In the current Open Thread, Kip W has some news about the late, much-missed Marilee Layman:
I just got a call from a realtor in Northern Virginia who is working for Fannie May, in regards to the effects of our late friend, Marilee Layman.
He has just come into the matter, and the apartment was foreclosed after almost a year of idleness. He called me, having found my name and number, to see if I knew what might be done about all her possessions. The place is just as she left it. Her van is parked down below. There was a note from "Rick" saying he'd shut off gas and such, but no number.
The agent, Don, doesn't like the idea of calling a trash firm to come and treat everything as junk to be harvested, and his concern touches me -- particularly as I look around me -- so I would very much like the word to go out to fans, perhaps especially those in the NoVa/DC area, but to anybody with an idea of how to proceed.
My own half-baked thoughts were that we might dispose in the ordinary way of clothing and impersonal items, maybe even books. Her crafts, perhaps, could be sold and the proceeds given to charity. Her van could be donated, unless someone wants to buy it for an equitable-low amount (and the money donated to charity -- medical or fannish or I don't know what).
If anybody knows of a family or friend(s) who should benefit by this sad windfall, I'm open to suggestions. Am I in charge of this? I don't know. Should someone else be? I've never done this before.
I asked Don what sort of deadline we were looking at before the wheels of bureaucracy take over. He said 30 days, 45, maybe even 60 before an edict comes down and automatic procedures kick in, so that's not a lot of time.
I have a contact number for him. Should I run it here? Or would it be best for us to deal with him through a designated spokesperson? I'll hang onto the number for now.
I'm not able to access Usenet at the moment. My system stopped letting me on a few months back, and I didn't care enough to try to figure out what its problem was this time. Can someone reach Keith Lynch? He's fairly local and helped when she was in the hospital. What other DC fan or fans would be good to talk to? Who's Rick?
What next? I'm kind of lost here.
ps: Forgot to say that any mementos or keepsakes we might want to retain out of all this should perhaps be sold for a reasonable price and the money kicked into designated charity. I have this idea of charity in my head because maybe it seems a little ghoulish otherwise. I could be mistaken, of course, and will listen to cooler or less confused heads.
This can't be the first time something like this has happened. Is there a manual yet?
I confess, I have even less notion of what to do than Kip does. I'm sure someone in our community does, though. Can we figure this out together?
Also, now I miss her all over again. I was just thinking about her this morning, entirely by coincidence, wondering if it had been a whole year since she passed away. Now I know.
And thank you, Kip, for taking the call and coming to the community with this. I'm sure I speak for us all when I say that that matters a lot.
So, next weekend musical artist William Beckett is coming to my house to do a concert, which I think is pretty nifty, since we’re all fans here in the Scalzi household. As invites we bought and passed out copies of his latest album Genuine & Counterfeit, which is a fine album that I recommend to all y’all. But as not everything we’ve asked him to play is on that album, I’ve created a Spotify playlist of the songs we’ve requested, so that those coming to the house will have some familiarity with the rest of the tunes. This post is mostly for them, but hey — you can listen along too. Enjoy.
Yup, the headline says it all. Details, in case you don’t see the sidebar.
He got his Googlespunk back on Saturday (this happened on a Wednesday around noon). Saturday was snowy and he went all humpty and raced circles around the house. He still didn't want to go for a run, though. I understood, and let him rest.
We ran five miles. That's a pretty quick recovery if you ask me. Good work, Dr. Lutz!
Than folding him in my arms and kissing the top of his apple head?
Complete with a sun pillar giving the sunset a nice, Mordor-like glow.
Image borrowed from here.
Via Nick Mamatas,this article about writer Colin Wilson, who passed away in the last week, which begins:
How dismayed the late Colin Wilson would have been if, through some of the occult powers in which he believed, he had been able to read his own obituaries.
The man whose first book The Outsider caused him to be lionised in 1956 by the literary greats of the day has been remembered in several blogs for his later novel Space Vampires, which inspired a famously trashy Hollywood film. In the broadsheets, the life of a self-proclaimed genius has been given the faintly amused treatment favoured by obituarists when dealing with a life of eccentricity or failed promise.
Yet there is sort of heroism in the way that Wilson, having been abandoned by those who once praised him, remained loyal to his own talent, living a life of writing, reading and thinking –probably in that order.
The article, which you might be able to tell from the excerpt, is playing both ends of the game with regard to Wilson (which is why Nick pointed it out, I suspect — to mock it). Wilson would be dismayed, but on the other hand he did what he wanted, but on the other other hand here’s a checklist of things to avoid if you want your obits to be properly reverential.
And, I don’t know. One, I think if Mr. Wilson is still sentient after his death, he’s got other, more interesting things to think about than his obits; I suspect at that point worrying about your obits would be like worrying about the end-of-year assessment of your kindergarten teacher once you were out of college (“Nice kid. Hopefully will figure out paste is not for eating.”).
Two, if Mr. Wilson had any sense at all — or any ego, which by all indications he certainly did — then he recognized (before he passed on, obviously) that to the extent he and his work will be remembered at all, obituaries — transient news stories that they are — are insignificant. He’ll be remembered for the work, and the status of the work in the context of history is not settled at the time of the obituary.
Salient example: Gaze, if you will, on the New York Times obituary for Philip K. Dick, on March 3, 1982. It is four graphs long (the final two graphs being two and one sentences long, respectively) — which for a science fiction writer is pretty damn good, when it comes to obits in America’s Paper of Record, but which, shall we say, does not really suggest that Dick’s notability would long survive him. Now, look at the voluminous record of writing about Dick in the NYT post-obit — an index of five pages of thumbsuckers. Pre-death, I find one note about Dick in the index, and it’s one of those Arts & Leisure preview bits.
So, yes. The obit was not the final word, because the work continues — or at least, can. In Dick’s case, the majority of his fame has come after his death, alas for him. He (nor any of us) would not know that from the four paragraphs in the NYT on 3/3/82.
I noted it before and will like do so again: As a creative person (or, really, any other sort of person), you have absolutely no control how history will know you, if indeed they know you at all. For most creative people, to the extent they are remembered at all, they will be remembered for one thing, because the culture at large only has so much space for any of us. You won’t get to choose which one thing for which you are remembered. If, for Wilson, the one thing he’s remembered for is Space Vampires rather than The Outsider, then that is still one more thing for which he is remembered than the billions of us who go to our graves and are swallowed up by them. So well done him.
But even then, the culture’s memory is not infinite. Wilson’s work, one way or another, is not likely to survive the vicious cultural culling that happens over the course of time; it’s unlikely to be remembered by anyone but academics in a hundred years, or even them long after that (nor, to be clear, will mine, or the unfathomably large majority of works being created today). The good news is the judgment of the obits will have passed from this world long before then. And in any event the sun is going to swell up into a red giant in five billion years and likely swallow up the planet, so that’ll be the end of all of it.
(Obit for the sun: “A long, pedestrian life followed by a brief illness; survived by Jupiter, three other planets and numerous moons and comets. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Orphaned Trans-Neptunian Objects Fund.”)
I don’t know Mr. Wilson to any degree — I am one of those who knew him best for creating the source material for Life Force, which was a terrible movie — but my wish for him was that he lived the sort of life where he didn’t actually care what his obits said, and instead enjoyed his life and left work that had the possibility of speaking for itself, over time. If you’re a creative (or indeed any other) person, let me suggest you don’t worry about your obits either. As well as you can, live the life you want to live and make the work you want to make. After you’re gone, it’ll all be sorted out or not. You won’t be around to worry about it. Focus on the parts you’re around for.
Time has named Pope Francis its person of the year, and I have to say that I’m down with that; the only other person I would slot in the position would be Edward Snowden, and Pope Francis is at least the more optimistic choice between the two (and also admittedly the safer choice, in terms of who still reads Time on a regular basis).
I’ve noted before that as an outsider to the Catholic Church, I admire the fact that Francis is making a point to say that the Church needs to be in the world and serving the poor, and that its priorities recently have drifted too far from that core mission. Critics have noted that Francis represents a change in tone more than substance so far, which I think is a reasonable if incomplete observation. But I also think that one has to start somewhere, and where Francis has started from is important. Tone in this case does actually matter.
The Catholic Church and I will never agree on many fundamental things; that’s the deal when one is an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god, or as a necessary corollary, that Jesus was the Christ. But to the extent that I understand the message of Jesus, and to the extent that the Church sees its mission as serving Christ’s message, I see Francis turning the focus of the Church toward that message. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that.
For those who grumble that Snowden got robbed — a fair assessment, even if I’m perfectly happy with Time’s final choice — the New Yorker explains why, in the opinion of writer John Cassidy, it’s not even close that Snowden had had the most impact on the world’s news in the last year.
I think that’s correct, and I think that Cassidy’s note that the full page NYT ad that several tech companies placed the other day, calling on the US government to better protect the privacy of everyone’s data, would probably not have happened unless Snowden disclosed all that the he knew, possibly because the bland, not-obviously-sinister technocratic surveillance regime that’s developed since 9/11 doesn’t feel like oppression or an invasion of rights in the same way that someone stomping down your door does, and anyway it didn’t impede that the technology companies needed to do for their own purposes.
In any case, on a personal note, I certainly feel sorrier for Snowden than Pope Francis. Francis, no matter what, still gets to be Pope, which is a nice gig. Last I heard of Snowden, he’s living in a country not his own, eking by doing tech support, and if he ever tries to leave Russia he’s got a perfectly reasonable fear of being snatched up and then living the rest of his life in a SuperMaxx cube. For those of us old enough to have been slathered by USSR propaganda, there’s some irony for you.
Last Thursday I was in scenic Newark, New Jersey to meet with the folks at Audible, who publish a number of my audiobooks, and will publish my next book Lock In as well. As part of my time there, I did a Q&A with Steve Feldberg, Senior Director of Editorial Business Development, in front of the Audible staff. The video boils the hour-long interview down to a tidy 26 minutes and covers a number of topics about me, about the current state of the business of publishing and about the upcoming novel. Enjoy.
One of the constant challenges of living in a foreign country is the way that different cultures slice the epistemic cake of the world in different places. Sometimes it's funny, like how the Dutch routinely put chocolate sprinkles on sandwiches but consider pancakes at breakfast laughably outlandish. Sometimes it's not so funny, when one says or does something quite trivial and the whole room falls silent in shock. At times like that, I always think of Cordlia Vorkosigan, trying to figure out Barryaran social protocls around sex.
One could not mention sex to or in front of unmarried women or children. Young men, it appeared, were exempt from all rules when talking to each other, but not if a woman of any age or degree were present. The rules also changed bewilderingly with variations of the social status of those present. And married women, in groups free of male eavesdroppers, sometimes underwent the most astonishing transformations in apparent databases. Some subjects could be joked about but not discussed seriously. And some variations could not be mentioned at all. She had blighted more than one conversation beyond hope of recovery by what seemed to her a perfectly obvious and casual remark, and been taken aside by Aral for a quick debriefing.
She tried writing out a list of the rules she thought she had deduced, but found them so illogical and conflicting, especially in the area of what certain people were supposed to pretend not to know in front of certain other people, she gave up the effort. She did show the list to Aral, who read it in bed one night and nearly doubled over laughing.
—Barryar, Lois McMaster Bujold
But in my experience at least, the real trials of living abroad are not the great and terrible moments. The really difficult things, like the really wonderful things*, are the little everyday differences that remind one in quiet ways that one is not home (for whatever value of home one uses).
I first noticed this phenomenon when trying to buy sugar in my local supermarket, Albert Heijn, a few months after moving to the Netherlands.
When I was growing up in the US, sugar was always with the baking ingredients. Likewise, in the UK, there it was next to the flour, right where I expected it. But the first time I went looking for sugar here, I was baffled. Flour, baking mixes, raising agents, pancake mixes...no sugar. I searched the entire cooking ingredients quadrant of the store: Herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, long-life milk, pasta, eggs (not refrigerated, because foreign), meat, chicken, exotic ethnic foods like tortillas...no sugar.
By this point, I was convinced that I was just being stupid. I was also in that state that Martin and I call shop-glaze: the condition of being sufficiently overwhelmed by the myriad details of the store that all decision-making (and, indeed, object-perception) fuses have blown. Since it was not the time to ask shop staff for help in a language I didn't speak very well, much less process an answer in that tongue, I left the shop without sugar.
Then I came back later, with more energy, and conducted a search. It turns out that the Dutch put the sugar next to the coffee, which was halfway across the store from the flour. That was very useful information for the next time I had to buy sugar.
But finding the pattern was even more useful, because I hit it again and again: times when something is impossible, or at least impossibly difficult, because I'm making some hidden assumption or category error. I'm slicing the cake of the world in the wrong place. And that's not really a function of living in a foreign country, because we all leave the tiny household cultures where we grew up and move into a wider world, one where people do things differently. They all store some metaphorical sugar in the wrong place.
Thus, the sugar problem.
* I talk a lot about how difficult living abroad is, but it's also really fun. There's always some difference—or some similarity I took for granted when I was in my native culture—to delight me.
Two neighbor dogs wandered over to play with Daisy, and oh! What fun they had in the snow. I thought it might cheer up your afternoon to see them at full frolic.