I'm a little sunburned. I've been a vampire for two years, and now the skin on my forearms and at the base of my neck is medium pinkish. Vitamin D: it does a body good.
This Netroots Nation post will be observations and personal bits'n'bobs, not scintillating political analysis. Except, of course, the personal is political and I can't help myself.
Getting to the hotel where Jesse and Lower Manhattanite (from here on out known as LM) was a story in itself, and will likely be my first Group News Blog post. Yes, kids, I am now a part of the GNB family, with my name on the masthead over there any minute now. We here at the Hundred Acre Wood are still drinking in this status change.
Jesse and LM went to their room to pack for a transfer to the Hilton, directly across from the Netroots Nation site. I sat at Jo's Coffeehouse for the first time in years, eating a Mango Mania muffin (they had run out of breakfast tacos), a big glass of milk, Coke in a glass bottle, and feeding birds with crumbs. It was indescribably glorious to be Outside, under a tree (even if it was a hackberry), feeling light and air on my skin, communing with boidies. Grackles swaggered around, interlopers whose iridescent blue-black feathers are definitely outshone by their electronic screeches and buzzes. Small sparrows, clever but not humble, darted around grabbing the best morsels for themselves while I cheered them on and did my best to subvert the dominant grackle paradigm. There was one father sparrow being shadowed by a fledgeling who looked every millimeter as large as the adult, sometimes even bigger when junior fluffed her feathers. Junior kept her mouth open, a red maw that Dad tried non-stop to satisfy. A red-eyed albino boxer on a tight leash nearby watched avidly, longing to create birdie mayhew, it was obvious.
I was having some difficulty finessing the single joystick control of the power chair, not at all helped by the crappy condition of the paved surfaces. LM volunteered to escort me to the Convention Center conference headquarters, some 10-12 blocks away, and I gratefully accepted. LM had on a stunning royal blue silk shirt which was wicking moisture away from his Lower Manhattanine frame having to deal with Austin blastfurnace (it hit 101 yesterday). On his head was a navy baseball cap embroidered with bright white "Writer" in typewriter script -- extremely cool hat. His pants were dungarees whose back right pocket had been studded with a silver peace symbol. He was a symphony of blue and style; I knew right away Ginny would have wanted to paint him.
We hit major difficulty at the end of the very first block, where the "cut-out" was at an uneven pitch, blistered with the brick-colored bubbles created to tell blinds folks "You are now at a curb" (but a mobility problem for many others, pitting crips against crips, sigh), and the final ease into the street was cracked crazily. I decided to back down it. We had already discovered the power chair had a disturbing tendency to pitch forward if it was moving at a good clip and let off acceleration suddenly. The possibility of tipping over frontward was physically nagging at every downward incline. Hence, reverse into it.
But the combination of pavement bubbles, my lack of skill, and the port-ward list of the incline turned one of my rear wheels perpendicular and locked it. I was unable to move in any direction. I got out of my chair and leaned on a nearby metal adult newspaper kiosk while LM set down the second hat he was carrying and had a go at coaxing the chair into safe motion.
About this second hat: It was a beauty, the kind of hat men wore during the summer months in cities back when men wore hats as a matter of course. It was a dark straw wave, with a green-print grosgrain ribbon and an abbreviated, jaunty rim -- a hat that bespoke of style and sport at once. It had belonged to LM's father, whom LM lost far too young. It was too hot to be wearing at the moment, as sweat would have soaked it. Every time LM had to stop to assist me, which was every minute or so, he would need to find a safe place to stash the hat, away from the feet of a giantess who walks like a chimpanista and also the wheels of a several-hundred-pound apparatus under inadequate control. There were three of us making our way to the Convention Center -- me, LM, and his father's hat.
LM did not actually get in the chair to remove it from its precarious position because that would have been foolhardy. Instead, he leaned in from the side to maneuver the joystick, trying to stay out of its epileptic way. We drew a few entertained bystanders at that point. Finally he got it down the incline and into the street, and helped me down the incline as well, where I resumed the Captain's Chair. (Declaiming "Make it so!" did not help a bit, but it was infinitely amusing to me and LM.) LM reunited with The Hat and we progressed onward.
After that, it was necessary for LM and I both to "read terrain" with accumulating expertise and confer on how to deal with the constant challenges. LM is the oldest of many siblings, and for him, being a big brother is second nature -- but a GOOD big brother, nothing like the Orwellian version or my own childhood nemesis. He was encouraging, gentle, hilarious, and powerful when called upon, literally holding down the back of my chair. I still clenched up -- my brain would not listen to my body's reaction to the sensation of gravity gone awry, and I am deeply sore in certain muscles today that is the result of this clenching. But my brain did come to trust and count on LM's intelligent patience, profoundly. At one point I called him "The Chair Whisperer", which is more apt than funny.
In particular, at times his wide kind hand rested reassuringly on the back of my neck. I feel tears welling in my eyes as I write this. Above and beyond, this man is...
All the while, in between "There's a lip, go to the right" and "See the dip there, I'm zigging here, LM", we were talking a blue streak. Turns out, we have People In Common. Sharon Bridgforth, Shia Shabazz, Deisi Perez-Perez -- he was for a time a reader at Nuyorican poetry events. One of his elementary school teachers was Sonia Sanchez, and I bet some of you out there are screaming just as loudly as I did when I found that out.
We passed the massive grounds of the Texas State School for the Deaf on our left, and had an extended conversation about the need for such brutal institutions in the past, the experience of my Uncle Joseph who went to that very school. Past the main campus was a long stretch of overgrown greenery, blocks of it, tree-chocked undeveloped land within view of the State Capitol dome. Between us on the sidewalk and this jungle was a sturdy metal fence, but still we could see when the landscape became a verdant ravine, plunging down 20 or 30 feet into what looked like a trickle of creek at the bottom. I can't say the vegetation gave an impression of coolness -- nothing is cool outside in Texas July -- but the oxygen content shifted.
Because we were so focused on the vagaries of pavement before us, we saw in the same instant a small message painted on the curb edge of the sidewalk, painted in something like fingernail polish, as LM put it, recreated crudely by me in the image below:
The arrow pointed to an 18 inch gap in the fence, where you could, if you wish, launch yourself into the ravine. We completely lost it. It was unbelievably funny, that small message written in what may well have been utter seriousness: Nature, that way. A couple of feet ahead, on the bushy side of the pavement, was a second comment in the same red script: Satellite Feed Unavailable. Which set us off again.
We continued on, crossing the Colorado River, smelling the urine and guano of one million Mexican free-tailed bats sleeping in concrete niches below us on the Ann Richards Memorial Bridge. We discovered that in downtown Austin, there is sometimes a cut-out on one side of the street which has no matching cut-out on the other side, leaving you in traffic for half a block or more: Think fast, gimps! We kept talking and laughing, our sounds echoing between tall buildings now, until we reached The Promised Land: The vast acreage of the Convention Center, with overzealous air conditioning (no complaint from us) and smooth, smooth open floors. And lots of safe places to set a hat.
More later, I have to leave now and go hear Lawrence Lessig speak. Tonight the bunch of us eat at Threadgill's (which means another trek for me through the streets of Austin with LM as my Don Quixote) followed by a concern of the Austin Lounge Lizards. Yee-haw.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Jesse is my hero. We went out last night on an Important Errand which involved my underwear and making sure we had enough single dollar bills. I'll say no more.
I am my own hera, too.
The sky east of Austin held a gorgeous full moon last night. Too bad you couldn't see it from where you were.
On arriving home, I carried a large bag of Purina cat show. Dinah has been struggling the last several days to subsist on pricey canned food, which she loathes and abominates. Filling her autofeeder with rackety multicolored kibble meant she actually allowed me to sleep for five hours at a stretch.
I'm soon to be back out there. Voy a decir a usted más tarde.
P.S. The graphics on this are cheesy, but Joan Jett ROCKS (as always), and this is my theme song for today.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
(Caral Temple and Amphitheater complex)
A few nights ago, I watched a BBC documentary called The Lost Pyramids of Caral.
Between 6000 and 5000 years ago, human beings crossed what is referred to as The Great Divide, changing the simple way of life they had lived for at least 100,000 years, subsistence hunting and gathering in small family assemblages, to that of urban areas with at least five shared characteristics: Numbers and/or writing, pottery, metallurgy, monumental architecture, and defenses against warfare. These first cities required leadership and organized planning to build and maintain. They are known to have first appeared in Egypt, Mesopotomia (Iraq), India, Central America, and China. As the documentary stated, "Civilization was not inevitable. Without these pioneers crossing that great divide our modern world would not exist."
At least, that was the prevailing theory until recent excavation and dating at Caral in Peru have thrown some of these long-accepted "truths" into question. Caral is a complex of six large pyramids and many smaller pyramids in the Supe Valley, 20 miles into the desert from the coast. The main city of Caral covers 65 hectares and includes two massive circular plazas, temples, amphitheaters, residential zones, and a surrounding farm district thoroughly irrigated by the Supe River. Other valleys nearby also show evidence of irrigation and farming, although Caral remains the urban center of the region. Caral's population was perhaps 3000, and the total population of it plus the 17 other nearby sites has been estimated at 20,000.
(The Supe Valley, Peru, image from The Archeology Channel)
Caral was discovered by Ruth Shady (Solis), Ph.D., a Peruvian anthropologist and archeologist who set out to find a "mother city", an urban area so early that other known civilizations likely arose from it. Nobody, including her, expected the reality of Caral.
(Map of Caral, image from The Archeology Channel)
It had been believed that all the early civilizations of Peru depended on immediate proximity to the coast, with its supply of food, for inception. Caral is too far from the ocean to fit this "maritime" theory. Further, Caral to date has shown no signs of pottery or metal artifacts. There does appear to be quipu, a form of record-keeping using knotted strings, so mathematics is in evidence. And there are, of course, the enormous pyramids (rivaling anything in Egypt in size) and other structures. But no battlements, no fortifications, no defensive walls of any kind: Caral existed in utter peace. For over a thousand years. And -- the ultimate shocker -- it has been dated to almost 5000 years ago, older not only than any other settlement in the Americas but also predating the pyramids in Egypt. Caral is 1000 years older than Machu Picchu and 3200 years older than anything built by the Mayans.
How did the people of Caral accomplish their magnificent feat? One clue is that the agriculture produced great quantities of cotton. This was used for trade, especially when it was woven into nets. The fisher folk of the coast were eager to obtain good nets, and in exchange Caral got all the fish protein it wanted. But the trade seems to have extended as far as the Amazon -- there are images of monkeys at Caral, and remnants of coca plus other hallucinogens from the jungles thousands of miles distant.
The quipu may be another clue, one which likely remain unreadable. According to poet Arthur Sze, "Quipu was a tactile recording device for the pre-literate Inca, an assemblage of colored knots on cords...Quipu means knot in Quechua, the native language of the Andes. The Incas had a system of accounting and data recording that relied on the quipu, a devise in which cords of various colors were attached to a main cord with knots. The number and position of knots as well as the color of each cord represented information about commercial goods and resources. Quipu-makers were responsible for encoding and decoding the information. The messages included information about resources in storehouses, taxes, census information, the output of mines, or the composition of work forces. Archeologists have recently suggested that authors used the quipu to compose and preserve poems and legends. Because there were relatively few words in Quechua, the cords of a quipu could be used as pronunciation keys."
In "The Angle of Reflection Equals the Angle of Incidence," Sze writes:
Quinoa simmers in a pot; the aroma of cilantro
on swordfish; the cusp of spring when you
lean your head on my shoulder. Orange crocuses
in the backyard form a line. Once is a scorched site;
we stoop in the grass, finger twelve keys with
interconnected rings on a swiveling yin-yang coin,
dangle them from the gate, but no one claims them.
Perhaps it is the poet in me, but I can well imagine these string recording devices evolving, as clay tablets with cuneiform did in Mesopotamia, into the culture's repository of story, lineage, and imagination. It is telling that all recovered quipus from other sites have been from graves -- clearly they were more than simply an accounting of grain. But Caral has many contradictions to the "warfare" theory of civilization. Wikipedia states "Shady's findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure. In one of the pyramids, they uncovered 32 flutes made of condor and pelican bones and 37 cornets of deer and llama bones. They also found evidence of drug use and possibly aphrodisiacs. One find revealed the remains of a baby, wrapped and buried with a necklace made of stone beads."
An article in the Christian Science Monitor reports about the discovery of Caral: "Here in Peru, their discovery evokes mixed emotions from the archaeologists who work the site and the rural people who live around it. There's pride, certainly, but also puzzlement. 'The campesinos always ask: Why did our ancestors have the capacity to build such an important city, and we live so poorly and don't have the ability to do similar things?' says Dr. Shady... The answer 'is very difficult for me.'"
The answer to what happened to the later great civilization, the Incas, built on the shoulders of what began at Caral can be summed up in one word: Pizarro.
The same Christian Science Monitor article explains:
"To raise money, Shady agreed to work with Jonathan Haas, curator of anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, and his wife, Winifred Creamer, anthropologist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. The pair helped Shady get several Caral samples radiocarbon-dated in the United States, which proved the site dates back to at least 2600 BC, as Shady suspected. (The city probably is older, she contends, because the dated samples didn't come from the oldest parts of the excavations.) The three then coauthored an article on Caral.
"But relations cooled after the article appeared last April in Science magazine. The American press quoted Drs. Haas and Creamer extensively, making it appear they were leading the team even though their work at the site was limited to collecting the samples for dating. And US funds never materialized.
"Haas did propose $50,000 in support if Shady would agree to let him and his wife pursue their research in the area. She refused.
"'I think it's an ... unequal relationship,' she says. 'There are many benefits for the professionals abroad.' Little, if any, trickles down to local archaeologists. Haas points out that the US government will only fund archaeological research abroad if an American plays a lead role.
"'There are always problems with this kind of arrangement,' says Betty Meggers, a research associate and anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution who has worked for years with Shady and other Latin American archaeologists. 'North Americans are always going to be dominant.'
[If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.]
"'There's a problem of self-identification in the country,' Shady answers when locals ask her why Peru is so backward today. When Caral flourished, 'the society was organized with a population that worked to do things collectively for the collective good. But with the rupture from the arrival of the Spaniards [3,500 years later], there was no more interest in the country except as a source of minerals to be exported to Spain.'
Even after the colonizers were thrown out, she says, 'our leaders, generally because of problems of identity and self-esteem, believed that everything from abroad was good. Never again did they try to understand the country from its geography, from its history, from its social problems.'"
Fifteen years ago I was close friends with a woman whose father was Guatemalan. One night we had a sleepover and right before dropping off, we read aloud to each other from Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez:
"On the eight of November, 1519, Hernando Cortes and four hundred Spanish soldiers...approached the Aztec Byzantium --Tenochtitlan, Mexico City. The city was scattered with great aviaries where thousands of birds -- white egrets, energetic wrens and thrushes, fierce accipiters, brilliantly colored parrots -- were housed and tended. They were captivating, as fabulous, as the displays of flowers: vermilion flycatchers, coppertailed trogons, green jays, blue-throated hummingbirds, and summer tanagers. Great blue herons, brooding condors.
"Three months later, Cortes's psychological manipulation of Montezuma and a concomitant arrogance, greed, and disrespect on the part of the Spanish military force had become too much for the Mexicans, and they drove them out. Eleven months later a vengeful Cortes returned to lay siege to the city. Canal by canal, garden by garden, home by home he destroyed what he had described to Charles V as 'the most beautiful city in the world.' On June 16, in a move calculated to humiliate and frighten the Mexican people, Cortes set fire to the aviaries. "
That night, I dreamed I could time travel. I often have this type of dream; it is linked to my political activism. In this particular dream, I ferried big black helicopters and automatic weapons to Moctezuma in October 1519 and to Lakota in South Dakota during 1875. I stuck around with the Lakota a while to teach them how to use this new technology. I was under no illusions that other Indians in Central Mexico and on the North American Plains would not be attacked by their newly armed neighbors. But it would stop European conquest of the New World; it would stop my desperate Scots ancestors in their tracks, confine them to the Eastern seaboard, halt genocide and Manifest Destiny.
When I woke up, I told my friend about the dream. She fixed her black eyes on me and said "If I could time travel, I'd go murder Columbus. That would mean I never came to exist, but it would be worth it. If I could force Euope to sit in its cesspool and deal with its own pathology there and then instead of 'doing a geography' -- if I could postpone the slave trade for even a hundred years, it would be worth it to have my entire lineage vanish."
We, of course, don't have time travel. Europe's pathology was transplanted to the New World and it is ours now. I no longer dream about helicopters or, like Bruce Cockburn, rocket launchers as a means of setting things right. Like Billy Kwan, I daily ask "What then must we do?", but unlike Billy, I am no longer seeking the big lever that will dislodge the wheel from its rumbling track; I am, in particular, not planning to die for the cause. Living for the cause is much harder, and not nearly as cinematic.
I am willing to learn the lessons my ancestors avoided by agreeing to steal native land and support an economy whose wealth depended on human enslavement. Because I am poor, from generations of unending poverty, I believe this carries some additional weight when I talk to other poor Southern whites about how we are, even so, advantaged by classism and racism. I talk about reparations, in all its forms. To even consider amends is a quantum leap forward.
I also love the men of my class and race. Bubbas are a favorite distraction target of the patriachy, whether they are (often accurately) used as footsoldiers of daily violence, especially toward women, or romanticized/sexualized by corporate-controlled media (and all those other forms of masculinity worship, especially problematic in the queer community) as a means of keeping us from seeing the real pain of their existence. As I love them, I insist they clean up their goddamned act. If a dirt poor woman with several children and no decent dress in which to leave the house can manage to get through the day without alcohol or abuse toward her family, then the men can, too. It is learned behavior; there is no place on our genes which says rape and slapping around is coded XY.
At the dawn of human civilization, we played flutes, grew cotton, mourned our dead infants, and figured out a way to build dazzling monuments in the desert, in peace and plenty. That's the truth of Caral. If you have a hard time believing it, consider why and rasp away those rough spots. We are all descended from people like them. What's your next step in reclaiming that reality for yourself?
Official Caral website
The Lost Pyramids of Caral, transcript of BBC television show
The Mother of All Civilizations
New York Times article on Caral
Caral: Ancient Peru city reveals 5,000-year-old 'writing'
Interview with Dr. Ruth Shady at The Archeology Channel
I'm off to Netroots Nation today! I hope to post small bits as I can fit it in, but I won't be officially home and free until Sunday night. In the meantime, no Ginny Bates, either. I've prepared a couple of LOLCats posts which will go up automatically while I'm away from the 'puter, to tide you over. I'll be thinking of you! -- Maggie
First, a few LOLMaggies:
LOLCats by other folks after the fold.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Late September 2012
Ginny finished braiding the challah and set it on oiled pans for a final rise. She stopped by Myra's desk and discovered her cutting small pieces of graph paper into rectangles and squares.
"What're you doing?"
"I'm making a diagram of my study, these are pieces of furniture, I took the measurements. I can what will fit where" said Myra.
Ginny looked around herself. "You don't need to do that. You can't move these big shelves, they have to stay where they are. Ditto your desk. So your worktable will have to go in front of shelves."
"Yeah, but I can't tell how far it will extend -- " Myra was interrupted by Ginny walking to the side wall of shelves and pointing.
"It will reach to here, Myra. If it matches what you ordered."
Myra had forgotten how gifted Ginny was at seeing space and dimensions. Ginny went on, "You'll need to be sure all the books on the shelves blocked by the table, these down here, are things you're not likely to need often. But your reading chair, lamp and table will have to go -- into the living room, I guess. You'll need a clip-on or desk lamp for the work table, have you ordered that?"
"No. And I don't know what to do about the wiring -- the outlets are all on this wall, and I need to have the second computer hooked up to my scanner and printer as well."
Ginny looked overhead. "We'll put hooks in the ceiling and run it along that to this wall. When is the table arriving?"
"Before 4:00, they said."
"Well, let's go on line and see if we can add a lamp and electrical pipe conduits to your order. Plus a second rolling chair." Myra began doing this as Ginny unplugged the floor lamp and carried it to the front of the house. She returned with boxes from the storage room. Myra was on hold but asked "What are those for?"
"You're going to have to move some books, yes, to put in your binders full of periodicals? Tell me what to shift elsewhere and I'll start boxing."
Myra pointed as she persuaded the stationery store to expand her order without delaying her delivery. She added more toner as well -- she was going through it like table salt. By the time she got off the phone, Ginny had cleared two shelves and carried the boxes upstairs to Margie's old room, where there was space to put the books out again -- Myra hated books remaining in boxes. Myra carried the side table to the living room, but by the time she returned she was breathless.
"No more of that for you" commanded Ginny. She had the handcart from the storage room. "I'll transport the chair and remove the rug, vacuum and dust in here. Turn on the overhead fan and go elsewhere for a while, okay?"
Myra went to the kitchen and ran the brisket through a partial defrost cycle in the microwave, then seared it in her big casserole with onions and garlic. She added her special cooking broth and decided to roast the carrots separately so Ginny would eat them. Once it was in the oven, set at the temperature the challah would need, she pulled out two quarts of Ginny's peach halves from earlier in the summer and made a cobbler with no sugar and only a teaspoon of honey as sweetener, Allie-friendly. She made room for it to bake on the rack beside the brisket.
By the time Ginny was done preparing Myra's study, the challah was ready to bake. Myra put it in for her and set a second timer as Ginny washed up. Myra said "I'm going to give Gillam a quick call before we try Margie, I don't want to leave him hanging."
But Gillam wasn't in. Carly answered their apartment phone and Myra chatted with him a minute. She said "Tell Gillam I'm -- fine about it all, interested to hear how it turns out."
Carly sounded a little odd. "Okay, I think he'll be relieved." He didn't elaborate.
"And, uh, Carly...I don't know how to tell you this, but, uh -- the thing is, your mom and I had a brief affair way back when. We never told Pat or Ginny, and, uh, well, we didn't use protection -- I'm the one who got her pregnant. I'm your Daddy, Carly. I've longed to tell you, son -- "
But Myra had to stop because Carly was in hysterics. Myra winked at Ginny, whose face was pale and drawn. Surely she hadn't been taken in by the first part of Myra's spiel?
When Carly could talk again, he said "I always wondered why my dick was so tiny. I must've gotten that from you, Pop." Which sent Myra into screams of laughter. When she got off the phone and repeated it to Ginny, Ginny was now able to smile in a still tense way. She said "Thing is, Myra, his penis is noticeably bigger than Gillam's. At least in the pool -- "
"Stop, I don't want to go there for real" said Myra.
"Okay. But it was great you brought it up with him, he can talk with us about it all now, I hope" said Ginny.
"While we're on a roll -- let's dial our daughter" said Myra.
Margie had just gotten home from classes and was heading out the door to take Narnia for a walk. They waited through the woofing and racket of getting downstairs, until Margie was on the sidewalk and could focus on the conversation.
"Before you say anything, let me assure you this is not a dykish repudiation of the male role in procreation" began Margie. "And if either one of you is having a hard time with the fear that Gillam will go man bond with his sperm donor, I don't want to hear about it."
"The weather is beautiful here too" said Myra with a grin.
"Narnia, NO. No eating crap on the street. Get over to this side of me. But the reality is likely that he jacked off for the fifty bucks, and he said yes to notification mostly for the ego of knowing his swimmers made it. Why would I want to have a conversation with someone who made that kind of choice? He's nothing to me" said Margie.
They followed Margie's shift in who she was addressing from long practice. "There's no guarantee a conversation will ever occur" said Ginny. "As I understand the process, Gillam will go to a database they keep, enter his contact info, and if there's a current means of getting in touch with Mr. J, it'll get forwarded to him. The ball will then be in his court."
Margie had giggled at the "Mr. J" reference. "What if he's like some George Costanza kind of loser, unmarried, no kids, who sees this as god's way of suddenly granting him a legacy?" said Margie.
"Then you'll set him straight in your usual take-no-prisoners manner" said Myra. "But what if he's not? What if he's -- " She struggled to come up with someone their age who Margie admired. Tom Hayden would only make her laugh. Finally she spit out "Arthur Ashe?"
Margie cackled as Ginny looked at her in disbelief. "I'd be a better tennis player than I am, doncha think, Mom?" teased Margie. "What if he's Donald Rumsfeld?"
"Donny would never have sold his precious seed, I'm sure it's all saved in gilt-lidded jars in a cupboard somewhere" retorted Myra. They kept laughing, but then Margie said "What if he has Huntington's? Honest to god, I'd rather not know." Her voice had suddenly become serious, and Myra could hear the fear in it.
"We'll deal with it together" said Ginny. "And I think a family history of Huntington's would have kept him from being accepted by the place we used."
"If he didn't lie" pointed out Margie. "I know, it's out of my hands. I kinda went off on Gillam. I talked to Frances afterward, and she seemed to think it would be cool to find out. Of course, she'd be ecstatic if it turned out Gianni wasn't really her father, so that's her bias."
The doorbell rang, and Myra said goodbye to go let in the table delivery crew. They set it up for her and left. She assembled her lamp and new chair but left the wiring for Ginny, who didn't get lightheaded on a footladder. Ginny was still on the phone when Myra went to pull out the challah and pie, then start the rest of dinner.
Gillam returned her call half an hour before sunset. Myra left the kitchen to her friends and Ginny, sitting in the living room on her formerly study chair, and said "We talked with Margie earlier. She's calmed down."
"She always does" he said. "How about you? That crack of yours to Carly was priceless, you must be okay."
"I'm fine" she said. "Tell me about what led to this. I know a little, about the class you had.
"Mom, this semester's classes are the best I've ever had, in any school" he said with enthusiasm. "I keep thinking about the discussions we're having long afterward. I feel jazzed, ready to learn absolutely everything I can."
"That's how you've always been" said Myra.
"It feels different now. And, here's something funny -- one of the girls in this class -- well, she's in three of my classes this semester, we both have the same major and our paths seem to have converged -- anyhow, she brought up you during the discussion, quoted you as a source. What a kick, huh?" Gillam was chortling.
"What on earth did she quote?" said Myra.
"She talked about Skene" said Gillam. "Apparently she read it when she was around 12, right around the point where puberty was starting to make her life a living hell. Her dad was a fan of yours, had all the books, and she said it gave her the hope she needed, a view of what the world could look like without gender shit clogging the pipes. Anyhow, she used Yoj as an example -- " Yoj was one of the main characters in Skene, most of the action was seen through her eyes -- "She said despite the planet having chosen to not study history because they were an abandoned colony and it was too painful to look at what had happened to them, so they made it almost mandatory to focus on the present or the future -- she said that was a rational choice if you couldn't handle the emotions of it, but once you matured, as Yoj had, you'd want answers to the most basic questions of who am I and where did I come from. All my life, I've had the answers to those questions. Except for this one tiny sliver. And I realized I'm, well, mature enough to want to know it all. Maybe it won't change a thing, maybe it'll be hard news, or a great grand window opening. Whatever, I'm ready, and I was pretty sure you and mom would be curious more than anything else."
His faith in her was moving, but not as much as his faith in himself. Myra let her eyes fill with tears, grinning at Allie who was watching her. "You're exactly right, boychik. And it's still almost unbelievable to me what Skene had such an impact out there."
Gillam snorted. "Once I admitted that my mother is who had written Skene, that prof looked at me with the kind of expression I always get. A mix of 'Maybe I can get her to write a blurb for my next deadly dull textbook' and 'My expectations of your writing assignments just went through the goddamned roof.'"
"Oh, wait, let me get my violin" said Myra.
"So, anyhow, here we go. I thought for my picture I'd send him the one of me at three in my tutu, with my uncut chubby hanging out below" said Gillam.
"Or the one of you as a baby in a Dyke t-shirt at the march" countered Myra. "Oh, hang on, it's time to light the candles. How about if I put you on speaker and you can do the prayers with us?"
"I'll do the same here and Carly can join in" said Gillam. They remained on the line until the sounds of masticated brisket, as Gillam put it, made them hang up to go find a meal of their own.
The next day, after an early run to Pike, Myra and Ginny picked up the new computer. Ginny did the wiring and once it was functional, Myra couldn't stop exclaiming about how fast it was. She wanted to begin copying JPEGS over to it, but Ginny said she should wait until she had the labels all sorted out for content so they could be indexed as they were named.
"Wonder what Doom would be like on a system this responsive" mused Myra.
"Don't you dare" said Ginny. "Listen, I know it's been a rough week on you, but there's something I need to ask you."
Myra had an abrupt memory of the landscape of the Channeled Scablands, how once the ice dam broke it rearranged entire states of terrain. Always a poet, reaching for metaphor first she thought. She put her hands flat on the worktable and said "Give it to me neat, partner."
"Have you...has your sexual interest in me altered recently?" Ginny's cheeks were pale.
"Good god, what makes you -- is this because I got out of breath last night, you know that wasn't about desire, don't you?" exclaimed Myra.
"It wasn't just last night. For a few months now, there's been a...difference in you. I'd rather you tell me directly, Myra, if you're just not getting as turned on as you once did. I promise not to go bonkers on you, we could take it to Nancy or -- I mean, sex doesn't even have to be part of who we are, if you really need to change that -- "
"As if, Ginny Bates. No, you moron, if anything with lesser responsibility and greater knowledge of you, I'm getting hotter as the years go by. What difference are you fucking talking about?"
"You -- you're not getting wet. Last night, hardly at all" said Ginny.
"That can't be true, or I'd have noticed it" said Myra, stunned.
"I've been compensating for you. For us both. I guess you haven't noticed that -- I've been going down on you every time" said Ginny.
"Well, that's not so different...But, okay, yes every single time, now I come to think of it...Oh, god, do you think there's something wrong with me? Oh, fuck, has the cancer returned?" Myra's voice was high with panic.
"I don't think so" said Ginny. "I looked it up, a couple of weeks ago. It said the usual causes were either menopause or -- change in libido. But you're not having any other menopause symptoms, so I thought it must be -- what I asked."
Myra gaped at her, then began laughing maniacally. "Of course it's menopause, you daft lump. Dr. Desai said I was automatically in menopause since the surgery, remember? It's just reached the point where I've leached my body of enough estrogen that other things must be affected. Like my old friends, Bartholins and Skene. What a riot, that you'd reach for the possibility of my not wanting you any more. Why the hell did you wait so long to tell me?'
"It took me a while to notice it was -- consistent. And then...well, there was Anacortes, and this summer..." Ginny began crying tears of relief. "You must be telling me the truth if you call me a daft lump, you only get British when you're honestly incredulous."
Myra pulled her to sit on the table, burying her face in Ginny's chest. "You win the braveness prize for the day, my darling girl. Listen, I'll see Dr. Desai and find out if there's something I can do about it."
"No hormones!" said Ginny.
"I agree. But maybe a dietary approach. If not, well, we have your saliva and we have lots of lube, why weren't you bring out the lube more, goofy?"
"We only use that if we know we're not going to want to go down again later, because it tastes so foul. And I love going down on you, it often feels like I want to leave that option available" said Ginny, her crying lessening.
"Back atcha" said Myra. "Well, now it's out in the open, we can talk about it as it comes up. I could keep a second squeeze bottle of lube in my desk drawer here."
Ginny began giggling. "And one in my studio. And in the coffee table drawer?"
"Can you imagine Margie's reaction if she discovered that in the living room?" said Myra. "Gin, you can't sit on this kind of stuff, you have to bring it me as fast as you can."
"I think I did" said Ginny, her eyes clear and troubled.
"Okay. Well, let's still go see Nancy again soon, before we leave for another research jaunt" said Myra.
"This time, we're packing your breathing machine in the luggage" said Ginny. "For the research jaunt, I mean."
"It'll be ironic if I'm allergic to archives" grinned Myra.
"As long as you're not allergic to paint, we'll manage" said Ginny.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
(Jean O'Leary, 1948-2005)
A week after Gillam and Carly returned to college, Myra and Ginny took the train to San Francisco for a three-day research trip. On the way, Myra said "I'm beginning to think I need to produce three volumes. One will be a timeline, plotting each event, statement or shift in chronological order which pertained to lesbian-feminism from, say, the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s."
"That would be an entire book, yes" agreed Ginny.
"But even a detailed timeline entry won't do justice to something as complicated as, for instance, Lorde's essay about uses of the erotic or the Woman-Identified-Woman manifesto. And while some of those primary source documents are available online --"
"Especially since you've been posting them" interrupted Ginny.
"Well, that's my point, this stuff is being buried, even as the next two generations ridicule and criticize what our generation did -- they won't actually print or read the real magillah, they just parrot a gender studies prof who made her career from some snotty viewpoint and they copy verbatim from one another as if they were still in third grade. But Gin, there were hundreds of newsletters and journals being produced by us, everyone's house was awash in them, and even the Lesbian Herstory Archives haven't digitized them to save them. Much less a university repository, who has the resources but of course not the interest. So, I'm thinking, one of my goals needs to be getting a copy of every single periodical and pamphlet printed during those years, scanned in to a massive database, tagged with searchable tags which actually relate to the content, and again listed in chronological order. In that way, you can see how a small article printed in Quest created a separatist study group in Austin which led to a rally in Tempe and then an art event in L.A., all within six months of each other." Myra stopped to take a deep breath.
"My god, sweetheart -- you're talking about doing the work of a major research institution" said Ginny, wide-eyed.
"Yeah, but it needs to be done. And I have the money and time" said Myra.
"Plus the understanding, which is the real issue" said Ginny. "We'll need to upgrade our computer, I think."
"We need a second one, with a dedicated server that's offline for the time being" said Myra. "And..."
"What?" prompted Ginny after a few seconds of silence.
"Well, I'm not going to find copies of everything for sale on eBay or in used bookstores. I need to photocopy, or, rather, take JPEG images of every periodical in each of these archives I'm visiting. Which means an up-to-date inventory of what I already have, a task I've not done yet. And lots of memory cards. I can download images to my laptop during the day, and transfer them to my online briefcase at night, but that's still a full-time job, just taking photos." Myra looked at Ginny, taking another breath.
"You want to ask me to do that part" Ginny guessed.
"You're much better with images than I am, and I know it's boring, but I need to be digging through the other stuff -- "
Ginny stopped her apology. "Of course, Myra, I'd be honored. The hard part will be not stopping to read it all as each page appears in the lens."
"We could do that together later" said Myra with a grin and a kiss. "It's a daunting idea, reading every word and synopsizing it for an index."
"You're up to it" said Ginny confidently. "And, again, that will be an entire volume. A massive one, that any institution in the country will want to buy. So, what's the third volume, then?"
"My interpretation of it all" said Myra.
"Of course" said Ginny. She snuggled in next to Myra with a sigh and said "It's going to be a busy year."
They rented a room in a small downtown hotel near the archive but spent all their time either at the wide table set aside for them by star-struck staff in the back of the dusty stacks or eating out in small ethnic cafes with mounds of paper beside their plate, talking around mouthfuls because they were always hungry, skipping lunch each day to make more time for their work. Outside, it rained seemingly non-stop. At the end of the third day, Myra said "I'm nowhere near done" and Ginny concurred. They extended their stay for two more days, barely making the night train home at the end of their week.
Myra had begun wheezing audibly as they packed and rushed to a taxi. She used her inhaler twice, but had to pull it out again once on the train. Ginny felt her forehead and said "You sound phlegmy."
"I feel clogged" agreed Myra. "Too much damp, and who knows what was in all that old paper."
Ginny went to the snack bar for juice and water, and ordered a meal free of dairy or inflammation-producing food. Still, by the next day when they pulled into Seattle, Myra was having trouble walking because she was so short of breath. She had not been able to sleep more than a half hour at a stretch, even sitting upright. Ginny had called Edwina from the train that morning, and Allie was at the station to meet them. Ginny said "Directly to the emergency room, please" as she hauled luggage, Myra leaning on Allie's arm, blue-lipped and sweating.
At the ER, she got a breathing treatment immediately, followed by chest x-rays and blood work. She was eventually put on antibiotics and a steroid taper. They got home by dark, where Edwina, Chris and Sima were waiting with dinner and worried faces.
"She's okay" said Ginny, "just the usual bronchitis on top of overwork." Myra was settled on the couch and they ate in the living room clustered around her, while Ginny did most of the trip description. With her friends telling their tales of the past week, Myra relaxed, finding enough breath to laugh and, blessedly, become drowsy. She took another breathing treatment on her home machine before lying down in their big familiar bed, Ginny holding her, and finally found the ability to sleep.
Ginny insisted Myra not look at her research for the next two days. She dozed frequently, watched well-worn DVDs, and spent most of the following Sunday with Chris and Edwina at the dining table, poring over a Nimipu dictionary project that was Chris's brainchild. It helped to have her mind re-engaged on something which was not her ultimate responsibility. Ginny was fidgety that afternoon, eventually confessing to Allie that she felt a painting coming on but was trying to stifle it because she couldn't abandon Myra right now.
"She better, she okay enough to be on her own" said Allie. "She can order in Thai food, keep watching TV for the next coupla days. I'll check in for dinner with ya'll. Go ask her."
Myra of course waved Ginny back to her studio, saying "It's about time. Make like Madonna and express yourself."
Two days later, Myra went to her computer and began the database of women's publications. She called Sima three times in an hour to get advice on spreadsheets, and spent another half hour on the phone with her new friend at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, discussing label options. The whole time, her printer was churning out page after page of Ginny's JPEGs. She replaced the toner, added another ream of fresh paper, and placed an order with her office supply store for binders. She then focused on mentally rearranging her study to make room for a second computer and shelves of periodicals currently being studied. She'd have to save the actual moving around for when she could get help with it.
Ginny finished her painting on Thursday afternoon. This one was an abstract, a throwback to what Myra thought of as her Stsho period: pastel, borderless, and more than usually dependent on layering to convey texture. Ginny called it "The Stacks", which amused Myra: if you could get inside her brain when it was confronted with the potential information buried in a library, the electrical storm of her synapses might look very much as Ginny had depicted. It was a seller, not a keeper, which was always a mixed blessing for Ginny. She hated to let go of her creations, but it mattered to her in a fundamental way to bring in money.
"Yes, well, this was worth it."
Chris said to Myra, "We'll redo your office tomorrow evening after dinner, okay?"
"All right. They're delivering a worktable in the afternoon, and the new computer comes on Saturday" said Myra.
It felt good to crawl in beside Ginny, present at bedtime for the first time in several days. However, she kept waking up, her mind full of Nimipu grammar and suffixes. She got up early the next morning with Ginny, and after eating she took a breathing treatment.
"You finished your steroids when, yesterday?" asked Ginny, worried.
"Day before. I think it's just tiredness, not a new flare. Look at how bright it is out there, that beautiful September light" said Myra, staring out the window.
"I turned on the AC this morning, it was 80 degrees in here. Unseasonably hot" said Ginny.
"I'm going to get in the water" decided Myra.
"Is exercise a good idea right now?"
"I won't push myself. I'll lie on that floating armchair and let the sun rejuvenate me" said Myra. But she carried her inhaler out to the pool with her and left it on the concrete lip. The water felt glorious, and drifting was exactly what she needed.
Two hours later, Ginny came out and sat on the edge, her legs in the water. Myra had been half-asleep. As she returned to consciousness, smiling at Ginny, Ginny said "I've been having a long talk with Gillam."
"He call to check up on me?" asked Myra.
"Yes. And...He wants to talk with you about this as well, but he didn't want me to disturb you when he heard what you were doing." Ginny paused, and Myra came fully awake with a sense of foreboding. "He's decided he wants to track down his father."
For a moment, the sentence made no sense to Myra. She thought, He has no father. She stared at Ginny, who said "I gave him the contact number for the place where we got his -- jump-off juice."
Myra didn't know what to say. She felt nauseated.
Ginny continued "He's already talked to Margie about it, who is apparently rather upset with him. She says she doesn't particularly want to know, but of course if he does, we all will and she has no choice in the matter."
Myra finally croaked out "Why?"
"Well, you need to get the whole story from him. The short version is, he was in a class where they had a big discussion about the psychological scars of slavery, about forcible severance from ancestors, and it got to him. He and Carly continued talking about it -- you know, Carly doesn't have the option of looking up his sperm donor, Pat and Patty didn't select a guy open to that possibility down the line. And apparently it's really bothering Carly. He actually urged Gillam to exercise his own avenues, as a kind of surrogate, I guess. Gillam also said he wants to know if he's facing any medical threats at some point." Ginny was watching Myra's face. "He did say he felt extremely ambivalent about having a relationship with the man, if he can locate him at all. He's not looking for another parent, he just wants the knowledge."
But it's not merely knowledge, it's a human being, thought Myra. One who shares his DNA. How can Gillam resist that?
"Say something, Myra. What's going on for you?"
"I...don't know yet. Except I feel slammed."
"He's ours, Myra. Body and soul. Always will be. Fact is, he's more yours than mine. I've often wondered how that occurred -- I mean, I feel the same indescribable connection to them both, that body sense of having shared a heartbeat. And it's no less with him, never has been. But from the outset, he slept more deeply in your arms, preferred to have you nearby even when I was nursing him. I used to think it was because he was taken away from us right after birth -- away from me, I mean, and you followed him, kept the bond alive. Maybe that's why. Or maybe it's that your souls are in tune, in some way I can't explain. But you have nothing to worry about, Myra."
Myra filed this away like a JPEG for further close examination. She paddled toward the edge and used her inhaler. She began paddling to the other side of the pool, then slipped off the float and swam to the corner where a small pile of pool toys remained, mostly unused these days. From the fading plastic items she pulled a snorkel. She rinsed it in the water, fitted it in her mouth, and lowered her body into the water face-first. Her torso was naturally bouyant, her arms and legs dangling. Only the back crown of her head was above the surface. She had not said a word to Ginny or looked her way.
Ginny blew out her lips. She had been thinking about getting in for a swim, but decided to leave Myra alone if she was going to do the Paddy Chayefsky routine. The squash needing picking again, but she didn't even want to stay outside at the moment. She stood up and went into the kitchen, starting her sponge for challah as she went over the conversation with Gillam in her mind. It was interesting that Margie was raising a ruckus about this. She would call her later, see if she could understand why.
Once the sponge was resting in a towel-covered bowl, Ginny scrubbed her hands and decided to make minestrone for lunch. She began with a mirapois in olive oil, cutting the celery extremely fine -- Myra didn't actually mind the flavor, it was the texture which bothered her. She added garlic and grated parsnips, again concealing the latter from Myra's detection. She noticed criminis in the fridge and began slicing those. It was a bit late, she needed to throw in a little butter to get caramelization out of the mushrooms at this stage. Which meant serious deglazing; she finally opted on half a cup of red wine, after she had added tomato paste and a tablespoon of strong red miso to give it heart. She poured in two cups of water and considered direction.
In the end, the never-ending supply of zucchini decided for her: She peeled half a dozen, grated them into a bowl, and added the pulp plus liquid to the soup. It would thicken the base, but also add sweetness. She would balance this with a mound of chopped greens, mostly mustard but some collards and dandelion as well. Before that, however, there was something missing. She spotted the butter beans and pulled them from the crisper, hulling them and dropping them into the simmer. She put in minute amounts of fresh tarragon, dill, and thyme, plus a heap of shredded cabbage.
She checked her sponge and punched it down again. She glanced out the window -- Myra was still a motionless torso. Her mind returned to Gillam's quest. They better not look like their father, they just better not. She thought of how Gillam's eyes held glints of gold and iridescent green, unlike Myra's which were all variations on brown. She added cracked pepper and the greens to her soup, and did another taste. A little oyster sauce, a dash of cayenne, and -- Myra was far enough out from her illness, she could handle a little dairy now. Ginny tempered half a cup of cream with hot broth and returned it to the soup pot. As she was turning down the burner, Myra came in the sliding door.
"Wow, that smells incredible" she said. She hugged Ginny, her cheek very cool and still damp.
"You ready to talk?" asked Ginny.
"Not quite. Maybe after shabbos, with our friends?" suggested Myra.
"Fine by me" said Ginny, putting some of Myra's 12-grain bread into the toaster. This soup would need something substantial to soak it up. Margie had referred to Myra's 12-grain loaves as particleboard with flavor. "Shall we eat at the breakfast bar?"
Myra nodded, slicing a honeydew onto a platter. Ginny filled two large soup bowls, retrieved the toast, and sat down beside Myra. They ate in silence, except for Myra's repetitive appreciation of the soup.
As Myra cleaned up, Ginny punched down her dough again and asked "What did you have in mind for dinner?"
"I'm craving protein. Brisket, I think. And -- you?"
"Scallops. Those thick ones, in a lemon sauce, braised, not sauteed. Plus spinach. And either millet or kasha, something primordially grain-ish" said Ginny.
"I miss the boys most when I cook" said Myra. "I love how Carly will talk to himself, how he says 'Why the hell not' when he's deliberating whether to add a certain seasoning."
"And some of his experiments have allowed us to answer that question, here's why the hell not" joked Ginny. "Like the peanut-butter mashed potatoes."
Myra giggled. "They cleaned the bowl, though." She delayed going to her desk for a minute, watching Ginny knead with glistening strong fingers. She said softly "I know you're right. What you said."
Ginny looked at her. "I wondered if it had gone in or if it was Ginger hearing blah-blah-blah" she said with a grin.
"It always goes in, when it's you talking" said Myra. She kissed Ginny's shoulder.
"I'm going to call Margie when this is baking" said Ginny. "Wanna get in on that?"
"I do" said Myra. She still didn't turn toward her study.
"Remember how during the 50s and 60s, Freudians had this whole theory about why gay men turned out gay? Because they had distant, emotionally withholding, controlling fathers and smothering mothers?" Myra said. Ginny nodded, one eyebrow raised. "It was all about how the boys didn't have a chance to connect with a strong opposite-sex role model and it turned 'em queer. So they expected it would be the opposite with lesbians, but when they finally got around to studying us, lo and behold, most of us had the same family dynamic as gay men. They were still trying to tapdance around that conundrum when a handful of radical psychologists pointed out that everybody in postwar America had a nuke fam based on Dad being absent and Mom being married to kitchen and kids. It wasn't just perverts, all of us had come from some version of Levittown and Leave It To Beaver."
"I always think that version of family is the product of second-generation Ashkenazim, filling the movies and TV screens with their fantasy of what a clean-cut middle-class existence ought to be" said Ginny.
Myra laughed. "The vast Zionist conspiracy? Could be. Certainly my mother aspired to it, although we were always covering up how much we failed at it."
"God bless Jean O'Leary and cohort in 1973" said Ginny. Myra closed her eyes and gave thanks. Ginny said "So where are you going with this?"
"I don't know exactly. I tell myself I really do want to hear from our children how we may have failed them, even as we were struggling to not repeat the mistakes of our parents' generation. But...well, as Dick Cavett said, it's a rare person who wants to hear what they don't want to hear" said Myra.
There was another long silence. Ginny said "My heart is breaking for Carly. I don't know how to make it better for him. We could have been that short-sighted as well, you know."
Myra said "No, we couldn't have. Not us. Not about that." Ginny looked at her for a minute. Myra's breathing sounded normal.
"I'm going to pull the scallops from the freezer, shall I grab the brisket, too?"
"Yeah, set it out on a cutting board. I'll come deal with it in an hour or so" said Myra, at last going to her study.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.