PITCAIRN ISLAND: home of Mutineers, Artists and Superhero Bees!

Pitcairn island population

I am aboard a small cruise ship, circumnavigating Pitcairn Island.  It is only two miles square—a tiny deep green bump smack dab in the middle of the South Pacific. The ocean is angry today, and sprays a breathtaking sapphire blue. The skies are bleak and ominous. The island has no port to accommodate a ship of our size, and so the people of Pitcairn have been invited to come to us.

I hang over the rail and search through the tropical rain until my sundress clings to me like a second skin. I want to catch a first glimpse of these most unusual residents; descendants of the mutineers from the famous ship Bounty, of Captain Bligh fame. Nearly all of the islanders, isolated completely for centuries, have the same two last names—Fletcher and Christian—whose same-named ancestors escaped the gallows of England by marooning themselves and their Polynesian wives on Pitcairn in 1790.

Pitcairn island steams a halo of cloud and fog from the torrent. As we sail closer,  I see sheer cliffs, and a cascading waterfall. Twenty-odd houses nestle against a steep hillside, each separated by forest and a steep hike.

At last a long boat comes into view. There are only fifty-four inhabitants on the entire island, and thirty of them—more than half the population—sit precariously yet happily on planks, grateful to have a break from island fever. They bob along towards us in the pouring rain and choppy seas, with the steadfast balance of true islanders. When they finally pull alongside our ship, they leap to the treacherous lurching gangway like mountain goats, these people made of volcano and sea.

Around 11 A.M. the Pitcairn Islanders set up shop in our ship’s spacious lounge, and open for business. This selling of handcrafted wares is their major form of income. I am very surprised at the level of quality of the merchandise. It could have been simplistic, and still worth its weight in gold for the novelty of being created by Pitcairners, but the crafts are unexpectedly, delightfully beautiful. There are gorgeous wood carvings of sea turtles, sharks with their mouths wide open to reveal teeth (beautifully carved out of bone,) sea snakes and dolphins. There are whimsical tees with pictures of the Bounty. For the collectors, there are stamps and postcards to buy, which the Pitcairners promise to send from their local post office (“Please allow three months delivery, as only four ships come per year to collect the mail!”) For a ten dollar fee, passports can be stamped “Pitcairn.”

The thing that catches my eye is a beautiful necklace. If I shut my eyes and imagine a mermaid swimming in the depths of the sea, this is the necklace she would be wearing. It is made of beautiful oblong silver pearls. Not flawless, but that is part of the beauty. In between the pearls are sea shells, black luminescent stones and clusters of tiny silver beads, with the New Zealand Paua shell as a pendant.

It is so beautiful that I take a picture of it, along with the jeweler who proudly poses. She looks quite British. The Pitcairners have varying degrees of English and Polynesian blood, and this woman is lanky and fair-skinned. She informs me that the price of her treasure is $750, which is an incredible bargain. I am not in the market for a necklace, and as I walk away she says cheerfully, “I can go down to $500.”

Pitcairn Island honey
Pitcairn Island honey

Oooh! I have to walk away quickly to resist temptation.

The biggest seller is the honey. With the current world bee crisis of diseased bees, and the diminishing bee population, Pitcairn Island honey is very sought after. Completely isolated, the Pitcairn bees are free from disease. Pitcairn honey is said to be the finest, purest honey on earth. Who knows? If the bee crisis gets bad enough, perhaps Pitcairn will be our salvation—after all, we need bees to pollinate our crops. I like the idea of the smallest inhabited island Democracy saving the world. There is something very poetic and noble about that.

I spy an amazing looking man from Pitcairn–starkly unique. He is a large man, with the build of a Pacific Islander—stout and muscular. His coloring is Polynesian, his beard is blond, and attached to his ears, which are pierced from top to bottom, are a cacophony of magnificent trinkets, again what one would find a merman wearing, from bone to pearls to shells to sharks teeth. Around his neck is a chain, thickly laden with more booty. I imagine him living under the ocean, and swimming until his neck and ears encrust with barnacles of briny jewels from the treasure troves of the sea.

He disappears before I can ask for his picture. An hour later, when it’s almost time for the Pitcairn residents to go home, I find him in the ship’s sundry shop, buying two manly armfuls of alcohol. I laugh and say, “There you go; you know what’s important!”

He concurs with a broad smile, and I seize the opportunity to take his picture, shouting, “You are gorgeous!” which results in a priceless picture of him laughing.

From behind a rack I hear a voice, “Hey! What about me?” Out steps a very Polynesian looking man, with dark eyes and hair. He pretends to be terribly indignant that he was left out of the conversation, so I say, “Okay, you’re gorgeous too!”  I ask both of them, “Do you write books? I imagine it would be fascinating to read a book about the life of the Pitcairn residents.” The blond one laughs and says, “I don’t have time to write a book!”

To which I reply, very sincerely, “Then perhaps I should come back and interview everyone and write a book myself!”

He smiled and said, “Don’t think it hasn’t been done before!”

HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty

I suppose that must be true, but what fun that would be—I’d do it in a heartbeat! And next time, I’m buying that necklace.

 

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The Transgender “Issue”

Judgment can be overcome by education. Being smarter is always a good thing. Loving more is an even better thing!

Years ago, I was walking along the shore with my preschool son when we crossed paths with a one-armed man. I did the typical avert your eyes! thing, but my son smiled at him and pointed, saying, “How come you have one arm?”

Before I could even crawl under a rock, the kind man chuckled and said, “I was born like this.”

“Oh!” said my son, whose curiosity had been sated, and he proceeded to pet the man’s dog, named Peanut. The three of us chatted a moment about the glorious day and Peanut, and we were on our way.

See? We are born innocent, like my son, with no judgment. A four-year-old still sees new things every day. Slowly but surely, life conditions us to judge.  When my son was born, I held him in my arms under the moonlight and we stared at each other. I had never seen his sweet face before that day, but he had never seen a human before that day! He was a brand new little sponge, and his perception of me had not yet been imprinted. He didn’t cry in terror at this big strange body cradling him. He had, perhaps even then, curiosity.

If we could all retain that innocent curiosity for the unknown, perhaps there would be peace in this world.

The first time I met a transgender person, I was at a restaurant, and the host had breasts, eyeliner and a five o’clock shadow. I was a bit shocked and confused—I had never even heard of such a thing. I was polite and didn’t stare, but after I left with my group of friends, we talked about it. I remember thinking it was “weird.” To be honest, I thought the person was weird. I had been conditioned to consider a person “Normal” if they fit the standard, textbook criteria for human.

The guy at the beach didn’t fit the standard, textbook criteria either, he was missing an arm, and it made me feel uncomfortable, until my young son enlightened me.

So when I learned the word Transgender, I remembered to attempt enlightenment. I read some articles, watched some documentaries and tried to open my mind a crack. I have learned that gender association happens in the womb. A person may have the genetic attributes of a male, for example, but have the brain wiring for a female. Its biology.

I came out of the womb a “standard textbook human.” What the hell is that, anyway? I have all kinds of problems and issues, just like everybody else. Mine aren’t as visible as a missing arm or male and female attributes. I suffer from mood swings, and at times, depression. Should I be hated, shunned or stared at for that?

I was a Catholic for years. I walked the walk, talked the talk, gave back to the community and all that. Catholics don’t believe in divorce. I didn’t believe in divorce. But when my marriage fell apart, I became just that—a divorcee. Everything changed after that. My relationship with God, (“How could you let this happen? I am a good person!”) my relationship with the community (“Everyone is whispering behind my back!”) and my relationship with myself (“What a hypocrite! You don’t even believe in divorce!”) I felt like I was torn in two—that the person I was, no longer existed. I also wanted to remarry eventually. Again, not the Catholic way.

It occurred to me, that God cannot love less than I can. That I am in a new skin, a skin called divorcee, and I cannot take it off. It is who I am now. I have to accept that, and I need to accept that God wants me to be happy. That is my religion now, simple and pure. God loves us and wants us to be happy. I do not believe in a cruel god. I believe in a benevolent one. The one who loves us when we find ourselves in new skin—one without an arm, or one with breasts and a five o’clock shadow, or one housing a divorced woman.

Transgender in the military? Do they belong there? I guess it depends. Are we in the military to stare at each other’s skin, or to train to protect and fight for freedom? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to think of America as the land of the free and home of the brave. Feeling driven all your life to alter your gender, and following through against all judging, hateful bias—now that’s brave. Jumping into the fire, feeling like a pariah, pushing ahead anyway with what your conscience tells you to do, now that’s brave. Having the choice to follow through with such a difficult, life altering action—now that’s freedom. God bless America. And God bless Americans—all of them. Let’s each bless the Transgenders too, by supporting their journey and career choice and making them feel loved and welcome, especially if they are willing to lay down their lives for us.

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The F-Bomb: Friend or Foe?

I am searching for an answer. bomb

Not to the “Why are we here?” type of question. I just want to know if a writer like me should use the F-bomb. The F@*# word. That frigging, fragging, flipping, flurping notorious expletive that either disgusts or delights us.

When I was a kid, raised in a rural town in Oregon, the word was a big fat naughty no-no. Little old ladies would faint at the sound, and the word on the street was, “The F word is eeeee‑vil!” I never once said it, fearing a lightning-bolt might take me out.

As a teenager, I heard some of the really tough kids use that word, as they threw knives at each other’s feet playing chicken. (What else is there to do when it rains for nine months straight?) Anyway, once again the conclusion was, only a knife-yielding delinquent would use that word.

I went to college, and soon found a correlation between drinking too much Schlitz malt liquor and people dropping that F-Bomb. Still, I held out, my virgin lips sticking to phrases like “Gosh darn it, who moved the keg?”

I moved to California as a musician, started a family, and even got involved in a church for a time. Not very conducive to swearing. I wanted to be a good person, be a good example, I wanted to look back on my life and say I never hurt anybody. People called me “Sweet” and “So nice!” and “Such an angel!” They even called me Saint Rose, I kid you not.

Yeah. I was nice. But where was my backbone? When did I take a stand and ruffle a feather or two? I had political opinions but kept them to myself because I had both very conservative religious friends and far left liberal atheist friends. I was a mamby-pamby milktoast girl with a strong sense of self on the inside, and a weenie on the outside. I walked my career as a musician without stepping on any cracks. I tiptoed through my song choices with caution and frosting. Mick Jagger swaggered and sang deliciously naughty things that most of society played to their children. Me? I changed words around to make them G rated, deflating the fun balloon till it was a limp piece of rubber that was no longer interesting.

One day I woke up and decided I was going to be me. Just me, without all the frosting and rose-colored glasses. I made an effort to express my true opinions and feelings, and wondered if I’d still have friends at the end of the day. You know what? I got a great big “Bravo, it’s about time!” from pretty much everyone!

I work hard every day to lose old habits, and try to never repress. Now I sing what I want to sing. I rarely mess with lyrics. I write stories too, and try to stretch my characters beyond my own limitations. And now… I swear at my computer sometimes. Okay, lots of times. And yes, now and then, alone at home, I’ll drop that F bomb, because it releases anger and somehow makes me feel better in the moment. And then I go put a quarter in the jar. (Okay, just kidding about the jar.)

Last week I sat down to write a story. I had a blank slate, no idea or outline, I just put my hands on the keyboard and started typing. What came out surprised me, in a very wonderful way. It was a story called Cali’s Mojo. The story was me, if I hadn’t been such a conventional people-pleaser. Unlike me, she lost her parents when she was twelve and became a runaway. Unlike me, she spoke her mind—all of it. Unlike me, she did exactly what she needed to do without compromise.

And unlike me, she used the F-bomb in public.

I finished the story, and remembered my younger self who was so shocked by that word. I thought, do I owe it to others to be considerate? Should I remove the word? I have a whole arsenal of lovely cuss words to choose from that aren’t as repugnant to some.

Then I thought, “Hell no!” Sorry. I meant “Heck no! I will not slide back into that person who has to weigh everybody else’s opinion and lose myself in the process.”

Still, I’m a mother. A mother who told my own children it was a bad word. But I am a different me now. And Cali—the protagonist in my story—she’s different too. All my characters are different.

My instinct and promise to myself, was to be absolutely true to the character. She’s an edgy street-smart runaway who doesn’t give a flying… fig what people think. I want to be more like her. Who am I if I am just me, without wringing my hands and wondering what everyone else thinks of me? That’s the person I am desperately trying to be true to, so she can come out of the closet, so to speak.

I got so wrapped up in the question, “To swear, or not to swear,” that I decided to ask three people:

I asked my husband, who read Cali’s Mojo. I got a bowl me over, adamant, “Absolutely you cannot take the F word out. It’s who she is. You can’t sugar coat your writing.”

I asked my fourth grade teacher, whom I greatly respect and who is a published writer herself. She wrote me a very balanced letter saying she is old-school and one of those who finds the word boring and unnecessary. She also respected very much, the fact that I even asked her opinion.

I asked my sister, a High School English teacher who also helps me edit sometimes. She said, “It’s okay to skip the F-bomb, but don’t take away from her authenticity—she’s no priss! She is tough and strong.”

Cali would never have asked the question at all. She’d probably give me an earful just for writing this piece and questioning my unfiltered expression. I believe, after much thinking, that I will not filter. I endeavor to be the writer that does not censor herself. I write what flows from me, authentic and true. I may offend those who, like the old me, are weary of that word. I may offend people who don’t like my subject matter. I may offend people just for being me. But that’s okay. I know I am loved for who I am, too. And at the end of the day, I need to honor the artist.