July 2003 | Inhuman Swill | William Shunn
Inhuman Swill : July 2003

A great weekend

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Well, Laura and I had a splendid weekend. We started out with cheap, yummy Thai food at Sea, Second Avenue and 4th Street. I had a lychee mimosa, and ate the lychee. Then we walked down to the Bowery Ballroom to see what maybe possibly this time really will have been the final Dismemberment Plan show in New York City. It was a mostly all-requests set, so if it wasn't entirely cohesive, at least it was nostalgic and fun. I had psyched myself up to climb onstage during "The Ice of Boston" and dance with the kids, but when the song started the big guy in front of me rushed halfway to the stage and then stopped dead, and I couldn't get around him. Oh, well. The band was under orders from the house to let only thirty people onstage, so I probably wouldn't have made it anyway. We still had a great time.

The next morning, Laura's birthday, she and I set out on an epic bike ride. We made our way from Astoria to the Queensborough Bridge, across 57th Street to 5th Avenue, past the Plaza Hotel, through part of Central Park, out at 72nd Street, over to Riverside Park, then up the west side all the way to 181st. I'd never been to Washington Heights—nice neighborhood, but hills like San Francisco. We ended up walking our bikes up a couple of them. From there we hit the George Washington Bridge and crossed to New Jersey. Then we retraced our route back home. Using MapQuest, I figured out this morning how far we went. At least 26 miles. I was pretty impressed with myself.

That evening, Laura and I and our friend Liz went to Yama on Carmine Street for sushi—big heaping mounds of it. Much sake was consumed, and I capped things off with plum wine. Then we caught a cab to the World Financial Center and saw Seabiscuit and the new movie theater there in Battery Park City. It was an engrossing movie, but manipulative, simplistic, and jingoistic. It was the sort of movie that evaporates after you watch it. Pleasant but not great. Oh, well. We still had fun.

After the movie, we walked through the mostly empty WFC to Southwest NY, a restaurant with a bar that serves about twenty different flavors of margaritas. We sat out back on the plaza outside, staring out across the Hudson at New Jersey and the New York Harbor. Then we caught cabs home.

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A marvelous little treatise on the difference between science and religion.

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This morning on the W train, a slender blonde woman in a low-cut black slip of a dress and oversize black wraparound sunglasses sat diagonally across from me making slow, wet love to a cherry-red Charms Blow-Pop. (It's a gray, humid day in the city, but surely that doesn't account for all the sweat.) Then, on the 6 train, we were all seranaded by a Mexican folk-guitar duo in chambray shirts and cowboy hats.

If only they'd been on a double bill in the same car.

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"Love in the Age of Spyware"

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My short story "Love in the Age of Spyware" (originally titled "Observations from the City of Angels") has just debuted at Salon.com:


If you're not familiar with Salon (unlikely in this crowd), I've built a page to help you through the process of getting a day pass so you can access the story for free:


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On the efficacy of belief

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Looking back over the past few years, I'm astonished at some of the things I've accomplished. I don't need to enumerate them here (although it would be fun), but I will point out that I now ride my bicycle to work once or twice a week, over the Queensborough Bridge and through Manhattan traffic. For anyone who knows me well, this intelligence should astound. And that's only one small astonishment among many.

As I attempt to apprehend the responsible party, one culprit stands out by far: belief. I'm not talking talking about belief in myself. I've always had that, even at the darkest times when it was squashed out of shape and jammed deep into a locked box hidden out of sight in a secret chamber of my heart. No, what I'm talking about here is the belief of one person in another when the two share space and lives.

Like ether, that fabled invisible McGuffin of 19th century science, facilitated the transmission of electromagnetic radiation through what otherwise appeared to be vacuum, so does belief facititate the transmission of ability toward accomplishment. Never mind that the Michelson-Morley experiment drove the first nail into ether's coffin over a hundred years ago. I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction the efficacy of belief.

Its effects stand out most clearly when viewed side-by-side with the results of a control culture from which it is absent. For me, this was the period from mid-1995 to early 1998 when I lived with another writer, Genevieve. Our apartment was an environment singularly and utterly devoid of belief. Once, I ventured the opinion that perhaps someday she might support us with a job while I stayed home and pursued my writing career. After some thought, Genevieve allowed as how that might possibly work—so long as she retained the power of approval and oversight of the projects I undertook. It shouldn't surprise you that I didn't manage to sell a single piece of writing during that period.

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I hate it when that happens

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Don't you hate it when you work on a post for half an hour, submit it, and the web broswer can't connect to the server? And then you hit the BACK button and the form reloads and your post is gone? Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

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My profile on the moon

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So I was hanging out in the newsgroups at sff.net when my friend the gifted writer Mark Bourne made some kind of self-effacing throwaway comment about the relative modesty of his own accomplishments in comparison to my fiction sale to Salon.

Well, I couldn't let this pass unremarked, and pointed out that he had been anointed a priest in the Eternal Annals of Canonized Literature with a Capital L when his science-fiction story "What Dreams Are Made On" was reprinted in one of those giant English literature compendiums used as textbooks in high schools and universities, Literature and Ourselves: A Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers (published by AB/Longman). I mean, for chrissakes, his story is sitting there in the same section of the book with Louise Erdrich, Ray Bradbury, Woody Allen, and Mark Twain. And those are just the writers in the immediate neighborhood.

Mark's response was typically droll and to-the-point:

Uh-huh. My audience of bedraggled, bitter, befuddled, beer-breath college freshmen assigned to read my story for class after last night's Zeta Tau Delta annual Breasts&Booze Bacchanalia. Oh, yes, this Canonized Dead White Eurocentric Male will be reeeeaallll popular compared to your larger, more awake Salon readership. Hell, Salon is my browser's home page.
I had agreed with Mark earlier that writing is far more about getting ego-strokes than either art or commerce. He turned that back on me, challenging me to be a man and own up to the immense boost my ego must have received.
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Rattle them bones

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More on Clarion. It's pleasant to hear the the MSU administration is "rattled," though what that means to the survival of the workshop is unclear.

This from the SFWA Online Update that arrives from time to time:

Near the first of the month, Michigan State University revealed that it intended to discontinue its funding for Clarion, the long-running workshop for prospective science fiction and fantasy writers. A letter from MSU's administration blamed budget reductions from the state for forcing them to cut support for some programs "in order to protect quality in core areas."

This is not the first time Clarion's funding has been threatened, but it is the most serious instance yet. A surge of messages supporting Clarion, from authors and readers, has reached the heads of the university. Doctor Lister Matheson, director of the Clarion workshop, reports that the university is "rattled" by the volume of e-mail supporting Clarion.

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Laura woke me up a few minutes ago. About the first thing I said was: "Promise me we'll never have to live in a giant underground city populated by hostile warring factions."

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Checking in briefly from Readercon outside of Boston. After an evening of drunken debauchery, I returned to my room and my wife. I faxed the Salon contract back this afternoon before leaving the office, and I learn now from email that the story will run on Wednesday. Wednesday!

Man, Internet time is cool.

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