Shmuel has informed me…

Shmuel has informed me that I should be using Notepad instead of MSWord to write these journals at work, so I'm going to attempt that and see if it makes my life easier. Let's see -- do dashes work? Yes! How about...umm...ellipses? We're two for two. Now, if my apostrophes just hang in there 'til I get home, I'll be a happy camper.

My mind is bopping all over the place today, probably 'cause I just finished reading ten journals or so. It makes me want to comment on everything people said, but I'll restrain myself to a few things.

I sent a letter to the author of "If You See Her, Say Hello", 'cause she's a lawyer and keeps talking about judges and lawyers and I just got really curious to see whether she knew Kevin's dad (who is a reasonably well-known judge). We'll see what she says. I've been meaning to write her fan mail for a while, anyway, so this was an easy way to slide into it.

Shmuel wrote in his journal today (what, you want to know where it is? Fine, fine. Here.) about the state of the union address, which I somehow managed to miss entirely while doing Clean Sheets (and while everything went up okay, I forgot to update the teaser at the bottom of the TOC, and I still need to write an editorial, though I may push that back a week). He wrote about Clinton's plan to cut back on failing schools, and about how 'failing' is determined by standardized test scores.

Gods -- I can't tell you how many rants I've heard from education professional friends of mine against standardized tests. I have a sneaking fondness for them, because all through high school they were indicating I was smarter than my grades said I was (which entailed a lot of lectures on underachieving, but I was still obscurely reassured). But I agree that tests like the SAT should in no way be considered reliable ways of estimating whether a grammar or high school is doing its job. Surely they can devise a better way to evaluate the schools, and then apply that method? As far as I could tell back then, the SAT mostly measured whether you read a lot.

If I have time in the next day or two I'll probably call Elissa and ask her what she thinks about all this. She's currently teaching public school in New York. I suspect she'll have some flaming things to say.

On a totally different note, one of the other journals mentioned this odd incident where a bunch of people started singing in the street. And it reminded me of something I was thinking this morning, as I took the subway in to work. The faces at 7:30 a.m. looked so dreary -- some were reading, but most just looked exhausted. I was wishing there was some way to cheer them (and me) up. I suppose there could be way-high-tech solutions, such as installing internet connections at each seat, but that seems so implausible that even in twenty years I can't see it happening. And it wasn't the sort of thing I was thinking of anyway.

I had a friend in college, Curtis (who I also had a just tremendous crush on*), who used to do something very strange. He'd dress up as a mime/clown, in bright and colorful clothing and whiteface, and then he'd go (with his then-girlfriend at times) and perform on the subways. He'd spend a day going around entertaining people. He'd juggle, and do funny mime things, and he wouldn't say a word until he got home. I don't think he ever asked for money either. He had a copy of The Clown's Prayer up on his wall; he clowned to spread some joy. (Side note: The Clown's Prayer is one of my favorite prayers, up there with e.e. cummings' prayers and the Tagore one and the hymn, "Here I Am, Lord", which has gorgeous verses ("I, the lord of sea and sky / I have heard my people cry / I have wept for love of them... / They turn away.").

The point of all that was that as I was sitting on the subway this morning, I was really wishing I had some juggling balls or a musical instrument, and the nerve to be goofy. Juggling balls would probably be better, actually, 'cause you don't want to wake up the sleeping people who really need their sleep. Though it would also be fun later in the day to take over a subway car and decorate the interior and drag a bunch of my RenFaire friends along in full Renaissance garb and play and sing and dance down the aisle and ride the train for hours...

Okay, goofy, I know. I was in an odd mood this morning.

I do want to get one more thing in this already tangled entry; finishing the Gregory Benford I was reading, _Timescape_. Now, I have mixed reactions to this book. I picked it up because it won a Nebula (in 1980), and it's certainly intelligent, interesting, well-written and educating. Benford is a physicist, and does a good job explaining his physics in such a way that I (who somehow managed to miss physics classes altogether), can basically follow it.

What causes the mixed reaction is really the setting of the book. _Timescape_ is set at the physics departments of two universities (in 1963 and 1998). The details of graduate/professorial university life are very accurate. Especially at the beginning of the book, it felt almost eerie how similar it was to my experiences hanging out with the mathematics grad students at Chicago. And I admit that I really identified with Penny, the humanities person living with one of the physicists.

Over the course of the book, I lost some sympathy for Penny, but I still empathized with her enough that when you learned (spoilers coming!!) that she and the physicist had broken up, I was really bummed. It came close to ruining the book for me. And I really didn't like the lessons Benford seemed to be pushing with their break-up (the physicist was a Jewish boy who ended up with a Jewish girl, having had his convoluted and ultimately impossible fling with a WASP girl). The relationship was clearly meant to be a metaphor underlining some of the other themes in the book (and if you didn't figure that out yourself, the essay following the book in my edition spelled it out for you), and I'm not sure I approve.

Of course, I don't know how much of this is fair. I may well be simply empathizing too much, getting too deeply into Penny's head (or my impression of Penny's head). I was really angry with Benford for not even telling us what happened to her after she broke up with the physicist (whose name I can't remember, if you're wondering why I keep calling him that. Something Bernstein). I was on a panel with Benford at WorldCon, and I was really tempted to e-mail or call him and say "Okay, what the hell happened to Penny after that shmuck Bernstein dumped her? Sure it's *after* she sticks by him through all the weeks and months when he's ignoring her to do his work, that he dumps her, and only when he's married to the nice Jewish girl that he finally gets recognized for his brilliance and gets rich and wins the Fermi award. At least tell me she's happy!" I didn't write Benford, though. I was a little calmer by the time I got home last night, though I tell you, I simmered on the subway and the bus.

It just came close to ruining the book for me, and what's worst is that I suspect it really is my own darn fault, and nothing I can blame on Benford at all. Physicists! Mathematicians! Pfui!

NOTE: I've decided to start using footnotes, when I don't want to interrupt the main flow of thought. Footnote 1 follows.

*That was probably the most frustrating crush of my life. We were both being monogamous back then. Sequence of events: I develop an interest in Curtis. I tell him so, and he tells me that he likes me too, but he's involved with someone. Sigh. One night was particularly difficult, as I ended up crashing late after a party at the apartment he shared with Steve and Kira. I had planned to crash in the living room, but somebody was boffing somebody out there, so I ended up crashing with Curtis. We slept very carefully, and for my part at least, not very well at all.

Okay. Then some months later, he and that chick break up, but by that point, I'm dating Paul. And then by the time Paul and I break up, and I'm available again, Curtis has moved out of Chicago, and somehow there's never time to start anything when he's visiting.** Drove us both crazy for a while. We eventually recovered.

**It didn't make things easier that he was dating Karina at the time. So close, and yet so far. :-)

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