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Soul

You and I have a soul.  Animals don’t.  That’s the common understanding believed by a great many people.  But what about Homo Erectus?  Neanderthalus?  At what point in evolution toward homo-sapiens-sapiens did humanity become soulful?  I contend that there was no precise juncture in that incremental transformation at which he magically became the soul-mate of Divinity.

It is the ultimate hubris to claim that my beloved dog Maggie had no soul.  She climbed on top of me inside a freezing vehicle to keep me alive through one long stranded night while outside sub-zero temperatures plummeted and my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering.  My dog loved me, and I loved her.  How could she not have had a soul?

What speaks to my own spirit self is belief that life is expression of the Divine, beginning with single celled organisms and growing into the majestic Tree of Life, culminating in our claim to be human beings.  Biblical writers scribe of human creation in the image and likeness of God.  I can go along with that as metaphor, but only if creation is postulated to be progression by whatever algorithm, toward increasingly complex speciation.

Religious scriptures rhapsodize about God being love.  Who is it that does the loving?  Mammalian mothers do it for sure.  They bond with their issue as they offer leaking nipples to squalling newborns and watch them respond with the ecstasy of full bellies.  Spiders, who as an expression of sexual satiety munch their inseminators as well as sometimes even their young, surely make poor lovers.  Perhaps they feel a spasm of affection at the moment of joining—or not. For them, maybe love is simply the exquisite twinge of lust they sense as they are drawn toward their supreme biological imperative—however grotesque.

Fish lay eggs and swim away, as do reptiles.  Perhaps it’s cold blood that doesn’t lend itself to affection.  Worms, bisexual and not caring who knows it, copulate in a paroxysm of mutual union while they exchange sperm to fertilize the eggs they have each placed in their conjoined nest.  While they may have shared a true affection for each other, the fertilized eggs are left to fend for themselves. Love ‘em and leave ‘em seems to be standard nematode behavior, not the basis for any God-like lovingkindness.  In their defense, how lacking any arms, would they care for progeny?  On average, a worm will produce two thousand offspring per annum.  With such spectacular fecundity, it seems reasonable to leave legacy to statistics. Can it be that only Mammalia achieve souls?  If only animals that can express love can contribute to the cloud of affection generated by living loving creatures, that might be the cat’s last meow on the subject.

The same is certainly true for us, crowns of creation.  “I love you,” he says as he grips his dearest engorged appendage, “And I you,” she replies, eyelids lowered and fluttering.  Do they really believe such declarations?  Perhaps at the final consummation of things they do, sharing what is often coined la petite mort—the small death.  Or are they merely attracted to their attraction to each other?  Such brittle affections lead to the sort of adoration that causes spiders to dine on Dearie.  Beware.  Friendship is the highest ideal, with agape finding its way, if indeed at all.

Love as Holy Spirit might be considered to have its inception as life morphs into the complexity that specifies nerves, and the passing of electrical charges down axons, across synaptic gaps, and into bundles of neurons that claim to be brains.  Like any electric current moving through a conductor, it induces a magnetic field around and about itself.  That magnetic field is powerful and capable of inducing corresponding urges in neighboring conductors.  Conglomerations of such induced magnetisms in metal have spawned a planet-circling technology of electronic amazements that thrill and excite, as well as control every aspect of human culture and economy.

As life builds upon itself, summation of that inductive complexity might be understood as “God,” a Deity I can relate to.  On Sol’s third planet, life has bloomed into what ancient Greeks named Gaia, now defined by some as the concatenation of all aspects of our planet.  I concur but fail to understand how a rock could contribute to any lively inductions unless perhaps it was ferrous in composition.  For me, the line between soul and not-soul has to be drawn between life and not-life.  My handy compass is smart, but though it is tweaked by the magnetic field of earth, it has no soul.  Conversely, the lowly worm that proceeds endlessly through the turf of my lawn does have a soul, and if he were to evolve through future eons, he would discover himself to be the pattern on which much of complex life will have progressed. 

Anatomists love to mention the obvious pattern of animal biology, whether lowly or evolved, as being a tube within a tube.  That night-crawler in your bait bucket might even develop a swell head, if he had one at all.  A least he knows which way to progress through the loam, a bit of knowledge which presupposes differentiation of head vs tail.  Worms don’t crawl backward.  The rest is a recapitulation of Darwinian progression.  It was Earnst Haekel who wrote “The ontogeny recapitulates the phylogeny.”  He was explaining that in any embryo, growth and transformation reenacts the progression of the entire species.  As I sorted myself out, cozy in my mother’s uterus, my blastocyst tried out gills before it settled on lungs.  If such patterns can be observed on Earth, surely they would hold true on other worlds.

As life develops on other planets circling other suns, equivalent physical laws should apply no matter where in the universe of stars that life might arise.  God as spirit would surely bloom again based even on a wholly different molecular architecture, such as being built on silicone rather than carbon.  However construed, love would surely arise and declare itself.  As extraterrestrials dominate their planets and come to express the music of their little green souls, they will surely find a way to proclaim that God is love.

The best way to relax and think loving thoughts on this beautiful green earth is to seek out nature.  What makes nature so peaceful is that there are no people.  Animals as well as the pretty scenery, have a calming effect on humans.  That is true even though we and they sometimes eat other critters.  We seem to forgive them that indiscretion since it is in their animal nature to eat what they eat.  People think mean thoughts, and worse still, they cause us to think horribilities of our own. If the only way we can walk in beauty is to be alone in the wilderness, humanity is surely over. 

People who mistreat animals are less than good people.  They are evil, but they don’t become all bad all at once.  Like evolution, it takes time.  Is that what devolution is about?  What about axe murderers?  They are generating as much feeling as those who sing songs of love and joy, but they hate and rage instead.  Is there an unclean spirit to be produced by unkind thoughts and deeds?  Such a question is reminiscent of being cautioned by my mother to watch out for the Ol’ Devil.  Surely such concerns of the ancients must have led to conflict between positive vs negative concepts of spirit.  Most people aren’t easily categorized.  What about those mean girls back in high school, and the ubiquitous bullies?  They must have grown up to be solid citizens who adore their daughters, sons, and puppies.  If all sentient creatures are pumping out complex feelings, Satanic as well as Divine, what kind of thundercloud of Spirit might be gathering—to what effect? 

Al Gore may have invented the internet, but I invented Facebook.  Sure, I know it’s a stretch.  The straight scoop: I have long mused about the benefit of making of my life an open book.  For instance, what if every time I spoke about another person, that person could see and hear my statement?  That would no doubt mellow my words.  Do you often sense that you are a different person depending on whom you are addressing?  That can be a problem if you are suddenly with two people.  Which you will you be then?  Could that be the root of social anxiety?  It is scary to be real with a whole bunch of different people all at once.  Whom then might you be?

The obvious solution to this dilemma is Facebook, or something remarkably like it.  Assiduous utilization of such an asset can and surely will force users toward an integration of self.  Every comment must be weighed against the perceptions of everybody else, not just the person seated before you.  Methinks it is a conspiracy to civilize an uncivil society.  There have been worse plots.  This one I like!

In a recent dream I was riding around and about the farm with my oldest son in his 4-x-4.  We had been sitting in a meadow marveling at how green was the grass and how lovely the wildflowers.  Then bumping along in the vehicle we passed into a dark glade that fed into a rocky defile, that then degenerated quickly down an impossibly rough and boulder strewn path, down, down, down into a deep pool.  The water was still and strewn with floating vegetation and debris.  Dale persevered, assuring me that his truck was up to the challenge.  He pressed on, rolling into the water, but soon we were floating, the truck having become a boat with us holding on and swimming.  The long green strands of vegetation tangled with my treading feet and felt like slithering snakes.  I begged Dale to do something, anything, but he wasn’t afraid.  Dale is never afraid.  He said to just keep paddling.  We curved around the periphery, round and round, clearing away the greenery as we plowed through the water, using the truck as our blunt force object.  Several turns around and the pond was clean. 

He restarted the engine, gained some traction and up we went onto the far shore, chugging our way up the steep embankment.  This side was open, clear of trees and shrubs.  It was mostly domesticated fields, meadows, and pasture.  Dale explained that he needed to speak with a man in the community we were approaching.  The buildings were weathered and grey.  Many new structures had been attached to the existing ones.  Those were woven of grass on three sides, as well as the roofs, and affixed to the old houses and barns.  They were useless, without strength, either tensile or compressive.  They stood merely as concepts, delineating what might have been built, had circumstances been different.  Maybe they were only dreams or visions.

While Dale kept his meeting, I loitered, wandering into one of the large unmarked buildings.  It was a ladies lingerie emporium, with a luxuriant display of unmentionables.  Every item I noticed just happened to be my exact size, even the high heeled velvet boots I lasciviously admired.  There were too many colors to count, and they all were of complimentary shades, but the colors comprising individual garments were strangely combined.  I pulled out a pair of shimmery sea-green panties, and was amazed to see they were copiously decorated with brown lace.  I put them back, puzzled, and began to wonder what is “a pair” about panties.  Why are they sold as a pair, since they have no legs, only holes?  A pair of jeans makes good sense, with two good legs to make a legitimate pair of something to sell, even if only in concept.  Women must be pretty silly to pay good money for a pair of holes, no matter how decorously festooned with lace their apertures.

When I awoke it occurred to me that dreams are useful for sorting out quandaries that complicate our waking hours and defy any integration into what we understand about being alive in the world.  We seem to work harder asleep than awake.  Can’t we ever get any well-earned rest?  Also it would help if we could worry in sleep about things that really matter, rather than second-guessing the work product of distaff under garment designers.

Child Mind

Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you. Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  What does that mean?  What is it at core that sets the mind of a child apart from our own?  Children are first of all vulnerable.  They are open to any skullduggery, and are helpless to affect any change.  They perceive their position in the universe as children of parent gods.  Here they are, due to absolutely no fault of their own. 

Beginning at this rock bottom disadvantage, they must climb up and away.  The humility of lying turtle-like on backs awaiting milk and dry diapers suggests the beatific.  But even a child can’t maintain that posture for long.  In the benevolent order of things, diapers are no longer needed, and sleeping through the night is a lovely achievement.  Healthy child narcissism struggles with innate helplessness to presage the future adult.  Somewhere in there a turning point lurks.  An intact adult ego is hopefully the result.

Depending on upbringing, children are likely to be optimistic.  With most of life’s abuse still ahead of them, they have little memory of evil.  They expect more of the good stuff.  Our entire culture conspires to create the idea of lovely things coming down sooty chimneys to fill hopefully hung stockings.  Christmas was made for children. 

The Buddha made much of beginner’s mind.  A clean slate is universally revered.  A mind that is overrun with pre-conceptions is not likely to see the new with any clarity.  Everybody knows that a clean white sheet of paper speaks to the soul.  All hearts leap up when thoughts of September school supplies cross the mind.  A shiny new pencil, a pristine yet-to-be-opened pack of notebook paper, or a brand new book engenders an inner happiness recognized by any and all.  A child’s mind awaits incipient amazements yet a-birth.  It visions possibility in even the stub of a crayon.

Children are unlikely to have caused harm, and for a while at least, are happily guilt free.  The adults in their lives quickly disabuse them of that mindset, minions of guilt hanging from every tree and shrub.  Soon even the most gentle and pious of children learn to shoulder their load of self-retribution and inner loathing.

Children tend toward honesty.  This doesn’t mean they will starve before they steal an apple; it means they are willing to own their own hunger.  Like any home-grown Texan, they tell it like it is.  They start with a nascent veracity and proceed.  What is more honest than the first cry of a newborn?  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Vulnerable, humble, optimistic, guileless, honest.  It’s easy to see why Jesus admired kids.  He also spoke to the possibility of conversion—change for the better.  Real friends help you be a better person.  If they fail that basic test, dump them.  Aging with its incipient second childhood may be a blessing in disguise.  Now as I enjoy “A Place for Mom” due to my son Lane’s contriving to organize my progeny into a mom assistance pact, I am reminded of Lane as a small boy, on a family road trip through the Nevada desert.  We stopped for gas and a round of pop.  Of course we each dropped a quarter into the convenient one-armed-bandit.  When Lane plunked his in, he hit the jackpot.  Then we had to wait while he gathered his loot and spent it, every penny of it, on presents for everybody else.  It’s delightful to see the goodness of childhood carry over into a staunch, generous, and beautiful manhood.

No Sex

Asked to speak with a group of young women interested in STEM careers about what it was like to break into tech as a women oh-so-many years ago, I offered a few of my essays on that fraught subject to begin a dialogue.  The response was “Too much sex.  We are just interested in the work itself.”

My response was a total agreement.  It was way too sexual.  That was the big problem when women dared to suggest that we could do work available only to men.  Everything got to be gender-charged in a hurry.  In those days, it was being female that incited most of the problems. 

It reminds me of a dastardly job interview where after the interviewer and I were finished talking and rose to leave the office, he stood to reveal his zipper down, and underwear askew, though he was oblivious.  Whatever had he been doing behind his desk as he spoke at length with a female job applicant?  I asked that we wait a moment and requested that he tuck and zip before leaving the office.  He looked down, flushed red, and grabbed his crotch.  Yes, he was being much too sexual, pleasuring himself at my expense, while I spoke earnestly about my years of working as an engineer in various corporations, asking to be considered for serious work at the one he represented.  I was not a sex worker, but he had used me as if I were.  I left, happy to have learned—before signing any employment contract—that job was not for me.

Most job interviews were at least respectful if not serious.  In those days, I was often told that no woman was appropriate to the task, and would leave quietly.  What good would it do to fuss?  But there came a time when the law of the land caught up with all that.  I applied for an advertised position as Manufacturing Engineer at Murdock Machine and Manufacturing Company in Dallas.  The interviewer led me across the machine shop floor where catcalls approved my shapely legs.  He explained that as a woman I would never be able to deal with those bawdy workers and their technical problems.  He asked me if I could type, suggesting that if only I could type he would put me to work in the contract department.  I thanked him and left.  Then I drove to the EEOC where I sued his manly outfit and won a $60,000 payout plus a job offer.  The EEOC found the man they hired to be far less qualified.  I declined their job offer but gladly accepted their money, smiling all the way to the bank.

One of the beautiful things I helped improve for today’s young ladies presenting themselves as engineering applicants is an expectation of being taken seriously.  They deserve that, as did I, but I had to work very hard to achieve it.  While today’s sexual harassment is more subtle and sophisticated, it is still a problem in this millenium’s workplace.  Though there is no doubt that the young women applying for today’s STEM positions are worthy competitors, it is still a man’s world.  A woman’s place in it must still be fought for and won.

The young ladies puzzled about my early work history are correct.  Engineering is most assuredly not about sex.  But if I reconstructed my early mis-adventures, castrating the gender angst that often accrued to them, it would excise the irony that made them so compelling.  Worse still—it wouldn’t be true.

The Letter

My last letter from Judy was written from her hospital bed.  She explained how Wesson had beaten her—again—this time breaking three ribs and both bones of a forearm.  That arm was in a cast, her left one, a fortunate break since that left her good right arm capable of scratching out the letter.  She explained that Wesson was finally history.  As soon as she got better she would go see her lawyer and change her will.  She planned to leave her entire estate to me and cut Wesson out completely.  Of course she would be divorcing him, at long last.  Judy had lost count of how many times she had suffered his fractures and contusions.  She had long ago explained about how it was impossible to operate a serious business without Wesson to sign papers.  In 1963 Texas, women were just barely viable as persons. 

MacNeil’s Fashion Corner, an upscale ladies ready-to-wear emporium, so recently expanded to a newer grander venue was her personal creation, with Wesson doing nothing but serving as a front so it could function legally.  No matter how profitable her enterprise, whenever she needed to borrow money from the bank for product or real-estate expansion, after she had negotiated the terms of the agreement and shaken hands with the bank president, her husband was required to appear and make it shimmer legally in the Lone Star State.  Wesson R. MacNeil, not Jewel J. MacNeil, sealed every contract.

I shuddered, sensing the pain she must have been suffering and worried that he might do even worse when she returned home, still hurting.  Judy had emphysema, a result of all those many years of puff, puff, puffing on the cigarettes that she bought economically by the carton.  Judy wouldn’t be Judy without a dirty weed hanging from her lips.  There was no empathy from me on that score.  I had no idea how the nicotine pleasured her and felt only guilt despising a stupid habit that was surely killing her. 

It was only a few days after receiving the letter that my phone rang.  I grabbed it to hear Uncle CJ advising me of the worst.  Judy had returned home to heal and was found dead the very next morning.  CJ, as her eldest brother, was notified before noon by a Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputy.  Wesson claimed no knowledge of what had happened, but her pillow was found on the floor, not underneath her head.  The Medical Examiner certified emphysema to be the probable cause of death.  Respiratory phlegm smeared onto the pillow might have been collected as she was smothered by a violent attacker, or it could have been from fighting to breathe her last due to a terminal illness.  There was no knowing.  With no obvious proof or motive, who could say?

I was speechless, my head swimming.  I thanked Uncle CJ for letting me know and hung up the receiver.  I retrieved her letter from my dresser drawer and read through it again.  Of course Wesson had killed her.  Maybe I should send the letter with its postmarked envelope to CJ so he could take it to the Sheriff and file charges.  Maybe I should go to Texas myself and fight for her in person.  But whatever could I actually do?  I determined to keep the letter, the last memory of my dear Aunt who had loved me enough to give me a home and had intended even to provide for my future.  I would wait awhile and decide after thinking it through.

As tears chased each other down my cheeks I shuddered, imagining Judy smothered by her own pillow, under the fists of Wesson, my old nemesis.  What if he decided to kill me too?  Schoolwork had me already buried, preparing for college finals, and I couldn’t bring Judy back to life, no matter what I did.

Weeks went by, and when I answered the phone and again heard Uncle CJ’s drawl crawling out of the receiver, he explained that Wesson had married one of his neighbors only two months after Judy’s funeral.  That was a solid motive for wanting his wife dead in the ground.  I mentioned my recent letter from her, but CJ seemed depressed and distracted, just wanting to reach out to somebody who also had loved his sister.  We commiserated awhile, said our goodbyes, and hung up.

Months later I decided to look for the letter, but couldn’t find it.  It was nowhere—nowhere at all.  How could I possibly have lost it?  I’d been puzzling over why I had been thinking somebody else would avenge her death.  It was surely my job, and I had failed her.  She was too young to die—only fifty-five.  But then, there was no use going to Texas and raisin’ a ruckus, even if I scared up the money for a ticket.  Who would believe me anyhow?

Even all these many years later, whenever I poke about among my old papers, I always wonder if I might somehow turn up that fateful letter.  If ever I do, I will head for Dallas, even if I have to ride the dogs.  I need to find that Sheriff’s successor and fold that missive firmly into his hand.  I’ll explain that in 1963 I was just a stupid kid who didn’t know enough to step up when it was my turn to make things right.  Of course in 2021 Wesson is long dead, and his punishment is no longer up to me. 

Sure enough, an Internet lookup showed that Wesson Richardson MacNeil breathed for seventeen more years until 1980, and then he died.  He had to live all those many years with the guilty knowledge that he was a murderer, and murder has no statute of limitations—even in an oddball jurisdiction like Dallas County.  Of course a man like Wesson isn’t capable of guilt. Even so, the world needs to learn what happened to Jewel Josephine Tyson so she can rest in peace.  MacNeil might be a moniker gleefully discarded, her maiden name of Tyson reassumed.  It was interesting to notice the photo of her headstone posted online says only “Daughter.”  No mention of “Loving Wife” was inscribed to grace the headstone of this long married woman who had suffered so much at the hands of Wesson Richardson MacNeil.  Perhaps it would have cost money better spent for his upcoming nuptials.

There is no final exit so demeaning as being nibbled to death by a duck.  Why might that be?  I may be on the verge of discovering the answer to that age-old question.  I seem to be haunted by ducks, mallard ducks specifically, and worry that when I die, my afterlife will continue to be the object of some specter duck’s incessant nattering haunt.

For me it all started when I was two and found an Easter duckling in my basket along with the colored eggs and jelly beans.  It was my daddy’s doing.  He loved me more than I deserved since I was a fountain of misbehavior if my mommy was to be believed.  I loved that duck.  It was soft and yellow, and very dear.  He was little; I was big.  I wanted to speak with him but was uncertain about how.  My animal books said that cows go moo, dogs go woof, and ducks go quack.  My duck wouldn’t quack.  He was a bad duck.  I determined to make him quack so he would be a good duck.  I worried about how best to influence him toward behaving properly.  When the answer came to me in a flash of glorious insight, I set the duck on the ground, put a board on top of him, and stood on the board.  He would surely quack.  But he didn’t.

That memory came charging back into consciousness yesterday when I locked horns with Melissa Shrimplin, the program manager at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) where I am spending my days learning how to be a happy healthy senior as I devolve into decrepitude.  There is much to be learned at the J, and I am determined to get it figured out, in spite of myself.

Things were going as well as could be expected, given my complex provenance, and Melissa’s creative programming efforts were exemplary.  Covid appeared to be at bay, and oldsters were returning as their confidence in vaccination status gave them the will to socialize.  That was when the ducks showed up—again.  It was a mother mallard trailing a clutch of cuties dressed in speckled down.  She, with her newly hatched brood, was trapped inside the atrium of the JCC and she wanted out.  She had flown in and could surely fly up and out, but the babies couldn’t.  It was time to lead those chicks to water, and the only available fluid was dyed green and pumped in an endless loop through a decorative vertical fountain.  The entire cadre was mounting an attack on the window glass surround, their frenzied barrage to absolutely no avail.  They repeatedly slammed feathered and fuzzied bodies against the invisible barrier.  They squawked, fluttered, righted themselves, and retreated to try yet again.

I muttered about the quandary and asked Melissa, the friendliest power figure in sight, to please get somebody to call the US Fish and Wildlife Service since they are empowered to resolve such situations.  She assured me that had been accomplished, and the babies would soon be relocated to a proper habitat.  I breathed with relief and proceeded with my senior day.

But many suns after that, finding myself in a pocket of time between activities, I wandered out into the atrium, remembering the ducks and glad they had found a forever home.  But as I strolled toward the far corner of the landscaped area admiring the healthy trees and bushes, what did I hear but a quack.  It was the mother duck—still there.  She quacked again—a reprise.  Then she flap-waddled out from beneath her cover, quacking to her brood to keep-the-quack-up-or- else.  I was aghast.  They were still stranded.  The only water was a concretized green puddle that offered no opportunities for teaching young how to dabble for food.  How could they grow up to be proper knowledgeable waterfowl?  Some kind JCC soul must have been feeding them or they would already have become dead ducks.

A normal response to this information would have been a mild exclamation of amazement, and on to other things.  But I have a history with this kind of poultry.  I remembered as a toddler killing my pet duckling out of human ignorance.  It is hard to be dumber than a duck, but I had qualified.  As I traversed all my many days, again and again I encountered ducks.  Shortly after moving to Boston, Massachusetts, a lovely blue sky day sent Mommy and me to Boston Commons where we enjoyed a ride on the famous Swan-Boats.  It was one of those never-to-be-forgotten kind of days.  Everywhere the boat putt-putted it was accompanied by swarms of mallards positioning themselves for gratuitous tidbits.  The fat torpedo shaped bodies glided smoothly across the water, stopping every few foot-paddles to pivot head-down/tail-up, browsing for underwater produce.  They seemed to prefer our bread crumbs though and always gladly forsook dabbling for begging.  Several mother hens had clutches of babies that followed with unerring loyalty.  It was impossible to witness their antics without smiling, making it a happy memory.

Months later the Christmas Fairy arranged for a new book to find its way under my family’s tree.  It was a 1941 first edition of Robert McKloskey’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings.”  It was a relief to find that my fowl murder hadn’t stunted the species.  Other ducklings had mother and father ducks who tried hard to keep them safe.  Even when the family made a mistake, humans were able to understand and help them move through danger to a perfect home beside the Charles River.  It was my perfect book, assuring me that mistakes could be forgiven, and everything could finally be OK.

Many years later my husband, Ken, and I made a home on Irvine, California’s Woodbridge Lake.  We chose the condo especially for its lake access, with a deck that allowed fishing from either the living room or from the dining room.  Such intimacy with the water was pure pleasure, and every night after dinner our favorite pastime was a holding-hands promenade around the lake.  Of course my mallards had made an appearance, though a continent away.  The mother birds understood that our deck was a safe place to hatch babies, and we enjoyed the annual parade of ducklings making their way down to try the water.

It was during that residence along the lakeshore that I learned about duck rape.  Ken and I observed on our evening walks that ducks don’t simply agree to mate.  Several drakes would surround a hen.  They would hold her head down on the ground, while one at a time other ducks would have at her.  It was scandalous.  I was discouraged to find that my cherished waterfowl were lacking in nobility.  I’m still hoping that it was just a California anomaly, and that species-wide such ignoble behavior is not a universal.

Nothing is ever perfect.  That was a good lesson to learn.  Expectations of perfection of myself, or of others, is foolish and sure to lead to disappointment.  We all manage to be pretty wonderful most of the time.  That applies to ducks, to JCC managers, and even to myself.  We could have enjoyed living into being McKlowsky heroes to our misplaced mallards, but I am the one with a duck issue.  To well-adjusted people they are just waterfowl.  The ducks are sure to understand and forgive.  So must I.

Daddy

“I want my Daddy!” dreamtime-me cries to whatever enclosure encapsulates this happening.  It doesn’t answer.  Night terrors are interesting company but do not substitute for the real people we miss and want to revisit.  I am desperate to write about that larger than life man but procrastinate with every excuse imaginable.  I resist telling about his shadow side, not that it ever wished me ill or purposefully caused me harm.  Why then do I put this off?  I have written snippets of the whimsical father at home, sharing family fun, tutoring daughter determined to walk in his steps, later caring for aging mother.  That is easier than explaining how he forgot to divorce my own mother before he married, one after another, four other women.  Mommy and I were destitute.  She was stuck with a child to support, and no marketable skills beyond poetry and piano playing.  I was twisted into a love/hate dilemma with a Daddy who was long gone—fodder for night terrors.

But daytime memories are different. I open my front door and moan, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize— but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my inventor father, Kelsey, when during one joint endeavor I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.  “I’m not that smart,” I protested.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart—just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was understandable as several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an art of war.  It can focus energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does so well.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy family.  Daddy analyzed everything; only then he proceeded with what must be done, but he always gave it his own special twist. 

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin fly-tracker beyond compare donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Vacuum with its extra-long extension tube and set out on a small-game safari.  He delighted in this creative play, experiencing the thrill of the hunt, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every winged trophy pulled into and careening down the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner; and that it was only Daddy who wore the safari hat; our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to insert legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of putting on lower garments creatively.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the edge of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, he folded knees to chest and leaned far, far back, as pants sailed aloft, thrusting both feet into their proper pant legs.  When he rolled forward into starting position, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, draw them up, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed.  “That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under-drawers or panties.  Leaning forward, while you’re lifting legs one at a time, can strain your back.  Not healthy”

OK.  I got the picture.  During the ensuing sixty-eight years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks both legs at once.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent; how taking a creative approach to even the mundane chores of life can be the birthright of even a lost-and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over and over again day after day after day—a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or folded diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not the least bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and it was easier and faster with extra hands helping.  I did learn from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be structured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.

So—I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house including furniture, and superimposed a grid over the entire drawing.  Next, I labelled each grid square.  Those labels, I copied onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, pottery jug, along with additional whimsical assignments such as: Eat five M&M’s; Take a 30 minute nap; Mop the kitchen floor; Sing a song; Run around the house twice; Have a spot of tea; Share three of your many blessings.

So far so good.  Each player must choose, eyes closed, a slip of paper from the dark interior of the jug.  There’s the possibility you may be instructed to munch sweets or perform calisthenics.  More likely you will get a grid square number.  This is the point at which you feel the weight of the impossible task lift from your shoulders.  You must address what is in your grid square and only that.  You may not do any work outside of that square.  Like an observant Jew savoring Sabbath rest, you are relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not performing the whole impossible task.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must you do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of the bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must, in the benevolent order of things, await their turn.

Like Daddy repeatedly said, “Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.”  But having an endless source of vision can be daunting, as night after night of dreams attests and revisits.  My job is to integrate both fathers—the one in my dreams, and the one in my nightmares—into what is right and real.  Then he can indeed rest in peace, and so can I.  Memorializing my Dad can surely be accomplished as long as I tell his story one complicated chapter at a time, and be sure to have fun doing it.

I’ve spent the last sixty years complaining about getting kicked out of Carnegie Institute of Technology.  It was the end of everything.  When my Dad’s business went bankrupt, and he couldn’t pay second semester tuition and fees, it was all over for me.  I convinced the Dean of Students to let me sign on personally to the debt in return for permission to take final exams.  I sat for them, then packed my bags and took off for parts unknown.

In retrospect, losing my place in that very conservative engineering institution may have been the best thing ever to have happened to me.  After recovering my stance as a viable though modest bread-winner, it was time to get back to school.  Opportunities were limited.  The only four-year possibility within Greyhound commuting distance was Salem, a West Virginia teacher’s college tucked into the green Appalachian foothills, between Parkersburg and Clarksburg.  Engineering Physics wasn’t even offered.  The closest thing to my one-time dream was Divisional Science, available to secondary level teachers of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.  I signed on and didn’t look back. 

Salem was a liberal arts college.  That meant, I later discovered, that I would be exposed to a whole gamut of ideas, not just facts.  There were many courses in a lively continuum of scientific subjects, but also with my minor in English, I enjoyed all the richness of our language spread out as a table of linguistic delights.  For fun, there were spiritual electives, wherein I broadened my appreciation of what might be believed, how and why.  French and Art fell by the wayside.  I was sad to see them go, but you can’t learn everything.  As I look back over the way that crazy-quilt of education overlaid the world of work, I see that Salem curriculum as key to becoming an inventor in a way that fulfilled my dream as well as my prayer.  The dream was that I become an engineer my father could be proud of; the prayer was that he might love me even though I was a girl.  One thing led to another, and three years later I packed it in with just one semester remaining, returning to Texas—home.

My work career started at Richardson’s TI in 1964 Dallas—showing up and demanding a job, any job.  With two boys, 7 and 3, I had to get a life.  Enough with an idealized West-Virginia-mountain-mama-home and crawling toward a degree.  My kiddoes needed food and underpants.  At Texas Instruments, Apparatus Division, I had plenty of opportunity to see things uniquely vantaged.  Hired on as a lowly Assistant Assembler B, I soon reached back to the technical drawing learned at CIT and proposed a device to improve my workstation performance.  An after-hours built wiring board design that provided for group measuring, cutting, stripping, and soldering got instant attention, a raise and a promotion.  Then I got to write and illustrate assembly instructions until, repeatedly proposing work saving jigs and fixtures, I was promoted yet again to Tool Designer.  At six weeks I was making thrce what I had at grunt start pay.  TI was responsive.  They didn’t sneer at good ideas.  While there, carrying Badge Number 15695, I designed all the assembly tooling on the F-111 TFX program.  That was exciting since the TFX (terrain following radar) was the program’s claim to fame.  We were in the storm’s eye.  All that was fun, but I had hit the ceiling.  Even though I was assigned to coach every engineering school graduate new-hire how it was that I did what I did, no more money was possible without a college degree, and I was still one semester short of that achievement.

Transferring and crossing the street to TI’s Corporate Research and Engineering Division was a new start.  It was a wonky place where they understood my frustration and let me work while earning a bit more money, even without the sheepskin.  I worked for Dr. Linda Creagh who was doing research on 2-chloro-2-nitroso-butane, a photo reactive chemical, to demonstrate its use in working with a ruby laser as a research tool.  This was chemistry—not physics.  My job was to mix the required reagents to produce our compound, set up a distillation apparatus, and heat the slurry until it began boiling.  As temperature elevated, different fractions evaporated, were condensed and caught.  Each fraction was analyzed by a spectrophotometer to precisely measure its purity.  The 2-chloro-2-nitroso-butane we were after was an azure blue fluid that when very pure could be exposed to laser light demonstrating a wide variety of amazements.  But it wasn’t all that easy.  No matter how much care I took in isolating a fraction, there always remained enough impurity to spoil its use inside the little glass photo cube that waited for us to get our act together. 

I have often been amazed to find that the most innovative breakthroughs happen at the interstices of things.  This was a chemical problem, but the solution I found was a physical one.  We had been successful in producing very pure fractions of our chemical, but the impurities always seemed to be extremely volatile, evaporating at a very low temperature, and carried over into fractions where they didn’t belong.  Remembering Halloweens spent over boiling kettles while wearing witches hats and croaking, ‘When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?’ I picked up a hunk of dry ice at the local ice house and brought it to work disguised as lunch. 

I proposed my idea to Dr. Creagh, who listened with interest.  We put a nearly pure fraction of 2-chloro-2-nitroso-butane into a beaker and dropped into it a small lump of the dry ice—frozen carbon dioxide.  I counted on the dry ice not reacting to our compound, and the doctor agreed.  No chemical interaction was expected.  I was using the CO2 as an inert physical broom to brush away all those volatile impurities.  It worked!  The beaker frothed with CO2 being sublimed through the fluid—going direct from solid to gas and making a big froth—as the gas escaped, dragging volatile impurities up into the air and away.  The project was saved, and when it was written up for publication, I had earned a footnote mention for my invention of “a method for removing volatile impurities from a fluid.”  This was remarkable in that technicians don’t usually get any credit for anything, and for being one of many instances where innovation reaches across demarcations between specialties and fertilizes the process of invention.

This kind of approach served me well in a variety of situations.  A typical example was working for Varo Inc. where I migrated a year later since that outfit allowed technicians to work flexible hours in order to accommodate illusive degree programs.  I was a technician by day and attended advanced biochemistry classes at night.  I was amazed at how many drums of flux remover that Varo bought and used, and at what great expense.  So, I took some to school and analyzed it in the Chem Lab.  It was mostly dry cleaning fluid, with a dollop of amyl acetate (an ester that makes bananas smell like banana).  Varo started making its own flux remover and saving a bundle.  This wasn’t a healthy or environmentally friendly idea since perchloroethylene  isn’t something that should be continuously inhaled any more than Kester flux remover should be.  But it was a mile-post on my march.  It was also another shoulder rub from physical to chemical invention that earned me an ataboy—girl.

Yet another reach across as Engineer after I had acquired that elusive degree, was at Varo’s Static Power Division.  It was a Sherman Texas facility devoted entirely to manufacture of night vision power supplies.  Powering a night vision unit required a high voltage multiplier.  It was a string of diodes cleverly arrayed to step up to the extremely high voltages needed to see in very low light.  It was necessary to stabilize the component connections to prevent disastrous internal arcing.  An obscenely expensive potting compound was used to achieve this electrical isolation.  I replaced the compound with cheerfully cheap high tech beeswax.  It worked just as well and saved Varo a ton of bucks. It could be melted and drained if necessary, and that was a big advantage.

Sometimes it isn’t even necessary to look for the bright idea light bulb.  It’s just there glaring at you.  My first day at the TI Sherman facility found me stepping over bulging garbage bags, bags on top of bags, bags of spacers spilling onto the floor, swept up by tricky breezes to dance away and hide.  Of course the assembly line was stopped, quiet as death.  The tried-and-true method had turned out to be a bust.  Millions of plastic one-eighth inch diameter tiny plastic donuts stored in plastic bags were static discharge waiting to resolve.  Every attempt to recapture the spacers and present them for automated assembly with their target diodes had failed—miserably.  The charged spacers became a veritable fluid, had minds of their own, and resisted handling as they took flight willy-nilly inspired by their individual electromagnetic imperatives.  My reputation as a wise-ass preceded me, and my first assignment was to “fix this mess.”

It seemed so obvious.  The plastic spacers were formed in an injection molding machine inside a mold that formed twenty-four identical donuts, all tied together by the plastic caught in the molten plastic feed channels, called the sprue.  The spacers already had the perfect holding fixture, needing only the foresight to use it.  The sprue itself was every spacer’s perfect holder.  The invention invented itself.  I had only to design a tool that clamped the sprue with its twenty-four precisely located still-attached spacers while a human inserted twenty-four diodes into their yawning apertures, and only then pressed a button to automatically separate the twenty-four diode/spacer assemblies from the now superfluous sprue.  It worked.  The work-area was so tight that a single bar blade couldn’t access the washer/sprue attachment points, but twenty-four narrow gauge pointy tipped X-acto Knife Blades, cunningly mounted, did the trick.  A solenoid provided the requisite actuation.  An inclined plane allowed the blades to slide up and slice at just the right angle.  Big red push-switches initiated first “clamp” and then “cut.”  Making the switches dual-actuated kept fingers safely out-of-the-way.  A single switch pressed did nothing; only when both right and left buttons were depressed would anything happen.

Years later at TRW while working on military aerospace proposals, it was often when experts in different specialties met and knocked heads that the creative work got done.  My most satisfying personal contributions to those efforts seemed often rooted in that Salem College ambrosia of science as art.  It was then that I decided getting booted out of Carnegie Tech was not all that bad.  I’m told that this is one of the blessed truths of Kabballah: It’s where the wounds of life open you up that the light gets in and creates your beauty.

.

Walk On

When I moved to Oakley and decided it was time to get old, senescence ensued in a hurry.  Suddenly I couldn’t walk very far, and when I did walk it was a shuffle.  With legs stiff and unbending, feet advanced apologetically.  They hurt.  Feet always hurt, whether used or miss-used, but should that make walking a dilemma?  Surely not.  Why foot misery when I was spending most of my time watching TV?  Good question.

I sought out a physical therapist.  With professional assistance this situation could surely be remedied.  She prescribed new shoes from a place called Fleet Feet.  This store serviced elite runners, so putting feet into Fleet Feet shoes would surely achieve the wished for gait. However I learned that Fleet Feet shoes can slog along as miserably as those from a discount store.  I enjoyed the high-tech laser measurement of my very own stockinged appendages, but the resulting fit seemed no better than other less scientifically ascertained equivalents.

As I visited a variety of medics, voicing a range of somatic complaints, this became an ugly pattern.  After dropping in on my orthopedic surgeon, sure that his ten-year-old spinal stenosis surgery had gone wrong and needed revisiting, he assured me that his handiwork was holding firm due to good bones and Citrical, not to mention his expert surgical skill. “Then why does my back hurt?” I whined. He pulled a sad face—a try at empathy— but at least he didn’t shrug his shoulders.

I dragged home and succumbed to the call of my recliner, always there to console and to comfort, just waiting for me to fit my ageing body into its compassionate embrace.  Lazy Boy and I were surely an item.  No matter where I went or what I did to make my back misbehave, he remained faithful and true to form.  When I returned, lowered aching bones onto his padding and leaned back, he surrounded and consoled my entirety. The pain went away until I got up and gave perambulation another try.

This worked well until one day I realized that when I arose, putting feet to floor, I proceeded to move around while vertebrae maintained the curve set by my chair.  A sideways glance at the hallway mirror showed me shuffling about my domicile shaped like my furniture—a moveable hairy question-mark.  Next time I arose, I stopped and straightened closer to runway posture—an improvement, reminiscent of what every intelligent dog achieves on arising.  He puts front paws together, pulls a big stretch, and only then proceeds to trot across the floor.  If humans are supposed to be so smart, how come every dog knows this and I don’t?

After that I began arching my back into a big stretch every time I left my chair.  It helped.  That made me curious about how people move all their many parts, especially as they morph into being codgers.  I have long held a suspicion that we become whatever our inner vision decrees.  These problems started back when I decided to get old.  The Devil made me do it.

It seemed a useful thing to simply pay attention.  After a month and more doing a doggie stretch every time I stood up, it got to be easier and felt more natural.  One day when low back was particularly painful, I stood up and did a monster stretch.  Then I called on my entire body to help.  That meant subtly flexing arms, legs, shoulders and butt, all at once, sort of declaring an all-around connection.  Then I felt the angle of my pelvis subtly tilt, and the pain evaporate.  Slowly, tentatively, I walked across the room.  Anguish was left lolling in the chair, an old thing that nobody really wanted anyway.

That day’s learning suggested that maybe it would be a good thing to spend less time lounging in my Lazy-Boy.  I had given up taking walks last year since shuffling along the sidewalk had seemed a non-starter.  After having memorized all the cracks in my local sidewalks, as well as the various weeds that grew therefrom, it seemed a boring proposition to undertake that same walk yet again.  So last month I moved to new digs where I can walk to dozens of interesting destinations.  For me Heaven is being able to walk to the library.  Now living at the center of Blue Ash, Ohio, I can stroll to the public library.  This morning I pocketed phone and credit card, tied on my sunbonnet, and took off for the local Starbucks.  Could I make it?

Slouching along the sidewalk seemed a sad reminder of being an old person resigned to somehow keeping fit.  But engaging arms and shoulders worked just like it did in my living room, leaving my pain rollling along with dry leaves dancing in the gutter.  I envisioned being at Starbucks, ordering a tall decaf cappuccino, and my step quickened.  It was reminiscent of my dad telling me to keep my eyes on the horizon when driving, so as to see everything there was to see, not just focusing on the rear end of the car directly ahead. Such short sight causes a jittery correction of aim and can be seen as weaving along the roadway.  Eyes hooked on the far horizon smooth the process of steering as the vehicle is guided toward a sure destination.  It works with walking as well as with driving.  Thinking about where I’m headed makes me stop obsessing about aches and pains in favor of coffee and company.

My last time to stop for morning brew at Starbucks was pre-Covid, and things had changed.  No raw sugar and Half-‘n-Half at-the-ready.  They had to be requested from a barista. Prices had taken advantage of the crisis.  Who could have assumed otherwise? But in every respect it was doable, even for a superannuated hiker.  I had walked all the way to Starbucks!

Heading back after enjoying my cup of Joe at a table secured by legal tender, and time spent using my IPhone to spin flitting thoughts into coherent prose, I wondered if I would have enough energy to get back home.  My PT had agreed with my arms-moving-along-with-gait thesis citing the fact that Parkinson’s patients can’t swing their arms.  Also people who must move their hands in order to speak illustrate this idea, Nancy Pelosi being a case in point. It must be a neuron thing. 

As I zapped my various elder parts with power of mind, they united around a sense of energized purpose, arms swinging, matching stride with pumping legs, collecting my whole self into a dynamo of getting-there.  When arms move with verve, body responds with vigor.  I made it back home with oomph to spare, looking forward to tomorrow’s hike to the Sleepy Bee Café where who knows what may turn up and commence buzzing?  Enough with getting old!  There’s too much to do to waste time with anticipatory anxiety.  Anticipatory glee is better. 

Next week—the library.  Walk on!

Returning from town to my cabin in the woods, I surprised Espresso, my trusty black pussycat, holding court on a tree stump by the cabin door.  I killed the engine and watched.  He appeared to be communing with a fox lounging in the grass, just two or three fox leaps away.

I had slowed the car, stopped, set the brake, and slipped out, determined to reconnoiter the duo.  They waited and watched, sharing a quiet interest in my arrival.  Espresso typically would have come running, tail aloft, meowing a plaintive hello, but today he just drew himself up like some Egyptian cat god and watched, first me, then the fox.  Back and forth his round-eyed gaze panned with only an intermittent whisker twitch.

Mr. Fox appeared robust, sleek and healthy.  He had a full brush, tipped with white cream, and a thick, rich, coppery coat.  He displayed no fear, only a regal curiosity, but seemed to appreciate that I, in some strange two-footed way, belonged to the cat. 

When Espresso finally jumped down and meandered toward me, the fox rose, yawned, stretched, and began his own measured approach.  That did it!  Composure be damned!  Aplomb sacrificed to the suspense of these slow speed machinations, I snatched up the cat and tossed him into the car.  The door’s slam broke the spell.  Mr. Fox glared at me, disappointed that I had questioned his intentions or had deprived him of lunch—I’m not sure which.  I apologized and assured him that I knew him to be a fine fox but was nevertheless committed to my pussycat.  He paused to taste the air in several directions and finally moved on, slowly picking his way through the low brush and weeds, several over-the-shoulder appraisals punctuating a dignified retreat into a pine thicket.  I was sad to see him leave.  He was beautiful, and his trust rare—a benediction.

One of the many wonders of my sojourn in the Appalachian woodlands has been the willingness of the wildlife to accept me.  The deer, rabbits, snakes, birds and squirrels seem to understand that I have no interest in them excepting the wonder of our sharing this natural aesthetic.  One afternoon, my mind otherwise occupied, I stepped out the cabin door straight into the muscled black loops of a snake sunning himself on the deck.  A quick apperception assessed no danger since his coloring and head shape contraindicated the local poisonous varieties.  So I waited, one foot still in the cabin, one planted on the deck, while the snake, warm and equable, uncoiled his smooth scaly length from about my ankle and glided peaceably across the warm boards.  He chose a likely gap between the planks and slid headfirst into the abyss.  It would have been a simple exodus, excepting a small bulge, probably a recent rodent snack, which brought his progress to an embarrassing halt.

Back out and find another route?  No way!  He demonstrated his confidence in choice of exit strategies by elevating the entire following half of his person and doing an upside down hula dance until the rest of him finally slipped through.  There was no hurry.  We had agreed that he was an appreciated reptile and would be given all the time and space necessary to do his thing, however curious.  For many months Mr. Snake and I shared our quiet forest clearing as the best of friends.  Later as snowflakes fell and wood-smoke rising curled away, we kept the silent peace.

The cabin I had rented for a year of writing belonged to a Feminist Land Trust called Susan B. Anthony Memorial Unrest Home.  I had thought to enjoy a time away from the ever-puzzling testosterone dilemma—can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em.  It turned out, however, to be annoying to abide with the strict no-man enforcement.  Moving into the cabin took more than the one evening of unloading, so it seemed reasonable to let the two careful, quick, and kind Beacon-men-equivalents curl up in the loft until morning.  They were hot and sweaty, but not wanting to offer them the run of my private ladies room, I sent them to the pond, which I found out later was for nude woman bathing only.  It’s a good thing the femme Nazis never found out about that indiscretion since they would have renamed it a desecration. 

So ardent was Subamuh enforcement that I began to take glee in inviting my manly sons to drop by with loads of split firewood and stay awhile for a meal at Mom’s table.  Imagine the delight I took in stopping for a Silver Fox neighbor in tight jeans and tank top, overloaded with fresh picked and packed blackberries and headed into town to peddle his wares.  It was a good decision to offer him a ride.  For the remainder of my time in Ohio’s eastern woodlands, I enjoyed his company as yet another of the indigenous friendly fauna.  The resident man-haters were fauna as well, but not nearly such good neighbors.

Clambering about on the trails of Subamuh put me into a gentle space of introspection.  The leased cabin was a refuge for writing but it was not a cage.  As a legitimate renter, those many acres were available to me to explore, but putting one foot before the other doesn’t occupy a lively mind, and it was left to cavort at will.  The hiking became a walking meditation inspiring new insights.  Inhabiting a cabin at a Lesbian enclave made even the most hetero of personalities begin to self-analyze, snooping down any number of shady corridors.  I am no different, my three husbands being an exercise in brand identification, but not necessarily consummated self-knowledge.

I learned a smattering of feminist theory while eavesdropping at the back of Subamuh gatherings, one of their favorite topics being the butch-femme dynamic:  A butch woman has affirmed her power.  That’s what’s so compelling about her.  She demands and gets respect.  A femme woman worships that power and, like the moon, reflects its beauty.  A butch can see her own radiance only in the eyes of her lover.  It’s probably the most profound of loves, envied by the breeders, attracting their disdain and resentment.  The butch employee is typically better paid since the assertive personality attracts a richer share of the world’s commerce.  Everybody admires a strong confident demeanor and work style. 

Such overheard quandaries meandered through my mind as boots parted grass, still wet from the last night’s dewfall.  It’s fortunate they are prepared for their job with the serious boot wax I scored at Tractor Supply Store.  I didn’t want to appear sissified to all those rough-hewn ladies.  But then, why would I worry about such things?  They were, after all, my boots.  I wanted them to last, impervious to soggy aggress.  Also, why did I care what a convocation of lesbians thought?

Memories of resisting assault took me back to my first Subamuh confrontation.  Crissa, the ultra-femmie office manager, confused me.  Was she a lesbo or what?  She must have been a femme—a strong one.  A strong femme is greedy; she wants it all.  If she is acting out a lesbian paradox, she wants to have the butch and be her as well.  I shook my head.  Too complicated!  I have always dithered over choosing between family and career, but this is more complex.  I had questioned Crissa about sharing part of the creative work at Subamuh, offering to write for the newsletter.  I recoiled at her freak-out.  She stands there in memory, summoning a scowl from me all these years later. 

She explains why the job is, and will remain, all hers.  In her youthful exuberance, she gets carried away with herself, coyly bragging about how much fun it is making out with Molly, her sweetie.  That kind of crass ostentation offends everyone enduring singlehood, not just me, but it’s not my job to express community outrage.  I’m just a renter.  Time and group dynamic are sure to sort the thing out.  Her attitudes and behavior are not related to me personally.  I can relax and just smirk at Crissa’s narcissistic posturing, no worse than my own.  When I feel inadequate, it’s so easy to erect a safe intellectualism and dare an intruder to assault my tower.  Ravish me, God!  Open me, Holy Spirit!  Sweet Jesus, let truth be your rapier.  Fascinating, isn’t it, how such flights of mythic enthusiasm morph inexorably into sexual and religious fervor?  This train of thought isn’t only something I read.  It’s what I have long meditated about, bubbling up from murky mire.  It’s interesting how, if insights are scripted, mythical references float up.  Each of us is on a hero’s quest, a sojourner in our own epic.  I wonder if this concept is a distillation of Joseph Campbell and all the myth and psychobabble I’ve waded through, their facts stored as meta data in a tangle of neurons? 

Climbing to the property’s highest point is a treat for the eyes.  I admire the view as I focus far away and remember earlier days.  As a child, one of my earliest insights was that I can’t learn everything.  Memory can only accommodate so much and must be conserved.  I saw no purpose in memorizing arithmetic facts and rejected that task a priori.  My third child, Kurt the artist/philosopher, did the same but never gave in to store a bunch of left brain twaddle like I finally did as remedy to my lack.  It is only in this informed millennium that we can verify the reality of cognitive self-limitation.  At five Kurt, determined to be a race car driver, swore off arithmetic.  Good for him.  He got to actually become an artist.

But for me, the corollary to cognitive limitation followed swiftly, informed by culture.  I learned that females simply cannot learn certain things: “Girls are poor at arithmetic.”  It follows that I, a girl, must be maladroit concerning numbers.  Mommy said so.  She said I was just like Daddy and smart like him, but being a girl I could never do his kind of work.  When presented with a task in sums or differences, I would squander my first magical milliseconds mulling about how I can’t do this.  Then, so disarmed, I would attempt to solve the problem—unsuccessfully.  Maybe I really was number challenged? 

Every week I checked out the 6-book limit at my elementary school library and enjoyed hauling them home, consoled by their mass, feeling surrounded by words, learning early-on the satisfaction of cohabitating with a library.  I was no different from early cultures that scribed their understandings and used them for companionship.  Alexander and I were surely soulmates.  Consider the Torah treasured in its ark.  How could God not have been understood as word?

Even before word, God was before all else number.  Mathematicians acknowledge that any and all civilizations, throughout each and every universe, must hold in common the understandings of number science.  That reality existed long before primitive humans began to numerate fingers and toes.  My child brain quickly correlated integers with things Daddy could do, things Daddy could know, things Daddy could be, over and against things possible to Dotty.  It was all because I was made to be a flawed version of Daddy.  In all things visible I was like Daddy save at the fork where all important things converge and contend.  Daddy had a special tool for peeing that was superior in function to my own, which allowed fluid to dribble stupidly down legs and fill shoes.  No matter how smart I might become, everyone would know my squishy secret: Daddy was better.  Even as an adult bringing the principles of design to invention, I am haunted by how evolution left women holding the short end of the proverbial prick.  Gynecology is so patterned like a simple cell employing a contractile vacuole to facilitate removal of metabolic detritus.  Our only superiority over the male model seems to be having evolved beyond utilizing a plenum to evacuate urine and cum.  But then—there are the babies.  Even Daddy couldn’t make a child without a woman as co-conspirator.

I didn’t realize how poignantly held was such painful mis-belief until my daughter was born.  Her genitals were angry and red from having been bathed in my own rich endocrine brew.  My first vision of her opened diaper reminded me of my own tragic wound.  It filled me with love and pity for her and for what she could not become.  While hot tears of rage and compassion coursed down my cheeks, I blessed the small swollen mound—a mother’s kiss.

How sick is such belief?  How universal may it be—this lie?  Do I have this in common with other sensitive analytical women?  Is this why I obsess over much?  In high school I was called the nose since I appeared to be trying way-too-hard to please teachers.  Classmates didn’t understand that it was the lie that must be pleased.  I was the consummate overachiever that delighted teachers, but their praises were immaterial.  Those kids were so, so wrong.  It was my idea of Daddy that I was trying to please, not even the man himself.  Teachers were not a function of my equation.  I never spoke in defense of my behavior since I didn’t understand it myself, fearing only that I must embody some evil truth, hidden even from myself.  Mommy had constantly chided my behavior, telling me “Be nice, Dottie.  Be nice.”  That was the last thing I wanted.  Nice girls were stupid cows.  I didn’t want to be nice

It was good to return to the cabin, greet my trusty pussycat, and shed the boots, heavy with muck and mire.  It feels like I have shed more than foot-coverings returning from these lonely rambles.  I didn’t hesitate taking a writer’s cabin.  It was the right move at the right time.  My year of introspection completed, I realized that I had stayed long enough in the presence of the unspeakable. 

It was time to rejoin my tribe.  I had forgotten how afraid we are of standing in the presence, most especially our own.  I had expected the long silence to demolish my lie, but was amazed at how thoroughly it fell away.  As I swished through wet grass and weeds along the trail, no thought was worth speaking to the quiet air but absolute Truth.  I had learned long ago how dangerous that can be.  Truth is a double-edged sword meant for good but capable of bad.  Even so, who can argue with my Truth?  Whatever it is, it is mine. 

Perhaps it’s time to start being nice.  In 2021 Cincinnati, I am in the presence of people too smart and strong to believe lies.  I don’t have to defend any secret.  Others can affirm my path for me even though they may have chosen a different one for themselves.  I keep begging for rules and approved vocabulary, wanting to be given the keys to the kingdom, not understanding that I am the key as well as the kingdom.  It will take a long time, perhaps forever, to forget the machismo suffered in Daddy’s world—tech types gathering, comparing resumes, boasting prior accomplishments, utilizing jargon to flush out the uninitiated, and only then getting down to the real business of ego defense.  In 1957 at CIT, freshmen compared slide rule lengths.  I was the only one with enough gumption to spin a round rule, twice as fast but not the least bit phallic.  How beautifully the metaphor holds: the one woman plying a round rule, vanquishing an army of long stiff sliders.  In my cedar keepsake chest I have nestled my round rule beside my father’s straight one, a family paradox.  They both speak and compute God’s truth.  My Truth is mine to calculate.