Sunday, December 24, 2023

Arthurian Legends - My Readings and Meanderings


Today I finished reading Steven King’s Finder’s Keepers.  One of the things I underlined in my Kindle was when Pete says that Rothstein’s work changed his heart.  I immediately thought of the book that had the biggest impact on me when I was a young reader, The Once and Future King, by T H White.  The book didn’t change my heart, rather, it articulated truths about my core being that opened my heart and showed it to me.


The book made me laugh until I was in pain.  And it made me cry for days.  I could say so many things. 


The Once and Future King, a World War II anti-war novel, is a compilation of five books.


The Sword and the Stone

The Ill Made Knight

The Queen of Air and Darkness

Candle in the Wind

The Book of Merlyn


The books were originally published in the late 1940s.  The Book of Merlyn wasn’t published until the late 1970s.  When The Book of Merlyn came out, I couldn’t believe it!  There was MORE! 


I’ve always thought that, if I were to be given one wish, I would wish that I could flip a switch that would allow me to read a book, see a movie, hear a piece of music for the first time again.  I’ve read many books more than once, but I can never read them again for the first time.  That’s what I want.  I want to read a book for the first time the second time I read it…and the third.  Maybe that’s not such a good thing.  If I could do that, I might only read one book, thus denying myself the pleasure of so many wonderful storytellers. 


I digressed.  I squealed in the bookstore the day The Book of Merlyn came out.  But, after reading it, I had a sense that something was wrong.  The Book of Merlyn tells the story of Merlyn changing Arthur into animals so that he can learn the different ways creatures of the earth govern their societies.  But some of the stories in the Book of Merlyn had already been told at the beginning, in The Sword and the Stone. 


I discovered that parts of the work had been edited out because they were considered too controversial.  So, when the greater work, The Once and Future King, was published in a single volume, The Book of Merlyn was removed.  Some of the endearing animal stories from The Book of Merlyn were placed in The Sword and The Stone.  And parts of the Sword and the Stone were removed, altogether. 


I pieced this together in a T H White meandering.  In the 1980s, when I was a poor college student, I walked past a collector’s bookstore on my way to the bus.  Of course, I went in.  Often.  One day, I found a first edition of The Sword and the Stone.  It still had the flawless original jacket.  I think I got tears in my eyes and paid something like $12.00 for it.  I know we’re supposed to put such treasures in glass-encased bookshelves, to be admired but not touched beyond a mild dusting.  But the book vibrated in my hands, begging to be read.  The book is dogeared now, but it’s still my treasure.  Cringe if you must.


That’s where I discovered Madame Mimm!  And the snake story appears in the original version, that same snake who has such an important role in the final chapters.  So, once again, I had discovered MORE! 


Since then, I have found separate publications of each of the collected works, mostly in libraries.  Each one is worth a separate read.  Each was edited for compilation in The Once and Future King.


White creates characters who spin their own stories, some so comical that I smile just thinking of them, some hapless but never passive, and some profoundly dark.  He throws in little delightful bits, like Arthur speaking with a boy named Tom of Warwick.  I didn’t pick up on it when I read The Once and Future King the first time.  But I caught it in the musical version of Camelot, at the end, Richard Harris as Arthur, speaking to Tom of Warwick, sending him home to tell the tale of Camelot.  Where once it never rained ‘til after sundown…sorry.  Sir Thomas Malory was from Warwickshire. 


The stories of Arthur came from all over, but the first writer that I know of to compile the stories of Arthur was Sir Thomas Malory in the 1200s.  Malory wrote parts of Le Morte d’Arthur from prison.  It was while I was reading Malory that a friend said to me, “If you like that, you have to read The Once and Future King.”  I thoroughly enjoyed Malory.  But I read a prose version of it by Keith Baines.  Very readable.  I love the battle scenes.  They’re hysterically funny.  A knight can be gashed from groin to sternum, steaming guts spilling to the ground, and he’ll pick them up, stuff them back into his belly, wrap himself up and return to battle. 


Malory also included Tristram stories, which are a hoot.  That guy was a total man-whore, who used the excuse, sorry, honey, I thought she was you.  My favorite Tristram story is the one when he rescues one of the Elaines, I can’t remember which one, and Tristram wouldn’t know either.  Elaine is being publicly boiled in a cauldron of oil for some transgression.  Tristram pulls her naked, pink body from the boiling cauldron, saving her life and causing her to fall madly in love with him.  When I say madly, I mean it.  The lady turns out to be quite coocoo in later stories.  But, after the oil incident, she was reportedly pink for days. 


Most college students have been assigned the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I’ve found so many stories like that in second hand bookstores, and they’re like little pieces of candy. 


Next that I know of is Tennison’s epic poem, Mort d’Arthur.  Tennison’s work best told the story of The Lady of Shalot, which has been rendered beautifully in music and painting.  I have a poster of the Waterhouse painting in my dining area. 


White came along in the 1940s.  Steinbeck wrote a compilation of some of the Arthurian stories.  Mark Twain wrote humorous story of a time traveler, who goes back to Arthur’s time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.


I can’t think of any other prominent works about Arthur.  These are just the things I’ve read.  I suppose I could go back to before Malory.  The further back I go, the closer I will get to writings made when the nitty gritty of the stories can be laid bare.   


The stories depict a time in England when Roman Christians were in the process of stamping out paganism and replacing it with Christianity.  The world is populated by witches, who are evil, whose ways must be vilified and annihilated.  The greatest quest of the round table is to find the holy grail.  Knights gain strength from their purity, each sin diminishes them.  Only Galahad, who is without sin, is able to see the grail.  If I go back to before Malory, will I find writings made when people believed these things?  When pagan England was under siege of Roman ideology? When rituals focusing on the lyrical processes of Nature were going underground, to be replaced by a system whose god had martyred his own son.  In place of herbal remedies and midwives, stone edifices were erected to house stories with a focus on white men, their deeds, their battles, their destruction. To find stories written during those times would be a prize. 

Friday, November 24, 2023




Retirement.  How old was I when I started to think about it?  How many years into my career?  Early on, I had great imaginings about what it would be like.  “I’ll travel the world!” I thought, unraveling a mental montage. Standing in front of St. Mark’s in Venice.  Strolling a dusty open market in India.  Playing on the beaches of Cambodia.  Revisiting The Tate, MOMA, Palazzo Borgese.  Walking the Camino de Santiago…at least part of it. 


I’d get in shape, take myself out into the woods for local hikes at least once a week.  I’d walk.  Join a gym with a pool.  Oh, I’d be so busy taking care of myself.  Each day a new adventure. 


But the moon has two sides.  The dark side of the moon returned echoes from an endless cavern.  Will I have enough?  Will I be able to keep my house?  Will I be healthy?  Will I be alone?  Will I die within a year or so like my dad?  I’ve always thought that the health problem that took him was a symptom of a man who was just so tired of it all.  Would I be like that when I retire?  Tired of it all?   


Those were good questions.  But there are others I’ve identified now that I’m about 9 months into retirement.  For example, I had not anticipated what an emotional roller coaster it would be. 


  • The corner turned away from having a generous paycheck and benefit package to relying on Social Security and Medicare.
  • About a year before I retired, I started learning to make jewelry.  Beaded.  Silver.  Copper.  I began taking classes in silver smithing and transformed my carriage house into an art studio. 
  • I opened an official business for my jewelry.
  • Worried about what to do with my 401k. 


With the 401k, I went from:

Never touch it unless it’s an emergency.  New water heater.  New car.  A medical expense.  Emergency dental treatment.  Leave it for that purpose alone.  Don’t touch it unless you have to. 



If I pay myself X a month, the 401k funds will last for X years.  That will give me just enough breathing room to cover my expenses, if I’m careful.  And, surely, my business will begin to kick in a little.


It’s taken nine months, but I’m finally quasi-comfortable with the financial side of things.  I’m going to be okay.  I have adequately provided for myself.  I just can’t live like I was when I was bringing in a couple of paychecks every month, each having been more than my one monthly Social Security allotment. 


Dealing with Social Security and Medicare intimidates me.  They are both, at once, extremely efficient and inefficient at the same time.  When they do something wrong, it takes hours of maneuvering around the  bureaucracy to speak to someone who can address the problem.  Their rules seem random and incomprehensible. 


The details are boring and typical big bureaucracy balderdash.  But I realize now that I haven’t dealt with this kind of bureaucracy since I was in college.  Maybe that’s another thing college taught me.  How to go with the flow of a nasty, rule-ridden, system.   


My memories of the University bureaucracy are of a place where each person behind a desk only holds his one piece of the puzzle.  No one within the bureaucracy can see the whole machine.  So, rather than turning its gears, the student is the one spinning, spinning, gone.  It takes fortitude, courage and a little bit of being the one who goes where angels fear to tread.


Thank god that isn’t the whole of it.  Making jewelry has become a passion.  I do bead work inside the house and silver and copper work out in the shop… or the Nan Cave, as I like to think of it. 


Yes.  I am alone.  But I’ve settled into my aloneness to a place where I am never lonely.  I enjoy my solitude.  I frequently go into a creative zone, where I have so many things to turn to.  Writing.  Just sitting and reading a book.  Working on a challenging bead project.  Going out to the shop and losing myself in the tools and materials I’ve put together.  Sometimes I come out of the zone to realize that it’s after 9PM, darkness dropped on top of me, and I’m famished.  I enjoy long, hot bubble baths and time with my kitties.  I love cooking myself interesting meals.  I’m never bored and am surprised to find that I am usually quite happy. 


A few months ago, I started selling stuff on eBay.  I buy stuff from garage sales and thrift stores.  Then resell it.  I’m still getting the hang of it.  I buy figurines, vases, trinket dishes.  I look for things that make me wonder why someone left this object behind.  I’ve found some wonderful stuff.  I haven’t made much money yet.  I’ve sold a few items, and it always surprises me to see what sells.  But I have a lot to learn about how the world of online retail can serve me.  In the meantime, it’s great fun.  I’ve become a prowler of thrift stores.  I have a pile of stuff acquired but not yet sold, and I refuse to believe that I may be becoming a hoarder.  I will NOT become a hoarder.  NOT.  So, I enjoy some of these things for a while.  Then I let them go. 


So, I have a couple of activities that fulfill two purposes.  These activities are designed to be fun and to bring in a little bit of money.  And, between these two activities, jewelry making and eBay haunting, I am quite busy.


My social life has gotten a little busier, too.  I’m such a recluse.  I resist anything that gets me around people.  But I recognize that I must get out of here a few times a week to be around other people.  I go to one of my two favorite restaurants, places where everyone knows me, where I don’t need to see the menu.  Even when there is little conversation, I feel comforted being in these familiar public places. 


I’ve also done a couple of craft fairs.  Those have been really fun and get me out and around lots of people.  Craft fairs are so good for me. 


Immediately after I retired, I went to that familiar panicky survival mode.  How does one not work?  In the past, I’ve had a lot of lean times when I was between jobs.  Finding a new job was a horror show of putting myself out there, investigating what came back.  Singing back to middle-managers my enthusiasm for being part of a team, solving problems, elevating the structure, when inside feeling like garbage, feeling hopeless, being so full of fear that nothing would come along until it was too late.  When I retired, that’s where I went and stayed for about 2 months.


Then it slowly dawned on me that this was not the same situation I’d been in many times before.  No. Retirement was something entirely different, and the plunge into survival mode fear and despair was not warranted here.  If I wasn’t careful, I might start having thoughts about being tired of it all.  I backed myself out of that groove and started off in a new direction.  And I’m so glad I did, because this road is beautiful and full of surprises. 


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

This Party is for You


I attended a seminar last weekend in my small town of Monroe, Washington, which had the purpose of finding ways to make our community more inclusive.  It’s mighty white here in Monroe…but not really.  We have a large Hispanic population and a small black population, a smattering of Muslims, a growing group from India and an occasional Asian.  But our community events do not include people who aren’t white.  It’s not intentional.  But all of the events are planned by white people.  So, music in the park centers around bands that appeal to old white men.  No one’s going to suggest that we have a dance in the park that plays nothing but songs from James Baldwin’s Spotify list. 


Now, I know that there is racism in this town.  Politically, we’re divided, like everywhere else.  Like everywhere else, the hate faction that has sprung from right-wing politics goes about carrying a bullhorn.  I know that racism exists, that my brothers and sisters who are not white face dangers and challenges that I can only try to imagine.  I know that I go about my life from a place of privilege, without even seeing how privilege manifests itself in my life.  I am not blissful in my ignorance, though.  I want to know, to understand what’s actually happening.


So, this seminar focused on how to build a more inclusive community.  Then, one of the facilitators said something that hit me between the eyes.  She said that the two black women in our community who normally would have co-facilitated this event were not there because they are too afraid to come to the YMCA building.  This seminar, by definition, should have been safe.  The YMCA should be a safe place.  Yet they were too afraid to come and be with us.


I commented on this.  I said that I wanted a better understanding of what these women were dealing with.  Why would they feel unsafe in a room full of women (and one man) who had gathered with the express purpose of fostering inclusion.  The white facilitator told me that she would be happy to take me aside, maybe for coffee, and explain it to me.  But, she said that by even talking with them, I would further victimize them.  By talking to them, I would become a perpetrator of their oppression. 


I don’t know what to do with that.  If my community is that toxic, and I’m not saying it isn’t, what the hell good would it do to have an Hispanic band at a community gathering?  If attending a meeting with the purpose of discussing inclusion is not safe, if entering the YMCA, which publishes its core values as caring, respect, honesty, responsibility, and inclusiveness, is not safe, then why would anyone think that encouraging more ethnic vendors to set up in our farmer’s market is a solution?


I’ve heard many time that it is not any black person’s job to explain it to me.  Indeed, the facilitator pointed out to me my ignorance in this regard, that by even speaking to these women who felt too traumatized to attend this meeting, I would further their battering. 


I don’t know…maybe I am incredibly ignorant, but I think that, before throwing a party for people who don’t trust me, it might be a good idea for us to sit together and get to know one another better.  It might be a good idea to ask our non-white neighbors what they would like.  It’s like we’re changing the menu to appeal to people who would never come to our restaurant, for people whose refined palates we haven’t bothered to become familiar.  It’s all well intentioned.  But, as white people, is it our place to decide what would make them feel more included?  If getting to know them better is considered abuse, then I’m at a loss.  That’s where I get stuck.


So, I turn to the teachers who have spoken out.  Again, I turn to books, movies and art.  But I don’t understand how I can help effect change if I have to cross the street to avoid sharing the sidewalk with someone who finds me a threat because of my color.  I came across this clip of James Baldwin this morning.


Thursday, August 31, 2023

Russia Russia Russia


During her talk on Tuesday, Heather Cox-Richardson posed the question: why are these people going through such gyrations to support an ex-president?  I also wonder this…it can’t be just because they don’t want to lose Trump’s base.  That base just isn’t big enough, IMO, to warrant the amount of energy they are putting into keeping themselves tethered to poor Mr. Trump.  Is it?  I mean, really.  What if they all just said screw it…screw him?  What if they all openly proclaimed that Trump is not their horse anymore?  What if they all stopped tearing down and began working to build us up?  What’s stopping them?


Heather said that she feels like she's missing something.  Well, me too.  At the risk of sounding like a left-wing conspiracy theorist or just a batty old woman, I keep turning to Russia. 


I am convinced that Russian interference put Trump in the White House in 2016.  I just can’t believe that so many Americans were manipulated into voting for him to give him such a sweeping victory.  To believe that his win was legitimate would mean that I would have to realize that this is NOT my country, that the majority of the people here are some combination of stupid, hateful and violent.    


Then in 2019, Mitch McConnell was nicknamed Moscow Mitch when he blocked two House-approved measures to protect elections, despite warnings that Russia intended to meddle in the 2020 race.  This was also about the time when the clown car of MAGA goons started really pumping up the volume. 


The actions of Congress members in this group are so anti-American and so autocratic-leaning I can’t come to any other conclusion than to believe that Russia has infiltrated at least 2 branches of our federal government.


When Trump was just entering the stage, Putin must have been ecstatic.  What a perfect stooge to further his efforts to topple us.  All Putin had to do to control the guy was to flatter him.  So, Russia lost control of the Executive Branch in 2020, but, with the help of our Congress and a few Supreme Court Justices, it could continue to hammer away at us until we break. 


Well, we’re not going to break.  Pundits keep talking as though Trump could actually win in 2024.  I cannot allow myself to believe that.  We simply cannot allow it.


Friday, August 25, 2023

What I'd Like to Think


He looks at the camera with contempt and arrogance.  Pundits are saying he spent hours rehearsing for that photo for his mug shot.  He wanted to get the image just right.  The image needed to be perfect to be transformed into an effective tool for fund raising.  So, they’re saying that the picture was calculated, formed with practiced nuance.  He’d only get one shot.  Had to get it right.


Contempt and arrogance.  Rehearsed.  I can see his base using that image to elevate him, to demonstrate proof that he is a super hero.  But I see something different.  I don’t think it was rehearsed.  I’m not saying that he didn’t rehearse how he wanted to look in his mug shot.  I completely believe that he did this.  But this photo was not what was rehearsed.  In this photo, I see a man without a mask.  This is what is underneath the jaunty, self-aggrandizing, smug banter that we usually see.  Here is the menace behind the mask.  His contempt for all is palpable. 


Meadows and Giuliani also have the same expression on their faces.  White male privilege.  Rage that anyone could dare to treat them with anything but delicate deference because of who they are.  Contempt.  Arrogance. 


Here’s what I like to think.  I like to think that the Fulton County processing procedures really were performed for these puffed up sleaze bags the same as for everyone else.  No nonsense.  They were given orders, and it was made clear that, if they did not immediately comply, harsher measures would be used.  Imagine being treated that way when you see yourself as being so important that you are above such treatment.  When I imagine these men, having been among the most powerful people in the world, now standing under florescent lights, being told what to do by a civil servant, being stripped of their freedom in the same procedure rooms where countless criminals of all kinds had been processed in the same manner, it takes my breath away.  Those mug shots were not rehearsed.  By the time they came before the camera, their rage had burned away their carefully maintained masks.  Their privilege had been cast aside by these lowly civil servants, and what had been carefully stoked and hidden on the inside flared out, allowing us all to see that they are nothing more than malignant scabs, clinging to the still living tissue of our democracy.  These men still attempt to spread their malignancy and devour that living tissue until they transform it into something dead and lifeless.


And that’s a cause for hope because our democracy still lives.  These roiling spit balls are not going to win.  They may be seething with contempt and arrogance as they glare at the camera, but they are arrested.  Their freedom has been taken away, and they are now under the control of the State of Georgia.  Wow.  What a satisfying feeling.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Getting Away, Getting To It

I didn't do it last year, because I was in a fit of writer's angst, but I usually go away for a few days in February or March for a private writer's retreat. A three-day weekend approaches (Thanks George and Abe), and I am heading out to Orcas Island to the Kangaroo Bed and Breakfast.

If the weather permits, there will be hiking. There will definitely be driving around, visiting the sheep lady, exploring art galleries and bookstores. And there will be writing.

I'm a little scared. I haven't had a fiction project in over a year. I have the finished but unpublishable YA novel, the fifty-pages into it second YA novel, some short stories that have never gotten past their premie births and a few ideas to body forth. In spite of the angst, I was executing a plan by not writing for all these months. I wanted to get all the crackling out of my head and get back to a place where I can hear my own voice. All of the writer's groups, retreats, conferences, workshops had seeped into my inner ear and perched there, waiting, just waiting, for the instant I put fingers to keyboard. When the idea of writing entered my head, they would pummel me with a cacophony of loosely-aimed opinions. My fingers would hover, maybe type a few sentences and then still.

Time, I thought. I need time for the noise to fade away.

I'm not sure that they are completely silent, but it's time for me to try writing again, hence the private retreat.

Orcas Island in the off season is a paradise for anyone wanting to spend quiet days in a beautiful setting. The island is virtually deserted, except for the locals, and is loaded with places, alternately, to sit and focus or to be distracted. This will be the third private retreat I've given myself on Orcas. The first year I stayed at the Anchorage Inn. The room was huge, elegant, full of comforts. A huge four-poster bed with down comforters, a wicker rocking chair with soft woolen blankets, a gas fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water, an efficiency stocked with yogurt, juices, home-made granola and fresh baked coffee cake, a hot tub by the water and no other guests besides me made for a great four-day weekend. I think I wrote four chapters of Giving It Over on that trip. Two years later, I stayed at the Otter Pond B&B. Since I was the only guest, the proprietors gave me an upgrade. I really enjoyed the B&B, but the writer in me was distracted. I couldn't settle into the zone. The static of all the support I was getting as a writer kept pulling my fingers off the keyboard.

In between trips to Orcas, I've gone to other of the San Juans and once to The Resort at Mount Hood. Mt. Hood was a great destination. The Resort was so newly remodeled that it sparkled. I went snow shoeing and ate brunch at a buffet so enormous and colorful it looked like a rose-parade float. I also sat and wrote in front of the six-foot fireplace in the lobby and enjoyed long bubble baths in a deep tub. The writing was somehow not satisfying.

So, the first retreat was the best. I belonged to a small, intimate online writer's group with a handful of people I trusted and respected. Those people stayed with me all the way through the writing of my first novel. I miss them and often wish we could all go back to those days. My self-confidence dwindled over the years. Everything I did to find my way served to obscure the road signs.

Now, more than year away from all writing-related activities, I'm about to see what I can do. I feel like anything could happen. I hope to find that I've returned to days when writing is dangerous, where the edge of the jungle comes all the way down to the shore and eagles are ready to tip their wings and catch an upward current.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Barbie and Other Friends


The first doll I remember loving was Raggedy BoomBoom.  Raggedy BoomBoom was not the traditional Raggedy Ann.  She was a stuffed rabbit, with a cloth body bearing arms and legs like a human and long, cloth rabbit ears that stood up and a plastic, smiling rabbit face.  Raggedy Ann was the first doll I ever asked for.  I don’t know how I knew about her…probably from cartoon-time commercials.  But I asked for one. 


My dad bought this stuffed rabbit and, handing it to me, said, “Here’s Raggedy Ann."  Mom later told me that he saw the Raggedy Ann doll in the store, but that it was so ugly, he couldn’t bring himself to buy one.  Hence, Raggedy BoomBoom became my closest companion.  She went with me everywhere, slept with me, told me stories.  She could fly, loved to dance, hated Brussel’s Sprouts, kept me company in the back seat on road trips, and knew the best way to climb trees.  Raggedy BoomBoom was so loved that my mother re-covered her in new material three times over the years to give her a fresh, sassy demeanor.


Then came Chatty Cathy, not as beloved as Raggedy BoomBoom, but interesting because she had a cord that, when pulled, caused her to say one of maybe six different phrases.  Her voice box quickly broke, consigning her to a life of muteness in the bottom of the toy box. 


Sometime in the mid ‘60s, I was given a Barbie doll.  She came wearing a zebra-striped bathing suit and had a blond bubble hair-do.  She also had breasts, an hour-glass figure and feet permanently shaped to wear high heels.  Barbie was a huge departure from the baby dolls of the past.  Now, instead of dolls urging me to pretend I was a mother, I had a doll urging me to play out grown-up roles.  The switch here was huge.  Of course, I still had Raggedy BoomBoom. I never saw myself as Raggedy BoomBoom’s mother.  She was more of a peer…someone I looked up to and admired, someone who knew all the secrets I could never utter to anyone else. 


Barbie became a conduit for acting out the way I viewed adults.  Looking back, I can see now that Barbie was cruel.  She had a malignant rage that she could point at anyone who crossed her.  She spent all of her energy trying to catch people doing something wrong.  She loved to direct this rage at children, who were always doing something wrong, something that needed shaming and correcting.  I hadn’t thought about this until now, and it says some startling things about my world view as a child.  I saw adults this way.  My mother, one of my uncles, the biddies at church inclined me into a mind-set that was always trying and failing to be good.


My mother found some Simplicity patterns for Barbie clothes and made all kinds of dresses from scraps of cloth.  I had the best dressed Barbie.  I still have these dresses, all in 1950s style, fitted at the top, skirt flaring out.  I had satin ball gowns with carefully stitched beading, a wedding dress, even a crochet night gown.  This was before Mattel started marketing clothing lines for Barbie.  I always thought that the things my mother made were way better. 


Barbie had her own house and car.  To me, Ken was always her boyfriend, never her husband.  One of the TV shows at the time was That Girl, played by Marlo Thomas.  That Girl was the first show of a woman, living in her own apartment in New York, building a career, dating a boyfriend.  More than anyone else on TV, I wanted to be That Girl.  She was an aspiring fashion model…an appropriate career for a woman at that time.  But I, along with all of my girlfriends knew what we wanted to be.  We all wanted to be airline stewardesses.  The idea of flying all over the world for work was so romantic.  At that time, you had to be extremely groomed and polished, beautiful as a fashion model.  To be an airline stewardess was to be part of a very exclusive group of women.  Your every effort needed to be geared toward being attractive to men.  Someone like Barbie.


Eventually, I had a stack of Mattel dolls…Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Midge.  Skipper was pre-adolescent.  She had waist-long blond hair with bangs, a flat chest and legs that could bend at the knee.  She wasn’t supposed to be Barbie’s child…just a sort of add on.  When I was ten, Skipper was my favorite.  I remember getting into trouble for taking her to school with me in the fifth grade.  Then Midge came along, a less attractive side-kick of Skipper’s with freckles, brown hair and eyes and pig tails.  Maybe Mattel decided to do something for the less attractive girls.  Or maybe she was supposed to be a tomboy.  We can’t all be blond princesses.  I don’t remember how she was marketed, but she joined my Barbie family.


They all lived in the Barbie dream house, made of cardboard.  It had a kitchen, living room and bedroom.  Barbie never needed the toilet.  The house came with cardboard furniture, which I could arrange in different ways and also came with a car.  I thought the dream house was so cool, and I kept it like a museum piece, not wanting it to get worn or broken.  I would bring out the dream house only when friends and company came over with their dolls.  My dad eventually gave the dream house to my cousin Gail because he never saw me playing with it.


Dad gave a lot of my toys, which I realize now were never really mine, to my cousin, Gail.  My bicycle, my desk…things would disappear and show up at my cousin’s house.  He cited lack of gratitude as the reason for doing this.  I never did figure out how to show sufficient gratitude to prevent things from vanishing.  Now, I recognize what a power trip it all was.  The dad giveth and the dad taketh away.  But I managed to hang on to my Barbie dolls (I refer to the whole bunch as Barbie dolls).  At my Aunt Janet’s urging, after my mother died, the Barbie dolls and clothes were one of the few things I stole from my mother’s house, along with a few family photos, my mother’s Bible and her cook book.


Through all the decades and all the loss, I wish I knew what happened to Raggedy BoomBoom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Privacy and Mythology


I recently listened to an interview with Ed Snowden, who hadn’t fallen under my radar before.  I think the interview was an old one because it appeared to take place when Trump was running in the 2016 election.  Makes sense, because Snowden entered the limelight in 2013.  The picture Snowden paints is grim, indeed.  According to him, everything we do, all of the meta data generated by any and all of our electronic devices is captured and saved forever.  So, we have no privacy.  We have no security.  We have no control over how information regarding our activities is used or who can see it.  It’s all out there, according to Snowden, and agencies like the NSA don’t need a reason to pull any one of us onto their screen and review where we’ve been going, to whom we’ve been speaking, what we’ve been buying, what web sites we visit, where our social media sweet spots reside.


Naturally, I find this very disturbing, as anyone would.  But, in my case, these contentions raise lots of questions.  You see, I just retired from a career as a Systems Administrator.  My title was Systems Engineer, but I wasn’t an Engineer.  I didn’t create the software and had a very small role in designing the systems I maintained.  I administered a virtual environment that supported about a dozen applications at a major wireless carrier. 


One such application was LIMD.  The LI stands for Lawful Intercept.  The software is used by the carrier to work with law enforcement agencies, when they need to surveil a subject.  Such activity requires a refined subject matter expert, and the carrier had one.  A single guy was in charge of the systems set up to grant access to an individual’s cell phone activities.  This was not used to obtain phone records, but to perform live, real-time surveillance of an individual’s activities.  The law enforcement agency had to jump through numerous hoops before it could obtain this access.  Mostly, it needed a warrant, granted by  a duly authorized federal judge. 


The subject matter expert of this system as a quintessential computer geek.  He knew his systems, inside and out.  His system consisted of a single two-server cluster.  My end of it was outside of his realm.  I administered LIMD, which interfaced with the SME’s environment.  I was in charge of installing the LIMD software into my virtual environment, performing upgrades, tweaking things at the vendor’s advice.  The software was a logistical nightmare because it was provided by a 3rd party vendor of the carrier’s 3rd party vendor.  So, for me to get support, I had to go to the carrier’s vendor, and they didn’t know nuttin.  I wasn’t allowed to go to their vendor, the company that manufactures the software.  So, supporting it was like traveling through a mousetrap.  When something didn’t work in the carrier’s environment the same way it did in the vendor’s lab, I was met with incredulity and skepticism.  This is nothing new.  This is how things work all over.  But between the vendor spaghetti tangle and the carrier’s own network and system problems, we had to find ways around this mess. 


One example…the software didn’t work in the carrier’s side because one of the servers in that two-node cluster I mentioned earlier was an ancient Sun Solaris box that was so old, it couldn’t support IPv6.  So, the application couldn’t be configured to work within his cluster.  The SME had to disable his cluster and route all of the traffic to a single node in order to get the thing to talk to the LIMD software.  It took the guy 9 months to get the carrier to provide him with a second server that could support IPv6 so that he could restore the cluster and ensure redundancy.  Dozens of things like this went on, each, in its own way, taking this highly sensitive system further and further away from being secure. 


The time that I spent, personally, trying to get this thing to work was astounding, starting with the documentation.  The carrier’s 3rd party vendor’s 3rd party vendor provided a document with every step and requirement for installation.  The carrier’s 3rd party vendor would, then, translate the document into Korean.  Then, in order to deliver the documentation to me, would translate it from Korean back into English.  It was more questionable than the accuracy of the King James Bible.  Nothing about this thing was easy. 


I am writing all of this to refresh my own memory, even as I struggle to banish it from my mind.  I retired a few months ago, and everything is fading fast, now that Linux, VMWare, Docker, Ansible and hundreds of other things are not part of my daily focus.  I was the queen of finding a way through with things that had layers of blockage.  But LIMD was my nemesis.  Technical issues, network configuration nuances, arrogant men, language barriers, clueless project managers and an administration profile that incorporated a dozen diverse teams, each with its own interest or lack thereof, all contributed to the administration of the LIMD application.  We were able to get it working in the lab for short periods of time.  Each time we got it to chug along, the vender’s vendor would submit an upgrade.  The upgrade in the works when I retired didn’t even resemble it’s prior incarnation, and the carrier finally surrendered to the reality that LIMD was never going to be delivered to Production.  By the time I left, no one in the carrier’s organization expected me to get it working.  I went on to other things.  And, whenever the vendor announced some activity related to LIMD, the response from the carrier was: Yeah.  Right.  Sure.  Whatever. 


So, all of this brings me back to Snowden.  Is LIMD a farce?  Why would it be needed if anyone in the government or even within a given company can access all of our activities?  We all know that there is no deleting anything from the internet.  Once it’s out there, it stays out there.  There’s always another hundred copies.  Things get cached and routed and recycled.  But Snowden implies that there is some mother of a database out there with all of our activities preserved…forever.  He mentioned Google Chrome as an example of something that saves every search, every click forever.  He talked about outsiders having the ability to access our cameras and microphones on our computers and phones without us being aware.  I just don’t see how these things are possible.  The carrier I worked for saved all SMS messages for 7 years, specifically to fulfill some government mandate.  That’s all of the texts.  It’s impossible to begin to image how much data that is.


Undoubtedly, some could read this and think me extremely na├»ve.  But mine is a slightly informed naivety.  I have questions, and I am capable of understanding the answers.  Snowden presents as an intensely brilliant mind.  His responses in the interview always answered the questions directly, without clouding or sugar-coating.  The interview was fascinating and engaging.  His technical explanations were clear and digestible.  But I couldn’t listen to them without LIMD smirking in the back of my mind over everything he said. What Snowden was saying means that I turned myself into a contortionist during the last years of my employment over a carefully crafted arrangement of smoke and mirrors, designed to make us all think that there is a system in place to protect privacy.


According to Wikipedia’s article about Lawful Intercept:

To ensure the quality of evidence, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) has outlined standards for electronic surveillance once a Title III surveillance application is approved:

  1. Ensure clear access to all data without any loss of information or impact on the network being monitored
  2. Create a filter to adhere to warrant parameters – time span, types of communications that can be monitored, evidence to be collected, etc.
  3. Set the lawful intercept device to capture and/or store data according to the warrant parameters.
  4. Deliver data directly from the source to the mediation device without any human intervention or packet loss

Generic global standards have also been developed by Cisco via the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that provide a front-end means of supporting most LI real-time handover standards. All of these standards have been challenged as "deficient" by the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to CALEA.

Is all of this just a huge steaming pile of bullshit?  I don’t know how much more energy I want to give this topic.  I see it as a potential rabbit hole.  And I’m not convinced, but now I am wary.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Biden for President


On a summer day before the 2020 election, we were on our way to get coffee and were assaulted by a parade of cars, uniformly blasting a Trump rap song, American flags, Trump flags, gathering the clouds.  The parade wrapped around the block, as far as I could see and just kept coming.  My stomach lurched.  The rap song pounded alpha male like an assault rifle, revering their warlord.  People walked out onto their porches, shouting, some cheering, some shouting rage.


“Four more years!”


 A woman with a Black Lives Matter sign on her front lawn and purple hair, spat into the wind, “Over 220,000 dead!”  As of this writing, the number of people who have died from Covid is way over a million.  Ari Melber did an interview with Bob Woodward, regarding Woodward's  taped interviews with Trump, where Trump's responses to questions about his actions, or lack of actions, regarding Covid were startling.  He revealed that, to this day, he does not see Covid as a challenge of his leadership.  A failed challenge.  "It's China's fault.  I didn't have anything to do with it."

In 2016 when he was elected, my first thought was this: he’s going to get us all killed.  It’s now 2023, and Trump lost the election in 2020 but he is still taking actions that could end us all.


We elected Joe Biden as our President.  He has worked hard to heal this country, to put things right.  With more experience than any president in history, the biggest criticism democrats have about him is his age.  I think it’s his biggest asset.  He spent decades in Congress, knows more about foreign affairs than any president, with the possible exception of George HW Bush.  He understands that we are still suffering from Reaganomics and is trying desperately to restore us to values of equality, building the middle class, making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.  He has forgiven student loans, reduced the price of prescription drugs, addressed price gouging, reduced unemployment to under 5%, restored the United States status with NATO and other international organizations, supported the Ukraine against the attack by Putin to support democracy against the onslaught of authoritarianism.    


Biden's first action was to organize our battle against the Covid virus.  He did everything he could to make the vaccine accessible to all of us, to promote safe practices, even as Trump did everything in his power to scare people into rebelling against those measures.  Biden mobilized the country to get everyone vaccinated.  He took office in January, and by March, anyone who wanted could go to a nearby place and obtain a vaccination.  That's when I knew.  For the first time in over four years, the country had a leader who understood who we are and how to support us.

Biden’s accomplishments are even more remarkable when considering that Trump’s efforts continue to plague us.  Trump stacked the Supreme Court, which is attempting to throw us back into the 1950s.  Roe v Wade is gone.  Affirmative Action has been reversed.  So much more.  And Trump, himself, continues to bellow lies and hatred at every turn.  He’s running for president again…for the 2024 election.  And he still has followers, even after inciting the January 6 riot, even after being indicted for over 70 felonies, even after sharing our most secret documents with anyone he wanted to impress.  


Interesting times, and painful ones for our country.  We are poised on the edge of a knife that threatens to split us apart.  


Thursday, July 06, 2023

Nature of Water


Water is one of my safe places.  Any water, anywhere.  The ocean, lakes, streams, rivers, rain, puddles, swimming pools…  Water is safe.  Oh, I know it has the power to kill me, if I don’t keep my wits about me.  Water is a trickster, not having a right or a wrong, it has rules, aligning it with the universe.  Water must submit to gravity.  It must listen to the inconstant song of the moon.  It must spin one way when going down the drain in the northern hemisphere and the other direction when it’s exiting the tub in the southern one.


Water is my safe place.  When I was younger, the ocean along the coast of southern California was my territory.  The pacific ocean witnessed my first kiss.   It is in this water where I met the grunion blipping their tiny silver bodies all around me, startling me into peals of laughter.  Not alone.  Water supported me, played with me, rocked me.  I’ve swam in lakes, always too cold, the river, where Lucy and I go to our secret swimming hole, the waterfalls hidden along the pacific crest trail at deep creek, Puget sound, where Lucy learned to swim, where she learned that I am not a floatation device.  Watching her paddle away from me filled me with such joy.  So many places I’ve experienced the laughing mother of water. 


When we went on road trips when I was a kid, the one concession my dad made to make the trip nicer for me was always to stop in a motel with a pool.  That was my reward for sitting in the back seat for twelve hours, windows rolled up while my parents chain smoked in the front seat.  We’d finally stop, and I knew that I could throw on my bathing suit and become buoyant.  That was my vacation…my vacation from them, from the back seat of the car, scattered with Oreo cookie crumbs. 


I have been humbled by water’s power, how easily it could crush me.  The time I went body surfing after a storm had swelled the waves to over 6’, threatening to pound me into the sand, and I had to fight to get to shore.  Water spared me that day but taught me the power of living by unwavering law.


Is there one water or is water many?  It’s all the same water.  On the surface, within.  Water is the original trickster.  It has millions upon millions of places to reside.  It can appear in any form, solid, liquid or gas.  It can float, melt, freeze, break rocks, perform any kind of dance.  Water is part of everything,  all life, me.


Off the coast of Panama, the tiny cruise ship stopped and opened its back gate.  I dove into the sea, with no land in sight.  Beneath the surface, weightless, motionless, cradled in sapphire , nothing but blue and salt and buoyancy.  Water, within me, all around me, silence, support, love.


When I moved to Washington, I knew there would be a lot of rain.  It has become such a part of me, the rain, soft or hard, warm or freezing.  Sometimes, it rains for a hundred days in a row.  Flying into the SeaTac airport, I can see just how saturated this place is, soaked, soggy, so much water that the land spits it out and encourages water to find pathways, forge trails, construct containers.


Water is on a journey, too.  It hitches a ride on us, not caring where we take it, knowing it doesn’t matter because it’s not about the destination.  Water has no destination, it moves in and out up and down and around and around and around in endless cycles.