Friday, November 7, 2014

Durga, the Mother Out Front

In Massachusetts, there is a small but growing group of climate justice activists called Mothers Out Front. When I first heard the name, I was skeptical. Why just mothers? Does climate action now fall in the category of cooking, attachment parenting, bargain hunting and PTO fundraising--things that flexibly employed spouses are supposed to execute while their partners punch the 9-5? And what did this group hope to contribute that other activists were not already doing?

So, at the invitation of a close friend, I went to my first meeting. Even as the moderator outlined the group's short and long-term goals, skepticism dominated my consciousness. Why mothers? Especially, mothers who have already made the ever-questioned choice of working full-time outside the home?

"Fierce Protectiveness" was the phrase in the Mothers Out Front declaration of intent that drew my attention. Yes, fierce.

Before my eyes flashed the pratima of Durga--bloodied, armed, serene, determined--fresh from the festival that had ended just a day ago. The crunch of sweet গজা , sent 400 miles by my own mother, lovingly over-packaged by my dad, still lingered in my mouth.

I realized why this climate action group focused on mothers: because it works.

Call it the "mother bear effect" or the "Ma Durga effect", there is science behind the reality that mothers react with vengeance when the vulnerable are threatened*.  Harnessing this anger into collective action simply works, explained the group's moderator.

When climate change disrupts our children's lives much more dramatically than it has today, "If my children ask what I did to stop it," she said, "I want to say that I did my best."

So, on the backs of lions, and with Shiva at our sides, here we come.

De Dreu CK, Shalvi S, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Handgraaf MJ. Oxytocin motivates
non-cooperation in intergroup conflict to protect vulnerable in-group members.
PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e46751. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046751. Epub 2012 Nov 7. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Five-and-a-half-year-old Rohan has got his dad and paternal grand-dad's focus and concentration. But what, other than an overdose of melodrama, did he inherit from me?

It took five years to figure it out: it's a love of words.

It was the case of the Cretoxyrhina that proved it. This prehistoric shark's common name is actually a cool one: "Ginsu shark," named for the way its teeth sliced through its prey. Yet, Rohan prefers the Latin. It's way more fun to say and write.


It could have been a one-off, one-shark phenomenon... but Squalicorax met a similar fate. Most people call this beast "Crow shark," but after a few trials, Rohan reverted to Squalicorax.

You say it. It oozes mystery and odiousness.

Since then, I take notice of which paleo-nasties Rohan likes:
  • Mosasaur
  • Hybodus
  • Stethacanthus
  • Liopleurodon
...and my favorite: Inostrancevia. 

This vicious early mammal's name is enough to liven up just about any mundane activity. I'm at work, getting water from the cooler, whispering to myself, "INOSTRANCEVIA!" Or maybe I'm on hold, waiting for a conference call to start. "Inostrancevia."


Oh, i guess there is someone else on the line after all.

Puerto Rico: April 2014

Having forgotten any sort of diary to bring on vacation, I wrote some things on scraps of paper, which I've become tired of saving. So, transcribing here.

April 21 -- 5:20 AM
True journey is return, wrote Laia Asieo Odo, and we have made our journey come true by returning to Punta Santiago, PR. It is largely unchanged; the same rooster crowing at 3:30 AM on, the green sea, the raucous bars on weekend nights, and Villa Jennice--open to it all, yet insulated from it, too. Jenny herself looks, as if it can be imagined, even younger than her age than before.

The main change to us is the addition of Uma, or, as Rohan refers to her, "Mumpsu-mime-so." Following Rohan everywhere, she discovers freedom here, and even without napping 3 days in a row, she stops short of a full-on tantrum. Uma is self-aware, and loves to bustle around with helpful business. Yesterday she picked, then shelled pigeon peas for the better part of an hour.

April 23 -- 5:40 AM
Another true journey completed by returning to La Mina falls in El Yunque rainforest. Yet it wasn't a true "return" because of how different the experience was. Instead of steady rain, slick paths, no stops, it was a brilliant, warm day, with lizards, diverse bird calls, breezes rustling the leaves of the canopy. Hordes of tourists clogged the base of the falls.

As we started hiking back, R. proclaimed, "That was 82,000 fun!" We hadn't warned them of the possibility of swimming in the falls, which wound up being an unforgettable surprise. They pretended to be seals on seal rock off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. U. echoed, "It was a Million fun!"

Apparently, she was also a "million" tired, because she promptly got onto my shoulders, piggy-back, and fell asleep. After the hike back, I transferred her to the car and she slept all the way to the Supermercado La Favorita in Punta Santiago, where we stopped for ice cream and trash bags.

April 25 -- 5 AM
"I have SO MUCH sharing-the-news! I just love... where we are," says R with wondrous joy. The week of a million fun continued with a kayak tour of Humacao Preserve's lagoon, where we saw two iguanas first observe humans signing up for kayaks. Then the iguanas ambled down to the bank, then up to a branch, one next to the other, to what seemed like a good spot to watch the humans put in. As we paddled past, the iguanas watched us with their heavy-lidded eyes, enjoying "The Human Show."

On Thursday, the ageless Paco Lopez took the five of us on his little boat out of Playa Naguabo to Monkey Island. Interestingly, R. insisted that Kitty come along. "Kitty ish sho excited to go on the boat," he explained in his deliberate, cute-kitty voice. Once we pulled out of the little harbor, Capt. Paco put on music, then pulled out maracas, tambourine, wood blocks, fish. After some music making, U. started looking surly, so I took her on my lap, where she fell asleep instantly. Once the boat was anchored, we laid her on the bench of the boat, and Paco offered to babysit while the rest of us snorkeled.

Unexpected freedom. I jumped into the clear water, where the boys were playing with a starfish. We swam to a 1944 shipwreck, around which swirled tropical fish. From Cayo Santiago, a band of monkeys chattered, fought and peered at the boat. The captain joked that he had been coming for so many years that the monkeys knew his boat.

Eventually I got a signal from the boat that U. was awake. No doubt it was a shock to her that, within 5 minutes of waking, she was strapped into a life jacket, thrust into the water and presented with a starfish.

April 26
A mangy cat frequents Villa Jennice, and the children call her Catty Jane, after the feline of the same name in the High Five magazines. After being chased and swatted with brooms too many times, Catty Jane learned that squeezing under a prickly bush was the best way to avoid children. "I miss Catty Jane," said R. as we sat in San Juan airport.

I do not miss Catty Jane, who peskily begged for our hamburger and chicken, but I do miss G. already, after having him as a traveling companion for a week and friend to R and U. Luckily, he has left me with the memory of some of his stories that make me cry with laughter hours and days after he tells them. The most notable is the story of his Prius running out of gas and the battery indicator light turning from "green to orange, to yellow, to PURPLE, which I'd never seen!"  The story is not actually very funny at all, but G's telling of it will stay with me.

G. stayed home one night so that Mike and I could go out. Our first choice was to eat seafood at Rest. Vinny in Naguabo, but that place was closed, as was El Makito, Daniel Seafood and just about every other restaurant in the vicinity. In the end, we went to Church's Chicken and devoured dos Volcan, 5 minutes before that place closed as well. In the parking lot was a Volkswagen rally, with motley buses and a couple of classic Beetles. My stomach protested slightly, in spite of the deliciousness of the Volcan, that it had been presented with chocolate instead of dinner, so we went straight home and ate a real dinner.

Like last time, cooking in Puerto Rico was a real pleasure, this time even better with an audience expanded by two. U. loved eating the pigeon peas as much as shelling them. G. and I loved eating chicken stirfried in sofrito verde. Happy to have discovered the concept of sofrito.. I must make a batch and store it in the fridge.

G. came with us to Old San Juan yesterday, his self-declared 3rd home, where he often rents an apartment and works on his apps during the gloom of San Francisco summers. We flew a kite, to U's extreme delight, at El Morro, then "sneaked past the guards" into the castle a la Jack and Annie in Knight at Dawn. R and U. loved pretending to defend the castle against pirates and hide in the secret passageways, sentry box and lighthouse. The instant we returned to the beach house, R. gathered miscellaneous items (foam cooler, cups, a bath mat, toilet paper rolls) and recreated El Morro on the balcony.

G. took us for a lunch of mofongos at his favorite eatery in Old San Juan, where the wait staff recognized him. U. had fallen asleep in the short car ride across town, so we transferred her to the stroller, where she napped while we ate.

At 5:30 PM, we took a last dip in the Carribbean, where the water felt like 85 degrees F. R. did a bit of swimming on his own, and U. tossed seaweed.

Beside the daily swims and Catty Jane, R and U have been entertained by 'water painting,' in which they make a big puddle in the void deck, then dip in brooms, brushes and body parts to paint the rest of the concrete floor. One afternoon, broom painting evolved into elbow-prints, nose-prints and whole-body-prints.

R. continued to live in his sea monster-tinted view of the world, with every jungle being the Late Cretaceous, logs being Tylosaurus and driftwood being jaws of Liopleurodon.