December 2006


We’re headed for Florida tomorrow with internet access unknown, so Happy New Year too in case I don’t make it back before then. Just when I thought it was safe to be a Virginian, Virgil Goode has to open his mouth. I love the name though, wish I could use it in a story. He has raised the all-important issue of what object one swears on. I mean, if he had to swear in, and he was locked in the one motel room the Gideons had missed, and there was no Bible, would a VHS of The Ten Commandments trump a copy of Paradise Lost? It’s a tough call, but I’m sure Virgil will give it some thought. Peace on Earth, good will toward all living creatures, even Virge. (Love that name!)

While watching some inspiring footage of Doorbuster Specials the other evening— eager shoppers knocked to the ground and trampled—I was wondering what was going to become of the Christmas story itself.  How is it going to compete with the gripping drama of the retail economy?  I mean, what would get it the kind of attention Mel Gibson brought to Easter?  A little baby, animals, loving mother.  Where’s the action, violence, torture, blood?  But there’s one part of the story, known only to Matthew apparently, that has great potential.  It seems that the Magi asked Herod where the King of the Jews was about to be born, which kind of freaked the collaborating sellout, and he had all the little kids murdered.  Not to worry, however, for baby Jesus had split to Egypt.  Must’ve been hard to leave behind all those kids who were supposed to be you, but nobody said it was easy to be Jesus.  The old masters knew the story of course:

I found myself writing about hummingbirds today and came across this nice image in my research:

Imagine my surprise to learn that Time Magazine, that stalwart companion in doctor’s offices and checkout lines has named me Person of the Year. They’ve named Alice too. They’ve named anyone, apparently, who’ll see the cover of their magazine or go to their website. Are they stealing Stephen Colbert’s material? I tell you, friends, it’s getting harder and harder to write satire.

Alice upon learning she’s been named Person of the Year:

Sarah, too, is right proud:

While listening to a frothy NPR interview this weekend, I heard the interviewer bubble: “Well, you know what they say, 40 is the new 30!” Well, I didn‘t know they said that, but that’s probably because both 30 and 40 are well back in my rear-view mirror. I’m not sure what it means. Does this mean you can now trust people who are 39? Does it mean you can now live at home sponging off Mom and Dad for an additional decade? I suppose I noticed because I’m at one of those dramatic highly significant crossroads in life that impending decades represent: I’m 59, and you know what comes next. Every cell in my body and brain will change, I’m sure, and I will be OLD. These transitions are all in the anticipation, the stress of their inevitable approach. I’ve probably never been older than when I was 29 for one endless year, my trustworthiness oozing out of me like sap. Decades are a big stressful deal, so I have a modest proposal. It’s all because we have a 10-based number system, which I dare to assert is because we have ten digits on our hands. What if we were to initiate a widespread genetic engineering program whereby future generation would be born with 12 or 14 digits? Hell, let’s make it 20. There would be a transistion period, of course. It would be a rough time to be a math teacher, but the results would be worth it. 40 could be the new 20. And most important, we wouldn’t have to go through these life changing transitions so often. We’d have twice as long to rest up between crises. The secondary benefits would be immense. Jazz piano, for example, would be utterly transformed. It would bring on a new digital age. It’s too late for me—I’m already OLD—but it could offer hope to future aging generations.

This morning I read something for Christmas at my neighborhood association as I have been for several years now. This excerpt from The Fourth World I read a couple of years ago. In the novel it is a story narrated by a virtual Zapata. Feliz Navidad.

“It is a parable I call Los Gamelos, The Twins:

“There were twin brothers long, long ago who were left a magnificent castle by their mother and father. The parents were old and sick and wanted to provide for their sons when they were gone, for they had always done everything for their children as loving parents will do. But when they died, the funeral had no sooner concluded and the brothers were alone, than the first brother seized the castle for himself and shut the second brother out into the wilderness that surrounded the castle walls. And in that moment, as if the gods blessed his iniquity, the first brother began to grow larger and larger, while his unfortunate brother grew smaller and smaller. (more…)

I’ve been busy lately, short stories mostly, but I’m also at work on the ending of a novel in progress set in the very near future. Like most such sf novels, it constantly flirts with being a thriller. But every good thriller’s got to end with the status quo. Nothing ever changes except the girl James Bond screws during the closing credits. Order is restored; the genie is back in the bottle. In science fiction, it seems to me, the resolution isn’t to put the plot genie back in the bottle, but to end in a changed world. That’s why I’m always drawn to sf tropes, which are all about change, though endings are trickier. The near future thriller is tempted to comfort, to rein in the future. The sf story has to end with greater uncertainty. Most annoying, I imagine, to the devoted thriller reader.

I just learned of another sort of ending, that my novel The Watch will be remaindered in June. It’s had a good run, coming out shortly after 9/11. Peter Kropotkin has been very, very good to me. Of the four novels Jen Brehl and I did together, this is probably our best, controversial ending and all.  The highest honor the book received in my mind was being chosen by Greenhill School to be read by their upper school.  My visit to the campus was one of the best times I’ve ever had as teacher and writer both.

While walking down by the James River last weekend, Sarah and I interrupted beavers working on this sculpture of a human female, identity unknown. If there was a model, she fled too.

About fourteen years ago when youngest stepdaughter Marina was seven I helped chaperone her class to an iMax movie on beavers at the Science Museum of Virginia. It was filled with lots of good underwater shots and beaver’s eye views of felling trees and such. Beavers mate for life according to this film. This may be the work of a pair of beaver artists.

Shortly after a flood, in Alice’s spryer days, she came upon a beaver recently flushed from his home, standing on the bank, pissed off. She trotted up, looked him in the eye, expecting dog, and there was this totally alien creature looking back at her with his beady eyes, a crazy tree chewing critter that lives in stick houses and slaps its tail like a gunshot going off. Alice got wide-eyed and slowly backed away. She had wild crazy dog dreams all afternoon. Whenever I need to write someone encountering monster or alien, I remember Alice and that beaver.