Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Knife of Dreams

Oh, the haughtiness of "well-read" people when they talk about science-fiction or fantasy. It is a thing to behold.

Apparently, the folks at work don't know that I'm a great big nerd. I guess that's not surprising now that I think about it. How would they know? But I had a tough morning and so I needed a brain-break at lunch. I'm an hourly employee and so have to take a half-hour unpaid break. Normally, there are other folk in the kitchen with me as I eat, but the last couple of days, people have been eating at their desks. (As a side note, am I the only person in the world who thinks that if there is more work for me to do than can get done in 40 hours, that's my manager's problem? I mean, seriously, pay me a salary and pay me more if you want me to eat lunch at my desk and work unpaid overtime. I'll go back to teaching if I want to do that much work.) So, I took my book with me to help me stop thinking for a little while.

Now, last night I started Book 11 of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. You remember, I read the series through again while I was on the island. Each book is about 950 pages long and it's the only fantasy series that I read. The others are just too formula for me. I can understand their appeal; I read Anne McAffrey for the same escapist reasons. But, somehow, hack-and-slash sword-and-sorcery just don't do it for me. I'd rather play Dungeons and Dragons for that. But, I was sitting in the kitchen at work, reading this giant book when one of the women asked what I was reading.

"Just my fiction." I really was looking for a brain-break and socializing wasn't part of it. This answer had deflected a colleague earlier. In fact, I continued after answering the question, "I need a brain-break today so thought I would disappear into it for awhile.

Well, apparently she didn't get the hint and probed a little deeper: "Wow, that's a big book," she said.

"Yeah, it's the 11th in what was supposed to be a 10-book series. I'm a little hooked."

"Well, it must be good; you're a pretty literary kind of person. What kind of book is it?"

"Well, a pretty literary friend recommended it to me, otherwise, I never would have read it because it's high fantasy. It's the only epic fantasy series that I read, though." Now, I wasn't hiding my nerdhood. In fact, I was kind of openly displaying it. By announcing that I discriminated between some kinds of fantasy and not others, I announced that I actually held an opinion about sub-sets of the science-fiction/fantasy genre. Opinions generally indicate interest, if not actual informed experience with a topic.

But she didn't hear any of that subtlety. She heard a denial that I normally read fantasy. And she proceeded to attempt to find common ground with me by making fun of those folks who do! She told a little story about this writers groups of about 12 people that she's in and how 3 or 4 of them are "science-fiction" types, hushing her voice in that way some people when they say the word, "cancer." She continued on about how the stories that they brought to the group were always so weird and when it came time for them to name the writing exercises, they always picked themes that she didn't like writing about.

I didn't correct her and I think she must have ultimately sensed my desire to get back to reading and she went away. But it got me thinking along lines that I've thought along before. What is it that makes science fiction and fantasy so objectionable to people? Is it really so different from other types of books?

I love science-fiction and fantasy because from a very young age, the images from the stories appealed to my kind of imagination. Some people can easily see themselves as cowboys or settlers or pirates. I see myself on a space colony or as a feisty pick-pocketing maid in a kingdom somewhere. (Needless to say, Little House on the Prairie has never held any appeal for me.) I loved stories of gnomes and ghosts and fairies and aliens and gods and monsters. My first library memory is of finding the Greek myths section in my schools library. I have an exact picture in my mind of what the quality of light coming in the window was and exactly the location on the shelf where I found it. The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was Return of the Jedi, when I must have been 5. I remember returning from the bathroom and seeing Admiral Ackbar turning around in his dentist chair with that white set behind him. That's means I'd already seen the first two on VHS when I was even younger. I guess, if I had to summarize the appeal of SF and fantasy, I have always loved that there could be something out there that was wonderful. Wonder-full. Full of wonder because it was not real. Because it couldn't actually happen, there were no limits and I loved it.

As I've grown older, I've also learned to love the trappings of a SF/fantasy lifestyle. I'm also fascinated by the psychological ramifications of myth and archetypes. Also, I was in high school during the rise of Bill Gates, when all-of-a-sudden it became cool to be a nerd and hipsters everywhere began boasting that they loved Tolkien before there was ever a movie other than the old cartoon. When it comes down to it, good science-fiction and fantasy stories are just stories about people. The basics of story always apply: a stranger came to town or a man went on a journey. In fact, SF and fantasy can capture the human experience better than regular fiction because the foreign nature of the setting allows the universally human characteristics of their behavior to stand out in stark relief.

I believe science fiction and fantasy are necessary for the other, more literary genres to exist. I felt this so strongly that I wrote my senior thesis in college on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Postmodernism, trying to prove that point. The inarguably toughest grade on campus, Dr. O'Gorman, doubted me heartily when I proposed the topic, showing all of the haughtiness that my colleague showed today. How would I ever find enough research to support my statement since it wasn't "real" literature? But, in the end, she gave me a A-, which she never would have done if I hadn't adequately proven my point.

I believe that the stories of science fiction and fantasy are necessary for our society to actually progress as time goes by rather than simply making lateral changes as the inevitable human curiosity brings more and more technology into the world. Ursula K. LeGuin said in 2001 that science fiction is relevant to all thinking people because "All times are changing times, but ours is one of massive, rapid moral and mental transformation. Archetypes turn to millstones, large simplicities get complicated, chaos become elegant, and what everybody knows is true turns out to be what some people used to think." Those who read science fiction have already considered that life in the future might be different than life today. Those who read fantasy realize that people are always people regardless of their surrounding and so respond to events in life predictably whether they are bold warriors or common business men, whether they are hedgewitches of housewives. Isaac Asimov says, "It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account no only the world as it is, but the world as it will be . . . This, in turn, means that our statesmen, out business men, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking." Those of us who are not stuck in the mindset that only "literature" is worth reading might very well find ourselves more successful than those who do insist (like my colleague and my professor did) that only Faulker and Barthelme are worth reading if we apply the lessons that we learn about humanity to our lives.

My mother has always been mystified by my love of such "weird" books. When I was young, she often attempted to bring home books that might draw my attention elsewhere. I think she was looking for common ground between us so we could have something else to talk about since I obviously liked to talk about what I read. Miss Marple and Mrs. Pollifax held my interest for awhile because murder was somewhat wonder-full, but it soon paled. I did end up loving the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace and I think she made a mistake when she brought home Mary Norton's The Borrowers. Little people living in the walls and making tiny furniture from the cast-offs of humans resonated deeply with my imagination. But my mother was my mother. She loved me and she didn't need to communicate that her books were the only ones worth reading. This wasn't an assessment of her own worth. That never should be determined by comparison to others. And my mother's strength is that the level of her love for us was never affected by how we compared to others, even each other. (I'm tearing up with the intensity of that thought as I find the words to say it, so it must be true.) She was simply stating that she didn't get the appeal of all those monsters and all those machines. So, I get to love my books without remorse and, as an added bonus, I recognize that other books can be enjoyable, too. I love Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter mysteries. I think that most of the books I've blogged about have been general fiction. The Grapes of Wrath moved me to the point that I wanted to be an English teacher. Reading A Passage to India last year had me so excited, I created the outline for a literary analysis paper. Just for fun.

Sometimes, I sit down to write these posts because quick little odd things happen to me and I want to record them. Sometimes, I let the moment speak for itself, but other times, I think there must be a deeper message. I rarely know what the greater significance is until I get into writing and sometimes can't get the last paragraph to pull it all together written until I've gone back and edited the rest of the post to make it linear. But, the message of this post just appeared in my writing like a shaft of light from the clouds:

Thanks Mom.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hidden Talents

Today I got my first lesson in how to operate a forklift.


When I first started working in the warehouse, I was all full of I-can't-cross-that-line-over-to-doing-manual-labor-because-I've-been-hired-to-recreate-this-job-as-purely-administrative thoughts. So, when the warehouse manager told me he was going to teach me how to drive the forklift, I laughed good-naturedly and said, "Oh, I don't think I'll need to know how to drive the forklift." He accepted it but at least one of the other guys also said I should learn how. As I started getting comfortable that the guys were getting the idea about the new distribution of responsibilities, I found that I was thinking about the forklift. Necessity meant that I had learned the basics of the pallet jack, but I'm not actually very good at it and I prefer to do all of my pallet jack when there is nobdy watching. I run into stuff a lot. If something needs to be done and I am not alone, I've found that if I say that like a joke, ("I prefer to do use the pallet jack in private")then someone will usually take over for me. But, my basic, if slow competence, caused me to think about the forklift.

"Why not?" I thought. How could it be bad to have an additional skill? And an unexpected one, at that? It would be almost as good as being able to hustle someone in billiards. I remembered being on tour and watching my friend Matthew teach the young electrician, Richard. As visiting stage hands to the arena, they definitely shouldn't have been using the local forklift, so they were comically operating in secret. I was naturally attracted to this behavior because the blatant breaking of rules is like a roller coster to me: thrilling in its risk. Plus, Matthew and Richard together were always entertaining. I think I asked why they were playing school and although I can't remember the dialogue, I'm sure they indicated, "Why not?" At least, that's the dominant impression I have that is associated with the visual memory of Richard doing as poorly with a forklift as I do with a pallet jack.

So, with that image, when John asked if I had some time because it was beautiful outside, I said, "Sure."

Richard made it look easy.

John is patient, though.

I wish I could do my forklift work in private.

I practiced basic skills. Moving the tines up and down, left and right, tilting back and forward. Testing the brake to see how quickly the machine stops. Rolling forward. Rolling backward. Turning. Lowering the tines exactly on the line of shade. Spinning in a tight circle to get feel for the fork's power. Getting much too close to the cars parked in the lot. Scaring myself a lot to test the limits of the machine. We practiced with empty pallets, taking the top two off and placing them next to the stack. Going around and straightening the top two when I bumped them crooked because I did not skewer them correctly.

It was fun.

Tomorrow, because the warehouse will be open to customers, the parking lot will be full, so John says I'll practice in my aisle, with actual product.

Maybe I'll have a lot of paperwork to do.

Maybe not.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hence, the bangs

I came home tonight after getting a major haircut and neither of my roommates were here to assure me that I didn't look like an English sheepdog. So, I figured that the digital camera is nothing more than an expensive mirror and I figured out how to use it so I could share my new look with you all.

What do you think? I'm growing it long again but I didn't want my head to look like it did from freshman year in high school through the next 12 years. Hence, the bangs. I'm growing it long again because I miss being able to put it up in a bun or back in braids. Maybe I'll look like Audrey Hepburn when I put it up in the bun.

I asked for Rory Gilmore bangs. I think she did a nice job giving me what I wanted. Hey! I just had a thought! Now that I won't have to worry about how smoothly my hair goes back into the ponytail holder or hairpin, I can do those loose, messy, sexy styles that look like it just took seconds to put together and that I've always envied. It might actually take just seconds.

Probably not.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Well, that was certainly a week and a half.

Tuesday, April 4: In the course of a very pleasant afternoon with a friend that I hadn't seen since I was married, I learned that Dennis is getting married. Again. To her. Went to see V for Vendetta as a previously planned piece of coincidence.

Wednesday, April 5: Found work to keep myself busy in the warehouse most of the day, opening boxes and putting things on shelves. Had comfortable dinner at my friend Jen's house where her baby cuddled me and she pronounced all of the portents of doom and statements on their mutual dysfunction that I couldn't say to his friend the day before.

Friday, April 7: Attended the prospective student day for grad school. As I listened to very successful-looking upper-middle class people of my age talk about how many of these prospective days they were attending around the country, I took a deep breath, scrubbed my hands on my jeans, looked them in the eye and explained that I was really pretty much between deciding between grad school or not. It got to be kind of fun to see their responses. I was starting to get a little nervous that I just wasn't Type-A enough to cut it in the program but then I was reassured that the program had a 98%-100% graduation rate and that those 1 or 2 people a year that dropped from the program did not drop out because they couldn't cut it academically. The program has a HUGE emphasis on quantitative quantitative quantitative and I tend to be a little more subjective in the way I process the world. But it seems like they know what they're doing when the choose people for admission.

Sunday, April 9: Sang in church for the first time. I was amazed at just how fun that was. It was kind of cool because I know next to no one in the congregation (my choice) so I could just pretend like they weren't there and sing. Then, I went out to Game Day and got to play a variety of cool board games. I also asked my friend who still sees Dennis to add the word "again" every time someone said the phrase, "Dennis is getting married." He laughed at the idea, then looked inside himself and laughed harder. I had totally couched the suggestion in a way that he could tell me he was uncomfortable without losing any face at all, so it made me feel much better that he liked it. I have lots of good fantasies now about different situations in which the word, "again" is plied perfectly. He may never actually do it, but at least I can have my day dreams.

Monday, April 10: Was told by my colleagues at headquarters that I was the best person in my position that they have ever worked with. They said that my personality was perfect for the job and that I was "aggressive in a good way." Ha HA. After meeting with my counselor, discarded my other revenge fantasies (although many of them made him laugh) and resolved in the car on the way to dinner with my mother that I would go to small claims to get the money that I had been hoping Dennis would decide to pay me of his own volition because I wanted him to acknowledge in some tiny way that I was important to him. I've finally come to terms with the fact that he will not in any way treat me like we ever meant anything to each other, so now I want my money. It would have been fun to shame him but the money will actually be more useful. I can sing in church if I want fun.

Wednesday, April 12: Called Dennis to get his address for the small claims paperwork. I plan to go to court on Friday, since I have the day off. Told him I would have the summons served to him at work if he didn't call me back. When he emailed me to say that he would bring me a check on Saturday or Sunday, I returned his call to say that since he had a history of making promises just big enough to keep me from going through with whatever I had promised, he needed to make the effort to get the check to me before Friday. Sent an email to that same effect but much angrier, hitting the "send" button as the phone was ringing. He agreed to meet me at the restaurant where my roommate works with the check on Friday morning. I've gone ahead and planned like I'm going to court anyway, just in case. I am astonished at how angry I am at him. I was so busy grieving and forgiving, there wasn't time to be this angry. I'm working it out, though. Paige took me on a long walk last night that culminated in a chocolate malt from Margie's Candies. The tremors of rage were exhausted out of me.

That's it, in a nutshell. Lots of those days could have been entire posts, but I've been fairly exhausted at the end of each day. Fiction and my 1000 thread count sheets have been my balm of choice, which leaves little time for blogging. Wish me luck tomorrow morning.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Orange Shuffle

So, I completed my first race on Sunday. I can officially be part of this generation since I am now the owner of a 5K/8K race T-shirt. Thanks to everyone who supported me financially, I was the top fundraiser for our team (about 70 people) and thanks to those that supported me with prayer, I was mostly successful in being gracious to the two women that I walked very slowly with. I do not at all mind strolling, but they complained about the fact that we were falling from the front of the group to the back of the group while never actually moving faster. They went so slowly that if I let my mind wander, I pulled 10 feet in front of them because my body fell into its normal commuting pace. But they were interesting to talk to and one of the women grew up in Danville, IL, the closest to Paradise most of us will get during our mortal stay.

The other major goal of the day was to give some visibility to Team World Vision, which is a new project to get people who already run in races and triathalons to offer sponsorship opprtunities to their networks. With bright orange T-shirts and a professional photographer who donated his time (let me know if you need a referral for Chicago-area photography), I think that goal was also mostly achieved. As proof of my contribution to that goal, I offer the following picture. I'm down front on the left between the two darker women.

In my defense, the photographer acknowledged to us that he was asking for a corny pose for the sake of future marketing endeavors, so I respected his candor and gave him a corny pose. My friends Erika and Ryan were standing behind me and went along with it, too, so you can't make fun of just me. I find it interesting that I refrained from making "rock and roll!" hands (the ultimate in corny) because they are sometimes called devil's horns and Team World Vision is a Christian organization. Even more interesting is the fact that the guy who runs the program is standing two rows behind me doing exactly what I refrained from. Shows how much I know, doesn't it?

Thanks again to all of you for caring about me and about the kids who will not have a chance to fulfill the potential that all children are given at birth if someone doesn't change the world they are born into.