Personhood: Just say No to Sex

I appreciate the beliefs of the anti-choice movement, truly I do. Truth is, in 55 years of life I’ve never met a single person who was pro-abortion. Nobody likes it. It’s a terrible option. But sometimes it’s the only option, and just making the decision to go forward with it is hard enough without all the self-righteous brow-beating that’s become associated with it.

That said, I find this Amendment 26 in Mississippi, the so-called “Personhood Amendment,” overly worrisome. My daughter takes birth control for a medical condition. Is this going to become illegal? Will she just have to live with a condition that’s easily treatable, just in case she might have sex someday? It’s insane.

Anything that makes doctors nervous gives me pause, I have to admit. Plus, it’s just going to be a huge lawyerly clusterbomb from the word go: The only people who will benefit from this amendment, born or unborn, will be lawyers billing by the hour to deal with all the lawsuits. In a state that’s already so strapped for budget that it has persistent childhood poverty and is cutting education and human services, what we really, really need is an influx of state, local and federal law suits to gum up the judicial works and churn out money for the lawyers.

If the personhood people want to go after abortion, let them go after it straight-forward. I know how I’d vote on abortion, but I also know that I’m not going to vote yes on an amendment that might see my daughter have a miscarriage someday and be charged with homicide. With all due respect, I think a lot of well-meaning people need to really, honestly read this amendment, and try to see past the “save the unborn” to all it could potentially do to our daughters.

Upon pondering, it occurs to me… If the anti-birth control amendment passes next week, women will still have one line of defense. NO. Just say no. Ever hear of Lysistrata? Get ready, ladies, for one heckuva battle. But just remember… if he hits you, it’s assault. Just say NO to sex.

My New Motto: Say Yes to 26 and Say NO to Sex. With men. Ever.

Let’s see how that freak flag flies.

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Fitting In

Most of the time I don’t care. I decided a long time ago to follow the Groucho Marx edict (or was it W.C. Fields?) who said he didn’t want to belong to any group that would have him as a member. So that’s okay.

Sometimes it gets pointed out in unexpected ways, though. I’m quite familiar with two specific internet communities. Technically, I belong to both, but truthfully I’m a lurker at best. The reason? I’m too nice for one of them, apparently, and too careless for the other.

Somedays you just can’t win. Look at a photo instead.

Tremble

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Author August: Lewis Shiner

Finally, an author I can make an actual comment on!

I met Lewis Shiner, briefly, in Boston in 1989. He was at NoreastCon, which was WorldCon that year, and so were my husband and I. In fact, I met him at the same time I met Connie Willis, and while I doubt that either of them remembers one fangirl among hundreds, it was a big deal for me.

I’m not quite sure how “Glimpses” and “Deserted Cities of the Heart” had found their way into my reading stack, but I’d loved them both. They were unlike anything I’d ever read at the time. The Library Journal described “Glimpses” as “… the first rock n roll time-travel novel. Ray Chackleford is a self-employed electronics repairman whose marriage is foundering and whose father has recently died. … In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Ray–a rock drummer during his youth in the late Sixties–begins to hear in his head and manages to transfer to tape legendary unfinished recordings by Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. This music is accompanied by “journeys” into the troubled lives of these rock musicians.”

I just remember how real it felt to me, at that time. This was the ’80s, and the ’60s were well on their way to becoming the mythic land of our youth. “Glimpses,” for me, is a kind of electric koolaid acid test mixed with the sweet, honest sentiment of “Field of Dreams.” Maybe we really could have made a difference. Maybe we really could have built a better world. Instead, many of us turned into Republicans and Shiner’s writing hints presciently of that loss.

“Deserted Cities of the Heart” brought Mayan culture to my attention. And skateboarding. Yes, in the same book.

My favorite Lewis Shiner book, though, came out after that notable WorldCon meeting. It’s called “SLAM.”

Again, I can’t do the short synopsis thing any better than the Library Journal. “Realism, idealism, and fantasy are skillfully interwoven into a novel of personal adjustment and rebellion. Dave Stokes is a product of the 1960s who is trapped in a personal time warp. While his friends have compromised ideals for professions and families, Dave at 39 is newly released from prison after serving time for income tax evasion. Living on the fringes of society, associating with runaway teens, a down-and-out evangelist, a prison escapee, and other social discards, he finally makes peace with himself and his world…. As an anti-hero, Dave is ethical and likable; the secondary theme of skateboarding is unique; and the tension derived from peripheral drug deals, arson, and other illicit acts is riveting.”

“SLAM” was the strangest, most utterly cool thing I’d ever read at that point in my life, and I absolutely loved it.

Shiner kinda drifted out of sight on the SF after a while, but thanks to our friend Wiki, I see that he moved into writing more mainstream-type novels and also into providing his work online. His “Fiction Liberation Front” http://www.lewisshiner.com/liberation/index.htm offers almost all his work, in PDF and HTML format.

Shiner really deserves more recognition than he gets. His “Hunter Thompson goes on a road trip with Carlos Castenada set to an awesome ’60s soundtrack” manner is mind-strippingly original. He also lets you remember skateboarding when skatepunks were cool rather than threatening.

Go forth and read some Lewis Shiner. I bet you’ll enjoy it!

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Author August: Rog Phillips

Okay, this is just plain embarrassing. I call myself a long-time science fiction and fantasy reader, but I’ve never even heard of this guy. At least I’d heard of Vernor Vinge.

According to Wikipedia, he wrote mostly short fiction, mostly in the ’40s and ’50s. Color me educated.

One of these days there’ll be an author I can have an opinion about. So say we all. ;D

 

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Author August: Vernor Vinge (and Joan Vinge)

Here’s an embarrassing start for me on the science fiction Author August challenge: Today’s author is Vernor Vinge and I’ve never read anything by him.

*wince*

I’ve looked at several of his books, but nothing ever really called out to me. So somebody needs to make me a recommendation. What Vernor Vinge book do I need to read?

I’ll say this about him: He was once married to Joan D. Vinge, who wrote one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels, “The Snow Queen.” I first read that book years ago, back when I was a member of the SF/F Book Club and got it in one of those cheap hardcover editions, and fell in love. For some reason, the character who resonated with me deeper than any other was Herne, the Starbuck, a furious crippled man who’d had everything and lost it. But all the rest is fabulous as well, from the star-crossed main characters to the mysterious mask maker to the Snow Queen herself. As much as the people, the world and the greater universe is also wonderfully drawn and become almost characters on their own.

I’ve probably reread “The Snow Queen” at least three times through the years. I’ve read the follow-ups as well, “World’s End,” “The Summer Queen,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” but while they’re all good, none holds the magic of “The Snow Queen.”

So thanks, Vernor Vinge, for once upon a time having an awesome wife.

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Kind words live a long time

When my husband says to me, “I’m proud of you for how hard you fight,” meaning the ongoing battle against manic-depression, that makes me feel about two feet taller and twice as strong. When he says, “I’m glad you’re so good at keeping the house clean enough,” that makes me happy, too. I know I’m not a great housekeeper, so “clean enough” is high praise.

When my daughter says to me, “All my friends think you’re really cool,” well… who wouldn’t be flattered? Seriously. When she thanks me, in her way, for giving her four years of extra attention and all the education I could manage to squeeze into a homeschooling setting, that makes life worth living.

But I was challenged to think of the best compliment I ever received, and after some pondering, I think it has to come down to two.

In college, I minored in Speech and Theater. I loved everything about it, from solo performances to big plays to painting sets to doing makeup to competing in Forensics Tournaments. I had a bit of a crush on one teacher. Heck, I think every female in the department had a crush on him, and maybe some of the (deeply closeted at Bible college) males. He was tough and demanding, but he wasn’t afraid to give some praise if needed.

During my last semester, I didn’t have any classes with him or contact with him at all. I’d changed from glasses to contacts, done a mind-blowing student teaching job, and among a lot of other things, took part in a production staged by a graduating friend. In the line after the show, which was a one-shot thing, this teacher came up to me, looked at me as if he’d never seen me before, and said, “You were wonderful. And you look lovely.”

Well. Well well well. That was unexpected, and I walked on air for several days after that. All the way through graduation, in fact.

But cool as it was, that’s not my favorite compliment.

For just under ten years, I taught college. I taught journalism and writing and mass media history, among other things. It was early on during that part of my career that I received my best compliment ever. A student lingered after class and said to me, “Y’know, I never thought about it that way before.”

Can a teacher receive a better compliment?

What are we there for, as teachers, if not to help our students see things in ways they’ve never seen them before? Whether an equation, a diagrammed sentence, a previously despised book, a lab experiment or a different slant on some segment of history, teachers make it clear. They make it understood. A good teacher opens doors in minds, not so she can fill them with her own opinions, but so they have room to consider a larger portion of the immense world.

“I never thought about it that way before.” The best compliment ever. I’m honored to have gotten it more than once.

Truth is, I miss it something fierce. Teaching, I mean. Next time around, I’d like to be a teacher again, letting fresh air into sometimes sludgy minds.

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Book Review: Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher

First of all, if you don’t know who Jim Butcher is and you haven’t read any of his previous Harry Dresden novels, this is NOT the place to start. Got that? Start with “Storm Front,” the first of now-13 amazingly entertaining books about the adventures of Harry Dresden, Wizard for Hire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s not to say that you have to read all the books, although once you’ve read one I defy you to stop. They’re like the best, most addictive potato chips ever. Compulsively readable. Butcher builds a strong cast of primary and supporting characters slowly through all 13 books, until it seems as if the stories are as much about Michael and Molly, Susan and the vampires, Thomas and the other vampires, Harry’s fairy godmother, Butters and Maggie and Mort and Kincaid and Ivy and Ebenezer and… the list goes on… as about Harry. And of course, they’re all about Chicago cop Karrin Murphy and Bob the Skull. Not to mention Mister the cat and Mouse the temple dog.

I’m reading back over that paragraph and thinking, sheesh, this sounds like just about the most twee thing since the invention of twee. But it isn’t. The cover copy on “Ghost Story” suggests crossing Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Phillip Marlowe, and that’s not far from accurate.

Harry’s a wizard. The supernatural obviously plays a huge part in his world. But you’ll find no Disney fairies or True Blood vampire hunks here. Dresden’s supernatural is vast, tricksy, and might just as well rip you to shreds as talk to you. Dresden himself, the character, pulls all these books out of the slop-bucket of quasi-fantasy crap that’s been sloshed on the SF/F reading world in recent years. Dresden is a loner, a smartass, witty and funny and capable of enormous destruction. He’s kind, will do anything for his friends and often for complete strangers, and he makes mistakes. Oh, boy, does he makes mistakes.

And his mistakes have consequences. Which brings me to “Ghost Story,” the 13th Harry Dresden novel, in which entire coops full of plot chickens come home to roost in Harry’s world. How he deals with the repercussions of past successes, past mistakes, and past failures is a large part of the driving force of the novel. Oh, there’s a standard plot, and it’s a terrific Dresden adventure on its own. But “Ghost Story” is more about reflection. It’s about the time which comes to most everybody, when you stop slogging and pushing and fighting to go forward and suddenly are forced to look back at what you’ve left in your wake. Intentional and unintentional.

Harry Dresden books don’t make me cry. This one did.

So… don’t start out with “Ghost Story.” But if you’ve got time to spare and you’ve been looking for a series that will entertain, enlighten, amuse and sometimes cause you to chew your fingernails, pick up a copy of “Storm Front” and start reading. And when you get done with “Ghost Story,” drop me a line. We can hold cyber-hands and get ready  to move on.

P.S. This feels kinda disloyal, especially after raving about the Dresden books so ardently. But Jim Butcher has another six-book series called “The Codex Alera.” I can’t recommend it. Truth be told, I’ve never managed to finish chapter one of book one. It’s dense and wordy and takes itself too seriously, for my tastes. And I love “The Lord of the Rings,” just to be clear on this. ;D

So Jim Butcher “Dresden Files” series, many many thumbs up.

Jim Butcher otherwise, you’re on your own.

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Early Encounters with Death

My maternal grandfather died when I was five years old. He was buried on my sixth birthday.

That was my first brush with death, other than the death of my first kitten, Smokey, who was hit by a car and killed about a year before that. I never saw Smokey’s body: My mom or dad took care of getting it out of sight before telling me what had happened. But with Pa, it was different.

I was never a huggy, kissy child, and my Pa was a very huggy, lovey grandpa, or so I was told. I never liked to sit on laps and be cuddled, so even as a small child, Pa and I had reached some sort of standoff, apparently. I’d agree to sit on his lap for a few minutes and suffer through a hug, and that’d be that. Don’t get me wrong: I loved my grandpa. I just didn’t like being held. Never did, not from the start.

So it was all good with us. Everybody enjoyed a laugh about prickly Judy, who didn’t like anybody hugging her, and that was my oddity in a large extended family that seemed to treasure oddity.

When Pa died, of heart failure on an icy December day, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mostly, I have two memories from that time.

First, Pa was lying down in the living room. I’d never seen Pa lying down before. He was a rugged, rangy Southern dirt farmer, accustomed to hard work and hard play. He always seemed to be moving, even when sitting down. But he just laying there in the living room, inside the oddest bed. Of course now I know it was a coffin, but I didn’t really have any words or experience to account for that. The living room was full, as it almost always was, but everybody was being very quiet. And I remember it was colder than usual, that the living room fire was barely lit, and it was so very cold outside. My adult self reckons that was to hold the body off from decay for a little while, but to my child self it was just another oddity.

The second thing I remember is my mother’s sweater. I spent a lot of that time on her lap (Mama was the only person I’d voluntarily allow to hold me). She was wearing an open sweater (a cardigan) I’d never seen before, soft and solid black. It had small, domed buttons that were pearly gray-white. I sat on her lap for hours, playing with those buttons and keeping an eye on all the comings and goings between the living room and the kitchen, and in and out the front door.

My Pa had a large family – 13 children, probably half of them married and parents by then – and he was known and liked in the small rural community, so there was a lot of foot traffic.

But when push comes to shove, those are the only real memories I have of my first encounter with death: the pearly buttons on my mama’s sweater and the oddity that Pa was lying down in the living room.

Sometimes I think it was a good thing that I had that experience. I’m glad I had the chance to experience death as a natural, organic part of life, not as something that happens shut away in a special building with machinery and mysterious goings-ons. Pa was alive and then he died, and his body lay in rest in his living room, where he had so often sat and laughed and fussed and talked, and it was perfectly right that it should be so.

That was the first and last in-home “lying-in” I ever saw. But I think it might have been healthier than how we do things now.

ETA: Pa died on Dec. 13. He had 13 children at the time, and 13 grandchildren. Family legend says that he had gone out to bring in the family’s 13 head of cattle, and that the temperature had gotten down to 13 degrees the night before. I can neither confirm nor deny any of the legend, but I’ve decided to believe it. It’s a little bit of cool, no?

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Space, the final frontier…

Somebody on Facebook asked, a while back, why we need the space program. Why, when our society has so many deep and vital needs, should we spend money on something as whimsical as space exploration?

Obviously, the reasons are many, beginnning with all the benefits (electronic, computer, medicine, even agriculture) we’ve gained as side-effects of NASA’s research and development.

But I think it goes deeper than that. We need the space program because we need the opportunity of a communal dream. If we look around us, and even behind us, the world sometimes seems awfully grim. No matter what each of us does, we can’t seem to make a difference.

It’s vital for the human spirit to have something to dream of, something to potentially accomplish if we all want it badly enough. The space program is a small expense, budgetarily, that gives a huge, monumental, return. To cease funding it would be a diminishment of hope. And I’m not sure we can take much more cynicism and lack of hope.

 

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Media Consumption June 2011

Haven’t done this in a while, so I’m just gonna touch on what I remember from the past month or so.

***** The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell – When the planet Rakkat is discovered to be inhabited by apparent intelligent life that communicates via the radio transmission of gloriously alien music, Catholicism’s Jesuits rush to get the first contact with the new world. The team sent to make first contact is made up of four Jesuit priests, an aging female doctor, her equally aging engineer husband, a young male astronomer and a young female expert in computers and all things A.I. An odd mix, granted.

The bulk of the story moves between the official inquiry into Father Emilio Sandoz, the only survivor of the venture, and the story of how the venture came to be put together and carried out. It’s a beautiful, heart-rending story about the need for belief and the search for God. It’s also a first-contact story unlike any other I’ve encountered, in which everyone involved behaves rightly and does the best things, and yet everything goes wrong. Why is Sandoz the only survivor? How did he survive? What happened to the others? How did he manage to get back to Earth?

All these questions drive the story, which exists on the surface of it as a perfectly fine science fiction novel. But if you care to read deeper, there’s much to be pondered. I won’t be forgetting this book any time soon.

* Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoesky – I already blogged about this. Never again.

**** Luther, BBC – Luther is one of those six-episode BBC “series” that seem so odd to the U.S. viewer. That said, I enjoyed Luther, which is basically just another cop show, this one about British detective John Luther and his troubles at home and on the job. I watch a lot of crime shows, both U.S. and U.K., so I rarely get truly surprised by any plot development, but Luther managed to do it. Luther himself has troubling issues with anger, and wouldn’t last ten days in any real job, I suspect, but it made for entertaining viewing.

**** Waking the Dead, BBC – So what is it with the Brits and anger management problems? I really enjoyed Waking the Dead, although it contains nothing truly new or unusual. Standard TV cold-case fare, but the characters are nicely drawn and I got very fond of them. Much to my frustration, at one point. Anyway, the main character, Peter Boyd, while sometimes charming and amusing and always whip-smart, is also constantly angry. I mean constantly. It must have been traumatically exhausting for the actor who plays him to be so freaking angry all the time.

** The Jacket -I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, so I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an interesting if mostly irrational meditation on time travel, of all things. But I’ll be honest… I had a hard time paying attention to it because I find Adrien Brody so amazingly distracting in appearance. I can’t mentally place him in any role because he looks so distinctively just exactly like himself all the time. And his nose distracts me. There. I admit it. I AM that shallow. So sue me.

**** Precious – I’ve put off watching this for a long time because I figured it would be depressing. And it was. But it was also oddly hopeful, and I recommend it to anyone. Let me say this, and that’s all I’m saying…. Mo’Nique deserved every gram of that Oscar, baby. Her performance is utterly fearless, ferocious, eviscerated and lacerating. The main character and all the others were fine, but Mo’Nique’s amazing performance as the abusive mother completely makes the movie. Holy cow. Watch it, for a perfect example of what real, gut-level honest acting is.

Death Note, anime  – I’m watching this on the Kiddo’s recommendation. It’s certainly twisted and forces the viewer into some uncomfortable moral positions. That said, it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters beyond surface level. I’ve still got a few more episodes to go, though.

*** Surface (aka Fathom) – I’m not entirely sure why the Kiddo and I started watching this, but we did, and we both enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s one of those TV series that gets started, never develops enough viewers, and is dropped before it has a chance to live. Surface, in which a marine biologist, an insurance adjuster and a 16-year-old boy race to solve the mystery of “what the heck is that in the ocean?” is a great deal of good clean entertaining fun. Sure, it’s got plot holes you could slip an entire Panzer brigade through, but if you just chill and enjoy it, it’s better than most of the shows that have lasted several seasons. You can find it on streaming Netflix, by the way, under the name “Surface.”

**** The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson – An excellent work of non-fiction, contrasting the struggles and successes of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 with the predations, during the same time and in the same location, of America’s first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. I started reading the book because of a vague interest in Holmes, but I’ll admit that the story of the World’s Fair stole my heart. It’s a mind-boggling story, and I highly recommend it.

* Sister: A Novel, by Rosamund Lupton – This, on the other hand, was seriously so-so. I picked it up because I’d seen it on a couple lists of recommended summer reading. It’s okay; nothing special. I’m pretty sure I finished it, but to be honest I have very little recollection of it at all.

*** Big Machine: A Novel, by Victor LaValle – There’s no way I can describe this book. It’s weird from the get-go. But it was a fascinating read, partly because it made me realize just how seldom I’ve ever read anything written from a contemporary black male perspective. Fascinating for that alone. Waaaaay better than Sister: A Novel. If you’re only gonna read one novel this summer, I recommended Big Machine: A Novel over Sister: A Novel.

**** A Little Death in Dixie, by Lisa Turner – When I got to the end of this book and eagerly started searching for more from this writer, I was stunned to discover that this is her first novel. Damn, girl. That’s a good one for a starter! Again, there’s nothing overly unusual about the plot, but the writing is nice and clean, the plot gallops along, the characters are three-dimensional, and it’s set it Memphis. Can’t beat that.

**** Forever Queen, by Helen Hollick – This was a 99-cent book from Kindle, otherwise I might never have read it. That would have been my loss. Forever Queen reminded me of how much I used to love historical fiction. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Aelfgifu, better known as Emma, a young Norman girl who, in 1002 or thereabouts, was married to Aethelred, King of England. She survived him and married Cnut (Canute), a Dane who became king in 1016 of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and England and proved to be a good king for 20 years. She also was the mother to two kings, serving as regent for one of them for several years. She was also the first English queen to have a biography written of her. Hollick, the author, is a dedicated researcher and this story reads very well while retaining as much historical accuracy as possible.

Queen Emma’s great-nephew, by the way, famously returned from Normandy to England in 1066, and changed everything.

*** The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura – An awful lot of public domain books are available for the Kindle for free. This is one of them. It’s a lovely meditation on Japan, Japanese culture, and, almost incidentally, tea. I read the whole thing with delight, unable to determine any time period for the writing. Afterward (to the WikiMobile!) I was startled to discover that the author died before WWI. The writing has an ageless quality that I found remarkably soothing and easy to read. There’s an awful lot about flower arrangement, too. It’s a short book, and well worth the time for anyone with any interest in Japanese culture.

And that’s it for now. I’m waiting fairly impatiently for midnight and the magical appearance of  “A Dance With Dragons” on my Kindle. After which I’ll disappear for a few days. ;D

Nothing like a good book.

 

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