Regrets Or Lack Thereof

1 June 2002

Well, I finished the "Small Talk" rewrites and have them ready to send out to Stan Schmidt. Cross your fingers for me. It's more resolved than it used to be by a good bit, which changed the plot arc just as it did in "Irena's Roses." Didn't take nearly so many words to do it, though -- "Irena's" went from a middling long short story to a short novelette, whereas "Small Talk" went from a short story to a slightly longer short story. We'll see what he says.

I've also finally been working on the edits to "The Children's Village" and "Fair Use." I got into the Not The Moose Book far enough that I didn't really want to work on other stuff, but I really do want to have both of these edited and out soon, where "soon" is in the next couple of weeks. I still want to do NTMB work fairly intensely, though, and I don't want to kill my back. So we'll see. If I can finish an editing pass at "The Children's Village," I'll send it along to the writing group. We'll see. Keeping the new version balanced is going to be the hard part. I had an old balance, and then the characters started wandering off taking other positions, so now I have to balance those.

It's funny, reading essays from less than fifteen years ago, how dated they can come out. Nikki Giovanni was grousing about how tennis announcers referred to players by their nationality -- "the Swede" and "the East German" (!) and so on. But Timprov had tennis on for a little bit yesterday, and I didn't hear a word of that. People always had names. There's other stuff, too, wonderment at such newfangled systems as Call Waiting and more.

In The Size of Thoughts, Nicholson Baker says, "At times it's fun to be part of a society so intent on institutionalizing its response to novelty. Our toes are curled right around the leading edge of the surfboard. Nothing far out will catch us off guard. We will monitor left field continually, and no hint of activity from that quarter will elude our scrutiny." And he's right, but the thing I love about it is, we're wrong. We -- especially those of us who are science fiction writers -- scan the horizon for newness, and then when it does come through, half the time, we think, "Huh, I'd never have thought of that." Our social response to change is still different from most societies' (read the introduction to Otherness on this one -- David Brin is right), but we can still be startled by gadgets we didn't really anticipate would work quite that way.

I like being startled. Especially by neat gadgets.

(I was amused at Mark's and my quite different responses to one of Anne Fadiman's stories in Ex Libris. She was talking about books and food and something she did when pregnant, involving a molten hunk of cheese and Treasure Island. I was amused by this story. Mark was more alarmed. In general, he says, stories about the crazy things women want to eat when they're pregnant are more alarming to him than amusing. Whereas for me, it's...I don't know. It's fascinating, wondering whether I'll be like that, or what stories of my own I'll have. Not so much scary. I think Mark is a good deal more frightened of the idea of me being pregnant than I am. For me, having an all-new person to raise is the scary part. Mark figures that kids are pretty tough and more or less get where they're going, but having a person actually growing inside my body -- that's a bit more frightening.)

Anyway, I'm reading Lynne Sharon Schwartz's Face to Face, which is the last of the essay collections I have from the library for the time being. I'm enjoying it, but I also think it'll be time to get back to fiction for awhile when I finish it.

So Karina is shutting down her journal. She doesn't know if it's permanent or temporary, but she just doesn't want to do it any more. And while I will miss Spontaneous Things, I do understand the decision. Nobody commits to writing an online journal for the rest of their lives. (I would hope.) And it's not a moral obligation -- if it's not interesting or fun or scratching some itch, why do it? So I'll be sad to see Karina go, but it's clear she hasn't been having fun with it, so in a way I'm also glad for her.

(Also it gave me incentive to restructure my links page. Timprov isn't doing his journal any more, either, and Mark never had one, and right now there are only two sections of links. That seems suboptimal, so I'm going to change things around a bit to have a section for friends and family who have webpages but no journals.)

(And also I still expect to hear from Karina -- AHEM -- and to read her fiction, so I hope not to miss her that much.)

Ah well. I've talked to Thomas a bit more about the high school system and graduating early or just getting the heck out of there. He was wondering about what he may have missed. And I guess I have a hard time thinking of things that way. Part of it because I think high school is like chicken pox: sure, a vast majority of American adults have gone through it, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't avoid as much of it as possible.

But part of it is that I have a hard time considering things as "missed." Sure, if you don't go to high school, you don't go to Prom, for the most part. But you have no guarantees that you would have gone anyway, or that you would have had a good time there. You can never change just one thing, and it's hard to say "would have." So what you can figure out is whether you made a good choice with the information and options you had at the time, and whether you're happy with where you are now or where you're going. While you can end up with some negative answers, it's generally more positive than focusing on what you missed or might have missed.

Graduating from high school early looked like the best decision for me at the time. It looks like it was the best decision now, and it has for pretty much every single nanosecond in between. That's not to say I can't come up with specific negative things that have happened to me because of it. One of my friendships was damaged and another got pretty much a death blow because of my early graduation. (The former friend felt abandoned. She had assumed that we'd do "senior things" together, that she would have me there when she wanted me to be. We double dated for Prom in her junior year, which was my last year, but it wasn't "the same," and she knew I'd be gone the next year. The latter friend felt somewhat personally affronted: did I think I was smarter than her? Why wasn't it all "good enough" for me? Jenn can attest lately: sometimes when you're challenging yourself, other people see it as a challenge to them, and the results are not always pretty.)

And how do you really compare that to anything else, damage to a friendship or loss of one? How do you weight things like that? I would ask how you anticipate them, but I knew from the moment I was going to be allowed to graduate early that these specific people would react in these specific ways. I did know. I made my decision anyway. And while I wouldn't mind hearing more from either or both of these women, they are not and never were the sorts of friends I'd plan my life around.

I know that the essence of regret is saying, "I wish it could have been otherwise." And in that sense I'm good at regrets. I regret many things. But if it shifts just a little to "It would have been otherwise" or "It should have been otherwise" -- then, well, it's much harder for me to feel that way about things accidentally. I usually remember very clearly what I was thinking when I made a specific choice, and why, and so I don't spend a lot of time thinking "If only I had known," because usually I know whether or not there was a way for me to know whatever it was.

I think I'm a lot kinder to myself in the past tense than I am in the present.

My physics teacher in high school used to say, "Life is a series of choices, and we are judged by the choices we make." He would go on to tell us that it was certainly not his place to tell us we had to do our homework -- that was our choice. But it was also not our place to tell him that he had to pass us if we didn't -- that choice was his. He was a very silly man most of the time, but he was right there. Everything does involve trade-offs. The sheets on the bed are not currently clean because I washed jeans, darks, and lights yesterday instead, so I'll have to wash sheets this morning. I live in California because it was important to Mark to get his Ph.D. from Stanford, and it was important to me to be with Mark and let him go where he needed to go and do what he needed to do. And I miss people things from home in the sense that I more commonly use the word -- of course I do, I talk all the time about how I do. But I don't regret the choice. I think it was the best choice to make at the time we made it, and I think that the current situation continues to be a better choice than other options that we do have. (For a couple of obvious examples, it's better than Mark quitting before he finishes his Ph.D. It's better than me moving somewhere without him.) It's important to remember that, that we have no choices about the past, but we always have choices about the future.

Some choices are beyond us. I couldn't talk myself into loving high school at the time, and I can't talk myself into loving California now. Neither one is in me to do. It's a parameter to take into consideration. But there are lots of other adjustable parameters.

And that bumped me right off that train of thought, possibly permanently, because I had my Applied Calc prof in my head shouting, "What is N? N is parameter! N is parameter! You must know parameter!" absolutely out of the clear blue sky. She was a rather volatile personality and had a very thick Egyptian accent, if that helps with the image at all. And she would look at us and say, "Is Euler Formula. How many times we use this, feeeeefty, seeeeexty times? Who is counting?" And then she'd wait, and I would pop up with a number: "Forty-seven!" "Forty-seven times? Thank you, Mareeeeeessa." And then she'd go on (and on and on -- she was one of those profs who didn't realize that her students were taking other classes, some of which were scheduled soon after her class was supposed to end). I wrote down what number I'd said last so that my fake tally was monotonically increasing, because it seemed to be important to her.

(There, now, wasn't that a nice Samiha flashback, Heathah? A happy way to spend a paragraph or so?)

So. We have plans for today. Many plans. Washing sheets, as mentioned above, and buying monitors (we hope!) and watching the new Star Wars movie down in San Jose somewhere, because it's important to Mark to have digital projection for this thing. And I'm hoping to make hunter chicken salad for supper and get work done on the NTMB and "The Children's Village," and maybe "Fair Use" if I get really ambitious and it doesn't look to kill my back. I'm not sure if I'll feel the need to watch "The Empire Strikes Back" this evening to wash the taste of "Attack of the Clones" out of my mind, but we'll wait and see on that one. And more. I'll tell you tomorrow, I'm sure.

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