“Where is between when there is naught / To life but fragile dragon wings?”

Very sorry to learn of Anne McCaffrey’s death this week. Dragonsong and Dragonsinger were up there right behind A Swiftly Tilting Planet and The Blue Sword among the books that turned teen-me into a lifelong fantasy reader.

From Todd McCaffrey: Mum always said, “Don’t just pay back a favor — pass it on!” In light of that spirit, we ask that, instead of condolences or flowers, that commemorators make a donation to their favorite charity.

Though I didn’t talk about it when I posted Wednesday, the new year began somewhat sorrowfully here in Tucson, with the news that morning that the cantor of the congregation I belong to had died–the result of violence that I suspect much of the community will struggling for some time to make sense of, even as we struggle to keep the violence from being the thing we most remember.

Music and singing are very much a part of Jewish life and services, and Karla’s voice and music have been a deep and central part of our congregation all the time I’ve been there. (And were part of the congregation I belonged to before that for a time too.)

We were asked the past week to share memories of Karla, and one of the ones that I keep coming around to and that I finally sent on is this:

The congregation holds Rosh Hashanah services up on Mount Lemmon, and my first year up there with them was the year after a wildfire had swept through much of the mountain. We prayed surrounded by reminders of the fire’s desolation–by ashes and the blackened remains of dead trees.

As we were praying, we reached the hallelujah song that’s a part of the service, and–there was just something about the way Karla’s voice rose up as she sang it–something in me rose up, too, past the stark trees to the blue sky–and suddenly all that devastation seemed terribly, terribly beautiful and precious.

I’ve been listening for that song every year since.

Karla’s spirit and joy and presence all will be–already are–very much missed.


Simmering on the stove this afternoon before Yom Kippur: a pot of my grandmother’s meatball fricasee.

As I shaped the tiny meatballs (they have to be small–no rushing here), I found myself thinking of my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn, of how when we went to visit we’d smell cooking smells from all the way down the hall. I loved that smell; it was tied up in the hugs we’d greet both my grandparents with; and it filled me with longing for potato pancakes and matzo ball soup and whatever else Grandma might have cooked for us. Her cooking was special; nothing Mom cooked, or that I cooked as I got older, ever quite measured up.

I most strong associate Grandma’s meatball fricassee with holiday dinners, though. I was an extremely picky eater–sometime before age 10 I decided I simply would not eat anything new, but would only eat things I’d tried before. This limited my diet considerably, and the strong-smelling gefilte fish that served as an appetizer at family gatherings was definitely right out.

So Grandma made me fricassee instead. Everyone else liked it too, and cheerfully ate it alongside their gefilte fish–but I always knew the fricassee was there for me. Someone else might either forced me to eat that gefilte fish, or simply shrugged and said I could skip it and fill up on the other courses–it’s not as if food was ever in short supply when Grandma was around, after all. But as far as Grandma was concerned, none of those other courses mattered. What was important was that there be something there for me, too.

I was important, was what that really meant. Even then, on some level I understood that.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I had jaw surgery to correct an underbite. Soon afterwards, while my jaw was still wired shut, Grandma brought fricasee out to me, from her apartment to our house on Long Island. Mom and I added water, put it in a blender, and I was able to have fricassee as I recovered.

Sometime after Grandma died Mom sent me a copy of her recipe, and I printed it out on an old dot-matrix printer. The first time I tried that recipe–yes. That taste: it brought me right back to Grandma and her apartment. Even now, as an unpicky eater who will try anything at least once, nothing else I know tastes quite like Grandma’s fricassee.

It takes a long time to shape so many small meatballs. I know that now. Grandma was probably a little faster, but even so, she must have spent a lot more time making me fricassee than I appreciated back then.

The dot matrix printout is fading. I’ll have to copy it again soon. When I come to some parts of the recipe, especially the part that calls for a “half glass” of water, I have to think back, because I know Grandma didn’t mean a half cup–she meant a half glass from one of the glasses in her kitchen. Over the years, as I forget just what size those glasses were, as I forget other small details, my recipe slowly diverges from hers.

Yet there’s still that indescribable something in that taste. To say the something is love is a bit more sentimental than I’m comfortable with. Better, perhaps to say that love is what I feel as I follow the recipe she followed, love and perhaps something of presence, too. Or of standing here in this place and this time, following what came before.

Or perhaps of simple remembrance–of Grandma, of a child who knew she mattered, and of whatever else there was between us.

Some things we can only make sense of through story

I’ve never watched TV news coverage of the 9/11 memorials, possibly because I’m not strongly geared toward television in general, possibly because I felt like all the news media failed me that day and in the months that followed and I’m wary of their coverage of it even now.

But every year I reread John M. Ford’s “110 Stories.”

This year, I’ve added K. Tempest Bradford’s “Until Forgiveness Comes.”

I’m still thinking about that story, and about why it got to me so.

March 25, 2004

For Katherine, December 11, 1954 – March 25, 2004

There’s a story that’s worked it’s way into a talk I give about fantasy novels, about how words spoken by a character in an early draft of Bones (which Katherine had not read) turned out to be nearly identical to words in Katherine’s journal (which I’d not read, not until afterwards, and even then only in part). Katherine was so convinced she was alone and unworthy–yet it’s writing that taught me that no one is fully alone, because there’s nothing any one of us feels that others haven’t felt, too.

I’m not pleased with Katherine for giving me an anecdote that worked so neatly into my talk. But I can get through the telling of it without faltering.

Too many other writers have taken their own lives, in the years before and since. But being a writer isn’t an excuse. Not for anything.

For Katherine, 1954-2004

I debated whether to post this evening. I didn’t post anything last year on this day, because I was occupied for the weekend with my Scout troop–with the business of living–and that seemed good and well and as it should be.

But tonight, or whatever reason, I did pause and remember. And so I’m posting this, one more time, for Katherine, December 11, 1954 – March 25, 2004.


This Isn’t a Story

I’m sorry, Katherine,
but dying isn’t a story.
I saw your careful outline,
your well-researched notes:
first the heroine died,
then her adventures began.
You knew every detail:
the ghost town by the river,
when the trains ran,
the reasons why bullets were
better than pills.
You wrote and rewrote
the opening scenes. Nothing more.
Because dying isn’t a story.

We argued about story. We argued
when you stopped writing.
No, edit that. I argued. You said
you’d keep your notes and walked away.
You understood pacing and tension.
You mailed your goodbyes as you drove out of town;
walked down to the river, leaned back, looked up at the sky—

But no. Dying isn’t a story.
The hikers who found you,
that was a story. The police officer
with the half-finished novel;
the county parks manager in cutoff jeans
who told us he was sorry,
who told us he’d done this before.
A story is a long drive home through the dark,
both my hands steady on the wheel.

Your empty apartment was a story,
at least once we opened the door:
The answering machine blinking its silence,
the solstice cards lining the hall.
The borrowed books set on the counter,
labeled with sticky notes, bearing our names.
Nothing left to the reader:
no loose ends, no unresolved threads.
But a story is messier than a body by a river,
a bullet to the head. A story is
your mother packing your dishes
and your silver and a fifth of Scotch,
filling out the paperwork
to transport your gun across state lines.

You had a promising start:
the opening lines, the rising tension,
the chilling sense of things
that couldn’t happen any other way.
But those things aren’t a story,
and dying doesn’t make them one.

You knew how to outline
and you knew how to plot.
So how could you not know
what all writers know,
I still don’t know.
I’m sorry, Katherine.
This poem isn’t a story,
but I’m not driving away.

Sad news

westonochse has both posted more eloquently than I could about the death of Les Reese today.

Les was a regular at TusCon, our local SF convention, and an enthusiastic and cheerful and friendly and all-around interesting person wherever I was lucky enough to get to talk to him for a bit. He was just beginning to sell his own writing, and I’m sorry we won’t get to see more of it; but I’m more sorry that the world won’t get to be improved by his presence in it for a while longer yet.

Quoting L’Engle

My quote notebook, which I’ve been keeping since at least high school is full–especially in its early pages, but also in its later ones–of L’Engle quotes.

“The only way to deal with something deadly serious is to try and treat it a little lightly.”
— A Wrinkle in Time

” … Meg, I give you your faults.”
“My faults!” Meg cried.
“Your faults.”
“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they come in quite handy on Camazotz.”
— A Wrinkle in Time

“Like and equal are two entirely different things.”
— A Wrinkle in Time

“Do the inhabitants of Yadah seem more limited than human beings because once they have taken root they cannot move? But human beings need Deepening Places, too. And far too many never have any.”
— A Wind in the Door

“That’s a sure way to tell about somebody–the way they play, or don’t play, make-believe.”
— Dragons on the Waters

“If someone kills a butterfly, it could cause an earthquake in a galaxy a trillion miles away.”
— A Ring of Endless Light
(Yes, I know there are no galaxies a million miles away. I don’t care.)

“Prayer was never meant to be magic.”
“Then why bother with it?”
“Because it’s an act of love.”
— A Ring of Endless Light

“A daffodil pushing up through the dark earth to spring, knowing somehow deep in its roots that spring and sunshine will come, has more courage and more knowledge of the value of human life than any human being I’ve ever met.”
— Camilla

“Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people. Political views which are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe–these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”
— Two Part Invention

“I can’t do anything except because I care about people, because I love people. I can’t do it for the love of God … or for heaven’s sake … But because I love people I have to act according to it–to the fact that I love them.”
— Arm of the Starfish

“It’s the fall of the sparrow I care about. But who’s the sparrow? We run into problems there, too.”
— Arm of the Starfish

“If you’re going to care about the call of the sparrow, you can’t pick and choose who’s going to be the sparrow. it’s everybody, and you’re stuck with it.”
— Arm of the Starfish

“Your planet does not deal gently with lovers of peace.”
— A Swiftly Tilting Planet

And of course:

“With Tara in this fateful hour
I place all heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness,
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.”
— A Swiftly Tilting Planet