In Defense of All We Hold Dear

I just posted a short story…it’s free! In Defense of All We Hold Dear was inspired by my Memorial Day visit to Washington Crossing National Cemetery. It’s an…well, I don’t think I’ll tell you. It’s more fun that way. I’m curious to hear what folks think, so please do leave comments if you are so inclined. I just ask that you don’t get rude or unnecessarily nasty. The link is here or above in the main menu. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy it!

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Writing and Procrastination

Yesterday’s post was rambling and a tad incoherent. Today’s post comes to you courtesy of my HUMONGOUS ability to procrastinate. I should be typing out a chapter, but instead I’m typing out this post. Although, I can justify this by saying writing is writing. And, (this is actually accurate), writing here does allow my mind to digest and think over what I need to write for the book and it allows my characters to catch their collective breath and figure out how to tell me what they’re doing and thinking.

I am simultaneously scared and excited for the future. I found myself, again, last night wringing my hands while trying to explain to my husband why I needed him to move faster on the job hunt. He’s doing the best that he can and I should not put any more pressure on him. I have learned that I have the insanely powerful ability to get him to drop everything and make sure that I am happy and or safe. That is a great deal of power and misuse leads to overly stressful reactions on his part. I cannot do that to him. I love him to much to destroy his health and well-being.

So, today, I’m writing here. I must get myself into the right frame of mind for writing a chapter. I’m petrified of not writing and having this go by the wayside. I know that I am the one with the power to decide if it goes by the wayside or if it becomes what I know it will become…a good book in a good series that gives people some small means of escape and a bit of fun along the way.

I feel like I’m heading into the large, dark, unknown wood. Well, I am. I’ve never relied solely on my skills to make a living. I mean, I’ve had jobs (obviously), but this requires me to make my own schedule, set my own rules, be my own supervisor, and generally be in charge of everything. There’s no complaining about bosses or administrators or management. I’m all those people. I truly have nobody and nothing to blame by myself. Abso-freaking-lutely frightening.

OK, then. Into the woods we go! It’s not quite as dark as I’d imagined. Look! There’s a path!

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Memorial Day

Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, Memorial Day is not the same thing as Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day is the day we honor those who have served (and we’ve added those who are currently serving). Memorial Day is the day we honor and remember those who gave their lives for this country or who, having served with honor, have passed away.

I am an Army brat. I used to say that as something of a joke or an explanation for some tic or habit that I had. Now, it’s something I’m truly proud of. I have not served in the military, but I grew up in it and developed a deep and abiding respect for it and those who choose to join. Many of my students are ROTC cadets. When they find out I’m an Army brat they tend to relax a bit more around me; I have an understanding of and respect for what they’re doing.

On Sunday (yesterday), we went up to Washington Crossing National Cemetery where my parents are buried. National cemeteries are sobering on the most ordinary of days. They are doubly so on Memorial Day weekend. There were far more people up there than on other days we’ve visited. And flags lined the drive into the cemetery and through it.

Every time I visit, I am reminded about how much I miss my parents. My dad died in 2013 and my mom died in 2016. My dad died from a heart attack brought on by the stress of caring for my mother and then, right before he died, the stress brought on by my sociopathic cousin. She tried to take him for all he’s worth both financially and emotionally. Needless to say, I don’t speak to her any longer.

On Memorial Day I put out my little flag and remember my father and all the others who have passed on having completed or in the middle of their service to our country. It doesn’t, or it shouldn’t, matter when, where, or why they served. They did and we honor them for it.

Photo by Becky Jones, 2019. Washington Crossing National Cemetery

Total Control

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “totalitarian” to denote those political systems which were created to control not only the political life of a state, but the cultural, social, and even personal life of its citizens. George Orwell in 1984 described a state where the government decided everything for its citizens and changed the language in order to fit the circumstances it wished to portray. Both authors, one in fiction and one in non-fiction were describing and predicting the consequences of what was coming to pass in the then-new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, particularly under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Control of language is of utmost importance to a state. With that control the state (and those running the state) is able to force citizens to accept its view of issues, policies, and ideas. One consequence of such control is the public shaming of those who do not use the accepted terms either out of principled refusal or simple ignorance. Public shaming is very effective in silencing dissenting voices in the public square. It is also very effective in silencing any discussion or debate around any issue or policy. Disagreement with state conventions, policies, and issues is viewed and described as traitorous and those guilty of such treason must be silenced at all costs. The state and those in control cannot afford to have any of their positions questioned as that will bring to light the contradictions and hypocrisies that exist in the interior of those positions.

These contradictions and the very loud and very strong attempts to bury them is becoming clear in the rising debates around transgender athletes. Weightlifting has had the most public controversies. A transgender woman in New Zealand competed in and won a gold medal in the Australian International in 2017. Another transgender woman had her record expunged from the Raw Powerlifting Federation female records. Both of these women were and are biological men who have taken hormone treatments, but have not had surgery. Under pressure from international advocacy groups, the international sport governing federations have changed their requirements for testosterone levels in female athletes. Testosterone usage has long been an issue in the Olympics dating back to the days of East German female competitors. Testosterone boosts strength in those who take it or have higher amounts of it in their systems. Like men do. Biological men are competing against women and winning. Quelle suprise,

Be aware, none of the controversy revolves around anybody’s right to identify themselves however they wish. What is does revolve around is whether self-identification creates reality. A transgender person is not a biological male or female. Here’s where language comes into it. The word “sex” is used by biologists to denote the physiological differences within a species that allow for that species to reproduce. Without those differences appearing at some point, the species will die. Only amoebas are able to reproduce via self-separation (and even there separation is involved). Higher order fauna (e.g. not plants) must have two sexes in order to continue the species.

The word “gender” was first used as a synonym for “sex” as it was considered less racy. (I’m not kidding. I’m so old, I can remember being told to use “gender” when explaining biological processes.) Now, however, gender is used to describe the outward appearance and self-identification. That’s fine. However, changing the language or insisting that biological sex and self-created gender are one and the same is naive at best and totalitarian at worst.

The insistence that gender and sex be viewed as the same brings up a whole host of other issues. Many of these can be filed as resulting from the “Law of Unintended Consequences”. For instance, if gender and sex are indeed the same, then there is no longer any need for sex/gender segregated sports or organizations. No need for “grrl pwr” or giving girls an extra leg up in science or any other endeavor. If there’s no difference, then all kids and adults can compete for all things without regard to any differences. Language usage will tell us there is no difference. If you see a difference you are guilty of treason and wrongthink.

This is a long and involved topic. I’ll be posting more in the next few days as I continue to mull over the implications and arguments. But, hey! It’s Monday so let’s start the week with some complex, higher-order thinking!

Writing Weather

What the ever loving hell? Where’s my May weather? It’s been rainy and freaking COLD! It doesn’t even feel like spring. I’m dragging my warm jackets back out again. I need sunshine and warmth! Multiple days in a row of this crap have me wondering why I ever left California in the first place. I know, I know, job, career, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m cold! In May! This sucks.

On the other hand, these kinds of days are conducive to sitting inside writing and reading. I wrote another 500+ words on something that sprang into my head this morning. I’m still editing and adding to what was “Campus Coven” and is now “Academic Magic” ( © 2019 Becky R. Jones ) , I have another fantasy series half started and a couple more ideas. It’s fun letting my mind wander like this. I’m discovering a creative side that I’ve tapped into once or twice in my life with good results, but never figured it was an ongoing thing. Now, I’m tapping in on purpose, rather than simply when prompted by circumstance (class assignments such as poetry class or art projects in high school, or costume drawings in college). I found a whole well of stories, characters, places, and ideas that I never knew existed. Now, I have to make a plan for accessing them and bringing these stories to light.

The other side of all of this is to turn it into a money-making business. Writing is all well and good, but sitting poverty-stricken in a garret pounding out prose on an old Remington typewriter just doesn’t work. And, pimping oneself out to publishers and editors is not something I’d be any good at (I tend to get snarky fast when people get condescending…see for example, my unspoken, yet nasty, responses to academic peer-reviewers). But, with technology and the internet, one can self-publish (what used to be called “vanity press” because if a reputable publishing house didn’t accept your book, clearly self-publishing indicated a type of vanity on your part) and get your work on Amazon and Barnes and Noble very easily. Yes, you have to market yourself and your writing, but to me, that’s not difficult. I may soon be proven wrong, but I know that I can do this. Life as an academic has taught me that more people than you might think are simply winging it in life. They’re doing the “fake it ’til you make it” routine. And many of them are doing it quite successfully.

Another thing I learned in academia is that good writing is a learned skill and it gets better with practice. I know my writing has improved greatly over the last 20 years and I know it will continue to improve. This blog is one way that I’m using to make sure I write on a regular basis. No, it’s not fiction, but it is a means of putting thoughts on paper and insuring those thoughts are (somewhat) coherent.

On that note, here’s the bit that struck me this morning (please excuse all typos, misspellings, and grammar errors):

I hate space. Hate it with a passion that burns as hot as space is cold. Everything. The potential for instant excruciating death by suffocation, the claustrophobia of a ship, never mind a space suit. In short, I have no desire to ever set foot in space, so to speak. Which of course, clearly explains why I was currently suited up, drifting on a tether outside of the small ship attempting to lock down a grav-gyro. Right now, the claustrophobia of the space suit was preferable to the random, out-of-control wobble of the ship. A couple more turns of the wrench secured the annoying grav-gyro.

I hit the commlink. “OK, Scott. How’s that?”

“Good. C’mon back, babe,” came the response.

Scott O’Brien was the shuttle captain and my husband. He was also the primary reason I was in space. I loved him more than I hated space. Plus, this trip was my first and last. We were headed to a new planet that promised far fewer people, more open land, and a hell of a lot less governmental and corporate interference than Terra One.

We’d both been born and raised on Terra One, the first of a series of planets terraformed and inhabited by early colonists from the original Earth. But, as with Earth, Terra One had become over-developed and filled with over-zealous bureaucrats who had nothing better to do than interfere in the lives of citizens. A year ago, we had made the decision to leave Terra One. It really wasn’t a difficult decision. Both sets of parents were gone, Scott was an only child and I had quit speaking to my sister as a result of my parent’s deaths about 10 years earlier.

Since Scott was an experienced, licensed interplanetary pilot, we were permitted to purchase a small ship capable of faster-than-light travel. A year’s worth of training had brought me to the point where I was able to pass all the tests for a junior first-mate on a ship the size of ours. So, I found myself floating in deep space, fixing a grav-gyro. Everything I hated in one fun, gift-wrapped package. How lucky could a girl get. Have I mentioned that I hate space and everything associated with it?

As I waited for the airlock to cycle, I amazed myself by thinking that I really was lucky. I was married to a man I loved to distraction and we had a new life opening before us. The lock finished cycling and I opened the inner door and stepped back into the ship. As I pulled my helmet and gloves off, Scott came down the passageway, smiling.

“Good job, babe! Miranda O’Brien, badass space mechanic! You could get a great job on one of the big freighters,” he laughed.

“Hmmm. Let me think about that. No.” I laughed with him. He knew perfectly well what it had taken for me to suit up and head out there. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in my repair skills, it was the strength it took to tamp down the massive panic attack every time I put on a suit and left the ship that threatened to derail even the most rudimentary tasks.

Thanks for reading!

Reaching the finish line

Grading is DONE! Let the whinging begin! Well, I haven’t submitted final grades yet, and I won’t until about 24 hours before they’re due. It cuts down on the whinging. That’s when I also put on the “out of office” auto-reply on my email.

I’ve already had one request for an improved grade with the addition of post-semester extra credit. Really? After the semester is over you’re asking for extra credit? If you’re so worried about your scholarship, perhaps that should have been a consideration…oh, I don’t know…at the beginning of the semester? Maybe? Then I had one question as to whether the grade included the legit extra credit. Then I had one request for permission for late submission of a reflection paper. That one, if I had to guess, is fear of losing the ROTC scholarship. All of that is prior to final grades getting posted. We use Canvas, a so-called “learning management system” for classes. It allows for electronic submission, embedding videos, etc. It also shows grades and it calculates the current grade for students. So, when I posted the results for their last exam, they all figured that what Canvas calculated was their final grade. This, even though they know that is not the final grade. It may be close, but that’s not it.

Oh, well. It’s done. I’ll go back intermittently to do some spring cleaning of my office. I’ve been doing it on an off for the last week or so and finding absolute relics of stuff! 20-year old overheads! Overheads! Grad school papers, and today, draft copies of my dissertation. Oh, joy. It’s all getting recycled. Next week I tackle the filing cabinet! Pray for me!

So, for the rest of the week, I’m writing, editing, and reading. My own stuff, not freshman writing. My stress levels are already considerably lower. The prospect of another beer garden outing on Saturday makes it all even better!

Go do things that make you happy!

Friday Morning Thoughts: Writing

This writing thing is a lot of fun! It’s also a lot of work, but I’m really enjoying the process of figuring it all out, creating stories, getting those stories on the page and knowing that people enjoy my stories (I’ve actually showed them to people not my husband and they like them! They really, really like them! OK, done channeling Sally Fields.) Writing this blog is also fun, even though I’m not here as often as I feel like I should be and would like to be. Honestly, I sometimes forget I started this.

I finished with all my teaching responsibilities yesterday and now I’m looking forward to uninterrupted writing time, minus a few hours next week when I’m grading exams and calculating final grades. Beyond that, my time is now truly my own. If this whole new direction thing is going to work, I have to put my butt in my chair, or at least a chair, and write. I did discover last summer that while trying to write research at a coffee shop does not work for me, it does work for writing fiction. I can totally do the hipster laptop and latte in a coffee house thing. Who knew?

The plan is to get the first chapter of my book up here in the next couple of months. I’m working on a cover and editing it right now. I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me to think that the occasional reader who stops by here will also decide to read it. I am optimistic, but then, as I’m discovering, that’s not a bad thing (as my ornery blog name might suggest, I tend toward the cynical).

My other plan is to write something here at least twice a week, if not more often. I don’t want to get too angsty, but I will be writing about life issues, writing issues, and anything else that pops into my head. Perhaps even politics (it is my field after all). We’ll see.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Sitting around on a Saturday

It’s the Saturday of Easter weekend. We don’t really celebrate Easter besides going to a friend’s house for Easter dinner on Sunday. But in Spring, with its general theme of renewal I usually end up thinking about new beginnings and new paths. I realize this has been a repeated theme itself here, but change and new paths have been on my mind for several months now. I am finding myself spending more time with my fiction writing which I consider to be not only a good thing, but a great thing. While there might be a whole new life waiting for me out there somewhere, it’s not going to introduce itself unless I show that I’m willing to have some skin in the game. My mind is set on leaving academia at the end of this semester. Our plan is to be elsewhere this summer. Where that “elsewhere” might be is up in the air right now. But, it will be further west.

Moving, changing, shifting, leaving, arriving, coming, going. All very active verbs and all very human verbs. I think that humans are the only species that can deliberately make decisions with a degree of forethought (if I do x, y will happen. But, if I instead do a, I’m not sure what will happen. What the hell. Go for it.) We have a great deal of control over our own lives, assuming we decide to control them. Some people do seem to simply sit back and let life happen to them. Most of these people are not viewed as successful. They’re not necessarily losers or *unsuccessful,* they’re rather just OK. They get by.

Others make partial attempts at control while making sure they don’t move outside of what are viewed as the accepted norms. They are often viewed as successful within a specific frame of reference, more happy than not, but also feel like something is missing. Often that feeling is put down to factors that are viewed as beyond their control. Work, family, money, etc. Oftentimes they have a nagging feeling that they should be, could be doing more. This will sometimes result in a flurry of projects at work and/or at home designed to move up in both places (“if I can get that promotion, I’ll feel much better about things”, “If we do that renovation of the kitchen the house will be worth more and I’ll feel better about it”). Mostly successful, doing pretty good.

Then there are those who are obviously doing things their own way, charting their own course, and are not only wildly successful, but they are having a blast at the same time. They might or might not be viewed as eccentric, or as risk-takers. Often the risk-taking takes the form of a huge leap of faith at some point in their lives and careers. Even after achieving success in one field, they continue to take risks and act on faith that things will work out. Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and some others spring to mind. These people also worked like crazy to make their risks pay off.

If you’ve ever watched curling, you’ll know that after the stone is released the sweepers frantically clean the ice in front of the stone as it nears the target. I think of these wildly successful people as those sweepers. At one point they released the stone of their idea and then ran ahead with a broom (or whatever those things are called) and scrubbed the ice like crazy to make sure their idea reached some end point. Like curling, there’s a general direction to things, but somewhere in the general vicinity will usually do.

Until recently, I was in the second category of people. Considered mostly successful in my chosen field, in possession of an advanced degree, tenured faculty. I was (and still am) doing OK. Not great, but not failing. I’m doing pretty well. Get to do some fun things, get a lot of time to work on my own projects and research. Considered successful by many, including me (mostly). However, recently (since last fall really), circumstances have conspired to show me that I am not really happy and I am feeling trapped. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but as the fall semester ground along, I realized that there were other things I’d much rather be doing (writing), and that I could probably do them well, in fact very well. And, that I did not need to stay in academia in order to do them. Really, staying in academia would be harmful to those things. But, could I do this? Could I jump ship just like that?

I heard a phrase, “jump and the net will appear.” That absolutely struck a chord. Then, I did something I never would have thought possible…I bought and read a self-help book. I might have mentioned it before, it’s called You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. Her advice is straightforward and blunt. Take risks. Jump. Just do it. Decide you’re going to do it and go. Quit sitting around worrying about the “how” or about what your mother/friends/family/co-workers will say and just go out and do whatever it is.

Then I read Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert fame) book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. He talks about having a system, not goals. In other words, get a job. Start looking around for the next one, take the opportunity when it presents itself. Rinse and repeat. Both books are low on fluffy crap and high on practical, kick-in-the-butt sorts of advice, which appeals to me.

Both books also got me thinking about risk-taking and what that entails. A shit-ton of work, a willingness to do that work while scared to death (or at least extremely nervous), and the knowledge (this is key), KNOWING everything will work out. I’m jumping. Hubby is jumping. We will be holding hands in the air while watching the net appear.

This is gonna be fun!

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Death and pets

I am waiting for my cat to die. He arrived in our house about a month ago. Prior to that he lived with the father of one of my best friends. Her father died last fall and Elroy (the cat) stayed in the house with one of her sisters until February when the house sold. Then he came to us. On Friday this week, he started to look even thinner (he’d been thin before, but now he was getting positively skeletal). He was not as energetic as he had been, and was not eating as much. I noticed he was breathing more rapidly and heavily as well. We made it through the weekend and this morning I took him to the vet. About five minutes after I dropped him off and left, the vet called me. Apparently his breathing had gotten worse and he was on the edge of dying. She’d brought him back and ran her tests. He has fluid in his chest cavity; the possible result of congestive heart failure or cancer. Later she called to tell me she’d taken 250 ml of fluid out of his chest. Before I picked him up this afternoon, she’d taken another 60 ml. That’s a hella lot of fluid for one small cat.

So, now we’re home. He’s crashed on the sofa and I’m watching him breathe. He’s in the same shape as the late, great Little Bit who died of cancer a couple of years age. I don’t know if he’ll make it through the night. If he does, I will take him back to the vet and my friend and I will make the last decision for him. If he doesn’t, I’ll bury him in the backyard beside the other two who died too young.

Expected or not, long-term family member, or recent arrival, it’s always so difficult to let a pet go. As I sit here watching him, I’d like to think that he’s comfortable (one of my other cats is sleeping next to him; every now and then her paw reaches out to touch him) and not stressed. I want to let him go on his own terms. I am not going to try to forestall the inevitable simply so I can have him around longer. Although he’s only been her for a month, he will be missed.

Here’s to you, Elroy. May you meet up with Henry as soon as you cross the Rainbow Bridge. All of us, human and feline, will miss you.

Pivoting

So, I’ve been slacking on writing this blog for about a month. It’s been an interesting and enlightening month. After our trip to Punta Cana, both of us have been doing a lot of introspection and discussion as to what we want to do and where we want to be. Things at work have become more poisonous (if possible). I’ve discovered things about people that I would have been happier not knowing. Although, if I didn’t know, I’d probably get caught in the crossfire. Along with the national issues within higher education, the local poison has driven me away from academia. Hubby is looking for another job somewhere closer to northern California where both of our families live. However, we will go wherever he finds a job that he wants.

Along those lines, I’ve been reading a lot about vocations, jobs, living your best life and all that. When I started writing I had the idea that I would pivot to writing full time and then eventually create a non-profit for teaching literacy to adults. I still want to do something like that. But, now I’m thinking I’ll start by volunteering for a literacy program first (baby steps, ya know). But, then I read about just going for it. Fear be damned. It’s already scary thinking about going with only one salary. But, we’ve done it before when I first started teaching. Lots of pivots in this journey.

Pivots are what it’s all about. I just finished reading “The Art of Work” by Jeff Goins (I don’t know him and I’m not paid by him or his publishing company, I just read his book). He uses the term pivot (from basketball), and I like it. It describes perfectly what you do when you are or feel you are, pinned in one place. You can always pivot and face a different direction which opens up different options for you.

People will tell me I’m crazy to give up a tenured position. Who in their right mind gives up a job you can’t get fired from? Only lunatics, right? Well, no. I now understand what my father meant when he asked me if I really wanted to have a tenured job. He was worried. I laughed. I could quit any time, I told him. Tenure worked totally in my favor. What he was worried about is what I realized in the last year or so. Tenure is a two-way trap. Yes, I can leave, but that means giving up a guaranteed job. THAT is a very scary proposition. But staying means playing by rules that are bent, broken, and completely manipulated by those who would control others. Tenure means feeling trapped and thus becoming willing or resigned to, sucking up all kinds of abuse and futile gestures. That becomes not only demoralizing, but soul-killing.

So, unable to keep moving forward in the current direction, I will pivot. It’s scary, fun, exciting, unknown. Let’s do this!

Image: Pixabay