Stars When the Sun Shines: A Memoir

Stars When the Sun Shines: A Memoir

by Wayne Stier


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From Zen cherry blossoms to the Noh stage. From Hawaiian breathing lessons to an Okinawan rodeo. From Balinese wise men to the Egyptian pyramids. It all started in small town Minnesota and it ended much later than the doctors said it would. In his early 20s, Wayne Stier was diagnosed with cancer and a less than 50% chance of living more than 5 years. He and his wife Mars responded by seizing the day and moving to Japan.

This extraordinary memoir is full of memorable lines and lessons. Some funny. "Rule of slapstickstand up quick and pretend it didn't happen. "Some koanlike: "A dog's bark is a dot pointing out the silence." Stier's writing will change the way you look at the world. His writing is an act of discovery and rediscovery, from the landlocked plains of the midwest to the slope of an active volcano. In Japan, Wayne became a Kyogen actor and the second foreigner ever to perform on the Noh stage. On the Big Island of Hawaii he built his home and art studio, with living trees forming the corner posts, and wrote the myth of his own life.

In Bali, an old man told Wayne to look at the skyfilled with shining stars even when the sun is shining. Stars when the Sun Shines is about looking at the world through continuously new eyes. It's bound to change the way the reader looks at the world as well. Stier's writing burns through illusions to conclusions about a life so full he forgot he was dying, until he did, in Hawaii, on May 30, 2009, weeks after his 62nd birthday.

For readers who gravitate to Eat, Pray, Love because of its spiritual odyssey or The Last Lecture because of its message to live in the moment in spite of impending finality, they will have an interest in Stars When the Sun Shines because it offers a combination of both.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578634736
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 04/01/2010
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Wayne Stier was an actor, writer, sculptor, humorist, teacher, world traveler, whose mission in life was to look and to see, wherever he was, whoever he met, whatever he was doing. He published three previous books and numerous magazine articles. He lived with his wife, Mars Cavers, in Ocean View, Hawaii.

Read an Excerpt

Stars when the Sun Shines



Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2010 Wayne Stier
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57863-473-6


Myth of the Wagon Star

I AM BEGINNING TO SEE THAT whatever happens in my life, your life—in everybody's life—is part of a cosmic plan in which we are participants if we choose to be. One can see the plan more clearly if one looks upon one's life as a myth.

A myth is a story that explains a phenomenon usually involving supernatural beings or events. This myth of the Wagon Star is a ride offered to you: the transmutation from our present third-dimensionality into the fifth dimension of love-consciousness. This shift has already begun for many of you. The gate is opening now. The wagon is going through. Hop on if you like, and be welcome.

The Wagon Star myth unfolds—or, more accurately, blossoms—in a place outside of time. Most of it appears to have been written over a period of three weeks. I rode the story rather than wrote it, and only near the end did I discover where I was being carried.

The language of this book is metaphorical rather than literal. Metaphor is different than fiction. Metaphors draw relationships between people and things; they connect on a different level, on different dimensions. The myth of my life is a metaphor for yours.

All the events you read here happened to me, as unbelievable as they may appear at first. There is no fiction or exaggeration in what is told. You will soon find out why I feel this disclaimer necessary. I ask you to trust your heart. A red thread winds its way through the whole tapestry of events. It is a wild and often hilarious ride around the planet to ... I can't start at the end of the ride. Let's back up at least to the middle, to the muddle, before we get to the beginning.

* * *

When I moved to Hawaii the first time, in December 1983, I drove into Hale Halawai parking lot to have a close-up look at the ocean. Three large Hawaiian moke got out of my rental.

"Alo ah," I said, nervously.

One of them spat and looked out to sea. Another rolled his eyes. The third turned up the volume on his sneer. "'Alo ah.' Geez. Haole Pidgin. It's alo ha, brah. Ha. Put some breath into it, like you mean it. And try some smiling," he barked ironically. "What you doin' on my island? You just tryin'."

"Of course I'm tryin'. You guys are big."

What was I doing on his island? Why did I think I had the right to share paradise? To him I was just another stranger taking more and leaving less. As corny as it may sound, I asked the stars for a sign. I think maybe I saw someone do this in a movie. I waited. No answer.

Someone once asked me if Wayne Stier is a nom de plume—the name of my quill, my feather name. Who in their right mind would choose this for their name? No offense to my folks or ancestors, but as a pen name chosen over any other? Wayne Stier? Get real.

At that time I didn't know the impossible coincidence, the profound synchronicity, the magic that rests in the metaphor of my name.

Wayne means "wagon." The wainwright makes wagons. Stier sounds like "steer." It is German for "bull" but has lost something in the translation. In the Nordic languages, however, stier means "star." The starboard of the ship came from the Norwegian word stierboard.

The Big Dipper is called Charles's wagon, after Charlemagne. It is also known as the wagon of King Arthur. If you follow the arc of the Big Dipper's handle across the sky, you will come to Arcturus, the giant golden star a mere 43.9 light-years from earth. (A light-year is six trillion miles.) It is as if the star is pulling the wagon. Arcturus is the wagon star, or the Wayne Stier.

Since the Big Dipper is King Arthur's wagon, it would stand to reason that the star Arcturus must represent one of the knights of the Round Table. Which one is Wayne? Sir Gawain would be the obvious choice. Who was Sir Gawain?

* * *

They played a rough game in the court of King Arthur, where after a hearty feast one of the knights would challenge anyone who dared to a duel: "Hit me as hard as you can and I'll take it. Then I'll hit you as hard as I can. Take it if you can. We will see who stands the longest."

For the Green Knight this was a sissy game. He wanted to see if there was any truly brave knight in the court willing to wage his honor against his life. Sir Green had Morgan le Fay sprinkle him with a charm that protected him from death.

On Christmas Day the Green Knight, whose real name was Bredbeddle, steps forward with a challenge: "Anyone may choose any weapon and have the first blow at me on the condition that in a year and a day you meet me at the Green Chapel for me to return the blow."

Everyone laughs nervously, but no one rises to the challenge. Finally, exasperated that none of his "brave" knights are willing to accept the duel, King Arthur begins to stand. Gawain jumps up quickly so that his king can save face. He chooses a battle-ax and with one mighty blow severs the Green Knight's head from his body.

Sir Green calmly picks up his severed head and tucks it under his arm, laughing. "See you in a year and a day," he says.

Gawain's life is now totally changed. Everything he does for that entire year, every moment, will be done with a consciousness that had not previously been there. Each act he performs now had grown more important. Everything has become a metaphor for life once death has become a certainty.

On the appointed day Sir Gawain goes to the Green Chapel as honor demands. Sir Green Bredbeddle is sharpening his blade when Gawain arrives. Gawain puts his head on the chopping block. Sir G.B. takes a swing and misses. Gawain remains with his head on the block. Again G.B. swings and misses. Again Gawain remains on the block. Bredbeddle promises that the third one will not miss, and it doesn't, barely nicking the skin on the side of the unflinching bared neck. The Green Knight bows deeply with respect in the presence of such loyalty and bravery.

From that time forward, Sir Gawain became one of the most powerful knights in the court of King Arthur.

I identify with Sir Gawain. He wasn't really brave, but didn't want to be identified as a coward. He knew he was dying and that made his life more meaningful. As for the details of my personal story, old Bredbeddle nicked me with his ax with his first swing at my right knee. My second time to the hospital, for cancer, changed my life, and the third swing of the ax cut my legs from underneath me.

* * *

The star that the Polynesians followed to find the Hawaiian Islands, the one they call Hokule'a, or "Star of Gladness," is Arcturus. My name, I discover, is the sign I requested a quarter century ago. Wayne Stier and the Star of Gladness are the same. The star is directly overhead on the Island of Hawaii at South Point, where in July 1998 my wife, Mars, and I decided, seemingly by chance, to build our home. Considering how much I have zigzagged around this planet, this is yet another miracle. It's as if the star were a metaphor for me, and vice versa.

The man in the mirror winks First on my right, the left eye, Then on the left, his right eye, Then both eyes at once, I think. I think.

My middle name is Otto. Fortunately, I'm dyslexic. There is an odd sort of symmetry even in this. To have been given a name that would cause a dyslexic no problem seems unusually prescient, even for my parents. Or do you believe in coincidence?

My mind functions differently than the average person's, I think, judging from incongruities that often arise in conversations. Imagine seeing things—everything, not just words—in a mirror. This metaphor limps. My thought process is more akin to turning a tennis ball inside out without cutting it. There is no ordinary vocabulary available for this mind-set. Let me show you instead.

The next time you watch the sun set, you might want to sit down. You can feel the world moving a thousand miles per hour, and you are going backward.

Try another thought. If you shine only green light on a plant, it will soon wither. It reflects green, having no use for that color. So what we call green grass is actually every color but green. The sky is every color but blue. This is comforting to a mind like mine.

Sometimes thinking inside the mirror gives you a completely new reality. The sky as viewed from high on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii on a clear moonless night is clustered with so many stars, you can actually see the clouds where the stars aren't. Think about it. I am not talking nonsense. If you look at a sky filled with stars and find a place where no stars can be seen, that isn't a hole in the sky. It's a cloud.

At the top of Mauna Loa when the sun shines on the frost and melts it, the frost remains unthawed graywhite in the shadows beside the dark black wet rock exposed to the sun. The world turns into a black-andwhite photo negative of itself.

Silence is the space between dog barks. Just listen to it. You could think of a dog's bark as a dot pointing out the silence. It is possible to make that choice.

How do you know that there aren't other dimensions happening at this moment if you haven't seen any traces? And if there are other dimensions, we most certainly are in them now. All we need to do is become aware of the leaks between these dimensions. Stars fill the sky even when the sun shines, after all.

For us everything is thought. If it isn't thought, it doesn't exist. If it exists outside of our thoughts, how could we know, and what would it mean to us?

My dad once asked me if I believed that people were going to understand my writing. He knew me, thought he understood, but wasn't sure. I agreed that it might be a problem. I didn't know if I could possibly communicate reality as I see it. "I guess people are going to wade in as deep as they want," I said, "but if someone is ready for a swim, it would be a shame if they were to keep hitting bottom."

We saw the world differently. He took the world seriously and found me flippant. He tried to instill humility in me.

One day my father said to me, "How natural, humility." Whenever father gazes down From the summit of a mount At the expansiveness, he sees How insignificant is he.

* * *

I understand what he is saying, But that is not the game I'm playing. For when I on some summit stand Surveying the vast and rolling land Humility is not inspired. The hill has grown 'bout six feet higher.

I had no way of knowing if anyone shared my existence. If all is thought, who is thinking all this? Am I just making things up?

This state of being is called solipsism. I felt as if I were a bubble of existence in a lonely sea of whatever. There is a humorous story of a woman who wrote to the philosopher Bertram Russell: "After reading your book I am relieved to discover that you are a solipsist, too."

It doesn't work that way. Rather, the bubble of my existence slowly hardened into a shining silvery ball bearing with an empty, hollow center.

Pinball Wizard

APRIL FOOLS, 1971. The pinball wizard pulls the springloaded plunger, shoots the silver ball, and the game of Pull the Wagon—Wayne Stier—begins. For reasons that will make sense eventually but did not when they were happening, Mars, my wife of three years, had a car accident, sliding on ice into a frozen meat truck. She took a big bite of the steering wheel. When I arrived at the hospital, she was on a gurney, waiting for surgery. Her sliced bottom lip was hanging open. She was toothless. I was near fainting. She motioned for me to come closer and said as best she could, "Wayne, cancel my beauty appointment."

I was losing the only person I ever knew who understood my soul. We found out later that had she hit the unpadded steering wheel anywhere other than at her breakaway teeth, the blow would have killed her. We didn't feel grateful at the time. I was bitter and swallowed my anger as a time-release poison pill.

Two years later I took a routine physical for my first teaching position, in Coon Rapids, Iowa. The doctor suspected I had a tumor and suggested exploratory surgery. This entailed the removal of my left testicle—not pleasant for a person with a name that sounds like steer. The test came back positively malign. I returned for a full gut opening, where the doc picked out my troublesome lymph nodes as if he were harvesting grapes. The last one, up in my chest as high as they could reach, was found to be malignant.

Before the doc operated, he told me that it was not easy to tell my lymph nodes from the ganglia that controlled the flow of sperm. I suggested he wear new glasses. It didn't help. I had been surgically removed from the physical history of humanity, a cul-de-sac of a breeding human being. Mars and I bonded on a spiritual level. She was content to live without children of our own, despite the fact that the burden would fall entirely on her when I die.

I needed to have radiation five days a week. We would leave school early—I'd skip out of monitoring study hall—and drive to Des Moines, an hour away, go for my thirty-second dose in a room that smelled to me of burnt flesh and lipstick and then return home, arriving after dark. It was exhausting. Mars did all of the driving. She also quit wearing lipstick.

After three months of numbing radiation, they looked at my blood count a final time and, because I was young and otherwise very fit, gave me a fifty-fifty chance to live. I felt that the doctor was lying to help me handle the really bad news. I left without a thank-you. I never wanted to see a doctor again in my life. A flip of the coin, and I wasn't feeling lucky. My name was turning ironically negative. Wayne: to become lesser, as in the waning moon. Stier: as in a castrated bull.

Still young, this already was my second trip to the hospital. The first was in October 1962, when I was fifteen. I had to have the cartilage in my right knee removed—a high school football injury that broke my heart. I loved the game, loved to play it full out. Ironically, this injury occurred during a half-speed drill, the last one I would ever participate in. I was following instructions at that time. This has become progressively more difficult for me.

Before the operation I was given a local anesthetic, a long needle full of fluid stuck into the base of my spinal cord. As the fluid to kill the pain is slowly oozed into my nerve system, the process continues to be very painful—but only until the needle is removed.

A nurse-accountant ran in and demanded that we go no further, nor could we remove the needle, until they had obtained a waiver from my father. It was an eternity before that needle was removed. I was sweating from the pain. All that pain so that they couldn't be sued? "Jesus loves me, this I know. But those doctor so-and-so's."

I was filled with self-pity about my bad luck at having to experience that screwed-up operation so young. I remember rolling down the hospital hallway in a wheelchair chasing after nurses for the impotent fun of it when an elderly man called out from a room I was passing and invited me in.

He asked me how long I was in for. "It will be five days before I finally get out," I complained. "How about you?"

He smiled. "I have lived in a hospital for most of the last twenty-eight years."

"That sucks. So why are you smiling?"

"When you realize what a precious gift life is, son, you will see only joy." His face showed me he meant everything he was saying. I thought he was delusional. He was the happiest man I had ever met. It confused me that someone who had such a great reason to complain was so content.

"Sure, I guess. But twenty-eight years?"

* * *

The knee operation was only minimally successful. My leg kept slipping out of joint at times ever afterward. I was so angry with the doctor for leaving in me something around which grew a golf ball of a calcium deposit that I stole his reflex hammer from him. I hated all doctors.

Still, I had some speed if not lateral movement, so I played defensive noseguard, always going full out straight ahead. I loved it. When I went to college I was a walkon for the junior varsity. I felt I needed to bang my body around to get ideas to seep into my brain. Every day at practice the trainer applied three rolls of tape to that knee. Every week I spent ten hours in the hot tub to bring down the swelling. I reached the conclusion halfway through the season that it wasn't going to get any better. The day I went to the coaches' office to quit, I found out I had been promoted to varsity. I couldn't refuse, and I accepted the pain as the price for the privilege of playing.

I was the only poet-philosopher on the team. This surprised me. I guess I was out of touch with what most people thought was obvious. I didn't play football only with my body. I would watch the opponents, look them in the eye, study their body language, and predict where the play would go. I usually guessed correct.

I lasted on the team the rest of that season and stayed with them as a respected ball boy. Then in the summer of 1967, I met Mars. We were on the same team selling encyclopedias door-to-door, slogging books and dodging Green River laws and the anti-peddling police. We became engaged after two months.

Excerpted from Stars when the Sun Shines by WAYNE STIER. Copyright © 2010 Wayne Stier. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Myth of the Wagon Star          

Pinball Wizard          

Living off the Fat of Japan          

Tokyo Cowboy          

Putting on the Zen          

Wide Eyes          

Eating the Wind          

Spirit Guides          

Dying to Try          

Letting Go with Effort          

Over Sole          

tMpL n 4st: temple in forest          

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