Afterthoughts About the Earthquake of 2018

My return from South America was promptly eclipsed by the massive November 30th earthquake here in Alaska.

I’d landed in Los Angeles from a brief layover in Peru when I turned on my phone to find a flood of texts. The first was from my youngest daughter, giving me a heads up that something “big” had happened. Many others were check-ins from family and friends.

While I felt a little guilty for not being in Alaska when it happened, and a splash jealous for missing the experience, it’s been a fascinating event to witness through the eyes of others.

 I’d never been through a natural disaster, so returning home from a 3 week-long trip just hours afterward was memorable. While we Alaskans are accustomed to our fair share of earthquakes and aftershocks, this one was a doozy at 7.0.

Supermarkets ran low on food and water. Electricity was out in much of the city when I returned. So was cell phone service. Some roads and schools were destroyed. Yet no one died, a great tribute to careful city planning and building codes in Anchorage. There weren’t reports of opportunistic thefts. 

A few things stuck with me.

Each person’s reaction to the same event was unique.

 This reminded me of the birth order conversation I often had during my book tour.

 If a family of four was home together in the same room during the quake, their reactions varied widely, from getting under a table, crying and shaking, or running outside. Their ability to deal with the trauma long afterward was as varied as their responses, often due to their age and role in the family, past experiences, genetic makeup, and other traits and quirks.

Pets were/are and are as impacted by the earthquake as their humans.

Many dogs and cats ran away from home shortly after the big shake. They lost control of their bowels, and some continue to have problems. A doggy daycare staff member told me more dogs have to wear anxiety jackets, and have a compromised immune system from the stress, developing kennel cough at a higher rate. And a friend’s 15 year-old bird died soon after the quake, not due to injury, but due to strain.

Only the worst images were replayed by the media and were then shared in social media, though many people experienced no damage to their belongings or homes.

Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of damage done. Most everyone I know sustained loss of belongings due to the earthquake. 

Yet it reminds me how scared we become after watching news images, whether it’s on television or the social media shares. Perhaps it’s about an American tourist who died overseas. Or an image of violence, played and shared, over and over.  We become fearful and wary.

We might forget to mention who all emerged safely from this earthquake, who all helped one another, and how grateful we are that no one died as a direct result of such a seismic quake.

After I called my daughter from Los Angeles, and she told me that she and her sister were fine, as were my pets, I wondered about my newly renovated kitchen. Twenty-three years of ugly had been replaced by beauty just before I left on my trip, and I had been over the moon about it. But I knew what a complete jerk I’d be for asking about it long distance.

My plane landed in Anchorage several hours after the shake, and I hailed a taxi. My driver was an African immigrant, small yet loud, and hidden under his oversized red wool hat with a pompom on top.  On the way home, he told me about how it was for him, a relatively new citizen, to be jarred awake from a deep sleep. How he ran outside and fell to the ground, and how he calmed himself, realizing there was nothing he could do to control the outcome.

“We can replace things,” he told me,” We cannot replace peoples.”

It was just the message I needed to hear.

 I opened the door to my place, and looked at each room, saving my new kitchen for last. And though it appeared someone held a raucous party on the second floor and left the mess afterward, my kitchen, my long-awaited kitchen, was undisturbed.

I am truly thankful. 

I’ve heard a number of people say they wanted to leave state after this earthquake. It came without warning. The aftershocks still continue. It was too much to deal with. 

But for me, showing up just after to witness the inspiring recovery efforts, Alaska still feels like a soft place to land.

Thank you for visiting.  

 


The Headlines We Can’t Ignore/Everyone Matters When Responding to Domestic Violence

 

 

 

 

The headlines keep coming.  

Buried between Chicago mass shootings and the primary elections and Denise Richards joining the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast (is that really news?), there they are.

This is one week. In one country.

Like many of you, I want to tune it out. Who wants to hear about something they can’t change?

Not me. And it’s not Domestic Violence Awareness Month until October anyhow, right?

But it’s impossible to ignore. Not only because of the brutality, but for the truths these stories underscore.

1) Domestic violence is not about a normal person with an anger management problem who takes it out on their intimate partner. It’s the deliberate use of emotional, physical, or sexual violence to gain control of an intimate partner. You only need glimpse the second story to see how carefully orchestrated the plane crash was. The husband was not crazed or out of control. Simply diabolical.

2) Children are not only victimized by witnessing violence, but too often harmed irreparably as they become collateral damage in the effort to hurt the mother.

I detailed my now-grown daughters’ experiences as both child-witnesses and as adult survivors in my memoir. It left scar-tissue that manifest in physical and psychological wounds. But at least they survived. Clearly, not all do.

3) And the third truth is one I stumbled upon quite by accident when setting out to read something cheerier. When researching travel writing opportunities, I came upon a wonderful story written by Ivana Haz titled A Sort of Homecoming.

I read her entire essay story before noticing the writing on the sidebar.

Editor’s note: The author of this story, Ivana Waz, and her son, Makani, were murdered in their Southern California home July 11. Authorities say Ivana’s husband shot them before turning the gun on himself.

A google search of her name revealed a series of articles on her and her son’s death, attributing it to her husband’s depression after his back injury. One entire article sympathized solely with him.

I guarantee you that Ivana Waz and her child were not killed by a back injury or depression.

Which brings me to my earlier question: Who wants to hear about something they can’t change?

The truth is, we can all make a positive difference in creating lasting change regarding abuse. When we learn about it, when we talk about it, how we talk about it, when we seek ways to get involved, we become a resource.

I decided just now to make a difference and donate several copies of my memoir, themed around intergenerational patterns of domestic violence, to my Methodist church for their silent auction, and will continue to volunteer at the local shelter. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do.

What will you do?

Do you know someone impacted by domestic violence? Call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Want to lend your time or resources to affecting global change? Consider attending a meeting at your local Zonta chapter or giving to the domestic violence agency near you.

For information about what to do when you witness or suspect domestic violence, look at your local Green Dot Program.

Together, we can make a difference.

      

The Balancing Act: Working Tourism, Writing, and Working

Remember a while back when I mentioned I’d be working in tourism this summer?

I work in Whittier on Saturdays, an hour and a half drive from my home in Anchorage. I wanted to try a side hustle that fit neatly in to my already full workweek.

In a perfect world, this would be a job I return to after I retire and spend winters out-of-state or move altogether. It would allow me a connection to Alaska while keeping my brain engaged learning new skills, and hopefully earning me some travel credits for winter.

And in my imperfect world, this job would help me be a part of someone’s good experience. Having worked as a battered women’s advocate, a child abuse investigator, and now a juvenile probation supervisor, I’m ready to bring smiles instead of misery. And to enhance visitors’ trips to Alaska. It’s also a way for me to experience second-hand travel. All the excitement, none of the worries.

From the long cozy ride to the port with seven other workers to the crowded lines of stressed-out passengers, there is a theme of belonging. Maybe it’s the uniforms. Or maybe it’s the constant push to get people moved from train or bus to ship, or how we greet passengers. “Thank you for coming to Alaska,” or “Welcome to Whittier.” And then cram back into the van for another hour and a half drive.

There are lots of fun times. And there are a lot of other times. It’s very satisfying to stay in motion rather than sitting at a desk all day, and to help people with short-term, easy problems.I work with some terrific people, mostly women from young ones in their 20’s to others in their 80’s. We represent the full spectrum, and I love hearing their stories—of gardening, of fishing, of husbands and grandkids and pets. I couldn’t ask for a better group.

That said, I don’t have as much energy as I once did. I may need to re-think this plan until I actually have retired.

But there’s something so exciting about traveling, whether it’s going on a trip to a place I’ve never been, or hearing about someone else’s wild experience coming to Alaska. I think travel is better in the planning and in the retelling. I know I’m not alone when I say that while it’s exhilarating to reach a travel goal, amazing to keep the new friendships made, it’s just plain scary at times to be an uninvited guest in someone else’s yard.

So I’ll book a trip to a destination soon in South America. It’s long been my goal to hit all continents by 60. Time is moving fast.  When each continent is complete, a book of travel essays with a companion guide of how to travel on a slim budget will result.

In the meantime, I’ve began vlogging on YouTube, giving Alaskan tourists some travel hints, and introducing readers to characters in my stories, past and future. Alaska is a big character in my memoir. More than a simple setting, Alaska has been an adoptive parent.

I’ve continued to do interviews about Pieces of Me from home on podcasts and in publications, and work with an editor to completely renovate my forthcoming novel.

If you have questions or comments about Alaska, about travel, feel free to drop me a line. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

And please say hello if you pass through Whittier some Saturday afternoon, where I will say,”Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”

And I mean it. Thanks for stopping by.