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Must The Future Be So Bleak?

I am tired of being told how truly wretched things are to become.

As a word of warning I should say that if you were planning on reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or to a lesser degree Number 9 Dreamyou might want to stop reading now. Even if you’re not the sort of person who tends to care about spoilers, I would feel guilty about ruining either of these books for you. Because none of them are bad or without merit. None of them are undeserving of the praise they’ve lapped up. What warrants examination is the level of warmth each posits, or fails to posit, in a future that really isn’t all that far away.

Egan’s future is not hard to imagine. Security cams omnipresent, the equivalent of a slightly upgraded smartphone in the hand of everyone over the age of two, vague notions of threat floating in the backs of everyone’s mind. The book only came out two years ago; she’s not pulling a Blade Runner by imagining this level of technological or security obsession. Where she gets depressing is in her portrayal of the people who inhabit this environment that differs on the whole so mildly from our own. Texting she interprets as the end of literature. Smartphones as the end of innovation. Digitally-distributed media as the end of warmth between people, whether it be between two lovers or a parent and his child. There is no room, in Egan’s future, for a persistent respect for anything artful, be it literary or musical; no space for those who demurr from the kinds of interaction that appears to be favored by the whole. Beginning the book as she does in the late 80s punk scene, her message is clear and bitter: the punks were the last of the last. They resisted in their masses that which everyone after them would bow down to.

It’s ridiculous.

The idea that only in numbers, in organized movements delineated by similarities in music and clothing and color of hair, can people be anything other than what the dominant image dictates they should be, is absurd. It’s gratuitously nostalgic. “Only my people could resist! Only my people knew what resistance meant! You fools with your text messages, you have already caved to the will of your corporate overlords!”

Calm down already!

Parts of Egan’s critique I understand. She paints a particularly horrific picture of parenting in the future, where the tech-crazed brat cares nothing for the intimacy or advise or wisdom or love of its parent, and is filled only with wrath until the “pointers,” the smartphones-for-babies, have been provided. At which point social interaction shuts off, we gather from the 20-somethings we see elsewhere in the futurescape, for good. I’ve seen expensive jogging strollers carrying two toddlers and two ipads, and I’ve winced, sure. That kind of excess, and the parental giving-up, makes me cringe. I probably wouldn’t want to raise a child in the future Egan posits, but then I wouldn’t want to raise a child today, either, for many of the same reasons. Nor would I want to raise a child in the 60s or the 50s or the 1890s, because I know the agency and self-worth I’d have to give up to do it, and I have zero desire to sacrifice that. Egan, I think, shares this view, but she won’t admit it to herself. If she did, she’d realize that maybe she couldn’t do it, but others could. There are those capable of producing tenderness and warmth that can’t be eclipsed by a screen, no matter how technologically advanced. I am not one of those people, but I don’t think everyone’s a carbon copy of me. Egan refuses to set aside the syllogism. “I couldn’t do it. Therefore no one can.” So her future is one of screen-crazed children and adults who would rather text each other in more or less L33t-speak across a table than make eye contact and exchange full vocalized sentences. Egan’s future is depressing and, emotionally, unimaginative. Perhaps she had a crappy childhood. Or a crappy adult love life.

Contrast this to David Mitchell’s Number9Dream future, which is no less technologically adroit or camera-clad. Here, still, what moves even the badness in the world is human. Human desire, human resentment, human failing. It is still recognizably human in a way Egan’s drooling, domineering infants are not. Or look at the middle chapters of Cloud Atlas, where despite a totalitarian technocracy and nebulous notions of biological “fixing” and fabricants, there are still those who will smuggle ideas and desires between the cracks of society; who evade the brushed steel boot of the state to persist on in their human endeavors. We see proof of this in the next chapter, the one set in a post-apocalyptic world that comes long after the state has fallen, where–surprise!–humans are continuing to struggle on as humans, however primitively Loving and fighting and fucking and dying. I do not mean to idealize humanity, because it doesn’t need it. It just is. The knee-jerk cynical failure to see that is one of the lasting grudges I bear against cultural figures I otherwise respect and admire. It’s not that the present state of things, or even the future state of things, should remain untouched by satire or critique. It’s that people become blinded by cynicism; they only speak in snark. There is no warmth left in them, and there is no screen or phone or twitter or facebook feed to blame for this. It’s their own doing.

When the Late Show fiasco went down last year and Conan O’Brien lost his slot and then his show, I didn’t start paying attention until late in the game–until the final week, actually. Cable-less and not overly fond of the late night talk show format anyway, there was no reason for me to notice, though I felt vaguely bad for the man as an underdog. Even the last week, as I learned more about what lead up to it and who had aligned with whom, was more entertaining than emotionally stirring for me. But amidst all the stunts and tearful farewells and skyrocketing ratings, something he said on his last broadcast on the Late Show stopped me cold. There’s no way I can quote it without it being corny, so deal:

“Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and, for seven months, I got to. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second. I’ve had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-11 parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun…To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

He spoke out against cynicism. This icon of youthful idiosyncrasy and this exceedingly brief darling of antiestablishment fervor stood there with a stuffy nose and asked people not to be cynical. Ordered them not to be. Said he hated it.

That was awesome. That was unprecedented. I loved him and his show in that moment. I am as entertained by sarcasm as the next person. It’s witty; it’s smart; understanding it makes you feel like you’re on top of things and doling it out makes you feel sharp. But it’s so draining. The constant negativity. I know so many people who used to play with their words like kids playing with penknives; now all they do is stab them continually into people. Themselves, their spouses, their kids. Doesn’t matter. It’s not kind or genuine or warm; it’s stifling and hopeless and–if you care for none of the other adjectives; if you’re too cynical to give a damn about them–it’s trite. Cynicism is old. It’s tired. It’s done. It’s killing you. And it’s killing we who have to bow down to it when we seek you out for warmth, for friendship, for the gathering of hands around a fire that should be, that can still be, of the human spirit.

So cut it out.

Lighten up.

There’s more to the future than tyrannical toddlers praising The Man with iphones, I promise.

Strawberry Banana Bundt Muffins

Recipe here. Mine are “bundt” because they were made in the mini bundt cake pan gifted to me by my cousin (I don’t have cupcake pans). The only change I made to the recipe was using vanilla Greek yogurt instead of plain, non-Greek yogurt. It was what I had to hand, and they were still quite good, so I don’t think anything suffered for the substitution.

On Dog Types

Some dogs are outdoorsmen…

…and some dogs aren’t.

Our dogs are so different that if you don’t like either of them, you probably suck.

Summer = Flaming Pink Cake

Unsurprisingly, this cake comes from Lottie and Doof. But so most of the things I experiment with come from them! I don’t read a lot of food blogs. And most of the recipes published there tend not to insist on the absolute finest, purest ingredients, so I can afford to make them.

The cake’s good.  I had never used a spatula to apply icing before–I’ve only used knives, and it was never a problem when you’re just dealing with a rectangular cake still in its pan–but damn, is it useful on double-layer cakes.  My icing came out about the same color as that on L+D, but my batter’s decidedly browner as the recipe advised you look to the food coloring bottle for instructions on how much to use, and the amount it advised was nowhere near the several tablespoons’ worth the recipe called for. The inside is nice and pink, though, as you can see.

Smitten Kitchen also has a strawberry cake recipe, though it looks more like a pie or an overlarge tarte to me than a cake. But I think the first thing I’ll make from that site will be Vermontucky Lemonade, in light of my recent discovery that I do, in fact, like bourbon. It just has to be the tastier kind. (Though my co-worker, who is probably the most well-connected and bar-savvy ex-saxophonist I know, suggests Bookers, which I have ascertained is served at The Drake Hotel, where I will be sampling it in due time.) (Thank you Dad!!)

Incidentally, we are not the only ones enjoying the onset of summer:

Mom recently asked, “Does Wallace do that thing Lylah did, where she rolls around in the hot summer grass?”

Yes she does, Mom. Yes she does.

Dunc doesn’t roll. When it gets really hot, he’ll plonk himself under a tree and refuse to keep walking until he has had time to cool off, but he doesn’t go in for rolling around. He’s not a big fan of this super fast-growing, rain-induced grass, since between his short stubby legs and the sanitary stomach-buzz the groomer gave him, the tall grass pokes the hell out of his soft tummy and he will stand on the cement and pee into the grass rather than wade through all the pointy stems.

I Can’t Believe It’s Edible: Volume 9

I AM MADE OF AWESOME.

I MADE THESE:

These are creampuffs. I have never made them before. Ever. I’m not even sure I’ve eaten one before. These are filled with chocolate pudding I made from scratch. Since both the pudding and the puffs came from a “5 Ingredients Or Less” cookbook, I assumed they’d taste awful. I assumed one needed more than five ingredients for a decent pastry.

I was so wrong.

Thank you for this cookbook, mom!

Elizabeth Moon: Patrick O’Brian, But In Space

Years ago, I stalked the scifi section of a Barnes and Noble, seeking and not finding anything of interest. An older gentleman, in his 70s or thereabouts, had been browsing in the same area and finally asked me what I was looking for.

“I don’t know…I’d like to read something by a female author but they all tend to be…” I made a face.

The man nodded. “You want Elizabeth Moon, then,” he said, matter-of-factly, then glanced at the shelf. “Hm. They don’t have her here, but the next time you get a chance, definitely look her up. She’s fantastic. You prefer science fiction, or fantasy?”

“Fantasy, mostly…”

“Ah, well, her first books were fantasy, but they’re hard to find now. Paksenarrion ring a bell? No? Well, even if you’re not such a fan of scifi, I’d give her a try.”

In the summer of 2008, I did find Elizabeth Moon in a mainstream bookstore, and sheltered for 30 minutes in the cool of the air-conditioning to read the first chapter of Trading In Danger. Despite my reservations about the cheesy scifi paperback cover that made me feel vaguely like a trekkie, I enjoyed those 30 minutes. Kylara Vatta, our heroine, was no twit, and she had more important things on her mind than batting her eyelashes or texting her friends. But since I was due to leave the country in around a month, spending even the extra few dollars seemed foolish in the face of a vast sea of unknown expenses, and I put the book back on the shelf and forgot all about it.

Flash forward to three years later, and I am shuffling disconsolately through the stacks at Dawn Treader, recently divested of a master’s program with little to show for it and generally feeling impoverished and unemployable. The scifi section at Dawn Treader is by far the best part of the place; it’s right under the skylight so there’s always warm natural light pouring in, and it’s at the very back of the store so it’s quiet and relatively untrafficked. I plonk myself down on a stool to rest and there, right in front of me, is the collected trilogy of The Deed of Paksenarrion. And next to it are the piles of cheesy scifi paperbacks, one of which turns out indeed to be Trading in Danger, which I proceeded to read for the next hour.

The first page of the book opens with the Vatta girl getting kicked out of the space military academy for some diplomatic scandal that wasn’t her fault. She is shipped home embittered, betrayed, and feeling like she has wasted all those years she spent studying hard and earning top marks. Needless to say this is exactly what I wanted to be reading right at that moment. I skipped to the front of the bookstore, only to see behind the counter the same man who had advised me to read Moon in the first place, three years ago.

“Elizabeth Moon–she’s fantastic!”

“Yes…someone told me that once…” I murmured, surprised but unwilling to try and get him to remember something he likely couldn’t.

“Have you read any of her others? She’s got several series…the characters she puts in there are just great, all of them. Let’s see, who’s in this one? The Vattas? Oh, you’ll like them. Espeically Grandma–Moon does some awesome characters.”

I nodded, and though he handed me the book for free–I didn’t have enough cash on me, and it was too small a purchase to ring to a card–I ran to the bank first thing to pay him back. The same guy! Maybe he was in B&N scoping out the competition, I don’t know. But I’d recognize him anywhere; I keep track of the very few  You Can Always Depend On The Kindness Of Strangers moments I have.

Elizabeth Moon is fantastic, whether or not you feel like an embittered Kylara Vatta. Moon is an ex-marine and the reviews on the backs of all her books praise the realism of the military experience she gives her characters. And they all have it–whether Pakesenarrion in the fantastical Deeds series, or any of her (female) space marines, or the ex-military civ trader Vatta books. She spends less time spewing pomp and circumstance and more time–tons more time–focusing on the complexities of making ship life work. Keeping systems up, food up, negotiating pirates and greedy harbormasters and faulty signals and mercenaries unwilling to be blamed for terrorist activities they weren’t, this time, a part of–all this comes into play. And she sacrifices neither the humanity nor femininity of her characters. Just because Vatta is ex-military doesn’t make her a cold-hearted killer, but neither does she fancy spending the rest of her life drifting between being knocked-up and transporting children to toddler space soccer. Vatta’s got more in mind for her life, and Moon makes getting there enjoyable. We don’t have to suffer, for example, through excruciatingly detailed descriptions of wisps of hair plastered to sweaty foreheads as difficult decisions are made on the bridge. I don’t give a damn how wispy people’s hair looks; I want to know if they’re going to be able to recover control of their hacked ship before they run out of fuel, and she tells us.

I do tend not to be interested in space stories, and I think my persistent interest in Moon’s tales tells me why:  most of scifi authors are too busy trying to get you excited about SPAAAAAACE to make you at all interested in the humans navigating that space. They’re too busy yapping about five-armed aliens or furry toads who play trombones on lousy off-planet bars to make you care about the patrons in the bar. But with Moon, space is just the setting for a series of circumstances and acting players that resemble Patrick O’Brian’s series in no small way. The laws are important, the contracts and the clashes, but all this information is framed as information that has already shaped the worlds the characters live in for quite some time. We don’t get dumped with a pile of space codes and regulations, because all of the characters would know said rules, and when breaches in them come to us it is as nonstandard to us as if we too had known them the whole time. Primarily because they make sense. Diplomatic and legal entanglements, compensation for being forced to transport prisoners, the laws surrounding the tugging of a wreck–this is stuff that is logical in space or out. The only difference between this and the Mediterranean is the z-axis, really.

(Which raises a question I’ve always had about space travel–would people think about it as up or down, of course not in official terms but even in their heads, if they came of age in a world where tons-of-lightyears jumps were common? While technically this or that galaxy would be “above” or “below” you, would you even think in that way, when you’re steering your ship through a gravityless void, and where going from point A to point B, even without the jumps, would not make it plain to those in the ship on the artificial gravity that you are turning up or down?)

Dad, I recall what you liked best about Battlestar Galactica was that it seemed that some people with military pasts or interests had informed a large part of the script. You should read Elizabeth Moon. She’s cool in that way, too.

March of the Michigan Editors

Much as I love my job, it can–as can any job dealing with the past, I suppose–get a bit morbid. I don’t mean so much the digital scans of grotesque medical texts from the 1700s, which while morbid tend to be more nauseating than emotionally upsetting. I mean the exposure to people of the past, and their way of looking at things, that is so very much extinct, especially when the things they looked at are nigh on extinct too.

In 1890, at the 23rd annual meeting of the Michigan Press Association, the collected editors of the various Michigan newspapers that made up that organization made a journey from Saginaw to Yellowstone National Park, complete with pictures and narrative. There would be no point to this kind of trip today (if newspapers still functioned in a lucrative fashion, even,) and I don’t know how they rationalized the trip in the first place. But their story was

“Of Saginaw’s Princely Hospitality on July 16th, 17th and 18th, followed by an Excursion to Cheboygan, Sault Ste. Marie, Iron Mountain, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Yellowstone National Park, Helena, Butte, Boise City, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Denver, Manitou, Kearney and Omaha, ending at Chicago August 15th, 1890.”

The Michigan section I understood as relevant to their cause:  what better way to introduce and therefore partly unite the constituents of their state, after all, than by exposing them to the wonders of counties they had not yet crossed. (And which, frankly, they were unlikely to, toiling as they were in the fields and forests.) Maybe something of the same mindset informed the broader scope of their trip–maybe by showing people the Badlands and Yellowstone et. al., they hoped to instill in their readers a sense of national unity they found lacking. Their faith in the incorrigible goodness of this project makes me sad, but that’s not the whole of it.  Consider the passion with which A.C. Glidden of Paw Paw wrote about the Badlands:

“For two hours we rode through this hoodoo valley–the strangest contortion of strata, which appears to be piled one one another in a delirium of chance. Cones and buttes and caverned hills in colored costumes compel the road to execute a curved dance around their bases. Hooded gnomes and giant elves are figured in colored dress and in various shapes…The soil seems to dissolve into a solution and run down stream, to discolor the waters until they are discharged into the sea. Here is a small area left, belated as it were, from the formation period of the continent. The elevated plains are being washed into the lower valleys. Nature, which is not limited for time, when it takes a contract for doing a piece of work, will eventually level off these standing columns, mix their solvents and enrich some lower level with the solution, to become fertile plains for a future race.”

From the Badlands they make their way to Livingston, MT, via the Northern Pacific RR, and “after a refreshing bath and a change of clothing, a not unimportant part of which is a comfortable flannel shirt,” enter the park via the Gardiner entrance, “on a branch of the Northern Pacific that runs southward in the midst of the Rockies a distance of fifty-one miles from the city of Livingston to the city of Cinnabar.” Robert Smith, ex-editor of the Ithaca Journal and then-present State Printer in Lansing, was mesmerized by this leg of the trip:

“The route winds along the valley of the Yellowstone river, which, being above its junction with the muddy Big Horn, is very beautiful. The road runs sometimes within a few feet of the stream, sometimes leaves it for a climb up high trellis works or tears suddenly through some dark mountain tunnel. Now we pass through the lower canyon with its beautiful valley thirty miles in length and ten miles in width, dotted here and there with ranches, herds of cattle and miner’s huts.”

The Association stays at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, the journey to which wooed F. Weller of the Muskegon Monitor into abandoning ship:

“The sun poured down upon us fellows perched on top [of the coach] so fiercely that we were glad to raise our umbrellas, though they reduced the limit of our vision, shutting out all but a small portion of the grand view. Somewhere, about two-thirds of the way, at the foot of a picturesque clift of jagged rocks on the left and standing well out to the front of them in bold relief, a needle shaped peak of rock rose to the height of some eighty feet, with the cliffs towering back above it. Upon the top of this peak an enterprising eagle had built her nest, and looking calmly down upon us from their airy house as we passed along say three young eaglets. This was to much for one of our stalwart enthusiasts, who grasped his Kodak, and quietly stole down from his perch above, and was seen no more, till three hours later those on the hotel front saw a dusty figure, with Kodak strung over his back, slowly approaching.”

These were all, from their pictures (which accompanied every leg of the journey) fairly seasoned writers. But the guy from Rockford had to have been younger even than me:

One isn’t surprised, then, when he writes of entering Pocatello by way of Dillon, MT and Beaver Creek, and of how (it is implied) he was the only one awake to try and see the city in the pitch-black. Think of this guy. He pens sentences like “This stretch of country is what was marked upon all the maps only a few years ago as ‘The Great American Desert,’ which will be familiarly recalled by many of our readers,” yet only a few years ago, this guy was probably dipping girls’ pigtails in inkpots. Given that the Rockford Register (renamed the Rockford Squire, so as not to conflict with the principle newspaper of Rockford, IL) was only founded in 1871, Mr. Cowdin is writing for a paper and a town roughly the same age as he is. Everything is so damn new to him, and to his readership. Canyons, mountains, red-streaked buttes…these people back home know none of this, and he gets to be the one to go out and explore and come back and tell them. This must have been the greatest thing that had yet happened to him in life.

Why, then, is any of this sad? Faced with such jubilant exploratory spirit, such an enthusiastic reception of new people and places and knowledge, how could anyone find this morbid?  For three reasons:

1.) Most Americans, either in Michigan or elsewhere, are entirely unacquainted with these places, and don’t care to be.

2.) Most of the infrastructure that enabled this journey is gone.

3.) The kind of enthusiasm expressed in the collected writings of the Michigan editors is no longer kosher nor, often, possible.

People don’t go out West anymore. For some, it’s economically infeasible. For others, the nightmare of having to spend that long in close confines with one’s family members scares them out of even considering it. Whatever the reason, I’ve met more people from Japan who had seen the Rockies than I have Michiganders who have done so. For me even to express regret about this is not advisable, certainly not among the academic circles I frequent, because fondness for a[n American] place or a desire that other people go and experience and become fond of a place implies pride, that most perniciously anti-postmodern sentiment. And for all every other person’s paeans to the end of postmodernism, I have yet to meet the professor who can separate a place from its politics, or pride from imperialism.

I love that I stumbled onto this Twenty-Third Annual Meeting of the Michigan Press Association. I love that the Union Pacific granted them, free of charge, the use of two Pullman cars—the “Rugby” and the “Novalis”–for the trip. I love that so many different people got to attend–consider for example the only female member of the group, below, whom The Literary Century describes as “small and slender, quick in movement, decisive in manner, with dark eyes and hair illuminating features attractive for their strength and precision.  She is one of those women who can transact business with few words, and herein lies the secret of her success.” Native to Brooklyn, a small Michigan town west of Ann Arbor, she took over the local paper after her husband, who started it, died, and she proceeded to single-handedly run it (while raising three children) until her death.

What I do not love is that trips like this, and the people who took and would like to take them, are so few and far between. Or that I must temper my enthusiasm for the land and their words about it with the dour knowledge of the contemporary state of affairs. Mostly, though, I mourn that this whole affair has been long since forgotten, and that the dusty figure of the Muskegon Monitor editor returning grinning with photographs of eagles, or the giddiness of the young editor from Rockford hanging out of the Pullman car, straining to see a city in the night, are little more than a few blips of code in a digital library.

Quotes in this post reprinted from the Twenty-Third Annual Meeting of the Michigan State Press Association, which is in the public domain. You can access it at http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000059063

Lessons In the Unlikely

While seated at the Kickstand coffeeshop (or “espresso bar,” as it more or less harmlessly insists on calling itself) in Chicago I had the kind of conversation that is usually reserved for novels.  Started randomly, with a stranger I sat next to at the bar-style seating in the window, circling around topics relevant not only to me but to the larger scope of things.  This rarely happens.  If you put one of these in a short story, you’d be told “nobody has conversations like this in real life,” and whoever your editor was would be right.

He started it.  I snapped the above picture [will upload later] from my seat and he looked up from his book and said “Nice.”  I flinched, seeing as 1.) His tone said he didn’t mean it, and 2.) I’d chosen to sit next to this guy instead of the lone spiky-haired guy at the window bar on the other side of the door precisely because this one seemed more introverted and focused on whatever he was doing, and was thus seemed less likely to bother me.  He’d tried twice before, with a theatrically loud sigh inviting comment, but I ignored it.  After one particular train ride in Yokohama I have zero tolerance for guys trying to mess with me.  I prepared to stab him in the eye with my pen.

“Yeah, well,” I shrugged.

Then he just took off.  He literally launched into a sentence that went something like “Isn’t it weird how these days people are so into preserving where they’ve been in digital form, that they don’t even take time to notice the word outside their devices.”  I would’ve bristled had he been remotely antagonistic about it but after the initial quipped “nice,” he retreated into a totally neutral tone.  Besides, this guy himself was constantly checking an Android smartphone, so he wasn’t considering himself above or outside of the group he was questioning.  Had he been younger I probably would’ve shot him down, just to be left alone.  But he was a stringy (in the bikes-a-lot sense) balding 40-something, vaguely British-looking, totally harmless guy.  Plus, as an older person, he would naturally have some assumptions about people my age that I ached to destroy.  Having just whipped out a hot pink digital camera to take that photo, I had respect to recoup.  So I engaged him in a conversation that must’ve lasted half an hour or so, ranging from the Lifemarking project one of the Ito recipients had been developing in Tokyo (at which point I changed my goal from attack to debate, since the mere mention of the words “conference” and “fellowship” defused whatever soapbox he’d been considering mounting; he must’ve been an ex- or wannabe-academic or something because he clearly respected academic credentials), to the seeming inability of little kids to get by nowadays without a screen of some form nearby.  We concluded the way any number of discussions like this have probably concluded:  acknowledging that yes, something was being lost in this constant reflexive impulse to record and report and preserve, digitally, every aspect of our lives; but at the same time, it was damn addictive and hard to put aside.  Again, this man’s possession of an Android phone defanged my approach, since if he had been sitting there with a pencil and paper and half a novel written, waxing poetic on “kids these days” and their techno gadgets, I’d have grown surly.

To my delight, despite a lengthy and intense conversation, he neither asked my name nor sought any identifying information about me, though he paid me the compliment of asking if I was from central Europe “or at least England,” which query stemmed probably from the slight accent I unthinkingly (and sometimes embarrassingly) adopt when talking to people with slight accents.  He sounded like a Scot trying not to sound like a Scot, so that is probably why I started changing my cadences.  (This started, I think, in my LOTR days, when I spent a tremendous amount of time studying the accents of the various actors in interviews, and would try an change the cadence of my sentences, though not the pronunciation of words, to suit the various areas.)  Eventually he headed out into the downpour on his bicycle, though not without paying me a very cordial farewell, and receiving a tease from behind the counter as he returned his cup.  “Have fun over there?” snerked the coffeeshop worker, whom I gather the Scottish guy was friends with.  He laughed sheepishly and disappeared in the rain, and I basked in the afterglow of a meaningful conversation with a stranger who was neither deranged nor trying to hit on me.  It was great.  I love Chicago.

Haven’t Forgotten the Blog, But…

candle dunc