Monday, August 14, 2017

The Burden of Freedom

I've been struggling with trying to put down my thoughts after witnessing the events that took place in my city this weekend. 

I had decided in advance not to go to the rally, as repugnant as I found it and as much sympathy as I had for the counter-protesters.  These troglodytes came from out of town looking for attention, looking for a fight.  With all of the firearms sure to be on display and with passions running high on both sides, I figured someone was going to get hurt.  I thought they'd get shot-- the possibility of someone using a car as a weapon didn't really occur to me.  From now on, it will. 

One issue that I keep circling back to is the issue of freedom of speech.  This is one of the founding principles of our society-- right there in the First Amendment to our Constitution-- so it's not something to be shrugged off lightly.  One fundamental principle that I remember vividly from my Constitutional Law class in law school is that if the Freedom of Speech doesn't protect the worst, most heinous type of speech, it can't protect any of it.  As repulsive as the words of the Nazis who polluted our town are, they have the right to say them.

However, there are limits.

You can't yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  You can't deliberately cause a panic and create a dangerous situation.

You can't incite a riot.  You aren't allowed to use your words to turn someone else into your weapon.

You can't use "fighting words."  Interestingly, the case that first explored this principle in depth involved a Jehovah's witness who was preaching (yelling) on a street corner, and when the town marshal went to stop him, he called the marshal a "fascist."  The Supreme Court found that this speech was not protected, that it was a grave enough personal insult to excuse the marshal's response (which was, I believe, arresting the guy, not punching him, although honestly I'm not sure.  Given the time period, it may have been both).  Of course, the people who came to stir up trouble this weekend call themselves fascists, Nazis, and worse, so I don't think they can take any comfort from the facts of this particular case.

These principles show those of us who wish to stand up to these purveyors of hate and stupidity the limits of what we can and cannot do, but they also show us a path forward.

We cannot ask the government to outlaw their beliefs.  If their lives are so pathetic that the only thing they can find to take pride in is the accident of their birth and the likely false belief that their ancestry is somehow "pure," there is very little anyone can say to convince them otherwise. But we can insist that the authorities make sure that when they dress up in their costumes and have their chest-thumping public displays of their deep-seated inferiority complexes that their psychodramas stay within Constitutional boundaries.

I continue to believe that the best way to fight speech we disagree with is more speech, not attempting to stop the offensive speech. 

Do your research.

Practice discipline.

The second thought that I've had is that lesson that we have lost from the Civil Rights movement is the power of nonviolence.  People mistakenly believe that active nonviolence is a display of weakness. It is not.  It takes practice, discipline, training. It is hard work.

Our instincts when threatened are to defend ourselves-- to fight back.  Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, and John Lewis studied Mahatma Gandhi and learned the lessons that changed our country despite the best efforts of the KKK and fascists of the time, a time when they acted under the absolute color of law and with the confidence of knowing that law enforcement and the judicial system were largely on their side.  The images of children getting blasted with fire hoses, of college students getting beaten bloody, of peaceful assemblies being broken up with vicious attack dogs were more effective than any amount of words.  And once King and Farmer and Lewis had everyone's attention with those images, they were able to make them listen to their words.

These folks who call themselves the "anti-fa" are demonstrating, unwittingly, exactly why King and Farmer and Lewis were right.  Responding to violence with violence, no matter how just the cause, only begets... more violence.  The modern alt-right is clever-- I wouldn't say "smart," but clever.  They know what to say to provoke a response, and they use those images of Bohemian hippy chicks screaming obscenities and black-clad hooded figures throwing tear gas to proclaim their victimhood and win sympathy.  While Jason Kessler may have a face that begs for a fist, giving in to that impulse only strengthens his platform and increases his visibility. 

Condoleeza Rice tells the story of growing up in Birmingham when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed by the same organization that brought their ugly rhetoric to our town, valiantly murdering 4 little girls, classmates of Ms. Rice.  When the time came for the responding nonviolent protest, her father-- a WWII veteran-- stayed at home.  When she asked him why, he told her that he understood Dr. King's call to nonviolence and respected it, but he knew himself well enough to know that he couldn't do it.  If someone hit him, he knew that he would hit back, and he knew that would be disastrous, not only for him personally, but for the movement.  The KKK only needed one photo of a big, black guy KO-ing a white man and all the work of the Civil Rights movement would be over.  So he stayed home and found other ways to contribute.

We may all be wise to consider the wisdom of the ones who fought this battle before us... and won.  Sometimes the best way to fight is to sit down, or kneel.  Sometimes the best way to support something you believe in is to stay away.  But if you do go, have the discipline to make sure that you don't inadvertently strengthen your enemy.

Be safe, folks.  And don't forget that in the end, love wins.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chocolate Syrup Cake

Mom called last night with an unusual request:  Aunt Sue told her that her assisted living facility is putting together a cookbook to sell as a fundraiser for Alzheimer's research, and they're asking the residents to contribute their favorite recipes.  She particularly wants to submit her recipe for her favorite chocolate cake, and she knows that I have gathered all of her recipes and have been sorting them out.  Mom asked her how I would know which recipe was the right one, and she said, "Well, it's got a whole can of Hershey's syrup in it..."

As it turns out, I found two versions of this recipe, one called simply "Chocolate Syrup Cake" and one called Devil's Food Cake.  The cake part is the same, but the icing recipe is different:  One is for a two layer cake and the other is for a 13x9 sheet cake, so I assume that explains the difference in the icing.  Anyhoo, here you go:

1 cup sugar
1 stick butter or margarine
4 eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 16 oz. can Hershey's syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream together sugar and butter; add eggs, one at a time, and beat well.  Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.  Alternate adding flour mixture and chocolate syrup to the butter and egg mixture; add vanilla last and beat well. 

Grease and flour either a 13" x 9" sheet cake pan (or glass casserole dish) or two 9" round layer pans; add cake batter.  Bake for 30 minutes, then turn off oven and let cake(s) gradually cool for 10 minutes before removing from oven.

Icing for sheet cake

1 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup milk

Mix together, bring to a boil.  Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in:

1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Beat until consistency to spread; spread over cake in pan.

Icing for layer cake

2 squares dark chocolate
2/3 cup milk
2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. white Karo syrup
1/2 stick butter or margarine
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Melt chocolate in milk until thoroughly dissolved.  Add sugar gradually.  When it begins to boil, add syrup.  Cook, stirring constantly, and test as for fudge by dropping in cold water (soft ball stage).  Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla; beat until right consistency to spread.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Aunt Jean

Not In Vain - Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

I have come here today to say a few words about my Aunt Jean. Let me begin by acknowledging that some of you knew her as Mary Jean, but to me she was always Aunt Jean, so that’s how I will refer to her.

I feel I have to start by acknowledging that Jean’s life is not one that lends itself to an easy summary. If there was ever anyone who truly marched to her own drummer, it was Jean—a trait that is apparently genetic [significant look at Mark and Ian].

To someone on the outside looking in, it would be easy to assume that she had a difficult life, defined by a series of trying circumstances. She was a single mother at a time when that was uncommon. She suffered a couple of severe injuries at work that resulted in years of hearings and appeals on top of sometimes grueling and tedious medical treatment. Looking at her this way, it would be easy to miss the quiet courage and sheer persistence that it took to make her choices and continue her battles, and to overlook the ease and resilience with which she met each new challenge. She marched to her own drummer, but she also lived by her own values, and that is something to be respected.

First of all, it is impossible to talk about Jean without talking about her art. It was so much a part of who she was and how she interacted with the world. A simple brush or pencil in her hand was a magic wand—with a few deft strokes she could capture a moment or tell a story. When I was a child, I was frequently complimented on my artistic ability and told that I must have gotten my talent from my Aunt Jean. I took that as an enormous compliment, but it wasn’t until I got older that I understood just how good she really was. I took my first drawing and painting classes in high school, and quickly realized that I am what’s known as a “realist” or realistic painter—I pretty much paint or draw what I see. Jean was an impressionist—she painted with blobs and smears and light and colors, and when she was done, what she created was more beautiful—more true—than any photograph. I was humbled.

Please allow me a moment of artistic geekery here, but I also want to point out what a tricky medium that she mastered. Watercolors are delicate and require patience—you have to paint a little and wait for it to dry, then paint a little more and wait for it to dry—it is the art of painting in layers. Oil is the most forgiving medium. It takes a long time to dry, so there’s time to edit your work and get it juusstt right before you call it done (I prefer oils—I am an editor). For those of you who aren’t painters, what you need to know about acrylic paint is that dries almost instantly. There is no editing—you get it right, or you paint over it and start again. Jean preferred acrylics, working quickly and confidently to produce startling and amazing things. Acrylics sometimes get dismissed in some artistic circles, because if you don’t know what you’re doing, what you end up with is something flat and cartoonish. Jean’s works were anything but flat and they were far from cartoonish. They had dimension and light and movement, and the fact that she accomplished that with a medium like acrylic is just all the more remarkable.

When I was a kid, she gave the coolest gifts, because a lot of them came from her art stores! We had latch hook rug kits (remember those?), crewel and embroidery kits, kits to make leather bracelets and wallets and chokers (hey, it was the Seventies), and (my favorite) paint by number kits. I am, as I have mentioned, a realist, and my brother Wade is an engineer (he was even then), so we would sit with our kits and meticulously follow the instructions, staying carefully within the lines. When Aunt Jean painted with us, it was a completely different experience: She viewed the manufacturer’s printed pattern as a mere suggestion, and she took, shall we say, great liberties with the images on the board. Her paintings never looked like the ones on the box—they were always much better! And yet she used the same little plastic pots of paint that we did. It always amazed me.

But her artistry wasn’t restricted to two-dimensional painting. She was always trying—and mastering—different mediums and crafts. She delighted in any new technique or tool that came along: macramé and Modge-Podge, woodburning and leather working, beading and jewelry making. She crocheted baby blankets and booties, pillows and socks, delicate snowflakes and angels as well as colorful afghans and ponchos (again, Seventies). She painted ceramics and pottery, giving the pre-formed greenware details and colors that definitely were above and beyond what those simple forms suggested. And she loved to share what she made. Over the last fifty or so years, there are probably hundreds of babies all around Lynchburg who received, a sweater, layette, blanket, Christening cap, or framed announcement of their birth. They may not have never even met, but they still benefited from her handiwork.

Jean had an eye for beauty and a love of color, light, form, and arrangement that she brought to everything that she did. She always had a project going—usually several at once!—and was happy to show off what she was working on, but she was also always happy to drop everything and help you put together a wreath or a flower arrangement in a way that she made look effortless. She loved to work with other artists and crafters and had a great appreciation for things that were handmade.

That brings us, naturally, to her love of baking. Jean was a good cook, like her mother, but she was an excellent baker. She was always trying new recipes, making cookies and cakes and pies and cobblers, but also dips, Jello salads, and simply amazing cheese balls. Mom and I both have many recipes in our boxes that came from Jean, because Jean was always willing to try something new and share the results. She tested and happily passed along her successes, carefully noting where she had “improved” on a standard recipe to make it better. Her improvements were usually phenomenal, and we were all happy to be her guinea pigs.

Speaking of small mammals, it is also impossible to talk about Jean and not mention her love of animals. From the time she was a little girl with her beloved Cocker Spaniel Nippy she was surrounded by pets. When she lived in an apartment and couldn’t have a dog or a cat, she had a parakeet named Mike that she taught how to talk. But once she and Mark moved back to Lynchburg and back in with her mom, she got Suzie, a sweet little dog who had to learn to share her life with a lot of cats. Jean was the person who would stop on the side of the highway to pick up a stray dog or cat and get them to the vet or to a shelter (or, occasionally, simply to her house, where they settled right in). She had a long succession of cats and they all lived the spoiled, decadent lives that every cat seems to think it is entitled to, a tradition that Mark and Ian seem to have carried on! Jean would ignore Grandma’s rants about “feeding her food to those dang cats” while she silently swiped a leftover chicken thigh to shred for them.

And she wasn’t content to simply feed her own cats. She maintained outdoor dishes of food as well in order to feed any strays that might be in the area. The rest of us may have suspected that the neighbor’s pets were simply finding a way to sneak a late night snack or that the local possum and raccoon populations had discovered an unexpected bounty, but Jean didn't care. She just wanted to make sure that everyone got fed. And she didn’t just feed those strays, she took care of them. I know of at least one occasion when a neighbor got angry because they found out that their cat, who had been missing for a few days, had been trapped and taken to the vet and neutered. Hey, if you weren’t going to be a responsible pet owner, she’d do it for you!

That love and caring for the less fortunate also played out in her work at the Training Center. The Training School was not the first job that Jean ever held—she talked fondly of her days working for the telephone company when she lived in Arlington—but it certainly became a defining space in her life. For those of you who don’t know the details, Jean worked in a ward with men who had been labeled for one reason or another as “difficult” patients. Some had a history of violence, some were suicidal, all had some sort of “behavior problem,” but Jean loved them, and they loved her. She took care of these men that had been cast aside by their families, society, and even the institution that housed them, and they listened to her. I’m sure that her calm, unruffled nature certainly helped, but I have to think that they appreciated that she was willing to meet them where they were and treat them with kindness and dignity. Even after she was injured by one of her patients, she didn’t blame him and it didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for working with “her boys.”

Eventually, Jean found a way to take it a step further and bring beauty into their lives, as well: She brought her art to work with her. She looked around her ward and saw how bland, featureless, and colorless it was, so she got permission to bring her paints and brushes, and on her own time began to paint murals on the walls. Some of them were permanent decorations, but some of them she would change up, painting Easter baskets and bunnies, Santa Claus, or Jack-O-Lanterns as the seasons dictated. Her murals were so successful and so well-loved that she was asked to paint other wards as well.

After her leg was re-injured by another patient, she finally had to leave the Training Center and take care of her own health. At the time she was injured, Jean was overweight and had other health problems and had never shown much interest in physical activity, so when the doctor told her that the only way to keep from losing her leg was to begin a strenuous—almost daily—routine of physical therapy, exercise, and massage therapy, I think he expected that he would sooner or later be amputating that leg. Much to his surprise, she began her therapy immediately and took it quite seriously. It was while attending a water aerobics class at the Y (a low-impact form of exercise that her therapist recommended) that she had a life-changing experience: She found the Senior Women’s Swim Team.

Jean maintained all of her prescribed therapy appointments, but added the Swim Team practices and meets to her schedule. This opened up a new world to her—new friends to hang out with, the opportunity to travel out of town to attend swim meets, the chance to explore new cities and new areas. Suddenly, instead of art store gifts, I started to get cool new earrings from craftspeople all up and down the Eastern Seaboard as Jean indulged our shared love of funky jewelry. It was clear that in addition to a shared interest in swimming, Jean also found friends to share her love of painting and flowers and crafts and people, and it was fun to hear her stories of their triumphs and exploits. The team brought a great deal of joy to her life.

You may have noticed that the word “joy” keeps coming up, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Jean certainly had her challenges, but Jean’s life was not a sad or miserable or depressing one. She had a way of looking for the beauty around her, and if she couldn’t find it, she made it. Jean reveled in her art, but she always colored outside of the lines, and what she created was far better than anything the lines could imagine. Jean took in strays, whether they were animals or people and always kept a sharp eye out for the underdog. She loved her family-- especially Mark, and most especially her grandsons-- and demonstrated that with her actions, if not her words. In her quiet way, she brought calm and beauty into a lot of lives. 

Those who march to their own drummers sometimes frustrate the rest of the band, who can’t understand why just don’t just follow the routine, but the world would be a far less interesting place without them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


In Richmond this weekend-- I always sleep so well here.  I think it's a combination of being with BikerDude (it's hard to sleep alone when you're used to having someone else share the bed), a comfortable mattress, being away from the usual home stresses and the quiet house.  There's something familiar about this house, even though it's clearly new, and I think it has to do with the fact that it was built in the same era as my Grandmother's house.

That said,  I had the most vivid dream last night.  I was back in Grandma's house, showing it to a young couple who were considering purchasing it, so I was walking them through.  As is true in most dreams, not everything we walked through was actually part of Grandma's house, but so many significant details were.

I was first struck by the smell.  Grandma's house had lovely, old heart of pine floors throughout, so there was always a faint, pleasant aroma of pine mixed with whatever furniture polish/cleaner she was using at the time-- slightly soapy, clean and... warm.   Grandma's house was usually warm.  No air conditioning, but a furnace that fueled two ENORMOUS steam radiators-- one in the living room, right inside the front door and one in the kitchen.  Grandma loved color, so they were painted to match the decor:  Avocado green in the living room and bright orange (yes, orange!) in the kitchen.  The house was small-- only four rooms plus the bathroom-- so those two ginormous radiators were plenty to keep things warm! 

The front door included a very old-fashioned heavy, louvered glass storm/screen door.  You twisted a winged knob to open the glass louvers-- all in all a safety nightmare in a number of ways (pointed corners to hit your head on, heavy non-tempered glass either sticking out horizontally presenting a solid, very breakable surface to stick your arm through...).  It was heavy, but very effective!

The closets smelled faintly of cedar and mothballs.  They were deep and dark and had high shelves holding many mysterious boxes.  The back porch was high off the ground as the lot sloped down from the front yard to the back.  One of the posts of the covered porch held a pulley which operated the clothes line.  Waayy out across the back yard, on the edge of the lot between Grandma and her next door neighbors to the right stood a telephone pole-- I recall that somehow the neighbor had finagled having it installed-- and there were accompanying pulleys for both Grandma's and the neighbor's clothes lines attached, so that the laundry hung 20-30' in the air, waving high above the backyards, in the sun and out of the way of Grandma's pride and joy:  Her garden.

Grandma had, over the years, terraced her back yard into a multi-level ornamental garden with raised beds and careful pathways.  She could grow anything and was always fascinated and delighted to try new plants or share her successes with fellow gardeners.  Needless to say, her basement was, essentially, an enormous potting shed with a washer (and, eventually, dryer) stuck in one corner amidst the shelves of pots, vases, gardening implements and whichever rusty lawnmower she was nursing at the moment.  Spending time at Grandma's house usually meant spending some time helping her pull weeds, edge the lawn or sort out and store various bulbs, seedlings or corms.

So the other smell I associate is dirt.  No, not just dirt-- soil.  Grandma knew how to cultivate.  The smell of the cool dirt of the basement (with just a hint of heating oil for the boiler), warm sun on grass and the sweet smell of the butterfly bushes and abelia mixing with the almost petroleum-like smell of the redwood shingles that sided the house-- throw in the smell of rain from the cover of large covered front porch and you have a summer afternoon at Grandma's.

It's amazing how much scent triggers memory-- and how many memories one dream can trigger.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.  --Terry Pratchett, Pyramids 

I've once again found myself in a place where I am confronted by atheists, some of whom I admire, who intelligently defend their belief.  Gene Weingarten, in particular, is most eloquent and even respectful towards people of faith, and his logic is difficult to assail.  The foundation of his belief is that history has inexorably moved towards science and away from magic-- that there has never been an instance of something that science once believed that was later proved to have a mystical cause.

This is true.

However, I think he is mistaken on the purpose of faith, of the draw of religion.  He states that faith is a way for people to cope with the terror of existence; that by inventing an afterlife, they can construct a scaffolding of denial about the ultimate futility of our existence.

I am no philosopher and even less of a theologian.  I have never been a proselytizer because I don't have a dramatic, Road to Damascus story to share.  All I have is my own experience, limited though it may be.

First let me say that I don't think life can be planned.  You can certainly make plans, but by the time you've reached, say, 30, you should be acquainted with the fact that life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.  By the time you're 46, you should have started to make peace with that fact.

Second, a word to the ardent atheists out there:  Take your cue from Gene and maintain some respect for people who do not share your beliefs.  Stating that people of faith value magic over science and referring to us as worshiping sky fairies demeans you far more than it does us.  Setting up straw men and knocking them down is a cheap rhetorical device-- it doesn't sting us because, as Gene has pointed out many times, it's hard to take offense at something that is simply not true.  It just makes you look petulant and adolescent.

Science and faith are not incompatible.  I understand science and am fascinated by it.  I revel in the newest discoveries in physics, medicine, astronomy, biochemistry... you name it.  I have a degree in anthropology and if forensic science had been a career option when I was in college, I likely would have pursued that as a career.

But of course I understand that science has limits.  Science will always have limits.  Any good scientist will tell you that.  There are things in this world that science can't explain, try though it might.  I'm not talking about the mechanism of creation or the evolutionary process-- science has actually done a pretty good job with those, and will continue to reveal more information I'm sure.  But what about art?  Music?  Human interaction?  Why are Van Gogh's paintings so captivating?  Why is Mozart's music so beautiful?  Why do some people prefer Lady Gaga?  Why do I love BikerDude and not any of the other many, wonderful, eligible men that I've met in my life?  

There aren't scientific answers for these questions.

Atheists might think that these observations are irrelevant, but they aren't.  What makes a painting beautiful is just as valid a question as how did the universe begin.  Once you define the important questions as the ones that your belief system can answer, you are no better than the most faith-drenched, devout priest you can imagine and despise.  Framing the question is so important to winning the debate.

I don't have answers.  I can't prove that God exists.  I can say that I have experienced him and his presence-- or her and her presence (gender isn't really an issue with God).  Just because some people use religion to abuse others, justify evil deeds and ostracize those who don't believe as they do does not disprove religion or faith.  Science has also been abused the same ways over the years-- do I really need to remind anyone of phrenology, eugenics and the Tuskegee experiments?  Bad people do bad things with the tools they have-- it doesn't mean that there is anything essentially wrong with the tools.

Atheists ask why hasn't God ever revealed himself in a way that eliminates all doubt?  I don't know, but I suspect it has something to do with faith.  I refer you to the quote at the beginning of this post-- once something has been proven definitively there is no need for faith.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sir Terry

I just read an interview with Terry Pratchett by Neil Gaiman.  This is like Nerdvanna for me-- two of my favorite writers, having a meaningful conversation!

I tried reading Mr. Pratchett's first book, The Color of Magic, and had a hard time getting into it, so I put it aside.  Then I took Small Gods on a camping trip with me, and it was a revelation!  It was a savvy, thoughtful critique of organized religion, religious fanatics and the power behind the structure of the church, along with a celebration of true faith, wrapped up in some of the cleverest wordplay and most hilarious scenes I have ever read, anywhere!  After that I couldn't get enough!  I went back and read all of the Discworld novels and have never been disappointed.

If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing any of Sir Terry's oeuvre, I can't recommend them enough.  He manages to tackle some of the most serious and thoughtful issues, providing stinging critiques of modern foibles and fallacies all while making you laugh out loud, groan at puns and delight in the sheer joy of words!  A brief sampling:

Stupid men are often capable of things the clever would not dare to contemplate...
(Feet of Clay) 

A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.
(Guards! Guards!)
An education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.
Of course, it is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street- cleansing, fruit-picking and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact.
(Moving Pictures)
Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.
It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.
A few years ago, Sir Terry announced that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's. Those of us who have long been fans of his writing were devastated by this news, not only, selfishly, because we understood that this might be the end of his wonderful words, but also because after 20+ years of reading his words and wisdom, it was a little like hearing this about your favorite uncle. Fortunately for all of us, he has not slowed down! He had just released his latest book Snuff, which is a rollicking send up of the English Cozy Murder Mystery genre, but also a commentary on slavery and the Holocaust. The fact that he can successfully mix those things is a testament to his ability.

I find the fact that anyone can write like him both inspiring and paralyzingly intimidating.

Here's hoping he will continue for years to come.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm getting old

Steve Jobs passed away today.  What a shame.  Pancreatic cancer is unforgiving.

I've never drunk the Apple Kool-Aid, but it's hard to overestimate the impact that he had on our lives.  I'm old enough to remember BC-- Before Computers.  When I was in high school, there was a Computer Science Club where kids could learn to write programs in Basic on primitive boxes.  I remember how impressed everyone was when one kid built a computer for his science fair project!  Of course, he built it from a kit and it could play Tic Tac Toe, if I remember correctly, but everyone oohed and aahed, and he won the fair, of course.

By the time I got to college, some departments were beginning to put in computer labs, where you could go to use "desktops" that took up way more space than most desks.  The lab in the basement of my dorm was considered cutting edge because it had monitors with amber screens instead of green ones! 

My first foray into word processing ended in the metaphorical, and almost literal, flaming wreckage of my honor's thesis (a project that was otherwise doomed, but that's a story for another time.  Suffice it to say that it was on Quadaffi's Libya and that about a month after I started working on my thesis, Ronald Reagan bombed him.  I should have taken that as a sign...).  This is to say that I was a computer skeptic.  However, a girl down the hall got a Mac when they first came out, and I remember the first time I saw it, with its WYSIWYG screen (google it, kids), icons and "mouse."  Totally radical, dude.  I knew it was a game-changer.

I was in law school during the ensuing PC/Apple wars, and ended up in the PC camp by default, not choice.  My law school and subsequent employers used PCs and Apples weren't compatible with them, so PC user I became.  Still, Apple's influence reached me.  Icons, computer mice, those WYSIWYG screens-- all of these ended up in the PC world, too.  More recently, iPods have changed how we buy, store and listen to music, iPads have revolutionized tablet computers and iPhones have ushered in the era of smart phones. 

And finally:  Pixar.  All of our lives are richer from Mr. Jobs' contribution.

Very few individuals can truly be said to have changed the world; even fewer of them can be said to have changed it for the better.  Steve Jobs qualifies.  What a legacy.