Tuesday, November 30, 2004

All the Books I Haven't Read

Mostly recent purchasesOn the floor outside my bathroom is a largish cardboard box. Inside it are bathroom supplies (soaps, cleaners, etc., plus an entire drawer of my dysfunctional bathroom cabinet), old homework, handwritten notes (maybe that's where that one missing poem is! No? Rats!), four slightly damaged magazines and six books. Actually, that's not quite true any more. Since I started typing this paragraph, I've pulled out the books. They are Unseen: The Burning (a Buffy/Angel novel), Project Princess (a very thin Princess Diaries novelette by Meg Cabot), Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren F. Winner (which I bought on the basis of the author's NPR commentaries), New American Bible: St. Joseph Medium-Sized Edition (which vies with the NRSV as my Bible of choice), Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon (a budget hardcover at $7.95 from B&N), and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2004. Still in the bathroom, until a moment ago, were The Vest-Pocket CPA, Second Edition (bought as extra help for a past course and my future exam), Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (which I started reading shortly after the 4th of July, only to bog down somewhere around the WWI era) Barron's How to Prepare for the CPA Exam, 6th Edition (which I plan to spend serious time with this spring) and my Heirs of Mâvarin binder.  All that came out of one small corner of this house. There are at least two more books flopping around in the kitchen, others sitting in boxes or under papers near my end of the couch, and a bunch more lying sideways on top of other books in bookcases, on the floor of my office, on this desk--in short, taking up space in nearly every room of this house.

Except for the Bible, I've purchased all of these books since starting school a little over two years ago. Some I've read, some I've read parts of, and some I've merely sampled or purchased on the basis of author or cover copy. I'd like to think that once I finish school, I'll read all of the fiction, and a fair bit of the non-fiction. That would be nice.  I'd like that.

But in the meantime, I've been stuck reading textbooks, most of them boring, too many of them laboriously printed off the student website, hole punched and (maybe) put into binders. I've read at least one Harry Potter book, possibly two, as they came out, because I couldn't stand not to do it. I've read at least one new McCaffrey, and Lord of the Rings for the first time in a decade or two, and a couple of volumes about the writing of LotR. I've also read The Autobiography of Santa Claus, three or four Buffy novels, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, some Meg Cabot novels (not all of them about Princess Mia), The Time Traveler's Wife, and a couple of Diane Duane novels. But the books I've read since going back to school probably account for fewer than half of the books I bought, or of the books I would have read in a comparable time period were school not occupying so much of my time.

Even if I'd read all these books, there would still be dozens more, perhaps hundreds more, that I'd feel guilty for not having read. I wrote before about what constitutes a "classic" novel, and whether one should feel guilty or illiterate about not having read Silas Marner or Moby Dick or War and Peace. I do feel guilty about not having read these books, and many more; but that's not the half of it. I also haven't read large numbers of well-respected "classics" of science fiction and fantasy: the Foundation series, for example, and the works of Philip K. Dick, and books by nearly every major fantasy writer of the past two decades.

note the stuff that doesn't fit!Over on Aurora Walking Vacation, Paul Little has posted a reading list snagged off another journal, added to it, and marked which ones he's read. I looked at the list this afternoon at work. My reaction was "read it--yay me, haven't read it--guilt, haven't read it--don't care, never heard of it--guilt, read it--who cares, haven't read it--more guilt, haven't read it and I'm glad..." and so on down the list. On the whole, there were an awful lot of books on that list I hadn't read.

Darn it, though, I'm a pretty well-read person!  I have thousands of books in this house, and I've read most of them. I was an English major--for part of the time, anyway. Is it therefore unreasonable for me to feel guilty about not having read every acknowledged classic of the past three centuries, every Hugo or Nebula or World Fantasy Award winner?  Or is my self-criticism legitimate, because the thousands of books I have read include hundreds of novels about Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and hardly anything by Dickens or Asimov?

I bring this on myself with lopsided reading habits that go back decades. When I was a kid, it would take a lot to get me to read one book by a writer whose work I didn't know. Once I did read something, assuming I liked it, I'd read everything by that writer. So in elementary school I read every book I could find by Albert Payson Terhune, Walter Farley, Thornton Burgess, Beverly Cleary, Jim Kjelgaard and Eleanor Estes. In high school I read all sixty Sherlock Holmes stories in two weeks, and started collecting James Thurber. Until a few years ago, I used to read every Madeleine L'Engle novel I had (there are dozens!), in order of character chronology, every time a new title came out.  If I have time, I'd reread the Harry Potter books every year, and the Narnia books, and probably several other series. Unfortunately, I don't have time. And there are lots of other books that have grabbed my attention, mostly from nights studying (and taking breaks to wander around) at Barnes & Noble. There are writers whose works I want to try, and writers whose work I'm a decade or two behind in collecting and reading.

Then there are the books that I've deliberately never read, for no better reason than stubbornness. On my first date with R.E., New Year's Eve 1975/6, he took me into Economy Books in downtown Syracuse (yes, the same store mentioned in the fiction), bought me a copy of Dune, and ordered me to read it. That is pretty much the only reason that I haven't read the book in the nearly 30 years since then. Silly, huh? But I tend to resist books that people order me to read. I've never read David Copperfield, which my mom tried to make me read in high school. I never read Remembrance of Things Past, which Harlan Ellison tried to blackmail me into reading in 1977.  And I've never read Frank Herbert's Dune, or anything by Roger Zelazny, another RE favorite. Maybe someday I'll break down and read all of these, but it's been a matter of perverse pride with me, not to have let myself be ordered around in my reading choices. And yet I feel guilty about it. Go figure.

I think the only way I'm going to settle this will be to get a block of time someday when I don't have studying of any sort to do, or house cleaning, or editing on the current novels.  Maybe then I'll be able to go on a reading binge, and find out whether I really want to read a lot of Asimov, Bujold, Dickens, Herbert, Melville, etc., or whether, having sampled it, I feel comfortable setting it aside for another decade or two. I have a feeling, though, that that block of time will never come, and that  I'll always feel guilty until the day I cram in reading David Copperfield while doing ten other urgent things.


Monday, November 29, 2004

The Rest of the Question(s)

As originally posed, the question "How many elephants?" had no wrong answers. But how would you have answered if you had made an assumpton about what the rest of the question was? Perhaps I was really asking, "How many elephants... 

As many as it takes!...does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
...species exist in the modern world?"
...will fit in a VW Beetle?"
...can honestly say that they've met Michael Jackson?"
...currently live in Tucson?"
...have starred on the silver screen?"
...appear in the sequence Pink Elephants on Parade?"
...are killed by poachers annually?"
...do I have in my pocket?"
...live in parks and preserves?"
...have a truly sophisticated fashion sense?"
...web sites are linked to by the Swedish links page below?"
...enjoy a nice Chablis of an evening?"
...have ever really fled from mice?"
...employ mnemonic devices to enhance memory?"

See? The answer depends on the rest of the question, if there is a rest of the question, which there wasn't.

I was also wondering whether anyone would veer into elephant joke territory (three in the back, two in the front, and one in the glove compartment!), absurdism (purple!), politics (too many! not enough! 51%!) or other non-numerical answers (all of them!).  Still, your answers have been pretty entertaining. Thanks!


Read about Elephant links at the Absolut Elephant.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Almost Unassisted Poetry

I tried the virtual fridge magnet poem generator thingy recommended by John Scalzi and Paul Little. It annoyed me. It gave me five copies of of the word "sieve" and other words I didn't want, and none of the words I needed. So I write it on my own, in honor of missing Mumsy:

back yard, circa 1990We do not live in Winter's lands,
Where snow and ice are often seen.
We seldom rinse off cold, red hands,
Nor watch each spring for glimpse of green.

We live with Summer's tyranny;
Three digits mark Sun's cruel effect;
We wait inside with the A.C.
For Winter's mild, benign neglect.

Year after year, this bargain made,
Without red leaves we walk in fall,
And rarely miss, as mem'ries fade
The seasons hardly seen at all.

KFB, 11/28/04

An Experiment

How many elephants?


Saturday, November 27, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Four

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.The following except from JW's autobiography is unrelated to the Mâvarin books, except tangentially through an unfinished short story.

Part One: The willing subject of experiments conducted by two of his professors, Syracuse University student Christopher Stein (the future Joshua Wander) develops an ability to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum, creating light shows and other effects. In the midst of doing so, he disappears from the lab into another world, with one of his professors dead at his feet and two small medieval armies advancing on him from opposite directions.

Part Two: Misunderstanding Chris's attempts to revive Rachel, the two groups of fighters seem as intent on attacking Chris as each other. Unable to overcome the language barrier to explain, Chris scares the peasants away with lightning, and manages to disarm an attacking noble as he recreates the conditions that took him out of the world he knew. He reappears in the lab, but he's not really there, not really touching anything or anyone. The lab disappears again, along with Rachel and her shocked and angry husband. Chris finds himself in darkness.

Part Three: Chris quickly realizes that he is in a cave. Despite the cold and wind, he ventures out into the night, crossing farmland on a dirt road under too many stars. He seeks shelter in a nearby barn, where he is greeted by the telepathic voices of the horse and cow who live there. They tell him that his coming was foretold, and offer to let him sleep in the hayloft. Chris accepts the invitation.

 Part Four: Onclemac

I was awakened in the morning by the sound of the barn door being shoved open, followed by that of heavy boots on a wooden floor. A voice – male, human – said, “He’s here? What do you mean? Who’s here?” The accent was somewhere between American and British, like that of a Scots or Irish person too long in America or vice versa. It was a friendly voice, matched, as I peered down from the loft, by a friendly face. He was about sixty years old, overweight and balding, and dressed in a blue wool Inverness-style cape. In his rectangular, wire-rimmed spectacles he looked like a younger Ben Franklin.

“Hello,” I said. “I expect they mean me.”

The man looked up. “Well, hello there!” he said. “What are you talking about? Who means you?”

“Your horse and your cow.”

“Ed and Elsie talked to you? Remarkable!”

I was astonished. “Their names are Ed and Elsie?”


“How did you come to choose those names?”

The man shrugged and smiled. “Long story. I’m called Onclemac. What shall I call you?”

Something in the man’s twinkling eyes told me he was inviting me to make up a name rather than give my real one. “Uh, Robin Hood?”

Onclemac shook his head. “No, I’ve met him. Try again.”

“Joshua. Joshua Wander.” It was the name of one of my D&D characters, cribbed from my uncle’s first name and the surname of some distant relatives. Besides, I liked the associations. The way I’d started hopping from place to place, I’d truly become a wandering Jew. And hadn’t the original Joshua also used waveforms to dramatic effect?

Onclemac nodded approvingly. “That’ll work, assuming it’s not your real name.”

“It isn’t.”

“Good.  If you’re who I think you are, you should keep your real name to yourself.”

“Okay,” I said. “Why?”

Onclemac’s eyes narrowed. “Have you ever read A Wizard of Earthsea?”

That settled it. This man was from the world I knew, or something like it. “Yes, I have.”

“That’s why.”

I digested this. In the Le Guin books, a character’s true name could be used against him magically. “You’re not from around here, are you?” I asked.

Onclemac grinned. “Neither are you.”

“How did you know?”

“Well, for one thing, you’re wearing an S.U. sweatshirt. For another, you’re speaking American English.”

“So are you.”

“Well, yes, but the people outside this barn do not.”

I nodded. “I was beginning to suspect that. Where am I?”

“Angland, 1503.”


“Similar, but not quite the same.  So where are you from, exactly?”

“DeWitt, New York, originally. Yesterday I was a student at Syracuse University.”

Onclemac laughed. “Figures. Have you ever been to Economy Books downtown?”

“Sure. Lots of times.”

“I disappeared out of the Economy Books basement, five years ago.”


“I read out loud from a spell book, just sounding out what seemed like nonsense words.” He shrugged. “Stupid thing to do, really.  What about you? How did you get here?”

“I think I kind of did it to myself.” I explained about the experiments, and the electromagnetic lightshows that had sent me from lab to battlefield, from battlefield to lab to the caverns near Onclemac’s barn. It felt good to talk to someone who seemed to understand my situation. “I didn’t set out to leave the lab the second time, but I wasn’t quite in phase with it or something. Maybe I can’t really go back.”

Onclemac nodded. “Maybe not. Do you want to?”

I thought about this. “Well, I’d like my parents and friends to know I’m alive, but other than that, no, not really. I’d be in a terrible mess if I went back, because of Rachel.”

“Probably,” Onclemac agreed.

“What’s it like here? Did you manage to hang onto that spell book? Is magic real here?”

“It’s peaceful but interesting, yes I did, and yes it is.  Are you hungry?”

I nodded. “Starved.”

“Come in to breakfast, then. After that I’ll show you the secret of my success.”

“Okay. Thanks.” I climbed down the ladder, adding silently, “And thanks again, Ed and Elsie.”

“Any time,” the cow answered silently. The horse just snorted.

I followed my human benefactor out of the barn.

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Meet Joshua Wander, Part One
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Three

The Ultimate Christmas Stockings

filling the stockings, 1987I seem to have confused John Scalzi about the Christmas stockings. Let me explain, then.

Of all the holiday traditions I try to observe, the one that my husband John really gets into is the preparation of the Christmas stockings. John and I each have a stocking that's been around for most of our marriage, so long that old "D-in-sewing" Karen has had to sew them back together a couple of times. We've also had stockings at various times for each of our dogs, Jenny (1979-1989), Noodle (1987-2001) and Tuffy Toro (1996-present); John's sister Martha; my Dad and my Ruth; and my Mom and Aunt Flora. Jenny Dog used to get balloons in her stocking. Part of the fun at Christmas was John blowing up balloons and our batting them around with Jenny. Once in a while she would pop one, and then run up to John, demanding that he blow up another one to play with. Unfortunately, Noodle did not share this enthusiasm, and Tuffy is afraid of strange objects and loud noises. Maybe someday we'll have another dog who likes balloons, and revive this part of the Christmas stocking tradition.

Mostly, though, we focus on the John and Karen stockings, which we decorate and fill for each other. Every year, John and I each put a new button, pin or other bauble on the other person's stocking, to the point where we're starting to run out of room now. Then we fill it with fun stuff. I insist on having a tangerine in the toe of mine, another tradition left over from my childhood. Other than that, there may be batteries or other intriguing accessories to go with some other non-stocking gift; silly toys like a Santa Claus bendy or a Santa clicker, ball bearing mazes and other useless gimcrackery; candy and/or nuts, the exact composition of which varies with that year's dietary situation; Disney comics and trading cards; pens, razors or other small, practical stuff; and usually one nice gift that's small enough to be crammed in there.

I usually go to Yike's Toys to fill John's stocking. You may recall that I mentioned the place in connection with buying little toys to give out at Halloween. Same principle here.John still has the Budda-with-a-cell-phone squeaky toy I got him there years ago. Last year I gave him a little plastic mermaid. This year it may be a hula girl to go with the cool pack of retro hula postcards I got him before. We'll see.

So, John Scalzi, when I tell you to blow $70 on two of the best Christmas stockings ever, I'm talking about doing the stocking thing right, inside and out. Get a couple of good, sturdy stockings, and decorate them with the names Krissy and Athena. Put something silly and personal on the outside, too, some little decoration that means, "I, Santa Claus, know and love this person whose stocking I'm filling." Then fill it up with fun stuff. If you do it right, Krissy will enjoy her stocking just as much as Athena does--and you'll be under pressure to top yourself next year.


Photo by John Blocher, Christmas, 1987; the only White Christmas in Tucson since 1916.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Vacation (All I Ever Wanted)

So what do you do with a four-day weekend?

In theory it sounds like a lot of time, two extra days to sleep in, decompress and get stuff done that I've had to let slide because of work, school, John and too much time blogging. But if I sleep in, the morning and part of the afternoon is gone. John is around to distract me and lead me astray with DVDs and shopping and 77 versions of Caravan on mp3. Cooking for Thanksgiving took up a big chunk of yesterday, and what the heck have I done today since I got up at 2 PM?  I've responded to some email on this screen name only (I really need to face up to the other two screen names; it's been many weeks). I've eaten some leftovers. I've scrunched John's shoulders and neck, watched most of Iron Giant, and listened to the first thirty seconds of Caravan as done by a couple dozen artists from Chet Atkins to Tito Puente. I've printed two of the three Economics chapters I'm supposed to read this week, catching each page as it flies out of my $50 Canon printer into midair. I've read a few journals. I just watched Enterprise.

Page one of An Adept in Mâvarin, part one of Mages of Mâvarin Doesn't sound very productive to me.

What I wanted to do today was start entering changes into my master documents of the first volume of Mages of Mâvarin, from the notes I've been making in my printout for the past couple of months. I figured that in four days off, I could get in one day of serious work on the novel, before jumping back in on my Economics homework. Instead I wrote this week's installment of Joshua Wander, which I will therefore be able to post sooner rather than later tomorrow. I've only done about a page of the Mages edits. Why? Partly it's because JW's story is the one that's got the creative part of my brain all worked up at the moment. That's understandable. It's just started pouring out after thirty years of blockage. Naturally it's engaging more synaptic circuits than a story that's more or less finished for now.

But it's also a matter of time and space. The time component is that I know I should start on my homework tomorrow if I want to get caught up with it and not end up all stressed out and sleepless as usual. That doesn't leave a lot of time to start on something that will take weeks to do properly. The space component is that this desk has two computers on it now, the Compaq and the iMac. When I was working on the second novel, as I did every night for about three years (except for the night after my gall bladder surgery, a night in the ER with my mom, and a night in a different ER with a suicidal friend), I only had one computer, a Mac. That left room on my desk for the notebooks and napkins and anything else on which I'd scribbled scenes and plot notes and notes about characters. Now I have no place but the floor on which to put my Mages binder, and that's too far away for me to read my handwritten notes and edits.

So what do I do? Take the Compaq in the bedroom, where I can spread out on the bed with the notebook? I can't really get comfortable there, and it takes me away from my Internet access, which might not be such a bad thing. Should I haul my notebook and computer over to Barnes & Noble and work there? Seems to me the B&N cafe will be packed on Black Friday. I can't plug in the laptop there, and those little tables don't really have room for both the computer and the binder.

Sigh. Well, I'll think of something. But I strongly suspect this is going to be another wasted weekend.


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Change Up

John's bowl o' change - plus $2Weekend Assignment #36: I have a mug on my desk with $70.65 in change in it. What should I do with the money?The only unacceptable answer is "give it to me." Honestly. You can do better.

Extra Credit: If you've got a picture of your own loose change storage device, show it.

What is accumulated change for, if not Christmas shopping?  Or pizza. But that's too much for pizza, unless you're feeding a baseball team.

So. Thirty dollars for something funny and romantic for your wife (I'm told that women other than me like jewelry, but if it were me, I'd want a book or a DVD), thirty more for some cool sciffy toy for Athena. I'm sure you can do better than that stuffed Cthulu from Worldcon. The other $10 or so is for cards and wrapping paper, and maybe stocking stuffers. Or buy $70 worth of DVDs that the whole family will like. Or--even better! Take the whole $70.65 and blow it on the coolest Christmas stockings ever, for both of your beloved females.

Here's my wallet.Me, I don't have a change repository, except my wallet (shown at right). I just spend it as I get it, feed my state quarter folder, and do stress snacking from the vending machines at school. But John has this cool one (shown above), which he pulled from a drawer for me and filled up a little more from the dresser. Maybe he'll buy something for my stocking with it.  Not with the $2 bill, though. That's a keeper.


P.S. It has come to my attention that I should have put in a word for Toys for Tots, Angel Tree programs, the Salvation Army, the Community Food Bank and so on. Well, yeah, do that too. We do all those things here. But use a different batch of money!

Thanksgiving Before and After

Well, as usual, I tried. And, as usual, Thanksgiving was a disappointment.

rutabaga and friendsI woke up at 8:36 AM after one of my usual late nights. There was a Mass at 9 AM, but for once, sleep seemed more important. I went back to sleep, and didn't wake again until my dad called at 11:30. We talked of Christmas and rutabagas and other things. Thanksgiving talk with Dad and Ruth: check! Adequate sleep: check! The day was off to a good start.

I'd been having second thoughts about using my navel orange as part of the turkey receipe, along with the fresh sage and parsley and baby carrots. I decided to just eat the orange as a substitute for Pillsbury orange rolls. This is one of those weird traditions nobody in the world follows except me. When I was a kid, we always baked orange rolls or orange danish for breakfast at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not this time. I was too late for the parades, but I watched Harry Potter special features on DVD (at John's insistance) and ate my orange while John cooked breakfast sausage and eggs.

Suddenly it was 2 PM, and I hadn't started cooking!  John washed the roasting pan and I did the rest. Once the turkey was in the oven, I took the picture of the veggies and tried to do a little blogging. But no--John insisted that I finish watching the Harry Potter disc so he could put it away. When that was over, I wanted to watch Hook, which we don't have on tape or DVD, but John wanted me to watch the Buffy Season Seven extras so we could put that away, too. Somewhere in there we had the inevitable holiday argument, but I set the veggies and giblets to cooking, and watched Buffage until it was time to mash the rutabagas and fake up the gravy.

The gravy was a problem. Doing the low carb thing, all I had to work with was pan drippings, two undercooked baby carrots, the giblets and a can of low fat chicken broth. I used the mixer, and when that didn't work I used the blender. Never having used this particular blender before, I didn't get the lid on as securely as it might had been. When I turned it on (John had it on the Off switch next to High, not the Off switch next to Low) the lid popped off and the hot not-quite-gravy went flying--onto my face, onto my glasses, into my hair, onto my newly-donned shirt and pants, all over the counter and into John's cup of vitamins.

It looked pretty nice, didn't it?John called in from his (home) office: "Karen...?"

I told him what had happened. "You may want to stay out of the kitchen for a few minutes to avoid the aggravation," I said.

He agreed.

I wasn't injured by the hot ungravy, so I cleaned up (I still have some in my hair, though), finished the blending and set the table. Here is the feast (such as it was) just before I called John in.

John had already announced that he'd gone back to low carb and would not be eating the root vegetables as planned, so all he had was turkey and not-gravy and green onions and undercooked carrots. Three hours cooking inside the bird with fresh parley wasn't enough for the carrots. I should have boiled or nuked them ahead of time. Oh, well. The rutabagas and sweet potatoes (which turned out to be pale yellow) were a little cold, and John said the outside of the white meat was dried out and overcooked. "Doesn't this seem to you like an awful lot of work...?" he asked.

looks more traditional than it is."For about ten minutes of eating?" I finished. "Well, yeah. But it's worth it."


"Because it's Thanksgiving dinner."

"But this isn't Thanksgiving dinner."

"Well, I got my turkey and my rutabagas, so I'm happy. Is there anything else I could have cooked that you could have eaten, given the restrictions you put on yourself?"

"No. There isn't."

Afterward, he ate lowfat cottage cheese with cinnamon, his substitute for ice cream or pie. I snuck into the fridge for the slice of pumpkin pie I bought myself last night at Boston Market. Don't tell John--shh!

John was also annoyed that I got his vitamins wet with the gravy incident, and stressed out generally by all the mess. "New rule. We never cook at Thanksgiving, ever again. We always eat out. It's easier."

"No, I can't agree to that," I said. I reminded him of the once-a-year holiday cooking compromise, and that he'd spent last Thanksgiving complaining about the cost of the meal out, that it wasn't worth it.

"Then we skip Thanksgiving," he suggested.

the aftermathHe doesn't understand why it's important to me. Truth to tell, I don't quite understand it myself. But even if the turkey is stuffed with undercooked carrots and the orange rolls are replaced with an orange, I'm still grabbing for whatever remnants of Thanksgiving tradition I can hang on to. Thirty years ago, the Funk family still ate Thanksgiving dinner together at that house in Manlius. The turkey was served on that platter Grandmother brought from Italy, the same one that John hates and I still use today. Everyone but me had creamed onions. After that it was turkey with sausage and raisin stuffing, rutabagas and mashed potatoes, gravy and dinner rolls, and maybe yams with marshmallows. Now I'm the only one who eats the raisin stuffing, the rutabagas, or the orange rolls for breakfast. But it's a connection, a tiny link to a time when a family cared about Thanksgiving and celebrated it together, part of a family life John never had as the son of an alcoholic divorcee.

So next year, I'll again cook turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, no matter how crabby John gets about the mess, no matter that nobody but me cares. Maybe in a way I'm torturing John, insisting on all these traditions that were never his. Maybe I'm torturing myself, trying for something I can never recapture. I will never have a child or grandchild to eat rutabagas with. Given his own dietary restrictions (not to mention Ruth's medically forbidden foods list), even my dad will probably never eat another rutabaga, even if we celebrate one of these holidays together.

But I'm going to cook and eat my turkey and rutabagas anyway. John's just going to have to live with his wife's weird hangups.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Turkey Compromises

My favorite line in Scott Bakula's first movie, Sibling Rivalry, was said by Jamie Gertz: "I don't cook. I reheat." That should tell you something about my attitude toward cooking.

John does most of the cooking these days, and that reluctantly. If money were not an issue, every dinner would involve takeout, a restaurant, or stuff from a grocery store deli department. But John's recent joblessness has put the brakes on our eating out. Now John finds different ways to bake chicken breasts, salmon and shrimp, with varying results. I'm not fond of white meat chicken to start with, much less for the third time in a week, much less marinated in oil and vinegar (yuck). John likes that. I don't.

MS clipartNevertheless, once a year I do the whole holiday turkey thing. It used to be twice a year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but John hates the mess. So each year I have to pick which holiday will involve cooking, and which will involve Boston Market or eating out. When I do cook the bird, I pretty much always insist on turkey, even though John grew up with capon. Selfish me, but I'm the one who's doing the work, and I'm the one with the biggest hangup about it.

This year, Thanksgiving gets the nod, and the bird is an "all natural" turkey from Sunflower. Last year we ate out at the DoubleTree on Alvernon, mostly to avoid memories of the horror show with Mom the year before. I loved their holiday spread, but John felt it wasn't worth the exhorbitant cost. When Christmas comes around this year, we may eat out (on a reduced budget), or cook a turkey roll, or get ham from Boston Market. I suppose it will depend on how Thanksgiving goes, whether John gets a job by then (doubtful, I'm thinking), and how our finances are holding up.

Don't fear the rutabaga!But tomorrow I will personally cook a turkey, rutabaga, and sweet potatoes, among other things. The rutabaga is a tradition from my childhood, which probably originated from my dad's side of the family. We used to call them turnips, but the fact is that I don't like turnips. I like rutabagas. That's what we always had when I was growing up. I cook them the same way my mom did: peel, boil, and mash  them with a little milk, just like potatoes.  The best part is mixing the leftover mashed rutabagas with mashed potatoes for Friday's dinner, but I'm not doing mashed potatoes this year. Oh, well.  John grew up with sweet potatoes or yams, so I do a healthier version of that, without the brown sugar or marshmallows.

more MS clip artWhat's different this year is that I'm trying to make the meal healthier and lower in carbohydrates. I can't stand to do Thanksgiving without the rutabagas, so I bought just one of them this time. John wanted yams, but sweet potatoes seem less sweet to me, and therefore probably lower in carbs. No mashed potatoes, no stuffing, no flour or starch in the gravy. We have a can of cranberry sauce, at least two years old. I doubt that we'll open it, but I may buy a little cranberry relish if I get the chance.

Still more MS clipartBut what do I do with the cavities that are supposed to hold the stuffing? I normally put sausage stuffing with raisins at one end for me, and without raisins at the other end for John. This year, no stuffing. So I picked up a booklet at the check-out line about low carb holiday cooking. None of the options for turkey quite worked for me, so I'm improvising, based on a combination of receipes. I bought one orange to sort of glaze the outside of the turkey, and green onions, baby carrots, fresh sage and fresh parsley to put inside it, along with leftover celery. Will it work out? I have no idea.

I'll let you know.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Mind Junk

Mind junk.When I was in college, I heard a story on the radio about Mel Blanc, the man who voiced Bugs Bunny and myriad other characters. After a stroke, he was unable to talk until one day, a doctor spoke to him not as Mel Blanc but as Bugs. "How are you doing today, Bugs?"

"Not so good, Doc."

That was a starting point for his recovery at the time. (This was back in the 1970s.) After decades of voice work, Blanc was able to access the part of his brain that knew how to perform as Bugs Bunny, even though his normal speech center was on the fritz (Friz?).

Similarly, lots of people with Alzheimer's seem to have an easier time accessing very old memories than recent ones. New memories become hard to encode and store, but the well-traveled paths to key memories from 1935 or 1947 still function.

So what am I to make of this? If memes produce mind clutter, as Richard Brodie claims, with lots of junk ideas well-adapted for survival and propagation, then many of my most accessible memories are memes. Last night, for no particular reason, I IMed lines from kids' books I read forty years ago. I take perverse pleasure in the fact that I can still sing the 1960s jingles for Byrne Dairy and Syracuse Savings Bank. Watching a Star Trek episode for the first time in 30 years, I recite choice bits of dialogue along with Kirk and Spock and Bones. Is this a good thing? Yes, it means that I have a good memory for words and patterns of words, rhymes and lyrics and dialogue, and that can be useful. But am I remembering literature and pop culture at the eventual expense of more important memories? When I'm 80, will I still sing about Syracuse Savings Bank, but not know my husband or how to hold a fork? Come to think of it, John would say that I already don't know how to hold a fork properly.

Maybe I shouldn't worry about this. At 81, my dad is still sharp, with very little memory loss. My mom had significant dementia at 73, but she was a smoker. And anyway, medicine marches on. Eventually there may be effective treatments for memory loss, or even a means of prevention. If I live that long, I may still have a decent memory at 80, especially if I start taking care of my body now (fat chance). But still I wonder whether, like Mel Blanc, my  brain will still be accessing Bugs Bunny when more useful functions have gone kerflooey.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Fun With Site Statistics

I was just looking at site statistics for some of the pages on www.mavarin.com, as I do from time to time. By and large there were no surprises. The index page gets the most hits, averaging about one viewing a day. Next most popular is my favorite authors page, which generally attracts people looking for information on or quotes by the authors I've written about there. I imagine that at least half of those hits come from kids doing book reports. Third most popular is the page about my mom. This is partly because I link to it often, but mostly, I suspect, it's because of people doing genealogical research on people named Johnson.

It was on the statistics for the mom.html page that I found the surprise of the week. This page had 4 hits on Thursday and 17 on Friday, well above the 0 to 2 hits per day average. Yahoo reports that people arrived on the page from the following search string:

60.48% typed "eric johnson dusty tabs"

Eric is my brother's middle name, Johnson is my mom's maiden name / last name, and a song lyric I have posted on the page mentions "dusty pictures." I don't think the word "tabs" appears on the page. So yeah, I can see why that search string would lead to the page, and it's fairly clear that people were looking for someone named Eric Johnson. But dusty tabs?  Why are the tabs dusty? Are they unopened bottles or cans of the low-calorie Coke alternative that originally stood for "Thin And Beautiful"? Or is Dusty Tabs some associate of Mr. Johnson, a rodeo clown and part time stunt man who gave himself (or was given) a silly stage name? Alas, I don't care enough to try to find out.

Here are some other search strings that led people to my pages:

a fine name for a mage + girl 65.94% typed "names of mages"

37.38% typed "favorite quotes +once and future king"

67.38% typed "united whovians of tucson" (this one makes sense; I was Lord President of that club)

100.00% typed "three knocks from the dead"

48.39% typed "mage+girl"

65.04% typed "shela- day"

0.00% typed "archaic tongue" (how many?)

73.37% typed "is religion and magic the same"

This all strikes me as wonderfully random, but of course it isn't. These words do appear on these pages, so the search engine is doing its job. But I'm certain that whoever typed "three knocks from the dead" was not looking to sample Chapter One of Heirs of Mâvarin. Whoever wanted to know about archaic tongues was not searching for my fictional one, Lopartin. I have no idea what the "shela- day" person wanted, but probably not a page about Lady Shela Cados of Odamas. I wonder what the Googlers thought, coming upon my pages out of context like that. Most of them probably took five seconds to say, "That's not what I'm looking for," and hit the back button; but what about the others? Did the people who wondered about the intersection of magic and religion find confusion, enlightenment or both in my discussion of the fictional theology of Mâvarin? Did someone think Rutana was a fine name for a girl mage? Did the T.H. White quote researcher like the one I provided on my favorite authors page? I'll never know.

Young Eric Johnson and old Dusty Tabs
Seek Google's deep wisdom to say
The lost names of mages, in dribs and in drabs,
And what to call Shela by day.

They'll invoke Whovians in archaic tongue,
And they'll hear three knocks from the dead.
They'll make a new mage of a girl who is young,
And ponder the words that they've read.

They'll wait for the Once and near Future King
(Is magic and religion the same?)
And, while waiting, read pages 'bout some other thing
By some blogger who seeks her own fame.

Not my best poem, but look at what I had to work with.


Sunday, November 21, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Three

The following except from JW's autobiography is unrelated to the Mâvarin books, except tangentially through an unfinished short story.

Part One: Syracuse University student Christopher Stein (the future Joshua Wander) finds his relationship to the physical universe changing in response to a series of experiments conducted by two of his professors. Chris discovers that he can manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum, creating light shows and other effects. In the midst of doing so, however, he disappears from the lab into another world, with one of his professors dead at his feet and two small medieval armies advancing on him from opposite directions.

Part Two: Misunderstanding Chris's attempts to revive Rachel, the two groups of fighters seem as intent on attacking Chris as each other. Unable to overcome the language barrier to explain, Chris scares the peasants away with lightning, and manages to disarm an attacking noble as he recreates the conditions that took him out of the world he knew. He reappears in the lab, but he's not really there, not really touching anything or anyone. The lab disappears again, along with Rachel and her shocked and angry husband. Chris finds himself in darkness.

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.Wherever I was, it was night, and too dark to see anything. Unlike the lab, though, I was really there, all the way. The ground beneath my cheap winter boots was hard and uneven, like natural stone. Wind was blowing noisily somewhere nearby, but it wasn't reaching me. This was lucky, because wherever I was, it was winter-cold, Syracuse cold. I still had on a couple of layers of clothing - a Wings T-shirt and a navy S.U. sweatshirt - but my down jacket was back in the lab. Well, I'd just have to do without it. Maybe forever. As angry as Professor Grayson had looked, the lab didn't exactly seem like a safe place to go back to, even if I figured out how to do it. And anyway, I wasn't at all sure I could generate any weird electromagnetic effects to get me home, not from this damp, dark place.

The wind was coming from the same direction as a slight lessening of the darkness, somewhere off to my left. It probably wouldn't hurt to explore a little, as long as I mostly stayed out of the wind. I felt my way along wet, lichen-covered walls of stone, running my fingers and my feet over bumps and indentations, dripping grottos and sharp bits of crystal. I thought about a family trip to Howe Caverns, many years before, and about Injun Joe's cave in Tom Sawyer. The passage I was in wasn't especially narrow, though, and it didn't seem terribly dangerous. No yawning chasms opened beneath my feet; no cave-ins blocked my way. Soon I was at the mouth of the cave - a mouth of it, anyway. The opening was about seven feet high. A wall of rock extended another twenty feet or so on my left, blocking the worst of the wind. Looking up into the night sky, I couldn't see the moon, but there were hundreds of stars, obscured in places by fast-moving clouds.

It was the sky I knew, and yet not quite the same. I found Orion, and the Big Dipper, and Cassiopeia; but there were far too many stars in them, and in between them. Every tiny star that was normally dimmed by city lights shone for me that night. There were no city lights. Ahead of me was countryside: grassy hills, a field that might be post-harvest stalks of corn, a small forest, or possibly an orchard, and a few buildings in the distance: a farmhouse, maybe, and a barn or a stable. Clean snow lay on the ground in crusty, half-melted patches. The way to the buildings was marked by what looked like a dirt road. There were no street lights, no manmade lights of any kind.

Option one: I could wait in the cave until morning. It was cold, but not so cold that I couldn't manage for a few hours. In the morning I could scout things out properly, and use the daylight to practice my new abilities, to defend myself if necessary, or to try to travel again to some other time or place or world. Option two: I could venture out now, take shelter in the barn or stable, or even knock at the door if I saw evidence that the people here spoke English, or even French or Spanish. I'd struggled in my foreign language classes, but I did know enough to get by in an emergency--which this was.

I decided to get a better look around, so I could make an informed decision. If this was somewhere in the modern world, I might find a street sign or a mailbox, something to tell me whether it was possible to get home from here. If I was in the past, or someplace even stranger, there ought to be evidence of that instead.

The wind picked up as I stepped out of the cave. I crossed my arms inside my sweatshirt for warmth and started walking. The nearby road was grassy and full of rocks, a pair of muddy tracks too narrow for a truck or even a large car. It was utterly deserted. The moon rose behind the cave as I got far enough away. It was half full. The barn, when I got to it, had a thatched roof. That settled it. This wasn't New York State as I knew it. Was I in the past, or in England, or someplace else entirely?

Now that I was within a few feet of the barn, it seemed silly to retreat to the cave, regardless or where and when I was overall. I found the large iron ring that served as a handle on the wooden door, and pulled it open. It was as dark inside as out, if not darker, but it was warmer, and filled with the smell of hay and animals.

"Close the door!" said a voice.  I stepped inside and pulled the door shut. "It gets cold enough as it is, without you standing around gawking with the door open," the voice said. I wasn't quite sure whether the words had been spoken aloud, or inside my head. There was also a whiny, whinnying, snuffling quality to them, more animal than human.

"Sorry," I said. "I didn't know anyone was in here."

The sound I heard next--and this was definitely a sound--was halfway between neighing and laughter. This was quickly followed by the equally extraordinary mooing chuckle of a laughing cow. So help me, a laughing cow. La Vache Qui Rit.

"What did you think a barn was for, just storing hay?" asked the voice. "We live here."

"Am I speaking to a horse?" I asked. "A talking horse?" Childhood memories of Mister Ed almost made me choke on my words.

"No, just a telepathic one. Make yourself comfortable, wizard. Your coming was foretold to us."

"A wizard?  You think I'm a wizard?"

The horse snorted, apparently in amusement. "Maybe not yet," it said, "but you will be."

"What makes you think I'm going to be a wizard?" I asked. It occurred to me that, in a world of telepathic livestock, my electromagnetic manipulations might well be seen as magic.

"The prophecy, of course," said the horse. "Look, human, I don't know what it's like where you come from, but around here we like to sleep at night. Morning will be soon enough for your questions."

"Okay, but where do I sleep? I can't see a thing in here, and I don't want to be in your way." I also didn't want to be stepped on in the middle of the night.

"There's a ladder about ten steps in front of you," said the cow. Her "voice" was melodic and motherly. "It leads up to the hayloft. That should be comfortable enough, and you definitely won't get stepped on." The cow laughed again. I wondered whether the animals were "hearing" even the words I left unspoken.

"Thank you," I said. I stepped forward, feeling my way in the dark. The cow's stall was on my left, judging from the sounds and the smells. The horse's stall was on my right. Beyond them I found the ladder: not quite vertical, made of sturdy wood and bolted in place. It hardly moved as I climbed to the top and felt my way onto the loft. The ladder came up through a small hole in the middle of it. I crawled well away from the hole and from the railing at the end of the loft, back against the wall. The hay was soft and sweet-smelling, more strewn than stacked or bailed. I lay down and burrowed in. To my own surprise, I was soon asleep.

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Meet Joshua Wander, Part One
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two

Saturday, November 20, 2004


A few bits of political venting and catharsis have come to my attention that I'd like to pass on:



Tim Bedore's "New America" commentary

There's been a lot of talk in the past couple of weeks about leaving the country, on the grounds that Bush's America is just going to get worse over the next four years - more civil rights violations, more anti-intellectual attitudes, more overturning of science in favor of corporate greed or thinly-disguised religion, more deaths in Iraq and elsewhere, more people around the world hating the U.S. and all they think it stands for. So how, exactly, does leaving the country help? Better to stay here, and do our best to counter ignorance with knowledge and reason, and remind the country about all the things pretty much all of us believe in, that got buried and ignored in favor of slogans and the politics of fear.

My dad said, "Kerry saw the complexity of the issues, and tried to explain them to the people. Bush engaged in sloganeering. The sloganeering won. If you repeat a lie often enough [e.g. Kerry the flip-flopper, Kerry the traitor, Kerry the anti-military], people start to believe it." Yup.

Stay!I don't know what's going to happen in the next four years, but I know we can get through it. This country has been through much worse, from the Civil War to Vietnam. Maybe by 2006, people will be so fed up with Republican excesses that there will be a backlash in Congressional midterm elections. Maybe by 2008, a Democratic candidate for President will emerge who can outshine and outlast a McCain or a Powell or whoever. Maybe along the way, we can convince people that gay people are no threat to the institution of marriage, that the separation of church and state is not an assault on anyone's personal beliefs, and that Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle and Mark Twain belong in school libraries. I think that's a future worth staying around for, and working for.  If we don't work for it, who will?


Friday, November 19, 2004

Fight the Meme!

I told John last night that I'd written about memes, and had mentioned his slogan "Fight the meme."

He said, "It should be everybody's slogan. There should be 'Fight the meme' T-shirts and bumper stickers."

"So you want 'Fight the meme' to be a meme," I said.

 "You caught that, did you?"

John wants you to fight the meme. Snarky, John.

Okay, here's the bit. The success of a meme - a viral idea spreading across the culture - depends not on its value as an idea, but on its ability to propagate. Raw exposure, humor, blind faith, uncritical thinking, the confirmation of existing beliefs, and such emotions as sympathy, anger, satisfaction or fear can all contribute to the spread of a meme. If you believe that John Kerry is a baby-killer who will take away your gun, your Bible or the weapons Our Brave Troops need to survive, then you're going to want to spread these memes by forwarding emails that support these beliefs. If you think the fourth joke down in an email of ten jokes is really funny, you may pass the whole thing on to friends. If you want the good luck / blessing or fear the bad luck / curse mentioned in a chain letter, you'll probably do what the letter says.

But you shouldn't.  There are a lot of junk ideas out there, memes full of lies or distortions (or just wastes of time) that circulate anyway, simply because people don't stop to question them before passing them on.

Here are the answers to some of the questions some people don't ask:

 1. No, neither Bill Gates, the nonexistent son of Walt Disney nor anyone else will pay you cash or prizes for forwarding this email.

2. No, neither AOL nor your bank needs you to verify your credit card number by clicking on this link.

3. Yes, evolution is a theory. So is gravity. In science, the word "theory" does not imply the degree of uncertainty often associated with it in common usage.

4. No, your Quizilla results will not provide any deep insights into your character.

5. Yes, this journal should be recommended to all your friends. ;)

Not all memes are online, of course, and not all memes are harmful.
There are good memes too. The concept of blogging is itself a meme. It can be a time-waster, and it can spread bad ideas, but it also provides information and entertainment, and brings people into contact who would never have "met" otherwise.

But other memes can be a real pain. I had a heck of a time not arguing publicly with my Economics instructor Wednesday night. Somewhere along the line she was taught to avoid the verb "to be" at all costs, and that all words that end in "-ly" should be omitted from academic papers. Now she's spreading these dubious memes to her classes. She presented this sample sentence for recasting (working from memory here):

If a consumer / buyer is having a hard time obtaining a product or service, the producer / seller is put in a position where he or she is able to have a monopoly on that product or service.

Okay, yeah, it's a bad sentence. But in trying to shorten it and get rid of the word is, the class ended up with

In obtaining a scarce product or service, the producer / seller develops an effective monopoly.

I pointed out that this revised sentence had a dangling participle. (It's also misleading.) So help me, the instructor said, "Dangling participles aren't as bad as everybody says they are."

This is when I started quietly (but literally) growling at this rampant ignorance.

Another student asked whether the word "that" was allowed. Somewhere along the line, this student had gotten the impression that the word should always be omitted from a sentence. The instructor made noncommital noises on this subject, but leaned in favor of the idea.

This same instructor crossed out two adverbs in my paper in the name of making it more "concise," and marked me down half a point for using them. (I may have used the verb "to be" in the paper, too -- horrors!) What she utterly failed to notice was that the two adverbs were integral to the point of my thesis paragraph, and that the whole thesis makes no sense without them. Grumble, grumble.

If I fight this meme, this bad information on academic writing that this woman seeks to spread, I'll endanger my A. If I don't, I'll have to trust my classmates to overcome the bad meme on their own. Frankly I don't trust them to do any such thing, but I'm not a confrontational person. I think I'm going to try to sorta kinda keep quiet, and only fight for good English in the most mild and tactful ways I can manage. Wish me luck.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Thanks for the Words and Pictures

Weekend Assignment #35: Tell us something you should be thankful for -- but that you're usually not. After all, it's easy to be thankful for all the things you know you should be thankful for: Your family and friends, your home, the good things that come from living wherever (and whenever) you do. So try stretching a little and think about something that you're thankful for that you usually don't think much about at all. It can be serious or silly; it's up to you. You just have to be genuinely thankful for it -- once it comes to mind.

For reasons ranging from entertainment value to literary influence to life-changing absorption of ideas or values, I'm thankful for the writing (and other artistry) of:

some of our booksDouglas AdamsPiers Anthony / Xavier AtencioPeter S. Beagle / John BellairsDonald P. Bellisario / John D. F. Black / Paul BrownAllan Burns  /  James BurkeChris Claremont / Leonard CohenGene L. Coon / Arthur Conan DoyleDiane Duane / Harlan EllisonNora Ephron / Jane EspensonBob GaleWilliam GoldmanOscar Hammerstein II /   Chris Hayward  / Ruth Anne JohnsonUrsula K. LeGuin /  Madeleine L'EngleJohn Lennon Alan J. LernerC. S. LewisAnne McCaffreyPaul McCartneyMichael Maltese  / A. A. MilneMiss MulockTeresa Nielsen Hayden / Rockne S. O'Bannon / Deborah Pratt  /  Carl Reiner  / Gene Roddenberry / J. K. Rowling /  Antoine de Saint-Exupery / John M. Scalzi   /  Dr. Seuss  /  Richard M. ShermanRobert B. ShermanJ. Michael Straczynski  / Tommy Thompson  /  James ThurberJ. R. R. TolkienP. L. TraversKurt Vonnegut Joss Whedon  / T. H. White / Gene Wilder / Patricia C. Wrede / Robert Zemeckis

the other artistic efforts of

some of *my* booksJulie Andrews / Scott Bakula / Mel Blanc /   Daws Butler / Bob Clampett  /   Hans Conried  /  Marc Davis  /   Walt Disney  / June Foray  /   Paul Frees  /   Alyson Hannigan / Anthony Stewart Head  /  John Levene (John Anthony Blake)  / James Marsters / Sylvester McCoy  /  Jon Pertwee  /  Rob Reiner  /   Dean Stockwell /  Thurl Ravenscroft  /   Dick Van Dyke  /   Jay Ward  /  Sherry "Sherlock" Watson  /   Gene Wilder  /   Guy Williams  /   Robin Williams

and mentoring, advice, conversation, letters, instruction and other kind acts by

Scott Bakula  /  Ginger Buchanan  /  Algis J. Budrys  /  Harlan Ellison  / Damon Knight  /  Madeleine L'Engle  /   Harriett Margulies 
/  Kate Wilhelm  /  Robin Scott Wilson  /  William Windom

I may add more later, but you get the idea.


Meme Meme Me

Paul Little posted the following last Saturday on his Journal, Aurora Walking Vacation:

(like me)

Most onerous malapropism in the blogosphere: meme.

To which I commented:

I disagree. The term is appropriate. I just don't care much for some aspects of the phenomenon itself. - Karen

Then in email, Paul asked,

Do you really think the proliferation of all those teeny-bopper quizzes (which LOTR character are you? Which Pokeman are you? Which Goth stereotype are you? etc, etc, ad nauseum) qualify as memes? Do you think The Saturday Six, or John's Weekend Assignments qualify as memes? I don't.

I replied,

As I understand it, a meme is an idea that spread like a virus across the culture. The stupid quizzes, Saturday Six et al. certainly do have that viral quality. It's true that they don't usually contribute much by way of valuable ideas, but many other memes contribute wrong-headed ideas, so on balance I suppose it's no worse.

That said, I have taken a few of the quizzes here and there, if the subject matter was interesting, largely because I'm interested in the way personality quizzes of any sort, including the "real" ones used by psychologists and management theory adherents, never seem to peg me accurately. A twentysomething's quiz that calls me Gandalf, a ghost or the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is only marginally sillier than a DISC assessment, IMO.

This morning I looked up the
Wikipedia: Meme entry. The formal definition is more complicated than what I said above, but I'm not far off when it comes to the term's current usage. On his website, www.memecentral.com, author Richard Brodie defines it this way:

Memes can amount to brain clutter.Memes are contagious ideas, all competing for a share of our mind in a kind of Darwinian selection. As memes evolve, they  become better and better at distracting and diverting us from whatever we'd really like to be doing with our lives. They are a kind of Drug of the Mind. Confused? Blame it on memes.

Brodie concentrates on the spread of cults, urban legends, chain mail, endlessly forwarded jokes and so on. He strongly suggests that you take a critical look at forwarded email before passing it on.

Google up "meme" and you get both the Wikipedia and Brodie websites, and a weird one called www.memepool.com that's full of short but fascinating scattershot entries. Farther down the list is The Daily Meme, which is dedicated to the meme in the sense typically used by bloggers.

Another classic example of a meme, one that's currently annoying both me and John, is the dropping of the article "the" before proper nouns that used to require them, especially ones referred to by initials. Suddenly it's not "the FDA" or "the FBI" or even "the Department of Education." It's "FDA released a statement saying...." John's slogan, which he's been saying for years, is "Fight the meme." As an editor, he's especially concerned about this when it comes to what he sees as degradations of the English language.

The same "mind virus" mechanism is at work in the spread of Quizilla quizzes, the Saturday Six and so on. The Quizilla ones proliferate because they're pretty and intriguing, and people are curious about what result they'll get. Weekend Assignments and other multi-blog writing exercises spread because 1. people want ideas for something to blog about, and 2. posting a link to the source of a writing exercise is an easy way to promote readership of your blog. Heck, I'm dying to get more people to read and comment on this one. At the same time, though, I actively avoid blogs that consist mostly of memes in the sense of quizzes and polls and jokes and writing exercises. It just seems like a waste of time, and time is a scarce commodity in my life. So I do the Weekend Assignments, and pretty much leave the rest alone.

Occasionally, I do get sucked into a quiz, though, and a couple of times I've posted the result on my LiveJournal. The most disturbing of these, which doesn't seem to be displayable on AOL-J today, claims I will be murdered at the age of 54:


How will you DIE? Name / Username You will die as a result of murderAt age 54 This cool quiz by Confused_Pete - Taken 191705 Times.

I don't think I'll be going back to that web site.


I Am Not a Personality Type

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Where's Gollum When You Need Him?

John Scalzi asked this morning in his journal who else has lost a wedding ring. <Raises hand> Me.

This should be no surprise. I've been losing or mislaying things all my life, although I'm not as bad as I used to be. As a kid I lost $10 (a huge sum for me in those days) for a couple of months. It eventually turned up hidden beneath the dress of a drink-and-wet doll in the basement. I'd apparently hidden the money there so that the twice-a-week maid, Ethel, wouldn't take it or throw it away. This wouldn't have been a bad thing, had I remembered my crazy hiding place.

On a college spring break trip to visit Evelyn's family in Connecticut, circa 1977, I let a wallet slip between the seats in her mother's car. For years afterward, Evelyn's mom would instruct her to ask me "Where's your wallet?" at every opportunity.

okay, so it's another ring that has the black thread.But the worst loss I ever had was the ring. It was of gold and white gold, the white gold woven in a Celtic pattern. An alleged psychometrist once claimed it had been in a fire. A man had given it to John's mother before returning to Cuba, promising to marry her when he got back to the States. She never saw him again.

It wasn't completely my fault that I lost the thing. It was always too big for me, and I was always playing with it as it slipped up and down my finger. You know how Sauron's ring shrunk to fit Isildur, only to slip off his finger later? Well, this didn't shrink, and it couldn't be cut down to size because of the filligree. I had Bonnie at Monkeys Retreat in Columbus make a couple of little rings to slip inside it, to make it fit better. But first I lost one of these inner rings, and then the other. Then one day, I didn't have a wedding ring any more.

I searched all the usual places, then and later. I even seached the sidewalks up and down High Street. An alleged psychic said to look behind the refrigerator. But the ring was gone forever.

The clunky ring I had Bonnie make for John, based on the design of my ring but not actually filligree (I hope I'm using that word right), still sits in a box in our bedroom. John was never big on wearing it anyway. Mom subsequently gave me one of her wedding rings, a plain gold band. That was too big, too. That sits in a different box in our bedroom, a knot of black thread around it to make it less apt to slip off if I do wear it. Which I don't.

John and I have been married for 25 1/2 years. We wore wedding rings for about the first year of that.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

D&D Days

This little lead figure represented Joshua Wander in D&D games back when I was in college the first time around, and also when I was a young married in Columbus, Ohio. Apparently I missed the 30th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons a month ago today, so I'll talk about it now. If I get some details wrong, it's because my memories, too, are nearly 30 years old.

I couldn't get a good picture of this little guy. Sorry.It was probably in October 1975 that I first saw the guys who would later found Nucleus Books selling a series of little booklets just inside one of the Liberal Arts buildings at Syracuse University. The first of them, called Chainmail, was a basic set of combat rules for medieval fighter figures. This had already been supplemented by a box of three booklets called Dungeons & Dragons. In that early version of D&D, you could play a fighter, a cleric, or a magic user, period. But even that had already been refined in an additional booklet, called Greyhawk. That added the thief class of player characters and lots of other stuff, making the game more playable and more fun. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books (Players' Handbook, Monster Manual etc.) and prepackaged campaign modules came later. When I discovered D&D, a year after it started, it had developed enough to be playable, but we were on our own when it came to creating the storylines, settings and so on.

In case someone reads this who has never played D&D in any form, I should explain that a D&D campaign is (or was) designed by a Dungeon Master, who controls a range of monsters and nonplayer characters that the player characters encounter. Each of the other players controls one or more characters, whose basic skills are determined by rolling three dice. To this day, I still say that I personally have a dexterity of six (out of a possible eighteen points), meaning that I'm an utter klutz.

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.When I was in college, Evelyn and Betsy and I and others would pull all-nighters on Saturday nights, playing D&D. My second student film was my attempt to depict D&D with a 16 mm Bolex camera. I tried to superimpose the image of our little painted lead figures over the real people who played the characters. I don't think anyone in the class understood what I was trying to do, and I didn't do it all that well. I think I got a C+ on it.

The best Dungeon Master I ever played with was a former high school chum of mine named Chris Doherty. He was a member of STAR Syracuse, the Star Trek club that gradually morphed into a D&D group. The campaigns he ran had such innovations as a magic backpack and the god Murphy. The advantage of the magic backpack was that we didn't have to waste time figuring out whether to buy rope or a tinder box, a knife or a morning star. Any nonmagical equipment we needed was already in there, rather like Mary Poppins' carpet bag. And Murphy, as in Murphy's Law, was fun to work with. Unlike the deities established in Greyhawk, Murphy never appeared when player characters called on him. In one memorable incident, which Chris may have cribbed from someone else, the attacking werewolves died of ingrown hair, thanks to Murphy. But Murphy is just as apt to do something humorously perverse to the characters themselves.

As I mentioned in previous postings here and elsewhere, Joshua Wander was a nonplayer character in a "live dungeon" session my friends and I did in about 1977. I was the DM in that one, which we staged underneath the Vincent Apartments in Syracuse. The Vincent belonged to Syracuse University at the time. It was a step up from the dormitory, but still subject to the University's rules. Evelyn Orlando (now Evelyn Wolke) and I lived there. The apartment buildings (there were a bunch of them, arranged in a loop) were connected underground in two spooky labyrinths of unfinished walls, furnace rooms, junky storage and discarded fluorescent fixtures. It was, in a word, cool. This was where Joshua Wander first appeared. He was me in a velvet opera cape and peaked hat, who kept popping up to interact with Evelyn's Shmendrick and Mike's character and Chris's character. We were all dressed in low-rent SCA gear, tromping around, having a good time. We also had a "live dungeon" outdoors in a local park at least once, which explains the background on this journal entry.

After that night, JW was a player character. He started out as nothing much on paper, a chaotic good magic user who didn't get to do the weird stuff in other people's dungeons that he did in my head. But I'm fixing that now, finally getting parts of his story written down. By the time I lived in Columbus, I had postulated the existence of his castle, Toujours Chez Moi, and his daughter, Ariel Allegra, who shared a name with my second Honda scooter.

By the time I moved to Tucson in 1986, my D&D days were over. I never met anyone here to play the game with, and in any case I'd moved on to other things. Even so, I got a lot out of the game while my involvement with it lasted. Thanks, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Thanks, Chris Doherty and Evelyn Wolke. Thanks, guys.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Doin' the iMac Shuffle, and Potter Out of Context

 Following up on the previous entry, here are random shuffle results for my other two computers:

iMac Shuffle:

1. Just in Time - Frank Sinatra
2. Heaven's Light (Reprise) Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack
3. Somewhere Along the Way - Nat "King" Cole
4. Down Down Down - Dave Edmunds
5. The Girl I Knew Somewhere - The Monkees
6. Blistered - The Association
7. Come Fly With Me - Frank Sinatra
8. Walls (We Are Not Forgotten) - Judy Collins
9. P.O.V. Waltz - Nilsson
10. Rebel Rouser - Duane Eddy

The sad part is I only recognize six of the song titles on this list. They're all artists I like, but John downloaded a bunch of stuff for me that I've never listened to, including some of these. Is that Judy Collins song about the Vietnam memorial? Perhaps I should listen and find out. And I know a couple of non-hits by The Association, but that's not one of them.

Real Presario Shuffle (be prepared for a lot of Disney):
1. Music (jazzy demo from Real or somebody) - Unknown
2. I Will Go Sailing No More - Randy Newman / Toy Story soundtrack
3. Beauty and the Beast - Angela Lansbury / Beauty and the Beast
4. Dance of the Reed Flutes - Stokowski / Fantasia soundtrack
5. In the Darkness - Mackenzie Phillips / So Weird soundtrack (Zoog Disney download)
6. Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) - Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers
7. Chapter 5C - Jim Dale / J.K. Rowling / Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
8. Chapter 11A: The Sorting Hat's New Song - Jim Dale / J.K. Rowling / Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
9. Chapter 25L - Jim Dale / J.K. Rowling / Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
10. Chapter 26A: Seen and Unforeseen - Jim Dale / J.K. Rowling / Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Well, that was a surprise. Yes, that HP spoken word set takes up many files, but the above list isn't very random, is it?


All the Waves Crashing By

John Scalzi asked AOL Journalers to shuffle all the music on their players and report the first ten that come up, no matter how embarrassing. Having cleared all the music off my elderly Compaq at work many months ago, I was curious what would come up on WMP, which catalogued mostly wave files on its most recent update a week or two ago. Here's what I got:

First Ten:
Buffy theme
- Nerf Herder
, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In Every Generation...  - Anthony Stewart Head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sam howl - Scott Bakula,
"Good Morning Peoria" episode of Quantum Leap
Handlink button from Quantum Leap
LAZRYN - sounds like Bob James-style jazz

some Star Trek sound effect that went by too fast to identify.

Next ten:
I have a question
Oh boy! - Scott Bakula
, Quantum Leap
Ha Haa!
Thanks, mom - Scott Bakula
, "The Leap Home" episode of Quantum Leap
This is incredible! - Scott Bakula, "Good Morning Peoria" episode of Quantum Leap
Buffy theme - Nerf Herder, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (another copy)
Like Humans Do - David Byrne (an actual song!)
It won't work - Marvin (Stephen Moore), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Next ten:
Don't like it - Patrick Troughton, Doctor Who
Ni! - the Knights of Ni, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In Every Generation...  - Anthony Stewart Head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (different copy)
Indigo (a classic Mac sound)
some officey clicky sound that went by too fast to be identified

That's enough.

More things that might have come up in my paltry 111 sounds are a bit of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (the Huntley-Brinkley Report piece, not Ode to Joy), collections of sound bytes from the first two seasons of Angel, music and dialogue from Zorro (the Disney series), a brief clip from the chorus of She Loves You by the Beatles, the first Quantum Leap saga cell ("It all started when a time travel experiment I was conducting went a little caca...") and Daleks threatening to exterminate.

Tonight I'll repeat this experiment on the iMac (which has a ton of music and spoken word) and on my laptop (which has mostly Disney stuff on it) and report back.


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two

The following except from JW's autobiography is unrelated to the Mâvarin books, except tangentially through an unfinished short story.

Last Week: Syracuse University student Christopher Stein (the future Joshua Wander) found his relationship to the physical universe changing in response to a series of experiments conducted by two of his professors. The last of these resulted in Chris disappearing from the lab entirely into another world, with one of his professors dead or dying at his feet and two small medieval armies advancing on him from opposite directions.

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.Traces of the lab's psychedelic lightshow swirled around me as I stood up properly, my feet straddling Rachel's right leg. I spread my arms wide, palms outward in a stop gesture directed at each group of would-be combatants. The colors red and orange lit my fingers and spread out, dissipating in the late afternoon sun. "Help me!" I shouted. "Please!"

The two groups of medieval fighters paused to stare at me. The better-equipped ones hesitated, looked at each other, and started forward again. The ill-equipped peasants of the other group huddled together, muttering. I could not hear what they said, but it wasn't in English as I knew it. Clearly, I wasn't going to get any help from either group. There was nothing they could do for Rachel, anyway, not if they were as they appeared to be, people from a time before science or medicine.

I knelt quickly, and felt for Rachel's pulse. She didn't have one. I tried to apply CPR, and even managed to create an electric shock from the ions in the air. Her heart didn't start again. And now both groups of fighters were advancing on me. Some of them were shouting. From the way they glared at me, I got the impression they were now more angry with me than with each other.

The group in chain mail were within fifty yards of me as I stood up again. The peasant group had more ground to make up. They were perhaps seventy-five yards away. I figured I had three choices. I could try to reason with them, frighten them, or find a way to leave this place, fast.

"Please! You don't understand!" I shouted. "I was trying to save her life!" There was no reaction. I don't think they knew what my words meant. They only knew I was desperate and afraid, and probably a murderer. So much for reason or explanations. Tactic number two, then. I raised my arms again, drawing to myself the local fields of electromagnetic force. A lightning bolt flashed from my hand toward the sky, startling me as much as everyone else. Either my ability to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum had increased geometrically over the past half hour, or there was something about this place, wherever it was, that was especially susceptible to manipulation. Or both. Probably both. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the forces around me and manipulating them experimentally.

The two groups stopped again to stare at me as a second lightning bolt shot from my hand into the sky, accompanied by a crack of thunder. In the excited babble that followed I heard a word that sounded like "magus," but nothing else intelligible. Playing with lines of force as if they were a cat’s cradle string, I next managed a burst of color and a small sonic boom. The ill-equipped group turned and ran away, shouting. The group in chain mail held their ground, watching.

If I was going to make another attempt to save Rachel, now was the moment to try. I directed my arms downward. A small flash of white light leaped from my fingers to caress her skin, but there was no reaction, no convulsion, no sign of life or hope. Then a pale blue crackle of electricity arced up from Rachel's dead eyes to my lowered hand, and made its way up and down my spine. More electricity pulsed through the coated wires that still hung from my forehead like dreadlocks. I shuddered and staggered, but did not fall. Rachel's body still did not move.

And now the men in chain mail were starting to encircle me. One of them, taller and better dressed than the others, pointed a long and shiny sword at my waist, and shouted a command I did not understand. These people might be wary of my demonstration of static electricity, but it wouldn't stop them from trying to capture or kill me. Time to go, I thought.

If I merely ran away, these people would probably catch me, and be even less intimidated than they were now. Besides, I could not leave Rachel's body behind. Nor did I want to stay in such a dangerous and savage place. But how was I to get home? The only way I could think of to do that was to recreate the strobing lights and colors that had brought me here. I wiggled my fingers. A ball of light formed between me and the guy with the sword, eight feet off the ground and nine inches across. It pulsed and it spun. Bands of color like Saturn's rings encircled it, throwing off sparks that flashed down the sword blade, causing the sword's owner to drop it with a shout, shaking his fingers in startled pain.

I spread my arms again, fingers wide. "Back off, if you don't want to be hurt," I shouted. My would-be attackers seemed to grasp the concept, if not the words. They backed away, but only a hundred feet or so as they continued to watch my fumbling attempts to do what I needed to do. Soon I had the light and the colors looking as they had before, just before the world went away. I grabbed Rachel's hand and concentrated on the lab, praying that my improvised lightshow would get me there.

When the lab reappeared around me, I found myself standing with a table through my waist. I could no longer feel Rachel's fingers as her arm fell to the floor beside her. John Grayson stared at me in horror.

"What did you do?" he asked, his voice shaking. "What the hell did you do to my wife?"

"I'm sorry, Professor! I didn't mean..." I began, but now the lab was fading away again, and the Graysons with it. John Grayson yelled "Stein!" just as the last of the flourescent light winked out, leaving me in darkness.