Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein

Whatever the truth about this world, I like it. I've found my Door into Summer and I would not time-travel again for fear of getting off at the wrong station. Maybe my son will, but if he does I will urge him to go forward, not back. "Back" is for emergencies; the future is better than the past. Desite the crapehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands... with tools... with horse sense and science and engineeringing.
---Robert Heinlein, Door into Summer

On the main character's wife's pregnancy: [she's] getting fat, too, but for a temporary happier reason. It has just made her more beatufiul and her sweet eternal Yea! is unchanged, but it isn't comfortable for her. I'm working on gadgets to make things easier. It just isn't very convenient to be a woman; something out to be done.

I actually meant to review The Forever War by Joe Haldeman today, but I grabbed the wrong book leaving the house, so... here's Heinlein!

I spent a lot of time reading in my teenage years (understatement), and while most of that was fantasy fare, there was a bit of science fiction in the mix as well. The three authors that had the biggest impact on me were (in alphabetical order) Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. If you had to choose three representatives for the genre, you could do a lot worse. Adams taught me that any form of writing can benefit from humor, and led me, in a roundabout British manner, to Terry Pratchett (for the record, neither writer is better than the other. They are both amazing). Asimov is quite possibly the most prolific science fiction writer in the history of the form, and there's a reason why his Laws of Robotics and psychohistory are now ingrained scifi tropes.

And then there's Heinlein. The quickest way of describing Heinlein is to take Asimov's prolific inventedness, add some Hemmingway concepts on individualism and masculinity, and throw in some sex. Given the relative conservatism of science fiction in the 50s to 70s, Heinlein's influence in opening the genre to the exploration of gender norms and social conventions can't be overemphasized (in my opinion, anyway). Heinlein's writing generally comes in two forms: the early work he did for juvenile boys, and the later, more adult work. If you want the most popular example of his writing, you should probably check out Starship Troopers; if you want the best, you should probably check out Stranger in a Strange Land. My knowledge of Heinlein's works is far less extensive than my familiarity with Adams and Asimov, so every now and then, I return to one of his books. At the moment, that means The Door into Summer.

The Door into Summer falls somewhere in the middle of Heinlein's books. It's definitely past the boy-scout straight-laced books like Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, but it's still a far cry from the Church of the Divine Orgasm in Job: a Divine Comedy. The plot of the book in a nutshell: Daniel Boone Davis, intrepid inventor, is swindled out of his company by his best friend and his fiancee, who are in cahoots. (If you have the opportunity to use the word 'cahoots,' it behooves you to do so. Same with 'behoove.') Bereft of any attachment to the current world but his cat, (which, it should be mentioned, is the near future, 1970, still 13 years away at the time of the book's original publication, in 1957) he contemplates placing himself and said cat into cryogenic freezing until the year 2000. Cryogenic freezing is, of course, widely available technology in 1970. He eventually decides against it, and sets out to reclaim the girl still around that makes his existence meaningful (not the fiancee, another one), and confront his transgressors. The latter act goes poorly, and they trick him into getting himself frozen anyway (sans cat, who narrowly escapes the villainous pair), and he wakes up in the year 2000.

Then things get weird.

One of the problems with reading serious science fiction set in the near future is that how you read it changes fundamentally as it transitions from "near future" to "never-gonna-happen past." Of course, this holds broadly for any work read out of its original context, but in science fiction, it completely changes the game. To speak more specifically about the book at hand, Heinlein has always been pretty good at creating logical futures and inventions (albeit futures and inventions skewing towards his own set of political beliefs, which I'll get to later.). For example, Daniel's inventions are all based around making simple tasks easier--mostly things he relates to, like housekeeping and engineering. His first invention, Hired Girl, drives itself over surfaces and continually picks up dirt, based on the already designed "electric turtles." And if that sounds a little familiar, yes, Heinlein did invent the roomba half a century early. Some of the social problems of the future (lab-grown meat, widespread subsidy practices, massive overpopulation) are exaggerated, but essentially accurate. Generally, by focusing on social changes over political changes, Heinlein manages to get it mostly right--except for the internet, but to be fair, no one in science fiction really predicted the internet until William Gibson's Neuromancer, and that was so influential it practically shaped the internet rather than predicted it.

Anyway, to finish up on plot, as he explores the year 2000, Daniel gradually realizes that many people he never met seem to remember seeing him before, and he really regrets not being able to personally attend to a few loose strings in the past. Then, through a very eye-rolling plot twist, he finds a professor working on time travel... In an interesting twist, the exact mechanics of time travel here are somewhat different: to send something into the future, you must send an equal mass into the past the same number of years. The catch is that you can't tell before hand which mass will go into the past and which into the future. Figuring that he'll win either way, Daniel sets the machine for 30 years, and lets 'er rip. Since I've spoiled everything else, I won't spoil what happens next. I will say that the cat makes it to safety.

Joking aside, the cat--and the subject of cat lovers in general--may very well be a deciding factor in whether you want to read the book. There's a few such factors. First, there's the political beliefs. As you may have guessed from the name of the protagonist, Daniel Boone Davis, Heinlein is very much a believer in rugged individualism, and that theme is front and center here, as Daniel is basically a made-man brought low by the nefarious scheming of a conniving lawyer and a black widow/femme fatale type. A nudist colony also features heavily, as Heinlein has always been big on pushing against body taboos. The nudity I can live with; notions of masculinity stating that a REAL man works for no one but himself is a little harder to swallow in contemporary society. Heinlein's individualism borders really, really close to libertarianism, although for real libertarian sci-fi, you really need to check out L. Niel Smith's "Probability Broach." (And we will!)

The other, related issue is the book's approach to feminism, something that comes up again and again in Heinlein's stuff. Here's a simple example, when Daniel explains his rationale for inventing primarily household appliances: "I had rarely met a housewife who did not have a touch of slaveholder in her; they seemed to think there really ought to be strapping peasant girls grateful for a chance to scrub floors fourteen horus a day and eat table scraps at wages a plumber's helper would scorn." There's a sentence just begging for postcolonial AND feminist approaches. To be fair, remember that this book is, above all else, the product of its time, the 50s. Additionally, one should also keep in mind that the opinions of a character are not necessarily the same as a book's overall message. But let's look at the three main female characters in the novel. First, there's Belle, the treacherous fiancee. Also, the only one of the main women who works for a living. Somewhat less than a positive role model. Then there's Jenny, the female half of the nudist couple. She has a big heart, but... At one point in the novel, Daniel offers to tell her husband John about his time traveller roots, and asks if they should wake up Jenny to tell her too. John responds that Jenny is an "uncomplicated" person, and he'll tell her if he thinks it necessary. Again, a somewhat problematic interpretation. Then there's Frederica, or Ricky, the stepdaughter of the lawyer, and the only one besides the cat to immediately sense Belle is bad news. Before departing into the future, Daniel promises to marry her. At this time, he is in his late twenties. She's eleven. eleven. ELEVEN. Even allowing for the fact that Daniel tells her she can change her mind when she, uh, grows up, he's still seriously considering her as a sexual partner at this point. And she's eleven.
There's challenging sexual mores, and there's... well, there's this. I've read a Heinlein short story where the main character, through time travel and gender surgery, accidently serves as his/her own mother, father, and midwife, but the eleven year old love interest was a bit much.

To end on a less problematic note, let's look at the cat. The involvement of the cat in the text is not at all a trivial inclusion, and its use is emblematic of Heinlein's writing. Daniel's first hint that Belle is not a good person is that his cat doesn't like her, and while I may not go that far, I will say that anyone who thinks throwing stones at cats is a good pasttime is not included in my definition of Good People. In terms of plot, the cat demonstrates the themes of individualism and Danny's own defiant nature: the book opens with this rebel among men sneaking the cat into a bar to get it some ginger-ale. Even the story's title comes from the cat: in the winter, it insists Danny opens every door to the house when it wants outside, because it's certain that summer has to lie behind one of them. And that's Heinlein: the man who insists on opening the doors. Heinlein's admiration for cats is definitely worth perusal, given the writing regarding animals and technology currently going on in digital media circles.

So, to sum up: Heinlein. Writes great dialogue, makes fascinating predictions of the future, believes in challenging preconceptions and exploring controversy. And he may think cats are smarter than women. But don't quote me on that.

And if you thought Heinlein was fun, wait'll we get to Haldeman. Hint: orgy.

EDIT: Incidentally, does anyone have any idea what a crapehanger is?
Later Days.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On the belated TV Show Farscape, "Starburst" refers to their method of interstellar travel

Two quick, largely pointless, anecdotes:

First: I was walking through the U of Blank's rough equivalent of an Arts building, when I was approached by a young girl. She explained that she was taking advantage of her sociology professor's "late paper" policy to submit her paper, well, late, but she was afraid to return the paper in person, lest he associate her physical appearance with the name. To that end, she asked me to submit the paper for her. Since I'm a sucker for a good story, (and let's be honest, a pretty face) I agreed. So I took the paper and wandered around sociology a bit with a bemused look on my face. Now, either sociology professors here are the most congenial people in the world, or my "bemused" look is pretty identical to my "confused as hell" look, because I got three different people wondering whether I needed further direction. Finally, through their help, I ascertained that the professor in question wasn't actually there at the moment, but he had arranged for a nearby colleague to collect the term papers for him. Consequently, not only were both teacher and student operating through proxy, his use of a proxy canceled out her need for one. So I handed off the paper, and reported back.
It's probably best for her that I didn't get to see the professor in question, because I was totally going to refer to myself as a drug mule, which would neatly defeat her purpose of not attracting attention.

Second story: After this transaction was complete, I returned to my original task, selecting an item from the 2nd floor vending machine. After much deliberation, I went with the NEW! Flave-red Starburst pack, which features strawberry, watermelon, cherry, and fruit punch. The final fruit punch flavor, as the picture helpfully suggests, is a mix of strawberry, watermelon, and cherry. I can imagine how that product brainstorming session went:
Jerry: You wanted to see me, boss?
Boss: Yes, yes. What's the hold up on the new Flave-red package? The boys in marketing say it's gold, but we need to get the product out!
Jerry: Well, we're having trouble on that final flavor. We just can't find the right red fruit. We're currently field-testing apples, raspberry, and--bear with me on this, it's a bit of a stretch--plum.
Boss: Field-tests? Jerry, this project's over budget and out of time. We can't wait around for a bunch of field tests. Just lump all the other flavors together and call it "Fruit Punch."
Jerry: But boss, we can't do that. It's lazy, and derivative. Our public deserves better.

Jerry is fired for not being a team player, and the boss receives a bonus for finishing the project understaffed.

I should totally write for the Office. Or Dilbert. Is the job of writing Dilbert open?

Later Days.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

For official record, American education rituals especial efficient at task segregation youth of superior intellect removed from youth global superior physical prowess. Best example, ritual label as "dodgeball." Therein all peer males engage mock battle under witness fertile peer females. Commencement of ritual, physical superior males select best combtants for accompany into battle, thus ranking all from most-best to least desirable for reproduction during female note close attention. ---Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk

I find postmodern texts pretty annoying.

Admittedly, this statement is somewhat hypocritical on my part, considering my list of top ten books includes Gantenbein, a story where where the narrator changes characters by saying "let's pretend I'm someone else!", then goes on as that person for a hundred pages or so; House of Leaves, which is a piece of fiction pretending to be an edited version of an edited version of a dissertation regarding a documentary that was never made and tells a little under half its story in narrative footnotes; and the original postmodern text, Tristam Shandy, in which the narrator attempts to tell his life story and over the course of hundreds of pages, gets about a year or so after his birth.

These texts are GOOD postmodern texts. A postmodern text is, to use a very handwavey definition, a text that undermines itself, either through fractured narrators, emphasis on its state as a text, use of magic realism, or a number of other tricks. (Homework assignment: All blogs are postmodern texts. Discuss.) I say tricks because that's what the NOT GOOD postmodern texts come down to--little gimmicks that try to distract you from realizing that what you're reading is all style and no substance. And with all that in mind, I think you can see where we're going in regard to Palahniuk's Pygmy. Pygmy is, at best, a mediocre postmodern text.

The plot is simple enough. The title character is a teenage terrorist, sent by his state to undermine America and destroy as many Americans as possible. The book is presented through first person narrative, all told in the style transcribed at the beginning of the post, which gets a little tiresome during its 241 pages. Nicknamed "Pygmy" by his oblivious host family, the 'protagonist' tells his story in the form of mission progress reports, occasionally interspersed with flashbacks to his training in his unnamed home country. Through the course of the novel, Pygmy goes to church services, attends school, visits a shopping mall and experiences his first Thanksgiving. And all this in a style that abandons articles as wasteproducts of an imperial nation. (Homework assignment: any ergodic text is a postmodern text. Discuss.)

In addition to being a postmodern text, Pygmy is also a satire, and it's on that level that the book is most successful. The targets are simultaneously American decadence and terrorist extremism, and the shift between the two occurs at a breakneck pace. I liked Palahnuik's observation that the model UN is basically like Halloween, in that it's more about dressing up in "wacky" foreign clothes than anything else, and there's definitely many satirical jabs at the Western education system, as this post's starting quotation can attest. There's also a countermove against the satire, in Palahnuik's small but noticeable attempts to humanize Pygmy, drawn out mostly through his relationship with his host sister and elements in the flashback. For the most part, it's an impressively deft touch, as it works very counter to the tone of the novel. The two elements--satire and humanization--almost, almost, balance each other out, right up until the end, when the balance gets tossed out the window. (Homework assignment: All satires are postmodern texts, and vice versa. Discuss.)

Palahniuk, for those not in the know, is the author of book Fight Club, and the movie of the same name is as quintessentially postmodern as anything can be without actually being a Thomas Pynchon novel. The movie serves as a useful reference point, as Pygmy follows largely the same beats. There's skewed takes on established practices, only instead of self-help groups, it's school dances and model UNs. There's gross, over the top violence, only instead of a fight club, it's roofies and anal rape. (I wish I was exaggerating.) And that violence is channelled into a viscious, almost nihlistic, attack on the state, through a student shooting and the overall terrorist plot. If you liked Fight Club... well, then you still might hate Pygmy. But if you DIDN'T like Fight Club, you're better off doing something else.

(Homework assignment: watch Fight Club.)

For official record, operative me wishing capitalist swine readers Later Days.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Witnessing a Transition

To celebrate the end of term, some friends and I went to a live show at a bar. As a recent entry attested to, I'm not really a big fan on going to such things, but... it was $10 and a special occasion, so yeah, why not? It was a really interesting experience. The bar was a nice, cozy place, reasonably well-designed for small venues, and the music was pretty good (unfortunately, my favorite song was the second in the main act, so it peaked pretty early for me).

But the really interesting part was the singer. In between numbers, she explained the songs, and, since they came pretty heavily out of her own experiences, she spent a fair amount of time explaining herself too. There were songs about losing faith in love, songs about a friend who had committed suicide, songs about (and by) her family. She'd come just recently from an extended tour in China, and it was pretty clear that the stay had affected her--her music contained oriental influences, and some songs were actually sung in Mandarin (beautiful language, delicious orange, deadly Iron Man villain). Actually, to say it had affected her is probably putting it mildly; a more accurate description would probably be that it transformed her. She had, for a time, in her own mind, at least, belonged there.

Her stories and music both said that she had gone through a very radical, and not entirely untraumatic change. That last bit is speculation on my part, but it seemed pretty evident that she had not only changed, but it was pretty uneasy about her past, and it really came out in places. For example, when she was told the audience about the albums she brought to purchase, she gave out a glowing, enthusiastic description of her new work and how , then added, "and the old stuff is selling at 4 CDs for 30 dollars. Buy it, so I don't have to carry it around."

After talking to my friends afterwards, I learned about the full scale of the transformation. The last time they had seen the artist, she was a hardcore lesbian muscian, dressed in jeans, simple top, and a "butch" haircut. (Can you tell how uncertain I am in using the lingo? Small town white boy here, folks.) Now, she had stylized hair and a dress, both of which were--conjecture again--probably adopted for her Chinese audience. A lot of the people in the audience were there because they were fans of her old stuff, and identified with who she was. As you'd imagine, they were somewhat disconcerted with her new style, and somewhat upset at her visible attempt to distance herself from the old one.

And yet, these people weren't the only audience. A Chinese woman kept coming near the stage during the performance and taking pictures. While her change in style wasn't going over well with her old fans, it was recruiting new ones.

I'm slightly exaggerating the situation for effect--everyone in the audience clapped really hard and so forth, so there wasn't a complete disconnect--but the story behind the music really caught my attention. This singer invested herself in her songs, and her audience saw themselves reflected in them as well. So what kind of responsibility does she have to herself and her audience in this case? She evidently felt that she wasn't the person who performed that old music, and that at this stage in her life, she doesn't want to be that person anymore. But where does that leave the fans who felt that person was the one they related to?

It's roughly equivalent to a revamp of a beloved tv show, changed in such a manner that everything you know and loved about it is not just different from the old, but dismisses the old as well. Except it's more personal, more real, because the person is standing right in front of you. (That's right. Tonight, I realized that the advantage of live music is a greater rapport between audience and performer. Tomorrow, I'll realize that door knobs open doors, and the left shoe goes on the left foot.) The entire affair was really fascinating for me, because all I got to see was the "After" picture, and the before was present only in traces.

Just so everyone knows, I was *this* close to doing a semiotic analysis of the rhetorical situation. You can take the student out of grad class...

Later Days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

0 for 3

I needed another two books for my postcolonial paper, so I head on over to the U of Blank to pick them up from the library. Unfortunately, it turns out the U of Blank library closes at 5:00 on Sundays during the summer. More unfortunately, I didn't think to look this up before I left my house at 6. Well, I thought, if I can't pick up those books, at least I can get the ones I left in my office. No I can't, because I left my keys at home. Thoroughly frustrated, I turned to a vending machine so that I could at least assuage my angst with chocolate goodies. Guess who forgot their money at home?

Sigh. It's amazing I remembered the bike, frankly. And thank goodness I've taken to wearing a spare housekey around my neck, or things would have been much, much worse then a slight delay on some paragraphs in my paper.

Later Days.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thousand Years Reich? Try 3.5 Million.

In performing the research for my 20-page postcolonial paper (due exacatly 7 days and 2 hours from now), I've been reading my way through John Reider's "Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction." It's a great book, and it'll prove very useful to the paper--I'll probably do a full review of it at some point. For now, it's enough to know that Reider believes he sees, in sf tropes such as time travel and aliens, an attempt to engage colonial views and challenge perceptions of race. I'm pretty sure this is exactly what he means:


Thanks to Ye Olde Comick Booke blogge, for introducing me to this wonderful example of the most versatile of mediums. This has been such a better use of my time than any silly paper.

Later Days.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What Happens When I Can't Get Back To Sleep? This is What Happens When I Can't Get Back to Sleep

I was talking to someone today about I sometimes feel like I lead a very sheltered life, and I'd like to do something to change it. She pointed out that I don't really have a leg to stand on here, since I've got a mild aversion to actually going places and doing things. It's true: given a choice, I'd generally rather stay home more often than not. There's a few reasons for this: I really like stories, which are generally stationary things; I come from a pretty sedentary small town, and staying in is habit-forming; and, in my defense, my apartment is pretty awesome.

Presumably, though, the question was still weighing heavy on my mind when I went to bed a few hours ago, because I think it's behind one of my dreams. I'm attending some sort of Farmer's Market with my parents, and I'm stopped at the entrance: I need to pay the entry fee. I shout ahead to my parents, because I thought they were paying for me. They were not. I ask how much the fee is, and I'm told $9. Upon hearing this, I get so frustrated I wake up.

First, $9 for entering an outdoors farmer's market? That's ridiculous. And the reason I was upset was because $9 was all I had brought with me, so I'd have nothing left for the actual market. And why did the woman at the till ask for an amount that just happened to be all the money I was carrying? Clearly, there were some shenanigans going on there. I'm not saying she was a con woman, but the possibility was there.

But what the dream really illuminated for me is a simple mental truth: I resent paying money for experiences. That includes movie theaters, live concerts, even plays. Why should I pay money for a sensory experience that leads to a corresponding mental shift when I can accomplish an infinite variety of the same for free? Going places costs money. Having a place to stay costs too, but at least you get a place to stay. To a lesser extent, the same holds true for services, which is why I currently resemble Cousin It in terms of hairstyle.

What I really want for my money is a nice, material product. It can be a one-use consumable, but the physicality is important. I'm not sure what that says about me. Is this a weird category of visible capitalism? A search for the tangible? Or am I just really cheap? Something to think about, I guess.

BONUS DREAM: While that dream led to disturbing conclusions, it wasn't that disturbing in itself. Here's one that is.

Back in my high school days, our classroom had one girl who rather enjoyed being verbally negative, if not downright abusive. As one classmate claimed, she was basically this way with everybody, but as a sensitive young fellow, I always thought she was especially so with me. In this dream, I'm back in school and receiving a verbal lashing from said girl. So far, so normal. The difference is that she's really upset--she's getting increasingly frustrated that *I* keep driving her to these extremes with my actions. And everyone around her agrees--in fact, they're getting upset with me for upsetting her, and keep telling me to lay off. This, as you might imagine, gets me upset. I'm about to let loose with a few decades of pent-up resentment when...

She turns into a submarine sandwich.

Now, in that weird way that dreams work, I know, I know, inside that dream, that she did this purely to spite me. (Pause for a moment to let that sink in. She turned into a sandwich out of spite.) So I get even more enraged. And what does an angry man do to a sandwich? Well, I try to eat it. I do try. But I just can't bring myself to do it. So I do the next best thing, and tear the sandwich to pieces. Chunks of tomato and lettuce go flying. There's bread crumbs everywhere. You don't even want to KNOW what happened to the mustard. Once it's done, I look up, and the rest of the class is staring at me, absolutely appalled.

And then I wake up.

Analyze THAT, Sigmund Freud.

Later Days.

Friday, July 10, 2009


It's that time again. What time, you may ask? Time to reset my wonderful stat counter, as the poor thing can only store 500 logs at a time. I usually reset around 400 or so, and this is the third time, so that means my dear little blog has received somewhere in the market of 1200 hits. And only about half of those are mine!

But before I wipe the slate clean again, I thought it would be worth everyone's time to post, for the record, the most interesting part of those records, namely, the convoluted, twisted, downright obscene, search words that lead a disturbingly sizeable portion of my viewers to this post.

So without further ado,

"caught naked" Nashville
"Chuck The Ring" Brooklyn
"who's putting the condom" Pearland, Texas
"lulu divine" Nalbach, Germany
"spying on my sister and her boyfriend" Biggleswade, United Kingdom
"chuck bone" East Lansing, Michigan
"playing doctor with sister" Bloomsbourg, Pennsylvania
"james bond" Rajahmahendri, India
"hot sci fi girls" Tehran, Iran
"most romantic scenes" Kot Malik, Pakistan
"dicks in bums" Melbourne, Australia
"handjob in restaurant" Fort Collins, Colorado
"kid cant find bathroom" Lubbock, Texas
"hot" Paris, France
"hot scene in bathroom" Muscat, Oman
"hot doctor scene" Tehran, Iran
"chuck and sarah spoiler" San Diego, California
"spy my hot sister" Tripoli, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
"james bond hot scenes" Madras, India
"Quantam Leap" Hackleburg, Austria
"chuck and sarah" Porte Algre, Brazil
"guys putting on a condom" Saint Joseph, Minnesota
"gossip girl bedroom" Arak, Iran
"putting condom on your boyfriend" London, UK
"hot scene in bathroom" Aurangabad, India
"childrensex" Ardebil, Iran
"girl putting condom on guy" Starkville, Mississippi
"sexy girl" Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

I think if Chuck actually HAD that many viewers, it wouldn't have been in danger of being canceled last season. (Don't worry, though. It's coming back.) And, judging on the traffic, can you imagine how popular this site would be if I actually TRIED to attract the porn audience?

For sheer interest sake, there are other popular pages too. The Fallout review receives regular hits, and the new Beagle book received a fair bit of attention when it was first out. The comic book pages also generated a number of hits, which makes me question why I stopped doing them. I'll leave the stats up for another 24 hours, just so you can all see the numerical glory for yourself.

Later Days.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The funeral went fairly well; family and friends went over to my brothers' place afterward, and it was nice to have everyone together. (A particular thanks goes out to LN, for the confectioneries she provided. I personally ate at least half of them, so I figured a personal thank you was appropriate.)

I've been putting this post off because I wanted time to do it full justice, but now that I'm looking at the screen in front of me, I'm not sure where to start. Essentially, I want to talk about what my grandmother meant to me. It's a daunting task.

Let's start with the bad part. I don't think I knew my grandmother that well. There's a lot of reasons for this. As readers know, I like video games, comic books, and esoteric literature. My grandmother enjoyed cooking, gardening, and was an active participant in her church. There's not a lot of overlap there. And by the time I was branching out, she had her stroke, which meant that direct conversation was more or less replaced by just being there for her. And while I wasn't there as much as I could have been, I hope that when I was there counts for something.

Most of what I do remember about my grandparents--they're together in my mind, so they're going to be together here too--comes from my childhood memories, and my memories of their home in Someplace Else. So:

I remember their backyard. I remember the biggest garden I've ever seen, and picking up rocks in their flower bed to look at the insects underneath. (This was a group sport. Find the biggest worm, and you win.)

I remember the whole family going on walks to nearby parks,and playing on the playground--which was, of course, much, much better than the playground back home.

I remember Grandpa's tandem bike--not the usual affair, but two bikes joined together, with a lawn chair or something tied to the rear end, for extra seating. This strikes me now as an elaborate accident waiting to happen, but even now, its sheer coolness must be appreciated.

I remember summer trips to the nearby campground. I've never been that fond of camping, but to this day, it's a family activity in my mind.

I remember watching my grandmother cooking--whether it was making soup, making cookies, or shelling peas. Sometimes, in the latter activity, I even helped. Not often though.

I remember my Grandpa's train set that he kept in the basement. The height of childhood responsibility was being allowed to slowly--slowly-- accelerate the train along the track without supervision.

I remember that this set was in the same room as their piano, a great big hulking thing that was perhaps the most out-of-tune instrument I've ever used. But I still had to use it; just because we were at the Grandparents' house for a weekend was not accepted as a reason to skip the piano practice.

I remember the games. Kerplunk, dominoes, and, of course, tri-ominoes, a game which I still think is nigh incomprehensible. There were numbers, and they lined up, and afterward, Grandma told you who won.

I remember the toys. These were purchased purely for the grandchildren's amusements: play phones, fisherprice barnyard figures, and others. These were toys that had to stay at the grandparents' house, which gave them a whole different value.

I remember hours spent in front of their TV. (We were lazy grandchildren.) My grandparents got channels that just weren't available in our rural home town. (We didn't get satellite at home until I moved away. I never saw an episode of Seinfeld until my last year of high school. I was deprived.)

More to the point, I remember my grandparents' video collection. Each video was watched over and over and over again. I have seen Homeward Bound more times than any other movie in my life. I'm not sure exactly what effect that has had on me, besides believing that every animal, if it could talk, would sound like Michael J. Fox.

What does my grandmother mean to me? She means the unconditional love of family. The support of someone who believes in you and your potential, even if they aren't entirely on board with semiotic analysis or algebraic semi-groups. The knowledge that home is more than a single location, that it's where you feel safe and loved.

My grandmother was a large part of my world, and she means the world to me.

Later Days.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Drag it Out

My plane leaves at 6:00 pm tomorrow. I've still got a few difficulties, flightwise.
First: The pass. I'd like to print out the boarding pass ahead of time. Boarding passes can only be printed 24 hours before the flight. I don't own a printer. I don't want to make a trip to the university tomorrow. So: it's 5:18, and I'm staying here at the university until I can print off the pass. And I've got some time to kill, so here's a blog post.

Second: The ride. I'm still short a ride to the airport. If worst comes to worst, I'll take a cab and secretly add it to the total cost of the flight, which my folks are paying. Oh, right. They're in the audience. Hi folks!

Third: The suit. I like to wear the suit for presentations. I feel like it gives me an edge. So it's been at the university for a few weeks now. Clearly, it needs to be taken back home to put into my luggage. The problem is, transporting the suit isn't a one-done affair. Given the difficulty of biking while carrying clotheshangers, it needs to be brought up in pieces. Unfortunately, multiple trips don't work when it's the day before you leave, so I went with plan B: I can carry it in one go if I walk instead of bike. But THAT plan depended on it not raining. Which it is. A lot. So we go with plan C. Plan C means wearing my rain ensemble (water-proof jacket and lined splash pants) overtop of my suit.Which I'm also wearing. As you'd imagine, it's kind of warm. I also had to tuck the tail of the coat into my pants. And if you think this is funny, think about the alternative: walking around in splash pants with a suit tail hanging out. Damned if you do... etc.

I had my second presentation today. I already got the mark back from the first one, and it was really good. The second... ugh. I felt really good about it while writing it, but it really could have used some more editing. It's done, I guess. In a way, it's too bad. I really took full advantage of those presentations to distract me. And with them not there... Sigh.

Under the circumstances, I'm not terribly looking forward to the trip home. But it needs to happen. I'll post again when I get back.

(And that took about 15 minutes. So I still have a half hour to kill...)

Later Days.