13055829_10102800160083541_4639387918940259061_o.jpg

"Andrew Eliot's Diary

"May 12, 1983

"My Harvard Twenty-fifth Reunion is next month and I am scared to death.

"Scared to face all my successful classmates, walking back on paths of glory, while I have nothing to show for my life except a few gray hairs.

"Today a heavy, red-bound book arrived that chronicles all the achievements of The Class of ’58. It really brought home my own sense of failure.

"I stayed up half the night just staring at the faces of the guys who once were undergraduates with me, and now are senators and governors, world-famous scientists and pioneering doctors. Who knows which of them will end up on a podium in Stockholm? Or the White House lawn?

"And what’s amazing is that some are still married to their first wives...."

-- Erich Segal, *The Class* (1985)

On Thursday night, Nomi and I had our first night out since the children arrived. We went to the Boston Public Library to hear author Lev Grossman read from and discuss his new novel The Magicians.


Author Lev Grossman Holds Up a Book Not His Own Author Lev Grossman Holds Up a Book Not His Own
Lev Grossman, author of Warp, Codex, and The Magicians, holds up a copy of I Remember the Future by his college classmate Michael A. Burstein. Photograph copyright ©2009 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.



As I mentioned here shortly after Readercon, Lev is actually an old friend. He and I spent our freshman year of college in the same dorm. We talked about lots of different things that year, but after freshman year we drifted apart. As it so happens, in 1997 I spotted his first novel, Warp, in a bookstore and I picked it up and enjoyed it a lot, even though it wasn't the usual sort of book for me to read. His second novel, Codex, was a lot closer to my kind of fiction.

The Magicians, as it turns out, is a novel written to appeal very strongly to the fantasy reader, especially one who holds tightly onto the nostalgia for the fantasy novels they read as a kid. I'm writing a review of The Magicians (complete with disclaimer) for SF Scope, so I don't want to go into too much detail here, but I do want to give the gist. Expect to see some of the following incorporated into my review.

The premise of the book is that a college-bound student named Quentin discovers that magic exists, and he is recruited to matriculate in a college called Brakebills devoted to magic. Much of the book is set at Brakebills, and the comparisons to Harry Potter are likely to be inevitable. Indeed, Lev knows this; although he originally got the idea for the novel before the Harry Potter series took off, he understands that his characters live in a world in which the Harry Potter series exists, and so it is necessary for the characters to acknowledge it.

That said, this novel is nothing like Harry Potter, although I expect that Lev will quickly become sick of the number of times the book is referred to as "Harry Potter for adults." If anything, the book is more a reaction of Lev's love for the Chronicles of Narnia, as Quentin is constantly reminded of a five-book series called Fillory and Further, about a family of English children who find themselves visiting a magical other world over and over. Amusingly enough, Lev (or someone in the publisher's marketing department) has put together two fan sites for the imaginary Fillory series; one, Welcome to Fillory!, is for fans of the series; the other is the official author site for Christopher Plover, the purported writer of the series.

Again, I should point out that the Fillory books, as far as I know, exist solely in the Borges Library. But Quentin has read them, and when he discovers that magic is real, he can't help but wonder if Fillory is real as well. Needless to say, that becomes much more important as the book goes on...

I'll link to my review when it finally goes up, but I didn't want to delay recommending the book to everyone out there. I wouldn't be surprised to see The Magicians nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award next year.
Yesterday, my very generous wife allowed me to leave her to do a major part of the Pesach cleaning while I traipsed off to Cambridge to compete in the first ever Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

For the past few years, I've been serving as a "personal puzzle trainer" for [livejournal.com profile] saxikath (who doesn't really need my help, but we have fun when I time her on the puzzle every morning). She was one of the people scoring the puzzles at this tournament, so I knew I wasn't going to have to compete against her. I had set myself a personal goal of coming in dead last, but legitimately – meaning that I wasn't going to give up, but I was going to try to solve all the puzzles to the best of my ability. I failed in my goal, which is actually a good thing.

A lot of NPL Krewe were there, but since I'm not that active in the NPL I'm guessing most of them don't know me. I sat in the front row with [livejournal.com profile] 530nm330hz because it seemed like a good place to be.

There were four puzzles to solve throughout the afternoon, and New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz was a special guest, so we got some free entertainment to boot. After the competition, I took this photo of Will and Andrew, who has had one of his puzzles published by Will and collected into a recent book of Sunday puzzles.



Will Shortz, Andrew M. Greene Will Shortz, Andrew M. Greene
New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz and Crossword Constructor Andrew Marc Greene at the Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament, April 5, 2009. Photo copyright ©2009 by Michael A. Burstein.




As for the competition itself, the puzzles were in order from easiest to hardest, and if you look at the standings, you'll see I came in 89th out of 122 competitors. I'm actually quite proud of how I did, though, because I was more interested in accuracy than speed. I managed to get both the first and the fourth puzzle completely right, and I knew as I was solving the other two that there were things I just didn't know, so I wasn't expecting to get high scores on them. My four scores were 1105, 845, 780, and 1110, for a total score of 3840. (And note that means that I did better on the hardest puzzle than on the easiest one. Wow.)

To give you some idea of what the total score means, the winner had a score of 5190. I would explain the rules if I remembered them, but I don't, and they don't seem to be posted on the website. Essentially, you get points for handing in the puzzle early, and you lose points for every letter wrong. There's also a point bonus for a completely accurate puzzle.

I'm particularly proud of [livejournal.com profile] 530nm330hz, though, for coming in at seventh place. Hey, Andrew, need a personal puzzle trainer?

By the way, Will Shortz answered questions, and I got to ask him two questions I've always wondered: first, does he regret not being able to compete in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament? (As the guy who organizes the whole thing, it would be unfair and impossible for him to compete.) It turns out he doesn't really regret it; the impression I got is that he probably thinks he'd do okay if he competed, but that's all.

My second question: isn't he glad that he didn't run the "Election Day" puzzle for the 2000 election? (He was.) Needless to say, that would have been interesting.
One of the people I feel very privileged to be friends with is Katherine Bryant (LJ: [livejournal.com profile] saxikath). And this weekend, I have many reasons to wish her good luck.


Katherine Bryant Solves a Sunday Times Puzzle Katherine Bryant Solves a Sunday Times Puzzle
Photo copyright © Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.



I first met Katherine in my sophomore year of college, when she was in her first year. We met through the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players' production of Princess Ida. We were both in the chorus, and as it so happens, the director chose to make us a G&S couple, so that gave us a chance to talk. Even back in college, I was impressed with her quick wit, her love of wordplay, and her ability to solve puzzles. (Embarrassed yet, Katherine? Be glad I didn't mention your appearance on Jeopardy!)

Our own lives caused us to drift apart for a few years until we found ourselves working together at the same company. During that time, Katherine became very well-known in the puzzling community. For one thing, she spent many years serving as the editor of The Enigma, the monthly magazine of the National Puzzlers' League. And for another...

For the past few years, she's consistently scored in the highest levels at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The ACPT is known as Stamford to many people, since until last year it was held at a hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. Last year it moved to Brooklyn, where it's being held again this year.

Katherine was already placing in the top ten at the ACPT even before we started working together in December 2005. But after she returned from the 2006 ACPT, I decided that I wanted to help her out. So since March of 2006 or so, I've taken on the role of being Katherine's personal "puzzle trainer." Essentially, every workday morning I've made a copy of that day's New York Times crossword puzzle, and then timed her on it. Katherine routinely finishes the puzzle in anywhere from two to six minutes. On occasion, it's taken her a little longer, but those occasions are few and far between.

This weekend, Katherine will once again be competing in the ACPT, and I'll be staying at home, rooting for her in my "Team Bryant" warm-up jacket. I hope she manages to get to the top three, and then win, because then I'll get to check that off my list of life goals: have a friend who wins the ACPT. But even if she doesn't, I'm still delighted that she's allowed me to be a part of it over the past three years.

Good luck, [livejournal.com profile] saxikath!


Katherine Bryant Solves Andrew Greene's Puzzle Katherine Bryant Solves Andrew Greene's Puzzle
Photo copyright © Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.

Yesterday, Nomi did me the favor of heading over to Lowell House for the Bell Ceremony.


Bells! Bells!
Photo © 2008 by Nomi S. Burstein. All rights reserved.



As I've mentioned before, when I was in college I was one of the bellringers who rang the Lowell House bells every Sunday. The bells, which originally came from the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, are being returned, and yesterday they removed the final bell from the Lowell House bell tower.

That bell is called the Lenten Bell, and it was traditionally rung on a fasting day. Somehow, in the stories that generations told about the bells, the name became misconstrued as the Bell of Famine, Pestilence, and Despair. As the monks of the monastery explained to the current bellringers, that name really makes no sense, as no one would ring a bell that bore a name of such ill omen. (If I recall correctly, that was the bell on which we rang the loser's score whenever Harvard beat another team at football in a home game.)

Nomi took some most excellent photos of the crane removing the final bell and lowering it onto the flatbed truck next to the largest bell, which at Harvard was known as the Bell of Mother Earth. The pictures are behind the cut for those who wish to enjoy them.

Read more... )

As you can see from the pictures, they swung the bell from one side to the other in the process of lowering it. If you put all seven pictures in a row, you get a cool flip-book movie.


Lenten Bell Lowered Lenten Bell Lowered
Photo © 2008 by Nomi S. Burstein. All rights reserved.



So an era is at an end. After about eighty years, the Danilov Monastery bells will go back to their rightful place, and the Lowell House bell tower will play host to a brand new set of authentic Russian bells.
For all the letters on the subject, see Letters - What Do Graduates Owe the World?, about the article “Big Paycheck or Service? Students Are Put to Test” (news article, June 23)::


To the Editor:

As a Harvard graduate, I am fascinated by the school’s recent focus on trying to get recent graduates to consider low-paying public service jobs instead of high-paying financial services jobs. What about Harvard’s reliance on alumni donations?

Two years after I graduated, I became a teacher. Many years, I was unable to make a contribution to Harvard. Never did Harvard send a letter thanking me for my public service; I received letters of thanks only when I was able to contribute.

If Harvard truly wants its graduates to take low-paying jobs in order to serve the public good, it will need to account for the fact that those alumni will be making a choice to support society as a whole over supporting Harvard.

Perhaps naming a building after one of them would be a good start.

Michael A. Burstein
Brookline, Mass., June 23, 2008
Life has been busy.

Work is filling my days, and publishing classes are occupying my nights.

I spent the holiday weekend almost finishing up the book I Remember the Future. I missed a deadline for when I wanted the whole thing complete, but I was trying to get the final touches done. Fortunately, my publisher is very forgiving.

This week is Brookline Town Meeting, which fills my evenings. Last night, we approved the Brookline Library RFID program by a vote of 109-87, a lot closer than I thought it was going to be.

This weekend, I'll be returning to Lowell House at Harvard College to attend the June Bell Symposium 2008. The symposium celebrates the 78 years that the Russian Bells hung in the Lowell House Bell Tower, and it honors the return of those bells to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. Not to worry, though, as the monks have cast a brand-new set of bells to replace the ones being returned.
One of the people I feel very privileged to be friends with is Katherine Bryant (LJ: [livejournal.com profile] saxikath). And this weekend, I have many reasons to wish her good luck. But first, some background.


Katherine Bryant Solves a Sunday Times Puzzle Katherine Bryant Solves a Sunday Times Puzzle
Photo copyright © Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.



I first met Katherine in my sophomore year of college, when she was in her first year. We met through the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players' production of Princess Ida. We were both in the chorus, and as it so happens, the director chose to make us a G&S couple, so that gave us a chance to talk. Even back in college, I was impressed with her quick wit, her love of wordplay, and her ability to solve puzzles. (Embarrassed yet, Katherine? Be glad I didn't mention your appearance on Jeopardy!)

Our own lives caused us to drift apart for a few years until we found ourselves working together at the same company. During that time, Katherine became very well-known in the puzzling community. For one thing, she served as the editor of The Enigma, the monthly magazine of the National Puzzlers' League. And for another...

For the past few years, she's consistently scored in the top ten at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The ACPT is known as Stamford to many people, since until this year it was held at a hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. This year it's been moved to Brooklyn, where it will probably remain for the foreseeable future.

Katherine was already placing in the top ten at the ACPT even before we started working together in December 2005. But after she returned from the 2006 ACPT, I decided that I wanted to help her out. So since March of 2006 or so, I've taken on the role of being Katherine's personal "puzzle trainer." Essentially, every workday morning I've made a copy of that day's New York Times crossword puzzle, and then timed her on it. Katherine routinely finishes the puzzle in anywhere from two to six minutes. On occasion, it's taken her a little longer, but those occasions are few and far between.

Last year, Katherine went to the 2007 ACPT and returned with triumphant news. Although she had not placed in the top three, she had managed to complete every puzzle of the competition without a single error. (As her trainer, I was busy that weekend too, reciting Psalm 121 over and over. Did that help? Who knows? But in the words of the old joke, it couldn't hurt.)

This weekend, Katherine will once again be competing in the ACPT, and I'll be staying at home, rooting for her in my "Team Bryant" warm-up jacket. I hope she manages to get to the top three, and then win, because then I'll get to check that off my list of life goals: have a friend who wins the ACPT. But even if she doesn't, I'm still delighted that she's allowed me to be a part of it over the past two years.

Good luck, [livejournal.com profile] saxikath!


Katherine Bryant Solves Andrew Greene's Puzzle Katherine Bryant Solves Andrew Greene's Puzzle
Photo copyright © Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.

Back in January 2004, the New York Times reported that the Danilov Monastery in Russia wanted Harvard to return the bells which have hung in the Lowell House bell tower for about 80 years. I was one of the bell-ringers in college, and so I wrote a letter to the Times, supporting the notion that Harvard should get to keep the bells. After all, had Harvard not bought them from Charles Crane, they would have been melted down and would no longer exist.

As it stands, though, the agreement made between Harvard and the Russian Orthodox Church was for Harvard to return the bells. However, the monastery agreed to cast a brand new set of bells for Harvard, so Lowell House could still have bells in its bell tower. I saw in today's Boston Globe website the following AP report:


July 25, 2007
MOSCOW -- Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II yesterday consecrated 18 newly cast brass bells destined for Harvard University in a trade that will return the originals to Russia nearly 80 years after they were saved from Stalin's religious purges. The originals have hung for decades in the towers at Lowell House and Harvard Business School's Baker Library in Cambridge. American industrialist Charles R. Crane bought the bells from the Soviet government in 1930, saving them from being melted down in purges that left thousands of monks executed and churches and monasteries destroyed or turned into prisons and orphanages.


So how do I feel about this? Well, the old bells had character and history, but so will the new ones. As long as Lowell House has bells in its bell tower, I'm happy. I just hope I get invited back for whatever celebrations Harvard plans to inaugurate the new bells.

More information can be found at
Patriarch consecrates bells for Harvard (Boston.com)
Lowell Bells Get Russian Farewell (The Harvard Crimson)
Yesterday evening, I went to the Harvard Coop to hear one of my college classmates, Austin Grossman, read from his first novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible.

I didn't actually know Grossman in college, but I spent freshman year in the same entry with his twin brother Lev. I did meet Grossman once, at one of our reunions, but it was by accident. I thought he was his brother, and I greeted him as such. He corrected me, and told me that Lev wasn't actually at the reunion. I apologized for the mistake, and moved on.

A few weeks ago, I heard about Grossman's first novel, and from the description it sounded like he had written it specifically for me to enjoy. The novel is set in a world of super-powered beings, and it focuses on the evil and brilliant Doctor Impossible and the good and powerful cyborg Fatale. Doctor Impossible has come up with another scheme to take over the world, and Fatale has to learn how to become a superhero. The book has a fully-realized set of superbeings, and from the description it feels influenced by Kurt Busiek's Astro City and Brad Bird's The Incredibles.

So when I discovered that Grossman's book tour was taking him back to Cambridge, I decided to attend. The bookseller who organized the reading gave Grossman a flattering introduction, and then Grossman began to read.


Austin Grossman Reads From His Book
Austin Grossman Reads From His Book
Grossman reads from his novel (June 26, 2007). Photo copyright ©2007 by Michael A. Burstein.



Grossman is a very funny reader. He doesn't read from his book like an author, but he doesn't do it like an actor, either. The book is written in first-person, and Grossman takes on the persona of Doctor Impossible as he reads, all the while still managing to keep an ironic detachment, as if to reassure the audience that he really is a nice guy. (And, no, I don't understand what I mean by this either.) I laughed quite a few times, as did others in the audience.

After his reading, Grossman called for questions. I asked about his comic book influences, and I wasn't surprised to hear that Grossman has been a comic book reader from way back. If I recall correctly, he said that he started reading comics with the Claremont run on X-Men. He also named some of the usual current writers as people whose work he enjoys. (Oddly, even though Grossman and Busiek went to the same high school, I had to prompt Grossman to mention Astro City.)

Only one other person asked a question, so Grossman began signing books quite early on. Since I had sat in the front row, I was the first person to get my copy signed. I thanked him for writing a book that appeals to me perfectly, which I think amused him. At the very least, he was willing to pose for a picture, even after I told him it would be going up on my blog:


Austin Grossman and His First Novel
Austin Grossman and His First Novel
Grossman poses with his novel (June 26, 2007). Photo copyright ©2007 by Michael A. Burstein.



Obviously, I haven't read the book yet, but if you're a fan of comic book superheroes, you ought to check it out. And the website for the book is a hoot.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein
The New York Times is reporting at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/09/business/08cnd-harvard.html that Harvard will name historian and Bryn Mawr graduate Drew Gilpin Faust as the new president of the university.

If true, this is a major step, and not just because Faust is a woman. Faust has been active at Harvard for the past six or so years as dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. When the university chose Summers as president a few years ago, many of us felt that although he was a good administrator, the university would have been better off promoting someone from within the rank and file, who knew the place much more closely.

Dr. Faust would definitely fit that profile. Best of luck to her.

Lectures

Sep. 21st, 2006 08:55 am
One of the things I like about living in the Boston area is the opportunity to attend so many cultural events and lectures. Now, while it's true that I grew up in New York City and there's no shortage of such things there either, somehow these events are more exciting when they're in Boston. Perhaps it's because Boston and its environs are such a college town, that when people come to talk here they're much more excited about it. Or maybe its because when I first came to Boston, I was finally old enough to appreciate such things.

I still recall that in the first month of my freshman year at Harvard, I got to hear a talk from Nobel-laureate Emilio Segre shortly before he died. Since then, I've managed to meet astronauts, authors, politicians, musicians, actors, and others, and I've found my life enriched enormously by the experience.

All of the above, of course, is prelude to mention the most recent events we're attended.

Scott McCloud )

Brad Meltzer )

And tonight, we're going to hear Owen Gingerich, the astronomer who headed the IAU Planetary Definition Committee and did his best to keep Pluto as a planet. I'm hoping to get a book autographed, and I'm planning to present him with an SP3 mug in appreciation of his efforts.

Copyright © Michael Burstein; photo copyright © Nomi Burstein
Last week, Harvard University announced that it was eliminating its Early Action application program. I took a more than passing interest in this announcement, because years ago I myself applied for and was accepted under Harvard's Early Action program. And although I was glad to have that decision out of the way so early, I still recall wondering how fair the early application process was in general. Because I remember being told that applying early increased your chances of acceptance, and it seemed unfair for students who needed more time to make their final decision on colleges.

A little background. Back in the 1980s, there were two different early application programs in existence: Early Action and Early Decision. Under Early Action, students could get their application materials in by the beginning of November and have a decision from the college, usually an acceptance or a deferral, by mid-December. (In rare cases, a student might be rejected outright.) Early Decision worked almost exactly the same way, except that a student applying via Early Decision had to agree to a firm commitment to attend that school in the fall. Under Early Action, a student could send applications to other institutions, but under Early Decision, a student was expected to end the application process. In either case, though, a student could only apply to one institution via their early application program.

(Of course, any sort of early acceptance was usually predicated on the student maintaining a reasonable record throughout the rest of senior year. But most people tended not to notice that fine print in the acceptance package.)

Each college that offered an early admission program decided for itself which kind to offer. In my case, the two colleges I was most interested in were Harvard and Columbia. And Columbia only offered Early Decision, not Early Action. Had they offered Early Action, I might have applied early there instead, and perhaps my life might have taken a different turn. But that's a subject for another time.

For now, I have to say that I'm glad that Harvard has chosen to eliminate its Early Action program, and I have a feeling that this will lead to many other institutions revising their own application procedures. Because the fact is that for better or worse, Harvard University carries a tremendous amount of influence in the world of high school admissions. Let me give an example.

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was starting to work full-time as a high-school teacher, Harvard published a booklet about their admissions process. Being a science teacher, I was particularly interested in what Harvard had to say about science courses. I was gratified to see that Harvard's admissions office felt very strongly about science -- so strongly, in fact, that they expected all applicants to have at least three years of science, and those three years had to include Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

Now, I attended an exam school, Hunter College High School in New York City, and I still remember that the only high school science course that was required was Biology in 9th grade. Chemistry was offered in 10th grade as an elective, as was Physics in 11th grade. Now, it is true that the school strongly recommended that all 10th graders take Chemistry and that most 11th graders take Physics. But not everyone did; if you could explain to your college counselor why those courses weren't necessary for what you wanted to accomplish, you could enroll in any of the other electives being offered. I knew students who chose instead to study another foreign language or to take creative writing, and none of them had difficulty getting into college with their transcript.

But in the 1990s, as soon as Harvard announced that it expected three years of science, many high schools took this as a cue to require a full course of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics for all their students. Never mind the fact that most students weren't planning on applying to Harvard College, let alone attending it; if Harvard said that three years of science were required for its applicants, then all students would be required to take three years of science, no matter what.

I had, and still have, mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, being a science booster, I feel very strongly that all students should have an excellent science education. Citizens need to understand the importance of science and technology to function productively in our modern world. But on the other hand, not everyone is interested in science, and, to be frank, not everyone can handle a Physics course. I remember one student I taught who had essentially found herself required to take Physics under "bait and switch"; the school hadn't required the course when she entered in 9th grade, and she was distraught when the rules changed on her by 11th grade and she found herself forced to study Physics. She hated the course, did badly in it, and would have been far better served by a survey course on Science and Society than on trying to solve momentum equations.

But instead, a decision by the admissions office at Harvard College -- an institution to which she never would have applied -- ended up with her being required to study Physics.

Based on this history, I reiterate my belief that Harvard's decision will lead to other institutions abandoning their Early Admission or Early Decision programs. And I think that in the end, high school seniors will be much better off for it.

Copyright © Michael Burstein
[livejournal.com profile] gnomi and I returned from my college reunion today, and it'll take me some time to catch up with everything. I'm hoping to write about my reunion experiences soon.
This weekend, I'll be attending my 15th anniversary college reunion, so my mind is on reunions and history. I plan to write a few posts about the reunion, and what people are up to.

But for the moment, I'm looking not at my class, but an earlier one. Today is Harvard's Commencement, and as usual, the Harvard Crimson has put together an issue that looks at the current group of graduates and the milestone reunion classes. The Class of 1981 is celebrating their 25th reunion this weekend, and at The Harvard Crimson :: Special Packages :: Class of 1981 you can find the whole section devoted to the class.

The section is divided into two general sections. The first section is devoted to news stories that were taking place at Harvard 25 years ago. In some ways, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The second section is devoted to a few members of the Class of 1981 that they chose to feature. The members of the class they profile include journalist Susan Faludi, Lost co-executive producer (and creator of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. ) A. Carlton Cuse...and science-fiction writer Melissa Scott, which I suspect might be of more than passing interest to some of you.
Not that I expect this to reach anyone relevant, but I figured I'd cast as wide a net as possible.

Even though there is no official Thursday night social for the Class of 1991's 15th anniversary reunion, a few of us are planning to get together anyway.

Where: John Harvard's Brew House, 33 Dunster Street, Cambridge

When: Thursday, June 8, at 7:30 PM

We'll have either a sign or a visible copy of the Fifteenth Anniversary Report (the red book), but if you decide in advance to come, by all means let me know.
Folks who are reading my blog for discussions of writing probably noticed that I finally started up again with the Robert's Rules of Writing commentary. Things have become a little more relaxed now on the writing front, so I'm able to get back to those essays. This is not to say that I still don't have a deadline or two out there, plus some ongoing "on spec" projects, as always. But I'm feeling a little more able to tackle those writing essays yet again. So what's been going on in my life besides the usual?

Well, some of it I've already noted. Last month Nomi and I celebrated Passover with her family, and then we went to Ravencon and caught up with some of my family. Last week I was re-elected to Brookline Town Meeting, and I'm looking forward to our May session, which starts on Tuesday May 23rd. On Saturday, Analog announced that "Sanctuary" had won the AnLab in Novella.

But in other news: Next month I have a college reunion, and over the weekend I received the Class Anniversary Report, about which I'll have more to say later. By the end of summer, the book Boarding the Enterprise will be published, including my essay "We Find the One Quite Adequate: Religious Attitudes in Star Trek." Finally, thanks to the kindness of friends, Nomi and I are now plowing through the second season of Stargate SG-1. At this rate, we'll be caught up with current episodes in a few months. (I doubt we'll keep watching at this rate, though.)
[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

"No matter how mundane you think your job is, to someone else it's interesting."

That's how Masello begins his short essay on rule #33. His overall point is that the everyday life you might think is mundane may very well be fascinating to your readers. And it's a good point to keep in mind. When we write, many of us are more interested in the exotic worlds we create, when what our readers might really want to see is the everyday world they know little about.

The most explicit examples of this that I can think of happened in real life.

Back in 1996, when attending Worldcon in Los Angeles, Nomi and I had a chance to visit the set of one of our favorite television shows. We were taken around the set by the assistant to the executive producer, and over the course of the tour we met one of the actresses working on the show.

Both the assistant and the actress were delighted to meet us, and in the course of talking they asked about our own lives. At the time, I was working full-time as a Science teacher, and they couldn't hear too much about it. Here they were, working in television, which I thought of as exotic, and they wanted to know how I structured my lessons or decided how much homework to assign each night. The actress was also a professional stuntwoman, and yet here she was, finding my everyday job as intriguing as I found hers.

(Of course, having actually done extra work in three movies, I actually do have an idea of how boring a television or movie set can be.)

Another example of this I can recall was from the summer of 1989, when I took a job working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Many of my friends at Harvard were fascinated by the stories I told of the lab job and the community of Los Alamos, whereas the people I met at Los Alamos couldn't get enough of my stories about what it was like being a Harvard student. In both cases, their own lives felt mundane because that was what they did, day in and day out, but the other world was exotic and full of fascination.

This happens at science fiction conventions, too. I used to work on the programming committee of a local convention, and to be honest, the last thing we needed was another science fiction writer offering to be a programming participant because they wrote science fiction. Much more valuable were those writers who had day job experience that they could bring to the table. If you're at a science fiction convention, would you rather hear a full-time writer talk about writing or a stockbroker/writer discuss how she used her experience as a day trader to flesh out her novel about stockbrokers in the future?

In short, as a writer you've got a lot more to bring to the table than you may realize. So bring it along, and let your readers learn.
Last night, [livejournal.com profile] gnomi, [livejournal.com profile] farwing, and I had dinner with [livejournal.com profile] mystful at our local kosher Chinese restaurant, Taam China. (Tonight, [livejournal.com profile] gnomi and I are having dinner there again, this time with my former student [livejournal.com profile] moneypenny.) [livejournal.com profile] mystful was one of the students in the writing workshop we facilitated at Harvard last month, and since she was kind enough to get in touch before the workshop, we wanted to spend some time with her.

She's a fascinating person, who has accomplished a lot for someone so young. It turned out that as a high school student she had spent a year in Beijing. She speaks Mandarin Chinese, so we introduced her to the owner of the restaurant, and the two of them had an extended conversation in Mandarin. I have no idea what they talked about, but from context it was probably about her experiences in China.

We also talked about writing, of course, and why one shouldn't use too many adverbs as dialogue tags. (See [livejournal.com profile] gnomi's post here for a link to Tom Swifties.) But on a personal note, what got me was how much Harvard has changed since I've been there. I knew that they had wired the dorms for the Internet, but starting next year all the dorms are going wireless! < old man grumpy voice >In my day, we didn't have this "wireless" Internet in our dorms! If we wanted to check our e-mail, we had to shlep all the way to the Science Center, through the snow, uphill, both ways! And we didn't have any of these sissy front-end programs! We had to know how to use Unix or VMS!< /old man grumpy voice >.

Okay, I'm done now. :-)
So today is Harvard Commencement Day here in the Boston area.

For many of us (such as [livejournal.com profile] gnomi) who usually commute through Harvard Square, that means trying to avoid that place as much as possible.

For others, such as [livejournal.com profile] mystful, it's their actual special day, and I wish them congratulations on graduating!

For me, of course, it's a mix. On the one hand, I have a few errands I have to run this morning in Harvard Square, so I will brave the crowds as I take the 66 bus there today. However, I think I have things timed perfectly so that everyone will be in Tercentenary Theatre, and not walking through the streets. Then I'll get out of there as soon as I can because I have some tutoring sessions this afternoon.

But on the other hand...well, fourteen years ago I participated in my own Harvard Commencement. Since I've been local for so many years now, I've felt a pull to go back each year and watch, even thought I know almost no one there anymore. I'd especially love to be there this afternoon, for the Alumni Parade which begins at 1:45, and the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association, which is when the featured Commencement Speaker gives a talk.

After all, this year the speaker is John A. Lithgow '67.

Well, perhaps I'll be able to enjoy the Commencement on streaming video....

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