Hermit Crabs and the Foshay Tower

19 August 2002

Days left to deadline: 12.

Days left to final draft goal date: 10.

Days left to first draft goal date: 3.

Pages of The World Builders written (total): 100.

So. Seventeen pages yesterday, and I'm ready to go again today. It's funny -- writing this thing so fast means that I'm going through all the stages on fast-forward. You know the "what if this book is no good and everybody who even thinks about reading it hates it and there's nothing I can do to make it better because it just inherently sucks" stage? Lasted from 8:20 to 8:35 last night and then again from 10:30 until I fell asleep (so approximately 10:35). And I think I'm done with it now.

I can be wracked with self-doubt later, for about half an hour once the first draft is done. I'll schedule it in. Before and after that, no time, or else no point.

I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's High Tide in Tucson, and I came upon this in the title essay: "If you ask me, when something extraordinary shows up in your life in the middle of the night, you give it a name and make it the best home you can." She was talking about a hermit crab, but it seems like that's what's happened here, too. Seems like that's what I've spent the last three to five years learning to do. (I'm still shaky on the naming part, of course.) I've been learning to question the automatic nos, the automatic "I can't do that!" responses.

It's good.

Of course, when a hermit crab showed up in our house in the middle of the afternoon, we didn't consider it extraordinary. It was merely alarming. I was six, I think, the summer I turned six. We took a driving vacation in the South and picked up shells in Biloxi, and when I got home two weeks later, I had my best friend Gina over to show her what I'd gotten on our trip. We put the shells in the bathroom sink to soak the sand off, and when we came back, there were two hermit crabs feeling their way around the bathroom sink. We tore out to the front walk, where Mom was weeding, screeching at the top of our lungs: "Mommeeeee, there's something alive!" "Deb Deb Deb Deb Deb! Aaaaack!" (Nebraska girls, you will note, are unlikely to be familiar with hermit crabs upon first seeing them. At the age of six, it only occurred to me in the very dimmest sense that shells were former homes of anything living. I had been told they were, but it seemed quite distant from me.)

So we borrowed a little fishbowl from the Renners next door, who had two sons older than me and innumerable goldfish. Gina's older brother Matt was going to take the hermit crabs as pets -- he had an aquarium that would do for a terrarium for them -- but when we returned from my dad's softball game that night and went to give Matt the hermit crabs, we found that only one remained. The other had become dinner.

So Kingsolver's extraordinary things didn't remain very long at Matt and Gina's house, either, and that was quite all right with everybody involved.

So. We had risotto for dinner last night, and oh, was it good. And I realized what it is: it's hotdish. It's not baked in the oven, sure, so it's not a traditional hotdish, but if I stuck the risotto in one of our white Corningware casseroles and brought it to a family reunion, the aunties would say to each other, "Have you tried Rissy's hotdish? It sure is good." (I'm not bragging on my risotto where the aunties are concerned. I'm just saying that "It sure is good" would be their line regardless of their actual opinion.) And if I tried to explain that it was not, in fact, hotdish, but rather a risotto, they would listen, feigning interest, and go away thinking, "What a tasty hotdish! Time for a bar now!"

I'm okay with that.

For some reason, this reminds me of what happened this morning with The Daily Bleat. Lileks was talking about coal-fired power, and I agree with him that it's much better now, but he said, "I've seen pictures of Minneapolis in the 30s and 40s, and it's often filthy - a pall of incinerated coal hangs over the city, clings to the walls, stains the stones until the whitest building looks like a pipe-smoker's tongue." So yes, good thing the coal-powered trolleys are no longer around befouling my favorite city. But the funny thing was that my brain came forth with, "Well, that probably kept my family fed in the Depression!" See, at the time, the Foshay Tower was The Big One in Minneapolis, thirty-two proud stories tall and the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi, and my great-grandfather made money washing the coal-darkened windows of it, because it was considered crazy to go up there, but he needed the money. Now, of course, there are buildings that just dwarf it, but you can still spot it there,

I heard this story just about every time we came into Minneapolis when I was a kid. We came into Minneapolis a lot when I was a kid. But my great-grandfather, Russ Lingen, was really, really important to my dad, and by all accounts he was a great guy. He was the kind of guy people mean when they say "a hell of a guy." So Daddy liked to think about his grandpa. (My only direct memory of the man -- he died when I was three -- was of his laugh.) I had one cranky teenage moment when I hurt my dad's feelings by jumping in and telling the story over him once he started. I mean, in teenage-brain, the story is already known, the story doesn't need to be retold, and if the adult is retelling the story, it's because the adult thinks the teenager does not remember. Which I did. When we got to Aunt Doris and Uncle Rudy's, my mom took me aside and talked to me about remembering facts versus sharing stories. I was pretty embarrassed and didn't know how to apologize to my dad at the time.

I tell the Foshay Tower story every time we go into downtown Minneapolis, to myself if nobody else is in the car or if they're already talking.

I don't think I mentioned it, but I got the idea for a nonfiction book last week when I was talking to my dad on e-mail. (Nothing to do with the Foshay Tower, though.) Sigh. At this point, I don't even fight them, I just wrote it down on my long-term project list and moved on. I think I should start the research now, though. The Not The Moose Book has taught me that heavily researched books can take a good deal longer than one thinks they will, and something is always popping up, so if I start collecting materials for this and the other nonfic oeuvres I have in mind, by the time I have any pressing urge to write them, I might be able to. That's the thought, anyway. Research on the NTMB is still the research priority, but you can't read on the same topic all the time. So.

The thing about the nonfic ideas is that they're not like the fiction. If somebody else wrote on these nonfic topics, I'd be thrilled to just let them. I get the urge to write nonfiction because I want those books to exist, in a fairly general way. They don't have to be written in my style, with my way of approaching the world. If somebody else gets to them first, I will wallow in somebody else's work and be thrilled. The standards I gave for writing nonfiction haven't changed. But if somebody else writes an alien diplomacy novel (as has already happened!), I will still need to write my alien diplomacy novel. My style, my approach, my take on it, they're all necessary to me, when it comes to the fiction ideas. Most of all, my characters and my world need to exist. Need to have their own books.

Ah well. Diversity of projects is good. And it looks like the editor with whom I worked for The Chinese Americans and The Jewish Americans may want another, longer book from me, so that would be cool. Contract work is our frieeeeeend.

Well, maybe not your friend. My friend, though.

Scott asked, this morning, whether I've been sleeping and eating. Yep yep. Probably more than usual, actually: I got eight and a half hours last night. Ooooooh. But I'm still exhausted and a little punchy. I've been doing things other than writing. But they've mostly been fairly efficient things. After WorldCon, I'm just going to take a day off and wander. A real day off. I may buy myself a juice. That worked pretty well on my last day off, although I'm trying not to spend much money lately. Juice is pretty cheap, though.

Okay. Back to work. See you all tomorrow.

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