And Yet Another New Name

I wrote earlier in the year about wanting my blog to be taken more seriously, so I dispensed with the catchy, alliterative name, “Maggie’s Musings.” I thought about using “Rarely Well Behaved,” after the title of my book but decided that would be too confusing. Besides, I’d discovered by then people had misquoted Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The correct quote is “Well behaved women seldom make history.” So, the blog became “Seldom Well Behaved.”

Yeah. Positively exciting. Look, it was the best I could come up with at the time, but I’m not a fan of it. In the three months since I changed the blog’s name to Seldom Well Behaved, I haven’t really come up with an alternative.

I like to change things around–I’ve never had the fear of change that can paralyze the accomplishment of anything from a new blog title to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. My ex would come home after a trip and often find furniture moved around. One time I swapped the living room and the dining room, and even now in a brand new house, every few weeks I make some sort of little change–rearranging photos, moving lamps among the tables. The women out there understand; it’s not something we can articulate. It’s just something we do.

That being said, why is re-naming a blog so difficult? I’ll admit titles have never come easy to me. Many times I’ve written a story, given it to someone to read, and asked him or her what I should name it. However, titling a work has become easier over the years. I’ve reached the point where the story or the novel “tells” me its name. Now, if the blog would just cooperate, I wouldn’t be wasting a post whining about it.

So, let’s wind this up. A couple of weeks ago I ordered an iPad2, and because I did so on-line (rather than stand in line at a store) I got free engraving. My first iPod, a Nano, is engraved with “Deed not Creed,” a reflection of my commitment to Ethical Culture and trying to live an ethical life. What to engrave on the iPad2 came to me easily and also from an earlier post when this blog was called Maggie’s Musings. When I wrote about the six-word memoirs project I concluded the post with my six-word memoir, “I never took the expected path.” That sums up my life so succinctly that it even surprised me with its brevity and appropriateness–whatever others expected of me, I did just the opposite. If my parents were still here, they would be nodding their heads vigorously in agreement. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just me.

Welcome, then, to Maggie’s Musings, aka Seldom Well Behaved, and finally, Unexpected Paths.

A Woman for all Seasons

I had to take time to process that we lost Geraldine Ferraro, and I still find it hard to believe that the vibrant, active woman who stood toe-to-toe with George H. W. Bush in the Vice Presidential debate (She belonged there, and she knew it.), who sparred brilliantly with the idiots at Fox News, who told multiple generations of women that a woman as President was achievable, is gone.

The utter excitement I felt when Walter Mondale selected her as his running mate was beyond words for me. Yet, it’s still amazing to me that even in 1984–that infamous year–having a woman running mate wasn’t just a novelty, it was a first. She maintained her dignity through all the sexist hoopla, the nasty political cartoons that lampooned her gender, the bogus campaign slogan “Fritz and Tits,” and she was an excellent campaigner. I wasn’t as excited about Mondale as I was about Ferraro, but I thought at last we have our foot in the door at the highest levels of politics.

I was furious with Barbara Bush–frankly, I’ve never been an admirer–during her interview with Connie Chung. The whole tenor of the interview was an unspoken “how dare this woman challenge my husband.” When asked what she thought of Ferraro, the first woman on a Presidential slate, Bush could have, should have said, “What a tremendous step forward for women!” What she actually said was, “I can’t say it, but it rhymes with rich.” Bush insisted she meant witch, not bitch, but I think we know exactly which she meant. To her credit Bush indicated years later that she had apologized to Ferraro about the remark.

Ferraro had a life of public service, starting as a teacher. After becoming a lawyer, she was an assistant District Attorney in New York. She created a special victims unit that handled cases involving crimes against children and the elderly as well as sexual abuse and domestic violence cases. First elected to Congress in 1978, she rose quickly in the Democratic party and earned the reputation of being an outspoken critic of Reagonomics. Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment was something for which she fought tirelessly, even in the face of obvious defeat. She had hope before it became pop culture.

Ferraro brought energy to that 1984 campaign, but she and Mondale were up against the incumbents Reagan and Bush. However, she treated every speech and every event as if she and Fritz Mondale had a chance. In probably the sleaziest act in that campaign, when her opponents’ party didn’t want to attack her head on and appear sexist, they went at her through her husband’s financial affairs. (It turns out he did have some shady business dealings, namely fraudulently obtaining financing for a real estate venture. He pled guilty and served 150 hours of community service. A later indictment and trial for bribery resulted in acquittal.)

After that campaign Ferraro brought her energy and drive to journalism and other issues, especially human rights. She tried twice to become a senator from New York. One race was dogged again by questions about her husband’s finances, and she lost by a narrow margin. On another occasion she lost in the primaries for the nomination. Speculation was that she had stayed away from politics too long, but that was when politics in this country started to become particularly nasty. I think she was too good a person to lower herself to that kind of mud. In 2008, she was a Hillary Clinton supporter and advisor, but when she pointed out that America could accept an African-American President more than a woman President, charges of racism arose. As with many things, her remarks were taken out of context, but it cost her a place in Clinton’s campaign and the vast contributions she could have made to the Obama Administration.

Geraldine Ferraro was intelligent, dedicated, and did not suffer fools lightly. She was a woman I admired greatly, and I had the privilege of attending several functions where she was the speaker. I will never forget her sense of humor, her outrage at injustice, and her steadfast support of her ideals. This is a loss to all Americans, but especially to us “first generation” of political feminists who saw in her possible election such hope for the future, a future not yet fulfilled.

And a note to the half-governor of Alaska: You did not stand on her shoulders. She wouldn’t have let you. She would have taken you aside and pointed out just what your failings are; namely, you’re no Geraldine Ferraro and never will be.

Comments and Such

On the proposed bill in the Georgia legislature which would make it a crime to have an abortion or a miscarriage, either of which would be punishable by life in prison or the death penalty–Really? Are you nuts? Aren’t you the same rightwingnut jobs who are worried about Sharia law taking over the U.S.? If you want to get a glimpse of a world amid such laws as this, read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

On Karl Rove wanting to hold the Obama Administration accountable for FOIA responses: During the eight years when Rove was whatever he was in the White House, government agencies were told that FOIA responses were not a priority. When 9/11 happened that gave them justification. Almost anything was classified as “national security” and didn’t have to be answered. Before the Bush 2 Administration, we were held accountable up the line to the agency Administrator for timely FOIA responses. This is the height of hypocrisy and, well, craven.

On Donald Trump going “birther”: I’ve never had any admiration whatsoever for this particular capitalist, but after his questioning whether Obama was really born here just shows that he’s nuts and anyone who votes for him is likewise.

On bombing the crap out of Libya: I still don’t know how I feel about this. I don’t want to knee-jerk to the usual progressive position because bombing the crap out of Milosevic’s army got the point across about ethnic cleansing. However, cruise missiles are expensive, especially when you think about how many teachers that money could hire.

On Ann “Give Me a Radiation Vaccine” Coulter and Andrew “Selective Video Editing” Breitbart indicating that the Presidency is “beneath” She Who Shall Not Be Named: Am I in Superman’s Bizarro World? I can’t think of anyone who would diminish the institution of the Presidency more than the Half Governor of Alaska, and I thought Bush 2 did a good job of it.

On Ron and/or Rand Paul running for President: Welcome to the fascist Ayn Rand-verse and returning high-volume flush toilets to the market. No, Ayn Rand’s books are not great literature. They’re fascist trash, and I’m not waiting for John Galt.

On the first anniversary of the passage of health care reform: Thanks for removing the pre-existing condition block, thanks for letting kids stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26, thanks for making certain insurance companies can’t drop kids who get sick, and all the other positive aspects contained in the law. Now, let’s work on improving it by passing single-payer health insurance.

On Congress’ record of job production since the Repubs took over: Mr. Boehner, where are the effing jobs? Get your heads out of culture warfare and do the people’s business.

On “unaffiliated” being the fastest-growing religious group: Thank God! (That was a joke.)

On pictures of U.S. soldiers posing with the bodies of dead civilians: Gentlemen–and I use that term loosely–you disgrace your uniform and your country with these juvenile stunts, though I understand you’ve been conditioned not to think of the enemy as human beings. They are, and think how your mother would feel if a Talib posed with your body as if it were a trophy, because idiotic stunts like yours will only affect your fellow soldiers. I have a few more words for you: dishonorable discharge and Levinworth.

On the death of Elizabeth Taylor: Seventy-nine was too young, and she’ll always be timeless to me as Velvet Brown in National Velvet. She was, as some have said, the last Star, and her talent and her humanity were immeasurable. If I believed in heaven, I’d say she and Richard Burton were having a longed for, grand reunion about now.

My Day Two–VA Festival of the Book

There are few things that will get me out of bed before 0700 on a Saturday morning, but a book fair will do it. My Day Two at the Virginia Festival of the Book was going to start at the Book Fair at 0900. I hit the road a little before 0800, stopped to get my favorite road breakfast from Starbucks, and then I was on my way to C’ville.

The atrium of the Omni Hotel was a sea of books and authors. Cliche, I know, but it was. What was very heartening to see were the number of African-American authors showcasing their work. Virginia hasn’t quite “gotten there” yet, but we have come a long way. I decided to stop by the James River Writers table. That’s the organization sponsoring the contest one of my novels is in. I just wanted to say thanks for the encouraging e-mail I got from JRW–yes, I’m sure all the finalists got an encouraging e-mail, but it was especially encouraging to me. I introduced myself, and the person there blurted, “Oh, your book is in the contest! Congratulations! We’re so excited you stopped by!” Yes, I’m sure they said that to every finalist who stopped by, but it was nice they remembered me. They were so boisterous, in fact, people stopped and took notice, and the JRW folks pointed to me and said, “She’s one of our novelists!” Nothing like a little ego boost to start the day!

Both panels I picked that day were moderated by a writer friend of mine, also from Staunton, Cliff Garstang. (Cliff’s award-winning book of linked short stories is In an Uncharted Country.) Cliff is a voracious reader and lover of the written word, and he brought his enthusiasm for his art to both panels. The first, Death: Another Time, Another Place, focused on murder mysteries and featured John Connolly (Nocturnes, Bad Men), Alan Orloff (Diamonds for the Dead), Deanna Raybourn (Dark Road to Darjeeling), and Paul Robertson (Dark in the City of Light).

Connolly, being an Irishman with the gift of gab (aren’t we all?), was a great opening “act” for the panel, and he discussed how an Irishman writing about Ireland had been done before. So he came to America to be an Irishman writing about Maine. I had read one of his books some years back, so I picked up Nocturnes, a collection of short stories with a supernatural bent.

Orloff draws on his Jewish background for his featured book and familiar places–to me–in the Washington, DC metro area for his mystery. He has recently started a mystery series featuring a stand-up comedian. He also described his writing process–a substantial outline that he fills in. Quite the engineering approach, but he is an engineer.

Raybourn’s featured book was the latest in her Lady Julia Grey series that take place in Victorian England. A former teacher with degrees in history and English (like me), she picked the Victorian Era she said because she wanted all that proper repression “with the evil peeking out from behind the curtain.” Her humor and characters reminded me of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, so I decided to try Dark Road to Darjeeling.

Robertson’s book, Dark in the City of Light, is about the Franco-Prussian War, but what I enjoyed about his talk was that he does the same thing I do–take real characters and a true story and weave a mystery about them. Whereas he focuses on the 19th Century, I’m in the 20th, but it’s the same concept. So, I added Dark in the City of Light to my bookshelf.

All the authors were so willing to chat afterwards that I found it rather refreshing. Connolly and I chatted about my Irish grandmother, then Raybourne and I talked about the challenges of teaching when you know you weren’t really cut out for it. The good day just kept on going.

The afternoon panel moderated by Cliff was Historical Fiction. As I’ve said, I guess what I write is historical fiction, just focused more on current events than far in the past. I had a question already framed about the importance of research, but Cliff was way ahead and posed it to the panel. Paul Robertson was a repeat from the morning, joined by Brenda Rickman Vantrease (The Heretic’s Wife), Lenore Hart (The Raven’s Bride), and George Minkoff (The Leaves of Fate.)

Vantrease’s featured book was her third with the concept of freedom of thought and religion. She took a real person associated with Sir Thomas More and made that person’s wife (whose name is lost to history) the protagonist. She also showed More in an accurate light. Many people choose to ignore that he burned  at the stake a lot of people he considered heretics.

Minkoff has spent years working on a trilogy which takes place in England and America around the time of the Jamestown Colony. John Smith, Powhatan, and Pocahontas are key characters, but accurately portrayed. Minkoff has also studied the language of the time and has his characters speak like true Elizabethans. It was obvious the tremendous amount of research he’s conducted to produce this trilogy, but he emphasized the point that you research to put yourself in the time and place, you read book after book for that knowledge, but you don’t just regurgitate what you’ve read. The research gives you the voice.

Hart, named for the Lenore in Poe’s “The Raven,” decided not to ignore that connection she had with Poe, but she didn’t want to write historical fiction with Poe as the main character. “Done to death,” she said. She opted instead to write about Poe from the point of view of his dead wife–the lamented Lenore and Annabel Lee of his poetry. She read from the first chapter of The Raven’s Bride, a scene where Mrs. Poe goes to hospital to see her “Eddie,” and it takes her a few minutes to realize she’s a ghost. I’d already purchased Robertson’s book, so I added Hart’s to my collection.

It was a great two days of books and writers. I love being around writers, especially those who’ve enjoyed initial success. They are so accepting of fans and other aspiring writers, so much so that for next year I can see myself on the other side of the table, maybe signing my book. Yep, I can’t wait ’til the next Virginia Festival of the Book.

Virginia Festival of the Book

Enough of the politics and disaster blogging. Let’s write about someting exciting for a change–like writing.

Since Wednesday, Charlottesville has been hosting the 17th Annual Virginia Festival of the Book. It’s four and a half days of books and writers and panels about writing and publishing. Great stuff. (For a look at the events and history of the Festival, go The Festival covers all prose genres and poetry, and if you buy tickets in time you can listen to luncheon speakers like Kathy Reichs and Jim Lehrer. Apparently, you needed to buy those tickets last year because by the time I got to the Web site in early February, the events were sold out. I could only live vicariously through people I overheard talking about them in the hallways.

On Friday, I picked two panels to attend: Novels about Novelists and Worlds of Danger.

The Novels About Novelists panel was held at WriterHouse, whose mission is to “promote the creation and appreciation of literature and to encourage the development of writers of all levels by providing affordable, secure workspace and meeting space, high quality writing instruction, and literary events for the public.” (For more info on WriterHouse, go to

The three authors and their books were Martha McFee (Dear Money),John McNally (After the Workshop), and Carolyn Parkhurst (The Nobodies Album).

McFee’s book is about a successful novelist who decides she needs to make more money and so decides to give up writing to be a bond trader. McFee herself described it as “an intersection of commerce and art with a focus on commerce over art.” An interesting premise to be sure, but I wasn’t that interested in reading about someone giving up art to become a money-grubbing capitalist. However, McFee read a portion from Dear Money that perfectly showcased society and media in New York City–it was a spot-on caricature of the “ladies who lunch” in present-day Manhattan. McFee explained that her protagonist does feel as if she’s betraying her art, almost as if she’s having an illicit affair. It allowed McFee to explore how it would feel to give up writing but not really do it.

In After the Workshop, McNally wrote about an aspiring writer who graduated from a prestigious writing workshop, only to stay in that city and work as the meeter/greeter who shepherds other writers around the city when they come to teach at the workshop. That much, McNally indicated, was autobiographical; however, with several books published he has no further relation to his protagonist. McNally read a passage describing his protagonist’s encounter with an agent–wildly comic but poignant at the same time. McNally described the writer in his novel as someone who continually questions his talent and everything else about his life. That one was a purchase for me, because I’m always questioning whether I can really do this (writing) or not.

Parkhurst’s topic in The Nobodies Album was the most intriguing–a successful novelist who decides to re-write the endings to all her published works while having a personal crisis with her son. Parkhurst described the draw on her creativity when she had to create two endings (original and revised) to several non-existent novels. She remarked that some people at readings don’t believe her when she says these novels don’t really exist–they want to know where to buy them! That one was a purchase as well.

In the discussion afterward, the moderator pointed out, in each book, the novelist-protagonist was not writing. Parkhurst replied, “That isn’t very exciting–a novel about a novelist writing!” What is interesting, she explained, is exploring what keeps us from writing. The moderator also pointed out that in writing about novelists who aren’t writing, there really is a lot about the craft of writing in the books.

Worlds of Danger featured authors whose books were about fear. Pearl Abraham (American Taliban), Carla Buckley (The Things that Keep Us Here),and Sheri Holman (Witches on the Road Tonight) called on different aspects of fear. Abraham described her novel as “how did we get from ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself’ to fear 24/7” after 9/11. Buckley’s idea came to her during the hype around the H5N1 possible pandemic a few years back. Holman’s book is basically about fearing your past.

Abraham’s book is loosely based on John Walker Lind, the so-called American Taliban captured by the CIA during the initial war in Afghanistan. Lind is now in prison for joining a terrorist organization but was almost put on trial for the murder of a CIA contractor even though he was nowhere near that event. Buckley, who is married to a scientist, came up with her novel concept after her previous nine mysteries had failed to get published. She and her husband had moved from a community where they were well-established to a new city where she had no friends or community support–at the height of the H5N1 crisis. In the midst of wondering what she would do to protect her children if the pandemic did happen, the idea for the novel came to her in a nightmare. Holman calls on folklore from the Appalachians and a former late-night horror movie show host to examine how our past creates fear for our present. The selections these authors chose to read convinced me to buy all three.

Book total on my day one at the Festival: five. Oh boy, here comes the trade-off–write or read?

Tomorrow’s post: Report on my Day Two at the Festival–the Book Fair and two more panels.

Pretty Little Boxes

From the 1964 Presidential race, I remember the anti-Goldwater commercial of the cute, little blonde girl singing sweetly and plucking petals from a flower, then the blossoming nuclear mushroom cloud obliterated her–or so we were supposed to think. For the 1960’s it was pretty graphic and controversial, but it got the point across about the differences between Goldwater and LBJ.

You could say I’m a child of the nuclear age. Born seven years after my country used nukes on Japan, I grew up with talk of bomb shelters, mutually assured destruction, and the nuclear arms race. Those of us born in the 1950’s just assumed we’d all eventually die in a nuclear holocaust because everywhere we turned people in authority were telling us just that. (Probably why some of my favorite science fiction is post-apocalyptic.) In first or second grade we had to bring a shoe box to school. The teacher let us decorate it however we wanted (mine had horses, of course) and put our names on it. Then, a list went home to our parents–things we had to bring in to put in the box. I can remember a bar of soap, a washcloth and small towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a deck of cards. I’m sure there were other items that have faded from memory. After we put our items in our pretty little boxes, we lined up to place them on a shelf in the storage cabinet in our classroom.

Then came the drills. The school bell would ring in a way different from recess or end of the day. We would practice getting up from our desks then crouching under them, our arms over our heads–duck and cover. After a few minutes of that, we lined up to take our boxes from the cabinet, then we filed, with the rest of the classes, down the hallway to the door that led to the school’s basement. I remember a dark, cramped place, but, damn, the teachers made it out to be lots of fun. They’d even continue with classes to a degree, then an hour or so later, another bell would sound, and we’d march back up to our classes, tuck our boxes away, and proceed as normal until the next drill. The teacher taught us about fallout and how practicing going to the basement would help us not be “affected” by fallout and how we’d have so much fun spending all our time in the basement–like a camping trip! Woo hoo! I’d never been camping at that point, so it all seemed so exciting.

In a way only a six or seven year old can, I told my Dad all about it the next time he came home on a pass. I suppose because he so often got sent to West Berlin where he had to sit in his tank in gear supposedly to keep radiation from affecting him, he wasn’t terribly impressed. Even though we were nearly 60 miles away from Washington, DC, “a probable target,” he explained, there would be no time to get to shelter. Fallout, he explained, was the least of our worries since the heat blast would flash-burn us before we could get out of our chairs to duck and cover.

Scared the crap out of me, but my Dad never sugar-coated anything.

As the years passed and we began to rely on the concept of a “nuclear standoff”–meaning neither side wanted to destroy the earth–those Civil Defense drills grew fewer and fewer in number. School basement fallout shelters went over to storage space, and a whole generation of children grew up wondering what a fallout shelter was. Eventually, after I became a science geek, I fell for the idea that we could put nukes to “peaceful uses,” like power plants that produced electricity without polluting the air. And what about “spent fuel rods” and “nuclear waste?” Well, we’re a brilliant country; we’ll figure something out, like making the moon a nuclear garbage dump or some such. No need to worry.

Except that I wasn’t yet a government employee and had no idea about the concept of “lowest bidder” in government (local or federal) contracting. When the “partial meltdown” at Three Mile Island occurred a month before my 27th birthday, the nuclear fear returned. If Three Mile Island didn’t turn me completely away from the nuclear alternative for energy, Chernobyl did. Where TMI was human error overcoming a safe design, Chernobyl was poor design to cut corners and save money in a failing Soviet economy. TMI was the “what if.” Chernobyl was the reality of an out of control nuclear pile meltdown, the effects of which Ukraine will experience for generations to come.

One of my increasing number of disappointments with President Obama was his focus on nuclear as a “clean” energy option. How something whose “waste” has a half-life of 500,000 years is clean is beyond me. Now, I’m no Luddite. I don’t want the ones in use to be shut down immediately; we’ve become dependent on that electricity production. I would like to see no new nuclear power plants built and increased inspections of those near fault lines. (Amazing how Repubs like to cut funds for all sorts of safety inspections.) I would like to see them phased out as we find alternatives we know won’t cause a different kind of nuclear apocalypse, the kind facing Japan right now. And frankly, as long as we dabble with nuclear plant generated electricity, we have no incentive to either acknowledge we’re past the peak of oil availability or to explore safer alternative energy sources.

A before picture of the reactors at Fukushima shows us pretty little, high tech boxes lined up on a shelf near a seashore. The after picture is from one of my post-apocalyptic nightmares. Find that picture, print it, pin it on your wall. And remember.