The Pursuit of Happiness

Years ago, while studying for my US citizenship exam, I paused over the words “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Because I grew up in Europe during the time of popular uprisings against communist regimes, I was used to words such as freedom and justice and equality in revolutionary speech, so the pursuit of happiness sounded like it didn’t belong in a declaration of independence from tyranny and oppression.

The Declaration of Independence (1776) - Wikipedia

The Declaration of Independence (1776) – Wikipedia

It wasn’t the first time I wondered how had those Founding Fathers been so enlightened to consider the mental health of their people at a time of war and disease and superstition. Today we have counselors and self-help and wellness support groups, but they didn’t, back in 1776, yet Jefferson thought it was important to put those fine words in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading

Yes, but What Did They Sound Like?

When my friend Cristina speaks, I listen. Cristina is both a scientist and an artist, and throughout the years she guided me in learning about the world of science and the world of art. Years ago, she explained to me how the Inca irrigated their terraces in Machu Picchu and Tipon, and later she exposed me to the forgotten artisanal Romanian culture. A few months ago she told me about her experience in Greece, where she stood inside the ruins of Mycene (second millennium BCE) and felt the air and the ground vibrate with sound. Cristina knew she was experiencing pressure waves vibrating in the air around her and inside her body, but still, the experience was eerie.

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The Story of God

“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” – John 1:1.

There is no story there, things were final from the very beginning, everything else flows from that fixed point in the universe. Unless… there is a story, but it’s not so obvious.

The Evolution of GodIn his book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright tells that story, which began millennia ago with the primordial faith that many things, not just people, have souls. In 1871, Edward Tylor, founder of social anthropology, called “animism” the “infant philosophy of mankind” created by “ancient savage philosophers” who, like today’s thinkers, were trying to explain why good and bad things happened, and if there was a way to predict and influence those forces for the better. Continue reading

The Messenger Was Still Alive

You can live your whole life hearing a story and yet be unsure of its details. Every Romanian knows the name of Zalmoxis, the name appears everywhere, in magazines, on merchandise, around tourist attractions, yet it’s tricky to figure out what exactly this name refers to. Was Zalmoxis an ancient Dacian king? A god? A slave? A magician? A high-priest? I have been confused for a long time and I have been confused for a reason, because ancient Dacians tended to conflate all those roles, turning a living man who preached about the mysteries beyond this world into a god while he was still alive. Continue reading

Our Borders: Ageless Youth and Deathless Life (An Epilogue)

Once upon a time, there lived a king and a queen, both young and beautiful, but heartbroken because they couldn’t have children. They had tried everything, they went to doctors and philosophers, astrologers and soothsayers—all for nothing. They had lost hope when, one day, they heard of an old medicine man from a village not far from the castle, so they went to see him.

“Whatever you’re looking for,” the medicine man told the king and the queen, “it will only bring you sorrow.” Continue reading

A Killer Detail: The Art of War

The Art of War - CoverI don’t remember when I bought my copy of The Art of War, but whenever I did, that copy must have been the last one in the store because the front cover is scuffed, yet I bought it anyway. It’s a beautiful book, with dark hardcovers sewn together with red, glossy thread. The words—both in traditional Chinese and English—are printed on cream-colored sheets of paper folded in half with the writing on the outside. From the note on the second page I learned that the book is bound in traditional Chinese style. To turn a page, I slip my finger underneath the thick edge where the sheet is folded. This is the kind of detail that matters if I ever wrote a story about China before the  20th century CE. Continue reading

What I Hate About Writing

I’ve rarely found myself on the receiving end of violence, but there have been a few times. One summer day, when I was thirteen, I ventured into the green nursery on the outskirts of my hometown in Romania. The nursery was just outside my apartment window in Galaţi, and it felt safe and familiar, with its rectangular patches planted with shrubs and flowers, and further away, with its young poplar trees that would one day line up the streets of my city. On warm summer evenings, I used to turn off the lights in my room, open the windows and take in the perfume of roses and the songs of nightingales coming from the nursery. Continue reading

No Water, No Story

I learned from Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick that a strong novel requires a contended resource base. Something that everybody wants or needs. In my Late Iron Age story, it’s water. Some have it; some had it and lost it. Everybody needs it. Without it, there’s no story. With it, come civilization and the gods who control that water. Continue reading