Interesting Times

Here I am with Mom, leaning against the bumper of Dad's antique car somewhere near our apartment in Hollywood. Mom is visibly pregnant with Stephanie, which means this photo dates from mid-1968. Check out the bumper sticker: that was for Bobby, not his big brother (though we are fans of his, too). Bobby was assassinated in June of 1968 in Los Angeles; I can't imagine what it must have been like for my parents, having their political hopes stolen away in such violent fashion.

I thought about two of RFK's many memorable quotes last night. Here is the first one:

Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.

Patrick and I normally have our Date Night on Thursdays. But last night was the monthly Town Board Meeting in our little corner of the world, and a pressing concern of ours was on the agenda. We forewent the pleasures of romance in favor of civic duty.

Our library, which is private, has survived for a long time on a very small endowment supplemented by yearly gifts from the town. While in past years this Board has been generous in response to the library's growing needs as overhead and circulation have increased, the library hoped the community would support a guaranteed budget in order to meet its expenses with a little less stress. The voters agreed; last November, a referendum regarding funding for our town's library was passed.

To date, however, the Board has refused to give the library the budgeted money. This has been met with disbelief and outrage on the part of the library and its patrons and has elicited many letters to the editor of our tiny newspaper. Several citizens came to last night's meeting with prepared statements in support of the library; others were there with questions for the Board Members.

Patrick was one of the latter, and thank heaven he's such a gifted litigator. Emotions were generally running high last night, but under Patrick's genteel yet persistent questioning, along with that of a neighbor, the whole story began to come out.

It now seems clear to us that the Board never thought the referendum would pass, since it called for a 120% increase over gifts in previous years. When it did pass, the shocked and embarrassed Board realized it wouldn't have the money this year and began casting about for a way out.

An exit strategy was formulated by a lawyer hired by the Board, who, after digging around for a while, discovered that a technicality had been overlooked in the election. Public notice of the referendum must be published by the County Board of Elections in the local paper twice before Election Day; the B of E unfortunately only published notice once. As a result, according to the Town's lawyer, the election results were null and void. The Board has refused to fund the library based on this man's opinion.

The B of E certified the election despite its oversight regarding notice, and during the 30-day window allowed by law, neither the Town nor any private citizen contested the legality of the election or the results. Therefore, the library feels the referendum should stand and that the funds should be disbursed. The library has now had to hire a lawyer to bring a suit against the Town; its funding now lies in the hands of a judge.

Also clear to us last night was that a lot of this furor could have been avoided with a little humility on the part of the Town Board. A simple apology and a plea for time to work out the problems could have worked wonders with the library's staff. Instead, the Town Supervisor has been on the attack, citing the small percentage of voters who voted either way on the referendum as proof that the library was trying to put something over on the town's population.

The library, however, ran several full-page ads in the paper, much larger than the four-line legal notice the B of E was required to run. Signs were up in supporters' yards; the library had flyers available at its front desk detailing the particulars of the referendum. Of the approximately 10,000 residents of our town (I don't know how many are registered, voting adults), about 4,000 voted last November. More than half of those voted one way or the the other on the referendum, a statistic consistent with typical election results.

The Town Supervisor got more than a little self-righteous, saying that he represents all 10,000 residents, not just those 'few' who voted in favor of granting the library's request. He expressed concern that their voices weren't heard in the election. If they had wanted to be heard, though, they could have driven the half mile to the fire station or the VFW and cast their ballot, don't you think?

One councilman complained that despite repeated requests, the library had not shown the Board its budget, again implying secrecy on the part of the library. While I think it was not a smart PR move by the library not to disclose its budget, it was not in violation of any law or requirement. Local governments, which hold the purse strings, can often censor the libraries' decisions, actions, and contents through simple lack of funding. I can understand why our library would want to retain its independence even as it increased its dependence on public funds.

We townsfolk were heard, mostly graciously, for two hours on the subject; the meeting concluded at 11:00 p.m. Though we were tired and frustrated, Patrick and I felt confident that the Board got our message. The library is important to us, an almost sacred space dedicated to knowledge and freedom of information. But more important is our right to vote and to have our vote respected, and our right to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

We'll wait to hear what the judge says, hoping that he'll rule in favor of the library. But if the Board's opinion is upheld, we'll work hard to get a new referendum up for consideration this fall. We'll get through the disappointment by keeping in mind the second RFK quote I remembered last night:

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.


One Brief Shining Moment

I've been cranky all day for no good reason. This morning the fence repairman called to say he was going to be a half hour late for our appointment, then queried whether that was okay. Instead of giving my typical passive-aggressive overly polite response, I answered, "No, it's not okay. But what can I do about it?"

He mumbled something about 'hearing me' and clicked off quickly. I managed to be civil when he actually arrived, much to Patrick's relief.

Daniel brought me a moment of cheer a little while later. Here is a transcript of our exchange:

Me (after sniffing): "Are you poopy?"

Daniel (total poker face): "No, I fink not."

--Seconds later, during hygienic maintenance session--

Daniel: "Dolphin, dolphin, doll-FINN!!" (Pauses.) "Mama, are you finking what I'm finking?"

Me: "Daniel, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Both, simultaneously: "Penguins!"

Absurd, I know. But it made me feel better, at least for a little while.


Here come a riddle, here come a clue....

First, a gratuitous photo of darling Daniel in his Mumble the Penguin suit, to celebrate that I have finally figured out how to move images around in Blogger:

I paraphrase the Talking Heads in my title because Obsession, not Love, Has Come to Town.

I know that this is true because good grief; how can it already be Wednesday again? I need a Time Turner like the one that Prof. McGonagall gave to Hermione Granger.

Here's what happens when you start devoting as many of your waking hours as possible to writing a novel. The world you've created inside your brain--the one you are struggling to depict using a laptop and all the words you know how to spell--starts becoming as real as the world all around you. Annette knows what I mean.

The other day I had the impulse to turn to Patrick and say, "You should have heard what Eugene said to Sophie today," but caught myself before revealing to my dear spouse just how psychotic I have become. Eugene and Sophie aren't real people, you see. And they aren't even the protagonists; they are somewhat minor characters in this manuscript that I have pledged to have done by May 15th.

Another thing that happens when you are writing a novel is that your blog suffers and begins to waste away. Readers start drifting elsewhere in search of more faithful and entertaining updaters. Ah, well. Maybe they'll all come back when this book is published. Or not.

Yet another phenomenon is that your family starts getting served really monotonous meals. Pot Roast; Rice, Bean & Chili Soup; Beef Stew. Anything that can a) be assembled from as many food storage ingredients as possible so as to eliminate trips to the store; b) thrown into this and then put into this for hours on end; and c) then can be made to last for not one but two dinners, is a possibility. Thank heaven for Adriana, or we'd really be in trouble.

At least knitting can still occur, on car trips and late at night when my WEUs are all tapped out and can only be replenished by watching the Mets on TV with my best friend. Here's the swatch I made for a cool little cardigan named Arietta:

I love this mosaic stitch technique; I love the designer of this sweater, Barbara Gregory. She is so brilliant that I actually obeyed her and blocked the swatch, something I've never done before. I won't save the swatch, though; I'm pretty sure I'll need every inch of yarn I've got (plus some that Carmen is giving me) to finish this. Carmen and I indulged in quite a lot of this pretty sport-weight cotton at La Droguerie when we first went there six years ago. It just goes to show you: you can never buy too much yarn when you don't have a specific project in mind. Feed the stash properly, and it will someday reward you.

Speaking of the stash, which I have reduced by quite a bit so far this year, it's about to get the equivalent of liposuction. Carmen let me know about a very worthy cause for donations of yarn you don't love any more. Interim House is a 6-month drug rehab center for women that includes teaching knitting and crocheting as part of its program. Go visit them and cheer them on. I'm going to send them a box of yarn right around May 16th!


A Sense of Wonder

This morning I gave a 45-minute presentation on speculative fiction to 65 second-graders. I was quite nervous about the whole thing. When I began, I told the kids that I would rather talk to 650 adults than 65 eight-year-olds; I couldn't imagine a tougher room as I prepared my remarks.

But these kids were amazing. They stayed focused as we discussed the difference between science fiction and fantasy; they enjoyed making up their own "What if...?" scenarios. They asked me a lot of questions about what I write, and how, and why. They asked whether any of my books have been made into movies yet; I replied that this had not yet occurred, but that I was hopeful that it might happen someday.

I read them a bit of Jill Paton Walsh's excellent The Green Book. We mused about what it would be like to leave the earth behind forever, and what one book each would take with him or her in the spaceship if forced to choose.

We talked about the very recent discovery of a possibly habitable planet in the solar system of Gliese 581. One boy volunteered that it could be our back-up plan when our own sun turns into a red giant and then goes supernova. We remembered together that this eventuality is many billions of years in our future and felt some relief.

I told them that Albert Einstein, when asked how to develop intelligence in young people, replied, "Have them read folk tales. Then more folk tales. Then even more." We talked about how reading speculative fiction stretches the imagination, and that limber imaginations are what make great discoveries possible.

I gave them a little information about George Orwell and how his book Nineteen Eighty-Four changed the world. They had trouble believing that governments would actually ban books; they also had a hard time imagining the world before Harry Potter. "Writers are powerful," I reminded them, "They can change the world and the way we think."

I asked them what they thought is wrong with our world; they worry more than perhaps we would like eight-year-olds to worry about wars and pollution and global warming. I then asked them what is right with the world, and their enthusiastic answers--everything from "Trees" to "Music" to "Being kind"--were heartening.

I told them a secret: many people, as they age, let their minds close and harden, making new thoughts difficult for them to think when they grow up. I told them that they are the leaders of tomorrow, and that if they will keep their brains open and their imaginations active, they'll be able to come up with solutions for the plagues and problems that beset us, then put the solutions into action.

I closed by telling that 'hope' is one of my favorite words (my own Hope smiled incandescently at that point). It means dreaming about things being better, then working to make those dreams come true. I encouraged them to be dreamers and doers, and as I looked into their bright faces, I felt the enormity of their potential and an increase in my own hope for the future.

And speaking of children being the luminous hope of the future, please go spend some time with the Tumaini Kids. Have your children visit, too. A blogging friend introduced me to the site, and I am better for having visited. I plan to go back often; these children and their leaders are an inspiration.


To [Write] of Many Things

Well, what a relief. Tess's surgery is behind her and she is recovering nicely so far. My anxiety level has abated sufficiently for me to be able to play some blog catch-up.

The fabulous and articulate Bub and Pie was interviewed meme-style recently; after giving her answers, she asked her readership if anyone was interested in being tagged. Of course I raised my virtual hand! Here are her questions and my answers.

1. What are your favourite D.E. Stevenson books?

First, thank you for pluralizing the question; I never could have chosen just one. But if it were a life-or-death issue, I'd pick Anna and Her Daughters. I also love Bel Lamington, Amberwell, Listening Valley, and Mrs. Tim of the Regiment. Mrs. Tim is written in diary form, and I recommend it highly as a model for any mommyblogger. If Mrs. Tim were in possession of a computer and internet connection (and if she were not a fictional character), she would be at the top of my blogroll. The Young Clementina is also terrific, but has a higher ratio of bitter to sweet than is usual for Stevenson (not a bad thing).

Actually, I've never read a book by Stevenson that I didn't like. She was a prolific writer, having had over 40 books published in her lifetime. Riches! I tend to hoard unread books by dead writers I love. I parcel them out to myself slowly, because I dread the day when I come to the end of his/her body of work. I realize that this is a bizarre habit.

I love Stevenson as much for the lovely images she conjures as for her characters and stories. Examples: the children’s secret rhododendron hideaway, Ponticum House, in Amberwell; Bel’s rooftop garden in Bel Lamington; the bucolic Scottish village of Ryddelton in many of her books; the old grey church with the leper window in The Young Clementina.

Note to Publishing Universe: Stevenson needs to be back in print! I keep hoping that Persephone, with their high regard for female writers of the early 20th century, will get on the stick. They republished Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Making of a Marchioness and Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. They’re a perfect fit for my dear Dorothy Emily.

2. What is your Myers-Briggs personality type? (And did you know it off the top of your head or did you have to go to to find out?)

I totally had to go to the website. I loved taking that test! It was like one of those Seventeen magazine quizzes from when I was a kid. (Trying to look intelligent after that disclosure.) But I do realize it is serious science.

The results: I am an INFJ: Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging. The I, the N and the J were expressed moderately, while the F was expressed distinctively.

According to the website, my type makes up less than two percent of the population. The explication of my personality was all very flattering (Eleanor Roosevelt and Mohandas Ghandi were also INFJs!!!), but I suspect that everyone is rewarded with an ego boost when they read his/her results.

3. What are the most important rules to follow in naming one's children?

Ahh, grasshopper, we have indeed had much experience in this area. I'll list the guidelines we used in order of ascending importance.

a) Consider using names of relatives or close friends whose character attributes you would like to see embodied in your child.
b) Enjoy the happy coincidence when the names you've chosen are those of favorite literary characters, songs, prophets, and/or versions of the Bible. (For parity's sake, this link and this link, too.)
c) If you have a common last name, choose a more unusual first name.
d) If you have a difficult last name, give your child a break with something easy and/or short.
e) Check the monograms of your potential choices; eliminate any that might cause embarrassment.
f) Say the full potential name aloud and ensure that it flows metrically.
g) Go to the SS website and check the popularity of your candidates. Consider avoiding any in the top ten unless you really, really can't.
h) Research the meanings of the names you are considering.
i) Ignore lists you made when you were 12 years old. Unless you are naming a cat. Even then, tread cautiously.
j) Have a back-up name, and resist definitely settling on one choice until you have seen the child.
k) Compromise amicably with your spouse and work as a two-person team. Try to ignore suggestions from other people, includng in-laws and your other children, no matter how adamant they may be. If we hadn't done this, Hope would instead be named 'Sedutto,' after five-year-old Christian's favorite Manhattan ice cream shop.

4. What is your favourite colour and what does that reveal about you?

I immediately thought of The Holy Grail when asked this question. In order to foil the maniacal bridgekeeper, I will counter with a question (favorite color of what?), then give a multi-part answer:

Chocolate: Brown
Ice Cream: Caramel
Baseball Uniform: Blue and Orange
House: Roycroft Bronze Green
Horse: Palomino
Rose: Sharifa Asma pink
Sky: Maxfield Parrish blue
Wool (this week): Two-way tie between Hollyhock and Northern Lights
007: Three-way tie between Ash Brown, Chestnut Brown, and Blond

What does this reveal about me? That I can’t for the life of me give a simple answer to a simple question.

5. Do you live to work or work to live?

Ummm, may I live to play?

I ask that question seriously. I am handsomely provided for by my prince of a husband, which means I have the great luxuries of staying at home to raise our children and spending my spare time pursuing my various obsessions: writing, reading, knitting, cooking, eating, and gardening.

My gratitude to God for this great gift does bring with it a sense of obligation to find ways to give back something meaningful to society. This recognition also makes nearly all (but not ironing) of my work feel like play most of the time. Sorry to sound like a Pollyanna, but it's true.

Thanks for the honor, B&P! Now it's my turn. If any readers, onymous or lurking, would like to be interviewed, leave me a comment, and I'll think up some questions just for you.