So, today, I am asking the American people that, if you believe deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice; if you believe the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations should be asked to pay their fair share as part of deficit reduction; if you believe that, at a time when military spending has almost tripled since 1997, that we begin to take a hard look at our defense budget; and if you believe the middle-class and working families have already sacrificed enough, I urge you to make sure that the President hears your voice–and he needs to hear it now.
I would urge the American people to go to my Web site, sanders.senate.gov, and sign a letter to the President letting him know that enough is enough…
Here’s the full text:
Dear Mr. President,
This is a pivotal moment in the history of our country. Decisions are being made about the national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American for decades to come. As we address the issue of deficit reduction we must not ignore the painful economic reality of today – which is that the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. In fact, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.
Everyone understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce the deficit – a deficit that was caused mainly by Wall Street greed, tax breaks for the rich, two wars, and a prescription drug program written by the drug and insurance companies. It is absolutely imperative, however, that as we go forward with deficit reduction we completely reject the Republican approach that demands savage cuts in desperately-needed programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, our children and the poor, while not asking the wealthiest among us to contribute one penny.
Mr. President, please listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice. The wealthiest Americans and the most profitable corporations in this country must pay their fair share. At least 50 percent of any deficit reduction package must come from revenue raised by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and eliminating tax loopholes that benefit large, profitable corporations and Wall Street financial institutions. A sensible deficit reduction package must also include significant cuts to unnecessary and wasteful Pentagon spending.
Please do not yield to outrageous Republican demands that would greatly increase suffering for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. Now is the time to stand with the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to survive economically, not with the millionaires and billionaires who have never had it so good.
Sen. Bernie Sanders; and Co-signers
Let’s ensure his co-signers number in the millions. Be heard.
It took me over a year to get hired at the 9-1-1 center where I work. Now, before that my scope of employment was 95% shopping mall jobs, so its kind of like going from playing Calvin-ball at the park with some friends and then trying out for the Yankee’s.
Now, to be fair, it shouldn’t normally take as long as it did for me. I actually failed the first test when I initially applied. I had to wait until the next hiring session about three months later to try again, and made it through clean. Even if you ace every test, though, it’s no small feat.
For obvious reasons I can’t tell you about the tests themselves, but here’s an example of a schedule for getting through this application program:
Submit Application (Alright, off to a good start here) Receive a “Pre-Screen” packet, fill out and return on time (This step routinely cuts as many as 25% of applicants) Test 1 (which is itself a 3-part test) Test 2 (a segmented test on a wide scope of topics, including a test that you don’t even know is happening) Interview (Including a few test questions and “what would you do if..” scenarios) Receive background packet, fill out, return on time (Some people are still regularly surprised that they can’t work in dispatch when they have, you know, an extensive criminal background and/or are wanted out of state. The question “Does having a felony disqualify me?” has been asked more than once) Background interview Background interview (where they talk to your family, your friends, your coworkers, and that little kid three houses down from you when you were six) Psychological Examination (another multi-part test) Psychological Interview (by now you’re an interview pro) Get the jo-oh, wait, don’t forge the urine test. Get the job!
Oh, and that last part is assuming that you do, in fact, make the cut. You can get all the way to the end, but if its not a good fit, its not happening.
During my hiring session (the one I actually passed), there were between 600-800 applicants. When I was hired, there were 3 of us left. That’s less than .5% success rate. I consider myself lucky, too, because since then we’ve had 4 more hiring groups make it through the process, and 3 of those were solo. As in only one out of hundreds of applicants made it. I consider myself lucky to have had some teammates to go through training with.
At an open house for the upcoming hiring session I was told that approximately 3% of the population can work this job as a career. Now I’m not saying all that to try to climb a pedestal; for one thing, my balance is terrible and I’d just knock it over. I say it because even over a year into it, I’m still not sure if I’m cut out for this. Everything I’ve seen has only deepened my respect for my co-workers. There are some days when I’m on my game, and I’m getting my work done, and we’re savin’ lives and catchin’ bad guys like it’s a Bruce Willis film. Even then, at the best of times it can all go sideways, and in those moments my senior coworkers really shine in a way that makes me want to sit down and start taking notes. That gives me an idea I’ll elaborate on more in a future post, for now I’m still discussing the process.
So, you’ve applied, you passed all the tests and interviews (and tests within the interviews) and you landed yourself the job. Great! When you start changing the world?
First there is calltaker training. The calltaker academy, purely the classroom-based stuff, takes about six to eight weeks. This is full 40 hour weeks, learning everything from local municipal code, policies, fire regulations, police procedures, policies, computer operations, and did I mention policies?
After you’ve crammed all that information into your head, with books and notes and flash cards, you get to apply it. Enter the Coaching Stage, and this takes another six to eight weeks, possibly longer. Now you’re answering lives calls, but with a coach guiding you through every step. The first day you are literally repeating what they say word for word, and you develop your skills and begin to problem solve and adapt on your own. If, after you’ve gone through two or three different coaches, you meet the minimum guidelines (the minimum being what every fully trained calltaker on the floor is expected to be able to do without error every day), then you’re cut loose! Now you’re free to stop making mistakes under the watchful eye of your coach and start making mistakes under the watchful eye of every supervisor within a 10 mile radius. And before a mistake meant getting marked down on your scores for that day, but now it could mean getting marked down on your employment status. Having fun yet, because it’s not over yet.
Nope. A year later I’m still in the training process. Realistically, the learning never ends. You can work here 25 years and still learn something new each day. However, on a technical level, you have 3 years to be 100% fully trained. Aside from the calltaker training, you go back into The Coaching Stage at each of 3 different dispatch positions (2 different police positions and 1 fire dispatch), each one taking from four to weight weeks to complete.
Somewhere in there, you also take a 2-week academy at the Department of Public Safety Standards & Training to get your state certification. After our in-house calltaker academy, DPSST felt like a vacation, albeit one that included marching for colors every morning.
It’s been an intense journey, and one that won’t be over until I hang up my headset. If just getting here was this challenging, and this much fun, I can’t wait to see what will happen down the road.
Let me show you a sight that is frankly astonishing to someone from dry country:
This is the Skykomish River. It has got water in it, all the time. Where I come from, a river is defined as a linear depression in the ground that is too wide to jump over and is occasionally moist. This goes a long way toward explaining why I’m bloody ignorant about rivers. But ignorance is not bliss, and I’m using this visit to the Skykomish River to continue my education about rivers.
Absorb the above photo for a moment. You’re looking at a prime example of a riparian zone. I first heard the word “riparian” in my physical geography class, and immediately fell in love with it. It’s just got this certain ring. And for me, it’s associated with scent: sweet water and luscious plants, damp earth and, sometimes, just a hint of fish. It’s got a particular feel: a cool, damp world unto itself, small and yet somehow expansive. It’s got a look: green. (Mind you, everywhere I go is green now, but that wasn’t so back home, so riparian is the quintessential green.) It’s got a sound: trickling, rushing water and rustling leaves and insects and birds and unseen things rattling around in the bushes. Riparian isn’t so much a zone as an experience.
And experience it we shall, but not before I force you to delay gratification a moment while we indulge in an overview.
The Skykomish River is short, sweet and to the point. It’s only 29 miles from its origin in the Cascades to its end at the Snohomish River. But it drains nearly a thousand square miles. It played a large role in the economy of this bit of Washington State. It’s certainly not inconsequential.
That forested strip just to the top left there under the city of Monroe is Buck Island. It’s more peninsula than island, but we won’t quibble. It’s very nearly surrounded by water, and sometimes it’s completely covered in water, so if it wants to be known as an island, we’re good with that.
We’ll be walking down there in just a moment, but right now, let’s have a closer look up the river.
You can see the Cascades there in the distance, doing their best to hide behind the clouds. We’re in the Skykomish River Basin here, and just to our left is the Woods Creek Sub-Basin. Note the word “basin.” We’re in the down-low here. This area was once underneath about 3,000 feet of ice, which did interesting things to the topography, and the river’s been playing with it ever since.
I don’t think a lot of people think of rivers when they think geology, but as we meander along like the river meanders through its basin, we’ll see that it’s got a lot to do with geology. It’s making geology right before our eyes. Check out, for instance, that sexy little gravel bar in the middle of the above photograph. If it’s very good and very lucky, it shall one day become a lovely conglomerate.
Let’s go down on Buck Island and have a look at matters from the picnic area.
Looking toward the bridge, here, you can see the river take a bit of a turn around its gravel bar. It looks like it’s trying to carve its way through to Woods Creek, which is just behind all those very tall trees to the right, there. And as it takes that turn, it’s undercutting its bank on this side.
In fact, it had just recently finished carving off bits.
Here’s a nice closeup of those sediments, which other people call mud:
I think I see some mica glittering in there. It’s all full of minerals, and the plants seem to love it.
Here’s a nice view of the opposite bank, where you can see all the layers laid out:
Someday, those might become sandstones and mudstones and conglomerates that will tell far-future geologists that a river once ran through here.
Right now, the river seems lively, even frisky, but not particularly wild. Don’t let it fool you. It carries an average of over 24 million gallons of water past this point per day. I’m not sure how much flows past in flood stage, but considering Buck Island goes under and we’d have to swim for it were we standing at this spot during a flood, it is, to put it mildly, a hell of a lot of water.
And it is powerful.
This is what is known as “large woody debris,” or “holy shit the river just ripped those trees right off the bank and dumped them in!” Big trees, very tall trees, which had been happily growing with a nice riverfront view for years, and they are now sleeping with the fishes. In fact, fish quite like having them round. But pretty damned catastrophic for the trees. Think of that before you start thinking of building a nice riverside home.
Before we head up river, let’s have a good look round, take in the whole scene.
Large woody debris, undercut banks, gravel bars filled with rather large (and, take it from one who schlepped a few out, heavy) cobbles, and an enormous amount of water. Amazing, when you think of it, that we had the chutzpah to put a bridge over it. That’s the tiny little human structure toward the top right, there.
All right, let’s head on up river. Here we have a slightly muddier little cove, and oh, look, more large woody debris.
One of my sources for this post notes that “LWD provides physical habitat for plants and animals, alters in-stream habitat by creating pools, riffles, shade, and hiding places, adds nutrient and energy sources, and can decrease erosion.” Here we have a fine example of LWD doing its level best to create a nice pool. If it doesn’t get hauled downstream in a big ol’ flood, it might even trap enough sediment to create more land at some point, depending on how things go. I find that fascinating.
Here’s another thing I found fascinating:
Inland from the river, you can find these banks of sandy sediment and pebbles. I didn’t know at the time that the Skykomish sometimes turns Buck Island into Buck Riverbottom, but I could guess, just from these deposits. I love this stuff. I love seeing how rivers create land.
There’s a very nice bank further along that exposes the layers of river-deposited sediment nicely:
Look at all the cobbles! And if I’m not much mistaken, we’re seeing variations in energy here: at times, the river was powerful enough to carry gobs of cobbles. At others, it managed pebbles and sand. Someday, I’ll know more about how rivers flood and sediments settle out, and this will make exquisite sense.
Did I just hear you say, “Please, Dana, may I have another?” Why, yes. Yes, you may.
And as we walk upriver, we notice one of the most fabulous examples of erosion ever.
It seems there was a lot more riverbank here at some point, because this tree had a chance to grow a very gnarly root system. Now the river’s carving it out. Check this from another angle:
This baby’s got “Future LWD” written all over it, but for now, it’s clinging on with stubborn determination. It seems almost grumpy about it, like it’s muttering, “durned river, get off my lawn!”
When you get further up river, away from the gravel bar and undercut banks, you can look back down along it and think it almost looks placid.
It’s anything but. Oh, and did I mention it’s bloody freezing frickin’ cold? It’s fed by snow. It’s very, abundantly clear that it carries a lot of snowmelt, and that it’s been snowing in the Cascades, and that snow has been, above all, cold.
Let’s have a look from upstream at the gravel bars, shall we?
Really, seriously amazing and beautiful things, rivers are. And just you wait ’til you see what it’s like when it’s not ambling along a nice, gentle gradient, but dashing down the mountains. But before that, you’ll see what I have against it.
Let me just state this clearly and upfront: you are the reason writers write, and I’m incredibly grateful too see you all here, whether you’ve come for a single post or plan to stick around a while. Without you, I’d have nothing to drive me onward through those lonely dark hours, no reason to strive for the right word in the right place at the right time. I’d still write for only myself, but not half so much or half so well. So, thank you. I’d pour you a drink of your choice, only we’re in cyberspace, so I’m afraid you’ll have to pour one for yourself. Hopefully, some of us will remedy that someday.
So, introductions would seem to be in order. You’re very likely busy people without time to delve the archives. A few facts, then:
I’m Dana Hunter, which isn’t the name on my drivers license but is the name I go by in all situations but legal transactions and at work, so I consider it my “real” name. I started out using it because my birth first name got filched by one of my characters, who won’t give it back, and my last name is awesome but leads to horrible retail jokes. And Dana Hunter is now more than a ‘nym, but me. But if you really want to know my original name, I’ll tell it to you when we meet in the physical world, and you will probably laugh.
Those wanting the story behind the ‘nym, see here.
I have a homicidal cat. If you stick around, you will be subjected to pictures of her. Fair warning.
I’m not a professional geologist, but a passionate amateur with a lot of friends who are professional geologists. I write about geology a lot. I live in the Pacific Northwest and came from Arizona, which both have the kind of geology that leaves you awestruck by the magnitude of it. But that’s not the only science that catches my fancy, so you’ll see bits on biology and chemistry and physics and whatever else grabbed me by the lapels and said very firmly about an inch from my face, “NOTICE ME.” I research my posts as thoroughly as I can and try not to say inaccurate things, but if you catch me in an error, by all means say something. I don’t like letting mistakes stand uncorrected.
I write SF. Someday, I will even publish SF. Those who want an advance peek at my fiction and non-fiction projects can shoot me an email and become a Wise Reader. Yahoo knows me as dhunterauthor. For those in the audience who like reading about the craft, I do up a Dojo right here on ETEV every Tuesday, wherein writing is discussed and the wisdom I’ve obtained from others and via my own experience is passed on.
I’m a Gnu Atheist. That’s “New Atheist” to those without a sense of humor. I am not fuzzy and accommodating to religion, but if you’re one of the faithful and your religion is tough enough to take it, we’ll all be fine. This is just by way of fair warning (which the folks who arrived here via Pharyngula don’t need): I write about atheism and religion, and I do not do so moderately. Oh, and I’m a liberal Democrat. I started out as a potty-mouthed progressive political blogger and sometimes return to my roots. If those two things don’t scare you away, then we’re a good match. ;-)
I read each and every comment on every post, but with two book projects, this blog, a full-time job that has nothing to do with either, an erratic but existent social life, a weird paranoia that acknowledging one person means I’ve just disrespected the others, time management skills that can only be described as teh suck, and the memory of a brain-damaged gnat, I don’t respond as often as I should. I’ll try to do better, but I can make you no promises. Just know that I do actually appreciate each and every comment. Live for them, actually.
Right, I think that’ll do as an overview. Now on to the really important matters: the readers and fellow bloggers who have been here for a long time.
If I tried to get specific, I’d miss some of you and feel horribly about it. So I won’t try just now. You know who you are, and you know I’m talking to you right now: all of you geobloggers, my long-time Twitter tweeps, my intrepid companions and my cherished commenters and friends. All of you who have been there mixing it up in the comments threads and saying things on Twitter that make me tear up while punching the air, because to have done something that made you happy, to have written something you liked, is the ultimate. You know how much I love my cat, but if some freakish circumstance forced me to choose between you and her, I’m afraid she’d have to go.
You’re everything I ever wanted when I began writing, all alone, oh so many years ago. You are the wise and the wonderful people, so often smarter or kinder or more talented than me (or all three), who somehow yet find something of worth in the words I write. You egg me on and lift me up and apply the judicious prod to the buttock when necessary. You correct me when I’m wrong, and give me sound advice, and cheer and jeer and basically just provide me all the reason I’ll ever need to brave carpal tunnel and all the other hazards of the writer’s life. You make me believe that this whole writing-for-a-living thing may just be possible. And you show me wonders. You give me intriguing new paths to explore. You inspire me. You make me do things I’ve never done but turn out to have been a fabulous idea. A lot of you ends up in what I write, and a lot of what I write is for you.
Without your links and retweets and recommendations, this blog would be nowhere. I cherish each and every one. I’m always astonished and flattered and incredibly grateful when you deem something I’ve written as worthy of sharing.
And if my wildest dreams come true, and fame and fortune are achieved, I will never, ever forget you. You’re all coming with me.
It can never be said enough: Thank you. Thank all of you.
And now, introductions and paeans achieved, I shall get on with giving you all the very best I am capable of, because you damn well deserve it.
A brief intro for those who have been a) living under a rock, b) out pounding on rocks (hey, most of my friends are geologists, so it’s distinctly possible) or c) brand new to the cantina: Neil Gaiman is the writer I place at the head of my personal pantheon of writers. He gives outstanding writerly advice, which writers of fantasy and literary fiction and even non-fiction science stuff shall find very useful indeed. And he was at Town Hall Seattle on Sunday night, wherein much wisdom was shared and laughter flowed freely.
I hereby pass along his wisdom, and maybe a few of the laughs.
Writers get this impossible question, “Where do you get your ideas?” And maybe you’re a writer already and now have that “oshit how do I answer that/I hate that question!” face, the one where everything twists up like you’ve just stuck a whole and very sour lemon in your mouth. Or, perhaps, you want to be a writer, and you’re thinking, “ZOMG please tell me where do they come from?!” In that case, you’ve got that please-please-ooo-pick-meeee! puppy-in-the-window face on. Either way, Neil Gaiman can answer that question.
Here’s where the idea for American Gods came from: “And it was a scene, I didn’t know what it meant, which is often the best place to start any story, is with something that you don’t actually understand.” He saw a fragment merely: a man on an airplane, who’d gotten there via a crazy sequence of seemingly random events, sitting down at last next to a man he couldn’t possibly know, who then turns to him and says, “You’re late.” Neil didn’t know who they were. But he found out, and a lot of other things, random and scattered things, bits and pieces from previous works and various experiences with the weirdness that is America and sleeplessness in Reykjavik and so much else besides, came together and became something magical.
Remember that, when you’re beginning a story or novel or any other project: you do not in any way have to understand what it is just yet. There’s just this something making your mind itch. You write to find out why it’s making your mind itch. Because if your mind is itching, it’s quite possible the readers’ minds will itch, too, and they’ll need to scratch just as much as you did.
Or perhaps your story will come from somewhere else. Neverwhere and Stardust, for Neil, were both books about homesickness. He’d just come to America from England, and these books were ways back for him. He loved re-imagining them, he said. And that is an exile’s tale. Perhaps there’s something in you trying to get back to, a place you knew well and deeply miss. Perhaps you’ll faithfully reproduce it, or, perhaps, like Neil, you’ll imagine the way it never was, but could have been. Fertile ground, that.
Neverwhere also emerged from a board game of the London Underground he’d known as a child. He’d look at the stations and try to figure out what they were like from the names: were there knights in Knightsbridge? These are other places ideas come from: childhood imaginings revisited and remembered, familiar things seen through new eyes, taking things literally that aren’t meant to be literal and figuratively when they’re meant to be actual.
“The point of fiction for me,” Neil said, “is that it allows you – not necessarily intentionally, you shouldn’t start out going ‘I’ll take a metaphor and make it real’ – but it allows you to do that. And it allows you to do that with power and passion and talk true things.
“Imaginary things are often the most powerful.”
You know that. You’ve felt that. It’s why you love fiction. You’ve felt those characters live, you’ve immersed yourselves in their lives and their worlds, and hasn’t it at times seemed like those people and places are far more real than the ones you know? Even if you’re writing non-fiction, if you’re a scientist doing science and you plan to write about it someday, it’s imagination that drives you. Imagining what things may have been like back in deep time, imagining how atoms behave, imaginings that arise out of data points and mathematics and, in one famous case, the image of a snake biting its tail. Imagination drive stories, and discoveries, and stories about discoveries. That power is yours.
Whether fact or fantasy, you’re telling a story. And as for storytelling, “[I]t’s always about magic,” Neil said. “It’s always about the way you take reality and you turn it forty-five degrees so that you could show people things that they’re very, very familiar with, and show them these things in a way that they’re not familiar with; you show them things that they’ve seen a thousand times and show them to them for the thousand and first time, if you can.”
Do you see why I want all of you, fiction and non-fiction writers alike, to pay heed? Because that’s the essence of telling a story. Take the familiar and show it to your readers again for the very first time.
As for research, there’s always this ongoing debate as to how much or how little an author should do. For a non-fiction work, of course, research is essential. What about fiction? What research did Neil do for American Gods, for instance? He had his research assistant find out populations of various towns (this was before the intertoobz could provide those answers in an instant). He drove around and looked at stuff. Remembered stuff. He must remember a hell of a lot, because the only gods he did much research on for this particular book were the Slavic ones. He couldn’t find much: only about three pages’ worth of useful material. So he resorted to making stuff up. For instance, he added Zorya Polunochnaya to the other two Zorya known in Slavic mythology, just made her right up. He says he felt faintly guilty about that, but thought, “Who’s gonna know?”
I can see three lessons here. First, when you’re writing fiction, and your research has gaps in, you can indeed make stuff up. That’s rather the point of it being fiction, am I right? Don’t be afraid to add the odd goddess or non-existent city or what have you, if the story calls for it and everything hangs together as a whole. Second, if you’re doing research for, oh, say, a book on mythology, don’t use a fiction novel as an authoritative source. And lesson the third: check the copyright date on the sources Wikipedia cites, to see if maybe the only mythology book to mention a third Zorya came out after American Gods did.
Toward the end, Maria Dahvana Headley asked Neil for his advice to young people who want to write fantasy. Let’s rephrase that a bit, because it applies to all writers who are at the beginning of their careers: what is his advice to people who want to write fantasy?
He started with general advice for all aspiring authors: write, and finish what you write. He said people stare at him like he’s withholding some big secret, but that really is the secret to a successful writing career. You must write, and finish what you write, or you won’t get anywhere at all.
“But if the question is, ‘What would I tell a young fantasy author,’ I’d tell you a bunch of things,” Neil said. “I’d tell you, ‘Stop reading fantasy,’ or at least, not to derive inspiration from fantasy…. Fantasy’s wonderful and you should know what else is going on in your genre, but you should read everything else. That’s Number One: read everything else.
“Number Two is read primary sources…. Go for primary sources wherever you can. Go for as primary as you can possibly get. And read everyth
ing, read outside your comfort l
“And then, write. Tell the stories. Don’t do that thing of going, ‘I really like Lord of the Rings, I will write Lord of the Rings.’ Somebody else has already written Lord of the Rings, and has done it better than you ever could. So, when you’re writing, try and tell the stories that only you can tell. That’s the one thing that you have as a writer: any young writer has this special thing, which is you’re not anybody else. Nobody else has had your life, nobody else sees the world from the place that you see things. And, as a writer, the only thing that you have – there will always be better writers than you, there may be better plotters than you, there may be people who put a sentence better together than you – but there’s nobody else who can tell your stories better than you. So the quicker you move from writing other people’s stories – and every young writer starting out starts out writing other people’s stories – and the quicker you write your own stories, the better.
“And that is the piece of advice I would give to any young writer of fantasy.”
All of those things are important. All of those things are true. And they’re useful for any genre: just adjust the terms a bit. So, if you want to be a writer, if you want to tell stories, the very best stories you can, listen. I’ll even embed the video I shot of that bit so you can listen.
Okay. So you’ve written the book. You’ve re-written, and re-re-written, and written the book again. Let’s say you’ve done all that, and actually got it published. Now what? Promotion, of course! And this is where Maria Dahvana Headley really brought the house down, because she announced the idea of the Author Sex Tape. Alas, the audience was laughing so loud and so long through her subsequent explanation that the audio’s mostly unintelligible, and I was laughing so hard I can’t remember half of what she said. But it’s a genius idea. Drum up interest by leaking a sex tape. There’s something very important said sex tapes must have: a catch phrase. George R.R. Martin, she said, has a catch phrase: “Winter is coming.” She waited for us to finish laughing our lungs out, and then asked Neil, with an amazingly straight face under the circumstances, what his catch phrase was.
“You’re asking somebody who’s written something out there on the table next to you that the end of Chapter One [next bit unclear due to audience hysterics] a gentleman disappears inside a prostitute,” Neil said.
And Maria, without missing a beat, shot back, “You could shout ‘American God’!”
If laughter is the best medicine, the audience is likely immortal.
Neil is a writer who can (and has) written very nearly everything: fiction and non, screenplays, comics, children’s books, articles – he’s a writer well worth listening to. Never mind that he’s a bit skeptical about the whole “Author Sex Tape” idea. We writers who want to achieve great things with our writing learn from those who came before, those who have already mastered the art, and Neil Gaiman is one of those authors who will never let you down. So listen. Then write.
And absolutely do not ever miss the opportunity to see him live if you can.
ZOMG, my darlings, Neil was here. I last saw him ten years ago, and I’ll tell you something – aside from the beard, he hasn’t changed. He’s still the warm, wonderful, blisteringly funny and deeply profound writer he was then. He still has humility without humiliation. And my god, does he know how to work a crowd.
Even his “please turn off your cell phones” speech was hysterical.
The event was recorded, and I’ll post that for interested parties when it becomes available. I’ll also have a deeper post delving into some of the things he said come tomorrow. Tonight’s just for the fangirl swooning.
Yeah, that’s me holding a signed copy of Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? He signed 3,000 bloody books. The man is a machine. Alas, his fame has reached the level at which personal signings would take eight or nine hours, so they didn’t do one tonight. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a Batman comic, written and signed by Neil Gaiman, and that is teh awesome.
Speaking of teh awesome, I met an ETEV reader in line there at the venue, and she is genius. She’s just been to Alaska and has kindly agreed to share photos and geological delights from that trip, just as soon as she can. Something for all you all to look forward to. I got to see some preview pics, and I think I drooled on her just a little bit.
There were so many people there that they had to start late. This turned out fine, because Neil had drafted Molly Lewis to play the ukulele for us.
People. She’s amazing. She did a song on the Lincoln assassination that shouldn’t have managed to be tragic and funny at the same time, but is. And then she performed “An Open Letter to Stephen Fry.” I won’t try to describe it. Just listen:
(Sorry, I probably should’ve told you to finish any drinks beforehand, huh?)
I can’t think of a better opening act for Neil Gaiman. Set us in the proper frame of mind.
She got her digs in, oh, yes. Just look at his face. You know how some people are capable of teasing the people they admire, and the entire audience worships, in such a way that everyone shares a good belly laugh, including the supposed victim? She’s that kind of person. Fabulous interviewer, and if she writes anything like how she talks, then I must have her books. I wish I’d known when I was at the merch table, because I could have walked out with a signed copy of Queen of Kings. Le sigh. Ah, well, she’s from here, so I’m sure I shall have another opportunity.
And Neil. Oh, Neil. He read from American Gods, a profound bit and a funny bit. He answered the most difficult question, “Where do your ideas come from?”, with aplomb. We got to see a bit more of how his brain works, and believe me, when you’re aspiring to become someone of his caliber, that insight is extremely helpful. I’ll have some of those insights for you tomorrow. I figured that’s as good a Dojo subject as any, am I right?
(Now we’re on to some personal introspection, and if you wish to stop right here and go do something else, I’ll understand completely.)
This was an interesting experience not simply because Neil is an interesting person and one of the best writers living, but because things have changed. Ten years ago, I was a fangirl clutching the first edition of American Gods in my sweaty hands and trying desperately to come up with something decently intelligent to say to a man who might as well be my writing god. I looked on in awe as he and Will Eisner spoke, and as Neil took the panel discussion by storm, and stumbled out of the whole experience with a pole-axed sensation. I didn’t have anything but aspirations and a few stumbling stories at that point.
So much has changed. I’m not the world-famous SF author I want to be, not yet. I’m not writing for a living. Still a phone jockey at a call center. But I’ve got a reasonably successful blog (not to mention utterly phenomenal readers and fellow bloggers). I’ve gotten over wanting to be someone else and just want to be Dana Hunter when I grow up. My fiction, while not ready for publication, has matured. It’s now its own thing, not trying to be Neil Gaiman or Tolkien. Instead of hanging on his every word of writing advice, I could nod at some of it. “Yup, done that, working on that, definitely doing that.” There’s a certain confidence level I didn’t expect that comes from all that. I know, now, that I can do this. It’s a certainty (which certainty I sometimes don’t feel when I’m struggling with the words or worldbuilding, but every author suffers that). I’m sitting down, putting the words one after the other, and they’re my words, my worlds (and never mind I’m writing fan fiction right at the moment – it’s fan fiction on my terms, in my world, and the character I’ve filched just a method for getting to know that world in greater depth). I know the stories I want to tell, and I know I have the ability to tell them. I had none of that the last time I saw Neil.
And I didn’t have you.
You’ve made a huge difference, my darlings. When that stupid niggling voice of doubt starts whining away in the back of my mind, I’ve got your comments to combat it. I’ve got brilliant people, quite often fantastic writers in their own right, who find my words worthwhile. I can’t ever explain to you how valuable that is. That’s validation, and it’s a goad. It’s a long damned road, from wish to concept to novel to publication, but we’re some distance along, and you’re there. When I want to give up, you’re giving me ye olde pep talk. When I stumble, you’re there with a steadying hand on the elbow. When I’m tired and want to stop, you keep me going. So what I am and what I become, in large measure, is down to you.
And thank Neil for being a very admirable North Star, and reminding me tonight that writing great novels and making people happy is not only something that can be done, but something very much worth doing.
“We owe it to each other to tell stories,” Neil says in his poem “Locks.” True stories and fanciful stories and yarns and myths, there are so many stories worth telling, and so many wonderful people to tell them to, who will tell their own in turn.
It’s a magnificent old life, this. Especially when a ukulele player opens for an author, and marketing involving author sex tapes is considered.
And, because I am a writer and a bit cruel because of it, I shall leave that last bit dangling tantalizingly before your eyes without explanation, until tomorrow, when all shall become clear.
Late again, I’m afraid. Story of my life. But you didn’t think I was going to deprive you of your delicious linkage, did you?
Either I wasn’t paying attention, or I was distracted, but I didn’t notice any enormous controversies this past week. Oh, there were dust-ups and flare-ups and there’s always something stupid trending in the political world, but whatev. For once, let’s put some fun, uplifting and really neat science front and center. Scientific American’s Expeditions blog has been running a series on Montana State University’s China Paleontology Expedition, in which students from a variety of Montana colleges and universities get the chance to study dinosaur eggs in China. Reading the series has been an exercise in delight and discovery.
ScienceNews: Death of a Continent, Birth of an Ocean. One of the best posts on African geology I’ve ever read (aside from Georneys). How awesome is it to see plate tectonics in action, ripping a continent asunder?
Blag Hag: Picking on myself. As usual, Jen’s absolutely correct. And brave as can be.
Pharyngula: Dear Emma B. PZ writes a beautiful letter to a little girl about questions, science, and thinking for yourself. Which caused the creationist fucktards who filled her head with bullshit to lie, run and scream.
This View of Life: Narrating Science and Fear. For this sentence: “We can use the heroic narrative to communicate that the sciences do fit in with the traditional idea of a good and worthy pursuit, and not just as the villains or warning character.” Brilliant.
A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Notice to Appear. The pros and cons of going on tour to pimp your novel, lovingly dissected by an expert.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my own ignorance drives me crazy.
That’s really been driven home these past couple of weeks, in a few different ways. There’s the research I’ve been doing for Nyaanovos, which has occasionally caused me to scream and yank out hanks of hair. Ron mentioned that Mediterranean geology is a mess, and he wasn’t wrong. What a hodge-podge! It’s like somebody took a sledgehammer to that region while other people were busy cramming it together and another few teams, all at cross-purposes, were trying to pull it apart. And I know it makes sense. It’s just hard to make sense of it. There are people who’ve dedicated their careers to teasing some order out of the mayhem, and the work is ongoing. We’ve got bits of the puzzle sorted, but nothing approaching the whole. And there are times when I wonder what possessed me to stick a region like that on Xtalea, rather than staying with the simple stuff. But simple doesn’t lead to fantastic landscapes suitable for awe, so forget simple. We’ll go with complex, and curse our ignorance every step of the way.
I need to know.
Then there was the little day trip we took up the Skykomish River. Just one single afternoon. Just a few pretty pictures. Okay, around 500 pretty pictures, but still. Quite a few people would be content to exclaim over the scenery and pick out the really nice ones and put them up with a few words about how pretty the region is. Me? I’ve got to know. My ignorance of the place drives me crazy. I want to know how the river works, where it comes from and where it goes and how it behaves. I want to know where all those interesting rocks came from, and what they are, and how they got to be so interesting. I want to tie everything together with what I know of all the terranes that got stitched together to create Washington, and I want to understand how subduction made the Cascades rise, and why things are the way they are. I want to know what the flowers are, and what their lives are like, there on the banks of a mostly untamed river. Someday, I might go beyond identification into evolution, because knowing how they got to be what they are fascinates me.
I don’t understand how people can stand not knowing. I have no idea why some folks can look over a landscape and think, smugly, that God made it and that’s all they need to know. And I have absolutely no idea how they can stand beside a wild river and think they can rule it, or have the right to. Beside that river, I feel nothing but humility and respect and delight and awe. Imposing my will on it is a laughable concept. Understanding its origin and moods, knowing how to live peaceably beside it, those strike me as good things to know. Knowing how to break its spirit, believing it was put there for my benefit, those things aren’t so good. And living in ignorance of it, that’s just tragic. Especially if said ignorance leads you to believe you can live in one of the flat bits beside it without getting your ass flooded out.
So I’m grievously ignorant of Mediterranean geology and local geomorphology. That’s okay. These are things I can come to understand, in time, and with help from my geotweeps, books and the intertoobz. But there are other regions of ignorance that hurt me worse, because I can’t even begin to shake them. Not yet. I’m reading a book on crystals right now, one written by folks at MIT, 100% woo-free. And they’re talking about concepts I can’t get my mind wrapped around. I am appallingly bad at imagining in the abstract, so when they go on about imagining the ideal crystal and then start spouting geometry, I’m lost at sea. My ignorance of chemistry is abysmal, as well, despite the wonderful book I just read on that subject, and it’s painfully obvious I don’t know nearly enough.
So why even bother with it? Because, damn it, I need to know.
Even if I gave up writing tomorrow, never set down another word on book or blog, I wouldn’t stop learning. It’s passed a point of no return now. The pleasure I get from knowing something real about the world around me is just too great to give up. The world is so much richer with the things I know. I don’t know much, but I know enough to know that knowing more will leave me staring at the most ordinary things with my mouth wide open in wonder, laughing at the magnificence of it all. Chemistry and physics and geology and biology, all of these things come together in sometimes incredibly unexpected ways to create the most joyous little tableaux. I’ve got a bit of sandstone full of fragments of fossil plants that I picked up while journeying with Lockwood last summer that combines all of those things. I can hold four disciplines in my hand. It’s just a chunk of dirty brown sandy rock with dark bits of unidentifiable plant matter in. I mean, look at it – it doesn’t look like anything special, does it?
But this is outstanding. It’s an incredible little rock, a bit of a turbidite. An avalanche happened under the sea one day, and a slurry of rock and sand and mud and plant fragments all went sailing merrily downslope, came to rest, and as time went on, got compressed into stone and hoisted up on land, where a wondering layperson got it pointed out to her by someone who knows more than the Dick-and-Jane version of how it came to be. Lockwood can explain it properly. I can’t, not just yet, but I know enough about it to know that when I hold it in my hand, I’ve got a whole story representing several major branches of the physical sciences. This little bit of stone has a very interesting history. And if you look, really look, at it, get your nose right in and study it:
It’s got a lot to say. It’s talking about erosion, with all of those lovely sparkly bits of mica mixed in with the more prosaic sediments, all of them eroded from parent rock long ago. It’s speaking of a plant community living by (or in) the sea. And it’s talking about a big shakeup, one day, maybe an earthquake or maybe just too much sediment deposited in one place, and gravity pulling it down into the deeps, and how the dense current of sediment-filled water settled down and deposited its load in a graded bed, heaviest stuff first, because that’s the way physics works. It’s talking about chemistry, both biological and inorganic, and pressure and time. It’s talking about upheaval, and plates colliding, and about how you can stand on dry land and still be standing on the floor of the deep ocean. It’s a voice from deep time. I don’t understand most of what it says, but the little I do understand fascinates me. I want to know more.
I need to know.
This is why I won’t waste my time on woo, why I don’t sacrifice precious moments to a god that’s distinctly surplus to requirements and obviously imaginary to boot. I was religious once. For a while, I believed in god, and I thought the world was wonderful because it was his, but when my faith ebbed away because the nonsense of it all became blindly obvious, when I turned from religion to science, that religious awe palled. Religion never made the world anywhere near as awe-inspiring as science can. It was an empty wonder, polished brass and a glass bauble someone tried to pass off as a diamond ring. It didn’t even have the benefit of imagination, because others had done the imagining already and all that was left was dogma. It pretended to be real, but had nothing to do with reality. Thank reason I wasted only a tiny proportion of my life on it, because there’s too much of the real world to know, too many wonders I would have missed if I’d stayed faithful. And I know that some people manage to have faith and enjoy science, but looking at science through faith seems to me too much like trying to get a clear view of something majestic while peering through the bottom of a poorly-made glass bottle.
It frankly amazes me that some people never bother looking at all.
I don’t know how to end this post, because there is no end. No end to the things I need to know. No bottom to the chasm. I’ll spend the rest of my life pouring science and philosophy and history and other bits of knowledge into it, and it’ll never fill. I can’t say I’m empty – some days, I feel like I’m filled to bursting, but I’m never sated. There are moments, like those pauses between courses, when I can savor what I’ve just had, but soon I’ve got knife and fork in hand and I’m watching the dining room doors eagerly, salivating as I anticipate what’s coming next. It’s the best kind of hunger, this hunger to know. It’s such a sweet starvation.
And the best part, the absolute most sublime bit, is that even if someone invented an implant that allowed the whole of human knowledge to be loaded into my brain, so that I instantly knew the whole of every science, I’d still have so much more to know. I’d still have that need, because we don’t know it all. Fill me up right to the cutting edge of science, and it would be barely a drop. Give me a hundred lifetimes, and there would always be something new. So many discoveries, so many frontiers, some we probably don’t even know are there but will have us screaming with joy when we find them out, all out there, all waiting.
We’ll always need to know. And this universe, in all its immensity, will always ensure there’s something more.
Dear, wise old Master Kong! You’ve all probably heard of him at some point: ancient Chinese philosopher, wrote the Analects, comes across as rather uptight and all about propriety and ritual and so forth. Stuffy. At least, that’s the impression I’d gotten of him before I started reading up on him. He actually had a delightful sense of humor, a wise way of seeing the world, and while he was very interested in proper conduct, he wasn’t quite the boring old conservative square pants he’s painted as by the Taoists.
Confucius is a Latinization of his Chinese name, which is Kong Fu-Tzu, Old Master Kong. I’ve come to love dear old Master Kong. His Analects are a smooth read, if not exactly an easy read. They’re like water, really: they’re powerful, and you have to work hard to keep up with the current, but highly enjoyable all the same.
He was a man who truly loved wisdom, and did his best to ensure that if people didn’t have sunlight, they’d at least have moon and stars.
Here’s another quote from him that any scientist could live by, and every teacher should remember:
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
Never fear, I’ll have more rocks up in the not-too-distant future. But seeing as how I’ve got research to do and Aunty Flow’s here, we’ll have an interlude for biology. Some of it’s awfully pretty, even though it gets in the way of all the nice geology. I can even identify some of it, thanks to my handy-dandy copy of Wildflowers of the Olympics and Cascades – a book wonderfully organized and sized just right for a messenger bag.
These fabulous ox-eye daisies were blooming all along the road in Monroe. They’re not native plants, but they’ve made a happy home here, and they’re pretty.
American Brooklime, I think. These were growing happily by the Skykomish River at Al Borlin Park.
I’m pretty sure this is an Herb Robert. Apparently, it’s an invasive species. Damn them for being so pretty!
I have no idea what this is. Both book and website have failed me, but these were spectacular, popping out all over the trail, and I love them.
Another beauty whose name I don’t know. But, spectacular.
More American Brooklime, this time in the shade, so you can really appreciate their delicate blueness.
Yet more unidentified beauties. Damn it, Jim, I’m no botanist!
I’m super-excited over these. I’d never seen them before, and they’re unusual, and I love them. They’re Pacific Bleeding Heart. They like shady spots, and apparently animals shouldn’t eat them because they’ve got poisonous alkaloids. But they’re lovely, so we’ll just skip over the deadly part.
Sublime, aren’t they just?
And now we’re out by Gold Bar, on the riverbank, and we’ve got some lovely lupines. These are either Broadleaf or Large-Leaved Lupine, I suspect – I’m not rightly sure how to tell the difference. “Lupine” comes from the Latin for “wolf,” which refers to these beauties’ ability to out-compete other plants. Neato, right?
And there you are. Lots of flowers. That’s one of the many things I love about living up here. There’s always something showing off, whether it’s the geology or the biology or both.