Sunday, August 2, 2015

Traveling Thoughts

This has been on my mind the past week or so. It seems a long time ago; and yet, everything I described then, I recall with such acute clarity now.

People change, time changes places. But memory is strong stuff. For which I am ever grateful.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Collection

It is rare, if not unprecedented, for me to contemplate the phrase "everybody's talking about it!" without scoffing, pinching salt, or otherwise having no patience with the entire concept. But Harper Lee has brought us as close as I've ever seen, with the Go Set a Watchman epochal event publication. Mostly discussion seems to center on the disconcerting combination of darn-near-prurient curiosity about the manipulations involved in making public a draft work, and a general condemnation of the work as "should've been only a scholarly curiosity, really isn't a saleable novel, hey I'm only reporting the facts, and isn't it terrible they've done this (so I can buy in and then blog about it)?" There is a lot that's ghastly. So it was even more quease-inducing to read this. Apparently, Atticus - the great American symbol of moral rectitude and crusadership - turns out to be a big old bigot.

Sigh.

So let's look at racism in a different way. Nyki Blatchley provides a truly EXCELLENT post on the Aryan fallacy and all its little malformed fallacious babies. A linguistic/historical/cultural must-read, because it's incisive and important on multiple levels. It's good storytelling, it's good teaching, it touches on varied aspects of those ways we seem to love to come to wrong-thinking, and it's *sourced*, which is more than I ever do for y'all. So go. Now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Retouched

The past several weeks have brought many reconnections (of sorts) from the past. Songs cropping up, memories with them. Today, a cousin I haven't seen in years pinged me on LinkedIn; this may be reverberations from my brother making new connections a few days ago. A few days ago, a practically-family old friend cropped up, definitely in the wake of the brotherly LinkIng. But there was also that photo of my ex husband I found online; he and I have not been *out* of touch for many years now, but I haven't actually seen him face-to-face in almost exactly thirteen years, so it was nice to see he's aging beautifully (if a little cheesily - hah - the photo was for his work, so it's a bit the corporate Olan Mills style portrait; and the angle is weird, he's looking upward at a camera too highly placed). And then, the sighting of my first love.

I've spent a lot of years losing touch with a lot of people, and the internet makes it possible to erase barriers with the click of an anonymous button. I've been fortunate, in that those I need not be in touch with have not seemed to need to be in touch with me either.

Ahh, but. "But" - the stuff of which blog posts are made.


A lot of times, the idea of first love has a bit of a nostalgic swoon about it. Remembering mine has been bringing  a time in my life into a focus I've never really put on it with age. All that time spent forgetting, and an easily distracted wee and paltry little brain.

First love. When I use the term, it is not the very first boy I ever kissed, nor even the very first one I felt turbulently emotional about. I mean the boy I encountered for the first time on the terms I have met a man ever since - a certain confidence and assertiveness, a certain romantic awe, and a certain set of expectations.

Expectations, back then, were nascent things; but First was the first relationship I ever had that HAD them. We thought we'd get married, we had at least one of our kids named (First seems to have been the only guy I ever seriously imagined children with - or, perhaps, it was the very embryonic nature of this first adult romance that overlooked my lack of maternal drive).

We also went through some really adult stuff. Hard stuff. First was in rehab when we decided to be officially Going Together, and our first official date was my senior prom.

Gave my mom the vapors, all this, and reasonably so. But let it be said that the adult stuff we were dealing with, if I consider it with both pragmatism and the sentiment of my mother's perspectives, was NOT the stuff that would have worried her most. First's rehab TOOK, and well enough that I became, for the last year or two I spent time with a certain beloved crowd of my youth, rather the Go To counselor for an awful lot of people concerned with their own issues with one substance or another. I'd always been, almost conspicuously, very much a good girl in a crowd not thick with them - or, at least, not thick with girls who wanted it known they were good.

It's hard for me to believe how short the time really was, from just being two people who shared a group of hanging-out friends and acquaintances, to being seriously in love ... to being over. Back then, the space of a year seemed great. Twenty-nine years later? Almost endearingly fleeting.

Yet, dusting off the memories and giving them a real look, after so long, I find they are not silly things to smile at as if from a superior vantage. (I met the man I *did* marry only a little more than a year after all of this, and that relationship isn't a product for patronizing.)

It's sort of gratifying to exercise memory muscles long left to relax, if not really to atrophy. I recall the music vividly; the smell of smoke in a city built on tobacco, and a crowd almost adamantly addicted to it. I recall the blue plastic booths in that before-malls-even-had-food-courts burger place we'd meet, and the fake white marble-like stuff of the benches we'd hang out on; built in the 70s and stripped of cushions in the 80s; hard, angular, not much good for comfort, and meant perhaps to discourage precisely the sort of mall-rattery I loved so much and remember now seldom but with a certain mellow sweetness. I recall exactly where he was standing, and where I was standing, when I walked up to my then-flirty-friend and all but dared him to be anything more than that, without ever speaking an actual word.

I recall how giddily terrifying it was to put my interest in a guy out on the table like that. And I remember how gratifying, when the interest was returned.

I do smile indulgently now: thinking about the fact that at least four of the, well, four major relationships of my adult life have all begun the same way.



People who know me much at all, or even just have read enough on this blog, know that I am not forgiving of the person I was roughly through my twenties. I have no patience with that person's need for attention, for drama. Her vanity. Her pettiness and meanness.

But the girl of eighteen? She was something more than just a good girl hanging with the mall gang. She hadn't "discovered" she was attractive, and so was free of the need to focus everyone's undying attention upon that. She was half kid in jeans and sneaks ... and half housewife, in her mind, possessed of the guy she wanted to marry, surrounded by friends and acquaintances who came to her for advice as if she had any sort of wisdom. She was good to those she cared for. She was ... maybe something kind of pure. Not necessarily nice - in those teenage years perhaps even more than in her regrettable twenties, she took all too much pride in NOT being "nice" nor "sweet" (and yet somehow drawing people to her who trusted and turned to her).

She'd never been deeply sad nor hurt, either. She'd never *lost* - not profoundly, unnaturally ... bitterly.

She was an interesting welter of potential - some of it deathlessly squandered. Yet from the ashes of her (burned in those regrettable twenties) rose the woman I am now. Someone I am not ashamed to have become.



It has been remarkable to me how easily conjured the memories of that time really are. Fleeting images of flirting with First when we were friends, before we'd ever touched the idea that could be anything more. Evenings at the sub shop we took over as the mall drew our attention less; hanging out in the parking lot there, or inside - that smell of a sub shop, peppered salami and vinegar and bread. Riding in a car.

All these memories are literally warm ones: most of our actual relationship took place during one tiny summer, so long ago it seems fragile and impossible. T-shirts and sleeveless sweaters. Jeans and sneaks. "Labyrinth" and "Legend" and his parents' Vista Cruiser wagon, or my folks' Plymouth Fury - the Tank, the Zucchini. Our friends could pack in nine to the huge bench seats, and I bought gas two dollars at a time for a car that would barely get thirty miles on its allowance. We'd sit on the hood of it, or lie back, the engine still warm, the steel so strong, while the stars wheeled above and life seemed endless, and the air perhaps even cooled just a little.

He never did stop smoking, at least back then. With everything else he gave up, he still had that. Odd how many of our friends smoked - really, all of them, in this group, in this part of my life. So YOUNG. I think of it now and it shocks me; not least, that the adults in our lives didn't even seem to notice (my mom, though, would have skinned me alive).

I can recall the way he held his cigarette, the posture of his neck, his arm, his shoulders.

I spent months studying his face; knew it so well that seeing him thirty years later ... yes. I see him in there. That impossibly young boy, the floppy shiny hair we all had before the 80s got heavily hairsprayed. The gloss and eyes of youth, like no other age, no matter what we do to preserve it. Real youth. He seemed beautiful to me. The nervousness I see now, an old lady, only the more touching and appealing for recognizing it. For having lost it.

I can remember the coda, after our relationship was over. I remember his mother calling me. And going to him. A meeting so terribly hard I would not share it here like mere emotionally-engaging entertainment.

we went through some hard stuff, some adult stuff, First and I. I never hated him. Never lost my respect for him.

That, at least, is a legacy echoed since. I've never hated any man I ever loved. I have, perhaps, that boy and that girl a debt of thanks. It's what made me the person who can talk about "Beloved Ex" and mean it without being trite.

It's galvanized in me the heart that has been so purely devoted to Mr. X.


Dear G-d. What that girl would have thought, if she could ever have even imagined what her heart would become.



For all that has passed now; I still am sort of the girl with a cocoon of privilege. The mantle of invoilate safety about me - no man, no love, no fear has ever taken from me the core security my parents built. I worry, because I know others have not been so blessed. Beloved Ex. Maybe First. Mr. X himself, certainly. Even my mom has not, in a way, been as lucky as I; I was forged in experience she never had.



It is time, perhaps, to listen to something old. To let Penelope on the couch, and just quietly pet her. To remember that car, the wind through its windows. And "teenagering" ... the way it was. And the way, for me at least, it was meant to be.

I was so very lucky. I'm grateful for every second.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Collection

A study in treatment - Archaeology News' take on the Viking Sword of Langeid ("Magic"!) and The History Blog's. Both are good articles, actually. Just interesting to note the popular-press somewhat pandering headline on AN's piece.

How owl vomit helps us study an ecosystem. Also from AN. "Studies such as these provide a window into natural baselines prior to the onset of human impacts in the last century. The effects of human land use on ecosystems can then be separated from the forces of climate change today." Fascinatingly, this study is apparently the first of its kind.

As an author who's joked for years that I only aspire to midlist glory (i.e., I don't want to be Rowling, nor even hope to be Mantel), Jessica's post at BookEnds on the subject is sobering.

Gotta love a good gruesome story (as if bone-inclusive owl barf wasn't gross enough ...), and the HB does come through. Nosferatu's H. W. Murnau's head has been stolen. And here I am, imagining the black market in horror director's heads ... Errrrm. and now I want to watch Nosferatu (but NOT Shadow of the Vampire - even Eddie Izzard's being in that does not create such a temptation).

Jessica Faust again at BE, on non-renewal of a contract, and opportunity. This should illustrate pretty clearly why I follow agent blogs for agents I'll never have. (For one, nothing's at stake. For two: LEARNINGNESS. It's good stuff.)

The insanely absorbing community, resource, and religious implications of ancient Celtic animal sacrifice - in which the animals were then rebuilt into cow-horses in unexpected hybrid corpses. Were the cobbling together the image of a god? Were these to be spiritual servants to the human remains also present in some cases (and also sacrificed - don't let anybody tell you the Celts' hands were clean of human sacrifice)? Were they avatars of living humans' experience in some way? Again via Archaeology News.

Textiles dating back two millennia are, predictably, pretty hard to come by. Textiles relating to the most famous Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy Auletes the Flute Player, are ... well, right here. Thanks again to the HB.

And, in closing: still more proof that The Stupid, Stupid Past - wasn't. The orthopedic screw dating back at least 3,000 years. Because, you know - antique medical practice wasn't all leeches and arcane religious ritual.  BOO-yah whig history.

Monday, July 13, 2015

PowerPoint is Like Twitter

One of the things you run into if you work in almost any office is the ubiquitous misconception that PowerPoint is an program in any way suited to creating a text document. PowerPoint is not Word, and there are umpteen reasons for that, but it also *is* used – perhaps more than not – for documents other than presentations, at least in-person, spoken, before-a-live-audience presentations. PPT has a certain fame outside its drily intended purpose(s) thanks to David Byrne, and that is sometimes my saving grace when painfullystakingly working to edit a report we produce weekly, which some of my kids think is like a book report.

My theory regarding PPT's unique uses and misuses is that the concept of “slides” versus “pages” makes it seem to the brain that there is a buffet table with multiple individual offerings of information, whereas Word can seem like one stupendous serving of text. Excel is a dizzying menu you can’t read from where you're standing, and when you get close enough for your glasses to help you, you find out the whole thing’s in Swahili, and darn if that’s not on your list of spoken (nor read) languages.

The problem with the buffet is, given the limitations of the sideboard, each element on it has only so much space.


This space is best not set out as if it were a full, sit-down supper. This space should not come with its own separate plates, utensils, napkins, glassware, and so on.


And, given the parameters of a pot luck smorgasbord, this space is always going to attract some cooks who will insist upon overdoing their contributions.

You cannot equip text on a PPT slide with full grammatical formality. You cannot indulge in full sentences, elegant (or not) descriptors, nor (for Maud’s sake, even I can’t tolerate this anymore) DOUBLE SPACES AFTER PERIODS. Forget about using “a”, “the”, and any conjugation of the verb “to be”. Put out the dish you have to serve, present it with pride, and be done. Garnish is for the graphics, but the text you write must be simple – and short.

I had a boss once, positively obsessed with pithiness. So much so we called it pith. Good times were had.

Such an imperative to brevity could wear on a wordy wench like me, but even I, for a paycheck, understand that sometimes KISS doesn’t stand merely for Keep It Simple Stupid (nor even Kids In Satan’s Service – hah), but Keep It SHORT Stupid.

As with Twitter, sometimes you find yourself in PPT, figuring out which grammar crime to commit in order to stay within the limitations.

I can get pretty criminal in PPT. I commit crimes against my beloved mother tongue which in any other context would be, for me, all but unthinkable.

But I am a morbidly driven cuss when it comes to PPT, and I *insist* upon dealing with it on its own terms, and so my own terms become necessarily secondary.


This is what it’s like having any job, really.

Even writing – you write for yourself first, but if you want to sell, you revise, and eventually you realize there are readers out there.


Going to work as a whole is like Twitter; you edit yourself to fit the 140 character limit. Some folks cover their tatts, some try to remember not to swear, most of us have, to some degree or other, to “leave home at home” even as others have to remember to leave work at the office. We’re all varying successes; what a PowerPoint extravaganza of poorly considered graphical results humanity might be.

Sometimes, you really feel the limits, those tiny boundaries seeming to compress your own resources. It can be hard to stay inside.

When life is churning up enormous emotions: you have to choose which social crimes to commit, at the office. You have to conserve your reserves of good cheer when it’s difficult to synthesize, but you can’t expend negativity in its stead. You constrict, you shrink, you spend a nod instead of a smile and “how are you” – you only have 140 expressions for the day, and they have to be good ones.

PPT can be a poor medium for text.

Offices can be poor medium in which to store your heart, forty hours per week.

Character limits. Suddenly: some layers in that phrase – one of them being “irony” …

Internal Narrative is STRONG

… once the illusions are stripped away: the DELusions don’t necessarily decamp.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sabbath Day

There is a smell of sawdust in the house.

The smell of sawdust is so essentially living, it is reviving me. Where there is sawdust, there is a small scent of creation.


No church today, but a piece of stewardship to that greatest material blessing G-d has granted me - some work being done on the house.