Saturday, September 11, 2010


Again only seven hours of real sleep and now once again a slight stomach ache after breaking my fast, so I'm waiting it out before taking meds and pushing the body. Slow start. Plus I dreaded about an ex (again). Still I went to sleep considering the excellent late-night sharing with Pamela and thinking about creative options, and I am feeling good about my life.

To answer another friend, I don't know how I stay so sane and clear except that the alternative is a greased chute to death. I know that firsthand. And please don't put yourself even metaphorically in that "I couldn't do what you do" camp. It doesn't make me feel better about what I do, it makes me feel separated from you. Imagine doing what I do and stay here with me.

I don't know which I am more ravenous for, human company or nature.

I'm trying to think and write about atonement today. But I keep being distracted by wondering what will be said about me, honestly and in private, when I die. I have really hurt people I love along the way, I have failed grievously, I have been afraid and stupid and mean. Where I have seen my errors, I have at least taken the repeat journeys to apologize and undertake change. That is all the comfort have when, like last night, I can't find an easy quilt of sleep.

One of the quality-of-life issues I'm dealing with now is that I've had to stop taking the pain medication I've been using since I left the hospital ten months ago. It's only one a day, but my physician doesn't want to renew the prescription without my coming in for a check-up, a physical act I cannot manage right now. Maybe once I get a hospital bed -- which I cannot afford and have no insurance to cover, but I'm on a waiting list for a free one which does show up every few months. A hospital bed will dramatically alter my bed mobility and ability to do exercises semi-weightbearing, which with another long push of work will mean I can transfer and get to a doctor's office, maybe even move around on my waker again. So there is light somewhere down that tunnel.

In the meantime, no more generic Lorcet. (Doctors don't make house calls, especially for uninsured patients.) So two days ago I switched to Tramadol. It has some effect, it's definitely better than nothing. But it's not taking care of all the swelling and stiffness, for sure. And with my current GI issues, Naproxen worries me. I'm back to living with a higher level of chronic pain. I know how to do it, I'm very good at it. But it does dim the spark a tad.

And right now, until my belly settles down, I can't take the Tramadol, even. In an hour I can have some bread and fruit, and get all the meds on board. Maybe I should have postponed writing this until then. The content would be different, definitely. However, today it is as it is.


Thursday, September 9, 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)


Pyosz was no longer able to make milk deliveries because of the lifting, so Vants was coming to do it for her each morning. After she saw her off, Pyosz ate a second breakfast with Merrl, who was especially garrulous today. She did the dishes and escaped to her studio, trying to finish a commission in case the baby came early. As she was finishing one set of glaze, Merrl burst in the door.

"Habibi say come now!"

Merrl grabbed her hand and tugged her back to the house. Lawa and Qala were standing beside the second radio, which Qala often used to eavesdrop on radio connunication by the Lofthall.

"She's all right" said Qala instantly, seeing Pyosz's drawn face. "But there was some sort of incident sinning, I can't make out exactly what. They're headed back."

"I'm going to Koldok" said Pyosz, wheeling.

"Me too, emma, me, take me!" implored Merrl, clutching at Pyosz's knee. Qala said "I'll go with you, come on, fava-bean, let's get on your manteau."

At the dock, Merrl became clutchy and cautious, as was her behavior now around edges next to water. Pyosz didn't try to reassure her past this nervousness. She was distracted anyhow, scanning the skies over Dvareka for a distant glimpse of sinners returning: No sign of them yet.

But as they approached the Lofthall, she heard a drone she recognized. She picked up Merrl with a grunt and walked directly to the jichang. Fohol landed first and gave her a brief hug with a whispered "Glad you're here" as she strode angrily to the Lofthall. Abbo landed next, and she only waved at them as she tied down her sinner and began washing it. Pyosz knew Maar would be last because she was always who did the final delivery at the fish docks. She got tired of explaining the delay to Merrl and handed her off to Qala, standing with her hands on her lower back to each the constant ache she felt these days.

As Maar was circling to land, Fohol came back outside and stood on the verge. Abbo offered her the wash jet and Fohol shook her head curtly. Pyosz saw Qala step back and saw she was talking with Mill at the Lofthall door while struggling to keep a grip on Merrl. Pyosz felt sudden apology for having sent her contrary spirit with the egg she gave Maar, which now resided in the child Maar had carried and loved so absolutely.

The sinner engine had not yet completely stilled before Maar boiled out her hatch and shot across the tarmac toward Abbo. She grabbed the lapels of Abbo's guibba and shoved her backward against the shed with a thud Pyosz heard clearly. Fohol crossed her arms to watch but Pyosz began hurrying toward Maar.

"I tell you to release, you levvin' RELEASE!" screamed Maar, leaning into Abbo's face. Abbo got her hands between them and began trying to push Maar away, but Maar's rage made her immovable. She continued shouting "I have HAD it with your shit, your constantly taking chances, you don't get to put my life in danger! I have children, a baby almost here, a Manage that counts on me absolutely, you will NOT play games for your own sick thrill, I'm not a depressed teenager any more!"

Pyosz stopped two paces away, not sure what to do. Maar's face was almost magenta. But Mill reached them and shouted in Maar's ear "Sinner Maar! Back off!" Maar looked at her unfocused for a few seconds, then let go of Abbo.

Mill said "Both of you in my office now." Maar looked beyond her and saw Pyosz.

"No" said Maar, breathing heavily, "I can't be around her right now. There's two other sinners and Dekkan who can tell you what really happened. I'm going home for lunch." She pushed past Mill, who said to her back "Them stay there, don't return today." Maar linked her arm through Pyosz's and kept going. When they reached Qala. Maar took Merrl from her and said with an effort "How's my darling baby?"

As they made food, Maar said "I know you all want to hear it, but I'd rather wait until everyone's here and tell it once."

"Fine with me" said Qala. "Since you don't have to go back anyhow." After lunch, Pyosz offered to lie down for a nap with Maar but Maar said "I'm going to take Merrl with me and what I want most is sleep, can we save it till tonight?"

"Yes." They kissed lightly and Maar carried a protesting Merrl upstairs.

Thont came home with Thleen after school. Thleen asked where Maar was, and Pyosz told her, adding "She's going to talk to us all after dinner. Did you hear something already?"

"Yeah" said Thleen, looking worried. Pyosz turned to Thont. "You two do your homework and help with dinner. Thont, call Vants and tell her you're here. Tell her after dinner we're having a family council which she's welcome to join or else we'll catch her up later. But if I may, I'd like to impose on you as a member of that Manage, will you look after the little ones for an hour while we all talk? Thleen can relay to you what was discussed afterward, but we need someone responsible to keep them from this conversation."

Thont looked conflicted for a moment, and came down on the side of being honored. Pyosz added "If you want to spend the night and Vants says yes, that would be all right." Qux tugged at her sleeve and said "Emma, what happened?"

Merrl gleefully grabbed the front of Qux's shati and shoved her, saying "Aggie did dis to Abbo, and she shouted 'I had it wif you shit!'" Thleen gasped, gratifying Merrl, but Qux burst into tears. Pyosz picked her up and carried her to the kitchen to reassure her while Qala corrected Merrl.

Before all the plates were cleared, Prl brought fresh tea to the table and a tray of lemon bars. Thont grabbed three and used them to lure the little ones upstairs. Halling ate two bites with visible appreciation before saying to Maar "I talked with Mill before coming home."

"What did she say?" asked Maar, challenging.

Halling sipped tea before answering "I'd rather hear from you first. Tell us what happened." The implicit trust in her tone relaxed Maar's shoulders.

"It was back-assed defiance, I guess you'd say" began Maar. "We had to search for almost two hours before we found the bulk of the migration. But it was at last an excellent territory, wall-to-wall schools, and we'd deployed and begun gather. Then Dekkan said she wasn't sure about a shape in the bottom of the net. I studied my screen and, honestly, I could have called it either way. Except the current criteria we're using in Pya is that if there's any doubt, assume the worst. So I gave the order to release."

"Of course" said Halling.

"But Abbo -- she was filling in for Kuus, who's out sick today, and she was flying a sinner which also had radar -- she says the image is breaking up, it's just panicking fish, and we shouldn't waste the load, it would mean we could only do one sin and would have to go back out in the afternoon. And she adds 'Don't let caution make you old before your time', which -- " Maar had to stop, her face set in revived fury. "The point is, while she's jawing at me, Fohol had already initiated release because -- well, you just do, you operate as a team and I call the shots. So one wall of the net is hanging, rendering us all off balance. So I said again for her to levvin' release, and she finally did, and then Juny, and then me. Dekkan watched tight and never was able to confirm we had a big one infiltrating. We had to start over in a new location, much smaller load, and Abbo says 'What a waste of Lofthall resource'. Which means that's the line she's going to take. And -- I blew."

Pyosz took Maar's hand, sharing her anger. Prl turned chilly eyes on Halling, who said "I don't condone assault, but you have a real complaint here. Mill didn't love what I had to say any more than I imagine Abbo is going to welcome what Mill tells her." Pyosz squeezed Maar's hand. "Your assessment of the risk, and action taken, is not in question, Maar. At least not by anyone besides Abbo. The question I want to ask you is, Does this mean a serious or perhaps permanent rupture in your working relationship with Abbo?"

Say yes thought Pyosz. Maar leaned back and rubbed her forehead, thinking. Pyosz listened to the thuds and shrieks from upstairs and hoped Thont wore them out completely. Eventually Maar said "Serious, yes. I need her to stop acting like rebellion is always productive. But permanent...I'm not willing to go that far." She sighed. "If I pull away from her, every other pilot will too, she'll have difficulty working in any team situation."

Prl couldn't stay quiet any more. "But isn't that a difficulty she's helped create?"

"Yes" said Maar, "But I'm not willing to drive her out of the sibaste. We on Skene find ways of mending instead of throwing away. Especially family." Pyosz wanted Maar to have a longer time to be outraged and unyielding. Yet her nature, her gift for leadership, always hurried her along. Pyosz lifted her hand and kissed the back of it.

Yoj said "Do you want one of us to go in with you tomorrow when you talk with Mill?"

Maar gave a startled laugh. "Lev, no, I can just imagine how well that would go over. No, I'll be able to talk it out with her. I got a good break this afternoon."

Pyosz picked up the last lemon bar and handed it to Maar. A crash came from upstairs and then Merrl's wail. "I'll go" said Prl. "Should I bring them back for singing?"

"Yes" said Maar. "Merrl needs a bath, but..." Her voice trailed off, exhausted again.

"I'll take her to the hot springs in the morning, I need a long soak anyhow" said Qala.

That night in bed, Pyosz asked Maar "How much of this is her starting to resent your growing authority?"

"That is the question" said Maar, rubbing the small of Pyosz's back. "I'm going to ask her to her face tomorrow, in front of Mill. That usually works. Abbo does value bluntness, says it makes her feel more at ease."

Pyosz fell asleep while Maar was still massaging her. On Roku, she felt like she had a slight fever and mild diarrhea, so she stopped making the round at Market and sat at the cafe counter sipping tea to stay warm. After the family returned to Saya, leaving Maar behind for an afternoon shift, Pyosz lay down on the sofa in the great room and let Prl tuck a quilt around her.

Lawa felt her forehead and said "We were planning to go to Herne to help with a greenhouse harvest, you want to stay here?"

"I do" said Pyosz. "I could get a nap."

"Should I stay with you?" asked Prl, coming to look at her worriedly.

"No, you'll be needed to keep the little ones out of trouble" said Pyosz, thinking Another two weeks and there'll be a third little one. "Bring me a pot of abba's tummy tea and leave the radio on low, they play nice music in the afternoons."

Once they all traipsed out, the silence of the Manage was heavenly. She dropped off right away. She woke up an hour later when Qoj and Uli came in the door.

"Oops, didn't mean to wake you" said Qoj gaily. "Where is everybody?"

Pyosz sat up with a groan. "Herne" she said briefly.

"Are you sick?" asked Uli.

"The privy" said Pyosz, pushing back the quilt with an urgent look on her face. "Oh, lev, I'm cramping so bad -- " She stood but before she could take a step, a flood of bright red liquid gushed from her, soaking her buksers. She stared down at herself before crumpling sideways to the floor.

Uli dropped to her knees beside her, cradling Pyosz's head in her hands. "What's wrong?" she cried. She looked around at Qoj, motionless with shock, and said "Call Briel."

Pyosz rolled onto her back and said "Oh no, the baby -- I think it's moving!"

Uli grabbed a sofa pillow and put it under Pyosz's head before untying the buksers and pulling them off. She dashed to the bath room and returned with an armful of towels, using one to mop at Pyosz's thighs, now spread as Pyosz moaned and arched back her head.

"Don't push" said Uli urgently. "Wait until Briel is here."

"I don't think I can!" cried Pyosz. "Oh no, it's too early!"

Qoj dialed the radio again, reaching Herne where it rang 20 times before Frahe breathlessly answered. Uli was pressing a wadded towel between Pyosz's legs as Qoj rejoined them, saying "They're on their way."

Frank arrived first in a dead run with her backpack, followed seconds later by Thleen who paused when she saw the blood on the floor. Prl pushed by her and knelt beside Pyosz, taking her hand.

"I can't stop it" said Frank briefly. She had splashed something from a bottle on Pyosz's thighs and said to Uli "All the towels you've got."

By the time Briel got there, Pyosz was screaming nonstop and the baby was crowning. Lawa and Frahe had taken the little ones upstairs, where they both sat on Lawa's lap, asking over and over to "go see emma". Briel took vitals while Frank delivered the baby, handing her to Briel who immediately tried to persuade the baby to breathe. Frank tied and cut the cord, then worked on delivering placenta. Pyosz could not see the baby's face and kept asking "Is she all right? Why is she so quiet?"

After almost a minute, suddenly the baby gave a thin cry and Briel said "There you go! You made a surprise visit, you must really want to be with us." Prl wiped away tears and looked at Pyosz, but Pyosz's eyes had closed and she wasn't responding.

Frank took the baby from Briel. Briel said "She's lost too much blood, lev it, and we don't have time to fly her to Koldok." She began pulling tubing and needles from her bag as she looked at Prl and said "I know you're a match to her blood type." Prl, ashen, began rolling up her sleeve. Briel said to Yoj "Call the clinic and find out who else here under this roof is a match to Pyosz." She deftly linked Prl to Pyosz and a red stream began flowing from Prl to Pyosz.

Qala tugged Thleen into the kitchen to make orange juice for the blood donors. When Yoj reported back to Briel "Tu and Thleen", however, Thleen rushed into the great room and said "Me, take my blood first!" Briel glanced at her and nodded. Prl sipped at the orange juice and kept murmuring to Pyosz at Briel stitched her examined her.

At that point the front door slammed open and Maar looked at the scene with horror. She didn't close to the door but dropped beside Pyosz, cupping her cheek. "What happened?" she said wildly.

Briel said "I think the placenta ruptured. The bleeding's slowing but if we can't stop it, we'll have to get her to surgery." Frank added "Your baby is fine." Maar looked up at that, her gaze closing on Frank. Maar numbly took the bundle in her arms as Briel said "She also has a blue spot on her back. We'll need to watch her closely, have oxygen on hand, but she's able to make it just fine, I think."

Maar whispered "Welcome, our precious one. I am your emma." She clutched her baby close and leaned over Pyosz, saying "She's beautiful, our Ngus, you did it."

"Ngus" repeated Halling in approval. Briel said to Prl "That's as much as we can take from you, let me switch you out." Prl scooted next to Maar on the floor as Thleen took her place, not even flinching as the needle was slid into her arm. Thleen said to Maar "I have the same blood type as Pyosz."

"Of course you do" said Maar, weeping silently. "But I don't understand what happened here."

"She stayed home alone, said she was feeling a little sick and wanted to sleep" said Qala, guilt heavy in her voice. "We should have known better -- "

"Qoj and I stopped by because we had news, and we found her as she began bleeding" said Uli.

Briel said to Qoj "It's great luck that you were here, because I don't think she'd have made it otherwise." Maar shuddered and leaned over to kiss Pyosz's cheek again. "Please come back" she whispered, "please don't leave me."

A few minutes later, a hospital tech arrived with a crate of supplies. Briel put a tiny oxygen tube on Ngus, who was trying to wave her arms and focus on Maar's face. As she began putting a mask on Pyosz, Pyosz's eyes opened and she startled.

"What -- Maar, you're here!" She raised a listless arm and Maar pressed close, saying "Here she is, my love, our Ngus! Ngus, this is your aggie." Maar held the baby to Pyosz's chest for her and Pyosz said "I feel so weak. And cold."

"We need to get her off this floor" said Briel.

"Our bed" said Halling promptly. Qala went to change sheets while a stretcher was assembled. Thleen was disconnected from the transfusion for the transfer, and Briel told Tu to wait, Pyosz's blood pressure was responding. The mess in the great room was cleaned as best it could, soup was heated, and Pyosz remained awake, huddled under blankets with Maar and Ngus on one side, Prl on the other.

When Pyosz finally stopped shivering, she said "My milk came in a few days ago, can I see if she wants to nurse?" The baby blanket was peeled away to reveal a child as pale as Maar, with the shape of Pyosz's eyes and a fine gauze of red-gold hair on her head. Prl said "Those eyes are going to be blue, I'll lay an ek on it." After several tries, Ngus finally latched on and a cheer went up when this was reported to those in the great room.

Thleen said "The little ones, can they come in now?" Pyosz nodded and Thleen ran to get them. As they entered the room, Thleen was telling Merrl "Now you get to be a siba, too, as well as a sibu, just like Qux." Prl took them on her lap one by one to peer at Ngus, get a kiss from Pyosz, and have pointed out to them how Ngus resembled them. Qux began crying and Yoj took her, carrying her back to the great room with a stream of reassurance, avoiding the blood stain on the gleaming floor.

It look a long time for Pyosz to regain her strength. She spent hours in front of the hearth, once she could move around, communing with Ngus. Vants assumed care of the goats and Yoj did her best to fill in for the baking, with Thleen's help. Maar took a week off and struggled to fend off Merrl monopolizing her without sending Merrl into frenzies of sibling jealousy. When Pyosz did venture outside, it was mostly to the greenhouse because she became chilled easily.

Ngus was quiet but not in Qux's attentive way. Pyosz thought her beauty was ethereal. She was nearly consumed with interest in her, and glad to see Maar felt the same way. It wasn't until nearly sheep-shearing time in Jian that Pyosz felt able to resume her full chores on Saya, but almost always with Ngus tucked in a yameen, a dreamy heartbeat distinct from her own.

The news which had fortuitously brought Uli and Qoj to Owl Manage the day Ngus had been born was that Qoj was pregnant. She came to visit Pyosz more often than usual, wanting to discuss what was going on with her body, yet always eyeing the blood stain with apprehension. Maar acted differently around Uli now, with no reserve at all, hugging her gratefully. At one point, Uli asked her "Will you come for our birth? You and Pyosz?"

"Yes" said Maar firmly. That night in bed, as Pyosz was nursing Ngus, Maar said "I hope you're done with being pregnant. I'm still not over the fear I felt."

Pyosz smiled at her. "I think I am, though not because of what happened. I feel accomplished. Now it's just about raising them."

Maar cupped her hand over the entire reach of Ngus's back. "You know, Thleen brings up whenever she can that her blood is now in your veins. It has enormous meaning for her."

"Does for me too. I'll remind her tomorrow that the milk I'm making is also carrying her blood into Ngus" said Pyosz. "Merrl asks me at least twice a day if I'll nurse her too, and she gets aggrieved when I say no. But who I think it's really bothering, silently, is Qux. I'm trying to make sure we have at least half an hour each day of me and her time."

Still, time and attention were at a premium all around that season. Oby had won her election as Ethicist by a handful of votes and was consumed with her new duties. Which meant Maar's paperwork and other Lofthall jobs had also increased greatly. Mill looked haggard and was often bad-tempered. Api didn't seem to know what to do with herself, evincing no real interest in the agrarian work of Arta Island. She began coming to Saya early to fish with Lawa and whoever else was at the point. But Lawa had never been especially fond of Api, whom she called a "pebble arranger", and her non-confrontative nature was strained with this intrusion of family which must be tolerated.

A prankster, or perhaps more than one, was making their presence felt at the Polytechnic. It began with an empty wine bottle being left in the outstretched hand of Yoj's statue one morning. Naki managed to get a photograph of it to run in the paper. Yoj laughed about it merrily, saying "I know how popular I am, it's an honor, really." Prl was not so entertained.

Periodically a new offering would appear, and Naki began checking on the statue at first light. One time it was a Pertama kickball jersey with a long-dead shu inserted in the neck. Another time it was a copy of the green directory with the names of everyone born to sib-sib relationships circled in red and labeled "Future Gakushas at Pya Polytechnic", which made Prl's eyes seem to freeze in their sockets. Pyosz's favorite was the appearance of a very used blossom. Yoj and Halling laughed about that all evening, wondering who it had belonged to, whether it had been stolen from mortified emmas somewhere.

But then one morning there was a vivid color drawing of a fleet of mezi ray sinners raining destruction down on a bay of leviathans, with dismembered levs lapping up on shore, including babies. Across the bottom was written "True Balance." Yoj's brown eyes were deeply troubled, and suggested she try to match the handwriting to the papers of Poly enrolled.

"It's not necessarily a student" said Yoj. "Or even someone who left the other items."

"Do you think this represents a widespread sentiment out there?" asked Prl. She looked at Neoma, who said "Not that I've heard, but most of my free time is here."

Maar pored over the drawing and said "You know, these depictions of the sinners are completely accurate."

"Anyone with a flair for art could be that observant" said Pyosz.

"Yes, but so are the mezi rays, even down to the controls on this one in the foreground, see?" said Maar, leaning over so Halling could confirm.

"And they have the levi blood color just right too" said Halling slowly. She and Yoj looked at each other. Maar swore under her breath, and Thleen "What does that mean?"

Merrl was occupied trying to tie a cap on Barter, who was considering drawing blood. Qux was listening, so Maar replied "It means this is a statement of dissent from someone with inside information.: Which Pyosz saw go over Qux's head except for her emma's grave tone. Pyosz glanced down at Ngus watching her intently, her red-gold hair a perfect frame for those bright blue eyes.

After half a minute, Halling said heavily "I set this in motion, and I'm not going to be able to see it all the way through." Everyone but Yoj looked instantly upset. Yoj replied "No, it was set in motion 500 years ago. We're still trying to deal with those choices, often in the dark." She patted Halling's hand and said softly "I miss her right now."

Halling half-smiled. "Yeah. She'd have something helpful to say."

"Who?" asked Qux, but before Pyosz could explain, Barter declared her independence with a gash across the back of Merrl's hand, plunging the room into dealing with the tempest at hand.

(Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild)


Wednesday, September 8, 2010


(Heavy runaway star rushing away from a nearby stellar nursery at more than 400 000 kilometres per hour in 30 Doradus Nebula)

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 Eleanor Lerman

It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
dinner. The bread, the meat

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history.

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins



In 1980 I lived in a two-bedroom railroad flat in the Mission District with Renee, my best friend at the time. We had claimed the first two rooms as our bedrooms, once parlors, with sliding wooden doors between which we often left open because we were so close. We often slept together as well. For a while, Sharon lived with us in the "real" bedroom next to the kitchen, but she went away for CETA training during the spring.

Renee worked part-time at the Women's Building and she was naturally gregarious, chatting up all the women visiting from elsewhere. Often she offered them out spare room for a night or two. That summer, however, we had a month-long visitor, Ina, a German dyke who was radical, funny, and the perfect blend to our household. That year the exchange rate was very favorable for Germans visiting the U.S., and Ina extended her time with us, using our home as a means of exploring much of California.

We were really sorry to see her go. Thus, then Renee showed up with another German lesbian needing a place to crash, we were both excited. Her name was Efa, and she had hitchhiked her way across country to reach the West Coast. She was very striking looking, six feet tall, wide-shouldered, with black hair, pale skin and bright blue eyes. She habitually wore dark coveralls, looking like a tradesperson, which was uncommon attire then even for dykes. Her first night with us, we asked her if she had encountered any problems hitchhiking, despite her tough appearamce. Her English was not as fluent as Ina's, so after struggling for the words a minute, she simply grinned and pulled from her coveralls side pocket a massive, wickedly sharp metal hook, saying "I show zem ziss." We collapsed into laughter.

Efa only stayed a week. She did not know Ina personally but there was some sort of communication network they were plugged into and she had gone to the Women's Building hoping to find Renee. She made dinner for us one night, a potato and cheese casserole we liked, but what really wowed us was the fruit salad which had an unusual and delicious flavor. We pressed her for the recipe, and she told us the secret ingredient in German but we couldn't figure it out. Finally she thundered down the hall for her dictionary and ran back to sit at the table as she looked up the word. "Gin!" she announced triumphantly. Renee and I were both nondrinkers but we laughed and ate every bite.

I left in early August to drive to the Michigan Women's Music Festival. While there, I led a workshop for survivors of child sexual assault, the first ever. I was also interviewed on the subject by Pacifica Radio. The large number of attendees, most of whom had never told anyone what happened to them, and the emotional demands of trying to help them left me overwhelmed. I caught a ride into the nearest town where, besides getting a cheeseburger and Coke, I went to a phone booth and called home collect, hoping to talk with Renee.

Instead, a strange voice with a German accent answered our phone. She refused to accept the collect call. I called back, making it person-to-person for Renee, and again the call was denied because the same voice said she was "not zair." Frustrated, I called Joan, one of the dykes who lived next door to us, who wasn't thrilled about the collect charges. I asked what the fuck was going on in my house. She explained there were two new German dykes installed, Isa and Sylvia, and apparently they didn't know who I was.

I asked Joan to inform them I lived there and to accept collect calls from me, and to tell Renee I had called. I went back to the festival feeling cheesed.

It turned out our luck had expired with Isa and Sylvia. Referred by the same word-of-mouth network, they were not nearly so friendly or responsible. In particular, they spent hours in the bathtub running hot water to counteract the chill of August in San Fran. The clouds of steam created a fine speckle of mildew all over the bathroom walls. They didn't replace food or chip in for utilities, either. After they left, we had to scrub down the bathroom walls with vinegar and repaint them.

Still, we agreed, Renee should keep bringing home travelers as she saw fit, and we had a soft spot for German dykes.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I am great in emergencies. I not only can think of the right thing to do, I can instantly come up with a creative solution particular to that crisis. I have been through serious car wrecks where I was the rescuer, blood stauncher, counselor, and advocate all at once, on the spot. I once found the emergency kill switch on a Sears escalator when a toddler riding on it got his foot caught and mangled in the stair-fold mechanism, holding that child and keeping his mother from hysterics as we waited for the paramedics. (Which is why I avoid escalators now.)

I think much of my skill comes from growing up poor. You face the unfaceable and stay thinking or things go much, much worse for you. I count as my kind the folks from the Cypress Street Projects, one of the poorest and "most dangerous" neighborhoods in Oakland, who poured out of their homes when the 580 freeway beside them collapsed onto itself in 1989. They assembled makeshift ladders, ropes, anything they could use to clamber up 30 feet of concrete pillars into the narrow gap where crushed cars filled with screaming people were starting to burn.

By the time official first responders were able to find a way to the wreck of a roadway, those folks from the projects had already saved most of the survivors, getting them to relative safety, comforting traumatized children, giving drinks of water, starting to joke about how scared shitless they had been. Nobody took their names or did a news feature on these heros, because they were too poor, too black, some of them too clearly high and pissed off. But I know what they did and how they did it. It was much like any other day, really.

But as well as being a child of my origins, I am also a class traitor. I have sought out and absorbed the intelligent remnants maintained by other classes, I have loved and made allies across the divide, and one thing I have learned is that living in adrenaline mode kills you fast. So when I have a breather, even if it is only ten seconds long, I have tried to take it, make the most of it.

Thus, after the paramedics hauled away that sobbing toddler and his mother from Sears, with her looking beseechingly back at me as if I was part of their family and should be accompanying them, I had to sit down on that Berkeley sidewalk because my legs would no longer hold me up. I sobbed and shivered violently, letting myself feel what I had just witnessed, "processing" as my little brother Bill would say with such intense scorn. Bill who died at 42 because the male raised-poor approach finally ran out of any rope at all.

I began running out of rope myself in 2005, and as resource after resource dried up, I eventually, finally, became hopeless. A few folks hung in there with me, although nobody knew how really bad it was for me. Now the pendulum is swinging the other direction, and I am (tiredly, dutifully) using my out-of-immediate-danger time to face how close to immolation I came. I'd much rather eat sugar and watch Youtube and write cryptic poetry that doesn't pass my own Tell test.

But living to be old means I clean up what I can when I have a chance. And the trail of mess goes all the way back to infancy, to betraying my mama by admitting how she failed me, to betraying my family by telling their nastiest secrets, to facing those of you who are clean and educated and making good choices with the hope that I am worthy of you choosing me, too. Fake it til you make it.

Because sometimes you can't save yourself, and you'll have to say yes to others crawling through the debris to reach you. And you have to love yourself to say yes. Loving yourself is the ultimate revolution. You can't do it and live in fear or isolation.

And, you know me -- I write about it as I go along. Tell until your lips are chapped, that's my credo. Thank you for listening.


Monday, September 6, 2010


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