Obtainium Cup II: Mare Island

Warehouse Wall, Four Windows, Mare Island, CA

Warehouse wall, Four Windows, Mare Island, CA

Mare Island sits due west across the Napa River from the Navy town of Vallejo. The island was home to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard from 1852 until 1996, when its closure was completed. The shipyard still sports huge dry docks, gigantic cranes and huge red brick buildings, mostly vacant, but during World War II, the yard hosted 50,000 workers. (Not all at once.)

Exterior Staircase forms the letter Z

Exterior Staircase

Much of the timbers inside these derelict buildings have been, ahem, “scavenged,” because much of it was virgin redwood.

Farragut Plaza wrought iron sign, building in the background.

Farragut Plaza

They may be empty, but there is something both majestic and haunting about these buildings and this waterfront. Certainly there are some businesses in place along Nimitz Avenue, the island’s eastern waterfront that looks out over Vallejo. (The G-Street bridge connects the two.) Many of the beautiful old mansions that were officers’ quarters are available for lease, and one of them is the tasting room for Godfather’s Prohibition Wines. I was told by a Vallejo resident that there is a golf course and a “nice” gated community on the island but I didn’t drive by to see it. Frankly, the haunted buildings and the huge equipment draw me, not golf courses.

Crooked window blinds make a fan shape.

Crooked Window Blinds

The original chapel of the shipyard is still open to the public; it can be rented for events but I think they also give tours. It’s on Walnut Avenue and if you have a chance for a tour, take it, because it has the biggest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany Company stained glass windows on the west coast.

Four Hard Hats in a teal-framed window.

Four Hard Hats

Dry Dock. If you look at the tiny figure to the right, that's Lillian, getting a much better photo that I did.

Dry Dock. If you look at the tiny figure to the right, that’s Lillian, getting a much better photo than I did.

At the end of WWII into the long Cold War, Mare Island specialized in building and repairing nuclear submarines, but another specialty was “riverine warfare,” an important factor in the Vietnam War. The Napa river was home to many swift boat groups and maneuvers.

“Use Other Door.”


Lillian and the window.

Lillian and the window.

Vallejo was 100% a navy town and its fortunes were linked to the shipyard. It was a bad economic blow to the city when in 1993 the base was identified for closure. Some Vallejo locals feel that the closure was not dictated by military need but as retaliation against the region’s liberal Congressional Representative, Ron Dellums. I am not a local, but I believe that too. The base shut down completely in 1996.

White Trestle Against Blue Sky

White Trestle Against Blue Sky

Still, there is economic life on the island. There is a company that builds pre-fab kit houses; there is a gallery and a whole row of businesses on 7th Street between Nimitz Ave and the water. The Vallejo city council just voted to open negotiations with an electric car company (not Tesla) to build a manufacturing plant on the island. A Faraday Future plant would bring good-paying, long-term jobs to the area.

Raven carcass.

Raven carcass.

Brick wall, blue door with view to crossbeams in the interior.


I don’t understand exactly how Mare Island works, because some of it is still federal land, I think. There is a museum close to the waterfront, and a microbrewery, and there is a project to create a Cultural Core centered on two or three of the beautiful long warehouses on Nimitz.

Power Plant Shop 03 plaster medallion on brick wall

Power Plant Shop 03

I think my favorite building along this stretch was Power Plant Station 03. From every angle, it looks like a different building, from the Chutes and Ladders effect on the western side, with the huge smokestack and the curving connector that makes it look like an ocean liner; from the sturdy red brick and the dark windows, to the door that opens to the air.

Power Plant Shop 03

Power Plant Shop 03

I would love to photograph here just before dawn, in the fall, before the sun hits the Napa River. I’d love to photograph at twilight. I’d love to see these buildings in the rain, and from the view point on the water.

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Obtainium Cup I: The Flying Monkeys!

Sunday, July 17, 2016, was the date for the Obainium Cup Car Rally. Lillian and I attended. The event is put on by the Obtainium Works art car studio and artists’ collective on Pennsylvania Avenue in Vallejo, CA. The event itself was at Alden Park on Mare Island, due west (across the river) from Vallejo.

A sampler of rally cars.

A sampler of rally cars.

This was the fifth Obtainium Cup Rally, and participants maneuvered their human-powered or gas-powered vehicles through a course that led them through serious, serious obstacles, like flying monkeys, zombies and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

This wasn't in the rally, a steampunk bicycle.

This wasn’t in the rally.

Before the rally started at 3:00 pm, though, there was plenty of time to study the vehicles, wander the booths and generally check out a dedicated group of steam-punkers in their never-was-Victoriana finery. You could buy plenty of steampunk hats, necklaces, goggles and corsets and there were booths with fabric artists and other jewelers as well. It wasn’t a huge gathering, but there was a good variety.

Woman in black, white and red steampunk costume

Colorful costume

Reflections. This booth had hats, fascinators, skirts and bustiers.

Reflections. This booth had hats, fascinators, skirts and bustiers.

Kaleidoscope Eyes Lillian wears faceted goggles.

Kaleidoscope Eyes

Image of gazebo through colored, faceted lens.

And greetings from the other side.

The buildings that surround the park, some Second Revival style mansions, the functional and powerful red brick buildings of the former naval base, and one or two Second Empire style buildings give this event the proper historical feel, and a nice edge of other-worldliness, since many of these buildings are still vacant. There is a humming steam-punk vibe to the area around the park, and as Lillian and I walked around, in the bright summer sun through the still, warm air, I was imagining a horror movie filmed here; turned on its head and set in midday in broad daylight.

Farragut Plaza

Farragut Plaza

But then we were on to the rally!

The vehicles are released by a marshall; it’s not a race, it’s a rally, and the control of the “pack” gives the hazards time to get set up. We watched the flying monkeys, and I don’t think anything could have beaten that for fun, exercise, and sheer silliness. The first two vehicles sent on their way were bicycle-like, and both participants were obviously old hands at the rally, because when they saw that the flying monkeys were not quite ready, they looped around and rode in a circle for a minute or two. Then they braved the hazard, dodging plushy animals shot at them from repurposed confetti cannons.

Geppeto and Son take off!

Geppeto and Son take off!

Obtainium Cup scoops Sharknado

Obtainium Cup scoops Sharknado

Flying Monkeys Plushy animals shot from confetti cannon.

Flying Monkeys

We didn’t walk all the way down to the zombie hazard because it was at the far end of the course, but we did check out the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. While a good idea in concept, I thought the execution was poor; there were several stations or “trials” (my word, not theirs) each participant had to stop at, all from Alice in Wonderland, and it looked like the first one was actually a judging booth. Anyway, can you say “backlog?” Lillian and I walked along to look at the stations and made it all the way to the Red Queen’s court before the first rallyist caught up to us.

The blurry tan thing just over the roof of the silver car in the background-- that's a flying monkey.

The blurry tan thing just over the roof of the silver car in the background– that’s a flying monkey.

Rambo Sixteen, Flying Monkeys

Rambo XVI — Flying Monkeys

On the other hand, we were walking through a beautiful parklike area of lush grass, beautiful trees, some native, some introduced… and headstone-like bunkers, another reminder that this tranquil place was a former naval base. And, ghosts, or at least one ghost, are real.

Graffiti reads "Ghost are real."

Just the one ghost, though. Just the one.

If you follow 8th Street down to Nimitz Avenue you are at the waterfront, and due east across the street is the city of Vallejo. You can see the ferry landing and a park from the waterfront. It’s a view of Vallejo I’d never had before.

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Three Things I Knew for Sure.

I started a writing project a couple of months ago. I don’t remember when, exactly, maybe early May. It’s urban fantasy, and I didn’t quite know where I was going with it, but there were three things I knew for sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and with complete confidence.

1. I knew it wasn’t going to be a novel.

2. I knew that it was going to be one person’s story, told in that person’s point of view exclusively. Within her POV, I intended to play with voice, and tense, and even POV (I know that sounds weird) shifting from close- 3rd person to, rarely, second person. Still, it was going to be all her. Only her. Only her for the whole thing, which was probably going to be a novella because See: 1 Above.

3. I also knew that an institutionalized character who gets named fairly early in the piece would have very little to do with the story. They are institutionalized to make a certain point about what’s going on; and also to limit the number of characters I had to juggle, because I was getting quite a crowd. Also, I didn’t want to draw too much attention to the person who is locked away because I don’t want any more echoes of a cheesy 90s horror movie called Final Destination than I already had.

(Oops! It’s not a 90s film – it came out in 2000.)

Okay, so while I had an inkling of a story and I knew about my characters, I didn’t really have a handle on a plot yet, but at least I had three rock-solid, cast-in-steel, pick-your-metaphor principles from which I would not deviate.

Brandy and I meet weekly for a writing appointment. About four weeks ago:

Brandy: D’you think it might be a novel?
Me: Nope. Not a novel. A long novella, maybe, not a novel.
Brandy: How long is it now?
Me:  Ummm… about 20,000 words.

That was then. Now it’s about 38,000 words, which is fine, could still be a novella, only plot-wise (yes, now I do have a plot,) the story is somewhere between one-third and one-half done. If you picture an analog clock-face, the hands are at 4:30. A quick calculation puts the final word count, minimum, at around 90,000. That’s not a novella. That’s a naah–. That’s a naahvuh–. Nope. Won’t say it. I just won’t say it. I’m calling it “the project.”

Time and words rolled on, and one other time Brandy and I were talking and I was explaining about one of my refugee characters, who had been destined to be a political ruler – let’s say a queen — in her home dimension.

Brandy:  It sounds like her story’s interesting. Will we get any of the book, er, I mean, story, in her point of view?
Me: Oh, no. Never. This entire project is in Miranda’s point of view.
Brandy: Even though her story is so… ?
Me: Yep. Miranda’s POV. Miranda’s POV all the way. No question. I don’t know much about what’s going on here, but I know that, for sure.

Two days later I started writing a 5,000 word section in the refugee character’s point of view, as she recounts her childhood and her deposition to Miranda. It isn’t just background. It’s going into the project. I could try to hedge and say that Miranda is listening to this story being told and therefore it’s still her POV but… even I don’t buy that.

At least I have stayed steadfast to my principle that Nieve, the character whose family had her institutionalized is not a major plot point and doesn’t need to be included any more than she already is. I mean, just because she thinks she saw demons, only she really did see demons (or at least, visitors) and…

Refugee Queen in Exile:  Well, who did you see?
Miranda: Me? I didn’t see anybody.
Refugee Queen in Exile: There must have been somebody who saw them and can tell us what they looked like!
Miranda: Um… well, actually…
(Dialogue approximate.)

Oh, sigh.

So much for certainties.

Here’s something I can say with certainty… the project is being presented in Times New Roman 12 pt font. I know this for sure.



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The Ballad of the Lost Roomba

Ross Lockhart, publisher and editor-in-chief of Word Horde Publishing, takes street-photos of Petaluma and posts them on Twitter. Ross has a great eye, and frankly, Petaluma just has great graffiti, and great stuff on its streets. Anyway, about a week ago, Ross found a poster asking for information about a lost Roomba. In case you haven’t seen or heard of the robotic vacuum cleaner, here’s a picture of one being ridden by a cat. Because why not?

Roomba Vacuum with cat passenger.

Roomba Vacuum with cat passenger.

Ross tweeted that he wanted to hear “The Ballad of the Lost Roomba.”  That was all the encouragement it took, sadly. And then, to make it even worse, Pokemon Go came out. How was I supposed to ignore that?

The Ballad of the Lost Roomba

Amy brought out the Roomba
She knew it would be fine.
She set the machine for Widely Roam
And went to work online.

The Roomba cleaned the corners,
The baseboard and the floor.
While the kids ran in and out
It Widely Roamed right out the door.

Oh, Roomba, Roomba, Roomba
You’re smaller than a mower.
But bigger than a Pokemon,
I thought you would be slower.

Amy put signs on light poles
And offered a reward.
She thought she’d get some intell,
But instead she got a hoard

Of comments, questions and critique
And lots of snarky backchat,
Like “Why wasn’t your Roomba microchipped?”
And sarcastic things like that.

Oh, Roomba, Roomba, Roomba
You’re smaller than a mower.
But bigger than a Pokemon,
I thought you would be slower.

The Roomba hummed down D Street
Which wasn’t very hard.
At the stoplight it turned left
To clean up Petaluma Boulevard.

After all the stores are closed,
In the quiet of the night,
The Roomba sucks the gutters clean
And disappears at morning light.

By now its charge has flat-lined
But people swear they’ve seen it,
Plugging in to power poles.
I wonder if they mean it.

Oh, Roomba, Roomba, Roomba
You’re smaller than a mower.
But bigger than a Pokemon,
I thought you would be slower.

“Oh dear Roomba,” Amy cried.
“Where-ever did you go?
I have to use a Dyson now.
It’s not the same, you know.”

Oh, valiant, ghostly Roomba,
With all your secret cleaning,
You bring back age-old questions,
And fill them with new meaning.

You make AI official, The answer is official,
Cleaning gutters for the win, You’re not a rolling garbage bin,
Your intelligence is artificial,
But your work is genuine.

As you can tell immediately, this is a rough draft. I welcome comments. Maybe in a few days you’ll the first of many revisions.

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Judith Merril or How Women Destroy Science Fiction

I didn’t wake up one Tuesday and think, “I’ll go research Judith Merril on the internet; that’ll be fun!” You can credit—or blame—Twitter for this post.

About two weeks ago I saw a tweet from a young woman SFF writer/editor. I haven’t read anything by her yet, even though she’s on my list, but based on an anthology she edited called She Walks in Shadows I can tell you she’s a damn fine editor. Anyway, she’d linked to an editorial in an online SFF magazine in which a writer from the 1960s trashed a woman named Judith Merril. You can’t really hear someone rolling their eyes via Twitter, but if you could…

Of Merril, the editorial writer said, “She had been on an increasingly evident, now unapologetic campaign to destroy science fiction.” (He actually touched a keyboard and typed “destroy science fiction!” Snort.) Merril’s name seemed familiar, and the associations were positive, but I couldn’t remember any details. Fortunately, the guy writing the editorial provided some book names, which I guess proved that she destroyed SFF somehow. That gave me a starting point.

Judith Merril is a name associated in my memory with two writers whose work I admired, and who I like and respect personally (past tense for one of them, he died several years ago). They are Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight. It turns out Merril’s association with Knight went back a long way; Merril, like Knight, was part of the group that called themselves The Futurians.

Merril, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1923, wrote and published short science fiction and SFF novels. In 1948 she sold her first story, “That Only a Mother,” an epistolary story confronting the terror of nuclear war and subsequent genetic mutations. In 1950, her SFF story “Dead Center” was included in the national anthology Best American Short Stories. It was the first SFF story to be included in that annual literary anthology.

While she clearly had the writing chops, it was as an editor and the cofounder of the Milford Workshop that Merril had the biggest influence on the field. That influence was powerful and continues to this day.

Merril, like a handful of the genre writers around her, wanted to see SFF given respect. She wanted the quality of the writing and storytelling in the speculative field to be equal to the ideas generated. This probably put her at odds with some writers in the field at the time, but her ideas took hold. With Knight and British writer James Blish, Merill co-founded a writing workshop for SFF writers, called the Milford Workshop. The workshop had specific rules for critique, and the emphasis was on storytelling, language, character development… all the things that make a story great. Milford started in the mid-1950s, and if it sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because in 1968 Robin Scott Wilson approached Knight and Wilhelm to help him start a similar program, which he called Clarion.

During Milford’s USA run (it moved to Britain in 1972) some people disliked it; they felt that because influential editors attended it, it had become a clique or a network, favoring Milford participants over other writers. It was not-so-humorously nicknamed “the Milford Mafia” by a few, according to SF Encyclopedia. This doesn’t surprise me. That’s exactly how I feel about Clarion at least ten percent of the time. Let’s look at the no-talents who came out Milford! There’s some guy named Harlan Ellison. He never went on to do anything. A few others; Kate Wilhelm, Robert Silverberg, Samuel R. Delany, Terry Carr. Well, it is getting a little harder to maintain the “favoritism” rant.

During the 50s and 60s, Merril was writing less and editing more, mostly anthologies. From 1956 to 1968 she curated the Year’s Greatest/Best SF anthologies. She was one of the first US editors to use the phrase New Wave, and in 1967 her anthology of British SFF, England Swings, introduced a whole bunch of us to writers like Michael Moorcock.

Editors and champions like Merril encouraged writers like Marta Randall, Ursula K LeGuin, Robert Silverberg, Lucius Shepherd, Vonda McIntrye and Kim Stanley Robinson to write stories with a high degree of attention to writing quality. More than that, many of these stories focused less on an abstract description of some technological/mathematical invention and more on how the invention, the breakthrough, affected people, everyday, actual people.

In 1968, disgusted by the US involvement in the Viet Nam war, Merril moved to Canada and became a Canadian citizen. She continued to write, teach and edit, creating a library of SFF (called “The Spaced Out Library”) at a Canadian college. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, posthumously, in 2013.

If you include Clarion as a direct descendant of Milford, and I do, you see four generations and six decades of Merril’s influence. If you pick up F&SF Magazine and read how many writers attended Clarion, you see that the influence continues. As much as that, she pushed us to expand our vocabulary about our field, to apply standards and a degree of rigor to the work we create and the work we enjoy. To employ a term often used in a different context by white-supremacists, Merril helped us reject the “soft tyranny of reduced expectations.”

If Merril’s true intent was to “destroy science fiction,” then she failed badly, because it’s more robust than ever. Because of editors and people like her, we can proudly claim writers like Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar, China Mieville, Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell for our own; we aren’t stuck at the dark table in the back corner near the kitchen while the New York Times sweeps up our best and brightest as “literary” and dismisses the rest as “pulp.” And we aren’t embarrassed by the work that’s pulp, either, we embrace it, because for the most part, we are leaving our inferiority complex behind.

If we assume Merril’s mission was something different, like maybe, as she said in her own words, to break down the walls separating mainstream work from SFF, then she was a success. And still is. I think this is leading me to a new catchphrase, “That which women will destroy they first make better.”

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4000 Books

This is a story about a scrappy band of rebels who triumph over the dark forces of badness. It is a story full of light, or a sad story of evil and neglect. We get to decide which of those it is.

On the very light side of the story is a woman named Margaret Garcia, who is a star. Garcia works for a small middle school/high school in an isolated, rural California county, close to both the Oregon and Nevada borders. She also models and has a blog. Most importantly, she knows how to mobilize the internet. On June 7, 2016, Garcia posted a plea on her blog, where she also talks about family, food, plus-size modeling and shoes. The post wasn’t about those things. It was about the town of Greenville, California, and two high schools, a charter school and the local public school, neither of which had a useful school library. The county provided no money to purchase books, had no salary for a librarian, and couldn’t deal with the challenges of a volunteer librarian. No books had been purchased since the 1990s, and when Garcia flipped through the books that were there, some hadn’t been checked out since the 1980s. The so-called “library” was a room-sized time capsule, not a workable, welcoming space for kids to learn, read and imagine.

Garcia made a simple plea, expressed in the title of the post.

Just. One. Book.

Could every person who read this post send just one book? She included not one, but two addresses, since the school office closes for the month of July. And then, somehow, she got it out there onto the screens of the people who would make it go viral.

And it did.

The response was a tidal wave. After several suggestions, the teachers of the two schools composed an Amazon wish list. Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) shared the post and planned to get involved. The post was linked on Twitter. Bookstores got involved. I linked to it in my weekly World Wide Wednesday post on Fantasy Literature, and I sent 2 boxes of books.

By the end of June, Garcia was laughingly, tearfully, joyfully asking people to stop sending books, please! The wish list was cleaned out, and they had 4,000 books. She collected 4,000 books in less than four weeks.

(This post shows some pictures of students, and the community, working together on a Friday to turn boxes of books into a library.)

As I said, the scrappy band of rebels wins! They destroy the death-star of the time-capsule, and create a real, useful library. It’s a win for Greenville, California and a win for the kids in that county.  At least for now.

It’s a win for the internet. This is something the internet does really well; it lets people who want to help really help. It lets you send money; but it also lets you send goods to people who need them; flood or hurricane survivors who need drinking water, first aid kits or blankets,emergency supplies to families of victims of mass shootings… or books to kids who desperately need books.

And I felt good. I had passed along the message, I sent two boxes of books, I had helped.

Since I’m a contrarian, though, I have to wonder about the evil empire that has not been crushed and defeated by this victory.

That “evil empire,” of course, isn’t any such thing. It’s just a funding system for public schools that guarantees the funding will plunge when an economy plunges, and does not adjust for seismic economic shifts that can rock small towns, particularly isolated rural ones. The evil empire is public school funding that is inadequate to fund a working library; and more seriously (and more evil) an underlying philosophy that reading isn’t important anymore, hence libraries don’t really matter.

That is the true evil empire, and I say that as someone who lives in a county where our libraries still aren’t open on Mondays.

Garcia made it to the transmitter in the top of the secret base; she sent out the message, and the rebel fleet arrived to deliver 4,000 books.  The rebel fleet did not bring bookshelves, a librarian, or a dedicated book-buying fund. (Is some kind of dedicated book-buying fund a possibility?)

The triumphant rebel fleet did not change the reality of the school district’s finances (although it may have provided some insight about the importance of libraries).

This is a win. It is a big win. But what will the Greenville Schools library do in a year? In three years? In five?

Probably, they’ll hope that Margaret Garcia is still in town.

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Earlier this week I walked up to the bank to deposit my check from Daily Science Fiction, for the story they just published.

I felt ridiculously good about it.

Let me put this is some perspective. This was not a large check. I think maybe I could have paid a household bill with… well, let me check, yes, I could have paid the energy bill with it and had enough left over for lunch. Not a fancy lunch, and it’s summer, so our energy costs this month were low, but still.

It’s a big enough check that it would have paid for a nice dinner for Spouse and me, but the phrase “don’t quit your day job” has not become obsolete. And, still, I’m ridiculously pleased.

We are, good or bad, a capitalist society and getting money for something means that someone besides you (or your parents, partner and friends) found it to be of value.

It’s validating.

Why is this teaspoon of validation so important? There is a high volume of rejection inherent in sending out your work. Better writers and essayists than I have written and discussed rejection in detail. They’ve talked about strategies to overcome the disappointment and hurt that comes with many rejections, the hopelessness.

Most of us don’t even talk about all the locked doors, barred windows and Don’t Even Think of Parking Here signs you see in the writing biz, long before you even get a rejection.

You’re told that there are no markets for short fiction (especially genre fiction). You hear and read that publishers won’t take an “un-agented” manuscript, but an agent won’t read your manuscript, they want a pitch. They want you, introvert that you are, to schmooze them about your book. When you start researching markets, you find that they all closed to submissions just last week. You find that their minimum word count is just five hundred words higher than the word count of your current story, or the upper word limit is far below the length of your story. You find out that they no longer plan to accept unsolicited manuscripts. You find that they are defunct. You find out that the deadline for the contest you just heard about, that your piece would be perfect for, closed yesterday, the day before you heard about it.

None of these is a rejection. It isn’t even as good as a rejection. They haven’t listened to what you have to say. They won’t let you in the door. It’s discouraging.

That can all be tolerated, but underneath it is a steady rumble, a hum, kind of like an air conditioner running in the background, that shares with you all the reasons you shouldn’t even write at all. There are people who can’t wait to tell you why you shouldn’t bother.

There are lots of them. Many –most—are on Twitter, and many are writers. There are so many, and they are so consistent in their urge to explain that writing is hard work, that you aren’t a special snowflake and your words really don’t matter, that publishing is a cutthroat business run by shoemakers who don’t care about books and you can’t trust anyone, that I do have to wonder if some of it isn’t motivated, if unconsciously, by a desire to thin out the competition. And it will work, if you let it, because the chorus is so constant.

Yes, there are hundreds of generous writers out there who provide space and encouragement to new writers, and yes, I know… just get off Twitter. I’m talking about the general atmosphere. And about getting off Twitter—well, I had a story accepted by an anthology today. I wouldn’t ever have known about it if a friend of mine hadn’t tweeted about it. So, staying off Twitter is a strategy with mixed results.

Besides, the steady rumbling comes from other places besides Twitter. Sometimes it’s from the friend next to you at the lunch table, explaining that it’s impossible for women to get published because college-grad-aged entitled white males have gripped the New York publishing scene by the throat and they only publish their friends and besides you’re a woman over fifty so you’re invisible anyway and there’s no one no one no one who wants to read your work or see your work or hear about your work or—


So a small check is a dissenting voice in the churn.

An acceptance lets you know that someone read your work without obligation, and they liked it. A check, sadly, still lets us know that they valued it. It breaks the drumbeat rhythm of the endless naysayers. It gives back some hope. It means I can go through my submissions spreadsheet and make sure everything I’ve got is going out, and not languishing. And it gives me hope to keep on writing.


Posted in Thoughts about Writing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The International Beach Glass Museum

Cass Forrington (Captain Cass Forrington) is the founder of the Sea Glass Museum in Fort Bragg. The museum is called the International Sea Glass Museum. I googled “sea glass museums” and a quick skim showed me a lot of glass museums, a lot of art glass, lots of sea glass jewelry and a few glass beaches, but no other Sea Glass Museums, so I’m not going to challenge the International designation.

The Museum is on Highway One just south Fort Bragg City limits. If you are headed northbound, it’s on your right about a quarter mile before the Botanical Garden turnoff (which is on your left). There are plenty of signs to the museum, but you may still be confused because it will look like you’re pulling up in front of someone’s home. That’s because the building is part of a duplex that Forrington has converted. Inside, the rooms are very small, I might even say cramped, and filled with display cases showing off thousands of glass shards. The cases are well organized and well catalogued, and the museum sorts the fragments by color, with a little background about each.

The museum also has a black light room, and I strongly recommend you visit it, just to see the glass shards glowing faintly in the dimness.

Glowing Glass in the Black Light Room

Glowing Glass in the Black Light Room

In the main exhibit room there is a “child-height” display case, something I really appreciated, and the day I was here I as sharing the space with two families with kids, who were peering into the case, pointing out various colors and shapes, and trying to guess what things might have been. (The displays have parts of old, bottles, drinking glasses, tubes, plates and scraps of some ceramic and pottery.)

Forrington also has a couple of his interviews with various TV programs playing in the main exhibit room. A lengthy topic of discussion is whether it is okay to take glass from Fort Bragg’s well-known Glass Beach. Forrington provides a clear explanation of the clause in California’s constitution that regulates state parks, beaches and other lands – the emphasis is on beaches – and explains exactly where you can, legally pick up glass and where you shouldn’t. He is probably correct, and bear in mind that probably, not every law enforcement official in Mendocino County has seen the video.

We’ve all seen sea glass, and we know that the tumbling in the surf and the scratch of sand gives glass an opaque, almost velvety texture. Visiting the museum, I learned a little more about what water and sunlight do to glass, and the ultimate breakdown.

The Sea Glass Museum falls squarely into the Americana category of Roadside Attraction. I expected to see lots of pretty glass. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned. Admission is free but donations are welcomed, and the suggested donation is $2.00/person. You can also buy sea glass jewelry and museum-themed tchotchkes like placemats.

When I pulled in, I saw a sign on the wall that said Unita. I wondered what Unita was; some international sea glass foundation? When I got in my car to leave I looked at the sign again and realized it said Unit A, which is very different.

I recommend this visit. Carrying on the theme, once you’ve seen the museum and visited the botanical garden, walk due north from the garden parking lot and visit the art glass shop Fire and Glass, which has gorgeous works, and, if you’re lucky, a working glassblower in the studio behind the shop.

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The Path to the Beach

Steep beach path

The Path to the Beach

Just as I got the bottom of the steep trail, almost down to the water, I head a pattering sound above me, like rain on a roof. It was gravel, a trickle of rock tumbling down from the concave cliff face over my head.

The headlands are familiar with erosion, which will come as no surprise to anyone; still it’s not what you want to hear when you’ve just walked down the steep narrow trail to the peace beach.

Cliff face. Right from up there.

Yes, right from up there.

Every time I come to Mendocino, which has been about twice a year since 2007, I’ve walked on the headlands. This was the first trip I’d made my way down the path to this beach.

For the first couple of years I hadn’t realized there was a path. It’s pretty hard to miss those steps though, especially if you want to stand at the top and take a picture of the arch, which I always do.

Ice plant growing out of eroded cliff face.

It’s not like I don’t understand the concept of erosion.

When I saw the path, a few years ago, I considered going down to the beach. Mostly, I thought I’d get a different perspective on the arch. I never did, for several reasons.

I was afraid it would hurt, that I would get to the bottom with pain.  I was afraid that I would fall and scrape skin, bruise myself, or worse. I was afraid I’d tumble off the trail and someone would have to come get me and cart me off on a gurney, and I’d be embarrassed at my own physical incompetence. That was the worst fear actually, that I couldn’t made it down, and back up, the trail. That I couldn’t do it.

All of those reasons started with the same three words.  I was afraid.

Curve of beach looking toward Big River

The beach looking toward Big River.

A few things were different this time. A week before I left for Mendocino, I bought new walking shoes. One day in them had made we realize how badly worn by comfortable old shoes had been, how thin they’d become. And I’d been walking more in general, again; mostly on level ground, not hikes, and mostly with an idea of getting in slightly better shape before I go to WorldCon. But still, walking, stretching out those muscles and letting the joints work, especially the achy knees that get locked when I spend hours in front of a screen, had done me good.

The day before, I walked about four miles in total, with short drives in between; a mile on the beach and along the river; three miles at the botanical garden and a one-mile loop to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. So this morning as a strolled the headlands, I didn’t feel stiff, I didn’t feel weak. Muscles felt firm and limber, joints swung smoothly.

I decided I could make it, and if I changed my mind, I would just turn around and come back.

Of course, my list of reasons why I didn’t want to go down the trail had never included, “Because erosion might bring the entire cliff down on my head.” It was a concern.

The cliff remained intact and I walked on the Peace Beach, as it’s now called, or as the locals call it, the beach.

I’ve never been a fan of the word “fearless.” If you’re truly fearless, then you have a brain deficit. Your amygdala isn’t working properly. However, fear and risk are on a continuum, and I don’t want to be ruled by fear, either. So, while I admire this spaniel puppy, reacting to her first view of the ocean with something that does look a lot of fearlessness, I don’t want to emulate her. I don’t want to be the person who, faced with a huge, awesome and complete unknown, plunges in without a thought. I do want to wade in, though. I do want to explore.

King Charles spaniel puppy at the edge of the surf.

Oh boy oh boy! The ocean!

King Charles spaniel swimming

First swim

Happy dog running on beach.

Happy dog

I can think of three times in my life when heeding my fear and turning back kept me from a serious injury. I can think of five other times when it probably did. Fear can be a friend.

Fear can be a bossy friend.

I never would have met this joyful pup if I hadn’t come down the trail. I never would have gotten these shots of the arch.

Arch rock with sunlight reflecting on water.

The Arch

Arch rock with wave rolling in.

And I very nearly did slip and fall on the log platform when I was climbing back up, but I caught myself, and it was all right.

Log platform on trail.

I nearly did fall, right back there.

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Both/ And

I saw this drawn on a driftwood log on the beach at the mouth of Big River, in Mendocino, California. I thought it was beautiful and intriguing and I took a picture of it.

Drawing on driftwood of longhaired person with wide eyes, beard around mouth and chin

And then I discovered that I was trying to decide if the portrait was male or female.

Male or female.

I went from zero to binary in about 1.5 seconds.

I have spent nearly sixty years in a system that used a binary model, and through my childhood and youth, a strictly binary model, to force people into a gender designation, so it isn’t too strange that my mind shunts over to that equation automatically. Noticing that, I could have dragged my thought process consciously back to looking at the face as it is, rather than pigeon-holing it as either/or.

I could have. Instead I did this.

Detail of drawing just shows eyes and hair

Why? Well, I liked the eyes. I still do. And, by taking this photo, I made a decision about how I chose to see the sex of the character portrayed, because the eyes and hair registered to me as female.

As a photographer, I’m a hobbyist. If I lean in any direction, it’s toward art/scenic rather than photojournalism. The artist left their art out in the wild, which means they have relinquished control, to some extent, over how people (other artists?) interact with it. I don’t think there is any ethical concern about me editing the image in an image of my own in a completely different medium. It’s interesting to me that I chose to, and that I actually stood in front of this for several seconds thinking, “Male? Female?” as if it mattered, and then chose a way to interact with it that limited the work to one sex.

But Marion, it’s just a bearded lady.

“Bearded lady,” from the old carnie and sideshow days, identifies the figure as both Female and Other (hey, a bonus!) and is also a holdover that that old, old system. She’s a “lady” (female) but not a real one because she has a beard (male) so she is Something Else. (I wonder which public restroom a Bearded Lady would be allowed to use.)

It’s possible that the lines around the lips, the jaw and the chin aren’t meant to represent a beard at all; it’s just the artist’s style. But I don’t think so.
Same driftwood portrait, full face

I think the artist of this portrait might be pleased that people like me stand in front of this downed tree, scoured by water, and wonder, “Male? Female?” Do many of us walk away with the decision that this face is both?

I did, but like most recoveries, I almost immediately faced backsliding. When I wrote this post, my first impulse was to title it Either/Or.


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