Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow and Windshields

The weirdest thing happened to me this morning.

I was driving with Arthur to Scary Reading Hour at the public library. (For those of you who don't know, Scary Reading Hour is scary because A) the presenters are very nice people who are Very Enthusiastic and B) it's filled with twenty-something parents who wear low jeans and thongs.)

Last night it snowed about a half inch, but the roads and sidewalks were clear. I had to scrape the snow off of the car's windows to be able to see out, and I had the defrost cranked up. Anyway, to get parking at Scary Reading Hour, one has to get to the library about twenty minutes before it starts. So there I was driving down 11th Street when I heard a kind of popping noise. It wasn't a ding, or a ping, or George Micheal singing. No other cars were around us, and no gravel truck was in front of me, so I couldn't figure out what the noise was -- although in hindsight it sounded like shifting ice. As I drove along, wondering what the noise was and exactly where it had come from, a huge U-shaped crack appeared in my windshield. It was about two feet wide and a foot tall, and it was centered in the glass.

I figured the defrost, which was still cranked up, combined with a gravel ding from two years ago, stressed the glass enough to cause it to crack. It doesn't appear to be getting any larger, and we'll have to replace the windshield later this week. I tried to take a picture of the crack, but it only looks like a picture of someone's car in an underground parking lot.

Arthur and I got parking space number one and we sat in the Geriatric Parents Club section of Scary Reading Hour.

Oh. Yes. On the Arthur front, he's pushing some molars out or something. The result is that when he sleeps, it's random; when he's awake, he's easily frustrated and cranky, which makes him more likely to imitate a howler monkey. He's also very -- ahem -- congested, and I'm considering wearing a smock when I have to pick him up.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Fun

Saturday night was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it was Arthur and he had a new molar pushing through his gums. The molar pushed mucus out of his sinuses. So now I'm writing this in the car on the trip back to Oregon, and Arthur is barely breathing through his nose. Don't ask how I know this. I'm hoping that being propped up in his baby seat will help him to drain.

Mark gets several awards for taking on the lion's share of child duty.

Luckily, the tooth waited until after Thanksgiving to push out, so Arthur was a model infant during the family gathering at my sister's and her new husband's house in Everett. Their funniest pastime is flinging objects at squirrels that raid the birdfeeder. I think my sister's favorite projectiles are asparagus butts. I suppose that that the Evil Brother award goes to me for snapping a photo of my sister's sister-in-law sleeping on the couch; it's not a flattering picture.

OK. And I confess. Through some combinations of events too involved to understand, there was old Tang in my sister's house. That meant I had to drink some.

There must be some principle that, unless it grew on a tree, orange food is probably bad for you. Tang. It's right up there with theatre popcorn, Cheetoes, Orange Crush, and Cheddar Goldfish. You know it's bad, you know you shouldn't drink it. But you also know that its forbidden horribleness enhances its chemical flavor and that a secret part of you has craved it since before last week.

I'm under no illusion that Tang is the preferred drink of astronauts -- the first and second ingredients are sugar and I think the third is citric acid. This was old Tang -- the expiration date was about three months ago -- and although the fourth ingredient was some nasty chemical added to it to prevent it from sticking to itself, the Tang had caked into a solid orange mass in the container. I boiled some water.

I got a one of my sister's elegant, sculptured spoons and started chiseling out enough loose Tang to take me back to my childhood days. An orange cloud of dust rose to the kitchen ceiling's lights. People stepped back in order to avoid any future brushes with Orange Lung Disease. I mined three teaspoons into a 12-ounce mug and poured in the water. The resulting mixture was steamy and orange and drinking it was like drinking liquid SweeTarts. In a Proustian moment, I remembered turning my tongue orange with straight Tang when I was ten.

I horrified my family by mixing a second cup twenty minutes later and wondering aloud if I could mix Tang and tequila into a hot drink called "Tang-quila."

Then we played fun word-games like Pictionary and Taboo.

Friday Mark, Arthur, Julie, Randy and I went to a municipality on the other side of the Boeing jet factory where Julie and Randy live to watch the ferries come in next to a lighthouse. It was windy and cold. The sound was pretty in a "nature vs. man" kind of way. Randy had fun faking out the pigeons with gravel (they thought it was bread crumbs). We didn't manage to make it to any other parks to hike (mostly because last week's rains washed out the roads). Julie and Randy went off to watch the Oregon civil war football game. We watched a lot of movies at my sister's. Arthur dosed through most of My Fair Lady, The Harvey Girls, and reruns of The Muppet Show.

Saturday, we spent a relaxing time at some Seattle friends house. While we were there, we went for obligatory noodles and then went shopping for floor lamps. I kept pointing to what I thought were likely candidates and Mark kept saying, "I don't want a bordello lamp." After about the fifth rejection, he said, "I don't want a bordello lamp with Art Neuveau curves." That actually helped.

We had a quiet evening taking pictures of Artur playing with Jean-Luc the cat. Mark bought some children's' medicine and that helped Arthur to sleep. "Helped" is a relative term, and it might as easily be said that it helped Arthur to wake up at 4 AM screaming.

Sunday we are back in Eugene. Tomorrow Mark will go to work and I'll be a full time dad. Arthur seems to have a bunch of molars coming in, so I'm guessing that tomorrow morning, as I'm stumbling around from lack of sleep, I'll be wishing that we had a secret stash of Tang. But we don't even have a secret stash of tequila.

Thank the goddess for chocolate.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

John's Orycon Adventure

I've just returned from Orycon. It was the best con (out of four) I've attended. I never thought that a con would rejuvenate me. I'd gotten into a difficult place in terms of my writing, and visiting with other writers and editors allowed me to put various things into perspective.

This year, the scariest costume wasn't the Klingons, or even the latex gals. It was the person who gave me a stalker vibe. I'm not even going to write about what they were wearing.

Here's a quick break down of the panels. Go to a panel with a strong moderator -- a strong moderator will have some prepared questions for the rest of the group, will be able to shut up and let other panelists voice their opinions, and will keep the socially maladjusted know-it-all(s) in the audience from hijacking the panel. Go to a panel with panelists who actually know something about the topic (or who are good at asking questions).

Here's the long-play commentary on the panels that I went to:


Editing the Short Story -- the most interesting thing about this panel, which was made up of editors, was hearing the emotional side of purchasing short stories from the editor's point of view. The coolest quotes were from Ellen Datlow, who said, "We want to clear our desks [of piles of manuscripts]... and we want to love your work." And Eileen Gunn, who said, "The essence of SF is finding yourself [as the reader] in a weird, off-balance place, and then you figure it out."

Palaces and Prisons -- This was a disappointing panel because, A) I wanted the panel to discuss future cities from a science fiction writer's point of view and B) none of the panelists seemed familiar with the concept of arcology. Hello? You're on a panel about future city planning and the only thing you have to say about arcology is that it's ugly high rises for the rich? The panel turned into a "problems of population" discussion. Probably the most interesting idea, which came from an audience member (not me, I was too busy trying to steer the panel to say something about arcology), was the concept that the French Revolution is a metaphor for the dichotomy of the city as urban palace or prison.

What is Magic Realism? -- this was a useful panel, if only because my understanding of magical realism was that it was something like the urban fantasy of Charles de Lint. It's not. (I'm sorry -- even if I've seen "Kiss of the Spider Woman", I've never read "One Hundred Years of Solitude".) Magical Realism (and slip stream) is about taking an absurd idea (like waking up as a bug) and having everyone deal with it as if it were normal or every day. MR is an examination of the rational and the irrational and how they inform each other. As a result of this panel (OK, and I bought another copy of Polyphony), I have a better understanding of why my stories are getting rejected by Deborah Lane (sorry Deborah).

Friday Night: Although I vowed not to turn on the TV... I did and stumbled onto the very latest Dr. Who episode, complete with an old Sara Jane Smith (who now looks like the brunette Abba woman) and a retro-looking K-9. And a Doctor who looks just a little bit younger than me.


We had a wonderful Wordos Breakfast. It was great seeing everyone there and getting a chance to hob-knob with Ellen Datlow. I also got a chance to speak with other Wordos who don't normally make it to Eugene about writing, writing strategies, and family life.

Ask Ellen Datlow -- This was fun and useful. I did get to introduce Ellen to the word "rejectomancy" (the divinatory art a writer uses to try to figure out what an editor really thought about a story by how many code phrases are in the boilerplate rejection letter, by the amount of time it took to get the rejection letter, and by any hand written notes in the margins). When Ellen writes, "I loved this story, but I can't use it for the [magazine or web site]" that that's what she means.

Turkey Readings (from Shimmer Magazine) -- this was the funniest panel. The panelists took turns reading rejections from the slush pile and from Planet 666. There were some pretty painful manuscripts ("Ow! Ow! Ow-ow-ow!"). They also read some accepted manuscripts to illustrate where they had worked with an author to polish a story. The only bad thing about this panel was that it was at the same time as the Endeavor Awards and I missed Jerry Oltion winning.

Ellen Datlow Interview -- Saturday was sort of Ellen Datlow Con. It was interesting to hear some of her stories of how she started out editing at Omni Magazine and to hear more about her editing process.

Juggling Jobs -- the most inspirational. Over the last half year, I've really been wound up about writing production, production, production and I'd lost sight of why I write. It's because I enjoy it. (And yeah, it would be great to make a living at it and to have Undying Fame.) I've been so production oriented that I've been locked up when I try to write. The moral of this panel was take regular time to write, and budget your writing time to balance with your family and your job. And it's OK to focus on your children's and parents' needs.

Alien 1st Contact -- the moderator's idea of moderating was to argue with the other panelists that aliens were here on earth now to eat us. I guess the most interesting idea was (from Jerry Oltion) that if humans and aliens don't have a formal agreement then no one has to apologize for anal probes or shooting flying saucers out of the sky.

Magic or Tech -- very disappointing because it seemed to want to turn into a bitch session and not explore new ways to look at magic, technology, and fictional societies. By this point at Orycon, I had learned enough to ask questions "as a writer" to try to focus the answers on the writing process. When asked why Mercedies Lacky (for example) writes Valdamar as a mediaeval world with magic instead of a tech world with magic, the discussion devolved into an observation that successful writers write less well then when they were less successful.

Shimmer Party -- Fun. Except for that stalker. (Note to self: there's a down side to the World's Most Fabulous Shirt).

Dance -- There's not too many places left in the world where I can free-form dance to cheesy 80's music.


Archery -- really knowledgeable presenter and I wish that I had managed to get through checking out of my room in time to catch the beginning of the talk. As it was, there were some useful "this is what archers do and these are the mistakes writers and illustrators make depicting what archers do" points. Oh, and some cool bows.

Digging Into Cory Doctorow -- Probably not the best choice for me as getting the most out of this panel depended on reading most of Doctorow's work; I haven't read anything by him, and it sounds like I should. It sounds like he's a very smart technogeek writing slipstream.

Blogging for the Writer -- This panel challenged some of my ideas about blogs. I guess I've been "blogging" since 1990 or before, only back then it was called a mail list. The thing that I'd sort of forgotten about using a blog is that it's supposed to be fun. OK, and be careful, because the internet has collapsed people's social personas, so the boundaries between your work persona, your family persona, and your hobbies persona have gone away. There were other points -- like from a publicity standpoint it's better to be interesting than boring. And Cory Doctorow uses his blog like a wiki for what he's interested in... this is interesting to me because I use Voodoo Pad on the Macintosh as a notebook for keeping track of ideas and it would be nice to have just one database.

Beyond Llewelyn -- Well... someone had scheduled a filk fest in the Eugene Room before this panel and when some people get a guitar they lose all sense of time. After several people had mimed "time's up" at this person, we started chanting "Spam Spam Spam Spam" and they still kept on singing something that sounded marginally shorter (but just as cheesy) as "The Horsetamer's Daughter." Once the musicians had cleared out, we discovered that we had only one panelist and she wasn't the moderator. She did a great job trying to moderate, but after about twenty minutes of trying to engage the audience in more than "Llewelyn sucks if you want anything else but Wicca 101" observations, we all mutually agreed to end early. I did continue a conversation with two guys about gay paganism.

Immortality -- This one had a strong moderator. Even though the panel had a tendency to digress and interrupt each other, I got a lot of story setting ideas. I did wish the panel had agreed to talk about immortality instead of the failures of today's health system, and I wish they had agreed about what type of immortality they would talk about (biological or cyber). Someone suggested that the French Revolution... oh, wait... Actually, the most entertaining idea thrown out by an audience member was that The Medical System (which is profit driven) doesn't want to cure people, because if you cure someone, they go away and you only get to bill them once. What The Medical System has done in the past is give people treatments, which require multiple visitations and billings. However, The Medical System is in the process of switching to a "Wellness System", which means you get to preventively treat people before they get sick; so now you can bill healthy people (and there's more healthy people than sick people...).

Then we went home. I should say that Mark wins some sort of award for watching Arthur by himself all weekend and freeing me up to wear nice light-colored clothing without the fear of being used as a baby snot rag.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Spider Fairy

The itsy-bitsy spider
went up the water spout
down came the rain
and washed the spider out
out came the sun
and dried out all the rain
and the itsy-bitsy spider
went up the spout again.

The itsy-bitsy spider
went up the water spout
down came
              the fairy and this is what she said:

Itsty-bitsy spider,
I am getting tired
of singing all these silly songs
and wiggling my hands.
I'll sing this song three more times,
and then I'm outta here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

October Rites

OK, OK, so I haven't posted in a while. Let's see.

Arthur now says, "up" when he wants us to carry him. Which is a lot of the time. He also makes a clicking sound with his mouth when he wants to snap, which is part of the sign for "dog". Arthur recognizes the moon, and he will point to it and say, "moon."

Two weeks age some friends from Seattle visited. Eugene was pretty, it was seventy-something degrees and all the leaves were turning. We did a few traditional things, mostly surrounding eating establishments. We went to a farm where apples were being pressed into cider and where the Pearwood Pipers sang a few songs. And we discussed the lighting treatment for the house.

As part of an early Samhain celebration, I lead a ritual at the UU church. It went pretty well, considering I hadn't quite gotten it through my head that over half of the participants would be teens and pre-teens. I've decided that ritual for this age group is kind of like ritual for cats. From what I've been told, the kids enjoyed it, though (and so did the adults).

Last week Arthur caught a stomach flu, which I caught the next day (thankfully after the ritual, otherwise it's quite likely I would have been invoking the powers of "eeuuw-ack"), and Mark a few hours later. Arthur was pretty much over the flu in a day, so he was running around and aware while it was busily taking over the dads' g.i. tracks. I don't know how Arthur managed to stay relatively grumpy-free, as both Mark and I had the chills and needed to sleep most of last Sunday. Luckily, our friends the Wilds watched Arthur for most of the day. Mark shook off the flu quickly, but I had it for an extra day. I'm pretty sure that I killed most of the flora in my intestines, so I've been eating a lot of yogurt.

Halloween was very fun for Arthur. He did not go out, but he had a great time answering the door and giving out little candy bars (I think it helped that he didn't know that he was handing out waxy Hershey's chocolate). He was interested in all the costumes, and we were surprised at how many two year olds were out working the streets with their parents. We did have one scary moment that was straight out of a David Sedaris Santaland Diary, and I'll leave it at that.

Arthur now demands that I light the candle next to the gargoyle on the mantle and the ceramic jack-o-lantern every night.

This week we're continuing the Great Shelving Project (which was interrupted by the flu). The ultimate goal is to get all of my books out of the boxes in the garage.