I’ve been reading lots of reports of assault, spray painted swastikas, vandalism and hateful messages on commercial displays on Twitter. I’m actually more frightened now than I was yesterday.

Weirdly it makes me see how a reversal of the “city is dangerous” trope could happen. The countryside is much less policed; if someone decides they don’t like you at an isolated gas station or as you camp somewhere or whatever, you are screwed. And now people think they can do it with impunity. It would be easy to retreat in fear from going out into the American countryside, but that would be wrong.

I read an article yesterday about how a lot of “nice” people who voted for Trump did so because they live in a very limited environment. They never see the Other, so they are afraid of it. They never go outside their small community, so they see other places as scary and full of scary people. They are more likely to be racist and homophobic simply because they’re not exposed to anything but people like themselves. Studies have shown that it’s easier to think badly of people you don’t know and haven’t talked to.

It left me wondering if the answer to some of this is more circulation, more people moving into/through these places that no one visits, or some way to get these people out of their ruts. The coastal areas and the metropolitan areas get a lot more travelers coming through, a lot more variety of people settling there, so the people who live there are more comfortable with people unlike them. Is there some way we could unclog the arteries of familiarity?

Given that the country is just about to embark on a long slide toward more open-minded people being afraid to move outside their comfort zones, I think it’s likely this schism will get worse. And worse, until we have a Hunger Games view of the world on one side, and a Deliverance view of the world on the other.

We can’t let fear stop us from being a united nation who takes care of itself. There must be some way to break the stalemate.

I have no answers to this, but it feels there must be some way we can break down this mutual avoidance. Any ideas?

Vegas is weird. It reminds me of those fish that lure little fish into their mouths with the shiny light. It’s hot, flat, and unchanging in texture in the residential areas, full of malls and condos, with a hostility in the local populace that comes from living in a place based on greed and avarice. The whole gambling lifestyle I find creepy (particularly the way it pervades all of Nevada, in the lowliest convenience stores and the bus stations, and the way all the poor people flock here to try to strike it rich). It’s pretty much everything I don’t like about American culture, all in one place, which makes it amazing and horrific all at the same time.

Given the position I’m in (a Californian from a bohemian-lifestyle family who married an Englishman), it should be a real study in sociology; but somehow, with Trump looming over the presidency, it feels a little apocalyptic. With all the awfulness going on in the country right now, I can’t help but notice how unsustainable it all is: the electricity, the water, the bad processed food and huge quantities of factory-farmed meat, the fact that no one seems to notice any of this but goes heedlessly on into the hedonism of it without a qualm. It feels a little end-of-days, like the last years of Rome: bread and circuses.

That said, the Strip is amazing, and the sheer glitz of the endless acres of gambling machines in each hotel is mind-boggling. It’s an amazing show, even if it’s not my cup of tea. Everyone should see it once, if only as an object lesson, I suppose!

Also, it’s pretty great to go out to breakfast and see people in Starfleet uniforms and Klingon outfits at the tables around you, eating eggs and bacon.

I suspect a lot of people who read my tweets the other day about giving up on writing thought I was having a snit because I didn’t get into Clarion.  I wanted to clarify my stance on this, because it’s hard to explain on Twitter the underlying truth behind my statements (and I probably shouldn’t have tried, anyway, but that’s another story).

I had, actually, already decided that I was going to give professional writing another year before I moved on to a less Sisyphean life-work. And I was really hoping I could leverage the Clarion thing in the meantime, get a leg up in that last push to break through the ceiling I’ve been hitting.  So yes, I am frustrated, and gobsmacked, and disappointed; but when I say I may be giving up on writing, I’m also being practical.

I’ve been trying to break into the professional world for 18 years now.  At 52, I’m beginning to feel my mortality; several of my friends are sick or dying, a number of them have already died, and I’m looking around me and wondering what I really want for whatever time is left to me.  Based on my friends and my aging parents and all my favorite role models that have died this year, I am coming to realize that I don’t have the rest of eternity to do something with my life. So the decision to give writing another year is not so much pouting as self-preservation.  I want to have a joyous life, to be healthy and happy, and to do something meaningful that has an impact on other people.  I don’t want to scribble quietly to myself until I’m old and then die, having made no impression at all on the world (and especially, I don’t want to give up on making other beautiful things in the effort of doing that).   If writing is not doing it, I’m going to have to give it up at some point. I want to use my time wisely.

And you know, it’s not like I don’t have other mad skillz to draw on, so maybe, if this isn’t working, I should go do some of those things!  I have a degree in fashion design and have worked in garment production, I have an MFA in sculpture, and I have plenty of ideas for amazing business ventures that I’ve been dying to do, but been putting off in an effort to get somewhere with my writing.  I tried doing both writing and those things, but with teenage children and aging parents and a job, it was just too much.  So I concentrated on the writing.

So I’m crossing my fingers and holding my breath that some agent will love my book and get me properly published.

To be honest, by letting go of my desire to be published I actually find my writing is improving.  I have been increasingly making myself miserable in the effort to write something, anything that will sell — and by giving myself permission to shrug it off, I am freeing myself up to write what I WANT, rather than what I think publishers will like.  In that  moment where I said, “fuck you guys!  I’m going to just write for fun,” I have found a certain amount of passion that had been slowly draining away over the past few years.   Let’s see how the next 9 months go.  Whatever happens, I am feeling better for having the time limit.  It seems to be giving me more options, rather than less.

“When I see this image, I realize I will never be alone again. I also think about all the young females in science who can stand on our shoulders, because we will be providing a ladder for them — not pulling it up as so many before us have done.” –Laura Boykin

I just came across this article on Medium yesterday and it’s really made me think a lot about the choices I made in my early life, choices that, unknown to me, have limited my options ever since.  I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, as my daughters move upward through the school system.   Watching my older daughter do calculus when I never got past beginning Trig is really strange.  My girls are doing all kinds of things I didn’t know I could do, without even questioning their right to do so.

It’s not like I couldn’t have done some of the same things if I’d really wanted to.  It’s more like no one really encouraged me or told me I should try — or even seemed to believe I could.  And, teenage laziness being a natural thing, I chose the path of least resistance.  I found Trig hard, and assumed I’d reached my limit in math.  If I’d had someone else around who knew math, I might have been amazed to find that Trig is just shitty for everyone, or at least shitty unless you have an amazing teacher.  And I would have gone on to Geometry (oh God, geometry, my passion now) and probably thence onward from there.  And who knows what could have happened?

I look at my daughters and admire their utter dedication to geekdom.  When I was in high school, I had geeky friends, but didn’t quite know what to do with them.  They all belonged to the chess club, so I did too — but I didn’t like playing chess, because I didn’t understand the strategies and was impatient with learning them, since everyone was so much better than I was.  But more importantly, my geeky friends knew what classes to take, while I just took what sounded good.  So while they were all taking AP and honors classes, I was taking Creative Writing and bonehead Algebra and any history I could get my hands on.  Because I didn’t know that those other classes were full of smart people talking about interesting things!  And I didn’t understand that I was up to it, that it was worth the work, that there was a whole world of learning that was passing me by.

As a result, I became more and more alone over the course of my schooling.  I didn’t fit in with the “normal” kids, but I wasn’t in any of the classes that my nerdy friends were taking (except maybe history).

I had dreams of being a scientist when I was young, and I actually took Advanced Biology and Physics in high school in an effort to pursue that goal.  But here again chance intervened.  I spent my last year of high school at a small boarding school where the teachers were very intimate with us.  I didn’t really learn that much because, in Physics at least, there were two boys who argued so much with the teacher that I got lost along the way.  Interestingly, it was the presence of people like these arguers that made me see that I could take these harder classes; but then he who giveth, taketh away, I suppose.

Here’s the thing: I never identified as geek because in those days geek was a bad thing, a stereotype that no one wanted to embody.  Even my nerdy friends struggled with this.  There was none of the joy of being dorky and smart and different that my daughters get to experience.  These were the days before Title IX, too, so no sports other than tennis and softball, all full of supercompetitive pretty-girls.  It was an era when having long blonde hair meant you weren’t very smart, and I wasn’t good at pushing away the image that people set on me.  There were no computer classes in my provincial high school either, or at least nothing that a latent geek girl with a lack of belief in her own abilities would have recognized as something she could do (I believe there was a FORTRAN thing you could do with the university, but WTF??).  I was a person lost, trying to find my tribe and failing, through lack of common cultural reference, no guidance, and an inability to see through my friends’ general dorkiness.

So call me a late bloomer.  And thank the Gods for the new culture of difference that my daughters get to enjoy, all the movies about intelligent misfits and the Internet and Star Trek and Dr. Who.  Because now everyone can know who they are by seeing it embodied outside themselves by role models that are fun, interesting, and palatable.  Nowadays you can own your dorkiness, and it is good.  You don’t have to wait until nearly forty, like I did, to suddenly look around and say hey, wait!  This is who I am, and this is who I want to be.  Like coming out, but from the toolshed, not the closet.  And although I might not have grown up to do the exciting science I love reading about, at least my daughters have the support to do so.

Coming home from abroad

I came back from two months of traveling the night before last, and there was a lot of emotional weight to the homecoming, because I hadn’t been particularly happy when I left. So after the whirlwind of amazing adventures I’ve …