|April 15, 2010|
I will be speaking at the 25th District Lodge of Instruction on April 15, 2010, on “Writing a Lodge History”.
|April 15, 2010|
I will be speaking at the 25th District Lodge of Instruction on April 15, 2010, on “Writing a Lodge History”.
|November 24, 2009|
I will be speaking at the Fifth and Second Masonic Districts Lodge of Instruction on November 24, 2009.
We arrived in Dortmund in the late afternoon and were met at the train by Arno and Gabi Behrend, the masterminds of DortCon, which was due to get underway with a dinner gathering on Friday night. They got us very efficiently installed in the Hotel Esplanade, across the street from the Fritz-Henßler-Haus, where the con was to take place; we had a little time to get ourselves organized for a visit to a German Masonic lodge – ‘Zur Alten Linde‘ – ‘the old lime tree’. I wasn’t sure what to expect: they’d made provision for L. and A. to come with me for a family evening, and I assumed that there would be a collation of some sort after the lodge meeting.
The Tree In Question
Instead, the lodge’s Master dispensed with the usual ceremony (a bit of a disappointment, actually: I’d have liked to see it) and instead had an open meeting with the members and their ladies all present. I had prepared a speech, and decided that, if I could manage it, I would give it in German.
And that was the first big surprise of the trip.
We’d been somewhat at sea in Amsterdam, since Dutch is definitely not German: it’s fairly readable, but absolutely unpronounceable (our Scottish friend says that in order to speak Dutch you have to have a lot of phlegm. She’s right.) In Köln we’d gotten on fairly well at restaurants and in shops, since both L. and I had been in Germany as students. It was a long time ago, but it came back more quickly than I could have hoped. In Dortmund, though, I was facing a real challenge: not just ordering dinner or buying something at a department store, but actually giving a presentation in a language I hadn’t spoken every day for at least six years, when we’d last visited Germany for the Junior Year in Munich reunion.
I’d written the speech out in German, with the aid of a dictionary, and it was fairly good; simple, but not much different from the sorts of presentations I’ve been giving in lodges over the last year. And it went well. Really well. I was very nervous, but my diction was clear, my grammar acceptable, and I dealt well with questions. The lodge’s master was right next to me and helped with the occasional vocabulary word, but I was able to respond in German, intelligibly. They understood what I was saying; we had a few humorous moments; they were interested, friendly, inquisitive. It wasn’t all that much different from an English-speaking lodge. Except that it was a German-speaking one.
Afterward, we went to the apartment of a lodge member and had a little social hour. This brother is a Bezirksbürgomeister, a sort of sub-mayor; he’s a philosopher, an artist, and a science-fiction reader :-) who has all of my books and was particularly interested in A Song In Stone. In addition to being a Freemason he’s a member of Schlaraffia – a German-language fraternity that is even more tradition-filled and even more obscure than the Masons. (I’d attended a Schlaraffia meeting in Wellesley a year or so ago; they’re always conducted in German, even in non-German-speaking countries. It was great fun, but this is an organization that is quickly working its way toward obsolescence by its very nature. A shame, really, but they have to decide for themselves how to go forward. I just don’t have the time to commit to it.)
It’s hard to communicate what a rush it is to tackle something as scary as speaking a foreign language in public – and succeeding at it. The excellent experience at ‘Zur alten Linde’ was an encouraging indication of how the weekend would go.
The next morning we had breakfast with Arno and Gabi and took off to see the town. We went to a natural history museum a little way out of town, which A. really enjoyed; L. liked it too, but it was definitely chosen with our daughter in mind. We then found our way into the pedestrian zone of Dortmund, not much different from most German cities; our first stop (at Gabi’s eager suggestion) was a Belgian chocolatier, where we bought some great presents for folks back home; then we had a nice lunch, and went back to the hotel.
That evening there was a dinner (a sort of ‘pre-con’ meeting) with the principal con committee folks, as well as our friends M. and T., who had come up from Munich to be at the con with us. M. was on the Junior Year program eight years after me, and we’d met at the reunion in 2003; at the time she seemed more cynical and less happy than I thought she should be: but this time she’d brought her friend T., whom I immediately dubbed ‘der berühmte T.’ – “the renowned T.” – since I’d heard a lot about him. They were great together, obviously very close. M. seemed very, very happy.
As for the committee . . . I met a number of folks who seemed to know my books. (How cool is that? As I always say, it’s the third coolest thing, after L. and A.) There was a considerable amount of eating and drinking; nothing wrong with that. The committee folks, including Arno and Gabi, seemed very pleased that L. and I could speak German, and as the evening went on, it was clear that we were not only capable of speaking the language, but actually were pretty fluent. I’m not surprised that most guests from overseas aren’t fluent in German: there are 100 million native German speakers in the world – 1 1/2% of the world’s population, if that – and it’s not what you’d call a trivial exercise to learn any foreign language, let alone an inflected one with some serious grammar issues. It’s easier than English, but only because it actually has rules (rather than mostly exceptions). I guess I’m not even surprised that most of their overseas guests don’t speak any German, or even make much of an effort.
They, on the other hand, were stunned and really very pleased. Again, my fluency was interrupted by occasional missing vocabulary words, but most of the committee and regulars spoke some English and some (like Arno) were actually quite capable. Considering the level of English some people speak in America, they’d get on quite well.
That, along with putting myself immediately on a first-name basis with everyone (Gabi started by addressing me as ‘Herr Hunt’, and as far as I could see spent the entire con addressing Markus Heitz as ‘Herr Heitz’; I immediately insisted on ‘Walter’, and first names for L. and A. as well) placed us on a friendly footing from the start. I perceive that as having been a critical part of the congeniality that I enjoyed the entire weekend.
It was unlike any con I’ve ever attended, and I’ll tell you all about it in the next entry. Dortmund is not exactly a tourist destination, but my memories of it will always be very good.
Today I was at the Blood Drive in my home Masonic District, and had the opportunity to spend five minutes getting a quick cheek swab so that I could be added to the Caitlin Raymond International Registry for bone marrow donors. This absolutely painless procedure is used in searches for bone marrow or cord blood donors for those in need of bone marrow transplants.
The need for people to participate in this life-saving procedure was brought home recently when a dear friend I’ve known for 35 years was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Her life was turned upside down – and though she’s apparently found a match, it underlines the need for more people to be added to the database to save more lives. I don’t know if my particular marrow will ever match anyone’s need, but if it saves one life, it’s more than worthwhile.
And it really didn’t hurt a bit.
My first major guest of honor appearance (at Arisia) is over, and it’s taken me more than a day to get myself oriented upright well enough to try and summarize the amazing weekend I just had.
First of all, I took not a single photograph during the entire weekend, even though the damn digital camera was on my belt the whole time. This is primarily because I was busy from Thursday evening until late Monday night. No doubt there are those who chose to expose their digital devices to my image, and such depictions will eventually be forthcoming – but regrettably, I have no pictures of my own.
Before saying anything at all about the events, I must express my gratitude to everyone who helped make my weekend as Author Guest of Honor such a success. They begin with Jill Eastlake, the Convention Chair, and Pat Vandenberg, the GOH Liasion, who went far beyond the call of duty to accomodate all of us – myself and family, artist GOH Dave Seeley and his family, and the brilliant and talented costumers Ricky and Karen Dick (of Castle Blood fame – watch out for that link, there’s sound on that page!). But they are only the most visible of a host of folks who tirelessly helped out and watched out for us during the entire convention. No issue went unaddressed; no problem went unsolved. Thank you all.
I am also grateful to my good friend John G., who not only braved foul weather to get up here, and many delays getting back home, to share this event with me – but also gave a great empanada-themed party (based on a memorable empanada-themed scene in A Song In Stone. There were both “meat” and “fish” empanadas. If you don’t understand the reference, go buy my book.)
Also to my dear friend Sue S., who wrote the appreciation in the program book – and who’s not attended conventions much in the recent past: having you there was a joy. Thanks for everything.
It would be misguided to believe that there were lots of people who chose to come to Arisia because I was the Guest of Honor, but I hope I didn’t disappoint those that came. If I added to my modest readership, welcome aboard. Hope you enjoy what there is and will enjoy what there will be.
Professionals at conventions are most often seen through panels, but I did lots of other stuff.
When programming was just getting sorted out I volunteered to serve as a masquerade judge; Author GOHs often are asked to do so, and with expert costumers like Ricky and Karen and Rae Bradbury (whose Banshee is still memorable after most of 20 years) I could hardly go wrong. There was a bit of a logistical problem during the warmup: Marty Gear, the Master of Ceremonies, was running late – so Jill Eastlake and I went onstage and did shtick. Everyone (except my daughter, apparently) thought I was entertaining.
The masquerade itself was interesting, with lots of novices; truthfully, there were some outstanding Hall Costumes that could have done very well in competition with what was there. The “Best in Show” award went to a depiction from a thematically popular subject: Girl Genius, the Foglio web comic (that I’d read almost in its entirety last week, by mere coincidence). I gave one of my “Guest of Honor” Hall Costume awards to another such costume – a young lady from Vermont who appeared in another guise during the Masquerade.
My wife and I are Colonial re-creation costumers, but I was in civilian dress the entire weekend, as befits a Serious Professional™. It’s hard to tell whether that rule should be bent or broken, but I don’t dress up for conventions past occasionally wearing a suit.
This is the archetype for a captive audience, though it was of only modest size. Still, I had the opportunity to tell a joke and relate an anecdote involving G.K. Chesterton and the absence of pants. There may be a video link to this presentation at some point.
I read parts of the sequel to A Song In Stone, and the first chapter actually appeared in the program book. While I enjoy reading aloud (and am told by a certain subversive of my acquaintance, best known for his purple pimp hat, that I don’t suck at it), I’m not sure how much this exercise creates new readers – as opposed to energizing the base, as it were.
There is currently no deal for the sequel to Song; to say that my publisher is giving it no support vastly overestimates their contribution to its success. I hope to prove this decision wrong. If you read this blog regularly, you can help that by buying one. I can’t guarantee that you will not be disappointed, but I can assure you that I did the best work I could possibly do at this point in my career, and that if you like my writing, you’ll like this one.
I also had the opportunity to preside at a special communication of Mount Hollis Lodge on Saturday morning. Most of the Masons at Arisia were on hand; we held a brief “In Memoriam” for our friend and brother, Wor. Bro. Scott Chalfin, whom we lost since our last Arisia.
And lots of ‘em. I’m particularly happy to have participated in the writing/design track with Dave Seeley et. al., and in particular Peter Prellwitz, who was the ringleader of the panel series. I also enjoyed doing FastTrack (children and YA) programming, and my last panel was a terrific “20 Best SF Novels” thing run by the highly-energetic Eric M. Van. I’m going to try and post our results from that soon.
Got in a few games of Agricola and LeHavre, and also picked up a copy of Tesserae from the designer which we haven’t played yet. Thanks to John G., I was able to introduce L. to Dominion, or as I quaintly term it, “Highlander: The Shuffling”. While I have successfully made my saving throw against Dominion hype, I wanted L. to give it a spin. Result: it’s on its way from Time Well Spent.
We’re already planning to attend Arisia again next year. Our daughter had a great time running around the hotel with the 12-year-old rat pack; we bought a few nice things (a beautiful piece of art, and a nice necklace I presented to L. during the GOH speech). I wouldn’t miss Arisia, despite the weather, despite the . . . alternative . . . lifestyles on display, and despite having my reading interrupted by a young rude person – most fans are much more polite and appreciative.
I borrowed from the rest of this week to be able to get through five days on about twenty total hours’ sleep. But it was worth it. To everyone who came up to me and told me how cool they thought it was that I was thus honored, thanks: I think so too. Especially gratifying was having colleagues tell me so.
My next convention: MarsCon in Bloomington, Minnesota, where Even The Klingons Are Nice.
Talk on Rosslyn Chapel and A Song In Stone.
Talk on Rosslyn Chapel and A Song In Stone.
This is the first look at the cover for A Song In Stone, available in November 2008 in hardcover. It’s already available for preorder online, and I’ll have a link to it shortly.
It’s really happening. I have ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) in my hands; this image (not final) was scanned from the cover.
Over the weekend there were a number of posts on the death of E. Gary Gygax, the co-creator of the roleplaying game and certainly one of the best-known figures in the gaming industry. I was going to post about him – I met him several years ago and had some thoughts about his life and impact; but I’ve been very busy, and events caught up with me.
While I was in Minnesota last week I received a call from the wife of a friend, the man who served as Master of Mount Hollis Lodge for two years before my last term. The man’s – the Brother’s – name was Scott Daniel Chalfin. You can read his brief obituary here.
It was so sudden. Scott was 39, personable, friendly to a fault, generous beyond measure, gave time and energy to things even when he didn’t have the time or energy to spare. He lived fully and died far, far too soon. I visited his wife at home yesterday – they “sit shiva”, receiving visitors and honoring Scott’s memory. I couldn’t come back for the memorial service on Friday – I had to hand it off to our mutual friend Wor. John, who served before my first Mt. Hollis term and directly after my second.
Losing friends who have lived a full life is difficult enough: losing my parents, L.’s parents, older members of our lodge, uncles and aunts . . . but losing people younger than you is harder to take. Children are the hardest of all. I came back from Minnesota Friday night and found myself listening to my wife’s breathing beside me: I’d spent a week 1000 miles away and now I was three feet away and worrying. Dumb.
I don’t know what to make of his death, or of his absence. There are so many things unfinished there. I am stunned, saddened. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, and maybe I haven’t yet. I’m the Chaplain of both of my lodges, and even the words
We have met upon the Level and been tried upon the Square
seem to ring a little bit hollow. He needed to reach a ripe old age so that he could “enjoy the happy reflection consequent on a life well spent.” Thirty-nine years is ten less than I’ve lived on this earth and simply isn’t enough.
I miss my parents and L.’s parents. I miss my aunts and uncles, grandparents, and friends inside and outside the fraternity. And now I have one more person whom, with a heavy heart, I will miss. This is part of the Great Architect’s plan, but it was never a plan of mine. Godspeed, Scott, and know – if you can know – that we are all grieved by your absence.
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