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)

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.

 

 

“Get Out of This Town”

We’ve all had that feeling. We’ve got to get somewhere, anywhere else. It can be a combination of weather (it’s snowing again?), friends and ex-friends, relatives that are driving us crazy, an insane boss or teacher, or in the worse of cases, all of the above. Anyone’s couch in a town far away sounds incredibly comfy.

Teddie hits her fed-up point mid-winter in Darjeeling, as she shares a room with a friend training to climb a mountain and finds herself avoiding everyone else at the school because she is tired of their questions about another friend who has gone missing. She doesn’t have the luxury of leaving, but at least she has her music, especially “Get Out of This Town” performed by Carrie Underwood

carrie underwoodDarjeeling stayed dreary and cold as school started, and for days on end the beautiful mountains could not even be seen. Teddie spent a lot of time avoiding the other students at the school so she would not have to answer their questions about Michelle, even though her slightly drafty dorm room was not the refuge she would have liked.

Haley spent most her free time in the room as well, using the impressive array of workout equipment that her father had insisted on sending back to India with her. She had weights and ab straps, rotating push-up bars and some sort of cardio jump device, and she used them all like her life depended on it. Teddie supposed it kind of did. However the net result was that the dorm room was generally filled with Haley’s grunts and groans, and it was now starting to smell like a locker room too. Teddie went out and bought some fruit-scented air freshener.

She tried doing the few exercises that Lhatu had left her with, but compared with Haley’s workout, they just seemed silly. Lhatu’s one week of waiting dragged on to two, and Teddie found herself spending more and more time curled up in her bed under the covers. She wanted to go home. She was supposed to be home, dammit. She found “Get out of this Town” on her MP3 player and started to listen to it over and over until it became her personal anthem.

You’ll feel like you’re exactly where Teddie wants to be; in a front row seat in this country-western bar in Green Bay Wisconsin as you watch this homemade video of Carrie Underwood performing her hit song live.

You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.

handling the difficult delicately

Think Real 2c3 is a book about an important topic  It describes a typical sixteen year old American girl who is confronted by the sale of girls and women when she studies abroad for a semester in India. To all appearances, Teddie and her friends are helpless. They have no way to aid each other, much less any resources with which to stop the larger horrors that they see.

I had a few unusual challenges in writing this book. The first was the age of my main characters and the difficult subject matter. I intended this story to be aimed at adult fantasy lovers of all ages. I didn’t want to gloss over truths, and yet I wanted this book to be appropriate for those as young as sixteen. As a result, the book contains oblique references to sex, both consenting and not, but no direct descriptions. I’ve cleaned up the language from my previous books, although I have included an occasional crude word to convey a sense of reality. Others helped me work this problem to the point where I would be okay with my own sixteen year old daughter reading this book.

The subject matter presented another challenge. Stories need bad guys, but this stuff can get really ugly quickly. I had to be careful not to make this tale so distressing that those of any age would not want to keep reading it. It was important to interject a little humor and some good times and hope early on, both for the girls in direct danger and for Teddie as she begins to discover her powers to help them.

One of my favorite parts of this novel is not in the story at all. It is a mere two sentences in the front matter where I explain the title.

“This book is not just about sex crimes. It is also about the people who find ways to light a solitary candle in the darkness, and it is about how the resulting light they produce makes its way outward in every direction.”

I ended up with a story about how even the most vulnerable can be courageous and can hold the power to cause great change. I’m very proud of my theme and of the way it is handled. This is a book born of love.