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Archive for July, 2020

Apotheosis

(A proposal for a Sci-Fi novel based on an actual family quandary.)

Dorothy Jeanette Martin’s youngest son, Kurt, and his wife, Preston, have produced two offspring, Jackson and Daisy, the youngest of her cherished passel of grandbabies.  In 2043 they are all grown up and living in a strange new world where cloning and DNA manipulation is legal and culturally embraced.  They are both accomplished scientists, and psychologically healthy since they had exemplary parenting by Kurt and Preston.  Kurt, a talented artist/craftsman, a true autodidact, has somehow managed to keep his inner child alive and well, which accounts for both the survival of his creative genius as well as his ability to play and to be a happiness instilling father.  On the distaff side, he put Preston, the family scholar, through graduate school for her PhD.  Preston’s natural maternal ability is enhanced by her studies in psychology and sociology.   Their marriage has balanced each other’s strengths and negated the other’s weaknesses.  They are a power couple who have engendered their offspring the way families should be raised.  If every match had been so successful, marriage would not have been abolished. 

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In 2043, marriage is no longer part of the human social contract.  Reproduction is state sanctioned and stringently controlled.  Sperm typically do not swim well due to estrogen poisoning up and down the food chain.  Women may bear children but only subject to genetic testing, scientific, and even political approval.  Children are now raised by certified parenting professionals and relate to biological parents as if they were Aunties and Uncles.  Bruno Bettelheim and his Israeli commune experiments have seized the day, and oedipal neuroticism is passé.

Both young adults have attracted global attention with their excellence in their chosen fields, Daisy as an evolutionary  geneticist, and Jackson as a research neurologist with a specialty emphasis on cloning.  The two siblings put their educated heads together and hatch a wild bird of an idea.  They decide to grant their beloved Grandmother, Dorothy, her fondest wish.  Daisy is licensed to bear two offspring, assuming she can identify a sperm donor who is an appropriate genetic complement and can obtain a license to so breed.

They are both aware of their father Kurt’s curious heredity.  His maternal Grandfather carried an odd mutation that the family has affectionately dubbed the “Kelsey Martin Gene.”  As Kelsey’s first and eldest child, Dorothy was believed to have carried it intact, expressing it bravely but imperfectly due to the cultural poisoning its expression attracted to her being a woman innovator.  Her life was a crazy-quilt of disastrous decisions made and suffered, along with surprising triumphs achieved as one of the first women to stage a frontal assault on the male bastion of military/industrial aerospace.  Daisy and Jackson were familiar with the memoir she wrote before she died, her way of reaching out to her family with the love she cherished for them one and all.  She wanted them to understand that they must not fear the KM gene but must learn to use it wisely.  Her greatest dread was that her progeny might feel cursed, rather than blessed, by their genetic inheritance.

Her small cedar chest is still secreted in her Diplomat safe that Kurt has safeguarded since she died.  Several times during her generous life-span Dorothy grew her hair long and lovely but occasionally wacked it off, storing the twisted hanks in case she might someday need a wig or extension.  The cedar chest protected it from environmental degradation and hungry insects.

Daisy and Jackson created a plan that might advance their careers and enhance family legacy.  They loved their eccentric Grandmother and saw a way to give her a second chance.  Daisy determined to clone Grandma from her cedar protected DNA and to have the resulting live embryo implanted into her own uterus.  The resulting child would be raised by twenty-first century professionals rather than well-meaning, intelligent but uneducated, ambitious but tragically flawed rural Texans.  Jackson and Daisy would follow the cloned child’s growth, analyze, and compare her gene expression with that of her biological progenitor.  The comparison would be sure to open up new vistas to the understanding of nature vs nurture.  An incidental benefit would be continuation of Dorothy’s mitochondrial DNA which is now extinct since her daughter Melanie died carrying the only copy.  Best of all, it could fulfill their Grandmother’s wish that her family line might at long last see itself as whole and beautiful.

That uses up one of Daisy’s allocation of offspring.  Daisy and her state sanctioned sperm donor would also bear a natural daughter complements of an egg from her own ovary, a child who will with CRISPR intervention be verified to also carry the KM gene.  Daisy’s natural girl-child would be raised on an equally professional footing as a sister to Dorothy’s clone.  The healthy socialization of sisterhood would eliminate the isolation that Dorothy had suffered, being raised as an only child and spared the sort of trauma detailed in horrific clips lifted from her memoir.  In this improved iteration Dorothy and her genome would choose and enjoy all the education desired in this reincarnation and be allowed to fulfill that promise in any career she could ever dream of.

The book will alternate between segments from the memoir, author voice-overs that weave the story, and chapters voiced by Daisy and Jackson that would flesh out the technical aspects of the endeavor and paint a picture of a future world of bio-innovation and benevolent cyborgs.  The final result will be for Dorothy, long after death, to earn the forgiveness and appreciation she craved, and for her heirs to finally be at peace with their heredity.  Even while she is still very much alive, reading and writing with her Monday Morning Writer’s Group, she will be savoring the possibilities of this wild hare of an idea even as she types and types and types…

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Good Neighbors

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 had been the willingness of the wildlife to accept me.  The deer, rabbits, snakes, birds and squirrels seem to understand that I had 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 portage, 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 feme Nazis never found out about that indiscretion since they would have termed 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 hoping for a neighborly ride in to peddle his wares.  It was a good decision to offer him vehicular hospitality.  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.

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Men Behaving Badly

Say it and watch the smiles and knowing nods.  There’s also “Boys will be boys.”  Everybody agrees.  Such reminiscences always bring to mind a whole string of supporting examples for me, and I’m sure for other women as well.  That’s what drives my testosterone obsession.  Read my essay, “Testosterone Effect,” which elucidates a whole string of indiscretions committed by my own beloved father.  Of course I love him anyway.  That’s what women do.

But Daddy wasn’t the only male to mal-represent his gender.  He was the first, but far from the only.  Soon after I went to live with my mother’s sister Judy and her husband Wesson, I became privy to his most intimate paraphernalia dangling from his shorts while making breakfast coffee.  He did it every morning: the dangling and the coffee making.  So alarming was the association that I decried drinking coffee until 1988 when I opened a coffeehouse.  I kind of had to learn to like the roasted bean at that point.

But Wesson wasn’t alone.  He had predecessors.  As a little girl left alone before the age of latchkey kids, I had to amuse myself while Mommy was at work.  I was fine with that.  When you’re by yourself you can do just about whatever you want.  I was supposed to play close to the boarding house where she rented a room with bathroom privileges.  But I knew better.  I walked all the way to the swan-boat pond and spent my days there just pottering around and enjoying the shade around the shoreline.  I did fine until one day a grown man started talking to me just like he was a kid too.  I didn’t want to hurt his feelings ‘cause he was awfully nice, but I was feeling just a little scared of him.  He asked me to promise to meet him again there the next day.  I agreed and took off for home.  I never went to the pond again.  How did I know that I shouldn’t play again at the pond?  It’s a mystery.

There were plenty of things I could do in Mommy’s room.  When I got hungry, there was food to eat.  If there was bread, I could spread Neufchatel cheese on it and have some lunch.  That kind of cheese didn’t need a refrigerator.  It came in a little glass that could be washed and saved for drinking.  I liked my bread toasted and made a toasting device by suspending our hot plate upside down under Mommy’s desk chair with some wire coat hangers.  It worked great.  I had to watch it while it cooked so I didn’t start a fire.  Then we would really have had no place to live.  Staying inside and playing with fire was less dangerous than chatting with strange men in the park, but not much.

I must not have learned my lesson, because singing on the levee at Norwalk reservoir I met a fisherman.  He was nice and friendly.  He fished while I sang.  At sixteen I was almost as tall as he and figured he was safe enough.  I had to practice my voice lessons at the reservoir because my step-mother Betty couldn’t stand hearing me doing operatic vocalises inside the house.  Don’t let the step title put you off.  Betty was a dear, but I was crazy loud.  I didn’t blame her.  The fisher guy didn’t bother me any, so I didn’t worry about him. But one day while out riding on my bike along a quiet stretch of Kingdom Ridge Road, there he was.  He was in the middle of the asphalt holding a big long pink balloon.  “I’m gonna rape you!” he yelled.  I went into strong silent rational mode and calculated how best to navigate these waters.  If I stopped to turn around, he could grab me, so I belted on past at top speed, giving him a wide berth.  Once safely past I turned around and returned, passing him again even faster.  In five minutes I was home.  The police had been called.  All was well.  But I wasn’t so sure about assuming men were to be trusted.

Men such as Mr. O’Hanion, my choir director in high school, during my oboe lessons conducted in the instrument closet, liked to direct the conversation to the maturity of my physique, explaining that my breasts and hips were more womanly than most girls my age.  When I asked what that had to do with the oboe, he explained that it surely suggested I was capable of the discipline required to master an instrument.  I decided not to play the oboe or any other instrument needing discipline.

It was around that time that the husband of my voice teacher grabbed me in their dining room while his wife was playing a piano prelude on the music room Steinway.  He planted a gooey smack right on my mouth, and I fled to the music room where I demanded an explanation about why he would do such a thing.  She was speechless.  Why indeed?

When I went to stay with the countrified relatives of my step-mother, and work for food in their creamery, everything was idyllic until one day the husband of the couple grabbed me, rolled me to the floor of the dining room, and while Aunt Winnie was frying potatoes in the kitchen, he began smooching me on the rug.  I demurred, rearranging my overalls and joining my aunt in the kitchen.  At least I had learned by then not to confuse her with the facts of her philandering husband.  I kept his sorry secret.

Maybe I was lured into a trusting complacency by boys my own age who showed absolutely no interest in Dorothy Martin as sex object.  I had no dates during high school, but agreed to be fixed up with a geek in my physics class, a one-time arrangement— thanks to the girls in my graduating class— all so I could attend my senior prom.  Given all that, it seemed reasonable to assume I had nothing to fear.  How could I be so right?  The boy, probably as self-conscious as I, didn’t even try to kiss me good-night.  Maybe it had something to do with the prom dress, picked out with my dad, that though sparkly was as black and blue as the worst possible bruise.  Those mean girls turned out to be pretty nice after all. 

Even after announcement of my marital engagement with his kinsman, Clyde only a few years my senior made a pretense of a tickle session on the living-room floor that moved into a full lips-on-lips assault.  I withdrew, never to be enticed again into innocent roughhousing, and full-on suspicious even of family gatherings.

I was totally disgusted when the husband of my best friend, in his own living room, still attired in his grisly butcher’s apron, grabbed me and smeared a smooch across my cheek.  That indiscretion I reported forthwith.  But telling wasn’t an option when my pastor, who was helping me as a grief counselor, pulled me into the stationery room of his office and explained that what I needed was to be held with true love by someone who really understood.  That may have been true, but try telling that to his wife and three kids.  I decided to give up on grief and go home to Texas where I could get a job and circumvent that funny-business. 

If I had big boobs and slim stately legs it might have all made sense, but I reminded me of my grandmother, and not when she was young and pretty and Grandpa called her “The best.” I had always thought I was defended by being ugly.  When that second set of pearly whites came in, too big for the mouth that held them, they spoiled any hope I ever had for being beautiful.  But that didn’t seem to bother testosterone stoked males of the species.  It was with trepidation as well as glee that I finally underwent the dental work that arranged my teeth into something worth seeing.  At least I could bear to look in the mirror, but how could I deal with the confusion of looking different than I felt?

There must be some reason why men usually disappoint me.  Somebody must be doing something wrong.  When I was little and cute, everything was OK.  How I looked, and how I felt, and how people saw me, were all in agreement.  Then I got ugly.  I knew I was ugly.  Everybody else lied, but secretly they agreed.  But suddenly, without my permission or consonance, I morphed into a sex goddess.  That must be how it is for every pubescent girl.  Still flashing horrific dentition, I proceeded to behave as if I was butt-ugly—which I was.  Why be charming, when boys will hate me anyway?  But old men suddenly tried to jump me at every corner, as if they knew something about me that I didn’t—which they did.  Later with resplendent teeth, I suddenly smiled at the world.  People saw me as a reasonably good looking young woman but who acted as if she expected to be responded to as a female Quasimodo—which she did.  Why be charming?  Better to alienate those handsome guys before they see the real me and go away.  So even now, given all this confusion, how can I blame the men in my life for behaving badly?  Like most things I complain about—it’s possibly, to some extent, just a wee tiny bit my fault. 

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