Inside the mind of an introvert

I am an introvert. Now, I don't speak for all introverts, I speak only for myself. But I think there are common experiences among introverts that mystify people. I know I often feel misunderstood, and I imagine other introverts do as well. Because we're a minority population, and all too often, our more extroverted friends don't even seem to realize that not everyone is like them. And yet, we're expected to function smoothly in an extrovert's world. I've gotten pretty good at faking extrovert, but I struggle with finding a balance between the expectation of fitting in and being true to myself.

It surprises people when I tell them I'm an introvert, because I can be quite social. Most people equate introvert with shy. While that is a false equivalency, in my case, I am far more shy than most people realize. As a teenager, I was painfully shy - outside of school and school activities where I felt comfortable, if I was in a group, I would frequently stay on the sidelines and watch, interacting very little, if at all. Even now, as an adult, it's a difficult thing for me to go into a group setting and interact with people when there are people I don't know (shoot, even when there are people I do know), so it's not uncommon to find me sitting back and observing what's going on around me (and I can be perfectly happy doing that, and trust me, I can see and learn a lot that way!). And if I find myself in a situation where I really like someone, really want to get to know them better, I'm just as likely to either make a fool of myself, or completely withdraw out of embarrassment. (I long ago embraced my membership in the Freaks and Geeks set, but I still struggle with the social cues that we're all "expected" to know. Some things don't seem to change much.)

It's not that I'm anti-social or unfriendly, or cold and unfeeling, even if it looks that way; to the contrary, I feel very deeply and passionately, and I need social interaction like anyone else. I just don't always express those feelings in such a way that our society says is "the norm." Each of these labels has been applied to me (and seriously, do you know how hurtful it is to be told you're seen as unfriendly and unfeeling, when nothing is further from the truth? And when that happens, I tend to withdraw more into myself, which of course just creates a feedback loop which reinforces the erroneous perception.).

I very much like being with my friends, talking, laughing, sharing. But I don't like huge crowds. And since getting the shunt in my ear last year, with the resulting hearing loss, which looks to be permanent, being in large groups is especially difficult, because I have a hard time distinguishing voices after a while. (It's kind of like in LOST, when The Others would be whispering in the jungle, and our plucky survivors would find themselves surrounded by all these whispering voices, unable to distinguish where the voices where coming from, just feeling them all around them, and unable to tell what they were saying. When I get in a large group, after a while, it's very much like that for me, which can make interacting a challenge.)

And the key for me (and many introverts): after a spell of being social, I desperately need to be alone. I need to go off by myself and recharge. Not to do so stresses me out a great deal. When my dad died, two of my sisters were in Miami for his funeral. From the moment I had landed in Miami to visit my dad, to his sudden death, I hadn't had a moment to myself, literally. I was exhausted, I was angry, I was stressed, and the day of his funeral, I decided I needed to go off by myself for the morning. Well, my sisters had wanted me to spend time with them (which was at that moment the last thing I needed or wanted), and I told them I needed some time alone. They were less than understanding, and one of them pulled out the "unfeeling" label, which was very much the wrong thing to say to me at that moment. Clearly they didn't understand my need, because that wasn't their way of dealing with their feelings. But their reaction didn't exactly endear them to me.

I don't take advantage of social opportunities as much as I could, because too often, I don't have the energy (and that would only serve to make me and everyone else unhappy). So I feel that after a while, I get forgotten, or people may assume I don't want to do something, when that may not be the case. Like anyone else, I want to think friends want to spend time with me, I like to be asked (and I hope for understanding if I have to say no). By the same token, if I hear about a social gathering, and I haven't been specifically invited, I'm not going to approach someone and see if I can tag along. That just goes so completely against who I am as a person, as an introvert, and to do so would feel like I was intruding. To my thinking, if people wanted me to be part of a gathering, they'd have asked me to join in. I don't assume my company is desired and I don't want people to assume I'm just going to ask to play.

I don't ask for pity, I don't need pity, I don't need advice, I just need understanding. For the most part, I'm a pretty happy person (events of this week notwithstanding). I only hope to be able to provide a little insight into my behavior, which I understand can be frustrating, irritating, mystifying, at times. I know there are others out there like me, and when I come across a kindred spirit, it's a relief not to have to put on our outside extrovert mask, because that gets tiring. Of course, the onus is on me to find that right balance between being a hermit and being social (and all too often, I tend to err on the side of being a hermit). It's just a bit of a moving target. Keeps me on my toes.

Spring Break melancholia

It's a time-honored tradition of mine to take Spring Break off (assuming I have enough vacation available, which I try to budget for). Normally, I don't have much planned for the time off. In years past, I've headed downtown to brave the crowds and check out SXSW action. As I get older, that just gets more depressing to me (although it's not so bad with friends, but I don't like just wandering downtown on my own this time of year). I can't handle those kinds of crowds like I once could. And last year's spring break set a new low for all-time worst spring break ever, so it really wasn't going to be hard to have this year's week be better, as long as I didn't spend the entire week in bed, wishing I was dead, as was the case last year. On that front, so far, so good.

I've done a variety of things this week - I've slept, piddled around, done some reading; I am enjoying my time off (and bemoaning how quickly this week has gone). I also find myself very much in a state of discontent.

Yesterday, I ended up spending time with a group of friends at a couple of free shows off the beaten path. I left them around 10ish and made my way home. I didn't fall asleep for a while, but when I did, I slept terribly. I had really vivid dreams that were disturbing, and a theme through the dreams (even going as far as someone singing a nonsensical song to me) was loneliness, specifically, my loneliness. I woke up much too early (esp as I haven't yet adjusted to this time change, because it should not be so dark at 8am), and when I woke up, it was to that special heartache that comes from knowing just how lonely you really are. And I just haven't been able to shake that feeling today. (I tried, I even briefly made my way downtown, and spent some time with my friends Mary and Cassandra.)

Most of the time, that feeling isn't sitting on the surface, and isn't even much of a factor. But sometimes, there it is. I think there's two factors behind this. One involves an old friend of mine who died about 10 days ago. I hadn't been in contact with her for several years, many of us hadn't been. She had a number of health issues, and suffered from depression, best I can piece together. She died alone at home, with her cats (and what's going to happen to them is still unknown at this time). It's unclear if Ann knew how much she was valued, and there's a lot of regret on my part, esp because there was a time when she was very kind to me, and we had some really fun times. I know that the times I tried to reach out to her several years ago, I didn't get anything in return, so I stopped (and I don't think of our group I'm the only one with that experience). I makes me sad to think about the walls she built up around herself, especially when I see this tendency in myself; it's something I struggle with on a regular basis (balancing my needs for solitude with making sure I'm not just a hermit).

The other factor behind my dreams and my mood, I suspect, have to do with the group I was with last night. Specifically, one member of the group. A friend of friends, I briefly met him at Funeral Party, and again yesterday for the second time. I can't lie - I flirted with him pretty outrageously, and although I don't think I did or said anything too terrible, I still feel like I was ridiculous, so of course there's some of that feeling a little bit foolish. What makes it worse is that I find myself in the unfortunate situation of being unwillingly and wildly attracted to him, and for various reasons (not the least of which that it's likely a one-sided attraction, but there are other reasons), that's not good. It has been years since I first met someone and had such am immediate reaction, said to myself, now that's an interesting person (and that person was R., and well, as good as that was in its time, it certainly crashed and burned). And in this case, I know nothing will come of it (it's funny, because we talked quite a bit last night, busted out our cat pictures, talked about family stuff, laughed a lot, and yet, I don't even know his last name). It was a good energy, and that's a good feeling, especially when one hasn't had such in a while. If that kind of frisson were a more common experience for me, it probably wouldn't bother me. But it's not a common experience, at least not for me.

So, I had these dreams, which woke me several times during the night, and this silly song playing over and over in the background about what a lonely girl I was, and then waking up much to early on too little sleep. Of course, I'll find a way to sort through these feelings and deal, and get back to my usual life in the next few days (after all, I do have to go back to work on Monday, and the second half of the semester is super busy, so I'll have a lot less time and energy to be concerned about such things). I'm pretty experienced at that, so I'll find a way to shake this. But I sure do wish I wasn't quite so experienced.

Books 3-16

Catching up on reporting on my reading so far this year. I'm well apace to read my 50 books this year, may very well end up closer to 70, depending on what I end up reading. (I'm currently reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which has slowed me down a bit, because it's a long, dense book.)

3. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. I've read a number of Susan Vreeland's books and I've enjoyed them all. She does her research, and she makes her characters people, not historical figures. Plus, she writes a good story. I very much enjoyed this book. It's the story of the main designer of Tiffany stained glass lamps, Clara Driscoll, and her at times difficult relationship with Tiffany and the company as head of the Women's Division. She was designing lamps as art, and she had to balance between her art and the mundane needs of running a company, and keeping costs down. She was also not publicly acknowledged as the artist behind many of the iconic designs, and had to deal with difficult relationships with the men of the company who were allowed to unionize (but the women were not). It's also a love story as Clara, widowed at a young age, finds love again, at a time when being married would not have allowed her to keep working for Tiffany.

4. Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow. This books is based on a real life pair of reclusive brothers who lived in NY, but is fictionalized. I was unaware of the real brothers, so I wasn't bothered by the inaccuracies. Homer and Langley are the wealthy brothers of a patrician NY family. Homer is a brilliant blind musician who is slowly losing his hearing, Langley is his older brother who seems to have been psychologically damaged in WWI. They live in their family estate, each in their own world. Langley is a hoarder, and much of the story tells of Homer trying to navigate his ever-changing world in his house, becoming more dependent upon Langley, who is less and less able to take care of himself much less his brother. It's start out innocently when Langley gets every day's newspapers, but can't throw them away. Soon he ends up with a Model T in his dining room. This book was hard for me to read. My dad was a hoarder, and I hated being in that kind of environment (something I had to deal with after his death). So descriptions of their house changing over time from that of an elegant 5th Avenue estate to become virtually a desolate ruin, and seeing the inner world of Homer become more and more restricted.

5. and 6. Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. The first two books in a series about a woman private detective in London in the 1930s. Maisie comes from humble beginnings, but thanks to the patronage of her former employer, Maisie is able to get an education and eventually open her own private detective firm in London. She seems to have an uncanny ability to tune into her intuition (in part because of her unusual education with an Indian yogi) and solve her cases. These were easy, enjoyable books worth finding and reading.

7. Mayan December by Brenda Cooper. I received this in my freebie bag at World Fantasy this year. The premise is Dr. Alice Cameron, an archeoastronomer, is in the Yucatan with her daughter December 2012, to witness the end of the Mayan calendar. She's a scientist, and doesn't expect anything more than some good star viewing. But she's surprised to discover her daughter has found a way to slip back in time and finds herself in the middle of an odd group of people who are trying to find a way to save a noble Mayan couple from destruction. This was a pretty good book, although for me it got a little tedious. I found Alice to be a bit overbearing, I couldn't understand why she was thought to be such an important scientist, yet she didn't have an academic position (that just seems too implausible to me), and there were a whole lot of characters that at times were hard to keep track of. Not a bad novel, but not great.

8. and 9. Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell. Continuation from Crystal Rain, which I read and loved years ago. This is old fashioned far-future, big space opera, with big consequences - in this case, the survival of humanity, when the Xenowealth is very much in favor of wiping us out of existence. And of course, our alien overlords have underestimated our tenacity. In some respects, I feel a little bit like humans are the cockroaches of the universe in this universe, but I really enjoyed these books. It's a fight to the death, and we're not going to give up.

10. White Sands, Red Menace, by Ellen Klages. The sequel to Green Glass Sea. 1946, and Suze and Dewey have moved to Alamogordo, NM because Suze's father is working at White Sands Missile Base. The girls try to fit into a new town, make new friends, and there is conflict when Dewey's mother shows up and wants to take Dewey with her to live the life of a wanderer. For a girl who loves science and order, this is almost too much for her to deal with. I loved Green Glass Sea, and I loved this book as well. Klages has such a way of writing evocatively, bringing a place to life, and telling a moving story that, even though written for younger readers, is moving and satisfying for adults as well.

11. The King's Gold by Arturo Perez-Reverte. The continuation of the Captain Alatrist series. This time, Alatrist and Inigo Balboa are hired for a very risky job seizing some contraband gold meant for the black market from a heavily guarded Spanish galleon returning from the West Indies. The commission comes directly from the King, Philip IV, and if Alatriste can pull it off, he may end up with more than gold - he may secure the favor of the king. More swashbuckling fun, I love this series.

12. Galileo's Daughter: A Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobell. A nonfiction book about the relationship between Galileo and his eldest Daughter Maria Celeste, a nun, seen through their correspondence. I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as I had hoped I would. The book seemed more about Galileo than his relationship with his daughter. A lot of time was devoted to Galileo's trial by the Holy Inquisition, the disputation of his books by the Church. Given the anti-science tenor of today's world, where we have Republicans who refuse to believe in global climate or evolution, because they don't trust scientists, it's disturbing to see the parallels between how Galileo was treated (and made to refute Copernicus) and how scientists are viewed by too many today.

13. and 14. Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. The second and third books of The Hunger Games. Katnis' world is turned upside down when she discovers President Snow wants her dead. Instead of living out her life in comfortable obscurity, she is forced back into the Arena for the Quarter Quell, along with Peeta and other winners from the districts. Meanwhile, she discovers she has unwittingly become the voice of the revolution. By the end of the 3rd book, it's a real blood bath (as any revolution is going to be), and I was left shattered. These books are clearly cautionary tales about government over-reach and abuse, and the horrors of war. I didn't find the 3rd book rushed the way some people did, I found it dragged a little too much for me. And I didn't like the ending very much. Maybe because after it's all said and done, you want Katnis to find some happiness, and maybe she does. But at the price of being pretty isolated from almost everyone who was important in her life.

15. Would-be Witch by Kimberly Frost. I wanted to like this book, but found I didn't as much as I had hoped. Tammy lives in a small Texas town and comes from a family of witches, but thinks the magic has overlooked her. Then she finds her family's one heirloom (a locket that is the home of the family ghost, her deceased great Aunt Edie) is stolen, and she needs to turn to Bryn Lyons for help retrieving it. Only, her family legacy says to stay away from Lyons. Meanwhile, Tammy, recently unemployed, finds she can't quite rid herself of her exhusband, and has to deal with her feelings for him as well as Bryn. To be honest, I found Tammy annoying and the book somewhat predictable. I don't necessarily mind the predictability, if I like the characters. But Tammy was irritating, apparently not very bright, and I really didn't like her ex-husband, who is a bit too proprietary toward Tammy. I liked Edie very much, but she wasn't around for much of the book. I also liked Tammy's cat, Mercutio.

16. Viridis by Calista Taylor. I got this as a free download from Amazon. I see these as kind of like the freebie books at WFC - if I like the freebie, hopefully I'll purchase additional books from that author. This book is hailed as a steampunk romance. To be honest, the steampunkery was superfluous and added nothing to the story. This could have just been a straightforward romance set in an alternate 19th c. London. There were a few minor formatting errors, and the author couldn't decide on the spelling of one of the character's names (it flipped between Lily and Lilly at random). But it was fairly well written otherwise, although by the end, I was pretty tired of the main characters, Phoebe and Seth. They both acted foolishly, esp Phoebe, and I wanted to smack her for her actions. I found the book was about as well written as many romances I've purchased before, so if you like romance, it's certainly worth checking out. I just don't know if I'll continue reading in the series of not.

I'm from the government, and I'm here to control you: Books 1 and 2

Although I've read 11 books so far this year, I'm only going to talk about the two most recent books I've finished, Matched by Allie Condie and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

In many ways, the two make a natural comparison: both are dystopian YA books featuring teenage girls trying to come to terms with the highly restrictive rules of the societies in which they live. In both books, both young women show they are stronger than at first thought, stronger than they thought. And both young women, over the course of each book, come to question what they thought was right, and in their own ways, start to fight back.

In The Hunger Games, the nation of Panem sits in a far future North American continent. The Capitol is surrounded by 12 districts. Most people in the districts are very poor, while in the Capitol, there is no want. Ever year, there is a lottery, called Reaping Day, to pick two Tributes from each district to participate in The Hunger Games, a televised death match game that leaves just one Tribute standing at the end. The Tributes are one boy and one girl between 12-18. Because of poverty, people can get certain provisions, but each time they do, they get additional entries into the Reaping Day lottery. Thus, the more desperate and poorer people will likely end up with many more entries than the well-to-do, and thus a greater chance of being picked as a Tribute. And all entries are cumulative, so the older children also have a greater chance of being selected. In this world, Katniss Everdeen tries to keep her family from starving. Her district is the poorest of the 12. She's lost her father in a coal mine accident, and she illegally hunts with her best friend Gale in the forest surrounding their forest to try to provide food for her family, and make a little money selling what she can on the black market.

When Katniss' 12 year old sister Prim is selected on Reaping Day, Katniss immediately steps in as a volunteer to take her place. She is whisked off with Peeta, the boy Tribute and son of the local baker to the Capitol. And from the moment they are taken away, they are treated to unimaginable luxuries, including more food than Katniss has ever seen. But Katniss doesn't trust Peeta, who seems genuinely interested in being her friend, because she knows that in the end, it's every person for themselves in the Games. However, their mentor, the only person ever to win the Games from their district decides to go for a love angle to gain public sympathy and support for the two. Only, for Peeta, it isn't a game. He's very much in love with Katniss, and has been since they were young children.

Much of the book surrounds Katniss' entry into the Hunger Games, how she tries to survive, how she struggles to define her feelings for Peeta. In the book, it's stated that The Hunger Games were devised by the Capitol to remind the districts of their failed coup at some point in the past, to remind the districts that they literally hold the lives of everyone in the districts in their hands.

I thought the book was very well written. I almost hate saying I enjoyed it, because the premise is so horrific - taking entertainment from watching teenagers kill each other to see who is the last person standing. But I did enjoy it, and look forward to reading the other two books in the series. While reading this book, I couldn't help but wonder, how did this society get to this point, why do people go along with this annual slaughter? Will someone rise up from the districts and find a way of uniting them against the horrors of the Capitol?

After reading this book, I picked up Matched. It had been recommended last summer in a YA panel at one of the cons I went to. In the perfect society, everyone's actions are controlled down to the minute. The culture of their world has been made simple, so there are only the One Hundred Songs, One Hundred Poems, etc. Every aspect of their lives are decided by statistical probabilities, including their education, their jobs, their leisure activities, their diets. And their future mates. The burden of all choices are taken away from people, and in return, they get to live in a perfect world with no uncertainty, and die peacefully on their 80th birthday. In the year that every teenager turns 17, they attend their Matching banquet, where they find out who they're slated to marry. At the beginning of the book, Cassia is thrilled and excited about her Matching banquet. As much for the rare piece of chocolate cake as she is to find out who her Match is. Only it doesn't quite go as she expects. She finds she is Matched with her best friend, Xander. But the next day, when she looks at his data card, she finds a different face comes up as her Match, another friend, Ky. She is confused by what she thinks is a glitch. She finds out that Ky is an Aberration (his birth father committed a serious infraction that got Ky removed from his home and sent to an adoptive family and marked for life). As an Aberration, Ky will never be allowed to be Matched. Cassia however finds herself intrigued with him, spending more time with Ky, learning about him.

During the course of the book, Ky teaches her about his former life. When Cassia finds a forbidden set of poems by Tennyson and Dylan Thomas, she shares those with Ky. He teaches her to write, something forbidden by their society. (I think if people had the ability to write, they would use it to create, and their society wants no new creation - that would create too much uncertainty.) In the course of the book, Cassia comes to question whether her perfect life is so perfect, whether Xander really is her perfect Match.

There's a lot familiar about the dystopias of both books. They are not original in content, but that doesn't mean they are not relevant or meaningful books. In a way, it's unfair to compare the two, because they're very different. On the one hand, I thought The Hunger Games was a much more well written book. It grabbed me from the beginning and kept me. In Matched, I didn't really start to connect with the characters until about 1/3 into the book. But in the end, I found that I had a more emotional connection with Matched than I did with The Hunger Games. Cassia's rebellion is more internal, it's quiet, and to me, there's something powerful about that. While The Officials know to keep their eyes on her, she hasn't overplayed her hand, she has kept things close to the vest. She has secrets The Officials cannot imagine, and I think in the end that will harm them more. At least I hope so. Katniss, on the other hand, has played her hand well, but she has let everyone see what she's made of, what she's willing to do to get what she wants, to protect her family and those she loves. And the powers that be are well aware of what a potential danger Katniss is.

It's hard not to read these books and think about our own current society, where the government tells women what medical decisions they can and cannot make, where the government wants to tell gay people they cannot marry the ones they love, where schools take away perfectly good lunches from kids and give them sanctioned lunches. It's really hard not to think about the excesses of where our nanny state is going when reading these books. Of course, they are meant as cautionary tales, and the question them becomes, are we going to wake up in time to stop these abuses to our personal freedoms? As these books show, there are a lot of people who are more than willing to give up their freedoms for what they think are certain guarantees (and boy, don't we see this every day when the TSA assaults travelers all in the name of "protection?"). But there are also people who are willing to fight against this kind of curtailment of our freedoms, and therein lies hope for us all.

Low-Def Renee

I feel like I should make an effort every once in a while to update on what's happening with me. Only, I don't feel there's anything of particular interest worth mentioning. My life is kind of dull these days. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's what it is. Just not thoroughly exciting either. But when things are going along, and there's no crisis, I don't feel that there's anything that needs to be said.

My days tend to be get up too early, most days get in a work out, go to work, go home. In between, I do some combination of reading, playing with kitties, occasionally going out with friends, catching a movie here or there - just the usual sort of mundane existence of most middle-aged suburbanites. I have read 7 books so far this year - 5 in January, helped by the week of vacation. At some point, I need to write up a report. But there have been some excellent books to start off the year. I created an account in Goodreads, and I haven't really done anything over there yet except track my books for 2012, and I added a few of my 2011 books. I think if I put a little more time into Goodreads, it could be another fun timesink for me.

It's not bad being in this place right now - too much drama equals too much stress, and no one likes that. But too much complacency equals potential boredom, and no one likes that either. I did get out for the Super Bowl, and that was great. It was a small gathering, but people were actually watching the game as well as the commercials. And it was on a large, HD tv. I tell you what, we could see all of Al Michaels' crows feet, every last one of them! I'm rather glad my life is more low-def than that. (But I fully own that I have HD tv envy right now.) I am now sad that football has ended, and we have 6 months without. I guess it means I'll be more available for activities on the weekend, however. That is if folks remember me, since I've been in my football weekend cave since August. I received a surprise gift of some wine and wine glasses from the Babcock Winery, a gift from my mother. I had mentioned it to her during her visit here, and she stopped there and had them send me some things. I drank the Merlot, and it was delicious. I took it with me to the Super Bowl party, and shared it, and it was well-received. I've got the chardonnay cooling in the fridge.

ConDFW is coming up, and I won't be going, which makes me sad. I've only gone the last 3 years, but I've very much enjoyed going. Still, I have my financial goals for the next 18 months, and I remain firm in my resolve to get that house in order. I do not trust the Texas legislature and what they may or may not do when they go back in session next year. We got lucky this year. We may not be as lucky next session. And even if we don't get hit too terribly, I'll just be that much more ahead.

I will be going to Denton in 3 weeks for a conference. It's the week after ConDFW, on Th and F, and I've made arrangements to stay Friday night in Arlington with The Simpsons. Since I'll miss Rhonda's birthday at ConDFW, I've offered to take her out for dinner the 24th, and she's offered to make me blueberry pancakes and bacon for breakfast the next morning. That's win all around! Very much looking forward to that who weekend, between my impromptu visit, the VNV Nation show and the Oscars on Sunday.

But until then, more of the same low-def living.

End of vacation time

It's been almost 5 weeks since I worked a regular 5 day week, and I'm having a hard time getting back into the work groove. Of that 5 weeks, almost half of it was spent on vacation, which is always a swell time. My body loves vacation time, because I can (usually) sleep a more normal schedule. Not always, as was true of this past vacation time, but the idea that I don't have to be at my desk for a certain number of hours in a day is still a great luxury for me.

I very much enjoyed my recent vacation time. I did spend some portion of it getting many things accomplished. I didn't clean out my garage, which I had sort of thought I might want to do, but the garage is in stasis, so I don't feel any great urgency there. I got things done around Ye Olde Homestead that I did want to get done. I watched many movies. I read books. I cuddled kitties. I saw friends. All in all, a good staycation.

My mother is moving to a town in northern California called Fairfield, from Cincinnati. She's driving. She was initially going to leave Ohio right after New Year's, and pop down to Austin for a few days. That got delayed for a few reasons, so she did end up popping in to Austin last week, meaning I had to take another day of vacation (giving me a 4 day weekend, which I always enjoy). She's traveling with her niece (her departed ex-husband's niece by marriage, as best I can make out the relationship). In my case, there is no actual blood relation, although Michelle is very nice, and about my age. They arrived in Austin a full 24 hours earlier than I was expecting them, and they stayed at a motel not far from me. So, this past weekend, I played tour guide.

I took them out eating, because people in Austin enjoy going out eating. Taco Deli was my mother's favorite place. I introduced them to fried pickles, which they agreed was a genius concept. They loved our movie outing to the Drafthouse. Kerbey Lane got high marks, as did County Line. I took them to Fredericksburg, both for the driving and to do a little shopping and looking at old buildings. Both enjoyed that. And we all enjoyed Bacon (it was my first time, and it won't be my last).

My mother and Michelle left after breakfast Sunday, and given that yesterday was a holiday, I had almost 2 full days to myself, which I needed. The only downside to their visit was my mother smokes, a lot. Smoke clings to her, and my poor lungs cannot handle me spending 8-9 hours a day for several days in a row around a heavy smoker. I spent 3 days sucking on my albuterol. My chest hurt nonstop for those 3 days. And yes, my car still smells like smoke. Mind, she was very considerate, didn't smoke in my car, or anywhere near me, but that's of little consequence to my asthma. That really was the only downside of the visit.

On Friday, I took Michelle and my mother to the LBJ Museum, which they enjoyed greatly. As an aside, there was a couple at the LBJ Museum and we saw the same couple again the next day in Fredericksburg. Turns out they're doing a driving tour of all the Presidential libraries in the south. The started out from West Virginia, and were heading west. We saw them in Fredericksburg, because they had stopped in Johnson City to visit the ranch, and in Fredericksburg to visit the Nimitz Museum. You know, I don't know if that's the kind of driving tour I'd want to do of the US (esp considering I hate driving), but I do think it's an interesting thing to do, and how nice to just pick up and say we're hitting the road for a month to visit cool interesting places. That's how I'd like to envision my retirement being.

The LBJ museum was very interesting, and despite living in Austin and being on campus almost every day of the year since 1986, this was only my second visit. I wish more people had the opportunity to visit something like the LBJ Museum. What I found interesting and took away from this visit was the astounding amount of legislation that LBJ championed and pushed, legislation meant to help those less fortunate in our society. LBJ started out fresh from college as a teacher at a small high school for Mexican American students. He saw just how devastating poverty was to those students, and when he entered politics, he worked hard to pass legislation that would help people like them.

I don't have the exhaustive list of all the legislation LBJ signed as President, but some of the biggies are Head Start, Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, he created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities, created federal funding for education, based on his views that educational opportunities were critical for people rising out of poverty. The list goes on and on, but things we all take for granted, think of as a part of our fabric, LBJ was responsible for. He didn't have a war on terror or a war on drugs, he had a war on poverty. I'm not a huge fan of wars on concepts, especially in this day and age, when congress seems to think anyone is an enemy combatant, but I can get behind the idea of a war on poverty.

And the thing that strikes me now is just how very much today's politicians, especially on the right, want to roll back virtually all the programs put into place because of LBJ's vision of a Great Society. It makes me sick to see what politicians on the right are doing (or trying to do) to those least able to defend themselves from these attacks. As it is, the right have been very successful at cutting funding for programs that help the disadvantaged, while continuing programs to benefit their corporate and wealthy friends. It's so crazy upside down. And what's really lacking today in politics is that mix of idealism and pragmatism that allowed LBJ to accomplish his goals.

I look at the current crop of yahoos running for the Republican nomination. I hear people talk about how oh, it won't be so bad if say Romney gets elected, Presidents have limited power. While it's true the President is only 1/3 of the government, looking at the list of LBJ's accomplishments, how hard he worked to push his goals, let's not any of us be fooled into complacency, thinking that any single person can't really affect politics that much. I say that especially for those on the left flirting with Ron Paul (I find many of them are ignoring the most odious parts of Paul's politics, and taking a very myopic view based on a few of his positions, and not really seeing that he's a Tea Party Republican through and through, and I don't happen to believe that the Tea Party holds the key to what our country needs). I won't even get started on the very real likelihood that the next President will have to appoint anywhere from 1-3 Supreme Court justices; very few people are even thinking about that.

I just wish more people would take the time to learn about what's happening in our politics, instead of marching along to the beat of the party drum. I wish more people would get involved, instead of apathetically floating along, and allowing politicians to dismantle those things that do make us a great society. We aren't a great society just because Republicans are waving the flag and saying We're #1. We have to work at it, prove it, live it, be it, and we are sadly falling down in that responsibility.

Books 47-70, 2011 wrap up

I haven’t yet written up the accounting of the books I’ve read since my last reporting in mid-September. I had a goal of 50 books for 2011, I ended up reading a total of 70 (this was helped by forced convalescence in April after getting the shunt in my ear). There are quite a few books to catch up on, so I won’t say much about each book, unless I really liked it. They are listed below in random order.

47-49. Right Ho, Jeeves; Joy in the Morning; Very Good, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse. These three are collected into an omnibus edition called Just Enough Jeeves. A short story collection and two novels featuring the not-terribly-bright Wooster and his very bright valet Jeeves. These are charming, and very funny stories. Madcap adventures, a little bit of mayhem, very witty writing. Loved these, and want to read more Jeeves this coming year.

50. The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. A YA novel about a young misfit who finds out she is the daughter of Oberon (yes, that Oberon). The first of a series, this was recommended to me by Patrice Sarath, and it was good. I’ll for sure look for the next in the series.

51. The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A stand-alone prequel to Shadow of the Wind. Set in 1920s Barcelona, this is the story of a struggling writer who makes a book deal with a mysterious publisher that seems too good to be true. Like Shadow of the Wind, this is a labrynthine, intelligent thriller imbued with the dark, gothic atmosphere of pre-War Barcelona.

52. The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages. One of my favorite books I read this year. The story of a young girl whose father is a part of the Manhattan Project. She’s an unusual girl, because she prefers science and building things to the usual pursuits of girls. She ends up befriending another girl, an artist, and they build an uneasy friendship. There is a follow up to this book, which I bought at World Fantasy. I’ll need to break that out soon.

53. Lust for Life, by Irving Stone. Biographical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. Loved this book! It made me want to learn more about Van Gogh, his art and his life. In an interesting twist, there was a new biography of Van Gogh that came out right after I finished reading this book. The new biography was getting a lot of press (I saw a story about it on 60 Minutes) because the authors posit that Van Gogh did not kill himself, but that his death was an accidental homicide. I don’t know what’s what, but they seemed to have a lot of good sources for their supposition, so who knows?

54. Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine. This was a weird, strange, and absolutely wonderful novel about a traveling circus. It’s set in some undefined period after a great war, and the ring mistress collects misfits and creates a circus from the people she comes across. I can’t say much more without giving away an important secret in the book, but you learn a lot about each of the people in the circus as the novel goes along.

55. Angels of Darkness. A collection of 4 novellas featuring angels. Includes a new Samaria novella by one of my favorite writers, Sharon Shinn.

56. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, by Mark Hodder. The first of a steampunk series set in a slightly alternate Victorian England (Queen Victoria was murdered as a young queen). Spring Heeled Jack is going around molesting young girls, only it seems he’s molesting them in different time periods without aging any. The book cover has a fantastic design, but the writing has to keep me, and it did. I have the second book in this series, and I’ve recently seen the next one on the book shelves. This was a really fun book to read.

57. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum. Nonfiction accounting of efforts to change the NYC coroner’s office during the time of Prohibition. Very interesting read. During the course of the book, you learn about the various kinds of poisons that were common at the time, often found in every day products in the home. The books focuses on a new Medical Examiner, Charles Norris, and his chief toxicologist Alexander Gettler, and their efforts at transforming the field of forensic medicine in NY and around the country. I enjoyed this book a great deal.

58. Ghosts by Gaslight, ed. by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers. An anthology of “steampunk and supernatural suspense.” Some terrific stories in this anthology.

59. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. I counted War and Peace as 3 books. The translation I have is separated into 3 books, and it’s a total of 1600 pages, so I think that’s quite legitimate. I read the first 2 books earlier in the year, and wanted to finish it before the year ended. It was very emotional going through the end of the war with Napoleon as he came into Moscow and was then repelled. It’s war, not everyone makes it out alive. It was more emotional an ending than I was expecting. Glad I read it, I enjoyed it, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

60 and 61. Carpe Corpus and Fade Out, by Rachel Caine. The continuation of the Morganville Vampire series. The town of Morganville has been at the mercy of Bishop, an evil vampire. Claire and her friends get involved in an underground resistance and help the town fight back. And in the process, they may be changing the rules of Morganville.

62. Deryni Rising, by Katherine Kurtz. Old school high fantasy, didn’t do much for me.

63. Raiders of the Lost Corset, by Ellen Byerrum. Another in the Lacey Smithsonian crimes of fashion series. It’s an easy read, fun, I liked it.

64. Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier. Historical fiction set in and around Brighton, England in the early 19th c. and centers around two unlikely women fossil hunters trying to make their discoveries in a field dominated by men.

65. Too Late the Phalarope, by Alan Paton. Set in 1950s South Africa, the story of a young white policeman who violates one of the strictest laws in his country when he engages in an affair with a young black woman, and the effect this has not only on him, but on his entire family. Beautifully written. I bought it because I loved Cry, the Beloved Country so much, and I really enjoyed this as well, even though it was difficult to read at times.

66. Ragnarok, by A. S. Byatt. A retelling of the Norse myths from the perspective of a young English girl sent to the country during WWII.

67. 13 Rue Therese, by Elena Mauli Shapiro. This is a really unusual story about a set of mementos from a woman, Louise Brunet, who lived in Paris during WWI and beyond. The story is told as a young American professor comes into possession of her mementos, and we unravel a story of love lost, love found, and war. An interesting book, with a strange ending that I didn’t quite see coming (or really get). But still, worth reading.

68. Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie. A story written for his youngest son, it’s a young boy’s adventure through an imaginary landscape clearly influenced by gaming, as he seeks the Fire of Life so that he can save his dying father’s life. As he progresses through this landscape, he comes to realize that the stories his father has told him his whole life hold the key to getting through his quest. Charming book.

69. Mini Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella. Continuation of the Shopaholic series. Becky has a wild 2 year old girl who has a tendency to get banned from stores. Becky’s husband suggests they get professional help, only they have trouble keeping a nanny. And during all this, Becky tries really hard to plan a colossal surprise party for her husband. It’s a sweet, silly book. I’ve read all the books in this series, and the ending clearly sets up a new book. I did find myself getting a little annoyed at Becky and her constant lies as the book went along. Sure, it all works out in the end, but it just became too much. I don’t really know if I want to keep reading in this series.

70. Cain, by Jose Saramago. His last ever novel, published in Portuguese just before he died. It’s a very small novel, and highly irreverent. A retelling of many of the stories from the old testament from the perspective of Cain, who is cursed by God to be a wanderer and vagabond after he kills his brother Abel. It’s clear that Saramago had little use for the god of the old testament, and packs in a lot in the short novel. He asks many of the questions that anyone really reading the old testament would ask themselves (such as why it what Cain did so evil, when God directs armies to wholesale slaughter tens of thousands of innocent people, and that’s okay). I love Saramago’s novels, and highly recommend this one.

The Year that was, the year that will be

2011 was not the suckfest for me that it seems to have been for a lot of people I know. It did have its challenges, though, but I found I was in pretty decent shape to weather these challenges. My health continued to be a primary issue for 2011. Early in the year, I found myself getting sicker and sicker until things got really bad one Monday night in March when I found myself on Mopac, unable to drive, throwing up on the side of the road, with a dead phone and no one seemingly willing to pull over to help me. That was the lowest point of my entire year, without question. That lead in pretty quick order to me getting surgery about 6 months earlier than planned (with a fairly large cash outlay). I can see this as being one of the best things that happened to me this year. Recovery took me about 6 weeks overall, although there are still some things in my ear that aren't quite right back to where things were. My hearing has gotten better, but it's not as good as it was pre-surgery, and may never be. A trade off I'm frankly happy to make. I just had an appointment with my dr. recently, and I'm doing well. He did say that a year post-surgery, about 25% of his patients see some return of symptoms. I'm hoping the odds are in my favor. I do get the occasion very brief moments of slight dizziness, but I haven't had any vertigo since May 25. I just paid off my surgeon earlier today, so I've got the financials on that all sorted out now. Yay.

The middle of the year went by, I read some books (70 for the year), dealt with some family issues, and things were winding down okay, until recently, when I had to do a series of repairs to my car. They were all quite necessary (and my car would not have passed inspection without them), but once I get today's repair taken care of, I will have laid out around $1500 in the last month. That's a serious ouch. My mother is going to give me $600 to pay for the fuel pump, which is awesome and will really help a lot. Needless to say, this put a serious damper on Christmas for me. I wasn't able to exchange presents with anyone, and I need to postpone buying myself a new TV for a while.

I had wanted to get rid of some debt this year, and without the big unexpected expenses I had I could have paid off a couple of credit cards. But you roll with the punches. I am planning to get very disciplined with paying down debt this year. I can't pay it all off, but I can get a big chunk of it paid off. I've been thinking about this for a while, and I'm going to cut way down on my fun travel this year. If I do this thing right, I'll only have to cut down this year. I've decided that I'm only going to go to ArmadilloCon (it's local and the cost to me is minimal) and World Fantasy this year. I really, really, really wanted to go to WorldCon, because I wanted to go back to Chicago, but I can't. At this point, I'll be skipping ConDFW, ApolloCon, and FenCon. In late summer, I will re-evaluate where I'm at, and may add in FenCon, but this feels like the right thing to do. Even though staff at UT escaped some of the harsher cuts I was expecting, we're not out of the woods yet. We have a mean-spirited legistature (and public) who fail to see the value of both education and public employees. Even though I feel pretty secure where I am currently, one never knows what will come down the road.

It's going to be a tight year, although I am going to leave some room for fun. I need this discipline, it feels like the right thing to be doing right now. I know it means there will be some short term disappointment for me, but I am looking at the bigger picture right now.

I feel good heading into the new year, and I hope this is a great year for everyone, especially those who I know are struggling.

World Fantasy has come to an end

Alas, another World Fantasy has come and gone. I had an absolutely splendid time at this convention. The grounds were really beautiful. Late October, and the place was abloom! There were roses everywhere, and you would just walk by and catch roses on the air. I am told there was a large bird of paradise plant as big as a tree, but I didn't see it. It was green and lush everywhere. The weather was gorgeous, even if the sun was a bit over-enthusiastic. Warm but not hot days, cool nights. I met a number of new people, including a delightfully charming translator from Israel. I have agreed to help the Israeli contingent throw a party at the Brighton (2013) WFC.

I spend a lot of time talking to a variety of people. A lot of it was business related to activities of the WFC board, including several projects I have agreed to take on. But there were also just random opportunities to sit and chat with various people. That's one of the best parts of any con, especially WFC. Sure, there is programming, but it's not the main focus of the con. However, I found there were a number of very interesting program items, and I attended quite a bit more programming than I normally do.

I didn't attend the banquet yesterday, and instead went to grab a burger with my buddy John Douglas. He had been raving about the fried pickles at the sports bar on the property, so I had to try them. They were not Threadgill's fried pickles (my favorite) but they were tasty. After lunch, we walked over to the convention center to see the World Fantasy Awards given out.

There reaches a point in any con where you realize it's over, and a certain amount of post-con blues sets in. Most of the Austin people left yesterday afternoon, so I chatted a bit with Mark Hall and Kim Kofmel (who is part of the Toronto committee), then went to my room for a bit to just be by myself. I had wanted to go to the swank restaurant for dinner, but it was closed, so I ended up back at the sports bar, as did a lot of other people. I ended up talking to Mike Walsh, Greg Ketter, Elspeth, and a very nice lady from Florida whose name I didn't get. We walked over to the dead dog, which was in full swing at that point. I had planned only to be there for about half an hour, but I ended up talking to Rani (an Israeli publisher), and met a colleague of his, the aforementioned charming and funny translator. And yes, I somehow have helped start a rumor that Israel will be bidding for a future WFC, and they are, as far as I know, throwing a party in England, which I have agreed to help them host. See, that's just how things go. I ended up staying at the dead dog much later than I expected, and sometime around 11:30 or 12, I had to leave, since I had to get up at 6am this morning. (For future reference, 6am is still early, whether I'm in Texas or California.)

I'm now sitting in the San Diego airport, having received my complimentary porno scan, enjoying their free wifi (because *all* civilized airports have free wifi, I'm looking at you, ABIA).I'm looking forward to getting home this evening, although I will first be heading to a friend's house for a low key Halloween party. I told her I'd be coming as a harried traveler for my costume. (I am at least wearing orange and black.)

World Fantasy is most often in the US, but not always (it is after all, a *world* fantasy convention, not the US fantasy convention), and the next two years, it will be outside of the US. Next year, WFC is in Toronto, Ontario. I am assured by all my Canadian friends that Canada is indeed a foreign country. They were very polite about it, too. In 2013, WFC will be in Brighton, England. I'm very much looking forward to both. My passport expired this summer, so I need to get it renewed soon.

There are no other seated WFCs past 2013. There is a bid for the DC area for 2014, but they still need to work out the kinks. There were several bids for 2015/2016, including Austin, Brisbane, Australia, and Amsterdam. None of these were voted on this year, so I don't know where we will be just yet after Brighton. But it'll work itself out in due time.

As for now, time to get back to the real world, leave the fantasy behind. I have a nice break now from cons, which I need, as does my wallet.I am off tomorrow, so that I can have a day to relax by myself. Then back to the usual chaos.

World Fantasy, so far

World Fantasy this year is in San Diego. My trip here went uneventfully. The fact that it was uneventful makes it eventful. Last year, I had a severe attack of vertigo on my way to the airport to head out to Columbus for WFC. I had to get Kimm to pick me up (she was flying with me, thankfully), and I wasn't sure if I'd get on their plane when I got to the airport. It was a rough flight up, although the airline were very helpful making me as comfortable as possible. Fast forward a year. I'm 7 months post-surgery, haven't had any vertigo in 5 months (some occasional lightheadedness, but no vertigo, the world has been stubbornly staying where it belongs). First time on a plane since the surgery, and I wasn't expecting any problems, but flying has often made me a little light headed. So, other than 2 very full flights, and getting little sleep on Wednesday night, getting here was uneventful. By the time I got to the hotel and checked in, I was starving, so I grabbed an over priced lunch at one of the hotel restaurants. Birds apparently have free access to the restaurants.It's a little surprising at first, but there is something kind of charming about it, too.

The book bags are really pretty. I like the design a lot. It's a tote, but with a top zipper, very generous space, and a front pocket that also has a zipper. I can see this being a bag that will get a lot of use. The selection of freebie books were a little meh, but there were a couple of interesting candidates. It looks like almost everyone got a copy of the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods. Thursday I attended a panel on dystopian YA, grabbed dinner with some of the Austin folks, and then tried to attend a party, but hit a wall around 9:30, so I made it an early night.

I woke up early Friday morning, 5am (pesky time change). Couldn't get back to sleep, so I just got up, grabbed an early breakfast. I had a world fantasy board meeting at 10, which didn't last that long. But after, there were a couple of side meetings, with some requests of my time in the coming months. I did sneak out to go to a couple of panels: Retelling old Fairy Tales, The Successful Misfit as Theme in Fantasy,and went to Richard Kadrey's reading. Last year, I bought Butcher Bird because of the amazing cover. I read the book, which was a freaking wild ride. So I wanted to go to Richard's reading. He read from his newest Sandman Slim novel, a short reading, but I was hooked. I did buy the first Sandman Slim novel (there are 3 out now, I haven't read any of them yet). I had dinner planned with Sharon Shinn and a couple other Austin people, and we had to be back in time for the autographing session. We ended up vetoing a few places, and then agreed to an Italian place that said they had good bread sticks. We grabbed a cab, and it turned out that the restaurant was kind of a fast food place in a mall. We had low expectations when we pulled up, but we were pleasantly surprised. It smelled wonderful when we walked in. We ordered a pizza, salad, breadsticks, roast chicken and pasta. Enough for 4 people, and it cost us about $32 total. And the food was very tasty. So, you cannot judge a book by its cover.

I walked around the autographing with Meg, talked to a number of writers and other folks. I enjoy going to cons, because there is so much opportunity to talk to so many people. I owed Meg a drink, so we went to the bar. I didn't realize that here they have pints and then super sized drinks (22oz). I wasn't given an option, which annoys me, because they automatically gave me the larger drink. Meg drank all hers, but by around 10, I was hitting that wall (yay time zone change). I pushed through a little bit longer, but I finally had to go to bed around 11.

Saturday morning, I got paid. This meant I had money to actually spend in the book room. I had scoped out what I wanted to get, and did a blitzkreig shopping expedition. I have already shipped the books back, but I did get Carrie Vaugh's new short story collection, an anthology that Sharon Shinn is in, and an interesting variety of things, some of them from authors I have met this weekend. I also attended several program items yesterday. The programming was quite good this year.I attended panels on the language of fantasy, Faustian bargains in fantasy, a wonderful Q&A with Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter on the foundations of Steampunk (this was fabulous, it was recorded, and should be on YouTube soon), Immortals in Fantasy, and the Not-So-Fair folk. There were other programs items I would have loved to have gone to, but I had dinner with my buddy John, and there were other things I needed to do. I popped into the artists' reception briefly, then went to a couple of parties. I still got back to my room relatively early, around 11.

Today will be taken up with a long WFC board meeting, the awards banquet (I'm not going to the banquet, but I am going to the awards ceremony after), then some relaxing the rest of the day. I'm leaving early in the morning.

My impressions are a mixed bag. The grounds are very pretty, with amazing rose bushes everywhere. I've been on this property the last time I was in San Diego, and it looks exactly the same. But it's hard to feel connected to the con, because everything is spread out over several buildings. The bar, such as it is, is really far away from the convention center. The programming was very good. (I'll write up my notes on the program items I attended at a later date.) There were some issues, like connecting to the free wifi, which I was finally able to do this morning.I have been able to see a number of people and talk to them, and that's always what I especially enjoy about going to a con. I am looking forward to heading home tomorrow and seeing my girls (I'm taking off Tuesday as a destress day).

The next two years, WFC will be outside of the US. Next year is in Toronto, the year after in Brighton, England. Last night, Brighton announced China Mieville will be their toastmaster. As I was telling Kim Kofmel yesterday, I need to get my passport renewed. (It just expired a few months ago, I know where it's sitting, I just have to send it in with my payment.)