Where's M'ris-o?

3 August 2002

Our DSL is down. Has been since about 9:00 yesterday morning. The light is blinking frantically, but to no avail. We have a "trouble ticket opened" with the DSL people. I don't know if that should get me excited or what. I got off the phone and said, "Well, thank God, we have a trouble ticket opened. I feel much better about our lack of connectivity now." The Advanced Tech Support guy told me if it isn't back up by 2:00 this afternoon, I should call and check in. I suspect that, as usual, very few people at this company know why their product works or doesn't work in any given case. And "Advanced" means, well, basic: the people before that have you power cycle the machine, check to make sure you haven't done anything new with your phone lines, check to make sure it's not the splitter or the jack, and generally take up your time finding out that it isn't what you already know it isn't. Then they're done, and you move on to "Advanced."

So. I finished "Rock, Paper, Scissors," worked on the book and on "Family Leave" and "Sigyn and the Humans." I would have loved to get some work done on "Another Hollywood Miracle," but I've only heard from two people on it because -- oh yeah! -- my DSL is down. Still, it seems like a respectable amount of work.

(I'm always amazed at how quickly the words come in the series of stories that so far includes "MacArthur Station," "Glass Wind," and bits of others like "Family Leave." I'm not usually a very digressive writer, but some asides just come more easily than others, and are more interesting. And the plots seem to just pop up fairly effortlessly, too. It's fun stuff. I think it'll make a good episodic novel some day, or a good thematic collection, depending.)

I read The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton. Some of the stuff that was new to me was good, but I discovered I'd already read what I consider her best stuff. Which is kind of too bad, but at least she has some best stuff. It was interesting, too, to follow her career chronologically like that. I almost never make that opportunity for myself unless the author has only written a single series of novels, or unless I catch him/her at the beginning of his/her career. And both of those cases are significantly different. I think developing a single series of novels has quite different problems than doing a bunch of separate works, and thus quite different solutions. And when I find someone with his/her first novel, like with Sarah Zettel, I read the rest of them as they come out, a little at a time, not all in one afternoon. There was a fairly clear parabola in Sexton's case, and I think she was at her best when she was focused on something that wasn't A Huge Question. Death is too big. If you try to write poems that are all about death, even if you don't end up sounding like you're 13 and pretentious, you're not going to make much headway on it. A specific love affair, on the other hand, is much more concrete. It's different from Love In General, which is also too big.

Ah well; she's dead now and doesn't care what I think of her foci. I also read some of MI6, which has been a good birthday present, but as it's 800 pages and I'm reading for detail, I've got a fair amount to go yet. I'm book-darting like mad. I love those little things, book darts. You can point them at a specific line and just let it be and come back to it later. The problem I'm having with this book is that it tells a lot of large-scale actions -- In Yuoslavia, MI6 Did Such-and-Such -- but not a lot of small-scale stuff, like how they did Such-and-Such, what tactics were used and by how many field agents, how they trained them to go in and use those tactics...I realize that a lot of that stuff is just going to be unavailable, and I'm going to have to piece it together as best I can and make up some of it. I know that there was never anyone trained to do quite what my character Edward Holliwell is going to be doing. But I do want to make sure I've done the research it's possible for me to do. And there are little nice tidbits, nicknaming MI6 "The Firm" or "Our Friends," for example, with the CIA as "Our Cousins." That's the kind of detail for which I'm reading. (Naturally, almost none of this book deals with Finland. Why? Because not only do Americans not give a damn about Finland, evidently Brits don't either. I suppose I'm not shocked.)

On the fun reading pile, I've moved on to Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space, recommended by Alec and donated to the cause by my godfathers. ("The cause" being me having a happy birthday and stuff to read.) I'm not very far in, but it's interesting and entertaining me so far.

Oh! One of the stories from Monday that I heard on Tuesday and didn't tell because I thought Jenn might in her journal, but then she didn't -- and now I'm going to because it plays into something that confuses me. So now you get a simple lesson in Finding The M'ris, or rather in getting other people to Find The M'ris.

When Jenn was trying to get the Applebee's people to put me on the phone on Monday, she was trying to describe me. She used the word "elfin," which the woman on the phone didn't know, so she had to try to explain that. (I don't think I really look elfin, but your mileage of course may vary.) And she said I was small -- she knocked about four inches off my height in estimation! -- and had long, brown hair. The woman paused, and then said, "Is she reading a book?" !!! Oh, let me turn on my psychic vision...why yes, she is! (I wasn't reading a book, I was writing a book, and you'd think the difference would be clear even to the uninitiated.)

Actually, the book is one of your best bets if you're trying to describe me to someone who needs to find me in a crowd. I have a journal with me pretty much at all times. Sometimes it's in my backpack, if I have a backpack, but often it's just in my hands. Right now, my journal is a sort of periwinkle color. Often I have painted the covers. I check the mail without it, but that's about as far as I'll go.

It seems that your best way to go, if you're trying to get someone to identify me, is the word "pale." If you're not in Minnesota or Wisconsin, your chances are really, really good that I will be the palest person present, or at least one of the notably pale ones. "Long hair" is good. Other descriptions of the hair prove to be more problematic. It's not wavy or straight enough that people will recognize it as "wavy" or "straight" consistently. It doesn't have a consistent enough color that people will recognize it that way, either -- usually if you say "brown hair," they're looking for someone with darker hair than mine. And if I'm sitting in the wrong light, it'll look kind of weirdly dark blonde or strawberryish. Timprov calls it "autumnal," which is all poetic-like, but it doesn't really help if you're dealing with people who don't know what "elfin" means. Besides, out here they don't have autumn, so heaven only knows what colors they think it is.

(One of the worst descriptions I've ever read was in Richard Powers' Ploughing the Dark [not to be confused with Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark]: he said a character had hair the color of a Faberge egg. Which Faberge egg? That could be golden, deep blue, white, bright red, whatever! And I think it matters a good deal!)

Whatever you do, if you're trying to describe me to someone who hasn't seen me, do not mention height. Really. Because a lot of people perceive me as much smaller than I am (and that's a vicious circle, because then I mention that people think of me as small, and then you folks who have never stood next to me have a bit more data that points to me being small, and then...), but you can't count on that. People who are smaller than me almost never see me as small, so if you're not sure and you're trying to describe me that way, you're SOL.

So. If you're looking for me at WorldCon at the end of the month, the journal is unlikely to help. Because if ever there was a book-toting crowd, I'd think it'd be WorldCon. Long hair is unlikely to help, either, and pale...well, it'll help a bit, but let's say that some science fiction fans are not the most outdoorsy types, hmm? So if you can't remember what people look like from pictures, or if you're trying "have you seen..." with someone who doesn't know me (which will be most of the people there), I guess you're pretty much out of luck. Sorry about that. Just go around checking name badges. They'll have name badges, right? So that I'll have to decide to either hide mine in my hair or name one of my breasts "Marissa Lingen." Whee. I love name badges. Invented by men.

I'd tell you what I'll wear, but the truth is, I really don't know. My getting-dressed algorithms are fairly complicated. One of the disturbing ones I noticed recently is that there's kind of a parabola, where the x-axis is comfort level and the y-axis is skin showing. If I'm really comfortable with people, I don't worry about whether I'm wearing a low-cut top or a really short skirt or whatever. But if I'm really uncomfortable or nervous, I'm more likely to wear one of the above. I think it's like dogs who roll over and show you their belly when they're scared, to demonstrate how harmless they are. Don't hurt me! Look, I've got cleavage!

I hope none of you are sitting there thinking, now, why is that disturbing? (At least I know I have Michelle on my side on this one.)

(Microsoft is a bunch of speciesists. In the "like dogs who" phrase there, it thinks that "like girls who" is totally acceptable, but that dogs are not individual beings enough to be who. They're supposed to be "like dogs that.")

Anyway. My mom, like many women, thinks in symbols. (I seriously think this is a communication gap problem. A lot of women are thinking of birthday or anniversary observances as Symbolic Of The Relationship, whereas a lot of the men they complain about are thinking about whether the stuff they bought is good or not, and that's it.) And my mom's very analytical mind was shooed away from math, on the theory that she wouldn't need it much, being a girl and all. So a lot of that detail-oriented processor power went into noticing physical detail, hair, clothes, make-up. The end result is that neither of us, neither Mom nor I, can just get dressed. We have to say stuff with the clothes. It's not always conscious stuff. But there's always stuff getting said. The only times we really had mother-daughter conflict about how I dressed is when she didn't want my clothes to say, for example, "Go away!"

(Well, that's not entirely true. There was a time when I was in the 8-11 range when anything Grandma picked out was perfect, and I attributed it to Grandma having superior taste. And it's not that she has inferior taste, it's just that I was also a lot more eager to please Grandma's tastes at the time. I mean, when I was younger than that, she did my hair in Shirley Temple curls for church, which involved sleeping on hard yellow plastic curlers.)

You know, there was an article in the Merc today, a couple of them, actually, on dress codes in schools, and they had the "fingertip rule": that if you're standing with your arms hanging naturally down by your sides, no skirt or shorts should be shorter than your fingertips. I looked at that and thought, "I'd never want to make my teenager stick to that! I didn't stick to that!" I thought about it some more. "I don't stick to it now!" I don't think I have monkey arms, and I try not to dress like I'm 16, but that's definitely a mid-thigh length. So I'll be one of those parents who's letting the schools turn into Sodom and Gomorrah, I'm sure. We've had women's ankles showing in this country for nearly a century now, and we've managed to get used to them. I think we'll do fine with a little more leg.

In some ways people do get used to things. But another article in today's paper said that Ozzy Osbourne "couldn't deal with" his wife's chemotherapy. I was just disgusted. He can bite the heads off of the wee birdies. Nobody was asking the man to do an invasive surgery on his wife. His role was to sit by and hold her hand. Sure, it's hard, but thousands of non-celebrities who never rend live doves' heads from their bodies with their teeth manage it. And it seems like the people who do shock rock talk about how life isn't always pretty and sweet. Anybody who's ever said anything remotely like that should get his pansy ass back by his sick wife's bedside and stay there. Honestly.

Well, it's almost noon, and still the DSL light goes blink-blink-blink. I'm supposed to call them around 2:00 to check up on the precious "open trouble ticket." And won't that be fun. The words "credit my bill" are almost sure to come up. I hope you're having a more connected weekend than I.

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