So as was noted on Twitter and elsewhere, yesterday was my last day with Onion, Inc. I've been debating how or whether to mention this here for a couple of weeks now, ever since I gave notice, but given how crazy Twitter and the site were yesterday, it's clearly good that I didn't spill any possible beans earlier. Several other people have also left the site. There's been a lot of guesswork about what's going on, much of it off-base, though I can't get into it at all here. There's been a lot of personal contact, too, much of it very gratifying and humbling.
I've worked for Onion, Inc and The A.V. Club for 15 years, 13 of it as a full-time writer and editor, and I've identified myself very heavily with the job, to the point of basing a lot of my significant life choices around it. For the most part, the tradeoffs have been worth it — I've gotten to work with a lot of immensely talented, tremendously intelligent, highly dedicated people who've taught me a lot about writing, editing, and critical thought. But I didn't realize how much other people identified me with the job until I quit.
It's been exactly as though I faked my own death and am attending my own funeral. So many of the people contacting me via Twitter and email have taken a past-tense tone of "We loved you and you will be missed." It's slightly awkward — I'm still right here, guys — but given how often we only see the negative side of commentors, how often people only speak up when they're angry or disagreeing — all the compliments and praise and well-wishing has been incredibly touching. It isn't just strangers who know me through my writing, either — I had some long, fascinating conversations yesterday at our send-off party with people I've barely talked to before. And I've gotten some phenomenally kind and complimentary emails from people I know but rarely see, or have worked with in some capacity over the years. It all amounted to a This Is Your Life episode, stretched out over the last 24 hours. It's so easy, writing for print and the web, to feel like I'm operating in a vacuum. Yesterday, I was reminded that people care, and it was incredibly energizing.
But this was the best part for me. This makes me think I peaked yesterday: Some stranger who's clearly very well versed in our website made this as an instant response to yesterday's announcement.
Back in Chicago. Last night, I went to the grocery store, and when I came back to the car, there was a 9-inch articulated plastic Incredible Hulk toy sitting on the roof of my car. Both parking spots around me were empty, so I presume someone in one of those spots put it down for a second while wangling kids and groceries, and then forgot it. I momentarily considered taking it home for a particularly Hulk-identified friend of mine, but I've had some recent experiences with small children and lost beloved toys, particularly of the "love it so much it has to come to the store with me" variety, so it seemed kinder to leave it where it might be found. I placed it upright on the concrete base of the parking-lot overhead light closest to my car. On that same base, someone had left about a dollar's worth of uniformly grubby, rusty pennies for some esoteric reason. I put Hulk next to them. They made a weird little shrine together. I hope Hulk found his way home.
On my last day in Oklahoma, we went to the zoo for four exhausting hours. It was perfect weather for it — sunny but breezy — and most of the animals were out and active. The 6-year-old was in balky mode and only wanted to go to the park and play, but the 8-year-old was as calm and settled as I've seen him, and we stood together and watched animals and talked about them, and sometimes made up voices for them. It was a good day.
But the best part was when he demanded we go into an odd little Colonial house on the grounds, which turned out to be a little one-room museum of the zoo's history, with old photographs on the walls and a video continually projected on one of the walls. There were four rows of carpet-covered boxes serving as seating for people to watch the movie, but no one else was in the place, so both kids started running a circuit of the rows. I sat in a corner at the back, and when they finished the full circuit and got to me, I high-fived them. They enjoyed it enough that they did the whole run again, for the high-fives.
And then it instantly, easily became a game. The 8-year-old ran half the circuit and then came straight to me and told me he'd taken a shortcut, so I gave him a high two-and-a-half. They ran the circuit twice without stopping and got a double-handed high 10. And we did this over and over, with me coming up with something new every time — three high ones, "antler high five" with my hands coming out of the side of my head, "unicorn high five" with one hand extended from the middle of my forehead, and on and on. It was easy and simple and they loved it. I'm not sure anything in the world is as gratifying as making someone else immensely happy by doing something creative and extremely simple.
Thoughout this whole trip — and really, throughout most trips to Oklahoma since the kids were born — I've been wondering how they'll remember me when they're grown up, which moments will stick with them. Most won't; I'm not a big part of their lives. But when I think of my own aunts and uncles, I have a patchwork of memories of specific scattered moments that add up into portraits of my relationships with them, and every time I interact with the kids, I think "Will this be one of those memories?" If anything sticks, I hope the high-five game does. It certainly stuck with me. When we got back to the truck at the end of the day, I complimented the 8-year-old on making the whole trip without griping or whining, and to celebrate, we did a 5-4-3-2-1-explosion high five. And when he and his mom saw me off at the airport Tuesday morning, I offered him "an upside-down high five for luck until I see you again," and his face just lit up. I can live with none of this staying with him; no one can control what other people remember about them. But I hope the look on the kids' faces as we were playing that game is still with me in the old folks' home, when I can't remember what I had for breakfast, but can't forget the good ol' days.
Today was looooong and exhausting and I'm headed for bed. But here's a thing: We went back to the zoo today, which involved four hours of walking in perfect sunny but cool spring weather, with the animals largely out and alert and doing interesting things. The birds were often singing, the cats and lizards were out basking, the elephants were doing interesting elephanty things. We were in one of the habitats watching a superb starling explore its entire musical repertoire at length when we heard a godawful racket of screaming and shrieking and uproarious laughter, and thefirethorn said "That's a kookaburra!" So we ran back to the kookaburra cage, and saw both the kookaburras leaping from branch to branch and vocalizing like crazy, this immense booming sound that ranged between hyena laughter and screams. I grew up on the kookaburra song ("Laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra, gay your life must be") but I'm not sure I'd ever heard one actually laugh before.
So all five of us — me, Thorn, her husband, and their kids — stood there gaping as they jumped around yelling and making that distinctive guffawing mockery nose. When they calmed down and were quiet, we were all very excited at each other over the fact that we'd never heard such a thing before. And then a woman walked up to us and said "Oh, they're just agitated because my son played them a YouTube clip of another kookaburra." And the teenager next to her pulled out his phone and played this video:
And 10 seconds into it, the kookaburras started going nuts again, throwing themselves from side to side in the cage and screaming and laughing their heads off. It was no less impressive the second time, but now it had the unpleasant tone of watching an animal freak out because someone is jabbing it with a stick through the bars of its cage. The teenager wandered off, but the noises continued for another couple of minutes before the birds settled again.
It all reminded me a lot of the fascinating YouTube video where a man showed a cuttlefish an image of itself through his reversible eyepiece, and it darkened and started stalking the image, and every other cuttlefish in the tank came over to see what the big deal was. In theory, it shouldn't be hard to call up the sound of a lion's mating call or territorial roars and play it at a zoo lion to see if he responds; I wonder if a lot of that goes on all day at zoos at that point. And I wonder how long before there are prominently placed "Do not torment the animals with technology" signs to go with the "Do not feed or tease animals" signs.
Assorted things I've heard since I've been in Oklahoma:
"Why is there a brownie in the clothes hamper?" "I dunno."
"Are you crying because the computer program won't work?" "No, it's probably because I got mad and kicked him."
"Why are you suddenly naked?" "I dunno."
"Tasha, do you mind pee and penises? Because I don't."
I wasn't going to blog about that last one, but thefirethorn insisted. The kids sometimes come across as a wee bit obsessed with their genitals, though nothing tops the first day, with the foreskin-puppet and the question above. We were trekking through the wilderness, heading to a hidden duck pond, and the 6-year-old had to pee, so Thorn said he could do it in the trees, and that it was okay to pee outdoors if no one was around who minded. After peeing, he asked me that question in all earnestness, in the exact same tone he used five minutes later to ask whether I liked peanut butter. Problem was that I laughed at the first question and said "No one's ever asked me that before." So when the 6-year-old did his penis puppetry at me that night, the 8-year-old said, also in all seriousness, "You have to stop, because Tasha said she HATES penises."
Right now, both kids are in the living room, singing a song to "Old McDonald" that goes like this, with them alternating lines:
"Old McDonald had a sucks, EIEIO." "And on his farm he had a poop, EIEIO." "With a poop poop sucks…" "With a poop poop poop…"
In addition to setting my cousin's kitchen slightly on fire, I slightly flooded it a couple of days ago. Thorn went off to a PTA meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday, and then came back and napped til afternoon, so I wound up entertaining the kids. There was some Frisbee-playing, and running around outside, and making Angry Birds with Play-Doh, and making up stories on that Google collaborate-with-dead-authors thing, but eventually, I decided it was too nice to not be outside blowing bubbles. Except there weren't any bubbles in the house. So I looked up a recipe online and made a couple of cups of bubble fluid. Which worked fairly well, but not super.
So I came back in and put the bubble solution by the sink and started doing dishes, thinking I'd fill up the dishwasher, then run it using the bubble solution as detergent, so as not to waste so much soap. Except midway through doing dishes, I managed to knock the cup over, spilling bubble solution all over the sink, the floor, and the open dishwasher door. I cleaned up the counter and the floor, but didn't much think about the dishwasher until we got home from dinner that night and her husband informed us that it was broken. It wasn't until later in the evening that I overheard him talking about the specifics — it had welled up with bubbles that spilled out all over the floor. He wasn't actually sure whether it was broken, or he'd dropped in an extra detergent ball.
So I went in to check the kitchen, and there were wet towels all over the floor because there had been so much stray bubbling. So I sheepishly fessed up to that as well. I have learned two three four things from this experience:
I should stick to commercial bubble fluid, which is cheap and works better… and comes in bottles with screw-on lids.
I should not be trusted with other people's kitchens.
Unsolicited foam parties are not the funnest foam parties.
Having attacked their kitchen with fire and water, I need to figure out how to come at it with earth and air. The former will be easy enough, and might just involve obliviously tracking mud in everywhere. I have a good model in the kids, who tracked in tempura paint all over the rugs the first day I was here. I'm not sure about the latter. Maybe some sort of toxic aerosol spray made from equal parts shame and mortification? I have the base ingredients already.
Sooo I kind of set my cousin's kitchen on fire today.
See, there were all these bananas in the house… Yeah. Bear with me.
There were bananas in the kitchen, going bad. I said I'd make banana muffins with them. They had most of the ingredients on hand, and I bought the other things I needed yesterday.
Yesterday, incidentally, was fairly miserable. We went over to the University Of Oklahoma campus with a laundry list of plans: feed the ducks at the local pond, ride the glass elevator, visit my other cousin at his new library job, ride a bus around campus (which the kids were super-excited about). But the kids were immensely fussy. They whined that it was hot, they whined that they had to walk, they whined when we were going to leave the duck pond, they whined that we weren't leaving the duck pond fast enough. They whined that it was hot in the car and they had to wait 30 seconds for the air conditioner to kick in. They whined that we weren't going fast enough, they whined that they wanted ice cream. They whined that they wanted fast food instead of ice cream, and then when they got it, they whined that they hadn't gotten ice cream. Most of this was the 8-year-old, but they tag-teamed a good bit. Ultimately, we rode the elevator, got food, and then called it a day and went home. Thorn introduced me to the concept of "stable sour," where a horse has spent so much time in the stable that it's balky and hard to manage when anyone tries to take it out. This was the first really nice day in a while, she said, and the kids were stable sour.
This made a lot of sense. I've been there myself. But when we got home, I really wasn't in the mood to bake. So we took the kids to the park and let them run around like wild things for a long time while we talked, and then we unceremoniously dumped them on Thorn's husband, and she and I went out to have a long, talky dinner with my other cousin and his wife.
Today was much better. We went to the zoo, and the kids were pretty chill, even when we had to wait forever in a traffic jam to find parking because everyone else also noticed that the weather was nice and the zoo existed. And even when we had to walk for 10 minutes across a baking parking lot. And even when we had to wait in line for another 10 minutes for tickets, only to be informed that we were in the wrong line to buy a family pass, and had to start over. And even when we chose to not go on the tram, which is their favorite thing, and we wound up hiking all over creation instead. And even when we wouldn't take them on the safari boat ride they'd been semi-promised, because we were running late and had to get back home so I could do a phone interview with Danny Boyle for his new film. I mean, when I was their age, that level of compounded disappointment would have sent me into meltdown mode, but they largely took it in stride. What a difference a day makes.
So even after a day out in the sun, with everyone weary and footsore, I was in a good enough mood to try the banana muffins tonight. I'd wanted to try some hands-on cooking with the kids as a bonding experience, largely because I have such vivid, positive, and important memories of my dad's sister showing me how to make pancakes, and letting me help. But neither of the boys are particularly patient or focused, so year after year, I've dropped the idea. But as soon as I started assembling ingredients, the 6-year-old was mesmerized, and when I told him what I was making, he was flabbergasted and thrilled by the idea of mixing bananas into bread. And even though he tends to be the cuddly, quiet, non-vocal type, he got very verbose very quickly, explaining how his favorite bread is cornbread, and he loves bananas, and bananas in bread make no sense. And he asked me why I had my computer open, and actually listened to the explanation about recipes, and even waited raptly by the ingredients bowl while I went off to the garage to get eggs from the spare fridge. We actually had a conversation, which was lovely. And in the middle of this, I turned on the oven to 350 degrees and went back to showing him how the consistency of the batter changed ingredient by ingredient. He opined that this was the neatest thing ever, but wanted to know how this goo would become bread. I explained about baking it, and he wandered over to look at the oven.
And he asked "What's all this stuff in the oven?"
And I said "Oh, there's nothing in the oven yet, I haven't put anything in there yet OH CRAP."
By this time, there was already rancid smoke coming out of the oven.
And when I pulled it open and the air hit the sullen, oxygen-starved flames inside, we both got a nice big whoof-ing fireball to the face. The 6-year-old, who is often fairly timid and frightened by many things, just thought this was totally cool. I, however, could see that the oven was full of pans and skillets, plus a couple of plastic tray covers which were sitting directly on the heating element, and were thoroughly on fire. By this time, the 8-year-old had showed up to share the excitement, so I evacuated the kitchen of kids, got all the burning plastic into the sink and put it out, and got it all outside. Burning plastic is surprisingly hard to snuff, and the two lids had fallen into at least four pieces at this point, all of which were on fire.
SO THAT WAS AWKWARD. On the bright side, the kids now think I'm awesome: I make actual bread out of mere flour and bananas, and actual fire out of nowhere. On the other hand, who wants to be the houseguest who burns the host's property and fills their oven with drippy melted plastic? Somewhat to my surprise, Thorn's husband was entirely cool about all of it. Apart from letting me know about 20 minutes later that I have some teasing coming my way, and he isn't planning on letting this one go anytime soon.
Turns out they have a SEPARATE stove they actually use for the baking. I'd turned on the storage-stove that's only used at Thanksgiving. And I hadn't even thought to check inside it for flammables first.
Been googling around for creative games for 8-year-olds, and mostly finding loud, running-and-yelling party games. And then there's this:
Whipped Cream Round The World Have children stand in one line. Two plates of whipped cream are passed from each player along the line whilst players are dancing to the music. When the music stops, the player must rub the plate of whipped cream 'round the world style' (start at the front and rub the plate around the head back to front), on their face. They are then out. Plates are replenished and repeated until the last player is standing. Obviously the last player get the 'world treatment.
This sounds more like a punishment than a game — first, a punishment for the kids participating, and then a punishment for all the parents who have to get whipped cream out of their kids' eyes, ears, noses, hair, and clothes, and then finally a punishment for whoever's hosting the party, because there's going to be whipped cream everywhere. This reads to me like the equivalent of a fun party game called "Dump the honey on the rug."
So I am visiting Oklahoma, where my cousin, thefirethorn, has ordered me to blog about our adventures because she loves reading about her family.
She may wind up with cause to regret that, because easily the most memorable thing that happened today was that her 6-year-old wandered in post-bath, wrapped in a towel, jumped onto my lap, and said "Hey, look at this!" Then he opened the towel and puppeteered his foreskin into a mouth, which said "I hate you for no reason!" I am really glad to say this is the first time a dude has done this to me. Gentlemen, I do not advise trying this move on your lady friends.
That aside, it was a pleasant day. It was in the 30s in Chicago when I left. Here, it's 80 degrees. (The weather forecast forecast for my visit ranges between 39 and 81. That was… fun… to try to pack for.) Thorn picked me up at the airport and we went to a ridiculous Chinese buffet where, for $10 apiece, we got access to all the usual mega-Chinese stuff, plus a cake bar, a sushi bar, a dim sum bar, a steak bar, a Mongolian grill, a gelato bar, and a variety of fruit meant for use with the chocolate and caramel fountains, though we just ate naked bowls of strawberries and blackberries and called it good. We sat and got caught up on The State Of Everyone for a couple of hours, then got Thorn's two boys from school, went for a walk to the local pond, and fed the Canadian geese and a couple of reluctant ducks. My fish-white, Chicago-winter skin didn't know what to do with all the sunlight, and I passed out on a chair the second we got back to the house, and I slept til dinner.
Post-dinner, Thorn showed me this silly but giggle-inducing "Collaborate with famous writers" site, where you start typing a story, and a text editor jumps in and replaces common words with highfalutin vocabulary, identifying the edits as coming from Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, and others. The edits never improve the stories — they're slanted toward exactly the type of writing we learned to avoid around 6th grade. They constantly add unnecessary verbiage and plug in extra adverbs and replace "said" with "assuredly declared." Also, Poe always replaces "fire" with "halo of hell." And if you stop writing for a minute, Dickens or Dostoyevsky or Nietzsche will slap in a random sentence. The best part is that actually mentioning a couple of the authors in your text — Dickens or Shakespeare especially — will set off little pre-programmed edit wars. It's a minorly amusing site.
But the kids loved it, and it turned into a collaborative game that went on for well over an hour, with me starting stories and demanding they take turns adding to them, and our invisible editors jumping in to muck things up, which sent them into gales of laughter. We wrote a story about the narrator becoming a dog that turned into a phoenix. We wrote a story about the narrator's face falling off in school, and everyone turning into zombies. We wrote stories about the boys in school, and a black cat who could fly. Granted, their story contributions were really heavy on poop (still their favorite word) and bloody mayhem, but they were also funny and surprising, especially as the 8-year-old showed me the growing expanse of his vocabulary. And engaging with kids on a creative level is The Best.
That said, damned if I know what else we're going to be able to do on this level while I'm here. I was looking for exactly something like this — an imagination-intensive game with a specific focusing device to keep them from wandering off every two minutes. So if any of y'all have other specific suggestions for keeping a 6-year-old and an 8-year old captivated for a couple hours, I'd love to hear 'em.
Another note about last night's RPG meet-and-greet: This morning I got up to a handful of emails that said "It was good to see you!" It turns out Meetup.com has added this function where, if you RSVP "yes" for an event, then afterwards, it'll show you the user icons of everyone else who RSVPed "yes," with a button underneath each icon that says "It was good to see you!" If you click on that button, it sends the other user exactly that message. And when they get that message, there's a button in it that says "Good to see you too!"
Not to be alarmist or anything, but WE ARE ALL DOOMED THIS IS THE DOWNFALL OF SOCIETY EVERYTHING IS RUINED FOREVER.
Look, there's a great deal to be said for basic politeness. And there's a little bit of charm in the idea of everyone at these meetups hitting all these buttons at each other and sending all these ridiculous rote messages, the exact same impersonal, low-effort, lazy ones each time. It's the equivalent of two people meeting in My Fair Lady and mechanically repeating "How do you do?" to each other: Well-meant, and kinda funny to watch, but a little stiff, and ultimately entirely empty. It's a mockery of an actual exchange of meaningless pleasantries.
Mostly what chafes me is the idea that this button-pressing is mimicking something meaningful — actual expressions of goodwill — and it's supposed to be taken on the same level. In the same way "lol" is now a punctuation mark meaning "this thought is complete," and "Like" can mean "I saw this" or "I would like to win a prize from your company," "Nice to see you" in this context means "I have enough positive feeling for you as a person that I'm willing to click on a thing." It's actually grosser to me than exchanging no post-meeting words whatsoever.
So it was lousy to see all of you, so there. Where's my button for that?
Holy crap, y'all, are you reading Order Of The Stick these days? What's up with these daily updates after years of erratic updates and illness-or-injury-related downtime? More to the point, holy crap, the current plotline and the end of the latest strip.
I've been reading a lot of YA novels lately. Seriously, a lot. Ever since I started the YA books column, publishers have been sending them to me by the boxload. Here's the one I wrote up for February, the one that stood out amid the whole batch: A novel about a teenager who kills himself over and over and can't figure out why it doesn't take.
Yesterday we had a thoroughly enjoyable day of playing board games at some friends' house in an all-day birthday celebration. Then at night we went to the Chopin Theater with Julia the birthday girl to see The Magnificents, a stage play about circus performers that doubles as an impressive stage-magic show with an aerial segment and some clowning. It's charming, well-acted, sweet, and sad, and I'm very glad I saw it. It felt more than a little like The Fantastics with magic instead of music, and more of a narrative arc. Highly recommended for people in the Chicago area who enjoy close-up magic.
I got mansplained at today! My CTA pass unexpectedly expired — turns out I needed to click one thing on their website to confirm that my address is still my address — and it didn't work on the turnstile when I left work; the message "expired" kept coming up on the turnstile. There was a lady CTA worker by the gate who came out and checked it for me, and then ran it through her employee scanner and pointed out that it said it expired March 1, and I needed to go to the website and update my address and get a new card. Then she held the gate open so I could walk through. As I did, another CTA guy who'd been sitting in his booth silently watching this whole thing suddenly emerged and SNATCHED my card out of my hand and said "I'LL tell you exactly what's wrong with that card, let ME check it!" and proceeded to re-scan my card, which once again said "expired." He said "You see, that's it right there, your card's expired! You need to go online and update it!" I said "Yeah, I know, I —" and he interrupted to say "It probably just expired sometime in the past couple of days! You should go to the website and check! There's a place where you can access your account and find out…" He kept rambling, giving me the same information but vaguer, while I made eye contact with the CTA lady, who just looked weary. Finally, I took my card out of his hand and cut him off with "Yeah, I know, this lady checked it and showed me. It expired March 1 and I didn't realize, but she told me exactly what to do about it. She's got it covered and she knows exactly what she's doing." Then I thanked her directly and smiled at her and walked off. I do not want to think about what her days must be like.
Tonight I went to a thoroughly delightful meetup for RPG fans looking for groups or players, and heard an upbeat lecture from a local comic-book-shop owner who runs D&D games for large groups — sometimes 15 players at a time — and for autistic kids. He described how in the former case, he streamlines by going fast, taking suggestions ("What are the walls in the castle made out of? Like, quartz or something?" "Sure, why not? You'd know better than me — that's why you're here in the castle with a pickaxe, right?"), not rolling separate initiatives for each round, and giving people just a few seconds to declare their actions, as though they're playing speed chess. It sounded odd, but he was so upbeat and cheerful and funny that I want to actually try his crazy D&D speed variant.
The case of D&D for autistic kids was even more intriguing. He got into it because of parents bringing kids to try his public-meetup D&D game because they were looking for social stimuli, but it's been so beneficial to the kids he plays with that now he runs special sessions for them, and gets paid as if he were a tutor. He says essentially he incentivizes interactions with the kids who have trouble acknowledging other people — like, there's a bonus to an action if it can somehow involve other players. He encourages them to read each other's reactions to events and gauge behavior accordingly, e.g. "You just fireballed your own teammate. How does he look now? Does he look happy? Maybe you shouldn't fireball your own teammate." (Cass says he can think of 40-something gamers who would benefit from this same learning-to-read-other-people routine.) The overall idea is that he's encouraging the kids to have fun in a social setting — as opposed to at home, interacting with people on computers — and they learn behaviors that they associate entirely with fun, as opposed to the stressful, negative lessons they can get at school. So they're more likely to model the social-interaction behaviors for a couple of weeks or a month after each session, and he's made a lot of progress with them. Again, the whole thing sounds so neat, I wish I could see him at work.
The same guy owns a comics store here in town, and runs a lot of strange events, like a "wine and comics pairings" event which sounds like weird fun. (On the menu this time: What wine goes with Saga?) I'm going to have to try some of those things out as well. And the meet-new-gamers thing went swimmingly as well; I walked away with enough email addresses to fill out an entire game of Dread, the system I'm most into these days. Now I just need to find a free weekend to actually play. Sigh.
Oscar parties are weird. At least, ours is. We throw it almost every year at Cass’ parents’ place, a split-level that can accommodate two separate parties: Us and 20 or so of our friends in the couch-and-chair-crammed TV room with the wall projector, and Cass’ parents and their friends and relatives upstairs with a giant flatscreen. It involves a ton of prep, what with me making and displaying enough food to keep dozens of people going for five hours, and Cass writing up the second TV and designing and printing and collecting ballots and coming up with prizes. But then the actual party itself is an exercise in immobility. Almost no one really mingles. There are wisecracks and conversations, but since we’re all pinned to specific chairs and couches, everyone talks with the little group nearest to them. We had guests last night who are friends of mine who I was happy to see, but I barely spoke to them at all.
Last night we had somewhere around 35 people, not counting the neighborhood kids who sequestered themselves in the kitchen to draw and color, or the one wiggly toddler who really wanted to be exploring the house. And this year I noticed more than ever how the ones in the basement formed their own separate parties. My party consisted of our work liveblog and the people immediately behind and in front of me. Cass, on the other side of the room, was at a different party altogether, with a different group of people, plus ballot-grading duty to distract him. There was a small party of co-workers and former co-workers in the back row, and I’m not sure they associated with anyone else, though I did come back to check up on them midway through the ceremony. I visited the outpost of Upstairs a few times. But given that when people first came in, I was running around pulling things in and out of the oven, there were people at our party for five hours whom I maybe said five words to.
And usually by hour five, people are tired and ready to be gone, so the second the last award is announced, people are out the door. Given that most parties feature lingering and chatting and a few tail-end stragglers and sometimes 4 a.m. conversations, I’m always a little amused and surprised by how quickly 35 people can retrieve 15 Tupperware containers and 35 coats and 70 shoes and get themselves out the door. This year one of our Oscar-tabulation winners was out the door so fast, he didn’t learn that he’d won until he returned half an hour later for something he’d dropped.
So my experience of the Oscars is always a day of baking, two hours of setup, a blur of Hello-your-coats-go-here-the-food-is-here-the-booze-is-here-help-yourself, a blur of online and offline witticisms, a blur of bye-thanks-for-coming-hope-you-had-fun, and then a social hangover that feels like “What just happened?” In spite of watching the whole thing, I often look at the results in the news the next morning and think “That won? Really? Huh.”
I hope everyone enjoyed themselves at our seven different Oscar parties in the same room.
The weekend ended for us at 11 a.m. on Monday, after checkout from the cabin, as we sat beside the compound’s koi pond and took a few deep breaths before heading back to the city. It was well above freezing, but the pond was largely iced over, except in the center by the fountains:
Me: Look, I thought the surface was just a sheet of ice, but there are sections moving against each other. I can’t see the dividing lines, but there’s clear motion.
Cass: Huh. Plate tectonics on a koi pond. I can’t actually see the plates either, but I can sense them moving.
Me: Wait, I didn’t realize you were Tectonics Man, and you had a special Tectonics Sense.
Cass: *innocent whistling*
Me: Were you bitten by a radioactive tectonic plate when you were a teenager?
Cass: *more innocent whistling*
Me: Huh. I hope not, because an entire radioactive tectonic plate would probably imply extensive exposure to radioactivity. Wait, is this why we don’t have children?
Cass: Actually, it was exposure to a radioactive tectonic bowl.
Cass: I used to go tectonic bowling all the time when I was a teenager.
Me: Someone in this relationship is silly.
Cass: I suspect everyone in this relationship is silly.
Cass and I spent the weekend in a cabin in rural Illinois again — our third time going back to this particular place. It was very relaxing, and a much-needed step outside the world, as it always is. The particular place where we rent cabins is so far off the grid that there’s no cell service, and the place doesn’t offer any kind of Internet connection, so we’re essentially unreachable for a couple of days. Which makes me twitchy — what if there’s a family emergency? What if the world burns down? — but also makes it impossible to blow a weekend on mindless Internet games or surfing, or fiddling with work stuff. In the winter, when outside is not hugely hospitable, it’s forced relaxation, with nothing much to do but read, watch films together, talk, cook, hot-tub, and sleep.
Especially sleep, this time around. We got in on Friday night and I slept in on Saturday — and then took a late-morning nap. And then we went hiking around the area and down by the local river, and when we got back to the cabin, I slept most of the afternoon. It’s disconcerting to do that — normally, I don’t nap, since I usually get up from naps groggy and out of sorts, and I’m too Type A to want to spend part of a perfectly good day asleep. When I commented to Cass about it, wondering if I was fighting off a bug, he just said “I hope you’re just getting rest.” Which took me aback a little. I’ve been trying to be good about eight hours of sleep a night, and while I don’t always manage, the days of staying up til 3 a.m. working are long gone. It hadn’t occurred to me that after a couple of months of fairly intense work-related stress, I might need sleep as much as I needed downtime.
Anyway. We went hiking Saturday and Sunday, though Sunday’s jaunt was fairly ridiculous: We went to a local wilderness preserve to hike the trails, which were listed on the none-too-helpful map as Orange (designated with a yellow line), Red (also a yellow line), Blue (blue line), Green (green line), and Brown (also a green line). The map didn’t give any indication of the distance involved in any of these loops, and there was no “You are here.” And then when we set out, the first intersection was with the White Trail. Which didn’t exist on the maps. So we walked for about 90 minutes with no clear idea of where we were. We only found one other map along the route, and it also lacked a “You are here.” I was fairly sure about roughly which path we were on, although the route I’d picked involved three different trails (“orange,” blue, and “brown”). The big problem was that at least half the hike was along muddy ground, and we spent a lot of time walking along sharply angled, crumbly dry ground adjacent to the trails, or walking on the mud and skidding a lot. And much of the mud was concealed under leaves, so we couldn’t always tell how stable the path was, whereas the sides of the path were guarded by thorny bushes of various kinds. Between that and the uncertainty of whether we’d set out on a one-mile walk or a five-mile walk, the whole thing felt a little fraught.
But we made it back to the car alive and well-exercised, and the weather was more accommodating than we’d expected — outright cold but not very windy, so 15 minutes of brisk walking and sliding was enough to get us warmed up. And then it was back to the cabin for Sons Of Anarchy and Glee and Smash and How I Met Your Mother and Community and reading three books in one weekend and starting a fourth.
We last did this in December, and it was so sanity-inducing that I suggested we should just go ahead and book another excursion for a couple of months out, before our schedule got full. Now I want to do that again. They’re nice cabins, and cheaper than Chicago hotels, and the people who run the place are tremendously friendly while rocking an attitude of “You’re here for privacy and quiet, we are going to check you in and then leave you alone until you check out, unless you come looking for us.” It’s the most hands-off, adult-friendly place I’ve ever stayed.
That said, it’s a bit on the kitsch side, with a little box of Valentine’s candy and an actual Valentine awaiting us when we checked in, and homemade art featuring sayings like “What happens in the cabin stays in the cabin,” and leather-bound journals in all the cabins where people can leave their compliments on the place. I read through some of the entries in our cabin’s journal this morning, and found them heavily skewed toward “What a lovely place, and our dog loved it so much!” In fact, the signatures on the first 10 or so entries included dog names: Things like “Patrick & Lucy & Barky & Fluffles.” Sometimes the writer would also draw a pawprint after the dog’s signature. In one case it was “Charlie & Mabel & ‘Babies’ (Puddles & Norma).” Urgh. I suspect we aren’t actually cute enough for this place, or at least cute enough for on-site journaling. But it is rapidly becoming my favorite thing to do with a spare weekend.
Hey, remember back in September when I went to the earliest available Chicago screening of Resident Evil: Retribution, because it didn't screen for critics beforehand, and we needed a review? And two different guys wound up explaining things about the movie to me?
This morning, I did the same thing with the also-not-screened-for-critics Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which was mostly just boring and repetitive. And during the credits, the second guy, the one who saw I was bored with his rambling explanation and stopped and then we had a real conversation, came up to me afterward, very excited to see me again. He was there with a buddy, who looked politely disengaged, and when I asked if he often came to movies on Friday mornings, he said yeah, he and the friend are both conductors on the Burlington Northern train line. They bring trains in for the morning rush hour, and then they have a six-hour layover every day of the week, and they have to find ways to amuse themselves in town until their trains go back out at 3:30 in the afternoon.
To me, that sounds like hell. I mean, there's a lot to do in Chicago, sure, but there's much less to do in the winter, once it gets cold enough that you just can't be outdoors, and there aren't a lot of public spaces where you can spend a lot of time comfortably without paying, unless you really like libraries. I said as much, and he said it wasn't necessarily fun in the winter, but it's great in the summer. In the meantime, Friday is movie day every week, when they go to the first show of whatever.
It seems like such a weird and interesting way to live. But I suspect he's lonely, based on how obviously excited and pleased he was to see me again, and how much he wanted to chat. I had to get back to the office and bang out my review and do about 20 other things before the end of the day, so I wasn't in a very talkative mood, but we talked for a little while, and his enthusiasm was certainly catching. Talking to him was generally more fun than actually watching the movie had been. We went our separate ways promising to randomly bump into each other again at the theater someday.
Office move accomplished! Granted, we had to move everything ourselves. My day started with me going to the old office and picking up a bag of books, my monitor and all the cabling, and my water bottle, and walking to the new office. I made a couple more trips later in the day to load up more boxes and bags of books, with significant help from Scott, but by the end of the day, everything was either unpacked and in its place or in the recycling bins. So that was all pretty satisfying. We've been specifically enjoined to bring as little stuff over as possible and to not clutter up the office with huge piles of accumulated films and CDs and books and whatnot, and I have to admit that everything looks very nice in its present fairly barren state.
The new office is weirdly samey — three big separate work areas all filled with the same long brushed-aluminum tables, and we have to walk by the other two to get to our work area, so I'll basically see everyone in the office every day — but it's much brighter and cleaner and newer than the old place, with higher ceilings and giant windows and so much more light. My fears from the pictures and diagrams about having enough room for me and my elbows were unfounded; I could lie down full-length on my desk if I wanted to. Plenty of room for book stacking and sorting. I've promised various people pictures, and I'll get to that when I can.
We still need a giveaway shelf in a place the rest of the office can access, and the printers still aren't working, but otherwise, we seem to be pretty much up and running. As of tomorrow, we're down one man for possibly a month, as Editor Josh goes off to be on a jury, and that is going to be a tremendous pain in the ass. But at least we'll be experiencing our ass-pain in a much brighter and airier environment.
Oh, and I'm leaning toward the fondue idea for the move-in party, but it didn't happen tonight; it was put off because the originator didn't get enough responses and didn't have time to corral people, so he suggested a different date, and was then told the kitchen isn't finished yet and it'd be a bad idea to fill the kitchen with slow cookers on that particular date because we've got an important guest visiting the office the next day. So who knows when or if it'll happen, but when it does, there may be chocolate. And come to think of it, it'd be a good chance to get rid of the gigantic supply of wooden skewers I somehow ended up with due to buying them for satay… and then forgetting I had some, and buying more, and then forgetting I had those…
We're moving to a new office on Monday. It's going to be an interesting process: I'm going from a cubicle with two cloth walls covered with notes and art and a calendar to a shared table with no walls, where I'll be looking across a divider at a co-worker all day. I'm going from an L-shaped desk with a lot of space to sort and store the 20 or so books I get in the mail every day to a table section where, as far as I can tell, I'll basically have enough desk space for my computer, my monitor, and my elbows. It'll certainly be good in terms of pushing me to be more organized and sort things more quickly and efficiently, but I do worry about just plain not having the space to fulfill my job functions. On the other hand, the new office has giant walls of windows (I'm currently in a space where like most of us, I get no natural light) and much more space, and significantly better facilities in many different ways. So we'll see.
Monday night, once we've moved in, we're supposed to have a "comfort-food Crock Pot cook-off" in the new space to celebrate the move, and I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to make. I've been making chili since winter kicked in — black bean mushroom chili, beef burgundy chili, chili verde until I finally ran out of tomatillos — and I'm a little tired of soups. And I'm not sure soup qualifies for me as comfort food anyway. I'm leaning toward just searing a roast and making beef barbacoa. Though our outgoing former production designer who used to win all the office cook-offs wryly said that whoever just threw a couple of blocks of Velveeta in their slow cooker, melted them, and provided chips was automatically going to win.
Anyway, I'm curious whether any of you have a slow-cooker recipe you swear by and identify as comfort food. The problem is that I really don't have that comfort-food vibe so many people seem to have: I don't like mac-and-cheese (I'm not the world's biggest fan of cheese in general), and I don't have warm childhood associations about mashed potatoes or pasta or other starchy foods. To me, comfort food is something I don't have to cook, meaning I can curl up with a book or a good movie and eat dinner without a bunch of prep time. Alas, there is no recipe for that for slow cookers, unless I buy a bunch of Campbell's and empty it into a cooker and spend the day reheating it. (Popcorn is also a big comfort food for me, which is the secret real reason I became a film critic, but it's also hard to do that in a slow cooker.)
So I'm fine with the barbacoa plan, but I'd also be fine with someone giving me a brilliant idea I'd entirely overlooked until now. Any can't-miss recipes out there?
There are some basic things I learn over and over and over throughout my life, and yet I still never seem to internalize them and live my life accordingly:
I feel better when I exercise daily. My appetite drops, my energy goes up, my mind's clearer, I'm more comfortable in my skin. My body fizzes pleasantly after exercise. I feel good about myself.
I'm happiest when I'm engaged in a creative endeavor. And creativity begets more creativity. The more I work on things and trust my own creative instincts and don't let doubt creep in and overtake me, the more confident I get and the easier things come.
It never hurts to leave five minutes before I think I need to leave to go anywhere. It generally helps.
I'm less likely to say something awkward or confusing if I think before I talk.
That said, I'm happier when I actually express what I'm thinking to people, when I don't hold back or swallow my opinions out of a fear of confrontation, or leaving myself vulnerable, or both.
These are really simple, basic things, so why are they so hard to learn? I've been re-educating myself this January, not exactly wanting resolutions, but wanting some resolution. So I've been going back to the gym regularly, and trying to write more, and eating better, and feeling better about life than I have in a while. And to the degree that I do have a 2013 resolution, it's basically just "Try to remember these five things, and act accordingly.
I've heard for years about Polar Bear Plunges, where crazy people jump in frigid bodies of water in January, but I'd never actually been to one, so when some friends issued an open invite to come watch them take the plunge, I figured what the hell.
I had no idea it would be such a scene. I went down to North Avenue Beach at 11 a.m. on January 1st, which involved a certain amount of reluctant crawling out of bed five and a half hours after crawling in post-New Year's parties. Standing around waiting for other people to show up, I saw a wide cross-section of people repeat the same cycle: Show up, psych up, strip down, jump in, leap out, suit up, and run away. It was bitterly cold, with a reported wind chill of 15 degrees F, and a stiff wind coming off the choppy lake. I could barely stand to have my gloves off long enough to take pictures, let alone stripping down to a bathing suit.
But so many people did. One group went in in cocktail dresses. Another in bright neon anime wigs. One man was dressed as the New Year's baby, in a top hat and a diaper. Two buff guys went in covered in body paint that made them look like they were wearing skin-tight Batman and Robin suits. One group showed up dressed as Darth Vader, a Hoth Rebel pilot, a sandperson, and an Imperial trooper. It was a wild party where no one lingered: Every 15 minutes, new groups cycled through.
Here's our group. I hung back and held robes and towels and took pictures and boggled:
The thing is, I'm normally a joiner. I see people having fun, I want to have the same fun. I see people doing something wacky, I wish it was me. I see people doing something that fosters camaraderie, and I feel deeply left out if I can't get involved. This may have been my first-ever experience at watching a group bonding by being wild and brave, and not remotely wanting to join in. I want to go back, and I want to see more of this amazing good time. But jumping in that water? No matter how many times I watched people do it, I couldn't imagine doing it myself. Brrrr.
Practically every auto-parts store I've ever visited has a big sign out front forbidding people to use the parking lot for car repair. They presumably do this to keep people from taking up space and getting in the way of further customers, while possibly leaving unwanted motor fluids or car parts behind.
Last night I made Puppy Chow for the New Year's party I was attending (apparently known as Muddy Buddies in some states, which set off a near-violent debate between attendees at that party), but I was a little short on powdered sugar, and the results were a bit too chocolate-sticky and clumpy. So I went by a grocery store on the way down to the party, and bought powdered sugar, and stood out in the parking lot in the bitter wind, doctoring my snack mix and laughing to myself because it was the equivalent of buying a new distributor and then installing it in my car in the parking lot. Fortunately, grocery stores don't have equivalent bans. Probably because it isn't an ongoing problem for them. Which is too bad; I would have liked to have been joined in the parking lot by people adding just-purchased tarragon to their chicken and assembling deviled eggs after adding the right amount of just-purchased mayo to their mix.
The party was thrown by a co-worker and it was lovely, just the right mix of high energy drunkenness and general good humor. At midnight, we ran outside and they set off a series of anticlimactic fireworks. Our drunk, ebullient host S. received a couple of small chicken fireworks from her boyfriend, and got extremely excited, yelling "Chicken chicken chicken!" When my coworker A. and I said we had no idea what those were, she screamed "THEY'RE THE BEST! THEY LAY EGGS OF FIRE!" Then she put them down and lit them, and they each farted out five seconds' worth of sparks, and that was it. They looked like tiny versions of this chicken firework, and did about the same thing — but only once. Given the buildup and the alcohol, it was, at the time, approximately the single funniest thing of all time. It was a good way to start the year: Laughing and cheering and joking and celebrating in a big crazy group of unselfconsciously happy people. Here's to much more of that in the year to come.
My primary goal for 2012 was that it be better than 2011. It wasn't terrific, but it was significantly better. I haven't been updating here much because most of what goes on in my life these days isn't appropriate for public posting, particularly if it involves work in any way. I don't expect that to change. But I would like to get back to posting here more regularly. One thing that would greatly improve my 2013 is if I can find my way back to writing for fun, and make more of a point of journaling to preserve some sense of the day-to-day. Last night's grocery-store parking-lot silliness and chicken explosion are things I'd like to still remember a year from now, and that means I need to start keeping better track of the days. Most of 2011 was a year I just want to forget entirely. 2012 had its moments worth preserving. I'd like 2013 to be a year worth remembering and looking back on fondly. Let's see if we can make that happen.
Got a non-stick springform pan for Christmas, which clearly means it's time to try out this recipe. Which I'm trying to do, with my sister's help, to the degree griping comedically is helpful.
Tara: Haven't you finished that thing yet?
Me: Still haven't started. Remember the part about two minutes ago where I said I was going to start it but I wanted your help?
Tara: I'm pretty sure you also said the most helpful thing I could possibly do was to stay out of your way and play games on your computer while you made a delicious dessert?
Me: No, I said the most helpful thing you could do would be all the work. The least helpful acceptable thing you could do would be to help.
Tara: SIIIIGH. Doing what?
Me: Step one: Find me the rolling pin.
Tara: [Rummaging through drawers.] It isn't here. Failed at stage one, don't have to do anything else, right?
Me: Wrong. Failed at stage one, keep looking until stage one is accomplished.
Tara: [Holding up mini springform pans from a deep dark cabinet.] Why don't you just make miniature ones?
Me: Not enough of a proof of concept.
Me: Not enough of a proof of concept?
Tara: Can you translate that into dumb-ese?
Me: I wants to try use-ding MY one.
Tara: Why didn't you just say that in the first place? [High-pitched mocking voice she's used to indicate my ridiculousness for like a decade now.] Oh, my name is Tasha, I'm so smarty-smart that when normal people would say normal stuff, I say it in a smarty-smart way instead.
Me: I don't sound anything like that at all!
Tara: Yes you do. Only smarter.
[Note: I'm sitting on my butt typing this while she's doing all the prep work of grinding graham crackers into crumbs for me, so clearly I AM the smarty-smart one. Nyah.)
Back in Maryland for the holiday season, like I do.
Back in the loving arms of my sarcastic sister, leading to many conversations like this:
Tara: Why aren't you ready yet?
Me: Still getting ready. Here, read this article while I finish.
Tara: Awwww, READING? Reading is HARD. Why can't you read it to me?
Me: You wanted me to get ready so we could go.
Tara: Why can't you read it to me and get ready at the same time?
Me: Because most of what I have to do is put in my contacts, and it's hard to read while poking things into my eyes?
Tara: Man, you complain a lot.
ETA: Showed this to her for her approval, and she complained that I didn't use her "usual pseudonym, Busty Galore." Also, "I like that story, because it makes me look awesome, and makes you look like the big complainer you are."
Me: So I had this dream last night that we'd moved to a gigantic house, but every room was packed so full of useless junk that we could barely move. Like, there was a broken mannequin propped up in our bed and piles of broken furniture everywhere and a couple of toddlers' toilets full of water in the bedroom, one of which was a pink Barbie toilet with endlessly cycling water. And when I saw them, I realized you'd put them out thinking the cat would drink more if there was water everywhere. But I think it's pretty easy to interpret what prompted this dream and what it means. I'd really like you to stop filling the house with unnecessary toy toilets.
Cass: [From another room.] STOP SUFFOCATING ME!
Me: Look, if you really think you need that giant toy toilet collection… Hey, wait. Is this one of those ironic things where you're currently being murdered but I'm misinterpreting? Am I going to walk in there after a big misguided speech and find you on the floor as the Mad Suffocator comes for me?
We are SO BUSY at work. Busy enough that while Cass and I ran off to a cabin in the woods for my birthday again, I still spent much of Saturday and Sunday writing, watching movies, and writing about them. Busy enough that Editor Genevieve is going mildly crazy. I know it's bad when she doesn't feel she has time for capital letters or punctuation in IM chats:
Genevieve: i'm toying with the idea of sleeping at the office and pulling an all-nighter this week
Me: Not until they move cots in here. I'm not sleeping on that floor.
Genevieve: i'll get one of those hammocks that hang from the ceiling
Me: Ooh, get me one too! Office sleepover!
Genevieve: this iz us:
Me: I would not sleep in those shoes.
Me: …what exactly am I quitting here? Quitting wearing clogs to bed?
I don't even know how to contextualize this one, except that it made me laugh like a crazy person. We were watching Glee — we don't hate-watch it so much as strip-mine it for the bits we like, while griping about what a crazy, inconsistent, profoundly illogical show it is, and how badly the characters behave. And we fell into a pop-culture-reference K-hole:
Rachel on Glee, bossing her ex around: "Don't let them give up on their dreams. And promise me one thing —"
Cass: "I just want you to do one thing. Dedicate your life to doing whatever it is that I want you to do."
In April of this year, a YA novel about a 15th-century teenage nun assassin with god-granted mystical powers landed on my desk. The premise sounded so silly that I mocked it a bit on Twitter. I was promptly buried under "That sounds amazing, I want to read it" responses.
So I thought about it for a while, and then I launched a YA books column over at The A.V. Club inspired by that book, and with coverage of that book as the column's first installment.
And then I started talking to the editor there, and she invited me to review some YA for them, so I wrote up Terry Pratchett's Dodger for them.
And then the publisher saw that and invited me to meet and interview Pratchett when he toured town for the book, so I did that as well.
And then the editor I was talking to at NPR suggested an essay exploring autistic-spectrum characters in YA, so I wrote that too.
Now NPR Books wants me to write more stuff for them, with the possibility — just the possibility, mind — of doing reviews on-air as well.
What I'm saying is, I owe Teen Nun Assassin Book quite a bit. And just now, volume 2 of the series showed up on my desk, in a shiny black box stuffed with glittery gold confetti, and I thought "Has it been a year since the last one already?" I wouldn't be surprised, since it's certainly felt like a very packed year. But no, not quite yet. More like seven months. During which I have come to appreciate teen nun assassins a lot more than I did previously. I'll be reading this volume much more enthusiastically.
I spent a goodly part of the weekend looking like this, with Cass looking like this:
…at two different parties. One was an excellent housewarming Chez spreadnparanoia and her husband Friday night. And then we dressed up similarly for the Redmoon Theater Halloween extravaganza Saturday night. The former party involved a bunch of good friends and a lot of booze and a pinata getting beaten vigorously to death. The latter involved a great deal of ridiculous spectacle, including a plastic slide onto the dance floor (with a muscular shirtless dude in skeleton-face makeup catching people at the bottom), and people in skeleton costumes running around with exploding confetti bombs and confetti cannons, and a man on a giant bike with a wine-dispensing attachment and an umbrella studded with wineglasses biking around serving wine, and various people in birdfaced costumes dashing around creating little dramatic events, and much more. My favorite were the three people in giant mandrill masks serving sliced bananas and practically having baboon orgasms when someone took some banana. But there was a lot to see, and it was a very well-managed party in terms of something new happening every half-hour or so to keep us occupied, including a DJ set by the guy with the fire calliope, and a live Talking Heads cover band. Also, 99 percent of the attendees were in costume, with lots of face paint and many really elaborate or impressive costumes. My favorite pairing: Edgar Allen Poe and a raven. Though I also enjoyed the ladies dressed as Daenerys and one of her dragons. There was another couple dressed as Daenerys and Kal Drogo, and at one point they all met on the dance floor and had an amiable Daenerys-off. It was a really good party.
And today I hung out at home and ran a Dread session for eight players and had a blast with it. Everyone I've played Dread with loooooves it — my theory is that using Jenga for conflict resolution means that every single significant act comes with all the drama that most games only manage once or twice a session. Literally any action might kill your character. I'm seriously considering running this same scenario at two different conventions in November. We'll see whether I can maintain the enthusiasm. But after a weekend this fun, it's easy to plan on doing All The Things.
This morning’s commute was a little more exciting than usual. I blame known freak-attractor magdalene1 for leaving town and leaving the local weirdoes unsure who they should attach themselves to. And I blame cassielsander for sneezing.
We got on the train this morning and he happened to sneeze, and a lady walked up behind us and said “Bless you! GOD bless you! And Jesus too! Because there’s only one God, and only one Jesus, bless his holy name! Bless you with the power of the Lord!” And then she sat down behind us and just kept going on in that vein, speaking to the backs of our heads, and I thought “Great, we’ve picked up our own private preacher.”
It was weirder than that. She quickly segued from talking about God to talking about us — specifically, what a nice couple we were, and how God wanted us to be together, and how we could respect Him by staying together and having a good marriage, which we could accomplish by reading Romans and Corinthians, which are all about marriage. Also, I should respect Cass and let him be the man of the house and be the breadwinner, because that’s what men do. “You let him be the man because he wants you to be the woman. That’s why he married you! You need to just give him what he wants. And he need to just keep you happy. That’s what he for! That’s why you got married! Let me tell you, you make her happy, she do anything for you! And I do mean anything, you know, right down to the style.”
Oh, and also if we had a happy marriage, we wouldn’t cheat on each other. Which was important, she said, but if we did cheat, at least we should cheat smart, not cheat stupid, like J. Lo and Kanye West, because that was a scandal, and we shouldn’t go bringing STDs home to each other, no sir, if we had to go putting it someplace strange we should at least wrap it up and keep it safe. “Cause there really ain’t no need for your man to go stick his ding ding ding da ding ding ding in some other chick, but you gonna cheat, cheat right don’t cheat wrong.” (She called it a “ding ding ding da ding ding ding” again later; man, that must take a lot of time in the bedroom.)
By this time, I was taking notes on my phone. Not because I really need advice on how not to bring STDs home, but because the nonstop rant — which had passed the 10-minute mark by this point — was so colorful and so disjointed, I knew I was never going to remember a tenth of it. This whole time, I never turned around or said a word to her. Cass muttered a couple of vague agreements, and occasionally smiled approvingly at me when our own personal preacher complimented me or talked about our terrific marriage, but mostly, she was just talking nonstop to our unacknowledging backs. Which did not slow her up in the slightest.
She started telling us we were beautiful people, and we should be on Dancing With The Stars. Because that show works you out and gives you exercise and lets you lose weight and gives you great abs and gets you ready for love. There was a whole segment from her on how the judges would react to us, what they’d say. We lost that subject when the train passed a Five Guys, which started her talking about dates we could go on together to keep things fresh: “Just ditch the kids and go somewhere the two of you together! You go to that Five Guys, that’s good eatin’, President Obama goes there! You go there together and have a nice meal and then go home and show each other a good time! You got to keep it fresh! You know where you should go, you go to that Shedd Aquarium and hold hands and look at they fish, because that shit exotic! And then you go home and F-U-C-K!”
This, I thought, was pretty graphic and direct for an itinerant lady preacher. But she was just getting warmed up. She told us we should use Halloween to keep things interesting — I should dress up as a horny devil, and Cass should get a doctor’s outfit and give me a little exam. She suggested we get a pole like the handrails in the el so we could do pole-dancing in the bedroom. She suggested the use of Prince music to help us “keep the chemistry and get freaky.” She said “Put some Cheeriolas on your areolas!” There was lots more.
At various points, she segued into talking about herself. She gave us her name and told us about her job (which I didn’t follow, I think she said she works in the County Assessor’s office), and she talked about her own man, who’s “off on the boat” but wants her to make string beans, even though there’s lots of food on the boat, he’s just gotta have her particular string beans, but also he wants her to make them for 1,500 people, so she’s gotta go get more chicken necks. She said she’s gonna write a book called I Told You So, so we should look for that to come out under her name.
It was about 25 minutes of pretty much nonstop talking to the backs of our heads, and it went back and forth between being hilarious and embarrassing and annoying, but every time I seriously considered asking her to put a sock in it, she’d come up with something like the Cheeriolas line, and I’d just want to see what would come out of her mouth next. (Somewhere in here, a hugely tall, hugely muscular black guy sat down across from us, made eye contact with me, and raised his eyebrows in an unmistakable “Well! Hope you’re enjoying that!” kind of way, and I cracked up. But I was laughing at various points of her lecture, and it didn’t seem to faze her at all. She was cackling a fair bit herself.)
Eventually, Cass got off at his stop, and I got off with him and just got onto a different train car, since I really didn’t want to be alone with Jesus Sex Tips Lady. But in retrospect, I was kind of sorry I didn’t engage her. Because when she first started talking, I was thinking “Oh man, if we make eye contact or chat or encourage her, she’ll never stop talking. But given that that wasn’t an option anyway, I wish I’d made a less cowardly choice than just sitting there pretending I couldn’t hear her. Whether it was confronting her about letting Cass be the breadwinner, or asking what the hell was up with having to make beans for 1,500 people, or just asking “A devil costume to spice things up in the sack? Really? What would Jesus think about that?”, I just kind of wished I’d talked to her instead of letting myself be talked at by her.
We spent this weekend at Archon in St. Louis — we'd never been before, but Cass met some people he liked at a dance party at Reno Worldcon in 2011, and ran into them again at a dance party in Chicago Worldcon this year, and they said Archon was their home convention and it was very very dancey, and we should come. Also, the filk GOHs were vixyish and tfabris, and that was pretty irresistible.
So we drove down and went to the Friday-night dance until 3 a.m. and wore ourselves out dancing with Cass' buddies, plus random costumed people, like an adorable heavily bearded male Wonder Woman (who managed his high heels better than I would have) and a bevy of finance angels with wings made out of money, and a variety of Doctor Whos and Companions. Favorite part: We naturally ended up dancing in a circle, and when the DJs played "Gangnam Style," a Dark Knight Batman appeared out of nowhere, jumped into the center of the circle, and did the proper dance moves at us. (I sang "Heyyyyy… sexy Batman…" to him on the choruses.)
We left around 3 a.m., so it was 11 when we dragged ourselves out of bed the next morning and went to lunch with V&T. Then there was the art show and the dealers' room and a concert and a panel on making interesting monsters for horror games and dinner and filking and drinking and Cards Against Humanity with friendly strangers and crazy-huge crowds with a surprisingly high percentage of people in costume. (My favorite was a trio of dudes dressed as Nyan Cat, a rainbow, and the starry sky.) This morning I played a session of Hobomancer, a fairly entertaining RPG about 1930s vagrants with supernatural powers, and then we came home.
While on the drive back, Cass told me about the video-room stuff he'd watched while I was gaming, including a steampunk webseries called Dirigible Days. While he was in the room waiting for it to start, some of the cast members showed up and chatted with him:
Cass: So at one point one of the actors asked one of the actresses why she was up so late, and she said "I had important things to do." He said "Like what?" and she said "Like come up with new dance moves to 'Pour Some Sugar On Me.'" He gave her a dubious look, and she said "It's important!" So I said "Because you need moves that express just how hot and sticky-sweet you are?" And she said "Exactly!"
Cass: What? Too forward?
Me: Maybe a little crass, but it sounds like she was okay with it. Personally, I might have gone with "Moves that express how much sugar should be poured on you?" or something like that.
Cass: Well, I wanted something that demonstrated that I knew the whole song, not just the title.
Me: And that you were willing to have sex with her.
Cass: A better term would be "eager."
(He later admitted that he did pause slightly on that last line so I would be drinking when he said it, for the spit-take value. He did get a small amount of choking.)
Most interesting thing about this con for me was the sheer number of new artists I was exposed to: We got home at 6 and I've spent three hours online looking people up and listening to their music online, or reading about games I was exposed to while there, or listening to music remixes I heard at the dance, or looking into interesting writers other people mentioned… I came home with a shopping list of worthwhile stuff to explore. Including this song tfabris sung at the filksing, about how all our MySpace/Facebook/Tumblr stuff is going to make us look to our kids when they run across it online years from now. (Too bad she doesn't include LiveJournal, which absolutely falls into the same category.)
Here's a question I wish I'd asked back in the glory days of LJ when I could count on hundreds of people reading it:
What's the longest you've ever spent deciding on what to wear on a given day? Whether it was for some special/important event, or just an indecisive day before work, or because you just like trying on and considering different clothes?
The thing about fall is that suddenly I could plausibly wear any of my winter clothes, but I could also still pull off my light summer blouses and dresses, with a cardigan or leggings for warmth. Which has upped my indecisiveness time in the mornings somewhat. Today I may be shooting a video for work, which has made me even more non-decidey. I'm usually the kind of person who makes that decision in about 30 seconds flat while staring into the closet for whatever's clean, but I'm slightly dreading the process today.
Granted, there are days when the choice is hard and days when it's fun and days when it's "Whatever, I like all these clothes, let's just wear whatever I haven't worn longest," but I'm betting I've never spent more than half an hour at the absolute most trying on things for a major event, and that on average, it's more like a minute. Which seems low to me, but maybe that's just by contrast with movie montages and commercials, and I'm overthinking this.
A couple of weekends ago, while phaedrusdeinus and ladymajor were still in town, I ran a superhero one-shot RPG that at one point involved a villain called King Cat, a cat-headed man based in a largely illusory black-and-gold pyramid he'd conjured up in an abandoned Western-town movie set in the middle of nowhere. When confronted, he used a powerful stolen magical item (the Staff Of TutanCattamn, which gave everyone the groanies) to mutate several of the mundane cats in his pyramid into cat-mummy-monsters, which attacked the party.
Then someone said "Oh, like Mumm-Ra from Thundercats."
"Uh, no, not really. They're essentially bipedal cats, about eight feet tall, but wrapped in patchy, torn bandages, and with glazed, dead eyes."
"Sure. Like Mumm-Ra. Giant cat mummies."
This devolved into a quick but decisive conversation in which people pulled out their phones, looked up pictures of Mumm-Ra, and declared that yeah, he was definitely a cat-mummy. I protested — he doesn't have pointy ears! ("He wears a cowl or a helmet depending on his form, you wouldn't see them.") He doesn't have fur or whiskers! ("He's an old, rotted mummy-creature, his fur fell out.")
I'm not entirely sure they weren't just baiting me. I mean, c'mon. He doesn't look anything like a cat. He had no feline characteristics whatsoever. But I let it go because I wanted to get on with the game.
Still, I looked up a picture of him recently, and it's been sitting in an open tab on my browser ever since, and every time I see it, I imagine that he's throwing a little temper tantrum because someone just said "Hey, are you a cat-mummy?"
I have no idea what is going on in our house right now. I have lost too many sanity points to process events. We spent the day hosting a sort of generalized open house for phaedrusdeinus and ladymajor on their last day in town. There was loudness and drinking and a lot of board and card gaming and a ridiculous amount of sugar, but now most people have gone home and Cass and I are chilling on the couches while our guests play pinochle with catechism and inediblebuddha. And at some point suddenly ladymajor spontaneously burst into song. Initially, it was something like Steve Martin's poem "Pointy Bird" (Oh pointy bird / Pointy pointy / Anoint my head / Anointy-nointy.") set to "Oh Holy Night," with elaborations: "Oh, pointy bird / You are so very poiiiinty…"
But then my attention wandered, and the next thing I knew, this was happening, to no particular tune, but in a very distinctly musical manner:
ladymajor: [Singing.] And baby meats are delicious, just bite some off their tasty cheeks Nobody will notice, and they taste so good And they're really quite good for you, you'd be surprised Their thighs are really tasty too, and kinda chunky…
Me: Whaaaaaat is going on over there exactly? What is happening in our home?
phaedrusdeinus: Past a certain point in the evening, about 40 percent of our communication is in song form.
ladymajor: [Singing.] Eating babies is good for your skin and teeth, and it cuts down on dying…
Me Wait, what? Cuts down on dying? Like, to what percent?
Me That's… potentially a lot. I didn't realize baby-eating could make me immortal.
ladymajor: [Singing.] Just write in to our corporate headquarters for more information And a helpful nutrition label…
catechism: [Singing.] But don't forgot to send along two dollars for processing…
ladymajor: [Singing.] And a self-addressed stamped envelope, and if you don't include that, you can go fuck yourself…
phaedrusdeinus: [Singing.] Please ignore that last part, it isn't part of our corporate policy, instead go fuck your spouse and make more delicious babies for us to market…
I think it broke down at that point because we were all laughing too hard, but all of this is pretty imprecise in general because my brain stopped accepting input at around that point. And who knows what they'll do (or sing) next.
Hey, I totally officiated a wedding last night. Phrasing it like that makes me feel like the guy in the old joke about actors: Someone asks a bit player in Streetcar Named Desire what the play is about, and he says, "Well, it's about this ambulance driver whose life is changed when he has to transport a crazy woman to an insane asylum…" But while I'm sure it was kind of a big deal for the couple getting married and all, it was also a mildly crazy-making new experience for me, and actually a pretty stressful one. I was largely fine with the script and the public speaking and the extreme tension of having to do something perfect the first time under pressure and in front of a hundred people lest I ruin a hugely important moment in the lives of two people I care deeply about, who were standing six inches away from me and staring at me periodically… until we had the wedding rehearsal and I fumbled my way through the whole thing. Granted, for that rehearsal, we were outside and it was dark and windy and I could only see the script by shining a light on it and it was flapping around the whole time, but it was still one of those rehearsals that prompt people to diplomatically say "Well, a terrible rehearsal is good luck for the actual event!"
The actual wedding went entirely smoothly, except for some microphone feedback. As officiant, I got to meet a lot of family members who came up to compliment me and then reminisce about the bride or groom as young'ns, or about the family in general. I was told I'd given a meaningful "sermon," or performed a nice "service," or delivered a "lovely message." The bride told me some of her family members were referring to me as "the pastor." This is vaguely hilarious to me, because my only qualifications as an officiant are a certificate putting me in good standing with an Internet church, and some experience speaking in front of people. But keystroke volunteered to be my flock, so now I'm apparently all churched up.
The online church where I got my officiant's certificate said I could claim any title for myself (e.g. pastor, minister, Brother, Sister) that did not specifically require a degree (e.g. doctor, professor). After I got the certificate, we spent a lot of time talking about what my title should be. I finally settled on Ultra Mega Super Battle-Pope, much to the chagrin of bobbler, who also just got an officiant's certificate and is also doing a wedding in the next month, and is jealous of my Ultra Mega Popeiness. For what it's worth, though, immediately after the wedding I had to go fill out the wedding paperwork, which asked for my title, and after some consideration, I just put "officiant." It seemed wisest.
Best compliment I got, though, was bobbler telling me he'd never seen Authoritative And In Charge Of You Tasha before, and that it was fun to see a completely new side of me. I'm glad it came across, and I didn't just sound like a buddy of the groom's clowning around and saying some stuff.
Due to the wedding, we have phaedrusdeinus and ladymajor staying at our house, which is always an adventure. At the wedding last night, the DJ played Patsy Cline's "Crazy," and I came downstairs singing it this morning. ladymajor promptly started singing her own version:
Crazy Crazy for thinking I'm Thetan I'm crazy Crazy for fearing Xenu…
I wanted to hear the rest of it, but I was laughing too hard. Also, phaedrusdeinus interrupted with his own brand of silly-ass.
This afternoon I'm running them and spreadnparanoia and her husband and another friend through a Free Fate superhero game I put together earlier this summer. phaedrusdeinus came down the stairs with his superhero already revved up to go, even though it's a black box scenario with pre-gen characters and he knows nothing about the character he'll eventually play.
It's suddenly fall in Chicago. The heat has gone out of the air and has been replaced with a sharp chill, even when the sunlight is still warm, and I am lurking on the edge of depression about it. Fall used to be my favorite season; as a fat lady, I dreaded the exposed skin and nonstop sweat of summer. But these days summer to me means lots of being outdoors and water parks and picnics and walks and warm pleasant nights and fun dresses, whereas fall just means that Winter Is Coming to lock us in our houses for five months.
On the other hand, today I got to break out the slow cooker for the first time since early spring, and I filled it full of stuff and then got home to a house smelling deliciously of African groundnut stew. And various people came over for dinner (including a visiting snubkin, whom I happened to run into yesterday while shopping for fall clothes) and we all watched the first couple of episodes of Homeland, fresh off its Emmys win. We're all fairly intrigued and ready for more of it. I'm ready for more soup. Last year, me and Sarah and spreadnparanoia had a soup-exchange club going, where every time we made soup, we would make ALL THE SOUP and then trade quarts of whatever we'd produced. I'm looking forward to that again.
And I'm trying really hard to enjoy fall. I'm reminding myself, for instance, that if it was spring and the weather was what it currently is, I would be delighted and basking in it every day. I'm trying to remember to live in the moment and not in the future of winter.
But man, I don't want another Chicago winter. I don't think I'm ever going to be emotionally prepared to begin another Chicago winter again. Even if it comes with many delicious soups.
Another Worldcon story, as promised: the worst, most out-of-control panel some friends of ours attended. I freely admit that I was not there and did not witness any of this; it’s all entirely second-hand and unverified. Cass and I just thought it was really funny.
I should preface this by pointing out that at one of the George R.R. Martin panels I attended, on the subject of the Wild Cards book series, Martin started out by describing a con panel he’d been to (or maybe on?) once just called “Bad Panel,” where each of the participants was pretending to be a different kind of stereotypical terrible panelist. One of the participants was “Monosyllable Girl,” who answered every direct question with a mumbled word or two. One was “The Human Pyramid,” hiding behind a pyramid of his books piled up to his eyeballs, and starting every answer with “Well, in MY books,” and ending with “…which is why you should buy my books!” One was the replacement moderator, who opened the panel with “Oh, isn’t the moderator here? I guess I could moderate, but I don’t really want to, I'm not even sure why I’m here on this panel, I’m not really equipped to talk about this topic…” And Connie Willis played the actual moderator by showing up 10 minutes late, after everyone had introduced themselves and gotten started. She started off “SO sorry I’m late, my fans just WOULDN’T let me get away,” and then obliviously re-introduced everyone and started asking questions that had already been covered. It sounded like a pretty hilarious piece of performance art, and Martin certainly sounded like he thought it was a hoot.
So this 2012 panel was like “Bad Panel,” except not on purpose or for fun. First off, the moderator was in fact 10 minutes late. So the rest of the participants started without him. The topic was on airships, and at least two, maybe three of the panelists admitted up front that they weren’t entirely sure why they’d been chosen for the panel, or what they were supposed to talk about. One actually said he’d been in the U.S. Air Force for something along the lines of 27 years, but hadn’t really come into contact with airships per se, and wasn’t really equipped to talk about them.
About this time, the moderator showed up, out of breath and out of sorts and carrying a big flipchart, and proceeded to gripe at everybody about how the print shop had completely failed him and he hadn’t been able to print what he wanted at the right size or color, so everyone was going to have to make do with what he had. And then he set up his flipchart on the stage and talked for 45 straight minutes.
The guy telling us this story timed him. He says it was basically a sort of history lecture with illustrations, something like a Wikipedia entry punctuated with drawings, just “And then in 1911, the Germans introduced this model…” for 45 straight minutes, during which time the only other panelist who spoke was a friend of the moderator’s, who would occasionally pipe in with brief annotations: “And that model was built in 1934!”
After 45 minutes, an audience member got up and said “Excuse me, but I thought this was going to be a panel, not a lecture. We’d like to hear from the other people up there.” And the moderator looked startled and huffy and said “Well, I thought we could use the material I’d prepared, but if that’s what you want,” and then sat down and stewed. Somewhere along the line, he remembered he was supposed to be moderating, which he did by pointing at people on the panel and saying things like “You on the end, you talk.” Except no one else on the panel had a whole lot to say about historical airships; they talked about fictional airships and airships in art, but weren’t really sure where to take the conversation.
So after about 10 minutes, someone else in the audience got up and said, “Actually, could we go back to the flipchart? I want to see the rest of that.” And the moderator repeatedly demurred until several people urged him on, at which point he got up and went through the rest of his year-by-year catalog of airships. By this time, the audience was taking a more active role, and started shouting out questions like “What about the B-228?” and “You haven’t mentioned the Austrian Warbird!” or whatever, basically just naming airships the panel hadn’t covered.
At some point in the story, I asked one of the guys telling me all this, “Why didn’t you just leave?” He said it was all weirdly compelling, and he wanted to see how bad it was going to get. Cass suggested that certain stories need to be punctuated, every few minutes or so, with “And yet I stayed!” and this was one of them.
Anyway, the rest of the panel was supposedly kind of a chaos of people yelling out airship names and the flipchart guy acknowledging them, and telling “a quite funny story, ho-ho” that went on and on and on, about a German airship captain one-upping a submarine captain by pointing out that German subs of the time could only go about 200 feet below sea level, but the airship captain had been deeper due to a Dead Sea test flight, technically 300 feet below sea level. And then the panel got chased out by the next panel, and one of the participants who’d barely gotten to talk got up and said something like “And that’s why you’re all mad if you think mankind will ever take to the skies like the birds! Thank you all for coming, goodbye!” Apparently the flip-chart guy lingered a while, fielding comments from audience members, then heaving a hefty sigh and saying “I don’t know, apparently I was supposed to moderate, but I guess I’m not very good at it.”
And once again, I can’t prove any of this happened; I did some Googling and found someone’s Worldcon journal complaining that he went to this panel but barely got to hear his favorite author talk because of the flip-chart guy, but that’s about it. I also found out that flip-chart guy goes by a fairly telling alias, and is part of an organization determined to abandon Earth for the Moon in our lifetime. Actually, by a couple of months ago:
When do you plan to leave? The process of settlement will proceed by stages, requiring several years before Luna City can be considered properly established. Our intention is that the first pioneers should depart before the end of July, 2012, with launches of unmanned cargo capsules beginning at least three months before that.
Wonder how that’s working out for them. They clearly left at least one guy behind to lecture about airships. Wonder if he slipped in a plug for the project.
Once again, I really wish Worldcon panels were recorded systematically. I don’t think I would have stayed through this one no matter how awkwardly entertaining it was, or how much I thought it would make a story afterward, but I would like to hear the recording, which could be processed from a safe and non-awkward distance, with judicious fast-forwarding. And maybe the occasional snicker. And Cass and I punctuating every few minutes with “And yet I’m still listening!”
This weekend I finally used up all my social. ALL OF IT. Friday and Saturday were A.V. Fest, the sold-out music festival sponsored by The A.V. Club. Last year, a bunch of us treated it as sort of a private party where we got to hang out with each other and drink and chill and actually talk. Our office is so deadline-driven that we spend a lot of time not speaking to each other, or only speaking via IM, and usually only about work. Offsite events like the Christmas party and this festival let us catch up with each other and start seeing each other as people.
Last year, I asked to be put on the volunteer roster and ended up manning the gate for the last shift of the last day, which is about like sitting by the open barn door after the horse has been stolen. Almost no one shows up to a music festival in the last couple hours of the last day. So some of our interns came and sat around talking with me about pop culture. This year, I volunteered and got put on bag check for Saturday, along with six other people, though bag check really only takes one person most of the time. So there was plenty of time to just hang out.
But Friday night, the second I turned up, the volunteer coordinator asked me if I could help man the front gate just to help with traffic, because a huge wave of people showed up all at once and the area was becoming confusing and crowded. In retrospect, the big problem was that they'd blocked off an entire street for the fest, but the will-call tents were perpendicular to the road and the lines to get in with tickets were parallel to the road, so once the will-call lines got long, the streams crossed and just became an immense mass of humanity. And the will-call lines were broken up by alphabet into even sections, but at any given moment, there were maybe seven people in the G through L line, and five times as many for M-R and S-Z.
And more than 4,000 people turned up the first night, so it was just a big human traffic jam with poor communication. As it turned out, people checking in at will-call were getting their plastic admission bracelets, but then no one was telling them they could just go straight in through the no-waiting line. So they were standing in line at will-call for half an hour, and then standing in the exchange-ticket-for-bracelet line for another half an hour to get in, and the lines were all mixing and people were getting very cranky.
So basically, I went out and, as asked, tried to bend the will-call line around to be parallel to the road, and tried to get the people showing up with tickets in hand around the will-call line and up to the front. And this involved two hours of being a human sheepdog, except instead of barking and occasionally nipping, I was yelling "IF YOU HAVE YOUR GREEN ADMISSION BRACELET ALREADY, YOU CAN STEP THROUGH THE NO-WAITING LINE. STEP UP TO THE SECURITY MAN WITH THE HAT. IF YOU HAVE YOUR TICKETS ALREADY, YOU BELONG IN THESE THREE LINES." There was also leading people whose last names started with G-L up through the mass of people to the G-L line, and perpetually trying to steer the lines around parallel to the road (which meant more yelling) and answering the same "Which line should I be in and where does it start?" questions over and over and over.
The will-call lines were horribly slow because everyone who stepped up had to give their name, show their ID, have their tickets found in an alphabetical bin of them, have their stubs torn off, and have plastic bracelets physically put on their arms. Then if they wanted to drink, someone had to check the date on their ID and put a separate paper "OVER 21" bracelet on them. God bless 'em, someone, probably that same volunteer coordinator, got a whole bunch of people to just work the lines and do the "OVER 21" bracelets separately, which saved a lot of time and made people feel like something was happening. But it was still all very slow and frustrating and confusing, and I encountered a few very, very angry people.
Still, it's remarkable how many of those angry people were disarmed by someone looking them in the eye and saying "Yes, you're in the right line. I'm sorry it's taking so long, everyone showed up at once. We're getting you through as fast as we can." And I did actually have a couple of personal encounters where people had waited in one line for more than half an hour and were then told (wrongly, as far as I can tell) they were in the wrong line and had to start over, and I bypassed the line with them to get them to the right place. And eventually I took all the M-name tickets and gave them to the G-L people and moved all the people with M names over to their own line. Which frustrated the people closest to the front who'd been waiting and were suddenly told they needed to move over to a separate line, so I found their tickets and wristbanded them myself.
So I missed half of Glen Hansard, the one act I wanted to see, but I actually felt like I did some good, and it was an interesting challenge and an exercise in being REALLY REALLY ASSERTIVE. Also, somewhere in the middle of it all, someone stopped me and said "You're Tasha Robinson!" and I said "YES I AM" and he was very excited to meet me. It was a gratifying moment amid massteria.
On the other hand, when the press finally eased and enough people were inside that it was readily clear to new arrivals where they should go, I walked in and was apparently jittery and glassy-eyed enough that the first person I ran across that I knew squinted at me and asked if I was on Ecstasy.
After that, the evening pretty much consisted of drinking and talking to people. I knew the open bar in the VIP area would be very limited (and I was right, they pretty much had beer, wine, and vodka with cranberry juice or orange juice) so I brought alcohol in, which led our 23-year-old web producer to laugh at me and say I was much better at being 23 than she was. I took it as a compliment. I was 40 years old when I was 23, too; I'm only getting around to being 23 properly now. It was a perfect late-summer night, and I sat up and talked to co-workers until the festival ended, and then for some time after that. I was mildly drunk by the time a woman came out of Wilco's special-guest VIP area and asked for help getting the "rider bags" to the bands — there were cloth tote bags full of wine and bagged coffee that they were supposed to receive as part of their contracts. Once we got upstairs, though, it turned she didn't really need our help in carrying two bags to two people, so we asked whether there was something else we could do.
Which is how I ended up washing Wilco's guests' dishes at 12:30 a.m. while drunk and giggling. There weren't a lot of dishes — it was basically just a few trays and dip bowls. It was not an onerous project. It was, however, pretty funny as far as I was concerned.
After that, we went back down to ground level and ran into the volunteer coordinator in a golf cart. I said I'd never been in one, so he insisted on us all piling in and tootling around the deserted festival grounds, checking up on the people loading band gear into tour busses. Then he stopped and insisted I try driving it, too. I've had faster rides in bumper cars, but having the run of the festival grounds, which had just been full of thousands of people but was now deserted, was fairly neat.
And then we all went out to breakfast at 1 in the morning, and there was still more talking and some general sobering-up. The Red Line was having problems and I didn't get home until 3:30 a.m. and was pretty slow to drag my ass out of bed in the morning, but I got back down to the festival around 1:30. The bag check didn't need me, the front door was doing fine, and I wound up alternating between watching music in the blazing sun and talking to other people. Until around 11 at night. It was a long day of social, and after a while, I started feeling like I just wanted to get away from it all.
Instead, I went to a friend's annual Talk Like A Pirate Day party, but I realized once I got there that I was overwhelmed and tired and not in the mood for booze. I stayed for a couple of hours and talked, but it was exhausting and we eventually just went home. Sunday, I had various plans, including possibly the Captain Awkward meetup, but I was just too spent to contemplate trying to put my Deal With People face on, particularly since we had a dinner obligation with Cass' family.
It's fairly rare for me to get to the point where I will not force myself to do FunStuff (tm) involving other people; it's one thing to decide I'm too tired to go see the movie I was planning to see or whatever, but I'm usually pretty adamant about not missing one-time events involving my friends. By Sunday night, though, I don't think I could have mustered up the energy to comment if a parade had come through our living room. It may be a quiet week while I recouperate. On the other hand, we have so much social coming up, including a bachelorette party this weekend, and gaming, and a wedding. I'm actually starting to look forward to winter and the possibility of just hibernating for a while.
Everything you didn't need to know about Resident Evil — and really didn't ask
Saw Resident Evil: Retribution this morning at the first available screening, since it didn't screen for critics, and we need a review up for the site. It's the fifth movie in the series, with one more planned as the series finale. The latest movie ends with [trust me, this isn't much of a spoiler] a bunch of characters facing an immense battle and spouting a bunch of rhetoric along the lines of "This is the last stand for humanity. This will be our last and greatest fight." Cut to black.
Then the guy in front of me turned around and explained, in all seriousness, "See, there's going to be another one. This is the fifth in the series, but they're making a sixth one. They usually don't end like this. They usually end with them killing [character]. There's gonna be another movie where they actually fight that battle."
I was busy watching the credits and taking notes, so I didn't really pay much attention as he repeated himself a couple times; I said "Uh-huh" and "I know" a couple of times while writing, and eventually he went away.
But after the credits ended, as I was on my way out, another guy stopped me and said "What did you think of that?" I said "It was fine. About like the last couple. How about you?" And he launched into a huge explanation of how there had been five movies and they were based on this videogame series, and which games he'd played and which he hadn't, and how he was expecting to see a this-thing and not a that-thing, so he wasn't really satisfied and how they were just making stuff up, and…
And actually, god bless him, he could apparently see that I was waiting for a break to disengage, and he said "I hope I'm not boring you with all this," and I said "Well, I don't think it's ever going to be useful in my life," and then we had a conversation instead, and that was actually interesting. Most memorably, he talked about how he hadn't liked Dark Knight Rises because he expects Batman to be a gadgeteer who solves problems, and he'd gotten none of that. I pointed out that there have been so many different versions of Batman, there's no point in expecting him to be the same thing every time. He talked about how he always thought of Batman as a cooler version of James Bond, especially now that James Bond isn't really cool anymore, because every piece of tech he ever had, you can now get at Sharper Image for $25. He was actually pretty funny, and it was a reasonable exchange of ideas.
But I am wondering about what on my face says "Explain Resident Evil to me in detail, please."
Or maybe today is just Talk To Strangers Friday. On the bus back to the office, there was a loud, friendly dude who REALLY wanted to talk to everybody about anything. He was sitting on one of the sideways seats, so effectively facing the whole bus at once, and trying to engage anyone and everyone in conversation. At one point, we pulled up next to a McDonalds, and the very small, pre-verbal child sitting in front of me got excited and bounced up and down and pointed at it, and Talky Dude laughed and spoke directly to both her and her mother: "You sure know what the Golden Arches mean, right? Can't talk yet, but she know what a hamburger is. You should get off here and get her some fries! Can you see she hongry?" Then he tried to engage the mom (who might not have been an English-speaker, or might have just been avoiding the conversation) in talking about Chicago's new children's hospital, and what it cost, and who donated how much money for it, and what the land is worth, and a lot of other stuff. He basically spent the whole bus trip monologuing.
But at least he didn't try to tell me anything about Resident Evil.
There is this dumb-ass conversational thing Cass and I do that we picked up at some point in college, possibly from bryant, where you take whatever someone just said and deliberately turn it into a weak innuendo through inappropriate emphasis. E.g. “Oh hey, could you walk the dog when you get home tonight?” [Leer.] “I’ll walk your dog when I get home tonight.” Something like this old Onion article. I started making a conscious effort years ago not to do it, because it’s meaningless and silly and I do it way too much, especially if I’m distracted when someone is talking to me; it becomes a knee-jerk response.
Cass did it to me on the train this morning over some conversation about him getting a haircut before a wedding next weekend. It led nowhere sensible.
Cass: You could just cut my hair. Me: [Cutting-a-single-hair gesture.] Cass: Was that the right one? Me: Nah, I missed the one that really needed to be cut. Cass: I’ll miss you. Me: I won’t see you again until tomorrow, so I’ll miss you too! Cass: You only met them the once! Me: Yeah, but being around Bono feels so righteous, with him always fighting for Africa and stuff. I don’t know why he never calls me anymore! Cass: You know, they’ve been together twice as long as The Beatles. Maybe two and a half times at this point. Me: That isn’t hard to do. We’ve been together twice as long as The Beatles. Cass: True. But we’re in kind of a different category. Me: Yeah, a category of awesome. Cass: True. [Pause.] Specifically a lower one. Me: Aw, c’mon. We’re pretty neat. Cass: Yeah, but… they’re The Beatles. Me: FIIIIIINE.
Also: Me: [Typing this up on the el.] Do you think it’s weird that I write down our conversations immediately after we have them? Cass: Nah. It would be weird if you wrote them down before we had them. Me: …okay, I’m writing that down.
Just got a massive press release saying that Harper's Voyager imprint is putting out an open call for new writers to submit novel manuscripts for the first time in a decade, directly and without the requirement of an agent. Knowing how many of you are writers, or prospective writers, I thought that might be of interest. They're specifically looking for adult and young-adult books in the areas of "speculative fiction… but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural," and they're planning to publish them digitally, with a possibility of print, which certainly explains their willingness to take in massive amounts of docs from anyone and everyone all at the same time. But who knows, this might be someone's road to fame. There are a lot of roads there these days.
I'm not sure about the language here — they say they're "opening the doors to unsolicited submissions." Isn't "opening the doors" and openly asking people to send in books… the same as soliciting submissions?
Yesterday we spent a lovely evening with spreadnparanoia and her husband and brother, having a homemade dinner and conversation* and then watching more of the BBC Sherlock. Man, is that ever a compelling show. It’s so well-written and it moves along at an amazing, breathless pace. It’s like it’s precisely calibrated to my personal biorhythms in terms of breakneck speed and hairpin turns and unlikely surprises.
This particular episode, though, had a big “Oh my God, a major character is dead!” plotline, which I just didn’t buy. In part because this particular series has pulled this particular trick before, and I didn’t buy it then, either. British series can be less precious about maintaining the status quo than American shows, since British series are far less likely to have “Can we somehow stretch this out for 10 more seasons?” as a primary goal. So it was remotely possible that the show would kill off a major character—but some characters just have too much potential to waste, unless the showrunners categorically know that actor isn’t going to be available again, or that the show is never going to continue.
So no, didn’t buy the “OMG DED” plotline in Sherlock either time, and I hate to tell you this, Sherlock, but having pulled that number twice and reneged on it twice, your “Oh no, character is dead!” privileges are hereby REVOKED.
This puts you on a shortlist with the following:
George R.R. Martin’s Song Of Fire And Ice series. As of Dances With Dragons, the books pull the “seeming death of POV character who then proves to have just been unconscious or something” business roughly every third chapter, and I stopped buying it as of Storm Of Swords.
Disney movies, especially Disney animated movies. They are so bad about this, I keep wanting to do an inventory list of Disney fakeout “Let’s all have a moment of sadness for this character who died saving the protagonist, no wait, s/he’s alive yay” movie endings, from Lady And The Tramp to Jungle Book and beyond.
American mainstream superhero comics in general. I think I first became aware of this dynamic in college, when Cass showed me the particularly egregious X-Men comic that caused HIM to revoke the series’ “Dead!” privileges: Cyclops takes a hit and goes down, and the last page of the comic is another character yelling something like “His chest isn’t moving! His heart isn’t beating! CYCLOPS IS DEAD!” And then the first panel of the following comic is a character basically saying “He’s started breathing again! CYCLOPS IS ALIVE!” It doesn’t get much cheaper and more obvious than that. Oh, unless you count the death of Superman plotline. Or the deaths of Batman, Captain America, Hal Jordan, the Flash (how many times has the Flash died now?) and pretty much any other superhero who’s gotten a big death plot arc. Iconic superheroes with ongoing profit potential never really die, they just have other characters yelling that they’re dead.
That’s my personal shortlist, but if you LiveJournal types have anything else you want on the “Death-drama privileges revoked” list, let me know, because I have that power, apparently. And if someone comes along and kills me to steal that power**, don't worry, I’m sure I’ll be back around sweeps week, or when my replacement doesn’t test-market well, or when some new creator wants to give me a whirl, or whatever.
* Which, apropos of nothing, featured her husband at one point saying something like “Dear, I love you, you’re a fantastic cook and an amazingly competent person who I admire, but you’re spooning that salad out wrong.” I would like everyone making petty corrections of my behavior to observe this format from here on out, please.
** Admittedly, it’s a pretty small power. I can’t stop these creators from pulling the same dumb, contrived thing over and over. It is mostly the power of eye-roll and not-getting-fooled-again.
This was a pleasant weekend, with a co-worker’s BBQ on Saturday, and on Sunday, brunch with spreadnparanoia and her husband, and a trip down to the Renegade Crafts Fair. Then I came home after that and passed out on our futon for more than four hours, only waking up when cassielsander came to see if I was alive. Which I guess I was, but I was groggy and out of it and perturbed at the way Sunday had disappeared. Still not sure what happened there, and I’m not happy about it — I had plans for those more-than-four hours of Sunday, and now I have to try to watch a movie during the day at work today, which is always difficult to wedge in.
But anyway. The Renegade Craft Fair, as always, was fun to walk around, largely to see what people are “upcycling” this year, and how. I almost never buy anything there, because I’m almost never tempted by $40 earrings made from old typewriter keys, or spoons hammered into $60 pendants, or whatever. Also, I’ve never quite understood why there are so many booths featuring posters and T-shirts specifically featuring band art. I always wonder whether these are actual commissioned show posters and album covers, or it’s just that band fan art is a big thing, and I’ve never asked, because those booths always seem to be manned by scrawny, vaguely angry-looking hipster dudes, glaring at all the people giving their art a wide berth.
They seemed to be doing a really brisk business, too—while most of the stalls not featuring band fan art were crowded, this one was crowded with people actually walking away with plastic dinos full of plants, and the booth was clearly running out of items to display. I was reminded this morning on my way to the gym—there was a lady on the train clutching a garish blue apatosaurus containing a little air plant.
Remarkably, this year the most baffling booth wasn’t the one with the felt penises and uteri, or the one with the stuffed mustaches with eyeballs. It was Fail Jewelry, a very fancy, arty booth.
Who calls their business “Fail”? Who calls their ART business “Fail”? I mean, they have an entire jewelry line called “Fail+CANOE.” As SnP’s husband put it, it certainly got my notice, and he might further point out that I’m still thinking about it and reposting it. So in that sense, not a fail, I guess. And it is the artist's last name, so it wasn't chosen entirely out of the ether. But it’s like naming your business “Loser” or “Doomed” or “Sucks.” Yes, I’m going to remember Fail Jewelry. But I’m never going to buy any Fail Jewelry.
In much less self-examiney-and-saddy news, yesterday my boss referenced Neal Adams' crazy take on Batman art, and linked to a Comics Alliance piece on Adams' series Batman: Odyssey. It's a crosstalk where two writers discuss all the utterly bizarre crap going on in a series that is, in the words of their intro, "the most insane comic book we have ever read."
That isn't hard to believe. These pieces are hilariously funny, and probably much more entertaining than actually reading the comic, which is apparently a horrifically splintered narrative that makes no sense, but does include giant riding bats, and dinosaurs, and aliens, and a dinosaur evolved into human form and dressed in a Robin suit, and stories within stories within stories within stories, and Batman going batshit over the murder of a child who doesn't die, and Alfred making the "penis finger goes into vagina fingers" fucky-fucky gesture, and naked Bruce Wayne suggestively eating a banana directly at the reader, and a guy punching a rocket to death, and people in wizard robes who do magic and talk like Beatniks, and I don't want to spoil the rest.
It all reads like an episode of Axe Cop, except less linear.
Or like those bizarro Spider-Man parody comics that were all over the place in 2004, where someone filled in a bunch of actual Spider-Man newspaper comics with random, aggressive nonsense.
But my favorite part is when Batman meets Aquaman and is UTTERLY ASTONISHED to learn that there are whales in the ocean.
Having read the write-ups, I'm now debating reading the comics… but I can't imagine they'd be nearly as entertaining. Or comprehensible.
Spent a good chunk of yesterday editing and revising a piece for the AVC website about one of our writers trying Magic: The Gathering at age 30, after using it to get himself through his awkward teen years and then leaving the hobby 13 years ago. It included a mopey high-school story about a bigger kid not only stealing his primary deck, but then playing it against him a couple of weeks later. The writer called foul, the bully said "Go ahead and tell, I'll just deny it, and you'll never see the cards again." The writer, being awkward and socially unadept, did nothing about it; as an adult, he looks back on that moment and feels defeated and angry at himself.
Which reminded me of a recent column we ran (which I really liked) about one of our writers' obsessive, needy adolescent relationship with the first Battlefield Earth book. Which reminded me of other things he's written for us about how his relationship with books and music came out of his awful childhood of neglect and poverty. Which reminded me of endless other personal stories we've run (often in the AVQA column, which is all about personal experiences and tastes) about our writers' relationship with pop culture, and how they clung to books or music or TV as the one thing that made life liveable back when they were horridly shy, completely dysfunctional, wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beasties.
At which point I IM'ed a co-worker who had also read the Magic piece:
Me: Why are we the website of hideously depressing childhood nerd stories?
Editor Genevieve: Because we're all former hideously depressed nerds?
And to be fair, most of these stories on the site come in the form of "I used to be an awkward nerd, but I got better." They're about looking back on the past and processing it from a more stable adult perspective, which is probably a good thing. Still, there's a bit in the middle of that Magic column that really depressed me, where the writer starts talking Magic with a stranger at a sealed-deck tournament. And he feels an immediate kinship with the guy. He compares their connection to what it would feel like to reunite with an old college friend — except that they never talk about anything but the rules on the cards. What he's describing, as far as I'm concerned, isn't meaningful human connection, it's using a proxy to create the satisfying illusion of meaningful human connection. Talking about themselves or their lives might be awkward or boring or too personal, or they might find out they have absolutely nothing in common — but hey, they can talk about the intricacies of a card game and be perfectly happy!
I have had that conversation so many times and been satisfied with it — I do a lot of it because of my job, and because of my interests, and because I too can be a socially awkward nerd. It's easy and fairly safe to talk around your feelings about a movie or a book or an author or a genre, and it's easy to make quick connections that way. The mistake is in thinking that those are connections, that you know someone well because you know what they think about a bunch of TV shows. And seeing someone so happy at making a brief, false connection with someone as an adult depresses me even more than his story of being picked on as a kid. Because it implies that he didn't get better. He's still hiding behind a card game to avoid emotional risk.
I know the writer, and he's a personable guy who's actually easy enough to talk to, and he has an interesting career right now, so it's not like he's hiding in a basement right now, clutching his cards to his chest and hyperventilating at the thought of going out to get the mail and possibly encountering a human being. I'm not worried for him on the whole. This moment just struck me as a little too telling for all of us who were former hideously depressed nerds, and who now talk pop culture obsessively, all the time. It explains too much about why I can be obsessive about asking people questions about themselves. It explains too much about my life.
Pretty heavy for a story about a dude going to a games story to generate some mana and toss some spells around.
Favorite artist at the art show: Elizabeth Berrien, who makes elaborate wire sculptures that stunned me and Cass both. Unfortunately her website doesn’t show any of the art-show work I most liked, and her work doesn’t photograph all that well, but there’s at least a sense of what she does. The piece we both liked most, a sort of wood spirit, won Fan Award at the art show. Given the seemingly very low participation level in fan balloting at the art show, I suspect it won because it was the only piece with two votes, but whatever. Her profile page at the Chicon site does have a good photo of a conceptually similar piece.
Favorite dealer’s-room vendor I didn’t already know:Cabinet Of Curiosities, which does quite a bit of eyeball-themed jewelry. I bought one of the smaller necklaces, and seriously considered one of the Elder Sign pins (with embedded eyeball) for Cass. The bigger pieces are gorgeous, but I can’t see them going with anything I actually wear on a regular basis except the occasional basic black blouse or dress.
Favorite dealer’s-room vendor I did already know: The Wondermark/Machine Of Death booth, selling various Wondermark-themed stuff and copies of Machine Of Death, now in a $5 mass-market-paperback “Disposable Edition.” They had a routine where you could go up and ask them how you would die, and they would pretend to take a blood sample with a red pen, then feed it into a machine, then hand you a card with your elliptically worded cause of death on it. (Mine was “Dream Becomes Real.” komainu got “Beak.”) Then you got a badge ribbon that said “Ask me how I die,” and if anyone did, you could show them the card. Also, Wondermark creator David Malki does this “roll-a-sketch” routine where for a few bucks, you get to roll some dice and generate some nouns from a chart, and he draws the result. Which is how I ended up with a picture of an elephant backhoe, which I should post at some point.
Favorite party: This was again a good year for parties for me, but the Klingons didn’t throw a bar this year as far as I know, which is tragic because I had a present for them. That said, an awful lot of the really fun parties were really fun because I kept running into friends, or telling friends where I was, and hanging out with people I know and don’t see enough of rather than randomly mingling. The exception was the Barfleet party, where I went in at theferrett’s behest to get a drink from ringer bartender seanan_mcguire, and found Cass and some of his dancin’-fool friends on the packed dance floor. The dance music seemed to be aimed precisely at our age group, and for a wonder, it was the exact right volume for me — loud enough to be immersive, not loud enough to hurt. I made shouty-friends with a lovely bartender in a corset and lingerie, and drank way too much way too fast, and apparently broke a journalist’s sad drunken heart, and once they kicked us all out at 2 a.m., I spent the next several hours on a water-and-conversation diet. It was the kind of party where I had so much fun, I’m kicking myself for not having arrived earlier. Like, say, the night before, when I didn’t make it to Barfleet at all.
Favorite random meeting: The lady I mentioned in the “unsocialized geeks at their worst” post, one of the editors of The Steampunk Bible. She had a frank, calm, reasonable air and was easy to talk to, and interesting to boot. Favorite story she told me: At one con, she met a costumer dressed in an elaborate steampunk outfit, the Victorian dress and gear jewelry and a tiny hat and whatnot, and she mentioned The Steampunk Bible to her. The costumer essentially said “Steam… punk? What’s that?” She’d never heard of the genre and was unaware there was literature or a movement associated with what she was wearing. She was very excited to find out she could Read More About It.
Second favorite random meeting: At a Sunday-night party, I ran into Commodore Erickson, the guy who founded and oversees Barfleet, and interviewed him for 20 minutes or so about the goals and history and cost and rewards of the thing. He pointed out that Barfleet throws parties at our local conventions, too, and apparently I’ve just been missing out. Derp de doo.
Least favorite random meeting: A woman at the London party who, within two sentences of conversation, had let me know that she was an author and her books were selling really well at the convention and she was really kind of a big deal. She went on to talk at length about how she liked going around in costume but the nay-sayers kept telling her it was unprofessional for an author but she didn’t care because the guy who insisted she not wear a costume to [some authors’ party] has NO books out, whereas she has NINE. Fortunately, a very wise friend of mine recently posted advice on how to gracefully exit a conversation, and I managed to extricate myself smoothly before she described the plot of all nine books. No, I don’t remember her name, but I had never heard of her.
Favorite panel: Probably the Bob And Connie Show, where Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg were just given a stage and a pair of mics and told to have fun. That was largely a blur, but a very funny one, as they talked about books and editors and story ideas and methods and various years where one of them stole the Hugo from the other. They’re both hilarious, and given Connie Willis’ repeatedly restated desire to be part of the Algonquin Round Table, it’s no particular wonder they were both ascerbic and lively as well.
Least favorite panel: Didn’t have one. I went to nothing that turned out badly. This apparently was not true for any of my friends. I definitely want to post the story of the panel with the 45-minute flip-chart lecture when I have more time on my hands.
Biggest panel regret: Not going to the history of conventions panel, which apparently involved George R.R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, and Gardner Dozois telling any number of scandalous tales of ’60s and ’70s con debauchery, including one involving a pool packed with 400 naked, rhythmically undulating fans and one in which Martin, naked in a sauna, met his also-naked future wife. Listening to various people tell me stories from this panel, I once again really don’t understand why Worldcon doesn’t record panels, and release the best and most in-demand ones online.
Biggest regret in general: I’m glad we stayed all four nights at the Hyatt, and I was able to stay up super crazy late most night and talk with people. I actually managed to spend significant face time with most of the people I really wanted to see again. But there still wasn’t time for everyone, and meals in particular (the few of them I had over those four days) always seemed to be a mess of texting and planning and coordinating and no one being available at the same time, leading to us going out Saturday and Sunday with very small, manageable groups, which was not at all a bad thing. But there was never as much time for any one person as I would have liked, and there are definitely friends I didn’t get enough of.
The thing I want to regret, but can’t: I walked right up to Neil Gaiman, stood six inches away from him for 10 minutes, and never introduced myself or spoke to him. This sounds lame, but it was at the London In 2014 celebratory party, and he was just back from winning the Hugo (which he was carrying; that is one heavy, shiny, sharp piece of metal, and it looked like he might stab someone with it at any moment), and everyone around him wanted his attention. And I’m just not assertive/rude enough to elbow other people aside and say “Pay attention to meeeee!” He seemed calmer and more alert than I would have been in that press of demanding people, but I realized after seeing three people in a row grab him and LOUDLY SAY WORDS at him that even if I did say hi, he was unlikely to really register my presence, and as the party just got more packed, I got more overwhelmed with it. In the end, the woman who had brought him in grabbed him by the arm and bodily hauled him through a packed crowd toward the back of the room, and I decided to just leave and go somewhere where there was air and space. The London party was incredibly crowded even before he showed up — I think it might have been the last party serving free booze — and I was ready for a break. Someday I will say hi to him in person in a less insane environment, unless I don't, which is fine too.
Books bought at Worldcon: Just one, Peter Beagle's The Line Between, bought more to support him than because I needed another book. I've gotten out of the habit of buying books because I have so many unread ones at home. Following the #Chicon tag on Twitter, the record I'm personally aware of is someone coming home with 33 books. I'm vaguely jealous somehow. I remember how much I used to love used bookstores, and I came home from Chicon in 2000 with a huge stack of dollar paperbacks — some of which I still haven't read, and one of which (Joan Vinge's The Snow Queen I only finally got to last year. Sorry, bookstores. I really do want to support you, but the shelves are full.
We crashed pretty hard post-con; it's been four days of staying up til 3 or 4 a.m., and Cass and I were both zonked enough to just sit on the couch for a while and mess about with laptops. Which I did while listening to my favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, which always ends with the participants talking about what pop culture is making them happiest this week.
In this week's podcast, NPR movies editor Trey Graham brought up the reality show Broadway Or Bust, "basically a real-life Glee, with a bunch of high-school musical-theater nerds in regional competitions…"
Cass: Given the title, they should be in a competition where the winners gets to go to Broadway, and the losers get breast implants.
Worldcon is full of All The Things going on, with many simultaneous programming tracks and author readings and open gaming and a film room and an anime room and a gaming room and generally all the things a good con has, but often more of it. Having burned myself out on Friday and Saturday rushing from event to event and program to program, I spent half of Sunday just wandering around looking at things. There was a video arcade, and I spent half an hour or so playing Mickey Mouse Magical Tetris Challenge to save Minnie Mouse from various Disney bad guys via Tetris somehow. (An undersea UFO was involved; I wish I read Japanese so I knew what that was about.) I wandered the dealers' room and the concourse and the public spaces.
And then I came across the Chaos Machine.
Apparently Steve Jackson Games has started making varied plastic parts for what are generically called rolling-ball sculptures, where continuous tracks let marble-sized balls travel a series of paths, with momentum contributed by gravity and direction and course often determined by kinetics. The company is building these under the name Chaos Machine. And reps go around to cons and set up a gridwork and a basic track, and then let anyone who wants to complicate the process with extra tracks and funnels and drops and catchers and splitters and "events" like bells and chimes and motorized devices that take balls from the bottom back up to the top.
But the exciting thing was that it wasn't finished. Sometimes a ball would hit a splitter and just pop out and hit the ground, or slam into a gate and bounce out of the track. There were various "dump points" where balls kept falling out.
And there were six or so men buzzing around it, all very intent, all very excited, collaborating on improving it, and comparing and taking notes. They were finding and noting the dump points and troubleshooting and fussing over each one, tracking where the balls were going and where they were ending up, and jury-rigging solutions based on parts at hand. It was live engineering for an audience, and it was incredibly fun to watch. I just sat and followed rolling balls, and picked up liberated balls and put them back on the track, and watched the builders chase down an area where balls hitting a gate at an angle would release the ball 50 percent of the time. Three of them debated solutions and started experimenting. Meanwhile, the other three were adding more tracks to the other tower, making it even more elaborate and winding.
It was so cool. Mostly it was just thrilling how intent and happy they were, how they were sharing their findings and working together, all on the project of making this silly, joyous toy even more silly and joyous. Someone recently told me that the reason the Jimmy Fallon and The Roots "Call Me Maybe" video is so much fun is because you can SEE them enjoying themselves and being unselfconsciously excited, and that the same thing goes for the A.V. Club/They Might Be Giants "Tubthumping" video. (Typing this, I suddenly thought of another video that feels like that: Mick Jagger and David Bowie in "Dancing In The Street." Just check out Bowie's face when he jumps from that stairwell.)
The people working on the Chaos Machine was like that. It was geeky as hell, with people talking over each other and I-know-bettering at each other in outdoor voices and arguing over nitpicky things and diving in to interfere with the machine over each other's objections, but they were all working toward the same goal and fixing problems and getting things done and building something awesome. They weren't just waving their smarts like a triumphant flag, they were using them, and it was fantastic. Maybe what we need to make fandom less obnoxious and full of itself is more collaborative projects everyone can touch, so it isn't just theory and loud voices and backseat drivers. Or maybe I just need to hang out near the Chaos Machine at more cons.
One of the things I wanted to do at Worldcon was hook up with all the people I met last year, including the editor of this surprisingly smart anthology, which turns the impulse buy/bathroom book into a sometimes very touching series of bite-sized bits of philosophy about the messages of the most popular SF/F pop culture. So I went to his "literary bheer," where around 8-10 people sign up in advance to sit around a table with the author and chat over BYO beers.
When I showed up, the table was packed and a pretty lively discussion was underway, but there were basically three guys talking over each other and everyone else. They had an opinion about EVERYTHING, and it was a loud opinion delivered in a "Some people disagree, but they're morons" tone. Occasionally someone would pipe up with a question for the editor, but then the three loudest people (whom I will call Boor 1, Boor 2, and Boor 3) would cut in to answer in the most dismissive way possible. There was also an incredibly soft, callow guy who looked 25 and sounded 14, and who clearly wanted to be a writer, and wanted advice and encouragement, but didn't want to look naive, so he alternated awkward, basic industry questions with boasts about his vast experience with writer's workshops, including what a pro he was at taking criticism, because he had learned how to say "Thank you, I will take that into consideration."
This was the tone of the discussion: At one point, the editor politely asked what we were all reading these days, and Callow said he was reading a lot of Conan, and then wandered off into a speech about how much he loved sword-and-sorcery and how he wanted to write it but he was afraid all the good ideas were taken, and he was curious what else he should read to avoid clichés. Boor 1 said he should mostly read non-fiction about history to get his details right, and recommended some stuff, and Boor 2 cut in to argue with him about titles and started talking about military theory, and it turned into a general list of history books about different eras, and we never got past Callow on the "What are you reading?" question. Based on his dress and age and various things he was saying about military fiction, I asked Boor 2 if he was a vet, and then he Ancient Marinered me with his eyes and started talking directly to me only about how "A platoon is 30 men you hate and 10 men you trust with your lives and that's why so many bad leaders get fragged," and about how women go out on the town in the evenings in groups of 8 to 10, but men always go out in pairs because you're doing good if you can trust the guy on your right and the guy on your left.
Meanwhile, there was more arguing about which history books were worth reading and which ones were dogshit, and Callow kept getting up every five minutes to get more food from the consuite, announcing himself every time: "I'm going to go get some more sushi."
In the middle of this somewhere, Callow asked out of the blue, "Hey, Editor, is it worth trying to write even if you aren't very good?"
And Boor 2 and Boor 3 both shouted "NO," and Boor 2 added "Because if you do, you're just going to piss off guys like me." Callow visibly pouted and muttered a bunch under his breath, while various people, Editor included, pointed out that no one is a fantastic author when they start out, and the best way to become a better writer is by writing.
Then another guy hijacked the conversation to talk about the themed anthology he was curating and editing, and the question of how to make it so good, he would become a Name Editor like Ellen Datlow or Gardner Dozois, and everyone fell over themselves to give him conflicting terrible advice (including Callow, who thought he shouldn't restrict himself to stories on the subject he had a contract for, and should expand it to other genres/ideas), and there was a lot of loud, uninformed but VERY OPINIONATED talk about design and typography and art.
And then Callow asked, also entirely out of the blue, "Hey Editor, what's a good name for a wizard?"
Anyway. It went on for nearly two hours, and I kept considering walking away, but I didn't have Editor's contact information, and I did want to talk to him later (including about this panel; he's a smart, funny guy, and I was dying to hear his take on it), and given the size of the con, I didn't know whether I'd run into him again. Eventually someone I know through work who is a friend of Editor's showed up with another woman, and she wound up coming around the table and talking to me, and she was a level-headed, polite, interesting, creative person, and I made a friend. I hung out with her later on, and we exchanged contact info. So I was glad I showed up.
And I did get to talk to Editor later, and became acquainted with the term "fansplaining" for the first time, so that's a bonus too. But DAMN, those were some rude, loud, self-satisfied, not-self-aware people. And they reminded me again how lucky I am to have friends who share my geeky interests, but are capable of two-way interaction, and intellectual curiosity and receptiveness to each other, and all the things that make conversation a collaborative experience, and not a lecture. So I got many things out of this experience. But "a good time" wasn't one of them.
At least I got a question to ask from now on whenever I'm in a conversation that slows down. I mean, what IS a good name for a wizard?
So I’m at Chicon 7, the 70th annual Worldcon, and the seventh to be held in Chicago. And I am having a fine old time. I’ve mostly been going to panels involving either George RR Martin or Connie Willis, of which there are many. And last night Cass and I went to a staged reading of “The Island Of Doctor Moreau,” and then he went to the Friday-night dance (“Nerd Prom”) and I went and hung out in the bar (which serves 48-ounce cocktails in oversized novelty martini glasses for around $25) with A.V. Club writer Jason Heller and komainu and aizuchi and eventually Wondermark cartoonist David Malki and writer Matthew Bennardo. We talked for hours, and then went and circulated room parties, starting around 1 a.m.
I know so many cool and interesting people at this con that I’ve spent relatively little time talking to strangers, but as it got late, I started reaching out to random people, since anyone wandering around alone at a party at 2 a.m. is probably looking for human contact. Then a guy walked by me with a set of badge ribbons that said “Up-timer” and “Down-timer,” so…
Me: Hey, what’s the significance of “Up-timer” and “Down-timer”?
Odd dude: [Bug-eyed, mouth-hanging-open baffled stare that seemed so exaggerated, I thought he was making fun of me for my ignorance.]
Me: Yes, yes, I’ll give you a minute to get over your shock. But seriously, what’s that from?
Odd dude: Uh, time travel? Up-timers travel up the time stream, and down-timers are the ones who are already there?
Me: Okay. I’m not familiar with the terminology. Is it from a specific book or show?
Odd dude: Yes. [Continues staring at me.]
Me: [Long, uncomfortable pause.] Ohhhhhkay. You want to tell me which one?
Me: Uh. Is it Doctor Who? Am I just betraying a lot of embarrassing ignorance here?
Odd dude: Here, how about I give you a pretty book, instead?
And then he pressed a Cracker Jack prize-sized folded mini-comic thing into my hand and moved rapidly away. I still have the book. It’s a murky thing called “Psycho Circus” that mostly consists of scribbly black-on-grey clots of agitated lines, and wandering text. Excerpt: “Caligraphy acrobats carve out the language of trapezee and do they see their Metaphors? They FEEL the tension of Clasping hands like lovers in the dark, driven to reach out —SNATCH— support me, support we…”
So now I have a “pretty book” and still no idea where up-timers and down-timers come from. Googling it got me only one coherent reference that suggests it’s from Robert Aspirin’s Time Scout series, which I’ve never even heard of. Anyone know more about it? The only other possible option is that the guy was a time-traveler who wasn’t expecting to be confronted about it, and that he handed me a device meant to confuse my brain so I’d forget about time travel, right?
I admit I'm a pretty indifferent gardener. I tend to put in a lot of work to set up a vegetable garden out back and a flower garden out front in the springtime, and I'm really diligent about weeding and watering for a while, and then it gets really really hot out and I become less diligent, and by the beginning of August I'm usually just flat-out neglecting the garden. Also, I don't plan the vegetable garden every year, so much as I plant cherry tomatoes and basil and hot peppers, prune the blackberry bush back until it only has a third of the garden to itself, and then fill the rest of the space with whatever looks interesting at the garden center, particularly if I haven't tried it before. I've given up on varieties of bell pepper because I always seem to get exactly one before the growing season ends; I tried asparagus and it apparently died in the ground, possibly due to our weird 80-degrees-and-back-to-freezing snap in February. This year I experimented with broccoli out of curiosity, but it keeps going to flower because I'm not keeping the roots moist and cold enough.
But the big experiment this year was with tomatillo plants, which I'd never tried before. Most years I plant a couple of cherry tomato plants, and by the end of summer they're producing more than I can eat. I figured this year I'd try something new.
The tomatillo plants have eaten the garden. They've gone NUTS. If they were up against the blackberry bush, I'm not sure who would win, and that's really saying something. I got busy and started staying up late and stopped getting up early enough to water and check and tend the garden every morning before work, and I just ignored it for a while, and then I came back and the tomatillo plants were a giant bush covered with flowers… and no sign of actual tomatillos at all. I'd put them on garden stakes, but they hadn't climbed them very well, so they were kind of a huddled mass yearning to breathe free.
So I cut them back a bit and pinned them more carefully to the five-foot stakes.
And now they're seven feet tall.
Even at their most ambitious, the cherry-tomato plants never did anything like this. At the same time, I was frustrated because they were STILL covered with flowers, and showed no sign of actually bearing tomatillos.
And then there was an earth-shattering kaboom.
Okay, no there wasn't, but one day I got up and half the flowers had become cute little green balloons overnight.
So I'm really looking forward to seeing how these develop. The Chicago growing season is too short for some vegetables, and too erratically super-hot and suddenly cold and wet and dry and hail-y for other things, but so far it's looking like tomatillos like it. I'm surprised how long it took these to develop — the one cherry-tomato plant I did this year started producing more than a month ago — but right now it feels like I have a giant series of party-decoration plants in the back yard, and if they produce edibles, too, that'll just be a bonus.