Linguistic Divergence

I was chatting with my Dad about going to France earlier, and a few more things occurred to me about the trip worth mentioning.

One was how….mmm…linguistically courteous? so many things were. Leaving aside the labeling in English under most menus and all major signs, at the Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris, you got in a line for the ticket-takers, and each window had a little monitor over it, which said “Departing Immediately” in French. On a little band on each screen were flags–Italian, Spanish, British. They indicated what languages the ticket-taker spoke, so we would go to the one with the British flag and be assured of speaking to someone who had at least a basic fluency in English and could give us directions to the platform. (My mother had enough basic fluency in French to get tickets anyway, and even I, once I managed to figure out that allez was “one way” and voile was “platform,” could make myself understood, but it was MUCH faster to go to someone where mime was not a required step.)

Now, this is of course of no surprise to anyone living in Europe, because there’s a great many languages piled on top of each other in a close space and it only makes sense, and of course I have known it in the abstract for many years, and long believed that a shamefully high percentage of My Fellow Americans are, to put it mildly, raging irrational dicks on the primary language front* when there are plenty of proofs out there that yes, we can all just get along if we’re willing to Not Be Dicks and extend a little goodwill and play some charades and put a couple of subtitle options on the DVDs.

But it does certainly bring it home when you are immersed in a completely foreign language and you know all of ten words and nevertheless practically everyone you meet is willing to knuckle down and figure out what you are saying (and/or speaks at least fifty or a hundred words of your language anyway.) (And on at least one occasion, seeing that we were headed for the wrong platform, a station guard who had spoken no English at all and engaged in some very spirited mime with us sprinted after us and made sure we got on the correct platform. It was extremely kind, and I was very grateful.)

Try this in the US and I’ll give you even odds on being eaten by wolves.

This is not news, of course.

What I didn’t realize is how downright scary it can be not to speak the language. In the abstract, I suppose I had some notion, but I think that’s one you really and truly have to actually experience, or possibly I was just more unsettled by it than many people would be. (My father was not, he said, ever particularly bothered by not speaking the language, and has lived and worked in China and Egypt and Japan and simply learned all the tricks of How To Get Where You Are Going Anyway, like always keeping business cards for your hotel in your wallet to hand to cab drivers.)

This may simply be a personality thing. Words are my stock in trade and my primary weapon to attack the world with, and I did feel rather like somebody took my sword away and gave me a Nerf bat and said “Right! Go get ’em, tiger!” (And then of course there’s all the problems of being female and traveling in a big city where you don’t have anyone to call if you get in trouble and the added neurosis that if you lose this one little blue square of paper, YOU WILL NEVER GO HOME AGAIN.**)

Let me hasten to add that this is not me saying that I think everybody everywhere should speak my language, because dude, I like to think I am not one of the world’s more complete douchebags. This is more me saying that I felt…I don’t know, vulnerable? Unsettled? Like I stuck out a mile?

These are not necessarily bad things to feel. It is probably good to feel them sometimes. The universe owes you very few things, and the right to go to other countries and not feel awkward and out of place is nowhere on the list. And I think that given a couple more weeks or a few more trips, I would probably get over it and get used to the mime and whatnot and possibly even enjoy it. I was certainly a bit more comfortable by the end of the trip, when it was obvious that despite knowing all of ten words and having a truly cringeworthy accent, I could still get by.

(This does not mean, I hasten to add, that I didn’t enjoy myself! Far from it! It’s just a weird underlying feeling. Somebody undoubtedly has a polysyllabic word for “the feeling of dislocation experienced by the first-time traveler which wears off eventually and causes one to re-examine one’s own nation’s linguistic biases.”***)

The other funny thing was that everywhere we went, even if we didn’t say a single word, they KNEW we were Americans. I could understand that my pronunciation of “Bonjour!” probably leaves a lot to be desired (I practiced! Really!) but pretty soon my mother was asking “How do they KNOW? We don’t say anything and they still know immediately!”

My theory was that Birkenstocks with socks have not caught on in Europe, but my father’s far more plausible one is that if you live somewhere long enough, you can spot an American a mile off, although you don’t know how you know. “Something about how Americans hold themselves,” he said, “and dress, and how we look at things.” (He went on to say that there comes a point, when you’ve lived in said country long enough, where you no longer give off this vibe. He was in Egypt long enough that people would come up and begin speaking to him in Arabic.) So I guess there’s a case to be made for body language there, or maybe cut of clothes or…something.

I don’t know. My understanding of how the rest of the world views Americans is mostly informed by a deep suspicion that it expects us (at best) to be well-meaning and rather overbearing and (at worst) to be wrapped in American flags, wearing cowboy hats and streaking through the crowd screaming “LEEEEEROOOOOOY JENKINS!”  I tried very hard not to look this was something I might do, and everyone extended me the courtesy of not acting as if this were a possibility.

And the orange juice was incredible.

 

 

 

*I’m really not interested in having a debate about primary languages/immigration/whatever in the comments, and will delete such starting, because seriously, not enough spoons, guys. Hit me up again sometime when it’s not election season and the jingoistic fervor in the air has died down a bit.

**Until the consulate gets you a replacement.

***Incidentally, every German tourist we encountered spoke English better than I do.

Went! Did stuff! Recuperating!

So I got back from France last weekend, and have been remiss in making a full report.

It was cool. Not sure what else to say. There were lots of neat buildings. I navigated a strange train system and saw a lot of new birds. My mom and I had a good time. Neither of us were eaten by rabid mimes.

Everybody asks about the food in France, and it was…actually, it was food. The pastries were amazing, the cheeses were generally very good, the chocolates were quite nice, but most of the meals were just meals, the same as you’d get in the States, not knee-weakening epiphanies in culinary form. Restaurants were good, bad, and points in between. I had one really extraordinary dish, which was a kind of savory pancake with cheese and potatoes and ham, but I cannot say that it was a culinary journey to change my life forever (and yes, I know the tricks of going and eating in a strange place with the asking the locals and going into little hole-in-the-walls and whatnot. It was still just food. Sorry.) Salads were very problematic, as they all came with this bitter mustard house dressing that I found quite inedible, and very few other veggies were in season, but for the most part, it was like eating anywhere else I’ve been—some good, some bad, some incredible.

And that’s okay. French cuisine has been built up so much that you could easily go in expecting unicorn pate with every meal and be very disappointed.

(The orange juice, however, was incredible. I can only assume that in this country, where orange juice is shoved into vats for up to a year and flavored heavily and it’s all legal,* we have no experience with truly good orange juice.)

There were lots of things that were different from the States, and lots of things that were pretty similar but with quirks and a few things that were exactly the same. Everybody was very nice, even in Paris, despite the reputation thereof. Most of the hotels lack elevators, which means I lugged my suitcase up an average of three flights of stairs per hotel, and the definition of a “double” is different on either side of the Atlantic. (In France, it apparently means ONE double bed. You want two beds, you get a twin.) Public toilets were…present. Let’s go with that.

We walked a lot. Sidewalks in Chartres and Chinon (where we stayed) are very peculiar, as if the designers had tried for vanishing perspective on the plans and gotten the numbers wrong. Sidewalks would shrink farther and farther and then dead-end into walls. I assume it’s exactly what happens when streets of irregular width that have existed since the 11th century are dragged into the automobile age and you have to leave a car width but the sidewalks are negotiable. Common moorhens were insanely common and adorable and rather grumpy little birds.

Loved all the small towns. Did not much care for any of the larger cities we visited. They were large and city-like and I’m not a fan at the best of times, let alone when feeling the mild dislocation of not speaking the language and waiting on train connections. Many of the buildings in Nantes and Paris had better bones than you find in most cities in the US, but there were still plenty of reasonably hideous buildings that resembled the dorms at U of M or ASU. Nantes had a very nice botantical garden, though.

All the towns had far more windowboxes and balcony gardens and densely planted traffic islands than you find over here, and they were lovely. Some of the windowboxes deserved medals.

The French countryside was very pretty, as seen from trains, but you know…either I live in a very beautiful part of the country already or when people say “beautiful countryside” they’re actually talking about the buildings. Barring some quirks of vegetation that are probably mostly invisible to the layperson, it looked like any number of landscapes I’ve driven through over the years, from North Carolina to the more agrarian bits of Wisconsin. Big golden fields, hedgerows, occasional muddy bits with reeds, more fields, more trees. Nice stuff, but not significantly different from any other nice temperate landscape given to a mix of trees and farmland.

The buildings, thought, were marvelous—all the old little stone houses and the occasional dramatic church steeple and little clustered villages surrounded by knots of trees. Big pedestrian walking areas with cobblestones, quirky little shops, window boxes, random gargoyles on apartment buildings. We need more of those, particularly the stone buildings. Somebody get on that.

I’d like to go back and take Kevin—I expect I’d be more relaxed when I was not being The Responsible One, which is not a role that I play often or well! Although I am rather proud of myself for navigating the train schedules and bus schedules and hotels and flights and everything, and in short managing a long trip with no linguistic safety net where nothing went horribly wrong. We didn’t get badly lost, we didn’t get on the wrong train, we didn’t get arrested, we didn’t get pick-pocketed. So that was pretty cool.

I am still rather bone-deep tired, since I did a crap-ton of traveling in the course of the last month, and it’s left me in that vague anxiety of what-is-the-next-thing-I-have-to-worry-about-what-am-I-forgetting, but hopefully that’ll pass with time and gardening. (And if you’re waiting on something from me, and I’ve forgotten, e-mail! It’s not you, it’s planes!)

 

 

*Seriously. It’s kind of a thing.

Doodles

In the very, very VERY rare state of feeling the need to doodle without any particular thing I really need to doodle. (Of course, now I have to go draw Dragonbreath for awhile, so that’s the end of that.)

In the meantime, have a doodle.

The love between a yak and a foo dog is a beautiful thing. The offspring…not so much.

Allegory of Justice

Honestly, my greatest accomplishment today was rousting out a completely uncontrollable perennial sunflower that was flopping everywhere and generally being a very poor neighbor in the garden.

Then there’s this…

Digital. Thingy. Ferrets.

Some day, I will figure out that cut paper look that I want to do somehow. Probably. Mind you, once you start doing nonsensical allegorical paintings, it’s hard to know when to stop. “The Puffin Of Organization Astride The Dragon Of Excessive Craft Supplies.” “Excellence As A Young Hamster Maiden Nibbled By The Turtles Of Indolence.” You get the idea.

Prints available as always.

Elegant and Fine

And having just said all of that about Susan, upon having given the matter far too much thought, the real Problem of Susan, to my mind, had nothing to do with her family dying. It sucks a lot, but it happens and people can die without God Specifically Being Out To Get You. People cope with that and move on all the time, and we feel for them, but they do not get recorded as one of the Great Literary Injustices.

No, what I started thinking was that I’m thirty-five. I love my life. I have work I care about and a man I am quite desperately in love with. And if I suddenly fell through a wardrobe and was eleven years old again, I would go so batshit insane that they would have to make up new words for how insane I had gone.

I expect I might have a hard time playing nice with the god responsible.

So, y’know. (I realize that half my short stories turn up as “Point of view of the woman in this otherwise well-known story” and beg forgiveness in advance.) This one may even qualify as fan-fic! I make you a gift of it, although if my plane goes down in the Atlantic, please remember me for Digger and the Little Red Riding Hood thing instead.

 

“Elegant and Fine”

The real problem with Susan, in the end, was not that she was no longer Narnia’s friend. It was that she had already been its lover.

They all did it, of course. They were Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, and while the first sin might have been of knowledge, the Church generally agreed that carnality had occurred shortly afterwards. And Aslan had already pulled his inscrutable vanishing act, and so was not around to disapprove.

Besides, it would strain credibility, even in a land of magic and talking beasts, for four young people coming of age far from home to remain strictly celibate.

Peter had several very close relationships with dryads and Lucy had always been fond of fauns. Edmund…well, you could never tell with Edmund, but Susan had her suspicions. He was very close friends with that Badger. Not that that meant anything, and even if it did, it was really none of her business, but…well.

Hell, everyone and everything talked, which tended to blur the lines quite a lot, and there weren’t any other humans in Narnia. Susan herself made the very personal acquaintance of a faun and several wood-gods, all of them courtiers and very discreet.

Eventually, when the four Kings and Queens were old enough that they could actually be introduced as rulers in foreign courts without raising any eyebrows, the dwarves let it be known that there was a nation next door named Archenland and another rather larger one named Calormene, and there were actually quite a few humans inhabiting both.

You could understand why they did it, of course—nobody wants to admit that there’s a twelve-year-old on the throne, especially if he’s been appointed by a conveniently absent lion. The Calormenes would have been over the border before you could say “annexation.” Still, it led to some awkward conversations at the dinner table.

When she was in her mid-twenties, Susan toyed with the idea of marrying an actual human prince, but the experience with Rabadash rather soured her on her own kind, and she went back to wood-gods. By the time any other princes presented themselves, she had already met…him.

He was a dwarf.

He was nearly as broad as he was tall, and his head barely came up past her waist. He had gnarled hands from working metal and he was as ugly as she was beautiful.

He worked with black iron and white gold, and from his fingers came extraordinary beauty, objects elegant and fine. When he touched her, Susan felt as if she were one of his creations, as if he refined her down to her purest essence, as if she too were elegant and fine.

She loved him profoundly and without reservation, and though dwarves are not a demonstrative people, he wrote his love for her in forged metal, with hammerblows and flying sparks, with the touch of his fingers against her skin.

If she had had any idea that when she rode to the Lantern Waste, she would never see him again, she would have barred the doors of her room and refused to set foot outside Caer Paravel.

When she fell through the wardrobe with her brothers and her sister, at first she did not believe it. When Susan looked in the mirror and saw herself, eleven years old again, cheeks and arms smoothed with babyfat, all she could think was that no one could be so cruel.

She tried the wardrobe ten or fifteen times a day, and then the professor moved it and she sank into a deep depression. She opened doors at random, without looking, closets and cupboards, trying to find the one that had Narnia behind it.

Old linens. The smell of mothballs. Sets of china with missing teacups and kitchen devices that had outlived their utility.

Nothing.

Her siblings were no help. A strange languor was taking over their minds, Narnia becoming a bright, distant dream, like a book read in childhood. Susan could feel it in her own mind, plucking at her memories—had the wallpaper in her room been red or green? Had there been five steps down to the river, or eight? The Raven that sat behind Peter in the throne room, the person who really knew what was going on—Peter had no head for economics, even when he was past thirty—had the Raven been male or female?

She woke one night and realized that she no longer remembered her dwarf’s name.

Even if I find him again, I won’t remember who he is. And I will be eleven years old.

She put her face in her hands, and wept as she had not wept since Aslan had died.

 

When they found themselves back in Narnia, a year later, she had almost succeeded in putting it out of her mind. The magic had plucked and teased at her mind until it felt like a dream, or like something best remembered as a dream.

Almost.

Not entirely.

Experience has a way of marking you, even if you do not remember it, or remember it only as a dream. You cannot keep the death-vigil for a god and go unchanged. You cannot walk across a battlefield with blood and mud and the moans of the dying around you, and go back to being an ordinary eleven-year-old girl.

You cannot live to be thirty years old, and have it wiped cleanly from your mind.

Frustration made Susan grind her teeth, even as her bones lengthened and she got her period again. (The school nurse tried to jolly her through it—“There there, my dear, you’re just becoming a young woman, that’s all!” Susan’s laughter was torn out of her like sobs, and the nurse kept a close eye on her for a week.)

The stranger in the mirror looked a little more like herself, but only a little, and not nearly quickly enough. There were things that she could do with makeup, and they helped, but not nearly enough.

Once loved, skin remembers skin, and the fact that she was trapped in a child’s body and many long years away from anyone’s idea of a lover…well.

She wanted to strangle most of the girls her own age and all of the boys. They had never had to plan a battle campaign, or figure out how to bring famine relief to parts of a countryside where the inhabitants thought roads were an act of foreign aggression.

They had never been in love.

And here she was. In Narnia. Again.

Thirteen hundred years too late.

Parts of her raged and screamed, and she shoved those parts down inside and only let them out when she had a bow in her hand. She put arrows through the skulls of three Telmarines, and then the dryads (who were shockingly old-maidish for a race of scantily-clad female trees) pulled her away. She suspected them of being in league with Father Christmas.

Hypocrites. It should have occurred to them by now that battles are ugly when anyone fights.

She wanted to grab Trumpkin by the shoulders and shake him until his loyalist teeth rattled and scream “Did you have an ancestor who loved the Queen? What happened to him? Did he ever forgive her for leaving him? What was his name?”

That Lucy was as brightly worshipful as ever and Peter was doing his best English schoolboy game-as-a-pebble routine would have tried the patience of any number of saints. Edmund was the only one who seemed to have anything flickering behind his eyes.

“Has it occurred to you,” she hissed at him one night, “has it occurred to any of you that they’re all dead? Have been dead for a thousand years? All of them—Tumnus and the Beavers and—and my—“

She had to stop and press a hand to her forehead.

“Of course it has!” said Edmund, in a low voice. “My friends—all of our—yes, all right? All right? What do you want me to do? Sit down and refuse to fight because they’re all dead? It won’t bring your dwarf back, you know!”

“What was his name?” Susan demanded. “Do you remember? Edmund, if you know—I can’t remember any more, I’ve tried—“

“Oh, Su,” said Edmund, in quite a different voice, and he put an arm around her shoulders. She cried for awhile. She thought he did too, but he was right, and it didn’t bring them back.

On the last day, when Aslan drew her and Peter aside, she did not cry. Her throat closed up and her heart clanged so loudly in her ears that she missed half of what he said.

Too old to return to Narnia?

You shoved me back into this wretched unformed child’s body, lion-god, and made me a thousand years a widow, and now I am too old?

If Susan had been standing next to the White Witch, before the Stone Table, looking down at Aslan bound and muzzled, she would have asked to wield the knife.

Peter was keeping his chin up and saying all the right things. Susan sank her teeth into her lower lip and thought that she would have given everything she had not to come back to Narnia this time.

Aslan looked at her as he spoke. He knew what she was thinking, of course. He always did.

Susan didn’t care. If he was going to go around refusing to be a tame lion, he could hardly fault her for refusing to be a tame woman.

Lucy was coming up, with Edmund beside her. She gritted her teeth, and swallowed her rage. It would not do Lucy a great deal of good to see her god gut her sister with one of his gigantic paws. And she’d be damned if she cried in front of him. She had cried for him once already, cried and worked her fingers bloody prying a muzzle from his dead jaws, and this was how that vigil was repaid.

She would be glad to never see Narnia again. The languid erasing of her memories could not come quickly enough. There was nothing left for her here.

If she lived long enough in her own world, if she was lucky, perhaps she would find someone there.

Someone who made her feel elegant and fine.

Someone who loved her, as she had loved someone once, long ago, in a childhood dream without a name.

 

Narnian Apocalyptica

Unable to sleep last night, I got up and spent two hours re-reading The Silver Chair and The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis.

I had recently started re-reading the series, based on a really awesome series of blog posts by Ana Mardoll, who is doing a chapter by chapter break down of the Narnian books. It makes for fascinating reading, because as with many such things that you love as a kid and never take a really close look at, there’s…well, a lot going on.*

Susan, always a problem, get so much the short end of the stick when you look closely that it’s…honestly, kinda bizarre.

To take another beloved children’s classic, we all mostly hate Mary in the Little House books, because Mary is very hateable. Not a problem, no question, and while Ma gets really weirdly passive aggressive and pits them against each other on occasion, still, there’s Something About Mary, and not in the good way.

Now much has been made of the problem of Susan. I knew that going in. But even as I thought that she got screwed, I did recall Susan being sort of like Mary in the books as a kid, and then I went and re-read them and actually looked closely, and…

Huh.

There is a really weird dichotomy between what Susan does and how the narrator tells us to feel about it. Susan is actually a very practical, tender-hearted person who cries to find herself back in Narnia and won’t shoot to kill if she can help it. The narrator, however, appears to detest her, and even Aslan (who is really a colossal dick in many, many ways throughout the books—such is the prerogative of gods) isn’t great. We are told flat out that “Susan was the worst” and other such, when she’s…actually behaving pretty reasonably all around.

Lewis, when he gets on a roll, is a really good writer. He is fun. The were-wolf’s speech in Prince Caspian is lovely. The whole sequence with the Isle of Dreams in Dawn Treader (particularly the American version, which is a LOT better–there’s a wiki with the side-by-side changes, yes, I was shocked too) is fabulous. I even liked the discussion of various kinds of loam eaten by dryads. And I will hear no evil said of Marsh-wiggles.

And as much as I detested Last Battle for many, many, many failures, for unbounded racism and generalized despair and some “Hey, let’s shoot Bambi’s mother!” gratuitous tearjerking and “YAY! Everybody dies! Let’s all be thrilled and gloss over how Eustace and Jill’s parents and poor Susan must feel right now!”—despite all that, as apocalypses go, the end of Last Battle can stand toe to toe with Revelations any day, as far as I’m concerned. The stars falling and the damned creatures running into Aslan’s shadow and the lighting and the monsters….it’s a helluva thing.

As a kid, I recall hating the first half of Last Battle. I have, in fact, only read the first half twice (unless I blotted it out) and once was as an adult, last night.** But I know I read the apocalyptic bits any number of times, because man, that’s a scene.

He’s a fine writer.

As a narrator, on the other hand, he tries to do this avuncular thing that works pretty well about ninety percent of the time and just crashes and burns the other ten percent. He shows beautifully. His telling—when it works it works, but in some cases, you get this weird tug-of-war where Lewis-the-writer shows you a thing and Lewis-the-narrator tells you how to feel about it, and Lewis-the-narrator is flat-out wrong.

It’s…yeah. I have no idea how to even process that. I’m not sure it even can be processed—he’s the author, what he says goes, so perhaps wrong is the wrong term. But it’s weird. If you read it and decide that he’s an unreliable narrator—dude. Edmund is enchanted, abused, and NINE YEARS OLD. Eustace has been kidnapped and (while whiny) is doing exactly the right things in trying desperately to get his captors to take him to a British embassy (although he’s still a dick to Reepicheep, which is one of the unforgivable sins.) Nikabrik the dwarf is the only sane one of a bunch who are running a losing war based on astrology (and Caspian drew first!)

And poor Susan just gets screwed, from first to last, by a profoundly dickish god, presumably because Lewis needed an object lesson in The One Distracted By Worldly Concerns to go with his Virtuous Pagan and make a nice set.

I’ve often noted that writing dialog is an entirely different skill-set than writing everything else. You see this illustrated most starkly in fan fic. There are people who cannot write a book, who should never be allowed within ten feet of a book, who can nevertheless write dialog that leaves you convulsed on the floor. And there are people who can write exceedingly well who produce some profoundly wretched dialog. (Mr. King, I am looking in your direction.)

Maybe the narrator, like dialog, is a different skill than Writing The Rest Of The Stuff. Or maybe sometimes we’re just wrong about the books we’re writing. I don’t know.

That’s all. There is no moral, except I should probably not read beloved but problematic children’s books at two in the morning.

Tomorrow, my mother arrives, and then—to France and cheese! Woot!

 

 

 

 

*In fairness to Mr. Lewis, many authors might not hold up so well to a line-by-line scrutiny—but on the other hand, if they weren’t such beloved children’s classics, one wouldn’t feel the need to go over them with a fine toothed comb in the first place.

**Okay, look, I KNOW because it’s Lewis, that Rilian and Jewel are not an item, but…dude. I mean, you don’t even have to walk across the street to ship that, and I don’t even do slash.

Preparing To Travel

I am in the throes of travel prep in a big way. I have alerted my bank that I am traveling, bought international data plans for a month, packed half a suitcase, bought too many new clothes at REI (all of which promise to keep me dry, cool, fashionable, and able to walk to at least a dozen chateaus without doing laundry in between) bought power converters, loaded my iPad with podcasts, realized I’ve lost my iPod, requiring me to borrow Kevin’s and load THAT with podcasts, fretted, sweated, bought an SeV travel hoodie that has more pockets than Inspector Gadget, so that I can lose my passport in new and exciting ways, and generally convinced myself that my pocket will be picked as I am coming off the plane and then my luggage will explode.

In addition, my mother is flying here first, marking the first time in over a decade that my Mom has actually seen where I live, and thus I am trying to wrangle a late summer garden into something that does not look like a cross between an abandoned homestead and a kindergarten class growing seeds in a paper cup. I know that this is futile. You cannot fix a garden in a week, not in this season, and there’s no real point in trying. Still, being at the end of a wooded drive means that my garden never has to stand up to scrutiny by anybody other than me and the deer and the UPS guy*—having another Real Gardener here makes me long to make it look, y’know, GOOD, not a weed-blown disaster area.

Naturally this is the year that the one section of the garden that has been effortless and no-maintenance for the last three years went to hell in a handbasket. Everything got rained down, the bee balm died of powdery mildew by mid-August and the perennial sunflowers are laying on the Black-Eyed Susans and the Salvia greggi. Deer ate the wild quinine. Under normal circumstances, they’ll eat the house and resort to cannibalism before they touch wild quinine. That’s why I plant it. There is no salvaging the sunflowers, which are going to get torn out and replaced with a ninebark shrub when I return, but it just goes to show that the minute you decide a section is done and can take care of itself, it will fall over, burst into flames and sink into the dark tarn.

Also, there’s the house. The house is in pretty good shape, or will be once I sweep and get the border collie hair off the stairs (where it will resettle ten minutes later.) And my mother doesn’t care at all and will just be impressed that I am still alive. Still, I think there is this inherent need to prove to your parents that you have moved beyond What Your Room Looked Like In Fifth Grade/College/That Stretch In Your Early Twenties. The last time she saw my apartment, there were posters of Bob Marley and marijuana leaves on the walls. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you can listen to No Woman No Cry without getting a little misty-eyed, I don’t want to hear about it. But my decor tastes have moved on.)

We leave Saturday. I already miss Kevin. Without his ability to make friends with absolutely anyone, regardless of language barrier, we will be reduced to looking slightly lost and harmless, which actually works pretty well, but is a helluva thing to have to fall back on.

It will be fine. I will be fine. We will eat exotic cheeses and visit the tomb of Richard the Lionheart and see a giant mechanical squid. It’ll be awesome. I hope.

 

*And you guys, but carefully cropped photography will fix any number of ills.

Four Years Ago Today…

…I came home from an evening at Kevin’s to find that my apartment had been robbed.

It was not a pleasant experience, but the cats were okay and they didn’t get the computer. It did mean that I moved in with Kevin in one day instead of a week or two, as had been the plan.

My memory of the day, actually, is not of “Oh god, burglary!” but of the kindness of my friends. My buddy Otter called me up and said “Do I need to come over?” and I think I said “…I don’t KNOW!” To which she said “Right, getting in the car now.” She trucked a jeepload of stuff to Kevin’s house and fed me while I was still dithering about police reports. My friends Mike & Amy & Wes showed up that night and they fit EVERYTHING into Wes’s truck and a couple of cars and drove the whole thing to Pittsboro. While geography means that I don’t see those guys very often any more, I will never forget that.

And of course, the nice police officer who, when a moderately hysterical woman grabbed him and yelled “WHAT KIND OF SICKO STEALS A PERSON’S SEX TOYS!?” said “Oh god, lady, I don’t know!” and did not charge me with assaulting a police officer’s lapels.

In four years, Kevin and I have largely transformed his house, as much as one can with flooring and paint and ruthless decluttering and random art. He has been the best roommate ever and he doesn’t seem to mind if I wake up one morning and decide to paint the hallways turquoise.  The walls are filling up with souvenirs of our travels together—Talaveras crosses and art from friends and interesting skulls acquired at random locations. I turned him on to Dr. Bronner’s soap. He taught me how to organize an inbox. We negotiated laundry-related divisions of labor. I took over all the yard work and put in enormous flower beds and slightly less enormous vegetable beds. He gave away the lawn mower and learned to cook beets. I got his beagle. He got my Little Orange Cat.

It’s been a lovely four years. I hope we have forty more.

Back To Work

Well, it’s Thursday. My con crud is still working its way through my system, primarily in the form of a cough that makes me sound like John Keats. Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Phlegm…

And since there is no rest for the whimsical,* it’s back to the word mines for me. Working on Dragonbreath art. (Only 80 more illos to go!) Royalty statement for Horned Bunnies arrived over the weekend, and indicates that it sold 40K copies in the first five months and earned out faster than any of the others. This is very cheering. Also, I pretty much expect to be hit by a meteorite at any moment now. Hugo! Royalties! Flowers from agent! Kevin! At least the garden is in post-August wreckage, to provide some shreds of karmic balance, otherwise I wouldn’t dare get out of bed. *grin*

If I haven’t said it already, thank you to everybody who’s sent me congratulations. You guys are the best.

By way of gratitude–and also to prove that I’m working, really!–here’s two short tidbits from House With Bird Feet. Summer has met three odd sisters wearing animal skins and seen some very odd trees. (This story is really cookin’ for me. If my agent can’t place it, I’ll have to do something else with it, because it’s got hold of my brain in a big way…) The second chunk is a conversation that takes place as she walks across the desert by scorpion-light.

****

“Now then, Summer,” said Boarskin, pouring another cup of tea into Summer’s cup, and watching the steam curl up from it. “How did you get here? Did you ride in by fern-fish or step through a door in the hedge? Did you walk into a dragon’s shadow?”

“She doesn’t smell of dragon,” said Bearskin.

“Well…” said Summer, wrapping her fingers around her teacup to keep them warm. “Baba Yaga told me she was giving me my heart’s desire, and then I went out of her house and I was in the hallway with the stained glass windows.”

“Baba Yaga sent you?” asked Boarskin and Bearskin at once, and drew together on their rock.

Donkeyskin drew the hood of her cloak up over her head. Its long donkey ears were tattered and it had white stones sewn into the eyes.

“Um,” said Summer. “Yes?”

They looked at each other, then back at her.

“Baba Yaga, the cannibal?”

“Baba Yaga, the crone?”

“Baba Yaga, the witch, the wonder-worker, the teeth-that-bite-the-ground—“ Boarskin pressed a hand to her lips. “That Baba Yaga?”

“Don’t be a fool,” said Bearskin sharply to her sister, “do you think anyone else would dare claim that name? She’d feed them into her cauldron and take them out as a hundred spiny salamanders. She’d turn them into a drift of wildflowers and plant them in a sheep meadow. She’d make their bones into the root of a fig tree and sink them into their own children’s graves.”

Summer gulped.

“She—she didn’t do any of that. She said she’d eat me if she was in a bad mood, but I didn’t think she meant it. Well, she had a chair made of bones, so I wondered, but…” Summer twisted her fingers together. “Um. She gave me a weasel.”

The weasel stuck his head out of her pocket and gave her a dirty look.

“Very useful animals, weasels,” said Boarskin.

*****

“Is it true what they said about Baba Yaga?” asked Summer.

“True?” asked the weasel. “True enough. They said less than they might have and a great deal less than they could have. It doesn’t pay to talk about Baba Yaga behind her back.”

“Oh.” Summer thought about that. “How did you wind up in her house? Did she offer you your heart’s desire?”

“Not hardly,” said the weasel, sounding very annoyed.

“Then how?”

“The witch’s house lays eggs sometimes,” said the weasel. “I tried to eat one.”

Summer wrinkled her forehead. “But it’s a house. Wouldn’t its eggs be—oh—enormous? Bigger than me?”

“So maybe I’m ambitious,” said the weasel. “Nothing wrong with ambition, is there? ‘Shoot for the moon,’ everybody says, ‘if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’” He spat, a motion almost too tiny for Summer’s eyes to follow. “Feh! I suppose ‘if you miss, you’ll be captured by a great bloody hag out of legend and stuffed into a coat pocket for a week’ was too much of a mouthful.”

Summer had no idea what to say to that. “Um. I’m sorry?”

“Not your fault,” said the weasel. “Also, we’re being followed. No, don’t look!”

 

And with that, it’s back to the word mines. The next section involves an oracular cheese. Hard to go wrong with an oracular cheese.

 

*Even I don’t believe my claims to be wicked anymore. Also if I tried to go “MUAHAHAHAAH!” with this cough, I’d have to spend a few minutes in the bathroom with a glass of water.

Audio (and Blurry Video!) of my speech

Official stuff not up yet, but you can hear the audio at least (and see a cel-phone video of me as Giant Faceless Gesticulating White Blur!) right here!

You’ll have to turn it up a bit, since it was all being taken by a cel phone in the very back of the room, held by one of the Sofawolf gang, but you can hear the speech at last (and dude, did I sound really calm or what? I’m kinda impressed with myself! I don’t sound like I’m about to go shake uncontrollably at all!)

Applause blocks out one or two lines, but hopefully you get the gist.

 

(That weird bit at the beginning is me making Scalzi double check that it actually has my name on it–not sure if the mics picked it up.)