Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mike Levy

Ruth Berman and I went to the memorial service for Mike Levy. It was in Menomonie, Wisconsin, a small college town about an hour and half from the Twin Cities. It was the kind of service I like: the minister spoke, but not a lot. Mostly, Mike's friends and relatives told their memories. I got a chance of speak with Mike's widow, Sandy Lindow, and his son Scott, also Kelly McCullough and Laura McCullough, good friends to Mike and Sandy. Everyone looked wiped out. I told Kelly he and Laura needed to get a cat. (They have lost two fairly recently.) He said that was the plan for next week.

I will repeat a story Mike's son Scott told. When Mike was in grad school, he was walking home one icy Minnesota-winter day, and he heard a kitten crying. He looked around and found the kitten on a heating grate. It had climbed on the grate to get warm. The hot air coming out the grate must have cooled temporarily, and the moisture on the grate had frozen, trapping the kitten. Its feet were actually frozen to the grate. Mike carefully chipped the kitten free and took it home. He named it Sarah Bernhardt and had Sarah for 20 years. Scott said it was the meanest, most miserable cat he had ever met.

After the service, refreshments were served in the church basement: Wisconsin cheese with crackers, fruit and little pastries. The coffee was classic church basement coffee: hot and weak.

Then Ruth and I headed back to the Twin Cities. We were both tired. I was exhausted.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Minicon Report

I went to Minicon late yesterday morning and stayed till 3:30 in the afternoon. Was on one panel -- about creating flawed heroes. Maybe because I was tired, I couldn't get engaged with the topic. Bought a pair of opal earrings from Elise Matthesen in the dealers' room. Got a ride home with Ruth Berman, took a nap, got up briefly and then went to bed for the night.

I did more thinking about the flaws in my heroes, trying to figure out if the panel could have been made better. Daisy's flaw in my story "Daisy" is she's an octopus. She can't drive a stick shift. She doesn't understand humans. She doesn't have a moral system. (Octopuses are solitary predators.) She needs to get to the ocean.

Loft, in the story I'm currently finishing for wizard anthology, has a flaw of being an utter jerk. But I'm basing my story on an Icelandic folktale, and he's a jerk in the folktale. So I didn't give him a flaw. He came with one. The problem in the story is to make him less of a jerk.

I said on the panel that I don't add flaws to my characters. The whole story -- the character, the setting, the problem -- seem to take shape together. How they take shape depends on what sets off the story. "Daisy" began with joking around on facebook. This led to the name Art Pancakes, which sounded like a good name for a gangster. I don't remember how the idea of a criminal bookkeeper octopus evolved, but it did -- and on facebook.

"Loft" began with an Icelandic folktale.

"Yu the Engineer," which is notes at the moment, comes from Chinese history. What is Yu's flaw? He is damn near flawless, though he's going to have a problem when he gets home from taming the Yellow River floods and has to confront a family he hasn't seen for 13 years. How pissed is his wife going to be? As with "Loft," I am beginning with an existing story. Then ideas leaf off it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Michael Levy

Mike Levy has died. People in the SFF academic community will know him, also people attending local cons, where Mike was on wonderful panels on recent SFF. I have known Mike and his wife Sandy Lindow for decades. I can't express how great a loss this is. A bright, kind, thoughtful guy, a teacher and scholar and fan, human-hearted and civilized. One of my favorite people.

Here is a poem, not written about Mike, but it fits, sort of. Though I am not the slightest bit comfortable about losing Mike.

(In the Manner of Tu Fu)

We stop at a tavern outside the capital:
one last evening of wine
and composing poetry.
You will leave before daybreak,
taking the long dark road alone.

In the distance mountains loom:
deep gorges and high passes.
Clouds enfold the peaks.
Monkeys scream on the sheer cliffs.
The country ahead of you
is the stuff of legends.

In my mind I see
your tiny figure
diminishing and diminishing,
until you are invisible
in the distance,
while I lie warm
and comfortable under my quilt,
planning to rise late
and compose another poem.
Many of the classical Chinese poets were government bureaucrats, often sent away to be administrators in distant provinces. Classical Chinese poetry is full of leavetakings.

The Law of Jante

From The Guardian:
The Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about it more than 80 years ago, setting down the regulating mechanisms that operate on Scandinavians from below, in what he called the Law of Jante. According to Sandemose, the 10 commandments that regulate our social behavior are:

1. You mustn’t think you’re special.
2. You mustn’t think you’re as good as we are.
3. You mustn’t think you’re smarter than us.
4. You mustn’t imagine you’re any better than us.
5. You mustn’t think you know more than we do.
6. You mustn’t think you’re more important than us.
7. You mustn’t think you’re good at anything.
8. You mustn’t laugh at us.
9. You mustn’t think anyone cares about you.
10. You mustn’t think you can teach us anything.
I think these ten commandments are a bit harsh. But a lot of them sound familiar to me as a Minnesotan.

MInnesotans like everyone to be on the same level, which can be very good and not so good.

Patrick says he heard the same kind of thing in Detroit: 'Don't get above your raising.' My friend John Rezmerski, who ended up as a college professor in Minnesota, said his mother wanted him to get a teaching degree and teach high school in the Pennsylvania paper mill town where he grew up. It's a common working class attitude. Members of the middle class compete against one another and getting ahead of your neighbors is fine. The working class tend to value solidarity.

I don't know this fits with Minnesota's Nordic heritage. But Minnesota has had a strong union movement and a strong co-op movement. The local political party that is affiliated with the National Democrats is the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. We understand solidarity -- part of the time, at least. The country and small towns have a long tradition of helping your neighbors out. But economic and social changes have gutted rural Minnesota. Instead of many small farms we have a handful of big farms, and the small town main streets are often empty.

Post Office

So I went to the post office to mail off my tax payments. I was there over an hour, standing in line. There was a chattery lady in a wheelchair, who never stopped talking. Several restless children. People who had problems when they finally got to the counter, which had only one clerk. For example, the young person with 35 letters that had to go certified mail. Do you know how long it takes to process 35 pieces of certified mail? I do now. The gentleman who had a complaint about another branch office and wanted to see someone in authority at this branch right now -- and was upset enough so he didn't hear the clerk telling him she was the only person in the office. She kept saying, "We only sell stamps." The woman who appeared to be actively hallucinating. She seemed to be on a phone, which I couldn't see, talking to star fleet.

I have no trouble with ambient noise in a coffee shop. I rarely notice other people's conversations. But I couldn't shut out any of the noise on this line. Epecially the lady who was saying, "Danger, danger" to star fleet.

This is the downtown office. I went after lunch hour, hoping for no line. I expected to see people in business attire, not people like the lady entirely in white, carrying a couple of white flowers. She got in a lively conversation with the member of star fleet.

I stopped on the way home and got a brownie the size of a house, ate it, came home and took a nap.