Sunday, September 14, 2014

More on the Not-So-Dirty/Stupid Past

Madame Isis has a marvelously detailed, and SOURCED, piece today on the hygiene of the past.  Regular readers know I have a history here of expressing frustration with the contemporary bigotry against the past as a seething mass of filthy stupidity, miraculously evolving into Bright and Shining Us, we who are today so wise, so enlightened, and so clean.  A-hem.

Isis covers a great deal more than I have, including feminine hygiene, though she is more period specific.  That said, her sourcing provides a list of resources for anyone interested in researching further.  Hers is a wonderful blog for anyone interested in or writing about the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially for beauty and costume.  She also includes a wealth of beautiful and instructive images, including some which may rather shock the viewer who thinks of most history as prudish as well!

September Sunday Sunset

The rays stealing across the office are gone, but the kitchen window is filled with the dazzling, long light of late sunshine.  The work of the past several weeks has been good for this home.

My office is wonderful, and my friends helped me to build it, getting the new desk in.  I hung my two prints of Diana the Huntress in there, both of which my mother has given me over the years, and one of which is in a frame which dates back three generations in my dad's family, and my mom restored when I was a kid.

The library is clean and finished and comfortable - the very narrow old desk/vanity/dresser now the sideboard in there, between couch and a long, low bookshelf built by my dad.  (Hidden in the drawers of the old desk, which is facing back-side out, drawers to the wall, are copies of research and early, early, EARLY writing on The Ax and the Vase.  I didn't want to trash or recycle them, but I don't care to see them either!)

The house is clean, much laundry is done, and supper is on the beautiful new stove.

Yet this weekend has been another of those times where I witness myself useless to be of practical use to those I love.  I rage against this impotence, I strategize and bargain and beg G-d *and* those I even theoretically could help - and find myself blessed and inert, comfortably fruitless.

And with a writing desk I may forever associate with the piece of scary family news I got the hour before it came in the house.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Grammar Gods' Gift: Free Will

Though the Arrant Pedant is not a prolific poster, he's an essential follow in my book - an excellent author, and perhaps one of the greatest patrons of our language I've ever seen.  He's made it fun for me from time to time to really enjoy letting go of youthful prescriptives.  Today, he reminds my why I love the Oxford comma, as some of you know I do (and why I used to love The Onion, when I was a regular reader!).

I find the arguments in favor of including the serial comma stronger than the arguments in favoring of leaving it out, but I don’t pretend that my preference is an ironclad grammatical law or proof of my superiority. It’s just that—a preference. You are free to choose for yourself.

Broad Appeal

We of the Sarcastic Broads Club have not been busy lately in our online presence (gracious! over two years since the last post!?) - nor, sadly, in our actual meetings (though nowhere near that long).  Perhaps it's because we're a busy lot; certainly, it is not because we don't love each other and get an enormous inspiration from our meetings.  Plus, Leila bakes the BEST cookies and brownies!

Leila published Hot Flashes several months ago, and Kristi Tuck Austin is burgeoning into several areas of work, with media escorting and authorial assisting ... and Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie just put out her new anthology, Even in Death, which is getting great reviews.  Kristi with an I details the release here, very nicely.  I can't wait to read it!  Leila and Kristy with a Y have made me so glad I got a Kindle (though I do have Leila's novel in pulp-and-printing form as well: for I am greedy).  Now, I'll get to have KFG in deluxe, hard copy pulp-and-printing as well.  Many happies ensue.

As for me - though I haven't taken much time to blog about it of late (I may have overdone it in the past as it is!) - querying and, oh so blissfully, dipping into the WIP.  It feels like the WIP (still untitled, and still not a sequel to The Ax and the Vase, as such) has been with me nearly as long as Ax has, and yet its writing has been definitively backburnered until I could commit to it.

Joyously:  at last, I can.  And it is exciting.  Research will take a bit of vacation time I think, and I look forward to taking that and doing that as we approach (YEEP) the holidays.  I've done some bits of writing, but this early in the going that is more a matter of luxuriant indulgence and exercise than creating any sort of text destined to end up in the manuscript.  In its way, that ephemerality makes the writing even more pleasurable, because I don't have to sweat it.  And it's exercise in a very different, new main character and setting.  It's exercise in just writing at all, which I've done not just on the WIP, but on a certain short story actually born at an SBC meeting, with the Broads.  It's something I've toyed with tiny bit by tiny bit for a long time now, but now seems to be its time - its power is growing, and its hold on me is stronger.

Writing is exciting - and it feels like it's been ages since I "really" wrote, creatively, not to further the place of Ax in the world or for my blog or for my work or just to communicate with friends.  Reeeeeaall writing.  The kind that makes you feel something other than, "Got that said.  Good."

Seems like, with the Broads, there's a bit of that going around.  I'll enjoy sinking into a story of two of Kristy-with-a-Y's, and talking with Leila and Kristi-with-an-I about editing and giving birth to new works.  All of us will get to see each other - and SO many others - at the JRW Conference so soon I can't believe it.

Until then ... great things are afoot.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"I Like to Really CURATE My Sharks"

Being a language nerd and a writer (… they CAN be different things!), the trends of language within popular culture capture my attention.  Being, too, old enough to have actually said “like totally” unironically – and, indeed, to have known the term irony unburdened by 90s/2000s hipster baggage – I’ve seen some linguistic habits come and go.  Val-speak, only a little overstated in the ancient Nicholas Cage outing, “Valley Girl”, was actually and honestly a “thing” – just a bit before “a thing” became a thing.  Southern people once ate an evening meal we called supper.  And the particular pronunciation my dad used for the word restaurant is long unheard except in memory.

Some trends within the English language do little more than irritate and engender speechifying and complaint.  Corporate-speak is the shining example here, with people in the 80s “interfacing” (conversing) and developing their skill sets and so on, through into the odd tic I ran into at my previous employer, where every sentence began with the word, “So.”  Question, statement – didn’t matter, there was a pervasive inability to commence any utterance without it.

Some, though, are not bad at all.  Or, perhaps, they’re sad hipster jumpings-of-a-verbal-shark.  You decide.

Over the past two years, I have noticed the increasing prominence of the verb, to curate.  Because this is a highly useful term, and hasn’t come across my desk in any memos, I’ve been happy to see its widening utility.  It doesn’t seem to be thrown around improperly, and its unspoken limitation to museum collections never had any basis in any case – and it has a nice feel to it, the word curate.  I like its spelling, its sound, its pronunciation, its slight, soft lilt bouncing between strong consonants.  It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

But recently it made it way into a commercial, in the form of a chubby, bearded, hipster bartender saying, “I like to really CURATE my herbs” as he makes a drink.

Now, we all know that the hipster beard had to be over once the wildly expensive realm of television commercials were using it widely, and we’re required to insert-meta-ironic-post-snark-viral superiority here, because a trend, once over, must be reviled, and publicly, or without the backlash who will know they are being punished for being out of step …


Is the word curate now victim of the inevitable public flogging all the slobby youngsters who followed a trend just last year are on the tipping point of enduring, because it has now been associated with them?  Has “curate” jumped the shark (a phrase, itself, both a tool of all backlash and simultaneously dismissed as having been overdone and missing important artistic points because it is reductive)?

Words absolutely go out of style.  Some stay – some for centuries.  Another fascinating study in the fashion of language is just how OLD some slang we think we invented really is (see also:  every damn word Shakespeare ever wrote – the OED certainly does).

But many, many, many terms and manners of speaking are ephemeral.  This is how Old English became Middle English became Tudor speech became American English, modern British English, pidgin, and a hundred thousand dialects.  This is how sentimentalist contrarians like me choose to pronounse rest-runt like their dads did, despite never saying it that way for 40 years – or choose suddenly to bring “supper” back, because it’s a word with a certain feel, a connection to literature we love, or just to be different.

When Teh Intarwebs was new, it was a big deal just figuring out how we were going to spell email (shall we hyphenate? shall we spell out the whole words, electronic mail?) and in 1999 (… and still …) figuring out what to call the first decade – and second – of the new millennium was the subject of ad nauseum discussion.  When the automobile came along, it was much the same, with options from motor car to horseless carriage coming and going perhaps in a way that seemed almost as fast as the newfangled machines themselves.  And we ended up with multiple solutions, around our various earthly “ponds” …

The older I get, the more aware I am – and glad I am – how deeply irrelevant my outrages are, especially where the English language is concerned.  My ex husband (who graduated magna cum laude in ENLGISH, as he spelt it when he told me about it via electronic mail back in the early aughts) and I get along better and better where grammar is concerned, as the years go by, and I find it almost bewilderingly pleasurable to find out how many rules I grew up on – or just decided on, in a stubborner state of youth – are dead-assed WRONG.

Or incorrect, if you simply must prefer.  Heh.

The non-native prohibition on dangling prepositions imposed on us by Latin-writing monks.  The which/that conundra so widespread most people don’t even compute they exist at all.  Spelling itself.

I still hold to the fact that the word “hatred” exists, but have come to accept that the noun form of that word is going to be “hate” whether I like it or not … and, in fact, that the usage predates even the ancient century in which *I* was born.  By a few more.

I won’t ever buy an INFINITI vehicle, because its name gives me hives (and I’m not a prestige-sucking-by-“exclusive”-brands kind of dilettante …).

I’ll hew, probably always, to standardized spellings – and even insist upon the apostrophe in Hallowe’en – but not because I believe there’s anything like a definitive “correct” way to render our language.  Just because … I’m a heedless maniac in enough ways; linguistically, I gravitate to discipline, even if the discipline is arbitrary and even imaginary.  As in religion, sometimes we just choose a set of rules.  Humans like both to make them – and break them – and, oh sometimes, even to follow them.  Sort of.

So … what do you think?  Has “curate” jumped the shark, along with “jumped the shark” and ironic, slobby hipster boys with beards?  Or will you use it proudly – for your herbs or museum collections or choices in dog food?

Thursday, September 4, 2014


It's a funny thing someone happened to hit this post today and remind me of it by bumping it onto my stats.  The white egret is a close cousin of the blue heron - and its symbolic connection with self-determination has come to mean a lot to me.

Gossie took a mini vacation this past weekend, and it reminded me that I have not linked Janet Reid for at least a minute and a half.  So here we rectify this lapse, with her advice to authors about First3Chapters.  *Eyebrow*

Dusting the vestments ... ?  Fabric over a millennium and a half old is, as anyone might guess, vanishingly thin on the ground - and its conservation is a fascinating science, craft, and story spanning far, far longer than St. Ambrose's life.

For this link, do you prefer Door #1 (NatGeo), Door #2 (BBC), or Door #3 (Nature) to read about the tantalizing possibility of Neanderthal art nearly forty-thousand years old ... ?  This is one of those stories where the debate in the field (har ...) is almost as interesting as the hopes and theories themselves.  The questions are wonderfully unanswerable.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Vacation Time?

Everybody gets a vacation but me - even Gossie took a short trip to NYC again!

Withdrawing From the Moral Bank --- OR --- "I Want the Vaccuum"

The odd thing about this article, and a few others I looked at when I found it, was the repeated idea that transactional rectitude is unconscious.  How many times a day do you witness someone saying, or do the office break room chat-and agree, that “if it’s for someone’s birthday, the cake has no calories” or fill-in-your-equivalency … ?  Or the “I worked out, I can have more – or I’m GOING to work out (I swear!), I can have more”, or what have you.  Not only is this conscious, the joke of it is culturally enshrined by now – that we acknowledge some foible with a laugh, but we foible away nonetheless, even seeking approval for some exchange or other.

It’s most often caloric, in American culture at least, but I’ve certainly seen people explicitly note their moral or social cred before whipping out some racist or privilege-blind remark or other.  The old “but I have (such and such minority) friends” clause seems to go far, for a lot of us, in excusing saying things it would otherwise be unthinkable to voice publicly.  I’ve heard someone describe Blacks as “monkeys”, who then went on to use that old saw.  (Fortunately, not someone I’ve been associated with for decades now.)

As to the gas-guzzling vehicle owner boggling minds by purchasing locally or ecologically, I’m highly amused by the use of Whole Foods as some sort of example of the ultimate in moral retail.  Whole Foods is a wildly cache’ brand, affordable frankly to few, and appealing more for its elitist snootery than for its marvelous righteousness.  I am acquainted with exactly nobody who could ever afford to shop there exclusively for food, and those I know who shop there at all do so precisely to splurge in one way or another.  Splurge.  Not the baseline I would have used, in terms of examining the motivations and/or behavior of the population at large, who would go broke in a week trying to feed a family at their prices.

I drive a Prius, but it is not a motorized reservoir, for me, of opportunities to waste in other areas.  Per the comments at the first link above, I drive it because it reduces my gas consumption – which, while nicely affecting my carbon footprint, is also cheaper in what I hope will be a long run.  I also put out recycling every time they come to pick it up – but produce, as a single-person household, barely enough garbage to fill the extremely huge rollaway bin provided by the county in the space of a *month*.  This isn’t, for me, a matter of morality except insofar as I consider profligacy in any form – drinking, eating, spending, or using the resources of my environment – generally to be avoided.  I like my driver’s license, current wardrobe, credit rating/savings, and planet more than I do the rewards of most behaviors which could, in excess, endanger these things.  It would be a pretty tough row to hoe, at that, destroying any one of these things – for myself OR for anybody else, depending on the scale of my effects in this world.  I like the garden growing as it is, as it were.

Like a lot of women, I certainly enjoy some level of Martyr’s Complex – “ahh, I work so hard, and it’s just never done” – but I keep two things on hand at all times to prevent too much self indulgence.  One is gratitude:  that my life is cram-STUFFED with blessings (and, that thing noted above, with privilege I never did anything to earn nor deserve).  Two, self awareness.  If I let myself believe for one second I ever deserved any of the good I’ve got, I won’t deserve one iota of it.  Ever.

It’s like this, in shorthand:  I live my life striving to be good enough for those who love me.

I used to say “my dog” – but now I have dog and cat, and let it be said, I also understand the enormity of the love of those who’ve proven willing to tolerate me in their lives.  I have a LOT to live up to, if the love in one’s life is any measure, and to deserve it all will take beyond all my life to even hope to attain.

If I dented whatever wee and paltry contributions my life provides in this world, because I believed my contributions were a sort of personal savings account – an annuity of “goodness” I could DRAW from as if there were some right to that – then there is no contribution at all.  And if I make no contribution to the world, attaching the strings of self-indulgence to even the smallest of “good” acts (with, of course, myself as the judge of what may be good), I’m lost to ever being good “enough” for the abundance I have been given.

You never get to be good enough for your dog, being an emotional/moral/righteous accountant.  You can never pay back anyone – if you consider life anything that can be balanced like a checkbook.

Yeah, I’ll eat far too many Chee-tos in one sitting, and I accidentally leave the AC on too cold for too long, when I set it to “hold” while I was sweating and working, and forgot to put it back on schedule.  When it comes to my writing - my unpaid job - I am excuse-maker extraordinaire:  "fallow time" or "my computer is on Safe Mode" or "I've been wiped out from work for three weeks - and I haven't had a vacation in three YEARS now" make it all to easy to do other things than quering or researching.  That desk I was on about this week is in some ways, "I'll start the diet Monday" of my unpaid/unpublished authorial career.  I just failed, for three weeks, to do my little calesthenics at my desk, and don’t think the size of my arms doesn’t reflect the lassitude.

But:  don't think I don't know when I'm bargaining with myself (a.k.a. "the Devil") - and cheating myself, all in the same acts.

But #2):  I also don't exchange eating crap for drinking a diet soda, and I don’t tell myself there’s no sin nor effect, when I push life’s balances out of whack.  I even participate in the “well someone worked so hard to make these brownies, surely I have to have another one” games we all sometimes play.  Frankly, playing games SOMETIMES is a part of the pleasure of life.

Just ask my dog.

Then watch, and see if she cheats on her taxes because she was nice to ME today …

"And, Reader, I Purchased It"

Surely, it is fated.  THIS is the post that put me over 100,000 hits on this blog!  And I called this morning - they still had the desk - and I paid for it.

As I understand it, the desk was much loved by its previous owner, a guy who had it for many years and ran a business - and was also at some point (I don't know whether it was when he had the desk) an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys.  They're planning to tell him it's going to someone who'll love it, too - and he'll be so pleased.

I told 'em they could leave out the part about how I'm no football fan ...

Well, this poor desk is in for a change.  But I think it'll find it interesting around here.

99,991! Nine more to 100,000.

Could happen any minute here!

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Life. Don't Talk to Me About Life."

I love Scientific American.

Life is a concept that we invented.
… an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not.
(T)his division does not exist outside the mind.

There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark.
We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Writing Desk

Being an author, there is a special depth to the problem I am suffering right now - the longing crush I developed on a desk I saw last week.

When my mom and I hit the used office furniture and military surplus store, and I found a good filing cabinet to bring home and clear off one of the major projects in my house (years of filing which would not even begin to fit in my old, one-drawer cabinet) ... I saw it there, like a gorgeous temptress, showing off that mid-century design I have craved all my life, and stretching out huge tracts of desktop, just calling to me.

I got a wild hair and made an offer for desk and filing cabinet combined, sure they would say no - and, ahh, to my chagrin, they did not do that.  They even said they'd honor the price without taking both pieces home immediately.

The thing is gigantic - three feet by SIX - and even its coffee mug rings seem charming to me. I can imagine both my laptops there, my research books, all my little gimcracks in the drawers.  Huge is good.  My current "desk" (likely originally a vanity; though it does have a modesty panel and finished "back" side, which is less usual in a vanity) is about eighteen inches deep, and the knee hole is so short sitting there cuts into my legs.  I sit high.  It's also fairly dark, and formica-topped, which does not make me particularly swoon.

I don't even know where the current desk came from, which is odd.  So much in this house is from family or thrifting/antique trips I can recall.  This one seems sort of provenance-free.  It is not greatly practical nor very romantic.

Being a writer, and never really setting myself up with a good, proper office, is sometimes frustrating - not to say outright bewildering, all things considered.

Lately, I've been spurred to some sort of autumnal version of spring cleaning - a great deal of nesting, and some very satisfying redoing of some of my rooms.  The bedroom, I shoved around a couple of weeks ago; shifting the bed to the eastern wall rather than the west - though I don't much like it, and will change it back again.  The former office, which had become a disused space mostly reserved for Gossamer to escape from Pen-Pen.  The sunny wing room, once home of Pen's cage, and having several former lives, but not much used in a very long time.

As of now, that sunny room, scarcely used since it was my little den, the first year I lived in this house, is my nice new office.  The filing cabinets are together in there - the new one housing my papers, and the old one now holding paper and photo paper and some miscellany, as well as one of two vintage stereos I have brought out of a difficult storage space since all that business about music bubbled up recently.  The other, my parents' beautiful 70s receiver and turntable, has a pair of vintage speakers on the way, I ordered just today.  It'll give us some George Winston and maybe a bit more, when I have a surprise birthday party for my mom.

Nominally, of course, it is this party inspiring me to make my house as nice as I *can* before it sees a house full of guests.  Deeper than that, I have other motivations, of course.  Motivations like being a real writer with a GOOD desk, like having a nice library, now I've commandeered Goss's room for myself.

Why bringing wasted space back into use, back to life, seems to have become more important, I don't exactly know, but it's certainly motivating.  And this isn't just about that desk - though it's enjoyable, certainly, having a bit of fun being silly about wanting it.  The former office/Goss's room is now a *much* more functional library, of sorts, a reading room so comfortable I can't wait to spend what portions of tomorrow aren't occupied in grocery shopping and laundry ploughing through pages I did not write.

I can't wait, either, to spend some time writing again - and at a good desk.  Even if it's not the one I've got a crush on right now.

It'll come.  I've made the space for it.  I'm excited ...