Tag Archives: E2

Still no road

Since we declared the road betwen us closed
And let the gates be covered by the vine
That grows between the trees, and seems to twine
Around the very sunbeams, I supposed
You went on very well without me here.
I’d come through once before, and found the place
So little changed, the well-remembered space
As painful as before, and still as dear.
Today, the vines are withered in the frost,
The wall-stones slick and chilly on my hands
As, pausing at the top, I see it stands
Unchanged outside, but all its comfort lost.
And then I slide back down, for now I know
The road remains, but there’s nowhere to go.

(An answer to “No Road” by Philip Larkin. Originally posted on Making Light)

Virtual Identity

A few weeks ago, Martin was musing on what these blogs are, really, and why we maintain them. He, like the blogger who prompted his article, used a number of real-world analogies to make his points.

I’m not so sure how far analogies can take me in describing why I do what I do on the web. (Come to that, I’m not sure I know why I do all that I do on the web.)

First things first, though.

Who are you on the Web, Abi?

My main Net identities are:

Naturally, I have several “spoof” and temporary identities about as well, which I would rather were not linked to my “core” identity. Nor am I alone in this. I suspect that the vast majority of E2 users, for instance, have secondary accounts for various reasons. But these are the ones that I identify as “myself”.

These identities are not all linked up (or weren’t, until I posted this!), but together, they present a multi-faceted image that I am willing to make available to absolute strangers, friends, and family.

Why do you spend all this time on these identities?

For a long time, I didn’t have a web presence. I didn’t feel that I had anything that important to say. Further reading convinced me, however, that most of the other people on the web don’t either. One of my teachers at Napier advised me make a site of all the things I would want to find on the web (and I have, both in my factual work on E2 and in the Bookweb).

This blog came about partly by imitation (because Martin had one), and partly to communicate with my family in California. But its usage has evolved. It’s now part of my “shop window” on the world, an expression of who I am right now and what I’m thinking.

But (to ask a basic writer’s question), who is my audience? Martin and I have received a number of comments and emails lately that have clarified this for me.

  • One of Martin’s high school friends Googled her name and found a reference to herself in Martin’s blog. This led her to get in touch, as part of the re-consolidation of that set of friends from his youth.
  • I got a comment on my blog from someone whom I have never met, who Googled his way onto the Bookweb and followed the trail here. Reading my blog convinced him that I might be worth chatting to, and we exchange the occasional email now as a result.
  • Another email was from someone I knew at St Andrews, who found the site (don’t know how) and sent me a “remember me?” email. Again, contact is being re-established.

Enough verbage. Who is your audience?

My audience is those people on the web who were, are, or might become, friends. As friendship extends into the virtual realm, so will the art of meeting people. My web presence is a shop window, an entry in a Personals column, an extended hand.


So if you think you might want to know me further, click on the rooster at the top of the page and send me an email. Alternatively, add a comment here.

Because it’s a big, scary world out there, I’m not going to fall all over myself to be friends with everyone who drops me a line. I’ve made my pitch, described myself. But friendship is a two-way street. Tell me about yourself, make me care.

And in the spirit of Martin’s friend getting back in touch, I’m going to list a few people I would love to hear from again, even just a brief note. This page is indexed by Google, so if they search on their names they’ll find themselves here. If this is you, click on the rooster at the top of the page and get in touch. Tell me what you’ve been doing!

From Piedmont High School:

  • Liza Groen
  • Lisa Wright
  • Alta Swinford
  • Paul Casey

From Skyline High School:

  • Jason Camara

From Richmond High School:

  • Jetsun Eddy (Or are you spelling it Jetsün Eddy?)

From UC Berkeley:

  • David Corcoran
  • David Beckerman
  • Eleanor (El) Casella
  • Charlton Horne
  • Keith Gordon

From St Andrews:

  • Andrea Kagan
  • William Grant

Monsters, Inc.

Alex has been watching Monsters, Inc., and I perforce have been watching it with him. And it got me thinking. Here’s what I came up with.

Long after the toys are gone from the shops, long after the shameless [Rampant mass consumerism is so evil. Hey, can I have a sip of that Frappucino?|commercialism] of the Disney empire has moved on to another film, I think Monsters, Inc. will be considered one of their best. In addition to the amazing animation, the in-jokes, and the humour, it has a strong (and surprisingly subversive) moral and social message.

On the surface, Monsters, Inc is a cutesy buddy movie. But it actually goes much deeper than that. It’s about one just monster and his struggles against a corrupt system, about the value of personal loyalty and the triumph of principle over practicality.

The Society

We only see glimpses of Monstropolis life in the film, but it’s clearly a peaceful, prosperous city. Its citizens have plenty of material possessions – cars, TVs with little monster horns, apartments with nice views. They have enough extra to go out to sushi restaraunts. A fruit seller is doing well enough to give his wares away to his friends. It’s a safe city, where children play on the sidewalks. It’s a clean, pleasant place – no one even jaywalks.

The shortage of power presents a crisis, admittedly, but it has only a minor impact on the city. And no one really thinks about how their energy is derived from the screams of little children. They’ve been taught that human children are toxic creatures, something to be feared. No monster would think of a child the way they think of their dear little bundles of tentacles, nor pity a human tot crying in the night as they comfort their own wee critter. Children are dangerous, and the monsters who go into their world to extract Scream are brave indeed, saving Monstropolis from rolling blackouts.

Monsters, Inc. is a company of heroes, keeping Monstropolis safe and comfortable in a time of crisis.

The Principal Conflict

Henry J. Waternoose III: [The Banality of Evil]

Although Randall is the visible antagonist in the film, Waternoose is the true villain. He is a paternal, jovial monster, who has earned the trust and loyalty of his staff. He runs the sort of company that does “[bring your daughters to work day|bring your obscure relative to work day]” (though he must have missed the memo on that particular one). He has a bunch of big softies on the scare floor, but he can still inspire them to go into what they believe to be mortal danger.

Like most important, powerful people, Waternoose knows the world is more complex than his underlings suspect. He knows, for instance, that children are not poisonous. He may tell trainees that “There’s nothing more toxic than a human child. A single touch could kill you,” but he picks Boo up himself before sending Sulley and Mike to exile.

Waternoose is driven by the desire to keep his company going, both because it has been his family for three generations, and because it is all that keeps the energy crisis in Monstropolis from becoming acute. As he himself says, “I’ll kidnap a THOUSAND children before I let this company die, and I’ll silence anyone who gets in my way!”

He probably sees himself as a good monster, driven to [the ends justify the means|difficult measures by difficult times]. No doubt he tells himself that [you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs|you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs], and that his cause is worth a few sacrifices (though not notably sacrifices he has to make himself). He is an ordinary monster doing terrible things – the perfect illustration of [the banality of evil].

James P. Sullivan: [Fiat justitia et ruat coelum|Though the Heavens Fall, Let Justice be Done]

James P. Sullivan is an unlikely David to combat Waternoose’s Goliath. He is not a revolutionary, just an normal Joe doing a normal days’s work. He’s the sort of guy who knows everyone by name and a pleasant word for them all. He’s a people person, or rather a monsters’ monster. What matters most to him is the web of relationships he has with his friends, his peers, and his boss.

Sulley combines this capacity for intense personal loyalty with real courage. He is capable of overcoming his fear of a human child enough to bond with Boo, to comfort her when she’s frightened and to try to get her home. And he is brave enough to risk everything – his job, his friendship with Mike, even the company itself – to see her safely back into her own room. He refuses to send her back to the wrong place when Mike gets a door to somewhere with yodeling in the background. He won’t even send her through the right door when he suspects that Randall is still a threat to her.

Partway through the film, Sulley has an uncomfortable experience when the monitor in the simulation room records him scaring a dummy. No doubt he has seen recordings of his roaring face before, and even been proud of how frightening he looks. But this time he [to a Louse|sees himself through Boo’s eyes], and realises that the children he scares are as upset as she is. This shift in attitude, again the product of empathy and courage, isn’t really explored in the film. He does cheer Boo on when she attacks Randall and conquers her fear of him, despite the loss of scream this represents. But I don’t know that Sulley would have been happy again on the scare floor, had things turned out differently.

Although the plot is [deus ex machina|rigged] to create a happy ending, Sulley’s doesn’t realise that things will work out. He isn’t thinking about whether Monsters, Inc. will stand or fall. He is simply and stubbornly determined to do what is right, to protect one innocent and helpless child from harm. He looks unhappy when Mike points out, “Sure we put the factory in the toilet, hundreds of people will be out of work now, not to mention the angry mob that’ll come after us when there’s no power.” But he does’t look like he regrets his choices, and he’s clearly not so consumed by guilt that he can’t think of a way out of the situation.

The Minor Characters

[Mike Wazowski]: [Everyman]

Very few people (or monsters) have Sulley’s courage against the pressure of conformity. Most of us are more like Mike, just trying to get along in life. We want our creature comforts (like Mike’s car), a chance at true love (like Celia), and a few laughs to get through the day.

Mike probably uses his humour to cover up a feeling of insecurity. Like everyone else, he admires Sulley. He relishes being the friend of Monsters, Inc.’s top scarer, telling off the two janitors who get too friendly (“You’re making him lose his focus!”). He basks in reflected glory, getting Sulley to make reservations for him in a booked-up restaurant. Mike is not extraordinarily courageous or principled. He sees Boo as a threat to his normal life, and to his friendship with Sulley. So he leaps at whatever chance he can to get her out of their way, whether it be through [the wrong door], or through the right one under Randall’s aegis.

But when Sulley seems to choose Boo over him in Nepal, Mike shows real greatness of character. He returns to the monster world, apologises to Sulley for making him choose at all, and helps his friend get Boo back home. He is not brave monster on his own, but he is [a friend in need is a friend indeed|a good friend in a crisis]. He does the right thing in the end.

Randall Boggs: [Paper Tiger|The Overt Villain]

Randall the pseudo-chameleon is the most disappointing character in the film. He is openly evil, willing to “[terminate with extreme prejudice|dispose of]” anyone who gets in his way. He ruthlessly abuses his sidekick Fungus, and his plans for world (or Monsters, Inc.) domination are gloriously unformed.

In short, he is a cardboard characterisation, only suited to draw attention away from the true villain of the piece. I shall waste no more prose on him.

I think I’ll find this film very helpful when answering [question]s about twentieth-century history from Alex when he’s older. It can be hard to convey to a child how an ordinary society, for instance [Nazi|Germany] in the 30’s, could be founded on cruelty, or how [blood libel|fear] was used to dehumanise [Jews|a people] they wanted to exploit. I would like to teach him to recognise the [absolute power corrupts absolutely|pitfalls of power] that Waternoose exemplifies, and raise him to have the courage of his own convictions like Sulley.

I know that the scriptwriters didn’t write all this into the film, at least not deliberately. But the plot rings true because these characteristics, and these forces, are part of human nature.


Originally entered as a daylog on E2 on July 18, 2002.

He left me today.

We were hanging out the laundry in the back garden. Or rather, I was hanging out the laundry while he explored the principles of clothespegs. At fifteen months, such things are very interesting.

Then, quite calmly, he closed the clothespeg bag, picked it up, and stood up. He slung his burden over one shoulder (it still nearly dragged on the ground), then turned and gave me a solemn wave. “Bye,” he said, exhausting his vocabulary. He waved again and turned, still clutching the clothespeg bag. Then he walked to the back door.

Sadly, he was too short to reach the handle, so I never saw how far he was determined to go.

It was a cute game, however abortive. He’s exploring the ideas of separation and departure in his own way. His ability to control his movements, to leave at will, gives him the power to flirt with these difficult, dangerous notions.

Watching him, I saw the shadows of future departures – off to school, leaving for college perhaps. Driving away with all his things in the trunk of his car. Walking up to the altar with his true love.

A cloud seemed to cross the sun as I thought of another departure, me from him or him from me, more final than any of those bright futures. That’s the leave-taking he dreads, looking back so anxiously as he goes, just to be sure that I’m still there. He doesn’t know about death, of course, but he fears loss nevertheless.

The sun came out again as he came toddling back. He threw his arms around me and gave me a soggy, open-mouthed kiss. The shadows of future departures, both good and bad, vanished in the delight of the present.

I love you, Bobo

Signs and Secrets

Originally entered as a daylog on everything2 for July 8, 2002

Spent lunchtime today double checking the GPS co-ordinates for my second geocache. I am mildly hooked on caching (insofar as I can be in this city, avec toddler & sans car). Cachers tend to be drivers, and even those caches in a town are almost completely devoid of public transport information. So my caching activities are pretty much restricted to Edinburgh, which has three caches in town (by next week, there will be four). I’ve visited one, and will be looking for another on the 11th.

I constructed the third one myself over the last four months. I’m actually quite proud of it. It maps out a six-stage walk through Edinburgh’s Old Town in the footsteps of Burke and Hare. As the searchers go from place to place, they have to look for numbers carven on gravestones, into buildings, and on plaques. The numbers then assemble to make up the GPS co-ordinates for a final location where there’s a grim historical relic. The cache has an E2 connection as well. One fellow noder, nine9, helped me pick some of the locations, and two others (fuzzy_and_blue and Jongleur helped Mom test it. Only one other person has hunted it thus far (Silver Fox, Edinburgh’s only other geocacher), but I’m hoping people will come up for the Edinburgh Festival and spend an afternoon on it.

This second cache is less public — it’s on a footpath that is not at all obvious from the streets nearby. I think non-locals will have trouble finding their way onto the path. Martin and I didn’t realise it was there when we first moved to a flat three blocks from it. Once we found it, I used to walk home from work that way in the summers. It was a secret place, hidden from the main flow of Edinburgh traffic, and I was sorry to abandon it when we moved again. It’s also the gateway to other secret places, such as Warriston Cemetery, with its population of, erm, romantically inclined men.

While I was out scouting for the cache location, I saw my first warchalking mark. Martin told me where it was. I’d walked right by it on July 6, and would have done again if I didn’t know what it meant.

It all makes me wonder what other things are stashed along the path, in holes in the walls and under rocks. What else is hidden around Edinburgh? What of all the graffiti and scribbling on walls is more than it seems? It’s the fascination of spying, of tradecraft but there’s something deeper.

I partake, to some extent, of those family characteristics that get diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome when they occur in full measure. Some of that is an inability to read the signs, to find the secrets of other people. After all the trouble I have with social interactions, I’ve come to like secrets I can unravel. I wish I could find the GPS location of a hidden agenda, or a glossary of the markings that advertise the truth.

Daylog on Everything2

Daylog on Everything2:

My great-uncle /msged me last night…part of the exercise of contacting all the family (an exercise I know well from my days of living in an earthquake zone). Possibly in reference to my daylog yesterday, he said:

Concentrate on the baby, don’t think of such things.

I can’t.

Everyone in the situation, the airline passengers, the people in the buildings and on the ground, even the terrorists, was some mother’s baby. So are the civillians the warmongers are advocating bombing. Everyone was once as innocent, and as trusting, as the five month old curently creeping across my living room floor. Somewhere deep inside them all, before they died, that core of gentleness remained.

Loving one baby, I cannot help loving them all. Take care, beloved sons and daughters of your mothers.

And a thought strikes me. How much is all of this going to cost, in monetary terms? Billions?

I wish the US had spent those billions before this happened, bringing economic prosperity and justice to more of the world. Writing off third world debt. Feeding the hungry, helping the poor. Thinking beyond its own borders. Being good global citizens.

Would this terrible loss of life have happened then? Maybe, but maybe not. And even if it did, we’d have a much better moral position, even with people who don’t like the US.

Can we start paying the next large sum now, spending the money to create a world with greater justice and honor? Please?

Breastfeeding thoughts

Breastfeeding thoughts at 6:30am: musing on my mother’s visit…

She’s a really good houseguest. Eats what’s served, even if it’s a “funny food” (we served something which contained eggplant, and she ate it without a murmur). Doesn’t clutter up the common space more than she can avoid it (apart from the banana peel on the sofa – but she quit that when I asked). Helps with whatever needs another pair of hands, from changing the baby to vacuuming the house. Flows with it, enjoys what’s going on. She even came with a present: the most beautiful portrait of me. (click on the picture to see a bigger version)


We talked about being “junior Mom”, a role we have both held as teenaged elder sisters, vs being “senior Mom”. In a curious role reversal, she was being junior Mom to my senior Mom. This is the true Way of the Grandparent, though few practice it.

What does being junior Mom mean? It means pitching in without trying to run the show. Making the no-brainer decisions that keep the scene running (the baby needs changing, let me just get these dishes out of the way, how about the blue overalls?), but keeping out of the controlling ones (when shall we feed him? is this trip going to interrupt his nap?). You have to do this even when you think the senior Mom is getting it wrong. As Mom pointed out, this is a lot easier if the junior Mom thinks the senior Mom is doing a good job.

I am fortunate in all of my son’s grandparents, who are good at the role of junior Mom. I hope they think he is fortunate in having me as the senior Mom.

Post matrem

Written as a daylog in Everything2, my on-line community:


Feeling pretty flat right now. My mother, who has been over for a fortnight, has just left. M, B and I drove her to the airport this morning. M dropped us off – he had to get to work – but B and I lingered with her until the very last minute.

It was a great visit. Our relationship has changed since I got pregnant. At last, after 31 years, I am a real adult in her eyes. She didn’t mean to treat me as less than an equal before B came along; she didn’t even realise that a closer relationship was possible. Since her own mother died shortly after my elder brother’s birth, she had never seen how it could be.

Of course, it was also hard having someone around for two weeks while we do the baby work. She helped out, but as a guest, she had a certain claim on our time and energy. We even took her – and B – on a day trip to Amsterdam (EasyJet flies there cheaply and often). All I want to do now is stay at home and pull the drawbridge up.

Still, it was hard to see her go. We bummed around the airport for the maximum possible time, sitting in the cafe, buying presents for the family back in California, chatting to the shop assistants about B, and finally sitting down on a bench by departures and talking quietly. Then waving her off at the “Passengers Only” sign and the long bus ride back home.

A further disappointment awaited me, like a sting in the tail. I’ve been in touch with H, a woman living nearby, first to reassure her about getting a C-section, then trying to support her in breastfeeding. Scottish culture is profoundly ambivalent about breastfeeding babies – the health service promotes it, but very few new mothers make it work. H is a case in point – she was determined to breastfeed her baby. Then, deep in the baby blues, she started doubting that the baby was getting enough milk. So when I called her today to ask how things were going, she admitted she’d changed to formula feeding. I was nice – she’s made her decision, and there’s no point kicking her about it.

Even as a Californian, from a culture where breastfeeding is ingrained, I was vaguely worried in the first weeks. Bottle-feeding mothers can see how much their babies are eating. And since a newborn’s stomach is the size of a walnut, there’s very little perceptible difference between the breast before and after feeding. The contrast between even a full breast and an empty one pales in comparison to the huge engorgement that happens when the milk comes in. I got through that time on faith in the natural system, based on having seen it work. H had no such basis for confidence. She didn’t want to starve her baby out of a stubborn desire to breastfeed.

Now I’m sitting here, B fussing on my lap (he has mild colic), my mother’s forgotten hat visible on the coat rack by the door.


Dream Log

Pregnancy has brought any number of odd dreams. Last night’s was particularly vivid. I posted it on Everything2 as a dream log, and reproduce it here…

Last night, I dreamed that Norm Abram and Francis Ford Coppola were brothers, growing up together on a remote ranch somewhere in the US. I was watching a black and white film of their childhood, complete with a narrating voice-over.

First the setting: the high country desert, like where we used to go camping when I was a kid. On the valley floor, the sagebrush and Mormon tea create a knee-high haze. The film can’t convey the fragrance, but I know it well enough to imagine it as I watch: sharp, spicy, resinous, with a tang of dust underneath it all. In the distance, I can see the hills rise up, separating this valley from the next (and the next, and the next…somehow I know this landscape goes on and on in a classic basin and range pattern). The hills are dark grey in the film, either from piñon pines or darker stone. I can’t tell which; they’re too far away.

The valley floor isn’t perfectly flat – it undulates. There’s a road running straight away from the camera, visible only in segments, hidden on the downslopes facing away from us. It’s not the typical desert road, two tire tracks with stunted sagebrush between them; this one is a proper dirt road, graded and cleared of plants. Coming toward us, over the nearest rise, is the wreck of a Conestoga wagon. The desert has aged it, drying the wood and pitting it with decades of sandstorms. The hoops over the box body are rusted and bent, and only the last rags of greyed fabric cling to them.

One boy pulls the wagon by the yoke, and the other rides on the front of the box. They’re nine or ten years old, no more, and look so similar that it’s impossible to tell the elder from the younger, the filmmaker from the woodworker. Both are dressed in homespun clothes, rough-woven, rumpled. The textures are vivid and sharp in black and white. Despite the desert heat, neither has taken his shirt off, or seems to be sweating in the least.

“One day the boys found a wagon in the desert, and decided to go west like the pioneers. They travelled ten miles that day before walking back home. They left the wagon behind, just a little closer to the destination it was built for.”

I sit forward in my seat, trying to identify that voice…

The next scene in the film follows Francis Ford Coppola as he rides a large tricycle along the same road, away from the camera this time. He’s older, but the trike is scaled for an adult, and doesn’t seem juvenile at all. Norm Abram is not in view.

The tricycle has one flaw: the front wheel doesn’t rotate freely on its axis. As Francis Ford Coppola rides up the hill away from us, the wheel sticks once or twice, needing extra pedaling to keep it moving. The camera moves forward to follow the trike over the rise. Francis Ford Coppola clearly thinks the speed he’ll pick up on the downslope will free the wheel, make it move more smoothly.

It doesn’t. Halfway down, the wheel freezes up completely. The entire tricycle flips, throwing Francis Ford Coppola over the handlebars and face-first into the dirt. He lies there unmoving as the camera comes closer, past the still-spinning wheels of the upside-down tricycle. The boy’s head and shoulders fill the image, hair tousled and dusty, shirt disarranged, the entire form too terribly still.

“Their parents rushed him to the hospital. Since he was going to be famous when he grew up, they were anxious that he wasn’t too badly hurt. He spent days in the ward, with his mom and dad beside him every minute.”

Now I recognize the voice, with its flat Boston accent. Norm Abram has been narrating this documentary. The film is in color now, showing him in the New Yankee Workshop. But instead of wooden furniture, he’s working on a motorcycle. The camera zooms in on his hands, tightening a nut to hold some piece of flexible rubber over an engine part.

I woke up wondering if Norm Abram had used his mechanical skills to sabotage Francis Ford Coppola‘s tricycle when they were boys together, out of jealousy that Francis Ford Coppola would be so much more famous when they grew up.