Saturday, May 17, 2008

OPEN SOURCE SPEECH RECOGNITION INITIATIVE: AN APPEAL FOR HELP


I've had a request from a reader, Eric, which I am honored to fulfill: That I post a general call for assistance in his work to enable speech recognition software for Windows to also operate on Linux. This would extremely helpful to our disabled community members who are very dependent on speech recognition software for their access to the Internet. Below is his explanation and appeal. PLEASE pass this on to anyone (or any blog) you feel might be interested in it. You can post responses to the comments section here (which will be read by Eric) and/or contact him directly at esj@harvee.org


THE OPEN SOURCE SPEECH RECOGNITION INITIATIVE

Today, the only really good speech recognition environment is NaturallySpeaking. The authoritative version runs on Windows and there is a port to MacOS 10 by a small company in New Hampshire. Both of these systems have the same problems. They only work with a limited number of applications, and only through great difficulty will they work with remote applications (i.e. Linux applications on another machine). On the political front the primary problem is that both platforms are not open and rather monopolistic in their business philosophies. As result, the Open Source Speech Recognition Initiative was formed. It's a nonprofit organization whose mission is making speech recognition work on Linux.

We recognized early on that doing a port was financially and politically unfeasible. We would always lag behind the current system and would end up having to put together an entire support organization to handle the questions from users. Instead, we decided to go a more practical route which was using Wine and run the native Windows version. We got lucky. At the same time, a small number of people on the Wine project took an interest in supporting NaturallySpeaking and today we have a system which mostly works but can only dictate to applications within the Wine context. This is where our next set of volunteers can help.

There are three levels of functionality that would be useful to disabled speech recognition users on Linux. They are listed in order of importance because each one provides a foundation for the next. The first is fundamental in that you can't do anything without it. The second is a significant uptick in terms of ease of use and application interaction. The third is also very useful but it is not as big a jump in usability (I think) as the first two.

The fundamental need is for basic keystroke injection and context recognition (executable name and taskbar). This would give us the equivalent of what we have today (i.e. natural text) for most applications. We should be able to dictate text and correct it. We should be able to use macro programming environments such as Vocola to implement commands for driving remote applications through keystrokes. This step is the most important one because it would have been able to transition from a split Windows/Linux environment to a Wine+Linux environment. This is not to say it shouldn't operate in a Windows/Linux split environment, because some people need that, but this is the first step to ditching Windows.

The second level is a modification of the dictation box concept. In NaturallySpeaking, dictation box brings up a window and puts into it whatever the application has selected. If there is nothing selected, then the dictation box is empty. In this box, the user can add more text or use Select and Say functionality to edit the text. On completion, the user transfers the text back to the application. The main failings of the current dictation box is that it assumes plaintext, cutting and pasting is handled using Windows APIs os ctrl-c/ctrl-v, which we all know from the dog's breakfast of X11 cutting and pasting, won't work. Another annoyance is that after transferring, the dictation box goes away.

An ideal dictation box would allow cutting and pasting etc. as needed but also allow application-specific cut and paste sequences as well as possibly application-specific plug-ins for presentation and reformatting for reinjection. Don't really know if this last item is needed, but based on what I've seen with the existing dictation box, there are strong hints it might be.

The third level functionality requires a much deeper set of tendrils into the accessibility interfaces and their applications. It would move the same type of functionality found in a dictation box into the applications itself. Enabling Select-and-Say in the application would be a major task and benefit from a usability standpoint.

We need help. It's not easy to write code by voice at the best of times and, quite frankly, some of the environments are downright hostile to speech driven programming. We need some basic tools so that we can start bootstrapping ourselves the rest of the way up. We need help with someone fixing VR mode for Emacs because its current method of identifying Windows for dictation is flawed. We need help getting characters from NaturallySpeaking in Windows or Wine over to Linux. We need help getting over the initial couple of humps.

Thanks for reading. -- Eric

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GINNY BATES: I BRING SORROW



Here's the next segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. Begins after my post of yesterday -- a brief respite to ya'll from the cliffhanger.

If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

May 2012

Myra slid the chain free and stepped back. Allie came in and walked around the motel room, hands still in her pockets. She looked at Myra's laptop on the table, the neat row of new books along the windowsill, and the bags of Reece's Cups and Funyums on a chair. Myra wished the grapes and baby carrots she'd been snacking on last night were on display instead of back in the cooler. Allie stopped by the marine hardware arrangement on the dresser and an expression of bewilderment crossed her face. She pulled out a hand to open the top drawer, taking note of Myra's clothes, underwear, socks in tidy array before she shut the drawer slowly. She walked over to the trash can, full of plastic Coke bottles. Then she sat down on the foot of the bed, leaned her hands onto her knees, and burst into sobs.

It was worse than if she had yelled at Myra, or taken a punch. Much worse. After a stunned moment, Myra crossed to Allie and sat beside her. Allie didn't pull away from her, but her body language didn't welcome Myra in, either. After a couple of minutes, Myra heard a muffled phone ringing. She stood, thinking somehow her cell in the drawer had come on, but Allie pulled a phone from her pocket and answered it, choking back tears.


"Yeah, she's here...As far as I can tell, though I won't vouch for her sanity...I don't know, we haven't talked yet...Yes, I am...You can bet on it...Yeah, start with the kids, but include Alveisa, too, I called her yesterday...I will." She hung up and took the tissue Myra offered her. After blowing her nose, she looked up at Myra and said "You a stupid sack of shit."

Myra sat down in the nearby chair without answering.

"That's not how I meant to begin. I meant to begin with how sorry I am." Allie sucked back another start at crying. "But hearing Ginny break down like that..."

She went to the cooler and looked through it, choosing a quart of milk, opening it, and drinking it half down before returning to her seat.

"I should of told you, Myra. Maybe not at the time, because I couldn'tve handled you reaction, and Chris...well, she can't handle it now. But later. I fucked up. I did. Thing is, I'm as married to you as I am to Edwina. Not the same, but -- " She gave in and began crying again. Myra wanted to lie down with Allie, wrap herself around her and tell her it would all be okay. However, her body would not cooperate with this wish.

When Allie reached another spell of being able to talk, she said "I know you batshit about secrets. It wasn't a secret, not since that first year, it just...Myra, you know that wanting to fuck somebody don't mean love. It don't mean a thang unless we make it mean something. You of all people know that. And the fact that I have never wanted to fuck you has no connection at all to how I love you. Your boiler got big dents in it, honey. You ain't banged all of 'em smooth again. You still want it to be that the lies you got told about sex, that some of 'em are not complete evil. And me...I've chose to not pull away from you when you mix us up with what ain't us, ain't never been us. I've chose to say 'No' and stick close by. But it not been easy. I got all my own garbage to deal with, and...you went over the line here. This run, this past two days, you was trying to punish me for how hurt you was by my limits. And that -- I expect better from you. Even when I'm fuckin' up, you can cut me a sliver more slack than that. You could've called me, middle of the night or no. You could've gone to see Nancy. Hell, you could've said to Ginny 'I'm about to go nuts', if you could pack a bag you could give her that warning, and she'dve listened. This kinda 'I ain't got nobody' crap is old, and you too old to be pulling it any more."

Allie finished the milk and set the carton on the dresser, having another survey of the items arranged there. She turned to Myra and held out her hand. "Now, you come get close and tell me what the fuck is up wif you."

This time, Myra could move. She melted herself onto Allie and felt Allie's arms, long and strong, around her shoulders. It was antidote to betrayal. Within seconds, she was crying so hard she couldn't stand. Allie got her to the bed and safely down on the mattress. After a minute, Allie began crying with her, which made it easier. When she could talk again, she said "I didn't know what to do."

"I know. That when you ask for help."

"But all my help -- you and Chris...And Ginny didn't want to hear it..."

"You dead wrong about that. Myra, this not like you. Is this blowback from Gillam?" Allie got Myra to look at her.

"There's something else. Something I can't tell you."

"What you mean, you can't tell me? You got your own secret?" Allie looked around for Myra's inhaler, and Myra pulled it from under the pillow to use it.

"It's not my secret. Except it is now, I guess" Myra said, breathing deeply to let the wheezing subside.

"Ginny know about it?"

"No."

"Anybody know about it?" Allie's voice was sharp.

"Yeah -- the person who told me. And I promised to keep it."

"Does this person know how crazy you get about secrets?"

Myra looked away to say "I can't answer that."

"Well, then -- does this secret have anything to do with sex or trust?"

Myra nodded. Allie blew out air and said "No fucking wonder, then. One too many pebbles in you mechanism." Allie patted Myra's cheek and said "You scared the shit outta me. I was 99% sure you was okay, but that 1%...And you kids, they wrecks."

"I did write Gillam again, I was worried about him."

"Margie worse" said Allie softly. "She with Ginny right now. Gillam, he stayed in Olympia 'cause he hoped you might go there."

"Oh, god" said Myra, realization beginning to hit her. "And Chris?"

"She got a double whammy. Turns out, she never told Sima, either. So they -- Chris pretty mad at you right now. Not for entirely fair reasons, I'll give you that. But some fair. You stupid sack of shit."

Myra pushed her face back onto Allie's coconut-smelling shoulder. "I know" she whispered.

They lay together for a while. Allie said "What you been doing here?"

"I rode the ferries yesterday. Looked at birds, went shopping. But mostly writing."

"What kinda writing?"

"Some poetry. Mostly a short story, though. About -- exile."

Allie pulled back to look at her again. "Well, we'll see if it's any good. You ready to go home? Nancy says she'll see you whenever you get there. 'Course, Ginny gets first dibs."

"Yeah" said Myra, fear hitting her. She reached to the bedside table and pulled out her phone. It had 31 messages on it: Jesus fuck. Rather than listening to any of them, she dialed home. Ginny answered before the first ring ended.

"Oh, god, Myra, oh my angel, I love you, thank you for calling!" Ginny's instant forgiveness was a blow like Allie's weeping. Myra said "I am officially a stupid sack of shit. Listen, we're heading home. I don't know how long it will be, I didn't notice how long it took me to get here, but -- "

"I'll be here. I love you, Myra, with all my heart."

"I love you too, Ginny Bates. Tell Margie I'm sorry."


Allie was packing Myra's duffel. When Myra stood, Allie held up one of the marine items and said "What in hell is this, some kinda weapon?"

"Not a weapon, but I don't know what it's for." Myra explained as she filled her toiletries bag. "I want to take 'em home with me, put them in the duffel."

As they carried things out to Myra's car, Allie said "You okay to drive?"

"Yeah, but stay close, okay?"

"On you ass like molasses" said Allie. "Oops, hope you didn't take that as a come-on."

Myra had to sit down on the curb, she was laughing so hard.

Allie took more food from the cooler in lieu of stopping for breakfast. As she and Myra looked at the map together, Myra said "How'd you talk my cell phone folks into giving up the GPS location?"

"I didn't. Davonn got a friend who's a hacker" said Allie.

Myra was sorry to leave Anacortes behind. She thought she could come back, bring Ginny for a retreat of painting and writing, but it was possible Ginny'd never want to hear the name of the place again.

As they began entering Seattle, Myra's mortification at the pain she had caused, and her shame at facing Ginny, reached fever pitch. She fumbled riskily through her CD case and found the disk with movie soundtrack selections. She slid it in and began playing "La Momma Morta" from Philadelphia. She didn't speak Italian, but she had listented to it enough to know the meaning of some lyrics.

I was alone.
I had no shelter.

I bring sorrow to those who love me.

It was during this sorrow that love came to me.
It said 'Live, still'.
I am life. Heaven is in your eyes.

I am divine.
I am oblivion.
I am love.


She let the music fill her body, stretching it taut, and breathed out only when she pulled into her carport. Ginny stood in the door, Margie's face visible over her shoulder. Myra hurried toward them.



© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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GINNY BATES: ISLAND AND FERRIES

(Aerial view of Anacortes and Fidalgo Island, Washington)

Here's the next segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. Begins after my post of May 14th.

If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Early May 2012

When it came time for Gillam to return to Olympia, riding with Carly, he looked pale and was tight around the eyes. He stood in a long hug with Myra, and her chest ached at what he faced. When they tried to pull away, they discovered that Beebo, in the carrier Gillam was holding, had reached through the grill and snagged Myra's pants with a claw. She bent down to disengage him gently and whispered "You look after him. Don't worry, we'll all be together this summer."

Margie and Frances also left on Sunday, hoping to beat holiday traffic. Margie said quietly to Ginny that they could use a day alone. Ginny wanted to ask more, but they were interrupted and the opportunity never returned.


Four days later, Myra had lunch out with Chris. Once they had ordered, Chris leaned toward and said "What was that crack about you looking good now, from Ginny?"

"So you thought it was off, too?" said Myra, having mixed feelings at this validation.

"I didn't know. It was close to the edge, for sure" said Chris. Myra filled her in, and Chris continued to look serious. She asked for more information about Gillam.

"He called last night. He ran into Courtney on campus and she started crying. He's having doubts about his decision, which I'd only expect from him. His heart is breaking, but he's sticking to the flower remedy, to eating veggies and taking care of his body. We're going down there not this weekend but the next, if you want to come along" said Myra.

"I'll have to look at my schedule." Their food arrived, and Chris picked up her fork, then set it back down.

"I have something I want to tell you, My. But it was told to me in confidence, and I need it to not go further. In particular, not to Ginny or Margie. If you can't keep make that promise, then I have to not tell you."

"Ah, shit, Chris. Is it going to be hard on me to not tell? Will Ginny feel betrayed if she ever finds out?"

"Yes." Chris's black eyes were direct. "But she'll never find out from me."

Myra's conflict was intense. "Do you need to tell me for your sake, or because of something to do with one of them?"

"Both." Chris picked up her fork again and began eating.

Myra knew how Chris avoided gossip or drama. She'd have to trust her now. She said "Okay. I promise."

Chris swallowed and said "Margie called Sima Tuesday night, which she often does, Sima's generally home then. During their conversation, she said that Frances is sleeping with a new cook at the restaurant, a woman a year younger than Margie."

Myra rocked back in her seat. "Oh my fucking god. When -- how long? Did Margie just find out?"

"No, it's been going on a couple of months. Not often, just occasionally. Margie said she and Frances had talked it over beforehand, Frances isn't sneaking around. They have an open relationship, apparently. Did you know that?"

"Fucking hell, no I did not" said Myra. She wanted to suggest that she and Chris hop in the car and drive to Portland to kick Frances' ass. Chris would do it, she was pretty sure. "Open relationship? Is that the same as what we meant by non-monogamous? Which never fucking worked, by the way, it just caused messes and eventual break-ups."

"I don't know, I wasn't the one she confided in" said Chris. "Sima did ask if they're practicing safe sex. Margie kinda hates this woman -- name of Imani -- and is feeling bad about not being more able to deal with it. She swears Frances is being 'great', quote unquote, but I don't buy it for an instant." Chris was as mad as Myra, she could tell.

"Oh, god, Chris. This is terrible news. She's wrapped her whole future up in Frances -- "

"Yeah, and according to what she told Sima, none of that has changed. She says Frances has no intention of altering their primary commitment, to use her phrase. But I'm worried about her. Plus, both of us now have to act like we don't know. Because if it gets out that I told you, Sima will -- well, she's not got a lot of slack about my connection with you." Chris refused to look apologetic, but some leaked out in her tone.

Myra wanted to ask if Chris gave Sima reason to not have slack. That was landmine territory, however. She stuck to the original topic. "I'm glad you shared your worry. I can't think of anything we can do, except -- care about her. Be available. Fuck, Chris. They don't have enough time together as it is, and Frances has some piece of ass on the side? Why isn't my daughter enough for her?"

Chris shifted her gaze away, and Myra said "What? What else is there?"

"Well...Sima said it was Margie -- Margie was the first to sleep with someone else. It was part of her ground rules for their relationship. So...they don't see it as about being enough for each other. Supposedly."

Myra was rocked a second time. She didn't want to know who it was. She suddenly felt like she didn't know Margie at all.

"This would eat Ginny up alive" she said almost to herself. She saw Chris look at her sharply, and she added "All the more reason to never tell her."

Chris kept Myra's eyes locked on her as she said "We had a big fight afterward. Me and Sima."

"Why? About Margie?"

"No. About -- you, and Ginny. Myra, this is still part of the 'don't ever tell anyone', you got that?" Chris waited until Myra nodded. Myra was beginning to feel like she was in a rapidly flooding room.

"Sima's been upset for a while about how -- Edwina's become more the person Ginny talks to. You and Allie, Ginny and Edwina, it's a convenient foursome. I personally don't feel shut out because you and Allie both spend time alone with me. Plus, our connection...is different. But Ginny's not having dates with Sima, not as much as she used to."

Myra turned this over in her mind. She said slowly, "I can see that. You're right."

After a minute of silence, she said "Are you sure you don't feel dissed by the change? 'Cause, Chris -- "

Chris held up her hand, with a glittery grin. "Don't you dare try to reassure me, Myra. And that's what the fight was about, the fact that I am so sure of what I mean to you." Again, there were pieces not being said out loud.

Myra kept pushing her brain to think, keep moving. "The thing is -- I'm a moron for not noticing how things might be affecting Sima. And if I had, I'd go straight to Ginny and push her to clean it up. Because Sima is precious to her. She's precious to me, and I'm heartsick at what she must be feeling. God knows I'm transparent and bumbling, but I want to figure out a way to bring Ginny around. Without blowing your confidence in me. This is fixable, there's no need for Sima to suffer."

Chris's face was tense. She didn't say no, however. "It has to never get linked to me. It has to be an approach Ginny believes came only through you."

"Even better, if I can get her to notice it on her own, think it was her revelation, not mine" said Myra thoughtfully.

Chris laughed briefly. "You play each other a lot more than you admit."

Myra decided to ignore that. "Back to the Margie issue -- Are you sure she didn't secretly hope Sima would spill the beans to us all? I mean, did she really think Sima would keep it quiet?"

"She did. She specifically instructed Sima to never tell you two or Allie" said Chris.

"Allie" breathed Myra. She hadn't considered Allie's reaction yet. She gave a low whistle, and Chris said "Yeah."

There was another long silence, and Myra said "Okay. You got any more bombshells to drop?"

Chris laughed. "Not at the moment. You wanna go catch a matinee? That new Alfre Woodard movie looks worthwhile."

"You're on. Let's stop at a store and buy a pound bag of M&Ms, sneak it into the theater."

When Myra called home after the movie, Ginny said Edwina was coming over for the evening. Allie was at a meeting. Myra said "In that case, I'll either be at Chris and Sima's or go to a diner and write." She closed her phone and Chris said "You're welcome to join us for dinner. Likely an omelet and salad."

"I'll cook, if you want" offered Myra. Sima was home when they got there. Myra went to the kitchen and began putting together a salad while talking with Sima. She felt no difficulty in dissembling around Sima: Anything to keep Chris out of hot water. Myra listened to the two of them catch each other up on their day, the shorthand in their communication, the lack of obvious conflict. Not for the first time, she wondered what their sex life was like, and immediately felt afraid her thoughts would show on her face.

After dinner, she helped Sima install upgrades on their computer, cleaned out their temporary files cache which was obscenely clogged, and ran a defrag. The difference in performance was immediate. Sima sat down at the keyboard in delight to upload files from work.

Chris had consulted the calendar on their wall and said "We can't go to Oly next weekend, my niece is visiting on Saturday."

"Garnet? Say hi for me. What shall we do now?"

Chris looked at her watch. "I need to make calls. Tribal council stuff. I knew it was going to take up the evening, that's why I let myself blow off the afternoon."

"Okey-doke. I'll see you both on shabbos." She kissed Chris's cheek -- Chris always held it out but seldom kissed Myra back -- and left for her favorite diner. They knew to keep the Cokes coming her direction. She also ordered chili fries and a piece of chocolate pie. She alternated bites as she answered e-mail on her laptop, writing letters to both her kids about the movie she'd just seen.

She got home around 10:00. The front of the house was dark. Ginny was in her studio, a roll of canvas on her worktable. This meant the weekend would be in Painterland. Oh, well, they needed the money. Ginny said hi, a little distractedly, and sniffed her breath, saying "Can't make that one out."

"Choco and chili" said Myra. Ginny raised her eyebrows.

Myra said "Sima and Chris are busy the weekend we're going to Olympia. Shall we make it a twofer, go on to Portland for a couple of days?"

"Ask Margie. We'll be going for her graduation soon anyhow."

Myra didn't want to surrender Ginny to a painting just yet. She said "How was Edwina?"

"Plotting departmental power plays" said Ginny. She looked up at Myra suddenly and said "Oh. I need to tell you something."

Myra felt her stomach flutter, and remembered in that instant her secret from Ginny. Dammit, this was going to be really hard.

Ginny sat down on her daybed, motioning Myra beside her. "I found out something tonight I didn't know, and I don't think you know about it, either. Edwina let it slip, and...well, I have to share it with you."

Myra's mind was racing: Had Margie confided in Edwina, too?

Ginny slid her arm through Myra's and said "A long time ago, when Chris was dating but hadn't met Sima yet...She and Allie -- well, they slept together sometimes."

Myra was about to say "Of course they did, Chris crashed at her place -- " when she realized Ginny didn't mean just sleeping in the same bed.

"You mean, like lovers?" She didn't believe it.

"They didn't call it that, Edwina said. But yes, having sex. On a casual basis, she said."

Allie and Chris? "It can't be, neither of them ever told me and besides, I'd have been able to tell."

"I think they kept it from you, sweetheart. Because it would hurt your feelings." Ginny's voice was very kind.

Myra's vision was going red. "You mean they lied to me. They lied their fucking asses off for the past 30 years. Allie fucking told Edwina, but not me. Because I'm the reject, the one NOBODY fucking wanted."

She had to stand up. She walked five steps, then turned around and came back. Ginny said "I wanted you, Myra."

"Yeah, after everyone else found me not fucking good enough. Does Sima know?"

"I don't know."

"And she's worried about me with Chris, ain't that the fucking joke." Myra didn't know what to do with her hands.

"What do you mean, you and Chris?" said Ginny.

"Oh, can it, Ginny, this is not about you, it's about how I'm not worthy of even honesty from my best friends" said Myra, almost shouting.

"Well, I guess this kind of reaction partly explains why -- " Ginny stopped herself, but not in time.

"So it's my fault they have to lie to me? Is that it? And clearly it's my fault I'm not good enough for fucking, even 'casually', that goes without saying!" Myra was shouting now.

"Don't kill the messenger, Myra" said Ginny, starting to look mad.

"Yeah, thanks for passing it on late at night when I can't even fucking call them! Kudos on your messenger skills. And don't worry, you don't have to fucking deal with this, you can retreat to your own special universe now while I sit out here waiting on you, because who the fuck else would ever have me, right?" Myra stomped to their bedroom and slammed the door. She went into the bathroom and washed her face. When Ginny didn't follow, Myra began filling her toiletries bag. She carried it into the bedroom, packed a duffel with clothes, and walked it through the bathroom to the front door.

Still no sign of Ginny. She'd apparently gone back to stretching canvas. Myra's laptop was in the Honda. She picked up her wallet, keys, and cell from the breakfast bar, collected the duffel and walked out to the car, shutting the door quietly behind her. Once she cleared the block, she let out a breath.

She went to the nearest ATM and pulled out $2000, all it would let her have at the moment. She wanted to avoid using credit cards. She filled the car with gas, bought a cooler and filled it with Cokes, and sat in the bright light of the convenience store lot to plan a route.

Not the kids. Not anywhere that direction, either. East or north, then. The water -- she wanted the solace of water. She had to rebuild her life. Her eyes landed on Anacortes -- she'd always wanted to spend some time there. She memorized the highways and was about to put her car into gear when the phone rang.

It was Ginny on the caller ID. She didn't answer. When it stopped ringing, she composed a text message for Ginny, Gillam and Margie: I'm okay, need to be alone. I'll let you know when I can talk. She sent it and turned her phone off.

Anacortes was a tourism town and it was nearly the weekend, a lot of places were full. What she really wanted was a B&B, but it was too late at night -- well, early in the morning by the time she got there -- to find a room in anything other than a regular motel. She drove along the waterfront until she found a vacancy sign at a place with views of the Sound. The clerk who finally showed up at her ringing was extremely cranky at being awakened, but Myra flashed cash, offered to pay a week in advance, and signed in as Ellen Ripley.

In the room, she unpacked, put her cell in the drawer without looking at its dial, opened her fourth Coke and turned on the TV. She fell asleep watching the History Channel.

Five hours later, the maid woke her up. Myra told her she'd just checked in and shut the door, putting on the security latch this time. She plugged in her computer, accessed her e-mail, and read the subject headers: Messages from Ginny, Gillam, Margie, Chris, and two from Allie. She didn't open any of them, and she turned off the chime that rang when a message came in.

Carrying her laptop, she walked to a nearby cafe and ordered breakfast. She consulted the brochure she'd picked up in the motel lobby and made a list of things to do here: Heron rookery, watch boat building, ride ferries, Saturday Market, tide pools, whale watching, bookstores. No galleries or looking at the local murals. After eating, she decided to check out bookstores first instead of writing. She retrieved her car and drove around town, making note of places to eat and stopping at three different bookstores, buying two dozen volumes by the time she was done. She took these back to her motel room. An outdoor picnic area by the water had a free table, so she sat there and began to write.

It was late afternoon before she stopped, and that was only because it was starting to sprinkle. She drove to a cafe and had a steak with baked potato and creamed corn. No salad. She went to a local grocery and bought snacks plus more ice and Cokes for her cooler. Next door was a marine hardware store with a sign in the window which declared it was the oldest on the West Coast. She went in and wandered its aisles, buying an assortment of odd items whose function she wasn't certain about but whose shape or color she found attractive. Back in her motel room, she arranged these on her chest of drawers with a satisfactory feeling of making a nest.

It was still raining at sunset, so she felt justified in ignoring the start of shabbos. Every time she thought about Ginny, Allie or Chris she felt sick to her stomach, but immediately anger filled all the layers on top of it and she turned her mind elsewhere. She did occasionally feel guilty about how worried Gillam might be. But if she wrote him, he'd tell the fuckers where she was.

She fell asleep for a few hours, rousing herself at 10:00 to go back out for a meal before all the sit-down places closed. She went back home, as she now thought of it, and wrote four more hours. She went to sleep by watching TV again.

The next morning, she wandered through the Market, buying fruit, bread, cheese, and veggies that she could eat without cooking. She stashed them in her car, with the cooler, and drove to the ferry landing. The next departure was for Lopez. She drove on deck and sat on a bench to study the ferry schedule. She could make a day of it, if she wanted, and she decided to go until she got tired of wandering.

She ate from her car stash, fed gulls, saw whales, walked beaches on various islands, and often sat in her car to write. By the time she got back, it was dark. She returned to her restaurant of the night before, had another steak, and came back home to find the maid had moved all her marine hardware to a drawer. Myra redecorated, adding the shells and beach detritus she'd picked up that day.

Worry about Gillam was nagging at her. She opened her laptop and checked e-mail. The list of messages was overwhelming, but one, from HunEBoy, was headed PLEEZE Mama. She sighed and clicked on it.

It was very long. She stopped reading after the first paragraph. She hit reply and wrote "I'm okay. I'm writing and eating and taking some room. Not from you, but it works out that way, sorry. I'm only reading this one message, my phone is turned off, that's it for now. I love you."

She felt better after she sent it. She looked at the time -- 8:30. He'd be forwarding it on to all of them, or on the phone, or both. She felt a sick pleasure in how bad Chris and Allie must be feeling by now. They had thirty years of lying to make up for. Her mind began trying to remember nights when they'd all been hanging out, way back when, and unknown to her, after saying goodbye they'd wound up climbing into bed together. She found herself trying to imagine them making love, and she shut the image down, it was too confusing. She didn't actually feel desire for either of them any more -- it had never been much for Chris, and her once-longing for Allie was just plain embarrassing now. Icky, in fact. But back then, it would have killed her to know they were finding pleasure with each other after saying no to her.

Which was no justification for lying to her. If they'd really cared about her -- especially Allie, she and Allie had waded through so much together -- they'd have found a way to talk with her.

What was she going to do without being able to trust them any more?

And Ginny, no doubt Ginny was completely bonkers with jealousy that this could be affecting Myra so much. Well, fuck her. Fuck 'em all. Except Gillam: Gillam was not a cheater or a liar.

She couldn't keep dwelling on this. She opened another Coke, pulled up the writing she'd done the past two days and began rereading. She again wrote until the wee hours of the morning, then watched British comedies until she fell asleep.

She was awakened by banging at her door. The security lock was on but she must've forgotten to put out the do not disturb sign. She walked groggily to the door and opened it with the chain on to tell the maid to come back later.

It was Allie. Expressionless, her hands shoved in her pockets. "Your cell has GPS tracking, but it took me a while to figure out what name you'd register under" she said flatly. "Open the door."


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

JAMESTOWN, POCAHONTAS, AND THE NEXT 400 YEARS

(Village of Jamestown, on the James River, Virginia, c. 1615)

"I have noticed that as soon as you have soldiers the story is called history. Before their arrival it is called myth, folktale, legend, fairy tale, oral poetry, ethnography. After the soldiers arrive, it is called history." -- Paula Gunn Allen, Ph.D.

Two days ago was the 401st anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, which led to, well, the United States. Jamestown looms large in my personal narrative and psyche because I'm a direct descendant of one of the second wave of settlers there, Captain James Davis -- who was one of the folks jumping at the chance to introduce African slavery to this continent. A legacy to contend with.

There's an excellent article (complete with excellent links) about Jamestown up at the wonderful blog The Edge of the American West. Excellent, that is, until the end when the author tries to introduce some whimsy by including a clip of Disney's Pocahontas. Despite his having earlier repudiated this myth, it's not enough to make up for that crap being referenced at all. Instead, I recommend you read Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat by Paula Gunn Allen, Ph.D.. Allen is a Laguna poet, critic, essayist, novelist, short-story writer, educator, editor, lesbian-feminist, and one of the founders of Native American studies in this country. The review of the Pocahontas biography at Harper Collins states:

"In striking contrast to conventional accounts, Pocahontas is a bold and daring biography that attempts to tell the extraordinary story of the beloved Indian maiden from the Native American perspective. Drawing from sources often overlooked by Western historians, Dr. Paula Gunn Allen offers remarkable new insights into the adventurous life and sacred role of this foremost American heroine.

(Sedgeford portrait of Pocahontas and her son, Thomas Rolfe)

"We have all heard about the love-struck Pocahontas saving the dashing Captain John Smith from execution by the Chief of the Powhatans, but what if the whole event was a staged ritual of his death as a foreigner and his rebirth as an adopted member of the Powhatan Nation? Settlers at Jamestown report a young, cartwheeling Pocahontas frequently at their fort, but could the innocent-looking visitor actually have been a spy -- reporting back to her elders what she saw there? Was Pocahontas willingly kidnapped by the British settlers in exchange for corn and other ransom from her tribe, or was this a part of her more elaborate plan? We have been taught that this amazing woman was later baptized a Christian and married in the church at Jamestown, yet she helped her husband, John Rolfe, grow and export tobacco -- a powerful, indigenous herb to which the Native Americans attributed shamanic powers. Finally, the 'Indian Princess,' now known as Lady Rebecca Rolfe, traveled to England for an audience with King James I and Queen Anne. Was this a publicity stunt orchestrated by the English backers of the Virginia colony, or was Pocahontas fulfilling her role as a 'Beloved Woman,' an honor designated to a female of great spiritual power who was to be trained from birth in the diplomatic and political ways of her tribe?

"Pocahontas became an extraordinary ambassador, forming groundbreaking relations between the Indians, the American colonists, and the British. Dr. Gunn Allen convincingly argues that through all of this, Pocahontas fulfilled a crucial and essential role in the birth of a New World. This stunning portrait presents the fascinating, untold story of one of the most romantic and beloved figures in American history, and reveals why so many have revered Pocahontas as the female counterpart to George Washington, the true 'Mother of Our Nation.'"


I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Allen speak a few years ago, after this book came out. She was able to draw on the oral tradition and tribal memory of the people who are Pocahontas' descendants, which revealed that these people believed in 400 year cycles of development and change. They understood they were approaching the end of one era, and were about to see extreme transformation into another era. This is a large part of the reason why the first white settlers at Jamestown were not killed immediately: The native peoples waited to see if these newcomers were the bringers of change, in which case there was no point in trying to delay it. Their acceptance of and eventual assistance to such catharsis stands in contrast to our own cultural approach to unsolicited or unwelcome change.

However, Dr. Allen pointed out that day, we're entering the watershed between the past 400 years (set in motion at Jamestown) and what will come next: Something that may well mean our disappearance as a culture. Who among us will play Pocahontas' role of gracefully ushering in the new world?

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

GINNY BATES: NOTHING YOU CAN SAY WILL TEAR ME AWAY FROM MY DYKE

(Photo of a 1920's gay and lesbian marriage in San Francisco, from family photos of Rodney Karr -- not sure if this event was serious or humorous)

Here's a special edition section of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates, to honor this particular day. It would occur chronically between the previously published posts labeled "Entropy" and "Cell Division". If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

15 May 2008

When Myra got up, Ginny handed her a bowl of just-baked granola and said "It passed."

"No kidding? I mean, no further appeals?" Myra couldn't believe it.

"Well, I'm sure the wingnuts will get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot as soon as they can, but Ah-Nold has said he'll oppose it. For what that's worth."

Ginny and Myra stared at each other. Myra said softly "This means Allie and Edwina -- they're officially married."

Tears stood in Ginny's eyes. "I didn't think it would matter to me this much, but it does."


"I know. We'll have to celebrate tonight."

Ginny wiped her eyes and said "I already left a message on Edwina's phone. Plus Sima and Chris."

David came in from the back yard, his basket full of small cabbages and lettuces. Myra looked at the cabbage and said "I could split those and stuff them for dinner, Allie'd love that. Pork for her, turkey for you."

"I'll run to Pike" said Ginny. "This is a lobster night."

When Ginny came back from shopping, she said Edwina had called, verified they'd be over by 5:00. "She said her department at school is throwing a lunch party for her and Allie. Let's set up the projector so we can play their wedding video tonight, okay?"

Myra decided to make biscuits, sweet potato pie, lemon chess pie, and a roasted chicken, in addition to the lobster and stuffed cabbage. Ginny planned spicy green beans, two kinds of salad, and creamed spinach, all their friends' favorite dishes.

When Gillam walked in from school, he called out to the kitchen "Did you hear?"

"Yeah. We're in the midst of making a feast for them" called out Myra. He came to grab a warm biscuit and said "I'll help after I swim." As he split the biscuit and smeared it with butter and honey, he said "So...does this mean you'll now consider a trip to Cal-ee-for-ni-yay for yourselves?" He couldn't keep the hope from his voice.

David, sorting seeds at the dining table, looked up expectantly. Myra drew a deep breath, but before she could speak, the front door opened again and Margie strolled in, Narnia shoving past her to skid into the kitchen and Rimbaud in her wake.

"I took the day off!" she declared. "Where are they?"

"They'll be here later" said Ginny, going to hug her. "How long are you staying?"

"We might as well make a long weekend of it" said Margie, pointing upstairs with her head at Rimbaud, who re-shouldered their bags and went in the direction she had indicated. Margie sat down next to David, kissing his cheek and saying "You shoulda been at their wedding, Zayde, it was the best ever."

Ginny plunked a bowl of green beans in front of Margie and said "Snap, please."

Gillam had finished his biscuit and snagged one more, ignoring Myra's frown. He said to Margie "I just asked them the $64,000 question. About them getting married."

Margie's face lit up with interest. "Do tell."

Ginny returned to stand next to Myra so their hips were touching. They didn't look at each other; they didn't need to.

"No, we're not going to get married" said Myra. "No matter how legal it becomes."

"Why?" demanded Margie. "And don't hand me that lesbo-fem line -- "

"That lesbo-fem line, as you so respectfully put it" said Ginny "is a complete ideology which illuminates the darkness for us. The idea of allowing the state to regulate love and family connection is ceding power to them, the power of definition and naming. A power I've spent my adult life trying to wrest back from them."

"You're willing to let the state force parents to behave or else lose their kids" argued Margie. "That's a definition thing."

"No, that's prevention of mistreatment, the same as laws against assault or cruelty to animals" retorted Myra. "Until children have the same legal rights as adults -- which will mean they are not owned by their parents, then we have to act in their behalf. As flawed as it is."

"But don't you, like, have powers of attorney, and all this legal kinda stuff already tying you two each other?" said Gillam. He was eyeing the plate of biscuits, and Myra moved it to the counter beside the stove.

"Yes" said Ginny. "And we took each of those steps after obtaining good legal counsel, one by one. Most people who get married don't know all of what they are choosing legally. It's a decision made from emotion, not rationality. Therefore, it should be removed from the legal realm."

"The reason for marriage laws is primarily economic, and it wasn't the economic rights of women or children that motivated their creation or keeps them on the books" said Myra. "The church was very happy to conflate their definitions of marriage with economic crap from the state, because at that the church and state were pretty much one. The more control they could have over people's lives, the better."

"If you believe that taking this step, getting married, makes you somehow more emotionally committed to your partner, then of course it does have that effect" said Ginny. "As it did for Allie and Edwina, and I completely support their desire to make it so for them. But if you don't believe it, then it's a sham. It's looking for approval and gratification from a culture that does not whole-heartedly want you to have it. I prefer to speak my promises to those who believe me and will defend me."

"Hopeless" Margie muttered to David.

"I don't think my signing a piece of paper identical to what Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson signed makes me 'equal' to them in any way" said Myra, with a grin. "My commitments are far superior to theirs, and I don't want to pretend otherwise." Which got a big laugh from David.

"Whatever" said Gillam, giving up on the topic and the biscuits. "I'm going to do laps. Will you save the pie-making for me? And talk me through Allie's recipe for the sweet potato one?"

Myra nodded. She asked Margie and Rimbaud "Do you need a snack? If not, you can clean floors for our company coming."

Rimbaud looked unpleasantly surprised, as he always did when he was assigned housework here. Margie sighed and said "We're on it."

Over the next hour, Myra decided to also stuff small sweet onions with the same mixture as for the cabbage. Chris and Sima arrived with home-made cornbread and blackberry blintzes from Sima's favorite deli. Ginny chilled some sparkling grape juice and seltzer water. David taught Rimbaud how to set the table according to this family's specifications, and Margie escaped by taking an extra long walk with Narnia. Myra was picking up a knife to carve the chicken when Allie came in the front door. As Edwina put her arm around Allie's waist, Allie yelled "We MARRIED!"

Everyone crowded into the living room to hug, exclaim, and do a little spontaneous dancing. David taught Margie how to jitterbug; watching them, Ginny gave Myra a look which plainly said "Expect to learn these steps with me."

As they sat down to eat, Edwina said "We're flying to Baja as soon as the semester ends for another honeymoon. We'd like to coordinate our flight from there directly to meet up with ya'll at Galveston, if we can get our dates together."

Ginny said "We'll over over calendars after dessert. Are you going to have another reception, so you can rake in another round of gifts?"

Edwina thought that was hilarious.

Margie and Rimbaud cleared plates as Gillam set down pies, declaring to Allie "I made these!" Chris instructed everyone to refill their glasses, and she stood, gathering her thoughts. Myra realized she'd never seen Chris make a toast. She was not a public speaker. Allie looked amazed and expectant.

Chris grinned in the way that melted hearts, her best, and said "Most of the time, the phrase 'Good things come to those who wait' is a kind of prayer. Or appeasement. But, sometimes, it is truth. However far back human history goes, we've been turning to each other and saying 'I love you in a particular way. I intend to blend my days with yours.' It's not just what our hearts have demanded. When done with honesty, it's been the smartest acts we could perform. It lifts us all above the flood plain. It gives us joy to witness. Tonight I'll reword the saying: The best things come to the best of us, who waited long damn enough." She clinked her glass to Allie's, and everyone roared as they followed suit.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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LOLCATS WEEKLY ROUND-UP, 13 MAY 2008

Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. I apologize for the two-day delay -- other posts took precedence this week. The huge storms last night did not affect me directly, except to prompt me to close down my computer connection. I have power and no downed trees in my immediate vicinity, so I'm lucky compared to the rest of central Austin.

As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.





































Two riffs on the same photo. I think one is MUCH more original.




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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ALTRUISM IS STRONGER THAN COMPETITION

(Irena Sendler, 1943, after escape from Pawiak prison)

I have a couple of postings at other sites to recommend to you, especially if you want hope (not the slick packaged kind) and inspiration.

The first is the story of Irena Sendler, "credited with saving some 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazi Holocaust by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, some of them in baskets", who died last Monday at age 98. Ma Vie in KC (a sister lesbian blog) has a great photo of her. Other feminist blogs have been writing about her, and the Life In A Jar: Irena Sendler Project site has other ways to continue her work of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

I've previously written about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising here at Zog Nit Keynmol.

(Sara Tucholsky got a lift from Central Washington's Liz Wallace, left, and Mallory Holtman. Photo by Blake Wolf.)

My second ardent recommendation is to view the video concerning Sara Tucholsky at Group News Blog. I'll copy in their New York Times excerpt identifying her:

Ms. Tucholsky plays softball for Western Oregon University, but in her high school and college careers, the 5-foot-2 player had never hit a home run. On the last Saturday in April, in a game against Central Washington University, she hit her first home run over the fence. But as she began to run the bases, a misstep resulted in a torn knee ligament and she couldn’t continue.

The umpire mistakenly ruled that a team member couldn’t run in her place or assist her around the bases. A member of the opposing team, first baseman Mallory Holtman, the career home run leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Ms. Tucholsky run the bases. He said they could, and Ms. Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace carried her around the field as she gently tapped her uninjured leg on each base.


This means that the competing team who assisted her on her home run LOST their chance at the Division II NCAA championship. Go watch the video and hope each of these young women move on to assume positions of leadership in our world, because they are the best we could have.

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GINNY BATES: DAYENU


Here's the next segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. Begins right after my post of two days ago.

If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Spring Break 2012

By the time they finished going over Allie's drawings and ideas, it was 1:00 in the afternoon. Edwina said "I have a date with a friend, I need to go."

"Call me later, check in about how I'm getting home?" asked Allie as they kissed goodbye. Gillam said "I want to help with the painting, but I'm going to start a roast for dinner first. That big one in the freezer, it'll take four hours."

Allie borrowed an old T-shirt from Ginny and they went upstairs. After hauling the furniture from Margie's old bedroom into the hall, they lay down dropcloth and began taping windows.

"What color did ya'll settle on?" asked Allie, looking at the top of the paint cans.

"It's what I'd call a deep sky blue" answered Ginny. "For trim and the ceiling, titanium white with a hint of honeydew -- you won't see it, but you'll feel it. It will make a profound difference in how inviting this room is. The color Margie painted it always reminded me of upchuck from somebody who'd been eating raspberries and oysters."


Myra looked squeamish as she giggled with the rest of them. Ginny added "It may well take three coats to cover the walls, even with primer first." Carly and Allie began with rollers at opposite corners on the already lighter-colored ceiling, while Myra and Ginny started on walls at the other two corners. After five minutes, Myra said "I need music" and disappeared, returning with a boom box and a handful of CD's.

"Please, not Carole King" said Allie.

"Scots" said Myra. "I need a strong beat for this."

"Tina Turner" suggested Allie.

"Okay, her next" agreed Myra. Carly didn't bother to toss out a name, he knew he was outnumbered.

By the time Gillam arrived to help, the front wall with its casement windows had on one coat of primer, thanks to Ginny's swift technique. He picked up a trim brush and began addressing the windows. The latex Ginny had selected was so fast-drying, after half an hour they could move on to a second coat. Gillam finished all the trim and doors by 5:00 and went downstairs to make the rest of dinner.

The other four joined him at 6:00. Edwina called as Allie was washing her hands. Gillam answered Allie's cell and after he hung up, he called to Allie "She's coming for dinner, but says you all have something to do after that, to remind you."

Allie blushed, and Myra murmured "Hot Saturday night, eh?"

Gillam had grilled a thick tuna steak for Ginny. There were mashed potatoes, steamed carrots and chard, coleslaw Gillam-style, and frozen whole cherries which he had stewed in a little bit of water and white grape juice, plus a dash of vanilla, as a non-sugar dessert.

When they were done, Myra said "I'll clean up, I've gotten off light today."

"Okay" said Gillam, looking suddenly solemn. "I have to go make a call."

"Oh" said Ginny. "Do you -- " She trailed off.

"I'll come talk to you afterward if I need to" said Gillam. "For sure, I'm going to want to swim, and I'll welcome company for that."

Allie kissed his cheek and said "You just making room for what's already headed you way. You mama taught me that."

After Edwina and Allie left, and Gillam had gone into his current room with his cell, Ginny and Myra looked at each other. Ginny said "It feels like there's virtually nothing I can do any more to make things better."

Carly laughed and said "You're delusional, if you really think that." He headed for the stairs, saying "I think one more coat will do it." Ginny stood and followed him.

Myra picked up the cordless at the breakfast bar and called Margie, talking to her while she put away food and rinsed dishes. Margie was home alone, supposedly working on a school project but sounding extremely glad to be diverted from it. Myra let Beebo lick out the gravy boat as she recounted, with her writer's memory, all of the conversations over the past 24 hours. Margie said "Tell him I say Allie's right, he's a dream of a catch and it's going to happen for him".

After she hung up, Myra got into the battered old swim suit that she'd begun wearing for the pool when David moved in. She put on sweats over it -- it was a chilly day -- and sat at her desk for half an hour. When Beebo jumped down from his perch at her desk and raced toward the front of the house, she turned and saw Gillam through two glass walls, heading her way. He was weeping, putting one hand out to guide himself along the wall. She sat down next to him on the daybed, pulling his face onto her shoulder and letting him sob.

Ginny must have been listening from upstairs, because within minutes she was there also, her arms streaked with deep sky blue here and there. She sat on the other side of Gillam and said "My yingl liebling", which made him cry harder.

"It's going to fucking suck, being in that town without her" he said.

"Yep" said Myra. "It will, for a while." She passed on Margie's message, which brought forth another sob. But even with his tear-ravaged face, he looked better than he had since Myra had first seen him yesterday. The deed was done.

The four of them swam laps for a while, Myra able to do only one in the time Gillam churned through two. She and Ginny got out early and slid into the hot tub, Ginny sighing in satisfaction. When even Gillam couldn't keep going, he sat, panting, on the steps to squeegee water from his hair and chest. Carly said "I'm going out with Davonn, Chick and some others, you wanna join us?"

"Not tonight. But maybe later this week, you go again?"

Carly gave Gillam a hug and headed inside. Myra said "You want some of this hot tub?"

"Nah. I know you said no TV, but I want to use Zayde's DVD player to watch some BSG, can you make an allowance for that?" said Gillam.

"Of course" said Myra. "Maybe you can get some tips on how to live as a freak among humans from the Cylons." He burst into shocked laughter, and kept chuckling as he went inside, too.

Ginny said "He's right, you know. That question about do you want to raise children should have been something I asked each of my lovers right off the bat. It would have kept me from all that muck with Jules, and maybe even Bonnie."

"I had about ten questions ahead of that, given the primordial state I was in, but yeah. Funny how it was something you and I covered right away."

"I already knew you wanted to mother, you'd done it once" said Ginny. "And at that potluck, you asked me if I loved kids, remember?"

"I can't believe men shoved that part of life off onto women when they divided up roles and grabbed what they thought was all the best stuff for themselves" said Myra. "Raising the next generation is necessary to know god, if you ask me."

"They weren't bright, those dividers" said Ginny. "But our son sure is." At that moment, Gillam's head stuck out the sliding door next to his room as he asked "I want to go to Quaker meeting in the morning, are you going?"

"Yes" said Myra, deciding on the spot. "Get me up in time, okay?" The door slid shut again.

"What about you, want to go with?" she asked Ginny. Ginny said "I kinda feel a painting coming on. You going to be okay if I succumb?"

"We'll all be fine" said Myra. "In fact, I'll sit up and work with you until Carly gets home. I can always come back after Meeting and sleep some more."

"We need to spend extra time with Gillam over the next few months. Go down there if he doesn't want to come up here. And, to be fair, go see Margie too. I know it'll mean you negotiating yourself around all our schedules, is that fair?"

Myra thought about it. "It feels fair at the moment. I'm just amazed at how fast Gillam bounces back."

"He's incredibly like you" said Ginny, sliding into Myra's lap. Myra kissed her lightly a few times. She asked, "Why'd you let Carly talk you into that blue? I thought you wanted to do something close to burgundy for that room."

Ginny said "It crossed my mind that he might like to have his own room here, either temporarily or, who knows. He's chosen us, that's clear."

"Oh, how sweet of you, Ginny. You're exactly right" said Myra.

When Myra and Gillam returned home the next day after Meeting, Chris and Sima were there, bringing smoked salmon and five pounds of home-grown onions from someone Chris knew. Sima was cutting the onions in half, planning to stuff them with rice and herbs. Ginny was painting, so Sima asked Myra to grab her pad and help finalize the plans for their seder on Wednesday.

Allie and Edwina arrived an hour later, just as everyone sitting down to eat. Allie held up a bag and said "The sweetest little Fuji's I've ever bitten into -- dessert." Ginny had been coaxed away from her canvas for half an hour. As they passed around bowls, Carly said "When I was growing up, Sunday dinner meant leftovers or McDonald's. You'd think the way I eat when I'm here that I'd put on weight, but I never do."

"Because it's real food" said Myra. "And there's usually a crowd, which cuts down on portions, but it doesn't matter because we feel satisfied from the company and the flavor."

Ginny looked down the table at her said "That reminds me, I've been meaning to say, you've lost weight. Those pants you've got on, you couldn't wear them ten years ago. We were going to give them to Goodwill, remember? But you loved them so much, we put them in the back of the closet. When did you pull them back out?"

"Last month, when I was culling for a garage sale" said Myra. "I tried on several things, like that brown velvet with the shooting stars? They all fit me again. Do you think I should worry?"

"I hadn't noticed it" said Allie, leaning back to look at her whole body. "It's not sudden, or I would have."

"It's been since your hysterectomy" said Ginny. "I've wondered if it's your body using up all the extra estrogen you had in your tissues. Excess estrogen leads to weight gain, I think."

"You exercise more than you used to" offered Gillam.

"Not if you factor in dog-walking and chasing kids" said Myra. "I may be swimming more, but I'm on my feet and moving less, otherwise."

"You cook differently when you don't have children to feed" said Sima.

"Not necessarily healthier" said Ginny. "Well, whatever the reason, it looks good on you." She was cutting another slice of salmon and didn't notice the expression which crossed Myra's face. Chris did, however. For once, Chris didn't laugh. She met Myra's eyes with a hint of anger showing in hers. Myra looked away, unable to take in how hard Ginny had just slammed her.

Allie said "Whereas me, watching every bite I am, I'm developing middle-age spread. Lookin' like an ole black church lady."

Edwina giggled, saying "Not quite." They bumped each other shoulders affectionately and the conversation turned another direction.

After dinner, Myra was helping with clean-up while Sima intercepted Ginny's stride back to her canvas, saying "You need to sign off on these seder plans, we have to get the preparation done in the next two days." Ginny sat on Myra's daybed beside Sima to read the notes. At one point, Sima said something Myra didn't catch, but Ginny's answer came clearly to her ears: "Well, let's just call it the one good thing that came out of that surgery." Sima laughed as Myra's blood went cold. There it was again: Ginny was thrilled she wasn't as fat as she used to be.

She felt sick to her stomach. She didn't know what to do with herself. She was too ashamed to pull aside one of her friends and ask for reassurance -- what if they agreed with Ginny?

She lingered over kitchen clean-up until Allie said "Come sit down with us." Carly turned to Chris and said "How about poker tonight?", and when Chris nodded, Myra went to the storage room to get cards and chips. By the time the first hand was dealt, her emotions were damped down and she managed to get distracted by the game.

After everyone left and Carly kissed her goodnight, she said to Gillam "Are you going to watch Battlestar again?"

He looked wary. "I was thinking about it. The thing is, Mom, it keeps my mind off my stuff long enough for me to go to sleep. The DVD ends eventually and I'm sacked out by that time."

"I'm not criticizing. I was wondering if I could watch some with you" she said.

He grinned. "Long as you don't wake me up when you leave, yeah."

She changed into sweats and met him in the back room after locking up and turning off all the lights except in Ginny's studio. She didn't tell Ginny goodnight and Ginny didn't look up from her painting. Myra felt nauseous again: How long had Ginny felt distaste for her body?

When she lay down on top of Gillam's bedspread, he said "No, get underneath, you're not giving me enough room." As she complied, she said "Can I ask you why you're sleeping back here? Are you avoiding Carly?"

"Not directly. I just...I need to have a break from my teenage room, for one thing, and I figure as long as my heart is breaking, might as well not look for quick comfort" he said, his voice going hoarse.

"Well, if you want to crawl in between your Mama and me at any point, you're welcome" she said with a smile, and he laughed with tears standing in his eyes.

He was right about the effect of the show. He knew them all by heart, and he dropped off within ten minutes. She heard the change in his breathing. After another ten minutes, he rolled over onto his side, his back facing her, but he scooted toward her. When his rump touched her hip, he relaxed and went deeper into sleep. He misses sleeping with someone, she thought with a pang for him.

This was immediately followed by the intrusion of her own heartache. Would she ever completely relax in Ginny's arms again? She couldn't believe this was happening. She began trying to think of something to say back to Ginny, a complaint about how Ginny's breasts had surrendered to gravity, the stretch marks on her belly from childbearing, the bunion on her right foot. But the truth was, she thought Ginny was more attractive now than she had been 25 years ago. She loved every scrap of Ginny's body.

When the episode was over, she was still awake. She gingerly took the remote and turned off the set. Gillam didn't stir. She wanted to stay with him for the night, but she didn't have his consent. Feeling even more sorry for herself, she quietly left the room, letting in Beebo at the bedroom door.

She went to her own bed, hating the idea that Ginny might join her before dawn. She didn't know a way to lock Ginny out. She picked up a new book and began reading. After an hour, she finally went to sleep with the light on.

She woke up to Ginny's arms coming around her from behind. She hesitated, not knowing why, and then memory caught up with her. She pushed Ginny's hands away, saying "I don't want you to touch me right now."

"Why not?" Ginny's voice said in her ear. Myra moved away, creating several inches of space between them, before turning to face Ginny.

"How long have you been disgusted with my body?" she blurted out.

"What? What the fuck are you talking about?" said Ginny. She sat up, her silhouette stiff.

"All that shit about how much better I look now that I'm not so fat, and how it's the blessing that came from the surgery" said Myra. Her grief had been replaced by abrupt rage. "You know, if I wanted to -- " But she couldn't finish the sentence, angry as she was. She wouldn't mean anything bad she could think of to say about Ginny's looks.

"I didn't say you looked better, I said you look good. You always look good, Myra, you're my favorite sight in the world. And I never said anything about you losing weight being a blessing" said Ginny, reaching for her.

Myra recoiled. "You fucking well did, I heard you, you thought only Sima would hear" she hissed.

"Sima? You mean the cancer thing?"

"What cancer thing?" asked Myra.

"She was saying how many women our age are getting cancer, especially dykes who've never had children, coming down with uterine or ovarian cancer. But we don't have to worry about that with you, we caught yours in time and there are no organs left at risk. Is that what you mean?" asked Ginny.

Myra stopped breathing. "I guess...I only heard the last few words, about how it was the only blessing to come from the surgery. I thought -- you did say I looked better, I think you did, Ginny."

"No, Myra, I most certainly did not. I would never think that, and I know it's never come out of my mouth. But if you don't believe me, asked anyone else who was there. Why didn't you -- have you been obsessing about this all night?"

"Yes. I thought you didn't like my body any more." Myra was having trouble with this gear change.

"Oh, my angel, how on earth -- come here, don't argue with me. I am wild about you, body and soul, how could you doubt it? After all this time, me always wanting a little more of you?" Myra let Ginny pull her on top of her. She began shaking, and when the tears came, they burned her eyes and throat but it still felt good to have them out of her.

Ginny said "I wondered why you had sweats on. Can we take these off you now, please? Will you be skin on skin with me?"

"Okay. But no making out. I'm not steady enough for that yet."

"You got it, lover. We'll cocoon and you set your heart back on Ginny time." Ginny kissed her forehead and cheeks, and Myra closed her eyes. She was asleep within a minute.

The next morning, she woke up alone but rested. She peed, then called Allie and talked with her for a while, spilling out the story. Allie said "Was you channeling Gillam's problems, or what?"

"Maybe" said Myra. "Don't tell anyone else, okay?"

"'Course not" said Allie.

Over the two days, Gillam grieved, saw Nancy, created pasta dishes with Carly, and talked Myra into actually drafting the poems-plus-photography book they had daydreamed about. On Wednesday, Patty and Thea drove up from Olympia for the seder and spent the night in the newly painted room upstairs. During the singing of Dayenu, Ginny called Margie and put her on speakerphone for the next hour.

That Friday, when Allie and Chris came early to help make dinner, they saw the mock-up of Myra and Gillam's book on Myra's desk. Allie insisted Myra take it her to agent, it was more than simply a family project. Ginny was coming off her second canvas for the week. Margie arrived in the early afternoon, Frances with her lamb carcass and bags of other items to cook. Carly added a leaf to the table.

Margie announced "I'm definitely going to graduate in May, and the graduate courses I've been taking this semester are being credited toward my Master's, it's all sorted out."

"Wahoo!" cried Sima. She asked Frances "Are you going to get a vacation any time soon, so you two could come up here and celebrate, maybe?"

Frances shook her head. "I don't get anything besides a pittance of PTO until I've been there a year, which will be next autumn."

"And I have to take a full load this summer as well to keep renewing my academic scholarship" said Margie.

"Well, when you can take time off, let us know and we'll spring for some kind of trip or adventure" said Myra.

Carly cleared his throat and said "I talked with my advisor as well. If I take classes this summer and next, plus a bigass load next year, I can graduate with my B.S. and as a registered physical therapist. Save an extra year of schooling."

Another cheer went up. Carly said "So, uh...I could take my courses up here at Udub and transfer them back to Evergreen. For the summer session, I mean. If you wouldn't mind having me around."

Ginny shot a glance at Myra, who made some sort of signal Gillam couldn't interpret. Myra said "We'd adore having you. Gillam, are you going to keep the apartment for yourself or -- what are your plans?"

"Well, they just changed" he said sadly. "But I'll let you know. I want to take the ReadWrite training before I graduate, maybe I could do that this summer. Which would be up here."

Myra kept her face noncommital, saying "Sounds good." She blatantly took a slice of chicken from her plate and handed it down to Narnia, knowing Ginny wouldn't fuss at her right this instant.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LESBIAN RADIO INTERVIEWS: LIZA COWAN, SHARON BRIDGFORTH, MARTHA NELL SMITH

(Liza Cowan, self-portrait with scarf, © 2008)

Merry Gangemi produces and hosts a weekly radio show, Woman-Stirred Radio, that broadcasts every Thursday, from 4-6 p.m. EST on WGDR 91.1 FM (Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont). Her next show, this Thursday, May 15, will feature our beloved Liza Cowan. If you go to the Woman-Stirred website at the correct time, you should be able to listen to it live-streamed by clicking on the link in the left-hand column. It's also available via the WGDR website above.


However, if you miss it, I'm hoping it will appear as one of the podcasts offered by WOW, Women's World. Currently their podcasts include two other must-hear interviews I want to promote immediately. You may listen to both by clicking on the embeds below.

One of my mentors and premier African-American writer in the U.S. today, Sharon Bridgforth, is interviewed. Sharon has broken ground in the creation and presentation of the performance/novel and in doing so has advanced the articulation of the Jazz aesthetic as it lives in theater. She's won the Lambda literary award, has published her Bull-Jean Stories and Love Conjure Blues (both with Redbone Press), and if you are a reader of my novel Ginny Bates, you'll know she is the hero of both Allie and Myra.



Dickinson scholar Martha Nell Smith talks about Open Me Carefully, a work of uncensored letters and poems between Emily Dickinson and her friend, confidant, and sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson. I've referred to Martha Nell Smith in at least two of my posts:

Emily Dickinson, 10 December 1830 - 15 May 1886
As I Read My Emily Dickinson


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TWO IMPORTANT STORIES ABOUT AFRICA

(Liberia, filming for Communication for Change, photo by Eve A. Lotter)

The Utne Reader has a good article up, Through Their Eyes, about how refugee women who are assaulted (sexually and otherwise) in West Africa are making videos expressing what it looks like through the eyes of the victims. I'm posting this to encourage you to donate what you can to the non-profits who are sponsoring this project and the community viewings/speak-outs afterward, American Refugee Committee International (ARC) and Communication for Change. Woman-created videos are also being made about forced marriage and wife beating.

But I also want to take this opportunity to comment on the language used in writing this article and how it contributes to dilution of feminism and clear thinking about what is really going on. The tag at the top reads "Victims of gender-based violence fight back with video" and the lead-in states "The crime is all too familiar for many women and girls around the world, especially those living in refugee camps where gender-based violence has become endemic: Rape is a weapon of war, forced sex a currency exchanged for food or safe passage."


But this is not, strictly speaking, gender-based violence. It's woman-hating. It's ONLY aimed against women and girls, not against a generic "gender". I mean, the corollary would be to sanitize lynching by referring to it as "race-based violence" instead of community murder of black people.

I believe this semantic shift is underway to make discussion of crimes against WOMEN somehow more palatable to the mainstream, less feminist and more "gender-studies" friendly: For all those who have difficulty facing the fact that sexism is second-class status and hatred of WOMEN AND GIRLS (and anyone else who can incidentally be shoe-horned into the NOT-MAN category.) "Gender-based" should be reserved for those statistically rare instances when the oppression is clearly being aimed against all "not-men", instead of specifically targeting women and girls. The conflation of terms does no justice to the different expression of oppressions as it is experienced by different targets. Those of us in the belly of the beast deserve to not have our struggles lumped together into academically polished and distancing language.


Recommended reading: Rape in Liberia at Womanist Musings


(From the Middle Passage drawings by Tom Feeling)

A couple of weeks ago, there was a fascinating article in the Boston Globe online about new research from a Harvard economist which "suggests that Africa's economic woes may have their roots in the slave trade" (hat tip to Jesse Wendel of Group News Blog for sending this my way). This is not an original idea -- the theory has been around for a long time. But Nathan Nunn has created innovative (and still untested) measures to verify his argument "that the African countries with the biggest slave exports are by and large the countries with the lowest incomes now (based on per capita gross domestic product in 2000). That relationship, he contends, is no coincidence. One actually helped to cause the other."

The article, Shackled To The Past, by Francie Latour, is detailed enough that you need to go read it yourself.

However, I want to address a couple of ideas within it. One section reads:

"Nunn's research also comes at a time when the most fervent calls for reparations have come and gone, but when international calls for Western apologies for slavery still draw attention. The United States has never apologized for slavery, although five states - Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, North Carolina, and New Jersey - have done so recently, and Congress is poised to consider a resolution of apology this year. With much of the world's trade policy heavily skewed to the West's advantage and Africa's disadvantage, some say apologies carry little if any value. In any case, it remains to be seen whether the United States will ever face the role it played in one of history's worst crimes."

...

"The echoes across time are fascinating, and seem undeniable. But many practitioners say that ultimately, looking at Africa's problems through the lens of slavery is self-defeating. Calestous Juma, a native of Kenya and one of the most influential voices on African economic development, falls squarely into this camp.

'The legacy of slavery cannot be denied, but if you push the argument too far, it becomes a fatalistic argument," said Juma, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. 'Because you start to say, "Well, what can we really do? We can't undo the past, and therefore, Africa will always remain poor."'


I've thought about the idea of reparations and apology from different angles for decades now. In the 1980s, I dated a woman who was active in the African People's Socialist Party. Their platform then, and now, included reparations for African slavery in this country. While I was behind it in principle (and, I have to say, most of the other planks in their platform), I didn't think it was a realistic demand and that its quality of being "far-fetched" would detract from the other goals they were pursuing.

I've changed my mind since then. To begin with, the labeling of a goal as "far-fetched" is always soaked in cultural and target versus non-target group assumptions. Given my radicalism on so many other issues, I think it's safe to say my willingness to see reparations as "out there" arose from racism more than sudden rationality.

To illustrate my point, other reparations movements (such as Jews claiming damages from the Holocaust) meet with far more public (i.e., white people) acceptance and respectful airplay. However, the turd in the punchbowl is that the wealth of the United States is utterly founded on theft of land and labor. There is a prevailing myth to the contrary, especially among white people, that America's "greatness" is the product of hard labor. Labor by men, this means. White men. The work of women is taken for granted, and the resources of others is considered the property of white men by manifest destiny and Christian-backed racial superiority.

Relinquishing this myth to reality would do more than flood the foundations of white supremacy and woman-hating. It would also remove the chief delusion propping up white working class compliance with rule by the power elite: The fantasy that their own hard work will lead to class advancement and stability. Forcing the white lower classes in this country to face the truth that their status, however shitty, is never going to change through their own efforts and, even so, they are advantaged in comparison to the people of color living around them would lead to revolution.

If we took a zen approach to undoing the past -- we can't really time travel, but we can undo the effects of the past manifested present-day -- we'd have enormous opportunity to level economic prosperity on a global level. Since America currently stands squarely in the past of this progress, anything which would address the cultural and psychological pathology supporting such obstruction could help jiggle it loose.

For this second-tier reason, then, I'm also in favor of pushing for reparations. Bringing the actual source of our economic advantage into the clear light of day would be immensely tonic for my class, and enable us to (possibly) step around the racism which keeps us doing the dirty work of standing on our sisters' and brother's necks. I can only hope.

Likewise, governmental apologies have been applauded by everyone except Republicans and their ilk. In its honest form, an apology says "I see what I did there, I feel badly for how my action hurt you, and I'm going to take steps to make sure I don't do it again." Apology is an adult skill, arising from a blend of developmental attainment and responsibility -- to others AND to self. Which explains why it is beyond the reach or comprehension of conservatives and evangelicals, but we have to not let their limitations be our lowest common denominator any longer.

The article states:

"Juma and Nunn may be working toward an eventual meeting of the minds. The Kenyan sees slavery's lasting scar as a deeply psychological one - an attack on the self-confidence of a continent, and by extension, its human potential. Until that legacy is conquered, Juma said, Africa will not advance.

"Nunn, now at work on Chapter 2, has another name for this legacy: He calls it the trust channel. He can't prove it. But using household surveys of Africans over the last seven years known as the Afrobarometer, he is finding that ethnic groups that had the most slaves taken in the past express the most difficulty trusting people within their group, and outside their group. It may be that as it ravaged populations and crippled institutions, the hunting down and handing over of their own kin also robbed them of an innate ability to trust, all the way to the present day.

"Measuring this kind of collective feeling, and correlating it to events so far in the past, will likely put Nunn right back on slippery ground. But he doesn't seem to mind. 'The idea of the transmission or evolution of trust over generations, and this being affected by these large historic events,' Nunn said, 'is definitely not mainstream in economics.'"


I was fascinated by the introduction of this word, trust. (As was Jesse, hence his recommendation to read this article.) Trust of course arises from relationship, and dysfunctional/damaging relationships erode trust backwards and forwards along the temporal plane. I think it is possible that this is perpetuated not just through conditioning and culture -- i.e., we raise our children to distrust because of a devastating betrayal in the past. I think it is possible that this erosion of trust is making its way into biological expression via epigenetics: The way in which rearing and environment (nurture) alters our very biology, either temporarily (during our lifetime) or in a more long-lasting fashion (altering the genes that get passed on).

The plasticity of our genetic expression as is currently being discovered, daily, through epigenetic study is where the hope lies in this revelation of centuries of distrust. It's a reversible condition.

But apology will be the first step in that healing. There's no way around it. It will be good for us, good for the world, good for future generations. When you write your elected representatives or speak to the powerful, I ask to you add this to your list of requests: That we learn how to apologize, and do it (on every scale) when we have transgressed. It's not enough to sing "Amazing Grace" any more (as if it ever was), marveling at that which "saved a wretch like me" but not moving emotionally to the next step. We have to reverse the Middle Passage, in whatever ways we can dream up. Wouldn't you rather live in a world which took on this task?


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