Imagine

Imagine a world where we never have to accommodate for others, because everyone is the same. We all agree. We’re all the same.

No one is ever too late or too early, because everyone has the exact same perspective on time as you.

Planning trips are a breeze, because everyone has the same tastes and interests.

Traffic always moves at exactly the right speed, and everyone merges and signals the same way you do; in perfect sync.

All the things you love are celebrated, shared, discussed. All the things you loathe are reviled. Everyone, everywhere, is in perfect agreement with you.

The world, and everything in it, attuned to your every whim. No push-back (no challenge). No bad days (and nothing to contrast with good days). No frustration by which understand delight. No one else against whom we can understand and measure our own personal growth– or aspire to be like.

Never having to accommodate the needs of others. Never needing to compromise. Never a day when faced with the uncomfortable question: do I matter here?

Instead it’s a world of clones, everywhere; a narcissists heaven. A circle jerk of regurgitating self congratulatory praise for the shared wisdom, maturity, and intelligence of all denizens.

I honestly can’t think of anything more boring.

I will never understand people who want to eradicate diversity. Hell, I don’t understand those who rail at accommodation and compromise for essentially harmless personality flaws. I’d rather deal with a well-intentioned late person than a punctual neo-Nazi.

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The ideal morning

On an ideal morning, I would wake up with (or shortly after) the sunrise, as usual; the grey-dawn light of my room suffused pale and dim.

I would pad out to the silent, dawn-lit kitchen, and start the coffee. Put two cups on the counter– one for me, one for John. A tablespoon of sugar, a splash of half and half.

Let the dogs out. Scratch the cats’ head.

Curl up on the couch. I have not yet said a word. No voice or observation has broken the morning silence. The dogs settle, quiet and snuffling, at my feet. I open my FB feed and scroll through the morning news.

The coffee beeps. I unfurl. Pour into the readied cups. Return to my seat to nurse the bitter-sweet drink and beautiful solitude. The dogs, roused by my movement, have followed me into the kitchen and back, and settle once more.

I do not feel the need to comment on it.

I do not speak to them.

I open a book.

For the next several, silent hours of my ideal morning, I would read.

I would not initiate speech, or turn on jabber noise, or text anyone. Just, for a few precious hours … stolen silence.

Idiots doing idiot things because they’re idiots

So when we went camping for the totality on Sunday night, there was one bit in the experience that got me a little ranty as I recollected attempting to stargaze the night before the eclipse– a night of full-dark, no moonrise.

The experience honestly would have been far more breathtaking sans any light pollution at all, but unfortunately, light pollution there was, and not due to passing traffic, as you might expect, or campfires, or even the other campers– at least, not the majority of them. There was some eclipse traffic that night, but not much. The bulk of eclipse traffic was from campers who arrived around 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., then local totality seekers the following morning. There were a few cars after nightfall, but they turned out not to be as big a problem as I initially thought they were. There was a well-posted fire ban, which (so far as I could see and smell) was thoroughly respected by the other eclipse campers, and the majority of the eclipse campers (at least, those within my sight and hearing range– and we’re talking arid desert-type scrubland) were quiet, respectful of those around them, and generally well-behaved.

It is a truism of car-camping, unfortunately, that there’s always, always, a group of self-centered, dickish assholes who think the entire trip (and camping area) is all about them and their trip, even though there are usually anywhere from 50-150 other campers– families, youth groups, and tired travelers– attempting to quietly use the premises.

I can’t state for certainty, but I’m pretty sure it was only one group out of all the disparate campers there, who I’m calling the Hillwalkers. It seemed to be a group of about 10-15 people in about their early-to-mid-20s (I am notoriously bad at judging age ranges). Earlier that day (long before nightfall) they’d already trespassed onto the private ranch property across the road, despite the clearly posted no-trespassing signs, and clambered around in the hills for some reason.

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© J. Dresow

Watching them, we-all (our camp neighbors and us) hypothesized the Hillwalkers were looking for a cellular signal, since they kept holding up one hand as though to check their phones. If so, it was a fruitless exercise: earlier conversations ascertained that regardless of phone model or service provider, no-one was receiving service. We had nothing but our imaginations, books, and one another to entertain us.

As an aside, there are three separate frowning-upon incidents (daytime trespassing, dusk bongo-playing, and nighttime trespassing) that I assume were all perpetuated by this one particular group, but (to be completely fair) I don’t absolutely know for sure it was this one specific group of miscreants. There may well have been several (unrelated) poorly behaved groups of campers. I’m inclined to think it was the same group for each incident because:

  1. The daytime Hillwalkers (seemingly looking for cell signals) came from a section of camp downriver from us and stuck to a certain section of the hills.
  2. The nighttime Hillwalkers came from a section of camp downriver from us and stuck to the same section of the hills.
  3. The noise from the pipe-and-bongo-playing group (at dusk) came from that same section of camp downriver from us; beginning after hills emptied of daytime Hillwalkers and ending before the commencement of nighttime trespassing.

The pipes/ bongos I mention not because I have an inherent issue with campsite music– there are many times I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the strains of a mystery music rising across a campsite as some talented, unseen musician who’s face I’ll never see calls forth a medly of tunes to tug the heartstrings and make you want to weep or dance or laugh or cry. I’ve listened to campsite instruments from fiddles to guitars, bagpipes to harmonicas, guitars to finger-harps, and usually when I hear the skirling strains of campsite instruments, my heart lifts in anticipation. The problem here was not campsite music; the problem was that whoever was playing these particular instruments was simply not good.

I don’t know if it was a lack of talent, skill, practice, or all three, but they just … weren’t. And I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, honestly. I’m not snobby or picky about music, I promise. That’s how out-of-rhythm they were– the bongos so arrhythmic and the accompanying pipes so atonally monotonous that even I wrinkled my nose in unimpressed distaste at the resultant cacophony.

Moreover, the combined length and volume of their ongoing musical attempt indicated (to me) they had either no self-awareness, or no sense of concern about their lack of skill. In either case, this seems to indicate their musical attempt was entirely self-indulgent; that is, with no concern in regards to how those hearing the music might be affected; only how they (the players) are affected by the physical act/ pleasure of using the instruments, regardless of their skill level (or lack thereof).

Think of the childish pleasure of coloring a picture, or banging a drum– sometimes doing something simply for the sake of doing it is its own pleasure, and that’s fine. However, generally, by the time most of us pass the age of, say, 5 years old, we have either been taught (or learned because we were firmly banned) that although some things can be fun and fulfilling for one person– such as, perhaps, banging a wooden spoon loudly and arrhythmically on a metal pan to produce a satisfying clang– they are not so pleasurable to anyone else in the vicinity, and the community-minded individual who wishes to continue such pursuits chooses one of two paths: They either endeavor to shape their preferred activity into more socially-acceptable results (learn rhythm, become drummer), or they only arrhythmically bang pots with wooden spoons when they’re alone and cannot bother anyone else.

But some kids are just assholes, or maybe they’re never taught to consider the needs/ concerns of anyone else, or maybe it’s something else altogether– who knows? Whatever it is, there’s always that one kid who (metaphorically or literally) will arrhythmically bang that fuckin’ pot with a spoon right out in the middle of a crowd, just because they like it. They don’t care if anyone else hates it (or loves it), they like it, and that’s all that matters to them.

That is the sort of self-centered and non-communal/  “not-thinking-of-others” mindset I heard in the pipe-and-bongo playing, and that was so thoroughly displayed later that night by the Hillwalkers roaming shouting through the hills as they waved flashlights so carelessly, so I am inclined to think they’re one and the same group. 

Anyway, after nightfall, the Hillwalkers went trespassing, for unknown reasons. They later claimed stargazing, which really makes no sense to me, as the stargazing by the river was excellent– or would have been, if it weren’t for their goddamn flashlights.

They trudged around up there for a good hour, the high-lumens brilliance of their flashlights lancing down in cutting swathes across the low hills and scrubland to blind carelessly through the thin tent walls and car or RV windows of their fellow campers down below by the river, as the trespassing Hillwalkers shouted and hallooed merrily back and forth to one another, heedless of the disturbance to they were causing to this hastily convened and temporary riverside community.

Down by the river, campers nestled in for the night, seeking protection from the biting, blood-sucking pests of night in their tents and cars and RVs, and we all tried to distract ourselves from the hungry insects, subtle press of shared space with strangers, and stifling heat by focusing on the sky above. In our tent, my husband tossed and turned, unable to settle in the heat. Whenever it seemed he had finally found a position that worked, a bright beam of light or burst of laughter would slice through the night, disturbing one or both of us and starting the whole cycle over.

We weren’t the only ones– in our car, parked next to the tent with its windows unrolled, I could hear our dogs, Azura and Sirius, shuffling uneasily; the low murmur of our son’s voice sleepily reassuring them that all was well. Our pups weren’t the only ones disturbed by the activity of the trespassing Hillwalkers– there was a frequent, nervous, yipping whine (I’d guess from the chihuahuas we met when we first arrived) from upstream, and the occasional deeper-throated, unhappy responding bark from further downstream, I think from a golden retriever I’d seen passing by.

I could hear, too, about two or three car-neighbors downstream, the low fussing of a young child; no doubt having trouble settling in the stifling heat, and the exhausted pitch of its parents’ voices as they soothed it to near-silence, only to have to pick up the task when the poor thing was frustrated awake again by a passing beam of light or burst of ill-time hilarity from the Hillwalkers. Add to this the occasional high-beam headlights and roaring engine of passing cars, and it was shaping up to be a frustrating night. The end of this torture was heralded by the roar of a loud engine, the bright floodbeam of headlights, and voices raised in disagreement.

I rolled out of my tent to see what fresh hell this was.

It seemed the rancher anticipated just such an eventuality (or perhaps actual camps on his property) and had been riding the perimeter of his property on his ATV, leading him to catch the Hillwalkers. Despite the sternly worded sign, he didn’t shoot them, instead opting for a firm talking to/ warning. According to Sam (who went over to talk to the rancher), he told the Hillwalkers they had this one warning and no more to get off his land and stay off, and the next warning wouldn’t be written or verbal. They whined about it– even I could hear them from across the road, voices climbing in indignation at the warning as they tried to defend their trespassing: “We were trying to get a better look at the stars!”

Eye. Roll. 

First: Look, no matter what you personally think of private property/ trespassing laws, you gotta take the surrounding/ extenuating circumstances into account, and always always leave where you have stayed in the same or better condition than you found it. Pick up trash. Step lightly. Don’t disturb others. In this situation, with that many people? It’s simply not possible, so don’t do it.

Second: Wandering around at night, in foreign lands, in mostly untamed nature, in the hills, is fuckin’ stupid.

Third: Wandering around at night, in foreign lands, in mostly untamed nature, in the hills, on somebody else’s property, is not only fuckin’ stupid, it’s creating a liability issue for them. OF COURSE they’re going to come up and kick you off. Don’t whine at them for protecting their interests!

Fourth: Wanna know a good way to look at the stars? TURN OFF YOUR GODDAMN FLASHLIGHTS.

So the rancher chased the Hillwalkers off, and Sam went to talk to the rancher for a bit. From Sam’s buddy, I learned some of the other ranchers up and down the valley had opened their land for eclipse camping, for a charge– they had stopped and talked to one on the drive down, but turned down her offer– $75/head to camp in her field, no meals included ($225 for his car alone). He didn’t clarify whether bathrooms were part of that deal. One hopes they were, or those ranchers are cleaning up a lot of shit this weekend. He told me the rancher claimed it was $50/ head last year, and he’d be lucky to find it cheaper anywhere else that night. We had a good chuckle over that, as the camping by the river was free (except for those who lingered– after the eclipse, we drove about three miles down to a rest area, then turned around to head home. As we passed the area we’d so recently camped, John noted there were park rangers descending on malingerers, apparently ticketing them).

I just don’t get it. That wasn’t even a dedicated camping area– it was a special allowance, next to private land. It was a special occasion. When you’ve got a situation like that– a special allowance, a large, crowded camping area, a mix people/ families of all ages and types– what kind of special, selfish, self-centered, dickish jerk d’ya have to be to think any of that behavior is appropriate? Trespassing, unskilled instrument playing, hollering through the hills, shining high-powered flashlights at one another (and incidentally into the tents of other campers)? There are people trying to sleep. There are kids. There are babies. Why? Why do people do that?

This is a general gripe I have about car camping. There’s always one group of people at car camping/ drive-up tent site (usually in their 20s) who act like being loud, rowdy assholes is totally appropriate for the venue, even though the majority of people there are families or youth groups trying to quietly enjoy nature, or exhausted travelers trying to bunk down on the cheap.

I honestly wish there was an “asshole” section of campsites these entitled dickweeds could be funneled off to, where they could be noisy and assholish and shine their lights at each other without bothering the rest of the campers, I swear to gods.

 

August 21, 2017: Totality

Our plans were up in the air until, pretty much, earlier this month. I’d picked up some eclipse glasses handed out at Obee Credit Union on a whim, but my husband wasn’t sure he’d get time off work. Then things worked out that he had excess vacation to be used up, and was scheduled for a week off starting 8/20/2017. Of course we had no way to get lodging, but with the path of the totality within driving distance, we packed up our camping stuff, kid, and dogs, and headed out.

We camped by John Day River in Oregon, just outside of Umatilla National Forest; a spot my husband chose specifically because it’s so rural, with patchy to non-existent cell/ GPS service. We figured the long-term planners probably aimed for lodging in the cities, and dispersed camping in the open spaces of the national forest outside the totality would give us the chance to drive down the next morning (about an hour) into the totality range.

We ended up scrapping that plan Sunday night, after we drove into the totality region to check out the rest stop we planned to watch it at. Well, it was marked as a rest stop in the atlas, but it was actually a John Day National Park ranger station. Just before the ranger station, where the John Day river wound along the right side of the road and private ranchlands carved off into the hills on the left, there were cars and RV’s parked along the pull-off by the river, with room still to park. I don’t think it’s normally a camping area (maybe, possibly, for dispersed camping, but not in those numbers), but an exception was being made for the eclipse. Park rangers and state officers drove by occasionally, keeping an eye on the ad-hoc campsite, but weren’t disrupting the activity, so we decided to skip the morning traffic and just camp there for the night.

John Day River

Our GPS coordinates: 44.620142, -119.637936

I’m glad we did– we were awakened around 5 a.m. by a steady stream of traffic streaming by as people who either lived or camped right outside the totality drove past, and we were in no rush to fix breakfast, clean up our campsite or pack our car as we waited for the totality. Laziness ftw!

The other cool thing about camping out there was the unexpected camaraderie. We met some cool people, our “eclipse buddies,” and had some good conversations– even ended up exchanging contact info. To one side, we had campers who ride motorcycle and run a skeptic podcast, so we had a lot of fun conversations, and to the other side was a super cool software developer with a lot of interesting travel stories and excellent taste in books (he was reading Freakonomics). I didn’t think to ask if it was okay if I used their names, so they’re getting assigned pseudonyms: Skeptic Sam and Software Dev Taylor.

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The heat was pressing, down there in the valley– about 92 degrees when we arrived, just a little before 6 pm. It didn’t seem to abate much over the next few hours. My husband and I often joke that I’m like a lizard, or a vampire or an ice queen– it’s as thought I don’t produce my own body heat, but instead lounge around on warm, sunny rocks and curl up against sources of heat to soak up warmth. John, on the other hand? He’s like a werewolf or minor god of the forge; all hot-blooded mammalian heat-source with fire in his veins and sweat at his brow. So, obviously, I was fine, but my husband was in a little more discomfort. He spent quite a bit of time splashing about in the water with the dogs, and gawked in disbelief when I shrugged on a long-sleeved shirt and flannel pj pants as full dark came on. He also found a praying mantis!

Full dark in the desert comes with a star-strewn sky; the type of sky I’ve seen only once before, when I was 17 and on a camping trip/ trek for church. The Milky Way splashed a bright path across the sky, and constellations that are easy to pick out in the city, where all the others stars are drowned by light pollution, take a longer moment to locate in the vast dark blanket of a sky shimmering with an unimaginable expanse of glimmering points of light. It was breathtaking. I do not, unfortunately, take any photographs, but a google search produced this excellent (if slightly more colorful) example from @Joe Parks on Flickr:

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Some of the campers– about 10-15 sucky ones– trespassed on the private property nearby, and the rancher came by to yell at that them, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post (at my husband’s suggestion). The arrival of the ATV and raised voices of the rancher and the hillwalkers drifting over the campsite spurred me out of my tent to see what the situation was, and I ended up talking to Sam for a while under the last, trailing meteors of the Pleiades as they arced here and there in conversational punctuation across the blue-black sky. We finally ending up heading to our camps around 9 or 10 p.m., and I guess it must have been between 3:30 or 4 a.m. when I woke with a powerful need to pee. The sky was lighter at that point– hard to describe.

It was still clearly night, and it wasn’t the dawning glow of warmth that precedes sunrise, or the cool silver wash of moonlight. The moon hadn’t risen yet, apparently (Google tells me moonrise was at 5:55 a.m. at that location), but it was definitely noticeably lighter. Google search, again, provides an approximation of the experience, thanks to the talents of a photographer by the name of Brian Pasko:

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When I’d gone to bed a few hours earlier, I’d had to use a camper lantern simply to pick my way across the flat 10-12′ of even ground from Sam’s vehicle to our tent in the velvety blue-black night, but by 3 a.m., the brilliant silvery-azure sky and starlight alone provided more than enough light to make my way along much more treacherous paths.

I went back to bed, but slept uneasily, only drowsing, and got up around 5:30 a.m. It had cooled down to about 53 degrees overnight, and we had to wait for the sun to get over the hills for things to start warming up– it got up to about 76 degrees before the eclipse, I think? By then, it was getting fairly warm, even for me. I’d shucked off my jacket, then my sweatshirt and long-john shirt one by one, and was in my tank top by 9:30 a.m.

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I looked for a pic of me on the trip to put in here (or failing that, another of John or even the Kid), and found we’d only taken nature photos. So, um. Enjoy this artistic rendering of me in a tank top.

We saw the first nock in the upper edge of the sun about 10:05, 10:06 a.m., PST. Just a tiny little subtle dent, heralded by shouts and exclamations up and down the river as campers in newly-minted friendships called the news from one to another. My husband had a camera on a tripod with a remote, while Sam was recording his own video, presumably for his skeptic podcast.

My son, myself, and Taylor left the recordings up to them, and focused on experiencing the experience. I did try a few pictures/ video on my cellphone, but uh … yeah. I suck at photography. I had no idea what ISO even was, or what I should set it at — see example:

So, I’ll settle for trying to describe it instead. It was pretty amazing. I actually want to travel to Canada or Mexico in 2024 in order to be within the path of totality for that eclipse, because there are certain things I wanted to be on the lookout for just around totality, but everything happened so fast, and I was so focused on the actual eclipse, I forgot to watch for them.

I’ll add a quick note: Taylor’s eclipse glasses had been printed with a warning not to look at the eclipse, even with the glasses for longer than 3 minutes, but ours had no such warning. Part of me was inclined to discount the warning (especially as he’d been worrying aloud about the efficacy of his Amazon-purchased glasses)– I wanted to believe the 3-minute warning might have been added as a self-preservation measure by one of the notorious scammers– but, then again, it sounds pretty common-sense, and I’d read an article about the history of eclipse glasses and retinopathy on the drive down which mentioned something about how we’re normally protected from sun-damage because our eyes start to water/ hurt when we stare directly at the sun for too long, and I vaguely recalled something about sun damage being caused within 2 minutes on the naked eye, so I was also inclined to err on the side of caution.

Despite all that, I found it difficult to tear my eyes away from the fascinating progress, and I do have a slight headache today (but no vision spots, so fingers crossed I’m okay).

So. As the moon crept across the sun the temperature began to noticeably drop. By 10:15 a.m, the sun was half-covered; a thinning crescent flame the inverse of our familiar new moon, and our shadows stretched long, fat, and fuzzy on the ground.

Confused night birds began their trilling cries, while the frogs and crickets who had chirped a twilight lullaby along the river at dusk the previous night began to falteringly take up the chorus once again. Taylor observed that he could see why, in eras past, people thought an eclipse was the sign of angry gods– the calling wildlife, the sudden chill in the air, the abruptly darkened sun. It is indeed eerie, and I have no doubt the vast swathes of population stricken with blindness didn’t help matters, either.

A swift and sudden gloaming descended with totality as the moon covered the sun completely, leaving only the platinum-white brightness of the ring around the darkness, and an eerie flat greyness of dusk-not-dusk/ night-not-night down here below that stole the daylight and flattened the landscape in an unearthly way.

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© J. Dresow

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© J. Dresow

I took off my eclipse glasses to look at the totality naked-eyed (the only time it’s safe to do so), flanked by my husband and son and new-made friends, as cries of delight and stunned exclamation echoed in my ears from up and down the river– a community of strangers brought together by this rarity of experience, wedded by that ring in the sky.

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© J. Dresow

The moon began to slip, sun breaking dazzling free in a diamond prism of light, and I turned away, putting my eclipse glasses back on (perhaps a half-second too late– that might be the source of my headache).

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© J. Dresow

And that was it.

We exchanged contact information with our new friends and said our goodbyes. Jokingly promised to see each other in Mexico in 2024, and went our separate ways.

It was … amazing. Exhilarating. Beautiful. Stunning. Indescribable, and something that pictures and video cannot really capture. It has to be experienced– the temperature drop, the animals, the feel of community (however temporary), the buzzing excitement in the air, the racing shadows, the changing scents on the breeze– it’s just something that has to be experienced. 

John and I talked about that on the drive home; how as beautiful and stunning as the photographs are, there is simply no substitute for the experience of it.

It reminded me of my first experience of a warm ocean– I’ve grown up in Washington, with the cold Pacific ocean. I’ve seen photographs of Hawai’i, and people have told me the ocean there was as warm as bathwater, but even though I intellectually understand the words they were saying, I didn’t viscerally “get it,” until I went to Hawai’i and actually fucking experienced it.

Some things, you just have to experience to really understand. You can tell people who’ve lived in the city their entire lives about what light pollution does to the night sky until you’re blue in the face; show them photographs in an album and try to express it– but there’s no replacement for the horizon-to-horizon cap of a true-dark night lit up with the brilliance of the Milky Way. There’s no replacement for experiencing the totality. We have too many senses to try and replace such an experience with a mere video or photograph– it’s far more than just that.

It is so much more.

Read This: Another Side Of The Evergreen State College Story | HuffPost

There’s a great piece about the Evergreen State College situation up on Huffpost– a site I normally wouldn’t recommend due to their payment practices— but this is a valuable and necessary perspective that’s not, unfortunately, being covered widely or in depth.

I read another excellent post the other day on tolerance being a peace treaty, not a moral absolute, because tolerance is about respecting others beliefs even when you disagree with them– but respect (tolerance) does not require one to sacrifice their own safety, security, and freedoms because someone else wants to silence them. Or, as my dad used to say (a saying I was gleeful to see the blog author incorporate), “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

To equate the attempts of anti-bigots (LGBT, POC, feminists, progressives, etc) to protect and/ or gain safety, security, and freedom of movement to the attempts of bigots to remove and restrict said rights is not a lack of tolerance; it is an attempt to enforce the peace treaty of tolerance we call the Bill of Rights.

Find it kinda something (GOT s7e2 spoilers)

So that episode where Euron attacked Greyjoy Ironborn fleet and took Yara prisoner, then taunted Theon to save his sister and Theon jumped over the rail?

That was … interesting to me.

Recently I read something which summed up the debate of whether GOT is feminist or not as the result of inherent contradictions between the author of the source material– who explicitly identifies as feminist– and the showrunners, who have been equally clear about their lack of concern for feminism. This is how consensual-yet-icky-and-morally-ambiguous book sex scenes get translated, onscreen, to what is unambiguously non-consensual, icky, and morally grotesque. The showrunners lost the nuance and motives of the women involved, and presented them as objects of shock value and titillation.

This is an interesting theory to me, and one I tend to agree with. I’ve heard the arguments that the source material itself is sexist, and personally I disagree. I’ve never gotten that vibe from it, even when I go back and read specifically cited passages. (Legend of the Seeker— now that’s some disturbingly sexist source material, like wtf dude).

Anyway, I thought of the author-vs-showrunners thing with the whole Euron-Yara-Theon face-off, because at this point we’re pretty firmly into showrunner territory– there’s no (known) source material to refer to.

Why does that matter? Because Yara believed in Theon. She always has. The backstory– show and book– makes it clear that Yara has always defended her brother’s right to return to the Ironborn. That she resisted him being fostered to Winterfell, that she fought to launch rescue missions when their father gave him up for lost, and that she believed he could recover even from the trauma and torture that made him Reek.

Yara’s support of Theon is a large part of his recovery from Reek to Theon, warrior of the Ironborn. And off all the Ironborn– against all doubts– Yara chose her brother as her bodyguard.

Now, yes– some of Yara’s behavior around Theon is less than kind or considerate. But personally, I didn’t read her sexual antics as the unmitigated cruelty most people were interpreting them as.

At first I did, don’t get me wrong. I mean, it’s pretty gross that she’s openly and obviously engaging in foreplay in front of her brother, and looking at him with those smirks that are hard to read as anything but taunting– until it occurred to me that Yara is basically presenting herself as a cock-less man. She drinks and swears and sails and fights and fucks alongside her men– same ale, same seas, same battles, and same brothels.

She wasn’t taunting Theon; she was trying to show him you don’t need a cock to fuck women. He’s moping around feeling like he’s half a man because he’s got no cock, and Yara’s trying to show him it’s not the cock makes the man, its the action.

Grey Worm could teach him a lesson or two.

In any case, the damaged pieces of Theon seemed to be going back together, and it looked like Yara’s faith was well placed.

And then Euron attacked, and took Yara prisoner. Dared Theon–her make bodyguard– to rescue his sister (suddenly, with a knife at her throat, a damsel in distress)– and Yara’s face visibly collapsed in disappointment as Theon flung himself overboard rather than face a threat.

They both survived into Ep3, with Theon rescued by the surviving Ironborn and Yara a prisoner of her uncle. I was surprised about that. Yara seems more the type who would go down fighting, and while Ep3 explained the other two captives of that raid, thus far there’s really no explanation for Yara to be alive.

I suspect Theon may have yet another opportunity to redeem himself– maybe in an echo of Yara’s long ago foiled attempt to rescue Reek. But since this is GoT, even if he attempts a rescue, I doubt it will go well. I think Theon had his last opportunity to be a hero, and failed. And the moment Yara looked to a man to return her support was the moment she was doomed.

Discoveries and losses

At Unbook Club, they wrap things up with a “lightning round,” question; a question about books and/ or reading meant to be answered in 10 seconds or less. This month, the lightning round question was, “Are you a book-skipper (do you ever skip to the end of the book)?”

As the question went around the table and people reacted to the answers, I was honestly pretty baffled at the level of (friendly/ faux) outrage expressed toward anyone who copped to being a book skipper. The outrage was heated enough that it extended even to the action of picking up a book in the bookstore/ library, reading a few lines on the first page and then flipping to the middle and back sections to repeat the action.

Now, to me that’s perfectly logical– sampling the author’s voice, and making sure it stays consistent. But, uh … yeah. The mood of the room was less, “oh, totally normal behavior,” and more, “flailing in shock at the very idea.”

It was weird. I was a little weirded out.

The book-skipping, thing, too– there were about 20 people there that night, and maybe 3 copped to being book skippers. There might have been more, but the playfully loud outrage and booing down of self-admitted book skippers may have silenced a few, I dunno. Funnily enough, they assumed I was not a book-skipper, but by the time they got around to me I was starting to suspect the issue was definitional, because I always have considered myself a book skipper. I thought everyone was.

So I went home and messaged all my friends:

Hey, when I ask, “Do you ever skip to the end of the book?” How do you define the action, “skip to the end,” when reading? Do you think:

A: Hold spot on page, flip to final page and read, return to spot and finish book as normal

or

B: Literally skip large chunks of text/ entire chapters in order to read the finale

One by one, they responded, sorting themselves into Group A or Group B, and explaining their reasoning. This is what I figured out:

Group A (of which I’m a part) cited narrative tension or concern for a character– usually while reading a less-favored genre (for me, mysteries) in skipping/ peeking– they also copped to turning to Google/ Wikipedia/ tv tropes when watching certain types of films or TV shows. Mainly, it’s a release valve for tension– we still enjoy the story, but sometimes we want (controlled) spoilers. Group A readers were unconcerned about the idea of skipping ahead in books, and didn’t see why it would be a problem (since you’re returning to the original spot and finishing the whole thing). Group A readers also stated that when they are bored with/ over/ done with a book they haven’t finished, they either finish it as normal anyway (because they can’t stop reading a book once they’ve started), or they simply quit the book and forget about it, because at that point they don’t care about the ending.

The majority of my friends fell into Group A, by the way. Like two of them selected the Group B definition. But! Most of Unbook Club was Group B, so I did get a pretty good selection for their reasoning/ thought process as well.

Group B, apparently, overall frowns on book skipping as a behavior (which kind of makes sense when you consider how they’re defining it), but about 1/3 of the Group B readers did admit they have occasionally book-skipped, but “only when a book is really boring and they’re totally over it.”

This kind of blows my mind, because why not just put it down?

So that was my discovery! There are two types of book-skippers (possibly more) and (at least in my circle of acquaintances) none of us had any clue the others existed.

So all this time, whenever I’ve said, “So I skipped to the back of the book,” there’s a certain subset of readers who knew what I meant, and a certain subset who were outraged at my callous disregard for literature. Interesting, huh?

On the loss front, I have to say a fond farewell to John’s Mountain Home Bakery.

This little family owned bakery next to the US Post Office was a staple of my childhood– I grew up riding my bike down the street to buy cream filled 50-cent Bismarck and 25-cent icebox cookies at the bakery, and my best friend and I would sit out on the giant, oversized rock out front to eat our treats and laze in the summer sun.

I rediscovered the bakery when we moved back to town 6 years ago– the rock was gone, but the icebox cookies and Bismarcks remained– plus, with the expanded palate of adulthood, I could now appreciate their bear claws, apple crullers, and cheese danishes. Mmmm-mmmm.

I’d take my son and his friends there as a treat on the way to or from the lake, or stop in as I dropped off a package at the post office, or went through that side of town. It was great to have a little unchanged slice of childhood, waiting in the familiar square of an icebox cookie, behind the familiar windowpanes of the store I grew up visiting.

But now it’s gone. Last time I swung by the Post Office, the counters behind the big picture windows were empty; the lights all off. The sign over the door with the cut-out of a mountain was absent, and a “For Sale” sign sat in one window corner.

Farewell, John’s Mountain Home Bakery. I loved your icebox cookies.

decline in birthrate likely due to UNfriendly family policies

This articleWe’re having fewer babies. Could that kill the economy? popped up in my FB feed through The Olympian, apparently originally in the The Washington Post. It seems the US birthrate has been dropping a little every year, and the provisional 2016 population data released by the CDC showed the number of births had fallen 1 percent from the previous year, which brought the general fertility rate to 62 births per 1,000 women (15-44 years of age).

It seems this matters because a country’s birthrate is one of the most important measures of demographic health. It’s a number that needs to be within a specific range that will keep the population stable (neither growing or shrinking), a range known as the “replacement level.” If the birthrate is higher or lower than this sweet spot, there are problems.

Too high of a birthrate, and a country’s resources will be strained– they won’t have enough clean water, food, shelter, or social service programs to serve all their citizens/ residents (India is cited as an example, with the article noting that although their fertility rate has fallen over the last few decades, it still remains high).

Too low of a birthrate presents other dangers: not enough tax revenue to keep the economy stable (an even more pressing concern in light of current US actions re immigration), as well as the danger of being unable to replace an aging workforce. According to the article, countries which have typically faced low birthrates have implemented pro-family policies in an attempt to encourage couples to have children.

It seems the trend is driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings– apparently the birthrate for older women (in their 30s and 40s) increased, but not enough to make up for the drop in teens and 20-somethings, and now experts are wondering if this is a temporary problem that will soon level off, or the makings of a national emergency.

Personally, I think it’s option B. Like Donna Strobino, the professor of population, family and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health quoted in the article, I agree that the fall in birthrates in teens is desirable and good– nothing to complain about. I disagree with her assessment that the highest birthrates now falling among women 25 to 34 years of age are a result of women becoming more educated and mature. Personally, I think it’s family-unfriendly policies.

Bear with me.

See, maturity is relative. What people mean by “maturity” changes according to their culture and values. In Promises I Can Keep, Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas noted that socioeconomic status played a large role in determining when someone became an “adulthood.” For women of lower socioeconomic status/ fewer opportunities, motherhood was the litmus test. For women of higher socioeconomic status/ more opportunities, it was things like graduating college/ first job/ first apartment.

Growing up mormon (and middle class), I was simultaneously taught to value and seek after an education, but also that my duty to god and the church was family above all– even at the sacrifice of an education and/ or career. So when I eschewed the opportunity to continue college at the age of 21 to get married, that (within my specific cultural boundaries/ values) was an acceptable and “mature” decision.

In the early years of marriage, when I attended church services and activities with my young infant, I was treated as a peer– as an adult. I never felt ostracized or stupid or “less than,” for my decision. If anything, I felt vaguely like an “outsider” because I was on the fence about having a second child, even as I was constantly questioned about when we would be having our next while I was still nursing the first.

What’s been interesting to me over the last 15 years is the complete juxtaposition of my experience in religious spaces and secular spaces as a young mother– at church, as noted, I was treated with respect, as a mature individual who, by dint of marriage and motherhood, had crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood.

But in non-mormon and secular circles, I’ve had an entirely different and much less comfortable experience. When my son was a toddler in the early 00’s and I attempted to join local secular playdate groups, I was discomfited to find I was the youngest mom (and wife) present, by anywhere from 5-10 years. When I started cloth diapering him and joined online “granola mom” forums to trade tips, toys, and diapers, I quickly learned to obscure my age– the other moms were in their late 20s at the youngest, but more often mid-30s to early 40s; many of them first-time moms like myself, just a decade or more older.

When I was 27, I enrolled at the local community college as a late-start student. They had a free daycare program, and every hour my son (then 5) attended was half a family education credit for me. It was like pre-school that I not only didn’t have to pay for, I actually got college credits for! How great, right? The only mild awkwardness was that when I waited in the drop-off or pick-up line, the other mothers ranged from 17-20 in age. Its funny, because you would think the commonality of parenthood would erase all other differences, but it doesn’t, really– even if you want it to. We would make assumptions about each others’ situations which would lead to stilted, limping conversations– for instance, they would assume I was single and there was no dad in the picture; and I would assume they knew who the father of their baby was, or was on speaking terms with him. There, at least, I was recognized as a mother, though. Not so much on campus. In my campus classes, without a baby on my hip, people assumed I was just another late-start student. There were plenty of people in their mid-20’s attending the community college, and most people assumed I was a few years younger than I was. In one sense this was freeing; in another insulting.

People say the most appalling, presumptive things about young parents when they think there are no young parents around. And when they learn you are (or were) a young parent, oftentimes their shock and surprise negates any circumspection– most made it clear they assumed I had been a teenage mom forced into a shotgun marriage, and were (somewhat insultingly) surprised when I gently corrected them. That’s the secular cultural narrative of young mothers– lack of agency, lack of education, and a series of compounding mistakes.

Later, when I enrolled at Evergreen for my undergrad, I ran into many of the same assumptions again. Not from everyone, no– but from enough people that something occurred almost every time I went on campus.

I had a professor call me privileged because I informed her I was leaving class early because my son missed his bus home and texted me asking for a ride.

I had a professor insist that the increasing birthrate was a sign of better education and increasing maturity in women, and uncategorically state that any woman who had a child before the age of 30 was ruining her life– with myself and a 23 year old pregnant student in her class.

I had a classmate, upon meeting my then-11-yr old son, ask if I was ‘like 17’ when I had him.

I had a classmate insist that having a child in your early 20’s would “ruin your life,” because it would “stop you from ever being able to go on vacation or anything,” which was news to me. She argued it was preferable to get a dog, as dogs are less care-intensive, and I had to laugh– at least when my son was an infant and toddler (and I’m pretty sure as of this writing), nearly all public spaces accommodate human babies (often at reduced fares), which is not the case with animals. My son, I’ve been able to take on flights and long drives, in restaurants and to amusement parks, to museums and fairs and shopping and other sundry activities. My dogs? Yeah, not so much. I pretty much always have to figure out an animal sitter for them, or pay extra to bring them along.

The thing is, becoming a mother (ie, parent) in one’s 20s isn’t the problem here– it doesn’t indicate less or more maturity or education. What it indicates is that women don’t have the support structures that men have had for centuries.

Think about it: Men, for centuries, have been fathering children in their 20s and then popping off to school and/ or work to grow their careers, while the children stay with the mothers. Perhaps the father is married to the women and involved as parent; perhaps he just impregnated her and popped off unconcerned. Regardless, the weight of it didn’t fall to him– managing the pregnancy, the health of self/ baby, preparations for the new life, feeding and bathing and diapering– so he was free to focus on school and career.

And now women can focus on school and careers, and so they do– of course they do! Who wouldn’t? I mean, it’s fucking amazing! I’m not knocking education or careers at all, don’t get me wrong.

I’m just saying, for centuries, it wasn’t an “either/ or” choice for men. It wasn’t, “Look, dude, you can either get your education and build an amazing career or be a dad. One or the other. You can’t have it all. You want both, you gotta go education first, then focus on your career, then get married, then get a place, and then– maaaaybe— by your mid-30’s you’ll be set to start with the whole procreation thing. But you gotta give up your career once you start with the babies, for real, because childcare costs are a bitch.”

No, for centuries (and, generally speaking, even today), men can pretty much jump into it, woman willing– regardless of where he is on the education/ career/ income spectrum– and it’s still (generally speaking) socially acceptable for men to pick and choose how involved or un-involved of a parent they’ll be. A dad is still gushingly praised as “such a good dad,” and, “so involved!” for doing run-of-the-mill parenting duties like changing a diaper or handling a feeding or burping a baby. It’s like, uh, wow, being a little condescending to the poor guy, aren’tcha? Cause that’s just … being a parent, right there. Yep. Basic parenting. Clothing, feeding, caring for child. Basic.

So why are women putting off having children? Because, as a society, we’re not supportive of families. I’m not pointing the finger at men here, btw– this impacts families as a whole, fathers and mothers. I’m pointing out that, historically, men benefited from the childcare setup that allowed them freedom of movement and expected women (and their extended families of single female relatives– which is another aspect of historical childcare no longer accessible to most modern families) to handle the childcare, and when as a society, we provided women access to the same freedom of movement available to men (suffrage, education, employment), we didn’t account for childcare.

So now women, like men, can go to college. Women, like men, can work. Women, like men, can run companies. Women, like men, can vote. Women, like men, can influence public policy and become political leaders. Women, like men, have the right to leave relationships that aren’t working for them. Women, like men, can drive, own bank accounts, and apply for/ be approved for credits, loans, and mortgages without needing a spouse– and all this is fucking great! Talk about progress! Yes! Absolutely! Keep it coming!

But, unlike men, women cannot count on the presence– with nearly 100 percent certainty– on a free, round-the-clock childcare provider, should they choose to have a child. It doesn’t matter if they’re 22, 32, or 42. It doesn’t matter if they’re single or married. It doesn’t matter if they’re poor or rich.

Women can’t rely on someone else handling that shit. Men, overwhelmingly, can.

So yeah, obviously women are going to delay having children, because there’s nowhere else to spread the load. Despite the cries of MRAers, no-one wants men to lose their access to education and career growth– this isn’t a situation of, “Well, you got a free ride on childcare for 1,000 years, so we get the next 1,000 years. Time to get repressed, boys!”

No, this is a situation that calls for truly family-friendly policies that will benefit the entire family, like:

  • Accessible nationalized childcare for the first 2 children (reduced cost for more than 2);
  • Expanding WIC and lengthening the eligibility range (instead of pregnancy to 1 year, why not pregnancy through first 5?– but only for the first 2 children)
  • Baby boxes (for the first 2 children)
  • Free nationalized college and increased focus on non-college career training
  • Re-considering the child tax credit (instead of $1,000 per child, it should be something like $2,500 for 1st child, $1,500 for 2nd kid, and $150 or even $0 for every child thereafter– a formula that specifically rewards/ encourages replacement level birthrates).

I’m certain that policies such as these would raise the birthrate, benefit the entire family, and boost the economy. Policies like these would benefit both genders, because the ability to access nationalized daycare and low-cost early-life childcare necessities would give men a stronger position at the custody bargaining table– historically, men’s over-reliance on women as childcare providers have meant they’ve been forced to choose between ceding custody (childcare) or figuring out how to balance the demands of childcare and career. With a nationalized childcare program, that gender imbalance would be addressed: Men would have the freedom to choose to retain/ fight for custody of their children if they believed their exes were poor parents, knowing they had access to accessible childcare and low-cost care provisions; just as women would gain the previously-unaccessed freedom to pursue educations and careers alongside parenthood.

Affordable, accessible, nationalized childcare: Will bring jobs and increase overall education opportunities.

  • Building/ setting up childcare centers (construction jobs)
  • Training and certifying childcare providers (education and certification jobs)
  • Hiring and vetting said providers (HR and background certification jobs)
  • Childcare provider positions
  • Parents now free to pursue employment (in the public or private sector) and/ or education, without concern for costs of childcare.

The key, of course, is paying an income high enough to bring in people who are skilled and trustworthy, which (upon being paid) would be circulated back into the economy through their purchases.

Starting a Baby box program, expanding WIC, and lengthening the child eligibility age: Will create federal, management, production, supply, shipping, and retail jobs, and increase overall education opportunities.

  • Creating a baby box program would require an entirely new department necessitating federal employees, as well as private/ retail contracts.
  • Expanding the WIC program and child eligibility age will require more positions to be filled by federal employees, as well as increased private/ retail contracts.
  • The reduced costs on individual families for their first two children will combine with the nationalized childcare to incentivize focusing on education and/ or career growth, which in turn will allow families to spend their increased incomes and grow the economy.

Nationalized college: A perk for everyone. Nationalizing college education costs would take a huge student debt weight off young parents and families, and ease concerns about how to pay for their children’s tuition when they haven’t even paid off their own. It would reduce the pressure of college and allow people to pursue it at their own pace, when it’s most beneficial to them and their career– some 18 year olds just aren’t cut out for college, and some students get a lot more from higher education after they’ve spent a few years in the workforce.

If the USA had a nationalized college program/ vocational career training, nationalized daycare, and an extended WIC program that reduced the initial costs of childrearing, imagine how different the years right after high school might look: Students graduate from high school, and the brightest and most academically driven continue straight on to college. They could marry and start families as they study, or right after graduation, without fear of the educational, financial, and career repercussions. By the time they’re in their 40s, their kids are graduating, and the parents are young and healthy and hale enough to enjoy their retirement– and their grandkids, when they come.

Those who aren’t academically driven — the middle/ low-end range of the class, who futzed around and paid little attention– don’t have to be herded into college before they’re ready– they can pursue vocational training and the usual related employments. If they happen to get married and/ or have kids, it’s not a life-ruining choice– they can still build a career, even go back to college and acquire a degree if they want.

All these policies together would mean that, as a culture, we could lose this ridiculous insistence we currently have on trying to get 6th graders to decide on their future degree/ career path. Sixth graders! Those kids are 11 years old! They’re trying to get 11 year olds to think about their college goals! It was bad enough in 1994, when they were telling us freshmen in high school to decide what our college goals were– now it’s 6th graders! Dude, I don’t think I ever landed on a ‘college degree path,’ and I have a BA!

Best case scenario, the restaurant, retail, and domestic labor sectors will be unionized/ brought up to a living wage– but even if they aren’t, just providing access to nationalized childcare, reducing early-years child-rearing costs, increasing the child-care tax credit, and providing no-string-attached nationalized higher education would be life-changing to thousands of lower-income people in their 20s across the USA. An entire generation would suddenly find opportunities accessible to them which were previously undreamed of, and the so-called American Dream once again a reality.

Finally, re-considering the child tax credit: Right now it’s a paltry $1,000, and that’s for every kid– essentially, the way it’s set up is that it doesn’t really incentivize the average person who’s considering parenthood (it’s like a nonissue when considering child #1, a conversation that goes something like, “Well, we’d get a child tax credit!” “Ha, right. What, like $1,000 a year? We could save that by not having a kid.”), but it’s great for, like, mormons or Catholics or those Quiverfull cult people– the ones who have so many kids they just set the oldest to watching the youngest for their free in-home childcare while the mom manages all the householdy shit.

Those types of families can get $4,000- $15,000 in annual tax credits (think I’m kidding? The Duggars, at one point, had 15 kids born between 11/4/1992 and 12/10/2009– which means for at least one tax year, they could claim 15 dependant kids under the age of 17, ie $15,000 in child tax credits. FUCKING HANDY, THAT.). I mean, there is a tipping point where the $1,000 child tax credit starts being worth it, but you gotta be willing to have a shit-ton of kids to get there, and you gotta embrace the lifestyle (a single-income family/ breadwinner, usually the dad, and a full-time stay at home parent, most likely the mom) to get to that point.

I’m just saying, instead of the current system– which does not incentivize replacement-level birthrates, but does reward crazy-cultish-level birthrates–we should revamp the whole child-tax credit structure to something like $2,500 or $5,000 per first kid, and half that for kid #2, and then like may a hundred or so (or nothing!) for kids 3 and 4, and then definitely, absolutely, no child tax credits for more than 4 kids. And, like nationalized daycare should be freely accessible to the first two children registered in a family, but subsidized by in part by (affordable) fees for any subsequent kids registered. Same for WIC and the baby boxes– these are all programs that should be freely and generously provided to the first two children born, but low (affordable) fees should be charged for subsequent children.

Now, obviously, families are different– single parents, married parents, divorce, remarriage, single parents, blended families. So some of the obvious questions are:

  • Would these benefits be available to teen parents?
  • Would they be available to single parents (single moms)?
  • What if Jane has two kids with Fred, and they break-up, and she marries (childless) Joe and has two kids? Do those kids get the benefit under Joe, or lose the benefit because Jane had kids with Fred?
  • What if Jane has a kid with Fred and she breaks up with him and married Joe, who had a kid with Susan, and then Joe and Jane have a kid together– does their child together get the benefit, or lose it because it has two older siblings?

These would (obviously) be questions up for policy debate, but my personal stance is:

  • Would these benefits be available to teen parents? The benefits should kick in at 18, no earlier.
  • Would they be available to single parents (single moms)? Yes, all parents, regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • What if Jane has two kids with Fred, and they break-up, and she marries (childless) Joe and has two kids? Do those kids get the benefit under Joe, or lose the benefit because Jane had kids with Fred? The younger two get the nationalized childcare, WIC, and baby box benefits through Joe, but the child tax credit will be determined based on how custody of Jane and Fred’s kids are split (ie, if the oldest two spend most of the year living with Jane and Joe, and they claim them as dependents on their taxes, they cannot claim the younger two for the higher child tax credit. But if the older two spend most of the year living with Fred, and are claimed as dependents on his taxes, then Jane and Joe can claim the younger two for the higher child tax credit on their taxes). 
  • What if Jane has a kid with Fred and she breaks up with him and married Joe, who had a kid with Susan, and then Joe and Jane have a kid together– does their child together get the benefit, or lose it because it has two older siblings? Similar to above situation– the youngest child is the first of Joe+Jane, and second to both Joe and Jane, which makes it eligible for the nationalized daycare, WIC, and baby box, as well as the 2nd child tax credit. The first child tax credit will be determined according to who claims custody of the older kids and lists them as dependants on their taxes. (If Fred and Susan, respectively, claim primary custody/ dependency of the older two, then Jane and Joe could claim their offspring as a 1st child tax credit). 

I do think it’s important to nudge parents toward a replacement level birthrate, with policies that encourage, reward, and ease the path for 1st and 2nd-time parents, but are less inclusive toward 3rd+ parents. Not punishing or outright outlawing, because we saw what happened in China– but more like, “Eh, sure. You can have that 3rd kid … but heads up, all those perks like free daycare and a sweet baby box and fat child tax credit aren’t gonna be there this time around. The kid is your reward. Enjoy.”

Side note, I also think the IRS should allow up to $500 pet tax credit for a maximum of 2 large pets (dogs, cats, or horses) which have been licensed and registered, because vet bills, food, and housing are expensive, yo. But if you’re found guilty of animal cruelty, you have to repay the credits collected for the lifetime of the pet in question.

 

 

worn down

Recently I reviewed some old blog posts from 2004-2005 (no longer online, but I have a personal archive), and I realized that I don’t really like to dwell on the negative, or blog about it.

This is pretty common, I know– there are no end of thinkpieces about people putting their best foot forward on social media, and not blogging or instagramming or FBing the difficult parts of their lives. A lot of those posts seem to assume this tendency is about “likes,” or online popularity, or embarrassment, or something like that.

I dunno. Maybe sometimes it is. For me, as I re-read those entries from 2004-2005, I find myself surprised at how forcefully cheerful I am– I chatter about sewing, baking bread, church, how much I love my husband and child, and holiday shopping. I recount visits with family, cute things my kid did, and social activities.

What’s interesting to me, reading those entries, is all the things I don’t say. At that time in my life, there was a fair amount of negative, unhappy things happening and a lot of heartache. I was pretty miserable, depressed, and lonely. I was still grieving my mom, yet incredibly angry at her. My husband and I were trying for a second child without any luck, and I was grappling with the reality of secondary infertility. I was furious, too, with my husband– we were in a rough spot in our marriage, and I felt disrespected, isolated, and lonely.

Almost none of this bleeds through in the entries. There are occasional throwaway lines about my disappointment over yet another failed pregnancy test, but the unhappiness of that era is most noticeable, to me, in the absence of mention: there are entries detailing endless fond anecdotes of my child, or my siblings, or my dad, or shopping trips, hobbies, and activities– but little to nothing about my husband or mom.

Mom used to say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

There are long gaps of weeks or months with no entries at all, and then a flurry of chipper entries recounting breathless delights. It actually reminds me of a film I’ve long enjoyed, Just Married. There’s a quote near the end from Tom’s (Ashton Kutcher) dad:

Some days your mother and me loved each other. Other days we had to work at it. You never see the hard days in a photo album… but those are the ones that get you from one happy snapshot to the next. I’m sorry your honeymoon stunk but that’s what you got dealt. Now you gotta work through it. Sarah doesn’t need a guy with a fat wallet to make her happy. I saw how you love this girl. How you two lit each other up. She doesn’t need any more security than that.

I think for me, writing– journaling, blogging, online posting, whatever– has always been a form of memory. Snapshots of life preserved for the future– both for myself, my children, and future generations. I suppose, growing up Mormon, it was inevitable that I would view journaling (and all related forms of autobiographical writing) as archival rather than personal, and have always written with the sense of recording memories. And like the character quoted above says, we don’t preserve unhappy memories– just the good ones. We preserve the ones that help us get through the unhappy times, in hopes the good times will return again.

It’s a self-preservation strategy, I think. A neurological tool by which we as a species, no doubt, deal with the realities of day-to-day hardships. Relationships, friendships, work–life is hard. If you don’t preserve the happy moments and consciously focus on them, prioritize them, it can be easy to get dragged down into a negative mindset where everything is hard and miserable and nothing is worthwhile. Where the only thought in your head is, “Why? Why do I bother? What’s the fucking point?”

Life isn’t happiness and roses. But sometimes, really rarely, it is. And I guess it’s nice to pretend that it can be more often than not.

I swear, it feels like every time I break my personal rule (don’t start a series still in-progress) it’s 11th grade and The Wheel of Time series all over again. I just want closure! I just want the end! 

I know books take a long time to write and it’s hard to force creativity and life is busy and there are all these other commitments eating up their time but I just

want

story 

closure.

I just want to know who wins the Game of Thrones. 

I just want to know if book!Jon Snow survived the stabbening. (I mean, probably yes, obvs, but some written confirmation would be great). 

And while I’m on the topic, Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson are breaking my heart, too. I mean, c’mon, Rothfuss! It was 4 years between Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear, and it’s been six years since with a single novella that isn’t even from Kvothe’s POV, an announcement of a video game and TV show, and NOTHING on the pub date for The Slow Regard of Silent Things? 

Whyyyyyyy?

And Sanderson. Gods. Sanderson. So prolific. So inspiring. It’s reassuring, honestly. I mean, you look at the sheer amount of books and series he’s got published (completed and in progress), and the publication dates– every year, another book or three– and it’s like, oh, it’s safe to start one of his series. This won’t be a decades-long exercise of agonizing, suspended satisfaction.

NOPE. 
I made the idiot mistake of starting The Stormlight Archive, which (like WoT, GoT and TKC) is set in a politically and socially complex world with a large cast of characters. It’s great. It’s meaty and in depth and breathtaking. 

And the first book was published in 2010, the second in 2014, and the third is slated to be published this year (a promise I’ve heard before–I’ll believe it when I see it). 

So in the best case, it’s a 3-4 year wait between books (but they’re getting written and published, so yay!), or, if it’s anything like what happened with Jordan and has been happening with Martin and Rothfuss, it’s pushing back publishing dates, delays, announcing aaallllllllll these other spin off projects, and just … endless waiting. 

And I feel awful for being impatient, I really do. I get that these are humans with lives, not entertainment machines to dance for my pleasure. Rothfuss and Martin have both historically reacted really poorly to expressions of fan impatience, which I do kind of understand– I can’t imagine the pressure of fame and contract. And, I mean, they’ve got all these other projects going on. Plus, I understand at least one of these guys (I think Rothfuss) is actually the stay at home dad to an infant/ toddler, and I know what a distraction that can be. 

But still. At the end of the day … the spin off projects only exist because of the fan base from the original (unfinished) book series. 

I understand success must be a unique frustration and pressure in and of itself, especially for a writer (who, generally speaking, is not like the actor or comedian in seeking the limelight; the writer hides their face behind the page, and sometimes their name behind pseudonyms), but I also think it’s valid for fans who just want story closure to express frustration at the incredibly visible decision (because of the interview circuit and blogging and vlogging and tweeting about it) of authors to dedicate the vast majority of their time and resources to all these other projects.

I mean, it kinda feels like their books aren’t getting completed or published because they’re not getting worked on very often, and their anger at their fans when asked about publication dates is borne (in part) of defensiveness. 

I’m not saying they aren’t getting worked on at all– Rothfuss has posted video of him writing to refute such accusations, and Martin has released sections on his blog. I’ve never thought they just gave up. 

I’m saying it’s more like …  I have a goal of writing 1,500 words a day, 5 days a week. The days John is working. In a good month, that’s 30,000 words. Except I usually write more in the range of 2,500 words on an uninterrupted 5 hr writing day (John works 8 hrs, but Kiddo gets out of school n dinner won’t cook itself), so that’s more like 50k/ words per month. 

Obviously, I’d prefer daily output to bump that up to around 70,000/ month, or almost a complete draft. And if I had the resources (like, say, a best selling series), I would probably make arrangements to sequester myself for one or two months of the year to do exactly that.

But I don’t have those resources. And I do have a lot of demands on my time. Housework, meal prep, subbing, budgeting, research, and high-priority household projects with deadlines (taxes, applications, disputes, etc). And there are only so many hours in a day, and my family wants to spend time with me too, so my average writing output is around 3k a month.

That’s a huge difference. I’m still working on my book, but there’s no world where you can argue I will realistically have a manuscript to submit to a literary agent by 2018 when I’m working at a snails pace of 3k words per month. And that’s the situation I think Martin, Rothfuss, and (to an extent) Sanderson find themselves in. Too many balls in the air, not enough hands to juggle.

The worst part is, I actually have reading guidelines I try to stick to. I started this stupid fluff series in 8th grade that just ended after book 3, no continuation or resolution, and I promised to myself then that I would never read an unfinished series again unless:

  1. Each book can be read as a standalone (eg, Vorkosagan Saga)
  2. It was nearly complete (1 or 2 books away from resolution).
  3. The author has demonstrated publishing consistancy and it’s a really good book.

Even with this, I often bite off more than I want to. The Green Rider series by Kristen Britain? Yeah, when I began reading that, I wasn’t married and it was supposed to be a trilogy. The sixth book was published in 2016, and honestly? Good writing, not a lot of closure. Felt like it was still laying plot lines for another book.

But I was okay with that because I had Harry Potter, and J.K. Rowling met the requirements of Rule 3, and (for the first few installments), Rule 1.

A lot of times when I pick up a book to read, I’m not even looking to “get into” a series. That’s how I got hooked on both the Stormlight Archive and Kingkiller Chronicles. At the time I read the first book in both of those, they were the only one published, and I didn’t realize they were the first books of planned series. 

I only started reading Maas’s Throne of Glass series after quick research reassured me that a) 5 out of 6 books were completed; b) she published on a steady schedule; and c) book 6 was slated to release in 2017. 

GoT, though, that’s all on me. 

In my defense, I started reading it in 2010, with 4 books published and the 5th slated for a 2011 release, after hearing it was originally planned to be a trilogy but ended up with two extra books because the author wrote himself into a Gordian knot. So I thought the series was all but wrapped up, and it wouldn’t be this big emotional cliffhanger of falling in love with a story that won’t commit. 

Should’ve known better. Hate to say it, but male authors, dude. They’re like bad boyfriends. They have the sweetest words, but just keep disappointing you.