At Length

12 October 2002

Sit down and get yourself some tea or something. I am in a talkative mood. If I was one of those people who actually cared about unity of theme in an entry, or topicality, or something, this would be lots of little entries. But you're used to me by now, right?

Mark and I went out on an unexpected date last night and returned home to sit with Timprov and watch the Twinks lose another one. 'Sokay. They only have to win one in Anaheim before they go back to the Dome. Surely they can win one. (Well, they almost certainly can. The question is whether they will.)

Yesterday's paper had an article that made me so happy: the San Jose chief of police pulled his officers from the DEA task force that raided a medicinal marijuana farm last month. He said, "The problem in California and in San Jose is clearly methamphetamine, and that's where we intend to put our resources." Hooray for William Lansdowne, Chief of Police! The message is clear: if you want to harrass the sick and the handicapped, do it with your own personnel. We're going to address something that's actually a public safety issue instead. Oh, I could just hug this man.

I was annoyed with a CDC chart the Merc reprinted twice this week, though. It was a Body Mass Index chart with handy-dandy ranges for "obese," "overweight," and "normal." You see the problem there? If you're thinking the problem is that BMI doesn't adjust for things like percentage body fat, you're thinking too hard. The problem is that this chart goes to 6'3", 120 pounds -- in the "normal" category. Let me tell you, someone who is approximately my weight and nine inches taller than me is not normal. That person is scarily underweight. But there was no "underweight" category. I'm pretty sure that the CDC would say that the people they're trying to help with that chart are those who don't know whether they're overweight or obese or not. But I think it's part and parcel of the same unhealthy attitude about weight and bodies. The idea that thinner is always better, no matter to what extreme it's taken, is not helpful for anyone, no matter how much they weigh or how healthy they are at that weight. Silly, silly people.

I'm finally getting rejections again this week. The first week of October was just dead. One rejection. That was it. This week there have been several. Whew. Somebody's out there after all. I haven't entirely decided what we should do when we're gone in Minneapolis. One of us will only be gone a week and a half, so it's not an automatic mail stop. It's on the border. I just don't know. It seems unreasonable to ask someone to drive a good distance to get our mail (besides the logistics problems of getting them keys to all of the right stuff), but I don't want the mailbeing to jam it so full that we can't get anything out again.

There are several things I haven't figured out yet in regards to going to Minneapolis. What coat should I bring? It'll be late October/early November. The chances are better than average that it will snow. (When we live in the future, I will be able to ask the internet, "What are the chances that it will snow in this city between these dates?" and the internet will tell me. The future is gonna be keen.) What should I wear for the Con? Even if it doesn't snow, it's unlikely to be particularly warm. I feel like there's a line at cons between being overdressed and being underdressed. (I know some people say you can't be underdressed, but I want to look at least decently professional.) At WorldCon (and, come to think of it, at ICFA '99), I walked that line with bare legs. A skirt and top or even a dress -- how formal can that be with bare legs and sandals, right? Once you start putting hose and shoes with things...well, I just don't know.

And I don't want to be hauling sixteen different kinds of shoe around the Upper Midwest. That's not my idea of fun. And I know I'm not going to wake up and think, "What's on the agenda for today? I'm going to have dinner with Heathah and Dave and the kids, maybe pet the dogs a little bit. I know! I'll wear a blouse that will be ruined if Gavin drools on it, a skirt that makes it impossible to get down on the floor to see what Siri is showing me without showing their family a thing or two of my own, and hose that the dogs will run if they so much as sneeze on them!" Life priorities: kids first, dogs second, clothing third. Unless they're really cool dogs and bad kids. (Which Heathah's aren't, in the latter case at least -- I don't know her dogs well -- but it's just a general rule.) So I don't want to bring things I can't wear for the rest of the trip, either.

Also I can't find a programming listing. I hope they put it online sometime. There may be times when we don't have anything we particularly want to be doing, but I don't want to tell people to wait around for us. More than that, I'd just like to have some idea of what's available. What cool people can I hobnob with, and when? (Note: it is perfectly acceptable to e-mail me now and say, "Me!" if you're going to be there.) Are we going to have hours of dead time? Are we going to want to escape and crash at C.J.'s and watch the cacti grow?

It is very hard to make The Schedule when other people will not cooperate in their parts of it.

I finished reading Kate Wilhelm's The Clewiston Test last night, and it was annoying: a previous library patron had written in it. In ink. Not even in the margins in ink. Along ends of the lines themselves. Yarg! And they were things like, "She's nuts!" -- judgmental commentary on the characters. Double yarg. The scary thing was, this person's impressions were so far opposite mine that I couldn't tell how he or she could possibly have read the same novel. I think that people who write in library books deserve some penalty. I am not the sort of person who annotates her books, but they're my books -- I could if I wanted to. Library books are not my books. No scribbles. Honestly. This is stuff you should learn when you're 3.

Yesterday Shannon wrote to me about my mention of Natalie Goldberg, how she talked about who gave you permission to write. He noted that Goldberg has also talked about time free of writing, and that's true. What I didn't get across in yesterday's entry (but subsequently babbled in e-mail, much to the surprise of any of you who have ever e-mailed with me, I'm sure) is that I'm often baffled by how much other people seem to need permission. Don't get me wrong -- I've loved scraps of validation just as much as any other new writer. But it doesn't seem to come out feeling quite the same way. What I said to Shannon in e-mail was this:

"People often say that they wish they had my confidence. It confuses me, because I don't *feel* particularly confident. Then I realize that they mean in general. I'm pretty rock solid in my belief that I Am A Writer. (Getting my income from it helps, but I was pretty solid before that, too.) It's the specific pieces of which I'm not sure. I'm not sure, for example, that Asimov's will buy "Things We Sell to Tourists" now that I've sent it to them. I'm not sure that anybody will buy it. I'm not sure that any of my specific novels will sell. But am I sure that I can/will sell stories and novels? Yeah. I am. It's one of those things where it just never occurred to me that other people don't live in that kind of mindset. It should have, but it didn't.

"There's a line in that chapter of _Wild Mind_ that says, 'After she left, I sat on my bed, thinking, "I want to be a writer more than anything else. That's what I want to leave to future generations."' I have never done that. Never. Because the idea of wanting or not wanting to be a writer only occurs to me in the sense that wanting or not wanting to have brown eyes occurs to me--as a feeling about something that's already settled, beyond my control. Wanting to be a writer in the sense that I want to make a pesto pasta thing for dinner, with the knowledge that if I didn't want to, *I wouldn't have to*--that's just gone, it's not there. Nobody gave me permission to have brown eyes, either, and I haven't gone around seeking it."

And, as I told Shannon, this makes it hard to relate to people who don't know what they want to do, because I have a hard time getting my brain around the idea that it matters. What you want to do today, Saturday, before it becomes Sunday? Sure, of course that matters. But in general, in the "with your life" sense? Want? Huh? I understand "choose" and "can" and "do." I'm just not so sure of this "want" stuff. It's not particularly relevant to me. So when people talk about wants in their careers or prospective careers, I nod and listen intently, because it's more socially graceful than scrunching my face up and cocking my head while I try to get it. But I'm still really puzzled and trying to work it all out. (I feel like that face that my dad makes when he really just doesn't get it. My face is not all that similar to my dad's, so I'm not sure how much the expression looks the same. But it's the same stuff, more or less. I realize this is helpful to very few of you, but Mom will know what I mean.)

And while I spend perhaps more time than I should thinking about what I want to do with my career next, I also know that it won't necessarily go that way. I have plans, but large components of the plan involve steps like "Write book I feel equipped to write." Which skips over some rather important steps, I feel.

I really think part of this is from being a physics chick. When our friend Janelle became a Spanish major, she said that nobody had ever told her she was good at physics or math until she told them she was leaving. And I remember having a rather puzzled conversation with Heathah about it -- neither of us really understood how come Nelle expected that or what form she thought it would take. There is nothing at all wrong with giving people validation and encouragement for what they do, but it certainly isn't a hallmark of most hard science programs.

And if you're The Girl, and you start talking about how nobody reinforced your self-esteem, even if you're right that they could have been more encouraging, you've started playing games that most people in the hard sciences find at least a little distasteful. Even if you didn't mean to. There are rituals to these things. It's its own subculture. Ritual complaints after large homework or tests are mandatory. Everyone was pretty much required to groan, "Ohhhhhh, that test kicked my ass!" Regardless of whether it was particularly bad or not. Although those rituals varied a bit by gender, too -- a couple of the guys I knew said some pretty raunchy things about how poorly they were doing after D.C. tests (D.C. was my advisor), but if Heathah or I or God forbid Jen had come out with one of those comments, it would not have been received in the same spirit.

But you learn those things. You get used to them, and you toughen up, or else you leave. Sometimes you do both.

But when you leave, you're probably a little more used to tests and assignments that really did kick your ass, and you're used to getting the validation from the work itself. And that worked well for me. I'm not a communist or a Calvinist, but I identify well with the sanctification of work in both traditions. It's satisfying for me, to work hard on something and know that it's coming out well -- not just in writing. Other projects, too. The worst thing about having a back injury is that you have to be much more careful about how much you enjoy putting your back into something, because if you get too enthusiastic about it, things will become very, very bad.

All this (not the back, the other stuff) shows up in the compliments I give. I tend to say that people "do good work" as a favorite compliment. I ought to say that they "play well," too, because it's just as important in my life. Probably more so: I'm pretty self-motivating when it comes to work, but I need external factors to motivate me when it comes to play. And most of the people I'm close to are fond of games of some sort. Consciously or not, I do try to get that kind of balance.

My big compliment for men, if I really think highly of them, is, "You should have a daughter." (Or, "I'm glad you have a daughter" or "sorry you don't," as the circumstances dictate.) Which says more about my dad than anything else, I suppose, but there you have it.

Uff da mai. David and I had a big talk about sense of wonder yesterday, and I'm sure I have a lot to say there, and also a fair amount to say about the assumption that use of an artwork is identically equal to its theft. But I think I've babbled long enough for one morning. I'm going to read now. Not sure what -- I'm simultaneously reading Pain Free, Thunder and Lightning (since I started thinking about Natalie Goldberg anyway), and Ken MacLeod's Cosmonaut Keep, which is a library book. Hmm. We'll see, I guess. Have a good Saturday.

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