I really love the Waiterrant blog. Really, really love it. But this one particular post really knocked the pins out from under me. The guy's a phenominal writer, and I was so moved by this piece that I actually talked about it at Quaker meeting this Sunday. Good stuff.
For a second there, I thought I was dying. Colon cancer runs heavily through my immediate family.
And then I remembered that I ate a pound of beets last night.
I have finally put my finger on why I love Carla Speed McNeil's Finder so much. My husband and mom (and frankly, anyone within earshot) are forced to listen to me opine at length about the effect Carla and her writing have had on me. My mom finally asked me, after I'd laid out the abusive-parent storyline in Talisman for her: "So, if the book has all these horrible, intense things going on in it, why do you enjoy it so much?"
It got me thinking. I know the book has sent tremors through my brain -- and my own storytelling -- since the first time I met Carla and Catboy at a convention some five years ago; I'd have to say that she's my biggest single influence these days. But why? Why her, and why Finder, specifically?
The answer, as it finally unreeled itself in my brain today, is that I can't see Carla's scaffolding.
Let me back up a little here.
One of the drawbacks to becoming a serious writer (I speak as one still in the process of becoming, as I consider myself to be still splashing around in the kiddie-pool-end of comics) is that as you start looking at the structure of writing, as you start reverse-engineering your favorite works of literature to see what makes them tick, you start to see the "scaffolding" -- the things that hold up, and sometimes prop up the story.
We are surrounded by formulaic story. TV, movies, newspapers, pop music, magazines, theatre -- it's all preplanned. You can see it coming; every event seems telegraphed. Characters from central casting, "news" reporters parroting the same hackneyed phrases each night, classic movies rehashed to drivel, stock plots boiled down to pabulum for easy digestion by the masses. Smart, different stories don't sell. Somewhere on the internet, there's this great MP3 of two Nickelback hit singles, one played through the left speaker, one through the right. They each have the same three chords, the verses last exactly the same amount of time, and the bridge kicks in at the exact same moment. Without editing. Use these chords, make the song last this long, verse chorus verse, bridge goes here; instant hit single. Formula. Scaffolding.
Carla's books are utterly, luminously, original. They bristle with ideas -- sometimes the plot gets drowned in the sheer amount of individual high concepts she's trying to articulate. A sixty-foot sculpture of Ganesh. Houses made of trees in the center of a bustling, thirty-story domed future metropolis. A society reduced to reading by way of cranial jacks. Lion-headed women that choose their king by way of "Royal Jelly"; a bizarre inverse on the world of bees. Each concept is enough to fuel an entire book; Carla layers ideas this big six or eight deep in each issue. She locks them in a room and lets them fight it out.
Many people have told me Finder constitutes information overload. Fine by me. I can practially finish the sentences of every person I hear speak -- and often do, to the vast irritation of my family. Everything I watch or see or read or hear seems to be lock-stepped into some bizarre Corporate Lowest Common Entertainment Denomonator, and I can see the Goddamned scaffolding, and most of the time I'm so fucking bored I could scream. I need new, deep, thorough ideas that make me stop and really, really think. I need books that are going to challenge -- and never insult -- my memory, my intellect, my imagination. As the saying goes, good science fiction should ask you to suspend your disbelief, but never your intelligence.
Carla's work does just that, on a scope that I consider unrivaled in fiction -- fiction of any kind -- these days. If anyone can show me a series, a film, a television program that can even come close to the depth and breadth of her world, sign me up, 'cause that's some entertainment I'd love to see. I want Carla to come to my house, hook her personal firehose up to my ear, and unleash her hydrant of ideas. I want her to trepan my skull, insert a funnel, and start cramming in storylines with a Goddamn plunger. I want her to hypnotize me back into wide-eyed childlike wonder as she weaves the most obscure ancient anthropological societal quirks with high-tech futuristic gadgetry. Her mental magpie's nest, full of myriad objects bright and shiney, feels like perfect -- if disorienting -- home to me.
Through all this, through all the high concepts and deep ideas, her characters are gloriously, horrifyingly human. They murder and crusade, grow and stagnate, love and fuck -- sometimes on the same page. No one ever wears a white hat; no one society (or societal subsect) is ever perfect. Individuals carom off each other in conversation and in action, acting as foil for their counterparts, showing the tragic heights and sublime depths of their character. Nothing is ever spelled out. Everything is left open to interperetation. There are no pat answers.
Figure it out.
Don't get it? Read it again. And again. And if you're me, again. Each time you return, you'll find something you missed, or forgot, or didn't quite connect. My God, what a pleasure that is in a world of rehashed, overdone, underthought stories.
And the art? Sweet jeebus, who can forget that art, that sensual, flowing line, the insane levels of crosshatch, all painstakingly rendered with the same dedication and attention to detail she provides to her equally intricate plots. If I ever get even a fraction of that line quality, I'll die a happy woman.
Finder's a blessing. I crave it. Carla, gimme everything you got.
Especially if it got some seh-say Jaeger in it.
Today, I traded two potroast pasties for a bottle of homemade mead. John, who runs TANSTAAFL Farms in Paw Paw, raises his own bees and makes the honey into mead. His farm is bottomland, wherein the tractors sink into the mud -- so he works the fields with a team of draft horses. "I can't fix tractors," he said, "but I can fix horses." We talked about homebrewing, organic farming, pasties, rutabegas and stud fees for mares, all with another Ann Arbor Quaker who's moved to Kzoo. She's gonna trade me for some homebrew cider.
John sold me a bunch of baby beets for 75 cents. I hate beets, but am trying to teach myself to like foods I hate. Taking Neighbor Nora's "Greens, Glorious Greens" cookbook in hand, I roasted the beets and wilted the greens, then combined them in a pan and drizzled in some balsamic vinegar.
I now love beets.
How awesome is that?
I just brought my herb garden inside for the winter. I had to give all the kids a haircut, and thus, I have many bundles of fresh herbs now drying in my laundry room, far more than I can use. The pots are all lined up in the dining room windowsill, each on their own little saucer. Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Peppermint, Parsley, Common Sage and Tricolor Sage. The Lemon Balm didn't make the cut because I couldn't figure out an edible use for it, and the Parsley didnt' make it because it was a gigantic overgrown triffid and got made into Tabbouleh.
I also pulled down the tomato plants -- I wish I had the space and patience to hang the green cherry tomatoes and let them ripen, but I'm too lazy and/or busy -- two big heaping armloads of them. I got some nice dry beans, a few green tomatoes that are now ripening on the sill, and another full quart of ripe cherry tomatoes. I left four or five valiant pepper plants to see if I can get some color out of the remaining banana, jalapeno, serrano and poblano fruits before the frost hits. They're doing remarkably well for weather that's been below 50F recently.
Then I fertilized the bed with the last of the boxes of dried blood and bone meal, then emptied the bottle of fish emulsion that Tish gave me. I'm going to turn the bed over after the first frost, but I'm hoping to get this nice big blast of fertilizer starting to work on the soil before the freeze sets in. When everything's done, I'll cover the beds with leaves and wait till spring.
Yay for my garden. It makes me so happy.
No plan survives first contact with the enemy.
The crock pot wouldn't hold one roast, let alone two. So they're currenly simmering in the Biggest Pot We Got. There's also a bitter finish to the broth, one that tastes like -- well, boiled beer. I've added a sweet onion, a bouquet garni and a shot of honey; I'm hoping it'll cook out, but it probably needs some carrots. Oh well. I'll fix the broth later.
I bit the bullet and emailed Dr. Ian Hancock for help with Alexi's character in the new book. I am so completely and totally intimidated.
Wish me luck.
I passed my Dex check against Making Coffee this morning.
And my Detect Muffin roll.
That is all.
Currently downstairs in a tupperware container: two large roasts, one beef, one venison. They're marinating in three bottles of Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. At noon, they will be pan-roasted and put into the crock-pot for a daylong simmer. Then they'll be made into pasties, and the resultant broth set aside for soup stock.
And all this because I needed to clean out the fridge to make way for this year's beef and venison haul. There are benefits to having a beef-farming dad and two brothers that go deer-hunting (and hate the taste of venison). Besides the free meat, as my buddy Art just pointed out, is the fact that there's a 0% chance of the beef having BSE or any hormones in. Not organic by a longshot (pesticides on the crops) but free of the nastier stuff.
For those of you who speak of beer heresy: don't worry. We'll be drinking the other three bottles with the pasties. Oh, and the brewery's within walking distance, so we can always get more. MUA-HAHAHAHAHAHA! Walking! Distance! From! Bell's!
It's full-bore autumn out here, and that means I'm cooking a lot. Autumn kicks in my need to be a homebody, to nest, to prepare and eat good foods. This weekend, I'm going to the farmer's market to get all the supplies for pasties. Currently planning three kinds: beef/venison pot roast, chicken, and bubbly pie.
Remember kids, it's not a real pasty if there's no rutabega in it. Hm. Blueberry-rutabega bubbly pies?
So this morning, I wake up, go downstairs and make myself a nice big sippy-cup of fair-trade coffee. I use the last of the grounds to do so. I pour in the half and half, add the sugar, and as I'm going to screw on the lid which is ostensibly there to keep me from spilling, I dump the entire sixteen ounces of hot milky beverage all over myself, the counter, and the floor.
Cursing, as is my wont, I mop the floor. There's simply not enough coffee for another cup, so I head upstairs, breakfast muffin in hand. I change my clothes, which are soaked to the underwear with coffee. I head to the library to start my work day. I set down the muffin, set up my laptop, and, not looking behind me, promptly sit down squarely on my muffin.
Second change of clothes in ten minutes, and I haven't even started working. Yeah, this is gonna be a good one.
For the record, I ate the muffin anyway.
I dreamt last night that I was a wizard's apprentice, in charge of cooking and cleaning and minor administrative things, along with some minor magic. Just like the young boy, Markl, in Howl's Moving Castle.
Only the wizard was Neil Gaiman. And he didn't turn into a bird-monster, but a big black amorphous Morpheous monster.
And then I woke up.
My brother says the newspapers are lying. The newspapers are saying that our natural gas bills are going to jump 50%. Heating and Cooling Journeyman brother says 70-100%. That's $200 more a month, from November till April.
I'm also guessing they're not liable to drop, even after the South regains its refinery capacity. Once they get homeowners used to paying insane amounts to stay warm, they'll manufacture some reason to keep the levels there even if the costs drop. Hate to say it, but that's sound business, even if it's unfair. Supply and demand.
So, we're starting to take more drastic measures with our house. It's big -- Kalamazoo's el cheapo housing allowed us to buy a big ol' barn of a house, close to 2000 ft2 -- and we need to come up with ways to make it a lot more energy efficient. Praise God that Paul and I are still both employed, so that we can afford to do it.
1) Re-insulate the attic. This is a no-brainer. We're having our builder put fiberglass batts on top of our current blown-in insulation. He's even going to build us a nice platform so we can store book backstock up there if we need to.
2) Programmable thermostat. Just called today; they'll have it installed in an hour and show us how to set it. We'll keep the daytime set at 68 and the nighttime set at 60 or so. Paul is the human furnace, so once we're both asleep we'll still be toasty warm.
3) Fireplace insert. I used to want an insert just for the treehugger aspects of it. Now, we need to do something about the fact that there's no damper in our chimney -- it's basically a big column of cold air through the center of our house. Regular fireplaces actually lose heat when you use them -- inserts turn them into a highly-efficient cast-iron furnace. We'll put a new fireplace in and I'll get a nice, safe, 95% efficient woodstove -- and a sizeable hole in our heating bill plugged.
4) New back door. The folks who owned our house before us left a 1/4 - 1/2" stripe of daylight under the back door of our house. Paul and I took to plugging it with a towel last year, but this year we're getting a new steel door with a proper sweep and jamb. I swear, you could feel a 5-degree drop in the kitchen because of that stupid door, and it's right near the furnace, so it's sucking out extra heat, besides.
So. Between all these and rope caulk and plastic on the windows, we should be set for many years to come.
We watched a rerun of Law and Order last night. Jerry Orbach's character was investigating a murdered woman's bedroom looking for evidence. Her nightstand held a diaphragm and birth control pills. "Suspenders and a belt," mused Orbach.
Paul was out of town this weekend -- and I kinda went feral.
Drinking out of the cartons, sleeping in the middle of the bed, keeping weird hours -- didn't leave the house much. Still, I got a crapload of work done. Problem is, there are two more craploads parked out back waiting to be dealt with. Hope I can chew through at least one of them this week.
I found chestnuts this weekend. Big, brown, shiny, squeaky-clean and the size of halved golfballs.
Not a single one was dried out or moldy. YUM.
I listened to a Liz Carroll album on the way in to work today. Man, I don't think I've ever heard a better musical pairing than her fiddle and John Doyle's guitar. Their playing makes the hairs on my arms stand up.