White Thread and Flour
6 November 2001
There was an article in the Merc yesterday about a "back to basics" school. I'm always alarmed by these. I understand what people are saying with them, but it seems that "basics" never include, for example, creative writing. They never include music, or gifted education, or art. In fact, the things that they think are basic are pretty revealing. Nothing creative is basic. Nothing that allows students to choose what interests them is basic.
I know that some people believe that kids need involved parents to be able to make good use of creative opportunities and the ability to pick some of their own projects. Does anybody doubt that interesting subjects help people to learn better? Try learning the piano by practicing scales, or learn it by practicing songs. Which one has you more interested in continuing? And if the kids aren't learning to be self-motivated, what is school for?
Smacking them into the social mold. Oh yeah. I forgot.
Well, we have some basics around here, too. My mother has a comparison for whether something is essential to always have around the house: "It's like white thread and flour!" "You can't run out of ice cream! It's like white thread and flour!" "Frozen peas? You've got to have frozen peas. They're like white thread and flour!" Yesterday, I came very close to running out of white thread and flour. Not metaphorically. Literally. Ack! Also, we're short on sugar and fresh garlic. (But we're always short on fresh garlic. Always using it, always running short.)
I started rereading The Sparrow yesterday, in a total sidetrack from the Gene Wolfe books I meant to be reading, but I'll get back to those. And it occurs to me that Mary Doria Russell must have known me! Character Jimmy Quinn says of Father Sandoz, "'He's got two-hundred-pound ideas about getting things done, and a hundred and thirty pounds to do it with. He's gonna make himself sick.'" Knock about ten pounds off the weight, change the pronoun to the feminine, and I thought that sounded right.
Timprov thought it sounded ridiculous. "Really?" I said. "Yeah," he said, "you've got three-hundred-fifty-pound ideas about getting things done."
I got paid for writing yesterday! It was a total surprise to me, since I'd never gotten an acceptance letter for this essay. At least, I didn't think I had. Nikki at Skirt! had asked if she could hold my "Diversity, Hold the Sugar" essay for the November issue. To me, holding a story or essay means that you're going to consider it. Evidently she just meant she wanted to publish it, but not right away. Which makes sense; it's a Thanksgiving essay. It's in the print version of Skirt! if you want to read it; you can order from their website. I was just kind of baffled, though: I like getting paid to write, but usually I know it's coming in advance. (I also got the Future Orbits contracts. Good mail day.)
So I was working on the Not The Moose Book last night...do you know how odd it feels to write about a rain of toads? Very strange. You end up with sentences like, "He ventured out into the toads." (I liked that one.) And you have to make decisions about how hard the toads are falling, whether they're alive when they hit the ground, etc. What color the sky turns when it's raining toads. I suppose in some ways it's a warm-up for the flying fish, only things are a bit more obvious with the flying fish, and the scene is more purely comic, I think, whereas someone dies in the rain of toads. Which is, I know, funny in itself. She was killed by a rain of toads! It's very sad, because she's probably the nicest person in the book, certainly nicer than any of the main characters. Killed by toads. But she has to be. I'm sorry, it just works that way.
And on the web: I'm Agnes again. How does this happen? Liz and I were talking about genetic engineering the other week, and she said she wanted her kids to glow in the dark. I told her it's overrated; the ability to produce melanin is far more convenient.
(Mark wants our kids to have a dual diaphragm, so that if they break their ribs, they can breathe one sided. Liz thinks this is a bad idea, that getting the Lingen Hiccups with two diaphragms is Even Worse.)
(Oh, I don't think that Agnes link will work if you click it after today -- it's the cartoon that was originally published Sunday, November 4, if you're coming in late and really curious.)
Mary Anne and I evidently disagree about whether this month's Strange Horizons editorial is sexist. I'm not surprised -- I wouldn't have expected Mary Anne to publish it if she thought it was. But her argument was that Audra, the author in question, was looking for a certain kind of mother-daughter relationship that women write better. I'm not sure that I do believe that women write that kind of relationship better -- if they do, I have to concede that I will never write as good a father-son relationship, for example, as someone who could fit either of those roles -- whether he had done so or not. And I think writing good relationships has a lot more to do with paying attention than with having experienced them, or all of my characters would have to be female only children in advanced stages of geekdom, no older than 23, etc. I don't think Mary Anne believes I need to do that, either. But the main thing is, I don't think that's what Audra was saying. You can read the editorial yourself if you want to find out, but I don't think that The Handmaid's Tale and The Sparrow were books that were substantially about mother-daughter relationships. (On the up side, it did remind me that I wanted to reread The Sparrow.)
And using A.I., one of the worst movies of the decade, as an example of men writing parenting relationships was just not fair. That's like claiming that people who write about the counterculture are boring because you don't like "Dharma and Greg." Read Callahan's Key, and then talk to me about whether men can write about tender, readable parenting relationships.
Today they vote on whether they're contracting the Twins. I will not be a happy kid if this happens. At all. There should oughta be Twins in the Dome. Just so you know. I know the world doesn't always work the way I think it should. But (by definition, really) it should.
Mom said I didn't have to make the banana bread yesterday if I didn't want to, that the sick and injured don't have to use up bad bananas if they don't want to. But I really wanted banana bread. Had a big slice for breakfast. Yum. I didn't have to make it. So I could enjoy it even more. I'm going to try to get myself and the house at least moderately presentable before David gets here. We're either going to hang out here or head to a used bookstore, depending on how my well the Advil is holding my ribs. I need to get to the library and the post office, and the grocery to get flour etc., but that can wait a little bit if it has to. Have a good day.
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