December 27, 2003

Holiday Blues

It finally hit me today: my mother is dead and there is no going home for Christmas.

I don't know why it came out of left field and whacked me upside the head this late in the game. She died last spring, but then again, I haven't been home for the holidays in at least a decade, so why this year, and why two days late? I don't know. I'd ask my shrink, but I don't have one. I spent the day in a sort of blue fog that would have made things touchy, but everyone in my little nuclear family is too preoccupied with their own lives to notice. My wife and younger son spent the day getting ready to head off to visit her parents. We spend every New Year's at her parents house. I'm not sure why it worked out that way, but it did. I'm not bitter, mind you, but today I spent a lot of time wondering if things should have been more even-handed. For the next two days only my elder son and I will be home, and he'll mostly be hanging out with his baseball team. Lots of internet game time, and then I climb on a bus and spend five hours riding down to visit a family that works really hard trying to make me feel at home but never quite manages it. Not their fault, mine. Despite my best intentions, at heart I'm still an American and I feel it the most during the winter holidays.

We put the Christmas tree away today. My Japanese wife baked an American-style apple pie.

Is it irony, clairvoyance, or some perverse form of poetic justice?

Doesn't matter. The pie is sweetly delicious and so is she.

December 05, 2003

Robert Heinlein

When I was in high school I began reading the works of Robert A. Heinlein. At the time, the most important thing in the world was a rollicking adventure, a tough hero, and a beautiful damsel in distress. His books contained all that, and much more. Much to my own surprise, I never came away from a Heinlein book without something to think about. His books always contained some idea so dramatically in contradiction with the values of those around me it seemed unthinkable. Robert Heinlein's books made me question the accepted definitions of love, freedom, and independence. His sardonic wit and clear-eyed analysis of the world around him pulled me into my own patterns of constant questioning and never settling for a simple answer. Science fiction taught me to look at the world and see it not for what I want it to be, or even for what I think it should be, but purely for what it is. Robert Heinlein's fiction convinced me to focus on facts.

Now I am a much older man. I am forty-two, and even that will change in a few more months. The other day I pulled my copy of "Time Enough for Love" off my shelf, dusted it off, and began reading. What once seemed nothing more than a simple tale of an old man whose friends talked him into rediscovering the joy of living has become a complex tapestry of interlinked epics touching on the lessons of history, the value of love, and what it means to be human. Sub-plots like the computer Minerva's craving to be human weave together themes from Pinocchio, Little Mermaid, and even Cinderella. Mini-epics like "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" are packed solid with hidden allusions to mythologies so old no one can say for certain when or where they actually began. Ishtar and Dumuzi, Samson and Delilah, Persephone and Hades are all hiding just below the surface waiting patiently for the inquisitive mind to discover them. Robert Heinlein's "cheap" science fiction contains so many references to so many different cultures it's no wonder so many people find it shallow and meaningless. It's easy to dismiss something you don't really understand.