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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Between work, weddings, and assembling IKEA furniture, it’s been a busy week, but somewhere in there I also managed to wrangle an invitation to an “author appreciation” festival put on by a local independent bookstore (details below).

Kent is a town south of Seattle, and Page Turner Books is a used/new bookseller in the downtown area. PTB takes pride in being a “by the nerds, for the nerds” business, specializing in speculative fiction of all stripes, plus gaming, collectibles, and comics. They often have author and convention-like events, and next weekend they’re putting on their Fall Festi-Con Fair, with (so far) about a dozen authors and artists hanging out to sign books and chat with readers.

Now, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I heartily dislike public appearances and speechifying. Back when I did attend conventions, I went through a lot of preliminary psychological prep, and a ton of after-action recovery. Signings were even worse, in that I wasn’t sharing the stage with other writers; it was all me, and the (usually) empty ranks of chairs were a reflection of that.

Not that I haven’t done the occasional event in the years since then. I even got invited to a panel on writing historical fiction (also in Kent, if I remember correctly . . . hmm) that was a good day, but in general, no.

In short, as an author, I don’t get out much.

But sharing the venue with a dozen creative artists is definitely something I can manage, and so, if you’re interested (and in the PacNW), here are the details:

Fall Festi-Con Fair
presented by Page Turner Books
Saturday, 24 Sep 2022, from 2-7pm
314 West Meeker Street, Kent, WA 98032

Event Page on Facebook
(includes list of authors and artists, plus details)
Event Page at City of Kent
(details, map, etc.)

Bring your books or pick up a new one (I’ll have some from my stash), or just drop in to say Hey.

k

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I do not have children.

This was by design.

I helped raise my brothers, eight years my junior. I experienced the trials of their infancy, the stress of their youthful mistakes, at least as much as an elder brother can.

I was not completely averse to the concept of procreation. Luckily, though, the woman I bonded with for life had opinions similar to mine, and so we have been happily childless for nigh on forty years.

And yet, there are children in our lives. The progeny of relations. The nieces and nephews of friends. The kids and grandkids of those in our closest circle.

This weekend I will have the honor of joining in marriage two young people who have been a part of our lives for several years. In June, I did the same for another couple from our innermost circles. In both cases, of both couples, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride when thinking of who these young people are.

But this is unjustified, undeserved, for I did nothing to raise these wonderful young people. I did nothing to mold their morals, their beliefs, their trueness to self, their admirable ethic, their compassion, their cleverness, their devotion to others, their loving spirits. That was the work of their parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, elder cousins. That is their pride to take, not mine.

And yet, I feel pride.

Reflecting on this, it is probably more accurate to say that what I am feeling is a bit switched around. What feels like pride in them is actually pride in knowing them. I am proud that these remarkable young people want me in their lives. I am proud that they esteem me enough to want me to officiate their wedding. I am proud to know them, to call them friends, and to love them.

It is as close as I will ever come to feeling a father’s pride, but it is more than I ever expected, and I am grateful for it.

k

 

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When I was in my early twenties, I moved house a lot—different roommates, different apartments, different towns, different states, different countries—and it quickly became obvious that there is a peculiar arithmetic attached to the process of changing residence.

No matter how much you have when you begin the move, you always arrive at your destination with less. It’s not so much that things get lost in transit (though that is a factor); it’s that when packing up, you tend to evaluate every object. Do I need this? Do I want it? Do I even like it anymore? Items that fail to make the grade are sold, donated, given away, tossed, or just plain abandoned.

For my first move out of my parents’ home, I took several pieces of furniture, four instruments, a rack of clothes, and a dozen boxes filled with household goods, papers, books, LPs, letters, and memorabilia. By the last of my youthful relocations, though, I had pared it all down to a mattress, two instruments, a suitcase of clothes, a backpack of toiletries, and three ratty cardboard boxes (one each for kitchen, books, and memorabilia). If pressed, I could pack up and be out the door within three quarters of an hour (faster, if I decided to leave the mattress behind).

Since then—after I married and found steady work—the pace of the moves slowed until, back in 1997, we moved into our first non-rental home and vowed never to move again. This new-found contentment did not, however, stop us from repeatedly culling the herd. The thing about owning a home is that you always accrue sufficient belongings to fill it (and then some), so periodically we still reevaluate and downsize our possessions.

I’ve written before on these pages about household purges, and we’re in the midst of one now, a big one, as we simultaneously prepare for retirement, redecorate and renovate the house, cast off clothing that’s way too big, and clear the shelves, cupboards, and cabinets of anything we no longer use or no longer want. In almost every way, we’re simplifying, and there’s a liberating feel to it. It’s rejuvenating, filled with all the excitement of a move but with none of the anxiety. And because it’s such a big effort, I’ve been digging deeper into the closets and storage spots than ever before, which led me to discover something interesting. Through all of these—moves and purges both—there is one area that never gets downsized: memorabilia.

To be fair, my habits regarding the accretion of memorabilia have always been austere, allowing only the most pithy of tokens to be added. As a result, I have only a small cigar box of ticket stubs, a tiny box with remembrances of cats now deceased, a shoebox of old love letters, and a wooden case designed for three bottles of wine that now holds a collection of disparate objects: shells from the Mediterranean, marbles won on my grammar school playground, my old wind-up metronome, a collection of keys from every place I’ve lived, a coaster from a London pub. Very little accrues to this potpourri now—ticket stubs are things of the past, my wife and I generally text “I love you’s” rather than send them via snail mail, and my marble-playing days are long behind me—so when I went through them last week, it was a jolt to the senses. The smoothness of a river-washed stone, the faded delicacy of a love note written on fabric, the scents of pipe tobacco and patchouli, the dull notes of brass keys.

In truth, there’s nothing in there but junk. There is absolutely nothing of any value in these boxes, nothing that could be sold or donated or that carries any meaning to anyone but me.

But they are sacrosanct, unpurgeable, pieces from the museum of my life’s story.

To paraphrase Spencer’s character in Pat and Mike, while there ain’t much there, what’s there is cherce.

k

PS. Items in photo, examples of said junk/treasure, anticlockwise from lower right:

  • Buttons from my first visit to the National Gallery, London; my first Ren Faire; and my first job
  • A pair of hand-made spectacles (for a medieval feast)
  • An acorn from Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, PA
  • Two first place ribbons from a jazz competition
  • A pair of dragons from my model building and RPG gaming days
  • A long-stem hobbit pipe
  • Wooden interlocking Escher lizards
  • A wooden car pilfered from the Toy Museum, Camden, London
  • A miniature brass Cupid, a gift from an old friend
  • A pocket copy of The Merchant of Venice, ex libris Vera Roads, West Australia, 01Jan1906
  • Stage fairy dust, given to me by the man who “flew” Mary Martin in the Broadway production of Peter Pan
  • Hand-painted pewter figurines, from our wedding cake

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Yesterday was not a great day.

To start with, I was grumpy. Very grumpy.

We’ve been renovating and redecorating for a few months, and yesterday I began to feel a tad overwhelmed not only by what is still left to do, but by the toll it’s taken on my sixty-plus-year-old body. In short, while I’m used to aches and pains, I’m not used to being so tired at the end of the day that I’m thinking about going to bed at 8PM.

So that was my baseline going into things.

Then came work, where I’ve been in a holding pattern for a few days, waiting for analysts to provide answers to specific questions regarding the solutions I’m supposed to be crafting for them. Well, I got some answers, all right. The first answer was to a question I hadn’t asked, but it’s an answer I’ve long suspected. The answer was, “No, we really don’t read your emails.” The second answer was also to a question I hadn’t asked, because (as mentioned), they really don’t read my emails. Ditto, the third answer.

Waiting three days for an answer to a specific question is frustrating enough. Waiting three days and getting answers that are totally irrelevant to the questions posed, well, that pushes my frustration coefficient to 11.

To keep myself from lashing out, I needed a distraction, so I turned to something totally unrelated, something as far from programs and coding and specifications and analysis as possible.

I decided to reorganize my collection of British coins.

I could have chosen any number of other activities—weeding the garden, working a crossword puzzle, rearranging my office (again)—just as long as it engaged my hands and my brain sufficiently to keep me preoccupied and kept me from delivering mayhem to a few certain someones. Reorganizing my coins was the perfect choice.

My collection of British coins is modest and limited. Nothing too old. Nothing made of gold. Just coins that regular folk used in their daily lives, coins I’ve collected over the decades, either on a whim or because my interest was reignited. They range from Victoria (1836) to Elizabeth II (pre-decimal, 1971)—okay, there is one sixpence from the reign of Elizabeth I (1573), but that’s an outlier—in denominations from farthings to crowns (1/4 d to 5s, for you LSD afficionados; you know who you are). 

I won’t pretend otherwise: it is an extremely nerdy activity. On the nerdiness scale, it’s right there next to stamp collecting (though whether it’s on the nerdier or less-nerdy side, I couldn’t possibly say). It’s the kind of thing where you’d expect me to be wearing tweed, smoking a pipe, sitting in a room lit by a single lamp, surrounded by dark wood bookshelves, and holding a massive magnifier. And you wouldn’t be far off.

But it does consume a great deal of brain activity, and yesterday, that’s precisely what I needed: to be distracted.

So, I fiddled and examined, sorted and re-sorted. Should I organize by denomination or by monarch? Ascending or descending? Is this coin really in XF condition, or is it merely VF? 

Pressing, important issues.

Issues so much more important than screaming “Read the damned email, why don’t you!?” or reiterating for the third time the question I’ve been asking for days.

And it worked. My blood pressure went down. No one was injured.

Sure, I was still grumpy (and sore, and tired), but at least I wasn’t making plans to nuke my co-workers anymore.

I’ll take a small victory over none at all.

k

PS. In the end, I went with: by denomination, ascending, and merely VF.

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———

our eyes spill
waves of notion
across the eternal void
into the depths of time
seeking

intention precedes our questions
of who we are and why and how
but the answers received
are not answers
any more than
we are we

the aeons stare back
drop clues
of intricate detail
tantalizing the ape-minds
that think themselves gods

———

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H*(Rα/Υ)=ς

Or, in other words,
A Home, when multiplied by a Renovation raised to the power of the Affected Area and divided by the Unity factor, equals the perceived level of Serenity.

As I sit down here in my basement, above my head Thor is wielding Mjölnir in a fierce battle against giant angry wasps.

Or so it seems.

And yet, I am at peace.

We are having new windows installed, replacing our old 1960 single-pane aluminum frame rattletraps (emphasis on “rattle”) with updated double-glazed, gas-filled, smooth-sliding jobs. Three windows, two sliding glass doors, and the pièce de résistance, a bay window in the bedroom, overlooking the gardens. It is a huge job, by our standards, and the saws—reciprocating, circular, oscillating/elliptical—plus hammers from small to monstrous and compressors and sundry other tools of destruction/construction are creating an acoustical landscape that makes one think of banshees, murder hornets, and alien warfare.

It’s the kind of chaos that would stress me out, worry my wife, and send Portia (the cat) running for her panic room (my closet).

And yet, my wife is happily alternating between watching her reality TV and napping, Portia is comfortably settled up beside her, and I am taking a break from my workday to compose this blog post.

It’s our being together, an island of mutual strength, that allows us to weather the storm that rages above-stairs. Though planets are being torn asunder, down here the clock ticks, the walls remain firm, and though the lights flicker each time the massive chop saw kicks in, we are surrounded by warm and comforting light.

Unity, reaffirming familial bonds, is a powerful tool. When we separate, we are weak, but when we join together, that makes us mighty. In a crisis, unity is crucial, but our ability to join forces against the world is made even stronger when we practice it, be it in running errands, making decisions, sharing a meal, or planning an event. Sharing the little agonies improves our technique and readies us for when the big agonies come along.

To be sure, this isn’t a big one, but it isn’t a small one, either. Seeing us here, though, calm and unruffled, gives me confidence that when a big one does land on our doorstep, we’ll be better prepared.

k

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Well, that was quite the week.

I took last Thursday off for my wife’s birthday. I didn’t get her a present—I long ago stopped trying to surprise her with a gift and now merely provide her with whatever she desires—but if I had, it certainly wouldn’t have been what she got, courtesy of SCOTUS. Thanks to them, everyone’s packing heat, women are chattel of the state, prayer is back in schools, voting rights have been further eroded, native sovereignty is diminished, and the government is hamstrung in its battle against climate change.

This all got plopped down on top of plates already over-filled by the war in Ukraine (served with a side dish of “Why so serious?” courtesy of Russia), the onion-peeling revelations from the January 6 Select Committee, and the smoldering root fire of pandemic, inflation, and civil unrest.

Good times, eh?

I think we can all be forgiven if we find ourselves a tad out of sorts, short on patience, or (in my case) fighting a persistent long-term, low-level depression. To combat the latter, I generally try to “accentuate the positive” by focusing on the good bits. It isn’t easy, but thankfully, in the midst of last week’s maelstrom of sewage, I did find an island of serenity.

Last Saturday, I married two young people. This was my second opportunity to officiate a marriage, and even though I don’t enjoy public speaking (an understatement), being asked to perform a wedding is an honor I’m not sure I could ever turn down.

The bride is the daughter of my adoptive family, and the ceremony was at the groom’s family home, a lovely Craftsman-style house nestled in a dell, deep in a birch forest. We arrived Friday for the rehearsal, and were met with the expected combination of almost-too-late preparations, near-to-breaking nerves, and brink-of-tears composure. My job on Friday was easy: radiate calm and stay out of the way.

Saturday . . . different story.

To complete the picture, I should mention that this was the weekend the Puget Sound region decided to turn the heat up to eleven. We went from a Thursday high in the mid-60s (20°C) to a Saturday with temps in the low- to mid-90s (35°C). And we were outside. And my spot was in the sun. And I was wearing black. Including my blazer.

At a wedding, it’s easy to interpret a profusely sweating minister as an ill omen, but I was able to maintain a cool appearance via sheer will. It wasn’t until the exchange of rings that I felt the first trickle of sweat on my sunward temple, and I didn’t have to mop my brow until the recessional was complete. Whew!

The thing I love about weddings—and I’ve been in more than my fair share—is that everyone wants them to go off well. Participants, family, friends, guests, even the caterers and photographers and musicians, everyone wants it to be beautiful and happy and glitch-free. But while beautiful and happy are do-able, I’ve never known one to be glitch-free. At mine, the judge arrived on crutches; she’d torn a ligament sliding into second base, and since we our wedding was in a forest, she had the devil’s own time negotiating the terrain (at one point the entire wedding party had to take one step backward so she could get her foot out of a hole). At another, the bride forgot the rings at home and had also locked her keys inside; we had to break in through a window. Weather is always a crap-shoot for outdoor venues. Hangovers often throw sabots into the machinery. And let’s not forget the gremlins of technology; unintentionally hot mics, recalcitrant PA systems, looping cables and wires stretched across traffic paths, they’re all just glitches waiting to happen.

But even with these myriad disasters waiting in ambush, I’ve never known a wedding to go completely off the rails. The glitches happen, to be sure, but they get handled, and they become part of the story, the one thing that makes this wedding unique, the thing we all laugh about afterward.

Weddings are built, from bottom to top, of hope.

And for me, that was definitely a bright spot in a week otherwise filled with drear and dread.

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