Sunday, May 30, 2004
Photo by John Blocher, February 2004.
AOL journals guru John M Scalzi has posted a challenge for journalers to write vacation recommendations for places they've never been. Well, sure, there are lots of places I want to see in my lifetime and haven't: the Pacific Northwest, the Dakotas, Alaska, Greece, Israel, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga - well, all of them, really. Everywhere I haven't been is where I'd like to go, as long as people there aren't shooting at each other or dying of diseases and malnutrition while I watch helplessly. But my real dream vacation isn't to any of those places. I want to travel in four dimensions, at least, not just three.
Even before I ever heard of the TARDIS, I wanted to travel in time. Over the years I've picked out several destinations:
* New York City, circa 1960. Peggy Cass and James Thurber himself appeared in A Thurber Carnival, a revue later directed by my mom in Syracuse. I’d like to have seen Thurber play himself in “File and Forget,” but the man died when I was four years old. While I was in town, I’d pop forward a year or two and chat up Stan Lee before buying a dozen copies of Amazing Fantasy #15.
* Liverpool and Hamburg, 1955-62. My husband tells me that audio tape does exist of the Quarry Men performance at the Wooton Parish Garden Fete, after which John Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time. That’s pretty miraculous, but it’s not good enough for me. I want to take 21st century recording equipment down there, and tape Paul as he plays 20 Flight Rock for John. I want to record Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, the Silver Beatles, and the Nurk Twins. I want to hang out at a Cavern Club lunchtime session, and shop at NEMS. Then I’ll come home and turn all those recordings over to Apple—but keep a copy for myself, of course! Maybe I can get a research grant from some Time Travel Institute’s musicology department.
* Jerusalem, circa 28 AD. Can I have a Universal Translator for this one? I’m not big on Aramaic, and I don’t want to push for any miracles for my personal convenience.
* Anywhere, 23rd century. I’d like to see who came closest to getting it right: Roddenberry, JMS, or the BBC.
Maybe after that, I can upgrade my TARDIS or other time travel device to go sideways in time, from one reality to another. Then I can visit the real Enterprise (NCC-1701), Sam Beckett, Mary Poppins, the Wart, Eeyore, Bilbo Baggins and Meg Murry. I’d finish off that trip with two weeks in Mâvarin, looking around in the world of my creation, talking to people I know well but have never met.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
All pictures by John Blocher, May 16-19th, 2004*
*Update, three years later: a By the Way entry reminded me today of this old AOL-J entry of mine, and I went looking for it. I still like the words, but man-oh-man, the photos look amazingly bad now, especially in the default Ken Burns mode from the recent AOL-J upgrade. So what I've done here is this: I removed the single worst photo and added new edits of eight more. Nothing can completely hide the fact that the photos were taken with a Mavica, and are terribly low-res and grainy by today's standards. After all, these photo files - the originals, mind you - were small enough that twenty of them fit on a single floppy disk. Still, newer photo editing and leaving the result as large a file as possible seems to help a bit. So here you are. Will anyone but me even see this? - Karen
*Update, Nov 2008: AOL Pictures is going away, so no more Woodoo. This is now a Picasa slideshow, which lacks the Ken Burns effect. Phooey.
In recent years, Las Vegas has, almost accidentally, transformed itself into a genre destination. Star Trek fans can run from the Borg, horror fans can explore Dracula's castle, and amateur Egyptologists can pose with a Sphinx or gaze upon the tomb of Tutankhamen. Fantasy fans can stay at a camped-up version of King Arthur's home, watch sirens cause trouble, or check up on some talkative members of the Roman pantheon. If you want to gamble, there are I Dream of Jeannie slot machines. Want souvenirs? Buy a tiny dragon, a full-sized sword, or your very own tricorder. Like motion simulator rides? There are at least half a dozen to choose from, more likely a few dozen.
How did all this happen? I have a theory about that.
I think it's partly an accident, partly a matter of market forces, and partly a demographic shift. In the past thirty years or so, the once-marginalized sf/fantasy fan has gone mainstream. Las Vegas, of all places, is well-suited to capitalize on that progression.
Let's approach this from the demographic angle first. My generation, the baby boomers, was born into houses full of bright plastics, watched Glenn and Aldrin on tv as well as Kirk and Spock, and played advent.exe on University mainframes in college. People thought we were weird as we read Lord of the Rings or wrote about Star Trek, but all that started to change with Star Wars, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and eventually the Internet. Science fiction no longer seems far-fetched, because we're living in the future ourselves. Fantasy no longer looks hokey, because ILM and WETA can do things nowadays that would have made Ray Harryhausen weep. People who watched the Enterprise on tv in the 1960s went to work for NASA later, or possibly for Berman and Braga. People who knew how to confuse Eliza ("IS IT BECAUSE YOU'RE A LITTLE TEAPOT THAT YOU CAME TO SEE ME?") later wrote games for Sega or Electronic Arts. And here's the kicker: the most important trade shows that unveil each new crop of tech gadgets, games and killer aps take place in Las Vegas.
Here's a short history of Las Vegas over the same time period. By the 1970s, the Rat Pack was no longer holding court, and organized crime was socially acceptable only in Puzo novels and Coppola movies. Las Vegas had a seedy, adults-only reputation, which was no longer attractive to most Americans. People with kids were far more likely to go to Anaheim or Orlando, or possibly King’s Island. Even that Las Vegas mainstay, gambling, became less of a draw as Indian casinos started to open around the country in the 1980s.
So Las Vegas reinvented itself as a family destination. Circus Circus was the first family resort, soon followed by Excalibur, and Treasure Island. And it worked. Excalibur had zillions of rooms, but they filled up every night. Hotels from the Sinatra era were torn down to make way for ever-more elaborate themed resorts: Luxor, Bellagio, The Venetian, the Mirage, New York New York, Paris, and I'm probably forgetting a few of them. Other hotels, such as Caesar's Palace and the Hilton, were upgraded. Caesar's got an indoor mall with talking gods and a changing sky. The Hilton got Klingons and the Borg. And after all, why not? Las Vegas used to be about the fantasy of show girls and high rollers, but that was a different era. Now it's about different fantasies, ones that appeal to the tech geeks and their families. These days, a chapel on the Strip can throw a Star Trek wedding for you as easily as an Elvis one. Kids can ride roller coasters, mall rats can ride a gondola between shops, and History Channel buffs can hear what a fictionalized Howard Carter has to say about King Tut.
It isn't all good. Those little chapels on the Strip still remind me inevitably of Marty McFly's Chapel-O-Love, and the Excalibur, let's face it, is silly-looking. Disneyland's castle is far more realistic and evocative, and doesn't half-deafen you with hundreds of slot machines. Still, Las Vegas has definitely gotten better at the themed destination business with each new resort or attraction. The Luxor in particular is as amazing as Excalibur is disappointing. Check out the pictures on this post for examples of each.
If you're a fan of sf, fantasy, horror and technology, and you've already seen enough of Disneyland and Universal for this year, Las Vegas is well worth a look. After all, they’ve built these hotels for us: the baby boomer and younger, technophile, genre-watching geeks.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
All week I've been having strange dreams, full of bright colors, odd smells and strange emotions. Maybe if I write about them, they'll leave me alone, or I can at least figure out what they mean. If I weren't already apprenticed, and if my mom would let me go--which she wouldn't--it would be time for me to travel to the holy mountains, to dream about what the Gods want me to do with my life. Maybe they've sent me the dream without my having to make the trip. If so, I sure don't know what they're trying to tell me.
I'm not quite certain, but I think it's all the same dream, or the same fragments of dreams, over and over. I don't know whether I dream every part of it every night, or in the same order, but it's all starting to seem pretty familiar.
Here's what I remember:
The first thing that usually happens is that I find a silver sword stuck in a tree along the river, almost as if the sword grew from the tree. It's a nice sword, sharp and shiny, only buried about an inch into the wood. I pull it out and put it in my pocket. (I know that's impossible, but that's what I do in the dream.) The tree comes crashing down into the river, and catches fire. Instead of putting out the fire, the whole river burns for a minute or so as flames spread through the water. While it lasts, it's very hot, and I worry that I'll burn, too.
Then I see a tengrem galloping toward me. It looks just the way I expect it to look, based on Shela's songs, except that it's wearing a green hat with a red feather in it. I pull the silver sword out of my pocket and kill the tengrem. It's easy--one stroke and its head comes off. I take the hat and put it on.
Suddenly I'm surrounded by all the people I know: Del and Crel and their uncle, Shela of course, Bil and Jord and my mother, Farni and his parents--well, everybody. I hold up the tengrem's head to show them what I've done. Instead of praising my bravery, my skill or strength or even my good luck, they all start yelling at me, as if I did something terrible. I want to ask them why they're angry, but when I open my mouth no words come out. My mother shakes her head and turns away. The others turn their backs on me, too, and walk away muttering.
In the part of the dream that usually comes last, I'm standing alone, except that I'm surrounded by nature. I can actually smell fur and feathers, from the rabbits and squirrels on the ground and the birds in the bushes and trees. I hear the movement of water over rocks, the rustle of foraging animals, wind in the trees, and the songs of birds and insects. It all feels right to me, as if this is my world, and nothing else matters. Gradually I sink into the ground, until I'm part of everything I see and hear and smell, and I don't have a body of my own.
That's when I tend to wake up, just as I've become part of nature and discovered that I don't really mind no longer having hands and feet and so on. The last thing I see, looking out through the eyes of all those birds and animals and insects, is Del, walking to where my body used to be and calling my name.
No, it doesn't help. I still don't know what it means.
Read more about Rani: www.mavarin.com/ranifost.html
Saturday, May 22, 2004
Sabedu, 14th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
We have arrived at Tengremay, a refuge several hours' travel north of Mâshelamar. It is owned and maintained by Meligor, who is both a mage and a tengrem. Neither Lord Peli nor Albi knows of any tengrem mages other than our current host.
Within moments of our arrival, Meligor's divination talent compromised my current mission. Meligor publicly addressed my kinsman by his proper title, thus revealing his identity to anyone in our party who did not already know it. Lord Peli agrees with me that this is a dangerous turn of events, but Meligor seems unconcerned, as does Albi. Although he was initially discomfited, my kinsman rose to the situation, acknowledging Meligor's words with grace and honesty. Already I see in him the person he will become, if he survives both the ongoing political situation and our current troubles.
My personal relationship with Lord Peli grows more cordial and intimate each day. Charting our future together, if any, is problematic, both logistically and emotionally. However, neither of us is inclined to turn away. We each know our responsibilities, and we will discharge them; yet we will allow our romance to proceed to the extent that it does not interfere with those duties. It is a delicate balance to strike, especially at such a dangerous time. To employ the informal vernacular that Peli occasionally uses in private, I hope this isn't a mistake!
Read more about Shela Cados: www.mavarin.com/shela.html
Friday, May 21, 2004
Motion simulator attractions at the Luxor. Photo by John Blocher.
I'm back. When we first pulled into town, John really hated Las Vegas; but the themed hotels won him over. We'll probably go again someday, but not for a while. Gas, food and lodging on this trip were just about all we could afford, especially when you add in the attraction costs and the few souvenirs we bought. We couldn't afford to see Penn & Teller, Blue Man Group or the Tournament of Kings, unfortunately. Mostly, we just walked around looking at the different theme resorts, and John took a slew of digital photos.
The castle architecture and surrounding hype at Excalibur was mostly garish and silly, but at $49 a night we had no complaints. John and I had a friendly discussion about which sword is Excalibur, the one in the stone or the one that came from the Lady of the Lake, or somehow both.
Star Trek: The Experience was very well done and a lot of fun, although John was a little creeped out by one of the sales clerks, who kept trying to sell us LEDs to fool the Borg. Admission included two motion simulator attractions in addition to the museum, gift shops and themed restaurant. The Klingon attraction was based on TNG, with a combination of live actors, real sets and video. I liked it a lot. The Borg one, based on Voyager and set just after the end of that series, was even better, despite the fact that I don't like the Borg much as villians. That show was frenzied and very violent. Another highlight was the meal at Quark's, with its highly original, futuristic presentation of the food.
Luxor, with its Eqypt theme, was absolutely stunning, inside and out. So were New York, New York and the Venetian. We never got to Paris (the hotel, not the city), but it was amazing on the outside. Treasure Island was well done outside, not so great inside. We didn't see the outdoor ship battle at Treasure Island, called "The Sirens of TI," because high winds scuttled the performances. Great ships, though. Mirage was so-so inside and out.
There were several sf/f/horror motion simulator attractions at the different hotels, only one of which, other than the Star Trek ones, we got to do. It was a Doug Trumbull production at the Luxor, about a crystal obelisk in a hidden underground temple. The story was silly, but it was fun anyway. The Luxor also had a Dracula's Castle attraction that we didn't feel we had the time or money to do. Maybe next time!
And in case anyone is wondering, we didn't spend a penny on gambling.
See also: The Sublime and the Ridiculous: LV as a SF/F Destination - updated 5/26/07
Sunday, May 16, 2004
On Wednesday, John and I will have been married for 25 years. That's more than half my life! I have class on Thursday, and anyway we're broke, so our anniversary trip will be a modest one, two nights in Las Vegas with a possible stop at Laughlin or Lake Havasu or both. We're not gamblers, so it will be mostly for the sights--fake volcano, ship battle, pyramid, knights, Klingons--you know, all that spectacle stuff Las Vegas has added in the past decade or two to make it more of a family destination. Maybe John will go see Penn and Teller while I'm reading about taxes!
Friday, May 14, 2004
Sherlock and I have been working on figuring out the shape of a tengrem's head. Here are several attempts:
This one's from a preliminary sketch. The horn's in the wrong place, but it has a certain wolfish charm. Note the floppy ears!
The mutant kangaroo look. I couldn't handle those teeth!
The problem is that I originally intended a tengrem to have sort of a horse head, but later changed it to a wolf-like one. Trying to split the difference is a challenge, to say the least. Poor Sherlock! I hope all her clients aren't this fussy and indecisive.
A couple of times that weekend, Ainley said, "I'm just a humble actor, with a lot to be humble about!" In truth he was better than that. When I complimented his restrained performance in "Survival," he told me that most directors always wanted him to play the Master "bigger"--i.e., over-the-top. He was good at that, but his more subtle performances were the really memorable ones. For me he was The Master.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
A tengrem. Art by Sherlock
After all these years, I've finally seen a tengrem. Sherlock's picture, shown here, is the closest anyone has ever come to depicting the creature that first appeared in my imagination circa 1974.
Monday, May 10, 2004
(art by Sherlock, of course!)
With my usual lack of effective prioritizing, I've slipped farther behind in my coursework and instead made some slight progress on getting my Mavarin material published by someone other than myself. I've nearly finished my final edit on Heirs of Mavarin, collected contact info on additional agents and markets to try, and submitted a 298-word scene from the prequel to an online market. (I'll give details on that website if the piece is accepted). The scene depicts Darsuma's mother as a teenager, about to meet Shela's future father and, more importantly, the future Queen Genva.
The more I think about the prequel (to be titled either Prince of Mavarin or To Rule Mavarin), the more I see that I'd going to be very different from the other books. Heirs of Mavarin takes place over the course of about two weeks. Mages of Mavarin takes about a month to play out, with something happening everyday. To make the prequel work, however, I'm probably going to cover about 15 years, one chapter per year. It will be interesting to see whether I can pull it off!
Coming soon: "otherworld journal entries" from Darma (before she became Darsuma), Shela (a letter home) and possibly Fayubi (from the time of the prequel).
Thursday, May 6, 2004
Nevertheless, I miss the place sometimes. I can't help wondering what it looks like now, and whether any of the places where I spent my time growing up are still there. Manlius Elementary became village offices or something even before I left Syracuse; Pleasant Street Elementary was, I think, torn down; and Manlius Hardware, where I bought a horse figurine of painted metal, burned down a very long time ago. Broaster Hut moved, giving way to What's Your Beef? next to the Swan Pond. And I can only hope that the infamous Arly's Hotel was rehabilitated into something with a better reputation.
That leaves the P & C and adjacent pharmacy, at the latter of which I bought LPs by the Monkees; the Manlius Library, where I tried and failed to read Madeleine L'Engle's adult novel Ilsa, and in front of which Dan Cheney's father was hit by a truck; St. Ann's Catholic Church, the larger but less aesthetic building built in the1960s to replace the one in which Steve and I had to stand at the back if we were late; the seasonal ice cream stand Sno Top ("Watch for our humdinger opening next spring!"); Temple's Dairy Store, where large numbers of children stopped after school for root beer barrels and Tootsie Rolls; and Weber's Department Store. The one I wonder about most often is Weber's, possibly spelled Webber's. I don't remember for sure. It couldn't still be there, could it?
This was Manlius' 1960s equivalent of a general store. No, there were no pickle barrels or sacks of feed grain: this was a baby boom suburb, not a relic of the deeper past. It consisted of three rooms on Seneca St. The western room held school supplies, blue glass, Evening in Paris perfume and small toys. The middle room held greeting cards, china animals for my collection, and Breyer horses for Barbie to sit on. The eastern room had jeans, scout uniforms and other basic clothing to tide people over until they could get to Shoppingtown or Shoppers' Fair in DeWitt. I don't remember which room had the candy.
Mr. Weber usually presided over the middle room.
These memories of mine are over thirty-five years old, but it seems even longer ago. In 1986, Route 66 actor George Maharis told me that when he and Martin Milner were traveling the country for their tv show (starting in 1960), every place had its own customs and character. "Now you can go anywhere you like,"he said, "and it's a Denny's." In a world of Denny's and Olive Garden and Old Navy, I don't think it's at all likely that Manlius still has a non-chain department store that carries Breyer horses. Swan Restaurant, where we used to occasional have spaghetti, is long gone. I have very little hope for Temple's. The "haunted" house at Fayette St and High Bridge is long gone. Manlius Theatre, the one screen movie house where I saw The Incredible Journey and later Bananas, is apparently still there, and the Swan Pond is probably still there, but that's probably about it for my childhood landmarks.
If someone who still lives in Manlius finds this post, I'd appreciate hearing from you about what's there now and what is gone. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen Funk Blocher
Fayetteville-Manlius High School, class of 1975.
[email updated 10/13/2014]
Wednesday, May 5, 2004
I called in on NPR's Talk of the Nation today. The subject was grade inflation. Having attended college from 1975-1979 and again from 2002-present with very different grade results, I felt I had something to offer to the conversation.
When I was at Syracuse University all those years ago, I was getting nearly as many Cs as As and Bs combined. Certainly I got a C more often than an A. Now here I am a quarter century later, getting upset at a single B among 13 As.
What changed? I did. In 1978 I was engaged, broke, lonely, suffering from depression, and utterly unable to write an English paper because nobody would tell me why my papers got lower grades than the ones by students with no talent but an ability to write to formula. I played D&D, ran up phone bills calling John in Ohio, and was generally dysfunctional. Two years before that, I was dealing with my parents' divorce, feuding with my mom, and having roommate problems in a tiny dorm room. Small wonder that my grades were less than stellar in that era. And really, I suspect that many 18- to 22-year-olds, away from home for the first time and distracted by their new semi-autonomy, simply aren't all that dedicated to doing their best work in every college course.
By contrast, I was highly motivated by the time I went back to college late in 2002. I knew I needed the degree this time around. This was not just to abate my earlier failure to graduate, and to make my parents and husband happy; although those were factors as well. The main purpose was to apply the coursework and my decade of bookkeeping experience toward qualifying to be a CPA. If I knew my debits from my credits, I ought to be able to parlay that into a profession that got me out of debt eventually, instead of getting me in a little deeper each year. To do all that, I needed the degree. More important, I needed to learn the material, so that I could be among the 7% of people without master's degrees who pass the CPA exam on the first try. So I've worked hard, written the papers, and learned the material as best I could. If I were a perfect student, I'd be reading my tax accounting text right now instead of writing this, but nevertheless, I've worked very hard for all those As.
That's not the whole story, though. I know it's not. Many of my classmates get mostly As as well. For some courses, I'm certain, everyone got an A.
Was that so terrible? Did we not deserve those grades?
My feeling is that if we did the work and learned the material, we deserved the high grades, even if it meant that nobody got a B or a C. I'm in a class full of working adults. We're generally more motivated to achieve good results in these career-oriented courses than a 20-year-old English major taking an elective. If someone in my UoP classes got the A without doing the work, that's a different story. It makes me wonder: did I get those As by working hard, or would I have had the same result with less effort on my part?
Ultimately it doesn't matter that much in my situation. Whether I get an A or a B, what matters in the end will be my knowledge of accounting as of the day I take the CPA exam, and on all the days after that when I need to apply that knowledge.
Until then, the A posted on the UoP website gives me an indicator that I'm on track for that long-term goal.
Monday, May 3, 2004
It started last night (after midnight, technically today), when I checked for my grade in Advanced Accounting. After my less than stellar performance on the final, I expected a B for the course, possibly a B+. I got an A. I was so thrilled I had to wake John to tell him. He forgave me immediately for interrupting his sleep with the news.
This morning I dropped my car off at the collision service. (I backed into a barrier at a gas station two weeks ago, causing much sturm und drang at home.) The "loaner" car, which will cost only $25 total for the week I need it, is a 2001 Toyota with the collision service's logo on the side. I was expecting something like a 1978 Capri, a near-junker, so it was a nice surprise. It drives better than my own car, but the NPR station doesn't come in as well on the radio.
Oh, and I took a chance on a pair of pants yesterday without trying them on, buying the next size up from a pair that didn't fit. The pair I bought fits perfectly.
And to top it off, I remembered this morning that I have one more day to make a dent in my backlog at work before my boss returns from Hawaii. So I'd better get back to that.
P.S. I made some additions, corrections and improvements on about half of the character pages on www.mavarin.com last night. Anyone who is interested in material from the books themselves may want to take a look.
Sunday, May 2, 2004
Otherworld Journal Entry # 6: Baku Dener of the Dener-Pilcaf Caravan (note: this entry goes with the second book, Mages of Mâvarin).
Thaledu, 9th Day of Ranosem, 897 MMY
Hired an amnesiac today for the first leg of the spring trip. Pay: 3 cr. /week. Duties: packing, lifting, firewood, dishes, guard, possible entertainment (singing, stories, etc.).
It’s not clear how he came to be in Cavern 14, but he thinks he’s from T’mar. He’s terrified of magic, which isn’t surprising. What else but magic would cause his abrupt dislocation and damaged memory? Tunli didn’t find any sign of a head injury.
Bora thinks our new employee and overnight house guest is one of the Heroes of the R. It’s hard to say for sure. The name he gave me--which he’s since forgotten—doesn’t match any of the names in the ballads. Still, he referred to the Queen by her old name, as if he knew her. Besides, if he were nobody important, why would anyone do this to him?
He’ll be coming with us as far as Hemlarbeth, where, we hope, selmûn healers will be able to help him. It’s a little embarrassing how grateful he is for our assistance. After all, he’s going to be paying his way in labor, and possibly in entertainment value. It will be good to have someone different to talk to on the long trip, someone who hasn’t heard all our stories before. He’s a nice enough fellow, what there is of him. It’s hard to say exactly what he’s like as a person, when he doesn’t know himself. We’ll have to see how things develop on the road, but I doubt very much that we’ll regret bringing him along.
Saturday, May 1, 2004
This is Tuffy Toro, sometimes called simply Toro or Tuf. She was named after Tuffy the Toro, the mascot of the AAA Tucson Toros, now known as the Sidewinders. Someone on the AOL sf writers' boards wanted to see a picture of her, so we took some today. I'll try to get a picture of the mascot uploaded here soon.
Like her namesake, Tuffy can look fierce--cute, but fierce--but she wouldn't hurt anyone. In fact, our Tuffy is a scaredy-dog. Bark and run away; that's her M.O.
We're told that Tuffy is part chow, having a chow's blue tongue. We've never really figured out the rest of her ancestry. She's about beagle-sized. Any ideas, anyone?
Please see http://mavarin.com/karen.htmfor "Four Things that Dogs Want" and "Five Things Your Dog is Trying to Tell You." And if you see my dog, be vewy vewy quiet. She hates loud noises, except for her own barking!