The little man handed me the change from the 50 pesos and insisted that I go with him to the Pharmacy. He almost dragged me there. It was there with has family waiting to greet me, I learned that his daughter was improving and that according to the Pharmacist the medicine had saved her life. I was stunned that the price of a lunch had saved a life.
I still have the picture of his family standing in front of tiny thatched house beside the river. I still carry the small medallion of Guadalupe his wife gave me in my tank bag. In this holiday season we can lose the spirit by worrying about who is deserving our kindness and who is not. In many villages down South, there is a belief that beggars provide us with the opportunity to follow Christ’s sentiment. That it is better to give than to receive, and that giving will bring us good fortune as we have done His work.
I know, in my travels throughout the world, it has for me.
Like many writers, I often wonder how much of an audience I am actually reaching. This is not surprising when you consider how lonely the endeavor the writing process can be. I feel this mostly in the quiet of the evening when I snap my laptop shut and let the scene and the characters retreat for awhile.
I was encouraged last Spring during an impromptu moto trip in Baja. Some of my friends were going to a remote cove on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula to take advantage of some perfect, overhead surf. The Spring usually brings a swell that lines up just right and kicks up some huge waves. When this happens, my young friends drop everything and race down to the legendary surf spots of Baja.
After my friends called, I packed lightly and headed south on my BMW F 800 GSA adventure moto to be part of the gran adventura. The ride into the area they had set up camp consisted of a winding dirt trail that crossed the coastal mountains weaving through small settlements and ranchos. Recent rains complicated this ride with mud and wash outs but, overall, it was a typical run to the coast in Baja. Typical, until I accelerated out of a water crossing only to meet a drop off into a ravine where runoff had taken a whole section of the trail.
After picking up my bike and straightening the handle bars, I made my own trail and reached the cliffs overlooking the surf spot. It was amazing and well worth the ride in, as though you really need any reason to ride on two wheels. Huge waves kicked up on the off shore reefs creating perfect sets. I watched in awe as my friends streaked across the face of these racing giants. The juxtaposition between the power of the sea and agile but frail specks of the surfers curving across the face of the waves was mesmerizing. It was beautiful.
I parked my bike next to a small encampment of surfers and made my way down to the beach below to get a closer look. There were clusters of admirers sitting on the beach quietly watching. As I stood on the shore against the cliffs, I noticed a young woman crouched, cross-legged reading a book. It seemed odd to be nosed in a book with all the beauty and acrobatics just offshore. She looked up and briefly smiled at me and returned to her book. That was when I noticed she was reading my book, Almost Human!
She sensed I was starring and looked back up.
“How do you like the book?” I asked.
She smiled and replied, “I love it. I can’t put it down.”
Before she could returned to it, I continued, “You know, that’s my book.”
See frowned and replied. “No it isn’t. I bought it on Amazon.”
I smiled and returned to my bike.
A year ago I was well along to finishing the sequel to Almost Human when I got a phone call.
Little did I know the winding path I would follow or how much I would learn about how the two parts of my brain work when it comes to writing. The Superintendent of a school district I had consulted for had an emergency and he wanted me to come back and help put things right. I agreed to come back for a few months. Those few months stretched to a year. It was then I realized that this school district didn’t hire consultants, it took hostages! I found myself beginning the second year.
I had been asked to take over a struggling school and reestablish leadership. This kind of work is administrative and political. It requires long hours and lots of paperwork interspersed with workplace and small town politics. Much of my time was spent in hard conversations with students, staff, parents and district administrators–politics.
From the start, my creative writing ceased replaced by dry reports and number crunching. The flow of my new novel, More Than Human, had disappeared. My characters had faded and had left me. I suspected that this was partly because my routine as a writer had been interrupted. But I soon realized on the days I could jump back into my routine, that I was dry and blocked from getting back into the world I had created. Something was going on in me as a writer that was more than just an interruption of my routine.
It seemed the more I immersed myself in the day-to-day work as a school administrator, the more distant and resistant my characters became. Their world faded from me. The flow I feel, as a writer, when my story is revealing itself was frozen. I was shut out, block.
Yet, I could write pages of reports about attendance, discipline, mission statements, grant proposals and the like. I could be absolutely creative and articulate in the art of expository persuasion but it seemed at the expense of my novel.
Like in a good story that requires conflict and climax, my life took a turn at the closing of that first year. I needed a surgery that would require several months of recovery away from work, a painful recovery. During that recovery, I found that removed from the politics and problem solving, my creative juices began to flow again. It was though I was able to switch back to another compartment of my brain where all of my characters and the world they lived in had been patiently waiting. The flow came back in spite of the physical therapy and pain that was my reality. I could write again. In fact, I had to write again. There was an unexplainable sense of urgency while I wrote.
As I healed from my surgery, I began slowly returning to the work of the school district and finally back my office. I was dry again. I realized that my novel would have to wait until I could tap into that other place in my brain that kept the world I had created safe and waiting. But what if I wasn’t there when I returned? What if I couldn’t find that place again? This was my mindset as I entered year two of this consulting gig.
My mom who had always supported my efforts as a writer advised me to quit the job and return to what was really important to me and made me happy. Writing. She cautioned me not to waste time in endeavors that did not truly satisfy me and move me forward in living life’s grand adventure. Life is fleeting and you don’t want to reach the end with any regrets. Mom loved hearing about my adventures and loved a good story.
I felt trapped and entered a very dark place. For the first time in my life I did not find joy in what I was doing. I found myself going through the motions at work and dreaded continuing. I needed out. I needed to find my voice again.
The climax to this little drama came when sadly my mom unexpectedly passed away. I took a leave from work to help care for my dad and the rest of our family. My mom must be smiling somewhere up there. In spite of the grief and pain, I found myself writing again. My characters all came back. It was than that I realized that I couldn’t take for granted that they would aways be there. I resigned, and as though to reward me, my characters and this story came back. In fact, it is so vivid that it is writing itself.
What I’ve learned from this little journey is that we can never take the creative process for granted. It can be fleeting and ethereal. I believe for me, there are two parts of my brain. One is were my writing patiently waits but I can never be sure for how long. This time, I was lucky. My characters were patient and kind to me. They waited.
I’m back writing and adventure traveling on my motorcycle. My office is now were my heart and moto take me. Im confident that More Than Human will be done soon as I am writing and traveling again; seeking life’s wild adventure as I write and think best on two wheels.
Thanks mom. I love you.
Come join me! I will be speaking at BMW Motorcycles of Riverside Tomorrow (Oct 8) at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM.
To celebrate the Kindle edition of Almost Human, there is a great giveaway at Amazon. Here’s the link, Amazon Giveaway of Almost Human.
Ken Decroo, BMW MOA SoCal Regional Coordinator will do some raffles and talk about the National Rally coming this July in Hamburg, NY.
Many readers, as well as fellow authors, have asked me who designed the cover of Almost Human.
Casey Whitesell, period! Casey is amazing. After turning down several cover proofs from my publisher, I was very frustrated. I shared this with my friend Casey. She reminded me that she was a graphic artist and offered to give it a go.
I showed her a photograph of a chimp I had trained years ago, Oliver, who had been the inspiration of this book. I described how I wanted the cover dark and sinister, and that the eyes were especially important. She created the perfect cover with little drama or fanfare. The publisher loved the cover and recommended it over their in house art department.
Readers have told me that Casey’s cover was what intrigued them enough to take the plunge and try my book.