Thursday, May 25, 2017

Honeymooning with Wookiees - A Star Wars Story (sort of)


Originally Published in Collision (University of Pittsburgh), Spring 2001

While my husband, Jim, may be the only man in America who can recite his wedding anniversary date without any wifely intervention, he calculates the date in a truly unique manner: "Star Wars premiered on Wednesday, May 25, 1977. We got married three days before that; so, we must have gotten married on Sunday, May 22, 1977."

I am not making this up. My husband has always remembered the date of the Star Wars premiere more readily than that of his own wedding. It's very strange, because neither of us have generally paid attention to popular trends. We might have been in college during the '70s, but we hated disco passionately and anything else that was even marginally trendy.

We even met at the least trendy location of 1975 -- at a science fiction club meeting. When most people heard the term "sci-fi fan," they thought of pale, glassy-eyed, pimply adolescent boys with Mr. Spock pointy ears and a plastic pocket protector filled with ballpoints. Now, it's true that there was (and still is) a subset of fans who fit that description, though usually the ones with the plastic pocket protectors are generally not wearing Spock ears at the same time. But most of us, while pale and maybe pimply, wouldn't be caught dead with pointed ears or pocket protectors; we just read science fiction and talked incessantly. We loved the robots of Issac Asimov, the world-building of Frank Herbert, and gender-bending of Ursula K. Le Guin. We spent many hours in conversation over books, computer kits (back in the '70s, you had to mail order the pieces for a primitive computer and assemble it yourself), movies, getting to Mars by the end of the century, and getting to the next convention by the end of next month.

I met Jim when he was a junior at Carnegie Mellon University and I was a wide-eyed freshman. He was of medium height, medium weight, with a mass of black hair, hazel eyes, glasses and a moustache. He looked so Black-Irish I practically expected him to break out in "Oh Danny Boy," but any musical ability missed his branch of the family. Other than the glasses, we shared no physical characteristics at all, as I was more of a mushy Nordic type. He tended to be quiet and bookish -- one of the smartest people I'd ever met. No one has ever accused me of being quiet.

While Jim was quiet in groups of more than two, I had some great conversations with him alone. We started talking at club meetings and conventions. Eventually, we started having two-hour long phone conversations, ending only when one of Jim's younger brothers took the phone away by force. At first, we had nothing in common other than a mutual love of reading. Jim and I were from wholly different backgrounds, religious upbringings, and parts of the country. I was living on campus, and he was commuting to college from his home. But, the more we kept talking, the more we found we had in common. We both loved the films of Mel Brooks and Stanley Kubrick; in fact, going to see Barry Lyndon was our first real date. We both hated the Bee Gees (who later scored Saturday Night Fever) and Donna Summer (the "Disco Queen") and loved the Moody Blues and the Beatles. Within a few weeks, we realized it wasn't just the conversation we loved, it was each other. By the end of my freshman year, Jim and I were engaged and were planning to get married after Jim's graduation in May 1977.

So we bucked another '70s trend -- we planned to get married in our very early twenties without a job, a house, a car or even our own TV. To save money during the next school year, Jim continued living at home and I shared an apartment with three other women (one of whom is now known as the science fiction writer Brenda Clough). We never registered anywhere while we were engaged, because we needed everything, and we had high hopes of getting usefulhouse wares. We did not need or want a metal ice bucket with matching tongs or a fondue set; we got both anyway. Despite our anti-trendy natures, our honeymoon landed smack in the middle of one of the biggest fads of the late '70s. There was no way to avoid Star Wars, even if we wanted to.

Over Labor Day weekend of 1976, Jim and I went to Kansas City, MO to attend the World Science Fiction Convention. The Worldcon was, in the '70s, the largest SF con of the year. Nearly 3,000 science fiction fans, writers, artists and publishers invaded the city, just three weeks after the Republican National Convention had taken over the city to nominate Gerald Ford as its candidate for president. Downtown hadn't quite recovered from that onslaught of middle-aged, upper-middle class Americans yet. "Welcome, Republicans" signs still adorned many downtown shops and many of the exhausted hotel, shop and restaurant employees were on vacation.

No one confused us with Republicans though. We science fiction fans were mostly young and favored long hair, blue jeans and silly T-shirts. At three in the morning, the only open coffee shop in downtown was filled with fans, cops, and hookers -- cops mostly ignored us. The hookers, though, were decidedly unhappy with us. Turns out they got little business from us; we weren't a group that ever had to pay for sex (unlike the Republicans, apparently).

Jim and I wandered around the Muehlbach, the grand old hotel where the Worldcon took place. It was a scene of "cultural disconnect" -- people talking about L5 in '95 (a project promoting a large commercial space station at Lagrange point 5 by 1995) and about the future of space travel in function rooms decorated with velveteen wallpaper, electric candle sconces and faux Louis XIV furniture. We spent many hours in the book dealer's room, Jim's favorite convention haunt, where about 250 booksellers had thousands of new, used, and rare books for sale. I particularly enjoyed the art show, with its varied display of the science fiction and fantasy paintings.

"Hey, let's try to find the room with the movie exhibit," Jim suggested. "I think it's down this hallway over here."

We wandered into the out-of-the way ballroom and found about forty black and white photographs on the wall. "Who are these people?" I asked, looking at some of the pictures of the cast. "I've heard of Carrie Fisher -- her mom is Debbie Reynolds -- but who is Harrison Ford?"

"No idea... I've never heard of Mark Hamill either." It turned out Hamil was so anonymous in September 1976 that he was even at the Worldcon and no one noticed.

"He looks too short to be a space hero. And what's this giant bear with a laser?" I asked.

"Probably some alien."

"I know that, but a giant, furry bear? That just seems way too hokey. It looks like they don't take SF at all seriously. It looks like something out of Buck Rogers"

"Or Duck Dodgers." Jim laughed.

"Oh great. I just want a serious science fiction movie for a change. Not another Sleeper. Not another Young Frankenstein. Just something that's both science fictional and serious."

Jim zeroed in on the spaceship models, in clear plastic cubes in the center of the room. These models lacked the sleekness of typical movie spaceships. They had all kinds of indentations of protrusions. "The ships look pretty good though. Hollywood always forgets that ships in space can be any shape, they don't have to look like airplanes or rockets," he said.

"Yeah, but no one's done decent space ships or special effects since 2001, A Space Odyssey. Now that was a science fiction movie for adults. It wasn't silly. Star Wars looks like it's gonna be for kids."

Before we left the movie exhibit, a suited young man (obviously a studio flunky, no one else wore suits to SF cons) gave us copies of the preliminary poster. The initial poster was very purple, with characters fighting with shocking pink swords. Weird.

[Parenthetical remark from 2017 - This poster is showing up as a Star Wars poster from 1976 online. However this was not the poster they gave out at MidAmeriCon 76. There were definitely characters having a light saber fight in the background and Chewie was a bit more prominent. If anyone can supply a scan of the 1976 Star Wars poster that was distributed at MidAmeriCon, please send me one.]

I didn't hold out much hope that Star Wars would be any good. Not that I worried about it much. We were busy with school and planning our wedding -- not overly concerned about a movie whose premiere was a year away. But along about Thanksgiving, we started seeing posters for the movie in theaters. They were radically different from the poster we'd seen the previous summer. Skinny Mark Hamill had a pumped-up chest, biceps, and his shirt was split down to the navel. Short Carrie Fisher looked tall and willowy with her flowing white dress split almost up to the navel. Harrison Ford and the giant hairy bear were nowhere to be seen.


We stared at the poster in amazement. "I hate when the characters on the posters don't look anything the actors who played them. Marketing." I sighed.

"Oh, they're trying to sex-up the movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that," Jim smiled.

Finally, school was over, Jim was graduated, and we took the midnight train to my home in Massachusetts and tied the proverbial knot. Our wedding went off very well -- one of the few times in our lives when the "marketing" of the event actually lived up to the hype. It was sunny and very, very bright. So bright that it hit 96 degrees that afternoon, more beach weather than wedding weather. It felt strange to be well-dressed, among our very well-dressed family and friends. But, it felt wonderful to be married -- even without a job, a house, a car, or a TV. The ceremony was in a church, and the reception was in an estate with a blooming garden nearby. The pianist played classical music as a background to the eating, drinking and talking.

Everyone fully enjoyed themselves. For me, though, early married life turned out to be a little ragged around the edges. My wisdom teeth ached, so I grimaced a more than a bride normally does. On the morning after our wedding, we found that someone had tried to break into the car we had borrowed.

Once we got back to Pittsburgh, our honeymoon was spent moving into our first apartment. For $75, we bought furniture from a guy who had just been sent up for cocaine possession. I nervously checked the couch and chair cushions for "leftovers," not wanting to follow him to jail. I spent the next day in bed with the most horrific case of menstrual cramps I'd ever had, leaving Jim to move his books and clothing from his mother's apartment to ours alone. 'What a honeymoon!' I thought, as I curled up in fetal position.

The next day, I helped with the unpacking. Jim's uncle loaned us a little black and white TV, and I had it on in the background as I resumed arranging the bedroom. There was a constant bombardment of commercials for Star Wars.

We'd arranged to meet some friends from our science fiction club to go to see Star Wars for its premiere that night. After a long day of moving the last of the stuff into the apartment, we got cleaned up and drove out to the Brown Derby in the far east suburbs of Pittsburgh. During dinner, our friends presented us with a set of pots and pans -- the only practical cookware we had gotten from anybody. Another friend, who'd taken photos at the wedding, gave us with an album filled with photos, which we gleefully showed off. When we brought the cookware and album out to the car, we noticed the massive line outside the neighboring movie theater. It was for Star Wars.

We managed to get into the show, but it soon completely sold out. Ticket sellers gave all the people attending the first day's shows a button that said, "May the force be with you."

After nearly a year of just hearing about Star Wars, there it was in all its cinematic glory. The movie had come a long way from 40 black and white photographs and a couple of large spaceship models. We stayed still in our seats from the second those evocative words "Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared on the screen, oblivious to the aroma of popcorn or the call of the restroom. Text crawled up and into the screen; text crawls hadn't appeared in a movie in over twenty five years, since the time of the Saturday afternoon serials. We saw a spaceship darting into the center of the screen, pursued by a much, much, MUCH bigger, obviously more dangerous, spaceship looming overhead. It was a jaw-dropping shot. We quickly lost any reservations about the movie. We were quite taken by the special effects, the cast, the music, and yes, even the wookiee. We were hooked. We even applauded at the end, even though we realized that George Lucas had half-manipulated us into doing so because an audience onscreen was also applauding at the end.

When we left the movie theater, there was an even more massive line for the later showings. On TV the next day, there was someone from the cast or crew talking about what an instant phenomenon this movie had become. When I went to the store, I heard random people having the following conversations:

"Have you seen Star Wars yet? Wasn't that great? Didn't you just love the droids? Weren't the Imperial Stormtroopers just awful shots?"

I was amazed.

"Wasn't the scene in the giant trash compacter gross? Do you think Ford and Hamill will ever learn to act? Weren't those spaceships neat?"

Americans had never gone to science fiction films in huge numbers, not even to the classic 2001. The top-grossing movies for two generations had been Gone with the Wind and The Sound of Music, until Jaws was launched on the American public two years before.

Within weeks, Star Wars was the top-grossing film of all time. Suddenly, science fiction was a fad. And, by virtue of being fans, we were...trendy. The slogan of science fiction fans had always been, "It is a sad and lonely thing to be a fan." How could science fiction, with its fandom ever comprised of outsiders, be smack in the middle of a cultural phenomenon?

Meanwhile, our mostly untraditional honeymoon was drawing to a close. We were finally doing something traditional -- we were going to take a short trip to Washington. Well, it wasn't strictly traditional honeymoon trip since we were going to attend a science fiction convention.

The conversation among fans at the convention was not much different than it had been among the general public.

"Have you seen Star Wars yet? Wasn't that great? Didn't you just love the droids? Weren't the Imperial Stormtroopers just awful shots? What about those matte paintings?!"

It was a rotten week to try to brag about your wedding or show off pictures, even to your fannish friends. If it didn't have spaceships and aliens, no one wanted to hear about it.

"Wasn't the scene in the giant trash compacter gross? Do you think Ford and Hamill will ever learn to act? Weren't those spaceships neat? No, the movie was ruined for me when I noticed the planets around Tattoine were within Roche's limit."

One of the few people in fandom who didn't like the movie complained bitterly about that obscure bit of astronomical trivia. He insisted, "The moons should have been rings since they were so close to the planet." And that ruined his enjoyment of the movie. Well, his was a different perspective; we'd admired the filmmaking so much we hadn't noticed that the science was a bit fluffy in places.

Almost no one in fandom openly enjoyed Star Wars as much as our friend Gardner. The movie hadn't been out for a week yet, but Gardner had already seen it three times. He particularly loved the wookiee, I suspect because Gardner was a wookiee -- he was very tall, very broad, had a very loud voice, and extremely long blond hair. We sat with Gardner and a bunch of other people at a party in a hotel room, talking about Star Wars. Between taking long drinks of beer, Gardner exploded with wookiee imitations. "WOOOHHHFF," he'd cry, threading his fingers together behind his head, then leaning his head back, self-satisfied. He made so much noise that people scurried in from the other room, expecting to see that someone had smuggled a noisy dog into the party.

"Do it again, Gardner," I'd giggle, leaning back on Jim's shoulder as Gardner kept up the noise.

"Now all we need is a holographic war game," Jim sighed.

"But we'd have to let the wookiee win."

Gardner leapt to his feet. "I think I'll go to the midnight show, you guys wanna come along?" he asked. It was not quite 10:00, but he knew what the lines were like.

Jim gave me a hug, "Not this time, Gardner. We are on our honeymoon after all."

I giggled again, "Yeah, and no one is going to believe that we spent our honeymoon with a wookiee."

Despite our honeymooning with wookiees, both real and cinematic, we're still married now, in the year of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001.

Fandom has grayed since the '80s. Movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters and Alien helped get more people to read science fiction, and there was a real boom in convention attendance from the late '70s until the mid '80s. There are now multiple science fiction conventions every weekend around the world. The Worldcon tends to attract about 5,000 people these days, but there are movie-related conventions that attract tens of thousands more. However, instead of going to science fiction club meetings and conventions, today's young readers gravitate toward media conventions, online role-playing games and anime. Asimov and Herbert have both died, but Le Guin is still writing. A whole host of new writers are creating new worlds and speculating upon life in their fiction. And Gardner, the wookiee, has been the editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine for many years. Fandom has "let the wookiee win" many times by presenting him with an unprecedented number of Best Editor Hugo awards.

Jim and I have remained active in science fiction fandom ever since. We have raised our daughter in a household filled with books, TVs, pre-assembled computers and take periodic trips to science fiction conventions. We have spent most of our professional lives doing something long predicted by science fiction and something that's virtually trendy at the same time -- we've worked for computer companies.


Related blog post: "Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke & Me"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Leavetakings, Part II

In some ways, I'm still having trouble believing that I'm writing such a similar essay just a few months after writing about my mother's death.

Mom had been kind of frail for a long time, was diagnosed with terminal cancer February 2016 and died in late July 2016. During those months, I drove up from Pittsburgh five times to visit her. Would also visit my Dad (they were long divorced but friendly and he lived nearby). He was a little low about my mother's illness and had some minor memory lapses, but still lived on his own and hung out at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he'd worked for many years, as often as he could. Yes, he had a persistent cough but he had some tests and they kept telling him not cancer, which was great news. We spent a few hours together in mid-February just after Boskone, chatting and looking at some old photos.

So as older people often do, he wound up briefly in and out of the hospital a few times. We finally understood there was really nothing that could be done for him. He went to stay in my mother's old apartment (off the back of my brother and sister-in-law's house), where they took care of him. But it didn't sound immediately bad, and we thought he had months left. As sometimes happens with elderly people, even Energizer bunnies (as my other sister-in-law called him), things can go terribly wrong terribly fast. My brother messaged me on a Sunday morning to come up right away. I made the drive in 11 hours and found Dad asleep. I did get to talk to him very briefly Monday morning (and heard one last Tuna-ism "Beggers can't be choosers"), but later that day he slipped into a comatose state. He died early the following Saturday morning. He had amazing care from my brother and sister-in-law and Robin and Melissa and the Worcester Jewish Home Hospice. His body just quit after an interesting and active 87 years.

Other than his brother who's 90, Dad had lived longer that any of his family for at least 4 generations. In many ways he had characteristics of an SF fan - book collector (mostly mysteries but I found a copy of V in his library and he also had the first legit edition of Lord of the Rings published in the US), non-standard dresser (wore the same pair of casual shoes for over 40 years, eschewed shoe laces) and had over 200 t-shirts from various college events. He and Mom were married for 31 years, divorced for 31 years and died 8 months apart. I'd hoped he would die like Dave Kyle, in his 90s after attending one last party. But I'm glad he was playing cards with friends up until about a week ago and he died at home.

Dad, AKA Tuna, was a huge fixture at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The whole community really reached out. Especially on Facebook, people posted pictures and told funny stories. You can check his Facebook page (he last posted there 12 days before his death) - Tuna Trask, or check the support page some students set up for him - Bill "Tuna" Trask - Make him smile! Some students also organized a card signing which were delivered to the house and the family really appreciated all of these things. Over 200 hundred WPI students came to his funeral (which was on April Fool's Day--I suspect he would have been amused by that); the church was SRO. Dad's WPI obituary, and the newspaper obituary I wrote for him.

The best Tuna-ism now: "You only live once and you ain't coming back so you may as well live with all the gusto you have!" And he did.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Remember When 45 Said...

I did not write this, but I completely agree with it. We must keep track.

Remember when 45 said...

  • ...he was going to donate his salary? Well he just accepted his second paycheck
  • ...Mexico was going to pay for the wall? He has asked Congress to appropriate the $25 billion of taxpayer money to cover costs
  • ...he was going to divest from his businesses? Changed his mind
  • ...he was going to release his tax returns? Changed his mind
  • ...he wasn't going to go on vacation or play golf? 5 of the last 7 weekends he went on vacation and played golf, costing taxpayers $11.1 million
  • ...he was going to use American steel to build these dangerous pipelines? Russian steel arrived last week for the Keystone Pipeline XL
  • ...he said would defeat ISIS in 30 days? He still doesn't even have a plan
  • ...he said he was going to appropriate money to HBCUs? He lied to get a photo-op
  • ...he was going to drain the swamp of Washington insiders? His cabinet is filled with lobbyists, oil and Wall Street executives
  • ...he wasn't going to cut social security and Medicare? The Republican bill does just this
  • ...he said that nobody on his campaign has any communications with Russian govt? 7 of his people have now admitted they spoke and/or met with Russian officials, AFTER they lied and got caught
  • ...he said that the Obamacare replacement would cover more people at lower cost? The AHCA that the GOP and 45 are now pushing; they now admit will cover fewer people at a higher cost

Share so everyone can remember what a liar this so-called president (45) truly is. If you agree, please copy and paste this to your timeline or at least link to it.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

My 2017 Oscar Predictions

I'm running very late with this. I have seen most of the nominated movies (except for Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water). I liked many movies I saw this year, but I didn't have the same "This is a classic!" response the way I did when I saw Spotlight last year.

So, quickly:

Film

Will win: LaLaLand
Should win: Moonlight
Winner:

My favorite movie of last year was Arrival, but it may have flown over the heads of many Oscar voters as it's intellectual science fiction. It's a brilliant piece of work, but the nominators also failed to even nominate Amy Adams. LaLaLand was pleasant but not great. Moonlight is an amazingly-good movie that I found quite moving and it just took a bunch of Independent Spirit Awards. I loved Hidden Figures but it may be a bit "movie of the week" to be an Oscar winner. Lion had great photography and a couple of great kid actors. Liked Fences very much. Manchester by the Sea has its moments but also wound up as a very overrated flick. In the "damaged men" trope for this year, Moonlight was the best; it was the movie that MBTS really wanted to be.

Leading Actor

Will win: Casey Affleck
Should win: Viggo Mortensen
Winner:

Viggo was brilliant in Captain Fantastic, and the casting of his kids was outstanding. Casey was good but not quite great. Denzel could also possibly pull this one out as he was very good and didn't get a Best Director nomination for Fences

Leading Actress

Will win: Emma Stone
Should win: Natalie Portman
Winner:
I've loved Emma Stone in almost everything she's done, but feel LaLaLand is quite overrated. Natalie Portman was perfect in Jackie. I did not see Elle.

Supporting Actor

Will win: Mahershala Ali
Should win: Mahershala Ali
Winner:
Ali was brilliant, but Lucas and Dev were also extreme good (didn't see Hell or Nocturnal)

Supporting Actress

Will win: Viola Davis
Should win: Viola Davis
Winner:
The women were great. I wouldn't be surprised if Naomie Harris won.

I don't have time to complete this today. Will be out most of the rest of today. But here's the rest of the list:



ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

=============================

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Silence

=============================

COSTUME DESIGN

Allied

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Florence Foster Jenkins

Jackie

La La Land

=============================

DIRECTING

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

=============================

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J.: Made in America

13th

=============================

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Extremis

4.1 Miles

Joe’s Violin

Watani: My Homeland

The White Helmets

=============================

FILM EDITING

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

La La Land

Moonlight

=============================

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

=============================

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond

Suicide Squad

=============================

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

Jackie

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Passengers

=============================

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" from La La Land

Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

"Can’t Stop The Feeling" from Trolls

Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

"City Of Stars" from La La Land

Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

"The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story

Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

"How Far I’ll Go" from Moana

Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

=============================

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar!

La La Land

Passengers

=============================

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

=============================

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Ennemis Intérieurs

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

=============================

SOUND EDITING

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

=============================

SOUND MIXING

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

=============================

VISUAL EFFECTS

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

=============================

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Arrival

Fences

Hidden Figures

Lion

Moonlight

=============================

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea

20th Century Women

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Year in Statistics and Life Facts

Jim and I have been a couple for over 40 years. Wow, who'd've thought? ;->

We've been parents for 36 years and Leslie finally moved into her own apartment.

I walked 1500 miles (1505 after First Night). Really. I'm particularly proud of that. I've been trying to break walking 1000 miles in a year since 2013 and I finally did it. "House walking" in cold weather has been very helpful.

I lost 19 pounds. That's not a huge amount of weight, but for a post-menopausal woman who stress-eats (and this was an unbelievably stressful year), that's definitely in the right direction, even though I've gained and lost the same 5 pounds about 15 times since last June. Will go back to using the Always Hungry diet soon and hope to lose a little more weight.

I lost my mother, which made it a hard year, but I know I was lucky to have a mother until I was 59. My Aunt Jamen also died.

I lost some friends - David Hartwell, Morris Keesan, Kira Heston, Kate Yule. Also made it a tough year. And the parents of a number of friends died. We're just at that age.

Supported Hillary Clinton and am still a strong supporter of Democratic policies. While I accept the fact that Trump will be our next president, I do not believe he is capable of being president and expect he'll do something impeachable very quickly.

Continued to be the curator for Dead People Server, which was a little tougher this year as so many celebs I liked, like Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke, Bill Nunn, Gwenn Ifill died youngish.

I edited the MidAmeriCon II newsletter

Worked on the Nebula Award Weekend which will be in Pittsburgh next May and the Smofcon bid for Boston in 2017 (which won).

Continued to volunteer for Global Links.

Joined the Renaissance City Choir.

Worked a few days as an extra, mostly for Outsiders season 2 which will have its season premiere on WGN starting on Tuesday, January 24.

Spent 7 days as security for the U.S. Open in Oakmont. Kind of fun, lovely weather, got to tell a bunch of people working for Fox Sports "Walk to your left!"

Traveled a lot, mostly between Pittsburgh and Massachusetts (many family trips this year), but also to Kansas City twice, Chicago, DC and North Carolina. Planned trips to New York City and Italy for 2017.

I broke a tooth and finally had the rest of it extracted almost 6 months later.

Still have fairly severe insomnia, but I think I'm finally back over 5 hours of sleep a night after sleeping less than that for much of the year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke and Me

I never met these two famous women in my title. However, I really knew both of these talented women better than most.

I absolutely idolized The Patty Duke Show when I was 6. I had an on-going fight with my mother for months as she felt it was on too late for me to see. I think eventually Mom relented as I know I saw most of the shows over the three year run of the show and the afternoon reruns that followed. Patty Duke was very talented, playing two (and sometimes three) characters every week. And around that time I caught The Miracle Worker on TV and was even more impressed, Patty Duke playing a famous person (Helen Keller) I'd also idolized. She could do anything.

I was also aware of Carrie Fisher as a very young child. She was about my age and her mother was a lot like my mother - blonde, perky, a singer. As I learned later, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, had very similar views about sex as my mother had. In the mid-70s, I read a book called The First Time, where celebrities talked about sex and their first time. Debbie Reynolds talked a lot about the importance of pre-marital virginity, how she hoped her daughter would stay a virgin until her marriage, and I nodded a lot as I'd heard that talk quite often, though my mother always concluded that talk with "If you can't be good, be careful." I'm not sure that I ever told my mother "But I am good...and careful" once Jim and I started dating, but...

Carrie Fisher literally burst on the screen in Star Wars which quickly surpassed Jaws, The Sound of Music and Gone with the Wind as the biggest grossing movie ever. I thought she was terrific (though her wavering accent bothered me a bit). She was a strong hero in an adventure movie at a time it was utterly unknown for a woman to do that. She withstood both Imperial torture and helped get "our heroes" out of the prison. After The Empire Strikes Back there were constant arguments about who "The Other" Yoda references could be. I argued for three solid years that it had to be Princess Leia, while many people disagreed with that. I got to say "I told you so" a lot after The Empire Strikes Back came out.

On December 19, I was driving up to Massachusetts and brought Carrie Fisher along with me. I'd gotten the audio book of Princess Diarist and was reliving the spring of 1976 through Carrie Fisher's voice. She was in England making Star Wars and having her first serious affair...with Harrison Ford. Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh at that time, I was a college freshman who'd fallen for Jim and was doing many of the same things she was doing when she wasn't on set (except for smoking pot as I'd learned in high school it did nothing for me but trigger an asthma attack). But Jim and I were still together 40 years later, and while she was at least still friends with Harrison Ford, her personal life had been radically different. She had many addictions and mental health issues, and my addictions were more for chocolate...and cheese...and champagne.

Patty Duke died fairly suddenly of a ruptured intestine in March at 69. Carrie Fisher died four days after an apparent heart attack this month at 60. I was very much saddened by both women's deaths, as I'd hoped they'd be out and about for years ago come.

What the three of us had in common in spades was manic-depression.

Back in high school in the early 70s, there were a bunch of books about mentally ill teenaged girls (I think it was always girls, I don't think boys, no matter how outrageous their behavior, were ever considered mentally ill). I'd read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl with schizophrenia. I was fascinated by it but I didn't really relate to it. About the same time, I read Lisa, Bright and Dark, about a teenaged girl with manic-depression, and I related to it instantly. That explained so much, the periods of black depression, the bad temper, the very fast talking, the multiple suicide attempts, the feeling of never feeling worthwhile at times, while, at other times, I felt like I could do anything and I was being cheated.

For me, generally, the manic periods were great - I'd get an enormous amount of work done in a very short period of time, but there were times when it did lead to stupid and reckless behavior. The depressive periods were utterly miserable. But I was generally very functional; while I had therapy on and off for a long time and took Prozac on and off, I generally had enough control over myself that I never needed to be hospitalized. My last serious depression ended in 2004, about a year and a half after developing insomnia (the only good part about insomnia, which I still struggle with).

I can't begin to say how much I appreciated both Patty Duke and later Carrie Fisher helping to take mood disorders of all kinds out of the closet. I will miss the courage of both of these women. They will continue to be my role models going forward.


Related blog post: "Honeymooning with Wookiees - A Star Wars Story (sort of)"

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fairness and Donald Trump

Fairness and Donald Trump

On November 10, 2016, the "real" Donald J. Trump tweeted:

Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!

No, these are not professional protesters. These are people who are angry that Donald J. Trump is now the president-elect.

These are people Trump criticized and tried to marginalize.

These are people whom Trump supporters have been harassing, attacking, and vandalizing the cars, houses and businesses of.

And yet, while Trump claimed in his acceptance speech:

"Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people."

Thus far, we've seen little evidence of this.

Trump lacks the common decency, the cajones:

  • to acknowledge we live in a country with freedom of the press and free assembly
  • to tell his supporters to stop their harassment of people they've been carefully taught to hate
  • to be truly presidential which means acknowledging Americans have the Constitutional right to protest

Even John McCain, a man I frequently disagree with, had the guts to remind his audiences once the birther movement got started that President Obama was, indeed, born in America. That's something that Trump never had the courage to do in front of one of his screaming crowds.

While Trump is now claiming that he can be a uniter, the fact that he's already talked about bringing very polarizing people into his administration like Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie and Steve Bannon (of Breitbart fame) means his presidency is going to be all about pleasing loud, conservative, old, rich, white guys. More evidence a Trump administration will not be inclusive: The architect of the most racist law in modern American history has been named to Trump's team, Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state. The Trump team is also showing itself to be anti-science with proposal for climate-denying EPA head, Myron Ebell.

It's going to be a long four years. I'm sure I'll be one of those protesters from time to time, and I'm going to go because I have read the Constitution and there are times when I still wonder if Trump has. I will never purchase a Trump-related product, go to a Trump-related property, and generally avoid NBC which helped to make Trump a "star" with his reality show. Being president is not a reality show - it's reality, an ugly reality for those of us who know Trump and his people are going to ruin our country (but hopefully, only for four years).

The Southern Poverty Law Center is collecting reports of hate-incidents in the US. If you see vandalism or hear harassment or attacks, you can report them here: https://www.splcenter.org/reporthate and on Twitter using the #reporthate hashtag. Keep your smartphone camera at the ready - that's our strongest weapon against harassment.


Sunday, November 06, 2016

From Registered Republican to a Registered Democrat

Many women have been writing about how their experiences with misogyny have led them to support Hillary Clinton.

I whole-heartedly agree, though my experiences have been a little different. So I want to talk about my gender issues and how my politics have evolved over time.

I was never a girly girl, I was the classic tomboy. Now, I'd identify myself as "gender queer" - I never had much interest in dressing up or wearing uncomfortable shoes or make-up or pretending to be stupid to satisfy other people's beliefs about what a woman should be.

I was and am loud and fat and I never related well to other kids, got harassed and beaten up but also fought back and stood up for myself. Unlike most kids, I didn't automatically assume I was straight. I thought about it and realized I was straight (on the Kinsey scale, I'm probably more of a 1 than a 0). I wondered if I might be trans as I was a very aggressive girl, but I realized I was comfortable with my physical gender, it was more society's expectation around what a girl was that angered me.

So I was a straight girl interested in boys but they generally weren't interested back, though I've always had male friends. I didn't have the kind of sexual harassment most women report. I was more harassed about my weight and my hypersensitivty (struggled with depression from very early in childhood). But I decided I was going to have an interesting life, and not be afraid to try different things. Loved theater from an early age, sang in groups, loved travel early on, went to the movies a lot, and wasn't afraid to go do things on my own. I had some friends, but kept getting close to girls who would then move out of town. I was isolated much of the time so I read more which led me late in high school to find science fiction and science fiction fandom, a place where loud, fat, smart women were welcome. While there was some sexism in fandom, it wasn't as pervasive as it felt in the culture at large. Men did assume you were more sexually available, but they also seemed much better about taking "No" for an answer, at least from me, as I was never afraid to say "No" until I was damn good and ready to start a sexual relationship. No, I wasn't a romantic but I fell for the right guy anyway, someone who was smart, very independent, geeky and not into rigid gender stereotypes. So I've had a very happy personal life for the last 40 years despite a rather rocky start.

While I haven't had the blatantly sexist experiences that many women have, I've believed women who talked about the harassment and assaults that are all too frequent in this society. While a few women may lie about sexual assault, that pales beside the number of men who lie about sexual assault, or, in the case of Donald Trump, boast about sexual assault and then deny it.

As for politics, I grew up in Massachusetts, always a very liberal state, but my parents were registered Republicans (at least my mother was and I assume my father, who's always been very "don't ask, don't tell" on politics, is as well). So in the late '60s and early '70s, I was one of the few kids in my school who supported the Viet Nam War and Nixon. But, at the same time, I believed adamantly that all people in America deserved equal rights under the law. Scenes on TV of black kids in the south just a little older than me being attacked by whites with water cannons and dogs appalled me. I didn't understand during the '60s and early '70s that Republicans were fighting civil rights, not just "crime" as the law and order types kept insisting.

My first step in getting away from the Republican party was in 1973. I initially believed as my mother kept saying that Nixon was innocent in Watergate. But then I watched the Watergate hearings, and it was clear Nixon was guilty. So, at first, I believed that the corruption in the Republican party was limited to Nixon and some of Nixon's people. In those days, the Republicans, in theory, were pro small-government and pro business. And in those days, you could support the ERA, abortion rights and gay rights and still be a Republican. So when I registered to vote for the first time in early 1975, I registered as a Republican. It's pretty typical for kids to adapt the political party of their parents, and in that way I was quite typical.

In 1976 I voted for Ford over Carter, partially because I was a Republican but also because I felt pardoning Nixon was the right thing to do. Ford was a bit more middle of the road than Nixon was, but, I did another typical thing in college which was to become more liberal and start fighting for the ERA. It was clear that Republicans were not very supportive of the ERA. It turned out Ford was the last Republican presidential candidate I ever voted for, but...during the '70s I just didn't like Carter very much.

My second step away from the Republican party was to not vote for Reagan in 1980. Ford might have been OK politically but Reagan was definitely too far to the right and sounded like a war monger much of the time. I voted for John Anderson, the last time I voted for an Independent for president.

Gradually, I stopped voting for Republicans. I stopped registering Republican and registered as an Independent. Sometimes I'd register as a Democrat to support a Democrat in a primary, but I'd switch back to being an Independent after the primary. I last voted for a Republican at some point in the late '90s, and voted my first straight Democratic ticket in 2000.

My complete disillusionment with the Republican party climaxed during the 2004 election when Kerry lost to Bush. I've been a registered Democrat ever since. The Democrats are the party of the future, and the Republicans are the party of our racist, sexist, homophobic past. The Republicans have done nothing for our country in decades - they voted against the Violence Against Women Act, they voted against the Minimum Wage, they voted against better background checks for guns, they voted for invading Iraq (sadly, they had too much Democratic help there)...I will #NeverVoteRepublican ever again.

I want a government that works for the people. I believe rich people should pay more of their share - not the 90% tax rate on the wealthiest common back in the 1950s and 1960s when the US was economically stable. I believe there should be more of a "windfall profit" tax on people who make over a half million dollars a year. I believe government on all levels needs to be more responsive to the people and less responsive to special interest and themselves. I believe government shutdowns should be illegal.

People like to blame the behavior of Republicans on Donald Trump, but I do not believe that. Trump is just the ultimate Republican - fact free and working only for himself and for the continuing hold on governmental power by white men.

#ImWithHer

2016.11.10: And the results of the election demonstrate how easily led about 25% of the adult population are. Nearly 50% of the possible electorate failed to vote despite the fact that a Trump presidency is likely to lead to war, chaos, evisceration of environmental laws and the Health Care Act and re-normalized bigotry. I despair for our country but I will always fight the bigots and the know-nothings, even though more of them will be in power in the US.

2017.01.25: So far, Trump has been even worse than expected. Usually there are a few people from other parties in the Cabinet, but not Trump, who just selected a Basket of Deplorables for his Cabinet & advisors. And, sadly, it seems like they're all being confirmed.


Tuesday, November 01, 2016

How to Estimate Affordable Care Act Insurance Premiums (AKA Obamacare) Using https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/

How to Estimate Affordable Care Act Insurance Premiums (AKA Obamacare) Using https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/

Remember the initial chaos of the poorly-designed healthcare.gov Website? Well, overall, it is a lot better. But it's also really, really stupid in places.

Not everyone who wants to know how much health insurance will cost is necessarily going to be buying now. And it is now excessively difficult to figure out how to estimate your potential healthcare costs on the site.

There was no link for "estimating costs" so I just went through and opened an account, which was a huge waste of time.

After going through most of the motions, I called their helpline (you can't E-mail their helpline...sigh) and after a 16 minute wait, spoke to a very nice person...who had me make a few searches....none of which found anything helpful about estimating premium costs.

But, luckily, the helpline woman figured out the right URL pretty quickly even if it wasn't findable from search or the home page of healthcare.gov. She provided friendly and fairly fast customer service, but this should have been obvious information for her to have.

Any Website should make it easy to find things. The fact that "estimating premium costs" was not a findable search term on healthcare.gov means the people who developed the Website (which is otherwise pretty good) aren't thinking about search terms and didn't run thorough user testing.

Granted, you can't put every possible task on the top toolbar, but "Estimating Costs" is a very important concept for people looking for insurance.

So if you just want to estimate the cost of an ACA insurance plan for your state and age, go to: https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/. That provides all the information you need, and the information you need to provide is much less than the info for opening an account.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trump Will Fail Debate - He Can't Get Past These Already Debunked Lies

This was the single most brilliant move by the Clinton campaign - to release a catalog of many (but probably not all) of Trump's lies just before the "debate:" 19 Pages of Trump's Lies, as of September 23, 2016 #ImWithHer #NeverVoteRepublican