Thursday, September 30, 2004

If It's October, This Must Be Tucson

Weekend Assignment #27: There are 12 months in the year. Which is your favorite? Give us one good reason why.

Extra Credit: Which month comes in second?

I've never had a favorite month. Which one I select, if I have to select one at all, depends at least partly on where I'm living at the time. Here in Tucson, I guess I have to go with

Halloween 2002, I thinkOctober.

See, if I still lived in Syracuse, I would never, ever choose October. While you folks Back East (although it's really the latitude that counts) are going on about fall leaves and crisp air, I'm remembering cold, rainy, windy, miserable fall evenings, during which I often spent twenty minutes or more waiting for a bus from the University to my one-room apartment - or just trudging through the rain with my heavy textbooks. (Note to self: tell the condemned building story sometime.)

But here in Tucson, October means that the 100 degree days are behind us until next May. Some days it won't break 90 degrees, and it probably won't rain even once during the month. We still run the air conditioning, but not all day, every day. Hardly any leaves change color here in fall, but if we want cool fall air, we can always drive up Mt. Lemmon. The trees up there have probably started to recover from the big fire of 2002. Yep, I like the weather in October - but only if I'm in Tucson, or some other warm place.

And of course, you can probably tell from my frequent use of Halloween photos that it's a fave holiday of mine.

Emergency Back-Up Favorite for the Extra Credit:

It will soon be time for this stuff againDecember.

Again, if I still lived in Syracuse, I wouldn't be terribly fond of December. One memorable late afternoon in December, 1976, I stood outside Peck Hall for an hour in a blizzard, waiting for a bus that was broken down or snowed in, watching the time and temperature on the MONY Plaza tower as it said: 11 degrees... 10 degrees... 11 degrees... 10 degrees... 9 degrees...!" I didn't dare to leave the bus stop, and try to call my dad, in case the bus came the moment I left. The irony of my location - about 200 feet from Dad's deserted office - was not lost on me. That was far from the only time I was cold and miserable in that month in that metropolitan area.  December in Syracuse. Feh.

But here in Tucson, December tops out in the sixties and seventies by day, and seldom dips below freezing at night.  Some winters we never turn on the thermostat at all. There's only been one White Christmas in Tucson since they started keeping records, but I was here for it. And again, if I want snow in December, I just have to drive up Mt. Lemmon. Christmas without the cold. I can handle that.

I mentioned this assignment to John (my husband) earlier this evening. He said, "My favorite month starts in late November and runs to the beginning of January, for obvious reasons. It's called Novemdecembuary."



October 2, 2004, 5:29 PM - 91 degrees. Predicted high for tomorrow: 93 degrees. A little lower, please.

Shatner's Scam

If you can't trust Captain Kirk, who can you trust?

I mentioned last week that William Shatner was in Riverside, Iowa, casting bit parts and shooting scenes for a low budget movie called Invasion Iowa.

Now it turns out that there's no such film. The whole thing was a set-up for a Spike TV reality show about a small town's reaction to a Hollywood film crew. One extra reports having been suspicious of the project, on the grounds that it all seemed so "cheesy."  Hey, Shatner can be cheesy. Haven't you watched his ads on tv?

Still, the hoax does seem, as the man said, cheesy. Shatner said nice things about the town that bills itself as the future birthplace of Captain Kirk, but it's hard to avoid the impression that he's laughing at Riverside, probably because of its calculated but harmless use of Shatner's Star Trek character for commercial purposes. Shame on him.

Come to think of it, you can't trust Captain Kirk, either. He did invent the corbomite maneuver, after all.


Read the story on Netscape News

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Happy Michaelmas! (Happy What?)

bless the pugs and the pekesTonight was Michaelmas at St. Michael's and All Angels, the annual feastday of, you guessed it, St. Michael and All Angels. No, don't click away: I'm not here to talk about angels or God or faith. I am going to tell you, briefly, what I did tonight, and what I didn't do.

See, I went over there with the digital camera, expecting to take pictures of the choir, the choir director/organist and the guest musicians: the strings, the trumpets and the tympanies. They were all gathered to perform a well-rehearsed Schubert mass in some key or other. But went into the sacristy to check the schedule for Sunday, I discovered that I was supposed to be crucifer tonight.  So: no pictures, since I couldn't exactly take them while sitting in the sanctuary. As with that rainbow a week and a half ago, I had to settle for saving pictures in my head. Frankly, I'm not good at that.

It was kind of a neat Mass, because there were seven priests and deacons instead of the usual three, and a high school student carrying a banner so big he couldn't see past it. One of the deacons was an elderly guy I'd never met before, who usually goes to the 8 o'clock. The remarkable thing about him was his proper C of E British accent. Think of Peter Cook in The Princess Bride, only without the speech impediment, and you'll get the general idea. Hearing Tom speak gave this Anglican ceremony an extra sense of occasion. Another deacon wore a medieval-looking robe reminiscent of my dad's commencement robes from Syracuse University (different color though, and no hat), and carried a staff with a little spade shape at the top.

I'm going where this weekend?The music was very good, although not exactly my favorite. It made for a very long Mass, with lots of extra time on my feet or on my knees, trying not to move. There were also hymns, all of which I liked; but it's frustrating to sing them when I don't know all the words, and don't have ready access to a hymnal. It happens every time I act as crucifer or torch.

I'm not scheduled to serve at Mass on Sunday, so I'll bring the camera then.  AndTuffy. St. Michael's always celebrates the Feast of St. Francis with a Blessing of the Animals. Expect a picture this weekend of Tuffy in church, along with photos of cats and birds, possibly rabbits and guinea pigs, and perhaps a snake or a turtle. Sorry, no horses.  Just as well - I'm allergic to all of the above!



Tuoi arrives with extra plates.I eat lunch far too often at a buffet restaurant called Golden Corral, considering that the cost is now over $8 excluding tip. It's not primarily the quality, quantity or variety of food that draws me there. My frequent visits can be explained in one word: Tuoi.

"Hi, Karen. My name it Tuoi; I will be your server today. Thank you, Karen. Thank you, my dear." As soon as I sit down, Tuoi's there to greet me, in more or less exactly those words. Having known me for eight years, Tuoi (rhymes with Dewey) knows I know her name, at least as well as she knows mine. She introduces herself anyway, every single time. It's one of the Golden Corral rules, and she takes those rules seriously, even to the point of absurdity.

It's all part of her commitment to customer service, and Tuoi works harder at that than any other waitress, waiter or server I've ever met. Almost as soon as I sit down, sometimes before, I have two extra plates, an extra Diet Coke, and extra napkins. The napkins are Tuoi's one rebellion against the rules. She's not supposed to give them out until asked for them. Her solution is to pretend she's heard just such a request. "You ask for more napkins!" she informs me, even as she sets three of them on the table by the plates.

Over half of the people in Tuoi's section are her regulars, people who wouldn't think of sitting elsewhere in the restaurant when Tuoi's on the clock. (Celeste is great, too, but Tuoi is unique.) We greet Tuoi by name, call for her if somehow she hasn't already provided us with everything we could possibly want, and joke with her as she offers coffee or a hot dinner roll. Tuoi knows that I have never, ever accepted the coffee, that I hate coffee, but she asks anyway. It's her job to ask, and Tuoi is very, very good at her job. If she isn't bringing us stuff, she's clearing trays, used plates, and whole tables, greeting someone in line as she grabs an extra soda for someone else (or for the same someone), or dashing off to the restroom to do some cleaning there. She knows our names, and what we like to drink, and she notices when we bring along someone she doesn't already know. She's as friendly as she is efficient, and more than once I've bent over to return one of Tuoi's hugs.

It's always been obvious from her accent that Tuoi wasn't born in the U.S., but I've never felt comfortable asking about her background. How rude would that be? I think it was late last year that I learned that Tuoi is from Vietnam. She mentioned the country in passing one day, when she had to leave early for an aunt's funeral. She had trouble getting out the door, because there was always one more plate to clear, one more family arriving or leaving, and one more regular asking about the funeral. Regulars also ask after her husband. He's had a few health problems over the  past year, but Tuoi tells us he's doing better now.

I would have asked for napkins, but I didn't need to.Two weeks ago, Tuoi proudly announced to her regulars that she had become a grandmother, and was looking forward to seeing the baby.  We asked about the baby the next day, and were told that he didn't breathe on his own at first. He got better, though. Tuoi is delighted with her grandbaby.
Yesterday, she proudly showed pictures of Cole to her regulars. "Tell me when to stop," she said, but I looked at every photo. 

Baby Cole is home now, and his grandmother visits him every night. "I get off work, I go home and pay to God and Buddha, and then I go see the baby," Tuoi told me. Cole's family only lives three minutes away. Tuoi is grateful for that. If her other set of kids had a baby, trips to the Ina Road area would be much less convenient for her. "I don't see how I could visit more than once a week," she told me.

I have no idea how long Tuoi has been in the U.S., whether she came over as a child or a young bride, before or after Saigon fell. The baby pictures show no trace of Asian features, just a fat, healthy baby. There are many questions I'd like to ask Tuoi, about why she came to the U.S. and when, what her childhood was like, how she met her husband, and how her life in the U.S. compares to the life she expected. I bet her story would be a fascinating one. I can't ask any of these questions. I don't want to put her on the spot, assuming a level of intimacy to which I'm not entitled.

I'm just one of her regulars.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Sleep, Glorious Sleep!

I should try this sleep stuff more often!I went to bed at 6:30 PM last night, ostensibly for a nap, and got up at 8:30 this morning. I really, really, needed this, having pulled several near all-nighters in a row, mostly in connection with the English Faire.

Wednesday night I was up most of the night doing homework for my last accounting class. I didn't get it done, but I made progress.

Thursday night I was up really late emptying the drawers of my mom's furniture so I could donate selected items, including the furniture. (More on this later.) Then I designed directional signs, on request, that ultimately weren't used.

Friday night I wrote a couple of journal entries so I wouldn't get behind, and wasted a ridiculous amount of time looking at Quizilla quizzes related to Buffy, Tolkien and other interest areas. I'd never been to the web site other that to take one or two silly personality quizzes recommended by others, and I wanted to get more of a sense of what's there in connection with a piece I want to write about the inaccuracies of personality tests, both serious and silly ones. A large number of Quizilla's quizzes were obvious teen and preteen efforts, badly-spelled trivia tests and Mary Sue stories about Your Date With Rupert Grint/Dan Radcliffe/Orlando Bloom, Part 26.  At the other end of the scale was an erudite test of the reader's attitude toward Tolkien canonicity, contrasting the every-word-is-sacred school of thought with people willing to twist the heck out of the story to accomodate slash and satire.  I came out as a "Tolkien moderate," and quite right, too (for a change).

I'll go to bed! Just let me post this first! Saturday night I formatted a bunch of the fifty-or-so decent pictures I got of the English Faire. I honestly don't remember what else I did.

Sunday night, after a nap, I updated the St. Michael's schedule page, taking out all the outdated English Faire stuff. I posted to the St. Michael's blog, and spent several hours reworking the SMAA music page, based on what the choir director sent. I got to bed at something like 4:50 AM, and lay awake.

Last night I slept. I was terribly tired.

I don't remember much about the dreams, but I enjoyed them, almost as much as I enjoyed waking up and thinking, I can go back to sleep! I do remember turning to John in one dream and saying, "Let's get married some more." (John said today, "If I were any more married, I don't know what I'd do.")

Dan and Karen, spring 1974Perhaps not too surprisingly, my dreams are usually populated by my mom, sometimes by John, by friends and tv characters and fictional strangers.

And by Dan Cheney

As in dreams of my mom, I'm usually embarrassed to ask whether he's dead. I know he's dead, and he knows that I know. But that doesn't stop him from showing up from time to time and telling me things, or just being a friend. I'm always glad to see him. Now, please understand: I make no claims that the occasional presence of Daniel Cheney in my dreams proves anything about anything. But Dan in my dreams is more real to me than a guest appearance by Xander Harris or Sam Beckett, just as Mom is more real to me in dreams than she is as I trim the grass that tries to grow over her grave marker. Dreams keep important old memories alive, casting beloved people from the past in new scenes, usually to do the same old stuff. Mom used to tell me that she always dreamed her mother and sister were still alive. I thought this rather sad, a symptom of her depression and inability to get on with her life, but maybe she needed these dreams to cope with her feelings. Maybe I still need my mom, and sometimes Dan. So my brain provides them, through the medium of dreams.

As I went through boxes of photos recently looking for stuff to post here, I came across an envelope I didn't know I had, containing a photo I don't remember posing for. It's of Dan and me, obviously from the night of the junior prom. The envelope credits a photography studio in Chittenango, NY. I'll post the credit later, but I'm calling this fair use. If Dan has any surviving friends or relatives who would want this, I refer you to the photographer for a non-digital copy. The last I heard, he had a surviving sister, and an uncle in Texas. I sincerely hope the uncle isn't related to the vice president of the U.S. I doubt it. Dan's name was pronounced Chee-nee, not Chay-nee. There are also at least two other surviving friends I've heard from in the past several years.

I wrote a page in memorial to Dan some years ago. If you're curious, click on the photo to get to it. Dan had a short, strange life - and I'm glad to have been part of it.


Photo credit: S. C. Parker, 604 Forbes Ave., Chittenango, NY 12037

Monday, September 27, 2004

Priestly Horror Stories

I'm going to be a little discreet about the details, but what you are about to read is true.  No need to Snopes this stuff.

For everyone who has been thinking lately about fraudulent identities and hurtful behavior online, here's a reminder that live-and-in-person behavior sometimes leaves such online misdemeanors in the dust. Case in point: I recently heard a few priests swapping wedding horror stories.

One happened to the priest who was telling the story:

A wedding scheduled for late on a Saturday afternoon was postponed, or possibly canceled, when a groom announced to his bride at 2 PM that day that he couldn't get married after all. The reason? His girlfriend didn't want him too. Incredibly, the bride wanted to negotiate about possibly rescheduling.

One happened in the 1950s to a priest of the storyteller's acquaintance:

An exhortation to "speak now or forever hold your peace," or words to that effect, was answered when the groom's pre-existing wife and children came up the aisle.

I didn't hear the provenance of the third story:

The same line of the ceremony referenced above resulted in four women raising their hands.

Kind of puts the deceptions of online strangers in perspective, doesn't it?

Incidentally, when I tell John that I don't remember him telling me something, he sometimes jokes, "Must have been my other wife." Good thing I don't believe him! ;)


Trompette and Contra Hautbois

One of the more time-consuming tasks in last night's update of the St. Michael's website was the redesign of the St. Michael's music page. Church organist and choir director Jane Haman sent me updated information about the church's Aeolian-Skinner organ, including something called a "stop list."  Basically this is a list of the different pipes and other organ parts, but the whole thing is wonderfully obscure, even to someone like me who took music classes all though high school. Check out, for example, the names of the "swells":

pipe organ console at St. Michael'sContra Violone
Viola Pomposa
Viola Celeste
Harmonic Flute
III-IV Scharff
Contra Hautbois
Unison off

I suspect that the "Swell/Swell Unison off Tremulant" part is all one thing, a reference to pipes this organ doesn't have but could have. So why list them? I have no idea.

Another intruiging part is the variation in the multilingual names of the kinds of pipes. In different categories of pipes, you can find Trompet (Great), Trompette (Swell and Choir), and the more familiar Trumpet (Antiphonal, enclosed). Why does it take three different spellings?  What are the origins of such fascinating names as Wood Gedeckt, Gemshorn, Chimney Flute, Fifteenth, IV-V Mixture, Viola Pomposa, Rohrflote, Sesquialtera, III-IV Scharff and Contra Hautbois? Don't ask me. I only formatted the HTML table until 3 AM. I don't know what any of it means!

I'm very fond of this organ, though. Aside from its impressive range and beautiful sound, it has a very personal connection for me. Early in the Book of Pipes fundraising campaign, I sponsored one of the pipes in honor of Dan Cheney, my high school boyfriend who was killed by a drunk driver in 1978. And in December, 2002, Jane Haman played my mom's song The Ending of Desire on the organ at Mom's funeral, after just forty minutes of preparation with the 35-year-old pencilled sheet music.


Lost at the Faire

As predicted, I spent the whole weekend (except for the usual shopping with John and five hours wasted on Quizilla) doing church-related stuff. It was more interesting than expected: rather than sit and sell books, I spent most of Saturday wandering around with the digital camera, and then running home to unload the floppies onto my hard drive. Here are some pictures to give you some idea what the St. Michael's English Faire was like, and to tide us all over until I can write something coherent. Good night! - Karen, Monday morning 4:36 AM

York courtyardFather John takes a picture
Fr. Daniel has a chatColby has an announcement
madrigal singers serenade YorkMary sells eggstraordinary eggs

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Mâvarin Fiction Entry: A Dispatch from Barselti

(The following is the letter the King is reading in the opening scene of Mages of Mâvarin)
a tengremUmvardu, 13th Day of Fredor, 897 MMY

Your Majesties:

Things are quiet here for the moment, but there's no knowing (Fayubi excepted) how long that will last. By the time Nalo gets this letter to you, everything may have changed. Perhaps you could ask my mother to set up a nice, discreet portal between Thâlemar and my cottage. That way, if major trouble erupts here you will be able to respond faster - if there's anything you feel you can do about it at all. The actions of a few dozen tengremen at the other end of the country may not be a major priority for you right now, but I promise you, they will be.

So far, Albi is still allowing dissident tengremen to leave Gathmak, if he finds he can't control them as pack leader. He predicts that they'll be back, because there's no place else a tengrem is welcome--except Varthtimar, of course, and that's practically uninhabitable. That's where he thinks they're all going. Miserable place. I've seen it. A few tengremen really are living in the swamps down there, but not many.

If Albi knew that the deserters all had necklaces, I'm certain that he'd be less tolerant of their going. In theory, they can live as humans wherever they want, far from Albi and his ambitions. That's anathema to Albi, and problematic for us as well. Let me assure you that I screen them all very carefully before helping them, both for emotional stability and for their loyalty to Mâvarin. There are too many amoral or pro-Mâton tengremen galloping around the country as it is, without my adding to them.

I'm trying to steer as many of the dissidents as possible to the new settlement outside Skû. The humans in the area are relatively tolerant, and the tengremen are only a few days from Gathmak if it comes down to a fight.

As for myself, I've been very careful to keep my production of extra necklaces a secret from everyone but Zagorni. Even the tengremen I give them to are told that their particular necklaces are my only "spares." Still, I've had a few close calls in which Albi saw a dissident in the vicinity of my cottage. These days I'm coming to them rather than risk their visits to me. I do it in the middle of the night, bearing charms that render me invisible and unsmelled.

I hope your new Minister of Tengrem Relations can work something out with Albi, or reinstill in him some respect for the human government. I can't imagine anything Cort could say to accomplish this. Albi's latest scheme seems to involve identifying tengremen who are both loyal to him and capable of being trained as mages. If he can accomplish that, he'll be able to banish me and the other humans from Gathmak. That's assuming he doesn't try to have us killed instead. Fortunately, he won't be able to replace his human "allies" that quickly or easily. There are tengremen with talent, but instruction in magic takes years - and I don't know who Albi thinks he can get to do the training. He's certainly not looking to humans to do it. You may want to warn Meligor.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

And Steve-O Is His Name-O

Weekend Assignment #25: Share a favorite story that features you and a sibling. For those of you that are an only child, you can substitute a cousin or a best friend.

Extra Credit: Need I say? Pictures, baby! Pictures from the past are good, but recent pictures of you and the siblings are just peachy, too.

I have no idea where this was.Here I am with my brother Steve, in the earliest picture I have of us together.  I look about two years old, so it should be 1959. That makes Steve nine years old in the photo. That's right: my only sibling is seven years older than I am.

Not surprisingly, the age difference didn't always make for a harmonious relationship. "Don't argue with your sister," Dad would say. "She's younger than you are. If she wants to say that the moon is made of green cheese, let her." I was highly offended by this. I might be young, but I knew the moon wasn't made of green cheese! Nor was I willing to concede that Steve's additional years of learning experience made him always right, and me always wrong. I was probably about seven years old at the time.

One of my first memories involving Steve predates our move to Manlius in 1961. Until I was four years old, we lived on York Road in Dewitt, NY, a couple of blocks behind Lincoln National Bank (and later, Ding How and the place I used to buy my tropical fish). Come to think of it, the road that ran past York Road was the road to Pebble Hill - I think. This was all a very long time ago.

My dad was only an assistant professor then, and my mom's paycheck wasn't huge. Consequently, the house on York Road was rather small. The only great things about it were the little stained glass window in front and the existence of a little creek at the end of the block. The bridge over the creek was strictly off limits to little kids like me, so of course I went there often with Susie C., and probably with Steve.

The thing that I really hated about the house was the fact that Steve's room was only accessible through mine. This meant that he could forbid me to go into his room, but I couldn't keep him out of mine.  Beingsiblings, we squabbled about this from time to time, in between games of Parcheesi. One day, overcome by the manifest unfairness of my lot, I decided to do something about it. I locked Steve's door from the inside and pulled it shut from the outside, leaving Steve's room locked and empty. My memory is that it took both parents and several neighbors to get the room open again. I probably got punished, but it was worth it.

I don't have a lot of other stories to tell about Steve, at least, not in public. Steve wasn't all that fond of hanging out with his little sister when we were kids, especially when either of his friends, Fred and George, was at the house. Still, I remember lots of little things about Steve during the years in Manlius:

toward the end of the honeymoon (1979)* My Whitman editions of Lassie: The Secret of the Summer, Tom Sawyer and Howard Pyle's Robin Hood were hand-me-downs from Steve. At one point in Dewitt I even got to play with a Zorro sword and hat that probably belonged to Steve. He never gave me his old Howdy Doody game, though, or his Visible Man.

* From time to time, Steve would invent nicknames for us to use, just between the two of us. For a while he called me Scout, after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird. The nickname for Steve that stuck was Steve-o, occasionally Steven Ericio. (His middle name is Eric.) Sometimes I was Karen Christino.  I think he was still calling me that when I last saw him in 2002.

* When I was about eight years old, I happened to see the following written on a box:

M - 3 - 30

When I asked what M minus three minus thirty meant, Steve gave me an impromptu algebra lesson. "If M minus 3 minus thirty is equal to zero, when is M?" he asked me.

"33," I said. If only all algebra were that easy!

* Several years later, Steve taught me to conjugate "femina" in Latin. It was my only Latin lesson ever.

* When I couldn't find a date for the senior prom, Steve took me to a disco instead.  I hated it, but it was interesting, and a wonderful gesture on Steve's part.

* Most of all: whenever I was upset, during all those years when we lived in the same house, Steve would come in my room and try to cheer me up. Maybe our parents were fighting, or I was in trouble over something, or some kids had been mean, or our housekeeper had broken something of mine or thrown it away.  Mostly it was the first two cases. Steve would animate my stuffed animals: Trophy, Snoopy (not that Snoopy), Percy, Timmy, Toothy and the rest. He'd play tickle monster. He'd talk nonsense, or maybe talk sense.  He'd be my big brother, looking out for me.

Steve moved out during college, then down to the Washington, DC area, over to Rochester and later to Cleveland. I saw him a few times in the early 1980s, when he lived in Cleveland and John and I lived in Columbus. The last time was in 1985. Just before John and I moved west in 1986, we tried to visit Steve but failed to connect up. I didn't see Steve again until our mom died at the end of 2002.

Dad, me, Steve the week of the funeralAbove: Karen and Steve in May, 1979.

Left: Frank Funk, Karen, Steve Funk, the week my mom was buried. Yes, the thing behind us in the hotel lobby is a Christmas tree. My mom died on December 16th. Steve flew home to Cleveland on Christmas Eve.


Steve Funk's Latif Turkish Angoras page

Faire Warning

 Come to the Faire
I'm supposed to be the town cryer!

You probably won't see much of me online for the next few days because of the English Faire at St. Michael's and All Angels Episcopal Church here in Tucson. I'm supposed to be the town cryer for Oxford, which means, in effect, that I'll be hauling and selling books Friday evening and most of Saturday.

The Faire begins Friday evening with fish and chips at the Dirty Duck Pub, and a concert by Nancy McCallion Band. She used to be with the Mollys, a well-known local band I never got around to seeing. I won't be at this concert, either, because I'll be setting up books and, I hope, getting most of my mom's remaining furniture hauled out of my front room over to the St. Michael's school gym for the rummage sale.

Saturday's the main event, with all the sales and jumping castle and high tea and pipe organ demonstration and raffles and stuff. If you live in Tucson, you may want to check it out. Or not. If you're feeling really charitable, hungry for cheap books to read, or just want to see what I look like without a costume, you can come see me over in the gym. Proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity Tucson.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Musings.


St. Michael's & All Angels web site
St. Michael's blog

One Skip Forward, One Skip Back

John Scalzi asked for experiences and insights related to the practice of skipping kids ahead a year. Okay, here's mine:

I started kindergarten at Manlius Elementary in 1962,on a half-day, morning only schedule. My mom was working out of town - I think this was just before she got the encephalitis - so it wasn't terribly convenient that I was home in the afternoon. Halfway through the year, my folks transferred me to Pebble Hill School in Dewitt. The kindergarten there was a full day program. I was already reading a little bit, and as a psychologist who did testing professionally, my mom had already tested my IQ. She consulted with the principal, and they put me into first grade. At the same time, they gave me the option of going to kindergarten at Pebble Hill instead if first grade didn't work out.

I think I lasted one day in first grade that year, but it may have been as much as a week. The class was reading words with silent letters, like "knock." I got scared, because I didn't know about silent k. I was afraid the rest of the class knew more than I did. I think I went to see the principal, and soon I was in kindergarten. Even the kindergarten was more advanced than the one at Manlius Elementary. I liked it.

The next year I was back at Manlius Elementary. Mom approached the principal there, Mrs. Clayton, about putting me in second grade. Mrs. Clayton said she didn't believe in skipping kids ahead, and that was that. I went into Mrs. Livingston's class, and suffered through Getting Ready to Read, long after I was reading. I already wrote about that, but the point here is that I was ill-served by that part of the curriculum, both academically and socially. If Mrs. Livingstone and I had communicated better, or if she had given me a real book to read instead (as a teacher in the same situation did for my friend Evelyn), it would have been better.

Overall, though, I have no regrets about staying with my age group rather than skipping ahead.  I had my chance.


P.S. In high school, I spent a day sampling classes at Manlius Pebble Hill School. Pebble Hill by then had merged with The Manlius School, a former military academy. Mom and I thoughtthat if I got a fresh start at a different school, I could shed all the years of awkward social interaction at F-M, and get along with kids who didn't know I'd played a skunk in a second grade play. But the kids, while friendly, thought I was crazy to want to go to school there. They all wanted to go to public school. Moreoever, I found myself explaining about being unpopular at F-M. I soon realized I was poisoning the well against myself, and bringing my social problems with me. No.  That wasn't going to work. I was back at F-M the next day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Two More Quick Notes:

 Quick Note #3:

To: AOL-J Programmers (not that you're likely to see this, or the one I posted before!)
From: Karen (some AOL member or other)
Subject: Re: AOL-J Comments Wish List

Thanks for making the comments link-friendly! Now, how about my other requests?



Quick Note #4

To: Beta Readers
From: Karen (you know who I am)
Subject: The Printouts

Your manuscripts and CDs went out today via FedEx. You should get them Friday.  I hope you like them!


Bill Shatner's Iowa Connection

I was once in the Enterprise crew, thanks to a girl we call Mary Sue!Photo TM & copyright 2002 Paramount Pictures Corp.

Thirty years ago, I was in a Star Trek club called S.T.A.R. Syracuse, later called Star Syracuse "without the dots." I was editing a fanzine called 2-5YM (meaning Second Five-Year Mission), going to my first Star Trek convention in NYC (where I got a kiss from Isaac Asimov), buying film clips from Lincoln Enterprises and a tribble from Dage Co, and reading James Blish's short story adaptations of episodes. Before the club disbanded, we went to more cons, attended personal appearances by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry and Harlan Ellison (who would not be pleased to be lumped in with Star Trek celebrities here), and eventually mutated into a D&D group. 

I remember being very pleased with Shatner's appearance at the NYC convention. Asked about dilithium crystals, he said, "They're green. And they make the ship go."  Asked how to become an actor, he said that if you can be talked out of doing it, you should be, because rejection is a big part of the job.  This always made sense to me.

But when Shatner appeared in Syracuse in something billed as The Star Trek Show, it was a different story. He promised a blooper reel, but had to drop it because he didn't have the right to show it. He performed a vaguely sf scene from Cyrano De Bergerac, and generally did and said very little that was Trekkish. This was about the time of T.J. Hooker, probably just before that. I have no doubt that Shatner was trying to get fans to follow him as he tried to shed his Star Trek straightjacket and do other things, but the show seemed like a deceptive bait and switch, and we resented it. Heck, we were Trekkie kids, and didn't understand what he was trying to do.  That same year, Leonard Nimoy came though promoting I Am Not Spock. He gave us exactly what we wanted: a candid, thoughtful and funny account of the relationship between the actor and the character. Why couldn't Shatner have done that?

I've seen Shatner a few times since then at Creation cons, and I'm not longer annoyed with him. He's flawed but amusing, equally capable of very good acting or terrible hamming. His current persona, as the likable older actor who doesn't take himself too seriously, helps to defuse older impressions of him (justified or otherwise) as an egotistical jerk. It no longer really matters to me whether or not he's a great actor or agreat guy, as long as he continues to amuse.

Today's amusement is as follows:

1. There's a story on Netscape today  about Shatner appearing in Riverside, Iowa, "to hold auditions for four small parts in a low-budget, sci-fi movie he wrote with Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy." The working title is Invasion Iowa. It's not clear what the connection is, if any, between the movie and Riverside's existing relationship with Shatner. In 1985, but Riverside designated a site as "the future birthplace" of James T. Kirk.  Cool!

I tried to look this up on, but there's no mention of this project that I could find, despite Shatner's claim in the news story that he's wanted to make the movie for thirty years. Nevertheless, Shatner's website looks kind of fun. I'll probably look at it again sometime.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Two Quick Notes

 Quick Note #1:

To: AOL-J Programmers (not that you're likely to see this!)
From: Karen (one of probably thousands of Karens who maintain AOL Journals)
Subject: AOL-J Comments Wish List

Could you please add the following capabilities to AOL-J comments as part of your next upgrade?

1. HTML-friendly text. Comments on other blogging sites allow the use of HTML to designate italics, links and so on. This would be a very useful feature for AOL Journalers as well.

2. Comments edit and delete functions for use by the person posting that comment. LiveJournal users can't edit their own comments, but they can delete them and start over. Even that much would be helpful to someone like me, who inevitably sees typos the moment the Save button has been clicked.

3. A clickable header optionally linking to the commenter's journal.  Some non-AOL blogs have a place on the form for typing in the URL of the commenter's journal.  Wouldn't that be nice to have here on AOL?




No, I'm not mailing the binders. sorry. Quick Note #2

To: Beta Readers
From: Karen (you know who I am)
Subject: The Printouts

Please see my latest LJ entry for an update on the stuff I'm about to send you.  Thanks!


Monday, September 20, 2004

Color Now for the Future

John Scalzi posted a link today to a website that offers to design living spaces based on a Star Trek: TNG (and DS9 and Voyager) asthetic. These Trekkish designs seem to be mostly about wall panels and lighting effects, especially in a room called the brig. Umm, we don't have a brig. We seldom have the need to lock up anyone up, even the dog. So why would I hire this guy to design a brig for us?

This corner of our disused living room just the place from which to watch the viewscreen--if we had one!

The living areas on the web site are kind of pretty, but not comfortable or livable. Most of the time, it's hard to tell what kind of room you're in, and how you're supposed to function in it if you're not a Borg. I didn't see any place to watch tv from a cushy futuristic chair, with a hi-def tv screen big enough to get a good look at that Class M planet (or Randy Johnson's fastball). I also don't see a living quarters-style bedroom, in which I hope a real person gets a king-size bunk.

The lack on such things on the website (unless I failed to recognize them) may be a tacit acknowledgment that once you leave the kitchen and the brig, you're going to go about the rest of your life in more normal surroundings.  All in all, I'd rather live in the Monsanto Plastics Home of the Future in Disneyland, circa 1960 (without the tourists, of course). Not having been there, however, I'm probably overestimating the user-friendliness of that old projection of future living space.

Our Cugat painting, in the bright colors of the late 50s and early 60s.As for Star Trek, I much prefer twenty-third century designs. John was watching Star Trek: TOS Season One yesterday. Now, that's pretty!  We like bright colors. They're much more in keeping with the midcentury modern asthetic in our own decor, as shown in these pictures. I wouldn't mind having a dining room someday that looks suspiciously like the NCC 1701 briefing room.

See, during the 1980s and 1990s, and even through today in most homes, only kids have been allowed to have color. Walls were white or beige, furniture was tan or brown or olive or dull blue, and carpets and tile were brown or tan. As John often says, mockingly, "You like earth tones!"

Would these chairs have fit in on the original Enterprise? Note the earth tone carpeting. Yuck!

No, we don't, at least not to the exclusion of everything else. We like red and yellow and bright blue, lime and turquoise, teal and salmon, chartreuse and purple and even orange. We like our colorful, silly painting by bandleader Xavier Cugat. We like housewares from Target, and tv sets in colors reminiscent of early iMacs. When we finally get around to refinancing and fixing up our house for resale, we won't be installing our colorful retro toilets and sinks we bought from a salvage supply, because the house will be sold, and the real estate agents will want everything to be white and beige. But they will be installed in our next house, wherever that may be. Maybe then we'll finally have floors that aren't covered in faded orange or stained tan carpeting. Anybody know where I can get some out-of-production indigo Pergo flooring?


Sunday, September 19, 2004

Hari, Harisi, Haro, Hariso, and Harisoni, Hasi and Haru

 Updated at bottom:
Okay, now I'm embarrassed. But it's not my fault, honest!

Back in 1989, when I finally finished my first draft of Heirs of Mâvarin, I had a walk-on character at the end named Harisoni. This mage's talent is sending people to what he calls "the subjective plane," there to learn about the universe and their place in it. I named him Harisoni as a riff on George Harrison, because Harisoni is essentially a mystic.

Since then, the character has developed into Fayubi's lifelong best friend. They run away to Mâton together as children, are roommates all through school, and stay in touch afterward. This is all backstory, taking place decades before the events of the first book. But when Fayubi gets in terrible trouble in Mages of Mâvarin, Harisoni turns up again as his friend and guide.

So anyway, six months ago I decided to shorten the character's name by one syllable. Y'see, mages get an extra syllable added to their names at their Robings, so having a three-syllable name in Mâvarin usually means that you're a mage. Because being a mage is not universally thought of as a Good Thing, most children are given one or two syllable names: Pol, Clif, Suri, Masha and so on. (A final a or e makes it a girl's name, and an i or o makes it a boy's name.) That way, when they're adults, nobody will think they're mages unless they really are mages, and their names really have been lengthened. This is all stuff I worked out years and years ago.

But Harisoni is four syllables, and the derivation is too obvious. So Harisoni became Harisi. Working backwards, Harisi's childhood name (and the nickname his wife uses) became Hari.

This was all fine and dandy until last night, when for the first time I wrote a scene that takes place decades before the first book, in which Hari and Fabi run away to the Mâton College of Magic. That's right: the kid's an orphan. Named Hari. At a school of magic.

It didn't occur to me until tonight that someone might be reminded of an orphan named Harry, at a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Aargh!!!!!!

So. I can let Harisi be Harisi, with a childhood name that was meant to evoke Hare Krishna but which can be construed as a ripoff of J. K. Rowling. Until I write the prequel, the character's always going to be an adult called Harisi anyway, having essentially nothing in common with that Potter kid except a lack of living parents. (When you're pushing 50, that's not terribly unusual.)


I can do forty documents' worth of search and replace, turning him back into Harisi / Harisoni. Maybe nobody will notice that he's a musical mystic with a Beatlish name and a quirky sense of humor. That'll work, right?


Sara suggested Haro for the childhood name. That way he becomes Hariso as a mage. The Beatle reference becomes less distractingly obvious, the Potter connection fades, and I just have to deal with the fact that I don't like the name much.

What should I do? People who actually read and like this stuff, please comment or email me (mavarin at your thoughts on this subject. Thanks!


Art by Sherlock

P.S. (Monday, 11:36 AM MST) Here's a thought. How about Hasi and Harisi? That follows the naming rules, eliminates the Potter connection, and leaves the character with his current mage name. Only problem is that Hasi sounds a bit like Jonny Quest's friend Haji. Whaddaya think?

And then there's this. Becky asks:

= How about Haru, Haruo... Haruo is Japanese for Spring and also my FIL's name. Haru for short. Or you could just change the first character of his name. Bari, Barisi, Barisoni...yadda. :-) =

I like both of those names, but they don't port well linguistically. Haru would be a monûn name in Mavarinû because of the final u, and the character doesn't qualify for that.  (Baku is a monûn character.)  The mage name would be Harusi or Haruso (does he sing opera?) or Harisu, which sounds Japanese but still follows Mavarinû nomenclature. Mavarinû doesn't have adjacent vowels, so Haruo doesn't work. Nice names, though. I could probably dump the distinction of the final u being ethnically monûn, but not without going through my character lists and seeing where things stand now in this respect. I have over 150 named characters,  so every change has potential consequences. Still, it's another possibility.

As for the B names, Li's brother, Barselti, was named Barisi in an earlier draft. And yes, his childhood name / nickname is Bari.


Mâvarin Fiction Entry: A Letter to Lusa

not perfect for Maton, but you get the idea
(The following is set forty-one years before the start of Heirs of Mâvarin)

Comerdu, 16th Day of Celderem, 855 MMY

Dear Lusa,

Are you surprised to hear from me? Yes, I’m alive and well. Guess where I am. Mâton! It took me six months to get here, but I did it!

I ran away all by myself, but right after that I found somebody to go with me. His name is Fabi. He’s older than me, ten years old. He’s going to be a mage, too. He’s an orphan like us. His parents died right before I met him. He knew it was going to happen, too.  He’s a seer. He can do illusions, too.

a tall shipIt was a little scary, traveling without any adults. Fabi and I played the delmoran and sang to pay for rooms and meals. We said we were monûn teenagers, but I don’t think anyone believed us.  A couple of times people tried to make us stay and be their apprentices, but we always did some kind of magic and got away. I’m getting really good at sending someone to my secret place. After a while, Fabi learned to do an illusion spell to make us look and sound older, with deep voices and everything. That made it easier to earn money for the voyage to Mâton, but Fabi got really tired doing it. We had fun on the ship, though. I got to be a cabin boy, and I only got sick once.

I wish you could be here too. You still don’t have magic, do you? If you find out you have talents, try to get to Mâton. I really like it so far. Archmage Martenestri didn’t want to take me at first, but Fabi told him my talent would be important someday. They said that nobody has had my kind of talent in hundreds of years. They weren’t even sure it was a real talent. I showed them it was. That surprised the Masters, when they saw my secret place themselves. Usually they don’t take a student that doesn’t have at least two talents, but they made an exception for me. Since then, everyone’s been really nice to us.

Happy Mâshelis! I wish I could send you a present. Maybe next year. Write if you can, okay?  I know I ran away, but I wasn’t running away from you! You’re still the only family I’ve got, big sister!



Gone the Rainbow

 John, February 2004I noticed something about the Yummy Yummy Chicken Man today. He doesn't just say those words, along with "Free sample!" and "Teriyaki chicken!" He sings them.

Yes, John and I were at Park Place again. We went to another movie together. This time, we both went to the same one. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is every bit as pretty as you think it is. Although the story is kind of lightweight and silly, it's also a lot of fun. Can someone tell me what mountains are a ten minute drive from Manhattan? Never mind, I get it. They're alternate universe mountains, somewhere near LaGuardia. Overall, the writing and acting were both better than I expected from the reviews. The last line of dialogue will be remembered for years to come. And no, it's not "there's no place like home!" They do play Over the Rainbow, though, during the end credits.

Almost as remarkable as the wonderful retro look of the film is the fact that one of the antagonists is played by a well-known dead actor. He was dead before they even started making the movie. There he is anyway, through the magic of CGI. Early in his career as an FX wizard, John Berton told an audience at Marcon (yes, the same Marcon I mentioned before) that it would always be cheaper to hire a real actor than to render him digitally.  That was at least twenty years ago, when computer animation could only be done on room-sized supercomputers. Berton's observation may still be true, but it's pretty cool, and a little creepy, that dead celebrities can be made to walk and talk again on someone's computer for our entertainment.

Speaking of well-known dead guys, one of the trailers before the movie was for a Ray Charles biopic, executive produced by Ray Charles Robinson himself.  "Well, I'm interested in the soundtrack, anyway," John said. The intro to What'd I Say was heavily featured in the trailer.  Great song.

After the movie, John bought some shirts using a couple of Dillard's gift cards, and we stopped off home for a bit. When he tried on his purchases, John was surprised to discover that he can no longer wear an extra large.  Well, gee, love, you've lost over 100 pounds. What did you think was going to happen to your shirt sizes? Some of his shirts these days are mediums, but John wanted extra roomy ones.  Turns out the XL was too roomy. 

same end of the mall, different day / duskSo we went back out, to Trader Joe's and then to Dillard's so he could exchange the shirts. It had been raining earlier due to moisture from Cyclone Javier (cyclone? They have those in this hemisphere?), but it was clearing up a little. Between Speedway and the mall, a rainbow grew brighter and more complete, fed by the setting sun. Soon it was a vivid, continuous arc from horizon to horizon, with parts of a second rainbow at the edges.  It was the most amazing rainbow I've seen in my life.  I can't prove this, however, because John refused to rush home for the digital camera. It was only five minutes out of our way, but John said, "I'm not going to let your blog run my life." So I don't have a picture for you.  By the time he finished exchanging the shirts, the sun had set and the rainbow was gone. Pity. It was especially spectacular as seen from the roof of the parking garage outside Dillard's. The photo I'm substituting here was taken from the parking lot adjacent to that, at roughly the same time on a completely different day.

I'll get to the courtship story, but not tonight. I promised myself that I'd write one new Mâvarin piece every weekend, even though hardly anyone ever comments on them. (Hi, Becky! Hi, Mike! Hi, Linda!)


Friday, September 17, 2004

No Dancing! My Wedding and Other Stories

If we had chosen music, it would have been by the Beatles. Christmas gift circa 1979Weekend Assignment #24: Tell us what the first song was at your wedding reception and why you chose that song. If you're not already married, tell us the song you would like to have played first at your wedding reception. Also, for the purposes of this assignment, those of you who have had commitment ceremonies can join in the fun (it's that whole "we're going to spend the rest of our lives together, and now we're going to dance" thing).

Extra Credit: What song did you make sure wasn't played at your reception?

I have several problems with this assignment:

1. My beloved husband has never danced with me in the 27 years since we met, let alone at the reception. He doesn't like dancing. I'm not a big dancer myself.

Funny story, though, if I can jump off-topic for a minute. Many years ago I was at Marcon, a science fiction convention in Columbus, Ohio. Incongruously, one of the ballrooms at the hotel, adjacent to the ones that housed the convention, was in use that Saturday night as an actual ballroom. Middle-aged and elderly ballroom dancers in suits and formal gowns were a bit freaked out by the Klingons and Dorsai and elves and filkers hanging around nearby. As the dealers' room and other scheduled convention events wound down for the evening, the number of filkers (singers of "filksongs," original and parody science fiction and fantasy songs) sitting on the floor by the elevators grew.  When the ballroom dancers came out and headed for the elevators, the filkers were singing their version of Give Me That Old Time Religion:

I've a friend who's into voodoo
I've a friend who's into voodoo
I'll try it if you do
It's good enough for me!

As she waited for the elevator, one elegant ladyin a long green gown could be seen slapping her thigh in time to the music. I wondered whether she was aware of the unusual lyrics.  I like to think that she was.  A few weeks later, at The Continent shopping center, I again heard someone singing, "It was good enough for Loki..."

What does that have to do with my wedding? Nothing. It's just my only dancing-related anecdote, other than the fact that the only song I liked or indeed recognized at my junior prom (I went with Dan Cheney) was Roundabout by Yes. I didn't get to my senior prom.

2. I honestly don't remember whether there was any music at all in Community House that day in 1979.

The wedding of John W Blocher and Karen Christine Funk on May 19, 1979 was a small-scale, shoestring affair. That was the way I wanted it. We didn't have a million people to invite, and I thought a lavish wedding would be a silly waste of money.  My recently-divorced parents, observing detente, contributed equally to a savings account at Syracuse Savings Bank.  Every time I walked down to the bank to retrieve money for wedding expenses, I couldn't help but sing the bank's long-standing jingle:

Save more, earn more!
Dividends are best
Where parking is no problem
And people are the friendliest!
Save more, earn more!
Make your dreams come true!
At Syracuse Savings Bank
(Dong dong dong dong!)
Your hard-earned money
Earns more and more money for you!

My co-maid of honor, d. l. hobert, made me a wedding dress from a middle ages-style pattern we picked out together. I got some minimal flower package - I don't remember what kind, but something non-smelly. The wedding itself was at St. Patrick's Catholic Church across town. Father Ed Van Auken, who had previously been at St. Ann's in Manlius, had already been transferred to another church in Fulton or Tully or Pompei. He came back to St. Patrick's for the ceremony itself. (The last time I heard from him, he'd left the priesthood and become a security guard.)

I personally hired the church organist and negotiated with him over the music selections. He wouldn't perform Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor at the ceremony, on the grounds that it was wildly inappropriate, but he did play it for me once in the empty church after Mass. Score one for my preferences, though: he agreed to use Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik instead of the Wedding March for the walk down the aisle. I think we worked in Beethoven's Ode to Joy somewhere, too.

Honeymoon, May 1979As I came out of the church, I drew a laugh when I announced that "The van's transmission is fixed!"

"No, it isn't," John told me.

It was about this time that Father Ed started sweeping up the rice himself. I think I helped. Rice was not supposed to be thrown at St. Patrick's, but not all of the wedding guests had gotten that memo.

I didn't set up any music for the reception. This was held at Community House, a once-and-future fraternity house on Comstock Ave. near Syracuse University. Community House was run under the auspices of Syracuse University's multi-denominational Hendricks Chapel. I used to go every week to the TGIF wine and cheese parties at Community House for the cheese and crackers, mulled cider and soda, and lively conversations with friends. At one point I was making cucumber, cream cheese and tuna hors d'ouevres to be served there for Atkinsing purposes. The wedding reception was the last event at Community House before it was sold to some fraternity or something. I won't tell you what I did in protest, but at least I was able to party there one last time on May 19th, 1979. John and I picked up the wooden sticks and other stuff for fondue at Syracuse Restaurant Supply. We had the leftover sticks for years afterward.

John circa 1978Was there a P.A at Community House.?  Was there music? I have no idea. My big memories of the event are arriving with my new denim jacket on over my wedding dress, and opening Dragondrum by Anne McCaffrey as a wedding present. Oh, and John's college friends from his Pith radio troupe invoked The Prisoner ("I am a free man!") in their soaped window decorations on our 1962 Ford Falcon van. One of these guys was John Berton, who left ILM in 2003 after working on effects for T2, The Mummy and lots of other movies. His most recent project was I, Robot.

3. I can't illustrate this entry properly.
As previously noted in another journal entry, all our wedding pictures (which my brother Steve took) are probably in a box under other boxes in the back of a room full of boxes. But when I get home tonight I'll try to add a picture of John from that era.

Remind me to tell the story of our courtship one of these days.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Vampire Goes Missing

Cross-posted from my LJ blog.

Quick note: see for LaVerne Ross's reaction to all the negative comments her published but unedited book has generated. Since I started following this story a couple of days ago, she has made her book unavailable, although initially the reviews - including her own angry reaction to them - remained on Amazon. Now the listing is gone from Amazon entirely.

What has she learned from this experience?

It's evident that she's learned firsthand that a meme can spread all over the Internet, and that people can be cruel. She's learned that Publish America is a rip-off that doesn't edit books as promised. She's learned that it's not a good idea to let a book get into the marketplace in the condition this book was in. She has learned that editing is necessary, and that 96 pages is a little on the short side. She has learned that you can't use a copyrighted photo of a movie star without permission, even if you've added fangs and blood to the picture.

What has she not learned?

* She has not learned why the book engendered so much negative comment. She believes that the nastiness is all the work of a handful of "stalkers" who have solicited the help of friends and relatives for the purpose of attacking her personally. Sorry, Ms. Ross, that's not it. Some people may have been a bit malicious, but most of this comment came about because a lot of literate fans of the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres were amused by the extreme ineptness of the prose and by the mixing of genres. They are not a cabal of people who don't understand the genre. Many of the people who commented have avatar thumbnails that reference manga or the tv series Angel, and one of the links to all this is on the blog of a well-known science ficton and fantasy editor. The meme has spread because large numbers of fantasy fans find it amusing, and share it around. This is not a conspiracy. The people who laughed at your book do not care about you personally, except to speculate on the sort of person who would let a book with such severe deficiencies get into the marketplace.

* She has not learned sentence structure. The quotes from the book on her web page seem to be lacking a few of the mistakes found in the original review, but most of the problems, particularly what my English teachers called "frags and run-ons," remain intact.

I wish you all the best, Ms. Ross. I really do. And I'm sorry you're so hurt and angry. But there are still things you need to learn before your revised, expanded book ventures out into the world. Good luck with that.


Steam Room Classics

 Classics?This is a riff on a subject Shelly brought up on her Presto Speaks! blogs, about whether there should be a distinction made between classics (or literature) and fiction in general. Shelly acknowledges the distinction for purposes of library shelving, but doesn't buy into the idea that respected literary classics of yesteryear are inherently superior to a recent bestseller.  At least, that's my sleep-deprived take on part of what she said.

I agree for the most part, although I find categories reasonably useful for finding books, not as a standard of quality but more by way of, "for those who like that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like." Few people are likely to enjoy any and every book in a particular section of a bookstore, but it's helpful if you don't have to wade through a hundred romance titles to get to a fantasy novel or space opera.

Still, I have a different take on the qualitative differences between general fiction and literary classics:

Sometime between Christmas and his birthday, John decided to start reading classics in the steam room as part of his seven-days-a-week workout schedule. I think he wanted to see whether they held up as good books or had been rendered unreadable by the passage of time, and whether there was anything to be learned from them for writing purposes. All this was to be done with paperback editions, because of course the steam room would destroy the books.

I bought him several new copies of such things for his birthday, and he picked up several others used.  The results so far:

Wuthering Heights - John found it terribly dull, with unpleasant characters and an unsatisfactory dramatic structure, considering that nothing much happens and one of the main characters dies halfway through. (This is my memory of what he said two months ago, so please forgive me if I get a detail wrong. I haven't read the book since high school.)

A Hemingway short story collection - John says that most of these were vignettes, not stories. He liked a few of them, and disputed the idea that Hemingway always wrote short, strightforward sentences. Overall, he wasn't terribly impressed.

Tom Jones - John gave up after a couple of chapters, pronouncing it unreadable.

John's currently reading a Moorcock book, which isn't getting his wholehearted approval, either. I've given him a spare copy of a Buffy book to try after that.

The fact that something is an acknowledged classic says something about its historical importance, but not necessarily its quality by today's standards. As the age of the work increases, its readability tends to decrease, due to changes in language, changes in culture, and changes in literary convention. The result is that reading the classics frequently becomes an unpleasant task that's supposed to be good for you, like taking that nasty-tasting medicine. I'm not sure it's always worth the trouble.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

John Wants Answers - Again

So John had Angel on, a DVD from about halfway through Season Four, an episode in which Angel becomes Angelus. And of course I was sitting there watching, because I don't always have the discipline to walk past the tv when John's got something on that I really like and haven't seen in a long time, even if I am behind in my homework. 

When Angelus turned up on the screen, John paused the DVD and started quizzing me yet again about the definition of evil. "I'm not asking you about your religion," he insisted. "I just want my vampire character to be evil, and I don't believe there's any such thing."  John is writing a screenplay about an alien vampire - not, I hasten to assure you, an alien elven pirate werewolf vampire, but a parasitic alien whose abilities and actions are at the root of the vampire legends.

John doesn't think the character Angelus is all that evil because he doesn't actually kill people very often, at least not on screen. "So he nailed a puppy to a door," John said. "If he did it five times, would he be more evil than if he did it only once?"

As I usually do, I defined evil as malice, and acting on malice. I also cited what a nun told me forty years ago, that you don't hate a person, just what the person does. I should have said that the evil is the impulse to malice, and the acting on it, and the beliefs behind it, not necessarily the person harboring all that.

"So if you kill someone without malice, are you evil?" he asked.

"Probably not, depending on the situation," I said. I was thinking of soldiers, for example. I would argue that war is evil, and the death of anyone on either side is part of that evil, but the soldiers themselves are not evil. (And let's not get into the whole business about some wars being necessary. That's true, but depressing. I'd much prefer that we figure out how to get along with each other.)

"What if the person is suffering and wants to die, and you don't kill him, through indifference?" John went on. This was part of a whole riff on euthanasia.

You can imagine that by this time, leaving the room to do my accounting homework was looking pretty good to me.

And as he usually does, John brought up Hitler again.

"Who is more evil, Hitler, who probably didn't kill anybody directly, or a person who did kill people on Hitler's orders?"

I said that Hitler was more evil, because he caused more death and suffering.

"What about the devil? Setting aside that the devil isn't really one figure, but is based on many different legends and religious and mythologies, what makes him evil?"

"He influences people to do evil things, and increases the suffering in the world."

"What if one person kills five people, and one kills fifty people? Is one more evil than the other?"

"Maybe the one who killed fewer people just lacked the opportunity to kill more," I said.

Then John brought up that his vampire does what he does for the sake of his progeny, their survival and his own. From the vampire's point of view, it's barbaric of the humans to try to kill the vampire's babies. From the vampire's point of view, the vampire is the hero.

I agreed that this was a perfectly valid way to go. Antagonists often believe themselves to be the heroes of their stories. (But, as I should have said, that doesn't meant they're right in their assessment.)

Eventually, John gave up quizzing me, griped again about Angelus being more into playing with people's heads than going ahead and killing them (which is what I enjoy about the character), and let the show run.  Finally.

Five hours later, I'm thinking of what I could have said, and the folly of trying to quantify this stuff and define exact boundaries for so nebulous a term. Evil is the causing of suffering, the urge to hurt others, selfishness at the expense of everyone else, hatred and vengeance and demonizing and dehumanization and indifference when compassion is called for.  And that's probably nowhere near a complete list. Once you wrap your brain around all that, then there are further issues to consider, such as evil that results in good, and evil that results from good, and suffering caused by the forces of nature, and God's role in the existence of evil.  Questions about "the problem of evil" have troubled people for centuries.

How should I know the answers to all this mindbending stuff?  The Gospels, laws and so on are more interested in fighting evil than defining it. Just have compassion, and try not to hurt people. If you can help them instead, that's even better.  If you're working with a fictional character, make him or her a formidable obstacle to your protagonist, but also a believable character with understandable motives. What more do you really need to know? All this wranging about details is pretty much an unpleasant parlor game, like trying to prove to Chris D., back in high school, that I existed independently of his imagination and perception.

Aargh. John is a good and kind man, and I love him, but he drives me crazy sometimes.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

How Many of Them Are Smiths, Too?

I have a theory that a disproportionate number of AOL Journalers are either named John or married to John, and have further close connections with someone named John. John Scalzi is just one of many examples. Some of them (my pastor, for example) have the double whammy of common names, and are named John Smith.  Yes, I know that John used to be the most common male first name in English, and maybe it still is. But doesn't it seem as if everybody on AOL writes about a loved one named John?

At least two people who comment in this journal (and have great journals of their own) are spouses of someone named John. The good news is that they're not the same guy.

So, quick survey: is there someone named John in your immediate family? How about Smith?

Karen, wife of John

It's All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses.

There's a novel put out by PublishAmerica (which essentially makes it a self-published vanity title) that's getting a lot of attention right now in newsgroups and on the blogosphere. The title is Night Travels of the Elven Vampire, and it's by LaVerne Ross. It would be nice to be able to say that it's getting attention because of its superior writing, but alas, that's not the case.  It's being held up as one of the worst novels ever written, particularly in the sf/fantasy field. It's about a psychic vampire and her true love, a motorcycle-riding, alien elven werewolf vampire who is also a prolific author and pirate. To make things just a little bit worse, the original cover is a manipulation of a picture of Orlando Bloom as Legolas, modified to look vampiric (elven, but vampiric). This cover has since been pulled, as has the book itself, ostensibly for revision.

The main concentration of commentary about all this seems to be on a LiveJournal post reviewing the book. (Fair warning: the reviewer is unfettered in her use of vulgarities.) Much merriment is derived from quoting passages of it, with numerous errors in punctuation, usage, sentence structure and story logic. The reviewer is correct: the book is a mess. Exposure to even brief passages of it is certain to reassure an aspiring writer of even moderate competence that his or her own work isn't as bad as the writer sometimes suspects while lying awake in the wee hours of the night.

Half a paragraph of the novel should suffice to give you a preliminary idea of its problems:

He walked over to the bookcase choosing an old book covered in reddish brown leather with beautiful etchings on it. He held it as though it were precious to him, he opened the pages that were starting to crumble and looked at the small hand-painted picture within. He glanced down at the family in the picture. His parents, brother, and there by his brother's side was himself. The way was he changed, before that fatal night. He didn't want to thing of the time that hadpassed since he had last seen the sun. Felt its warmth on his skin. He closed the book and replaced it, no one thought him strange, not anymore. Because he was a writer, and all knew that writers were strange.

As I commented elsewhere, I don't understand how someone can write this, even if she typed it in a rush and never looked at it again. It makes me want to explain patiently to this person how English is supposed to work--except that I'm certain she'd never listen. She's a published novelist, sort of, and I'm not, yet.

This is all fine and dandy, a great negative example to show beginning writers what to avoid, and fun for all ages. But as I read through four pages of comments at the bottom of the review, I found myself feeling sorry for the book's author.  I wrote:

Subject: I feel sorry for her. Is that wrong?
No, really. Anyone so obviously self-deluded, so utterly lacking in critical faculties, proofreading skills or knowledge of basic punctuation and sentence structure is to be pitied, especially if she knows that hundreds of people are laughing at her awfulness. I heard once in a news story that incompetent people usually lack the competence to realize their own deficiency. If that's the case, coming across an entry like this would probably be a bit of a shock for her.

But I linked to this anyway. Seeing the worst of the worst (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) is valuable for competent but insecure writers.

I later added:

I forgot to pass along my own favorite bit of bad writing, from a local Star Trek fanzine circa 1974. This is from memory, but it's probably pretty much verbatim:

"Everything was exactly the same, except now the entier crew including the Captian, were now dead."


Rather than defend this person as I sort-of intended to do, I find that I've just piled on with everyone else. It's true that the prose itself is indefensible, although, as one person commented, there may actually be a decent story premise at the root of the thing. The author herself has posted in the Amazon reviews that editing was promised but not delivered. I would just say that no manuscript should ever be delivered to a publisher, or to an editor, in this condition, but I can understand her frustration if editing was indeed promised. She feels that a handful of people have passed around a single copy of her book, and used it to attack her personally all over the Internet. She's not entirely wrong, although nearly all of the criticism is directed at the writing rather than at her. For many writers, an attack on the writing feels like an attack on the writer. Obviously, most of the people who commented have not purchased it, but are riffing off the posted excerpts and descriptions.

Nevertheless, the book should never have been published without (at least) a thorough edit, and possibly not at all. [Warning: bad segue coming.] Correct grammar, punctuation and so on are important, not just for published novels, but also for blogs. As it happens, there's a good little rant I read over the weekend on the subject of observing good English in blogs.  Here's the link: Eats, Blogs and Leaves.

But still, I worry.  Is it fair to make fun of this writer's incompetence? How would I feel if a few hundred people were to spread a whole jolly meme about how bad my Mâvarin books are

I hope I never find out.


Monday, September 13, 2004

When Saying the Right Words Feels All Wrong

John Kerry for President
It may not be immediately obvious from all my postings about fictional characters in a fantasy world, time travel, and things that happened thirty to forty years ago, but I have strong political views, particularly this year. However, there's something I discovered about myself thirty-five years ago that still affects me today when it comes to expressing those views: I'm no debater. I have neither the temperament nor the rhetorical skills to stand in a room and out-argue somebody.

When Joel and I used to talk about Vietnam all those years ago, it wouldn't be long before I wanted desperately to drop the subject. Joel could argue all day long about Vietnam (or religion, or Monopoly), do it well, and enjoy himself in the process. I, on the other hand, would soon be upset and frustrated. Even if I was right (which I probably wasn't in the case of Vietnam), I would never win a debate with Joel, simply because he was so much better at it.  But I also realized, even then, that if one person has superior debating skills and enjoys using them, that doesn't mean that a conflict-adverse person with opposing views is necessarily wrong.

This little insight has played itself out many times in my life. My beloved husband John is an atheist, a former agnostic who likes to say that "one man's religion is another man's belly laugh." I had my agnostic period many years ago, and was even an atheist for about thirty seconds once in high school. These days I am a Christian, more specifically an Episcopalian who often serves at Mass, doing the same tasks (as crucifer and torch) as a bunch of high school kids. The kids think I'm weird, this fat, forty-seven-year-old woman carrying a cross or a candle up and down the aisle, trying to sing without words because I haven't managed to memorize the lyrics of the dozens of hymns that turn up at St. Michael's. At St. Ann's Catholic Church when I was a kid, there were maybe ten hymns used, and we only sang two verses each.  John thinks my church attendence is weird, maybe even a little crazy. He doesn't understand how an intelligent person can believe anything that can't be proven empirically. Most of the time, John doesn't usually give me grief about my religious views and actions, but occasionally he tries to get me to explain what I believe. This inevitably upsets me. He also wants me to explain what the Religious Right believes, and define the exact meanings and boundaries of the terms "good" and "evil." My inadequate, off-the-cuff explanations of my own views don't make much more sense to John than my explanations of what someone like George W. Bush believes.

So when I walked into an accounting class a week and a half ago and heard Alison and Marilyn loudly discussing John Kerry from a partisan Republican point of view, I cringed and said nothing. I wasn't going to be able to sway these two strong-willed people whether I spoke up or not, whether I remembered to wear my Kerry button or not.  Call me a moral coward if you like, but I know my limitations. I can write the occasional essay that expresses some part of what I feel and what I believe (c.f. for example a few remarks toward the end of my 9/11 post), but full scale political or blogging feels uncomfortably like the instigation of a debate, so I tend to shy away. The good news for me is that blogging my views is less stressful than face-to-face discussion. I can take the time to choose and organize my words, and not feel defensive unless someone leaves a nasty comment.

The psychological component of all this was brought home to me again when I stood next to two St. Michael's parishoners at coffee hour yesterday, waiting to ask C. a question about the upcoming English Faire.  J., from whom I got my Kerry button a month ago, was trying to talk C. into voting for Kerry.  J. was shrill and excited, C. smiling and calm. J. knew the issues (although we all blanked momentarily on Alan Greenspan's name), while C. had Kerry's Senatorial experience confused with Edwards' relative lack thereof.  I agreed with everything J. said, and disagreed with most of what C. said. Now C. is a Libertarian like my husband, but John would never vote for Bush as C. plans to do. C. is a kind, funny man, a subdeacon at St. Michael's. J. is a nice person, too, but I get the impression that her whole life this year is bound up in efforts to defeat George W. Bush and other Republicans. I haven't seen that level of commitment to political causes since I last saw Joel.

I wanted very much to walk away from the conversation, my question unasked. Much as I agreed with J., I wanted her to shut up already, maybe with a parting suggestion that C. educate himself before the election by reading this website or listening to that media outlet, which is very good at sorting facts from distortions on both sides of the political divide. I admired C.'s smiling equanimity, even if his actual views (and what he thought were the facts)  were mostly "wrong." Strictly on an emotional level, my sympathies were with C., not J., even though from an intellectual standpoint, J. was right.

So I'm not going to become a political blogger anytime soon, or for that matter, an evangelical one. You will see me express the occasional opinion on both politics and religion, but by and large I'm not going to debate you if you disagree. I can't do it. All I can do is recommend justcherie's journal. She's much better at this political stuff than I am. I'm no good at arguing in favor of my opinions, no matter how well-researched or thought out.

But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Mâton Orientation Letter

From the Desk of Archmage Sunestri

Welcome to the Mâton College of Magic. If you are new to the island, welcome to Mâton! You will probably find that life here is very different from your old life in Mâvarin or Fãrnet or Derio. Here on Mâton you will be surrounded by other people of talent, people who understand you better than your old friends, your old teachers, or even your parents unless they are mages themselves. We know how it feels to discover how different you are from the "normals" around you, with all the challenges that poses. We will help you to explore your abilities, learn to control and develop them fully, and reach your potential as a fully-robed mage.

By now you should have an assigned room, a roommate, an academic advisor, a student advisor, and your novice attire and supplies. Should you lack any of these, please check in with the admissions office on the first floor of the Citadel. Your student advisor will help you find your way around this first week, and learn the basics of college life. Your academic advisor will guide you through your entire educational program, from Introductory Magic to your Master exam, assuming you get that far.

If you have not already had your aptitude test, you can expect to undergo this in the next day or two, depending on the exigencies of scheduling. This is an interesting, usually painless process, and quite educational in itself. You may well discover additional talents beyond the ones that brought you to Mâton, months before they might otherwise have surfaced.

As with any school, there are rules to be followed. The first rule, as you may expect, is to obey your academic Masters. There is a reason for every instruction they give you, whether or not that reason is immediately obvious. More often than not, the purpose of their directives is to ensure both the efficacy of the magic and the safety of its practitioners, especially that of our students.

There are three additional rules to be observed, for the safety of all:

1. No student is to attack any other resident of Mâton, except on the explicit instructions of myself or one of your academic Masters. Anyone caught disobeying this rule will immediately be expelled without recourse - or worse.

2. The cliffs above Sûtelmar Harbor are strictly off limits except for Zordano's Point, the clearly-marked scenic lookout with the invisible fence. Sûtelmar itself may only be approached using the road at the southern edge of campus, and only after your Robing, or with written permission from your academic advisor.

3. No permanent spell is to be cast, nor a permanency subritual applied, except under the direction and supervision of one of the Masters.

Your personal journey to life as a mage has already begun! We look forward to helping you travel that road in the months and years ahead.

Yours in fellowship,
Sunestri Cheneli
Forty-Fifth Archmage of Mâton

Mages of Mâvarin sample scene from the book

Messages from Mâvarin  fiction blog

Art by Sherlock - fiction by KFB