Gas Station

13 January 2002

It's not at all foggy this morning. I can see the gas station across the street quite clearly. And so I think of my uncle Phil.

My great-grandmother is old. (No, this does bear on Uncle Phil, be patient.) She comes from a class and a generation when working meant that you went somewhere, did a job, and came back. You either had a boss or you had employees, but you were part of a command structure somewhere. That was How Things Were.

My uncle Phil became a consultant years ago, and he's quite successful at it. However. He works at home. Nobody is his boss, and he doesn't run an office with underlings. (Just see how far you get if you try to make my aunt Ellen your underling. Ohh, just try it.) Therefore, in my great grandmother's mind, he has no job. I think she's stopped trying to treat them as if they're about to starve any minute now, but she still thinks Uncle Phil is doing nothing most days.

For awhile, when she was feeling better, she would watch out the window of her apartment, and whenever they'd bring the gas prices down, she would call him, "Oh, Phil! They're down to $1.179. You should go fill up the tank!" Uncle Phil would be working -- because he does that -- and would say, "When I finish this, okay, Pearl?" And then she'd call again, "Oh, Phil, hurry! It's down to $1.169!" So eventually Uncle Phil would go fill up his car, waving up at Great-Grandma as he did so.

And then when he got home: "Oh, darn it, Phil, it went down to $1.149!"

So I have this urge, when I call Uncle Phil on his birthday on Wednesday, to start the conversation with, "Hey, gas is down to $1.359! You should go fill up the tank!"

Yesterday I said I didn't like the Woody Allen movies I've seen except for "Deconstructing Harry," and I do have to admit to another one: "Antz." I think part of the thing with "Antz" is that I don't have to look at Woody Allen's face (it makes me nervous), and part of it is the opening and closing stuff with the shrink. That was so beautifully self-mocking. And then, of course, his character managed to actually get things done, which helps.

I'm not sure if I'll like the whole of Perdido Street Station yet, but I do like some of the parts very much. Miéville is still kind of focused on muck, but Perdido doesn't feel as gratuitously nasty as King Rat, which I consider the ultimate diet book. And there are such charming throwaway details as drunken students making golems that fall apart. Worth reading, even if the jury is still out on how much I like it.

Evidently there are some names I just can't type. "Mathilde" is one of them. Of course, when I was saying that I couldn't type it, I managed. But last night when I was actually trying to use it in a story.... It's strange. I've had this story idea since fall of '98. It's the only ghost story idea I've ever had, likely the only one I ever will. But it just wasn't falling together. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to set it in the late 1800s -- yes, I know, a Victorian ghost story, how original! But it seemed to work that way...only I still had no urge to write it. Then yesterday Timprov said, "You could set it in Germany."

Of course! I could set it in Germany! In Aachen, in fact! And up it popped, more or less fully formed and ready to go. I'm not sure why Germany was the necessary brilliant insight, since the story could theoretically have been set in any place or time. But it just needed to be in Aachen, evidently.

Who knows how these things work?

So, this evening: up to Berkeley for writers' group meeting. I've read the stories but still need to write up my crits. Mark is still sick. Timprov is still sick. I'm still not sick, which seems just short of miraculous.

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