In Praise of Taylor Swift

I have become a fan of the Taylor Swift phenomenon.

This is not fandom in the classic sense. I am in no way a Swiftie. I’ve never seen her perform; in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to recognize one of her songs.

But I love it that she has this huge fan base among women and girls, so huge that she was just named Time’s Person of the Year. And while I’m sure she has fans of other genders as well, even male ones, it is the joy I observe among women that makes this so satisfying.

The point at which I realized Swift was a big deal was when I heard her discussed on podcasts with women lawyers and law professors. These lawyers were going to her shows, some with their daughters, some on their own.

I’m talking about the kind of lawyers who teach constitutional law, which is about as high-powered as you get academically in the legal profession. Women who are up and coming academic powerhouses are not only Swifties, but not afraid to trumpet their fandom.

When I think about how careful the women lawyers of my generation were, especially the ones who aspired to judgeships and high academic posts, I am agog. These women are demanding that you pay attention to their legal thinking and at the same time they’re the embodiment of Cyndi Lauper’s great song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

It thrills me to see it, much in the same way that the Barbie movie thrilled me. Like Swift, Barbie is not really my thing, but the combination of feminism and sheer joy in that movie – a movie about a major commercial toy! – was so damn refreshing.

And since we are still living in capitalistic times, it is worth pointing out that both Swift and the movie make money – big money – out of performances that are squarely aimed at women and girls. Continue reading “In Praise of Taylor Swift”

Retiring, Not Shy

For the past few decades, whenever I have seen an ad that says something like “The SFPD is hiring” or “You could be a police dispatcher” or something like that, there is a small, weird part of me that thinks, maybe I should apply for that. Despite the fact that I hate job hunting, and despite the fact that I don’t want to be a firefighter or police officer (and am well past the age where my application would produce anything but laughter). The urge to figure out the next thing is still deeply massaged into my psyche.

In February I gave notice at my job. The fact that I set my departure date in December 1) because when your workplace has only three employees, the replacement of one can take a while; 2) I wanted to wait until my 70th birthday, which is in December; and 3) If I held off until I turned 70 I would be eligible for the maximum Social Security benefit to which my years of employment entitled me. Or something like that. 

I started a file on the museum’s shared drive, initially named “How to be Madeleine,” but, as the time passed, respectably renamed “Operations Manager Procedures.” So that over the months, as I did something–say, filed the sales tax or applied for a one-day license to serve alcohol–I could document the work flow. So life went on. In October my boss started the recruitment process to replace me. I am happy to report that she found someone great, and I am busily sharing, not just those Operations Manager Procedures, but all the bits and pieces of organizational history and lore that are tucked somewhere in my brain.

So after all these months when retirement was sort of theoretical, it’s suddenly (as of this writing) two weeks away. I find I’m feeling a little unsettled about it. Continue reading “Retiring, Not Shy”

Life consistently intervenes

These last two days have been exciting. I’ve applied for an extension to my Big Project (actually for funding to finish it) and a friend has installed air conditioning for me, which means I’ll be able to work even on hot days. Like today. All this took time and it’s not quite finished. I’ve got through it by eating cherries, mainly. Also, while my friends were doing the installation, gradually tidying my place for Chanukah. This saves me a lot of work today, tomorrow and Thursday but it left me in pain and… I had to sleep until the pain wore off. Juggling installation and Chanukah and chronic illness can be fun. I woke up just in time for lunch and then realised I’d missed my whole Tuesday morning. But my basic housework is done a day early and Chanukah is on its way and I’m so close to ready. I have to run messages tomorrow, that’s all.

The time is the tricky bit. I caught up with all the things I had meant to finish by late yesterday and then looked at the clock and it told me I’m several hours late in writing this. I have the best reasons, however, and the airconditioning is bring the temperature down to one that doesn’t cause more pain and so I will be able to work into the evening.

I was going to talk about meaningful things today. I had them all planned. Instead, I need more rest. My body has announced this to me, using strong language. I shall watch science fiction television for a bit. It’s work, but not hard work. It will have consequences next year, but doesn’t solve any issues today.

And then I will go through all kinds of odd scraps of paper to find out what 9 am in my diary for tomorrow means. I have no idea…

May your life be more under control than mine this week, and may you be neither too cold nor too warm.

Relationships and Values

The Washington Post editorial board published a ridiculous editorial last week on the fate of marriage given that young women are much more liberal than young men, some of whom are distressingly right wing. The article implied that women should compromise their political beliefs to get married.

My initial reaction to this silly article is best summed up in a saying from second-wave feminism:

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

According to Wikipedia, Australian filmmaker, politician, and activist Irina Dunn said that.

My second reaction is to ask why are we still getting articles like this in 2023. This one’s not quite as bad as the one Newsweek did in the 1990s about women over 40 being more likely to be killed by terrorists than get married — which wasn’t remotely true as well as being stupid — but it’s pretty bad.

I mean, why all this emphasis on getting married?

The Post seems to think married people are happier, but their source for that data is from a right wing organization. There is some data that married men are happier, but ….

Based on my in-no-way-scientific observation of people, single women are as happy as anybody else, and the women I’ve known who were the unhappiest tended to be married women in complicated marriages.

I’ve been in a committed relationship for the past ten years (we’ve lived together for nine). Before that I was single for many years. I’ve never been married and never had a long ongoing relationship before this one. I was happy being single and I’m happy being in this particular relationship.

The things that make me unhappy have nothing to do with my relationships.

It should go without saying that my partner and I share similar political views. There is absolutely no way I could be seriously involved with a partner who didn’t share my politics. In fact, one of the reasons this relationship is successful is that we share deep values.

There’s an implication in this discussion that political views don’t matter, even though The Post also constantly writes about polarization. It’s as if politics is like rooting for a baseball team.

But politics, especially in these times, is a window into values. If my values incorporate feminism, antiracism, addressing climate change, doing something about wealth inequality, and related issues, how can I possibly get involved with someone who embraces authoritarianism and white supremacy? Continue reading “Relationships and Values”

A Month of NaNoWriMo posts (highlights)

November 1: Happy November! It’s @NaNoWriMo time! Will you join this year? NaNoWriMo is a yearly event that challenges participants to write a novel in a single month. The #writingcommunity spirit, online tools, and general cheering one another on can be awesome. But it’s not for everyone.

Here’s what I’ll be doing for NaNoWriMo: Cheering on my friends. I’ll be finishing up revisions on the next Darkover novel, Arilinn. Revising is a very different process from drafting. I find that drafting goes better when I do it quickly, so I don’t get caught in second-guessing myself or editing as I write. Both are recipes for disaster and paralysis. Revising, on the other hand, does not reliably produce any measurable result in terms of pages or words. I dive into it and call it quits every day when my brain won’t function any longer.

November 2: Happy @NaNoWriMo month! Whether you participate or not, this is a great time to review your writing goals. If finishing a novel is too much, how about a single chapter? Or a short story? While it can be helpful to set ambitious goals, for many it’s overwhelming. We fare better with short, manageable goals that allow us to succeed, sentence by sentence, word by word. What are YOUR goals for this month?

November 3: Happy @NaNoWriMo! Candles, music, hot drinks, snacks, a purring cat on your lap… What helps make the words flow for you?

I like soft instrumental music, an occasional spearmint candy, and lots of kitty vibes!

November 5: Happy @NaNoWriMo! Is it possible to write a novel in only 30 days? What do you think?

  1. Why stop at only one? Let’s write a trilogy in 30 days?
  2. Hell, no! I can barely manage a sentence in that time–but it’s a perfect sentence!
  3. Yes, if the voices in my head keep dictating to me.

November 10: It’s time for a break! Rest is important – even during @NaNoWriMo. Writing a novel in 30 days is pretty intense. Knowing when and how much to rest is tricky. Are you a fan of rest or do you find it difficult to switch off?

November 12: Supporting characters can provide comic relief when things get heavy. Do you have a favorite, one just begging for their own story What would a writing session look like if some of your supporting characters were keeping you company?

November 13: Doing something as demanding as @NaNoWriMo can teach you things you didn’t know about yourself. Tackling a novel, regardless of time, teaches me humility and patience. And that I have a wacky sense of humor. Does this surprise you? What are you learning about yourself this month?

November 15: During a project as big as @NaNoWriMo, it’s normal to feel tired, to doubt yourself or run low on creativity. So it’s good to have a few go-to accounts that lift you up, brighten your day or remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. What nourishes you during those moments? What keeps you inspired?

November 26: @NaNoWriMo pals: Are you old school or ultra-modern? Whether it’s keeping track of your ideas, staying on schedule or actually putting words on the page – do you prefer pen and paper, your trusty typewriter, color-coded post-its, a giant whiteboard, clever apps… or something else? Ask your readers: are you traditional or high-tech?

For organization, I use a writing paper schedule and a spiral notebook for each novel. For writing, I mostly use Word (or Google Docs), but if I’m stuck, I write my way through with that handy notebook.

What about you?

November 27: Into the home stretch of @NaNoWriMo, there’s a good chance you’ll run low on energy at some point this month. When that happens, do you take a break or push through? What restores your energy and momentum?

November 30: On the last day of @NaNoWriMo, you may need a little extra help to get across the finish line. Feel free to be honest about that and ask for #encouragement.

Here’s some from me: You’ve done an awesome job, whether you finished a novel or not. Your words are precious, so keep writing!

A Nothing-Day

I lost a chunk of today because of stormy weather. That means this post is late. Very late.

Storms affect some folks more than others, and I am one of their number. I rested for ten minutes when everything hurt too much and I woke up two hours alter. This means the storms are long and enthusiastic. When they’re sharp and socking, I get migraines. It’s all a bit too exciting, to be honest.

It took me a long time to discover that I (and a group of friends, likewise affected by storms) all have difficulties with inflammation. I’ll know this lot of storms has passed when I suddenly lose over two kilograms of weight. That’s about four and a half pounds for those who distrust metric measures. When there’s weather like this I make jokes about rolling down hills rather than walking because the weight change is mostly around my legs and my middle.

I’ve also been known to tease people who think I need to lose weight. I’ve not encountered anyone today to whom I could say, with a high pretence of seriousness, that if they think I need to lost a lot of eight in a hurry, then they should drop in tomorrow. Today wouldn’t’ve been a good day for this joke anyhow, as tomorrow looks as if it will be just as rotund and just as inflamed and just as stormy. On Thursday, however, I shall probably lose 3 ½ kilograms. My body is telling me this.

It’s hard to settle down to work when I’m round like a balloon, but I can’t just leave things. What I do is make a list of the minimum I need to get done. Today my list contains this blogpost, a supermarket delivery, several hours of research, many emails sorted, and 2 applications finished. I’m a bit under a third of the way through, and it’s almost 4 pm. Hopefully the storm will ease off for a few hours and will allow me to furiously catch up. We’ll see.

While we all sit back and watch the weather to find out what the rest of the day will bring, I might make a giant cup of tea. Then another. And, while I’m drinking that tea, finish with some emails and one of the applications.

I don’t want to. My body is telling me to sleep off the inflammation. What I’m hoping is that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and slept everything off on my behalf. Australia is not a Thanksgiving country, so really, I have no excuse to go back to bed. I rely on you…

Getting Out of Town

sunset on the Pacific Ocean.

My sweetheart Jim and I went up the coast of California north of San Francisco to celebrate his birthday. We spent the night in Bodega Bay, a small town where a lot of people fish for a living and the tourism is focused on fishing, kayaking, and other water-related recreation.

We drove over to Sonoma Coast State Park to watch the sun set on the Pacific. (I will never get tired of seeing sunsets and trying to take good pictures of them.) It had a been a rainy day — and in fact rained more after sunset — so we had the right mix of clouds and sun for spectacular show.

It got dark quickly and the restaurants were about to close, so we picked up a fish dinner from one of the restaurants along the harbor and sat in our car (because it was drizzling) alongside a small marina to eat. We could see a heron and perhaps another bird or two, but it was too dark to see any creatures that were not next to a light on a boat or the pier. Jim thought he could see something else, though.

When we started the car and turned on the light, we could see seven harbor seals along a plank coming off the pier. They didn’t appreciate the light — they were trying to sleep — and it was really too dark to get a good picture, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

We’d had a good day, but the seals were the best part.

Then we went back to our room and the power went out! Life on the coast.

Here’s a picture of me and the birthday boy the next day at his sister’s house in nearby Guerneville.

Nancy and Jim on a porch with trees in the background

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

In the United States, we all grow up with the story of the First Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims who came from England and settled at Plymouth Rock and the Wampanoag, the people who were already there. There was probably some kind of feast celebrating survival and harvest and the Wampanoag did join in.

But while there were various proclamations holding thanksgiving celebrations throughout the colonial years and in the first years of the United States itself, the root of the holiday we celebrate today comes from the Civil War and is a celebration of the victory over the enslavers’ rebellion. Since I grew up in Texas, which was part of the rebellion, I don’t know if this was ever mentioned in schools in other parts of the country, but it certainly wasn’t in mine.

As we reckon with our true history, it seems more appropriate to me today to focus on the celebration of defeating those who set out to undermine our democracy rather than myths from early colonizers that try to sanitize their relationships with the people whose land they were on. This is particularly true today when we are struggling with efforts to destroy all that’s good about our country from people who share the views of the enslavers who rebelled in 1861.

Heather Cox Richardson has an excellent essay on this. Go and read and ponder how we should protect our democracy today.

And give thanks for democracy while you’re at it.

It’s Not Halloween

… and yet I just turned up this photo, which made me think of the weird things I–and my kids (and in the photo, my brother) have worn to costume events.

The photo is of my brother wearing the “Bat Fink” costume my father made him. The Bat Fink was made with plaster-of-Paris-permeated muslin over a wire armature, in the shape of a raven with a three-foot wingspan. It had yellow marble eyes that caught the light, and a bloody skull in its beak. It was built onto massive shoulder straps (I’m not sure if it also belted around the chest), which is why there was an additional breastplate of plaster-of Paris skulls which covered the straps, and black fabric that draped from the bottom of the raven over my brother’s shoulders and down to about his knees. He wore a skull mask to finish up the look. I suspect that, wearing the Bat Fink, my brother would still have been under 6 feet (he was 7 or 8 that year), but it was imposing, and likely to scare the teeth out of our small neighbors in Greenwich Village. A couple of years later I wore the Bat Fink on my shoulders (carefully draped with black fabric, but no skulls) to open the door and dispense candy to Trick or Treaters.

Okay, my family–all of us, but particularly my father–had no problem with standing out in a crowd. Continue reading “It’s Not Halloween”

Sultana’s Dream and other matters

I nearly let my purple sparkly sorting hat decide what I would talk about this week. If I’d had just a little more energy, I’d have written a list of all the subjects (I’m thinking about so many things right now, ranging from whether I should write a vampire cookbook to how to deal with silencing in the current political environment) and chosen one at random. This is the first day in two weeks where the morning began with merely moderate pain, however, and fatigue is ever-present, so I played Solitaire. This was entirely the right thing to do.

The postie just rang my doorbell and she had a little package for me. In the package was something I’ve been after for a long, long time. Let me tell you about it.

The book is by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. It’s two novellas, Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag. Hossain wrote Sultana’s Dream in 1905. Padmarag was translated in 1924, but Hossain wrote it in Bengali. Hossain was a feminist bilingual writer of speculative fiction, how could I not want to read her work? And it’s the hundredth year of the publication of Padmarag very, very soon. I shall celebrate, with food, music and with a reading. Whether that reading is for myself alone or online to share depends. If you’re reading this and would like to be a part of it, let me know!

One last note. It’s Mizrachi Heritage Month right now. Reading the writing of Mizrachi Jews or cooking delicious Mizrachi food doesn’t mean you support what Netanyahu’s doing. It does, however, help us understand a bit about the cultures are of the those Jews who never left the Middle East. Last year I read (here’s a list in case this appeals to you), and this year it’s all about the food. Next year it will probably be both. Right now, though, I’m playing the music of Ofra Haza: my favourite song (“Kirya”) changes the rhythm of my typing.

My background is mostly from Ashkenaz, with a bit of Sephardi. That’s different music and different food. Now, if you will please excuse me, I’m very excited about finally getting a copy of Hossain’s works and I need to read them at once!