WINNING

SWEEPING MOTIONS: My desk and bedroom are fine. Even our car is tidy. I’m sure I have a messy closet somewhere. It’s my brain which could use a thorough tidying. Here’s a great memory moment from the clutter of my brain. One of my favorites.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

BETTE, GARRY, AND MARILYN — IN SKOWHEGAN

And down the mountain we drove. Around 85 miles down, same mileage back. We met Bette Stevens, of 4 Writers and Readers. She’s in the middle of a round of editing her next book, but she took the time to spend the afternoon with me and Garry.

Bette Stevens

Bette Stevens

A great lunch and Ken’s Family Restaurant, a trip to the Magaret Chase Smith Library, and a brief sojourn to see the world’s tallest Indian (statue), created by Bernard Langlais (1921-1977), a sculptor from Old Town who attended the local art school.

Marilyn and Bette

Marilyn and Bette

Garry and I were wearing our matched pair of Serendipity sweat shirts. You could hardly tell us apart!

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Garry and Bette

Garry and Bette

We had great conversation at lunch, then spent some time taking picture of each other, visiting the library and admiring the statue, which is oddly located next to a Cumberland Farms.

View from the Margaret Chase Smith Library

View from the Margaret Chase Smith Library

We know each other on the Internet, yet there’s always some nervousness when finally, we meet in person. Will we really like one another?

The Margaret Chase Smith Library

The Margaret Chase Smith Library

No problem. It was love at first sight. I think we are officially best-friends-forever. I don’t know when we will be back this way, but I’m sure we will come again. Maybe next year or the year after that. But we will come back. How could we not return to so much natural beauty and great people?

World's Tallest Indian (Statue)

World’s Tallest Indian (Statue)

ONE WAY STREET – TODAY’S MISSING-IN-ACTION DAILY PROMPT

ONE WAY STREET?

Time travel, the ultimate addiction. The day I realized the big window in my bedroom was a wormhole, I started day tripping all ever. It started out a day like any other. Coffee. Making sure the dogs had biscuits. Wash those few dishes in the sink. Clean out the drying rack. Look at the sky, wonder if it’s going to clear. Wondering why it matters so much anyhow. It’s just another day, right?

Note: Sorry WordPress, don’t need your single-use, one way machine. I’ve got my own, personal vortex so maybe when you get your technical act together we’ll go traveling, okay? Meanwhile, I’ll stick with my own.

Then there’s the whirling twirling thing in the blinds. A vortex! While I’m standing there, staring and trying to figure out how to get to it, wondering how come they don’t appear at a more convenient location … like at floor level. I’m supposed to leap over my dresser? I’m 67 and arthritic. And — I need a clue how to designate when and where I want to go and return. Because I do want to return!

It turns out (surprise!) the vortex knows. Focus your mind on when, where and how long you want to be wherever. The vortex takes care of the rest, like an exceptionally good travel agent, but much cheaper. The danger is going through the vortex with your brain muddled. You can wind up some strange places … not places a tourist wants to be.

Garry caught this picture of me on my way home from traveling to a favorite spot in Arthurian England. Good catch Gar!

Garry caught this picture of me on my way home from traveling to a favorite spot in Arthurian England. Good catch Gar!

Also, you don’t have to jump or climb into the vortex. Just stand as close as you can and reach into it mentally. Cool beans, right? Like, wow, what a trip. Whatever was the best hallucinogenic drug you ever took? This is better. This is what we were looking for.

If you are one of the lucky ones who’ve had a vortex appear for you, I’d like to offer you some practical advice:

  • Don’t drink, smoke dope, or take other mind-bending substances before you travel elsewhen.
  • Avoid the 14th century. It’s too depressing. Also, you need vaccinations for defunct diseases making it difficult to explain to your doctor.
  • If you have a cool doctor, let him or her in on the secret. Some can be bribed with an excursion of their own. And it’s a good bet you’ll eventually need medical support.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Layer. Sometimes the seasons aren’t predictable. A small carry-on piece of luggage in a natural fiber such as canvas makes a good investment.
  • Take your camera. Take extra memory chips and backup batteries. You aren’t going to be recharging anything.
  • Leave the cell phone home. A ringing cell at the wrong moment can produce unexpected — and unpleasant — results.
  • Tell your mate what’s going on. Nothing upsets a relationship more than your appearing out of nowhere. Why not take your other half along for a couple of rides? Maybe he or she will love it too!
  • Try to land on or near the ground in an open area. Arriving mid-air or inside a wall produces bad trips. Sometimes death. Be clear in your mind so the vortex can read you. Wherever you are going, do a little research. Google Earth and history books can be very helpful in giving you good visualization capabilities.
  • Try not to lose yourself in time. If you overdo it, you can forget who you are supposed to be, who your children are, your friends, family. Everything. Maybe that’s not so bad for some, but most of us want to go home eventually.
  • Don’t tell everything to everybody. You want to keep the press out of it. Far out of it.
  • The future is scarier than the past. Spend time in known history before you venture forward. You’ll be glad you did.

This is the most fun you’ll ever have. Take lots of notes, pictures and have a blast. Talk to people Don’t worry about language barriers. The vortex won’t send you anywhere without the appropriate language skills in your brain. You won’t remember them when you get home, but they will always be there when you need them.

Vortexes don’t last forever. Make the most of your opportunity while it’s available. Enjoy your travels, my friends. Welcome to TIMING OUT of life! It’s the best ride you’ll ever take.

THE END OF THE REPUBLIC – IMPERIUM, ROBERT HARRIS

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris

Random House – Sep 7, 2010

Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome. We complain loudly and frequently about government corruption, speculate about conspiracies. Brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality. Deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always a bit hellish. Compared to Imperial Rome, our government is a clean machine, clean as driven snow. It’s all a matter of perspective. Republican Rome was in most ways a model for good government, but over the centuries, corruption ate away at it. By the time it became imperial, it was heading into its final days.

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve probably heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famed as an orator, Cicero rose to fame and power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from republican to imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world ever knew. Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and dogged determination in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but far more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro — the inventor of shorthand — is the “author” of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

Robert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to our own. I read it on Kindle, then listened to the very fine version available from Audible.com. I recommend both most highly.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from most sellers.

WHAT A TIME

Ready, Set, Done – Today, write about anything — but you must write for exactly ten minutes, no more, no less.

96-Mom-May1944


Garry and I have been watching the Ken Burns mini-series on The Roosevelts on PBS every night. Not surprisingly, my mother is much on my mind.

She was born in 1910 and died in 1982. Not an exceptionally long life — and I would have liked to have her around much longer — but what a time to be alive! Born into a world of horse and carriage, she died after seeing men walk on the moon.

My mother often talked about the days — the early, exciting days — immediately after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election as President. It was the depth of the Great Depression and the country was in terrible shape, the people depressed and frightened. When the National Recovery Act (NRA) passed into law she, along with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers held a spontaneous parade. They literally danced in the streets.

She said: “Roosevelt didn’t end the depression. The depression hung around until finally it was ended by the war (World War II) … but he gave us hope. He made us feel that we could beat this thing. You have to understand,” she would say. “It was awful. People were hungry, not just out of money. Out of food, coal, hope. He gave us hope and at that time, in that place, hope was everything.”

When I watch something about that time in history, I always think of my mother. Young. Marching in the streets and celebrating because FDR was going to save America. Whatever else I learn in the course of studying the man and the times, my mother’s stories of living in those times trumps them. Hers is the voice I hear because she was the people.

WHEN THE TOWERS FELL

I had just gotten back from a business trip to Tel Aviv. I had picked up some horrible bug — I drank the water — so I was home when my son called.

“Turn the TV on,” he said. He was working for Genuity, the former GTE backbone of the Internet.

“What channel,” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said.

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said. Confused. Had there been a terrible accident? A few moments later, as I stood there watching, the second plane hit the towers.

I kept watching as I think all America — maybe the world — also watched.

The towers went down. The world has never been the same. Probably never will be the same again.

The console at my son’s office went dark … each light representing a company buried by the collapse of the World Trade Center, representing lives lost when the towers fell.

But our flag is, was, still there. Is still there. And so are we.

MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969

1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world was happening and I was part of it while everything changed.

Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I was a new mommy with a 2 months old baby boy. Home with the baby, not working or in school. I had time to see it. We watched it on CBS. Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion. The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for the historic broadcast.

Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero. How I envied him his trip to the moon. I always tell Garry no man will ever take me from him, but if the Mother Ship drops by to offer me a trip to the stars, I’m outta here. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, but if they could do it on Cocoon, maybe there’s hope for me, too. Maybe we can go together. To paraphrase Wendy in Peter Pan, “That would be a very great adventure.”

woodstock-1

Woodstock was just a month away and there were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert which would happen in upstate New York. Friends had tickets and were planning to go. I was busy with the baby. I wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. I didn’t envy anyone. I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and freer than I’d ever be again.

I was young, healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war. Make the world a better place. I was still of the opinion the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another, join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we believed it would end any day. Though we soon found out how terribly wrong we were, for a little bit of time, we saw the future bright and full of hope.

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now.” It made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! We were sure we could do anything, everything. We would end war and right every wrong. For one year, the stars aligned and everything was good.

Decades passed; youth was a long time ago. The drugs we take control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They aren’t any fun at all.

I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is barely younger than I was then. I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.