Viable Paradise

This was my second year teaching at the writer’s workshop Viable Paradise on Martha’s Vineyard, MA.  I have no idea how to talk about it.  I mean, there’s only so many times you can say, “Holy crap, wow!” before it gets old.  But, holy crap, wow.

I can’t mention the students by name, because I’ll leave someone out, and that would be wrong.  But, like last year, they were all as geeked about writing process as me.  Amazing, amazing week.

Thanks to my roomie, Stevie Chuck, who did several wonderful things (including talking Jenphalian into showing up) capped by swapping rooms at Just The Right Time.  Patrick gave a talk about publishing history and its current state that I thought was going to be dull and academic until suddenly it came into a focus with a snap of, “this is why your career is where it is.”  And music; fun, fun music.  Teresa on exposition was her brilliant self, and then she cured my scurvy.  Forever.  Jim and Dr. Doyle, who do the parts of this that I could never do, were wonderful throughout.  Bear spoke of plotting and a bit more came into focus; I’ll be trying some of it out in my current book.  Scott was delightful, and his explanation of plot tomatoes cleared that up wonderfully.  Sherwood?  It astonishes me how small she is, for having that much knowledge; you’d think she’d need to be bigger to contain it all.

And the staff.  Mac makes things work, Bart makes things happen, Chris is the one who is always there when something needs doing.  I’m tempted to leave Pippen out, to continue the joke, but I can’t on account of how much work she does (and the fact that she’s utterly adorbz).

But, really, the students made it all magical.  There was a moment during a critique session when one of them applied (perfectly) a subtle and nuanced approach learned in a critique the previous day.  You could feel the learning taking place.  That’s the sort of shit I live for.  Well, that and writing.  They kind of go together.

Off to Milehicon in Denver this weekend; I wonder if I’ll have come down by then?



I was half an hour outside of Minneapolis last Thursday when I got a call from my youngest daughter saying that her mother, my estranged wife,  had died.  None of us had expected this.   She died of congestive heart failure.  She would have been delighted, because this meant breast cancer didn’t get her.

Her mother died of breast cancer when she was 11, which left  Reen to support her father emotionally, logistically, and often financially.  When I met her she was 16 years old and was holding a full-time job as well as managing the household accounts and seeing to her father’s medical care.  When we married, I was 18 and she was 17.  Looking back, I believe I wanted someone to take care of me the way Reen was taking care of her father–I’d been on my own for about a year, and I wasn’t especially good at it.  I believe Reen, on the other hand, wanted someone to finally take the burden off her and let her relax a bit.

Not such a good start.  All she knew of love came from “I Love Lucy” and Carrie Grant movies–and I didn’t know nearly enough to contend with that.  But we were together for 10 years, and produced four amazing children.

She created the character of Aliera, and you can still see her in it.  When I was laid off from a programming job in 1980, she told me to take six months off and write a book, so I did; that’s why Jhereg exists.  We met Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Reen gave him a tarot reading, while I stood there with my mouth open.  She found my old high school manuscript of my first attempt at To Reign In Hell and made me actually write the thing.  When I became interested in music, she got behind it and pushed.  How much of what I’ve accomplished came from her?  There’s no way to know.  A lot, though.

The Reen I married was like no one else I’ve met.  Together with the solid, down-to-earth sense of responsibility, was a sense of fun, a sense of enthusiasm that I found irresistible–as did others who crossed her path.  She found people–Martin, John, Mark–and pulled them into her world because her world was so attractive, so bright, so full of profound wonder.  As she changed, and that part of her was gradually buried under health problems, pot smoke,and borderline schizophrenia, still, every once in a while it would show up and amaze anyone who was around.

We live in a world where, in addition to wonder, there are also mortgage payments, and car insurance, and medical bills, and food costs.  Over the years, she went from the one who could handle all of that, to the one who needed it handled.  I don’t understand how that happened, and I probably never will; but Martin was there, and so she and the children got what they needed.  And because of that, I was able to focus on telling stories.  Those of you reading this who enjoy my work should say, “Thank you, Martin.”  Because, without him, at best there wouldn’t be as much of it.

When we learned from the autopsy that her heart was twice the normal size, everyone had the same reaction: That’s about right. Everything about her changed over the years, often becoming its opposite.  Everything, that is, but this: she inspired love, because she gave it so willingly.  And I think, even with all that went wrong, and even with all the could-have-beens, she made those in her life better people.  At the end of the day, that’s not so little.

They're Spinnin' & Grinnin' I'm Screamin' & Streamin'

Yes, friends, today I will be on streaming video, live from the Spinathon, starting at 1pm Central Daylight Time.  What will I be doing?  Probably standing around looking like an idiot.  But I’ve said I’ll do it, so I will, if I’m not in jail.

(Edit: our main website went down, of course while our admin is in transit and therefore away from the ‘net. However, we’ll still be recording the show and will have it embedded on the site this evening. You can also see it while live from the direct UStream link in Round Rock starting at 1pm CDT. Paypal donations can be sent directly to, we’re less than 7 hours from making our 48-hour fiber-spinning goal!)

Re-Edit: SpinAThon site is back up and you can watch the cams directly here:

Final Edit: SpinAThon finished at 42.8 hours, and much lovely fiber spun by several talented women. The fiber spun during SpinAThon will be available for bidding along with other finely crafted products in next week’s auction! Steve played for 3.5 hours and we will be posting videos from his performance within the next few days on the SpinAThon site. Thanks to everyone who participated, you all rock!

Word definition question

Reesa and Nathan have been watching re-runs of the old Addams Family TV show.  I approve of this, in part because it’s refreshing to see a 60’s sitcom where one can believe the couple actually had sex.  But it produced a question which has been bothering me, lo, these many days, even to interfering with my sleep.  So, weary and desperate, I turn to the internet as my last hope.

Can someone tell me what “ooky” means?

Thank you.

When My Joke Hurts You

A dear friend of mine was hurt recently.  If you want the full story, it is (linked with permission) here. The short version is as follows: They were playing a game in which someone puts the name of a character (real or fictional, living or dead) on your forehead, and you ask yes or no questions until you guess the name of the person.  My friend discovered that she had spent several hours with the name “Hitler” on her forehead.   I know some of you will be feeling a bit queasy on her behalf, and others will be going, “What’s the big deal?”  Okay, permit me to add that this took place in Haifa, Israel.

My youngest daughter has recently been hurt in the opposite way: as I understand it, she, an aspiring (and, in my unbiased opinion, very talented) comedian, agreed to take part in a show that had a theme (mental handicaps) that many people found offensive and unsuitable for humor; sufficiently offensive and unsuitable that she has had to sustain barbed comments and cold shoulders from some people she considered friends.

In commenting to my Israeli friend, I said some things that (again, with her permission) I want to repeat here so I can hear smart people (that’s you) talk about them.

Some things are so horrible, that some have to laugh about them or the horror will take over their lives. Others, confronted by that same horror, have to pretend to laugh at them to convince themselves that they’re strong enough not to be beaten down. Others laugh at them because their friends do, and they’ve never stopped to think about it. Others laugh at them because they have no trace of sensitivity, and just don’t give a fuck about other human beings. So, at least four different reasons for the same behavior.

The dilemma, as I see it, is something like this:
1. No one has the right, through humor or any other way, to needlessly hurt someone else.
2. No one has the right to decide for another how and when to use humor to relieve suffering.

This contradiction is what makes it so hard for me to get a grip on. It’s complicated even more because there is absolutely no subject of humor that will not offend or hurt someone.

There are those with an attitude that goes something like this: “It was just a joke. If you can’t take a joke, you need to lighten up.” The kindest thing one can say about this attitude is that it is over-simplified; we don’t all respond the same way to the same kind of pain, and your coping method might be exactly what makes it impossible for me to cope.  More typically, someone with that attitude needs to be sequestered from other human beings so he won’t do any more harm.

When in doubt, I err on the side of caution, because the damage to someone who is sensitive about whatever one is laughing at is more significant than the benefit for someone it helps, at any given time (you can tell the joke later when there’s no one around it bothers). But usually, one doesn’t know one has crossed the line until someone reacts badly, and then one is, first, puzzled, then ashamed, then (sometimes) angry or determined to justify one’s self. It’s ugly as hell.

I have no conclusion; I’ve been wrestling with this for years and gotten nowhere.
Edited to add:

Some years ago, my friend Nate Bucklin and I went to visit a friend in the psych ward of a hospital.  Because it was Nate and me, we brought guitars, and a party ensued.  During the party, Nate played his version of “Mama Don’t Allow,” which humorously references several forms of mental and emotional illness–the very conditions those attending the party were dealing with.  I recall very clearly that the patients all found the song delightful; the staff, however, thought it was Not Funny.  Take from this what you will.