In Which Our Heroine Is Still Sick

1 May 2004

Sick sick sick sick. I thought it was my back early Wednesday evening. No. Not the back; not just the back. Virus. Bad, bad, bad. I spent most of Thursday too sick to read or watch a movie. I read Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary when I could, because I had been talking to Pamela about it just Wednesday, and because I needed a book I could trust. When you know you're going to have to lay the book down at frequent intervals and then just lie there thinking, you don't want to be thinking, "Well, that was stupid! I never thought about it that way before!" Mostly I just lay in bed and thought and dozed and tried to stay warm/cool, depending on which stage the fever and chills had settled on for the moment.

The fever is mostly broken now, and my body temperature is much more stable. I could, for example, shower without spending fifteen minutes afterwards shaking uncontrollably. Definitely an improvement.

This has not been fun.

Yesterday I was able to read again. I read Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays, which I hadn't read in ages and ages -- I loved it as a kid for the foreign world it portrayed. A world in which kids not much older than myself were allowed to wander New York by themselves -- surely this was purest fantasy! Even Madeleine L'Engle's vastly unrealistic The Young Unicorns had teenage girls accompanied by huge dogs and younger children not going out alone at all. This was more distant still. On a reread, I found it interesting but slightly less satisfying than I remembered. I felt that the oldest sister, Mona, was essentially punished for being pretty. Each character got a chapter of "adventure" to themselves, but the other characters reacted to Mona as though she was vain and silly. For getting her nails polished bright red. Not even for having press-ons, because in a world where a 13-year-old girl could wander around New York alone, there probably weren't any. But just for having her nails painted at all. This was something people's mothers did for them when I was much, much smaller than 13. So when she cries that she feels so cheap, I interpreted it at the time as a crie de coeur at the unfairness of her family's behavior. Upon adult reading, I see that I was meant to read it as shame at her own failing. I give that a big fat razzberry.

(Unfortunately, that's one of the only sounds I can reliably make just now. The fever is manageable. The throat, not so much right now. Ugh. At good moments, I can manage the Princess Leia voice: "You have hibernation sickness. Your eyesight will return in time." Etc. So of course the people I desperately wanted to talk to had time to call me back yesterday. Life is apparently like that.)

The rest of The Saturdays was fun, though, and then I went on to finish Turning the Storm, which was fine but did not particularly push my buttons for good or ill. Then I read Slaves of Spiegel, which is by Daniel Pinkwater and has nothing to do with clothing catalogs. Fat aliens in leisure suits. A still more unresolved ending than he usually has. I'm not sure that febrile is the right state for reading Pinkwater. It's either ideal or wholly suboptimal. I'm just not sure which.

Then I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Janie's Private Eyes, which is in the same series as The Headless Cupid and (like Slaves of Spiegel) was one of my grocery bag library book sale books. It was fine. I can't really imagine it being anybody's favorite, but if you already like that series (which I do), it was a decent installment. Next was Witi Ihimaera's Whale Rider, the book on which the movie was based. If I ever again say "the book's always better than the movie," you may simply say the words "Whale Rider" to me, and I will desist. Uff da uff da. How they managed to drag such a good movie out of such a bad book, I don't know. Lame, lame, lame. But short. But very lame. Then I went on to Kathleen Stokker's Folklore Fights the Nazis: Humor in Occupied Norway 1940-1945, which was interesting but overstated the case a bit, I think. It's fairly natural when your focus is something small and generally overlooked to magnify its importance. Natural, but not necessarily a good idea. Anyway, it was good nonfiction for when I was sick: intriguing but not too upsetting and not requiring too many notes taken. (Two, in fact: one title and one story.)

I'm currently just finished with Avram Davidson's The Other Nineteenth Century, short stories, some of which I like quite a bit, and some of which...meh. I have not, however, been keen on the afterwords to these stories. A few of them were all right, but many of them went to the trouble of telling the reader, briefly, how the editors of this collection thought Mr. Davidson had been brilliant in this particular instance. I find that I am usually either able to detect brilliance on my own or unable to appreciate it on the recommendation of a single paragraph containing nothing objective, simply phrases like "here we see his narrative genius." Here I either saw it or won't see it now, thanks. I understand that one of the editors was married to him and the other was at least excited enough to edit this collection, but for heaven's sake, it's just not useful.

I felt good enough to read, and that was about it, so that's what I did. I also watched the Leafs win. Wooooo!

This may be approximately my day today, because sitting here typing this is awfully wearing. I know that sounds all Victorian consumptive fainting flower, but honestly, I'm just wiped out. Just, bleh bleh blecchhhh. Nobody is getting a May basket today. Mark went to Byerly's and got "tempt the sickie to eat" things with vitamin C in them, fresh strawberries and that cherry chicken salad they make and the Byerly's wild rice soup, so that I remember that I may be sick, but I'm sick at home, and that makes all the difference.

In the midst of all this, Mark's motherboard went kaput and part of his hard drive, too. We had been planning to buy him a new computer very soon. We had not been planning to buy him a new computer Thursday afternoon, but, y'know, these things happen; off he went to get one, and he's been setting it up ever since. Thing is, Mark's computer is our server, usually. So right now I can't answer e-mail that arrived before the old machine died. Eventually I'll be able to. Right now, I can only answer e-mail that's come in since then, and that on an unusual interface for me. So that's, um, interesting. Mark is getting things set up as quickly as he can and still get work done and do some of the house stuff I'm not doing. He and Timprov had not caught this virus yet as of my bedtime last night. I hope they don't catch it at all. It's no fun, and it's been good having other people fetch my water and make my dinner, and I'm not really up to being the water-fetcher and dinner-maker at this point.

I'm going to go be horizontal with The American Poetry Review and The Poison Master. If I'm lucky, all the setup and server issues will be straightened out and you'll read this today; if I'm still luckier, I'll feel good enough to put on actual clothes and maybe finish writing "Docile Bodies." Let's not be hasty, though. I have decided that ents are my best guide to sickie behavior.

Later. Well, they're not straightened out yet anyway. So here I am. I got Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Book in the mail: late Easter gift from my folks, since Amazon didn't ship it when my mom ordered it. There were two things that struck me reading it. Well, lots: I laughed like a laryngitic hyena, but two that I wanted to comment on.

The first was from "God and I," which I had read online before. For those of you who haven't, it's here, the account of Teresa's official separation from the Mormons. Lots of things from that hit me the first time I read it, but this just went sailing by, only to go, "THWAP" as I thought I was reading something familiar. Here it is: "Back there, grown married ladies simply do not have male friends who are not their husbands, particularly friends who show up on important occasions when their husband does not." I know part of this is that I've been sick, and I'm a little more emotionally Fraggle when I'm sick, but that just made me want to cry. It's not news. Intellectually I know that there are whole cultures where men and women aren't friends, not at all, not a little bit, not unless they're having sex and often not even then. Orson Scott Card and Rob Reiner seem to think we're living in one of them. I'd heard it before. But it just made me so sad.

I didn't even bother thinking of it for myself, because my life without male friends not my husband is no longer recognizably my life. It's not worth calling the same critter. It's just something else entirely. But I thought about my mom's life. I thought about being startled when my mom is going out for lunch with Not-My-Uncle Bill because, well, y'know, he's a man and not her husband. I thought about having to fuss about posting some of the first pictures I ever showed you-all of my family, because there's my uncle Bill who, all names to the contrary is not actually my uncle in any genetic or legal sense, with his arm around Momma, and there's Daddy with his arm around (all names to the contrary again) my aunt Kathy, all friendly-like, just like Mars and Kars and me in the picture that follows, except...male and female friends, not just female friends. And sure, Mom and Kath are friends and Dad and Bill are friends, but Mom and Bill are friends and Dad and Kathy are friends, too, or it wouldn't all be so good as it is. I don't know what it would be like to have to think that was weird. I don't know what it would be like to assume that if Daddy was out of town or busy, Mom couldn't count on Bill or the other Bill or Al or her dwarves (long story) or any number of male friends, the more so if the event in question was an important one. It just makes me sad for all those respectable married Mormon ladies whose respectability is so darn fragile and so darn important to them.

But this is new, isn't it? This is something I can take entirely for granted because of when I was raised and what kind of person raised me, and I was able to treat the cousins whose houses practiced a de facto segregation, women around the kitchen table and men on the couch in front of the game, as aberrations. Because a simple parental "that's not how we do things" can be so darn normative that I can just fail to notice the "women with girl friends and men with guy friends" thing that so much of our culture still assumes. Because I was born late enough in the Twentieth, and because my parents were of a particular intellectual bent. And because I'm sometimes pretty good at ranking "Is this possible?" fairly low on my list of questions to ask, so that by the time someone else brings it up, like when I saw "When Harry Met Sally," the only possible response was, "What a dumb question!" ("Can girls do physics?" was like that, too.) So that when Jimmer and I ran into playground idiocy in fourth and fifth grade, it was recognizably idiotic and recognizable as an aberration. Which, in my life, it has been. Just not necessarily in most lives.

I have friends who have dated people with no friends of the opposite sex. Particularly, I have friends who have dated women with no men friends. I view these women with extreme suspicion, because somewhere in me I really am aware of those respectable Mormon ladies Teresa mentioned, and somewhere in me I know what they think of their boyfriends or husbands going around with the likes of me, an unrepentant man-liker. Also, I know that if I go somewhere with two or more males and one of those women, I will be in charge of her entertainment, and whenever she feels the conversation has gotten sufficiently male (that is to say, sufficiently interesting), she will break in with a comment to me, intended to start a side conversation that is just us girls. I do not make these things up. It has happened before. It gives me hives. It makes me want to throw things at her head. It makes me want to snarl and not stop snarling until she backs off. It makes me want to talk about Cauchy integrals.

I have had side conversations that are between women -- some of them even "girly" conversations, about where one can purchase female clothes that aren't stupid or how much it stinks to have your body behave like there's a live, angry hedgehog wreaking in the middle of it for a few days out of every 28. But most of the men in my life are no longer frightened by textiles or normal reproductive biology, or at least no longer willing to admit it publicly, so we go on happily enough. And I think "the women" or "the men" is no less valid a subset of any group of friends than any other subset. I'm just not sure it's more interesting than any other subset, either.

So somewhere in my head lurks this awareness and this, er, I suppose I should call it extreme hostility, but I guess in Teresa's essay what struck me was that there was this whole category of people who wouldn't be there for you if you played by that dumb rule. There would be this huge gap in your life that you would accept as normal. I realize that this is not the only huge gap accepted as normal in many traditional Mormon women's lives, but it's one that hit me pretty hard.

Then in "Over Rough Terrain," there's a bit called "Letter to Ted White," and Teresa says, "For you, fandom is a place where the 1964 Pacificon feud is a piece of known history. For me, coming into fandom in the mid-1970s, it was like growing up in a city that has been visited in the past by some awful disaster, and the ruins are there but nobody talks about what happened." For me, in the last few years as I've edged my way into it, into the thing that is fandom and not merely reading and writing SF and fantasy and having a few geeky friends who do the same, it's been like visiting a continental European city. Any of the big ones will do, really: Paris is the one I've been to down there, but the analogy isn't specifically Parisian. It's that there have been dozens and hundreds of awful disasters, with ruins in place and ruins paved over and some with monuments and some with cheerful tour guides and some with hushed whispers. And the thing is, it's nearly impossible for me to tell which will be which -- when a student uprising's victims will have gotten a plaque and when a shrug and when a furious argument.

I've started meeting and liking people. I have little idea which of the people I moderately liked will turn out to be close pals with the others since they were in diapers or at least since I was, and which will not care to speak to each other given the opportunity. And which will be mutual friends of two people who hold some antipathy towards each other, because life is not a convenient fantasy novel plot where factions do not require Venn diagrams to describe. Everyone has broken down into "fur us or agin us" units in many high fantasy plots, and I suppose that does make it easier to manage. Still. I think one of the things I liked about Turning the Storm was that the motives within the factions were varied and complicated. Naomi Kritzer didn't have to do that -- she could have just had "these folks want one thing and these others want the other thing, so they fight." But she didn't leave it at that, and I'm glad.

Well. Mark's got most relevant things restored now that I've had my little rant, and I'm just going to wish you a good evening and go try to sort out what's in my inbox because it belongs there and what just didn't get deleted when I was using the other interface. Better yet, I'm going to go be horizontal again awhile. I keep trying to be not-sick now that the fever is under control, and then I try to speak or, y'know, do stuff. Like going five minutes without clearing my throat or coughing. Important stuff like that. It's a miracle I'm not at the symphony, with as often and as emphatically as I have to cough or clear my throat. I thought there was a magic force field that transported people in this condition to the nearest classical music performance and appreciation venue.

Perhaps leggings and foot duvets and souvenir T-shirts and ridged sweatshirts would have been this year's haute couture, and now we will never know, because the magic force field isn't doing its job. Stupid magic force field.

I'd probably fall asleep during the adagio bits anyway.

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