Politics is Life

A couple of years ago, at a Christmas dinner with my extended family, I apologized to my great-aunt for bringing up politics at Christmas. She gave me a stern look and said something like, we can’t afford to not talk about politics, they’re life and death. She’s a feminist, and for decades she ran a non-profit that helped women get jobs with flexible hours. I’m sad I don’t remember her exact words, because they humbled me.

Avoiding politics with family is like not looking at the homeless person on the street. They don’t stop existing, and someone’s life is on the line.

I respect that people have differences of opinion, different values, and different views of how the world should work. I respect that people don’t like each other, I respect that people feel afraid and want safety.

I don’t respect the attempt to disenfranchise American citizens, or the perspective that property damage is worse than murder. I don’t respect the idea that some lives have less value than others. I don’t respect anyone who would take away the human rights of people they despise.

Biden won. Halle-fucking-lujah. He knows how to speak with dignity, and how to acknowledge the humanity and value in everyone around him.

But he’s also not good enough. Is he going to end the concentration camps at the border? Is he going to defund the police? Is he going to make sure that every disenfranchised citizen is re-enfranchised? Is he going to make sure that everyone with a uterus has access to legal abortions? Is he going to stop pandering to the obstructive right? Probably not.

Politics isn’t about values, opinions, or perspectives. Politics is about human rights, who gets them, and who gets to decide what they are. I’m going to keep talking about them at family gatherings until human rights truly are universal. You should, too.

Black Lives Matter

Black rights are human rights. Until all Black Americans are just as safe walking down the street as me, a white woman, I am not safe either. Until the poorest, least-educated Americans are safe in their own neighborhoods, I am not safe.

Police brutality is not acceptable, under any circumstances. Firing rubber bullets at people’s heads is brutality. Destroying the water and medical supplies of protesters is brutality. Military without identification deployed on the streets of our cities is brutality: with no way to hold individuals accountable, there is no safety.

This isn’t about protecting “innocent Black people”. Even guilty civilians are due civil rights, the Bill of Rights assures that.


Here are some of the things I’m doing to support Black Americans and the ongoing protests:

  • Reading first-person accounts from Black Americans and protesters.
  • Listening when people make me aware of my privilege in ways I hadn’t noticed before.
  • Donating to BLM, bail funds, and local orgs that are coordinating and supporting the protests
  • Amplifying the news, mostly on social media.
  • Letting my Black friends and coworkers know that I support them and am available if they need me.
    • Trying not to put the emotional labor on them of deciding how to respond and what to say. Instead I’ll try to say, “I’m thinking about you, and I’m here if you need me. No need to respond.”
  • Writing to my elected officials to tell them what I support and what I expect them to support
  • Taking care of myself when I’m tired or overwhelmed. I can’t help others when I’m worn out. And when I’m able again, I tune back in, because the need isn’t gone.

Resources I’ve benefitted from:

(If you follow me on Facebook, none of this is new.)

This Facebook post offering a range of books, depending on what you already know and what you’re ready to learn next:

This thread describing the history of racial terrorism in America, covering the time white terrorists overthrew the US government:

Daily updates on what’s going on in American from Heather Cox Richardson, that are detailed and well-researched, with sources.

This fabulous list of 47 ways to help, ordered by what resources and skills you have (on Medium)

Headline & Byline:
47 Very Specific Answers to 'What Can I Do to Help?'
There's a role for everyone in this fight
By Miyah Byrd
June 3, 2020 - 5 min read

What resources do you recommend?

Vegetarian Shopping for Poultry in the Time of Sheltering in Place

Last night, we tried to buy poultry. You have to understand, I’m vegetarian. I’ve always been vegetarian. I don’t eat poultry. I don’t know what to do with poultry (other than that if you brine a turkey it comes out juicy… but I don’t really know what “juicy” means with regards to turkey.) I’ve never needed to buy poultry.

But. Last night, we had a shopping list that included poultry.

In fact, what it said was:

Chicken:
1 whole raw
OR, 3 whole legs
OR, 1 pkg breasts & 1 pkg thighs
OR, roasted chicken is fine too…
OR, whatever you can get (no feet or beaks)

This is good! This is a list I can work with. Start at the top, stop when you find that thing. How hard could it be?

Did I mention that this was last night? And that we’re in the midst of a coronavirus crisis, and everyone had bought all the food? Yeah. So, uh. We didn’t buy anything from that list.

There were no whole chickens. There were no chicken legs, breasts, or thighs. Cooked or uncooked. We did find ground chicken. (I did not know that chicken comes in ground. Now I do.) And we found the frozen packages of chicken feet! (Good thing the list told us not to buy feet, or we might have!)

There was turkey. There were 15lb whole turkeys, which was much more than was needed (even if the list didn’t say so). There was ground turkey. And we did finally find turkey breast, 6lb, for $32. Ben asked me if we should get that. I said I don’t know if that’s a reasonable price, but it’s almost like chicken breast, right? So we bought it.

What I learned from all this is that Americans in my town, when they’re panicked, are more likely to buy chicken than turkey or beef. So if you’re panicked, and you eat meat, buy the turkey or the beef. (Or go vegetarian, like me. 😉)

Also, there was no bread (closest thing was English muffins), or frozen vegetables (but there was plenty of fresh vegetables!), almost no broth or shelf-stable nut milks. Despite the hype, I forgot to check the TP aisle.

And finally, pro tip, when the county tells you to shelter in place but you’re still allowed to buy groceries, buy your groceries tomorrow (like we did) rather than the day of the announcement (like apparently everyone else did). The clerks were frazzled and punchy at the end of their workday, and told us that the lines for the past week have been crazy, and yesterday was the first sane day.

Speaking with My Self-censorship

I’ve been noticing that I censor myself. I allow myself to listen to my inner critic, who wonders what people (i.e. you) will think about or misinterpret about what I have to say. What if I post this post, and it’s just rambly and not interesting? What if you judge me for not being beyond this already? “I figured out how to conquer my self-censorship years ago,” I hear you say. “Why are you telling me about this?” Or worse, “What else do you think you have to say that no one else has said?”

“Nothing,” I whisper quietly and slink back into my closet. It’s all been said before.

But you know what? That’s bullshit. Do you hear anyone say, “All there is to say about love has already been said, so you might as well not bother,” and then stop telling anyone that they love them? Of course not.

Well, everything I have to say is just that: “I love you”, but in other words. And that’s probably what you mean whenever you talk, too.


That’s all my censor wants to say, also. “I love you, and I want to protect you. Please don’t say anything that can get you hurt.” It’s very loving, and damaging, too.

I’m choosing to listen to the most important part of that sentence, and ignore the rest.

I love you. I want you to know that.

Traveling to England

In other news, Ben and I are going to England for three weeks next week, and we’d love it if you’d follow along (and leave comments!!) on our travel blog: Liza & Ben’s Travels – Exploring without the Cat (it’s a silly tag-line… we haven’t thought of a better one). You can also subscribe via email, if you want ongoing notifications.

When not having creative energy isn’t a moral failure

I just read this blog post by Neil Gaiman.

He’s a Real Author, and he’s been very busy, and then he’s been very brain-dead.

His brain-dead is (morbidly?) reassuring to me. I’m an author, and I have a full time job, and I run a small business, and I have health issues, and I have a committed relationship that requires intentional effort to maintain (as any good relationship does).

It’s just lovely to have a reminder that it’s normal to have only so much capacity. Creative people create less when their mental energy is used up. When my day job requires creativity, I have less available for personal projects.

I always have a vague belief that if I cared more, I would create more. That if I were more diligent, I would sit and write every day like they tell you to.

I remember how I allow myself to get sucked into things that aren’t worth my time, like fascinating podcasts when I should be working, or brain-dead games on my phone when my brain isn’t working.

But.

But I spend a lot of mental energy on my day job, and on the other things I must do, and it’s not a moral failure that I don’t write every day. It’s just a fact of time and energy. It’s normal.

I just read Swordheart, by T. Kingfisher1, set in the same world as her Clockwork Boys duology, but it’s about normal life things (and nearly being eaten by magical sky-jellyfish) rather than being about saving the world. I loved it so much.

I tell you this because: I want to be T. Kingfisher when I grow up. I keep ruminating about how to become an author, a person who has hours every day to be creative and inspired, who also isn’t broke. Make it important now. Wake up early2. Write every day. But right now, I don’t have the energy to spend being creative; I’m spending most of my energy in keeping normal life going, eating healthy food, getting exercise more often than never.

Neil Gaiman reminded me that it’s ok to be an uncreative creative person. It’s normal to have physical limits. It’s not a moral failure when I don’t write every day… or even every week3.

Do you have times when you can’t be creative? How do you handle it? How do you give yourself permission to be where you are?


1 It’s a lovely silly book about a woman who doesn’t know her own value, having to fight for her own value, and developing friends who support her exactly the way she is. I loved it so much, you should read it.

2 I hate this advice. Mornings are my nemesis.

3 Not for nothing, I’ve been writing blog posts. That’s creation, even if it doesn’t feel like “creativity”. Maybe my definitions are just wrong.

New blogs, old drafts

I haven’t posted anything here in half a decade. Time flies.

My boyfriend and I are going to be traveling in England for 3 weeks, though, and I decided to set up a travel blog. It’s pretty spare, but I think we’ll have fun posting photos.

Unrelatedly, there’s a decent likelihood I’m going to have major surgery on my jaws in about a year. After I’d set up the travel blog, and was about to go pick up the models of my jaws, I realized that I want to share that process, too. So I started a second blog, which is all about my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It’s called Body, Mind, & Soul, and it’s even more spare than the travel blog. It may also become TMI… particularly once the surgery starts.

That led me to want to post more on this site, which led me to going through old drafts sitting in the backend. There’s a lot of them, and some of them tell good stories, or parts of stories. I don’t know why I didn’t just publish them… lack of confidence, maybe, or lack of time.

So, I’m planning to clean them up a little and post them, because the prospect of major surgery on my face is reminding me that there’s nowhere to hide from myself. I have zero fucks to give* toward shame, self-censorship, or TMI. If you don’t want to read what I have to share, you don’t have to. I want to write. So I’m planning to share stories from my past several years. I hope you’ll let me know if they speak to you. 💖

* I love when common phrases are rearranged. “Give a fuck” is so 90s. (1790s, if this link is to be believed. I didn’t research it enough to find out.)

Punctuation

I was just reading an essay by Gertrude Stein, in which she says:

Commas are servile and they have no life of their own … A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.

(You can find it in her book “Lectures in America”)

I basically agree, except that I find them useful for exactly this reason, because usually (e.g. at work) my goal is to transmit information, not to deeply engage my audience’s creativity.

At work, I’ve become known as a hyphen/dash expert. Enough so that someone pinged1 me this week to ask about what kind of dash to use to indicate no answer in a form. 😆

1 Do normal people use this word to mean “messaged in a generic chat app”?

WTF Roman Women’s Names

Sculpture of a Modest Roman Matron 1st century BCE

I’ve been thinking about Roman names.  Really, I’ve been puzzling over them on and off for years, since I studied Latin in high school and Roman history in college.  Before I can ask my question, I think I need to explain their naming structure first.

Ok, so the first thing is that Romans had up to three names.  Praenomen – the first name; Nomen – the name, or family name; and Cognomen – the extra name.  Extra names were given to people who were special, and then their descendants would keep that third name.  So it ended up indicating which branch of a particular family you were from.  So, for example, everyone knows about Julius Caesar.  But we always just call him Julius Caesar, as though his first name is Julius and his family name is Caesar.  His name was actually Gaius Julius Caesar.  Gaius was his personal name, Julius was his family name, and Caesar was the name of his branch of the Julii.  Mark Antony, whom everyone also knows about because he had a long relationship with Cleopatra, was actually Marcus Antonius.  Personal name Marcus, family name Antonius, and he didn’t have a cognomen.

So far, so good.  If I were Caesar’s best friend, and I wanted to say hi, I might say, “Salve, Gaio!”  “Salve” means “hello”, or more accurately “be of good health”.  And when I tell someone else about Gaius, I’d call him Gaius, but because of the way Latin endings work, when you talk to someone you use the vocative ending, which for names ending in -us is -o.  So, Gaio.  No problem.

Where it gets really weird, though, is with women.  All women were called the feminine form of their family name.  They didn’t have first names.  So Gaius Julius Caesar’s daughter was named Julia.  If he’d had a sister (and I honestly don’t know if he did), she would’ve been named Julia, also.  If he’d had three daughters, they all would’ve been called Julia.  WTF?

So how did they tell each other apart?  My teachers have told me they’d be called Julia Maior and Julia Minor, Big Julia and Little Julia.  But seriously, that only works if there are two of you.  What if there are three girls, and a couple of aunts, and oh by the way cousins?  Not to mention that there were only about a hundred family names in Rome, so you’d have extended family up the wazoo, people you really couldn’t claim to be related to but who have the same name as you.  And every single daughter of every single Aurelius family would’ve been named Aurelia.  Marcus Antonius’ sisters?  All named Antonia.  Big and Little only get you so far.

So what I’m seriously curious about is what they really called each other.  Cuz you figure, you’re bored one Saturday afternoon, so you and all of your closest friends go to the Coliseum to watch some gladiators fight, and guess what so did half the town, it was a popular thing.  So you all get there, and you meet a bunch of your neighbors and some people from across town, in other words you mingle in society.  And how many other Aurelias are there that you encounter?  Your friend says, “Hey, Aurelia, I was wondering…” and ten people turn around?

And in a household you might have unmarried aunts and cousins and things, so within the house they must’ve called each other familiar names.  Do you think they gave each other silly nicknames like Pumpkin, Flower, or Cupcake?  My friends have suggested it’s probably more like “Red” or “Bird Painter” or “Blonde”.  Or in Chile you might be called “Black” or “Telephone”, because telephones used to be black.

The problem comes because no one kept familiar writing.  And people didn’t write about family life.  And the times we know more about, the later Imperial period through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, naming had changed from the period I learned about.  It could be that I’ll never know what they really called each other.  I might die of curiosity.

Don’t worry, I’ll let you know if I do*.

——

* Die of curiosity, I mean.  And also if I learn the answer.  🙂

The Adventures of the Rocking Chair

or, Where Should We Put This Thing, Anyway?

I promised you the story of the Adventures of the Rocking Chair, and here it is.

Once upon a time, I went on a road trip with my significant other to visit family in Oregon*.  And we happened into a shop that sells wood things made locally.  In fact, many of the things were made in that very shop, as we discovered when we** asked and were shown the huge rooms full of uncarved wood, and the huger room full of tools and more uncarved wood, and the hugest room yet stacked full of uncarved wood and great big tools.  Not to mention the shop across the street with the saw-of-some-sort that could cut a 20′ piece of wood.  But in the front of the shop were gorgeous things: clocks, shelves, tables, bowls.  And rocking chairs.  They came in three sizes: small, medium, and large.  First thing, we had to sit in them.  Ahhh, comfy.

This is the first one I bothered to take a picture of:

Chair in the store

We ogled.  We asked the shop owners about the chairs.  (We bought a couple of pieces of uncarved wood.)  And then we left.

A few days later we were back in town, and back at the shop ready to choose a chair and make a deal.  We sat in every single chair they had, including the dozen in a storage unit around the corner.  We wanted the right balance of comfort for me, comfort for Ben (we’re not the same size), and attractiveness.  They were all made by the same guy, so there wasn’t a lot of variation in style, but most of them were made out of very nice wood, and a couple were made of absolutely gorgeous figured wood.  (I didn’t get a picture of the most gorgeous one.  You’ll have to take my word for it.)

We hemmed and hawed.  And finally we chose the same one I’d taken a picture of when we first saw it.  It really is pretty.  It’s a little big for me, and a little small for him, but better than any other chair we tried.

And we told them we’d be back in a couple of days to put it in our truck.  Have I mentioned the truck?  We have a FWD truck with an awesome cap on the back that fits a mattress and all of our camping gear underneath, so we can go camping in comfort and luxury, without the crummy gas mileage of an RV.  So we figured, sure we’re buying a piece of furniture, and sure we have to drive it 500 miles home… but we have space!

See?  It totally fits.  (It’s behind the pillows.  Yes, those are our pillows.  We sleep on them.  Also, they protect the delicate corners.  Worked a dream.)

Chair in the truck

Here’s closer view:

Chair in the truck, closer

The only question then was, where were we going to put the chair whenever we needed to put ourselves in the back to sleep at night***?

As it happens, earlier in the week we’d decided we wanted to camp at this one specific campsite, because everyone knows that Oregon’s campsites are the best evah.  When we called to make a reservation, they only had a campsite with a yurt left.  It’s more expensive, but it’s a yurt.  We looked at each other and said, “Sure, that sounds like fun.”

Turns out the yurt is basically a tarp-covered frame with furniture inside.  The windows were all velcro’ed closed, so it smelled mildewy and awful.  Also, we would’ve had to strip the bedding out of our truck and put it on the bed in the yurt.  We looked inside the yurt, and we looked at our comfy mattress in the truck, and we said to ourselves, selves, we said, we’ll be much happier sleeping in the truck.  And the chair can sleep in the yurt.

Chair in the yurt

So that’s how the chair ended up sleeping in its very own yurt that can sleep six plus furniture.

The next night was slightly less exciting for the chair.  We hadn’t made reservations and we couldn’t find a spot anywhere we wanted to camp†, so we ended up at a Holiday Inn Express.  It was really nice.  The pillows were nice, the mattress was nice.  Having a place to rest and change so we could go out for dinner was nice.  Our pillows stayed in the truck, cushioning the chair as it slept.

The next morning we hit the road, refreshed and excited to find somewhere nice to camp.  Maybe somewhere along the Avenue of the Giants.  But lo, it was not meant to be.  There was smoke from a fire somewhere in Oregon.  Once we got beyond that, it was hot and icky.  Once we got beyond that we were back in civilization and there was no reason to try camping.  Instead, we stopped at my grandparents’ house, where my aunt had just arrived for a visit.

And because we are weird, and we really like our setup in the truck, we slept in the truck outside, while the chair slept in the house.

Chair at grandparents' house

Everyone admired the chair, and we felt quite pleased with ourselves and ate too much ice cream, as one does, and we left for home the next morning.

Chair at home

And we all lived happily ever after.

——

* Gorgeous up there, by the way.  I really liked being in the middle of nowhere.  The only downside to small towns in the middle of nowhere is that when you ask the gas attendant^ if there’s a coffee shop with WiFi anywhere nearby, she literally laughs out loud.

^ Cuz Oregon doesn’t let you pump your own gas, you know.

** This is the euphemistic “we” used by couples.  In this case the “we” didn’t include me, though I did follow along.

*** We did, in fact, try to put the chair into the cab of the truck.  Because of the runners, the chair was just a couple inches too big, no matter which way we angled it.  And then as we tried to pull it out again, I felt like the guy with the couch in DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY, who gets his couch stuck halfway up the staircase in his apartment building, and then when he models it on the computer he finds there’s no way the couch could’ve gotten into that position without knocking a hole in a wall. If you haven’t read it, you should totally read DIRK GENTLY. It’s Douglas Adams. It’s hilarious. There’s time travel, ghosts, and a couch stuck in a staircase that couldn’t possibly have gotten there. And a dodo.

We did remove the chair without removing any part of the truck.

† We stopped at one place by the beach.  Ben went into the restroom, I did not.  He left without having used it.  Apparently it was really really bad.