Saturday, December 2, 2017


I’ve been waiting to write about all the sexual misconduct news until my head cleared and I could make some sense. I don’t know if I’m there yet. Some of my thoughts follow.

The basic stuff that I’ve encountered as a sexually active woman over approximately 45 years:

Men have to. Really they want to, but that’s not a good enough excuse for most men raised in our culture, so they tell themselves they have to.

Men marry to.

The six-week check-up is a case in point. After waiting through a pregnancy in which sex is rare, husbands count the days after their child is born until their wives come home from their six-week check-up with a clean bill of health, usually from a male doctor. This clean bill of health means that the woman is ready to continue providing sex to her husband, and because her husband is looking desperate, and because she secretly feels guilty that she has denied him sex in exchange for the pleasure (the long-term pleasure of course) of giving birth to a child, she goes along. Sex may hurt, but she goes along.

Many women sacrifice the pleasure of sex and lose touch with their own urges and rhythms in order to provide it on a male schedule. I have done this.

If women are strong enough, they have sex only when they want to. Some men realize over time that the women they married are actually people, not sex providers, and modify their behavior accordingly.

Other men turn to women who aren’t their wives, sometimes very young women, sometimes children. Most men aren’t willing to seduce these other women—that’s too much work—so they  grope or rape or molest or use their power in whatever field of endeavor they occupy.

Some never go through with the sex itself. They are addicted to female admiration and string women along but never take the decisive step.  There are lots of men like this. I suppose we have to be grateful that they don’t take the decisive step, but having been one of these foolish, strung-along women, I don’t feel very grateful.

Some men joke about their extramarital activities with each other and sometimes with the women involved, but this is to cover shame—in the case of men who have any.

Other men—such as our esteemed president—have no shame. They are proud beyond measure of their sexual exploits. 

Still others deny their sexual misconduct in the face of strong evidence. We are now in an era where people lie all the time about everything. I don’t know when this happened.

The worst lies I’m guilty of are (1) telling my students that they are good writers when they are not, hoping to make it easier for them to write more fluently (which is the only way writers are made), and (2) telling nosey people that I’ve been married twice when I’ve really been married three times—the third time has lasted 33 years so far—because I don’t like the look on their faces when I mention the number 3. This is none of their business anyway.

But this is none of their business anyway is a trap. Lies are lies. One leads to another. It is the business of all of us, for example, to protect women and children from men who say they have to when they only want to and go on to force the issue, inside and outside marriage. It is also the business of women to protect themselves. If you have been raised to believe that your only value is as a sex provider, this is a hard thing to do.

Are ALL MEN this way? I don’t know. But the NOT ALL MEN argument is frowned upon in the wake of Roy Moore and Garrison Keillor and Matt Lauer and Al Franken and John Conyers and Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. I hesitate to make it. Also, I don't know ALL MEN. 

I hope that some of the men pictured here go to jail. I hope many men go to jail.

I believe this is a (r)evolutionary moment.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Heading North

San Francisquito Creek overflowing its banks
We had several reasons for moving north in 2007, from Palo Alto, where we'd lived for 35 years, to
Bellingham. One was the Great Flood of Iris Way in February 1998, when a high tide and too much rain for too many days in a row cooperated to make the creeks overflow. A lot of Palo Alto was untouched, but those of us on the east end, closest to the Baylands, got a little wet. We'd recently remodeled our house, lifting it up a few feet per flood plain requirements, so no water came inside. But many of our neighbors had water in their living rooms. At the curb, Iris Way is about seven feet above sea level.

What I chiefly remember about the flood is that my son, Victor, who was 13 then, had caught a flu that was spreading through Santa Clara County. He had a temperature that morning of 104 degrees. He could see through the big window in our dining room, just as we could, that if he needed to go to the ER at Stanford Hospital, he would have to travel at least partway by boat. Because he always ran a higher fever than the other two kids, I didn't panic. We kept him comfortable while we were bringing his temperature down. No ER trips were necessary, and the water receded in a couple of days. But if the flu had been a little more potent, if the other kids had caught it, too, if the rain had continued . . . then we would have had a tiny taste of what Puerto Ricans are suffering now.

I've heard that plans are finally being entertained to protect the valuable real estate in Palo Alto (and the Google, Facebook, and other sites across the freeway) from further flooding. That's good news for the friends we left behind. I guess you could say that we moved north as climate refugees, very early ones. We still live on a bay, but now we're 100 feet above sea level, which should keep us safe for a while. Much of the coastal PNW is similarly elevated. Rising temperatures--even Bellingham is getting hotter--and the resulting loss of habitat for plants will be what depopulates our country and the world. But first we'll be faced with storms, flooding and fires, fewer here than elsewhere. Although August wildfires in British Columbia and east of the Cascades made it hard to breathe in Bellingham, we are not in the kind of pressing danger that the residents of Norfolk, Miami, New Orleans, and dry California are.

Octavia Butler
Soon I'm going to reread Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower, the futuristic story of a young woman from unlivable Los Angeles who makes her way north into Oregon, across barriers that exist to keep Californians out. The book was published in 1993, some six years before Butler herself moved to the Seattle area, where she died before her time in 2006.

The Parable of the Sower is a good book, with a brave heroine who creates a theology that helps her withstand the horrors she witnesses and undergoes.  It's a prescient book as well. I don't believe that a wall will be built through the Siskiyous in Northern California, but our southern neighbors won't be warmly welcomed here either, as indeed my husband and I were not welcomed when we arrived.

Domestic immigration will be a bigger challenge to Oregon and Washington than foreign. We will have to decide how generous we will be to newcomers. I think we might as well be generous because I doubt that not being generous will keep anyone out. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What Made You Happy?

Circa 1957. I'm the shrimp in the middle.
I don't think of my childhood as very pleasant. My parents were older than most. My dad was 53 when I was born, and my mother was an exhausted 38. She was nervous and depressed, and he fell ill for the first time when I was ten. My sister left home that year, and my brother was three years gone, so for eight years I was the sole companion of two people whose lives hadn't started well--both were orphaned early--and weren't drawing to a close in much peace.

So when Carolyn Baker and Dean Spillane-Walker, at their workshop Resilience Bridge, asked all of us to recall what made us happy as children, as adolescents, and as adults, I didn't imagine that the first chapter of my life would yield much.

I was wrong. I came up with lots of things.

I loved to return home from church to fried chicken on Sundays. My favorite piece was the thigh, and I was always grateful when my parents and siblings saved one for me. When I'd learned the Lord's Prayer, I was sometimes allowed to say it. I congratulated myself on my performance. (I didn't really hear it until childhood was long gone.)

Speaking of church, I loved eating those little powdered donuts between Sunday school and the 11:00 worship service. I fed a few crumbs to the goldfish in the courtyard pond.

I loved surprising my father when he came home from work at 3:30 in the afternoon, still in his overalls. When he opened the front door, I jumped out from behind it, and he always (I mean every single time) acted surprised. After he changed his clothes, I sat in his lap until he dozed off.

I loved spending my allowance at the dime store on Marysville Boulevard. When I was six or seven, my mother let me walk the five blocks there by myself. I crossed an empty half-block, the potholed corner lot next to Marie's Donuts. It was dry and brown in the summer, green and muddy after the rain started, and teeming with tadpoles. I scooped them up in my hands and returned them to the water. (I'd brought some home once in a jar, but my mother wasn't thrilled.) I turned over rocks and poked the ground with sticks. I daydreamed of flying like the crows on the telephone wire.

Even chores, although I never had many, gave me joy. My sister and I used to sing show tunes while she was washing and I was drying dishes, learned from the LPs she collected. I still have the  lyrics in my head to "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"

I loved my cats. I loved squeezing my cats. When I was ten and my father developed a tumor, I heard my mother talking on the telephone to the doctor. She asked if the tumor was malignant. It wasn't, but I didn't hear the doctor's answer. I looked up malignant in the dictionary and darted into the backyard before my mother could see me crying. There was a box of kittens in the garage then, and I carried it out onto the grass. Those kittens were a great blessing.

Food, child-sized adventures, animals, routines, stability. These things made me happy, and insofar as my life and my family's aren't utterly disrupted by the hard times approaching, I can cling to these childhood blessings and try to bestow them on others. When my life is disrupted (as the lives of so many have been severely disrupted this week by fire) I can do my best to restore my blessings or, at the very least, remember them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

House on Fire

I was born and raised in Sacramento. My parents are buried there. I studied in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Jose, and lived in Palo Alto for 35 years. I still have dear friends in Northern California, and it's on fire. I feel as if I'm on fire myself.

A CNN report this morning says that a "perfect storm of factors" created the conditions in the wine country that have taken 17 lives, left many unaccounted for, tens of thousands evacuated, and whole neighborhoods wiped out.

These factors include "really strong winds" with gusts of up to 50 mph in some areas and 80 mph in others; night-time onset, making it harder to notify people and get them out of harm's way in time; dense, dry vegetation following years of drought, a wet winter that brought new growth, and another very hot summer; and low humidity.

The fires are currently zero-percent contained according to a fire chief quoted this morning in the New York Times.

There will be investigations. Did someone set it, as in the case of a recent fire along the Columbia River? I guess it's important to know that, but not as important as recognizing that the conditions listed above, with the exception of the timing, made the fire worse, and are all the results of climate change.

I write fiction in part because I believe that fictional characters can sometimes tell truths with more clarity than real people:

We must bring ourselves to surrender to what is true.