I Can Stop Any Time… I just Don’t Want To. Mostly.

My last post, I talked about fostering a puppy (who has since gone on to his furever home, huzzah!).  And I thought, “okay, I’m going to take a break from all that, for a while.”

And then an email landed from the other shelter I volunteer with, and without hesitation I said, “I can take Bella.”

Bella is a six-year-old Pomeranian mix, a delicate little lady with the spine of a dragon (when a friend’s Great Dane pup got too close, she opened her little mouth and showed her little teeth, and told him to get fucked.  He backed down.).  We call her the cat-dog, because all she really wants is to cuddle, ideally and preferably in my lap, but she is perfectly happy to trot alongside Max for nearly an hour on our walks.

(and then she demands to be carried, like the princess she is).

It hasn’t been all snuggles and walks, though.  Her first few days, her tummy was stress-upset, and I spent a lot of time washing shit out of her fur.  Her housebreaking broke (also due to stress) and I spent a lot of time cleaning carpets. And recleaning carpets.  And throwing out soiled pee pads (and keeping Max from eating the fresh ones).  Sweet Bella is demanding of my time, to the point where Max started to get cranky about it.  And god help you when you tried to crate her at night!  Her place was on the bed with you, thank you very much.

(Once she regained her house training, she got to sleep on the bed, yes).

And then she had to have dental surgery, and I spent four days trying to convince her that yes, she did need to take all her meds….  Trying to get a tiny dog to swallow a pill is not like pilling a larger dog.  Their mouths are so tiny and you feel guilty AF for even trying.

But she’s still the sweetest bundle of fierce fluff, and I love her dearly.

I said that in conversation recently, and  got another round of the usual, “I don’t know how you can bear to foster, and then let them go.  I’d end up adopting all of them.”

As I said to that friend: no, you really wouldn’t.  And no, we’re not saints for doing this.  I joke that having a third animal in the house for a short period of time is how I remind myself that one dog and one cat is the perfect balance for this household.  More than that, and chaos is set loose.  Chaos, and exhaustion.  But more than that, the truth is that with animals, as with people, loving someone doesn’t always mean you want to keep them. 

As you read this, I’m bringing her back to the shelter to meet with prospective adopters.  I have all my fingers and toes crossed that they will be a perfect match, and Bella will be going to her furever home, to spend the rest of her life loved and comforted and allowed to sleep on the bed.

And then I’m going to take a break from fostering for a while.

And this time I mean it!

EtA: Bella did in fact charm her potential humans, and their resident dog, and went home with them this evening. <3.

Curling Up With a Good Book, February 2021 Edition

Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

This novel was my introduction to the work of Rebecca Roanhorse, of whom I had heard a great deal. From the beginning, I was struck by the originality of her world and cultures that were at once relatable and quite different from the typical Western-European-derived canon. Set in a fantasy pre-Columbian (or non-Columbian?) Central America, the story weaves together the lives of disparate characters, who will all come together at “the Convergence,” a predicted eclipse. The story is told from multiple points of view, jumping back and forth in time. This is often a recipe for reader confusion and disengagement, but I found the characters compelling enough to hold my interest and to welcome each new section. I found the jumps in time distracting and largely unnecessary, but I admit to a personal preference for chronologically linear stories. In the end, though, it was the novelty and richness of the world that enchanted me.

 

 

Trouble the Saints, by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Tor)

The core of the magic in this edgy, often disturbing fantasy is that the anguish of slaves was so deep, so powerful, that it created a spell persisting to the modern age. This takes the form of bespelled hands – hands that can detect a person’s darkest secrets, hands that can tell the future – and hands that crave justice. In 1940s New York, the descendents of those slaves, men and women gifted with magical hands, often end up on the wrong side of the law. Phyllis, the first of these characters, is an enforcer for a white mobster, his “avenging angel.” Her best friend, Tamara, dances with a snake and tells fortunes at the mobster’s night club. And Dev, who loves them both, is a bartender by night and police informant by day. But someone has been targeting Blacks and harvesting their hands…

Trouble the Saints is a difficult book to describe. It’s not an easy or comfortable read, but it is an important book, fearlessly delving into issues of racism, injustice, murder, greed, and forgiveness.

 

House of the Patriarch, by Barbara Hambly (Severn House)

This latest “Benjamin January” mystery begins with yet another commission to find a missing daughter. In this case, the lost girl is a young lady from a modestly well-to-do white family, recently introduced into society but given to fanciful questions. The last thing Ben wants is to leave his family and put himself at risk of being nabbed by slave-catchers, or worse. But the fee will mean his family’s security during a long lean season.

That said, House of the Patriarch stands apart in its depiction of the social experiments that flourished at the time. Spiritualism (séances, communicating with the dead), communal living, charismatic leaders, all abounded. The Mormon church and others trace their beginnings to this time. The “House” to which Ben ventures is the resident of one such leader. Since the leader has also a reputation for helping escaped slaves on their route to Canada, Ben disguises himself as such and quickly infiltrates the hidden areas of the house. Needless to say, plot twists and dark secrets abound.

Hambly marries her knowledge of history and social customs to a pitch-perfect story of human fears and longing.

 

Phoenix Extravagant, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

I loved Lee’s Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, so I dove into Phoenix Extravagant in the hopes it would be just as good. I was wrong – it’s better! In a fantasy Korea-like land, newly conquered by fantasy-Japan, a young artist, Jebi, ekes out a living selling conventional mass-appeal paintings. An orphan, they live with their sister in an uneasy relationship. Okay, I was hooked. First, my own sister is an artist and I love the protagonist being a gifted painter longing to do original work instead of copying others. Second, how cool is it to have a nonbinary primary character in a world in which this is no big deal???

Back to the story: Jebi’s plan to better their (and their sister’s) conditions is to pass the exam for the Academy of Art. Much to their dismay, they aren’t admitted even though their work is perfect. They are subsequently recruited/drafted by the Ministry of Armor, the propaganda arm of the fantasy-Japan occupiers. Who have been extracting magical pigments from priceless original fantasy-Korean art (which involves total demolition of the pieces). Jebi reacts with horror to the destruction of his nation’s cultural heritage. The most rare and prized of these pigments is “Phoenix Extravagant,” vital for the mystical sigils used in controlling masks for automata – including a sentient, robotic dragon destined to be a war weapon. The dragon turns out to be a pacifist at heart, in no small part due to its no-harm programming.

What happens next, with all its twists and turns, is wildly inventive, full of heart and longing and magic. I adored Jebi and the woman duelist-prime, and most of all, the dragon. I can hardly wait for Lee’s next book! Continue reading “Curling Up With a Good Book, February 2021 Edition”

Getting Very Tired of this Nonsense

The incredible failure of basic systems in Texas this past week sent me over the edge. Again.

Mind you, I’m not in Texas. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the weather’s been mild and mostly sunny (though we are worrying that we’re not getting enough rain).

But I’m from Texas and I have a lot of friends and family there. And I do still own a house in Austin. The last time I checked with my tenant this week, she was doing OK — she had power, though the water was off. My fingers are crossed that nothing too bad will happen.

I’d be worrying even if there hadn’t been a massive failure of the entire energy grid, a failure caused by years of bad energy policy in Texas. (Here’s a piece in The Washington Post that explains it better than I can.) Bad weather makes me worry, especially when it’s weather that’s out of the ordinary for that time and place.

But it was the collapse of all the systems necessary to provide energy and water to people that did me in. That was avoidable, just another example of government not doing its job and leaving millions of people in the lurch.

If it wasn’t as bad as the nightmare management of the pandemic, that’s only because it was mostly in Texas and a lot fewer people have died. Sure, Texas has 29 million people and at least 20 million of them were affected, but it didn’t affect everyone in the entire country like the pandemic has.

(Many other states had weather emergencies, but only Texas had a collapse of all basic systems.)

It’s starting to feel like every time I start to feel like things are getting better, something else comes along to show me we’re in perpetual crisis. Continue reading “Getting Very Tired of this Nonsense”

Half Way Across the River Jordan

I didn’t get to wear my “Not Throwing Away My Shot” hoodie to be vaccinated because the sleeves are too tight to roll up.

… or something like that. By which I mean that I have had my first dose of the two-dose COVID vaccine, which gives me the dim but hopeful feeling that there is a future out there.

I was impressed with the speed and efficiency with which my health care provider (UCSF) managed the whole thing: found an appointment on line, finished a couple of pre-visit questionnaires and the inevitable boring stuff about insurance (even if the vaccine is provided free, they may charge to administer it), and on the day of all I had to do was show up with ID and wait in line for ten minutes.  The nurse administering the shot was a pro, and the needle very fine, so the shot itself was negligible. The site itched a bit and was sore for about 24 hours–I’ve had allergy shots that were worse.

Now all I have to do is schedule the second shot, Continue reading “Half Way Across the River Jordan”

Virtual Life

Today’s post is brought to you live. I’m in Canberra at my computer and at a conference in the UK, both at once. This is not my first conference this week, and won’t be my last.

The first was Boskone. I felt very privileged to be able to meet old friends, make new ones, meet authors and readers and all kinds of fascinating people. The focus was on science fiction.

Today and tomorrow is all about Jewish history. I’m not on any panels, I’m not helping run any events, and it’s not even related to my current research. My first PhD was in Medieval History and I attend events whenever I can, to keep my knowledge up to date and to keep in touch. It’s so cool. Right now I’m catching up on Jewish Medieval England in what I’m listening to now is a discussion of whether or not Jews were actually permitted to own land. It’s complicated and one of those questions that can’t be answered easily. It sounds simple and is not. However… freehold agricultural land was unlikely to be able to be owned by Jews, but earlier… it may have been possible. One of the scholars pointed out that there may not have been a lot of interest in Jews owning land in the transactions on record. Canon law in the 1190s had a gloss concerning land belonging to a church being owned by Jews. This was documented because of possible problems in swearing fealty.

This is my Middle Ages. Not something simple. Complicated and tangled and absolutely wonderful. Not, however, something that is easy to write into fiction. Fiction has to give clear claims.

This leads me neatly to my third conference in a week. I’m in this for my current research, and I’m moderating a session and delivering a paper between 4.30 am and 6 am my time. Mind you, the UK conference finishes at 6 am my time and I don’t think I’ll manage to make the final session. Australia is not close to the UK or the US.

Why is the last conference of the week so important to my research and to my fiction writing self? It’s all about popular culture. Popular culture is totally critical for novelists. We use it to bring stories to life. My paper is on foodways in modern Australian fantasy novels.

My current conference has a tea break. I need to stretch. I also need to wash dishes. Last break I hung washing up to dry. Housework fits into gaps.

I may never get to do so much in a single week in my life again. This is a side-effect of all of us being closed into small environments due to COVID. In a few months time my night will be night and my day will be day and life will return to normal. This week, however, is a lot of fun and I am treasuring every moment.

We Are Stardust

The Antennae Galaxies in Collision
The Antennae Galaxies in Collision from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day

We subscribe to New Scientist, the British science magazine that provides short reports on newsworthy bits of research worldwide, several excellent columnists, and a couple of deep dives into important topics each week.

Reading each issue will remind you that our Earth is complex and interconnected and that we human beings have not come close to knowing everything there is to know about the place or, indeed, about ourselves.

Likewise, each issue will make it clear that the Universe is so vast as to be far beyond our comprehension and knowledge, at least now. We have only bits of knowledge about our little solar system, much less the Milky Way galaxy in which we reside, and both those are small potatoes within the Universe as a whole.

I also practice meditation. Of late, I’ve been meditating in the way taught by Master Li Junfeng of Sheng Zhen, which translates as the path of unconditional love, and am currently taking an online class from him to learn a form known as Heaven Earth Heart Contemplation.

When we meditate, we draw on the Earth and the Universe. As I start, I often think of the Earth – its molten core, the tectonic plates, everything from mountains to deserts to wetlands, the oceans and all the creatures – and then go out toward the Universe until I feel that I am one with the Universe.

And at the same time, I feel like I am a tiny speck in that Universe, that even the Earth is a tiny speck in it. Oddly, I find this very comforting. All those things we take so very seriously – even those on the level of life and death – don’t matter so much when I feel like this tiny bit of stardust.

That is, I come to the same place from both meditation and thinking about physics. Continue reading “We Are Stardust”

Science Fiction Story Bundle from SFWA!

SFWA Story Bundle - book covers

A terrific new Story Bundle has just been released, and I’m part of it! It’s called the The Expansive Futures Sci-Fi Bundle, and it’s curated and sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). It’s a great way to get a big pile of great new books for almost nothing, and support a good cause in the process. It’s a terrific deal. https://storybundle.com/scifi

I’m going to let Amy Duboff explain it. She’s the one who oversaw the curation of the package: Continue reading “Science Fiction Story Bundle from SFWA!”

Yet Another Evacuation, The Report

I live in the mountains in a redwood forest in Central Coast California. I love this place and the deep serenity it has brought me. But there’s a down side to every locale, and wildfires are part of the ecology of this region. Much of the plant life, including redwoods, has evolved to survive and even thrive with periodic conflagrations. Humans, on the other hand, aren’t too fond of having their homes burned down, so they put out little fires, allow

Half a block from us

underbrush to build up, and are loathe to control flammable invasive species (like broom). Increasingly long, hot, dry summers that are the result of climate change turns the region, like many in the West, into a tinderbox. Last summer’s freak lightning storm ignited thousands of small fires that merged into huge ones. I’ve written earlier about my experience being evacuated and watching, day by day, as fires engulfed this area but the heroic efforts of fire fighters spared my own street.

Almost as soon as the mandatory evacuation orders were lifted, local authorities began an campaign of education and preparation for the next phase of this rolling disaster: debris flows. Debris flows are a type of mudslides.

Debris flows … are fast-moving downslope flows of mud that may include rocks, vegetation, and other debris. These flows begin during intense rainfall as shallow landslides on steep slopes. The rapid movement and sudden arrival of debris flows pose a hazard to life and property during and immediately following the triggering rainfall.1

In other words, debris flows are rivers of cement 15 or more feet high and moving at up to 40 mph. If you can see it, it’s too late. There’s no way to prepare except to get out of the way. Debris flows caused massive property damage and over 20 fatalities in 2018 in Montecito, Southern California. Our local agencies were understandably concerned.

We all studied the maps of debris flow risk and watched the weather forecast. November and December passed with only occasional gentle showers, well belong the threshold for triggering a debris flow. Some of us began to relax, hoping for a dry “La Niña” year. Old timers warned that often the real rains don’t set in until January. They were right. Continue reading “Yet Another Evacuation, The Report”

The Great Gatsby Isn’t

[Author’s Note: I read recently that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short novel The Great Gatsby is now in the public domain. That makes me hope that someone will write a version of it that demonstrates how destructive the Gatsbys are to the world in which we live. Or at least, that someone will pen a vicious parody.

Though perhaps it would be even better if it faded away into irrelevance. Back in 2013, after hearing a radio program lauding the book, I wrote the following post. My opinion hasn’t changed. You will note that I mentioned Donald Trump in this piece, so I remind you that I wrote it long before he spent four years wrecking our country. The last line of this piece feels horribly prophetic.]

The radio program Studio 360 devoted an entire hour in 2013 to The Great Gatsby as part of its American Icons series. Various writers and scholars, including Azar Nafisi, author of the delightful Reading Lolita in Tehran, and the novelist Jonathan Franzen, waxed poetic about the book, which the Studio 360 website describes as “the great American story of our age.”

At some point in the program, one of the speakers — I think it was Franzen, but there’s not a transcript available and I’m not willing to listen to the whole show again to check — said something to the effect that Gatsby was a great dreamer. As I understood it, he thought the story was about someone with a great dream who got shot down for it.

“No, no, no,” I said to the radio (I yell at the radio a lot). “The trouble with Gatsby is that he had the wrong dreams. He wanted the wrong things.”

At least, that’s how I remembered the book. Gatsby’s obsession with being rich and being taken for a person with “old money” seemed to me to be worthless dreams. But the only time I’d read the book was back in high school and the only thing I remembered about it was Gatsby showing Nick and Daisy around his mansion.

Figuring that I might have missed something back then, I re-read it. And had the same reaction. Continue reading The Great Gatsby Isn’t”

In Praise of Not-Mothers

My mother and me, 1963.

My mother and I had a somewhat fraught relationship. She was beautiful and smart and funny, and troubled (I have entirely unscientifically diagnosed an anxiety-depression disorder with a touch of OCD), and as the only girl in the family I was “hers” in the way that my brother was my father’s. Which is not to say that my Dad and I weren’t close–it was more that I was the person she reached for–and as my parents’ relationship foundered, she reached for me a lot.

Flash forward: I’m an adult and I have kids, and our goal, my husband’s and mine, was to Make New Mistakes. On the theory that making mistakes while raising children is unavoidable, even with all the love in the world. Goals are great, but not always achievable. So how did we not replicate the same unintended mistakes our parents (and in particular my mother) made?

The flippant-but-hot-untrue answer: a good deal of pre-children therapy on both our parts. But equally true: I was lucky enough to find a succession of not-mothers, women who modeled adult womanhood for me in an un-fraught way, and welcomed me to it. Continue reading “In Praise of Not-Mothers”