Tuesday, December 30, 2003

So first you should go back and see the two phantom journal entries that, in the hubbub of the last seven months and the last week particularly, never saw the light of webday until now -- this one, but most especially this one.

Writing news:

So I have this chapbook out. It appears to be a limited edition of 500, and of this writing -- it's just been actually printed some weeks ago, mind you -- around 130 have been sold and many more distributed to reviewers, etc. No actual reviews have come out yet, but here's hoping. If you want one of these things, you might want to get it quick. It's small, mind you, and most of the contents have been on the web anyway, so you can read them for free. But it's only five bucks, and 25% of that goes to charity - the Grameen foundation, which has a very interesting, leveraged model for fighting poverty and producing social change.

Two magazines that are currently on the stands have my name on the cover -- a moody, slipstreamy short, "The Valley of the Giants", is in the debut issue of the glossy, impressive, upscale Argosy, which is a fascinating publishing coup, with ads in it from the Gap and Absolut and Lexus and so forth, great production values, interesting writers, and an eclectic taste in fiction of various genres; and the January 2003 Asimov's has a classically SF all-alien tale, "Embracing-the-New".

I also sold the literary erotica story I wrote for Mary Anne, "Duet in a Quiet Room", to the Blowing Kisses anthology she's editing, and delivered a story to Frank Wu and Jay Lake's chaintale anthology, due from Wheatland in fall 2004. Oh, and it looks like somebody is buying an option to make a short film of "The Orange".

Holy mackerel, and now I am supposed to summarize everything that happened since August. Wow. Well --

We moved from Basel, Switzerland to Falls Church, Virginia, living at my parents' house in Arlington, Virginia for a few months along the way. This involved itself many, many adventures: packing all of our stuff, couches, beds, and so forth, by hand into a transatlantic shipping container; after which, I went on a three-day gourmet disco corporate scavenger hunt to Slovenia, as my last days of work; then rebagging 1540 liters of incorrectly bagged trash (the Swiss garbage pickup folks are very particular), in the rain, at 5 a.m. the morning of our departure, which turned out not to be the morning of our departure at all, because the American embassy in Switzerland called to say that Esther couldn't have a visa, and we spent several days of begging, pleading, and faxing documents back and forth across the Atlantic to score her a green card -- the final dossier we had to assemble was as thick as a hardcover fantasy novel; and arriving just in time for a three-day power outage in Isobel, a hurricane that felled hundred-foot-tall trees all over my parents' arboreal neighborhood, crushing the third-story roof of the house two doors down. (When power returned, Aviva started dancing happily and declaring (in Swiss-German) "the light is back!" and then she rushed to the TV room and cried "ich will Sesamstrom aaluege" -- which means something like "I want to watch Sesamtricity Street").

Upon moving to America, Aviva decided to boycott English entirely, and to insist on me and Esther speaking Swiss-German at all times. This didn't last. Within a few weeks her dolls were speaking English (Aviva still refused to speak it directly, but she would quote her dolls), and one day Aviva followed, going from stonewalling to voluble and fluid and continual, if very funny, English in the space of one conversation. I am somehow surprised that she has this thick, and really cute, Swiss accent.

I found a new job: contracting for Compuware's professional services division at the National Science Foundation as a Java guru and (I kid you not, this is what my boss said) "high level change agent". Five days a week and only two weeks of vacation -- Comit it ain't -- but as it's the government, the days are really eight-hour days, and I seem to have carte blanche to wander around and Make Things Better -- which I really like. My boss really liked the part of my resume where I "introduced and championed" lots of spiffy things like eXtreme Programming and JUnit.

I officiated at a Jewish wedding (although I was known as the Rabbi of the Cheese, the technical term for what I was is mesader kiddushin, or the "one who organizes the blessings". In Judaism, you don't actually need a rabbi to get married: the bride and the groom marry each other -- no one marries them to each other). The text of the ceremony is here. Pics: 1    2    3    4   

I went to the World Fantasy Convention, hung with many fine folks, met Karen Meisner, the new Strange Horizons' editor, met Gavin and Kelly in the flesh, and several book editors and agents, hung with the Argosy posse, hung with all the Small Beer folks and Susan Groppi and the Ratbastards and Jay Lake and Frank Wu and Ted Chiang and so on and so forth, hung with my Blue Heaven homies chance, Nancy, Karin, and Chris, sold a bunch of chapbooks, signed chapbooks sitting next to John Kessel, moderated a panel on slipstream, gave a very well attended reading, and generally had a lot of fun. I also went to a local DC con, Capclave, where I met more fun people, was on a Jewish Science Fiction panel with William Tenn and Michael Burstein (which was really cool), sold a few chapbooks, and had more fun. It was mny first small, local con, and it took a while to adjust my expectations down from WorldCon and WFC -- but, with less high-powered schmoozing going on, I found I had time to do fannish things like play geeky games (Munchkin Fu, for one) and watch movies, and that was a nice change, in a way. This was all a while ago, and it's late, so I'm sure to later think, "oh hell -- and of course I met them too, and had that great conversation about that!"... but my mind is mush right now.

We found a house to rent -- a lovely little rambler with a big yard, in a neighborhood in walking distance to the Metro and to where I work. The househunt was insane -- we looked at over thirty places, calculated various variables and stuck dozens of pins in a map of the area, each labelled with a letter (we quickly ran out of Latin letters and had to go to Greek and Hebrew). Part of our thoroughness was due to the fact that we were trying to do a joint house search with good friends of ours who are moving out here from California. Depressingly, the joint part floundered: on paper, as it were, none of us had all that extreme criteria, but each of us had the experience of going into a house that all the others thought was fine and just going -- "ack -- no. I can't live here." There's a subtle, resonant connection between a person and the place they live, not something -- I learned to my chagrin -- that can easily be manhandled. Getting me and Esther to agree was hard enough -- getting both couples to agree on two houses within bathrobe-walking distance -- which had been our goal -- was impossible. But I got a househunting story out of it, "Start the Clock" (which will be out from Wheatland Press in a themed anthology in fall 2004, and I may sell first serial rights somewhere else as well, before that).

Much reading of children's books with Aviva inspired another story, "Orphans", which I read to a writing group here that I'm thinking of joining. I think they liked it.

After a prodigiously geeky amount of research (Insurance Institutes of Highway Safety data. Department of Transportation data. Consumer Reports. Checkbook. The Motley Fool. Craigslist. The Washington Post. Carfax. Many excel spreadsheets.), we bought a 2000 Camry, like everyone else in America.

We spent a long time preparing for Noah's birth (well, at the time, in utero, he was still called Sigmund Pfludenz). We took Bradley Method natural childbirth classes. Esther got very good at relaxation and meditation and self-hypnosis for pain management -- we were determined to avoid epidural anaesthesia if we could, partly out of concern for the effects of the drug on the baby, partly because of the highly increased risk of a Caesarean (and America's appallingly high rate of Caesarean section -- it's over 25%, I think, and research suggests that only about 3% would be necessary with adequate preparation and appropriate procedures), and partly to make the post-birth healing as quick as possible and interfere as little as possible with the bonding and attachment and imprinting that goes on, very powerfully, right after birth if baby and parents are awake for it.

We did, in fact, avoid an epidural, but because Esther's water broke early and contractions didn't start soon enough, they talked us into administering Petocin to start the birth artificially (and they were not nearly as easygoing as the Swiss doctors had been about turning it off once contractions were underway -- though we did, with some haggling, get them to turn it down). Whereas Aviva's birth had taken over 46 hours from the first contraction, Noah's took 2 hours -- but it hurt a lot more. Esther's pain management skills were amazing, though, and once again I felt like we were a good team, like I could protect her and soothe her and arrange her to relax. I wasn't as terrified going in this time; I felt like we knew the drill. It was still harrowing.

And the rush of euphoria that greeted Noah's arrival was as overwhelming, too. I burst out crying when I saw him. As with Aviva, I took off my shirt and held him to my chest, the two of us covered with a blanket, and gazed into his eyes and sang to him, while they sewed Esther up (which took an unnervingly long time). His eyes were closed at first, and they opened up gradually as I sang to him.

Oddly, given that they can't do anything much and their brains are still full of sprawling, undifferentiated neurons about to be massively winnowed, a newborn baby does not seem like a blob or a blank slate. Rather, looking into Noah's eyes, I had a very powerful sense of personhood. A newborn seems more personful, more there, more fully themselves, in some regards, than an adult. The soul is there, available, like a flame, unfiltered by masks. Aviva had seemed, above all, to have a certain elegance: curious, mischevious, fiery, and with a certain sophistication, dignity, poise. And indeed, this is in her; sometimes it seems odd, when she is busy making high pitched nonsense sounds and dropping spaghetti on the floor, to think of her as elegant, but really, she is -- for one thing, she has never flung spaghetti about intentionally, as other toddlers do, and for another, she will often apologize when it is pointed out to her that she is making a mess; but more to the point, however silly and goofball she is being (and she has an unending supply of goofball silliness, to be sure) there is something wry and gleeful and wholehearted about her silliness which somehow partakes of elegance.

So Noah, in those first moments, seemed a little philosopher king. Sagely, peaceful, accepting of circumsances, if a little grumpy. He came out like a rocket, on that Petocin, bruising himself and Esther, but he bore no one any ill will about it. He was eager to be in the world. My father, independently, upon arriving that night and taking a look at Noah, pronounced: "he's a man of peace."

Aviva is a devoted oilder sister. She came to the hospital the night Noah was born and held him, as excited as anyone had ever been about anything. My parents took her back that night to sleep at their house, and I followed them hours later, leaving Noah and Esther in the hospital. Aviva woke up in the middle of the night and the first thing she said was: "where's Noah?"

After Aviva and my folks left, and Noah breastfed (like a champ), I followed him to the nursery, where he had to be bathed and measured and have goo put in his eyes and be parked under a heat lamp. None of this happened in Switzerland, and much of this is nonsensical from the point of view of health. The goo in the eyes is because of an old Virginia law still on the books -- it's to guard against syphillis from the mother, despite the fact that it's nowadays 100% verifiable that Esther does not have syphilis. I asked the nurse there if the bathing had any health benefits for Noah (since I had read that, in fact, the waxy stuff he comes out with is actually protective). No, she told me -- it's to protect the hospital workers from Noah, or rather from Esther's bodily fluids. The heat lamp is necessary because of the bathing. And so on.

I was worried about all this intervention, since we'd been so coddled in Switzerland, but Noah was relatively unperturbed. I stood by him for the whole 4 or 5 hours, singing and stroking his scalp -- every time he would start to cry, he would soothe immediately at my touch. Around us were ten or twelve other babies, unattended by parents, wailing their lungs out. (The nurses said this was good for their lungs; they seemed to appreciate my devotedness, but be mildly critical that I was not letting Noah cry enough. His heart rate was only 100 beats a minute because, the nurse said, "he's such a mellow little guy" -- I therefore intentionally stopped stroking him at the end, so they wouldn't give us any trouble about releasing him, and sure enough, the heart rate went up to 116).

A few days after Noah came home from the hospital, he developed a fever and went right back in. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. We spent practically a whole night at the emergency room of Arlington Hospital. I stayed for almost the whole set of procedures, soothing and comforting Noah. But it was different than the nursery -- he was often in real pain. The ER doctors and nurses tried again and again to find a vein they could put an IV in -- he had such tiny little veins, and the ones in his ankles and wrists (they had to bend the hands and feet in horrible directions to get at them) were quickly blown. The pediatrics doctors were better at it -- they used the veins in his scalp. He had to have a spinal tap and a catheter. The worst part for me was when the doctors enlisted me, rather than in soothing him, in holding him down for the catheter. I'm a little phobic about catheters anyway. Esther and Noah stayed in the hospital for three days, and Aviva and I stayed at home, keeping ourselves and our germs away from them. I was constantly in fear for Noah's life, and perhaps the hardest part was being upbeat and consoling and confident for Aviva the whole time -- keeping her world normal.

Now, thank God, they're back and they're safe.

Moving and jobhunting and carhunting and househunting put a big dent in my progress on the novel. So did Noah's birth and subsequent illness. In between, though, there was about a month when I was on an incredible roll -- and I hope the roll can be resurrected now. I've discovered that what I really crave, as a writer, is routine. I had the perfect routine, waking up between 5 and 6 am, walking a mile in the winter semidarkness to the bus, daydreaming on the bus for ten minutes, walking another half mile to a cafe, and writing there for two or three hours before going to work at 9 am. Eating lunch at my desk, heading home at five, dinner and playing with Aviva, in bed by 9 pm. Perfect. I was nailing a chapter a day, writing every day, "leaving the car parked downhill" -- never finishing a writing session at the end of a chapter, but always somewhere I would have the itch to get back and finish.

Hanukah was lovely. Aviva is past the stage of simply liking ripping up the packaging because ripping is fun -- as on the second birthday. This birthday, Aviva is quite clear on the concept of possessions, she is aware that she is getting a New Thing, she can extrapolate into her future, a future of Aviva Having a New Thing, with excitement. But she doesn't yet have any need to play it cool (not around us, at least), nor is there any internal critic to compare a given gift with the Universe of All Possible Gifts and find it wanting. She is into opening the present, not primarily (as a year ago) as a kinesthetic experience, but rather as a pure moment of discovery, of revelation -- the Novum in the packaging revealed, a New Thing that will be Hers -- and she doesn't care that much what new thing it is, yet. She's all welcome for it, and no regret that it's not something else.