Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 7, 2017

A New Civilization: “Code of Honor”

Blog Note: When fans of Sherlock Holmes gather, they often “play the Game” — their discussions occur under the premise that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were real people, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent. I am playing a similar Game here, and writing these posts as though I were studying the records of Starfleet missions that had actually occurred. Therefore, I am refraining from talking about these episodes in terms of story structure, character development, multiculturalism as practiced in the 1990s, and other aspects of Star Trek that can be considered only through viewing it as a television show, which must necessarily be bound to the time in which it was made, to the words and intentions of its producers, writers, and actors, and to the culture that created it. This is therefore a game of make-believe, and I hope you will enjoy pretending along with me.

Mission Summary: Picard has been ordered to obtain a supply of desperately needed vaccine from a non-Federation planet whose dominant culture has strict gender roles and a strict code of honor that dictate its members’ lives and actions. The planet’s representative, Lutan, is accompanied to the Enterprise by an honor guard and his Second, Hagon. Lutan directs his Second to give a sample of the vaccine to Captain Picard; Lt. Yar attempts to receive it in keeping with her role as Security Chief, to inspect the sample in case of an attempt to harm Picard. When Hagon tries to push past her, she throws him — harmlessly — to the floor, impressing and intriguing Lutan. Following an initial discussion regarding how the vaccine is to be obtained by the Enterprise, Lutan requests a demonstration of the Holodeck’s capability for martial arts training. Yar obliges, demonstrating her aikido program to the visitors. Lutan and Hagon then return to their planet, kidnapping Yar as they beam out. After a day of refusing to respond to hails and a show of force from the Enterprise (a display of photon torpedoes exploding above the planet’s surface), Picard is invited to beam down to the planet and negotiate for both the vaccine, and the return of his lieutenant. Riker objects to the Captain risking his safety, harking back to his initial interview with Picard during the Farpoint mission. However, the code of honor followed by the planet’s inhabitants renders Picard safe as a guest, with Lutan honor-bound to die before allowing harm to befall a visiting leader. No other member of the crew would be assured such safety. Picard beams down, and asks for Yar to be released. Lutan announces a banquet to be held that evening; if Picard requests Yar’s return publicly, she will be returned. They accede, but that evening are surprised when Lutan responds to Picard’s request by announcing his desire to make Yar his “First One” — his wife, the owner of the lands he rules. Lutan’s existing First One, Yareena, objects (as Lutan knew she would) and challenges Yar to fight to the death for the position. After discussion among the crew and with Yareena and Lutan, it becomes clear that the fight is the only way that the Enterprise will be able to get the vaccine; Dr. Crusher has been unable to synthesize it. Yar agrees to the fight — Picard agrees to the fight — and Yar wins, killing Yareena with a weapon like a spiked gauntlet coated with a fast-acting poison. The victory does not come before Hagon cries out to Yareena, wishing for her to be careful. As Yareena dies, Yar has them both beamed to the Enterprise, where Dr. Crusher revives Yareena. Confronted with his formerly-dead First One, Lutan is shocked to realize that she is now his former First One as well, with Yareena’s death having broken their agreement as well as fulfilled the terms of the vaccine negotiation. Yareena as landowner selects Hagon to be her First One, and ruler, with Lutan accepted into Hagon’s former place as Second. The Enterprise then proceeds to the plague-stricken planet carrying the promised vaccine.

On Leadership: This mission presents a number of leadership challenges to Captain Picard, including a Prime Directive-bound encounter with a civilization that has the only source of a needed medicinal substance; the kidnapping and threatened death of a crew member; and the manipulation of both his people and Picard’s by the representative of the aforementioned civilization.

The Prime Directive forbids Picard from acting too directly against the cultural mores of the planet’s inhabitants; more than that, their status as the only source of a plague-stopping vaccine means that they must be handled in a way that obtains the vaccine. It means a delicate negotiation, one that cannot simply be abandoned when Yar is kidnapped. Throughout the mission, Picard turns to Troi, Data, and Riker for cultural analysis and expertise. This is an example of an important component of leadership. Picard does not know everything about Lutan’s culture, nor does the crew expect him to. Instead, he asks for expertise and listens to the recommendations of those experts. Leadership Principle: Call upon experts, and trust their expertise.

When Picard and his crew members visit the planet seeking Yar’s return, they must cope with Lutan’s unexpected declaration and Yareena’s resultant challenge. True to her nature and her calling as Security Chief, Yar is willing to fight, confident in her ability to defeat Yareena. It is Picard who hesitates, refusing to put a crew member’s life at unnecessary risk. Leadership Principle: Value the lives of the people you are responsible for. However, when it becomes clear that this is the only way to get the vaccine, and that Lutan has been manipulating all of them, Picard allows Yar to accept the challenge, trusting in her ability to win. Leadership Principle: Be willing to take risks when they are necessary — with the agreement of the people you are risking. Key in Picard’s willingness to make this decision is the revelation that Lutan has been manipulating the situation, intending to dispose of Yareena but trusting to Yar’s lack of desire to become his First One. Picard learns this by having a private conversation with Lutan. Leadership Principle: Listen to what people want. It’s key that what Lutan reveals to Picard as his desire is different from his stated intention. Lutan is attracted to Yar, but knows she is unlikely to find him more irresistible than her Starfleet career. But what he cannot say to Yareena, Hagon, or Yar he can say to a man he considers to be of similar status to him — a leader of people. Once Picard knows what Lutan wants, he knows it is important that Lutan not get what amounts to the murder of his wife for his own gain. Picard and his crew find a way of fulfilling the code of honor requiring the fight to the death, while keeping Yareena in her position as landowner and obtaining the all-important vaccine. Leadership Principle: Uphold your own ethical principles. Picard resolves the situation by obtaining the much-needed vaccine, keeping Lieutenant Yar alive and in her position, refusing to collaborate in the murder of a planetary leader’s wife, and refusing the (manipulative, abusive) leader from his position, all while maintaining the Prime Directive. The four leadership principles outline above are key to the successful resolution of this complex and unusual situation.

Do you agree with my analysis? What are your thoughts about Picard’s leadership in this situation — and how it contrasts to Lutan’s?

Advertisements
Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 30, 2017

Losing Control: “The Naked Now”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is en route to the rescue of a science vessel that has been observing the collapse of a star. The vessel has been sending strange messages – the captain asks whether they have brought any good-looking men as Enterprise attempts to get more information about the crisis. Then they hear the sound of an emergency hatch opening, and the crew are blown out into space. The investigation reveals that the science vessel’s crew had a sort of infection causing them to behave as though severely intoxicated, and now the crew of the Enterprise are suffering from the same. Even Data is affected as the crew lose control, culminating in a race to move the ship out of the way of a chunk of the collapsed star. 

On Leadership: This second mission is a challenge to study because leadership requires a certain degree of control – over oneself, if not over others. Indeed, Captain Picard is famed within Starfleet for his high degree of self-control. This mission is therefore an exercise in what happens when a leader’s self-control is threatened. 

Picard is one of the later victims of the infection. He begins to express the attraction he has for Dr. Beverly Crusher, following her expression of attraction for him. To the credit of them both, they maintain focus on their tasks, with Picard continuing to command an increasingly unreliable crew and Crusher developing a cure. 

Crusher’s teenage son Wesley, himself infected, uses a library of recordings of Picard’s voice to call the Chief Engineer away from her post, and talk the also-infected Assistant Chief Engineer into allowing him into Engineering. Wesley uses a tabletop tractor/repulsor beam he has built to prevent the Chief Engineer from returning to her station, and takes control of the ship. This presents a challenge to the increasingly impaired Picard, who has expressed discomfort with the presence of children on his ship and has forbidden Wesley from coming onto the Bridge. Picard tries to convince Wesley to allow the Chief back to her post and to return control of the ship to the Bridge. Ultimately he is unsuccessful; resolution of the crisis is only possible because Dr. Crusher succeeds in synthesizing a cure. 

This mission is a challenge for the student of leadership. Even Picard and his most reliable crew members are impacted by the intoxicating infection. And Picard’s best effort to maintain control over his ship are unsuccessful. I believe the best lessons taught by Captain Picard’s leadership on this mission are

Maintain your focus, even when it is difficult

and

Keep trying new solutions in the face of defeat.

Thoughts/comments on this episode and/or my conclusions?

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?

*                                         *                                                              *

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.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories