I’ve been pleased to write a couple of blog posts for Dan Kobolt’s Science in Science Fiction blog. Now those posts, along with the contributions of many other authors, are to become part of a collection Putting the Science in Science Fiction, due to be published by Writer’s Digest in 2018.
This website is an odd mix of my interests as a writer, entomologist, naturalist, gardener, and educator. You’ll find blog posts about rural New Zealand life, links to my books, and some of my favourite recipes. Feel free to explore, drop me a line, and sign up for my e-mail list.
Life is full of serious stuff. Hard work, difficult decisions, earthquakes, fires, death, politicians, lawyers, and accountants…it’s easy to be overwhelmed by it all, and to walk through life with a frown.
So I’m thankful for those who can show us the proper way to take ourselves seriously…
Like the fellow in front of me at Farmlands this morning, who was buying fence posts.
“Anything else?” the clerk asked.
“Yeah, I’d like matching holes to put them in.”
Or the man I once caught stealing a marker flag off a research site. Surprised in the act of untying the flag from the tree, he smiled impishly, shrugged, tied it back on and walked off.
Or the awesome women I see around town with their hair dyed fuchsia, peacock blue, or lime green.
So, In an effort to take life as seriously as these leaders in the field, I’ve decided to tackle an issue that has bothered me for many years.
Yep. The important issue of our time–our orientational and gravitational challenges.
Oh, I can do handstands, and I can walk on my hands for half a dozen steps, but I lack control and finesse upside down. It bothers me that I can’t just stay on my hands for as long as I want, like I do on my feet. Eventually, I lose my balance. That shouldn’t happen. I should be able to remain in a handstand long enough to sing every last verse of Ratlin Bog. Long enough to read the entire front page of the New York Times (which would probably seem much less serious from that perspective). Long enough to do the bunny hop around the room. Long enough to thoroughly embarrass both my teenage children. Long enough that they deny they’re related to me, or that they’ve ever even met me.
So if you find me upside down at odd hours of day and night, please understand I’m just doing my best to take life seriously.
Carnival starts in just a few days in Panama. It’s true, the actual date of Carnival isn’t until Saturday the 25th but, at least in our village in the mid-1990s, Carnival lasted the better part of a week. We learned to never plan to get anything done in the days before or after Carnival. After all, people had to spend the days before Carnival practicing getting drunk. The day of Carnival was spent being drunk, and the days after were spent recovering from having been drunk.
In the lead-up to Carnival, the women would make vast quantities of tamales (polenta-like corn mash filled with meat and vegetables, wrapped in leaves and boiled) to sell to all the young people who would come home from their jobs in the city for the celebration. The making of tamales was a group activity done only by the women, and the rules of behaviour were…relaxed. It was Carnival, after all! I seldom saw the women of our village drink, but the lemonade we drank while making tamales was spiked with seco.
But Carnival was about more than drinking. It also included dancing, and getting wet. In Penonome, the Carnival parade was made of elaborate rafts that floated down the river. The local fire tanker crawled through the crowded streets, turning the fire hose on the crowd as it chanted “Water! Water!”. The unspoken rule was that men could splash water on women, and vice versa–you’d walk down the street and have cups of water thrown at your face by laughing men.
In our village, there was always a parade. Not on water, but up to the community building–a large open-air pavilion–where a band would play until late into the night. Our neighbours also usually had a dance, just for a few local families. No one in our village had money for a proper traditional pollera, but a long full skirt and a t-shirt was good enough for the local party. Kids and adult alike danced through the night, and the next morning was very quiet…
That’s about as much notice as Valentine’s Day has ever gotten from me.
Back in primary school, it was the thing to do to buy cheap, punch-out valentines and give them to every classmate. Our mums dutifully bought the things, and we dutifully wrote each of our classmate’s names on them. Everyone got a valentine from everyone else in the class–theoretically, anyway. It didn’t really work out that way and, frankly, most of us didn’t care much one way or another.
As I grew older and started to consider boys as more than just good companions for knife-throwing and tree-climbing competitions, Valentine’s Day became more fraught with meaning. I dodged it as often as possible, and don’t remember ever once going on a date on Valentine’s Day. It just seemed…icky, and doomed to be awkward.
So I was relieved to discover, once I was married, that my husband avoided Valentine’s Day like the plague, too. We have managed to forget Valentine’s Day for nearly 25 years.
It was made easier by the fact our son was born four days before the holiday–we’re celebrated out when V-Day rolls around. Gives us a legitimate excuse to thumb our noses at pre-printed expressions of love and devotion, bad chocolate, and flying babies brandishing weapons.
So once again, we’ll be having an altValentine’s Day here. If either of us remembers tomorrow, we’ll put on a fake doe-eyed expression and laughingly wish the other a happy Valentine’s Day. More likely, we’ll both forget, until Google or FaceBook dutifully reminds us. Then we’ll go about our normal day, expressing our love in the ordinary things we do together that make us happy. It will be a day like any other, and no less filled with love than if it also included flowers and Hallmark greeting cards.
And the best thing is, we’ll celebrate it again the next day, and the next, and the next.
So, happy altValentine’s Day. Make it every day.
Panama had recently been invaded by the United States in a clumsy attempt to remove Manuel Noriega from power. The operation left an estimated 3,500 Panamanian civilians dead and 20,000 homeless. Noriega was ultimately captured, but at great cost.
It wasn’t the first U.S. atrocity in Panama. In 1964 U.S. forces killed 21 Panamanians in response to protests over the flying of the Panamanian flag in the Canal Zone.
One day during our service, my husband and I were in a bar in Panama City. We met a young serviceman and, when we explained we were Peace Corps Volunteers, he said, “Oh! So, we shoot ’em, and you apologise.”
Yep. That’s about right.
I feel like I’ve been apologising for my country my whole adult life. As a people, Americans can be great. They can be generous, kind, openhearted, and open-minded. I like Americans–some of my best friends are Americans.
But America as a nation is often a bully, stuck in out-of-date ideas, selfish, arrogant, close-minded, racist, sexist, and uncaring. It was founded by people seeking religious freedom, yet is stubbornly intolerant of religious diversity. It was founded on the premise that ‘all men are created equal’, and yet has never treated all men equally (and don’t even ask how the nation has treated women…).
As a child, I was taught that America provided equal opportunity to all, and benevolently gave aid to those in need. I recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, and believed in the words ‘with liberty and justice for all’.
But so much of what I saw, even as a child, revealed the lie in what I was taught. I have now spent half my adult life living outside the United States, seeing America from many different perspectives. None of them are flattering.
I don’t say this to bash America. I say it from a deep belief that America has the potential to live up to its ideals. I say it from a fundamental need to see my country do right by its people and the world. I say it in the hope that maybe someday I won’t have to be ashamed to admit I’m an American.
Until then, to the rest of the world, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.