Choice. A good thing?

I came across two wildly different pieces of information, and their juxtaposition sent my brain into cartwheels on the subject of having choices.

choiceConsider having no choice. I read the Economist most weeks, because it is one of the better ways to keep informed about the world outside my home country. If you’ve read my books, you’ve noticed that I am fascinated by the rest of the world. I also consider myself somewhat informed, so I read the following from the Feb 25 2017 issue of The Economist three times.

In a 2012 household survey … more than half [of Indian women] said they could not visit a shop, or even a friend, without someone else’s approval … and 52% thought it normal for a husband to beat his wife if she ventured out without telling him.

2012? Half the population? But I know women from India who live in the US, and my writing and the internet have combined to introduce me to women who live in India now as well. This doesn’t sound like their reality. The article adds

For wealthy and middle-class Indian women, freedoms have steadily grown.

Oh, right.  Those are the women with whom I have contact. In fact, those are generally the women with whom I have contact here as well. Both education and the influence of others work to increase a woman’s freedom. I wonder what percentage of poorly educated women in remote rural locations live a similarly constrained life here?

Then I came across this.

While people like having choices, too many options makes settling on one specific choice difficult. There is a technical term to describe this problem: the excessive choice effect (ECE). The ECE refers to the inverse relationship between the number of options and the ability of a person to make a choice. It is most famously related to a study involving jam. Authors Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that consumers more likely to purchase jam when presented with six choices than when they were presented with 24 choices.

jamIt was part of a newsletter from the American Association of Independent Investors. If you’ve read d4 you know that I handle stock investing for myself and other family members, and so I’ve subscribed to a wide variety of newsletters on the subject over the past decade or so. Most make money, but mostly for the people who write them.  However, the AAII aims to provide “unbiased, actionable investment education” often playing the role of a sort of “Consumer Reports” for the individual investor. Here, they were trying to help the non-professional navigate their way through mutual funds. (There are an awful lot of them out there.) So I checked out the jam story, and apparently it is true.

I have always believed that having no real choice about what you can do is the very definition of misery. The essence of happiness is the freedom to choose the alternative you believe is best. You may choose to defer your happiness, or to forego it altogether to aid or please another. You may choose to do something difficult; you may choose to take a nap. When circumstances beyond anyone’s control give you a lousy set of choices, that might make what you pick all the more valuable to you.

growing-bolder-8To artificially restrict anyone’s decisions (visit a sick friend and get beaten, or don’t) is to artificially limit their joy in life. No, you can’t study to be a doctor because we say so. No, you cannot try to run a marathon, because I don’t like the idea. This exertion of control, this limiting the potential of others with arbitrary rules, is of course not confined to the experience of women. However, women have far too often been on the losing end of it. On this blog and in my life, I cheer on the women who have found a way to regain their options.

But what an interesting idea that we also don’t like to have too many choices. At least when it comes to something trivial like what cookie to eat, a half dozen options are good. More important decisions like what career to pursue or what mate to choose presumably warrant having more than six to pick from. But can we suffer from choice overload even then?

Maybe what we all want is enough meaningful choices, in all aspects of our life. We don’t like being forced to pick among things that don’t matter that much to us. Ask anyone who has recently had to plan a wedding and pick from dozens of nearly identicle type-fonts. And yet, we rebel deeply against not being able to choose the things that matter most to us. Of course we do.

Funny creatures, aren’t we?

Am I writing sexist science fiction?

daxI’ve been a feminist since I was a teenager; longer than that if you consider wanting to be the chief science officer on the star ship Enterprise as a sign of early feminism. And yet, like other like-minded authors of speculative fiction, I struggle with feminism in my writing.

My first problem is that I define feminism as the radical notion that women are people. This means that some of them (women, or people if you prefer) are foolish. Some are selfish or incompetent, and a few of them are downright mean. All of them have flaws. I believe that to make every female character, or even most of them, models of virtue is to not treat my female characters as people, but rather as carriers pigeons for an ideology.

I recently stumbled on an online group discussion about a book I read years ago. Dreamsnake (a multiple award-winning 1978 science fiction novel written by Vonda McIntyre) defied the stereotypes of the genre way back then by putting a gutsy lady hero in the middle of a broken world. I wanted to like this book so much. But I didn’t, at least not all that much.

dreamsnakeThe main character Snake seemed two dimensional to me. She was everything a feminist hero should be, which was great, and she was never anything else, which kind of bored me. The rest of the women in her post-apocalyptic world were equally unwavering in their strength and capability. There may have been exceptions (it has been many years since I read the book) but my lingering impression was of a cast of characters carefully crafted to make a point. Interesting, but not engaging.

So, my female characters are all over the place. Most of my protagonists are strong women, but my novel y1 features a gay male shape shifter, and his friends.

I remember being so excited when a blog called The Future Fire agreed to review the book, and being so disappointed when the reviewer remarked “I do have to say, I am not really impressed by the depiction of women here. Of the two main female characters, one is shown to be foolish and unstable (where have we seen those words before?) and the other a child-like creature who runs from one daddy figure to another.”

y1-final-smallNo, I wanted to scream. That’s just two of the characters. What about capable Chloe? Resilient Raven? They are just as important to the plot. But of course one of the things you have to learn when you write books is not to scream at your reviewers, even in your own head, no matter how much you think they are missing the point. You just try to make your intentions more clear in the next book.

The other problem I have with my own sense of feminism and writing, is that I want my world to feel real to my readers. Sadly, our cultural stereotypes are internalized from childhood whether we like it or not, and they color our sense of what is believable. A writer can easily have one top surgeon at the hospital be female, and I think a good story ought to have a few of them. However, if the writer insists on making well over half of the doctors female (and more than half of the nurses male) then today’s reader will struggle to settle into the plot. This works fine if gender is supposed to play part in the story, or in the world-building. But if it isn’t, then you’ve got a bright light shining where you don’t want one, and you have to choose between making your point and engaging your reader.

A while back I read a fascinating article on a blog called Mythcreants entitled Five Signs your Story is Sexist.  This wonderful and helpful post included such gems as

“Patriarchy conditions us to think of men as normal and women as special exotic creatures. That’s why in many stories, particularly stories written by men, characters are only women if the storyteller thinks they have to be.”

Excellent point. If every female in the story is someones girlfriend, sister, daughter or mother, I think a good storyteller should seek out a few other characters and change their gender. You know, the helpful bartender who notices something that saves the hero can be a girl, and no, your hero does not have to fall in love with her. She can even be an old woman.

Here is another gem.

“Because most of us have a very skewed sense of what ratio of men to women is normal, the only way to ensure equal representation is to actually count them up and tally the total.”

This is an exercise well worth doing. While I think that a writer may not be able to achieve “equal representation” without making gender an issue in a novel meant to be about something else, I bet writers of all genders will be surprised by how far we all lean towards predominantly male stories. Yes, we can lean less that way and still tell a tale that sounds like it is real.

I’m already working on the novel I hope to write after I finish my 46. Ascending series. My protagonist will be a she, of course, and I already know that she will be smart, capable and kind. That part is easy. Now I’m working on what she doesn’t do well, developing the ways in which she is vulnerable. To me, those traits will be what makes her story interesting, and also what makes her fully human.

Backing Down, Making Nice, and Saying Goodbye

I’ve been in something of a daze since November 9, the morning after the election. Words are my medium, and yet for all of my fear and frustration, I felt mute once the results were in, silenced by the forces of “we all need to pull together now and accept what has happened.”

I tried to be in this place, I swear I did, but after a week or two of hearing the improbable words “President-elect Trump” I wasn’t even close to being there. So, it was something of a relief to me to be included in on the following email from one old friend of mine to another. My friend said:

I recall you never warmed to Hillary, but I appreciate that you overcame your misgivings to vote for her. The likability debate always perplexed me, particularly from other women. We’re not electing prom queen here, or favorite mom or grandmother. There’s been a 30-plus year drumbeat from her Republican detractors about what a conniving b—– she is. A lot of it is raging sexism and just general Clinton hating. News flash: Things were pretty good when Bill Clinton was president, but let’s bash Hillary for her pantsuits and not being warm and fuzzy enough. During the election, I’ve taken these attacks on Hillary very personally. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism, and now ageism, in my life. I don’t suffer fools gladly, and neither does Hillary, a quality that is seldom appreciated in women but OK for men.  And when Hillary takes the knocks, I feel them.

I do know plenty of Trump supporters and the fact that they sincerely believe they made the right choice only scares me for this country.

Really? You thought the narcissistic cretin was a better choice than Hillary, I would say to them? The guy who penned in the media and egged on his sycophants to jeer them? Are you familiar with the First Amendment?

You think it’s OK to diss a Gold Star family? To mock a disabled person? To build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it? To challenge our president’s birth certificate? To have an inner circle of racists and con men who spread utter lies in their fake news outlets? To barge into a dressing room with naked young women who work for you? To brag about grabbing women by their pussies? To insist that women who aren’t beautiful (in your opinion) be gotten rid of at your clubs? To build your empire by cheating the little guy? To brag about not paying your taxes? To refuse to release your tax returns? To threaten our allies? To suck up to Putin?

And so on.

This is not a normal Republican, with a platform that I might disagree with but could understand on some level. Trump’s platform was mostly fear of the other, pent-up racism against Obama and general paranoia. During the debates, he dodged intelligent discourse in favor of “such a nasty woman” and “crooked Hillary.”
I don’t need to listen to Trump supporters, or respect them, either. Many of them DO seem ignorant. How could you listen to the debates and not come to a basic conclusion about who was the superior candidate? Wait, you didn’t listen to the debates! You didn’t need to! Anyone would be better than Hillary!

I’m not interested in a Trump supporter’s convoluted explanation of why they aren’t a racist, homophobic, and so on. If they voted for Trump, they were saying that all of the unforgivable things he said and did, and will continue to do and say, were preferable to voting for one of the most qualified candidates we’ve had.

As we move forward, I’m proud to be with the people who won’t normalize Trump’s behavior. With a Congress that is stacked in his favor, it won’t be easy.

These days, my theme song is, “I won’t back down.”

Yeah. Exactly what she said. And just in case you don’t remember the Tom Petty classic, here is a memory refresher for you to enjoy.

It’s been almost two weeks now since I received that email, and I keep looking for signs of hope that the governing of these wonderful United States is not going to be reduced to a reality TV show, wherein contestants are egged on and judged in one man’s twitter account. I’m not seeing a lot of hope.

What I am seeing are signs that there are people from all walks of life who share my concerns: people with whom I might have guessed that I had little in common. My sports loving husband had me listen to an interview with the San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and at the end I stood up and cheered. From the evangelical Christian point of view came an article written by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers of Oklahoma City that reminded me of the compassion and love embedded in true Christian faith. Meanwhile trans woman, atheist and civil rights activist Danielle Muscato tore into The Donald on twitter and her words could not have reflected my own thoughts better. Either. What these three people have in common in my opinion is that they are compassionate and aware humans.

So, yeah, instead of being able to find encouragement in The Donald’s excellent cabinet picks and his swivel to embrace the importance of the job to which he has been elected, I am having to take comfort in the words of those who are as appalled as I am. As for the folks who thought any change was good change, well, I am not ready to make nice.

In fact, that wonderful tune from the Dixie Chicks is probably my theme song right now. Remember that this song was written in response to the outrage fans expressed when the Dixie Chicks criticized George Bush for invading Iraq. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, view it through the eyes of 2016, a time when evading Iraq looks incredibly stupid and yet George Bush doesn’t look half as inept as he once did.

There is one more song running through my head these days. I’m updating the music page for this blog, and I’ve gotten to the last song referred to in the book c3, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” recorded by Patty Loveless in 1993.

It’s true that my least favorite thing about country music has always been its tendency to be overly sentimental. So when “How Can I Help You Say Good-bye” was suggested to me for c3 by my country music consultant, I winced. Then I played it through a few times just to try the idea on. Yes, it made me cry, but behind those words designed to easily coax out tears, I heard a wisdom about accepting the pain in life. The more I played the song, the more the underlying message spoke to me, until soon it made it’s way into the end of my book and onto the short list of country songs I do like.

Today I’m thinking that there is message in there for me. We say goodbye to all sorts of things in life; childhood friends and those we love and ideas that matter to us. Having a woman president meant a lot to me, perhaps more than I realized before the election. For all my righteous frustration with the childishness of the incoming administration, I need to let go of the idea that I am going to see a woman president anytime soon, at least in the next four years. I’m particularly fond of this simple version of the song performed live on television by Patty Loveless.

Accept and move on. That doesn’t mean backing down on my principles.  It does not mean making nice with the people who put us into this mess. In fact, hanging on to what I believe and refusing to look the other way regarding hateful behavior is going to help me get out of this funk. I’m determined to find a way to say goodbye to a world that is not going to be, and then to work my hardest to see that four years from now I’m singing a very different kind of song.

My Way

This is a post about Aretha Franklin and wearing a hijab and my mother’s funeral, and it comes to you from a cafe in Marrakesh Morocco.

img_3256I’m staring out the window at the crowds of tourists and locals crossing a busy street in front of the Koutoubia Mosque as I write. I’m alone in this city, far out of my comfort zone, and I’ve just ordered my first couscous. I settle into the ornate red pillows, ready for a genuine Moroccan experience, when I recognize the unmistakable voice of Aretha Franklin in the background.

Now I like Aretha as much as anyone and maybe more than most, but she is kind of getting in my way here, and it’s not even one of her better songs. I listen more closely and I feel the ghost of my mother snuggle into the pillows beside me.

What is my mom doing here? She died a few years ago and, in spite of her having been a difficult woman in many ways, I admired her a great deal. She was passionate, smart and so headstrong that when my sister and I were looking for music to play at her funeral my sister jokingly suggested the song “My Way.”

Mom’s death was sad, of course, but also bittersweet. Her body was tired and her mind was worn, and her independent spirit was struggling to maintain its identity as the rest of her began to fail. Because the Frank Sinatra classic was a favorite of her generation, I went ahead and searched out the words. To my surprise they weren’t silly; they were rather touching and perfect for my mother. (And apparently not only for my mother. Inquisitr reports that My Way is the number one song used at funerals in Great Britain. Who knew?) We used the song and yes, my sister and I both cried profusely as it was played. I realize that’s the song Aretha is now singing.

One of the things that I most admired about my mother was her strong sense of justice. A white woman from a farm in Kansas, she somehow found her way to a strong belief  in the dignity and equality of all humans and she spent her adult life arguing for the rights of every non-privileged group she encountered. Except for one.

blog1My mother was mostly unaware of Muslims until late in her life, when the events of 9-11 and the subsequent wars put this unexplored culture front and center in the worst of ways. Her feminist side responded first, and her anger at the much touted restrictions on Islamic women flared at about the same time that her ability for nuanced analysis was fading. She came to hate the hijab and all other forms of religious covering worn by Muslim women, refusing to see the head coverings as anything but a sign of male dominance.

I work in the oil industry, and I know many Muslims who I admire and enjoy. I tried to explain to her that head coverings were worn for many reasons that often included a woman’s own choice. That choice might be influenced by her desire to please her family, her society, or her God, or it might center around her own feelings of comfort or safety. My mother would not listen.

So now I am looking out the window, watching the world walk by, and her spirit is staring out the window with me. Half of the humans we see are female, and a few are covered from head foot, only showing eyes. “I still think that’s horrible,” she mutters to me.

blog2Some wear all manner of scarves, including some of the tourists. Others let their hair fly in the breeze; long tresses and short bobs, the blonde, the black and the grey of the women of dozens of nations and all ages. They move happily, most of them talking and laughing no matter how their head looks, sometimes jumping out of the way of the many women and men riding motorbikes and bicycles down the crowded street. I turn to my mother’s ghost and she nods.

Aretha Franklin is well into her rendition of the song “My Way” now, and I decide that the overall effect is not bad, even though I wish she would have changed the lyrics to say “what is a woman?” instead of “what is a man?” Nonetheless, I think that mom likes the song, and that she is beginning to appreciate the scene outside the window. All those women out there, each one doing things her way, even if not everyone in the world understands it.

blog3I sip on the mint tea that is everywhere, and my waiter brings the vegetarian couscous cooked in the wonderful clay pot called a tagine. It is as delicious as anything I’ve ever eaten. I consider how I am a feminist, too, and I share my mother’s belief that no one should force a woman, or a man, to wear garments that restrict her (or his) freedom to move, see, talk, eat or enjoy life. But part of that belief is that every woman should get to live her life her way.

Mom is fading back into the velvet pillows now as I concentrate on my lunch, but I like to think that she and I reached some sort of understanding. Freedom to make personal choices matters. That freedom meant the world to my mom; it means a lot to me. And it is what Aretha has been singing about all along.

(Enjoy this video of Aretha Franklin singing “My Way” and check out the lyrics below. For more about my trip to Morocco go to I see ghosts, That’s Why you Make the Trip, It’s an angry world in some places, and Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet.)

My Way

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew when I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve had my fill my share of losing
And now, as tears subside I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that and may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.

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.

 

 

 

A December 1st baby: born to give back?

It’s my birthday in 2 days, and I always felt that being born on the first of the month was a bad deal.

Anyone else: “Hey, isn’t your birthday some time this month?”
Me: “Yeah. It was last week.”
Anyone else: “Oh. Well, hope you had a good one.”

But this year I am feeling pretty special. Someone (who ever decides these things) has decreed December 1 to be Giving Tuesday. What??? Well, according to the Giving Tuesday website

“We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.”

Think about it. This is a totally cool idea. I mean I know people born on Global Wind Day, Australia Day, International Lefthanders Day and Free Money Day*, but a day dedicated to celebrating generosity kicks butt on all of those if you ask me.

So what am I going to do about it? If you read my posts at all you know that I’ve struggled for the past few months to get the sixth and final book in the 46. Ascending collection moving along. I took a year long break from writing, expecting to emerge at the other end of a cross-country move and job change fully refreshed and ready to create another novel. Instead, I’ve found the blank expanse in front of me more daunting than any blank screen in a newly opened word document ever was.

laotzu121075My advice to others seeking to ground themselves and move on has always been to stop thinking about yourself and do something for someone else. What good is advice if  you can’t follow your own? So tomorrow I have an appointment with a volunteer coordinator in the area who is going to help place me at one or two local agencies who are willing to train me and then use my time and expertise. I’m excited.

If you know anything about my novel c3, you know that I have a particular passion for women’s issues and a strong desire to see my sisters free and confident enough to follow their dreams. No surprise then that I will be looking at volunteering with agencies that deal with some of the worst problems that women face. I’m not naive on these subjects (have you read c3?) but I do understand that I may find myself well outside of my comfort zone. I hope to grow in strength while I help others do the same.

Does the idea of focusing on generosity for a day appeal to you as well? I’m told that one can log onto Twitter and follow the hashtag #GivingTime to join the conversation and learn more. Or go to the official website and check out their video.

Whatever you do, happy December 1.

*If you’re curious, Global Wind Day is 6/15, Australia Day is 1/26, International Lefthanders Day is 8/13 and Free Money Day is 9/15 and yes this day does involve giving away money, so it is sort of about generosity too.

Long Way, Baby

“What were they thinking in 1968?” I ask, as I take a closer look at the faded old newspaper, crumbled decades ago around the dishes that I am unpacking. Still stark in its faded shades of charcoal and cream, it is a relic of communication that I almost never see anymore. The Wichita Eagle. It whispers to me from a place I once lived, and from a Friday August 23 of long ago.

westpointI seem to have opened the paper to the women’s section, although it is tactfully not called such. The feature article (from the Associated Press) gives a slightly breathless account of how “East Coast girls between 17 and 21 don’t have to travel far … to have one of the most glamorous, unforgettable weekends of their lives.” It goes on to detail the excitement awaiting a girl lucky enough to be invited to West Point for the week-end as the date of a cadet. There are picnics and dances and white-gloved receiving lines. It’s not all glitz, however. The article warns that up to five girls have to share one low-wattage bulb while applying their make-up.

As I read, forty-seven years melt away and I become Sherri Roth, a thirteen-year-old news freak skimming the paper as I search for answers to the burning questions about life that keep me awake at night as I try to understand the universe.

Is my goal supposed to be to date a boy who goes to West Point? The AP writer seems to think so. Hopeful young women looking for a foot in the door are encouraged to contact the Cadet Hostess at West Point to see if they, too, might be included in one of the arranged mixers held throughout the year. I’m not convinced this approach is for me.

slimsThe summer of 1968 is also when Phillip Morris introduces Virginia Slims, a cigarette marketed to young women using the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby.” I’m only 13 and I don’t smoke cigarettes, but I like the slogan and I wonder if we have come a long way. The Virginia Slims ads sure make me think so. I like how the women in them can do anything.

I think that maybe I’d rather be a cadet at the academy. Frankly that sounds far more glamorous than just dating one. I’ve wanted to be an astronaut since first grade and I’m pretty sure that a military academy education would be a sure fire way to make that happen. I decide to look into it. Over the next year, I will be disappointed to learn that the academies do not even have women cadets.

Sally RideIt will be 1980 before the first females graduate from United States Military Academies. I’ll have figured out long before then that it was the Air Force Academy I should have gone to. I’ll also have learned that women cadets there and elsewhere were not permitted to be trained as combat pilots until 1993, greatly reducing a women’s chance for flying time and advancement.

Sally Ride will become my hero for life when she circumvents that path, becoming an astronaut and the first American woman in space by way of a PhD in physics from Stanford.  I will smile that whole week in June 1983 when she makes her first space flight. This, I will say, is really what constitutes “one of the most glamorous, unforgettable weekends” of any girl’s life.

For more notes from 47 years ago, where 13 year old Sherri Roth reports the news from the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle, see my other blogs posts for the How to Get a Standing Ovation Editionthe Vietnam Edition the Won’t You Please Come to Chicago Edition and the Race Relations Edition