Am I a shape shifter now?

I never expected to be able to reshape my body the way my characters Zane and Nell do. I’m not planning on sneaking into executive offices after morphing myself into an indistinguishable cleaning lady and I’m even more unlikely to stop a killer his in tracks by taking on the appearance of his latest victim.

shutterstock_33520513However, I’m discovering a mental sort of shape shifting and it has its uses. As I see my extended limbs become glowing rivers of light that stretch for miles out into space, the kinks in my back evaporate with the image. I have an excellent yoga studio to thank for this. I relax my muscles, my brain and even my soul as I become a happy baby or a resting child. I can be a tree, a cobra or a pigeon as I improve my balance and my flexibility.

I might not take to all this so easily if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find an excellent qigong instructor a couple of years ago. He has a knack for taking a secretive and sometimes indistinct discipline and making it come alive to twenty-first century Americans. My whole sense of balance changed when he shared the concept of “bottom heavy, top light”. My brain now sees my rooted foot or feet as made of iron, or as being a strong plant with roots that twine deeply into the earth. My reaching arms become gossamer wings, lighter than air as they stretch into the heavens.

Psychedelic 15You might think this is just a mental game, until you watch me change a light bulb. I mean a real light bulb, in my real living room. Or watch me paint the top of the wall next to the molding. “Wow,” my husband remarked. “Has your sense of balance improved. How did you reach that?”

Do you have any idea how much easier it is to do yard work when you can lower into an easy squat and stay there till the task is done? I’m not doing yard work, of course. I’m a Hungarian archer riding a wild horse, thanks to the qigong exercise called “riding a wild horse”.  I admit that the shape-shifting is entirely in my mind. The resulting physical prowess is entirely real.

Have I turned into a shape-shifter? Or should I keep trying?

(For more about my recent adventures, metaphysical and otherwise, see my posts Wise and Quiet, If You’re Going to be an Old Car and Greener Grass.)

Sunset

Please see Cindy Knoke’s beautiful blog post for some of the most stupendous sunset-over-the-ocean photos ever seen.     Sunset Progression Mid-Atlantic~.

Thank you Cindy!

The kinky of the future

I don’t know a better way to develop an open mind than to read science fiction. The very nature of creating alternate worlds has a way of making us question the assumptions of our own society. If done well, a speculative story leaves us with empathy for characters whose behavior causes no harm and yet would be offensive here and now. In short, we’re forced to question the rules we live by.

That’s not to say there is no wrong in science fiction. Villains continue to be mean, sadistic, greedy souls, and heroes still struggle to let the love in their hearts win the day. In world after world, the key points on a moral compass transcend time and space, even as authors acknowledge all the grey area in between. But as to the rest of those rules? In no arena is the arbitrariness of acceptable and perverted more apparent than in the world of science fiction sexuality.

good sign 4Creatures come in three genders in Isaac Asimov‘s 1972 Nebula award winning The God’s Themselves and regularly change gender in Ursula Le Guin‘s The Left Hand of Darkness from 1969. Hero Rydra Wong is part of a three way marriage in Samual Delany’s Babel-17, written in 1966. Decades before the LGBT movement reached the hearts of the average straight person, science fiction writers were pushing readers to question their heteronormative assumptions.

Other questions they posed still make me uncomfortable. I don’t member the name of the short story about a world in which normal healthy parents were expected to introduce their children to loving sex, but I remember how the very idea made me cringe. The story about a world which kept the strongest babies born each year and ate the rest still makes me nauseous when I think of it, but the writer’s description of the inhabitants horror at discovering that we ate animal flesh hit a nerve. I got it. I don’t have to change my own behavior or preferences, but it is worth knowing that my normal could be someone else’s disgusting.

Many clever writer’s have used the flip side of this to make their world more vivid. Once something becomes socially unacceptable, it has the ingredients for kinky sex. Of course, the more ridiculous the rule, the sillier the kinkiness becomes. The hero in Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale lives in a world where women are not allowed to read. The man who essentially owns her takes her to a secret place to do something depraved. Her worst fears are groundless. The man wants to play scrabble with her.

I’m now about a third of the way into Frederick Pohl and CM Kornbluth’s 1952 satire The Space Merchants, and I’m enjoying it very much. I just finished a scene in which a most likable character disgusts our hero with his perverse behavior. It should be said that the hero is a work in progress, an advertising executive slowly learning the ramifications of his work. The perverse act we witness? His friend likes to read alone in a library that is filled with countless books with no advertisements at all. So much space with no attempt to sell anything is considered obscene in this dystopia.

“I’m not a prude about solitary pleasures when they serve a useful purpose. But my tolerance has limits,” our hero says. Point well made.

(For more about why I think The Space Merchants is a clever and under-appreciated story, see my posts I Know Sexism When I See It?, Predicting the Future or Shaping It? and Through the Eyes of Another.)

 
 

What the hell happened in 1968? (The How to Get a Standing Ovation Edition)

“[The] American Independent Party candidate for president … urged Veterans of Foreign Wars Thursday not to be misled by what he called ‘liberal left-wingers, guideline writers and newspaper editors.” The first line of the Associate Press story states the news in faded shades of cream and grey.

wallaceI consider whether to find this opening funny or disconcerting. “What were they thinking in 1968?” I ask, as I take a closer look at the faded old newspaper, crumbled decades ago around the dishes that I am unpacking. It turns out to be an article about George Wallace, a former Alabama Governor most known for his zealous support of racial segregation, not for his failed run for the presidency in 1968. As I read on, forty-seven years melt away and I am Sherri Roth, thirteen-year-old news freak and hopeful Lois Lane-style journalist, skimming the news as I search for answers to the burning questions about life that keep me awake at night as I try to understand the universe.

“George C. Wallace” I read “devoted much of his speech … to attacks on communism.” I have to smile. Attacks on communism seem quaint and harmless today, although thirteen-year-old Sherri Roth was under the firm impression that both Lenin and Marx specifically advocated tyranny, massacres, and cruelty. It will be a few more years before she is surprised to learn that Communism is merely an economic philosophy and not a mandate to do evil.

panty girdlesIn his speech, captured in a copy of The Wichita Eagle from a Friday August 23 of long ago, Wallace took potshots at newspapers for being soft on Fidel Castro. He also decried anarchists, saying both they and communists “imperil this country internally and externally.” Young Sherri Roth isn’t sure exactly what an anarchist is, but the older Sherrie Cronin is pretty sure that Wallace was referring to hippies. The VFW of 1968 was not particularly fond of this group, and her suspicions are strengthened when she reads that “He was interrupted 25 times by applause, [and] given a standing ovation as he finished.”

Okay. This is starting to sound more like the news of today. Except for those poor guideline writers, that is. Even Rush Limbaugh doesn’t rail against guideline writers, at least as far as I know. What did they do back then to piss off George Wallace?

infinite times1“Guideline writers in Washington are trying to … cover every aspect of life, even to the point of telling a person when he should get up and when he should go to bed,” Wallace complained. Oh. Some government study must have recommended getting eight hours of sleep each night. Looks like that constituted government overreach in Wallace’s opinion.

I sigh as I remember some of the Tea Party complaints that have made the news recently. In 1968 you might have been able to buy a men’s pullover for $2.66 and a woman’s panty girdle for only a dollar, but other things haven’t changed all that much in forty seven years. Would George Wallace have a shot at the presidency today? You have to wonder.

For more notes from 47 years ago, where 13 year old Sherri Roth reports the news from the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle, see my other blogs posts for the Vietnam Edition, the Women’s Edition, the Won’t You Please Come to Chicago Edition, and the Race Relations Edition.

[From page 15A of the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle from the Associated Press News Service]

This box went everywhere with me

On April 28 I gave my king-sized bed away to a stranger, and for the next fifty-five nights I slept on the beds and couches of family, friends and a few hotel chains. It was a transition I orchestrated, born of selling a house sooner than expected while still needing to work and save money before moving across the country. I’ve known folks who’ve volunteered in Haiti and Kenya for longer, others who served in harm’s way in dangerous conditions. I would be safe and comfortable, so my little stint without my own place hardly seemed to qualify as an adventure. It even sounded easy.

mind unleashed 2But life is relative, isn’t it? After fifteen years with my toothbrush in the same place, I found being afloat disconcerting. Like most poor swimmers, I looked for things to grab onto. I was lucky in what I found. Two years ago I started a daily qigong practice, and my fifteen or so minutes a day of moving meditation became an anchor. Greek yogurt, readily available and easy to eat, was my daily bread. While putting the house on the market I worked to develop the habit of sipping water whenever I became tired or anxious, and this routine worked remarkably well once I was adrift. (As a plus, I was better hydrated than I have ever been in my life.)

My most effective idea, however, was an eighteen by thirty inch box I threw together just before closing. It was meant to hold a few comforts that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase, but over two months in turned into more than that. It became my treasure box, a child-like source of comfort that I carried in to wherever I was staying. As I added new items to it and threw other things out, it became a picture of the woman I had become. What did I really need to be happy. Which comforts did I rely on? This box was not about what I wanted people to think I was like. It was about the real me, trivial as that might be.

Contents:

1. a thin microfiber blanket
2. an extension cord
3. to go coffee cups and lids for taking that last cup with me in the car
4. a tote bag with a picture of my husband, 3 children and mother
5. a popcorn bowl and several bags of microwave popcorn
6. a cloth napkin and a real fork
7. a real wine glass and cork screw
8. a scissors and scotch tape.
9. speakers to attach to my computer
10. clean wash cloths
11. a white noise generator
12. a hair straightener to keep my bangs straight
13. a plastic bag with band-aids, hair ties and Emory boards
14. a couple of cans of soup and a can opener

box2Add my cell phone and my laptop to the list and this was everything but my clothes and wallet that I needed to survive. It is accurate to add that the phone and computer provided favorite music, contact with those I love, and entertainment, making them my two most valuable possessions.

Okay …. so it looks like the real me is a lot about eating, drinking and getting a good night’s sleep. And while Ford Perfect traveled the galaxy armed only with his trusty towel, it looks like I prefer cloth napkins and washcloths. To each their own. Could I have gotten by without my box of precious belongings? Of course I could have. Did I need much more? Not really. At least not for only fifty-five days.

 

Proud to be Irish

Dalai8My husband is 100% Irish-American, and in spite of the three generations that form a wall between him and the old country, he feels the tie. Maybe it is the 100% part — all of his family history and traditions come from the same place. Maybe it is the 16 years of catholic schooling he got along the way.  Today, he is proud of his heritage in a new way. The people he has to thank for his genes and much of his outlook surprised the world.

They didn’t hold a bitterly fought election on gay marriage in which one side managed to barely out talk the other. Instead, they voted in droves, as parties ranging from conservative to liberal stood up and said “it’s wrong to oppress people”. As a group, the Irish do know a thing or two about being oppressed. As a group, it looks like they’d as soon see less of that in this world.

The odd thing is that many in Ireland continue to hold very traditional religious views. I’ve gotten to visit the island four times, and wouldn’t particularly describe it as a hotbed of progressiveness. However, I would describe it as having a culture in which being openhearted is considered a virtue. My thoughts are that, as a group, the Irish just voted to put warmth and kindness ahead of politics or religion. You have got to love that. I plan to drink a Guinness or two tonight to celebrate. Go Ireland!

 

 

This box goes everywhere with me

I wrote it in bold magic marker, lest the cardboard container get mixed in with the books going to storage or the dishes going to Goodwill. When I realized what I had started, I smiled.

Dalai 10I was making a “happiness box” and filling it with my most precious treasures. Over the next month and half I will be living four or five different places and staying in several hotel rooms as I coordinate a move across country with the timing of selling a home. I will actually couch surf, a little unusual for a professional woman my age. Outwardly, I say it is going to be no problem. I’m a highly flexible human. The child inside me knows otherwise. She is scared about having nothing to hold on to, and she is the one who started this box.

First thing to go in it? The bowl I like to use for popcorn. Makes sense. You can pretty much do popcorn anywhere. It never fails to bring cheer. Second item – my favorite glass for wine. My inner child isn’t really a child. The lady within wants a cloth napkin she can use anywhere, and the wanderer in my head has added my passport. Yeah, I ought to keep that with me anyway.

This box isn’t even half full yet, and that’s good. There are a whole host of other folks that live in my brain, and they are all clamoring for something small to hold on to. It is funny how having one small container forces you to select the things that really matter. As I continue to pack, I suspect it will be surprising what some of those things turn out to be.