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Clarion West Write-a-thon Meets Mount Kilimanjaro

June 26, 2018
Mount Kilimanjaro Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim - June 1, 2009

Mount Kilimanjaro (Photo credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim – June 1, 2009)

I’m pretty sure no one in the history of the Clarion West Write-a-thon has made this offer to potential sponsors: I will take a picture of your picture on Mount Kilimanjaro in exchange for a sponsorship pledge.

You must have questions. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe your mind just filled with the thought of having your picture travel to Africa and be carried in my backpack at least most of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro. You’ve thought of all the interesting sights your picture will see without any negative high altitude effects. Now, all you can think is GIVE ME THE LINK TO THIS AMAZING OPPORTUNITY.

Here’s the link to my Clarion West Write-a-thon sponsorship page including sponsorship levels.

I attended Clarion West in the summer of 2017. Clarion West is a 6-week residency program for science fiction and fantasy writers. Every year, eighteen people attend the program. At least a hundred others, many of them volunteers, make it happen. Clarion West students are taught by a different science fiction and fantasy author each week. My teachers were Daryl Gregory, Kij Johnson, John Chu, Connie Willis, Daniel José Older, and Pat Cadigan. They were amazing! There’s a special place in my heart for each and every one of them.

Clarion West Class of 2017

Clarion West Class of 2017 Featuring Kij Johnson (Photo credit: M. Huw Evans, June 2017)

The lessons were wide-ranging. My writing shifted and clarified in a positive way that otherwise might have taken me many years to accomplish. The friendships I formed were numerous — with classmates, teachers, administrators, volunteers, sponsors, and anyone who was a friend of Clarion West. The kindness of the Clarion West community was overwhelming. I had never felt so supported and encouraged by so many strangers for so long a time period as I did in those six Clarion West weeks during the summer of 2017.

Now, I feel supported and encouraged in the same way, except the other members of the Clarion West community are no longer strangers. Meanwhile, over the last year, my classmates have published many dozens of short stories and non-fiction pieces. They’ve been nominated for awards, including a Nebula and a Hugo! Several are in the process of getting novels published. Master of Fine Arts degrees are in the process of being acquired. Others are teaching and studying and reading and otherwise improving their craft.

Andrea and Nunataks in Alaska

Andrea and Nunataks in Alaska

Clarion West administrators say they operate on a shoestring budget. I looked at that budget, and I was amazed to see that the whole operation costs just $200,000. That’s everything Clarion West does throughout the year, plus a 6-week residency program for eighteen students! Ten percent of the Clarion West budget comes from the Write-a-thon, which I’m participating in this year to help future students attend Clarion West and to give back to the community.

I’ll be on a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro during Write-a-thon time. The novella I’m working on should be mostly done before I start the trek (it better be!) so I’m offering some Kilimanjaro-related sponsorship levels:

  • For a $10 pledge, I will take a picture of your picture chilling at Mount Meru camp before the hike begins. 
  • For a $25 pledge, I will take a picture of your picture at either Shira Plateau (elevation 13,000 feet) or on Mount Meru (elevation 14,977 feet) with Kilimanjaro in the background. 
  • For a $50 pledge, I will take a picture of your picture at all 3 locations listed above. 

There’s more information including picture acquisition details on my pledge page.

Sponsor me, and give a picture of you the opportunity of a lifetime.

No Sharks Were Harmed in the Making of this Picture of a Picture

No Sharks Were Harmed in the Making of This Picture of a Picture


Charm City Spec: My Kind of Reading Series

May 31, 2018
Three awesome authors

from left: A.C. Wise, Leah Cypess, Fran Wilde

Speculative fiction runs in Baltimore’s blood. Edgar Allan Poe must have started it percolating when he first moved to the city in 1829. Dashiell Hammet, who lived in Baltimore in the early 1900s and worked as a Pinkerton, must have kept speculative fiction on life support by adding a dose of mystery. Fast forward to the 1960s, and the Baltimore Science Fiction Society was born in the back of a Trailways bus. Or so I’m told.

Roger Zelazny, Joe Haldeman, Jack Haldeman, and Gardner Dozois were some of the more famous names associated with early efforts to put Baltimore on the speculative fiction map. Fifty years on, speculative fiction in Baltimore is going strong.

In 2018, the Charm City Spec Reading Series joined a long tradition of speculative fiction in the city. The series aims to spotlight not only Baltimore-area speculative fiction writers, but also those from out-of-town. Past readers have included Katherine Locke, Sunny Moraine, Catharine Asaro, Ariel S. Winter, Malka Older, and Tom Doyle. In April, Leah Cypess, A.C. Wise, and Fran Wilde joined their ranks.

I was lucky enough to get rockstar parking across the street from cafe-bookshop Bird in Hand, where Charm City Spec happens. There’s nothing like a bookshop that lets me eat vegetable soup and drink hot chocolate right next to the brand new books for sale. Bird in Hand’s relaxed atmosphere and independent spirit make them easy to love. They’re the perfect setting for the Charm City Spec Reading Series.

Leah Cypess reads

Leah Cypess

After a bit of chatting and the distribution of tarot cards for a later book giveaway, Leah Cypess kicked off the night. She read from her novel Mistwood, the tale of an ancient shapeshifter trapped in the body of a human girl. Cypess pulled from chapter 2, and I was immediately hooked. Mistwood is just one of Cypess’s four published novels. The author’s second reading was from On the Ship,” one of her many pieces in Asimov’s Science Fiction. That story is about an intergenerational ship making landfall for the fifth time after four unsuccessful attempts. During Cypess’s question-and-answer session, she talked about how Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams sent Cypess a series of encouraging notes to accompany rejections before Williams eventually bought a story. It was a heartening tale for writers.

A.C. Wise reads

A.C. Wise

A.C. Wise read from her novel The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter SquadronThe Glitter Squadron and I go way back. I fell in love with them three years ago as I prepared to interview Wise for Weightless Books. I’d never heard Wise read her work before, and she brought as much personality to the ass-kicking, monster-fighting group as I imagined when I read her debut novel in 2015. The Glitter Squadron superheroes use the full force of their extra-chunky heels, rayguns and spaceships to root out evil, especially when it comes in the form of eels. Wise is more than a novelist, too. Since 2004, over 100 of her short stories have been published. Like Leah Cypess and Fran Wilde, A.C. Wise offered the Bird in Hand audience an engaging, well-delivered taste of her work.

Fran Wilde reads

Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde read the entirety of her Uncanny Magazine short story “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand.” Wilde’s stage presence is compelling. Teeth filled her chilling reading. Introducing the piece, Wilde said, “I should tell you I was fairly angry when I wrote this.” That was clear from the reading, but it was still wrapped in a layer of awesome. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” has been nominated for a Nebula award and a Hugo. Those aren’t Wilde’s first nominations. Her work has been recognized several times over the last few years with numerous nominations, and her debut novel Updraft won the Andre Norton and Compton Crook awards. The third book in her Bone Cycle series was published in 2017.

Yes, the reading series is awesome. Yes, the talent on display is impressive. Yes, I had soup and a hot chocolate for dinner. Yes, I still went to Insomnia Cookies across the street afterward for the sustenance I required to drive the 39 miles back to Washington D.C.  I cannot resist cookies or readings by great speculative fiction authors. The Charm City Spec Reading Series was everything I hoped it would be.

Alan Smale, Justina Ireland and Bryan Camp are next up for Charm City Spec. The authors will be at Bird in Hand to read and take questions on July 18, 2018 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be amazing.

Charm City Spec can be found at, on Facebook, and on twitter @CharmCitySpec.

Frederick Douglass’s Cedar Hill Home

February 28, 2018

I had to make a reservation to get into Frederick Douglass’s Cedar Hill home. Okay, that’s over-stating things. I wanted to make a reservation. Otherwise, what if I showed up and all ten spots on the National Park Service tour were taken? One thing would lead to another, and I’d be drowning my sorrows in cabbage and a patty at Caribbean Citations just when my waistline would be saying that’s not such a good idea.

Horned Hat Rack of Awesomeness

Horned Hat Rack of Awesomeness

Pie Cabinet. Yes, Pie Cabinet.

Pie Cabinet. Yes, Pie Cabinet.

But it turns out I was the only one on the Cedar Hill tour. That was super-perfect for me but unfortunate for the nine-person group that also reserved spots but didn’t show up. They missed out on that amazing feeling of being surrounded by a sense of history and actual objects that participated (at least peripherally) in events. Cedar Hill was never gutted as so many other historic homes and buildings have been. (Spoiler alert — the interior of Ford’s Theatre is a re-creation!) Seventy percent of Cedar Hill furnishings were in the house when Frederick Douglass lived there.

Mr. Barnes was my personal tour guide through Cedar Hill. What a treat! And what an effort on my part not to touch the furnishings!

A few years ago while I was consuming book after book of Civil War history, I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The book was published in 1845. Connecting with the horror Mr. Douglass describes in his first autobiography has always been hard — not hard to imagine, but hard to want to imagine. Plus, I don’t like to think about how the United States Constitution once legalized enslaving people or how in the 150 years since that changed, people in the U.S. still have to fight for basic rights.

Photograph of Anna Murray Douglass (1813–1882), the first wife of Frederick Douglass

Anna Murray Douglass (1813–1882), the first wife of Frederick Douglass

I prefer to think about how good people make the world a better place. As one of those people, Frederick Douglass surrounded himself with other bold thinkers also bringing about positive change through sacrifice. When I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the person who really stuck out to me — after Mr. Douglass, of course — was his wife, Anna Murray-Douglass. In 1838, the future Mrs. Douglass gave the man she loved sailor’s clothing to disguise himself and part of her own savings so that he might escape enslavement, which he did. I was glad to see that the importance of the first Mrs. Douglass was clear at Cedar Hill even though she only lived there a few years. (Rosetta Sprague Douglass wrote an article about her mother, and it’s an interesting read.)

The visit to Frederick Douglass’s home helped me understand there was a at least a bit of whimsy in the man. One example: I quite enjoyed the idea of his rounded-lid traveling trunks. They would always have to be placed atop the trunks of others when he traveled, thus giving Douglass easier access to his things and quicker unloading. No doubt, they were banned on various modes of transportation. People would have seen those rounded lids coming for a mile, and Mr. Douglass clearly didn’t care. That makes me smile.

The Growler

The Growler

Mr. Douglass’s Growler (or “man-cave” as Mr. Barnes suggested in the more modern vernacular) was another bit of fun. The Growler was a tiny brick shack set a couple hundred feet back from the main house. I love the idea that a world-renowned figure like Mr. Douglass might set up a small space just for himself — maybe to write, maybe to have a quiet moment, maybe to read — who knows? The Growler reminded me of my favorite cube-farm desk. My colleagues at the time thought that cube was ridiculous. It had just enough room for me and one other person but only as long as that other person kept their legs outside of the cube and in the cube-farm hallway. I loved that space. It was perfect for keeping out the riffraff, and I didn’t even have to physically eject them. Even the haters knew that my cube was only big enough for one person. Maybe Mr. Douglass was writing in his Growler. Maybe he was thinking. Maybe he was reading. Or maybe he was just trying to keep out the riffraff.

Cedar Hill View with Capitol

Cedar Hill View with Capitol

My favorite bit of fun had to do with why Mr. Douglass chose to build Cedar Hill where he did. I could appreciate that the view was spectacular and that the breeze might have helped with the heat and the bugs. But a two-mile commute into work including a river crossing must have been more than the average well-off man of the 1880’s was interested in tolerating. I asked Mr. Barnes if he knew why Mr. Douglass chose the location. The twinkle in Mr. Barnes’s eye was unmistakable. He said the answer lay in the fact the locals didn’t want Mr. Douglass in their neighborhood. That made me smile, too. Building a house atop the highest hill in a neighborhood that tried to keep you out sounds like the kind of fun I appreciate.

Women in the World of Frederick Douglass by Leigh Fought

Women in the World of Frederick Douglass by Leigh Fought

My Frederick Douglass questions came at a price. I left Cedar Hill with homework from Mr. Barnes, who strongly suggested I consult numerous additional resources like the Library of Congress’s Frederick Douglass collection, Douglass’s three additional autobiographies, and Leigh Fought’s Women in the World of Frederick Douglass. My local library had a copy of Fought’s book, and I snatched it up. But worry not! The D.C. Public Library has twenty more copies for everyone else!

More information about Cedar Hill and Frederick Douglass can be found here on the National Park Service website. Reservations are only required for groups of ten or more. The only way to see the inside of Cedar Hill is to join one of the tours, and I highly recommend a visit.




Detroit Institute of Arts: The Most Loved Museum

January 31, 2018
Officer of the Hussars, 2007 - Kehinde Wiley

Officer of the Hussars, 2007 – Kehinde Wiley

Detroit in January has a lot going for it:

  • Ease of access with $126 roundtrip flights from BWI. For any time travelers just arriving from the 1800s, $126 is not as much as it might sound.  For that price, a metal tube in the sky delivers you after 1.5 hours to your destination hundreds of miles away without you having to fight bears or forge rivers.
  • Car rentals at $26 / day including taxes and fees. Yes, that’s right. You can rent a car in Detroit in January for the entire day for less than the cost of an Uber ride from Georgetown to Navy Yard.

    Kate Elliott and John Scalzi, ConFusion, 2018

    Kate Elliott and John Scalzi discuss the writing life, their favorite dog breeds, and other random interesting stuff, ConFusion, 2018.

  • The ConFusion Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. It’s like the big, crazy SF/F conventions with all the people I wanted to see and with all the panels I wanted to attend, but without the crowds. It was perfect. Plus, my Clarion West 2017 class decided to have a reunion there. Go Team Eclipse!
  • The Detroit Institute of Arts. Admittedly, of the four items in this list, only the Detroit Institute of Arts is available outside the bounds of January. But it was the presence of the other three items that made it inevitable that I would finally go to the Detroit Institute of Arts this year. That was even before I knew I would see Kehinde Wiley’s awesome Officer of the Hussars, 2007 (see above, and click here for a close-up of the signage that explains the painting). Kehinde Wiley has been commissioned to paint President Obama’s official portrait for the Smithsonian. SQUEE!
Watson and the Shark, 1782 - John Singleton Copley

Watson and the Shark, 1782 – John Singleton Copley




I’ve been casting around for an excuse to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts since I saw the movie Frida and learned how, in 1932, Frida Kahlo came to Detroit with her husband Diego Rivera. He had been commissioned by Ford Motor Company to paint twenty-seven murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I was intrigued by what kind of city commissioned a famous Mexican artist in 1932 for such an undertaking. I wanted to see the murals first-hand, and I wanted to get my eyes on the rest of collection that had caused so much controversy.

Detroit Industry Murals, 1932-1933 - Diego Rivera

Detroit Industry Murals, 1932-1933 – Diego Rivera

Over the last few years, the DIA has had a rough time of it. They almost lost their artwork. The City of Detroit, which owned the DIA, went bankrupt and started making moves to sell the art collection to pay for city pensions. That caused a kerfuffle, to say the least. One thing led to another, and in 2014, the DIA was returned to its non-profit status (independent of the City of Detroit) with its collection intact. That was less than four years ago.

Girl Reading, 1938 - Pablo Picasso

Girl Reading, 1938 – Pablo Picasso

Visiting in January 2018, I expected a somewhat rundown museum that needed love. I was so wrong. The Detroit Institute of Arts is the most loved art museum I have ever visited, and it’s exhibits satisfy a range of tastes.




Art museums that can afford to do so redesign their interiors to enhance the presentation of their artwork. From my visitor’s perspective, adjustments to interior design normally seem to consist of repainting walls, adjusting lighting and optimizing the location of partitions between and within rooms.

DIA Church Alcove Replica, 2018

DIA Church Alcove Replica, 2018

But at the DIA, they’ve gone far beyond those surface adjustments. Attention has been paid to the crown molding in each room, the height of the ceilings, the type of flooring and the aesthetic necessity of built-in wall recesses.

Each room’s flooring was unique. The most striking example was in the Medieval and Renaissance Room, which contained cobblestone in some places, wooden slatted floors in others plus stone tile and brick. That room even held an alcove set up to appear like it was within a church. A stained glass window lit by a courtyard completed the look. I was amazed.

Setting aside the wonders of flooring, I was struck by the feeling that each piece of art at the DIA had been carefully curated and lovingly placed on display. In addition, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the courtyard was filled with the sound of children’s voices. The DIA is free to the local community, and on the day I visited, an after-school group was setting up a couple dozen tables to play chess.

The Moods of Time, 1938 - Paul Manship

The Moods of Time, 1938 – Paul Manship

Seeing all the kids inside the museum after school was what did it for me. Of course, Detroit residents and art patrons in the 1930s would commission the most famous Mexican artist of his time to paint twenty-seven giant murals representing the city that they loved. The DIA was part of the community and an expression of it as it continues to be. I’m so glad I visited. The DIA is truly a special place.

In addition to the artwork above, below are more photos of the pieces I most enjoyed at DIA. I’m pleased to report I inadvertently missed the third floor of the museum. That can mean only one thing: Detroit in January 2019, here I come!

Self-Portrait, 1962 - Beauford Delaney

Self-Portrait, 1962 – Beauford Delaney

Nativity, 1954 - Jacob Lawrence

Nativity, 1954 – Jacob Lawrence

The Piper, 1953 - Hughie Lee-Smith

The Piper, 1953 – Hughie Lee-Smith

Mosquito Nets, 1908 - John Singer Sargent

Mosquito Nets, 1908 – John Singer Sargent

Girl and Laurel, 1870 - Winslow Homer

Girl and Laurel, 1870 – Winslow Homer

Dripy, 2013 - Mitchell Schorr

Dripy, 2013 – Mitchell Schorr

Hardball III, 1993 - Robert Moskowitz

Hardball III, 1993 – Robert Moskowitz

Variability of Similar Forms, 1970 - Nancy Graves

Variability of Similar Forms, 1970 – Nancy Graves

Portrait of a Collagist, 1989 - Benny Andrews

Portrait of a Collagist, 1989 – Benny Andrews

Something You Can Feel, 2008 - Mickalene Thomas

Something You Can Feel, 2008 – Mickalene Thomas

Terry Pratchett: Hisworld at the Salisbury Museum

December 2, 2017

“When they’re laughing at you, their guard is down. When their guard is down, you can kick them in the fracas.”  ― Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

IMG_3664The Discworld series includes forty-one published novels. I’ve read thirty-nine of them. I have nothing against the last two books. I’m just saving them for when another dose of Sir Terry Pratchett’s version of awesomeness is needed.

Some time ago, Cake Man gave me my first Discworld book — Monstrous Regiment. I wasn’t ready for it. I knew the novel was funny, but it wasn’t yet everything for me that Cake Man seemed to think it would be. I’m a person who likes things in order, so I had to start from the beginning of the series.

I got a copy of The Colour of Magic and began to steadily devour one Discworld book after the other. In order. I’d fallen in love with the series. I remain in awe of Terry Pratchett.

“It was all very well going on about pure logic and how the universe was ruled by logic and the harmony of numbers, but the plain fact of the matter was that the Disc was manifestly traversing space on the back of a giant turtle and the gods had a habit of going round to atheists’ houses and smashing their windows.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic


Silver Horde, 2000 – Paul Kidby

Earlier this year, the Salisbury Museum in the United Kingdom announced it would be hosting an exhibit about Terry Pratchett, who had lived near Salisbury and died in 2015.

Halfway through my first attempt to read Monstrous Regiment in 2005, I wouldn’t have been able to predict I’d make a special trip to Salisbury to see the Hisworld exhibit. I also wouldn’t have been able to predict I’d have to think about whether Terry Pratchett had become my all-time favorite author. (Don’t worry, ghost of Frank Herbert. It was close, but you’re still in the top spot.)

Conveniently, a beloved English cousin decided to get married a mere two train ride hours away from Salisbury (and 3,603 miles from Washington D.C.).

“Cats will amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw.” ― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

As a veteran of many hours of listening to me recount the details of various hilarious scenes in Discworld books, Cake Man is well-aware of this particular obsession of mine. He is also very tolerant considering he read most of the series before I did. And not once has he asked me to cease my botched attempts to speak like the Nac Mac Feegel. Despite all this, I thought he might try to talk me out of an overnight excursion to Salisbury.

Instead, he gave me one of those looks like I don’t quite know stuff about history.

He said, “You know Stonehenge is only ten miles from Salisbury, right? You should probably visit that, too.”

Actually, I DIDN’T know Stonehenge was so close.

“Cake is not the issue here.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

One thing led to another, and a couple of friends from the cousin’s wedding accompanied me to Terry Pratchett: Hisworld. I made it clear ahead of time that no matter what else was going on in Salisbury, the exhibit at the museum was the top priority. I’d even bought my ticket ahead of time! Given my experience getting into D.C. museums and my Salisbury time constraints,* I wasn’t taking any chances.

Suffice it to say there were no lines to get into this museum. I question the priorities of other people.


The exhibit included at least a hundred of Pratchett’s personal items surrounded by many Paul Kidby and Josh Kirby Discworld paintings, Pratchett quotes-galore and a room-sized replica of Sir Terry’s office. The author’s signature black hat, leather jacket and skull-topped walking stick were on display as was the meteorite-infused sword he forged himself. His original Imperial 58 typewriter also got a place of honor in the museum.

Terry Pratchett's Imperial 58 Typewriter

Terry Pratchett’s Imperial 58 Typewriter

“They think written words are even more powerful,’ whispered the toad. ‘They think all writing is magic. Words worry them. See their swords? They glow blue in the presence of lawyers.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Terry Pratchett, November 24, 1967

Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Terry Pratchett, November 24, 1967

Unexpectedly, my favorite exhibit item from long before the first Discworld book was published. It was a November 24, 1967 letter from J.R.R. Tolkien. Apparently, few people at the time of the phenomenal success of Lord of the Rings were writing Tolkien that their favorite book of his was Smith of Wooton Major. Nineteen-year-old Pratchett had done just that, and Tolkien wrote back. History, indeed!

I was surprised by how much tenderness defined the exhibit. That’s a feeling I’m not accustomed to in a museum. But the people who put together Terry Pratchett: Hisworld actually knew the man. Hisworld was both a destination for the curious and a tribute to a beloved writer in the Salisbury community.


The exhibit is running parallel to the museum’s efforts to raise funds for new loos. They are calling it The Toilet Fund. Very Discworld. Very funny. Very Terry Pratchett.

“Never promise to do the possible. Anyone could do the possible. You should promise to do the impossible, because sometimes the impossible was possible, if you could find the right way, and at least you could often extend the limits of the possible. And if you failed, well, it had been impossible.” ― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

The exhibit closes on January 13, 2018. I hope you have an English cousin getting married southwest of London before then!

Replica of Sir Terry Pratchett's writing space

Replica of Sir Terry Pratchett’s writing space

*Yes, I visited Stonehenge. It was great! Fie on those who are grumpy about not being close to the stones. The set-up was perfect. Besides, people are weird about touching old things, like they don’t realize they have dinosaur atoms in their body or that exposed rocks in the Shenandoah are a billion years old. Also, there are 7,442,000,000 people on Earth. At least a third of them want to touch the stones. If they all did, I would never get a good picture!** Old Sarum, which was also nearby, blew my mind. Plus, the Tower Tour of Salisbury Cathedral was sooooo cool. And I got a little emotional when I saw the Magna Carta on display in the Cathedral Close.

**“Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.” ― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man


Vieques, Puerto Rico: DC’s Cousin to the South

October 13, 2017
Vieques - Saturday at the Beach

Vieques – Saturday at the Beach

In Vieques, the horses were everywhere. They stood alongside the road and in it. They posed in grassy fields and chilled on overgrown paths to the beach. I was told the animals were a mix of wild ones and those owned by someone. For the most part, I couldn’t tell which was which. Just because a horse might be standing behind a fence and eyeing me meant nothing — I had gone past lots of open gates. The only Vieques horses I was sure were domesticated were the saddle-free animals that kids galloped down the street. It was quite a sight.

Vieques Horse on Beach Path

Don’t mind me. Just hanging out here.

The Vieques life seemed like a pretty good one for a horse. At least, it was in August 2017 before the hurricanes, which I imagine killed most of them. So much has changed since I visited. But for a week in August 2017, I was on vacation in Vieques, and I felt at home. What I mean is I felt at home if home also had beautiful oceanside beaches where the extended family goes on the weekend to stand in waist-deep water goofing around and drinking beer — think: Hains Point before Maryland absconded with The Awakening sculpture. (No, I will not let that go.)

In Vieques, which is eight miles from Puerto Rico’s big island, I stayed at the amazing Hacienda Tamarindo and explored the surroundings by Jeep and on foot. I soon realized that despite being in the Caribbean, Vieques is more like Washington D.C. than any place I have ever visited. The parallels might not be obvious, but consider the following:


The horses of Vieques and the squirrels of D.C fill the same psychological niche. Both are everywhere, and visitors love them. Horses fill the ground with processed-grass surprises just like squirrels decorate D.C. with the innards of trash bags. Yet we all still love the local wildlife. And possibly fear them.

Vieques Dinner at Hortas BBQ

Vieques Dinner at Hortas BBQ

Tourists with vehicles get the same advice in D.C. as in Vieques: don’t leave valuables in your car. In D.C., we point out the gutter glitter of broken window glass. In Vieques, they take it a step further and tell you not to bother locking your vehicle at all. A locked car door is just a giveaway that you have something inside worth stealing. The Jeep rental staff said there was no way someone would steal a vehicle on Vieques. A car can’t be driven off the island without the ferry driver knowing it was stolen.

Some people might worry about visiting Vieques. Me? I felt at home. The idea of doing an effective end-run around criminals warmed the cockles of my city heart.

But the similarities weren’t all equestrian ordure and parking with the windows rolled down. In D.C. and in Vieques, we both love our big old trees. Southwest D.C. has a 200-year-old Japanese elm tree (zelkova serrata) we like to make a big deal out of. Or at least, I am guaranteed to go on and on about it and demand visitors acknowledge the tree’s awesomeness. An arborist saved the zelkova in the 1950s when Southwest was leveled ahead of “urban renewal.” Vieques has a 300-year old Ceiba (ceiba pentandra) and a surrounding park that’s gotten a large dose of local love and attention, too. During vacation, the gigantic Ceiba was a must-see for me.

Vieques Cieba Tree

Vieques Cieba Tree, August 2017

So, very quickly, Vieques felt familiar. But I didn’t understand exactly why until a few days into the trip when I went to the island’s Fort Count Mirasol. The fort contained a local museum and an art gallery with pieces born of the same creativity I’ve seen on display at the Blind Whino’s gallery in Southwest D.C.


Though I was intrigued by the art above, it was the rest of the museum that finally helped me understand why I felt so at home on the island. I saw not only art pieces but also numerous displays about the 50+ years of bomb testing the U.S. Navy conducted on  Vieques. I learned how the Viequenses were forced off their farms and how the they were fighting to right the wrong of Navy-led environmental pollution on the island.


I connected what I saw in the museum to what I’d been told by people around the island. I’d heard complaints about the harms of the Jones Act. People had expressed reluctance to grow their own food. Islanders were saddened and disturbed by the  inaccessibility of so much of Vieques. Even the kindness of the people took on a new dimension. The Viequenses might have been fundamentally nice people, but they needed my tourist dollars. Everything had clicked into place.

The people of Vieques have no representation in Congress. Just like Washington, D.C.

Vieques Stop Affecting Our World

Protest Sign On a Vieques Pier

Because of the lack of representation, the National government does things to Vieques that otherwise would not be permitted. On the flip side, the National government fails to do things for Vieques that the National government should be doing. The continued lack of representation means that when the courts say only Congress can help the Viequenses, that effectively means no one with a Congressional vote can be counted on to put Vieques (or Puerto Rico) first. National-level laws and regulations designed solely for Puerto Rico and Vieques will not be crafted in consultation with its people. This happens all the time in D.C., like when politicians representing rural states mess with D.C.’s gun laws or when our mayor has to fight with the Congress to be allowed to spend local money raised from D.C. taxpayers in order to keep the city running when the National government shuts down. Suffice it to say I suddenly understood why I felt such a kinship with Vieques.

This brings me to Vieques post-Hurricane Maria. Here’s what the Ceiba tree looked like in September 2017. It’s a fitting summary for what happened on the rest of the island and quite a contrast to the picture above from August 2017.

Ceiba Tree, Photo by Elliot Anderson via

Ceiba Tree, September 2017, Photo Copyright Elliot Anderson via*

The Ceiba tree that stood for 300 years will probably recover. The people who live on  Vieques may not. They weren’t treated well in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes. For the first two post-hurricane weeks, private, crowd-funded assistance was more important to people’s survival than the National government, which was largely absent. I donated to ViequesLove to help get assistance moving to the island that grew close to my heart so quickly. As of mid-October 2017, that GoFundMe was still taking in money and providing assistance.

After the Federal government shutdown debacle in 2013, I became a firm supporter of D.C. statehood. Now, I think Puerto Rico should be a state, too. The U.S. flag would look great with 52 stars. The people of D.C. and their spiritual cousins in Puerto Rico should get voting representation in Congress. The world would be a better place for it.

*Elliott Anderson’s photo of the Ceiba tree can be found via an article on here and as a related image here.

A Visit to The Warhol

August 30, 2017
Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1966-1967

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait,1966-1967

I remember that Love Boat episode with Andy Warhol in it, though I don’t remember it accurately. My pre-teen brain decided Warhol was a vampire because he was so pale and wore the most fantastic clothing. There was only one problem. I thought I knew all the vampire powers and limitations. Daylight roaming certainly was not allowed, though Warhol was doing it. I guessed Love Boat was bending the rules again to do some intra-network promotion. I assumed Warhol’s appearance meant Fantasy Island characters would be showing up, too. Sadly, I did not see Ricardo Montalbán. I was into him way before the Wrath of Khan and That Chest. But I digress…

A new fascination with Andy Warhol was born that strange Love Boat day. So on a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I couldn’t resist visiting Andy Warhol’s museum.  It was everything I could have hoped for.

Andy Warhol, Julia Warhola, 1974

Andy Warhol, Julia Warhola, 1974

Of course, a pop art painting of Warhol’s mother Julia was on display. By the time I got to the double-portrait of her, I had already absorbed a great deal of The Warhol. I learned Andy was a child of the Great Depression who earned over $70,000 a year as an illustrator by the end of the 1950s. He was just 30 years old. At the time, Andy Warhol’s persona and art were a little different.




His mother Julia had been living with him since 1951. She was an artist, too, and she supported Andy’s creative pursuits from an early age as all the best moms do. But Julia Warhola was a super-mom. Born in Slovakia in 1891, she lived in her son’s basement apartment for twenty years from 1951-1971. Just to clarify — Andy Warhol’s mother  resided at Pop Art Central for twenty years! During the sixties! The things that woman saw! I imagine she was having as good a time as everyone else. For twenty years, she continued her own artistic work and contributed to her son’s oeuvre most noticeably by adding distinctive text to his pieces.

I thought more about history than I expected to at the Warhol museum. My 18-year long (apparently!) attempt to read in order at least one biography of each American president recently brought me up to 1969. Wikipedia helped with the rest. The Warhol museum gave me a somewhat randomized opportunity to imagine how the art, politics and controversies of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s wove into each other. I was particularly affected by:

Jackie Kennedy memorialized less the year after the assassination of JFK,

Red Jackie, 1964, Andy Warhol

Red Jackie, 1964, Andy Warhol

Fear of Nixon and concern about his re-election visualized in garish color,

Andy Warhol, Vote McGovern, 1974

Andy Warhol, Vote McGovern, 1974

A sultry Mick Jagger,

Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, 1975

Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, 1975

Robert Mapplethorpe before Reagan and HIV,

Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1983

Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1983

and one man’s desire for motorcycles and cheap eats at the Last Supper.

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986

The Andy Warhol Museum contained quite an intriguing collection that lacked only a Ricardo Montalbán montage. Luckily, PowerPoint’s “Format Picture” options helped me take the edge off.

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