Friday, June 23, 2017


That awkward - not to say cognition-stompingly surreal - moment when Donald J. Trump and Barack Obama are in the same place linguistically. *Blink*

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Science Daily has a great piece on the reward mechanisms in our brain relating to making art. This article focuses on the study of visual arts in this, but I would expect any writer to pipe up and say, "me too!" on this phenomenon.

(Bonus question for the novelists: is this a new meaning for the term SCIENCE FICTION? Heh.)


Regular readers here know, I love me a good debunking of The Dirty, Stupid Past - and American Duchess is serving up an epic takedown of the old 18th-century-bugs-in-the-hair routine. Along with quite a lot of good info, and a little period experimentation. Their podcasts are not short, but SO cool. And the very depth is what I am digging.

I have family in the Pacific Northwest, and one of the first local uniquenesses I remember hearing about was the wooly dogs. The mention of separating the dogs connects to hearing about their island breeding; this was a precious animal (as indeed all dogs are). So these Salish dogs fascinate me in a similar way to Carolinas.

Unscented flatus and original sin. A very interesting piece indeed on Augustine at The New Yorker. I am intrigued by the many quotes here, most uncited - and the very contemporary-versa vulgata translation of his Confessions mentioned at the top.

200 legitimate voters may be impeded from voting for every double vote stopped.

Finally, from The Atlantic - an in-depth look at the extensively documented relationship between white supremacist organizations and the GOP's voter-fraud initiatives. To anyone who feels "just having to show a driver's license" is not a coded method of racist targeting, look again. Or just look once. And consider the emphasis on data which purges tens of thousands of legitimate voters in a single state. Alfred K. Brewer could tell you a story.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"I don't live by the river"

Editing at the top to add this curious note. One of the people at this concert dropped into my brother's life briefly, pretty much at the moment I was inspired to write this post. I hadn't gotten around to posting it yet when he told me about the encounter, days later.

Curious thing, life.

Should've worn the Chris Crafts.

But, I mean, it was a concert. It was The Clash. The little Asian cotton Maryjanes were the thing. I wore The Thing. And my nerdy jeans and beige socks, yeah. But then the cool top, it was kind of new wave. Vivid turquoise stripes, cool puffed sleeves.

As cool as *I* got in 1982.

I was fifteen.

My brother asked me to go to a concert with him. It was weird, but with his girlfriend's little sister going, maybe he kind of had to. Or maybe he was just being cool with me. It was about this period in our lives that sort of thing began to happen here and there.

Whether he had to bring me, or wanted to ... Didn't matter. We were excited. I remember us spotting other cars as we got closer to Williamsburg, "Bet they're going." Seeking shared anticipation.

Fortunately, for a change: not seeking boys. This isn't because I was with my brother, though usually he terrified any boys I might find interesting, event he other punks. No, it was because Joe Strummer with a mohawk looked too much like my big brother.

So I enjoyed the whole show without dreary old sex interfering mentally, and actually experienced the concert.

That unique smell - of The Reagan Years ... of the ozone-crackled electricity that was the music itself (mountains of speakers and amps) ... of that much youth packed into a venue. The incredible, the ineffable scent and sensation and sight of youth, in the early 80s. Angry youth, but exultant too.

The crush was intense at the front. I was with the other kid sister, against the barricade; barely more than a child.  Some guy saw me (us?) and got concerned. Or maybe he just wanted my spot. But ... it was after ... Maybe he really was scared for me. He signaled the roadies, they pulled me out of my cherry position. My memory has failed, in 35 years, as to her being pulled up to, but probably so. Dragged up onto the stage, shooed off it, shepherded around - and ended up out of the crush. I was annoyed.

Where my brother and his girlfriend were, who knew - I didn't care, there was nothing to be afraid of. Not even death by general admission. Safe. Wherever the older sibs were, they were never farther than the walls of the venue. Nobody in the crowd was out to hurt us. There was a show to go on.

And so, I wormed my way BACK up to the front, once again causing annoyance, but this time to the guy who had ordered us "saved" from the crowd. Maybe the other kid sister and I did this together. I just remember I was there.

I latched onto the barricade like a tick.

The Clash. Front row. Sea of kids, strange adulation and imperative demand. It was sensational.

At some point, we pulled ourselves back out - noise-fatigue, or the desire to find the others, or maybe they found us. I have some recollection of standing on the seats, scream-singing, bopping.

I had lost one of my flimsy cotton shoes, either in the dragging moment of my salvation, or stomped off during the second round, surrounded by combat boots. Stuck the other shoe in my back pocket - heaven knows why. Maybe I thought I'd find the lost one after the show. Maybe I even did. History and memory have failed in this detail.

Standing on a seat, beer-sopped socks, the muck of spit and sweat and beer and cigarettes. Just a few hours of a life; a meeting of four people. Of thousands.

Then a drive home, on an autumnal night. Ears ringing.

"Rock the Casbah" was the big deal that year, and it was pretty great. But even today, I maintain that "London Calling" is one of the great tracks in recording history. It echoes in a way beyond the mere sonic definition.

The weekend before that concert, The Clash appeared on SNL. Little Opie Cunningham was the host (this was before he disappeared completely *behind* cameras). He drank a beer live on camera, protested his Little Opie Cunningham-ness, and got ribbed by Eddie Murphy.

The ineffable scent of the 80s. The sound of soaring, roaring, echoing, raw music. GOOD music, but raw in a way that's really only synthesized anymore.

I really did see all the good concerts.


Ever notice how hard it is to find a supermarket in a city's downtown? But easy to find a McDonald's or other fast food? It's not just a happy coincidence.

There's a fast-food restaurant within walking distance in many low-income neighborhoods, but nary a green leafy vegetable in sight.

Do you know who Maggie Walker was? Find out here and especially here - it's nice to see her getting some attention.

A brief history of children sent through the mail. Bees, bugs, and babies, y'all. Thanks, Smithsonian Magazine, I am well and truly squicked. (And how many of you are now wondering what the weight limit on modern drones is ... ? Yeah, I thought so. Same as a Europran swallow.)

Also from Smithsonian, here is a cool look at Wonder Woman's origins ...

American Duchess talks with Cheyney McKnight on a range of things, including a nuanced look at slaves' clothes in America. The post alone is interesting, but the hour-plus podcast is highly worth the listen. Never say what we wear - what YOU wear - sends no message.

Yet again, researchers have looked to the yucky/bizarre medicine of the ancient past, and found it was not so bizarre after all.

One of the problems with the modern concept of The Dirty, Stupid Past is that we no longer understand the most basic mechanisms of our world. We judge crazy old plant medicine without understanding plants in the slightest, nor allowing for the possibility that what we now call chemistry was for millennia the mere result of observation and implementation. The scientific method was only named in recent centuries; but the need for experimentation and innovation go back as far as humanity itself. Contemporary society considers itself very advanced, but hardly any of us understands the workings of anything we use, from our technology to our environment. Whereas, in times past when people were dependent upon their environment, and had no vast networks of text-bound research or even vast networks of other people's observations and experiences, communities (a) worked together and (b) knew their world intimately. Small as those worlds may seem to us today, the individuals living in them knew them better than we even know our own bodies anymore.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Rest in peace, Wallace.

This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers.

Revisiting the shareholder-first business model - courtesy of The New Yorker.

On the unexpectedly morbid history of ribbons as adornment. Naturally, this piece brings to mind the Beresford Ghost, and other stories.

To my knowledge, this lady hath much joy and pleasure in death.

I have to say, this makes more sense to me than fear, perhaps *especially* in the direst of circumstances - precisely because those people are facing deliverance from suffering.

The real point of this article - or, really, the research it discusses - is the guiding force in American healthcare: avoidance of death. I have known more than one person who would have been happier had they not been treated not-to-death, honestly. I do not intend to become the dying person constantly snatched back from the brink, either, and I don't wish to die in a hospital. This morning, I said to someone who said, "Getting old sucks!" "Yeah, but it beats the alternative." The fact is, sometimes death beats some of the medical alternatives, too. The trick is to know when to choose what. At some point, perhaps I will have the grace and blessing to choose not to incur obscene debt for life"saving" measures which prolong my agony and deplete my earthly resources. If I get there, I don't expect I'll face the end with horror or regret.

To people furious over the Kathy Griffin photo I ask, where were you when effigies of Obama were lynched and burned across the eight years of his administration...?

The Boston Globe has an EXCELLENT piece looking at the outrage surrounding the Trumpian Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. And I say: um, yeah. Anyone who thinks this play is a celebration of assassination is ... well, let us use the term "uninformed" to be kind.

Throwback post - because it needs to be said. Again and again and again.

And again. Because we KNOW it's about power, not sex.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Even apart from the fact that I am a writer, words have always meant a great deal to me. They are more than stories, more than communication, they are avatars for what me must express as human beings. Today, I learned a new word. It is meaningful to me. How about you?

How to keep cool in eighteenth-century summer clothes - American Duchess provides such interesting background (yes, silk IS the worst in summertime in Virginia!). Observations from experience, some of them unexpected. (And, inauthentic or not, an icepack in the bonnet does sound pretty good to me ...)

Aww ... I shall recuse myself from entering Janet's latest caption contest, but it's about my boy again! Also, I already won a book this week, so someone else deserves this win. I deserve just to enjoy the entries!

Notes to entrants: Kate Larkindale, Gossamer used to RUN under that door when I first adopted him! And kathy joyce, a draft sock didn't even stop him. I used to pull a DRAWER out of my chest of drawers and put it at the crack to keep him from careening in and out all night long. He was so wee. I love Melanie Sue Bowles's caption, and BJ Muntain's, and got such a laugh out of Mark Ellis's and Colin's and Donna's and Elissa M's and Craig F's. Note to Brian Schwarz - I have a pic of him on my cube wall at work - all giant eyeballs and curious whiskers. On it is pasted, in about 24 pt. bold font, the question, "Didja ever get the feelin' ... ... you was bein' WATCHED?"

My theory? He was remembering when he used to bolt under that door, and reminiscing about being so small he could do that ... and then fall asleep on my neck with my chin for a pillow. And how he used to knead on my head so I got such INTERESTING hairdos. (Because: Gossamer.)

Editing to add another link - Donna Everhart is going to start her first-sentence Fridays feature again, now for her new novel, The Road to Bittersweet. In celebration, a clip of great music and dacing - one of those things it is a joy to see digitized online, real people in a real place and a real time, in joy and creativity and community. What a wonderful document, and a fine way for Donna to celebrate.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TROUT Again!

Funny I should run into this today, after yesterday's musing about Brautigan et al. Could be one to hunt down.

Image: Wikipedia, of course

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"... and ALWAYS for something completely different"

It was about 1983 when Mark and I became best friends. I use his real name because enough time separates us, and the name was common enough around here then, that it's as anonymous as calling him any other name.

Fifteen to his fourteen, I was in high school, but he was the cool one. I came over one time, he turned on the party light he'd built and calibrated to respond to his stereo, and he plunged my brain into something incomprehensible.

It was the original radio recordings of Hitchhiker's Guide.

I had no understanding of what was coming out of his speakers, there was no reference point by which I could make sense of the chorus of Cyrius Cybernetics voices buzzing out their little piece of the universe being built out of sound effects and voice acting. It all made no sense to me, and as is still to some degree my wont, that which was unfamiliar made me resistant, because I hated the confusion.

It probably took half an hour at least for me to even get that there was a story being told.

For me, back then, "writing" meant books - I was scarcely aware that the fare on our TV set (we used to call them "TV sets" - now ask me about hifi) involved composing scripts - and books came in few genres. Lots of nonfiction, for which I hadn't yet gotten the hang of caring. 19th century lit of various stripes, owned by us but belonging to nobody in particular. Mom's romantic novels. Dad's joke books; nothing else he might read could possibly have interested me.

So I "got" Bennet Cerf and even Art Buchwald, and novels by Poe and the like. But comedic science fiction? In radio format? I only understood radio drama as something that had gone the way of the dodo shortly after Baby Snooks cut her teeth.

Douglas Adams bent my brain.


Then I got to college and read Richard Brautigan. It is more than my eloquence can even attempt, explaining this lit, but Trout Fishing in America meant a lot to me once. Thirty years on, I'm not sure my geriatric behind could make head nor tail of it anymore.


Then I discovered Donald Harington. The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, only one of the Stay Moronian novels he penned, layered in ways even by then I couldn't intellectually cope with. Historical fiction? Yes. Picaresque? Yes. Folk tales? Yes. Family epic? Yes. Fantasy? Yes. All of, and so much more than, the above.

And it was Harington who put it best: we must write neckties.

Write things that are impractical and colorful. Write neckties.


Recently, I have picked up my late and beloved Aunt L's copy of The Known World.  I was fortunate to meet Edward Jones at a conference years ago, and yet somehow in the vagaries of the TBR pile, this has never quite hit the top at a time when I ended up finishing it. This week is different.

The novel is a quilt; not merely featuring a wide cast, but it is in itself a wide cast of a large net. There is factual history to be found here, and some detail so vivid it feels like documentation, or memory, or The Sight. Scenes are discussed as if by a storyteller - BY a storyteller, of course - but the "there-ness" is complete, the characters breathe and move in life not because of our intimacy with their imagined thoughts, but because they are viewed with respect - both literal and in the perspective sense - to their humanity. Human action, nuance by nuance. And so the omniscient document becomes the novel, and draws us into the curious world of freed men who owned slaves, in American history.

Having not so long ago finished reading Gigi Amateau's Come August, Come Freedom, there is a resonance, though her style is more what my brain would have called "traditional" as I grappled with all of the experimental and unexpected and creative work mentioned.


My own work is "traditional" in the extreme, of course. I don't color outside the lines; it took me too long to learn how to stay *in* them. But the obvious truism to (neck)tie up this post is this: without listening to, reading, learning from those who don't need the lines at all, I would not be able to color at all.

Work (the Paid Kind)

The only use spam comments have is to remind me of the occasional old post I don't hate rediscovering. Today's special was this one. I remember that day, but my memory is unlike what is said in the post. Funny how brains work.

Yet again, though, it gets me thinking about my current gig. For a long time, I still thought of this as my "new" job - and yet, in a career blessed with so many reorgs and layoffs, it is by a huge margin the position I have held for the longest time in my history.

For decades, I never kept a single job for more than two years. By and large, this speaks to the nature of the economy since I began participating in it; and only a few of my job changes came at my own hands, as promotions of sorts. When I was with a certain large securities firm no longer as-such in existence, my tenure was over five years, but I held four jobs in that time: and every change was upwardly mobile, and every change was at my own instigation. But mostly, I am a product of the ever-"evolving" (growth-and-shareholder-obsessed) economic times I came of age in.

So realizing recently that I've been with my team, my "new" company, for three and a half years has been curious.

It doesn't feel like a long time, compared to the most important jobs I hold in my memory. It also REALLY doesn't feel like I've reached (or distantly passed) an endpoint, which I have felt even in jobs I have loved in the past. Two years and I become afraid. Two years, and I see change whether I want to or not. My last job, which I was proud to hold and did not want to leave, lasted two and a half, and I was giddy with fear just because of my own presumed expiration dating ... slightly before I realized that the changes around me gave me reason to be giddy with fear because I recognized what was going on. I left. And almost immediately, the cliff I'd been perched upon crumbled. I was safe, but it was heartbreaking.

And I am still safe.

The things I have accomplished in this position, with this company, pretty easily surpass anything I have been able to manage before.

When I began to look afield, after a couple internal interviews with said previous employer, I reached out to someone I knew from HR there, who had left. And ended up with the company she went to.

She had recommended me to my now-team, specifically my now-executive, knowing that I was a seasoned admin and he was unseasoned with having one, and that I would be able not only to step into required competencies, but also to form the work I'd do and essentially train my team to have an admin at all. The unwritten side of this was that she knew I'd be able to create my own work.

The way this has played out is that I have created my own terms.

My team don't have me doing PowerPoints to speak of, I rarely write memos that aren't my own idea, and apart from monitoring expenses for compliance and speaking to my direct boss's availability, I don't do a lot of the things most people THINK secretaries spend our lives on.

When I first started, one of the managers under my boss's care jumped in with both feet. He had me working on a lot of things, but one key one remains a core part of my work - albeit now in a very different way.

Both Feet left our company years ago, and in his absence, I picked up a great deal in his area. It took a long time to fill his position, so by the time we did so, I was uppity in the extreme in this department. So the new guy came into a situation with a secretary already managing up. And he seems to have been willing to leave me to it. With the result that that administrative tedium I picked up way back when is now an area in which I have streamlined, assertively managed, and brought into an entirely new proportion.

I've saved my company a crap-ton of money, on my own initiative, cemented best practices, insert-your-least-favorite-corporate-speak here. Because I cared, and because nobody else was doing this work, and because nobody told me not to.

I lived right up to what that HR person expected of me, and then some.


So re-reading that old post was interesting, in the context of my continued realization that I seem to be in a job well on its way to Methuselah status as far as my CV goes. I see in it a bit of the same sinking-my-teeth-in/getting-it-done-ery that has served me here, and even some of the amusement I felt at losing a job I so desperately hated (but which I took a long time to realize I did).

I still call that the worst April Fool's Day joke ever - not least as they jumped the gun by a day on the punchline.