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WisCon considerations

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I attended Wiscon, the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention. The Apex Magazine party on Friday night featured a game called ‘Conversational Roulette’ in which the game master gives each contestant three minutes to tell an impromptu story based on a given theme. When I played, the theme was ‘running away to the circus’ and I confessed my preschool ambition to become a trapeze artist and wear a black sequined leotard, with black lipstick and nail polish (this was in the early 60’s long before Goth anything) and do stunts in midair, high above the crowd. I did not win my round, but got one vote.

I sat nearby when the game master started another round with a new set of three players and the theme ‘the most formative movie of your life.’ The winner of the round cited ‘The Princess Bride’ but dissed Princess Buttercup for not doing anything to rescue herself. (Isn’t it hard enough just being the Most Beautiful Woman in the World?)

A travesty that he should win (sorry, Nolan) – but the mention and my later conversation with Nolan Belk on the subject, got me to thinking about why I like that movie so much and what it has in common with some of my other favorite movies, shows and stories. For instance, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ and the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, and even Jane Austen’s works.

Princess stands out for great dialog that reveals a great cast of characters, each one, from heroes to villains to bit players, drawn with a loving eye to their unique, relatable human foibles.

Whedon’s BTVS strikes me as having that same virtue of great dialog deftly revealing great, relatable characters. Whedon and Goldman both create characters I care about, people who I want to accompany on their journeys.

Just as importantly, both shows are written with a sense of humor that tells me the writer is not taking himself or the material too seriously.

Saturday night I attended a banquet and awards ceremony for the Science Fiction Research Association, which brings critical and serious literary attention the genre of F/SF – and I’m all for it. The genre is my first love when it comes to reading material, from fairy tales to hard scientific extrapolations based on the expanding frontier of human knowledge. I love stories that help me to look at the world, humanity and the whole universe beyond us from new perspectives. I’m pleased to see my favorite genre grow in literary merit in the eyes of a broader readership…

At the same time, I’m concerned about losing some of the pleasure I find in that genre. I’m afraid the quest for serious literary standing will lead to the pitfall of stories that take themselves too seriously, that lose their sense of humor and the ability to make a little bit of fun at themselves along the way.

I was somewhat reassured that one of the award winning papers of the evening was in praise of ‘Buckaroo Banzai.’ Clearly a movie I must now see.

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Grist for the Mill

My new dentist is a fast-worker compared to my old one. I used to get my dental care at the University of Minnesota’s school of dentistry. They did good work: every step was overseen and double-checked by a teacher. But every step was overseen and double-checked by a teacher and that took some time. My new dentist gets three times the work done in a fraction of the time. This adds up to a huge reduction in my stress. As well the less time with sharp, noisy instruments in my mouth, the happier I am. I still lie in place with my hands clasped tightly together across my midriff and softly croon show tunes*to myself until the ordeal is over, but it’s over all the sooner.

 All this is by way of explaining why I am now sitting in the lobby waiting area of the dental offices, with half an hour’s wait before I need to head out for the bus stop. There’s no bench at the stop and I do have one here, and a nice view out glass-walled sliding doors onto a parking area beneath a lovely sky of robin’s egg blue swathed in milky streaks of cloud. There’s sunshine on the pavement and parked cars. There are finally buds emerging on the bare limbs of the few trees before me – small enough to be fruit trees. I can imagine them in flower by the time I return for my next appointment in a week. Clumps of dried dead grasses surround them now. Perhaps there will be green blades, maybe flowers by then.

 Despite the fair appearance of the day, the temperatures are still in the forties to low cifties and there’s a strong cold breeze. Hence my preference for waiting in a sheltered area rather than out in the sunshine. Still, the sun is good to see and the budding tre3es and greening grass. And maybe I need a little time to adjust to a world no longer cloaked and caked and layered with ice and snow.

 It’s a whole new world now. The rules are different. It may be a bit too cool yet, but it won’t kill me to go too long without a coat. I can still trip over my own feet, but I don’t have to worry they’ll slip out from under me. It all makes the world seem a much friendlier place. Winter will come again, but that’s long ages away. I can begin to look forward to swimming outdoors under an open sky, to walking out casually, without having to don layers upon layers of protective clothing. Living in Minnesota in the winter strikes me as good training for those who might contemplate colonizing an alien planet.

 What does any of this have to do with writing? What doesn’t have to with writing? Every experience, every sight and sensation and observation on life is fodder for the writer’s pen. While many, if not most things will be irrelevant to the story or subject at hand, anything and everything is part of the whole tapestry of life from which we build. Dismiss nothing as worthless.

 * or x-mas carols, for which I apologize to my dentist and assistant, given how they are subjected to repetitive repetitions of a limited repertoire of same via their sound system during the holiday season, and having endured that, they now deserve the rest of their year free of the stale aural fare.)