Archive for June, 2010

Bits and bobs

Sometimes I blog a lot. This hasn’t been one of those times.

Not too long after returning from Wiscon I traveled back to Wisconsin for my mother’s funeral (technically a memorial service, I suppose, as there was no casket). It went very well — over 125 people attended, and there was more laughter than tears during the service. It’s clear she touched a lot of lives. I learned a few things about her that I’d never known, or had forgotten, including that she wrote a play about the last days of Spinoza that was given a reading by the Milwaukee Rep.

My aunt (Mom’s younger sister) told a story about visiting my mother when I was two years old. Apparently I was not being very cooperative in eating my dinner, and Mom gently upended the bowl of spaghetti on my head. As I sat stunned, Mom commented to her sister “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

After the funeral all of the relatives (me, Dad, my aunt and uncle, and great-aunt Millie), plus family friend and cookbook author Alamelu Vairavan, visited the spectacular Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, which I’d not visited before. While we were there we saw the Blue Angels practicing for the following weekend’s air show, which utterly delighted tiny Aunt Millie.

Since the funeral I’ve been dealing with occasional bouts of free-floating grief, especially during the scene in Toy Story 3 where Andy’s mother says she wishes she could be his mom forever. (Excellent movie, though.) I’ve been generally low in energy and unfocused, but part of this could be the amount of travel we’ve been doing and the gray and chilly weather we’ve been having. But today’s weather has been gorgeous and I’m working to improve my mood by tackling my daunting to-do list. For example, this blog post.

Last weekend we took the train to Seattle. The excuse for the trip was that I was presenting my Mars talk to the Washington Aerospace Scholars (high school juniors interested in science, technology, engineering and math), but we took the opportunity to stay at a hotel in Pioneer Square and play Seattle tourist. In addition to visiting the Concorde, Air Force One, and the Curiosity mars rover at the Museum of Flight, we took a ghost walk of Pike Place Market and a “coffee crawl;” it was cool to see the back sides of some things and get a little bit of education about Seattle history and coffee. We also had a delightful dinner and excellent dim sum with fan friends. I also finished writing a creepy story on the train. It was over too quickly, but we’ll be back in a couple of weeks (July 9-11) for a Clarion West party and another Mars talk to a different group of Washington Aerospace Scholars.

Next week we’re heading to Chicago for the annual gay square dance convention. Whee!

Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like Wiscon?

I’m at the airport again (it seems that’s the only time I have for sitting and blogging these days), heading back to Milwaukee for my mother’s funeral. I’m still pretty much okay. I didn’t really cry hard until I heard the opening of “What a Good Boy” by Barenaked Ladies.

Grief is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you sometimes.

Apart from the whole business with my mother, I had a great trip. Three weeks and five cities, or 13 cities if you count every one we stopped at on our various airplanes. I’ve spent much of the intervening week digging out from under the stuff that wasn’t done during that time, including resubmitting a bunch of stories that were rejected. I also logged in some publications: the audio version of of “The Last McDougal’s” appeared in podcast Escape Pod 240, “A Passion for Art” appeared in magazine Interzone 228, and “Second Chance” appeared in anthology Alembical 2. Photos and videos of the Nebula Awards Weekend have also been posted, including a video of my keynote address.

Wiscon continues to be one of my favorite conventions, with some of my favorite people. I participated in the Writers’ Workshop, I was on two hilarious panels: “Let’s Build a World,” in which we wound up with a Klein-bottle world inhabited by solipsistic LoLcats who reproduce through music and fetishize prime numbers, and then sketched out the plot of “I Can Haz Musical! The Musical” set on that world (see LJ user “coraa”‘s panel notes for more details); and “Pshaw! Psst! Argh!,” in which we discussed sound effects in writing and I managed to make one of the audience members literally fall over laughing by positing the torturer Severian in Book of the New Sun grimly lopping off someone’s head, which then bounces down the steps with a “doink, doink, doink.” Amy Thomson’s proposal of a fantasy language consisting of nothing but apostrophes was also memorable.

I also gave my Mars talk to a small but packed room. Later in the convention I overheard someone praising it to someone else in the elevator. People really seem to like it, and at the Mid-Career Writers’ Gathering I got some great advice about how to parlay this brush with near-fame into writing success. It will mean selling myself much harder than I’m usually comfortable with, but you know what they say about the turtle, which makes progress only when it sticks its neck out.

Apart from that I spent most of the time hanging out with friends old and new, starting with the guests-of-honor reading at A Room Of One’s Own bookstore (“AROOO!”) and ending with shooting pool at the Great Dane. In between there were show tunes, readings, many fine dinners, and hallway conversations galore. I didn’t spend any money on books but I still came home with three more than I’d started with. I also received a couple of cool invitations which I will discuss more in due course.

Wiscon is too short. That’s all there is to it.

Marilyn M. Levine, 1933-2010

My mother passed away at about 3:00 this afternoon.

She was diagnosed with bladder cancer at about this time last year, and decided that she did not want any kind of treatment for it. Although this is not the course of action either my father or I would have wished, Mom was never the type to let anyone else tell her what to do. She died as she lived, on her own terms.

When we visited Milwaukee before Wiscon, Mom was suffering from an extended bout of stomach flu. During the time I was there she mostly sat and watched TV, while Dad and I talked about quantum physics or what have you. Then, while I was at the convention, she finally went to the doctor and it was determined that the “flu” was actually kidney failure caused by the cancer. She went into hospice at that time, though due to an email snafu I didn’t find out about it until Tuesday morning when we were about to come home from the convention.

We took one extra day in Milwaukee before heading home. Kidney failure isn’t a bad way to die; you just spend more and more time asleep until you simply don’t wake up. Talking with Mom in the hospice was like talking to a toddler who’s up way past her bedtime; she’d exchange a few words and then drift off. She received excellent care and obviously wasn’t feeling anything worse than mild discomfort.

The hospice was a lot more pleasant than visiting Jay or Mark in the hospital, because there was no tension, no worry, no fear that something worse might happen. The worst had already happened and now it was just a matter of managing the end game.

Dad is doing okay. He’s sad, of course, but also relieved. We’ve known for almost a year that this was coming and pretty much how it would go, and we all got to say goodbye. There wasn’t any deathbed drama with relatives or unfinished business. Even the medical bills are all taken care of. He said to me several times “she won,” which at first I thought meant she’d finally won the argument about whether or not to treat the cancer, but after a while I realized that he meant she’d gotten the quiet, pain-free death she’d wanted instead of a long drawn-out agonizing medical battle.

Here’s the obituary he wrote for her:

Marilyn Malka Levine was born on April 11, 1933 to Maurice and Frieda Gordon in Brooklyn New York. She attended public schools in Queens and met the man who was to become her husband in the spring of 1953 in a required dance class at Queens College of the City University of New York. At the end of the semester, at their first date, they decided that their union could be a solid one. One year later, after being graduated on June 9th they married on June 13, 1954 and moved to Syracuse. Marilyn was awarded an informal degree of P. H. T. (Putting Hubby Through) in 1959 and the adventure continued.

She began her first company “The Look-it-up Lady” in 1963 when it was clear that her son David D. was safe to go without diapers. She did manual data searches for clients in these pre-computer days. Her company name changed to “Doctor Levine’s Information Machine” with the award of her Doctorate from UWM’s School of Education. By this time it was becoming clear that Boolean Searches were possible in publicly accessible databases using terminals and the early dial-up data networks. Her company name changed to “Information Express” and remained that for about a decade.

She was convinced that Librarians could be innovators in data searching and offered courses to librarians using the good offices of UWM’s school of Engineering Extension. For several years it was clear that, if a librarian in southeast Wisconsin could generate a Boolean Search, she had learned how to do it by attending one of Marilyn’s classes. With the advent of services like Google, of course, much of that changed.

A strong advocate of free enterprise, Marilyn brought together, in June of 1987, 26 members to a meeting in Milwaukee to form the AIIP (the Association of Independent Information Professionals). She was the group’s first president. The organization has since grown to more than 500 members and is now worldwide.

In 1993 Marilyn sold the rights to the Information Express title to a California company and turned her attention to the field of Art. She opened the Bay View Gallery and ran it for about seven years until her retirement in 2000.

Marilyn holds a patent on a Phonic Keyboard. Intellectual discourse in the family continues. Small talk at home involves questions about the nature of a deity, whether or not there is a difference between god and nature, how much energy is required to actually store a singe “bit” of information and what, if anything, occurs in the universe when a new idea is created or the last copy of an old idea is destroyed.

Marilyn will be missed. She is survived by her husband Leonard just a few days short of 56 years of marriage and her son David.

I know that she was very proud of me.