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Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining

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Or, you know, something.

Or maybe not.

I’ve got to say that the range of comments interested me yesterday.

I’m not much interested in plastic surgery or in crones, to tell you the truth.  I’ve been in and out of academia long enough to have encountered the whole academic feminist crone thing, and the word always sounds to me not just like a term of “old woman,” but as a term for “really ugly old woman who doesn’t know how to buy wart remover at CVS.”

One of the interesting things about Marple is that she gives a whole new dimension to the idea of the “little old lady.”  She’s certainly little, and she’s certainly old, but she’s not halt and shaky, she’s got a good mind and she has…ah…interests.

Okay, in real life, if you have those interests, you tend to get arrested for interfering with a police investigation.  But you know what I mean.

As for the plastic surgery–I’m from the Connecticut Gold Coast.  We’ve got plenty of victims of plastic surgery out here.  It’s not as high a percentage as they have in LA, I’m sure, but high-level bankers and partners in Goldman, Sachs also feel they have something to lose if they don’t look young.  If they’re women, they may be right.  I have a cousin who will not let her hair go grey until after she retires, because she’s sure grey hair would compromise her at work.

And she’s an engineer.

But I do the two things you can do these days that are neither simple shift work–as Kenny Chesney put it–nor crazy about keeping you young.  It almost helps for writers of traditional mysteries to be little old ladies.

Or at least it helps with some kind of audiences.

So I do have some examples of how to be as I get older.  Unfortunately, none of them are personal.  I know/knew lots of older men whom I admired (or admire, if they’re still with us).  The women around me were mostly cautionary tales of one sort or another.

Either that, or they rejected some part of what I consider important.

So, I’ve got Marple–and Gertrude Stein is good, I think.  She was vigorous to the end.  She had a good mind and good friends and work. 

Goldman, though–really no.  A few years ago, I read her autobiography, both volumes, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so appalled in my life.  The woman was a sociopath on more levels than one.  And if there’s one thing I hope I’ve learned before I get to be sixty, it’s that it’s really not morally okay to assassinate people for the cause. 

And that, if your assassination doesn’t take, it’s really not oppression when they put you in jail for several years for attempted murder.

Okay, that was her lover, Alexander what’s his name, but it was her defense of him that bothered me. 

P.D. James is a good example, I think.  She’s got to be eighty, put out a very good novel ( The Private Patient) just a little while ago, seems to have people around her.

Hell, I thought she was a role model all the way along.  She didn’t have her first novel published until she was forty and didn’t have her first best seller until she was sixty. 

As for diminished expectations–eh.  I don’t think I want my expectations to diminish so much as I want them to change.  I don’t know if that makes very much sense. 

In a way, it goes back to the plastic surgery.  The problem with that, for me, is the spectacle of women who want to chase boys and orgasms well past the time when chasing either makes any sense. 

There isn’t anything wrong with orgasms, of course, and really good looking young men are always fun no matter what age you’re ate–but these days I want to feed them, not go to bed with them, and both the boys and the orgasms seem to me to be largely peripheral to the central issues of my life.

And that is, I think, the way it should be.  For at least some of the time between fifteen and fifty, sex is the most important thing in our lives because, biologically, it’s the most important thing in our lives.  The biological imperative is there to make sure the species carries on.

But I’ve had my last child, and I wouldn’t opt for one of those implant things if you paid me.  Sex is nice, on occassion, but it’s definitely a side issue.  There are other things to do in the world.

And I’ve got some idea of what those things are.

I’d like to start another series–not to give up Gregor, but to do another one.  It’s been over twenty years since I wrote anything else, at least in book length, but Cavanaugh Street.

I’d like to have the guts to actually learn to play the harpsichord, instead of just sitting around being afraid to try to learn to play the harpsichord, since I’m not exactly talented musically. 

I’d like to figure out how I feel about teaching.  Or, specifically, the kind of teaching I’ve been doing in the program I sometimes talk about here.

When I went into it–and it’s been over ten years now–I thought I knew what was going on in the populations my program serves.  I thought the people in those populations were largely without opportunities (true), that they’d gone to schools where the teachers were bad (true) and the curricula limited (true).

I thought it was just a matter of presenting them with a good teacher with first-class credentials and they’d get right down to it, because the only issue was giving them a chance.

It’s been a decade and I do know, now, that that last thing is not true. 

And some of what I’m seeing is definitely a matter of people not being given opportunities, or, worse, being abused and neglected as children.  I’ve had students who were abandoned in the street and students who were turned out at the age of eleven by crack-addicted mothers.  I know Fagin and Sikes were not characters Charles Dickens just made up.

But there’s something else going on here, and that I don’t entirely understand.  And I have a feeling that until we do understand it, and until we report it honestly and then face it, we’re never really going to improve the possibilities for kids who are born into this sort of thing.

And the answer may be that we can’t improve the possibilities, no matter what we do, except for the isolated kid here and there. 

That’s a long and philosophical discussion that I should take on sometime, except that I haven’t really straightened out what I think of it.  So one of the things I would like to do, getting older, is to figure all that out.

But I don’t want to do it on Barsoom.

I’m not much interested in cocktail parties, either, but I don’t see what point the characteries in fantasy or the other-world kind of science fiction would have for me, in this particular case.

I’m not going to live in Barsoom (on Barsoom?  I don’t actually know what that is) any more than I’m going to go to cocktail parties.

Do people still give them?

I’m going to go put on some Gustav Leonhardt.

Written by janeh

August 22nd, 2010 at 7:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining'

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  1. Barsoom — Mars, as imagined by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    I’ve never read any, but you can get some details from Wikipedia.

    As for the kids . . .

    I’m reminded of experiments by psycholgists with, I believe, rats. The rat would be trapped somewhere where it would receive electrical shocks that it couldn’t get away from. At first the rat would jump/run around in a futile attempt to get away from the shocks. When it finally realized it couldn’t, it would just lie there and take them.

    But the really interesting part is that even when barriers were taken down so the rat could now easily walk away from the shocks — it wouldn’t.

    On some level they had just come to accept that electrical shocks were their lot in life and that nothing they could do would change it — so they simply and completely gave up and wouldn’t even try, even when trying involved no real effort.

    Humans are undoubtedly more complicated than rats, and the situations you are speaking of also far more complicated than electrical shocks — but I can’t help but think that similar brain mechanisms underlie both behaviors.

    They’ve learned that nothing they do really makes any difference, that effort isn’t rewarded, that money is something you just “come in to” and that if you do, you’d better spend it fast because some suit will come and take it away from you so you might as well use to have some fun before they do. And on and on.

    And how you rewire part of a brain that seems to be set (like visual centers developing) fairly early in life, I don’t know.


    22 Aug 10 at 8:06 am

  2. Diminished expectations: maybe you can come up with a better phrase, but it’s a real thing. All of us can be miffed that a book has gone missing or the new software is glitchy, but what I’d call “strategic unhappiness” comes from a conviction that things should be better–you should have done more with your life, or what you did do should have worked out better. This may be true. Life is not fair, after all. But the people who expected less than they wound up with are happier about it.

    The kids: my grandmother used to say she began married life with no children and three theories of child-rearing. Later she had three children and no theories. The perfect book on the underclass would both correctly analyze the problem and prescribe the solution, but a book or article which “only” clears away error is still more of a contribution than most.

    Whatever you do in your old age–I have a list myself–you’re not going to do it in Hemingway’s Paris, either. But don’t you ever take vacations? As for science fiction and fantasy characters–you have the most amazing view of F&SF. A well-written character is a well-written character, whether in Austen’s Regency or Bujold’s “Vorkosiverse.” If I can reach in my old age the calmness and content–NOT passivity–of Piotr or Aral Vorkosigan in theirs, I shall have done well. They are at least as real as Fagin and Sikes, and better men.

    Barsoom: Burroughs invented the word, but in science fiction circles, it’s often extended to other tales set in the Mars described by Percival Lowell–cold, dry, dying, but habitable. I have all the Burroughs “Mars” books, but I also have Leigh Brackett, CL Moore and others. I had to move Moore’s “Northwest Smith” stories to type this.


    22 Aug 10 at 10:30 am

  3. I think there’s something lurking in behind the ideas of diminished expectations or learned helplessness, because accepting that you can’t do things isn’t bad in itself. It’s part of growing up. People who don’t learn, after some good and honest efforts, that they really can’t do something and would do better putting their efforts towards another goal aren’t usually happy or succesful or useful. This is important as you age – some people, realizing they’re not strong enough any more to, oh, garden on a large scale, start growing houseplants or build a small raised garden. Others simply moan about how miserable they are that they can’t garden any more. Same thing applies to the people who left school intending to get to the top of the widgets industry and didn’t or couldn’t make it. Realistic acceptance of yourself and what life hands you and what you made/will make of it is important.

    That sort of thing doesn’t go down well in our culture, where we like to think everyone can to anything, as long as they keep trying.

    I think there’s possibly another factor in people moving out of a social situation that holds some of them back, but I’d not expect to see it in those who are actually in school as adults. Humans need to belong, and however unpleasant the place they belong to may look to outsiders, there’s a tendency to want to stay there – and for others important to them to hold them there.

    I’d suspect that a lot of the people who do re-educate themselves and move out of poverty had or has someone – a neighbour, relative, friend, lover – who said ‘Go for it! I think that’s a great idea’ as well as those who said ‘You think you’re better than us now? You aren’t; you’re neglecting your first duty to me/your child/your family by going off selfishly like this.’

    When I was teaching, I knew a very bright girl whose child was cared for by relatives until she finished high school. When she wanted to go on an train for something that would enable her to support herself and the child really well, a suprising number of people said she shouldn’t do it; she’d never be a real mother to her child if she continued to have her cared for by others for the time it would take for her to get a post-secondary education. I’ve often wondered what happened to them.

    Back to the elderly – one fictional model is Hagar Shipley of ‘The Stone Angel’. I wouldn’t call her a person to emulate as you move into old age, though! I read it some years back. At the time, it was one of the novels in a high school English course, and I couldn’t help wondering what the students, particularly the boys, made of Hagar! She must have been about as alien to them as a Martian would have been. An old lady, sliding into senility, reminiscing about all her terrible relationships throughout life, all from her own self-centred point of view!


    22 Aug 10 at 1:20 pm

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