More random thoughts from further inside the shell

10 09 2014


I am a fish judged by how well I can climb trees. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of climbing trees. For a fish. But the apes get the fruit.

Today I was hanging laundry out. As I reached up to pin a sock to the line, a dragonfly lighted on my wrist. I froze. The sun reflected on its wings, its brilliant eyes. It cocked its head with manifest intelligence. It knows its surroundings, exquisitely adapted to do what it must. It was so beautiful, I wept.

Why do people keep doing the same thing over and over when it clearly doesn’t work? Perhaps because it’s all they know how to do, and they feel they must do something. Perhaps what they ought to do is nothing.

The smaller my world gets, the better I can hear the birds singing.

I have poured into this website hours of work, carefully choosing the best bits of my writing to share, crafting blogs, praising the triumphs of others, speaking out, singing and sometimes sobbing. My stats consistently report that the highest number of hits by an appalling margin are on the photo “Brony Party 2″.

I would like to be able to go through one entire day without crying.

What gives me the right to feel this way? There are those who’ve suffered far worse than I, and they manage to keep their act together. I suppose we weren’t all issued the same brain and nervous system at the factory. Some aren’t quite up to spec. Some got dropped on the floor before installation. Some got made on a Monday. Or some dork spilled his Monster drink while doing the wiring. Nothing to be done about it. Non-refundable, no returns. Got to work with the equipment handed to us.

Personal suffering is like dirty underwear. You’d be embarrassed to let it show in public, and rightly so, because frankly, nobody wants to see it.

My sixteen-year-old Aspie son understands me better than most adults, including the therapists. Especially the therapists. Is he old beyond his years, or am I young before my time?

People whose chosen activities interfere, often egregiously, with other people’s happiness, enjoy the same freedom to do their thing as people whose chosen activities do no one any harm. I’m thinking of the noise and stink of ATVs being driven around in circles in someone’s back yard, while in the next yard over Captain America is shooting off every weapon in his arsenal, presumably to be ready for the Socialist Revolution, Alien Invasion, or Zombie Apocalypse, whichever comes first. Meanwhile, all I want to do is perhaps a bit of gardening or enjoy a cup of tea on my back porch. True, I could buy some heavy-duty ear protection, but that makes it difficult to listen to the birds and the hum of the bees in the flowers. If I asked them nicely they’d just yell back that they’ve got every legal right to do as they please, and if I don’t like it, then I can just shut up or get out. Alas, the curse of the quiet soul in a culture that revels in noise.

How does one forgive? I can say the words with earnest sincerity, but how does one reach down into the mind and memory and uncouple the pain from the person who caused it?

Defrosting the freezer, listening to the steady drip, drip punctuated by clang! as a chunk of ice drops loose from the coils and hits the wire rack below. What a perfect metaphor for a mind coming apart. Drip, drip, drip go the moments, the thoughts, the solid, messy, irregular accretion of a lifetime’s beliefs eroded by the relentless hot breath of stress, of contradiction, of suffering. Crack, there goes another piece. Clang, an episode of sobbing, gasping, clutching to any comfort, any solidity, but whoops! down we go. Finally all that is left is stark, empty. Cleaned out. Ready to be chilled and filled again neatly.

There is too much rage, too much fear, too much stress, and too many people with guns. I’m hunkered down in a munitions dump surrounded by people in flames screaming accusations at each other. No kill I.

Why shouldn’t my behavior be erratic? Where is there any consistency in the world? Reality is just one great, shrieking, mosh pit.

I want my mind back. The pills kind of work, but it’s like using a crutch instead of putting in the effort to strengthen the limb so you can use it again. Pills are easy. Exercise is hard. It’s also difficult to focus with jays in my face. Riding the unicycle through the mine field. Maybe I can trick the weeping angels into looking at each other long enough for me to sneak away and regenerate.


Random thoughts in the shell of refuge

20 08 2014

The grace of Death is that it ends all suffering. It also ends all joy. It is not to be feared, but neither is it to be sought out and hastened. Death is final. But Life goes on. A tree riddled with holes falls in the forest; a seedling reaches for the sunlight.

One cricket speaks; listen. Smile at its song. But remember that the field is filled with crickets.

There is so much noise. The carnival, the blitzkrieg, urgent calls to action, manic laughter, guns and motors, sirens and alarms, sturm und drang. It exhausts the mind and spirit. Let there be the sanctuary of silence. Let there be the peace of birdsong.

Giving up can be an act of sanity. Think of Ahab.

Dreams and memories are constructs of the mind. Both are important; neither should be mistaken for reality.

Reality might be described as that which causes our endeavors to succeed or fail regardless of our desires. We cannot know reality for certain, but only a fool or a madman would claim it does not exist at all.

Arrogance is presuming that anyone else cares who you are or what you think; celebrity is when they do.

Why do people keep doing the same thing over and over when it clearly doesn’t work? Perhaps because it’s all they know how to do, and they feel they must do something.

The ripe summer peach is a joy. When it can be had the year round, the joy is diminished to routine. Having whatever you want whenever you want it brings not satisfaction but ennui.

The wisdom that can be articulated is doomed to fall short. Every insight, put into practice, can be stymied by exceptional circumstances. Life is always far more complex than our attempts to understand it. Which does not mean that we shouldn’t try, or should surrender our reason to some imagined higher power. Any higher power would be as unknowable as the reality that eludes us, so we might as well apply our efforts to the world we can see and test. We stand a better chance of success with that than with any being whose nature or existence cannot be verified at all.

Uncertainty applies to all things. Navigating life is an exercise in playing the odds of what seems most likely. I’m willing to bet that the ground will remain solid beneath my feet and the earth will turn to receive the sun’s light tomorrow. This takes no leap of faith.

Connecting with other humans beings is precious and vital. If you do so easily, treasure this gift. It is your key to happiness.

If each of us is too immersed in our own misery to be able to reach out to the other, no real communication is possible.

Each day is an opportunity. I go to bed at night, haunted by all the things I have failed at during the day. But there is tomorrow. Tomorrow I have the chance to do it right. To act mindfully. To make the right decisions, ones that will bring a sense of satisfaction when I go to bed at night instead of a sense of failure. As long as there is life, there is opportunity.

We want to be loved for who we are. Not for who we could be, or who we once were, or for what another person imagines us to be. We want unconditional love, based on a clear understanding of the real person. Finding this love requires the confidence to be authentic. This takes more courage than most people have. We fear that our true selves are not lovable. The tragedy is that too often, we are right.

Compassion is the most important emotion we can cultivate. Compassion for others, but also compassion for oneself. The kindness another deserves from us, do we not deserve to give to ourselves?

Not just each day, but each moment is an opportunity. Indeed, it is only in the present moment that we have the opportunity to do anything at all.

In each moment we can choose life or death. If we choose life, there will be a next moment when we can choose again. If we choose death, all choice is ended.

Death is an end to suffering. But what of those left behind?

The Story in the Woods

6 08 2014


I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I decided to be a writer. But I have a memory of standing on the front lawn of our house in North Hampton, under the ancient maple trees, and I’m quite sure my mother was still alive. So I had to have been younger than twelve. I wrote my first novel, typed on a manual typewriter, sitting at a table by the bay window of that house, so it was before we moved to the trailer park. Before the home where I grew up with its acres of fields and woods was sold, and its contents, generations of accumulation, was vomited out onto the lawn as a yard sale.

Why did I decide to become a writer? Because I had all these stories in my head that I wanted to share. I loved reading other people’s stories. I was sure they would love mine. So I spent the next thirty years of my life writing them all down. The sharing part, the publishing, was problematic. So I put it off. Keeping up with the urgent pageant in my head seemed more important. Finally, when I turned fifty, I realized I couldn’t put it off any longer. That was when I found out I was wrong. A writer is not what I wanted to be.

We all have stories to tell, stories we are eager to share. Sometimes they are just the anecdotes of our day’s adventures. Our audience can simply be the friends or family who will listen to us, who validate our storytelling with their response. They care. That caring means our stories matter. We matter.

Many of us have greater stories to share, stories that come out of how we feel and where we have been, the narratives of our lives, the dreams of our imagination, the songs of our soul. We use words and images, poetry and paint, music and melody, trash and treasures. These are more, much more, than the anecdotes of our day, although the anecdotes often weave together into a greater cloth. We yearn to share beyond just our family and friends.

We need for people to care about our stories, our voices. Blurred and belittled in the dizzying masses, who are we? What do we matter? Graffiti is a cry to be heard, to be noticed, to matter. Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, YouTube videos: millions of voices searching for appreciation, for validation, for importance. They shout, “I have something to say! Listen! Look! Care!”

To be ignored, taken down, painted over, rejected, not chosen, not shared, not liked: it silences the voice. The story does not matter; it is unwanted. What are we other than our stories? What are our lives if not the narratives, built of dreams and memories, that we tell of ourselves? If no one cares, if no one wants to hear, it is a kind of oblivion.

We will do anything to be heard. We will put our own stories aside and try to discover what other people want to hear, what they want to see, to try to win their attention. We create images for ads, contrive fluff for greeting cards, compose jingles and sing other peoples’ songs, crank out articles, write for the market. We present a face to the world that the world wants to see, carefully crafted, pleasing, inauthentic. Because, maybe, if we are good enough at that, we can get them to pay attention to what really matters, the stories from our lives and our hearts.

They pay me for telling the stories they want to hear. This is what being a writer is. This is not what I wanted. Is it what you wanted? This collateral circus of editing, publishing, promotion, marketing? Or did you just want to share what sings inside of you? The gasp of wonder? The grasp of an epiphany? To weep the tears and see your emotions echoed in the eyes of those who listen and care? Know it matters? That you matter?

All around us, behind the social smile and cheerful chatter, hide small tragedies and triumphs. The person you know; the person you don’t know; the uncountable parade of eyes that glance by you every day. The anonymous busker on the crowded corner, the unknown author in the empty bookstore. Fragile, unheard and unimportant. Graffiti in the subway, voices crying out, passed over by weary travelers whose own tales remain embryonic, unbirthed.

A story told in the woods, with no one around to hear it.

What happens while you’re making other plans

14 07 2014


This year’s conventions recede behind me.  My write up of Readercon is here, for those who are interested.  No photos.  Not much to say.

It’s partly due to exhaustion, I think.  I am an introvert trying to masquerade as an extrovert, and mostly getting away with it, but often not, and always at a price.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the experience of being with people; it’s just draining.  It makes me want to disappear into the White Mountains with a backpack.

Now things have gotten more complicated.  I’m dealing with a major crisis on the home front, a battle I’ve been fighting for a couple of years now.  I don’t know where I will be when I get dumped out of the shaker, and there’s a remote possibility that somehow it will eventually turn out all right.  But at the moment it looks like I’m losing the battle.

I’ve got all kinds of commitments all over the place, all sorts of odd balls in the air.  That’s the problem with freelancing.  If you’ve got a regular job, you go to work and it’s all there.  Me, I’m in a dozen different places.  I’ve got several websites and organizations that I’m involved with, several different publications that I submit to regularly, many of which don’t overlap in the slightest.  I’ve got two short stories and a novel that have been accepted for publication and I’m waiting on the edits.    And there’s the submissions I haven’t heard back from yet, and I may have to query.  Plus the new leads I ought to follow up.

And suddenly damn near all my energy is getting sucked into trying not to fall off my unicycle as I peddle through the war zone of this domestic meltdown.  So far so good.  Some days I even feel like I’m equal to it all.  No problem.  I can handle this.  Then I lose my balance and start wobbling frantically.

It’s Life, and it’s what happens.  You think you’ve got it all figured out, all the ducks nicely lined up and contingency plans for the stragglers, then a bowling ball rolls through.

Life, damn it.  But it still beats the alternative.

OctoPi: the Face-Time Continuum

1 07 2014
From the Concardia set designed by Michael Whitehouse.

From the Concardia set designed by Michael Whitehouse.

I’ve been fond of Pi-Con since I first discovered this friendly little con held in Enfield, CT.  Some of my best con experiences have been there, or on route there.  Also, some of my most memorable experiences (e.g., Hurricon).  Being invited to 8Pi-Con as their “Guest of Awesome” was surprising and flattering, so I was especially looking forward to it this year.  And, once again, they managed to out-do themselves with friendliness, hospitality, and intellectual chocolate.

Our hosts made sure there was something for everyone.  Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

Our hosts made sure everyone felt welcome — no matter who they were or what their tastes might be. Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

A newbie to Pi-Con came to the post-con feedback session and spoke up to say how much he enjoyed the con.  He said he was nervous at first, but was welcomed almost instantly and swept up in the experience.  “It isn’t as all cliquish,” he said.  And I think that may be one of the most important things that characterizes Pi-Con.  If there’s a knot of folks talking about something, and you wander over, it isn’t like what I’ve experienced at some cons, where you’re given a fishy, evaluating eye, being judged whether you are qualified to join the conversation.  Instead, you are much more likely to get noticed and dragged in with eager inclusion.  Pi-Con is the convention equivalent of a conga line.  Everybody is having a ball, and they’ll pull you out of your chair or your spot in the shadows against the wall and cheer you into the line.

As Guest of Awesome, I got included in the planning stages this year.  I helped out here and there over the prior weeks, not doing all that much.  Then I saw the frantic posts just before the con as they wracked their collective brains trying to figure out how to transport some large pieces of equipment from their storage facility in Somerville, MA to the con.  I hate driving anywhere within nuclear blast distance of Boston, but realized they were in a pickle and I could help.  So I ended up going down a day early to meet a couple of the staff folk and get seven-foot grids strapped to the roof of my car and every spare inch inside packed with boxes and sound equipment.  It all went smoothly and I made it to the hotel by nine o’clock Thursday evening.

photo courtesy Lisa Amowitz

photo courtesy Lisa Amowitz

I was rooming with last year’s Pi-Con Guest of Awesome, Broad Universe president Trisha Wooldridge (she’s also a senior editor for Spencer Hill Press and a published writer).  So there was an awful lot of awesome in that room.  What made it even grander was that we were in Rm. 221.  Of course a “B” had to be added to it.  (And, in classic Pi-Con spirit, when someone on the staff noticed this, they had to renumber the Board Room next door as “221A”.)

Trisha and I were joined by Lisa Amowitz, another author with Spencer Hill and a panelist at the convention.  Trisha and Lisa were there early, too, participating in a publisher’s retreat in the same hotel.  So we settled in the room that evening together, staying up until one am drinking Scotch and playing Cards Against Humanity.

Stories for every taste and disposition, from Broad Universe and Spencer Hill Press

Stories for every taste and disposition, from Broad Universe and Spencer Hill Press

The first day of a con is like when the circus comes to town.  Everything is exciting as the roustabouts set up the tents and the animals roar and trumpet (in our case, it was vendors setting up shop and tech people roaring and trumpeting at one another (and at con chair Jeff Warner) making sure sound systems worked and rooms had the equipment presenters needed.  By mid-afternoon the registration table was in place and attendees were starting to arrive.  Some panelists rolled in at the last minute.  I was out for a stroll and encountered David Larochelle driving in circles in the parking lot searching for a space less than an hour before his “How to Think Good” panel (with Ari Alpert, Carl Fink and Dr. James Prego; I checked out the panel and it was good indeed, the discussion centering around common errors in thinking and how to use the methodologies of science to correct them.)

Broad Universe knows how to feed a party.  Photo courtesy Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Broad Universe knows how to feed a party. Photo courtesy Kristi Petersen Schoonover

There are, of course parties, as there are at any con worth its salt.  The place to be Friday night was the Broad Universe party ( held in our room in Dealer’s Row which doubled as the Broad Universe and Spencer Hill Press outlet).  Heads up, people:  If you ever go to a con and see that Broad Universe is having a party, you must go and bring your appetite.  They always have the best food.  No bowls of taco chips and salsa from a jar; no supermarket trays of boring veggies and dip.  BU offers things like Oreo cookie cheesecakes, cucumber sandwiches, pickled asparagus, eggplant dip, and other delicacies.  And chocolate.  Always chocolate, in assorted varieties, with and without nuts.  Actually, there are always nuts.  They are generally in charge of the room.

At one point we had a magician named Jeff Kempton pop in.  He was with the burlesque show going on the “main tent”, but ended up coming back to the BU party after his gig to wow us with his tricks and comic patter.  Should you ever need a magician, he does not have a website, but you can contact him by email at

Overheard: "The wifi in my dress doesn't work."  This was the dress.  And she got it to work.

Overheard: “The wifi in my dress doesn’t work.” This was the dress. And she got it to work. Fabulous frock designed and worn by Artist Guest of Honor, Sarah Morrison.

My schedule was rather a marathon, so I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a lot of the events and panels going on, like mask-making, the drum circle, filking, costuming, the sari-wrapping workshop, and belly-dancing for nerds, not to mention the other vendors selling cool books, outfits, dorkware and gear.  For a small con, it was amazing all the stuff going on.

At 11am on Saturday I had the privilege of doing an interview with Allen Steele, the writer guest of honor who, aside from being a prolific and multiple award-winning author, is a tireless promoter of the human exploration of space.  He was easy to interview.  I just needed to wind him up and let him go.  I fed him the topics he loves to discuss: Space, first contact, and how we are going to get there.  With the US government backing away from space in an appalling abdication of intelligent leadership responsibility, it will fall to the private sector and perhaps cooperative ventures among various other governments to get the job done.  First contact may be risky (Stephen Hawking has warned that it may not go at all well for us) but Allen is cautiously optimistic.

We had a few minutes left at the end of the hour, so I mentioned that Allen had done a short stint as a Washington correspondent back in the 80s, and asked him what he took away from that.  He grinned, talked a bit about how he arrived there with high hopes, only to beat a hasty retreat.  Then he told us the story of how his picture ended up on the front page of the newspaper as he shuffled past the White House, apparently bent into the teeth of a wild winter storm going on at the time.  What the photographer did not know was that Allen was not fighting against the wind, but fighting for his life, attempting to give himself the Heimlich maneuver after wolfing down too quickly a hot dog purchased from a street vendor.  (He succeeded, which why he lives to tell the tale.)

Allen Steele, Vikki Ciaffone, Catt Kingsgrave and Grant Carrington talking about Blue Collar Science Fiction.  Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

Allen Steele, Vikki Ciaffone, Catt Kingsgrave and Grant Carrington talking about Blue Collar Science Fiction. Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

After that great beginning, I went on to a blur of panels and events, including the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading (which I recorded for a future BroadPod podcast) and the Panel in the Pool, which is a tradition moderated by Jeff Warner and set literally in the hotel pool with participants in bathing suits.  Watery subjects are discussed, this time the remarkable news, recently released, about Ctenophores or comb jellyfish, which it turns out aren’t really jellyfish at all.  In fact, genomic sequencing reveals that they are from a different branch of the Earthly evolutionary tree altogether.  Among other things that make them remarkable, they have evolved a nervous system that uses a completely different chemical language, which developed independently from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Photo courtesy of Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Alligator attack. Photo courtesy of Kristi Petersen Schoonover

We spent a happy hour splashing in the pool and discussing the implications for alien life forms and where in the solar system (or indeed in the universe) we may be likely to find alien life.  Crikey the alligator, as is also the tradition, lurked nearby in the bushes, but was silent on the subject.  He was waiting.  To attack.

The elegant Steampunk Tea, to which I had been invited, was directly after the Panel in the Pool, so I wrapped myself in my Dr. Who bathrobe and hustled on over.  I felt terribly out of place among all the posh costumes and assorted frippery, but in good Pi-Con form, I was made to feel welcome by organizer Deb Chowdhury and the experts who were serving proper cups of tea to go with our scones, fruit and clotted cream.  I tried not to drip on the scones.

Incidentally, I owe a great debt to Jeff Warner.  He knows why.

George William Claxton, Vikki Ciaffone, ML Brennan and Roberta Rogow talk about Uncle Abdul's Planet Emporium.  Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

George William Claxton, Vikki Ciaffone, ML Brennan and Roberta Rogow talk about Uncle Abdul’s Planet Emporium. Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

My panels all went well, with interested and engaged audiences (and we didn’t have to adjourn to the bar once due to the members of the panel outnumbering the audience, as is con protocol).  Thanks to Lisa Evans, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Kate Kaynak, Dr. James Prego, Grant Carrington, Allen Steele, Mario Di Giacomo, Ellen Larson, and Michelle Wexelblat who contributed their opinions and expertise to those conversations.  Our last one for Saturday was “Asexuality: the Ultimate Taboo?” which took place at 9 that evening.  I was pessimistic about the attendance, seeing as we were up against “Machinery of Joy”, a panel on robot sex, with Grant Carrington, Jennifer Pelland and George W. Claxton, very stiff competition indeed (ahem).  Ellen, Michelle and I sat at the table, gloomily resigned to being upstaged, then watched in astonishment as the room began to fill up.  To our amazement it was the other panel that had to give up and adjourn for lack of interest.  Dear me.  I did feel badly for Jen, George and Grant, but I must confess, our victory was sweet.  What was even better though, was what happened at the panel.  It was one of those rare and wonderful occasions where people had come, not knowing quite why or what to expect, and left with profound insights about themselves and others.

TJ Wooldridge reding from her latest release, "Silent Starsong", at the Broad universe Rapid Fire Reading.  Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

TJ Wooldridge reading from her latest release, “Silent Starsong”, at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

I know I learned a lot, and was frankly stunned to find out just how many people out there identify as, or at least can relate to some aspect of being asexual.  Individuals admitted to feeling awkward and pressured into entering into sexual relationships with partners they are romantically involved with, even though they are far more into it for the love and companionship than for the sex.  It’s expected; if you don’t desire someone physically, they presume it isn’t “true love.”  I honestly had no idea, and I had the impression many members of the audience didn’t know it was a thing, either.  But they started “coming out” all over the place.  Because this was the last panel of the day, and no one else needed the room, many folks hung around to talk long after.  Michelle Wexelblat, who is a clinical social worker, was deeply interested and moved down into the audience to talk with them.  I stayed for a while, but then had to go.  It had been a long day and I was burned out.  Besides, Barfleet was calling.

Yours truly, photo courtesy Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Yours truly, photo courtesy Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Okay, I’ve ranted about Barfleet often enough in past post-con posts that I won’t bore my readers with more of it here.  Suffice to say, they host parties at select conventions that can’t be beat.  Music, fabulous drinks, and an atmosphere which fits perfectly with the Pi-Con tradition of friendly, safe and inclusive.  No cameras allowed, because they want folks to feel safe letting themselves relax and explore the perhaps naughtier parts of their nature.  No harassment allowed either, again, because they are determined that their guests feel safe.  Operation Hammond is on call (“Nerds helping nerds in times of need”) for those who have a bit too much fun, or make the mistake of sampling an excess of horta or speaking aloud the name of Y-T (I just learned the significance of this Barfleet drinking ritual and am sworn to secrecy).

There are a number of Barfleet chapters spread across the country; our local one is the UBS Shameless, with Captain Rhandom Bhagczech who, by the way, recently had a baby.  (The Captain brought the bairn by earlier in the day and I got to meet her.  I’m not much for babies, but damned if this wasn’t cutest little bugger I ever did see.)  There was much speculation as to whether the party would come off as planned, after multiple debacles at Arisia.  But they did everything right this time, and it went off without a hitch.  They had the customary raffle for charity at the end of the night, and although I did not win the official UBS Shameless shirt, I managed to bribe the woman who did win it to surrender it to me, and there was much rejoicing.  Their regular DJ was not on hand, but they improvised very nicely using a laptop and good speakers, so although they did not have the Safety Dance, I was able to request it by supplying it on my iPod.  (Because I always request the Safety Dance at Barfleet.)

Vikki Ciaffone, Allen Steele, Trisha Wooldridge, Kate Kaynak and Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Developing Deep Characters in Spec-Fic panel.  Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

Vikki Ciaffone, Allen Steele, Trisha Wooldridge, Kate Kaynak and Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Developing Deep Characters in Spec-Fic panel. Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed (not hungover, I’ll have you know!) sleep-deprived and suffering from Last Day at the Con syndrome.  Although the consuite generally does not open until 9am, I took a chance and wandered down there at 8:30 and lo!  What to my wondering eyes did appear but fresh coffee, scones, and other assorted yummies. I wept with joy and praised the name of Terry Franklin, who manages the consuite.  Bless you, bless you, dear Terry!

"Fiction has no Place in Our Curriculum" panel, L to R: Ken Kingsgrave-Ernstein, Justine Graykin, Kristi Petersen Schoonover.  Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

“Fiction has no Place in Our Curriculum” panel, L to R: Ken Kingsgrave-Ernstein, Justine Graykin, Kristi Petersen Schoonover. Photo courtesy Lori Claxton

Fortified for the day, I went forth to my final three panels where I Fell Behind the J-curve with Grant Carrington, Ari Alpert and David Larochelle, Built Better Gods with George Claxton and Vikki Ciaffone, and protested Fiction having no place in the Common Core Curriculum with Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Ken Kingsgrave-Ernstein, and Kristi Petersen Schoonover.  (I felt impoverished with merely two names at that last one.)   I had gone into the Common Core panel fully prepared with all sorts of info provided by my husband, Larry, who is an activist teacher of middle school Language Arts and working hard to raise awareness about high-stakes standardized testing in general and Common Core in particular.  (He’s a member of BAT — Badass Teacher Association — and will be a part of a march on DC late in July.)  But Kristi trumped me handily, coming in armed with reams of print-outs packed with facts and figures.  It was a lively, heartening discussion and a great way to wind up the con for me.  I left feeling that there’s hope for public education after all, and with luck and stubborn persistence we may be able to turn the corporate tide.

Other interesting items for sale in the BU/SHP Dealer's Room.  Photo courtesy Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Other interesting items for sale in the BU/SHP Dealer’s Room. Photo courtesy Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Back to the Broad Universe Dealer’s Room, where there were tasty snacks and steady traffic.  At one point several members of the Barfleet crew, including the Captain, came down to say hello and buy books.  They picked up copies of my own Archimedes Nesselrode, and cleaned us out of UnCONventional, the con-themed anthology put out by Spencer Hill Press which mentions Barfleet in the acknowledgements as the inspiration for the collection (and includes a short story of mine).  The Captain also shared the beta prototype of a Cards Against Humanity deck they are working on called “Oh the Humanity” which will be, of course, Barfleet-themed.  More on that as news comes in, but I am tickled to say I have my own card in it.

Alas, all too quickly it was over.  At the feedback session the praises of the staff were sung, for there were remarkably few snafus.  The torch was passed from Jeff Warner to Michael Whitehouse, who will be 9Pi-Con’s chaircreature, and dates for the next year were announced: mark your calendars for April 24-26, 2015.  Michael Whitehouse, by the way, aside from handling registration and other odds and ends, created the Concardia deck for the con, with beautifully designed cards (a representative sample is at the opening of this post).

Time to pack up and go home, and that would have been an uneventful business if not for the fact that I now needed to deliver back to storage that which I had earlier liberated for the event.  I found my way to the storage facility without incident, the gear was off-loaded and put away, and I received quick tips for how best to get back to the highway.  There my luck failed me. NY vs. Boston

Yes, it was partly due to fatigue, prolonged sleep-deprivation and general post-con mental fogginess on my part.  But it’s also largely due to Boston.  There are good reasons why many people, myself included, hate driving anywhere near Boston.  After studying my maps, my directions, struggling to identify unidentified streets, following signs for I-93 which led to intersections with no clue of which way to turn, getting trapped in cul-de-sacs and on one-way streets going the wrong way, I finally wept with joy as I achieved the ramp to the highway, going, blessedly, in the right direction.

There you have it, Octo-Pi summarized, which is a task roughly comparable to summarizing Proust.  A few other shout-outs to the folks who helped make this my best con ever: Inanna Arthen, who did the herculean job of figuring out the programming grid, Beck Prigot, for alligator wrangling, David Silber and Rick Kovalcik for grid wrangling, also Lisa Hertel, Abby Noyce, and Tom Traina for, well, stuff.  You, and Jeff and Debi and all the rest, you’re the ones who are awesome.  Not me.

See you next year.

Countdown to 8Pi-Con

19 06 2014


One week until I leave for Pi-Con, the friendliest little convention in New England, and quite possibly my favorite.  This year I’m particularly excited about going, as Pi-Con has invited me to be their Guest of Awesome.  I’ll be cruising down to Enfield, CT next Thursday, by way of Somerville, MA, where I’ll be taking on cargo to be transported to the convention.  Once at the hotel, I’ll be sharing a room with last year’s Guest of Awesome, Trisha Wooldridge, The President of Broad Universe.  Bring your sunglasses, folks, lest you be blinded by all that brilliance in one room.

My schedule, I must say, is rather daunting:

6:00pm     Reading Aloud Workshop
10:00pm   Reading (with Lisa Evans)
11:00am Interview with Allen Steele (Guest of Honor)
12:00pm  How Do We Make Cons Safe for Everyone? Lisa Evans, Justine Graykin, Shira Lipkin (M), Pygment, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert
2:00pm     Panel in the Pool: Aliens of the Seas Jeff Warner, Justine Graykin
3:00pm    Steampunk Tea
5:00pm     Saying ‘Hi’ and Other Forms of Social Interaction  Justine Graykin, Kate Kaynak, Dr. James Prego, Pygment (M)
6:00pm     The Line Between Realism and Boring  Grant Carrington, Mario Di Giacomo, Justine Graykin (M), Allen Steele
7:00pm    Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading
9:00pm  Asexuality: the Ultimate Sexual Taboo?  Justine Graykin (M), Ellen Larson, Pygment
10:00am Falling Behind the J-Curve  Ari Alpert, Grant Carrington, Justine Graykin (M), David Larochelle
11:00am Building Better Gods  Vikki Ciaffone, George W. Claxton (M), Justine Graykin
12:00pm Fiction has no Place in Our Curriculum  Justine Graykin, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Kristi Petersen Schoonover

As you can see, I’ll be sharing the mic with some mighty cool folks.  Friday I’ll be doing a workshop on reading aloud, helping folks to stop worrying and get past stage fright.  Then I get to do a demonstration with my own work.  Probably I’ll read from Archimedes Nesselrode yet again, although soon I’ll be switching to promote new work coming out soon.  How soon?  That question might best be asked of the NH Pulp folks, whose Love Free or Die” anthology (including my short story “Unbranding”) is imminent.  Hoped to have copies of that for the convention, but alas, ’tis not to be.  I will, however, have copies of Roberta Gregory’s True Cat Toons, real stories of real cats and their people, which includes the tale of my Twin Black Demons of Chaos.

I get to start off a marathon on Saturday by interviewing SF writer Allen Steele, the Guest of Honor.  After that, it’s a gallop from room to pool to room.  That’s right, after a busy morning I’ll be relaxing in the pool for a hydrated panel which Jeff  Warner describes thusly: ‘Recent reports from neurobiologists on the results of genomic sequencing of comb jellyfish reveal that Ctenophores are from a different branch of the Earthly evolutionary tree. “Parallel Evolution of a Nervous System but with a completely different chemical language, evolving independently from the rest of the animal kingdom.”  Join us Floaters, Sinkers, and Punters in a giant container of DiHydrogen Monoxide as we generate lots of hot air!’  About as close to alien life forms on our own world as we can get.

Directly after that, we’ll be attending the Steampunk Tea, and endeavor not to drip on the scones.  Thus refreshed, I shall wax eloquent on the topics of Social Interaction for the Shy and Awkward, walking the fine line between making your work realistic but still surprising and exciting (with Allen Steele!), recording the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, and winding up speaking the unspeakable, namely, that maybe everybody doesn’t do it after all, and it’s actually okay.  After that I am going to Barfleet and chug the horta.

Then, on Sunday, there’s “Falling behind the J-curve”, which is all about dealing with technological innovation that outpaces one’s ability to keep up.  Let’s face it, my brain plasticity ain’t what it used to be.  At 11 am I look forward to building better gods, and it’s about time.  The old ones are getting pretty worn out.  Lastly I and my fellow panelists will talk about the decline of the importance of literature and fictional narratives in school curricula, and the assault on education in general.  Science Fiction, where we have dreamed some of our greatest and bravest dreams, has always been marginalized in favor of Literature.  But now even Literature is taking a back seat as Common Core tries to cram non-fiction down the throats of students whether it’s developmentally appropriate or not.

There’s way more, like costumes and a drum circle, and Dealers peddling their wares, authors selling their books, parties and filking, gaming and LARPs, and darn it all, I hope I can fit in a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity.  All with the friendliest gaggle of geeks you’re ever likely to come across.  So, if you’re free next weekend and live in the greater Enfield area, come check it out.  (Here’s where it’s at.)

Now, I got to pack up my Winged Snake.  I’ll report back after the con.



Are you a boy or a girl?

16 06 2014

Right Bathroom?

There is something deeply hardwired in us that demands an answer to that question.  It is the first thing we take note of whenever we meet a new person.  At birth or even before, it’s the first thing to be established, the first, biggest piece of your identity.  Even when meeting somebody’s pet, we want to get the pronoun right.  To help us along, we color-code our children and choose pink and purple when buying a collar for our female dog or cat.

There are silly but very telling examples of this.  In the popular online game Team Fortress 2 there is a character called Pyro who goes about heavily covered head to boot in fireproof gear.  The persona for the character is that of a frightening, psychotic maniac who scares even fellow teammates.  In a particularly perverse and intriguing move, Valve, the creators of TF2, are deliberated coy about Pyro’s gender.  They salt the backstory of the game with “clues” that imply Pyro might be female.  The result is fascinating.

There is an on-going debate about it on discussion boards that won’t go away in spite of several efforts to end it by definitively “proving” that Pyro is male.  All tongue-in-cheek of course, and yet some folks get extremely upset and adamant about it.  The very suggestion that this character might not be clearly defined as male seems somehow threatening, and Valve refuses to settle it.

Why does this matter so to people?

A particularly butch lesbian working as a waitress gets asked by a very young child, “Are you a boy or a girl?”  The child’s parents are horrified, but in truth they’d be asking the same thing if they weren’t too polite.  The question becomes an aggressive accusation, dripping with contempt, when asked by people who wish to imply that a person’s gender ambiguity is immoral and upsetting.  Even commentators who are trying to be even-handed get all caught up in the pronoun problem.  Do they call a transgender person by their birth gender or their assumed gender?  Which do you use for a cross-dresser?  It becomes a dilemma of grand proportion to people.

As I shared what I was writing with my son, since I was making reference to one of his favorite games, he rolled his eyes and sighed.  “You call them whatever they want to be called,” he said like it was obvious.  “What does it matter?”

Bless his heart.

One hopes that we can, as a society, someday reach that same level of equanimity with respect to gender.  But I think that may be the best that we can hope for.  Even if we are content to let gender identification be a matter of self-declaration and not imposed from without; even if we move beyond standard gender roles and color-coding our pets and kids (and it’s a perverse blow for equality of the sexes that fans can seriously entertain the possibility that Pyro could be female); we still need to have the label.  At our deepest level, we don’t want a genderless pronoun.

However we arrive at the conclusion, we need to know if it’s a boy or a girl.


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