A Small, Silver Pain in the Ass Robot Who Also Cleans The Floors

home vacuuming robot

“a gibbering, tortoise-like Math Buddy . . .”

Squish!

I had yesterday off, so I took the opportunity, fully vaxxed as all parties were, to drive up to visit my daughter and son in law, whom I had not seen in well over a year and a half because, well, you know what happened.

What did we do? Hugged, first off. Lots and lots of hugging. And talked (we are not, under the best of circumstances, a taciturn family, but I think we set a world record for nattering. Ate sushi in quantity, walked around the downtown area, ate frozen custard and Italian ices (in combination. Weird, but delicious). Talked more. And every so often there was more spontaneous squishing, because it’s been a long long time between hugs. 

It pleases me to think that this is a play being enacted all around the country. So happy to do my small part in it.

Daughter and son-in-law in the act of acquiring dessert.

Remembrance

On Memorial Day of 2020, as the pandemic was really getting going and many were sheltering in isolation, a new tradition was initiated: Taps Across America. Assisted by publicity from Steve Hartman of CBS’s On the Road, the movement inspired thousands of Americans to pause at 3:00 p.m. local time and play “Taps.”

The idea came from the National Moment of Remembrance in honor of Memorial Day, an annual event initiated by Congress in 2000. Americans, wherever they are at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, are asked to pause for one minute to remember those who have died in military service to the United States. Because the pandemic had us staying at home instead of getting together for barbecues in 2020, this was a way of doing something together to honor the moment.

It’s almost enough to make me want to learn to play the bugle. Though I am not a buglar, I do play the clarinet, and I intend to play “Taps” at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day this year.

Why?

Because it’s this kind of shared moment that can save our country. This kind of thing brings us together, at a time when so many forces are seeking to divide us. This kind of moment is what America needs to heal its collective soul.

While my own immediate family doesn’t include military veterans, my spouse’s family does, and I will be honoring them as well with my playing. I invite you to join me in this moment, if not by playing “Taps,” then by observing the National Moment of Remembrance.

And then you can get on with your barbecue.

 

Stand Alone Short Fiction by Me

It turns out, lots of readers want stand-alone short fiction — short stories, novelettes, even novellas, which are basically short novels. They like being able to finish a story in a single sitting, as well as the conciseness and jewel-like precision of short fiction. I’ve been bringing out some of my best, most recent, in this format.

“The Poisoned Crown,” will be out on June 1 and is available for pre-order here.

The king is dead, long live the prince, but not for long if his stepmother the Queen Regent has anything to say about it. So he appeals to the one person he can trust, his father’s best swordswoman and secret lover. Venise wants nothing more than to bury herself in her grief at the king’s death, but her conscience will not allow her to abandon the young man who is so like his father. The only question is whether the two of them can stand against the Queen Regent’s black magic.

I hope you enjoy it! To whet your appetite, here I read the opening.

Fight the (Sedative) Power

The Author, aged 1. Note cheerful gape.

Until I was about five, I could not breathe through my nose. Literally. If I tried to hum I would run out of air and have to gulp for breath before I turned blue and fell over. I had that expression common to the adenoidally-impaired: a sort of gape that might have been cute on a five year old, but makes you look stupid at 6. My adenoids and tonsils were so persistently swollen that the only thing to do was to yank them.

Me being, even then, me, I was hugely excited about this. Going to the hospital and staying over night. An operation! Whee! So the day of the event I was delivered to the hospital first thing in the morning, checked in and dressed in hospital togs, and given a sedative by suppository (I was not thrilled by this–no one had said anything about having things shoved up my butt, but I was an easy-going child, and it was all so exciting!).

It was so exciting, in fact, that when the sedative began to do its job, I fought it off.  Continue reading “Fight the (Sedative) Power”

Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?

Crossing genres is hot business these days: science fiction mysteries, paranormal romance, romantic thrillers, Jane Austen with horror, steampunk love stories, you name it. A certain amount of this mixing-and-matching is marketing. Publishers are always looking for something that is both new and “just like the last bestseller.” An easy way to do this is to take standard elements from successful genres and combine them.

As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed a little tenderness and a tantalizing hint of erotic attraction in even the most technologically-based space fiction. For me, fantasy cries out for a love story, a meeting of hearts as well as passion. As a writer, however, it behooves me to understand why romance enhances the overall story so that I can use it to its best advantage.

By romance, I mean a plot thread that involves two (or sometimes more) characters coming to understand and care deeply about one another, usually but not necessarily with some degree of sexual attraction. This is in distinction to Romance, which (a) involves a structured formula of plot elements — attraction, misunderstanding and division, reconciliation; (b) must be the central element of the story; (c) has rules about gender, exclusivity and, depending on the market, the necessity or limitations on sexual interactions. These expectations create a specific, consistent reader experience, which is a good thing in that it is reliable. However, the themes of love and connection, of affection and loyalty, of understanding, acceptance and sacrifice, are far bigger.

In my own reading and writing, I prefer the widest definition of “love story.” Continue reading “Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?”

Feeding Frenzy

One of the preoccupations of our household for the last few months has been what to feed the Elder Statesdog.

Emily is now 15+, which is a substantial age for a mid-sized dog. And for 14 and a half of those years she has been an enthusiastic, occasionally rapacious, eater. That changed last summer, when she started picking at her food… and having GI problems with which I will not burden you. The vet prescribed a (very expensive) specialized low fat diet, which immediately put an end to the GI issues, and which she ate happily (with a side eye of “I was always hungry, you dopes. You just weren’t feeding me right.”)

Fast forward to the fall, when she began to disdain the new food. Rather than go back on her old diet (of which we had quite a lot–half a bag of kibble and a flat of the wet food) we started feeding her rice and canned chicken, about which she was quite enthusiastic. And that lasted through… about the end of the year? At which point she decided that that wasn’t any good either. 

How does Emily show her displeasure? She snouts: which is to say, she gestures with her nose all around the bowl, as if she were trying to bury the bowl and its contents. This spring there has been a whole lot of snouting going on.

So the feeding frenzy has been ours, not hers. She may not be skin-and-bones these days, but she’s very skinny. So we’ve gone back and forth between the old food, the new food, rice and chicken, egg-and-hamburger, and some days, a steady diet of treats, just so she has some calories in her. She thinks the all-treats-all-the-time diet is just swell (she particularly likes the supermarket brands–the fancier desiccated liver or reindeer shreds from the pet store are okay, but she’s a Milkbone/Beggin’ Strips girl at base). So she’s getting them. And getting spoiled, and why not? She’s a 105-year-old Moldavian Leaping Dog.

We’re not going to be able to keep Emily going forever, we know that. She has cataracts, she’s rather deaf, and if she stands anywhere for more than a minute or two, her hind quarters begin to sink toward the ground as her muscles fatigue. Yet, if we take her out of a walk she still wants to chase a ball–a few times, anyway, before she stands with the ball in her mouth, looking at me as if I’m the Idiot.  She’s a very old dog. And we have decided that whatever makes her happy and keeps her comfortable is what we’re feeding her. The vet concurs.

Treading Lightly – Grow Your Own

Remember all the spinach recalls a couple of decades ago, because the farms were watering with contaminated water and people were getting sick from eating the spinach?

Or more recently, the “throw away your romaine” warnings, for the same reason?

I’ve been fed up with commercial produce for quite a while. This is yet another area where we (humanity) have allowed profit to take precedence over the well-being of people, not to mention the planet. That’s why I started growing my own lettuce hydroponically a couple of years ago. “I’m going to grow my own damn romaine,” I said when I started. Continue reading “Treading Lightly – Grow Your Own”

Down a Pint

I don’t remember why I first donated blood–it may have been part of a blood drive when I was working at Harvard (doesn’t that sound glamorous? It wasn’t–I was part of the clerical staff at an institution that eats clerical staff on toast points with sherry before dinner). I do remember that the drive was held in Memorial Hall, and it was drafty and cold. The technology–this was the 1970s–was all rubber tubing and rather punitive looking needles. Afterward they gave us canned orange juice (remember canned orange juice? It is a unique flavor not to be confused with actual orange juice) and cheese crackers, and stickers that allowed all of us public spirited folks to recognize each other on campus–at least until the end of the day, when the adhesive failed and the stickers fell off.

Even at the time I felt like this was a remarkably simple way to go about helping my fellow humans. So in Boston, and in New York, and in San Francisco, I have been a blood donor. After 9/11 I went down to give blood only to be turned away–for the first time in ever, they had more donors than recipients (for much the same reason that hospitals that expected a massive influx of patients didn’t get one, because in so many cases victims simply didn’t make it out to be treated). When we moved to San Francisco I didn’t know where to sign up–until a bloodmobile set up shop in my neighborhood. I would have donated right then, but my daughter–who raises needle-abhorrence to an art form–was with me, and threatened to swoon at the thought.

Eventually I got hooked up with Blood Centers of the Pacific, and became a regular donor. About five years after we moved out here I was asked if I’d be willing to donate plasma rather than whole blood. With a spirit of adventure I said sure, and was introduced to a whole new level of technology. Apheresis–the process whereby blood is extracted and blood products–platelets and plasma–are spun out before the blood is returned to you–is… well, I think it’s cool. But then, I love the fact that there is an industry devoted to everything from making little one-use stabby tools that allow the techs to draw one drop of blood for testing beforehand, to one-use cleaning swabs to ensure that your elbow is squeaky clean before it is punctured, to the machines that permit the blood products to be extracted, is really really cool. Apheresis takes between 1-2 hours, during which time I was wrapped in warm blankets, fussed over, and given movies to watch. Sort of like a spa day with less fussing about my toenails and more cooing over what a Virtuous Person was was.

Sadly, after about five years they discovered that women who have been pregnant tend to have a factor in their blood which, in plasma or platelets, some recipients react to very badly. No one wants that. So it was back to regular blood donation.

It used to be that my blood pressure was low enough that I’d run up and down the block before I came in, because too-low blood pressure would disqualify me. Or sometimes I didn’t have a sufficient hemoglobin count. I always felt a little ashamed on days when I couldn’t donate, but lately all systems have been go. And even during COVID, the blood center is somewhere where I’m reasonably certain they are taking All the Precautions–and then some.

The snacks are never very good–except for Oreos, which are a constant in a wicked world–and the juice is dispensed by a machine. Mostly I have water or tea (the coffee does not bear mentioning). But everyone at the blood center, from the woman at the front desk who checks you in, to the Historian who runs you through the intake procedures, to the phlebotomy tech who does the needle stick and sets everything up to draw the blood in a businesslike manner–appears to like their jobs and feel good about what they’re doing, and so do the visitors.

So I’m down a pint today. And in eight weeks I’ll go back again, because honest to God, it is quick, close to painless, and such a great way to be part of the community in which you live.

Even in a Little Thing: On Turning Sixty

We were talking in the Treehouse. The things we were talking about were important, and they got me thinking about a bunch of decisions I’ve made incrementally over the last two months and why I made them.

First, let’s start with next Sunday. I turn 60. I have some physical mobility, but not a vast amount, so I had planned to go overseas and celebrate my birthday with 60 events. I wanted to see friends, attend science fiction conventions, eat new food, visit museums, take pictures of interesting places and a whole lot more. Sixty fascinating events, all of the kind that I would treasure forever. Part of it was going to Italy for Eurocon, which would have given me about thirty events, for I’ve never been to Italy and I have a long list of places I want to see and things I want to do there. I was brushing up my Italian for it, for I can read the language but can’t speak it.

Then the pandemic happened. The pandemic is still happening. No big parties. No travel. This led to my decisions.

What were they?

First, I’m still going to have sixty joyous moments. Three of them are planned for this weekend, for my actual birthday. If I’m lucky, I’ll get more.

For the other events, I’m not putting a ‘finish’ date on it. I won’t get them within three months. They may take three years.

I’m about to hunt for the prettiest notebook I possess (I collect notebooks for my fiction and use the right one for the right project, so I have some choices) and when I find it, I will take my calligraphy pens and create a pretty front page. After that, every time I have a wonderful time, I will write it up, and that notebook will be a record of my birthday.

Why am I doing this? Why am I not just saying, “I’ll have a nice weekend, and that’ll do?”

Too many big things have been made small and a bit dark by the pandemic. I’ve won awards, for instance, and been unable to go to the ceremonies and have yet to see the actual trophies. The pandemic has caused so many friends to miss so much, that I see, every day, how people are dealing with the slight tarnishing of the everyday that creates our pandemic year. We have more sorrow (I’ve lost so many people I care about) and more stress and… this is where I introduce you to one of my favourite poems. It begins, “Even in a Little Thing” and you can find it here: https://starrigging.blogspot.com/2015/11/return-to-islands-by-arthur-grimble.html

My events are a reminder to me that this is a difficult decade, but that, since I find much of my joy in small things, I can still be happy. I need the reminder. I need sixty reminders. I need them because I was losing sight of the joy of jumping in autumn leaves or of drinking hot chocolate. Sixty larger occasions representing one big life change will push my mind back to where it has found joy in darkness at other times. I will return to myself.

This is the best gift I can give myself this year.

The best gift I can give you at this moment is to include you in my celebration. If you’re reading this (whether or not you know me) and you send me an email address, I will send you one of my stories and maybe a little cookbook I made for this same purpose when life took a turn in the 1990s. If you’re in Australia, I will send the story (without the cookbook) by snail mail if you send me a street address. In with the story there may be a couple of trinkets. I’m happy to send stories (and cookbooks and trinkets!) to sixty people, so feel free to share this with someone who would smile at this little thing.

You can send me contact details through the form on my website or through DMs on Twitter or Facebook.