Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's All Good

I do guilt really well. If I could get paid for feeling guilty I would not need any other income stream. Subtle guilt? I got it. Huge, overwhelming paralyzing guilt? If you must, yeah, I can do that. One of the things I feel often feel guilty about is doing things that are non-productive. I do a lot of them, from watching House reruns (because I really adore Hugh Laurie and I love medical drama, and it doesn't matter that I outguess the diagnosis half the time) to eating chocolate instead of lettuce (I love lettuce too, just not as much). When it comes to reading, I often feel a twinge of guilt that I'm re-reading a book rather than reading something new; or, as this morning, reading the paper on the BART instead of reading the research book I had with me.

Today I had the Times Book Review, left over from Sunday (guilt! guilt!). Sometimes the Book Review has nothing much I want to read; other times I read it pretty much cover-to-cover, even the essay (which I generally tend to skip). This week's Book Review was one of the all-good issues--even the cover piece, a review by Jay McInerny (who irritates me) of a book called Indecision, from which I garnered the lovely word abulia--the inability to make decisions. There were also reviews of The First Poets (about Greek poets); Room Full of Mirrors, a biography of Jimi Hendrix; 100 People Who are Screwing Up America (I didn't make the list, darn it); When Affirmative Action was White (about all the New Deal reforms and other social programs that were engineered not to help blacks); and The Pope's Daughter, a biography of Felice della Rovere, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Am I going to read all those books? Probably not (though the one on della Rovere sounds fascinating; I may have to hunt it out). But just reading the reviews I now know some things I didn't know yesterday, and have some questions I wouldn't have thought to ask. The essay was good too: about the rise to the status of folk heroine of a Cambodian woman, Hout Bophana, who was tortured and murdered by Khmer Rouge because she wrote a series of passionate love letters to her husband (it's also about how the essayist's book, in which Bophana was profiled, brought her to public attention, but it wasn't her story I was interested in).

As I got off BART in Daly City and folded up the Book Review, having wrung pretty much everything out of it I could, I had a twinge of that guilt thing. What am I going to do with all this data I've imbibed? It has nothing to do with the current project, God knows. It's possible that The Pope's Daughter might be related to a project I've been contemplating, but that may just be my rationalizing getting a book that sounds interesting. The guilt thing chitters away (bad girl! reading for pleasure, when there's research to be done?) and yet, I know things now that I didn't know this morning. I'm a writer, and collecting magpie bits of information for later use is what I do. It's all good. Thank God for that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Lifetime Goal Achieved

Yesterday school began. Both girls like their classes and seem happy to be back in harness (SG has, unfortunately, an intractable sore throat which makes her feel cruddy, but she's soldiering on). However, the first day of school was marked by a system-wide sickout by the custodial, administrative and cafeteria staff at the school. So about half a dozen parents (including me) showed up to dispense lunch and oversee recess. So I can now add "Lunch Lady" to my peculiar resume. I am already known as the BoxTops 4 Education Lady (half a dozen kids, as I was handing out milk and oranges, told me they'd been saving BoxTops all summer and did I want them right that moment?) and there was much mirth at the sight of me in this new role. Fortunately, elementary school kids are easily amused.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Organize Thyself!

Yesterday Younger Girl and I went to a Renaissance Faire in Golden Gate Park. It has been more than fifteen years since I went to one--I used to perform at the NY Renaissance Festival in Sterling Forest, NY, so for a long time it felt like a busman's holiday. But friend (and friend's lovely nine-year-old daughter) were in town, and it seemed like the thing to do. To no one's surprise, YG adored it. I had to buy her a bodice (despite the fact that I could perfectly well make her one myself) and sworn to make her a skirt and chemise and cloak to complete the look. They did some sword-fighting, saw jugglers, saw a joust and made our curtsy to the Queen (it's always a queen, not a king. Go figure) and YG, who had tried to have me arrested for gossiping, got arrested and put in the pillory herself (the form one uses to swear out the complaint was not clear as to whose name went where, see, and once her name was on the form they wouldn't listen to her protests of innocence). A good time was had by all.

Today was the first day of school. YG has been dancing with impatience to get back to school (while thoroughly enjoying everything that was happening in the now) whereas Sarcasm Girl has been doing a more dignified shuffle about the prospect of starting 10th grade. This morning YG's alarm clock went off at 6:25; I was busy assembling breakfasts and otherwise prising SG out of her aerie, as she had to be at school by 7 for her journalism class. By the time I came in to see how YG was progressing, she was dressed and in the midst of packing her backpack. She had a long list of To-Dos by her bed. My favorite of the list was: 7:00am - Brush thy teeth; 7:03 - Brush thy retainer.

When I asked her about her language she smiled the smile of a kid who knows she's been funny. "The Renaissance Fairy must have made the list in the night..."

Friday, August 26, 2005

No Right Answers

Sarcasm Girl is going through desensitization treatment for a fear of needles--shots, vaccinations, scratch name 'em, she fears 'em, and for someone with allergies that might someday require use of an Epi-pen, it's not good. So the girl is undertaking a course of EMDR (I have her permission to blog about this, by the way. I'm not revealing dark secrets or anything) in hopes that she can learn to deal. I'm not looking for her to become a blood donor, just to be able to tolerate the odd puncture as medically advisable.

In the process of doing this, the therapist asked her to complete a True/False questionnaire to help assess YG's mental status. These things drive me crazy: there are the obvious "draw out the wackos" questions: "My stuffed animals keep telling me to hurt people" True or False? And the obvious "are you paranoid" questions: "My teachers are out to get me; my parents are out to get me; people start to whisper when I walk into the room" True or False? The "how tied to reality are you?" questions: "Superman is a real person" True or False. There are the hard-to-parse questions: "Teachers are neat people" True or False. Neat like nifty? Neat like compulsively tidy? And finally, there are the questions about which one could truthfully say, "well, yes, sometimes, I guess. But not the way you mean it." But of course, there's no "yes, sometimes, but not the way you mean it" option. There's only True or False.

The girl struggled manfully through the 150-odd questions (several of the "are you paranoid" and "draw out the wackos" questions were repeated in variation several times), kvetching under her breath at the stupidity of the questions. As a side-light, watching the process gave me some insight into her test-taking methodology.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

It's Different in a Mad

Your Name Here, with the The Advertising Slogan Generator.

Do the Mad.
Do You, uh, Mad?
Think Once, Think Twice, Think Mad.
America's Most Trusted Mad.
Mad is Job One.

And so on.

Junk Mail

We must get three calls a day from companies hoping we'll refinance our mortgage with them (we will not, thank you. Don't call again). And at least three or four "invitations" to take on a new credit card (which we're not interested in). But at least they get our names right. But imagine you're a US Army vet who gets a credit card offering addressed to "Palestinian Bomber." You open it up and it's the same damned letter you've gotten a million times before, extolling the wonders of Chase's credit card services, and opening "Dear Palestinian Bomber." And when you call Chase to complain--vehemently, I'm hoping--and provide your ZIP code and invitation number, the cheery voice at the other end says "Yes, Mr. Bomber, how can we help you?"

Mr. Bomber's name is Sami Habbas, he's lived in the US since he was 3, and he is rightly appalled and hurt. Chase bought the name on a list from some other vendor, and is "regrets the error," as the newspapers say. An apology, contrition, and a year of finance-charge free credit card charges seem in order to me. At the least.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Mouth is a Terrible Thing to Shoot Off

What in God's name got into Pat Robertson? It's one thing to have a political agenda (one I personally find loathesome, of course, but Robertson's as entitled to wrongheaded insanity no less than the people who consider Deuce Bigelow to be high art, or liver to be edible...). Robertson is free to say any number of vile things about women, about gays, about the invalidity of the Supreme Court and any law or lawmaker he disagrees with. He can insist that the Constitution applies only to Christians (and the odd Jew, since Jews believe in "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"), believe that George Bush is God's annointed, and that all women with opinions are lesbians, and all lesbians are satanic witches...

But what did Venezuela's president do to Robertson that he wants him dead? Seems a trifle harsh. And if, as he suggests, the U.S. has Hugo Chávez assassinated, will Robertson then have other candidates for political engineering? Shoot 'em all and let Pat Robertson sort 'em out.

Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld has said, rather mildly, that Public Citizens can say what they like, but that the U.S. doesn't assassinate people. The State Department notes that Robertson's remarks were "inappropriate."

Me, I stand foresquare against assassination of anyone, anyone at all. But if I were making a list of people who pose a danger to the body politic, Robertson would be on it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

This explains so much, right?

Star Reporter

So how on earth has Sean Penn become an intrepid roving journalist for the SF Chronicle?

In fact, it's a fairly thoughtful piece, and (happily) free of "I am a Moooovie Star" attitude. I guess that Penn was curious about Iran and used his clout (and his prior experience as a reporter for the Chronicle (he went to Iraq last year and reported back) to go see for himself. Which is laudable, I guess. It's just hard to resist a shrug of bemusement/disbelief/cynicism at the bold headline "Sean Penn in Iran" on the front page.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I Gotcher Future Right Here...

I came of age as an SF reader in the '70s, a great time for gloom, doom, and "if this goes on" stories. When gas was, briefly, in short supply, and gas prices rose to a dollar a gallon, it was the end of life as we knew it, and SF (and the news) reflected that idea. Car manufacturers were more or less pressured into making more energy efficient vehicles, and the ecological news compelled (eventually) lower-emission vehicles too. It didn't solve the problems of pollution or dependence upon fossil fuels, but it pushed the days of reckoning off a little further into the future. So when I see all the SUVs driving around, juxtaposed against the signs of gas prices sitting near $3/gallon, I get this feeling that we've done this before. Only this time no one seems unduly alarmed--no, that's not true; there is commentary all over the place about America's (and the world's) dependence upon oil, and the problems that's setting up. But this time the people who got really upset in the 70s--the people who were buying and fueling the cars--seem unconcerned. The pocketbook issues of how much money it takes to refill your gas tank don't seem to bother anyone, and God knows the manufacturers don't seem to feel compelled to make SUVs gas efficient (I can't even recall the last time I saw a car ad that emphasized its gas mileage).

Most of my life I've lived places where you didn't need a car to go get a quart of milk; never even owned a car until we moved out here and picked up our little '97 Honda Civic. I actually like public transportation a lot; on the other hand, I use our car a lot, because it's easier and (at the moment) cheaper. But when I read an article like this, it pushes all my old-time SFnal buttons. "'The world has never faced a problem like this,' a report for the U.S. Energy Department concludes. 'Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.'" There's a really ugly near-future SF scenario in the making. Let's see: first the gas gets expensive. Then it gets scarce. People whistle in the dark and pretend that the shortage means other people, not themselves. Then they don't make that trip to the mall because they're saving your gas for the trip to the supermarket. Maybe private travel gets restricted in order to save fuel for public transit, which suffers shortages and cutbacks. The economy suffers, of course. Carry it far enough and you've got a grand "new dark ages" scenario going.

Will any of this happen? I dunno. I'm still waiting for the flying cars we know, from SF, will eventually be ours. How they'll be powered is anyone's guess. But in the meantime, I hope that the people out there working on "alternative energy sources" put the pedal to the metal.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Baby Evil

So I'm in the sunroom reading the 200+ emails that came in in the three days I was away from the internet, and YG is in the livingroom on the desktop computer, playing a game called "Avatar Prom" on And it has the most annoying music track, heavily electronic percussion that cycles over and over, punctuated every now and then by three electric guitar chords (the same chords that start out Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris," if that helps to imagine it). She's been playing this game for at least an hour, and the music is beginning to drive me a little batty.
"I wonder if anyone has ever been driven to murder by music like that?" I muse.
"Get used to it!" YG sneers. "I'm on the third level!"
"That's swell, but that music is driving me bonkers."
She shrugs and smiles charmingly. "Well, I am evil!"

Home Again, Home Again...

Jiggity jigg. On Wednesday morning the girls and I hared off to San Jose to pick up my Lovely Aunt, thence to go to Santa Cruz for a couple of days at the house a friend was loaning us. It was delightful. Meanwhile, Spouse had the week from hell, and incipient bronchitis, so that every time I called home I got this prickling of doom--I must pause to explain that about 14 years ago, when Sarcase Girl was Sarcasm Toddler and Emphatic Girl was not yet Thot Of, Spouse got bronchitis one summer which developed into asthma (you can, in fact, become allergic to the organism that caused the bronchitis) and spent a week in the ICU. Since then we take Spouse's chest very seriously--because he had that shallow-breathing husky quality to his voice.

But Thursday, in a moment of excellent sense, he called his doctor and got drugs prescribed, and is now feeling considerably better. And we are home again, in our slightly disheveled house (the straightening up gene, never dominant in Spouse, goes right out the window when he's ill) with mounds of laundry to do, and an entire afternoon empty of plan or obligation, stretching before us. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Midnight Choir Practice

Last night Sarcasm Girl took a friend to see the musical Wicked, her birthday present. Just before they were to leave SG got a call from a friend from her performance troupe from a few years ago, who is now living up on the California/Oregon border. Friend is in town. Friend is going to see Wicked tonight! So of course, I authorised a mass sleepover, despite the fact that SG, EG and I are driving down to Santa Cruz to spend a few days with my aunt there.

The girls had a grand time at the show, got home around midnight. I reminded them that getting up in the morning was going to be part of the equation, pointed them toward the food, and went to bed. About three thirty I swim up out of sleep and realize that there is singing going on in my house. Now, granted, all three of these girls are musical theatre geeks. Singing is a passionate activity, and their voices sound positively angelic when blended. What startled me was that, in order not to disturb Spouse, EG, or me, they had gone down to the garage and shut themselves in the car to sing there since their belting would be muffled thereby. I told them to give it half an hour, then shut it down. About fifteen minutes later Spouse went downstairs (he was worried about the neighbors, but frankly, I don't think the sound got out that far). Finally I went down at about 4:15 and pulled the plug. And went back to sleep for a brief while.

Spouse reports that at 6 am there were still stirrings upstairs. Sounds like it's going to be Morning of the Living Dead Choir around here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gone Abroad: London Itself

In Which Our Heroine Hits the Streets

In fact, by the time we reached London on Wednesday evening we were once again perilously low on fuel. Parked the car for the night and took residence in our room at the Hempstead Guest House. This is a wonderful, wildly eccentric B&B, each room wildly different from the last--apparently one of the upstairs rooms has a four-poster on tracks, so you can move it in and out of the sunlight! Our room was a former parlor in the front of the house, complete with an upright piano, dining table and four chairs, hundreds of books in Dutch (owner is from the Netherlands), several pieces of eccentric art, two stone teddy bears, and an assortment of couches that fold out into beds. The owner did not appear while we were there; running the place were two nice Polish kids (meaning, in their early 20s) who didn't know a lot about a lot--like where we could find petrol--but were very cheery and helpful in their ignorance. So we wandered the neighborhood, had dim sum for dinner (excellent dim sum) and crashed fairly early, since the next morning we had to return the rental car.

Bright and early on Thursday morning we left, searching for petrol and the Alamo office. This proved a little tricker than we had first thought. Once again I had plotted out a route; this worked pretty well until we got to Hyde Park, at which point everything went to hell in a handbag. Nobody died, but there were a couple of moments where I felt like I needed a sticker on the car that said "Caution, Dumb American Driving!" We lucked out and found a petrol station (we had once again been proceeding pretty much on fumes), and Ellen, scanning the map, kept us mostly on route. But the Alamo office was tucked away in a mews so small and hard to find that it took us a good hour of turning in circles and estimating where it ought to have been before we actually found it. The attendent, hereinafter Helga the Rental Car Nazi, treated us with suspicion, subjected the car to the most rigorous examination I have ever seen, but finally let us go, leaving the Vauxhall behind. A sigh of relief was heard.

Ellen was again very good humored about following me around as I charged all over the city looking at locations for research. We headed up from Bayswater to Baker Street, pausing at 221b to see the Sherlock Holmes stuff. Then we walked to Manchester Square, where Miss Tolerance's aunt's brothel is located. Took pictures of the Square and surrounding streets, then headed south on Duke Street to Oxford, thence to Bond Street and the Burlington Arcade, and into Piccadilly, where I took Ellen into Fortnum and Mason's, the Tiffany's of food. I thought her head might explode; as it is, she bought a box of really good fudge; I considered spending $30 for a jar of Welsh honey, but chickened out. At some point we had decided to head for Covent Garden, as there was a map store I wanted to check out. So we headed there, had some uninspired pub food, and found the map store, where I scored an Ordinance Map of London and environs from the early 1820s, and A Regency A-Z of London, a book of street maps. Then we went to Quinto's bookstore, a place that reminds me of The Strand in New York: dusty and crammed with books. Then we headed off to Fleet Street; I have a book of walks of "Notorious London" which includes the location of several of the old prisons--The Fleet, Bridewell, Newgate, etc., as well as the location of Hanging Sword Alley (where many of the good salles des armes were located). We didn't finish the entire walk--a good deal of Old London in that neighborhood has been devoured by New London--but we did find some fun bits--an old Bank of England office which had been made rather gloriously into a pub; St. Clements' Church, the offices of Twinings Tea (which has the most wonderful frieze of Chinamen (yeah, I know it's not a PC term, but the representation was not PC) over its door; and an empty office window with a lifesize model of Leo McKern in the role of Rumpole, made out of newsprint! By the time we headed back to Blackfriars to catch the underground back North we were both exhausted; we calculated we must have walked about six miles. We went home, caught our breath, checked email, and headed out for dinner (pizza) and a post prandial drink on the High Street. As we were sitting there talking, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter walked by; we kept our cool, they kept theirs, it was very civilized.

Friday morning we set out for Notting Hill/Portobello Road. Even on a Friday morning it was busy. Lots of antique stores with a range of stuff from the bizarre to the sublime, rubbing shoulders with kitschy tourist stuff, and many restaurants and pubs. We walked a good fifteen blocks up Portobello, then back again, stopping for lunch. Ellen bought one of the world's oddest pairs of pants, and I fell briefly in love with a set of antique leather suitcases (love knows no reason). When we had exhausted the possibilities of street markets I dragged Ellen to Green Park and the neighborhood around St. James's Palace. Took a picture of Almack's House, and of other sites in the neigborhood. A number of the old stores I remember on Jermyn Street are no longer there, which was rather disappointing. I think Ellen was a little bewildered, following me around on the Ghosts of London tour, looking for sign of buildings that are no longer there. I wish I had more time to keep walking around. Coulda done it in a week...

We had dinner at The Wells, a restaurant/pub just off the heath which had once been the site of a health spa of sort, where people came to drink and bathe in the waters. Excellent food. Then, of course, we got lost navigating back to our B&B, so we went back to The Wells for dessert, tried again to find the B&B and had luck this time. I got myself three-quarters packed for the trip back home. The next morning I got everything squared away and caught the underground to the Gatwick Express to American Airlines. Despite the dire headlines--"Thousands Stranded in Airline Mess!" I got checked in with relatively little stress, went through the three (!) security screenings, and caught my flight back to the US. The flight went from Gatwick to Dallas, and it was loooong--nine and a half hours, give or take. By the time we reached Dallas I was perfectly happy to stretch my legs to go through Customs--but not so happy with the half-assed procedures for rechecking my bag. I had a bad feeling when I handed my bag over; the guy looked harrassed and overwhelmed. You would think that if an airline has a flight coming with from abroad with 300+ passengers, a good number of whom are transferring to another flight, they would have a better system for handling baggage. So of course, they lost my suitcase.

We landed at SFO at 10; almost instantly I was surrounded by capering children (mine, thankfully). They continued capering (quietly) while I dealt with reporting the lost bag, and they took me home. I had slept a little on the flight from Dallas to San Francisco, but was pretty exhausted. Spouse had somehow gotten across to the girls before they picked me up that Mama Was Going to Be Tired, so I endeavored to live up to the rep, and they endeavored to let me sleep.

And my suitcase was delivered on Sunday evening.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Gone Abroad: Glasgow to London

In Which Our Heroine Goes for a Drive

Monday at noon we picked up our car--a nice blue Vauxhall which was billed as a compact car, but handled like a young tank (in justice, I'm used to driving a '97 Honda Civic, in comparison to which some bicycles handle like a young tank). Got directions out of the city and in the direction of London (that is, south) from the nice bellman at the Hilton; getting directions in a city you don't know, for driving on the left side of the road, from someone with a thick Scots accent, inspires a certain amount of terror. Despite this, we made it out of the city and onto the motorway. After about twenty minutes I found that my terror had dissipated and I was driving pretty easily. It was a sunny day, blue skies and a light wind. After about an hour we pulled off the motorway in search of lunch, which we found in a tiny little inn that looked like something out of Local Hero, with a couple tables of locals eying the foreign girls with some amusement. They were particularly astonished by the fact that we were driving to London; driving round Scotland seemed to make sense to them, but why cross the border? After lunch we continued south, stopping in Gretna Green (yes, it's become a tourist trap, but it used to be a significant destination for eloping heiresses and thus is applicable to my work) and then veering south east, toward Newcastle Upon Tyne. Here and there in the distance we saw the odd castle--Ellen, whose prior visit to the UK had not included much travel through the countryside, was bemused by the casual appearence of castles, which does take one aback at first. And the moors were beautiful, green and gray, stretching on forever, treeless and rolling; made me think of Dickon Sowerby in The Secret Garden, talking about how alive the moor is. Finally we decided to aim for Whitby. "It's where Dracula's ship landed," I said. "You don't think anyone there knows that, do you?" Ellen was dubious.

Whitby, a large, handsome town on the North Sea, is certainly aware of Dracula; there were a couple of stores which were targeted at the Vampire trade, and a video about Bram Stoker's visit to Whitby at the Information Office. We arrived at the end of a four-day regatta; happily, while the town was very busy, there were still B&Bs with rooms. We got a tiny, pleasant room and set out to explore a little; the end of the regatta was being celebrated with fireworks after dark. In the meantime we made our way to the pier, where there was a carnival in full swing, thick crowds of determined merry-makers, many of them walking about eating fish and chips. No one, however, was offering sit-down dining, no matter where we looked. At last we got fish and chips, ate them while leaning against a church, and repaired to a pub for a pint before going back to the room with fireworks exploding behind us. Next morning we went off to find an internet cafe, and wound up walking around Whitby a little more. The ruins of the abbey, high on a hill, loom over the harbor; a sailing ship, The Grand Turk, is moored near the train station (there's a transportational metaphor there, I know it). The town is hilly, and every time we went up one more little street we'd find a couple of curious shops. My favorites were the sweet shop, the model train shop, the pork shop selling pork-and-stuffing sandwiches the scent of which had me swooning, and the antique shop where someone had made a very clever coffee table out of an old mother-of-pearl inlaid accordion. I'd like to go back to Whitby again some day and spend enough time to get to know it.

We set off again and wound up, about one o'clock, in York. I'd been there once before, traveling by train, which had put me near Mickelgate Bar (the Bars are the medieval gates in the wall). Coming in by car we wound up at Monk Bar and spent an hour or so wandering, got some lunch, made it to the National Railway Museum. York feels medieval--it's not just the half-timbered buildings that slope toward each other, or the winding narrow streets or the wall that rings the oldest part of the city, or the the Minster, which shadows the city no matter where you are. Or it's all those things, and an indefinable sense of having settled in to watch the years and events pass through its streets. After a few hours we had to push off for Oxford--again feeling like we hadn't had quite enough time. This time we made most of that trip on the Motorway, covering a lot of ground fast. Got to Oxford about 7pm, with no clue where to stay, so (children of the internet age that we are) we parked, found an internet cafe, and found the nearest affordable hotel Swinton, 30 miles away. By the time we reached Swinton (with the gas gauge nearing empty) it was close to 9pm. Our hotel room was neither so luxe as the Hilton, nor so charming as the one in Whitby. Still, the water was hot and the bar had food. Swinton may have charm and history, but where we were--The Thistle Hotel--there appeared to be neither. On the other hand, looking at the land and the town names as we drove, I felt like I was driving through a Dick Francis novel, which was rather cool.

Next morning, scanning anxiously for petrol, we drove back to Oxford to spend the day there. It kept threatening to rain, but we found a garage, a street market, and the approximate site of the inn where Miss Tolerance stays in Point of Honour. I have to say that Ellen was very good humored about following me around as I checked in on sites from my work--a strange kind of pilgrimage, I suppose. As it is summer most of the colleges were closed, but we did get to see Carfax Tower and Christ Church, and to goggle at the gargoyles. About three, we got the car out and resumed our--by now rather frantic--search for petrol. Had to drive half way to Swinton, but finally refilled, and headed back east to London. It was by now a clear, sunny, beautiful day. I managed to keep my anxieties about driving in London under wraps, and we sped along the Motorway ("Castle!" said Ellen. I looked up to see a familiar bit of architecture. "Uh huh. Windsor Castle," I said. "It's just sitting out here?") and into London. I had--belt and suspenders me--plotted a route into the city which we more or less followed, which more or less worked, although in the last half mile or so we got tangled up and had to keep working our way back toward Kemplay Road, which kept eluding us. Sometime around 6pm we found our bed and breakfast, arranged for parking for the night, and (as by this point, it was too late to return our chariot to the nice people at Alamo) and settled in for the last chunk of our holiday.

Which will be on the next rock.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Gone Abroad: Worldcon

In Which Our Heroine Is Very Tired

I purposely woke at 5am on Wednesday the 3rd, on the theory that if I got myself tired enough I'd sleep on the flight to Glasgow. This strategy sort of worked, but not really; I dozed in that hallucinatory way one does on planes, and arrived in Scotland feeling like I was having an intriguing out-of-body experience. I noted on the plane that there were maybe a dozen people with that unmistakeable "going to a Worldcon" look--this is not a matter of girth, necessarily, or style of dress, or manners. In my hallucinatory state, it seemed to me that SF readers, writers, and fandom itself seemed to have its own eth. But that might have been the tiredness talking. Got to the Hilton, which very kindly let me check in a good five hours early, so that I got a shower, got to put on fresh clothes, before I made my way to the convention center and registered and did my 2 pm panel.

Did that: "Fem-bots and Faeries," a panel about depictions of female characters in SF and fantasy art, and whether feminism has made any inroads into same. Judith Clute, elegant and smart as a whip, was the moderator, and kept things moving, and the other panelists were Karen Haber, Paul Cockburn, Jannie Shea and Delphyne Woods. I think I contributed, but I won't swear to it; I mean, I know I talked some, but I was pretty loopy. Wound up going out to dinner with my room-mate Ellen Klages, Farah Mendelson and her nice husband Edward, Sharyn November, and a bunch of other people, for a very nice Chinese dinner and large amounts of talk. Spent some time in the bar, of course, and reeled back to the room to fall over. Ran into many people I know but don't get to see nearly often enough (including Greer Gilman, whose luggage had been lost by the airline, and was bravely trying to enjoy being at the con without her favorite clothes and other familiar stuff). Got to renew my acquaintance with cider-on-tap, which was very pleasant indeed...

The next morning, feeling (in Arlo Guthrie's words) like an All-American Girl from New York City, I had a kaffeeklatsch at 10am. And there were people there! We talked, I got coffee, we rolled chocolate soccer balls across the table at each other, I had a good time and I think the people who came did too. At noon I had my second panel, "The Return of the Queen," with Lillian Stewart Carl, Ellen Kushner, Julianne Lee and Diana Paxson, talking about how one "injects feminism" into a medieval setting. Or whether to do so was advisable (my feeling is that it mostly is not). As moderator I kept the trains running; the audience was enthusiastic, and the panelists intelligent. After the panel I went antiquing with a bunch of people (okay, Ellen Klages and Ellen Datlow and Pat Cadigan and Karen Haber) which was enormous fun, particularly as I didn't find anything I really wanted except some large pieces of furniture which I could not afford, could not have shipped home, and therefore felt guiltless about admiring. Spent a few hours running the SFWA Suite and helping set up for the Asimov's party (actually I was there from 5 until about to talking to people and didn't leave until it got uncomfortably crowded), then sat in the bar until three talking with Lorena Haldeman and Antony Donovan (who had kindly loaned me an electric adaptor for my laptop!). Ellen, asleep when I crept in the room, channeled her inner mommy enough to say "I hope you had a good time, young lady!" when I crept in.

Saturday morning, on two hours sleep, I had breakfast with Patrick, my once-and-future editor. Saturday was the only day I had no actual commitments, so I just sort of wandered, taking in a little of this panel or that, wandering through the dealer's room, gossiping in the hallways. Late in the morning members of a writers' list I belong to got together for coffeee, which was lovely. By afternoon I was just a little groggy--I had a 5pm phone date (Spouse and children called, since it was cheaper) and then I fell over for a few hours, to be woken by Ellen, who breezed in and invited me to come to dinner with her, Eileen Gunn, and Michael Swanwick and his wife. We had a terrific meal at a place in the West End called Fanny Trollop's (the owner/waiter took to us and seemed to find us immensely amusing) with great food and much giddy conversation. Somehow, more alcohol was consumed later at the bar, and much riotous conversation. Sounds remarkably like a Worldcon.

And then there was Sunday. I had my reading Sunday morning at 11:30, which was almost a civilized hour. Read a bit from the WiP, answered some questions; it went very nicely. That afternoon Ellen and I went off to find The Whisky Shop, downtown. This is a smallish shop in a large, modern mall on Buchanan Street (the place is filled with "name" stores--Gap and Baskin-Robbins and The Body Shop) that was wall-to-wall scotch, and beaming, happy salesmen who were delighted to have American women ask them questions about their wares. They even did tastings of a select number of scotches. Ellen, who had a list of scotches her father was interested in, went looking for specific titles; I just wandered in the groves of alcohol, and finally bought a half-bottle of Ben Nevis all for myself.

Finding the Whisky Store meant walking around Glasgow a little. I wish I'd had more time than I did; it really was a lovely city--the people (from the cabdrivers who were surprised at how normal these Science Fiction People were, to the bellman who brought up my bag and stopped to talk theory of fiction, to the waiter at Fanny Trollop and the clerk at the Whisky Store) were delightful.

We got back to the hotel and dropped off our purchases, dined in the bar and waited for people to come back from the Hugos (now, having read the opening speech, I wish I'd gone, but o well) and chatted with all the other people who had decided to wait out the ceremony. I was pleased with the list of winners--nothing worse than sitting there saying "they gave the short story Hugo to what?" in tones of outrage--but by the time we made it to the Losers' Party I was too tired to do more than rather soggily say "congratulations" to the people with the statues and shamble upstairs to sleep.

I've barely touched on all the people I got to see, the great conversations I had. It was, for me at least, a great Worldcon.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Peter Jennings

I'm home, had a wonderful tmie, and will probably post more than anyone wants to read about my Adventures Oversea. But while I was gone, Peter Jennings died, and it makes me sad. Part of the reason Spouse and I had contra dancing at our wedding was because I'd seen Peter Jennings "commentating" a square dance during the Olympics in the '80s, and learned that he had started out calling square dances as a Very Young Jennings. This got me thinking about how much I liked square dancing when I was a kid, and how universal it was and...hey presto, contra dancing at our wedding.

Six or seven years ago, when ABC was putting together The Century, an ambitious multipart precis of the 20th century, they came to Danny's former workplace to get all the sound done. Since there were about nine hundred different versions (History Channel version, ABC version, books on tape version, etc. ad nauseum) Jennings was in the studio a lot, and Spouse worked with him. He found Jennings smart and charming and hardworking. And when Spouse asked him about the square-dance thing, Jennings was delighted to talk about it.

I grew up with Cronkite as the Household God o' News (watching the nightly body count from Vietnam with my mother), but in later years Jennings took over for me--not because he was good looking (I tend to distrust anyone that good looking in a position like that, a prejudice Jennings evidently struggled against for a long time) but because he was smart and didn't seem to take himself too seriously. He did take his work seriously, I thought, and he had a slight quirk to his eyebrow when he was reporting received wisdoms. He was not oracular or folksy or smug; he just seemed to be thinking about what was happening.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Going Radio Silence

Off to Scotland, give or take Chicago on the way. Reports as and when. Y'all be good.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

10th Pint

Every eight weeks, like clockwork, the Blood Centers of the Pacific ask me to come down for a pint. Since we've been in San Francisco I have donated (as of this morning) ten pints--a gallon and a quart, if I calculate that right. Giving blood is one of those things which seems both karmically sound and easy--go in, answer a few questions, sit still for twenty minutes, have a doughnut and a cup of tea and sit for another twenty minutes, then go on my way. No one else in the family feels that way--Spouse, for all he is a doughty fellow, is squicked out by the notion of giving blood (although in justice I think he would, if there were some emergency). SG, who is still too young, also has a significant fear of needles--so significant that she's undergoing desensitization treatment. The very mention of going to the Blood Center with me made her promise to clean her room and eat her vegetables. And YG, also too young, is squicked out a little too--she once came with me when I donated, insisting that it would be really cool, only to find that she preferred talking to the phlebotomists and pointedly not looking at Mama with the needle in her arm. I'm also an organ donor, should I die with my innards useable, and have had to have some stern talks with Spouse about this; organ donation squicks him out too. Again, I like the idea of doing something good so effortlessly--if I can't use my heart or my kidneys or whatever, why shouldn't someone else have them and bless my name (it really is all about me).

But part of the reason I give blood is that I love the technology. I mean, really. I remember when I first gave blood, waaaaaay back in the '70s, when I was a Harvard employee; the technology was comparatively primative. Yes, they had the plastic collection bags, but they didn't have all the other cool things. Like, nowadays, rather than swabbing you down with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol, and then one soaked in iodine, they have a prepackaged swab: squeeze it til it pops and the alcohol is dispensed for swabbing. Turn it over, squeeze it again, the swab has iodine on it. Easy-peasy. Then there's the little metal crimps they put on the line, after you've filled up the bag, to seal off the blood in the bag but still allow the phlebotomist to eke out some blood for the four test tubes that accompany your donation (so they can test for various things that would make the blood ineligible for transfusion). And the cool little cylindrical widget they put on the line, which diverts the blood into the test tubes. And the blue plastic thing which, at the end, they use to withdraw the needle from the vein. I'm sure all these things have proper names, and the fact that somewhere someone is inventing these tools foolishly delights me.

Granted, I'm the kind of woman who was cranky because, when she had an emergency C-section, they wouldn't let me watch. I love those "true tales of the ER" things on The Learning Channel. So giving blood not only helps my community, it means I get to watch the process and admire all the tiny, easily-taken-for-granted bits of technology. It's win-win for me.