Isn't That Nice

14 June 2001

Every month my birth control pills annoy me. "Now is the best time for your monthly breast self-exam," they inform me authoritatively. Really? What if I'm running out the door as I'm throwing the pill in my mouth? What if I have four different things on deadline today? What if I have severely burned my hand and won't be healed for another few weeks? (This happened last year around this time.) How do they know it's the best time? Couldn't they say something like, "Please remember to do your monthly breast self-exam"? Then they'd be fighting breast cancer but not presuming upon my schedule.

The worst part about cutting stuff from Fortress of Thorns, I think, is that I remember writing these sections. When I'm cutting an adjective phrase here and an unnecessary sentence there, it's all right. But the scene where the girls are arguing at the video store -- it's totally unnecessary, but I thought it was a nice bit of character. More importantly, though, I wrote it at the park on Oak Grove Road, on the Saturday I became convinced that I was never going to be able to finish this book (it had about five scenes left). It was my window back into my characters' worlds. Cutting it now is a good idea, it's the right idea, seems a bit ungracious, is all.

Today is my dad's birthday. He's Old. (How old? Older than Mom!) I think every family needs someone who wants to open all birthday presents immediately and someone who wants to Wait Until It's Your Birthday. Daddy is the "immediately" type -- that's where I get it. Daddy really enjoys birthdays. So I hope he enjoys this one. And I hope that his presents arrive today, so that he doesn't have to wait to open them for either reason. Because Mom would make him. She's the Waiting type. Need one of each, but somehow the Waiting types always get their way.

Daddy has this way of laughing just because he's happy. Some people only laugh when they're amused. Not my dad. He did it when I hit a serve right the first time. He did it when I won the Asimov Award. And he did it last week when I called to tell them about Fortress. That kind of laugh is just a gift, is what.

Yesterday something really cool happened to me. A publicist wrote to me and asked if I wanted to interview her author for a pro SF news magazine. Um, how 'bout yes? I get money, I get a free book, I get published in a pro SF news magazine, and I get a publicist who's happy with me. Where's the down side here? This is not supposed to happen. I mean, I'm really glad it did, but since when do people contact freelance writers out of the blue to ask them to write stuff? This is the sort of thing that you think will happen when you Want To Be A Writer, when you're 12. You think, "Oh, yes, and then people will call me up and ask me to write interviews for them." And then you grow up and you know it doesn't happen. Only then it does. Wooo.

Someone was saying that he/she was worried about meeting a certain editor who will be at a certain writers' workshop this summer. I can personally vouch that this editor is Nice. Nice, nice, nice, interesting, and nice. Thing is, this editor is from New York.

I'm convinced that different parts of the country have different flavors of Nice, and you just have to learn the rules for each one. New York Nice is probably the hardest to figure out. I could go into New Yorker stereotypes here, but, really, why? You already know them. If you're from New York, you know them better than I do. The one that got me thinking about this is Minnesota Nice.

If you're not from the Midwest, you probably have not heard of Minnesota Nice. If you're from Minnesota, you have. Some of you don't believe in it, but you know about it. Minnesota Nice is a specific function of Scandinavian American culture, and, for the most part, it's a Woman Thing. So if you're associating mostly with an out-group, say, Presbyterians, and/or with men, don't expect to get a lot of Minnesota Nice.

But oh. If you deal with ScanAm females, Minnesota Nice is one of the most powerful forces there is. It dictates how you're supposed to react when someone says something you don't want to deal with. It dictates how long you're supposed to hold a dorm door that'll lock behind you when it's cold out versus when it's warm. It rules the Northlands. It's like Southern female charm, only without, well, airs and graces. It goes well with jeans and a ski sweater and a butter-blonde page-boy haircut and a firm smile. And it can be one of the most vicious forces of the whole state, even as it can ease social relationships in a setting that's, frankly, damn cold. If you have violated Nice, well. There's nothing more to be done, really. You're through. There are whole hordes of people who don't judge by Nice rules but try to play by them anyway.

Timprov doesn't believe in Minnesota Nice. I think this is because he automatically dismisses anyone who judges him by Nice rules. And I don't really blame him for that. Making unwritten local rules and then acting like everyone should know them is a pretty cruddy way to run a society. But if you figure out what the rules are, sometimes people are trying to use them to be genuinely pleasant. It can happen.

Every once in awhile, though, we had a Back In The Midwest feel last weekend. Our very first one was in line for the Midwest Express check-in. (A.k.a. ScanAm flight 222 -- and if you can't do the accent for the 222, don't try. Good Lord, I can't remember the last time I saw that many people with fairer hair than mine.) When we accidentally met people's eyes while looking around, they smiled. Not a deep, wow, happy smile. Just a little smile. People are nice in California, sometimes. There's a different feel to it, though. The smile thing that just doesn't really happen. It's a good way to gauge who's new, out here.

I miss Cub Foods. Who'da thought it'd be easier to get good granola and dried black beans in Minnesotan grocery stores than in California? Trader Joe's, here we come....

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