Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Traveling in France by Bicycle

I traveled from Calais to Pont L'Eveque on my own twice.

The second time around I brought my bike. I bought a rack for the back, so I could strap my things to it. I'd brought my sleeping bag to England, and so I strapped it to the back of the bicycle. I know I brought my bag because the wild farm kitten I later acquired developed a dependence on that sleeping bag, and when I lost it nine years later she died within the year.

Anyhow, the bike rack didn't fit. It rubbed at the bike frame, stripping off bits of fancy iridescent paint, exposing metal that would later rust. I used a too thin bolt and nut so I could cobble it together. This made a rattle the whole trip.

I also bought a yellow poncho. It didn't occur to me until it was later pointed out by local youths (on a moped, always with those mopeds), outside a French MacDonald's that, along with my curly red hair and my wine colored Danskos, I bore an unflattering resemblance to someone who is not one of my role models. They circled around the roundabout twice to get a better look, laugh and point.

What was I doing at a MacDonald's, anyway? I must have needed to use the bathroom.

My relationship to French adolescents was not positive. A couple of them had already stolen my bike tools from my rack, as I had made my way into the brush to pee. They, too, hooted and hollered in their gleeful booty seizing.

Back to England. I hadn't started off from my base in Cambridge very early. I think I must have left from Robert and Jan's campus house, and certainly left later than I meant to. By afternoon, I was in a small town south of London, layers of clothes tied around my waist, wearing my rust colored tank top, and sitting soaking up the sun with my loaded down bike finally propped off to the side. I felt happy, and free. Which was clearly the wrong pose to adopt, because two anxious looking, uptight young men in railway uniforms walked up, ready to shoo me away as a vagrant. Luckily for me, I had a ticket, and they left me alone.

Relative to these guys, I felt gloriously wild.

On the train I got, and stopped at every dinky village between there, wherever there was, and the white cliffs of Dover. This train had green velvet interiors, upholstered doors with individual cars, turning handles in a beautifully unmodern style. It looked just like the illustrations from Alice Through The Looking Glass. The train and ferry combination was cheap, now that the Eurostar had taken over the path between Paris and London, and I was grateful for it.

It only occurs to me now to wonder how much Dover and Calais suffered after that transition.

On the ferry, there was a middle aged guy, not sane looking, with his moped. He made an overture to me, in French. I ignored him.

I arrived at Calais at night, even later than I had the first time around. I don't remember if I had more or less money than the tiny amount I'd had the first time around, but it didn't matter. The hostel was long closed.

I biked off toward the dunes, vaguely thinking, after several impromptu camping experiences on the dunes of Provincetown on Cape Cod, that this was a solution to my night's woes.

Unfortunately, the guy on his moped followed me. He watched me stop at the hostel, trying to get in. In the background, when no one came to answer, he made crude sex gestures with his hips, and pointed at me. I shouted to him to go away.

I got back on my bicycle and started toward the beaches, hoping to lose him. No luck. I was over on the bike trail, and he was on the road, and he continued his pelvic thrusts, as if I had simply been too slow to understand the first time around. I was getting scared. “No!” I shouted at him. In an attempt to get away, I slammed on my breaks – good old bicycle was forgiving – and whipped around in a one eighty. I biked hard for the nearest houses, and he, on his slower, heavier to turn moped, followed as soon as he managed. I started banging on a door. Really terrified now, I shouted for help. Finally, the door opened. It was a man, heading toward his thirties, in slippers and a dressing gown. His older mother, likewise, ambled out with a dressing gown. Both of them looked at me with distrust, her much more than him.

I should say at this point that it would be a while before I could claim to speak French.

I got out my little plastic covered Berlitz English French dictionary. I tried to ask for the police. They both looked confused, and she looked at me with hostility. He eventually understood, and pointed in the direction of the police office, one or two kilometers that way, he seemed to say. Closed, he seemed to say. Then he closed the door. I was nearly crying.

Great. World's most skilled at getting lost girl, with creepy moped man pelvic communicating on moped tries to find closed police station in an unknown city at two in the morning...

But the guy was gone. I'd seen him motor off as soon as the door had opened. He clearly had more faith in the local populace than was warranted. I'm not sure what made me trust that he wouldn't just be hiding around the corner, but I went, cautious as a cat, back to the dunes. There was a chain link fence, taller than me. Somehow, I not only climbed it in my clogs, but also managed to get my thankfully lightish bicycle over it. I hid in their depths, loving those dunes, and spread my soft nylon sleeping bag out, and tried to sleep. I caught a few hours before the sun rose, and then I put my bag away and got my bike back over, with much less ease now that the adrenaline had gone.

Did anyone come to tell me, at dawn, that I wasn't supposed to be there? I have fuzziness around this memory. I think I may have been told, as I was packing up. No matter. One crazy man's belief in the kindness of strangers, and my own experience of the kindness of the landscape saved me from a horrible experience that night.

Monday, November 28, 2016

No right to complain: Artist dissing

According to Psychology Today, this is the definition of a micro aggression
everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

As a woman, redheaded and bisexual at that, I have certainly experienced microaggressions. But one of the small and common put downs that hurts me the most has nothing to do with being female or queer, and therefore probably doesn't qualify for the definition, although it still fits the frame.

Yep, poor, privileged me: I'm tired of being put down for being an artist.

Artist friends and I talk about the discomfort of self identifying as an artist. Maybe the push back from the world that we feel is because of lack of financial success. I have heard many variations on the theme of “What a luxury that you get to spend all your time on this fun hobby! Aren't you so lucky? I wish I could indulge in my creative side the way you do!” Or, “Yeah, being an artist isn't much to brag about.” Or, “Calling yourself an artist just sounds so pompous to me.” (All of the above were said to me by non-artists.)

So, even writing that, my breathing has gone shallow, my stomach hurts, my heart is pounding, my upper lip is sweating, and I'm starting to see spots. Seriously.

But I feel compelled to examine this closely. This sometimes implied and sometimes explicit line has been delivered to me all my life, starting with my father telling me, in high school, that no, being an artist was not a good career, but something to do on the side. Farming, on the other hand …


This question severely affects my self worth. Now my kidneys hurt – adrenal glands – and it's getting just a wee bit ridiculous. 

Time for a walk and some meditation. Check back in.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lost Mountain Blues at Squam Lake



I just spent a weekend at Squam Lake, as part of the SCBWI retreat, at the site where On Golden Pond was filmed. 

The swimming was wonderful, the loons lonesome sounding, and the Milky Way visible. Got to make some lovely, engaging friends. 

Also, I had the great pleasure of getting a one on one session with one of the editor/mentors, the very kind Arianne Lewin, of Penguin Random House.

To which I arrived sixteen minutes late, nearly in tears, because first I got lost on West Rattlesnake Mountain for two hours.

Intending to do a loop, I went up the steep side. At the top, sweating, I enjoyed the view, but didn't linger, because I'd wanted to catch a quick shower before my meeting.



So, then I went down the wrong side of the mountain, and didn't notice. 

When I got down to the road, no clue that it wasn't even the right road, I alternated sprinting and fast walking. I was sure that the camp was just around the corner. At the office they'd said 10 minutes, but what did they know? (hah hah hah...)

20 minutes later, I figured that this was taking too long. Tried getting directions to Rockywold-Deephaven from passers by, who had no idea where I was talking about. One group of guys suggested going back up to the top of the mountain, which I considered, even though this would take at least an hour.

I was getting desperate. And trying not to cry. Too old to cry about getting lost.

Nearly forty minutes after reaching the base of the mountain, I found a kind family who were sitting in their car, at the base of an entirely different mountain, who helped me. They drove me all the way back to the camp. Wow. So grateful!

Confession: Not the first time this has happened to me (including being driven home by a kind stranger.) I've done this in the Alps, and in the Welsh mountains. Maybe it's time I learn the art of orienteering. Or just stay off mountains when I'm by myself, right? But no, that would be too easy, and I'm stubborn.

So, here's something comical: the site where we were staying for the SCBWI retreat was simultaneously hosting something called “Becoming an Outdoors Woman.” Clearly, I was enrolled in the wrong program.

Did you notice the mountain name? West Rattlesnake. That makes no sense, to me, for New Hampshire.

Or that rattlesnake was even more lost than I was.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PTSD versus Resilience

What allows a reported 45 % (according to the article on PTSD in the New England Journal of Medicine – written by Rachel Yehuda, Ph. D.) of rape victims not to experience PTSD? (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I am fascinated, especially in light of the moving letter from the young woman in the Stanford rape case, that any woman would be able to move on with her life without crushing psychomedical reverb.

I imagine, aside from the 55 percent who experience PTSD, that a significant portion still experience long term debilitating consequences. Depression, nightmares, and health complications aren't restricted to PTSD diagnoses.

I'm reading the Yehuda article as closely as I can. It's dense stuff. 

“Patients with chronic PTSD have increased circulating levels of norepinephrine and increased reactivity of a2-adrenergic receptors. These alterations, in tandem with the finding that thyroid hormone levels are increased in patients with PTSD, may help explain some of the somatic symptoms of the disorder.” (page 110)

Adrena mmph mmph? Adrenergic: working with norepinephrine or adrenaline/epinephrine (adrenaline and epinephrine are the same thing, just different name. Norepinephrine and noradrenaline are the same thing. Thank you for confusing me further … )



Okay, thyroid hormone, I know what that is – that bowtie organ at the back of your throat, without which we have no energy and our brain goes lame. 

Norepinephrine? Stress hormone, neurotransmitter, produced by the adrenal medulla (inner part of the adrenal gland, on top of the kidneys) and in the brain. It affects the fight or flight reflexes in the sympathetic nervous system, accelerating heart rate, restricting blood vessels, raising blood pressure. Wikipedia sources one and two.

“Prospective studies have shown that patients in whom PTSD, or symptoms of PTSD, develop have attenuated increases in cortisol levels in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, which may be related to prior exposure to a traumatic event or other risk factors. They also have higher heart rates in the emergency room and one week later than persons in whom PTSD does not develop. These findings suggest that patients with PTSD have a greater degree of activation of the sympathetic nervous system.” (page 112)

What the above paragraph says to me is that the author is wondering if people who experience PTSD have a history of past trauma.

How do people remain resilient? How do people heal from a traumatic event without developing PTSD?


Page listing symptoms of PTSD here

Friday, May 27, 2016

Copyright confessions

https://www.etsy.com/listing/295205993/d-for-dingo-original-animal-alphabet?ref=shop_home_active_2

Copyright is tricky. I deal with it all the time.

Who would have thought being an artist would lead to such a concern for the law? Spirit of it, at least.

Will my own images be used without my consent?
Am I taking advantage of any photographers by using their work?

I try, very hard, to be respectful of photographers. They work to get the subject, the perfect shot, and they work to make it better, and then they put it online for all the world to see, hoping, just like I do, that no one will steal their work.

Usually, I get my images from sites where photographers post their photos for free use. Sites like morguefile.com, or, when usage has no conditions, Wikipedia. Occasionally, I remember to cite their names, even when the sites doesn't ask for that. Seems like the least I can do, and, all too often, more than I do.

Some photos on Wikipedia have a share and share alike term of usage, meaning that, if I paint one of the animals from one of their gorgeous photos, I would have to make the image of my painting free, too.

Not the painting itself, but still. That's days worth of work. Not feeling that generous, apparently.

Here, I listen to the counsel of my savvy neighbor: what if an editor wanted to publish an anthology of paintings, but the share freely clause meant copyright issues?

Share and share alike beautifulness, by Henry Whitehead, on Wikipedia:

Nullarbor Dingo

And the Paul Copeland photo I ended up using, from morguefile.com, also beautiful:

http://mrg.bz/4a610a

Thank you, Paul! And maybe I will paint Henry's photo, too, because I just can't help myself...

Question: Am I not being supportive of the photography community by using photos people post for free?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Showing at Grasmere in Bristol

I'm busily completing the animal alphabet again - the giraffe, hyena, deer, skunk, turtle, and fox all found homes since last time.

I've replaced them with a goat, a hedgehog a dingo, and another fox.

And I'm working on a squid and, maybe, a three-toed sloth for T, as per my daughter's suggestion.

I'm so excited to go and visit Beth and Peter's shop, Grasmere!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Still Silent Bisexual

For me, coming out as bisexual is either ridiculous, or feels like an unnecessary reveal about something that is no one else's business but my own.

So why do it? Well, largely, I don't come out. In spite of the blogging, I'm a pretty private person.

But the world needs more voices admitting that we're bisexual. There's a visibility problem.

In middle school I had my first boy crush, in high school my first girl crush, and I've had as many serious girlfriends as boyfriends (though most definitely not at the same time). I joined BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Bisexual Trasngender Youth – note the order? And the absence in the actual acronym? Oh well. They were still hugely helpful for me) while in high school.

Just before college, I had an accidental pregnancy. At the same time that I had mononucleosis, was going to a women's college, and had an identity crisis. I thought I was a lesbian, instead of being bisexual. In spite of my mad mad crush on the computer dude who worked in the labs, but then I also had mad mad crushes on a few of the other female students.

Now, I'm married to a man, who I met and fell in love with soon after college.

I live in the suburbs, I'm married, I have two kids, a cat, and two cars. Where in daily life does sexuality come up? When a neighbor says something homophobic? Nope, 'cause the only neighbors who ever say anything homophobic are themselves queer.

I was at a conference recently, and talking to a woman about her book. She mentioned that the name of one of her heroes is Quim. 

So I squashed a snort. Then I laughed. Then I said, “You might want to rethink that,” and explained.

“Funny,” she said, “someone else told me that a while ago. She was a lesbian too.” I must have given her a funny look. “Oh, I just made an assumption, didn't I? It's my gaydar.”

“Well, half an assumption, yes.”

The last time anything like this happened to me, I also had really short hair, and it was 20 years ago – a woman at a pancake house told me I was in the wrong bathrooms. “The men's room is over there.” Okay yes, that woman was completely confused, and not just about my sexuality...

Everyone makes assumptions about other people's sexuality. In my case, it's usually that I'm straight. What am I supposed to do, go around telling them they're wrong? Hmm. Maybe. Rude?

Nomenclature is a big part of the problem. “I'm bisexual.” “Ugh, TMI!” (Whispers behind hand, “Creepy, she just told me what her sexual preferences are. Next we'll be hearing about that retired couple's night time fantasies.”)

What could we call bisexuality so it doesn't feel too intimate? There are LOADS of slurs, centering around the idea that bisexual means being on sexual overdrive, or can't decide, etc.

Part of the problem might be the public image of bisexuals, mixed with our invisibility. We know a lot of sexy actors and popstars, but how many of us know if our accountant is bisexual, or anyone in Congress? One, Kyrsten Sinema, (yay! coincidentally bipartisan... hmm) right?

Also, just to clear up two possible points of confusion: just like the gay man down the street (happily married, probably) isn't interested in men who aren't gay themselves, neither is a bisexual man or woman interested in someone who isn't likely to be interested back. Making allowances for Victorian unrequited love, of course, and celebrity fandom. And, just because a bisexual man or woman is married, that doesn't suddenly make them binary. Just like a straight woman still sees a heart throb, even if she's happily committed in a relationship.

What if bisexuality were called something cool? We don't even have a fancy island name: “Hi, I'm a lesbian” has some poetry. “Hi, I'm gay” sounds like your sense of fun has been fine tuned.

Maybe I'll just commandeer one of the Hogwarts' house names. From now on, “I'm Ravenclaw” means “I am just as likely to have married a man as a woman, and I am really happy with my choice, but that does not make me straight, or homosexual.”

Identity politics. They never leave you alone, do they?