About Lori Berhon

Lori Berhon is a New-York based novelist and playwright. Her work is distinguished for its intelligence and for the vivid humanity of even her most impossible characters. She is actually taller, slimmer and far more elegant than she appears to be.

Peppers other than Potts

Another brain burp.

When I was young, my family went through some rough patches. It’s no coincidence that I was drawn to stories about children living with uncertainty, or that I found comfort and inspiration in their happy endings. These were kids whose lives changed in ways I could imagine might happen to me. Even if unusually good luck often seemed to be involved, there wasn’t a Harry Potter or a Katniss Everdeen or a Percy Jackson in the pack (except for maybe the Murry kids; and please don’t say I have to point you to A Wrinkle in Time).

A lot of what I read was set in the 19th century, which made the less probable bits easier to accept; and often written from first hand knowledge or personal memory (simple observation; I don’t know if it signifies anything). I started with Little Women, moving on to An Old Fashioned Girl and the two Rose Campbell stories. There were the Little House books, of course. And The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. The group biography of Betsy Ray and her friends Tacy and Tib. And always, that kindred spirit, Anne of Green Gables.

You’ve probably heard of most of these, even if you haven’t read them all yourself. But there’s another series that I loved that seems to have been forgotten.

The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

The title of this first book (click here to go to the Project Gutenberg page) could easily describe the entire series. Margaret Sidney followed the five Pepper children and their widowed Mamsie (well, the March sisters had Marmee; clearly the 19th century had a lot more words for “Mom” than we do now), from childhood to early adulthood at the turn of the last century.

The first book began with them struggling to keep body and soul together in the Little Brown House. Then, through a serendipitous meeting with the wealthy Mr. King, their fortunes changed. Part of the fabric of the stories was that Mamsie and the older kids put a lot of effort into making sure this wasn’t taken for granted; the King mansion was a temporary oasis, and it was up to them to work hard and not waste this gift.

I loved all the Peppers: stalwart Ben, loving Polly, daring Joel, sweet Davie and the always adorable baby of the family, Phronsie. And of course, the Laurie of the series, Mr. King’s young son, Jasper. Sidney made them all feel very real to me, even when they were being too good to be true.

Maybe the real generation gap starts to show in the books you read in childhood. When I was growing up, books told me that if I worked hard, played by the rules and stood by those I loved, that life could change for the better. It seems a sadly naive era now, surely unimaginable to the generation prepared for life by The Hunger Games.


How Random is This?

Because I’m supposed to be focussing on finishing a book, my mind is more than usually prone to wandering down random byways. I thought that by writing down down a few of these thought-burps for a post, I could at least pretend that I was being productive.


Chris Thile playing Bach on a mandolin

My friend Joe posted this on Facebook last year, and I fell in love with it.

There’s something so simple about this. Not “easy” simple; simple like Shaker furniture. Clean, beautifully crafted, uncovering the essence of the material by refusing to overburden it with frills.

This is Sonata #1 in Gm (BWV 1001, for those who are cross-checking their collections). The album, which I bought and often play while I’m writing (I’m listening to it now), also has a second sonata and a partita. All the pieces were written for violin. They’re utterly stunning on mandolin.

You watch Thile on this YouTube clip, and there’s something almost casual about his masterful fingers calling out this magic. A quiet kind of Wow.


Geeking in Seattle

So I found myself walking around Seattle’s EMP museum, whispering gleefully: “Sirius Black’s coat! Corben Dallas’s blaster! O’Neill’s sunglasses! Mr. Pointy!! OMG, a Dalek!!!”

According to their own website slugline, the EMP (for Experience Music Project) is “a leading-edge, nonprofit museum, dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture.” I would note that “popular culture” here takes the shape of rock music and science fiction. Which is no surprise when you consider that the EMP is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Truly, the place is a techno-geek’s dream.

Seattle's EMP

Seattle’s EMP

The building, designed by Frank Gehry, looks like a giant’s child peeled all the coloured foil off his Easter chocolates and tossed it at the foot of the Space Needle. The EMP website says that Gehry was “inspired to create a structure that evoked the rock ‘n’ roll experience” and used bits of electric guitars as building blocks for an early model design. I would say that some emotional inspirations resonate more successfully than others. Here, the clash and smash lacks the energy to overcome the dissonance of either the structure with itself or with its Seattle Central setting. But it does have the virtue of difference, and the eye makes of it what it will. My own eye, leaning more to the scifi end of the EMP collection, decided one bit of crumpled aluminum had something of Darth Vader’s helmet about it.

Stepping inside, I was drawn to the core of the space and a soaring funnel of electric guitars and keyboards. From there, it was an absorbing meander through the dark (conservationally prudent and also aesthetically correct) and often-winding galleries. The day I was there, the exhibits included: Spectacle: The Music Video; Block by Block: Inventing Amazing Architecture (Lego, of course); Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses; Fantasy: World of Myth and Magic; Hear My Train a Comin’: Hendrix Hits London; Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film; and, Icons of Science Fiction. (I think there are more colons in the previous sentence than most people use in a month)

While I made a respectful pass through the Jimi Hendrix exhibit (and was overwhelmed by a sense of my own antiquity), I was mostly there for the scifi. As you’ll note from the exhibit list, despite the Science Fiction Museum no longer being a permanent collection (how sad!), the EMP continues to maintain a significant presence in this area and to present (and grow) the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. There was a lot for me to see. Correction: for me to wallow in. The EMP is a highly-interactive experience. I pushed all the buttons in the Fantasy exhibit, mapping out a rough fantasy world on digital parchment and learning that my own fantasy archetype is “the Mystic.” I watched a few Horror film clips, then ran into the soundproof Scream booth and let one rip. But mostly I moved, in ever-increasing delight, from case-to-case, staring at costumes and props that represent entire worlds.

If you’re wondering why I’m posting about going to a museum, that’s why. That last bit. Because the EMP isn’t about “popular culture,” or science fiction or even rock and roll. The EMP is a museum of stories. So are most museums, if you look the right way and are willing to work a little. But at EMP it’s all up front: on the music side, it’s about storytellers; and on the scifi side, its all about the stories themselves. So I gawked and the stories unfolded in my memory. And I sent out grateful thoughts to all the artists whose vision and talent had built and shared these worlds, these stories. I emerged into a sunny afternoon, where it seemed only right to be staring up at the Space Needle. An icon of my generation’s bedtime story of the future, anchored to the heart of a city that itself has become iconic of the technology so dominant in the story of today.