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Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving advent’

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Twenty-Three: Anne McCaffrey (and others)

As many of you have probably heard by now, Anne McCaffrey, one of the grand dames of science fiction, has passed away.

I came to her books through Dragonsinger, I think, and the rest of the Harper Hall trilogy, before moving on to Dragonflight and the other, more “mainstream” Pern books (by which I mean the ones that focused on the riders and Weyrs). From there I went onto some of the Ship books, and the Talents, and the Crystal Singer series, and more. She was never quite one of my DNA writers — not a formative influence on me as a reader or writer — but she was part of the step out of children’s fiction and into adult SF/F. She was, however, a formative influence on a crap-ton of other people, and her oeuvre is one of the big islands in our archipelago.

And, although I never thought of it this way consciously, I think she helped print in my mind not the belief, but the assumption that writing this stuff was a thing done by both men and women. It never really occurred to me that anybody might think otherwise. If you’d asked Teenaged Me to list off important fantasy writers, I would have responded with Anne McCaffrey and Robert Jordan and Mercedes Lackey and David Eddings and Marion Zimmer Bradley and Raymond E. Feist and — well, let’s put it this way. I was a little nonplussed when I found out Terry Brooks was a man, because that was one of those names that could go either way, and women were prominent enough on my bookshelf that I thought nothing of dropping him in that category.

(No, I didn’t pay much attention to the “about the author” bit. Why do you ask?)

(And yes, you can totally see the reading tastes of Teenaged Me in that list. Don’t quibble over me putting McCaffrey in with the fantasy, though. I played the Might and Magic computer games. I was, and in some ways still am, firm in the opinion that slapping a bit of technology on a story otherwise stuffed with fantasy tropes does not make it SF.)

So anyway. I’m thankful for Anne McCaffrey, and for a whole host of other people like her, both for putting amazing and influential books into the world, but also — in the case of the women — for making it possible for me to cruise along in my blithe assumption of gender equality. That mindset has its shortcomings, but I really do believe it’s enabled me to steamroll over any number of small speedbumps that may have appeared in my path.

Thank you, Anne McCaffrey.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Twenty-Two: Hot Baths

I actually try not to take baths too often, for reasons both noble and not. The noble one is that I live in California, which is not the most well-watered state in the Union; driving down to San Diego for World Fantasy, I saw lots of signs on fences in the Valley railing against water shortages. Baths are kind of wasteful, and so I try to save them for occasional use. The less-noble reason is that, well, I’ve mostly lived in places with tubs that are Not Quite Big Enough to be really comfortable. Some day, my friends, I will live somewhere with a proper tub, both long enough and deep enough to accomodate an adult human of average size.

But baths, man. I may have a lot of feline characteristics in my temperament, but I’m the kind of cat who adores water. The ocean, a lake, a swimming pool, just let me at it. And it’s lovely to be able to sink back in a hot tub or bath or whatever and let the tension just soak out of me.

And — as I mentioned in an earlier post — it’s so easy now. Turn on the tap, and clean, hot water comes out. No need to stoke up the fire, haul water from the well, and fill the tub one bucketful at a time. I know this is not a luxury enjoyed by everyone in the world, and so I’d like to take a moment to be properly thankful for it.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Twenty-One: My Date of Birth

No, not my birthday; my date of birth. Which is to say, September first. I was born early, though I’m not sure by how much (I used to think my due date was the eleventh, but recently my mother said otherwise, and now I can’t remember what date she said). But really, the amount doesn’t matter — just the result.

Why does it matter? Because my school district, like most, had guidelines for determining when children should start kindergarten. You had to be five or older by the cut-off date. And what was that date?

September first.

I don’t know how strictly that was enforced. Maybe if I’d been born a few days later, I still could have started school that year. As it was, they gave my mother the choice, to start me or hold me back. Given that I was already a ferocious reader, she opted to boot me out the door and into kindergarten. And for that, I am more thankful than I can say.

People who would probably not have been in my life if I had started school a year later: kurayami_hime. She would have been two years ahead of me, instead of one, and we likely would not have become friends — at least not such close friends that these days, my parents refer to her as their other daughter. kniedzw: even if I still went to Harvard, he would have been more than a year out of college rather than recently graduated when I showed up, and by then would have distanced himself more from the friends he still had in school. We would not have begun dating, and I would not be married to him now. teleidoplex; it’s unlikely I would have gone to the Castell Henllys field school in 2000, which means we would not have met there. And while I still might have gone to Indiana University for graduate school (thus giving us a second chance to meet), I don’t know that I would have ended up playing in the Bloomington Changeling LARP — which created most of my social circle for six years, shaped my academic research, and led to me running Memento, the tabletop game that ended up inspiring the Onyx Court novels.

. . . to name just a few.

This is not to say I would have had no awesome friends, boyfriend/husband, or adopted sister had I entered school a year later. In both high school and college, I had friends a year behind me; I probably would have been closer to them in this alternate history, and they are very cool people, too. But you know what? I like my life. I like the path it’s followed. And so much of it is the coincidental result of being at particular points in the educational system at particular times. Shift me back a year, and a lot of the things I’m happiest with suddenly vanish, to be replaced by god knows what.

Dear Mom: thank you for sending me off to kindergarten on my fifth birthday, rather than holding me back an additional year. And thank you to whatever gestational butterfly flapped its wings and caused me to enter this world on September first, just a little bit ahead of schedule.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Twenty: Yuletide

I’ve talked about Yuletide before, but as signups for it closed this evening, I was reminded that it’s a thing to be thankful for. Why? Because exchanges of that kind are a fun form of gift-giving, surprising somebody with a story written just for them. And while there are lots of exchanges built along these general lines, Yuletide is the two-thousand-pound gorilla on the scene — if the gorilla was made of fannishness and squee, and flailed around being happy and excited, occasionally grabbing people and sweeping them up into great big hugs.

I’m thankful for it because, as I’ve said before, fanfiction is one realm where story goes back to being pure play. Not that I don’t love my work — I’ve already said that I do — but it’s valuable to have a realm in which I can chill a bit more, and not worry about all the concerns that go with writing fiction for a living. The end of the year is, for me, a particularly good time to do that. I’ll be sending off the revised draft of A Natural History of Dragons soon, and once that’s out the door . . . well, okay, there’s something else after that which has a deadline, too. And technically Yuletide has a deadline. But my point is, writing my story for that will feel like a reward. Which is a thing to be thankful for, at this time of year.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Nineteen: Travel Opportunities

I sometimes avoid bringing this up, because it can seem like bragging when talking to people who haven’t been able, for one reason or another, to travel as much as I have. But I really am thankful for the amazing opportunities I’ve had to go other places — particularly foreign countries.

Where have I been? The British Virgin Islands. Costa Rica. Northern England (South Shields), southern England (Winchester), Israel. Wales and Ireland. Ireland again. Japan, with a second trip nine years later. London, four times. Italy, Greece, and Turkey. India.

It’s quite a lot for a thirty-one-year-old, especially when you figure in how many of those places I went before finishing college (hint: that list ends with the first Japan trip). I sometimes forget that, since various factors have combined to make my family in general kind of ridiculously well-traveled; I’m hoping kniedzw‘s work sends him to Poland next year and I get to tag along, because it’s rare for me to beat my parents or my brother to a country. (Er, none of you guys have been to Poland yet, right? Watch me be wrong about that.) They’ve been to Russia and Malaysia and Hong Kong and Laos and Mongolia and Switzerland and China and Germany and I won’t bore you with the rest of the list. But I’ve been to a lot of places, too.

It’s done so much for my mind, I can’t even put it into words. Not only seeing beautiful and famous landmarks, though that’s often been a cool perk; just seeing other places, and all the differences that go with it. It makes the inside of your skull a bigger place. Not always in a comfortable way; it’s tiring, the constant mental effort that goes with being surrounded by a foreign language, and with changing your behavior to fit your environment. There’s a reason that kniedzw and I, when considering honeymoon possibilities, opted for a Mediterranean cruise; it allowed us to get a taste of some places we were dying to see, while still relaxing and putting out a minimum of effort. I’d love to go to Macchu Picchu someday, or visit China, but the physical work of one and mental work of the other were not what I wanted on my honeymoon.

I have joked — sort of — that what I need to do is decide where I want to travel to, and then think up books to write that would justify the trip as a research expense. It’s only sort of a joke because I really, really want to go on traveling. I don’t have a lot of extravagances in my lifestyle; I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, I don’t smoke, I don’t drive a fancy car or buy much in the way of fancy clothes. I’d rather save that money, and spend it going somewhere cool. The fact that I’ve been able to do so on so many occasions is a great joy to me.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Eighteen: Central Heating

I grew up in Dallas, lived there for eighteen years. I don’t care that my ancestry is largely Scandinavian and Swiss German; I don’t like the cold. I am a creature of sunlight and warmth.

At this time of year, and for the next five months or so, you can be damn certain I am thankful for central heating, which for is the difference between living, and living in hell.

. . . now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go create a conflict between a previous object of gratitude and this one, by standing in the cold for three hours or so.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Seventeen: Dishwashers etc.

I lived for about five years in places without a dishwasher. (Well, longer than that — but the four years in college don’t count, since all I had to do was dump my tray at the appropriate spot in the dining hall.)

I am so very, very thankful to have one again.

Dishes fall into that deeply annoying category of “didn’t I just do this chore?” No sooner have you cleaned them up than, oh look, there’s another dirty plate. Laundry is the same way, and words cannot express how glad I am that I’ve never had to do that by hand. The one time I ever tried was with a pair of trousers when I was at a field station in the middle of the rainforest in Costa Rica; I got about a minute in, very feebly, before a pair of hands appeared in my field of vision and took the soap and trousers away. I watched the very nice Costa Rican lady do what my fourteen-year-old self could not, and marveled as if she were turning water in to wine. Combine that with my reading about what it used to take to do laundry in the pre-washing-machine past . . . yeah. There are entire months of my life that have been saved by me not having to do laundry by hand.

Dishwashers. Laundry machines. Vacuum cleaners. Hell, showers — even bathing used to be a bigger undertaking, back when you had to heat the water and fill the tub and so on. Be thankful, people. Be very, very thankful.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Sixteen: Hair Screws

Tonight, I am thankful for these things:

I first encountered them years ago at my ballet studio. Bought some for myself, lost them over the years, and then my mother made herself a hero of the revolution by tracking down more. These days, Goody makes their own version, which are a bit longer (though not as nicely coated) as the kind she found for me.

What are they? They are magic. I know they can be put to other hair-related uses, but to me, they are the things that hold my bun up. For those who haven’t seen me: my hair is down to my hips, and is relatively thick. When I put it in a bun (for ballet then; for karate now), I end up with a mass of hair more than half again as big as my fist. This is a lot of hair to bun, y’all, and it takes a vast number of hairpins to hold it, not very securely, in place.

I can hold my braid up with two of those, messily. Four makes it tidy. Six makes it secure enough to stay in place through two hours of karate and kobudo.

They are freaking magic.

We call them “hair screws;” I don’t remember what Goody calls them. If they might be of any use to you, go out and buy some, stat: I want Goody believing there’s enough of a market to go on manufacturing them. Otherwise, I will be back to buns falling down, and I will be sad.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Fifteen: Occupy Wall Street

I could ramble on for a long time — not in a “thankfulness” way –with a lot of only vaguely-connected thoughts regarding Occupy Wall Street, corporate accountability, the current state of U.S. politics, media imbalance, economic inequality, police brutality, and a bunch of other things way too big to fit into a blog post. But since I can’t begin to sort those into anything like a coherent enough order to inflict on other people, I’ll excerpt out one tiny slice that does fit into this series:

I’m thankful for the Occupy Wall Street protest, and its cousins all around the country.

Why am I thankful? Because I’d started to believe, in a fatalistic, “fuck it, I might as well just give up” kind of way, that the political left in this country had lost its will to fight. Let them pass draconian anti-immigration laws, state constitutional amendments against gay marriage, tax cuts for the people who don’t need them, cuts to benefits for the people who do, religious initiatives and attacks on women’s rights and wars that never end — we’ll just sigh and turn on the Xbox for some mindless entertainment.

No. We’ll protest. And not just through meaningless online petitions that only require a few clicks of the mouse: through physical action, through civil disobedience, through a movement that persists until the media can’t ignore it anymore. And this isn’t Tea Party-style activism, either, where the big corporate interests barely even try to hide their hand inside the puppet: it’s grass-roots instead of astroturf. It’s real.

Which isn’t the same thing as perfect. The movement is more a thousand-voiced scream of frustration and rage than a single message; there are so many things that need fixing, so many of them intertwined, that it isn’t as simple as (say) an anti-war protest, whose win condition is clear. OWS supporters want lots of things, and don’t necessarily agree on how any of them should be achieved.

But it’s my end of the political spectrum finally speaking up. Finally fighting. And doing it with enough force and persistence that people are paying attention. The United States is a big ship; she’s slow to turn, and we may not (probably won’t) get her on exactly the heading I’d like to see. Still: every degree of turn is a victory. I’m glad to see so many people do, in fact, have the will to grab the tiller and pull.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Fourteen: Modern Health

When la_marquise_de_ and I were doing the podcast thing at World Fantasy, one of the things that came up was the sheer physical discomfort people used to live with as a matter of course.

Now, I know that there are many people ven now — possibly some of you reading this — who likewise live with chronic pain, disease, injury, disability, or other such conditions. I have no desire to trivialize those things. But taking the long perspective . . . my god. Things have improved so much in the last century or so, I can barely even conceive of it.

I’m talking about everything from the major achievements (smallpox used to kill or disfigure vast numbers of people; now it’s been eradicated) down to the minor ones (most of us still have all our teeth, and they’re probably pretty straight, too). Thanks to vaccinations — but no thanks to the anti-vax movement, which I won’t rant about here because this is supposed to be about thankfulness — we no longer have to run the gauntlet of measles and mumps and rubella and whooping cough and everything else that used to drop children like flies. We have antibiotics: no more “and by the way he spent the last three years of life with a supperating ulcer in his thigh” for us! We can repair torn ligaments, use hearing aids to combat deafness, replace freaking hip joints, man. If I didn’t have astigmatism, or U.S. had approved toric ICLs already, I could get a lens permanently implanted in my eye to correct my vision.

Dude, Beck Weathers lost his nose to frostbite, and they grew a new one for him on his forehead.

So while I extend my heartfelt sympathies to everyone who suffers from ill-health of one kind or another — my GOD am I thankful for modern health. If you threw me into the European past, I would not want to be treated by any doctor from before maybe 1940 or so. (I don’t know enough about the history of medicine in other parts of the world to make judgment calls there, except to say that Europe was late to the smallpox-vaccination party.) I’m sure any number of things we do today will be considered barbaric and dumb by the people of the future, but from where I’m standing, we’ve made amazing progress.