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Piers the handyman 2007
OctOgre 2010

Our first surviving child, after a decade of stillbirths, was almost named Pamela. But I was then writing the collaborative novel The Ring, with Robert E Margroff, and there was a young woman named Pamela therein who turned out to be a bad girl. (Characters sometimes follow their own courses, thumbing their noses at authors.) We didn't want that association, so went for Penelope instead. The names of our children followed ours, being P or C; my wife liked Christopher for a boy, but was afraid it would happen on Columbus Day and everyone would think he was named for that. So we had a girl instead, born on Columbus Day, OctOgre 12, 1967. Had she been born a decade earlier she would have been named Maple Irene, after the woman in my original, unpublished novel The Unstilled World. But we have always been satisfied with Penelope, or Penny, as the name. Penny for your thoughts...

On SapTimber 3, 2020, the one year anniversary of the untimely death of our daughter Penelope Carolyn Jacob, we finally listened to the recording of her Memorial Service. The recording was made by her friend of an identical age, Joana, who sent it to us nicely tied with a blue ribbon. Penny moved to Oregon in significant part because Joana went there, and it seemed like a wonderful place to be. When Penny made friends with Joana, she insisted that Princess Ivy, patterned after Penny, discover a twin sister, and thus Princess Ida came to be. So Joana too is in Xanth, though she does not have a little moon orbiting her head. We felt guilty not listening to the recording before, but there was too much emotion in the way. Now at last we have done it, hearing ourselves with our recorded messages, as we were unable to attend the service physically. For this occasion I wore the lovely Jacob Sheep shirt Penny gave me. Long ago I learned of this four-horned breed, and told Penny about it, and when she set up to farm she got some Jacob sheep, which seem to be rather goatlike. That's a credit, as I was raised on a goat farm. We sound reasonably lucid in the recording, and our sentiments remain valid. I ran the text of mine a year ago in this HiPiers column, along with my pained thoughts on my daughter's demise. That pain has eased in the course of a year, but of course will never be entirely gone while we live. Daughter #2 Cheryl was with us for the listening, so she got to hear herself on it too. It was two hours and ten minutes of the outpourings by Penelope's wider family, friends, and associates, a considerable tribute to her. It is apparent that she made a new life when she went to Oregon in the spring of I think 1999, and the child Penny we had known metamorphosed into the adult Penelope, soon a mother in her own right with a new circle of friends. We did visit once in 2001, but could not manage it again. She did visit us, notably in the year of her death, in April when we stored some of her things in her room, and in July when we went to the Homosassa Springs park, a delight for Granddaughter Logan, what with the hippopotamus and all. We were in regular touch by phone and email, and there was her Dreams and Bones Web Site. That warrants its own note: back circa 1995 Penny and I visited my father Alfred in Pennsylvania, and while driving between sites we put in a Pete Seeger tape she had gotten. Penny's taste in music and folk songs echoed mine; she was my girl. And we heard The Garden Song, whose key line for us was Pulling weeds and pitching stones; we are made of dreams and bones. We were both enchanted. I made reference to it in my GEODYSSEY series, and she made it the title of her Web Site. That song concluded the recording of the service, and that got me, taking me back to that pleasant memory. Then after listening, normal life resumed. I had letters to answer, so I took a pile of them upstairs to my computer, not using the stair hand rail because my hand was occupied with the letters. No problem; I balanced well enough. But that reminded me of the time when Penny was less that a year old, learning to balance and walk, and I saw her walk about 20 steps without ever quite touching anything for support. She was making real progress! And that pleasant memory reminded me in a different way that my little girl was gone, never to return, and the pain was back. It's the unexpected reminders that get through your defenses and really hurt. Every so often I go into Penny's room, which she never actually used other than for visits, because by the time our house on the tree farm was built, Penny was in college and forging into her own life. But that quiet room, with her dolls and dresses, is like a minor monument to her memory. It was essentially that way for twenty years before she died, but somehow now it seems as though she just left it, a score of years condensed into the blink of an eye, and the pain is fresh. We really knew her as a child, not as the adult, so our memories are of her youth. Ever thus, with parents. Her time in Oregon was only a decade, but in the period she forged her mature identity, making many friends, impressing many others, as their voices on the recording show. Unfortunately she also developed health issues. As as child she had dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but these we handled. We knew about the melanoma, but not how bad it was; we thought it had been abolished, until that awful last year when it re-manifested with a vengeance, metastasizing to her brain and lung. Even then we did not know how bad it was. She did not want us to know; she minimized it, always cheerful, not telling us her secret terror of it, her tears. I wish I could have been there for her! She had excellent reason to fear it, as it turned out. We also knew about her fibromyalgia, responsible for a number of previously undiagnosed complaints. We did not know that she had also been diagnosed Bi-Polar, which in my day was called Manic-Depressive. In pained retrospect, that explains some problems. Had we known, we might have better understood, though I understand that Bi-Polar can be a mis-diagnosis of ADHD because of similarity of symptoms. So her adult life was complicated and ultimately tragic. How I wish it were not so!


I was passing through the living room, where my wife had TV football on, and paused to watch one play. It was a phenomenal pass and shoestring catch for a touchdown, surely the play of the game. But wouldn't you know it, the officials couldn't let that happen, so they ruled it incomplete, and that team lost the game. The receiver had leaped to catch it, dropped to the ground holding the football, and the last part of his body to hit the ground was the hand holding the football. Obviously the play was long since dead. The ground blasted the football out of his hand, but that hardly mattered, as the ground can't cause a fumble, and he was already down anyway. But they said they were judging by the Process, apparently the process of having the ground cause a fumble. I think those rules makers need to be sent back to school to learn basic football and fair play. I don't watch much football these days, partly because of nonsensical decisions like this one, where wins and losses can be determined not by the quality of the play on the field but by obscure authorities with another agenda. Was that team scheduled by odds-makers not to win, and forgot?


I heard part of a radio program on dealing with the Common Cold. Sure enough, it disparaged Vitamin C. I suspect that many of these supposed experts actually believe the ignorance they repeat. This one mentioned that a daily dose of 200 mg of Vitamin C had only a marginal effect on colds. That is a lie by omission. 200 mg a day has only marginal effectbut 1,000 mg taken every hour has huge effect. That's what the conventional folk make sure never to test. Similar case with Omega 3, a truly beneficial supplement; a study reported it ineffective, without advising that it used margarine, which can be responsible for a number of serious maladies, along with it. That's like mixing your vitamins with arsenic, and reporting that vitamins are bad for you. The vested outfits do have a lot of money to make from continued illness, so do their best to discount any natural remedy that works.


I read A Plethory of Powers by Gerald Costlaw. This is a kind of prequel to The Weaving, which I reviewed before. This is two novellas featuring Rose, the Witch of the Woods. The first is The Case of the Missing Succubus, wherein one of twin succubi disappears and the university is desperate to find her before she eats a man. You see, these succubi lure in rapists, and eat them, leaving only bones. This does marvels for reducing crimes of passion in the neighborhood, but is apt to reflect badly on the University. Those bones in a closet, you know; the parents of students could get the wrong idea. There are magic barriers galore; the succubus couldn't have departed her room unobserved. So where is she? Rose has to find out. So it's a murder mystery with a twist. The second story is Conference of Powers, about a convention where everything goes wrong, sometimes humorously. Standard stuff, anyone who has attended a fan convention will agree, except that its attendees are witches, wizards, a small dragon, and other magical personages, some with more power than common sense. Well, maybe that too is standard. This is light entertainment rather than hard-hitting adventure, but okay as a diversion. Www.pillhillpress.com.


Radio discussion: the concentration of wealth in the top echelon is at the greatest extreme since 1928, just before the great Depression, by no coincidence. A newspaper article confirms it: America's top 20% receive almost 50% of all income. The gap between the richest and poorest is the widest on record. This even seems to affect marriage; marriages fell to a record low, I presume because folk can't afford to commit. The theory is that the wealth that the middle class lost is thus no longer available to power the economy, and so it crashes, or at best becomes anemic. The rich don't need to spend more proportionately for food, clothing and shelter, so the goods and services the nation can generate are not sold to capacity. I see it as like cancer, which actually diverts blood vessels to serve itself, depriving the rest of the body, and in time this is fatal. The cancer will not give up on its own; it has to be cut out or poisoned. I think it is similar with the greedheads who cling like leeches; they will never loosen their hold voluntarily, though the nation perish and they with it. They will continue until we become a plutocracy, a nation ruled by the wealthy; in fact we are already perilously close. It also could become a feudal system, with lords and vassals. I am old and wealthy, so probably will not suffer much personally, masquerading as a lesser lord, but the remaining 90% of you should be concerned. A Robyn Blumner column endorses that, pointing out that under Democratic presidents there was a flattening of income, and real incomes increased faster for all. Under Republican presidents real income slowed for all but the wealthiest. If you want to be a feudal serf, vote Republican.


Perhaps related: newspaper article on whether money can buy happiness. The verdict is yes, and the ideal figure is an income of $75,000 a year. Below that, you are proportionately less happy; above that you aren't any happier. So it seems the super rich are probably not super happy, and that seems to be the case; indulging greed just makes them greedier. So did my happiness peak and level off as I passed that figure three decades ago? I think it did. Certainly I am not exuberantly happy, as the death of my daughter tears at me; there are other things than money. I get my satisfaction from helping people, from writing good novels, and maintaining my physical and mental health to the extent I can. Even little things can bring me transient joy. In the past week a cute little green frog I know, the kind that can perch comfortably on the tip of your finger, was on my targets as I wheeled them out for my archery session. I feared it would never find its own way home to the outdoor thermometer where it lives, so I took it in my hand and brought it back. It didn't jump away; I think it knew I was helping it. And when a little variegated jasmine plant got nipped off, I put wiring around it to protect it, and now it's doing well. Such things are as emotionally important to me as my six figure income. Above the key level, freed from the wolf at the door, a person can indeed pause to smell the roses. I do.


Here is a discussion adapted from a recent Jenny Letter. I still write weekly to my paralyzed correspondent, remarking on anything I think might interest her. In this case, a naughty song.

Something reminded me of a song I heard in college. I may Google it. Well, hell, I'll Google it now. It's Fascinating Bitch. There were these two girls in college, one a cute blonde, the other a cute brunette. They were always together. Then the brunette discovered sex. Wow! She went from boy to boy. The word was she had sex with one boy six times in one night. Once I was waiting in a lounge for my girlfriendyes, the one I marriedand the brunette came to stand beside my chair, a bit too close, and the sexuality fairly steamed from her. I think she was looking for another notch for her panties. I ignored her, but I felt the heat. The other girls of the dormitory were alarmed that she'd get pregnant or VD, as she took no precautions, and they sought to have a session on contraception in a dorm meeting, but the faculty member, ignorant as they tend to be, vetoed it. And the blonde went around singing the song, which I just recovered via Google: I wish I were a fascinating bitch/ I'd never be poor, I'd always be rich/ Once a month I'd take a holiday/ And drive my customers wild!/ I wish I were a fascinating bitch/ Instead of an innocent child. It was so painfully true.


Eddie Fisher died. He was a popular singer of my day, of some note. I was hitchhiking circa 1954 and was picked up by a man whose pitch I realized was for a boy or young man; he would provide me with a nice night at his house, if. I declined, and he did not push it. Much of gay sex, as I understand it, is that way: unforced, in contrast to some hetero sex. On his car radio was a song whose words I still remember: I'm glad I kissed those other lips, before I kissed your own; if I had not kissed those other lips, I never would have known. Years later I heard that song again, on TV, and this time identified the singer: Eddie Fisher, singing it, I think, to Elizabeth Taylor. I believe its title is So Very Young. The curious thing is that though I bought what I thought was a complete collection of Eddie Fisher songs, that one was not among them, and it isn't in my big book of all popular songs; it seems not to exist officially, though I know I didn't imagine it. Is it in the process of being delisted? I remember how Fisher dumped Debbie Reynolds, whom I had seen in a movie; she was the most delicious of creatures and I couldn't understand how he let her go for such a relatively slutty creature. Then their daughter Carrie Fisher was a star on Star Wars. So it's a half way illustrious lineage, one of the few I have been aware of, because I'm mostly tuned out of the celebrity scene. Anyway, Eddie was born six years minus four days before me, roughly my generation. The old order passeth.


I received a letter to my mundane name, meaning they had no idea who I am, which starts Piers, please forgive us, but we have just taken a closer look at your profile. It turns out you're more special than any of us imagined! Did you know that you possess some very rare, hidden traits? In fact there's a famous person (someone you would instantly recognize, he's on TV every night) who possesses these same rare and often hidden traits. ...It turns out that people who possess these same rare and often hidden traits that you do are some of the most famous and successful people on this planet! Piers, you are indeed blessed! I know those around you don't know this yet, but they will! Down deep, you sense it, too. Right? I'm so excited for you! I had three days to respond by sending in the statement that begins I, Piers, feel that something astounding is about to happen in my life! Sigh; I hope they aren't too disappointed that I didn't respond. But here for what it's worth is my public answer: I do believe I am more special than any of you folk imagined, not to mention ornery, and I am already one of the better known and successful fantasy writers extant. Had you known anything about me, you would never have sent me such a sucker solicitation. I am largely anonymous in my mundane life because I choose to be; it's how I protect my personal privacy, and I would not care to have it compromised. As for having something astounding happen in my life, I'd settle for a blockbuster Xanth movie, but I doubt that's what you had in mind. Go stick your head up where the sun don't shine, and take a good bite of what you find there, instead of expecting me to eat it.


Possibly related: victims of Alzheimer's Disease are doubling every 20 years. After age 65, the chance of developing it doubles every five years. At age 85, people have a 50% chance of developing it. I'm 76, and getting older every year; that makes me nervous. But an article on USA WEEKEND says that 25% of us have the Alzheimer's gene, which may indicate that the rate will level off once all of them succumb. Meanwhile, if you have the gene, exercise physically and mentally, drink apple juice, and take plenty of Vitamin D.


At the University of South Florida (USF) they are working on the promise of true solar innovation. This is Solar Window, that can be sprayed on regular glass windows to transform them into efficient energy generating devices using natural light. Thus the prospect of affordable alternative renewable energy. I agree: this is big.


Internet circular: let them build the mosque near ground zero. Then right across the street put up a topless bar, a gay bar, and a pork rib restaurant with big advertising signs soliciting business. Anyone can build anything they want, anywhere, right? Tolerance: It's what America is all about. But about the association with 9-11: I understand that the terrorist radicals bear about the same relation to normal Muslim belief that the Ku Klux Klan does to normal Christianity. The lunatic fringe is not the religion.


From DISCOVER magazine: our brain is shrinking. Has been for the last 100,000 years. Are we getting stupid? Not necessarily. It may be that our larger, more integrated society makes it safer for people, so we don't have to possess complicated defensive skills and don't need the brain power for them. We may be less aggressivea good offense being the best defenseso can save on that aspect. My private theory is that it's like math: it takes a lot of effort and memory to count up a thousand tubers for the tribe's big bash. But we found a smarter way to do it, by arranging them in patterns ten by ten, and counting ten of those. Multiplication takes less brute memory force than addition and is a lot faster. So we learned to handle social skills by similar adaptation. Neandertal man may have been an adder; we are a multiplier. So we get more bang from less brain.


I read Mountain of Whispers by Keith Robinson. The first novel in this series was Island of Fog, a good solid children's novel that adults should also like, featuring eight twelve year old children who were developing the ability to change into other creatures. The sequel was Labyrinth of Fire, where the children completed their abilities in hard-hitting action. This is the third, and it too is compelling. There are serious problem on the world to which they have been taken, and they must seek answers on the dread Mountain of Whispers. It turns out that the whispers are because there is a constant wind blowing into the mountain. How can this be? They explore, though warned that there is a terrible demon therein. That turns out to be just the beginning, and the framework expands. Mysteries are finally resolved. There is also the hint of the beginning of a romance; Abigail likes protagonist Hal, and starts doing flirtatious things like holding his hand, and he is embarrassed but nothing loath. That's as far as it goes; this is a children's novel, remember. I recommend this as I did the other two: read them with your children. www.UnearthlyTales.com.


Newspaper article by Drake Bennett on disgusting things. People who are easily disgusted by bugs are more likely to see gay marriage and abortion as wrong. Putting folk in a foul-smelling fart-sprayed room makes them stricter moral judges. The conjecture is that disgust first arose to ensure that our ancestors steered clear of rancid meat and contagion. So did this lead to the idea that some things are simply right or wrong? What about cross-dressing or whole categories of sexual activity? Understanding that betrayal or child rape is wrong is one thing, but actually being sickened by it is a more powerful form of social control. But it can be misused. Moral reasoning may support policies whose true origin and goals are unknown.


Another newspaper article by Jacques Berlinerblau explores beliefs about life after death. We don't lack narratives about the Beyond we lack science about the Beyond. We want something factual, anything factual, to falsify the apparent truth that when we perish we won't see our children ever again or hear the chuggy groove of a Hammond B-2 organ. God bless nonscientific narratives! As an agnostic on the verge of atheism I have no belief in the supernatural, and the Afterlife is that, but I do appreciate the desire to continue our consciousness and feelings beyond our mortal span. The fear of death is a powerful constituent of religion. I write fantasy, I don't believe it, but I love it.


NEW SCIENTIST has an article whose thesis is that stone tools made us human. That is, technology. If you include the controlled use of fire as a tool, I agree. Now those tools include computers and the Internet. But I also feel that mankind is most truly defined by his art, including painting, dancing, music, sculpture, and storytelling. A man without art is a Philistine in the biblical sense of an enemy of God.


Now there's a new particle, at least new to me: the inflaton. Not inflation; inflaton. It is what made the universe initially expand explosively. There may also be super particles termed sparticles. Well, we'll see.


A diet trick that is said to really work: drink two glasses of water before meals. I drink a glass of water every hour, including right before I eat; maybe it helps me to stay lean. But now that my dentures are working, I am chewing more efficiently, and starting to gain weight on the same amount of food; I have had to cut back on what I eat, to remain level. I take my health seriously, and that includes maintaining a lean healthy weight. Why does it work for me and not for others? Same reason I can write without having a boss constantly breathing down my neck: discipline.


At the end of the month I sorted and filed the voluminous emails, as I usually do; we have printouts of almost everything. It's a dull chore, and I put on the disc included with the Penny Memorial Service of her favorite songs, including The Garden Song. It's lovely and meaningful, and it unified us, but it also refreshes the pain of her loss.


A fan Googled a song I mentioned last column, and advised me that the name is not Abdullah Bulbul Ameer, but Abdul Abulbul Amir. I could have Googled it myself, had I the wit. My geriatric nature keeps inhibiting me. But I do learn, slowly, as the Fascinating Bitch memory and spot research show.


To finish on positives: There has been a movie contract for Split Infinity for the past five years. That has now been extended, and they expect to have the movie in 2013. It was going to be anime, but may become a regular feature film. We'll see. There is also serious new interest in Xanth; we'll see how that works out. I'm sure there will be movies; I just hope to see them within my lifetime.

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