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A hectic three weeks and some political musings

This morning I took a deep breath and finally unpacked. It’s been an intense three weeks, between Orycon and the Jingle through Joseph Christmas bazaar, especially given we’re at the beginning of winter with all the uncertainty that carries with it. Orycon was the weekend before Thanksgiving and was quite a good time, enough that I’m still catching my breath and need to update all my contacts gained as a result of the con. Then, even though I didn’t work the week of Thanksgiving, I plunged into the last rewrites of Netwalking Space so that I could get it off to the editor. Thanksgiving day, we had a quick brunch with the son and then hit the road so that I could run up to Joseph and set up my table for Friday and Saturday. Sunday, I caught my breath, then plunged into a week of work where I ended up working not just the regular part-time gig but one day of substitute teaching as well. And riding horse, and finishing up Netwalking Space, and seeing friends…then back to Joseph for an intense Friday and Saturday of selling books and jewelry as well as working on an embroidery project.

So today, almost three and a half weeks after I first packed up for both Orycon and the bazaar, I unpacked everything. I still have some work to do to get the office back in order, and things organized with an eye toward beginning work on Klone’s Folly. Plus there have been some local volunteering projects of interest, and I discovered a local organization that has Sew Days, and I may have finally hooked up with an organizer of the local bazaar circuit…

And then there’s the political stuff. I made a decision last week not to stress myself out for the pre-inauguration preliminaries. It’s going to be a long four years of outrage, and pacing is going to be important. I sent some extra horse stuff with a local person to Standing Rock. I’m involved in discussions and planning about activism. But another choice I have made is that I will be locally active as a volunteer to help build and sustain the community. Not so much PDX as Enterprise, simply because there are fewer people in Enterprise and so more hands are needed. I am not getting involved in political organizations. I applaud my friends who are, especially those involved with reforming the Democratic Party (mess that it is in Oregon). But I did that in the 80s and 90s. It’s time for those who didn’t do it then to do it now. I don’t have the energy or the patience to deal with the repeats of the fights of those days, and from what I’m seeing it’s the same old shit all over again.

That said, there are things which can be done to help the local community. That’s where I’m going to start.

Oh, and phone calls once we’ve got actual confirmation hearings. And Medicare/ACA-gutting bills.

Community, though. That’s where it starts. Community.

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My two cents on the recent sexism/ sf convention harassment controversy

Apologies in advance for all the rambling, but…it’s been a busy day and I’m tired, and I’m still pulling my thoughts together.

First of all, I want to give MAJOR props to the women who have spoken out on this issue, especially Elise Matthesen. Speaking out in the face of physical and psychological harassment is a huge thing, and she’s right. If we’re going to stop this sort of behavior at conventions, especially by people in positions of power, then we women damn well have to make formal reports when sexual harassment happens, no matter how powerful the person doing it is. Period. Full stop. No two ways about it.

I don’t have a lot of convention horror stories to share, for various reasons. Some of this may just be that I flick the verbal harassment back and ignore it. Another is that as a result of years spent around horses in various stages of training (as well as being a middle school teacher), I have a pretty firm set of boundaries/personal space and when they get violated, I’m vocal (and, if sufficiently threatened, well, I have heels, elbows and other stuff and I’m not afraid to use them). I do engage in horseplay occasionally with trusted friends (there’s one gentleman who likes to pick me up when we’re goofing around at parties, but–we’re both laughing and it never crosses my personal boundaries). And that’s the key. They’re trusted friends, with established relationships. If I don’t know someone who puts hands on me, um, well, y’know, I might decide you need to be treated like a recalcitrant stud colt who wants to put his lips and teeth on me. Doesn’t need to be big and dramatic, but I will make a correction. Don’t go there. You might not like the result. I have a Teacher Voice, and I work in middle school, so I’ve had lots of experience observing just how to stage a dramatic scene without worrying about how dignified I look. If you have any dignity, you won’t survive teaching in middle school. That’s just the way things roll.

But, in counterpoint–I have specific circles I run in and I don’t go to a lot of the big, popular cons. I don’t necessarily do a lot of parties because, hey, I have a day job with day job sleep habits so I tend to bug out of parties early. I’m older (55) and that probably puts me off limits. I also have a spouse who goes to conventions with me and I usually talk about him being in the hotel room waiting for me. Sometimes he even comes to panels. In any case, I cultivate the “very married” persona and privilege (which not everyone has as an option). Because I was a political activist in college and spent some time as a legislative intern, I’ve had experience in fending off creepy politicians and lobbyists cruising the cute interns (OMG, now there’s a snake pit for you–being a female legislative intern). As the same activist, I’ve also led more than a few meeting charges (my friends–male–used to feed me talking points, aim me, and have me lead point on some of our political meeting arguments, under the general principle that having the articulate, assertive woman who was young and attractive leading the charge would put our opponents off their arguments. It worked, for the most part.). So I am not afraid to speak out in my defense, even if it burns bridges (ouch!).

Because of the combination of these various elements, I’ve been very damn lucky at conventions. I know it, because that luck hasn’t always held in other settings. I’ve survived one rape (pre-writing, pre-convention era). I’ve been pursued by another rapist when going home from class. In the workplace, I’ve filed one formal complaint for sexism against a supervisor and informally complained about another supervisor (who was so awful that sexism and harassment were actually relatively minor parts of his utter awfulness). That’s recent history. Past history has not been so kind.

At my first job, at an isolated river resort in Southern Oregon (the owners have changed so there’s no need to call them out now), I was specifically directed by my boss (female) to let one of the boat pilots fondle me. In front of customers. Loudly and brazenly. This was in the mid-70s, BTW, so not a lot of recourse then. When I left at the end of my employment, the only pilot available was that one. Who fondled me all the way down the river.

I was young, powerless, and had no options, in an era where I had even less support than women who are the age I was then have now.

There were other incidents at other jobs but that was the worst. I had a stalker confront me at work and the boss took his side. I almost got fired over that.

So…yeah. Convention experiences have not been bad for me, but then again, that’s been a combination of circumstances that have skewed in my favor. Other women have not been as fortunate. And that is absolutely, totally, NOT RIGHT.

And that’s the bottom line. I don’t care how old, how powerful, or how privileged someone is. Age, power and privilege do not convey the right to violate other people’s personal boundaries and personal dignity. This should be social functioning 101.


We should have learned this lesson by now, damn it.

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Kip Kinkel and Clackamas Town Center–rantage

Thurston was the first time that one of the American mass shootings really struck home for me.  Not only am I a graduate of Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, but I took a French class one year from Bill Kinkel, Kip Kinkel’s dad.  Because I hadn’t lived in the area for a while, and because the initial reports were hazy, it wasn’t until I actually saw a picture of Kip Kinkel and his family that I realized my connection to this shooting went far beyond the memories of the places where people were hurt and killed.

The realization slugged me hard in the gut.  Not just because of the connection but because we had our own kid with issues.  I was so tuned out and freaked out by the whole thing that I only got a partial photo record of the trip we took right after the shootings–I pulled my film canister out of my Minolta SLR and didn’t replace it, just kept on shooting.  I have no record of the exquisite beauty of Stanley Park.  Or anything else from that trip.  It wasn’t until something clicked that I’d been taking photos for a lot longer than the film roll I had loaded that I checked and realized I’d been shooting with an empty camera.  Sigh.

Over the years, I compared notes with fellow graduates.  We’d all been stunned by it.  The most horrific part, though, was that the shooter was the son of a teacher who’d been a gentle man, someone who’d made a difference in the lives of many struggling and troubled kids at Thurston.  But he couldn’t help his own kid–and that added to the tragedy of Thurston.  For years I could almost hear Bill Kinkel’s voice as I read what people wrote about how he sought help for Kip.

As we struggled through school years with the kid, progressing toward a diagnosis and management skills, one idiot (upon hearing we took him out hunting) asked “aren’t you afraid you’ll create another Kip Kinkel?”

I–um–pinned that person’s ears back hard.  For one thing, a friend of ours who was a gun collector and instructor had been asked to teach Kip proper gun etiquette, but it had never worked out.  Could it have made a difference?  Hard to say.  I do know that my kid, when faced with a gun that looked like the one he’d target shot just the weekend before, only his friends were squirreling around with it, did exactly what he’d been taught to do.  While his buddies swaggered around the neighborhood waving it around and pretending to be big twelve-year-old white-boy gangstas (one even had a Starter coat, the big gangsta thing at the time), our kid immediately left them and came home to tell me.  He wasn’t sure what it was but he wasn’t messing around.  I called the parent, who was shocked–and I was shocked in turn that said parent thought it was totally acceptable for his kid to carry a pellet gun around the neighborhood in a paper bag, and go shooting in a city wildlife refuge, near a popular skating rink and amusement park.

“But it’s only a pellet gun!”  he told me.

“It’s a gun,” was my response.  “And that’s unsafe behavior and handling.  What the hell are you teaching your kid?”

Needless to say, that friendship kinda faded out.  And this incident happened before that smarmy idiot compared what we were doing to what happened with Kip Kinkel.  They hadn’t known about my connection to Thurston before…well, they sure did afterward.   I don’t take those comparisons lightly, either then or now.

Fast forward to now.  So far, I don’t know of any of my extended Portland and Mountain community who was at Clackamas Town Center or anywhere near it at the time it happened.  I’m seeing accounts of folks who’d been there the day before, or who had left earlier.

Nonetheless, Clackamas is very close to where I live.  It’s a ten minute or less drive, within a couple of miles.  I shop in that Macy’s store.  The pictures from where the ambulances and cops were staged?  That’s right next to the escalator next to the REI that I shop at.  Yeah, I know that place.  My son was born at the Kaiser Sunnyside hospital that’s within a half mile of the mall.  If I hadn’t had a meeting that ran late at work, I probably would have tried to run errands at the Kaiser complex and the mall…and run right into the post-shooting chaos.  A couple of weeks later, I might have been there, though that’s usually a time of day when I try to avoid the mall.

The usual hue and cry over gun regulation is already exploding, with concealed carry advocates arguing that if they were allowed to carry at the mall, someone could have taken this guy out, and advocates of gun control arguing for greater regulation.  To the concealed carry advocates, I cry out phooey.  Unless you are training on a regular basis, and practice crisis situations, how the hell do you know you wouldn’t do more harm than good?  I’m currently reading an excellent book on force decisions and dude, I seriously doubt you’re thinking with your brains.  Civilians just don’t have the cultivated training and instincts.  Most of us don’t have the time and money to train that way.

I mean, I could have a concealed carry permit myself.  I took the training years ago.  I chose not to follow through with the permit.  I just couldn’t see it being useful to me (we initially went through the training so that we could buy handguns if we wanted, then it fell by the wayside), and I most definitely don’t see it now, working in a school as I do (and I am most definitely NOT an advocate of concealed carry in schools).  For me, concealed carry means a commitment to regular practice and maintenance of a weapon, and I just don’t have the time and access to do that.  Nor do I think it’s crucial in my life.  If I feel the need for a home defense weapon, my hunting shotgun works right fine (nice little pump action), and is less likely to take out a neighbor because the damn bullet went through a wall.  Some of my father’s tales about long distance shooting training for WWII stuck pretty hard with me, and when I learned my own gun discipline, learning what the possible range of a shot bullet could be was the biggest lesson taught.  So yeah, if I feel the need for home defense, I’m gonna get a short barrel shotgun with a pistol grip.  And a pump, because nothing sends chills down the spine quite like the tell-tale “click-click” of a pump action.  Go ahead and play with your big frame handguns.  I want my shotgun if I feel worried enough that I resort to weaponry.  Then I don’t have to worry about my aim.

To the gun control advocates–you think this is really going to solve the problem now?  REALLY?  Then just how the hell are you going to take all the weapons currently in circulation out of the system without causing a major ruckus and alienating a significant portion of the populace…including law-abiding folks living in rural areas who need weaponry to protect their livestock against predators and themselves against home invasions.  Think that’s a minor thing?  Not when you’re a good hour away from an overworked sheriff’s deputy who hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to you in any sort of timely manner.

I grew up with that.  And my former neighbors in that area have concealed carry and a locked gate, because home invasions, nasty home invasions, are happening on a regular basis where they live.  Hey, they’re seniors, he’s ex-military, and they practice.  They also have a big, protective and noisy dog.  The gun is the last-ditch resort, which is as it should be.

The biggest problem is not the amount or the existence of the weaponry.  It’s the brains and mentality which idolizes gun culture.  It’s the lack of adequate mental health management and treatment for those with serious mental disorders.  It’s the lousy economy which creates desperate situations and lousy funding for mental health, education and other societal management measures which would plug up a lot of these damned problems.  It’s the crappy education system that so-called education reform is making even worse when it comes to managing the emotionally fragile, the poor, and the struggling.

Bill Kinkel knew he had a problem in Kip.  But the system, even then, didn’t give him any significant amount of help.  I’ve not heard what the shooter’s story is yet.

But I am predicting that he’s another system failure.  Mental health, PTSD, something like that.  Another person who ran off the rails.

And no amount of concealed carry or gun control is going to take care of that.  NO AMOUNT.


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Super Bowl reax

I’m not a football fan, but like many Americans with connections to football lovers, I end up seeing some portion of teh Big Game on Superbowl Sunday.  I remember watching the famous original Mac ad and feeling goosebumps; also remember a lot of forgettable halftime shows before the halftime show turned into A Major Vegas Production.

And oh yeah, I do always catch a few plays.  For me, watching the game itself is usually more about “did they do something I can marvel over athletically” rather than who’s actually scoring the points (I reserve caring about the points for Oregon Duck games, primarily the Big Bowl Games.  Even then I tend not to watch just because I’m superstitious about jinxing The Game).

Gotta say, this year I didn’t get disappointed.  I was amongst those eager to see what Madonna would turn out for the Super Bowl halftime show.  I’m an unapologetic Madge fan, have liked her for years not just because of her clear love for music and dance but because she’s one of those sassy tough females who has been in charge of her own life for a long time.  Sometimes her choices are–well–not the choices I’d make but still?  All good in the long run.

So when the first strains of “Vogue” broke out and I spotted the gladiators, I broke out laughing with joy.  Because it was clearly a lovely little Madonna twist on some of the biggest Super Bowl tropes out there.  Roman numerals?  Check.  Football players as gladiators?  OH HELL YEAH.  Love letter to the cheerleaders?  Yep.  Tongue planted firmly in cheek the whole time, a nicely ironic combination of the Midwestern girl paying homage to one of her daddy’s favorite traditions while lovingly putting a snarky twist on it.  Madonna singing (some lip synch, clearly a couple of moments though where the mic was cutting out.  Stuff happening) and dancing and, y’know?  Not too bad for a 53-year-old with a hamstring issue.

Was she chewing on the scenery?  Girl, you betcha.  Come on, that’s part of the whole performance!  When I see a Madonna performance I expect an over-the-top spectacle which integrates scenery, costuming, images, song and dance.  Sometimes it flops, and sometimes it works.  Madonna always plays with her sexuality and sometimes the choices are rather like a not-so-good date.  But you know, that’s what happens when you choose the role of the sexual trickster firmly in control of your own sexuality.  Sexuality is not always predictable and sometimes things just don’t work.

That didn’t happen on Sunday.  The songs came out pretty well (didn’t hurt that her old favorites were some of my old favorites), she had great guest performers, the dancers….happy sigh…and it was quite lovingly and ironically over the top.  No, it wasn’t all red white and blue I-luv-Amerika-mindlessly-let’s-play-Nuremburg-visuals game that some folks really wanted to see.  I’m not a fan of such spectacles just because that kind of mindless patriotic froth sends me wanting to run the other way.  It reminds me too damned much of the Third Reich, and that’s not the country I want to be a part of.

My form of patriotism showed up in the Clint Eastwood commercial.  Quiet.  Proud.  Acknowledging the hardships and talking about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, working together, and moving on.  As a team.  No fireworks, no huge spectacle, no waving flags.  Just calm, let’s-get-the-job-done, no heroics, no flash.

And anyone who has a problem with that has a problem with working America.  Spectacles are all well and good in their proper place, but they don’t get the job done.  The Eastwood commercial to me reflected a lot of what is good about the US and why it’s good.  We were built on a foundation of independent thinkers and hard-working folks from many different ethnic, cultural and religious traditions who came together cooperatively to build something bigger than we could on our own.  Maybe it’s time we reached back to that community cooperative tradition in our civic lives, instead of embracing the I-Got-Mine Go-Galt libertarian worship of the Independent Man who treads on the lesser folk around him.

In many ways, the Madonna-Eastwood coupling was oh-so-reflective of what’s best about the American tradition.  I’m still unpacking this thought, so enough for now…but let’s just say that I liked them both.

What do you think?

(fyi, on the home blog I’m controlling comments pretty tightly of late.  Spam swarms and all that.  If you’re reading this on Facebook, please comment on LiveJournal or back at Peak Amygdala.)

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So Gingrich won South Carolina….

Does anyone else feel the stirrings of old ghosts?

Damn, I think the peacocks have to be screeching in Woody Creek as the unquiet shadow of Hunter S. Thompson stirs from his scattered ashes.  Likewise, the grinning specter of Ken Kesey is rising in the fogs of Elmira (or was he a Veneta boy?  Us Eugene/Springfield natives get confused by that there section of South Springfield–wink to all my local friendz and readers….).  And Ed Abbey’s bad self decides that maybe it’s time to bid farewell to his fellow buzzards deep in the desert Southwest……

Abbey, Kesey and Thompson.  Damn, that could be an interesting set of commentaries on the Gingrich win in SC….or, for that matter, this entire circus of the 2012 Republican primary.  Add in a backing band of Jerry Garcia, Jim Morrison and John Lennon, with Janis Joplin as lead singer…well, could be quite interesting.

But I digress.

Nonetheless, the uncanny feeling that those three Pranksters (in spirit if not formal title, save for Kesey, of course) are stirring and itching to comment on this year’s political scene isn’t going away.  More in-depth commentary, including a disturbing conclusion about the Palin-Gingrich axis, later.

I’ve a date with the slopes this morning.

Who knows what uneasy shadows I’ll see walking the cold mists of morning there?

More later.

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Sliding back into the groove

It’s surprising how quickly some things can change, almost overnight.  I’ve gone from being completely blocked on writing and professional fronts, flailing about to find solutions to–what is probably making me feel best of all–the ability to be creative again.  Funny how that works.

It’s not that things have magically improved in my work life, which is the biggest negative  at the moment.  Right now everything is conspiring to make this the craziest, most twisted and positively most awful year I’ve ever had in this job.  I got slammed with a couple of things yesterday that, if I’d been hit with them sooner in the year, would have either sent me out the door screaming or dictated a resignation letter.  Instead, I buried my head in my hands for a moment, took a deep breath, then said, “Okay.  What next?  What else can happen that will make this year worse?”

(Because trust me.  This year really is the sum of every bad teaching experience I’ve had on an individual event basis all wrapped together.  I have no illusions that the universe will stop dealing me crazy cards.  Dear Universe: I GET IT.  MESSAGE IS RECEIVED.  I’M WORKING ON IT. KTHXBYE.)

Is the turnaround because I’ve come to a point of no return?  Or is it because I’m finally seeing my way out of things?  I don’t know.  I do know I bottomed out a bit over the weekend, thanks to the utter misery of this damn cold added to whatever is going on with my gut, and then started clawing my way out of it.  I made some decisions and took some actions.  I dumped a bit of the physical chaos in my home office and started making lists and a schedule.  It’s amazing how rewarding the act of being able to cross off things on a list can be.  It’s amazing how forcing yourself to impose structure, to take the time away from the crazy din of twenty different tasks that SHOULD BE DONE INSTEAD OF IMPOSING STRUCTURE and making that structure happen instead simplifies life.  How much the little structural things end up solving all the other tasks.

So yesterday morning I was able to be creative.  I spent the morning writing time productively crafting worldbuilding outlines and plans for Netwalk’s Children.  I think this novella might end up being the best piece in The Netwalk Sequence yet, just because I’m finally able to articulate some of the core issues that have been slinking around undercover about the whole damn thing for so many years.  We shall see if my writing is able to stand up to the ideas.  I know how when I wrote something significantly affects the quality of the story, and the sad fact of much of the Netwalk stuff is that it has not been written in sequential order.  It’s been bits and pieces pulled here and there, and even deft rewriting can’t cover up the differences in craft, at least not to my eye.

And I channeled my inner Sarah Stephens.  I know that character very well, god knows I’ve lived with her for twenty-three years.  I still don’t know all of her life and the things that twisted her into the brilliant but manipulative bitch she became in Netwalk and later stories.  But I know what the initial twist was, her ultimate soul-searching gut check that damned near killed her.  And occasionally it’s helpful to pull on aspects of that personality to help me get through the day (like, say, last night’s snark.  Which was more about work than about the rejection letter.  I can be very good at displacement).  Sarah is a construct but she’s a useful construct for those moments when it’s damn the revolution, bring on the apocalypse.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be things that won’t utterly shred my soul and bring me to my knees.  I know that.  There’s no way escaping how some deaths will eventually do that to me.  One death will do that for certain and is statistically likely to happen before mine (Mocha).  The other is a statistical probability but one of those things that you never know (DH) who goes first (and will definitely shred me to pieces), and the other (DS) would be a tragedy.  Those things just are.

So yesterday was a day for blowing up logjams and getting things done.  For moving on issues I needed to clear out of my head, and facing new obstacles with a grin.  I’m not quite up to a Rolex 4-star cross country course when it comes to the crazies, but it’s getting there.

I know where I’m going.  How that path happens, I don’t know.  But the way is starting to clear.

And meanwhile, it’s off for more plot noodling on Netwalk’s Children.  Oooh, I can hardly wait to start writing this one now!

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