Recommendations links

1. I am thoroughly appreciating Douglas Preston’s non-fiction work, The Lost City of the Monkey God. It’s the true story of the search for Ciudad Blanca in the Honduran rainforest. Preston, you may know, has a fine career as a writer of page-turner adventure and thriller novels. You may not remember them when you are done, but you certainly *read* them quickly. He brings that forward momentum to the story of a series of archaeological expeditions, while occasionally veering off into biography, political science, science, and ethnography. The story takes you along in dramatic, if not melodramatic, fashion, and I am enjoying the ride.

2. I finally watched season 1 of The Good Place. I started this when it began airing, didn’t enjoy it, and wandered away. But the season is complete so I gave it another shot. I ended up really liking it. By about episode five the plots are working together, and at episode seven the wheels come off, revealing that what you thought was a bus is actually a rocketship going who-knows where. The cast does a great job with the roles they are given. And, to be honest, I cannot think of another sitcom that so neatly explores and explains classical ethics.

3. A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P. Djeli Clark, is wonderful. Rich and richly imagined, it’s a detective story set in a world of vaguely steampunk-adjacent magic. More to the point, it’s set in a post-colonial Egypt, in a world where magic and demons have changed the course of nations. Yet the setting is only part of the delight. The characters are deftly portrayed and compelling, and I enjoyed my time with them. I did find the ending rather predictable, but that may only be because of other books I’ve read. I still clearly recommend this story!

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Field trip

For school this morning we are going to Can-Can Wonderland, an art installation mini-golf venue about ten minutes from our house.

This seems like a better use of my time this morning than pondering how Steve Bannon explicitly and openly wants to tear down the federal government.

Time for mini-golf —

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The first transwoman I met

In 1992 I met the first transwoman who I knew to be trans.

I don’t remember her name. I wish I did.

It was 1992, I was attending Macalester College here in St. Paul. My friend Scott had been enrolled at St. John’s University up in St Cloud. He, however, had either dropped out or been kicked out, I’m not quite sure. Either he was expelled for having sex with one of the monks who worked at the college, or he was disowned by his parents and couldn’t pay for the school. At any rate, Scott had come to the Twin Cities to find a place to live and work.

That was the year that my roommate and I were hiding her boyfriend in our dorm room. So, we *already* had an illegal third person living on campus with us. I couldn’t house Scott. When I saw him, I made sure to try to buy dinner for him, and I always gave him my pack of cigarettes before I came back to the campus, but I didn’t know what else to do. I listened to his stories of nights at the gay bars with mixed admiration and worry. He would get picked up by older men, he said, have whatever kind of sex they wanted, he said, and then take a bunch of blank checks out of their checkbooks when they were asleep. He would take prescription medications out of their medicine cabinets, steal bottles of alcohol. He didn’t take *cash*, so he never counted it as turning tricks.

Scott ended up staying with a slightly older transwoman who made a living in a similar fashion. Her name was … something like, maybe, Ariadne? I’ll call her Ariadne. Ariadne couldn’t get a straight job, she told me, because her legal i.d. did not match her appearance or the name she used. So she made a living dealing drugs in the bars, and occasionally sleeping with men for money. She also had told Scott which places he could give plasma and they would let him lie on the forms, and which places gave the best money for secondhand goods. Also, which food banks and shelters were friendliest to skinny, pretty, white gay boys who looked younger than they were.

In the wake of yesterday’s transphobic and discriminatory federal legislation, I am reminded of Ariadne. Of she could not get regular work and was pushed into illegal sources of income. Bathroom bills force trans people out of public life. If you can’t go anywhere for longer than it takes you to need to pee, you can’t be in the world. You can’t be in school, or hold a job, if you can’t pee in public spaces.

When we make legislation of bathrooms, we legislate trans people into the shadow economies. We push them out of community and into non-desirable careers and living situations, and then we condemn them as criminals and vagrants for the lives we force upon them.

Ariadne frightened me. She was brash and bold and openly engaged in criminal acts. She was not kind or understanding. She believed the world existed to be taken from. But she gave my friend Scott a place to sleep, gave him advice about men to avoid in the bars, helped him with the street skills he suddenly and urgently needed.

I am sorry, Ariadne, for the society that pushed you into a criminal life. I thank you, for the help you gave my friend Scott. I wonder if you are still alive. I wish I remembered your name. I hope you are alive, and well, and showing up at all the town hall meetings, angry and trans and full of cutting insults. I remember you.

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The novels of Becky Chambers

Y’all, I just finished both of Becky Chambers’ novels, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit.

I will cut and paste the praise from her website:

“The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a joyous, optimistic space opera…Although it isn’t shy about tackling Big Questions, Planet is a heart-warming debut novel that will restore your faith in science fiction (specifically) and humanity (in general).”
Tor.com

“Her protagonists might not all be human, but they possess more humanity than most.”
Library Journal

“There’s no two ways around it: Becky Chambers’ debut novel is probably the most fun that you’ll have with a space opera novel this year.”
io9

ALL OF THAT IS TRUE. These book, these books are DELIGHTFUL. Optimistic. Well-structured. Excellent universe-building. Strong characters. Accessible writing.

If you need something hopeful and escapist, I cannot recommend Becky Chambers’ novels more highly.

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Happy birthday, K

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday. My mom is in town, visiting. We had a lovely party with K’s friends at Zero Gravity (one of those trampoline places) yesterday. Today I’m taking my mom and the kids to a museum.

All is well.

My mom is *also* as hyper-engaged with current politics as I am these days, so we’re talking about the actions we’re taking and the things we’re doing for the resistance. My mom’s neighborhood Huddle on Chicago’s south side sounds wonderful!

All is well. I have a great family, and feel extremely fortunate.

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Riverdale’s Veronica and Betty

I have been watching the new tv series, Riverdale. It’s a rethinking (AU?) of the Archie Comics Riverdale intellectual properties — Archie, Jughead, Josie and the Pussycats, etc. It is EXACTLY in line with current teen-oriented dramas like Pretty Little Liars, or Gossip Girl. There are murders, secrets, and sex, and everyone is gorgeous.

You can go look up reviews of the show. It’s pretty fun so far.

But I want to talk about Betty and Veronica.

On Riverdale, the characters of Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper are capturing something true about female friendship, something complicated and messy and real. Their relationship highlights how women struggle with the roles we embody, ESPECIALLY when they are roles we have chosen for ourselves. The relationship underlines how we are attracted to friendships that nurture the parts of ourselves that we suppress, that don’t fit who we are working to be.

No woman is the Good Girl, no woman is the Bad Girl. Betty and Veronica are excruciatingly self-aware of this point. But rather than double down on impossible goals, they befriend each other and help each other be complete people. Veronica wants to support Betty, both in being the good girl AND in not repressing the rest of her feelings. Betty wants Veronica to be her best self, but ALSO admires and respects Veronica’s outsider strength.

Nearly every character in Riverdale is playing a role, and only a scant few seem to realize it. Archie yearns to be seen for all that he is. Jughead has fled to the land of cynical detachment. Kevin knows his gay part and plays it. But, so far, only Betty and Veronica understand that EVERYONE is playing a part. That EVERYONE has hidden depths and needs, and wants to be whole.

Now, Riverdale is a teen drama. There will of course be betrayals, misunderstandings, secrets, and conflicts. It’s that kind of show. But as of episode three, Veronica and Betty’s friendship is weathering the storms of plot and contrivance. As the only two characters who seem to be entirely realized, the show’s very best moments are when those two are interacting. The writers, thank goodness, so far recognize this.

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Women’s March Huddle

The Women’s March people have been putting together followup events since the Inaguration. This month’s is a Huddle. The website lets you find Huddles near you.

I, as you might have gleaned from my social media, have been really sick. Some sort of chest-plague-thing from hell. I am mostly over it, but I’ve lost my voice. This makes me too sick to WORK, but perfectly well enough to go do other things.

So, yesterday, I went to my neighborhood Huddle.

Where it was:

My closest Huddle was at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, a few blocks from my house. A perusal of other Huddles in the Twin Cities reveals that a lot of them were at people’s homes, or in small coffeeshops. A fair number were in churches. A few people I spoke with said they ended up at St. Matthew’s because the Huddles closer to them were in smaller venues and filled up.

This Huddle is in my neighborhood. I mention this because my neighborhood is demographically white, with small groups of poc largely in conjunction with the university. We also have a small but significant group of immigrants and resident aliens, again, many of whom are associated with the U of M. We’re also primarily single-family detached homes, but there’s a certain amount of renting and subletting that goes on. We have a strong and thriving community, with strong local-and-locally-owned businesses, as well as seasonal neighborhood events that are well-attended. People are engaged and aware.

Who was there:

The organizers, all from St. Matthew’s, anticipated ten-to-twenty people. About seventy RSVP’d on the website. About eighty-five showed up. I saw two people who presented as male, and three people who I would hazard are people of color. About 3-6 folks looked obviously younger than me, about 15-20 my age more or less, and the rest were probably older. (I will note, two of the younger women were also two of the people of color. Thank you, black feminism, for representing even in my neighborhood.)

Roughly 75% of the people in the room were first-time activists. For these people, the Women’s March was the first thing they have done, other than maybe signing some petitions or donating some money. All of them said, “I just feel I can’t do NOTHING.”

What we did:

People sat around tables, in rough groups of 6-8. We introduced ourselves, and spoke briefly about what brought us to the event.

The organizers introduced themselves, explained they were all desperate introverts who have never done this before, and gave us the first activity.

We envisioned the future, four years from now, and wrote down as a group what we hoped for. Then, as groups, we talked about what we would need to do to get there. Each table briefly presented their results.

We watched a video of folks from the Women’s March in Washington, with some inspirational words from the national group.

We each brainstormed upcoming events — political, social, artistic — through April 30th that are happening locally, and put them on a wall timeline. The organizers said they would compile the results and send it to us all in an email.

We then each picked ONE thing to focus our energies on for the next few months, and wrote it on a sign. Then everyone held up their signs. We all meandered around the room, coalescing into smaller groups based on common interest. Each sub-group made a list of names and emails, and turned it over to the local organizers for them to use to make smaller email lists.

At that point two hours had gone by, and most of us had to leave.

My thoughts:

Overall, positive.

It was very heartening to see SO MANY people determined to not take this administration lightly or quietly. And, these are basically comfortable white women. There’s not a TON of risk factors in this group, other than “women.” But I met educators, and journalists, and artists, and librarians, and so many of them are just angry and frustrated and worried. They are angry that children are afraid of our government. They want to be people who are on the side of good, and they (we) have a certain amount of power and privilege to throw at the problems.

There wasn’t a ton of focus. I’m hoping that this will change, that focus will grow. I mean, this was the first meeting! I hope that we can organize around specific action items.

There was a great deal of concern for immigrant rights, Native rights, rights of people of color — but all from a white point of view. It’s what my neighborhood has to work with. But, more positively, there were a NUMBER of calls to make sure we LISTEN to more marginalized and threatened groups, and help in the ways that help is wanted.

Y’all … these sixty-year-old white ladies are really pissed off, yo. And they have time, and they have privilege, and they have grandchildren to defend.

Overall, a good start.

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