Friday, January 30, 2015

January 30

Today is the 85th birthday of Gene Hackman, an actor I’ve always enjoyed. Years ago, a friend told me my dad reminded them of him very strongly – and, though there is no physical resemblance in their looks, I’ve always remembered that. Hackman has a gruff voice yet warmth that does indeed have some similarity my dad’s presence.

Today is also someone else’s birthday, someone else who loved my dad.

And in less than two weeks, it’ll be the anniversary of the day he died. It will be twelve years now, and I won’t be obvious about how it all feels. Only this: when we were bereft of him, I came to understand ancestor-veneration, something so many cultures across the world have shared, but which is considered almost unseemly in our own. Only this: I am incapable of not measuring the lives of others against the span My Father was given. Wilt Chamberlain died younger. Gene Hackman is several years older, and still with us.

It’s not a contest. But it’s impossible not to measure, when someone is cut short. Impossible not to think about what the real dad would have been like at seventy-seven. Impossible not to want, still, to talk with him. To think, “I bet if he were alive, I’d have pushed harder on my book; it’d be published by now.”

Gene Hackman is a historical novelist, did you know?


Today is also Friday, it’s pay day, and tomorrow I have a date for Girls’ Night Out. I’m looking forward to a good weekend; even if, right now, I am indulging a very Lush Case of hormones indeed.

Happy Gene Hackman’s birthday (or Charles I’s death day – or Balthild’s day – or whatever you prefer)!

Movie and Chinese?

There is a great freedom in being the sort of twit who just cannot care about some of the Great Big Events of American pop culture. The awards shows, American Idol, whatever the latest blockbuster movie is – even The Latest Technology – I may get to these things sooner or later, but I never will worry about being an early-adopter. Even Trek, though I make a point of seeing on the big screen, I’ve never made any real point about opening days.

The thing about going later in a film’s run is that it’s less of a zoo. And I never leave my home socially nor speak to people like a normal human being, so I don’t tend to get spoilered. So why would I want to get all fashed and roar out with everybody else and their yowling youngsters to Be FIRST?

The thing about not watching the Oscars or the Super Bowl or American Idol’s audition shows is, I’m not up till all hours to see the end, and as often as not (perhaps more?) I don’t even care nor find out Big Surprises the next day either. Sure, I’ll know if the Seahawks win – I have family in the Pacific Northwest, and a certain star on the team comes from my neck of the woods. I will hardly make a point of *avoiding* the news.

But I make little enough of a point of keeping up that the only reason I know the Super Bowl is this weekend (I assume it’s Sunday, but feel free not to update me in the Comments) is that a friend at work shared a recipe for Buffalo chicken dip with me today. I clued in that this might be an indicator. Heh.

Living outside these Major Events is a bit like being Jewish at Christmas – you can go for Chinese food and drive with easy traffic to go take in a flick (though, of course, the Gentile crowd’s going in for the latter more and more). You can watch ANYTHING you want, and know nobody’s going to call and interrupt as you read subtitles or paint your nails or query, for that matter.

(I hope agents don’t consider it un-American to find queries date- and time-stamped during the Super Bowl …)

You can research the state of life at night during the so-called “Dark Ages”, or read about death’s place in life, or even pick up Procopius for some not-so-secret history.

Hey, you can blog! I could do that. I just might, stay tuned.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Buttonwheezeur

The happy little community at Janet Reid’s blog was using, as we do, her beloved friend Felix Buttonweezer in a discussion recently, when the spelling of his name came up. When the dastardly culprit responsbile for adding “Buttonweazer” to the mix published a smiling mea culpa this weekend, I got to thinking (again) about the way many people look at spelling.

An awful lot of us like the idea that spelling is a fixed system, subject to rules, reassuringly constant; yet event he briefest consideration blows this idea to smithereens. Or smithereans, if you like.

History provides copious exemplars of how the Very Silly People of the past used to spell things different ways; Henry VIII’s wives alone give us an almost dizzying array of spelling what was an almost remarkably limited variety of names (see also: Katheryn, Katherine, Catherine, and so on). Many of the most famous names in history, some spellings of which were pasted on without recourse to primary sources generations and even centuries removed from those they are applied to – and, of course, the translation of names from one language to another give us very famous names indeed the original user would never have recognized. Da Vinci is one of the best-known non-names, but take a look at the "à" in "Thomas à Becket" for a real roller coaster ride of interpolation.

Clovis, of course, was called no such thing by his un-sainted mother, and we have Romanization to thank for a charming variety of sobriquets presumed to be easier on the tongue than what may or may not accurately be called the genuine articles.

But this mutability in spelling is decidedly NOT an antique phenomenon, and that I think is where people get caught up short. In my own lifetime, Peking and the Hapsburgs have seen distinctive changes in the West, and I’ve seen names and ages of world figures reinterpreted very commonly by the most supposedly-rigorous journalistic outlets and so on. It’s all to facile to lean on Reliable Sources for correct information, but even then we’re often dealing with translations – and, frankly, a standard of fact-checking that seems to have mutated itself over the past generation or so.


Personally, I have a big tic about getting the spelling and pronunciation of people’s names correct, but I don’t have time to fret much about the many folks who like to spell my Diane with two Ns or insist on tagging that extraneous Bionic S onto the end of my surname. Or call me Debbie or Donna. It’s a matter of respect from my side, especially given the diversity of teams I have worked with over the years (I used to go pretty bazoo when people mispronounced some of our Indian, Pakistani, or French Algerian teammates lazily), but on the receiving end I’ve learned to take whatever name people want to call me, as long as it’s not insulting. (*)

From a youthful sense of grammatical and spelling superiority, I’ve come to a great fascination with the limberness of the English language. Its linguistic variety and beauty don’t stop, for me, when I hear the word I think of as “ask” pronounced “ax” and I only wish I could see the day when minority usage in particular gained the respect it deserves, as a reflection of history and culture and an experience other than my own. (All this said, I still can’t take “noo-cue-lur” and “jool-urry” though.)



(*Nearly a decade ago, I worked with a guy we’ll call George. George was an irascible, incredibly self-assured, talky guy much taken with his own sense of humor and very much an acquired taste, whom I happened to love to bits, irascibility and all. He used to call me “Lady Di” and I let it get to me to the point where I finally told him he had to stop it. His initial response, “BUT I LIKE IT!” was so wonderfully typical of him I grin to this day. And he stopped calling me Lady Di, cold. And I got so I really, really missed it. And still do.

This story is in no way a license for anyone else, ever, to call me Lady Di – any more than it is for anyone other than Mr. X or my mama to call me Di, or anyone but that one Green Beret I used to be friends with to call me Didee, or for anyone but that filmmaker friend to call me Darcey, or my Beloved Ex to call me a Wonderful Bag of Things. All rights to nicknames are non-transferable.)

Blood Runs Cold Again

At my job, I take a special pride in some of the more difficult parts. I don’t take great RELISH in them, but when we get a call from someone who’s mad at something that happened with an employee, I have a fair record of satisfying the disgruntled. I take a very real stake in our reputation, and being part of the operations of our business means I am, as they say, “customer-facing” in a unique way from time to time – when people have a problem with us.

Most of those who call with a complaint, it must be said, aren’t calling in a highly emotional state, and even those who are unhappy tend not to begin by taking things out on me. We’re all in the transaction together, and I do everything I can to explain what I’ll do next, to answer for my company’s reputation, and to take people seriously. And they know they’re not calling the person who upset them, really, so more often than not once I’ve gone through a complaint with someone, they are happier once they hang up than when they called.

Only a very few times has someone called me actually angry. Once it was someone in a contracting position of sorts, mad he couldn’t find our location, and when I (nowhere even near the state in which he was lost) was unable to help him (this was in the very beginning of my tenure, and I was not issued street directions to sixty-three offices when I started here) my vice president told me, “Give him to me. Nobody yells at you.”

Once it was a woman so wildly abusive that once she’d cursed at me violently several times in a row, I actually did hang up. There was exactly nothing I could have done to satisfy her, and as much as I care about our reputation, there was no remediating that (nor, frankly, was that really the problem – just a raving maniac). And I don’t get paid to take instruction on the gruesomely biological suggestions being made.

Today, it was someone who may well have had a very real reason for her upset. But I honestly don’t know. Something in a communication from somewhere in our company offended her, and I am sick about that if we said something that caused hurt or anger. But it was impossible for me to triangulate either the nature of the offense, or its source. I attempted a few reasonable questions, was called a disgrace, and requested to twist a fastener of the non-nail variety off before she hung up.

This was upsetting for me, but as problematic as anything in the exchange was that I could not complete the transaction. I couldn’t help – indeed, was outright prevented, by the petitioner herself.

Far more upsetting, though, was that this woman also abused our receptionist. Not only because our receptionist is very good at her job, AND a nice person for whom I feel loyalty and now some protectiveness, but because I’ve had that job before, and I know all too well what it can be like.

I’m no fan of a holler-er, but I can take that and go home and snoodle my beautiful furbabies and marinate in the magical potion of moral superiority (and I can vent at my brother and/or friends). But holler at someone with whom I share a vested concern for my employer, and someone I LIKE? Bite it, caller, I’m not on your side when you scream like a coward at someone you KNOW cannot respond.

As it was, no matter how much I said, “I want to help you” the woman was the rage-version-of-gleeful in accusing me of being angry with her too.

Um. No. You’re not important enough for me to get upset about lady – until you’ve hung up on me and then I find out you’ve abused my coworker.



The night is rain-into-snow, and I brought home my laptop, though our neck of the woods is not in for the brunt of the big snowstorm on its way to a spectacular pummeling of the Eastern Seaboard. It’s not beyond me to think happy thoughts of sleeping in and enjoying a commute only as long as the distance to my home office, wearing warm, comfortable boots. I’m home and I’m safe now, warm and well-fed with the animules (spelling intentional, yes; a dad-ism, and those are warm too).

That execrable human being can’t get me.

But man did she make my BLOOD RUN COLD for a minute there.

Hoping your Monday was a wonderfully dull day. But, if not, please throw in your own “vent” in the comments!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Live Long and Puppy

As if Cute Shoes hasn't got me spending enough time on the retail Dark Side, she just turned me on to geek pet art. For those in the know: my birthday's coming!  Hah. (Y'all see why I dig her the mostest?)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Collection

The History Blog on the scandal of Tut's beard, with special opprobrium for CNN (well earned).

Isis' Wardrobe tells us that Stockholm will be host to a plastic-fantastic bad period costuming extravaganza on August 22. Oh how I wish I could go!

Mojourner shows us the coolest scraper tool I personally have seen in a long time - and it's purple (which is itself an interesting indicator!).

Raise your hand if you had a Kodak! (Or just reminisce in the comments - I had a flip-flash, myself, which for some reason is impossible to find in a Google image search, huh!) Passion of Former Days is such a great vintage-image blog.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Antique Style

His sister Rebecca—tall, erect, with grand lace, in a splendid stiff brocade, and with a fine fan—was certainly five-and-fifty, but still wonderfully fresh, and sometimes had quite a pretty little pink colour—perfectly genuine—in her cheeks; command sat in her eye and energy on her lip—but though it was imperious and restless, there was something provokingly likeable and even pleasant in her face.

How OSUM are the phrases “command sat in her eye and energy on her lip” and “provokingly likeable” … ? This description is as appealing and meaningful 152 years on as it was the moment he wrote it; that is the immediacy, the “there-ness” of wonderful writing, and it ignites neurons no matter how old.

This is why I love nineteenth and even late-eighteenth century novels. Far from prim musings on tea and crumpets, or the pinings of silent, tragic heroines, its finer observations of character and place have gathered no dust (I can never forget the DOG in Lady Audley’s Secret – so funny I still laugh, and I can’t even remember the words). I don’t “love it for itself” or “love it for what it is”, but entirely because so much of the preserved literature (not necessarily “the classics”) is such good writing.

There is a precision of language that gets lost in the presumptions we thrust upon a wide swath of century-old works, and a terrifying, trembling depth of feeling. “Sensation” novels especially, perhaps now the artifacts of our tut-tutting supposed evolution, can be wonderfully harrowing; the tension is incredible not only in Edgar Allen Poe (whom I do love, and who was reared in the same swamp and clay as I), but in Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Sheridan Le Fanu, Matthew Gregory Lewis, and Louisa May Alcott herself, mother of some hair-raising tales.

Metaphors of the repressed retro-image of the 19th century in particular, crinoline and drapery were not the smothering death of human feeling, as some people presume (and then decide to don corsets themselves and tell their own versions of retconned history, since they feel nobody did it right the first time). Perhaps, instead, those forces “repressing” our recent forbears presented a dramatic choke point we have lost.

I don’t mourn for the loss of centuries past, and am hardly the dreamer wishing I could fly back in time, but I *do* defend the humanity of those who came before us, and refuse to accept that the past itself represents any compromise of our ingenuity and talent. Creativity is stimulated by the restrictions we have faced and still do; certainly I won’t say that with twenty-first century license we are freed from all psychological constraint, and my stance that The Dirty, Stupid Past is indeed not more wretched nor intellectually dim than we are today does not equal bemoaning “what we have come to” nor any of the “why in my day” traps so many at my age begin to indulge.

Let us not forget: you and I live in tomorrow’s pathetic and ignorant history, slogging through with too much technology – or not enough – perpetuating, as humans ALWAYS have, our own worst miseries, and no more knowing what comes next than any of the billions we sneer upon for not having known before we came along. You and I are denizens of the past, and don’t know it. We can’t live like that.

Neither could anyone before. They were all the latest-and-greatest, and their talents are not lessened because they failed to know you and I would be inspecting their fruits once their bones were become dust.


A mind cultivated with no eye on history, on the arts and words and works of our past, is an intellect missing out. Not merely on instruction, but incredible entertainment.

And knowing past literature looks good at a party. So consider just a few recommendations …

  • Lady Audley’s Secret … Mary Elizabeth Brandon
    A seminal detective story in the guise of a sensation novel, here is a funny and gripping set of twists modern readers will know from the start, but which still holds you to your seat – and even introduces a sort of proto-Columbo, in a character who actually grows a bit over the course of the novel.
  • The Monk – A Romance … Matthew Gregory Lewis
    This utterly deranged romp through the exact same perversions and criminal insanity that still obsess us today. Written for the same rebellious reasons any young adult produces shocking statements, Lewis spent pretty much the rest of his life disavowing the work (published 1796), but it’s actually a fascinating read – and not the worst story I ever read, to boot. Grand Guignol storytelling!
  • Carmilla … Sheridan Le Fanu
    This novel is THE goth kids’ must-read, the earliest lesbian vampire novel (and YES, Virginia, that is totally A Thing) and a precursor to Bram Stoker. For darkling cred, knowing Le Fanu widely, and this novel particularly, should be de rigeur****. I was lucky and read this for the first time during a power outage, with a flashlight; it’s easy reading, and fun in the dark.

I don’t mean to reduce recommendations to sensation or horror novels – just happened that I was sipping on some Le Fanu when this came up (see above!). I would *love* to see other people’s personal recommendations in the comments (as if my TBR pile is not extreme enough, here I’m inviting more … !).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Collection

Congratulations to the History Blog on a truly bionic milestone!

Carolynn With Two Ns provides authors with a nice glossary of terms. The "author" entry is worth a click!

"In a world where everyone gets a trophy ..." BookEnds Literary, Mike Rowe, and a few commenters on "follow your passion" and other facile advice.

Passive VOICE

For those who think in these terms at all, “passive aggressive” is one of those ways of dismissing someone for whining, but the truth is, “aggressive” is truly a key point in the term. Passive aggression is far more than the martyred reverse psychology of a sitcom, it’s a strong social weapon so effective it can even be devastating.

I sat in a meeting one time with someone who used to bug the bejeezus out of me; not someone in my group, not someone I really had to deal with to speak of, but someone whose very name set my teeth on edge. The prospect of talking to them would enact anxieties that had nothing to do with anything, except that they upset me (and, I am convinced by the experiences of others) *meant to*.

As a woman, I have used passive aggression to head off difficult situations at times – when passing someone, looking down (which is not always a submissive posture, by a long shot*) – ostentatiously demonstrating deafness to certain approaches – gazing in blank, expressionless incomprehension at other approaches. Passive aggression can absolutely wither someone who thinks that any social entre’ will necessarily get some response, any response. *And refusing to see someone trying to catch your eye is as strong a rejection as overt ostracision. That person I once worked with would open a floor to response, but continue talking without pause, looking pointedly away from any eye contact, and thereby shut down all but the most intrepid colleagues … or actually make others appear rude, when they had to interrupt to contribute.

It can be a devastating strategy. It can get people so jumpy about another person that interpersonal undercurrents become rivers, and carry others away emotionally when they “KNOW” there is no reason to get so uptight. It can keep a strong woman safe if she feels alone and doesn’t want to feel *weak* - and it can alienate completely.

The Silent Treatment is an especially bitter weapon humans are able to use against one another, and one of the threats that can lead to conformity, direct aggression, submission, and unexpected rage or destruction. To shut a person out, as a group or just one individual to another, is perhaps the ultimate expression of power and control. “You have fallen short” becomes an insupportable exile, denied fire and water for eight hundred miles.

I’ve shut people out of my life; indeed, one of the more bewildering things about FaceBook, for me – apart from extreme security issues that give me the IT nerd willies – is its potential (nay, likelihood) to make it possible for any of the less useful friends from my foolish youth to crop up at any time. It takes work, this kind of passive aggression – ask any man who ever ignored calls from the date or conquest he had no further use for, or any homeowner importuned by a homeless abandoned cat. Emotionally, as effective as ostracision can be, for the non-sadistic, it’s not particularly a pleasure. But sometimes, relationships must end – and they don’t always end easily.

Sometimes, of course, the aggressor is just swinging their privates, to prove how big they are, and people who serially just cut people out of their lives, one by one, may just be avoiding what’s actually wrong with their lives rather than curing anything. And they end up ostracized, themselves, because their concern for control has crowded out life itself – which, though messy, is undeniably a more worthwhile business than solitary confinement in the ever-narrower concerns of a life, in the end, really left un-lived.


When I was younger and prettier, I took great pride in the ability to be an Ice Queen; in the fact that I didn’t get bothered much by strangers, and was able to prevent uncomfortable situations from becoming outright dangerous, with the strategies mentioned above.

Usually.

I came through young-and-pretty largely unscathed, but hit that link for a look at what “unscathed” means in the culture we live in, which I’m persuaded is not getting easier. Insofar as passive aggression is the “feminine” weapon so often pejoratively portrayed in poor writing, I used it as well as could be expected.

The older I get, though, the less I want to render those around me invisible by these methods. It is fortunate that there is nobody like this wandering around my lifescape these days, and that I can speak and act in other ways than silent cutting.

And the older I get, the more bewildering it becomes when I encounter those who do still employ/enjoy/indulge such plausibly-deniable cruelty and control. Those who cut deep, yet who would leap up – shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at the idea they ever intended to wound.



If you have a sound voice, you don’t need to remove others’ ability to speak.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blood Ran Cold

“Her/His blood ran cold.”

It’s one of those phrases you see just before the character senses danger or hears bad news. It’s one of those things you probably don’t quantify in your head as you read, or “feel” in that way we feel so much of what we read, what we watch. It’s harder to identify with than a short, sharp shock; a little elusive.

Yet, when it happens in your life, it has such power. The roof of your mouth chills, the backs of your arms prickle – freezing, no matter where you are, no matter the weather, no matter the clothes or even the immediate protection of your surroundings. Your body shivers with a cold at odds with reality, with any stimuli available but your indomitable BRAIN, which has created its own physical circumstances from within.

With so many of the people I love most in the world half its diameter away from me, it happens, often, in the silent comfort of my own house, my own couch. I can be sitting, nestled with the warmest Editor Cat in existence, or eating hot foot, or wrapped in my thick house-sweater that isn’t even fit for public use anymore … and some stray email changes the climate for me, inverts the relativity of Diane-the-Living-Space-Heater and suddenly I’m a lump of metal, endothermic properties abolished, icy as a Zhivago winter, every molecule stilled – and yet fingers still shaking, the whole of myself brittle and waiting only to be toppled, to crumble into the dust of frost, like that scraped off a January windshield.

The symptom that always fixates my attention is the roof of my mouth going cold, which is why “blood runs cold” seems such a weak description of the moment. It’s the bones going cold; the head, felt more immediately than the heart – tongue numb with it – eyes, even, suddenly refrigerated – the wary pucker of a certain nether muscle, suddenly aching with pressure. That other alarm reaction, where the body seems to want to expel all its contents, too urgently.

When even the saliva in your mouth feels freezing, “blood runs cold” loses its accuracy …

More even than heartbeat-thumping, or “seeing red” (one of those descriptions I have never been able to make sense of; it describes no physical response I can even approximate to emotional experience), or the sudden mental detachment of danger or rage, “blood runs cold” seems the bone-deep emotional action, the sub-mental expression of what makes humans animal.

***

Not long ago, some news outlet or other spread the news that human beings experience cold-sympathy: when we see images or read/hear descriptions of people in frigid conditions, we feel it ourselves – to the extent that, Some Study Shows, our actual body temperatures drop.

Interestingly, this is not replicated with warm temperatures. Perhaps “sympathy” in any of its senses is just not raise-able for those on pretty beaches. But, if we see another person in an icy blast, we experience it ourselves, with them.

Growing up, we used to get a smile at my mom when she said she got cold watching the very movie I invoked above, Dr. Zhivago.

Image: Getty


Yet we also did understand what she meant. I know I’ve felt that way, that physical participation in something I’m not supposed to be part of. Other Some Studies have Shown that we experience entertainment in a pretty holistically “identified” way, at one with a main character.

(One worries, momentarily, about what that might mean for the *author* of a work about an ax-wielding barbarian. Then stops.)

***

For my writer pals I’ve coaxed into commenting here sometimes (and for ANYONE with a word to say!) what sympathetic states of being have you worked on recreating … or speculating about … in a work of yours (Donnaeverheart, I expect you’ve got some thoughts!)?

Or what writerly descriptions leave you, ahem, cold in terms of what they actually say to you as a reader? (I’ve always had a hard time with “She looked at him through her lashes” myself).

Or, for some real fun: what makes your blood run cold?