A Sponge, A Hedgehog, A Silver Flute

16 November 2002

People, dear hearts, do you know how much I love my life? Have I told you? One of my major work-related activities yesterday was writing a fairy tale in the Finnish style about a carpenter who goes to hell to get a new awl. (Because, as Marymary now knows, all the best awls and augers are found in hell in Finnish myth.)

So my carpenter had to trick Death's dumpy daughter into giving him this awl. That's what they always call her, Death's dumpy daughter. It's not alliterative in Finnish, though, so I'm thinking I should change it into something besides "dumpy." I doubt that "dumpy" is an exact translation, anyway, and it seems odd (does it seem odd to you, Aet?) to have more alliteration in an English passage than would be in its Finnish folk poetry/prose equivalent. But you know me and how obsessive I get about translation nits.

Anyway, my carpenter tricked Death's dumpy daughter using a sponge, a hedgehog, and a silver flute, and I love my life. Yes? Yes, of course. How could you not love a life where your job is to come up with trickery related to a sponge, a hedgehog, and a silver flute? It's pretty nearly impossible, I'd say.

Other work-related activity involved doing sub-categories within the chapters of this immigration book and figuring out where I need more research (largely in the area of late twentieth-century Chinese history). And then I made ravioli and salads, and then Mark got home in time for dinner, and then he did a little more work while I read Alice Munro's The Moons of Jupiter, and then we all sat down with the extended version of "Fellowship of the Ring" -- Now! With More Mockery!

Seriously, we did enjoy the extended version more in some ways. I felt that it flowed better. There was a part of the beginning, for example, where I felt that temporal distance had been much more firmly established than in the shorter version. There was a tavern scene that made it clear that more than an evening or two had passed between Gandalf's visits. And so on. It's still not my most favoritest movie ever, and I still prefer the book. (Um, duh.) But the extended version mitigated a bit of the feeling that both Timprov and I had had after seeing the theatre version: that they had taken a book that was too slow and made it into a movie that was too fast.

So I finished Salt yesterday early on, and it was good, Gandhi, Cargill, the whole nine yards. (No irresistible recipes, though.) Read the Munro short story collection, and do you know what I like about Canadian Authors? (This is a distinct class from Canadian authors, by the way.) They know what wet wool smells like when it's drying in an overheated room. They even know what wet wool smells like when it's drying in overheated rooms that have been overheated in different ways, how the smells differ, I mean. I realize that this may seem like a minor point. Let me go with it. It makes me happy.

Started reading Robin Hobb's Assassin's Quest, which I anticipate I will enjoy despite the fact that it's titled like a bad video game. And despite the fact that the main character spent the last book in this series tromping all over my nerves. But that's better, see, because it was the character tromping on my nerves. Often it's the author. This is a step up.

And I've got more good work to do today.

Writing e-mail to Matt, and to a lesser extent to Kate, this week has highlighted for me the difference between "I've known this person since ninth grade" and "I knew this person in ninth grade." I've thought several times about how different it is from dealing with Scott or Michael, whom I've seen and talked to consistently throughout that time. But being a M'ris Of Little Brain from time to time, it didn't occur to me that it would work the same way for them until Matt put in his new journal that he remembered me as kind of quiet. And I thought, wow, when was the last time anybody described me as quiet? The answer was immediately apparent: high school.

I didn't think of myself as quiet then, either, but I felt the need to retreat a lot more back then. I felt a lot more self-protective at the time. And I didn't realize that nobody outside my immediate group of friends thought of me as a science fiction geek, but the more I hear from people who've heard of my career choice, the more I realize that was the case. I thought it was obvious. I never bothered hiding any of it. I sat and read the Amber novels in quick succession in my physics class; I always had a book with me. Always. And mostly it was fantasy or SF. But I never, ever brought up my writing to other people. Ever, ever, ever. Even though I was finishing a novel that year. If it wasn't something they witnessed me doing -- I didn't hide that part -- then I didn't figure it needed mention. I had a couple of fanzine publications then, but I knew the difference between fanzines and prozines, and fanzines weren't enough.

Even in college, when I was in less retreat, the physics chick identity was just easier. Insisting on a writer's identity without a writer's credits seemed petty somehow. I tried to take Writing Fiction without taking Intro Creative Writing first, and the professor said, "Well, unless you can give me about a hundred pages of impressive fiction, I think you should take Intro Creative Writing first." In retrospect, knowing what I do about other college fiction writers, I should have said, yes, I can, and here they are. But I wasn't impressed at the time. Sometimes I'm still not. So I shut my mouth and took Intro. (Also in retrospect, it turned out for the best. The Writing Fiction prof who told me he needed 100 pages of impressive fiction if I wanted to skip Intro was a poet, not a fiction writer, and he had some quite curious notions about writing. Where by "quite curious" I mean "insane and wrong." Whereas the Writing Fiction prof I got two years later was merely a major fan of John Updike, so we survived the semester together all right and still write each other cordial, friendly e-mails from time to time.)

A few months before I quit grad school, a woman I know quit her job to write full time. And one of my best friends, who was much closer to her and her husband than I am, went on at length about how silly and selfish he thought this was. I got really, really upset with him, and he was surprised, shocked, even; he backpedaled furiously. No, of course he didn't mean -- but if I did it, he was sure it would be -- but it wasn't always like -- aaaack. One of my best friends, and yet I'm pretty sure the comparison, the idea that I might do something similar, hit him out of left field. I hadn't prepared him for it. I hadn't prepared much of anybody.

Even now, you can see me easing into talking a bit more about the book here, a bit more about how it goes and what's in it. But do you see why it's hard? The fairy tale with the sponge and the hedgehog and the silver flute -- it's hard to explain why that's a cool thing to do. You can usually see it, or else you can't, why it's cool to spend your day on a quirky fairy tale you just made up. It's a little crushing when people don't, especially when they're people you love and/or respect. It's easier not to risk that.

(Although. One of the cool things in the last four years has been that I've learned I can take it if Timprov hears an idea and says, "Ehhh, I think you're cooler than that. I think you have better things to spend your time on." There are worse things in the world. This is not a catastrophe. What's even better is that he, someone I love who is also professionally interested, hears an idea and says, "I trust you on this one. It sounds kind of blah to me right now, but if you think you can do something cool with it, I trust that you can. Go for it.")

The great thing about real life, as opposed to high school, is that if someone doesn't see why it would be cool, they can either shrug and deal with other aspects of my life, or they can shrug and not deal with me at all. People have better things to do than to rip into me for doing things that don't interest them. So I start to talk a little bit more, and I say: this is what I think is cool. This is what I think is interesting. And there are people who lean in and say, "Really? And what else?"

And then the Jordan comparison comes up again: I'm like Jordan from "Real Genius." I tried to moderate this for awhile, saying that I "sometimes feel like" Jordan. Whatever. I think everybody knows that I'm not like Jordan every minute of every day. I do sleep. But I am significantly like her. People say it all the time, and they're right. I'm pretty fine with it by now. The thing that gets me here, though, is that Jordan is charming, quirky and earnest and caring and cute and funny. I don't expect to be those things. (I actively rail against the cute from time to time...although I have to admit that a "chix0r" baby-T would be cute, nothing else to call it.) I expect to be like Jordan without the things that make Jordan likeable.

I think that was the easiest part of high school. I was hard on myself, but other people were pretty hard on me, too, so it kind of matched. I never felt charming, and very few people treated me as though I was. I never felt like Princess Pretty Girl, and nobody ever treated me like Princess Pretty Girl. (Ever.) Then I got to college, and people sometimes acted like I was charming. Sometimes I got to play Princess Pretty Girl. Sometimes when I came forth with something I was working on (rarely, so rarely), they'd blink and say, "That sounds really cool." I scared some people when I'd been working hard and was still focused and turned the high-beams on them at a meal, eyes and conversation. But some people weren't scared. That threw me for a loop. I just expected to be periodically scary.

(I now expect an e-mail from Michelle assuring me that I still am periodically scary. Oh, don't disappoint me, dear.)

But some people seemed to find my self-classified scary times, the ones I clamped down on in high school, interesting. Fun. Funny. I thought for awhile that it was coincidence that I was almost always like that when Andrew's friend Mel from the SCA was around. (Don't even know her last name. Hope she's having a good life -- nice girl.) I now, as in this morning, just figured it out, realize that it wasn't coincidence at all after the first time. The first time she met me at brunch, I was in that really intense mode, talking fast, jumping topics like they were crumbling under my feet, attacking my Grape Nuts with five seconds of total ferocity at a time. And we had fun with it. She egged me on. I knew I could get that response, and so I could let it go later. I had the feeling that she would describe me as "crazy," in that good way that people do. I liked that. I went with it.

Most of my closest friends aren't like that -- not exclusively. They can enjoy the total focus craziness, but they allow me to come down from that and have quiet, dreamy times. They allow me to get scared -- because that kind of focus is a fearless time. They allow me to have times when I'm argumentative or intuitive in a more relaxed way. Balance, balance, balance.

I'm done with the fairy tale about the hedgehog and the sponge and the silver flute, at least for now. I'm not really done thinking about what I let people see and what I keep to myself, but that's all right. I don't have to be. I'll probably let it percolate awhile and get back to work on the section right after the fairy tale is told. I don't think we're doing anything outstanding today, not from the outside anyway. Internally -- well, I get to fly one of my characters to Iceland in a summer storm, and that's pretty exciting. Maybe for you, too, eventually. Who knows.

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