Hot is my favorite time of the year


Until I was an adult, and in the army, I really didn’t know there was much in the way of seasons. In Los Angeles, it’s largely hot most of the year. Yeah, it gets cold, but their idea of cold and what Virginia was like this last year … well, that’s apples and oranges. It was a really, really big deal when it got cold enough to actually freeze the water pipes,which happened once.

This photo is very typical of how Southern California looks.  It was taken during the winter:

Rocky mountains covered by scrubby bushes against a blue sky backdrop
February in California

 

I didn’t even see snow until I was 25, and that was also while I was in the army. It gets cold enough in Los Angeles for snow maybe once every 25 years or so. Maybe.

My first year after I transferred to Washington, DC, we had a blizzard. I’d seen some snow in Washington State, but not a blizzard. I locked my keys in my car while I was trying to shovel snow off it. I got stuck multiple times in the snow (the army said, “Come to work in the snow.”). I had to wear Class B uniforms in the snow, and it wasn’t made to keep warm … exactly how is snow fun?

We had 56″ inches of snow one year, which was a record. People were leaving cars parked in the middle of the street because they got stuck. No one shoveled off the sidewalks, so pedestrians walked on the streets, competing with the cars.  Pedestrian paths on the sidewalks were human foot wide, so it was easy to fall and get snow onto my clothing, which now meant wet and cold. Then my heat went out during the coldest time and I was freezing! Exactly how is this fun?

So by the time I’m nearing the end of winter, I just want it to be warm again, so I can go around in tank tops and shorts and soak up the sun.

Mmmmm. Hot. Sun.

Up angle of palm tree against a blue sky backdrop.
Virginia Beach, VA in June

 

This was from a writing prompt at The Daily Post.

Yes to all women


If you haven’t looked at it, check out the hashtag #Yestoallwomen. It was prompted by the California shootings and the killer’s hatred of women, and it’s shocked a lot of men because they don’t realize what women have to deal with.  From the Washington Post:

The #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign is powerful. And necessary. It tells the stories we keep to ourselves, and it takes back a Twitterverse that is so often used as a space to intimidate, harass and threaten women.

So here’s a few stories that I’m not keeping to myself:

A Girl in School

From elementary school to junior high, I wore shorts underneath my dresses in case the guys got stupid.

In high school, I had to ride the bus to get home every day.  One day, this guy sat next to me and started groping me.  Every time I moved seats, he moved seats.  I had an umbrella, and I hit him with it.  Every passenger on the bus ignored what he was doing. The bus driver ignored it.  I ended up getting off an exit early to get away from him and hoping he wasn’t going to follow me.

A Woman in the Army

During the three day a week physical training session, I ran until I was exhausted.  I didn’t know I had flat feet and arches that dropped, making it ten times harder for me to run.  Yet, according to some of the male soldiers, I was loafing or not trying hard enough.  Yet, it was perfectly okay if the men walked.

After one such run, a male soldier wearing a road guard vest told me , “I can make you run faster.  I’ll put raw meat on your back and set a doberman on you.”  He thought it was pretty funny.

A friend who was a Marine had to put up with sexual harassment from her male Marines.  She told me she couldn’t complain because word would get around that she wasn’t a team player.

She also reported that the women were always harassed about their weight.  They were driven to the point where some had 1% body fat and everyone was always on them about not gaining any weight, even though some were at an unhealthy weight.

A friend came back from deployment broken.  She’d been the only female in her unit, and the men had harassed every single day while she deployed.

Some stories need to be heard.

 

The Lonely Sounds of War


One question everyone always asked me when I got back from Desert Storm was “What was it like?”  It’s a tough question to answer, because there’s so much of it, and it’s hard to convey the sense of it in words.  But The Daily Post had a prompt about doing lists, and since I was practicing writing the sense of sound at a local waterfall, I’m going to do the sounds of war.  But I’m also going to avoid all the usual trappings, like gunfire and artillery.

1.

War is thunder and lightning rolling across the sky. A rumble in the distance, then violent booms. It leaves us worn down, impatient for something to happen. Yet, we dread the moment it will.

2.

War is the silence that comes out with the chill of the night as stars crowd into the sky. It looks like it should be peaceful, but the war is ever present, hiding in the darkness while he waits for us.

3.

War is the two voices drifting past the tent and fading out. People I thought I knew, and people I know too well, and people I don’t know at all, all wrapped up into one. I listen to my voice. Do I even know me any more?

4.

War is suddenness: a boom, a hand holding down a truck horn, anything that sounds like an alarm. We jump up, our senses jarring loose and scattering to the wind. Where’s the danger? What direction is coming from? Has it come for us now?

5.

War is what’s in our voices. It’s what we don’t say, what we don’t talk about. It’s everything but war, what might happen to us. We talk, but we don’t connect any more. It’s like we’re all trying to pretend like this isn’t happening to us.

The latest off the army fashion runway: New Camoflage


The army announced this weekend that it was changing the current Universal Camouflage uniform (which apparently wasn’t).  It’s actually taking a retro direction, using a woodland pattern like the one I wore when I in the army.

These are ones I wore when I was in the army:

The army changed the uniform from the woodland camouflage I wore to a universal camouflage that was supposed to blend in everywhere, but didn’t.

Why is a new military uniform a big deal to the soldier?

For the individual soldier, like the lower enlisted, it’s what they wear every day.  Unlike on Star Trek: The Next Generation, they don’t get to choose a different type of uniform to wear.  Captain Picard would periodically turn up in a different uniform (supposedly because the actor got tired of wearing the same uniform all the time.  Hmm.  Must be nice.  We sure couldn’t do that!).

When I was in, we were initially issued four uniforms that consisted of:

  1. Woodland camouflage pants
  2. Woodland camouflage shirt
  3. Brown cotton t-shirt
  4. Green wool socks
  5. Woodland camouflage field jacket
  6. Woodland camouflage ball hat
  7. Leather boots

After that, we were given a yearly clothing allowance to replace items as they wore out, on in the case of socks, got eaten by the sock monster in the washing machine.  The brown t-shirts tended to get stretched out, and the camouflage uniform parts got threadbare from so much use.  They were all worn at least five days a week, and during Desert Storm, seven days a week.

The problem with #1 and #2 was that if you tore the knee of the pants, you had to replace the entire set, not just the pants.  The washing of the uniform caused it to fade, so you couldn’t wear a faded shirt and new, darker pants.  Everything had to match.

So it can get expensive for the soldier.  But at the same time, it’s something that was worn on a regular basis, so if something didn’t work right, it was a frustrating experience — and only a daily basis.  That was the case with the black beret.

When the military uniform doesn’t work

In 2000, right before I got out, General Shinseki decided to change the ball hat to a black beret.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s the same guy who’s in charge in the Veteran’s Administration now.

Most of the soldiers hated the beret because it wasn’t very practical.  The ball cap was easy to put on, and when you took it off, you could fold it in thirds and stick it in your cargo pocket.  It also was made of the same material as the rest of the uniform, so it could be thrown in the washing machine.

The beret, though, was wool and had a hard band around the rim.  It was hard to put on and get positioned right, and it didn’t really work well being stuffed in a pocket.  Then there’s pesky problem about it needing dry cleaning.  Do you know hot and sweaty a hat can get?

It was like senior officers got all excited about making changes and forgot that people actually had to wear it in environments where it was impractical.

So why is a uniform change important to the leadership?

Changes to the uniform usually happen when the very senior leaders want to make their mark on the military.  A uniform change is a very simple, but very visible change because everyone can see it.

Unfortunately, the senior leaders usually make the change right before they retire, so they can have the glory of the change, but not deal with the problems the change causes.  I almost think this is a requirement for the officers to do — both my company commander and battalion commander volunteered my unit for extra duties in Desert Storm right before they changed command!

Sometimes it’s easy to fix something that isn’t broken and ending up breaking it instead.

Turtles in Pollen (Photo)


Turtles sun themselves on a pond

Today is World Turtle Day, so I’d thought I’d share a photo of some local turtles.  This was taken at the Mason District Park in Annandale, where they have a man-made pond with lily pads, turtles, and even a bullfrog, which I’ve seen, but I’ve sure heard.

I admit it — I’m fascinated by turtles.  They’re one of the few critters that I can watch for a while and just take in the peacefulness of the place around me.   They don’t seem at all bothered by the humans gawping at them, like the two kids who wandered up and squealed at them while I was taking this.

The green dust floating on the surface of the pond is pollen.  It’s not all that bad; last week the turtles were covered with it, too!

Visiting a war memorial the first time after war


Sometimes, immediately following war, little things can have an unexpectedly profound effect. Pretty much everywhere now that I go, there’s a veteran’s memorial of some kind. Even when I take a drive trip down to Richmond, Virginia, I can find a small war memorial at a rest stop.

But in 1991, that wasn’t the case. People were just peeling away the layers of the onion about the Vietnam War. Shows like Magnum PI, The A Team, and Airwolf explored veterans after the war, and China Beach and Tour of Duty explored the war itself.

In 1982, the Vietnam Memorial, or “The Wall,” in Washington, DC was completed.  Washington State followed that up with their own memorial, completed in 1987.

So I’d actually never been to one before Desert Storm.

Nor did I plan to go to one. It was purely accidental, but maybe fate has some things happen for when they do and for a reason.

Washington State Vietnam Memorial

Olympia, the Capitol of Washington, was about twenty miles from Fort Lewis. I could say I liked the city and the sites, but the truth was that it was far enough away from the military that I could escape.

The state Capitol is located on a patch of land called a “campus.” The first time I went there I thought it was a school, but I suppose it’s no stranger than a “mall,” which is what the area around the U.S. Capitol is called.

I was just sort of wandering, and I followed the sidewalk to see where it would take me. This black wall came into view. Though I’d never seen The Wall at Washington, DC, I knew immediately this was a war memorial similar to that. This wall had a designed crack on the left side and was surprisingly small.

As I crossed an invisible boundary, it felt like a thousand voices whispered to me at once, “Welcome.” Then they fell silent, but their presence still made the air shiver.

And I looked at the wall, at the names listed, and my eyes went right to one name that jumped out at me.

It was a woman.

I left the memorial feeling both connected to my brothers and sisters at arms, and shaken because it was a very visual reminder. It could have happened to me.


Over 40,000 women were deployed to Desert Storm.  Fifteen didn’t come home.

Writing with the Caterpillars


Spring in the Washington, DC area is a glorious thing.  Everything’s green and pretty, and the temperature is in the right place to be able to sit out and soak up all that sun.  So I usually go outside during lunch at work, especially to get out of being in the building all day.

We have a nice area with some trees and grass. Sometimes I work on critiques, sometimes I write, sometimes I read, and I always do a short walk. There are three or four picnic tables under the trees, and I share these with the green and black caterpillars and the occasional white spider.

I don’t know why, but the caterpillars like to crawl on the table. I’m usually picking the table because there are not as many caterpillars on it. The green ones are very tiny and almost a Day-Glo green. They move by hunching up their middle and then will periodically raise half their body to look around or smell the air.

The black ones are more of the problem. They have so many legs that they look fuzzy. They’re about two inches long, and they crawl everywhere. I’ll be sitting at the table and have to keep an eye out for them as I write because they don’t seem bothered by this big person sitting at the table. They’ll crawl right under my arms as I write, or along the bench I’m sitting. Even I’m not exempt! I’ve suddenly looked down and realized they’re headed for me, or they’ve found my notepad interesting.

One of the things I don’t like about being a writer is that a computer — my general tool of writing — comes with an inherent office environment, and sometimes I really need to get away from that. A notepad is a good tool for that, even if I get to share it with a few caterpillars.

China Beach: A Voice for Women Coming Home From War


Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to see books and TV and movies that represented me. I grew up reading books from the library that were for boys because there were few books for girls, and what there was consisted of nurse romances. If a girl was in a boy story, there was often only one girl, and the rest of the characters were boys.

Even today, the problem still exists. I can buy a book with a woman protagonist, and she’s the only woman in the cast — and it’s written by a woman. Clive Cussler writes a book with a cast of 100, and maybe there’s 1 or 2 women.

Many TV shows are like this as well, with women being added because the network told the producers they needed to (Law and Order) or one woman who feels almost like an afterthought. Even Star Trek, which was about using diverse people, ended up with a cast of 9 for Next Generation and only three were women. One was for eye candy, and the other two got frustrated with the development of their roles and left. One returned, but the other did not.

But when I came home from Desert Storm, I had an intense craving for something that represented me, and not just something that appealed to men.

And I wanted one more thing: It to be about war.

China Beach Ties to Desert Shield and Desert Storm

China Beach was a unique TV series in that it was about women and war. It was set in a hospital during the Vietnam War and boasted a cast that was pretty close to 50-50 on the gender scale. The show had premiered in 1988, two years before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and every military woman I knew was watching it.

But it was almost like the show’s timing framed our war. When we deployed in October of 1990, we stayed our first night at a truck port (like a car port, only a lot bigger) at the waterfront. Things were very confused at chaotic. We had no sense of place, of exactly where we were. This was just somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and we were like “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” in Airwolf. We didn’t have amnesia, but we knew someone was going to be trying to kill us–though how, we didn’t know, or when.

It was as if our connection to the world had been snipped.

At first light, we got up. After the long flights and long nights, we were like zombies marching off to the showers. A friend and I followed the crowd down to the waterfront, and we stopped dead in our tracks when we saw the showers.

Then we both turned to each, forming exactly the same thought, and exclaimed, “China Beach!”

It that moment, it solidified the fact that we hadn’t just stepped off into the Twilight Zone and vanished.

Other things soon popped up. We didn’t have the internet in those days, and TV was limited to CNN in a tent. So our only connection to the outside world was the mail (which I wasn’t getting anything of) and the radio. The military radio station struggled to find music that would appeal to us and ended up playing songs from the 1970s, and from the Vietnam War.

I remember sitting in a cargo container we used for an office and listening to Janis Joplin as we marched ominously toward the ground war.

Coming Home to China Beach

Maybe the ending of Desert Storm had contributed to the cancelation before the series could finish it up its final season. But by the time I returned from Saudi Arabia, it went into reruns locally, so I could see it every night. The timing for me couldn’t have been better.

I devoured it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I even taped the episodes and watched some of them over and over again. When I did a driving trip, I bought a China Beach audio tape and listened to the music. I’d heard nearly all the same music during Desert Storm.

I don’t know. Maybe watching China Beach in reruns was like a decompression of sorts from Desert Storm that I wasn’t getting anywhere. Maybe it plugged into the underlying anger that I felt when I came back. Maybe it helped me pull back from the extreme of war back to business as usual.

Over time, the show disappeared from the airwaves entirely, and all I had left was the videos. I don’t recall when, but I gradually stopped watching the videos. I guess I didn’t need them as much.

But after video tape went away, I started to want the show again. It would be 24 years.

China Beach Today

While other shows came out in the “new” technology of DVD, China Beach remained elusive. One of the major pieces of the show was the music, but music rights have waylayed many shows and movies. But it also turned out to be the most requested show people wanted on DVD, so it was released earlier this year with most of the music intact. I know that cost a fortune!

I wasn’t really sure what I expected when I got the first two DVDs (I was cheap; I didn’t buy the full set for $200. I waited until they came out individually for $20). But time has changed me from 24 years ago. I’m not devouring it. The writing is still top notch, but I can only watch one episode, and then I have to stop for a while.

Perhaps that’s the way it should be now. War is a very strange things. There’s nothing like it.

Kindness in Washington, DC is an infrequent thing


After being in Washington, DC for a number of years, the one thing that’s struck me is that city is conceited and arrogant. Maybe it’s that political climate, but every person seems to be in it for him, or her, self, and anyone else is only a means to get to the goal, or in the way. I see this every day:

  • People drive like they’re the only one who is important. They will drive up a line of cars waiting to get off the freeway and force their way in, or immediately speed up if you even look like you’re thinking of changing lanes.
  • Customer service is nearly non-existent in a lot of places, as if the stores just want to take your money and push you out the door.
  • The DC government focuses so much on making money from parking tickets that if makes me wonder if they even like business.

So it’s was a surprise to me when a stranger came up and not only helped me, but everyone else who was around.

We’d just had a big snow storm that dumped 8 inches on the city. The DC area is never very well-equipped to handle it, and any sign of snow is immediately followed by school closures, government closures, and maybe federal government closures.

Snowy covered street
This is what we usually look like after a snow storm

The sun came out and brightened up the day, making the snow pretty and sparkly, at least for a little while. The people came out with the sun, all bundled and trudging out to see how bad their cars were.

My looked like a snow covered mound, and I began clearing it off. It was still cold enough that my breath came out in little clouds.

Then this Indian guy bounces up and starts helping me clear the snow. I’d never seen him before. In a short time, we got the car cleared off, I thanked him, and then he bounced off to help the next person. I sat in my car, letting it warm up, and watched as he went around the parking lot and helped anyone who was cleaning the car.

He didn’t have to do that, and it was nice that he did.  It’s a shame that Washington, DC seems to be losing even basic kindness.

This is a prompt from The Daily Post.

If writers ruled the world


Daily Post’s writing prompt is “You’ve been given the superpower to change one law of nature. How do you use it?”

That’s a dangerous topic for a writer. We live for coming up with stuff like that and then showing how it can go disastrously wrong, and this is particularly true in science fiction and fantasy where rules can be changed for the story. Like:

Them!

Them was one my early favorite movies.  It starred James Whitmore, James Arness, and Fess Parker. It’s set in Los Angeles, and man’s dealings with radioactivity (this was the 1950s, when atomic power was new) creates giant killer ants. The army has to stop the ants before they start breeding.  The last part of the movie is set in the Los Angeles River, which is a concrete river that runs through the city.

Star Trek: The Original Series

In the episode Charlie X, a 3-year old boy is stranded on a planet, and the well-meaning inhabitants give him the ability to do, well, pretty much anything with magic powers.  He grows into a teenager who has never been socialized, and is just coming into things like attraction for girls. There’s one scene in it that still creeps me out, where a woman loses her face because Charlie gets angry at her.  Charlie ends up unable to be a part of society and goes back to live on the planet, alone.

Hopscotch by Kevin J. Anderson

In Hopscotch, a science fiction novel in the near future, people can change bodies. Sort of like an extreme form of plastic surgery. Imagine if you lost your body and didn’t know where it was. It was like the ultimate vanity, and yet, the ultimate destruction of society.

Green Rider Series by  Kristen Britain

The Green Rider series is one of my favorite book series right now. Karigan, the main character, ends up becoming a Green Rider, though she doesn’t want to, and gets the power of invisibility. An additional function of that power is time travel, which is very dangerous to her body.

Stargate SG-1

This was a long running science fiction TV series starring Richard Dean Anderson.  In “Window of Opportunity,” a grieving widower finds a device that can go back in time, so he decides to use it to relive his time with his wife. The only problem is the device puts time in a repeating loop. While the grieving scientist tries to fix it, the heroes of our story are caught in a day that keeps repeating itself. This is a fabulously written episode and well worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

Writers always dream about superpowers and how they can break. It’s more fun that way.