Friday, March 19, 2010


(Lt. Dan Choi, Iraq war, and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo after handcuffing themselves to the White House fence in protest of the anti-lesbian/gay policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on 18 March 2010. Photo from AmericaBlog.)

Yesterday three people were arrested for an act of civil disobedience following a Human Rights Campaign rally protesting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which featured Kathy Griffin. Two of the arrestees were former and current members of the military, Lieutenant Dan Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo. Also arrested was activist Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL.

Lt. Choi, a West Point graduate, is facing a pending dishcarge under the DADT policy after he came out as gay on the Rachel Maddow Show. Capt. Pietrangelo has already been formally discharged under DADT for being openly gay.

According to, McGehee and Pietrangelo were the first to handcuff themselves to the White House Fence, followed by Choi, and McGehee was the first to be arrested.

GetEQUAL activist Robin McGehee being arrested as she defends the protest against DADT at the White House on 18 March 2010. Photo from Towleroad.

Early coverage in an article from Towleroad states "Lt. Choi spoke at the rally and asked participants to join him on a march to the White House. Choi led hundreds of people from the rally to the White House where he and Cpt. Pietrangelo cuffed themselves to the fence while the crowd rallied around them. Shortly thereafter Choi and Pietrangelo were cut from the fence and arrested by police. During the minutes leading up to their arrest, activist Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL was also arrested."

Robin McGehee has been traveling with Lt. Choi and is co-director of the National Equality March. She covered the event via Twitter and her reporting sequence can be found in the Towleroad article. According to McGehee, she asked "Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese if Choi could speak at the rally and he rebuffed her, telling her it was Kathy Griffin's rally."

HRC offered an explanation later of their decision to not agree to Choi speaking and then remaining at the rally site when the action left to protest at the White House. HRC also covered the rally at their blog. John Aravosis at AmericaBlog refutes the HRC statement as "utterly untrue".

AmericaBlog covered this story as it was breaking, with video, photographs, and first-hand reporting. They refer to the protestors as "Handcuffed to the fence in front of Barack Obama's White House to protest the President's failure to deliver on his promise to end DADT. This is not the photo that the White House ever wanted. But, it's come to this."

According to The Advocate,"United States Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser" stated "both men were taken to Park Police's Anacostia station for processing, where they were charged with failure to obey a lawful order. Choi and Pietrangelo will be held overnight and are scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Friday." This article also states McGehee was arrested "apparently for helping the two discharged soldiers handcuff themselves to the fence. An officer who arrested McGehee said 'I can't say anything' on why she was taken into custody. McGehee was bailed out and released Thursday evening.

The Human Rights Campaign and other mainstream LGBT rights organizations focus on the repeal of DADT as a main rallying point and fundraiser. GetEQUAL's statement of purpose reads "I join with others who are ready to take bold action to demand equality for LGBTQ people. I will not accept excuses, delays, compromises, or empty promises, and I will hold accountable any person or organization who stands in the way. I will push back, rise up, and speak out against all forms of discrimination that plague our community."

Other organizations within the lesbian and gay community do support causes such as repeal of DADT and removal of the state from marriage definiton, but decry mainstream focus on these two questions to the detriment of other liberation issues which affect a much larger percentage of the population -- issues of job and housing discrimination, children's rights, and freedom from violence. One such group is the sardonically named Against Equality, which promotes "Queer challenges to the politics of inclusion." A sizable percentage of lesbians and gays are anti-war and opposed to the growing militarism of American culture. Their voice is represented in the poster below found at a bus stop at 17th and Castro in San Francisco, apparently placed in mid February 2010 by guerrilla artists from Truthforce (photo by Roseanne Dunbar Ortiz.)

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Thursday, March 18, 2010


(An Eclectic Mix of Galaxies)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Hayden Carruth

For breakfast I have eaten the last of your birthday cake that you
had left uneaten for five days
and would have left five more before throwing it away.
It is early March now. The winter of illness
is ending. Across the valley
patches of remaining snow make patterns among the hill farms,
among fields and knolls and woodlots,
like forms in a painting, as sure and significant as forms
in a painting. The cake was stale.
But I like stale cake, I even prefer it, which you don't
understand, as I don't understand how you can open
a new box of cereal when the old one is still unfinished.
So many differences. You a woman, I a man,
you still young at forty-two and I growing old at seventy.
Yet how much we love one another.
It seems a miracle. Not mystical, nothing occult,
just the ordinary improbability that occurs
over and over, the stupendousness
of life. Out on the highway on the pavement wet
with snow-melt, cars go whistling past.
And our poetry, yours short-lined and sounding
beautifully vulgar and bluesy
in your woman's bitterness, and mine almost
anything, unpredictable, though people say
too ready a harkening back
to the useless expressiveness and ardor of another
era. But how lovely it was, that time
in my restless memory.
This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


The four habibis, Su and Thleen went onto the porch and soon singing drifted back to the dining room. Prl brought a pot of chamomile tea to the table, and Pyosz began peeling an orange to share. Stirring her tea, Prl said quietly "I have to begin by saying what I want to tell you is in direct violation of my oath as a Genist. Your breaking confidence here could result in my dismissal and or prosecution." She stopped, giving each of them a questioning blue look.

"I'll never breathe a word" said Pyosz unnecessarily. "Nor I" added Maar. "I'm deeply honored to be included."

"You're my child now, too" said Prl. "And it isn't just me who needs help, it's all of Skene." She stopped again and drizzled a golden swirl of honey into her steaming cup. Curds had already claimed her lap and watched the sinuous motion attentively. Ember was anchoring Pyosz to her chair, and Clicker was on her back in Maar's lap, batting at Maar's playful fingers. Cha had claimed the large hearth chair all to herself.

Prl licked her teaspoon clean of honey before continuing. "As you know, it is the job of the Genist to ensure reproductive vigor and balance for Skene. This duty was straightforward, though never easy, when all pregnancies came through our assistance and approval, except for the rare X-Y success, of course. Pyosz here is the watershed for when I dismantled my own authority and turned selection of a breeding partner over to individual emmas. I hoped -- believed -- that the errors inherent in that dismantling could be countered by common good sense and a growing population. The presence of Pya means we can have a much healthier human population on Skene in terms of sheer numbers."

She blew on her tea and drank carefully.

"I knew there would be women seizing the opportunity to have children who were unsuitable to be emmas, either for emotional or physical reasons. But after 500 years of selective breeding, we have a remarkably thriving set of genes and a strong tradition toward responsibility. And it was time to allow for the chance of natural selection. Not everyone agreed with my decision -- my own aggie did not." Pyosz felt a jolt, both at this new bit of information and the brief expression of pain on Prl's face. "Still, there's no way to turn a tide once the moons have traveled in the sky."

Maar had to clear her throat to ask "Has the incidence of emmas unsuitable to raise children gone up, do you think?" Pyosz slid her foot over so her ankle rested against Maar's.

"Yes" said Prl bluntly. "A small but trackable amount, according to private observation by the Ethicists and Sheng Zhangs of Rahat both in Skene and Pya. Though, intriguingly, less so in Pya than in Skene. I attribute that difference to Ried's operation in Skene: anyone willing to illegally pay for assistance is likely to have already been rejected by me. There was no such rogue in Pya, and although theoretically Briel and the curandera in Pertama who could do egg harvesting were not going to say no, the open legality kept problem emmas from stepping out into community judgment. The positive effects of Skene's nosiness, I guess you could call it."

Prl smiled slightly. Clicker abandoned Maar to chase a shadow, and Pyosz lifted Ember over to Maar's lap without an interruption in Ember's purring.

Pyosz said "So is your concern about the numbers of unsuitable emmas who are using the new method to have children?"

Prl's smile faded. "Yes, but not in the way you think." She breathed in and out once before saying "There are women getting pregnant with each other who are sibs. Half-sibs. Far too closely related, even factoring in the tangled cousinship all of us on Skene now share."

Pyosz felt a welling in her throat that she realized was revulsion. Maar said softly "So is that what you meant when you told us our genes would be a good mix? That we weren't too closely related?"

"A significant part of it, yes, though we usually aren't as blunt as you" said Prl. "Which may have been an error in our practice, I am thinking about starting to hammer home the point in every consultation I make now." She added almost to herself "The whole thing may have been an error, which I hope I don't live to know as a fact."

When she noticed Pyosz's wide eyes, she said "Not you, child, I wasn't referring to my decision to have you. However that had to be arranged was worth it."

Pyosz patted her hand. "But emma, from my own limited experience with breeding goats -- and aside from the ickiness of it all -- doesn't breeding with a close relative mean a chance of enhacing positive traits as much as it might strengthen negative ones?"

"If selected for with care" said Prl, "which is not what is going on. And the failures with goats and chickens are not going to live 100 years, possibly producing future generations. We have a low incidence of disease and birth defects on Skene. We don't have the extra resource to deal with much more than we already do, we can't manufacture additional chemotherapy agents, for example, and as we know, dealing with mobility impairment becomes a family chore. I based my decision on Skene having had a long enough period of genetic planning to risk wild card innovation. I thought people would naturally consider closeness of relation in egg combination -- it was so automatic in my mind, I didn't comprehend what a blind spot it was for everyone outside a biological field of study,"

"I think we're subtly encouraged NOT to think about it" said Maar consideringly. "As we are directed away from focusing on most of our limits. No room for disappointment that might lead to dangerous dissent."

Prl looked at her with appreciation. Pyosz said "So, emma, why don't you write an article for the paper about this? About the need to get a genetic consultation before becoming pregnant, all the reasons why?"

"I've considered it" said Prl. "Even though it will look like I'm advertising. The Dullard was appalled at the notion, said it would be interpreted as self-aggrandizement that woud diminish the esteem of the Office of Genist. Which is when I stopped trying to talk with her about it." Prl gave a long sigh. "The oath I signed as Genist, the charter which no one is allowed to read except Genists, Ethicists, and Archivists, spells out in detail the information which we are prohibited from divulging to the public. We cannot reveal the precise ratio of Xs to Ys in the population nor the percentage of Y fertility. We of course cannot divulge who is X and who is Y, or those rare instances of something aside from ordinary X or Y. We cannot reveal anyone's biological ancestry except to them and, with a signed release, to someone they designate. Taken together, these proscriptions make the wording of any declaration I might want to make even about general conditions on Skene very tricky."

Maar and Pyosz both began speaking at once. Maar stopped and pointed at Pyosz to continue. Pyosz leaned forward to ask quietly "What is the percentage of Y fertility, and the ratio of X to Y?"

Prl said "You don't need to know that to deal with the question at hand." Her lips were tight. Pyosz realized how hard it was for Prl to be breaking an oath with them.

"Well, then, can you tell me if it is static? Are the numbers changing?" pressed Pyosz.

Prl said "Yes" and closed her mouth tightly again. Pyosz thought It must not be in our favor. I bet it's motivated some of her choices -- like the need to make another form of reproduction available to us. Another question occurred to her, and she cut Maar off again to blurt "Is this affecting all biology on Skene, or just humans?"

"As far as we can tell, only humans" said Prl. "Nioma and I are going to come up with a documented answer to that question, since so much depends on it."

They all pondered this for a minute. Then Prl raised her eyebrows at Maar, who asked "What is the penalty for you revealing forbidden information?" Pyosz glanced at her -- Trust Maar to directly address the threat emma is facing.

Prl said "At the very least, removal from office. But there are legal consequences on the books, up to and including exile."

"Exile?!!" remonstrated Pyosz. "Why so dire?"

"Because the charter was written by those who had lived through The Troubles" said Prl. "Primarily by Pearl Goldfarb when she was an elder." She gave a wry grin to Pyosz. "She had lived through being hunted, possibly experiencing violence herself, certainly witnessing it, losing people she cared about to murder and deprivation which caused early death. It appeared to have begun, in part, from people's inability to cope with biological reality on Skene. She, and others, decided hoarding certain information was in the best interest of survival."

"And any charges against you would be brought by the Ethicist?" continued Maar.

"Yes. Based on either public outcry or her reading of the current political climate" said Prl. Another reason to miss Bux, as if we needed one thought Pyosz.

"The people who are having children, who don't know they are -- sibs" said Maar, and Pyosz could read in her tone a shared distaste at this reality. "Anyone we know?"

"I can't answer that" said Prl. "Except that I would have found a way to stop members of our family from the error."

"Well, don't give me names, but are any of those who would be affected by this revelation prominent people, or related to prominent people?" asked Maar.

"Yes" said Prl, with another appreciative glance. "You see the issue, then."

Pyosz did too, belatedly. "They'll want to punish you for the shame and horror they will feel, and the public exposure."

"In a nutshell" said Prl. "But if I don't stop it now, it will only get worse. And if I simply say in a general way, you know, a lot of you out there having babies with each other could have the same Y contribution, that doesn't guarantee those for whom it's the case will responsibly set up an appointment with me to find out if it's true. In fact, if they are worried about it, they likely won't seek out an answer."

"So you have to tell us all something we really don't want to hear, giving specifics you are forbidden by law to reveal, and make sure you are not the target of an inevitable backlash" summarized Pyosz. "I couldn't believe something had actually stumped you of all people, emma, but I see the impassable wall here."

They looked at each other in silence. Prl went to the aga to refill the teapot. While she was gone, Pyosz said softly to Maar "What would we have done if we'd found out we were secret sibs?"

"Not possible with your origins" pointed out Maar.

"But if your contribution had been Ng, then that would still be a barrier" said Pyosz. Prl, returning to the table, thought but did not say Or Dodd. Dodd has several children out there she doesn't know about. She and Briel are educated enough to have suspected it, though, I'm sure.

Pyosz said "I'm not having any ideas come to me, emma. I guess I have to think about it."

"That's as much as I hoped for" said Prl, her face not quite hiding what had been hope.

Maar poured a cup of half milk, half tea, and let Ember take a lap at it. She said "Growing up in the Manage I did, I became very good at finding ways to pass on information my emmas didn't want to hear and avoiding retribution as I did so. Mostly I relied on removing all the other possible explanations so their own minds forced them to look at the remaining reality. Which pissed them off, of course, but I could claim innocence."

"But this is so specific, involving names and lineages" argued Pyosz.

"Yeah...I dunno, I'll have to sleep on it, too" said Maar, running a hand through her spikes of hair and starting to drink her tea. Thleen tumbled in the front door and said "Are you done yet, they keep saving the best songs for when you're gonna come out here."

Prl said "We are done, can I sit with you?" She picked up her mug and a sugar cube before walking sedately toward Thleen, who was hopping from leg to leg. She stopped briefly to turn and say "Thank you both so much. It has eased me already."

An hour later, after tucking in Thleen and kissing the young women goodnight at their door, Prl gave goodnight hugs to Qala and Lawa before settling in a hearth chair with a book and the radio. Curds and Ember each claimed an arm of her chair. Clicker was scampering around the kitchen counters, pestering Cha and threatening condiment jars. Prl had trouble focusing on her reading, and finally gave it up to lean back with closed eyes, reliving her night with Nioma as she waited for her call.

She was almost asleep when she heard the front door latch. She leaned around the wing of her chair and opened her eyes wide to see Nioma letting herself in. She dropped book and radio to the floor as she stood joyfully. As Prl crossed the great hall swift;y, however, Nioma made a shushing motion, her face somber. She pulled Prl into her arms and whispered "There's a giant owl sitting on the end rail of your porch! It watched me walk up but didn't leave, if you open the door carefully, I bet it will still be there."

Prl saved her kiss to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Sure enough, the creature was perched imperiously, blocking southern moonlight and swiveling its head to regard her. Nioma poked her head out beside Prl's, their torsos pressed together gladly. Prl made sure her feet and legs blocked katt egress.

They both jumped when the bedroom door beside them opened abruptly. Yoj said "Did I hear the front -- oh, hi, Nioma, I didn't know you were coming back tonight."

Prl motioned silence urgently, then waved at Yoj to come take her place. Behind Yoj they heard Halling call "What's going on?" Prl walked to the bedroom to whisper "The owl is on the porch, come see, emma." She helped Halling out of bed and to the front door.

"Thunder me down" breathed Yoj. "It's bigger than I expected."

Halling met its unblinking gaze for several moments before saying "Hello. You are the Sheng Zhang of Saya, I presume."

Clicker made a dash for the gap between Halling's legs and Prl grabbed her by her tail at the last moment. The kerfuffle prodded the owl into unhurried flight, which drew a gasp from Halling. They all breathed out with regret as it vanished. Prl said to Clicker "You utter fool, it would make a quick snack of you" as the door was safely clicked shut.

Yoj said "Can that really be the brute which landed in front of Pyosz in her kitchen? I'd have dropped dead from the shock."

Halling said "Our Pyosz is sturdy stuff", patting Prl's back. "I'm going back to bed. See you all at breakfast."

Yoj went to the privy. Prl found the kiss she'd been dreaming of for hours. They parted when Yoj re-emerged, saying to them "I'm going to bed also, don't let me interrupt you" with a grin as she shut her bedroom door.

"I spent an hour waiting on the bus and riding it here, but I couldn't bear to stay away" Nioma said. "I told them at work I wouldn't be in tomorrow, I can make up time next weekend."

After another long kiss, Prl said "Are you hungry?"

"I could use tea and toast. And sweetheart, I need a bath, the baby urped on me twice" said Nioma.

"Go start the water, I'll join you when the tea is steeped" said Prl.

She brought one of Qala's candles on the tray and they slid into the hot, gardenia-smelling water by candlelight, Prl sitting behind Nioma because it was easier on her hip. Within minutes they were making love, trying to keep quiet because the tile room seemed to amplify sound.

When the edge of what felt like bottomless desire had been eased, Nioma tenderly washed Prl's hair, her fingertips memorizing the contours of Prl's small head. She said "How did your talk go?"

"I feel some relief at having shared my conundrum" said Prl. "And something Maar said gave me a slightly different angle to look at it all."

"I think I know what your conundrum must be" said Nioma. "I mean, it seems fairly obvious if you know anything about limited gene pools and the considerations Skene's Genist has had to address over the centuries. I'm not trying to persuade you to extend your confidence to me, only that now my mind is on it, too."

"I want your mind on me and my life" said Prl softly.

"This is so different, passion at this stage of life" said Nioma. "I know what loss actually looks like, I know the consequences of failure and that in fact I can say no, I can face the worst. So to say yes carries much more weight. And considered joy."

They looked at each other for a long minute. Prl said "Let's dry off and go to bed."

In the morning, Halling notified everyone of Nioma's arrival and dragged Thleen off to fish as soon as they cleared breakfast. When the sinners finished early, producing enough fish to feed them all lunch, Yoj kept Thleen from Prl's door by having her help assemble the album of partnership ceremony photos Su was going to take back to her emmas.

Prl and Nioma appeared shortly before 11:00 with radiant faces. Prl was accosted by Thleen at the foot of the stairs. "We're going to the beach, to look for oysters or clams for the big dinner tonight, will you come, abba?"

Prl glanced at Nioma, and Thleen released one hand from Prl to grab Nioma's arm. Prl said "We'd love that, but first a little bite to eat." Which turned out to be a big bite, but Thleen chattered through it and the older women ate with hungry speed. The three of them plus Yoj and Qala left with waders, rakes and pails. Maar landed a short while later, dropping off Moasi for the day and grabbing just-made fish cakes for her lunch before going upstairs for a nap between shifts.

Prl had made an orchard run, and now Halling sat with her sibs at the table to process fruits and nuts as they talked. Everyone gathered for a late lunch, the Manage filled with smells of roasting walnuts and simmering jams, cherry and apricot. After grumbling through chores, Thleen was released to Kacang for a couple of hours. Prl and Nioma disappeared upstairs without a word. Pyosz baked with Yoj while Qala boiled and sealed gleaming jars of jam. She always regretted applying labels once the contents were cool: She liked the unobstructed view of rich color through the curved glass.

Cha had been forced, by the presence of cold-hearted humans, to move from the counter to a less-desierable nap spot on the old blanket next to the aga. Qala heard Cha making a strange cry and glanced down to see Clicker trying to mount her katt from behind. Cha managed to wheel and slap Clicker down to the floor, and Curds rushed in to give a couple of bites to Clicker's exposed flank.

"Uh oh" said Qala. She scooped up Clicker and examined her nether regions, then took a careful sniff.

"They've come in" she verified. Lawa came in the back door with a basket of horseradish and lettuce.

"She's early" remarked Pyosz. "Who do we get for the snip. Ulcha, maybe?"

"Vants is good at it" offered Lawa. "I can help. Shall we get it over with before Thleen gets home?"

"Better ask her first" said Qala. "I'll call Kacang, then Teppe."

The conversation with Thleen became lengthy and emotional. Finally Qala said "You really can't stop this, honey, it's her body changing and she will just be miserable, katts aren't like us. The other katts won't like how she's behaving and she'll stink up the Manage. The question you need to answer is whether you want to be here for the operation or not." After another minute she said "I promise you it won't hurt while it's happening. It's Vants, Thleen, you can trust her to do it painlessly. And I'll be there, too. It's okay if you don't watch to watch, this isn't a chore you have to learn. I'll make her a bed in your room with an early dinner, you can see her when you get home, but no playing in there tonight, she needs quiet to recover." A few seconds later, she said "Yes, I'll put milk on her fisk, don't I always? Okay, don't worry, she won't care."

After she clicked off from Teppe, she said "Vants is heading over now, she has a roast to put in our aga for the dinner. She's got anesthetic gel and the blade, she says."

Yoj said "Reminds me of Petunia, when Veida snipped her." She and Qala laughed reminiscently. Pyosz knew this story by heart, although it had occurred before even Prl was born -- how Ng had helped with the neutering of Yoj's kitten Petunia, and it was only then Yoj had learned her partner's emma was a Y. It had been told so often, Pyosz felt like she remembered it herself, with visuals of Ng, Veida and Petunia her mind must have assembled from photographs, since they had all died before she ever met them.

She suddenly realized her children might have the same sort of pseudo-memory of Bux. And certainly her own grandchildren would have no first-hand knowledge of the abbas in ths room with her. Maybe even Prl...It was too depressing to think about, and she focused on shaping dough into loaves.

When Vants arrived , she carried Clicker into the bathroom with Lawa and Qala. It took a surprisingly short time. Yoj declined to watch, instead mincing poached fish into a raw egg that she added to a small bowl of fisk. The older katts watched in disbelief as the bowl was transported with a towel-wrapped Clicker to Thleen's room, out of reach.

Prl and Nioma came downstairs a short while later. Pyosz heard her emma giggling the entire way through the great hall, giggling like Thleen did. Prl kissed her cheek and said "How can we help?"

"Uh...set the table? I don't know a number for sure, but we can spread quilts on the floor for the children. We need a baby chair, I keep meaning to ask Klosa about it -- " said Pyosz.

"I still have yours, I'll send it to you" said Prl.

"You do? Why on earth did you keep it?" said Pyosz.

"It has your tooth marks on one leg where you chewed on it as a toddler. Plus aggie hand-painted the designs on the back" said Prl. "I have the silk-edged blanket Qen knitted for you, and a box of baby clothes, too."

"How often do you take them out and look through them, remembering when she was that tiny?" asked Nioma, gathering silverware.

"On her birthday" replied Prl. "You?"

"I gave it all to my two as they had babies" said Nioma. "And whatever Xani had left disappeared in the typhoon. But they're done, she and Rika, they say four is enough. How many are Pyosz and Maar planning?" As if I'm not in the room with them thought Pyosz. As if it's only them in the world. She didn't know how to feel about this.

"As long as a supply of abbas holds out, I can imagine them going on until their eggs stop dropping" said Prl happily. "I'll fold the napkins, here." They went into the dining room together.

At dinner, Yoj told the extended group again about her dinner in Chwet. She'd had not only squirrel stew, which she had requested, but also a taste of venison because one of the deer released in the woods had broken a leg and had to be killed. She did her best to describe the flavor of both meats, with Ulcha's assistance. She added "What was more nourishing was the walk I took with Ulcha before the meal, to a clearing where I got to see squirrels interacting in their own habitat."

Nioma leaned over to the children's quilt and murmured something to Thleen, who scurried upstairs, before she said "I agree with you about our deprivation on Skene."

Yoj blinked and said "I didn't mention deprivation."

"All right, that's my term for it" amended Nioma. "We are so focused on general survival and small additions to our sustainability, I think most of us are not aware of how hungry our spirits are for that which cannot be controlled."

Maar stared at her. "Like the ocean, you mean? And weather? Or for that matter, leviathans? I can assure you, I have no hunger for it, I spend for too much time trying to avoid the reality of that which cannot be controlled on Skene."

"Leviathans are not part of the reckoning our brains and genes evolved over countless time to accommodate" said Nioma, taking the book Thleen had breathlessly retrieved. Thleen didn't return to her plate, but hung over the back of Nioma's chair instead, listening. Nioma said "Biological organisms develop in relation to each other, and all growth is shaped by limits and vastnesses as well as by niches we can inhabit with comprehension. I don't know how long it will take for us to not see levis as utterly alien, but we're not there yet. Whereas what I hear you saying Yoj, is that getting to be around the squirrels fed your spirit in some way."

Yoj nodded, deep interest on her face. Pyosz could tell Prl's hand was now in Nioma's lap. Nioma held up the book: It was the bestiary Yoj had created for her own children decades ago, battered from their constant reading as well as the grandchildren and now Thleen. Nioma opened it at random and showed the color illustrations. She said "I know you scoured the archives and the Botaniste's files for this volume, Yoj, but even so, it represents only a fraction of the life that was present on the original planet. Yet if you exclude insects and sea creatures, the land-dwellers we can recognize in here, those which might also be found on Skene, are only two or three dozens. Out of over a thousand in this book. Every form of life has a meaning which enriches us, not just our bellies but our inner appetite." Pyosz abruptly thought of how empty her world would be without her goats -- How did I ever live without their odd ways? Nioma said "We don't know what we're missing, but I think some part of us feels it all the same."

Into the silence, where Pyosz could hear Thleen breathing through her mouth, Halling said "I never take a bite of corn without remembering what it was like before I'd ever tasted it. But Pyosz takes it for granted." She looked at Pyosz and added "I don't mean that in a thoughtless way."

"I understand, abba" said Pyosz. "It's like the dawn chorus. Whoever released songbirds on Pya knew it didn't matter that we couldn't eat them. It was the singing they were after."

"Exactly" said Dodd. "One of the insurmountable differences between growing up here versus in Skene." Prl turned to look at Pyosz and there was such approval in her gaze, Pyosz had to fight back tears.

Thleen said "So the people on the original planet, they really saw all these different animals? Like maybe had them as pets?"

"Not all of them, no" said Yoj. "It was so big -- imagine a hundred different Pyas, and each has some of the animals. But they knew about them all, knew things like owls hunt at night and goats can climb and only katts purr. And that richness of knowing must have made their brains different than ours, I think that's what Nioma is saying."

"Different doesn't mean deprivation" said Maar stubbornly.

"Well, you live as buffer between our human greenhouse and the surviving wilderness of Skene" said Prl. "You have a vantage point most of us don't share." It was appreciative, not critical, yet Pyosz instantly felt protective of Maar, as if she were being exposed or threatened.

Yoj turned to Nioma and said "So you think, in time, we'll adapt to Skene in a way we have not thus far?"

"It seems to be what we do as a species" said Nioma. "Except that in time, we'll overrun every inch of Pya as we have Skene and that will starve us further. Still, I imagine in 500 years our ideas and concerns will appear frequently bizarre to our descendants."

Pank stood and said "Well, that's their problem. Mine is that I can smell a peach pie which needs to come out of the oven."

Others stood to clear the table. Pyosz pointed to Thleen and said "Finish those greens on your plate or no pie for you." Thleen's eyes flicked to the side and Pyosz was certain Ziri had just made a face at her behind her back. Stifling laughter, Thleen returned to the quilt.

Rain was bucketing down outside, with a driving wind, so after dinner the hearth was lit and Nezi took the piano while other musical instruments were pulled out. A chair was wedged under the knob of Thleen's bedroom door, to keep children from barging in on Clicker, and indoor shutters were latched over the front window before a kickball was released into the upstairs hall. The concert downstairs was to the sporadic rhythm of thudding feet on the floorboards above.

During a break in the singing, Halling asked Mill "You got the second of the new radar array deployed, yes? What's it showing?"

The whole room went silent. Mill swiveled her gaze to Maar, handing her the question. As Maar ran her hand through her hair, preparing an answer, Abbo stood irritably and went to the privy.

"It was hard to believe at first we're reading them correctly" said Maar. "Dekkan and I both were seeing massive levs down deep, underneath the fish flow, always. But these new units have recorders, so we ran tape and brought it back for other eyes."

"I interpret it the same way" said Mill.

"I'd almost rather not know" blurted out Dekkan. Su chuckled but Pava did not.

"Are similar findings showing up in Skene?" asked Halling.

"Yeah, I talked with Danaan today" said Mill. "But it's focused, so far as they know. Focused on sinners, on ferry routes, and in the Tendrils. They haven't done a comprehensive scan yet, but there was no sign of deep leviathan presence around Peisuo, for instance, when they made a half-year run out there to make sure it's intact."

"No humans on Peisuo right now" observed Qala. Oby said "Yes, lev lurking does seem to correspond to human presence. Or maybe it's just that prefer the same territories, if you will. Despite how shorthanded we are, over the next month we're going to do a complete survey, recorded, of all the waters in and around Pya, and Uli will convert it into a map."

"I'd like to review those tapes at some point" offered Nioma. "Try to make sense of behavior."

"We'll welcome it" said Mill, glancing at Prl with an expression Pyosz couldn't read. Pyosz also realized the racket from upstairs had stopped, and she rose to go check on the children, but spotted them clustered on the first landing, small faces pressed through the banister rails.

"What's up?" she called out. Koben said "I'm thirsty."

"Come on down, we have lemonade still" said Lawa, heading for the kitchen ahead of the pack. Halling said quietly to Mill "Could I have a look at what you've got?"

"Come to the Lofthall early tomorrow, before the huolon leaves" said Mill. Pyosz felt desolation sweep through her: This time tomorrow, they'd all be gone again, her emma and abbas. She turned to commiserate with Prl, but Prl's eyes were closed tightly and she was in a sideways embrace with Nioma.

Abbo and Dekkan left at 9:00, citing work in the morning. Maar made her goodnights soon thereafter. The baby was asleep in Meko's arms, and Meamea had been persuaded into a hearth chair with her abba Ramea, both of them quiet and drowsy. The three older children were given Quackers cards and told to stay downstairs. They chose to forego Quackers, however, in favor of poring over the bestiary, speculating in carrying whispers. Pyosz sat on the floor at the feet of Yoj and Halling, fighting a loneliness she thought was irrational.

Folks from other islands left by 11:00, except for Dodd and Mill. Moasi was spending the night, and Pyosz made her a bed on the sofa while everyone else moved to the hearth area to keep talking. Thleen was allowed to stay up, sitting near Su and fighting to not drop off without Ziri's energy to help her keep manic. When Pyosz said she was reheating soup and making cucumber and beanpaste sandwiches for a snack, Prl and Nioma excused themselves, heading upstairs. Thleen fell asleep before she finished her meal, and Dodd carried her upstairs, reporting that Clicker looked confused but in good shape. The party broke up finally at midnight. Pyosz hoped Maar would wake up when she slid in beside her, the rain at last slacking off, but Maar only curved behind Pyosz with a sigh. She's getting a lot more sleep now that we're not making love Pyosz thought, trying to console herself.

The following day was entirely overshadowed for Pyosz by the sound of an internal ticking clock. She was short-tempered with an equally cranky Thleen, and she complained to Qala about Halling leaving the Manage for Koldok an hour early. Qala kept assembling a hamper for the huolon flight and said "All of us have sore hearts right now." She pointed her head at Prl, who looked as bad as she had after Bux was killed. Nioma had taken another day off work, and she was in almost constant contact with Prl, but their touch didn't seem to ease what they were feeling.

Maar brought a large sinner to carry them all, with baggage, to the Lofthall. The next half hour was ghastly, as Pyosz remembered it. She had to share her emma with Nioma, Thleen kept bursting into tears, and when Su unexpectedly began weeping, Pyosz was frozen. It was Maar who stepped in to comfort Su.

Pyosz wanted promises from her abbas that they would be back soon -- no, what she really wanted was for them to say they were moving, giving up Bux's Manage for the one she'd built here to hold them. When Halling stood from her cart one last time, patting it affectionately, she said "At least the walk back up the lane will be easier than it has been in years." Pyosz was overwhelmed by the rupture Prl was facing and didn't know how to make anything better for her emma. She held in her grief until the huolon vanished to the northwest, and then she sobbed with Nioma.

After tea in the canteen, Maar offered to fly Nioma to Talaba. "No" she said, "I want the bus ride to think and re-enter my life here, before the grandchildren swarm me." Pyosz and Thleen walked her to the bus stop and saw her off. Maar flew Moasi and Vants back to Teppe while everyone else dispersed.

That night, Pyosz was awakened not long after midnight by pounding at their bedroom door and Maar stumbling hurriedly from their bed. She turned on the lamp in time to see Thleen fling herself into Maar's arms. sobbing.

"What happened, what's wrong?" said Maar, trying to examine Thleen for injury.

"I woke up and you were dead beside me!" wailed Thleen,

"Oh, sweetie, it was only a dream, a bad bad dream" said Maar, lifting Thleen with a grunt and carrying her back to bed with her and Pyosz. Pyosz cuddled her from behind until Thleen's shaking stopped. Maar gave her a hankie and a glass of water, continuing to reassure her. Pyosz turned off the lamp again and they settled into sleep.

In the morning they left Thleen with the bedroom door open, three katts already moving into the room. "She asked me to sleep with her last night when I tucked her in" said Maar guiltily over their tea in the kitchen.

"I wonder what kicked it up" said Pyosz. sidestepping the question of where Maar slept, which felt like murky territory right now.

"Likely the loss of extra family" speculated Maar.

"Well, I'll tell Lawa and Qala, we'll see if there's something she needs to talk about" said Pyosz. She prepared for Market listlessly, her heart aching for Prl returning to the Genist Manage alone. She stopped by Naki's to print out the photos from her and Maar's stay on Trumpinne, asking to run the printer herself because she didn't want anyone to see a couple of the shots. Maar wearing only a too-small maillot of faded turquoise raised bittersweet emotions in her chest. Shortly before dinner it was at last an appropriate time to call Skene, but she felt no better after her talk with Prl, who sounded numb.

The following day, Thleen was packed off to Kacang because Uben, Maar and Dekkan were beginning work on the survival shelter to be carved from the rock of Saya's eastern escarpment. Pank, Tu, Lehen and Vants also converged to watch and advise. It kept Pyosz busy, if not satisfied. Clicker was entirely recovered and kept getting in the way, though the older katts refused to leave the Manage once the laser was in use.

Hauling rock on a hot afternoon was a good purge, Pyosz decided by the end of the day. After eating, they all went for a soak at the hot springs. A large room walled by thick rock now existed four steps down behind the owl oak. Mrebbe and a foundry worker would come on Moja to begin fitting a sealed door. Someone else recommended by Uben would install a ventilation system, after which Mrebbe would lay a floor, build shelves and collapsible beds. Qala and Lawa had a list of what they would stock on those shelves, and Pyosz planned to run drills every so often, invoking Prl's long ago attempt to prepare for the unthinkable.

After Maar put Thleen to bed that night, she reappeared in the kitchen where Pyosz was cutting uo two ducks for tomorrow's Shmona dinner. "Listen" Maar said quietly, "I think I'm going to bunk in with Thleen tonight."

Pyosz could hear a question in Maar's voice. She thought Maar wanted her to say no, come sleep with me, my desire has returned. She kept her face averted as she answered "All right. But feel free to come get me if she has another nightmare." Following a long pause, Maar kissed her cheek and whispered "Carynn bye."

Pyosz finished her marinade, stashed the duck in the coldbox, and scrubbed her hands before grabbing the radio and heading for her bedroom. The Dullard answered, saying Prl was in a consultation but would be out in half an hour. Pyosz asked for a return call, and went to the privy while she waited. She was sitting up in her schmatta when the radio buzzed again.

"Everyone all right?" asked Prl.

"Mostly" said Pyosz, her voice higher than usual. "Thleen's been having nightmares, about Maar dying, and Maar is sleeping in her room tonight."

"That's good, addressing fear concretely right away is usually a good idea with children" said Prl.

"How are you, emma?"

"Exhausted. I can't sleep right myself. Nioma and I talk whenever we can, which is sometimes the middle of the night, but that's not the main reason I'm so out of kilter. You know, I even miss the levvin' birds who used to wake me up each morning" said Prl, with an attempt at laughing.

Pyosz had held on as long as she could. She began crying quietly.

"So, what is really wrong?" asked Prl. "Why did you call?"

"Oh, emma, I'm not being fair, you have such heartache of your own right now -- "

"I'm still your emma, tell me" said Prl.

"It's me and Maar, we aren't making love any more!" bawled Pyosz.

"Why not? What happened?"

"I don't know, emma, except it's my fault, I just don't want to any more. I love her as much as ever, and I crave her being nearby, I HATE her sleeping apart, but I have zero desire. Maar thinks -- don't get upset, emma, but she thinks it's because I'm upset over you and Nioma. And I was upset at first, but I swear that's not it. I'm scared I don't find her attractive that way, you know, because I finally have her all to myself. Legally, you know, as a partner. I'm so ashamed and scared, emma, I can't bear the idea of losing her."

"You're not going to lose her, child, that will never happen. So this was going on while I was there? I'm sorry I didn't notice. When did it begin, exactly?"

"Since we got back from Trumpinne. Our time there was glorious, emma -- that's all we did, you know -- but not since." Pyosz could feel the heat in her cheeks.

"How are you feeling physically? Have you run a temperature?" asked Prl.

"I've been flushed off and on, but the weather has been hot in spells. And I'm not as hungry as I usually am, today after milking I felt nauseated. Do you think I could be sick?" Pyosz felt a flare of hope.

"Have you checked your mucus?" Prl's voice held an undercurrent.

"Not since we went to see Briel, I don't...Oh. Oh, emma, it couldn't be, not this fast, could it?"

"I got pregnant within a week, knew it right away, and so did aggie, she said. And for some women, the hormone shift clobbers desire, at least temporarily. Thunder me down, Pyosz, it would be just like you to rush this in on the first wave!"

Pyosz was pounding her own knee with a jubulant fist. "How can I tell for sure, emma?"

"Call Briel, there's a test she can run. It's Shmona there, right, or about to be? She'll open the clinic for this, go see her as soon as she's up. Oh, lev, I wish I was there! Call me as soon as you know, I don't care what time it is. And go tell Maar."

"I will, right now. Thank you, emma, thank you so much." Pyosz put the radio beside her pillow and scrambled for the door.

(Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild)



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


I have a geek question in search of a serious answer or a fresh theory: I just read this article at Eureka! Science News about how the genome of an entire family has been sequenced to track how genetic mutations are handed on. The article states "Scientists long had estimated that each parent passes 75 gene mutations to their children." However, the actual rate of passing on was less than half of what had been estimated -- "By comparing the parents' DNA sequences to those of their children, the researchers estimated with a high degree of certainty that each parent passes 30 mutations — for a total of 60 — to their offspring."

My question is, why was the erroneous estimate so high to begin with? What were they observing that caused them to attribute a passing on of mutations at this level? And if the mutations are present but not being transmitted via our parents' DNA (which seems likely), then what IS causing the mutations?

I'm theorizing it is genetic reconfiguration that is the result of environment in early development. Cultural biological mutation, a la epigenetics. Which biological determinists and essentialists of all stripes do NOT want to admit is the case -- especially all those among us obsessed with "masculinity" as if it has authentic biological reality, instead of being a pathological cultural construct in the midst of epic fail. I am as interested in hearing "examinations of masculinity" as I am in hearing about exploring white supremacy -- i.e., it has shot its wad and we can't afford to waste any more time pretending it has value to impart. Yes, my generation looked at "femininity" which had been crammed down our throats (sometimes literally) as part of girl conditioning, but we quickly understood it was a bogus binary and instead began focusing on what was HUMAN -- and reclaiming humanity for women.

I feel this morning as if we have lost an entire generation to the rabbithole of feminist denial and a lopsided, desperate clutch at keeping the gender binary alive through the pretense of "subverting" it.

The silver lining is that money has been poured into scientific studies which hope to bolster biological determinism, and the vast majority of them (except for the tiny ones done on selected populations of adults) keep proving that culture and environment are the major factors in determining "identity". Truth will out, even if it is funded by the boys (and boy fetishists) who want to prove their definition of boy is triumphant.

NOTE: Here's another recent article from The New York Times, Human Culture Plays A Role In Natural Selection, which states that genetic adaptation to sustained cultural change "works more quickly than other selective forces, 'leading some practitioners to argue that gene-culture co-evolution could be the dominant mode of human evolution'". Yep.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]