Monday, September 28, 2020

How Gene Roddenberry made me a progressive.

One of the things I've been doing since retiring is re-watching all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I bought a boxed set of all seven seasons last winter and I'm now, finally, getting around to binge watching the shows. I haven't seen the early seasons in decades.

I consider ST:TNG "my" Star Trek. My father watched the original show, and I watched it with him (because in those days, kids, families had only one TV and you watched whatever Dad wanted to watch). But I was eight years old when the original series debuted in 1966. 

In fact, I just figured out that Star Trek debuted four days before The Monkees. Clearly I was at the developmental stage where long-haired singers made a bigger dent on my psyche.

Anyway, when ST:TNG began in 1987, I was at a much different stage of life: married with a six-month-old. My then-husband was a big sci-fi fan and many of our friends were into speculative fiction, too. And I was working in radio news, and beginning to meet people who had been dealt a lousy hand in life and who were never going to get long enough bootstraps to pull themselves out of their misery. 

The original series was kind of like a Western, with lots of action along a frontier and definite good guys/bad guys. ST:TNG had all that -- plus a society where money had become obsolete. The reason? Replicators.

Shisma | Wikimedia | CC3.0

Oh, there was a big explanation about how humanity had nearly snuffed itself in World War III and had evolved, as a result, into a caring and compassionate race. But come on -- if you can walk up to a machine on the wall and say, "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot," and the machine fabricates it for you, you don't need to go out and buy cups or tea. Or clothing. Or anything else, really.

In "The Neutral Zone," the final episode of season one, Capt. Picard explains what that has meant to society. The episode opens with Lt. Worf and Cmdr. Data boarding a 21st-century ship that contained a number of human bodies that were cryogenically preserved at death, the idea being that they would be brought back to life once science developed cures for what killed them. Of course the cryogenics company had gone out of business and the ship had gone adrift. Most of the preservation units had failed over the intervening centuries, but three people were able to be saved: a middling popular country singer, a tycoon, and an average mom whose husband couldn't bear to lose her forever. The tycoon insists that Picard put him in contact with his bank or his lawyer or someone who can get him to his money. Picard tells him how pointless it would be: "People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated want, hunger, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy."

Because people lack for nothing in the 24th century, they don't have to work for a living -- and yet they do work. They still strive for excellence, but not for money; the striving is its own reward. Without the need to support themselves, they have the freedom to pursue whatever activity interests them: education for its own sake, the arts, or even traveling to the stars. 

That all sounded pretty good to me. It still does. Which I suppose is why the progressive proposal for single-payer healthcare caught my attention a few years ago. Why should we be tied to a job just to be able to afford healthcare? 

Today we're in the midst of a pandemic, and not only do we still not have single-payer healthcare, but our economy is being remade while we watch. The very landscape of our big cities is changing. As office workers do their jobs from home, their employers are wondering how much longer they can afford to pay rent on their pricey high-rises with ventilation systems that will have to be retrofitted to bring in more fresh air. Public transit is losing money, airlines are laying people off, hotels are closing, and restaurants that catered to both the lunch crowd and special events are locking their doors for good. Office workers may go back to the office eventually, but some of those jobs will probably cease to exist. And their neighborhood will never be the same.

Gene Roddenberry created the Star Trek franchise with the original series. ST:TNG was the last in the franchise that Roddenberry was directly involved with, and his optimistic vision of the future is largely gone from the later series. I guess that's understandable -- viewers today seem to want darker, grittier shows. 

But life itself is pretty grim these days. We could maybe use some hope. And here's the thing about watching ST:TNG right now: it's profoundly hopeful. The crew of Picard's Enterprise is smart, resourceful, and above all, upbeat. Humanity has survived its darkest hour and is better for it. But humans had to put aside hate, injustice, and the meaningless striving for things to get there.

Seems like a decent template for our own future.

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These moments of hopeful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up and wash your hands! 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Moving into autumn, Ruth-less.

Yurumi | Depositphotos.com

In early August, not long after I arrived in New Mexico, I posted about all the things I planned to do this fall. I was going to design new covers for the Pipe Woman Chronicles omnibi and start working on audiobooks for all of my novels and I forget what else.

So here we are at Mabon -- the autumnal equinox -- and I've done none of those things.

I did start writing a new short story. It's about half done. Haven't finished it.

I could beat myself up over it, but what's the point? Guilt has never been one of my stronger motivators. I'm more interested in why it's happening (or more accurately, not happening). And I think it's because I'm just flat exhausted.

I've been working for 40 years -- first in broadcast journalism, then as a legal secretary. Sure, there have been times I wasn't showing up at a job every day, but during those breaks I was: on maternity leave, which is so not a vacation; or laid off and looking for a new job; or going back to school for my paralegal certificate. Even when I was on sabbatical from WilmerHale, work was still on my mind. On my first sabbatical, I got a call from work asking me to take on additional duties when I got back. On my second sabbatical this spring, I couldn't hand in my work laptop and phone because the office was closed due to the virus.

And then in July, when I was supposed to be done working, I got talked into staying on for another three weeks. By the time I mailed all the equipment back, I had just enough time to pack the car and hit the road for Santa Fe.

On top of that, for almost the past ten years, I've been writing and publishing three books a year. 

And on top of that is all the political upheaval of the past four years. 

Long-time hearth/myth readers will recall that back in 2016, right after the last presidential election, Amy and I created a dumpster fire ornament. We hung it on our Yule tree that year, never dreaming that things could get worse than 2016 had been. But then 2020 looked 2016 square in the eye and said, very clearly, "Hold my beer."

This past week, we surpassed 200,000 Americans dead from COVID-19. We have a decently-performing stock market, but a limping economy in all other respects. We have a president who is apparently incapable of making any of this better. And now we've lost Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Court's stalwart liberals, and it looks like the Republicans in the Senate will gleefully break their own rule from 2016 and replace her ASAP -- regardless of the fact that we're only 43 days out from Election Day and early voting has already started. 

I'd make another dumpster fire ornament, but honestly, who wants a 2020 keepsake? 

For Pagans, the equinoxes are all about balance. Day and night are of equal length at this time of year, and that encourages us to find balance in our own lives. Now is the time to begin to take stock of our personal harvests and set aside what will sustain us through the winter.

So I'm taking stock. 

I think when I announced those goals in August -- Write ALL the things! Make ALL the book covers! Record ALL the books! -- I was still in go-go mode. I didn't realize how tired I was. Now, I'm beginning to. And to be honest, I'm relieved to be off the damned clock for once.

Eventually, the book covers will get made and the audiobooks will be recorded. Eventually, I'll finish that short story I started. 

And eventually, we'll have a vaccine for the virus.

What's most important to me now -- and especially so, since Justice Ginsburg's death -- is to see Joe Biden elected as our next president

And by the way, the Constitution doesn't specify the number of Supreme Court justices. We have had as few as six and as many as ten -- and there's no reason we couldn't have ten again. Or more, even. Merrick Garland could still get a seat on the Court. And additionally, I think Justice Barack Obama has a nice ring to it.

Blessed Mabon, you guys.

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These moments of balanced blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. For the love of all the gods, VOTE!

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.

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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.

***

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 Aztl├ín 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.

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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!