Learning to be in the moment

Yesterday, 2:30 p.m.: I’m sitting at a round table with a couple of teenagers, both with Down syndrome. I glance at the wall clock. Although I love being in this classroom because it is warm and accepting and makes me grateful, it’s near the end of the school day and I’m tired, a little bored. There are several adult aides in the classroom and they have things under control.
The student sitting next to me, a fifteen year-old, is overweight and slouches over the edge of the table. I am familiar with him from previous times in this room and have grown to be very fond of him. He has a great sense of humor, a wonderful smile, and speaks in unintelligible (to me) grunts. At the moment, he is paging through an old yearbook picked out from the classroom library.
I’m waiting for the bell to ring, thinking about my drive home, wondering if I need to stop at Trader Joe’s, planning my evening although in truth it doesn’t need much planning.
The boy seated next to me points to a picture in the yearbook and, momentarily distracted from my own thoughts, I glance at it. Surprisingly, he has managed to pick out—from all the pictures on all the pages of the yearbook—the faculty picture of his teacher, for whom I am subbing. He can’t read, but he’s matched the picture. Seeing that I have started to pay attention, he points to other photos as I explain them. “That man’s a history teacher. . . That one used to teach math, but she just retired.” More pages. More teachers. Then we’re looking at the school sports teams. Water polo, and the boy turns to me, copying my gestures as I mime the odd, ear-padded shape of a water polo helmet. He points. I say the word. “Helmet.” He struggles to imitate. The page turns. Football. Different hats, smooth. Then the girls’ basketball team. Then soccer.
He turns the pages, points, and I read the captions to him.
When the students are told to put their activities away, I am sorry for this to end. A feeling of complete peace has come over me. From aimless preoccupation with the future, I have come into the moment. It is a feeling I used to have when I read to my daughter. The pages of time turn. She points. I say the word, read the simple text. Letters on the page. Unbidden, my heart swells.

Astrology and Light Runner

Part of the magic of writing a novel is how reality gets transmuted into fiction—and fantasy. At the center of my novel Light Runner is a teenage girl, Dara Adengard. When a powerful healing armband falls into her hands, she’s thrust into a perilous search for her father, clues about her mother’s recent death—and the truth about herself. Dara soon discovers that the armband—which she learns is called the Jyotisha—has the power to heal wounds, injuries, and illnesses.

Fantasy author Philip BrownPrior to Light Runner, I wrote a couple of astrology books. Astrology—especially as it is practiced in India—has been a strong interest of mine for quite some time. I originally got the idea for the armband from a book called Autobiography of a Yogi, which describes an astrological “bangle” made from interwoven gold, silver, and copper, designed to combat “the adverse effects of subtle cosmic influences.” That’s a far cry from Dara’s Jyotisha, which can heal a gunshot wound, but part of the writing process is taking an idea and molding it into a different shape, seeing what it can become.

One of the most fascinating things to me as a writer is this process of transmutation—how an idea or concept morphs into something quite different. For example, fiction writers often base characters on real people—someone the writer has known or seen. But the final creation of that character—if done well—ends up being a total individual, not just a copy or rip-off.  A goal in writing Light Runner was to keep it real, not get lost in abstract phenomena. One reviewer even commented that she could see parts of the story showing up on the news or a Twitter feed.

In India, there is a form of astrology called Vedic astrology, or Jyotish. Jyoti is a Sanskrit word meaning light, and Jyotish is the study of star or planetary light. I liked the word mainly for its overall meaning—light—as it applied to Dara’s armband and simply added an “a” to it.

My work space

Light Runner, by Philip BrownA few things about the desk where I do most of my writing. It’s a tight space, but that’s just part of the way things are laid out in our home. Not much room when I need to work from edited hard copies. But it’s in a quiet room, next to the peaceful backyard, in the rear of the house. The bulletin board is empty because I just finished Book 2 and removed all the 3 x 5 note cards. It’s a blank slate, awaiting Book 3.

Above the bulletin board is a photograph of Fenway Park, home of

YA Fantasy author Philip Brown
View from my desk when I turn my head or swivel my chair. Sometimes I do that just to think.

the Boston Red Sox, titled “86 Years & Worth the Wait.” It was taken during game 3 of the 2004 World Series. I grew up in Boston and am a lifelong fan. To the left of the desk is a picture of Ted Williams, famous Red Sox slugger. His bat swing was famously smooth. He had intense focus, and it reminds me as a writer to stay with the ball, in the moment.

I have a (barely visible) microphone I’ve borrowed from a friend. My intention is to record portions of my book. One problem is that Light Runner is mainly from the point of view of a teenage girl and I’m a guy, so maybe that wouldn’t sound quite right. It’s not first person POV, but still… On the other hand, I’ve got a Jamaican Rasta character in Book 2 and I’ve been practicing a Jamaican accent when I read for my critique group. I’d love to try it out, plus some of the other voices (Russian, etc.).

The Magic of Writing

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of ‘magic in the moment,’ how if we are living totally in the present, we can open the door to key Light Runner, by Philip Brownexperiences.

I was in Hawaii one time with my family. I’d never jet-skied before, but thought it would be a good father-daughter activity (my daughter was a teenager at the time).  I had a vision of doing some sort of free-range jet skiing, skimming over the water wherever we wanted to go. But instead, we were confined to a limited section of water and ended up just going in circles around a large raft. It got kind of boring. Jostled and pounded by the swells and wake from other jet skis, I also found jet skiing to be uncomfortable.

We’d jet skied for a while, and I kept wondering when out rental was Light Runner, by Philip Browngoing to be over. I think that sense of boredom helped me to focus on the moment because I was just looking at the water in front of me, navigating the jet ski, modulating the speed, when something shiny caught my eye. I looked more closely, and it took my breath away—a school of flying fish was swimming just ahead of my jet ski. Silver scales flashed, caught the sunlight, blended with the glittering water, leapt through the air, and splashed back beneath the surface.

I think writing is sometimes like that. The page can be confining, and you feel like you are just going in circles. Then, into the field of vision . . . something silver flashes over the surface of the text for just a moment, disappears, then another and another, until all of a sudden the page becomes alive with sparkling light.