Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Collection

Turn of the century Worcester Mass in pristine portraiture by William Bullard - not only a great record of people of color living there around the turn of the 20th century, but a pretty remarkable testament to photography itself at that stage (some of the images are stunning in detail and clarity) and a trove for history or costume enthusiasts. Certainly a wonderful sort of neighborhood genealogy; the detail regarding who is who is stellar. (You can exit the slide show for a bit of background, but I'd recommend NOT scrolling down to the comments section. Just enjoy Mary E. Price's glorious traveling ensemble, Edward Perkins' garden, or the many joy-inducing kids' portraits.)

When we were freaking out about Trump's election a year ago, my brother and I clung to certain things. Awareness that we were less likely to suffer, and still have more power by way of this privilege, than others ... the ignorance we still had to some extent back then (though little faith in that famous "pivot" they used to go on about, even as they prognosticated Ivanka would save us all). And infrastructure. Trump's dedication to infrastructure looked GOOD, so we invested in the idea of his investments there. He's a real estate guy, it was something to get behind, right?

Well, if this has anything to do with his administration, hope may yet have reason to spring eternal. And this click isn't even political at all, actually! Go forth, if only because architecture is pretty durn cool, and apparently can be made to smell really good, too. Mmm, Douglas fir. 'Tis the season!

The click beyond: NOVA's recent look at the earthquake-readiness of China's Forbidden City. Engineering is extraordinary, but replica "re-enactment" experiments are the stone cold bomb diggety!

Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, is a regular part of my evening commute. And a favorite part!  This week, he did a segment on an internet CREATURE sensation. The clickbait vibe reminded me of the keywords I chose for this (failed :() flash fic post at Hallowe'en.

The historian Henry Adams was being metaphorical, not medical, when he described power as “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.”

The Atlantic looks at the brain science studying the debilitating effects of power. Per Spock: "Fascinating!" He must've had a toe holder ... or all of Vulcan culture was a toe holder ... !

Also fascinating, but in more of a car-wreck kind of way, is the second time this week I have witnessed The Atlantic using the term GALS and mentioning a "lady problem" in a political piece. The byline is a woman writer, and it seems apparent that this is a gendered sort of informality - because, you know, girlies talk like that. Either that, or you can't expect journalistic standards out of GALS.

In my entire life, I have never known a friend or coworker to use this term except in sarcasm. Most often, it's been a comedic prop, this word. See also: 'lady' - which is a queasy joke for a lot of us in my generation, because it is so often wielded by oily guys who think they have a way with The Ladies.

These words are diminutizations. They're inappropriate to a serious piece looking at an important dynamic, and they chip away at the very power of the feminine vote by subtly dismissing it using joking terms. It also erodes the influence of reportage which has set a certain standard of reliability, and negates an article which clearly involved a lot of research and legwork - there are interviews, there are stats and links and sources. There are conclusions, too. And there are "gals" and a "lady problem" (not in quotes used in the article, but in the writing of the reporter herself).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Drafty (hah) Excerpt

Usually, I am un-prone, in writing this blog - or, more often, composing it, compiling links and commenting just briefly - to excerpting my own work. But, as it cools down (and as I remind myself I *am* an author, at all), this little moment caught me and dragged me backward ... to my work ... to the way the end of summer feels ... to characters who still keep me curious.

To summer in Ravanna, in the wee hours of the sixth century.


***


Zeniv was too hot.

The heat was so that even the touch of clothing was importunate, every sensation a molestation; odd dreams plagued and would not release her—temptations of floating in water, or hanging weightless in the open vacuum of the sky, without so much as slippers nor linens, naked as the day of her birth. Lying with the wind, moving, moving.

The swamp, the whole city, smelt of the still greenness of water, and every shimmering, muggy breath of summer seemed almost a swallow; the atmosphere touchable, rather than empty air.

And she dreamt of empty air. Her mind swirled constantly with ineffable thoughts of somehow reaching a state of touching nothing. No ground to carry her, no clothes to enclose her, no heat—no heat—no heat.

The city roiled as it cooked, Arians and Catholics finding fault in the Jews for poor weather, for dwindling stores, for slackening winds and slowing trade.

Why it should be the Jews’ fault was unclear to Zeniv; made no clearer in the conversations around her. She was privy to much of religion; but little of politics. And Christians' concern with Jews, that must be politics, or perhaps the religion percolating around her was distilled somehow. Not thick and mixed, like the water—the air—all around.

Took the water, though, to mix up the atmosphere, to roil, to topple the carefully distilled beaker that was the Court.

Deep in the morning before the longest day of summer, the loss of a ship, down with which the fortunes of a dozen Ostrogoths’ families sank.


***


I have to write the pogrom. One of the first pogroms in Christian history. It's been lurking at me for the longest time.

It touches me like a dank, smelly, humid miasma.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reckoning.


(T)heir guy isn’t well known enough, that the stories are now so plentiful that offenders must meet a certain bar of notoriety, or power, or villainy, before they’re considered newsworthy.

I told you it's not just powerful, rich men. Here's a reporter to tell us that those're the only guys who'll get any ink.

Here is the thing about this lengthy piece, about what we "all" have to reckon for: I've reckoned before. When I worked at The Federal Reserve, and a contractor who knew I worked till 5:30 p.m.  himself stayed late one dark evening, and held out to me on a napkin a cherry stem, tied in a little knot, and said only "No hands" ... I was revolted. The next morning, first thing, I spoke with a manager - not mine, and a woman at that. And she essentially dismissed me as a hysteric. I chose to put the issue to bed, moving forward, concerning myself only with my future and my feelings.

Much later, when I saw from a strong physical reaction to him, by a woman with less power than I, it was clear to me that I was not the only person he had "made uncomfortable" (see also: repulsively harassed). I thought about the issue again, and discussed it with one or two trusted people.

Later still, when The Stem decided to apply for a permanent position, I instantly - I mean, within five minutes - went into my boss's office and phoned him while he was travelling. HE took me deadly seriously, and HR had an executive meeting with me almost immediately.

I thought about this guy's kid. Yep. But I also thought of that woman I had seen squirm. The Stem took his risks, knowing he had a kid. He behaved execrably, knowing he had a kid. Oblivious as he was socially (this is a man who discussed with me on scant acquaintance the extreme gruesomeness of his ex-wife's labor in bearing said son; he was ALL kinds of awkward, this guy). If, in his book, the "no hands" approach seemed even POSSIBLY valid - never mind potentially impressive - he needs a new book, and I'm not responsible for reading the text he was working from. Nor am I responsible for his son.

I was, in my knowledge, responsible for that woman I had done nothing to help. I was, too, responsible for the reputational risk to my own employer, who would have been exposed to legal risk by allowing a serial harasser on board. My employer: who kept me in mortgage payments, and that woman's family as well.


The woman manager, who dismissed my concerns? She didn't dismiss me because she was covering for a valued or powerful colleague, she shut me down for thinking what he'd done was an issue at all. His power, in the moment he flummoxed my pungent personality to the extent of an awkward joke and sheer befuddlement, was transient. And, in the end, mine was greater: my report had more power than his resume.

I have often thought about the background and experience that leads to attitudes like that manager's, though. These days, I imagine she's scoffing a great deal about all the precious little daisies enduring Weinstein's casting couch, so-called "consenting" to Louis C. K.'s displays, and on and on and on. Blaming them for being so sensitive. And maybe she has dismissed other women, too. Very possible.

I pity that woman more than myself. But, for her initial reaction to me and my opting for silence, I am GUILTY: about the other woman who worked there, who transferred away from our location I suspect to get away from The Stem. Whose price to pay I do not know, and is among the debts on my own soul. I pity the manager, whom I did not name but did talk about in that meeting with HR. But the other woman lives with me in a much more direct way.

I will leave this post with the following excerpt from the link ...

I struggled a lot internally about whether to name the Harasser at my former job. I decided not to, largely because I understand something about how things have turned out. In a rare outcome, I — along with some of the women he pestered — now have more power than he does. He is, as far as I know, short on work, not in charge of any young women. And so I decided, in consultation with former colleagues, not to identify him.
But here’s a crucial reason he behaved so brazenly and badly for so long: He did not consider that the women he was torturing, much less the young woman who was mutely and nervously watching his performance (that would be me), might one day have greater power than he did. He didn’t consider this because in a basic way, he did not think of us as his equals.
Many men will absorb the lessons of late 2017 to be not about the threat they’ve posed to women but about the threat that women pose to them.

This is not a gotcha. This is: manning up.

Collection

This is a short, but achingly clear essay about the forced intimacy of disability (author's word choice). It's both obvious and something most of us probably never think about. And it's heartbreaking. Go read it - please.

Shrew are you? Super neato-spedito piece about the winter shrinkage of the shrew. Because shrews' heads were not NEARLY small enough. Amusingly written, and may provide some excuses for human seasonal lassitude as well.

Why do men who have never experienced this form of attack get to define what an attack is?

Like great writing? Funny, but honest - the humor that comes not merely from that certain kind of anger that engages us, but also reaches out to consider the anger together? Click here. Yes, it talks about sex. It also talks about things that definitely are not sex.

I have neglected this blog's penchant for fashion, style, costume, and beauty of late, so here is a curious look at (sniff of?) Commes des Garçons' strange brews. Personally, I love sandalwood. But did you know that concrete is absolutely devastating to the environment? Won't buy. Might sniff ... if I ever actually go to a department store.

Question for my writer pals, Reiders, readers, and anyone generally a nerd for a word: HOW COME NONE OF YOU EVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE OED BLOG??? Because I am mad at each and every one of you. Y'all going to make me caterwaul, I'm all tears and flapdoodle I never saw this site before. Another sample: litbait. Hee.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Flagged

Last Year


I set out my clothes for the next day, after I get home from work every day. The ritual is this: come in, greet Penelope and Gossamer, put down some kibble for them, put my cell phone on the couch so I won't miss important messages from my boss. Check the mail. Pen's done eating by now, or has had enough to start following me around, so she goes in the yard. Goss and I go upstairs. On the best days, he races me, and he ALWAYS wins.

In the bedroom, I put down the things of the day, take off the jewelry - always a nice moment, a physical relaxation - change clothes, check the weather, and decide on what to wear the next day.

I rarely dither, in this wardrobe selection. But last night, instead of weather, that local channel served up two campaign ads in quick succession, so I forwent the forecast. And laid out shoes, pants, and a short-sleeved blouse. It took me a while to pick something, even the purse to carry. But it had to be something with red in it - to remind myself: "tomorrow is election day."

Wearing red/white/and/or blue is rather on the nose, but I am all for obvious symbolism for any occasion. (On 11/9 last year, I wore cream and pale aqua - laid out the night before - meant to be a celebration of our freedom from the long, stressful campaign ... things did not turn out as I had hoped,of course; but I wore the cream and aqua anyway.) (And I wore brown on 11/8; good fall colors - and a locket with my dad's picture.)

So yesterday I had my nod to patriotism ready - but when I came up for bedtime, I saw the weather forecast at last, and found (hurray!) it was not expected to be short-sleeve weather. Time to rethink.

Today I am wearing a soft sweater, light beige.

So far this morning at the office, I have spotted: two red sweaters, and another work pal in royal blue.

Seems I am not the only one who goes in for symbolism - whether they did this consciously or not.

Accessorized to the nines.


How do you observe election day (even if today is not one for you)? Some do it with a memento, I know. We often respond to participating in democracy with something less concrete - prayers, even tears.

Do you carry something with you? Do you find yourself wearing a color or a shirt that gives you confidence, makes you feel bold?

Do you vote?


I voted today. Whatever else comes, that is a magnificent privilege still to treasure. That is a blessing to be thankful for.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Collection

The (Not) Just No Stories ... Casey Karp tells us about yet more ways for The Internet of Things not just to run, but to ruin, our lives. Not scary at all!

Art history, religious history - on the history of the fig leaf, all the way to Instagram. Spiff.

Reider reading! I am shamefully late to getting to it, so probably anyone here who frequents the comments at Janet Reid's blog has read this already, but Jen Donohue was published recently, and her short story is very good. Hop on over to Syntax and Salt, sink into it slowly, and enjoy.

Can we please dispense with the precious little phrase "open secret" now? In the past three weeks alone, we've encountered an open secret in Hollywood - oh, and in politics - now it's academia - and media-curated regions of the world or remoter reaches of the United States - and it's been discussed about Silicon Valley for many years, at this point. "Casting couch" is a phrase probably nearly as old as the phenomenon is, which may be about a century at this point (if you only count *film*). THIS IS OUR CULTURE. Not some isolated little "secret" - open or otherwise - affecting isolated little islands of people other than ourselves. This is the world. Women have never not-known this. So who thinks this is any sort of a secret? Oh yeah. All those men who're so surprised that rape and sexual extortion/blackmail/revenge is a thing. And it's not a secret, even from them. They've just enjoyed the privilege of obliviousness.

Happy Hallowe'en, Y'all!


Not too bad, for a six a.m. makeup job. Maybe could lose the glasses, but that was the pic I took.

BOO!

"Do you like my face? I just put it on!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Take the Con 17

Two weeks ago, I was in Savannah for work. On Thursday, the 12th, I was home before midnight with nearly a thousand miles on my car ... and Saturday the 14th kicked off the annual James River Writers conference.

In the past, I've often done postmorten posts about how inspired I was and re-energized as a writer, after the conference. Well, or just gushed in real time about how amazing the events are. In the fifteen years of JRW's excellence, I've attended for fourteen of the annual conferences. (Thanks again, Mojourner!) I've watched friends chair the event itself, and met countless others. It's always inspiring.

But this year, I was so focused for so long on the meeting immediately preceding the Conference, I spared no time to get excited about it. (I was actually excited about the meeting - there was toy shopping.) For a while there, I also wasn't sure I'd be able to go to the Conference this year at all, and studiously tamped down any thinking about it.

Not only did I coordinate the meeting in Savannah, but I presented there. Speaking up in class, as it were, has never scared me - but speaking before the class was nerve-wracking. And once my nerves got bored, I finished off okay, and it was okay. I handed out little dart boards with my picture on them to people to whom it is generally my job to give bad news. I got to know a lot of people I work with constantly, but rarely or never have seen before. Feedback has been that the meeting was good. Travel was too (no flying!). I spent Friday in a dim drizzle with my mom, coming down off the big event, and NOT really thinking about or getting ready for the next one.

Coming into the Conference without expectations can be a good thing. I've long since put The Ax and the Vase to bed, and the WIP isn't even advanced enough to have announced to me what its TITLE is, so meeting with agents was off my list (and, in any case, I'm ever more persuaded by Janet Reid's objection to conference pitches - and, in any case, it's rarely the case participating agents even "do my genre" as it were).

The rub is, it's also been a long time since I spent time writing.

So I attended the "so you think you're an impostor - no you're not" session ... and, of course, came away feeling all validated but still knowing for sure I am an impostor.

And I spent $72 at the JRW Bookstore before 8:30 a.m. on day one.

And I talked to my new friend Sarah a lot, a writer who is eighteen years old and better organized (and more motivated) than I am, at damn near fifty.

And I spend time with my good writing friends, and Leila Gaskin said she would read some scenes for me and look to the knotty problem of whether I need all my characters ... and, if so (oh, I so need my characters!!!!), how to balance them ...

... and I finished the weekend more excited about the fact that the Festival of India had coincided with our event than about the Conference.



It was when I began drafting my email to Leila, and my very first writing partner, The Elfin One, and choosing scenes to share toward that question of characters and balance ...

... that it finally happened.

My ass was in the chair, and I sent off the scenes dutifully - and, writing to TEO in particular about writing ... I wrote.



"Also, I'm a Writer."

ANNOYING Flash Fic

The ghouls, the freaks, the impersonators ... they are everywhere!


Image: pxhere.com free images



Every day, we're assaulted with clickbait, dressed up as headlines. For those of us grown wary, they words call attention to their true calling as propaganda ... but apparently enough people are still beguiled by them that the things still exist, and proliferate ...

So, far from being the monstrosities *I* see, the must be really great words. Right?

How about some scary Hallowe'en flash fiction?

Here are the prompt words (and do you think Janet would mind if I borrowed her rules?):


  • Insane
  • Chilling
  • Revealed
  • Creature
  • This one thing/this one trick


I'll post mine if you'll post yours!!

But YOU will win the wild acclaim of the masses. As for this prize, I recuse myself from eligibility. Not least out of the spine-tingling fear Colin Smith or John Davis Frain might post a story in the comments ... !!!



****



I am NOT afraid of spiders. Prettiest creature of the Hallowe'en season. Any season.

Pretty little liars.

They're just jealous. It’s the *witches’* holiday, and that’s me.

Remembering the seven-footer, an insanely huge web from the kitchen window to the stoop railing. Remember the filament I all but ate last night. The air was finally chilling, walking the dog, one tenacious string, stretched across the sidewalk. Never revealed, it just hit me in the lip.

I am not afraid of spiders. They’re afraid of me.

I do my own weaving. That filament was Arachne’s last insult.

This one trick …