21 November 2001


21 November 2001

I remember the first time I heard my mother swear.  I was in my teens and she had dropped something heavy on her foot.  I was stunned.  A simple expletive was given extra-ordinary force because I had never heard my mother say that word*

That’s how I was raised.  Swear words were to be reserved for the rare occasion when no other word would do.  Swearing in my house, was not allowed and was considered crass and unimaginative.  Intelligent people didn’t swear.  

I don’t know how much of this message came directly and intentionally from my parents and how much came through my grandparents– especially my grandmothers.  I also don’t know how much of the message was directed at me because I was a girl.  I’ll have to ask my brothers some day if they got the same message.  All I know is that neither of them cuss in front of me.

As I got older and moved away from home I tried out swearing and I would say that today my language is much more ‘colorful’ than even I am aware of.

Now I have child.  A child who is very articulate and quick to pick up words adults use around him.  He is especially quick to use words he has heard used forcefully.  He is an aural mirror, reflecting what I say much more accurately than I would like.  I find myself watching what I say and listening to his speech carefully for ‘bad’ words.  fortunately he is not around a lot of swearing so his idea of a ‘bad’ word is any one he doesn’t want you to say.  Words like: bedtime, no more books, time to go upstairs, it’s nighttime, and nap-time are often considered to be ‘bad’ words in his world.

In contrast, I was once working with a younger man and every other word out of his mouth was the f-word.  It was his own special adjective– almost a form of punctuation.  This is a word I might use three times in a year.  It is a word I strongly dislike, but coming out of his mouth it was robbed of most of its power.  

That, I think, is the heart of cussing– words have power and some words have the power to convey very specific and uncomfortable messages.
I am not more intelligent than someone else if I choose not to swear.  I am not more creative if I use mild alternates in place of swear words.  Contrary to the classist messages I received as a child I am not a better person if I choose not to swear.  What I do gain by my choice of language is power.  Swear words repeated lose their ability to shock– to stop someone in their tracks and make them say ‘what did she say?’.  

Shock has its uses– why not save it for when you need it?

*an extremely mild cuss word by anyone’s standards.

20 November 2001


20 November 2001

I believe in magic.

I believe in magic for some of the same reasons I believe in god.  The universe is a big strange place that we take for granted until something either goes wrong or wow’s us.  God set in motion the creation of a wonderful, amazing, magical world where life could rejoice.  Currently a safe-haven for critters that use oxygen as an energy source, the earth and all its creatures is a magical place full of wonder.

Arabella Buckley wrote a book for children called Fairy Land of Science in 1878 it contained some of the most up-to-date information on science of the time.  In it she used the metaphor of fairies to stand in for the unseen forces of nature– to give shape to something scientists of the time were just coming to grips with– to give children a way in to the mysterious world of science.

I think we need more fairies in our lives.  Fairies to remind us of how utterly wonderful the world we live in can be.  It is so easy to forget that a single drop of water can show you the world in miniature– upside down no less!

All the little miracles of life– all the amazing magic of the world is god’s gift to everyone on the planet.  In the rush of human society it is easy to become absorbed in wholly human pursuits and forget the gigantic world outside.

On Saturday night I stood outside a friend’s apartment at two in the morning and watched the stars zoom through the sky.  Our normally rainy Pacific Northwest weather cleared for the best night of the Leonid meteor shower.  I stood in the frosty night craning my neck up at the sky as meteors went by on every side.  It was so exciting that I only gave it up once my neck was aching and my hands freezing.  I had no control over it.  The meteors would come and go– zipping across the sky– dancing to the universal music– not caring if I watched or not and beautiful none-the-less.
  • I need fairies and magic and the unexpected to remind me that there is joy in this life and that very little is up to me.
  • I hear god whisper when I am alone, I made this– it is beautiful.
  • I hear god whisper when I am with friends, life is beautiful.
  • I hear god whisper when I watch the world, make my world beautiful.
  • I hear god shout when I hold my son, look mom the sun came around to our side of the planet!  It’s time to get up!
I think god speaks most clearly through a child’s voice. The world is beautiful. The son is with us on our planet.  It’s time to get up and witness the magic.

18 November 2001


18 November 2001

I find it interesting how what’s going on in my friends lives (and their friends lives) bounces around creating ripples of conversation.  This week’s topic is presents.  Presents for birthdays, presents for Christmas, just plain presents.  

I used to have very mixed feelings about presents.  Getting presents where people seemed to read my mind about what I wanted was thrilling, getting socks was a bummer.  Not having money to buy good presents bummed me out, not having a clue what someone might like bummed me out.

Now I just like getting them.  And giving them.  Whenever I can.  To whoever I want to.  

The watershed for me came when I realized that for me giving presents is part of my overall relationship with a person.  If the only time I thought of them was at Christmas and the thought was along the lines of– gee, I’d better get so and so a present or they will feel bad– then I wasn’t much of a friend to that person.  Also, if I limited my gift buying opportunities to The Holiday Season then I missed out on the opportunity to buy gifts that leapt off the shelf at me and said “take me to so-and-so’s house– he needs me!”  

Part of this change came about after I had my one-and-only child.  Every new thing is a delight to him.  It doesn’t matter if it is the newest or the keenest or his to keep or just on loan.  He is enchanted by the world.  I realized that I used to be that way– when I was two.

All through my 3rd decade I struggled with my ambivalent feelings about birthdays, Christmas, and gifts.  I also struggled with a personality change that would hit a week or two before my birthday and hang in there until January or February.  I don’t know how to explain it to someone outside my skin but a switch would flip and I would change on the inside.  

A few years ago I found a solution by accident.  I was over at a friend’s house and we watched a sad movie and I cried– a lot.  Then I felt better.  And that year my fall weirdness was a bit less weird. 

So for the past few years I’ve been having just one or two friends over, a box of Sees’ Chocolates, and a five-hankie movie, as a sort of strange birthday antidote that has, for the most part, helped.

This year, everything was different.  The local Furry-Science-Fiction Convention was going to be held on my birthday.  I hadn’t been for several years and my mother-in-law offered to talk our son for the weekend so both my husband and I could go.  Many of my friends were going to be there– and best of all– they had a table in the dealers den that I could help staff.  Having a table to hang out behind and a reason to talk to people is a wonderful thing for an introvert like me.  I hate introducing myself to random strangers but love talking about the Tai-Pan Project and this way I could have a reason for being there.

We went and had a great time.

My actual birthday I was playing pinochle and other strange games with four good friends (including my husband) when the fire alarm went off and chased us into the parking lot.

Which brings me back to presents.  The-World’s-Greatest-Parent’s-in-Law had given me the gift of watching the grandson so I knew he was safe and loved while I went off and had fun in a way he won’t really grasp until he has children.  My parents sent me flowers from one of the nicest flower shops in Seattle. (I love getting flowers especially in the dark months).  And at the convention, as we were packing up our part of the dealers room, one of the folks who I know through the Project gave me a sweatshirt with one of his designs printed on it.  It’s a really nice sage green with a piratical mermaid hanging out on a rock.  It was a really neat piece of art and he gave it to me out of the blue.  

I was thrilled.  It made me feel warm and fuzzy.  I think it had much more impact than the giver may have known.  I wore it for the rest of the day and thought happy thoughts.

Spending that weekend with friends, and friends of friends, was wonderful.  If the  difference between heaven and hell is the company you keep then I was in heaven all weekend and was the best gift of all.

Presents can be love personified.  No matter how weird or awkward or wonderful or strange.  Even gifts of obligation can transform a relationship and give you something in common with your weird relative or something to talk about with your co-worker or an excuse to go to a white-elephant party and give more presents and get more presents.

Love and caring improve with time.

“Tests are gifts and great tests are great gifts.” Lady Cordelia Vorkosigan, “Barrayar” by Lois McMaster Bujold.

26 September 2001

Powerful Birthdays

26 September 2001

November 22 is my mother's birthday.  She was 22 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated.  That event transformed the day of her birth so that it would always be associated with a terrible act.  Every year as we approached her birthday I would notice the Kennedy retrospectives on television and the whole terrible event would be rehashed to my annoyance.  I was not born until 5 years after his death so it was all ancient history to me by the time I was old enough to notice.

The first public tragedy I remember was the mass suicide/killings at the Jones compound in Guyana.  I don't remember the exact year but I do remember reading everything I could find about cults.  I remember trying to understand how such a horrible thing could happen.  I remember asking my parents to explain and finding out, for the first time, that they could not.  That there was no rational explanation for evil of that magnitude. 

I write letters for Amnesty International on behalf of prisoners of conscience.  In the September letters I learned about a woman and her two-year-old son who were arrested as a result of the woman's political activities.  She and her son were tortured and held by the authorities.  This happened two years ago and the letters are an attempt to get the government to investigate and punish the people involved and to secure reparations for the harm done to the woman and her son.

One of my friends is HIV positive.  The available medications have worked very well so far but they are not a cure.  The drugs have both short- and long-term side effects and once they stop working he will die unless a cure has been found by then.  He is one person who I love and who I want to live to see my two-year-old son grow into an adult.  Every day he lives is a gift and every day we don't work for a cure is a waste.

Each day, each person chooses good or evil.  We choose to spend resources on life or death.  We decide, as a society, whose life is valuable and whose life is expendable.  I still hear rumblings from the so-called-Christian right that HIV is a plague brought by god and that those that have it deserve to die.  No one deserves to die.  No one should have the right to take away someone's life.  Without life there is no hope of repentance, forgiveness, or change.

I hear of preparations for a long war against terrorism and I think about all the people in Africa dying untreated of AIDS.  I think of people in the United States beaten to death because they are the wrong skin color/gender/sexual orientation.  Where is the massive response for these victims?  Where is the 40 billion dollars for food and medicine for the poor, for decent housing, and for support for the mentally ill?  Why does our world culture keep turning to death to try to bring back life?

September 11 is my father's birthday.  He turned 61 this year.  Just like my mother's birthday 38 years ago, his birthday was overshadowed by the horrible choices made by others.  I love my father more than I can express in words. I am glad of the day of his birth and all the good he has done in the world.  His love has made the world a better place.

Horrible things are being done on your birthday by people who have turned away from love.  People who look at their fellow humans and see objects that they can use or destroy.  We cannot force them to see our humanity.  But we can make our own choice not to follow them down their dark and lonely path.

Take back your birthday.  Live and love every day.

01 July 2001

Nice, and...

1 July 2001

In High School I had a very clear self image.  I was nice, naive, prudish.  I liked this image and went to great lengths to avoid anything that would threaten that image.

I had some very firm ideas about what I did not want to do and thought in my muddled teen-angst way that if I defined myself in opposition to those things then I would be safe from them.  I was deathly scared of drinking and pregnancy.  

I know why I was afraid of alcohol.  I'd been told at a very young age that alcohol and the medication I was on for epilepsy should not be combined. I equated drinking with dying.  

I don't know why I was so afraid of pregnancy and the sexual activity it implied.  Partly I took in all the messages society was trying to send about teen-childbearing and why it's a bad idea.  Partly it's because I knew from a young age that I would go to college.  Mainly it was because I grew up in a small town and saw what happened to young women who had children. They became "mothers" in a very exclusive way.  Now that I am a mother I understand that their lives were much more complex than I ever guessed, but at the time it seemed like they got a giant "mother" label pasted on their foreheads and that was all they were ever going to be. 

First and foremost I wanted to be me.  Not a label. 

Ironically, I wanted it to be so clear who I was and what I stood for (and would not stand for) that I pasted labels firmly and proudly on myself.  Prude, Naive, Nice.  Three labels I carried with me into my adult life.  Labels others tried to stick on me I peeled off and left behind-congratulating myself on my self-awareness and maturity.

I was in my early twenties when I realized that by giving myself the prude label I'd defined myself in a very narrow way.  Prude brought with it many underlying assumptions not the least of which was that I was heterosexual.  After some personal exploration I determined that no label I could devise would be complex enough to describe my feelings about love and sex.  I love my husband, my son, my housemate, my parents, my friends, and my pets. I show and share that love in different ways.  My feelings about sex are too complex to fit on a bumper sticker but the fact that my first true love was bi-sexual should have been a clue much earlier.

In my mid-twenties I realized that death and alcohol were not as interchangeable as I had believed.  My underlying assumption was that if you used alcohol or tobacco you were either a bad person or you would die very soon.  That either/or thinking did not allow for people who could drink in moderation, and safely.  My first few encounters with sloppily drunk people in college were a mixed bag that gave me my first inkling that things might be more complicated than I thought.  Later I met people who I felt were nice people and then I found out that they had the occasional nip of alcohol or that they smoked.  Gee, you could be nice and drink or nice and smoke and not die immediately.  What a revelation!  I still don't drink (I'm still on the medication) and I do still get anxious if too many people around me are drinking but I've come a long way.

Now, in my thirties, I'm learning the cost of being nice as I had defined it.  Nice to me meant never disagreeing in public, giving in at the first sign of conflict, and not competing for anything.  Nice also had a lot of positive virtues that I plan to keep.  It is the dark side of nice that I am working expunging from my life and habits.  Instead of nice but... I want to be nice and... competitive, firm, principled.  I want to fight for my right answers and if some else's right answer works better, then be gracious in defeat.  In the past I have  aggressively surrendered and been gracious in defeat before the other person even knew I had a different idea of how things should be done.

In the 15 years since I left high school I have learned a lot about myself and the world I live in.  The most important lesson being that AND is more powerful than OR.

19 February 2001

A cycle of life

19 February  2001

I am spending some time truly alone for the first time in months.  I am at the Oregon Coast while my house-mate and dog are at Pandora House and my husband and son are in Eastern Washington visiting family.  On Friday I loaded my computer and overnight bag into the car and, after work, headed down the road.

I forgot one thing.    

Now– what I'm about to discuss isn't generally considered a polite topic for dinner conversation– or for conversation in general. 

I forgot my supply of maxi-pads.

I remember thinking to myself as I was packing that I was due for my period any time now so I’d better pack supplies.  

I got to work and realized I’d forgotten to pack that much needed item– so I told myself to remember to bring my stash from work.

I forgot.  

I realized I’d forgotten at 1100 Saturday when my body said, in unequivocal terms, that Things Were About To Begin.  I searched the house for anything left by a previous occupant.  No luck.  So instead of walking into town and having a leisurely lunch, I drove into town, bought maxi-pads and came home.

I have a hostile relationship to my period.  I often think of my period as thing– no, more a person and I know why it was called a ‘visitor’ in the past.  

It is a disruptive visitor and has been since I had my first cycle.

My relationship with my period began July 4, 1980.  I remember the date exactly because my family was in Oregon visiting some friends of my Dad’s and we were watching the Fourth of July parade from a vantage point in front of the friend's office.  I was 12 years old.  I was very glad we had the spot we did because I kept having to use the toilet– and so kept trekking into the office to use the facilities there.

I was a 12 year old girl in a perpetual state of low-level embarrassment simply because I am twelve.  Add to that the anxiety of being in a strange place and constantly having to use the toilet.  Mix in finding blood in a place I've never seen blood before. And top it off having to go back out into the crowd and get mother's attention– which is hard because I couldn't speak above a whisper because I’d gone way past embarrassment into fear.

The story has a happy ending.  My mother– to my undying gratitude– had apparently been watching for just this event and had come prepared.  It was with a tremendous sense of relief that I donned my first menstrual pad and rejoined society secure in the knowledge that I was not going to bleed to death.

Now, before you think my parents had somehow neglected this aspect of my education– let me reassure you that I knew the theory of a menstrual cycle before mine began– but having no prior experience– I was not able to match the theory with the practice the first time out.

As I grew into a teen-ager my period got more and more disruptive– to the point where I passed out once from the pain.  We finally settled on birth control pills as the remedy– they worked.  My cycle was regular, and I could control the pain with normal doses of over the counter pain-relivers.

When I went off birth control to have my son my cycle had stabilized and things never went back to being a bad as they had been.

I heard a rumor that having children gives some women relief from menstrual pain.  I got 18 months worth– while I was pregnant and breast feeding– that was it.  

I liked not having a menstrual cycle.  I liked being able to have mood swings and not having to wonder if I was truly angry or if I was freaked out on hormones.  I liked not having to carry ‘supplies’ around with me or guess if I was going to need them. 

So now my son is nearly two and I am nearly thirty-two.  I've had twenty years to develop a relationship with my body and it's cycles and I still find my period an intrusion.  

If I were a good little essayist I would wrap this up in some sort of positive message about listening to our bodies and resting when they tell us to rest.  I’d say something about how our industrial society treats all of us– men, women, children– as machine parts rather than as people.   And I’d say something about my cycle reminding that I really have very little control over what happens in my life.

Sometimes, I am not a good little essayist.  Welcoming my period into my life is not going to make it any less messy, painful, or disruptive.  

And I don't have to be happy about it.