Ages since I’ve posted anything here. My apologies.
When last I left this hallowed blog I was about to launch into a memoir of my kindergarten experiences, and how “formal education” can be anathema to learning and creativity and critical thinking and all the other things we hope and expect from our schooling.
And then all these folks posted pieces on their blogs about what they remember a dozen years after 9/11. That started my memory heading in that direction. It turned out that I remembered a hell of a lot, and before I knew it I had a few thousand words that added up in some way, but math was never my strong suit.
The 9/11 recollections reminded me of one of Algis Budys’ best essays in his old “Galaxy Bookshelf” column, written about the days directly after the assassination of Martin Luther King. His conclusions, I thought, were not all that different from some of my own in the days directly after 9/11. I tried to weave the bits of his essay into my own recollections, which was going to take more time than I had anticipated. But then, Budrys’ essay didn’t appear until over a year after the events he was writing about.
And hey – wasn’t I supposed to be doing, like, some real writing? Writing I could get published and paid for?
And in the middle of this muddle, I received an email from Delphyne Woods’ sister-in-law: Delphyne had been discovered dead in her apartment by her landlord. She had been dead for at least a week when discovered.
Everything I was working on went out the window.
Then, I thought about writing a piece about Delphyne. And I couldn’t, not really. I sat down at a little table in the Glenview Public Library and took out a legal pad. What could I say about Delphyne, who I still mostly called Joan, because that was her name when I first met her and what remained her name, for me, even after she had it changed?
Instead, I started working on a scene.
It’s a scene for a story I started back over a decade ago, but since it includes the appearance of several of the saurs I’ve been writing about since “The Measure of All Things,” I’d gone back to it, to help fill out the collection Marty Helpern and I have been hoping to put together.
Looking over the old story, with the temporary title “The Agent,” I saw things that were relevant to the whole social networking world we’ve entered since I first embarked on the story. I thought: yes, this is the time to write this thing; the time is now. Let’s get this done.
So I had a scene where the protagonist, Charlotte, a high school senior, meets up with four other young women, in person, though they have been brought together by the “app” named “Reggie” (yes, that Reggie – of the Reggiesystem in the saur stories).
One of the girls she meets up with, in this little French bakery in this shopping mall (Water Tower Place, if you must know) Valerie Walker, suddenly takes this moment to express both her her exhilaration and her frustration with the world around her. Her friend, Molly, who is a cynical, tough-as-nails kid, gets into it with her.
There in that little library, I started writing with a passion, the pen scribbling away at a speed that threatened to set the paper alight.
There was “stuff to do” – I was teaching a class in a couple of hours and I had to prepare for it, there were papers to read, notes to take. But I couldn’t get away from writing this scene because in my feelings of loss at the death of Joan, and the memories of 9/11, and the memories of the thugs that were passed off as teachers in my kindergarten class, I discovered that Valerie’s frustrations and my frustrations were speaking in the same voice. Valerie was helping me find my voice as I was helping Valerie express hers.
I couldn’t get away from writing this scene because in spite of what I may do that’s “writing related” (teaching, critiquing, editing, reading, making coffee and spitting out paper clips … ) I know that IF I’M NOT WRITING I’M GOING CRAZY. And if I’m going crazy, I’m dying.
And there has been way too much death in the air already.
And so I had Valerie say this in the little bakery:
Val took Charlotte by the sleeve. “You know what I’m talking about, right? You go somewhere, you see something, you’re looking at this awful, crazy atrium and it’s all filled with shit! And there’re all these people around and they’re all looking for this shit! Shit! Worthless, worthless shit all over the place! And you look at the mall, you look at the people, and you look at all this shit everywhere and you feel something, feel this deep rumbling, shivering, howling feeling that comes over you, rolls right up to your lips. And as it rolls up to your lips you can hear the words you’re forming – know the truth – the complete, obvious, thorough, irrefutable truth of the words in your mouth, in your head, in your heart: IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! Sure, it can be worse – much worse. Better to be better – and it can be better. But it does not have to be this way!”
There’s more to the scene, and more that I didn’t get to, but the mantra is there: the mantra of the science fiction writer – and the mantra of anyone trying to be alive and real in this so-called world of ours, where planes are deliberately crashed into buildings, where civil rights leaders are assassinated and neighborhoods are consumed in flames, where kindergartners can’t go to teachers to stop the bullies because the teachers are the bullies, and friends I’ve known for more than three decades die alone in squalid apartments.
It does not have to be this way.
What some of us appear to have missed is that life has changed fundamentally, and science fictionally.
– Algis Budrys