Several friends also make an appearance: Ted Kosmatka (who pointed the list out to me), Aliette de Bodard, John Scalzi… Best of all, they link to a lot of the fiction, which means it’s a treasure trove of really good stuff.
When Rob and I woke up this morning, our health had taken a swing for the worse. Yes, indeed. My niece gave us the gift that keeps on giving.
So I called the friends that were supposed to come over and regretfully asked them to stay away. We’ve been huddled under the covers with a Veronica Mars marathon pretty much all day. I still made black-eyed peas and collards though because I’m just not willing to chance going into the New Year without them.
It’s funny, even in Portland, at the grocery store the black-eye peas and the collards were always prominently displayed and you could tell that there’d been a run on them. Here in NYC, not so much. People looked at me like I’m a crazy person for saying that you have to have them on New Year’s day.
So how about you? Do you have a New Year’s day tradition?
Cat Rambo had this on her site and, you know, I’ve longed for just this sort of thing.
I know very little about some of the people on my friends list. Some people I know relatively well. (Some I know too well. You know who you are.) I read your journals, or we have something else in common and we chat occasionally. Some of you I hardly know at all. Perhaps you lurk, for whatever reason. But you friended me and I thank you for your interest in my words.
But here’s a thought: why not take this opportunity to tell me a little something about yourself. Any old thing at all. Just so the next time I see your name I can say: “Ah, there’s so and so…they listen in rapture to the love-music of she-turnips.” I might feel compelled to mock your musical taste, but I’ll certainly remember you.
I’d love it if every single person who friended me would do this. Yes, even you people who I know really well. Then post this in your own journal and see what gems of knowledge appear.
Hmm…. which to tell you about. Tempest Build, Day Four or that I actually had a social life?
We’ll go with social, because that is rarer in these parts.
Friday night, our friend Jonathan invited us out with him to see Aimee Mann’s Christmas show. Now, I sort of vaguely knew who Aimee Mann was, but not really. I was exhausted and left to my own devices would have stayed home, but I like Jonathan and this was a really nice thing that he did for us. So I leave the studio with all its tentacles and head to midtown.
The show was in the Grand Ballroom of the Manhattan Center, which is a gorgeous space. Turns out that Aimee Mann does a variety show, with guest musicians, comedians and a little mini-mockumentary. It was so much fun. I had a blast and was really glad that Jonathan had invited us.
Yesterday was all Tempest, all the time.
Today, we went to Jonathan’s tree-trimming party. He does this fun thing where he hangs Polaroids of his guests on the tree. Lots of good food and interesting conversations. It felt really, really good to take the day off.
Rob and I, despite invitations to spend the day with friends, are staying at home today. What am I thankful for? That the nation comes to a halt today, which gives me time and license to spend the day with my husband.
I also sent off an email to a man I’ve been meaning to thank for a while now. My college writing teacher, William Hallberg, had just had his first novel come out the semester I took a class with him. Much like my experience with puppetry, until meeting him it hadn’t occurred to me that publishing a novel was something that was attainable. Now, I haven’t spent the ensuing twenty years in desperate pursuit of getting a novel published — in fact I only really started writing seriously about five years ago — but the early lessons from Mr. Hallberg stuck with me. Among other things, that it is possible to write a novel and hold down another job.
So, besides spending time with Rob, I’m going to treat myself to a writing day today. Meanwhile, may I recommend that you pick up a copy of Rub of the Green, by William Hallberg?
Edited to add: Mr. Hallberg wrote back to say that he remembers me. Wonders never cease. He asked me to send him something I’d written, so I’ve sent him a link to For Solo Cello, op. 12.
Last night’s build of the dog went much faster because Ken Scholes was in town and visited me in the studio. He is one of my favorite people and getting a chance to just yak away unto the wee hours was great. Plus he had brandy. He’s got his view of yesterday up on his site.
Me? I’m printing up stage money and putting blood on the dog.
We always talk about villains getting their just deserts, but would about the good guys? I mean, when a friend has worked hard, has talent and then gets what he deserves, shouldn’t he be allowed just desserts? I like desserts ((Yes, I know it uses the other spelling, but “just deserts” gets this pronunciation.)) ; why should the bad guys get them all?
So let me point out a good guy fellow who has just gotten what he deserves. Ken Scholes, one of the hardest working and most talented writers I know, has just sold his first novel to Tor. That’s sweet. But what makes it sweeter is that they want his entire five book series. If you ask me, that’s just dessert.
Today I auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly. Their production uses a bunraku-style puppet for Madame Butterfly’s child. This style of puppet normally takes three performers and they were casting understudies; the principals were pre-cast.
First of all, receiving an email which says, “go to the back of the Met to the stage entrance,” was pretty darn cool in and of itself. Once you get past security the way to the rehearsal room is through a labyrinth of halls crowded with set pieces. In one corner stood a trio of temple bells. Another hall took me past a vast marble arch disassembled on the ground. The first rehearsal room had singers in rehearsal for a production, but no puppeteers. I rounded a corner, past a stack of chairs, and at the end of the hall found our rehearsal room. In it, they had put up the set for Madama Butterfly. A vast black lacquered floor dominated the room; shoji screens sat waiting in tracks to be slipped on stage.
I was one of the first puppeteers to arrive. For a while, it looked like there were only going to be eight of us auditioning but a whole gaggle of puppeteers arrived as soon as Mark Down (head puppeteer) said, “Shall we start?” All told there were between twenty to thirty of us auditioning.
Mark had us start by doing some elementary yoga. It was really nice that he took fifteen minutes or so to make certain that everyone was warmed up. Of course, it’s also a covert way to check for limberness and fluidity of movement.
He then introduced us to the puppet. As I mentioned, this style normally takes three puppeteers, but Mark wanted to see what we could do solo. He asked us to do a short scene using only the head and the torso to emote. We simply had to run across stage (with the puppet lifted so the feet didn’t drag) and then explore the “room” that our character had entered. What he wanted, he said, was a sense of breath and of the puppet being. He wanted to know that the puppet looked and listened rather than just seeing and hearing because he wanted to know that the puppet was thinking about what he was experiencing — incidentally, that’s good advice for writers too, I think. Then he said, “So who wants to go first.”
The room was silent for a moment as we all held our breath, waiting for someone else to volunteer.
“I’ll go,” I said as I stood and took the puppet from him. Inside I was trying to reassure myself that it was actually a good plan. I figured showing initiative and eagerness would make me stand out of the pack. Also, it meant that none of the obvious emotional beats had been tried yet. Anyone who came after me would either have to come up with something new, or repeat what I had already done. There is a downside to going first, of course. You can’t see how the puppet moves and don’t know what the director is looking for.
So, I ran the puppet across, peered around the corner of the screen set center stage and entered the “room.” The rehearsal hall phone rang. Instinctively, my puppet turned to look at it. Everyone laughed. Whew. But then… now what do I do? In order for the puppet to really look at something I needed to know what he was looking at. We were standing alone on a blank stage. So I decided that my character was looking for his mother. I didn’t do much walking because the dragging feet annoyed me. The whole time, a part of my brain was thinking, “When is he going to stop me?” It felt like I was up there forever.
Mark asked me to be very still with the puppet. There’s a difference, and it’s a very fine one, between still and static. With a puppet it is very easy to have stillness become static — it is, after all, an inanimate object. The difference comes from minute movements of breath and focus to keep the puppet thinking. My hand started trembling. I shifted position to get into a stronger hold and ignored the tremble.
(By the way, when I use the word “breath” I mean the rhythms of the puppet rather than just the act of breathing. When I teach puppetry I say, “Focus indicates thought; breath indicates emotion,” because the only time you notice someone in the act of breathing it carries meaning. The rest of the time we filter it out.)
Anyway. The rest of the performers went and I did the usual compare and contrast between their performance and mine. And that’s the thing. It really felt like I was watching performances; these were, for the most part, really good puppeteers. Some people he let go for a long time. Some he stopped fairly quickly. Some got direction. Others didn’t. It wasn’t always easy to tell why.
Then he introduced us to the choreographer. Since the stage is so bare, the performers form a large part of the world of the opera, so they needed puppeteers who can move well. They went in the same order as before, which meant — joy! — I was first again. The choreography was deceptively simple. Walk in, kneel, bow, sit up, say your name, stand, exit. No problem, right? Now do this very particular Japenese stage hand walk, where your feet don’t leave the ground. Keep your eyes facing down at 45 degrees. Fold your thumbs into your palm so they don’t show and you have “long fingers.” Make sure when you kneel, that your left foot is half a pace back and you kneel straight down like an elevator… The specificity went on.
This is where it sucked going first. I only got to see the movements twice before trying to remember them all. I was not expressing the “soul” the choreographer was looking for; I was expressing, “what next?”
Then came working as a team. Three performers on the puppet and we had to run the puppet across the stage. I dunno, sixty feet? Here’s the thing. The person on the feet had to crouch or squat. Go ahead. Try this at home. Crouch down and put your hands on the floor. Now stretch your arms out as far in front of you as possible, without losing the crouch. Now, in that position — while trying to make feet look like they are actually walking — run sixty feet. On a raked stage. I sucked at it. I felt marginally better because everyone sucked at it. Until one guy got up on stage and just did it. It was like watching magic. The puppet ran; the puppeteer didn’t fall on his face.
They had us break for fifteen minutes while they conferred.
When we came back, Mark said, “We’re going to break for lunch and when we come back we only need to keep these people. Jodi, Mary–” I stopped listening at that point. Thank God. I’d made the first cut.
He only kept seven of us. Some friends, who are brilliant puppeteers, didn’t make the cut. I’ve been on the other side of that line and it’s always hard.
After lunch, we headed back down to the rehearsal hall. This distinguished Spanish man was in the catacombs and a group of elderly ladies was lost. He said, “People who have worked here for years still get lost” and proceeded to tell them where the elevator was. I wonder if they knew that they were talking to PlÃ¡cido Domingo.
In fact, as each of us walked back into the rehearsal room, there would be this moment of, “Was that…?”
“PlÃ¡cido Domingo? Yeah.”
But, back to the audition. Mark kept switching us around trying to see what team would mesh best. Poor Oliver, the fellow who could do the feet, was on the feet the whole time. Granted, he knew he was cast by implication, but it was an awful physical position to be in for hours. Mark had us act out miniature scenes and play off an actor. It was fun to be onstage and wonderful to be in the audience. Everyone was good so it was like watching lots of little puppet shows.
After one of the teams did a very nice scene, Mark said, “Well, we’re only casting three people, and I think I’d like it to be the three on stage now.”
So. After reading all that, you now learn that I am not in the upcoming cast of Madama Butterfly. Which, you know, I’m okay with. Being on the list to audition for the Met? That’s something.
And here’s the final cool thing. One of the casting people referred to those of us who didn’t get cast and said, “We need to get their contact information, in case someone can’t do the part.”
Mark said, “Oh, right. I think we can just get Mary and Jodi’s information, then.”
I’m not cast. I’m not even an understudy. But I’m on the list for replacement performers and that’s not a bad place to be. Not bad at all.
This. Today. That opportunity is why we moved to New York.
You’ve seen him in the comments as -d- but my dad is so much more than a couple of hyphens and a lower-case letter. He is exceptional.
So, to celebrate his birthday, I’ve got a thing I want you to do.
There’s someone in your life who is exceptional. Tell him or her that that. Go on. Pick up the phone, write a letter or send an email. Heck, go out for coffee.
Let me tell you about my dad.
Over the past month, I’ve had the chance to meet a couple of my friends’ parents. I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents — not counting the teenage years — but I thought that was normal. The older I get, the more I realize what exceptional, wonderful people they are. Rob and I were having this conversation after the last encounter with Other Parents and realizing how incredibly lucky we were. (His folks are great, too.)
My dad has always treated me like an intelligent person, even when I was really, really little. He’s unfailingly patient about explaining things or figuring out problems. In fact, I’ll send my tricky plot stories to him to “debug,” because if there’s a flaw in logic, Dad will find it.
When I was a kid, Dad helped me make a planetarium for science fair. It was the coolest use of a refrigerator box ever. Did I mention the electric organ that he made for me? From scratch! Not to mention his sheer brilliance at marrying my mom, who is also exceptional.
And he’s been like that my entire life. When I toured through my home town, Dad took one look at my puppet stage and redesigned it. Then we built it in the driveway at home. His new design shaved 20% off our set-up time.
There’s more. More than I could type if I spent weeks typing.
Dad is grand. Wonderful. He is an exceptional person. I’ll be calling today to tell him that.
Now it’s your turn. It doesn’t have to be my Dad (unless you know him too) but get in touch with an exceptional person in your life.
I wasn’t going to blog about this, as I somehow seem to be one of the few people who haven’t been caught, but… I would like to make certain that my friends and family who haven’t been invited to the plague know to refrain.
The short form is this. If you get an invitation to Quechup, do not click on it. As part of the signup process, it will upload every address in your contact list and spam all of them with invitations. This includes business acquaintances, priests, editors, your mother-in-law… everyone. Just delete the thing.
Our friend, Fabulous Girl, came up to our neck of the woods so we could go out for brunch. After we finished a tour of the apartment, we decided to stay in. I’m generally happier cooking than going out, so that worked well for me.
The closest coffeeshop to the Puppet Kitchen is the The Bagel Zone. The guys there are totally nice. I needed to research some ways to decrease the distance of a cable pull, and they were starting to close down shop. Not only did he let me hang out while he cleaned, he gave me a big bag of pastries to take home.
It was great to have Fabulous Girl here. She is a fine reminder of the many reasons that moving to NYC was a good idea.
Today is my parents’ anniversary. They are fine people with whom I think I would be friends, even if I wasn’t their progeny. They met in dancing school, and have continued to demonstrate what good partners a married couple should be.
Remember me showing you that article about my nephew’s friend? We just got word that he’s had a successful lung transplant. He’s still not out of the woods, but at least he’s got a path to get there now.
Our friends Don and Yan are in town for business and birthday. We just got back from an outing with them. First at Flute, because Don is one of Rob’s wine buddies, and then at La Bonne Soup. It was so nice to see them. We have plans to get together this weekend again and–lord help me–they want to visit the apartment. It is not, I repeat, not ready to receive guests.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]