It’s neat when technology works

Sometimes, technology really is remarkable. Right now, I’m sitting on the porch in South Carolina, with my computer open, and I got a text message from a friend in New Jersey, with a question about Mensa admissions testing. I thought I knew the answer, but opened another window to text the Mensa Testing Officer, who I know is on a train between New York City and Maine. She responded almost instantly, and I replied with the information (my assumption had been correct). It’s cool when all the pieces work as they ought.

Post-lecture feelings

easternoklahomatalkadI just finished giving my talk on Isaac Asimov for Eastern Oklahoma Mensa. Had a great time! I think nearly ten percent of the group’s membership was there (they said it was the best turn-out they’ve had in a long time). And they were a responsive crowd, despite the limitations of Zoom (I really, really miss doing my talks in person, where I can properly interact with people).

And they made this awesome ad for their Facebook group! Isn’t it neat?

Every time I do one of these talks, I get pumped up. The adrenaline rush comes after I’m done, but that was the joy with being in-person: after a talk, I could hang out with people, keep the evening going. Talking via Zoom, once it ends, the Zoom window shuts down, and I go right back to sitting in the house by myself <pout>. So now I’m amped up, and nothing to do with it. Oh well, I’ll try to save it up for when the world re-opens.

Read some sf today

On several pages, I’m seeing that today is National Science Fiction Day, so chosen because it coincides with Isaac Asimov’s birthday. Well, I’m a science fiction writer and publisher, so that’s as good a reason as any to encourage you to go read some science fiction.
It also reminds me that, next Saturday, I’ll be the monthly speaker for Eastern Oklahoma Mensa, talking about “A Century of Asimov” and my time with him. I won’t actually be in Oklahoma (which is one of the 15 states I have not yet visited), but I’ll be using the formerly science fictional method of Zoom to join them electronically.

A weekend of people and art

Nancy Heppner, Dolores Llodra, Pamela Weinstock, and me, at the GNYM holiday party 2021.

It was a weekend of people and art: kind of exciting, kind of tiring. And now I’m getting ready for a long science fiction convention selling books.

10dec2021bFriday was Greater New York Mensa’s holiday party. Kind of a small turn-out, but a nice time. Well, except for the fact that Pamela felt the need to enhance my eyebrows with some of the cotton otherwise decorating the intensely decorated Papillon Bistro and Bar on 54th Street. Eh, it wasn’t that bad.

10dec2021cAfter the party, I walked to the subway with a new friend, past the Alliance-Bernstein Building, which has this cool globe in front. And here’s a close-up of it.

11dec2021aGot home late, and then got up early to ride the subway back into Manhattan. Got off at Canal Street and walked through the Lower East Side, seeing things I rarely see, such as this view of the Woolworth Building, and the Jewish Daily Forward Building (of which I didn’t take any pictures, but see this link:
or this one:

11dec2021bI was walking through the LES to meet up with Michele, Mary, and Erin for the Interactive Van Gogh exhibit on Pier 36. (Talking about it yesterday, I learned that there’s another, competing immersive Van Gogh exhibit in New York City; I didn’t see that one.) I walked around the building, took some pictures of the river and the bridges, and got to the entrance right on time. The exhibit was very impressive, though not exactly what I was expecting (obviously, I hadn’t read enough of it before we went). It was less like an art gallery, more like an all-around-you movie with a (slightly too loud) soundtrack. The exhibit takes Van Gogh’s paintings, projects them on the walls (and floors), animates pieces of them, duplicates and overlaps them, and sets it all to music. But it has a definite start and end point, as we discovered when the display ended with a credit scroll after half an hour… and then restarted. Two of the rooms are smaller, very dark, with interesting mirrored sculptures. The third, large room is much brighter (and in this room, the displays are also projected on the floor, making us part of it all. Michele commented on seeing the brush strokes, and as the images enlarged on the wall, it was very easy to see the individual strokes. I sat there a bit, trying to decide if we’d chosen the proper spot, or if, like the cosmological principle, every spot was the center point, the focal point of the show. Whichever it was, I got a good dose of art. I noticed a lot of people taking a lot of photos and videos while in the exhibit, but I decided to just absorb it, rather than try to record it, so if you want to see what it looks like, check out the link.

11dec2021cAfter the show, of course, there’s the gift shop and the pose-in-it frame (with poor lighting), so I did.

11dec2021dThen Chris joined us for a nice brunch, and then Erin left us, and the new quartet went up to 14th Street for the Banksy: Genius or Vandal? exhibit. He’s a very talented artist, and some of his pieces really grabbed me, but overall, I was less pleased with this one. It might have been the repeated theory that Banksy is opposed to capitalism, consumerism, etc., yet he sells limited edition prints of many of his works, and the exhibit charged a fairly hefty entry fee, and of course there’s the obligatory gift shop at the end… Well, it’s not really my taste. But for those who are fans, this is a good display of a lot of his work (in a much more traditional gallery format). And as with Van Gogh, I didn’t bother taking pictures in the exhibit.

11dec2021eAnd after that exhibit, we walked up town to Penn Station to get Michele to the train. Then we walked around Macys to see the windows, as the mist turned into a light rain, and Chris peeled off to catch his train. Then Mary and I walked up town, through the winter village in Bryant Park, through the mobs in Times Square, and out past the tree in Rockefeller Center, and to Saks, where we caught the lights-and-music show. Then we turned around, made better time walking south on Fifth Avenue (past the Library, with Patience and Fortitude wreathed for the season), and got Mary back to Penn Station minutes before her train left.

Then I walked back to Herald Square, caught my subway home, and got into the house five minutes before the light rain turned into a torrential downpour. A very nice two days with good friends (and one of these days, I’ll learn to take pictures of the people with me).

Jessica Young, my friend from Mensa

jessicayoung1995I’ve just learned of the death of Jessica Young, on November 23. I knew it was coming for a long time, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Last February, she emailed to tell me she had inoperable pancreatic cancer (the same thing that killed my grandmother two decades ago), and that she’d just been through a year of chemotherapy and high intensity radiation treatment. So I spent the last year sending her chatty emails every month or so, just to let her know I was thinking of her, and because I really was thinking of her.

jessicaandian2014I first met her at the Mensa Annual Gathering in St. Louis in 1995, where she took me to the Gateway Arch. We ran into each other again a few years later, at the AG in Philadelphia in 2000, which cemented our friendship. After that, we saw each other intermittently, at Annual Gatherings. With the coming of smart phones, we communicated more often, sharing fireworks photos when we weren’t at Independence Day celebrations together. We saw each other only rarely, but every time, it was just picking up where we’d left off the last time, one long friendship.

ianjessica2016Only once did we see each other outside of Mensa: In February 2016, her chorus sang at Carnegie Hall, and she was in New York for nearly a week. I got to see her most of the days she was in town, showing her around my home town, enjoying her concert, seeing a Broadway show, just hanging out, as good friends do.

She hadn’t responded to my most recent emails, and I knew the end was near. But a few days ago—at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving—I wondered that I hadn’t heard anything from her. After getting home tonight, I did a web search for “Jessica Young obituary,” and found it: she really is gone.

Jessica Cerridwyn Young was a member of St. Louis Area Mensa. She is survived many family members and friends, all of whom, I’m sure, saw her far more often than I, and were far closer to her than I, and thus will miss her even more. But she was a very dear Mensa friend to me, and the excitement of next year’s AG will be tempered with the melancholy of knowing she won’t be there.

Philcon, this weekend

philcon_logoIt’s starting to feel like the before-times again. I just got back from a weekend on the road (I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, for Charlotte Blue Ridge Mensa‘s Regional Gathering, which hosted the AMC meeting), and now I’m getting ready to leave Friday for Philcon, my second science fiction convention of the new world.

As a typical science fiction convention, I’ll be spending most of my time in the dealers’ room at the Fantastic Books table. We’ll have many copies of Allen Steele’s brand new novel Sanctuary, and of the non-fiction book On Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (I’m hoping to have Delany himself at the table for some of the time, to sign copies). But I’m also on programming. If you’re looking to catch me there, my scheduled items include:

Friday at 6:00 PM in Plaza 2: “Perils and Pitfalls of Near-Future Scenarios” with Jennifer Povey, Margaret Riley, Michael A. Ventrella, and Joan Wendland

Saturday at 1:00 PM in Plaza 4: “Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age” with Neil Clarke, Gordon Linzner, Margaret Riley, and Ann Stolinsky.

Saturday at 5:00 PM in Plaza 3: “The Future You Imagine is the Future You Get” with Mitchell Gordon, Mark Roth-Whitworth, and Jeff Warner.

Saturday at 7:00 PM in Plaza 3: “Alternate Histories” with Scheherazade Jackson, Roberta Rogow, Mark Roth-Whitworth, and Chuck Rothman.

Sunday at 11:00 AM in Plaza 5: “A New Dune” with Randee Dawn, Barna William Donovan, Robert Hranek, and Lawrence Kramer.

I hope to see a lot of you there!

Back on the road and on the stage

I went to Boston Mensa’s Wicked Good RG this weekend. It was a bit smaller than in the past (but then again, what convention isn’t these days?), but it was a very good time. Most of that, of course, was due to seeing friends in person who I hadn’t seen in almost two years. But I also got a chance to play a few strategy-type games, which I hadn’t been able to do in a long time, so I enjoyed that.

And I gave a brand-new talk, one that I finished writing (oops!) about twelve hours before we left home to get there. It was my first time on a live stage since before the pandemic, so getting my legs back under me to interact with a live audience was a bit nerve-wracking, but I quickly fell into the old rhythms (I really do love being on that kind of stage). And the audience was quite enthusiastic, so I’m going to polish the talk a bit more. If your group would be interested in hearing about “Punctilious Punctuation,” let me know. I describe it as “telling tales with (and of) those jots and tittles, including why they’re called jots and tittles, and the horrifying story of why the period goes inside the quotation marks.” And the long-form write-up is:

What sets humans apart from the animals is our ability to miscommunicate with language. With thoughts, ideas, musings, and maunderings on what we’re trying to communicate, with a plethora of words meaning almost exactly the same thing, we stumble to communicate; sometimes even to think. But as confusing as all those words are, they would be much, much harder to understand if it weren’t for the punctuation we use—when writing—to divide them, group them, emphasize them, and combine them. The horror of texting (and newspapers’ space-saving attempts) may be responsible for turning punctuation into a dying art form. But Ian Randal Strock posits that punctuation is not only necessary, but beautiful, evocative, meaningful… and a heck of a lot of fun. Come listen to this talk… if you dare. You may find yourself agreeing that the “schmutz” on the page really deserves our love.{[(‘/’, “;”, ‘:’)]}

fivervcsThe weekend was also remarkable for a certain group of attendees. We managed to take a picture with five of the six Region 1 Regional Vice Chairman who are in attendance. Left to right are: Lisa Maxwell (2015-17), Deb Stone (1999-2000), Teresa Campbell (2021- ), Lori Norris (2007-11), Ian Randal Strock (2017-21). Not pictured, but at the RG: Andrew Heffernan (2011-15). And talk about Mensa leadership positions: Lisa also served as Secretary. Deb was Chairman and Treasurer (the first person to serve on the AMC in another role after serving as chairman), and is currently a trustee of the Mensa Foundation. Lori is currently the First Vice Chairman, and was Secretary. And I’m currently the Secretary of the American Mensa Committee (the board of directors of this member-led organization).