Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nearly Packed

In fact, the packing started two weeks ago. I have this thing about having my daily pills readily accessible. Snack sized zip lock bags are key. One bag, morning pills. One bag, bedtime pills. Quart bag, all morning or all evening pills, and marked AM or PM. Then more snack bags hold a daily ration of instant coffee with sugarless cocoa mix, tucked into another quart bag. Just add water, take with morning pills, and I'm ready for the road.

Well, clothes and shower - not in that order - help too.

I pack my pill packs for a few extra days. Then I can pack all the bottles into a 2-gallon zip lock bag a couple days ahead of time. This way I don't obsessively stay awake at night mentally making sure I didn't forget them. And if something delays us, there are still enough pill packs to meet the unexpected need. If they aren't needed, I just use them the first couple days home while we're busy dealing with the chaos of unpacking, getting mail, unpacking, starting gas, unpacking, doing laundry, unpacking.

Hey, I did say chaos. I hate chaos. I've found I'm happier if I can anticipate and deal with problems before they arise. That way there's energy left to deal with the mundane, as well as the stuff nobody can anticipate. So: the pills are packed already.

Then, being me, there are the lists. Even after camping, crossing the country or whatever so many times, there are still the lists. The to-do list is getting checked off, piece by piece. Day before yesterday it was all about wrapping the pictures we left on the walls on previous trips due to lack of room in the hatchback and higher priority items going. Two months ago (!) I bought two rolls of brown paper with the idea of wrapping and combining pictures into packages of two or even three if the frames nested, so all frames at least have a good chance of arriving unscratched. I've been staring at the two rolls sitting in the living room, but finally got around to the wrapping on Monday.

A separate line item was putting all those pictures in the back of the hatch. Paul obliged last night, hot and sticky-sweaty as it was. Yes, he's quite the son, earning every bite of the chocolate ice cream we're leaving behind uneaten.

The ice cream never made the packing list. There is plenty of food on it, all staples so we don't need a cooler. And yes, portioned and bagged. What those don't cover, McDonalds will. Or Wendy's with its great salads. Or....

Another set of items on the to-do list was visiting those folks up here in Minnesota that we mostly won't see for 9 months unless they manage to find the cold so repulsive and their budget so flexible that they can come down and visit us in Arizona. These involved two trips and two bonfires in the back yard. Done, done, done, and done. Oh, and taking one person 50 miles to her see her Minneapolis surgeon because she is not allowed to put any kind of load on one foot and thus can't drive. It's a great time for conversation.

Then there was the shopping, the cleaning including laundry, the putting away so Paul get's his house back the way it was before we arrived, We even cleaned out the inside of the RV so we have our camping gear in the basement and he can get rid of the RV and gain another parking spot on the driveway. A couple last fishing trips got onto the list, but scratched when Steve got a really nasty cold. (Of course he breathed on me, so I'm anticipating my own about the day we start the trip and need to cover 600 miles.  Whee.)

Ellie got groomed so she doesn't have heatstroke on returning to Arizona. A side benefit is she's so much more cuddly when shorn, combining body heat to cope with the AC. Once it grows out half an inch, I'll have to hunt around to locate her.

Some things need to wait until just before to be done and/or packed. Electronics needs to be first charged, then packed. Chargers made the list separately. We discovered years ago that this was necessary. Once this posting is done and the charging light on the laptop says green, off it goes into the suitcase. I backed it up last night. Check. Cameras are ready to go. Cells and Kindles are either charged or near enough to take us into the car where the cigarette lighter sports a charger with the proper fitting. Well, except Steve's cell has a weird one and needs to be charged in the motels.

Speaking of, those reservations were made a couple weeks ago. Then changed for one night after we found a better route, shorter and more scenic both, but refunds are easy in advance. Motel 6, we love/hate you. Love for the price, decent accessibility, ubiquity, and tolerance of dogs. Hate for sometimes noisy rooms, small beds, and poor climate control. We don't even try to have breakfast in, even when they claim they offer one,  but there is always an Egg McMuffin nearby.

All the little packages and boxes got put in the car last night. Water bottles and plants too. Yes, it's a whole day ahead of leaving. But now all that's needed is that last carry-on - or is it carry-in for motels? - with clothing and toiletries. I knew that I, at least, would want a whole day to rest my knees as much as possible before tackling that first/worst day of driving. There will be a plethora of stops to "exercise" the dogs, all of which involve somebody hanging onto leashes, keeping them from peeing on each other if possible, and always in the farthest corner of the rest area away from the people facilities.

Hey, we love being spoiled by having a fenced back yard at both ends of our snowbirding travels.

Now, we actually find ourselves thinking about - heresy! - a time in the future when there will be no dogs to travel with. It seems like a perfect time to drive up into Alaska on our trip between "home" states.

But right now it's time to finish packing everything and load the car so there's time to relax. I plan to fall into the car hassle-free by 7AM. And have a worry-free night's sleep.

As if.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What If... ?

It is a fascinating experience to attend a secular women's conference. To most of the attendees, at least the ones who spoke up about it, secular translates to atheist. Technically it also includes people who identify as humanist, even agnostic. I count myself in the latter category. I strongly support resisting any attempt to assume everyone in this country is Christian, and that any part of our government should incorporate that or any religion. Choose your own religion, fine with me. Just don't shove it down my throat, thank you very much.

There was more table talk today, keeping me on site way longer than my role required. But one piece of it is still rattling around in my head as part of a conversation with a staunch atheist.

The context was in a discussion of various people's paths out of religiousness and into atheism.  The peripheral issue dealt with an inability to separate one part of her Roman Catholic upbringing from the whole of it: this one part was unbelievable so for her the whole was too. It was a logic thing rather than a validity of her unbelief, at least as she explained her journey. Not that she had noticed it. Rather, I brought it to her attention as it reminded me of another conversation I had participated in recently. It also involved someone not being able to separate out one piece of a religious belief from the whole theology, though this time not their own religion.

In this other case, the topic was about reincarnation. A woman who was known to all parties in the discussion had a very interesting experience under hypnosis. She "regressed" to a time when - she said - she was a member of the French court during the time of Marie Antoinette. While hypnotized, she came up with a lot of details about what daily life was like then. Plus she spoke in a language that resembled French but was mostly unrecognizable.

Note that she had never been particularly interested in this time of  history. Nor had she even studdied French. Like most of us, she probably knew a handful of words gleaned from menus and war movies, nothing more.

The whole experience was so remarkable that she was hypnotized again, this time while being recorded. This was then taken to experts on the history of the time, who validated the "day in the life" details, and a linguist who was an expert of the version of French that was spoken back then. He also validated that she was speaking perfectly for that time, something that even had she been exposed to modern French, she would not have known.

All this was taken as validation of reincarnation by at least some of those present hearing of her experience. I personally found it fascinating as a possibility. It raised a lot of questions, of course. If one can accept just the possibility of it happening, then have the rest of us had past lives? Could those be reached through hypnosis? Where/when might I have lived before?

One in the group got hung up on reincarnation because he was unable to separate it from the whole religious theology surrounding it. He thought that to accept reincarnation, one also had to accept that we came back as bugs, as animals, that present lives determined our next one and whether we would be rewarded or punished by a better/worse existence, and that our ultimate goal was nirvana, or a complete lack of existence. Since he didn't find any sense in all the surrounding ideas, then for him there was no possibility of reincarnation existing. And if it did, it must be for the reasons as put forth by the religion.

It couldn't just simply be.

I, on the other hand, find it quite easy to look at one particular piece of a theology without that automatically requiring the validation of all the other ideas put forth. What if... we really had souls? What if... there was some kind of afterlife? What if... some kind of consciousness could inhabit another body at some point before/after inhabiting the current one?

In other words, what if many or most of the world's religions are just a little bit right? What if those religions get most of it wrong, but each has just a wee bit of the picture, all of us being blind men touching a tiny piece of the elephant or the dung heap left behind it?

As fascinating as those questions are to me, do not confuse them with my belief in any of them. Just because I find the ideas fascinating does not not mean I propose any "TRUTH" in any of them. I'm just saying I can conceptualize the separation of different pieces of any particular theology - or philosophy, if you will - from the whole body of thought that has grown up around them. I could, for example, disbelieve in the virgin birth and still find validity in the Golden Rule.

One thing I do firmly believe is that no one of us can know what the truth is on any of these questions. Not while we are alive. Perhaps not afterwards either. I'm just saying we can speculate, piecemeal.

Of course, in a rollicking tabletop discussion, those subtle points of the argument are difficult to articulate. Apparently my point got missed. Let's return to the conversation with our atheist who abandoned her Catholicism, in fact all religion, due to finding a flaw with one piece of it. I was trying to use the other example as a way of de-linking one idea from the whole, not that I had any problem with her conclusions. This was just about the how of the process, not my judgment on its value.

First, the point she verbalized was that reincarnation didn't exist.

OK, no argument from me. I can't prove it does or doesn't. That's why I'm agnostic. But just for imagination's sake, what if it did? That didn't mean it came with all the rest of the baggage about karma.

Well, she just didn't believe in reincarnation. She wasn't going to go down the "what if..." road. After all, if reincarnation were real, without karma, then what was the point of it? What was it for?

I wasn't about to try pointing out the irony of an atheist demanding there be a point to existence in order to believe in existence. Even if that existence was a possible different one than this one.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Table Talk

OK, my presentation for today was over, questions and answers lingering as several of us walked to the elevator and ultimately to lunch. One of the women kept with me, several points left that she wanted to make. Flattering! Somebody was interested beyond the hour (plus 10 minutes) on the topic.

Her point at the moment was some positive feedback on my making the point I had about wardrobe as part of our non-verbal communication. I had stated that if we show a lot of cleavage, a lot of thigh, do the whole big makeup thing, we will be seen as "sexy" and while perhaps being drooled over, we will be discounted as people, particularly people of value. Being the activists the attendees are, we're trying to be perceived as the kind of people who have things to say worth listening to. I gave the Hillary Clinton pant suit as an example of wardrobe choice that tells others we mean business, have status, and come with something to say. What my participant particularly resonated with was when I stressed that it didn't matter whether it should be this way. We needed to realize that this is how it is.

My knees being what they are, I interjected that I needed to sit down at the nearest table while we continued the conversation. One by one, we collected a full table of folks as they filtered back to the main hall after their workshops ended.

The first to join us apparently knew the one who had been talking to me from previous encounters at the conference. They started right in on the "do you know _____ (from your area, in your field of activism)?" As they went on, I suddenly realized that the woman who had joined us was trans, and active in that field.

OK, suddenly the table just got really interesting, a place to stay and listen rather than a resting point on the way to lunch. I also took the opportunity to subtly look her over and see if there were any cues I'd missed, visual or otherwise, to tell me she had once been other than just who I'd initially assumed she was. I plead ignorance: to my knowledge, I have never met a trans person of either gender. Till now. Should I have noticed something which in the future could help me keep my foot out of my mouth?

Nope. She was, quite simply, just another woman at the conference, albeit with a unique slant on some of the issues. Or, maybe, not all that unique. I could be referring to my inability to challenge her self-professed identity, not that I'd be so inclined, but as it turned out, I was following the conversation where several of us for various reasons had experienced going out and finding a different doctor who met our specific needs and medical philosophies better.

Heck, for a while I entertained myself at the notion that even my parents would have been perfectly at home in that conversation, as much as they discussed medical stuff. Well, at home for a while, anyway.

The next woman who joined us had much to say about the negative aspects of adoption. That came out of a comment about religion in hospitals and how it affects decisions like dealing with unwanted pregnancies. No, adoption wasn't the obvious "good" alternative to abortion, and she raised many points out of her personal experience as an adoptee. A closed adoption prevented her from researching medical issues, including vital ones affecting her kids which may have a genetic link. Also, she had the luck - you decide which kind - to have religious parents who kept reminding her how grateful she should feel because "you could have been aborted." Discussion morphed into ones around foster care, parental rights, the market value around the world of different classes of adoptable children, including race, nationality, age, gender, health.

Her comment about a vacation to visit her family who now lived in Alaska led to a variety of travel talk. Did you see...? How did you get to ...? How long did you take to go ...? Topics ranged from one woman who rode her motorcycle to the conference over three days, coming from one of the Carolinas, and how her route and schedule were affected by weather, to the color of grizzlies in Alaska, to the grandchildren of Sara Palin and how much shaming is coming the family's way from the religious Right.

Lunch was served, and when we returned to the table we were joined by yet another woman who started a conversation on pros, cons, and varieties of home schooling, who had done it and why. There are even geographic differences in what kind of home schools are developed. Here in Minnesota the vast majority are started for religious reasons, particularly by parents who think there is not enough religious instruction in the curriculum. In southern states, at least as represented by the women around the table, more home schools  are started to get away from religious curriculum in the schools, including its incursion into the sciences.

And so it went, topic to topic, different slants on them depending on whom you listened to. Now, Steph, I do not in any way belittle all the work, planning, organization, and what-all that you put into making this conference work. And not just because I was/will be a part of the program. But the table talk may well have been the best part of it!

Unexpected Result

They said it wouldn't happen. Oh, that ubiquitous they. But this time, even though they were the experts, I got a different result. A better one.

We're talking about my old laptop. Not former. Just old. It's an Apple MacBook. I've had it for several years, bought at a store which refurbished a bunch of them after the school who had gotten them for its students had already declared them too old, too outdated.

But at $400, not too cheap. Not for me.

There's a whole lot of stuff I don't do on a computer, so this one was just fine. All except for one tiny thing. Since it's called a laptop, that's exactly how I use it: sitting in my recliner with it open across my lap.

It gets hot. Painfully, red-mark, hot. Particularly on bare legs. And the fan that's supposed to come on and blow out the hot air and bring in the cool worked only intermittently.

I had a plan. Since we were heading back to Minnesota for the summer, where I knew where to find Apple stores, I'd drop it off for fan replacement. Maybe just fan heat sensor replacement. After all, who knows how the innards work?

On a side note, Paul had bought the same laptop for himself before I left for Arizona. It was that or stick with the old I-Mac with the hemisphere base and the adjustable neck holding up the screen. Re-e-e-eally old. But I showed him there was a reasonably priced alternative out there, and gave him driving directions.

His got much more use than mine, being often used for gaming, and predictably his broke down earlier this summer. With the used Apple store having gone out of business not so long before, his option was to buy a new, more up-to-date MacBook Air. ($ ouch!) And because it was his hard drive that died, and it contained expensive games and tax data, etc., he also paid to recover the info. ( $$ double ouch!)

When it was all over, together we owned a functioning but overheating laptop and what was essentially a collection of parts.

At the Apple store, I got my own bad news. My laptop was so-o-o-o old that they didn't even have replacement parts for it anywhere. Nor could it be fixed. And by the way, where it overheated, the far left corner, was in fact the location of the fan itself. Talk about irony. I did pick up the data back-up appliance, in case I wound up with a paperweight hard drive like Paul's.

So Paul had an idea. Why don't we just put my hard drive in his old laptop? Everything else worked in his, and it was a simple substitution. So we did, and his fan worked just fine.

For a while, anyway.

I'm back to using my laptop in short bursts, but that's not the story here.

The battery in his laptop was having its own near death experience. He never noticed because he only used it while plugged in. My habit of use was to plug it in after using, or if the low charge warning window popped up. I went from a couple hours of use to 15 minutes. Oh, and by the way, it booted up really, really slowly.

Since we had interchangeable parts now, I took the battery from my old laptop and switched them. (OK, really Rich did.) And I thought I noticed that the very long booting process had improved just a bit. I hadn't actually timed it, but it was certainly less frustrating. Further, since I had by now gotten fairly paranoid about whether my new combo laptop would develop the same problems, or rather, how long it might be before it actually did, I ordered a new replacement battery. (Under $17, eBay.)

Heck, that was so simple that even I could install that myself! Well, after finding out that it really did fit my computer and the actual problem was that I just wasn't pushing it in quite right. But it did work.

I had the foresight to wait until I was done with my workshop prep and printing, just in case the new battery needed hours to charge up or something. Which it did.

So this morning I booted it up for the first time since installing and charging the new battery. You wanna guess what? Yep, it was back to its  former speedy booting-up time.

They were wrong!

I feel so much better now. Maybe it's time to start finding out how to use ....

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Musings On Lobbying

I never thought of myself as a lobbyist. So when Steph asked me to be a member of a panel on "Lobbyists Are People Too", I wondered just what the heck I might have to contribute. We're talking this weekend, for Pete's sake. Telling her, "Yes," was both an act of faith in her ability to put a whole conference together and an inspiration to start thinking about the topic.

When I think of somebody I'd label a lobbyist, I think of folks on K Street in Washington DC who pull down 6 or 7 figure salaries to convince legislators who were recently their coworkers to write legislation favorable to their bosses' cause, and not to mine. After all, anybody who could afford to shell out that kind of money to get a spokesperson with access to the ears of the powerful couldn't possibly have a public service agenda, right? So that's not me. Never has been me. Never want it to be me (though the salary sounds good!). Not too likely to be you either, eh?

So what could I have to contribute to the discussion? It's way to easy to demonize those big buck guys, but the panel is about exactly the opposite. The broad scope of the workshop is about activism, and lobbying is a tactic to be encouraged, not demonized.

As I thought about it, I suddenly realized that every one of us has been a lobbyist.  We started as soon as we were able to say, "Mommy, I want a cookie." As we grew, we lobbied for toys, later curfew hours, pay raises, lower prices on that new car.

Who knew?

Of course that didn't bring in the 7-figure paychecks, but as we practiced, we at least did get cookies... some of the time.

My twelve years in city politics brought me experiences of both sides of lobbying. People came to the council to lobby for their own particular cause, whether a neighborhood dispute, a complaint about taxes or services,  a change in an ordinance or just a variance to exempt themselves from it. Sometimes they made sense, sometimes they didn't. The best results came when we paused long enough to examine the issue from multiple sides: Who benefits? Does the city's tax base increase? Are more or fewer people likely to want to live or grow their business here as a result? What are health and safety outcomes?

Our biggest lobbyists were the developers who inevitably were trying to persuade us to allow them the absolutely cheapest way to build the most housing on the smallest spaces for their maximum profits. We paused long enough to review and change ordinances, consult with our attorney and engineer to find out what was or wasn't legal, what standards were enforced throughout the state.

We had a lot of experience saying, "No."

In my many roles  with the city, I also became the designated lobbyist on behalf of the city in the attempt to achieve some of our own goals. Small towns have fewer resources, and in several instances we negotiated joint powers contracts with our neighbors for improved services. Five of us came together to set annexation boundaries so new territory came into whichever city, depending on their location rather than the property owner's random choice. A different set of communities combined forces, this time including  the County, to find locations for, choose designs for, and help manage three new libraries.

On both sides of any of the issues, it was my experience that the best decisions were the fairest for all, and based on openly examining the issues involved rather than reacting to the person presenting the case. We had to learn to look past the grumpy town drunk to decide whether his signs or apartment building standards fit esthetic or safety codes. Conversely, our best buddy might want to put on an improvement that would prevent firemen access in an emergency. We needed to understand that developers always plead poverty and hardship when all they really wanted was faster cheaper construction, and once completed, they would be on to another community and we would be left living with the results. It could be hard at times to remain objective when they let us know that we were simple country hicks who couldn't possibly understand zoning issues and building codes, and who ought to simply be grateful that someone as important as they were would even think of helping us improve our little out-of-the-way corner of the world.

I do admit that strategy did have a certain amount of entertainment value, even as we disabused them of their notions of who we were. Often, they were already invested in a good chunk of land, and were stuck with us. We had no problem with instituting a moratorium while researching the options.

But we all made the best progress with whichever issue was on the table when we at least faked respect for the other side, listened, gave civil feedback, and kept to the many facets of the issue at hand. We may have thought the other was greedy, rude, inept, stubborn, craven, ignorant, or whatever. We treated them with respect, no matter how low our real opinion of them was. We were darn sure that their own opinions of themselves were nowhere near as low, just as ours of ourselves weren't as low as they likely thought us.

And, back to the workshop, this is where my other topic for presentation comes into play: assertiveness in communication. Barring outright bribery or other corruption, the best results come from using it, regardless of which side of lobbying one is on. It involves respecting the other, making "I" statements (I need ..., I want ..., I/we believe the benefits of ... will be ....) rather then "you" statements (You should ..., you think that..., you are...). Finally, assertive communication involves listening, opening up the situation to an actual dialogue, enabling all parties to get the full picture, then act on the best knowledge.

And hey, I still want that cookie!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Amazon.com Algorithms: FAIL

Those of you who know me well know that I have a library. The only possible way to locate a wanted book, or make sure whether you already own a copy before buying something that strikes your eye (yep, that's happened), is to arrange and then list them alphabetically by author. At least that covers the fiction parts of the library. Reference books get organized by topic: field guides, hobbies, maps, dictionaries, etc.

Yesterday I decided to see what was new from a couple of my/our favorite authors. I wasn't ready to buy yet, being so close to relocating back down southwest, but I was curious. I found a couple book lists sites, but when they decided I liked them too much, and wanted me to log in, I switched over to Amazon.com. I just have a thing about giving my personal information out to too many places. Amazon already knows me.

Well.

Really really well, and not just for books, but anything ranging from a rare hard-to-find cheese to a rain gauge with the holder of the collecting tube in the form of a frog with a fishing pole.

I started to find an annoying result when I typed an author's name into their internal search engine. Not only did that author's works pop up, but works by other writers did as well. They didn't even have to be in the same genre.

I'm already used to the feature "if you bought that you'll like these too" that they put at the end of their pages. Sometimes I look them over, sometimes not. The point is that they are separated, and I don't need to wade through them unless I'm interested at the moment. But frequently, by the fourth or fifth result in my search, some other author's work pops up. I don't even realize it right away, as frequently the author's name is very hard to read in the thumbnail photo of the book cover next to the description. I get excited that "my" author offers a new read, only to find out after wasting a minute or two that it's a completely different author. The more prolific "my" author is, the more authors I search about, the more annoying those erroneous selections become.

Let me give just one simple example. After several authors with rapidly increasing book lists, on impulse I decided to check whether Amy Tan had more than the three books I already own. Yes, she has, good to know, I'll make plans later to acquire them. But the fourth selection on their list was a book by Nevada Barr!

Now, her Anna Pigeon books are an OK read when I'm in the right mood. She writes a special kind of mystery that I enjoy occasionally, but usually not strongly enough to stock my own library with copies to read again sometime later. The juxtaposition of a Barr mystery with Chinese cultural fiction was a complete non-sequitur to me. I found it annoying.

In fact, I was annoyed enough to stop searching Amy Tan and instead search Amazon.com to find out how to lodge a complaint. Half a dozen clicks later - they don't make it easy, wanting to be sure that you really want to complain before they bother to read it - I was presented with an email form with a limited space to state my issue.

Yes, that's always a challenge. I'm sure you've noticed. It's why I don't use Twitter. If it can be said in 140 characters, why bother?

After sending in my complaint about irrelevant search results, citing the Tan/Barr combo as just one example, I went on to other things. They said I should hear back in 12-24 hours.

It took less time than that, and the answer was formulated with enough stock phrases that I wondered if a human actually responded or it was computer generated. They were sorry etc. etc. They did offer a very specific web address where I could get only Amy Tan's books. Since she only has 5 out, it would take me longer to copy/paste the 40 or 50 characters in the URL than it already had to sort through the original search results. They hadn't sent me the info in a link, I might add. I already had the particular info on Amy Tan's latest, and their fastening on that tiny piece of my complaint rather than the bigger picture picture of how it happens all the time really annoyed me.

I shot back a reply to their reply: "Amy Tan is just one example. It happens with EVERY search by author. I shouldn't have to know how to get so specific with each author I search out. You should be set up so my search gives accurate results and doesn't throw in the proverbial kitchen sink!!!!! If I wanted a kitchen sink, I'd search for it.  (And not expect to find bathtubs and countertops.)"

I'm awaiting  further contact.

A Scream for Help

I don't understand cutting very well. I've never been in a place in my life where it might have seemed the thing to do. When I was going through my roughest teen years it wasn't even something I'd ever heard of. much less imagined. I do think I know two things about it now, however. First, it's not an actual suicide attempt, but rather a cry for help, a last resort for someone who needs another, more powerful human being in (usually her) life to see them and help them.  Second, it's a way, amidst all the pain in this person's young life over which they have no control whatsoever, to gain some illusion of control, even if it's to inflict pain onto themselves in order to temporarily distract from the overwhelming pain that is uncontrollable.

Today a phone call brought the news that a young girl of my acquaintance is in the psych ward of an area hospital after cutting herself on her legs, arms, and breast, including cutting the words "kill me" on one arm.

I'm going to tell some of what I know of her story, while maintaining what I can of her privacy. I'll call her "Missy", simply to indicate her youth and gender. It is nothing like her actual name.

I first met a member of her extended family back in the early 80s, some time after returning to Minnesota following my divorce. In the intervening years, I have had occasional contact with various members of her extended family, perhaps on a holiday or birthday, an afternoon picnic with a charcoal grill out on the lawn, maybe a funeral. Missy has not so much been seen as she has been the changing school photo on the shelf and a brief subject among many subjects of family news. What I know and tell of her life is very much from the outside, the onlooker piecing the bits together.

I first actually saw Missy when she and a cousin were running through the family house as 3 and 4-year-olds, laughing and carefree, carelessly wearing the dirt from the day's activities, hair messed from exuberance, cute as only children of that age and innocence can be. They were being attended to as needed, kept out of harm's way with the cooking going on, alternative activities suggested when necessary. After getting help sorting who belonged to which parent, something I occasionally needed repeating over the years, I sat back and observed while carrying on with conversations.

As years rolled by, I discovered she was affectionate, had a minor speech impediment that her school was helping her work on, and didn't particularly like to read. The most recent picture of her, having just turned 15, was with that same cousin, both changed so much in the previous year that I hadn't recognized either until told who they were.

I knew a lot more from family conversations. Missy lived mostly with her mom and older half brother. Her father is a member of the family I know, and there were times when she lived with him. Her mom was pointed out to me at a funeral, though I don't remember if we ever directly greeted each other in the chaos. I have to think a while to even remember her name, and wouldn't recognize her if I saw her again, unless perhaps it was while she was with Missy. Even then I'm doubtful.

I'm sure part of that is that I don't want to know her. Several years ago, before Missy even hit puberty, her half brother molested her. Now I'm spare on the precise details, which is fine. But I do know that Child Protective Services got involved, removed the brother from the home for a while for "counseling", and then when it was deemed (how?) that he had been punished or counseled enough or whatever yardstick they used, he was allowed to return home. Only it wasn't quite that straightforward. Mom was told that the two children could not live together in the home. She got to choose which one would live with her.

Mom chose her son.

Missy got sent off to live with her father, much to his delight and relief. That put her back in the hub of much of the extended family, including an aunt, uncle, and grandmother. They were somewhat spread out in two apartments of the same building, unified in helping with Missy's care as well as supporting each other. From Daddy's standpoint, this was the best possible outcome. It just wasn't to last.

Eventually Missy went back to live with Mom. And brother, of course. There were no more reports of abuse, but I saw her once during this time and she was not a happy child. I wondered how much she feared her brother, how she dealt with her mom's choosing him over her, if she trusted she would be safe.

The one thing I did hear about her was that her mother kept telling her that she "knew" that Missy would wind up pregnant by the time she was 16, saying it in a way that indicated Mom thought it was going to be all Missy's fault, that she would become a slut or worse. Missy had apparently been hearing this rubbish from the time she was too  young to know just what it all meant.

It would be very easy at this point to ask where was Daddy in all this and why hadn't he sued for full custody? Let's start with the family living way out in the middle of nowhere, job-wise. When you don't start with the "right" kind of education, you don't qualify for the job which actually pays a living wage. You can't afford to live in the expensive metro area, and a low income, complicated by a work history punctuated by accidents, illness, and recession layoffs, doesn't provide one with the ability to acquire a dependable vehicle to get the hour and a half each way to work, spiraling into periodic homelessness if not complete hopelessness. If you throw all that together, all the love in the world isn't going to convince a court to change custody, even given the actual alternative. When the extended family comes together. a safe secure home is provided, but the situation is fluid enough that it's hard to convince a court to trust it. And who can afford an attorney for the fight?

Time rolled on, and Missy bounced back and forth between the two homes, with no pattern to it that anybody was ever able to explain to me. About a year ago, her brother, now in high school, brought one of his friends home to spend the night. The friend was 19. Late that night, after the brother was sleeping, this "friend" went down the hall to Missy's room and raped her.

Missy was immediately moved to Daddy's home again. Now I presume that the brother's friend got himself a ticket to jail, though I've not been told what's happening. I also have not heard whether she got any counseling, either for this or her previous molestation. Nor have I heard whether her brother is walking the straight and narrow these days, which matters because Missy is yet again back living with Mom.

And finding the only way she thinks she can to scream for help.

Among the many questions I am left with is whether anybody from the family will actually tell her therapist at the hospital what Missy has been having to cope with, or can Missy herself do so? As a person on the outside looking in, I am convinced it is both relevant and vital. As a person on the outside looking in, I am also aware that I have no standing to do so.