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Les Semaines

01.02.11

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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Neile Who Knows Everyone

This week began with a horribly busy Sunday: first a meeting of our fiction workshop group, then a Clarion West workshop committee meeting and dinner, then a Clarion West general meeting. I was gone from the house from 11:00 am until 9:00 pm or so and no matter how much I enjoy workshops and working for Clarion West, meetings exhaust me.

The week continued its frantic pace at work, with me trying to get everything ready for two and then three visiting candidates, and then at the end of the week I developed a nasty cold, nasty enough to make me leave work early Thursday and to spend most of Friday sleeping. Things were so crazy at work that I did have to go in for a half hour of essential work on Friday, but I felt so lousy I asked Jim to drive me there. I got done what I needed to, but barely, and then went home to sleep again.

Tamar came over later to eat dinner and watch a video with us, but I felt barely able to be social. Luckily she'd come over recently when she wasn't well, so she knew I wasn't up for much. Saturday I was feeling better, and a group of friends were visiting so they came over and we sat around talking, then we went out for dinner together. They were going to go on to hear a jazz band play but I wasn't up for that, Instead Jim and I went to return some books at Barnes and Noble and to use up Christmas gift certificates there. We got insulted by the manager who approved the book returns (which made me furious--not a way to get me to be a return customer there) and got a couple of books and got out of there. Exhausted.

Funny, those visiting friends. Both from the ecto mailing list. One of them (Neal) has been here to visit several times, and the other (Jeff) I've never met in person before, but of course I felt as though I've known him for years, and in ways I have. And the friend they brought with them, even funnier. Years ago when I was doing a reading at the University Bookstore for Spells For Clear Vision, so it has to have been about '95, Jeff asked her to come to the reading--they've known each other since grade school. She introduced herself, and we talked for a second but I never saw her again. Then in about 1997 (or was it 1996, the year I attended?) we ran into each other at a Clarion West party. Then about a year ago at a party at our friends' Chuck and Bob--she and Bob both work at Amazon. Then in 1999 I saw her in Providence at World Fantasy Con. And we have other friends in common, too: a student in the programs I work for that I really like got to know better than most students, the musician I've been in touch with from Two Loons For Tea interviewed her for her Amazon job. Very odd, and kind of funny. At dinner they were accusing me of knowing everyone. Ha!

Today I'm making up for doing too much yesterday, though except for a persistent tickle and aching torso muscles from coughing I feel much better.

It doesn't feel like much of a eventful week. Good visit with our visiting friends, though I felt dulled by my cold. Good visit with Tamar and the great news that she's going to shortly be moving across town to an apartment only a mile or two from our house. My study is a mess of things I've neglected for a week, the cats are sleepy, it's a clear cold sunny winter days like many we've been having here recently (not the expected Seattle winter weather), and I spent a heck of a lot of time reading children's books while I was ill, and so my reading section this week is much longer than usual. When I'm not well I tend to reach for something that I think might not tax my weary brain too much, so children's books are my drug of choice. I do read a lot of them anyway--I love how magical the best of them can be, even the ones that are not meant to be. It was reading young adult books that really got me interested in writing fiction, and my first novel was a young adult fantasy which someday I really should finish and try to sell again.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

Not a particularly full listening week, as I spent too much of it ill. But the entry for Two Loons for Tea is now onsite on The Ectophiles' Guide and the disc is now available at amazon.com. Go there and buy it.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

I finally read Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, a book that I've seen recommended many times. This is the story of a biographer who gets taken along on a time travel trip because of his expertise on Coleridge and his ability to go along with the trip in the first place. But then he finds himself stranded in the early 19th century, tangled in a web of gang rivalries, the leader of the time travelling trip's true agenda, an ancient body-stealing character called Dog-Face Joe, ancient magicians from the time of Egypt and all their minions, and his own ignorance of how to deal with life in history. It's an odd and tangled book, and it's hard not to root for its anti-hero bumbling his way through the landmines that surround him. It's an odd and inventive novel, and thus I can see why so many like it so much, and while I enjoyed reading it, it's certainly not a novel I will be reading again.

William Nicholson's The Wind Singer is a novel marketed as young adult, which has received quite a lot of positive critical attention. It's the story of a brother and sister who live in a strange and repressive land--a land which has become rigidly bound by cast stratas decided by periodic examination of each member of a family, and people's fortunes rise or fall with their ratings. The sister is rebellious, and her rebellion causes the fortunes of her family to first totter and then fall, but she and her brother escape their walled city--bound into unknown territory to seek the metal gadget that, inserted in a huge and ancient sculpture, the Wind Singer, will free them from the tyranny of their society's mindset. This tale is told in a distant way, and while it has layers of allegorical/symbolic meaning, the characterizations are flat and uninvolving. It's a novel to read mostly for plot and ideas, and while in some ways I found it charming, I do find those story with the flavour of fable sometimes almost annoying because I worry they're always trying to teach me something.

I can't remember why I placed a library hold on Sumner Locke Elliott's Edens Lost, I think because it was recommended by some of the same people who suggested Mary Renault's non historical novels. This is set the late 1930s in Australia, and is about what happends when an orphaned teenager, Angus, at a loose end when his aunt dies, is invited for an extended visit by his mother's best friend to stay with her family in her old Victorian hotel in the Blue Mountains. It's the story of the family--the mother utterly focused on the father, the father considered a brilliant judge but having had a breakdown and retired, the children trying to get the mother's attention. Angus finds the beautiful mother utterly charming and falls for her but he doesn't understand the complex family dynamics, and this magical world suddenly falls apart on him. This is the kind of novel that buries you in haunting family secrets and relationships--as complex as real life, though perhaps more polished. I found it intriguing.

Celia Rees's young adult novel, Witch Child, begins as Mary is watching her grandmother burned at the stake as a witch in 17th-century England. Whisked away in a carriage from the crowd by a strange woman who turns out to be her mother who is also a witch, she finds herself packed off in a shipload of Puritans to join the colony in New England. There she has to try to make a place for herself, though she is not part of the congregation. And in the New World when her group goes to join a strict splinter group, she goes along with them. This is a fascinating look at a world where superstition collides with religion, old world with new, liberation with slavery, magic with the drudgery of scraping out a living, insider with outsider. And most lovingly written. While I found the framing conceit a little awkward--supposedly this is a girl's journal found hidden in a colonial quilt when the journals of the time I've come across read nothing like this--I found the rest of it utterly involving. The details of personality and the historic time were particularly captivating.

Though I'm quite tired of Arthurian stories, I began Jane Yolen's Young Merlin Trilogy of children's books with high hopes. These are three slim novels about Merlin as a child (I read the first one, Passager, in November, and the comments are in my November 12th entry). Like Passager, both Hobby and Merlin are lightly but deftly handled, beautifully written, and utterly magic and evocative. A delightful series.

People have been recommending Peter Dickinson's Eva as the best of his children's novels to me for several years. I found a used copy a while back and it has languished in my stack of books to read for quite a while, and it took this cold to get me ready to pull it out. It's the story of a young girl whose brain has been transplanted from her comatose body into that of a young female chimpanzee, and is about her coming to terms with being both human-minded and chimpanzee-bodied. Set in a future world where humans have crowded out almost all the other early species, it's a dark view of the human versus the animal and what it takes for a hybrid and for animals to survive being human curiosities at the end of our history. Dark and intriguing, but a little hard to recommend. It may turn out to be a book that haunts me, and part of what's blocking me from liking it better might be my phobia about non-human primates.

The Seventh Tower was written by Garth Nix by copyrighted by Lucasfilm which means it was a work-for-hire, but Garth Nix is such a good writer that he made even this material not his own come alive. This is a children's novel about a fantasy world where every family needs to have sunstones to maintain their status (echoes of The Wind Singer) and young Tal climbs a tower to steal one for his family, but falls off into a strange world he'd never heard of before. The world is full of fun fantasy details, but is only the first of a longer series, and the ending was rather abrupt. I can't decide whether or not to buy the rest of them, especially when I know that Garth Nix has a new novel of his own coming out soon. This was a good fantasy adventure story, though.

I've read Canadian writer Beth Goobie's excellent poetry before, but never one of her novels, so when I saw before wings the last time I was in a Canadian bookstore, I picked it up. I should have known how good it would be. This is the story of Adrien, a fifteen-year-old girl who had barely survived a brain aneurysm a few years earlier and now lived in the shadow of her expectations of another one. Her parents arrange for her to spend the summer at a camp that her aunt runs, and resentful, morbid, and self-centered yet still compassionate, imaginative, and observant, she arrives at the camp prepared to hate it. The only thing that captures her attention at first are the five spirits, rolling in the waves of the lake, that seem to recognize her. This is a beautifully written story, and one of the few times in a young adult novel where I have actually believed in the emotional change of the main character over the course of the story. That's impressive, and the story is just a plain good read. I thought I was tired of the resentful teen story, but this outshines them all, especially in the way the fantasy elements of the story are woven into the whole tale and are not simply the overlaid as a lesson for the protagonist.

Welwyn Wilton Katz's Out of the Dark is another story of a resentful teenager. Here a young boy has watched his mother's murder by carjackers as he waited in the vehicle for her, and afterwards his father moves him and his brother from their home in Ottawa to rural Newfoundland. Always fascinated by Vikings, Ben begins fantasizing the tale of a Viking shipbuilder, Tor, as he alienates all the few other children in the area, including his own younger brother, and concentrates on building a model of a Viking ship to sail on a lake near the site of the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows nearby. Had I not just read before wings I might have been more impressed with this novel, but here Ben's change seemed amazingly sudden and his acceptance of his mother's death forced by the tale of the Viking that he imagines. While parts of this were intriguing, I found myself more annoyed with Ben than sympathizing with him.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

Not a good writing week. No, not at all.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

November 1978

1001. Line-circle-circle-line
Nov. 10

     And I said O Yes
     This wind carries something in it of winter. It tastes like the ice, the icy sunlight today. Brittle brightness of late.
     The feeling of this foreign land. The foreign dream I have just woken out of.
     I have decided for myself
     Yes, this world I can live in.
     I am enough.
     This has been more than I could control.
     There are loves I have and money doesn't matter.
     My mind wanders
     My essay is not being written, so I must start to do it.
     Work soon, hanging over my head, depressingly.
     And O, the bright icy sunlight of today.

1002. A day waiting
Nov. 11/78

A day waiting to get essay written. This is a day I've felt many times.
     The record player going.
     My books spread around me.
     Condensation on the window.
     Traffic heard but unseen.
     Empty paper.
     Time passes and I don't know how.
     Three-thirty already!
     What happens to these days, the ones that are unspent?
     O dear, light and shadow
     sun and rain
     Dreams of hare and water
     The pressure of sleep
     Uh hum.
     Let's leave it.

1003. Rant
Nov. 12 (12:45 am)

     Haven't done anything yet.
     Nothing will touch me.
     Must write a Rhupunt.
     Must die.
     Run for the shadows.
     Silly records.
     Want to escape.
     Nothing will make me go.
     I won't.
     Yesterday
     write
     O piff
     I am going nowhere
     Over and over again.
     MacDonald, Morris.
     fantasy never ending,
     spinning
     some morning
     yawn
     eye-tired
     yet I must push it
     sat all down doing nothing
     delaying this writing
     what an incredible waste of time.
     Shit.

1004. Please send news

     We get no news in this country,
     We are cut off
     Send a photograph, of you,
     of someone else,
     here the people have no faces,
     nothing to unify their features
     Please send a small box of sunshine
     for me to hoard in this rain

1005. Body lies

     My body likes drained in polls, shaking. Thudding heart.
     I've come a long nowhere
     I've come from a long way to nowhere
     I would write this in a letter
               earthquakes
               lights on so would
               not walk into one

1006. Dream on (what you say)
Nov. 20/78

     They only came for the islands
     [Leonard Cohen song "Who by Fire" omitted mixed with a line from Steeleye Span's "Elf Call".]

1007. Basik boar [1]

O dear, boredome again. Yawn. this is yer basik boar.
     What have you got to say, Joanne?
     I'm sitting in a bubble with a lot of buzz going on around outside
     Wow. I'm sitting in a vacuum with a lot of yawn.
     What an odd man
     He has a Lord's treasury on his desk.
     Could it mean anything of import?
     I think so. I think he's a Christian, of a sort.
     I quite like him. He's kind of cute--odd but amusing.

     Amusing definitely. Good to talk to in office, better than listening in class. Shall I jog and let my Hyde out? (Heck, no, I think my hide needs Hyding.) I'm getting silly. Want to go and trap out old men who trample little girls?
     No, I've got to go to the bank & work on my classic essay--I'm skipping 2 hours of French today to work on it so I can go out tonight. What a devoted student, eh?
     Impressive! I'm going home to pick up a letter, and maybe start my overdue essay or my overdue assignment. (Sad--triste.) I've got to go to (ugh!) work tonight. (Whimper, howl.) Maybe I'll go and commit crimes of self-indulgence (my room-mate made cake.)
     Weight Watchers says: that's punishment, not pleasure! Self-indulge non-fatteningly (sleep!)
     Tum tummy tum tum.

1008. Song 1/2 continued

[Rest of lyrics from "Who By Fire" omitted.]

1009. So tired

O, I am so very tired of it all--work, school, pushing myself always pushing. I need to rest. I feel half-overcome. And now Randy has disappeared--and left me sad. I am sad for him. I wish he would have talked to me, at least seen me this past week, but to see him I have to pursue him. He got very angry at me for telling Paul about Amway 2. Oh, so tricky. I don't get it. I know why, but it is so silly. O Randy, if you only knew the real hurt behind that. I am too tired. [Two lines from "Who By Fire" omitted.]
     Fogged out by rain and sheer exhaustion.


NOTES

1. = basic bore

2. Randy wanted me to join him in an Amway distributorship. Not my thing.

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