Risk Assessment and Puppy Love

I love my dog, and would probably take her with me everywhere.  But. Not everyone is comfortable around dogs.  Dogs are not comfortable around all people (even if they’re perfectly nice people).  It’s often less “personal” and more gut-instinctive, even if both dog and humans are otherwise great to be around. And even when there’s a good fit, it’s not a one-and-done: managing relationships between people and dogs can be complicated, and requires both awareness and honesty on the part of the humans involved.  This lesson, unfortunately, came at personal expense, and I’m hoping that telling it will help others NOT have to spend the same emotional coin.

Recently I was traveling with several companions, and my year-old ACD-mix, Maxi. Max had met my companions before, and gotten along with them.What I didn’t know, however, was that one of my companions was uneasy around dogs, due to a negative childhood experience. This led to complications, as my friend did some thing they shouldn’t have done – and wouldn’t have done if they knew dogs better – and Max reacted badly but within natural dog parameters, barking and snapping in defensive mode.

This,  of course, upset my friend greatly.  Totally understandable – it dragged up past emotional trauma and put them in the wrong headspace to enjoy our travel.  And it upset Max greatly, as her boundaries had been violated by someone she had previously trusted.

Fortunately, we were in a position where I could keep Max separate from my friend for the rest of the trip, but it definitely caused some complications, and, unfortunately, tensions.

The worst thing about this was that the situation could have been avoided if my friend had let me know earlier about their long-standing unease around dogs. Ideally, from the first time they were introduced.  No dog owner worth their kibble would’ve mocked, or thought less of them for it; in most cases it’s an irrational fear you can’t just wish away.

But what we can do something about is limiting exposure, and clarifying boundaries. In this case, I would’ve kept more distance between human and dog from the beginning, while teaching my friend positive dog management (and in doing so, ideally prevent the negative situation from occurring in the first place.)

But we can’t bloody well do any of that if we don’t know there’s a problem.

Please. If you have a fear of dogs, or simply don’t like them, don’t be afraid to tell your friends with dogs about it. And if you have a dog, make sure to check in with your friends, and make sure they’re comfortable with the dog being around.  Literally, an ounce of prevention can solve a pound of problems before they even happen.

(And you/your friend may discover that a little learning can go a long way toward reducing that unease. Which, when you think about it, is a life lesson that doesn’t just apply here.)

a red-and-cream dog, seated, looking up at the camera

Two Things

It’s been a difficult fortnight. Every time this happens all I want to do is cry in a corner. Alas, for me, I’m not really a crying in corner kind of person. I’m a “What can I do?” person, mostly. (If I’m not, you know there is something really, really, REALLY wrong.) This means I’ve done two things this fortnight that are over and above my usual. One is to do with writers and the other is to do with a book.

The book is probably the best thing I will ever work on. I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from the publisher in years. We sorted out what had happened and all is well in terms of communications, but I looked at the sales and realised that the word never got out about this book when it was published in the US. It sold nicely in Australia, then was taken up by a US press then fell into a black hole. This happens to a surprising number of books. This one volume, however, is special and needs to emerge from its black hole.

So what is this mysterious book? It’s an anthology called Baggage, and I was the editor.  Let me give you a link.  

I work (a lot, and for many years) on the subject of culture. I’m not only an ethnohistorian, I’m passionate about how we depict and share culture. When I told some of Australia’s best science fiction, fantasy and horror writers that I was interested in them writing me stories that explained cultural baggage… this book was the result. In a perfect world, I’d also edit one for, say, US writers, and French writers and Polish writers and more and we’d all have a marvellous ongoing conversation through short story about how fiction can explain cultural baggage. That was my dream. My reality, now, is that I’d be happy if these wonderful stories in this very Australian volume were read. I want everyone to enjoy everything from the sentient glacier to the way societies can fall apart and the way we can carry our history with us everywhere.

The second thing is that Australian science fiction circles are ready to deal with the ongoing affects of people being cut off from each other, and I’m a part of how we’re handling it. Prior to this some of us meet once a month, but it’s private. Now the Australian Science Fiction Foundation is setting up a room online where writers can meet up once a week, just to chat. Most of the writers interested so far are in rural and regional Australia, which may make this a longterm proposition. All our other ideas (“our” being the Australian Science Fiction Foundation, of course) will appear in due course, but our chat starts this Thursday.

This is another type of dream, I think. I want people to have more tools for talking about culture and about heritage and place in society, and the best short story writers give us those tools. I want people to be less isolated, full stop. The pandemic has given us all sorts of capacities we didn’t have earlier that help along these lines. In my perfect world having a bad fortnight, or living far from people, or having physical limitations due to disabilities should be an excuse for pulling together, not falling apart.

I’m still dealing with the effects of my bad fortnight, but at least I’m up to the pulling together stage.

What We Can Do

Reading Lyz Lenz’s latest newsletter (“Thank You, Dads of YouTube” ) brought me to the edge of tears.

It wasn’t her success at fixing her washer that got me. It was the fact that a woman much younger than I am still grew up surrounded by the belief that there were things women couldn’t do.

As someone old enough to remember how important this issue was in second wave feminism 50 years ago, it breaks my heart to know that so many people are still growing up with these stunted beliefs.

I don’t doubt that it’s true. It’s why I hope to teach some more self defense classes if we ever get enough of a handle on the pandemic for me to feel comfortable in a room full of people learning to yell “No.” Way too many women still believe that the fact that the average man is a little stronger than the average woman means they can’t protect themselves.

Spending half my life in the martial arts watching small people kick the asses of big people did that one in for me. I want to make sure other people know it, too.

We did make legal progress in the second wave, though the recent outrageous action of the partisan hacks on the US Supreme Court in nullifying the right to abortion by allowing a clearly unconstitutional Texas law to take effect is damaging legal rights as well.

(I was in law school when Roe v. Wade was decided. That was also a Texas case and I have met the lawyer who brought it — she was also my state representative back in the day.)

The same hacks also dismantled voting rights laws. It is not just women under attack in our society.

The extremist attacks make me angry, but the fact that so many women are still buying into the myths we fought to overcome in the 1970s is what breaks my heart. Continue reading “What We Can Do”

Zen Yoga Writing practice?

A confession: I like to read at bedtime. In this company, that’s nothing unusual. All the sleep hygiene experts say not to, that beds should be used for sleeping and only one other activity. What do they know? I find something deeply comforting about curling up with a good–but not too exciting–book. Perhaps it evokes memories of my mother reading aloud to me, or it’s just “me time.”

Often I include in my nightly reading a page or two of something that stretches my mind. I don’t mean that in the intellectual sense, for I definitely want to be quieting my thoughts, not forcing myself to think critically. I try to choose books that get inside my brains and stretch them gently in unexpected directions, like mental yoga before settling into my comfort reading.

An example of this kind of reading is Natalie Goldberg’s LONG QUIET HIGHWAY. Goldberg is a writing teacher, essayist and novelist who is also a long-time student of Zen Buddhism. I was introduced to her work years ago with her WRITING DOWN THE BONES, and had always thought of her as a teacher in the style of Julia Cameron: “Morning pages,” keep the pen moving, let your thoughts flow, that sort of advice. LONG QUIET HIGHWAY is autobiographical rather than instructive. I was deeply moved by how she put together mundane, specific details in ways that brought tears to my eyes. More than that, she has gotten me thinking — or rather, feeling/sensing — more deeply about the role of writing in my own life. Yes, it’s a pleasure and an obsession; yes, it’s my occupation, how I earn my living.

  • Mountain Pose: Could it also be the lens through which I view the world? Sure, no problem; every new experience is grist for the mill. That’s the easy answer, just as the plot skeleton is the easy description of a story. As a writer, I know that storyness is much deeper than plot. Can I use that same insight to listen more deeply, look beyond appearances, appreciate the interwoven complexity of my community and environment?
  • Dancing Shiva Pose: How about writing as a spiritual practice? Um, isn’t that a bit pretentious…or is it? Is there something moving through me, speaking through me, when I write from my heart? Can I shove my ego as well as my intellect out of the way? Speaking of intellect, and ego, and mind…
  • Pigeon Pose: Could writing help me become better acquainted with my own mind? The way my thoughts sometimes behave like grasshoppers on steroids? The phrases and connections and story elements I use repeatedly, without intention? The cycles of feeling I’ve written something fine, only to plummet to the certainty it’s all drek, that I can never get anything right?
  • Corpse Pose: Is writing a way of stilling my thoughts and becoming fully present–through words, are you kidding? Ah, those moments when it feels like I’m not making up these words, they’re coming from somewhere else, I’m just a lens, a focal point through which light passes.

I have no easy answers, but I will be watching myself–my self–more closely as I write. And who knows, I might even achieve a new literary Downward-Facing Dog.

Goodness, Sweetness and just a touch of ratbaggery

Firstly, let me wish you all a happy and healthy and good and sweet New Year.

Rosh Hashanah starts very, very soon in Australia (I’ve put a delay on publication, so that it’s on Monday for most of you, but it’s already Monday afternoon here) and I’m furiously trying to get everything done in time. Lockdown, oddly, makes everything harder. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have said “But of course it makes things easier.” I have apple and I have honey and I have mooncake in lieu of honeycake. I’m meeting my mother and her BFF and one of my BFFs online in a bare few minutes. My friend is a cantor and we’re going to have some music.

What makes this Rosh Hashanah special is my friends. One friend found me an apple. Another found me some honey. A third went to considerable length to get me mooncake. Even though I’ll be alone… I won’t be alone.

The downside is the number of people who want things from me today and tomorrow (sorry, but I can’t do these things) or, worse, the half-dozen different people who, just this week, have sent me invitations or reminders for events on my Day of Atonement.

To be honest, I’m not that observant. The more difficult people become around me because I’m Jewish, however, the more I stick to my special days. Holding gorgeous science fiction events (three of them! three different organisations!) on my holiest of holy days will make me stick to what I was taught as a child and even to fast and to pray. This has been the case ever since primary school. So many people have wanted me to be less Jewish or even not Jewish at all, and every time they express this or encourage me to be Christian or to eat pork or simply to work after sunset on days like today… I discover my Judaism all over again.

I do wonder what my religious views would be if I didn’t encounter antisemitism so often, or the limited toleration that I’m facing now. That limited toleration means that I make my mother happy, by doing the right things. This is not a bad outcome.

Whatever you believe or don’t believe, celebrate or don’t celebrate, please have a wonderfully good and sweet year. For anyone who, like me, will be fasting (at least as much as the doctor permits) then well over the fast. And for all of us, may we get through this pandemic well and safely and emotionally intact.

What Condition Our Condition Is In

“I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

— Mickey Newberry

What with fires, hurricanes, other storms, heat waves, the ongoing pandemic, and outrageous laws targeting reproductive and voting rights, our condition is headed for the ICU. And that’s just in the United States.

I could rant about any and all of these things, but there are plenty of other people doing that. Instead, I want to make a point that might be getting overlooked as people deal with our many crises:

The normal that we thought we had doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t go back to the way things were, because that isn’t going to solve any of our problems.

Or as I put it in a senryu this week:

We keep making plans
for the way we wish things were,
not the way they are.

Take the hurricanes. The new levees held in New Orleans, so some flooding was prevented. But there were communities that didn’t have levees yet that were inundated. Plus the investor-owned utility “solutions” for making sure the city would still have electricity didn’t work — power is still out all over the area.

And none of that work stopped the damage in New York City, where people died in basement apartments due to flooding.

We can’t just respond to hurricanes by building a few levees and pretending we’ve addressed a complex problem that is getting much worse due to climate change. We have to look at preserving what’s left of barrier islands, to set up power systems based on micro grids and batteries, to stop building in areas that will flood repeatedly, and generally to approach the whole problem in a multifaceted way.

Otherwise, we’re going to end up with a lot of climate refugees within our own country. Continue reading “What Condition Our Condition Is In”

Special Office Organising Tools and Their Joy #29.237

It’s odd that the amount of excitement in life can bear almost no relationship at all to how much space one has. What’s even odder is that when life is so full of things to do that it’s bursting at the seams, when I need at least three more hours in any given day that the day starts to reduce to… at the moment… pink sticky notes. My desk is covered in these things. Each one I scrunch up and add to the recycling box is an achievement.

These pink sticky notes are not about achievement. I can edit a novel, or write a conference paper, or prepare a bibliography and not one of these pieces of work made it into pink sticky notes. In fact, I’ve done all three of things, in multiples, over the last few days and not a single pink sticky note was produced.

The pink sticky notes are for the little things that have to be done but can’t take priority over something as large as an approach to a 5,000 word essay. I’ve just scrunched up one that reminded me I had to confirm I’d be at a conference in a couple of weeks. I’ve already written most of the paper for it, but I have two sentences to add, and have a note for those two sentences. I’m about to scrunch up another note, that reminded me to use a consistent plural for an invented word. Yet another tells me that a shop delivers to my suburb once a week. I have no idea what I needed from that shop, or even if it was something I had to check for an entirely different reason. Let me find out and get back to you.

I hope you enjoyed your break. It’s the Canberra branch of a Singapore food outlet and I am missing my Singapore friends, so I was dreaming of getting something delivered on the once-a-week they are doing lockdown deliveries to my part of Canberra. It’s a dream, but a nice one. They have three of my favourite dishes (beef rendang, Hainanese chicken, fried chicken) and I want to know how good they are and I want to have a set and think of friends I had expected to see last year or this. I now know they exist and one day I’ll taste their food.

Now that I know why I wrote a note, I can throw it out. I’ve thrown out a handful of pink sticky notes and the only ones left are actions I have to take. I need to write an article, and some fiction. I have a rather special note that explains the pronunciation of a name in a world friends and I have been working on, and another for my coming New Year’s eve (5 pm, it says, which is a reminder that I’ll be meeting an old friend online at that time and on that day).

I like sticky notes. They look like litter, but are gems. I snuck them into a short story once, to pay tribute to the important role they play on days when I don’t want to use lists.

Basically, they’re a trick I play on myself when I’m not as sorted as I should be. They help me keep up with the small things in life. Not just books I want to read or restaurants I’m curious about. In fact, mostly not these at all. The first ones to be sorted when I am in that mode are the ones that have deadlines. Today I had one that said “Write to R.” That was about a novel, and I had to finish all the work to make the novel ready to write about before I could write that email then scrunch up the note.

Someone asked me the other day how I worked through stress. Sticky notes is one of my favourite methods. When I’m unstressed I can remember everything, or write lists. When the world becomes too much (as it has been for over two years) I deal with some of the stress by littering my desk then symbolically clearing it by recycling everything that’s done. It’s not at all efficient, but it’s very satisfying, especially on a bad day.

When I was young, I thought I’d grow up into handling big things with aplomb. That aplomb was going to make my whole life triumphant and full of vigour. I thought stress was a thing that teenagers suffered and that I would grow out of it. Neither of these things happened. Instead, I developed a raft of tricks for handling my life when it becomes tough. Today was a day when I had to do All the Things, but it was also a day when my body announced its discomfort with me being in it. I had to deal with pain and deadlines. I’ve not done all the things I wanted to finish, but I’ve done a very solid day’s work and I don’t have any outstanding sticky notes. There’s no triumph and hardly any vigour, but I am ending the day with the sense that I haven’t wasted it.

If I can do the same amount tomorrow, then I may even catch up with all the things I need to do before back to back meetings tomorrow night. I shall dream of such an outcome. For the day ended hours ago, and I’m off to sleep.

I suspect I might dream of pink sticky notes tonight. Just suspect, mind.

Don’t Call Me

black rotary dial telephone I hate the telephone.

I used to think this was because my parents hated the telephone. When we moved from Houston to the country outside of the then-tiny town of Friendswood, my parents refused to get a phone.

They explained this by saying that it was because Daddy didn’t want work (The Houston Post) calling him in the middle of the night to go cover some breaking news. I mean, they were fine with phones at work, where they needed them (as reporters and editors).

This lack of a phone was highly inconvenient. I remember running like hell down the road to the nearest neighbor to get someone to call the fire department when the pasture caught fire as we were burning trash. (Note that there were oil and gas pipelines across our property.)

It was also inconvenient if I forgot something for school and needed to call my mother.

They finally got a phone three years later, making it a birthday present for me. They also put it in my name. This made it possible for my father to continue to avoid unwanted calls. There are a lot of Moores in the greater Houston phone book.

It also meant that I started getting obscene calls at an early age. Not to mention calls for other Nancy Moores (something I have gotten all my life).

It was also a party line, which is something that people who always have their private phone in their pocket probably can’t comprehend. I think there might have been six households on that line, each with their own ring.

This wasn’t much of a problem, since we rarely spent a lot of time on the phone. Long distance cost a bundle back then and it was long distance from my house to the town where I went to school. Even talking to your grandmother on your birthday you got off the line quick.

It was only in the last years of her life that my grandmother was willing to chat on the phone for half an hour. I am glad I got those calls in.

But I didn’t set out to write about the history of the telephone. I was talking about why I hate it. It’s not just the culture I grew up in; it’s something more basic. Continue reading “Don’t Call Me”

Ponce Chronicles 2021, Part 10

We’re home! Back in Boston. I have never felt so tired in my life. I finished the deck well after dark on the last day and moved on to other essential repairs—such as securing the planks on a little bridge that were flipping up like a cartoon gag when you stepped on them. Here’s the final deck railing section, and the finished project the day we left:

By some miracle, we made it to San Juan in time to catch our JetBlue flight, after a near-all-nighter cleaning up the construction zone (the whole house) and packing. I tried to sleep on the flight, but it was a lost cause. Now, though, I’m all refreshed (hah!) after ten hours of sleep in my own bed. My own bed! I plan to rest for a week. Maybe two.

I thought I’d close this year’s Chronicles with some stray oddities.

Last year I wrote about the Ho Chi Dog Trail we’d discovered running through the property. Stray dogs had found a gap in the fence at one end and periodically came racing through in well-behaved packs, going about their business and disappearing up near the car gate. It was kind of fun, but not the sort of thing weekend renters want to see. I found the gap and plugged it with metal fence rails hastily zip-tied into place. That was a year and a half ago. This year, the gap was back: one rail knocked out and cast aside. Did the dogs do it? Who knows? But mark my words, they won’t do it again. We had the rails welded into place, by the fencing crew who were on the job last week putting up real fence in place of the mangled old cyclone fencing.

Speaking of putting things up, one small but important task was figuring out an appealing way to hang curtains in a room with concrete walls and awkward corners. Allysen came up with copper pipe as a great curtain rod, and I figured out a way to carve blocks of wood to drop them into, so they’d look good and be easy to take down, and yet not fall down when you wanted them to stay up. Securing them to the walls was the hardest part. Even with a hammer drill, that old concrete was tough!

I’ve yet to address a crucial subject: craft beers. They have a number of really good craft beer makers here on the island. You can buy their beers in the grocery stores now, which previously you couldn’t. My favorite is Ocean Lab Brewing Company’s Ocean Ruby Grapefruit Pale Ale. But weirdly, you still can’t get it in restaurants! If you ask for Puerto Rican beer, you get your choice of Medalla or Medalla. (Pronounced “meh-dah-ya.”) Medalla’s a light lager, on a par with Bud Light—decent enough, if you’re hot and tired and want to glug something to quench your thirst. But as a tasty brew with a meal? Not even close. When we asked the restauranteurs why they don’t carry the local craft beers, they said, “Not enough demand. Only the tourists want it.” Well, but… don’t you want to attract tourists?

Still, my preferred drink down here is rum punch, following a recipe created by Allysen’s dad, Phil Palmer. “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.” Fresh-squeezed lime juice, dark sugar syrup, amber rum, and water (in the form of crushed ice). Top with Angostura Bitters and fresh-ground nutmeg. Simple, and unbeatable. We’ve cut the sugar some, and are more straightforward about weak. So now we say, “One of sour, one-and-a-half of sweet, three of strong, and forget the weak.” (Okay, we still use the ice, of course.)

(At home, in fact, my recipe for frozen margaritas is based on this formula: “One of sour, one of sweet, three of strong, and three of stronger.” Lime juice, dark sugar, Triple Sec, and tequila. And lots of ice.)

Here’s the final rum punch of the trip, and a fitting close to this year’s Ponce Chronicles:

Ponce Chronicles 2021, Part 9

If you haven’t been following, I’ve been building a deck. Actually, replacing a rotted-out wooden deck beside the swimming pool at Casarboles, my wife’s family’s place in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I’m in a race against the clock (we leave for home in two days, having already extended our stay by two weeks), and it’s been a bear. In the middle of it all, I developed an ear infection, probably from protecting my ears with noise-canceling earbuds, complete with ground-in dirt. Did I let that slow me down? I did not! (Well, maybe a little.)

Here’s a sort of stop-motion record of what I’ve been doing:

Grinding and painting the steel supports…

Last floor plank laid, yours truly ready to keel over…

The new floor, shown to the audience in daylight by a far more attractive model; old, rickety railing system still in place…

Old railing gone, new railing begun… two days to finish…

Okay, back to work!