Get Over Myself, Part Three: N-S
More than you ever wanted to know about me, Part 3.
N - Norway: In the summer of 1997 I went to a summer school in Bergen, Norway. Bergen is like Norway's answer to Seattle; it's on the West Coast, temperate, mountainous, and gets lots of rain. Except that for whatever reason, that summer there was very little rain. It was in fact the driest summer in years, and it was gorgeous. My mother's side of the family is 100% Norwegian-American. Burros is not a common Norwegian name, but I was told that there are some in the Trondheim area; Wik is, I think, a more common name, though I'm not sure what region it's most common to. In any case, I wasn't able to spend time doing genealogical research, as I was there primarily to work on my language skills. At that time I was one semester away from completing my degree in Scandinavian Studies. Career track all the way, that's me! Hey, I got to take classes on Scandinavian History (Vikings! St. Olaf! Queen Christina!), on the Icelandic Sagas (Njal! Grettir! Snorri!), on August Strindberg (madness! misogyny! Absinthe!), on the mythology (Ragnarok! Iordmungandr! Odin hanging from the ash tree!) . . . I had the best classes. And I got to learn about my ethnicity to boot. Even so, traveling to Norway was almost an afterthought; I had never been to Europe, and I wanted to take a vacation. I wasn't at all prepared for how at home I would feel there, or for how utterly overcome with emotion I would become. It was the mountains that got me most of all, on an overnight trip. They call it "Norge i et nøtteskall," which means "Norway in a nutshell." It's a common activity for tourists. We took a train inland for a couple of hours, got out when we were high in the mountains, and started hiking down. When I'm hiking, I often like to go off on my own, since conversation distracts from the scenery. This was a good choice in this case, since I was practically in tears at points during the hike. The mountains east of Bergen are populated with countless foss or waterfalls, and a river ran through the valleys we were hiking down. At points the river rushed through rocky rapids. At one point water plunged into it from a cave high up on a mountain. At times it flowed past old farmland. Many Norwegians keep their old family homes as vacation spots--they don't bother to wire them for electricity or phones, they just go up there to hike, to read, to spend time. Who could blame them? These are the mountains where the tales of trolls and nisse came from, and walking past the walls of damp, moss-covered stone it was not hard to believe that the rocks might open their eyes and stretch and confront trespassers. We spent the night in a hotel amid the mountains. I don't remember what we ate there, but I'm sure there was salmon. Around Bergen the Norwegians ate salmon like we eat hamburgers or hot dogs, but it never got old. The next day we hiked the rest of the way down to the fjords, where we got on a boat which took us south along the dramatic coastline and back to Bergen. Along the way we saw thousand-foot cliffs with houses at the top of them, accessible only by long, switchbacking staircases which descended to tiny docks. By the time we got back to the harbor at Bergen--which had a lovely fish-market surrounded with lots of annoying tourist shops--I felt connected with the land in a way I had never felt before. I haven't made it back there yet. But I will.
O - Odyssey 1996: I could tell you about how it affected my writing, and it did, in profound ways. But the most important thing about it was that for the first time ever I didn't feel like a freak for wanting to be a writer and specifically for wanting to write the kind of stuff I did. I went in half-afraid that the workshop would be entirely populated by Comic Book Guy clones in Star Trek t-shirts, but instead I found a wide range of ages and genders, talented people who were hip to what was going on in literature (not just genre) and knew so much about so many things that I felt totally outclassed. I also took comfort in the geek factor, in people who had read LOTR as many times as I had, had gone through a mad and inexplicable Piers Anthony phase just like I had, who had obscure knowledge about classic genre stuff and wanted to share it. It was a community, and people like Carl and Dana and JoAnn and Derek and Lynda helped me feel a part of it. After Odyssey, we took advantage of the convenience of the new-fangled Internet and kept in touch over email. And 10 years after the fact, I still think of the spec fic blogosphere as an extension of Odyssey. Shucks, I'm getting all misty.
P - Pets: We've never had a cat. My dad's never liked them, and I can't say I blame him much. I've met cats whom I got along with OK, but cats aren't affectionate unless they want something. They cuddle when they're cold. They talk when they're hungry. This is my subjective experience, I know, so don't gush to me about your darlings--I know they're precious, and I'm happy you've found each other. When I get my many acres of land on which to build my cozy little cottage and my spacious library and my enormous guest house, we will have cats to keep the rodents at bay. But the land will be for the dogs to run around. Our first dog was Sammy, a Labrador/Saint Bernard mix. We were living in the Crocus Hill area of St. Paul at the time--this was before it got all chi-chi. We had a little yard, and Gretchen and I were little kids, and Sammy was a Big Dog. He used to knock Gretchen over with his tail. We have pictures of the two of us burying him in leaves, and it looks like the Aesir taunting Fenris Wolf. Eventually Sammy went to live with Grandma and Grandpa's neighbors up in Evansville; we used to glimpse him sometime as we drove past. Later, when we moved to suburbia and we were all a little older, we got a black lab named Fritz. Unfortunately, during the intervening years I had developed allergies to every substance known to man, including dog hair. (Nowadays I get a touch of the hay fever, but I've pretty much outgrown the rest of it.) So poor Fritz wasn't allowed in the house. He slept on the porch, usually, and not surprisingly he ran off every chance he got. Many, many, many times I ran through the neighborhood, sometimes in tears, screaming "Fritz!" and chasing him back and forth through people's yards. Funny thing about the suburbs; people don't come out of their houses unless your dog is pooping on their lawn. Helping a ten-year-old kid catch his drooling black hairball of a pet? You'd think no one lived in our neighborhood. More than once he disappeared so thoroughly that Dad had to pick him up from the pound. One day when Fritz ran off he got hit by a car; he survived, but he spent a few days beneath our neighbors' pine tree recovering. (The vet just said to check out his gums, and if they were pink he should be fine. I don't know why he didn't have us bring him in.) He got better, but not long after that he ran off and never came back. We didn't get another dog until I was in high school; my brother found a pet adoption service and a family with a beagle and no yard. This was Zach, or as his pedigree read, Zachary Edward. He'd been born to a prestigious line of breeding beagles, but since he had exhibited signs of epilepsy as a pup he wasn't going to be used as a breeder. There are big beagles and little beagles (seriously, there are, at least if you're not British), and Zach was a big one (over thirteen inches high). OK, I know that's not actually big. Quick! Look at the puppy!
Distracted you, didn't I? Anyway, we used to let Zach run around in the poolyard, which had an old concrete pool and a pump the size of the original Iron Man. (Not sure why we didn't let Fritz do that--possibly because Fritz was not very smart and would have fallen into pool continuously? Must ask.) ((Also, the pool is no longer there as it became too difficult and expensive to maintain. We now have yard (not the same as "going yard") with a lovely garden which my mom has built up over the years.)) Anyway, Zach was all nose, as many beagles are, and often climbed up on the compost to leap over the fence, or squeezed under it over by the raspberry bush. Then he would follow scents for hours. I mean hours. All nose means that when you're standing three feet from a beagle calling his name he doesn't hear you. He's too engaged in tracking the scent of the squirrel--"Whoa, was that a cat? Hooooowl! Got to--run--over--here--and . . . hm, no cat over here. People smells. Field mouse. Bird. What's that guy doing over there? What's he saying? Never mind--raccoon! Hooooowl!" So here's me (or Mom, or one of my siblings) chasing another dog through the neighborhood. Are we seeing a pattern? When I went away to school in Madison I missed Zach horribly, but we were still buds whenever I went back to visit. We all loved him. Then, when he was perhaps 10 years old, he developed some respiratory problems. They got bad enough that Mom took him to the vet, who gave him some sort of medication. The next day he was lying in his bed, hardly breathing. Mom picked him up to take him to the vet again, and he died in her arms. She was devastated. We all were. In Madison I went a little crazy with grief. I imagined that Zach was walking with me to my classes, that he was there waiting outside when I finished. It was hard to be away, to not have seen him those last few days. It still is sometimes. A few months later, after the winter had dulled some of the pain, my brother who was then living in North Carolina proposed that he get a beagle puppy from one of the nearby farms. As it turned out, the entire family went down to Chapel Hill for Spring Break, where we all met Eddie, the most cutest puppy ever in the history of all the world. (I can't help it, I'm regressing. Puppies do that to me. See above.) He flew home with my parents in a tiny kennel, and that's where he still lives. He's a smaller variety beagle, and named for Zachary Edward, don'tcha know. I'll be seeing him in a couple of weeks. One of these days I'm going to get a dog of my own, but I don't want to subject one to apartment living and my odd hours in and out. It wouldn't be fair to the dog.
Q - Quest Fantasy: From 4th Grade to 11th or so, this was my preferred genre. I read LOTR at least twenty times. At least a dozen of those happened during 7th and 8th Grades, AKA junior high, AKA the Worst Years of My Life. During those years I came to feel that I had no friends and that this was because I was a geek and a weirdo. I didn't know how to change this, either. I was horribly shy with most people, and didn't know how to make or keep friends; essentially I was socially retarded. It was in these years that I was first called a "creep," which was a stunning thing to hear. I think it was because I had a tendency to watch people interacting, as if I was trying to figure out how it worked. I was convinced they wouldn't notice me, as I was essentially invisible anyway. The idea that they not only noticed me but considered me unpleasant for watching them was a slap in the face. I used to go home and sit in my room and read and listen to music; at night I would lie awake recounting the ways in which I had embarrassed myself that day, and worrying about the ways in which I would humiliate myself again the next. This insomnia prevented me from sleeping more then four or five hours a night. On weekends I would sleep in, and if there was nothing else going on, I would take my Ballantine paperback editions of Tolkien and read them all; starting with the Hobbit, through the trilogy, and sometimes even parts of the Silmarillion--Middle-Earth lover though I was, I never did finish that one. The Hobbit usually only took a couple of hours to finish, and on a good Saturday I'd be halfway through with The Two Towers by the time I couldn't keep my eyes open. Sundays we had to go to church, but afterwards it was back to the books, back out of myself, away from the impending return to school, isolation, and humiliation. It's not an exaggeration to say that a dead British converted Catholic WWI vet saved my life. And yet . . . at some point, the books began to feel as though they were weighing me down. I didn't stop re-reading right away, but I moved on to lighter things like Douglas Adams and the Robert Lynn Aspirin Myth books and the above-mentioned Piers Anthony. (Piers takes a lot of shit nowadays, but he kept me reading and some of his books are great, so I don't want to hear a word about it. Aspirin I'm not so sure about; I've heard stories.) I did still read quest fantasies, but eventually David Eddings was the last straw. Talk about plug 'n play fantasy. And yet, my imagination was so much in J.R.R.'s shadow that I eventually had to work out my anxiety of influence with a quest fantasy heavily influenced by Marquez and Faulkner and Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy and Mircea Eliade and Knut Hamsun. Kind of worked out a lot of my anxieties on that one. I hope it sees print one of these days.
R - Roommate: I mention Marianne a lot, and yet she is something of a shadowy figure to many of you. I first met Marianne in 1991, when she started working at the Rath. (See Madison.) She was the girl everyone crushed on, most particularly my buddy John. John and Marianne ended up dating for a while, and during that time, between work and socializing, she and I hung out a bit. We weren't close friends, but we got along well. She eventually graduated--something it seemed like I might never do--and moved to Chicago. I stayed on in Madison for a while, then moved back to the Twin Cities, and then we suddenly ran into each other at the wedding of friends. We clicked, starting chatting on the phone and email, and when I had paid off my loans and was a) looking to move and b) thinking about library school, we decided to be roommates. It's a pretty laid-back arrangement, most of the time. We've both got our own stuff going on; Marianne places actuaries by day, plays cello, fiddle, and guitar by night. She and her friend T. take a lot of trips to various bluegrass and country festivals around the region. We hang out a lot, too; we see shows and movies and stuff like that, but a lot of times it's nice just to hang out at home with a bottle of red wine (or two, or three), some fancy (or notso fancy) cheese, and the DVD player. I introduced her to "Buffy" and "Homicide," she got me into "Six Feet Under" and "Sex and the City." We write stories together sometimes (well, one so far), and she's the first reader for everything I write. All in all, she's a good friend and a great person to have in my life.
S - Stewart Copeland: Should have punched Sting a few more times. Seriously, he's go the arm for it; listen to him spanking the skins on "Next to You" or "The Other Way of Stopping" and tell me he doesn't have the muscles to knock some sense into that pretentious nitwit. At the very least he could have spared us The Soul Cages. Rock on, Stewart! You were always the best part of the Police.
Coming up: Underwear! X-Men! The end of all me, all the time!