“Classic” Post: July 2004–Odd Jobs: Froggie

Back in 1998 or 1999–I’ve wiped the exact dates from my memory–I, along with two colleagues, was sent on a road trip across the state by my current employer. Our task? To document existing business rules/models at the county level for a state agency.

This road trip took place over 18 weeks–every other week we would fly, or more usually, drive, to another location in Florida, some of them more cosmopolitan than others. Driving was interesting. Once, we got into an accident. A few other times, my colleague the driver would see a desired location, like a Chinese restaurant, and decide, although three lanes over and only 15 feet from the entrance to the place, in heavy traffic, to just barrel over two lanes of screeching, honking traffic to get to said restaurant. I thought we were all going to die. Another hilarious episode resulted when our colleague’s faulty instructions to a watch repair store (his watch batteries had expired) led us right into the middle of a derelict crack house neighborhood with dozens of white/black/hispanic men sitting on their porches in the middle of the day watching us drive by kind of suspiciously…There was also the care-free episode in Chili’s when I found vast quantities of what appeared to be tinsel in my grilled chicken and one of my colleagues found what at first appeared to be a shredded condom in his Caesar salad, but was later identified (thank goodness) as something at least a little more sanitary, made of plastic. Then, to return to our plastics theme, on the way to the airport, a plastic bag got caught in one of the wheels and I suddenly saw smoke rising–had no idea it was just a plastic bag burning from the friction–and thought the $*%&$#&!! car was on fire…

Throw in a hotel from hell in Sebring, Florida (thousands of mosquitos *inside*; moist, sweating, ectoplasmic walls; corridors on the second floor built with such low ceilings I had to stoop–what? they only cater to $%&#*!! midgets?), the car accident we witnessed in St. Petersburg during which the one guy decided to beat the living daylights out of the other guy, and the 8th trip (to where? I can’t even remember at this point…) where one colleague lost the crown on one of his teeth and the other got a 103 degree fever and, yes, it was what you might expect: an absolute laugh riot.

But the piece de resistance (and I’d long since given up putting up any resistance–if we’d had a 10th meeting out of town, monkeys could have flown out of my colleague’s butt during the sessions and I wouldn’t have even blinked, just calmly writing down in the minutes, “Then a flock of flying monkeys entered the room by way of my colleague’s ass.”) occurred on our Fort Myers trip/experience.

***

The hotel we were staying at had a computer room with a printer so rather than lug our printer down with us, I was going to use the hotel facilities. I went down there with my disk and the glass door to the room was shut and some huge, 450 lb (I kid you not) 6 foot 5 guy with a shaved head and an earring was using it. All he needed was a bandana, a parrot, and a pegleg to be a pirate (or to be a great big pile of pudding with a bandana, parrot, and pegleg on top of it).

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iPhone Watch–and the Museum of Jurassic Technology

A nice day in LA with Ann’s son, Jason, who is a casting agent. (He cast Elizabethtown and also casts NCSI.) The photos below are first from weirdos waiting in line for the iPhone in the Grove near the Farmer’s Market. And then photos from the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which was waay weird and cool. I scored a copy of Nabokov’s Russian translation of Alice in Wonderland and Alexander Thoroux’s The Secondary Colors. As well as a Museum pin for my label. (The last photo is of the back door of the museum, suddenly open and revealing something prosaic!) Going out for sushi tonight and then to a beer bar.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Clarion and how to approach the first couple days of the workshop. I think I’ve got it all down now and despite June being the busiest month I’ve ever had, I’m prepped and ready and excited about it. On Sunday, we drive down to San Diego to meet with the first week’s instructor, Gregory Frost, and then it all starts Monday. Some very talented students in this year’s Clarion, and from all accounts, very curious, energetic, and driven.

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“Classic” Post: July 2003–Ambergris = Florida

Readers of my Ambergris stories who do not live in Florida, or who have only visited Florida’s tourist attractions, often wonder how Florida could possibly have influenced me. In fact, the decay and proliferating fungi of Ambergris are elements also inherent to Florida. I live in Tallahassee, in the north of the state, about 45 minutes away, by car, from any hint of coastline. In the summers here, the humidity level hovers around 100 percent. The temperature is consistently 90 to 95 degrees F. The rain, for a couple of months at least, is near constant, and often ferocious. (A friend of ours from England told us that the first time he experienced Florida rain, he stopped his car from shock; he was used to the constant mist of England, not this torrential downpour.)

In such a climate, the rate of decay, the infiltration of insects, the appearance of fungi and lichen, are all accelerated. If our modern civilization stopped functioning for just four months during the summer–no pest control, no air conditioning, no lawnmowers–Florida would revert to a natural state far more swiftly than anyone might think.

We’re in the heart of the summer now, and the vegetation around our house is defiantly green, richly green–one might almost say “verdant.” The azalea bushes that surround our yard like a thick fence have long since bloomed, the watery fire of their blossoms snuffed out. The only colors now are greens and browns and white–the greens of grass, trees, and lichen; the brown of soil, of rotted twigs and branches, of tree trunks; the white of tiny mushrooms circling the decay. Our backyard has long been mostly compost pile, with a thick surface of brown leaves on top. Through this the mushrooms sometimes appear, like little sentinels. The half decomposed limbs of fallen branches are thick with lichen–a rich, green color that calls to mind the endpapers of old Victorian novels. The insects are everywhere, especially at night–great, awkward flying beetles like dreadnaughts, and tiny, ephemeral whispy things with legs like pencil lead, and moths like drab paupers circling the globe of our outdoor light. (Sometimes we see damselflies, more delicate than dragonflies, and unable to survive except at certain elevations, in certain types of humidity; they are black and shiny and velvety, but they move like drunken sailors.) Below the surface: earthworms, cockroaches rustling through the dead leaves. Above: thrashers, thrushes, wrens, blue jays, crows, and squirrels. At night, frogs will stick to the windows and we will watch their tiny pink-and-white throats shiver and pulse with life. At night, while you are trying to become the opposite of awake, you will hear the chorus of the frogs, which bark, and the chorus of the cicadas, which sound like tiny drills, and the chorus of the crickets, which sound as if they are trying to soothe both the frogs and cicadas to sleep.

We have one enormous, tall tree in the front yard. The biggest wisteria vine I have ever seen winds its way around the tree all the way to the top. I used to think that the tree and the wisteria were locked in decades-slow combat, a battle that might not end until long after I was dead. But lately I have begun to suspect that the tree and the wisteria are locked in an embrace. It is a decades-slow love story, which will reach its fruition long after I am dead.

When the wisteria blooms, it covers our cars, using the rain to stick to the doors, the roof, the windows, so that over time, if we are not careful, they are transformed into Mardi Gras floats. Their blossoms fall onto the grass and leaves. They become brown, shapeless, rotting into the ground, like everything else.

Ambergris is but a pale reflection of this…

Gabe Chouinard Destroys Online Community

Gee, just days after posting this about not doing projects with Gabe, he’s deleted a whole online community called Frameshift, which featured conversations/posts from Scott Lynch, Chris Billett, and Matt Stover. Way to go, Gabe. But this is typical. When he couldn’t continue with Fantastic Metropolis, he wanted to pull the plug on it. The only thing stopping him was Luis Rodrigues, who then took over…because Gabe was basically just going to suicide the site.

These patterns repeat. In another couple of years Gabe will be back, properly contrite, doing something else meaningless and truncated online. Sorry, but this guy is beginning to disgust me.

In the time he’s spent messing with people and promising projects since the days of Fantastic Metropolis, I’ve written two books, edited four more, and done tons of other projects. Completed them. Like normal people.

Jeff

“Classic” Post: June 2003–The Imagination

We’re going to away to teach at Clarion and then some R&R. So, while I’m gone I’ll be posting a few posts from the old blog….

THE IMAGINATION

Carolyn Bly has a great book on writing called The Passionate, Accurate Story. Bly may not be known to many people, but she’s one of those writers in the literary mainstream, publishing mostly in literary magazines, who hasn’t had a novel out, just a series of some of the most beautiful short stories you could have the pleasure of reading. Her advice in her writing book is timeless.

Part of the book deals with the imagination, and specifically a sense of play in the imagination. It is her observation as a creative writing instructor that students often come to her with stunted or crippled imaginations. It’s difficult for her to draw such students out into the kind of “play” that results in good writing. You can learn all of the technique in the world, but without an advanced sense of play, it may go for naught.

She gives an example. A family is sitting around a dinner table the day that new neighbors have moved in next door. The father or mother asks their child, Have you met the new neighbors yet? The child says, Yes–it’s a family of bears! The child’s engaging in a real sense of play–a kind of enjoyment that is both intellectual and emotional. Something that’s fun–in a sense, the child is telling a story. How the parents react, consistently, can affect whether the child grows up with a good or stunted imagination. If the parents respond with, That’s nonsense, tell us the truth–and reinforce that lesson over and over again, then chances are the child will grow up thinking that such joyful make believe is wrong, or at best frivolous, as opposed to being central to the pursuit of a healthy imagination as adult. If, on the other hand, the parents say, That’s great! How many cubs do the parent bears have? Or in some sense continue to support the imaginative impulse in the child, then they tell a story together, and the child learns the value of a good imagination. Which is its own reward, but also helps in the creative arts later on.

This sense of play is highly underrated–we are often expected to do things or say things for solely utilitarian reasons. To do so, however, undermines one of the things that makes us human. That same sense of play, that sense of transforming the world into a place that is not just the surface we see but something underlying that surface–which begins to get at the idea that the world truly is a strange, beautiful, and complex thing–is something that makes us fully adult, fully human, and, in a sense, fully humane.

Have you ever had the sense that even though you’re in your twenties or thirties or forties that you haven’t fully grown up? That you’re not that far removed from the child or teenager you were? The reason for this is that we’re not that different. We add a veneer of adulthood, we take on responsibilities that force us to seem more adult. But at heart, we’re not that different than we were back then. In a way we should be grateful, especially if we want to be creative people, because children, for all their indifference to things we adults find important, are much more likely to see the world without the myopia of cliche or the shroud of received experience. That part of being a child–of experiencing things for the first time, of not putting so much of a filter between ourselves and world–is something we should strive to keep in our daily lives. And the imagination is a big part of that.

ALA: “I’ve got a reader hiding in the Vatican”

The ALA Literature of Ideas presentation featuring John Scalzi, Charlotte Jones, Steven Erickson, and myself went very well, I thought. Everyone interesting and not too much similarity between talks.

Just a few snippets to tease you below, with a detailed report on Amazon.com’s book blog on Monday…

Jeff

Steven Erikson:

“I’ve got a reader hiding in the Vatican. And if he’s reading my book, he must be hiding.”

“I write about ambiguity and ambivalence.”

“My first four books were written under my real name, Steve Lundin, and I’ll pay you $20 if you can find copies of them anywhere now.”

John Scalzi:

“The SF deals with the consequences of technology–advanced modeling of what we may have to do.”

“The wings of Icarus and the minotaur might be the first cautionary tales of the consequences of technology.”

“The moment I remember from Frankenstein is when the monster reaches out its hand to Frankenstein and Frankenstein is repulsed by it….Are we mature enough to embrace the consequences of what we do with our technology.”

Charlotte Jones:

“[On a personal level] A Wrinkle in Time was a working out of pain from an unusually difficult decade.”

On having had difficulty finding an audience: “It’s for people. Don’t people read books.”

“At the center of the universe is love.”