Optimism and Back Pain
26 September 2002
That mean ol' James Lileks is writing about fall in Minnesota again, and it's making me whimper. I wanna go home. I want it to smell like leaves and heater and dying grass and cold wind off the lake, which in Minnesota means the nearest lake, not like where Mark grew up, where it means the Lake (Lake Michigan). I want to wear my new berry-colored sweater and the new jeans that actually fit me and take a walk around Lake Nokomis and pet the dogs, and I want the smell of Dog In Autumn.
Lileks wrote a bunch of other stuff about video games and Daschle and smallpox. But it was the Minnesota thing that twisted my heart. I get to figure out plane tickets for our October trip back today. It'll be good.
Oh, on the smallpox idea: Thomas was impressed by the CDC's plan to vaccinate the entire US against smallpox in five days if necessary. And I just smiled: honey, you don't know Graff girls too well, do you? The head of the CDC is from a line of women that could probably vaccinate the whole country in a week by themselves if they absolutely had to. Because they just don't stop, and there's a lot of them. (They. We. Whatever.) So now I have this mental image of my aunt Doris running around Sun City shouting, "Okay, my niece Julie says you get in line right here, so you -- hey you! In line! Right here! Are you stupid? It's smallpox!" Etc.
There is a finch in the tree outside the kitchen window, tiny and yellow. I haven't seen a finch in years. Maybe not since Grandma and Grandpa moved down to Omaha. I didn't know California had finches.
Guess who got another novel idea yesterday. It's only to be expected. I mean, after all, it's been almost a month since I got my last one at WorldCon. Thing is, this is the first novel idea I've had that I thought might upset a family member or two. That's a little bit weird. I'm going to talk to the important family members and see what they think might be appropriate or inappropriate, and then the rest of them can just deal.
I have to admit, it feels a little funny to be directly inspired by family dynamics. I know that I'm always affected by the dynamics of each side of the family -- they definitely change my worldview. I mentioned the Graff "girls" above, and I know that I'd have a quite different view of humanity and femininity if I didn't have a horde of solidly determined aunties, each with her very own agenda for herself, her family, and her world. But to be inspired by specific family events and interactions -- well, that's different, and it feels a bit...grabby, I guess. I wouldn't be comfortable if it was just a straight retelling of family history with the names changed. It's still a science fiction novel idea, and so far as I know, nobody in my family has done anything remotely like that part of things. I know I keep saying that the families we make for ourselves, out of our best blood relatives and our fortuitous coincidence beloved friends, are the most important things we do in our lives. And if I really believe that, I shouldn't be surprised that the family sometimes pops up as a direct inspiration. But still. It feels funny.
I think it's that I feel like when I'm contemplating something family-related, I should be focusing all my energy on making things better for family members, not haring off on mental tangents, going, hmmmm, now that's a really interesting behavior, I wonder what would happen if we complicated it with this idea....
But as I've said to several different people over the past couple of days, I'm not very good at feeling hopeless. In one particular case, that means that if I'm thinking about someone who is a hopeless jackass, I'd much rather poke at the parameters of the situation and see what comes out of it than just say, "Yep, hopeless jackass."
In most cases, though, hopelessness doesn't register very well with me. When people say they have "no hope" of ever doing something, I have to fight the urge to mentally translate that into "please give me a pep talk about" whatever that something is. Even the most trivial examples of things that are unlikely to happen are more likely to poke my brain into figuring out what technological advances would be necessary for an approximation to occur. I suppose in that sense I could phrase that as, Surprise! I think like a science fiction writer. But it seems that some science fiction writers are much better at hopelessness and despair than I am.
I'm generally totally fine with that, but sometimes I have to make mental adjustments so that I can deal with other people sensitively and sensibly when they really are feeling that way. I've been depressed before, but once I get out of a general feeling of depression, I seem to get rid of all the hopelessness. As I said, that's good, it's just that I sometimes have to haul my brain over sort of sideways to deal with what other people are actually saying and not with what I would be saying if it was me.
And sometimes the optimism can be a bit much. For example, I am quite optimistic that I can and will sell a book. I don't know for sure which book. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for me to try to write as many good books as I can, to maximize the chances that one of them will be the one that sells first. Right? Yes? And therefore I should work a lot.
So I do, and in some ways it's good. In some ways, not so much so. I could do with a bit less headlong freight train optimism, in some ways. Like in the back way, for example. It gets better and worse and better again, my back. Right now it's on a better swing, sort of. I'm going to be going back and forth from the couch to the computer, trying to minimize computer time and still get some writing done. I know that research counts as work. It's necessary to my work. I know that. But...well, if I don't put words next to each other on the Not The Moose...I've talked about this before, I think. Anyway, so if I answer e-mail more slowly in the next few days, now you know why. It's not you. If it was you offending me, I'd tell you right away.
So. We will be heading over to the couch now, me and Redshift and The Rice Room. Have a good day. If you must pick up something persistent of mine, pick up the optimism and not the back pain, please.
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