# 07 Sep 2010, 03:59AM: Comedy in Melbourne Tonight:
I have had a very good WorldCon, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't have time to sleep more than four hours the last two nights, much less post to CES. I'm doing 5 min of (geek?) standup at the SYN Bar in Melbourne tonight, 9pm, free. Time to finish my set!
# (4) 10 Sep 2010, 11:07PM: On The Other Side Of The (Snow)Globe, Upside-Down And Shaken:
I was so young when I went there that I only remember this because of a photo. It's me sitting in a "tub" with solid clear plastic bubbles, next to a static Ernie and the rubber duck. The theme park people sold us the photo as a big plastic-and-metal button someone could clasp to their clothing, not that I've ever quite understood who would do that, or why.
Close-enough-to-thirty years later, Sunday night, after the Hugos, after hanging out with James and Jed, in a room party full of Perthians, I met someone who'd lived fifteen young years in some corner of Pennsylvania. "Did you ever go to Sesame World?" he asked.
Sitting on a red-carpeted step in a hotel suite's unsafely narrow staircase, I said no. Sesame World? Sounded made-up. Then he described it and my jaw dropped with recognition. I could see the button, a memory that had lain dormant for decades. And I could see my interlocutor's utter pleasure at watching my recollection emerge and unfold, my disorientation, my wonder.
I wonder if anyone will be asking me, when I'm sixty, whether I ever visited Melbourne, Australia, whether I ever saw a particular piece of black-dripping-cityscape-silhouette graffiti that reminded me of World of Goo, or ate at the Green Tambourine in Brunswick, or knew Avi at Of Science and Swords in that Elizabeth Street arcade. My crinkled eyes might crinkle again as I sifted through those years and mentioned that sunny, sprinkly Friday when I walked from Parliament, calling my mom and sister along the way, and ended up spending hours at the glass-walled scifi bookshop, talking about comedy and alphabetizing shelves.
It's been so long since I worked at Cody's Books that when I saw something out-of-order, I reflexively mistrusted myself, and had to flash through that bit of alphabet to reassure myself that yes, D does come before K, and M before S, McCaffrey before Modesitt, Stephenson before Stross.
Last night, I went to the Wesley Anne in Northcote with Steph, Danni, Em, Jo, Emilly, and Neil. We saw Justin Carter (fine) and the Rosie Burgess Trio. Singer and guitarist Rosie Burgess is self-contained and perfect, a woman whose essence I wish we could copy and send into space to let aliens know what humanity aspires to be. Drummer Sam Lohs deploys so many instruments masterfully, including her born comedian's face and wit. And Sophie Kinston, on electric violin: she did a solo at the end of "Skin and Bones" that left me gasping. I think I understand music now.
Oh God, please help me remember this. Help me remember being transformed.
# (2) 16 Sep 2010, 01:45AM: While Reminded of Resonance:
The day before I left Melbourne, I rode Puffing Billy, a restored steam engine that goes a few miles per hour. To get there, I took commuter rail/subway east of Melbourne, like an hour's ride, and then I was in Belgrave, a little town that reminds me of bits of Marin, or West Portal in San Francisco. While in Belgrave, I also visited Limerence and bought a necklace and a pin; more on that later.
When I got on Puffing Billy, upon the platform as we were about to depart, a conductor walked the length of the train, calling "all aboard" and ringing a bell. The bell sounded exactly like a Hindu temple bell, which in retrospect is unsurprising. It's brass, the same size, probably the same ratios of clapper to airspace to wall thickness.
But it was almost gratuitously evocative, the blue-suited-and-hatted volunteer walking before the anachronism, mist and wood and iron grill and forest all around, shaking a bell to call us to devotion. The priest rings that bell, for example, at the moment in the prayer ritual where we stand and rotate three times clockwise, hands pressed in Namaste (Namaskaar, in Karnataka) in front of our chests. The chant starts "Yani kani chippa pani," which has a mathematical elegance to it. You're supposed to pray, but I always concentrate on not being utterly clumsy and stepping on someone's foot or falling down in my sari. After three turns you kneel and pray, the way you see Muslims do in those great massive photos of hundreds of Muslims in mosques: arms and back stretched out horizontal, legs folded in at hips and knees.
A very restful pose after the dizziness, and perhaps that's the point, to provoke one's own disorientation and then conflate relief at its cessation with gratitude to God. A calm moment with my thoughts, prayer stripped of some of my inhibitions and intellectual wariness. So many religious rituals are about taking away the usual crutches so you have no choice but to trust-fall. And sometimes self-discovery rituals, like going off to Belgrave to ride an ancient steam engine alone, are about taking away the usual stimuli so I can hear the susurrations of the self beneath. Turning off wifi, going to the command line, the world shrinking to the 17-inch diagonal of white text on black...
# (1) 16 Sep 2010, 11:56PM: You Can Make A Constellation From Any Set Of Scattered Points Of Light:
I should braindump a bit about Melbourne.
However, I should also go to sleep soon enough that I continue winning my precarious fight against jet lag.
So, five minutes' writing:
The Melbourne Aquarium has penguins! Very cute ones! Thanks for taking me to that exhibit, Jed. I got to ask a staffer, "Which way to the penguins?" and I should be saying that far, far more often.
My rough geographical analogy: Sydney is to Melbourne is to Perth as New York City is to San Francisco is to All Texas Cities Combined. (I say this, having never been to Sydney or Perth.)
Phrases that stick in my mind: "Southern Cross," "[a choice between] discomfort or corruption," "I don't discuss my process," "upscale food court," snatches of operatic singing.
The river that spans the southern bit of Melbourne is the Yarra, which sounds substantially like "Yaru?", the Kannada word for "Who?"
# (3) 22 Sep 2010, 10:56AM: Beginning To Think About A Formative Influence:
Suresh Naidu visited the other night and, of course, inspected our bookshelves. "You're the only household I've ever seen that had every Stephenson, including the Baroque Cycle, but not Snow Crash. The Big U and not Snow Crash?!" Snow Crash was on another bookshelf because it didn't physically fit on that one.
When someone asks me, "Who are your favorite scifi authors?" I sometimes say, "Depending on who's asking, Neal Stephenson or Ursula K. Le Guin." But that's unbalanced, because I deeply adore Le Guin's The Dispossessed but have read only five of her thirty-plus books, while I've read nearly everything Stephenson's published in book form. (Speaking of Le Guin: congratulations, Jed!)
I am trying to remember the timeline on how I discovered each of these authors. Did someone recommend The Left Hand of Darkness to me my freshman year at Berkeley? I know I had that used paperback by my junior year when I taught it. (Note: I find that syllabus incredibly embarrassing since I'd have much more diverse and interesting works and questions if I taught it now; Andy's syllabus is cooler.) Seth Schoen gave me a copy of In The Beginning Was The Command Line sometime in 1999, I think. And then I bought Snow Crash at Cody's Books on Telegraph, and started reading it as I walked home to my apartment, and came home to discover that my flatmate Nikki had moved out with zero notice, after living with me for six weeks, leaving a note on the refrigerator whiteboard telling me "you know why." I did not know and still do not know why she moved out; it is one of the mysteries of my life, like why sociology lecturer Andrew Creighton laughed at me that one time when I guessed that the video clip he'd just shown us was "modern dance?".
Oh right, Stephenson. Then I got Cryptonomicon and I didn't read it linearly the first time, I just dipped in and read random chapters.
I think I've had about fifteen conversations about Neal Stephenson and his work in the past month. Not surprising when I've been to the World Science Fiction Convention, but then there was Tennant Reed, the climate change policy wonk I ended up chatting with at the Melbourne airport when our flight to LA was delayed. Not a WorldCon attendee. He's a Tolkien fan; I'm not. I introduced him to Pynchon, whom he hadn't tackled yet. But we quoted lines from the first chapter of Snow Crash at each other verbatim. It's in The Atlantic's thought-provoking "Tech Canon", and it's in the geek canon. (Speaking of The Atlantic and thinking-about-tech: I am a fan of Biella's Anthropology of Hackers syllabus & explication.)
This is just spadework, right now, this entry, just clearing some brush so I can really think about what Stephenson has meant to me. There's a way in which In The Beginning Was The Command Line got me the job at Fog Creek Software. There are satirical scenes in Cryptonomicon that I initially read as erotic. I could go on and on (as he does!), and at some point I should.
# (2) 26 Sep 2010, 04:14PM: Why I Haven't Replied To You:
I haven't explicitly said this before, but: I'm spending a lot of my time taking care of my mother. Since my dad died this summer, she's needed a little looking-after. If I haven't responded to your message, that's why, and the situation will probably continue until early next year, at which point I hope to be a responsible member of the GNOME, geek feminist, and other communities again.
(I'm in New York City right now but plan on traveling a lot this fall to be with my mom.)
# (1) 30 Sep 2010, 10:20PM: Unclear:
All I have is small thoughts, right now, in-between thoughts as I shower or eat or pause before reading another chapter to my mother. (The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. A Mahabharata retelling, which means that today I checked an incident with the C. Rajagopalachari and Amar Chitra Katha versions when I doubted Divakaruni's version. Nope, she didn't entirely make it up! And why did I never before connect the hatejoke "Die In A Fire" with the Pandavas' house of lac?)
Or sometimes I have a conversation with Mom or a friend and from that kneading and churning emerges a small idea. I discovered today, while talking with a friend about integrity, something about how I think about the value of truth-that-hurts. When an honest friend says something that reminds me of my faults, it hurts a little. Sometimes I can use that information to improve myself. But, even if I can't or won't or don't, I still take that pain as part of the price of honesty, as I would pay a regular insurance premium. I pay by taking those little cuts, because the promise inherent in that transaction is that if I need to ask an important question someday, to make a big claim, I can trust without question that my friend will answer it in good faith.
Of course "lavender" comes from the root "to wash." We just unwrapped and started using a block of lavender soap in our shower/bathtub, and after someone's bath the scent of it floats around in the bathroom like a blessing.
Elisa visited yesterday and talked with Mom and me about health, Fred Astaire, the lessons we learned while growing up, &c. She highly recommended The Band Wagon so we watched it that night. I called her during a pause to babble excitedly about how great it is. It's especially superlative if you've just watched a bunch of the interchangeable musicals like Follow the Fleet for contrast. (Huh, those & Agatha Christie & P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster stories: what 21st-century media is like that, enjoyable, will sort of hold up decades from now, but all the individual stories blur together and the reader/viewer can't recall which ones she's seen?) The Band Wagon has complicated, unusual characters and dances, and a plot more mature and interesting than the run-of-the-mill. I loved: the stylized gangsters' getting-shot dance in a stylized Times Square subway station; the for-once unadorned silence after a "spontaneous" song-and-dance (the beer-drinking song at the cast party); Charisse and Astaire's silent "Central Park" dance. That last one nearly made me cry, it was so beautiful.
Tonight we watched Singin' in the Rain, which (no one told me!) was about artists trying to keep pace with technological change, and (like Band Wagon and Sullivan's Travels) about the superiority of comedy to drama. Melinda and Melinda was fairly unnecessary, it turns out. Singin' is fun, but Band Wagon made me want to watch it again immediately.
They aren't actually small thoughts, and I know that. They are little flashes and seedlings that grow when I am not looking. They pop up and shy away and ebb back in between warming tortillas and unfolding the sofa bed and thanking Rachel for recommending Regeneration. (I picked up Inherent Vice at the airport on the way to Australia, and Regeneration at an airport on the way back to New York. Loved the former -- read aloud a paragraph about a run-down casino to everyone I could buttonhole -- and am loving the latter. Then there's Trading in Danger, the entertaining-but-Mary-Sue-ish Elizabeth Moon I bought in Melbourne 50% on the strength of its cover. Before she said things I disagree with and need to discuss when I have time.)
They run away with me when I give them a chance, my thoughts; they are vines that grow in fast motion and ensnare me. This connects to that connects to the other, in a net, a web, and soon enough I don't want to say anything because it couldn't be enough. And everything I say is insufficient to the emotion in a single phrase my mother read aloud this morning, to the texture of the light bouncing off the ceiling light fixture this afternoon, glossy with a sheen like oil, like the fat in cream.
It's a different rhythm and cadence of thought I must sink into when I am caretaking, as different as travel is from work and work is from plain old unemployment.
I am writing this long blog entry because I haven't the time to write a short one. Or -- to blaspheme -- what else is there to do, when stuck, but to write long posts, have think long thoughts, and pray long prayers? So I can't seem to decide whether I have lots of time or none -- it's a temporal illusion, like an optical illusion, deceptively slicing up a quantity to make it change size. But shape does change size, experientially -- that's what affordances are all about.
Oh dear I'm rambling some more. Almost time to unfurl the sofa bed. Post.
Cogito, Ergo Sumana by Sumana Harihareswara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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