Monday, December 12, 2011

SodaStream - The Good, The Bad and The DIYer

This holiday season, Jason asked for a SodaStream.  I hadn't heard of SodaStream before so he had to tell me about it.  It's a gizmo that allows you to make your own club soda and soft drinks at home using tap water, flavored syrup and carbonation.

I was very skeptical.  All that came to my mind were the Chia Pet, the Sliceomatic and Ginsu knives pushed on those cheesy television infomercials "for only $29.95 plus shipping and processing AAAAAND if you call in the next 5 minutes we'll send you a second set for FREEEEEEE!"  You get the gizmo in the mail, it falls apart after one use or it doesn't work or it tastes absolutely horrid.  You swear to yourself you'll never fall prey to another gimmicky gizmo ad again. And yet there I was.

THE GOOD

Against my better judgement, I purchased the SodaStream for Jason.  We took it home and assembled it easily and Jason made his first liter bottle of cola in about 5 minutes.  He held it out for me to drink.  I looked at him like he was nuts and said "You first!"  He drank.  He didn't spit it out, which I thought was promising.  He smiled and said "It's good." He even seemed a little surprised.  I tried it and with my lower expectations I was simply amazed by how much I liked the homemade cola. I liked it better than the store bought equivalent (probably because it had less carbonation, which is my preference).  

Once we'd tried a couple different flavors and had liked every single one of them, I started researching all the flavored syrups they sell, not just the ones sold where we'd bought the gizmo. They offer a lot of flavors online and they were reasonably priced. It was pretty exciting!

We drink a ton of pop.  Each week we consume 3-4 cases of soda. Jason drinks high-caffeine low-sugar colas.  I like fruit and tea based sodas that are diet and caffeine-free and I try to stay away from Aspartame.  Most diet soda is sweetened with NutraSweet so there are few options available and those usually aren't available where we grocery shop.  But Sodastream offers diet syrups made with Sucralose (Splenda) and many fruit and tea based syrups. So many yummy options, oh my!

In response to the offensive "Not for Women" ad campaign Dr. Pepper Snapple Group launched, I stopped buying my favorite Diet Sunkist along with all the brands owned by them. That took a large segment of the "girl drink" soda market off the table for me oddly enough.  Why they'd chose to intentionally alienate a core segment of their customer base (females) and target market for a clear majority of their soft drink brands, I'll never understand. So I was looking for a new favorite soft drink anyway.  The timing couldn't have been better!  

THE BAD

Things started going south when I began looking at the CO2 cylinders.  Since we drink so much soda, I assumed we'd upgrade from the smaller 60 liter cylinder to the larger 130 liter cylinder so we'd need refills less often.  But I found only one store in Austin that exchanges the 130 liter cylinders.  So either I'd have to use 60 liter cylinders, drive out of my way to do exchanges downtown where parking is a challenge on a good day, or order my cylinders online.  Online seemed liked a good option, but then I learned that after the filled tanks were delivered to my door, I'd have to drive to my local UPS store (not convenient) to drop off my empties.So 60 liter cylinders seemed like our best option.

Then I started looking at the pricing.  These itsy bitsy cylinders were expensive!  Way more expensive than I'd anticipated. I was thinking about the refills for kegerator CO2 tanks. With the SodaStream, each new 60 liter cylinder was an initial $30 investment.  Each refill (exchanging an empty tank for a full cylinder) was $15.  Plus there were shipping charges or the inconvenience of going to one of the stores that does tank exchange.  The two stores by our house don't offer cylinder exchange.  It's not looking so appealing now, neither in terms of cost savings nor convenience.

So I start wondering if the cylinders can be locally refilled cheaper than the exchange fee, since I'm going to be driving all over the place anyway. As I research this I learn of User License violations, and booby-trapped double valves.  Now I'm starting to feel like I was suckered into a racket where I'm trapped into paying for extremely over-priced CO2.  I don't like how this feels.  But instead of abandoning the product entirely, I realize I'm probably not the first person to feel the same way so I start doing more research.

THE DIY-ER

Instead of refilling that tiny little proprietary 60 liter cylinder, which violates the SodaStream user license, the other option is to replace those cylinders with a larger CO2 tank, like those used with kegerators. So, instead of looking for a way to get around the booby-trapped valve, I start looking for an adapter that will allow me to connect a standard CGA-320 connector to my SodaStream, effectively bypassing the need for that silly little SodaStream tank entirely! There are several places that sell conversion kits online.  Some include a C02 gauge.  Some include a contaminant filter. Some require the use of the valve from a SodaStream cylinder.  They aren't cheap, but frankly I'd rather pay money to someone helping me than a company trying to play games to make more money off of me unnecessarily.

There are many types of CO2 tanks that might be used like those for kegerators or paintball or airsoft.  The conversion kit must be paired with the replacement tank so some research is required. I purchased a conversion kit and a new 10 lb aluminum CO2 tank since they're lighter and don't rust. I'll get it filled at the same place my home brew-master friends refill their tanks for a reasonable price. I shouldn't have to refill the tank for nearly a year I imagine. It's more cost upfront but I feel better about the whole thing.  

RESOURCES 

Here are some of the places I found that offer supplies like what I've recently ordered. Standards CO2 tanks: Amazon or American Brewmaster. CGA-320 valve conversion kits: CO2 Doctor.  Homemade soda recipes: Homemade Soda: 200 Recipes for Making & Using by Andrew Schloss

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Anger Stage of Grief


Well, it appears I'm still fully entrenched in the "Anger" stage of grief.  It seems I'm motivated to write only when I need to vent.  It's easiest to vent about work, thus my last couple blog entries hit that easiest of targets.  On Facebook, I've been complaining too, but almost exclusively on another easy target: issues related to feminism.  First, an interview with COO Sheryl Sandberg, where she talks of the gender pressures in our society as they relate to women with careers and their male partners.  Then, it was the offensive soda ad campaign "Not for Women" from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (I've saved a list of their brands and will no longer purchase any of them).  And then it was the Health Dept over-ruling the FDA on changes to make it easier for young women to have access to the Day-After pill. 


I'm more angry about other issues, more personal ones, related to my son (his life, his death, my life, the years I spent caring for my son, and the impacts that had on my marriage and career and health and happiness).  But I don't talk much about those things.  Most people wouldn't understand.  Most people couldn't comprehend what my life was like and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.  It was incredibly difficult.  Something you have to take one day at a time.  You can't look at it, big picture, because it was insurmountable.  You let go of your hopes and dreams and just try to survive.  You find a way to make it work, and all non-essentials fall by the wayside.  You never allow yourself to think about what it would be like to not have the burden though, because that is just as insurmountable.  Just as unthinkable.  You love your child.  To have your life back means for your child's life to end.  Not a place any parent wants to be.  


You cannot be prepared for a loss of a child, even when you've been told that your child will die soon, right from the time they were born.  You learned to exist without a light at the end of the tunnel to keep you going.  The only thing that did keep you going is your love for your child, and your desire to do the right thing. The effort required seemed superhuman.  The endurance required came from someplace beyond yourself.  Somehow you made it work.  Somehow the next day came, your child was as safe and happy as was possible under the circumstances. This goes on for so long that you forget what it is like to live a normal life.  What is normal anyway? Eventually you do make some changes that improve things for you, give you back some of the things you gave up.  It's a win-win situation.  You're both better off for the change, as hard as it was to make and even harder to implement.  No regrets.  


But then the day comes when your child chooses to let go and passes.  It's a wonderful experience in many ways.  A celebration of his life, and his freedom from pain and illness are at the forefront after nearly 2 decades of battle.  And after the dust settles, it is time to start living your own life once again.  It is irrevocably changed.  There is a hole in you the size of Texas.  Nothing fills it.  Nothing dulls the pain of loss.  Only time will do that and talking and grieving and riding each wave of emotion that spills through you at the most inopportune times.  


While the emotion spilling through you is anger, there is less depression which is a relief in itself.  Yet the anger often feels inappropriate as you focus on things that are "safe" to be angry at but with a level of emotion that is obviously unwarranted. Substitution.  


In reality I'm angry that my child had to go through all those years of pain and suffering.  I'm angry that I gave up so much of my adult life for a young man that will never graduate or get married or raise his own children.  There is no living legacy.  There is no balm to sooth my wounds.  It now seems senseless to me, what we both endured.  True, I have little regret for how I handled my burden.  I definitely did not take the easy road.  And I can get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and feel good that I gave my child everything I had to give.  If the roles were reversed, I could not ask for more.  And while I'm grateful that my regrets are few, it does not defuse the anger I feel for the sacrifices we both made.  I know it's normal to feel it.  And I try not to judge it.  But I also don't want to get stuck in it either, and become a bitter old hag.  I know that's a possibility.  


As I surf each wave of grief, I have faith the emotional blend will change over time, and that the anger will give way to acceptance in a place where I might find some peace.  And begin to move forward with the rest of my life.  Until then, I am angry.  So please bear with my anger for a while longer.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Team-based Gender Differences

This week has become a study of gender differences from a social perspective for me. I don't fit the stereotypical female mold so it grates on me when I am grouped on a team that behaves in ways that are illogical and irritate me.

From my experience, when men are together on a team, even if the guys don't like each other, they work together to reach their goal the best way possible. Even if they end up in a fist fight, they'll still work together as part of the team without it getting in the way.  If the asshole is the best guy on the team to do the job, the guy that hates him will still give him the ball, or the role, or the portion of the project that will best move them toward the goal.

But, again from my experience, when most women are put together on a team, if they don't like each other, they separate into cliques, and make snide comments and elicit passive aggressive behavior, back stab and otherwise sabotage the women they don't like in the group.  There doesn't have to be a fist fight, anything that threatens a women can make her dislike the other woman and, boom!, she's on the outs in terms of the team. Even if the woman that isn't liked is clearly the best person on the team to do a task, the group will not even consider giving the role to this woman, and if they are forced to, they will try to make her look bad in whichever manner they can.  In fact, if they can, they will try to get that top performer booted from their team entirely.

How does this make any sense?  Men, in my professional experience, NEVER behave in this manner.  Never ever.  But there are women that I've encountered professionally that do it, and quite frequently.  Not all women.  But enough women that I've learned to associate the behavior as a feminine phenomena.  At times it becomes so illogical, and detrimental to the group that it makes me want to be on the other team (with the dudes).

If I have people on my team that I don't like, but respect their abilities, I will do my best to see that they get assigned to do that work and that they get credit for the work.  I don't get paid to have petty insecurities in the office.  I'm there to get a job done, utilizing all resources in the most effective and efficient manner possible, while nurturing an environment of empowerment, accountability, and recognition.  Seems pretty simple.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Good Grief

I'm no stranger to grief.  I grieved the loss of my father when he abandoned me at the tender age of 6 after my parents divorce. I grieved the loss of my 15 year old sister when I was 18.  I grieved the loss of my (original) hopes and dreams for my unborn son when he was born prematurely with severe disabilities when I was 23. I grieved during my father's last year battling lung cancer (yes, his illness brought my estranged father back to me in the end).  I grieved the loss of my marriage (abusive as it was) when it ended in divorce.  From the age of 23, I grieved continually for the pain and suffering I had to watch my son endure with each new medical condition/treatment. And recently, I began the journey of grief that no parent ever wants to travel, the grief from the loss of a child.

Over the years, I've learned a great deal about inner strength, stress management, coping skills, and other such things.  I'm able to handle much more stress in my daily life than I think is probably typical, mainly because I had to for so long.  A high stress level just became my "normal."  I've had many people, during their own moments of grief, reach out to me for connection, and now I understand that they needed someone that wasn't going to shy away from what they needed to talk about.  I was a good choice, because I didn't shy away.  I listened.  Their grief didn't make me uncomfortable.  I was understanding and I was compassionate.  And when asked, I gave advice from time to time.

As time went on, I found that I rarely needed to vent about my own troubles, and I learned quickly that I didn't find therapists effective because they all said the same thing to me: "Reduce the stress in your life."  Um, I just told you I'm caring for an extremely disabled child as a single parent, going through an abusive divorce that took 2 years to complete, trying to work full time to support myself, while managing my son's care and the 18 nurses in and out of my home each month caring for my son.  Not exactly sure how the therapists thought I was going to accomplish such a simple instruction.  So instead I told myself "That therapist is an idiot.  And YOU will survive."  And that is what I did.  I rode each wave of grief, each high, each low, as best I could and I survived.

But this time the grief is different. I thought I'd had 19 years to prepare for the death of my son.  He wasn't supposed to live past the age of 3.  I knew this day was coming, eventually, some day.  I steeled myself for years against that eventuality.  I thought I'd built a thick enough skin, developed enough coping skills, and had enough time to prepare for the loss of my son, that I'd be able to deal with that monstrosity of grief just like I had with all the other bouts.  On the day my son died, I learned that a parent is never ever prepared for the loss of their child, no matter how many years they have to prepare themselves.  They all find themselves brought to their knees or flat on their asses, a wreck. I was no different.

It's been a little over a month since my son died. The only person I really have to talk to that 'really' understands what I'm going through is my mother, because she too has survived the loss of a child, my sister.   I thought I'd be able to go back to work, throwing myself into the normalcy of my professional life as a brief weekday reprieve from my grief.  That's what I've done in the past and it always worked for me.  But all those other times I was established with my office, people knew my abilities, and I had a certain level of familiarity with the work I was to do.  Unfortunately this time, I'm in a fairly new job, and was only 1 week into my most recent assignment when my son passed away.  The group I'm working with doesn't know me, nor my abilities.  On top of that I'm obviously not functioning at 100% capacity now.  Not even close.  My coping skills are limited.  My ability to concentrate restricted.  My memory spotty. On a good day I'm at 70% I'd say but, on a bad day, I can't even get out of bed.  I try to be proactive and be my own advocate and tell people explicitly what I need (even in writing) and how my capacity is limited in several areas and ask for patience and understanding as I try to get through this difficult time.  This time I even asked for assignments that were low-key, low profile, low stress, and mentioned that I wouldn't be at top form with my work.

As I said, it's been a month since I lost my son, and now I find myself thinking many of the things I remember hearing my mom say over and over again all those years ago after my sister died.  "Nobody cares."  "They just want you to forget about your child and move on."  "Nobody wants to hear about your feelings."  "Nobody wants to hear you say your child's name yet again."  "Nobody understands."  "Nobody wants to understand."  "Nobody gets what you're going through."  "Everyone wants to pretend that you're just fine, that things are just fine, and go on like nothing has changed."

I believe I am thinking some of these things because there are people who I think honestly believe that I should be getting over the worst of my grief already.  Yes, in 4 weeks, they truly believe that I should be able to pick up where I left off before I had to stand over my child's grave.  And that is absolutely the most ridiculous expectation anyone has ever tried to put on me.  4 weeks?  Really??

I'm not a psychologist, nor a grief expert, but I can say with a degree of certainty that the grief of a child is one of the most traumatic forms of familial loss that a person can experience and the grief process for that loss takes a very long time.  And we're not talking days or weeks, and for most we're not even talking months, we're talking years (yes, that is plural: yearS).  Does that mean I won't be able to perform my job, fully functional, for years?  No, of course not.  But it certainly means it's going to be some time before I'm able to cope with all the demands made on someone in my profession the way I was able to do prior to the loss of my son.  It's going to take time.  More than 4 weeks.  A lot more than 4 weeks.  I am still spontaneously crying while waiting at a stop light, or while taking a shower, etc., never knowing when it will strike me next.  And I know that what I'm going through can't be rushed, or stifled, because that's how you really cause permanent damage on a grieving psyche.  I need to go through this, in my own time, in my own way, and I need to keep myself in a supportive environment around individuals that are compassionate and understanding and patient.

I don't think the people that are expecting me to be "better" in 4 weeks are bad people.  I believe they are just ignorant to the grieving process and particularly that of a parent that's lost a child.  How does one go about educating such persons?  Can you educate people that aren't motivated to be educated?  It seems unlikely.  And if I advocate for myself too much, I imagine I'll end up finding myself unemployed and not in an emotional position to be interviewing either.  It's quite a pickle.

When my son was born with all his problems, I went back to work a week later, but I'd already worked for the state for 3 years and my job was clearly outlined and the coworkers knew my abilities and supported me during that very difficult time.  When I filed for divorce and a 4-year restraining order against my spouse, I returned to work a week later, but I'd already worked for LE for 4 years, my job clearly outlined, and my coworkers knew my abilities and supported me during that difficult time.  This time I have none of that security or familiarity with my coworkers, and on top of it, they are asking me to start new contracts with new clients which is a huge stressor all by itself, but nearly unbearable when you're grieving over the loss of a child.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pictures and video of Nick during his time with Linda, including video from his last two birthday parties.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NICK


They said you wouldn’t live
You always proved them wrong
Whenever we thought it over
You’d rally, true and strong

The burden of a body
As broken as was yours
Was one that never broke your will
You always stayed your course

You battled so courageously
Through all your illness gave
You gave your all to live and love
So young and yet so brave

You touched so many lives
As you soldiered on each day
You taught us all a thing or two
So many lessons along the way

And through it all you managed
To always smile and have fun
Which often meant a trick or two
You sure knew how to make us run!

With a twinkle in your eye
And a mischievous little smile
You’d create a bit of mayhem
Your gears turning all the while

The passion with which you lived
The love you shared along the way
The strength you had to fight
And the will you had to stay

You lived your life on your own terms
You always gave your best
And when you felt your life complete
You decided it time to rest

No doctor told you it was your time
You chose the day and hour
As with your many miracles
With only God you shared that power

As we grieve the young man we’ve lost
We also celebrate that you’re free
From all the trials your life here had
Peace, love, and joy for eternity

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nick Adam Thompson 3/17/1992 - 9/19/2011

My son, Nick, was born on St. Patrick’s Day, 1992.  He was born premature and was diagnosed soon after birth with a rare genetic disorder along with a mind numbing list of medical problems.  The doctors all said to take things hour-by-hour with Nick, instead of day-by-day.  Nick remained in the NICU of the best children’s hospital in the state for a year and a half before coming home for the first time.  All Nick knew those early times were needles and tubes, poking and prodding, and the sterile environment of an Intensive Care Unit. Watching my son suffer while he struggled to live cannot be described. There have been many, many occasions when I thought I was going to lose him but none more frequent than his first year. 

I learned early on that Nick was a fighter.  He had a stubborn streak a mile long, a will that was unbending, and a thirst for life of heroic proportion. Along with Nick’s will to live, he had a lot of help in terms of love and prayers.  There is even a “medical miracle” fully documented in Nick’s medical records when his heart grew over a weekend.  There’s another where he was saved by a kiss.  Nick needed all the help he could get, because his prognosis was grim.  The geneticists set his life expectancy at 3 years of age.  He came home with around-the-clock nursing care, a ventilator, a feeding tube, enough medications to fill a small pharmacy, and one very happy mommy. 

By the time he reached 5 years of age, Nick had outlived all life expectancy predictions, was the topic of multiple medical journal articles, and was the only diagnosed living male case over the age of 3 with his syndrome.  It was clear to all of us that Nick was making up his own rules.  Despite the frequent hospitalizations, surgeries, procedures, pain, and illness, Nick continued his passion for life. I think he had something close to 24 brain surgeries during his life, along with open heart surgery, and many, many other painful, really horrible procedures and medical problems. 

Living with Nick and caring for Nick was the most challenging, and rewarding, experience of my life.  Although Nick was never able to give as much as he took (his level of care was so extreme that was simply impossible), and Nick often struggled with expressing himself, the rewards I received came in the lessons I continually learned from my son.  I am the person I am today, because of my son and those lessons.  I am stronger and more confident, more organized and able to prioritize appropriately, more effective in crisis and compassionate toward the trials of others, less easily distracted by the noise of life, more appreciative of the simple things, less easily intimidated by so-called experts, and better able to focus on what matters.  Nick gave me those things and so much more. 

There will never be a reason that makes sense in my head for why my son was born with all the illness his life had and all the trials he had to endure.  But I do know that I am extremely proud of the way he lived his life.  He had an inner strength that left me in awe.  He fought for every day with determination and courage.  He never waivered.  He always knew what he wanted.  As complicated as his world was, he had his priorities and desires, and he never gave up on them, not ever.  His world was one of doctors, surgeons, nurses, therapists, teachers, social workers, respite workers, hospitals, doctor’s offices, therapy centers, pharmacies, medical labs, surgeries, tests, procedures, medications, therapies, monitoring, and routine.  And yet through it all, he never forgot to have fun.  Nick loved to stir things up. If there was mischief to be made, Nick was most often the instigator.  His mind always on full alert for a nurses turned back, and an accessible tube or wire.  With a flick of his wrist, he was dangling the pulled out tube or wire from his fully extended hand, a huge smile on his face, often alarms blaring as a result, and a care giver scrambling to put whatever he pulled out back in. He found great joy in making us run! 

With as limited as his world was (he could not walk or talk, he ate through a tube and breathed through a tube, he was diapered and depended on others for all daily cares), Nick maintained full control of his environment.  He was never one to be pushed around by a bossy nurse, or an over-zealous therapist.  He never allowed others to impose their will on him. I’ve seen him put a bossy therapist in tears.  She never stood a chance at making Nick do what she wanted.  She didn’t understand that you had to make Nick WANT to do it, or it simply wasn’t going to happen. If you pushed him, he was capable of going inside his shell to not be seen from again until he was ready to reappear.  He was a survivor.  He had to be.  I couldn’t protect him from his world.  Those life saving procedures were horrific but necessary.  Not everyone that cared for Nick was in the business for the right reasons.  Nick couldn’t tell us when he was treated poorly.  Those of us who cared kept an ever vigilant watch to keep him safe from abuse.  But Nick made sure we all knew who he liked and who he didn’t like.  He was not beyond taking a person he disliked, turning them toward the door and giving them a little push.  At those times, you didn’t need words to get his message loud and clear.   

As tough as Nick was with all his battle scars from surgery after surgery, Nick still had a soft and loving interior.  After my divorce, when I went through such a deep depression, in the morning after the night nurse left, I would often crawl into bed with Nick and hold him and cry.  He would look me directly in the eyes, kiss my hand, and then hold me and pat my back.  I needed him and he was there for me.  I don’t know what I would have done without him.

After a prolonged illness and nearly 7 months in the hospital, after I’d lost all but 2 of the 18 nursing homecare professionals staffed in my home to care for Nick, I had to find a care facility outside the home for him.  I was devastated.  I had promised Nick I would keep him safe after getting him out of an abusive environment many years earlier.  How could I protect him when he wasn’t in my home?  I couldn’t and that scared me, but I simply didn’t have a choice without nurses to care for him in my home.  So I prayed for a solution.  And within the year, a nurse appeared on the scene, Linda, who announced she wanted to care for Nick in her home along with her two special needs daughters.  After a lot of red tape, Nick finally moved to Linda’s home.  Nurses that worked in my home now worked in hers. They told me how wonderful it was there.  Once Nick settled in, he flourished.  Not only did he have a wonderful, stable, medically capable environment, but he had peers, with needs like his, and group activities and outings, and school.  He was coming into his own, a man, with his own life and friends. It was more than I’d asked for.  It was more than I’d ever dreamed for him.  We were so blessed. 

I cannot tell you how many times Nick appeared to be “on his deathbed.”  Basically his entire first year of life, after a bout of sepsis, after his open-heart surgery for subaortic stenosis, after the massive stroke of his left frontal lobe, after the strep and staff infection in his cerebral fluid from an infected VP shunt, after each round with RSV, after his ill-advised decannulation with a restricted upper airway, after a botched bronchoscopy and emergency tracheotomy, after endocarditis of a cardiac valve with an estimated 3% cure rate, after each respiratory illness with pseudomonas or some other nasty bacteria or virus, after his infected gallbladder and perforated GI tract, and so many others.  The most memorable of all of these for me was many years ago, when Nick had a respiratory infection that had him so tachycardic that his heart could not sustain such a fast rate for much longer.  His doctor called me and told me that Nick was going to die, and that I should drop everything and come to the hospital.  As I rocketed 90mph down the highway between Madison and Milwaukee like a race car driver, she called me en route and asked me if they should resuscitate Nick if he coded before I got there.  The doctor was clearly struggling not to cry on the phone as she asked me.  Nick had a DNR order for cardiac intervention.  I swallowed hard and told her , “No, if he goes, let him go.”   Then I pushed the pedal to the floor.  When I got to the hospital, I ran through the hospital, staff yelling at me that I didn’t stop for a clearance badge, but I ignored them.  When I reached the ICU, it was like a scene from a movie.  Nick was apparently in a corner unit of a line of glass walled little rooms.  The room was filled with men and women in white coats with stethoscopes around their necks and grave faces.  As I got nearer, they parted, and I saw the sterile yellow paper gown clad nurses with their isolation masks and gloves.  They parted and I saw Nick.  He was laid on his back, his arms stretched out to his sides like a crucifix with IVs in both, his chest literally vibrating from the speed of his heart.  Some of the eyes above the nurse’s masks had tears welled up in them.  The nurse next to me, Carole, told me it was okay to kiss him and she held me firmly around the waist.  I think she was worried I was going to faint.  I leaned over him, laid my hand on the top of his head stroking his hair, and whispered in his ear, “I’m here Nick.  It’s okay.  You can go.  I love you.”  Then I kissed his sweet sweaty cheek.  As I stood back up, I heard all kinds of murmuring from the medical staff around me.  And then I became aware of the change in the beeping of his heart monitor. That super fast beep, beep, beep, was slowing very quickly back into a normal pattern.  I looked around confused.  A nurse at the foot of his bed looked at me in wonderment and smiled.  She said, “Sometimes what modern medicine can’t do, a mother’s kiss can.”  The doctors and nurses began to trickle out of his room, the crisis averted. My partner, Jason, was no where to be found for some time afterward.  When I finally saw him, I asked him where he’d gone.  He told me he had to go find a vacant room because he had lost it and didn’t want others to see him crying.  He then described how Nick’s heart had responded as soon as I’d kissed his cheek. Jason looked at me and said, “I saw my first miracle today.”

That’s pretty much how life was with Nick: crisis, drama, sleepless nights, stress, worry, and a lot of hard work.  But it was also: love, strength, perseverance, hope, faith, joy, happiness, passion, and fulfillment. 

As you may have guessed from my use of the past tense, Nick, at the age of 19, passed away Monday night, September 19, 2011 around 9pm at home with Linda’s arms around him.  He’d struggled with more acute heart problems this year after his gall bladder infection.  Heart problems that couldn’t be fixed.  Nick’s DNR order for cardiac intervention remained in place.  They were doing all that they could do for him.  His heart just couldn’t keep up any longer.  As Linda held and kissed him and told him how much we all loved him, he didn’t panic but remained calm.  Like me, all those years ago, she told him it was okay to go.  Then he took two deep breaths and passed. 

I am grateful that Nick passed peacefully and with dignity, in his home, in the arms of someone he loved.  I always worried he’d die in an ER or OR with white coats surrounding him, essentially strangers poking and prodding. I’m glad he went on his own, when he chose, at home where he was loved.  Actually, I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything less from Nick.  That’s how he lived his life, on his terms, why would his passing be any different. 

***

Nick, I love you.  It was an honor to be your mom.  You grew into a fine young man.  You exceeded everyone’s expectations. I could not be more proud of the way you lived your life.  You faced the challenge and adversity of your life with strength, courage and a smile.  You loved with everything you had.  You stayed true and willful to the very end. You taught us much about living life, appreciating every gift we’re given, and never ever giving up.  You also reminded us to laugh and to buck authority once in awhile.  Thank you for sharing your amazing life with me, with all of us.  You will forever have a special place in all our hearts.  For me there is also an empty spot now that nothing will ever fill.  As much as it hurts to know I won’t be able to see your smiling face again, your kiss on the back of my hand, or your beautiful brown eyes as you sign “I love you”, I am also so happy for you. Your spirit is free and you’re without pain. I imagine you’ve met your Aunt Tricia by now.  Tricia is much like you: mischievous and fun loving.  I’m sure you've already fallen head over heals for her.  She’s as irresistible as you!  Tricia, keep an eye on him and don’t let him get into too much trouble.  I love you both and miss you more than words can express.  See you on the other side.   Love always. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Dream Job to a Dream Job?

My dream job is to be a professional fiction writer. Making that a reality takes a LOT of time to hone that craft, and I have a LOT of catching up to do in that department. It's not like I can quit my day job to write to my heart's content. I have a lifestyle to support! So what is a girl to do? As I've started taking classes again, and started crafting again, it has me pushing around an idea. My dream job effectively requires me to find more time in my day, but now that I'm back to my old routine of taking classes on every subject under the sun, I don't have time to write. A dream job should be comprised of activities that you love to do, right? I love developing databases and programming. I love taking classes and learning. I love crafting. I love teaching. I love writing and documenting. So what if I combined those in a way that allowed me to earn residual income on an upfront investment?  I would love to create high quality instruction manuals and videos, teaching all the cool things I learn from the books I read and classes I take. I could place them on a website where people could pay to download the instructions and stream the instructional videos.  That way I would be able to invest time upfront to develop the tutorials, but the income would come in long after I'd completed my work on the product.  Residual income.  Seems like a great idea.  I don't know how to create a website where I can stream video and download docs within a shopping cart though.  Not sure what classes I need to take to learn that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Class Sabbatical

It wasn't really intentional. But sometime around the beginning of the new year, I started drastically tapering the number of classes I was taking and teaching.  I used to take/teach an average of 20 classes a month while working full-time.  I took all kinds of classes on all sorts of subjects: stained glass, metalsmithing, beadwork, wirework, quilting, sewing, glass fusing, polymer clay, weaving, basketry, knitting, crochet, cooking, dance, yoga, drumming, writing, and on, and on.  I love to learn.  I love all the classes so it wasn't really "burn out" that stopped me.  The catalyst was some pain I'd started experiencing in my hands that later resolved (repetitive stain issues is my best guess).  To rest my hands, I stopped teaching viking knit, chainmaille and basketry classes and I cut back on classes that I was taking too.  My last class was on Valentine's Day.  It's been nearly 6 months without classes (except for a writing meetup group which really wasn't a class).  It is liberating to completely change something in your life, about face.  One thing you can say about me is that I can start, stop and change elements in my life very drastically with apparent ease. As my friend George once said, I'm best described as "variable."  I just decide to change and I make it happen.

With the class sabbatical, it was remarkable to learn how much time I had for myself.  I then focused my energy on reading as an alternative past time. And laying out in the pool.  And playing the new MMORPG, Rift.  I've been having a blast!

And then....this weekend I enrolled in my first class since my class sabbatical.  I'm taking a programming class, Ruby on Rails. I'm not sure what triggered my desire to take this class. It's not something I planned or need, more an impulsive response to an email I received on some class offerings. Will it take me twisting and turning in another entirely new direction?  Perhaps.  Only time will tell.

But I plan to keep reading my Kindle through doubled Ziploc bags as I float in the pool and my iPad in the dark at night in bed, and to keep listening to audio books during my commute to/from work and while taking my 3 mile walks, and to keep viking knitting and weaving chainmaille while I watch movies on TV, and writing on my laptop on Saturday and Sunday mornings while Jason sleeps in, and to keep gaming on Friday and Saturday nights into the wee hours of the morning with Jason and my mom.  I'm finding time in my life for the things that I love, with the people I love, in doses that are balanced.

Is there room for learning?  Yes.  That's why I'm adding classes back into my regimen.  I love to learn. Maybe next on my list will be to learn a foreign language so I can converse in Italian with my good friend, James, instead of always talking to him via Google Translate to get his attention. I would love being multilingual.

I am also going to try out a kickboxing class and see how I like punching a bag. Having never been allowed to be aggressive as a child, it will be quite an experience for me, I think.  I have a feeling I might like it! Rage!!!  lol

So my class sabbatical is coming to a close.

My reading and writing will continue though, no sabbatical for those two, not ever again.  I cannot believe I left them for as long as I did.  Thinking of writing, even writing about writing, it makes me feel good, whole, alive.  Reading is helping me learn what I want to write about, what messages I want to send, and what is important to me in terms of genre, character development, plot, dialogue, voice, writing style and story telling.  I still keep looking for that ultimate writing class/workshop where I can awaken my inner story teller. Until then, I'll keep plugging away with writing exercises and research, and reading, and blogging and an occasion paragraph or two on my novel or short story.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dress Code

I remember the days when formal dress codes had such sexists requirements as women having to wear pantyhose. I always thought that those dress codes that were enforced went a bit overboard.  But as a consultant, you respect and adhere to the dress code at the client site.

I was so pleased when I first worked at Lands' End.  Their informal motto was: If we sell it you can wear it.  Well that changed a bit after they started selling swimwear and lingerie, but you get the idea.  Khaki was fine.  Denim was fine.  Shorts were fine.  For the most part everyone looked great, because their clothes were great I suppose.  But it was a casual dress environment and I realized that it didn't impact job productivity or performance at all. The employees at Lands End were smart and capable, professional and casually dressed.

I found the same atmosphere at AMD and other companies I've worked for.  It became the new norm.

Since then, I've visited game studios where dress codes are basically non-existent.  I asked about the pair of flip-flops (shoes) hanging on a hook near the front entrance and was told that meant shoes were not optional tomorrow (a client was probably visiting).  Yep, seriously.  These game studios also have some of the most intelligent and dedicated programmers too.  Casual dress doesn't adversely impact job performance there.  In fact I think it is expected, as a means of attracting top talent, that backward ideas of pretentious old-school dress codes are rejected.  And I bet if studies are done, it is found that allowing employees to dress in a manner in which they are most comfortable (okay nudists and exhibitionists excluded) may actually find that it improves productivity. Just a guess.

I can understand that those with roles that are customer facing are viewed as company stewards and should dress in a manner compatible with the brand and marketing and customer expectations of the company.  But what about those of us that never ever deal with external people?  What does the dress code have to do with my doing the job that I am hired to do?  Nothing in my opinion.

Since then I've had to work in more conservative offices again.  I don't mind.  It's a bit expensive having to go buy new business clothes that fit me (I've gained some weight since I last had to wear formal business attire).  But as I receive yet another blanket email tersely scolding their employees for dress code violations, I have to wonder if those people complaining about such things have enough "real" work to keep them busy.  Probably not, I suspect.

I will always chose a consulting opportunity with a more casual dress code over another, all else being equal.  I'll even drive farther, pay for parking, travel more, work longer hours and take less pay to work in a casual environment as long as the job they've got for me rocks. Well, the job would have to really really rock to take all those hits, but you get the picture.

One of the best companies where I've worked, Homeaway.com, had a super casual dress code and had some of the most brilliant and dedicated people I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Dress code had nothing to do with the caliber of the employee, or perhaps it was an inverse relationship?  At some of these more conservative shops with restrictive dress codes, the people are not even close to the high caliber of dot-com employees.  It isn't hard to shine in those old-school environments, while at Homeaway.com I simply blended in.

My point?  It isn't about how you look or dress, but about what you know and are able to do.  I wish more companies could embrace that concept.

Body Odor

I'm all about equal opportunity in the workplace.  I don't care what your age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, marriage status, or other categories are, as long as you can do your job and do it well.  You don't even have to be a particularly pleasant individual.

There are a couple things I don't tolerate well though. One is abusive behavior. This goes without saying.  But the other is body odor.  I'm not just talking about good hygiene here, although that is part of it. It amazes me that this is something that is legally protected.  If my coworker chooses not to use deodorant, or indeed chooses to not bath entirely, they don't have to and there is nothing their employer or co-workers can do about it regardless of how many complaints are received.  If my coworker chooses to swim in a sea of cologne or perfume, same thing applies. The best that my employer can do is move me to an area where I'm not sitting next to that person.

But what if that person is my boss?  What if the stench of their perspiration is so strong in their office that it makes me nauseous to attend one-on-one meeting with them there?  I often left at the end of the day with a migraine after dealing with the odor all day.  I scoured the Internet and found that I don't have any recourse. In fact, it was even worse than that.  It could have been deemed as discrimination on my part.  It amazed me.

As a consultant for many years, when I noticed new consultants with body odor, one comment to the account rep of the consulting firm resolved the problem. Well, you can't very well bring in prospective consultants to a client site when they reek of BO.  It will impact sales!  But come to find out, whatever they did to resolve these problems with those consultants, it was likely illegal.

The problem isn't so much about hygiene issues, but other factors such as the indirect link to cultural differences as they relate to body odor.  Apparently in other cultures, strong body odor is considered pleasant and attractive.  So by not being tolerant of the malodor of others, I am being culturally bias.

Additionally there can be links between body odor and medical conditions. Since privacy related to medical status is protected, the same issue applies in terms of medical intolerance. I don't think those odors smell like BO though.  I've smelled such things and have never felt the desire to complain about them as it was obvious to me that these people were doing everything in their power to try to stem the odor.  But still it plays a factor in the issue of tolerance in the workplace as it relates to body odor.

What it comes down to for me is that I don't care how you want to smell in the privacy of your own home, but not in the workplace where others have to be in close contact with you for many hours a day, if you have any control over the matter, such as bathing regularly and applying deodorant and limiting perfumes/scents. So here I am, realizing I'm a scent bigot.  How sad is that?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mr. Rowe

Yesterday, on a whim, while thinking of my passion for writing, I googled my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Rowe at Sun Prairie High.  I honestly didn't expect to find anything.  I'd done it a few time over the past 20 years, but hope springs eternal in my case.  To my surprise, I found a blog entry posted by another of his students.  Apparently Mr. Rowe passed away earlier this year.  I posted a comment to his blog, and wanted to include it here as well:  Joey, Thank you for the tribute you've made to Mr. Rowe here in your blog. I hadn't realized he'd passed. You are so correct.  He made a difference, and he is remembered and loved by his students. 

I loved his writing classes and I'm sure my passion for writing is in part due to what was cultivated in his classroom.  I thought of him today out of the blue at the age of 43 and I was his student when I was 16.  That's a long time but I still remember the last time I saw Mr. Rowe like it was yesterday.  It's made an indelible imprint on me...the message he left with me that day. The passion with which he delivered that message was lost on me at the time, but years later how I wish I'd had the good sense to heed his plea.

You see, I didn't chose a career in writing, instead focusing on computer programming. For certain, I have made a successful and lucrative career of it. And I do enjoy a certain pleasure in my chosen profession. Yet I have regrets all these years later, that I abandoned my true passion, writing, for comfort and financial security. So now I dabble with the idea of writing, a novel perhaps, and wish I were back in Mr. Rowe's classroom learning and relearning the lessons which he taught with such passion.

The last time I saw Mr. Rowe was the first week of my Junior year. He walked up to me in the hall, while I waited for my next class to start.  He always had such a masterful presence, a show of authority, dignified, and somehow above the trivialities so rampant in high school life.  He wore that lovely tweed jacket of his with the leather patchwork elbows and held his portfolio in front of him as he confronted me. "Miss Edge, I'm looking at my class enrollment list and I don't see your name.  Why aren't you taking my advanced creative writing class?" 


I looked at him confused, not understanding why he was there and what it mattered that I wasn't taking his class. "I'm taking all the computer programming classes offered, so I didn't have any electives left to take your class," I explained with a look of utter confusion on my face, I'm sure.

Now I could see that he was mad and also, perhaps, frustrated.  This emotional display was so atypical of him with his rather stoic demeanor. He took a few seconds to regroup and then chastised me in an elevated tone, "As far as I'm concerned, you're flushing a perfectly good talent down the tubes."  He slapped his portfolio shut forcefully as he said this to elaborate his point.  Then he turned and stalked off down the hall.  I never talked to Mr. Rowe again. 

At the time, I didn't understand the significance of that interaction. But all these years later, I find myself thinking of that pivotal moment, when I could have stopped him and told him I didn't need to take that Pascal class or that Basic class so badly as all that. Could I be writing today professionally, had I listened to him, had I followed my true passion and not "sold out" for the money and security of a technology job? I'll never know the answer to that question; although, I will always remember Mr. Rowe coming to bat for me, an impassioned appeal to the good sense I did not yet possess. He recognized and valued that passion in me before I did myself. For that I am forever grateful.  Thank you, Mr. Rowe. You will always remain in my heart. May your hereafter be as fulfilling as your presence was to us, your students.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why the romance genre? It's the happy ending guarantee.

I don't just read romance, but do primarily read romance. Until today, I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was just being that typical woman in midlife with unmet desires?  I hoped not. We've all read the derogatory talk that makes women want to shy away from admitting we crave the stuff of romance novels. The talk that makes us out to be such incredibly superficial and wanton women with inattentive partners and lives that lack personal fulfillment. Okay, some of that may be true, in part, for at least some of us romance novel readers.  But I can't believe that it's just that.

In previous blog entries, I've already talked about my views on a female biological imperative that puts us in a catch-22 and how the fantasy romance sub-genre allows a loose reconciliation of those conflicting desires. But why romance at all?  It can't just be the primal biological drive that has me running off for fantasyland, can it?

Just having finished The Pact: A Love Story by Jodi Picoult, I found my answer.  A friend recommended Jodi and the title sounded like, well, a love story, so I went into the book with a particular expectation.  Coming away from the book, which is an incredibly good read by the way, I was disappointed because my expectation wasn't met.  This was a romantic tragedy and I expected a romance novel. The key difference is that in a romance the ending is happy, the heroine finds love, her needs (and his) fulfilled.  I came away from this book feeling hopeless. The love was there, the romance was there, the feelings of desperation and conflict were there.  But the story was a tragedy, without hope.  Closure, yes.  Hope, nope.  I felt alone, with regret, a mere shell of the person I had once been or had the potential to become. That's tragedy for you.

My life has been tough.  I'm not whining.  But it's true. There are regrets for certain.  But more importantly, there is a feeling of having missed something somewhere along the road called Life.  Was it the meaning of life? My purpose here? The connection to a soul-mate?  Some significant contribution to humankind? Or a lasting difference in the life of just one person?  There is a lot of sacrifice made.  A lot of effort expended.  Tears shed. Choices made or made for us. And what has kept me going through all of it was hope that there was a meaning, a reason, a person, a life, or difference to be realized. As I age, I still have hope of filling that elusive empty space within me. The desire to fill it remains strong.  In my fantasyland romance novels, those strong desires are fulfilled, the girl gets what she needs, finds the answers, makes the difference, fulfills some hope or dream or unmet desire or even something she didn't even know was missing.  It is satisifying to read because the good guy (and equally important girl) wins, I'm filled with hope, fulfillment is possible, answers attainable, complete.

Can I get that from other genres?  Yes.  Is it a guarantee with other genres?  No.  So when I write my novels, they will probably have a romantic thread, regardless if the stage is in an enchanted forest, on another planet, in a high school classroom, in the fires of hell, or on a spaceship.  My message will likely always be one of the deeper values of love, hope, and fulfillment.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paranormal Romance: The Answer to This Feminist’s Dilemma


I’m not a self-hater.  Yet, after reading another deeply fulfilling romance novel, I find myself coming down from the thrill of my latest vein tap with that same old feeling that I’m betraying my own feminist belief system.  I mean, really, romance novels?? I'm a hard-core feminist. How can I possibly be so satisfied reading about these testosterone-oozing alpha-males? They embody the antithesis of a world of equality for the sexes.

But, I have to admit it. I love, love, LOVE to read about a strong female character falling for an uber alpha-male who pursues her at all cost, despite her best defenses against over-bearing he-man types looking for their next big conquest.  In the end, her walls come crumbling down around her in molten passion and when her defenses lie in rubble, before her very eyes, he transforms out of that inferno like a phoenix into her faithful, devoted and respectful lover and family man. That an alpha-male can becomes that all-around good-guy that protects and cares for his family, whilst still retaining his unbridled primal physical desire for HIS one-and-only woman is, granted, totally fantasy land stuff. But, yes, oh, yes, this is the stuff good romance novels are made of!

As a feminist, my favorite romance novels are written by authors that construct female protagonists that are strong, intelligent, assertive, independent and shrewd. These aren't the milquetoast chicks your mom read between Harlequin covers. These women don't need, nor want, a man to rescue, conquer, and/or seduce them. In the romance books I love, these tough chicks are forced to interact with he-man bad-boys that typically don’t stand a chance of making it past “GO” with these women. Yet somehow the author weaves a tale where her best defenses come falling down around her, she breaks, opening herself to him, letting him take her, willingly, even as every bone in her body screams that this is a bad idea.  She can’t help herself. She matches his passion in ways that he doesn’t expect. She surprises him... and herself. If written well, the next few pages come as close to spontaneous combustion as the printed word can get.

As a feminist, it becomes paramount that all of this is constructed by the author in a way that this woman can be completely vulnerable to this alpha-male in a believable manner without her being weak, stupid, dependent, na├»ve, or even entirely submissive.  Not all romance writers do this, but the ones that I admire do, as does the one I aspire to become.

So both of them come away from the mind-altering connection they share somehow changed.  But then there's a conflict.  Something happens to confirm to her that he’s every bit as bad as she originally thought, maybe worse. She kicks herself for letting him in. She gets out the stone and mortar, hastily rebuilding her rampart. She may be broken-hearted but she's not rolling over. She knew the risks of falling for him, and there's no one to blame but herself.  When she thinks it is over, then our hero is somehow redeemed.  She finds out something about him that redeems him in her eyes.

This is another key point in a romance novel, which was pointed out to me quite eloquently by Tracy Wolff, a favorite author of mine, in a presentation I attended some time ago.  The author of a bad boy romance novel has to push the envelope, trying to make this guy as bad as bad can be yet still managing somehow to remain redeemable in the eyes of the heroine (and the reader). It's the knife-edge romance writers tight-rope walk: bad but not too bad.  If we readers feel the line's been crossed, and the male not worthy of our female, then the story is corrupted, turning into something twisted and perverse. The author can't betray the readers.  It's understood by all romance readers that the heroine is to realize a reward worthy of her, something of value, something good, even if it is all wrapped up in an oh-so-bad-boy package complete with a Chippendale’s bough.

As a feminist, it's really difficult to find plausible scenarios where male characters can be this bad and still redeemable in a way that doesn't offend our feminist sensibilities. It's not like I'm going to forgive the guy simply because he's "a man". That's the excuse that had me abandoning romance novels altogether as a teenager viewing them as "unhealthy."

But with paranormal romance novels, I find that the feminist in me can relax a little bit. Why?  Because most men in paranormal romance novels have one thing in common that's unique compared to other romance alpha-male heroes. These men are vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, or other such preternatural creatures.  They have a ready-made excuse for acting like ... well, animals.  And , paradoxically, they have a perfect built-in excuse for redemption.

We can chose to believe that these paranormal alpha-male dudes want to treat their women as equals, but they have this inner compulsion to act as monsters act. When the heroine triggers the guy's primal side (bringing out his beast), he takes what he wants, driven by animalistic desire.  He simply cannot help himself when he dominates and conquers in the heat of the moment. It’s in his nature, one he often intrinsically struggles with and yet is helpless to change or control. So he’s bad, very bad, but he's also oh so good! Socially she is his equal, but when it comes to his beast she doesn't stand a chance. He delivers both the hot and raw alpha-male and the loving family-man in a perfectly redeemable 1-2 sucker punch as described in my previous blog entry. So he is bad but redeemable without a feminist having to sell out.  What more could a feminist want? It’s brilliant!

Thinking about this at a deeper level, the duality of these paranormal males (the man at odds with his inner beast) is much like the feminist who loves reading romance (the female demanding equality and her conflicting fantasies of being taken by an alpha-male in the bedroom).  Duality seems to be something we feminist romance junkies can relate to.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons paranormal romance is so popular? A feminist can read paranormal romance and not feel like they've completely sold out to the old Harlequin mentality.

Of course, I still wouldn't dare read these in public except on my Kindle or iPad.  No one can see the cover of my trashy romance novel as I sit at Whole Foods and read on my Kindle over my lunch break.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Feminist's Penchant for Romance Novels

Trashy romance novels, the naughtier the better, are a hidden pleasure of mine. I first started reading them as a young adult. But even at that tender age I knew that the stories I read were not emotionally healthy.  If I prescribed to set out to find a mate using what I found in those books, I would be setting myself up for a world of hurt and somehow I realized that.  Eventually I abandoned reading romance all together because it simply was not compatible with my feminist perspective. 

Decades later I find myself back secretly reading romance novels once again. As much as I hate the idea of liking these books, I simply cannot seem to get enough of them and that really bothers my feminist side. These books depict alpha-male bad boys that often dominate, abuse, neglect and otherwise disrespect the female until they realize, from a variety of catalysts, the error in their ways and pledge their undying love and devotion. Yippee!!! The feminist in me is about ready to stick her finger down her throat, or a poke fork in her eye....or both. Yet firing up my Kindle to read the latest J.R.Ward book is the equivalent for me to tapping a vein is for a heroin addict. It has really bothered me that I, a self-proclaimed feminist, was willingly reading such drivel and finding it so very fulfilling. A very disturbing situation.

Then, as I was reading Orson Scott Card's Xenocide today, there was a passage, spoken through his character Valentine, that describes the genetic programming of human males and females. In short, the author posits that male genetic programming is that of the proverbial alpha-male; to inseminate as many females as possible, and to use force if necessary. The genetic programming of females is to attract the strongest and most virile male as a means of securing the most viable offspring. Everything to this point sounds typical to me; however, the next part caught my attention. Those same females seeking out the alpha-males for procreation also have a drive to attract the most stable males so as to have the greatest chance of them sticking around to provide protection, assistance and sustenance for the mother and young child. But, you may conclude, as I do, that that alpha-male who wants to fuck everything in sight is probably not the same guy that wants to hang around and provide for a newborn baby and a stressed out mommy. Sounds like he'd be hightailing it outta there, right fast.

I don't know what kind of cruel joke mother nature is playing on us women, but these two directives, branded into the human female basic genetic operating procedures, are completely incompatible.  We are, by our very genetics, set up to be disappointed. If we follow our genetic predisposition to be attracted to the biggest, strongest, fiercest males, we will absolutely be the most unlikely to find men that are family-man types to settle down with. But in reality that is exactly what we want them to become ... after they've mated with us. Sad but true. These alpha-males are not likely to be neutered and become non-roaming docile monogamists and yet we delude ourselves into thinking we can tame the testosterone coursing through their veins. They will of course continue in their genetic programming which compels them to spread their seed far and wide, yes, while we're stuck home raising the kiddos. OR, if we are feminists, we chose our mates not based on our biological drives but instead with our minds, choosing those partners that are long-term relationship material. Of course this is a much wiser and more compatible choice for the long haul.

But there is something to be said about the lack of physical passion of a primal nature when you pick a mate using the cerebral criteria of stable, reliable, family man, instead of those used by our genetic encoding which lean toward that untamed rogue. It's a trade off we make willingly.

So is it any wonder that, when choosing our recreational reading material, feminists (often secretly) are drawn to those trashy romance novels with the big bad alpha-male, that dominates and conquers the enthralled, often independent, willful and defiant female in a heated erotic passion that's hot enough to melt your lipstick in its case, and then that same fella turns into the hopelessly in love, devoted and faithful family-man we want to settle down with? It's that alpha-male lover turned devoted family-man mate combination that completely rocks our female worlds. I could never figure out why it was such a pleasurable experience for me reading such silliness until now. I mean, I knew it was insane to think the alpha-male would behave this way. It made no logical sense at all. Looking at it using Card's genetic programming passage though, it makes total sense. These romance novels are pressing the two most basic and incompatible female genetic hot buttons in a very effective 1-2 sucker punch. My feminist me really doesn't stand much chance in stopping my genetically ingrained reaction to it, outside of simply refusing to allow myself to open such books and start reading. 

It's a fantasy world. And as long as I'm an adult that understands that this isn't something I'm likely to encounter in the real world, it's a safe enough pastime. My concern is in the young impressionable girls that read this stuff and think it's the ideal and something they can actually attain in a mate. It is the setup, then, for heartbreak, dysfunctional relationships, and ultimately divorce. I'm proud that the young girl in me saw these books for what they were at a young age. I'm also proud that I figured out why I'm back at it, reading these same books, all these years later. It's an innate female genetic predisposition that is better fed in the fantasy world of my head via the pages of a sizzling book than between the sheets with some hotty boy from the gym or off the football field. And maybe eventually our future female generations won't have this unnecessary genetic remnant that, if followed now with our monogamistic social pressures, can only break a young woman's heart.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

That threshold into the world of writing

I remember writing as a child, curled up on my bed with a notebook and a number 2 pencil.  Words spilled on to the page, ideas built out of my little constructor set in my brain, and placed with satisfaction on each line.  It never occurred to me then to judge the work as it was being done.  It never occurred to me that my work might suck.  It was a passionate pursuit of exploration into myself, a fresh new world to explore and paint and mold into something fun, bold, intriguing, sad, insane or whatever else my soul fancied at that moment.  It was sheer and utter pleasure.  And when I handed those writings into my creative writing teacher, without a care if it was "good", I wasn't particularly moved one way or the other when I received an "A".  It was of no consequence.  It was not meant for them, it was meant for me.  And I was fulfilled, so it seemed natural in my young mind that my teacher would also be so.

Years later, I look back with longing at that person I was.  How I so naturally expressed myself without concern.  How easily I tuned into that inner storyteller, drank from that endless well of creativity, made beauty for no one but myself on endless pages of looseleaf.  Now, it is a struggle.  Now, it is a spiritual version of an  MMA cage fight where I am both opponents.  My own worst enemy.  Writing was abandoned for a lucrative career.  So in one corner is the writer, the passionate writer who was silenced.  And in the other corner is the career professional that brings home a paycheck.  The professional hasn't really looked at that artist as much of a fighter for quite some time.  But that has been changing.  The artist in me has caught a second wind, perhaps in retaliation for a the mid-life crisis that tends to hit all of us that have not lead a life of passion. The professional in me still fights for the upper hand thinking the creative writer unable to win.

But am I (the writer) not a worthy opponent?  The villain professional must think I have something worth saying or it wouldn't fight so viciously to keep me away from that pen, away from that story?  What could I now create, if time were not limited by a punch-clock, due dates, bosses, household chores, etc?  I honestly don't know.  But I ache to find out.  After surrendering my pen so many years ago, and living life without it, have I not learned of life's tragedy and triumph?  Do I not still have that inner well that wants to be consumed?  What fear inside me makes me think that I am not worthy of this thing called self expression?  Rejection?  Ridicule? Most definitely.  But in the end, a silenced pen is only going to result in self-ridicule. Self-hatred.

I have changed myself a thousand time over.  Dropping those things once dear and turning a new leaf.  I have never done so with longing for the old me, except for my writing.  Never, not once, have I felt I lost something because of my change of heart, and new pursuits, and new views, except for my writing.  I must accept this.  And find a way to push beyond the ideas that I am largely unread, uneducated, and unworthy of literary appreciation.  If I am ever going to find personal fulfillment, it won't be in the depths of self-doubt, but in that which is within me, like a dog struggling on a choke chain to be free, that craves to write with a passion that seems to have crippled me.

I can only hope that coming full circle and finding the writer within me once again, that I might see that I am, always was, whole and worthy, just as I am, just as I was.  That the stories are there.  That the words are still there.  That it is not too late.  That I can be who I would be if only.  It only takes that first step, pen to paper, a word, a sentence, an idea, a passage.  An introduction.  A page.  A movement.  A belief.  A belief in me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Creative Writing Tidbit

Just a little tidbit I wrote when I had a few spare moments:


As she sat against the large grey stone, and looked out over the brilliant green meadow, Trista decided that this was it.  She was no longer going to do what everyone thought she should do.  She was not going to be the safe, practical, ever-dependable one any longer. She was tired of that role.  When was she going to have fun and adventure?  Never, at the rate things were going, that’s when. 

The clumps of tall grass wiggled in the wind.  The sky was a muted, mottled blend of shades of gray-on-gray.  It was chilly and she wrapped her bulky knit coat around her tightly and lifted the collar around her neck.  Here she was in the most romantic of settings, Ireland, and she was on yet another errand for someone else. Well, she wasn’t going to get this item checked off her list by sitting on this rock, she thought.  And she pushed herself up to stand and stretch.  She picked up the basket at her feet and continued walking along the path that meandered past open pasture, low stone walls, and an occasional gate. 

When she came to the stone bridge spanning the river, she moved off the path, and started working her way down along one side of the bridge to the river’s edge. She spotted a section of ratty looking cattails and squatted down near them.  It was autumn, and they were beginning to die back, the perfect time to harvest the root “laterals” for this evenings meal, her foreign exchange mother, Nora, had delighted. And of course she’d gone along with Ben and Emily, Nora’s children, the week before and learned the dirty work of harvesting cattail root, so she felt an odd obligation to offer to collect them for Nora today. She pushed the sleeves of her coat and sweater up above her elbows and plunged her right hand into the muck at the base of the cattail looking for the bend in the rhizome, the point where she was to break them off.  She snapped the slenderest part of the root, and pulled back the tuber. Using her pocket knife, she trimmed the root from the plant and tossed the muddy lateral into her basket.  She repeated this process until her knuckles ached from the cold and the muscle at the base of her thumb protested when she tried to grip the root bases with her muddy, frigid fist. Grabbing the half full basket, Trista walked to a clearing on the bank and started cleaning off the roots and then her hands.  As she used her skirt as a towel to dry her hands, she noticed him for the first time looking down at her.  How long had he been there?  A while by his appearance, up on the bridge, sitting on the guardrail, long boot-clad legs dangling lazily over the edge, with the slightest of a smile on his face.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Creative Writing - Same situation from 2 perspectives

WARNING: Explicit content (literary erotica) follows.


FROM "HER" PERSPECTIVE:
They stood together at the checkout waiting for the cashier to run their bills. What was he doing standing so close to her?  She could feel the warmth of his body. Just an inch and she knew she’d feel the hairs of his skin brush provocatively against her arm.  Did he know how much she had to fight to not make the subtle movement to close that inch? Did he understand the temptation he was to her?  How she wanted him?  His youthful body, his boyish charm were enough, that was clear to her, but it was the intelligence that was his mind that truly intoxicated her.  He was her equal.

Did he know she’d dreamed of him? Of course not, how could he know that, as she slept, her subconscious desire for him took over, and she saw his perfect white smile as he tugged her from the hallway into a dream-contrived alcove.  The look on his face alone was enough to make her insides do somersaults. That look said it all.  He wanted her too. As he pulled her close and whispered “shhhh!” with a devilish smile, she could smell his masculine warmth and the sweetness of his breath. The softness of his mouth against hers was in stark contrast to the strength of the muscles in his arms as he brought her in even closer. Her knees gave slightly as he parted her lips with his tongue. She sucked it each time his plunged hungrily into her mouth. Each stroke lashed fire from her thighs to her navel. As she wrapped her leg around his muscular upper thigh, he planted her against the wall, crushing into her breasts, eliciting a moan from her throat, their mouths never parting. As he pushed into her, she could feel his hardness through denim. She craved his nakedness against her own. She wanted him to take her. The thought of him inside of her was enough to make her explode, the orgasm waking her from her dream. Just the jolt of remembering this was enough to break her free from her thoughts to find him standing there beside her at the register in the shop. 

He looked over to her and smiled, “What do you think it would take to light a fire under this cashier?”

She shrugged and smiled back, “She is taking her sweet time, isn't she?”, all the while struggling to sequester the heat ignited by his nearness and her own thoughts.


FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE:

As he stood at the counter waiting for the cashier, he intentionally stood close to the female friend next to him. He liked being close to her. He felt good near her. She wasn’t like the other women he knew. The young pretty girls that were so typical.  The flirtation and light conversation were always the same. He was used to having their attention, not that he cared. But the one next to him was different.  She was older with a regal sense about her. She was smart and sensible, with a sharp witty tongue.  She had a strength about her that he rarely found in a female.  He was entirely drawn to it, to her.  He stepped in closer, as close as he could without touching her, being as subtle as he could.  He breathed deep and took in her scent.  His blood pressure rose. 

When had it happened?  The friendship they shared was once of convenience. She had a decidedly serious nature and he gave her reasons to laugh. He found it easy to make her smile.  She seemed to appreciate his sense of humor more than most. But it was gradually turning into something deeper than that now. Their interest in one another was evolving into something much more complicated.  And yet there was that fine line that they both danced close to but never crossed.  A line that they dared not cross, or did they? 

He knew he wanted to explore territories beyond that line, whether he ought to or not.  Morals be damned, he thought.  Women like her didn’t come around every day.  He wanted to experience her, everything about her and he knew, if he didn’t, he’d forever regret it. Of course it was risky business, what this could become.  Neither of them were without their own obligations and responsibilities.  But if they were discreet, and no one got hurt, what would be the harm? The benefits outweighed the risks as he saw them.

At the moment, they seemed caught in this pattern of move/counter-move, neither yet committing to the eventualities to come.  He of course wanted, needed, to make the transition into a physical pattern. He knew she was attracted to him.  Even now he could hear her breathing catch as he moved closer.  A quick glance at her face and he knew her thoughts were somewhere else.  So he paused on her and let his eyes take her in, unobserved. 

She was beautiful in her maturity; age had made her interesting, intriguing even. Her silver hair, cut in her ever-present pageboy, was prematurely grey, but it went well with her wise grey-blue eyes.  Her hair brushed her long elegant neck, the skin so delicate there.  He wanted to taste it almost as much as he wanted to taste her mouth, taste her.  Her breathing was faster now.  He wondered if it were possible that she was responding subconsciously to the thoughts he had of tasting her. He smiled at the thought of them having such a connection.

He ached to know what it felt like to cup her full breasts in his palms, to feel the warmth of her belly against his, to make love to her.  He knew instinctually that she would be a lover that knew what she wanted, sure of herself, able to get what she wanted without self-consciousness or insecurity. She was not submissive in the slightest, and he had the deep pleasurable feeling that he’d be looking up at her more often than not. She would be able to match his desire, perhaps, finally, in a way that he’d only dreamed of experiencing with a woman. She was most certainly a force to be reckoned with.  And by the look of her at this moment, her full lips looking as if she were being made love to with the slightest quiver notable, her breathing shallow and quick, her eyes still far away, he knew a storm was brewing.
     
Her back straightened, she blinked and looked at him and then at the cashier whose back was to them as she continued to straighten the contents under the counter several feet away.  He smiled at her as he spoke.  “What do you think it would take to light a fire under this cashier?” 


She returned his smile, “She is taking her sweet time, isn’t she?”  


And, he thought, ...so was she.