New Worlds: Disease

My lovely Topic Backers for the New Worlds Patreon have selected “medicine” as this month’s theme — which was supposed to begin with a different essay, only halfway through writing it I realized that a) it needed to be two essays and b) I had also started in the wrong place. So we begin with disease itself, and the mind-boggling extent of its effect on our history and our world. Comment over there!

Moderation in all things

The more time passes, the less patience I have with the notion that “a real writer writes every day.”

Try subbing in some other words there and see how that sentence sounds. “A real teacher teaches every day.” “A real programmer programs every day.” “A real surgeon performs surgery every day.” These are all patently absurd. The teacher, the programmer, and the surgeon are all better at their jobs for not going to work every day. For taking some days off.

I wonder if what’s going on here is a weird collision between the romanticization of ~art~ and the #@$*%! “Protestant work ethic.” On the one hand you have this sense that writing, or any art, is a ~calling~. And if it doesn’t call to you every day, why, then, you’re not a real writer, are you? On the other hand you’ve got Max Weber frowning over your shoulder and questioning whether what you’re doing is Real Work — so you have to silence him by keeping your nose to the grindstone every day, without respite, because otherwise clearly you’re just a good-for-nothing layabout.

(I’d like to pause and appreciate the value of the tilde for indicating a kind of vaporous awe around a word. Italics just don’t convey the same effect, and neither do quotation marks.)

Writing is Real Work. It may be fun work (a thought that would probably horrify the Calvinists Weber had in mind), but it requires effort, concentration, hours of your life. Some days it’s easier than others. But it’s also weird work, in that sometimes the most vitally useful thing you can do is go for a walk or wash some dishes, because while you’re not looking, your brain sneaks off and figures stuff out. When people ask me how many hours I work each day or week, my response is to give them a baffled shrug, because there aren’t clean boundaries around it; I’m definitely working while I’m drafting a story or answering emails or going over page proofs, but I also may be working while I’m vacuuming the rug or brushing my teeth or reading a book. Which means that days in which I’m not at the keyboard may still in some fashion be work days — but thinking of them that way is pernicious. If an idea comes to me, awesome, but in the meanwhile I’m going to have a life.

Because contrary to what corporate America wants us all to believe, we can have lives outside our jobs, and we should. We will not just be better employees for the time off; we’ll be better people, too. And that’s just as true of writers as it is of anybody else.

Substitute for fennel bulb?

I’ve been given a nice-sounding recipe for pork tenderloin braised in white wine and elderflower liqueur with thyme, red onion, and fennel bulb. But I’m not a huge fan of that last item — what would the chefs among you recommend as a replacement? With or without altering other ingredients (e.g. a different herb, if something else would harmonize better).

Note that due to allergies and/or dislikes, mushrooms and squash are both out.

Three Things meme

There’s been a meme going around where people give you three random things to talk about. Mine, from Larry Hammer, are:

1) Feathers

The “swan” thing goes back a long way, and stems from the fact that people who know German but not Swiss German often think my legal last name has something to do with swans. Possibly that’s why the family coat of arms has swans on it? Anyway, I didn’t want my website to be because at the time I expected to go into academia, studying science fiction and fantasy, and I wanted a site that could serve for both purposes. (In fact, the first incarnation of it had two distinct halves, one for each part of my work.) My thoughts drifted to swans, and then the phrase “Swan Tower” popped into my head, and it sounded good.

As for swans themselves, I like how they’re beautiful and elegant and can break your leg with their wings. I played a swan pooka several times in a Changeling game, but she was more the dream of a swan than the physical reality of one; if I were doing it now, I might try to stat her in a way that reflects the dichotomy.

Also, my husband is allergic to feathers.

2) Polyhedra

Thanks to RPGs, I interact with a much wider range of these than most people do. πŸ˜› d4s are caltrops (don’t drop them on the floor); d6s are kind of boring; d8s rarely seem to get used; d10s are fun to arrange in different patterns while I’m listening to someone else’s scene; d20s really like to roll off whatever surface I’m using, so when I’m playing Pathfinder I roll in a shallow dish instead of on a book or table. Alas for the poor d12, used even less often than d8s; a friend of mine once swore they were going to design an RPG that used nothing but d12s. We also own some weird things, like d2s from the PolyHero Dice Kickstarter campaigns, or a single giant d30.

I find it fascinating that there are d20-shaped artifacts from (I think) ancient Rome, that we’re not sure what they were used for.

3) Angst

I try to avoid this? On the whole I tend to be fairly level-headed, so while I can get stressed or depressed about things, there have only been a few times in my life that I’d characterize as angsty — and adolescence mostly wasn’t one of them, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Having said that, I often go on kicks of listening to thoroughly angsty music, and can have a lot of fun with this in stories, whether I’m reading them, writing them, or playing them in an RPG. Twisting the knife is fun . . . as long as it’s in a fictional person’s flesh.

If anybody wants to give me three more, I can do more of these posts — though depending on how many I get, no guarantees that I’ll make it through them all.

What a difference technology makes

I’ve spent the last two days holed up in our den, which the lowest part of our split-level house and rather cavelike — therefore the coolest room we’ve got. Our thermostat caps out at 84 degrees Fahrenheit, so I can’t say for sure what temperature it’s been in our dining room, but whatever the answer is, the top floor — which holds both my office and the bedroom — was hotter. Much hotter.

I grew up in Dallas. Highs in the high 90s were a totally normal feature of my childhood summers. But that was a place where nearly everybody has air conditioning. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area? Not so much. And living in a house without A/C means that when our temperatures spike, the experience is very, very different.

The extent of that difference got hammered home to me yesterday, when I’d been at the (air-conditioned) chiropractor’s office. When I walked outside in the late afternoon, it felt . . . not nice, exactly. But familiar. And pleasant enough. Yes, it was very warm, but my subconscious said “that’s okay.” Which was very different from how I’d felt leaving my house an hour and a half earlier; then I was going from a sweltering indoors to a sweltering outdoors, barely any contrast at all, and vastly more unpleasant. I know I’ve lost soem of my heat tolerance (I used to do marching band in Texas, navy blue wool uniform and all), but a lot of it is also just the artificial environment. Give me A/C, and I still don’t mind the heat all that much. Without it, though . . .

Let’s just say I’ve learned a lot about low-tech measures against the heat, from keeping blinds closed that we normally open for light (and angling them upwards to reduce the amount of direct sunlight that enters the room), to occupying myself with books instead of heat-emitting laptops, to the dance of opening windows and turning on fans once the temperature outside drops below the temperature inside.

NEW WORLDS, YEAR TWO is now in print!

If you like having your writing references in hard copy and not just pixels, you may be glad to know that you can now buy the print edition of New Worlds, Year Two! And now is a great time to become a patron of the series — I’ll soon be sending out the next poll for what topics I should address, and of course all patrons get weekly photos. It’s patron support that is keeping New Worlds strong, and I thank all of them for it!