Saturday, August 31, 2002

The Best Commemoration Idea So Far

The Rolling Requiem is (in the words of their website):

a worldwide concert to honor those lost and those who helped others on September 11, 2001. While this terrorist tragedy took place in three United States locations, people from all over the world were affected. The goal of the Rolling Requiem is to have choirs performing in each time zone around the globe, beginning at 8:46 AM, the moment of the first attack With choirs in each time zone performing, continuous signing, or Rolling Requiem, will be heard throughout a 24-hour period.

The Requiem in question is, of course, the Mozart Requiem. It helped me survive when Diane died. In expressing grief, it transcended it, and it helped me feel, acknowledge, and go beyond my own mourning.

I'll be participating in this by playing the Requiem (conducted by Sir Neville Marriner) on my headphones at work.

Music like this transcends politics. Someday soon I need to discuss the complex feelings 9/11 rouses in me, but one thing is sure: this requiem is great enough to acknowledge our dead, to grieve for our lost heroes, and to look beyond factionalism, greed, hatred, and despair.
Baseball Miracles

The Phillies are second in their division with a 67-66 record, and the Oakland A's (my west coast team) have the best record in the American League. Wow. Amazing.
More Gruesome than the Mütter Museum

Oh God — tours of the Philadelphia slums. Not that I need them — I finished my undergraduate education at Temple University, and that's also where I went to grad school. I used to live on the border between Powelton Village and Mantua, in a basement apartment with enormous rats, moldering linoleum, and overhead pipes that gently rained chunks of asbestos onto my face all night.

Later on I lived in various squalid apartments near the Art Museum. In those days, that neighborhood was partly slum, partly gentrified. The house next door had been in one of the glossy shelter magazines; the one beyond was a drug house. (No crack in those far-off days.) One day, waiting for a bus on a street corner, I was nearly picked up on suspicion of prostitution. Hey, I was young, moderately attractive, and wearing shorts. Those were the days when a few rogue Philadelphia cops were known to pick up young girls and rape them. Luckily I had my work ID proving that I was a file clerk for the IRS. That (and my refusal to be intimidated, probably) kept me from arrest or rape, but the cops hassled me for a good 15 minutes. Then the bus came.

Still. Despite one of the most corrupt police forces in the US (the granny squad used to mug short, skinny people and then arrest their victims), despite the slums, even despite the double MOVE fiasco, I love Philadelphia. I get homesick for it sometimes, and not just for cheesesteaks and decent hot pretzels. (I rarely ate cheesesteaks when I was there — too greasy even for me.) I do miss some Philadelphia foods, such as excellent pizza, the flaming cheese at South Street Souvlaki, and every single dish at Chun Hing.

I don’t have time tonight to do Philadelphia justice: not the Art Museum, which is a hell of a lot more than just Rocky running up the steps; nor the jewelbox Rodin Museum, which houses the best collection of Rodins outside Meudon; nor the lights of Boathouse Row; nor the streets and parks when the dogwoods flower; nor the rivers; nor the comfortable, walkable size of that city. (It had better be walkable, because driving there is a mess.)

I can’t even do justice to one of my favorite sections of the city. Society Hill has narrow streets, bumpy brick sidewalks, and domestic architecture that is hauntingly spare. There are also a few very beautiful churches, including Christ Church; grand trees in Washington Square; and above all, the perfect proportions and human scale of Independence Hall.

Could a document as beautiful, as deeply respectful of the individual, have come out of the ugly blockhouse modern buildings that currently house the Federal offices in Philadelphia? Maybe. (I’ll have to check the record of the decisions handed down there.) God knows there have been plenty of atrocities perpetrated by people who lived and worked in elegant houses. But when I walked past Independence Hall, I felt proud to be an American. That architecture epitomizes the glories of the Age of Reason. (Another time we’ll deal with the less glorious side of that time period.) Walking into the Federal courthouse in Philadelphia, I felt like a serf in a Kafka novel or a luckless comrade trying to deal with a commissar.

I picked up the link to the slum tours from the blog of a friend of mine. We're about as far apart politically as we can well be, but we share certain pleasures: architecture and Philadelphia, to name two. I also introduced him to James Lileks' hilarious website. Not only does it have astonishing 1950s architecture, it's also home to the Gallery of Regrettable Food, now available as a book. Warning: don’t read his website while you’re at work, unless you want to explain your stifled laughter and wet chair to all your co-workers.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

There is nothing to do with some griefs but sing them. —Judy Collins
This Is What I Get for Talking about Medical Specimens

That’s a funny place for a bruise. Inner thigh, high up. . . . No discoloration, but a walnut-sized lump definitely tender to the touch.

That was Tuesday morning around 5:30 AM, when I got up to go to the bathroom. By the time I got ready for work, the thing had grown and hardened. It felt like a flattened cone. The tip was half an inch under the skin, a smooth expanse bigger than the walnut. The rest of it widened to a mass wider than my hand — big, hot, painful. A hell of a bruise. Hmmm.

After some thought, I talked to Michele about it. She made me promise to get to a doctor if it didn’t improve. All day, whenever I left my desk I was aware of it, because it hurt. I talked to a doctor. Could be thrombophlebitis or a deep-vein thrombosis, a blood clot caught in the leg vein, which has obvious risks. So I spent last evening in the Kaiser urgent-care center, waiting, being examined, waiting, getting an ultrasound, waiting, getting a prescription for an antibiotic.

The good news is that it isn’t a clot. Probably either a cyst or a lipoma. The bad news is that whatever it is, it’s (A) painful and (B) going to need further tests and poking around. And I loathe that. I don’t worry about dying. What bothers me is being in the hands of the medical world. And I admit that my guess is that this isn’t a cyst (weird place for a cyst, deep in muscle tissue). I bet it’s a lipoma, because they run in the family, I’ve had one before, and they tend to recur.

Nine years ago, my annual pelvic exam was enlivened when the doctor discovered a mass in my belly. After a couple of months of tests (X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, IVP), a tumor the size of a canteloupe was removed. It was first diagnosed as a liposarcoma, a slow-growing and exceedingly rare cancer. After further testing, though, the tumor was reclassified as a lipoma. Still, they followed me up for three years, just in case.

I am not looking forward to going through this all again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Live, from San Jose, It’s GalaxyQuest!

Actually, it isn’t, though that film is practically a documentary. I plan to sit home alone Friday night and watch it, peacefully munching popcorn, while the rest of the Califamily lives the dream at the World Science Fiction Convention, better known as WorldCon. This year’s event is ConJose. And if it didn’t cost a fortune, and if I weren’t so exhausted by work, and if I didn’t blanch at the thought of so many thousands of people all in the same place, I’d be tempted to go too.

Some of my favorite authors will be there. Neil Gaiman. Terry Pratchett. (My housemates have the strictest orders to bring either one of them home if it’s humanly possible.) I don’t know about some of the New Wave authors I learned to love when I was first reading SF in the early 1970s. Joanna Russ and Ursula LeGuin are both turning 73 this year. I don’t know if either one bothers traveling to these events any more. Samuel Delany is younger, but he now lives across the country and teaches at Temple in the creative writing program where I earned my MA. God only knows about Tom Disch or J.G. Ballard. I bet Harlan Ellison will be there, though, and Robert Silverberg, and. . . .

Maybe they'll see new writers I’ve found so wonderful — Sean Stewart, Neal Stephenson, Elizabeth Moon. Pat Cadigan and Lois McMaster Bujold will definitely be there.

Plus thousands of people who read SF, who stay up late at night singing parody songs, who sell costumes and toys and books. But I'm not going, and not just because I need the time to rest and write, enjoy the emotional luxury of a weekend alone, quake at the thought of more than three strangers in the same place, and am saving my pennies for my writers' conference in a few weeks.

See, I read SF. I love a lot of SF. But I am not a fan.

There is a whole fan culture, brutally and hilariously caricatured (it is a slight exaggeration) in Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun (murder at an SF convention) and Zombies of the Gene Pool (what happens to fans when they grow up?). Like any culture, they have a history, heroes and villains, shared vocabulary bewildering to outsiders, rituals, sacred objects.

The stereotypical fan is an unwashed geek, either grossly fat or pitifully skinny, who still lives at home, works in a techie field unless s/he's still in high school, can't get a date with the opposite sex and may not understand which sex exactly is opposite, if any, and possesses no life outside the SF fan world. And the stereotype is bullshit. Mostly.

Fans tend to be bright, imaginative, and incredibly tolerant of people who look or act different. A lot of fans were or are misfits until they reached fandom, and they extend acceptance to pretty much anybody who can talk about the finer points of SF. When I was at Eastern College, I hung out with a group colloquially known as the Hobbits. They were fans, and they were wonderful people, if somewhat unworldly and sheltered and too fond of Luke Skywalker for my taste. They put up with me, obnoxious as I was at 17 and 18. And yet.

And yet I'm a misfit here among the misfits, somehow. There's a singlemindedness about fandom that I don't share. Michele and Paul have read enormous quantities of SF, far more than I have, and I've read a lot. It's not fair or accurate to say that they're undiscriminating; they introduced me to Neal Stephenson, a spectacularly fine writer, and they know how good he is. But they enjoy stuff I could only plow through at gunpoint. I too am a geek, but I'm a style geek, not a substance geek. (You'd never know that from the way I'm blundering through this.) Most of the fiction they read is SF. I read more widely in fiction. God knows they're both knowledgeable enough about other things — Michele has her MA in theology and church history, and Paul is a tech writer, a trained chemist, and an expert on that category of human endeavor that Michele calls "cults, cryptohistory, and loons." (Lizards from space control the White House!)

Oh, hell. Maybe I'm just making excuses for being too damned claustrophobic and shy to attend. All I know is that there are SF books that changed my life, that my favorite new authors are mostly writing SF or fantasy, that I can quote by heart long stretches of Peter Beagle's astonishing The Last Unicorn and that I've reread The Folk of the Air half a dozen times. I will always remember the shock of reading Joanna Russ's "When It Changed" in Again, Dangerous Visions. That story (and The Female Man, the subsequent book based on it) helped me recognize myself, just as The Last Unicorn has gained more meaning with every re-reading. It's a funny and sad and irreverent and beautiful fairy tale, as close to perfect as any book can be.

Maybe . . . maybe fans are just more optimistic than I am. The gulf I feel between them and me isn't one of intelligence, taste, grooming, personality. It's something in the worldview. SF is not just escapist literature, though some is, of course; some of the bleakest books are SF, and the authors I admire all grapple with serious moral issues. But all the fans I've known well have been essentially innocent souls, even the lovely Goth ones, even the ones who are tortured artists in their own right grappling with serious issues.

Whatever. I'm not making much sense anymore, so off to bed.

No fans were harmed in the making of this blog. So far the author has also escaped harm, though blame the fans if I get brained.

In Association with

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

We Seem to Be Taking a Morbid Turn Here
(This entry not for the squeamish. Be warned.)

But what the hell. It's a good article on one of my favorite places in Philadelphia. There's even a picture. (Not gruesome; actually rather peaceful.)

Then there's the Mütter Museum — considered by cognoscenti one of the strangest of all of the museums in Philadelphia and right up there with the weirdest in the world. (Roadside America loves it.) But the Mütter Museum doesn't just gratify sick curiosity to see what weird things people swallow or inhale. (There's a vast, many-drawered cabinet with Dr. Chevalier Jackson's collection of items he removed from luckless patients.) It’s almost like a church of medicine — or, no, some other sacred ground: a battlefield, perhaps. A monument to defeat.

The Mütter Museum (such an appropriate name) maintains the dignity of its patients. It's never mocking or cruel; its hushed and reverent atmosphere is the opposite of a freak show. Like a good mother, it loves and cherishes even the strangest of its progeny. And I feel a weird tenderness for these carefully preserved anomalies.

The skeletal babies particularly draw me. They have such serene little smiles — an effect of toothless jaws meeting, but whatever the reason, they all have the air of elderly gurus too wise to speak. With their huge eye sockets and appealing smiles, they hit all my instinctive baby-loving buttons, the ones that get me cooing and babbling over friends' babies, friends' babies' toes, and even the baby-shoe displays at KMart. (Not that any friends will let me near their babies after reading this.)

One of the sets of conjoined twins is especially dear to me. The baby was born with one head, faced forward, and two perfect little bodies facing one another in an endless, motionless waltz. That solitary, dual, dancing child — children, really — can be seen as a symbol of the Self and the Shadow. But they are also, quite clearly, dead babies. Some woman bore them in pain and grieved their misery and loss. Promise unfulfilled, hope turned to despair. Yet the baby dances alone and smiles as if she had a secret.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Getting ready for the anniversary of 9/11

Read this poem.

For months now we’ve been eating vegetables from our garden: homegrown greens and peas, zucchini and crookneck squash, amusingly shaped carrots and fragrant herbs. And now it’s tomato and pepper and lemon time. Over the weekend Sonja put up a few jars of flavorsome lemon-ginger marmalade. Paul, scientist to the core, has invented candied habanero peppers, which for sheer force of personality make cinnamon red-hots taste like marshmallows. (Paul enjoys making super-spicy food, but he doesn’t eat it himself.) And today Michele picked, blanched, peeled, seeded, chopped, and cooked dozens and dozens of tomatoes, then canned the resulting sauce.

All this is wonderful, just the kind of thing I was hoping for when we formed this family. Yet part of me is sad, too, because it also makes me homesick. I miss my sisters and mother. I miss the summer mornings when we woke early and I made crazy breakfasts — popovers like edible balloons, tender homemade doughnuts and fritters, even onion rings one memorable morning. I miss all singing together. I miss going to the fair.

Now, the Harford Fair is still a genuine working country fair. It’s held the third full week in August (and yes, I was thinking about it all last week), and it’s a festival of all the skills and pleasures of country life, from tractor pulls to tatting, but especially focused on the basic skills of the farm family: raising healthy animals, growing good crops, preserving and cooking those foods, maintaining a well-managed household.

I always loved wandering through Floral Hall and Vegetable Hall, looking at the exhibits. The quilts, weaving, and needlework are spectacular, some even museum-class work. There are displays of children’s schoolwork and 4-H Club projects, homemade jellies and pickles, breads, cookies, decorated cakes, handmade furniture, beautifully arranged garden flowers, and market baskets that aren’t just an economist’s metaphor but actual baskets brimming with crisp vegetables and ripe fruits. Farmers can win prizes for the best hay, steers, horses, pigs, corn, honey. Or they can compete in tractor pulls, sawing and felling competitions, axe-throwing contests, horse- and pony-pulls.

There are plenty of other things to see, too: rides and a midway, the library’s annual book sale (source of many of my books when I was growing up), the Good News Bus where children can see a free slideshow about God’s Plan of Salvation, political booths, church groups selling home-baked goodies, dealers selling woodstoves or tractors or chainsaws or antiques, exhibits of old farm machinery and tools, the local gun club, and dozens of food booths. From the Montrose Marching Band’s infamous milkshakes and funnel cakes to the whole ox roast, there are millions of calories available -- and all so seductively aromatic. But so are the trampled grass, the green pungency of the tomatoes on display, the clean animal scent of the barns.

If that was all, it would still be wonderful, but there’s more. The fair is on the ridge in Harford, and you can look across the valley as you approach from the Jackson side and see the brilliant fair spread out like the City of God amid the green fields. When I was a teenager, I always made sure I was on the Ferris wheel just at dusk to watch the moon rise over the mountain; beyond the hill was Jackson and home; beyond that was heaven.

Jackson is still there, but changed and lessened: the church sold for an antique shop, the people we loved scattered, my family among them, the house burned. My home is in California, and I fit in here better than I ever could in conservative rural Pennsylvania. But I lost something real when I left there. Continuity. I had a world, and I was homesick for it even when I lived there. I didn't fit. I couldn't live there and be my own complete self. I've found here beautiful landscapes and loving people, a solid church, a job I love, a family.

Here I have everything but the past.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Many thanks to my generous friend Joe, who sent me the copy of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that I'm listening to now. For various reasons it's been a difficult day, and I needed the power of a truly great piece of music to help me tonight. This version was conducted by Christopher Hogwood, featuring the London Symphony Chorus and the Academy of Ancient Music playing authentic instruments. It's somewhat faster paced than the versions I've heard before, but it is grand beyond words.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

And then there's this. . .

I Am Manannan
Manannan is a subtle, clever fellow with a soft spot in his heart for humanity. Like Manannan, your humor is subtle. You prefer intelligent wordplay to outright goofiness, and you pride yourself on your taste and your ability to guide people without being obvious. You're a natural teacher. Unlike most tricksters, however, you're not quite as fond of it when the joke is on you. Looking the fool leaves you feeling vaguely discomfited..
Which Trickster are you?
Take the Trickster Test at

Well, My Childhood Nickname Was "The Absentminded Professor"

You are 67% geek
You are a geek. Good for you! Considering the endless complexity of the universe, as well as whatever discipline you happen to be most interested in, you'll never be bored as long as you have a good book store, a net connection, and thousands of dollars worth of expensive equipment. Assuming you're a technical geek, you'll be able to afford it, too. If you're not a technical geek, you're geek enough to mate with a technical geek and thereby get the needed dough. Dating tip: Don't date a geek of the same persuasion as you. You'll constantly try to out-geek the other.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

Incidentally, there was also a picture of Jodie Foster; unfortunately, Blogspot doesn't allow posting pictures. Alas.

It’s the little things that bring back grief. That sense of dislocation when you turn toward someone who isn’t there. Diane and I shared a passion for baseball, and she’s the first person I would call when something exciting was going on in the game. Now there’s nobody who understands or cares that Curt Schilling has more wins (21) than walks (20). (He’s with the Diamondbacks now, but I’ve been a fan of his elegantly controlled pitching since his days with the Phillies.) Nobody to call when Barry Bonds hits another home run. Nobody to share the excitement of last year’s World Series, the fan’s fantasy Series in which the home team always won and victory could be achieved in the bottom of the ninth.

Spring training is the hardest time -- we always spent time on the phone together as spring training approached, and she died a couple of weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to camp.

She was beautiful, gangling, energetic, enthusiastic, alive. Right up to the moment when she was dead. There was no warning, just a phone call signaling the sudden end of the world.

Her death changed my whole life. A major factor in the end of my marriage was Billy’s response to my grief and loss. I knew I needed other people, that I couldn’t get what I needed from him, so I reached out and opened myself to friends. That opening led me, step by step, to see the flaws in the marriage and to realize they weren’t all my fault. Leaving wasn’t inevitable; I wanted to stay in the marriage, but on different terms. Billy wouldn’t or couldn’t make the changes I needed. So I left. If she hadn’t died. . . . there’s no way to know what would have happened, sooner or later.

This April I had a vivid dream in which Diane told me that even healers need to be healed. It was like being with her — real, solid, three-dimensional. Lisa has said to me that the only times now when her life feels normal is in that kind of dream. And she has also said that she’s (at one and the same time) an inconsolably grieving mother and a normal person who handles crises, deals with work, laughs and smiles. The grief isn’t as bad for me — how could it be? — but it underlies everything.

Aunt and niece doesn’t sound like an especially close relationship, but it is, it is. I’ll never have my own children, but I am a good, loving, exotic aunt to my sisters’ children. And I was just 14, almost 15, when Diane was born. She’s almost like a sister, and my sisters are very dear to me.

And all this because I read about Curt Schilling’s astonishing record this year, and realized that, now that Diane is gone, nobody else would care.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

The high points of my weekend:

Dinner Sunday night with good friends I haven’t seen lately. Michele cooked a spectacular dish composed of chicken breasts, roasted red peppers, our homegrown tomatoes, mushroom caps, and artichoke hearts in a wine sauce, flavored with the basil we grew. For dessert, homemade carrot cake — and yes, we grew the carrots, one of which came out of the ground looking very obscene indeed. (Or, in Terry Pratchett’s terminology, it was “an amusingly shaped vegetable.”)

An interesting discussion at the church Adult Education Committee meeting about myth and story. One of the church members is getting her PhD in Mythological Studies, and she’s going to be presenting some ideas about Christianity and story at our adult-ed meetings.

Amazing news on the baseball front. My team is no longer rightfully known as “the cellar-dwelling Phillies.” These days we’re a full game ahead of the hapless Mets, whose own fans are urging them to strike. Of course, we’re also 20 games back of the Braves, but still.

Despite all that good news, it was a difficult weekend, marred by breathing difficulties, insomnia, nightmares. The links are clear; it’s hard to sleep comfortably when you’re in the midst of an asthma attack, and both the attacks and the medication make for nightmares. I had to leave church with an asthma attack. And family events conspired to keep me from writing one single word or even getting the office finished.

I’m hoping next weekend will be better. I have resolved to make no more time commitments, period, until after the writers' conference.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Smoke (the new novel) seems to be coming to life within me. This morning I woke early, filled with a fresh awareness of it: hearing the voices, seeing the streets. It’s taking shape at last, and it’s considerably different from its ill-fated predecessor. (I did get two good short stories from Dry Spells, as well as a lot of practice. And maybe someday I’ll return to it.) I know the basic situation, and I’ve got an arresting, lyrical beginning for the book — which I may end up scrapping, simply because the voice doesn’t belong to any of the characters. Rats. On the other hand, it almost stands on its own as a poem or a very very short story.

Smoke presents several different problems from a technical POV. First, how do I build a readable book around unbearable tragedy? I have to lighten it somehow, and the new take I’ve found recently may help with that problem. Second, how do I make the changes in the church come to life on the page? The slow change over the years is not easy, but I’ve figured out a way to dramatize it. (I hope.)

I want to have a few good chapters to show at the writers’ conference. That means a lot of work this weekend, next weekend, Labor Day weekend, and the weekend after. Hmm, four weekends, maybe some time during the week, Labor Day itself. . . . maybe I could get 30 to 50 pages done. And/or a plot outline; though I rarely work with one in fiction, it might be a good idea this time, just because I’m working in little chunks rather than every day.

I’m having to learn an entirely new technique for writing — no, that’s unfair. When I was in grad school I had classes three days a week, wrote two days, and kept the weekends for Billy. That worked well enough, partly because I was spending time in an atmosphere where writing mattered. It is fair to say, though, that I’m having to learn how to balance living in a family, working full-time, and writing, and that’s not easy.

But worth doing.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

OK, I'm blushing.

Rachel is far too kind. But she runs a great web site, and she's tall and slender and gorgeous. She also has absolutely the coolest family ever. One of my great treasured memories from my first visit to North Carolina was visiting Rachel's house with her mother Shelley, Ken (Shelley's husband), Michele, and Paul. We were all sitting around the living room, talking casually and glancing at Rachel's books. In a few minutes, we were all reading: a moment of silent community. I was looking at the short stories of James Morrow, and I have Rachel to thank for introducing me to his work. And also for telling me about Neil Gaiman's blog, which led both to my current Gaiman obsession and to this blog.

Thanks, Rachel — I owe you a lot.
People You Didn't Think Had Websites

Lizzie Borden. Includes links to the house, which is now a B&B, and various other Borden sites. The discussions on the message boards are impressively erudite, and you can download PDF files of trial transcripts and other sources. The humor section includes a number of jokes undecipherable except to other experts on the Fall River murders. This may be a mercy.

Jack the Ripper. Actually, he has dozens, but this is the most comprehensive and scholarly site, and it offers links to the Cream of the others. (That's a Ripperologist pun.)

But you don't have to be a spectacular killer or the center of a mystery to get a website long after you've died. Check these out:

Louisa May Alcott. This is the official Orchard House site, though God knows there are plenty of other Alcott sites. Orchard House, the Alcotts’ home and the place where Louisa May wrote most of her books, is a shrine for me. Going there brought tears to my eyes. If you can’t visit, watch the Winona Ryder version of Little Women. Much of it is filmed on location at Orchard House. And yes, I cried at the movie — in fact, I started crying even before the credits. Billy leant over and asked me, “Do you plan to cry all the way through this?” And of course the answer was yes. After the movie, he asked, “Did you deliberately model your life after hers?” To which the answer is a lot more complex, and it deserves its own entry here.

Johann Sebastian Bach. His various sons also have sites, including PDQ.

Cleopatra. This is a page on a site dedicated to all sorts of interesting royal personages. IMX, the more carefully you read about most royalty, the better you understand the French Revolution. Maybe not sympathize, certainly not excuse, but understand.

Joan of Arc. Actually, this is the Joan of Arc Society, but it offers a variety of useful material, including trial transcripts. There are also sites dedicated to her veneration and to the museum near where she was burned at the stake.

Lord Byron. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know — but so beautiful, and such a good writer. An even more complete site, but their server is Godawful slow. Do read the letters; they're brilliant. Witty, honest, moving, sophisticated, and crackling with life. Also, an article by a woman who is dating his lordship. You heard me correctly. I don't know if she also thinks she is his sister.

Here is the place to find psychological analyses of Byron -- as well as Shelley, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and several other major neurotic poets.

John Alden. Of course. He still speaks for himself.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

UnNatural History can be intriguing, but even human life in California is nowhere near as diverse, bizarre, kinky, and amusing as genuine Natural History. My evidence is Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, a hilarious and strange book about the evolutionary biology of sex. Dr. Tatiana is Olivia Judson, a PhD in biological sciences from Oxford, no less. Her book is filled with various creatures writing in for advice on their sexual problems. It's the kind of book where you laugh, you groan, you read it aloud to anyone who will listen.

And if you thought people had interesting sex lives — just wait until you hear about slime molds.
I got e-mail today from my friend Jim Gladstone, author extraordinaire. The Big Book of Misunderstanding was one of the best books I read last year — fresh, funny, and alive. He sells exceedingly cool T-shirts and also has great taste in Chinese restaurants. Plus good advice for travelers to Memphis, Tennessee.

If you've ever moved to a strange place, particularly if you've transported thousands of books thousands of miles, read this.
"Some comment is required on Rep. Bob Barr's unfortunate gun accident. Barr, a member of the board of the National Rifle Association, plugged a glass door when somebody handed him a loaded antique .38 at a campaign fund-raiser. Further evidence that there is a God."

This from Molly Ivins, one of the funniest, shrewdest columnists we have. Thank God for mouthy Texas women.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

This Is Not a Tree
Joseph Barron

White oak or black oak? Black, we'll say,
With jigsaw-puzzle leaves.
Down the branches, with the wind,
Twigs fall like pieces of a jetliner
That blew up at thirty thousand feet.
Marking time beside the office park,
It occupies what space it can afford.
In the beginning was the word
Already trading fact for plastic souvenirs
That fit neatly in the overhead compartment?

The oak puts out to sea.
Bark wet-black, it stands rooted on the water.
Trunk and crown cut the trade-wind swells
As though the polar caps had melted
And the ocean swamped
Miss Liberty.
An evil sky descends like minor thirds.
At the end of endings lies the word.

This poem — posted with permission — is by one of my oldest and dearest friends. Not only does he selflessly send me cool packages from Philadelphia (Wagner on CD, so I can play Ride of the Valkyries as I roar down the road in my truck), he also sends me his poetry, which I would love even if I didn't know him.

Thanks, Joe.

Authorly Quotations

The Well (one of the oldest and best online communities) has a section called the Inkwell, where authors discuss their work.

Here are some quotations from two of my favorite authors who posted there.

I don't remember Christ ever preaching Against People Who Made Stuff Up, or the chapter in Matthew about Jesus throwing the Fantasy Authors out of the Temple. In fact he was quite big on the whole Parable bit. — Neil Gaiman

I’ve never felt that answers were the real province of the writer; better questions, on the other hand, certainly are. — Neil Gaiman

I know I shouldn't write so much. But when I've finished a book the choice is: find something else to do, or tidy your desk. And I don't know how to tidy my desk. — Terry Pratchett

I always advise people to read outside the field they want to work in. — Terry Pratchett

That last quotation, incidentally, is one reason I read Gaiman and Pratchett and Le Guin and Straub and Disch and Delany so many other fantasy/horror/SF authors. The main reason, of course, is that they write well-crafted, insightful books that grapple with the issues I'm most interested in. "Well-crafted" is important; I have a hard time reading mediocre prose, even if I'm reading purely to escape. But it also matters that, though they are among the foremost writers of our time, they're all writing outside my field. They use very different tropes and genres than I do. I can read them for pleasure, reread them for comfort, study their technique, all without fear that I'm going to lose my voice in theirs.

I can't bury myself in Barbara Kingsolver or Dorothy Allison, though of course I have read their books; their work is too close to mine, both in style and subject. I would end up paralyzed by inadequacy or scouring my work to purge unconscious parallels. That's a losing proposition for everybody concerned.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Out of curiosity, I went to This is what the page says:

Zero content since August 25, 1999!

Now there's a low-maintenance site.
Dark Dreams

A huge AHA! today about writing.

For weeks, ever since I got serious about getting back to work again, I've been having painful, difficult dreams about writing. Usually the dreams are filled with babies — stillborn, aborted, miscarried; babies neglected and helpless. In my dreams babies have usually stood for writing — just as "work" always means "writing." I love my job, I even write there — but it isn't my real work.

One night I dreamed that I had borne five children, had two miscarriages, and was trying to escape from a violent husband. I felt horribly guilty about leaving and about the dead children. Though this doesn't look on the surface like a writing dream, it is one to me. I've published five books and completed two more that have never been published. Of course, this dream also echoes my mother's life: she had the four of us, another daughter years later who died within a few days of birth, a stillborn son, and a miscarriage. And God knows my father was violent. Exploring that link will have to wait.

Last night I had a dream in which a character was actually writing — writing well, even — but he chickened out, gave up the real work and started to scheme and lie, entangling a lot of other people in the mess. The book he was working on was about two corpses in the snow and how they got there. His editor circulated the synopsis and plot outline, and Hollywood expressed interest; there were items in the newspaper saying that there was an $8 million offer. But the writer was hanging up on bill collectors, avoiding getting his mail, hiding secrets from his wife, pretending that everything was going to be wonderful — living a lie that had to come crashing down sooner or later. By the end of the dream, he was on the run with a couple of people — one his secretary, a tiny dark-haired woman, another a fan who had been promised riches. They never made it out of the airport. And the two people he was with, the fan and the secretary, turned out to be babies in disguise: the secretary was only two years old, the fan even younger. (Two years ago I left Billy.)

And this afternoon, I took a nap and had a long complicated dream that mingled Tori Amos, packing to move, classic job-anxiety images, dead babies, trying to leave my husband, and being shot at while I tried to defend myself by hiding behind a card table. It was a nasty one. In the dream I was trying to edit a book by a woman who had aborted three babies while in her twenties and then could never get pregnant again, which echoes my own fears of having wrecked my talent by not writing novels when I was in my twenties.

These are all violent, punitive dreams, and they all tell me the same thing: that I am a killer, a liar, a whiner, a selfish irresponsible coward, someone who wastes time, someone who dared to value anything more than writing and who will therefore be punished by not ever being able to write again. And there's an additional layer of guilt and fear — in all these dreams, the writer is trying to escape from a vengeful spouse, and it's the babies who suffer.

So this is today's revelation: One reason I haven't been writing since I left Billy is that part of me thinks I don't deserve to. I must be punished for leaving him by never being able to write. And furthermore, I must be punished for not writing enough or making enough money when I had the chance, when I was able to be a full-time writer.

Leaving Billy meant turning my back on someone I loved, on the promises I made, on my conception of myself as a loyal, compassionate person who would never abandon someone who was suffering. Even in the worst days of the marriage, I never forgot that Billy was in terrible pain. Over and over again I asked myself, "How can I leave him? He has nothing else, nobody else, and he's so deeply hurt."

Leaving him also meant that I valued something else more than the writing: after all, he had given me all those years of freedom to write, something few people ever have, but by the time I left, staying home to write wasn't enough to keep me there any longer. I valued something else more than that time to write. Partly, of course, because for the final couple of years, I wasn't able to write.

I've always thought that there were multiple reasons for that final writer's block. The simplest was that I had betrayed myself for Billy in writing his mother's book the way he wanted it. A writer can lie to friends, lovers, lawyers, anybody — but not to the paper. That's the ultimate, unforgivable betrayal.

I finished the book about his mother in November of 1997. Then I stopped being able to write. I couldn't even sign my name on a check. I didn't write e-mails or letters or posts to the board. I stopped dead. I think I was also trying to do something awful enough that he would have to leave me — and not being able to write checks for weeks or months at a time, when I handled the finances, was a despicable betrayal.

Now I also see that I was blocked partly as a kind of self-defense. If I couldn't write, obviously there was no reason to stay home. The writing that had been my freedom, my joy, had become a prison. If I was blocked, I could get a job, become independent again. I was wretchedly afraid that after so many years out of the job market that I would never find work. I was sure I was unemployable. Obviously I was wrong.

The block began almost five years ago. The time between November 1997 when I finished the book and March 2000 when I left is some of the darkest time of my life. I came near to killing myself much more than once, and I'm still sorting out the damage. Without Michele, without Gwen and Adrian, without a few other friends, I would have died. And it's a measure of some level of strength in me that I could form those relationships — build the friendship with Gwen and Adrian, build a healthy, honest love with Michele — at a time when I was fighting just to go on.

Of course, a lot of the block is gone. I started being able to pay bills and deal with finances again as soon as I left. I furbished up an old short story and sold it a couple of years ago, published it under my own name. I've been writing for a living again since May 2000, when I got the job writing book copy. These days I work as a tech writer. Clearly something is here again. But writing fiction or essays, writing for publication . . . that's hard.

So where does this leave me? In practical terms, I need to sidestep the voice of that punitive superego screaming at me from my dreams. I also want to explore why exactly that voice is so angry, what it's trying to protect or achieve. And I need to keep writing. No matter what.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Look to the skies this weekend for one of the most beautiful of all celestial events: the Perseid Meteor showers. This article will tell you how to get the best view.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Comparative Economics, Lesson 1

If you had bought $1000.00 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00. With Enron, you would have $16.50 of the original $1,000.00. With Worldcom, you would have less than $5.00 left. If you had bought $1,000.00 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the 10 cent deposit, you would have $214.00. Based on the above, my current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.

This is making the e-mail rounds. Not being a beer drinker, I naturally recast it:

If you had bought $1000.00 worth of stock one year ago, the news from Wall Street would depress you utterly. If you had bought $1,000.00 worth of books a year ago, you would have had countless hours of pleasure and learning, and you would still have a thousand dollars’ worth of books you could reread, lend to friends, resell at a yard sale or used-book store, or in a pinch use for insulating your house, setting fires, or making confetti. Plus you’d have had the advantage of seeing the world through the authors’ eyes, and you might have a few deathless words in your mind. Based on the above, my current investment advice is to keep reading.

Or, as Robert Benchley put it, circa 1930, “Since I graduated from Harvard, I’ve earned about $2,000. I’ve had $500 worth of parties, restaurants, and theatre tickets, and $1500 worth of candy, all of which went into making bone and muscle and some nice fat. All the investors had was $2,000 worth of whatever stock it was that looked so yellow along about last November.” (Quoted from memory; accuracy not guaranteed.)

Of course, having spent tens of thousands of dollars on books over the years, and thousands to pack and ship half of them out west, I’m naturally interested in defending my particular extravagance. We’re still unpacking books, and we’re facing the crisis of where to put them all.
Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

Check out this terrifying little article from the New Yorker. It has all kinds of implications: about community, local politics, greed and short-sightedness (individual and corporate), and the unexpected, far-reaching effects of crime in the streets.
I celebrated my birthday in traditional Silicon Valley fashion: by working a ten-hour day with no breaks (except a couple of birthday phone calls from Lisa and my mother). The work ethic here is disguised by the flaky, casual approach to workplace dress and manners, the lack of hierarchy, the toys on every desk. It’s powerful nonetheless, and not, so far as I can tell, driven by any deep guilt or even ambition in any of the usual senses. Techies work because they love ideas, because they can’t tell the difference between work and play, because they can’t think of anything else they would rather do. When they’re done at work, they go home and play on their computers. Very similar in some ways to artists and writers, except that good techies have a much better chance to get rich.

As for play at work. . . . well, I spent some time talking with my boss yesterday, while playing with the anagrams on her little conference table. The other day when I came in they spelled out “sodomy,” among other words. (We haven’t had our “workplace diversity” training yet, in which we’ll learn not to use naughty words lest we offend anyone.) I put together “taut,” “Mafia,” and “smut.” She also has Legos, little plastic aliens, and various other workplace toys. There are several whiteboards around the company used solely as graffiti boards and places to write jokes and smart-alec remarks. I myself have a large whiteboard where I keep lists and magnetic Simpsons figures for people to play with. Also magnetic poetry — my boss came by and wrote a risqué poem on my board.

Besides being playful, my co-workers are young. A few days ago some of us were discussing age and birthdays. One of the boys here is 23 — 23! I could easily be his mother. But then most of my co-workers are in their 20s or early 30s. I'm the oldest woman in the company and one of the oldest people. I think there's one guy who's a bit older than I am. That's because in Silicon Valley, everybody my age is retired — all millionaires.

After I was finished with work, I went home for the birthday celebrations. Sonja and Michele had decorated the house and cooked a wonderful dinner. Then I opened presents: mostly toys, including a vast set of colored pencils (which I brought in to work as a desk toy), beautiful embroidery silks, some beading supplies (including a beading board — yes!), and an IOU for the new edition of the Vertigo Tarot. The big present was an HP scanner — high-resolution, color, OCR software, you name it. Now I can scan in all those family pictures, plus the years and years of typed journals and typed manuscripts. I stayed up late installing and testing it.

Altogether a good birthday, but I’m looking forward to a very quiet weekend. I'm wiped out from too much caffeine and work, too little rest and solitude, and that bug I had last weekend. All I want now is sleep and a chance to finish getting my office together. The only obligation I have coming up is tomorrow night, when we’re having another communal household to dinner. I’ve met some of them, but not all. We have a lot of interests in common, and I do want to spend time with them, but I also need about a month of total solitude.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

From the "Better Late Than Never" Department

Mikhail Kalashnikov, who created the AK-47 automatic rifle, said he wishes he had invented a better lawnmower instead.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defying the Bush Administration, approved the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Actually, these are quoted from this week's Harper's Magazine Weekly Review (at Every Tuesday they publish the highlights of the previous week's news. Past gems include:

The head of research at Walt Disney agreed to become the head of research at the National Security Agency. (July 23)

[You know, I've always been suspicious of Disney. Even before The Stepford Wives. How can any company do such spectacularly beautiful animation — Fantasia is one of my favorite movies of all time — and yet have such unappealing characters? I did love their version of Beauty and the Beast, though.]

A swarm of locusts descended on Beijing, where they were promptly gathered by the bagful, deep fried, and eaten. (July 16)

President George W. Bush told Americans to get more exercise, eat less, and stay away from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. The government of Malaysia, concerned about rising divorce rates, encouraged Malaysians to use affectionate names, such as "darling," with their spouses. Women in Swaziland were told by a royal official not to wear trousers, and he instructed the army to patrol for offenders, who will have the offending garments stripped from their bodies and torn to pieces. (June 25)

[At least we're in better shape than women in Swaziland — our army isn't yet going around ripping French fries from our hands or demanding that we drop and give them twenty.]

A number of elderly pop stars, including Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richard, and Brian Wilson, performed at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 50-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Ozzy Osbourne sang Black Sabbath's "Paranoid." (June 11)

[This one I really don't want to think about.]

President Bush told religious leaders in Moscow that Americans "hold dear what our Declaration of Independence says, that all have got uninalienable rights." President Bush met with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and somehow thought to ask him: "Do you have blacks, too?" Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, interrupted the conversation and explained: "Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA. Some say it's the country with the most blacks outside Africa." Cardoso was later heard to say that Bush was still in a "learning phase." . . . President Bush told a group of Republican senators that Kim Jong Il of North Korea was a "pygmy." (June 4)

[A banner week for the President]

Monday, August 05, 2002

Things I Never See in California

To this easterner's eye, California is chock-full of bizarre things , such as palm trees, that would never be permitted in a right-thinking state (i.e., Pennsylvania, possibly upstate New York, and the more traditional parts of New England).That entry will have to wait, though, since California is also strangely understocked in certain essentials. Forthwith a list of indispensable items that are Missing Believed Lost.

Lilacs and tulips. I've heard that lilacs do grow here, but all spring long I looked for them and failed to find them. Tulips apparently don't grow. Both these plants require colder weather than we generally get in the Bay Area. I am trying not to gloat here. Besides, as pleasant as it is to pick ripe oranges from one's own trees in February, it's even better to have lilacs in May.

Bargains at Goodwill. It's so expensive that I refuse to shop there unless there's a sale, and even then I groan at the prices.

Rusty cars. Plenty of old cars, yes, but the kind of rusty clunker that's a familiar sight back east just doesn't exist here. No snow equals no salt on the roads equals no serious body damage.

Curtains. This one is weird. There are windows. Why no curtains? I have two theories: (A) Curtains rot too fast in the sun, and (B) everyone has blinds (vertical or Venetian). Occasionally one sees a bit of a valance, looking lost and foolish like an errant mustache.

Affordable housing. There's a trailer for sale in a local trailer park - for $148K, plus around $600 a month lot rent. I recently saw a shabby house split into three apartments for $799K and advertised as a student special.

Numbered exits. If ever there were a state fascinated, even dominated, by car culture, that state is California. Why, then, are there no numbers on any exits on any freeways in the entire state? I learned about this one when, obeying instructions, I got off a freeway at Mission Boulevard - the wrong one, of course - and spent thirty fruitless minutes searching for a building that was four miles up the road.

Pizza by the slice. It's everywhere back east. Here we have tacos, fruit smoothies, sushi, and plenty of other exotic fast food, but no pizza shops that sell anything less than a whole pie. I love the sushi etc. - but my God, I miss decent pizza.

Don't even think about bagels out here. Stick to sourdough.

Graveyards. I understand that California has its share of dead people, but I haven't seen a single tombstone since I arrived. Likewise no hearses, funeral processions, funeral homes. . . . it's disconcerting. Rupert Brooke said of the New World, "There walk as yet no ghosts of lovers in American lanes. . . . At a pinch one can do without gods, but one misses the dead." Apparently not widely considered a problem out here, where eternal youth and health are the ideals.

There are several practical reasons. One is that, unlike the East, California just hasn't had time to accumulate a lot of corpses. Though San Jose was settled in 1777, it wasn't densely settled for a couple of centuries. (It is, alas, catching up.) The vast haciendas didn't make for a lot of population. Few people = few graves, logically enough.

Another is, quite simply, expense. Real estate is so valuable that they don't waste it on the dear departed.

Another is a question of local culture. Many people are cremated and scattered or cremated and made into parlor ornaments. For those who prefer to be interred, there just aren't many small, local graveyards attached to a church instead there are a few vast centralized cemeteries. Colma, a town just south of SF, has traditionally served as the graveyard for the city. It houses more than a million of the departed, plus 1100 living residents. Nevertheless it has a large BART station. Best not ask who uses it.

Apparently in 1902 the city of San Francisco, daunted by the health issues of numerous small graveyards, outlawed burying people in city limits. They even dug up all but two of the existing cemeteries and banished the corpses to Colma. For more fascinating tales of dead Californians, check out

I have seen signs for Forest Lawn in LA, but I haven't been there, though I'd rather go there than Disneyland. The cast is so much more interesting. Anyway, Walt himself is, contrary to cryogenic rumors, resting peacefully at Forest Lawn.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Not the way I would have chosen to spend the weekend. I was supposed to be cooking dinner for some friends Saturday night, a low-key party to celebrate my birthday next Wednesday and Antony’s a few weeks ago. The friends came to dinner, but I wasn’t cooking. I was upstairs being sick with the bug that’s been going around work.

Perfect timing: I woke up sick in the middle of the night Friday, today I’m barely up to eating oatmeal, but I’ll be OK to drag myself in to work tomorrow.

Friday, August 02, 2002

In preparation for my birthday next week, I’ve been reviewing my New Year’s resolutions. For years I resolved all sorts of improbable things, but around the turn of the millennium I changed my strategy. My single resolution for 2000 was to live mindfully, and I did -- with the result that I left my husband by mid-March. In 2001 I resolved to move to California. Those few words covered months of sorting, packing, selling, suffering, scrambling for money. And, since we’re still unpacking books, that one may not be complete yet, though at least I have everything under one roof now.

For this year I put together a list of practical goals, mostly associated with writing. Here’s the list and my assessment of how far I’ve come with each goal.

Find a job (or freelance work) that offers an acceptable compromise between pay, satisfaction, and time to write.

Well, I found the job before the end of January. Working out the acceptable compromise between work and writing and family is considerably more difficult. That one may take me a decade or so.

Get the new office set up, organized, and decorated.

Still working on this one. The desk and computer have been set up and usable since the first week of January. I’ve gradually done other things to make the place both comfortable and functional, and I’ve definitely achieved something, since Gabriel now sleeps on my reading chair, a comfortable leather swivel chair with an afghan for coziness. [Gabriel, AKA the Spawn of Satan, is my cat.] This weekend I’ll be hanging pictures and bulletin boards, moving old files out, organizing the bookshelves, maybe putting down a rug. That’s on my list to finish before my birthday.

Having the office not just usable but welcoming matters a great deal to me. I’m deeply territorial, and I need a safe place to work before I can write. Insisting on having that space, physical and psychic, wasn’t easy for me, and making it into the appropriate writing nest has been even harder. It’s self-care (something I haven’t always excelled at), and it’s care for my own work.

Get a Mac.

Done. I bought a used G3 loaded with software, and I’ve been cramming it with all the old manuscripts. Writing on a Mac is consistently easier for me than writing on a PC. I never have to think about the interface. Despite years of using PCs at work and even at home, the Mac is still my native tongue, the computer interface I think in. (I could also easily go back to the old Apple IIe, which I used from 1984 until it finally died in August of 1993, but I would miss having a hard drive.)

Also, since on a Mac I use Clarisworks instead of Word, I never have to watch my work reformat itself after I’ve made a minor deletion. (Yes, I’ve turned off Autoformat; I’ve done my best to go through and delete all the predefined styles, and it still does it.) To be fair, Word has a couple of very useful features -- Change Case and Track Changes. I still dislike it for day-to-day writing, and I actively loathe it for any kind of lengthy formatted work. That’s why I have PageMaker, Frame, and Quark. Maybe next year my employer will also have PageMaker. I spent an extra week desperately reformatting documents for the new software release.

I’m also trying to get an elderly Paperport to work, though I suspect that’s a lost cause. Maybe I should stop at Fry’s tonight for a scanner so I can convert all those years of typed journals into electronic data.

Finish one novel — either the computer story or Smoke.

Not yet, but I am in fact working on research for Smoke.

Write at least three to five short stories.

Not yet. I have a couple of good ideas for ghost stories, though, and one for a fairy tale.

Set up a website for each of my books in print.

Does a blogger count? Actually, yes, it does. The others are likely to be created over the next few months.

Write three to five of the essays for SDG, the book on sex and death and God.

Not yet, but I’ve been making outlines recently, and much of the research I’m doing for Smoke will also feed SDG.

Join a few professional organizations and keep up contacts with other writers and editors.

Definitely done. I’ve been volunteering at a women’s bookstore, and I’m hoping to organize some author events there. That’s bringing me into contact with the local community as well as the national publishing world. Also, for both contact and inspiration, I’ve signed up for a writers’ conference in September. I’ll get a chance to have my work seen by some writers I admire, as well as by agents (I’m more or less without an agent now, or so I assume).

Keep reading new books. I hope to discover at least one new worthwhile writer.

Oh yes. Definitely American Gods. Neil Gaiman. Also his recent Coraline and Adventures in the Dream Trade, his book of collected essays, poems, introductions, and blog. I’m waiting to have all of the issues of Sandman before starting that ten-year, 2,000-page graphic novel.

Gaiman’s work is dark, brilliant, disturbing, and beautifully written and structured. There is also a deep current of redemptive love there, for human beings and for this world.

Of course I had read his work before. He co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, a charming and very funny look at what happens when the Apocalypse goes wrong. I’d also run into his work in anthologies, and I admired all I’d seen: “Troll Bridge,” “Tastings,” and the poems “Instructions” and “Locks.” But his first novel Stardust had felt slight, as though it wasn’t all quite there.

Which is understandable: he had translated a graphic novel into a prose novel, and the two forms are strikingly different. In a graphic novel the writer needs to suggest, to leave room for both the artist and the reader. Writing a prose novel, more must be on the page; otherwise the reader feels the writer isn’t going all the way, nor facing all the monsters he has conjured up.

With American Gods, Gaiman came of age as a prose novelist. (As opposed to graphic novelist.) It’s undoubtedly a masterpiece: fresh, original, effective, powerfully felt and thoroughly expressed. Buy it, read it, reread it.

Also, in a very different way, Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. Bujold writes with great power and insight about some damned difficult subjects — personal honor, political issues, surviving abuse. Her gods are so different from Gaiman’s that I’ll leave the topic for another entry. Her words can move me to tears because, in the old Quaker phrase, they speak to my condition.

I’ve read a lot of other good new books this year, most of them nonfiction — biographies of Lawrence Durrell and his brother Gerald (as well as more of Gerald Durrell’s delightful nature writing). The research I’m doing has the librarians looking askance at me: books on human sacrifice, cults, and suicide. I’m also delving deeply into cognitive science, neuropsychology, and the interplay of mind and body and brain, particularly the effects of trauma. For depth, I especially liked D’Amasio’s The Feeling of What Happens; I also liked the overview provided by Ronald Kotulak's Inside the Brain : Revolutionary Discoveries of How the Mind Works.

Write up a proposal for editing a new line of fiction for a press I know.

I’ll be in a better position to do this at the end of the year; right now it’s not on my radar at all. Writing comes first.

And, if all these grand dreams and ambitions must be melted down into one fervent hope: Let the words flow.

Please. Yes. Please.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Back East I had a dentist who provided a Sony Walkman and cassette tapes to distract the patient during lengthy excavations. California, of course, has a more technologically advanced solution: phenomenonoscopes. These high-tech goggles act as a tiny personal theater, playing the movie only an inch or so from your eyes onto the twin lenses. You can watch and listen in perfect unconcern as the dentist rummages around in your mouth.

Before my recent root canal, my endodontist offered me a list of twenty or so movies in half a dozen categories, everything from Ghost to Con Air. (Not, I noticed, Marathon Man.) I chose Up Close and Personal, reasoning that I probably wouldn’t be there for the whole movie, so it was better to watch something that I had seen before. Also, I was hoping to see the Philadelphia footage. It’s pitiful when a Pennsylvanian is homesick even for Holmesburg Prison.

I went straight from the endodontist to my general dentist to have the dead tooth prepared for the crown. (Good idea: I didn’t have to be anesthetized twice.) Dr. Abdou doesn’t have the p-scopes, but he does keep a VCR in one of his treatment rooms. The first time I was there, he used it for strictly professional purposes. He took pictures of the inside of my mouth with a fiber-optic camera (looked like a brushed-steel pen, but gave off such a powerful light that my cheeks glowed like lampshades). Then he put my teeth on TV, and a more revolting sight I’ve rarely encountered.

This time, while I was getting fitted for the crown (and that’s probably the only kind I’ll ever have, thank God), though, he put on a movie. He chose Ghost, and I watched with a certain pathetic eagerness for the street scenes of NY. And in sorrow for the World Trade Center.

I’m homesick this week, partly because we’ve definitely decided that I can’t go home for my sister Lisa’s wedding in September. No time, no money. It’s a bad time to travel, with Michele’s contract just cut short.

That’s one factor. The other is that I got word last Friday that I’d been divorced for nine days and nobody had bothered to tell me about it. In fact, unless I send an SASE, the State of Virginia won’t even mail me copy of the divorce decree.