Mexico, Day 1: Tulum

We made our way to Tulum on the Mayan Riviera without much problem. Our rental condo is located in a large tract of land not too far from the beach, called Aldea Zama. Aledea means village in Spanish and Zama is the Quiche (Mayan) word for dawn. It is also the original name for the Mayan city in the area, which is why we are here.

We ate dinner in a very good Argentinian restaurant, came back to the condo and fell into bed.

The next morning, we woke late, as it is East Coast time here, we’re  from the West Coast, and we were tired. Breakfast, continuing the international theme, was crepes. We asked the waiter how far it was to walk to the ruins. He told us to walk straight down the road we were on for about four kilometers. So off we went. And continued for more than four kilometers, walking in the late morning heat and sunshine. We didn’t have a lot of water with us, and I didn’t realize it,  but I was becoming dehydrated.

About three miles or so down the road there was an entrance to the beach and my husband Tom headed off across the sand, intending to walk the rest of the way on the beach. By this time, my enthusiasm had flagged, although I did appreciate the white sand, fine as sugar, and the brilliant turquoise and indigo of the ocean. Linda asked a woman how far it was, and we learned to our surprise that not only had we been directed down the wrong road, we were many miles from our destination because there was no access to the ruins from the road or the beach.

We flagged down one of the passing taxis which took us to the ruins, all of us thankful we hadn’t tried to walk it. The entrance to the ruins is reached on foot or by a little tram pulled by an old tractor, and to my relief we took the tram. Before we embarked for the ruins, we saw a  performance  by a team of voladores.  Four men climbed to the top of a 40-foot pole, playing instruments and dressed in indigenous costume. Once they reached the platform at the top of the pole, They wound ropes around the pole. Then a fifth man climbed the pole and seated himself, playing the flute as the other four men looped ropes around their legs, turned upside down, and spiraled down the pole as the ropes unwound from the pole. Wikipedia says this is a very old tradition, starting with the ancient Maya. It has deep cultural significance, and to prevent the tradition from dying out, Mexico started A school to teach children how to become voladores (females need not apply).
There is a large outdoor market around the ruins, but we went straight on without looking at the amazing array of goods, ranging from Los Luchos masks to delicately woven hammocks that looked like lace.

When we got to the ticket line, I wasn’t feeling too well, so I sat down on a bench near the front of the line. Along came a coatimundi–a relative of the raccoon that looks sort of lemur-like. She plopped herself down right among the tourists’ feet, rolled over and proceeded to give herself a bath, licking delicately at armpits and tummy. A man standing right next to her leaned down and tried to pet her. Tourists feed coatis all the time, so assuming the man had food, the coati lunged at his fingers. Startled, the man jerked back and dropped his bottle of beer, which smashed on the stone surface. The coati promptly began licking up the beer as the man cleaned up the glass. When last seen, the coati was cuddling in a woman’s skirt and continuing her bath, drunk and happy.

By this time, I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I felt utterly drained and frankly not very interested in touring the ruins. This is completely out of character for me, as I am incredibly interested in ancient Mayan culture and had come all the way from California just to see them. But I had no energy and was beginning to feel odd; I was getting chills despite the heat and felt slightly nauseous. I rested for a while in the shade, but the water was gone. There was no place to buy water inside. I dragged myself into the ruins anyway. I probably took more photos of the iguanas at the park than the ruins. Often, they lay sunning themselves in pairs like tiny prehistoric monsters; Mr.and Mrs. Iguana taking a sunbath. There were black inguanas, green iguanas, gray iguanas, and youngsters with stripes streaking around while the adults sunned. I finally found a place to sit and look at the ocean–narrowly missing stepping on an iguana–and stayed there until the rest of the party found me. Then all I wanted to do was leave. On the walk back to the tram I developed an aura, like the kind you get when a migraine is starting. My hips hurt in a way I have never experienced before, and I felt generally horrible.

Tom got me a huge bottle of water, and after drinking a good bit of it, the aura went away. When we got to the open air market, Linda saw a Starbucks and wanted iced tea. I noticed a vendor with adorably embroidered children’s dresses. He wanted $25 each. I wanted to get out of there and was not interested in bargaining, so I said no thanks and walked away. By the time I got out of earshot, he was down to $5 each,  but I just didn’t care. This is also totally weird for me, because I adore haggling.

We took a taxi back to the condo. By the time we got back, I felt a great deal better, but had a old shower and took a nap. Lesson learned: take lots of water!

Despite getting dehydrated, I enjoyed the day. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip, and will be much more cautious about staying hydrated.

How To Deal with the Elephant in the Room

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I pride myself on variety, but the only thing I’ve really been paying attention to recently is politics. I don’t want this blog to become a political blog.

However, I’m going to post one more politically oriented piece, because I want all liberals and progressives in this country to understand the implications. It’s not about my ideas. I want to summarize the book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” by Dr. George Lakoff, a neural scientist. Despite his heavyweight scientific credentials, the book is very accessible and easy to read.

Dr. Lakoff wrote the first version of the book in 2008 to explain to liberals and progressives (I’m just going to say liberals from now on) how and why the Republicans have been able to direct the national dialogue and get Tea Party candidates into legislative seats locally, statewide, and nationally. He shows how our brain’s wiring leads to conservatism or liberalism. Reading his book opened my eyes wide, and I’m hoping all liberal politicians will read it, too.

Lakoff talks in terms of “frames.” Frames are concepts we have in our brains that are evoked by words. So when I say “taxes,” it evokes “pay for our infrastructure and services” in my liberal brain. A conservative’s brain has a frame that taxes are bad, a burden. So when Republicans in the George W. era came up with the term, “tax relief,” conservatives saw it as saving them from the bad thing, making the Republicans heroic. The problem is, the rest of the culture­—especially the media—picked up that verbiage. Every time “tax relief” is repeated, it becomes a more firmly entrenched frame.

Republicans did the same thing with the Affordable Care Act by calling it Obamacare, which everyone (me included) immediately started using. It evokes a negative frame with conservatives, so much so that there are many Republicans who have only just now discovered they are losing their health insurance. They thought they were safe because they weren’t on Obamacare—they were on the ACA.

The Republicans have been doing this effectively and successfully for the past 40 years. We liberals are wa-a-a-a-ay behind. Let’s see how they do it.

Morality and Politics

Lakoff states that all politics is moral. By this he means that people vote according to their morality, not necessarily according to self-interest. (I know, how could they possibly vote for an amoral beast like Trump? Bear with me.)

Morality for conservatives looks something like this:

  • Society needs a strong leader. Like a strict father, he knows best and will tell us what the right thing to do is. This is why many conservatives are deeply religious. Religion provides a strict, clear guide to behavior and thought. Trump is seen as a strong leader in this mold.
  • Children are born bad and they have to be “made” good with the direction of a strict father who teaches them right from wrong. By extension, this applies to citizens and their leadership.
  • People need to do what they are told. If they fail to do so, they must be punished. Without punishment, there can be no morality.
  • Wealthy people are admired because obviously, they are doing the right thing. Religious people see riches as God’s blessing on the deserving (helped along by the evangelicals who have for some time now encouraged their followers to “seed” the blessings of wealth by giving to their churches, in the expectation that God will return it to them many-fold). The wealthy create jobs, and their money trickles down to the lower orders (despite the fact this has been debunked over and over it is firmly entrenched in the conservative brain).
  • Poor people are obviously undeserving because they are poor. They choose to be poor. We should not give them “free stuff” like food stamps, healthcare, education, early childhood enrichment, etc., because that will just make them more lazy and undeserving. This is why Republicans want to cut taxes—not to provide “tax relief” to the working class, but to cut social services entirely if possible.
  • Moral people take responsibility for themselves and do not need “free stuff.” Morality is linked to prosperity. Prosperity is linked to self-interest, therefore morality is linked to self-interest. (Hence voting your morality is seen as voting for your self-interest, whether or not that is the case in fact.)
  • Government is bad because it takes our hard-earned money and spends it foolishly by providing services (“free stuff”) to the undeserving. We need taxes so that we have a strong military, however.
  • Liberals are bad people. They just want free stuff. They have bad morals, as evidenced by their support for abortion and LGBTQ rights. Liberals want to raise taxes so they can give away your money to the undeserving. They are stupid because they don’t see things the way conservatives do. And if you are a Breitbart News follower, liberals are behind everything evil.
  • Women are not equal to men. They do not have or deserve authority because they are weak and emotional. They need a strong man to show them the right way.

There’s more, but this ought to be sufficient to set the stage and explain why deeply religious people voted for Trump. Rationally, you might think that a billionaire with two divorces and five children by three different wives, multiple affairs, a suspected child rapist, a confessed sexual assaulter, someone who cheats his contractors and doesn’t pay taxes and possibly is a Russian collaborator would not be the first choice for religious Christians. But they saw him as a strong leader who will build a wall, keep out the Muslims, and protect us. Despite his four bankruptcies, they also view him as an incredibly successful businessman. And he promised to cut taxes and bring back jobs to America. All of this is seen as virtuous.

Rather than rationally comparing Trump’s record with their espoused beliefs, they made Trump’s record conform to their beliefs and ignored the rest—assisted by the fake news that conservatives have been marinating in for the past three or four decades.

The world is a zero-sum game to conservatives; if you want to win, someone else has to lose. So in order for them to win, the Others—people of color, people of non-Christian beliefs, differently gendered people, foreigners—have to lose.

Obviously, not all conservatives have the entire mindset described above, but they all believe consciously or unconsciously in some part of it. If you are a liberal, this might be a bit hard to swallow. It seems too simplistic, but it’s true for many people at least some of the time. Many conservatives really do see you as a “libtard”—a stupid person with no morals who is probably unemployed and taking “free stuff” that conservatives imagine they are paying for with their taxes—and it pisses them off. I have seen this personally as I have wandered around the social media scene.

I’m not going to spend time on liberal morality, as presumably you, a liberal, already understand it. If there’s a conservative out there who by some weird chance has read this far and really wants to understand liberal morality, I would be happy to explain if you ask nicely.


A bad example of President Nixon’s framing gives us an idea of how framing does and does not work. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon famously said, “I am not a crook.” So everyone thought of him as a crook, as this was repeated over and over and over.

Repetition strengthens frames. So when using conservatives’ language and frames, we are handing them the argument. It’s critical to come up with frames that fit your argument and that cannot be used against you. It is critical not to repeat conservative framing, such as “alternative facts.” There is no such thing; what we’re talking about here is lies.

To come up with effective framing requires understanding the conservative point of view. Let’s take that hottest of hot potatoes, abortion. Conservatives have been conditioned by decades of propaganda to view abortion as murder. Liberals have rejected this without replacing it with anything more compelling than a “Republican War on Women.” This plays well with liberals, but conservatives believe that women need to be controlled, so it doesn’t resonate with them.

Let’s try framing it in terms of one of the conservatives’ most powerful words: liberty. When you tell women they cannot have abortions, you are removing their liberty and personal responsibility, but worse—it’s a short step from there to telling women how many children they may or may not have, as they did in China. Or telling them they can’t have children. You cannot be free when government has placed a restriction on your right to have or not have children.

A personal note here. The conservatives have used “pro-life” with great effect in contrast to the liberal “pro-choice.” Pro-choice says you’re just selfish; you are placing your own needs over the precious life of a child, as opposed to the obvious virtue of pro-life. I am using “pro-child”; every child born has the right to be cared for, fed, clothed, given an education and provided with the tools required for a happy and productive life within his or her abilities. No mention of abortion is made, but hidden within the frame of pro-child is an unstated support for abortion if the fetus is unwanted (as a way to begin life, being unwanted has a very poor outlook), too sick to survive, or a threat to the mother’s life.

Conservative politicians are also attacking pensions, Medicare and Social Security. The word “entitlement” is the actual language of the law for Medicare and Social Security. The conservatives easily began framing these services as “free stuff,” the sort of thing “entitled people” demand, when in fact they are either deferred earned salaries in the case of Social Security and pensions, or paid for in the form of premiums, as in Medicare. We must start pushing back on the term “entitlements” and even “benefits,” and begin pushing the concept of “deferred salaries” and “single-payer healthcare.”

How to Engage with Conservatives

There are essentially two types of conservatives from a communications standpoint. One group is composed of idealogues who are firmly entrenched in their beliefs and resist other ideas completely. You can’t engage with this group.

A second, and perhaps larger group of conservatives are those who hold both conservative and liberal ideas:






This “bi-conceptual” group can be appealed to by avoiding conservative framing and language and by following the following tactics laid out by Dr. Lakoff:

  • Remember that your liberal values are the true values of America. Be proud of them.
  • Remember that conservatives approve of a strong father-type of government. They don’t view it as dangerous, but as protective.
  • Show respect. If you do not treat conservatives with respect and indicate that you have at least heard them out, they will slam the door. Don’t get into a shouting match.
  • Distinguish between normal conservatives and nasty idealogues (like Steve Bannon). The everyday conservative usually has some progressive ideas that can be tapped into. Idealogues don’t, so don’t try. Most conservatives are more like you than not.
  • Be calm. Getting angry or defensive signals weakness and lack of conviction. (Remember that when you encounter those very sore winners on Facebook!)
  • Be passionate without losing control by becoming defensive.
  • Don’t give them any opportunity to slam you into their stereotype of a liberal: weak, bleeding heart, unpatriotic, uninformed, elitist, wants free stuff.
  • Rather than arguing or negating , ask questions. When a person is unclear on the stand s/he is taking, trying to justify an unjustifiable stand can become clear without you saying anything. Frames trump facts, so if the conservative in question accepts your frame, the rest of the conversation is just common sense within that frame.
  • Never repeat their frames. If someone says “Liberals are just lazy and want free stuff,” do not repeat their verbiage. Say something like, “I have a job. I’ve worked all my life and paid taxes.”
  • Be informed. If you get into a conversation on a topic in which you are poorly informed, there’s no winning it. Choose your battles and engage only in the ones you can win.
  • Think and talk at the level of values. Point out how your values support their values. We all want freedom, clean air and water, forests, lakes and rivers. Many conservatives, for instance, are hunters and fishermen. They don’t want our national parks turned into oil wells and mines any more than you do.

This blog piece only skims the surface of “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” I hope I have presented a few of Lakoff’s ideas accurately, but please read the book to gain a deeper understanding of how to win this cultural war that we didn’t ask for, but we’re fighting  anyway.

If you thought this piece had information of value to others, please feel free to share it in any way you please. Good luck in the days and maybe weeks or years to come; I believe that traditional liberal American values will win in the end. I have to.

P.S. Obscene, angry comments will be deleted without reply. Respectful comments or questions will be answered.

* * * *

For the next three weeks, I will be traveling in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, researching my next book, the third in the trilogy starting with “The Obsidian Mirror.” The second book, “Fire in the Ocean,” which takes place primarily on Moloka ‘i, HI, is due out later this year from Diversion Books. I won’t be sipping margaritas on the beach at Cancun, but I will be blogging about the trip daily (or almost daily), starting on Saturday. I hope you enjoy!





Our Democracy Has Failed. Now Is the Time To Focus.


So the Electoral College has failed the Founding Fathers and ushered in the presidency of a manifestly unqualified and dangerous individual.

It’s time to focus.

Forget about Ivanka and Melania. Forget about his foolish, thin-skinned Tweets. Forget about his refusal to adhere to the norms of the Presidency.


I know it’s fun to post memes about how awful and clownish and embarrassing he is. It’s also fun to bitch and moan online about it.

Stop. Focus.

There’s only one thing that matters now, and that is making sure Trump doesn’t spend all four years in office wrecking the country.

THE RUSSIANS HACKED OUR ELECTION.[i] Trump and his buddy, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, have collaborated with the Russian government to CHANGE THE RESULTS OF AN AMERICAN ELECTION.

Why? Money. Exxon and Trump had enormous, multi-billion-dollar oil deals with Russia that were derailed when President Obama placed sanctions on Russia for taking over the Crimea. Now that Trump and Exxon will be running the country, those sanctions will be lifted, and Trump and Tillerman and Putin will swim happily away together on a tide of billions of dollars.[ii] (Assuming Tillerman is confirmed by the Senate. If not, that shouldn’t change the basic strategy of lifting the sanctions and letting les bons temps roulées.)

I am aware that treason has not been proven. Yet. However, given the extremely shady “character” of the (not my) president-to-be, I feel fairly confident in saying it was collusion. If I am proven wrong, I’ll be the first to apologize. I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I say:


It is also, more mildly, a completely illegal conflict of interest under the emoluments clause of the United States Constitution. Trump has a shitload of those, but this is the one that counts.


Please. Focus on treason and conflicts of interest and scream, yell and shout about it. Demonstrate in the streets about it. Write your representatives and senators about it.

Nothing else is as important, including soothing your unhappiness by posting memes about Trump’s unnatural relationship with his daughter. If we all focus our rage and energy and efforts on protesting TREASON on the part of an elected president­—someone who deliberately invited and collaborated with an unfriendly foreign power to make more money and gain power over us—maybe our legislators will get off their cowardly asses and do something to help us combat this beast.

Otherwise, resign yourself to not just another four years, but perhaps a lifetime of increasing repression, oppression, bigotry, voter suppression, rigged elections and the increased misery of the poor and disenfranchised.

In other words, you can look forward to violent revolution. You can only bully, threaten and marginalize people so long before they start fighting back.





Fear and Loathing in the United States

trump-snakeI am not usually troubled by writer’s block. My philosophy has always been: just write. Throw out the dreck and keep and edit the good stuff. It’s always worked well for me.

But since November 8, I have largely been unable to write a blog post. I did manage to crank out a piece on safety pins, but that was it. I’ve been so stunned, angry and terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency that I literally could not think what to write. I could always write about something else, except for the fact that I have been unable to think about anything else.

Also, I didn’t just want to list the things that are terrifying about Donald Trump. Every article I read lays his vileness out like a sacred litany, the list only getting longer day by day. I skip these articles now because I know the catechism by heart, and every new day brings a fresh load of excrement to digest.

Trump is like a juggernaut. Nothing seems to stop him. If any other candidate had said or done even one of the horrific things he’s come up with, they’d be political roadkill by now—but no, he’s going to be our president. Even the knowledge that the Russians hacked our electoral system to sway the election in Trump’s favor doesn’t seem to matter. I saw President Obama being interviewed by Trevor Noah last night, and he seemed completely blasé about the whole thing—he said we shouldn’t be surprised. That’s just what Russians do, dontchaknow.

One day I was living in a great country, where immigrants can find refuge, where people have compassion, where we care about discrimination and work against injustice. Not a perfect country, but a country always striving to be better. Overnight, I find myself in a horrific dystopian land where people in white hoods endorse presidential candidates, where Fascist policies are embraced with enthusiasm, where hatred, meanness, bigotry and scorn for science and education are the norm.

We are now waiting with a great deal of angst and dread for the Electoral College to vote in just five days. Other nations that do not enjoy the peculiar institution of an electoral college have a hard time following this. Americans are always bellowing about our proud democracy, but most of them appear not to know that the U.S. is NOT a democracy, it’s a republic. Sure, we let the little folks vote because it makes them feel like they have a say. But the REAL voters are the 538 citizens of the Electoral College. Normally, the EC votes track the actual vote, but not this time. The problem is the notion of winner-take-all. The electors are chosen by their party in each state. The New York Times says, “In every state except two, the party that wins the popular vote gets to send all of its electors to the state capital in December. In the nonconforming Maine and Nebraska, two electoral votes are apportioned to the winner of the popular vote, and the rest of the votes are given to the winner of the popular votes in each of the states’ congressional districts. (Maine has two congressional districts and Nebraska has three.)”

The number of electors depends on the state’s population. If a given state has a majority of votes for Candidate X, Candidate X takes ALL of that state’s EC votes. Electors can legally vote for whomever they please, but traditionally vote along party lines. The EC was designed by the Founding Fathers to prevent a manifestly unfit individual from becoming president, but has never actually overturned an election in the past, which would require an unprecedented large number of EC voters to vote against party lines.

It actually gets more complicated than that, but enough civics for one blog post.

For the first time in my life, some of the electors appear to be questioning the fitness of the president-elect to serve as president. Whether or not enough electors can be swayed by Trump’s scary clown act is the question of the day. I personally emailed all the electors to urge them not to vote for Trump. (I didn’t ask them to vote FOR any specific individual.) I got three responses, all canned, all from Texas. They all said they wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton—not that I asked them to. Basically, my stance at this point is “Anybody but Trump.” Even Mike Pence. Pence is an evil bastard, but he’s not actually insane. (I don’t think.) It’s easier to deal with straightforward evil than it is to work with random, ego-fueled, idea-of-the-minute craziness.

And if the Electoral College fails to do its duty, I will dedicate the rest of my life to getting the Electoral College abolished, as it clearly is not functioning as intended and in fact has become an impediment to democracy. That is, in my spare time when I am not protesting the rape of the environment, the crushing of women’s rights, and discrimination against all non-white, non-Christian, non-male citizens of this formerly great country.

A Few Words about Safety Pins


I have something to say to those who are sneering at the safety pins. First of all, the pins are not connected to the protests, so stop trying to say they are the same thing or even the same people.

Do you know what the pins mean? I’ll bet you think they mean, “I’m a left-wing pussy who’s crying because I didn’t get my way.” (Paraphrased from one post about the pins I saw.) In reality, the pin says, “No matter who you are, if you are being bullied or are fearful for any reason, I am a safe person and I will help you.”

Note that’s “No matter who you are.” The commitment is to help anyone. Even Trump voters, should they find themselves feeling threatened.

That’s it. Although it arises out of political opposition, it is free of political content. If you think there’s something wrong with that simple commitment, then we are in deeper trouble than I even now suspect.

As for the need for people to make this commitment, I think that events tell us it is desperately needed: Even President-elect Donald Trump has mentioned hate crimes and hate speech and asked for it to stop.

It’s easy and fun to sneer, I get it. Safety pins seem small, trivial. I get it. But it isn’t about safety pins. It’s about people committing to love their neighbors, regardless of race, religion, size, religion,sexual orientation, political affiliation or anything else–and who are willing to intercede when hate is uppermost.

Cultural Appropriation Is Not a Thing


I have long been fascinated with other cultures, open to other traditions, and drawn to the beauty of other cultures’ art and expression. It seems to me that learning about other cultures is our best hope for creating a society that is open, tolerant, and inclusive.

Then I began hearing about “cultural appropriation.” Apparently adopting or adapting from cultures other than the culture one is born into is a huge bad thing because it demeans and commercializes the other cultures in question.

Whoa. All this time, I have been tolerating green beer, drunkenness, cries of “Kiss Me, I’m Irish,” green plastic leprechaun hats, and corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and I wasn’t even mildly offended. (You can travel the length and breadth of Ireland and never see corned beef and cabbage on any menu. Or on anyone’s home table, either. It’s actually something the Irish immigrants culturally appropriated from the Jewish immigrants in America. For the record, the Jews have not complained about this.)

But there’s more. How many movies, books, comics, etc. have you seen with fairies, pookah, banshees, elves, will ‘o the wisps and other culturally Irish (or Celtic) themes? A whole bunch, I bet. Do you hear Irish-American people complaining about it?

No, you do not. That’s because it doesn’t damage Irish culture for people to paint their faces green and get drunk on St. Patrick’s Day. We may laugh at the gaucherie, but that’s all.

The argument that one culture can “steal” culture from another and thereby damage it is absurd. It’s equivalent to straight conservative people claiming that gay marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage. Yeah—every one of Newt Gingrich’s three marriages was sanctified.

I recently made sugar skulls with my seven-year-old granddaughter, Lilah. Lilah is Hispanic through her father, and I thought making sugar skulls would be a wonderful way to help her celebrate her heritage. In addition to making the skulls, I told her about the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, why they make the skulls, and the lovely tradition of picnicking in the graveyard to visit with the beloved dead and share with them the events of the past year. We posted pictures of our beautiful sugar skulls on Facebook to share our handiwork.


I was immediately accused of cultural appropriation, with a link to an article on how us gringos/gabachos are ruining the sugar skull tradition.

Well, first of all, I don’t like being called a gringa or gabacha. It was just rude, and not a very persuasive way to get white people to read the article. While I thought the article was well written and made some good points about bad behavior on the part of some white people, I still think cultural appropriation isn’t possible, like dry water.

Second, I believe that the more people know and appreciate about each other’s cultures, the better off we will all be. Discouraging friendly interest and participation on the part of “others” is just driving the wedge deeper between us all.

And above all there is art. Artists have been influenced by other cultures for thousands of years, and the synergy between cultural traditions has resulted in work of genius and beauty. What if Picasso had not been allowed to use the rhythmically angular and abstract themes of African art in his painting? Jazz and rock and roll synergize African and European ideas of music into fantastically creative new forms. And what if no one but the English were allowed to use the cadences and flowing language of Shakespeare, who has influenced every body of literature in the world? The Art Deco movement would not have existed without the early 20th century fascination with the stylized art of ancient Egypt. This is cultural synergy, not cultural appropriation, and we would all be the poorer if it didn’t go on every day of every year. Fortunately, you can’t stifle artists for very long.

I am not, of course, condoning disrespectful and boorish behavior like dressing up in a Native American headdress, making whooping noises, calling everyone “Chief,” and saying “How.” That’s ignorance and bad manners. But it is not cultural appropriation, because Native American culture has never been harmed by this. The person who is harmed is the jackass doing it.

The bushman in Africa is your brother. The Ainu woman in northern Japan is your sister. Each of us is genetically almost identical to every other human being on earth. We have everything to gain by sharing our traditions and cultures. We have everything to lose by erecting still more barriers between people.

By the way, on St Patrick’s Day, please help yourself to the green beer and shamrock cookies. I’m good with it.


Frank Meets Dad: A Lie in 793 Words


I wrote the following short-short story some time in the 90’s. I was managing a high tech public relations firm. Being a bunch of creative types, we had a writer’s club we called “The Jackhammer Society.” Once a week or so, we’d meet at lunch and share our fiction or poetry. (It was fun while it lasted–right, Laura Wigod?) I was going through some old files on my computer and re-read “Frank Meets Dad,” and found myself chuckling at it, so here it is. BTW, the story is a complete lie except that my father did once run for office, was defeated, and thus spared the world his career in politics.wildebeest-fight

Frank Meets Dad

Well, Frank threw the first punch, though it was my Dad who ended up in jail, not Sinatra.

Dad had his doubts about meeting Sinatra in the first place. This was in the late Sixties and Dad was running for political office in California. He wanted to be governor someday, and was trying to work his way up the political ranks. Dad got this invitation in the mail one day: “Mr. Frank Sinatra requests the pleasure of your attendance at a fund-raising dinner for the Republican National Committee.”

“I always liked the man’s voice. He’s a talented singer. But he’s a punk,” growled Dad, brooding over a second martini. “He’s got no business in politics. And he hangs around with the Mafia.” Dad went on for several more chapters about Mr. Sinatra’s flawed character, including injured photographers, discarded mistresses and his daughter’s singing career, which Dad thought was an example of the worst sort of nepotism.

“And he drinks too much,” Dad declared over his third or fourth martini.

But in the end, he went. He said it was because there would be important political connections at the party, but I think he went to meet Sinatra.

The party was held in Las Vegas, at The Sands. (“It would be,” said Dad. “The whole place is run by mafiosos.”) The cost was $1000 a plate, so Mom didn’t go. Dad was introduced to Sinatra after dinner as “a promising Republican candidate for the California State Legislature.” Sinatra was smoking a cigar, which he could do because it didn’t involve inhaling the smoke into his golden vocal chords. Dad had quit smoking cigarettes, and was therefore smoking a wicked little black cigarillo. Dad and Sinatra eyed each other through a blue curtain of smoke.

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Sinatra,” said Dad, extending his large, fine-boned hand. Sinatra smiled his cold smile and shook hands.

“Have a seat, Jack,” Sinatra said, waving towards a chair.

My father looked around and sat down. There were several large, dark-suited bouncer-types nearby, he noted with satisfaction. Probably Sinatra’s Mafia bodyguards.

“What’ll’ya have?” Sinatra said, snapping his fingers at the attentive waiter behind him.

“Vodka martini, twist of lemon, easy on the vermouth,” Dad said, never looking at the waiter.

“Whiskey, The Glenlivet, neat,” said Sinatra, keeping his eyes on Dad.

The Mafia-types moved in a little, so Dad stretched his considerable length out to show how relaxed he was.

Sinatra began a conversation about the state of the GOP in California, and asked what Dad was going to do about it if he won his Legislature seat in the next election. Dad started in talking about the issues –– by now he had it all down pretty smoothly. He got Sinatra interested, and soon they were arguing amiably about public education.

The topic soon changed from politics to guns and from guns to women. By the time they were both on their third shared round of drinks, they seemed like old friends. Dad was in the middle of trying to explain the fascinations of marlin fishing to Frank, when Sinatra pulled a cigar from the breast pocket of his silk suit and offered it to him.

“Don’t tell anybody. It’s Cuban,” Sinatra said, pantomiming someone looking around for government bugs.

Dad froze. “There’s no way you could get Cuban cigars without connections into Havana,” he said, and the ambient temperature dropped 100 degrees. He stood up, all six feet and five inches of him and towered over Sinatra.

“Anyone who traffics with an enemy of the government of the United States is an enemy of mine,” he declared, glaring down at Sinatra’s darkening face breathing single-malt whiskey fumes up at him.

Before the Mafia-types could move, Sinatra bounced up.

“Bastard!” he screamed. Although he was eight inches shorter, Sinatra threw a punch and connected with my father’s thin midriff. As Dad folded, the Mafia-types closed in and hustled him out of the room, where he was collected by the Las Vegas Sheriff’s Department.

They let him go the next morning. As a cop handed Dad his keys and wallet, he said, “Mr. Sinatra has generously decided not to press charges. Sir. I wouldn’t push it, if I was you. Sir.”

Dad was pretty peeved, but he wasn’t stupid. He let it drop (though we heard about it at home for the rest of his life). He ran for the Legislature and lost, and decided to quit politics. He said the system was broken. So that was that.

Oh, yes. After he lost the election, Dad took his collection of Sinatra LP’s out to the skeet range and systematically used them all for target practice. It wasn’t fair, but he shot all the Dean Martin LP’s too.


The Home of My Heart

This is me, aged maybe 12, dressed up in old-timey clothes in the front hall of 16 Campbell. I can't remember why.

This is me, aged maybe 12, dressed up in old-timey clothes in the front hall of 16 Campbell. I can’t remember why.

My daughter went online a few weeks ago to look up the house I grew up in, a house she remembers with affection. It had been sold, and there were about 20 recent photographs of the house on one of the realty sites.

I scrolled slowly through the photos online, remembering, and I suddenly realized that I loved that house—still, after many decades of living in other houses—as though it were a human being. I hadn’t realized you could love a house with such warmth and tenderness, but this was no ordinary house. I’m going to call it 16 Campbell from now on because she deserves a name, and because that is how we all refer to her. Yes, I realize I am anthropomorphizing wildly here, and I am probably also being sappily sentimental. So be it.

I remember moving into 16 Campbell at the age of four and a half. It had been built by an architect renowned in my small Southern California hometown during its Victorian heyday as a resort for East Coast families seeking relief from icy winters. My parents bought it on the G.I. Bill from an elderly widow who was running it as a boarding house for other elderly widows. It was a white, Dutch Colonial-style house, shingle-sided, two-storied, crumbling gently atop a hill like a dowager duchess who has fallen on hard times.

Few, if any improvements had been made to the house since her debutante days. Because she had been intended as a vacation home, the floors were made of pine planks instead of hardwood, and us kids, running around barefoot all day, got many a splinter in our feet. My parents eventually got hardwood installed downstairs, but upstairs it was still wear shoes or expect tears. Plaster was crumbling, there were wasps in the attic, the curtains were tattered, and the kitchen was resolutely inconvenient.

Not that we kids cared. We soon came to know every inch of that house. It sat over a rarity in California: a basement. The basement was just a hole dug into the hard red dirt with no foundation, and it was both scary and fascinating. It could be reached either by an old-fashioned storm door from the outside, or via stairs that led down from the mudroom. The basement was full of arcane things. There was an electric reducing device that consisted of a huge steel box lined inside with light bulbs. A person was supposed to sit inside this box, and I suppose the heat of all those light bulbs made him or her sweat and thus “lose weight.” We were given strict orders not to touch this device, but it was a constant temptation until my parents had it removed.

There were also many trunks full of old clothes, letters, diaries and junk. One trunk held costumes from earlier eras, including fake moustaches and dried-up vials of “spirit gum” to apply them, a beaded silk cloche with the beads dropping off, a hoop skirt, a genuine Apache woman’s dress and beaded leather moccasins. Later, much later, we discovered a Civil War folding map table down there.

But that was not what made me love 16 Campbell. It was the house itself. Not everything that happened in that house was safe or pleasant, but the house felt protective and comforting. I played in the mud against its flank like a puppy rolling against the warm furry sides of its mother. I lay in bed, watching the patterns of leaves cast against the wall by the vines over my window, feeling safe. Whether I was building grass forts in the empty back lot or creating fairy feasts and leaving them in the roots of the gnarled pepper trees, or reading in the golden light that came through the living room’s bay window in the late afternoon, I felt the house’s protective presence around me. There was no part of the house that didn’t welcome me, and there were so many places to hide and be by myself when I didn’t want to be found.

None of us siblings really wanted to sell 16 Campbell when my parents died because we all had the same attachment to the house. But we had either built lives elsewhere and/or didn’t want the expense of restoring the property, which had declined as our parents had aged. Poring over the new photos, I saw the old lady had been completely rejuvenated. Her trim had been stripped to the gleaming grain of the wood. The awkwardly modernish light fixtures installed by my parents had been replaced with period reproductions. The pool area had been gracefully incorporated into the exterior spaces. There was a pergola, looking like an original fixture of the grounds, where once there had been an ancient rose garden. There was a greenhouse and paths along the hill once completely covered with myrtle and brush. A neat white metal fence surrounded the yard, replacing the drunkenly leaning wire fence covered with Lady Banksia roses.

The old girl was looking grand indeed. She sparkled with fresh paint and wallpaper, and her hardwood floors shone. Every room was bright, clean and spacious­. Even the kitchen, cramped and badly designed despite my parents’ best efforts to update it, now looked like an Architectural Digest layout.

16 Campbell was no longer the ramshackle old house where I had grown up, but that didn’t matter. I was glad she had been loved and cared for—as glad as I would be for any human being whose health and youth had been restored. She was the home of my heart, and I will always love her.

She Finds Sea Glass by the Sea Shore


I have always been astonished to find that no matter how obscure a subject, it is covered in agonizing detail somewhere on the internet. People who get interested in something tend to obsessively compile data, and the internet gives us a place to store it where other people can benefit from their obsession.

But I was still surprised to find out that sea glass is a “thing.” Since childhood, I had always regarded sea glass as a delightful side benefit of walking on beaches; suddenly you come across a jewel lying on the sand. I’m not talking about broken beer bottles here, though many have started out this way, but the softly abraded and frosted fragments of well-worn sea glass.

This past winter, El Nino raged up and down the California coast, sending monster waves to dig sand off the beaches, exposing stones, flinging trees and driftwood up onto the beaches, and—exposing tons of sea glass. After a storm, my daughter Kerry went hunting for sea glass, and showed up hours later with an enormous bag of the stuff—white, clear, blue, aqua, brown, amber, and many shades of green. As she began sorting through it, she also began searching the internet for information. It turns out that people have written entire books on the subject, identifying and categorizing different kinds of sea glass by origin, color, composition, original usage, and on and on and on. There’s one man who is an expert in sea glass bottles, and he can tell you where they were made, by whom, and how they were used from pieces of glass.

Incredibly rare to find an intact scent bottle.

Incredibly rare to find an intact scent bottle.

One of the most surprising things we discovered was “UV glass”; glass that contains uranium, resulting in a yellowy-green, light-catching material called “Vaseline glass.” (Not because it was used as containers for Vaseline, but because the glass has a greenish, somewhat oily look.) Under a black light, UV glass glows a brilliant and spooky green. One of the more unusual pieces my daughter found was a glass rod used in making millefiori jewelry that had a star-shaped central core made of UV glass. They stopped using uranium in glass around WWII, presumably because the element was needed for nuclear arms. Everything I’ve read about it indicates that there’s not enough uranium in UV glass to be dangerous, but I don’t think I’ll make any jewelry out of it, just the same.

UV, or "Vaseline" glass with uranium.

UV, or “Vaseline” glass with uranium.

So it turns out that collecting sea glass is a huge thing where I live. The sea glass in-crowd knows the best beaches, the best times of day, the best times of the year, the best weather, the best searching techniques. My daughter encountered another woman just before daylight on the beach, holding a flashlight on a stick to catch the reflection from the glass before the sun came up. Serious sea glassers wear wet suits and use sand crab rakes, normally used to dredge up these little crustaceans for bait, to dig up the glass in the wave zone. This can be a dangerous endeavor on the Northern California coast, which is prone to riptides and sneaker waves. This past winter, a man died at Davenport Beach, his favorite sea glass spot.

Davenport is where the hard-core crowd goes. It’s a public beach, but there is a certain cadre of sea glass seekers that act like it’s Westside Story and they’re the Sharks. I will call them Glassholes. On my first visit, I saw a man digging a large hole on the beach. I wandered over and picked up a quartz pebble he had unearthed—obviously nothing he was interested in.

“I didn’t dig that up for you,” he said. So charming.

“I didn’t imagine that you did,” I said.

“Go find your own hole!”

“It’s a public beach,” I pointed out, whereupon he roared, “Fuck you!” Such a gentleman.

Another lovely Glasshole wrote a manifesto and published it on Facebook instructing amateur “toe-dippers” to stay out of the way of the real people, stay out of the water, and a bunch of other things that I don’t think have been officially sanctioned by the California Coastal Commission.

So why are the Glassholes so hostile and aggressive? Apparently, the tiny town of Davenport (it has like, three streets) was once home to an art glass factory, which threw all  its rejects into the ocean. So it is possible to find stunning pieces of multicolored glass, rare colors and shapes in the Davenport waves. Many of the sea glassers turn these pieces into jewelry, sun-catchers, and other crafty things to sell. Does this excuse  Glassholery? By no means, but I don’t think they care what I think. (By the way, there are also some lovely and generous people who hunt for sea glass as Davenport, and I do not mean to include them in the Glasshole category.) [Post-publication note: Kerry says the glass studio is still there. The glass reached the ocean due to a flood that swept three dumpsters’ worth of art glass rejects into the sea.]

I won’t be returning to Davenport, though it has nothing to do with the Glassholes. In winter, which is the best season to find glass, so much sand has been scoured away from the beach that getting to the water requires descending a 12-foot sandstone cliff. Then, of course, you have to climb up the cliff to get out. I did it, but I’d rather not these days. I am not the agile creature I used to be. (Stop that sniggering, family!)

Sea glass millefiori rod with UV star.

It’s fun finding a special piece like a marble. The reason there are sea glass marbles is not because children play marbles at the beach, it’s because ships used barrels of marbles as ballast, jettisoning the marbles as necessary into the ocean. I have heard of people who have found thousands of them—I have found four.

Sea marble.

Sea marble.

When looking for sea glass, I can walk for miles without noticing that I am exercising. And it’s fun to go through the day’s catch with a black light to see if it will spark that spooky green glow, like the fuel rod in the intro to “The Simpsons.” I love the feeling of triumph when I find a rare color or a particularly well-worn and perfect piece. I used to hunt for shells, but I have actually found more sea glass than whole shells on these shores. Apparently, once a shell is abandoned by its owner, the rocks just beat the shit out of it. Finding an unbroken shell of any species is cause for rejoicing.

This bottle bottom says "FORBID."

This bottle bottom says “FORBID.”

At some point, when I get my jewelry workshop set up again, I will try setting my better pieces. But I will never be the avid collector my daughter has become. Many a weekend, when I am still fast asleep, Kerry is down at the beach, looking for glass. I’d rather have breakfast, so I guess I am not a true fanatic.

Photography by Kerry Keenan Gil

Meow Wolf: It’s Fucking Awesome

I had an adventure today. I visited the Meow Wolf Collective in Santa Fe, NM. I knew it was a huge experiential art installation but I had no idea what to expect. It was like a mad mashup of Disneyland, something Tim Burton might have done, Rivendell, a children’s museum, Harry Potter, the Twilight Zone, Salvadore Dali, and a Ray Bradbury story. And yet, I have fallen woefully short of describing it with any accuracy.
The centerpiece of the experience is a recreation of a Victorian house, but it isn’t made to look like a haunted house or anything. It’s a full-sized, two-story house contained in what used to be a bowling alley. It is surrounded by many other exhibits, but let’s start here. Inside the house, each room appears fairly normal, bar the dim lighting. But there is always something odd, weird or just strange about every room. Open the closet door in an upstairs bedroom and there is a corridor leading to a cavern adorned with stalactites and crystals with a glowing mammoth skeleton seemingly embedded in the rock. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom has glass vials full of herbs, while the prescription bottles have hilarious instructions for use. The floor tiles wave underfoot.
In one room, an artist is painting a canvas. In the kitchen, open the refrigerator door to find a passage to made-up destinations, directions to which are provided by a hologram. (Yes, you can go to these destinations.) The art on the walls is sometimes mundane, and sometimes seriously strange or even disturbing.
Surrounding the house are ramps and Rivendell-like vines, flowers, and glowing…things. You can walk across a bridge from the balcony of the house to a recreation of Baba Yaga’s chicken-footed cottage. There is a tunnel of video screens, a room full of crustaceans, tree fungi that glow and make drum noises when you pat them. There’s a light harp made of laser beams that plays notes when the beams are interrupted. There’s a room with a 15-foot-high rabbit with glowing eyes that reminded me of “Donny Darko.” Every surface is textured, painted, glowing, or interesting in some way.
One of the things I most appreciated about Meow Wolf was its complete lack of the sneering negativity so often expressed by modern art. The experience was positive, exciting, surprising, intriguing, and sometimes puzzling, and it made me extremely happy. Meow Wolf received seed funding from G.R.R. Martin, author of “Game of Thrones'” who lives in Santa Fe. I would love to see other such experiential art installations in other cities that have an innovative and creative spirit.
By the way, Meow Wolf is fantastic for kids. They can touch and explore and discover to their hearts’ content. There is also an art exploration area exclusively for children.
After all this specific description, I feel I have completely failed to describe Meow Wolf. Here’s some pictures–I’m sure they’ll give you a better idea. Maybe. Go there. You will not be disappointed.