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Kate Schaefer

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August 2nd, 2015

10:24 pm: Saying goodbye, again
Yesterday I went to the funeral for my friend Bruce Durocher. Bruce E. Durocher, II, master of digression and unusual facts. I had expected to be sad but okay, the way one generally is at a funeral of a someone who had been ill for a very long time; instead, I wept uncontrollably all the way through. Some of that weeping was for Bruce; some was for all the other people I miss. Any funeral is a reminder of other funerals, and at this point in my life, my accumulated funeral count is pretty high.

I was hit hardest by the music. The first hymn went, "The strife is o’er, the battle done; The victory of life is won; The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!" -- and I'm trying to sing along, it's a completely familiar hymn that I sang in my youth, but only a little croak comes out of my mouth, and the tears are splashing on the pew in front of me.

I'm thinking, song of triumph my eye. I'm angry that Bruce didn't get to have a lot more years. I think about Bruce the last time I saw him, a few days before his death, and I try to think about Bruce earlier in life instead. I use three kleenex in the first hymn.

There are readings from the old and new testaments. The officiant sings a lot of the service, a feature I hadn't realized Episcopalian funerals would have. I try to figure out which parts of the service Bruce would have enjoyed and which parts would have made him shrug his shoulders. I could hear him explain the historical progression that led to the modern Episcopalian service, only I couldn't because he wasn't there. I remember his voice, the rhythm of his speech, but I can't remember what he'd say because he hadn't said it yet. I know he would have known something obscure and entertaining.

I'm weirded out by the officiant carrying a Bible (I assume it's a Bible; it's a big closed book with a cross on the tooled leather cover) into the aisle and holding it over his head during part of the service. I was in a generic United Church of Christ congregation in my youth, with very little in the way of pageantry, followed by a few years of an even more informal Baptist congregation. This church is named after John the Baptist, but they're clearly not washed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb dunked-in-the-river folks. I consider it a bit silly that I have opinions about Christian services given that I'm an atheist. I stand up and sit down when appropriate, and I keep my mouth shut during the prayers.

Dave Howell gets up and sings "Morning Has Broken." He sings it beautifully. I'm running out of room for used kleenex in my bag. Did Bruce like this song? Bruce liked music, but I don't remember his opinion on any particular piece of music. I like this song.

The service ends, and the bell tolls. I try to count the peals, because I think they have some meaning that I can look up later, but I lose track and wander off to John Donne (because really, one must) until I realize that we're expected to recess out to the churchyard while singing "Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, lord of love." Again, it's a hymn I know well, though I've always made fun of these lyrics ("Hearts unfold like flowers before thee -- " really? Origami hearts, maybe?). The Beethoven tune is of course heartbreaking even or perhaps especially in this situation. I still can't sing, so I walk out with Amy Thomson to the churchyard. The officiant says the appropriate words, and I think, Dust thou art, to dust returneth, was not spoken of the soul. Not a great poem, and yet it's full of memorable lines. Tell me not in mournful numbers, damn your eyes. I love many poems that are not great. Dunno what Bruce thought of it; I don't know what most of my friends think of most of the poems I like.

Margaret pours Bruce's ashes into the rather small hole prepared for them. A slight breeze stirs them up, and a bit of Bruce blows over us all. She trowels some dirt over the ashes, and I think, this is very hard, to make Margaret do this, but of course every bit of ritual is something she chose to do and something she and Bruce talked about before he died. These rituals have traditional reasons behind them, and they do help people heal. I think. I expect that either I'll carry Glenn's ashes out to the forest or he'll carry mine, some day, and pouring them into the earth and burying them will be hard, very hard, but it will be a thing we'll want to do, to have done.

I remember eating dinner after my maternal grandmother's non-interment, with the urn full of her ashes sitting on a chair in her sister's country club because we'd scheduled the service on a day when the sextant didn't dig holes and we weren't allowed to dig a hole ourselves. "Marian always loved a party," said Joan, and Virginia giggled. My great-aunts: Virginia died a few years after that, and Joan died last year. That accumulated funeral count again. I wonder if I ever told Bruce funny funeral stories. I bet he had some of his own, but I don't remember them.

We go to the parish hall, where the church ladies are serving coffee, punch, and cookies. We sit with friends and talk about Bruce. I remember the world's best orange peeler, a gadget Bruce had by the cartload because of some long-ago business venture of his dad's. Bruce gave us all orange peelers, maybe 10-15 years ago. "Oh, is that where that came from?" says Eileen. We all agree that they were, indeed, the world's best orange peelers, but that most people don't need a single-purpose orange peeler when a paring knife does the job nearly as well.

Dave talks about how kind Bruce was, how he was always doing things to make other people happy, how he wasn't ambitious because he had achieved his purpose in life: trying to make other people, and especially Margaret, happy.

After a while, we hug Margaret and go away.

Today, I remember Bruce singing in his slight but accurate low tenor voice: "Morning has broken, call the repairman. He said he'd be over an hour ago." I know Bruce wasn't the first person I heard sing that parody, not by years (I think that would have been my high school friend Melody Oakley, which adds both to my melancholy because Melody died of lung cancer a few years back and to the sweetness of the bittersweet memory, because Melody was also a person who always made connections between other people, who worked to surprise people in small pleasant ways and to get other people to be kind to each other, a much harder task). Bruce loved parodies. I wonder if Margaret and Dave had that in mind when they chose that song. Whether they did or not, it makes me happy to have that association.

Goodbye, Bruce. I know this entry is all about me and not about you. I am so sorry not to know what stories you would have told in response to my stories. I know they would have surprised me.

March 8th, 2015

03:55 pm: Some Hugo recommendations
I’m filling out my Hugo ballot now, having waited until almost the last minute. Most of the stories I’m considering appeared in reasonably large-circulation venues. Two of them didn’t, since they were first published in Questionable Practices, the anthology of Eileen Gunn’s work that came out from Small Beer Press last year. I’m making a blatant plug for them now. They’re in categories that frequently don’t get a lot of nominations.

You can read them online.

Novella: http://questionablepractices.net/Eileen-Gunn-Phantom-Pain.pdf

Novelette: http://questionablepractices.net/Eileen-Gunn-Chop-Wood-Carry-Water.pdf

February 17th, 2015

11:43 am: What's blooming?
What's blooming in my yard today? Winter honeysuckle, snowdrops, snow crocus, daffodils (both King Alfred and February Gold), regular crocus, alyssum, anemones, dandelions, those little purple weeds whose name I can never remember, and those little white weeds that I think are called don't-touch-me because they shoot their seeds out in a really satisfying yet irritating way when you do, some weeks from now.

My sympathies to everyone under several feet of snow in the east. It's not far in the back of my mind that we may have a drought this summer because we're not building up snowpack in the mountains now, but I'll enjoy this spring while it happens.

January 8th, 2015

08:41 pm: I am/je suis Charlie Hebdo/Ahmed Merabet/Daniel Pearl/Marcela Yarce/Malala Yousafzai/Ali Ferzat
I am Charlie Hebdo. Why am I Charlie Hebdo?

I am Charlie Hebdo because I sometimes say outrageous things, and I have the right -- I believe very strongly that I have the right -- to say those outrageous things. I have the right to say those outrageous things even if they are stupid and offensive, even if I am wrong to say those things.

I am not Charlie Hebdo because I think I should not say those outrageous things. I think I should not offend my neighbors. And yet I believe -- I believe very strongly -- that I have the right to offend my neighbors, and that sometimes I must offend my neighbors.

I am Ahmed Merabet because I defend my right to say outrageous things, and your right to say outrageous things, and everyone's right to say outrageous things. I am Ahmed Merabet because I defend your right to say things that outrage me, and your right to go on living in freedom after you say those things. I am Ahmed Merabet because I am not brave enough to be Ahmed Merabet in truth, but I am brave enough to call out his bravery. It was simple bravery in the course of doing his job, and he died doing that job, which included protecting -- trying to protect -- people who insulted the things in which he believed.

And while I am claiming solidarity with people who were braver than I am and who are now dead, I will also claim to be a slain American journalist and a slain Mexican journalist and a living Pakstani schoolgirl shot in her face and a living Syrian cartoonist with both hands broken. I cannot be as brave as any of them, or at least I have not been called to be as brave as any of them. All I do now is to say that I see their bravery, and I hope that if I should face any of the impossible, horrible conditions they faced, I could face them as bravely as they did, even though I fear that I could not. I witness their lives and their suffering and I claim solidarity with them, knowing that to do so is equal parts pompous and humble.

December 3rd, 2014

03:48 pm: 29 years
Glenn and I have been an item for 29 years today. Twenty-nine years ago, we went to the Old College Inn, ate a pile of nachos, drank a couple Redhooks, and shifted from being co-workers to whatever it is people are who have agreed that they're seeing each other socially, seriously, for the next while.

I'm not bored yet.

November 27th, 2014

08:00 pm: Remembering Stu Shiffman
I can't remember meeeting Stu, but it must have happened at the 1976 worldcon in Kansas City. By the 1977 world in Miami Beach, I knew Stu and had a minor crush on him, which he ignored. Stu always sucked at flirtation, but he was fabulous at friendship.

During the late seventies, it was easy to take the train from New Haven to New York City for a weekend and stay on somebody's couch or floor. Stu's floor in Washington Heights was not the most comfortable place to sleep, but I was more flexible then. I didn't go often, because train fare was about eight bucks round-trip, and I didn't have eight bucks to spare. I went often enough that I can remember Stu explaining Indian food to me. "It's really good this way," he'd say, sweat and tears streaming down his face from the five-star hotness. Mine came with one star, because my midwestern taste buds had never experienced curry before, let alone hot curry. Stu also demonstrated the wonderful sauna qualities of Szechuan cuisine for me ("See those dark red things? Don't eat those"). I think we didn't learn about spicy Mexican cuisine until we had both moved to the west coast years later.

Stu was utterly sweet and kind and quietly fierce. If I were completely collected, I'd have an anecdote to go with each of those adjectives, but I'm not, so I don't. I needed a shoulder a lot when we were in our twenties, and his was reliable.

We used to worry that he'd never find a partner -- because he didn't look! because he didn't notice when people exhibited great interest in him! because you would need to whack him upside the head and then quote lines from about fifty old movies before he'd get the point! -- and then Andi Shechter whacked him upside the head and knew which old movie lines to quote. They've been partners now for so long that it's a little weird to remember that they became partners at a point that we thought then was really late in life -- around thirty or so, practically middle-aged. Now, I think it's the stage when you just get going. It was about the same time that I found my partner myself.

Andi made Stu so happy. Stu made Andi so happy. She got his jokes; he got her jokes. Their interests weren't all the same, but they overlapped in a way that worked well for both of them. They lived together in Boston for a while, then moved to Seattle, where they lived in our basement for a few weeks before moving into the ground floor apartment in Greenwood where they lived until very recently. It was downstairs from Jerry and Suzle's apartment, a continuation in a way of the New York neighborhood where Jerry and Stu had shared an apartment.

They had some serious stuff to deal with over the years. Complicated health, job, family, finance: the things everyone has to deal with, only more so, much more so. They supported each other throughout. The last two years, since Stu's stroke, have been exceptionally hard. Their wedding in July, after so many years, was a joyous occasion, one of the best parties I've ever attended.

Oh, there's more I want to write, much more, but for now I'll stop. Goodbye, Stu.

June 15th, 2014

12:07 pm: Remembering Jay
You know where I live sometimes? I live in databases. It was my job, when I had a job, and it's what I do as a volunteer. Today I ticked a box in a database to mark Jay Lake as deceased, and it hit me, as it hadn't really hit me until now, that Jay is really dead. It's not that I hadn't known it before, and it's not that I hadn't been sad about it before, but it hadn't gut-punched me before. Jay's dead, and today I had to do something minor and official about that, and I sat down on the floor and sobbed for a few moments.

Jay Lake was my cancer buddy. He was probably your cancer buddy, too. He was cancer buddies with a lot of people, people he knew, people he'd never meet, and probably people who will find his words years from now and take comfort and courage from them.

Jay was my buddy in real life before he was my cancer buddy, but in a much more casual way. I saw him at Orycons and at Clarion West parties; we talked about writing and about how Clarion West had missed the boat, turning him down years before. Jay was always a colorful presence in his Hawai'ian shirts; hell, he'd have been colorful in white shirts and black suits. He dueled with pool noodles instead of swords, sold manuscripts at auction like a pro selling cattle, could double an entendre in several languages, classical and modern.

We started corresponding and talking about cancer after his first dramatic diagnosis. At that point, my sister was a several-year survivor of colon cancer, and I could say to Jay, been there with someone I loved, she made it, you can, too, and these were the things she did that made chemo less horrible. A while later, Jay was doing well, but my sister had colon cancer again, and Jay could say to me, hang in there, how's your sister, these are the things I learned my first time around. He helped me get through that fear of losing her, a fear which was stronger the second time through.

And then Jay had cancer again. My sister and Jay would pass messages via me to each other about their chemo ports and dealing with various gastrointestinal issues. They never met; they never spoke; I'm not sure I ever told Jay my sister's name (her name is Gini). Maybe they had a camaraderie of illness, or maybe they had just learned that their support system got stronger when it functioned as more of a network of people supporting multiple sick people.

Gini's doing well now; every day of her life is a bonus. We've lost Jay, and I expect I'll miss him at random points for the rest of my life, just as I miss my other deceased friends and relations at random points already. I got no great philosophical wrapup for this entry. Get on with living your life; Jay lived his thoroughly while he was alive.

March 17th, 2014

09:23 pm: In praise of the somewhat good humble text editor
Most of you won't care about this, but if you need to edit some messy data in text format or look closely at some long, tangled lines of code, Ian Mead's UltraEdit is the best. It's been a while since I've had to use it, but it's still the best.

And now, back to that messy data.

February 7th, 2014

08:15 pm: Asimov's table of contents
A few days ago, I got my copy of the March 2014 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, with a story by Cat Rambo on the cover. Opposite the table of contents, there's an ad for this summer's Clarion West Writers Workshop, with instructors Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley. It's a fine line-up.

And then in the table of contents, there's that cover novelette by Cat Rambo, Clarion West 2005, and short stories by Jay O'Connell, Clarion West 1994, Genevieve Williams, Clarion West 2002, and Dominica Phetteplace, Clarion West 2007. I think, yeah, this is why I volunteer for this workshop.

My smug feeling lasts long enough for me to flip through the contents of the previous issue, which had only one CW alumnus in it (Greg Beatty, CW 2000). Well, the hell with smugness. If you're a beginning science fiction or fantasy writer and you're interested in going to a challenging six-week summer workshop, Clarion West might be the place for you. Apply by midnight Pacific Time on March 1; apply by midnight on February 10 to get $10 off on the application fee.

December 29th, 2013

05:23 pm: Drapes
If you have ever made your own lined drapes with formal headers, I now know that no one can possibly have properly appreciated your work. I applaud you. I don't even need to see the drapes you made in order to know that you deserve applause.

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