“Ain’t Nobody Else Going to Read Them”

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My mother and her older brother started cleaning out my aunt’s house today in preparation for it being put up for sale to satisfy the nursing home bill. I was unable to go and help  them today because I’m drowning in freelance assignments and still fighting bronchitis. My aunt’s house is hot and, after three years, dusty.

I asked for a few things from the house: a rag doll, teddy bear, a stuffed (toy) dog, my aunt’s sewing box, a handmade wooden box containing my grandfather’s paperwork as a railroad employee and then a barber, and my aunt’s memorabilia from President Obama’s first campaign.

My uncle despises President Obama and looks at Trump as a validation. A wealthy white male validation. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut when he saw my mother putting the Obama mailings into her purse.

“What do you want that crap for?”

My mother, wanting always to keep the peace and still afraid of her older brother, said “Robin likes Obama and she doesn’t like Trump.”

(My mother also likes Obama and doesn’t like Trump, but I’m used to being thrown under the conservative family bus.)

My uncle responded: “GOLLLEEE.”

When my mother located the specific book that I wanted (An Introduction to Literature, Fiction-Poetry-Drama, Barnet-Berman-Burto) my uncle told her to take every book in the house because “ain’t nobody else going to read them.”

The book that my mother brought to me is a college literature textbook. I wanted it because it contains A Rose for Emily by Faulkner.

My aunt had wonderful taste in decor. She could have been an interior designer. She worked as a waitress for 30+ years before going back to school to earn her R.N. degree. She worked in the same nursing home where she spent the last three years of her life.

Why do you want that crap?

Ain’t nobody else going to read them.

When I recover from this bronchitis, I’m going to my aunt’s house with my mother, alone, and rescuing the books.

 

 

Let Children Enjoy Childhood

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I had an unpleasant encounter with a male STEM proponent, and it’s been on my mind for days. Not because I’m anti-STEM or science. I’m definitely pro-STEM and science, and I think that boys AND GIRLS who show interest and aptitude for science and math should absolutely be encouraged to pursue those interests.

Please note that I said ENCOURAGED. I also believe that kids who want to read fiction, write stories, write poetry, draw pictures should also be encouraged to pursue their interests. Even if they want a  doll or other traditional toy for their birthday instead of a chemistry set or a microscope or a telescope.

When I was in elementary school, I read some of Rachel Carson’s work, and I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. That lasted a couple of months until I read a book about nursing careers, and I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. Then I started writing stories. And I knew what I wanted to be was a writer.

My father and grandfather gave me a healthy interest in the outdoors: plants, animals, birds. My grandfather used to point out the constellations to me. That and the year we studied astronomy for a semester in elementary school left me with an amateur’s fascination for the skies.

I still played with dolls every day.

Dissecting frogs and giant worms in science class revolted me. I think I failed that semester. I wanted nothing to do with the class any longer. I tuned out.

I have great difficulty with math. This started in the fifth grade when I had a teacher who actively disliked the kids who didn’t “get it” right away. If you needed extra help, she had no time for you. So I often turned in blank math tests well into high school and no one tried to help. I wasn’t getting it, so I wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

What saved me was art, history, civics, and English. When I was 16 I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and couldn’t go to school for a month. A math teacher came to my house and tutored me after school. When I went back to school, I was put into a remedial math class. I learned the basics that I had missed in elementary and middle school. With my high grades in the arts and humanities classes, I graduated in the top third of my class.

By that time I had been interested in folklore for a couple of years, and I read everything on the folklore and religion shelves. And trashy romances. And I still collected dolls.

I attended a four year private university and majored in English: Writing Studies. I had to drop out after three semesters due to financial aid cuts. My grandmother paid for me to go to community college. I graduated with a two-year degree in Paralegal Technology.

Now there aren’t any paralegal jobs here . . . unless you’re willing to work part-time under the table. I’d rather stay at home and write.

I’m a (paid) freelance writer by day and an aspiring novelist by night. In between, I’m a darned good amateur photographer, I’m still interested in astronomy, and I developed an interest in mycology as an adult living in a house in the woods with a stunning variety of mushrooms popping up in my yard in late summer and fall. The mushrooms are what made me go out and buy a good high-end camera and that got me interested in photography.

I still collect dolls. I’ve had a couple of people get very upset with me because I’m a 44-year-old woman who collects dolls. I don’t understand that. Adults play video games, read comic books, collect comic books, collect Funkos, collect action figures. So what’s so wrong with my dolls?

I think that the doll issue is so misunderstood by people outside of the doll community that it deserves its own post, so I guess this will be a two-parter.

I’m going to end this (because I have to go write an article for an addiction recovery center that helps people stay clean after detox) with a brief anecdote about a woman my age that I met in kindergarten. After decades of wondering what happened to her after my father put me in a different school, I reconnected with her last year. She’s brilliant. She has a fascinating career in STEM and a wonderful family, and she’s still dealing with emotional issues caused by an overbearing father–almost a stage father–who decided that since she was very good at math and science, that was her life path. And he gave her no choices. And she can’t even bring herself to come back to this town to visit me because of the bad memories of her early school years. She speaks regularly about giving her children the real childhood she didn’t have.

It’s just as cruel to force a girl who finds dissection fascinating and wants a microscope for her birthday to play with dolls because science isn’t “ladylike” as it is to take the doll out of the hands of the child who loves it and hand them a chemistry set that they do not want.

My father was a bastard, but somehow he managed to strike a healthy balance in types of play and education. He taught me to play chess by the time I was in the third grade. My grandparents added to my fascination with history. I regularly drive past my grandmother’s decaying childhood home and I want to know everything about how they really lived.

I’m as well adjusted as can be expected considering those couple of awful teachers I had at crucial points in my education. But I had a great history teacher in high school and a great English teacher in middle school and I think that they saved me. They, and the high school art teacher who said “draw what you want” and gave us a variety of media, and Mrs. Briggs, the math teacher, who tutored me while understanding that I was never going to be a math teacher. But my art teacher made me believe I could be an artist, and my history teacher gave me a fascination with medieval history (one of my other casual interests is archaeology, particularly from that time period) and my English teacher told me that I could be a published author like her.

I learned about archaeology and skeletal facial reconstruction from a romantic suspense novel that I read in high school.

I want teachers like the ones who encouraged me for all children. I want the teacher who sees the girl carrying the Rachel Carson book to guide her in the direction of environmental science.

But dammit, if that girl–or boy–also loves their Monster High collection, no one should belittle her or try to make her feel ashamed for liking dolls.

I’ll try to get to part two tomorrow, but I have a lot of content to write for the addiction recovery center.

I guess writing little stories in the 2nd and 3rd grade wasn’t a waste of time, huh?

Ann Wilson, Queen, and Writing

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I have been laid up for three days with the worst chest cold. We had two weeks of spring temperatures, everything started pollinating, and now we’re under a winter storm warning. Last night I was so delirious that I had a dream about being at a music festival in Central Park in the 70s and Queen and Heart were playing. Roger kept trying to hook up with Ann, but she had a baby and blew him off to go back to the hotel after the show. I dream about Queen a lot.

ANYWAY.

I have been struggling with my vampire books and struggling to write a story about a witch without any vampires sticking their noses in, and I got stuck in my all of this has been for nothing, you can’t salvage the vampire manuscripts, you can’t write about anything but vampires, you’re screwed.

I woke up at two in the morning, and I was so weak that I couldn’t sit up or cough. Thank goodness my mother was still up, and that she had the strength to pull me into a sitting position. I spent the next three hours coughing, you know, that burning, croupy cough. In between periods of coughing, I kept thinking, I really want to write. I know how to fix all the things.

I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink in 12 hours, but I wanted to write.

Now I’m up, and I’ve figured out my problems. The last third of book one of The Empire State Vamps is weak. I rushed through it. I have to rewrite it.

I have a good beginning for a story about fairies and changelings, set in the present. I think that’s my strongest story in progress. I need to do some plotting and outlining.

I have a good idea for a story about a witch. I have a good beginning. I don’t want to lose my momentum, but I have got to get this vampire book ready. I thought it was ready to query. It’s not. I was right for not just “putting it out there,” as people kept pushing me to do.

I have a lot of work to do and I’m still sick and very tired, and it’s frustrating. But I did start reading a new book last night that hooked me immediately (it’s about books and writing): The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It’s the perfect book for a wintry weekend of getting my strength back. And more resting means more thinking about stories, plotting, and dreaming about Queen.

The Wind and the Lion

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Apparently March is coming in like a lion this year. We had a thunderstorm last night. Now the wind is roaring around my house. I feel it to my right through the drafty old windows. I think I’ll need extra blankets tonight.

This blustering wind reminds me of fairy tales. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” Those were real concerns for people in sod or stone houses with thatched-roofs.

I think that it’s good to feel something like what our long-ago ancestors felt, sitting by the fire with their livestock. We’ve forgotten how hard day to day survival was a thousand years ago. We’ve forgotten how hard day to day survival was 100 years ago. I’m 44. In a farmhouse on a lonely country highway, my great-grandmother built up the fire, and took an extra quilt to the children all in the same bed, and my great-grandfather, maybe, maybe he sat in a straight-backed chair with his shotgun across his knees because you never knew what might come out of that roaring night.

You never know.

Ash Wednesday a Year Later

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I woke up early today, for a wonder, and started reading Twitter. I no longer keep up with the Christian calendar unless it’s Easter or Christmas. Those were our family traditions. Today is Ash Wednesday. I haven’t celebrated–or been forced to observe–Ash Wednesday since I was in private school.

A lot has happened over the last year, especially since September, to show me that Christianity is not my path. I’m on the outside looking in at people discussing getting ready early today to that they can go to church, and I’m reading tweets from countries in Great Britain where the Ash Wednesday celebrations are a much bigger deal that they are here . . . full of color, traditional costumes, and music.

The only reason I’m writing this post is that the happiness over Ash Wednesday is such a painful contrast to what happened today in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Three women were interrogated on suspicion of witchcraft: Tituba, an enslaved woman, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. And thus began one of the most obscene episodes of insanity in American history: the Salem Witch Trials.

We know now (at least some of us do) that it is 99.999% likely that none of the 19 people executed in Salem for witchcraft were witches. I’m leaving that less than 1% chance open because someone may have been quietly practicing an old belief system. Maybe they escaped the hysteria because they kept to themselves. Maybe they turned their faces from their accused neighbors in order to survive.

It’s 2017 and Salem now exists on tourism fed by false accusations of witchcraft.

When I put away my Mary Magdalene paraphernalia last September and turned back to what had lain dormant in my mind for thirteen years–that’s weird, thirteen years, isn’t it?–I felt sad, lost, forsaken, as if I thought I had a friend but didn’t. That’s how close I was to this heretical version of Christianity. I didn’t mind being a heretic. It felt right to me . . . except that it was causing me quite a bit of anxiety trying to understand it.I remember reading something in the Bible attributed to Jesus regarding divorce and thinking, surely this doesn’t apply to me. I didn’t want to leave. I had to.

It’s all simply too hard to fathom. I was amazed at how easily I slipped back into my old ways and how much pleasure there is in being an adult and not having to disguise my altars or put away my Tarot cards.

Then I remembered where I was. In the South. Surrounded by neighbors who, instead of listening to me when I tried to explain the reason for my lifelong OCD, told me “you know you did something wrong” and told me to pray. Where people wave crucifixes and proclaim “my God is good!” even though their lives, from what they tell me, are not happy.

It’s a pretense. And I have to keep my altars and my Tarot cards and my books in my bedroom, because at least down here people have some scruples about just walking into your bedroom.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: pagans still can’t be as open about their beliefs as Christians. And today is a holy day for many Christians, but it’s also a day of remembrance for 19 people who fell victim to a hysteria much like what is burning across our country today:

Victims of Salem in Order of Execution:

Bridget Bishop

Rebecca Nuse

Sarah Good

Elizabeth Howe

Susannah Martin

Sarah Wildes

George Burroughs

George Jacobs Sr.

Martha Carrier

John Proctor

John Willard

Martha Corey

Mary Eastey

Mary Parker

Alice Parker

Ann Pudeator

Wilmot Redd

Margaret Scott

Samuel Wardwell Sr.

Giles Corey

Several victims died in prison:

Lydia Dustin

Ann Foster

Sarah Foster

Roger Toothaker

Mercy Foster (daughter of Sarah Good, born and died in prison)

This obscene part of American history is more than just a list of names of the accused dead. There were a few people who escaped from the Salem prison. You can start here to learn about the real people behind the names:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_of_the_Salem_witch_trials#Convicted_and_executed

I’m going to spend Ash Wednesday in remembrance of all these many people who suffered and died as a result of hysteria, prejudice, and intolerance.

We would do well, when we turn on the news today, to remember that “witch hunt” isn’t just a catchphrase and, under the leadership of someone eager to harm those different from him in skin color, religious belief, and sexuality, it’s already happening again.

The First Anti-Cat Hysteric of Spring

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I haven’t seen a robin yet this year, but I’ve seen daffodils, violets, and I’ve read the ugly words of one of the anti-cat cult.

“…bird-murdering cat…” I got that far and stopped reading. That’s dumb. That’s wrong. That’s a lie. That’s hysterical language designed to bring out the people who hate cats so much they will shoot them in traps or put out poisoned food. It’s language designed to appeal to dangerously deranged people. Do I have to keep pointing out over and over and over that killing animals is one of the points of the triad of sociopathy? Do I have to keep saying that not only is killing a cat for being a cat wrong, it’s a sign that the person who does it is quite possibly dangerous to people too?

I guess I do, if people are going to persist in sharing this bullshit.

There is no such thing as a bird-murdering cat.

I repeat, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BIRD-MURDERING CAT. There is also no such thing as a worm-murdering robin. There are simply animals being animals. Neither one plots and plans to harm its prey. They act on instinct like every other wild animal. Humans who kill cats or dogs may have fabricated justifications, but really, anyone who kills a cat for killing a bird (even a beautiful songbird) has a fucking problem and should be stopped.

Like it or not, feral cats are becoming American wildlife. A feral cat is one that was born in the wild and is unused to human contact. A stray cat is one that slipped out of its home and got lost, or was abandoned or left behind by a “person.” Cats are frequently abandoned or “put out” by people who rent apartments and a) aren’t supposed to have pets/have too many pets or b) choose to move into a new place that doesn’t allow pets. These are human failings. Cats shouldn’t be punished for them.

Feral cat colonies are often monitored by people (like me) who feed starving cats. Why are the cats starving if they’re murdering and eating all those precious songbirds? ISN’T THAT A MYSTERY? The truth is that a feral cat’s diet consists primarily of voles, other small mammals (chipmunks) and frogs. Yes, frogs. If feral cats were “murdering” the silly astronomical numbers of songbirds claimed by the Audubon Society, there would be no birds at your feeder–or mine.

Feral cats are not spreading rabies. If they were, it would be on the news every day.

Feral cats are not spreading toxoplasmosis. If they were, it would be on the news every day.

People who hate cats lie. Even people at the top in “respectable” wildlife organizations. Some of those people have killed cats themselves.

I understand that there are people who dislike cats. I do not understand people who would callously and deliberately kill cats for being cats. I have two indoor cats. I also have a bird feeder and bird bath and spend a ridiculous amount of money every month on bird seed and sunflower seeds. I feed squirrels as well as birds. I don’t consider them vermin. Many birders do. I don’t like it when a neighborhood cat starts hanging around my bird feeder. I will chase it away. I will spray it with water. I will not harm it or call animal control even if it does kill a bird.

It is not a cat’s fault for being a cat. You want someone to blame for a dead songbird? Blame the person who moved to a “better” apartment and abandoned their cat. Blame the person who got a kitten and shoved it out the door when it grew up  into a cat. People are the problem.

A significant percentage of songbird death is due to loss of their environment so that people can have McMansions. Pesticides kill birds as well as bees.

It is not the fault of the cats. It is all our fault. Before you use stupid words like “bird-murdering cat,” take a long look at yourself, where you live, and your lifestyle. What have you done that has forced a cat into an outdoor life or contributed to the death of a songbird?

Grow the fuck up, stop blaming cats, and be a better fucking human being.