© 2004 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.
—because I’ve been living his life, lately.
I’ve been promising to write a new installment in this lurching Online Diary for a long time now. So long that the illusion it’s really a diary has begun to slip—any true blogger must hold it in contempt. Well, now I’ve finally got, not just the time to write for free, but nothing but good news to write about. Now, I’m afraid my problem will be to avoid sounding like one of those assholes who sends you an infuriatingly cheerful family-letter at Christmastime, reporting a record of relentless success, prosperity and record achievement by every family member, along with a cute photo of the cat.
Because my loved ones and I really do seem to have found the handle, these days. This has been the happiest year of my life so far--and that’s saying something.
For a start, as I write this I am on my first vacation in thirty years. Really.
Oh, I’ve been to a ton of vacation destinations during that period. Cairns, Australia. Amsterdam. N’Awlins. Key West. Disneyland. Bar Harbor. Port Arthur. Pretty much every major city in North America, for that matter. Always on someone else’s dime, always working, as a convention guest, festival guest, paid lecturer or drug courier. Far too many interesting cities have been, for me, just another version of a generic hotel room.
But these last few weeks, owing to a peculiar concatenation of unusual circumstances--of which more anon--I am finally on vacation. Literally. For the first time since 1974, I’m not under contract. I don’t owe anybody a book. At 55, I wake up in the morning a free man, unconstrained by anything but whim and capacity, entitled to do any goddamn thing I feel like doing today.
The peculiar circumstances come down to a very slight excess of good luck. A month or so ago I delivered my latest novel, VERY BAD DEATHS, to Baen Books. (It will be out in hardcover in December.) Ordinarily, I would long since have contracted with someone for another book by now--probably long since spent the advance money for it. But the next book is going to be VARIABLE STAR, my collaboration with Robert A. Heinlein. (My God, I still can’t type those words without awe and disbelief.)
It has in fact been sold already, to Tor Books, who paid a bundle for it. Enough that even after the Heinlein Prize Foundation takes its half off the top, I’ll be doing a little better than usual. Well, the thing is, when you get up into that kind of money, it apparently takes twice as long as usual to produce an adequate contract. Weeks have gone by without one.
I don’t mind. It means I’m off duty. It was Robert Heinlein himself who once strongly advised me (made me promise, actually) never to begin work on a book until the first advance cheque had, not merely arrived, but cleared.
I’m now informed that the contract has been completed, signed by Art Dula for the Heinlein Foundation, and FedExed, and should reach me in a couple of days. Once I sign it, more machinery will grind, and at a guess I’ll have that cheque in a couple of weeks. Assuming it clears, I’ll be back on duty, then—and facing the greatest challenge of my professional career, perhaps the greatest challenge of any science fiction writer’s professional career.
But right now, I’m on vacation! And furthermore, I have wisely chosen to spend it at the best, most idyllic vacation spot on this lovely planet: my home.
I live on an island twenty minutes from the coast of British Columbia. It’s never cold in winter, never hot in summer, rains less than Seattle, people don’t lock their doors, and deer run freely. Rich people pay huge sums of money to come here on their own vacations, and I’m certainly no dumber than they are.
Here in Paradise, in my own home, not only do I already know where everything is, I finally have the unrestricted right to enjoy it, the way I’ve been meaning to for so long, but was too busy meeting deadline. For once, I have absolutely nothing even arguably better to do than rub my wife’s beloved feet. Or scratch the cat, or e-mail an old friend, or go for a walk, or sit out on my sundeck and pick Beatles songs on Lady Macbeth. It’s amazing what treasures you find in your own library, if you have time to get it all reshelved and organized. It’s astonishing what incredible music you own, when you finally have time to sort and sample it, and burn some of the old reel-to-reel stuff on to CD, and so forth.
And now that I finally have the time for it, this websurfing stuff turns out to be as interesting and fun and addictive as you’ve all been telling me. Zipping from link to link, chasing an idea across the noosphere, sucking up information like a killer whale—way cool. In one sense, I’ve been vacationing all over the planet. No, the universe.
Okay, so now that I have time to tell you...how am I doing?
Better than good. The gods have been kind, lately. So much good stuff has happened, I have trouble putting it any kind of order. I mean, you’d think being commissioned to collaborate with Robert would have to be the automatic chart-topper, right? But how am I supposed to compare that with, say, the privilege of having been present to see my beautiful daughter marry a truly sweet guy in a perfect ceremony in one of the most beautiful spots in America?
For those who do not know, Terri Luanna Robinson was married on August 22, 2003 to Heron Gonsalvez da Silva, an engineering student from Rio DeJaneiro, Brazil. They decided to have what they call a “destination wedding," in San Francisco. The Soto Zen ceremony was performed by Zoketsu Norman Fischer, past Abbott of the San Francisco Zen Center, attended by Arlene Lueck, a Zen priest and friend of Jeanne’s, at a heart-stoppingly lovely spot high in the Marin headlands called Battery Rathbone-McIndoe, overlooking San Francisco Bay—Golden Gate below to the left, sea off to the right.
The late-August, late-afternoon weather was, most uncharacteristically, picture-perfect, blue skies, puffy clouds. The ceremony went perfectly. Most present were nonBuddhist, but all could plainly see that Norman is a truly special man, and it was universally agreed that he hit all the right notes and did a bangup job. Terri’s lifelong best friend Irene Kim made the best wedding speech I ever heard; I tear up today just thinking about it. Jeanne and I sang to the happy couple: “Calico Skies,” the last love song Paul wrote to Linda. It was a nice afternoon.
The reception restaurant, Annabelle’s, was both outstanding and surprisingly inexpensive. The hotel our clever daughter had made a great deal with for the whole wedding party (ca. 30 people) was…well, you’ve seen it. You must have. Everybody has seen The Maltese Falcon, and that’s where it was set. The Pickwick is precisely as charming today as it was then, globe lights, original furnishings, modernized just enough. It was a pleasure to stay there. The windows open. You could step out if you wanted to.
Anyway, the whole thing was such good juju that it became contagious: the next afternoon, halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge, one member of the wedding party popped the question to another, and she said yes.
Terri and Heron are living in NYC, now, he aiming for an engineering degree, and she aiming for a degree in social work. Yes, that’s right: my daughter, who went from Print Production Coordinator for Martha Stewart Living Magazine to the largest advertising agency in the world, Ogilvy, has decided the next logical thing to do in her corporate climb is to acquire a Master’s degree in her spare time, then drop out and become a social worker. I’m so proud of her I’m in danger of busting my buttons.
From the wedding, Jeanne and I plunged almost at once into the massive madness of another Worldcon.
They’re always traumatic, for one in the profession…but this time, I was the furshlugginer Toastmaster! Worse, it was my second stint as Worldcon Toastmaster, and…well, let’s just say, without going into details, that my first stint had not gone well. Not well at all. It had in fact been a memorable disaster, my worst on-stage bomb ever--so bad that I have no idea what led Torcon 3 to ask me to do it again, and can’t imagine what possessed me to accept.
This time, it went extremely well. In fact, it could hardly have gone better.
Okay, I did screw up once during the Hugo presentation, presenting a category out of order without even realizing it after my notes got scrambled by an understandably distracted Hugo-accepter. But this convention’s crew were genuine professionals: they covered for me so well, changing slides on the fly without warning, that most of the audience never realized I’d goofed.
And as it turned out, a non-bombing Hugo performance, sweet as it was to take that curse off, was not the nicest or most memorable thing that happened at that convention, by a long shot.
For one thing, there was the Heinlein Awards Dinner, just across the street from the convention, at which the first-ever Robert A. Heinlein Awards were given out. The Heinleins, which will be awarded annually, are intended to recognize works of fiction and nonfiction which help encourage manned spaceflight. Robert's longtime friend Yoji Kondo (AKA sf writer Eric Kotani) thought up the idea. Winners are selected by a jury including representatives of the English department at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. and several notable sf writers, among them me. Attendees at the dinner included some of the most illustrious names in sf.
The second Heinlein award was given to Mike Flynn, who gave the shortest acceptance speech I’ve ever heard in my life, to thunderous applause. But the first was, by unanimous vote of the judges, awarded posthumously to Virginia Gerstenfeld Heinlein, Robert’s widow, who had just passed away a few months earlier, and under whose stewardship the Heinlein estate had multiplied in value five times since Robert's passing. It presently serves as the main foundation for the Heinlein Prize Trust, which intends to give away half a million dollars a year to whoever does the most that year to advance commercial manned spaceflight, from now until the money runs out. (The principal purpose of VARIABLE STAR is to help keep that pot full.)
The party was a blast, well organized, well attended by many extraordinary people--in particular, it was an honor and pleasure to meet Robert and Ginny’s lovely granddaughter, Dr. Amy Baxter and her sweet husband Dr. Louis Baxter--and we were all electrified by a surprise showing of Virginia Heinlein’s personal kinescope copy of the interviews that Walter Cronkite did with both an ecstatic Robert and Arthur C. Clarke on the day Apollo 11 landed. Great night.
Next day I was on a panel, on a topic of more than passing interest to me: “rare and obscure Heinleiniana.” I’d been invited to attend because I contributed an introduction to Robert’s latest book, his legendary, long-lost “first novel,” FOR US, THE LIVING. My good friend and agent Eleanor Wood was also present; being also Robert Heinlein’s agent, she has a natural interest. But the stars of the panel, the ones I was thereto see and hear and meet, were people like Art Dula, who heads the Heinlein Prize Trust, and David M. Silver, who helms the Heinlein Society, and Dr. Robert James, the man who single-handedly rescued FOR US, THE LIVING from oblivion by brilliant detective work and sheer persistence, and especially Bill Patterson, Robert’s official authorized biographer and historian, who has spent the last while completely immersed in the Heinlein archives at UCLA Santa Cruz: in Lord Buckley’s words, “into that scoffs-patch up to his shoulders, scoffing up an insane breeze!” The room was packed to capacity with attentive readers.
To everyone’s dismay, it turned out Bill Patterson had been turned away at the border for some silly bureaucratic reason. So Art, Bob and David vamped for the audience beautifully, listing and discussing some of the odd--sometimes extremely odd--things they had found in the archives. Bob James, being an archives veteran, had some of the best stuff. Okay, one quick example: he described a treatment for a Robert Heinlein screenplay entitled, swear to God, Abbott and Costello Move to the Moon. No, really.
And then, a few items later, someone--I believe it was Bob, but I’m not certain--happened to mention that he’d come across a full, detailed, outline for a novel, complete with character sketches and other notes, which Robert had set down in 1955, but never got around to writing. My ears grew points.
And from somewhere in the back of the room, a woman’s voice called, “You should get Spider Robinson to finish that book.” And there was applause. Immediately on my left sat the man who controls the copyright to all Heinlein material.
So that was a good day.
So I went home, and received a copy of Robert’s outline and notes, and loved them, and wrote two sample chapters and a proposal and a title (Robert had put down seven possible titles, but even he didn’t like any of them much), and they were all approved by Art Dula, and in the fullness of time the book, to be known as “ROBERT A. HEINLEIN’S VARIABLE STAR by Spider Robinson,” sold to Tor for the proverbial six figures.
Since then, little dividends of joy keep coming in, like the receding ripples of pleasure that accompany a truly great orgasm--and sometimes, if you’re lucky, signal that it’s about to become a multiple. For example, Art Dula moved me to tears by sending me, out of the blue, Robert’s desk dictionary, heavily used and carefully repaired--Robert Heinlein’s personal box of words. He filled out the package with a pound of authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain. Similarly, sweet Amy sent me a set of her grandfather’s cufflinks to wear as I type VARIABLE STAR, and Jeanne a few pieces of her grandmother’s jewelry to wear for me when I stumble from the typewriter. I feel supported and encouraged by the whole Heinlein family and legacy. That makes me the luckiest writer alive. And one of the luckiest readers.
And encouraged and inspired by all that, I suddenly figured out how to solve the plot problem that had my current novel stalled, and I finished the thing in a sustained frenzy, the poke-food-in-with-a-stick-and-leave-him-be kind, and delivered it significantly less than a year late. It's a departure for me: an sf/thriller, which had been sold as ONE-EYED WITCH DOCTOR (for reasons too obscure to be worth recounting), and written as OF THREE MINDS, and will be published as VERY BAD DEATHS.
(After thirty years, I finally said to myself, “the hell with warm fuzzy optimistic inspirational stories--I’m gonna scare the beans out of ‘em for a change!” I hope the title will be hint enough.)
So now I wait, in no real hurry, for Tor’s cheque to arrive. The only professional work I’ve done in weeks was a sheer pleasure: writing the liner notes for a superb CD called THE AMOS GARRETT ACOUSTIC ALBUM, soon to be released by Stony Plain Records of Edmonton, Alberta, and featuring the best guitarist/singer currently metabolizing carbon, playing the kind of music he plays best. Meanwhile I have the time I’ve longed for for so long to hang out around the house with my Jeanne, to go sit zazen with her at the local island zendo once a week, or accompany her on one of her daily walks around the island, or sit and sing with her in the living room after supper, or cuddle in front of a good DVD. And I have the time to sample my own book and music collection, and start rebuilding my guitar calluses, and inspect my own property a little closer, and soak in the tub for as long as it suits me instead of hurrying back to work…
And most of all and best of all, the time to appreciate the number and magnitude and blessedness of my blessings.
Just as I feared, this has turned into a Christmas letter. All right, no point fighting it, might as well go ‘ole ‘og—here, to close this diary entry with a final orgy of sentimentality, are the lyrics to two songs I just wrote for Jeanne, for her birthday:
I Don’t Care
You’ve put up with my bullshit now for over thirty years
We’ve shared a lot of laughter and we’ve shared a lot of tears
We’ve had some disappointments in our lives and our careers
And wasted time in tripping over grievances and fears
But none of that’s important, so I’m gonna let it go
‘Cause every time I look at you, I swear to God you glow
You’ve given more to me than I imagined one could give
As long as I can live with you, I don’t care where we live
I am a tall and skinny tree, with hardly any roots
I calculate by now I’ve worn out twenty pairs of boots
Stability is not one of my major attributes
But I know what I need and I accept no substitutes
I know what is important, and will never let it go
Cause every time I look at you, you definitely glow
You’ve given more to me than I imagined one could give
As long as I can live with you, I don’t care how we live
It doesn’t matter if we’re rich
It doesn’t matter if we’re poor
It doesn’t matter if we blow it
All that matters is, we’re sure
By now I’ve lived at too many addresses to recall
I’ve had so many numbers I don’t know which one to call
But I’ve seen so many others who are climbing up the wall
From needing just a little bit--and here I have it all
That’s why it is important that I never let you go
‘Cause every time I look at you, the glow is all I know
You’ve given more to me than I imagined one could give
If I can live with you, then I don’t care how long I live
From time to time I see a question lurking in your eyes
Something you can’t figure out, that causes you surprise
You seem to find it puzzling that you are so adored
As though the love I give you were an undeserved reward
Well, it’s not exactly rocket science
More a rule of thumb
I’ll tell you why I love you:
I’m not dumb
It’s the question asked by everyone since one million B.C.
Why on earth would anybody love a fool like me?
Well, baby, if you’re wondering, you only need to ask
I do not mind explaining: it’s a pretty simple task
It didn’t take extraordinary
Marksmanship by Cupid--
The reason why I love you?
I’m not stupid
I may not get another fifty years--but if I do
I plan to spend them all annoying you
Now you know that I’ll be here ‘til one of us is dead
You have a right to wonder what is going through my head
What is it that keeps me with you, even when you’re nuts
And I am full of bullshit, and we hate each others’ guts
I didn’t need to be perceptive
Sensitive or wise
This is why I love you:
I’ve got eyes
The answer’s fairly obvious
It has been since we met
I love you ‘cause you’re you--
What don’t you get?
All material above, diary entry plus all song lyrics, (c) 2004 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.