Friday, December 15, 2017

My #MeToo Memories - Part 1

I’ve been a bit hesitant to climb on the #MeToo bandwagon because I don’t think I’ve had any seriously emotionally debilitating sexual assaults. Still, I have had many disgusting, annoying, and sexually tinged encounters with boys and men, some of whom were familiar, and others who were strangers.

Part of the reason I was spared the sorts of traumatic encounters that many girls and women have endured was probably because I was raised by a prudish father and a mother who warned me about intimate dangers faced by females. We didn’t wander around our house in night-clothes, no clothes, or just underwear. I learned to hide and protect my “private parts.”

One time, while I was still quite young—perhaps four or five years old—some neighborhood children invited me to join them in a culvert to “play house,” which involved boys and girls getting undressed and exploring one-another’s privates. I declined.

The first truly disturbing encounter I remember was when I was a pre-teen. During childhood summers, I occasionally spent a weekend at the home of a favorite aunt, my mother’s sister. She had three boys and an alcoholic husband; her middle boy was, for many years, my favorite cousin. At night, I slept on their couch in the living room; the upstairs bedrooms were all occupied by the family.

One morning, I awoke to find my uncle (hungover?) standing above me with his bathrobe open and his penis in his hand. He pointed it toward me and said, “Here, pull on this and a hot dog will come out.” I felt revulsion and didn’t want to touch it. Still, he was an adult relative and had some “authority.” I didn’t know what to do. As I was hesitating, and still groggy from sleep, my aunt fortunately came down the stairs and yelled at her husband.

After that, I never again spent the night at their house. Still, I saw that uncle at family gatherings from time to time. He occasionally smirked at me and never seemed ashamed. One time, when I was an older teenager – late high school or early college – he remarked about how much I looked like my mother.

I later discovered that he had dated my mother when he was in college and had gone to her home in the upper peninsula of Michigan to seek her out after he graduated. Instead, he found my aunt, whom he started to date and eventually married. Their children were boys; it’s fortunate they didn’t have girls.

Our city cousins often came out to the country during the summer and spent a few days or a week at our house, usually sleeping on the couch. It was their equivalent of summer camp. In my early teens, two different male cousins tried to get me to undress when we were out of sight (and range) of adults. But I never did undress for them, to their annoyance. They were the two cousins nearest my age. In my mind, I believe I blamed the lax morals of the city for their behavior, not the fact that they were simply boys being boys.

One cousin loved spending time in the country, and he always wanted to wrestle with his two girl cousins. Usually, the first words out of his mouth after he arrived at our house were, “Ya’ wanna fight?” My sister and I would wrestle with him if he challenged us. And we usually got him down on the ground, although he was strong enough that we could rarely pin both shoulders to the ground, which was his criterion for “winning.” Still, he could rarely get us to the ground. He later became a member of the Harvard wrestling team, and said he learned to wrestle from his girl cousins.

On one occasion, when we were alone in one of the bedrooms in our house, he said something like, “Let’s go bare naked.” I was surprised and appalled. I certainly didn’t want to go along with that suggestion. So, I made a joke of it and said, “Yes, let’s go barefooted.” I giggled as I took off my shoes and left the room. I don't believe he ever suggested it again.

The other cousin was the middle son of the uncle who had exposed himself to me. When he came out to the country during the summer, we often went on walks to a nearby swimming lake, or sometimes into the woods to look at the wildlife. It was one of the pleasures of living in the country just to be out in the natural world. Sometimes, while we were walking, he would tell jokes, often “dirty jokes.”

The path into the woods led to a small peninsula with a clearing surrounded by dense brush and trees. One time on a walk there, he brought along some playing cards. Our family often played card games, so it didn’t seem odd. But he decided to teach me how to play “strip poker.” 

I went along with the game until I had lost all my clothes except for the bra and underpants. I wouldn’t give those up, and he called me a sissy and a poor sport. I got angry, got dressed, and got up and left. But I didn’t tell either of our parents what had happened.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Charleston Eclipse, August 21, 2017

Friends' eclipse T-shirts

Wow! Where has the summer gone? It's been busy--catching up on email and regular mail and other delayed housework after spending a few months revising and polishing a couple of books that came out this summer (June and July).

Neighbors' eclipse T-shirts; eclipse viewing station on lawn

The big event of the summer has been the Great American Eclipse, which I was lucky enough to see from the front yard of my home in Charleston, SC.

Here's my journal excerpt about the experience, along with some photos taken with a little Cannon camera.

August 21, 2017   ~ 1:40 pm
The eclipse has begun. I saw a bit of it about 20 minutes ago with the eclipse glasses I got this morning from a friend, Nancy Hild. The sun just came out from behind the high-piled cumulus clouds, and now the eclipse is nearly half complete. Thunder rumbles in the background.

It’s not quite as hot outside as it was about an hour ago when I was packing groceries into the trunk of the car. Decided to go grocery shopping after picking up the glasses from Nancy because I’ve gotten way down on milk, fruit, and veggies, and the BiLo is on the way back from her house.
The sun is still out from the clouds. Some wispy cirrus strands float across the sky in the blue space between cumulus clouds. Now the sun is about half gone.
Now clouds are drifting across the sun, and I can’t see it with the eclipse-glasses. But interestingly, if I look up at the clouds with regular sunglasses, I can see the “partially devoured” sun through them without hurting my eyes.
Now the sun is out again. It’s playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. A crow just flew over my roof, squawking loudly. Insects fly around the bushes. I just don’t spend enough time outside, these days. As a child (lo, these many years ago), I used to spend at least half the day outside.
I can hear the TV in the front room of the house. Haven’t had it on for about two months. I just turned it on to get eclipse news. First was the eclipse in Oregon. Then I put away groceries and came outside to watch it for myself.
The eclipse shadow is now more than halfway across the sun. Just went inside to check the time (2:12 pm). The eclipse is nearing totality in Missouri. More than half of “my families” are on the path of the eclipse: Briana and Blake (with Jeremy) in Pocatello, Idaho; Judi and Danny Lane in Blue Springs, Missouri; Elisabeth and her family in the outskirts of Nashville; and I am here in Charleston.
With the eclipse-glasses on, I see nothing but the sun, no background images whatsoever: no trees, no clouds, nothing but an orange disc, increasingly deformed. When the clouds thicken between me and the sun, I can see the partial eclipse with ordinary sunglasses. The rim is becoming thinner and thinner. I hope that, when totality arrives, the sun will come out from behind the clouds; I hope we will be able to see the corona. Looking at the sky right now, though, the probability of that seems to be about 15%.
The wind is picking up; it’s cooling me and fluttering pages of the journal. Now, there’s just a thin rim of sun on the left side of the disc. It still seems like full daylight, though. One of the neighborhood dogs is barking and howling incessantly.
Now the sun is just a thin, half-circle sliver. I’m surprised at how much light it still sheds, although the heat has gone down. Earlier, I was sweating profusely but not any more. The temperature is quite mild, and a soft breeze soothes the skin of my arms and blows through my hair.
Now, a big, blue patch of sky surrounds the dimming sun. We may get lucky! I have my camera in case there’s a chance to photograph totality.

Sun dancing in the sky
Beginning of totality

The eclipse just passed. I think I got a few pictures of totality, although thin clouds still veiled the sun at the time. For a while, the sun seemed to dance around in the viewfinder. then it settled down to a thin rim with red beads near the bottom, and finally a bright, white signet-ring emerged.

Signet ring.
The end of totality with flare beads

Sun emerging from the moon, cloudy sky

The sun's bright rim on the right side of the moon is nearly covered with clouds. 
Now (~3:00?) huge, dark clouds are coming in from the north, a deep, ominous gray. A fly has fallen into my coffee, the wind is up, firecrackers are crackling the air, and I think I’ll go inside.
Shortly after totality, black clouds covered the emerging sun, and it began to rain after I went into the house. Thank Heavens, we were able to see this eclipse here in Charleston!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Latest Literary Efforts

Mea Culpa
Somehow or other I managed to over-write this blog while trying to do another one about the recent eclipse. The basic problem was that I had two Blogger windows open at the same time and wasn't careful enough about which one I was working on. Lesson #1
Moreover, I had not made  a copy of the post after it was written, because I composed it in the blogger box, as I'm doing now. Note to self: Make copies of all blog posts and keep the copies in a folder. I have lots of folders on my computer and can usually find stuff there, but I trust the online platforms to keep copies of whatever I post. When I tried to back-track and find a copy of the original post, it was all gone. Lesson #2.

Reconstructing a Past Post
So I'll try to reconstruct the poor lost post, which was mostly about books that have come out during the past year. Three new books include a travel booklet, a short-story collection, and an autobiography. Here's a brief look at all three.

Travel Booklet: Russia Revisited

Russia Revisited describes a tour to Ukraine and Russia in 2010, which was a bucket-list trip taken to revisit the European portion of that huge and complex country. The narrative is based on observations written in a journal kept during the trip as well as information from other sources on the history of the places we visited. For those looking for a quick historical overview of Russia and its thousand-year past, this would be a useful, easy-to-read, well illustrated booklet.
That tour took place nearly two decades after an initial backpacking trip across the entire country in 1992, shortly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. That trip began in Irkutsk, Siberia, with a Sierra-Club backpacking group, and continued solo, primarily by train, across the vast expanse of Asian and European Russia to St. Petersburg, Russia's European gateway. I'm still working on a book about that trip, which will include a more comprehensive overview of Russian history.and culture as documented by other western travelers who have visited and written about Russia and the USSR between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.

Short Fiction Collection: Speaking with Strangers

This is my first book of fiction, although several stories in the collection had been published previously in literary magazines. Speaking with Strangers is an eclectic collection of fiction that relates the sorts of unsettling experiences that can happen when we interact with those we don't know or don't understand, including ourselves.

"This is a terrific collection of stories. There is something for everybody in these stories. The characters are vibrant and interesting, and when they're speaking you feel part of the conversation. Family dynamics, the pursuit of career, the serendipitous treasures found in chance conversations - it's all here! You will enjoy this book!!" (reader review, Amazon)

Autobiography: Saving My Life

This autobiography is a synopsis of my life, constructed with the help of journals and photo albums. Saving My Life was written primarily for my children, grandchildren, and close friends, although others might discover something interesting in the complex life of a late twentieth-century "liberated woman" -academic, world traveler, and iconoclast.

"Jo Anne Valentine was born to educated but impoverished parents during the Great Depression, attended grade school during World War II, had an idyllic youth in rural Michigan, and attended college and graduate school, eventually earning a Ph.D. degree in the biomedical sciences. She did research and taught at a time when women experienced considerable difficulties pursuing a scientific career. She was married twice and has three children and six grandchildren. Keenly interested in human culture, she was an avid world traveler, ultimately living abroad for five years in four different countries. This autobiography narrates a complex life replete with setbacks and rewards."


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Russia Revisited

Russia is in our minds a great deal these days, with Trump sidling up to Putin before the election and Putin basically endorsing Trump's presidential candidacy. This can feel both bewildering and frightening. What is it about Russia that has seemed so threatening to Americans for generations?

Russia Revisited asks that question as it delves into a bit of Russian history, spinning a travelogue of a tour to Ukraine and the fabled cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Less frequently visited towns along the northern rivers of Russia, with their Scandinavian heritage, add intrigue to the trip narrative. This is intended as the first in a series of travelogues with the general theme, "Come Take a Tour with Me." Full color illustration illuminate observations and commentary about Russia's history and culture.

The Russian Bear was depicted as a menace to America during much of the twentieth century. A moderate thaw occurred during WWII, while the Soviet Union was an ally. The fear intensified again after the war, as Russia developed nuclear weapons and created an "Iron Curtain" to separate Communist Eastern Europe from the "democratic" countries of Western Europe.

A thaw came with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the replacement of Communist apparatchiks with elected officials. Somehow, though, authoritarian rule seems to have reasserted itself. Why are Russians so susceptible to autocratic governance? How will the new Russia and the new America relate?

Find some answers and enjoy the journey!

This booklet is intended as a teaser for a more serious book on Russia and its history, in progress, hopefully to be published later in the year. In that book, I include stories from fabled Western travelers to Russia, such as the Marquis de Custine and John Steinbeck. I also include journal entries from a back-packing trip taken to the "new" Russia in 1992, along with travel commentary from my parents' two trips to the "old" Soviet Union during the 1970s.