A Different Kind of Fostering

Previous posts have been about fostering dogs.  This one is too.  Just not in the same way.

My friend B. was one of the first people to welcome me to the neighborhood clique of dog-people, the two of us bonding over dog names (her little pup is Minnie, my gangly beast is Maxi).  

Minnie is a recent adoption.  Her previous dog died recently, at an advanced age, and she waited a while before getting another.  They’d only been together a few months when Minnie started acting off.  They ran tests, and everything came back clear…. until this month it didn’t.

Minnie has lymphoma.

We walk along the curving path through the park, as she tells me the diagnosis, Max and Minnie trotting just ahead of us. They’ve put Minnie on prednisone, and it’s drastically improved her mood and behavior.  She’s not in pain any more.  But it’s only buying time. Continue reading “A Different Kind of Fostering”

Romancing the Prehistoric

I was – note the past tense – going to write a post about re-entry after Covid-19 vaccination and how awesome it was to give my younger daughter a hug after over a year, but then I saw this story from Science magazine and could not resist.

Did you ever wish you could see a living dinosaur? I sure did! (I still do…but from a safe distance.) As a child I loved movies with stop-action animation of dinosaurs, like the original King Kong or the Ray Harryhausen movie, The Valley of Gwangi. In high school I wrote a short novel about two teenagers and their horses who discover a hidden valley where dinosaurs still roam. Jurassic Park and its sequels blew me away, the movies even more so than the novels. The novels were longer on explanation, the movies far more powerful in vividness. The moment when Alan Grant, upon learning that Professor Hammond has created a T. rex and almost faints,  that’s how I would have felt. Great acting and directing aside, these books and films spoke to a universal or near-universal human longing to see amazing charismatic animals from the distant past.

The earlier stories, at least the ones I read and watched, made no effort at a scientific basis for the present-day existence of prehistoric animals. It was all “Land That Time Forgot” hand-waving. Crichton took a different tack: dinosaurs did not persist in some undiscovered corner of or beneath the Earth: humans re-created them using DNA preserved in amber. We’ve been able to recover DNA from Pleistocene mammals, but never anything as old as 65 million years. Many scientists doubt that DNA could survive that long, no matter how preserved. When an animal dies, its DNA begins to decay. A 2012 study on moa bones showed that genetic material deteriorates at such a rate that it halves itself every 521 years. This speed would mean paleontologists can only hope to recover recognizable DNA sequences the past 6.8 million years. In 2020, Chinese Academy of Sciences paleontologist Alida Bailleul and her colleagues proposed they had found a chemical signature suggestive of DNA in a 70 million year old baby hadrosaur fossil. If confirmed, this material would be so degraded into components, not sequences. It’s also possible the chemical signature was that of bacteria, not the dinosaur itself.

The Siberian permafrost that has yielded mammoth DNA is about 2.6 million years old, but freezing turns out to be a pretty good preservative of DNA. Scientists have now been able to sequence DNA from extinct mammoths 1.2 million years ago. That’s a world record. The previous record, in 2013, was from a 750,000-year-old horse. The new study includes DNA from three species of mammoth from three time periods (1.2 million, 1 million, and 700,000 years ago) and there are all kinds of reasons to be excited about it, not just the age but the evolutionary relationships and a previously unknown type.

Which brings us to the question we’re all asking: Once we’ve sequenced this DNA, whether from mammoths, saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, or whatever – what do we do with it? What we can do now is better understand the evolution and relationships of these amazing animals. What popular media want, however, is to use the material to create living extinct species. The process of de-extinction can proceed either by cloning – taking material from a recently extinct species and replicating it – or by using ancient, fragmentary DNA. We’ve got a long way to go with either technique. Many extinct species lack contemporary surrogates to carry the artificially created embryos to term. For others, suitable habitat no longer exists (really? Where would you turn a giant ground sloth loose? A saber-toothed cat? Or would these animals exist only in the unnatural environment of zoos?) Back in 2009, Spanish scientists cloned a newly extinct Pyrenean ibex, although the clone died within a few hours of birth.

There are, however, a few good candidates for which possibly viable DNA sources exist. Species like the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet might fare well, given the human responsibility for their disappearance, although they might turn out to be temporally invasive species. Continue reading “Romancing the Prehistoric”

Treading Lightly – Grow Your Own

Remember all the spinach recalls a couple of decades ago, because the farms were watering with contaminated water and people were getting sick from eating the spinach?

Or more recently, the “throw away your romaine” warnings, for the same reason?

I’ve been fed up with commercial produce for quite a while. This is yet another area where we (humanity) have allowed profit to take precedence over the well-being of people, not to mention the planet. That’s why I started growing my own lettuce hydroponically a couple of years ago. “I’m going to grow my own damn romaine,” I said when I started. Continue reading “Treading Lightly – Grow Your Own”

Get Your Vaccine!

My reaction to the pandemic was intensely personal. I saw no reason to believe that I couldn’t get the virus and no reason to believe that if I did get it I would survive.

Not only was I frightened, I was furious at the incompetent and maliciously dangerous handling of this crisis. People like the criminal who occupied our White House for four years were actively trying to kill me and a lot of others.

Some of them even said so, like Dan Patrick, the “lite gov” (lite in all senses of the word) of Texas, who said people over 70 should die for the good of the economy, by which he meant Wall Street.

Getting the vaccine made my personal fear go away. I no longer worry that I’m going to end up dying alone in an ICU every time someone gets too close. I could feel the difference in my gut from the first shot.

But it did nothing about my fury. So many people dead for no reason. People still dying even as the vaccine is becoming widely available because those in authority insist on opening things that should stay closed or performing hygiene theater instead of dealing with issues like indoor ventilation.

I was never just angry on my own behalf. I was frightened on my own behalf, but I was angry on everybody’s. We could have done so much better.

Bad leadership was an obvious problem, but there’s a deeper one. We seem to have lost any concept of taking care of ourselves as a public. Continue reading “Get Your Vaccine!”

Down a Pint

I don’t remember why I first donated blood–it may have been part of a blood drive when I was working at Harvard (doesn’t that sound glamorous? It wasn’t–I was part of the clerical staff at an institution that eats clerical staff on toast points with sherry before dinner). I do remember that the drive was held in Memorial Hall, and it was drafty and cold. The technology–this was the 1970s–was all rubber tubing and rather punitive looking needles. Afterward they gave us canned orange juice (remember canned orange juice? It is a unique flavor not to be confused with actual orange juice) and cheese crackers, and stickers that allowed all of us public spirited folks to recognize each other on campus–at least until the end of the day, when the adhesive failed and the stickers fell off.

Even at the time I felt like this was a remarkably simple way to go about helping my fellow humans. So in Boston, and in New York, and in San Francisco, I have been a blood donor. After 9/11 I went down to give blood only to be turned away–for the first time in ever, they had more donors than recipients (for much the same reason that hospitals that expected a massive influx of patients didn’t get one, because in so many cases victims simply didn’t make it out to be treated). When we moved to San Francisco I didn’t know where to sign up–until a bloodmobile set up shop in my neighborhood. I would have donated right then, but my daughter–who raises needle-abhorrence to an art form–was with me, and threatened to swoon at the thought.

Eventually I got hooked up with Blood Centers of the Pacific, and became a regular donor. About five years after we moved out here I was asked if I’d be willing to donate plasma rather than whole blood. With a spirit of adventure I said sure, and was introduced to a whole new level of technology. Apheresis–the process whereby blood is extracted and blood products–platelets and plasma–are spun out before the blood is returned to you–is… well, I think it’s cool. But then, I love the fact that there is an industry devoted to everything from making little one-use stabby tools that allow the techs to draw one drop of blood for testing beforehand, to one-use cleaning swabs to ensure that your elbow is squeaky clean before it is punctured, to the machines that permit the blood products to be extracted, is really really cool. Apheresis takes between 1-2 hours, during which time I was wrapped in warm blankets, fussed over, and given movies to watch. Sort of like a spa day with less fussing about my toenails and more cooing over what a Virtuous Person was was.

Sadly, after about five years they discovered that women who have been pregnant tend to have a factor in their blood which, in plasma or platelets, some recipients react to very badly. No one wants that. So it was back to regular blood donation.

It used to be that my blood pressure was low enough that I’d run up and down the block before I came in, because too-low blood pressure would disqualify me. Or sometimes I didn’t have a sufficient hemoglobin count. I always felt a little ashamed on days when I couldn’t donate, but lately all systems have been go. And even during COVID, the blood center is somewhere where I’m reasonably certain they are taking All the Precautions–and then some.

The snacks are never very good–except for Oreos, which are a constant in a wicked world–and the juice is dispensed by a machine. Mostly I have water or tea (the coffee does not bear mentioning). But everyone at the blood center, from the woman at the front desk who checks you in, to the Historian who runs you through the intake procedures, to the phlebotomy tech who does the needle stick and sets everything up to draw the blood in a businesslike manner–appears to like their jobs and feel good about what they’re doing, and so do the visitors.

So I’m down a pint today. And in eight weeks I’ll go back again, because honest to God, it is quick, close to painless, and such a great way to be part of the community in which you live.

Even in a Little Thing: On Turning Sixty

We were talking in the Treehouse. The things we were talking about were important, and they got me thinking about a bunch of decisions I’ve made incrementally over the last two months and why I made them.

First, let’s start with next Sunday. I turn 60. I have some physical mobility, but not a vast amount, so I had planned to go overseas and celebrate my birthday with 60 events. I wanted to see friends, attend science fiction conventions, eat new food, visit museums, take pictures of interesting places and a whole lot more. Sixty fascinating events, all of the kind that I would treasure forever. Part of it was going to Italy for Eurocon, which would have given me about thirty events, for I’ve never been to Italy and I have a long list of places I want to see and things I want to do there. I was brushing up my Italian for it, for I can read the language but can’t speak it.

Then the pandemic happened. The pandemic is still happening. No big parties. No travel. This led to my decisions.

What were they?

First, I’m still going to have sixty joyous moments. Three of them are planned for this weekend, for my actual birthday. If I’m lucky, I’ll get more.

For the other events, I’m not putting a ‘finish’ date on it. I won’t get them within three months. They may take three years.

I’m about to hunt for the prettiest notebook I possess (I collect notebooks for my fiction and use the right one for the right project, so I have some choices) and when I find it, I will take my calligraphy pens and create a pretty front page. After that, every time I have a wonderful time, I will write it up, and that notebook will be a record of my birthday.

Why am I doing this? Why am I not just saying, “I’ll have a nice weekend, and that’ll do?”

Too many big things have been made small and a bit dark by the pandemic. I’ve won awards, for instance, and been unable to go to the ceremonies and have yet to see the actual trophies. The pandemic has caused so many friends to miss so much, that I see, every day, how people are dealing with the slight tarnishing of the everyday that creates our pandemic year. We have more sorrow (I’ve lost so many people I care about) and more stress and… this is where I introduce you to one of my favourite poems. It begins, “Even in a Little Thing” and you can find it here: https://starrigging.blogspot.com/2015/11/return-to-islands-by-arthur-grimble.html

My events are a reminder to me that this is a difficult decade, but that, since I find much of my joy in small things, I can still be happy. I need the reminder. I need sixty reminders. I need them because I was losing sight of the joy of jumping in autumn leaves or of drinking hot chocolate. Sixty larger occasions representing one big life change will push my mind back to where it has found joy in darkness at other times. I will return to myself.

This is the best gift I can give myself this year.

The best gift I can give you at this moment is to include you in my celebration. If you’re reading this (whether or not you know me) and you send me an email address, I will send you one of my stories and maybe a little cookbook I made for this same purpose when life took a turn in the 1990s. If you’re in Australia, I will send the story (without the cookbook) by snail mail if you send me a street address. In with the story there may be a couple of trinkets. I’m happy to send stories (and cookbooks and trinkets!) to sixty people, so feel free to share this with someone who would smile at this little thing.

You can send me contact details through the form on my website or through DMs on Twitter or Facebook.

Nancy Jane Moore Is Reading This Week

I’m doing two readings online this week.

The first is on Wednesday, April 21, at Story Hour, at 7 PM PDT on Zoom or Facebook Live.

I’ll be reading “Thank God for the Road,” which appears in the new anthology edited by Shannon Page Black-Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day: An Anthology of Hope.

I’ll also be reading “The Founding of New Crockett, Texas,” which appeared as part of the Uneven Earth website’s Not Afraid of the Ruins series and will be included in a print anthology of those stories coming out later this year.

On Sunday, April 25, I’ll be part of the FOGcon Authors Read! It runs from 5-7 PM PDT and is headlined by Marie Brennan and Effie Seiberg. I’ll be doing a five-minute selection from For the Good of the Realm, my novel coming out June 1 from Aqueduct Press. To attend, sign up here.

Another Way of Looking at History

[H]istory is something that happens to peoples, things, and organisms, and is not made by them.

                                                                                                            — Daniel Lord Smail

I came across that sentence in Professor Smail’s On Deep History and the Brain. While everything he was saying in the book was making sense to me as he laid the groundwork for an argument that history should begin at the beginning (which is different from beginning at the point where people starting writing it down), this particular observation resonated with me on a deep level.

There is a deep cultural assumption that people make history. I immediately think of the slogan “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” But even the ill-behaved among us do not make history, though they are perhaps more likely to be remembered by it.

Certainly the actions of one person or another can affect history. So, too, can an earthquake. But the person who murders someone important or fails at handling a pandemic is not making history. That person does not control what will happen next as a result of their violent act or their incompetence. The changes may not be at all what they would have wanted if they controlled the outcome.

It’s true that some murderers and incompetents are remembered for a long time. Perhaps they think being remembered is making history. Maybe being remembered is enough for them.

Another statement that rings true to me, that in fact came to mind as I was reading the quoted line, is this statement by Rebecca Solnit of something Michel Foucault said:

“You know what you do. You don’t know what you do does.”

We do not control outcomes. We do not make history. But the things we do are part of history and they may have a powerful effect. It may not be the one we wanted. It may not come when we wished for it to happen. But in this complex world, where a butterfly’s flap of wings might end up causing a storm ten thousand miles away, what each of us do matters.

I take this as an encouragement to live your life by your principles and to make an effort to do what you think is right and appropriate. If you’re an artist, make your art. If you’re an activist, organize for change. What you control is the doing. What you are making is the action.

What happens with it, what history gets made, is not under your control.

Police Brutality and How My Jury Found For a Black Plaintiff

As I write this, the Derek  Chauvin trial is still under way, another Black man has been shot by law enforcement, and a Black Army officer has been brutalized and his life threatened. As outraged and saddened as I am by these heinous events, I also remember a time when I served as a juror on a civil trial that pitted law enforcement against a Black victim. This was many years ago, a time before Black Lives Matter, a time when it was assumed that police actions, no matter how brutal, were acceptable and justified. The case received no notice. It made no difference, except to me and, I hope, the plaintiff. But I think it’s worth telling now.

The events, as I remember as related in the course of the trial, were that two law enforcement officers stopped a car for a broken tail light. It was at night in a fairly well-to-do area. The driver was a young Black man. In the course of the traffic stop, the officers beat him so badly as to leave him with permanent injuries and needing years of recovery. The officers would have had us, the jury, believe that their actions were necessary. The plaintiff asserted that he posed no threat and offered no resistance.

The two officers were white, and they were at least six feet tall, muscular, and clearly fit. The Black man was small, about my size (I was 5’3”), lightly built, well-spoken, a professional. As the testimony proceeded, I found myself more and more appalled by what happened, and more incredulous that two trained officers could not have found a non-violent way of managing a routine traffic stop.

After we heard the testimony, we were instructed as to the law that we must follow, which required that the officers have malicious intent, or something to that effect. We wrestled with the language of the law and with how to interpret it in light of the events. For myself, my conscience and my sense of what is right and just were far more compelling. It was luminously clear to me that the plaintiff had been horribly beaten for no other reason than being a Black man. That the officers, who were supposed to act in a responsible, fair manner, were guilty of a gross abuse of power. Through the deliberations, I argued passionately for justice as I saw it. Some of my fellow jurors were already of my opinion, others were persuaded by my arguments, and a few insisted the case did not fulfill the letter of the law and the officers were justified.

In the end, however, we found for the plaintiff. (A civil trial does not require a unanimous vote.) The jury did not award him everything he asked. There were no punitive fines, but reimbursement of medical expenses and, if memory serves, a portion of lost income. After the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney said she was not able to tell us before, but the award of just a single penny in a trial of this sort meant the plaintiff could now take the case to Federal court for civil rights violations (or a similar next move—I may be fuzzy on the exact details). I will never forget the look on the Black plaintiff’s face after we delivered our verdict. I don’t know if was hope or amazement or relief. In that moment, I felt myself part of something greater: a very small step toward justice.

 

There is more to this story, a post-script as it were. The judge thanked us for our service and then advised us to leave the area as soon as possible. The year was 1992. The jury in the Rodney King case was about to deliver their verdict, and protests were expected. Outside the court house, the streets were almost deserted except for police vehicles. My usual bus was not running because the route had been blocked. Eventually I made my way home on another bus, watching the fires from the freeway.

I’d like to think that what I did, that infinitesimal step towards a more just society, made a difference. The temptation, though, is to become discouraged and stop trying. I’ve learned since that giving up is a luxury born of white privilege. My Black friends don’t get to take a vacation from racism because it’s difficult or terrifying. Today, almost 30 years later, white law enforcement officers are still brutalizing Black people.

I am reminded of a teaching in my own tradition, (Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, part of the Talmud), attributed to first century rabbi Tarfon:

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (2:21)

Let us persist, then, and accomplish what we are able, knowing that the next generation will take up the task after us.

 

Tea and Silence

The past year has brought many changes to our lives. Almost everyone I know has let go of something that was no longer valid in their life. So have I, and I expect this will continue. We will emerge from the isolation we’ve endured (some of us more comfortably than others – I’ll get to that in a minute), but we will not go back to the way life was before. Instead, we will go forward.

For me, sheltering at home did not make a huge difference. As a writer, I already worked at home. I’m an introvert, so I don’t mind isolation. The biggest difference was that my spouse began to work at home also, and this has now become permanent for everyone at his company who used to commute to an office building. That office, we recently learned, will not reopen. My spouse will continue to work in his home office across the hall from mine. The change, for me, meant loss of alone time. As an introvert, I treasure alone time.

That’s why I’m grateful for my daily practice of tea and silence. Each morning, I feed the cat, then make myself a pot of tea and sit in the sun room with it. The first cup I drink while gazing out the windows at the morning sky, the trees, the birds, and the clouds. This connection with the natural world around me is so important to me – it sets the tone for my day. It reminds me of the world of which I am a part.

The cat comes and sits in my lap. I write in my journal, I usually color a bit (I decorate my journal with art), and I often write a note to a friend. Most days I spend about an hour with tea and silence, though it could be as little as fifteen minutes. I always conclude my writing with a statement of gratitude, and I spend a few minutes in meditation.

This is a practice I will not be giving up. It has helped me cope with the loss of alone time, and with the stresses and uncertainty of the pandemic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to start their day with a moment of quiet, rather than immediately jumping into activity.