Sunday, May 11, 2014

Son of an Amazon - A Mother's Day Story

Since it's Mother's Day, my thoughts logically turned to the subject of Moms, and this blog arose from a Sunday Morning news story and how it relates to SFR heroines and the choices they sometimes must make.

I love watching Sunday Morning because it takes a step away from politics, the economy and global conflict to focus on people...on lifestyles, and traditions, and the world around us that we're sometimes too busy to notice.

This morning the TV journal had the not too surprising theme of Moms, and there was one story that, as a Science Fiction Romance writer, really hit home.

Stranger in a Strange Land

It was about a son named David Good who felt he was abandoned by his mother at the tender age of five, when she left the family to return to her hometown (using the term loosely). I'm sure there are a lot of Mom's out there thinking some very unkind thoughts about this individual, but they might be surprised to learn more about her backstory...

Dad, an anthropologist named Kenneth Good, married Mom, Yarima, in southern Venezuela in 1986. She was a member of an Amazonian tribe--the Yanomami--living in the jungle near the head waters of the Orinoco River. When Dad asked Mom to return with him to his "village" in New Jersey, Mom didn't understand that the whole world wasn't a jungle with tiny thatched-hut villages and cloistered tribes of close friends and relatives.

David related that it was "like Mom went through a time machine...or a portal." One of her first encounters with this far side of the universe was at a large metropolitan airport when a parked vehicle was started. She bolted to hide in the bushes. She thought it was some sort of huge predator that had just awakened and started to prowl--having never seen a car, heard an engine, or even understood how tires worked or the nature of a mechanical thing that moved. It was outside her realm of experience.

Photo by CBS News
In spite of her horrifying introduction to Dad's "village," she stayed for six years, had three children and seemed to adapt fairly well to life in the US. There were photos shared of her riding a carousel with her kids, visiting the beach and doing the other fun things that families do. Mom seemed fine.

But in time, Yarima returned to Venezuela to visit her family and her village. Once there, she couldn't bear to return to the US. She stayed, and left Dad to raise three kids on his own.

David was so devastated by the sudden disappearance of Mom that he harbored anger and resentment toward her for 15 years. He began to tell his friends that his mother had died in a car accident. It was so much easier on him than explaining that Mom was "living naked in the jungle, eating Tarantulas."

The son related that his lies were the result of one of the most mortifying experiences of his young life. On a school field trip, his class went to the New York Museum of Natural History. As Fate would have it--because Fate can have a wickedly sadistic sense of humor--their guide took the class into an area of the museum with a display on Amazonian tribes--including photos and artifacts from his mother's Yanomami village.

And there, on the wall, for all his peers to see and make fun of, was a portrait of his mother--her nose and chin pierced with sticks and her face painted in primitive patterns.

The son fled the room for another area of the museum and waited for his class to catch up, never explaining what had caused him to bolt.

David was an adult before he finally faced the need to come to terms with his mother's abandonment, and made the trip to her remote tribe in Venezuela in 2011. He got more than he bargained for. He discovered Mom's universe.

David came to understand that life in New Jersey had made his mother very unhappy. Being transported from her jungle home to a strange city was completely alien to anything she knew. It didn't feel safe, it didn't feel wasn't "home."

David related the people of his Mother's tribe have a total sense of community, never experiencing loneliness or anxiety. He was surprised by his own realization that the Yanomami people were teaching him. Teaching him how to be human, how to live as humans were meant to live. Teaching him about what really mattered to the soul.

Photo by BBC News UK
He came to understand why Mom belonged there, and that living in his father's world--in his world--was breaking her heart. She didn't understand the concept of strangers, or walking by someone on the street without them acknowledging her presence. As if she didn't exist, didn't matter. It was so terribly soul-crushing, she felt disconnected, alone, insignificant and deeply unhappy.

So even though she loved her children and spouse, when she returned to her roots for a visit, she ended up rejoining the culture she knew and loved. She just couldn't bear to leave again. Not even for the sake of something as precious to her as her children.

A lot of women back in New Jersey said harsh things about David's mother and condemned her for leaving her family, but he came to understand that they were saying these things based on their own view of the world, without any empathy for the extreme differences in the two cultures.

If the situation was reversed, and these "modern" women were to fall in love with a Yanomami man and be thrust into their tribal culture, would they so easily give up the life they had known--a life of malls, nightclubs, movie theaters, restaurants, television, computers and cell phones--to accept a primitive existence in a remote Amazon village? Could they spend the rest of their lives there, even if they had children? Would they be able to envision that this was their whole future? Might they end up making the same choice that Yarima had, and return to what they knew as their own culture, their own "normal" and what meant "home" to them?

That's when I realized that, as a writer, all of my novels deal with a person having to face, immerse in, and find ways to adapt and eventually accept or reject a lifestyle that's alien to them. This scenario can create some deeply layered conflict between a H&H.

As a fiction reader, I often expect the heroine to give up all she knows for the hero (or vice versa), but if an author really delves into what's in the character's heart--his or her uncertainty, longing, home-sickness about what they've left behind and everything they've known--I can better connect with the character and their dilemma at this very emotional level.

Of course, in Romance there would always be an HEA or a HFN where the characters overcome their differences and find a way to reunite. But the greater the conflict, the more satisfying the resolution.

If you'd like to see part of the news story, there's a shortened version of the David-Yarima video on the CBS news online site. Sorry for the inevitable ads, but this story is definitely worth a look...and a ponder.

Son Travels to Amazon Jungle to Reconnect with Mom

You can also explore more about this topic if you check into the 1985 movie based on the reverse scenario, The Emerald Forest, starring Powers Boothe. Meg Foster and Charley Boorman. It's a lush, beautifully done film that will let you experience life in the Amazon and the occasional head-on collision with the modern world.

Happy Mother's Day, Everyone!

For Mom...Miss You


  1. Wow, what a story! It's a novel already written, isn't it? Sorry I just got around to seeing this post, Laurie. It's a terrific one!

  2. Thanks, Donna! Yes, it really struck a chord with me. I took a lot away from this story. I hope others do too.


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