Archive for the ‘Favorites’ Category

“The truth is that the world is full of dragons, and none of us are as powerful or cool as we’d like to be. And that sucks. But when you’re confronted with that fact, you can either crawl into a hole and quit, or you can get out there, take off your shoes, and Bilbo it up.”

― Patrick Rothfuss

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Photo by Amanda Swanepoel on Unsplash

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Transcript available on YouTube, or here: “Failures of Kindness”

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness

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Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

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Drabble for a Monday morning.

Today might be crap. Wake to rain, the car won’t start and the kid’s hamster is under the weather too.

You’re out of coffee.

Steam builds and you dash headlong toward the Scylla of anger and the Charybdis of self-doubt. You seriously consider a cup of despair.

The boss asks you to step in last-minute for the most important meeting of the year or the kid’s hamster dies or it really is uphill both ways or (fill in the blank here) and you think, “I just… can’t.”

I hear you.


What if this is the ‘verse where you can?

— J.R. Johnson

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Photo by Tom Henell on Unsplash

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* Editor’s Note: Welcome to Lunchtime Clickbait, where we test oddly specific headlines establishing implausibly sweeping claims for oddly specific life strategies. 

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Sure, it’s only been two days, but I can unequivocally say that smoked oysters have changed my life.

Photo by Thomas John on Unsplash

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How do I know for sure that smoked oysters are the best thing since sliced bread? Well, three days ago I had ideas as usual, but little energy for action. Sure, I got my work done, but then, meh.

For the past two days we have had smoked oysters for dinner, and for the past two days I have had far more energy and verve than usual. I think the connection is obvious.

Yesterday? I did all of the things. Work, yes, but also house and writing and creative fun stuff. Also peaches.

Happily tucked away in the freezer, waiting to become sorbet.

Today I’ll do that and more, and I’m sure that it’s all because of the smoked oysters. What’s not to love?

Will smoked oysters work for you? Maybe, and unless you have a shellfish allergy, they can’t hurt.

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Now, do I wish they didn’t come in cans designed to slice my fingers when taking them to the recycling bin? I do, but I also have a solution.

I mean sure, you could still cut yourself if you tried hard enough. So maybe don’t?

And many of the readily available options are from halfway around the globe, but it would be great if increasing local popularity also encouraged more local production.

It’s also encouraging to see the shells used as material for educational and shoreline reclamation projects like the Billion Oyster Project and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Still not convinced that smoked oysters are right for you? What else does a sweeping claim for dramatic outcomes based on one small lifestyle change need for maximum reputability?

A Top Ten List, of course!

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Top Ten Reasons to Eat Smoked Oysters

10. They are great on salads, on pasta, in soups, on picnics, or straight from the can when you don’t have time for niceties like plates.

9. Canned, they are shelf stable to the Apocalypse and beyond.

8. Oysters purify water, are terrific for shoreline health, contribute to restorative aquaculture, and in a well-managed fishery are a great addition to a sustainable food system.

7. They remind me that the history of cities like New York is tied to the oyster. 

6. Smoked oysters give an average day a bit of fancy dancy je ne sais quoi.

5. Oysters are rich in protein, good fats, iron, zinc, and copper. Eating them makes me feel practically electric!

4. Smoking takes away that weird sliminess of raw oysters that some people love but, well, I don’t. (Although maybe I haven’t tried enough of the good stuff, like those from High on the Hog‘s TheRealMotherShuckers.)

3. I still have warm fuzzy feelings from childhood, sitting in the living room recliner, reading, and eating after-school oyster stew.

2. Lord, I don’t know, isn’t this list done yet?

And finally, the number one reason to eat smoked oysters…

1. They are affordable, accessible, and Costco sells these babies in eight-can packs!

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Yes, these oysters are the squishy kind, but the picture is pretty. Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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Would the world be a better place if we added the words “I’m afraid that…” to many of our negative thoughts? As in, “I’m afraid that the vaccine is untested and will hurt me.” Or, “I’m afraid that my neighbor with the weird tattoo hates me because I’m different,” or “I’m afraid that Anders in accounting is undermining my promotion case,” or “I’m afraid that the people in charge don’t care about me.”

Adding those three words adds flexibility. It highlights worry but also makes room for the possibility that you may not be right about the danger. It isn’t fact, but possibility.

Anders may indeed have it out for you, but your neighbor probably doesn’t think about you at all.

I’m not unaware that there are real problems in the world, and many of them can be very personal. I was raised around a mix of people, some of whom were sweet hometown souls and some for whom intolerance was their bread and butter. It is true that some people are not good. And not all tattoos are harmless.

Still. This quote also rings true for me:

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

― Yoda, Jedi Master

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Growing up as I did, an adopted, mixed-race but not obviously so child in a mostly rural mostly white area, gave me a certain perspective onto the good and the not so much.

My brother looks Black, he got the brunt of the in-your-face not good. I don’t, as much, so I got to see what lay behind the masks. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always interesting.

What makes people tick? In my experience, the answer is often fear. We’re all scared of something.

Understanding that, about others and ourselves, can open a fascinating window into motivation, behavior, and connection.

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Years ago, I went on vacation with a group. I didn’t necessarily agree with the politics of all present, but that’s fine. We were there for a good time, and most days, a good time was had.

The weather was warm but it rained on and off, and strong winds blew through even on the best afternoons. On snorkeling day, the boat that took us out was on the small side and the water was choppy with a chance of jellyfish.

The captain took us out into deeper water, pointing to a box of snorkels and masks as we slipped farther from shore. The woman next to me didn’t say much but when she spoke, her voice sounded thin and strained. 

The boat dropped anchor and most of the group immediately swam away. My seat-mate stayed near the ladder, tension visible in her short, choppy strokes and the way her breathing wasn’t quite level.

In that moment, our differences didn’t matter. The water was deep. Jellyfish swarmed nearby, and the boat cast an absurdly small shadow on a vast ocean. 

I reached out a hand and asked if she would swim with me. She laughed, half disbelief, half desperation. 

Then she reached back. 

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It was years ago, but I remember that day every time I am tempted to fall into a knee-jerk reaction about someone. 

I’m half white, half Black, half American, half Canadian, half Star Wars, half Star Trek, half duck confit, half pork and sauerkraut. I’m Exhibit J for the argument that differences don’t have to mean disaster. 

I know that reaching out doesn’t always work. I’ve experienced the alternatives. (And thanks to the joys of social media and increasing polarization, it’s impossible to miss the bonfire of bad so often happening around us.) But I keep trying.

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Like most people, I am best at remembering the foolish things I’ve done, the comments I wish I could take back, or the times I wish I’d done more.

But I also remember that moment in the water, when I was able to reach past our fears and help someone. I doubt she remembers, and that’s fine. In a fundamentally useful way, that moment humanized us both. We do not always see eye to eye, but we like each other far better than any algorithm says we should. 

I can still see the wide blue waters flowing around me, hear the slap of waves against the side of the boat. And feel the warmth of another’s hand looking for help and hope, and giving both back to me in return.

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Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

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I’m not that great. Not really.

I mean, I’m mostly nice (with just the right amount of geeky snark), I make a pretty terrific brownie, and try to be a good partner, daughter, friend, neighbor, and co-worker, but I haven’t started a food distribution center to feed first responders this past year, or learned a new language or solved the medical problem that’s stumping a family member’s doctors or crossed off everything on my to-do list or single-handedly saved Ontario’s bees. At some level, I feel I should have done all of those things and more, but no.

I’m not Melinda Gates, Mother Theresa, Jane Goodall, José Andrés, Greta Thunberg, Jonas Salk, David Suzuki, world-changingly great. 

Sorry, supportive parental units. You tried.

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And please don’t take offense, but you probably aren’t either. I bet you are kind and thoughtful and a good hugger with excellent taste in music and a winning smile who looks out for pets and children, but you aren’t, say, Malala. By definition, most people aren’t. 

So I’m not extra special super amazing. You’re probably not extra special super amazing. And that’s ok.

Because together, we are magic.

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What makes a society great?

I submit to you that we regular folks have far more impact on society than we’re given credit for. The median is the best indicator of a curve’s central anchor, not the outliers.

Yes, innovation like the automobile, vaccines, or the personal computer can upend the ways we live and work, but those events happen within a context. 

That context is the one we build every day, with every action, big or small. Have I sent out Mothers’ Day cards, let myself off the hook for not sending those cards sooner,* waved at the neighbor, picked up that annoying plastic bag stuck in the cedar, fed the birds, voted, donated to a nonprofit doing good work, planted for pollinators, baked for our mechanic, followed traffic laws, ignored rabid commentary designed to monetize my attention at the expense of democracy, and generally done my best to help steer the ship to a better place?

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What we do matters. Maybe I’m not extra special super amazing, but that’s ok. I don’t have to be. I can still be part of something great.

We all can.

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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* Sorry, Moms!

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Today is Earth Day. Happy 4.543 billionth birthday, Earth! Here’s hoping for many more.

Much of my day job is based in current news and events, which means I spend a good part of most days knee-deep in the internet. Yeah, it can be exactly as fun as it sounds. That said, I’m not looking for the bad stuff, or not only the bad stuff.

I’m looking for the uplifting, the hopeful, the rays of light. For a path to something better. So for every article I read telling me that in recent years, there are more Starbucks locations in California than overwintering monarch butterflies, there are pieces on what’s good, like these:

Let These Stunning Photos of a Year of Virtual Youth Climate Activism Inspire You

Halifax-based developer of CO2-injected concrete wins multimillion-dollar prize

It’s hard to miss the evidence of change, but the good news is that we’re not just discussing it, we’re beginning to take concrete action.

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You already know that doing big things is hard. Like ”saving the planet.” Human beings are small, and I suspect that at the root, most of us are plagued by the niggling feeling that we are just bit players on an unimaginably vast stage. That at some fundamental level our actions don’t matter much at all in the bigger picture. Not really.

But we’re wrong. And the world is made up of smaller pictures.

Photo by Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash

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It’s the question every hero is asked: The future is uncertain. The path is unknown. What are you going to do about it?

What you can, wherever you can. As a minor example, I spent time today researching ways to turn our absolutely useless lawn space into a pollinator garden.

Of course, a lot of what needs to happen on climate change isn’t just about individual action. Deciding not to eat meat on Tuesdays matters, but standards and infrastructure for energy, transportation, agriculture and construction, to name a few sectors, will need to modernize too.

It means working together on new ideas, new innovations, and new legislation. More and better targets, the kind that make a positive difference in people’s lives.*

Because humans are a social species. There is never just one, and when it comes to saving our home that’s a challenge but also a benefit. Sea shanties swept the globe in a matter of weeks. Why not this?

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It sounds big, and it is, but we do big things all the time, often by accident.** It’s just time to do this particular big thing on purpose. Here’s the mantra I try to stick with: Pick a goal. Break it down. Start today.

We are never just one. None of us are. We are legion. And we got ourselves into this mess. We can get ourselves out.

Starting today.

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* Like clean air and water. And I really enjoy the fact that one day, for example, I’ll be able to put my seat belt on, drive an electric car down well-maintained roads, sit in a non-smoking section at a restaurant, and eat food that won’t kill me. And that my nephews don’t spend their summers swimming in a creek laced with PCBs (like we did). Crazy, I know!

** I mean, who sets out to upend civilization? They just want to see what happens if they burn that dirty rock or invent the light bulb or the assembly line or freaking Facebook. There is no button a curious monkey will not poke. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can make it work for us for a change?

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“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand… To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

NASA via Voyager 1 Spacecraft, Feb. 14, 1990.

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Digging through my files looking for some obscure notes, I ran across this piece of commentary on Ottawa. I wrote it during the first trip up here after Mr. Man convinced me to consider a move, so I was less of a tourist and more a potential consumer. It was also funny to see what I thought the first time I came to this place I now call home.

This was years ago now but the perspective (from inside a coffee shop! full of people! unmasked!) caught my attention.

Look, I thought, this is how it was, once upon a time, and how it will one day be again.

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OTTAWA 10:18 on a Monday morning and I’m in a Starbuck’s. We’re situated in one of the ubiquitous strip malls that remind me of Denver, and it’s surprisingly busy. What I’ve noticed so far: Canadians are generally not interested in bumper stickers. They seem to be much more interested in the resale value of their cars than in informing their fellow passersby that they oppose free trade, or love puppies, or want to follow their bliss (which, let’s be honest, often looks a lot like a 18-wheel truck halfway through a 48-hour run between New York city and Las Vegas). How committed can they be, I ask you, if they aren’t willing to sacrifice a bit of paint for their cause? Honestly. 

I’m freezing in here, as the climate control unit appears to be set up for a constant stream of hot-blooded Northerners, all anxious for their coffee fix. There is a constant flow of conversation as well, as interestingly plebeian as any space designed to provide a safe haven for meeting, greeting, and eating. A couple of enthusiastically large women are discussing jobs (one just lost hers due to her refusal to sign some important yet binding piece of paper and she’s happy as a clam to be anywhere that isn’t at work with her tool of a boss), kids (they don’t look old enough to have them but they do, along with husbands, tattoos, concerned mothers, and similarly unemployed friends to drink with at 11:00 in the morning. 

The cars are mostly new out here; we’re down South of the city now, in one of the several growing areas of development focused on providing big shiny new buildings for high-tech and other companies, large houses on tiny lots, gravid with the cars necessary to live in such a spread-out region. It’s not my kind of place, but I can see that it appeals to a lot of people. People who want to drive new cars from the office two blocks down the street to get a grande half-fat half-soy mocaccino with caramel on top. Not that I’m making fun, mind you. I’m drinking what appears to be a banana smoothie but is in fact a vente orange mango vivanno. I just don’t want to buy a car. Another sad note, the wireless here is decidedly not free.

One thing I notice is that as the day wears on, the brand new cars and fancy dress are replaced by a little more rust, more single women with artistically highlighted hair, fewer professionals. Perhaps this is more like an American experience than I’d expected, and I’ll see an influx of students come in soon with bags under their eyes, laptops, and the look of perennial stress that marks the perpetually intellectual. Ah, but wait, what’s this? A taste of home writ large, in the form of a bronze and white two-tone Chevy Bel Air flaunting the high gas prices as effectively as it does the slim parking spot it is bursting out of. Home sweet home. A Toyota hatchback the size of a basketball shoe slips into a slot nearby, its more practical size offset by an undeniable air of regret for its lost stature.

Most of the darker-skinned people I’ve seen so far here are South Asian. Yesterday, the lack of fellow African Americans left me feeling lonely, but on the plus side there will be whole new ethnicities to be mistaken for, and the food’s bound to be tasty. Not surprisingly, though, white prevails here. Outdoor tan white with big boots and pickup trucks, soft lumpy white with purses and a coffee and keys and flip-flops and two kids and a mini-van, self-conscious white striving for haute couture and perfect hair while casting constant glances at nearby windows to check, just to be sure, and big hand solid grip white, leading a child through a crowded room to safety.* 

Am I’m the only person here working on a laptop? Everyone else is either reading the paper or chatting with a friend. Wait! I see another fellow typist working in the far corner, injecting caffeine to spur the process along. That’s reassuring. I don’t mind being a foreigner, with darkish skin and a predilection for over-tipping due to acute unfamiliarity with the local currency, but surely we’re all in the same century, yah? Or perhaps not, since everyone else seems to have a cell phone, a car, a purse or pockets no doubt brimming with cutting edge technology, and I, I have only my little laptop. Thank God. I don’t think I could stand to be any more connected frankly. Am I antisocial, or just old school? I prefer to think the latter, and I support my argument with the fact that I will be keeping my loom, my books on food preservation without modern methods, and my books on basic survival under situations of extreme duress. I’m not anti-people, I’m just a geek.**

The people here are kind, I find. We crisscrossed a number of neighborhoods yesterday checking out the environment and looking for rental signs, and at one point stopped by the side of the road to take stock of our progress and plan out next steps. A woman knocked on the window and asked if we needed help. She’d seen the tell-tale signs of otherness: Massachusetts license plate, big map, pen and paper spread out before us. Of course, we weren’t lost at all but it was a great opportunity to chat with a woman who had lived in the Old Ottawa South area for the better part of her life, and was eager to help us spot the three or four houses in the area with for-rent signs. It was the sort of thing that might happen in any neighborhood anywhere, but that fact that at no time did I wonder if she had a pistol concealed in her handbag made it that much sweeter.

The bad news, of course, is that everyone seems to agree that Old Ottawa South is the best neighborhood in the entire city, and are unwilling to move out and give us our chance to experience it for ourselves. Perhaps we’ll find a place there. The fact that the squirrels are cute, fluffy, and completely black threw me. Not gray, not a ruddy brown, but black, like a shadow of a squirrel that’s escaped from its owner. Another non-surprise is that one is expected to pay a little something extra for the sunshine and water, the trees and green grass that tickles the toes. We’ll have to decide how far we want to travel down that road, softly green and floral scented though it may be. 

The river and canal are pretty as pictures, though, if pictures could capture the sense of motion inherent in a body of water surrounded by the swirl of cars, children, and the insufferably fit. 

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* This initial impression only captured part of the picture. The city is a great mix of ethnicities and countries of origin.

** I have a cell phone now but still don’t use it much:)

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Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3464o.pm010730

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It’s been a weird week.

I’d planned something else for today’s post but the website I needed is down. Or just hates me, which is the same thing.

Instead, let’s talk about motivation. And how I don’t have any at the moment. I’m a little stuck when it comes to writing, and while other work is getting done, on that front I’m just… stuck. 

I’m sure I’m not alone, and it can help to remember that.

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I’m reading, way too much. Not possible, you say? Well, honestly, I’d agree you most of the time. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read (thanks, parental units!). It serves me well most of the time, and of course you have to read well in order to write well.

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Input is good but there must be output as well. And right now the balance is a bit off. 

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I am hesitant. That’s a fairly accurate word for it, I think. Asking which direction to go, what steps to take, what story to tell? It’s called the paradox of choice, as in, having too many options makes it harder to make a decision, not easier. This concept is typically applied to decisions about things like breakfast cereals, but it works here too.

So, what to do?

Maybe I’ll limit myself to a certain genre, or length, or story model. Or maybe I’ll make a rule to follow. (I actually like doing that, it does make life much easier. As in, Monday, Wednesday, Friday I work out. No questions, no time spent planning, no wasted brain power trying to wiggle out of it;)

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It helps that today is Friday, that most wondrous of days. Mr. Man will be home soon and there will be laughter and warmth and frosty adult beverages for all. And so long as I keep moving, keep doing, keep trying, I’ll still make progress. Even when things get weird:)

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Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com

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I have a thing about Beauty and the Beast tales, and I think I’ve just figured out why.

Fairy tales are classics for a reason. They strike deeply-ingrained cultural notes that resonate across many lines. (And like most of history, they’re often pretty hard on women.) But what is it about this particular storyline that appeals to me? I’d never really thought about it, until I found myself reading a not terribly well-done version and wondering why I was still reading. Why this sub-genre appeals to me. Then I figured it out.

It’s because in this story, she saves the day.

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We can argue about the story or the level of efficacy Beauty has (not to mention her name), but the template of the story lends itself to modern updates in a way that many other fairy tales do not.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed other fairy tale retellings, but they don’t always appeal to me in the same way. Is it because there’s no princess in sight? Because there’s room for ethical debates alongside the magic and mystery? Because both main characters are flawed in interesting ways? Probably.

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If you’re too young to remember a time when girls in (at least some) stories did not rescue themselves, count your lucky stars. When I was a kid, that’s pretty much all we had. Princess in a tower, waiting to be rescued? Check. Princess in dragon’s lair, waiting to be rescued? Check! Princess orphaned, alone, and (say it with me now) waiting to be rescued? Yep. And then, of course, there were all those stories where the girl didn’t even make it out alive. Ouch.

My parents tried, but it’s hard to counter the weight of all that history. Slowly, slowly, feminists pushed and creators did better and the world began to shift, but in the meantime, I was a voracious reader with limited formative years.

My attachment to the story may also have had something to do with my own position in the world at the time. The role of misunderstood outsider was one to which I could relate.

I mean, Heinlein’s* Friday was a big deal back in the day. Hard sci-fi starring a kick-ass woman of complex genetic makeup and latte-colored skin? Um, yes please.

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On a related note, I recently learned that my father’s science fiction habit started thanks to recommendations from a sci-fi minded staff member at his university, lo those many years ago. That’s what got our shelves filled with speculation, and I’m better for it. So thank you, interesting unnamed woman who cared enough to share what she knew. (And if that doesn’t sum up most of human history, well, I don’t know what does.)

And that is one reason why I like what I like. Whatever you like, find a way to distill what’s good from it and embrace it. Even if at first it looks a little like a beast.

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* There is deserved debate over Heinlein’s portrayals of women, but his stories helped me see that a different world, a better world, was possible as a kid, and that’s something I’ll always appreciate. It also made me think more about writing, and how to fix what’s broken, and it looks like I’m not the only one. Here’s Jo Walton’s take: The worst book I love: Robert Heinlein’s Friday.

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lion in darkness
Photo by Matthew Kerslake on Unsplash

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