Monday, June 30, 2008

I Checked

They have 3,500 listings for books about Brer Rabbit. I don't think we are going to lose these stories.

Many of these books appear to be in print. The lady at Barnes & Noble did not (apparently) know her job.

Now I have to figure out which book I will get. The obvious one is the Joel Chandler Harris collection. But I don't know if I can stand that much dialect; and the frame story with Uncle Remus and the little white boy is not pleasant to read.

What I'd like, if I could find it, would be a collection done by a folklorist. Or the Harris collection with annotations.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama

After the boll weevil destroyed cotton farming in Alabama, agriculture diversified. In gratitude the citizens of Enterprise erected this monument.

It's not a great photo, but you can see the weevil.

I'm looking for a better picture. But the statue is chalk white and photographs badly in sunlight, and a lot of the photos crop out the crowning weevil. Why? What use is a weevil monument without the weevil?

Boy, That Fresh Air Feels Good!

I had a bad day yesterday -- no real reason, just a bad mood. The day was gray, as if there was going to be a good steady rain. But only sprinkles fell. If it's going to be that dark, I want the kind of rain that makes you happy to be inside, lying on the couch reading, while the rain beats against the windows next to you. But no, there were only a few drops now and then. I felt discouraged by life and world politics.

Patrick and I went to the Magamall to walk around. I needed some thick cotton socks for my new exercise program. I got two pairs and then two pairs of socks that were not thick and athletic, but were fun. Then I bought a pen, which I do not need, especially I don't need a fancy Cross pen that costs too much. But I was in a foul mood; and what do Americans do when they are feeling bad? At least I didn't go to the Bose store and spend $1,000. Though I need Bose earphones and a Bose CD player a lot more than I need another pen.

In what sense do I need any of these things?

Well, maybe the thick cotton socks. Exercising in thin socks is not much fun, and thick wool socks sound kind of awful this time of year.

Today I feel much better.

I am going to have to do some research for my Brer Rabbit story, and know exactly the books I want to read. One is Indignant Heart, an autobiography by a black auto worker who came to Detroit in the 1920s, if I remember correctly. I have the book. It's a fragile paperback that I've had for more than 30 years.

The other book is Detroit, I Do Mind Dying, a book about rank and file black activism in the auto plants in the 1960s. I also have that book. It's old as well, but not as old.

I checked Amazon. Indignant Heart has been reprinted a couple of times and is available new. So I ordered it. Detroit, I Do Mind Dying is only available used, so I will read my copy.

Weather Report

It's sunny right now, blue skies with high clouds. Some chance of rain, maybe later. 70 degrees and windy. We have the windows open and a fan going, blowing the fresh air around and the bad humors out.

We went to the Farmers Market for the second time this season today, which is shameful. It opens at the start of May, and now -- two months later -- I finally take a serious look around. The asparagus is all gone, of course. There is lettuce, spinach, small potatoes and tiny beets, radishes, scallions, zucchini... and flowers.

We were to the grocery store yesterday and have a full icebox. (Does anyone write icebox anymore? What is wrong with me? Refrigerator sounds so long and clumsy.) So I passed on the really fine looking radishes and lettuce. But I bought handmade bread and a bouquet of flowers, now turned into two bouquets in our living room. The sunflowers are blooming and the zinnias. Summer is farther along than I had realized.

Right now I am working on the Lady Poetesses from Hell anthology. We are having a production meeting this afternoon. After that, I need to send line edits for a story to Tales of the Unanticipated. You should always get TOTU, if possible. (It's available at Dreamhaven and Uncle Hugo's, both at the store and online.) This coming issue will have my Republican convention story, which I like a lot. Buy it!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Brer Rabbit Story is Well on the Way...

I think it will be good, thought I will have to ask some African Americans to vet it for unconscious racism...

It's Brer Rabbit meets Big Brown Mama. I feel really good about my Big Mama stories. These are stories where the muse reaches down a foot from heaven and kicks you in the behind and says, write what I say.

And you do it.

The boll weevil (see below) has a part and so does music and Mr. Henry Ford's assembly line and the town of Inkster, Michigan, which -- oddly enough -- does not talk on its website about how it was the place that Henry Ford put his black workers, while the white workers lived in Dearborn.

Though it still has an remarkably high black population for a suburb and happens to be right next to Dearborn and the Ford Corporation's international headquarters and Greenfield Village and the Ford River Rouge plant.

We will see how the story turns out...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Boll Weevil

One of things that drove southerners north was boll weevils, which came up from Mexico in the 19th century and destroyed southern cotton farming. There is a reason why there are a fair number of boll weevil blues. Charlies Patton, Huddie Ledbetter, Ma Rainey, Woodie Guthrie... The boll weevil's gonna drive you from your home.

Brer Rabbit and Barnes & Noble

I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday and said to the woman behind the desk, "I want to know if you have any modern retellings of the Uncle Remus stories."

She looked blank. "Is that a title?"

"You might try Joel Chandler Harris or Brer Rabbit," I said.
She still looked blank. I spelled Brer Rabbit for her. "B-R-E-R and then it's Rabbit."

She did some typing. "All I'm finding is children's stories."

"That sounds right to me."

She did some more typing. "They're all out of print."

Then she told me how to find out of print books at the Barnes & Noble website. I thanked her and left.

So I encountered someone in a bookstore who did not recognize Uncle Remus, Brer Rabbit or Joel Chandler Harris.

Patrick's comment was, "Times are hard. People take the jobs they can get."

I don't know if this is ordinary, everyday ignorance; or if the Uncle Remus stories have simply been eliminated from American culture.

I began writing a story yesterday, after my visit to Barnes & Noble. It's about how Brer Rabbit goes north from the pine woods of Georgia to Detroit to work for Mr. Ford, along with lots of other black folks, and what happens to him.

I don't know if I will finish it. The beginning is pretty good. It's Brer Rabbit and one of my Big Mamas -- Big Brown Mama, in this case -- in the Dakota Bar on Nicollet Mall, talking about how Brer Rabbit became a tired black working man in Minneapolis.

This morning Patrick said, "The more I think about it, the more I think this will be a good story. But I don't think you'll be able to sell it."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Where Does Bugs Fit In?

I think I'll stick to Brer Rabbit and Nanabush, but I had to add a picture of Bugs, who must (I would think) derive from Brer R.

I could never top What's Opera Doc?


Tallgeese talked about mishmosh in the comments...

It occurred to me, when I was looking for information about Brer Rabbit and Paul Bunyan, that they are both interesting mixtures. Brer R. is a combination of Native American and African American folk traditions, which was (were?) then transformed by Joel Chandler Harris.

Paul Bunyan is seems to be partly derived from folk tales, and partly from an ad campaign for the Red River Lumber Company. But I think you can argue that he has become a genuine popular figure, the way the Marlboro Man has not. There are a zillion books about Paul Bunyan. I grew up on Paul Bunyan stories.

I'm not sure about Brer Rabbit. Has embarrassment removed those stories from popular culture? When I think about them, I see the Disney images, though I don't remember the Disney dialog, which is probably just as well. But they are good stories. I am never going to forget the tar baby, or "born and bred in the brier patch."

These are genuine mishmoshes, combining elements from different cultures and class traditions; and they are utterly, unquestionably American.

So maybe we need more fantasies about Paul Bunyan and Brer Rabbit. I heard someone read a Paul Bunyan story that was a gay romance. Was it Michael Blumlein at Wiscon a few years back? It was a good story.

Brer R. is not from around here. Maybe he came up to Chicago and then to Minneapolis to get his life together and escape the crime in Chicago. Maybe he could meet Nanabush along Franklin Avenue. I suppose I should read Joel Chandler Harris and Basil Johnson on Ojibwe mythology.

Patrick says he has been thinking about the question of "why write about Irish fairies?" He says, "They make money."

Fourth Street Fantasy Con

I have tried three times to write a con report on the Fourth Street Fantasy Con and failed.

I guess the short form is, not my kind of convention.

But I talked to some people I know from other conventions and who I like. So that part was nice.

I need to remember not to go again. I will see the people I like at Wiscon and Minicon and Diversacon and...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Manito Geezhigaynce

The 300 year old Manito Geezhigaynce, a twisted cedar known as the little spirit cedar tree, is located on the north side of Hat Point on a stone ledge. This tree has great significance to many generations of Grand Portage Indians and boatmen on Lake Superior. The land with the tree was offered for sale in 1987. A group was formed and $100,000 was raised to buy the land for the Tribe in 1990. To protect their heritage, the Grand Portage Indian community requires that to visit the tree, there must be a tribal guide.

I'm spending Sunday wandering around the Internet and thinking abut land spirits. Does Minnesota have them? What are they? It was raining earlier. Now it's sunny.

Nanabush as a Rabbit

Pictograph in Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario...

So (I suspect) Is Brer Rabbit...

Here is an authentic American spirit, based on Native American and African stories... I didn't realize that Brer Rabbit was related to the Ojibwe trickster Nanabush...

The image is off Wikipedia. Disney can go after them, not me.

Paul Bunyan is Real

And so is Babe the Blue Ox.

The small person in between is Eleanor Arnason, who is also real.

Land Spirits

Josh said in comments:

I read a great novel once about Irish Faeries in Minneapolis, one of whom was a black man.

That novel is The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. The black fairy was based on Prince Nelson. Emma was a fan of his.

The book made me crazy. I would -- just possibly -- have bought it, if it had been set in St. Paul, which is a very Irish city still. But Minneapolis is Scandinavian. If Irish elves tried to move in, Scandinavian elves would have kicked their little butts.

If there were any Scandinavian elves in Minneapolis. As far as I know, what Minneapolis has is Lutherans; and what St. Paul has is Catholics.

I have never made a study, but my impression is, most of the minor supernatural beings -- elves, trolls and so on -- did not make it across the Atlantic. Yes, there are some stories about them in the new world, real stories, folk tales. But most of those spirits are attached to specific places in the old world. They did not leave.

The result is, the US -- especially the Midwest I know -- is supernaturally thin. We have the big religions, the churches and mosques and synagogues and Buddhist and Hindu temples planted on the Midwestern prairie. But our woods and lakes and rivers are relatively unhaunted, except by Native American spirits. No question they are here. But for the most part, they belong to Native Americans. They don't mix with the rest of us.

So how do you write a new world story based on the supernatural? I know there is American folklore, more in the east, I think. I'd say that is the place to start, not with the old world folklore that is not rooted here.

Paul Bunyan is a lot more real and local than Irish fairies, even though the question of how much of Paul is folklore and how much advertising is still (as far as I know) unsettled.

There is a children's book by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, titled The Trickster and the Troll. It's about a troll who comes to the new world with a Norwegian family and then becomes lost from his family. Norwegian Americans no longer believe in trolls. He meets up with the Lakota trickster spirit Iktomi, who is also lost, because the Lakota no longer believe in their spirits. The two travel together, looking for people who will believe in them.

Sneve is Lakota and married to a Norwegian American. She wrote the story for her children. (She's also a pretty well known children's author. But I have read only this one story.)

My friend Ruth Berman wrote a story about the recent strike by University of Minnesota employees, in which the striking employees, the people on the picket lines, are trolls. This works, because it says something real about the status of workers; and trolls are still part of local tradition, though mostly as kitsch and sentiment now. You can pick them up in Scandinavian stores, along with your Dale of Norway sweater, your Finnish glassware and your CDs of Scandinavian folk singers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I saw a video of Obama on line -- shoveling sand into bags, I think in Illinois, and talking about how serious the flooding is. It's moving downriver now, out of the upper Midwest. This wasn't an ad. It's the man himself in a white shirt, surrounded by ordinary people, shoveling sand.

He does seem a little reserved and awkward. But who cares? It doesn't matter how you shovel sand, so long as you do it, when it needs to be done.

I found it touching. But he had better himself back to Washington and deal the new version of the FISA bill. Once again it gives telecom companies legal immunity for illegally spying on people, such as us. The last try at getting this into law was stopped, but there are jerks in Congress trying to sneak it through again.

Obama's public persona is all about change and democracy. But he seems to be pretty tightly woven into the Democratic Party power structure. He campaigned for Joe Lieberman, for heaven's sake.

I think there's going to have to be strong, continuous pressure on him and the Democratic Party, or we will get same old, same old, instead of change. And same old ain't going to cut it, with the oceans rising, oil peaking and food running out.


I am feeling crabby, which is -- I hope -- a sign that I am getting ready to write, since my crabbiness is directed at what I'm reading.

Elizabeth Bear is the GoH at Fourth Street Fantasy Con this coming weekend. So I thought I should read something of hers. I picked a fantasy, Blood and Iron. It begins in New York City, and then are Irish elves. The sidhe, the big scary guys, who show up in one fantasy after another.

What do Irish elves have to do with New York? Yes, there are plenty of Irish in the city, but there are plenty of other kinds of people. How about Caribbean magic, African American magic, Indian subcontinent magic, Norse magic for the Norwegians who used to live in Brooklyn? I don't know if they have moved on. Eastern European Jewish magic? I. B. Singer lived in New York and wrote about Jewish magic, though he wrote it for the vanished Jewish communities of Europe.

The Bear novel moved to Irish fairyland, and then the heroine needed to get a kelpie shoed. So she went to Wayland the Smith, who had set up shop among the Irish.

Wayland comes from Germanic mythology. There is a deeply disturbing poem about him -- or his cognate Volund -- in the Poetic Edda.

At that point, I put the book down. I don't buy Irish fairies in New York. I am very tired of Irish fairies anywhere, though I might consider them in a story set in Ireland. I do not buy Wayland in the Irish fairyland.

I have friends who think highly of Elizabeth Bear's work, and they review for places like Locus and Publisher's Weekly. But this book made me crabby.

I then moved on to a Charles Stross novel and got crabby again. Like many SF writers, Stross seems to think violence is entertaining. I do not. It is a horrific part of life for many people, but not me -- except that I don't go out alone at night, and I am nervous in unfamiliar American cities; and the institutionalized violence of American life influences my life in a multitude of ways.

America would be a far more pleasant and beautiful place if the money spent on prisons and weapons systems was spent on our people and cities and environment. We might have national health care. I might not have to worry about sickness and old age.

I am willing to read about real violence, because it is real and needs to be recognized, but I don't want to read about violence for fun.

So I put the Stross book down. He's a good writer, and I may have quit too soon. Just as I may have quit the Bear book too soon. Since they are good writers, they may have gone on to play all kinds of tricks with their cliches -- run changes on them, tied knots in their tails. Stories can be retold well. Old ideas can be re-examined. But I didn't get that far.

You see what I mean about crabby.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Weather Report

It's been sunny the past couple of days, the sky cloudless, a bit warm in the middle of the afternoon, but cool in the morning.

Wildflowers are blooming along the freeway, mostly yellow, but white daisies, pink (or pale lavender) crown vetch and purple thistles.

Very nice weather, and we are almost to the solstice. I need to treasure these long days, the sunlight and the crystal clear air. Every leaf on every tree stands out sharply.

I'm taking a new class at the Loft Literary Center. This one is on overcoming writer's resistance. If it works, you will see a flood of Arnason stories. I have eight at home -- almost finished, needing only a few hours of cleaning up. It would be nice to get eight stories out, not to mention three short story collections and the sequel to Ring of Swords. All this stuff is almost done.

What is resistance about?

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I am looking at pictures of the flooding in Iowa. 83 of 99 counties have been declared disaster areas.

The pictures and descriptions are amazing. Most of the flooding is not along the big rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri, that form the east and west borders of the state. It's in the interior, along rivers that I think of as a lot smaller. However, they have got the Coast Guard on those rivers and in the flooded cities. I guess, at the moment, the rivers aren't small.

The people in Austin, Minnesota are sandbagging.

The Iowa cat rescue pictures are touching, though the cats do not look at all happy. There is a wonderful one of a rescue worker climbing out a second story window, holding a white cat in front of him. The cat's legs are all straight out, in clear panic mode.

The comments in the on-line version of the Des Moines Register are civilized and concerned: "The news coverage of the flooding is excellent. Our town has space for people displaced by the flooding. I am reading from Europe; this is heartbreaking; once an Iowan, always an Iowan."

Minnesota is not as nice as it used to be. The comments in the on-line version of the Star Tribune are often nasty and vulgar. I would call some of them obscene. Often (it seems to me) they radiate contempt for humanity.

I miss the old niceness. Though I do not think I move to Iowa.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What Is Going On With SF?

Patrick and I had dinner with Maureen McHugh at Wiscon. She said something which is staying with me. She said she didn't know what is currently happening with SF.

"Slipstream?" I offered.

"That was the 90s," she replied.

I thought about this. It's easy to come up with labels for decades in SF.

1930s -- The pulps and Doc Smith

1940s -- Campbell and Astounding

1950s -- H.L. Gold and Galaxy, Anthony Boucher and F&SF

1960s -- The New Wave

1970s -- The Women

1980s -- Cyberpunk

1990s -- New space opera, the British writers

All the labels are arbitrary. The 1980s had a fair number of long, slow eco-feminist novels by women, along with cyberpunk by new, mostly male writers: Always Coming Home, The Door into Ocean, A Woman of the Iron People among others.

I think of the 90s as new, improved space opera, much of it by British writers. Maureen thinks it's slipstream.

All the usual, traditional kinds of SF writing continued through the decades: hard SF, the techno-problem story. People are still writing and selling deal with the devil stories. Sub-genres die slowly, if at all. When we label decades, we're talking about what's new.

So the question is -- is something happening that Maureen and I aren't seeing? Is nothing happening? Is SF finally fuzzing into the mainstream, which is (at the same time) fuzzing into speculative fiction? Or is SF splitting in so many directions that we can no longer think of it as a single genre?

Cottonwood Fuzz

I'm going to move away from class for a while. It's always a bit unsettling for me when I get really intense about (what I see as) an intellectual problem. Shouldn't I have a bit more emotional distance? Wouldn't it be more normal to focus less?

The air is full of cottonwood fuzz, floating on the wind and shining in sunlight. For the first time in days the sky is blue.

Maybe it's normal to turn inward and focus during dark weather. Whenever Patrick sees a dinosaur built out of of pieces of scrap metal sitting on a lawn in the country, he says, "Long winters."

This applies to anything large built out of scrap metal: cows, human figures, giant birds...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Still More

I wrote the previous post and then wondered what art produced for the seriously rich would be like.

The answer took but a minute. It would be "For the Love of God" by British artist Damien Hirst. This is a lifesize cast of a human skull done in platinum and covered with 8,601 pave-set perfect diamonds weighing a total of 1106.18 carets. According to Hirst, it cost between 10 and 15 million dollars to make. The asking price for it was 99 million dollars; and Hirst claims that it has sold to anonymous buyers for the asking price.

Hirsh paid for making the work himself. We have only his word for how expensive it was. Supposedly the work sold to an anonymous person or persons who paid cash, leaving no paper trail. A lot of people in the art world believe this is bunk and the work has not sold.

For all we know, the diamonds may not be perfect. They may be zircons. So we have a combination of obscene expense and possible fraud. It's the art equivalent of the real estate bubble.

I wonder what happens when the tax guys show up and want their cut of 100 million dollars. Maybe he tells them it's performance art and there is no money.

Another Quote from Me

I used to argue that there three kinds of story: the wish fulfillment fantasies about solving problems and changing the world that are so far from reality that nothing useful can be taken from them. You can't kill the boss with an enchanted sword. You can't flee the authorities on your winged horse.

The second type, often more intelligently written, is the story (ultimately) of despair. Our social problems cannot be solved. We cannot build a new world in the shill of the old. Either life is okay in a limited way, or it is dark. Either way, we are stuck with the status quo.

Focus on yourself, your problems, your own personal angst. Life is about the personal and the individual.

The first kind of story is aimed at working people, as I use the term,which means the population at large. It's mind candy, though -- at least -- it admits that there is injustice and struggle in life. The second kind of story is aimed at the middle class people who maybe feel some discomfort about their jobs and lives. It says, don't try for anything better. There is nothing better.

It is (often) a story about living in a box lined with mirrors.

Finally, there are stories that question that status quo and say: community is real; society is real; injustice and struggle are real; the world can be changed. Not easily, but it can be done.

But this is message, not narrative structure.

Weather & Art

More rain and tornadoes yesterday. One hit a boy scout camp in Iowa and killed four people. Tornadoes usually skip the Twin Cities, though not always. The core cities appear to be safer than the suburbs, maybe because they are smaller: there is less area and thus less chance of a random touch down. I always thought the heat dome over the Cities helped, but this may be self-delusion. A tornado ripped apart the outlying town of Hugo two weeks ago.

I am thinking about Politics and Narrative, which is being discussed over on the Aqueduct blog. I'm going to post what I said over there in two parts.

I used to make a distinction between mass culture and popular culture. Mass culture is created for the masses by people who do not belong to the masses: Hollywood movies is probably an example. Popular culture is created by the people: garage bands and indy rock are probably examples of this.

The two are not entirely distinct. Rock music is an industry, involving many people who are not members of the masses or the populace. But there is constant flow of new music up from garages and basements, and a constant flow of new musicians, like peasants coming into third world cities to find work.

Where does science fiction sit? Is SF a popular art or a mass art form or both?

And how is this expressed in narrative structure?

I didn't answer my own question. I think American SF, which is what I know best, is both a mass art and a popular art. Part of it comes from Hollywood. Part of it comes from the New York publishing industry. Part of it come from fandom and the SF community. As in rock music, the energy comes from the work I would see as popular. Hollywood and New York try to channel this, make it safe, turn it into a commodity which can be replicated over and over: more and more Star Wars books and D&D books and endless generic fantasies.

So you have an art form which -- like rock -- says real things about life and tell lies, that is sometimes authentic and sometimes a plastic imitation of itself. Because the imitations are easier to make (and seem safer to people in charge) there are more of them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Weather & Book Report

The Korean lilacs are still blooming. I like them because they bloom after the French lilacs. They are less spectacular by far, but they meet my need for another week or two of lilacs. I don't have that sudden sense of loss: no more lilacs for a year. Instead, I have a little reprieve, thanks to the small bushes with pale, lavender-pink blossoms.

It's raining a lot. I looked at pictures of flooding yesterday: Wisconsin, Iowa and farther south, levees breaking and fields full of water.

I like rain and have been wearing a neat new clouds-and-lightning pin I bought while at Wiscon. But maybe this is too much rain.

I read Gregory Frost's fantasy Shadow Bridge and recommend it. It's set in a world that is mostly ocean, except for scattered islands. People live on a giant bridge. As you travel along the bridge, you go from city to city and culture to culture. So far (there is going to be a sequel) we don't know how the bridge came into existence. I don't think we need to know. The heroine is a story teller, who tells her stories with shadow puppets. There are stories embedded in the novel.

I like embedded stories a lot.

I also read Limbo, a nonfiction book about working class kids who get an education and move into the middle class and how difficult it is for them to cross class boundaries.

The middle class described in the book is not the one I know and knew as a kid. The author was troubled by which fork to use. I have never figured this out. Maybe I come from the one-fork middle class, and he encountered the many-forks middle class.

My middle class wrote books and made art and cared about social justice a lot more than forks.

I gave the book to Patrick, who came out of the Detroit blue collar working class. I think you could argue that he's middle class now. His job is professional. But he spent most of his adult life working front line jobs in hospitals or driving a truck, while -- at the same time -- reading Wittgenstein and Elaine Pagels. His comment on the book was, "The guy is really beating the issue to death. Life goes on, and you have different experiences. So what?"

But Patrick works in the nonprofit world and knows a lot of people concerned with social justice; and he knows my friends who are writers. So I guess we could say he has moved into the one-fork middle class. That may be less traumatic.

Who the hell cares which fork you use? They all work. What matters is art and justice.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

More Hockey Information

Because of Pat's current interest in hockey, I decided to track down information about Icelandic Canadian hockey players in the early part of the 20th century. I had dim memories that Icelanders had comprised an entire Canadian national team at one time.

They did. Prejudice against Icelanders was so strong in Winnipeg before WWI that players from the Icelandic immigrant community were not allowed on hockey teams. So the Icelanders set up their own team: the Winnipeg Falcons, which represented Canada at the 1920 Olympics and won the first Olympic ice hockey gold medal.

At the time, Icelanders were called "goolies" in Manitoba. This was not a nice term. My father told me that he once tried to explain prejudice to my uncle Angantyr, who had apparently been using less than nice language about some ethnic or racial group.

"What would you do if someone called you a goolie?" my father asked his brother.

"I'd punch him out," Tyri replied.

Tyri was a high school history teacher and not the kind of person you would assume was a puncher out. I bet he would have done it.

The site I found said "goolie" came from the way Icelanders mispronounced goalie. I thought it originated because Icelanders held meetings at the Grand Old Order of Lions Hall in Winnipeg, though this doesn't sound any more likely than the goalie story.

Anyway, I figure if ever three people gather together, there will be prejudice against them.

The site I found said "goolie" was now an affectionate term. I don't plan to use it. When if I ran into someone like my uncle Tyri?

I also found a site that said the National Hockey team in Iceland has a falcon and a maple leaf on their uniforms in memory of the Icelanders in Winnipeg. I need to check this out. It's a sweet story.

Seasonal Report

We are pretty clearly into summer now. The French lilacs have finished blooming, and the Korean lilacs are mostly done. There are little wisps of fuzz floating in the air, evidence that the cottonwoods are flowering. The fuzz is everywhere this time of year, even in the two down towns.

Carp usually mate around the time the cottonwoods produce their cotton, and you see them thrashing in the shallows of local lakes. I haven't checked to see if they are on schedule. There is something reassuring about cottonwood fuzz floating in the air, and carp thrashing in the shallows. Life is as it should be.

I joined the Y last week and went to exercise for the first time today. It's beautiful facility. I have an appointment with a personal trainer next week.

I'm becoming increasingly aware that I am aging, and if I want a happy old age, I had better start taking care of myself.

I am going to be at the Fourth Street Fantasy Con in June and Diversacon in August. Other than that and exercise, I plan a quiet summer -- with some writing, I hope. I have half a dozen stories almost finished.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Public Service Annoucement

The Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last night. This is like winning the World Series for hockey. Patrick (a Detroiter who grew up playing hockey and listening to hockey games on the radio with his grandfather) is very happy. He woke up smiling this morning and murmuring "the 2008 Stanley Cup."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Miscellaneous Facts and Thoughts

I looked for a breakdown of the U.S. labor force by kinds of work. What I wanted was a simple bar or pie graph, which I did not find, except for 1994. At that point, 27% of the labor force was professional or managerial.

The occupations not listed as professional or managerial were technicians, sales people, administrative support, service workers, farmers, loggers and fishers, precision production workers, machine operators, material movers and 'handlers.'

If middle class has meaning, I would apply it to the managerial and professional workers. I do not think it applies to most of the occupations listed in the paragraph directly above.

There is a problem with Census figures, especially if you are looking at broad groupings. The categories mix people who make different kinds of money, because they are doing more or less similar kinds of work. Sales must include super salesmen on commission, who make real money, along with miserable retail clerks.

At some point I will have to go over the Census job report line by line and see if I can separate jobs that pay pretty well from the rest.

I then looked for income, which is easier to find in summary form. 55% of households make under $50,000 a year. 16% of households make over $100,000 a year. Households with higher incomes tend to have two workers. You can be above the household median with two workers making $25,000 each.

The median income for union members is $44,876. The median income for non-union workers is $34,476. I was told years ago that a union electrician can easily make $100,000 a year, which is more than I have ever made on any job.

Remember, when you look at these income figures, the cost of health care in the U.S., the lack of affordable housing, the rising cost of a college education and decreasing number of companies that have pensions for their employees. Is $50,000 for a family enough, given all this?

I've been reading essays that focus on cultural and educational differences among social groups. I think money matters a lot.

This partly because I grew up around artists, people who were creating high culture -- the stuff that is put in museums -- and being badly paid. A few ended up hitting it big in the art market. Most did not.

As an adult my community has been science fiction writers, creators of what might be called low or popular culture, who tend to be highly educated and badly paid.

Education is great, but I have never seen it as a way to make a lot of money. And while it is not absolutely true to say there is no money in art, it is mostly true.

If culture is so important, why do the people who make it do so badly?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

More on Class

I followed a link to a site titled Education and Class and found it very interesting.

There was a test to measure privilege, which I took. It was about the way you grew up: books in the house, art museums, educated parents and relatives, enough money in the family to pay for college... I answered 'yes' to almost every question. Patrick, if he took the test, would have answered 'no.' But it seems to me we have ended up in about the same place, making the same kind of money, having the same interests. We both learned our skills through years of working jobs that I would describe as working class, Pat as a tech in a hospital, me as a clerk in an office, and have now scrambled into jobs that are more or less professional.

I guess I should point out that I was writing and becoming a moderately well known science fiction writer, while I worked as a clerk. Patrick was reading and thinking and learning about American society and culture.

I just lost part of this post while editing it and need to recreate it...

When you go to a science fiction convention, you see a lot of people in tee shirts and blue jeans, who are carrying around stacks of books and talking intensely to each other. Some people wear exotic costumes, as if at a costume ball; and there are a few people in casual business garb, academics or publishing professionals.

What do they do for a living? It varies. I've met technical workers, clerical workers, retail clerks, a janitor, a cab driver, college profs, a lot of librarians...

What ties these people together is their love of science fiction, which came out of the 30s and 40s pulp magazines, read -- I have always thought -- by kids and working people. This was not an elite fiction. Reading it was not the road to social success. It was going to rot your mind, the same as reading comic books and Mad Magazine.

Plenty of different kinds of people read and love SF now. But the core fandom still remains a bit outside normal American social structures, or so I am arguing right now. People come to fandom from different social backgrounds and often from mixed social backgrounds. What they have in common -- often -- is a sense of alienation.

If you fit neatly into your social environment, SF is likely to be a lot less appealing. If you think you have ended on the wrong planet, and ask yourself, "who are these people, and why are they behaving this way?" Then you may be a science fiction fan.

Outside the convention, people may fit back into the social hierarchy of their job, neighborhood and family. But at the con, you cannot use the same social signals.

I assume this is true of many hobbies. Within the hobby, what matters is your hobby status.

In this kind of environment, it is not always easy to talk about class. You can't look down on Fred. He makes the best crystal sets of anyone, even though he's a janitor.