Tuesday, December 31, 2002

So now I've outfitted myself with Natalie Goldberg's 6-cassette tape of "Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft," to keep me company on those days when I make the one-hour-each-way commute by myself. To uplift and inspire me to write, write, write. I'm also taking her "Writing Down the Bones" to work with me, and in that hour before I need to start work (I get there an hour early), I'll read a chapter then do some timed writing, as she advises. And then, all warmed up and inspired, I'll plunge into the finishing of this 30-year novel.

I say 30 years because the story first started running circles around in my head in 1970. I've got about 2/3 of it written now, so I have hope that it'll actually get finished. Particularly as I've set a goal to have it done, first draft anyway, by March 25th.

It's kind of a scary prospect: what will I *do* when it's finished? It's been my companion almost all my adult life! Well, I'll find out. I hope. Certainly if Natalie has anything to say about it! I return to her because I so long ago lost the "beginner's mind," that fresh excitement I worked in when I first discovered that I could actually get the stories in my head written down on paper! And that others liked to read them! So even though I do NOT do "resolutions," I am taking the calendar opportunity here to try for a fresh start.

That, and losing 30 pounds.

Friday, December 27, 2002

[This dream occurred several months ago. I just found my journal entry about it; I'd forgotten it until now. Never in my life have I experienced such physical terror.]

Dream: Hanging out with some of the characters in M*A*S*H -- Hawkeye, I remember, and Burns, and Col. Potter and Hotlips. Just a short "preview" first, but everyone was laughing. I was a visitor, but one of the team, too...

Then Hawkeye and Burns went away, and the Col. and Hotlips stopped laughing. The word came (I understood) "Get the hell out of there!" Then I was running with a gun, with a lot of other soldiers, and we were way out in farmland, rolling hills, bare soft dirt, as far as the eye could see--no green. It was hard to run, but we could hear North Koreans -- millions of them -- coming after us, just over one hill behind... Our soldiers were dropping, behind us, from exhaustion or gunshots I don't know -- but there was only a handful of us left and then the millions of the enemy were all around us, a sea of foreign faces full of hate.

But someone said, "If you get through the gauntlet you'll get away!" And we were lined up between two prone rows of enemy soldiers with their bayonets pointed toward each other, and we had to pass between them.

"It's easy," the same voice assured us, "just don't touch any of the bayonets, keep moving straight ahead; they aren't allowed to move unless you touch them!"

But we weren't halfway through when Koreans on both sides started stabbing at our legs, and we heard comrades behind us scream and go down. We fled -- racing away up yet another plowed hill, wondering if there were Yankees on the other side to help us, and now the terror began:

More fell, and the enemy swarmed after us, and I only had my rifle and bayonet and I knew I couldn't kill more than 1 or 2 -- run! run! -- legs like lead -- only 1 or 2 but then one of them would catch up to me, had to catch up to me, and stick me with his long bayonet -- run! Aw, the piercing-bright-light pain! And if I fell -- and this was the worst -- if I fell, then dozens more would be on me, stabbing, stabbing, stabbing until I was a rag of bloody flesh --

So horrible because I am not just a rag of bloody flesh! I have hopes! Family! People who love me! Things to do in life! So horrible to wipe that out, just stab it to un-life in two seconds, make it not-so -- Such dread and terror filled my veins, and my legs wouldn't move -- the roar behind me louder--

I woke, gasping. The dread and terror still fizzed in every cell of my body, and the unspeakable horror of being extinguished like that, for no reason but hate, clung to me like the sweat on my face.

When I breathed freely again, and the fear had melted away, I realized: Every single death in war is just like that. Each death in each war since humans started murdering each other. Uncounted millions.

What are we?

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Made it through Christmas. Whew. Not bad; ate too much.

I've discovered that I must be pretty content. Given an opportunity to turn loose on the Internet and buy myself some stuff, I had a hard time finding anything I really really really WANT. I picked out a couple of audio cassettes about writing.

Well, to be truthful, it wasn't like a carte blanche Internet spree; if it *had* been I would've completely re-furnished my home office! And then completely replaced every single thing in my wardrobe--except for a couple of very special tee shirts. More than that? Oh...subscriptions to a *bunch* of magazines and e-zines.

That's about it. I'm boring. No--wait wait: the entire Saddle Creek Records catalogue, I'd get that, too.

Hrmmm...maybe this saintly lack of avarice is more a function of time...give me enough time and I'll out-do anybody in the greedy gimme list-making contest!

So maybe I'll go do something else now. For the good of my soul.

Monday, December 23, 2002

[If you're not a writer or have no interest in a writer's whining, you should skip this blog today.]

I haven't been able to write fiction for almost a year. That's not good, if you want to be a fiction writer, and I do. It's been miserable. "Is it all gone? Was that all the writing I had in me? Was it just another five-year hobby? Was I fooling myself? Am I a fraud for hanging around the Rumor Mill?" etc etc etc.

Today, work being verrrrryyyyy sloooooowwww and verrrryy borrrrring, I went for a walk to get some cool (cold!) air. I stopped at a used bookstore and picked up a book on what editors look for in a manuscript. Heck, if I can't *write* at least I can *read* about writing! And I went to the coffee shop, got a croissant and some raspberry ice tea, and settled down for a nice read.

Except I'd only been there about 5 minutes when I started feeling sick. Kind of nauseated. Bad tea? No--it was nice and fresh. What, then? Christmas goodies? Well, I'd had a few, but certainly not enough to cause this queasiness that gripped my gut. Finally I gave up on the book, set it down, and looked around the room. And it came to me: I have to destroy the last 8 chapters of that novel I was working on.

This is a long-time project, I started it in about 1998. I was afire writing the first 19 chapters; they're about the male hero. Chapters 20 - 27 were about the female, and from the beginning of Ch. 20, it was like I was frozen in a block of ice. Every word was an excruciating extraction, pulled from the roots. I toiled on through Chapter 27, ever more slowly and painfully, until it came to a halt. No more. I couldn't face the damn thing; I couldn't fix the damn thing; I never wanted to see or think about it again.

This was intensely frustrating because this was the part I'd been mulling over and over and over since about 1973!!! Yes! This is a 27-year old story!!!

Oh, I'd been saying to myself and to my critiquing partner that those chapters sucked, they were boring, the girl is a dolt! and who cares what happens to such a milksop anyway? I've been thinking that for a year now, I guess.

But it didn't really sink in until today, over raspberry tea and an editor's advice book. Plop! it came out, accompanied by birth pains and everything. Those 8 chapters must die.

From deep within me came a WAIL--and immediately thereafter, it was as if a great stone was lifted off my chest. The queasiness went away. I could breathe again!

I know (I've known) what I have to do: I have to start Reilly's part of the book over completely from scratch. Only NOW am I really ready to do that! Some part of me had been clinging to that 27-year old story line, the particular characters she encounters, what she's like, what she does, how she is...but today, at last, I understood what this block has been trying to tell me: I'm not 23 years old any more (as I was when this story first started winding and rewinding through my head), and I don't have any obligation whatsoever to fulfill that fantasy I nurtured all those years. I have half a lifetime's experience and insight, study and practice, to bring to Reilly's story, and it's silly to hang onto that old blueprint.

I can do anything! Especially: I can sit down and write Reilly's story as she tells it to me today, through the prism of who I am today. It will be a much better book; it will serve Reilly much better; and it will do me, here today, much prouder.

I'm free!

[And yes, my partner in paranoia, I do know I have you to thank, partially!
You know who you are.]

Saturday, December 21, 2002

If you've been to my web site, you know that my taste in music doesn't exactly run confluently with most others in my generation (Boomers). To be blunt, it runs *opposite* in many ways. I like nine inch nails (a lot; I've been to two concerts, yay!) and I like Omaha's local boy-made-good Conor Oberst and his bands, which find their audience mostly in the late-teens to mid-twenties age group.

I guess I'm just immature.

I prefer, however, to think I'm forward-looking. Isn't that what rock'n'roll was supposed to be about in the first place? Build on the past but keep moving forward? Am I the *only* Boomer who thought that? Judging by the popularity of Geezer Rock concerts among my age-peers, and the high listenership of "Golden Oldies" stations, I just about have to believe I am the only one. Or maybe it's lack of disposable income: I have to be very choosy about what I spend my money on, so I only buy the best thing going (nin, and Bright Eyes/Desaparecidos).

Beatles? Earth-shattering group: I was there, I was fan, I bought every album and listened to them all the time. If they'd have come to Omaha I would've been there. But... it's 2002, almost 2003, folks. A LOT of great bands are out there today, new, fresh, talented, eager, smart--why would I want to glue my ear to the station that only plays the Eagles, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joe Cocker etc etc? I've HEARD, them, they're great; now what is NEW that's great?

The Internet's a giant boon to someone like me, who can't afford to buy a lot of music. I can tune to 3wk.com and listen to all kinds of indie music--there are several other internet radio stations that play indie rock (and other genres--I don't care about those, though) where I can get my thirst for new music satisfied. (OK, Radar: slaked. If you get that one, you're a Boomer too.)

I just think it's odd that my generation, who made the most stink about fighting the forces of conformity, now make snide remarks about my musical taste, and think anyone my age who goes to live indie shows is either 1) trying desperately to be young again, 2) is trolling for some young thing, or 3) has some sort of disorder that pills, or maybe shock therapy, would address.

God knows what the young folks at the shows think. I try to be wallpaper; I'm there for the music. I don't bother anybody (I don't think; unless my mere presence ruins their evening, and what's wrong with *them* in that case?) and nobody has bothered me. Some kids have even been friendly and visited with me a little. That's gravy.

It's the music. There are some brilliant musicians working today, and I feel *just* the teeniest bit smug that *I'm* hearing & seeing them live, while my Boomer peers are aenesthetizing their brains with yet another Eagles comeback concert album. But that's the least of my reasons. I've found that music really *does* keep me alive, and the musicians I like best are the ones who ask the hardest questions, and use the most creative and unexpected music to do it.

Thanks, y'all. Keep making that great stuff!

Friday, December 20, 2002

Here's a short and not sweet interval: Firefly has been cancelled. There's a campaign to save it here. Go sign the petition and help save one of the best SF TV shows ever made.

What--can you name 3 better?

If I was a computer whiz, if I knew all about most software and a lot about hardware, I'd go into business for myself. Here's what I would (and would not) do:

1. I'd make house calls. For $50 an hour, I would come to your house and help you figure out how to set up new software/hardware, I'd test it to make sure it was working right, and then I'd teach you how to use it. For someone who knows what they're doing, that should take about an hour, maybe two. When I need computer help, I don't want to talk on the damn phone to some smartass who is really not all that interested in helping me, and who has zero teaching ability to start with. I want someone to sit me down at the computer and say, "First you click here...then there...fill in that little window...click here...Now here you have two options; if you do #1, you get this, if you pick #2, here's what happens..." Someone to TEACH me!

2. I would NEVER (EVER EVER EVER EVER!!!) start a sentence with, "All you have to do is..." If a person has to call a computer whiz, they haven't gotten to "all you have to do is..." yet, and it's boorish and insulting. When anyone I know--even people whom I love--start their answer to my question about how to do something on the computer with "All you have to do is..." they don't realize how close they are to a horrible, painful death.

3. When I arrived at your computer, I would NOT take one look at your desktop screen and say, "Wull, why the hell is *that* there? You don't need that! Here, I'll just..." and then start messing around with *your* layout or selection of programs, icons, screen savers, or whatever. I would concentrate ENTIRELY upon the program you hired me to help with. If something already on the computer is interfering with the program I came to help you with, I would explain that, give you other options if there are any, and ASK if you want me to fix it.

4. I would not engage in chit-chat, pretend to be interested in your home's decor, your children's accomplishments, or "Have you seen Lord of the Rings" yet? I promise you I would not even NOTICE whether your living room needed dusting, the bathroom looked like an Iraqi torture chamber, or the whole house smelled of cats. None of that is any of my business, and you're not paying me to socialize OR critique how you live.

You may think from those rules that I have had a bad experience with a house-call-making computer jockey. No. Why not? Because as far as I know, there are none.

And that's my real gripe. Where the hell are all the compu-whiz entrepreneurs dying to help us domestic users out??? With the collapse of the dot com bubble I *know* there are thousands of them out of work. I bet if a person was clean, personable, knowledgeable, prompt, businesslike, and had the slightest teaching skill, they could make a fortune in 40 hours a week. If *I* had the computer know-how, I'd be on this idea in a heartbeat. Advertise on the local newspaper's online edition, and you'd probably have more work than you could handle.

I've been wishing for this for years. Where the hell ARE all you people???

Thursday, December 19, 2002

...and then I go to a public hearing on a big public project, and I feel like a jerk for that last post.

*This* public project is *terrific*, it has *vision*, it has *style*, it not only does no harm, it actually will have some benefits to the environment, even more benefits to some heretofore underserved or unserved populations in the community, it will be a free and open feature that anyone who wants to, will be able to enjoy.

Public hearings. I've seen dozens of them. Lots of people in expensive suits and haircuts milling around with the peeps, glad-handing, smiling, answering questions about the project du jour. Fewer ordinary citizens; and a handful of sad street people who wander in for the free cookies and coffee. We all circulate slowly around, looking at the big glossy project posters, munching cookies, and watching for TV news cameras (I avoid them). We all finally sit down to watch & listen to the project proponents' PowerPoint (R) presentation. Then it's Hearing Time. The movers & shakers are there to Hear the People.

And you know what? The people do get heard. With joy I heard one college prof read us a sonnet by Wordsworth! Not something you hear in governmental public hearings very often. The local civilian limpet on the belly of city government got up to speak (thus rendering this an official city event), and he actually offered a couple of really good ideas! I saw government types scribbling madly in their notebooks.

A few other people got up to express their varying degrees of delight or disgust with the project, and then She came forward. The one whose courage drops me to my knees in respect and awe. It's not always a She, sometimes it's a He. But it's always frightened nearly out of its wits by all the Important People in the room.

She walked up to the microphone, every line of her body screaming timidity, insecurity, and determination. She stood clutching her carefully typed statement, the paper shaking with her trembling hands. She addressed the Important People in a clear, if wavery, voice. She read every word of her statement, said Thank You, and sat down, having accomplished her act of democratic bravery.

Nearly every public hearing I've ever attended has one of these heros. I long to cry out, "Don't be afraid! Don't you know how important you are? Don't you know--without you and others like you, all these shiny coifs and Italian suits are *empty*? They MUST hear your voice, they MUST give your comments serious thought, it's the law. Don't you realize, you have in your hand the most powerful weapon the world has ever known?"

That's NOT exagerration.

You have in your hand the most powerful weapon the world has ever known. The American Vote.

Don't laugh. If you only knew how politicians quail and bureaucrats pale at the thought of all you voters out there, each with that awesome weapon at your disposal.

If the amount of defense mounted is a measure of the strength an adversary *thinks* you have, just look: all the money, all the image-polishers, all the spin-doctors, all the lobbyists, the statisticians, the think-tanks, the poll-takers, the PACs' dollars, the marketing guys, the speech writers, all the gargantuan machine that's evolved to grind the common person's wants and wishes under the iron treads of political expediency. Use logic: Would all that be necessary if American voters were as powerless as they feel? Think about it!

The Vote is your ultimate weapon, but you have others. The telephone, for example. Using the telephone you can get information about whatever law or proposed permit that concerns you. You can call the legislature or Congress and get a free copy of the law to study yourself. You can get information from your representative in the legislative body that passed the law, and from other representatives who voted either for or against it. You can get information from the agency that is tasked with executing the provisions of the law--I advise you NOT to go to the agency head. Go to the grunt who is on the front lines having to carry out the intent of the law. Don't let ANY of these people brush you off! Be polite but be relentless. If one person won't satisfy your questions, keep dialling until you find someone who will. In the process, if you're polite, and sincere, you may just stumble across a grunt who can become your conduit of information in the future.

Another weapon is that time-honored Letter. Letters to Senators, Congresspersons, Presidents, agency directors, and of course, don't forget Letters to the Editor. When you go through the paper to see your letter in the Letters to the Editor column, take time to check out the Public Notice section of your paper's classified ads. That's where notices of projects, requests for bids, and other governmental permitting type activities are posted. Read the Public Notices daily. When a project comes along that you feel strongly about, make those phone calls, take the information you get to the library, and read everything you can find about your project and the issues it entails. Take notes, and write up your opinions.

And go to the public hearing, clutching your statement, stand up before the microphone, and in a clear and proud voice, let them know what you think. You have nothing to feel timid or insecure about. You're doing your job here. That awesome weapon that looms invisibly behind you, supporting you, lets the fancy-suit types know that they'd better do theirs.

And, by the way? Thank you very, very much.

Monday, December 16, 2002

[Note from me: as soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll provide an email link here. I'm still learning this set-up. In the meantime, I'll post my email address from time to time: three_outside@yahoo.com.]

"The redwood lumberjack is the endangered species here."

"The Western farmer is the endangered species here."

"The Maine cod fisherman is the endangered species here."

"You're spending 6 figures to save a beetle??? How about our own poor people? What about medical research? It's human beings who are the endangered species!"



The only thing endangering the human species is our own stupidity. We're too stupid to keep our water and air clean enough to sustain us, to keep our soils in place so they can grow food, to quit pouring billions of tons of synthetic chemicals into all three to poison the only life support system we have. We're too stupid to control our own population growth so that we don't turn millions of acres of fertile land into desert. We're too stupid to control the psychotic murderers who blast their way to power and then, having decimated and terrorized their own people into submission, turn their attention to terrorizing their neighbors.

We're too stupid to understand that not only do we have no right to turn every particle of matter on Earth into either concrete or human flesh, but we also will never achieve that goal we're working so frenziedly to attain. At some time before then we'll pass the line of no return, we'll have reduced the number of other species below the point where the living system that is Earth can continue to live. Or, maybe we'll just reduce it to where it can't support us. Once we're gone, the rest of the living world will go on, adapting, dying, changing, growing, living, thriving, evolving, without us. It certainly doesn't need us.

Yoo Hoo.

Earth doesn't need us.

We need Earth.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

My "emergency kit" in the trunk of the car, in a Cabela's duffel:
- a hot, itchy Cabela's wool sweater, Men's size M (when the hell could I ever get into *that*??)
- a lacy bra, size (bwa-ha-ha! ditto the first comment)
- kotex (oh yeah, it's been a few years since I looked in here)
- shampoo
- a book of matches (?? -- Oh, yeah, this is an *emergency* kit)
- toothpaste
- toothbrush, enhanced with dirt, bits of leaves, and sand
- tee shirt: with the obsolete department logo on it, one size larger than the sweater but no more likely to get worn by me!
- underwear
- beef jerky (the "emergency thang" again)
- hotel soap
- Samuel Delany's They Fly at Ciron (for years it was a Rumpole collection but I finally decided I would rather read it than store it in my trunk, and switched it for this one)
- contact lens holder
- two eyebrow pencils, 1" and 1 1/2" long

Well, gee, am I prepared for any contingency, or what? Aside from the duffel, I keep a set of hip waders, a pair of irrigation boots, and a pair of snowmobile boots in my trunk, and also a sleeping bag and a big, soft, cotton Indian print blanket.

The duffel and its contents are ridiculous. The sleeping bag and blanket aren't, since I commute 56 miles to work every day--uh, well, except *most* days I ride with my carpooler. Leaving the bag and blanket in my car. So, they're only a good idea if I'm planning to get stuck in a snowbank between my house and the carpooling rendezvous place. After that, ol' Carpooler just damn well better not get us stuck in a blizzard, in a ditch, 'cause we'll freeze.

The various boots *are* necessary, as I'm a wetlands biologist who they actually do allow out of the cubicle occasionally to slop around in wetlands.

But rooting around in the trunk got me thinking about other baggage I've hauled around in my life, and why. What came immediately to mind were the tons of *books* I've had. When I got out of college, and again after grad school, I carried those massive tomes around from home to home for years. I displayed them in my bookshelves, spent time and energy organizing them according to the taxonomical/disciplinarial orders I'd learned in school. From 1985, when I graduated from grad school, to 1991, when I got this job, I toiled in medical research laboratories. I hated it.

Having those books, sometimes pulling one out and paging through it, represented something to me that I wasn't aware of, but I can see it now. They were "big-ology" books (fish, birds, vertebrates, plants, algae) as opposed to the "little-ologies" I detested and studied as few of as possible in school (biochem, physiology, genetics, bacteriology, virology). And there I was, stuck doing little-ology, with seemingly no big-ology to come. The books became almost like talismans.

I was wrong, hallelujah, I did get a big-ology job, and I love it. I still have lots of old textbooks, though. I have gone through and culled them a couple of times. But I cling to the few: Katherine Esau's Plant Anatomy, Gleason & Cronquist's Manual of Vascular Plants, a few vert bio texts and lab manuals...and they're so outdated, they're useless as texts. Almost everything has changed in the 25 or 30 years since they were published.

For a long time, I had the secret (even to me, mostly) notion that having those cool books on my shelves meant that I was a real biologist. They were part of the self-image I clutched so desperately to as I donned the despised white lab coat every morning, all those years in medical research. "This is NOT me; I am a field biologist, not a lab biologist. I've got the books to prove it."

Sounds pretty stupid, spelled out like that. I don't need them in that way any more; after 11 years at this job, I feel pretty confident at last. I still have a lot of those useless old books; they're in my attic. A few grace my bookshelves here in my office. I don't scorn my younger self for needing them as props. I didn't have to force myself to gain this affectionate detatchment from the old tomes, it happened gradually, painlessly, and naturally. I outgrew the need, is all.

I love books. It makes me feel good to think what good friends these college and grad school texts have been, first in learning and then in helping me get through some rotten years doing science I was not interested in. And it's all in the past now.

Friday, December 13, 2002

I am listening to Anne Lamott's "Traveling Mercies" on cassette during my commutes this week. In an essay about her mother, and talking about how difficult it is to accept her mother as they both grow older, she quoted someone she knows, and I can only paraphrase it here: Forgiveness is giving up the hope that you might have had a different life.

Forgiveness is giving up the hope that you might have had a different life.

Lamott's essay really hit a tender spot with me. I'm in the process of struggling to find forgiveness in myself for my mother, and of course that is, itself, tangled up with guilt, which makes it harder and more complicated.

But it's not really complicated. I'm just scared. I'm afraid that if I forgive my mom (I won't go into details here), it would break the dam inside and all the pain and rage I've held behind it all these years will come flooding out, and I don't know if I could survive that.

Because I was forgiven once myself, I know the other side, too. I'm not talking about a religious conversion, I'm talking about someone whom I'd done something to that could have derailed his whole life. When I couldn't stand the guilt any more, and I fessed up, the first thing he was concerned about was whether *I* was all right. I guess that was because I was sobbing uncontrollably by then. The second thing he said was that he forgave me. Once I recovered from that shock, we went on from there. It turned out to be one of the one or two most life-changing episodes of my life.

If I'm going to be honest with myself, the other thing that I'm afraid of is that once I start this forgiveness biz, and manage to forgive my mother, I'll find out that *she* has a lot more to forgive from *me*. That it'll all turn out to be *me* who's been at fault all my life. I have several thousand hours of sitting through twleve-step programs, so I know that's not precisely correct. It's the "old tapes" playing again. But the fear is still here.

I think it's helped to write it down here.