Gayle Madwin's Journal
                              25 MOST RECENT ENTRIES
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 1:00am
Three-Day Weekend

I finally have adult silverware! When I first moved out on my own, I got to take with me some mismatched pieces of my parents' old silverware sets, and then when I moved in with Susan I combined those with some mismatched pieces of hers, which she left behind when she moved in with Rebecca because Rebecca already had her own. I decided then that I wanted to acquire a proper set of fully matching silverware and a proper set of fully matching china for the first time in my life. I succeeded right away with finding a set of china that I liked, but my search for silverware didn't go so well. I gave most of the mismatched silverware pieces to former neighbor/former housekeeper Jessica and mail-ordered a set of silverware that I liked the look of, but when they arrived, I found that the metal bent extremely easily, and I wasn't happy with them. So in the two years since then I've shopped around carefully for other options, and for the past year I've had my eye on a particular set, but I was waiting for a good sale so I could get them cheap. I finally nabbed them in an after-Christmas sale a few weeks ago, and now they've arrived in the mail. I'm very happy with them! They're incredibly strong and don't feel like they'll ever bend out of shape. They're also rather huge - they appear to be made for giant people with giant hands and giant mouths. The salad forks and teaspoons are the size that regular forks and tablespoons normally are. But I don't mind the hugeness. I like them a lot.

Acquiring them inspired me to further reorganize my kitchen. When Susan lived here, it was her kitchen and she got to organize it however she liked. Two years ago when it became my kitchen, I moved some of the most obviously illogically placed items around, but this weekend I confronted some remaining illogical item placements in the kitchen and fixed them. So now the silverware are in the drawer that has built-in silverware compartments, whereas before there were pens and pencils in the built-in silverware compartments. And the cupboard that has built-in dishtowel racks now has dishtowels on the racks rather than being stuffed with paper bags. I fixed the dishtowel cupboard a while back already, but I fixed the silverware drawer just this weekend. Everything looks better and works better when used in the way it was intended. Though there's still no clear use for the cupboard containing the severed base of a formerly built-in ironing board. My kitchen is full of odd built-in features.

I also mopped my floors. I meant to steam-clean the carpets as well, but I didn't quite get around to that. But I mopped the floors. That was good. And I attempted to cook something I hadn't tried before, although it came out rather disastrous in terms of visual appeal. I attempted to cook pecan meringue cookies, but the meringue melted together (despite having held its shape very well before I put it in the oven) and produced something more like pecan meringue brownies. I realized later that I forgot to add the teaspoon of vanilla extract that the recipe called for, so maybe that caused the problem? It tasted all right, though, so it wasn't a complete failure.

I also made cream of fennel and pear soup recently and decided I want to make a really huge batch of it sometime soon and see whether I can freeze it and use it as a sauce or gravy in the future. I always forget how good it is when I don't make it for a while, and I generally only make it once or twice a year because it's rather a lot of trouble. But it's really good.

This is the time of year when I always start trying new recipes in an effort to use up the oranges on my orange tree. So far this year, though, the recipes I've been trying haven't used any oranges yet. I should probably start using my oranges. They don't keep for as long as my pecans do.

I also managed this weekend to get my blood drawn and escaped from the office after only a single needle-stick! First time in quite possibly a decade that I've escaped without multiple puncture wounds. It was a different phlebotomist than in the past. She must be very talented.

And this evening I spent hours heavily editing an 11-page article for a friend. Or maybe more of a friendly acquaintance. A guy I went on one date with once, ages ago, after which we both had no interest in any further dates but did not hate each other. Anyway, he wanted and needed editing help, so I helped, and I think I did quite a good job with it. The thing I really like about providing free editing help to friends and acquaintances is that it reminds me of how much I actually do enjoy editing - because when people pay me to do it, it feels like something I'm only willing to do for the money, but when I do it for free, I remember that actually it's something I do like enough to be willing to spend an evening of my free time doing just for the fun of it. I wouldn't do it 40 hours per week just for the fun of it, but I can happily do a few hours here and there for the fun of it.

Some part of me is still totally despondent about David Bowie's death, but at least I'm doing a reasonably good job of submerging the despondency under a burst of productivity and functionality.

Mood: busy
Speak Your Mind
Friday, 15 January 2016
Friday, 15 January 2016 8:45pm
January Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's January, and not a whole lot is blooming, but it's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, so I photographed what there is. This rose isn't even actually mine, but it was hanging over the fence from my next-door neighbors' yard, so I figured it was fair game. Maybe this particular flower of it is mine.

Rosa sp. (rose)

Click for more!Collapse )

Mood: indescribable
Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 14 January 2016
Thursday, 14 January 2016 12:45am
Loose Dogs

I went running tonight. I had just come back from running on Sunday night when I found out about David Bowie's death. I took Monday and Tuesday off from it because I didn't get any sleep those nights (and also I always take at least one night off after a run anyway). I got a bit more sleep last night (maybe six hours). Not enough to make me feel particularly well - in fact, I had a terrible headache all day long, and took ibuprofen for it repeatedly - the full dose, whereas usually I just take half a dose and find that to be sufficient - but didn't manage to get rid of it until I finally resorted to taking migraine medication (acetaminophen + caffeine) in the evening. I'm not sure it was actually a migraine - it felt more like a tension headache - and taking caffeine in the evening may not be great for my prospects of sleep tonight, but, well, the headache wouldn't have been good for my prospects of sleep tonight either.

Anyway, once I finally managed to get rid of the headache, I went running. And I tried a different route than usual. I've been trying slightly different routes almost every time I run lately, but there are still a few streets in the neighborhood that I've never tried running on before. Tonight's route took me through a few blocks of one of those. While on one of those unfamiliar streets, I saw some people outside talking. As I ran past them - not directly past them, but around a corner that was diagonally across the street from where they were standing - their dogs, which I hadn't previously noticed, came running at me. Three dogs, all off-leash, all rather large, mixed-breeds with slightly varying heritage, but at least two of the three had significant amounts of pitbull blood in them (which means that they had very powerful jaws). They surrounded me, and I felt one of them press its teeth against my arm. Only the front faces of its teeth - my arm was not actually in its mouth - but it was a definite, urgent, immediate warning sign of the sort that directly precedes biting. I yelled "Hey!" and raised my arms to try to keep them out of the dogs' reach and stopped moving so as to avoid triggering any further the dogs' predatory instinct to chase a creature that was running away. The owners called out for the dogs to come back to them. All three of the dogs ignored them and stayed focused on me. It took at least 60 seconds for the owners to actually come over close enough to get the dogs to obey them.

I did not have my own dog, Boston, with me. When I bring her, I always try to remember to bring pepper spray in case I need to defend her from other dogs. I've never actually managed to use pepper spray to defend her with any kind of success at all, and it's not necessarily a great idea for me to try to, because when I have tried to in the past I managed to get at least as much pepper spray on myself as I got on the dog I was trying to ward off . . . but it is at least theoretically a line of defense in case of emergencies. I sometimes also bring pepper spray when I'm by myself, but not so often, because it's kind of a pain to carry it (perhaps this can be fixed, if I can figure out a good system for carrying it - I need either some running clothes with a convenient pocket for it or some sort of clip-on attachment device so I don't have to hold it in my hands) and because I figure that with any kind of luck, the number of loose dogs or humans that are liable to launch violent, unprovoked attacks on me is significantly smaller than the number of loose dogs that are liable to launch violent, unprovoked attacks on Boston. Tonight I didn't have it with me. But more importantly, even if I had had it with me, I don't think I would have dared to use it, because the owners of the dogs were there watching, and I would be afraid that pepper-spraying their dogs in front of them might provoke the owners to violently attack me.

I mean, I've heard from a woman who lives in Marysville - a small, frail, elderly woman - that when a loose dog lunged at her here in town, she did pepper-spray it in self-defense right in front of its owner, and its owner did become extremely threatening toward her, following her around for the next several minutes while screaming obscenities and threats of violence at her. And then one of the woman's acquaintances who turned out to also be acquainted with the dog's owner (this is a small town) saw her and told her, after the dog's owner finally went away, that the dog's owner was indeed a very dangerous man and was extremely likely to actually commit the sorts of violence he'd been threatening to commit.

And, well, the very fact that the owners of the three dogs that came after me were letting them run loose inclines me to think not very highly of them. So . . . this whole situation is very bad all around. And one of the reasons I've been varying my running routes so much is that I keep hoping to find a route that doesn't contain any creepy spots that frighten me. But wherever I go, there are houses with loose dogs, or houses with dogs in the front yard fenced in by ridiculously low fences that I'm virtually certain the dogs are big enough to jump over if sufficiently motivated, or houses with humans who catcall me or leer at me or just give off a creepy vibe. There are certain blocks that are fairly reliably not creepy, but the only way to string together 5K worth of fairly reliably not creepy blocks seems to be to run repeated laps around a smaller loop. Which I do resort to doing sometimes. But even then, I never know for sure how far the loose dogs may wander on any given night.

I'm very tired of being made to feel unsafe. I don't know anyone who lets their dog(s) run loose, do I? If you let your dog(s) run loose, I do not like you. Even if I'm under the illusion that I like you because I don't know any better, I don't actually like you. Please properly restrain your dog(s) so I can like you. Your dog's teeth do not belong in contact with my arm.

I think there should be an extremely huge fine very consistently levied against anyone whose dog is found running loose. I would be willing to risk being fined myself in the unexpected event of Boston escaping, just to have a safe city to run through for a change.

Mood: scared
4 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Sunday, 10 January 2016
Sunday, 10 January 2016 11:43pm
R.I.P., David Bowie

David Bowie is dead.

It was on the day of his death, just a few hours before they announced it, presumably as he was dying, that I was listening to his brand-new album Blackstar, released just two days ago on his 69th birthday - I was listening to it on YouTube because my copy of the CD hasn't even arrived in the mail yet - and I was thinking then, for I guess the last of many, many times over the years, how terrible it would be when someday David Bowie died and I outlived him and I would never get to look forward to any more new music from him ever again.

And then I thought a slight variation of it that I don't remember ever thinking before today: I thought how much even more terrible it would be if I didn't outlive him. I thought, if I died of cancer and David Bowie were still alive at the time, I think quite one of the very most terrible things about dying for me would be the thought that there would be David Bowie albums that I would never get to hear.

Well, now there won't be. But I wasn't planning to die anytime soon! I do not want him to be gone.

I was watching his music video for his new single, "Lazarus," while I was having those thoughts. He spends most of the video lying in what appears to be a hospital bed. While singing about being already dead. I guess that was a fairly unsubtle hint. I'm glad he lived long enough for his album to be released. I'm glad he lived long enough for all his previous albums to be released. I'm glad he seemed, by all accounts, quite happy in his final years, in his 23-year marriage to Iman, with their 15-year-old daughter Alexandria (named after the famous library) and his 44-year-old son Duncan from his first marriage. I'm glad he followed his conscience and his heart in choosing to take ten years off from his career so as not to miss out on his daughter's childhood the way he missed out on his son's. I mean, I would have liked to have more albums during those years, but not at the cost of sabotaging his family life. I'm glad he seemed to have found his way to the calm and happy family life he always wanted, that he did not have in his younger years.

I learned of his death on Facebook, from a grieving post by jess_s. A few seconds later I got messaged about it by my high school friend Christine, who knew me when I first discovered him and became instantly obsessed. Christine promised to listen to the entire Blackstar album tomorrow in his memory. I didn't ask for that - she volunteered it. She wasn't even a particular fan of his. It was a kind gesture.

The word is that he died at home, surrounded by family, after an 18-month battle with cancer. I would like to know what kind of cancer it was so I can harbor an especially ferocious hatred for that particular kind of cancer forever and ever.

[Edit: They're saying now that it was liver cancer. Same thing his guitarist Mick Ronson died of, and his close friend Lou Reed. Though there are different types of liver cancer, starting in different types of tissue within the liver.]

I looked at his son's Twitter feed and saw that Duncan had written on New Year's Day that he had really hated 2015. I guess he had reason. Eighteen months ago, though, the date of initial diagnosis, would have been June 2014. And I did not need any more reasons to hate 2014. 2014 was when I got diagnosed with cancer too. In June I had just finished my radiation treatments, and David Bowie was just getting diagnosed.

I feel orphaned. Both my biological parents are still alive - and I know how tremendously lucky I am in that - but I feel orphaned by my celebrity idol pseudo-deity pseudo-parental figure. I don't have any other word for it. He was younger than my father and only a few months older than my mother, but I always suspected he'd die before either of them because he didn't exactly treat his body well for much of his life. Well, I was right. Stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, and cocaine, people I care about. [Also, stay away from hepatitis viruses, which apparently cause a substantial percentage of liver cancers.]

I've had to forcefully remind myself that even if it were possible, I don't actually wish for him to be forcefully resuscitated just to suffer miserably for longer. I don't want to torture him. I love him.

. . . It took me a couple of hours after hearing of his death before I could cry. I guess I wrote this post to bring that on. It's gotten me there now. It looks like this is what I may be doing at the top of my lungs for the next several hours.

Mood: heartbroken
12 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 25 December 2015
Friday, 25 December 2015 11:50pm

It's present-giving day! The pagan one that most people I know celebrate four days after the solstice and pretend has something to do with Christianity even though rather few of the people I know who celebrate it are actually Christian. Not much about this holiday makes a lot of sense to me, but anyway, it involves giving people presents, and I did that, and I got a bunch of presents in return!

I also saw snow! Not very much of it, but a little. I thought I might see snow in Grass Valley, because I know it snowed there yesterday, and because it was where I saw snow on Thanksgiving. But all I saw when driving through there today were wet spots along the sides of the road where snow had recently melted. I saw actual snow farther along, though, in Garden Valley, where my parents live. My parents did not have any snow themselves; they said they had only gotten some hail, and the hail had melted already. But elsewhere in their town I saw snow. There was snow near them, and I saw it, even though they didn't.

I am very pleased with this year's present-giving day. I don't generally do Christmas cards, but occasionally when people post notices to say things like, "I don't generally do Christmas cards, but this year I'm doing them, so if you want a card, send me your address," I respond to those people and exchange Christmas cards only with them, only that year. So this year I exchanged cards with frankepi, an Internet friend of seventeen years now, and that made me happy. And I also started preparing to mail a housewarming gift to woo2step and recycledsilence - it may go out in the mail tomorrow - and that made me happy too. And then I found out that I'm going to get to see my high school friend Christine on New Year's Eve, and that she wants to go on a hike with me before we go eat somewhere, and I get to help pick out a place for us to go hiking, and that made me even happier. Also I have a week and a half off work (I last worked December 23 and won't go back until January 4) so I can probably find time to do some other fun things as well.

So it is a very good present-giving day! And also I received a very good collection of presents:

Peter Alden and Fred Heath: National Audubon Society Field Guide to California
Mariama Bâ: So Long a Letter
James Baldwin: No Name in the Street
Cao Xueqin: The Story of the Stone (or The Dream of the Red Chamber), Volume I
Cervantes: Don Quixote
Louis Chu: Eat a Bowl of Tea
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Possessed
Brian Evenson: Windeye
Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings
Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies
Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir
Pu Songling: Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
Tayeb Salih: Season of Migration to the North
Sylvia Townsend Warner: Mr. Fortune's Maggot
Lidia Yuknavitch: Real to Reel

New Order: Music Complete
Echo & the Bunnymen: Meteorites

yellow lupine (Lupinus densiflorus)
arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus)
tidy-tips (Layia platyglossa)

a pitchfork for turning my compost pile
a portable sitting/kneeling platform for weeding my garden when the ground is muddy
a cast-iron coat-hanger forged by a friend of my aunt
popsicle molds

The books are quite an odd mixture. Pleasingly odd. It was really a very good present-giving day for me. How was your present-giving day?

Mood: happy
4 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 7:46am
December Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Around here, as in many places, December is the most difficult month of the year in which to get plants to bloom. August is not much fun for plants here either, but December manages to be even worse. Nonetheless, yesterday I ventured outside to find out what was blooming and photograph it for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

I'll start, though, with what isn't blooming: The pecan harvest is officially over, because the pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is now totally bare.

Carya illinoinensis (pecan)

Click for pictures of actual flowers!Collapse )
2 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Tuesday, 15 December 2015 6:21am
The Unethical Ethicist

I really hate the advice dispensed in this advice column by "The Ethicist."

The letter-writer says he is friends with "Jane" and also, secondarily, with Jane's husband "Peter." He writes,
Jane is having an affair with ‘‘Martin,’’ whom Jane has known most of her adult life. I know about the affair because Jane confided in me years ago. In fact, this affair was also a part of Jane’s previous marriage, and Jane confided this to me as part of her divorce from her first husband, whom I did not know. Jane thinks Martin is her true life’s ‘‘soul mate,’’ and I think she may be right. Peter does not know about the affair. If he knew about it, I think he would divorce Jane in a minute.
The letter-writer feels vaguely uncomfortable about actively helping Jane deceive Peter, but he's mostly inclined to justify and continue it. The so-called ethicist advises him to go ahead and continue helping Jane deceive Peter, but commends him for bothering to feel guilty about it. Really, how does the mere act of feeling guilty about it help anything if he goes on doing it?

Here is what the letter-writer ought to have done from the beginning: When Jane went through her divorce from her first husband and confessed to the letter-writer that she was having an affair with Martin - who is married - the letter-writer should have realized that it does not make sense to want to count among one's friends a person who cheats on their spouse (with another married person, at that). Why would you want to be friends with a liar who damages multiple people's marriages and puts multiple people at risk of STDs without their knowledge or consent? If you have a spouse or partner yourself - or if you ever might in the future - why would you expect Jane to have any more respect for your marriage than she has for Martin's or her own? Why would you expect Jane to have any more respect for anything about your life than she has for Peter's life or Martin's wife's life?

At this point it's going to be a bit more complicated for the letter-writer to extract himself from the situation ethically than it would have been back then. Still, though, an important part of the solution has to be "Stop being friends with known cheaters!" Being friends with them morally compromises you and gives them the idea that cheating isn't that bad - since, by remaining friends with them, you are indeed conveying the sense that you don't think their behavior is bad enough to make you want to dissociate yourself from them. Have higher standards than that!

Will it be sad to lose a longstanding friendship if your friend starts cheating on their spouse? Sure. But if your friend is not the quality of person who deserves to have you as a friend, you're better off facing that fact rather than continuing to trust a person who has shown themself to be untrustworthy.

And what if your friends go ahead and cheat on their spouses but simply don't tell you about it because they know you won't accept them as friends anymore under those conditions? Well, that means (a) your friends won't morally compromise you by enlisting you as co-conspirators in deceiving their spouses, and (b) your friends won't be able to take comfort in the sense that cheating must not be that bad because they can tell all their friends about it and their friends all go on being friends with them anyway. So . . . that's good.

Also: What right does the letter-writer (or Jane either, for that matter) have to decide for Peter that Peter is supposedly better off remaining in this marriage in which he's being lied to and cheated on, when Peter himself is likely to think otherwise and has not been given the opportunity to decide for himself? This amounts to the letter-writer having a low opinion of Peter, believing that Peter couldn't do any better for himself in the marriage market than to remain married to someone who's cheating on him.

The letter-writer could ask Peter for advice here: Make up a friend, mention him to Peter on a few separate occasions, make him seem believable, then tell Peter you found out that this friend's wife is cheating on him. What does Peter think you should do? If Peter thinks your friend should be told, then I think Peter should be told. Ideally not by the letter-writer, though . . . I would very much prefer that Jane be the one to tell Peter. I would tell Jane, "You need to tell Peter or else I will tell Peter." Jane would not be my friend anymore after this. But that's just fine, because I would have no interest in being friends with Jane anyway.

The ways we react to other people cheating matter. People whose parents cheat are more likely to cheat, because seeing that one's parents cheated tends to create the impression that cheating is relatively more normal, less shocking, less scandalous than one would tend to believe if cheating is something one only reads about in newspaper articles about political scandals. But we form our impressions of what's considered socially acceptable based not only on our parents but also on our friends. This means that friends also have the power to alter our understanding of the degree to which cheating is acceptable or unacceptable. So you're responsible for the impressions you create. And don't you want them to be anti-cheating impressions?

A relationship should stand or fall on its own merits. If it isn't working, leave! But leave when you decide it's not working - don't string someone along for years while looking for someone better. Anyone who's truly better is going to think less of you if you start romancing them while you're in a relationship with someone else. And the person you're in a relationship with deserves to know that it's time to consider themself single at the same moment that you start behaving as if you're single yourself.

And what if you haven't thought your relationship was in bad enough condition to justify breaking up, but you suddenly find yourself attracted to someone else? Three things. First, have enough respect for your existing partner to recognize that you don't know the someone else well enough to be able to fairly compare them, and that the excitement of meeting a new person is likely to create an inaccurate and short-lived impression that the someone else is better than they actually are. Second, have enough respect for the someone else to realize they deserve better than the kind of person who would destroy an existing relationship to be with them. And third, start working on fixing your relationship with your existing partner . . . starting by telling your existing partner what you're feeling for this other person. The way to restore a sense of trust and emotional intimacy is to actually trust your partner and actually allow your partner emotional intimacy. That means you tell your partner whatever you've been hiding. That's the only way to fix things. Candlelight dinners and fancy jewelry and exciting vacations do not create trust and emotional intimacy. Honesty does.

Mood: irritated
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Sunday, 22 November 2015
Sunday, 22 November 2015 10:09pm
Survey of Sorts

seifaiden recently pointed out to me 30 Journaling Prompts for Self-Reflection and Self-Discovery. I don't think they all merit separate entries, but I decided to throw together a few of the ones I have short answers for.

My favorite way to spend the day is . . .
Sleep late, read in bed, pet my cat in bed, get up, harvest pecans with my dog, plant some plants, discover new flowers in my yard, take pictures of the yard, go for a hike, take pictures of the hike, write about it on LiveJournal.

If I could talk to my teenage self, the one thing I would say is . . .
You will manage to handle so much more than you think you're capable of handling. (Also so much more than you have the slightest idea you'll ever need to handle. But I won't tell you that part, because the optimistic belief that virtually everything will go right all your life is a valuable survival mechanism that I do not wish to rob you of.)

The words I’d like to live by are . . .
No one can love you completely unless they know completely who you are, so you must never, never, never do anything so terrible that you can't bring yourself to confess to it later, because if you can't bring yourself to confess to it later then you can't ever be known completely and loved completely.

I couldn’t imagine living without . . .
People I trust who know me completely. Or as close to completely as is achievable between human beings with fallible memories and finite amounts of time for communication.

When I’m in pain — physical or emotional — the kindest thing I can do for myself is . . .
Recognize it, acknowledge it, examine it, describe it in writing and in conversation.

What does unconditional love look like for you?
Unconditional love does not seem particularly sane to me. If someone you love murders everyone else you love, will you still love them afterward? Should you still love them afterward? Maybe if they're your child and you feel responsible for making them into the horrible person they became, you'd have to. Other than that, though, I think you should switch to hating them instead. That's putting a condition on your love for them, and I think you should go right ahead and make your love conditional upon that.

What would you do if you loved yourself unconditionally? How can you act on these things whether you do or don’t?
I think my love for myself is also conditional upon my not murdering people, and I'm okay with that too. I do not desire to love myself unconditionally.

I really wish others knew this about me . . .
1. I'm queer by choice.
2. I'm quite open about who I am and what I want. Our interactions will go more smoothly if you don't spend your time constantly worrying that I might secretly be wildly different than I claim to be.

Name what is enough for you.
1. A stable supply of enough money that I don't feel a need to worry about money. I can comfortably do without things like cellphones, cable TV, restaurants, and hotels, but I need to be able to decide on a whim to buy several dozen plants or half a dozen new skirts and not have to worry about whether I can really afford that or not.
2. Access to a wide range of books.
3. Access to the Internet.
4. Access to people who understand me extremely well.
5. Access to nature in reasonably wild form.

Using 10 words, describe yourself.
Independent, unusual, creative, literate, rational, stable, reliable, determined, committed, whole-hearted.

(Not sure whether that counts as 10 words or 11 words, but I think it's close enough. Several of the words are near-synonyms of one another, but some concepts about me apparently require emphasis.)

What can you learn from your biggest mistakes?
Mostly, to be more suspicious of people. Also (variations on the same theme, but with different nuances) to ask more questions, and to recognize that sometimes I ought in fact to start an argument, because some arguments need to be had.

What’s surprised you the most about your life or life in general?
It's far more difficult and painful than I had expected.

I feel most energized when . . .
I'm with people I can relate to well.

Mood: okay
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Tuesday, 17 November 2015 12:33pm
Congressman John Garamendi Town Hall

Today I answered a random, unexpected robocall that linked me to a telephone town hall conference with my U.S. Representative, Congressman John Garamendi (California's 3rd Congressional District). He introduced the call by talking about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and then spent the next hour accepting questions, most of which ended up also being focused on ISIS, although all topics were welcome. The questions that were focused on ISIS were the ones that scared me, though. Here are some of the questions he received (questions and answers both imperfectly paraphrased from my memory).

1. Have you seen the pictures of the Syrian refugees? They're nearly all very healthy-looking young or middle-aged men! They're obviously much too healthy-looking to need our help! Theyre obviously terrorists! We need to keep them out of our country!
(Answer: Actually, most of the Syrian refugees who are accepted into the United States - and there've only been 2,000 so far, all of whom have been relatives of Americans - are women and children.)

2. The people being slaughtered by ISIS are Christians, not Muslims. Are you willing to support a policy that would ban Muslim refugees from entering the United States and allow only Christian refugees to enter?
(Answer: Actually, ISIS is slaughtering people of all ethnicities and religious groups, wo we will admit refugees based on need, including Muslim refugees who can demonstrate need.)

3. How can we encourage the French government to arm all its citizens so that terrorist attacks can't happen there in the future? And also, why aren't we bombing ISIS, and in particular, why aren't we bombing them with nuclear bombs?
(Answer: Uh, we definitely do not want to use nuclear weapons! We already are bombing ISIS, but we need to be carefully targeting it to minimize harm to innocent civilians so as not to make it any easier for ISIS to recruit new terrorists. [failing to address the first part of the question, which the next caller then brought up again])

4. The French people don't have enough guns, and that's why they couldn't defend themselves from the terrorists. If Hillary becomes president she'll ban all Americans from having any guns, and then we won't be able to protect ourselves from terrorists either!
(Answer: Hillary Clinton isn't trying to ban all Americans from having any guns. She just wants to have strong background checks. Absolutely none of the presidential candidates are trying to ban all Americans from having any guns. Also, having guns isn't really all that helpful in preventing terrorist attacks, and even after these terrorist attacks, gun violence in the U.S. still far exceeds gun violence in France where gun-control laws are stricter.)

Congressman Garamendi is a Democrat. California's 3rd congressional district does include some heavily Republican areas (such as the one where I live: Yuba County). Per the Wikipedia page linked above, it "generally encompasses areas north and west of Sacramento. It consists of Colusa, Sutter, and Yuba counties plus portions of Glenn, Lake, Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo counties." Colusa, Sutter, Yuba, and Glenn are heavily Republican, but Lake, Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo are at least somewhat less so. And we have enough Democratic voters in Lake, Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo Counties to outnumber the hicks of Colusa, Sutter, Yuba, and Glenn Counties in electing a Democratic congressman! So why were there so many scary people asking scary questions in the town hall?

Throughout the call, a poll question was frequently repeated: "Do you think Syrian refugees who go through an 18-month vetting process should be allowed to seek refuge in the United States? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no, or 3 for not sure." At the end of the call, the poll results were announced: 43% said yes, 40% said no, and 17% were not sure. I said yes. Why did 40% say no? Do these people want to close the U.S. borders to white people too, or only to brown people?

The call was at lunchtime, when a lot of people are at work and wouldn't receive it or be able to attend, so most of the people on the call seemed to be old, retired people. This may have been part of the problem.

At the end of the call, I signed up to make sure to receive more of these calls in the future, so I can continue to be frightened by the people I live near. Because apparently I'm really into being frightened by the people I live near.

Mood: scared
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Monday, 16 November 2015
Monday, 16 November 2015 12:20am
Pecan Season! (November Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day)

It's pecan season! And also November Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. My pecans are definitely piling up.

Carya illinoiensis (pecan)

And the Western leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus zonatus) are also out in force. These are a native insect that feeds on nuts and fruits of many sorts. They seem to be more interested in the unripe pecans than in the ripe ones, though; they congregate in large clusters as you see below, always on the unripe nuts (hulls that haven't yet split open to reveal the nuts inside). They also occasionally congregate on the oranges on my orange tree. In either case, they stick a long, tube-shaped mouthpart (much like what mosquitoes use for sucking blood) into the pecan hull or the orange rind and suck out some juices. They don't usually do much noticeable damage; they can cause small black spots on a few of the nuts, but I just chop off the parts that are spotted. If you Google for advice about how to control these bugs, the advice generally consists of, "Just stop worrying about them; they don't actually do much damage." So I let them be. By the time the nuts are ready for picking, they've moved on to some that are less ripe. There also aren't really all that many of them; there are about 20 in the photo below, but only a very small fraction of the pecan clusters on my tress have these bugs on them at all. It's just that where you find one, you generally find a lot more than one. They prefer to stick together.

Leptoglossus zonatus (Western leaf-footed bug)

I also have some flowers in bloom. Click for flowers!Collapse )

Mood: satisfied
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 13 November 2015
Friday, 13 November 2015 2:52am
Jojo Baby's Closet

I very much enjoyed this (NSFW) documentary about a Chicago drag queen and dollmaker.

The original reason I clicked on the page, though, was that the headline made no sense to me. "Taking a Trip Inside This Queer Man's Closet Is Absolutely Ethereal." What? Taking a trip . . . is . . . ethereal? Can the word ethereal be used that way? I do not understand.

Mood: confused
Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 12 November 2015
Thursday, 12 November 2015 11:42pm
Qualifications to Be U.S. President

From a LiveJournal friend who wishes to remain anonymous:
Ted Cruz quote:

‘Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander in chief of this nation.’

my brain ... it did not go to the place that i think he intended it to go.


η: also, the President of the United States is not commander in chief of the nation. they are commander in chief of the armed forces. the two are not synonymous. that is really kinda important.

Mood: amused
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 12 November 2015 10:49pm
My Biases (According to Harvard's Implicit Association Tests)

This evening I took all the implicit association tests in Project Implicit: Social Attitudes. Here is what the tests informed me about my biases:

First, my test results suggest little to no automatic preference between Thin People and Fat People. This is the only category in which I had no evident bias in either direction. Yay for not being sizeist!

On the topic of gender, my test results suggest that I slightly associate Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts but also slightly associate Female with Career and Male with Family. So apparently I both do and do not buy into gender stereotypes. I guess these associations do at least reflect my personal path in life: I have a career, and it's in a liberal arts field. And I don't so much have a family, other than the one I was born into.

On the topic of sexual orientation, my test results suggest a moderate automatic preference for Gay People compared to Straight People. I'm sure you are all shocked to learn this about me.

On the topic of age, my test results suggest a moderate automatic preference for Young People over Old People. Sorry, old people.

On the topic of presidents, my test results suggest a moderate automatic preference for Barack Obama compared to Ronald Reagan. Really, only moderate??? I confess that I did in fact strongly support Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election. In my defense, I was only eight years old at the time. I feel that this is a reasonable excuse for my not having known any better. By 1988 I had turned into a Democrat and was supporting Michael Dukakis.

On the topic of disability, my test results suggest a slight automatic preference for Abled Persons compared to Disabled Persons. Bad me! Bad me!

On the topic of religion, my test results suggest a strong preference for Buddhism over Judaism, a slight preference for Judaism over Christianity, and a slight preference for Christianity over Islam. Really I'm not a huge fan of any of them, but I do prefer non-Abrahamic religions to Abrahamic ones.

On the topic of skin tone (without specifying individual races), my test results suggest a slight automatic preference for Light Skin compared to Dark Skin. Bad me again!

On the topic of Black Americans, my test results suggest that I slightly associate White Americans with Weapons compared to Black Americans but also slightly prefer White People compared to Black People. Apparently identifying white people as being more dangerous does not prevent me from preferring them? It seems that I am not very smart about this.

On the topic of Arab Muslims, my test results suggest a slight automatic preference for Other People compared to Arab Muslims. Bad me yet again!

On the topic of Native Americans, my test results suggest a strong association of White Americans with Foreign and Native Americans with American. I have to say, I think people should be strongly biased in this direction; it seems like a pretty objective statement of fact to me that if any one race is more American and less foreign than another, the Native Americans are clearly the most American and the least foreign.

On the topic of Asian Americans, my test results suggest a strong association of Asian American with American and European American with Foreign. Um . . . really though, I don't actually go through life thinking, every time I meet a white person, "You're not as genuinely American as Asian Americans are!" Have I mentioned that I'm white and I'm generally fairly convinced that I qualify as American? Just saying . . .

So, that was interesting. I suppose the good news is that my biases that are in the most disturbing directions seem to be pretty consistently slight. I'm a bit confused by the idea that my strongest biases apparently involve regarding white people as not being very American, but perhaps this just reflects the fact that it's easy for me to associate white people with "otherness" in whatever form because I grew up feeling alienated and "other" from them from age six onward. There's nothing like witnessing, as a white six-year-old, a constant, daily onslaught of racist harassment directed at your Asian best friend by your white classmates and sometimes by white adults, to make you emotionally dissociate yourself from the entire category of "white people." Alas, that dissociation does not seem to have cured me of biases against some other races. It would be nice if it did.

Mood: biased
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Saturday, 31 October 2015
Saturday, 31 October 2015 9:58pm

A tiny child came to my door this evening in a Spider-Man costume - maybe four years old at the most, but his parents were waiting on the sidewalk rather than accompanying him to the door. He said he could only have candy that didn't contain peanuts. I helped him pick out some that didn't contain peanuts. He turned away. His parents called out, "Say thank you!" He failed to process this instruction. I was very slowly closing the door - being slow about it in case he might eventually catch on to the instructions to thank me - when he suddenly turned around and came back to the door and looked up at me again. "I need a drink!" he exclaimed. I was . . . rather at a loss for how to respond to this. His parents managed to call him away.

I gave away vast quantities of candy tonight. Kids exclaimed that I was giving away better candy than any other house they'd been to. There's probably some sort of benefit to having a good reputation with the neighborhood children, isn't there? Maybe if they turn into juvenile delinquents when they get older and vandalize or burglarize neighboring houses, they'll leave mine alone. Or something. Anyway, I made children happy. And possibly gave them diabetes. I will count it as a good deed.

The Halloween party I went to last night turned out to be substantially larger than I had expected. My friends Alyson and Jackie had told me it was a party for a few kids in their neighborhood - they live on a twenty-acre ranch, and the other homes in their neighborhood are similarly large ranches, so kids can't really go trick-or-treating in their neighborhood because the houses are set too far apart and also set back behind livestock gates so no one can get in. So they and some of their neighbors organize an annual hayride on the night before Halloween, where various costumed adults hide behind various trees along the road and jump out at the kids to scare them and then give them candy. They needed more adults this year, so they called on me. But there were more than a few kids at this party - there were 33 kids! And at least that many adults.

When I arrived, Alyson had a bunch of kids working on assembling spiders out of Oreo cookies with licorice sticks for legs and M&Ms for eyes. She had also created witches' hats by sticking Hershey's kisses to chocolate cookies with frosting, and she was working on creating a mummy from cream cheese, and she had enlisted the help of another adult to create ladybugs from tomatoes and olives. I helped out with arranging some food on plates, but I only arranged food to look like food, not to look like other things. Meanwhile, Jackie, who is theoretically still in the process of recovering from her last round of chemotherapy for metastatic uterine cancer, had strung orange and black lights everywhere and created about a half-mile-long path lined on both sides with lanterns dangling from trees every yard or two. And one or both of them had also found time to help their eight-year-old twin daughters assemble elaborate costumes: one of the daughters had on a long red velvet dress in a Renaissance style, and the other had on a 1950s-style outfit with a poodle skirt.

I have no idea how my friends find the energy to host elaborate parties for more than sixty people while also dealing with things like life-threatening cancer, forced early retirement due to life-threatening cancer, forced early returning-from-homemaking-to-regular-work to compensate for a wife's forced early retirement, the ongoing job of raising twin daughters, and also the ongoing job of managing a ranch full of goats, donkeys, sheep, chickens, guineafowl, ducks, and so on (not to mention that I think they're up to four dogs and four cats now, plus two guinea pigs and some fish). It is remarkable. And then, at the end of the evening, they were already talking about organizing additional large parties in November and December.

I don't exactly know any of their other friends, but I'm reaching a point where I've vaguely met many of their other friends before. There was a great deal of, "Where have I met you before? Was it at the British panto? No, was it at last year's Christmas party? No, I've got it: it was at the Girl Scout cookie sale last spring!" Or, "It was when Alyson and Jackie were away and you were housesitting and I came over to milk the goats!" And so on.

Alyson gave me a Dracula costume to wear. There was a grey-brown vest, a red cummerbund, a black bow tie, white gloves, a blood-red amulet on a ribbon around my neck, and of course, a cape. She also gave me makeup, but she said it was up to me whether I wanted to bother with the makeup. I looked in the mirror and contemplated the possibility of vampire makeup for a while, but I concluded that I was plenty white enough naturally and did not really need any artificial help to make my face even whiter. There did not seem to be any sense in bothering with makeup, so I didn't.

The hayride consisted of four large vehicles each dragging hay wagons full of kids behind them. They drove in a loop around the cul-de-sac, stopping at various places when costumed adults jumped out from behind trees to shower them with candy, and also stopping at a few houses where the kids all got out and went trick-or-treating. To give the kids more of an experience of trick-or-treating, several of the ranches gave out candy not only at the front doors but also at the back doors or from the hay barns or other outbuildings on the property. Kids went trick-or-treating at one of Alyson and Jackie's hay barns in addition to at their front door.

I was initially paired off with a woman in a devil costume to hide behind a tree and give out candy, but that woman's older daughter couldn't handle being unaccompanied and started crying (even though her younger daughter was fine), so she had to go stay with her daughter. I then got paired off with a woman dressed as the evil queen from Snow White. We jumped out at vehicles and shrieked, "Stop! You shall not pass!" and then gave them candy. A little girl called out from one of the vehicles, "You didn't scare me!"

Mostly I was impressed at how well everyone pitched in to help set things up beforehand and clean things up when it was over. It was a very well-coordinated group. My friends have good friends.

Mood: good
2 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 29 October 2015
Thursday, 29 October 2015 11:18pm
Almost Halloween

I don't understand why I have to wash the spiderwebs off my front porch at a time of year when other people are buying fake spiderwebs to decorate their porches with. I have a real spiderweb blocking the way to my doorbell; if I didn't wash it off, kids would have to reach through a real spiderweb to trick-or-treat at my house. What could possibly be more seasonally appropriate?

Tomorrow I'm going to the house of my friends Alyson and Jackie to dress up in a Dracula costume they're going to provide me with, hide behind a tree on their property, and lurk there until their kids show up, along with some neighbor kids who are joining them in a pre-Halloween practice run, at which point I've been instructed to jump out from behind the tree and terrify the children. Because when my friends are looking for someone to frighten their children, apparently I come to mind as a good candidate. However, I haven't the slightest idea how one goes about acting like Dracula. I feel that I should probably attempt to research this beforehand by looking up Dracula videos on YouTube or something.

Today I went out in my back yard and found that the neighbors' portable patio (a ceiling-high tarp attached to a giant metal frame about 25 feet square) had blown over the fence into my yard, where it had lodged itself upside-down on my side of the fence. I tried to figure out how I might get it back into their yard, but I was at a loss. It was far too big for me to heave it back over the fence as it was, and I couldn't figure out how to collapse it into a more portable shape. Then the neighbors came outside into their backyard . . . and proceeded to completely ignore my plight. I had to yell over the fence to get their attention, and they seemed at first quite confused about what I wanted. "Our canopy blew over your fence in the wind? Really?" Yes, how is this not obvious? Did you think I'd climbed over the fence, stolen it from you, and set it up upside-down on my side of the fence? Apparently they simply hadn't noticed it was missing at all. This despite the fact that they were standing about three feet from where it had previously been. I don't understand how it's possible to fail to notice the absence of an object the size of a bedroom when you're standing three feet from where it used to be. They told me they had failed to notice. People confuse me.

Mood: good
Speak Your Mind
Monday, 19 October 2015
Monday, 19 October 2015 11:55pm

I saw a raccoon! While out running after dark, I saw a racoon in someone's front yard! This is totally the best thing that running has ever yet done for me.

The racoon saw me too. It climbed a tree to get away from me.

Also I beat my non-race 5K record time for the second outing in a row tonight. I think I'm finally getting back into a pattern of regularly improving again.

In other wildlife-related news, my yard is full of squirrels. Even my roof is full of squirrels: I keep hearing them running across it. And Boston keeps barking at the squirrels and chasing them. But when she's asleep or indoors, the squirrels notice and take over the entire yard for hours.

The presence of the squirrels means that pecan harvesting season is beginning. The squirrels spend their time in my neighbors' yards during other seasons, but they move into my yard as the pecans on my tree ripen.

Pecan harvesting season also means that my hands are going to be stained brown until February. They're only extremely faintly stained at the moment, but as more pecans ripen, no matter how hard I try to make myself put on waterproof gloves every time I ever touch the pecan hulls, I'm going to end up staining my hands darker and darker until they're nearly black, and then I'll feel weird about ever leaving my house and seeing people in person because it isn't normal for a person with otherwise pale skin to have black hands. But pecan juice doesn't wash off.

Or perhaps I just won't care. This will be my first pecan harvesting season since taking up running, and running seems to have the effect of making me entirely stop caring what anyone thinks of what I look like. I still care what I think of what I look like, and I never cared all that much to begin with about what anyone else thought of what I looked like, but to the extent that I did care . . . well, running tends to force me to seek out somewhat different clothes than I normally would, for the sake of running-related functionality. And so I get used to going out in public dressed in a variety of even odder outfits than I normally would. Perhaps I can also get used to going out in public with dark brown stains on my hands.

Maybe to some extent I already have, in past years. Stained hands or not, one has to leave the house occasionally.

I'm still not done planting all my new plants. Getting close, though. I'm just being indecisive about where to put the last few of them.

Mood: happy
Speak Your Mind
Friday, 16 October 2015
Friday, 16 October 2015 12:31am
No Walking!

I ran 5K without walking any of it!

I still haven't managed to beat my best practice time from before the race last month - let alone my actual race time - but this is the first time I've ever run 5K without walking any of it. I've never really even come close to that before; I've never gotten beyond the halfway point without slowing to a walk, and on the very few occasions when I've run all the way to the halfway point, I always did a considerable amount of walking during the second half of the route. I'm not sure what was different today. I didn't actually feel very good at all when I first started out. I just kept going, and found that I'd gotten into a groove where my feet just kept moving forward and for some reason, I wasn't running out of oxygen or developing a terrible, burning exhaustion in my calf muscles, and somehow I managed to just stay in that groove the whole way through. My only (partial) explanation for any of this is that I went out significantly later than usual, so there were very few people outside, and when I see people I often feel a need to push myself to run faster - usually not so much to show off as because they're scary people and I want to avoid remaining in their vicinity any longer than absolutely necessary! - so this time, for once, I was able to maintain a perfectly steady pace the whole way.

It's nice not to be leered at or catcalled. My main interaction with a human being on my run tonight was with an old lady who was outside reading in a rocking chair on her porch and smiled at me as I went by. I'm okay with being smiled at. I'm pretty sure I very much deserved to be smiled at, considering that I was clad from head to toe tonight in fluorescent yellow, including of course a fluorescent yellow skirt. I had serious visual impact tonight, and not of the invitation-to-leer-at-me variety but rather of the you-might-want-to-shield-your-eyes-from-my-blindingness variety. I was pleased with myself for this. Color coordination always makes me happy, and particularly eccentric color-coordinated outfits make me even happier.

Edit, two days later: . . . And now I finally beat my best practice time!

(Also, I received an ad recently for high-visibility running clothes, with the title "Be seen . . . but not in fluorescent green!" The clothes they were selling were reflective, but they were nearly all black or grey. These colors do not work for me. I'm one of the rare few people who look good in fluorescent green and fluorescent yellow, but the price I pay for this is that black and grey - colors that apparently nearly everyone else looks good in, since the "little black dress" is so nearly universally regarded as a wardrobe staple - make me look so pale and colorless as to appear undead. If someone could please declare the "little fluorescent yellow dress" to be the new essential wardrobe staple, I would really appreciate it.)

Mood: happy
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 15 October 2015
Thursday, 15 October 2015 12:23am
October Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's time for October Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! I skipped the September Bloom Day and didn't even take any pictures of plants during September. It's all right though, because my garden hasn't really changed much since August. Last spring my garden was continually looking a few months ahead of schedule due to drought; this fall it's looking a few months behind schedule due to drought. It hasn't really rained properly yet this fall, so the garden still looks pretty much like August. Or maybe early September now? But certainly not mid-October.

The California fuchsias are putting on a good show, though. The red flowers here are 'Carman's Gray' California fuchsia (Epilobium canum 'Carman's Gray'), and the white and rust-brown flowers are Eastern Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).

Click for more pictures!Collapse )

Mood: pleased
Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Wednesday, 14 October 2015 12:52am
Meme from legolastn

The way this meme works is as follows: I commented on legolastn's post, and he gave me the age 18. If you request in the comments, I'll assign you an age, and so the chain of memes can continue.

At 18 (in 1994-95) . . .

I lived in:
My parents' house. It was a not-quite-1,500-square-foot house on a not-quite-quarter-acre lot on a dead-end street in Carmichael, California - a suburb of Sacramento. We had a swimming pool and a lot of redwood trees. I had recently (the previous year) repainted my bedroom from the yellow color it had been for all my previous life to a grand new color scheme in which the ceiling was magenta, the lower half of the walls were blue, and the upper half of the walls were a gradation of purple, gradually blending from magenta-ish at the top to bluish at the bottom. The carpet was olive green shag, left over from 1973 when my parents bought the house. It was new when they bought it, and had no landscaping whatsoever back then. They spent three years adding landscaping and pets to it before I was born.

I drove:
Nothing, because I didn't have a driver's license yet. California requires people under 18 to have at least 6 hours of behind-the-wheel driver's training from a professional driving instructor to get a license, and my school didn't provide behind-the-wheel driver's training, and my parents refused to pay for it (and didn't quite seem to believe me when I explained that I couldn't get a license without it). Now that I was 18, I was finally able to get a license, but since I wasn't going to be able to get my own car (nor any particularly regular use of my parents' cars) anyway, it wasn't a high priority. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 20.

I worked at:
Nothing yet. For my subsequent three years of college I had a work-study job in the English Department, mainly copying and collating papers, but sometimes also answering phones, sorting mail, or supervising the computer lab or the writing center. But during my freshman year I didn't have any job yet.

I wanted to be:
A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. And I was completely convinced that the novel I was already working on writing would be both finished and published by the time I graduated from college, and would be enough of a success that I would never need a day job.

I was in a relationship with:
A fellow student at my college whose name was Flame. My first relationship ever! I had an anthropology class with him in my first semester of college. In the elevator on the way to class one day, he noticed the rainbow-striped triangle pin on my backpack (which I put on every morning during the bus ride to school and took off again every morning on the bus ride home, because I wasn't out to my parents) and complimented me on it, and made reference to a queer event he'd attended. I inferred that he was queer, and was delighted; I took to regularly walking with him from that class toward my next class after that. He would also greet me warmly when he occasionally saw me around campus at other times of day - most often at the bus stop, because we both took the bus (though we took different buses). At the end of the semester he asked for my phone number, and I gave it to him, because by then I was very interested in him. Why wouldn't I be? He seemed to be queer, he seemed to enthusiastically support my queer by choice ideas, he seemed to be about my age (well, he looked it and didn't say anything to indicate otherwise, and I knew he was a sophomore), he seemed to be very smart and knowledgeable, and he was basically the first person to ever show romantic interest in me at a time and in such a way that I was both able to figure out that he was interested and not struck dumb with terror by the prospect of even having a conversation. Besides, I was kind of grieving the loss of my pseudo-Asian identity (having firmly established myself in high school as a member of the Asian crowd but finding that the college I ended up with was rather lacking in . . . well, it wasn't actually lacking in Asians, but it was lacking in my sort of Asians: it had street-smart Asians rather than nerdy Asians, and I didn't know how to befriend this new, unfamiliar brand of Asians), and he was . . . not actually Asian, but he had similar coloring, anyway, and that was better than nothing; it bothered me to feel myself perceived as just another white person, and talking to anyone at all who wasn't white helped to somewhat alleviate the uncomfortable sense of having been unwillingly subsumed into the general mass of white people around me. Anyway, when I eventually got around to asking him what his ethnicity was, because it was quite unclear, he said he was Native American. He was oddly lacking in details about what sort of Native American he was, but he didn't seem to want to answer any questions about it, and it wasn't as if I particularly cared what the details were anyway, so I didn't push.

When I talked to him on the phone between semesters, I asked him his age and he told me he was 35. This was a distinctly unwelcome piece of news, but I was sufficiently interested in him by then to not be very easily scared off. Besides, he added fascinating new information, such as that he'd previously been married and had taken his wife's last name when he married her, and kept her last name after the divorce. He did not offer any information about what his original last name had been, but I was quickly learning that it was best never to ask him any questions: anytime I asked him a question, he would decide that it was great fun to frustrate me by deliberately withholding the information that he now knew I wanted. I stood a much better chance of getting the information I wanted if I didn't ask, if I carefully made sure not to let on that I cared about knowing a particular thing, and I just got him started talking about a related subject and hoped he might randomly wander over to the topic I wanted to know about and happen to mention the thing I wanted to know. Anyway, I was impressed that he had taken his ex-wife's name. I asked why they'd gotten divorced. He said his ex-wife had started having recurring dreams in which he was a mad scientist conducting experiments on people in a basement and she started to look askance at him in her waking life because of this; she stopped being quite sure where the boundary was between real life and her dreams. I concluded that his ex-wife must have had mental health problems.

He asked for my address, and I gave it to him, and we started exchanging long snail-mail letters every couple of days. His letters were always typed, and really could not remotely have been called love letters: they were unemotional ramblings on intellectual topics, sprinkled liberally with arcane trivia and puns. But I was always interested to learn new things, so I didn't particularly mind. When the spring semester started, he asked me on a date, and I got my first kiss ever! Also I found out that he'd dropped out of college for the semester, though he assured me he would return to school the following semester. He just needed to take a semester off to save up some money. He was working at a minimum-wage food-service job and sharing a tiny, run-down house with five other people. (I would meet them later: they all had a slightly haunted, totally-flat-broke look about them.) He introduced me to the Internet, though: he was a computer science major and knew about these things before I did. He showed me the computer lab in the computer science building and taught me how to sign in and start using the Internet. The Internet was exclusively text-based: we were using the Lynx text browser.

We were in a relationship for the entire spring semester. Every Saturday we would take the buses together and he would show me some new and hitherto-unknown-to-me corner of Sacramento County. He would also meet me on campus from time to time, at the end of my schoolday. He continued to resist answering questions of any sort, and to shamelessly manipulate me in various ways to get me to do whatever he wanted me to do - or he would just do things to me against my will. Gradually I lost more and more sense of having any control over the relationship, over my life, over my body, over anything. I could not imagine leaving him, though. I was going to be a person who married the first person I ever kissed. This was important to me. It was necessary not to get married until after graduating from college, but it was also very important that when I did get married, it must be to the first person I ever kissed. So after three and a half years I was going to marry him. I talked to him about this, and he was fine with it. A hypothetical marriage three and a half years in the future did not bother him. I was happy about this. I tried to resign myself to the alarming lack of control over my life and inability to get him to answer questions. If I were just clever enough about it, I was sure I could eventually get all my questions answered: I just needed to be very careful never to let him know that I cared about knowing any of the answers.

One day near the end of the semester, he showed me his driver's license. He pointed out his birthdate on it, which revealed that he was actually 32 years old, not 35 years old as he had claimed. I had made the mistake of asking him a direct question about his age, so it figured that he had only answered by giving me false information. He seemed to expect me to be bowled over with joy at finding out he was three years younger than I had thought. He was still 14 years older than I was, though, and I didn't understand what was supposed to be thrilling about finding out he'd been lying to me for our entire relationship. At around this time he also clarified that he didn't actually regard himself as queer: "Well, I've only been attracted to two men, and they were both named Steve, and you know, I don't think men named Steve are really men exactly." This distressed me greatly; I had not intended to date a heterosexual, not even a rather heteroflexible one. Also at around this time he legally changed his first name from Flame. I didn't like his new first name as much as his old one and didn't take to using it. (He didn't seem to care whether I used it or not.) Also at around this time he mentioned in passing that his mother had been schizophrenic. It vaguely occurred to me that his own mental health might not be great. I may have let slip slightly more information about him than usual to my parents, because my mother started asking a few questions. She asked me how old he was. I told her he was 32. I did not mention that I'd only recently learned this and had previously been led to believe he was 35. Despite my omissions, I was informed that my parents now needed to meet him to determine whether he was an acceptable boyfriend for me or not. So I arranged for him to come to dinner at our house.

When he came to dinner, he talked nonstop and made no sense and was wildly socially inappropriate. Behaviors that had not seemed that weird when he was alone with me seemed suddenly much weirder when he demonstrated zero ability to adjust them and present himself differently for my parents' benefit. He made dirty jokes about me to my parents. He rambled bizarrely. He dodged questions. They were better at pinning him down and forcing him to answer questions than I was, though, and also better at reading between the lines and picking up on things that I didn't, so I got some answers. I learned that his family was from Mexico: he was "Native American" simply by virtue of being Latino. I learned what his birth name had been. (It turned out he'd legally changed his entire name when he got married, not just his last name, and in so doing, he transformed himself from an identifiably Latino person with a standard Hispanic name to an ethnically unidentifiable person with a vaguely plausibly Native American name. I didn't understand what he had against his Mexican heritage, but I suppose he didn't understand what I had against my white heritage.) I also learned that he'd been homeless in the past. After he left, my parents said they thought he was schizophrenic. Since I knew (and they didn't know) that his mother had been schizophrenic - and also since they had substantial professional experience working with schizophrenics, because they were both social workers - I realized that they probably had pretty good reason for thinking so. They forbade me to see him anymore. I realized they were right, and telephoned him and broke up with him.

I feared:
I'm not sure I can put into words quite what I feared, but most of it involved Flame. Well, and my parents: I feared coming out to them.

Mood: sleepy
7 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Saturday, 10 October 2015
Saturday, 10 October 2015 11:06pm
Heavy Lifting and Love of Skirts

Today was the last plant sale of the season! I don't quite know what I'll do with myself after this. Well, after I actually finish planting everything.

Today was also a free neighborhood clean-up day, meaning that the city filled up a local vacant lot with dumpsters and garbage trucks for four hours and invited everyone to get rid of any non-hazardous garbage they had lying around for free - the sorts of things that don't fit into garbage cans for regular weekly pickup. I took advantage of it to get rid of a damaged folding chair, a broken vacuum cleaner, and most importantly, four chunks of concrete each about the size and shape of the blocks at the head of the parking spaces in public parking lots (or maybe slightly bigger: when stood on end, they were above waist height on me). The concrete had originally formed a border around my southern magnolia tree, but I didn't care for the look of having a gigantic tree imprisoned in a tiny concrete box, so back when I first moved in, Susan shattered the concrete with a sledgehammer and I hauled the pieces twenty feet away and lined them up along the fenceline to await eventual disposal. Last night I hauled those same four pieces of concrete to the opposite end of the back yard (bear in mind here that I live on a more than quarter-acre lot) and around the side of the house and lifted them into the trunk of my car. I carried the first two chunks of concrete all that way by hand, but after staggering under their weight the whole way, I decided I simply could not possibly carry the remaining two that way, so I emptied out my wheelbarrow and used it to transport the remaining two chunks. This morning I took everything to the vacant lot, where four large men collaborated to transfer these four chunks of concrete four feet from my car to a dumpster for me. The men exclaimed over the size and weight of the concrete, and one of them asked me, "How the heck did you get those into your car?" And I replied, "It was hard!" But I don't think they guessed anywhere near how far I had to transport them. I'm glad they're gone now.

Surprisingly, my arms are not sore today. [Edit: Oh wait, they kind of are . . . it's just not noticeable unless I try to use them for lifting things.] My legs are sore, though, and this time I think it's mostly from running rather than planting. My running has been in a holding pattern ever since the race a month ago: I've yet to exceed my best practice times from the days immediately preceding the race. I keep coming close, then falling back to much worse times, then gradually improving until I again suddenly fall back to much worse times again. I've taken extra rest days, I've occasionally shortened my route, I've tried various things to try to get out of this pattern . . . but so far, no luck.

In more tangentially running-related news, I recently discovered a blog by a Skirted Running Man. What interests me most about it is that he doesn't seem to be choosing skirts as any sort of expression of gender identity but simply as a matter of practical applications for the purpose of running. Specifically, he explains on his older, pre-skirt-wearing running blog that he became interested in running skirts due to freedom of movement ("How many times have you been annoyed by the material of your shorts riding up your leg?"), temperature regulation (he was planning to wear running skirts that didn't have attached shorts and figured they'd feel cooler in the summer than shorts), pockets (apparently running shorts don't tend to provide as good of pockets as running skirts?), and modesty (he was averse to wearing compression shorts without something looser over them for modesty, but he wanted a compression shirt to prevent chafing, which meant the shirt wouldn't help with modesty, and looser shorts would ride up his legs too much). I highly approve of this willingness to explore the practical benefits of skirts. Skirts are very practical clothes! Men are being unfairly deprived of opportunities to wear them, and it is only right that men should rise up and rebel against such gender-based restrictions.

Meanwhile, a lot of women seem to think the only possible reason for wearing skirts is to conform to gender roles . . . to "look cute," as it seems to be most often phrased. For example, the author of 'Why Running Skirts Are Sexist and I Would Never Wear One" states, "I just couldn’t take myself seriously while donning a frilly skirt all covered with sparkles and shit" - blithely assuming that all skirts are by definition frilly and sparkly, as well as assuming that there's something about frills and sparkles that makes anyone wearing them unworthy of being taken seriously - and then goes on to assert that skirts create a sexist atmosphere, because, apparently, it's bad to upset men by taking pleasure in running past them while wearing a skirt, and it's somehow better to upset men by taking pleasure in running past them while wearing shorts. No, really, she doesn't explain it any better than that. Another author, in the article "Does This Skirt Make Me Look Fast?" on Jezebel, asserts, "I don't want to look cute while kicking butt." This confuses me. If you agree that skirts are cuter than shorts or pants, and you can't seem to name anything about them that you find to be any less comfortable or less practical, then why not wear one? We're not talking about some time-consuming beauty regimen like, say, applying makeup or shaving your legs (at least one of which, statistically speaking, most of the women complaining about not wanting to bother looking cute by putting on a skirt are probably doing); we're just talking about putting on clothes. Which you'd have to to anyway, anytime you leave your house. If you think shorts or pants are cuter, great! Or if you think shorts or pants are more comfortable, also great! But I don't understand the assertions that skirts must be avoided simply and precisely because they look cute.

But a comment on the Jezebel article seems to help explain this. Someone calling herself SurplusJ commented, "I know this comes out of the same evil societal ideas that give us the running skirt, but I *like* looking less ladylike when I work out. It's probably partially what you talk about - focusing on kicking butt rather than looking cute - but looking kinda butch makes me feel a little more badass. Wearing a skirt to work out would just make me feel daintier, more ladylike. And now I'm gonna go sit in a corner and think about why ladylike and strong are mutually exclusive in my head."

YES. Yes, please, more sitting in corners and thinking about that. Yes, please. (And maybe if you think about it enough, you'll realize that running skirts don't have to come from those evil societal ideas.)

I mean, in the past couple of months, I've dug out a big section of my lawn while wearing ankle-length skirts, chopped down a tree with a chainsaw while wearing an ankle-length skirt, planted several dozen new plants while wearing ankle-length skirts, lugged huge blocks of concrete all the way across my more than quarter-acre lot while wearing an ankle-length skirt, and of course, trained for and run a 5K race while wearing various shorter skirts. Skirts are just clothes like any other clothes. Not all of them are great for all athletic activities, but some of them can be better for some athletic activities than any shorts or pants are. And I'm glad to see some men daring to wear them for those reasons.

Mood: busy
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 9 October 2015
Friday, 9 October 2015 4:11pm
Epigenetics: The Latest Explanation for Why Straight People Are Straight!

There's a new study in the news lately that attempts to attribute sexual orientation to DNA. As usual, this study is being presented as an explanation for why gay people are gay, because straight people don't seem to think their deficiency of gayness requires any explaining. But this study differs from a lot of past studies in that it attributes sexual orientation not to any differences in genes but rather to epigenetic changes (caused by one's environment or one's parents' or grandparents' environments - such changes can be inherited for a few generations but eventually disappear) that switch certain genes "on" or "off."

Perhaps you might expect me to welcome this new round of news articles. After all, they're not asserting that people are necessarily born gay! They're saying that people's social environments (or possibly their parents' or grandparents' social environments) made them gay! But mostly I find it all just as irritating as ever.

The scientists studied 47 gay men who had identical twins. Scientists who are trying to explain why gay people are gay always seem to prefer to study only men, and I think this is not only for the usual reasons that scientists who study practically anything seem to prefer to study only men, but also because in our current society, men are easier to divide into gay and straight than women are. Anyway, of the 47 gay men they studied, 10 of their identical twins were also gay, and 37 of their identical twins were straight. This is a 21% concordance rate, which is widely interpreted to mean that sexual orientation is partly genetic, although I dispute that interpretation - to me it seems obvious, in a society in which sexual orientation is so widely perceived to be genetic, that having an identical twin who identifies as gay is going to cause a whole lot of people to start questioning whether you're really gay also, which is going to cause people to start questioning their own sexual orientations at much higher rates than they would have done if they didn't have a gay identical twin, which will naturally lead to more such people eventually identifying as gay.

But that wasn't the focus of this particular study. The focus of this particular study was epigenetics, not genetics. So the scientists took saliva samples from these 47 gay men and their identical twins and studied the epigenetic markers of the DNA in their saliva. They found five differences in epigenetic markers which, when considered together, could "predict" the sexual orientation of these men 67% of the time. (Or, more specifically, to predict straight men's sexual orientations with 50% accuracy and gay men's sexual orientations with 83% accuracy.) ("Predict" is the word generally being used in the news articles, though I think it's a misnomer since the scientists used their pre-existing knowledge of these men's sexual orientations to identify the five epigenetic markers. To actually "predict" anything, the scientists would need to look for these five epigenetic markers in a whole new population of men whose sexual orientations they didn't already know and use the markers to predict the men's sexual orientations. The scientists did not do this.)

One of the problems with this study is that the epigenetic markers in the DNA of a person's saliva are not necessarily the same as the epigenetic markers in the DNA of a person's brain - and even the epigenetic markers in the DNA of a particular brain cell may be different from the epigenetic markers in an adjacent brain cell - so trying to study the influence of epigenetics on sexual orientation by studying DNA from saliva rather than DNA from the brain is kind of like trying to study, say, racial differences, without having any actual information about the race of the people you're studying, but only knowing some vaguely related information such as the races of people's favorite singers and actors and athletes and authors and such, and deciding to just assume for the sake of convenience that people's own races can be estimated by averaging out the races of their favorite celebrities. (I tried to find information about exactly how much epigenetic markers vary between different cells and different tissues in a person's body, so as to try to select a highly accurate analogy here, but it seems to depend on which specific epigenetic markers we're talking about, so I couldn't find a simple percentage of variation to work with.)

But another problem, which to me is even more glaring, but which seems to be getting even less notice in most news articles, is that correlation does not prove causation. Saying that epigenetic changes correlate (with 67% accuracy) with men's sexual orientation is simply saying that the social environments of gay men tend to be different from the social environments of straight men. Well, duh. Straight men are not so often found in gay neighborhoods and gay bars and gay bookstores and so on . . . and, more to the point, straight men are not the targets of homophobia. (At least, not as directly as gay men are.) The LA Times article states, "Researchers working in the young science of epigenetics acknowledge they are unsure just how an individual's epigenome is formed. But they increasingly suspect it is forged, in part, by the stresses and demands of external influences." Who would ever guess that gay men might experience different stresses and demands of external influences than straight men? None of the journalists reporting on this study would ever guess that, it seems, because they all seem to assume that the epigenetic differences between these men caused the men to have different sexual orientations, rather than their different sexual orientations causing them to suffer different stresses that caused different epigenetic changes. Have these people never spoken to any gay people in their lives? Ask a hundred gay people whether being gay had a significant impact on their lives. I'm pretty sure you'll get more than 67% saying yes.

I'm just frustrated by this continuing focus on searching for something that makes gay people gay, and the assumption that gay people want their (our) gayness to be explained away and excused on "it's not our fault!" grounds that imply agreement with the notion that gayness is a fault. I noticed that Dr. Tuck Ngun, the gay postdoc who led this study, has announced that he is leaving the field of academic research because "It kind of, honestly, became a little bit troubling to me, what I was actually doing . . . Having done this now, I could sort of foresee a not-so-happy outcome." It's not clear precisely what disturbed him - maybe he was worried that his study could be used to eradicate gay people? - but I think there's plenty of reason to be disturbed by the way the study is being reported. There is absolutely no reason why this study should be any more frequently interpreted as "Big News! Here's What Makes Men Gay!" than as "Big News! Being Gay Impacts Men's Lives!" but the former interpretation is the one getting all the journalistic attention. Why is that? The latter interpretation seems to me much more valuable for gay rights than the former. We should be talking about the fact that being gay impacts people's lives. The impacts of homophobia and heterosexism on people's lives are the central issue that the gay movement ought to be educating people about. The entire question of "But why are people gay? And can we make them prove it scientifically rather than just asking them?" is a distraction that takes the focus off examining homophobia and puts the focus on implying that people need a biological excuse to be allowed to love whoever we choose to love.

Mood: irritated
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Tuesday, 6 October 2015
Tuesday, 6 October 2015 10:50pm
Chainsaw Killer

I am officially a chainsaw-wielding killer! I mail-ordered a chainsaw and used it to finish off my dying conifer. I hadn't realized I'm the type of femme who loves power tools. I love my chainsaw! I half want to go around cutting things that don't need to be cut, just because it's so much fun to use a chainsaw. Though now I've used it enough that the chain tension needs to be adjusted, and to adjust it I need to find the right size wrench to loosen some bolts and access the tension screw, and I'm not sure I have the right size wrench. So I guess I can't go around cutting random things right now. This may be for the best. Anyway, I cut down the tree that needed cutting! This is the view from my front porch now. Do you see the stump?

The stump is over on this end (below). (You can see the before pictures in my August 30 entry for comparison.) And look how much planting I've done! It's unfortunate, though, that the demise of the conifer makes the concrete border that formerly separated the conifer from the lawn so much more visually prominent than before.

That concrete border is no longer serving any useful purpose, so it now looks rather silly. I'm a bit torn about what to do about it. The ideal solution would be to use my sledgehammer, purchased for the specific purpose of destroying concrete borders such as this one, to destroy it. However, past experience suggests I'm likely to fail miserably in any such attempt. It would require a lot of work to dig trenches on each side of the concrete border to give myself any hope of success at breaking the concrete with a sledgehammer, and unfortunately I'm likely to end up unable to actually do any more than just break some chips off it. Concrete is hard to break! So I may just try to cover it up with mulch and rocks. We'll see.

The tree I cut down was only a couple of feet taller than me, but I suspected it was ancient - probably about as old as the house (60 years). After cutting it down, I tried to determine its age by counting the tree rings on the stump. It's hard to get a precise count, because the inner rings blur together, but I got to the lower fifty-somethings. I feel bad about accidentally killing such an old tree! I guess that when I can get a replacement adequately established, though, it will make my yard look more modern and more obviously native/xeriscaped, to have a native shrub in that prominently visible location rather than a dwarf conifer (whose species I never managed to identify).

I found an old Christmas light on the ground next to the stump. The tree was a perfect tree to decorate with Christmas lights. But I don't do Christmas lights, so this was left over from the original homeowners.

I've been using pruning shears to reduce the corpse of the tree to mulch. I'm about two thirds done, I think. My arms are sore from it. My legs are sore too, and not from running - they're sore from squatting to plant things. I've been planting quite a lot . . . as you can see! I bought a bunch of native plants in Placerville on Saturday, in addition to the ones I bought in Sacramento the previous Saturday, and I'll be buying some more in Grass Valley this coming Saturday. After that I should be done until spring.

Fall is a better time to plant around here than spring, though, and I'm really seeing that in my newly planted plants so far. Everything I've planted in the past couple of weeks is still alive so far! A couple of things struggled at first, and I thought I was going to lose them - the yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) and the bladderpod (Isomeris arborea) both had all their leaves shrivel up shortly after planting, and I thought they weren't going to make it. But they've both sprouted some healthy new leaves since then, so now I think they'll make it after all. It's unusual not to lose any plants at all in their first couple of weeks in the ground. In spring I would definitely expect a lower success rate.

I still have 13 plants left unplanted at the moment. The hardest things to find places for are two shrubs/small trees that could grow up to six meters wide: a snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and a hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). They'll both probably end up in the back yard somewhere, but I'm none too sure where. There are spaces to put them; I just haven't decided which spaces are best.

I think I might deliberately plant more in the spot where the conifer used to be than will ultimately fit there, just to try to make sure that something I put there will last. The main plant I'm replacing the conifer with is an Oregon grape barberry shrub (Berberis aquifolium), but I might put in a white sage (Salvia apiana) and/or a golden currant (Ribes aureum) as backups in case the Oregon grape doesn't survive. I haven't had great success with Oregon grape in the past, but I also haven't made many efforts with it. I generally avoid plants that try to hurt me, and Oregon grape has leaves with stiff, sharp points on them. But the conifer that used to be there had sharp needles, and in that location, visual appearance is a higher priority than being safe to touch. It shouldn't be necessary for me to touch it much.

A hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus crocea ssp. ilicifolia) might also be a viable backup plan for replacing the conifer. I don't have one handy to plant there at the moment, and they're not that easy to find for sale, but I have one in the back yard and might be able to find another in future years if the Oregon grape doesn't work out.

I found an interior live oak volunteering under the conifer, actually, so I guess I could have just left that there. But it wasn't in quite the right spot for where I would have wanted it, and anyway, I don't really want an oak tree there. I want something with a little more visual impact.

Anyway, no more dead brown conifer corpse in my front yard! The dead brown conifer corpse is now in my back yard instead, in pieces, being dismembered and distributed around the yard.
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Saturday, 26 September 2015
Saturday, 26 September 2015 9:21pm
Native Plant Sale!

I bought plants today!

I arrived before the doors even opened. I've never done that before. It was interesting to stand around for five minutes with 30 to 40 native plant enthusiasts. I noticed that I was far from the only one carrying a shopping list. Usually I do seem to be the only one carrying a shopping list, but I guess the crowd that arrives before the doors open is more obsessive than the crowd that arrives later.

As I was leaving, one of the cashiers asked me whether I would have any help planting everything I bought. I said no. She said, "Remember to pace yourself!"

That isn't something I need to remember; it's inevitable. Since I never know ahead of time what will be available at the plant sales, I can't plan ahead of time where each plant ought to go, so I have to take time to decide that as I plant each plant.


These are all the native plants I need to plant. The seed packets on the top step are ones I already owned before the plant sale, mostly leftovers from a year ago. The items on the next step down are ones I bought at the plant sale - three seed packets in tiny manila envelopes, two ziplock bags containing three plugs each (potless plants with tiny rootballs holding a bit of soil between the roots), and six ziplock bags containing three bulbs each. And then, of course, all the potted plants.

The bulbs I bought are crown cluster-lily, harvest cluster-lily, yellow mariposa lily, blue dicks, forktooth ookow, and roundtooth ookow. The plugs are deergrass and dwarf silver bush lupine. The seeds are yellow-ray goldfields, miniature lupine, and sky lupine.

The potted plants are common deerweed, yerba mansa, mugwort, woolly Indian paintbrush (potted with a bush monkeyflower), 'Joyce Coulter' California lilac, sticky cinquefoil, canyon liveforever, rubber rabbitbrush, yerba santa, Eastern Mojave buckwheat, Wright's buckwheat, spider yarrow, Great Valley gumplant, twinberry honeysuckle, silver bush lupine, scarlet bugler beardtongue, hollyleaf redberry, skunkbush sumac, white sage, blue elderberry, California skullcap, alkali sacaton, and common snowberry.

I'm most excited about the Indian paintbrush. I would so much like to have Indian paintbrush in my yard, but it's an incredibly difficult plant to establish. It's hemiparasitic; to grow well, it needs to get its parasitic roots into an appropriate host plant. That's why the one I bought is potted with a bush monkeyflower: it's parasitizing the bush monkeyflower. (It doesn't seriously damage the host plant.) In the past I've only been able to find seeds of Indian paintbrush, and I haven't been able to get any of the seeds to sprout. It's not clear what all the potential host plants are or which host plants are its favorites, so although I tried to put the seeds next to appropriate host plants, I may not have picked the best possible hosts. Or maybe I just didn't get the seeds close enough to major roots. Or something. I don't know. But now I have Indian paintbrush! Now I just have to manage to keep it alive.

There are two more nearby fall plant sales left: one next weekend, and one the weekend after that. I want to get the majority of today's haul planted before I bring home the second haul next weekend. And then repeat the process for the weekend after that. And then plant that third batch and whatever unplanted backlog I have from the first and second batches. I'll be busy for a while!

Mood: excited
Speak Your Mind
Friday, 25 September 2015
Friday, 25 September 2015 4:51pm
In Which I Get Attacked with a Knife and Then Decide to Attack a Hapless Bystander with a Chainsaw

I had an annual physical yesterday from my primary care doctor For the 24 hours since then, I've been suffering from a constant, unrelenting pain in my cervix. It's a fairly mild pain, but I would very much like it to go away. Pap smears do involve scraping a tiny bit of flesh off the cervix, so I guess technically they involve getting attacked in the cervix with a knife, but they're not supposed to leave me feeling so clearly that I've been attacked in the cervix with a knife. I think my doctor was rather overly aggressive this time.

After attacking me with a knife, she asked whether I've found any friends. I was genuinely confused for a moment about why my doctor was asking me this. Then I caught on that she meant sexual partners. I'm pretty sure straight women don't get asked about having "friends." Maybe lesbians don't either; maybe they get asked about "girlfriends" instead. But for bisexuals, apparently the word of choice is "friends." This meant that I had to answer that I have no friends. Um . . . no medically relevant friends, anyway.

Aside from the gender-neutral word "friends," though, she seems to have reverted to her initial impression (based on nothing other than the fact that I had a female partner when I first started seeing her) that I am exclusively lesbian. This is despite the fact that I have clearly stated otherwise in the past. However, I opted not to try to disabuse her of this notion, because doing so would just provoke her to subject me to another one of her lectures about how I need to immediately become exclusively lesbian, because men are disease-ridden liars and cheaters and I'd be so much better off with a woman (that worked out well last time, didn't it?), and also could I please teach my doctor how to become attracted to women so she can stop dealing with dating men anymore herself?

I am of course entirely in favor of converting my doctor to lesbianism. Just not so much in favor of converting myself. Anyway, I went along (this time) with her apparent perception of me as an exclusive lesbian and thereby managed to avoid a lecture about why I ought to convert to lesbianism. Yay for successful negotiation of weird doctor-patient relationships! Well, except for the part about getting attacked in the cervix with a knife.

She also at one point yesterday instructed her nurse not to bother checking something or other because "she's not thirty yet, and we don't check that for women under thirty." I was a bit taken aback. Apparently I can pass for being in my twenties? Perhaps that went a little way toward making up for the knife attack.

In other news, it appears that I've accidentally killed the conifer tree in my front yard. I knew there was some risk of this when I dug out the lawn all around it a month ago, because I inevitably damaged a considerable amount of its root system. But I was really hoping the tree would survive. It isn't technically dead yet, but it's looking sufficiently terrible that I think it's time to give up hope of it recovering. I need to buy a chainsaw and cut it down. (Past experience indicates that a regular handsaw is going to be inadequate for a job of this size. I could remove all the limbs that way, but the stump is going to require a chainsaw.)

It's annoying because there were very, very few plants I inherited from the original homeowners that I wasn't at least vaguely planning on eventually killing off, but this was one of the select few that I really wanted to keep. This one, the orange tree, and the two huge trees in the back yard - the southern magnolia and the pecan tree.

But I think the conifer is a goner. I need to figure out what to plant in its place. If I planted a new dwarf conifer resembling the old one, it would take decades to grow to comparable size. So probably I'll plant something more locally native. I have rather specific requirements for this space, though: I need something that can handle periodic flooding from the downspout and something that will grow pretty close to but absolutely not any more than six or seven feet tall and five to seven feet wide. And I'd very, very much prefer it to be evergreen, though I fear that may be asking for the impossible.

Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) might do the trick. Or possibly a coffeeberry (Frangula californica, widely available and highly adaptable but often a frustratingly slow grower), a fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium, hard to find for sale but I have one already and can probably get another), a silk tassel (Garrya fremontii is the locally native one, but it's extremely difficult to find for sale), a white sage (Salvia apiana), or possibly a manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora, but I'm not sure how well it would withstand the periodic flooding). Or if I resort to deciduous plants, a golden currant (Ribes aureum, grows fast and produces edible fruit) or snowdrop (Styrax redivivus, grows slowly but is already doing well elsewhere in my yard). I guess that's a decent number of choices. I think I'm most inclined toward the Oregon grape, though if I happen to miraculously find a Fremont's silk tassel for sale I might switch to that.

Oregon grape is a shrub with yellow flowers, blue berries, and reddish leaves. It's pretty spectacular at any time of year.

The first of the annual fall native plant sales starts tomorrow in Sacramento. It would be nice if I'd already cut down my tree beforehand, but at least I know what spaces I need to fill.

Mood: sore
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 25 September 2015 6:45am
Dear Prudence: Why Do You Hate Female College Students?'s "Dear Prudence" advice columnist (a.k.a. Emily Yoffe) is neither dear (to me) nor prudent, and no self-respecting woman or woman-respecting man should ever go to her for advice.

I didn't reach this conclusion due to anything I saw in her actual advice column. But I think it's fair to consider other things she's written recently when evaluating her qualifications to dispense advice. What I saw, or at least what I saw first, that led me to the rest, was her latest opinion article, "The Problem With Campus Sexual Assault Surveys: Why the Grim Portrait Painted by the New AAU Study Does Not Reflect Reality."

The article starts out sounding relatively reasonable. She's writing about a recent survey in which 23% of female college students from 27 of the most elite American colleges who responded to the survey reported that they had been victims of "nonconsensual sexual contact . . . rang[ing] from penetration to kissing to being groped over one’s clothes." She's seeking to dispute the notion that 23% of American female college students have actually been victims of such things. She points out that not all of these actions are as serious as rape. Okay, that's fair, though they're still rather unpleasant things to be the victim of. She points out that the survey found that only 3.2% of the respondents reported being victims during their college years of "unwanted penetrative sex" that was "completed" and "physically forced." Um, okay, but you know, that leaves an awful lot out. It leaves out unwanted penetrative sex that was completed while the victims were unconscious. It leaves out unwanted nonpenetrative sex that was physically forced and completed. Are these things not that big a deal to her? If a student was forcibly subjected to unwanted sexual contact to the point of orgasm and even beaten half to death in the process, perhaps even permanently scarred, mutilated, burned, etc., but no actual penetration of an orifice was involved, does the absence of penetration make the incident dramatically less serious than it would be if some orifice or other had been penetrated by something or other? What magical power does she think orifices have to determine the extent of emotional damage done?

(This focus on penetration is, admittedly, not just her own bias: it's a bias that's actually built into the FBI's legal definition of "rape." But that does not make it valid, just common.)

Still, so far she is at least pointing out things that appear to be factually true, even though her interpretation of the significance of such facts seems rather off.

She mentions that alcohol is often involved in campus sexual assault. Okay, I don't dispute the factual correctness of this, though I do wish that she - and so many others who mention it - would explicitly call out the fact that alcohol is not universally involved in every campus sexual assault ever, so it is really not as if all that female college students need to do to avoid ever getting raped is to avoid ever getting drunk, and then they'll magically be perfectly safe. Getting drunk can certainly increase their risk, but there are plenty of women who get sexually assaulted without having consumed any alcohol. Plenty. So let's not gloss over that, please.

She also points out that 27 of the most elite American colleges are not actually representative of all American colleges. Okay, that's also fair, though I don't think many people ever really claimed that they were. (Campus sexual assault is generally associated with settings such as dorms and frat houses associated with campuses that students actually live on, not with cheaper, commuter schools full of older students who are more interested in trying to improve their career prospects than in getting drunk and reveling in freedom from parental oversight.)

Her best point, in my opinion, is this: "While 150,000 students filled out the survey, it was offered to almost 780,000 students, which makes for a disappointingly low response rate of around 19 percent. . . . [I]t raises questions as to whether those students who did take the survey were more inclined to have been victims of sexual assault, thus inflating the results." This is a perfectly reasonable point. And despite my objections to some other points I've mentioned above, I would not have ended up utterly furious at her if I had just read through all of the above and not clicked through to the second page of her article.

At the top of the second page, she goes entirely off the edge of the real world into utter delusion. Here is the beginning of the second page:
Another confounding factor in the attempt to determine the incidence of sexual violence is the discrepancy between what women assert on surveys and what they report to the authorities. Studies consistently show that most women who say in surveys that they were victimized do not file complaints to the authorities, and this is the case with the AAU survey as well. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 20 percent of student rape and sexual assault victims went to the police. The AAU survey found that 25.5 percent of women who said they experienced nonconsensual penetrative sex by force reported this to someone in authority at their university. In the AAU survey, the women who said they experienced nonconsensual penetration but did not report it were asked why. The most common answer, chosen by 58.6 percent of aggregate respondents was, “I did not think it was serious enough to report.” At Yale, this answer was chosen by 65.4 percent of the respondents who said they had experienced forced penetration. What are we to make of respondents who attest that they’ve experienced such a vile assault yet don’t find it serious enough to report?
SERIOUSLY? In an effort to estimate the actual prevalence of sexual assault among female students at elite colleges she is seriously citing the rates at which such assaults get reported to the police???

What are some things we can safely assume about the overwhelming majority of female students at 27 of the most elite American colleges?

1. They are generally between the ages of 18 and 21. Maybe 22 occasionally.

2. They are generally extremely economically dependent on their parents, because they sure can't afford most of those colleges on their own with only a high school degree to their names and most of their time devoted to schoolwork.

3. Their parents are generally fairly wealthy, so maintaining good relations with their parents is probably even more important to their futures (the female college students' futures) than it would be for students of poorer parents.

4. And . . . their parents are probably not going to be thrilled to hear that their 18- to 21-year-old daughters are having sex. In fact, even if the parents are actually relatively open-minded, the daughters are probably still going to be utterly horrified by any prospect of their parents potentially finding out that they (the daughters) are doing anything even remotely approaching having sex.

"Who's having sex?" you ask. "Aren't we talking about sexual assault here, not sex?" Yes, but campus sexual assault tends overwhelmingly to happen in situations that started out with the victims initially consenting to something or other, or doing something or other that they probably do not want their parents to hear about. What teenage girl wants to try to explain to her parents that she was willing to consent to some sexual acts but not others, or that she wasn't willing to consent to anything sexual but was perfectly willing to get extremely drunk at a frat party?

"Who says she needs to tell her parents?" you ask. "Aren't we talking about telling the police, not her parents?" Yes, but telling the police inherently implies a serious risk of publicity. If you tell the police, it goes into a crime log and journalists can write news articles. Maybe they won't use your name - maybe - but if it becomes a big enough news story, amateur investigators on the Internet will sooner or later dig your name up and spread it around. Besides that, if the case goes to court - and what's the point in reporting it to the police at all unless you're hoping it will actually be prosecuted? - you'll presumably have to testify, and if the court appearances are scheduled not to conflict with your classes, they probably will conflict with school vacation times when your parents are probably expecting you to go home to visit them, and explaining why you can't go home to visit them is going to be severely awkward.

The next paragraph of the article continues:
Even given the established reluctance of victims to report, there is an inexplicable chasm between the depredations that the survey portrays as a common experience and the low rate at which women go to the authorities. Let’s look again at Yale. About 60 percent of Yale’s female undergraduates completed the AAU survey, a total of 1,721 women. Of those, Yale says 14.3 percent, or 246 women, said they experienced nonconsenusal [sic] penetration or sexual touching during the 2014–2015 academic year. But also according to Yale, which makes public all reported complaints of sexual assault in a semi-annual report, only 14 undergraduates reported to university authorities having experienced any kind of nonconsensual sexual encounter during that same academic year. Of those complaints, one was withdrawn, and at least one was an accusation by a male student against a female one.
Those 246 women said they experienced nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching. Could you please show me any woman anywhere who believes there's any hope in hell of the police bothering to prosecute anyone for nonconsensual sexual touching that falls short of penetration? If there's actual penetration to the point of (male) orgasm you could at least get a rape kit done; it might feel like there's some sort of value in getting the DNA evidence on file. (At least, if you haven't ever heard the phrase "rape kit backlog" it might.) But if there wasn't any penetration, there usually isn't going to be any useful DNA evidence to support your case, either. It's going to be your word against his, and unless there were witnesses looking on the whole time (and if there were, why did they do nothing to intervene? and if they did nothing to intervene, why would you expect them to take your side in court either?), there'll be nothing at all to break the tie between your word and his. Which means you have no case. So why would you bother to put yourself through all the unpleasantness of reporting what happened to the police?

So it does not surprise me at all that there is a vast disparity between the number of female students who reported on the survey that they had experienced any kind of nonconsensual sexual encounter and the number who reported such an experience to the police. And I do not feel that this in any way whatsoever implies that the number who reported such an experience on the survey is inaccurate to any degree whatsoever. It might be possible to make an argument, as Dear Prudence wants to do, that the number who reported such an experience on the survey is inaccurate; however, citing the lack of reports to the police is a ridiculously laughable basis upon which to attempt to make such an argument. To argue that teenage girls must rarely get sexually assaulted since they rarely report such assaults to the police is only marginally less absurd than arguing that preschool-aged children must rarely have their toys stolen by their siblings since they rarely report such thefts to the police. We are not talking about populations that have any reason to feel the police will care about protecting them from this particular crime.

While seething over all this, I closed my browser window. Then I decided I wanted to reopen the article and go on seething some more over it. So I tried Googling it. Before I found the actual article I'd been seething over, I first found a rebuttal to a previous article that Dear Prudence had written on the same subject last year. The earlier article by Dear Prudence is called "The College Rape Overcorrection," and as with her latest article, some of the points she makes in it are valid . . . but the article also shows significant bias against believing female victims of campus sexual assault and making a serious effort to protect female college students from such assaults. The rebuttal is by someone named Josh Beitel, who, as far as I can tell, has never published anything else. Which is too bad, since he did a good job with this piece. One of the best points he makes, though, he takes from the Feminist Philosophers' Blog, which in turn took it from a Huffington Post article by Tyler Kingkade, titled "Males Are More Likely to Suffer Sexual Assault Than to Be Falsely Accused of It."

That's it. That's the point right there, in the Huffington Post headline: males are more likely to suffer sexual assault than to be falsely accused of it. So if your concerns in regard to campus sexual assault are heavily focused on the students accused of committing such assaults, you're not looking out for the interests of male college students in general but simply for the interests of male college students who get accused of sexual assault. Which . . . yes, it is in fact possible to be falsely accused of committing sexual assault, and therefore yes, some sort of concern for due process is valid. But to assert that the system has already been "overcorrected" to favor victims over accusers seems much less justified. Here's a quote from Josh Beitel's rebuttal:
The irony, of course, is that Yoffe has no statistics to back up her claim of systemic male victimization. Her evidence, starting with the story of Drew Sterrett and culminating in the claim that “in the past three years, men found responsible for sexual assault on campus have filed more than three dozen cases against schools,” is entirely anecdotal. Yoffe herself is willing to concede that evidence suggests “there were 32,500 assaults in 2012” on campus. That’s in a single year, and is most likely a gross underestimate. And yet to Yoffe, 38 (potentially) falsely accused men over 3 years is an injustice that is far more important to investigate than 32,500 female students sexually assaulted in 1 year.
But there are other details in the article by Dear Prudence last year that I also want to call out the bias in.

The article starts out with a description of how a student named Drew Sterrett got accused, possibly falsely, of committing sexual assault. There are details that cast some doubt on whether it was really sexual assault or not. For one, the alleged assault took place on the bottom bunk of Drew's bed while Drew's roommate was in the top bunk listening to the whole thing. Presumably the alleged victim could have screamed and the roommate would have heard her. This doesn't conclusively prove that the victim actually consented, but it certainly suggests (if Drew's roommate is being at all honest) that she didn't frantically beg for assistance from all possible sources. If this was in fact a sexual assault, then, the victim does not seem to have behaved particularly rationally. Well, sometimes people do not behave rationally. And perhaps she had some reason for thinking that the roommate wouldn't help her. Still, it is fair to say that the case against Drew Sterrett doesn't exactly seem to be airtight. I seriously doubt that he could ever be convicted in a court of law on the basis of this story.

But I think it's important to remember that this isn't about convicting him in a court of law. Nobody sent him to prison. What happened was, first, he was removed from the dorm of the alleged victim and forbidden to attend any of the same classes as the alleged victim, and then later, after some efforts at further investigation that admittedly were not as thorough as a jury trial, he was eventually suspended from attending that particular college until after the alleged victim graduated.

The eventual suspension was not a small inconvenience. Presumably he was attending that college because it was the best college for him, in terms of price and location and programs offered and so on. It is genuinely unfortunate if he suffered this - and also the sheer humiliation of being accused of a crime he didn't commit - if he didn't actually commit the crime. Still, it also was not really the end of the world. And it is not at all clear to me why Dear Prudence thinks the horror of an occasional student being mistakenly suspended from attending a particular college campus when he didn't actually commit sexual assault but merely had legally allowable sex with a partner who afterward was unhappy with him about it outweighs the horror of tens of thousands of actual victims of actual sexual assault being forced to choose between dropping out of their own preferred colleges or else living in constant danger of encountering around campus the person who sexually assaulted them.

I'm not saying that Drew Sterrett's college evaluated the evidence in his case properly. That's certainly questionable. I'm just saying that even if it didn't, that's just one case at one college, and if administrators made a mistake in that one case, it doesn't mean that the entire system of evaluating whether to suspend accuded perpetrators from their schools on far less evidence than would be necessary to convict them in a court of law is unfairly biased against the accused perpetrators.

Dear Prudence also reports that the alleged victim told her own roommate at one point (according to the roommate) about the incident this way: "I said no, no, and then I gave in." This is interesting phrasing. I get the impression that Dear Prudence reads it to mean that the alleged victim herself admitted that no sexual assault took place: she said no, no, but then she gave in and consented, and then they had sex. But this is only one way of reading what is actually a very ambiguous statement. Another way of reading it is that she said no, no, but then he succeeded in forcing sexual contact on her against her will, and then she gave in by ceasing to bother to actively resist, since it was already too late to prevent the whole thing from happening. Which is not actually an unreasonable decision to make, if your motivation for actively resisting was to preserve your sense of identity as being a person who had not had any sexual contact with this other person, and once that cause is already lost, you just decide to hope that maybe you can at least get some sexual pleasure out of this rather than adding the misery of going home sexually frustrated on top of the misery of being sexually assaulted. That's the thing about sexual assault: it can be extremely unwanted on the emotional level and yet still be pleasurable on the physical level. And because of that, no matter how desperately you wanted to prevent it from ever happening at all, you might not necessarily want to stop it from continuing once it's already started.

People do not like to acknowledge this. But you can't get very far in understanding the complexity of sexual assault without acknowledging the uncomfortable realities of it.

Dear Prudence later suggests, citing the alleged victim's roommate's opinion as evidence, that the alleged victim made up a false story accusing Drew Sterrett of sexually assaulting her because her mother had found her diary in which she had written about the incident, and her mother had been horrified that her daughter was behaving in a sexually wanton manner, and the alleged victim had felt a need to defend her honor by telling her mother that she hadn't actually consented to any of what she wrote about. I find it remarkable that Dear Prudence has no difficulty acknowledging here that female college students might be so horrified by their parents finding out about their sexual behavior that the students might be driven to such desperate and pathologically callous extremes as falsely accusing consensual sexual partners of rape - and falsely accusing them of this not just in private conversations but to actual university administrators charged with investigating and punishing such things! - yet seems oblivious to the notion that this same horror of their parents finding out about their sexual behavior might also drive actual sexual assault victims to take the much less extreme, far more harmless step of simply not reporting a sexual assault to the police.

I do want to acknowledge again that not every point Dear Prudence makes in the article is invalid. But she seems to me overwhelmingly biased against the alleged victims and in favor of the alleged perpetrators. Has it never occurred to her that the fact that perpetrators who actually are guilty are unlikely to be in any rush to admit it and may be every bit as loud as any falsely accused are in proclaiming their innocence?

I came across a different news article today that had nothing to do with Dear Prudence and nothing to do with college campuses but a lot to do with sexual assault. This one is from my own local area: "Accused Rapist Sues Alleged Victim for $250,000." I read it with, initially, an open mind: this man's life was significantly disrupted by the fact that he was convicted and jailed for rape. There was DNA evidence, but he said she'd consented. Wasn't it possible that he might be telling the truth? I probably should have had a less open mind, actually, considering how unusual it is for anyone to actually go to jail for rape, but . . . I had an open mind. Until I got to the part about how a second woman had also accused him of raping her in a separate incident. Really, two different women decided to falsely prosecute him for the same crime even though he never actually committed it? Nope, not buying that. This man has no business being allowed to file lawsuits against his victims.

We need to recognize that actual rapists are very much in the habit of claiming they've been falsely accused. We need to recognize that they generally have nothing whatsoever to lose by doing so. And we need to recognize that only a fairly small number of women are sufficiently pathologically callous as to falsely accuse people of sexual assault and carry those accusations to the point of doing serious damage to those people's lives. This fairly small number of women is not entirely nonexistent; that's true. But the system is not biased in favor of accusers. The system is biased at every turn against actual victims: they generally have a lot to lose by reporting sexual assault to the police, and even if they do report it, the amount of evidence required to bring a case to trial, let alone to actually convict anyone, is very rarely available. And even when it is available, often the police never get around to actually testing the rape kit! And if the victim at any point behaved as anything less than a textbook-perfect model of how every prosecutor could ever wish that any victim behaved, she probably ceases to have a case in a court of law.

And for that reason, I think it's extremely appropriate that when a case is evaluated by university administrators rather than in a court of law, and the punishments at stake are not prison but simply suspension from a particular college, the amount of evidence required to suspend an alleged perpetrator should be lower than it would be in a court of law. And the fact that victims often don't report crimes to the police should certainly not be regarded as reason to doubt that the crimes actually occurred.

And that's why I think no self-respecting woman or woman-respecting man should ever go to Dear Prudence for advice. I know she's not acting in her capacity as Dear Prudence in these articles. But I've chosen to call her Dear Prudence throughout this because I think these articles absolutely ought to be regarded as relevant to her qualifications for her role as Dear Prudence. Among the people who might write to her for advice are, presumably, sexual assault victims. I do not think ought to be giving this woman a platform to dispense advice about people's personal lives and relationships.

Mood: aggravated
Speak Your Mind
My Journal

My Websites

Non-Corporate U.S. News

Foreign Perspectives


Media Access

Children's Rights

Local Issues

Other Issues

California Blogs

Free Software

 © Gayle Madwin. All rights reserved.