Gillian’s a-cold (again)

Today is the day of small things.

I have to get rid of 100 emails from my impossible in-box. I have to visit the dentist. I have to read two books so that I can write 1000 words on them. I have to do six other things that I’ve put off because the last days have been less than merry.

It all has to be finished by close of business.

Why am I being such a Red Queen and running frantically on the sport?

Partly it’s because the financial year ends on 30 June, so everyone in Canberra is running frantically on the spot. It’s one of the interesting side-effects of working in the national capital. Once my friends retire, they lose this deadline fervour. When they’re all retired, this time of year will be a doddle. Right now, however, as someone finishes something, they send me an email and I have to do the follow-up.

Partly it’s because the northern hemisphere is heading for summer and so there are conventions and meetings and other cool things. Someone else’s summer means they want to finish things before they go on holiday. More things get pushed into my in-tray.

I want to hibernate this winter. That’s what particularly cold winters are for. Snuggling in the one place that stays warm, and sleeping until the wind is less icy. Right now, my heaters work overtime to keep my flat’s temperature above 13 (that’s 55.4 for my US readers). Other Australians, strangely cheerful, tell me to put on more clothes, but I am asthmatic and 13 is the trigger point for attacks. If it weren’t for the asthma and my tendency to want to hibernate, this season would be perfect. When I was a child I opened my windows wide and adored the cold night air. Mind you, when I was a child I also wondered why I woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. I would get up early and dress and go outside and watch for sky spectacle. This is how I saw the Southern Aurora in suburban Melbourne.

I nearly forgot that the cold in Canberra is due to icy winds. The wind that brings beautifully fresh air up from Antarctica (which is particularly chill at this time of year, for so many meanings of the word ‘chill’) blows across the mountains to us. Snowfall began early this year.

Do not ask what the wind chill factor is (only 3 degrees right now, because right now the air is almost still), or why Australian buildings are more built for heat and cold and can be difficult to keep warm. Just ask yourself, “When will Gillian stop complaining?” I shall stop complaining when I’m all caught up, and when my flat reaches 18 degrees C. Neither of these things is likely to happen this week.

Frost and Games

I want to complain about the cold again. When frost comes early, as it has this year, I want to complain until it goes away, which will probably be around August. It’s not that I dislike the cold, it’s that the cold frolics frivolously with my chronic illnesses. I used to go to work early purely to crunch the frost underfoot on my way in. That was my twenties, and this is my sixties and it’s as if I’m two different people.

My new self brings some surprises. Someone was respectful to me today. I kept looking around to see if they were talking to someone else, but there was no-one else there. I could get used to respectful.

The other thing I noticed today is that I didn’t instantly want to write a chapter of novel full of crunchy frost and chill air. I used to love taking the weather and telling it strictly to march alongside a novel, keeping my characters and their life struggles company. I used a very hot summer to bring magic ants into Elizabeth/Lizzie/Liz’s everyday in Ms Cellophane and also to make a memorable Christmas. I needed help to make a memorable Christmas because I’m not that good at Christmas.

I still bring weather into my fiction. I love weather and it’s fun to use it to shape moods. The opening of The Green Children Help Out has London weather. That rain isn’t critical to the story, but it helps me remember that most of the story is set in a wetter country than my own. It’s dry outside, and around zero degrees Celsius. We’ve been given a sheep graziers’ warning (spellcheck wants to change this to “a sheep braziers’ warning” or, alternately, to a “sheep grenadiers’ warning” – Spellcheck is quite obviously not Australian), which is a common weather alert up here in sheep country. Although, to be honest, the town I live in has more kangaroos than sheep.

All national capitals should have more kangaroos than sheep. Washington DC would be far more entertaining with mobs of ‘roos staring at the tourists and politicians and public servants. When a mob stares, every single one of them takes the same pose and only their heads move until you’re past. That’s my experience, anyhow.

One Christmas (since it’s cold it must be Christmas – I get this message from films set in the northern hemisphere) we had a work celebration at the restaurant next to the golf course with its full wall of floor to ceiling windows to bring the green into the dining room. We were all a bit drunk by dusk, because, of course, real Christmas is in midsummer. At dusk (again, of course, this is normal in civilised countries) all the kangaroos and wallabies came down and stared at us through the never-ending windows. One group of ‘roos did the mob stare. Drunk public servants wearing silly Christmas hats stared right back.

The older I get the more daft stories I collect. I tell my favourites over and over again. Sometimes I put them in my novels. My novels are littered with tellable moments.

For a full decade I asked readers to guess which moments in the contemporary novels were the real ones. They never guessed correctly.

I found myself blinking in stupid surprise when a reader told me, very seriously, that the real-life incident in Ms Cellophane was me swimming naked in the Murrumbidgee and getting arrested for it. I was wondering how to explain that I’m not very bold… and that I cannot swim. I blinked even more energetically when someone explained to me very sincerely that the series of events at Parliament House in The Wizardry of Jewish Women was obviously fabricated. I fictionalised it enough so that I wasn’t precisely representing the real people, but the events happened. As I love telling people, it’s just as well I fictionalised, given what happened to one of the people whose character I changed. Although I also love explaining to people that if you’re a politician and get a bit grumpy at lobbyists who want to talk, be very careful that none of them write fiction.

For those of you who haven’t played this game before and would like to guess a real incident from one of my novels, go for it. If you’re right, I’ll send you an unpublished short story so that you get something to read before it enters the big world.

Or you could tell me why I was happy to explain that yes, I once caused a Deputy Prime Minister to fall down a mountain (not at all intentionally, I assure you!) but am glad I rarely see politicians these days, because the original person I based a character on is not someone I really want to be introduced to with the words, “This is that writer who put you in that novel.” Guessing correctly who the politician is will also get you a look at the short story. I’ll give you a hint: you don’t need to know a great deal about Australian politics. You do have to occasionally read the news.

What I do in winter these days then is play mind-games. The first three correct answers this week get a sneak preview of a short story. If you don’t want people to see your answers, you can find me on social media and let me know privately. If anyone plays, then I’ll decide if the short story will contain weather.

Ice and Snow

It’s zero degrees outside right now, and autumn. Translated for the US, that’s 32 degrees and Fall. This is one of the times of year that confuses our friends in the northern hemisphere. I know this because the number of times a day every single May that I’m told that the weather is warming up is ridiculously high.

Once upon a time only my US and Canadian friends forgot the southern hemisphere had different seasons, but these days it’s parts of Europe as well. December is the worst for this, because we’re told that Christmas is for everyone and requires cold weather to celebrate. A storybook Christmas has cold and snow and a big hot meal. Here, it’s more likely to include a picnic by the lake with black swans demanding their share of the food and with unlimited cold drinks.

Being told to rug up during the summer holidays has a special absurdity, but when it’s negative temperatures overnight (-3.2 last night – I’m typing this at breakfast time feeling that sudden rush of warmth as things become less bitter) every “Isn’t it nice that summer is coming” kinda rankles.

Of all those who forget that the southern hemisphere is not the northern, the most annoying are those who insist that I’m wrong and that winter is not coming. Our autumn is fully settled in late April everywhere, and one in three years is cold by mid-May. This is one of those years. Winter may not be already here, but it’s sent very clear messages that it’s close.

I live in the mountains (inland), so it gets particularly chill here. Canberra is too dry, mostly, for snow (though we had snow in northern Canberra over the weekend) but one of the southern hemisphere’s best ski fields is merely a bit over an hour away. Not that I ski. I did, however once unintentionally provoke the Deputy Prime Minister to fall thirty metres in the snow. That was, however, in summer. The snow was remnant snow and it was the day he gave his particular speech at the top of our tallest mountain and… I put the rest of it into one of my novels, because it’s one of those incidents that sounds fictional and therefore was crying to be used in fiction.

Anyhow, the ski season has begun (just) and I now work late at nights.

Why late? It doesn’t get properly cold until 4 am here, and I would rather go back to bed until my toes don’t curl to protect themselves. This is not typically Australian, and, in fact, didn’t used to be typically Gillian. When I was a child I’d wake up before dawn to walk in the melting frost. As I age, more and more I like going back to bed on days like this.

My work day, in fact, will be shaped around how cold it is over the next three months. And what work does this day entail? Mostly research into how writers develop the worlds for their novels and how these worlds, in turn, can feel more or less real to readers. It doesn’t matter (I am discovering) whether or not the world has magic or if all the plant life is purple with turquoise spots. The world can still feel real when things are not like the worlds we know. It can still feel entirely fake when thing are depicted precisely as we know them. It all comes down to the world building and how the writer pulls that world into the story itself.

My fiction for the next little while depends on my mood. This month’s new writing is all about a light novel where I test some of my discoveries about how writers build and depict worlds. The episode I’m typing when I need a breath of warmth has an almost-human couple discovering that kittens, too, can become vampires. Also that braggarts and fools exist just as much in the world of the supernatural as in the world we know.

This week has a few extras and will be busy. I’m late with my tax, so that’s urgent, and I’m editing, and I’m working on my Patreon papers.

This month’s Patreon essay discusses the very curious relationship between Medieval French epic legends and MCU movies, and I’ll be delivering that paper live at a conference later this week (from my home computer). This month’s fiction for patrons includes the how the kitten’s household semi-domesticates that very cute vampire kitten, and this month’s advice to writers will explain how popular knowledge of famous figures can work in fiction.

And that’s my world this week. It’s busy, but not so busy I can’t sleep for an hour more. Since I started writing this, the temperature outside has gone up by a full degree. Soon the sun will beam loudly into my east-facing work area and everything will be almost-comfortable. I shall take that as a victory, because this year’s winter is going to be cold, if autumn already contains frost and black ice.

When I was younger, I dreamed of a good income. I also dreamed of living somewhere warmer (northern NSW or southern Queensland) in winter and in my more-comfortable mountains in summer. Now that I can’t pretend to be young, I complain about the weather. The reason for the complaint today is not, in fact, because it’s cold outside, but because someone left the security door open over the weekend and all the warmth leeched out of my flat and so the warmest I can get it is fifteen degrees (fifty nine degrees for US readers). Crunchy cold grass underfoot ceases to be exotic when the warmest corner of indoors is under sixteen. And I’m sure there’s a joke in there… but my brain is frozen. Even the postie (who just delivered a parcel) tells me that it’s brisk outside. If you’re reading this from the part of the planet that careens towards summer, this morning I envy you, so very much. How much is so very much? Probably about ten degrees.

Turning Away Wrath

You have probably heard about Jordan Neely, the man choked to death by a another subway passenger in New York City because he was yelling. By all accounts that I have seen, Neely wasn’t doing anything violent, though he was certainly making others uncomfortable.

Elie Mystal provides an excellent account of all the issues involved – including race, mental illness, homelessness, and even the possibility that the man who did the choking, a former Marine, overreacted with violence because he hadn’t received enough care for his own traumas. Mystal points out:

But, to be honest, the racism saturating every part of this story is only the most obvious of its horrors. This murder takes many of the problems we have in our society and shoves them into a giant melting pot.

A lot of homeless people live in my neighborhood, many of them under a freeway and BART overpass a few blocks away, others camped in a nearby park. They are often rousted out and have to find other places to go. Meanwhile, there are vacancies in the brand new overpriced apartment buildings put up all over this area.

The people living on the street can’t afford those places, of course. Studio apartments start at over $2,000/month.

Some of the people on the street are mentally ill. Some are just very broke. I give a few of them a wide berth when I see them, but I have never felt compelled to attack any of them, even the ones who scream abuse at all and sundry. I don’t feel threatened. Mostly, I feel horrified that the richest country in the world does not take care of its most fragile people.

Before the pandemic, I was better at being compassionate, but the need to keep my distance from others for my own health got me out of the habit. I’m trying to get back to being kind again, though I know that a couple of bucks and a word is so much less than they need.

As I read about the death of Jordan Neely, I remembered a well-known story from the late Aikido teacher Terry Dobson, an American who trained in Japan with the founder of Aikido back in the early 1960s. That story too took place on a subway (this one in Tokyo) and it featured a very drunk and abusive man. It was entitled “A Kind Word Turneth Away Wrath.”

I first read it in a 1985 anthology edited by Richard Strozzi Heckler called Aikido and the New Warrior, though it occurs to me that I might have heard the story in the dojo before I read the book. It’s the kind of story that Aikido people love to tell.

I suspect from the title alone you can guess that the situation was resolved very differently from the recent killing in New York, though it was not Dobson, a martial artist then in his prime, who resolved it but rather an elderly and very traditional Japanese man.

Every time I read this story, I tear up.

I could summarize it here, but it is so much better in Dobson’s own words and I was able to find it online here under the title “A Soft Answer.” 

Give it a read, and then give it some deep thought.

We don’t have to live like this.

On Feeling Better about the World, one email at a time

I’m sorry I missed posting last week. I fully intended to write, but then my birthday started (unexpectedly) a little early with a movie, and by the time I took a breath it was Tuesday night my time. I felt much loved. But I missed posting.

The visit to the movie for my birthday is a tradition that began some years ago. A friend admitted he never knew what to get me and I admitted I never got to the cinema. Because my birthday is a national holiday in Australia there are often new releases, and, since both of us enjoy superhero movies, I have seen a number of them over the years, as my birthday treat. This year my friend was away on the birthday itself, so he suggested we go see Kuzume the night before. Not quite my birthday and not quite a superhero movie, but the perfect movie for my current mood and I still have that birthday tradition.

The next day (my actual birthday) I had an afternoon with friends, followed by dinner. And messages. Many, many birthday messages. I still have a few emails to open and answer. I think I’m putting off the last few because I want this feeling of being treasured to last a little longer. I do live alone and these last few years that has taken a big toll. Every friend who remembers me and talks to me is so very, very important.

Other people worry as they get older. I always love birthdays because it’s a day when people around me stop and remember “I need to send Gillian a message” or even give me a gift. There is a special wonder in this for an older single woman without children. For a brief time my life matters.

I no longer get a family time at the Jewish high holy days (it’s a long story and entirely inappropriate to talk about). I have created an extended family-by-choice time to replace it so that my high holy days have love and happiness and much food (except for Yom Kippur, which is alone and foodless), but there aren’t the family traditions of presents and hugs from all the children in the family-by-choice, largely because most of them associate all that stuff with Christmas. Christmas is the festival I celebrate with friends and for those friends – it’s their festival and I have a lovely time, but it’s not about me and never should be about me. My birthday, though, if I can get people I love, a slice of cake and a clinky glass full of very nice Shiraz and a few hugs and some parcels to open… it gives me hope for the whole year. This year I experienced the first full set of hugs since COVID. It was rash of me, because I’m still COVID-vulnerable, but I daring accepted all hugs  then, soon after, the children and I put our heads together and plotted (and also tested a CO2 meter: the verdict was that the best place for me to live ie the safest place with the most oxygen… was the letterbox) – these are amazing things and three years without them was far too long. I had a lovely birthday.

If you know any people who are alone and don’t get a special day, wishing them happy birthday can mean a lot. Unless they’re like someone I know who hates birthdays with a cold-death-glare. You should find another day to make these someones feel loved. May 1, for instance. Or September 1. Find a day and buy them coffee or send them an email or drop in. It’s a handy way of making sure that people who are alone are not actually lonely.

Now I need to find out a way to remind all those who love me that it’d be nice to see them a bit more and to feel that love more often. I shall work on this. In the meantime, I shall watch the letterbox (not the COVID-safe one – my untested-for-oxygen one). Two friends sent me something fir my birthday and those somethings have yet to arrive.

I do adore this one (very, very extended) day in the year.

On Productivity

Like way too many people, especially U.S. people, I always feel like I’m not getting enough done. I need to write more. I need to manage my money. I need to clean this house and get rid of lots of stuff.

On social media, I see lots of my friends doing all these things and more and I feel guilty. Though I often also feel exhausted just reading about all the things they’re getting done.

Still, too many things remain undone. I’m not being productive.

But this morning, while I was meditating, it came to me that I am actually doing several things I never used to do, things that take time and are great for my quality of life even though they don’t weigh much on the productive scale.

(I know you’re not supposed to “think” while meditating, but one of the useful things that happens to me during that time is that I suddenly understand something that’s been going on under the surface.)

(I probably need to meditate more.)

Maybe the biggest newish thing I do is that I get a good night’s sleep, usually eight or nine hours worth. Sometimes I have trouble going to sleep or wake up with worries in the wee hours. After those nights, I sleep in.

This is after a lifetime of refusing to go to bed early, even if I wasn’t doing anything but staring at bad TV, and getting up early to do things.

I got up early to go to 7 am Aikido for about a third of my life, just as an example. And of course, even without that I had to get up for things like school and work.

These days I rarely have to get up early to be somewhere and I love it (even if I will always miss the 7 am Aikido class at Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Washington, D.C.). Continue reading “On Productivity”

Charming Synchronies

Yesterday I found my research self and my fiction-writing self in perfect synchrony.

My research self is looking at old tales newly told, from a number of angles. I’m focusing very closely on how writers build the world for their novel. One of my favourite techniques is to look at the various roles food and foodways play. There’s not enough work in this field for me to rest on the work of others, so I spend a lot of my time in an alert state, watching different kinds of narratives and checking the role food and foodways play so that I can deepen my research.

Over time, this alert state has given me a lot of questions that need answering. For instance, in K-drama, there are a number of ways people drink and they are connected to different drinks The most formal ‘proper’ way of drinking was easy to determine, but it wasn’t until I obtained flavoured soju and drank some that some of the more casual ways people drank became clearer. Flavour, mouthfeel, level of alcohol all play as much of a part in how characters drink on K-drama as tradition and courtesy.

For my fiction, I begin with recipes and the food itself. Then I start thinking about what the appropriate ways of presenting the food are. This approach was sparked 30+ years ago when a favourite writer had people throw food that would have been dripping with honey, in a social group that has given us no historical evidence for treating food that lightly. Several possible messes entered into my visualisation of the scene: honey everywhere, and the very important personages acting as ill-disciplined overgrown children. I talked to the writer about the scene and she had not considered either aspect. The throwing was in the modern American cultural sense of being light-hearted and the characters were demonstrating how close they were to each other.

This was the first time I discovered just how much of our own culture we place in our constructed worlds and how, unless we consider things really carefully, we echo what we think we know and it is our own way of doing things.

I started to do two things at that point.

The first was to find out what my own cultural nuancing is and where it comes from. How do I assume people eat and drink in various circumstances?

Just like almost every other fiction writer, I draw the worlds for my novels from places I’m always ready a bit familiar with and many of them echo my life and experience. The difference is that I do this while aware. That state of alert becomes increasingly handy. I watch television and go to movies partly to continue this dialogue with myself.

This helps inform the second thing I do, which is research and teach. My most recent research thingie (I hate the words “outcome’ and ‘output’; ‘research monograph’ doesn’t work when the book is available very cheaply to anyone who wants to read it and is written in ordinary English) is, of course, Story Matrices. (At this point I’m supposed to remind everyone that it’s Hugo eligible and to suggest that you think of nominating it. I normally don’t do this, but in the case of Story Matrices, I want people to read it and they can’t read it if they don’t find out about it and the Hugos are a really good way of letting people know a work exists and that it’s worth a look.)

So how did everything come together? The soju and my thoughts about it gave me an ‘aha!’ moment for my research. One of the writers I’m focusing on always gives precise cultural places for drink, another does but they’re historically incorrect, and the third doesn’t at all.

This ‘aha!’ moment made me realise I have not worked on drink for either of the novels that I’m slowly, slowly writing. The novels will be out way after the new research, because the new research takes priority, due to there being income attached. I do love it, though, when they talk to each other while I imbibe someone else’s foodways.

Enjoying fandom, online

I’m a bit late this week to the Treehouse because my Monday included a science fiction convention in the UK. I was on three panels, and I had such a fine time that I’m reluctant to let it go and get back to my everyday. The amazing thing about this is that, because of the usual health issues, I had to attend long-distance. Hybrid events are changing and with those changes come ever-increased level s of being an actual and real part of the events one is attending via computer.

My hybrid panels meant I was a giant head on a screen, but I was just as much part of the discussion. There was one when I felt a bit on the side, but that wasn’t due to the hybridity, it was due to me trying to be brief for the audience and the other panellists talking at great length. Since, in real life panels (or meat panels, as someone described them over the weekend) I’ve been guilty of exactly this thing, I now feel that the universe is a bit balanced and maybe, next time, we can all talk about the same amount. I was able to talk freely about my research past and present and about my fiction and about all sorts of things that mattered to me. And that talk was part of extended and fascinating discussions with others.

What made the difference, for me, was that the online audience chatted in Discord throughout the panel. I could see what the audience thought if I was able, and I could drop in and chat when my end was quiet. When I was audience in panels, I actually had a better panel experience than face to face because we all made smart remarks and added our own insights and got excited when something clever was said.

If I’d been able to get to Conversation in person, I can see that we would have moved to the bar or tea room after several panels (both the ones I was on and the ones I was audience in), but the Discord aspect gave me some of that. I didn’t make new best friends, but I did meet new and wonderful people and we’re already working on catching up sometime. And I got to spend quality time with old friends. And… it was all at my computer.

The biggest thing is that I’m as well today, the day after the convention, as I was the day before the convention. I so hope that hybrid conventions become the norm and that they are all as clever (or cleverer!) than Conversation, where those of us who are not blessed with abundant good health and the capacity to travel (and the finances to travel, and the time to travel and all the other reasons many of us can’t get to live events) still have an amazing time.

There are four US events (that I know of) that work like this, and I’m already signed up for three of them this year. Those committees who put in that extra work to make conferences work for as many of us as possible are amazing. Every time I emerge from someone online that leaves me feeling as if the world is friendly and welcoming and that isolation is relative. This weekend I feel all that, but that my work is appreciated, as well.

I am raising my cup of tea right now to all those who make hybrid conventions possible, but particularly to the amazing group who ran Conversation in Birmingham, this weekend.

If Sleeping Beauty Were Jewish

I’m working on fairy tale retellings right now, and preparing for Pesach (Passover) and getting ready for Eastercon (the UK’s national science fiction convention which is hybrid, is called Conversation this year and has a spectacular programme) and so time to do things is rare and fleeting. Fortunately, I have insomnia tonight, so spent two hours in bed, thinking. I got out of bed because I remembered I needed to write something for all of you, here. Insomnia doesn’t lead to great amounts of intellectual capacity, so it was very lucky I remembered a little story I wrote many years ago. It explains why I have insomnia… and is a fairy tale retelling about Passover. I’ve given you a link to the original, just because.

If I can fit everything together neatly through something I wrote so very long ago … maybe I will be able to sleep? Also, my cleaning this year is less impossible this year because when my refrigerator died, it took a lot of the food I needed to finish with it. Such unexpected synchronicity.

Before I give you the story, let me share a link to that fabulous Eastercon programme. Only a few of the panels won’t be available virtually. The timezone is (because I’m the kind of person who loves stating the obvious)_ UTC/GMT+1. Normally it would be UTC/GMT 0 (zero, nothing at all) but the UK is in daylight savings time, unlike me. I’m heading towards winter and we’ve lost summer time. I’m on panels and giving a reading, so, if you join us at Conversation, join me in conversation! (And that’s my bad joke of the day. Now everyone around me safe from my attempts at wit for hours.)

In the meantime, I might copy my character and sleep.


If Sleeping Beauty were Jewish

Sleeping Beauty was Jewish in a non-Jewish world. It was just over a week before
Pesach (1). She had a thousand and one deadlines from the world outside, partly because April is a busy time of the year in the non-Jewish world and partly because if she didn’t clear the decks (2) then crucial things would fall into the mire while she commemorated Exodus (3).

She was tired of being exotic. Tired of being Jewish. Tired of being busy. Let me admit it, she was just plain tired.

Sleeping Beauty took another long look at the cupboard (4) and said “I’m going to take a nap.”

She was woken up a week before Pesach by a pretty standard handsome prince. Things were looking good. For one thing, there was the prince. For another, after a hundred years the food in her pantry was unbelievably past its use-by date. She simply threw everything away to start again. The easiest Pesach cleaning (5) she had ever done in her life. For a third thing, there was the prince.

There were no deadlines. They had all gone, long ago. So had her opportunities. So had her friends. But her prince was a nice chap. She could deal.

That next week she discovered what her new life would be like. She had hastily married her prince, which was fine. What was less good was that he didn’t even know what ‘Jewish’ meant and how her background shaped her life. She was beginning to discover the effect of cultural change on everyday life in other ways, too. For instance, she had her own castle still, but none of the servants quite understood her instructions. What was oddest of all was that the people around her kept telling her, ‘No-one hates Jews any more. Stop complaining.’ Yet she still couldn’t go to synagogue without security guards three thick.

The princess thought “At least my guard is because royalty needs security in this odd future of mine. It’s not because anyone threatens Jews with violence anymore. I know this because there was nothing about violence against Jews in the newspapers. That’s another good thing: I’ve slept through racism and it’s gone.”

She arrived at shul (6) and discovered they wouldn’t let her in unless they knew her. There were security guards 5 thick and barbed wire to boot.

“The schoolground was fire-bombed yesterday,” explained one of them, apologetically.

“No-one told me. It wasn’t in the news.”

“It happened to the Jewish community. Why should it reach the news? It wasn’t terrorism, after all. It wasn’t even important,” said that non-Jewish guard.

The princess had a very private morning service, just herself and her prayer-book, in the tower she had hidden in a hundred years ago. Then she went right back to sleep again.

(1) Passover. Not to be confused with Easter with which it sometimes coincides. It’s the time of great family feasts, much alcohol (for 1 or 2 nights) and becoming very bored with eating unleavened bread. There are no Easter eggs, no Easter bunny and there is absolutely no Good Friday.

(2) Enough cleaning to generate great angst in even the tidiest neatest human being on the planet. One part of it is to get rid of any chametz (food not suitable for Passover).

(3) Moses and his Merry Men (and Women). Or the second book of the Bible, which contains the story of Moses. Or both. Take your pick.

(4) Or the pantry. Anywhere where food is kept. They all have to be emptied and cleaned for Passover and it’s one of things that sounds simple, but necessitates many long looks and much tearing of hair. This process is the single biggest argument for never becoming Jewish.

(5) Pesach cleaning – ritual cleaning for Passover. See (4).

(6) Shul is another word for synagogue, the place of prayer for Judaism. After all that cleaning, one needs a prayer or two, though maybe not the three hours that’s traditional in Orthodox Judaism on first day Passover.

Everyday: the update

My life is very busy right now. Just for once, Im going to skip over the health stuff entirely. I know I’m juggling newly hatched chicks and cannot drop them: you don’t need to know about the enar-misses and the squawks and the way my hands are scratched and pecked at. To avoid talking about being sick, then, I’m going to make a list.

Ten things I’m doing this week.

1. Researching – this is my regular research and is all about how the built worlds are described in novels. Not just any novels. Fairy tale retellings.

2. More researching. I’m giving an academic paper that involves close knowledge of Marvel movies and of Old French chansons de geste and Medieval Arthurian tales. I’m not reading and watching all these stories from scratch. This is stuff I’ve known for years, especially the chansons de geste. My first academic analysis of Old French epic legends was in 1982. (I grow old.) It’s the most fun revision ever, and it’s going to last me through until May. It’s my spare-time reading and viewing, and a really good reason to get other work done.

3. Eating. I’m finishing food up for Passover. Tonight I became so tired of it that I ordered takeaway dinner. Three hours later I got my act together again and mung beans are madly sprouting for eating in two days. That’s the last of the mung beans.

4. Preparing for Passover, the rest of it. So much work… and I have to start extra early because of not being that well. I watch my progress every day. Today’s big event was making sure I had the right birthday present for my mother and that she could have it on the right day. If I fail at everything else, as long as Mum has her birthday present and I have the right food and a clean kitchen I can manage.

5. Preparing for the UK’s National Science Fiction Convention. It’s called Conversation and everything I know about the programme so far says that even the online programme is going to be wonderful. British fan interests aren’t the same as North American fan interests (although there is overlap) which is why I love going to virtual conventions in both regions. If Australia ran a virtual convention, I would attend here, too.

6. Everything else. I have a list, and right now it’s a lost list, so ‘Everything else’ is the best I can do!