Walking

blooming treeI walk. A lot. For the past six years, I’ve been aiming for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, which is just under five miles.

Over the past year, dating from March 1, 2020 (a couple of weeks before the California Bay Area shut down for the pandemic), I’ve walked about 1,600 miles.

By comparison, I’ve driven my car about 500 miles during the same period.

1,600 miles is actually somewhat less than I usually do in a year. I had to cut back for a couple of months this winter because I was having trouble with my left leg. (I suspect sciatica, though I haven’t seen a doctor because it wasn’t hurting bad enough to brave medical treatment during a pandemic. And now it seems to be going away.)

Still, I walked more than triple the car miles, despite the fact that I was using the car to run errands because I was buying more at the store than I could carry home on foot and picking up farm boxes instead of leisurely pursuing the stalls at the farmers market.

In a normal year, I would have balanced all that out with a lot of public transit, but not this year. In a normal year, I would taken trains and planes to a lot of other places and done my walking there, but this year pretty much all of it has been done within a mile or so of my home.

It has, as they say, been a very strange year. Continue reading “Walking”

Re-learning the Middle Ages

This post is short, because I’m busy learning…

One of the odd side effects of the strange times in which we live is the number of conferences that have been transferred online. I’m using some of them to update old knowledge and understand subjects better. I’ve done best in this respect in learning about the Middle Ages. I’m on all the right lists, you see, because of my curious career.

My ethnohistory began as Medieval. I research modern culture right now, but I began trying to understand human beings by looking at who we were hundreds of years ago. This and the conferences open many doors to knowledge, for there is an amazing meeting of archaeology and history right now, and it’s changing what we know about the past.

Last year I attended a conference in Dublin that turned what I knew about houses in the Early Middle Ages upside down and inside out. Thatched houses without chimneys are, it turns out, neither full of smoke nor riddled with infestations. They breathe, through the thatch, and the air is clear and comfortable. From the outside, the smoke comes through the thatch, like a mist rising.

Right now, I’m attending workshops on Medieval Jewish craftspeople. One can’t avoid hearing about the effects of pogroms and mass murders (in Cologne after the Black Death, for example), but the focus is on what people did with their lives. I’m learning about bakers and goldsmiths, silk workers and bookbinders.

I’m going to do as much learning as I can, while things are online, for normally I’m the other side of the world and can only dream of these events.

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.

Some Days…

My brain is switched on to food references this week. I’m writing a paper on food in Australian fantasy novels. Even if I’ve read the novel before, I’m re-reading it, because I need to apply that brain-switch and analyse everything for food. It’s hard work. I’m placing references into ten different categories. The net result of this was I had no energy to cook yesterday or today.

This never happened when I was younger.

I was going to write a long screed describing food, because it’s my current (and absorbing) work, then I changed my mind and wanted to explain that chronic fatigue is impacted by emotional fatigue, which is why food research led to such a state of exhaustion. The events of the last eighteen months welled up and I missed all my lost friends and I became a mewling mess. I decided you didn’t need a long piece today, for the world is a difficult place right now.

Take this as a moral. Have early nights when life is stressed. Eat comfort food. Cry when you have to.

And I’ll be working on foodways for a bit longer, so maybe one day I’ll tell you about how writers use food to create miracles in fantasy fiction. Except when they don’t.

The 13th Month of 2020

This month has been a hell of a year. It would take me all of my space for this post to recount everything that has happened in the past 29 days, and honestly there’s no need, you were there too.

And you know what?  I’m taking it personally.  I started off the year thinking that this year I would hit all of my deadlines, got everything in early not just on time, got seven hours of sleep every night, and actually made dinner regularly. Oh, and I was also going to have enough time to make myself lunch ahead of time. Raise your hand if you think that lasted more than a week.

I see none of you took that sucker bet.

There’s been a thought in the back of my head, that has moved to the front of my head this week. How long do we give ourselves a free pass, by saying, “well it’s 2020.” Or, the 13th month of 2020. At what point do we know, it’s over, everyone has to get back to being competent again?

OK, whatever level of competence we had before *waves hands* all this started.

The answer is, depressingly, we’re not going to know.  Not until we look backward and say, “oh yeah, around X, that’s when things started to get better.” And even then, we’re not going to suddenly discover that our focus has come back, our energy returned, our depressions lifted.

Trauma is never that goddamned considerate, or communicative.

So when I got the call from one of the shelters I volunteer with, asking if I’d be able to take in a six-week-old puppy, part of a litter that had been pulled from a bad situation and needed a fast home, I said, yes.  Because hey, if you’re already drowning, why not dive?

This, like so many of my decisions in the past 13 months, was both horrible, and brilliant.  Horrible, because six-week-old puppies need constant attention, and by that I mean, you’re up every hour and half, all night, to take them out and encourage them to pee and poo, hopefully but not always on the pad provided for that action.  And if not, you clean it up, put them back in their kennel, and try to get 85 minutes of sleep before the next round.  And then you do that all day, too, only without the sleep

Brilliant, because there is nothing like holding a small bundle of fur and heartbeat, and knowina dog and a small puppy, playing tug with a length of red ropeg that you are its entire world.

(okay, me, and Max.  Max turned out to be a pawsome big foster-sister.)

But also brilliant, because when I handed him off at the end of his fostering – and took a two hour nap – I suddenly realized that I had so much more energy and time to accomplish things than I’d had just a week before!  Suddenly, everything was still painful, but manageable.

Of course it’s a mirage.  Shhhhh.  Don’t let my brain know.

Color Therapy

Since about last May, I’ve been doing a whole lot of sewing. (Fortuitously, I replaced my ancient sewing machine a couple of months earlier.) Most of it has been masks. With MaskUpNM, a volunteer group, I’ve been making masks for health care workers, women’s shelters, the Navajo Nation and other New Mexico tribes, impoverished school children, and so on.

In December, the group started making scrub caps for ICU nurses at local hospitals, who have been exhausted and overwhelmed taking care of Covid patients. Many of them don’t get issued scrub caps by their employers, or only get disposable ones that are uncomfortable and wasteful of resources. After replacing my ancient serger, which seized up halfway through this project, I just finished the second round of scrub caps for this effort – 48 caps.

Continue reading “Color Therapy”

A Quiet Moment

So many people around me have found distractions help in dealing with the extraordinary times we’re living through. This post is my present to you. Big stuff happens in the US on 20 January. This is a breath. A break. A moment before everything changes.

For me this week is an anniversary. This time last year I had been evacuated to Melbourne because of the bushfires. The air in Canberra was dangerous for me. Tonight my windows are wide open and I’m up late, cooling everything down as much as I can, for we have an incoming heatwave. Earlier today, however, everything was shut, for the dust storms in NSW sent a bit of frazzled air our way. That reminded me that I’ve been mostly indoors since June 2019. Bushfires followed by pandemic. Every now and again I get out and do things and this reminds me that the world outside is real. These incidents come from that real world. I think this is also the moment to celebrate that.

The first story is from Sydney in 1956, for tonight someone reminded me about the torch carrying for the 1956 Olympics.

A group of university students didn’t like the link between the torch and Hitler. Also, they were Australian. Of course they were Australian.

They painted a chair leg silver and put a tin on the end. They filled the tin with a pair of men’s underpants and set it on fire. Two students carried that torch. One of them successfully handed it to the Lord Mayor of Sydney at the Town Hall. The Lord Mayor didn’t realise at first that this was a hoax, and the torchbearer had time to slip away into the crowd.

The second story is from Canberra, quite recently.

A writer-friend was telling us on Twitter tonight about a time… let me give you the story in her words:

“Was at a con sitting at the signing table under a poster with “K.J. TAYLOR” on it and behind a nameplate which also said “K.J. TAYLOR”. A guy came up to me and said “Is K.J. Taylor here?” I patted myself down and said “I’m pretty sure I’m here!” He looked so confused.”

My third tidbit is a bit older, and is from the US. I collect interesting stories about food history. How fast molasses can burst out of a factory on a cold day, for example, and where to buy meat pies in London in 1250. I didn’t know that, on 16 May 1902, there was a kosher beef war on the Lower East Side in New York. Some describe it as riots. Kosher beef riots. This one deserves a link.

I live in a city where there are 300 people who admit to being Jewish. I can’t see us rioting. We used to hold food fairs, where our numbers were drowned by the crowds who wanted to eat bagels and felafel and lokshen kugel and particularly tasty curry from Jewish India.

I used to cook Medieval Jewish dishes for my stall, and people would ask, “Were there really Jews in the Middle Ages?” I gave those asking morsels of history along with their plates of food. Other days I’d talk about the persecution and the murders, but not at the food fair. We all need times where we don’t bear the burdens of history. Take that time today. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Assigning Blame

It’s all your fault. You — you personally — didn’t do enough to stay safe from the pandemic.

For that matter, you didn’t do enough to prepare for retirement or for getting laid off or for getting sick or injured so you couldn’t work.

You borrowed too much money to go to school or buy a house and now it’s your fault that you don’t make enough money to pay it back.

And it goes without saying that you bought too many things, took too many trips, and didn’t recycle. You caused climate change.

I could go on, but you get the gist. It’s all about personal responsibility here. If things are wrong in our society, our world, it’s all your fault and my fault and the fault of every individual who ever had to make a decision on the fly in an over-complicated world.

Bullshit. Continue reading “Assigning Blame”