Monday, September 14, 2020

Will 9/11 ever be over?

 

Stolen from dcist.com

Yesterday on Facebook, I mentioned that I was grateful all of the 9/11 stuff was over for the year, meaning the social media posts and news coverage of the memorial events. Someone took issue with my phrasing. "For some people, 9/11 will never be over, " she said.

You're telling me.

I guess I've never told my 9/11 story here on the blog. Maybe I should save it for the 20th anniversary next year. But I think I'll write it now and just re-run it next year.

***

When people talk about 9/11, they tend to focus on New York. That sort of makes sense -- the collapse of the Twin Towers was a dramatic and horrible tragedy. But two other planes went down that day. One of them slammed into the Pentagon. That's the one that affected me.

We lived in the West End of Alexandria, VA, in the rental townhouse where I later set the Land Sea Sky trilogy. That September morning, the weather was beautiful. The heat and humidity of the typical DC summer was over and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The girls and I went through our usual morning routines. They went off to school -- Kitty was in ninth grade at Minnie Howard School and Amy was in seventh grade at Hammond Middle School -- and I went off to my job. I caught my usual bus, which took me to the Pentagon where I changed from the bus to the subway, and went in to work. 

Our office was at 24th and M Streets Northwest in those days. I sat next to a secretary who worked for a partner with a corner office. He had a little TV in there and a great view of the skyline south of DC, and he was traveling on business that day. So when the first plane went into the World Trade Center, about an hour after I got to work, Debbie went into his office and turned on the TV. Her boss had a bunch of clients in the World Trade Center, and she was worried about them. Then the second plane hit and the towers collapsed. 

And then we heard about the plane at the Pentagon. 

That was pretty much it for work that day. I'd left the news business just two years before, so I had some inkling of what the reporters were going through. I spent the morning going back and forth between my desk, where I kept refreshing the news coverage online, and the partner's office, where we could now see smoke rising from the Pentagon crash site. 

Then we heard about the fourth plane -- including the speculation about the hijackers' planned destination: the U.S. Capitol, maybe, or the White House. Our office was just a few blocks from the White House. Now, everybody in DC is pretty much a fatalist; I've heard the route for the Capital Beltway was chosen because it marks the outer edge of direct damage from a nuclear bomb blast on the White House. If you live or work inside the Beltway, you figure you're not going to survive an attack. But still, this made that threat a little too real. 

Our office manager sent everybody home at lunchtime. This was before cell phones were ubiquitous and people were worried about their families. My usual bus was a commuter bus that only ran during morning and afternoon rush hour, but I knew that if I could get to a different station, farther down the Blue Line, I could catch a bus that ran all day. The question was whether the trains would be running to Pentagon Station or whether they'd be turned back. I got lucky; the wedge of the Pentagon where the plane went in was far enough away from the Metro station that it wasn't affected. The station, however, was closed. My train went through it without stopping. I caught my alternate bus and got home okay.

Not long after I got home, Kitty came in the front door and cried with relief when she saw me. The teachers at her school had told the kids about the attack. Of course, she knew my transit route and was worried I'd been at the Pentagon when the crash happened.

The teachers at Hammond didn't tell the kids anything, but the school is only five miles from the Pentagon and the kids felt it when the plane went in. There was a big construction project at the school and the kids wrote it off to that. It wasn't until later that they found out what had happened. 

Going back to work the next day was surreal. The Pentagon transit station was still closed, and would continue to be for the next three months. Buses that usually stopped at the Pentagon were rerouted to Pentagon City, just across Interstate 395. The new bus stops were makeshift affairs, and when we got off the bus we could smell the smoke from the smoldering fire. In addition, the platforms at Pentagon City are too narrow for the crush of commuters that typically got off at the Pentagon. The station managers were constantly yelling over the intercom, telling people to move down the platform instead of bunching up at the bottom of the escalator. I was sure that someday, somebody would get pushed off the platform by the crowds and into the path of an oncoming train.

Once on the train, it was more or less fine. But once we got to DC, things got surreal again. Armed troops in Humvees were stationed at major intersections. Walking past them to get to work was both reassuring and frightening.

The attacks changed a lot of things in DC. Of course, air traffic was halted right after the attacks. Living in an urban area, you get used to the noise from airplanes flying overhead -- but now all we heard were helicopters flying to and from the Pentagon. Other things changed, too. For example, we had to start carrying an ID card at work to get from one floor to another. Bag checks were instituted at public buildings, including museums. 

And of course, we all know how airport security was stepped up once air travel resumed. It was worse for DC residents -- initially there was a rule for all flights out of Reagan National Airport that nobody could leave their seat for the first 30 minutes of the flight.

Three months after the attacks, as I said, the Pentagon Transit Center reopened. It was due for a redesign anyway, but I believe the plans were modified after 9/11. It used to be that you could get off the train at Pentagon Metro, cross the lobby, go through a set of glass doors, and take an escalator up to the Pentagon itself. I'd done that a few times to buy a bus pass. But when the station reopened, that entrance was sealed off. Now nobody can get into the Pentagon without an ID or an official tour ticket. 

Also as part of the redesign, the bus bays were moved farther away from the building, and the transit center entrance facing the bus bays was redesigned. It's shown in the photo above. The line below Pentagon Transit Center might be hard to read in this photo. Here's what it says: 

In Memory of Those Whose Lives Were Forever Changed by the Events of September 11, 2001

I cried the first time I saw it. All of our lives had been changed by 9/11, in ways large and small.

***

Nearly 20 years on, it's easy to forget how much has changed. Americans came together right after the attacks, sure. But prejudice against Muslims ratcheted up, and it has never gone away. 

I know my own memories of the days right after 9/11 are no longer as sharp; until I looked up the dates tonight, I thought the temporary bus transfers to Pentagon City lasted a lot longer. And it's harder to remember how much easier life was before the attacks. I'm reconciled to the fact that we have to pay the government money now for the privilege of not having to undress and unpack to get on a plane. And I've gotten used to having my backpack searched when visiting a museum.

To me, the most worrisome change is that the Department of Homeland Security, cobbled together from several other federal agencies in the wake of 9/11, has become an easy tool for a president with fascist tendencies to exploit.

I think it's time for our nation to re-examine some of the post-9/11 changes that we've begun to normalize. I think it's time to look at whether, maybe, we went too far. That may be what it will take for us to be able to put the events of 9/11 behind us at last.

***

These moments of bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. You know the drill - wash your hands, social distance, wear a mask, and make sure you're registered to vote.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Do you really want to meet your Inner Goddess?


luidger | Wikimedia Commons | CC3

This week, I ran across an article on the Patheos Pagan channel about the idea of women having an inner goddess. The author, Astrea, is a polytheist witch, and she has some strong opinions on the subject. 

But first, let's meet our charming lady to the right. She is Coatlicue, the Aztec mother goddess. Here, let me excerpt myself; this description of Coatlicue is from A Billion Gods and Goddesses, my mythological companion volume to the Pipe Woman Chronicles.

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You have to give the Aztecs props for one thing: They don’t have much in the way of cuddly deities. Two serpents, facing each other and made of blood, form Coatlicue’s head. Her skirt, too, is made of serpents, and She wears a necklace of human skulls, hearts and hands. Her taloned feet clutch a root of the Aztec world tree.
Coatlicue was a sacrificial mother figure: the goddess who birthed, or rebirthed, Huitzilapochtli, the god who led the Aztec people from their original homeland of Aztlán to Mexico. As Coatlicue was sweeping out a temple at Coatepec in Mexico, She caught a ball of feathers and tucked it inside Her shirt. When She was done sweeping, the feathers had disappeared, and She realized they had impregnated Her. Her other children – four hundred sons and a daughter – were so upset with Their mother that They plotted to kill Her. But when They cut off Coatlicue’s head, Huitzilapochtli sprang from Her body, dismembered His sister, and killed nearly all of His brothers.
Experts speculate this tale of the rebirth of Huitzilapochtli may relate to the ascendance of a new, very human leader of the Aztecs who may have been seen as the second coming of the god. But it also shows Coatlicue as a figure in the spirit of the Hindu goddess Kali – both creator and destroyer. Just like the Earth itself.

***

Wouldn't you just love to have Coatlicue as your inner goddess? With her responsibility for birth, death, and rebirth? Snake heads and all?

I admit I'm being snarky. Indulge me while I unpack this.

The concept of human women having an inner goddess has been around for quite a while. I can't find anything online to back this up, but my gut tells me it started as part of the backlash against patriarchal religions like, say, Christianity. According to New Age theory, Woman embodies the Divine Feminine, in all her Jungian archetypal glory -- from  Maiden to Mother to Wise Woman, with stops at Warrior, Lover, Queen, and yes, Goddess. The idea is that every woman contains each of those archetypes, and integrating them all into her Self -- embracing both the Light and the Dark, and manifesting them all -- is the only way to self-actualize and self-integrate and basically become the best woman she could be.

And then the author of 50 Shades of Grey got hold of the concept and "inner goddess" work became nothing but a BDSM romp. Imagine -- our inner goddess had been Aphrodite all along!

When that happened, the marketers saw an opportunity. This is one of the arguments Astrea employs in her post, and I think she's on to something. Any time someone can sell you on the idea that you're not quite perfect -- no matter how hard you have tried -- they can sell you on the idea that only they can get you where you want to go. And if they can't, well, the problem isn't with them -- it's with you

That, my friends, is the recipe for low self-esteem in a nutshell.

I asked Mama Google for info on finding your inner goddess, and she gave me So. Many. Listicles. And. OMG. Quizzes. (I'm told my inner goddess is a Sphinx, by the way). There's even a WikiHow listicle on "How to Find Your Inner Goddess," complete with two methods: through balance, or through doing nothing. Number two on the "balance" list is to smile often. Gee -- which of us hasn't had a guy tell us to smile more? Maybe they're on to something! But then the do-nothing (or Taoist) approach says that to allow your inner goddess out, one thing you ought to do is "drop your false smiles." Hmm. So which is it -- smile more or smile less?

Are Coatlicue's snake heads smiling? 

Which brings me to Astrea's other main argument: The gods are real, and they don't live inside us. 

I know a lot of folks aren't going to buy this, but if you're a polytheist it ought to at least give you pause. If the gods are real, they're independent beings with their own agendas. They may ask us humans (or demand) that we do what they want us to do. They may even take over a specific human in a ritual setting. But they don't leave crumbs of themselves behind. 

And if you're on the fence about whether the gods are real? Or what if you've decided they don't exist at all? No problem -- because all those Jungian archetypes inside you are human. There are certainly sound, healthy reasons to integrate all the parts of your personality, and to embrace the Dark along with the Light. But the idea that we are flawed from birth is a myth, guys. Excising that myth is actually part of the self-actualization process.

The idea that we've been created in God's image is a Christian belief. The idea that we're all born with something lacking is also a Christian belief. There's no idealized Someone inside of us that we need to let out -- or live up to. We're all just human.

Personally, I find that a great relief. I wasn't nuts about finding either Coatlicue or Aphrodite lurking inside me. Or, for that matter, the Sphinx.

***

These moments of archetypal blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Social distance! Wear a mask! Wash your hands!


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Why I'm voting for Joe Biden.

Yes, folks, it's finally happening. After years of protesting that hearth/myth is not a political blog, Yrs Trly is finally writing an overtly political post.

Don't get used to it. This is the only one I intend to do this year. Honest!

But with the party conventions in our rear-view mirror and with the political climate in this country getting crazier by the minute, I feel like it's time to tell y'all where I stand. And that is with the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Annalise Batista | CC0 | Pixabay

Now, alert hearth/myth readers know my political leanings lay at the progressive end of the spectrum. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, and this year I voted for Elizabeth Warren. I'm definitely for Medicare for All and I think the Green New Deal is a great idea.

The Democratic Party platform lacks both of these. Harris signed onto Bernie's Medicare-for-All bill several years ago, but Biden prefers adding a public option to Obamacare. And while Harris released her Climate Equity Act this summer -- which calls for greenhouse gas reduction as a form of social justice for low-income communities of color -- the party has yet to get behind all aspects of the Green New Deal.

Biden is the moderate's moderate, and even though he's been consulting with Warren on financial policy, including on student loan debt, Social Security, and economic recovery post-pandemic, he hasn't gone full-tilt progressive. While Harris's views are more liberal than Biden's, she is nowhere near the progressive end of the party.

So why would I vote for a ticket that doesn't reflect my core values? Why am I not holding firm to my beliefs this fall?

Simple: Because our current adminstration is a clear and present danger to the continued existence of our nation.

Donald Trump and his administration have flouted every norm at every turn. He has lied to us every day, multiple times per day, starting with the size of his inauguration crowd. He has refused to release his tax returns. He has cozied up to dictators while alienating our traditional allies abroad. He won't talk to Russian president Vladimir Putin about reports that Russia has offered to pay the Taliban for killing American soldiers, much less tell him to knock it off. He also refuses to talk to Putin about reports that he plans to interfere in our presidential election this year, as he did in 2016.

I could keep going. But perhaps the three most egregious actions Trump has taken against Americans are these: he has sent federal troops into Washington, DC, and Portland, OR, to crack down on peaceful protests in order to create video for his re-election ads; he has taken steps to weaken the US Postal Service at a time when mail-in voting is expected to surge thanks to COVID-19 - and has admitted he's doing it to keep Democrats from winning this fall; and speaking of COVID-19, he has famously denied responsibility for the US response to the virus, which has resulted in nearly six million US cases and 183,000 deaths to date - one of the worst records in the world. (India has surpassed us in the number of new cases over the past two weeks. But we have three times the number of total deaths than India - and India has three times the number of people we do.)

And yet Trump blames all of this on the Democrats -- even though it has all happened on his watch.

And he has talked repeatedly about how he deserves a third term, which is expressly forbidden by the US Constitution. Why? Because, he says, the Obama administration spied on him. Does he have evidence to back up that claim? Of course not. It's yet another of his attempts to gaslight Americans, which I have written about here before

We cannot keep this man in office. 

Joe Biden may not become the most progressive president we've ever had, but at least he will have America's best interests at heart instead of his own. You can cast a purity-test vote, if you must, in 2024. This year, we need to make sure there will be a presidential election in 2024.

***

Whether you agree with me or not, please make sure you're registered to vote (here's how). And then please, please, please -- whether you mail your ballot in or vote early or stand in line (wearing a mask!) on Election Day -- make sure you vote this year.

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These moments of overtly political blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask! Practice social distancing! And register to vote!

Monday, August 24, 2020

The dining chair redo.

 It appears it's Sunday night. That means I owe y'all a blog post. What to write about, though? 

My brain is full of politics, what with the Democratic National Convention last week and the Republican National Convention this week. But this isn't a political blog, so I'm not gonna write about that.

The part of my brain that's not full of politics right now is full of setting up La Casita Cantwell. One big advantage to a 500-square-foot living space is that it doesn't take long to set up. I've unpacked all the boxes and put up all the pictures (except for one -- the glass broke during the move). I've even assembled the ginormous loom that my attorneys gave me as a retirement gift. Now I'm down to doing little chores to make the place, y'know, perfect. Or as close to perfect as one can get in a rented apartment.

So today, I began working on recovering the dining room chairs. As I have nothing better to write about, I'm writing about that tonight. And since I know some of y'all like those step-by-step things with a million pictures, well, here you go.

First, a baseline photo. The bench is built in. I'm borrowing the dinette set -- the table and two chairs -- from the apartment building. I'm told the furniture is the same vintage as the building, which was built in '85. If the chair seats have been reupholstered since, it's been quite a while -- the foam has deteriorated to the point where you feel like you're sitting on a board. Also, you might have noticed that none of the upholstery matches. The blue material is from the second chair; I'd already removed it before I thought to take the photo. (I'm really bad at this.) Taking the old cover off took forever. Whoever did the upholstery job really liked using the staple gun.

Here are the tools I'm using for this project: New upholstery fabric, a couple of screwdrivers, pliers, staple gun, Sharpie (neon green was the only one I could find), rotary cutter and self-healing mat, 6-inch chef's knife, fabric shears, pins, and your choice of beverage. (You may not need the hammer. I'll explain in a sec.)

Not shown: two paper bags, regular scissors, and two squares of 2" thick high-density foam rubber.

So we've skipped ahead a couple of steps here. (I did say I was bad at this.) 

For these types of chairs, the seat is typically held in place by four long screws, inserted in the corner braces on the underside of the chair. I've already removed those screws and set them aside. I've also removed the old upholstery and foam by pulling out all the staples holding the fabric in place. That involved prying them up with my smaller screwdriver and, where necessary, pulling them completely free with pliers. I do kind of wish I'd taken a photo of the sad remains of the original foam rubber. Suffice it to say it was gross and I threw it out. 

What you're seeing here is the wooden seat base. This particular one is particle board. The circular gunk is some kind of adhesive they used to keep the foam rubber in place. No clue why they did that -- once the fabric is on the seat, that foam is going nowhere.

I mentioned that I tossed the foam rubber, but I did not throw out the original fabric. Instead, I used it as a pattern for the new upholstery. I cut open a couple of grocery bags, taped them together, drew the outline of the old fabric on them, and cut it out with regular scissors. DO NOT USE YOUR GOOD FABRIC SCISSORS ON A PAPER BAG. I hope I didn't actually have to tell you that, but just in case.

Now I've folded the fabric in half, pinned the pattern to it, and am cutting it out. I'm using a rotary cutter, but you can use regular scissors if you'd rather.

Now that the fabric is cut, I've moved on to cutting the new foam rubber. I've drawn around the wooden seat with my Sharpie but I've left the seat in place -- it makes a nice straight edge for the chef's knife. A number of online sites said to cut your foam with an electric knife that you might use for carving your turkey, but I don't have one, and the chef's knife worked just fine. DO NOT use scissors -- they'll compress the foam and you'll get a weird jaggedy edge. (I don't even know why the scissors are in this shot. Ignore them.)

So our foam is cut and our fabric is cut. We're ready to assemble the seat. Yay!

First, I put the foam on top of the seat and laid my fabric out on top with an even amount sticking out on all sides. I centered one of the stripes by measuring the front and back of the chair seat, dividing that measurement in half, and marking that measurement on the edge of the foam. Then I centered the stripe on the mark, front and back, and stuck in a pin to keep it in place. Then I turned the whole thing over and stapled the fabric in place, folding the corners semi-neatly. My staple gun wasn't behaving, so I kinda had to hammer down the staples so they'd stay. You probably won't have to do that.

Now I've removed the straight pins and put the seat back on the chair frame, and I'm using those long screws to reattach the seat.

Oh, right -- try not to cover the screw holes on the seat with your fabric. It's easy to screw through the fabric, but it's easier to see the screw holes when you're putting the seat back in place if they're not covered.

(That pinkish diamond on the floor is part of the carpet design.)

It's done. And when I sit down, I can't feel the wood anymore. Go me!

The other chair's not done yet because I stopped to write this blog post. It won't take long to do, once I get the 1,001 staples out...

I also need to sew the seat cover for the bench cushion, but that's a project for another day this week.






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These moments of how-to blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Defining "mainstream media."

I shared a meme on Facebook earlier today. It's a photo of a bearded guy wearing a flannel shirt and a trucker hat, and obviously yelling. The text says, "Why the hell won't the media cover the story I saw on the news?" 

To introduce the meme, I wrote the following:

"Mainstream media won't cover it!"

Really? Where'd you hear about it?

"Fox News!"

My point, which I made in a follow-up comment, is that Fox News is a mainstream media outlet.

No, the altitude hasn't gotten to me. Hear me out.

What is the definition of mainstream? Merriam-Webster says it's "a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence." Further,  Merriam-Webster defines the phrase the mainstream as "the thoughts, beliefs, and choices that are accepted by the largest number of people."

That last definition implies that popularity is one metric of how mainstream something is. Indeed, we could all come up with examples of things that were once considered on the fringe and are now accepted as mainstream. I'm old enough to remember when bikinis were first introduced, and the brouhaha over how indecent they were. The original "scanty" bikini would be a tame two-piece swimsuit today. But my point is that once no decent girl would be seen in a bikini, and today the same style would be considered kinda prudish. In short, bikinis have gone mainstream.

And in that sense, Fox News is definitely mainstream. Look at cable news viewership for the second quarter of this year, as reported by Nielsen Media Research: Fox News had just under two million average viewers per day, nearly double that of its closest rival, MSNBC, at just over 1.2 million. CNN was third with just under 1.2 million. 

The most popular "news" show during that time period? Tucker Carlson Tonight on, you guessed it, Fox News.

I've put "news" in quotes for a reason. For all that Carlson plays a newsman on TV, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and he -- and yes, even Rachel Maddow on the left -- are entertainers. None of them does straight news. To be fair, the guys on the right make up a lot more of their content than Maddow does, but even Maddow employs partisan spin. 

To be clear, I'm leaving things like truthfulness and "truthiness" out of this discussion. I'm strictly looking at viewership numbers. And on that basis, this most recent showing for Fox News is no flash in the pan. In January, it notched 18 straight years as the most-watched cable news channel.

You could make the argument that MSNBC and CNN are both chasing liberal viewers, and if you put their numbers together, they top Fox News. But I'm not sure that's accurate. While viewers probably have a preference for either CNN or MSNBC, I'd bet people switch back and forth depending on whose show they want to watch.

Anyway, the point is that Fox News is number one, and has been number one for the better part of two decades. That seems pretty mainstream to me.

So if your argument is that Fox News shows stories the mainstream media won't touch? I hate to break it to you, but you literally got the story from the mainstream media.

***

The new home report: I've opened all the boxes and unpacked everything that's going to be unpacked. It's even all put away, mostly. I have one tote without a permanent home and a short stack of papers to go through, and I still need to hang pictures. But the worst of it is done.

And now that I'm out of self-quarantine (whoo hoo!), I plan to get around town more. Expect photos. Maybe as soon as next week.

***

These moments of argumentative blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up! Social distance! Wash your hands! 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Betwixt and between.

Greetings from the Land of Enchantment!

View of adobe wall and blue sky.
View from the elevator "lobby."
I am now ensconced in a 500-square-foot apartment a couple of blocks from the historic Santa Fe plaza. The weather has been lovely -- or at least it seems so to me, coming from the land where "hazy, hot, and humid" is basically the forecast from Memorial Day to mid-September. I've been sleeping with the windows open every night here. I can't remember when I've ever done that in August, in all the years I lived in DC.

Here I am, talking about the weather like I've been out in it for any length of time. I haven't. That's because the governor of New Mexico has mandated a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone entering the state by any means. A few folks are exempt -- those on essential business, etc. -- but "moving here to retire" is not on the list of exemptions.

I'm not complaining about the restriction, truly. My last stop before crossing the state line was in Amarillo, Texas, where mask wearing is mandatory -- but I have never seen so many chin masks, bare noses, and didn't-bothers as I did at the restaurant where I had dinner that night. It was pretty scary.

So I'm on board with mask wearing and social distancing and waiting out the 14 days. It's just kind of a pain because don't have all my stuff yet. I packed the car full (and bought groceries in Amarillo), so I have the essentials. But the U-Box I rented from U-Haul is undergoing its own quarantine in a storage facility in Albuquerque. I have movers bringing it to me on Thursday. It has been interesting, McGyvering meals without my usual array of cooking implements. (Why didn't I think to bring along a cookie sheet? Or another mixing spoon?)

But for now, I can show you the view from my bedroom window. Think of it as a foretaste of the neighborhood tour to come. Sorry about shooting through the screens. 

The white stuff at the bottom of the photos is a rice paper covering that the management put up. It softens the natural light coming in, plus it's also an effective privacy screen -- and honestly, the only part of the view I care about is the mountains anyway.

The roof of the Lensic Theater
The crenellations on the next block belong to the
Lensic Performing Arts Center.

View of mountains from Santa Fe window
This is the view that sold me on this apartment.

















Besides unpacking, I have several projects teed up. One is to redo the covers for the Pipe Woman Chronicles omnibus editions. I spent several hours last night working up a cover idea featuring Naomi and Joseph. It still needs a lot of work. I'll let you know how it goes.

I also think it's time to do omnibi for the Transcendence trilogy, and maybe the Elemental Keys books, too.

And I'm thinking of recording audiobooks for at least some of my books. I attended an online class last week about how to create them in Audacity so that the folks at Audible will accept them. I'm currently waiting on the arrival of a new microphone and stand.

All that and NaNo, too. It's going to be a busy fall (once I get out of quarantine)...

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These moments of self-isolated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask! And stay at least six feet away from me!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Taking the week off.

As I said last week, I don't have internet at the new place yet, so I'm skipping this week's post.

Have a blessed Lughnasa! See you back here next week!


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dinosaur breath, or: Moving on.

Copyright 2020 Lynne Cantwell
I write to you for the last time from this desk in this room. The next time I blog to you, I'll be in Santa Fe.

The moving glitches continue: I took a carload of stuff to Goodwill today, only to be turned away - not because of the virus this time, but because it's going to be hotter than 95 degrees today and they won't let their workers stand in a broiling parking lot and sort people's junk all day when it's this hot. "Try the Salvation Army," the guy turning away donations said. I already knew they wouldn't be open for anything on a Sunday -- and by the time they reopen tomorrow, I'll be halfway to Front Royal.

I'm moving on.

The Tarot card in the photo is the Eight of Cups. It's perhaps not the best photo, but I think you can see that it shows eight full cups in the foreground, and a person who has turned their back on them and is walking away. They're kitted out for a long journey -- cloak, boots, and staff.

That should give you a pretty good idea of the meaning of this card. It's about setting aside one's comfortable life in search of something more -- more meaning in life, perhaps, or a deeper spirituality.

Right now, I just want to get out of Dodge. I've had two careers so far (not counting the indie author thing), and in both of them, I felt dinosaur breath on the back of my neck by the time I got out. By 1998, radio news had already consolidated to just six major players (ABC, CBS, NBC/Mutual, NPR, and the Associated Press), and with the merger of the NBC/Mutual Radio and CBS Radio newsrooms, it went down to five. The job I had still exists, but fewer and fewer people do it.

Now, the position of legal secretary appears to be going away. Law firms want to pass on as many of their costs of doing business as possible to their clients, but the clients won't pay for admin costs. The solution, at least at our firm, has been to transition anything that can be even remotely described as "legal" to paralegals, who bill their hours exactly as attorneys do. Well, they charge less than attorneys do, but you get the idea.

So my job as a legal secretary had devolved from a 50-50 split of interesting work and mundane admin stuff to almost 100 percent mundane admin stuff. And when we shut down due to the virus, a lot of the admin tasks dropped away. I can't answer attorney phones from a virtual phone. There are no catered meetings to plan when everyone is working from home. There's no travel to book, as no one has been traveling -- which means there are no expense reports to create, either. Not that I missed doing any of that stuff, mind you, but the shutdown has made it obvious that the firm can get by with fewer secretaries. My job, specifically, was never in jeopardy. But I wasn't interested in having additional mundane work loaded onto my plate as other secretaries left the firm.

In short, it was time to move on. Friday was my last day. Tomorrow, I turn my back on DC and hit the road. It's going to be wonderful.

***
I won't have internet turned on at the new place by next Sunday, so I won't blog to you again until August 9th, the week after Lughnasa. I'll tell you all about the trip, and the new place, then. In the meantime, have a fabulous First Harvest!

***
These moments of bloggy momentum have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Practice social distancing! Wash your hands!

Monday, July 20, 2020

The saga's denouement.

Denouement is not a word that gets thrown around in casual conversation very often, if ever. It comes from French, of course. It's the point in any story where the peak of the rising action has crested, and the effects of everything that has gone before come clear. There's more to the story after the denouement, but it's all mopping up -- resolving the last few loose ends and, in a series of novels, setting the stage for the next volume.

The long-running saga I'm talking about today is my Big Move West, which has felt a little like frozen tableau since early June. I blogged last week about some of the details, including the back-and-forth over my job status, and the lengthy wait for that fun stripey chair.

ehrlif | Deposit Photos
The chair story is a subplot, but I'll wrap that up now. As last Sunday ended, I had no chair, and FedEx listed its delivery as pending with no date. Amy speculated that the chair was probably sitting on the truck and would likely arrive sometime Monday. I acknowledged she was probably right. But I still spent the day on pins and needles 'til the chair arrived around noon -- in plenty of time to be placed in the U-Box, just like one or another of the Target customer service people had said.

The U-Box, or more accurately two U-Boxes (as I wasn't sure whether all my stuff would fit in just one), were due to be delivered Thursday the 16th. On Wednesday afternoon, I received an email from U-Haul that my order had been canceled.

Some context is in order here: I'd booked the boxes and a moving crew to load my stuff while I was on sabbatical. My last day at work was supposed to be July 6th. But because I agreed to keep working while HR figured out whether to let me work remotely from Santa Fe, I was now going to be working on Tuesday the 14th. So I called U-Haul, who transferred me immediately to Moving Help, and changed the date to the 16th. Well, Moving Help told the movers, and U-Haul corporate knew, but the message never got to the local distribution point. So when my movers didn't show up on Tuesday to pick up my boxes, the distribution point canceled the order.

I didn't pick up that email 'til after 6pm Wednesday. Naturally, I called U-Haul in a panic. The first person I talked to just about had everything rebooked for me ... and the call dropped. I immediately called back; the second person booked movers for me, but didn't rebook the boxes. Plus the local mover she had booked was different from the one I'd picked, and they never called me back to confirm.

So on Thursday, I canceled everything and started over again: delivery of  two boxes on Monday, and my original movers through their own website. I also went ahead and booked the movers at the other end. All set, right? Right. On Saturday afternoon, I received a call from the distribution center, asking me if I could take delivery on Wednesday instead of Monday. No, I said, because I have movers coming Monday afternoon to load the box. I thought that was the end of it, especially as I got a confirmation call Sunday night from the distribution center saying the boxes would arrive between 9:30am and 12:30pm today.

I'll spare you my day of angsty angst and tell you that the boxes and the movers showed up together, more or less, at around 2:45pm. In a sub-subplot, I was also awaiting a box from my employer in which I'm to ship back my firm laptop and phone at the end of the week; the mailroom set it for delivery by 10:30am today, and I didn't even think about the fact that our leasing office opens at 10am 'til FedEx sent the notice that they'd been by at 9:51am. As it happened, FedEx redelivered at the same time the movers and the boxes arrived. Et voilà -- the denouement.

After that, everything went like clockwork. The movers fitted all my stuff into one box, the U-Haul delivery woman came back to collect both, and it was over by 4:30pm.

There's going to be more to the story, of course, but at this point it's all loose ends: packing the stuff that's going in the car, disposing of the things I'm not taking, and getting on the road. I also need to call the U-Haul storage place in New Mexico and confirm the arrangements there. But all of that is on me.

And it really does feel like a logjam broke today. I've been trying to leave DC for years, but every time I've been held back. This time it felt almost like a forcible restraint. And I'm not ready to say the rest of the move will go off without a snag. But at least right now, the way is clear, the current is strong, and I'm riding it.

***
These moments of clear bloggy sailing have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Did you know that if we all wear masks, we can knock out this virus in two months? The director of the Centers for Disease Control says so.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Two sad stories and an ongoing saga.

Mercury retrograde is over -- it ended early this morning Eastern Daylight Time -- but the chaos lingers on.

Sad story #1: Remember last week, when I told y'all I'd be able to stay on at my day job, working remotely, through the end of this year? Yeah, well, the happy dance we all did was premature. It turns out that Human Resources had a lot of problems with the idea of paying a staff member who wasn't living in a state where we had an office. "Red flags all over the place," was what I was told. A last-ditch effort late this week to salvage the plan fizzled. So my last day at the firm will be Friday, July 24th.

It's probably for the best. I had assumed we would be working from home for most of the rest of the calendar year. But no -- the firm's US offices are opening for Stage 1 of our carefully-thought-out five-stage reopening plan tomorrow. In Stage 1, everyone is expected to work remotely, but if there's an urgent business need, we may be called into the office. There are oodles of rules -- everybody needs to wear a mask, the number of people allowed in the office at one time is cut way back, the cafeteria is closed, and so on. But the bottom line is that the firm could conceivably require me to show up, in person, on short notice, and that would be impossible to do from Santa Fe.

So #EscapeVelocity is back on. More on that in a minute, but first...

Sad story #2: I've been entertaining my Facebook friends this week with the Story of This Chair.


Cute, right? Sometime this spring, I saw it on World Market's website. I wanted it; they wanted $500 for it (and still do); I regretfully turned away. But I used my Google-fu and discovered Target also had it, and for less. Then they ran a sale and an online coupon deal, which made the chair just $250. At that price, it was totally worth buying. So I ordered one. The delivery date was far in the future -- the first week of June -- but that was fine. I wasn't going to need it 'til I moved in July.

Sometime in late May, I began to get emails from Target, pushing back the delivery date. I received the final email on June 12th, saying the chair would arrive June 17th. Well, June 17th came but the chair didn't. So I called Target on the 20th. The customer service person said, "Have you spoken with our Higher-Level Team?" I said I didn't know they had one. So I got the phone number from her and called. This new customer service person gave me a Case Number and assured me I would receive an email shortly. Of course I didn't. So on the 29th, I called again. This time I mentioned that I was moving in July, and I needed the chair to be here by the 13th or I would have to cancel. That rep assured me my chair would arrive in plenty of time and to expect an email within 48 hours. You guessed it: no email.

On July 6th, I called again. This time I said I was pretty sure I was never going to get my chair and to just cancel the order. This nice rep said she would start two inquiries: one for the whereabouts of the chair and one for the cancellation. "Look for an email!" she said.

This time, I did get an email! My chair was to be delivered Thursday, July 9th! What we've surmised is the manufacturer printed the label on the 7th so it would get paid. Target charged my card for the chair on the 8th. And on the 9th...no chair.

On Friday the 10th, I called Target back to say the chair had never shipped. And the nice rep said his screen showed it had, in fact, shipped, and that FedEx would deliver it on Sunday, July 12th. Whoo hoo!

All day yesterday, I eagerly tracked this shipment -- from suburban Chicago, to the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the driver must have stopped for dinner, to Hagerstown, MD, very early this morning. By 6:30am today, the chair was on a FedEx truck, heading for my place!

You know what's coming, right? It's now 10:30pm, and I don't have my chair. FedEx has marked the delivery as Pending. Now, our leasing office is closed on Sundays, so it's possible the driver got here and couldn't get in the building. But why hasn't the status been updated to show the next delivery attempt? Which, honestly, needs to be tomorrow.

So I called FedEx customer service a little while ago. The nice rep has sent a message to the driver. Stay tuned.

Of course, the reason the chair needs to be here tomorrow is...

The Ongoing Saga: I'm moving, as you know. The container comes on Thursday. The movers are going to load it up for me and make sure it gets sent on its way to New Mexico. The chair isn't going to fit in the back of my car, so it has to go in the container. (So really my drop-dead date for the chair is Wednesday, but I wasn't going to tell Target that.)

As I said last week, I hit the road on the 27th. And as if this whole process hasn't been crazy enough, once I get to New Mexico, I get to self-quarantine for 14 days. Thanks, COVID-19. Good thing Santa Fe has Instacart, right?

So for the next three days, it'll be a little hairy around here while I'm packing my stuff -- and also while working on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I didn't originally expect to be doing. At least I was able to sell the IKEA wardrobe I've used as a closet since we moved here. It was a bear to put together, but it has been perfect for my needs for the past two-plus years. Today, a nice man came in, took it apart, paid me for it, and took it away. Things are looking up!

***
These moments of hairy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

#EscapeVelocity update.

pxfuel.com
This post is going to be good news/bad news/good news, more or less.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I have been counting down the days until I could retire from my day job and leave the Washington, DC, area. After a period of waffling, which I deemed "location research" so it didn't sound quite so bad, I decided at last to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And after a further, mostly concurrent period of waffling, I settled on a date for my last day at work: Monday, July 6, 2020. Which is tomorrow.

The update, in short, is this: I'm still moving to Santa Fe, but tomorrow will not be my last day at work. And it's all thanks to COVID-19.

Like a whole lot of other companies, the law firm I work for sent everybody home with laptops in mid-March, as a test of whether our IT system could support the strain -- and then told us to stay there. We've been working from home ever since. This is a radical departure from the firm's historical stance on secretarial work. Our former manager once told me flat-out that legal secretaries would never be allowed to work from home. Well, that was then and this is now: Everything we do, with the exception of running errands, is done electronically. And a lot of the hands-on stuff -- for example, making sure catering is delivered for meetings -- isn't happening right now because our buildings are closed.

So as I said, we all went home. And then I went on my two-month sabbatical, as scheduled, on April 17th. When I "came back to work" on June 17th, we were still working remotely, but a whole bunch of stuff had changed. A new law -- the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act -- allows eligible employers to take a tax credit for keeping employees on their payroll. Our firm decided to take advantage of that. So most secretaries were switched to four-day-per-week work schedules. The few who were already working four days per week were moved to a three-days-per-week schedule. All of us got to keep our full-time pay and health care. (The changes do impact accrual of paid time off, but my PTO accrual was already whacked this year due to the sabbatical.)

Anyway, two things happened when I got back to work: 1) I was put on a three-day-per-week schedule for my last three weeks; and 2) the attorney I've worked for the longest persuaded me to stay on until the end of 2020 (not coincidentally, that's when the CARES Act provisions are set to end). I said I would do it if I could keep working remotely, even from New Mexico, and he said he didn't have a problem with that. It's a sweet setup for me: I get a part-time job at full-time pay, including benefits, and I can let my 401(k) recover for several more months. (Another plus is not having to get a part-time job to pay for Obamacare, as the job market is lousy for nearly everyone right now.)

There have been some nail-biting moments this past week, with more likely to come. While our Human Resources and Finance people have been figuring out how to do tax withholding for the resident of a state where we don't have an office, the "leaving the firm" machinery was still grinding away in the background. I received an email on Thursday from Payroll with a question about my final paycheck on 7/6. I told them I wasn't leaving. Then I forwarded the email to HR. A couple of hours later, I had a new tentative retirement date of 7/31. That gives the firm enough time (I hope!) to work out the rest of the tax withholding bugs so I can stay on 'til the end of the year.

Regardless, the movers will be here for my stuff on 7/16, and on the morning of 7/27 I am hopping in Eli and hitting the road for Santa Fe.

I say all this with some trepidation and a whole lot of gratitude. Nearly three million Americans have tested positive for this virus so far; as of today, 132,000 have died from it, and far more who have "recovered" continue to be sick; and millions have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdown. I realize how lucky I am to be able to keep my job and to retire on my own terms.

So that's the update: the Big Move West is still happening but retirement is delayed. And heads up that I probably won't be posting on Sunday, August 2nd.

***
These moments of nail-biting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

If you don't like what I like, that's okay.

tumisu | CC0 | Pixabay

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who know what they like, and the kind that think everyone would like what they like if only they gave it a chance.

This observation came to me after a conversation with friends on Facebook this week. The discussion was prompted by a meme that said: "If you could end Coronavirus by sacrificing one genre of music, what would it be and why country music?" I laughed and nodded, because I don't like country music. And then I shared it.

Some folks ignored, or read right past, the last four words and offered up their own nominees: opera, electronic dance music, dubstep, rap and/or hip hop, head-banger music, and polka all got their moment in the sun. And then somebody stood up for country, and I said I'd shared the meme because I don't like country. And then it was open season on people's taste in music. Mostly mine.

Maybe I asked for it by posting the meme in the first place. But I honestly thought folks would get a chuckle out of it and then scroll on by. Silly me.

To be clear: I like country rock -- the crossover stuff that was popular in the '60s and '70s. I like bluegrass. I tend to like folk music. But I don't like the stuff country radio stations play. Back in the early '80s, I worked in the news department of a country music station, and I could not stand the music. I don't know what it is -- whether it's the Southern accents or the twangin' guitars or the lyrical emphasis on beer and trucks and the good ol' USA -- but it just doesn't do it for me.

Well, a couple of folks took that as a challenge. "Listen to this song! How can you not like it?" Uh, because it's country? "But if you stopped listening in the early '80s, you haven't heard alt-country. Try this!" Okay...and nope. "Now this one, if you don't like it, you must be dead inside." Huh. I guess I'm dead inside.

Why do people do that? I mean, I've been known to inflict Flook on people, but only after they've said they like Irish trad.

No, really, I get it. I do. People fall in love with something and they want to share it. And music is a natural for that, being so tightly entwined with emotion as it is. The best music evokes a strong emotional reaction. We say it speaks to us.

Some of us are primed to hear the message of certain songs -- to feel the feelings the music is trying to evoke. And some of us just aren't. And that's okay.

If you like country music, have at it. More power to you.

And if you don't like Irish trad, that's okay, too.

***

In case you followed the link above and wondered whatever happened to my adventure with the Smithsonian Boomers Chorus: I enjoyed the experience for what it was, but a lot of my fellow singers had no musical experience and we didn't have anywhere near enough rehearsals for those folks to perfect the music. Next time I'll look for a group with a higher level of musicianship, even if it means having to audition for a spot.

And also the spring session was canceled due to the coronavirus lockdown, just like everything else.

***

Who's Flook? I'm glad you asked. Here's a taste -- but feel free to skip if it you don't like Irish trad.


***

So what's going on with that #escapevelocity thing? We're closing in on the final days, aren't we?

We are. And some things are changing. The situation is still kind of fluid so I won't say more right now, but tune in next week for a full report.

***

This bloggy musical interlude has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep washing those hands and wearing that mask!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Guerrilla warfare by social media.


There's an iconic photo circulating on social media of President Trump's rally in Tulsa, OK, last night. The photo was taken by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford. I'd use the actual photo in this post, but Getty Images is distributing it, and those people would nail me for copyright infringement in a heartbeat. So imagine this: A sea of blue stadium seats like those in the copyright-free photo above, empty except for one. In it sits a man wearing a mask and holding a Trump campaign sign that says, "Make America Great Again." (If imagination isn't doing it for you, you can go here to see the photo. It truly is iconic.)

Alert hearth/myth readers know that I am a liberal. Well, a progressive. Actually, slightly to the left of the Dalai Lama. They also know I avoid talking about politics on my blog. So I will not speculate on what the low turnout (just 6,000 people, by the Tulsa Fire Department's estimate, in an arena with 19,000 seats) may portend for the president's chances for reelection. And I am definitely not going to get into the Trump campaign's excuses for the low turnout, and their dismissal of reports that a bunch of teenagers reserved so many of the free tickets that the campaign was tricked into believing a million people would show up.

Those kids, though. That's worth a blog post.

The New York Times reports it all began on June 11th, with a more-or-less innocuous tweet from the Trump campaign encouraging folks to use their phones -- otherwise known as pocket computers -- to reserve tickets to the rally. Fans of Korean pop music (known as "K-pop stans") began sharing the info on TikTok and encouraging their friends to grab some tickets with the intention of not showing up. Fellow members of Generation Z, or Zoomers, amplified the message on both TikTok and Twitter. Some videos featuring the sign-up information were viewed millions of times. The kids weren't stupid about it, though -- many of the videos were deleted after 24 to 48 hours to keep the Trump campaign from finding out.

They punked their parents, too. A number of adults tweeted after the rally that they were just now finding out their own teen had snagged a ticket or two or ten.

This is not the first time K-pop stans have been credited with -- or vilified over -- guerrilla warfare by social media. Late last month, Dallas police encouraged people who had video of illegal activity related to protests in the city to upload it to the police department's iWatch app. K-pop stans obliged with "fancams," or videos of their favorite performers singing and dancing. That crashed the app. When the police got it back online, the kids modified their tactics -- adding some actual protest footage to the front of the fancams. Thousands of these videos were uploaded before the cops shut down the app.

But back to the Tulsa rally. The kids are claiming victory, saying their efforts ruined President Trump's rally. There's some doubt about whether they affected attendance, as an unlimited number of tickets were available. Less in doubt is whether the prank affected the mood of the Trump campaign. I would hazard a guess the campaign's claim of handing out a million tickets was exaggerated by a factor of 10, at least -- but to have just 6,000 people show up when you were expecting 100,000 would be a gut punch for anybody.

I called this a prank a minute ago. But I think I came up with a better description above: guerrilla warfare. It's in the same spirit as the tactics used by American troops during the Revolutionary War. The Americans didn't have as many men as the British did, but they had learned guerrilla tactics from fighting Native Americans. So they waited in the shadows to pick off British troops one by one, or lured away a small group of British soldiers to a spot where the odds favored the Americans. Military historian Max Boot says the British troops couldn't handle it. "Armies do not like fighting guerrilla wars," he told NPR. "They regarded it as being beneath them, because they don't regard guerrillas as being worthy enemies."

I've heard time and again that we can't count on young people because they don't vote. And it's true that younger Americans don't turn out at the polls the way we older folks do. But that doesn't mean the kids can't be a force to reckon with, and I think we dismiss them at our peril.

***
These bloggy song-and-dance moments have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Wash your hands!


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Dear Past Me: Shut up.

True confession: I straight-up stole this photo from Google Maps. It's a satellite image of Washington, DC, bounded by 17th Street NW on the left (west), 15th Street NW on the right (east), K Street NW at the top (north), and the White House at the bottom (south). Your cross streets, from the bottom up, are Pennsylvania Avenue NW, H Street NW, I (sometimes written as Eye) Street NW. (Fun fact #1: There's no J Street in DC. Fun fact #2: If you go one block farther west on H Street, you'll come to the building I worked in, back before COVID-19 sent us all home.)

The stretch of 16th Street NW that you can see on this map is the part that's been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered city crews to paint the slogan on the street after the Trump administration ordered federal forces to clear the peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park (all that green between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street) with tear gas and flashbang grenades -- all so that President Trump could stroll across the park and hold up a Bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church (on the northeast corner of 16th and H) for a photo op.

You can't see it very well in this photo, but there's more painted on the street at the end of the slogan. It's the DC city symbol -- three stars above two bars -- which was put there by the city, and an additional phrase added by Black Lives Matter themselves: "Defund The Police".

Like a lot of white folks, I was taken aback by the wording. Defund the police? Like, disband them? Surely you don't mean we'd go without police protection at all.

On Facebook, I shared a post of George Takei's, in which he suggested "demilitarize the police" would be a better way to put it. I agreed with him, and I went on to say:

[B]y stepping straight to "defund," BLM...is telegraphing they're not interested in compromise. They want all police to go.
It's the same issue I had with repurposing the word "privilege." That used to mean the 1%, the people born with silver spoons in their mouths. Now we're told every white person is privileged. I understand now what they mean by using "privilege" in this context, but I didn't to start with - and I was angry, frankly, to be lumped in with the rich and powerful who are controlling all of us.
That was a week ago. In the interim, I've read a number of articles and posts from black folks who have detailed the microaggressions they put up with, day after day, year in and year out.

Now, white folks face microaggressions, too. I certainly have. Random strangers on the street have felt the need to tell me I'm fat. Other people have accused me of being smart, as if that's a bad thing. (Although Americans do view intellectuals with suspicion. And everybody hates a smart woman.)

But here's the thing: I've never lived in fear of my life for being fat and smart. I've never had to worry about a cop pulling me over for a minor infraction and then killing me because of my brainpower -- or my waistline.

So now I understand that after years and years of experiencing these daily microaggressions, and of hearing platitudes from politicians about how things must change, and of watching police kill black folks for no reason and wondering who's next -- I can see how you might not want to couch your demands in acceptable language. You might want to shock white folks. Because then maybe they'll pay attention and actually do something about these injustices.

In short: Past Me, shut up.

***
These moments of bloggy humility have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, people!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

All aboard!

Welcome to my home away from home for the next seven hours or so. I am aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief, traveling home from Santa Fe (where I've spent the past week - yes, in a pandemic, and let's all hope I don't end up regretting this little jaunt in a couple of weeks).

The point of the trip was to find an apartment in Santa Fe, which is where I'll be relocating shortly as part of our #escapevelocity program. More on that pretty soon.

A lot has been happening in the U.S. this week, what with COVID-19 and George Floyd's murder and the subsequent protests across the nation. It's been a little surreal to watch momentous events happening two blocks from my office from two-thirds of the way across the country. I'll have more to say on all of it, probably next week. But right now I'm parked on a train in La Junta, Colorado, waiting for crews to clear a brush fire ahead of so we can be on our way.

A brush fire wouldn't stop a plane, you say? True enough. But travel by train has so many other things going for it that I've decided to create a listicle of the pros - and the cons - to long-distance train journeys. (Also, this is the first time I've written a blog post on my phone, so I wanted to keep things simple.)

The Pros:
  • It's way more comfortable. The airlines have made it their business to maximize their profits by making coach seats ever smaller and legroom ever shorter. They even have the audacity to charge you extra for a seat with a few inches of extra legroom, although the seat itself is no wider than others in steerage. On Amtrak, you get wide, well-padded seats that have footrests built in. You can even recline your seat without worrying about squishing the passenger behind you. In coach!
  • Passengers aren't treated like cattle. One of the most annoying things about air travel is having to undress and unpack in order to get through security. On a train...you get on the train. You find your seat, and by and by, the conductor comes by and scans your ticket. That's it. 
  • If you need to get up and stretch, you have choices. You can go to the cafe car for a snack, or the dining car for a sit-down meal. On cross-country train, the top floor of the cafe car is an observation deck with even more spacious seating and a great view of the landscape. And if nature calls, you have multiple bathrooms from which to choose - and no crew member will scold you for standing outside an occupied restroom.
  • First class is affordable. On a long-haul route, "first class" includes sleeping accommodations. The ticket is more expensive than coach, but when you realize you're wrapping your hotel and meals into the price, it's not so daunting. That's right -- room and board.
I sprang for a roomette on this trip. The roomette accommodates one or two people. It's not a very big compartment, but the seats (two of them, facing each other) are even wider than in coach, and there's a pull-up and fold-out table in between. At night, the table folds away and the seats drop down to make a bunk, while a second bunk folds down from the ceiling. (Some roomettes come with a toilet in them, but this route doesn't have that feature.) Because of the virus, you can have the attendant bring your meals to you. Posh, huh?

There are, however, some drawbacks to train travel in the United States. The Cons:
  • The train takes longer. You can fly across the country a lot quicker than you can get there by train. DC to Chicago is a two-hour flight; Amtrak leaves in the afternoon and arrives the next morning -- about 16 hours. (Driving time is comparable to the train, assuming you have someone to switch with you when you get tired.) 
  • Amtrak doesn't go everywhere in America, nor do its cross-country trains leave more than once a day. That's due to decisions made by Congress in the '50s and early '60s to prioritize auto travel by building out the interstate system. Then in the '70s, the government consolidated all passenger travel under rhe Amtrak banner - but didn't buy or build its own tracks (except for the high-speed Acela service in tbe Northeast corridor). A big part of the reason it takes 16 hours to get from DC to Chicago by train is that your train is guaranteed to spend time just sitting and waiting for freight trains to go by. Why? Because the freight trains own the tracks.
  • Food selection isn't super, especially for those with dietary restrictions. A sleeper car isn't as much of a deal when you have to bring your own food along.
  • Many of the long-haul trains don't have wi-fi. And I've hit a surprising number of dead spots for cell phone service on this trip, too. So don't count on electronic entertainment -- bring a book or something.
Still, if I have the time, I'd rather take the train than fly. It's a much more comfortable, and more humane, experience.

Ah, the brush fire must be out. We're moving again. I'd better wrap this up before we hit another dead spot in cell service...

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These moments of clickety-clack blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Amtrak requires masks in their stations and on their trains - don't forget yours!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

An argument for sentient balls of moss.

Neerav Bhatt | CC 2.0 | Flickr

Last weekend, I shared a story on Facebook about a phenomenon called glacier mice. They're balls of moss -- often the only green things on a white expanse of glacier. And as researchers Sophie Gilbert and Tim Bartholomaus from the University of Idaho discovered, they move around. Synchronized, more or less. With no visible connection or means of propulsion. They don't scurry, mind you -- it's very slow movement. But they do move, and they move pretty much in concert with one another. 

I posted NPR's story about this discovery with the caption, "Maybe they're sentient." I knew folks would get a kick out of it. But really -- what if they're sentient?

What we're talking about here is animism, which the Oxford Dictionary online defines this way:

  1. The attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
  2. The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.
With our glacier mice, what we're after is the first definition. And as a Pagan, soul is a more Christian term than I'm comfortable with, so let's replace soul with spirit. 

A lot of cultures around the world attribute spirit to a whole host of non-human things. In Animism: Respecting the Living World, author Graham Harvey recounts a conversation from the 1930s between anthropologist Irving Hallowell and an Ojibwe elder in Manitoba. Hallowell asked the older man,
"Are all the stones we see about us here alive?" Hallowell continues, "He reflected a long while and then replied, 'No! But some are."
The question came up, Harvey explains, because in Ojibwe and some other Algonquian languages, the word for rock is treated the same way you'd treat the word for a living person, with plural endings and such that are usually reserved for humans. Why is that? Because some rocks have been observed to move. On their own. With no visible means of propulsion.

That story reminded me that in Czech, there are different plural forms for animate masculine nouns and inanimate masculine nouns. Most animals, if the word for them is masculine, get the inanimate treatment -- but not dogs. Dogs get the animate masculine plural form. I expect anyone who has ever had a canine companion can understand why Czechs would think of them as people. (The word for cat in Czech, in case you're wondering, is a feminine noun, and the language doesn't differentiate between animate and inanimate in either the feminine or the neuter case. Which probably says something unpleasant about ancient Czechs, but I digress.)

Okay, dogs are animate. So are cats, dolphins, crows -- lots of animals. I think we can agree that they exhibit the ability to think, to plan, and to communicate. Just because we can't always understand what they're trying to say to us (an idea that has birthed ten thousand memes), it doesn't mean they're incapable of communicating. And they're probably better at communicating with their own species than they are with us. Right? So animals have agency -- they can act independently and make choices of their own free will.

What about bugs? Are they animate? Of course -- probably more animate than we'd like for them to be. Do they have agency? I think so, within certain parameters. A bee might be programmed to make honey for its queen, but the queen doesn't dictate which flower it visits today. A spider has sufficient free will to pick a lousy place for its web. Ants have a whole social hierarchy -- they send out scouts to look for food sources. And when they find one, they go back to their anthill and communicate the information to their fellow ants. But how do they get the word out? They can't talk.

Or maybe they can, but it's in a language we humans can't understand.

I'm reminded of Tolkien's Ents. They lived a long time and talked very slowly, and their own language was nearly impossible for humans to speak. Granted, Ents are fictional. But it wasn't that long ago that we figured out whales can talk to one another, and we don't understand their language, either (except in Star Trek IV, and even then it took some doing).

In The Wakeful World, philosopher Emma Restall Orr discusses the real-life trees that grow on Earth. She observes that a tree recognizes the resources available to it -- sunlight or shade, water, other trees nearby -- and adapts itself to them. It recognizes the seasons and understands what it is meant to do in each one. Just because we humans don't recognize all that activity as the sort of conscious thought we're used to, it doesn't mean it's not happening. And just because we don't understand the language of trees, it doesn't mean they don't have one.

Maybe rocks have a language of their own, too. Maybe it's so slow and moves so deeply that humans can never perceive it. If so, that's not the rocks' fault -- it's our fault for assuming that any language we can't perceive doesn't exist, and that any mode of thinking that isn't exactly like ours doesn't count.

The more I think about it, the more I disagree with the definition of animism that I quoted at the top of this post. Even changing soul to spirit doesn't fix it. Animism doesn't have anything to do with whether a chunk of God or spirit resides in each human or rock or tree -- or glacial mouse -- but with whether each of these things deserves to be recognized as a sentient being. Or, if that's too big a leap for you, whether each of these things might be a sentient being -- and then, erring on the side of caution, treating them as if they are.

Once you get to that point, environmentalism becomes a whole new ballgame.

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These moments of sentient blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Adventures with yeast.

As you know, ever since mid-March, certain things have been difficult to find at the store. Toilet paper and paper towels are among them, of course; ditto for hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Around La Casa Cantwell, I've begun to see TP and paper towels returning to shelves, especially if I go fairly early in the day. (You have to actually go, I'm convinced; if you order it from a delivery service, you'll never get it.) I actually picked up a couple of bottles of no-name hand sanitizer at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. I brought one inside and left one in the care of Eli, my Kia Niro. Eli lives in an underground garage, so there's zero danger of the bottle spontaneously combusting in sunlight (and Snopes says it won't happen anyway).

But other things have disappeared from store shelves, too. Flour, for instance. And yeast. For a while at the beginning of the stay-home order, 100% whole wheat bread was another thing that was always out of stock. Apparently once everybody stocked up on TP, they decided to spend the next six or seven weeks of their time at home baking bread.

I used to have little envelopes of active dry yeast that I kept in the freezer. Alas, when I checked them about six months ago, they were long past their expiration date, so I threw them out. If only I'd known!

So I could only look at posts on social media about the delicious baked goods my friends had made, and sigh. But then I read an email from our local Great Harvest Bread outpost, saying if you asked, they would sell you some of their yeast. So I stopped in and asked, and they did! Except it didn't come in a little packet like I was used to.

*Fresh* yeast? Whut?
It turns out that real bakeries use fresh yeast. It comes in a big block, I guess, and you lop off however much you need for the number of loaves you're making. I'm told it's the same as the compressed yeast, or cake yeast, that I used to see in stores when I was a kid. I haven't seen it in a long time, though, and I've never baked with it. I always just bought the little packets.

Luckily I have friends in the UK, where grocers are not as squeamish about selling fresh yeast to home bakers, and they told me how to use it. It's mixed in at a different point in the process. Dry yeast is added to the liquids (water or milk, depending), and you have to be persnickety about the temperature of those liquids or you will kill your yeast. (I used to make all my own sandwich bread. I might have killed the yeast a few times.) Fresh yeast, or wet yeast, is added with the dry ingredients, and then you add your liquids, and the liquids don't have to be quite as warm. (Here is more info about liquid temperature rules for different types of yeast.)

The process didn't seem difficult -- I mean, people have been making things with yeast for hundreds of thousands of years, and it didn't always come in little packets -- so last weekend I gave it a whirl. I had a can of poppy seed filling and a powerful need to make a coffee cake. But after I talked up the project to Amy, I realized I'd have to make it gluten free. No worries -- we had measure-for-measure gluten free flour.

What I forgot was that baking with gluten free flour is a science unto itself. The coffee cake rose, but not much. It was very dense. And I also put too much butter in the streusel topping, so it ended up in big glops on top instead of little crumbles. The coffee cake tasted okay, mostly, but it was a far cry from what I had envisioned.

Major poppy seed coffee cake fail. Sadness!
I put the remainder of the yeast back in the fridge. Last night I remembered it was there, and I also remembered a friend mentioning they'd made raised waffles using sourdough starter. So there I was at 12:30 a.m., mixing yeast waffle batter with gluten free flour -- and there I was at 2:00 a.m., stirring it down and putting it in the fridge so I could make waffles this morning.

Which I did. And they were good.

Raised waffles. Yummers!
At this point you're probably expecting a recipe, so here is the one my mother gave me for raised waffles. Looks like she got it from a bag of Gold Medal flour. I made half the recipe (using two eggs instead of three) and got 10 waffles, so we each had three. Also, because I was using the wet yeast, I did it backwards: I mixed the flour, sugar, and salt together, crumbled the yeast on top, and then added the milk and the other stuff. It was fine.

RAISED WAFFLES
Mix: 
2 cups lukewarm milk
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Crumble into mixture 1 cake compressed yeast or 1 package dry yeast. Stir until yeast is dissolved.

Beat in:
3 eggs
1/4 c. soft butter
2 c. flour (The recipe calls for Gold Medal "Kitchen Tested" Enriched Flour. I used Bob's Red Mill GF cup-for-cup to use it up. King Arthur's GF cup-for-cup is better. The recipe also calls for sifting the flour, but I was not interested in sifting flour at midnight.)

Cover, let rise at 85 degrees for about 90 minutes. Stir down, cover, and set in refrigerator overnight or until ready to use.

Stir down again. Pour onto hot waffle iron. Bake until brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes.

Fair warning: The recipe claims to make about eight 7" waffles, but my handwritten note says, "Hah! Made about 18 waffles..." Which is why I mixed up only a half batch last night. Thanks for the tip, past me!

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These moments of adventurously yeasty blogginess have been provided, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Whether you're cooking or not, wash your hands!