Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

The scheduled installation date kept changing, due to dangerous weather, but we did in fact have our treadmill delivered and assembled. I’m pretty happy with. So far I’m glad that I bit the bullet and bought a higher-end model, rather than a much cheaper model from Costco. This one seems to be able to handle my running gait without feeling like it is going to come apart. It shakes a bit, but it seems like the shock-absorbing system is doing its job, and it feels pretty solid. Perhaps not quite as solid as the models I used to use at Liberty Athletic Club, back in the nineties, but those probably cost ten grand.

I’ve only got a couple of gripes about the treadmill. The first is that the heart rate sensor function doesn’t work very well. When it locks on and actually calculates a heart rate, it seems to be pretty accurate. But it sometimes takes thirty seconds or more, showing very inaccurate low rates, before it jumps up and shows some accurate numbers. Sometimes it takes much longer and I have to give up and try again in a minute or two. What’s strange about this is that there’s a little heart icon that flashes to indicate the heartbeats it is detecting, and that little icon will be flashing at about 120 (house house speed) or 130 (trance music speed) or 140 (dubstep music speed). Having been a DJ and spent time practicing beat-mixing these kinds of music, I have a feel for counting these beats per minute. But the calculated heart rate will spend tens of seconds showing numbers in the eighties or nineties (chill-out or old-school hip-hop speed). That ain’t right! And having written code that samples data, such as GPS position data and optical brightness data, to present a smooth running average, I know that it really ought to work better than this.

My other gripe is that it wants to be on the WiFi, and I don’t want it on the WiFi. It constantly flashes a little WiFi icon. Apparently the WiFi is configured using an application, or web site, which must mean that out of the box the treadmill’s WiFi is on and listening. I’m not happy about that. I’d like to find a way to disable it, but I’m not sure there is one, at least not a way that doesn’t involve a soldering iron.

It also seems like there may not be a way to update the firmware without setting up an account on the manufacturer’s web site, or via an app, and I’m not happy about that either. I really don’t trust Internet of Things devices, and I don’t want to deliver my personal data to some untrusted company’s servers (and recent events should teach us that they all ought to be considered untrustworthy).

Kafka on the Shore

I finished Kafka on the Shore. The ending is largely a good ending, tying up pretty much every plot line, but also melancholy, and leaves me feeling a bit unsatisfied. This remains one of Murkami’s stranger books. I enjoyed it more the second time. Murakami himself said that the key to understanding the novel was to read it multiple times. The second time, I feel like I have a better sense for the structure, and all the things Murakami set up, and how they interlocked with each other. Would a third reading make it suddenly seem much better? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I feel up to the experiment.

The Black Corridor

This is an odd novel by Moorcock. It partakes of some of the psychedelic nonsense that was commonplace in New Wave science fiction of the era, such as repeating phrases that permute as they go down the page, and typographical layout where words intersect as in crossword puzzles. I find most of this unimpressive and masturbatory in 2019, but the story itself is pretty fascinating, a psychological novel that develops an increasing sense of xenophobia and dread, as the narrator reveals more and more about his history and the failings and crimes he is not yet fully willing to acknowledge.

It’s about, in part, the collapse of civilization, and about people who wind up increasingly isolated and afraid of others. It seems especially relevant given the political realities today, as Trump demands that we build a wall to keep out immigrants. A wealthy businessman takes a small group of friends and family off the Earth to colonize a distant planet, as Earth is falling into barbarism and nuclear war, just in time. He stays awake to manage the ship on the five-year journey down the “black corridor” — that five years alone in interstellar space. We see him write in the official log, and also write in his personal journal. And we see him fall into madness and hallucinations and reveal just what he had to do in order to make the journey happen.

It’s a short novel but it has quite a build-up to its conclusion. The conclusion, though, left me a bit puzzled as to what happened — what was real, and what wasn’t, and whether the protagonist might still be hiding a yet more awful truth from himself. Moorcock has said that the ending was “deliberately ambiguous.” That was kind of par for the course in some of the more “experimental” science fiction of the New Wave, but in this case I thought it worked pretty well. I might have to read this one again. But not immediately.

Interestingly, Moorcock’s wife at the time, Hilary Bailey, contributed scenes from a work in progress. Her work in progress was a dystopian novel set on Earth, and Moorcock adapted scenes from it to intercut with scenes set in the “the black corridor.” Either story might have been grim and interesting, but the intercutting, and juxtapositions that the intercutting produces, is what makes The Black Corridor stick in my mind. Bailey is not credited as a co-author. Moorcock, in the Multiverse web site, says that she didn’t want the book to be presented as a collaboration, but that he “worked in acknowledgements in the dedication.” I didn’t find any mention of Bailey in the edition that I read. However her name happened to vanish, she should be remembered — erasure of women’s contributions to science fiction and fantasy of that era was unfortunately common.

Last night I rearranged some books on my bedroom shelves, carrying an armload of books downstairs to file away in boxes, and moving a bunch of science fiction story collections to a separate shelf for Sam to read. He’s been raiding my shelves a lot recently. I love to see him choosing new things to read, and I don’t have any books on my shelf he’s not allowed to read. But we still have some issues, because he doesn’t always take care of them well, and he sometimes leaves books where his younger siblings can find them and damage them. So I am trying to get serious about some rules, like “you can take any book from this shelf, but at the end of the day, it has to go back on the shelf,” and “leaving these books, some of which are old and fragile and were expensive or hard to find, sprawled on the floor in random parts of the house is not OK with me.”

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to read next. I need to spend some time organizing books downstairs, and looking through the catalog of books in boxes, and maybe the next thing that wants to be read will jump out at me.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned

  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (finished in late January)
  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock (finished yesterday) (in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus paperback Traveling to Utopia)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Thursday, January 17th and Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

It’s been strange, not writing about each day for a while. I sort of miss it, although towards the end of the year I was feeling less inspired and more burdened.

Since the end of 2018, there have been only a few developments.

Grace has been taking her heavy-duty blood pressure medication. This leaves her very tired and not able to safely drive, at least not until later in the day when some of the sedating effect has worn off. Fortunately our friend Joy has been able to come and stay with us a number of days recently. She’s been driving Grace and our housemate to appointments, and helping a lot with meals.

We really need Grace to be mobile and active again, alongside Joy, but that isn’t happening yet.

Our housemate will be having another baby by C-section shortly, in just under a week. We just heard that her boyfriend’s car was repossessed. So — I’m really not sure what is going to happen on those days. Who will transport her, who will be her support person or support people in the hospital, who will get her home, and meet her immediate needs after surgery? We’ll just have to do our best.

Our housemate has been much more engaged recently in putting meals together, and eating with us. So it’s been good to have her helping as well, and it’s been more pleasant in the evenings. Although it is also very chaotic, with up to ten kids and up to four adults at meals. It’s perhaps no wonder that I need to be on some medications.

Work is starting to pick up again, with some more opportunities to interact with co-workers, and even start the development cycle for a new product that will involve software development, so that seems encouraging. I was somewhat surprised to find myself actually in a good mood one afternoon at work, actually feeling happy. Buried under stressors and worries, I haven’t felt that way in some time.

I went ahead and ordered a treadmill. The installers are supposed to come and install it our basement next Wednesday. I need to check out the wiring — it should be alone or nearly alone on a 15-amp breaker, ideally on a 20-amp breaker. So I have to investigate the wiring and try to figure out what goes where. If it looks like that outlet is wired to a breaker with too many other things on it, I’ll ask my co-worker Patrick if he can come out and help rewire it.

The government shutdown has been going on now for almost 27 days. Commentators in the media are starting to say, truthfully, that the effects of this kind of shutdown don’t grow linearly over time, but exponentially. I don’t think that’s perfectly accurate, but it is definitely true that people who aren’t getting paid face some hard deadlines, and the consequences of not getting paid increase dramatically as those deadlines blow past. I keep asking myself “is this when the wheels really come off?” Not because of the Mueller investigation, not because of impeachment, not because of indictment due to Emoluments violations, or 25th Amendment concerns, but because of a partisan impasse over funding? Maybe, although the idea that exhausted, sick, broke Americans will take to the streets, and engage in a general strike or Gilets Jaunes-style protests on a wide scale, seems hard to believe.

I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor. The news was mostly good. My weight was actually down a couple of pounds, which surprised me. He is very happy with my cholesterol numbers. My blood pressure on the single 25mg daily dose of clorthalidone seems very well-controlled. I’m also happy with the effects of tamsulosin. He had me do some quick screenings for anxiety and depression. My anxiety score has gone down noticeably, on Celexa. My depression score was a bit higher. That wasn’t really a surprise to me given the time of year. He noted that I’ve had a couple of blood sugar readings that are higher than they should be, and wanted to put me on a medication for that. I asked him to let me try using the treadmill regularly for a few months and see if that improves it. He agreed to that. I also want to get back to the bulletproof coffee and, if possible, a weekly 24-hour fast. So we’ll follow up at my next appointment.

I also got a shingles vaccine. They warned me that this one might give me a few days of muscle aches and flu-like symptoms, and it did. I think it peaked yesterday. I had a mild fever and felt nauseated and exhausted, with aches and pains all over. I didn’t feel like eating dinner and went to bed when I got home, although given the number of kids in the house it was quite a while before I could actually get to sleep, and of course I was woken up a few times during the night by baby Chi.

Speaking of baby Chi, he’s doing very well — plumping up, drinking all the breast milk he can possibly slurp down, and impressing everyone with his extremely loud baby farts and belches. (Grace is going to lay off the brassicas for a while and see if that makes him a little less gassy.)

Today, I’m feeling a little better. I took an Aleve to bring down my fever, but I’m still not at 100%. I can feel myself becoming a bit feverish again as the day goes on.

Pippin, age eight, has started reading my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which is an interesting development, and he’s been asking me to read it as a bedtime story. His developing brain seems to have hit some kind of milestone. We haven’t gotten a lot of quiet time for bedtime story reading recently, but I read the kids part of one of the dialoges, called “Little Harmonic Labyrinth.”

There’s a lot going on but I don’t want to start going down rabbit holes, so I’ll just mention what I’ve been reading and viewing.

“The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”

The last regular episode in series 11, this was one of the better of the series 11 Doctor Who episodes. Finally, we get to see a villain again, even if it is only “Tim Shaw” from the beginning of the series. There are a lot of nice moments. Graham has to wrestle with the morality of killing, in a way that feels pretty convincing. The telekinetic aliens seem interesting. But this episode also seems to borrow a lot from “The Stolen Earth,” and not in a good way, and also from the Tom Baker serial “The Pirate Planet.” And it doesn’t really wrap up the season arc — for example, what became of the reference to The Doctor as the “timeless child,” when The Remnants spoke to her in “The Ghost Monument?” That seemed like a bit of setup that would be developed over the arc of this season — but nothing came of that setup.

“Resolution”

In the New Year’s Special, we finally got an episode that lives up to some of the best episodes of the rebooted series. “Resolution” is a real banger. In fact, I’ve really got no criticisms of this episode at all. It does go go emotionally over the top quite a few times and require some pretty hard suspension of disbelief, but the rebooted Doctor Who has very often leaned towards the sentimental and fantastic. This episode features a classic enemy, several great scenes, some real watch-it-from-behind-the-couch moments, and some arty cinematography that fits the scenes perfectly.

In fact, the quality of this special makes me mad — if Chibnall’s team could do this, why couldn’t they have done better jobs on more of the Series 11 episodes? It makes me feel cheated out of better episodes that could have been.

Now we just have to wait until Series 12 to see if it lives up to “Resolution.” Series 12 is supposed to start… checks notes… in 2020. Sigh.

Maybe copies of some of the 97 missing “classic” episodes will be uncovered in 2019. That would be good news! But I’m not holding my breath.

Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I took the three older kids — Veronica, Sam, and Joshua — to see this movie in the theater and they enjoyed it a lot. We all enjoyed it. I think it moved a little too quickly for Joshua, who is ten years old, to unpack all the plot elements that are hinted at or suggested in flashback scenes, so he was left unclear on a few plot points. But everyone else figured it out. The animation in this movie is absolutely amazing, and I expect it to sweep all the awards that it is eligible for. Really, I was quite impressed.

Kafka on the Shore

Going through my books, for some reason I felt that I wanted to re-read some Murakami, and in particular his novel Kafka on the Shore. I read this years ago, and I enjoyed it, although it always seemed to me like a lesser work than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I think is Murakami’s masterpiece. So I wanted to give it another chance. So I’m back in Murakami’s spooky parallel words. I think I’m enjoying this one a little more than I did the first time.

The Labyrinth Index

A few days ago I stopped into Nicola’s Books for the first time this year, and happened to come across the newest Laundry Files novel. I had not even been aware that it was out. So of course I had to take it home, and I couldn’t do much else in my spare time until I had finished it. I have enjoyed all of the books in this series quite a bit, some a little more than others, and I have eagerly looked forward to each new volume.

This one is told from the perspective of Mhari, a PHANG — a human infected with V-parasites. The mechanism of this vampirism is a little bit complicated, but it means that a person whose blood is drunk by a PHANG inevitably dies. And as Mhari works for a government agency, the agency has to supply the victims, which means that the United Kingdom hs brought back the death penalty. So Mhari and the other PHANGs face a constant moral dilemma — others must die so that they can simply continue to live.

We met Mhari a few books ago, and she’s changed. She’s still full of self-doubt, “impostor syndrome” to go along with her moral doubts, but it’s clear that she’s now actually a supremely competent administrator as well as a terrifyingly dangerous field operative, capable of making optimal and brilliant decisions under extreme stress. There’s an especially grueling moment when one of the Auditors invokes “supervisor mode” to discover what drives Mhari, and learns that she actually gave up all hope some time ago. This is troubling but also feels very convincing in these dark times.

There is a lot going on in this book. The climactic scenes are complex, with many pieces on the chessboard. And so there’s a lot of setup required, and a lot to keep track of. To make this work, Mhari’s chronicle of events jumps around in time an awful lot, jumping between multiple teams and locations. This sounds complex, and it is, but Stross manages to make it work, and I never found myself confused, lost, or disengaged. Stross makes the story so engaging that watching him put all the pieces in place and teach the audience about each one never feels like a chore. Stross really has developed considerable expertise in telling complex stories and writing convincing, morally conflicted characters.

I’m not going to discuss the main driver of the plot of this book, except to say that it’s both superficially funny and also darkly satirical and timely. Stross is really good at these jokes that make you laugh, and then make you think, and then, hours or days later, think a lot more.

We see Mhari’s organization pull out all the stops, and pull off an incredibly daring rescue using a secretly maintained and operated Concorde aircraft. Stross clearly did a lot of research to write these scenes, and I found myself digging into Wikipedia articles to learn more about this incredible plane. From the very first Laundry Files novel, The Atrocity Archive, I’ve always loved the way Stross blends the cosmic horror elements along with extremely realistic portrayal of the experience of working within a bureaucracy, and he makes the impersonal horrors personal; it’s one kind of dread to feel the cold indifference of the Elder Gods scheming to consume our souls from the realms beyond all light, and another to face a zombie actually chewing on your jugular. Stross gives us both!

If there’s one element in these stories that is a little bit too fantastic to find convincing, it’s the way that, to Mhari’s surprise, the people above her in the organization actually pulled off their plan, and the things she thought of as her failures turned out to be pretty much the best possible choices under the circumstances. She’s given reason to hope again. It’s a nice fantasy — that competence might be rewarded, and adults might be in charge, and have a workable plan to get us out of the mess we’re in. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

I highly recommend this whole series and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading Stross’s next installment.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned

  • “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” (Doctor Who Series 11)
  • “Resolution” (Doctor Who 2019 New Year’s Day Special)
  • Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (in progress)
  • The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross (A Laundry Files novel) (finished)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Thursday, January 17th and Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

2018: The Annual Summary

I finished reading (or re-reading) the following books in 2018:

  1. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
  2. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  3. Existence by David Brin
  4. The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea by L. Sprague deCamp and Fletcher Pratt
  5. The Queen of Air and Darkness (the second book of The Once and Future King) by T. H. White
  6. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee et al.
  7. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (read out loud to Grace)
  8. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin
  9. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
  10. The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  11. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
  12. City of Glass by Paul Auster
  13. Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot
  14. Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
  15. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  16. Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  17. Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock
  18. Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock
  19. Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock
  20. Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress by Michael Moorcock
  21. Elric: The Revenge of the Rose by Michael Moorcock
  22. Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
  23. Elric: Stormbringer!
  24. Jhereg by Stephen Brust
  25. Yendi by Stephen Brust
  26. Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey
  27. Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  28. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  29. Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock (the first of three novels in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus edition Elric: The Moonbeam Roads)
  30. The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014)
  31. The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014)
  32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  33. George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Joshua read it to us as a bedtime story)
  34. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

That’s 34 books. I actually did a little better, in terms of the number of books completed, than I did in 2017. In 2017 I only finished 26 books, although I also read a whole year of New Yorker magazines.

A few of the books in the list above jump out at me for being particularly memorable. These are:

  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (read out loud to Grace)
  • Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin
  • The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  • Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock

I’m not going to re-hash my detailed criticism of Moorcock’s Elric stories here, except to say that I wouldn’t recommend reading all those Elric volumes; see my numerous long comments on the Elric stories in blog posts from 2018.

Another thing that jumps out is that I didn’t finish a whole lot of non-fiction books this year, although I started reading many more, or dipped into certain chapters, often to discuss them on the podcast. That’s some information for me, although I’m honestly not sure if it tells me more about myself, or about the books I chose to read.

The best movie I saw in 2018 were:

  • Sylvio (2017 film)
  • Paddington 2 (2017 film)
  • Iron Man (2008 film)

And… that’s about it, unfortunately. I didn’t see a lot of movies in 2018, so there wasn’t a large field to choose from. Of these, I have to give the nod to Sylvio, for its wonderful surreal silliness presented on a shoestring budget.

As for television shows, well — I’m not going to try to rate a big pile of both old and new Doctor Who shows, especially when I have a number of fan edits mixed in there. I’ll just mention my frustrating with Doctor Who Series 11, and point out that the best episode of Series 11 was actually the not broadcast in 2018, and strictly speaking wasn’t part of the regular series. It was the New Year’s Day special, “Resolution.”

Speaking of resolutions, I have a few. I want to get into an exercise regimen on the treadmill. I want to finish more non-fiction. I want to get engaged in a new writing project, and get the podcast rebooted, at least in some form, for a new season.

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 20th, 2019

2018: The Third Quarter Summary

It wasn’t too bad a quarter, at least not as measured by the number of books completed. I was helped along by the fact that many of them contained Elric stories, and I developed a certain momentum to finish them.

Books Completed

  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Revenge of the Rose by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: Stormbringer!
  • Jhereg by Stephen Brust
  • Yendi by Stephen Brust
  • Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey

I’ve written extensively about the Elric books in the blog. Several of these really did not seem to be worth my time, especially Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl and Elric: The Revenge of the Rose. Also, as I have discussed, it did not seem to improve the Elric stories to read them in their in-universe chronological order, the way the Gollancz Michael Moorcock Collections volumes present them.

Butcher Bird was unimpressive and is on the giveaway pile. The Stephen Brust novels were not bad, but not really great, either. These are the first two books in a series. Maybe I should jump ahead and try one of the much later books in the series, in the hopes that his chops have improved.

Icehenge was a surprise standout — a better book than I expected, and I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s work. And Down and Out in Paris and London is a fascinating classic; it troubles a contemporary reader with some racial and ethnic and misogynist bits and pieces, but it remains an interesting study of the subculture of the underclass, and the author’s insights into poverty and its effects are still very much worth reading.

Books Started or Continued

  • The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (bedtime reading; re-reading for me)
  • Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
  • The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
  • Tekla by Steven Brust
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading; re-reading for me)
  • Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales by Terry Pratchett
  • The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason by Chapo Trap House
  • Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
  • The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 2nd, 2019 (yes, very late — I started this summary months ago, but completely forgot to finish it.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018: The Fourth Quarter Summary

Well, as I expected, my showing in the fourth quarter was pretty weak. And apparently I never got around to finishing a quarter 3 summary. So I’ll write this one, and go back and fill in quarter 3.

I did manage to complete eight books, although some of them were quite short and one was actually a children’s book that my son Joshua read to me.

Books Completed

  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  • Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock (the first of three novels in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus edition Elric: The Moonbeam Roads)
  • The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (finished)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Joshua read it to us as a bedtime story)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Of the Moorcock novels, none was really a standout, although The Ice Schooner was the most engaging of this lot. I enjoyed The Freeze-Frame Revolution quite a bit. The Bloody Chamber is the real standout here, although the sexual politics it embodies are not simple, contemporary, or necessarily comfortable. This book of stories could easily be the major text for a seminar class.

I read these additional short stories by Peter Watts:

  • “The Island” by Peter Watts (2009 Novelette)
  • “Giants” by Peter Watts (short story)
  • “Hotshot” by Peter Watts (short story)

All are available on the author’s web site.

I didn’t manage to watch very many full-length movies this quarter. I recall only three:

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 film)
  • Iron Man (2008 film)
  • Millions (2004 film)

The first Fantastic Beasts movie I can recommend, although not all that highly. Iron Man is a very good take on the superhero movie, better than most of the recent Marvel adaptations. Millions is an impressive and magical film, and quite fun, although the ending is a big weak.

I watched all of Series 11 of Doctor Who, with the exception of the final episode, “”The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos," which we just haven’t gotten to yet. There’s also the New Year’s special, which will be broadcast today, called “Resolution.” That will be available via the iTunes store tomorrow, and we’ll watch it when time allows.

The episodes we watched are:

  • “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”
  • “The Ghost Monument”
  • “Rosa”
  • “Arachnids in the UK”
  • “The Tsuranga Conundrum”
  • “Demons of the Punjab”
  • “Kerblam!”
  • “The Witchfinders”
  • “It Takes You Away”

I just polled the family, and we’re having a hard time deciding on a favorite. Several people voted for “Arachnids in the UK,” which had wonderful special effects. It also completely failed to have a coherent ending. Several people mentioned “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” mostly because of the wonderful little spaceship-eating monster. Grace mentioned “Demons of the Punjab” and I agree with her — it told the best human-centered story. But our main feeling towards most of these episodes is disappointment. Many of them have great premises, or great scenes, but overall just fail to really fire on all cylinders.

I’m not going to list the Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu episodes; I just don’t have much to say about them, although the kids loved them.

I want to mention one album in particular that I listened to heavily in the fourth quarter, and that is Akhnaten by Philip Glass. I got my copies in the form of discs 14 and 15 of The Complete Sony Recordings. This composition rewards study, and the recording richly rewards repeat listening — it’s just remarkable. As I mentioned in the blog, I would love to see this performed live.

Finally, there are a number of books that I started, or read part of; some of these I will eventually finish; some I won’t. Some will remain on my shelves to dip into in the future. Some might wind up on the give-away pile. I will definitely finish reading Grace The Haunting of Hill House. I’ll definitely finish reading the kids The Fellowship of the Ring.

Books Started or Continued

  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock
  • Mistress of Mistresses by E. R. Eddison
  • Luke (Revised New American Bible, 1986-1990 edition)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime story reading; re-reading for me)
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
  • Cluttering: Current Views on its Nature, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Yvonne van Zaalen and Isabella K. Reichel
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton (in progress)
  • The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (bedtime story reading)
  • A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 1st, 2019

Sunday, December 30th and Monday, December 31st, 2018

Sunday

I’m continuing right on from my notes on Saturday. I got to bed pretty late last night, and I kept forgetting to take my night-time medications, so I wound up taking them well after midnight, instead of at 9 p.m. when I was supposed to take them. This meant that I was groggy this morning. I intended to get up and make progress in the kitchen, and make breakfast for everyone, but I wound up spending extra time soaking in the tub before I felt up to facing the kitchen. While I was in the tub, the kids made a big pan of scrambled eggs — with way too much salt. So they wound up wasting quite a few eggs. When I got into the kitchen, I had to restart the dishwasher again — once again, something had gone wrong, and the soap was undissolved in the bottom of the dishwasher. I really hope this dishwasher isn’t dying. We’ve used it hard, but for under two years. But I don’t really know how old it is. Maybe it’s ready to give out.

The bathtub drain was running very slowly last night, leading me to look for drain cleaner, realize we didn’t have any more, and add it to a shopping list.

I made a pot of the Café du Monde coffee and turned it into bulletproof coffee. We didn’t have any grass-fed butter, as we were out of the Kerrygold butter, but we had some Challenge butter, purchased for Christmas baking and never used, and more coconut oil, and some chocolate chips. So that gave me and Grace a small energy boost.

Grace and I talked for a while. She revealed that she was craving tacos. Then our housemate came down to talk to Grace, and it turned out that our housemate was craving tacos, too. The kitchen was in no condition to make tacos and we were missing most of the ingredients. I was willing to go get ingredients, but didn’t want to have to spend three hours cleaning up the kitchen before it was ready to make lunch, so I pushed for getting takeout tacos. We dithered around for some time before deciding on a plan. I would take our housemate to Kroger to get drain cleaner and rainbow glitter glue — another shopping list item for an art project that was planned for today. She’d get some baby formula and a few other items covered by WIC. Then we’d go out to La Marqueza Taqueria on East Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. None of us had ever been there.

So I loaded up some returnable bottles and got our housemate to Kroger. As usual, she had some strange trouble with WIC at the checkout. They were able to ring everything up, and all the items were marked on the shelf as covered by WIC, and she supposedly had enough money left on her card to cover the items, but the system just wouldn’t process her card for some reason. They sent her to the customer service desk, but she was fed up, and I don’t blame her, because it seems like that entire system is designed to humiliate WIC shoppers in front of everyone else in the store. And so she left her groceries and stood at the front of the store waiting for me. I was a few places behind her in line and bought my items, and had them ring up her items as well, because I really just wanted to get us out of there, so we could go get our tacos!

La Marqueza is a very unassuming place. We ordered six beef and six pork tacos, an order of nachos, and a quesadilla. While we were waiting I drank a glass of horchata. We didn’t have long to wait, and soon brought home all the tacos that Grace and our housemate could possibly handle. Everything was really good! So we hope to go back there soon.

After cleaning up the food, the kids decided that they wanted to build the Velociraptor Chase Lego set after all. So they worked on that. Grace, still exhausted, went back into the bedroom to nurse the baby and I wound up alone in the kitchen again, cleaning the stovetop and cast-iron pans and baking trays and emptying one dishwasher load and starting another, while periodically running back into the bathroom to put two rounds of drain cleaner down the bathtub drain. There’s still more to do in the kitchen but it’s now a quarter to ten, and I’ve been catching up on the journal for an hour and forty-five minutes, and I have to work tomorrow, so I’m not sure how much more I will do tonight. I took my medications, so they will be kicking in and making me sleepy shortly. I expect tomorrow to be a very slow day at work.

Our friend Alice apparently passed her virus off to Elanor, who has been coughing horribly. Veronica’s been feeding her broth and tea and she’s now getting a bath. We are trying to keep her away from Chi, because we really don’t want Chi, who is only sixteen days old today, to wind up with a virus. We’re just not sure his immune system is up to the challenge. This also means we are trying to keep Elanor away from her mom, which is also a challenge.

I expect tomorrow to be a quiet day in the office.

Monday

It’s the last day of 2018.

After putting away my laptop last night, I did a little more work on the kitchen. I didn’t get it completely cleaned, but I did get it to the point where the sink was mostly empty, the counters were mostly clear, and it was ready for me to make bulletproof coffee in the morning without having to make room or clean anything.

We didn’t really have dinner last night, since most of us were still pretty well filled up from our taco feast. The kids who refused to eat any of it went to bed hungry. The exception was Elanor — she had a hacky cough last night, and a lot of snot. We fed her broth, and hibiscus tea with honey, and elderberry extract. She seems to have been whacked with a virus, which might be the one that our friend Alice brought. So we are trying to keep her away from baby Chi. It might be a hopeless quest, to keep a virus from spreading around a crowded household full of kids, but we are trying.

I slept later than I intended to. It was gray and rainy again this morning, and had frozen up in patches, including our dirt road, and my office parking lot. I drove to Joe and Rosie’s and had a toasted bagel with peanut butter and a small coffee before work, and read a few pages of The Black Corridor, the third novel of three in the Traveling to Utopia omnibus of novels by Michael Moorcock; I read the other two, The Wrecks of Time and The Ice Schooner this year. I won’t finish The Black Corridor this year, but it’s not very long, so I should be able to finish it early in 2019.

It turned out I had left half my horchata from La Marqueza Taqueria in the car. It was actually frozen, but after sitting on my desk for an hour or two, it was a nice treat.

At work, only three of us were in, and only to catch up on some paperwork and e-mail messages. Human Resources decreed that on New Year’s Eve, they would count four hours as a full day. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I ordered a baby carrier, for myself, to replace the New Native carrier that I used to have. Grace sent my old carrier to Syria a few years ago, thinking we probably weren’t going to have more babies. They’ve gone up in price — a lot. It cost $87.50 for what is essentially a single piece of cloth sewn into a sling. I don’t remember exactly what they cost fourteen years ago, but it wasn’t $87.50. I could grumble about that, but I also know I’m not going to make a damned carrier, so I just bit my tongue and bought it.

I’m hoping that I will be able to use it to carry baby Chi on some walks while he’s still too small for the backpack-style baby carrier. Maybe I can use it while walking on the treadmill. I always liked the New Native design more than other baby carriers I’ve tried. It’s a very simple design, just a folded piece of cloth stitched together. It’s much simpler than the more elaborate designs Grace sometimes wears. You put it around your body over one shoulder, diagonally, like you are just won the Miss Universe pageant. Then you open up the fold and stuff the baby in there. It’s pretty foolproof. Veronica used to love to ride around with me that way. I remember taking her to Trader Joe’s with me when she was just a few days old.

I will head to Meijer for a few groceries. Grace wants to make greens, black-eyed peas, and corn bread on New Year’s Day. We also need toilet paper and paper towels, and sparkling water and orange juice for mimosas (well, faux-mosas).

We’ll start the year with our annual Lord of the Rings movie marathon. The extended editions are cool, but I think this year we might watch the shorter theatrical versions. I think I’ve got a set of those versions in the basement. At least, I hope I do.

I’ll probably work tomorrow on writing summary of what I read and watched in the fourth quarter, and get that posted. It’s been a terrible quarter for getting reading done. My totals will be way down. But I think I still have some tomorrows ahead of me.

In fact, it’s been a terrible year in many ways — full of stress and anxiety and ugly politics and awful news. We’re still here. May 2019 be better for you, and for all of us.

The Last Hours

It’s the first, and we have just started our Lord of the Rings marathon, watching the theatrical editions instead of the extended editions. I came back to fill in the details of the last few hours of 2018.

I left the office about 3:15, and ran out to Costco. It was rainy and foggy, and I needed to run the car’s air conditioner to clear the fog from the windows. On the way to Costco, I heard on the radio, or thought I heard, that Airport Boulevard was closed at State Street due to flooding, so I decided to get off at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and take Lohr to Ellsworth to the other part of Airport Boulevard to get into Costco, then go back up Lohr to Ann Arbor-Saline Road to get on I-94. In retrospect, though, I think they were probably talking about Airport Drive, not Airport Boulevard. They connect, but Airport Drive is a little further south (and services the actual municipal airport).

At Costco I bought orange juice, La Croix water in the tall cans, celery, apples, bagged salads, eggs, butter, bagels, two bags of Shishito peppers, and industrial-size packages of paper towels and toilet paper. My plan for New Year’s Day breakfast was scrambled eggs, blistered Shishito peppers, and toasted bagels, with our faux-mosas.

Costco was hopping. I had to wait quite some time to check out. Then I went to GFS on Carpenter Road, and bought Jiffy Mix for cornbread and ham hocks. Then it was on to Meijer. I knew it was a bad idea to go to Meijer on New Year’s Eve, but Grace wanted black-eyed peas, and they are the only local store where I’ve been able to find them. Meijer was crowded. I found that the space on the shelf where they stock black-eyed peas was completely empty. So I went to ask someone at the customer service desk. That required about twenty minutes in line. They confirmed that they had no more black-eyed pease. So I went back and picked up a couple of bags of red beans, a couple of bags of split peas, and a couple of bags of pinto beans, in case Grace and our housemate wanted to do something different — a red beans and dirty rice thing, a split pea soup thing, or maybe even a refried beans thing. Then it took me another twenty or thirty minutes to check out.

When I got back in the car, Grace had been sending me text messages. I had left my phone in the car, apparently under the ridiculously optimistic assumption that I’d be able to get in and out of Meijer quickly. Our housemate was making chili, and we were out of diced tomatoes. So I told Grace that I would get gas and try one more place — the little Mexican grocery near Textile off of Carpenter.

That little grocery has hundreds of bags of beans of different types, occupying yards and yards of shelf space. But there were only five cans of diced tomatoes in the whole store, and they were quite hard to find. I’m still confused as to how they could stock so many beans and so few tomatoes. Aren’t tomatoes pretty much a staple of Mexican cooking? Anyway, I finally found the tomatoes, but they did not have black-eyed peas. So then, home. It had taken me three hours to run a few errands. I was pretty sick of the whole thing by the time I got home.

Our housemate was finishing up a pot of chili, made with ground bison, and a pot of packaged Velveeta macaroni and cheese, and assembled one of the Costco Caesar salads. I got the groceries put away, leaving the orange juice and La Croix water in my car to stay cold, since there wasn’t room for it in the refrigerator, and I didn’t want the kids to get into them until New Year’s Day.

I think we’re just going to have to order a case of some nice heirloom black-eyed peas.

The three older kids had an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party — their piano teacher invited them. I really didn’t want to go out again, but Grace was feeling well enough to drive them, so after dinner and after the kids did some cleanup, she ran them up to their piano teacher’s house.

Millions

We watched a movie on our housemate’s computer, plugged into our TV. It’s one of Grace’s favorite movies: Millions from 2004. I actually have a DVD of this movie on order and we should be getting it in the mail in a few days. Having read the description, it sounded like a pretty conventional children’s morality tale.

Millions turned out to be something quite different. It’s actually a much odder movie that partakes heavily of magical realism, a real genre-bender. It’s sort of a blend of Home Alone, Stand By Me, and Household Saints; it also reminds me of the old TV show Joan of Arcadia, but with more visual pyrotechnics. It’s really fun, and I enjoyed it more than I expected. The screenplay contains many clever little bits of setup that pay off later in the form of jokes playing out in the backgrounds, or in minor subplots. The movie’s only real flaws center around its ending. It has a couple of endings, and they both feel a little gratuitous and unconvincing: one is a bit too maudlin, and one is a bit to joyful. The whole storyline stretches credulity a little bit, but the meetings with saints are funny and moving, and the back-story about the crime that sets the plot in motion is funny and brilliant.

We’ll have a DVD shortly, and we’ll no doubt watch this one again.

Last Words

I will write a summary of quarter 4. I might write some kind of epilogue, or afterword to the whole year-long journal; I’m not sure yet. But it will be a 2019 project, for the “director’s cut,” or book form of the blog, rather than something completed in 2018. After today’s post, I’m going to put this weekly format on hiatus, at least for a while. I will write differently in 2019. I’m not yet sure just what I’ll write.

Even without the quarter 4 summary, I’ve exceeded 450,000 words. If I turn the text into an OpenOffice document with pandoc, it’s over 780 pages long. I have started a project to go back and edit the posts, but haven’t even completed editing the posts from the first quarter yet. It’s long!

I had hopes that I’d end this year-long writing project with some sort of a bang — a long autobiographical essay, or a number of book or film reviews — basically, something to close it out well. Instead it feels like we are just barely managing to get the basics accomplished, and my free time is being squeezed down to nothing. The medications are helping my anxiety level, but also making me tired. Maybe I need to feel that tiredness for a while, and get some extra sleep.

That’s a whimper to end the year on, not a bang. But maybe a whimper is just more realistic. The holidays have always been a hard time for me, and we have additional challenges this year. I remain hopeful that things will improve in 2019 — that we’ll finally sell the house, that we’ll find more help in practical matters, that our financial situation will stabilize, etc. I’m optimistic because I have to be. How does the saying go? “Hope is a discipline.” I follow @prisonculture on Twitter and I think I might have first read this in her tweet:

Before i [sic] log off. One thing. Many years ago, I heard a nun who was giving a speech say “hope is a discipline.” It stuck with me and became a sort of mantra for me. I understood her to be saying that hope is a practice.

I hope to keep practicing hope, and remember how richly we have been blessed.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock (in the Gollancz omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia)
  • Millions (2004 film)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Sunday, December 30th and Monday, December 31st, 2018

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Sunday

“It Takes You Away”

Last night after dinner we managed to watch another episode of Doctor Who, called “It Takes You Away.” This episode starts in a promising way. Our gang comes across a boarded-up farmhouse in rural Norway. Inside they find a blind teen-aged girl named Hanne, hiding in a closet against the coming of a monster. Hanne’s father is missing; her mother is dead. There’s a lot of delicious ambiguity in the opening minutes. Is the “girl” not what she seems? Is the monster, which we only hear and don’t see, invisible? After all, if the monster is invisible, the sighted don’t really have much of an advantage in fighting it.

Further exploration of the farmhouse reveals a mirror that is also a portal; the portal opens on a series of dark and grim cavernous passages. This is an “anti-zone,” a buffer zone between planes that are not “allowed” to come into contact with each other. In the anti-zone the gang meets a creature called Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs, and encounter the delightfully-named “flesh moths.” This has to be one of the all-time lowest-budget locations ever used since the 2009 reboot. Menace is conveyed with a fog machine, colored lights, and animated moths. Ribbons is a completely thrown-away character. We’re left wondering what the point of all this was, if it wasn’t just to pad out the episode.

As an expeditionary team explores the anti-zone, Ryan, left behind to guard Hanne, discovers that the sound of the monster is being produced by a recording played over speakers hidden around the property.

The expeditionary team reaches another portal, and enters what appears to be a mirror image of the same farmhouse. Inside they find Hanne’s father, with someone who appears to be Hanne’s mother. Then Graham’s deceased wife Grace shows up.

I kept expecting this episode to settle down a bit and spin its story elements back inward for a while, rather than spinning them out further. The story’s treatment of the “but you can’t be here, you’re dead” people are very, very reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. That book is largely about the inability of people to accept the things they feel are impossible, at the cost of much pain. The Solitract seems like an interesting idea as well — but did we need another conscious entity plucked from before the start of the Universe, rather than something that already exists in the immense history of Doctor Who? It feels like too much, to me. “Solitract” sounds like it means “solitary place,” and that describes well the dimension or universe where the Solitract exists. And… did it have to manifest as a crudely animated talking frog?

I think the frog might be an oblique reference to Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams. In that book, a man named Prak is given an overdose of truth serum, which causes him to tell all the truth. Anyone who hears it goes insane, so Prak is placed in solitary confinement until the drug wears off. When our heroes find him, as part of their quest to find the ultimate Question, he’s done telling the truth:

“Oh, I can’t remember any of it now,” said Prak. “I thought of writing some of it down, but first I couldn’t find a pencil, and then I thought, why bother?”

There was a long silence, during which they thought they could feel the Universe age a little. Prak stared into the torchlight.

“None of it?” said Arthur at last. “You can remember none of it?”

“No. Except most of the good bits were about frogs, I remember that.”

Suddenly he was hooting with laughter again and stamping his feet on the ground.

“You would not believe some of the things about frogs,” he gasped. “Come on let’s go and find ourselves a frog. Boy, will I ever see them in a new light!”

So, again — not a bad episode, and there are some nice science fiction tropes going on in this one. But again, it’s entirely self-contained. At the end, The Doctor leaves the Solitract in its solitary place, Hanne and her father are going to head back to Oslo, and the gang is off on another adventure. I’ve actually been expecting Grace to show up; they’ve telegraphed that pretty hard, with Graham’s ongoing grief. But I expected her presence to leave some lasting influence on the story. I guess they’ve been keeping that in reserve so that Graham can appear to enter a new phase of his grief by choosing to give up the faux-Grace. But I don’t really feel like that payoff has been worth the wait.

Today

Things haven’t gone brilliantly today. Grace’s blood pressure has been creeping up, so I asked her to go back on nifedipine. This will knock her for a loop, leaving her dizzy and nursing a headache all day, but I was just not comfortable with the numbers she was getting, and I don’t want to have to rush her back to the hospital. It’s more of a burden on me, though, since she can’t do much supervision of the kids, and we wanted to get out to buy a few things. I’m not sure she’ll be able to walk around a store.

I haven’t had anything to eat yet today. The kids were up and wanted to do some cooking, so we gave Sam instructions on how to roast some potatoes. He promptly ignored them, putting oil on some potatoes, then putting them on a cookie sheet rather than a baking dish and putting it in the oven. The oil of course then drizzled all over the inside of the oven and made a big smoking mess.

I got up and out to the kitchen and spent some time picking more broken glass out of the garbage disposal. Yesterday at some point Grace heard a glass breaking, and kept asking the kids to find out where it went, but no one could find broken glass anywhere. One of them must have thrown a glass into the sink. If they had not removed the wire screen over the drain, which is supposed to remain there, it wouldn’t have all gone into the disposal. But it did, so there I was. I can’t really where gloves for that job, since I need to feel for the little bits of glass stuck in the holes in the bottom of the disposal. I always wind up with a number of shallow cuts on my fingers when I do this. But I got the disposal working again.

Then I had to take apart the bottom of the oven again and clean that. It turns out there weren’t any gloves anyway. In case you’ve never experienced it, the feel of oven cleaner getting into shallow cuts all over your fingers is really quite something.

So I’m not in the best mood on Christmas Eve Eve Day. And now it’s time to pay some bills that I haven’t managed to get to yet. I’m sure that will help. I did read a couple more stories in The Bloody Chamber. It continues to be really enjoyable. I’ve only got two stories left.

Monday

Later yesterday afternon Grace felt up to doing a little bit of shopping so I took her to Meijer. We bought ingredients for egg rolls, a can of Café du Monde coffee, more celery for juicing, some flour and sugar for baking, and a number of small stocking stuffer gifts: socks and underwear, and bags of pistachios. They were completely out of egg roll wrappers, but they did have the smaller square wonton wrappers and round potsticker wrappers. Meijer was very crowded and it took a very long time to check out. Grace didn’t have much energy left to give by the time we left Meijer. She had run out of Percoset and her pain level was creeping up.

We got back home and unloaded things and again begged the kids to work on their kitchen cleanup chores. Then was then past time for me to put Benjamin in the car — Grace asked me to take him with me because he was the one she most wanted out of the house for a while — and head to Detroit Metro Airport to pick up Grace’s old friend Alice. It’s been a long while since I have gone to Detroit Metro and I was trying to follow signs to the airport entrances off of I-275, but wound up heading north on I-275 from I-94 instead of south, and so had to get off and loop around, and so was somewhat late to pick her up. The arrival lanes were packed with cars, but the freeways themselves were not, so we got Alice back to our home without difficulties.

As I write this now it’s about 8:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I’m trying to figure out what happened between then and now. When I got home last night Veronica had, instead of doing the kitchen cleanup we requested, gone to bed early. In fact we were two dishwasher loads behind, because the dishwasher load that should have been completed and put away much earlier in the day had apparently gotten stalled when someone opened the dishwasher and didn’t restart it. So we were pretty angry about that — Veronica going to bed with the dishwasher full of dirty dishes, the sink full of dirty dishes, and the counter covered with more dirty dishes. She swore up and down that she would get up early and take care of dishes in time for me to make breakfast before our housemate needed to start her planned cooking for Christmas.

You can probably guess how that went.

So we had a very late breakfast — I made a pot of coffee, and then a batch of blueberry pancakes, and then another batch of blueberry pancakes and a pan of cheesy scrambed eggs because everyone was very hungry. Then I spent a little time planning with Grace and decided to run to GFS, and then to Costco with our friend Alice so she could get some vegetarian food. GFS did not have the main thing I was looking for: egg roll wrappers. They also didn’t have pre-made eggnog, which Veronica requested. I picked up some steel-cut oats, some Earl Grey tea from Harney and Sons for Grace, a container of wasabi peas (another festive Christmas food), and some vegetable broth. It was looking quite unlikely that the egg-rolls-from-scratch plan was going to come together, so I also bought three boxes of frozen egg rolls: chicken, shrimp, and vegetable.

Our housemate called my cell phone and asked me to bring her four foil pans for the food she was cooking, so she could transport it to her boyfriend’s mother’s apartment, and some brown sugar for the ham. I was actually in the process of loading up my car when I got her call, so she got me in the nick of time — it took only a few more minutes to run in and grab those things.

When I got home I had been planning to run to Costco, but Alice was asleep, and it didn’t seem worthwhile to run to Costco on Christmas Eve for only eggs and eggnog. I did some consultation with Grace about whether we would need anything else for Christmas Even and Christmas Day, and concluded that we could get by and it would be fine if I went back with a bigger shopping list the day after Christmas.

A little while later Grace and the kids decided how we were going to get people to Mass with one car with four seats, and I put the fourth seat back in the Element. The plan was that I would take Grace for 4:30 Mass, and then I’d take the three oldest kids Christmas morning. Grace is still moving pretty slow, so we were quite late, but Grace received communion, Malachi was adorable and peaceful the whole time, and lots of people were excited to meet him. After Mass Grace inquired as to whether she had won a silent auction item she bid on, a few weeks ago. It turned out that she had. It’s a vintage toy baby carriage with baby doll. So we brought that home and stuck it in the garage, and it will be a gift for both Elanor and Veronica.

On the way back we stopped at Stony Creek Liquors and Marketplace near the church. If you try to look up their web site, don’t — it appears that their domain has been hijacked and redirects to some kind of Russian porn site, much to my surprise.

I hadn’t been in that liquor store yet and I was startled by how big it is inside — it looked like a small liquor store occupying part of a building. But it looks like the whole building is the store, and in fact they have a massive selection of beer and liquor and there is a small deli counter in there, too. They had one carton of eggnog left — possibly the last one in Washtenaw County. We also got a six pack of a nice Michigan stout. I picked up a peanut butter-flavored Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll because I was excited to see it in the store, but Grace tasted it as I drove us home and it turned out to be horribly stale, so it went right in the trash.

When I got back home it was time to load up the car with our housemate, one of her daughters, and her baby son in his car seat. The rest of my car was entirely filled with the gifts she was taking to her boyfriend’s mother’s apartment for their Christmas celebration and the trays of food she worked on this afternoon — ham, yams, green beans, and mashed potatoes. On the way I commiserated with our housemate about how bad the kids had been about finishing their chores, and how we were going to have a Christmas Eve dinner of reheated frozen egg rolls because they weren’t willing to do the kitchen work required to cook egg rolls from scratch. I got her and her kids and her things delivered to the apartment, and then of course I got lost on the way back, so I blundered around a bit until I could find a freeway entrance, which let me take a route I knew how to navigate, instead of the maze of surface streets with their roundabouts and curves and numerous renamings.

When I got back, the kids had apparently had a come-to-Jesus moment, and with Alice’s help had done a bunch of kitch cleanup and were actually in the process of prepping all the fillings for won tons. So as I write this, I’m enjoying some slices of black pepper-coated salami and some wasabi peas while the kids finish up that job and heat up a pot of lard on the stove. I will do the actual deep-frying for safety reasons.

Elanor had been taking a nap, and when she woke up and came into the kitchen, we were horrified to discover that she had apparently taken a spill on the front porch and scraped her forehead and skinned the tip of her nose on the concrete. So she looks like hell, but she’s in her usual good spirits. I’m happy that we won’t be taking her to Mass tomorrow morning, looking like that.

Grace did not take her nifedipine this morning but instead had Joshua make her a big glass of celery juice. We have reproduced the startling result that Grace had in the hospital — the celery, apple, and lemon juice cocktail in fact caused a dramatic drop in her blood pressure. She monitored it for the rest of the afternoon and into this evening, taking it every two hours, and it has normalized, but not spiked much above a healthy level. So we’re going to try to get her back into a regimen involving daily celery juice, but perhaps a smaller amount twice a day. We’ll watch her and if her blood pressure starts to get dangerously high, she’ll have to go on the nifedipine, at least her evening dose, until we find a better solution.

It’s time for me to go deep-fry the wontons in lard left over from our friends’ pig. Merry Christmas, and Excelsior!

Tuesday

I’m catching up on the day after Christmas. I described most of Christmas Eve already, and there isn’t much more to tell. The egg rolls in the form of wontons were quite tasty, and the kids had a good time making them. Grace and I weren’t up to distributing the pistachios, socks, and underwear into the kids’ bags, so we left that for Christmas Day. I called my father and brought him up to date on the situation with Chi, Grace, and the rest of us.

On Christmas Day I got up early with my alarm and got myself bathed, and then woke up the three oldest kids to go to Mass. I wanted us to get there early, which we did, because I thought the Mass might be very crowded, and it wasn’t. Veronica, Sam, and Joshua were reasonably well-behaved. I found out that what I suspected was true — they wanted to go to the 10:00 Mass because they thought there would be coffee and donuts afterwards, as there are on most weekend morning Masses. But they didn’t do that on Christmas, and I wasn’t surprised — I think most people wanted to go home to their own Christmas celebrations rather than socialize at church.

When we got home, our friend Alice took the kids outside to play while Grace and I opened up packages of socks and underwear and distributed them, with the bags of pistachios, into the kids’ gift bags, and brought in the old baby carriage and doll for Veronica and Elanor. Our friend Alice had brought them a small assortment of vintage treasures to pick from including a vintage hippie purse, which Grace claimed. While we were sorting things, our housemate called to request a ride. We told her we would be there soon but we were going to open gifts first. After that was done, since I don’t really know the way there and back very well, and Grace was feeling well enough to take a short drive, Grace took the car to go pick up our housemate and her children.

After the kids all opened up their bags, we spent the afternoon lollygagging around. We ate the reheated frozen egg rolls and Grace and I finally got to see Iron Man, the 2009 movie, on DVD, and we cleaned up the kitchen, and there isn’t much else to tell about our Christmas except that towards evening, Grace’s blood pressure was creeping up a bit. So I asked her to take her nighttime dose of nifedipine, which she did, with a plan to have her use her celery juice in the morning and monitor it and see if she could skip her noon dose.

Iron Man

Iron Man is generally ranked as one of the best movies to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, and after finally watching it, Grace and I agree with this assessment. I was impressed that in the midst of all the explosions and iron suit special effects (some of which actually look slightly dated and unconvincing on the small screen after only a decade), the storyline of the movie is actually quite character-driven, and the actors in the lead roles, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow, are all very good. Many scenes are also very well-written, to the point where in parts we feel more like we’re watching a serious dramatic film, where events are layered with symbolic meaning. This is nowhere so evident as in the hilarious, gross, and touching scene (yes, all three at once) where Paltrow has to help Downey replace the tiny reactor that powers an electromatic to keep his heart working.

Downey’s role in the story was a tricky one — he has to convince you that he’s the billionaire head of a weapons company, and that he doesn’t feel any moral qualms about this. But then he has to convince you that he’s had enough of a change of heart to risk destroying his father’s company and alienating everyone else in the firm. Downey navigates this beautifully by underplaying scenes that might easily have become preachy and unconvincing. According to Wikipedia:

There was much improvisation in dialogue scenes, because the script was not completed when filming began… Favreau [the director] felt that improvisation would make the film feel more natural… [i]t was Downey’s idea to have Stark hold a news conference on the floor, and he created the speech Stark makes when demonstrating the Jericho weapon… Bridges described this approach as “a $200 million student film,” and noted that it caused stress for Marvel executives when the stars were trying to come up with dialogue on the day of filming scenes.

I had the feeling, watching some of these scenes, that ad-libbing or at least writing on the fly might have been involved, and in my view these scenes really sell the story. Grace and I were both impressed with the way the screenplay ties up loose ends and captures details from the perspectives of multiple characters. For example, there’s a scene earlier in the film where Downey dances with Paltrow at a party and they nearly kiss. Downey has to race off for more drama. But near the end of the movie, we hear Paltrow recount the evening from her perspective, and it is a nice touch that does something that a lot of superhero films don’t bother to do, which is to remind us that assistants and sidekicks and friends and lovers of superheroes are people that have perspectives.

Downey is very appealing as the protagonist of this movie, and his role does something else I find interesting. Downey is not actually a large man, or immensely muscle-bound, although of course he’s fit. And so, much of the physical presence he displays in the film is actually created by his acting. He convinces the viewers that he’s burlier and more imposing than Downey really is by his confident movement. And I also like the way in which, even in his iron suit, Downey discovers many moments in which he can’t win by force, and has to outsmart his enemies instead.

Grace had some qualms about the portrayal of Arabs in this film, and I had a few too, although as she put it “I wasn’t immediately revolted, the way I often am.” I think the role of Pepper Potts is worthy of some discussion about female characters in superhero films. I’m not really familiar with the old comic book Iron Man, but I’m sure the original role was pretty appalling, and I’m happy they gave her character more agency in the film.

The film runs 124 minutes, and there’s just about nothing I would actually edit out to make it tighter. It could lose a minute or two here and there, but for the most part, it doesn’t drag. And I was pleased that by the time we got to the big showdown, I actually was interested enough in the characters to care what happened. That’s not true of a lot of superhero films.

Wednesday

The day after Christmas has also been a bit of a snooze, which is far from a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. This morning I gave Chi his first bath. He’s still only twelve days old, so it was more like a thorough soak of his bottom half and a light rinse of his top half. He seemed completely unperturbed by the process, and didn’t fuss at all.

I ran out this morning to get a couple of boxes of donuts from Tim Horton’s. Our housemate brought down her laptop and set it up for the kids to watch the movie Pixels, which I’ve never seen. I watched the first half-hour or so and decided I didn’t need to see the rest. Grace had her celery juice this morning and her blood pressure is comfortably in the safe zone, so she will again skip her afternoon dose of nifedipine, and we’ll watch it and see if she needs an evening dose.

This afternoon I’ll run out to get laundry detergent and pick up a few things at Costco. The tentative plan is for me to go back to work tomorrow, and Alice to stay until Saturday.

Thursday

Yesterday afternoon I went to The Little Seedling store for more laundry detergent, but they didn’t have any more jugs of the Allen’s Naturally that we’ve been using. So I had to go next door to Arbor Farms and pick up a smaller jug of Seventh Generation detergent instead, along with a couple of bottles of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, and a few packages of cheese for Alice. In the checkout line, the woman bagging my things said that I looked like I belonged in the Bee Gees. This kind of made my day!

Then I went on to Costco.

Grace and I had received our annual 2% reward in the form of a paper certificate. I was able to cash this in at the counter and use it to pay for another year’s membership, and take the rest in cash. I put the cash towards a load of groceries. We needed to stock up on celery, apples, bananas, oranges, size 4 diapers (Elanor is outgrowing size 3), eggs, frozen crab cakes for Friday’s dinner, bags of salad, corn chips and salsa, and boxes and cans of coconut milk.

The rest of the evening consisted of a lot of cooking and cleanup work. Alice made nachos and roasted brussels sprouts. I cooked a package of steaks from Costco. These were larger than the lamb steaks, so I pan-fried them a couple at a time in our biggest cast-iron pan, then finished them in the oven at 425 degrees — two minutes on a side in the pan, then seven minutes in the oven. For seasoning, I gave them a light coating of salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Some of them also got smoked paprika. I used the pan drippings to make a quick gravy using corn starch, white wine vinegar, and mustard powder. They were delicious. I sliced up one of the leftover steaks to take to work along with some of the multi-grain bread.

Grace’s blood pressure continues to be too high for my comfort. She measured it last night before bed, when she was due for another dose of labetalol, and after having morning and evening glasses of celery juice. It seems pretty clear that the labetalol is not keeping it level — the doses don’t last long enough. We’ve established that the celery juice has a strong antihypertensive effect, but it also doesn’t seem to keep it level over time. Grace will see her obstetrician tomorrow for a follow-up appointment. We’re also working on a plan for who she should see next.

While the kids were finishing up some hand-washing and Grace was working through her e-mail backlog, I read the last two stories in The Bloody Chamber. One of them is “The Company of Wolves,” in which Carter clearly honed the language to a fine point — it’s loaded with alliteration and really beautiful turns of phrase.

Back to Work

Our friend Alice is still here so it seemed reasonable to go into work, to avoid taking any unpaid days. Grace needed the car today, because the kids are back into scheduled activities. So she and Chi rode in with me this morning, so that she could take the car back home. A number of my co-workers were out, so it was pretty quiet upstairs. I went through the backlog of e-mail and started getting my head back into some of my LabVIEW code. Grace came out to get me this evening as well. I’ve got more leftover steak and bread, as well as some frozen burritos and yogurt, left to eat tomorrow. I should be paid tonight, although most of it is goint to go right to the Team One account.

The weather has been strange. We had a little sun yesterday, but for the most part it has been gray and overcast for almost two weeks. Today it is about forty degrees, and tomorrow it is supposed to be over fifty. We got only a very light sprinkling of snow on Christmas Day. I’m grateful that we’ve passed the shortest day of the year, but we could really use a little more sun.

Friday

Grace came to get me from the office last night about 7:15 p.m., bringing Chi with her, and drove me home. She reported that the kids had been grazing on and off during the day, and that she didn’t have any real plan for dinner. So I suggested we stop at Blaze Pizza on Washtenaw. I think the last time we got their pizzas was last January, as reported in this blog. I had them make a meat lover’s, a veggie, a white, and a barbecue chicken. When we got home I was quite happy to discover that the house and the kitchen were in great shape — our housemate, Alice, and Grace had managed to keep the kids on track with cleaning chores.

Grace had me examine her incision. Worryingly, there is some slight bleeding happening, on one side. The other side seems to be healing fine. There was no sign of infection that I could detect, but it seems like she might have torn some stitches, maybe in a fall she took earlier in the week. So I’m glad that she is seeing her doctor today.

I was so distracted last night that I think I may have taken my evening medications twice. I use an alarm on my phone to remind me, but if I’m driving or very busy, I silence the alarm and just remind myself to take the pills later. I can’t really be sure, but the side effects of Celexa seemed more severe than usual last night and this morning. Oops.

This morning I drove in with Alice so that she could take the car back home, and asked her to go with Grace to her appointment this afternoon in case she needs assistance. So I will be carless today. I stopped at Joe and Rosie’s and got a coffee and a couple of day-old pastries for me and a tea for Alice.

I’m planning to go to Costco after work, although that might be complicated by the car situation. We’ll have the crab cakes for our Friday dinner. Alice will leave by a noon flight on Saturday.

The kids have been watching an awful lot of movies and TV shows. After New Year’s Day, we’ll call their holiday TV-watching binge over, and put the TV back in the basement.

Saturday

Once again I’m playing catch-up. I was hoping to have more time, on these last few days of the year, to reflect on things, maybe finish a few books in progress, and come up with some insightful digressions, instead of just reporting what happened. But it seems that at present I am barely able to even keep up. So I’m writing this on Sunday night at about 7:30 p.m. after a dizzying weekend and I have some more chores to do before bedtime.

Grace gave me an update about her obstetrics appointment She did not get to see her obstetrician, and was seen instead by a nurse practitioner at the practice who consulted with a physician on call. The physician did not examine her. She got some specific recommendations on the blood pressure ranges they consider to be hazardous. The nurse practitioner examined her incision, but did not palpate her abdomen. She told Grace that everything looked like it was within the range of normal healing. But I’m not really satisfied — no one felt the difference between the two sides of her belly. I hope that she will soon be able to see her obstetrician who made the incision, and get a more thorough examination.

Grace picked me up at my office Friday evening. I was expecting her about 7:15, which would have left us plenty of time for a Costco trip since they close at 8:30, but she got there about twenty to eight, so it was almost eight when we got to Costco. She had baby Chi with her in the car, and was not feeling up to racing around the story with me, so I did the racing around myself while we exchanged text messages. This time I bought mostly fruit, vegetables, and salad. Benjamin wanted more pot pies. Joshua wanted french fries and sausages. They didn’t have frozen french fries — their frozen sweet potato fries seem to be only a seasonal item. Grace wanted honey. Pippin wanted a surprise, to I got him a box of Taiwanese pineapple cakes. I also got some chicken legs. Our friend Alice wanted vegetables so she could pack some for her return trip, and hummus, so I bought a big vegetable tray and a box of little packs of hummus. I got the Kirkland brand (Costco’s house brand), because I am boycotting Sabra. I also got another bag of chips and a seven-layer dip, for no good reason other than I was craving it.

I considered getting more red meat but just felt a little burned out on red meat. It also seems like I am starting to get a little bit of gout. I was complaining to Grace about a stabbing pain in the ball of my big toe. I thought it might be a plantar wart, but couldn’t find one. Grace suggested gout, so I looked it up on some web sites such as the Mayo Clinic’s web site. The diagrams showing the common location of the pain describe my symptoms exactly. So I will talk about it with my doctor — I see him again in a few days. There’s a possibility it might be related to the blood pressure medication I’m taking, although certainly I could stand to get back onto a healthier diet and exercise regimen.

Speaking of exercise regimen, Grace and I are giving serious thought to spending the rest of my end-of-year bonus on a treadmill. I know that I’d use it, and I think if we put it in the bedroom, she would use it, too, and we could also allow some of the kids to use it, with supervision.

On the way out of the Costco parking lot, I realized that one of my headlights is out. Again. It seems like I just had them both replaced!

When we got home, we put the crab cakes in the oven, then served them with the vegetable tray and the seven-layer dip. Our friend Alice ate a good portion of the dip and chips for dinner. I had hoped that the kids would like the crab cakes, but they didn’t really seem to enjoy them very much.

After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening arguing with the kids about their chores until it was quite late, and eventually went to bed.

Grace’s blood pressure was worry8ingly high again at bedtime, even an hour after her dose of labetalol. So she took another dose of nifedipine, the one with the nasty side effects. This pretty much guaranteed that she was going to feel like crap the next day, exhausted and headachey.

The Next Day

It wasn’t a great night’s sleep — our little Chi is not a bad sleeper as newborns go, but he wakes us up a couple of times. I got up and threw on some extremely casual clothes to go to the Greyhound station in Detroit — jeans with a ripped-out leg, and a button-down shirt that is too ratty to wear to work. I was anxious and hated to just wait around the house while Grace and Alice finished getting ready, so I ran out to get myself a coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit at Tim Horton’s, and to gas up the car. I had been planning to gas it up on the way home from Costco Friday night but I forgot. That’s one of the hazards of getting into a conversation with my wife — I forget my regular routine.

We pulled out of the driveway about ten minutes to eleven and made it to the Greyhound station by 11:45, dropped off Alice, and then got back onto route 10. I asked Grace if she wanted to go ahead and go to the Lego store in Troy at the Somerset Collection mall, as this was something I had hoped to do, in order to get the kids a big Lego set as a post-Christmas gift. She thought that was a good idea so we went there. Grace was not too keen on walking, but fortunately there is a walkway from the parking structure into the mall. Grace needed to eat, so we stopped at a place in the food court called Honey Tree and picked on a strange assortment of food — a chicken shawarma sandwich, a cucumber dill salad, a piece of spanakopita, a bowl of clam chowder, and a bottle of cranberry juice. Everything was pretty good except for the clam chowder, which we both agreed was not worth eating.

We made our way to the Lego store. Grace came in with me for a few minutes, but Chi wanted to nurse again, so we found her a bench and then I went back in. I was considering some of the big, big Lego Ninjago sets like the Ninjago City set or the Ninjago City Docks set. After looking at them in person, though, I decided they were just too big and had too many pieces; they were marked for ages 16 and up, and tagged for expert builders. I think Veronica (14) and Sam (12) could manage sets like that over a few days, but not while surrounded by siblings demanding to participate. I think Grace and I would enjoy it, though, if we had some down time to work on it! I also wasn’t thrilled about spending $230 or $300 on a single set, especially since Grace wanted a Duplo set for Elanor and the younger kids, and I wanted to pick out an “in-between” set for kids who felt too old for the Duplo set and too young for the Ninjago sets.

I wound up solving this by buying a somewhat smaller set, the Destiny’s Bounty, and another one, the Temple of Resurrection. So I bought those two, the Duplo Playground set, and for the middle ages, I chose a Jurassic World Velociraptor Chase set. So I got four sets for a bit more than the price of the giant Ninjago City set. I looked wistfully — again — at the eight hundred dollar Millennium Falcon set on the way out.

We were ready to go, but Grace was feeling flattened, and told me that she needed something to get her up off the bench. So I went on a hunt for a coffee drink. That took some time. None of the storefronts in the food court sold coffee at all. There was a Starbucks, two floors below. There was a very long line at the Starbucks. But I finally was able to bring her back a peppermint mocha, which gave her enough energy to walk to the car. I had to pick up some candy at a little bulk candy place, including some candies in the shape of Lego bricks that actually snap together (well, sort of).

The drive back home was very long, especially since we had to stop so that Grace could nurse baby Chi again. The kids were very excited to see the huge Lego bags holding Lego sets. Veronica in particular was really excited about the Temple of Resurrection — apparently it contains some little masks that she is thrilled to have, although I could not explain why even if I tried. They did not seem excited about the Velociratpor Chase set, though. So we decided they would put together the Destiny’s Bounty ship on the table, and the smaller kids could work on the Duplo set on the floor, and the other two sets would go in our room until later.

Grace had promised our housemate that she would take her to Once Upon a Child, the used clothing store in Ypsilanti, so they left me with baby Chi and headed out again. The kids came to me to complain that some pieces were missing from the Destiny’s Bounty set. Then they found one or two of them, so I’m not sure if any were actually missing, although it wouldn’t be out of the question. If so, it was only a couple of small bricks, and I had to explain to them that I wasn’t going to be able to drive all the way back to Troy anytime soon — they would just have to muddle along as best they could.

When Grace and our housemate got back, our housemate was craving soup. So we improvised a chicken soup in the Instant Pot — we sauteed chopped celery, onion, and carrots, she browned one of the packs of chicken legs in a cast-iron pan, then we put them together in the pot with the two quarts of vegetable broth that Alice didn’t use, along with a bag of the leftover pork and cabbage filling we had made for egg rolls on Christmas Eve. The result was quite tasty.

After getting a dishwasher load going, I helped Grace get herself washed. She is not allowed to bathe her incision fully, and she has been feeling too unstable to take a regular shower. So we put a little water in the tub, so that it stayed below her incision, and she soaped herself and I hosed her off with a spray bottle. She took off the rest of her tape strips, which were loose by now. We didn’t see any more bleeding, so that was encouraging. She does not like to wear the compression belt, but we wrapped her belly up with an ace bandage.

Her blood pressure was high again — so, more nifedipine.

I do have one more book that I’ve been meaning to mention. I’ve been reading a little bit of E. R. Eddison’s Mistress of Mistresses. This is the first book of his Zimiamvia Trilogy. It follows The Worm Ouroborous and seems to take place in another part of the same world, and features a character, Lessingham, who is present in the introductory chapter of The Worm Ouroborous as an observer.

Mistress is a less straightforward and more challenging book. It was the first of the trilogy to be published, but it is chronologically the last of the three. In the first chapter, “The Overture,” we learn that Lessingham, apparently a man of our world, has died. Most of the chapter consists of his best friend recounting a brief history of their friendship to a mysterious woman. Then, the two seal up Lessingham’s corpse in a room, open a secret panel above his bed, which hides a portrait of his dead wife, and burn down the castle. It’s a deeply romantic conceit, and a bit gothic as well. In the next chapter we meet Lessingham again, but it’s a different Lessingham — Lessingham in the afterlife, or a sort of ur-Lessingham, of which the earthly one was a sort of copy. I don’t really claim to know what is going on yet, as I have really only finished the first chapter. But if you’re reading Eddison, you’re probably not really reading him for the story; you’re probably, like me, reading him for the amazing beauty of the his language, and descriptive world-building:

I can see you now, if I shut my eyes; in memory I see you, staring at the Lynxfoot Wall: your kingdom to be, as I very well know you then resolved (and soon performed your resolve): that hundred miles of ridge and peak and precipice, of mountains of Alpine stature and seeming, but sunk to the neck in the Atlantic stream and so turned to islands of an unwonted fierceness, close set, so that seen from afar no breach appears nor sea-way betwixt them. So sharp cut was their outline that night, and so unimaginably nicked and jagged, against the rosy radiance to the north which was sunset and sunrise in one, that for the moment they seemed feigned mountains cut out of smoky crystal and set up against a painted sky. For a moment only; for there was the talking of the waves under our bows, and the wind in our faces, and, as time went by with still that unaltering scene before us, every now and again the flight and wild cry of a black-backed gull, to remind us that this was salt sea and open air and land ahead. And yet it was hard then to conceive that here was real land, with the common things of life and houses of men, under that bower of light where the mutations of night and day seemed to have been miraculously slowed down; as if nature had fallen entranced with her own beauty mirrored in that sheen of primrose light. Vividly, as it had been but a minute since instead of a quarter of a century, I see you standing beside me at the taffrail, with that light upon your lean and weather-beaten face, staring north with a proud, alert, and piercing look, the whole frame and posture of you alive with action and resolution and command. And I can hear the very accent of your voice in the only two things you said in all that four hours’ crossing: first, ‘The sea-board of Demonland.’ Then, an hour later, I should think, very low and dream-like, ‘This is the first sip of Eternity.’

Demonland is the location where the events of The Worm Ouroborous start; it is on the planet Mercury, or at least some version of the planet Mercury.

Mistress of Mistresses clearly won’t be of interest to everyone. I’m still not sure if I’m going to finish reading it. I first picked up the trilogy and Worm in a used bookstore in Erie perhaps back when I was, I think, back in high school, perhaps in 1982 or 1983. I read The Worm Ouroborous back then, with some difficulty. I have since read it and enjoyed it more, and will very likely read it again. But the books of the Zimiamvia trilogy, although fascinating, I couldn’t really penetrate back then. As well as being fantasy novels, they contain deep and antiquated digressions into religion and philosophy. I’m not going to force myself through chapters if my eyes continue to glaze over. But now, thirty-five or more years later, maybe they will open up to me and pull me in.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • Mistress of Mistresses by E. R. Eddison (started)
  • Iron Man (2008 Film)
  • “It Takes You Away” (Doctor Who Series 11 episode)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (finished)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, December 29th, 2018