We had plans, Anthony and I: hike rainforests; rappel waterfalls; practice yoga together; write a book about his very unusual life—violent, then redemptive. Finally, he would live again a free Hawaiian man on his beloved Maui.
But, it is not to be. It is all hypothetical past tense as I learned from the astonishingly real front-page headline in The Maui News.
“Infamous murderer recalled for his laughter.”
I read it as I carried the paper into the house. And then I don’t know where I went, apparently standing inside, yet gone, almost unconscious. Not breathing. Not crying. Stunned.
Disappointment overwhelmed me. Anthony will never see his beloved Kahakuloa Valley again. He won’t see how modern Maui has become since he went to prison in 1978. He won’t meet his grandson. He won’t start his “Talk Them Straight” program for at-risk high school kids.
Anthony planned to visit high schools to teach local kids what happens when you go too far kolohe (crazy). He had already started his program while incarcerated in Maui’s prison. He made sure these tough kids walked out afraid of him and afraid of prison. He was a good actor, brutal and intense. “You can be our bitches in here,” he’d tell them and they soon crumbled. He didn’t mean it, but he didn’t let on.
Of all the ideas we had for his reintegration, death was never considered. He was 66. He died the same year he was supposed to return to Maui to start reintegration. After 41 years he was going to get out. But, he died of a heart attack on the way to his Toastmasters’ class. Yes, he took every class he could in prison.
Twenty years ago, his girlfriend Susan asked me to help him write paperwork to request an upgrade from his solitary cell in Maui’s prison. Saturday nights he had two-hour shackled visitations in a meeting room, and once the paperwork was done, I kept visiting, and over time, Anthony became a dear friend, truly charismatic and a great story teller.
Eventually, he moved to an Arizona prison for Polynesians. On Maui, he was locked up alone 23 hours a day; in Arizona he could roam the prison freely. His first week there he called me and said: “MJ, I can go to the cafeteria at 1 a.m. if I want to. I have a roommate. I can go into the yard and get sunshine.”
I haven’t mentioned that he killed two people he didn’t even know. He was a hired assassin, paid to shoot them, then scoop up a pile of diamonds in their condo. He was a heroin addict and an angry Vietnam vet and he liked being a very bad guy.
But, with maturity, (over decades) came humility and wisdom, and this kolohe bad guy grew into his real self, got clean, put in his time, read and studied and opened to new ideas. He had hope that even a murderer can start fresh. Anthony was months away from that chance. He did deserve it; he was a different man.
I am so bewildered.
As a writer, i love Mya Angelou’s books. As a woman, i love her attitude and her wisdom and her life experiences. When she died, I was on Moloka’i Island, staying on a deserted beach, trying to finish It Takes Only One. I woke to the news, went down to the beach and ceremoniously asked her spirit for help with my final lines. I think i got it. I love ITOO’s ending.
Her face inspired this drawing of Earth Mother and Nigerian goddess, Ala. She is the goddess of Earth, of morality, of fertility, of creativity. She rules the Underworld and is guardian of women and children. She is also in charge of the beginning and ending cycles of life. She welcomes the souls of the dead to rest in her own womb. Sounds like a comforting idea.
This is a trailer for a documentary about Angelou. The line i like best is: “When I reached for the pen to write, I had to scrape it across those scars.”
It’s my birthday this month, and on the day itself, i went up to Haleakala Crater for some hiking and thinking time. But, before i went, i was actually in a head shop in cute little Pa’ia Town. It was, surprisingly, a crowded, tiny upstairs store crammed with shoppers and glass pipes. As I left, everyone high fived my birthday and my Crater choice for such a day. One young (20ish) woman said: “Have a great time, Sweetie.”
Are you kidding me, small girl — Sweetie?
Here’s a great story that explains the effect of “Sweetie” on women older than you. When I was a 14-year freshman, ignorant of all things, an old Jewish woman came to our Catholic girls’ school to talk of the Holocaust. She was tough, no nonsense, with a glint in her eyes that was not kind. I liked her from the get-go. She also intimidated me. She rolled up her sleeve and showed us the vertical numbers tattooed on the inside of her arm. Wow. That got our attention even if we did not understand (at age 14). Somehow we knew the pain that tattoo embodied.
She told us that a young clerk had casually called her “Sweetie” during a shopping transaction recently, and she was apparently still not over it. Demeaning, patronizing, grandmotherly — that word did not fit this warrior woman. “Don’t ever call an older woman “Sweetie,” she spit out. “You do not know the depth of her life.”
That says it, doesn’t it?
So, me too. Do not call me Sweetie because I too am digging down into the depth of my life.
I have not written in this blog for nearly a year. On purpose. I am trying to learn to market the ebook way (insanely complicated), and I run into so many blogs that i wonder why write yet another. Still . . . . . I have decided to reprint my book’s introduction in order to explain what is truly a very different book.
I have always been a writer in a rather “straight” journalistic mode (books, magazines, brochures, manuals, articles, reporting, editing). I have a couple of journalism degrees, and for me, writing is craft plus talent. And it’s a job.
How then did a “normal” writer come up with this bizarrely different book? Definitely not a job. More like a mission. How did this happen?
Magic. I would have to say magic.
We’ve been told for centuries “to ask and you shall receive,” and so I followed that advice. I’ve written everything from a documentary to a birthday card, but, I wondered, is there a reason I have this propensity to write? And so I asked. Out loud, twice a day, morning and evening, for three days. It wasn’t a prayer, it wasn’t a demand, it was a simple request: “Tell me what you want and I will do it.” On the third day the process of knowing began. Or rather, the process of surprising myself.
I walked into Maui’s Haleakalā Volcano to clear my mind and let the message come through. Haleakalā is quiet and expansive, a massive place for inspiration. By the time I hiked to the crater floor, a 3,000-foot descent, I had it. But boy, was I surprised by it: a diapered, blue baby who exhibits no gender, no nationality, no normal skin color, no particular culture. And Baby Blue is on a journey across the globe to meet mythological, legendary, cultural, clever and fun characters who all impart wisdom as Baby passes through. You’ll notice I’m avoiding the “him” or “her” pronouns because Baby Blue needs to be an “Everyman” character, someone who can represent all of us questioning, wondering, wandering souls.
The stories came to me in starts ‘n stops, spurts ‘n dribbles over 20-some years. I don’t even remember exactly when I began. ITOO (It Takes Only One) was in no hurry to be written. When they did visit me, my muses expressed best in nature, particularly redwood forests and Haleakalā Crater. I was often startled by the very sentences I wrote down. I’d sit on a tree stump or a volcanic boulder and suddenly write in Lewis Carroll’s voice for my “Alice” chapter, or the Arthurian character Fisher King would speak in my head in the crazy cadence of American comic Robin Williams, or, drifting in on his raft, Huckleberry Finn had me write in a similar manner to Mark Twain. It was a fun journey. A year or so would go by with no writing done on ITOO, and then suddenly Gilgamesh had to have his say. The Oracle at Delphi was in a manic rage to make her points, and that certainly shocked me, while Archangel Michael, as you can imagine, had patient and kind advice. Persia’s Simorgh, Britain’s Merlin, Quetzalcoatl and the Mayan Ceiba, Hawaii’s Pele and a Japanese mountain . . . just read the Table of Contents to see what an adventurous odyssey this has been. The characters, their stories and their advice, came through me in willful and peculiar ways, and, no doubt, that’s because they seemed to write their own stories.
I read this quote just in time. Just as I was folding.
“The final—and sometimes most difficult—act of creative trust is to put your work out there into the world once you have completed it. . . Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work. . .”
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic
Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, runaway successful author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a brave work that exposes her frailities ‘n vulnerabilities.
IT’S WEIRD TO FINISH A BOOK
. . . especially one that’s been chasing after you for two decades as mine has. All kinds of emotions you were not expecting do pop up. And joy is not one of them. Neither is pride. The emotions tend to range on the shadowy side. Variations of fear . . . people won’t like it. . . I’ll be considered a (fill in the blank). . .the book will be viewed as silly, sophmoric . . . it will flop . . . no one will know about it (more to come, i’m sure).
HOW ‘n WHY
How will one book sell amidst the millions already loaded onto Amazon? Am i whisperimg into a void? Writing just for myself? Why does one book matter anyway? Or one painting? Or one scientific theory? Or whatever it is that you do creatively?
Is there a sigh of relief when the book’s last word is written? Certainly not. The book cover and website designs take another six months. Followed by months and months of techie ebook research. FInally, marketing. Blogging, SEO, Facebook, Twitter . . . these modern marketing methods seem egotisitcally driven — putting your photos and words all over the internet. Yick.
I suppose this sounds like “oh poor mj—she wrote a book and now she has to sell it.” Yes, that’s true. Poor me. Yrrrgh.
But then you remind yourself: ITOO is good. Very good. And you’re grateful you are the one to birth it. So, like Baby Blue, you take one small step at a time and hope that at journey’s end you’ve met your challenges with no fear.
I did not realize that my two books had the same theme until after I wrote It Takes Only One. I self-published Voices of Wisdom Hawaiian Elders Speak in 1999, knowing that these Hawaiian Elders were the ones who kept their culture alive. But, i didn’t realize that, yes, in fact, they prove my point: their culture is now thriving due to the excellence and diligence of each one of these 24 elders. It took George Na’ope to keep the ancient hula dances alive; it took Pua Van Dorpe to single-handedly resurrect the once-dead craft of kapa cloth making; it took Nainoa Thompson to navigate the first Polynesian canoe in modern times.
This theme, It Takes Only One, is critical for all of us who want to lead lives of excellence and pursue our personal mission. It took me decades to discover this important truth. I hope Baby Blue helps you open to your own possibilities.