Jacqueline Kahn

My friend Jacqueline Kahn (pictured here with her husband Laurie, on their 60th anniversary trip) died yesterday morning. I want to tell you a little bit about her, and what she meant to me.

First, you have to know that in the 4th grade, I broke my leg. I broke it by hitting a moving Ford Pinto. Technically I was at a cross walk so I was not at fault, but there was a parked car directly in front of me and I ran out into the street, and the poor man who hit me couldn’t have possibly stopped in time. Regardless, my leg was well and truly smashed up, and I was in a cast and wheelchair for a big chunk of my 4th grade year.

The folks at my school decided it was not a great idea to have me tooling around the playground in a wheelchair, so for recess and lunchtimes I was carted into the school office, where Jackie was working, I believe, as a receptionist/secretary. I was ten and very very very chatty, so naturally I spent a lot of time blathering in her direction. Jackie, to her credit, was kind to me and talked back, rather than just genially ignoring me. Later, when my leg healed, I in my ten-year-old egotism thought that she would be sad that I was no longer there, so every day after that, as I headed to the bus to take me home, I would stop in and tell her a joke before I left.

I did that every single day through the end of my sixth grade year, my last year at elementary school. Most of the jokes were terrible. Jackie, bless her, continued to be kind to me.

And more than that. My mother went through a terrible divorce early in my sixth grade year, after which my mother, sister and I were briefly homeless, and then moved several times in the course of that last year, to cities other than Covina, which is where my school was. When we moved out of Covina, I should have no longer been able to attend Ben Lomond, the elementary school I was in. But of course I didn’t want that, and my mother didn’t want that, and I’m pretty sure that my mother didn’t go out of her way to tell anyone we had moved. But sooner or later it got out, and I think there was some question about whether or not I would be able to continue at Ben Lomond.

What happened then, as I understand it, is that Jackie said that if I was made to leave the school, she would quit her job.

And that was that. I stayed.

I didn’t know any of this at the time, of course. I learned about it much later. But I can’t tell you how important it was. As I said: Rough divorce, homelessness, and shuttling around to several houses, all in the space of a few months. We were terribly poor and because my mother had to find work where she could, when she could, I and my sister were left along to our own devices a lot of the time. What stability I had — honestly, the one place I could depend on not suddenly changing — came from my elementary school, where I had Jackie, my teachers (particularly Keith Johnson, my 6th grade teacher) and my friends. If I were to have lost that, among everything else I lost, I couldn’t tell you how I would have dealt with it. I suspect I would have dealt with it poorly. So I think I can say without exaggeration that Jackie’s act saved me, in ways I wasn’t aware of at the time, but am aware of now.

Jackie’s kindness to me didn’t stop once I left elementary school. We became friends and she was someone I depended on. She stayed in contact with me in junior high and high school. She took me to movies — a lot of movies, and good movies because she was a film buff — and let me visit her house, where she kept Corgis before Corgis were cool. In many ways she made me part of her extended family. I knew it and loved it, and thought of her in so many ways as another grandmother, equal to, and in most ways one I was closer to, then my own actual grandmothers.

In high school she read my stories and came to all the plays I was in. When I went off to college I would come back on holidays to see her and say hello. When it became clear Krissy and I were a serious item, I took her to Jackie’s house so she could meet her (she approved). She was there for my wedding. When I moved away she kept in touch with me through e-mail, sharing her own writing (she was a playwright, and a pretty good one) and keeping me up to date with her family, as I kept her up to date with mine. When my very first book came out, in 2000, I co-dedicated the book to her. She liked that. I knew she was proud of me and the life I’ve made.

And now she’s gone.

I had advance warning of this day, so I was able to prepare for it, which I think in many ways was a kindness. She was so important to me that having the news cold would have come like a hammer blow. Instead I had time to think of her and the totality of her life and everything I owe to her, in ways obvious and not so obvious, so that when this final door closed I could feel, not pain, but joy in a life that was well-lived and was generous enough to encompass me in it.

Jacqueline Kahn was a woman who was good to me as a child, a friend to me as an adult, and always, a home spirit — someone I knew cared for me, no matter what, and with whom I felt safe, and cherished, and loved. I love her, and will miss her, and will carry her and her kindness in my heart all of my days.

All my love now goes to her family, and to all of those who knew her and cared for her, and for whom she cared. May her memory be a blessing to each of them.

And thank you for letting me share a little bit of who she was with you. When you see me, you see a little bit of her in me. I’m glad of that. She was the best of people.

Weekend Updatery and Miscellaneous, 6/8/15

A catchall post for a few things. 

* I spent the weekend in Berkeley, California for the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival, and in my opinion the folks running it did pretty well for the first shot at the event. There were a few hiccups here and there, but by and large people seemed to enjoy themselves, and I’m happy to say my events were well-attended. My first event was a reading and Q&A, followed by a panel on climate change and fiction, which also included Paolo Bacigalupi, Edan Lepucki and Antti Tuomainen. I also got to see several friends there, which is always a joy, and on Saturday evening got to hang out with a bunch of writers, including Paolo, Kim Stanley Robinson and Karen Joy Fowler, discussing writing and publishing. It was a pretty nifty time, in short, and enough so that I didn’t mind several hours in the air, both ways, to be in the Bay Area less than 48 hours overall.

The picture above, incidentally, taken from the balcony of the University Club at the top of Memorial Stadium, where the book festival held a welcoming party for writers. It was a lovely time; I hung out with my friend Olivia Ahl (events coordinator for the Bellevue branch of the University Bookstore (that’s University of Washington, not Cal)), author Suzanne Young, and Wired editor Adam Rogers. I also met Otis Chandler, CEO of Goodreads, who also happens to be a fellow alumni of my high school, the Webb Schools of California (he graduated a few years later than I) and his wife Elizabeth. Otis and I talked obscure high school lore whilst everyone about us looked on tolerantly.

In any event, I thought the Bay Area Book Festival was a success, and can’t wait for future installments.

* Over the weekend I also ran a fundraiser for Con or Bust, in which I invited folks to post a picture of a happy puppy, and for every picture I would donate $1. As a result we got to see about three hundred different doggies in the thread, either pictured or linked to, which makes it arguably the most adorable comment thread in the history of Whatever. In the end there were 317 comments, some of which were repeats as people tried alternate methods to post pictures of their pups, but eh, I rounded up and donated $325 to Con or Bust. The donation is now already sent off, so well done, everybody. You and your puppies can be proud. Also, if you yourself are looking to donate to a worthy cause, consider Con or Bust. It’s pretty cool.

* On a (very) tangentially related note, Jim Hines did some yeoman work over the weekend doing a quick early history of the Sad Puppies, using their own words to help make the picture more clear for the confused, which at this point could be everyone. Jim somewhat mercifully skates over the part where Theodore Beale makes the Sad Puppies his arguably unwitting tools for his own purposes (i.e., the “Rabid Puppies” slate, aka the “Let me just use the Hugos to promote my own little not terribly successful publishing house here” slate), but it’s otherwise pretty comprehensive, and a good primer.

It’s not escaped notice that I’ve been slacking on my Hugo/Puppies commentary recently, but honestly at this point there’s not anything new for me to say. It’s a low-information movement begun in craven entitlement, with a political element tacked on as a cudgel, taken over by an ambitious bigot, and I’m sorry for the several excellent people I know who have gotten wrapped up in this nonsense one way or another. That’s pretty much where I’ve been on it for a while now. When I have anything new and useful to add, I’ll make note of it.

* So that we won’t go out on a low note, and to usher in Monday, may I present the following exchange between me and Chuck Wendig on Twitter, which to my mind amply explains why Twitter does and should exist:

And off we go into the week!