Purpose of This Blog

I've created this blog to inspire myself to continue to draw and write. Unlike Nora Ephron, I'm not writing about my neck getting old. I'd rather write about being alive.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Human rights violations in the Middle East and my novel, Taking Cover

My novel, Taking Cover, is partly the story of an American woman who goes to Kuwait to work.  She is distressed by the human rights violations experienced there by foreign workers from poorer countries  and she tries to find ways to help that get her into trouble.  The article below appeared at the end of last month (April 29, 2018) in The Jakarta Post.  While I addressed the issue with fiction,  it is a very real dilemma for poor foreigners who work to send money home to their families. 


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is now permanent, intensifying a diplomatic standoff over the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf nation.
Duterte in February imposed a prohibition on workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in the Gulf state.
The crisis deepened after Kuwaiti authorities last week ordered Manila's envoy to leave the country over videos of Philippine embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee allegedly abusive employers.
The two nations had been negotiating a labour deal that Philippine officials said could result in the lifting of the ban but the recent escalation in tensions has put an agreement in doubt.
"The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers. No more," Duterte told reporters in his hometown in the southern city of Davao. 
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippines' foreign department. 
Last week the Philippines apologised over the rescue videos but Kuwaiti officials announced they were expelling Manila's ambassador and recalling their own envoy from the Southeast Asian nation.
Duterte on Sunday described the situation in Kuwait as a "calamity". 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

This is your brain on sex

Writing help you to better understand what you really think.Yesterday I was listening to the radio show On Being and thinking about Taking Cover, the novel I wrote about Kuwait.

 Krista Tibbets was interviewing Helen Fisher on the Sunday morning radio program.  Fisher is an anthropologist of love and sex and has done a lot of TED talks about the brain and romantic love.  Fisher also does studies for Match.com.

  The gist of the interview was that we are lied to by our love songs.  Lust is a kind of madness, to paraphrase Julian Fellows, the creator of Downton Abbey.  Fisher described how the brain shuts down when we're in love, allowing us to overlook everything in order to procreate.  This madness, created by hormones in a metabolic stew, ends after about 18 months, or maybe sooner.  It  would have to end or we'd simply run out of energy.

Fisher said that in these times, we're shedding 10,000 years of a farming lifestyle in which men were the head of the family, women stayed home, and patriarchy reigned. In the Kuwait novel, Taylor is a teenager in love with a rich Kuwaiti.  She comes from divorce, an American culture that's confused about rules,  and parents who have no religious background.  Without rules, Helen Fisher said, we live in a world where nobody knows what to do.  Taylor, who is very lonely in Kuwait, yearns for the old ways she sees there.  She wishes for a strong family, a man to be in charge, and the covering and protection given to women in a Muslim society.  She doesn't trust her own impulsive nature, and the culture she sees in Kuwait would offer her safety, she thinks.

Krista Tibbets spoke of growing up in a very religious background where you save yourself for marriage.  She said, looking back, having boundaries wasn't all bad.  Fisher agreed that casual sex with someone you're not serious about is a trap.  Our hormones go to work and create an attachment to this person. Best to be picky.

Fisher said that some of her research with younger people on Match.com has focused on what the younger generation truly wants.  Often they have seen their parents divorce and they don't want to repeat the same mistakes.  They believe a partner is all you've got because families are less important in a world of such mobility.  She said the young look for a  partnership of  transparency, trust, humor, respect, time devoted to each other, and physical attractiveness.  They want to go very slowly, stay rational, live together, have kids outside of marriage until it becomes apparent that their relationship can weather child-rearing.  They don't want to fail at relationship and, instead,  take off the rose-colored glasses we wear when we fall in love.

The thing is, we're all victims of nature, which wants the genes to continue on through the generations.  As Fisher said, we might know all the ingredients in a chocolate cake, but once you start eating it and feel that rush of joy, it's off to the races. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

This is your brain on sex

Writing help you to better understand what you really think.Yesterday I was listening to the radio show On Being and thinking about Taking Cover, the novel I wrote about Kuwait.

 Krista Tibbets was interviewing Helen Fisher on the Sunday morning radio program.  Fisher is an anthropologist of love and sex and has done a lot of TED talks about the brain and romantic love.  Fisher also does studies for Match.com.

  The gist of the interview was that we are lied to by our love songs.  Lust is a kind of madness, to paraphrase Julian Fellows, the creator of Downton Abbey.  Fisher described how the brain shuts down when we're in love, allowing us to overlook everything in order to procreate.  This madness, created by hormones in a metabolic stew, ends after about 18 months, or maybe sooner.  It  would have to end or we'd simply run out of energy.

Fisher said that in these times, we're shedding 10,000 years of a farming lifestyle in which men were the head of the family, women stayed home, and patriarchy reigned. In the Kuwait novel, Taylor is a teenager in love with a rich Kuwaiti.  She comes from divorce, an American culture that's confused about rules,  and parents who have no religious background.  Without rules, Helen Fisher said, we live in a world where nobody knows what to do.  Taylor, who is very lonely in Kuwait, yearns for the old ways she sees there.  She wishes for a strong family, a man to be in charge, and the covering and protection given to women in a Muslim society.  She doesn't trust her own impulsive nature, and the culture she sees in Kuwait would offer her safety, she thinks.

Krista Tibbets spoke of growing up in a very religious background where you save yourself for marriage.  She said, looking back, having boundaries wasn't all bad.  Fisher agreed that casual sex with someone you're not serious about is a trap.  Our hormones go to work and create an attachment to this person. Best to be picky.

Fisher said that some of her research with younger people on Match.com has focused on what the younger generation truly wants.  Often they have seen their parents divorce and they don't want to repeat the same mistakes.  They believe a partner is all you've got because families are less important in a world of such mobility.  She said the young look for a  partnership of  transparency, trust, humor, respect, time devoted to each other, and physical attractiveness.  They want to go very slowly, stay rational, live together, have kids outside of marriage until it becomes apparent that their relationship can weather child-rearing.  They don't want to fail at relationship and, instead,  take off the rose-colored glasses we wear when we fall in love.

The thing is, we're all victims of nature, which wants the genes to continue on through the generations.  As Fisher said, we might know all the ingredients in a chocolate cake, but once you start eating it and feel that rush of joy, it's off to the races.



Friday, April 6, 2018

On Being a Foreigner--The Subject of My Novels

In the last month, I've finished publishing two novels on Amazon, a feat that has been ten years in the making.  Both novels look at the experience of being the stranger, either to oneself or in a different country.

I spent two years teaching in Kuwait, and all I wrote at the time was a blog.  A novel about it seemed too close to my experience.  Most of the day I worked, and the rest of the time I drank coffee with my friends or we trudged around the city on foot for hours.  There wasn't a lot else to do there.

A few years later, after returning home from a stint in Turkey, I wanted to write a novel but I hadn't found my subject. I decided to join a writing class taught by Laurel King at the Worcester Art Museum in which we participated in a nation-wide writing contest. The requirement for National Novel Writing Month was to produce 50,000 words in the month of November.  The result of producing so much in a short time pushed me into writing about Kuwait.  The book I wrote was too disjointed as I tried to create characters back in the states who intersected with my two American women living in Kuwait City.  It didn't work, so I put the book aside. Finally  I decided I needed to  leave it all in the one setting, the Middle East.

The novel is about a mother and daughter who live in Kuwait during the daughter's senior year of high school.  Since the girl has been out of control at  home in the states, Kathryn, her mother, decides the strict mores of the Muslim country will be a cure.  Instead of keeping Taylor out of trouble, however, the daughter cross boundaries in a culture that maintains strict ones.  Her mother manages to create trouble as well.






The second novel, Falling from the Ladder, is about a private school director on Cape Cod who justifiably expels ten students at once for bullying or using drugs.  Since the students' parents are very powerful and wealthy people, they demand the firing of the director even as their kids stay in school. The gutless board bows to the parents and the director is on the street, suddenly without identity, a foreigner to himself.

I find the theme of being the stranger has not disappeared in a new novel I'm writing.  It's about a female border patrol agent who feels like a stranger and intruder in a world of ex-Army men and very few  women. The main character lives right on the Mexican border in Nogales, AZ with a foot in both countries.  Despite the fact that her job is to hunt down illegals and send them out of the country, she believes in open borders.  Border Patrol Babe is a work in progress.

I hope you'll follow along as I write about writing on this blog.  I particularly enjoy comparing novel writing to cartooning, another interest of mine.  Oh, and if you have a novel sitting in your desk drawer, get it out and publish it.  You'll be surprised at how satisfying it feels.



Saturday, July 7, 2012

A 19th Century Life

It's amazing how much time you can waste when you are not working.  I've reverted to the ease  I remember from staffing the printer's house at Old Sturbridge Village where we cooked over a fireplace all morning, and then sat around sewing in the parlors in the afternoons. I'm not doing summer school because of my hip, and there are few concrete goals at the moment. It's amazing to watch myself ride in and out of the tide like a bunch of flotsam, never really going anywhere until I'm beached.  Granted, my life is pretty limited at the moment, so what could I achieve, really?

Here are the details of my 19th century life. I just made coffee at noon, decided it was too hot to drink it, so I put it in the fridge, and then I grabbed fruit salad to eat in front of Julia Child.  She seemed to be cooking a moose carcass. In the middle of the fruit, I heard a light rain on the sunroof, so I crutched out to the clothesline to grab my sheets, then I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where to put damp sheets to dry in the house.  One sheet mingles in the room with the catbox, and I was worried that might take the freshness out of my clean laundry.

Marcia's cat, by the way, has an odd relationship with her catbox.  She will stay outside for hours, then beg to come in so she can crap in her box.  Yes, it's good of her to use the appropriate facilities, but still...the great outdoors is an excellent port-a-potty, especially out back where the daisies are growing.

My grandniece, Melissa, Ollie the dog, and my great-grand niece, Paige, and my niece, Cheri, showed up yesterday for a visit, a sort of Little Women kind of event.  One of the pleasures of being at my sister's house is being in the same area as my family. Paige is 6 months and I've only seen her a couple of times because she lives in New Jersey.  She's this delicious chunk of a girl--what is this human inclination to suck on those cheeks or toes, or tenderly put your teeth around a plump little arm?  Not that you would--or you'd wait until others leave the room--but it's a primal instinct, one I remember well.  No worries--I never ate my kids. Paige is an extraordinary little girl, the queen of our affections when she pays a visit.  While I often develop a strong connection with my students, there's no comparison to blood, that riveting attention you give to a new baby in the family.  It reduces females, in particular, to their lowest IQ point, because yesterday we all sat around with gaping mouths, discussing the intense blue of Paige's eyes (her dad's), her determination (her mom's), and every tiny detail about this child that could make conversational fodder.

The other time waster these days is trying to think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.  I have no adventures planned this time around, maybe because even the most outlandish places to live become marked by our own habits pretty quickly and, therefore, become like our regular life at home where we hang on to a particular coffee cup or way of waking up and thinking about negative things.  I start to think that, as one meditation teacher once put it, the real adventures happen inside.  I bought a book called "Unlearning Meditation", recommended by a couple of friends.  My next big adventure could be a return to studying my own mind and how it gets me into trouble.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Blueberry Sunday

I was out early picking blueberries this a.m., yelling at the birds who were gobbling down the bigger berries in the next bush.  I should have gone straight to that bush, but I have a thing about order, starting at one point and moving along systematically to complete a good picking.  I was raised on a farm where you didn't abandon a row until it was finished.  My yelling did nothing to scare off the robin who was filling her gullet nearby.  It was still cool when I was out there around 8 a.m. after brewing some Armeno's coffee with its "bright tones" and, indeed, this coffee is superb.  Worth $13 a pound?  Yes.

Yesterday we went to the Wayside Inn, which is, incredibly enough, still located in a rather undeveloped and forested section of the town of Sudbury, despite proximity to Boston.  It's a little bit of Sturbridge Village, but no fees.  There was a wedding in the tiny white chapel on the hill, and we watched from the millpond area where I happily sat in shorts, cooling off on a large, cold rock. Just listening to the waterwheel spinning around was a relief.  A Hispanic family posed their 16 year old in front of the mill.  She wore a long, full, purple dress full of glitter and a purple crown to match; perhaps she'd just won a beauty conterst.

  We are having another heatwave, and riding around in my car with the AC was one solution. Today is even hotter, but there's a nasty blue/black cloud to the south, streaking lightning, that gives me hope of a storm. I envy all those folks at the beach, but did you hear the news report about how the water levels on the East Coast are rising at a much higher rate than expected due to glacial melting?  Scary stuff; Manhattan is going to drown.  Time to head for the Dakotas.

I've been reading "Wild", about a young woman who has done too much heroin and too many men.  She decides to walk the Pacific Coast Trail, although she never trains for it, packs twice as much stuff as she can carry, and ends up hitting the Sierras after a tremendous winter of snowfall.  It's a good book and it carries me away, remembering the Camino in Spain.  I trained a little more than she did, but once your feet start to bleed and blister, it doesn't matter a whole lot. I recommend the book, even if Oprah was partially responsible for me deciding to get it.  I am so sick of Oprah, not that she's on, and I'm even more tired of Gayle King. Gayle acts all chummy during interviews and makes jokes that cross the line. At least Oprah has done a lot for books, despite some of her battered women kinds of picks.