I was practically born in a newsroom. My mother always said that while she wasn’t the first woman copy editor at the Houston Chronicle, she was the first pregnant copy editor. When I worked there many summers later as a copy girl, there were people still there who knew me before I was born.
Which is to say, that while I was raised Episcopalian, the true religion in my childhood home was journalism. Both my parents worked on newspapers throughout their lives, eventually running several weeklies outside of Houston after they got tired of putting up with top management at the city’s dailies.
Their principles were rooted in journalism. Get the facts right. Do what it takes to get the story. And you gotta run the story even if it’s going to piss off the powerful people who might sue and who will certainly pull their advertising.
I came up with a strong sense of journalistic ethics. So it surprised the hell out of me the first time I met a reporter who said they never voted because they didn’t think journalists should take sides. Continue reading “Journalistic Ethics”…
I grew up in one of those families where the not-so-subtle message was: “what have you accomplished today?” (One of the not-so-subtle tensions between my parents was that my father embraced this question as it regarded himself, and my mother did not–she did a lot of stuff, but the minute it was expected of her she shut right down.) I learned from this to feel guilty if I’m not accomplishing all the time, at the same time that what I really want to be doing is reading or doing a crossword puzzle or playing endless games of solitaire while I listen to TV re-runs in the background.
I know. I’ve lost the respect of all right-thinking people. As I should. But these times have not made it any easier to Do Things or Do Nothing, have they?
This week I’m so tired I can’t talk about any of the things I’d thought of. I’d thought of telling you about my writing, about my cousin, about eh World Science Fiction convention. They’re all subjects that contain many aspects of interest. I finished a novel, and have to edit some non-fiction, and have so much writing news and I spent five amazing days sitting at my own desk and travelling the world.
Maybe I’ll tell you about my writing next time.
What I want to say this time is short and sweet. Four things. Four simple things.
1. I am through July. This not just a thing. This is a Thing. July and I have a mutually inamicable agreement. I hates it, as a rule. And I’m through it. If I could travel right now, the early wattles would be on the edge of bloom and the big road from here to Sydney will be lined with yellow in a measly two weeks. I have a bus ticket I was supposed to use in May. I intend to pretend to use it in about two weeks. I shall take out pictures from other bus trips to Sydney and I shall let my computer travel down that road for me this year.
2. Canberra has no COVID-19 reported right now. We have the most cases in the whole country to the south of us in Victoria and the second most in New South Wales, which surrounds us. I looked at a map. I then went online and ordered food to stock my cupboards, for there are a lot of people at this stupid moment in human history who carry that stupid with them and ignore closed borders and warnings and face masks. This is how Victoria went from one of the safest places in the world to a place where my cousin died alone, and I am unhappy with stupid, right now. I suspect all of us are. I won’t be happier after her funeral on Wednesday, but I will have said farewell, which is something. She was much older than me and I didn’t see her very often, but she was important, and her mother was important, and, anyway, no-one should have to die alone. I wasn’t going to talk about this. Let me return to not talking about it.
3. I couldn’t see all the planetary alignments tonight. I did see one, and the moon had a halo, and a friend said, “Go outside and take picture.” It was so cold that I put on my superwarm dressing gown. I didn’t care if people saw it. I got through July – I can go outside when it’s that cool. I can and I did and I came inside fairly quickly. I meant to make myself hot chocolate, but I had a glass of water and kept watching…
4. What does one do when overtired and overcold and has got through July safely and needs emotional escape? I could decide between a complete X-Men rewatch or a complete Avengers rewatch, or Stardust. I’m watching all of them. No more than two movies a day, but all of them. Also, I’m willing to add to the list if anyone feels there are things that ought to be on that list. (I don’t normally have access to this many movies, but I have Netflix and Disney+ until life returns to normal, for living alone requires company). By the time I’m finished, winter will be over and the wattle will be here. Yellow on trees in this part of the world is the harbinger of summer. In two weeks, everything will improve.
The other day I noticed that I wasn’t the only person who was tired. We’re all emotionally exhausted. If life were the same as it usually is, this is when we’d take time off and maybe even go on holiday.
I wrote those sentences then my thoughts led me into talking about how holidays are affected even for those who can still take them and I realised… one of the reasons we’re so tired is because there’s no escape form the pandemic. I’m in iso. As long as I am in iso, I’m safe. It should be simple, really. I should be shut off from the emotional fatigue. But it isn’t. And I’m not.
This is the moment I need to call forth my promise to myself.
Life has been challenging for me for a few years now, and I told myself that if I was going to continue to have garbage thrown at me, I was going to turn it into fertiliser and grow the best garden. When I remember this, the exhaustion takes a step back. Let me make some fertiliser right now.
I like lists of ten, so I’m going to list ten things that make life that much easier when one is Gillian in a pandemic.
1. Soft material. I use an amazingly soft blanket to snuggle in, and every time I do this I fight the long time alone.
2. Basic dance exercise. Keeps my body capable, even when I can’t go outside for weeks on end and things hurt. Also means I can fling my arms around flambuoyantly.
3. Chocolate. I don’t need to explain chocolate.
4. Other peoples’ stories. Books and TV and streaming services – when things get too much I can dig a hole in someone else’s world and only emerge when I want to. I choose to call this fairy tale groundhogging, for I found a Cinderella film last night and it took me right back to the days when there were solutions to problems. Now… not so many solutions, but I’m still allowed to dream.
5. World building. I finished writing a novel and the next one is a while off for I have to build a world. This gives me so many excuses to delve into intellectual places I normally don’t have enough time for. Six months I have, to delve. Maybe a year. To imagine a different world. Then I find a few people in that world and I write about them, but this deep level of world building is such a good place to be. I have a giant piece of paper on the back of the door, I have two notebooks… and this time I’m auctioning off place names to raise money for SF fans to meet each other. The geography of my three new countries will give a bunch of people what the world building does me: a feeling of being in contact with others at a time when… we aren’t so much.
6. Cooking. Today I intend to cook enough curries to last me one meal a day until after the weekend. Cooing calms me right down. I also talk to myself. When I’m in the middle of a novel, I might talk to my characters or argue with my plot. While other writers pen more drafts… I cook.
7. Online conferences. I can turn the vision off (so no-one sees me in my PJs) and listen to academics talk about their fascinating research while I do those stretches and gentle exercise and fling my arms around. A university professor says something that changes my own research or is important to my writing, so I stop in the middle of a paper and race to my desk and take notes. Free online academic conferences are the best form of academic training or updating for writers. I can break down stereotypes and I can learn how coin hoards change the way we see a place and its coinage and I can be reminded of the Welsh triads. Right now my world building is dominated by what I recently learned about Celtic Law because the experts in that law were handily on my computer.
8. The capacity to lose my temper without hurting anyone. Let’s face it, to only see two or three people in real life over a period of months is not an emotionally good place to be in. Chronic illness and iso leave me ready to snap when someone tells me off for being ill, or who thinks it’s a privilege to be single and of my age and alone. I lose my temper to myself, privately, then turned the garbage into fertiliser and asked everyone to think about chatting with me on Zoom. And now I have friends around me from a distance and I’d love to say I never lost my temper directly at anyone in achieving this, I’d love it if that side of things was very private… but I only lost that temper once in anyone else’s presence. Things are not easy for any of us. We often only see the good things in the lives of others because it’s so important to get through things. Having space to lose my temper and to curse the world and to move past it and regain civilisation is a lovely luxury.
9. I own the shell of an emu egg. It looks like a large, speckled avocado, but it’s an emu egg and it’s mine. My next dream is cook with the other parts of an emu egg, but that’s harder to achieve. Another dream is to paint emu eggs, but I’m not good at painting and the egg shells are not cheap. Painting is easier to achieve in the US, where emus are farmed. My egg comes from an emu that was never constrained and constricted and (given emus) quite possibly bullied children. I was bullied by emus as a child. And now I have an egg.
10. I can take moments to ponder the important questions. My important question at this precise moment is whether other places have birds that bully in the way emus do. We also have cassowaries, but I’ve never met one because they’re far more dangerous than emus. And we have magpies that swoop. It’s swooping season right now, in fact, and I’m safe inside and cannot be got. I wish I could see a person on a bike, with a mask to protect from COVID-19 and a helmet studded with spines to protect against magpies. In fact, I wish I had a picture and could make postcards with funny comments.
This post was brought to you by a way-too-early swooping season and by an emu’s egg.
Talking with a new friend the other day, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Florida lifestyle and how amazing it was to be able to live outside most of the time. The air is so clean, even though many of the cars here are “super-sized” – from full-sized 4WD Ram trucks to Cadillac Escalades and Range Rovers. The incredible amount of plant life here must help to clean the air. I’m not so sure about our canals and the rivers and bays, but over time, I expect I’ll find out. There was a manatee in our canal this morning.
So, from a health and beauty perspective, it’s really easy to take care of skin here as long as you stay away from noseeums and mosquitos. The humidity may make my hair curl but I don’t care. You have to use sunscreen because the sun is so strong here, but again – it’s easy to do and worth spending what you can to get good mineral sunscreen. (Note: don’t use the cheap stuff for a lot of reasons – the chemicals are associated with cancer, they seep through your skin, and if you go in the water at all, they are toxic to fish and coral and other living creatures).
You get up and you’re sweating … you get out of the shower and you’re sweating …
LOL no! I just got in from a run.
Which brings me to clothes and makeup. You know, all sci-fi writers have abiding interests in clothing and makeup.
Welp – you don’t need many clothes here in SW Florida and there’s little point in makeup. You will sweat it off. If you put anything on that’s going to stay on, it will be so harsh and garish that it will look awful. The less, the better. Now that I have my hair back again, I am so happy. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time because, when I started, I was actually trying to save money. Then over time it became “How long can I grow it?” Of course it’s not my style. Glad to be “me” again.
So enough about me. On to the coyotes of Sanibel Island. And a story about a book I’ve looked in many times, but never read. The reason we are in Florida is that I had complained several times to Bruce how sad and depressed I was that there seemed to be no shell left on any California beach. I think it had been at least five years since I’d found any notable shell on any beach, anywhere up and down the state. Maybe in July or August of last year, we even went to Silver Strand State Beach which is south of Mission Bay and noted for shells (supposedly), and I was able to find only one sand dollar in a 3.5 mile walk. You still cannot find anyone openly discussing the lack of shells on beaches in Southern California (and Central Coast and northern beaches). It’s clearly a result of climate change. When we went fishing from Dana Point shortly before we left, the guys on the boat talked openly about how dirty the water was. Before we left, we started to see commercial fishing offshore, which hadn’t been seen close to California beaches for years. And the smog had been creeping in, stunning to see after years of cleaner air and so much effort. Environmental badness all-round.
So, in January, we flew to Sanibel Island and stayed for a week. Not only did I mail two big boxes of shells home, I left these shells with our neighbor Elizabeth when we moved. There are more than enough shells here that they seem to be an endlessly-renewable resource. Judging by spring and summer here, winter seems to be a little better shell season than these times, but I’ve picked up a few treasures. Bruce and I even got two “grandpappy” shells while touring the Everglades in January – a massive lightning whelk and a fighting conch – both at least 8-10 inches in length.
Not long after we returned to Southern California, we were looking at places to move to along the southwest Florida coast. And we left – nearly the last day that we could, I think, during the first part of the COVID-19 crisis. We drove cross-country March 26-March 30.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are a little south of where we are now in Punta Gorda. They are world-renowned for the beauty of their shells and their preservation of unspoiled nature for wildlife. A large part of Sanibel is the J.N. “Ding” Darling Nature Preserve. Both islands have not allowed high-rise development, and there’s ample open space as well as, on Sanibel, the extensive “Ding” preserve and wildlife area. It is a haven for birds, fish, dolphin, you name it. If you have ever wanted to see a roseate spoonbill, “Ding” is one of the places to go. If you love seabirds, you will see every type you can imagine at “Ding.” Also, wear bug spray.
So, when I was growing up, my grandmother, the renowned and feared “Nana,” had a few favorite things, one of which was a slender, beautiful volume, Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Growing up, I often looked in this small book, and I suppose I read a little of it, but what I mostly did was gaze at the delicate drawings of shells which were its illustrations. I thought it was about the ocean; little did I know that now I was re-acquainted with it by a lady on Sanibel — it was about this lovely woman’s ideas of where a woman should go, and each chapter, inspired by a shell that she had found while staying on, not Sanibel, but the smaller, more northerly companion island, Captiva. Captiva is today, the demesne of rich people’s mansions, a couple of resorts, and the awesome, retro, down-to-earth Jensen’s Marina. Oh – and the beach at the end of the road is very nice – but there’s no such thing as “not a nice beach” in Southwest Florida.
Yes, I found where I should be by haphazardly visiting the island where a woman my grandmother deeply admired, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had written a beloved book about women finding their way in life. Through shells.
We are so out of touch with nature, I think, that such things seem novel — strange — unusual. A shell seems to us to be a magical thing, but perhaps ever it was so.
So we took Gambit to one of the beaches on Sanibel last week (Algiers Beach, I think).
I think this is Stump Pass Beach but … hey … that’s the Gulf of Mexico.
Driving back, we weren’t far from the “Ding” Darling Preserve when Bruce said, “What’s that in the road? A deer?”
“It’s deer-colored,” I said. But as soon as the fairly tall, rangy animal moved, we could tell it was no deer.
Hm. What is it?? It was almost fox-like in coloring, but far too tall to be a fox.
Probably too hard to see from this sad attempt at blowing up the picture, but it was a very dark and sleek looking, tall, rangy coyote. He ran in front of our car, glancing back over his shoulder at us, then disappeared into someone’s property on the other side of the road. As soon as he looked back, I knew from his yellow-green eyes he was a coyote.
Yes, there are coyotes on Sanibel Island, between 25 and 30 of them. They have only been there since 2012, or so “reports” say.
Before we left Laguna Woods, our much smaller, sandy-colored So Cal coyotes were boldly trotting in twos and threes throughout the neighborhood, looking for stray 3 pound Yorkies or elderly cats to gobble.
With eyes and ears open here, there are so many animals to see and so many beautiful plants. Just — bug spray.
I now have a book that I need to read that I should have read years ago — it is among the hundreds I left behind or gave away before we moved. Did you know that at one point, I had 5,000 books? No? Oh, well — they are all gone to good or bad or no homes now.
Now I pick up shells on the beach, but seldom keep them. I have a tiny collection of orange and red scallops. I keep them in a tiny porcelain dish with a miniature sea turtle in it that I bought for Bruce this past Christmas. Small and light, I saw nothing wrong with taking this dish with us to Florida.
Every day it seems, comes a new revelation, a change of feeling, a different insight.
Jogging with Gambit earlier, we saw Big Boy, the massive Muscovy duck who must surely outweigh Gambit’s 11 pounds, heaving his bulk across Marion Ave. near the teenage alligator’s pond. Big Boy has improbably grown even fatter in this heat and seems to do little except shuffle between the two ponds throughout the day. He held up a number of cars on his journey, and was so lazy that as we passed, the best he could do as he lay in the damp grass under an elderly oak was mouth vague warnings through his gray/white/red mottled bill.
The evening is soft now and the westerly sun is casting its long rays through the lanai shutters. The sun stays strong here even in the late afternoon, right into sundown.
I think of the beautiful, fine-boned Mrs. Lindbergh walking along Captiva’s shores. Hurricane Charley came in 2004, one of the strongest ever to hit the U.S. So she may well have walked between Captiva and North Captiva — the hurricane cut a channel between the two islands, and North Captiva can now be reached only by boat, like a lot of places here.
I see her bend to pick up a shell; I could never associate the awkward “Sanibel Stoop” with such a lovely woman. I think of the quiet lives of the imagination these women must have lived, for I feel her in my mind as I see my grandmother, and as I see Eleanor Roosevelt. Their lives ever so much freer than so many womens’ yet still, so very unfree. From their clothing to their hair to what they could say, they held their innermost thoughts to themselves. But then shell by shell, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote her Gift from the Sea.
So many things, our culture has taken from us, from our ability to be kind to each other and accept our differences, to our ability to notice the tiny things: a shell, a dragonfly (for there are so many now, and they are as big as hummingbirds!), the tiniest flicker in the water which is a fish, the flashing ripple of a tarpon’s fin, the way the sun on the water looks like ever so many diamonds.
We are part of life, we are part of nature, and yet so many have forgotten even these, the smallest things.
I think when I am able to read Gift from the Sea, so many veils will be lifted.
How soft the Gulf is — how blue and warm and gentle.
Until there comes a storm. And so — there is. Tonight, though they say, not a bad one.
I grew up in a household where, at any given time, there were a handful of cats and possibly a dog, and some fish, and maybe a few hand-raised rodents. Households had critters, that’s just how it was. As an adult, and a writer, it always seemed essential to me to have a cat (or two), for office companionship.But I haven’t had a dog, one that was mine, since college.My life – travel and housing – really didn’t support it.
Until, a few years ago, it did.
It’s not as though I didn’t have opportunities since then to adopt. For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering at my local animal shelter, and my friends started taking bets on when I would end up bringing a dog home with me.But other than the occasional week-long fostering, I resisted – mainly because I had two cats at home already, one of whom was older and in ill health.
We lost that elder cat a few months ago, and I thought that – between Covid-19 and moving from a rental to my own place, maybe I should just wait before thinking about getting a new animal.Maybe my remaining cat would like being an Only for a while, after all.
Well, no.He really doesn’t, if the way he keeps going to the door and demanding to be let out so he can look for his missing buddy is any indication.And when I took in a foster pup for a week…the door-demanding stopped.Only to return again once the foster pup was adopted.
Here we are, in beautiful New Zealand for worldcon! Except, of course, we’re not really, because coronavirus. We’re sitting in our dining room in front of our computers. Virtually, though, we are here! Havin’ a good time—especially when we can navigate the befuddlingly complicated login procedure to get where we’re going. (The price, I guess of running a con on multiple virtual platforms.) We’re learning a new app: Discord. We’re also learning to radically convert time-zones. New Zealand time is 16 hours ahead of us, which means that most of the time, they’re already in tomorrow, while we’re still in today. Continue reading “At CoNZealand: the 78th World Science Fiction Convention!”…
From time to time, I focus on an article that in my estimation offers valuable information or reflection on the stresses of the times. These last four years have presented one crisis after another. And now a pandemic that threatens not only my life and health, but those of my loved ones and friends. So it’s a good time to review what enhances our resilience and remind ourselves that we are indeed resourceful. We are not always so, and not all of us are at the same time. Not every piece of advice will seem appropriate to each of us. One of the many benefits of community is that we can remind one another of our strength, we can role model sanity and self-care, and those of us who have hope at any given moment can carry those of us who are mired in despair through the dark hours.
We’ll get through this. Together.
On to the article: This is by Craig Polizzi, a PhD Student in Clinical Psychology, and Steven Jay Lynn, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, both at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
The authors highlight three strategies we might use to reduce stress and rebuild our lives, even while the pandemic is still raging. This is going to go on for a while, folks, so let’s see what we can do to make the best of this episode in our lives.
Cognitive reappraisal involves reframing the way one interprets an emotional or stressful event or situation to regulate or neutralize its harmful impact. You can think about working from home, for example, as an opportunity to spend more time with family, engage in hobbies or get caught up on projects, rather than as a threat to job security. This strategy tempers the kind of all-or-nothing thinking – such as “the world is unsafe,” “I cannot do anything to help” and “our leaders know nothing” – that can take people down a road of anxiety, worry and mistrust of others. Instead, reappraisal helps you move toward healthy perspectives on stressful situations, dampens negative emotions and boosts positive emotions and keenness to participate fully in life.
Problem-focused coping can be another helpful strategy. It frames a stressful situation as a problem to be solved and fuels planning and the search for practical solutions. For example, people who know they feel worried or depressed after consuming news can plan to monitor and control the timing (such as not before sleep), nature and amount of news they consume. Effective problem-solving increases positive emotions, self-confidence and motivation. It also lessens the psychological impact of stressors.
As society opens up, you need to weigh the pros and cons of shopping, eating in restaurants, or seeking medical treatment, informed by the best available evidence. Problem-focused coping can help you make decisions about whether an activity is safe and consistent with your personal values and the needs of others.
Lovingkindness meditation can help you get through trying times. It involves contemplating and generating positive feelings and tolerance towards yourself and others. Combining lovingkindness meditation with empathy for those with different political views, for example, can help heal frayed bonds of friendship when social support is most needed. Pausing each day to embrace love and kindness counteracts self-blame, guilt, feelings of alienation and social isolation.
And anything that increases the amount of compassion and love in the world is surely a good thing.
For the complete article, click on the title link.
Back when I ran a non-profit law firm in D.C., we used to get fundraising calls from an organization that represented itself as a charity supporting the police. I was surprised to learn that we had made donations to them in the past. Our office manager explained that contributing made the police more amenable to helping you and seeing you as friendly.
Now I didn’t think this was true. Such charities are usually scams or something very close to that and rarely even do much for police officers. But I know my office manager believed it was true and so did lots of other people. Those organizations preyed on that belief.
In the wake of the change in the national dialogue about the police that has come about with the protests over the murder of George Floyd, I’ve come up with an institution that’s doing something similar: police unions. They look more and more like the gang-run protection rackets of old. “You’ve got a nice little city here. Be a shame if something happened to it.” Continue reading “Protection Racket”…
When my kids were small we watched a lot of Sesame Street. A lot. A co-worker who also had a small child and I would meet each morning to briefly determine what the Sesame Street ear worm for the day was, so that at least we weren’t cross-infecting each other with bouncy pedagologic songs. One of those sons was “Cooperation.” The lyrics were something like “Cooperation–makes it happen! Cooperation: working together.” A fine sentiment to teach four-year-olds. Or, as it more and more appears, 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds.
What is up with us as a country? With the crowd of people out there who rail against cooperating with the effort to get a handle on Covid-19 by wearing a mask, because (as I interpret it) “you’re not the boss of me?” Is this the logical endpoint of that American trope, the myth of Rugged Individualism? Continue reading “Cooperation Makes It Happen”…