Time for a Vacation

All right.  I’ve been a bad Madeleine, absent for yea, this long time.  But I’m still here.  I’m checkin’ in, right?  And look!  I brought you something.  ::rummages around for embed code.::  See?   

Feel better now? Of course not. You have cholera!

Baby Wants Cake

Growing up in Kearney, Nebraska, my mother knew a boy named Royal. Not an uncommon Victorian-era midwestern name (I didn’t blink when I heard this, because I’d read about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s brother-in-law, also named Royal). What was unfair to poor Royal, who likely went through life as Roy, was that his last name was Jester.

Yes, Royal Jester. Rumor has it that his father perpetrated this outrage as revenge against the world that had named him Courtney. Unless he went through life being called Bud or Butch or Sonny, that means he was referred to as Court Jester. Which leads one to ask: what were their his parents thinking? I grew up with a slightly unusual name at my time/place, and I got shit for it. I can’t imagine how a kid named, oh, I don’t know, Moon Unit or Frankincense or Apple or Bat Guano negotiates the playground these days.

Which brings us* to the curious case of a cake for Adolf Hitler Campbell. When the toddler was turning three, his parents ordered a birthday cake from their local ShopRite. They wanted his full name on the cake, and the bakery refused, saying it seemed inappropriate. So they took their order to WalMart, where they complied and wrote Happy Birthday, Adolf Hitler on the cake, and the three year old was made happy.

Let me say first off that I’m a fan of cake. And birthdays. And three year olds. I don’t blame the parents for wanting a cake for their son. But Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, who the paper mentions as (among other things) Holocaust deniers, seem to be in denial about a whole bunch of other stuff. Like what’s going to happen to their children when they go to school. Cause it’s not just little Adolf who’s going to suffer the slings and arrows of schoolyard politics. His sibs, little Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Campbell, aren’t going to get a free ride either.

The parents don’t see it like that, of course:

The Campbells have swastikas in each room of their home, the rented half of a one-story duplex just outside Milford, a borough in Hunterdon County. They say they aren’t racists but believe races shouldn’t mix.

The Campbells said they wanted their children to have unique names and didn’t expect the names to cause problems. Despite the cake refusal, the Campbells said they don’t expect the names to cause problems later, such as when the children start school.

Uh huh. The paper quotes a child psychiatrist to dispute this idea, but you don’t have to have a degree to think that naming your child Dracula Chan or Idi Amin Schwartz is going to get the kid some negative attention.

There are swastikas on walls, on jackets, on the freezer and on a pillow. The family car had swastikas, Heath Campbell said, until New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families told him they could endanger the children.

The swastikas, Heath Campbell said, are symbols of peace and balance. He considers them art. “It doesn’t mean hatred to me,” he said. Deborah Campbell said a swastika “doesn’t really have a meaning. It’s just a symbol.”

Um. The swastika does, in fact, go back as far as the ancient Greeks. But just a symbol? The whole point of a symbol is that it symbolizes something. And most people who see it associate it with the Third Reich, and again with the negative connotations.

Heath Campbell says he doesn’t force his ideas on his children and wants them to be nonviolent. ‘Kay. I’ll be interested to learn, when little Adolph is ten years old, what the kids at school call him. Bud, maybe. Or Butch or Sonny. Maybe even Dweezil. But at home, I’m sure that he’ll be Adolph, and every year, as long as WalMart cooperates, he’ll have a cake with his name on it.

* I got this story via the fabulousness that is Cake Wrecks, my favorite food blog.

 ETA: Keith Olbermann covered this story tonight (Wednesday) on Countdown.  I feel so, like, ahead of the curve!

Oh, Look! Story!

Looking for something good to read?  A screenplay by Ursula K. Leguin, maybe?  Novels by Brenda Clough, Susan Wright or Vonda McIntyre?  Or maybe a handful of short stories to while away that wait for your much-delayed flight home from Kathmandu (now that we can look forward to a new and different president)?

Check out Book View Cafe, a nifty new website featuring work by over two dozen women writers working in SF, horror, fantasy, YA, and related genres.  We (disclosure: yes, I’m one of the roster) have banded together to make the site a place where we can bring our out-of-print work back, republish short stories, and show off new and experimental fiction.  Much of the work is free; there will be some available for subscription, and some for a nominal fee.  Read on screen, or download a PDF to your computer to take elsewhere.  And right now, since we’re in the roll-out phase, everything is free free free!

There’s also the Book View Cafe blog, with brief posts on divers topics by BVC authors.  I know, another damned blog.  But there’s stuff in there runs the gamut from comics to Camelot.  You know you’re curious.

I don’t know if Book View Cafe is an entirely new publishing paradigm, as the big kids say, but it’s at least on the leading edge.  And there’s really good stuff in there.  Come check us out!

I’m a Statistic

If I seem a touch distracted these days I’ve got an actual reason.  I’m looking for a job.  That’s right.  In this economy.  But income from writing has been, um, erratic lately, at a time when steady and predictable would be the preferred thing.  But I’m not here to today to talk about the vicissitudes of the auctorial lifestyle (hey, prospective employers, see how I toss those big words around?).  I am here to talk about How Jobsearching Has Changed.

The first time I looked for a job I was a wee-tiny Madeleine, living in Cambridge, Mass. with a former college roommate, in an economy we thought was pretty piss poor.  Hah!  Those carefree, giddy days when I was poor, unfettered, unmortgaged, and you got a job by looking through the paper, going to the HR departments at local universities, and taking typing tests.  It took me two and a half months but I found a job I loved, running continuing ed and summer programs at a university (of which Cambridge has a bunch–you may have heard of some of them).  Even eleven years ago, when I was downsized out of my job editing comics, it was essentially the same procedure: answer ads, sign up with employment companies that advertise as loss leaders (Oh, y’know, that job isn’t available anymore, but we have this terrific opportunity making angels dance on pins that would be a great match with your skills!), network (what used to be called “asking around”).

Not so much any more.  Yes, the papers have classified sections, but those are often for the kind of jobs I can’t afford to take (or for jobs that are so stratospherically out of my league that they must be advertised broadly so that the search committees can be sure they’ve done their due dilligence). Now it’s online.  UCSF and UC Berkeley and SF State have websites where you upload your resume and cover letter, establish a “profile,” and apply to whatever jobs take your fancy.  You can get them to send each week’s new listings so you can keep shooting off that profile to them.  Of course, there’s an unnerving sense of casting your bread the void; at least with a paper resume and envelope someone had to open the envelope.  No, on second thought, maybe they just dumped ’em into the trash can.  So this might be just as good, or better.

Then there’s networking.  I suck at networking because I was badly raised.  “Don’t put yourself forward, don’t be beholden to anyone, you should do it all on your own, no one wants to help you.”  But now, through the miracle of LinkedIn, I have millions of contacts: people from jobs I’ve held, schools I’ve attended, organizations I’ve belonged to.  I’ve been recommended by people I’ve worked with.  People on Facebook suggest things.  People on my Livejournal email me with possible work.

Nothing has panned out yet, of course.  Job hunting takes time.  Avocado, who has no memory of me with a full-time job, keeps saying “when are you going to get a job?” as if I had some control over the process.  What I keep telling her is that it’s like taking a car trip somewhere you haven’t been before: you know you’ll get there, but you don’t have familiar landmarks to tell you how soon you’ll reach the destination.  You just keep driving.

As If You Needed Another Reason

I got this in an email.  Pretty certain the gas prices are photoshopped in, but also pretty certain that they’re accurate.  I’ll be back tomorrow with my traditional Election Day exhortation to vote or else, but in the meantime–go fill the tank, why don’tcha.

I must also add that my Father designed that Arco logo sometime in the sixties.  Nice to see it’s still in use.

Down a Silent Alleyway

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins studio

I once wrote a book called The Stone War, about New York City, which is (as you know, Bob) my hometown, and about which I am a little crazy. Not the least of the fun I had writing the book was doing the research. If you tell people you’re writing a book they’ll tell you all sorts of things. They’ll let you in places you’d otherwise have no chance of entering (even if you don’t speak the language! I charmed myself into Malmaison outside Paris on a day when the museum wasn’t open because I said, in my execrable French, that I was a novelist doing research). Research is like wandering in a city you don’t know, finding yourself in alleys and back streets, wondering how the hell you get back to the main square, and yet unwilling to turn around because there might be something cool around the next corner.

And this, my friends, is how I came upon Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. Waterhouse was a British sculptor and naturalist who became a popularizer of dinosaurs in Victorian England and then the US. His dinosaurs–complete with period-appropriate frills and decorative ogees and such, are wonderful. I was immediately fascinated. The problem was that I saw Hawkins’s name and the information that interested me about him in an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History–but it was a traveling exhibit, and after it left, and I wanted to get confirmation of my memory and some more information, if could find nothing. It was as if I’d imagined the whole thing. Now, why, without prompting, would I imagine pieces of smashed up dinosaur under Central Park?

Following his success with the Crystal Palace Exhibition, Hawkins came to New York City with the intent of recreating on one side of the Atlantic what had been so successful on the other. In the years following the Civil War, he set up a studio on what is now the site of the American Museum of Natural History on the upper West Side of Manhattan, and began to assemble a new menagerie of sculptured dinosaurs. The plan was to set them up in a “Paleozoic Museum” in Central Park, which was then being landscaped under the direction of Frederick Law Olmstead, an ex-engineer officer in the Union army.

However, in 1871, before either the park or the dinosaurs were finished, New York City politics intervened. The corrupt Tammany Hall-Boss Tweed machine took control of city politics, and Hawkins and his dinosaurs were out. Those models that had been made were broken up and buried in the south end of the park, and Hawkins left New York a greatly embittered man. Although Central Park has been modified in the years since its inception, including the construction of the 8th Ave subway line which runs up the west side of the park, the remains of Hawkins’ dinosaurs have never been found. They still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields.

In the far off days when I was doing all this research, the internet was not the very cool and sometimes useful tool it now is; much of what you found, doing web-based research, was stuff put up by, um, enthusiasts with more enthusiasm than strict regard for the truth (for further elaboration on this point, find a copy of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s excellent “What Woo-Woo Means to Me” in Making Book) . I combed through all the books I could find, went to the Museum of the City of New-York (always include the hyphen; they get finicky about it) and the AMNH itself. Nothin’. I really began to think I’d hallucinated it.And then one day at the St. Agnes branch of the NYPL, while Sarcasm Girl was looking at books, I found a kids’ picture book which had the whole damned story in it. And while that might seem like a slender reed on which to place my faith, at least it proved that I hadn’t dreamed it all up.

Two of the dinosaurs were all but finished; the other four which had been comissioned were in various stages of construction. All of them were broken up, and the pieces sewn into the ground somewhere around 60th Street, on the east side. I used Mr. Hawkins’s dinosaurs–they have a good-sized role in the denouement of The Stone War. And on those occasions when I’m in the city and wandering through Central Park, I like to walk around at 60th and 5th Avenue near the Plaza Hotel and imagine Eloise leaving the building one day to be confronted by a life-size granite Iguanadon. It’s the sentimentalist in me.


April is the Greenest Month

If you drive east from San Francisco (going over the Bay Bridge first, of course) to pick up I-5 heading down to Los Angeles, you crest a hill and are suddenly in the midst of a wind farm. Up on the crest of the next hill, on either side of the freeway, are dozens of tall, elegant windmills, supplying power to Northern California. Not all the power we need, but lots. It’s one more nibble at the great mountainous problem of global warming. PG&E does a lot of advertising, supporting use of compact fluorescent bulbs (if everyone in California replaced one incandescent lightbulb with a CFL, PG&E says that would be the same as taking 40,000 cars off the road for a year) and their Climate Smart program. I always feel guilty that I can’t replace an incandescent lightbulb with a CFL, because we’re already using CFLs everywhere we can–but this says more about my propensity for guilt than anything else.

We’ve just signed up for the Climate Smart program, which is one of those carbon footprint offset deals: they calculate how much energy your household uses in a month, and assess a monthly fee–maybe $5 or so–to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from that energy use. It’s a small thing, maybe the cost of a couple of cups of coffee in a month, and allows me to feel a little better about the size of the household footprint on the earth. We recycle, we compost, but I always feel like it isn’t enough, and I’m frankly too lazy to do much else (well, and we just bought a whole slew of new energy-efficient appliances, but that’s a one-time thing). PG&E keeps saying that there’s no one solution to global warming (which sounds realistic to me), but that these small things make a difference. In that hope, I will keep collecting newspaper and plastic bottles and using CFLs, however small a gesture it may seem.

On the Lip of Chaos

A few weeks ago we took a deep breath and jumped off a cliff–which is to say, we ordered the cabinets for our new kitchen.

Forget the things you see on TLC and HGTV and all those other channels that cater to the home-remodeling-obsessed. Remodeling any part of your house is complex. And remodeling the kitchen is a particularly chaotic form of complex. Everything depends on everything else, see. So, for example, when we wanted to order the cabinets we couldn’t just order the cabinets. We had to pull up part of the vinyl flooring to find out what was underneath it (plywood on top of hardwood. Why would anyone put plywood on top of hardwood? For the same reason the former owners of our house covered all the panel-doors with veneer: to surgically remove all charm. That’s our theory, anyway). Once we knew what was under the vinyl, we had to choose the appliances, since their dimensions directly affect the layout of the cabinets.  Choose but not order, lest they show up weeks before everything else. Continue reading

WooWoo Con

On Sunday morning Sarcasm Girl and I flew down to LA for a Drama Department interview with Ithaca College. For her, of course. I already did my college interviews, thanks. The interviews (and auditions for the BFA candidates) were being held at the LAX Hilton in a sort of gang-bang operation where fifteen or twenty different college performace programs took over a part of the hotel and auditioned and interviewed from dawn to dusk. The interview went very well, we think. And there was the amusement–or bemusement–value of sitting around looking at dozens of high school senior dance students in almost identically idiosyncratic practice outfits sitting on the floor of the hallway stretching before their auditions. And, as Sarcasm Girl noted after hearing various of the vocal auditions from behind closed doors, “If I hear ‘Defying Gravity’ one more time I’ll have to kill someone.” It was like being on the studio lot where Fame was shot.

But the really cool, bizarro part of the day was that the Unified Auditions (as they were called) were not the only big deal in the LAX Hilton that day. Continue reading

¡Ya Voté!

Stupidity, or the Law of Unintended Consequences?

My first official shot at voting was in 1972, when I was a sophomore in college. It was an exciting, scary time to be voting, particularly if you were one of the newly franchised under-21 crowd. It was also an exciting, scary time to be a machine politician with an influx of passionate new voters. And so the pols of New London, Connecticut (where my college was located and where I registered to vote), worried that all the damned college kids would vote for people they didn’t want voted for, particularly in the local election. Now, to the best of my recollection, I didn’t much care about the local politics; anything below congress was pretty much lost on me. But the pols weren’t about to take a chance on me and the thousand or so new voters at my college. A few months before the actual election they challenged our registrations on grounds of residency. And stirred up a hornet’s nest.

Many people who had a passionate interest in the presidential election but had not much cared, up to that point, about the local scene, got interested Real Fast. Meetings were held. Lawyers for the group were found. At least one faculty member, as I recall, ran for local office after the challenge. I was one of a bunch of people who went door to door in New London, imploring people to vote for the new progressive slate that had not existed before the challenge. We organized rides. We countered the fearful protests of people who said they were afraid if they didn’t vote the “right” way they’d lose their public housing. We were, briefly, on fire.

And all because someone tried to take away our newly minted franchise. So here’s something I have in common with my Suffragist fore-mothers: I take voting seriously. Even when the cause seems lost or the choice of candidates sucks rocks, I savor the action itself, the pushing of toggles and levers (in New York) or the marking and scanning of my ballot (in California). When they were small, I took the girls with me to vote, so they’d know how important it was. It’s my annual shot at letting the world know how I think things should be run.

California is expecting a record turnout today: 56%. As records go, hardly impressive. As with so much in the Land of My Birth, we could do a hell of a lot better. If you’re in a Super Tuesday state, go swell the numbers. Vote. Bump it up to 57% or 59% or even 60%. Change the world.

Are You Sure You Want to Eat That?

I have a supermarket loyalty card. It’s that card you swipe at the cashier’s station that gives you “members only” discounts on certain products. Like, clementines one week are $9.99 for a box; the next week, with a Safeway card, they cost $4.99 (I, for one, wonder how seriously they expect me to take that “discount.” If they’d price the clems at $7 a box all the time they’d probably make the same amount of money–but then the customer would miss that sense of getting a deal). Be that as it may, I have family to feed and I wield my Safeway card with brio.

So the other day I heard an ad on the radio for a new service of Safeway’s and, in my ceaseless quest to go out and get the goods for my fellow Brains and Brain-eaters, I signed up at once for FoodFlex(tm).

What is FoodFlex, you ask? I always knew that Safeway was tracking what we bought–I mean, if their computer can keep track of how many cups of coffee I get at the Starbucks stand in the market (the 10th is free!) it’s certainly able to track everything else I pick up. But now they’re making a virtue of it: sign up for FoodFlex and Safeway’s computer will track all the food you buy and give you reports about your nutritional intake. Buy broccoli and tofu and you’ll get a gold star (well, I’m making up the gold star, but I imagine the report will shine upon you). But if you’re having a party and buy two bottles of wine, a bag of Tostitos, two boxes of Malomars, and a rack of lamb, what do you think the report is going to say?

It only takes a small jump to the point where your grocery cart (many of which are WiFi capable and can broadcast ads for products depending on your position in the store–stand near the Rice A Roni and **BAM** there’s an ad urging you to pick up some San Francisco Treats) notes that you’ve stopped in front of the potato chips and tssks at you.

Grocery Cart: Again with the chips? That’s not very healthy is it?

Me: We have people coming over. I won’t eat any, I promise.

Grocery Cart: Uh Huh. You know, you could at least get the baked chips. They’re not as bad for you. And for God’s sake, no onion dip! Salsa is much better for you. (the cart rolls along until we pause in front of the meat section). Pork chops? You didn’t buy that “other white meat” crap, did you? Please. You can serve nice white meat chicken.

Me: Great. You want to tell me what else I could serve?

Grocery Cart: (coyly) Oh, I wouldn’t presume. Two bottles of wine? Really? Don’t you think some sparkling cider and a nice fruit bowl would be a good way to end the evening? (Speaks loudly, to attract the attention of other shoppers). You don’t need all that alcohol, do you? I mean, it’s not a problem for you, is it?

Me: (head in hands) Grape Nuts and organic pomegranate juice okay with you?

Grocery Cart: Now you’re talking!

When I get my first report from Big Brother FlexFood I’ll report back.

Turf War

Dramatis Personae: Me and Emily the Dog. Place: our sunroom, where my favorite arm chair for working is located. Local temperature: 54 degrees. I am sitting in the arm chair (squishy brown leather, able to hold two adults, tightly, or one adult and one child, or two children, or one human and one dog).

Me (shivering): Brrrrr.

Emily (moseying into the room): Hey, let’s cuddle. (Lopes up into chair, shoulders her way into 3/4 of the space) That’s better.

Me: Hey, I was sitting here. Share.

Emily (expanding more than a 40 pound dog could reasonably be expected to do): This is sharing.

I push back. Skirmish ensues, at the end of which we are each in possession of roughly half the chair. Resigned to temporary sharing, Emily noses her head under my left arm and begins to radiate warmth. I can feel my fingers begin to loosen up. I write for a while, check email. Occasionally Emily sighs gustily; with each sigh she expands slightly. At the end of an hour I realize that she is now in possession of something like 3/4 of the chair, and my right hip, jammed into the arm of the chair, is beginning to go numb.

Me: Shove over, Em.

Emily: Urgghhh. (This is a sound roughly resembling that of Lurch on The Addams Family when asked to do something.) Continue reading

Virtue and the Season

A while back we discussed the seven deadly sins, and that was fun. At some point we may do the seven virtues (or even the seven dwarfs…seven lends itself to all manner of foolishness). But I’ve been involved hands-on in a lot of Girl Scout-related virtue of late, and I gotta say, I’ve enjoyed it. As the nice philanthropists note in A Christmas Carol, “at this festive season of the year…it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present …” Well, some things haven’t changed.

All this explains why on Monday Avocado and I spent the day at Borders, wrapping gifts for tips, as part of a Girl Scout service project. The money goes to buy gift-cards for the teenagers in foster-care for whom “Toys for Tots” programs don’t really cut it. The week before the girls in the troop had spent a morning buying presents–books and toys–for younger kids. And there are the “stockings for the homeless” that the girls spent an evening stuffing: tube-socks filled with toiletries, candies and other small nicenesses (whenever I go to a convention I bring back the hotel shampoos and lotions in preparation for this Christmas project). And at the end of the week Avocado’s troop will rally at 7:45 am at the food bank to buy food which they will then prepare and serve to 200-300 homeless people.

That’s a lot of virtue for one kid, but I have to say that Avocado eats it up. As do I, as her escort and co-conspirator in all these projects. But Girl Scouts won’t last forever (I mean, the Scouts may, but Avocado’s involvement with them very likely won’t). So I’ve begun to realize that I want to find opportunities to do this sort of thing without tagging along with Avocado’s troop. In the meantime, what with life being chaotic and stuff, it’s cool to have this sort of opportunity come to us.

One of the things about having kids is the necessity of moral education. Which isn’t just the right-n-wrong stuff–the “what would you do if you found a wallet on the street” sort of ethics–but also the “no man is an island” civic involvment thing. San Francisco, with its large and highly visible homeless population, makes a great lab for this…if you’re willing to do more than hand over the occasional dollar bill and scurry by. So, at this festive season of the year we’ll be frosting cupcakes for the homeless and, as importantly, smiling and making eye contact.