Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween, Internet!

The costume report:

Noah: ghost
   This is your traditional sheet and white greasepaint ghostie.

Aviva: fairy
   snazzy clothes and artful wings by Mom (a casual observer would never guess that wings = clothes hangar + 2 fuzzy blue socks

Esther: no costume

Ben: some kind of ghoul
   Two points here:

  1. The term "undead" is now considered insulting. We prefer "alternative deathstyle".

  2. Food coloring as face makeup. Seems like a good idea. Is not.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cacpclave schedule

I'll be at Capclave, the local science fiction convention, this weekend, on readings and panels:

Saturday, Oct 21
11am Writing Non-Human Characters
It's difficult for humans to think past the reality of how we think sufficiently to create something that's more of an alien than an athropomorphized Gila monster or a psychic tarantula. How do we make non-human characters alive but not weird or so cliched that readers begin yawning as soon as they're introduced?
Laura Anne Gilman, Edward M. Lerner, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and John C. Wright
Annapolis Room

4pm Reading
"Twenty II" (hotel room number to be posted at the con)

Sunday, Oct 21
10am Writing Short Shorts
Laura Anne Gilman, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Michael Swanwick
Annapolis Room

Looks like a half an hour reading slot... I wonder what I should read? Any suggestions? I wonder if I can fit The House Beyond Your Sky into a half hour?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


As of yesterday, non-citizen residents of the United States -- like, say, my wife Esther -- have lost the right of habeas corpus.

Esther can legally be seized on American soil and detained indefinitely with no opportunity to challenge her detention in court.

She can be interrogated using secret procedures whose conformance with international standards for prisoner treatment has been "interpreted" by the President, "a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts." (AP)

She can be convicted, and put to death, on the basis of coerced testimony.

Actually the last two provisions may apply to US citizens as well.

The Onion does not need to exaggerate much. In fact, if anything, the Onion understates: would that Congress actually were regulating interrogation methods, however feebly.

White House press secretary Tony Snow offers a much wittier bit of dystopian satire on the death of the separation of powers, rejecting the idea of Congressional oversight of interrogation by saying "The only way accountability doesn't exist is if you believe that the military is not committed to it."

Scalzi and Meisner capture some of my mood.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Calling all Estonian speakers

An apparently Estonian site reviews(?) three of my stories here.

Anyone know what they say?

Siiski, neli!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006


This year, for, I think, the first time since I was in high school, we built a sukkah.

Friends -- Matt and Nancy and Luke and Jamey and Niko and Sklyar -- that's friends ranging from one to seven to thirty-seven -- came last Saturday to help erect the thing in our sloping backyard. Most of the boards were preserved intact, in my mother's garage, since those days of Sukkot at the Rosenbaums in the Eighties. (Jamey, vaguely remembering dinners in it in high school but, not being Jewish, not having fully grasped the concept at the time, said "I always wondered what happened to that wonderful gazebo you guys had had..."). But the old sukkah had been built onto the side of my parents' house; we'd need four poles for a freestanding one. Also, Mom had chucked the cinderblocks.

So Noah and I spent a blissful Saturday morning wandering through the aisles of Home Depot, talking about wood and brick and sand, and also fire trucks, Elmo, Guk Guk (Noah's imaginary friend), Oh Snow (Noah's imaginary dog), Pak Pak (Guk Guk's imaginary cat) and so on. Eventually we emerged with twelve cinderblocks, two two-by-four-by-eight-foot lengths of board, and various compact flourescent bulbs that had attracted my magpie-like attention. Outside the Home Depot there was a Halloween-Themed Fire Safety Demonstration Arts And Crafts Fair and Baked Goods Giveaway Promotional Event, so we talked to real firemen and a man named Homer with an enormous, iconic styrofoam head, and took the cake and bags of candy and kid-sized orange smocks and construction kits which were thrust upon us. For Noah, it was all, inside the store and out, one cavalcade of wonder, which he treated with equal interest and discernment and inquisitive attention -- the bricks and boards, the cake, the fire truck, the collosally deformed creature known as Homer.

The sukkah must be open to the sky, but bedecked with leafy boughs. Luckily our backyard is a jungle (one barely discerns the faint outlines of what was once a very large wooden frame for a raised garden, under the explosion of shaggy sheaves of grass and the rangy, packed, adolescent volunteer trees) so there was no lack of leafy boughs...

It took an afternoon. By evening it stood, a six-by-six-by-eight space, with a slight overhang, framed roughly in wood, wearing a leafy crown. Akward and festive and jury-rigged and lovely.

We said the Shehechianu, the best prayer of all, the prayer of thanks for getting to live to see something wonderful, which you can say whenever anything wonderful happens.

Monday night the whole extended family, plus the family of another friend who remembered our sukkot of the Eighties, ate pizza and drank wine in the sukkah. Three tables, twelve bodies, candles, plates, and utensils. It's a pretty long sweep of a hill, for a backyard in a chunk of nineteen-fifties-rambler-development inner suburbia, and in the dark, coming out of the kitchen with another tray of pizza, coming up through the tangles of the boughs of our unpruned, unruly trees, I saw the sukkah perched up there in the dark, a little ramshackle floating house of dancing candlelight, and everyone was singing. I slowed down, prolonging the moment before the song resolved to a song I would recognize, before I'd be among them and serving pizza and back in the social moment.

My life is pretty thick with joy, as a parent of small children, but most of my joy is in the midst of some rough and tumble game or in some nestling moment when kids need tanking up on comfort, so it's joy that's kind of going on in the background, without the conscious me having much space to reflect on or attend to it. And I find that's pretty typical with joy, that it's there most strongly when you don't have time to start thinking too much about it. And indeed there was something unsustainable about the moment on the hill, once I started narrating to myself. They were singing "Alouette", and it looked so much like a scene illustrating Familial Happiness in a Dogma film, I had to laugh at myself; and that's a different kind of pleasure.

I didn't use the directions for the sukkah that I printed from Our Trusted Servitor The Intarweb. Instead I used my mom's vintage copy of that revolutionary document of Hippie Judaism, The Jewish Catalog. As that wise book observes, the great and salutary thing about a sukkah is that you have to build it yourself. It is meant to be homemade, ungainly, inexpert. The Israelites wandering the Sinai were no experts; Sukkot is about being lost, and making do, together.

No wonder the holiday is somewhat neglected by American Jews. Certainly, Americans like DIY projects. But Americans do not like being lost. And Americans, and maybe American Jews in particular, like the idea of improvement, of getting somewhere, of accumulation, of upward mobility, the idea that work will make you safe. (Arbeit macht sicher!) As so often (consider Shabbat, consider Yom Kippur), Judaism the religion works to loosen, to heal, to mitigate against, the hardened crusts of anxiety and unease and stubbornness and angry competition and dogged, joyless labor left in us by Judaism the historical condition.

The radical thing about a sukkah is not that you build it in a day; it is that you take it down after a week. It is the Jewish analog of a Buddhist sand painting. It teaches transience. It teaches you how to get rained on. Like Yom Kippur, Sukkot reminds you that everything will be swept away; but Sukkot reminds you, too, that that is a matter for rejoicing.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Tao and Not Tao

I was paraphrasing the Tao Te Ching for Aviva and Noah, and I told them this bit, roughly from chapter 33:

Which is smarter:
knowing about other people
or knowing about yourself?

"Knowing about other people," said Aviva, as if this were obvious.

Which is harder:
being in charge
or having will power?

"Hmm," said Aviva. "Being in charge."

Which is better:
having a huge pile of things
or having exactly what you want?

"Having a huge pile of things," said Aviva.
"Really?" I said, a little taken aback. "Why?"
"Daddy," said Aviva chidingly, "it's not good for people to have everything they want."

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