Thursday, October 31, 2013

Carving Out a Good Time

It should not rain on Halloween.

It can rain on Thanksgiving because mostly you’re indoors eating and hanging out with your family, although whether this makes the holiday more or less interesting depends in large part on how you feel about hanging out with your family.  It can rain on Christmas for much the same reason, though snow would be nicer.  But Halloween is one of those holidays that require you to be out and about.

Or, more importantly, kids need to be out and about. 

Whatever the original point of Halloween was – and you can get a pretty good argument started any time you want to simply by asserting in a public place any one of the theories behind that point – it has become an exercise in having the neighborhood kids go from door to door collecting candy.  There are precious few occasions for this kind of random sociability in our current age of Stand Your Ground laws, so anything that puts a damper on it is by definition a bad thing.

Plus Halloween is a fun holiday.

The girls have gotten old enough now that we leave most of the prep work to them, and this essentially boils down to getting them to carve the pumpkins.  Kim and Lauren came back from a shopping expedition a week or so ago with two pumpkins that had clearly served as carriages in someone else’s fairy tale, and upon such broad canvases is art made.


For those of you not up on your Doctor Who references, that’s a Dalek on the left (carved by Tabitha) and the TARDIS on the right (carved by Lauren).

Tabitha has reached the age where she would just as soon stay home and hand out candy, but Lauren still wants to go trick-or-treating.  Lauren has, however, reached the age where trick-or-treating with a parent is just Not Cool.  Given that most of her friends were either going out of town for trick-or-treating or staying at home and planning to use their time scaring the little kids who came by jumping out at them from behind things, this caused a momentary panic.  Fortunately she found a friend who was willing to go with her, and they are out somewhere even now shaking down the neighbors for candy.

Life is good.

Even when it rains.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Of Balloons and Scarcity

One of the things that arrived during Lauren’s birthday party was a mylar balloon filled with helium. 

It’s bright and shiny, in the way that such balloons are, and the cats are just fascinated.  It skitters around the house carried by the air currents from the furnace in a random Coriolis pattern, trailing felines and making just the sort of scraping noise that something out of a low-budget horror film would make if it were trapped in your attic, which is why we try to anchor it at night.

For a while I thought it was losing its lift, since it had settled to an altitude of about knee-height, but it turned out that Tabitha had weighted it down to make it easier for the cats to prey on it.   Lauren apparently figured that out too, and now it cruises around the ceilings once again.

It is a very nice balloon.

You don’t see them very much anymore, oddly enough.  It was only a few years ago that these helium-filled mylar balloons were everywhere – you’d go to the supermarket and they’d fill up as many as you wanted, and they were so much nicer than the old latex ones that lost their helium overnight.

But there’s a helium shortage, don’t you know.  They don’t make the stuff, being an element and all, and there are important industrial uses for it that tend to trump balloons.

It’s kind of odd, really.

We live in an age of unprecedented abundance.  By any historical standard, the modern world – particularly the industrialized part of it – is awash in goods and resources to an extent that previous generations would have found inconceivable.

We are surrounded by stuff.

We expect there to be food.

We don’t worry too much about survival.

Oh, some people do.  Poverty exists, and in some places it exists good and hard.  In those places there isn’t much stuff, and there can be even less food.  Survival is in fact something to worry about there. 

But we regard those places as exceptions, as places that have somehow missed out on the larger prosperity and abundance that defines the modern world, places that could be brought into that prosperity and abundance if only we refined our politics, our economics, our technology, our distribution networks, our ethical standards – as if it were simply a matter of choice on our part that scarcity continues to exist amid all this plenty.

It can be shocking to come face to face with the fact that those aren’t the exceptions, even in something as trivial as a helium-filled mylar balloon.

The fact is that there is only so much stuff that can be made.

That while we may have raised the Malthusian limit on food production, we have not eliminated it. 

And that any age of abundance will invariably be followed by an age of scarcity that will reach even those areas where scarcity is regarded as a problem for other people.

Humans evolved in scarcity.  We’re good at it.  Not in the numbers we have now – those, unfortunately, are not sustainable in the long run, and the faces behind those numbers are not anything you want to think about too hard if you want to sleep at night.

Such thoughts are a lot of weight for a balloon to carry.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

She Goes Up to Eleven

If you are one of the few people on this earth who like Banana Split Oreos, you pretty much have it made.  They’re all yours. 

We discovered this over the weekend, during Lauren’s birthday party.

Lauren is almost 11 now – the official date is not until Halloween, but you can’t really have a birthday party on Halloween when you’re a kid because it interferes with the serious business of shaking down the neighbors for candy.  When you’re older you can have all sorts of parties with this combination of holidays, though, and when Lauren reaches that age we trust that she will let us know how they go, as we will likely have been asleep since tea time.  Thus passes the circle of life.  At the present, though, parties must be scheduled around the candy, so that leaves either the weekend before or the weekend after.  And before is always best.

So there.

The nice thing about birthday parties when kids get older is that the honoree and guests really just want you to feed them and leave them alone – they can handle the fun on their own.  So when four fifth-grade girls showed up at 3pm on Friday trailing sleeping bags and presents, we just got out of the way.

Some of us got further than others.  Tabitha did some quick math and bailed, spending the night over at a friend’s house.  This is the prerogative of the older sister.

Everyone had a grand time here.  Lauren and her friends disappeared in a cloud of giggles and assorted noises – by which we could track them, should we be so inclined – and they kept themselves entertained.  They wrote their own murder mystery and filmed it on Lauren’s iPod.  They rampaged up and down the driveway on the old PLASMA car.  They entertained the rabbits, or vice verse.  And so on.  They pretty much kept themselves going all afternoon.

Dinner was – by special request – waffles and bacon.  And since the cake was not scheduled for the next day, dinner was followed by the First And Probably Last Grand Oreo Taste Test Competition.

Do you know how many flavors of Oreos there are?  HUNDREDS. 

We settled on five.

By popular vote, the favorite was Mint Creme Oreos, which are essentially Thin Mints with an extra layer of white Oreo creme on top and how could you not love them is what I want to know.  Chocolate Oreos came next, followed by Berry Blast and Peanut Butter, which was kind of dry.  Only Lauren and I liked the Banana Split Oreos – nobody else could even stand them.  So win for us, I guess.

The next morning was more of the same until it was time to go roller skating.

There isn’t a roller rink in Our Little Town anymore.  It’s a convention center now, although they did keep the hardwood floors so they could always convert it back if they wanted to.  You have to go to the next town down to go skating these days, so that’s where we went. 

And it was a good time.

They went around and around in the regulation counter-clockwise direction.  They played roller-skate limbo (one of Lauren’s friends won and received as her prize a pile of cotton candy that was nearly as big as she was). 

There was, of course, cake.  As befits her new status as a Doctor Who fan, Lauren requested a TARDIS cake.  And Kim delivered:

Is that not the best cake ever?  Of course it is! 

Having filled them up with sugar we then turned them loose on their parents and sunk back into our own now-quiet home, ready to go for another year.

Happy Birthday, Lauren.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Tescopolis Jacket

There is a brief window of opportunity in the fall to wear the Tescopolis jacket.

It’s not a particularly distinctive coat.  It’s a navy blue windbreaker of some comfortably smooth manmade fiber, perhaps a size and a half too large.  We didn’t have much time when we were shopping for it.

We spent a couple of weeks in England two summers ago, visiting friends.  We had a grand time – we saw a good chunk of the southwest corner of the country, for example, and I posted stories and photos of our trip (as well as the time we spent in Sweden visiting other friends) here on the blog.  It was chilly for summer – back home the temperatures hovered just slightly north of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for much of the time we were gone (brutally hot for Wisconsin), but in Sweden it got into the 70s a couple of times and in England it never topped 64.

We were glad we brought our jackets.

One of our side trips while we were there was to take a train to London, and that was the last time Kim saw her jacket.  A new jacket was needed, in a hurry.

So Julia took us over to the nearby Tesco, which is a giant supermarket chain in the UK.  I love going to grocery stores in foreign countries, just to see how different they are and what people like to eat on normal days.  You can get hard cider in 3-liter bottles at Tesco. 

This particular Tesco was huge, even by American standards – Julia referred to it as Tescopolis, since it was roughly the same size as many of the surrounding villages.  It had two floors.  On the top floor they sold clothing, and eventually Kim located a jacket that fit, more or less, and she wore it for the rest of the trip.

When we got home she forcibly removed my jacket and made me dispose of it.  I’m not sure why, except that words like “ratty,” “threadbare,” “embarrassing,” and “homeless” entered into that conversation somewhere.

So I inherited the Tescopolis jacket.

It’s very comfortable, and it’s good down to about 35F in its unlined state.  There is no felt lining in the sleeves to grab at my shirt, which puts it one up on a different successor to my old jacket that went by the wayside a couple of years ago.  I have a different new jacket to wear when it gets colder, one that is also very comfortable, but as long as the weather is autumnal I'll wear the blue one.

Mostly though I like it because it reminds me of a time and a place – a market in a foreign land, a stone house filled with friends, a rainy cool summer far away.

It only looks nondescript if you don’t know the story.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

History at the Movies

This happens every time.

At some point in my World History Prior to 1500 class (a class I teach because I have a degree in History, which makes me an expert in all eras and locations in much the same way that the Professor in Gilligan’s Island had a degree in Science and could therefore make a radio out of two coconuts and a bicycle even if he couldn’t figure out how to build a boat) we discuss Han China.

Han China was one of the high points of Chinese civilization – an era of stability, prosperity, and expansion.  Oh, it had its problems – notably an entire usurping dynasty stuck approximately in the middle that lasted all of fourteen years before collapsing – but it was a generally positive time as far as most Chinese historians will tell you. 

One of the things that the Han did was push the nomadic peoples away from their borders in order to get them to stop harassing the Empire.  There were a bunch of those nomads, including one particular group known as the Xiong-nu (SHONG-new).  The Xiong-nu will head to the west and eventually bump into the Romans, who will call them Huns.  Making that connection is an important thing in a class like this, as it reinforces the idea that these civilizations did not exist in a vacuum – that they interacted with each other in ways both expected (trade, war) and unexpected (long chain reactions of dealing with nomadic threats, for example).

Of course, as soon as you mention “Chinese” and “Hun” in the same sentence these days, the first question that comes up from the class is “Isn’t this what Mulan was based on?”

Every time.

Now, there was a time when I could have answered that question fairly easily.  I once had two very young daughters.  I must have seen Mulan three or four dozen times in the early years of this century and at one point could have sung the entire score.  In order.  But my daughters have grown bigger and have moved on to other things (Doctor Who!) and it has been quite some time since we saw Mulan.

So I have to bluff.

“Yes,” I say, full of pedagogical certainty.  “To the extent that there is any actual history in Mulan, this is where it comes from.”

This answer has the dual function of being more or less accurate, as far as I am aware, and sufficiently vague that it can’t actually be proven wrong.  I also make a point of noting that if you can get an entire army trained in one song, you’re doing pretty well.  This, I feel, is indisputably true.

Somehow this conversation inevitably segues into other Disney and Pixar films, upon which ground I feel more assured.  Yes, Monsters, Inc. is the greatest animated film ever made – sorry, your candidate doesn’t measure up to it.  And if you can get through the opening ten or fifteen minutes of Up without tears in your eyes there is something wrong with you – a quarter hour with essentially no dialogue and still a better love story than Twilight, a book that cost me two days of my life that I will never get back and no, vampires DO NOT SPARKLE, thank you very Nosferatu-loving much. 

Next question!

Friday, October 18, 2013

How Not to Be a Scientist

I was never going to be a scientist.

I thought I might be, once upon a time.  I managed to survive high school chemistry despite never really cottoning on to the whole notion of precisely measuring anything.  At one point during my senior year I thought I’d major in physics when I got to college, an illusion that a) caused me to apply to at least one university best known for its engineering program, and b) was quickly dispelled by second-semester AP physics, the first class I ever dropped.

All of that was mere fantasy.  Seventh grade should have told me that.

My seventh-grade science teacher was a nice man who really didn’t deserve to have all of us hormonal idiots bouncing around in his room for 47 minutes every weekday.  Eventually he ended up in administration, where at least his frustrations were with adults.  Sometimes I think we did that to him, but mostly I know that we were just one class of many over the years and I suspect it was more of a cumulative thing than anything else.  The constant drip-drip-drip across his psyche of seventh-graders ricocheting seamlessly off educational activities without a single mark upon them no doubt took its toll. 

You have no idea how much respect I have for junior high teachers now, looking back.

He persevered, though.  He came up with all sorts of activities designed to ram science into our skulls, many of which succeeded.  He was a good teacher. 

One day he decided to have us learn how to use microscopes.

These were the big old microscopes that you had in science classrooms during the Carter administration – heavy steel and glass instruments about a foot high, solid enough to serve as murder weapons should we have been so inclined.  They built stuff heavier then.  This was the age of the manual typewriter, after all.  We were a fairly affluent suburban school district, so there were enough to go around – we each got our own microscope that sat, brooding, on our desks for the better part of a fortnight.

Our surface mission was to find some small sort of something that could be placed under the lens and examined in detail, after which we would write an essay detailing the things we saw.

For some reason I chose to examine a quarter, probably because I had one in my pocket when the assignment was made and it was easier than trying to find something else.  And, in fairness, it turned out that when you examine a quarter under a microscope it is, in fact, fairly interesting.


But there were more interesting sights in that classroom.

I suppose in one sense I was doing what he asked of us – learning how to use a microscope.  I got pretty good at manipulating it to get it to do what I wanted, actually.  Except that mostly what I learned was that if I took the quarter out of the way and just fiddled with the little mirror underneath – the one that bounced the ambient light up into the lens so you could do your scientific work without need of electricity – I could, with care and precision, turn the microscope into a periscope.

And once I figured out the height at which the mirror had to sit in order to create this periscope, I could then rotate the mirror and scope out pretty much the entire room, notably one young lady in the back, upon whom I had perhaps the most hopeless crush in the history of junior highs across America ever.

She was much more interesting than that quarter.

So I whiled away a good week or so with my newly discovered periscope, happily not looking at my quarter, until it dawned on me about a day or so before the essay was due that perhaps I ought to change my focus and actually get some work done.

I got pretty much the grade you would expect I would get.  I still think it was worth it, even if it did indicate that perhaps a lab science career was not in my future. 

Eventually I married a scientist. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

As the Dust Settles

So the Gang That Couldn’t Think Straight has decided not to subvert the Constitution and destroy the world economy in a juvenile fit of partisan temper tantrum after all.

Color me unimpressed.

Wasn’t that their job in the first place?  Weren’t they sent to Washington to help govern this great republic of ours?  Isn’t that what they get paid to do?  How much credit do they deserve for simply doing their jobs?  Do we award them Participation Ribbons and send out for ice cream?  Honestly – when my students perform to the bare minimum specifications of their assignments, they get Ds.  Those are not really grades you want to celebrate.

Every competent economist in the world – every single economist not actively on the Teabagger payroll – spent the last month outlining in precise and horrifying detail the consequences of an American default, and the Teabaggers still seem to think this is an option for next year, even after all that.

And the whole list of demands that they put forth as the price of them doing their jobs – the one that started with defunding the Affordable Care Act and ramped up to essentially overturning the last election because in their minds nobody but Teabaggers could possibly legitimately run this country and SHUT UP YOU FOR THINKING OTHERWISE you Socialist Kenyan Nazi illegal immigrant scum – that list?  Well, that was nothing less than an assault on the basic fabric of the Constitution.

Don’t believe me?

"Article II of the Constitution assigns responsibility for executing the law to the President. While the Congress is empowered to enact new or different laws, it may not indirectly interpret and implement existing laws, which is an essential function allocated by the Constitution to the executive branch. If the Congress disagrees with a statutory interpretation advanced by the executive branch—or with the efforts of the executive branch to defend or prosecute judicial action based on that interpretation – the Congress may, of course, amend the underlying statute. The use of an appropriations bill for this purpose, however, is inconsistent with the constitutional scheme of separation of powers."  (emphasis added)

This isn’t a line from some left-wing crank.  This comes from Ronald Reagan, who said it on July 11, 1987.  For all the casual invocation of the man as some kind of conservative saint, the sad truth is that he couldn’t get elected as a Republican today.  That party has lurched so far over into being a right-wing extremist cult that they have lost all contact with reality, American history, or responsible governance.

The fact that it came down to a last-minute vote, the fact that in the face of overwhelming evidence of impending catastrophe they continued to press forward as if the fate of the nation meant nothing to them, the fact that they seem to have learned absolutely nothing from this, all of these facts combine to tell me that the modern Republican Party poses an existential threat to the survival of the American republic and needs to be dealt with on that basis and that basis alone.

I miss the days when the Republican Party stood for conservative ideas that you could agree with or disagree with without fearing for the future of the republic should they get their hands on the levers of power.

Really, I do.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

News and Updates

Where have I been these last couple of weeks?  Up to my hindquarters in alligators, trying to drain the swamp of my life, that’s where. 

I know!  I’m the only person in the world who is busy, right?  Right?  Hello?  Is this thing on?


So here is a rundown of news and updates for your viewing pleasure while I continue to beat back the alligators and hope to escape this month unchewed:

1. We now have a fence.  It’s a very nice fence.  The guys who put it up were friendly and interesting, and they did a good job.  So far the Unmentionable Neighbor has not reacted to it in any way that I have noticed, which is all to the good.  Perhaps he regards this barrier between us as being as much of a good thing as I do.  Given the similar actions from his other neighbor, he is now encased on both sides with solid wooden fences designed to remove him from view – all that is left now is for his rear neighbor to follow suit.  You’d think he’d get the hint.

2. Having to teach the US Constitution during the current right-wing coup attempt is an interesting proposition.

3. I have now been to the Center Of The World.  It’s in New Troy, Michigan, in case you were wondering.  It said so, right on the sign as we were entering town, and it said so again on the sign as we were leaving the other side of town sixty seconds later.  The joy of a sphere is that you can pick any random point on its surface and call it the center.

4. We were in that area because it was time for my brother-in-law’s annual Halloween Bash, which is held every year on Columbus Day weekend so those who don’t have school on that Monday can have a more leisurely time of it.  It was its usual festival of fun – conversation, beverages and food for the adults; a Haunted Trail for the kids; and a bonfire for all and sundry.

You can have a bonfire like that when you live on what is, officially, a wetland and it has just rained.  Trust me, nothing else is going to burn. 

5. What was interesting about this year’s Halloween Bash is that the kids have now mostly grown old enough that we never saw them.  We pulled in, opened the door, and Tabitha and Lauren disappeared into a haze of swirling teens and pre-teens, surfacing only occasionally for snacks.  When we went back Sunday morning to say goodbye they didn’t even make it onto the property – we let them out on the road to join the pack and we collected them when we left. 

6. Lauren has been having fun hornking around with her clarinet.  It makes a distinctive sound, and it is nice to see her enjoying the process of learning a new instrument.

7. I have now found four wheat cents in the last five weeks.  This is a new record. 

8. One of the nice things about this time of year is that everything starts up again.  I don’t understand people who think the new year starts in January – clearly it starts in the fall.  School started last month.  This month the 4H year starts up again – we went straight from Michigan to a meeting on Sunday night, wherein awards were given for last year’s service (I got a nice certificate for helping out with the Drama Project), new officers were sworn in, and much food was consumed (you generally can’t go wrong with a potluck in Wisconsin, I have found).  This weekend the girls are back to curling.  And it’s finally cool enough for me to have my tea without breaking a sweat.

9. Cultural references inserted into lectures so far this semester:  1) The entire “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” speech from Doctor Who, during the introductory “What is history?” segment of all my classes; 2) This!  Is!  Sparta!, in my ancient history class; 3) the French knight’s taunting from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, in my US1 class.  If you can do it with an utterly straight face without pausing, it works really well.  Sometimes they get it.  Next semester I try for the “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead” line from Saturday Night Live again.

10. At the current rate, nothing in my body will work by 2016.  At least this will spare me the next presidential election.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Belling the Cat

The problem with putting a bell on the cat is that the cat then makes noise.

Oh, I hear you say, but that’s the point of putting a bell on a cat, to have it make noise.  There would be little reason to put a bell on a cat if you wished it to be silent, after all.  If silence were your goal, you could just leave the bell in its little box and not go to all the trouble of putting it on the cat – an animal generally not pleased when bells are placed upon it, and well equipped to demonstrate this fact.  Putting a bell on a cat in the expectation of having it not make any noise is just wasted labor.

Yes, I reply, but there are reasons for wanting the cat to make noise.  For example, there is the toll on song birds that might be avoided by removing the cat’s ability to sneak up on them.

Okay, you say, but why then put the bell on the indoor cat and not the outdoor cat?

This is a fair question.

The problem with the indoor cat is that she is a pest and a nuisance as far as the outdoor cat is concerned.  The indoor cat is like that kid you knew in junior high who was always coming up to you and wanting to play the sorts of games you played in third grade and wouldn’t take no for an answer no matter how politely or rudely you turned him down and whom you didn’t want to play those games with even when you were in third grade. 

And, as noted, the outdoor cat is well equipped to demonstrate displeasure in this matter.

We got tired of the hissing, the yowling, and the rest of the cat fighting that went on around here, and so we decided to bell the indoor cat so that she couldn’t sneak up on the outdoor cat and demand to play kitten games.  Perhaps if the outdoor cat could hear her coming she could glide away to some other, less available space and the problem would be resolved.

Except for the fact that, as George Carlin once pointed out, the aliens have already landed here on Earth.  They’re three feet high and visible only to cats.  And when they make themselves known there is only one proper feline response, which is to go into spasms of frantic running about, racing through the halls, under the furniture, across the tables and – all too often – headlong into doors and walls in case there are secret passages there.

This is funny in the afternoons.

At 3am, however, the amusement value sort of pales.

At that hour of the morning you begin to question the wisdom of putting a bell on the cat, no matter what sort of annoyance said cat is to the other cat.  You find yourself hoping that one of those secret passages will not be there and the cat will search for it so hard and fast that you can go to sleep again and wake up several hours later to find the cat still concussed and unconscious at the site of its last exploration.

But, alas, there are apparently more secret passages in the house than we originally bargained for.

And so, all night long, there is the frantic rumble of a thundering herd of cat (singular) accompanied by what sounds like Satan’s unanswered telephone.

They say that owning pets extends your lifespan, but sometimes it just feels longer is all.

Friday, October 4, 2013

All the Who You Can Have

It is finished.

After six months and over a hundred episodes on Netflix, DVD and Amazon, we have finally caught up on Doctor Who.  We are current.  There are no more spoilers we have to watch out for out there on the internet.  We have seen all there is to be seen of the rebooted post-2005 series.

Whatever shall we do with ourselves now? 

There are six more weeks until the next episode, and we’ll have to wait with the rest of the world.  That’s the nice thing about a backlog – it’s always there when you want it.  Now we will have to watch one week at a time like everyone else.

Two words: Classic Who.

Also: Torchwood.  So that’s 50% more words.  What a bargain.

It’s been a nice family project, this Doctor Who marathon.  We started with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, and worked our way through David Tennant and his rotating cast of companions, and then Matt Smith and his.  We’ve done it in order.  And we did it as a family, all together in the living room (or, in the case of the one Amazon episode, huddled around my computer).  There aren’t many things we get to do as a whole family these days, between our various jobs and tasks and interests, so it was good to have this one.  It was kind of a throwback to the old days before cable, when there were only so many shows and entire communities would settle in to see the same event at the same time.

Hey – you have your family traditions.  We have ours.

I wasn’t sure I’d like it when we started.  I’m not sure why, really – they couldn’t ask for a more perfectly targeted demographic for their audience than me, between my general addiction to SF/F as a genre and my localized Anglophilia when it comes to cultural matters.  But as any Whovian will tell you, after a few episodes that all those doubts went by the wayside. 

Hooked.  Absolutely, shamelessly hooked.

I enjoyed the energy that Eccleston brought to the role, and the weary thoughtfulness of David Tennant.  I’ve liked Matt Smith’s gleeful take on the character as well, though it took him a long time to stop playing the Doctor as a temperamental twit.  Oh well.  That’s the writing for you.

I’ve gone through Rose’s brave humanity, Martha’s unfazed acceptance of novelty, and Donna’s irritating sass.  Jack Harkness still makes me smile because how can you not?  I miss Wilf’s sense of family and place, and the Ponds’ sense of home.  I’m still not sure about Clara, but Craig’s goofy charm stays with me still.

You can’t take the show all that seriously.  It’s about a madman in a box who always seems to turn up where there is trouble and who refuses to let things go too far wrong.  But we need more madmen like that, madmen who can show us what it means to be human and how far you have to travel sometimes to find out what was inside you all along.  It’s weird and humane and you can’t ask for much more than that.

No, you can’t take that too seriously.  Nor can you dismiss it too lightly.

It’s been quite a ride.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New Worlds

I used to be able to tell how stressed out I was by how many books I had open at once. 

I’ve always got at least one book going.  That’s what I do.  I’m the sort of person who will read the ingredients list on cereal boxes if there is nothing else around, so I’ve learned to have a book with me at all times.  Sometimes two.  And depending on how irksome the world was being at any given point, occasionally more.

Once I got up to nine.

I try to keep myself to just one at a time now, since there is always a bit of re-entry shock when I switch from book to book and the whole point of all this is to minimize that sort of thing.  I get enough re-entry shock just from waking up these days.  I don’t need to add to that.

Instead, I end up immersing myself into other worlds, reading entire series of books (in order, because that’s how I roll) or focusing on one specific television series.  I end up living in that mental space for a while, and it’s a respite from the rest of reality.

It’s surprising how many other worlds there are out there that seem more appealing than this one.

I spent about six months over the past year reading all of the Discworld series, for example.  Pratchett’s world is both weirder and more humane than ours, and it’s nice to know that both of those things are possible.  Given the heartlessness paraded as principle in our politics these days it is refreshing to think that there might be a place where such a position is treated with the anger and contempt it so richly deserves.

We’re nearly done with the rebooted Doctor Who series as well.  We started this as a family project back in March, beginning with the Ninth Doctor and Rose, and slightly over a hundred episodes and specials later we have only one more episode to go before we are completely current with the series.  No more spoilers on the internet!  Oddly enough, the Doctor’s world is also both weirder and more humane than the one we live in now.  Perhaps there is a theme here.

Now I’m seven books into Jacqueline Carey’s D’Angeline series – another richly imagined world just a bit skewed off from our own.  They’re fascinating books, even if the number of people I would recommend read them is rather more limited than the number of people to whom I’d recommend Pratchett or Doctor Who.  They’re weirder in different ways, some of which you just have to slog through to get to the rest of it.  But I’m enjoying them immensely.

All those worlds, and more.

They’re nice places to visit.