Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Blasphemy Day

Being, as some readers are aware, a church-goer, it may seem less than obvious for me to post about Blasphemy Day as a good thing - yet I have this compulsion, as a Christian, to dismantle RELIGION as opposed to FAITH - and the spiritual.

Religion is nothing more than a system, a tool - the regulated means by which we humans grapple with the ineffable to see if we might not eff it after all.

Of course, there is effing, and there is effing.  I can't say I believe we honestly have the right to eff the ineffable, no matter how much we want to.  I look at myself, for instance, and think - what makes me think I deserve answers?

And so, necessarily, the dogma and tenets and expectations (and, yes, even the congregation) of religion are, for me, not merely secondary but outright beside the point.  As a bishop-blessed Episcopalian, I have a three-legged stool (scripture, tradition, reason) - and, while I belong to a faith with more "trappings" than all matter to me most deeply, I have also applied some of those physical and verbal fixtures of religion to my belief in ways that are relevant.  What's interesting to me is that, as many more rules and particulars as my chosen religion has in  practice, it has far less concern for *dogma* than I was familiar with.  Its concern is not to have knowledge, but to honor the desire to learn - even if spiritual knowledge may, in the end, be impossible to attain.



Here lies my blasphemy:  I belong to a strongly trinitarian community of faith, and I have never, not once in my life, understood the point of, believed in, nor seen any need for the trinity at all.  This "holy spirit" thing is meaningless to me, in the most profound way - if it is possible to put it thus.  For me, the important - the *wondrous* - core of the divine is that G-d came and LIVED amongst us.

This is, for me, spiritually, the bit I'd run into the house for in a fire.

Crossing myself, the Nicene Creed, formulated prayer, the calendar - it's all good learning material, but it's all like the workbooks they gave to us in grade school - it's not what we need to know, but the exercise that helps us find that.  What we need to know is that G-d so loved the world that He extruded Himself (and, please understand, my liberal readers, that "he" is for me non gender specific in this context - I think that assigning biological plumbing to the divine is reductive beyond countenancing) into our life, our population, our *flesh*.  And then sacrificed that flesh.

Christ.  As demonstrative goes, that's the G-d for me.  Who takes us on to the point of taking on our skin and bones and pains.  The ultimate expression of divinity - in our own *stuff* ...

For most Christians, I have to think that that incredible identification with the divine is very deeply the point of accepting this faith.  A certain vanity - G-d in OUR image, as we in His.  A certain reassurance - that we are not alone, that whatever it is we don't understand is closer than we thought.  A relationship with G-d.



I adhere to religion not because I have faith, but because I need somewhere to PUT that faith, some container, some structure - some community in which to express it, to share it, to learn from, and to give to.  Discipline ... disciple.

I had all kinds of faith (rather literally) for years and years before I placed it into the hands of an established church.  And the church I chose, I didn't come to because some magic fish led the way or the wizard's beans grew up to heaven and led me there.  I chose it because of Betty, who sat next to me my first time.  I chose it because the building is beautiful, all wood and brick, and it felt unquantifiably AND quantifiably comfortable to me.  The beauty of the place mattered, and I was blessed to come to know a few wonderful people, and then we got our priest, who now has just left, after too short a time - but, apparently, the right amount of time.  I have faith in that not because religion is infallible and miraculous, but because I am open and we all must be, and it's not like the Devil's going to trot in where a fine, fine priest has vacated.  Life doesn't work that way; we have a good interim, the same man who presided when I first came to this church.  And I trust the church to give our opportunity to someone fine, once again.

The expression of my faith is entirely anathema to most religious people throughout the world and our histories.  My approach to religion disrespects it, even discounts it.  I'm infidel in as many traditions as concern themselves with blasphemers.  As with religion itself, I bypass this and attach my motivation to the interest of G-d, above any worship.  My chief prayer, "May I bring YOU satisfaction and joy."

But my second, importuning, wish:  "May we all bring one another satisfaction and joy."

That's what most of us want, really.



Happy Blasphemy Day.  How will you celebrate ... ?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Confluence

It is a truism that no matter what is going on in our lives, “life goes on” – and that this can sometimes mean more than one thing is going on on our lives at once.  When losses meet, it can be overwhelming.  One may affect the other, and situations we might otherwise bear with dignity amplify other emotions, causing us to lose our footing.

In the past two weeks, someone I like enormously has announced plans to leave this state.  My priest has been called to work away from my church.  Two loved ones have had health setbacks, and one had surgery today; the other will have her own some time soon.  In the early hours this morning, a widely beloved person at my work died most unexpectedly.

And so, yesterday, I participated in the farewell of a woman of G-d I love very deeply indeed, which was sad enough, but it ended in the physical laying on of hands of all the congregation who were with us, in silence and in prayers offered by several, a physical matrix of human hands and love – something I have never experienced before (it was not the sort of expression the church I grew up in would have come up with).  The name of one of those I am concerned about arose in a hymn, and I lost all control.  And today I attended the impromptu memorial of a man who meant so much to so many that the CEO broke up and could not even speak at first – and, when he did, he ended our gathering by saying, “If you are having trouble today, go home.”

He happened to say this in the moment that I knew my loved one was literally in a doctor’s hands.  This person is hub of a kind of matrix, too – the hands that link together at this moment of crisis for them are hands I have held many times.

The past month or two have been a fertile time for events of great moment.  Writing, home, family, and friends – another of whom was dealt a professional blow which has ramifications across a web of relationships of it sown – great things have been afoot … and not all these great things have been good things.  My own health, my own security and peace, have remained inviolate – I am blessed beyond thanksgiving – and what I have to offer, as those around me endure and endure and endure, seems so little.

Surrounding this personal experience are the stories of secret taping of meetings at the Federal Reserve http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/536/the-secret-recordings-of-carmen-segarra, the stabbings and beheading at a food distributor by a terminated employee http://www.wsav.com/story/26636337/police-woman-beheaded-at-oklahoma-workplace, days of massive disruption of air travel because of a fire set by another unhappy employee in Chicago http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/09/26/man-suspected-of-shutting-down-airports-may-have-posted-rant-at-time-of-arson-fire/ … war … bad economy …

I look at the strain even on those who DO have work right now, and am ever more grateful for my own.  That I work at a place which observes our humanity so overtly, so much as a community.  It’s not the first time I’ve been struck at how strongly the executives here respond to the distress of our people, and this makes me so grateful and so proud.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Collection

The talented and charming Meg Medina, whom I dearly hope to see soon at this year's JRW Convention, got a nice plug on her blog recently.  Love the title for her most recent post, Banned on the Run.  though now I have that running through my head!

Twitter as a resource - Day al-Mohamed posted about the ancient French  boomerang, dating 2000 years back ...  Well, that's just neato-spedito!

English Historical Fiction Authors has a typically in-depth post about wool in the British isles, its particulars and history.  Material chronologies like this are so often a great way to look at the wider (and deeper) aspects of history - it's an interesting story.

As Halowe'en comes upon us - for those  of you seeking a costume, American Duchess is certainly inspiring (though ... I could never accomplish her results!!).  Behold the steampunk goodness of her latest corset ensemble - I adore this skirt and the hat/veil combo.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Blood for Gender

It’s a funny thing in its way – and what’s odd is that it’s not ghoulish to me … the only scenes with much meat on them I have written for the WIP so far seem much preoccupied with blood.  Apart from the view of Clovis through Amalasuntha’s eyes, the only writing with any meat on its bones consists of the scene of Amalasuntha’s birth (the opening setpiece, the first piece of “writing” I ever did on this WIP), and a consideration by Ama of the advent of womanhood – and how rather frustrating and repellant she finds the process.  Another sketch is that of the execution of a slave, which she is forced to witness.

The two scenes involving women’s blood, it occurs to me, are directly biological entre’s into female characters.  I have written for so long from Clovis’ POV, perhaps this has been a necessary subconscious impulse – to approach Amalasuntha and Audofleda, her mother, by way of the most obvious expressions/functions of their bodies, their genders:  in menstruation and childbirth.  The torture of the slave, too, is in its way related – Ama is forced to watch as the man she has lowered herself to mate with is punished for his presumption in taking her.  Sex.  So, his blood in that one, but still someone bleeds.

I’ve taken a look at Amalasuntha’s son, and have contemplated, too, her daughter (Matasuentha), but at this point the novel largely fixates on Ama.  The flexibility and freedom of omnipotent POV means I don’t have to hew so tightly to her as I did to the single character (… protagonist … ? the readers will decide …) in Ax.  So this novel may evolve into a more balanced three-generations-of-women story, but I never have seen Audofleda as central at all.  *She* bleeds, in the WIP, only so that other women may take the stage in their turn …

As to the shadowed figure of Matasuentha—the daughter, perhaps the trickling-down of story, the disappointment or denoument (?)—the glance I’ve cast in her direction is bloodless, but concerns her marriage.

I’ll leave you with one thought about Audofleda, the sister of Clovis, the tie that did not bind him to Theodoric the great, the queen, and the mother (a line surely to be cut … but starting something, and that is still good) …

The queen took pride in her own forbears, but she had committed to leave them behind—brides always left their own behind, even as their blood was the currency of alliances and peoples—and she never spoke of herself as a Frank.  She would speak of her brother with a transfigured glow, but not of herself as if she were them.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Today Was the Day ...

… when Word shook its head, threw up its hands, and said “There are too many misspellings for me to keep cleaning up after your profligate ignorance, I quit” (… or something of that nature).  It’s the “How in the name of G-d you live in this filthy pigsty you call a room” moment of my writing – and for those who caught that wonderful reference, congratulations but I am afraid we have no bananas today for prizes.  Bask in your pop-cultural knowledge.

Anyway …

If I went to the trouble of adding all the ancient names for my characters to its database, Word wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble with me.  **Oh, and the guilt, she is so great**.  Hee.

But at this point in the game, the manuscript consists mostly of (public-domain) images I want for reference and inspiration, timelines, notes, transcriptions and broken scaffoldings imported from Gaul, and scraps of writing here and there which may or may not ever become “actual writing” as the embryonic mess evolves its sloppy way out of the protoplasm.

It is perhaps a perverse part of my glee that the very mess is its own mess now, coming into being, even if flailingly so and yet so unformed.  As a mark of “progress” – this Word warning is decidedly indicative of how EARLY in the going the WIP still is.

But it’s GOING.  And that is the point.  Punctiliousness can wait. (And if you could start a band or write a song or release a big-budget flop with that for a title, I’d be mighty grateful.  Thankee.)

The point is, to set this pile up with the dignity of its own terms – well, I am either too lazy, or I suppose I haven’t enough respect just yet for my own creation.



It seems like a long time ago that this happened with The Ax and the Vase; and now here we are, the WIP finally reaching this milestone, having lain dormant almost since I conceived the first novel.

I feel a bit like Mr. X did when his son got a McDonald’s toy for some movie tie-in and said, “But dad, it’s not to scale” and X prompltly dissolved in a puddle of choked-up, model-making nerd dad pride, all “That’s my Special Little Guy.”  My second baby’s hit a milestone:  Word *already* can’t even deal with it anymore.

I couldn’t be more proud.

Home (and Other) Improvements

Regular readers will understand that a number of the things I’ve been doing around this house were initially spurred on by a plan to throw my mom a birthday party.  I remember so clearly when dad and I worked on a party for her together, and at the same time he was making sure she had a new microwave in her kitchen, and so on.  Guests get us going, I suppose, and when there’s a good “reason” I know I enjoy a bit of nesting.

One of the major excitements around here, of course, has been the new writing desk.  It’s been in the house just under two weeks, and I have been enjoying it to bits.  The thing is six feet by three, and I joked before it came along “It would eat up all the space in that room and burp happily” – but as imposing a piece of furntiture as it is, it’s not out of place nor proportion.

Ohhhhhh, and having a huge desk.  I come home to it every day, and it’s so much easier getting a bit DONE on this desk.  It amuses the cat, of course, to get in my way – but overall this investment has been a good choice.

So far, it’s seen perhaps as much bill-paying and administrivia as it has writing, BUT … it’s been a pleasure to get a little bit into the WIP, and to have a place where my research and writing are capaciously accommodated.  A positive luxury, actually.

The hugeness of the desk allows both the resource of space to work, but also physical comforts as a writer I have never had.  Contemplating the need for a foot rest, I’m not sure my grandmother’s old footstool wouldn’t fit just fine down there, and that gives me a little grin.  It has a rightness about it, writing while surrounded by family artifacts, writing on a desk I fell bewilderingly in love with.  All of my family are teachers – whether by formal profession or not – and the books and chairs and *things* of them and their minds mean a little something to me, as I crack a new book of my own, to do the reading and research I must, or as I noodle about with actual-writing which isn’t actual at all, but only exercise, to learn about my characters, my scenes, my setting, as I go.

Many historical fiction authors have a set process by which the research for x-amount of time, outline, collate, and writing is a separate thing, done after all the rest.  I never was a fan of steps, and to hold back from writing now, at the point where I feel it’s been so long since I “finished” Ax (… which time … ?), would just be punitive.

And pointless.

The thing is, the writing I am doing now is not work I expect to make the final cut, it’s not even something I’d consider draft work.  The writing I do when research is still new is writing both to flex my creative muscles and to find my inroads into the next novel.  Given the connections between Ax and the WIP, much of it is swing lines – taking a point from the one, and finding its connection to the other; traveling, Tarzan-style, from the branch of one tree to some hold on the next.

The WIP has never, in my mind, been a sequel – but perhaps I need to reconsider that, or perhaps I’ll learn better.  It has little to do with Ax in some very fundamental ways:  not told first-person, setting more cosmopolitan, multiple generations and character focal points, the story of women rather than one man …  Each one will stand alone.

But, too – it’s an obvious starting point, to approach this WIP, by taking a look at the moments and effects where these two stories touch.  And so, I grasp the line in the first novel, which leads to the next – where Clovis’s sister marries south – where his niece grows up daughter to an inimical ally – where she actually visits her mother’s homeland, as a girl, and *meets* this branch of her family.

That last point, too … I had a little fun, taking a look at Clovis through this new character’s eyes.  For one, there was a perverse pleasure in minutely describing him physically – which is NEVER done, in Ax.  My feeling is, readers often invent their own faces (I always have) and anything laid out may be ignored.  More to the point, Clovis’ novel was told first-person through his own eyes, and this was not a character much given to gazing upon his reflection, even apart from the fact that he lived in a world siginificantly lower on mirrors than our own.  I also got to learn a little about Amalasuntha at thirteen-ish; how she felt about the smells, the chills, the sights – and the people – of this strange world from which her blood had flowed, but which was so foreign to her.

That scene, though perhaps in a much-altered/entirely gutted form, I expect will survive, in some way, into the WIP proper.

But, for now, there is a freedom in writing, knowing it is commitment-free if I need it to be … and in working, at my new desk.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Voices

Writers of nearly every sort have a fondness for what we call “voice” – the tone and unique patois of a character, the way one speaks as opposed to the next – the very feel of a novel, a screenplay, a poem, a story.  Setting can have, and contribute, to voice.  Age and education, native intelligence, expectations, fears, and desires.

Many authors, too, read our work out loud.  It’d be impossible not to write, to some degree, in our own voices, and as important as reading a work out loud is to making sure its weight and rhythm and the feel are all right, even this imposes us upon the work.  Public readings, if we’re fortunate enough to publish, reinforce the imposition of our own voice on a work, and audio books can bring new voices, in performance, to a piece.

And through all this, we have to maintain the integrity of the characters themselves.  Characters mustn’t break under the weight of interpretations and expectations – and, the more I read, the more I know how very difficult it is for a character to remain itself.  Right now, I’m reading a novel told in omniscient 3rd person, but incorporating literally hundreds of years of voices – rendered in spoken word, chronicle, correspondence, and secondhand reportage.  It’s a piece with remarkable scope, and quite well put together – yet there are times I can see the author too clearly.  A habit of beginning sentences with the word “and” … certain unique phrases appearing generations apart, recalling some other character’s voice … the reiterations of descriptions of setting, from points of view which should be more distinct.  It’s an author’s job to notice detail.  It is not their job to put the same detail in the perspective of EVERY character, unfortunately.  Lush as certain points of interest may be, not all voices should desribe them the same – indeed, not all characters should even care.  Once seven different scenes from markedly different periods and focusing on wildly different players – scenes concerned with very different action and motivation – have pointed at the same beautiful plant in the same way, I not only lose patience with vicariously gazing at the plant, but I lose my place in the world itself.

Ahm – so plants don’t need to have voices in a novel.

Back to my point.

The problem with an author’s voice overcoming their characters’ is that, of course, the book stops being about what it is about, and begins to be about the author’s preoccupations.

Now,of course, none of us would ever write, if we didn’t have preoccupations.  It’s in some way entirely the point.

This is why we have editing.

I have a problem with “just” and “actually” – fortunately, writing historical fiction set in Late Antiquity, I am somewhat freed from this foible:  the likelihood of an ancient Frankish throwing around quantities of qualifiers is blessedly remote, and so I hope Clovis suffers little from this predilection.

My other problems, which anyone here knows all too well already, are loquacity and a confidence in my own intelligence, which are most likely the issue I have to watch the hardest.  I’ve edited and polished and worked, but have little doubt that the characters in The Ax and the Vase are perhaps more culturally and educationally homogenous than they should be.  Personalities set them apart, but I could not bear to make any of them less than truly clever (see also:  my overarching defensiveness about “Barbariansand The Stupid, Stupid Past …).  We have one boyish colt, and one oafish drunk, but as a whole, the population of The Ax and the Vase are a canny lot.  One hopes this does not constitute too much of a problem.

I like to hope that the key is *listening*.  Listening to the characters, and the story itself.  Each scene tells me what its participants need out of it, and that helps.  Each man and woman has a past, and a future.

I can discern the actual VOICE of Clovis – the breath, the timbre, the power and the volume – in everything he has said through the novel.  I know his youthful tone and the creaking changes of his voice with age.  I know the speed at which words came from his mouth, with every line he speaks, and can tell you where he breathes, where he doesn’t.  When he pauses.  When he silences others with his own silence.

I know the sound of his kinsman, Pharamond – and the rumble and grind of his other supporting player, the profligate, the comes, the older idol, Ragnachar.

It’s not enough to see their faces – to know the very quality of their skin, their hair, the color or the brightness and clarity of their eyes.  It’s not enough to know that one character has a club foot, and another is leathery and scarred, almost blue he is so tanned and aged and hard.  I have to know that that latter man has a voice reedy and thin with age, incongruously small in his warrior’s frame.  I have to hear not only the lilt and laughter of the crippled woman, but to hear how the slide of her walk syncopates with her words as she walks.  I have to know that she has hands and feet and a belly and clothes, how she moves, how her breath moves with her, how the words will be affected by that.

I have to remember Clovis is fifteen in this scene when I edit it, and almost forty-five the next day, when I’m looking at the other end of the novel.


***


The most beautiful speaking voice I have ever heard, live and in person, was that of Mikhail Gorbachev.  It was over twenty years ago, when he was still one of the most famous men on Earth, and realized – I had never heard him before:  only interpreters.  His voice was magnificent, not at all blustering nor loud, mellow, mellifluous, simple, and beautiful.  I found myself ignoring the translator, and lost only in the sound of this unassuming, astoundingly powerful figure, quite overjoyed to forget his speech and simply revel in the sound of beautifully spoken Russian.

I have never been a fan of French, and as much love as I have for the German language – for sheer loveliness of sound, for its curve and sharpness and audible precision, the most gorgeous language in the world, for me, has always been Russian.  I find the curved shapes of its verbal Ls  entrancing, the glottal bounce of its coupled vowels delightful.  Spoken with an honestly attractive voice, Russian is an incredible pleasure for the ear.  Its edges, sharp and pure, never cut to bleed, and its lightness and speed are exciting.  Women who swoon for the congested sound of French have never quite made sense to me.  But give me a few phrases thrown away in rapid-fire, carelessly crystal-clear Russian, and the wonder of language lights up my brain.

The deliberate and convicted sound of a man who literally changed the world, speaking with a mellow voice no less powerful for its lack of volume, was an experience I frankly treasure in a sacred way apart from politics or seeing-a-famous-person or romance or anything else.  Beauty IS, sometimes, its own reward, and Gorbachev’s speech is one of those unexpected moments in memory, which illustrated something about beauty well beyond the perfectly arched brow or a total babe everyone wants to get to know.  That I understood not a word without the translator only enhanced this.


Clovis spoke a language I would never recognize, even if I spoke all the living tongues in the world today.

But I know his voice.

Rougher and sharper than a Russian statesman.

Never quite so guttural as a brute of a “Barbarian”.

Not quite a low voice, not for a long time – he came to the throne in the barest flush of his youth.

But balanced.  Measured.  Strong, if not beautiful.

And … I hope … compelling enough to echo through fifteen centuries …

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Collection

Okay - a pair, more than a proper collection today:  but here we go!

I have always wondered why the mealy, leather-skinned Red Delicious was so dominant on our produce aisles.  Here we have the money-centric answers.

The Peabody Essex Museum in the UK has an exhibition of Indian textiles I wish I could see - and shows us why these patterns, colors, and pieces for export have been popular for centuries.