Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 23, 2017

Taking Command: “Encounter at Farpoint”

Blog update: The nanny started today, so maybe I can get on to a schedule?

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Summary: Captain Picard has just taken command of the Enterprise. Prior to leaving the known galaxy, the Enterprise heads to Farpoint Station, to pick up additional crew members and to evaluate the station’s suitability for Starfleet needs. En route, they encounter an immensely powerful being known as “Q” who puts them on trial as representatives of humanity. Q decides to let them complete their task at Farpoint – if they succeed on his terms, he will allow them to continue their exploratory mission. When a ship appears, fires on the Old City of the Bandi, planet’s native people, and abducts the station administrator, the crew realize that there’s more to Farpoint than just a mystery. They beam over to the new ship, rescue the administrator from torture, and realize that this ship, too, is on a rescue mission — and it isn’t merely a ship. The Bandi people have been stealing the energy of a spacefaring creature for the station. The Enterprise uses its phasers to deliver a gentle pulse of energy to the creature, giving it enough energy to return to space. The “ship” that attacked the city and kidnapped the administrator is this creature’s mate, and the two (helpfully color-coded pink and blue) fly off together, with Counselor Troi reporting on their feelings of “great joy and gratitude.” Q admits that they did the right thing, and disappears, ominously hinting that he might return. The Enterprise embarks on its ongoing mission to explore the galaxy.

On Leadership: Captain Picard is getting to know his ship and crew, some of whom he is meeting for the first time. At several points, Picard acts to balance out the excesses of his crew members. In particular, both Yar, as security chief, and Worf, as tactical officer, are inclined to be decisive and aggressive, both toward Q and toward the space jellyfish in its guise as attacking ship. Picard listens to their concerns, and while he doesn’t follow their recommendations, he takes them seriously and also explains to them his reasoning about why he doesn’t want to attack. In two cases, he presents his thinking and lets Yar and Worf come to the same conclusion as he does. I observe a few things here:

  • Listen to your people – understand they are doing the job you gave them.
  • When possible, tell them why you are making decisions in a certain way.
  • Coach them to make better recommendations of their own.

In particular, by presenting his reasoning and letting Yar and Worf draw conclusions, Picard is encouraging a growth mindset in his officers. Not only are they fulfilling a specific role, they are also learning to think more thoroughly about the situations they will encounter as bridge crew. Picard even encourages Worf in learning; when Worf says that he will learn to do better, Picard says that there will be plenty of opportunity for learning on their mission.

When Q confronts the Enterprise, Picard surrenders to him instead of fighting. As he points out to Yar, they know they can’t succeed against such overwhelming power. Picard never looks at this surrender as a failure, however, but takes it more as an opportunity for dialogue. So I take from this

  • Sometimes you have to give up something in order to get what you need

When Q transports Picard, Yar, Troi, and Data to a courtroom where he is the judge, Picard and his crew make it clear that Picard gives the orders; the crew members do not take orders from any one else. When Q gives an order, Picard instructs his team to obey, or not. Therefore,

  • Don’t let anyone else tell your people what to do; their instructions come from you and no one else, even if what you tell them is to follow someone else’s instruction.

Also during this court, Q assures Picard that he will not harm the crew — and then allows Yar to be frozen by one of the courtroom guards. Picard has Data replay exactly what Q had said, and Q acknowledges this and unfreezes Yar. I find this particularly interesting, as in the work world someone is always trying to change expectations or requirements, and the advice is often to document exactly what is agreed upon so that it can’t change by inches.

  • Document expectations and requirements – of all parties.

Following this encounter, Picard and his team are returned to the Enterprise, and they rendezvous with the new first officer, Commander Riker, at Farpoint Station. Riker is brought up to speed on the encounter with Q, has a conversation with Picard in which Picard tests him, asking if Riker will violate regulations to allow Picard to beam into a dangerous situation. Riker’s answer (“No”) appears to satisfy Picard. My lesson here is

  • Know your people’s jobs, and let them do them — a related point to (1) above.

Finally, in the conclusion of this mission, Picard chooses to consider multiple motivations for the attack on the Bandi city and selects the possibility that best explains the ship/jellyfish’s actions, rather than assuming that an attack means hostility. He also uses the empathic knowledge Troi receives as valid information about the creature and its behavior. My last two points are therefore

  • Think about all the possible reasons for someone’s behavior, even the reasons they won’t or can’t tell you.
  • Emotions matter; they will influence the actions of the person you’re working with/against.

The successful conclusion of the Farpoint mission results in the embarkation of the Enterprise on its ongoing exploration of the galaxy under Captain Picard’s able leadership.

What do you think about the leadership Picard displays during this mission? Do you agree or disagree with any of my conclusions? What lessons have I missed?

 

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 3, 2017

Learning to Lead the Starfleet Way

In which I discuss why I am taking this class.

 

I was always a Mr. Spock kind of girl.

 

In my usual backwards fashion, the first original series Star Trek I remember being truly compelled by is a scene towards the end of Star Trek VI. In the DVD commentary the mind-meld between Captain Spock and Lieutenant Valeris is described as “erotic.” This is a serious under-description. A mind-meld without permission is akin to rape, and I hesitate to describe such a scenario using any terms that make it sound appealing. However, this is a scene about betrayal and loss in which each character feels bereft and alone despite a profound intimacy which is outside human experience entirely, and is therefore only available in science fiction. Mr. Spock sets aside this deeply personal pain in favor of the many lives that will be preserved because of the knowledge he will gain; he sets aside Valeris’s pain and violation for the same reason. Acting in this scene, Leonard Nimoy and Kim Cattrall convey a remarkable depth of feeling in very few words; even though I was a little girl seeing this scene — Wikipedia tells me the film was released in 1991, and I came across my father watching it on HBO, probably in 1992 or -3, when I was ten or eleven — I was aware that Spock knew how much pain this would cause Valeris, and how he was going to invade her mind anyway, and correspondingly aware that Valeris knew how much pain would be inflicted, and that she was going to deny him the knowledge any other way — that while Spock has no thought of revenge here, Valeris in a sense daring him — I have what you need, how much are you willing to hurt me to get it?.  The violation is not erotic, but the unspoken interplay of self- and other-knowledge, the trade of power, and the mutual resistance and submission has something in common with some BDSM scenes. I sat down and watched the last half hour or so of the movie. I was not ignorant of Star Trek before this; I was raised in a Trekkie household and I knew who these characters were. But I had never paid attention in the same way before. I was hooked.

 

It was hard for an eleven-year-old girl to get hooked on something like Star Trek in 1992. Of course my family were devotees of TNG, but TOS was very sparse – later in the ‘90s, there was a fan-favorites marathon about once a year, and one summer one of the networks showed episodes on weekday evenings – but this was long before streaming access to episodes. It would be several more years before I got an Internet connection, and while AOL’s Star Trek chat room became my internet home, there was not a lot of opportunity for me to explore that world as fully as I would have liked.

 

Enter the Trek novel. Our library had several, and I’m fairly certain I read them all. This did not compare to being taken by my grandfather to the Barnes & Noble on Central Ave in Westchester Co., NY. We had nothing like it in my small hometown; to me a bookstore of that size seemed like paradise. I gravitated toward the science fiction section – it would still be years before YA ballooned to its current volume, and by the time I was twelve I was mostly reading in the genres of adult fiction due to paucity of options – and of course, I found the Trek novels. Better still, one of my favorite authors – Diane Duane’s first Young Wizards book was in my library’s juvenile section, her second in the tiny YA area – had written two of them! (She’s still writing these wonderful stories, and I’m still reading them, but I digress.) My grandfather bought them both for me, when I said I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. I still love them both, and I am in fact on my second copy of My Enemy, My Ally, but the one I want to tell you about is The Wounded Sky.

 

In this novel, a device, developed by alien physicist K’tl’k, that is installed in the Enterprise in order to carry it across the great distances involved in inter-galactic travel. The “creative physics” involved in this form of transport tears a hole in the fabric of space time, and the next-door universe begins leaking in to our own. This new universe lacks entropy, and therefore time, and if the Enterprise can’t repair the damage, everything in both universes will be destroyed. Traveling to the heart of the singularity, the lack of entropy causes the crew to appear to each other as their truest inner selves. Spock is described in terms of curiosity and loyalty, of deep feelings that are mastered relentlessly, of spending his life in the cause of scientific discovery and of giving those discoveries away.

 

I wanted to be Mr. Spock when I grew up.

 

Curiosity I was already good at. Mastering one’s emotions? I was told frequently as a child that I was “too sensitive;” mastering that sounded pretty good. And loyalty to a leader and burning oneself up in a cause, especially the cause of science – oh, how I wanted that. In many ways I still do.

 

But.

 

Loyalty only works as a life strategy if you find someone or something worth being that loyal to. I failed to find a Captain Kirk; and in the meantime I stayed loyal to an academic advisor – there I went, pursuing science – beyond the point where he, experiencing the onset of dementia, became emotionally abusive. In the process, I neglected my emotional life, eventually needing medication, therapy, and a brief hospitalization, because of the depression that is a not-unpredictable consequence of high stress, social isolation, and emotional abuse. (I am six years out from finishing my PhD, and still healing; I expect to spend ten years fixing the damage that ten years of graduate school did to my psyche, and the rest of my life fixing all the damage that life has inflicted before and since, as ongoing psychological medicine is a much sounder strategy than driving myself into a collapse every decade or so.) Science itself turns out to be a field as touched by politics and money as any other, and I eventually moved out of academic science, though I continued – continue – to admire Mr. Spock and have been known to ask myself, “What would Spock do?” when facing a difficult situation at work.

 

Then I had a dream.

 

I perceived myself to be about 17 in this dream; certainly I felt myself to be young and subject to teaching. The teacher in my dream was cast as Patrick Stewart; I suppose you could argue for an X-Men connection, but I don’t have the same emotional connection with X-Men as I do with Star Trek, and anyway, it’s my dream. Also, I had been watching some TNG in the evening, about 20 minutes’ worth.

 

Dream-Picard was teaching me something. There was a sportive element to it, like open-air swimming in some sort of suspension frame, or aerial Pilates, if there is such a thing. There may be something significant in the fact that I was learning something physical, as such things tend to be difficult for me relative to subjects that can be learned through reading and writing, and with the chronic physical illness that is the other legacy of toxic stress, I find myself missing more sessions than I like of any workouts or personal training I am attempting. In any case, I was honored and anxious by being picked out/accepted to learn this art, and dream-Picard in fact sought out an additional teacher for me. This teacher came in all obsequious and honored, that he was asked to teach by the great dream-Picard, but he was for some reason offended by me, or at the least, disappointed that I was to be his pupil, and not dream-Picard himself. He stormed off, and dream-Picard said, never mind, he would teach me himself.

 

Two things here seem to resonate with me. The first is disappointment. And I think this will be familiar to many with depression and perhaps other illnesses – I am convinced, or at the least, always suspicious, that I am a disappointment. I expect that I am a disappointment to my parents (who as far as I know have never given me reason to think this; I believe it to be a tendency endogenous to my makeup). I spent about six years convinced, with evidence, that I was a disappointment to my advisor, and as one’s advisor is more or less the sole gatekeeper of one’s academic future, this made me feel like I was a disappointment both to myself and to the entirety of SCIENCE as well. In work situations to this day, I generally worry about disappointing my boss, and can find corrections hard to take if my feelings of disappointing get in front of the need to do the work, and the fact that my boss ultimately bears the responsibility for the work I put out in to the company. (I worry much less about disappointment when I am among equals; it’s almost absent from my relationship with my husband, and he and I have learned to communicate well about what’s left, along with our other foibles.) The thing that is strikingly clear about this dream situation, though, is that while the prospective teacher was disappointed by me, I hadn’t done anything. The disappointment was all his own, and based on his unrealistic expectations of the situation, compounded by his own arrogance.

 

To put it short, I was not responsible for his disappointment. He was.

 

The second is that, I think I have something to learn from Captain Picard. Picard is a great leader, and I’ve been thinking more about wanting to learn leadership skills. There’s a certain amount of that curriculum that could have been available to me in various forms at my last job, but the corporate leadership curriculum seems unsatisfying to me. It is by turns too touchy-feely and too coldly corporate; it’s either consoling me for not being a manager yet or assuming that I am one, or at the least, want to be one. But ST:TNG will provide me with seven seasons of leadership lessons, neatly packaged. And it seems to be that what I have been trying to learn from Star Trek, from Mr. Spock, for more than twenty years is how to be a follower. I do that pretty well, when I have someone worth following. But I don’t always have someone worth following, and when it comes to my career, my ambitions are really not defined by the corporate ladder, and when it comes to my personal life, I take a peer-partnership model anyway as it suits me and my husband and my metamour. (Though it occurs to me my husband is one of the very few people I know worthy of loyalty like Mr. Spock’s…)

 

So I’ve really written three pages to say that I’m going to be embarking on a TNG rewatch specifically looking to learn leadership skills from Captain Picard. You are invited to follow my curriculum. Class is better with classmates, don’t you think?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | January 22, 2016

I wrote a thing!

For the Flash Fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog

 

The Incubus’ Tale

He sat, head down, under the lights, the harsh fluorescent glare casting sullen shadows on his face. Steam curled from an untouched cup of coffee. He was not handcuffed, but he sat like he was, wrists resting next to each other on the table.

Officer Schneider leaned forward. Her nicotine-stained fingers twitched slightly against the table; it had been far too long since her last cigarette, far too long since her last meal. Her own coffee cup had been drained to the dregs, with a few escaped grounds swirling in the remaining drops of liquid. She felt a headache coming on. I’m getting too old for this shit, she thought, and this time the sarcasm was tinged with the rueful thought that it might, at last, be true.

She breathed, once, not quite a sigh through her nose, and said, “Let’s go through this one more time.”

“She wasn’t supposed to die,” the boy began, but Schneider interrupted.

“Start at the beginning,” she said. “Start with how you met.”

“It was a club,” he said. “Hairspray.” The name of the club. “Goth night.” His black t-shirt and skinny black jeans, Doc Martens and eyeliner, seemed to support this, as did the silver rings and wallet chain that had been confiscated when he was brought in – not that the night mattered. “I was dancing. She was dancing.”

He looked up, and Schneider saw a little bit of light come into the boy’s dark eyes, so black it was nearly impossible to tell iris from pupil – or maybe that was these ridiculous lights. She rubbed a finger across her temple. “Go on.”

“She just looked so, so alive,” he said, as though being alive were a marker of great beauty, the way other boys might talk about a woman’s hair or eyes or smile. “And I went over to where she was, and we danced, and then we went out to the tent, and had a cigarette.”

The mention of a cigarette made Schneider’s fingers twitch again. God, she needed a break. “The tent?” she prompted, instead of walking away, turning the whole thing over to someone else, and going home to have a whole pack of smokes for dinner.

He shrugged. “It’s just a tent where people go to smoke. It was cold, though, so we went back to her place after that.”

Officer Schneider had seen the place. Small, reasonably neat with a clutter of city living – takeout boxes in the trash, high-heeled shoes dropped casually near the door. Except for the body, there hadn’t been anything unusual about it.

“What did you do when you got back?”

He shrugged again. What do you think we did? he seemed to ask. “Went to bed.” A flush crept into his pale face, not like a blush of embarrassment, but a warming, as though he had been the corpse, and the thought of sex had brought him back to life.

“And then?”

The boy dropped his eyes again. “I guess I kissed her too hard,” he mumbled. Now he blushed with shame. Not guilt, not like he felt bad about killing her, but like the kiss had been a mistake, like if he had kissed her properly she would still be alive.

After hearing the same story six times, Schneider was starting to wonder. They got caught on this point every time. “Are you telling me,” she said slowly, “that you killed this girl by kissing her too hard?”

He nodded, and Schneider’s fingers twitched again. “There was no bruising around her mouth, and no signs of asphyxiation. How you could you kiss her hard enough to kill her? How could a kiss that hard leave no sign?”

She had hit the end. She did hit the wall, reached out to the gray-painted concrete and pounded the side of her fist into it.

“I could . . . show you?”

“Show me?”

“I could kiss you.”

“Is that a joke?”

“No! I just mean, um, I think you would understand if you felt it.”

Schneider wondered. This kid could not be the world’s best kisser. She could lose her job for kissing a suspect. Would it tell her anything about how the young woman had died? She decided. She would let the boy kiss her, and then she would put the fear of God into him for wasting police time on a horrible accident, and then she would go home. There would be cigarettes, and maybe some ice cream, and sleep.

She turned back to the boy. “Okay, kid. Show me.”

* * *

The door to the interrogation room opened to reveal two suited men, who watched Officer Schneider’s body slump to the floor. The boy looked up in chagrin.

“Twice in one night?” asked the older of the two men. His shoulders strained the fabric of the expensive jacket.

The boy looked down again. “Sorry, dad.”

The younger, slenderer man patted the older on the arm. “Now, Luce. He’s just feeling his age. It takes practice to suck the life out of a woman and leave her alive. This happens to every young incubus.”

A wisp of smoke escaped the older man’s nostrils as he sighed. “I suppose you’re right. Clean up this mess for me?” As the second man nodded, he gathered the boy in with a wave of his arm, and shook his head. “Two in one night.” He sounded a little proud. “We’ll have to tell your mother.”

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 24, 2014

Housekeeping

I’m thinking that I may want to make this blog a more “professional” space. That’s in quotes, because there are many kinds of professions, and for some of them my writings here are appropriate. But this has functioned as a personal blog with occasional forays into fiction, and I think I might be better served with a page that showcases my analytic and science writing skills. The personal and fiction can go hang out in a different, more casual space. Expect changes to come!

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | April 24, 2014

Work = Virtue

Hard work is a virtue.

Virtue is its own reward.

These phrases have been echoing in my head and I have been trying to unpack their connection. If these are transitive principles, then we can read here, “hard work is its own reward.” And it does look as though we, American workers, are expected to hold to this principle, that we work hard for the work’s own sake, with no expectation of another reward. Why else does full-time minimum wage (or less, if you work in some restaurants, or have disability benefits) exist? The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour. A person making this wage would earn a little more than $15,000 a year, working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks, assuming no unpaid leave or vacation. The average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment outside of Philadelphia’s city center is more than $800 per month. The $9,600 per year an $800/mo apartment would cost a minimum wage worker is 64% of this hypothetical person’s annual income.

I am hypothesizing based on averages; any individual’s experience will differ from this. But if I have $450 per month to parcel out among electric, gas, telephone, and internet, today’s basic utilities, I don’t have much left for food, leisure, or luxuries – let alone a car or transpass to get me to work, clothes and shoes to wear on the job, tuition for classes that might help me get a degree to get a higher-paying job, care for my children while I’m working, or medical co-pays (I’m assuming my employer offers a medical benefit, as I am working full-time). But now, what if I have children, who need clothes and food and help with their homework, a larger apartment than a one-bedroom? What if my child breaks her leg on the soccer field? Now she needs a hospital and follow-up and Tylenol, maybe even physical therapy. All on $7.25 an hour.

But a lot of jobs aren’t hiring full-time, because of that medical benefit. So instead of one job, I’m balancing two – with two sets of uniforms to buy and two schedules to maintain? And I have to buy my own health insurance (because I make too much money for government assistance – this is PA, without Medicaid expansion). How do I help my child with her homework and take her to soccer practice?

I’m working, remember. I’m working my ass off – maybe sixty hours a week, if both my jobs are thirty hours – but what am I working for? It’s not for a vacation, because I can’t afford to be away from work. It’s not for my retirement, because at this rate of pay I can’t save anything – forget about emergencies or a college fund for my daughter – forget about a prom dress or soccer cleats! Is it for a better life for my daughter, attending Philadelphia’s prominently overcrowded and underfunded schools? When I can’t pay for college? When she won’t be able to afford it herself working at a minimum wage job very similar to mine? Will her life be better? Will it include anything other than hard work that offers the barest subsistence in exchange?

It’s not just about the working poor, who are so euphemistically called the working class to hide the fact that they toil in poverty? (You see that it is work that defines these folk; their poverty is thought unimportant.) I myself – well educated, with my schooling largely paid for by a generous family who could afford to indulge their generosity – still graduated with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and even though I have a job that pays reasonably well, making progress in paying down that debt feels like a never-ending battle, with the constant unexpected pressures of life. For those with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans, it’s worse – their professional jobs, jobs requiring graduate degrees, don’t pay enough to make saving possible when minimum payments are due. What are we working for? It’s not likely to be private-school tuition and ballet lessons for our children, like our parents, maybe, gave to us. When my parents were my age, they knew what they were working for: a house where their daughters could have separate bedrooms, graduate tuition for my father — they gave up their own luxuries and pastimes for us, I know. But for my children, what do I have to give up? What am I working for?

And what if I am sick or disabled? My job is protected, to some degree, by FMLA, but I am guaranteed only unpaid leave, and even with my employer’s generous health insurance, there’s a limit to the copays and medications I can afford when I’m not earning. A permanent disability leaves me in a worse state, as I spend money and time to prove my disability to the satisfaction of the government, who will give me a pittance to live on as best I can, as a parasite in a society that reviles those who cannot or do not work.

So if I am working, what am I working for – if through work I cannot achieve comfort for myself or opportunity for my children? It is no wonder to me that a man might be more inclined to sit in the sunlight and beg for charity if his alternative is to work endlessly for no reward, because this way at least he has the sunlight.

So we come back to work, as a virtue – because we tell the disabled woman (especially if she is disabled by unseen pain or mental illness) or the panhandling man that they are wrong or worthless, or if we don’t say it directly, it shows in our eyes when we see them beg, or buy food with government benefits?

And what when they send out the thousandth resume with no return, when all they want to do is work – when they are forbidden from working and must hear that they are worthless without it? “Get a job,” when they are denied one, or when working at one gets one nothing but work?

Capitalism thrives on self-interest. If work is a virtue, if virtue is its own reward, then we lack self-interest as a motivator. There is nothing to work for, so there’s not much of a reason to work. And if people don’t do the work necessary to society – farming, serving food, making clothing – the work we don’t celebrate, the work that is its own, only reward – then the new oligarchs will find that their homes are not clean, their shoes not shined, their meat not cooked, and that they have sat fiddling during the fall of their world. They have become so consumed with their own selves that they have forgotten that their comforts depend on the labor of others, and they have given those others no more reason to labor. Virtue is not enough.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | November 26, 2013

Some Updates

Just a couple of notes –

Please be sure to include your e-mail address when you send us money via PayPal. We see your name, but not your e-mail address, so this helps us keep track of how to contact you if we were to need to!

We do list the registration itself separately from information on whether you have paid, so if you would like to reserve a spot and send payment later, that’s fine. However, please don’t register until you know that you are going to attend! We need to provide an accurate count to the venue.

Be aware that we won’t be shipping you a physical ticket. All registrations go on a list, and we check attendees off as they arrive, Give us feedback on this, though – would you prefer a paper or printable ticket to our current, list-based system?                     

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | October 16, 2013

A New Adventure

I could bore you all with the details of my laborious health process right now – I’ve been to four doctor’s appointments in the past two weeks and to Outpatient Imaging twice – but while I hope we are starting to find some clues about my mysterious illness, I would rather not think about that for a bit. Instead, I have – as I so often do – started a new tale, and written a short first chapter for it. Here’s to starting stories, and here’s to the hope and work of finishing them.

 

The Last Adventure

Chapter 1: A Conversation at Midnight

Death, Orrin felt, was best discussed at night. He couldn’t sleep these days, anyway. The fear that preyed on his mind was largest at night, and even before that fear had taken shape he had found himself lying awake most nights, or puttering around his lonely cottage. It was approaching midnight, then, when he poured a measure of ink into a silver bowl, and sent a mental summons to his oldest friend.

It was not long before two faces appeared in the ink. Donatell was the elder of the two, though that didn’t mean much when all three were well past their seventieth year. Many, many years before, Donatell had encouraged Orrin to make the journey to Evaron to seek the source of power. The younger of the two was Anton, who had been a beauty in his youth. Donatell had at first been afraid to encourage Anton, concerned that it would be too easy for a man of power to seduce the beautiful youth. Anton had persisted, and in time had sought power himself. The three had been friends and colleagues for more than forty years, and in that time, they had seen many other friends come and go.

It was the going that concerned Orrin now.

“My friends,” he said to the faces in the ink, “it is so good to see your faces. Thank you for heeding my call.”

“Of course, Orrin,” said Donatell, and “Are you well?” said Anton. Orrin smiled to himself, thinking of Anton taking Donatell’s hand in concern.

“I am well, but I am worried. With every conversation, I fear it is our last.”

“The same thought has been in my mind,” said Donatell.

Orrin smiled sadly. “I am too wise to fear my own death, or to try to delay it. But I fear what the world may face without us. It has been too long since a young man has sought the source of power in Evaron, too long since a new wizard has come to us for training. I fear that when we are dead, magic will die with us as well.”

“I share your fears,” said Donatell, as Anton nodded gravely. “But what can we do? The hour is late, my friend, and we are old. We have no acolytes, no descendants. Even those who need our help come to us only in their most desperate need, fearing we are beyond giving them aid.”

“There is only one thing we can do,” said Orrin. “We must find acolytes, and show them the way to Evaron.”

Donatell frowned, but Anton laughed. “Where do we find acolytes? They hardly grow on trees. And do you really think we could go to Evaron, at our age? I do not think I would survive the journey.”

Orrin was grave. “None of us will escape death,” he said. “Isn’t it better for us to die trying to preserve magic for future generations, than safe and comfortable in our homes, and let the source of power slip away from this world?”

Anton fell silent, and Donatell began to nod. “I see where you wish us to go,” he said. “We must make the journey to Evaron, and we must find acolytes along the way. There may be no likely youths in our towns, but there may yet be men willing to risk their lives for magic. Perhaps we will find them as we travel.”

“And if not, it is in my mind that at least one of us would have to go to Evaron anyway,” continued Orrin. “If we are to be the last of our line, we must seal the source of power so that none will ever discover it, and have magic without teaching. Such a thing could destroy the world, more surely than the lack of magic will.” Orrin paused, and then said, “I will make this journey alone, if I must, for I think that it needs to be done.”

“No,” said Anton, “You are right. And you mustn’t go alone. Better that we should journey together, better that we should die together, than to pass into darkness without fighting to preserve what is ours.”

Donatell leaned his head on Anton’s shoulder. “And Anton and I would never be separated. No, we must all go. And, perhaps, we must hasten. The days draw in, and the winds are turning cold. Autumn is upon us, and who knows who will live to see another spring? We must prepare. Orrin, be ready. We shall be with you in a few days’ time, to begin the journey to Evaron.”

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | August 8, 2013

Hypothesis

Today has been an interesting day. I woke feeling short of breath and had a hard time forcing myself out of bed. I hurried through breakfast and left my coffee on the counter when I headed, late, to work. At work I got more coffee, but only felt worse, lightheaded. After an hour I took myself off to the ER, feeling like I was going to pass out.
I did not pass out in fact, not even when the nurse had trouble with my vein and had to manipulate the needle, the physical reaction to which left me sweaty and ill. In the end it was decided that I had suffered “near syncope” which means that I felt like I was going to faint but didn’t, and the information that my blood sugar was “on the low end of normal.”
The nurse who took my blood sugar said that it was 70. According to the American Diabetes Association, that is the lower bound of normal; below that one may experience symptoms of hypoglycemia. Symptoms like fatigue, lightheadedness, headache. Experiencing this at night may lead to waking with fatigue and headache, and furthermore has a symptom of night sweats, which I have and didn’t realize were a symptom of anything.
This means that I now have a working hypothesis about why I’ve been feeling do bad (my blood sugar gets low at night) and a solution for it (have a snack of protein and complex carbs before bed, or when I wake up halfway through the night). I can also ask my doctor about a glucose tolerance test, which I haven’t had; I only know that my fasting blood sugar is right in the center of normal.
Having a hypothesis, something to investigate and ameliorate – something that would sufficiently explain both why I feel so severely but unpredictably bad and why the doctors keep finding nothing wrong with me – makes me feel much more optimistic that I may figure out how to be as well as I want to be. Hell, after resting and eating a proper meal, I felt well enough to play Wii Sports for a while.
It’s late and I won’t add to my story tonight, but there will be another “Temple River” installment soon. Thanks for tuning in; I don’t mind shouting into the ether, but there’s something comforting in the idea that I’m not.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 30, 2013

Some New Ideas

Cranky tonight. I was fine until I went on Facebook, where I saw an article about how the courts have decided that vaccines cause autism. I didn’t read much of the article; it had the gall to claim itself to be unbiased and then launched into several paragraphs lauding Andrew Wakefield as a persecuted hero.
Not much pisses me off more than this particular brand of bullshit. The thing I’ll note is that the poster is a nurse, which makes me realize something kind of terrifying: that when I have children who I take to the doctor, I will have to inquire about the vaccine status of the medical professionals in the office. Someone exposed to sick babies and not immune to measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox? Not handling a child of mine!
Other than that, I won’t rant further, as I have done so before and I don’t need to drive my small collection of readers away by repeating myself. 🙂
Had another fatigue day yesterday, not quite as bad as Thursday. Got a doctor’s appointment, about which I have decided to be generous: the NP was concerned with yesterday, not the whole history of illness and fatigue that I drag around. It just means I need to put my head together with my GP about it, and if he thinks I’m crazy then I can go find someone who can help me feel better. I don’t care about a diagnosis except as far as it dictates the treatment; but I want to be well enough to work and take care of my home and eventually have a family.
I was going to go back to my story tonight, but I had such an interesting dream last night I want to put down the story idea it generated so I don’t forget it.
The story takes place in a dystopian future, advanced in technology but ravaged by war, so that the technology different groups have available can be very different. In this landscape, an educated young woman is sold into slavery. She does not know why, as no one other than herself should have property rights over her person, but it is a thing known to happen. (Slavery is not quite legal in the fragmented country, but it is practiced by those powerful enough that they do not worry about recognizing the law.
After several days in captivity, the woman is sold to a sort of pirate and trader who has a large ship that travels up and down a major river. The ship does not usually sail on the water, though it can, but instead hovers above it. She has been bought for the purpose of keeping the trade accounts, following the murder of the previous accountant, who was skimming. The story will chronicle the woman’s travels as she unravels the mystery of her bondage, wins her freedom, and becomes a major player in the land’s renewal.

After days of near-darkness, the red evening light was harsh on my eyes as I was led out onto the pier. I pushed my filthy hair out of my eyes and watched the approach of a small barge carrying several men. One stood tall in the prow, an imposing figure with cut muscles in his chest and arms, easily apparent because of the sleeveless vest he wore. His mustaches were waxed precisely, and he wore a single earring in his right ear. This would be Captain Zhou, then, the famed pirate lord who, I had been informed, would be purchasing me.
I fingered the leather collar around my neck until a sharp jerk on the attached rope caused me to stagger. So far slavery had meant a night of terror and three days of squalid darkness, and I was most certainly not accustomed to it, nor did I intend to be. There had been, I was sure, some mistake that had led to my kidnapping instead of some intended target, and someone could surely be persuaded to seek a judgment against the slave-trader to secure my release, or else pay the price required to purchase my freedom. Until I could seek aid, however, I was forced to tolerate whatever ills were forced on me.
Zhou stepped onto the pier, followed by a slender man in a fine coat, and a barrel chested man carrying a gun and a sword. Others sat in the barge to wait. The slave trader gestured stiffly with his right hand, as though he had intended to offer Zhou a handshake and thought better of it. Instead he bowed awkwardly, and babbled.
“This is the one I promised you, my lord, skilled in keeping records and accounts.” Had I been targeted, then? And was that me, specifically, or just someone with my skills?
Zhou looked me up and down, then jerked his head. The slender man came forward, taking something out of his satchel. He took my left wrist, stretched my arm out, and jabbed the needle of a bio-scanner into my vein. I could not see the results as they came up on the screen, but he pronounced me “clean”, and handed over a wallet to the slave trader. The rope tied to my collar was given to the slender man in exchange, and I was led into the barge and pressed to my knees. We rowed off with Zhou again standing in the prow and the other pirates sitting ahead of the four rowers, and me on my knees between them. Thus I began my life as a slave, at twilight on the twenty-seventh day of July, 2134.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 25, 2013

The Spice Must Flow

I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a few days, O handful of readers. I spent the last several days increasingly tired, and woke today with insurmountable fatigue and achy muscle pain all over my body. It was a flu-like feeling but without flu’s other symptoms. The act of dressing required more spoons* than I had available to me, and I very reluctantly called out of work sick. I always wrestle with guilt and fear in these circumstances, but sometimes there’s not much to do but stay in bed.
Fortunately I have good pals, many of whom have had pain and fatigue problems of their own. Today’s “flare-up” isn’t related to any medical condition I know about (I’m well aware that doesn’t preclude having a condition that hasn’t been diagnosed yet), but the practices and attitudes that get my friends through days of lupus, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain helped me today.
I took a hot bath with Epsom salts. I did lovingkindness meditation. I rested in bed and forgave myself for it. Then I tried something I read about a little while ago, and figured that it couldn’t hurt.
Turmeric is a spice that is said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The research on it seems to be fairly credible, with there being some scientific confirmation of the information on natural-health websites. I tried a recipe of turmeric, cinnamon, and honey in heated almond milk. It was tasty, a little bitter, a little sweet. As I drank it, a feeling of calm and clarity came over me, and I began to feel more comfortable. After 12 ounces of the stuff, I was in much less pain, felt hungry, and had enough energy that I was able to cook a simple meal. Either the turmeric milk is the best anti-inflammatory I’ve ever encountered, or it was the best placebo effect I’ve ever encountered. Not that I care too much either way, right now! I’m too pleased about feeling better.
I intend to continue to experiment with turmeric, to see if my body continues to like it as much as it did tonight. If it is really this good, I may make it a daily part of my diet. Please remember, while reading this, that your mileage may vary; any medicine, herb, or food that works very well for one may be neutral to another and harmful to a third. And while I’m working hard at becoming the expert on my body and what it needs, I am not an expert on bodies in general. (I’m good with brains, but more in a lab sense than medicine sense.)

*Spoons = a metaphor for the resources one has to get through everyday life while dealing with chronic illness and/or pain. Google “spoon theory” or visit butyoudontlooksick.com for more information.

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