The second month following the death of our daughter Penny from cancer was easier than the first. The sieges of helpless grief are spaced farther apart. Normal life is resuming, albeit with a certain translucent tinge or cast that deletes a portion of routine pleasures, like a flashback in a movie that is in shades of gray instead of color. We received many cards, letters, and emails of consolation, most of which we answered, all of which we appreciated. Some were from people who had suffered similar losses, of parent, spouse, or child, and truly understand. I note one especially, from Pat Lisenbee, who made a string art picture in honor of Penny. String art might sound like nothing, but that's not the case; it consists of little pegs in a board, and the string is wound from peg to peg to form the picture. In this case, a fancy multi-lined eight pointed star set against a background of flowers, done in red, green, and white. The words are "Our flower PENELOPE CAROLYN is now a STAR in our Universe!" This is clearly hand made, representing work on Pat's part, and beautiful. We will put it in Penny's room, which is becoming a kind of memorial site.
I am left with a tangent thought: if this is what it is like to lose an adult child, how could any politician ever arrange to make a war of choice, that would inflict similar grief on three or four thousand otherwise innocent American families and perhaps ten times that many other families for no legitimate purpose? Should it be required, as has been suggested, that such a politician's own children be the first to serve on the deadly front line? That the children of all who vote for that needless war be similarly drafted? That might encourage a certain worthwhile caution. I'm not sure what else would bequeath some sense of responsibility to those who evidently lack it.
I don't have a lot to remark on this month, per that translucent cast. We saw no movies, I watched no videos. I simply kept up with letters, chores, reading, exercise, following the dull routine. What else was there to do? I am sure my enthusiasm for things will revive; it is reviving now. But as with a recession, it may take some time for the process to be complete, if it ever is. I suspect there will always be that gap, like a lost tooth, where our daughter was.
Speaking of which: I am fed up with the ongoing carnage that is my mouth. No, I don't mean I'll stop saying things that enrage editors, publishers, critics, conservatives, and other ilk. I mean my fragmenting teeth. My estimate is that I may have put, in constant dollars, in the course of my life, a hundred thousand dollars into my mouth, as well as following a routine of avoiding sweets, taking calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, not eating between meals, brushing four times a day, regular hygiene and dentist appointments, crowns, root canals (I believe I have had a dozen; I lost count) and so on, none of which seems to make a significant difference. The destruction proceeds apace, at a cost of thousands of dollars per tooth as crowns fall off, enamel shatters, and infection gets inside. Similar attention to personal care has made the rest of my body a fair model of health considering my age; my doctor always remarks on it. But not my teeth. Oh, my dentists would be happy to continue expensive maintenance indefinitely. I'm not. So finally I have made the decision I suspect I should have made thirty or forty years ago, and will go to partial dentures. I'll have my teeth out, except for the implants and the few in good shape; in fact that will have been done OctOgre 30, and I expect to edit this column in a semi-drugged state of pain suppression. I also bought on sale from Hamilton for $24.95 the complete British Danger Mouse series, over 24 hours, which I hope will divert me from discomfort while not being a great loss if the medication interferes with my memory of it. But thereafter I will no longer be gap-toothed, and I hope I no longer have expensive mouth maintenance. We'll see.
I read The Rooting of Evil, by Paul Melniczek, the sequel to Ogre's Passing, which I read and enjoyed last year, published by DOUBLE DRAGON. (See my HiPiers column for Dismember 2008.) This time the horrors of the deadly lowlands follow our protagonists out into the more civilized realm, and are just as devastating. There are also developing political complications. You might think that an ancient monster thought extinct might be shy about attacking a fortified human city. You would be disabused. The tension is almost unremitting, and the novel is compelling despite the lack of romance. One scene I liked, because it faked me out, was when they succeeded in hemming in an advancing monster. It then drilled into the ground and disappeared. They dumped burning pitch in after it. Battle won? No, it turned out that the monster was merely tunneling under the town wall, and it came up inside the city while they were uselessly burning the tunnel behind it.
And I read The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block, who sent me an autographed copy saying “For Piers—Thank you for making my teenage years infinitely more tolerable! I owe Isidora to your wonderful Xanth!” Isidora is a fantasy land where the folk are happy in their forgetfulness. But this is not frivolous fantasy. It's a story of early-onset Alzheimer's that takes its victims out in their thirties instead of in old age. Put this near the top of ailments you don't want to suffer: the slow but inevitable loss of your mind. But it's not really a downbeat story; it's interesting throughout. The author is a born writer with lovely nuances of expression. One incidental sequence shows the young protagonist being approached by a girl who inquires whether he has ever seen a vagina before. Then she shows him, and freaks him out. But his main quest is for the origin of his mother, whose mind is dissolving, and for Isidora. Finally he locates them, in a sadly satisfying denouement. This novel was an international bestseller and has five pages of plaudits by leading reviewers; I recommend it anyway.
They have discovered a vegetarian spider. No, Jumper, in Xanth #33 Jumper Cable, now out in hardcover, is not a vegetarian, though he bears a certain family resemblance. They are both jumping spiders, for one thing. This one is the first of 40,000 identified spider species to confine its diet to vegetation, a certain species of acacia. It has to fight past vicious guardian ants to get it, so there is danger in hunting for a plant. Thus life emulates fiction, perhaps, to a degree.
I still try to answer my mail responsively. That means I have different styles for different people. I had an enthusiastic letter from a ten year old girl, so I answered her questions with candor:
So you're ten, almost eleven. I'm seventy five, but by a weird coincidence I once was your age, and later we had two daughters your age too. They both grew up and disappeared into adults. The elder one, Penny, married and had a girl of her own. Then, alas, Penny got melanoma, which is a type of cancer, and died last month, not long before her daughter turned nine. So we are very sad.
I am always having more ideas for Xanth books, and am now writing the 35th Xanth novel, Well-Tempered Clavicle, about a walking skeleton who can take off his clavicles (shoulder bones) and play music on his ribs. He plays so well that Princess Dawn, who is Dor's granddaughter, falls in love with him. That's a problem, because she's really not his type. She has all that flesh on her nice bones, a real turnoff for a walking skeleton, as you might imagine. Ugh!
I probably enjoyed writing Ogre, Ogre the most, because people had accused me of being an ogre at fan conventions, when I had never even been to one (critics aren't fastidious about the truth). So next novel I made an ogre the hero, and that novel became my first national bestseller.
I like Florida, because it's warm. We once lived in Vermont—your mother will point it out for you on the map—and it was very pretty in the Green Mountains, but also very cold in winter, so we moved.
Draw you a bunny? I once dated a girl named Bunny in college, but that didn't last. The next girl I married, and that has lasted 53 years so far. So instead of drawing you a bunny, I'll do one as an emoticon. Do you know about those? You make them from punctuation and read them sideways. So here's my bunny, with two sort of floppy ears, two dot like eyes, and a big smile. %:)
I was interviewed for a radio show. It is complicated for us to tune in on these things on slow dialup, so I haven't heard it, but you can at http://TheAuthorHour.com/piers-anthony/.
Frustration. i was typing as usual, when my capitalization stopped working. that is, no capitalization of sentences, no "i" changed to "I." AutoCorrect in OpenOffice is on for both, but it seems all of AutoCorrect has become inoperative. I copied the file to my backup system downstairs, and it works there, so it's not my files; it's this system. i wasted most of an hour fruitlessly checking everything. i must either go back and correct capitals "by hand" or waste even more time trying to fix a problem that shouldn't exist. if there's a geek out there who knows instantly what my problem is--I am referring to capitalization, not my personality--and can advise me by email, i will welcome his input. meanwhile, i'll just leave it as it is. (if i have to suffer, you have to suffer.)
several months ago i saw an obit for one Corin Tellado, 81, well-known Spanish author of more than 4,000 romance novels. i once lived in Spain, but i was only five years old and Tellado would have been 12 or 13 so i wouldn't have heard of her anyway. but as a prolific novelist myself, i have some notion what it takes, and i don't see how any one person could write that many novels in a lifetime. if she wrote for 60 years she would have to complete more than one novel a week, unremittingly. was it a typo for 400? that would still be a formidable number. I am 75, a writaholic, yet have had only 140 books published. so far.
i look at everything that comes in. you never can tell where there will be something interesting. for example, in the newsletter FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE, dedicated to the public's right to choose meaningful, dignified, and affordable funerals, www.funerals.org, it details requirements in the Bereavement Consumers Protection Act now wending its way through Congress. give cemetery consumers the right to buy only the goods and services they want. bar cemeteries from forcing families to buy entire packages of goods or services when all they want is particular items. require cemeteries to disclose rules and regulations. require cemeteries to keep accurate records. bar cemeteries from lying about the law. now maybe I'm overly sensitive, having recently lost a family member who was cremated and wanted no funeral, but the idea of freshly grief-stricken families being lied to, denied information, and required to buy expensive packages they may neither want nor can afford appalls me. i would have thought that decent treatment would be standard practice. silly me. it seems that more than $1 billion is missing from funeral and cemetery trust funds, and that in some cases buried remains are pulled from the ground and thrown on a refuse heap. oil speculator Clayton Smart is currently in jail charged with stealing at least $70 million in cemetery trust funds. i guess he figures whatever is underground belongs to him. obviously reform is needed.
The Dish, firstname.lastname@example.org, circulates some interesting material. this time it gives the background of Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940), a Quaker born in West Chester, PA. my family is Quaker (formally known as the Religious Society of Friends), centered around West Chester. i did not become a Quaker, but have an abiding respect for Quaker principles. among them are pacifism and opposition to war. i'm not a pacifist and I think some wars are justified, such as the one to stop the Nazis, World War Two, which is part of the reason i'm not Quaker. Butler joined the Marines, to the disapproval of his family (i was drafted into the Army, to similar disapproval; i felt my conscience would be violated less there than in prison, my alternative) and served well in and out of action; he was wounded twice and received two Medals of Honor for heroism. so he was no out-of-the loop crackpot. thus what he said about war is of lasting interest. "WAR is a racket. it always has been. it is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. it is the only one international in scope. it is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives." remember what i said above about making war to no purpose? obviously there is a purpose: to make new millionaires and billionaires, as Butler said. he asked how many of those millionaires shouldered a rifle, dug trenches, went hungry, spent sleepless nights in foxholes under fire, or were wounded or killed in battle? "For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people--who do not profit."
Column by Joe Volk, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (a Quaker lobby in the public interest) addressed the problem of how to pay for health care: reduce the current annual military budget of $700 billion to $500 billion, and use the saved $200 billion to pay for health care for all. sure, that would mean fewer new billionaires, but many more lives saved. it works for me.
Florida State University is developing the OGZEB, Off-Grid, Zero Emissions Building. it will run on hydrogen generated by solar power; the roof is a solid array of photo-voltaic solar collectors. it will be heated by a geothermal system. more power to it!
Article in NEW SCIENTIST "How green is your pet?" suggests that the ecological pawprint of household pets rivals that of family cars, such as large dogs, because they calculate the meat the animals eat. so if you're a pet-owning environmentalist, maybe you need to reconsider. it concludes that some pets are less worse than others. "Rabbits are good, provided you eat them."
Why are human beings, alone of all primates, naked? our body hair is so thin it conceals almost nothing. NEW SCIENTIST addresses this chronic mystery. in my GEODYSSEY series i started with the Aquatic hypothesis, that there was a water stage in our evolution that encouraged the loss of fur and the development of subcutaneous fat to replace hair's insulative properties. Then i switched to the Cooling hypothesis, that bare skin radiated heat and dissipated cooling sweat more efficiently, so that mankind developed the most efficient body cooling system in the animal kingdom. that enabled him to cool his burgeoning heat-producing brain, and to forage in the noonday sun in a manner no predator could. in fact i suspect he raided and stole predator carcases, covered by that heat, and thus gained concentrated food. but this NS article has a caveat: women presumably did not hunt wildebeests at noon, so why did they lose as much or more fur than the men? so it remained a mystery to NS. well, not to me. i knew that the loss of hair coincided with the increasing use of clothing, in the past million years, so that not only could man sweat to cool by day, he could pile on artificial fur by night for warmth. his burgeoning brain repaid its caloric cost by providing the wit to make and use efficient clothing. in fact clothing was so effective that it enabled him to burst out of Africa and range into the cooler rest of the world, even the chill arctic. so maybe it wasn't heat, so much, that deleted the hair, it was cold that made clothing more useful than fur. hairlessness and clothing made man the most versatile animal yet, and it worked just as well for woman. better, in fact, because her smaller, lighter body needed more protective covering. three weeks later came reader responses to the article, and they amended this. intelligence enabled not just clothing, but also shelter and the use of fire, perhaps the greatest single factor in mankind's control of his environment, as it also multiplied food sources via cooking. also, a letter pointed out, all hairy and feathered species spend large amounts of time grooming themselves or each other, picking out dirt, burrs, and parasites. man's bare skin needs little such attention, so saves an enormous amount of time, which can be used for hunting, foraging, traveling, fighting, and social intercourse. such as the development of language and culture. so why are we bare? no mystery at all; it's a significant part of our dominance of the world.
This discussion does not address other qualities of mankind, such as the ability to carry things including food and children, to make and use tools and weapons, and to coordinate hunting and foraging to make them more efficient. it doesn't explain why women retain full breasts, or the retention of head and pubic hair. it doesn't address one of the most truly defining aspects of our kind: Art, in the forms of painting, sculpture, music, and storytelling among others. History: our ability to learn from experience, and remember the hard lessons, so that each generation can pick up where the prior one left off. but i have addressed such things before in my fiction and columns; no need to bore readers here. i continue to find the study of man (including woman, especially when bare) fascinating. there is so vastly much more to explore. don't get me started.
On OctOgre 30 i got the teeth extracted as mentioned above, only 5 or 6 as it turned out; they are not removing any really sound ones. i am suffering through the attendant bleeding and soft diet, but have been able to continue routine activities, with my wife's help. Yes, now and then a spot of saliva-diluted blood does fall on the keyboard. that will pass. i hate having to curtail my exercise routine. as for Danger Mouse--he will have to wait until i complete the novel. This is Xanth #35 Well-Tempered Clavicle, about the musical walking skeleton and the princess, with #34 Knot Gneiss on deckfor publication in 2010, about Wenda Woodwife and her chore of transporting a not-at-all nice 150 pound knot of petrified reverse wood that terrifies anyone who approaches it. In SapTimber i wrote about 32,000 words of Clavicle, which is low for me; in OctOgre i wrote about 52,000, suggestive of my recovery from distraction. thus these minor mundane indications of adaptation to grief. what is there to do, except to get on with life? my feelings won't bring her back.