Spoopy

The world is weird right now, and scary, with brief moments of beautiful high tension (the launch of Falcon 9), and I hate living in one of those moments when I feel compelled to have CNN on non-stop. So I’m going to tell a kind of silly story about something that happened a couple of months ago, because it was silly, and funny, and kind of great in a silly and funny way. And I don’t feel like adulting today.

I started watching Classic Doctor Who (on Britbox) a while ago, and was reminded how much I absolutely love the theme music. I went and found the First Doctor theme and loaded it on my phone as my ringtone, because in case you missed it I am a huge giant nerd.

So one night I was working on something online in my bedroom. After a while I needed to go into the next room for something, and brought my phone as I, alas, have gotten in the habit of doing. (I am one of those people now. *sigh* Never thought it would happen.) I was doing whatever I was doing, and then heard my ringtone. Odd, I thought – it’s late. Who could be calling? I looked, and … there was no “accept/decline” screen. No caller identified. No … call. Wha – ? While I was still staring at the screen, the music stopped, and suddenly from my bedroom I heard a weird, horrifying scraping thumping sound. I froze. That went on for a couple of seconds, and then – to my absolute horror – I heard a voice – a disturbingly harsh feminine voice – say “Why do you come now?”

I wouldn’t say my life flashed before my eyes, but I was petrified in several senses of the word. I’ve never had a paranormal experience. I believe in the stories I’ve heard from some people (though I am completely dismissive of a lot of others), I’ve always seemed to have the supernatural sensitivity of a teacup, but what else could this be? The house was built in 1899 – maybe the year I’d lived here at that point was as nothing to some … one … and she was only just noticing me  because I didn’t just come now and do I answer or just stand here like a rabbit hoping a fox doesn’t see me or try to run for it, where could I possibly go, what do I do – – ?

And then the Doctor replied “Who are you? We come in peace”, and I realized that I’d left the Britbox tab open, and my not-speedy internet must have just finished loading Episode  18 of Season 2, “Escape to Danger”. (It’s funny; Vicki says something before the Doctor does, but my brain must have been trying to catch up, because I don’t remember it.)

The funny thing is that in a Facebook group I belong to, someone posted a terrified video of her laptop undergoing an update, and … groaning, in a woman’s voice. And then singing. In German. It took several people and about an hour for the lightbulb to go off that the poster had been watching a German horror movie before the update, and somehow the sound was continuing while the computer was restarting for the update.

And that’s the story of my big paranormal experience. (Except for the banging on the wall last night (while I was trying to fall asleep after being dumb enough to start a kind of spooky book), when I’m alone in the house and it was about 2AM, but I’m going to go with wind and house settling on that. Yup.)

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Times more interesting

When I wrote those last posts, I referenced the purported Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. Because things certainly have been interesting. Most of the planet experiencing the same thing at pretty much the same time, from fear and illness and death to toilet paper shortages … It’s mind-bending.

And then George Floyd was murdered by a cop, and chunks of the country have been on fire. I put on CNN last night, planning to just see what was going on and go watch something … fun? And I ended up leaving it on for hours. The CNN home base in Atlanta was literally under siege by protesters/looters/people who had no interest in George Floyd and just wanted to break and burn things – the reporters pointed out that nobody actually ever said the man’s name or indicated there was a reason they were throwing rocks and bottles at the police. Oh, and M-80’s. Dozens of police in full riot gear were held at bay in a side lobby of the building, while the glass that was the only thing between them and the rioters became more and more cracked and broken, and … it was terrifying to watch. Not as terrifying, though, as the video of George Floyd being murdered …

But what I actually sat down to write about is the fact that Elon Musk’s Space X and NASA are collaborating to launch American astronauts from American soil for the first time in nine years.

(This is probably going to be long and rambly, and my apologies if you’re only here for the book reviews, because that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. I’m probably going to noodle on this until the launch happens safely, and then just hold my nose and his “publish”. Sorry in advance.)

I don’t know if I’ve ever really written in this blog about how huge, how massive a Star Trek nerd I was when I was a kid. When Columbia first launched (April 12, 1981), I was … uninterested. It hurts a little to think about that. My mother and my aunt owned a little craft shop at the time (Krafty Korner) (I know) (at least it actually was a corner), and I’m pretty sure I was kicking back with a book at the front desk. I remember being bored with the whole shuttle thing. I was twelve.

But then around the age of sixteen I stumbled on Star Trek for the first time. Interestingly, I don’t remember what episode, but whichever it was it must have been a good one because I was instantly a Trekkie. I started hunting for anything I could find. And … remember, I’m old: when I was sixteen computers were still brand new, developing technology. (I didn’t get online until maybe 1999? 2000? I didn’t get a computer myself for years.) Imagine what I could have done with the internet as a brand new Trekkie …

I did ok, though. I found zines, somehow. I devoured the novels. I read books about NASA (and understood little, I’ll admit – science is the opposite of my forte). I asked my optometrist if there was any way I could be an astronaut (which – no, dear infant me, besides the fact that you were short, pudgy, unathletic, and backward in science and math, no: your eyesight was such that if your glasses broke on a mission you would die. So no spacesuits for you). I have a picture somewhere of me in a Spock outfit; I found a blue velour shirt somewhere and appropriated it (I hope I had permission), painted on the eyebrows, made a badge out of cardpaper and glitter, and made ears out of the same manila folder (they were pretty good, considering). I joined the Planetary Society and subscribed to Starlog. I was a massive geek before I ever knew it was a thing. (I was into The Lord of the Rings, too, but I never dressed up as a Hobbit; I think at the time there just wasn’t as much scope for nerdery in LotR.) By the time of Challenger, I was perfectly set up to be as devastated as it was possible to be without being related to one of the astronauts. I was heartbroken, inconsolable. I still can’t look at a picture of the vapor trails.

I’ve never been as good a space nerd as I am a Trek nerd. I don’t remember dates, I need prompting on astronauts’ names, I get fuzzy on mission names. It’s sad. It’s embarrassing. (I’m the same with the Civil War – except for the men I fell in love with through Ken Burns’s series, I need prompting on names, and I can never remember battle dates. I don’t know why it is.) But January 28, 1986 is unforgettable, and February 1, 2003. And also September 29, 1988, which was the first launch after Challenger, and also a friend’s birthday (I was envious). I admit, though – I didn’t watch every launch. I don’t know if I watched many launches. Maybe I was prone to the same ennui as, apparently, the rest of the country: space shuttle launches were (overall) so successful and efficient they became routine, and people were about as fascinated by them as they were by the the perambulations of the mailman.

In 2011, I had just gotten a new job with a metals distributor; when I interviewed for it, I made a comment of some sort about the logo on the jacket one of the interviewers had, because it featured the shuttle. I was apparently the only one to notice it. It’s funny – if you’d asked me an hour ago, I would have said I was in Florida at the time of the last shuttle launch (for training for that job), but I would have been wrong; it was January, so it was STS-133, not STS-135. Regardless, I was in a hotel, along the flight path, and I … didn’t ask anyone if I could go up on the roof, or even go out into the parking lot. I didn’t have the nerve; felt silly. In my defense, the launch was at 2AM or something, and I had to show up for training the next morning, but still – I wish I had. I had always dreamed of seeing a launch – that was as close as I was going to get. Ever.

Well, now, maybe not. For the shuttle, yes, but – as I’m writing this, the Dragon, the Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (am I the only one having to suppress a little snortle every time they’re referred to as “Bob and Doug”? Just me being old? OK)  is supposed to launch in less than an hour. Oh, look, they were delivered to the launch pad in a Tesla. Because of course they were. This is really strange to watch (even beyond the Tesla). I hate the spacesuits. I really hate the black head-to-toe suits of the ground crew, with the huge numbers on the back – it’s like a cross between Darth Vader’s office staff and Doctor Seuss. I really really hate the fact that there’s a perky young woman on C-Span discussing the social media reaction to coverage, including … pictures of cats. I don’t care about the lame questions some twits someone somewhere has (“What is the hardest thing about going into space?” REALLY?) I don’t care how upset someone’s three year old was when the launch was postponed on Wednesday. This is serious. This is really, really serious. This is science. This is one of the most dangerous things a human can do. This is two men sitting on top of a stories-tall explosive. This is … this is a small step toward getting back on track toward … All right, I’ll say it. Toward getting Star Trek.

I miss being sixteen. Don’t get me wrong, it was horrible in a lot of ways – I realized every one of my friends was awful, left school, probably would have benefited from lots and lots of therapy … But I still had an optimism, a faith in humanity, that has eroded away to almost nothing in the decades since. (See above, murder of George Floyd.) I miss the possibilities. I had stars in my eyes in several ways, and I believed we could get to a point where we achieved a post-scarcity economy, as Mission Log podcast always said, where we could have a peaceful exploration-oriented Starfleet, where there would be little question that every new race we’d encounter would be met with open hands and hearts and … and …

And now Donald Trump is trying to create a new branch of the military called Space Force and our only access to space, and to the International Space Station which this country helped build, has been for nine years hitching rides on other countries’ launches. And now US space travel is in the hands of a private company. I don’t even know what the logistics of that are. And my neighbors’ kids are running around screaming outside, as usual, instead of being planted in front of a screen watching history be made. I kind of want to scream out the window.

(Not for the first time in the past two and a half months.)

The nerves are getting to me at ten and a half minutes.

I’m even really nostalgic for a couple of years ago when I thought Elon Musk was just a genius, not an unstable kind of awful genius who tweets almost as stupidly as the president and who would give his son a moronic name. I’d really like to be able to unabashedly admire him right now. (Where even is he? Shouldn’t he be there? You’d think he’d want to be there.)

A minute and a half.

Please tell me nobody’s going to say “Go with throttle up”. That ranks up there with the vapor trails.

Thirty seconds.

And

“Nominal” is a wonderful word.

Look how beautiful this planet is. From up there, at least.

The Falcon is meant to (and did! Beautifully!) land on a drone ship called Of Course I Still Love You?

Really?

God, life is weird.

And

All’s well. For a few minutes, everything is kind of great. I should quit while it still is.

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An introvert in quarantine

It’s funny wandering Facebook during this time. I belong to a silly number of groups (most of which stem from the podcast My Favorite Murder which … I haven’t listened to in a year or more, but I like the groups). Every day I see post after post by people who are cultivating sourdough starters, baking everything under the sun, starting new crafts, cleaning their whole homes every other day, and of course people who are bored. I … have not been bored. I’m still working the same number of hours a week, if not a bit more. The only time I’m saving is my seven-minute commute (the office is right down the street) and the time I would normally be spending visiting my mother (which I would prefer to be using that way). I just haven’t had boatloads of spare time.

Since I set up a (kind of makeshift) work area, though – something I never got around to doing in the whole year I lived here till then, I have gotten back into making teddy bears after I clock out of work. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid; in high school, in home ec, we had to choose something to sew, and I made a unicorn. Which was stolen from the storage cabinet at the school. (They got me a new kit, and I think I still have that somewhere.) I remember making a bunny out of socks one day when I was home sick; then I came across a book on making bears, and off I went. They’re not exactly a huge moneymaker, but they are fun, so I’ve probably made well over a hundred over the years. But, as part of the same malaise I talked about in my last post, I hadn’t done much in a long time. I started two a while before we lost Samantha, and … well, I only just finished one of them last week. (I’ll get around to the other one shortly.) With an eye toward the craft fair Mom’s home has every year (they were supposed to have one … around now, I believe), I started making small ones last month, and I’m up to eleven now. (Well, ten and a bunny.) When the (laughable) stimulus check hit my account, I ordered about $200 worth of fur from Etsy, so that has been fun. (Seriously, though, who thought $1200 was an intelligent amount to give people? I’m still being paid, so while I was grateful for it, and it did go toward a very large grocery order (and a very large fur order), I didn’t technically need it. For people who are out of work, $1200 is an insult.)

And oh, look, I’m writing, sort of. That’s something, I suppose.

It’s a contradictory time. On the one hand, I am very grateful to still have a job. I really am. I’ve seen the unemployment numbers (which – come on, it’s hard not to think of the skyrocketing unemployment rate as a judgment from God upon a man who never stopped bragging about the low level of unemployment (which had very little to do with his term of office)), and I know I’m lucky to work for a company that provides an essential service (we’re an oxygen supplier) and for which I can work from home. But there’s a part of me that is very jealous of all those people who are bored. I covet the time all those people are frittering away doing jigsaw puzzles. I wouldn’t be bored if I did have time on my hands – there are books to read, books to write, a thousand podcasts and audiobooks to listen to and tv shows to watch, bears to sew, recipes to make, and drawings to draw. But I do know from experience that unemployment isn’t exactly conducive to creativity, any more than having a fascist racist mindless rapist in charge of the country.

(I have, in the past two months, watched more tv than I did in the previous fourteen months. I didn’t turn on my tv more than twice in 2019 (once to watch the Preakness Stakes), but now? I’ve caught up on Doctor Who (then got behind again), Game of Thrones, Call the Midwife, Endeavour, and probably a couple of other shows, and watched a lot of Midsomer Murders and West Wing. The latter is something that has to be taken in small doses, because I find myself randomly bursting into tears at the contrast between an intelligent, kind, thoughtful, learned, faith-ful (did I mention intelligent?) president who can swear at God in Latin … and … the pink-eyelidded thing who’s in charge here and now. The episode where Bartlet gave the State of the Union almost did me in.)

Another part of the contrariness of the Great Isolation of 2020 is … I’m an introvert. I talked a little about the strife in my office in the post I wrote a couple of days ago; a lot of that is a never-ending flow of noise. I never thought I had a problem focusing, until I found myself surrounded by people who never shut up. All day, every day, there’s one person over there who talks and laughs and laughs some more; over there there’s a group who never stops talking about where, when, and how often their dogs poop. (I love dogs. I love dogs more than people. Dogs don’t talk about how often their people poop.) People think nothing of yelling across the room. At any given time, anywhere from one to three people will be humming tunelessly along with whatever they’re listening to on their headphones (and this is a huge and hard-won improvement over the way it used to be), and if I’m really lucky that one person will be in who loves to sing like she was across a desk from Simon Cowell. And half of the people in the office are away from their desks at any given time, because they’re at someone else’s desk BS-ing. There are not-infrequent times that the place sounds like a bar at happy hour, or a fourth grade classroom when the teacher has stepped out.

Oh, and since there’s been a lot of turnover in the office, for the past several months I’ve found myself doing a lot of helping with other people’s work. And those of us in the billing office are expected to pick up any calls that roll over from customer service. And since customer service has been, shall we say, below par for a long time now, that’s been a lot of calls for a long time. Which makes it even harder to get my own work done – especially when, out of nine people who could and should be helping with rollover calls, only about two generally do. I have hated working customer service my entire adult life (because people are idiots), and the phones rang so much while we were still in the office I was beginning to develop a twitch and to hear ringing while trying to fall asleep at night. I hate that noise more than just about any other sound in the world.

So now, for the past almost-two-months, I have been sitting in my front room to do my work – MY work, no one else’s. I have heard my phone ring less than half a dozen times, and most of those were family or friends. Or a wrong number. I have been out of this apartment … maybe a dozen times, including getting the mail and packages and putting out the trash. I have put shoes on maybe six times. I have gotten in my car … three? times, including once to go wave through the window at my mother on Easter Sunday. I have spoken to maybe half a dozen people in person. I have never been so isolated for so long in my life – and I have loved every minute of it. In my head, I understand that most people don’t enjoy being unable to see people or go out. In my heart, I don’t get it. I can’t. As I said, I’m an introvert, and I was built for exactly this. I am what that meme floating around is talking about: I have been training my whole life for this. I can roll out of bed, stick my hair in a sloppy bun, and straggle in to log in to start work. I can put on an audiobook or a podcast (or a podcast of an audiobook) while I work, or if I’m doing something a little less demanding I can put the tv on. Or I can just have quiet. And it is quiet. I don’t mind the kids out playing in their yard (assuming they don’t have friends over) or the traffic noises or the sounds of people doing yard work. Oh! And while in the office I can’t even see a window (I used to be able to if I turned to my right and leaned back, but no longer), so I never know what the weather is unless someone says something – here I sit surrounded by eight windows. I honestly don’t know if there’s been more interesting weather in the past two months, or if it’s simply that I never get to see it.

I could go the rest of my life like this.

And I can tell you, when the office does eventually open – and who knows when that will be? – they will have to drag me back kicking and screaming. I am going to do everything I can to keep this. My blood pressure hasn’t been this good in a long time. That’s why it’s a contrary situation: everyone else is hurting; the isolation is stressful for most people; I grieve the business people who are losing money every day and the employees who couldn’t remain employed. Because the selfish part of me wants it never to end. Needs it never to end. All my life I’ve lived in a world built for everyone else, made for the extrovert. It’s a miserable experience. Extroverts don’t understand me any better than I do them.

I confess, there is, when I think about it, a thread of vindictive glee in my enjoyment of the isolation.

And then I feel guilty because of the people whose lives are being damaged.

But not that guilty.

It’s a strange time.

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Don’t touch your face

For the past few months (or is it years?) I’ve been constantly reminded of an episode of M*A*S*H, in which Margaret accuses Charles of having touched his nose in surgery. I can’t imagine why.

I also – for some strange reason! – keep thinking of Stephen King’s The Stand. Along with everyone else in the known world.

All of this is mainly so I’ll have a record in the future. Like the office issues I mentioned in the last post, I may not want permanent memorial to this Worst Year Ever, but … here goes.

Everything blurs… It was the Tuesday before St. Patrick’s Day (so March 10) that, after work, I went to see my mother – living at a nursing home here in town – to be turned away at the door: they had literally just locked the place down (in accordance with state guidelines) to all visitors. That brought it home; Covid-19 was here.

The reason I remember when the lockdown of the nursing home was is that on the following Monday, March 16, was the last day I worked in my office. I assume the higher-ups had some kind of plan before that, but it didn’t seem like it. Our IT manager was out sick (along with one of the two customer service reps (the other one also being sick but in), my manager, and two of the three women of what we call the Equipment Track team), so the IT intern had to step up and be a hero in – suddenly, it seemed – setting up six billers (two of them new hires who hadn’t even started yet), two collections people, and six people in accounts payable and receivable and third party billing (plus higher-ups) for working from home. I was last, for some reason (I didn’t mind), and I was there with him until nearly 7:00 as he tried to iron out issues (like trying to get a second monitor to work with the laptop, which never happened). And starting on March 16 we, the majority of the office, started WFH, while the equipment trackers and customer service were supposed to be social distancing in the office. We billers were planning to go into the office one at a time every couple of days or so to pick up paperwork (we have never been paperless. Till now). That didn’t happen: come to find out, one of the people who’d been out sick on the Monday tested positive for the virus. Next thing we heard, at least three people in the office tested positive, and one was hospitalized. So there was new scrambling to redefine what we were doing while self-quarantining for two weeks.

At the beginning of each month, once all the previous month’s paperwork is in, we billers have to get the invoices completed. Usually, all paperwork is in and processed by Equipment Track by the early afternoon of the first business day, and billers’ closing is supposed to be finished in five business days. (Doesn’t always happen.) Since not one but two of the ET team ended up testing positive, and one was in the hospital for an extended time and out of work until just last Thursday, everything was a lot harder; ET didn’t close until the sixth. It wasn’t a fun close. (It was also extra fun to ponder the fact that the hundreds of pages of paperwork I brought home to work on had all been handled by the girl who tested positive. Whee.)

I have not been impressed with my company’s response to this whole situation. Well, honestly, I haven’t been impressed with many responses to this whole situation; as I sit here writing this I can hear my neighbors out playing in the street, and they’ve had what sounds like parties every Friday and Saturday. (Complete with car doors slamming at all hours, so it doesn’t seem to be just whoever lives there having a good time.) But the only real contact the company has had with us has been an email that has gone out to everyone three times (the same each time, more or less) basically saying all the things anyone with half a brain should have already had drilled into them: wash your hands, stay home, social distance, don’t touch your face, clean frequently handled surfaces. Yes. I know. Oh, wait – there was one other email, early on, from the president of the company. It was in three parts. Part the first: good job everyone (thanks). Part the second: in so many words, you’re lucky to still have a job, you know (yes, I do know). Part the third: but we’re going to lose money in this whole thing (not according to the invoices I’ve processed), so we’re not going to continue matching your 401K contributions until it’s all over (… thanks).

I have to admit I didn’t behave perfectly myself. On that first weekend, I realized suddenly that I had very few clean clothes; I had the flu (definitely not the virus) in January, and got behind on laundry, since I don’t have access to a washer here at home. And then when I started hearing about non-essential business being required to close on the next Tuesday, I decided I needed to take a chance and go wash a load or two while I still could. I did the best I could – I left the house at 6:15 AM, avoided people, wiped down surfaces before and after I handled them, sat in the car while waiting for the washer and dryer to go – but I should never have done it. Particularly since – as I learned from a sign at the laundromat at the end of my trip – laundries were considered essential services. Welp.

One person who joined me in doing their laundry bright and early that Sunday morning wore a mask. Everyone else did seem to be trying to keep space between them, but only one or two other people went out to sit in their cars (it was still pretty cold). What shocked me, though, is that I had to drive by Wal-Mart on the way home, and it looked like Christmas Eve – packed. A couple of weeks later I made a careful trip to pick up bagels, and again passed the same Wal-Mart: packed, again. It was scary. Also scary: I was the only one at the bagel place to even try to wear a mask. I had a head scarf over my face. The two girls who worked in the shop and the two customers who were there before me? Nothing. For the hell of it, I drove by a local grocery store to see what things looked like, and there were very few masks in evidence. If they were controlling the number of people who went into the store, I couldn’t see it.

I have not been able to bring myself to go to the store. The whole order-online-for-contactless-delivery thing has been … interesting. One of the things that will go down in history about this pandemic is the remarkable difficulty in getting … toilet paper. There’s a special place in hell – or at least purgatory – for the scum who hoarded toilet paper at the beginning of this thing. I happened to luck out by having last year subscribed to a tp delivery service (called “Who Gives a Crap”, which, yes, is one of the reasons I did it, along with a weird level of annoyance at running out), so I still had enough for a few weeks and was guaranteed to be getting a box of fifty rolls before long. The first order I placed was a little alarming – I received about two thirds of what I ordered, none of the produce or meat or bread or dairy being available. (I got all the chocolate I ordered, though, and since I was stressed I ordered something like ten different kinds. So I’m good for a while. I may end up with scurvy if produce goes scarce again, but my chocolate addiction is covered.) (So: scurvy and cavities.) Oh, that one was supposed to be delivered between 11AM and noon, if I recall correctly; it got here around 8PM.  I’ve gotten a couple more orders since; the second one was difficult to schedule and there were quite a few outages and substitutions. The last one, a small order the other day, was quicker and more readily scheduled, so it seems the companies have been adding staff. I have to say, I’ve never been a huge fan of grocery shopping, but I kind of can’t wait to get back in the store myself; less the fees and the biggest tip I can manage and the fact that I ordinarily only buy what’s on sale and I don’t entirely have that option now – boy, are groceries going to seem cheap when I can go get them myself.

I’ve also never been a fan of having food delivered – I don’t like being waited on, and that’s the ultimate in being waited on, in a way. I always feel a little guilty. (And I have been consistently shocked to see people order pizza or Chinese or whatever during weather in which they wouldn’t go out themselves, but that’s another post.) But now it’s almost a virtuous act. I’ve gotten a few deliveries, and it’s kind of fun – especially not to have to eat my own cooking. Because I have not, unlike most of Facebook, been doing much cooking.

And that’s another post, I think.

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Interesting times

So, um, hi. It’s been a while. I haven’t written a book review to speak of in … a long time. There are a bunch of reasons. I became jaded with the stupid number of Netgalley books I’d signed up for, tired of having to read certain books whether I had second thoughts or not, tired of regretting the overly optimistic or half-awake or otherwise dumb requests that resulted in mediocre books. I just wanted to read what I wanted to read and not feel obliged to write about it.

Personal stuff came into it too, of course. The biggest thing was the sudden, shocking death of my 27-year-old niece Samantha on December 3, 2018; it was entirely unexpected, and the whole family is still bleeding from it.

Work was becoming more and more stressful, largely due to one co-worker who was a pure nightmare; she crossed one too many lines, finally, and was fired … over a year ago, now? But, true to form, my office handled it badly; they informed her at lunch time, and I became one of the first to hear about it when she confronted me in my cubicle to inform me that I’d be hearing from her lawyer. (I did, too. Someday I may write about that. But I don’t really want to commemorate it.) But, interestingly, other people in the office seemed to decide that they needed to fill in the gap she left, and became louder, cruder, and less likely to actually do their damn work, and the rest of the year was … challenging.

Also, of course, I blame Trump (henceforth to be called some variation on “the Orange Toddler”). And I’m serious about that. (If you’re a fan, you’ll want to unfollow me right now. This is not and never will be a political blog, but anyone who’s dumb enough to in any way approve of the Apricot Peril is not someone I want following my blog. (Or living in my country.) Don’t bother commenting on this post – I will only read enough to determine that it deserves deletion, and then it will vanish.) That disgusting thing being in charge of this country, systematically destroying environmental and other safety measures, selling off reserved land for development, and doing everything possible to entrench racism, sexism, and any other kind of hatred he can manage … it has a sapping effect on creativity. There are days when I feel accomplished just having gotten out of bed.

For those who agree, and who could use a hand during these times, I recommend two podcasts: Says Who? – which has as its tagline “It’s not a podcast – it’s a coping strategy”, started by journalist Dan Sinker and YA novelist Maureen Johnson during the campaign and expected to end after Hillary was elected. Ha ha. It will actually end when the moron is out of office – and then we’re all supposed to meet up in Disney World. If it’s open, of course. (I’ll come back to that, of course.) There’s a remarkable group of SaysWhovians on Facebook; I love these people. They’re exemplary.

(Says Who?  – there’s a new episode tomorrow, dogs and kids permitting.)

The other podcast started late last year, and was named in expectation of the horrors to come with the election, there being at the time over twenty candidates in the Democratic party. Any election year is less than fun; oh, here: “2020 isn’t going to be fun for anybody, left, right, or center. What many call the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime is going to be exhausting, ugly, angry, and probably at least a little racist. Listen as Robert Evans, Katy Stoll, and Cody Johnston try to keep level heads covering the election while traveling the country”. Obviously that was written last year, since I don’t think anyone’s traveling the country right now, because the title of the podcast? “Worst Year Ever”? Turned out to be ridiculously prophetic. (The podcast on Apple)

Put it this way: when Krakatoa can erupt (as it did on April 11) and not even make the evening news, it’s a bad year.

Yeah, I haven’t even touched on the reason we’re not supposed to touch our faces yet.

What day is it again?

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Eighteen years

Never forget. Fight the dangerous idiots who say it was something other than what it was. Do a good deed today. Remember what it was like – the fear and the unity that the fear brought. Never forget.

Stewartry

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There’s really only one topic for today …

Eighteen years now … Never forget it. Fight the dangerous idiots who don’t believe. Do a good deed. Never forget.

Stewartry

From recordings from that day:

We’ve asked everyone to leave lower Manhattan if they can on their own

We want you to say a prayer for everybody in there right now – really, pray as hard as you can for all these people …

It is raining paper and ashes and debris …

It appears from here it could be deliberate …

Manhattan dispatch, what exactly is going on, Kate? We are unable – we are unable to make any kind of communication – –

Mayor Giuliani: The city is now closed. The airspace around the city is closed. There are a large number of firefighters and police officers who are … in harm’s way. And we don’t know how many we’ve lost.

Six a.m.: President Bush is preparing for his morning jog at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort in Longbow Key, Florida, where he is staying. A van…

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Barrow-wight interlude

I haven’t dropped out again – I’m just lazy. Writing is hard.  (Hence the novel I’ve been working on since the Reagan administration.) Workdays are ridiculous, so weekends I am prone to just lollop about.

However, this afternoon, while lolloping, I was also laughing my head off, because – as Shawn from the Prancing Pony Podcast had promised – the episode of the PPP released today featured not one but two of my silly song parodies. (Apparently Shawn forced Alan to sing “Fly Me to Mount Doom” – sorry, Alan! But then Shawn held up his side of the partnership and sang “Springle-Ring”.) It was delightful – I don’t think anyone ever sang any of my stuff before! (There was that evening of karaoke, but I had a bad case of jet lag and sheer cowardice, and never went through with it.)

If you’re not listening to the PPP, you should be – and especially episode 119! Thanks, gentlemen – I had fun, even if you didn’t!

https://theprancingponypodcast.com/2019/03/31/119-the-dark-side-of-the-tomb-2/#comment-1111

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LotR Reread, Chapter 3: Three Is Company (part two)

Look, I’m back! *pause for amazement*

SBs

So when last I left the lads, they were sleeping under a tree being marveled at by a fox. They were still in the Shire, so they didn’t feel any need to keep watch – that is probably the last outdoor night any of them will spend on this journey with that much peace of mind. (Mistaken as it actually was.)

I like the playfulness of everyone getting up, Pippin teasing Sam, Sam blearily falling for it, Frodo roughhousing with Pip. They’re still in the Shire; only Frodo is supposed to know the full extent of the adventure they’re starting out on; it’s still a walk for the pleasure of it, for a few more hours.

df2ng40u0aarduySee, all of this is why I was so totally on the “trust Peter” bandwagon in those glorious early days when the movies were still in the works, and after FotR came out,. There is Sam, looking wide-eyed at a landscape a step beyond the world he knows so well (“If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been”); and then of course:

‘ He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?” He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.’

In that moment in the theater, or at least in that moment that I realized that the quote was exact and perfectly used, I was positive we were in great hands. Betrayal is the worst.

*ahem*

‘I wonder if that is Gandalf coming after us,’ said Frodo; but even as he said it, he had a feeling that it was not so, and a sudden desire to hide from the view of the rider came over him.

– Interesting. That sudden desire certainly didn’t come from the Ring; quite the opposite, I would think. “There was more than one power at work, Frodo.” Or … wait. Given the next moment, when “A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring” – maybe it wasn’t that other Power after all. Hm. Tricksy.

Right here is one of my favorite songs in the book. I love everything about it – and I’ll make an admission: when I kept a diary in my teens, I very often ended entries like I did my last post, with “‘And now to bed! And now to bed!’ sang Pippin in a high voice.” This is how thoroughly woven LotR has always been in my life – and this is why it’s so strange to think about all these years I haven’t been able to read it. (For which read also: this is how big a geek I have always been.)

BR

And then comes another dark rider, or the same one again. The sniffing that Pippin is so obsessed with is definitely a creepy, creepy detail – and so is this: The black shadow stood close to the point where they had left the path, and it swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards him. Bleurgh. Swaying and crawling – and if it hadn’t been for Elf ex machina (Elvis ex – no. Bother), they would have been in serious trouble.

But the Elves do approach, and the language is exquisite. I wonder why Frodo didn’t want to draw their attention; respect? Caution? But Gildor Inglorion notices them there, and calls Frodo by name. (I just typed that, and went back to correct myself, because one of my favorite Barbara Hambly characters’ names has got to be inspired by this chapter – but that wonderful wizard is Ingold Inglorion, so I was actually correct.) Pippin immediately seizes a chance to ask about the Black Riders, and news of them disturbs the Elves; they decide to break with custom and take the Hobbits along with them.

“Sam was speechless.” That will happen when you are suddenly granted a dear wish, or so I hear. “Sam walked along at Frodo’s side, as if in a dream, with an expression on his face half of fear and half of astonished joy.” Yes. And that’s why I love Sam best.

Alan LeeAgain, the language used in these passages about the Elves is just beautiful. It struck me last night, listening to this chapter, that this is where Tolkien began to ruin me for reality. You see, while somewhere out there there might be a road through a wood down which I could safely walk at night and sleep beside when I tired without being a) robbed, b) raped, or c) arrested… But nowhere out there is there a road on which I might meet a band of Elves, High or otherwise, wending their way with a light about their feet and singing as they went. I think I said it last time – Tolkien desired dragons, and Sam and I desire Elves. Lucky Sam.

The Elves apologize for the “poor fare”, and Frodo replies “It seems to me good enough for a birthday-party.” Which, considering the birthday party described in the previous chapter, is high praise indeed. I think this is the first time Tolkien introduces one of those beverages which makes everything I can get my hands on bland and intolerably boring. …”A fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon” … Yes, please.

Interesting that they all sit around the fire either on the ground or “upon the sawn rings of old trunks” – it had just crossed my mind that they might use logs as benches or something, and then I thought “Nah – not Elves”. Well. Maybe the trees died naturally.

Gildor is surprisingly (to me, at least) vague. He does not specify where he has seen Bilbo since his farewell (which of course is intended to give Frodo and the reader a nice surprise in a little while). He would not give him details about the Black Riders – and in fact says the only thing which could possibly have made the situation worse: if I told you what I know, you’d be too terrified to go on. Hey, thanks. That’s helpful. Go not to the Elves for information, for they will say much and nothing at all. After one of my very favorite exchanges of adages (far better than mine), he finally warns Frodo to keep moving, with or without Gandalf – but I wonder if Frodo would have been able to get into Rivendell on his own. From The Hobbit and from something I seem to remember Gandalf saying it’s not as simple as crossing a bridge.

Samwise is so very me during this chapter. He refuses to go to bed like Pippin, choosing instead to sit at Frodo’s feet and hope to see and hear everything and not miss a moment of this amazing first meeting with Elves … and then he falls asleep. Or – *cue dramatic music* – – does he?? (Seriously, though, I can’t see S. Gamgee faking it.)

gildor-inglorionI wonder if Gildor’s lack of bedside manner, if you will, is due to an overestimation of Frodo’s heart. Or maybe it just seems to be that, given his bluntness (“No, seriously, dude, these Black Riders? So evil. You’re pretty much hosed, little dude”), but it’s actually just the right push Frodo needs to put his head down and go. (Go wrong, as the case may be, but in the end it’s right.) (That seems to happen a great deal – it’s the wrong way, or the wrong time, or otherwise not right – and it turns out better than if the “correct” path had been followed at the “correct” time.) (See the supplemental post…)

“‘But my heart forbodes that, ere all is ended, you, Frodo son of Drogo, will know more of these fell things than Gildor Inglorion. May Elbereth protect you!'”

In fact – yes, probably. Long-lived (forever-lived) as Gildor as one of the High Elves must be, he will probably have been wise enough (and lucky enough) to avoid going to some of the places and meeting some of the creatures Frodo will go and meet. Pippin especially of the three of them will get a crash course in Orcs. And yes, Frodo will before too many more days go by learn far more about the Black Riders than is generally advisable for one’s health.

I have a feeling that in a more current fantasy novel Elves met by chance like this would have a more major impact on Our Heroes. They would give valuable advice (instead of grudgingly little of anything), or leave them with a valuable artifact that would come in very handy later (instead of with breakfast), or one of the Elves would join the hobbits and be part of the proto-Company from then on. But Tolkien, being the creator of tropes and trends, doesn’t see any need for the Elves to be anything but a welcome rescue from the Black Rider, a beautiful half a chapter, and then gone.

Frodo finally begins to fall asleep – and as no mention of Samwise is made, this is probably where he has his moment of conversation with the Elves. Which doesn’t come up till Chapter 4. Which I might actually get to!

In the meantime, here’s a parody that would have gone well a chapter or so ago, but I forgot…

Cabbages and Taters
A parody of “Proud Mary”

Sam:
Left a good job in the Shire
Workin’ for the Baggins clan since I was a kid
Haven’t ever lost one minute of sleepin’
Worried ‘bout anything the Big Folk did

Been a lot of places through the Shire
Been to all the pubs, know the folks real well
Was settlin’ down like my Gaffer before me
Till I went and overheard what ol’ Gandalf did tell

The Road keeps on unfoldin’
Shoulda listened when my Gaffer told me
Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters

Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters

Thought I’d get turned into a lizard
Never saw the old wizard riled up like that
Instead he made me promise to stick with Mr. Frodo
I knew that there’d be trouble right off the bat

I said the Road keeps on unfoldin’
Shoulda listened when my Gaffer told me
Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters

Taters
Taters
Cabbages and taters
………………………………………..
Lots of people have recorded this one – if you choose to put Tina Turner’s voice in Sam’s mouth, I won’t take responsibility. 

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LotR Re-read: supplemental

(I’ve been listening to too much of the Mission Log Star Trek podcast, I think – but this is a supplemental post.) (Spoilers if you’re not familiar with the rest of the book.)

‘You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,’ said Gandalf.

So – The question I asked before is: what would have been the difference if Frodo had indeed gone soon?

As it happened, Gandalf spoke to him in mid-April. Then “Two or three weeks had passed, and still Frodo made no sign of getting ready to go.” This brings us to the end of April or beginning of June. Frodo proposes going on the Birthday, and Gandalf, somewhat hesitantly, agrees – but no later, he insists.

“Gandalf stayed in the Shire for over two months” – which brings us to the end of June, upon which he leaves for parts unknown (for the moment).

Frodo finally goes on September 23, with Pippin and Samwise.

The boys find haven with Bombadil on 9/26, leave 9/28, finally get to Bree the evening of 9/29. Because of a Black Rider raid, they have to set off on foot the morning of 9/30.

Now, Gandalf gets there that same night, and leaves the next morning, probably less than 24 hours later. Best I can tell, he still has Shadowfax, so he makes really good time, reaching Weathertop on 10/3; the boys and Strider see what looks like lightning from where they are in the midst of the Neekerbreeker-filled Midgewater. Gandalf, not knowing where Frodo is exactly, makes for Rivendell. The proto-Fellowship camps and is attacked at Weathertop on 10/6. They then have a long, slow, painful ride toward Rivendell, and the mad rush across the Bruinen is on 10/20.

Now, all things being equal, what if Frodo had left at the end of April, or – call it June 1? Let a few key people hear him say “I’m off to find Bilbo”, or something, take the time to cover the furniture with dust sheets and lock up Bag End (don’t sell it to the S-B’s!), bring Sam in tow, and set off for Rivendell, as agreed with Gandalf. I wouldn’t be surprised if Merry and Pippin didn’t pop up with ponies and packs to intercept them on the path.

If they had gone then, Gandalf would certainly have accompanied them. They would have gone to Bree – there would be no stop in Crickhollow, probably – no Crickhollow at all, probably; they would not have gotten lost in the Old Forest; they would not have stopped in with Tom Bombadil, unless Gandalf thought it would be a good idea. So they would probably save a lot of time, and reach Bree on June 3 or 4; I have a feeling with Gandalf prodding them along they’d make it on the third. There would be no shenanigans involving cows and moons, and they would probably retain all of their ponies. (Bill would never get a decent master.) I don’t know where Aragorn is supposed to have been around this time; Gollum escaped from the elves on June 20. I’m not sure how long it took Gandalf to get from Weathertop to Rivendell – – oh, there it is: Gandalf reaches Rivendell, 10/18.

OK. Gandalf on (I believe) Shadowfax: Bag End to Bree: 1-1.5 days. Bree to Weathertop: two days. Weathertop to Rivendell: 15 days. Total Bag End to Rivendell: call it 19 days.
Accompanying the ponies, even if Gandalf had Shadowfax, they would have been restraining themselves.

But wait! Gandalf might never have met Shadowfax in this new timeline. So he’d be on an ordinary horse. But Gandalf was nervous, and would not have dithered or lollygagged or dawdled. I’ll need to find a map with the distances marked out in miles, and go back and find the average mph of a laden pony … but I would wildly surmise that Gandalf and the four hobbits might have gotten to Rivendell a month after leaving Bree, traveling throughout June and getting there on July 1.

From there, the timeline can realign itself to what actually happened, since Boromir was on his way because of the dreams and others were en route as well; the Council of Elrond was 10/25, and the official Fellowship left on Christmas Day. I don’t think that would have been moved up, necessarily, because there were messengers out. And Gandalf would have certainly wanted Aragorn there, wherever he’d be coming from. I never realized that Boromir only arrived the night before the CofE… But even if, given an earlier arrival by Frodo, the CofE was held earlier, I don’t think the Fellowship’s departure would have been held up… When did Legolas get there, and Gloin and Gimli? Hm. If the timeline did not realign, and the CofE was held before Legolas could show up and confess to the mislaying of Gollum – and if Frodo got there in July, that would be likely, wouldn’t it? – then … I can’t even conjecture on what the Fellowship of the Ring would have looked like.

It would have been wise to have left Bag End on June 1, in that the Black Riders didn’t get near the Shire until just about the Birthday; if their timeline was not altered, they would have to play catch-up. Frodo would not have been wounded. Fatty Bolger would have been spared a whopper of a scare.

If Frodo hadn’t been wounded, would he have been more or less likely to be successful in the journey to destroy the Ring?

But here’s the thing. If he was riding herd on the hobbits all through June, Gandalf might not have gotten the word that made him anxious and impelled him to leave Bag End. He might have done as he did with Bilbo and the dwarves and left them all on their own while he went off to check things out (and get captured at Orthanc) – but what if he made the decision to stay with them? What if he was worried enough about the Black Riders, and Gollum, and the idea that Frodo might find some way to drop anchor somewhere and dither, and decided to remain as the hobbits’ escort? He might not have proof that Saruman had gone dark (and what if then Saruman was invited to the COE? Yikes), which would have left a major threat at their margins. He might never have befriended Shadowfax, which would have hindered him at quite a few important moments.

My head is spinning a bit. That is a great deal of plot to hang on a few months’ waffling and inertia.

Back to Chapter 3 tomorrow.

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