On "Making Book"

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Since I haven't been involved in fandom since a brief stint in the mid-seventies, much of the book went over my head. I contributed to AZAPA for a brief time, and I think I was at Iguanacon--I seem to remember going back to Phoenix for it. The fact that I'm not sure probably tells you all you need to know. Few of the names in the book are familiar to me. So while I often felt as though I were eavesdropping on inside jokes that I didn't get, I still found it humorous and interesting.

Of course it isn't all just humor and inside jokes. The first serious paragraph that grabbed me was this one on page 99:

To maintain my grasp of the original subject I have to hold the whole thing, with all its attendant matrix connections, entire in my head. Very daunting--the progress of writing feels like herding troops of mice over rough terrain. Little buggers keep popping in and out of sight, diving down holes, stopping to nibble something instead of advancing, and if I get too agitated they scatter in alarm.

The striking thing about this is that having to "hold the whole thing, with all its attendant matrix connections, entire in my head" sounds something like my own explanation of the only way I can work. I described this a bit differently in a comment on Making Light a while ago; I'll go search through the archives for it...

Sometime later, still searching...

Ah, finally. From April '05. The relevant portion is this:

...I've built a career working with very complex computer codes used to study fluid flow. I've been successful because I have the ability to hold in my mind a complex piece of logic, like mapping the way through an elaborate labyrinth in my mind... Anyway, I can only do it when I'm Stone Cold Sober.
...Every Friday I had lunch with "the guys", and we always shared a bottle of wine. I'd have a single glass, or maybe two, with a large sandwich. When I got back to my office I'd have lost the absolute clarity I needed to do my job. Even if I couldn't feel the effect of the alcohol at all, I couldn't hold the labyrinth in my mind...

You see? This is "holding the whole thing...entire in my head"--it's the way I've worked for more than two decades, and this capability is the first thing to go. I love the imagery of the mice, scattering, but the logic of a complex piece of code is labyrinthine. If anything disturbs my thoughts, "the mice scatter," and I have to rebuild the labyrinth from scratch. And yes, I did just mix metaphors there, so sue me. What I'm trying to say is that I think I understand.

And then this, on the next page: "But the window's walled up, so the wall is the view; might as well look at it." What a great way to describe a horrible state of mind that I've also experienced during bouts of depression, when I dwelt on my thought processes and couldn't "think past my own mind."

I can't find the passage now, but I smiled when I read that after going on Cylert, Teresa even did some mending. I know I'm on top of things when I get around to what I call "wardrobe maintenance": mending, hemming, replacing lost buttons. (On the other hand, polishing the copper bottoms of the old Revere Ware borders dangerously on mania.)

The next passage that grabbed me is on page 102:

Once upon a time--once upon a time I was twenty years old and made the Dean's List while holding down three part-time jobs [...] Hardly anyone I know anymore remembers me from that time; long ago, far away, no acquaintances in common et cetera.

I graduated from ASU in December of 1976 and left to attend grad school. I worked at Wendy's in downtown Phoenix the previous summer. I think Teresa wrote that she was 12 years old in 1968 (can't find it now), so she was born in '56? Ah, twenty years old when I knew her.

You see, the thing is, the only picture I have in my head of Teresa is of that Teresa. A bit prickly even then, maybe, yes, but I think I got past that--we chatted quite a bit while clearing tables together at Wendy's. [I don't know if I could get past it today; that "Are you talking to me?" line explains why this is addressed to the General Reader, rather than to Teresa.] I remember that I was reading "A Canticle for Leibowitz" at the time (wow, spelled it right on the first try--yay me.) We talked about books; we talked about school; we talked about various and sundry things. Teresa's hair always looked beautiful and I remember telling her one day that I was jealous because I was never any good at styling my hair. (Btw, her hair was blond then; I've since seen pictures of her with brown hair, but I just can't imagine her with brown hair, even after seeing the pictures. Hunh.)

She told me that she put a huge amount of effort into her hair. She had a body perm, and she washed it and blew it dry every morning, then set it on hot rollers. It was a pain, she said. How many women will admit to putting so much effort into their appearance? Quite a display of candor, and absolutely cool. In short, Teresa was witty, quick-minded, and articulate. And I do seem to remember her telling me she had three part-time jobs. So she not only made the Dean's List while holding down three jobs, she put a good deal of effort into looking good while she did it.

But more than any other, this passage in Making Book hit home hard: "This is something nobody wants to hear, that the profit a man hath for all the labour he taketh under the sun [damn auto-correct spellchecker] amounts to a lottery ticket, time of drawing uncertain"... Oh yes. Oh yes. My comments on Making Light have been few, but this was me too, last February. My husband drew his lottery ticket at birth. We were together for twenty years, during which he studied my emotional reactions, my interactions with other people, and emulated, as though he were trying to be a real person, like Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy. No magic fairy ever came along to make it happen. He never quite got it right. He took his own life in 1999. Is this fair? That his one and only life was so profoundly flawed? I prefer to pretend to believe as the New Agers do: that this was just one go-round, and he planned it all, as a step on the way to enlightenment or evolution of the soul, or whatever. Sounds like wishful thinking, doesn't it? Well, it is. The alternative just makes me want to rend my garments and wail.

Finally, The Pastafazool Cycle. Just LOL.

Anyway, back to 1976, Wendy's again. After a while I got "promoted" to the back cash register. I attribute this prestigious appointment to my having been a math major: I'm dead accurate when it comes to counting change. I missed chatting with Teresa for the rest of the summer.

A few months later I left Phoenix. A couple of years later, maybe, maybe I was looking at photos from Iguanacon, and there was a picture of Teresa looking very different from the Teresa I remembered. She'd abandoned the whole blow-dry-and-set routine; her hair was still blond, but hung in ripples, as from a perm. I don't know if this was linked to the onset of narcolepsy, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that when one feels the need to start dropping things, the hair routine is the first to go.

Many years went by. When I renewed a long-lapsed friendship with L, Teresa was among the people I quizzed her about: what ever happened to this person? that person? Teresa Nielsen? All I remember is a conversation that went something like this:
L: I don't know where she is. [This seems passing strange, somehow, but I was never aware of how various factions of Phoenix fandom broke up and scattered after I left.] She married Patrick Hayden.
Me: uhh, I don't think I ever met him.
L: She has some medical problems. She has narcolepsy.
Me: Narcolepsy?
(At this point we're looking at each other with expressions that say: yeah, weird, huh?)
Me, cluelessly: So, people with narcolepsy fall asleep at random times, right?
L: If you say something funny to her when she isn't expecting it, she falls down.
I think I actually laughed at that point. It just did not come across as serious. You see, my mental image of Teresa was frozen in 1976. In my mind I saw her laugh, fall down, then immediately get up and say something clever.

I found Making Light by chance--a link from Atrios to a post on Electrolite--I can't remember which post. I lurked for a while, then couldn't resist commenting on [begins an even longer search through the archives] this post from November '03. I wrote "Thanks Patrick. I cried," then I lurked on and off for a long time.

Finally, in my own defense: if my comments seem dissonant or insensitive to anyone, it's because my memory of Teresa is frozen in 1976. Reading Making Light from sometime in '03 to the present has given me no indication whatsoever of any reduced cognitive function. Nothing, nada, zip. So it's with great cognitive dissonance of my own that I read "Making Book" and try to square it with the picture of Teresa I still have in my mind.

Teresa's memory of me is undoubtedly frozen as well, and believe me, the idea that anyone's mental image of me is stuck in 1976 makes me cringe. I was not at my best. Oh I was smart, all right, but an emotional basket case: no self-esteem, no identity. I remember one day I wore a Phi Beta Kappa key on a chain around my neck while working at Wendy's. I wasn't trying to be obnoxious; it was my own private joke. Get it? Wearing a Phi Beta Kappa key while working at Wendy's? I never expected anyone to recognize it (that was part of the joke: only I knew what it was--are you on the floor laughing yet?); Teresa was the only person at Wendy's who did. It was a joke to me because I suffered from Woody Allen syndrome: if I could get in, anyone could get in and it wasn't worth belonging. I came by this attitude quite naturally: my father also believed that if I could get in, anyone could get in and it wasn't worth belonging. [You know how they have a banquet when you're inducted? (Yes, they do.) They call your name and you go up and get your key and shake someone's hand? I was the only one there whose parents didn't consider it worthwhile to attend. Some parents came from great distances; mine lived a hundred miles to the north and had nothing in particular to do that evening. Dan Carver went with me, though--thanks, Ug.]

Hunh--this wasn't supposed to be about me; guess it's time for me to stop.

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