Yes, All Women

As I’ve shared with you, I spent the long Memorial Day weekend at WisCon, a convention of feminist science fiction/fantasy enthusiasts. It was a growth experience that caused a steep rise in my personal learning curve.

While I was hip deep in discussions about diversity and privilege, how to reach readers and sell myself, queer radical theory and medieval POC, a shocking act of misogyny was unfolding in Isla Vista, California. The #YesAllWomen phenomenon began to grow, forcing a public discussion that was far more divisive and dismissive than the ones going on all around me.

Many people have addressed the messages posted on #YesAllWomen (if you visit this page, please do not post for reasons you will see below) as well as the truly ugly misogyny displayed in the first days at #NotAllMen. There have been some excellent blog posts and ezine articles discussing both sides of the issue of whether or not women have the right to complain about being treated badly by men.

Yes. You read that right. The discussion is not about how women are hurt by our rape culture and male privilege, it’s about women even bringing the subjects up at all. Some outrageous statements were made that basically shook down to ‘if women would sleep with any man who wants them, men wouldn’t join anti-women websites, write manifestos about how evil they are, or even take a bunch of loaded guns to hunt down any woman on the assumption she won’t go to bed with him’. Excuse me while I, and the entire rest of the female populace of the world, cry BULLSHIT.

Okay, and then there are the feminist allies who also derailed the conversation by insisting they be recognized as ‘not like that’. Women who posted their real life experiences were hunted down and hounded by men who demanded they stop being so angry at men. ‘Only some guys do that, so you should only be angry at THOSE GUYS.’

Um yeah, maybe, but even feminist men are not innocent of this aura of privilege all men across the face of our planet have, that women are denied from birth. You all, every single one of you, benefit from this system in ways so subtle you don’t even see it. By laughing at certain jokes, attending mainstream movies, participating in, or standing by in complicit silence while other men, and even unaware women, hold conversations where people are seen as ‘other than’ or ‘less than’ any man, you become part of the problem.

So, good men are upset. They want to be told how to fix the problem, how to stop the pain that the women they love suffer on and off throughout the entirety of their lives. They want to help. The only problem is, that’s not the discussion at hand right now.

Women want to be heard, in our entirety and with every voice we have. We need to tell our stories, so that in the sheer strength of our numbers we find solace in not being isolated, set apart from or worse, against each other. This is our opportunity, a time to talk as women, to women, about being women. I want to hear from others like me in gender, and unlike me in so many other ways. I want to have my eyes opened to my own privileges, to see them for what they are and to work so all women enjoy the same privileges an accident of birth granted me. I need to rant about wrongs done to me, and empathize with the outrageous experiences of others. I want to weep on womanly shoulders and offer comfort with my feminine arms.

I have needed to have this conversation for fifty-seven long years, and I just don’t have the time to be pulled aside and distracted by the needs of my male friends, no matter how loving and supportive they are. Guys, you’re on your own for a while. I am not available to tend to your wishes (talking to you right now), wants (worrying over your feelings), and desires (to see you as heroes). I’m busy with more important stuff. Talk amongst yourselves and look within for answers. I see and recognize your statements of support, and somewhere deep inside me I thank you for them. But I don’t want to talk to you, not at the moment.

I, and all women, must have this time to ourselves to mourn our dead and missing, to identify and localize horrific current events, to finally come to terms with the unfathomable depth of misogyny running through the cultures of the world. We need to self-identify and help our resistant sisters to lift the veil of our male centered societies from their eyes. We will heal from this and rise stronger, ready to reach out to allies and take up the intense struggle necessary to secure the safety of every, yes, all women.

And in an ironically infuriating addendum, I must report that the #YesAllWomen HT is being abandoned because its creator has been frightened sufficiently to request no one post to it any longer. Crazy people are making insane threats to her, and her family’s, safety. Her situation has become a stark example of why we need to tell our stories and reclaim our strength, synergizing courage in numbers.

#EachEveryWoman is an excellent place to be right now.

Oh My Dear, #WisCon Was A Blast!

I’m so sorry I’m a day late in posting this week. I spent the long Memorial Day weekend at a fabulous convention for feminists and science fiction aficionados in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m sure WisCon will feature heavily in my blog posts for awhile, because I met wonderful people and was given so much to think about it will take months to filter through the old brain-pan.

This was the 38th year of WisCon, and I’m very sorry that I’m missed the last 37. Just imagine how much further I’d be along the road of writing if I’d attended every one! It boggles the mind.

Much of the conference centered around the reality of privilege, how to recognize when you have it, what steps you might take to counteract the effects of privilege, and how to be a constructive ally to those who are oppressed. It was most interesting to realize that most of us fit somewhere up or down the ladder of privilege. More on that in the next few days, I promise!

Tomorrow I will post another short short story, because I’m preparing a special post for Pride Month, which as everyone in the entire frickin’ world ought to know by now is JUNE. Some celebrate the last weekend in the month, others choose to celebrate during the early part of June, and then there are those of us who celebrate the WHOLE month:

I wrote this several years ago in response to a woman’s original post on Facebook, and her follow up response to me. To protect her privacy, I’ve omitted her name and words, but I’m sure you’ll get the gist.

D., I’m so sorry that you feel this way. I’ve known you as a FB friend and Farm Ville neighbor. I believe you to be a good kind woman, and I’ll miss you.

But I am a lesbian in love with the finest woman I have ever known. She and I share two daughters, and four grandchildren. We are normal people, just like you. We go fishing, mow the lawn, take care of our family and house, pay our taxes, bury our dead and celebrate our births. We go to church, read ourselves to sleep, bake food when someone’s ill, visit with the neighbors, and shop in local stores.

You’re choosing to follow the teachings of your church – not your religion. Your family is Christian, and my family is Christian. Your church teaches one thing, ours another. Yours teaches exclusion, ours inclusion, yours will tolerate a penitent sinner, ours doesn’t offer mere tolerance, but total WWJD acceptance. We choose our religions, and our churches. I never chose my sexuality, I was born this way.

Your choice to help maintain the inequality between heterosexuals and gay folks is a deliberate choice to make me and my family ‘less than’ you and your family, separate from you and yours. But separate is never equal D. And your choice to support inequality is a clear decision to continue hurting my family.

We are American citizens, and as such we are GUARANTEED equality under the law. Since you choose to ignore our Constitutional rights and our very real needs as a flesh and blood family filled with hope, love, and laughter, I will delete you as a friend after giving you a chance to respond to this post.

I wish you well, both you and your family. May you never, ever, have to watch one of them suffer being a second class citizen in his own country, the land of his birth.

Oh, and unless someone’s lying, Jesus died for me too. I stand up for Him every single time I stand up for equality, and acceptance, and love.

And I just have.


Ah, D. See? I knew you were a good kind woman. I’ve just been able to feel that about you since I’ve known you.

The problem is choice. You believe the idea that every single gay or lesbian has chosen to become one. I know that isn’t true. I know for a fact that some of us were identifiably gay before we even learned to talk. And others of us have been so terrified by beliefs such as yours that we deny the truth even to ourselves for many many years. But we are as God made us, and eventually we find the path He chose for us. If we’re lucky He helps us find a soul mate to make a home and family with.

 I wonder just how many close friends you have that are either gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans. I’m pretty sure you have identified a hair dresser or two, but I doubt you’re friendly enough to really know their lives, their partners, their families. I think it’s much more likely that you’ve been told by someone, or the TV, or you heard a story from somewhere, and most likely a combination of all three about people making the ‘choice’ to be gay or lesbian. Because D., as I think we both can agree, I live in and among a LOT more LGBT folk than you do and I’d say at least 95% insist, as I do, that we had no choice. My sexual orientation was mine at birth, just as yours was. And after years of self-loathing, doubt, and fear I found a welcoming church of Lutherans who helped me understand more about just who I am, and where I fit in God’s plan.

Biblical interpretation is a fascinating topic. Your church’s ministry obviously focuses on the Old Testament which is filled with various abominations that most of the civilized world no longer fear, such as raising two crops side by side in the same field, or touching the skin of a pig, or eating shellfish. I don’t for a moment think that your church condones execution for insolent teenagers, or forcing a woman who’s just given birth to stay in her home for weeks. You’ve stopped focusing on those commands of the Old Testament, and don’t give a moment’s thought to enforcing them. But you do focus on this one, ancient command to despise gay men. The Old Testament were the laws we followed before Christ’s birth, when we were still Jews. The New Testament gives us His life, and His words to follow. You ignore the fact that Christ Himself said not one word against gays or lesbians in the entire New Testament.

My church’s ministry focuses heavily on the words of Christ, and following His commands to judge not, lest ye be judged, to give unto these, the least of Mine, and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. My fellow Lutherans do not merely tolerate me as an unrepentant sinner, they welcome me in acceptance as one of God’s children and help guide me in ways that celebrate the life of Jesus Christ. I won’t be looking for any guidance from groups that refuse to recognize that I am as God made me, whole and complete. I’ve found a church that satisfies all my spiritual needs, and expands them.

What you don’t understand is that your vote to keep marriage only to yourself, and adopting children only to yourself, and sharing health benefits with your mate only to yourself, and bringing a foreign love to America only to yourself, and all the other literally thousands of rights only to yourself is shouting to the world: Heterosexuals are better than gays! LOOK! We get all these goodies, and they don’t! We win!

In my eyes, that’s not a very Christian attitude. I’ve been to churches like yours, was raised in one. Have you ever visited a church like mine? If not, please do. You’ll be welcome! And maybe when you can love one of us in true Christian fellowship, the mote will fall from your eyes and you’ll see the Truth that God doesn’t make mistakes and has created a world with heterosexuals, and lesbians, and gays. Then you’ll have to explain to Him just why you chose to discriminate against some of His children. But He’ll forgive you when you’re truly repentant, He always does!

I’m saying this next part gently, because I know you’re a woman of good intent and I don’t wish to offend you. But I will state my truths.

I will delete you as a friend, because I cannot continue to enrich your life in even the smallest way with my FV gifts and FB friendship while you actively seek to deny my family their basic civil rights. You’re my oppressor, and I don’t play games with people who are part of a majority keeping down a minority.

You (and all the others like you) are the reason I was not allowed to be with my Beloved in the hospital when she had a heart attack. You’re the reason that my girls suffered intolerable rudeness and incivility because of who their Moms are. You’re the reason our legally obtained marriage certificate was stripped from us, leaving us once more in legal limbo. You’re the reason we pay more in taxes as individuals than you do as part of a married couple, pay more for health coverage and insurance. You’re the reason we walk the streets ever vigilant against physical attack. You’re the reason that I won’t be able to go to a retirement home with my lifelong love. You’re the reason that I’ve lived as a second class citizen in my own country. You’re the reason so many people feel justified in cruelty and attacks against LGBT folk and their families. You’re the reason so many young people develop serious depression, self-hatred and self-harming actions up to and including suicide. Your actions have already cost me and my family way too much, and other poor souls much, much more.

You might just as well pick up a spray can and decorate your garage door with: GOD HATES GENTA.

Goodbye D. – God’s Peace be with you.

When Prompts Lead to the Weird

Tonight there is a brand new meteor shower in the sky. 
I am on the road, attending the WisCon conference for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Feminists. Yes, highly specialized and right up my alley. You might wonder how I’ll ever segue between the two.
I’ll do so by leaving you today with another bit of fancy sparked in the sky. Enjoy the meteor shower, and the story below.
The falling star shot through the firmaments, lighting the night sky with brilliance.
It was the way of things when you have lived your life as a star. First you’re majestic in your golden youth, then resplendent in the red heat of dying. But once a star explodes and sends out her billion bits of self she becomes the thing of legend, lighting the way for those afraid or worried. When a meteor is dying, she brightens the skies with her story, granting wishes along the way.
On this night, the meteor showered down upon the young planet not long after sunset, catching the dreamers out staring at the sky. A thousand wishes a second were given to her and she blazed through the atmosphere bravely, granting and refusing them at her whim.
But rather than burn up, this meteor grew strangely stronger. Her light glowed, then glared, then finally absorbed the sky like a sun. Just before hitting the Earth’s surface she metamorphosed into a woman of ephemeral beauty and danced from rooftop to rooftop, footsteps of fire lighting her path with destruction.
One after another the wooden buildings fell victim to her heat. Blazes roared around her as she brought her destructive beauty to life once more. Once a star, she now became the spirit of fire. The cold indifference of her life above had transformed into a heated passion on this world. Now instead of granting wishes, she granted disaster, reminding her once again that transformation is a bitch.

… In Bed!

If you come from a certain time and a certain place, you’ll know about the … in bed! game. I have played it numerous times with friends as we eat in Chinese food restaurants. It goes like this: you eat your dinner and when the fortune cookies arrive, everyone picks one. Then you take turns reading your fortune aloud but always adding at the end, “… in bed!” Hilarity ensues.         

Here are some examples:  “You are a good and kind friend… in bed!” or “Good luck is coming your way… in bed!” 
Anywho… this phrase popped up as a story prompt one night, and this was the result:
“In bed? You’re telling me the cat is in bed? Why? Is Dirty Nose tired, or sick? I’ve never heard of someone keeping a cat in bed.” The sound of a very large nose being blown was heard over the line.
“No, Uncle Ed, inbred, the cat is inbred,” his niece Kathy said as distinctly as she could, but it was clear the old man’s hearing was giving him fits again. He probably had yet another head cold.
“Bread? The cat is in the bread? Well chase him off the counter and out the door. Germs, germs all over the place. You young people don’t know any better than to keep dirty cat’s paws off the counter?”
“Uncle Ed, I’m telling you that Dirty Nose seems to be inbred. There’s a problem with her bones, they’re too fragile.”
“Agile? You say the cat’s agile? Well I guess it would be if it’s jumping from the bed to the counter top. What’s the problem with the cat being agile?”
“Fragile, Unc. Fragile.” Kathy was getting frustrated. “Do you have your ears on?” she asked, referring to his hearing aid.
“Seshwan? The cat’s eating your Seshwan? What are you doing eating that spicy stuff anyway, little girl? Don’t you have that gird your loins, stuff?
“Gird my loin stuff?” Kathy had to pause to puzzle that one out. “Oh you mean GIRD, gastric intestinal reflux disease. Yes, I have it, but I’m not eating Schezwan, I’m trying to tell you about Dirty Nose.”
“Why would I want to hear about your dirty clothes?” her favorite uncle asked, confused. “Seems to me there’s only one thing to do about that, wash them.”
“Uncle Ed, listen to me please. This is about Dirty Nose, remember, the cat you gave me for Christmas. The vet says he’s inbred. Do you know who the parents were? Were they close?”
“Still talking about clothes? Well I’ll send you some money so you can buy some detergent. I thought you were making good money at that job of yours.”
“I am making good money, Unc.” Kathy was speaking louder and louder. “What I need to know is who were Dirty Nose’s parents.”
“Parrots? I don’t have any parrots, or any other birds for that matter. I have Fluffy Boots, and His Nibs, but that’s it. I don’t want any more pets, that’s why I gave the kittens away.”
Closing in on the topic now, Kathy hurried to take advantage of the moment. “Yes, Unc, about Fluffy Boots and His Nibs. Are they siblings?”
“Scribbling? Hell no, they’re cats, Kathy. What’s gotten into you today? Cats don’t scribble, they can’t even hold a pencil. No opposable thumbs you know.” There was a pause on his end of the line. “I’ve got to go now Kathy. Your Aunt Snicklepuss is calling me to come to dinner.”
“Oh, that you hear, huh?” she muttered. “Okay, Uncle Ed. I guess that’s all I wanted to say.”
“I’ll send you a check next week to cover your laundry detergent. Keep those clothes clean so you can keep that nice job of yours. Maybe they’ll give you a promotion so you can earn enough to buy your own soap.”
“Yes, maybe,” answered his favorite niece. “I love you,” she finished up.
“Glove me? Okay, I could use a new pair of winter gloves, but I don’t know where you’ll find any during the heat of the summer. Bye, Kathy. Give my love to your mother.”
“My lover?” Kathy answered wickedly. “Okay, I will, but boy won’t he’ll be surprised.”
copyright @ Genta Sebastian 2014

Writing Can’t Be Fun!

I was at my wit’s end, torn between throwing out 4/5ths of a 100,000 word novel and starting over, or just shelving the whole project. My characters were not doing what I wanted them to do (if you’re an author this makes sense, trust me), my plot was meandering all over the place, and the ending I’d foreseen simply refused to be written.

“Just write for fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it,” said my wise wife. She’s not an author, and although she’s terrifically supportive, she just doesn’t understand when I disappear into a story. I get so totally absorbed in a project it’s hard for me to focus on the real life going on all around me.

“Writing can’t be fun!” The words left my mouth and hung there in the air between us. My wife did what she does best, she let me hear myself. “That’s not right,” I said aloud, yet again in a heated debate with myself. “I used to love writing, I still love writing. I need to find the fun again. I need to recharge my author batteries.”

So I found three women who are also authors, and pulled us into a group. We get together once in a while to share good food, personal news, and then we focus for a couple of hours and do ‘prompt’ writing. Each of us will take turns providing a short phrase or sentence.Then we spend twenty minutes (or less) writing something that incorporates that phrase. When the time is up, we take turns reading aloud our prompt writing. It’s fascinating to see how very differently we each approach the same set of words. And it’s extremely rewarding to have three or four short writing samples at the end of the night. We’ve since gathered in three more authors, another woman and two men, but it’s the original core group that gets together most often. Like last night, for instance.

I felt so good about the writing I produced last night, and on other occasions, that I’ve decided to share some of the pieces once in a while. All this week I’m going to put up different stories, each titled with the prompt and the time taken to write. Here is my first offering, written last night. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I’ve re-written it this morning (can’t help myself), but the essence was written last night.

(20 minute prompt)
Simon paced around the lab, looking at the rats and monkeys, twelve in their prep cages and isolated from the rest. His steps grew slower as he thought. A hand rubbed his bald spot, a nervous habit he’d picked up as his hair started falling out a year ago. Sometimes his fingers pushed the fringe of what he had left up and over, but now the bald spot had grown to the size of a baseball cap he knew it just looked silly.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he muttered to no animal in particular, and all of them in general. “It’s not my fault. I didn’t design the experiment, I’m just the unlucky son-of-a-bitch that’s got to carry it out.” His hand left off rubbing his naked pate, and began pulling at his left earlobe. In the last two months, as the project came to an end, it had grown a half inch longer than the right.
His nervous wandering was finally brought to a halt in front of the beaker holding the bubbling purple liquid. Simon watched as the blue flame beneath it forced the evil fluid up through the distiller and on through the transducer, until the concentrate fell drop by drop into the zero centigrade container. The final step of a year long project, it was almost finished. He wouldn’t be able to put it off much longer.
Was it his imagination or were the rats running on their wheels simultaneously again? It always freaked him out when they did that. Were the monkeys giving each other hand signs, or was that just a figment of his tortured imagination. “Knock it off,” he told himself. “It’s a job, it’s your job, and that’s all it is.” But still he tugged on his ear.
When the last drop had oozed into the container, an alarm rang, letting him know that his respite was over. Ignoring the shake in his hand, he put on his heavy gloves as protection against sharp teeth, picked up one of the twelve syringes and slowly started filling one after another with the noxious liquid. The odor was a mix between death and despair, and he felt both weighing on his shoulders as he turned and looked toward the wall of animals.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he repeated. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, but it’s my job and if I don’t do it I’ll get fired and there’ll still be someone coming in to do it. I’ll try to be gentle,” he said, ignoring the tears that trickled down his chin and dropped to the floor.
Taking the tray of loaded syringes, he put them on the wheeled table and moved up to the first cage on the right. Rodney. Oh boy, he’d been feeding this gentle black and white rat for over two years. Simon knew he shouldn’t have named him, should never have become fond of any of the animals in his care. He’d known that this day would come, but now that it had he was totally rattled. Sweat beaded his upper lip as he lifted the latch on the cage.
“Come here, Rodney,” he said with a hitch in his voice. The rat, sensing something different, did not come running up to his hand for a treat as it always had before. Instead it backed up against the far wall, staring at him with unblinking eyes. The man stared at the animal who stared back at him, both frozen in place and neither willing to change the status quo.
Finally, realizing it wasn’t going to get any easier, Simon reached into the cage and caught the scrambling animal by the nape of the neck. He pulled it gently out of the cage and readied the syringe. He pretended he wasn’t doing what he was doing, tried to blank out his mind, but remembered his promise to make things as easy as possible. Focusing so as not to make a thoughtless mistake, he brought the syringe to the back of the rats head, finding the spot at the base of his neck where the injection would go.
“Don’t be doing that,” said a voice, loud and clear.
Wheeling around, relief in every inch of his body, the man searched for the speaker. The lab room was empty. “Hearing things,” he explained to himself. “I’m projecting a reason not to do what I have to do.” His rationalizing calmed him down and he went back to Rodney.
“I said, don’t be doing that,” came the voice with a bit more authority.
This time the man dropped the rat back into his cage, and stood back. “Who’s speaking?” he asked. “Show yourself.”
“I’m right here,” came the answer with an accompanying rattle of cages. Flustered, Simon looked around.
“I’m right here,” came another voice from a different direction.
“Don’t be doing that.” Simon twirled right, seeing no one. “Don’t be doing that.” He swung to the left, but nobody was there. “Don’t be doing that,” thundered a thousand voices from the wall of cages.
Whirling around in circles, the man realized that every eye in the room was focused on him. His heart thudding in his chest, he saw tiny mouths open, and swallowed in disbelief. “Don’t be doing that,” they all shouted at once. Sweat trickled down his neck, chilled by the close breaths of every animal in the lab.
When Doc Stevens entered the lab an hour later, all the cages were empty. The scientist stared at the wreckage. Not a piece of glass was un-shattered, not a filing cabinet un-rifled. Everything lay ruined on the floor, including the tray of shattered syringes, the precious fluid now rendered useless due to exposure to the air. Furious, the neuroscientist, knelt to pick up the broken pieces. “A year of work, gone,” he fumed. “Simon better be far away by now, because I’ll have him up on charges faster than he can s… Wait. There were  twelve syringes, but  only eleven are here.” He crawled around the floor, searching for the one that might have rolled away unbroken. “I just need one success to get more funding. If I can find it and inject a new lab rat, I can publish my results.” He scrambled through the wreckage on his hands and knees.
A small black and white rat ran between his hands, trying to bite him. He reared up, too late. The sting of the lost syringe pierced his neck, vicious purple agony flowing into him. 
“You won’t be doing that!” Simon’s voice hysterically giggled as Doc Stevens convulsed in anguish.

copyright @ Genta Sebastian 2014

An Interview with Artist Laurie Salmela

I met artist Laurie Salmela at a woman artist’s retreat. The keynote speaker, she encouraged women of all ages to express their artistic selves. I found her supportive, energizing, and very, very talented. She’s agreed to an interview with me today.

ANA:  I saw photos of some of your work in paint, and collages. Then I enjoyed the work you did at Celebrate Yourself! in clay, expressing the female form. Tell us about the mediums you use, and why and how you choose them.

“Calhoun Sails”  plein aire watercolor

L Salmela: My degree is in drawing and painting which is the main focus of my art. I use whatever medium calls my name on a given day, frequently combining them before a work is completed. I work in the traditional oil, watercolor, acrylic,but have an obscene cache of alternative art materials from which to choose including such things as the lowly crayon, highlighters, Sharpies and totally non-art materials on occasion – whatever seems right at the moment. What I choose depends on what materials catch my attention, where and the conditions under which I am working and  whether I have specific plan for the work.

“La Mesa Santa del Remedios” 

If I am working out of doors or traveling on one my art adventures I usually use watercolor and drawing materials for ease of transporting and logistical necessities. The focus is then about recording the place and experience so is more on the figurative side.  In the studio I work in oil, acrylic and whatever else I have there and becomes focused on the media and expression – what’s inside my head rather than without and thus becomes more abstract. My collage work comes primarily from old or failed work remade , hopefully retaining it’s original inspiration with the addition of some new.

I have also worked in clay and assemblage and enjoy both but I  run a “clean” studio (a figure os speech rather the actual state of the studio most of the time!) where I rent some spaces to other artists, so the grubbier art forms need to be done elsewhere to protect their interests. This necessitates that I take only occasional forays into these realms away from my studio at the Northrup King Building.

ANA:  Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Do you go looking for it, or does it find you?
“Sun-washed Playa Caribe, Akumal” 

L. Salmela:    Inspiration finds me.  I am always open and I never have to wait.  I only have to choose from the multitude of inspiring stuff that comes my way. It can be something I see, in my head or in the world ; a phrase from a book;  the title of a song; the sky… I am easily inspired just by the process of making art  and often feel that urge to paint just walking into the Northrup King Building and smelling all the creativity that resides there!  Just looking at and handling the tools and materials is enough to get me started. The act of doing, alone, can be a powerful inspiration. I may think I am going to paint something in particular upon starting, but  it will change in the process without  my notice or permission!  The only time a enter the studio with a hard and fast plan is when I have had a request from a client.

” Images of Balam Ek”

ANA:  Some authors create every day, others write only when inspired. What methods do you find the most successful and productive when creating art?

L. Salmela: I try to make time each day to do some kind of art making even when I have a full day of teaching just to keep the juices flowing even if its just some crazy drawing from stuff in my house! I often find those little things more engaging than some of more “serious” work, perhaps because they are more playful and were made only for me. I do find the studio atmosphere to be the most satisfying though, as the atmosphere seems so charged with creative energy with the “stuff of art all about the place!

ANA:  I understand you create artwork for book covers. Children’s books, especially, sell best with illustrations. Would you be open to authors approaching you with ideas for cover work? How would they contact you?

“The Bird Hour” 

Salmela: I have had a number of diverse “art jobs” over the years.  The very first was painting two wine labels for Northern Vineyards.  I have curated many exhibitions for the Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota, two of which featuring only art about shoes! In the mix, I have done a book cover for a text book with Greywolf Press with bits of drawing in the interior and also some small pieces for a poetry magazine.  I am always up for a new adventure and would love to do more. If anyone is interested in collaborating in this way they can contact me by email through my website: Writing is alot like painting but creating the images through words.  I think it is much more difficult to do in words and those who can accomplish it deserve our utmost respect! I am always thrilled to find authors whose writing is so beautifully descriptive that feels as though they are painting a picture for the reader. During one of my stays in Mexico, I painted a series of small works from a book recommended to me by a friend that was so rich with imagery relating to Mexico and the sea, that I felt compelled to paint what I was seeing from her words!

ANA:  Do you have any upcoming projects or shows? Where can we see some of your artwork on display?

“Free at Last ” 

Salmela: I am always working on something.  Currently I am preparing the Minneapolis Arts District yearly spring studio event, ART-A-WHIRL.  The Northrup King Building that is my art home is the largest venue on the tour by far, with over 250 artists under one roof!  Its quite the affair with live music, food trucks in the parking lot, last year roller girls as hostesses and best of all, masses of great art.  I invite all to stop in for a visit.  Just take the elevator at door F to the fourth floor and you’ll find me in NKB Studio/Gallery 425.  Stop by for my famous home made salsa and  my fresh baked bread too.  We believe in keeping up the strength of our clientele!!! Again this year MTC (NKB bus stop is 14th and Central Avenue)is giving away free bus passes for the weekend on their website and there is free trolley service to take visitors about the district once they arrive. We are all busily getting our studios in order and finishing and framing our latest work. 

“The Glebe”

I am also working on creating some visual lesson aids for my four, lifelong learning programs using my ipad and keynote app to help the deaf and hearing impaired participants understand some art methods and concepts that, I feel, they have been missing.

Besides the above mentioned  programs, I teach in my studio as well and hope to have my summer schedule out by the big Art-A-Whirl event and it may seem crazy early, but I am working on setting dates and starting registration for my next Akumal Art Adventure/Painting in Paradise trip.  Every year I take a small group to Mexico to learn to travel journal using watercolor.  I rent a private villa on the water with pool and gardens for a week of fun and art adventuring.  

You can see photos of past trips on my website or my studio facebook page: NKB Studio/Gallery 425

The Coultergeist Is Hoisted By Her Own Petard

Ann Coulter has been given a taste of her own medicine which has lasted since last Sunday night, when she decided to ridicule Michelle Obama’s #BringBackOurGirls photo. She was not alone. In a shocking display of heartlessness, right-wing pundits began bemoaning hashtag activism when it was used in the hunt for the missing Nigerian school girls kidnapped by a ruthless group known for selling women into slavery. That, in itself, is offensive. Their obnoxious meme is that it will hurt the stolen girls and their families more than it will help.

Coulter has never hesitated to use shocking insults to self-promote her spew of hate, this is not her first time around this particular block. However, rarely has such an ugly act had such a swift and terrible (but sometimes hilarious) response. All over the Twittersphere her photo was shopped with messages that painted the foul-tongued Coultergeist in less and less flattering ways. You can find some of them gathered together at (of all places) Market Watch of the WSJ

Hashtag activism starts conversations, and forces the American media to cover events in far away places that it would otherwise ignore. In places where women are being enslaved, sold, and kept from education, shining a light on what’s going on may start conversations that lead to actual change, which can come in many forms and from many different places.

The argument made by conservatives that hashtag activism hurts more than it helps reminds me of all the times over the years when I’ve heard one section of the LGBT movement put down other sections’ forms of activism. Those advocating self-defense and an armed response were soundly shouted down by those who preferred the legal route through the courts, who were equally censored by those who maintained only direct dialogue with individuals would bring about change, who were laughed at by the those who thought shmoozing the rich and powerful in congress would be best. As it turns out, all of these approaches changed things for the better in our community as a whole. 

I’ll keep talking about the missing Nigerian girls, and I’ll keep posting articles relevant to their rescue, so my friends and family keep talking about them, wondering aloud what can be done to not only rescue these girls, but to keep the same thing from happening to other girls in too many places in the world. 

I will use hashtags, and Facebook posting, and write blog articles because I demand that we Bring Back Our Girls. These young women have become the daughters of the whole world, and my daughters too. Yes, they’re Nigerian and I’m not, but hopefully wherever they are right now, whatever they’re living through, they’ll hear about the amazing swell of worldwide support that has spread through social media, and know they’re not forgotten, not the worthless thing they’re being told they are. 

That’s why I do it.

Pura Vida! Animals I’ve Never Seen Before


The animals of Costa Rica are vastly different than the ones I’ve encountered in the United States. Now granted, I haven’t been everywhere, in every state of the union, but these animals seemed very exotic to me.

The very first animal I saw after arriving in Costa Rica, was down on the beach. This little guy is an anteater, and he was moving very slowly in the intense heat, hiding from the sun under the leaves of the tree.


Shortly after that I started spotting iguanas, a vast variety from very small to rather intimidatingly large. They are perfectly suited to the surroundings, able to survive in the heat and eat the fruit from the trees heavy with mangoes and cashews. They look prehistoric, the descendants of dinosaurs. Oh, and they hiss. Even the little ones will let loose with a warning hiss. Some have spines, others don’t. This one was by far the most exotic one I spotted.

We decided to treat ourselves to a tour of the Corobici river. It’s a wide river that moves very gently and provides the opportunity to spot many varied kinds of wildlife. The boats are small, with minimal chances for shade, so wear a hat and lots of sunscreen. And, fair warning, the bus that carries you from the resort to the river travels for an hour and a half along a seriously rutted old road, causing a lot of jolting and shifting around. Backs and bottoms were sore, and more than one person felt queasy on the return trip after a day in the unrelenting sun. But if you can brave the rough transport you’re in for a delightful treat.

Howler monkey baby
Capuchin monkey

Unlike the parrots, and toucans you find in the tropical rain forest of western Costa Rica, the Guanacaste area hosts completely different animal species in their tropical dry forest. They say there are three varieties of monkeys there, but I only found two: one of the loudest animals on the planet, the Howler monkey, and one of the smartest animals on the planet, the Capuchin monkey. Both are intensely curious and if you stay still, they’ll eventually creep out to take a look at you.

Nine foot crocodile  in the river
Crocodile waiting for an unlucky monkey.

We also saw crocodiles along the river, some in the water, some on the shore. It was a great reminder that you’re in their world, not sitting at home watching it on television. There are signs on the boat warning tourists to keep their hands and feet out of the water at all times. After seeing these two less than a mile apart on the river, I totally agreed. I was lucky to get a picture of the crocodile on the bank. He was so well camouflaged I had to have him pointed out to me, and since I never did see him with my own two eyes, I pointed my camera where their fingers were aimed, and took a chance. I think I’d easily miss him until too late if I were wandering through the forest on my own. CHOMP

Turquoise-browed motmot

There are many beautiful varieties of birds in the tropic dry forest, but all the parrots and parakeets hid from me that day. I did catch sight of a Turquoise-browed motmot, which I’d only ever seen in drawings before.

Further down the river our guide stopped the boat with excited gestures toward this bird. We all dutifully took pictures, but I have yet to find the name of this little beauty. The guide insists they’re very shy and was pleased for us to see it in the wild. If you can identify her for me, I’d be deeply grateful.

It was perhaps the best vacation of my life, filled with luxury and adventure, pleasure and laughter. Yes, all-inclusives are a little spendy, but given the wealth of opportunities to explore, and the fact that except for tips and souvenirs you never need your wallet, I think it’s comparable to most other vacations. Our vacation package contained a non-stop round trip airline ticket, which made things even better.

All-Inclusive Vacations Rock!


“Pure life”, or “Enjoy the good life”, either definition explains the local phrase. It works as either a greeting, or a parting phrase, and can be sprinkled liberally around your conversations, much as Uff da, works in Minnesota. It must be accompanied with a smile, which isn’t difficult since you’re wishing such good fortune on people when you say it.

Riu Guanacaste in Costa Rica offers a wonderful experience, starting from the minute you enter their open air lobby and register for your stay. The resort is beautiful, decorated with fascinating local arts. This is a driftwood planter, and the greenery grows from small burlap sacks tucked into nooks and crannies.

Ocean view standard room

We were thrilled to be able to take our eleven-year-old granddaughter with us, and our room faced the ocean, visible past the beautiful grounds. We had two beds, a large closet and chest of drawers, a modern bathroom, and most importantly, air-conditioning. The bathroom included a bath, and two sinks in front of a long mirror. Tucked in the closet was a programmable safe, large enough for passports and a really small lap-top. A mini refrigerator was stocked with mixers for the four large bottles of alcohol suspended above it. I wish I could tell you what kind they were, but we are not drinkers. Except for the Imperial beer in the fridge, we didn’t drink in the room. But for those who do, there’s an ice machine on every level.

Angie was one of our favorites!

The staff are professional, very helpful, and extremely pleasant. Whether you are enjoying stretching exercises on the beach, playing water volleyball, getting a lesson in scuba diving in the pool, touring the kitchens, enjoying a beverage at any of the bars, winning at Bingo, or eating your fill at any of the eating facilities, the staff of the Riu Guanacaste make your experience enjoyable.

Roxana Herrera Aroya with my wife.

We were particularly fond of the main buffet which provided fresh fruit, and a wide variety of delicious local dishes. The cheese bar called me, while my wife enjoyed the fresh fruit more. Our granddaughter explored the ever changing dessert table after every dinner. If you’re lucky, you’ll be placed in Roxana Herrera Aroya’s area, and be served by a pleasant young man named Christian.

My granddaughter and me

One night my granddaughter and I broke from tradition and tried the Japanese restaurant. Also served buffet style, we enjoyed delicious sushi and a Peking duck. The noodles were delicious, as were the delicate desserts. I especially enjoyed the delicate flavor of the mandarin orange ice.

Let’s face it, it’s fun to dress up, and from five o’clock on through the night you’ll find almost everyone has donned their long shopped for, and finally found, resort wear. The unmarried and looking crowd show off their finery by walking along the main path down to the beach, hanging out at the open air bar, or by crossing the street to attend the casino or discotheque (opens at 11p.m.)

Kid time on the main stage

Every night there is entertainment on the main stage, beginning with a segment of games, songs and dances where kids participate and compete. This is followed by another half hour of American, Canadian, or Central American songs performed by local talent.

Performing Rolling in the Deep
Go, Greased Lightning, go!

From around 8p.m. until 10ish, a different show is performed each night of the week, and is repeated throughout the season. This year we were treated to a magical night of a tribute to Michael Jackson, and an exciting version of Grease.The dancers are very professional, and they get the crowd going. By the time they got to ‘Greased Lightning’ the audience was singing right along.

Snorkling, a first!

 If you take the tours (for which you pay extra) you might find yourself zip-lining, or soaking in volcanic mud baths, or traveling up and down the river in search of wild animals. A wealth of opportunities are available. I, at the age of 57 and being significantly overweight, enjoyed my very first snorkling experience. Paddle a canoe, or ride a ski-do. Ride a horse along the beach, and listen to the Howler monkeys in the trees.

And the animals! Oh the animals of Costa Rica are magnifico. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing photos of some I was lucky enough to capture on film. Pura Vida, until then.

Costa Rica, Baby!

There are many things an author can do to improve their skills. Some of them include being positive, diligent, and keeping your butt in the chair. Those are the things that keep us writing.

But what about the depth and breadth of our stories? For that you need to interact with people and places new to you. Meet people from other cultures, and cheerfully learn from them. Visit other lands and see how your world and their’s differ. Embrace the similarities between peoples, and celebrate the unique qualities of every culture you can. Be an ambassador for your country, but more importantly, gather friends from around the world. Share stories, explain jokes, try new things, and push your comfort zone until it expands willingly.

In other words, travel.

My wife and I (I just love saying that) like to save our money and go somewhere every year, when possible. With the economy the way it’s been lately, that’s been easier said than done. But we found out about *cue heavenly choir* all-inclusive resorts. In the past, we’ve always been conscious of costs, constantly monitoring our remaining resources and anxiously going cheap to be sure we can cover everything.

All that changed when our daughter won a contest and we ended up at Riu Guanacaste, in Costa Rica. Once we’d presented our photo ID’s, we locked up our wallets and passports in the room safe, and never worried about money again until just before leaving. Gifts, souvenirs, and tips were all we spent money on. Everything else had been prepaid. Talk about relaxing!

Now, I’m a self published author, and retired school teacher. My wife is also retired. Our income is not great, and I won’t lie, the resorts can be a little pricey. That’s why it’s important to book early, and get a good travel agents who will look for upgrades. We travel non-stop from our snowbound hometown directly to Costa Rica. No switching planes, and far fewer chances for lost luggage. The hassle factor is less than a three. The shuttle is there waiting for the plane, and within an hour we were checking in at the resort, sipping on fresh mango slushies in the very sultry air.

Thus began a vacation unlike any I’d ever known before. I felt as if I’d stepped onto the Love Boat, or Fantasy Island. Everything was exquisitely clean, the staff professional, and the accommodations, while not luxurious, overlooked the grounds leading out to a full sea-view. It was a major upgrade from our typical hop from one over priced hotel room to another.

From early in the morning until late at night, planned activities for both adults and children were available, led by friendly staff members. We were encouraged to stretch on the beach (which we declined) and to tour the kitchens (which we happily joined). Water volleyball had it’s own cove in the huge swimming pool, as did a corner that was used every morning to give free scuba-diving lessons. Bingo, an entertainment we haven’t had time for lately, offered small bottles of local rum, t-shirts, and coffee mugs to daily winners, and it was free! You only get one card, but that’s usually all you need.

And then there was the food, and the drinks, and the entertainment, and too much for me to include in just one post. So I’ll see you tomorrow, same bat-station, same bat-channel. POW. And yes, there are bats in Costa Rica, little tiny ones that prefer mangoes to blood.