How my Day Went

My Tuesday started with my making a clever phone call to Spouse, sure I’d catch him at lunch. I caught him at midnight instead because I still hadn’t quite got the time change down right. There is no excuse for this problem since my cell phone has both times on it, but in my hotel room with the blackout curtains drawn, I couldn’t see the am/pm designation. I not only felt like an incompetent, I felt like an inconsiderate incompetent since Spouse has to work in the morning. And yes, he answered the call because he thought something had gone wrong (otherwise, who would call at midnight?)

While I was in the shower someone called me. It was an Iceland number. I don’t know anyone in Iceland. I called it back and the call dropped. Probably one of those telemarketers, I thought, imagining black-marketeers headquartered in Chechnya or Ukraine or someplace. While I was waiting for my taxi to take me to the Old Harbor for the harbor tour I had signed up for, it rang again. I started to answer it but my taxi pulled up so I ended the call. The cabbie dropped me at the Old Harbor and I walked up to Reykjavik by Boat, looking at my messages. As I went through the door I saw the message they had just sent.

“You are Marion. I tried to call you,” the young woman with the long brown hair said. I nodded, reading the text she had sent about three minutes earlier.

Hello dear Marion. We are sorry we have to cancel your tour. We will refund your bank card in the next few hours.

“We have no guide today,” she said. “Because you prepaid we will restore your balance to your bank card. Sorry.”

“Will there be another tour, maybe tomorrow?” The rest of my trip was pretty well booked but it didn’t hurt to ask.

She shook her head, looking up. “We will not have a guide, he won’t be in all week.”

“I hope he’s okay,” I said.

She looked down and I couldn’t see her expression. “He is fine,” she said.

At the door I looked at the chalkboard outside. They listed two other tours, starting at 11:15 and 11:30; Puffin Express and Whales and Puffins. I ducked back inside. “Is there room on the other tours?”

“Yes, both have room.”

“I’ll do the puffins and whales,” I said.
Wake in Reykjavik Harbor

Puffins spend most of their lives at sea, coming into shore only to mate, lay eggs and raise young. They are not spectacular flyers. Well, that’s not fair, I mean they can fly, but they have stubby wings and they have to work at it. What they are spectacular at is diving.

Puffin in FlightDevon was our captain, and along with me there was Siggi, Frances and Frances’s father  (they were German); I have forgotten his name. I think Frances was about 19 or 20; I assumed that her dad and Siggi, who is Icelandic and very friendly, had been friends since youth, maybe through school or work. Siggi lives and works in Reykjavik and has taken some time off to spend with his touring friends.

After we left the island of Akurey and the puffins we headed up the coast, back towards the airport. Devon had set us to watching the horizon for signs of whales. The sea was not rough, but this was a small boat, and the bow-wake spattered us. My glasses were spotted with salt water drops and I couldn’t unzip my coat to wipe them on my blouse, because I would fall over if I let go of the railing. The sky was seventeen shades of silver and gray and the  water looked like molten lead. We weren’t slamming down into the troughs the way a small boat can sometimes, but a couple of times I was staring right down into the base of the trough, and sometimes I was getting pressed backward, a low steady ache in my right shoulder as I gripped the railing. I wasn’t necessarily cold because I had dressed in layers, but I couldn’t really feel my fingers, either. I wanted to be the first person to see a whale.

Puffin on rocks

I had no idea how long we motored up the coast. The mountains in front of me, distant, were shrouded in cloud. I said out loud in my head (as one does), “I do not want to be the first one to spot a whale. I want Frances to be the first one to spot a whale. I will do my best to scan for whales without an attachment to the outcome because that is a very Zen thing to do.” And I kept telling myself that.

Clouds over mountains in Iceland

After a while I gripped the vertical railing with my left hand, and hand-over-hand made my way into the cabin where Siggi and Devon were talking. The tour is until you get to see whales, or three hours, whichever comes first, and we were nearly fifty miles from Reykjavik. It sounds like I was disappointed, and I was, but it wasn’t a crushing disappointment. The sky, the ocean was beautiful; salt spray clung to my lips, and the puffins had been beautiful. And I had a story.

I sat down on the padded seat. Devon said, “There have been two big whales seen near here today.”

“What kinds of whales come here?”

“There are humpback,” –he pronounced it “hoompback.”  “There are dolphins, there are minke whales.”

Frances hand-over-handed her way into the cabin. “There is a whale!” she said. She flung out her arm, and I mean really, in a way I associate with Victorian actresses only it was perfectly accurate. “There is a whale!”

And there was.

Tail flukes of a humpbacked whale, off Icelandic coast.

There were two, with a cluster of whale watching boats monitoring them. They surfaced and blew, and then one breached, coming out of the water, rotating its body and plunging back into its home element like, to anthropomorphize, a kid falling backward into a swimming pool.

I missed that shot. I missed the next time it did it, too, because my battery light began to flash on the camera. I had brought a second battery. Usually, changing the battery takes about twenty seconds, but the wake caused by the submerging whale was making the little boat buck and swing. It probably took me nearly a minute to swap in the fully-charged battery. I told myself it didn’t matter. I would have some good photos (some nice curved-back and tail shots), and I would always have the memories, right?
Spout of water where whale landed.

And then this happened.
Humpbacked whale spyhopping

The two whales seemed unconcerned about the boats that followed them. They would stay near the surface for several minutes, then dive. Humpbacks go down to the seabed and gouge out a great mouthful of sea-bottom. Their bodies sift out soil, gravel and shell and they digest the organic matter like tiny shrimp. We were following pretty closely, though, closer than I think we would be allowed to in the states; and the crazy people in the aptly named Ultimate Whale Watching Zodiac raft, all bundled up in their red exposure suits, got even closer. Once, the whales submerged and resurfaced a few minutes later on the port side of our boat, so we were between them and the Zodiac. I thought Ultimate Whale Watchers had gotten too close, but a moment later the whales dived again and came up between our boats. They coasted along for several minutes before submerging.

Ultimate Whale Watching Zodiac raft.We watched them for about forty minutes before Devon got a call on the radio that it was time to return to port.

On the way back, a school of dolphins paced us for four of five minutes, and Frances went into the back and leaned over, her elbow on the rail, her chin in her hand, watching for them. Siggi and Devon conversed, and when we back at the dock, reeling slightly from our case of “sea legs,” Siggi said in English, “You may have had the best whale watching experience of the summer. That is what he told me.”

Tail FlukeTail Fluke

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Pocket Knives and Plastic Horses

“… most of the objects form the secret constellations of our irrecoverable past, returning only in dreams where nothing but the dreamer is lost. They must still exist somewhere: pocket knives and plastic horses don’t exactly compost, but who knows where they go in the great drifts of objects sifting through our world?”

From “One-Story House” in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit.

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From My Room

This was my room.

The Pacific Suite, the Alegria Inn

The Pacific Suite, the Alegria Inn

This was my view.

View of Big River and eucalyptus.

View of Big River and eucalyptus.

The captain’s house is set back on the bluff, away from Main Street. I stayed in the Pacific Suite. It meant I got no traffic noise from the village itself (my one complaint with staying in the Raku House across the street). I did, though, get traffic noise from Highway One and the river bridge. Car sounds would bounce off that smooth gleaming sheet of water and pitch themselves right at my windows. In spite of that, it was generally quiet.

The Alegria Inn serves a sit-down breakfast for people who stay in the Captain’s House complex, but it starts at 9:00 and the conference started at 9:00. The innkeepers brought me up warm scones Friday and Saturday mornings. Saturday, I swiped butter across my laptop keyboard because I was trying to eat a scrumptious apple-ginger scone and load photos at the same time.

Blackberry blossoms.

Blackberry blossoms.

From the lush garden a steep trail leads through a tall blackberry bramble down to the beach. The trail goes past a bee tree. The first two mornings I went down I thought the hive had been abandoned, but on Saturday I saw a double-handful of amber honeybees buzzing in and out of it.

The be tree

The bee tree

The novel I brought to workshop has an artists collective in it called the Hive. The Hive is mentioned in the first chapter (which I brought for workshopping). Two readers wondered what it was. One person in my writers group thought it was mentioned too soon. Maybe they’re right.

Audience in the multi purpose room.

Audience in the multi purpose room.

The conference offers breakfast and lunch as part of the package cost. I browsed the breakfast offerings; they looked good. On Saturday I had lunch at the conference; fresh green salad and lasagna with home-made pasta noodles. It was very good. Usually, though, I wanted to leave the campus and go into the village during the afternoon. And I wanted to have lunch with friends.

The conference was at a new venue, a K-through-8 school on Little Lake Road, sparkling clean and newish. I liked the space. I felt bad for some workshoppers who were assigned a 4th grade classroom… with 4th grade desks/chairs.

The New Venue

The New Venue

The large multi-purpose room worked well for open mike readings, announcements, and several panels. It doubled as an indoor lunch/get-together venue.

The audience in the choir room for Good Beginnings.

The audience in the choir room for Good Beginnings.

I think College of the Redwoods/ Mendocino Community College has closed the Fort Bragg campus where the conference had been held. The place had sentimental value for me but I talked to a few board members and staff, and they were not sentimental. The space was becoming more restrictive each year. They liked the newish school.

Michael David Lukas presented Good Beginnings.

Michael David Lukas presented Good Beginnings.

Our workshop leader, Jody Gehrman, has an MA, an MFA and a MPW– Masters in Professional Writing. She has taught. She writes in several genres and for several demographics; YA, with a recent shift to psychological suspense. She’s also written screenplays and plays. Some have been produced in Ashland, Oregon (I assume but don’t know that it’s been at Oreshakes). That breadth of experience really helped given the array of works we had in the class. Jody lives in Mendocino County and teaches at the Mendocino Community College in Ukiah.

I never got a good photo so I stole one from the internet. Portrait of Jody Gehrman.

I never got a good photo so I stole one from the internet.

There is a group of people who are always on the beach in the early mornings. They look like they might be in their late twenties or early thirties. They sit around a small fire in the shelter of a big driftwood log. They have two dogs. The first morning a big, glossy boxer came running toward me. “Lulu! Lulu! Come back here, you bad dog!” a woman shouted after her. “It’s all right, it’s all right, she’s friendly! Lulu!” Lula was friendly. She sidled up, hindquarters wiggling, and let me stroke her chest and scratch her ears. She was wearing a harness and I held onto it (Lulu let me) until the woman came over. “She’s not supposed to do that,” the woman said. “You have a good walk.”

The title of my book has been, to put it artistically, elusive. I’ve settled for a working title. Jody made an offhanded comment about my main character’s name being “rich” because of Shakespearean references (she and her sister are named after Shakespearean heroines and that is not coincidental). Walking from my car up the banquet, it suddenly seemed obvious that the name for this book should come from The Tempest. Unfortunately, “Oh Brave New World” has been done.

Dinner mates, L to R, Donna Banta, Mark Banta, Gary Durbin, Jack Russell, Deborah Russell, Mark Yuan, Terry Connolly. Missing, me, Jody Gehrman and her husband.

Dinner mates, L to R, Donna Banta, Mark Banta, Gary Durbin, Jack Russell, Deborah Russell, Mark Yuan, Terry Connolly. Missing, me, Jody Gehrman and her husband.

Then there was the banquet. What I will say is this: I loved my tablemates, and the bar made a good Cosmopolitan. Michael Krazney’s keynote speech was excellent. Marlis Broadhead, the conference’s founding director who started things twenty-seven years ago, shared some inspiring observations.

Marlis Broadhead, Founding Director of the MCWC

Marlis Broadhead, Founding Director of the MCWC

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Opening Lines: The First 3 Paragraphs of The Chimes by Anna Smaill

I’ve been standing here forever. My arms and legs and head and even my bones are heavy with sleep. Clothes heavy with the rain that won’t stop falling. Shoes heavy with mud. My roughcloth bag is slung over my shoulder and it jostles against my leg as I shift from side to side to keep warm.  It’s heavy too, weighted with objectmemories. The ones I’ve decided to take.

Deep in the drilled-in mud of the fields behind me, our bulbs are wrapped in their brittle skins with their messages of color stored inside. Blue iris, yellow crocus, tulips of all colors. Daffs with the flowers in their papery bunches and their smell of pepper like the air as it is before Chimes.

Along the horizon, the fields are lines of gray that get darker as they reach the sky. I stare at them to make a picture I can take, but it’s only objectmemories you can trust in the end. And I’m carrying them in the bag already. You can’t force them to flower either. Like bulbs, they show their secrets in their own time.


Look at the repetition of “heavy.” And look both at the compound word “Objectmemories,” and the imagery of the flowers, which will recur. Then go get this book and read it. Right now.

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Dorothea Lange; the Politics of Seeing

Oakland Museum of California

Oakland Museum of California

Dorothea Lange was born in 1895 and she lived in New York as a child. As a youngster, she survived polio, and then when she was six her father left the family.

About photography, Lange once said, “I had a coat of invisibility. As a little lame girl walking through the Bowery, I learned not to be seen.” She also said, though, that with all of her photos, she always said who she was and what she was doing. “I never stole a photograph,” she said.


We take an exit one exit earlier than the one our directions call for and end up a few blocks away from the Oakland Museum of California. The museum is close to Lake Merritt. It seems like getting there should be easy, since one of the streets is a numbered street and we can navigate to it easily, but we reckoned without the alternating one-way streets. It took driving in an elliptical pattern for a while, but finally we found our way to the entrance to the parking garage. Our route took us through part of Chinatown, where graffiti dragons grace the walls of many buildings. I imagined that they offered protection to the businesses within the walls they inhabit.

Dragons on the walls.

Dragons on the walls.

“Dorothea Lange; the Politics of Seeing” will be at the Museum through August 27,2017. It includes Lange’s work for the US Farm Security Administration – Lange’s best-known work, giving a face to the Great Depression and the southwestern Dust Bowl. The exhibit goes beyond that though. They have a wall dedicated to some formal portraits from her studio in San Francisco, which she took before she started work with the Farm Security Administration and later with the US Army.

This, the most famous Lange photo, brings its own controversy about who owns an image.

This, the most famous Lange photo, brings its own controversy about who owns an image.

Lange took lots of pictures in the rural south, and captured the racism in the tenant-farmer (sharecropper) system. The FSA was upset when it got her negatives, because they had wanted the focus to be on white rural poverty. Apparently, they thought that “white poverty only” didn’t need to be said out loud because it was obvious. Lange didn’t agree.

I knew she had taken pictures of American-Japanese and Japanese-born American citizens interned at Manzanar, but I didn’t know scope of that project, and what had happened to it. The US Army hired Lange to photograph the forced relocation of citizens and lawful alien residents into camps. They wanted to show the American people that this was being handled in a calm efficient manner, like a military operation, and to dispel any allegations of torture or mistreatment. (I have to wonder why they were so worried about that.) They hired Lange because they had heard she was good, and hard-working. Obviously they never look at any of her earlier photos.

They got a shock when they saw her pictures. She portrayed the grief and dignity of people leaving everything they’d built, because they wanted to be good citizens. She captured images of children clutching one doll as they climbed into a van and drove away from their homes. The military sequestered the photos for years and they were never shown until years after the war.

"The camera is a great teacher."

“The camera is a great teacher.”

The Oakland Museum of California has Lange’s 25,000 negatives and her 6,000 prints. Lange’s widower donated them to the museum’s permanent collection after the photographer’s death in 1965.

At first, the exhibit didn’t seem very large, but I kept turning into alcoves and finding walls with photos I hadn’t seen. After I watched the film about Lange’s life, I thought I was done. I walked toward what I thought was the entrance but instead entered a room that had Lange’s Public Defender Project photos, something I’d never heard of.

One wall showed photos from her project The Death of a Valley, the flooding of Berryessa Valley by the damming of Putah Creek in the late 1950s.

Water lilies

Water lilies

Leopard spotted koi nibbling on a leaf.

Leopard spotted koi nibbling on a leaf.

After we finished looking at The Politics of Seeing, we went outside to see the koi pond. The koi are large, beautifully colored, and seem tranquil. It’s hard to judge the emotional state of a fish. I started to walk down to the end of the pond just to see what was there, and I found a night heron. Did I say I found one night heron? There were five around the pond, three adults and two juveniles. We also saw lots of pond turtles. On our way back we spotted two more herons in the redwood trees. We surmised they have a whole rookery there.

Adult night heron

Adult night heron

One of the museum workers said she thought they stopped at the pond to catch baby turtles, since there was no other food in the water. We decided turtle eggs might be more of a draw. The museum is two blocks from the lake; and the cluster of redwood trees provides good shelter. While we were there, the adult herons appeared to be stabbing at flying insects. I think the lake is a preferred hunting ground, and the museum is home.




The museum has a café but the pickings were slim since the kitchen was closing early to prepare for catering a fundraiser that night. I can recommend the black-bean soup though.

Because if there isn't a statue of a naked woman, it just isn't an art museum.

Because if there isn’t a statue of a naked woman, it just isn’t an art museum.

In the Creativity Gallery, one alcove featured Lange’s personal and family photos; children, siblings, grandchildren, friends. Obviously not political, these images still show Lange’s interest in posture, body language and composition.

Interactive exhibit in the Creativity Gallery

Interactive exhibit in the Creativity Gallery

The Creativity Gallery had a large display devoted to the furniture and furnishings from the Arts and Crafts movement. It also had more modern art and several interactive pieces.

Bruce Lee mural--taken from the moving car.

Bruce Lee mural–taken from the moving car.

The Oakland Museum, with its focus on Northern California, is an unsung treasure. Their collection of Native American art, the Arts and Crafts movement, protest art from the 1960s and 70s, and wartime exhibits, lets them show the Bay Area’s history in vivid realistic ways.

And with Lange, specifically, at a time when the current administration is trying hard to demonize various groups of us, and set us against each other, the act is seeing is political, and revolutionary. Lange shows us how to do it.


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Strange Magic by Syd Moore

Strange Magic, US cover

Strange Magic, US cover

You had one job, Strange Magic. One job. That was the entertain me.

And you nailed it.

Strange Magic, by Syd Moore, is a British mystery – not a murder mystery. People were killed, but it was a long time ago and nobody dies of foul play in the story’s present. The mystery, the puzzle to be solved, is the whereabouts of a human skeleton, the bones of Ursula Cadence, an Essex woman who was hanged as a witch in the sixteenth century. And Rosie Strange, a government Benefits Fraud investigator, is just the woman to find them, with the help of the curator of the Witch Museum Rosie just inherited.

Strange Magic is told in the first person from the POV of Rosie, after a prologue in a completely different point of view, in which a comatose little boy is possessed by a spirit. The purpose of the prologue is to let the reader know the seriousness of the quest for Ursula’s bones, since the possessing spirit is that of her son, who only wants to be reunited with his mother.

In Chapter One we meet Rosie, who has come to inspect her inheritance, her eccentric grandfather Septimus Strange’s Essex Witch Museum. Rosie has no emotional connection to the place, which looks like a run-down roadside attraction. She plans to sell the property for as much as she can, scoop up the cash and go back to her London life, probably pausing only for a mani-pedi on the way back. For the first few opening paragraphs I liked Rosie’s narrative voice. As the chapter progressed I started liking her less. She seemed money-hungry, fashion obsessed, and shallow. Fortunately, the curator of the museum, Sam, was cute and smart, and I liked him, and very soon a university professor showed up with a “life and death” quest for the bones of Ursula Cadence, one of most famous witches of Essex. Hearing that there might be a reward for finding the bones, Rosie resolves to help search for them, figuring she can always sell the museum later.

And then a funny thing happened. Rosie grew on me. Don’t get me wrong, Rosie is money-hungry and fashion obsessed. She is not shallow. While she continues to harp on money throughout the book, the tone of the harping changes, as Rosie has to remind herself that she’s planning to sell. The museum, and Ursula, have made a connection with her, and during the course of the book Rosie gets in touch with her better (or maybe truer) nature.

Pretty early in the book, on their way to meet with the professor, Sam gives Rosie a brief academic lecture on the stereotype of the Essex Girl (which Rosie is). The Essex Girl is to Britain what “bimbos” or “dumb blondes” are in the states. It’s a negative female stereotype; a usually-dyed-blond woman, uneducated, shallow, who is fascinated with shopping and personal grooming and indulges in indiscriminate sex. Sam opines that the Essex Girl is merely an updating of the Essex witches; a propaganda tool to keep women down.

Rosie does share many of the traits of the stereotype, but she is a real person. I liked that her job, as a fraud investigator, made her a natural for this quest. Rosie is smart, and she has a skill set that lets her winnow fact from falsehood, exaggeration and outright lying. We readers see that Rosie has another set of skills that she uses without realizing it, and that Septimus left the witch museum to her for a reason.

A road trip makes up the first two-thirds of the book, and most of the road-time is taken up with pedantic Sam lecturing about the Essex witch craze and the use of magic throughout British history up through the twentieth century. Could be boring. It isn’t. There is no travelogue; descriptions are limited to hotel rooms and pubs, and the inside of museums, and that’s just fine. A ghost appears, although frankly it’s not much help, being more of a nag than an oracle. A ghost wailing “Huuurrry!” over your shoulder while you are already on the clock is not useful. Those scenes are convincing, though.

The villains show up late with only a little foreshadowing, and the last third of the book consists of a big expository lump that wasn’t as entertaining, and a rushed climax that includes an interesting religious ceremony. I thought the pacing was off in the last third of the book. The final chapter reveals nothing of the Strange family, but sets the stage for the second book, Strange Sight, which will be out later this year.

So the pacing was off, by my lights, and I didn’t love the main character at first… but I did by the end. Rosie is a feminist; a woman who is smart and knows it, who is confident in many areas (like her career), unafraid to express an opinion or join a conversation, and who is still unsecure about her physical appearance, and still, underneath the trendy clothes and the manicure, lonely. Her tendency to bristle with jealously whenever Sam spoke to a woman under the age of seventy-five did get old, but I forgave her that. And this was an interesting story.

Strange Sight is an entertaining summer read. The language is G-rated, there is some described torture at the witch museum, and no sex… not even a kiss, I think, although we get lots of descriptions of two very attractive men. Seriously, if you’re going to have a few nights in a hotel, a long plane flight or train ride, or you just want to hang out by the pool, then Strange Magic might fit you like scones fit with tea… or, if you’re Rosie, like vodka fits with Coke. One quibble; the book, published by Point Blank in the USA, has a lovely cover that evokes el Dia de los Muertos, a completely different spiritual tradition, and that might be confusing to American readers.

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Rachel Duncan: Seduced & Betrayed by Patriarchy

I predict that in a few years’ time there will be college courses in media studies devoted to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and BBC America’s Orphan Black, studying their critiques of patriarchy.

Both shows recognize that patriarchy is a system, one that damages men as well as women, and both shows recognize that women can be its agents. With that in mind I want to talk about Orphan Black’s least likeable clone, Rachel Duncan.

Orphan Black is science fiction (the best, with The Expanse, that is currently on TV), about a group of women who discover that they are clones. They have reached adulthood without knowing their origins. Rachel Duncan is the one exception. Rachel is an upper echelon executive at a corporation called Dyad. Unlike the others, Rachel has known from childhood that she is a clone, a science experiment. She was raised by Ethan and Susan Duncan, geneticists and government scientists. Now an adult, Rachel is close to the levers of power at Dyad, which is a front for an extreme transhuman group called Neolution. Neolution seeks to control humanity’s evolution through genetic manipulation. The women main characters are part of one line of clones called the Leda line – all female. There is a male line as well, the Castors. Both sets of clones have artificial gene markers that proclaim them “intellectual property.”  The question, “person or property” reverberates through all five seasons of Orphan Black.

Tatiana Maslany as Rachel

Tatiana Maslany as Rachel

Rachel is the “villain” clone. She is as polished, elegant and brittle as a blown glass figurine. She is loyal to Dyad and holds the other Ledas in contempt. She’s fine with killing them and comfortable with lying to them. She has no trouble withholding a potentially life-saving treatment from Cosima, the Leda clone who is a scientist herself. As the series progresses, we discover that Rachel was the author of the “Helsinki project” that resulted in the elimination –murder — of many Leda clones.

Rachel lives in gleaming, stylish luxury. She ascends the ladder of power sure-footedly, until a clash with Sarah (the first clone we met in the show), leaves her injured. In the power gap that follows, another faction of Neolution arises, but Rachel schemes and manipulates her way back into power. Along the way, ruthless Rachel nearly kills her adoptive mother Susan. This sacrifice, it seems, gains Rachel entry into the secret inner circle of Neolution, and a meeting with its founder, P.T. Westmorland.

Until now, Rachel has played by the patriarchy’s rules. She has put Dyad ahead of any ties of love and affection. In the final episodes of the series, Rachel steals Sarah’s daughter, Kira.  Dyad intends to harvest Kira’s ova and start an improved line of Leda clones. Literally, they are going to take away Kira’s reproductive power, and Rachel is coordinating it. Hours away from the operation, Rachel puts the clues together and realizes she has been betrayed.

She doesn’t have a seat at the table. Any agreement promising autonomy, privacy and “personhood” is worthless. She thought she was an equal, a partner, but she is neither. She’s what she has always been, a tool, kept safe as long as it is useful, ready for discard as soon as it ceases to be.

Ferdinand (JAMES FRAIN) and Rachel (TATIANA MASLANY)

Ferdinand (JAMES FRAIN) and Rachel (TATIANA MASLANY)

The biggest signal to the viewers that Rachel was never an equal is her sexual relationship with Dyad’s hit-man and “fixer,” Ferdinand. Ferdinand enjoys being tied up, slapped and generally humiliated by Rachel, while he’s calling her a “dirty little clone.” Ferdinand gets off by being tied up and “disciplined” because he knows he is at no risk. We all understand that dominatrices are not a model of women in control. They are sex workers getting paid to act out a fantasy role. That is what Rachel does for Ferdinand, although she doesn’t get paid. Rachel enjoys ordering her sexual partners around, and she may derive some short-term pleasure from her own fantasy, that she is punishing the men who have used her, but she is not assuming control, not flipping the script. She is a tool for fulfilling the paid killer’s desires.

When Ferdinand is actually tied up and humiliated by a Leda clone (who takes all his money), when he finds her, he brutally murders her.

Throughout the show, Rachel clings precariously to the slippery peak she has achieved. She will back-stab and betray anyone except Neolution’s leader. She betrays others like her without a blink. She tries to kill her own mother to win acceptance, a sense of belonging. In the end, Neolution has no trouble using her, diminishing her, augmenting her without her knowledge or consent, and betraying her. Do you need knowledge and consent to augment a thing that isn’t even a person?

Until the last few episodes of the series, Rachel isn’t that much different from someone like Ivanka Trump. Trump glides along on the golden sled of her father’s inherited wealth and privilege, declaiming, “I’m a feminist!” as her shoe and apparel apparatus exploits women who are often the sole support of their families. Trump even lacks the courage of the fictional Rachel, refusing to face what she’s done to women, using the excuse that she is a “hands-off” CEO. At the same time, she accepts sexual comments and innuendo about herself from her own father, in exchange for her precarious high-status perch. She must know that she is not a partner, not an equal, but an ornament; a tool or a toy.

In some ways, Rachel reminds me of Sheryl Sandberg whose preachy book Lean In scolded women for not overcoming the patriarchal system to be CEOs like her. I’m not saying Sandberg isn’t smart and didn’t work hard, but her arrogance and denial of the reality of life of 90% of American women was not a good look for her. Trump and Sandberg are active agents of patriarchy, but they aren’t partners, aren’t equals. Any seat at the table is provisional. They have not beaten patriarchy at its own game; they are ornaments at least, cover at most. They are tools.

I don’t mean to say a talented woman cannot achieve. I’m saying we need to keep our eyes open and we need to watch closely for the pitfalls of patriarchy.

I’ve compared Rachel to Ivanka Trump, a symbol of the excess and hypocrisy of the current era. Now I’ll compare her to the women computer science engineers who took jobs at Uber. They were jazzed because they thought they worked in a meritocracy, where their smarts, skills, vision and dedication would be rewarded. They discovered that the inner circle was closed to them; that their work was taken and the credit given to men; that sexual harassment was the norm in the workplace;  they were not partners and not equals, merely tools. Many of them left Uber. One of them broke the silence, bringing down on herself a flood of rape and death threats; but she shone a light on a poisonous environment. That’s beating the patriarchy, and you don’t do it without getting wounded.

Of all the Leda cones, Rachel is the unlikable one, and this is intentional. She is meant mostly, in story terms, to be the adversary/opposite of Sarah. Rachel deals damage to other women, and ultimately to herself. She is one facet of patriarchy and she, like her mother Susan Duncan, is an object lesson for us. You do not beat the patriarchy, in this era, without taking damage, and Rachel has flesh and blood wounds as the series heads into its final episodes.

How do you combat a rigged system? Orphan Black tells us that you form community, you speak the truth, and you be prepared to lose reputation, standing and social status, at least in the short run. You create, and cherish, your family. You fight for one another. And maybe, eventually, you find freedom.

Rachel is an unpleasant character but we can learn from her. She is a cautionary tale, and we’re listening.

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Who Knew Euros Were So Pretty?

I didn’t, because I’d never seen one before.



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Short Story: Invasive Species

This is my original fiction. You have my permission to link to it. If you want to use any part or all of it, give me credit.

Speed Limit: 25 mph

Your Speed:  32

Your Speed: 34

Your Speed: 35

The car whooshes past me. The driver’s on her cell phone, multitasking, of course. It reminds me of Emelie, so frantic, so focused, so impatient with olds like me. We’re just in their way.

The sign isn’t talking to me of course. I’m on the sidewalk, and I don’t think my pace, two miles an hour at best, would even register on it. These days, with the arthritis, it’s probably more like one-point-five miles. They move the sign around, the city council does, and this older neighborhood between my house and the strip mall is getting its turn for a whole month.

I walk through this neighborhood five or six times a week on my way to the grocery store or the bank. I’ve walked it for about thirty-five years now. Henry and I used to walk it together. Now I walk it alone. I cross the little bridge over the dry creek-bed between my housing tract and this one. It’s a mile and half each way. I’ve watched this neighborhood grow, mature and gray. I watched the second-hand cars morph into glossy SUVs. Previously-owned economy cars bloomed in front of the homes, as the children reached driving age, then vanished as offspring went off to college, work, families of their own.  Motorhomes replaced the cars, retirees indulging their dreams of freedom, of travel. Lately, white vans with names like “Mobility Solutions” and “Warm Hands Living Assistance” have replaced the motorhomes. Next will come the estate sale vans. My life marches along in those same steps. Someday Emelie will have an estate sale, put my house on the market, and the cycle will repeat. I know it’s coming, but each day, when I’m walking, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming. I feel like I’m still a young mom with a brilliant, beautiful daughter, a miraculous late-in-life child, a daughter who likes me.

I know the youngsters blame us for the problems of the world. I understand. To them, we’re like pests, an invasive species. It’s because there are so many of us. We’re not really invasive, if you think about it. And we are going away, all of us, maybe just not fast enough for some.

Your Speed: Doves

Doves? That’s funny. I’ve never seen that before. Invasive species; doves are a case in point. The neighborhood swarms –or used to, anyway — with big, messy ring-necked doves. They drive smaller birds off my bird-feeders, and they’re noisy; from that irritating cooing to a mechanical rasping sound, chrrr, that sends shivers up my spine. The other week I had a new dove in the backyard. I called it the stupid dove because it was so slow. It couldn’t even find the feeder. Ugly, too, bedraggled wings and plumage the color of tarnished pewter. It looked like it was molting.

Your Speed: Run

These signs are so easy to hack. I wonder if the hacker’s nearby, changing it remotely. Get the old woman to run, that’s pretty funny. And it’s just not happening, not with my knees.

Your Speed: Run

I sent Emelie a video of the stupid dove. She’s studying diseases in birds, I thought she might recognize the variety. She said the video gave Kendra nightmares. I felt bad. I think Emelie blamed me for the nightmares, but then, she blames me for everything except global warming, and maybe even that. Like I said. I’m in her way.

I don’t know where the stupid doves came from. I thought the neighborhood cats –there used to be a passel of them – would take care of them, but the other day I saw a pair of those ugly birds. I haven’t seen the cats lately. This house right here, for instance, there’s a tuxedo cat that yowls, and then figure-eights itself around my ankles. I don’t see it today.

Your Speed: Zombie.

These kids and their zombies.

And now that I think about it, where is everybody? I stop and look around at the nearby houses. Usually in that yard there’s a woman watering her flower border. She wears a straw hat with big yellow flowers on it, and waters by hand. We always say hello to each other. She’s not here today.

I look at the house. There is a hole in her living room window.

Across the street, the house on the corner, glass is punched out of the windows in starburst shapes as wide as my two fists held together.

Your Speed: Doves.

This isn’t so funny. I reach for my phone, to look up NeighborShield and see if this vandalism has been reported.

Your Speed: Run.

Who would do this? And why is it all so quiet?

I hear a chrrrr in the trees behind me and I turn and look. There is a dove on a high branch. It is the new variety, tarnished pewter. It turns its head and glares at me out of a red eye. Now there’s another, and another. Chrrr.

Your Speed: Doves. Run. Run. Zombie. Doves. Run.

I’m too old to run. There is no place to shelter me. Behind me, above me, all around me, the rustling of their dead wings fills the air.

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The 13th Doctor; The new, New Doctor Who

I’m jazzed about the new incarnation – er, regeneration – of the Doctor in BBC’s long running fantasy show Doctor Who. Jodie Whitaker is a great actor and it’ll be nice to have a female Doctor for a while.  I’m not alone in that opinion, and, as you’d guess, plenty of people disagree with me and the internet is aflame with folks who hate-hate-HATE the idea of woman Doctor for various reasons.

For those of you who don’t watch Doctor Who, the Doctor is a Time Lord. The Time Lords used to travel in time and space, and when they reached the end of a lifespan, they would regenerate into another physical form. Originally, Time Lords had twelve regenerations (thirteen lifetimes) but somewhere in the 21st century, the regeneration rulebook got torn up and eaten by Daleks, or something, and for the Doctor, at least, there appears to be no limit to regenerations. Part of Doctor Who’s fame is the number of actors who had played the lead, and a standard fan question is “Who is your favorite Doctor?” Thus, the Doctor is a completely mutable being; no race, skin tone, age or sex is off the table for this character.

With the introduction of Jodie Whitaker comes also a change in showrunners. Chris Chibnall, best known in the US as the creator of BBC’s mystery show Broadchurch, will be the new showrunner. Chibnall and Whitaker know each other from that show, where Whitaker played the devastated mother of a murdered boy.

While I think the gender of the person portraying the Doctor doesn’t matter, I can see story reasons why the Doctor would regenerate as a woman now. I’m going to talk in boringly detailed fanspeak now; if you don’t watch the show check out the Wikipedia page; it will help.

All of New Who (the 21st century storylines) has been an exploration of the various elements of the Doctor’s character, set against the backdrop of the Time War and a choice the Doctor made during that war. With the tenth Doctor (David Tenant) and the eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) we saw a Doctor wo struggled with both atonement and denial, oddly enough, in that order. With the twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) we see a post-War Doctor sensibility; a Doctor who is not masquerading as a quirky quasi-human, but a truly nonhuman being. Gifted with a human companion who was both a “control freak” and an adventurer, the twelfth Doctor rediscovered or re-embraced the power of the Time Lords; and in the Who-verse, complete power does corrupt. The twelfth Doctor reminded us that the Doctor was never “a mad man with a box,” no matter how hard he tried to convince us of that; he was a trickster god. Godhood did not sit well on the twelfth Doctor, and in Capaldi’s final season, his new companion, a young woman named Bill, reminded him what it was to be human. Literally; in Capaldi’s penultimate episode, he and Bill are sitting on lawn chairs, eating take-away and bantering like old human friends… just before everything goes horribly wrong.

It seems logical that the next regeneration would want to look at things from a different perspective, different physiologically, and from the perspective of human society, which is where, frankly, the Doctor is usually operating.

I’m not worried about Whitaker; but I’m a little worried about Chibnall and what he will bring to – or jettison from – the franchise.

I’m basing my misgivings solely on my reaction after binge-watching Season 1 of Broadchurch, a show conceived of and created by Chris Chibnall. The show was an award winner in Britain and has gone on for three more seasons. It was well cast, beautifully acted, and beautifully shot, with a distinct moodiness that, in my opinion anyway, made it seem more important than it was. I enjoyed it, but the show let style compensate for storytelling and writing in some key areas, and that was disappointing. I worry how that will translate to the world of Who.

Clearly, Chibnall has a specific visual vocabulary. I’m not sure how well that vocabulary will mesh with Doctor Who, which also has a specific visual vocabulary and a very different one. I’m not talking about the Doctor’s costume or how the TARDIS (the time ship) looks different for each Doctor; I’m talking about the way shots are set up and the amount of time spent on them. I worry what the summing-up photo-montage at the end of each episode is going to look like; moody music, then one by one the Doctor, the companion, and a Dalek staring meditatively out into space or into the camera. Good Lord. The potential for it to be laughably bad is high, very high.

Seriously concerning too is Chibnall’s tendency, as a writer, to let the women characters have all the consequences of the men characters’ action. This is already a problem in Doctor Who (Donna Noble, anyone?) even though usually, the women are only stuck carrying the consequences of the Doctor’s actions. Clara’s acts and the fallout in the episode “Face the Raven” actually address this; Clara acts on her own, assuming the safety net of the Doctor, which is the opposite of what usually happens to women in this show.

Chibnall carries this trope even farther in Broadchurch, making Ellie Miller the scapegoat, the fall guy, for every part of the murder mystery. Adding insult to injury, Broadchurch shakes a lecturing finger in Miller’s face with a “judge not lest you be judged” theme that is entirely too on-the-nose.

I’m worried that Chibnall will tempted, now that the Doctor is a woman, to go back and heap a whole bunch of Time Lord consequences on her, because he can. This would be ignoring the evolution of the Doctor, and the importance of the story of the War Doctor, but it looks like how he approaches storytelling.

On the other hand, I have heard that Chibnall is “an ascended fan.” Like Capaldi, like Tenant, he is someone who grew up watching the show, so maybe he does understand it and can move beyond one-note storytelling to truly explore what it means to be the Doctor.

I’m worried, but I’m excited, too. Doctor Who is going in a new direction. I’ll definitely be along for the ride.

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