Archive for October, 2007
May I gush? Deadwood is amazing. I’m bereaved every time the credits roll. I’m hopelessly crushed on Seth Bullock and scared to death of Al Swearengen. I don’t know where Trixie gets the inner steel to defy that devil of a man. Don’t think I could do it. I’d be like Calamity Jane, falling apart and sobbing snot. Unless, of course, the kid he was after was one of mine, in which case he’d have to kill me first, but that’s not real courage, just the lesser of two evils from my point of view.
It occurred to me as I was running this morning, taking a much-needed break from endless diplomatic crises with Claire, that attachment parenting works both ways. Cuddling and playing with your newborn gives him or her the opportunity to display the full range of attachment-seeking behaviours. Letting yourself fall for the little brute helps get you through the years of noncompliance and flat-out contradiction that follow. Claire has become necessary to my happiness. That’s lucky, because you’re not allowed to sell five-year-olds on eBay.
America and I have gone through the same arc. I came here as all economic migrants do, for a deposit on a house and maybe some retirement savings. I planned to stay a couple of years. It’ll be ten in April. San Francisco sent out its tendrils of charm, its urban coyotes and soapbox derbies, its open studios and improving coffee and nasturtiums growing like weeds. For an overeducated, bookish, nerdly woman, it’s Renaissance Florence. Which is lucky, because you’re not allowed to sell dysfunctional oligarcho-plutocratic superpowers on eBay either.
Since I got back from Massachusetts I have been trying to write fiction for half an hour, every day. I have been running three times a week. I have been spending time with the kids, both of whom obviously need to see more of me. The high-pitched shrieking is a dead giveaway. I’m intuitive like that. Everything but the daily writing is pretty well-established habit. It’s always surprising, though, how the addition of just one more thing throws everything else out of rhythm.
I remember this vividly from the last round of serious riding. David, my instructor, would change the angle of my wrist or the set of my shoulder, and suddenly I wouldn’t be able to sit Noah’s trot any more. Every incremental improvement throws you off the plateau of mere competence and into disorder, before you reach a new and higher plateau.
Not to complain. I greatly enjoyed Emma Bull’s new novel Territory, set in Tombstone, Arizona just before the gunfight at the OK Corral. It had the disadvantage, for a non-American reader, of assuming familiarity with the source material; but this actually worked in my favour, for the same reason I usually enjoy mainstream movies more if I can contrive to miss the first act. It amuses me to fill in the gaps of the exposition, and I get restless if there are no gaps.
Genre writers are much better at this than a lot of the self-regarding hacks over there in lit fic. The best genre writers, like Bull, assume a sky-high level of sophistication among their readers, and by God it moves the plot along. I love having to pay attention. It is the opposite of being pandered to. And when I do find the way into the characters and plot, this is the kind of writing that disappears into itself, so that I’m not reading any more but floating over the character’s right shoulders, seeing what they see. Man, I could take that to the bank. There should be more of it.
J has succumbed to local values to the point of buying a flat-screen TV. My condition for this was the first season of Deadwood, which dovetails beautifully with Bull’s book. I’m always surprised at how late the Wild West was; both Deadwood and Territory are set in the 1870s. I sort of think of it in conjunction with the First Fleet or at least the early Colonials, when I should be thinking of Ned Kelly and the Ashes. Like everyone else I am findng Al Swearengen a spellbinding character, but problematic in terms of my own work. How sheltered am I, that I tend to leave people like that out?
Anyway, back to Territory: it handles magic in a fairly low-key way, but it still wasn’t low-key enough for me. Everyone who critiqued me at Viable Paradise wanted, understandably enough, to draw out the fantastic (fantasy-ish? fantastical. You know what I mean) elements of my story; they were also very good at pointing out all the fantastical stuff that was already there. I do want to keep my comet and my fever-dreams, not for their own sake but because they are so good at illustrating characters.
There’s a good bit in Cory’s review of God’s Mechanics:
I think that our experience of the numinous is both undeniable and entirely biological: the state of spiritual peace is the result of tickling some evolved center of our brain, a bit of neurology that conferred a survival advantage on our ancestors whose numinous hallucinations of a higher order in the universe drove them to catch more antelopes, eat better, and have more babies.
I had lunch with Seth today, and we talked about this in terms of people who are hypersensitive to non-verbal clues being exceptionally good at cold reading, to the point where if they don’t realize what they are doing, they might very easily persuade themselves that they are psychic. This ties into the idea of confabulation as the frontal lobes’ post-facto rationalization of decisions already made by the mammalian or reptilian brains.
I think ideaspace, intuition, magic and our experience of the numinous all live in the pre-verbal parts of our brains. I think it’s what Natalie Goldberg means when she talks about Wild Mind, and what Laura Mixon means when she talks about the beast. I think it’s where muscle memory goes when you’ve re-acquired your balance after your sadistic riding instructor is all done messing you up. I’m looking forward to re-acquiring my balance. Come on, monkey-brain. Talky is in trouble and needs your help!
The evenings are drawing in, so a bunch of us went to Half Moon Bay for pumpkins. The L on one of the Lemos Farm signs had fallen off, to our delight.
“No one understands my pumpkin pleasure.”
“No one understands my pumpkin pain.”
Bouncy pumpkin castle, ghost train, pony rides, adorable sex-crazed goats. So best: the haunted house. Ghost room, skeleton room, zombie room, clown room, room with E=mc^2 painted on the wall.
“OH NO! SCARY SCIENCE!”
by Claire Fitzhardinge
Triceratops’ mother says: “No! You cannot run off into the forest to meet other dinosaurs when I am not with you!”
Triceratops doesn’t say anything. He runs off into the forest.
His mother sees that he is gone. She goes after him.
But then they see a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing them to eat them all up.
Triceratops and his mother run to the other side of the forest.
And the mother says: “Don’t ever run off without me again!”
And Triceratops says: “Okay, Mum.”
By Claire Fitzhardinge
T. Rex and Mother would hunt for Triceratopses to eat.
So they, the T. Rex family, ran away into the forest and saw a Pterodactyl but they couldn’t reach it.
So they stacked themselves, and the little sister caught it and ate it all up.
They kept looking for the Triceratopses.
Then the Triceratopses could see a tiny shadow and they ran faster and faster.
Fortunately a giant bird came down and said “You need rescuing?”
“Yes, the T. Rexes are after us!”
So the bird picked them up and they flew away.
The bird took them to the human world but they didn’t like it; there were no dinosaurs, no Triceratopses, no giant birds.
They said to the bird: “Where do you live?”
And the bird said: “I live in bird land.”
They said: “Take us to your home!”
So they flew off to giant bird land. The T. Rexes couldn’t find them. They were happy ever after.
Cream of broccoli soup, roast potatoes, cauliflower gratin, fresh bread, salad. Too much red wine. Pears simmered in red wine. Kathy, Andrew, Martha, Gilbert, Heather, Ada, Jamey and Rowan. Endless laughter.
However many nights like this we have, it will never be enough.
C: Can you tell me the story of the three little pigs?
R: Oh, sure! Once there were three pigs called Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo. They were cool pigs. They liked John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus, and the Nick and Nora movies, and heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil and bocconcini.
J: Don’t they sound like prats?
R: Oh no, they were lovely. They were PLU – Pigs Like Us. Anyway, they managed to get an offer accepted on a three-lot parcel, and after years in planning department hell, they broke ground on a green residential development. Harpo’s place was straw bale, Groucho’s was reclaimed lumber and Zeppo’s was reinforced concrete.
Well, in the meantime, a wolf had been elected president. And he mishandled the economy so badly – keeping interest rates artificially low, exacerbating an unhealthy balance of trade, encouraging exotic mortgages and consumer spending funded by home equity loans – that our heroes found themselves with negative equity! It was absolutely terrible. Harpo had to sell his place first, then Groucho was foreclosed. Luckily Zeppo had been living frugally, paying off the principal on his loan, so they all consolidated their debts and moved into his basement.
J: I find your story heavy-handed.
R: Just wait.
C: You forgot the part where the wolf came down the chimney and the pigs burned him on the bottom!
R: That’s exactly right, sweetheart. And the name of the fire was: term limits.
Wells Fargo’s new ATMs take check deposits, scan them and give you the option of a receipt with the image of the check. Sweet!
Work has upgraded Webmail from Horde to Zimbra. Took me a few days and many inventive curses before I could feel comfortable. Now I adore the integrated calendaring and think of the system as Ira Weatheral’s Minerva: my Little Nag.
Best of all, though! Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize! And to think that only two weeks ago I fretted over whether science fiction’s shame-spear would deflower my delicate rosebud of literary respectability.
Assuredly it is the future!
At five I gave up on getting any real work done today, called Rose and said I would meet her for drinks at six. At 5:05 Skud started IMing me about our AU work-in-progress and the conversation rapidly grew so interesting that I was hard pressed to tear myself away at 5:59.
I had for some reason assumed drinks would be with Rose and random strangers, but it turned out to be with Rose and some of my favouritest people, so one drink turned into two, with much more extremely interesting conversation, and I was hard pressed to tear myself away at 7:36.
My taxi driver was from Eritrea so we bonded over Fred Hollows, who he remembers as the eye doctor.
When I finally got home Jeremy and Claire and Julia and I were all so glad to see each other that we held hands in a circle and did the happy dance, which is a series of jumps. Then we did the power dance, which is also a series of jumps.
And so to bed.
Damn, I love you, readers. I want to make out with all of you right now. My favourite comment so far is from Shannon Lee (hope you don’t mind me quoting email, dude, but this LOLed me, a lot.)
I hate the fucking rapture. It’s so 20th century, let’s work on a new myth. Maybe a realist description of what would happen if everyone took Jesus at his word, hated his father and mother, took to the road and became a goddamned hippie — roads clogged with sandal-wearing peaceniks. I’m not saying it’s a more attractive picture than the Rapture, but we on the Christian left deserve our moment in the “reality not so good in reality as in our dreams” spotlight.
- Menopausal women really do become invisible. (Jeremy winces and calls this one “I see old people.”)
- In a similar vein: conversations with the unborn.
- Our favourite so far: In a post-industrial wasteland, civil war rages between Ren Faire and the SCA. Our heroes set off to find the source of what high tech remains: the maybe-mythical Black Rock City…
I can’t even find the words to say what Viable Paradise was like. I feel anointed as a member of the next generation of science fiction writers. I’m pretty sure everyone who was there felt the same. I have post-Burning Man afterglow without the playa dust. The difference between literary fiction and science fiction workshops, incidentally, maps almost exactly onto the difference between rock festivals and Burning Man. The first is almost about reinforcing the hierarchical distance between pro and am; the second blows it up with a giant flamethrower mounted to a mechanical dragon. Guess which I like.
It’s dead humbling, of course. I believe I mentioned how much smarter everyone else was than I am, including, I want to point out, the volunteers who came along to cook; but I may have glossed over the fact that they’re all much better writers than I am, too. Turns out I am not the most talented writer on earth, and though of rapidly advancing years, I haven’t done much yet. But I don’t care. I’m going to write anyway. I’m going to write every day. I’m going to write like I have started to run; just for the sheer living joy of it.
Some of the ideas I’ve had for fiction this week. Tell me which is crappest! Feel free to steal!
- a white Australian brings her inclusive Aboriginal gods to San Francisco – BEWARE CULTURAL APPROPRIATION
- the book Fred Clarke keeps talking about in his Left Behind posts (ie a realist description of what the pre-Millennial dispensationalist rapture would be like)
- Patrick’s science fiction industry analysis as applied to magic
- invention of mass market as opposed to custom spells
- archvillains consolidate spell distribution
- the Fey at Auschwitz – this makes me VERY uncomfortable. Is there any way this could be anything other than tasteless?
I have been hoarding ideas as if they were a non-renewable resource; whereas in fact ideaspace is transfinite…
My phone chirped while we were on a day trip to Gay Head. Jeremy had sent me a photo of what arrived in the mail:
my British. Frickin. Passport.
“Have you noticed that everyone here is ridiculously likable?”
“And I say that as a known curmudgeon. I’ve never had so much fun being the least smart person in the room.”
The schedule is crammed and we have crazy amounts of homework, but there’s enough downtime that I’m not going mad. Martha’s Vineyard is an East Coast counterpart to Monterey or Pacific Grove, with lots of shingled buildings weathering to grey, but fewer trees. Birds galore: crows and albatross flying around complaining wittily about things. The warm sun releases good smells from the earth.
Last night we all walked to a bridge across a channel to see glow-in-the-dark jellyfish going out on the tide.
The likability thing: I have had no difficulty striking up conversations with anyone.
THIS NEVER HAPPENS.