Sisters

My only sibling and I live far apart, so it requires money and effort to spend time together. Life is busy and it’s easy for months and even years to pass without face to face contact.

We’re alike in may ways, but different enough in others that we’re capable of irritating each other in the special way that only family members can.

This weekend, I traveled by car, plane and bus to make it from my remote house in the mountains of Western North Carolina to her remote house in a small town in Western Illinois. We ate, drank and reminisced , which was all well and good, but what matters to me is that we did more. We trotted out some of those differences and used the ways we’d grown apart to help each other.

My sister has more clothes now than I’ve owned over my entire lifetime, but I have got to admit that she really knows how and where to shop. It goes with modern country living that these places are all online, so part of one pleasant afternoon was spent sitting on her couch shopping for clothes. Oh, and for dishes. She’s really good with kitchenware, too.

I’m more at home with my computer, and had fun helping her manipulate music among her various devices. She and her husband have a new boat, which was great fun in and of itself, and now she is hopefully set up to enjoy playlists while she cruises down the river. And she is definitely getting a new mouse and keyboard for Christmas.

She is also one of the few people I know with whom I share my books before they go to the editor. This visit caught her about half way through the draft of my latest novel. I understand that may writers are reluctant to share their work in progress with family members so I consider myself lucky to have relatives who are genuinely  supportive of my passion to tell stories. I’m particularly lucky to have this amazing genetically similar pal to give my stories a second set of eyes.

Is she enjoying my book? Of course she is. She’s my sister. Does that keep her from making  a few suggestions? Of course not. She’s my sister.

Like Eating Crab

Some journeys are a juicy strawberry, sweet and easy to enjoy. (Think beach vacation at an all exclusive.) Others are more like eating vegetables of which you are not all that fond. You know that hiking like this is good for you, but you’re not having that much fun. Then there are chocolate cake travels, and glass of champagne ones. Some of the best feel more like a bowl of popcorn and a root beer on a lazy afternoon.

I like them all. I love to travel, and I do my best to embrace the types of joys my current journey has to offer. Last week, I went on what had to be an Alaskan king crab sort of trip.

That would be a journey in which one has to work to get what one is after. Long flights, language difficulties, bumpy roads or high seas can make this a kind of vacation that many would be loathe to take. But the reward is seldom seen beauty and unusual wonders, and sometimes, a sense of personal accomplishment.

My trip to Kenya was months in the planning. The journey needed multiple immunizations, 18 days worth of Malaria tablets (still taking them) and a visa. Then came a thirty-six hour journey which included three flights, two of them over eight hours long. Fourteen crying babies, two long layovers, and five bad airline meals later left me and my friends in a position to take an eight hour drive which, we learned once we arrived, was mostly over a highly-rutted, single-lane dirt road.

Crab style journeys are prone to unexpected problems, and ours had car engine trouble seven hours into this eight hour drive. We stood in the afternoon sun while our tour guide tinkered with a mysterious electrical problem and distant zebras and wildebeests looked on. Finally, one fellow traveler began an impromptu stand up yoga class. Oh, it felt so good to stretch.

Our guide finally parceled us out into other passing vans, and bit by bit we all arrived at our destination. To our surprise, it was not the budget camp we had been promised, and had researched and deemed as okay. It was a last minute substitute.

We received the least friendly welcome any of us has ever had at a place we paid to stay, then we were shown to tents lacking a single amenity (by amenity I mean a towel, lamp, table, bench or chair –these tents had nothing) and attempted to use attached bathrooms in which neither sink, shower, nor toilet worked. When I pulled down the mosquito net to go over my bed, it was filled with fist-sized holes only partly covered by assorted pieces of old duct tape. My tent mate broke into hysterical, exhausted laughter. This journey clearly was not going to come easy.

Our trusty guide was back with our broken car having his own problems and unavailable to help us. So, options being what they were, we made ourselves a round of gin and tonics and hoped for a better day tomorrow.

The days did get better, and the total experience ended up including a wealth of high points. I’ve put some of my favorite photos from the trip throughout this post.

What do you think? Was the total experience worth the initial effort? It was to me. But then again, crab legs are one of my favorite foods.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Replacing me with … and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)

Top Requirement for a Superhero

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, for some odd reason I’ve never been much of a fan of Wonder Woman.

It could have been the tiara, way back when, or the silly skirted costume. This original heroine was before my time, but her image lingered, and it made her appear to me like a secretary out of the 40’s hustling to get her really angry boss a cup of coffee.

More likely it was the goofy boots and lasso I saw as a young girl. This modernized Wonder Woman had a faintly Texas air about her, and I wasn’t big on cowboy stories. Was I judging her by her appearance? Sadly, yes. I didn’t know much else about her, though, because although I read comics and watched superheroes on TV,  somehow her stories were never there. Her image was all I had.

Then I became a teen-aged feminist, and Wonder Woman became a sex object. Well, not totally I’m sure, but her outward appearance took a sharp turn, so once again I wasn’t interested in her. I preferred my heroes not to look like that they were prepared to do a lap dance in some sort of kinky bondage strip club.

Finally, I outgrew superheros for a long while, as I tended to the challenges of life in my own real world. It was only when I picked up my laptop and started to write books that I discovered how much I had missed heroes with superpowers.

Didn’t give Wonder Woman much thought though, until I caught an interview with the director of the upcoming movie. Really? Someone is making a movie about Wonder Woman?

It sounded interesting, and I went. And I loved it. Not because she was a woman, though that was nice. Not because she was strong and heroic, which of course she was. And not because the whole rest of the movie was basically done with taste and class, though I thought it was, too.

I loved it because she had what I need to see in every hero I appreciate. She had heart. Compassion. Kindness. Ethics. Morals. A desire to make the world better. All those things that all the guy heroes I liked had all along, and maybe she had it too but if all you get is an image and an occasional bit in a fight scene, then there is no way to show that heart is there.

I walked away loving her concept of “it’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe.” That’s a great way to run an army, a country, or a world. In fact, I like that idea so much that all my other blog posts this month will be about letting beliefs shape actions.

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, my favorite hero of them all is now Wonder Woman.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Believe, It’s About What You Believe, I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them, and Believe in Tomorrow.)

 

 

And that’s the way it was, June 30, 1940

Young people will find role models where they can. I remember two of mine. The independent professional woman Lois Lane, and the fiery red-headed reporter Brenda Starr. I was eight or so, and I read the Sunday comics every week, and watched the kids program “Major Astro” most days after school.

Of course “Major Astro” had five or six programs, and the comics were full of stories, but all the other young women featured in my entertainment world seemed to do nothing but silly things. Only Lois and Brenda had adventures. They were reporters.

Ten years later I headed off to college to major in journalism. I didn’t particularly want to write for a newspaper, and in fact was poorly suited to asking anyone questions they didn’t want to answer. But I wanted to be independent and fiery and have adventures, you know, so even though I’d long since stopped caring about either of my heroes, I landed in their profession. Go figure.

I suppose it’s a good thing that Major Astro didn’t run Wonder Woman features  or I might have joined the army instead.

This year, I’ve fallen in the habit of reading about what happened today in history, because it is a calming antidote to the chaos of current events. Imagine my delight at discovering that seventy-seven years ago today, “Brenda Starr” the cartoon strip by Dale Messick, first appeared in the Chicago Tribune. More surprising to me was that Dale was a woman, and she originally tried to sell her newspaper on a cartoon strip about a female pirate. When that failed, she opted for her red-haired reporter instead, and for forty years she wrote and illustrated the comic strip, always fighting to keep Brenda as an adventurous woman. Two hundred and fifty newspapers carried her work at one time.

Lois kind of fell by the wayside for me, given how obsessed she was with superman. But Brenda, something in me still admires her and wants to be her.

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 10, 1947, June 15, 1984, June 18, 1972, and June 28, 1888.)

The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

After writing a book that takes place in India, and making online friends there, I follow the news from this amazing South Asian country. Much of it is positive and even uplifting.

Countless stories of personal courage and altruism fill the Times of India section called Good News Stories, and everyday headlines tell tales like how the tech savvy country was barely affected by the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware that froze computers in over 100 countries worldwide.

And yet, India has once again made the headlines in the United States with a horrific rape. This time, a jilted lover and his friends abducted and ultimately murdered a young woman on May 9. The details are horrible.

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

That is unfortunate at any time, but especially now. Thanks to recent events, my own country is seeing a surge of hate crimes with intolerance on the rise. Our world is facing a growing epidemic of nationalism, the frequent outgrowth of which is more hostility, a lack of international cooperation and even wars. Right now, we need all the cross-cultural empathy that we can get.

It’s a delicate matter to feel a sense of commonness when learning of a bad situation that we don’t think would occur in our own culture. (Of course, we could be wrong about that.) But surely it is no stretch to identify with the anger and loss of the victim’s family, with the sense of fear and outrage in the community, and with the confusion and shame of the perpetrator’s family. These all extend well beyond the specifics of the crime, and are woven into the stories of mayhem and destruction of any sort, in any place.

Far away places. They can be scary. They can be easy to demonize and hard to identify with. That is, until we look at the deeper emotions behind the events and see the common threads. Then we can weep for others and wish healing for them, because in our hearts we, too, know what it is like to face sorrow and find the strength to move on.

Enjoy this relaxing duet of two icons of Americana, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as they sing about “Far Away Places.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

The Amazing Things I Get to Do

I jumped out of a helicopter today without a parachute. I used my ability to see the future to save my mother’s life, I stared down two villains at gunpoint, I orchestrated a corporate take-over and I played with penguins. It was a great afternoon.

Years ago, I loved to read fiction and I still do. However, in recent years, that same energy has gone into  my writing  instead. Writing is hard work, and stories don’t always go as well as the writer would like, but when they do, the feeling that you are doing what your characters do is even more compelling.

These people live in my head. I know far more about them than will ever appear in my book, and when they set foot in Antarctica or on a beach in Brazil, I am there with them.

Because many of my characters have superpowers, I get the added bonus of doing things I never could in real life. Today, I wrote this scene about one of my characters who can “travel”, that is, have conscious out of body experiences.

Vanida had never used her energy body to travel to someone who was on an airplane, so she was alarmed when she ordered her body of light to seek out Yuden and found herself rising thousands of feet into the air and moving westward. It took effort not to panic and snap back into her physical body which was resting quietly on the beach in Brazil.

She was glad she had persevered, though, once she sighted the tiny plane approaching, and realized why she was where she was. The skill with which her energy body matched the speed and direction of the craft amazed her, and allowed her to cross through the metal as gently as if it had been sitting on the ground.

Tonight, I will go to sleep dreaming about flying through the air, matching my speed to that of an airplane and passing gracefully through its walls. It should be a night of sweet dreams.

A no-peeing section of the pool

Once upon a time, you could specify whether you wanted to sit in the smoking or the non-smoking section of an airplane. It was a choice between between being surrounded by smoke or merely having it waft by you in smaller doses. Incredible as this now seems, the rationale for being able to smoke cigarettes while in flight was a common one: what I do shouldn’t affect you, so get over it and let me make my own choices.

But the problem is that my choices sometimes do affect you, and my viewpoint often depends on whether I’m the doer or the one dealing with it. I want to be able to lead my own life and not consider you. On the other hand, I don’t want you to be able to shoot off guns near my property, litter in the street or keep roosters next door. (I don’t mind your chickens, but I’m not listening to that damn rooster for six hours every morning.) You get the idea. I want all of my freedom and your good behavior, and we all feel that way.

So, as a society, we must compromise. In the Unites States we err towards personal freedom; it has been a cornerstone of our culture. Recent fear mongering has pushed some of us into demanding that all new-comers “act like us,” which, if you think about it, is a very odd demand. Anyone who acts like themselves is behaving like an American, aren’t they, here in the land of individual freedom?

Some areas are less open to compromise than most, even in the U.S.,  particularly those that involve caring for our common safety. My right to dump my toxic waste, to create fire hazards, or to drive as fast as I like all collide with your right not to die an timely death. Yet, reasonable people can and still do disagree about where these lines should be drawn.

The one area in which we are unarguably linked together is in the realm of insurance. It doesn’t have to be that way. We could live in a world in which if your house burned down, or you were in a traffic accident, or you were diagnosed with cancer, then you and your family were simply screwed. End of story. The 90 percent of us for whom everything was going well would feel bad for you, we really would, but hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

But that’s not our world. Some enterprising people came up with the idea that if we all paid a little into a pot called car insurance, or home-owners, or auto, or health, or life, then the lucky people would keep paying into the pot and get little to nothing for it. That’s right, the lucky ones. The unlucky would get back far more than they put in, but as they dealt with illness, devastation and loss, they would not be rendered penniless as well. And, of course, the insurance salespeople and their companies would make a nice bit of profit as well. It has been a wildly successful idea.

Consider that insurance is quite contrary to the American concept that my choices don’t affect you. Once we agree to insurance, we agree to be part of a larger pool. So enter health insurance. Like life and auto insurance, some people are deemed higher risk than others and not everyone pays the same. However, if payments (commonly called premiums) are allowed to deviate so wildly that those most likely to use the insurance can’t possibly afford it, then something in the system is out of whack. And it is.

Perhaps part of the problem is the cost of the medical care itself. We may have evolved a system in which we simply spend so much on our health as a society that even when we spread out the costs, we still can’t afford it. Maybe it is because of more expensive procedures and medicines, or a bloated system supporting too many employees, or individuals or institutions demanding a larger profits. Maybe it is a little bit of all of the above.

Maybe part of the problem is the health insurance industry, too. Has this group become too large for us to sustain or has the cut demanded by the insurance industry itself become too high?

Perhaps those with little need for health care now ( young single healthy males) would rather pay far less or nothing and not worry about the needs of families and aging until they have families and are feeling the effects of aging themselves? That’s understandable, when viewed through the eyes of ones own needs.

I say males, because women have additional health needs based on their reproductive systems. Contraception, check ups, prenatal care and childbirth are issues for the vast majority of females. It might be easy to say, well, that’s your dumb luck but not my problem. And in fact, some of the modifications being proposed to health care in the U.S. do say exactly that, to females, to those who are older, to those with pre-existing conditions or mental health needs.

But is that a wise thing to say? I once had a similar argument with someone who had no kids and therefore didn’t want to pay for public education. “Don’t you think that living in an increasingly ignorant and illiterate society would make your life worse?” I asked. “And do you really want to grow old depending on these people you refused to educate to keep your groceries coming and your lights on?” Public education benefits all of us.

So does basic health care for everyone. Contraception? Prenatal care? Whether you are male or female of any age, do you really want to live in a world with more unwanted children? More unhealthy children? A world in which those needing help with drug addiction or mental health issues cannot get care? By carving out pieces of health care and making them expensive add-ons, we bequeath ourselves a society that is worse for us. Not for those other people. For us.

I once read that having a no-smoking section in an airplane was like having a no-peeing section in the pool. Exactly. Those of you who want really low premiums for a health care system that provides you with almost no services, you can go stand over on that side of the pool, and just pay for what you need. The rest of you, well, you stay on this side here and do the best you can with this broken system. And if you just can’t help getting a little pee in the water, I’m sure those folks over there won’t mind.

Hey, everybody. Make sure you don’t swallow a gulp of water when you swim.