Writing: The Beginning

As November and NaNoWriMo creeps closer I am excited and terrified. There is nothing like the beginning of a novel. Or a short story. Or a poem. Or a relationship. To me, often writing a novel is like a relationship. Sometimes I get into it knowing where I want to end up. Sometimes I think it’s just going to be a fun romp and we’ll see if it goes someplace real or fizzles out. Sometimes I go in thinking I know where it’s going and it ends up fizzling out. Sometimes I end up taking an unexpected left-turn or three and before I know it I’m looking at something entirely different and something so much better than I ever expected.

That is why the beginning might be my favorite part of a novel. That first one-thousand words which set everything else up. Many of my novels get written and re-written in that first one-to-three thousand words more than any other section of the novel. I want to introduce the character. I want to see and feel this world. I want the reader to understand the level of commitment this novel expects. But not to scare them off with the skeletons in the closet.

After the first one thousand words, it gets easier. Usually the worst of the new-relationship fears are simmering down. As long as I don’t do something astronomically stupid, we keep moving through the next fifty to a hundred thousand words. We slowly delve into the deeper mysteries together. We uncover those painful truths. We find ourselves in the throes of conflict but we stick it out! We climax together and then settle in to cuddle up with happy memories of that world and the characters.

But nothing is more terrifying or more exciting than the blank page waiting for that first thousand words. Those words which set the course of all the rest. Yeah, I’m kind of a romantic that way.

Politics: Labor, Luddites, & Laws

Background: (you can skip to the line if you just want to read the thought-rambling without historical context I’m working from)

My mother and I were talking and she mentioned an article she remembered reading in college about China passing a law where companies couldn’t replace a person with a machine to do a job. And in the “capitalism is great” way of the cold-war-era article it made fun of a picture of fifteen Chinese workers digging a ditch which could have been done by one bulldozer. We laughed a little about how machines are replacing people all over and that’s part of job scarcity – but it is very true. This is something that has been bubbling as a thought for awhile and I’m going to try to hash through it.

I remember reading a paper in my college career where Queen Elizabeth I (I think) was shown a sock-weaving machine to determine if the inventor should have a patent.  She refused his patent because it would put all those sock-weaving-workers out of work and make them beggars. She had the attitude the Chinese had – it was more important for the individuals to be allowed to have life-sustaining jobs.

Obviously, progress continued to develop and we got weaving machines anyway and shockingly – new jobs developed.  Luddites in the 19th century (1800’s) attacked machines that were replacing their jobs. I mean, the machines totally replaced the artisan crafters eventually (Ford anyone?). Again, society and economies adapted.

In the twentieth century there was grumbling within unions about machines replacing jobs (which they did).  Earlier this year Bill Gates had a speech about “software substitution” where computer bots will replace people at “low level jobs” like retail workers. I have seen discussions ranging from the late eighteenth century on about when “machines replace your job” (I mean, wired.com posted earlier this year to say 66% of US jobs are poised to be replaced!).

Now, there are some jobs we (thankfully) haven’t programmed computers for yet: painting (I mean art, not painting walls), writing novels, coding creative pieces of software to make our lives better, designing fashion, engineering new inventions, and… ummm… I can’t think of others.  Notice what all of these are? Artistic. Creative. Inspirational. Fortunately, we have not managed to imbue computers with a great deal of creativity.

I don’t have a solution. Let me start with that. I don’t know THE ANSWER OF ULTIMATE SUCCESS. But I also don’t think ignoring the problem will make it just go away. And worse still, there are a lot of people  who are far more vulnerable than I am. I feel passionate that we should start discussing the issue in a real way. And ask some very painful questions:

  • Is our societal worth defined by our jobs? (I will scream at the top of my lungs against this idea. you know, something about all people created equal…)
  • Do people have a right to live?
  • What does “quality of life” mean when talking about inequality and it’s importance?
  • Who is responsible for life or quality of life?
  • Do people need jobs to be considered productive members of society?
  • Do we have enough full-time, “worthwhile” jobs for everyone to strive for?
  • Are there enough resources for everyone to live?
  • Are there enough jobs for everyone to have one? and is this the goal?
  • If you are not defined by a job, what defines a person’s “worth”? (internally or externally)
  • If not to “grow up and get a job” what is the purpose of education?
  • If not to “grow up and get a job” what are young people supposed to be doing?

Some of these are highly volatile questions, I know! But I think we, as a society, need to take a very long, hard, soul-searching look at how we treat “life” as a society.  And as I said before – I don’t have answers. But I’m asking myself these questions. I don’t want to – asking whether someone has the right to have a child or has the right to eat or has the right…

What does it mean to have a “right to Life”*? Does that mean you have a right to healthcare? What about food? What about shelter (a home)? Where is the line that says “this is the right to life but that isn’t”? I don’t know. But I keep asking and I keep struggling with it.

I have started to think we should run an experiment on guaranteed income. Mincome** in Canada was an interesting, if incomplete, experiment.  What would change if your basic living needs were met by an income? I know I personally would probably not work a full-time job.  Honestly, I would love to work in a bookstore or back at Party City (I had fun there and I’d never want to NOT have a place to go be “social-ish” outside the house) and devote 4-6 hours a day to being a writer instead. I’ll be honest, it’s kind of a dream for my life to be able to spend more time per week writing than working… but I like having food and clothes and a roof over my head too much to give up the “American Dream” as it’s currently defined.

I want to redefine the American Dream where people are not judged by the color of their skin, the balance in their bank account, or the size of their house.  In my American Dream- people are allowed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without being judged.

*”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – American Declaration of Independence July 4th, 1776

**”The Town with No Poverty” a paper by Evelyn Forget in 2011 based off a Canadian town where 1974-1979 they had a guaranteed income – with a focus on healthcare and whether universal healthcare (which was country-wide by 1962)

Miss Manners: Holding Doors in the 21st century

Anyone who knows me, knows I have strong opinions about holding doors. A lot of my guy friends complain that the rules are “always changing” on them and I have to say, I don’t entirely agree. There IS a problem that there are people playing by different rules. But within those people – the rules are consistent.  I propose a simplification of “holding the door” and the first thing to be aware of: gender doesn’t matter.

Let me say that again – stop looking at gender as the reason you should (or should not!) hold a door. I think part of the problem has long been that there are too many rules to decide who and when a door should be held. I live by a simple set of rules:

  1. Am I in the way if I hold the door for them?
  2. Am I improving their day by holding the door?

If I can not answer “yes” to BOTH of these questions – I don’t hold the door.  And I don’t expect anyone else to hold doors for me.  I am a big girl and I promise, I won’t break anything if I have to open a door or two in my day.

Let’s start with some positive examples:

  • A person (regardless of gender) is carrying a large package. 1)Can you hold the door without impeding them? (if yes, proceed!) 2)Will you improve their day? I don’t know about you – I’ve had full hands and then a “Pull” door… it’s terrible!
  • A person is trudging towards the cafe/coffee shop. You smile and hold the door. They meet your eye and you can see them brighten up. 1) Were you in their way? (Get out of the way) 2)Did you improve their day? Sounds like it! I know I’ve had days where someone smiled or did an act of kindness and my whole outlook perked up.
  • Little old gender-not-necessary-person with a walker approaches a door. 1) Can you give them enough space to enter? Great. 2) Did you improve their day? I hope so. Regardless of gender, most people I know over seventy either love or hate attention. Not much you can do about haters, so you sometimes have to gamble -but when you win, it’s quite the win!

As you can see – that first one is pretty important. Are you in the way? Get out of the way! I remember my grandmother trying to maneuver a walker around. And she hated that thing. HATED. It was the constant reminder that she wasn’t able to do it all alone anymore. Someone standing in a door made it twice as difficult to deal with AND it reminded her of something painful. I hate when I’m carrying something fragile or heavy and if they would just get out of my way it would make my day easier/better/happier.

One of the most dreaded door-scenarios is the “squeeze by.” This is especially bad if the guy races to reach the door before me. He is damned determined he WILL HOLsqeeze byD THIS DOOR!!! He stands in the frame and strains with all his might to prop it open with his body!!! I then have to squeeze past him.  And then he stands there and wonders why I barely muttered “thanks” – and sometimes I even refuse to say thanks because he DID ME NO FAVORS. You are 1) in my way. Get out of my way. and 2) you did not improve my day. You invaded my personal space. You may have made me smell your incredibly gross Georgia-in-August-Heat BO.  You may have in some way (which you don’t have to intend – it still happens!) made me feel uncomfortable. Guess who else will hold doors and try to demand I walk through them? The man who wants to kidnap, rape and kill me. I don’t know if that’s you! I can’t know. Respect my safety and my space.

That leads us to the “conversation opener” who thinks because he held the door for me, I now I have to talk to him. Generally speaking, the random dude holding the door is not the guy I am going to feel safer and more secure talking to than any other random dude. Which means today just may not be the day when I feel I am in a safe place to talk to strangers. You are a stranger. I may not want to talk. You are not making my day better by holding the door and then using that as your reason that I am “supposed to” talk to you. That’s called micro-aggression. It’s little and it’s bad.

Then there is the guy who refuses to walk through a door I’m holding. Really? You think because I have boobs bigger than yours I am somehow incapable of holding a door for you? And the excuse is always “My momma taught me…”. I’m pretty sure your momma taught you not to be rude when people try to be nice to you. You are diminishing my act of kindness when you refuse to walk through a door I am holding. Do men hold the only title on being able to be nice to people? Wow! What a privilege you have that you are allowed to be nice.

hold doorsReally think about it the next time you refuse to walk through the door being held by a woman.  ‘Cause guess what, if she’s already holding it she will not think you less of a man for walking through. Instead say thank you and appreciate that a fellow human being was polite. When someone holds a door for me, regardless of gender I try to really appreciate the act of kindness. Because we all know that in today’s world we could use a little more manners.

Short Story: Brain Port Plug Data recovery #1785

The radio ping tells me Moria is on the way. I slowly peel myself out of the chair to stand. As the last of the mesh releases me, I double-check the auto-pilot one more time. The captain felt pretty confident this lane should be safe, but I still feel the whole deal was pretty shady. It’s not like bugs tend to trade. What in the milky way could we be delivering to bugs? Supposedly those crates are full of food stuffs and art.  Like bugs want art.

I am about to leave the cockpit when I see a blue tinted with purple flash on the display. I throw myself back into my pilot’s chair, link my arm port back to the control rig and begin talking, “Class 3 shield coming up at sixteen point three reser from five o’clock. Will be alongside in three minutes and twenty seconds.”

Moria bounds into the room, her long limbs swinging and her long ears still loose around her head, flapping like wet blankets against her head. She hopped into the co-pilot seat, “Captain, we have an unregistered, unresponsive Nalitpol cruiser. Visual on your gear now. Looks like they might have a jammer on top. We may already be too late to send out a distress signal.”

“Looks like just a four man scuttle crew,” Captain Adra’s voice said.

I roll my eyes, “Oh great.  Death instead of robbery.”

“You know Captain Adra will buy them off.”

“Not with bug boxes on board,” I reply, “and we’re crossing Del’ala space, they won’t exactly jump to our rescue either.”

Moira doesn’t reply to my pessimism.  It doesn’t make me feel any better to be right.  I push the ship to try to get a little more speed without burning out. Our maximum speed is less than ten reser.  My only hope in speed is that we might catch up to other traffic. One ship might be easy pickings for pirates, but two or three can hold a rotating shield until one of the Del’ala patrols passes by.  It is slim but it is the best we can hope for.

The little cruiser pulls up against the shield near our starboard hatch.  There is a glaring red warning as their shield began calibrating to ours. I swear.

Moira says, “We have approximately forty-five seconds before they match our shield and enter our field.  Attemping a discharge.”

She sends a discharge of energy down the shield generator.  Sometimes this can overload the conflicting field. Sometimes it causes our shield to auto-recalibrate by a digit or two, buying us seconds.  Nothing is showing on the forward scanners. I attempt a final manuever to break them off our shields. They have speed and manueverability we can never hope to acheive in our freighter.

Captain Adra’s voice across the speakers, “Everyone prepare for boarding.  They should only have four on that cruiser, let’s assume they have six.”

The panel in front of me flicks from red to blue and I say, “They are inside our field.  They’ve docked to the starboard aft hatch.”

“I’ll get down there,” I cringe to myself to hear Thela speak. She would. “They must know that’s where we’ll have the worst cover.”

“Assume they know our ship as well as we do,” Captain Adra said.  “Keep on co-”

The radio system blinks as jammed on the panel in front of me. I can’t even tell Thela how I much I love her. One set of Moira’s upper ears perk up telling me the hatch has been hacked. In some ways, I am grateful for the comparatively narrow depth of sound I hear. Moira will hear every pained or dying scream. I can watch Moira though and read what must be happening. A death, but ours or theirs?

“There!” Moira said, “Two vessels in front of us!  We can get help!”

I throw the ship into overdrive, it might burn out the engine, but with help we would have a chance to repair rather than… well die. I have heard horror tales of pirates who didn’t just throw you out the airlock hatch but left you equiped with your shield and then left you to watch the ship drive off. All you can do is watch and wait for your shield to fail.

I nearly throw the ship in reverse when I get the visual of the ships in front of us.  The visual of a single military Ammaccare carrier is enough to make any ship pause. The sight of two sharing a field… I hear the first scream which means the pirates are getting closer to the cockpit. The double-lock should take them a few seconds to hack, it might buy us enough time to get to the Ammaccre. At this point, I might even appreciate their ruthless attitude.

Moira hisses softly. Some days you regret having a translator.  She mutters darkly about jammers and then says, “At least one of them is Ukimi.  They might not take kindly to a jammer in their territory.”

“We aren’t in Ukimi lanes though,” I remind her, “we are in Del’ala territory.”

“Why are Ukimi and Swepol meeting in Del’ala territory? Seems to me the fuzzies aren’t going to appreciate the competition.”

I don’t have time to answer before another field appears on the computer, massive.  Another ammaccare.  It swoops down over us and a voice crackles on the computer, “Synchronize your field to ours…” a number scrolls across the board.  I can hear Moira typing, “or prepare to be boarded by force.”

Moira swears again and said, “They hit the engine room and they’re hacking our codes!  The del’ala are going to have to crack us like a uugi nut!”

The gears on my arms shudder as the engine suddenly shuts off.  I gasp in pain at the feedback loop and disengage from the controls.  I look at Moira.  She is already prepping her shield to flick on when the door opens.  I do the same and also snap an extra battery pack to my blade.

There is a shudder throughout the ship. I glance at a panel to see the upper cargo hatch warning light blink.  I feel my pulse racing. I move next to the door.  The hilt of my blade is slick with sweat from my hands.  My arm port stings.  Moira and I wait in silence. I don’t want to look at her because I know she can hear what’s happening throughout the ship.

“Open the cockpit door,” the voice over the radio says.  I now glance at Moira, her ears are all lifted like a set of frills around her head as she tries to filter the sounds and identify if it is pirate on the other side of the door.  I see the panic in her face. Pirates or privates? Flicking on my field I open the door.

Three del’ala soldiers storm in, knocking me back with their shields. I immediately drop my shield and hold up both hands in surrender. The big fuzzy creatures move efficiently to make sure no one else is hiding. Moira is cowering in her seat, one points and she moves quickly to join me. I have no idea if she ever turned her shield on or not. They hustle us out of the cockpit. I involuntarily gasp when a black-garbed Swepol pilot with the octagonal patch on his chest passes us to the cockpit.  Moira and I enter the hold to see several yssaiki bugs flying the boxes of cargo up into the hold of the other ship.  What are bugs doing on a del’ala ship?

I race to Thela, she is alive! She is staring at the mixture of giant furry del’alan soliders, black-garbed humans, and bug drones. I’ve never heard of three of the five factions working together on anything. Oh and the Ukimi ship outside… I wrap my arms around Thela when a black-garbed human walks up. He flicks his shield on and shoves me, Thela and Moira out the hatch the pirates hacked.  Moira’s screech is cut off by the sudden vaccuum.  Thela’s shield flickers on for a moment and fails.

I hold her as our momentum carries us away from the ship.  Thela doesn’t speak, but sobs softly.  We pass out of the ship’s field, watching as the ammaccare slowly detatches. We watch as they join the other two in the far distance.

“A secret meeting… of all five factions…”

My shield crackles with battery strain and there is a warning beep from the gear on my wrist. I link the last spare battery in. It just delays the vaccuum… I look at Thela. Her lips are turning blue. I cover them with my own. I try to pull her closer. It’s like moving through mud.

The shield flickers once. Beep. I feel my lungs burning. Twice. Beep. I wish I had Moira’s ears now. I can at least hear Thela’s heart beat. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Millennials: Voting!

I have been posting on Facebook to get people to vote (specifically young people since statistically they/we don’t tend to vote in mid-term elections). I am trying to use hope, excitement, fear, shame, and sheer repetition to motivate as many people as possible. I am trying very hard not to say “vote only for the candidate I support!!” because that isn’t my point.  If there was a 95% turn out of eligible voters and the candidate I don’t like wins – fine, apparently I’m in a minority and maybe I need to listen a little harder and figure out why all those people believe what they believe. That isn’t what happens though!

2010: the last midterm election only 40%* of eligible Georgia voters turned out to vote (this is under the national of 43.1% total which is still shameful!).  This literally does mean a minority is influencing the politics that applies to all of us.  I’ve seen statistics saying there are upwards of 80 million eligible “Millennial” voters.  Just to put this in perspective, in the 1990 census the boomers had 76 million** (when they were 26-44 years old).  And yes, I am nerd enough to go look this stuff up.

So the Millennial vote could make a huge difference.  I personally like the idea of taking the voting day as a national holiday.  This should just be an expectation!  Not “are you going to go vote?” but “when are heading down to the polls?”  Looking at the some of the data *** something happened between the 1960s and now… voter turnout is at an all-time low.  And just think how much we could do if all the Millennials turned out to vote.

You can vote early in Georgia – so if you are worried about work (totally different rant!) go early! (http://sos.ga.gov/elections/countycontacts/advancevotingdisplay.aspx)

Let me say again – I don’t care WHO you end up voting for (ok! I do care! I think I’m right!).  But if you make an informed choice (really, do your research!) and you show up to vote – you deserve every inch of your citizenship and I will defend your right to disagree with me to my last breath!  What are you waiting for?  Go look up where you need to go and GO VOTE!

Pew Statistics – I have too much fun with the visualizations of the data Pew collected on voting.

**http://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/cph-l-160h.txt – report on housing focusing on baby boomers from the 1990 census data.

***http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html  – interesting chart of voter turnout

Dreams of Tea

This weekend my mother and I drove to North Carolina to visit a tea farm.  I took the afternoon off work Friday so we could drive up.  We stayed in a Holiday Inn and Saturday morning we headed to Chapel Hill NC – Camillia forest (http://www.camforest.com) to look at tea plants.  I’ve been telling mom for a few years that she ought to put in tea plants.  Mom has talked of having a screen of bushes, tea shrubs can grow up to 6 feet tall – a great screen.

I was so excited.  We met Christine there and she let us visit with her around the tea bushes as they finished their final harvest of the year.  She had about eight rows of tea plants, each row having somewhere around ten bushes (I’m guessing).  Christine was working on the small-leaf tea plants.  The name is as creative as it sounds- they are called small leaf because their leaves are smaller than the large leaf tea plant leaves!

Mom was asking horticultural questions like growing rate and root structure.  I was able to geek out about the different types of processing for tea types.  For those that don’t know – the simplest explanation is as follows:
White tea is the least processing.  There is no bruising of the leaves and only the youngest of leaves can be used to be a proper white tea.
Green tea has a little bruising before the leaves are processed for tea.
Oolong is always described as being as much art as science.  It requires more processing than green tea, carefully baking the leaves after bruising them JUST enough.
Black tea is the most processing but the easiest.  You bruise the leaves a bunch.  You almost can’t over-dry it.  You can over-bake (of course?) but really it’s pretty difficult.

So mom ended up buying 3 tea plants.  I decided to wait until spring to buy my own plant.  I’m planning a trip to Baltimore/D.C. come spring and on my way home it would make an awesome place to stop.  Since I’ll be looking at growing in a pot at least for a few years (probably) I don’t want to stress a plant just before winter.  But now I know what to expect.

Review: The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix

Rating: 7.5/10
Date Originally Published: 1967
Format: eBook, hardcover
TL;DR Review: Amazing book to get into the mind of animals, but not for the faint of heart.

Anyone who has gone to a used book store with me in the past about 8 years has heard me ask the clerk if they have a copy of The Fox and the Hound – the original.  My mother won Christmas last year by finding it when a library was selling their copy.  Recently, Amazon sent me an email to say they finally had it in ebook format.  You can now own it yourself via either Amazon or Barnes & Noble for $6.99.

I know I was in about sixth grade when mom let me read Adventure Happy by Jules Mannix (the wife). I fell in love. I could only imagine living that life – and I wanted to imagine more of it. Then I found a copy of Fox and the Hound.  I remember it was a library book.  I devoured it. I couldn’t keep my hands off it and I couldn’t stop reading “just one more page.”

If you’ve seen the Disney version… forget everything you know.  Yes, there is a fox named Tod.  Yes, there is a hound named Copper.  That’s about the only thing about it Disney kept.  I honestly don’t understand why he bought the rights to this book, it doesn’t make sense.  He could have changed names (fox could have been Sam and the hound Digger) and called it “Friendship” or something…  In the NOVEL, Tod is a wild fox who is trying to survive and Copper is a bloodhound for a hunter.  Yes, Tod spends a little time as a cub with humans, but he runs away to be a wild animal.

Without giving away the details of the book, the chapters are each titled by the type of hunt that Copper or Tod participate in.  Mannix does as good a job as I have ever seen to avoid anthropomorphism.  The animals don’t speak and they have limited reasoning.  Mannix even discusses this several times, especially when Tod is trying to share his knowledge to his offspring.

There are times the descriptions can get a little thick, describing actions which are not entirely human through scent and touch.  The narrator does some describing of why they might be said that way, but not everywhere.  There are also places were a description is glossed over and I would have liked more detail.  I got the distinct feeling that Mannix assumes everyone understands what a fox den should look like.

Overall, this a book I highly recommend to people because it challenges how we perceive animals and assume they think. I will admit though, I think one of my favorite parts of the book was the author’s afterward talking about his own pair of tame-ish foxes and the research he did to write the book (when I tell people I used to read those and saw how many authors did research and that’s why I went and studied history – this is one of those books).