In Which Our Heroine Writes a Series of Open Letters

17 December 2003

Dear Winter,

Baby, you know I love you. Why do you keep testing our love this way? When it was just the snow, we were so happy together. But now there's this ice underneath it. I don't like it when you play rough. I'm not that kind of girl. Don't think you can treat me like this just because you know I'm not leaving you for California. I've been a big propagandist for you in my stories, and if you keep treating me like this, I'm going to abandon that for the praise of my first love, Autumn. So next time I'm out shoveling the driveway, I expect to escape with at least two of the following intact: 1) the sand-scattering oleo tub; 2) the skin of my right hand; 3) my dignity. I really mean it.


Dear New Cookie Sheets,

You rock. You put the Old Cookie Sheets to shame. On you, my pepparkakor look perfect, my meringues sublime, my teacakes delectable. And they slide off you with no effort from me. You have restored my faith in modern materials science. Thank you.


Dear Grandma Elaine,

When I was younger, I used to wonder about whether you'd have been proud of me if you'd lived to know me. I wondered whether you'd know what to make of me, whether you'd read my books, whether you'd like them. For speculative writers, this is not always an open-and-shut question, not even with such doting beings as grandmothers. Too many anxious relatives have wanted their offspring to do something more conventional.

Now I'm a bit more confident in my work. You were the sensible one when you were alive, my dad has implied, and I wouldn't have needed you to love my books, and I don't think you would have needed to dislike them.

So now I want you to know that I used your wheat sheaf in my kitchen, and the rolling pin Aunt Ellen passed along, when I made my Christmas cookies. I think you would have liked my pepparkakor. I think you would have laughed at my confession that I was not a good Scando girl for running out of almond extract at Christmas. I think we would have had little running jokes, little ways in which we said exactly the same thing, just like I do with my living grandma. And just like I do with Aunt Ellen. She hasn't tried to be you, Grandma, but she's been herself, and that's been grandmother enough for me.

I guess I wanted you to know that you're a presence in my life even though you never could be physically. I keep piecing you together in my head, a little at a time -- not obsessively, just a bit at a time, a season for one thing and then another. The people who loved you remember you fondly and frequently enough that I can do that. It's good.


Dear Jon,

I think I take you for granted because you're fun and our conversations are never angsty and never have been. Considering the time of our lives in which we've known each other, that's quite a track record. Anyway, I keep realizing how glad I am I'll see you today, and that's a good thing. Watch the steps: they're icy.


Dear Momma,

You're the only one I can trust these days. Every other recipe lies to me about how many cookies will ensue from a given amount of dough. Yesterday they said a recipe would make four and a half dozen, and I got 21 cookies out of that sucker. Why are all these others such dirty rotten liars? Why is there no trust and no love in the world of cookbooks and cooking magazines? I would only make your recipes ever again, but that would be absolutely contrary to everything you've ever taught me. Sigh.


Dear Cal Thomas,

I'm afraid I'm a bit behind on your columns, since I don't follow them on purpose. I just got the one that ran in the December 10 World-Herald, since my folks bring me the editorials and the comics to read. And I think you're so wrong you could hardly have been more wrong if you tried.

Here's what you said: "Contemporary students know more about sex than about Shakespeare, more about the environment than about T. S. Eliot, more about popular culture than about Thomas Paine." I'm sure the parallel construction warmed your heart there, but I think you're wrong in all but the last case and partially wrong even there.

If American high school students were being taught "too much" about sex, they would be able to rattle of effectiveness rates of different forms of birth control. They would know the causes (viral, bacterial, etc.) of various STDs, how they can be transmitted, what the symptoms are, whether they can be cured, and if not, what other treatments are possible. They don't. If American high school students were being taught "too much" about the environment, they'd be able to figure a simple parts-per-million contaminant rate and have some idea of what it meant for various substances. They'd be able to discuss both proven and potential problems for various power sources; they'd know about rates of reforestation. They don't. They do know a lot of pop culture trivia, but most of it is not from school in the first place. If schools were teaching them "too much" about pop culture, they'd be able to coherently discuss the effects of folk music on the labor and anti-war movements, just to take an example. Can they? No.

The problem is not that American high school students are being taught the wrong things. The problem is that they're not being taught much of anything. You're all upset by multiculturalism, but I would far rather have a student who has learned about Borneo or Peru or Zimbabwe with depth and rigor than one who has skimmed the shallowest surfaces of American history and culture. A kid who knows the biology of disease or environment in detail has been well-trained in science and has had to pick up some background in how the world functions and how we find out. This would be a huge step up from the training my high school provided.

I know you had a good rant on, but trust me, it is at least as much fun to rail against incompetence and lack of rigor. And also, incidentally, more factually accurate. Give it a shot. You might like it.

Quite sincerely,
Marissa Lingen

Dear Ants,

You may be able to get Wendy, but you can't get me. I left California. Ha ha. Now leave her alone.

No love lost,

Dear Back,

Stop whining. I took you to the chiropractor Monday, and I'll take you again Friday. I know I threw you down the driveway, but I did that to Head, Butt, Arms, and Legs, too, and you don't hear them waking me up to complain.

Oh, wait. Yes you do. Well, never mind then.

Reluctantly yours,

Dear Post Office,

Give us our mail! Give it to us now! It's ours! The thieves, the filthy little thieves! We wants it back!

Gollum gollum,

Dear Westcott Library,

Your Y.A. section rocks my world. Thank you for the Garret Freymann-Weyr book. I really enjoyed it. I'm going to enjoy Abhorsen next. I know you're kind of little and occasionally pathetic, and I know I'll probably be frustrated with your nonfiction by the end of January. On the other hand, it may be worth it for the glory that is your Y.A. section. See you soon.


Dear Peter Jackson,

Just because I didn't see your movie after midnight last night doesn't mean I don't love you. We'll get there. I promise we will. I just don't want to brave the hordes of your other ravening fans quite yet. Really we're quite eager.

Respectfully yours,

Dear fairy tales,

Leave my brain alone! I don't need to write anything at all about Little Red Riding Hood. You're wrong. Go away. You'll know you can come back when I pick up Spindle's End, but now I'm reading Abhorsen, which means you need to let me be. All right, okay: I'll work "The Beast's Apprentice" today. But let me do some hard SF after that, interspersed with the Not The Moose. Please? I'd really appreciate it.


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