Fiction in a minute: Train

The cameraman said “rolling” and the red light over the lens glowed. The blond antiques appraiser slid his mirrored compact into his pocket and looked at Howard expectantly. “What did you bring to the show today?” “Train set. My father’s. He said it was the only thing he would save if the house was on fire,” Howard said. “He wouldn’t let us play with it.” “Sentimental value,” the appraiser said, as an explanation. Howard swallowed nervous laughter. His father was not sentimental. “It’s a cast iron train, early 20th century. Made by Ives, the precursor to Lionel Trains. You’ve heard of Lionel?” Howard nodded, bored. They’d already told him this. [...]

Fiction in a minute: Dancer

The heavy bass pulsed through my skin, alchemizing my old bones to stretchy, strong muscle. I danced and whirled and spun and slid, my body melting like liquid into the music. Then, silence. Laughter and the sound of high heels on wood floors echoed off of the dance studio’s mirrors. I opened my eyes to see three young women dressed in tight-fitting shorts, crop tops and sandals with five-inch heels stood at the door. The prettiest one gazed at me, blue eyes framed by long blond waves. She was accustomed to getting attention, and even I felt the magnetism of her smile. “It’s time for pole-dancing class, grandma,” she said. [...]

Fiction in a minute: Mushroom

I fell into the dirt and dead leaves on the forest floor, banging my right knee on a rock and splintering my palms on rotten wood. I must have bit my lip too, because I tasted blood when I caught my breath. “Are we having fun yet?” Frieda said with a smirk. It was the third time I’d thought about killing her today. Now I knew how to do it. Frieda crossed her arms. “Come on already, klutz. It’s another mile to camp and it’s almost dark.” “Coming,” I said. Electric currents ran through me. I cupped my hand over the death cap mushroom and pulled. The soil gave up [...]

Value confusion

I’m more accustomed to hearing about values being talked about in a set – I’m thinking mainly of politicians touting “family values” and “American values” – as though there is some established list everyone who is important has agreed to. It also makes me think about times I’ve heard the word used as window dressing for intolerance and discrimination — where “our values” means “not yours.” But what are values exactly? I wasn’t 100% sure I understood the concept outside of those examples. Do values in fact come in some pre-existing set, such as a religious doctrine or mission statement? Can values be right or wrong? Are they unique or [...]

When women were astronomical computers

Being a computer used to be one of the few women’s jobs in astronomy. Today, the word computer evokes plastic cases, microchips and power cords, but the term “computer” was actually first used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to describe people who solved mathematical equations using their brains and a pencil and paper. Rooms of these human computers, or clerks, sat at desks, crunching through large amounts of data for weeks that today can be done in a millisecond. This was not glamorous work. But it was one of the few jobs available to women in the fields of math and science at the time. So if [...]

Nirvana: Yup, that’s the voice of my generation

I was angry in the early 1990s Los Angeles. My new college degree in business wasn’t helping me find a job in California’s deep recession and weak recovery. I was working two part-time jobs — one doing car insurance quotes on the phone and the other working as a receptionist in a Malibu doctor’s office, selling prescription medicine for baldness to one of my teen idols. It was disheartening to say the least. Just a few years earlier, it seemed like any business student who was willing to work long hours and be just a little smarter than their competitors could make a million bucks overnight in mergers and acquisitions. [...]

Turning sexism upside down

A handful of North American women pastors and church leaders sparked a great Twitter conversation Friday night with a simple technique. They wrote down all the discouraging, sexist things people said to them along their career path. Then they replaced “she” with “he” and “woman” with “man.” A sample: The meme was just too delicious to remain about one profession. Women of diverse backgrounds and professions began chiming in. I started thinking about some of the sexist things people (men, mainly, but some women) said to me over the years. One man suggesting I should “bat my eyes and flirt” with men to sell raffle tickets at a fundraiser. A [...]

A curious Mom

May 5 is my mother’s birthday — happy birthday, Rosemary Rosick Lipinski! — and when I think of my favorite things about her, I think about her lifelong sense of curiosity. It has been one of her best gifts she’s given me (besides the decades of devotion and financial and emotional support, and the Barbie townhouse with working elevator). I believe this because curiosity keeps us open to surprise, interested in others, compassionate and a dedicated life-long learner, and these are all good things for individuals and for the humankind. Her curiosity drives her to make friends wherever she goes — striking up conversations in waiting rooms, check-out lines and [...]

Pysanky

One of my favorite Easter memories is making pysanky with my parents, sister and friends. We stood at the stove for hours, carefully applying melted candle wax in patterns on hard-boiled eggs, using a straight pin from my mother’s sewing room stuck into the eraser of a wooden pencil as our stylus. In between layers of wax, we dipped the eggs in dyes, starting with the lightest yellows and proceeding through to the darkest purple. The art of pysanky is said to be ancient, rooted in Eastern European pagan customs of sun worship ceremonies. A symbol of life and hope in many cultures, the egg with its yellow yolk was a [...]

Spring in SoCal

“I guess it’s spring, I don’t know, it’s always 75 degrees with no melting snow,” Jenny Lewis of Los Angeles’ band Rilo Kiley sings plaintively in one of my favorite songs, Does He Love You? And I know what she means. If it weren’t for the bright floral dresses at the mall and the marshmallow peeps at the drug store, I’m not sure I’d know the seasons had changed here in LA. You have to really be looking for spring to see it, but once I open my eyes to it, signs of the earth’s annual rebirth are all around, even in a city with blue skies all year round. [...]