We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much

img_3163I’ve started working out at a gym (again) and this time around I’m facing a challenge I haven’t seen before, and it involves breast cancer. No, I don’t have it and let me go on record as being against cancer of all types and firmly in favor of a disease free life for everyone. However ….

Someone in the gym has decided to put cute little pink sticky notes with hand-written statistics about breast cancer at eye level on the machines. I suppose if these had been in place for a week or so I might have ignored them, but it’s been almost a month now and I’m getting tired of averting my eyes. img_3161Nothing written on a sticky note is going to change my health care practices. However, I have emotional attachments to women who have died from this awful disease and to others who have bravely fought a battle that they are losing. These notes put me in a funk every time I see them. I’m fine with educating people. I’m not fine with badgering them.

trump-assult-scandalEnter sexual assault. Most women I know have experienced it in some mild form, including me, and too many of those I love have had experiences that were disturbing enough to continue to haunt and challenge them. I wish healing for them, and safety for all women. I recognize that to ignore the problem is not to solve it. I welcome honest dialog and a world striving to be better. However ….

It’s hard for these brave souls to move on, or to even have a good day, when almost every newscast addresses the topic, and half of the available entertainment feels compelled to have a scene, episode or back story about the same. When is comes to the news, a lot of this is tied to the presidential election and the way that events are unfolding. We all can’t wait for the election to be over, and for me this is just one more reason.

27-15As far as the entertainment industry goes, if I want to be positive then I think that they are striving to be relevant and, at their best, helpful. After all, I wrote a book about human trafficking with the best of intentions. When I am in a less charitable mood, I am sure that some others are only capitalizing on what they think will sell, and I understand with some sorrow how I could be accused of the same.

So I get to write a book about human trafficking but you don’t? Who decides when enough about a subject is enough, or whether the handling of a difficult topic is sensitive or exploitative?

I can’t answer that question. I do know that I never want to see ugly topics like disease and assault (and poverty, racism, domestic violence, homophobia, child neglect, human trafficking, war, and gun violence) swept under a giant collective carpet. Awareness can lead to solutions. But I also think it is fair to consider how toxic the atmosphere can become once we are fixated on a difficult subject, especially for those struggling to recover from emotional wounds that get strained a little every time the subject arises.

There are no easy answers here; just the age old need to step back from what we are doing every once in awhile, and to look honestly at our own motives and to consider the feelings of all others.

I do know that when difficult topics are handled with warmth, compassion and even a little humor, it helps. That can be a hard thing to do, and successful examples are rare.  This video, put out by the Thames Valley Police about a year ago relating the issue of consenting sex to having a cup of tea, handles a difficult subject as well as anything I have ever seen.


The moon rises

Far from home, I marvel at the things I’ve never seen but I take comfort in those that I know well.
1-lemonHere, lemons not only grow on trees, they grow huge and then fall on the ground where I pick them up and use them in my dinner. I grill fish over a real wood fire (no charcoal briquets) to eat with bread our hosts baked this morning and with wine made at the vineyard down the road.
My husband, who prefers the local beer, makes a salad fashioned from what we bought from a produce stand.  As we prepare our meal, the moon rises.
Ah, the moon. It shines down on the two of us and on every other person I cherish on this planet and on the other seven billion or so that I don’t know well, don’t particularly care for or have yet to meet. There is something comforting in the light of the moon. It’s ubiquity? It’s consistency? It’s familiarity?
I think it is all of those and more. I deliberately put the image of the moon on the cover of my novel c3, because there is nothing more classically feminine. It is is mysterious, maternal, and romantic all at once. My husband’s hand reaches for mine as we watch it rise, and a piece of an old poem floats through my head.
Exactly. Dinner can wait. I take a quick photo of the rising glow in the eastern sky, and we pause our work and dance.
(The poetry is by the famous late nineteenth century fanciful poet Edward Lear. A runcible spoon is actually a fork curved like a spoon, with three broad prongs, like the kind you get a Taco Bell. Learn more about the wonderful place we visited at bouca-agroturismo.com)
(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see  Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria on my x0 blog, and That’s Why They Play the Game on my d4 blog.)


One Great Idea From the Misogynist Wing of the Alt Right

Like almost everything you can imagine, and a whole lot of things you can’t, it exists on the internet. The same wonderful, amazing tool that fuels my stories by letting me see locations I’ll never visit and open doors into the minds of others I will never meet, also allows me to find voices that repulse and frighten me. In fact, it allows me to find them easily.

Like most people, I avoid the dark corners of the internet, until my desire to make a character or incident more authentic drives me back to some putrid place. This time, I was trying to do something that seemed pretty safe. I was trying to learn more about Argentine women, because I was writing about one. Flipping through sites, I landed on a blog about how to get laid in Argentina. It seemed to be part of series of posts advising men about how to obtain casual, consensual and free sex in every country on earth. Crass but harmless.

The author advised me that women in Argentina were far too high maintenance and that I would be better off just heading over to neighboring Brazil. Something about the general tone started to bother me, and I filed it away for a possible future blog post of my own.

geniusBecause I’m a news junkie, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot about Trump’s new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who also heads up Breitbart News. I had not heard of Breitbart News before, but according to a wealth of sources it is part of an alternate reality known as the alt right, in which a wide variety of paranoid white-centric ideas are held as truths. I checked it out for myself, and found headlines like “Obama Golfs as Louisiana Floods” and “Texas Voter ID Case Compared to Area 51 Alien Conspiracy” (two actual headlines used today). Okay, I’m going to go with the talking heads.

I also went back to the how-to-get-laid-in-Argentina blog, thinking I might write about it, and lo and behold I found another post there entitled “If Trump Doesn’t Win We’re Screwed.” Hmm. Seems like this guy writes about more topics than effective pick-up lines. It didn’t take much in the way of looking around to find a post called “Ugly Minority Girls Are Winning Beauty Pageants To Satisfy The Diversity Agenda” and to find comments like (I quote the exact words and apologize in advance for any offense) “overweight and obese girls have more sexual partners on average than girls who are in shape, because the same lack of impulse control that leads them to stuff their faces with food also leads them to hoover up cocks left and right” and “homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be mentally ill: their malfunctioning sexual impulses lead to their entire personalities being dysfunctional.”

By this point I was looking for some bleach to clean out my browser. Ick. Yes, people can believe anything they want and they can also share those thoughts with others. But does this blogger seriously believe what he writes, or, like much of the alt right, does he just enjoy shocking people with outrageous statements?

I decided to look further into this. The blogger has a name, Daryush Valizadeh, and he achieved a small amount of infamy when he wrote a post in 2015 suggesting that rape be legalized on private property. His argument was that such a law would coerce women into becoming extremely careful (or paranoid), to the point of never being alone with a man with whom they did not want to have sex. Thus rape would be eliminated. After a lot of criticism, he claimed that he was being sarcastic.

sungazing5The Southern Poverty Law Center follows him due to his “specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence” and you can read their latest on him. (I am happy to provide a link to the SPLC site, but will not link to his blogs.) According to the short Wikipedia entry on him, he is against female promiscuity, which seems a rather odd stance for a man who writes books with titles like Bang Lithuania: How to Sleep with Lithuanian Women in Lithuania and Don’t Bang Denmark: How to Sleep with Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must). I  have no idea what he has against Danish women.

Another odd contradiction is that along with his clarion call for men to be sexually aggressive, he has recently begun to rally his followers to reject globalism and adhere to nationalism. It seems a strange stance for a man who is the child of two immigrants, who has lived in multiple other countries and who writes travel books. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to merge his philosophies about sex with the politics of the alt right.

I do confess to reading one of his posts from start to finish. It was titled something like “don’t have sex with feminists” and it advised men that the feminist movement could be seriously diminished if males would simply refuse to become intimate with women who held unacceptable ideas like wanting equal pay. (I’m serious, equal pay was the horrible feminist idea that he used as an example.) His plan for stopping feminism is for every man in every bar to respond clearly and firmly to every such statement with something like “then forget it, I’m not attracted to feminists.” He thinks this would make women feel so rejected that they would rethink their silly ideas.

I almost wrote the man to say “Please get all of your followers to do this. Please. What a service this would be.”

Imagine the scene in the bar. He says “Forget it, lady, I’m not attracted to feminists.” She says “Thank you so much for telling me. I’m not attracted to assholes.”

And everyone leaves the bar happy. See, even I can find one idea from the misogyny wing of the alt right movement with which to agree.




Antidote to current events: Truckers Against Trafficking

Who couldn’t use a story to balance out the anger and violence that has filled so much of the news lately? I’m normally a news junkie and for the past week even I can’t get myself to turn the channel to a news station.

Enter this blurb about Kevin Kimmel, a father, grandfather, and truck driver who saw a gaunt young woman being jerked away from the window of a recreational vehicle parked at truck stop, and made a phone call that resulted in the rescue of a twenty-year-old who was being tortured into having sex with strangers.

heroesEven more impressive is that Mr. Kimmel is associated with a group called TAT (Truckers Against Trafficking) that is working to educate those affiliated with the trucking industry to notice and report signs of sex slavery. Using the slogan “Everyday heroes needed” this group is fighting domestic human trafficking and so far has identified 425 likely trafficking cases involving 744 victims and 249 minors.

This tears at my heartstrings in a particularly strong way. My research for c3, a science fiction book about sex trafficking, sent me researching dark corners of the internet into which I would never have ventured otherwise. I was appalled, and I would described myself as someone who does not shock easily.

We still have a long way to go. According to the Daily Kos, there are an estimated 1.5 million victims of human trafficking in North America, and here on our continent it is a $150 billion dollar industry. As TED talk speaker Tony Talbott said while speaking on the subject “It’s all about the money. Human trafficking is insanely profitable. If you really think about it; You can sell a kilo of heroin once; You can sell a 13-year-old girl 20 times a night, 365 days a year.”

Watch his amazing TED talk, and join me in cheering for the Kevin Kimmel’s of the world.



The Power of Three

I joined a small writers group recently and it has added new energy to my story telling. Perhaps I should point out that the group is small in number, not short in stature, and that a lot of the energy I feel comes from the fact the others also write a sort of fantasy – science fiction- metaphysical melange like I do.

life lessons11We hold animated discussions about how telepathy works and how to write a phrase readers will want to quote and the other day we got started on ideas that are inherently powerful, even magic if you will. The best example we could find was the power of the number three.

Make three wishes. Blood, sweat and tears. ABC. The popularity of a trilogy. Star Wars’ brilliant three trilogies. Yes, I even wrote a whole fiction book called “C to the power of three.” The Huffington Post has a fun article on threes and marketing experts are happy to advise you on how to harness its power.

But no one seems to have this figured out better than those who compose country western songs. Seriously. I was not well acquainted with the musical genre before I wrote c3, but my hero Teddie was clearly a fan of it. I had made sounds tracks for the main characters in my other books and was compelled to do the same here. So I sought out CW songs that fit my story and Teddie’s personality and yet which I liked okay too. You can find all of them on the music page for this blog.

Almost every song tells a story, unlike most music in other genres. Every story is told in three parts. Always three parts. Each story is more compelling than you would expect, grabbing your heartstrings with an almost magical grip. Past, present future. The power of three.

Today I updated the music page with more details about my schmaltziest song, “Laughed Until We Cried” performed by Jason Aldean. Dammit I don’t like sappy music, but this one gets me every time. It must be that three thing that he uses so well.

Enjoy this excerpt from where the song appears in the book, and then enjoy the video at the end.  Grab a tissue. That power of three thing might get to you also.

Ariel got word from work that she had to leave a day early for a business meeting in Germany and Teddie was surprised to find herself sad at the news. The night before Ariel left, the two sisters sat together at the kitchen table, laughing and reminiscing, and Teddie realized how helpful it had been to have a relative close by as she went through this. She went to bed with a touching song about reliving family memories called “Laughed Until We Cried” playing in her head.

In spite of the soothing start to the night, she woke up a couple of hours later, filled with worry. On Lawan’s advice she had refrained from traveling in her mist body since the surgery, and she was growing more concerned about Usha by the day. She looked down and saw Usha, and she thought she was dreaming. Then as the absolute silence sunk in, she realized that she had gone traveling without meaning to.

Usha lay sleeping, fully dressed in robes that looked much like Lhatu’s. She was sleeping on a mat in someone’s kitchen. She seemed fine, but Teddie thought that there would be no harm in looking around a little more to make sure.

Teddie entered each room. Usha was in a home with two parents and three children. It was small and simple, but also clean, warm and cozy, and well decorated with children’s art. Teddie was going to go out on a limb and guess that the mat in the kitchen constituted the family’s guest room. These nice people must have taken her in for the night. Teddie felt an odd pang that for all the much-touted hospitality and generosity in her own home of Texas, no one she knew would even dream of providing lodging to a traveling stranger. And sadly, it was often wise that they did not do so.

She tried to see any detail at all that might help her figure out whose home this was. The children’s art, the handmade furniture, even the pile of shoes by the door. It was true, she knew it for a fact. If she could just bring back a picture of any one of these, it could be circulated around and somebody somewhere would recognize this place. Teddie stared hard at each scene, wishing she could memorize and redraw it. What a crying shame that she could not.

She woke up with tears of frustration in her eyes and as she rubbed the water away, she knew it. She simply knew how to do it. She crept into the den where Lawan and Awut both slept, and she shook her trainer awake. Awut took one look at her face and he could tell as well.

Videos taken at a concert can be good or downright awful, and this one of Jason Aldean performing “Laughed Until We Cried” live at Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 22, 2010 is one of the good kind. It captures the energy of the crowd and feel of the concert while still providing enough reasonable quality audio and video for the viewer to enjoy the music.

Girl on girl shaming – sexist articles about #GlamourAwards2016

Girl on girl shaming – sexist articles about #GlamourAwards2016

I don’t reblog a lot — but this post from “Hopeless Hannah” gets is exactly right. What a ridiculous way to celebrate women’s accomplishments. If you agree, please drop by her blog and give her a like.

Hopeless Hannah

The Glamour Women of the Year Awards are said to celebrate the women of entertainment, with stars flocking to the event including Kourtney Kardashian, Caroline Flack and Amanda Holden.

However, for an event which is MEANT to celebrate women and their achievements, including Jennifer Saunders who took home the outstanding contribution accolade, the press seem to treat it as a chance to slay the women who attend for their dress sense.

Eughhhhh. Cringe.

Here’s some of the women who attended the event and the headlines that came with their fashion choices.

Jenna coleman sexism remarks glamour awards Image: Getty

So this is Jenna Coleman. She was in that little thing called Doctor Who and is starring in Me Before You this summer.

However, here’s what the press have said about this young, inspiring woman’s outfit.

mail online Mail Online make a sexist headline about Coleman’s frock. That’s so not like them!

jenna coleman express …and Express online weren’t fond of her dress.

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Because she could ….

bolder6A couple of months ago I wrote about March as Women’s History month, and the corresponding wealth of sites celebrating songs that empower women. Buzz Feed, The BoomBox, and vh1 all had their lists complete with best lines from the song, the reason the song is great, and a video to enjoy. I concatenated the lists together to create my own mega celebration of female power.

However, I felt like the songs were mostly recent and in certain popular genres. The only one that could be considered an oldie was the all time classic “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. Country-western songs were nowhere to be found, even though I had discovered plenty of them when I was writing c3, and needed one to include in my story. (I settled on “Because I Can” by LeAnn Rimes and, I’ve come to really appreciate it even though I’m not a CW fan.)

An old friend of mine who is an expert on Classic Rock and Roll read my post and he agreed that too many older songs that qualified were left off of the list. He proposed twelve more additions. They are all good, but the three that simply have to be included are given below in chronological order.

Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” predated the idea of feminism but it got the attitude right.The chorus features “And don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say”.

Yes, you can find a video of a song from 1963. Here it is.

“I am Woman” performed by Helen Reddy is a 1972 feminist’s anthem, with lyrics that begin with “I am woman, hear me roar!” It has had plenty of satire over the years but no one has put a more blunt statement of feminine power to music before or since. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits describes the typical DJ reaction to the song in 1972 as “‘I can’t stand this record! I hate this song! But you know, it’s a funny thing, my wife loves it!”

Enjoy this 1975 version performed by Helen Reddy.

Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 “I Will Survive” has gotten some recent attention when it was featured during the credits at the end of “The Martian”.  Yes, it is a song about human survival, but also one specifically about a woman finding the strength within her.  This video of Gloria Gaynor singing will have you standing up and yelling “yes” by the end and you’ll feel better, I promise.