18th August 2008: Epic Denver Trip Report

Nobody knows all of this story but me. Parts of it are common knowledge, and other people know parts of it, but this is the story of a journey I took alone. It’s my story, and yet it isn’t a story at all, it’s the truth. It isn’t the whole truth though. There are other people in this story, and I learned long ago that telling the whole truth where other people are concerned is usually a terrible idea.

Traveling alone is different from traveling with other people. There’s nobody there to encourage you when things are difficult, nobody to share jokes with, nobody to stay with the stuff for thirty seconds, but also nobody to irritate you and distract you and complain when plans change. I always like travel books best that are written by somebody venturing out with no companion. This was the first long trip I’d made alone for a very long time. I am good at travel, even though I don’t do much of it. It’s like one of those skills you put points into in character creation and then never use in play.

I set off from home on the morning of Saturday August 2nd, 2008. Rene, my next door neighbour and next year’s Worldcon chair, drove me to the station. He did this because he’s a very nice guy, but also because I was carrying a bottle of ice cider and a bottle of maple whisky for the post-Hugo party. He figured out that if he got everyone local to carry a litre of alcohol, nobody would have to pay duty.

I got to the station in good time, and onto the first train, the Adirondack, which left at 09h30. I had ribs with me from CoCoRiCo and bread from Premier Moisson and water from the tap. The US border was no problem, with already having a visa. After the border the train runs along Lake Champlain, and it’s lakeshore and trees and distant views of Vermont all the way to Schenectady, where we came in about an hour late. I was supposed to have two and a half hours to wait, but it turned out to be just about an hour and a half. It was long enough for an enormously pregnant Kate Nepveu and Chad to come down to meet me. We went out of the station across the road and I had some sweet potato fries and iced tea in an Irish pub. We had a good time hanging out and talking, then we went back into the station and waited for my next train, the Lake Shore Limited.

The Lake Shore Limited is an in-between train. It’s an Eastern train, not a Western train. It has only one level and no viewing car, but the seats have leg-rests so people can sleep. I started off at Schenectady with two seats to myself, but at Rochester a church group of teenagers got on, and one of them sat by me. A different one got in trouble for getting off to smoke at Toledo in the middle of the night (it’s always the middle of the night in Toledo) and they kept running up and down the aisle and teasing each other. I ate more ribs for supper, and more again for breakfast. We made it into Chicago not very late, and I met up with Ruthanna & Sarah Emrys and Cally quite easily.

This was Sunday morning, twenty-four hours from home. Twenty-four hours is a long way. America is big. You probably knew this, and so did I, but now I really know it down to my bones.

We went to the Field Museum, which has the most awesome exhibit on evolution you might ever want to see. They have a Burgess Shale animation — like a fishtank but with Burgess Shale creatures — and lots of dinosaurs. They also had an exhibition of mythical animals which was great. I wished Z was with me, because he’d have loved it. I felt slightly guilty for having taken him to the Art Institute last time we were in Chicago. Then we went back to the Emrys house and ate some delicious salmon and hung out and talked. Then I slept in their spare bed, which was wonderfully horizontal. I spent the morning online, and then chatting, and then picking up some brie and soft pretzels and grapes in Trader Joe’s for the next stage of my journey.

Chicago Union Station is practically the only real station in America. This is an exaggeration, but it’s one of the few stations that has lots of trains leaving all the time and they’re not mostly commuter rail. Denver station, for example, has two trains a day, the California Zephyr once in each direction. Chicago Union Station feels like a great Victorian railway station. It feels like a hub, and it is a hub. Unfortunately, it’s the only hub Amtrak has, which is odd, when they have such a large country to run trains in. I’ve mentioned before that they’re not running a system, only trains. Their trains are great. Their system is… weird.

The California Zephyr is supposed to leave Chicago at 14h00. Only they call it 2pm. Among the other things Amtrak don’t have is 24 hour time. This is especially weird in a company running trains that run west for three days before getting to California. Denver is about half way.

Trains west of Chicago don’t have power outlets. Well, let’s be specific, they have one, in the middle of the observation car. They have an observation car. They have a dining car. They have ice water in every carriage. They’re very very comfortable, and they have a top speed of 80 mph.

Illinois has more cornfields than I can quite believe. I was starting to get worried about all those barbeques and popcorn machines, when someone I was chatting to explained that they use maize for oil, for fuel and for high fructose corn syrup. We came to the Mississippi, the border between Illinois and Iowa, in the early evening. It had flooded, and there were a lot of flooded cornfields, with some broken flooded houses. I hope all the people whose houses they were are safe with relatives and have good insurance. We crossed the Mississippi with some children daring each other to spell it. (“You said pee-pee!”) I stayed in the observation car watching the sun set over Iowa (more cornfields, with some soybeans) and writing my acceptance speech for the Prometheus Awards.

The California Zephyr was full, every seat taken, which meant that when I left the observation car for my seat and discovered that my leg-rest didn’t come up, there was nothing to do about it. I slept very badly. I had breakfast in the dining car with Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, who had a sleeper and were very comfortable, and we got into Denver about three hours late. Clark Myers met me at the station and showed me the way to my hotel on the free bus. In the hotel, I had a shower and napped all afternoon on the bed that was horizontal and not moving anywhere.

I woke up in time to wander through the Hyatt lobby to see if I could find anyone wanting dinner. I saw a number of people, but they all had plans. I had a great conversation with Robert Silverberg, who was on top form. There’s going to be a French film of Dying Inside, and not only that but it’s being reprinted (by Tor!) along with The World Inside. He has no objection to my characters discussing it in ILE. I also saw Charlie Stross and said hello. I went and grabbed a burger by myself, then went back to the hotel where Bill and Kelly Higgins were just arriving. I went out again to watch them eat dinner, and we ran into Eugene Heller.

Wednesday I was up early, had breakfast and hung out awhile before Registration opened with Tom Whitmore, this year’s fan GoH. Then I registered and we hung out some more and checked where everything was going to be. I had an 11h30 Tolkien panel and a 13h00 reading, and had a panic when I found out that my reading was scheduled to be in two different places at once, and dashed around from the green room to Ops trying to get that sorted.

The Tolkien panel was pretty good. David Louis Edelman is an incredibly smart guy. (N.B. Must read his books.) We talked about reading LotR before they were all out, and before they were a phenomenon in the US, and before The Silmarillion was out, and we talked about the pirate editions and the phenomenon, and about reading them as kids. Ed Meskey on the panel and Wombat in the audience actually remembered the pirate editions and all of that. Pretty cool.

I went to my reading very unsure that anyone would be there at all, and found about 20 people. “You must be the most organised people in the convention,” I said. Carl Rigney went off to get me some water — Denver’s a mile high. I had no altitude problems at all, probably because of coming on the train, but I had a terrible time with dehydration. Fortunately, the con gave everyone water bottles, or “fan hydration devices”. I read the first chapter of Half a Crown, and then the first chapter of ILE — which remains untitled. Everybody loved it. I mean they quite enjoyed Half a Crown, but they loved ILE. Look for it from a Tor near you sometime next year or the beginning of the year after. It’ll have a title by then. Maybe Fairies and Librarians.

Then I went to find Elise to see if she needed any help, and hung out at her table for awhile. At 14h30, or a little before, I headed down to the room where the Prometheus Awards were being held. I saw Harry Turtledove there first thing, and we decided to grab some dinner together with his family a little later. Harry’s such a nice guy, and so interesting to talk to. Then they had the awards, and I gave my speech. It was pretty much the speech I wrote last year and posted here, but I did add some specific stuff — the line I worked on was “I’ve had a lot of disagreements online with Libertarians about such things as a national health service and handicapped parking spaces. But you giving me this award clearly shows that when it comes to some very important issues, our hearts are in the same place.” I also mentioned being the first woman to win it. It’s a very fine ounce of gold, with the word “Liberty” written on it, affixed to a plaque with details. Very cool. Afterwards they took photos, and then offered to take us to dinner — but at 19h30, which is very late for me to eat, and too late for Harry, so we declined. I can’t find any of the photos online, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. So Harry and his family and I had a nice dinner, and then I went to the Scandinavian party, where I met up with Cenk and (briefly) Andrew Plotkin and some other friends. Then Elise dragged me off to the bar to hang out with the Viable Paradise crowd, which was lots of fun. I got to bed at a reasonable hour.

On Thursday morning I woke up early and wrote a post for Tor.com. I was just posting it when PNH started talking to me in Gmail chat asking if I was up and wanted breakfast. I said I was, and we collected some breakfast at the Corner Bakery and took it back to TNH in their hotel room. After some breakfast and conversation I wandered over to the convention center with Patrick and had half the conversation I wanted to have with him about ILE. Then I went to my 10h00 Kaffeeklatch.

Now the way the Kaffeeklatches were organized was sub-optimal. Kaffeeklatches are a great thing, they’re a way to hang out with a writer for an hour and chat in a small group. I always enjoy them. Because of the small group bit, there’s a sign up sheet. At Denvention, you couldn’t sign up until the day of the kaffeeklatch, and not before 09h00. I sort of understood why they did it that way, because otherwise people who got there early would sign up for all the popular authors at once. But there was no way for me to know in advance if anyone would be there, and I felt that maybe people wouldn’t get out of bed on the offchance of getting to talk to me for an hour, whereas they might if they knew they could. However, I took chocolate and felt confident in seeing David Goldfarb and Carl Rigney.

As with the reading, I needn’t have worried. It was full. There was a nice mix of people I knew, people I knew online, and total strangers. It was great. I had a lovely time, and I hope they did. And the thing they did with their kaffeeklatches that was much better than Glasgow was that they were in a reasonable sized room (with a ceiling!) with decent acoustics.

I had a signing at 13h00. I hadn’t asked for a signing and didn’t want one. I hate signings. I always sit there doing nothing and feeling like a dork while the people next to me have long lines. I don’t mind signing books, but I prefer doing it in a reading or a kaffeeklatch or just randomly as I’m walking along. However, they’d put me down for one, and I didn’t want to disappoint the three people who’d want signed books, so I went along… and there was a line. I was signing for about forty minutes solid. I’ve never had that experience before. I’ve obviously hit some critical mass in terms of number of books or something. Very cool.

Then I went to lunch with Beth Meacham and Jon Singer, which was just lovely. Beth had read ILE and had some very perceptive things to say about it. We brought back some dessert for Elise and I stayed at her stall for a while as she got some stuff done, colour matching people.

I had dinner with Kate Elliott and Michelle Sagara and her husband. That was fun. Afterwards Michelle went off to the SFWA suite and Kate and I hit the parties, where we ran into Joyce at the Reno party and had an interesting conversation about Kathleen Norris, author of Through a Glass Darkly, the weirdest book in the world.

Incidentally, I disapprove of the SFWA suite. It sucks authors and editors out of the general convention, to everyone’s detriment. I appreciate that the same is the case of any specific group suite and that people want to hang out with their friends, but they could have a party for that, one night, the way most groups do. A suite that’s there all convention and where they retreat when they’re not performing helps to perpetuate an us/them thing between writers and fandom that I don’t like to see. I think the absence of a SFWA suite equivalent is one of the things that makes British conventions and smaller US cons friendlier and more fun.

I got back to my room at a reasonable time to go to bed, and talked to Bill and Kelly until a quite unreasonable hour. It was a great conversation though.

On Friday I had a ten o’clock panel on Canadian SF. I took my copy of Lady of Mazes, which I happened to be reading, and propped it up on the table to represent the absent Karl Schroeder, who couldn’t make it to the con for health reasons. As I was putting it back in my bag afterwards, I realised that this is the only time I’ve ever put a book up on the table like that! Some interesting things came up in the panel. Rob Sawyer has left Tor because they won’t pay him more or make US and Canadian book prices the same, although the dollar is at par. He now has separate Canadian and US publishers. I wonder if we’ll be seeing more of that kind of thing. I know I’m really noticing the 25% pay cut because of being paid in US dollars. He also said the reason there are proportionately more Canadian SF writers than American is because Canada has a health service. When talking about great Canadian SF writers, Christian and I competed for the number of times we could mention Yves Meynard, and I also mentioned Candas Jane Dorsay rather frequently.

Then I had lunch with Farah Mendlesohn, Graham Sleight and Karen Burnham. (Thanks, Graham!) This was to talk about the Anticipation program, but we also talked about reviewing and awards and all sorts of things. We found an adequate Vietnamese place, of the kind there are twelve within two blocks of the Anticipation convention center. The food was fine in Denver, but it will be better next year.

I was going to go to a panel I wasn’t on, but I checked in with Elise and she wanted to go to the art show, so I watched her table for a while, and had fun colour matching necklaces and people. Then I went to the Sidewise Awards, arriving only just on time because I was confused as to which hotel they were in. They were at the Sheraton. There was a little discussion about alternate history, and then the awards were presented. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union won, as we all knew it would, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Michael Flynn tied for short form. I hung around talking to KKR and Sheila Williams and Steven Silver for a while, and then took the free bus back to the Hyatt where I was meeting my dinner group.

There was too much space between things at this convention. The convention center was huge and we were only using part of it, and the hotels were quite a long way apart. It was mostly hot, though sometimes it rained, and I tended to get very tired.

I had dinner with Madeleine Robins, Elise, and Ellen Klages in a sushi place. Again, great conversation. Afterwards we bought chocolate at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, where we had excellent and well informed service. Elise bought a chocolate apple covered in stars for the Making Light party, whither we all repaired.

The Making Light party was full, and fun, and I was too tired to really appreciate it. There were wonderful chocolates made by Xopher, and odd things to drink, and lots of people I never see enough of, and I was just sitting in the corner practically falling asleep. I eventually gave in and went to bed, without even trying to drop in on the Tor party.

Saturday morning I had the “Social Control Technology: You Controlling Society Controlling You” panel. That was odd, but turned out pretty well. The thing with putting me on random panels is that I can talk about lots of things. We talked about how people make stories to control the narrative and that the way people look at facts is conditioned by the story they’re telling. There’s a pretty good summary of the panel here.

Afterwards I looked around the dealer’s room, and then hung out at Elise’s table (where all the cool kids are) until lunchtime, when I went off with Pat Wrede for lunch at the Corner Bakery. Pat Wrede is one of my favourite people, and she gives the best writing advice in the world. She told me how to fix Our Sea, and we’re going to do a writing game, just for fun, and we talked about her new project and just had the best time. We hung out all afternoon. It was great. This was one of the highlights of the con.

I only left because I had a panel — the poetry panel. I’d found out that morning that we were supposed to read some poetry as well as discuss some, so I ducked back into the room and quickly downloaded some from my LJ memories so I’d have some. We talked about poetry for a while. All the others — Geoffrey Landia, Mary Turzillo and Elissa Malcohn — were SFPA people, and seemed to have a very different view of publishing poetry from mine. They published in journals and applied for contests all the time. I had the feeling they, very politely, thought I was a bit weird. All the same, when it came to reading poems it was great, everyone had lovely work to read, and I especially enjoyed Mary Turzillo’s, because I hadn’t come across her at all before.

I had to dash off because I had another panel directly afterwards, the “Editing and Being Edited” panel, where we mostly talked about copyediting.

After that, I went to get changed and help with the set-up for the Hugo Losers Party. I delivered my bottles and said I’d do anything I could do sitting down, and at first that was trimming ribbons, and later spreading cream cheese on about a million pieces of pumpernickel, while Ctein put salmon on top. (“We’re like a well oiled machine. With fish oil.”) Then I helped cut a million slices of cake. I didn’t mind missing the Hugos, as I had fun hanging out. We got the results from Christian about thirty seconds after they were over. Then all the winners and losers came to the party, all looking very splendid, and that was fun. I saw lots of people and had a great time. I had a very late night.

Sunday morning I hung out a little with Pat Wrede and Lois Bujold in the Green Room, and then went off to my 10h00 panel. I was moderating. I started “Welcome to the 10am Women Who Read Heinlein panel, to be followed by the 11am Men Who Read Heinlein panel, the noon Kids Who Read Heinlein panel, and the 1pm Little Green Furry Aliens Who Read Heinlein panel, because really, anything else would be sexist.” However, go me, we had a Heinlein panel that did talk a little about sex and incest, but never got onto either guns or politics. We also stayed generally positive and upbeat.

I had another panel right after, “Telling Lies for a Living”, with Connie Willis, Jay Lake and Bill Mayhew… and I wasn’t at all sure what that was supposed to be about. As it turned out we talked about the difference between fiction and lies, and the things nobody would believe, and again, the way we shape our experience with stories. Connie Willis used to write True Confessions stories. Wow. There were a lot of laughs, but it was a much more serious panel than I’d imagined beforehand. I enjoyed it.

And at that point, the con was essentially over. If that seems a little abrupt to you, it did to me too.

I helped Elise for the last hour of frantic selling, and then I helped her pack up and get her stuff back to the hotel. Then we hung out for a while talking, and went out to dinner with PNH & TNH, and I managed to have the other half of the conversation I wanted to have with Patrick, so that was good. We had dinner in a terrific German restaurant recomnmended by Jon Singer, where all the food was just stellar. Then we went back to the bar in the Crowne Plaza for a little while, and I retired to bed early because I was falling over.

In the morning, Monday 11th, I got up early and packed and had breakfast with Bill and and Kelley.

A note on packing. Packing for a two week trip that included so many trains and five days at a convention with two semi-formal events (Hugo losers and Prometheus) plus books for two weeks, isn’t easy. I managed it with just my pack (Milletts, 1983, highly recommended) a food bag and denim bag, which is what Americans would call a purse. I took three pairs of trousers, one of them always on when traveling, one skirt and one dress, plus a sufficiency of shirts, many of them silk for packing smaller. I also took a sufficiency of underwear. I thought about taking less and doing laundry, but couldn’t figure where it would fit in. Playtex used to pride themselves on making an eighteen hour bra. Nobody has ever claimed to make a 48 hour bra. I knew that I’d be doing 48 hours on the train without a chance to change clothes, and decided to go for an old bra.

After breakfast, I loaded my pack into P&T’s car, and we went off into the Rockies to have lunch with Clark.

The Rockies are a very abrupt mountain range. From Denver, they look photoshopped in. The Front Range appears to leap up to snow-heights from a totally flat plain. I’ve never seen anything like them. Up in them, they’re lovely mountains, sandstone with a lot of volcanic bits, firs, aspen (great trees) and lots of ground vegetation and sticking out rock. I’m very glad I had the chance to go up into them, but in them they’re not as bizarre as they are looking at them from the city. It was wonderful to have a destination, and to see Clark’s cabin and hear the cicadas and see a hawk swoop through in the gulf of air in front of us, almost close enough to reach out and touch. We had a very pleasant morning there, and headed back after lunch so people who were flying could make their flights.

They dropped me at the railway station at about 13h00. The California Zephyr was due to leave at 20h15. I’d just had a con full of intense socialising, and I wasn’t scheduled to talk to anyone for two whole days. I felt a little lonely as I walked through the utterly deserted station. I left my pack at the left luggage office — OK, it wasn’t called that. I left my pack with some Amtrak baggage person. He didn’t charge me anything. I went back out onto the 16th Street Mall, realising I could take the free tram back up to the bit of town I knew. There was also a bookshop right there. I went in to breathe some soothing air of bookshop, and right away saw Eugene. About five minutes later, I ran into Geri Sullivan, who I’d barely seen all convention. We sat down and had a cold drink and a chat and arranged to meet for an early dinner before my train.

I went off in search of food for the trip, and found a very nice deli where I got enough for the next day. Then I went to Peets where I had a pot of tea and some free WiFi and wrote another post for Tor.com until it was time to meet Geri. We had dinner and talked about the my poetry book she’s editing for NESFA — we’re thinking of calling it Sibyls and Spaceships. Back at the station I ran into Steve and Sharon again, and also some people I’d met on the trip out, who showed me their photos of the mountains. The train was slightly late, about half an hour.

Denver to Chicago remains full of corn, with the occasional soybean for variety. John Denver is the only music for the way the distance is out there. There were white cranes in the floods by the Mississippi. I saw hawks, and deer, and lots of poddys, and prairie dogs right by the side of the train. I’d only seen them in the Biodome before. I read. I slept — better than before, my leg-rest worked. I wrote another post, and a reply to a letter from Pat, and worked on the Farthing Party program. There was still only one plug, but a technically minded young man who had gone the other way to San Francisco and was going back had bought a cable splitter so three people could plug in their laptops. The train got late, and later. I was supposed to have a four hour layover in Chicago, but I started to worry.

My four hour layover became a ten second sprint. I made it onto the Capitol Limited (don’t Amtrak trains have lovely names?) just in time. I found a seat with a working leg-rest and read and slept on and off all night. It was dark by the time we were out of Chicago. We were twenty-four hours from Denver. We went through Toledo at midnight, as usual. I missed all the stuff that was the same as the Lake Shore Limited and woke up when we were just coming in to Pittsburgh, at about breakfast time.

Pittsburgh is the only place in North America that looks like where I come from. It may not be the only city on more than one level, but it’s the only one I’ve seen. I like it.

I was out of food, except for chocolate, and parsnip crisps, so I went to the breakfast car. Amtrak do this thing where they seat you with other people. I like it. You get to chat. This time I was seated with an elderly man who introduced himself as Moss O’Connor, and his grand-daughter. They’d just got on and were going to DC for a few days. They asked where I was from and where I’d been and where I was going, and we talked about the river we could see from the window and the route the train took, through West Virginia and Maryland. When the waitress brought the checks, Moss insisted on paying for me, because he’d enjoyed talking to me. This is the first time this has ever happened.

I spent most of the day sitting in the observation car looking at the scenery and reading. The scenery was spectacular. We were back in the land of green growing things, we were in mountains and river valleys, it was wild and beautiful. I can’t believe any American writer ever wrote an overpopulation dystopia. Most of the country is totally empty. You can see one house far off in the distance, and that’s all, and they call it crowded. America isn’t just big, it’s enormous. It’s big enough to fit in several civilizations. You could practically fit in another half a dozen civilizations between Schenectady and Denver without the one already there being inconvenienced by it.

The other thing I thought, looking at those distant occasional houses, was that somebody lives there. Somebody lived there yesterday and lives there today and will still be living there tomorrow when the train has gone and another train is passing, and they’ll look at the train, maybe, and that’ll still be their life. And tomorrow’s train will be full of people looking at that little house, and they’re all people, and their lives stretch out in all directions from the train and the house and they’re all real lives and real people with connections and changes and oh, the complexity of that reaching out from that point! And I can’t know them, I can’t hold them, I can’t even make them up.

The Capitol Limited got later and later. We had to pick up a stray Amtrak engine in Cumberland, Maryland. Janet was in DC hoping to meet me in my wait there, but the wait disappeared, and I missed the connection to Baltimore. Fortunately, there are lots of trains between DC and Baltimore, and I made a different one, and also fortunately, Rivka is organized and sensible and despite my not having her phone number she looked on the web and figured everything out and came to meet the train I was on.

Rivka’s house is lovely, and the chairs stay still in one place and do not move forward all the time endlessly through the scenery. Amazing, really. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have another overnight trip to do, that I could make it all the way home from Baltimore in one day. It felt like being practically next door. This is the North American thing about distance. I finally get it. If you are less than twenty-four hours away, you are near.

Rivka made a delicious dinner, and we ate it. Her Alex is just adorable, even cooler than when they were here at New Year’s. Michael brought me a glass of wine and a glass of water. Nothing was moving. We read stories and hung out and had a good time. I had a shower (which I really needed) and slept in an incredibly horizontal bed.

The next day was Thursday, 14th. Rivka drove me around Baltimore, which seems like a very pleasant city, actually old enough to have some nice old buildings, and a very nice harbour, which connects to Chesapeake Bay and hence to the other side of the sea, a concept that still gives me goosebumps. Then, after a little hassle with Amtrak about my pass, I went in to DC and met Marilee Layman (who had made me a barette!) and Manny Olds and Janet for lunch in Union Station. After lunch we said goodbye to Marilee and walked over to the Library of Congress, because there wasn’t really time to see the pandas. I caught the same train back to Baltimore I had the day before, and Rivka and family met me and we went to have dinner with Jon Singer and Lisa at a very nice sushi place indeed in Baltimore.

I talked to Rivka and went to bed at a reasonable hour, because the train, a Regional from DC to New York, went through Baltimore at 04.45. Rivka woke me from an uneasy sleep and dreams of missed trains at 04h00. I had the tightest connection of the whole trip in New York. I’d deliberately allowed an extra day on my pass so that if I didn’t make it I could spend a day in NYC and go home the day after. But I did make it, with half an hour in Penn station to buy some onion bagels and cream cheese. Back onto the Adirondack I went, to watch herons out of the window and doze and read Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy.

Did you know that in Quest fantasies, people tell stories all the time? They tell their stories and other people’s stories and history, which is always relevant, and the act of relating is one of the distinguishing things about them. I hadn’t noticed this, though now it’s been pointed out to me I’ll probably never be capable of missing it again. I thought about this, coming up the Hudson valley and along Lake Champlain, and wondered if people ever do this in reality. I mean people definitely do shape their experience as story, but do they relate it? If they put it formally into the form of a story and told it in the kind of way you tell a story, with a proper story beginning and end, would that look peculiar, like the kind of thing people do in quest novels? And what kind of story would a story like that be? Boy meets girl, man learns lesson, the Little Tailor? Man vs man, man vs plan, man vs canal? Or the three that came up in the kaffeeklatch, which I posted to Tor.com — Pride and Prejudice, Belisarius and Hamlet? I suppose the story of a journey is usually a quest story, but what if there wasn’t any quest? Or is there always a quest?

At the Canadian border, I honestly declared my Prometheus Award, along with the books and t-shirt I had acquired along the way. The customs guy didn’t know what to make of it. I don’t think anyone had ever tried to declare an ounce of gold that was an award before. You’re only supposed to bring in $750 worth of stuff acquired abroad. He eventually decided to let me bring it in without paying duty, because I’d been honest about it and because it was an award that was staying in Canada.

The sun had set and the moon, which had been nail-paring new the first night, on the Lake Shore Limited, was full over Montreal as we came to the bridge. Emmet came down to the railway station to meet me.

“Well, I’m back,” I said.

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face