Friday, May 5, 2023

The Good Lord Willing and the Creek don't Rise by Robert Norris



 I love books that take me on journeys to distant places. The Good Lord Willing and The Creek don’t Rise will help you “travel” from the comfort of your home, and will make you feel part of unexpected adventures that will awaken your   conscience to new reflections.  

  This book reminds us that amid the darkness, we can seek the light toward growth, wisdom and self-realization.

Spanning over a century, this memoir captivates our hearts and nourishes our curiosity.

How does a person manage to settle down and thrive in a different culture? Robert Norris grew up in the redwood forests of California, but he ended up settling down in Japan, forty years ago.

  The memoir starts long before Robert Norris was born, with the trials and tribulations of his ancestors, the children of immigrants from Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden. Their love, resilience and perseverance guided them through adversity, and a dose of humor was never absent from their everyday challenges. Sometimes they did not know where their next meal would come from, but they stood together and moved forward. Their indomitable spirit will hopefully continue to inspire generations of people.

   The experiences of his great-grandparents and grandparents roaming the Midwest in search of work on farms is vivid in my mind.

 Around 1928 the Fredericks loaded their belongings in two beat-up trucks and headed west from North Dakota. They’d travel until they found work farming, picking fruit or any kind of labor. They sometimes became scattered, with some members staying in one place working while others moved on ahead. Grandad Frederick and some of his clan finally settled in White Salmon, Washington, in 1932. Not long after, mom, her mother, father, brother and maybe a couple of cousins, or aunts and uncles also made the journey…”

 The inspiration for this book is rooted in Robert Norris’s mother: Kay Schlinkman. 

  Kay Schlinkman grew up on the banks of the Columbia River in the 1930s and 1940s. Kay was ahead of her times. She fought against sexual and power harassment in the home and workplace.  She overcame the ostracism of a small logging town in the late 1950s when she chose to divorce her first husband. She was excommunicated by the Catholic church for remarrying; she experienced severe rejection when she chose to support her son’s refusal to go to war in Vietnam, and she also had to deal with the burden of paying off her second husband’s gambling debts. There were other inconceivable situations she had to contend with, but none of these ordeals suppressed her motivation to dive into her infinite potential and flourish.

    Kay was an insatiable learner. She was a highly motivated woman whose  zest for life propelled her to cultivate her multiple talents with steady optimism. Her perseverance was the fuel that enabled her to never give up. Until the end of her life at age ninety-five, she continued to study the Japanese language with fervor and discipline.

 Kay graduated as legal secretary after taking night classes, and she continued working until age 78. At some point in her life, she took on two hourly wage jobs: one wrapping presents at a mall and one splitting time between night clerking and cleaning rooms at a hotel. She did not have money for gas, so she rode her bike in the snow to get to work.

 She wanted to learn to fly, so she became a licensed pilot and worked for the Department of Forestry as a forest fire spotter. She became chairperson of the Reno chapter of Ninety-Nines, the Women Pilots’ Organization whose first president was Amelia Earhart.

 Kay was an artistic soul and an athlete. She practiced various sports and taught roller-skating lessons. Her creativity found its way in her breathtaking artworks. She loved to draw and paint nature. She played the piano at social gatherings and wrote haiku poems.

Her life was a masterpiece of creativity and optimism.

 As a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam, her son Robert Norris was forced to serve time in a military prison. His communication skills shortened the period of time he spent in prison. Even though being authentic and standing up for his ethical principles led to humiliation and social shaming, the experience made him stronger and set him on a journey in search of his identity. He travelled to various places across America and the world. In his travels Robert Norris met other human beings who appreciated his courage and resilience. He worked hard at different jobs during those uncertain years of his life: he worked as a construction laborer, millhand, mailman, oil rig steward, cook. No matter what he did, he was fully devoted to the task at hand, and he approached his life experiences with an open curious mind.

 As I embraced his experiences with an open heart and mind myself, savoring the moments of connection with many people across the world, I reflected on Robert’s free spirit, one that is genuinely devoid of prejudices and biases; his uplifting attitude does not threaten the reader with rigid preconceptions and theories. I found in the author's true stories a space to relax and dream. His memoir inspires and creates wings for one’s dreams, irrespective of the reader’s age and gender. His enthusiasm is a reflection of his mother’s life. Kay was an inspiration to Robert, and her optimism lives on through his words and life.

 When Robert landed in Japan he discovered his passion for education, where he became a remarkable English professor, and he accomplished his dream of becoming a writer. He has authored several books. Adapting to a different culture is in itself an adventure that deserves special attention. The Good Lord Willing and the Creek don’t Rise shares the unique trials and tribulations of settling down in Japan and traces the winding road of his life with amazing details. It reveals the memorable experiences that shaped his destiny in Japan, where he retired as a professor emeritus. Robert currently lives in Japan with his wife.

 The Good Lord Willing and The Creek don’t Rise made me reflect on the situation of men in Russia who refuse to be sent to fight in Ukraine. I wish the media paid more attention to their plight. It should not come as a surprise that dictators like Putin resort to aspects of toxic masculinity to recruit men, and you can read about it in this article. I think it is important to remind people that toxic masculinity is not limited to men. Some women succumb to it, too, and they espouse the same ideas and behaviors that empower men with such views. The assault on the US capitol on January 6 2021 is an example of that. (Some women were part of it).

  The Good Lord Willing and the Creek don’t Rise is a special tribute to Robert’s mother. She was an inspiration to him until the last days of her life... The precious bond between them is the expression of a lifelong commitment of love, respect and admiration, and the spirit of their relationship has the potential to expand beyond them to bring a sense of hope where it is needed.

  It was fascinating to read how the people in Japan honored Kay when she visited Robert.

 Robert’s book is a celebration of a mother’s love, and I know it will inspire and empower many people across the world.

 I invite you to enjoy this soothing podcast in which the author narrates some of his amazing experiences.

I thank Robert Norris for sharing The Good Lord Willing and the Creek don’t Rise for My Writing Life blog, and for kindly allowing me to showcase Kay Schlinkman’s artworks.