Saturday, September 28, 2019

Senior Spin Class

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I go to Senior spin class at my gym. I don't go to the the regular spin because they play music super loud and shout and scream and shame the participants if they don't go hard enough.

I know my own body. I've been riding bikes since I was a kid and was seriously "on the road" since the early 1970's. I enjoyed road riding up into the 2000's and then weight, illnesses, surgeries and age set in. Now, although I swore I'd never give up, it's beginning to scare me to ride on the road. There are too many distracted drivers, huge cars, high speeds. Those things, plus my balance is off --a side effect of aging and medication. My knees are shot from riding "accidents" (dog attacks, actually) and various youthful dumb-ass attempts to act a lot stronger and spryer than I actually am--or ever was.

The upshot is that spinning is about all that's left to this old cyclist. Usually we have a great instructor, Boz, who was once even more a hard-core rider than I am, but who now is also old and busted. Although he's still a big road rider, he knows what the 70+ body feels like. He warms up the class, he does stretching afterward, he doesn't play the music at ear-drum piercing levels. He asks us to work hard and challenge ourselves, but he belongs to the "No pain no pain" school of thinking.

Ribbon cutting for the new bike rake at the library.

Some in the class find him boring, but I don't. He, in my opinion, knows how to run a senior spin class. So what if he repeats himself a lot; I do too. I can even take him playing "Highway to the Danger Zone" at every class, especially because I know that he did his time and flew cargo all over Vietnam during our war. (Boz was too tall to be a fighter pilot.)

Yesterday I arrived at class, but Boz wasn't there. Instead we had a youngster, the kind who spends every minute until the beginning of the class thumbing through his phone. The music shakes the walls and over this he shouts that we can begin the class at a high tension and "at least 100 rpm." I can see how this is going to go, but I'm not going to leave after driving over here, so I decide to ride my own class. Whatever the youth says, I will simply scale it back to a level that my knees can endure. After all, my goal is to stay aerobically fit and NOT have knee surgery--a goal that is attainable if I use my head.

Well, it was 50 minutes of noise and absurd demands, but I got through it by just riding my own way. When the "instructor" got down and walked among us, checking up on what tension we were using, I simply kept my head down. I was waiting for him to say something, but by that time I was probably radiating sufficient dislike that even this ditz could see it pulsing around me. Wisely, he kept walking and made no comments to me--encouraging, shaming, teasing or otherwise.

If he had, I had a few choice words for him.

"Hey kid; my goal here is to nurse these knees along until I die. And--you know what? I was riding centuries* before you were born." 

~~Juliet Waldron

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*one hundred milers

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Alexander Hamilton's "Hurricane Letter"

Viewing clips of Dorian's destruction of the Bahamas, with 48 hours of pounding winds and storm surges, I remembered Alexander Hamilton's experience on St. Croix. He, aged 16-17, survived what must have been an extremely violent hurricane.

Christiansted, September 6, 1772
From the Royal Danish American Gazette—
By Alexander Hamilton

“I take up my pen to give you an imperfect account of one of the most dreadful Hurricanes that memory or any records whatever can trace, which happened here on the 31st of August at night. It began about dusk, at North, and raged very violently till ten o’clock. Then ensued a sudden and unexpected interval, which lasted about an hour. Meanwhile the wind was shifting round to the South West point, from whence it returned with redoubled fury and continued so ’till near three o’clock in the morning.

Good God! What horror and destruction! It is impossible for me to describe or you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels.

A great part of the buildings throughout the Island are levelled to the ground, almost all the rest very shattered; several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined; whole families running about the streets, unknowing where to find a place of shelter; the sick exposed to the keenness of water and air without a bed to lie upon, or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbours entirely bare….”

This is just sample of what was a much longer piece of teen prose, one which may have propelled this young literary up-and-comer out of the West Indies. The remainder of his discourse is as full of allusions to an All-merciful and/or All-punishing God as any 18th Century churchgoer might wish. Sometimes, however, unvarnished truth breaks through the flow of his pious public sentiments:

"But alas! how different, how deplorable—how gloomy the prospect—death comes rushing on in triumph veiled in a mantle of ten-fold darkness. His unrelenting scythe, pointed and ready for the stroke.—On his right hand sits destruction, hurling the winds and belching forth flames;—calamity on his left threatening famine, disease, distress of all kinds.—And Oh! thou wretch, look
still a little further; see the gulf of eternal mystery open—there mayest thou shortly plunge — ...

Hark! ruin and confusion on every side.—Tis thy turn next: but one short moment—even now—Oh Lord help—Jesus be merciful! 

Thus did I reflect, and thus at every gust of the wind did I conclude,—till it pleased the Almighty to allay..."

Alexander had been waiting to die; he now thanked God that he'd escaped.  At the end of the essay, he went a step further in his Christianity. He wrote an impassioned plea to his wealthy readers to help their less fortunate neighbors, the many who now had lost everything.

"—Look around thee and shudder at the view.—See desolation and ruin wherever thou turnest thine eye. See thy fellow-creatures pale and lifeless; their bodies mangled—their souls snatched into eternity—
...Oh ye, who revel in affluence, see the afflictions of humanity, and bestow your superfluity to ease them.—Say not, we have suffered also, and with-hold your compassion. What are your sufferings compared to these? Ye have still more than enough left.—Act wisely.—Succour the miserable and lay up a treasure in Heaven."

Hamilton, I think, truly wanted people to do the right thing, and he wasn't afraid to give men three times his age a lesson in scripture. It's an aspect of his personality that is endearingly boyish.

All I have is words, but for me they shall be a magical buckler and sheathe!

Juliet Waldron

Friday, June 7, 2019

Memories of a Transistor Sister

When I was a kid, back in the 1950's, we were born into a booming world of technology--technology for the masses--a profit generator if They* ever saw one. (We'll get them hooked on all this distraction and then, while they aren't looking, we'll kill democracy...)

 Anyhow, in the 1950's we knew we were privileged to have radios and telephones and automobiles and "shots" to keep us alive--after all, our parents and grandparents told us so.  My gen has always had radio--sounds from the air--and had airplanes, telephones, running water, flush toilets and many other things Grandma and Grandpa didn't when they were children.

 Early memories:  stretched on the carpet at the base of sonorous yet stately cabinet of wood with a patterned fabric speaker, listening to Big Band music with adults, or radio plays like the Lone Ranger or The Shadow, or, in my case, Wagner, ballet music and Gilbert + Sullivan. Then, just as puberty was beginning to set in, many of us lucky children of the '50's were given transistor radios. We found the local rock'n'roll station and listened while Soul, Country, and Rockabilly merged. Our homework suffered.

It was big fun to carry your soundtrack with you. I could clamber up onto the barn roof, radio in hand, and listen, undisturbed by adult opinions. In the beginning, these little radios sounded "tinny." Good speakers rendered them bulky to the point where they weren't easily portable.

Then came college, and (far too soon) marriage. C and I were kids, only married. The hip thing among my husband's East Coast buddies was to be an audiophile--so we were, and spent foolish amounts of our parents' hand-out on stereo equipment. C had to study all the magazines for months to be sure that we would get the best bang for our buck, and then draw graphs, too, only to discover that the desired item was rarer than hens' teeth or only for sale in California, so we ended up getting what we could afford in a fancy Boston music store.

The sound was, as promised, wonderful, totally immersive. the diamond needles on the turntable didn't chew up the vinyl. We '60's YA's were a cohort which loved to listen to music--or maybe that's just something all young chimps do.* We sank into popular sound. Folk and Rock combined. We were swept away by the British Invasion. We flew in the Jefferson Airplane and voyaged in the Yellow Submarine; we rode The Soul Train. Dylan was our prophet.  Black rectangular speakers, a pair making like Stonehenge, remain the best focal point of any living room.

In the '80's came Walkman, on which I played cassettes, for my ears only, more Mozart than any other human other than this crazed person could bear. I never made the other great audio leaps forward because this couple had fallen off the technological merry-go-round. Man, the in-house Tinkerer, didn't care so much for new gizmos anymore, so there was none of that in this house.

I hadn't really thought about my life experience of ever-changing music-delivery technology, until the other day, when I cajoled my cell phone--I am VERY LATE to that particular party--to play Jump Into The Fire. There I was, moving my old bones to the song issuing from my little Apple phone, while flashing back to the "Transistor Sister" era, now so long ago and that first, rather heavy, portable radio. The box from which the sound came on this occasion was significantly smaller, but the quality was about the same.

"Radio, Someone still loves you..." Even if streaming is the correct name for the current delivery system.

~~Juliet Waldron

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* No more about Them today.

*I say that because most age-mates have given up on listening to music. If they do listen, well, it's mostly oldies from those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Incredible Everywhere-ness of My Gray Hair

My hair is long and gray and getting scraggly. (Weird to be physically falling apart, in a losing battle with entropy, but that's the way it is for me this year.) Sometimes my long hair still looks cool, but it's really getting tatty at the ends and has to be clipped constantly. 

Mostly, though, my hair is in the way. I'm losing the energy to put it up, to braid it, to do anything with it. Of course, I'm also in a spell where it's tough to get up the morning, but that probably has to do more with politics than with my actual physical state. Once upon a time I looked like this, a collegiate Mommy in an apartment with a black high gloss floor, a handsome young motor-cycle riding husband,a toddler and a host of neato posters:

and now it's like this, at Dragon Con, trying on a dragon's tail I didn't quite buy.

These days, my gray hair is caught in my vacuum nozzles, wrapped round around the little wheels of the machine, choking the wands, so that once a job (at least) I have to disassemble the thing and peer into the tubes to see if a clog is impacting the once forceful suckage of the my little Mighty Mite sweeper. If it is, then it needs to be poked out with long brushes, the kind used to clean furnaces.

Hair is threaded into the weave of my doormats, so that to clean them, I have to not only sweep and shake, but pick them by hand, unwinding and knotting for disposal those long gray strands. Hair is in the brush every day in ever increasing amounts. I even find it--pardon me for going here--in the cat poop that I lift from the boxes. It's distressing to be losing so much of it, really it is, after years of taking the bounty for granted.

Once again, I want to cut it, a process I constantly go through, growing it out and then cutting it off. 

Cut it--and look in the mirror and lament--WHY DID I DO THAT? 

And begin to grow it out again. If it will grow, in the winding down of my physical form...



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Thursday, July 5, 2018

How Dystopian S/F became Our Current Reality

We’re like 18th Century aristocrats, all of us in the West. We sit and lounge while communicating with one another at lightning speed, like insects twittering to one another inside some over-burdened global hive.  Perhaps the trip to a Matrix destiny, that proposed end game of our “civilization,” is a lot closer than we think.

I'm sitting at an old CPU, practically a dinosaur, typing on a miraculous late 1980's IBM keyboard. It's indicative of my age, annual income and education that I treasure this antique. It has a marvelous decisive finger touch that this old style typist appreciates. 

However, the world has passed me by. Now babies clutch tiny devices in their fat dimpled fists. Their little faces, which used to shine while they discovered the world, are now are intent and passive. We are being readied for our place inside Some Thing's great machine, just as s/f  writers, our Cassandras and prophets, from PKD to Silverberg to Octavia Butler--and many others beside, who I have yet to read.


The Overlords must need a lot of us, perhaps for the now well-known flesh-as-battery option. They have set their "sacred" minions to declare that sex-- one behavior we monkey/people naturally have a gift for--is Evil. Of course, to the monkey mind, these days also bent and shaped by our creation of language as in the Medium is the Message--it is at once inevitable that therefore "evil sex" must occur as often as possible. Our governments seem to believe that sex occurs only for the procreation, though any self-respecting teen will tell you this is patently ridiculous.

 All methods to prevent over-population and consequent destruction of our species' range (now this entire planet) -are strictly forbidden by various "religious" authorities. Let's face it--an oversupply of anything in our current Capitalist system leads to low valuation. Therefore this insane directive to increase and multiply is nothing less than a "Majority Church/State Sanctioned" breeding program for slaves. 

Human lives clearly mean less and less and less to the 1%, our corporate masters who have just about successfully concluded their game of Planetary Monopoly. The "excess population" (per Scrooge) is doomed to become either Soylent Green or just old-fashioned cannon fodder--when there are 9 billion of us, who in charge will give a rat's ass when a million give or take are killed in some unnecessary but rah-rah-team-fight church and/or racist final solution? Take a look at how quickly and completely the westernized Middle East collapsed under the weight of sectarian conflict and a few rapacious, murderously inclined dictators!

Mother Kali will be dancing soon, I fear. I just hope she can clear out some of our major demonic evil-doers, along with the inevitable "collateral damage." I can only pray that our beautiful Mother Earth will survive our bad behavior.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The "Summer Collection"

A 1950's Canadian Indian Residential School story: 

Now it’s May again, and the possum has fully awakened.  Of course, it doesn’t just gradually become spring these days—no! That would be old fashioned; it would be what we've grown to expect after the last 70 years. Instead, we have had a long dry chill here where I live in the literal rump of the NE, followed by 90 degree weather for a few breathless days, causing the everyone, including the cat, to suffer from pollen allergies. Next, it falls back into something like the kind of May oldsters like myself remember: a bit gray, a bit sunny, puffy cumuli that might turn into a sullen deck over the apple blossoms , and a distinct pleasant chill whenever the wind blows.

The result is that I have to start changing my winter clothes collection for my “summer collection.” We’re not talking Turner Classic movies or million bucks athletic garb at this house; I’m speaking with tongue firmly-in-cheek. 

What that graceful word “collection” actually means to me is putting my light colored t-shirts, capris and shorts in the drawers in place of the heavier, darker heavier tees and turtlenecks which have occupied them all winter.
It involves lifting heavy plastic tubs full of shirts in/out of tiny spaces in badly aligned closets, maneuvers that require me to bend and lift and twist.  Either that or getting down on the floor to retrieve a low flat box from under the bed. And we all know the fun of getting up on two legs after we've had to get down on all fours, we who are now in their "Golden Years."

 Willy-Yum watches the human bang, crash and clamber from a safe distance--the hall rug. Here, he settles in, big front paws tucked inward against his chest.

After wiping the dust from the lids, I open the tubs. Inside, there they are, the tees I put away at the end of October last year. 

It’s an ever growing collection, I fear, because I have become attached to each and every one, carefully chosen as they were from catalogs or from artsy websites. There are dinosaur tees, one with Eco-slogans, Wheels of the Year, Calaveras, cats, famous movies, and other famous types, from Alex and Eliza Hamilton and Wolf Mozart and his Stanzi as well as  the many faces of Dr. Who. It’s my down-market version of sartorial elegance, suitable either for bike riding, grocery store, yard work or the gym.

When the task is completed, we’ve got the Possum Perfect summer wardrobe (or is it weird-robe?)   packed into the chest of drawers. I’m all ready now for all the heat and humidity now relentlessly on its way.

~Juliet Waldron

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

REVIEW OF FLY AWAY, SNOW GOOSE (five stars) By Ann Birch

I have read many books about the Indian residential schools, but this one is undoubtedly one of the best. Its main character is a spirited young girl named Yaot’l Snow Goose who lives a happy life in the forests and lakes of the Canadian North West until, on a visit with her family to Yellowknife to trade furs, she is seized by force and taken far away to Fort Providence to the Sacred Heart Residential School. At the same time, her boyfriend Sascho Lynx is also captured. The novel depicts their journey from innocence to despair to hope and happiness as they manage to escape from the horrors of the school and find their way back to their families and freedom.

Though the plot may sound familiar to readers, this one contains a number of surprises. Its authors, Juliet Waldron and John Wisdomkeeper, present their extensive research within vivid scenes that will linger forever in readers’ minds. For example, I cannot think of any other book that shows the cruelty of these schools better than the writers’ depiction of the hair-cutting that takes place as soon as the Indian children enter the institution.  Yaot’l waits, watching the youngsters’ hair being ruthlessly chopped off and knowing that when her turn comes, she must stand up to the enemy. When she bites one of the nuns, she is put into solitary confinement for weeks, a punishment that Waldron and Wisdomkeeper describe in harrowing detail. As Yaot’l looks out of the tiny window of her prison she sees a flock of snow geese flying south. “My own feathered family,” she thinks, “strong and free.” And then she collapses, thinking that she may never again be part of this happy band.

Her ensuing life at the school contains other horrors as well. But along with their description of the usual physical and sexual abuses, the writers offer some surprises. Many of the Indians from warring bands learn to forget their battles as they confront the priests and nuns. Not everyone associated with the institution is a monster—in fact it’s a M├ętis trader who uses his affiliation with the school to help Yaot’l and Sascho escape—and some of the worst bullying that Yaot’l endures comes not from the nuns but from a small coterie of Indian girls who seek praise for their cruelty from the Catholic hierarchy.

The most memorable scenes in the novel are perhaps those describing the escape of Yaot’l, Sascho, and two younger children and the suspenseful events of their long trek back to their families. As she huddles under tarpaulin in the escape boat, Yaot’l, whose name translates to Warrior, acknowledges her terror and wonders if she is no longer a warrior but merely a rabbit. Gradually, however, she regains her courage. The trader who helps the children escape returns to Yaot’l the precious knife on which her brother Charlie has carved a snow goose. At about the same time, she sees a flock of snow geese returning to their northern habitat and she knows for certain then that she will succeed in her struggles. The trader tells her and her friends, “You four are Indians again.”

It’s a lovely book from start to finish. I learned so much about the culture of these North-Western First Nation bands: their religion, their stories, their connection with the land. Most of all, I travelled with Yaot’l and Sascho on their metaphysical journey through the conflicts of life. It’s the very archetype of the journey that many of us must take in order to survive in a difficult world.


Many thanks to Ann Birch for her wonderful review of Fly Away Snow Goose!

~~Juliet Waldron