Yes, And…

It’s a confusing time because it is (and has been) essential to elect as many open-minded and ethical Democrats/Independents to local, state, and national office as possible, yet it is understandable that people want to yell at anyone they can. Yelling at the main perpetrators (right-wing Republicans, Libertarians, and similar) is not as satisfying because it’s like yelling at zombies for eating brains. Destroying democracy, the environment, public health, and human rights is what they do. So I can see why some want to yell at anyone they think they can blame for not finding a way to protect all of us. I confess I personally feel similar rage towards certain Senators from AZ and WV as I do towards McConnell. As angry as I feel about how those two Democratic Senators have almost single-handedly undermined my children’s chances to live long and healthy lives, I know that McConnell and his type are much, much worse.

So complain, yes, AND vote.

Complain, yes, AND get involved somehow, preferably in ways that lead to positive change.

I worked quite a bit on local campaigns when I was younger, and I still remember feeling more frustrated with people who agreed with us than those opposed to us. (I also hated the fact that it felt as if many people only paid attention if the election was made to seem urgent with dire consequences rather than simply the pursuit of that which would be useful and helpful.) Too often, it felt as if the people who were politically moderate/liberal/progressive didn’t seem to feel any need to do anything or, worse, acted as if there was something unsavory about political engagement. Or so it felt at the time, though I think it’s improving. I’ve since realized that I don’t want to complain about the people who didn’t work their butts off to get as many good people as possible elected up and down the ballot because I tend to believe everyone’s doing what makes the most sense to them for lots of reasons and that sometimes they just aren’t there yet. It’s just hard to bite my tongue when some of those people complain that the “Democrats” didn’t do enough, like Democrats are a separate entity with magical access to power unrelated to the actions of individual voters and unaffected by the capricious mood swings of the voting population. It’s the same way I feel when people complain about The Government in a democracy. In a democracy, who is the government? The people. It’s us.

Is it hard and time-consuming? Yep. Is it frustrating and slow? Oh, yeah. Do you discover that we don’t actually all think in lockstep which makes it really hard to put into action all these plans that some activists claim would fix everything? Yep. Do you also discover that some solutions have unintended consequences, so you are never done with trying to fix anything? Oh, yeah. Do people/corporations with too much money have too much influence over our government? And are deliberate disinformation and clickbait culture undermining efforts to share important information? All too true. Does it all make you want to take a nap and/or eat some chocolate? Sure. Does it mean we should give up entirely? Hell, no.

Complain if you must—you aren’t alone, though it would be great if we could also talk about what has worked or what is working rather than only about what isn’t.

So vent, yes.

And then find ways to get engaged and to sustain some kind of engagement for the long haul. You are the government.

A few ways I argue with myself before writing on my blog

*Someone somewhere has already written something similar but better.

Yes, AND so can I. This is not a competition (at least, it isn’t for me). And I believe each of us have the potential to bring something unique and specific when we join these ongoing conversations. AND sometimes we just have to work some of the same concerns out in writing more than once, and that is okay. No one gets hurt if what I write isn’t the best possible and most original take of all time. Perfection is boring (to say the least).

*What I want to write today doesn’t fit neatly with anything I’ve written before. Aren’t I supposed to have some kind of monolithic platform of topics that I stick to?

No. No, I don’t. But I do feel awkward that the shifts in topic are awkward for someone else to read. I have to get over that. I mean, I don’t go around judging other people for having multiple interests and shifting moods. I prefer that. I also know how to stop reading if a topic doesn’t interest me. I can only hope other readers know how to do this if it happens with one of my posts (or all of my posts, sorry about that).

What I write isn’t timely enough. Or somehow it’s yesterday’s news.

All I can do is roll my eyes at this because one of the most damaging trends in U.S. society is this “breaking news” addiction that suggests if it isn’t new, it doesn’t matter. OMG. Some of the most horrifying things ever aren’t new at all, and we still need to learn from them. Plus, because it can’t all be gloom or doom these days or the bullies win, some things are just interesting and funny for me at the moment when they are interesting and funny to me, and why should I give up my joy just because of an imagined reader or critic operating under some kind of time limit for their ability to care?

I hate to be wrong or misguided.

Sure, work on not being wrong or misguided. But what’s that cliche about breaking a lot of eggs to make an omelette? That is, I may have to make some mistakes and learn from them by writing anyway than never write for fear of making a mistake. I believe I can learn and get better, and for my own sanity, I want to believe that is true for everyone else.

Anyway, this is just a sample of what delays me in writing or posting, and I am working on it, and I hope you are, too. Write on.

Choose pride. Choose love.

In honor of pride month, I am going to attend a pride march for the first time ever. Thanks to the wise teachings of my father, gained both from his academic research and love for his gay brother, I have succeeded in being straight but not narrow most of my life, though I continue to learn more about how to be an ally, a process not a destination.

I haven’t attended pride rallies in the past because I sensed there is strength in spending time within a unique community. That is, I didn’t want to rain on anyone’s parade.

But I’m called to attend today because I have watched in horror as politicians go out of their way to attack vulnerable children—children!—with legislation that literally seeks to do harm rather than to benefit the people of their states (Florida. Texas. And yes, the stupid North Carolina legislature is trying.) And the current rise of harassment and intimidation must be stopped.

I know the horror I feel about this week’s ruling to deny access to healthcare to half the population—horror and grief that is already echoing in the LGBTQ+ community.

So I want to be there. As usual, I’ll be a quiet presence, mostly on the sideline. But here’s what I will be thinking. Be proud. Choose pride. You are beautiful. Some of you are, frankly, adorable. You show us all the way to be ourselves, and we need you desperately just as you are.

And for those who struggle to understand, I beg you to choose love, not hate. Reject the heavy burden of hate that politicians and con men on the airways and social media have dumped upon you in their cynical pursuit of money and power. Look this time with the eyes of love. Accepting others for who they are does not mean you have to stop being who you are. You just have to let go of hate, and the unbearable pain that goes with it.

Choose pride. Choose love.

What I accept/What I abjure

I accept—and respect!— that people have strongly held values and religious beliefs that motivate them.

I abjure any attempt to force such beliefs upon others. I abjure it on principle… but also in practical terms, I am yet to observe that any religious person fully agrees with another religious person on all issues, even those within the same church. (Of course, this is true for all people, regardless of religious belief.)

I accept that many people love babies. I love babies. I want them to be celebrated and cared for and to go on to live long and rewarding lives. I know how hard it is to raise babies—I have some of my own, I was supported in so many ways, and it was still hard. The pregnancies were tough and sometimes scary. I was haunted by the risk of a miscarriage, not to mention the risk of dying and leaving my husband alone with a baby (or possibly with no one).

I abjure any attempt to force pregnancies upon others.

I accept, indeed insist, that you should live your life according to your values, and you can peacefully express your values in hopes of improving the lives of others. This should be an act of kindness on your part, fueled by your generosity and empathy.

I abjure the idea that your values justify attempts to punish or control others for thinking/looking/acting/being different from you. That is the exact opposite of a spiritual or moral stance. I abjure the idea that your values justify violence. I abjure the idea that your values justify tyranny.

I accept that peaceful protests are not violence (and have been a healthy function of U.S. democracy since its inception). Strategic resistance is not violence. And these both seem wholly appropriate right now, in addition to voting to protect the lives put at risk by abortion bans and seeking fresh ways such as ending the electoral college and expanding the courts to protect our democracy from zealots and the con artists who profit from them.

And yes, I am a little mad, thank you for asking.

In the early stages of a pregnancy, abortion is a form of contraception—the prevention of an unwanted pregnancy. In some cases, it is an assisted miscarriage for an unviable or life-threatening pregnancy. In later stages of pregnancy, it is a form of healthcare used only to address an unviable or life-threatening pregnancy.

Limiting access to healthcare endangers lives. Pregnancy and childbirth are risky, life-threatening conditions that can last up to ten months. It is unconscionable to force this condition on anyone. Similarly, the decision to abort should not be forced upon anyone. Healthcare decisions are complex, best assessed by the patient and healthcare providers who understand these nuances.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling denies our citizens reasonable access to critical healthcare, based on arguments that are spurious and disingenuous. This ruling will inflict sweeping damage on our country, and it raises grave doubts about the ability of this current court majority to properly fulfill their roles. This ruling reads, frankly, like hollow statements crafted by radicalized zealots incapable of mustering anything that might resemble logic, insight, or the rule of law.

Speaking Up

I have so much I want to write for this blog, but I have been holding back. Sometimes, it is because there is a topic about which I feel so much anger and outrage (so many reasons for this lately, especially today), yet I don’t want anger to cause my words to miss my goal, to somehow do more harm than good. As both history and current events make clear, words (especially strategic lies) can lead to violence. If I write about what makes me angry or outraged, I want to write in a way that leads to positive actions. And I want to aim for accuracy and insight, not distortions or exaggerations. A daunting goal, especially when I am mad.

I also worry about how to address everything that is at risk and everyone who is endangered right now. Some of the outrages are direct and personal to me. Some are outrages against others who I would hope to support. I admit, I worry if I speak out loudly on one topic, I am somehow failing because I haven’t spoken out on every single type of outrage nor have I identified the specific ways that one group of people is harmed more than another group by one of these issues. I want to speak up, but I don’t want to say too little or divert from the work of those who keenly feel and know harms that I do not.

There is a related (yet opposite) reason I hesitate to post on my blog. Some of the topics that interest me seem so frivolous in the face of more serious concerns. Some are silly, some are random, most are frankly diversions from more serious concerns. I worry about writing about something that is light in the face of so much that is heavy.

And yet, I want to write on these topics, both heavy and light. For the light ones, I want to give myself permission to write on them because it seems wrong to let the bullies stop me from enjoying a few diversions. For the heavy ones, well, it seems wrong not to speak up, even if I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, or if I’m missing something else that is important. I also can’t choose one cause as most important. I understand that there are people who take on the needed role of activist, shining a light on a specific concern that they understand deeply. So if I try to support every cause that is pro-humanity, pro-democracy, pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-community, pro-environment, pro-empowerment, anti-bullying, anti-bigotry, anti-violence, anti-apathy, anti-despair… I know that I may not articulate my support as well as such activists would. But rather than hesitate to write on difficult topics, I should embrace the possibility that I will sometimes have to try again as I gain fresh insights or learn from wise activists or scholars, expanding or changing what I’ve written.

I will listen, I will learn, and I will speak up because we all have to speak up these days, whether it’s light or heavy. Not yelling, no. But engaging in ways that are authentic, meaningful, and peaceful, in order to live up to our responsibilities to take care of one another and to take care of this planet.

Book covers

Reading Notes: Pop by Robert Gipe

I finally finished Pop, the third book of the series by Robert Gipe, and am still sorting my thoughts on this book and the series as a whole. This story stands on its own, but is more powerful, I think, if you have read the first two books (Trampoline and Weedeater).

I should probably not talk about specific moments in this book because it might detract from your ability to appreciate the unpredictable twists and turns ahead. My favorite scene is when Uncle Hubert is talking in a cave…and really, to say any more is to spoil quite a bit, so I’ll stop there. I also liked how the the final scenes create a rising crescendo, placing this family’s stories into a deeper history of the region.

I was amused that it took me until I was 2/3 into the book when I figured out the title Pop was referring to the soda that Dawn’s daughter Nicolette produced, rather than directly speaking of a father figure (though given Uncle Hubert’s rise to something of a hero in this book, an indirect reference could well have been intended). It made me wonder why I never use the word pop to refer to soda, even though I grew up in the mountains of NC not too far as a crow flies from the setting of these books. I found a map that explained this to me—there seems to be a true border between my part of the mountains and theirs, one side says soda and the other says pop. https://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/the-soda-vs-pop-map/. I It seems somehow typical that this drills down to tiny spots on the map, not even the entire region, and that distinctiveness seems fitting, resonant of what this series of books tries to convey about people and cultures not well understood by those outside.

Although soda was my main word for soda, I also grew up referring to soda as soft drinks, which even at the time I got some flack for, like I was using some Latin term for it or something. And I was now years old when I realized that the phrase soft drinks is probably in contrast to “hard drinks,” which is why I think it was a term I grew up with because I come from intellectuals who liked to party.

Anyway, my head is still spinning a bit from this book. Just like the first two, a lot happens. In terms of genre, I would consider this book literary fiction or possibly Appalachian literature if that’s a category, and it always strikes me that I tend to think of such fiction as different from genre fiction, which I consider plot-driven, which makes you think of “action.” Yet these categories elude such descriptions because there is so much action in this book. Even with so much going on, it is the characters that stand out, and the writing itself sings. You know, when I read genre fiction, I often keep reading to “find out what happens,” though it is true that I need to care about the characters. I’ve sampled a few books lately where I just couldn’t care about the characters, so even though I liked the plot concept, I had to put the book down. In Pop, I care so much about these characters that I agonize as I see some of the action ensue, worrying about what will happen to them.

After much heartbreak, this book ends on a high note, finally giving me a moment I had hoped for as I read the first book (a hope I had actually abandoned by the end of the second book).

One line I’d like to ponder: “Wildness ain’t the disease; wildness is the cure.” This narrative is wild, unruly, and unpredictable, dotted with glimpses of the natural beauty and challenges of life in Appalachia. The cure this book offers is what could happen when people come to know who they are and have the chance to be who they want to be.

leaves on the ground

Words, sure, but no words

I haven’t been able to blog for awhile, working through grief, frankly, which makes me just like everyone else these days.

As I strive for some semblance of normalcy, trying yet failing to accept that I will never again spend time with two of the best people I ever had the privilege to know and love, world events continue to knock me off balance. Again, I know, this makes me just like everyone else.

I need to react to the invasion of Ukraine, to process it somehow, and I hope to do so humbly, because no words work in the face of a senseless human rights tragedy, war pursued by choice (can I really label an act of madness as a choice?)

Perhaps I will start by offering snapshots that rise to mind right now. Several years ago, my family took part in a well-organized school program in which we all read the book Prisoner B-3087 written by Alan Gratz, based on the true Holocaust story by Ruth and Jack Gruener. If you know anything about the book, you know it depicts countless levels of hell during the Holocaust. Yet what stuck with me the most was an early scene in which the narrator, a young Jewish boy, is surrounded by his family at home. In that moment, when everything was normal, they were happy, though there were reasons to worry. And he recalls that if they had known what was to come, they would have run away at that moment.

I admit, I have thought about that often when I am surrounded by family in what seems like safety, most frequently in 2016 when the 45th President rose to power by stirring up prejudice and spreading lies.

And I think about it now when I read tweets by Ukrainians (and Russians, for that matter), for whom life shifted from stable to chaos in a matter of hours. They, like too many people in too many places around the world, have to wonder if giving up everything they know and love would somehow be better than staying put.

Another image that has to come to mind is that heartbreaking visual of a student standing defiantly against a tank in Tiananmen Square.

It is almost impossible to decipher the reasons behind this invasion. The expansion of the capacity of nations to defend themselves seems like a flimsy excuse (the existence of Alaska certainly casts doubt on that line of thinking), not to mention the fact that modern technology means that proximity is less meaningful in terms of self-defense.

What I notice is this: the Ukrainian democracy worked—people protested, people voted, and they elected a president of their choice. It was a real election, unlike what happens in neighboring Russia and Belarus. If you need evidence that democracy was alive in Ukraine, look no further than the fact that they weren’t universally happy with President Zelenskyy (before the invasion started, that is). Complaining about the politicians we elect is not actually a sign of weakness in a political system—it means we understand that there will never be one person who can be trusted absolutely with the power to control our destinies. It is our job in a democracy to pay attention, second guess, complain, and consider different options. Democracy is about We the people, not “I alone.”

From the perspective of tyrants, exercising the right to vote, claiming the right to self-determination, is provocation. The Ukrainians voted, and the tyrant responded. The same impulse arose here on January 6 when would-be tyrants attacked our capital in reaction to a fair and free election.

Peaceful protests and free speech threaten tyrants. (For the record, violence, destruction, willfully spreading illness, and laying siege to a city are not the exercise of freedom but the behavior of bullies.)

I see a line, a tenuous one perhaps, connecting the students standing before tanks in Tiananmen Square, the Ukrainians seeking to halt an endless line of Russian tanks, and the Russian protesters arrested in their public squares. I would remind some Americans that there are those in this country who drive cars and trucks into peaceful protesters. In every case, democracy scares bullies and tyrants.

The history of the pursuit of democracy is full of loss and heartbreak. And democratic governance is messy; it requires us to try to get along with people with whom we will never fully agree and to craft imperfect solutions to intractable problems. Democracy will always be vulnerable to those who would lie and manipulate us for their own enrichment. Those who support democracy are, alas, not always on the winning side of history.

But everyone loses whenever and wherever democracy is betrayed, suppressed, or brutally assaulted.

Winner’s certificate

Done :)

I met my Nanowrimo goal today! I did not quite finish drafting the novel, but I passed 50,000 words, and I feel as if I have a better sense of what could happen in this novel. I wrote it scene by scene, but it still felt more like an outline in the end, a shadow or hint more than the fleshed out novel it could someday become.

To my surprise, in addition to the usual badges, bells, and whistles that occur on the Nanowrimo site, I also got new laurels to appear on my avatar.

Laurels
Something new this year!

Ha! I guess nine years of Nanowrimo “wins” is a lot. I’m still pleased to have reached this goal, but it is not quite the surprise it once was. And yet, I will never take it for granted. I have made more progress this month than I have in awhile, and I have gained insights into what can happen and still needs to happen in the process of writing a novel.

I have different goals ahead. I want to spend some time refining my system to keep track of my world-building. The more I write in this future world, the more unwieldy it all becomes—and yet the more I come to understand it. So I want to see if I can get that better organized somehow (though I’ve made this vow before, but maybe third time’s the charm (or who knows how many times I’ve tried!)). I’ve also been reading more lately, and I hope to double down on that in December. If November is my Write-A-Lot month, I like to see December as my Read-A-Lot month, though the holidays sometimes make that harder than I expect.

I guess that’s enough goal-setting for now. It is nice to reach the end of November —and maybe I will rest on my laurels for a little bit.

Word count total

30K Done!

I have been a bit too busy lately to post my progress here, but I am still on track with Nanowrimo. I continue to be surprised by the way this new novel is unfolding. It’s so very first draftish. I can already anticipate some of what will need fixing or cutting, but it is so helpful to have written what I’ve written because it has been a process of discovery. As my protagonist moves through various situations in this new setting, I keep learning more about the setting and some of the problems she must deal with.

I have been surprised because there was a character who (in my very loose Nano prep plans) was supposed to be an antagonist in a fairly superficial way. He was supposed to misjudge and dislike my protagonist, and be generally annoying—yet he insisted on becoming relatable and even potentially an ally to her. In general, I know my story could use a bit more drama rather than what has been a quieter percolating tension, so his insistence on being an ally is toning down the conflict even more. But it has increased the way this novel keeps surprising me. I really don’t know what’s going to happen until it starts to happen, and then it leads me to new possibilities. And though the drama has been muted, the mystery and the surprises are still mostly working. I have had few chances to use the writing exercises that I had hoped to integrate in the drafting process somehow, but there will be time for that later.

At any rate, it is so much fun. And I have to say that again this year, Nanowrimo works best if I pretty much aim to stay at “par” each day—reaching at least the average word count needed to be on track to reach 50,000 by the end of the month. Some days I have written more than 1667 words, though usually not more than 3000 words in a day. Those extra days give me wiggle room for the days when I just can’t write as much.

I’ll share some of the Nanowrimo website’s charts so you can see what I mean. This first one is my progress on reaching the target daily word count.

My progress charts from Nanowrimo.org

The second shows my actual daily word counts, which vary more.

It seems to help that I try to never be under the target count—never to think, “Oh, I will do extra tomorrow.” Instead, I allow myself to write less when I have some extra words banked rather than writing less on credit, so to speak. The reason it isn’t so helpful for me to count on catching up later is that it seems to get harder and harder if there is more pressure for me to write more than 1,667 words.

Somehow, 1,667 words, more or less, is just about perfect. I get somewhere. I learn something. And then I get to stop and feel a sense of accomplishment even though I didn’t put in hours and hours.

I call that a win :).