Some Time Travel


This was one of the first pieces of furniture we owned, and our TV, with antenna, showing a broadcast re-run of the Addams Family. Note no cable, no VCR, and no CD-player, just an amp and a turntable. The Sony Walkman Pro is on the bottom shelf.

In the mid-1980s I was a broke, over-worked graduate student at the University of Utah and it was here that I discovered Dr. Who. The local PBS station played two of the old, serialized episodes at 10 pm, and it was the one hour a day I allowed myself as a break in my studies. My first Doctors Who were Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. I’ve enjoyed all the doctors, though.

When I saw the recent news that the next regeneration of the doctor is to be played by a woman, it was on Twitter, from the BBC. I cried. We’re not talking misty-eyed, either—I had tears rolling down both cheeks. Until I saw the announcement I didn’t realize it meant anything to me.

And then I saw a re-post of the news that the creator of Dr Who wanted a female doctor back in 1986.

1987, University of Utah

In the parallel timeline where the new doctor in 1986 is a woman, I decide to stick it out at the University of Utah, despite the lack of any female professors or half-way decent mentorship. In that world, dammit, I bust my ass, got my PhD, and finish by 1992.

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After that, my first teaching position is at a small liberal arts college in New England, and we move there with our two cats. My husband starts his own software company.

We don’t have our first kid until a couple of years after that, and my husband never joins Microsoft. He works for himself. In this timeline, the Xbox is never invented.

By the early 2000s, I’m teaching someplace else. I’ve dutifully been publishing articles in algebraic topology, but I take a year off to have a second kid and write a middle-grades science fiction novel. My husband takes his enthusiasm for the potential of new, more powerful mobile devices and changes the focus of his business. By the time Apple introduces the iPad, his company is on its third generation of tablets.

When Twitter launches in 2009, my publisher suggests I establish a presence there. I’ve written two picture books and four YA novels by then. I’m very busy with teaching, advising, and book tours. I tweet about my black cat Hilbert, and my two vizslas Rágógumi and Káposzta, but not every day. Only careful readers of my books know about my love/hate relationship with cooking, because the characters in them fumble the eggs, burn the toast, and serve creamed chipped beef on toast which no one eats. I do not invent the hashtag ragecook. And while Káposzta, called Kápi for short, is photogenic, I’m still packing lunch and driving to piano lessons, so I don’t have time for a daily photo of him.


To Ride

I was one of those horse-crazy little girls:  the kind of little girl that draws horses, and reads horse books, and rides a stick-pony.  My favorite books included the classic, “Black Beauty,” by Anna Sewell, “Justin Morgan Had a Horse,” and “Misty of Chincoteague,” by Marguerite Henry, and “The Horse and His Boy,” by C.S. Lewis.   I collected plastic Breyer model horses, often buying them with the money I earned babysitting.  If there was any chance to ride a horse while my family was on vacation, I would beg and whine and beg some more and sometimes be taken on a trail ride.  I would be so over-stimulated by the experience that I would beg to go again, and soon.  On more than one occasion my father would then promise riding lessons when we got back to St. Louis, and I vividly remember that my mother would clench her teeth and seethe at him.  As a kid, I understood this to mean that my mother was an essentially hateful person who intended to be an obstacle to my true happiness.  As an adult, once I took the time to revisit the question, I realized that my mother was not an essentially hateful person who intended to be an obstacle to my true happiness.  She was in fact frustrated with my father making a promise that she knew he could not or would not keep.
At the end of his life, when my dad was sick in the hospital and dying, I realized that being stuck on the stuff I did not get as a kid was unnecessary, since I had my adulthood to fix it for myself. I was 35 when I decided to learn to ride.  My goal was to learn how to do it and get it out of my system.
I made a few phone calls in the area, probably using the old Yellow Pages. Then, as now, most barns do not have a staff member sitting around waiting to answer the phone. Horse people are busy, all day, every day, tending to the enormous responsibility of horses (stalls needing picking, horses needing feeding and grooming and turning out and bringing in, barn aisles needing sweeping, and lessons needing teaching and tack needing finding or cleaning or mending and putting away, and farriers needing calling, not to mention the decision about whether to call the vet or ordering more shavings or hay and then did someone water and drag the ring?). Horse people tend to have a limited presence in their office and a limited presence online. Then, as now, word of mouth is the best way to find a place to take riding lessons. Somehow, I did manage to speak to someone about lessons at a barn not far from my home in Seattle. They taught adult beginners, and had a group lesson starting soon on Friday nights. I called my husband, the Relentless Troubleshooter, at work, to make sure that it would be ok if I made a Friday night commitment.
One thing you may not know about the Relentless Troubleshooter is that he is Hungarian, and was, in fact, born in Hungary.  Did you know that Hungarians invented everything? Hungarians have a thousand year tradition of horsemanship (which I did not then know), and his response was, “Riding horses is in my blood. Can I do it too?” He had sat on a horse twice in his life up to that point.
When I called the barn back, the owner thought I was crazy (she claims I said we’d make our riding lessons our date-night), but she did book us. While I was on the phone, I was overheard by my oldest child, who was just 8 years old. “That’s not fair,” he said.
And so it came to be that three of us started riding lessons in 1998.

Barcelona #2: The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia

Cathedrals take a long time to build. The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882.
We went to see it yesterday. I knew I was headed the right way, but my Traveling Companion did not trust me, and insisted that I demonstrate my knowledge. I caught a glimpse of the construction cranes as we headed roughly north/north-east along Carrer de Provença, and somehow talked my way out of having to prove it.
You can look at pictures of this cathedral online, but I promise that they will never do justice to seeing it in person. Even though you’ll stand in line for a while, spend 12€ (cash) just to walk around, and more if you want to go up in the towers, it is worth it to see the way space is enclosed, to see how sculptural forms climb from the stone,  and the experience the scale of it. You enter at the Passion Façade, completed since 1988, and marvel at terrifying knights and a crucified Jesus hanging by his shoulders.  On the other side, there is the Nativity Façade, where animals and angels emerge from a cloud-like chaos, which looks like a sand-castle in photographs, a crispy jumble of shapes, with none of the actual energy and beauty easily seen in person.  Best of all, you might be inside when they play the organ, as we were. Inside, giant columns soar up to knots of splendid mathematical shapes and then to a ceiling that is like a giant forest canopy. It is incredibly beautiful.
Gaudí died in 1926, after 42 years of work designing and building the basilica. He saw only one tower finished. Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War destroyed the beautiful little school (which has been re-built) and most of the models and plans for the cathedral, and the work on the cathedral has continued anyway. As for me, I hope to come back in ten years to see more stained glass and maybe the beginnings of the Glory Façade, which Gaudí intended to portray Death, Judgment, descent into Hell and then Glory.