Jan 26 2015

Everybody in the east is just waitin’ for that blizzard


Hasn’t hit too badly yet, here in Southern Connecticut. The worst is supposed to be from midnight tonight through tomorrow.

I expect to not go in to the day job. Which is nice.

But I also expect not to be able to get to my own office. For which, insert frowny face.

My car, in the lot.  Not much snow on it (yet), as you can see.

My car, in the lot. Not much snow on it (yet), as you can see.

I am here today, for a bit, but will leave before the driving gets bad.

Jan 24 2015

Facebook matters


Some of you have sent me “friend” invitations on Facebook.   I have to let you know that I don’t generally accept invitations from strangers.

I actually have two Facebook accounts….

One is my personal account, mainly for family and friends (and people my actual friends want me to know), and  co-workers, and colleagues.  Plus, people in the biz with whom I am connected, or who I need to stay aware of (some people belong to all those categories).

The other is my professional Facebook “Page”, which is open to everyone. You don’t need to be invited to see the posts, and if you click on “like”, the new posts will show up on your news feed exactly as if you had friended me.

And really, when you come right down to it  — you’re not missing anything by going with the Page.   Because I almost never post directly on Facebook.   Generally, I write my blog posts right here, and then go over to Facebook and just say, “Hey, I have a new blog post!” and provide a link.  That’s basically it.  I do that in my personal account ,  and on my professional page.  And I do the same with Twitter, actually.

What I’ve got to say, I tend to say here.

I mainly use Facebook to stay on top of what everyone else I know is doing.   And I’ll comment on their posts.    But are you really interested in seeing me say “Cute!” when my pal from grade-school posts photos of her new grand-daughter?  These are not people you know!

Really, all the interesting stuff that happens in my life is said here.  When I talk about it at all, that is.  I’m just not much of a posting person.

Only exception: Twitter. While I almost never tweet on Twitter (except to provide a link to my latest blog post), once in a blue moon I’ll make some remark or other.  Usually out of frustration or boredom, when I’m trapped in an airport or something.  If you never want to miss these, I am @rkirstein.

But please don’t be offended if I reject your Facebook invitation.



Jan 19 2015

Into the Village for an evening in Night Vale


Yes, I was in the audience for their live show on Friday night.

I couldn’t make a whole day of hanging around in New York, unfortunately — I’ll have to save that for another time.  So I hopped the train that would get me there in time for dinner before the show.

I love the ceiling at Grand Central

I love the ceiling at Grand Central

The show was at the Skirball Performing Arts Center, down in the heart of Greenwich Village (where I used to hang in my folkie days). Whenever I visit the Village, I experience a weird sort of double vision. I see what’s there, and my interest and response is to what is really there — but some of the emotional resonance remains of what was there when I was young, when the Village was new to me.  It’s sort of like looking at a person, and also at their shadow, but the shadow does not match the person. Or like standing between two mirrors, and seeing that infinite replication — but somewhere deep in the repeated reflections, the images no longer match the original.

Not in a spooky way (which it certainly would be if that happened in real life).

In fact, there are a couple of places in the Village that I can recall from the very first time I was there, when I was eighteen, and the sidekick of a girl who knew a comics writer, and we went to a party in an apartment off Washington Square.  If I stand in one of those places, I get a triple resonance (what it meant to me at eighteen; what it meant to me in my twenties and thirties; what it means as I look at it now)  that really is quite interesting, and quite odd.


This used to be Gerde's Folk City.

This used to be Gerde’s Folk City.  Now the Fat Black Pussy Cat, which is itself a name of long fame, but not at this location.


I wanted to wander the streets, take in the sights, but — damn! It was  eighteen degrees (Fahrenheit, that is; -7.77 for you Celsius users).  Way too cold for perambulating.

The show itself — Ah.  Love Night Vale, love the live shows, love the podcasts, love it all.

I won’t say too much about the content of the show — they’re going to be releasing a recording of it.    But I will say that the script was one called “The Librarian”,  versions of which they’ve performed live in the States several times.

An updated version was also used  in their massive tour of Europe last year.   So, even though live shows of Welcome to Night Vale are staged as radio plays, with people standing and talking into microphones while holding their scripts in their hands, mostly they didn’t need to consult the scripts very often.  They’ve done this show a lot.

The show had everything you could want from an episode of Welcome to Night Vale: the eerie; the amusing; the weird-to-you-but-perfectly-normal to us; the romance (with many a squee! from the fangirls); the charm; and the sudden utterance of a deep truth about reality that you did not notice before but which now cannot be denied…

All that stuff.

But it was also the scariest episode I have ever heard.   Edge-of-the-seat, heart-pounding scary.

And at one point, in the middle of the scariest part, I found myself asking: How is this even possible?

I looked around.

One big room.  850 people.

One man in front.  All alone.

Saying… words.

850 people riveted.  Fascinated — and scared.

How does that work?

Of course, we see this every day, don’t we?   We take in words, we put out words.  And the words scare us, comfort us, enlighten us, take us away from some things, put us directly into the true and beating heart of other things.   We escape, we approach.

We can subtract everything else, put ourselves in dark rooms with nothing but a voice (or eyes moving across a page) — and we blossom universes inside.

I feel like “imagination” is not a strong enough word for this.   Because “imagination” seems to imply making stuff up, an apparently frivolous act. But in order to understand anything, you have to also imagine it.   Replicate it, reflect it, model it internally, matching it to reality, but containing it within yourself.

So… this is an act of creation undertaken by 850 people simultaneously, using the cues, clues, raw material and enacted example provided by the man in front.

Well, that’s the phenomenon; then there’s the skill involved.

Crappy, ham-fisted writing would have made the shared creation impossible.  But Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink are very, very good writers indeed.  Every word uttered on that stage, every concept, every emotion,  was put there by them: all the movement of story, and the orchestration of emotion, set up by them.

And a lousy actor would have destroyed it all.  But Cecil Baldwin was almost impossibly brilliant in his role.  Maybe there are other people who could have delivered those words, and done it well; but it would have been a different story, it wouldn’t have been this story.  I can’t say enough good things about him.  The man is a treasure.

And there was the skill of the audience.  There exist many, many people who cannot do this thing –  this taking in of words and making them real inside.  People of that type, placed in that audience, would experience nothing but, perhaps, perplexity.  But I believe that the audience that night was composed of people with great talent in turning the seen and heard into the experience of Art.

Well.   That’s rather a lot of philosophizing about a live episode of a very popular podcast…

But, see, that’s another thing I love about Welcome to Night Vale; it makes me think about this stuff.   I get not only the pleasure of the episode, but the meta-pleasure of watching something done well.

After the show, I wanted to hang out at a coffee shop and sip coffee contemplatively while writing in my journal.  Unfortunately it was so cold that every human being was driven indoors, and every restaurant and coffee shop was packed with people elbow-to-elbow with no room for even one more person with a pen and some paper.   So I took the subway uptown and caught the train home.

Jan 10 2015

Same here only more so


Back in October, Hugh Howey (you know, of Wool fame?) wrote a blog post that addressed a matter of particular interest to me:

“… It’s 1 time out of 100 that I write in public (usually by necessity, not by choice).

It’s 1 time out of 100 that I write a scene that makes me cry (again, no stopping it).

It’s 100 out of 100 times that these two overlap. Why the hell?”  [see the whole post and the many replies…]


I was one among the many who replied — I just had to.  I said:

Crying can be an issue, but in theory I can avoid public writing when working a sad scene…

But I’ve got this whole other problem: my face reflects what I’m writing, ALL the time.

If my characters are angry, I look angry. If they’re puzzling something out, I’m wearing a quizzical squint. Startling revelations? Transcendent epiphanies? Betrayal by presumed sweetie-pie? Right there on my face.

And, oh, yes: I write Science Fiction and Fantasy, so monsters are possible. And bloody death. And even exaltation.

More than one total stranger in a cafe has asked me if I’m all right. Worse yet, a friend once treated me to a re-enactment of my sequence of expressions, which he thought was completely hilarious. He laughed and laughed. I just sat there stunned and appalled.

Since that time, when I write in public, I rarely write actual prose. Generally, it’s analyses, outlines, journal entries — working through ideas in some way. Much safer.

It’s one of the reasons I got myself an off-site office.

Other reason: elbow room.  The table I used as a desk in my bedroom had 1/3 the usable space this one does. And put my nose less than two feet away from a wall.

Other reason: elbow room. The table I used as a desk in my bedroom had 1/3 as much usable space this one does. And put my nose less than two feet away from a wall.


Some people are great at ignoring their surroundings, so what they see around them doesn’t distract, beckon, admonish, oppress, or prompt response.  Not me.

In fact, I cleverly trained myself to really notice stuff, starting back when I was a kid — intentionally, in order to improve my writing.

I feel it’s served me well.   But it’s hard to turn off sometimes.

Thus: office!  And thank you, ebook purchasers, for making it possible.


Other other reason: windows. No, they do not distract, they encourage standing with a cup of coffee in hand, sipping, while gazing into the far distances contemplatively.

Other other reason: windows. No, they do not distract, they encourage standing with a cup of coffee in hand, sipping, while gazing into the far distances contemplatively.


Jan 2 2015

The people who joined us.


Thursday morning, the alarm goes off.

And as often happens when I am reluctant to rise and face the new day, I grabbed my iPhone and had it stream the local NPR talk station for me while I worked up the willpower to forgo sweet snoozing in favor of actual verticality.

I heard: “Thank you for joining us here on the first day of 2015!”

Oh, right, said I to myself. New Year. Yeah, worth getting up for. I started stirring my bones…

“For today’s show,” the announcer went on, “we’re going to look back and take a moment to appreciate some the people who left us in 2014.”

Wait, what? I thought.

“There was Shirley Temple Black, child actress and later ambassador to the UN; and folksinger and activist Pete Seeger. We were shocked by the passing of Robin Williams –”

But, but, I thought, but that’s sad.

“– We’ll celebrate the lives of rocker Joe Cocker, and authors PD James and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; inspirational poet Maya Angelou; film icon Lauren Bacall; comedians Sid Caesar and Joan Rivers — all people who touched our lives, made us think, made us laugh, changed our world, and moved us. Call in with your own impressions —


Radio off, thank you.

And I burrowed back down into the nice warm bedding.

That, I told myself, is absolutely not what I need. I just spent all of 2014 being treated for cancer, for cryin’ out loud! The last thing I want to do on the very first day of the brand new year is to start the whole thing off by thinking about DEATH DEATH DEATH.

In fact, I thought dozily, what really I wanted was something exactly the opposite of that.


It’s January 1, 2015, and welcome to the new year! Today on our show, we’re going to be looking back and taking a moment to appreciate some of the people who joined us in 2014.

There was Boyd Craighie, born January 1st, one year ago today in Leeds, England. Boyd will later find fame as the lead singer and songwriter for Sky VoiceBox, whose music in the 2030’s will become the soundtrack for an entire generation worldwide, inspiring billions.

And on January 15, 2014, future Nobel Peace Prize winner Lewis Hart Griffith was born in Vancouver, Canada. Griffith, later Canada’s ambassador to South Korea, will be awarded the Peace Prize 2042, in recognition of his contribution as calm voice and go-between, during the volatile secret talks that eventually lead to the unification of North and South Korea.

On March 22, Jane Luganish joined us, born in Fort Myers Florida. Luganish will win two consecutive Academy Awards in 2036 and 2037, for best NPC in an MMORPG (Sub-Zoners, and Sub-Zoners II). Later, she leaves gaming to enter traditional media entertainment, winning a third Oscar in 2043 for her heartbreaking performance as the lead in Distant Sands, the biopic of Anna Wray, first human on Mars.

And, born on June 28th, 2014: Grace Adoyo in Narobi, Kenya. In 2051, Dr. Adoyo and her team at Aga Khan University will develop the first vaccine effective against the Ebola virus, leading to the complete eradication of the disease worldwide by 2063.

On July 5th, 2014, Michael Thammed Hailey was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Hailey, after retiring from teaching science at Roosevelt High School, will enter local politics, and rise quickly, becoming mayor of Des Moines, then Lieutenant Governor of Iowa. In 2076 he becomes the fifth African-American president, after defeating incumbent Martin Leigh Salters, the fourth African-American president.

And on Sepember 12, Xi Lanying, future author of children’s books and YA novels, was born in Hangzhou, China. Xi’s works will be translated into every major language and read worldwide, delighting children and inspiring teen readers everywhere. A television series, “Ping,” adapted from her second novel, will be the longest-running television show in history. After officially retiring in 2084, she will come out of retirement in 2088 with the stunning Pulitzer-Prize-winning Chain and Song, a biography of her mother’s life in, and courageous escape from, the world of human trafficking.

And at 11:59:55, on December 31st, 2014, Stephen Alton Keogh was born in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Keogh eventually lives to be the oldest human being in history, and in an interview in New York City’s Times Square, minutes before midnight on December 31st, 3014, a news swarmbot will ask him what it feels like to be one thousand years old.

Keogh’s reply: “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”


Oh, look.  New people.  Some of them are very nice!

Oh, look. New people. Some of them are very nice!