Retiring, Not Shy

For the past few decades, whenever I have seen an ad that says something like “The SFPD is hiring” or “You could be a police dispatcher” or something like that, there is a small, weird part of me that thinks, maybe I should apply for that. Despite the fact that I hate job hunting, and despite the fact that I don’t want to be a firefighter or police officer (and am well past the age where my application would produce anything but laughter). The urge to figure out the next thing is still deeply massaged into my psyche.

In February I gave notice at my job. The fact that I set my departure date in December 1) because when your workplace has only three employees, the replacement of one can take a while; 2) I wanted to wait until my 70th birthday, which is in December; and 3) If I held off until I turned 70 I would be eligible for the maximum Social Security benefit to which my years of employment entitled me. Or something like that. 

I started a file on the museum’s shared drive, initially named “How to be Madeleine,” but, as the time passed, respectably renamed “Operations Manager Procedures.” So that over the months, as I did something–say, filed the sales tax or applied for a one-day license to serve alcohol–I could document the work flow. So life went on. In October my boss started the recruitment process to replace me. I am happy to report that she found someone great, and I am busily sharing, not just those Operations Manager Procedures, but all the bits and pieces of organizational history and lore that are tucked somewhere in my brain.

So after all these months when retirement was sort of theoretical, it’s suddenly (as of this writing) two weeks away. I find I’m feeling a little unsettled about it. Continue reading “Retiring, Not Shy”

It’s Not Halloween

… and yet I just turned up this photo, which made me think of the weird things I–and my kids (and in the photo, my brother) have worn to costume events.

The photo is of my brother wearing the “Bat Fink” costume my father made him. The Bat Fink was made with plaster-of-Paris-permeated muslin over a wire armature, in the shape of a raven with a three-foot wingspan. It had yellow marble eyes that caught the light, and a bloody skull in its beak. It was built onto massive shoulder straps (I’m not sure if it also belted around the chest), which is why there was an additional breastplate of plaster-of Paris skulls which covered the straps, and black fabric that draped from the bottom of the raven over my brother’s shoulders and down to about his knees. He wore a skull mask to finish up the look. I suspect that, wearing the Bat Fink, my brother would still have been under 6 feet (he was 7 or 8 that year), but it was imposing, and likely to scare the teeth out of our small neighbors in Greenwich Village. A couple of years later I wore the Bat Fink on my shoulders (carefully draped with black fabric, but no skulls) to open the door and dispense candy to Trick or Treaters.

Okay, my family–all of us, but particularly my father–had no problem with standing out in a crowd. Continue reading “It’s Not Halloween”

SFWA’s Statement on Artificial Intelligence

On October 30, the SFWA Board and the SFWA Legal Affairs Committee sent the following letter to the US Copyright Office in response to their August 2023 Notice of Inquiry regarding copyright law and policy issues in artificial intelligence, which is part of their AI Initiative.

We are aware that there is a wide range of opinion on the subject within our community, but the issues of known damage to fiction marketplaces and threats to original IP copyrights that these new AI tools pose must be made known to bureaucrats and lawmakers recommending and making policy. By doing so, when consensus emerges about the proper use of generative AI in art, we can ensure that such AI is created and utilized in a way that respects the rights of creative workers.

In the near future, we’ll have the opportunity to read other letters submitted to this call for comments, and both SFWA and individuals will be able to review them and respond. We invite all our members, but especially those writers working in gaming and comics, to make known the effects you are seeing of artificial intelligence on your careers, for good or ill.

We will continue to study this issue and speak up where we feel we can do good. The more we learn from our membership, the more effective we will be.

The SFWA Board




The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), formerly Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is, in part, to support, defend, and advocate for writers of science fiction, fantasy and related genres. Formed in 1965, SFWA currently has over 2,500 commercially published writers in those genres across various types of media. Its membership includes writers of both stand-alone works and short fiction published in anthologies, magazines, and in other media. SFWA is not a subsidiary of any other entity. SFWA has no subsidiaries or other ownership interest in any other organization that may be affected by the Copyright Office’s policies on AI.

It is in that capacity that we write this letter in response to the Copyright Office’s call for comment on issues raised by artificial intelligence systems. As creative writers who have long had an eye on the future, we are no strangers to the concept of artificial intelligence; indeed, the work of our members is frequently mentioned by the people who over the years have made progress in that field. We have long anticipated these developments and have thought deeply over the years about its promise and pitfalls. With this in mind, it is with much regret that we cannot yet speak in favor of using AI technology in the business of creating art.

The current crop of artificial intelligence systems owes a great debt to the work of creative human beings. Vast amounts of copyrighted creative work, collected and processed without regard to the moral and legal rights of its creators, have been copied into and used by these systems that appear to produce new creative work. These systems would not exist without the work of creative people, and certainly would not be capable of some of their more startling successes. However, the researchers who have developed them have not paid due attention to this debt. Everyone else involved in the creation of these systems has been compensated for their contributions—the manufacturers of the hardware on which it runs, the utility companies that generate their electrical power, the owners of their data centers and offices, and of course the researchers themselves. Even where free and open source software is used, it is used according to the licenses under which the software is distributed as a reflection of the legal rights of the programmers. Creative workers alone are expected to provide the fruits of their labor for free, without even the courtesy of being asked for permission. Our rights are treated as a mere externality.

Perhaps, then, creative workers uniquely benefit from the existence of these artificial intelligence systems? Unfortunately, to date the opposite has been the case: SFWA has thus far seen mainly harm to the business of writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy as a result of the release of AI systems. Continue reading “SFWA’s Statement on Artificial Intelligence”

Mad for Beads

I don’t think of myself as a crafter, but I do do a lot of craft-like things. Maybe I should rethink?

I like knowing how to do things, even if I don’t do them brilliantly. I like to sew (big project sewing–mending and quotidian stitchery not so much). I taught myself to knit, and have knit some stuff, but not much–as with sewing, I tend to do a big knitting project that is almost certainly out of my league, and eventually finish it.

And then there was Klutz. I worked at Klutz Press for three years in the production department. One of the things most Klutzniks did routinely was to test instructions. So I learned to make tiny Fimo beads, and to do quilling (it’s curled paper art), and make Star Wars-themed paper planes. And I made things with beads. So. Many. Beads. I wound up organizing the massive bead stash (by size, by style, by finish), and when Klutz’s California offices closed, I was offered the opportunity to take any and all beads when I left.

I was good. I was even thoughtful. I did not just take all the beads (there were a lot of beads–in order to test the beads, both for compliance with US regulations on materials for kids, and for working with projects and designs–we had to get beads by the ounce, and an ounce is a lot of beads). I chose beads I liked, and I mostly chose the really small beads: 11/0s, Delicas, and 15/0s (okay, I took some 8/0s and 6/0s, t0o. I’m not a saint). In the years since I left Klutz I’ve become a fairly competent bead weaver.

I bead at night, while we’re watching after-dinner TV. I don’t string beads, or work with wire (I know some amazing bead jewelers who do both, or either); what I do is the intricate, fiddly stitching of beads in a pattern. Bead weaving. The necklace in the photo above is done with the flat Cellini stitch; it winds up looking complex, but really, the hardest part of finishing the flat Cellini necklace is remembering which bead I’m supposed to be picking up when. I’ve made climate change necklaces (bands of different colors for different temperatures, over a 100 year period… pretty and sobering) and Russian leaf earrings, and, and, and… It keeps me from fidgeting while I track plot and dialogue.

So what do I do with the pieces I make? I’ve sold some pieces here and there–mostly those commissioned by friends. Then, last year, after a friend had a good experience with entering her artwork in the World Fantasy Convention, she persuaded me to try entering my beadwork in this year’s WFC Art Show.

Spoiler: I got into the show. To my surprise and gratification, I sold half of the work I showed. More than that, I got the sense that this is something I’m good at, and something that has the potential to give joy to others. In the words of Ruth Gordon when she was given an Academy Award at age 73, “I can’t tell you how encouragin’ a thing like this is.”

Where the past comes to my aid…

I’ve had my COVID update jab today. This means I’ll be clear in a few weeks and can maybe be a bit social. Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who are COVID-vulnerable and who has a charming long and painful reaction to the vaccine.

Instead of a real post this week (and maybe next week and the week after, it depends on how long it takes to get through this) I thought you might like something from my past. Three things, in fact. If you scratch below the surface you’ll see a suggestion about how I approach the terrible things happening this month. The posts aren’t about that, however. The posts are about what I was thinking 15-16 years ago. The novels I was writing then were “The Time of the Ghosts” and “Poison and Light.” Both of them are still in print (“The Time of the Ghosts in its umpteenth edition, and “Poison and Light in its first) and the cover of “Poison and Light” contains artwork by Lewis Morley, who entirely understood my thoughts and dreams about the world of the novel. For a change, instead of saying “This book may be out one day, if I’m lucky” I can send you to the exact stories I wrote about, way back then. There aren’t many advantages to getting significantly older, but this is one of them…

(2007-11-26 21:45)

I need to tell you a story.

Once upon a time I was still active in the Jewish Community. At work on Friday afternoon I answered the phone and at the other end was a frantic community leader. “Gillian, you have to come to synagogue tomorrow, it’s very important.” He couldn’t tell me why. All he knew was that he had received a phone call from a well-known Melbourne rabbi (who had never met me) saying that Gillian Polack had to be at synagogue on Saturday morning. The rabbi knew I didn’t usually go to Shul, too, and he had said very firmly to “make sure she’s there”.

I couldn’t arrange a lift, so I hopped on my two busses very early and walked the half mile or so at the other end and found the Progressive Service and looked around for any reason I might have been summoned.

In front of me was a visiting cantor (but visiting from overseas – no links with me or mine), the backs of heads of the usual congregants, and about thirty aging pates. The usual congregants kept sneaking back to me to find out why I was there “Is there something happening this afternoon that wasn’t advertised?”

I whispered a question about the thirty heads to one of them and he whispered back “visitors from Melbourne, doing a tour – nothing to do with the cantor.” Somewhere in that crowd of heads probably lay my answer.

The service ended. Everyone stood up. The visiting group turned round to survey the back of the hall. I heard a woman’s voice cry, “There she is,” and one elderly lady ploughed out of the mob and towards me. The others all followed, like sheep. Some of them knew me, most of them were simply following their natural leader.

Valda is a friend. Except that it’s now “Valda was a friend”. I don’t believe it yet. Mum told me about her funeral just fifteen minutes ago.

She was nearly ninety and we just got on well. We snarked together at conferences and we stirred her kid brother (a close friend of my father’s and another friend of mine – the two of us have stood to the side at parties and brought down the tone of the proceedings since I was a teen) and we did a lot of very good volunteer work together. She died in her sleep, her life a resounding success.

I will miss Valda for a very very long time. And I will always remember how many people went into operation to make sure we got to chat when she was in Canberra. She could have rung me or she could have told my mother, but Valda simply told everyone she wanted to see me and – because it was Valda and we all loved her – everyone made sure it happened.

I will also never ever forget that horde of touring retirees descending on me. I was a whistle-stop for the Canberra part of their bus trip. And I bet Valda knew this when she called out “There she is.”

For the record, the questions were mostly about my Melbourne family. Also for the record, I asked in response “You’ve been away for a week and you miss them?” Valda hasn’t even been away a week and already there’s a hole in my life.


I’ve started writing this week’s post too many times, and each time it’s had a different topic. This is partly because life is a bit complex right now. It’s also because I am ranging intellectually from my normal research (the craft of writers in fairy tale retellings) to all kinds of other subjects because this is the Month of the Science Fiction Convention. Normally I also have an historical fiction convention but this year I had to make difficult choices. I haven’t missed the history, because I enjoy talking about it so much that people keep asking me.

What I’m thinking about right now (in this current hour, to be precise) are Medieval versions of the various stories about Renard/Renaut the Fox. I’ve decided to give one of my characters a name in his honour. The character will be a werewolf, and his name will be Reinhard Fuchs. This is how I continue gently with my fiction even when I have no time or energy to write.

Most of the things I’m checking up right now won’t enter into the Fox panel at the World Fantasy conference this week, at all. It’s a panel of writers, not a series of papers by Medievalists, after all, but me, I need to know the relationship between the different Medieval texts and how they fit with Jewish fox fables and Aesop and… I’m tracing a cultural trail for the fox stories in Europe. I have until my medical appointment. My medical appointment is late, which is why I have this luxury time to do fun things.

I’m sorry/not sorry that this post is so short. Tracing manuscript transmission and cultural connections is one of my favourite things and it’s giving me a happy hour in the middle of the afternoon. When I’ve reported into the doctor and he’s sorted me out, then I have to return to real research. I would dream of Renard, but… he’s not a great character to dream of. In fact, he’s a very good character to avoid.

Tea time

Today I’m putting together notes for a talk I’m giving this week. I’m giving it from my desk, but most of the people at the other end of my computer will be in China. A talk on tea to China.

This is when I feel like a fraud, but it’s not that at all. I’m talking about tea history and how to prepare for time travel through understanding how tea was brought into Europe and North America. I have Russian silver and a reproduction Dutch cup and a bunch of other things to show and tell.

I used to teach these things and now I’m nervous because I’m giving a talk. Tea to China, I tell myself, is not chutzpah. Tea history includes what Linnaeus knew about the plant, and why there are no teapots prior to a certain date and where beef tea fits in. I intend to detour via portable soup when I talk about beef tea, because they’re related and I have some portable soup right now. I won’t make beef tea, I’m afraid because I have no love for it.

What else shall I talk about? Medieval herbals (briefly) and popular tea literature in the 17th century. What Marco Polo said (or didn’t say) about tea and my guess as to why. Tea substitutes, including during the US Revolutionary War and in the early Australian colonies.

Lots of things.

My aim is to finish most of it today, along with most of my Patreon material. I have 2 other talks to prepare this week, too. This is on top of my regular research, but it’s fun stuff on top of my regular research. As long as I get it done and all ready for the world SF convention, things are good. October is busy, but delightfully so.

I think that this post calls for a cup of tea. I have a rather nice oolong to drink this afternoon. Which reminds me, I haven’t included even a mention of British Malaya and its relationship with oolong into my talk yet. Nor how coffee and tea identity-switched in British at a certain moment. Nor… I should write.

Identifying bigotry, bias, and poor judgement

Today’s post was going to be short and simple because today I feel very short and rather simple. Except it’s my least favourite topic and it’s the topic that governs so much of our everyday. So it’s long and complicated.

Because I often encounter prejudice, I have ways of measuring how far it extends so that I can avoid problems and problem people when there are no solutions. I don’t walk away from anything lightly, but I need ways to assess if an event of group has become unsafe for me or if I’ve become so much a second-class citizen that I cannot be certain my voice will be heard when a problem arises. I have walked away from something just this week, which is why this post is so very personal.

These are some of the things I use to look for incoming problems and for current problems. Every one of them relates to experiences from the last month or ongoing issues. They don’t work for extreme prejudice ie I had no way of predicting the Molotov cocktails that were thrown at a building I was in or hate mail I received. I cannot gently walk away before bad things happen. It’s not a complete list in any way. In fact, it’s simply the tools I’ve had to use this last week.

1. Red flags.

Indications that someone doesn’t see things the way I do, and (the ‘and’ is important) may act on their viewpoint in a way that’s, at best, uncomfortable, or at worse, dangerous. I avoid someone who lives locally to me, for instance, because they always want to talk about Israel or money: I’m Jewish, so I must always want to talk about Israel or about money – those are two red flags. There are other red flags for other aspects of my life. Some of them relate to being safe as a woman, some being safe as a person with chronic illness and disabilities. This last week I’ve encountered ten red flags from three people. Red flags often feel creepy to people in the same group. They’re indications of where a path can lead. When I mentioned one of them (the gender-related series) their response was “That’s so creepy.” While they’re not themselves dangerous, they can lead to bad places. One red flag won’t make me walk away from a person. We all make mistakes and we can all be stupid, after all. A consistent display of red flag behaviour, however, is a safety issue.

I first try to address the behaviour, because some of it is copying others. If telling a person “This hurts me” or “This makes me uncomfortable because…” doesn’t change anything, I have to get out.

2. Equality of access

One of the easiest-to-spot evidence of othering is when two people have equal background and put equal work in and one is rewarded while the other has to move on. This has applied to me more in Cnaberra than elsewhere in Australia. I can teach a subject for years and have amazing student ratings and full courses every time and then be dumped from the institution without notice (ask me about why I’m not at the ANU one day) or be told that, while other people are remembered by the organisation, I have to apply as if I’m a new person. I ask about my records with them and they say, “We’re not looking at history.” Except they do… with non-minority writers. Because of my disabilities, I have limited energy and not a lot of income, so it’s very easy to make something impossible for me by making it a two day job to apply for something that will give two hours income. If I weren’t in such a small community and if I didn’t hear that others are not made to jump through the same number of hoops and that their experience is counted and that most of the jobs I have to apply for as if I’ve never been seen locally are given to people whose names have come up in discussions… I’d assume it was a level playing field. There are, in other words, organisational ways of othering and of keeping undesirables out.

It took me a long time to realise this was happening. My moment of illumination came when someone carelessly said “We can’t consider you because you’re not experienced enough. The others have more qualifications, too.” This sounds innocuous. Except… I have two PhDs, a teaching qualification, 30 years teaching experience, ten novels, thirty years organising experience, non-fiction published on the subject. even the occasional award. What did my replacements have? About 1/10 of these things. What works in my favour outside a bigoted community is an actual impediment within one.

3. Fairness of treatment

This is so complicated in real life, but it comes down to “If you have two incidents at an event, are they being treated using the same set of values and the same approach/process and are all people involved in them being treated with equal fairness.” This includes communication about the incident. It’s so very personal at the moment that I’m not going to give an example, because it’s a bit triggery. Triggers are things to be avoided.

4. Being included

Who is at a social event and why? How are they treated? There are some once-close-friends who I will not dine with any longer because they only include me when they want to prove they’re not bigots and when I am at the same table as them they talk down at me. I’m only allowed to speak when spoken to. I have to respect the social order.

Or, from the other direction, is there someone who is continually left out even though they technically belong in a particular group? Are there events that don’t include this one person time after time? And, if asked, do the orgnaisers simply assume someone has asked them? Additionally, if the person is disabled, does anyone even both to ask “What do you need us to do so that we can include you?” or is the assumption made early on that it’s easier to invite everyone and expect that they won’t be able to come.

This kind of thing is very badly recognised and handled in Australia because we don’t like to admit we do it.

5. When specific racist/problematic things occur, how those in charge react?

When there is hate mail or stones or Molotov cocktails or something else, how do the people in charge handle it? For years I was the go-to person for advice on these things. Now I’m told socially, “Look, antisemitic event in Canberra. You should know.” It’s done with apparent sympathy, but no support, and no sense of how I may feel to be told of a Hitler salute and that it was handled with less effort than the amount taken to deal with issues where I was seen as the guilty party. And that’s the caring people. It’s a red flag that the allies only see themselves as allies. This relates to people from majority background, or some other minorities. It also includes people who come from minority backgrounds but do not have the life experience to handle problems for others from that background, but who think that they do – this is a very sticky and thorny area. All of these people can unintentionally compound a problem. It’s also a red flag that the wider community accepts something.

There is one very difficult area here. I said that it was a very sticky and thorny area in the previous paragraph. What is this sticky and thorny area? Passing: ie it includes people from the same minority background who can ‘pass.’ Some of us have knowledge about handling difficult issues, and some do not. Just because someone from a minority passes, doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to make wise decisions… and it doesn’t mean they don’t have this knowledge. It depends so much on the individual.

If I weren’t public, for example, about being Jewish, I could publicly skip all the cultural and religious aspects of Judaism and pass as white in Australia. It wouldn’t negate my knowledge, and I was brought up traditionally and so have a fair amount of that knowledge, and my historical knowledge is mostly relating to Europe, which deepens my understanding. I know stuff, in other words, and can give good advice if asked. (The red flag for me is who rushes into things without asking, but that is an offshoot of 2 – experts who are not seen as experts because they are being othered so their expertise is not acknowledged.)

A very well-known group that has ‘passed’ is those Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews who went into hiding for their own safety. Many Sephardi Jews were killed after Inquisitional interrogation brought out that they ate Jewish-style eggs, or salad on Saturday afternoon ie that they hadn’t relinquished all Jewish culture. Some remained Jewish in secret and a few of them are emerging into the Jewish world now. Most converted to Christianity or Islam and remained safe but lost hundreds of years of heritage.

For anyone who can pass, it can be simply not telling people about your private life and that can save you from so many mean places. I choose not to hide, and these last two years I’ve questioned my own wisdom in making that choice. Anyone who cannot hide, of course, has to deal with a lot more garbage than those of us who can and those of us who do. How those in charge of a place or an event react to problems hurts those who cannot and those who will not hide their minority identity consistently and often.

This is not even close to a complete analysis. It’s based on my experiences, mostly over the past year. There are bigger and much better analyses. The first place I send people who want to get a handle on this is While Joshi’s book is about the US, the first three chapters in particular apply to Australia. Why is this so important? Many of the people who cause such problems have good intent and are otherwise nice people. They don’t, however, have a solid way of measuring their world view, understanding how it affects their thoughts and actions, and using understanding to handle bigotry. The work is often given to those who are bigoted against, which means that the experts are also the ones who need support. It means, also that those who have to deal with all these things in their everyday have to be willing to take on, as voluntary work, helping privileged people. Step one is understanding, and Joshi’s work is the first step in the path to that. Just the first step. Right now, I really wish more people in my home town would take that first step.

Ironically, I sued to teach these subjects to public servants. I was thrown out of that job without notice and without even a letter saying “Sorry we’re losing you after 20 years.” I found out I’d lost the job because of a notice saying “Your email account is being cancelled.” Manifestations of prejudice are varied and some can only be handled by walking away.

Talks and ducks and coots and swans

I writing several talks this week. I didn’t used to write talks: I used to simply deliver them. Because of the health issues I have, though, I can’t guarantee that, on the day I give a talk or when the talk is recorded for later delivery (this latter is what happens this evening) I will be able to think effectively and to speak cogently. Most of the time, now, then, I write things down. So many people want to read it as a written word, too, that I often have a small audience (this month through Patreon) that wants to see what I say.

I have two pieces for finish today. One is an academic paper. My academic self is quite different to my fictional self when it comes to talks. The academic self is more intense and only sometimes includes bad jokes. The paper is about where the history comes from in Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver and is for a conference in Melbourne on Monday. I need to complete the overheads today and to do that, I need to know what I’m going to say, so it’s wise to finish the whole paper.

I have written almost all of the paper (and it’s already in the hands of someone who won’t be at the conference on Monday, but who needs to see it). All I need to do today with it is finicky finishing and the Powerpoint presentation. Academic work always contains much finicky finishing.

To do these last bits, I read the written word aloud, over and over. Each time I read a sentence, I listen to discover it makes sense in its place and whether words need switching or the sentence needs moving or if the whole thing has to be crossed out and replaced with something more sensible.

This is why most of my academic papers relate closely to my current research. I used to deliver more entertaining papers, but then I realised that the closeness of the editing for a good paper advances my thought on the research. Often it’s subtle advancement, but it’s always useful. My papers are less fun, but way more useful.

After the conference, I’ll take the paper and compare it to the chapter it relates to and the chapter will suddenly make a lot more sense. Editing today, then, means editing next week and the week after. This is a good thing.

What about the talk? The talk is for Octocon, which is in Ireland over the weekend. On my Monday morning I will technically be in Ireland having delivered the talk and in Melbourne, delivering the paper, mere hours apart. This is why my talk is being pre-recorded. I will have pictures for the Octocon talk, and these I still have to find and put in order. Mostly, though, with the talk, I need to make it make sense for people who have not read the books I’m talking about (by Tolkien, by Australian writer Leife Shallcross, by Irish writer Peadar Ó Guilín, and by Naomi Novik), who haven’t studied the subject I’m talking about and who want a bit of lyricism or humour to entice them to keep listening. The subject is how space and boundaries are important to fantasy fiction. Right now there’s too much lyricism. It’s easy to wax lyrical about forests and rivers and borderlands. However, I don’t want the words to ripple and flow and to create an abstract design: I need them to make sense. I have 800 words to add, then the rest of this talk lies in the edits. More reading aloud. More making things make sense to people who don’t live in my brain.

At 10 pm tonight, I have a long meeting with someone in Montreal. She will walk me through the tech side of Octocon, sort out all the tech issues related to the talk, record the talk and… my day will finish early tomorrow. Tomorrow I have 2 meetings (one for work, one for fun) and need to finish the first draft of another talk. I have five conventions/conferences this month, only one face to face. I’m short on time because all this is as well as my research. It’s work I love, but it’s not paid, also, so other things have to happen to keep me in food and electricity. This fortnight those other things are my research (for which I have funding) and Patreon.

Also, if anyone thinks that chronic illness and disability disappear in weeks like this… they do not. This week is a very exciting juggling act. Furthermore, most of this work is not paid. It’s just part of the life of a writer. Each of us have different things we do. Because I’m partly an academic (mostly unemployed, but not entirely) and partly a writer, much of my life is spent explaining awesomely interesting subjects, but without the support of an academic salary. It’s not always terribly easy.

Welcome to the life of many writers. Some of us are ducks, some of us are coots, some of us are swans, but we all paddle madly just out of sight in order to stay afloat. Many of us (me, for example) battle significant everyday issues as well. Every book of ours you buy, every Patreon you support or Ko.Fi you buy, makes the paddling a little less frantic.

Raised in a Barn: Martha, My Deer

I do not hunt. I never have (I’m not against it in a general way–it’s just not where I want to put my energy since I don’t rely on hunting to put protein on the table). But I grew up around (minor) weaponry. We had BB pistols and 22 rifles, as well as bows, arrows, and an archery target on the lawn to the side of the patio at the Barn. My brother and I were, um, desultory archers at best; my father was much better. I was an okay shot with the 22, but the rule was no shooting when Dad wasn’t there to superintend, and he was elsewhere a lot of the time. So, while I’m not averse to weapons, they weren’t a huge part of my growing up experience.

Dad had this idea about hunting bow hunting; we had rifles in the house, but if there was a pest to be dealt with he often opted for the bow. In at least a couple of cases the pests in question were porcupines, which set up camp on the lawn across the driveway. If the porcupines could not be encouraged to go elsewhere, it meant that letting the dogs out off-leash was not going to happen. Despite several faces-full of quills, our dogs could be persuaded to leave the big, slow-moving prickly things alone. So Dad would deploy the bow and arrow, which was effective at a distance, and provided a useful lever, post mortem, with which to move the corpse. But what Dad really wanted to hunt was deer.

Every December when deer season arrived he would gather his bow and a quiver of arrows, stuff his pockets full of Baker’s German Chocolate bars, and take a Thermos of coffee up the mountain to sit in the cold (often in the snow) waiting for a deer to amble by. I think he only loosed an arrow once or twice a year, and he never actually hit a deer, but there was something about the man-vs.-the-elements thing that appealed to him.

Still, we had a mounted deer head in our tack room. How did this happen?

I think I was eight or nine when Dad went out with a local guy who routinely took tenderfoots (which is to say non-locals who did not hunt) out in deer season. I’m not sure what kind of rifles they used, or whether the four or five guys used their own or had them supplied by the local guy. What I do know is that Dad got spectacularly lucky: he took down two deer with one shot. The one he was aiming at he hit amidships; the other one was behind that deer and running for her life; the bullet went through Deer One and caught Deer Two from behind, hitting her right under her tail. If he’d tried I don’t think he could have accomplished it. Pure fluke.

The rules around deer hunting at the time were that you could only take one deer–well, Dad had only meant to take one deer, but fortune had handed him a second. So someone else took home Deer One, and Dad brought home Deer Two. What this meant in practice is that the deer were handed over to someone who butchered them and dispatched the rest of the body to a taxidermist, who mounted the head and processed the skin. Out of this my father got a doeskin vest, which he wore with pride, many pounds of venison which went promptly into the freezer to be consumed on special occasions, and the deer head, which was christened Martha.

I cannot find a photo of Martha, who hung in the entry room to the Barn. She was beautiful: no points (which is to say, no antlers), but with a graceful tilt to her head, and a pacific, thoughtful expression. As a kid I was disappointed at the rather coarse feel of her fur–something that graceful and beautiful looks like it should be soft and velvety, but Martha’s fur was functional: meant to protect her from the elements, not to please the tactile requirements of a 9-year-old. 

On those Occasions of State when venison was served (chops, ground meat, a roast, and on one occasion a crown rib roast!) my father would go down to the freezer, bring up a well-wrapped chunk of meat to defrost, and announce proudly “We’re eating on Martha tonight!” Okay, macabre. But totally in character for my father; in his way I think it was a way of acknowledging the deer, and a wish to use all of the gifts that it had provided.

When the Beatles’ song “Martha, My Dear” came out, she was thereafter Martha, My Deer. My father took his opportunities as he found them.