Dixie Darr

Archive for August, 2017|Monthly archive page

Y is for Yesterday

In Books, creativity, writing on August 31, 2017 at 6:46 am

Sue Grafton’s beloved alphabet mystery series started with A is for Alibi in 1982 when protagonist Kinsey Millhone was 32. Thirty-five years and most of the alphabet later, she has only aged seven years. More importantly, the world has only aged seven years.

In Kinsey’s world, people must rely on public telephones or other landlines. They listen to music on a Sony Walkman and still use video tape. The detective can’t use computer databases or the internet. She types her reports on an old manual typewriter. Social media consists of actually talking to one another.

Sometimes as a reader, I get impatient with this. We’ve all moved on; why can’t Kinsey? On the other hand, I think it was a good choice because otherwise she would now be 67 and the books would have a much different flavor. I know a few people who are still badass at that age, but they don’t get into physical confrontations, or if they do, they don’t come out of them as unscathed as would someone in her thirties. On the other hand, if I can be permitted three hands, it would be fun to see what she would be like at 67.

In Y is for Yesterday, the story returns to 1979 when a group of wealthy high schoolers gets in trouble by filming a sexual assault and then turning to murder when the tape goes missing. Back in 1989 when the murderer goes free, the tape resurfaces and threatens to unravel the lives of the students, now young adults involved.

As Kinsey tries to untangle what happened, she also faces danger from the man who almost killed her in her last case and some family problems without her usual support system. Landlord Henry at 89 seems like a sap for letting two homeless people take advantage of him.

Grafton, of course, is at the height of her powers as a writer, but as a friend pointed out, nobody except Kinsey was the least bit likable in this book. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find it as compelling as most of her earlier works. I always try to stretch them out as long as possible, especially as we near the end of the series. Usually, that means a book may last three days. This one took me a whole week to read.

In a couple of years, we’ll get the final book in the series. Any guesses as to what Z is for? It will take all of Grafton’s skill to wrap up this series in a satisfying way, but I think she’s up for it.


Best Classes I Took in College

In creativity, Degree programs, Learning on August 30, 2017 at 6:35 am

Color and Basic Design

I loved learning about the color wheel, how colors fit together and how to combine them into other colors. Still a major interest of mine today. The design part I don’t remember so much. Pity.

Cultural Anthropology

The concept of ethnocentrism or judging another culture by the values and standards of one’s own culture opened my eyes and my mind. Extremely useful learning in today’s multicultural society. I know too many people who haven’t learned this yet. I loved learning about different cultures, including subcultures in our own society. One book I especially liked was about the culture of cocktail waitresses.

Sign Language

Like French, sign language taught me about English meaning and syntax. Note: While American Sign Language uses English words, it is not English. Learning about deaf culture also fed my curiosity. I liked using my hands to form words and you can still see me fingerspelling when I try to work something out.

Things I’ll Study in my Next Life


The scientific study of language including phonetics, words, syntax, and semantics combines my interests in cultural anthropology and languages. Too bad it seemed beyond me when I first looked into graduate school. We have about 6500 languages in the world today, of which around 2000 have fewer than 1000 speakers. I’d like to learn a little about all of them. English is only native to about 340 million people, compared to 1.2 billion native speakers of Chinese, but more people study English as a second language by far than any other language. One language goes extinct every 14 days.


Although I’ve worked professionally as a writer and taught writing for many years, I never took it in college. (Surprise!) Maybe some things you have to learn by doing.

Urban Design

Because I love the books of Jane Jacobs about making cities more livable for people instead of institutions.

Oddly, neither my undergraduate major, sociology, nor my graduate degree, adult education, is listed here. Wonder what that means?

The Color of Fear

In Books, Prejudice on August 29, 2017 at 6:21 am








An elderly Indian man is attacked, beaten, and left to die on the streets of San Francisco the week before Christmas in Marcia Muller’s 32nd Sharon McCone mystery, The Color of Fear. A passerby reports it and an ambulance takes the old man to the hospital. There police find a business card of prominent private investigator Sharon McCone in his pocket. When they contact her, they are astonished to find that the man they thought was homeless is instead her father.
Was it a random, racially motivated crime or the work of a disgruntled client of McCone’s agency? She puts her whole agency to work to find out while her father remains in a coma. At the same time, she has to cope with both her birth and adoptive families, a hacker clever enough to bypass sophisticated security at her house, and a shadowy, racist hate group.
McCone has grown older and more comfortable in her wealth and success and begins to question whether or not she wants to continue putting her life and the lives of those she loves in danger. The hate group theme makes the book oddly prescient in today’s political climate given that it was written at least a year or two ago.
Having followed this series from the beginning, I enjoyed the character development throughout the series, even as it seems time to move on to a newer, edgier protagonist. Muller is at the height of her writing powers, but these characters need to retire.

Three Things I’m Glad I Learned In High School

In Learning on August 28, 2017 at 5:44 am



Nothing teaches you more about English than learning a second language. Of course, it also teaches you about another culture and about language in general. It’s the reason I always wanted to study linguistics, which I will definitely do in my next life. I never really used it, but I still appreciate knowing some French.
Who could have predicted a day when everybody needed to know how to type? I took it so I could type my college papers on my brother’s old portable typewriter. In my twenties, I refused to acknowledge that I could type because I didn’t want a job where I’d be required to do so. Now I feel bad for people who need to use the two-finger typing method although the increasing use of tablets and smart phones makes voice recognition the wave of the future. Soon it will be a lost skill, like
Two younger men recently spotted me taking notes in shorthand. “That looks like Klingon,” one of them said. “My grandmother does that,” said the other. Thanks a lot, guys, although knowing Klingon might up my cool factor. I never wanted to take shorthand, but my dad made me. He thought I’d work as a secretary since that’s what girls did. That’s when I discovered that he didn’t intend for me to go to college because “girls don’t need college.” According to him, I’d just get married and have kids. Ha! Fooled him. Anyway, for some reason, I still remember shorthand 50+ years later and it comes in handy every once in a while. Plus, it gets people’s attention.
Runner up: Algebra
Sorry, Peggy Sue, but I use algebra all the time and wish I’d taken more math. I liked it and was good at it, yet never really considered taking more.
Things I Wish I’d Learned in High School
Debate – I’d have been darling at it, don’t you think?
Spanish—A truly useful language in today’s world. Back then, even my Hispanic friends couldn’t speak it because their parents wanted them to know only English.
Physics—See Math above.
Woodworking—In my school, only boys could take shop. Girls took home economics and learned how to sew an apron and broil grapefruit, both considered useful skills.
That’s pretty much it. The rest of the stuff was just filling time until graduation.

Making Things Right

In Learning, Resistance on August 25, 2017 at 6:14 am

The latest polls reveal 45’s approval rating continues to drop, now at a new low of 34%. Clearly, some people who supported him have come to their senses.
I had only a few “friends” and relatives who voted for him, enthusiastically or otherwise, and I haven’t spoken to any of them since. Luckily, my close family and friends all agreed with me because they are smart, rational people, so the few I lost were no sacrifice.
Now, however, I wonder if any of those I lost now regret their choice. What if one of them came to me and said, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Could I forgive them and welcome them back into my tribe?
I’ve written before that forgiveness is not my strength.  I could accept their apology without forgetting that they are still responsible for the mess the country is in. No, Donald, you didn’t inherit a mess; you created one, maybe the worst American has ever seen. He’s still in office wreaking havoc.
What would my imaginary friend have to do to get back into my good graces? That is the question.
When Dr. Phil counsels couples, he tells the one who did wrong that one apology won’t do it. They have to earn the other’s trust over and over. They have to do it until the wronged partner finally believes it, however long that takes.
Those reformed Trump supporters have to do the same. They will have to take action that shows they repent. They will have to find ways to atone for the damage they caused. Participating in demonstrations, writing letters and making phone calls to elected officials would be a good start in making things right. Volunteering to help marginalized groups would be even better.
As a recent op-ed letter stated, “We deserve better than Donald Trump.” Even those who voted for his sorry ass deserve better whether they know it or not.
They need to fix this, and I don’t believe they can.
Prove me wrong.

All You Need is Love. And Chocolate.

In creativity, Learning on August 24, 2017 at 7:16 am

Life’s not worth living without chocolate. I prefer Hershey’s dark chocolate kisses, but the vast variety of chocolate available allows everyone to have his or her own favorite. You can even have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, although I would choose chocolate unadulterated by peanut butter. I’m a purist. You can have mine.
On the other hand, white chocolate is not chocolate. Don’t even.
I also don’t want coffee in my chocolate, but then, I think coffee is nasty, bitter stuff and I don’t want it in anything. Some people think everything’s better with chocolate because chocolate equals love.
I do like it mixed with raspberries and sometimes make a decadent chocolate-raspberry bread. You can also combine it with marshmallows in hot chocolate, with walnuts in fudge, and with ice cream in a hot fudge sundae. Everyone knows the very best cookie is chocolate chip.
The world’s perfect food? Forget eggs, it’s chocolate, which contains all four major food groups—sugar, salt, fat, and caffeine.
Even science says dark chocolate is good for you. It is one of the best sources of antioxidants, whatever they are. It protects us from free radicals (ditto); improves heart health; lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar; improves brain function, and may help prevent cancer.
We believe in science so much that the average American consumes roughly 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and over $75 billion is spent annually worldwide on chocolate. I’m pretty sure I’m above average.
“Research tells us that fourteen out of every ten individuals like chocolate,” says Sandra Boynton, author of Chocolate, the Consuming Passion. She also points out that “The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.” Coincidence?
God bless the Mesoamericans who discovered it. First, they had to pick the cocoa pods and extract the beans inside. The beans ferment for a couple of weeks to concentrate the flavor and then must dry in the sun for another few weeks. Only then does the process of making chocolate begin. The beans are roasted, chopped into nibs and ground to extract the chocolate liquor, butter, and cocoa powder, which are then recombined with sugar to form the heavenly delicacy we know and love. This is not something those Mesoamericans simply stumbled on in the forest. They had to work at it with patience and persistence.
We thank them for their efforts and most of us agree with artist Jane Seabrook, who said. “If there’s no chocolate in Heaven, I’m not going.”

High Wire Act

In Learning, Prejudice, women on August 23, 2017 at 6:11 am

When I moved from my house to my condo, I got rid of a lot of stuff. My brother, bless him, helped by taking carloads of boxes and bags to charity. When it came to larger pieces, like a solid oak desk, he questioned why I would just give it away when I could easily sell it on Craigslist.
“I’m a woman living alone,” I explained. “I can’t have strangers coming to my house.”
It’s something most women would instinctively understand and most men would never consider.
Women do dozens of things to stay safe that would never occur to men. We don’t walk or run in the dark or enter an elevator with a single male occupant or open the door to someone we aren’t expecting or leave a drink unattended. We stay aware of our surroundings, avoid eye contact, carry pepper spray, and park near lightposts.
Still, women face danger every day, frequently from the men who supposedly love them.
Think about this: The number of women (11,766) killed in “domestic violence homicides between 9/11 and 2012 exceeds the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the ‘war on terror.’” That’s from Rebecca Solnit’s grim 2014 book, Men Explain Things to Me. She presents evidence that the biggest predictor of violence is gender.
Men commit 90% of all murders.
“Women worldwide ages 15-44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.”
Spousal murder is one of the main causes of death for pregnant women in the U.S.
“We have more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year.”
She points out that “kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy.” Most men are nonviolent, caring people.
That doesn’t change the fact that being female can be risky business. We walk a tightrope that requires constant vigilance. All it takes is one misstep, one momentary lapse of judgment.

Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying

In creativity, Home, Learning, music, solitude on August 22, 2017 at 6:01 am








The day started out pretty well with a visit to my doctor. She beamed at me and took me off one hated medication and reduced another. Good news, which she had to spoil by scheduling me for both a mammogram and a colonoscopy. Ugh. It didn’t help when she told me she had recently had her first colonoscopy and learned first hand how awful the preparation for that is. “I can’t believe I tell people all the time they have to do that.” Wouldn’t you think medical science could come up with a less dreadful test?
Things went downhill from there. I felt put upon, ignored, and misunderstood, all of which increased my pique about the over-hyped eclipse. Geez, people. It got a little dark. I dutifully took my stupid glasses out on the balcony and looked at the mostly covered sun for 30 seconds. So glad you all enjoyed it. Now can we get back to normal?
As my mood tanked, I tried a few of my standard remedies to cheer myself up. I played my eclipse-themed music, which was fun. My favorite song was “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers (remember them?) although it made me cry. It was that kind of day. I finished reading a book by my second favorite mystery author, Marcia Muller, so I could read the latest by my favorite mystery author, Sue Grafton, today.
I wrote an email telling someone to “back off” as nicely as I could while feeling pushed around.
I ate a couple of dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses.
I pulled myself together for a mostly unproductive interview for the church history I’m working on, and then I was done. No TV for me because seeing that orange monster preening and congratulating himself for his non-existent accomplishments would only worsen my disposition. Have you seen the tee shirt that superimposes a graphic of the twin towers against 45’s silhouette and says “The worst days in U.S. History—9/11 and 11/9? My sentiments exactly.
This morning I’ll take myself out for pancakes. Then I’ll continue my self care with reading, writing, and listening to music, trying to find my way back to an even keel and banish the darkness.
It could work.

Darkness, Darkness

In Learning, Prejudice, Resistance on August 21, 2017 at 5:40 am

Can’t say I’m excited about the eclipse. We’ve had too many dark days this year. A friend gave me a pair of the glasses, so I’ll probably put them on and go out to look at the sun for a few minutes. I’ll also keep off the roads because if people will be looking at the sky while driving, it just seems like a good time to stay home. I did have fun yesterday afternoon putting together an eclipse-themed playlist.
You may have seen the mock letter “Dear God, If you want us to impeach Trump, give us a sign. Like, blot out the sun… Anytime in the next week. Thanks, Americans.” Actually, I think God has already given us plenty of signs, if only we (and by we I mean Republicans) were smart enough to recognize them.
Trump’s appalling defense of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK last week was a tipping point for many people. On Saturday I attended a Call to Action for White Allies workshop. Organized at the last minute by Indivisible Denver, they expected about 40 people to attend. Instead, nearly 1,000 showed up.
Of course, racism is hardly a new problem in America. You might argue that it’s one of the foundations the country was built on. I have a hard time separating racism from sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia and other prejudices. They are all phenomenally stupid and cruel, and I and millions of other people are simply fed up.
Another popular online meme says, “The good old days, when women and black people knew their places – and queer was just the dirty family secret nobody talked about are over. Welcome to the 21st century.”
Astrologers tell us that eclipses tend to usher in sweeping change. Like most rational people, I think astrology is nonsense. This time, however, I hope they’re right. I want to believe that a couple hours of darkness will cause people to renounce their bigotry.
Against all logic and experience, I long for them to simply wake up and proclaim,
“Now, I see the light.”

Morning Has Broken

In creativity, Home, Learning, solitude, spirituality, writing on August 18, 2017 at 6:23 am

I love mornings.
I won’t apologize for being a morning person. My circadian rhythms were set at birth or maybe at conception. Who knows? You may hate me for what I’m going to say next, but I’m just trying to tell the truth.
I never have to use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.
I’ve never had a cup of coffee.
Those particular morning rituals strike me as a really hideous way to start the day. Using an alarm to blast you out of sleep means you miss that wonderful floaty moment or two when you first rise to consciousness, when you don’t quite remember what day it is or what happened yesterday and what’s to come today. That momentary amnesia lets you ease into the day slowly, gradually, naturally.
Coffee brings the second mini explosion to wake up your brain. Having never experienced this myself, I rely on cultural stereotypes, and they seem singularly negative, as in “I can’t do anything until I’ve had my first cup of coffee.”
Things I love about mornings:
The soft pink and gold light that comes with sunrise. The windows of my apartment all face north, so I can’t see the sunrise without leaving the building. Instead, I enjoy the way it paints everything like a watercolor wash.
The quiet and time alone with my thoughts. Many writers get up early to write before being distracted by the ordinary busyness of the day. Even the dog walkers aren’t out yet.
Maybe what I appreciate the most is the promise of a new day. Yes, I have things on my calendar that I need to get done, even though I’m no longer working in the accepted sense of the word. And, yes, these days bad things seem to happen every day that TV news channels, online newspapers, and my Facebook feed insist on pushing into my awareness.
But for right now, I can ignore those things and imagine a day when only pleasant events occur and enlightening thoughts fill my head. Someday, that will come true.
Maybe today.