Friday, April 30, 2004

I Am Sickened, But I Am Not Surprised

Scientific data is supposed to be non-partisan, although God knows it has been used over and over for distinctly political ends. Nevertheless, I am impressed by the Bush Administration's blatant violation of even the pretense of scientific objectivity.

"U.S. Deletes, Alters Gender Issue Web Data -Report"

Why not just say "Bush Castrates the Truth"?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Lions of Shadow Mountain

The three of them were thin, hungry, and just six months old -- too young to be foraging the mountains on their own. Maybe there would be easier pickings in town. It was their bad luck that they strayed into a yard next to the school run by Shadow Mountain Baptist Church.

I was listening to KCBS, the local all-news radio, during the siege. The children had all been herded inside, out of harm's way. The police and game wardens came. One cub was tranquilized and later released in the hills. Another was shot dead. The third, maddened by fright, bolted over a fence and was hit by a car.

I?m sure the police used their best judgment in dealing with the animals. Mountain lions can kill human beings; a bicyclist died down in Orange County just a few months ago, and this week another Orange County park was closed when a cougar was apparently stalking mule riders. Just yesterday, a horse was attacked near Stanford University.

Although the schoolchildren were safe inside, imagine the consequences if some errant fifth grader, rushing to class, had cut through the yard where the lion cubs were hiding.

As long as the white settlers have been here, the mountain lions have been feared. (The hunting stopped about thirty years ago.) The local newspaper reminded readers,
One of the more colorful stories from Morgan Hill's history tells of Isola Kennedy, who saved three boys from a mountain lion attack by fighting off the animal with an eight-inch hair pin. Miss Kennedy died from her wounds two months after her heroics in the foothills east of Morgan Hill.

No date was given for the story, though that hair pin (hat pin?) sounds Victorian.

And yet. And yet. I think of those poor creatures, hungry and terrified. I look at their pictures, one caged, one dead, in the Morgan Hill newspaper. What a sordid, sorry ending to the wildcats' brief lives. When it comes to a showdown between young cougars and young humans, I know the humans have to take precedence. But I have to wonder if there isn't a better way to handle the intersection of human and wildlife.

Boulder, Colorado, offers some interesting statistics on mountain lion attacks, as well as advice for safer confrontations with bears and cougars. California's state animal is, of course, the grizzly bear, long extinct even in the wildest mountains. But the state fossil is the sabre-tooth cat (Smilodon californicus). It's easier to be proud of a fierce and beautiful creature when there is no chance of meeting one on your way to work.

That seems to be the case in Los Gatos, a particularly rich and beautiful mountain town. Though there are varying stories of how the town was named, all involve the mountain lions. In one tale, they snatched and devoured a baby, whose distraught mother drowned herself in Los Gatos Creek. In another, their caterwauling kept a mission priest awake all night. I prefer the third story, in which the noise of fighting wildcats -- and a little knowledge of the ways of mountain lions -- led the mission priests to find the water they desperately needed.

Naturally, the Los Gatos high school sports teams are named the Wildcats.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Finding the Words

I haven’t written in a week. And I’ve spent the night trying to find the thread of writing again. Imagine me making my way through a blank-walled maze (twisty little canyons all alike), keeping an eye out for Ariadne’s clue.

The maze in my mind is nothing like the cross-stitched labyrinths I make for those I love. The shifting colors of overdyed silk gleam; this labyrinth is of grayish tile and reminds me of the underground corridors linking the train stations and subways of Philadelphia.

(Am I ever going to stop seeing the world in terms of that city?)

And, like those corridors, this is a transitional space.

I am actually happy, writing these words, facing this struggle. Yes, I would have loved to spend the night pouring forth words, but I am somehow pleased to find that I can stick with it even in a dry spell. That I know how to wait. Not like a bus passenger; more like a hunter.

No. Like a gardener. Doing the work even when the seeds seem dead in the ground. Weeding, hoeing, watering, holding the blissful image of the seed catalog in mind through the weeks of winter.

I did a few exercises -- the kind of descriptive writing that usually urges me toward composition. I listened to music. (The headphones, laptop, and iTunes make it possible for me to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want.) Wandered the Web, looking for inspiration, email, something. Played a lot of solitaire.

Around 2:30 I paused for some supper and reread half of Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Her California is weirdly familiar, but not because it resembles the place I live now. No, it is familiar because I grew up in the 1960s, and in Didion’s prose I smell the acrid cigarette smoke and the secret despair of that giddy decade.

One of the things I’m trying to be aware of is why I stopped writing, when I’d been doing a steady 25 pages a week (minimum) for three weeks. I hit a bad patch of insomnia, coupled with life stress, and I stopped being able to think. Or feel, or face things.

(And, on a practical level, I was doing a lot of non-writing work -- going to Redwood City three times in three days, for example; dealing with the EDD; doing a convention program at the last minute. And dealing, all the way through, with the stress and frustration of looking for work.)

Now, I’ve worked out what was causing the insomnia (the usual Allegra buildup), I’ve taken steps to resolve some of the stress, and I’m feeling -- more alive? More courageous.

So. This isn’t fiction. But it’s writing. It is testimony that I stuck it out and did the work.

I am feeling much steadier now. This doesn’t mean it’s all going to be jolly. I don’t expect it to be. But I am feeling a certain pride in enduring, and I want to hold onto that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Silence, Censorship, Art

Today is the Day of Silence. Students protest the mistreatment and silencing of LGBT youth in schools by not speaking for eight hours. "Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?"

In San Francisco, a vandal vented his hatred of the LGBT community by mutilating more than 600 library books. "Without explanation, he carved up covers and pages and left small typewritten slips of paper advertising a Bible radio station tucked inside the damaged works."

Yes, he was caught. Now the ruined books have been turned into objects of art.
From the Quotations File
'Do you fall in love often?'

Yes, often. With a view, with a book, with a dog, a cat, with numbers, with friends, with complete strangers, with nothing at all. There are children who grow up as I did, with the love clamped down on them, who cannot afterwards love at all. There are others who make fools of themselves, loving widely, indiscreetly, forgetting it is themselves they are trying to love back to a better place.

Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Top Ten Reasons the CIA Didn't Tell Dubya about 9/11 Clue

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the CIA never informed a vacationing President Bush in August 2001 that a suspected Islamic extremist had been detected taking flight lessons, the panel investigating the Sept. 11 jetliner attacks on New York and Washington heard on Wednesday.

10. I tried to call, but he couldn't hear me over the baseball game.
9. Rumsfeld and Rice said not to bother them until I knew the attack coordinates.
8. I'd run out of cell-phone minutes.
7. I was in a meeting with Ken Lay.
6. Only the FBI is allowed near Waco.
5. John Ashcroft said it was OK as long as they weren't reading porn on the plane.
4. I thought they were planning to bomb Baghdad.
3. Have you tried explaining anything to that idiot?
2. Dick Cheney told me Halliburton would take care of it.
1. Well, hell, Al Qaeda was on the payroll.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I Believe. . . .

The vestments were black and blood-red. No banners hung behind the altar, no flowers stood before it, and a circle of thorns crowned the cross. The great pipe organ was stilled, and the choir sang haunting Gregorian chants throughout the noon Good Friday service.

We all read the story of the Crucifixion from Gospel of John, members of the congregation taking the parts of Pilate, Peter, Caiaphas, the narrator, and Jesus. When the crowd cried "Crucify him!" we all spoke -- and what could be more wrenching, more painful, than to call for the execution of my Savior.

We had Communion (made possible by reserving consecrated Hosts and wine from the Maundy Thursday service), and then we went in silent procession to the church's meditation garden. There the remaining consecrated Hosts and wine were buried. We all silently, slowly straggled away, feeling an echo of the lost loneliness the disciples must have felt. Only after Diane's death did I really grasp the full desolation of personal grief that gripped them.

Sunday morning -- oh, the difference! Bells, music, brilliantly colored vestments, vases of lilies, the Great Thanksgiving, and alleluias like rain on the desert.

(Most of which I missed, since I'm allergic to Easter lilies.)

It's been 25 years since I left the Baptist church, but I'm still a fairly orthodox Christian. No longer a fundamentalist, since I think the Bible is far too complex and significant to be read literally, but I'm very much a believer in the basic tenets of Christianity: the divinity of Jesus Christ, His atoning death and resurrection, and the afterlife.

For the past three or four years I've found a home in the Episcopal church, where the love of Christ is expressed through practical goodness (feeding the hungry) as well as the glories of liturgy. (Which is mainly drawn from the Bible; in fact, a faithful Episcopalian or Roman Catholic is exposed to a great deal of the Bible in the course of the liturgical year. And no, the Book of Common Prayer is not "vain repetitions.") The combination works for me, and it's oddly similar to the two decades I spent as a Quaker, a practice I still love. Instead of silent worship, we have music and the Eucharist, but both are deeply mystical experiences grounded in solid, loving stewardship.

We can know God through the Scripture, but also through Creation. As my friend Alan says, "My own spirituality is inspired by the world and the wonders in it; to turn away from this feels to me like betraying something important." I count my own direct experience of faith as a part of Creation.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden posted her personal creed. It's remarkably similar to mine, though I've never met her. She's someone I know through words alone; I've been reading her blog on and off for a year or more. (In the small-world category, she does know Alan in 3D. Yes, I have hopes of an introduction.)

There's something to be said here that links faith in the incarnate Word with getting to know someone just through their writing. I'm not sure I can say it, though. The heart and soul of a writer can burn straight through the words on the page, like sunlight through a magnifying glass, and set a reader on fire.

But some people need to be present in the flesh to get their personalities across or to feel a link with someone else. For some of us, the road to Damascus lies through fields of ordinary life.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

So That Explains the Taste of Their Chai

My local Starbucks is built on a Superfund site.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Tight Race in the National League East

















NY Mets








Friday, April 02, 2004


Yes, friends: nuts for your truck! I nearly drove off the road when I first saw these in action. The eight-inch, gold-plated ones are for the terminally insecure.


I've got "My Back Pages" (the Joan Osborne and Jackson Browne live version) playing on repeat.


My laptop has been broken for six or seven weeks. But now, via the magic of eBay, I have a new power/sound card. Via the magic of having unemployed techie friends, I also have someone who is fixing the laptop for a price I can afford. I am very grateful to Bob, who is also an accomplished artist.


OK, time to switch to Ringo Starr singing "It Don't Come Easy."


Unfortunately, everybody in Silicon Valley has dozens of unemployed techie friends. Here are some cheering statistics from a regional economist:

  • 18% of all Silicon Valley jobs have been lost since 2000

  • Tech jobs are down 25% from peak

  • Per capita income dropped 7.4% in one year

  • Job growth was flat in the fourth quarter of 2003 (still down 3.8% for year); tech jobs are still dropping

Most estimates show that 200,000 jobs evaporated between 2001 and 2003. The Silicon Valley workforce is 1.5 million people. Do the math, friends.

Beyond the scary numbers there are some hopeful indicators. Traffic congestion is getting worse, always a sign that more people are working. Some friends who have been out of work for years are finding jobs. I had an encouraging interview at a San Francisco publishing company. I'm also doing some freelance work.


In totally unrelated but very good news, Sonja is getting spectacular grades in college. It's not just the A's that make us all glow with pride -- it's the ferociously researched, elegantly structured papers she has been writing, the new information she has been sharing with us. And just think what a joy she must be for her professors. When I was teaching, nothing thrilled me more than a student thirsty for knowledge. I'd love to see her go to law school -- she has exactly that sort of logical mind. One of the very few advantages of unemployment is that I get to spend more time with her, since we're both home in the daytime.

Also, Michele's contract has been extended through the end of September, and Paul is very happy with his job, which allows him to use his chemistry background. Now if I can just find work. . . .


I'm writing again. Not just putting words on paper in dribs and drabs, but working hard on a novel. (Dreaming about it, even. This is a good thing.) I can only hope this is the final chunk of the long writer's block that started in November 1997. At first I couldn't even sign my own name. Then I was able to write on assignment for work (though that took sweat and suffering, too). Then I was able to keep this blog. NaNoWriMo 2002 freed me -- I finished 50,000 words in a month. But I still hadn't (and haven't) finished that novel, nor the one I did for NaNoWriMo 2003. Something has been keeping me from the final steps of finishing, rereading, and submitting the work.

Now I am substantially reworking the 2003 Nano book, writing 5 pages a day of fresh material, as well as editing and reshaping what's there. I hate writing rough drafts, which is what Nano forces; when I'm all the way back, I suspect I'll return to my usual habits.

I've also been reading a lot of new books -- running through the Collected Works of John M. Ford, author extraordinaire, plus picking up various other goodies along the way. And rereading, after 30 years,Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. My God. They are good -- far better than I remembered, cleaner prose and no condescension in the tone. But, as someone said, a novel is a mirror -- if an ass looks in the mirror, you can't expect an angel to look out.


My Eczema Beast arrived -- a small stuffed animal with a nasty scowl and crinkled red fur. It's free from a drug company, promoting their new ointment for moderate to severe eczema.


I've also been wrestling with a few lions. One was Gabriel, Spawn of Satan. The other day I put on elbow-length leather gauntlets and held the beast while Sonja tried out a new device to comb through the knotted fur on her belly. Gabriel was not pleased, but neither of us ended up with scars, and we did comb out a kitten-sized heap of loose fur. It's a start. If she just wouldn't bother to grow a four-inch-thick double coat for these California winters, we'd all be happier. Back home she didn't knot up like this -- the cold weather kept her natural oil glands flowing. Maybe I need to give her kitty fur-conditioning treatments.


Our strawberry plants are in bloom.