Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Different Kind of Profile

For some reason, I’ve had trouble posting a personal profile for this blog. Whenever I fill in the blanks on the form and try to post it, Google tells me I have to correct “errors” in it, but without telling me what the “errors” are. But perhaps it’s just as well.

I have a profile at my Facebook page that ticks off the usual stuff: marital status, occupation, favorite books and music and movies. But that doesn’t give friends and potential friends a clue as to why I like what I like, or why I would recommend it to anyone else. So I’m going to take my own approach here, just as in my writings on science fiction.

To start with the basics, I’ve been married since July 3, 2005, to Marcia, née Feinbaum, a widow who has two married children, David and Karen, by her first husband, Arata Suzuki, and three grandchildren. So I have a ready-made step-family. Technically, I’m a grandfather, but I think of myself as more of an eccentric uncle as far as the grandchildren are concerned. How can I be a grandfather without ever having been a father?

I won’t go into any great detail as to why it took me so long to find the love of my life, except to say that it was mostly my own fault. I made just about every mistake a man could make in my relationships with women. It should have made me bitter, but somehow it didn’t. I made a life for myself with a number of good friends, with work I could enjoy, and interests I could be passionate about. Looking back now, that has been for the best; if I had married younger, there would have been children, and I’m really not good with children; I have neither the knowledge nor the patience. If I had had children, I might have done them ill, without ever meaning to. With an extended step-family instead of a biological family (my only immediate blood relative is a sister), I have the joys without the responsibilities.

In Marcia herself, I’ve found that perfect other. It wasn’t long after we met that we began completing each other’s sentences, or having the same thought at the same time. One recent example had to with a sign in front of a nearby plant that makes “futuristic bolting.” It wasn’t a psychic thing; it was just that we were both familiar with a genre called futuristic romance, and came up with the idea of the boyfriend in such a novel bolting. A lot weirder was what happened when I showed her an episode of The X-Files, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” in which an insurance salesman played by Peter Boyle can tell when and how a person will die. Fox Mulder figures maybe Bruckman can give him a reading on a crystal ball holder that belonged to a fake psychic who has been murdered. To his annoyance, Bruckman can tell him only what the guy who cast the mold for it is going to die of. “Can you give me any further impression of this object?” Mulder presses him. “It’s ugly!” Marcia shouted – a second before Bruckman himself said the same thing onscreen.

Marcia and I share a lot of tastes, and think in a lot of the same contexts, and that means we’ll usually appreciate the same books and movies and music and TV shows – one shared favorite on TV just now is The Mentalist. But we’re different enough to have tastes and interests that we don’t share, even after we’ve tried our best to introduce them to each other. She’s my best critic precisely because she has a mind of her own; she’s been a great help in the process of editing and updating Imagination and Evolution, my sf history, and will probably play an increasing role in shaping some of its coverage and arguments.

One signal example: having convinced me that Lois McMaster Bujold, author of the popular Vorkosigan saga, is not a lightweight. Back in 1991, ten years before 9/11, Bujold had Cordelia, the mother of her series hero Miles, declare: “Any community’s arm of force—military, police, security—needs people in it who can do the necessary evil, and yet not be made evil by it. To do only the necessary, and no more. To constantly question the assumptions, to stop the slide into atrocity.” Would that those in charge of the War on Terror had taken heed! Bujold also has a definition of “genre” that I have embraced for I&E: “any group of works in close conversation with one another.” She made a point of it in her Guest of Honor speech the 2008 World Science Fiction, but I might never have looked for anything she had to say about the sf genre without that nudge from Marcia.

As for work, I’ve been a writer since I was nine or ten years old, with handwritten newspapers in grade school. In high school and college, I put out mimeographed newspapers (Does anybody here remember what a mimeograph was?), The Weekly Moon and The Williams House Word. I attended the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, and afterwards pursued a career as a journalist, with several real newspapers in northern New Jersey and, since 1979, trade magazines for the frozen food and private label industries. For a year in between, I was editor of Galaxy science fiction magazine, which would have been a dream job if the publisher hadn’t been impecunious and incompetent. Having a secure day job pays the rent, and affords me the luxury of working on my sf history projects, and sundry other indulgences – such The Children of Levi Peacock (2002), a history of my mother’s branch of the Southern Peacock family.

My father, John R. Pierce, was a researcher and research director at Bell Laboratories back in its glory days, when a team working under him invented transistors – he gave the new devices their name. He went on to promote the idea of communications satellites, which his friend Arthur C. Clarke (once a visitor to our home), had thought up in 1945. In 1987, he won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for his work in that and other fields. Here’s part of the ceremony: 

By that time, he had long retired from the Bell Labs, done a teaching stint at his alma mater, Cal Tech, while also serving as chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and retired again to work at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University. He co-conceived a 13-note scale there, and wrote a book called The Science of Musical Sound. Both are too technical for me, despite my love of music – which developed independently, and along different lines, from most of what he was interested it I never got interested in electronics, either, and could never settle down in any particular science. So I am a son unlike my father in many ways.

We were estranged for some years after he divorced my mother when I was still in college; we got together again after Mother died. It was always a bit awkward, because we didn’t know quite what to make of each other; but we still had some good times together – a road trip through the Pacific Northwest (I’ll never forget how, at 82, he’d pass slow camper vans on winding roads in the mountains of Idaho!), and a Christmas holiday in Hawaii with the family of his third wife (His second had died; he’d really been broken up about that.). My sister Liz and I got together with his widow Brenda for a private memorial at a local park in 2002.

Well, that’s enough, or perhaps more than enough, for the personal profile. Posts on my favorite things and essays (some rants) on one thing or another will follow.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeremy .... How delightful to have stumbled across your post, thanks to the research for Berkeley Heights Columbia School classmates by the head of our alumni group, Nancy Rumsey. I remember your little newspaper's motto "all the news that fits, I print" (I hope that is correct). I am retired and living out on some acreage in NW Florida, along with a collection of various animals that needed a home. I spent my working years in the computer field as a programmer, working my way up to a systems analyst. I would now be considered to be a computer dinosaur since I haven't attempted to keep up with the field now that I can watch critters, trees and the stars. Enjoyed your post ~~ so glad that life has been good for you!! Sincerely, Biddie Fisher