Words of Wisdom from Salman Rushdie

Ovid was exiled from Rome and never allowed to return. However, his poetry outlived the Roman Empire.

I’m distressed by today’s news of an attack on author Salman Rushdie and fervently hope for his full recovery. I heard him speak in person about five years ago and it was an hour well spent. One thing he said that sticks with me:

Ovid was exiled from Rome and never allowed to return. However, his poetry outlived the Roman Empire.

I believe that’s something to ponder today.


Neighborhood Walks Through the Looking Glass

Vacant lot with orange mesh fencing
There used to be a fairy tale looking stone cottage here.

As a frequent and avid walker who has lived in the same spot for nineteen years, I possess a deep familiarity with the landscape and character of my neighborhood. There are constant changes, of course, as seasons and residents move on to be replaced by others. But some alterations are more jarring than others. A couple of differences in the past few weeks have given me a through the looking glass feeling.

I’m fortunate to be within walking distance of my job, so my most frequent route takes me from my house to work and back. Those handful of blocks contain the sights I see on a near-daily basis. One house I pass was bought a few years ago by a couple with two very young children and an obvious appreciation for outdoors play. It always gives me a smile to see what they’re up to and maybe exchange a few words. This past winter was pretty brutal and lasted longer than usual, so I didn’t see the residents out at all for several months. Then one day in May as I headed up the block toward their place, I heard kids laughing and saw the parents out with them, drawing on their driveway with chalk. I approached with swelling heart, ready to wave and say a cheery hello. But wait!

When I arrived at the yard something was off. It was inhabited by the wrong family. All different people. Same general ages and complexions, but four completely different people. When did that happen? I go by the house nearly every single day, remember? I’d never seen a for sale sign, no moving trucks, no hint of disruption in the fabric of my reality. Had I gone through a portal to a parallel universe? I was shook.

Second shocking change: the house of my daydreams is gone. Poof! This one is (or was) not on my work-and-back path. It’s several blocks from my home, but still on a street where I walk frequently, in part because I enjoy looking at the stone cottage that appeared to be out of a fairy tale, the kind of place they put on jigsaw puzzles. I loved to imagine living in it some day, maybe in retirement, spending my days tending flowers in its yard. My step gained an extra spring when I turned the corner leading to my intended future enchanting stone home.

It’s amazing how quickly an entire house can be gone with hardly a trace. Breathtaking really. I ambled along anticipating my moment of housing zen, only to be caught up short by orange fencing and a demolition order. Sob. What does my dream future hold now?

Dare I venture out today? I suppose I will. I’m bracing myself. Perhaps I’ll find the portal that will bring me back to my dependable, known universe. I can hope.


On Today’s Walk: New Places, Old Familiar Faces

I said I wanted to walk new places this year. Well, my husband and I, along with son number two, have traveled to Washington State to visit son number one. It’s beyond delightful seeing my grown-up baby in person again and letting him introduce us to the places he loves in his adopted home state.

Today, we parked and took a 20-ish minute hike down to Clayton Beach near Bellingham, carrying a picnic lunch with us.

Tomorrow, we’re promised to see more gorgeous scenery. This time away from the grind, experiencing new places with my loved ones seems to be at least part of the cure for what ails me. I know the problems of the world will be there waiting when my trip is over, but everyone needs an occasional breather, along with a reminder of the natural wonders that surround us.


For Anyone Who Doesn’t Understand the Impact of Today’s Supreme Court Decision

Post has been slightly updated.

Access to abortion once allowed someone I love a whole lot to be around and keep raising the two children she already had.

I try not to swear gratuitously. I save up those words to use when really needed for maximum impact. Here’s my gut reaction to today’s news about the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade: we’re fucked. We are truly fucked. I live in a state with trigger laws. Everyone in this state who possesses a uterus no longer possesses full human rights. Here are some links to give an idea of the full extent of dystopia we have just entered.

In states that already have restrictive laws, patients experiencing miscarriages are being denied care because doctors are afraid of being accused of providing abortions should they provide medical assistance in removing the miscarried pregnancy. Folks just have to suffer in pain on their own for however long it takes and hope they don’t die of sepsis or something. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/05/roe-dobbs-abortion-ban-reproductive-medicine-alabama.html?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=traffic&utm_source=article&utm_content=facebook_share&fbclid=IwAR2b_x5pch_hrdTDMHKw78MkqUed18kzD7R7OtvIFnZee-oGEKvMs7o1szU

Never forget the case of Savita Halappanavar, who died after being refused an abortion. Her case helped spur a movement in Ireland for a change in the law. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-20321741

In the U.S. already, people have been jailed for having miscarriages. This is already happening. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59214544

“Putting the data aside…” https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-devastating-economic-impacts-of-an-abortion-ban

“A recent study estimated that banning abortion in the U.S. would lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths overall and a 33% increase among Black women…” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/abortion-restrictions-health-implications/

I know parents of young children who are seriously investigating leaving the country. Between the increasing number of gun deaths and the stripping of human rights, they’re realizing this is a pretty dangerous place to raise kids. As one friend said, “It feels irresponsible to raise my daughter in this country now.”

If anyone is currently composing a response playing “devil’s advocate” or providing a “logical” anti-choice explanation from a person without a uterus who’s never had to ponder how a pregnancy would personally affect them, I invite those folks to keep your typing fingers off my page. Your time is better spent listening, really listening, to the loved ones in your life who are devastated today by this ruling. This post isn’t an invitation to debate whether roughly 50% of the population should or shouldn’t have fundamental rights.

I know this post is disjointed and lacks eye-catching graphics, but if feels necessary. We have to find a way to right these wrongs. I wish I knew what that way is, but I know it’s not going to be done by remaining silent.


On Today’s Bike Ride: Juneteenth Chickadee

We are in a two-day lull between brutal heat waves, so I seized the day and took a little bike ride this morning. I made a brief stop near a creek to drink some water (from my water bottle, not the creek) and heard an unmistakable sound, the first one in this video.

I’m not well acquainted with many birdcalls, but I do recognize a chickadee when I hear one. Has a more adorable looking bird ever existed? When I was pregnant with my second child, I started calling my baby Chickadee as a placeholder name until he was born. I don’t remember the reason I latched onto this particular nickname, but my fondness for the little critters remains.

I looked up when I heard the call. Aha!

Chickadee in oak tree
Black capped chickadee in oak tree.

I choose to believe it was calling out “Happy Juneteenth” in its own way.


On Today’s Bike Ride: Beware the Poison Hemlock

Poison hemlock plant

Despite seasonal allergies, a slightly sore back, and the need to report to work this afternoon, I got out on my bike for a short ride this morning. I ended up at a wetlands area I frequent because there’s a nice shelter house, yet it’s at a spur off the main trail, so few people seem to stop there.

Thanks to a recent Facebook post from a friend, I realized this morning that there’s an abundance of poison hemlock growing there, and not harmless Queen Anne’s lace as I had always thought. I used the Seek app to verify the species. Since I don’t aspire to die like Socrates, I’m glad I never touched any back when I was misidentifying it!

One clear way to tell the difference between the two plants is the stem. Poison hemlock has smooth stems with purple spots. Queen Anne’s lace has hairy stems with no purple. I found a helpful article that provides more information.

Now you know. If you see this plant, make like anyone who is not Socrates and avoid it.


On Writing Critique: Know Your Writer

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

I made a big mistake a few weeks ago in my approach to a piece of writing critique. I am always honored when asked to read something and offer my thoughts. My goal is not only to help the writer say what they want in the best way, but to leave them feeling encouraged. In this instance, the result was opposite of what I intended and it’s because I didn’t consider closely enough the situation of the person asking for my input.

I’ve been involved in creative writing groups for a couple of decades, both giving and receiving critique. The groups I’m in now consist of members who really do root for each other and offer great support. But that support is underpinned by certain mutual understandings, including the fact that we all realize your creative baby is your baby. When I return a piece of writing with a bevy of comments, I’m in no way saying I believe the author should adopt every one of them. It’s much more in the spirit of, “Here are some things to consider. Based on your own intention and creative vision, I’m sure you’ll know which of my suggestions will work for you and which to ignore.”

Here’s a common request from my creative writing buddies: “I’m way over the word count limit I need to meet. Please help me find places I can trim.” I’ve sent this plea out myself. When given this focus, I look for every possible opportunity to discard words and offer up my list as a sort of restaurant menu. Here are options I can offer. Choose what you want.

When a friend who doesn’t do a lot of creative writing, much less participate in critique groups, asked me to look over a speech she needed to give because it was longer than allowed, I took my usual approach, giving her as many options as possible so she could figure out which ones worked best for her. It turns out I needed someone to critique my critique method. I should have thought more about her lack of experience with receiving this kind of feedback. I hurt her feelings because she took the large number of comments as an indication that I thought her writing was truly terrible. In fact, I thought it was a great speech and wished she could give the whole thing. I was only trying to help her fit it into the allotted time.

I missed the most important element of constructive criticism, which is a close look at the person on the receiving end. In hindsight, I see I could have taken the time to explain beforehand what I’ve said here, that my suggestion were for changes I thought she could make, not necessarily changes she should make. Saying it right up front would have given her a lens with which to view my comments the way I intended them. Trying to deliver this information later wasn’t the same. It sounded like backpedaling. She couldn’t unsee what had already imprinted itself on her mind.

Hurting feelings is my least favorite thing in the world to do. I will fret over this longer than she will, I’m sure. But I learned an important lesson that I hope will help the next person who asks for my feedback on their writing.


Two Accomplishments: Union! and The Count of Monte Cristo

Star Trek DS9 characters
Quark’s workers unionize on Star Trek, Deep Space 9

I see I haven’t checked in here for a while. I’ve been a little busy helping to organize a union and reading The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which turned out to be huge time commitments. The two efforts came to fruition within a couple of days of each other. Saturday I finished Alexandre Dumas’ 117-chapter epic tale, and on Monday the state of Missouri announced the results of our union election, which we won with 65% yes votes.

Both efforts held surprises for me. Union organizing — gaining big new insights into people I thought I knew. I saw aspects and layers previously hidden to me, most of them good and inspiring, with a small handful of disappointments. The number of hours spent looking at spreadsheets was not something I had anticipated. And I didn’t do nearly as much of the work as some of my colleagues, bless them. Count of Monte Cristo — a lot more drug use than I expected. The psychedelic 1970s had nothing on the 1800s, it seems. There were some truly trippy scenes. Ease up on the hashish, there. Also, a young, early nineteenth century female character who wished to avoid marriage and live independently.

Of course, I was also working both of my paying jobs during this time. So all of this labor movement activity and classics reading led to late nights, with Zoom meetings followed by just another chapter or two. I honestly don’t know how anyone ever runs for office. The stress of campaign-type activities nearly did this introvert in. Often, after yet another meeting, followed by phone calls (shudder) I’d promised to make, or an elaborately-arranged meeting with someone who wanted to sign a union card without being seen to do so, I found myself with an actual need to lose myself in the drama and tension of a fictional character’s story. It was somehow cathartic to transfer the intensity of my feelings into the life and perils and plots of Edmond Dantes, wrongly imprisoned, losing everyone and everything he loved, seeking revenge but unexpectedly finding his heart warring with itself in his resolve.

I’m a different person than I was at the beginning of 2022. This has been the year I determined to pursue some long overdue goals – getting a seat at the table in my workplace and finally pulling The Count from it’s decades-long spot on my to-be-read list. I’m a union woman now, and someone who can speak with knowledge about a Dumas classic.

We’ve won our election, but there’s still organizing to do around electing officers, contract negotiations, etc. And there are enough literary gaps in my world to spend a lifetime filling them. But I might take a breath or two and enjoy some lighter pursuits before plunging myself into the next intense adventure.

On Today’s Walk: Portent for the Days Ahead

Spotted on my walk home from work. Umm…that’s my street. I should be okay on foot, though. Right?

Digital Road Work Sign

I checked our city’s website after seeing this and determined it is, in fact, my very block that is slated to be under construction. Maybe someone could have told us in a more direct way? At least we know now. And it will be nice when the potholes are gone!