Rip van Winkle versus the Spaceship

I’m dreaming of spaceships today. I want to write a story set in one.

I need to write a story. It’s only Tuesday here and my New Year is on Friday and I’m writing your post nearly a week early because of that festival. I was going to tell you all about Medieval Jewish foodways in western Europe and about modem Jewish foodways in Australia and I was going to make you cravingly hungry for honeycake. I’m derailing the whole conversation (one I haven’t yet begun) because of my dream of spaceships.

I won’t tell you the dream itself, for it’s going into a short story, later today. One short story set in a spaceship and I ought to be caught up on all my new fiction for Jewish New Year. What I want to talk about is the alternate path the dream did not take.

Before 2020, I assumed that if someone were inside for months on end, when they went outside, finally, I would have a Rip van Winkle experience. I would emerge to a strange place I did not recognise: the rest of the world would have moved on.

This is not at all what happened when I went to medical appointments last week. Sure, the streets look at bit different. I emerged to a financial recession, after all, where the strict COVID limits on who can do what. Overcrowding is rare and people are more scattered. There are crosses and lines to mark safety.

I knew about these changes, however, before I encountered them. Rip van Winkle emerged to a place he did not know and that he did not understand. While he was asleep, he was out of sync with the outside world.

It would take an active choice to be out of sync right now. Or a second terrible moment, like the wildfires in the US or riots or… a great deal of what’s happening in the world right now. Multiply the peril and one’s focus turns to keeping going. I suspect the US has many Rips right now.

Given my last twelve months, I assumed that this is what would happen to me. That I would emerge into a changed world and I would not belong to it at all. When I found that this wasn’t at all true, I needed another metaphor. Washington Irving failed me. It’s tragic that he did not fail the US.

I explained my situation a bit more clearly to a neighbour’s friend when I put my rubbish out (this was such a big accomplishment! Once this statement would have been sarcastic – right now it requires the exclamation mark.). My neighbour’s friend failed me in a different way when I emerged.

When we told each other what we did for a living and I said I was a writer, he took my earlier admission of disability to mean that I filled in my time writing. He was nice about me turning my disabled state to good use.

This was when I fell out of sync with the world. Had working for a living changed since I last spoke to a stranger? He moved off the ‘occupation for a person with disabilities’ and onto the ‘does this out of passion’ thing. If we meet a few more times, maybe he’ll see the professional side of writing, and understand that being disabled doesn’t actually mean having a lesser life. It’s a life with restrictions and much medical stuff, but it’s capable of being amazingly rich. Mine is that life. I commented to him that I was bored for a whole hour earlier this year and I looked at the boredom and examined it closely and exclaimed in wonder at it and that is when I discovered that I was no longer bored.

This is why I had the spaceship dream.

I was never Rip van Winkle. I’m in a small spaceship. I can talk to other people and am in touch with the whole world of I want to be, but I’m in a spaceship. No dinner parties. No long chats with friends around a pot of tea. No long walks in the spring sunshine. But I know what’s happening and can be a part of it. It’s only my physical presence in a place other than my spaceship that’s not a given.

Family Language

What do you call the remote for your TV/DVR/cable box etc.?

In my house, it is referred to as the cacker, as in “Can you hand me the DVD cacker?” My kids grew up with this word, and had to adjust to more standard terminology when their friends stared at them blankly. “The wha?” “The cacker. You know, the thing for changing the channel.” “You mean the remote? You’re weird.”

Well, of course. They’re my kids.

I’m not entirely sure how this word came to be in use in my family, but I know where it came from. When we were very small, my brother used to hammer at things with a piece of a broken wooden toy with, if memory serves, a nail sticking out of it. We will leave aside the question of why my parents didn’t immediately take this weapon from him. He called his tool a cacker, and when he hammered at things he was cacking. Don’t judge him–I think he was four years old.

But do all families do this?  Continue reading “Family Language”

Treading Lightly: Mending

Our capitalist culture wants us to throw away any garment that is slightly damaged. Socks aren’t expensive – why not buy a new pair?

But there are costs to that practice that have nothing to do with our bank accounts. Costs to the planet, in the form of trash in the landfill, and carbon footprint for the manufacture and shipping of new socks, not to mention all the packaging (usually plastic) involved.

My favorite socks are still good, it’s just that they wore thin in a couple of places. So I decided to learn how to darn them. Darning is basically using needle and thread to weave new “cloth” over a thin spot or even a hole. I used colorful cotton embroidery floss to mend some small holes in other socks before tackling the large wear in this one.

As I was darning those small holes, I wondered if anyone had ever done a “spiderweb” darn rather than a rectangular one. I searched, but didn’t find anything about a circular darn. So I decided to just try it. It was a little chaotic, but the result is kind of like a mandala, and I like it. Anyone who does Tai Chi knows that these areas of the foot are energy centers, so I like having circles there. And the weaving of these circles was a kind of meditation.

Little holes can also be covered with embroidered flowers or leaves, making mending into decoration. I like that. It’s even becoming a bit of a fashion statement to mend clothing with color, like a badge of honor, instead of trying to hide the fact that the clothing has done good service. It’s a reminder that we can still get good use out of things by mending them, instead of following the consumerist practice of tossing them and buying replacements.

The Future is NOW

What does a cute dog on the phone have to do with service stations of the future? Bear with me: I hope you’ll like the journey and its destination.

I barely remember the service stations of old. I can pull up small, distant memories of 33 cent gasoline, the Sinclair dinosaur, Phillips 66 signs, and service station attendants who washed the windows, filled the tank, and helped in emergencies. I remember driving to Palm Springs with my grandmother and a sandstorm that pitted our windshield and forced us to stop at one such station in Whitewater. I recall a trim, neat guy in a white short-sleeved shirt and sharply-creased navy blue trousers helping us. His name was embroidered on the chest as I recall. Maybe it was “Joe” or “Frank.” Continue reading “The Future is NOW”

Dragon Con Greeting in Virtual Space—with Imp!

Author with imp

Dragon Con Virtual is underway this weekend! As a scheduled program participant for the torpedoed-by-pandemic real-life con, I was asked to shoot a two-minute video greeting about why I love science fiction and Dragon Con. It’s probably up on their site somewhere, but blast if I know where, so I’m posting it here.

In the course of shooting the video, an imp appeared in the corner of my screen during one take. Where’d she come from?? It wasn’t my best take, but the imp was too charming not to keep. So here’s the Outtake—with Imp:

Or directly on YouTube: https://youtu.be/oY6WWvkOtZY

If you want to see my actual best take, here it is (but no imp, alas):

https://youtu.be/L9R4RRL1w5A

Making My Plan

In the last election there was a brief, comic video by then-Vice President Joe Biden about making a plan to vote. Things don’t feel so comic now (although Biden really has a nice light touch, and no fear of mocking himself, and isn’t that pleasant?) but the essential message is still important. Make a plan to vote.

In those far off days of 2016 that meant relatively simple things like “where do I vote,” and “can I walk/Lyft/drive/take the bus there.” These days… oy. So many complicating factors. Not to brag, because we’re having other problems like the tendency of the state to spontaneously combust, but here in California getting information and voting is relatively straightforward: you can check here to find out 1) if you’re registered, 2) where to vote, 3) what your options are. This year, for the first time, all registered voters in California will receive a mail-in ballot no later than 29 days before the election (now that the Postmaster General has pinkie-promised not to slow down the mail no matter how hard the Boss asks). Me, my current plan is to drop off my mail-in ballot early. And then track its progress, Continue reading “Making My Plan”

The special joy of Spring in Australia

Spring is almost here. I could wax about flowers (and hayfever), about politics (and political fatigue) about having to wear my knee rug as a toga for late night meetings because my heater doesn’t do the job. Or I could talk about magpies.

Australian magpies are scary-bright. If you feed them, they will take care of you. They will watch over you and they will attack intruders in spring. If you don’t, one in ten (or may one in a hundred, maybe fewer) will simply attack. An ornithologist told me once that it’s probably a male testosterone thing. Whether it is that or not, they’re always protecting their turf.

Attacks are not random. People are attacked strategically. If your face is a known face (if you provide minced meat to the magpie every day of your shred life), you’re safe. If you’re a cyclist, you’re not so safe. If you’re in a pram, you’re not so safe.

By ‘not so safe’, eyes have been taken out, on occasion, and there can be contusions and… you don’t leave a baby alone in the park in magpie season and have a conversation 30 metres away unless you’re certain there is no swooping.

That’s only for a few weeks a year, and it’s only one out of a great number of birds, so any American who puts magpie attacks on the list of reasons to avoid Australia is helping us avoid people who don’t understand the real dangers to tourists in Australia. Dehydration, for example, is more likely than being successfully attacked by a magpie. If you’re after birds that defeated an army, you should look up “Emu War”, not “attack magpie”.

Why have I meandered to “Australia as a dangerous place?” I wanted to talked about the intelligence of magpies, not about Australia’s secret plot to scare away US tourists.

This year we have two new signs of magpie intelligence. First, they were traumatised by the fire and there are more swoops this year and the swoops started earlier. Magpies get PTSD.

Second, if you’re wearing a mask, it doesn’t matter if you’ve fed a magpie for twenty years, you’re likely to be swooped. This made me think about the one year in my life I’ve been swooped: I’d changed my hair style and my glasses. Magpies employ facial recognition.

Also, their song is more complex than most birds, and it changes in different ways to different circumstances, but that’s not new. It is, however, extraordinarily beautiful. Magpies are one of the great song birds. Like opera singers with rapiers, really.

‘Bird-brain’ means something else entirely with Australian magpies to any other bird I know.

Talking About Audiobooks on Cat Rambo’s Blog

Cat Rambo is former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and an author of considerable note. Instead of writing on my own blog today, I wrote on hers—a fairly detailed piece on audiobooks and how I went about it with my books. I called it “How I Ventured into Audiobooks and Lost My Shirt—Or Maybe Found It.” If audiobooks interest you, and especially if you’re a writer wondering how that whole thing works, why not step over there and take a look. Here’s a teaser:

Audiobooks are the current gold rush in publishing—or so they say, and you know “they” always know what they’re talking about. If you don’t get on the audiobook wagon, you are sure to lose out.

That might or might not be true. But one thing that is true, without a doubt, is that listening to a book narrated aloud is an experience unlike that of silently reading text. An audiobook can make or break a book for the listener. In the hands of a poor narrator, any book can be crushed. But in the hands of a skilled narrator, even humdrum text can take flight, and sparkling text can soar.… [continue reading]

Treading Lightly: Homemade Mouthwash

Here in the Treehouse, we have to get by on what’s at hand. This series explores simple, nature-friendly alternatives to conventional products and practices.

Plastic bottles are amazing. They can hold all different kinds of things, mostly liquids. They’re highly squishable, usually (depends on the plastic).

And they will last for millions of years.

Long after I’m dead, that plastic water bottle will be kicking around somewhere, causing trouble. I’m on a campaign to eliminate plastic from my life as much as possible. Especially single-use plastic. And hey, when you live in a treehouse, and going to the store is a big deal, you tend to find alternatives.

I use mouthwash to brush my teeth (on the advice of my dental hygienist, years ago), which has the advantage of also eliminating toothpaste tubes. When I came to the treehouse, I decided to stop buying commercial mouthwash, and researched a bunch of recipes. This one is tweaked for my preferences. I usually make a large batch of mouthwash and store it, refilling this glass bottle which I keep on my sink. Continue reading “Treading Lightly: Homemade Mouthwash”

Too Much to Nothing to Do

Perpetual Motion Machine

I grew up in one of those families where the not-so-subtle message was: “what have you accomplished today?”  (One of the not-so-subtle tensions between my parents was that my father embraced this question as it regarded himself, and my mother did not–she did a lot of stuff, but the minute it was expected of her she shut right down.) I learned from this to feel guilty if I’m not accomplishing all the time, at the same time that what I really want to be doing is reading or doing a crossword puzzle or playing endless games of solitaire while I listen to TV re-runs in the background.

I know. I’ve lost the respect of all right-thinking people. As I should. But these times have not made it any easier to Do Things or Do Nothing, have they?

Continue reading “Too Much to Nothing to Do”