Elizabeth Bourne

writer & photographer

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

Looking for my painting and photography website?

Please visit https://www.philotera.com/

All my artwork and recent photography is on there.



Screw You, Robert Graves

I despise the concept of maiden, mother, crone as the triple goddess. Now wait, I’m not a crazy person. Well, okay maybe I am a little bit of a crazy person, but hear me out. The maiden, mother, crone symbology was an invention of Robert Graves who first proposed it (if I recall correctly) in The White Goddess. To be fair, for years I subscribed to this onerous belief. I was thrilled by The White Goddess when I was in my twenties. I was so excited to have any part in anyone’s imagination of a spiritual path. Any recognition of the female was good recognition.

But in reality it’s a terrible view of women. This is total Handmaid’s Tale stuff. This is a woman’s path imagined by a middle-aged Edwardian white man so that women can continue to serve in their highest possible function – as the sexy manic pixie dream girls of a white man’s fantasy, as the mothers of white men’s children, as a muse for white men’s creations, as the purveyor of wisdom to white men (when not being burned at the stake for being Too Wise).

I call bullshit on that. It ignores the rich texture of women’s lives. It denies us agency.

The idea of the triple goddess is offensive. Maiden has always stood in for virgin, which implies a woman who has not yet had sex – with a man. What about sex with other women? What about sex with yourself? What about not wanting sex at all? Women don’t exist to serve at men’s sexual pleasure, no matter what some men may want. I abhor the concept of Related imageMaiden because of how it translates into women’s sexuality pinned by the male gaze. Being a maiden is not a stage of life. It’s not like childhood, where there’s a normal human transition from being a child to being an adult. Maiden is an artificial concept based on sex, as is proven by the “old maid” who has never had sex, or at least, not sex with a man.

There are so many things wrong with idea of Mother that it’s difficult to know where to start. So I’m going to be blunt here, and maybe a little offensive. There’s nothing special about being a mother. Every animal reproduces. Dogs have puppies. Horses have foals. Elk have calves. Even fish spawn new generations. That is part of being alive. Many (but not all of us) are driven to reproduce. Sure, there are lovely, warm, and wonderful feelings that come with being a mother. They’re chemically induced. I know, I’ve had them. They were great.

http://www.paganprincesses.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/OurLadyOfVladimir.jpgBut that doesn’t make motherhood the be-all of a woman’s existence. It’s biology. Powerful biology, but biology shared by all living things. If we want to survive as a species, that’s good. But I reject seeing it as sacred. If parenting is so sacred, where are the sacred dads? What god-symbol exists for the good father? Sure, in Christianity there’s a stab at making one of the trinity “God-the-Father” but have you read the bible? He’s a terrible father! He kills his children again and again. He’s the Medea of dads. Gah. No. I would run away from home if that was my dad. Wait, I already did that…

The real purpose of defining women as Mother is to own the products of her sexuality. The Maiden becomes Mother by having sex and giving birth to a man’s child. Now she’s tied to caring for her offspring and if she rejects that, she’s a bad mother. And this has been one of the splits in the woman’s movement – no one wants to be called a bad mother, so you have to have a career AND nurture your offspring. Why aren’t men held to the same standard? And yes, I acknowledge that this has changed – a little, for some women. But the truth is the burden of child rearing still primarily rests on women. Making the Mother sacred is way of sweetening that particular pill.

Sure, being a full time mom is a lot of work. I know that, I’ve been a single mom. But I reject that we should define ourselves by this temporary role. Children grow up. They become adults. They leave home (or should). If all you have ever been is a mom, what are you then? This, imo, is the origin of the “empty nest” syndrome. Society encourages women to identify as mothers at the cost of all else, and then we are left with nothing when that role is finished. I say be yourself first, no matter who that is. Your children will leave you. Your husband may leave you. You will always have yourself.

Of course, Mother also doesn’t address the fact that many women don’t have children. The reasons don’t matter. Childless is as good a way to be in the world for a woman as it is for a man. Why should it be a stigma for a woman to not have children, but not for a man? How often do you hear a man ask another married man how many children he has, or when he’s going to have his first baby? I’ll wait while you think…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of children. I have one. I love him dearly. But I don’t think women who don’t have children should be penalized, or women who do have children exalted, for the mere fact of reproduction. The truth is we are more than our biology, and the Maiden, Mother, Crone symbolism exalts biology at the cost of everything that makes us human.

Related imageNow what about the crone? Surely there’s nothing wrong with being a wise woman? Except of course for the west’s historical predilection for punishing older women because they’re no longer sexually exciting to men, and smart women are frightening. So they should just die. Burn them. Stick them on an ice floe. Drive them out into the woods. Women in the west have been punished for daring to be themselves once they’re old. Think about mother-in-law jokes. Think about images of “witches.” I don’t see the Crone as empowering, any more than I see any of the other male-gaze determined ideas of a woman as good for us.

I suppose I could have made this a much shorter blog by simply saying I reject any thesis of a woman’s path that is predicated solely on her biological abilities. We don’t define the man’s path by his biology, why should a woman be different? This doesn’t mean that biology isn’t important, of course it is, but that doesn’t define me any more than a man’s urge to have sex defines who he is in the world. My desire for sex and my (past) urge to procreate – none of those things are who I am. They aren’t my path. They don’t make me sacred.

Women have more interesting lives than Graves was willing, or perhaps capable, of imagining. This isn’t limited to him, of course. There are many examples of modern men continuing to define women by male desire. Go ahead, you can write out a list. You’ll need multiple pieces of paper. But as women we need to say no to these images of who we should be. We are not ruled by biology. We are not ruled by our relationship to men. We don’t exist to die to give them purpose, or to live to give them children. We don’t exist to be a man’s muse.

We are ourselves, with our own desires and journeys. Our path is so much greater, and one that we are inventing together, as women, every day. My relationships with other women are the most important in my life. They are the ones who nurture me, who support me, who encourage me to be brave. It’s women who have shaped me into who I am, and fitted me for the journey ahead. Though I have loved men, and hope to love more of them, it is my sisters who give me strength.

The idea that I, and the other women I know, should be constrained by Robert Graves’ narrow and self-centered view is a thing I reject completely. If, as women, we have to go to some ancient mythology of who we can be, I say give me Sekhmet, give me Kali, give me Amiterasu, give me Hel, give me Lovatar (she’s one scary bitch). This whole Maiden, Mother, Crone nonsense should be consigned to the twentieth century’s trash bin with all the other terrible ideas we inherited from the 19th century. We women are more than that. So much more,

The Creative Monster

Image result for nick nolte new york storesBack in 1989 I saw an anthology film called “New York Stories” in which three directors took on different aspects of life in New York City. The only one that has stuck with me is Scorsese’s Life Lessons. It was the story of a middle-aged painter and his tumultuous relationship with his much younger apprentice/girl friend; it was full of drama and angst. What I immediately saw, before the story was a quarter told, was that this drama was what the painter needed to create. For his entire life, he would be wrecking the lives of the people who care about him in order to do his work.

This is a pretty common male artist myth – and let me be clear, by artist I mean any of the arts, not just painting. It is part of our foundational (and false) romantic myth of the tortured artist. We like this story because it argues that genius comes at a price, and that price is stability and happiness. While I sneer at the idea that to be a creative artist, and especially a truly great one, you must be a tragic figure, there is a tiny grain there worth looking at. You do need to be a monster.

What I mean by this is that you must be selfish. You have to be driven enough to do your work that you demand sacrifices not only of yourself, but the people around you. You may not trash and burn your relationships like Picasso and Hemingway, but you will make demands that more traditional lifestyles usually do not.

Creation needs time, so you will take time from your spouse and your children and your job. You will vacation at writing retreats instead of going to Disneyland with the family. You may sacrifice a high-paying career job for one that allows flexibility, or that you can walk away from if you need to. You may miss soccer practice and anniversaries. You may not listen to your spouse when they talk to you. You might not go with them to movies or parties or dinners.

Creation needs money. You need to go to workshops to learn your craft, buy materials, do research, drink beer with other artists to talk about your art, and did I mention buy materials? You may need a separate work space outside the home, and that’s a significant chunk of change. You may need to work in a coffee shop, and those lattes add up. You may quit your job, depending on a selfless partner to support you. Money needs to come from somewhere, so it comes from family vacations and a new car and a better house/apartment and extracurricular activities for the kids.

That is easier if you’re a man. Not only is it okay, it’s admirable for a man to pursue an artist’s life. There’s a wonderful mythology for men in pursuing their genius, their muse (always a woman), their passion fulfilled by their art in ways another person can not. Throughout centuries women have been honored and flattered to serve the artist, even at the cost of their own well-being and their children’s.

I’m not here to say it’s wrong; I’m just saying it is.

Women have no such mythology, and what shreds exist are inadequate. Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of Her Own” isn’t enough. To be an artist a woman needs the same space and time as a man, and it’s much harder. There are still expectations of what a woman owes to her family that don’t exist for a man. And cultural expectations run so deep we don’t even know we have them until some obscure twinge of guilt catches in our throats.

Woman or man, it is hard to believe utterly in yourself, to manifest the kind of selfishness art requires. You have to develop an ego of steel, and a will equally hard. When I was working full time, I got up at 4:00am to write. As a single mom, I maintained a separate studio even though I didn’t have the money, and sent my son to play at friend’s houses so I could paint. Vacations were a tent in the backyard. We scavenged yard sales for toys and clothes. I would not give up my studio because that was to give up who I was. Which has never been a mom, or a wife, or a girl friend, or whatever I happened to be doing for work at the time.

If you’re a single white woman, a person of color, a woman of color, you must put all your strength into getting what you need to create because the barriers are so much higher, and often have razor wire at the top. You must truly become a monster of selfishness to surmount the expectations and restrictions that seek to wall you in. You must not care what people say; you must bury your doubts; you must set aside the wounds of knowing you are just as good or better, and still not chosen; you must ignore every setback, and there will be so many of them, to move forward with your work. That’s exhausting. It’s not surprising many give up. And yet art should not belong to only the white and the wealthy. What an anemic world that is.

I sometimes feel the dirty secret of the creative world is the fact that to be an artist, you must have time, and to have time, you must have money. This is the thing that lies behind so many successful art workers. They have been able to find a way to have the money to afford the time. Maybe they have supportive parents. Maybe they are fortunate to have a partner who believes in them. Maybe they’ve learned to play the system and write the perfect grant proposal, the ideal residency request. Maybe they are exceptionally lucky to have enough money to make a life in art, even if that means living in Detroit or the middle of nowhere Oklahoma.

I look at Georgia O’Keefe, and I admire her determination. Her art was the most important thing in her life, beyond her relationship with Steiglitz, any desire she may have had for children, any attachment to friends and family. At 42 she abandoned what was for her an increasingly stifling relationship for the landscape that she made famous. I quote from one of her letters to her husband:
“There is much life in me — when it was always checked in moving toward you — I realized it would die if it could not move toward something … I chose coming away because here at least I feel good — and it makes me feel I am growing very tall and straight inside…I hope this letter carries no hurt to you — It is the last thing I want to do in the world.”

Of course she hurt him, but leaving him was what she needed to do to pursue her art. A woman who leaves her husband – not even for another man, but for herself – that is monstrous. And yet how glorious to be so focused, so centered that you become an arrow aimed at the heart of your work. According to the mythology of the artist, the rest of her life should have been tortured by regrets and guilt. It was not. She had friends, she had at least one (and possibly more) younger men in her life who may or may not have been her lovers (I’m voting yes). She died admired and yes, loved, and more importantly, having accomplished the work that burned within her.

Now that is success, and worth the price of being a monster.

Define Your Win

One of the most important things litigation taught me was learning to define my win condition. As writers, we’re hard on ourselves. Here’s a short list of the ways I’ve heard writers describe why they are failures.

  • I didn’t write every day.
  • I didn’t make my word count.
  • I haven’t written a novel.
  • I haven’t sold any stories to Famous Publication.
  • I don’t have a agent.
  • I have only form rejections.
  • I can’t sell my novel.
  • My writing is awful.

The list goes on and on. We’re experts at telling ourselves how terrible we are. Some of it comes from measuring ourselves against some other person we think is amazing (and very likely she thinks the same terrible things about herself), or against some mysterious standard we believe we have to meet.

All nonsense. Writing is hard, and often feels overwhelming. To every writer.

win conditions

I recommend that instead of buying into impossible standards and tropes and measures of success, decide for yourself what success is. What do you think you – with your family, your work, your entire life situation – what can you reasonably accomplish? Define your win.

Be careful not to confuse a goal with a win condition. You might have a goal of publishing three stories in Famous Publication, or getting an agent for Novel X. These are great goals, but you have no control over them. You don’t control editor of Famous Publication’s choices, or awesome Agent’s decision. That might be something you’re hoping to achieve, but it’s not your win condition.

A win condition is something you control. It should be reasonable. Like, maybe writing one scene a week. Or maybe 300 words every two days. Or having a half-hour a day to write, and the word count doesn’t matter. (This is how I wrote my first unsold novel, a year of a half-hour a day) It should be something you’re certain you can do. If it goes well, and you think that was easy, then change it to something a little more challenging. 350 words! Two scenes! You’re amazing!

If you don’t make it, so what? It’s your win condition. Change the parameters. Maybe you missed your win because work was horrible. So this week’s win was really about not strangling your boss. Still a win! Plus, no pesky jail time. Double win!

The truth is day jobs, family, friends – all these things require time, and they deserve our attention. So be kind to yourself, and do the reasonable thing. Accept that sometimes nothing goes well. That is the definition of life: Things don’t work out as planned

As much as you can, try not to compare yourself to anyone else’s writing progress. There will always be people both further ahead and further behind. Wish all of them well, then buckle down to managing your own win conditions, no matter what they might be.

More Than Words

Writing is more than putting words on a page. There. I’ve said it. A heretic notion.

KeyboardEven more, putting words on a page, while vital in having a thing others can read, may be half, or perhaps even a third or less, of the work necessary to getting a book or story written. Because there is such a focus on word count – and don’t get me wrong, tracking word count can be a useful tool – I know that I, at least, tend to diminish the value of all the other parts of writing that are not putting actual words on a page.

For the past few weeks I have been in a hiatus between having a thing to write, and thinking about what I want to write next. It’s a deeply uncomfortable position for me, and that has made me wonder why I hate this stage. It made me realize that I don’t consider myself as “writing” if I’m not physical writing. So I’m working to revamp my notions of being a writer.

Regardless of whether you’re an outliner or a pantser, there are so many things that have to happen in order to have a story. You have to have an idea, and ideas come from the strangest places. Standing in line at a coffee shop you might overhear something that gives you the tingle of an idea. Reading a book. Going for a walk and letting your mind wander. Mulling ideas while lying in bed trying to sleep. All this is as much part of writing as typing words.

Then there’s the thinking part. Who are these characters anyway? Doing research. (Oh research. Sometimes I think being a writer is my excuse to do research.) Where does the story begin? How does it end? Making notes. Planning the emotional arc of your story. Thinking about interesting events that could happen to your characters. Considering structure. Is it three acts? Five? One? Then there’s themes and voice. So many choices!

You might think about why you want to write -this- story. What is it that makes it important, amusing, interesting to you? What about this story will keep you working on it when it’s hard and it seems like you can’t write any good words, or maybe not even a word at all. Why this particular story?

If you’re a writer, there isn’t a moment that you aren’t writing. You’re always both in the world, and observing the world. Weighing what you see and experience and hear so that you have it someday, maybe years from now when you need that particular piece of coffee shop conversation – perhaps transitioned out of its current location to a space academy on Mars

How to Handle the Intestate Indigent Estate

Some day, you may get the call. Uncle Charlie’s dead. It will be unexpected. You will be shocked, and sad. You’ll wonder if you could, or should, have done something. You’ll wonder why he never said anything. You’ll feel bad about a million, million things. Some of them things that maybe you could have done better. Others will be the ways our society completely fails the working poor.

This post is not about any of that. This is about the practical things that have to happen when someone who has fallen off the map dies, and you are next of kin. So here’s the pragmatist’s guide. It comes with the warning, as always, that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. You need some of that, hire an attorney. This is about your options when dealing with an intestate indigent.

An indigent is a person who lives in extreme poverty. Frequently called disparaging names such as bum, bag lady, trailer park trash, etc. If you get the urge to use these terms – we all do sometimes – don’t. That person could be your brother, you cousin, your uncle, your niece. Given years of loss after loss after loss, it could be you.

Intestate means a person who has died without making a will.

So you get the call from the coroner, the unknown friend, the police, that Uncle Charlie died an indigent, and as next of kin, you are responsible for his body. The coroner would like his slab back.

What do you do?

First, find a funeral home in your Uncle Charlie’s locale. The coroner’s office will recommend one that is reasonably priced. Call and make arrangements for them to pick up the body. Dealing with your relative’s remains is your first priority.

Once Uncle Charlie is at the funeral home, you have decisions to make. Assuming you don’t want to spend a lot of money, these are your options. First, cremation, with the ashes handed to you in a sturdy cardboard box. This will cost around $600 most places. You then get to decide what to do with Uncle Charlie’s cremains. I’m not going to advise you on that. There are tons of internet sites full of ideas of what to do with cremains. You can find those easily.

The other thing the funeral home will do for you is order the Death Certificate. You will need this. Ask for copies, I recommend at least 5.

The other option is to donate the body to science. It’s called Whole Body Donation. This feels like calling Dr. Frankenstein, but student nurses and doctors have to get cadavers from somewhere. All you have to do is pay for the funeral home to transport the body, and the donation location will take it from there. Including, at some schools, an eventual service complete with a student minister, student chorus, and student bagpiper. The cremains are buried on the university grounds, you get an invitation to attend. They are grateful for these donations. They will treat Uncle Charlie with respect, and his corpse will be helping others.

There’s one catch. No autopsy. If there’s been an autopsy, you have to go back to cremation, standing in a field with a box in your hands, and feeling like this is some crazy sad replay of The Big Lebowski.

Here’s a link for Whole Body Donation: http://www.sciencecare.com/

Now comes the part where you have to deal with Uncle Charlie’s estate, or lack thereof. There’s only one thing you need to do here, and that’s call the public administrator’s office. There’s a public administrator in every county, and their job is to handle the legal affairs of the intestate indigent. They will talk with you about Uncle Charlie, what he had, what you can afford to do, and what you want to do.

What do you do with the car?

What do you do with the car?

Let’s say Uncle Charlie had a car, and you want to sell or give that car to someone. The PA will prepare for you, free of cost, a Small Estate Affidavit. With that, and the death certificate, you can sell the car. You do not need to take title of the car yourself. You will have to have possession of the title of the car, which hopefully Uncle Charlie left in the glove box or in a box at a friend’s house. If not, you can use the Death Certificate and Small Estate Affidavit to order a new title from the DMV where Uncle Charlie lived.

If they haven’t been sent to the funeral home, you will need to visit the coroner who will give you Uncle Charlie’s personal effects. This will almost certainly include a wallet; it may include a cell phone and car keys.

What you do from here is a personal decision. Right now, you can walk away. You are not responsible for Uncle Charlie’s debts, if any. You are not responsible for notifying his friends, or going through any storage he had in  a friend’s garage. You have done everything you must do by dealing with the body, and notifying the public administrator of his death.

If you do chose to go through his phone and notify his friends, they will be grateful. They may want to hold a memorial service for him of some sort. They may ask you for photos of Uncle Charlie for this. If you can’t, or don’t want to attend, it’s still a kind thing to help other people with their grief.

People want to keep their stuff, so there is stuff somewhere.

People want to keep their stuff, so there is stuff somewhere.

If you do learn that he had things stored around town, and you meet with his friends to go through his possessions, and then help them clear Uncle Charlie’s things out of their garage, that is a mitzvah. They will think well of you and appreciate the help.

If you contact the bank (with the Small Estate Affidavit and Death certificate) to close out his accounts, they will appreciate it. Also, if it turns out he was secret a millionaire and you are the next of kin, all that is yours. Though honestly, you have a better chance of winning the lottery.

I give you the advice that the public administrator gave me. Do not pay Uncle Charlie’s debts. If someone tells you Uncle Charlie owed them money, tell them how sorry you are, but do not pay it. As soon as you accept one debt, you’ve accepted them all. You do not want that. Neither do you need to file his taxes. You are not responsible for them.

Double wide with a million dollar view

Double wide with a million dollar view

Intestate indigents, in general, do not have houses, apartments, electric bills, cable bills, or any other bills. Because they are living on the street, or in their car, or if they are fortunate in their friends like my “Uncle Charlie “was, in the spare bedroom of a buddy’s double wide. You won’t need to worry about canceling any utility services.

You may choose, if Uncle Charlie left personal possessions, to go through them before donating them. Be prepared to be shocked, surprised, and saddened by what you learn. Uncle Charlie did not become an intestate indigent because the last five years went well for him. It’s entirely possible you will learn things that will break your heart. Be prepared for it.

I hope you don’t have any Uncle Charlies, and that everyone in your family has done well, and is successful, and happy. But if you do, and honestly most of us do somewhere, even if we don’t personally know about it, I hope this is helpful, and I’m sincerely sorry.

What We Do With Our Dead

As the baby boomer generation (of which I am the trailing edge) marches off to the glorious unknown, their survivors are left with their remains. That is a lot of remains. And so an industry has grown to meet the needs of the 80 million who embraced their individuality while alive, so that they can embrace it in death as well.

This is not about the funeral industry which is huge (Walmart is the largest purveyor of coffins and funeral urns in the country), but about the quirky ways people choose to memorialize the dear departed.

You can have your love one processed into a synthetic gemstone – the average human ashes can be refined into graphite, and then turned into approximately 50 one carat gemstones. That is a marvel. My big disappointment here is that Superman is not doing this work. I thought it’d be a fantastic retirement gig for the Man of Steel, but apparently it is done with a heat process that takes three months for a yellow diamond, and up to nine months for a blue diamond.

Blue diamond

I find the notion intriguing. I find it less intriguing that there is a movement afoot to “diamondize”, and then sell the gemstones made from the ashes of celebrities. I shit you not. The first one was the Beethoven Diamond, created from Beethoven’s authenticated hair, then auctioned off for $1,000,000. The proceeds going to charity in this instance.

Perhaps it’s the ex-Catholic in me that finds this creepily like selling the relics of saints, and about as reliable (You can buy relics on eBay. No lie.). After all, how do you know whether or not your beautiful synthetic blue diamond was made from the revered Bowie’s remains, or from the leftover ashes of a beloved golden retriever named Lucy?

And it’s not cheap. You could buy a real diamond for what you’re going to pay for those ashes to be processed into a synthetic. Although, a friend of mine did mention that this would allow the surviving spouse to have an engagement ring for their next spouse made from the prior spouse. Creepy or charming? You decide

But that’s not all. Perhaps a gemstone doesn’t appeal. I get that. It wouldn’t be my choice either. If you’re more of a gun aficionado, you can have your loved one’s ashes packed into as many, or as few, bullets as you wish. So you can use them for special occasions. This leaves me a little bewildered. The love of my life is dead, so I’m going to shoot a deer with her ashes. What?

Those who favor this method use the bullets for special occasion shootings, and of course, bullet jewelry. It seems to me disrespectful to use grandma for target practice, so maybe game hunting? But I don’t understand that either. What exactly is a “special occasion” shooting? I’m not sure I want to know.

Less weird to me, but probably more weird to others, is getting a tattoo made with your loved one’s cremains. Finally that “Mom” heart tattoo has real meaning when it’s made with mom’s ashes. But honestly, if you want to have your loved one be part of you, just bake some brownies, and add remains to that. It will be pleasanter, cheaper, and well, some of the ashes might stay with you.


Honestly, the list of things you can do with your loved one’s ashes is pretty much endless, and limited by – it’s not limited at all. If you can think it, someone is happy to do it for a price, with human ashes, or your pet’s ashes, or probably your fireplace ashes if you wanted to pay for that.

There are so many options, I really have to give you a list.

Turn your loved one into pencil lead, then give away pencils with their name, birth and death dates, and maybe a sweet quote, engraved on the pencils. You can keep them in a special memorial pencil box.

Mix them with paint, and have a portrait of your loved one done with their ashes.

Have the ashes inserted into an hourglass, with the caveat that ashes are not the same as sand, and this is not going to be a very functional hourglass, but it does make a certain point.

Music aficionado? Your loved one can be pressed into a vinyl record that will play, complete with cool album portrait cover of your choice. R.I.V., sweetie!

Turn your loved one into a snowflake! There are companies that will send the cremains up into the stratosphere where they will be released so they can return to earth as the nucleus for raindrops, or snowflakes. What could be more natural? Though personally I’m not sure how cool I am with being rained on by cremains. Though it does explain why rain makes my car so filthy.


If the stratosphere just isn’t far out enough, your loved ones can be put into Earth orbit, dropped on the moon, sent into deep space. If this helps your grieving process, and you can afford it, why not? Pricey, but certainly do-able. They even offer tracking so you can follow your loved one on their journey through space.

Honestly, the list is endless, and after awhile begins to read like the inventory of a tacky souvenir shop on Cape Cod. Key chains, wrist bangles, glass ornaments of every kind, pressed ash trays (pardon the pun), fireworks – if you can think it, someone is doing it with human (and pet) remains.

Me, I’m a traditionalist. I scatter ashes, a little at a time, in the places I love. I don’t begrudge anyone how they choose to remember their loved ones. Though I do reserve the right to maybe raise my eyebrows a little.




What I learned about privilege this week

It has been a long time, a very long time, since I have been without economic privilege. Because it is easy to forget what it’s like to be poor, and it’s a short step from there to believing that some how a person without economic advantage is in that position because they deserve it. That is not only untrue, it’s a pernicious lie. This post is specifically about the difficulty in finding a safe place to live. While the context is Oakland, I think it’s reasonable to assume it’s like this to a greater or lesser degree in any major city. So here’s the list.

You have to have enough cash to pay a first and last month’s rent, a deposit, and if you have a pet, a pet fee. That means a minimum of $3,000 for most places. If you’re a woman and want to live somewhere you feel safe walking home from work at night, it’s going to be closer to $4,000 because those places cost more. In some places it will be more than this, in others it may be less — but in these locations the salaries are less too so it still can be very tough to do.

It may take thirty days or more to get back the deposit paid on your current apartment, if they pay it back. So you can’t use that money for a new place.

To find a place you need to have transportation and time.  Transportation because the apartments you can afford may be distant from each other, so a car really is the easiest way to get around. A bike is less desirable because you can’t look sweaty and unkept when you meet the building manager or s/he will put your application on the bottom of the pile. Public transportation is iffy because of the time constraints. And time matters because viewings are limited. Some places may be open for viewing for just a half hour. You may need to race from place to place to see them because, after all, you have to do this on your day off.

If you work a job that does not give you a standard weekend off, you must take the time off, frequently without pay, to find a place.

If your credit score isn’t good, getting a safe, affordable home becomes more difficult. Most places we looked at told you they wanted a credit score of at least 650. It’s easy to get a bad credit score. Maybe someone stole your ID. Maybe you were late on one credit card payment two years ago.

Do you have a criminal record? Yeah, then you’re just fucked. It doesn’t matter what the crime was. Maybe you sold some weed once, and got caught. Maybe you had a DUI when you were 28. Your application is now set aside. Maybe if they can’t find anyone better they’ll call you and ask for an explanation. But most likely they won’t.

The landlord has to believe that your job, whatever it is, pays you enough so you can afford the rent. So you have to have a sheaf of paperwork with your application. Pay stubs. Banks statements. One place asked for a copy of last year’s W-2. Which brings me to…

You have to have a way of getting and printing out your credit score, your paystubs, your bank statements. So you need computer access, you need a copier. And if you don’t personally have these things because they are expensive, you have to pay for their use. It cost us $40 for the use of a computer and printer and copier for an hour at a FedEx “Office.” Libraries are cheaper, but they are more crowded and may not be conveniently located.

Take all of the above, and double the difficulty if you are a person of color.

These are a few of the people I met in our search for someplace to live. A young woman, single, who works as an office clerk. She’d looked at four places on Saturday, we met her Sunday at a studio in Emeryville, where she had come a half hour before the viewing so she could be first in line. She told us if she didn’t get this place, she’d be at risk of living in her car because her lease was up, and no one had accepted her application. This was for a $1,500 studio. I hope she got it.

A couple, “bridge people” the building manager called them, who were moving from SF into Oakland. He’d just lost his high tech job. She was a teller. The manager looked at the application and shook his head. The guy might get a new job soon, but he didn’t have one now, and her income as a bank teller wasn’t good enough. This was for a $1,600 one bedroom.

An older black woman. We talked with her while waiting to cross the street after looking at a studio in West Oakland. This was a $1,595 studio. Her husband had left her and she’d been living with her son. But they have kids and she wanted to get her own place. She had just got a job as a waitress, but had no work history. She’d been a stay at home mom. Her kids said they’d help out with the rent until she got her feet on the ground. She said, “They won’t give it to me.” And all I could say was how sorry I was.


Ten Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Novel Contract

I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV (though I have played the part of a judge in legal videos, and I look great with a gavel in my hand). However, reading, negotiating, and writing contracts has been a large part of my life for over fifteen years. I have negotiated contracts with the federal government, an insurance entity bigger than God, and with many major corporations. Yes, even that one.

In general, I love a well written contract. When they aren’t specific, they are from the devil. So what is a contract? A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties to fulfill mutually agreed upon obligations.

A contract should promote harmony between the parties. It should be clear and specific. It should envision consequences for non-performance by either party. It should include an equitable way for the parties to end the contract if things aren’t working out.

Here is a link to SFWA’s contract page. I think these are okay examples. I think they are not specific enough, and the language is unnecessarily “legalese.” I personally would amend the heck out of these contracts before I’d sign them. But they are better than many of the contracts I’ve seen, and a good place to start. Some of you may say, “But if you won’t sign the contract as-is, they won’t publish you.”

Maybe, maybe not. Plenty of authors amend their contracts, and get published. But even if you don’t, so what? You can publish and promote yourself now. It’s a perfectly respectable thing to do. It’s not 1954 anymore. Go self publish and promote your book. Yes, it will take time. So did writing the book. If it does well, publishers will come to you. We have all heard the stories. It happens.

So here are the questions I would encourage every author to think about when it comes to contracts.

  • How long do you want this publisher to be able to publish this book?
  • Do you want print on demand to be considered the same as “keeping the book in print”?
  • Do you want them to have electronic rights, and if so, for how long?
  • Do you want them to have foreign rights?
  • Audio right?
  • Media rights?
  • What about rights to some media that hasn’t been thought of yet? Do you want to reserve all unspecified rights to yourself?
  • If you hate what they’ve done with your book, how do you terminate this contract?

For an agency contract, again, harmony lies in specificity.

  • What book or books are they representing?
  • Can they represent audio, ebook, foreign, media rights?
  • If they fail to sell any of these rights, do you want the right of representation to revert back to you within a specific time?
  • If you feel this agent has done a poor job of representing you, how do you get your rights of representation to this/these properties back?

I have several blanket recommendations.

  • Define what it means to have a “book in print”. This is, in my opinion, the most egregious way that some publishers are using to keep writers in bad contracts. The claim that as long as the book is available as print on demand, it is in print, is to me ludicrous and offensive. A book, in my opinion, is in print when it is already on the shelf. If I can’t go into a book store and pick it up off the shelf, then it’s not “in print.” Print on demand is a wonderful thing, but it is its own category. And I think it should be clearly delineated as such in contracts.
  • Think about how you want to terminate this contract. While it all may be roses and champagne now, in five years you may feel very differently. You may want all your rights to your book back. You may want to have just the media rights back. It is impossible to tell what the future holds, so there should be a meaningful, and fair, way to terminate the contract. And to be clear, if you choose to terminate a contract, it is reasonable for the other party to want compensation for their future losses. So keep that in mind. Fairness is important on both sides. Here are just a few suggestions of specifics that could go into a termination clause:
    • When the book is no longer being printed as a mass market paperback
    • When sales of the book are less than X per year
    • All rights revert to you in five years
    • Whatever seems like a good idea to you and your publisher
  • Have a contract lawyer read your contract, and make recommendations to you, before you sign it. It’s not particularly expensive, and frankly this is your writing career. Isn’t it worth investing a little money to know you’re being treated fairly? You may choose to ignore an attorney’s advice, but at least you’ll know what you’re getting into, and that it’s your choice.

Why I exercise

I hate exercise. As a child, I hated team sports. Still do. For years, I ran six miles a day. I hated doing it. Every minute of it. That whole endorphin rush? I get a rush from eating cookies.

When I turned 59 I started doing crossfit. It’s the exercise people love to hate. It was great for me.  Here’s why:

  • It gave me an outlet for my grief; it was physically hard which meant there was no room to think about anything else.
  • It made me confident.
  • It made me bold.
  • At an age where my friends are shrinking, I gained half an inch in height.
  • It made me strong.

For reasons, among them moving, I stopped doing crossfit. Instead, I began taking Pilates. No one objects to Pilates. This was good for me in a different way. Here’s why:

  • It improved my balance.
  • It gave me a freaking six pack.
  • It made me flexible.
  • It made me strong.

Every year, we lose the strength, flexibility, and confidence in our bodies that we had in our youth. I’m seeing this in my son. Once, he swore he’d never stop skateboarding. At 30, his knees won’t allow him to skateboard anymore. He’s thinking of getting a bike. For years, I could walk out of the house, and no matter what, I could run at least a mile. That stopped at fifty.

I hated running anyway, so this wasn’t a problem. Except that as we age, we grow weaker and weaker until we no longer trust our body. We fear falling because our balance isn’t good. We can’t carry our groceries. We get shorter and shorter as our spines compress. Everything hurts, and we haven’t done anything to deserve it, except grow old.

And that’s why I exercise. I want to continue to walk long distances. I want to be able to climb, jump, and clamber if not like a kid, then at least not be afraid of doing it. I want to be able to run up and down stairs, not cling to the handrail because I’m afraid of falling. I can never stop exercising, because at my age (61), as soon as I take a break, everything deteriorates. I’m in a battle with inertia, and eventually I’ll lose. But I plan to put up a helluva fight.

Here’s my list of bad reasons to exercise. Yes, I think there are bad reasons. Those are the ones that guarantee you won’t keep it up.

  1. Losing weight. I’ve been exercising, between pretty hard to moderate for two years. I haven’t lost a pound. If that were my motivation, I’d quit. Any sensible person would.
  2. New Year! If you put on a few pounds over the holidays, no doubt you will lose them as you go back to eating (and drinking) normally anyway. If this is your reason to start exercising, you’ll likely stop in three months. Setting an arbitrary date to change your life rarely works. Trust me. I’ve tried and tried. Today. That’s the first day of everything. In fact today is the only day.
  3. Bathing suit! I look terrible in a bathing suit. Sister, don’t do that to yourself. You look fantastic in anything you choose to wear. Don’t buy into marketing lies. Anyone who can’t see your beauty is ugly inside.

When I’m back in town after traveling, I plan to take up kettlebells again. I’ll keep doing Pilates, because there’s a marked difference in my ability to run and jump and stand on one leg from this.  But I miss being strong, strong enough to carry 50 pounds without thinking. Strong enough to kayak for more than an hour without my arms giving out. Strong enough to move furniture and beat my son at arm wrestling.  Because I want to be able to keep doing those things. And that’s a good reason to exercise.

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