12/2/2009 Clam karaoke

The weather here in southern New Hampshire has been warm, but rather cloudy- or at least it was while getting ready for Darkover. During the drive it rained off and on. I have no idea what it may have been like while we were gone, although another denizen of NH had gotten a query on her facebook about snowstorms and power outages in NH. People do tend to forget that there are a lot of micro-climate zones in New Hampshire. We called home and Jon told us that there’d been no snow here, so I assume it was in the north. I guess this shows the pros and cons of instant global (mis-) communication.
At the same time, I’ve been enjoying the tales Octavia’s been sending about her and Steve’s adventures in Lebanon (where he’s a Fulbright scholar). This week they went to Aleppo, and she sent a local recipe and told us about the dissonance of being between two mosques during the call to prayer when the m’addeniin (ones who call the faithful to prayer) are just a bit off from each other, and told about the Eid Al-Adha. I think I’ve finally gotten that Eid simply means festival. The Post Office puts out Christmas stamps, and Hanukah stamps and a few years ago they added Eid stamps, and I originally thought it was the Muslim mid-winter holiday. But their calendar has their holidays circulate through the year- so sometimes Ramadan is in Summer, sometimes in winter (which must be more convenient for fasting from sunrise to sunset). This year it was in September; next year it starts in August and runs until October. Last weekend they celebrated Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which is what Octavia just described. This year their New Year (Muharram) will fall on December 18th- maybe there will be a stamp for that.
As usual, having been absent for several days, the kittens looked huge when we got back. The shelter STILL hasn’t called for them! Zoloft still lets them nurse, which at this point, since they are nearly as big as she is, looks like a pride of lions disemboweling a (fuzzy) wildebeest. I don’t know why she puts up with it. And all too often we hear crash and then scampering as they run away from whatever they’ve knocked down. Having an appointment with the shelter seemed like such a good plan… did we fall out of their computer file?
We’ve been doing the chore sharing for a month now. We’ve gotten used to some of it- such as glancing at the chart to see who’s going to do the dishes, or set the table. On the other hand, I get the feeling that the kids don’t get around to doing the trash or washing the bathroom as well as the check the trash or the laundry. Also, I have a tendency to wash dishes or throw in a load of laundry if I see it needs doing because that’s how I work. I think that if I were to clean the studio and stay upstairs working there, as Kat and Willow do, not only would I not get distracted by the housework, but I’d probably eat less as well.

Thanksgiving was nice, we were well organized, and as it’s an intrinsically low-key holiday, it went well. When I got up Willow had already installed the new light fixture in the bathroom. I don’t know what it is about them, this is probably the fifth one we’ve gone through since Ælfwine died- I think they must be being manufactured more cheaply these days, because they keep breaking. Luckily, Willow is able to change them, and they only cost about six dollars, but really- a ceramic light fixture should last decades not months! (It’s the pull string mechanism that always breaks.) But it was nice to be able to have a light over the sink again. The hardest part was for her to get light to work by since it had been overcast all week, and there is only one window in there anyway.
It was a propitious start to the day. I got the turkey prepped and started the yeast for the rolls, and started peeling veggies. We’d found a fresh turkey that only needed to cook for three hours (Honour was coming, so we couldn’t stuff it, and had to put the stuffing in a casserole- she brought her own stuffing with sausage in it.) A small “crisis” came up when I looked for the squash. I couldn’t find it anywhere! Finally, I peeled and cut up a couple of carrots so we’d have something orange on the plates- and when we sat down, we discovered the squash. I’d gotten a tiny one, and put in in the cornucopia in the middle of the dining room table when I had unpacked all the produce the day before! Du-oh! I printed out the packing list and directions.
I’d hoped to also get to printing out the physical copies of the letters that go to people who don’t have good access to computers, and finishing sewing up a new skirt. While packing I discovered that while I have lots of clothing that I like to wear, I don’t have much that looks good on me such that I feel right about wearing it in public. There’s nothing wrong with a cleaned blouse that’s got a pale stain, or a skirt that looks tired and worn, unless you are out where people are judging you by your appearance. So last week we cut out new wool skirts- but most are only partly sewn up now. Willow did work on them a bit, but finally I decided to go with “good enough” and assume that since I wasn’t leading any workshops this time that no one would be looking at me that critically. The girls did point out that my idea of what is possible to get done in a given amount of time is not in line with what most people consider feasible. I guess it comes down to internal rhythms. People breathe at different rates, their hearts beat at different rates. We speak and listen at different rates, and then there are style differences. Willow described me as a pinball: I bounce apparently randomly from point to point (making a bell ring or light flash at each point) as I do something here, something there, doing a half dozen “jobs” at once. I figure that if you are going to another room (or the other side of the room) to do something, you can look around and take something that goes there with you, and bring something that’s there back when you come, and if it isn’t where you came from, you take anything that’s there and belongs closer to where you have been working back from there. If I’m going into the keeping room to put something into the refrigerator, why not change the laundry over while I’m in there? I’ve actually encountered people who will put the laundry in, and wait for it to come out doing nothing while it washes. I can understand that in a Laundromat (although I’d bring something that I could do while I waited), but in a house, there’s always something else to do.
So I bounce around, making (I hope) small improvements, getting things closer to done, getting items closer to where they belong- and apparently it’s disorienting for the people around me. Sadly, it makes total sense to me. When the word “multi-tasking” came out, I was eager to see how I could fit more into my schedule, but apparently the idea that one could balance one’s checkbook when waiting on hold is not a natural thought for most people. Yes, I can enjoy a walk outside, but if there’s no one to talk to, I WILL plug in a language tape and get exercise and a lesson at the same time. It’s been pointed out that I probably don’t get quite as much out of either as I would if I concentrated on them one at a time, but I couldn’t possibly fit everything in if I did it that way. (I have noticed that language acquisition especially requires me to think about it in order to get retention- I have to actively find a place in my mental filing cabinet to put the word, whereas I can work on copying the pronunciation without concentrating as much.)
Similarly, I think part of my problem with people is that I make big “catch-all” mental files, like “the kids”, or “SCAers”, and when I get a piece of important information such as “doesn’t like fish”, or “loves salmon”, it goes into “the kids” rather than the “Kat file” or the “Willow file”, and I can’t remember which kid likes what. Now I have to go back and make new mental files. It’s also harder to get something out than something in- to belabor the analogy- if someone changes their mind or their taste, you can’t just pull that card, you have to staple a different one on top of the original “No, she doesn’t like swordfish anymore- her taste changed.” or worse “She loves liver when she’s not pregnant, but when she’s pregnant it makes her ill.” (That’s me- and of course, now useless information.) How minds work is fascinating.
But back to Thanksgiving- Kat, Willow and I spent an hour together finishing rolling up the socks order- let’s face it, I think we got 13-14 dozen new pair of socks. Actually, I think the goal was simply to get one stack (five each) of every color we have available, and we’d gotten several new ones. We carry the stockings in a couple of plastic bins, and have discovered that they can take five rows of five stacks each (thus we carry 250 stockings everywhere, and often have 50 different colors or color combinations). This was complicated by the Basket Man starting to offer stockings in children’s and extra large sizes, but we got some small crates that stack well on the tables, and put the large and small ones in those. That allows us to both carry and display those in the same containers (although they aren’t waterproof). At the shows we just pull out the top stocking roll from each stack and put them on the table so people can see what we’ve got. The most popular are the ones striped black and any other (“eye-bleeding”) bright color. And purple. Purple and anything. (This batch had some purple and lime green. Wow.) It occurs to me that I should check the living-room and see if there are still socks there that need to be put away. I tend not to go in there unless I’m doing something, and then I might be so focused I don’t even notice what else is there.
As you may recall, I was still finishing the letter on Thanksgiving, well, as finished as it got. It was a pitiful example of telling you what we’d been up to. The turkey was done at one as scheduled. Steve and Honour arrived and I made the rolls, and gravy, and mashed the potatoes, cooked the corn and peas and turnip and carrots while Honour worked on her gluten/cassien free stuffing. (I separated out some mashed potatoes for her and put drippings into them since she can’t have butter and milk.) Jon had fixed the dining-room table which I am still grooving on a week later, so it has no gaps between the sections, and he made our stuffing. Sadly, I’d had him melt a couple of sticks of butter for both the stuffing and the cinnamon rolls, and anything else that needed some butter (me being a pin-ball again), but I hadn’t told him that, and didn’t catch him before he’d put the whole cup into the stuffing. Wow. It was exceptionally rich, but no one seemed to mind once it had cooked in. Another milestone happened when he cut himself while chopping celery and carrots- he didn’t faint or freak. He’s always had a “thing” about blood, this time he put pressure on it and told me, I brought a band-aid (and a sharper knife), and he went back to chopping. That is a huge developmental step for him. (I’ll always admire him for trying to give blood- he watched it several times, then tried, but passed out when they did the finger-stick. I guess the tubes don’t “look” like blood the same way one drop seeping out of your finger does.) Talk about things you can’t control and don’t intend!
We also put on the Garfield Thanksgiving Special while we worked (“You know how we loooove tradition!”) and I realized why he’d made us pancakes the day before. Jonathan was stuck with most of the cooking because the girls were packing their bags and the van for Darkover. Willow printed out some more cards, and printed out prints on iron-transfer paper to make T shirts. Jane had said that she was going to bring down the cover paintings for my books to put in the art show as a way of showing off, and celebrating the Thunderbolt book finally getting published. Kat had made an image of the famous picture of Vlad the Impaler with the caption “APPARENTLY I SPARKLE”. Suddenly his rather bland portrait face took on a “we are not amused” look. Willow put that one on a red T shirt- everyone loved it, and we’d have sold several if we had them in more colors. She’s going to try it. I’m thinking we should also make them as post cards because some of us don’t wear T shirts, no matter how much we find the sentiment witty. They are also talking about getting a better-than-hobby level button maker. And she also made some refrigerator magnets of some of our prints that are on cards. Busy, busy, busy.
Anyway, we had a lovely dinner, but when it was done, I told Steve and Honour that we were going to get back to working (I was determined to get the kitchen all cleaned and not leave Jon with it), but if they didn’t mind watching, they could stay and digest for an hour and then when we had room we’d have pie. (I’d made apple, pumpkin and cherry- Willow had been too busy to chop up the sugar pumpkin and make fresh pie this year- but we did have fresh cranberry sauce.) They opted to get out of our way. It seems that while my banging around confounds Willow, she’s fast and efficient enough that it gets to everyone else. Steve usually manages by hiding behind a table, but this time he decided to flee- so we put pie in tupperware for him and saw them off around three. It feels so good to me that someone is willing to drive 90 minutes each way just to share a two hour dinner with us.
So I went upstairs and packed my bags (and bedding- as we shared a room with Arwen and Ed and Morwena, and I took the floor on an inflatable mattress), changed the sheets, as Star takes my room (with the TV) when he’s got the house to himself, and we actually got out a few minutes after 5 as we’d planned. Since it was after dark, Willow drove, and we talked. (I perhaps shouldn’t say so since I am their mother, but my girls are incredibly witty and wonderful to talk to- which is useful on long car trips! We often joke that there must be hidden cameras and we are a sit-com because of the frequency of the jokes. The last few months the writers had gotten rather nasty and sarcastic, but recently we seem to have gotten our old writers back, who have more gentle senses of humor, and it’s a relief.) If you listen to Eddie Izzard or Bill Cosby or Joan Rivers, they just talk about everything under the sun- and it’s funny. That’s what it’s like around our dinner table, or in the car. Once we were on a divided highway with trees between me and the on-coming headlights, I was able to drive, and got us through Connecticut and over the Tappan Zee. Even though we stuffed ourselves at 2, we were ready to eat again at 8 or 9, but nothing was open! Phooey! About 10 or 11 we stopped and found a cheap hotel, slept, and were on our way in the morning much rested.
Just after you get off the Jersey turnpike, there’s a church that has a huge (20-25 foot) statue of Mary by the highway. For years we’ve been impressed by it- and this year it’s a little different. It’s no longer a kind of dingy white, it seems to have been painted metallic silver. Is it metal and paint has been taken off, or was it white and they decided to make it shine? We don’t know. But we had breakfast, and still got to the hotel a bit after noon. Arwen wasn’t even there yet. So we left our bags in the van and set out our tables. She arrived and I helped her set her stuff out (she had a panel to speak on at 5, so we had to be brisk) while the girls went out to get mats for Kat’s prints she put up in the art show. The vendors were in the Atrium, rather than a sealable room this year, so they keep someone in the area watching it all night long, and I think we were required to be out at 7, so we went out for dinner. I somehow missed the divination round-table, but it was because I was having lovely conversations with other friends- it’s frustrating to have so many people I like that I only see ten hours from home. I talked until I saw the wedding procession go by.
Our friends from Ecumenicon, Balu and Seanara, had decided to get legally married, and since Jane/Arwen can perform legal weddings, and would be coming into their range at Darkover, so they asked her to marry them there since they wanted a legal, but basically pagan wedding. It had to be at midnight since that was the first time there was a room free. One of their friends ordered up a small feast from the hotel kitchen (and was given instructions that since the staff was all off at that point, we had to take away all the leftovers ourselves so that they wouldn’t be liable if some of the food went bad and someone came in after we left and scavenged some and got sick (gotta love American liability paranoia!). So they also had ziplock bags, and we all had sandwich meat and veggies and dip, and such for the rest of the weekend.

The wedding ceremony included a pataki, a story acted/read out by participants. The pataki are stories containing the lore of the Yoruba/Ifa/Santeria/Voodon religion. This one told the story of one of the Orishas who was so much in love with a Goddess he wanted to make the perfect gift for her, but the other gods got tired of his taking years to finish it an give it to her, and pushed him into getting to proposing. The background of this is that Balu was dealing with colon cancer, and that may have been part of why they finally decided to get married after being together for fifteen years. So they had the story, and the vows, and we all witnessed it, and signed the marriage license, and then we ate. Before and after Kathy Sobansky and one of the others from Clam Chowder played the harp and sang. Also, at some point they thanked the guests, specifically the Clams, and Katherine Kurtz (a famous writer) and me- “the RunValdr lady”. Heady company. We will now apply an ice-bag to my head in an attempt to bring down the swelling!
The most unusual part of the wedding was the healing circle. Poor Balu was having some serious pain, and we did a healing circle- like ones that have blasted cancer away in the past for other people (he had an appointment with the surgeon on Wednesday to talk about the surgical option- I reassured both of them how well it had help Mother). Sadly, as I was the one doing the channeling of the energy to him, I got to feel how much pain he was in, and there’s a reason that cancer has such a reputation. He had to leave the reception to go back to his room. I have to admit it was one of the weirder weddings I’ve ever attended. And, of course, it meant that I didn’t get to bed until about three.
Worse, the clock went off at 6, and we couldn’t figure out how to turn it off except by hitting snooze- so it went off at 6:10, 20, 30, 40, 50… arghhh!
We had breakfast at Bob Evans which is a wonderful home-style restaurant that they don’t have up here in New England. We’d attempted the Cracker Barrel (near the silver giant Mary statue) special breakfast on the way down and couldn’t finish- it’s got eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, hashbrowns, sausage, fried apples, and grits (or toast). OMG, does ANYONE finish all that? But it’s cheaper than getting them a la carte. (Their sausage gravy is one of the few things I’ve ever had there that wasn’t very good. I think sausage gravy needs to be cooked a very long time before it doesn’t taste like paste.) But we love Bob Evans whenever we can get in range. Their portions aren’t too big, and the food quality is good (you can get butter if you ask, although they tend to go to butter blend if you don’t). Kat generally has their pancakes- this time it was a bizarre blueberry stuffed pancake thing- like a filled donut, only flat. I find the way they pour cheese sauce over their omelets rather than putting in shredded cheese rather odd, but they’re good. For the season they had an interesting caramel coffee, and also a peppermint mocha which actually didn’t have too much peppermint in it! I really like Bob Evans. I suppose it’s not a bad thing that it’s not around here, since we don’t eat out when we’re near home.
The dealers area was open from 10 until 6. Sales were not great, but they weren’t great for anyone, and we got to see Clam Chowder, which we would pay to see if that wasn’t the only place they perform these days. Thank goodness we’d shared a room. All of us put stuff in the art show- I hadn’t made anything new, but put in a lot of sculpture since I don’t think that anyone really notices it on the table. None of us sold anything, but I don’t think that there were many items sold at all this year. What money was going out seems to have been held for the Clams concert.
The Clams have a tradition of soliciting money for their local Children’s Hospital. It goes back to when Kathy Sobanski was asked to sing Bend over Greek Sailor a couple of decades ago, and she said that she couldn’t because now she was a mother and couldn’t sing naughty songs any more. They offered to bribe her and raised several hundreds of dollars for charity- now they do it every year. A few years ago they actually raised 10 thousand (that was the year one of them dressed up as Frankenfurter and sang something from Rocky Horror), but with the economy gone south, we were all impressed when it went up over $3K this year. Willow actually bid on and got the chance to sing with Clam Chowder. Having grown up with them, it was very exciting for us- I wish Ælfwine could have seen her! She was dressed in one of her many rainbow outfits and said “Hi Mom! Look! I’m singing with Clam Chowder!” I think she expressed how most of us fans would feel if we had the nerve and the option of doing it. What she sang was a filk she’d written after discovering the original Star Trek this spring, and finished up during the day. It was based on the Clam’s classic folk song The Bonny Ship the Diamond: The Bonny Starship Enterprise. They couldn’t sing along of course- except for the chorus after a couple verses,
So it’s beam up my lads,
Who can say what’s in store,
As the Starship Enterprise goes out
Where no man’s gone before.
(I wish I had a copy of the words, I’d give you the whole thing- the line about “Don’t weep for the prime directive” got a big laugh.) She sounded really good, and everyone loved it. Talk about the right audience for it! The next day an embarrassing (for her) number of people came by to tell her how much they’d liked it.
I didn’t have any classes this time, but went to a few- Saturday there was a panel on religion in created worlds. In the 21st century the question is whether to borrow, adapt or create religion. Decades ago people tried to write fantasy and science fiction where there’d be whole worlds with no religion, and that just isn’t convincing. I also took a workshop on scrimshaw (on old piano keys). I tried to remember one of the motifs from the Staffordshire Horde but couldn’t, so I just did a little saint. Sunday I went to one on whether it’s appropriate to use less formal style writing when dealing with classic themes like elves. (I thought it was going to be about elves in Urban fantasy writing.) I caught the end of a general “ask the authors” panel and heard what they liked to read. It’s hardly surprising that those who write love reading good writing by others.

In the evening I joined Jane’s game group. They get together and have their role playing sessions at Darkover and Lunacon (I’m not sure if they get together any other times in the year) and I’ve been joining them for a couple of years- of course THEY have been doing it for decades. At one point someone had a question about something that had happened in a previous campaign, and someone looked in his notebook and said “well, in ’92 so and so did this”, and someone else looked and found something from the 80s. No wonder my character is so lightweight next to theirs. The nice thing about this group is that while they do roll dice to find out success levels of attacks and defenses, mostly it’s all just people saying “I do this” and everything working fairly logically. It’s so much faster- a combat round only takes about a minute or so (which will mean nothing to you if you’ve never done gaming before). We gamed from about 7 until 9 when the concert started, and then again afterwards. (Sadly, I missed the Hallelujah Chorus in the Atrium because of the gaming.) Again, I didn’t get to sleep until 2. The next day there was another game session (some people had gone home, but several, like Jane and us, figured that it was worth it to spend the night in the hotel and leave fresh in the morning. We figured to run it from about 7:30 to nine and get to bed early, but there was an unexpected development.
About 7:30 we got a call- Charles and Frank had driven Balu back home- and directly to the hospital, but he’d died. There were a lot of phone calls over the rest of the evening. While Seanara had a sealed envelop with one copy of the marriage certificate to drop off at the clerks Monday morning, the hospital needed one- so Charles and Frank drove back up from Virginia to get it. Jane had a copy made of hers, and sent her original down- with warnings that she had to have it back for her files once they’d seen it. We all knew he was very sick, but we thought that he had more time than that. Considering the pain he was in, I can’t feel too badly that he’s out of it now, but Seanara is going to have a very hard time with the chaos- and then, of course, the standard hard time of losing her partner of 15 years. As an added piece of chaos- Balu was the one who ran Jane’s business website. I heard from her today, and luckily the group through which Balu ran it had her passwords and such, and will take over the running of it- although it’s now going to cost her about 4 times as much. But at least the passwords aren’t lost forever.
Balu’s web page: http://www.crystal-owl.com/tom/
I have to wonder what happens to a website when the person who owned it dies. What happens to the information that was on it? Is it taken down- boom, or do the links gradually stop being maintained and more and more of them become Not Found on this Server until it’s no longer worth checking it (the electronic equivalent of a tree rotting into the forest floor- only without the release of fertilizer.
The other weird thing that happened over the weekend was that Sunday morning Willow woke up and her thumb was in intense pain. There was a band of red around it, and it was weak and she couldn’t move it. We suspect she slept on it wrong and it got dislocated- but we really couldn’t detect any dislocation with manipulation. Just a lot of pain. The next day it was swollen and more of it was red. We bought a chemical heat-pack, but it didn’t last long. When we got home she used the rice bags heated in the microwave and it’s gotten better enough that she’s changed her mind about going to the doctor. The worst part of course, is what she wanted was for the doctor to tell her what the heck had happened, and I very much doubt that the doctor would be able to- he’d probably ask her what she’d done- and since she didn’t do anything, and had no idea why it was doing it, it would have added frustration to the pain, with no help. If you have any ideas, do share, because we are mystified.

The trip home was pleasantly uneventful except that I got off the turnpike in NJ looking for gas and they didn’t have a on-ramp. I hate it when they let you off and won’t you get back on. We went to a drug store and got some “icy-hot” patches- but they were just like tiger balm on sticky strips. I came up with a car game to play by myself- like the one where you go through the alphabet with road signs, I went through the alphabet using words from the songs playing on our CD mixes. j is hard, but q, x, and z are awful- I had to give up on having them be the first letter of a word and just be in it. When Willow woke up she played too and caught up with me while I waited for those. We also played one where you try to have a “reasonable” conversation using only song titles. Having left at 10, (with an hour stop to eat, and that bit where one could argue that we were “lost”) we got in at 9:15. Google maps is full of it when they suggest it’s a 7 hour trip.
Yesterday was catch-up, of course. Unpacking, laundry, sweeping, trash, etc. And suddenly we are in December. Jon helped me change the Della Robbia plates and bring out the holly ones. We got our first cards. I found some pretty ones, and was thinking I’d send some out this year, but they may only go to those who send them to us- due to the convenience of the internet, when I looked in my address book, most of my addresses are obsolete. If I’m going to send cookies to anyone, I have to get baking, and in the mean time, I have decided to try to catch up on all my outstanding art commissions- hoping that that will bring in enough money to cover the balance of the taxes. (Originally my small annuity from my mother’s legacy covered the taxes, but with the recession, it doesn’t anymore, and I still am not doing well enough with the business to take money out for a salary.)

I have been told repeatedly that while I have many talents and skills, in order to be successful, I have to pick one and concentrate on it. I’ve always found it impossible to give up everything else. Willow got hit by a “sooth coming on” and it was the same thing. (Kind of funny, she described it as like passing gas, you can feel it coming, and no matter how you try to stop it, you know it’s going to come out, and all you can do is try to control how it comes out to reduce the response of the people around you. Oh, the problems of shamanic tendencies!)
Anyway, I’m leaning toward art- of all the many skills and talents I have, it’s the art that has the largest backlog of unfinished projects I’ve been hoping to get to, although writing comes a close second. I’m thinking that maybe I’ll take the illustrations for the Librarian and the Unicorn Riders (even though they are 30 years old and if I do get to doing the book I’ll have to re-do them), and mat them and put them in an art show. I hesitate to pick art because I know that there’s so much improvement I need to make before I consider myself salable. Still, I can’t start earlier, and it’s not like I’ve ever been able to keep myself from drawing. If I say “art” I can include portraits and sculpture and illustration, so there’s some variety in it. And I can continue working on the soothsaying, history and healing without getting paid for it. I cannot deny that I imagine I’d happy as a clam in academia (if I could deal with the personality politics, which I have to admit that I probably couldn’t). Studying and teaching for the rest of my life would be marvelous- except that I don’t have any images of academics in the country, and I really need country life. Sadly, I don’t think I can teach art because what I do, I do by instinct (the down-side of not having had any formal training, I can share what I’ve developed, but don’t know the techniques that artists have shared with each other for centuries.) But at the same time, I’m sure that getting a commission turned in in a timely manner is probably more important for commercial art than great talent and skill.

You can really tell that it’s December, the phone rings constantly with charities wanting money, and the mail is full of catalogues full of stuff that’s very cool. You know how they say that “the heart wants what it wants, but you can’t make it want what you want it to want.”? Other parts want what they want too- and I’m not talking “the gallant reflex”- there are really cool things out there! Last year Playmobil came out with a line of Roman sets, and this year they’ve got Egyptian sets! I’m not really excited about their pyramid, but if I had a lot of money, I would SO get the arena and chariots! And some legionnaires, and Gauls, and some Egyptians too (and maybe the archeologist- and the temple, and the tomb and I love the families). Playmobil is just the BEST- do you know that in their stable, you get a broom and horse droppings? This year their advent calendars aren’t just Santa scenes, they’ve got pirates and fairies (and police) as well. Even though I generally disapprove of the amount of money spent at Christmas, I do like toys and games and having fun.
I guess part of it is the insistence of so many people that they want to give you something that will be fun, not something you need, and the problem is that if you need things like money to pay bills, getting something to play with doesn’t feel good, it’s frustrating. In the old days, people just had what they needed (unless they were part of the privileged classes), and the gifts were only from those who knew them and loved them enough to make or get them something that they knew that they’d want and couldn’t get. I guess we are now all in the privileged class- we aren’t having to be careful to make sure our stored food is going to make it through the winter. We don’t have a work dress and a Sunday dress, but a closet full of clothes. Very few people worry about whether they are going to freeze to death if the winter is hard. We are more afraid of embarrassment than anything else. That’s a pretty cool world to be living in, if you think about it. But at the same time, as we chase our ideals of self expression and independence, we have to come up with more and more ways to try to make human contact. We like the way it feels when we give a present to someone that they really like- so we try to get that feeling by giving lots of presents to lots of people. Sadly, getting something you don’t want feels bad, and then you feel guilty for not being appreciative, so maybe you figure you should try harder, spend more, do more, decorate more, bake more, give more to charities, (go deeper into debt). We end up trying to buy happiness. Even if we aren’t spending the money on ourselves, we are trying to get that good feeling for ourselves.
I’m as guilty as anyone. Every year I have my Solstice party hoping people will come and have a warm, pleasant time. I only vaguely remember that there have been years when no one came, but I have many wonderful memories of the ones when they did. Last year when the party fell at the end the power-outage after the big ice storm, and it was great. The year before we’d had all that snow and the young fools were jumping off the roof into the ten foot drifts, and we watched the sun come up at Newgrange on Brian’s computer. Some of my best friends now were people that old friends brought along because they wanted them to meet us. I love that feeling. One of my greatest fantasies is being able to play the piano well enough that we can sing to it. (I should practice more- in my “copious free time”.) It’s a great disappointment to me that I’ve never been able to get my Richards family to come to my house for Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve. That’s probably what I get for moving out into the boonies, but still, I love having people in and feeding them and talking to them. That’s why one has a big house, I think.

Ooo- good news! Steve started work this week. The bad news is that the “90 minute” commute is right through the middle of Boston, so he has to be out of the house at 6 am or he’ll be caught in rush hour traffic, and I’m not sure that it’s possible for him to leave Rhode Island early enough to miss the Boston Rush Hour. I have this horrible feeling that they are going to have him from 7:30 in the morning until 6 at night every day- which means he’s out 6 am until nearly 8. I hope he’s getting lots of money and once he settles in it’s fun. I fear I won’t be seeing as much of him now.

Obviously, I didn’t get much of a chance to read or watch anything while we were at Darkover (Thursday to Monday!), but I can let you know what I read and watched the week before, since I didn’t have time to include it last week.

As last week, I’ve continued to delve into palmistry. The book I’m reading now deals almost exclusively with fingerprints and how they relate to character. Mine apparently say that I’m a connecter. I like to connect with other people and help them connect with each other. I noticed that Willow has arches on her thumbs- that means she has a great need for calm and serenity. No wonder most of our conflicts are because I’ve been bustling about too much.
Thanks to inter-library loans I got to read All Together Dead and Definitely Dead- the next Sookie Stackhouse books, and I’m up to about the eighth Cirque du Freak “Vampire’s Assistant” books. I like them both, although they are totally different. The CdF books are juvenile- simple adventures about this kid who’s “half vampire”- which means he can go out in the sun. The characters are fun too- like the vampire who keeps getting really sunburned because he figures that he can acclimate himself to the sun. The biggest problem I have with it is that it’s written as if because the kid was “brought over” when he was 15, that even a couple decades later he’s not going to have matured- he still seems to think and act like the teen audience for whom the books are intended. In contrast the Vampire Queen of Louisiana and her best friend were brought over at about 15 and 16 about a thousand years ago, and they are described as the creepiest vampires ever. The centuries of craft and knowledge behind innocent child-like faces sounds so sinister.
I suppose the whole “vampire” craze is simply the way that modern speculative fiction is examining the way the modern world looks at death and youth. If Vampires didn’t already exist, we’d have to invent some sort of semi-immortal beings to try to figure out what the effect of living so long while your loved ones died around you (Highlander?) had on the human psyche. How old are we supposed to get? How are we supposed to deal with it? Look at the speculative fiction of the “post bomb” era: how much power should me have?
SF and Fantasy are wonderful ways to explore that which we wonder about most.

I’ll take that as a segue into what I’ve watched in the last couple of weeks. I got curious and watched the original Stepford Wives (then re-watched the recent re-make). I wonder- is the reason it could become a comedy, and have a happy ending because we have come to terms with the issues of feminism and can now laugh at it? The original was a really good horror movie. There wasn’t a lot of special effects or violence, but it had the slow and steady build up of a feeling of something being “off” or “wrong”, along with the building awareness of Ross’ character’s helplessness to do anything about it. And, of course, in the more recent remake, the clothes were a romanticization of the fifties, whereas in the 70s one, they were just wearing what rich women in the 60s would have worn.
Having watched Shop Around the Corner, I decided to see You’ve Got Mail and I think I liked it better than the original because I really thought that Stewart’s character was rather nasty to lots of people at the beginning. At no point was Tom Hanks’ character unpleasant. He got defensive when being attacked because he ran a large chain-store. There was a certain Pride and Prejudice bit to it (which I think they knew because, as I recall, that was the book that was being used as a recognition symbol). There is a great truth that when people are uncomfortable they are not at their best.
Race to Witch Mountain was more of a sequel than a remake, but even though special effects are better now, and Alexander Ludwig was excellent as the young alien, it was a boring movie. The only thing I liked about it was the portrayal of the SF fans at the convention. That made it worth watching for me, but Galaxy Quest was SO much better. As you can tell, after more than a month of solid horror, I’ve been going for lighter fare. Penelope was about a modern girl under a fairy-tale type curse: she has the nose of a pig. Of course since she’s played by the incredibly gorgeous Christina Ricci, it’s not a big deal, but her mother acts like it’s the end of the world, and tries to arrange a marriage for her to break the curse. The guy she falls in love with is played by James McAvoy, and I hate to say it, but I also took Atonement out of the library this week (I figured, if it got seven awards nominations and took one, it must be good) and of the two films, I preferred Penelope. Atonement was heavy and dark and depressing. Yes, the themes were important, but at the same time, I think the theme of being able to like yourself even if you are not accepted by the world and your parents is also an important theme. And I’m not entirely sure I accept the final argument of the movie- that sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be honest. The author (played by Vanessa Redgrave) says that it wouldn’t have served anything to have told the truth when the lie was kinder. I think that’s the kind of rubbish people tell themselves to feel better when the implications of the truth scares them, and because it’s presented as the conclusion of a woman who’s old and had lots of years to think about it, that’s supposed to indicate that it’s a wise decision. I see no reason that old people can’t be just as foolish and self deceptive as young people. It’s all about avoiding pain. (I’d still recommend the movie to people who are in the mood for something “important”. The cinematography and music were superb.)
I also took the first tape of Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting out of the library, and I think I’ll probably get the others. Her lisp is a little off-putting, but her love of and knowledge of the subject matter totally overwhelms that, and it included pieces I hadn’t seen before. The big drawback for me is that I had to keep grabbing the remote to re-wind when I realized I’d missed an important visual because I was working at the same time. I also took out the first CDs of the 1st season of the HBO Tudors. I think it took me all of about 15 minutes to decide that gorgeous costumes and sets not withstanding, there was just too much gratuitous sex for me to bother watching it all. Even if I wasn’t watching. Maybe if I’d kept it on (but I was running around like crazy last week), I’d have gotten into the plot. Apparently Sam Neills played Cardinal Wolsey, but I’d cut my teeth on the BBC Six Wives of Henry the 8th with Keith Mitchell and Elizabeth with . The picture quality wasn’t as good, but the acting and writing were superb, and the sex stayed where it should be, as a motivator, not as a spectator sport.
After watching My Name is Bruce last month, I sent for Bubba Ho-Tep, which I rather figured would be about some guy in Vegas playing an Egyptian type roll- not unlike the fighter in the movie Mars Attacks. I was so wrong. Campbell plays Elvis. A very old Elvis stuck in a nursing home, and everyone thinks he’s a senile ex-Elvis impersonator. (His best friend in the home is a black guy who thinks he’s JFK, so one can figure they were justified in not believing him.) Then a mummy starts coming by and sucking the life out of the people in the home. No one is surprised because they expect old people to die, but the two old guys figure it out and get annoyed when their friends are killed. It’s the other end of the baby-boomer generation horror movies. Used to be that no one would listen to the kids and teens because they were young, now we have no one listening to them because they’re old. In any plot you have to come up with some sort of explanation why the authorities who might be able to handle a dangerous situation aren’t going to do so, so the less qualified protagonists have to figure out a way to get around their inadequacies to fight the monster. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt if a large part of your target buying audience can identify with the protagonists. It also may well be a way to make dealing with something that is incredibly slow a worthy opponent. The mummy was slow, but so were the old guys fighting him, so it balanced out. Another movie the Land of the Lost, with Will Ferral, had similarly slow monsters. The director pointed out that in the TV show, it was such a small set that the lizard men (Sleestacks) had to go very slowly or they’d catch the kids, and he had to stay with the things that people remembered fondly. It was kind of amusing, but frankly, I think most of the best jokes were in the trailers. Of course, this isn’t the first remake. The Land of the Lost that I remember is not the same Land of the lost that my kids remember, although they had some things in common. Nostalgia is going to be getting bigger and bigger as we baby-boomers age.
And speaking of aging, I watched the old classic Sunset Boulevard with Gloria Swanson and Eric von Stroheim. I’m not sure that it could be re-made. The concept that a man could lose his self respect by being supported by a woman would have a hard time since so many women are supported by men, and these days “what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose”. I could imagine someone trying to remake it, but they’d have to come up with some plot twists to justify why he lost all self respect. Simply being considered a gigolo isn’t enough these days.
What else? How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days was a charming little romance. The set up is that a girl is trying to do all the things she’s observed that women do that drive their boyfriends off, unfortunately the guy she picks to do this has made a bet that he can get any woman to fall in love with him- so that every time she’s really awful, he puts up with it. Of course, they fall in love. Personally, the scene I liked best was when he took her to meet his family- I cried, then I watched it again and cried again. There is nothing more beautiful to me than a loving family enjoying each other. The rest of the movie was no more (but I suppose no less) than it should be. It’s in that large category of movies I can “watch once-ers”. I’m glad I’ve seen them, but don’t think I’d bother re-renting much less buying them.
Star watched the Bond film Moonraker. We got a copy of Goldfinger once- I think it was in a yard sale for $3, and I picked it up for cultural literacy for the kids. Personally, I found the overt sexism of the original Bond offensive, I have no idea if the current Bond’s have it. I suppose I’ll get the chance to find out as Star has Octopussy and some other Bond films on his queue.

Well, that took longer than I’d anticipated. I’d hoped to finish quickly and start on painting, sewing, and maybe get in some exercise. Recently I’ve been thinking in aphorisms like “Start as you would continue” or “Be the person you want to be” and other motivational stuff like that. (Basically, don’t reach over and grab a book no matter how fascinating, get out of this bed and get to work!) Thank goodness for my bladder- now that’s a REAL motivator! Here’s a good one I’ll throw in for a closing quote
“Even when opportunity knocks, a man still has to get up off his seat and open the door.”
–General Douglas MacArthur

`til next week,