Be Vewwy, Vewwy Quiet

17 March 2001

Hey, munchkins.

Sorry about that. I just spent a large portion of my afternoon talking with Mary Anne, so I feel entitled. But just this once, I promise. (In case you don't know, Mary Anne calls her journal readers "munchkins." It actually works for her.)

In many ways, it was a lovely afternoon. We got to The Other Change of Hobbit in plenty of time. Got to see Tim and Megan long enough to exchange hugs and hullos, which was about what I expected, and then Nalo Hopkinson started her reading. I'd heard her read before, at the ICFA when I won the Asimov Award, so I knew it would be cool. It was. She's one of those "Oh, you could read the phone book" people. Also, if you've never heard Trinidadian (Trinidadan? sounds like it should have something to do with Tristan Tzara) dialect, it's a little harder to read than if you have.

[Note: I was going to put in a link to my Asimov Award story when I referred to it. It should be off the Asimov's magazine main page under featured stories, but it's not loading right now. After waiting a year and a half to have it there in the first place, this annoys me more than it perhaps should.]

Then we went with Mary Anne and Nalo and a bunch of other people to Au Coquelet. Heather and David from the Strange Horizons staff were there, and various other people, some of whom made me smile and some of whose names I thought I should recognize from somewhere. In fact, I don't think anybody didn't fit one or the other of those designations, which is pretty cool.

The problem: my cold has finally decided to start behaving like a cold and has attacked my throat. Not my sinuses and not my lungs. Just my throat. In a way this was a relief, since the way it had been behaving before was just plain confusing. So despite drinking a whole bottle of water on the train and during the reading, and despite a mocha for warmth and ice water for refreshment, my voice kept waning and waning. I always feel like I need to be charming with new people, and I feel that I failed utterly, in large part because I was physically incapable. But I had fun despite my lack of charm, and I think Mark and Timprov did, too. (My first hint was when Timprov said, "That was fun," and Mark said, "Yeah.") We got me some Lifesavers and another bottle of water and got back on the train around 5:00. I now have pretty much no voice.

This happens to me from time to time. Right now, I still have whispers left. This is good. I have been at stages where I literally could not whisper. Of course, usually that's accompanied by the Cough Of Death, the one that makes me sound like I've been doing nothing but smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey for the past twenty-two years. But while I do have whispers left, they're very little whispers, and they hurt, so I'm trying to save them. Which leaves me writing away furiously in my paper journal -- and now perhaps having a long entry here, depending on how long I hold up -- because stuff comes up, and I can't just casually say it. I'm reduced to gesture and little whistles and breathy noises, for the most part. It's interesting how conversation changes around here when I'm present but not part of it. Sometimes when I'm lying in the bedroom going to sleep, I can hear Mark and Timprov talking, but that's different. They do it differently.

An interesting fact: I'm supposed to be 5'11". I always knew this was true. But there's a web site I found when I was doing some random research into the AMA today when I found a web site that will predict your kid's height from his or her gender, age, height, and weight, and your and the other parent's adult heights. I don't have a kid, so I decided to see how it worked on me. So I entered my stats at age 9, with a rough guess at the weight. 5'11". I changed my weight guess in both directions. Still 5'11". So all of you mean folks who have ever teased me about being short: I guess you were right. (I'm 5'6"! This is not short!)

One of the things Nalo said in her question-and-answer was that she always thought writing was something daddies did; her father, Slade, was a pretty famous Caribbean writer. This struck me as perfectly reasonable in some ways, yet odd in others. Writers are often talking about when they figured out that they, too could write books. And I'm always interested in hearing these stories, because I have no analog to them. None. I was talking to Tim about it earlier, and I said that I don't remember what it's like not to have several story ideas in development at a given time. Perhaps a more accurate way to say this would be that I don't know what it's like. My earliest verifiable memory is when I was 15 months old, and as far as I can tell, I have always been making up stories, always been aware of them as fiction rather than fact, and always at least intended to get them written down and perhaps published. I think the magnitude of this "always" is difficult to comprehend. (Humility came somewhat late to me. When I was a very small girl, I knew that writers were just people like me, only sadly rather less competent. They had a habit of ending their stories in ways that I found decidedly unsatisfying.)

So when my mother tries to tell me that people's careers are not who they really are, there is and always will be a part of me that responds with polite but blank incomprehension. The grown-up part of me recognizes what she's saying, the truth and necessity of it and its applicability to my mother's own life. But the little kid, the part we all have that assumes that the world is like we are, that's the part that squinches up her forehead and says, "Momma, what are you talking about?"

Another thing Nalo brought up is that race is the elephant in the room for American discussion. I think that's totally true. I think one reason it's true is that for a lot of white folks, anything they say can be trumped immediately by a "person of color." (Ahem. I am the only person I know who has little enough color not to qualify for this term. Although that may be the point.) In my freshman dorm, we were forced to attend a series of skits about Issues In College Life and then Guided Discussion about them. (You could hear the capitals, I swear.) And my next-door neighbor, June, was the only non-white on the stairwell. (Funky dorm. We didn't have floors.) So when discussion came around to the racism skit, it was like the parting of the Red Sea around June: everybody looked directly away from her. I was sitting next to her, so it was pretty clear to me. And when they finished a nervous comment about Racism Being Bad, they would dart a little glance over: had their comment been implicitly racist? Was June, the arbiter of all things Diverse for the group, going to descend upon them in her Multicultural Wrath? Well, she didn't, although she and Michelle and I did have a good laugh about it later that night. But the implicit assumption is that white folks don't know anything about race relations. And considering that that's a big chunk of the people involved in the discussions in this country, it's no wonder things get a little shallow.

But there are some things you just don't confront people about. For example, when June stopped hanging out with Michelle and me after freshman orientation, we asked her a few times if she wanted to come to this or that, but we never said, "So why do you only make friends with the Black Student Organization people?" And the time some of June's girl friends sat around in my living room waiting for June and talked trash about a guy they knew because he was dating a white girl -- I didn't go charging out into the living room and ask them why the hell it mattered that she was white. Maybe I should have. It would have made things a little more interesting -- but it might have broken the truce that we had, where nobody screamed, "Racist!" at anybody and nothing got really changed. Maybe I did something that they wanted to scream at me for, not just as a person but as a white girl. Maybe a little screaming would have been all for the best.

When I think about race relations, I think about my grandparents' involvement with housing integration in the Sixties and how they had black friends across the street for my whole childhood. It was normal to me, but I found out later that it had been a big deal that it was no big deal, that six black families had moved into that neighborhood with no fuss -- and yet that they know, to this day, how many black families moved in, in the first years. I was always fascinated with the palms of Julius' hands. His skin was so dark, but his palms were so pale. I liked to hold them and just look at them. Of course, I was probably two at the time, but he'd just let me. Absolute physical opposites, the tiny little blond kid and the big old black guy, wandering around Minnesota together eating ice cream.

So I figured out today which women I'm uncomfortable around. I think. I'm uncomfortable around a fairly large percentage of women and almost no men at all, and I was trying to figure out why that was. Karen, for example, made me instantaneously comfortable in our one and only meeting. So did Mary Anne, and pretty much every other woman present today. Yet I was a little skittish around Megan the whole first night I met her. But I have a theory now, and it even explains why I'm not skittish around Megan any more. So it must be a good theory. Okay. I'm only comfortable around people who will tell me I'm full of it.

See, I'm pretty willing to tell people when they're full of it. Perhaps too willing. But that's another issue. And almost all men will disagree with people in conversation. But there's a big subset of women who will smile and go, "Uh huh" and then go home and tell the other people they talk to how full of it you were. I don't mind if people consider what I say and don't decide I was all wet until later. It's when they're thinking it and absolutely can't say it, that's what I can't stand. Because then I feel like I can't trust them, and I feel patronized (like I'm not worth arguing with!), and also I feel like I'm supposed to be dissembling somehow. And I'm really bad at that. (Or so I'd like you to think....)

They don't even have to tell me every single time. You know, I'm full of it a lot. It's just that I can't be comfortable if they can't.

So there are women like Karen, who will just out and tell you, or so I gather. I like that. Or there are women like Mary Anne, where they may have been talking for a good five minutes before you realize that they're totally turning your point on its head and showing you how full of it you truly are. That's just fine, too. There are people like Michelle, who will sometimes just squinch up her lips and give me the look that says I've taken things into ridiculous territory. All that's great, because it's something I can address.

Most people aren't very feisty when they have food poisoning. Which is one reason I wasn't as comfortable around Megan last Sunday but was just fine on Tuesday, when her natural ability to proclaim me full of it returned, even if she didn't use it. And I think I can map Jen's and my friendship by how willing she was to just throw down her book and say, "No, Marissa, you're wrong, and here's why."

It's a good theory. It covers lots of ground, and I'm having a hard time finding any points where it doesn't meet up. I had some problems in my other life as a religious agitator, because for ages, people would praise everything I'd said. Everything. This is obviously a sign that what I was saying was not interesting. So I'd try again. And then they'd say, "Oh, what a lovely young lady! We're so lucky to have you!" I had plenty more radical ideas to give them, but luckily we got radical enough rather quickly, or else they got sick of being "lucky."

I have more to say -- don't I always! -- but The Cold has decreed that the era of mind over body has ended, and it's time to just lie down and be icky for awhile. And I guess I've gotten my way for long enough that it can have its. G'night, munchkins.

(That was the last time. I promise.)

Oh, I find I have one thing to say about it being St. Patrick's Day: the world is worse off without my old Irish uncle in it. Uncle Morey died at New Year's, and he was Good People and hilarious to boot. Not an easy person, but an interesting one. And very missed.

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