Thursday, July 28, 2016

Collection, With A Lot of Villainy

It’s the wrong Donald, Gromit.

Apparently (in certain others' minds, anyway) I am a ... PANK. Hm. Sounds distasteful. I'm not persuaded this is a label worth accepting - indeed, I'm not entirely persuaded by this article. Still, it's interesting to note that, invisible as I am being an old biddy aunt, I'm an impressively fast-growing demographic.

NPR did a piece today on why villains are always the interesting characters. I'd argue against the old "good guys are always boring" routine; a good writer doesn't leave the protagonist drab. As good writing goes, "good guys are boring" is lazy right there. It is right after they say villains are always the interesting ones, using Shakespeare's Iago (I am NOT linking that for you, if you don't know the reference, look it up) as a juicy example, that I immediately think of Claudius. Not Graves' Claudius (nor Derek Jacobi's), but Hamlet's. He does not steal the show. James Bond villains often don't either - Bond villains are MacGuffins, simply there to set everything in motion. Captain America: Civil War was the same - a villain we spend no time with, care about not one whit, and who in the end has nothing to do with anything at all. Surprisingly good movie, out of that.

But still. The montage of famous villains' voices at the top is worth the ride. Could use more of the Star Wars evil march music, though.

The MOST fascinating part of this story is its point regarding villains' never thinking they ARE bad guys or women. No matter your place on the political spectrum - right now, this year, there is no way around seeing that as a reference not to movies, but to this election.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Specificity, Magic, and Getting Lost in Cover Art

Talking with Colin Smith recently at his blog got me thinking about the subjective effects of good illustration. We were discussing those pieces of art inside a number of books, but I'm struck time and again by the impact a photo cover has on me versus good old fashioned paintings and drawings. Even a photo of a sculpture is not the same.

When I was a kid, you still saw matte painting in movies and television. Science texts sometimes employed artists for renderings of various objects of study - space, in particular, was fertile ground (so to speak ...) for magnificent paintings of detailed scenes, worlds away from our own, exciting phenomena rendered in bold colors and evoking intensity, heat, movement - danger! - beauty ...

For over a century and a half, there has been a lament that photography destroys art, that it is soulless, that it is unworthy of contemplation. Of course, this is untrue.

And yet, there is something about a photograph - not least the limited and terrifyingly recycled library of stock images used these days in book cover design - that lacks, in comparison with the inspiration of a drawn or painted image.

For one, there is the specificity. As a reader, I dislike being instructed by a book's cover with quite the concreteness a photo provides.

Colin and I talked of the ability to get lost in a simple oil pastel drawing or watercolor, and I remembered the million worlds of Richard Scarry as absorbing adventures that could hold me for hours.

There is also the charm of style. There are covers of books I read growing up I still remember. In histfic, ersatz portraits that took real-life inspiration and transformed old paintings into compositions and costumes that ended up more 60s or 70s in their vibe. Historical figures' new pictures paying homage to known portraiture, but presenting attitudes perhaps less formalized than such images. (Seriously, click on the link, Robert Dudley is kind of perfectly conceived - and not even headless!)

Then there are the comparative studies - the 80s cover whose male model I crushed on, versus the 60s extravaganza of Historical Epicness. Even the 80s one isn't just a straight photograph; its sky is a painted vista, its background a world like so many of those matte paintings I knew from Star Trek as a wee little nard.

Even the most specific, detailed painting or drawing is still in some way subjective, and therefore invites inspiration over being a dictation.

Photo book covers, for me, have all the appeal of an over-sentimental film score. Bad scores are didactic - telling me how I must feel, taking away from me the opportunity to come to an emotion on my own with a character or characters.

I believe in the transportive beauty of photography, but I literally cannot THINK of a photographic book cover that has ever taken me to a new world the way other graphic forms can.

And, again, there is the issue of the strangely limited stock of images publishers seem to use. There are websites and fora all over Teh Intarwebs sharing "oh look, this pic again" images of cover after cover after cover - following the extremes of recycling costumes or particular photo shoots, or even single images, again and again and again and again. Some of the costumes used forty years ago in Elizabeth R have had almost embarrassingly over-recycled afterlife in modeling sessions for cover photos for historicals.

Even if you don't know the provenance, where an image has been used but differently cropped or tinted a hundred times before, a photo (so often of the old headless-woman) has only so much power to invite exploration. It feels like photo design covers are by far more prone to anachronism and even inappropriateness. Amongst all those discussions of "this one again" covers online, there are many conversations about how inauthentic design choices are.

A particular floppy red velvet ruff bearing no resemblance to any actual piece of clothing from any period of history ever is notorious, having graced every kind of novel from the Plantagenet to Victorian and back again. Novels taking place in one century sport covers evoking another, or one culture in the world is plundered just to decorate another. Female models wearing makeup abound; everyone must be pretty, after all.

And, not that the covers I've linked are not cosmetically enhanced in their own ways, but at least the living and breathing reality of a girl tottering about in a bad costume and pouting her strong lipstick isn't slamming me out of a story with all the power of ... well, that book I've been reading in which yards and yards of lace have appeared in a time three hundred years before its existence ...

This may be the power of the subjective graphic forms. They don't look entirely "real" to begin with, so their deviations from authenticity are less concrete, less jarring than a photograph's quantified, concrete, recorded verity. There is something banal in the carelessness of recorded anachronism or inappropriateness.

And I know I've couched a lot of my blather in historical fiction, but it is, honestly, in historicals that photography grates *me at least* the most. Because the medium is modern, it feels wrong right at the start, and because so many of the photographs chosen currently seem to have little depth (never mind being threadbare from frequent use), there is no allure.

Like any human attraction, specificity can both amplify and kill it. Specificity - that adorable mole just in front of a lover's ear, or the way they breathe when they first see your face - is magic. But it is also murder - the zipper you can see on the Elizabethan gown, or the Elizabethan gown fitting poorly on the headless model for a Regency romp ...

Richard Nixon's Phlebitis

Dena Pawling has a great blog not only reviewing a lot of books, but throwing around some of the legal facts of life, often to amusing effect. We have her to thank for this link.

Well worth a click should you need a laugh at the expense of a super-rich sexual harasser in his undies. Right now, I can tell you, this was a much needed distraction for ME.

Fair warning, though: there IS a photo of the plaintiff in said (black ...) underpants. Pure comedy black gold. But worse to behold even than a man in black socks and mandals.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Collection

“How do the breasts look?
“She was always very fancy.”
“I don’t have nothing to hide.”

So, yeah. Eep, the world ... ... ... but for now, there are puppies. Thoughts from E. M. Goldsmith (and a couple comments from me, too).

"23 shipwrecks in 22 days" is a lot of discovery.

And, because I needed MORE blogs to provide me perpetually renewing online TBR, Benjamin Clark on researching wet paper towels - and so much more!

EDITED TO ADD ...

Like Benjamin Clark wasn't bad enough, then I found Nate Wilson's blog and, on top of having the AbFab theme running through my head, now I want to write science haiku.

And finally, Stephen Parks' post on automation actually reminds me that the fiction he cites, fearing exactly the same things we fear now, is generations old now. Reassuring? Could be ... But I did think of the comments Jeff Sypek recently had regarding some of the less-observed socio-economic aspects of the self-driving car question.

Missed FF

Busy with family this weekend, I was disappointed to miss entering Janet Reid's latest flashfic contest. In any case, it might have gotten the "not quite a story" comment (if any), but I thought I would share mine anyway.

Prompt words:

cow
league
road
trip
pry



"The problem with seven-league boots is balance."

Petyr scowled. "There can be no problem, covering a week's travel in one step!"

"Ahh, but should you fall as the boots stride - or one slip off one foot - you may be dragged down the road, head tripping along the ground." The old man smiled. "Must be spry.

Petyr gawped. “Imagine, conked in the brainpan, leagues from anyone!”

The old man nodded. “You see why I am reluctant to sell them, at any price,” he said, regretful. “It is a bridge you need, not boots. I have one for you …”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Creative Not-writing

Most creative and/or artistic types express their limber right brains in ways other than being writers, painters, musicians, sculptors and so on.

I rock a bit of the Ageing Bohemian Authoress style in my wardrobe and home, and I also have this thing where I have to change things every now and then. There is a semi-regular seasonal rotation of my living room and bedroom furniture that just gives me a little pleasure looking at the same things in a different way.

Like my mom, I also have a collection of decorative items and wall art far exceeding space to exhibit it all at any one time. I haven't switched those things around much in the past year or two, but used to shift out a small portion of my dad's pewter collection for colorful dishes and Israeli enamel around the kitchen, or put out different knickknacks in the living room from one mood or season to another. Of course there are Christmas decorations, too.

Finding places to put things is a major recreational and practical habit for any homeowner; often, this comes with the question of "How do I store X, Y, and Z?" but some of us just have fun with what's actually out.



This week (I hope!), I'm having my basement foundation jackhammered to the footing and waterproofing updated in this beautiful 66-year-old home, which I moved into fifteen years ago this month. Step one in this job is MY contribution, which has been to move everything down there away from the walls.

Any homeowner can tell you, any project involving moving every single thing in one room in a house ends up feeling like a massive undertaking. As a pushing-50-year-old woman with multiple back injuries to my discredit, it's also one you have to be careful about. Gossamer has fallen in love with my back for smelling like off-brand Icy/Hot, because the wintergreen drives him mad, and I've certainly been keeping the naproxen sodium business going. Hooray for NSAIDs!

And for subterranean dreams.

Moving everything down there presents the opportunity not only to open up a new line of credit debt in the name of resale value I hope not to realize any time soon, and also to Get Some Things Done.

Washing the walls is job one, once the contractors clear out. Just taking a hose to the whole place. Whether I'll follow that with a paint job I'm not sure. in some ways, being able to see the flemish bonding that goes all the way down under the house proper charms me. And exposed brick is a thing.

I *am* rather tempted to paint the floors with something glossy enough to take a good sweeping.

The clothes lines will probably move, but I haven't decided where. Some things will have to develop as things are shifted back into place.

The major workbench will be dismantled and its true two-by-fours kept for some other wonderful purpose, its massive legs saved likewise. This will free up a massive amount of space down there, and some of the furniture in storage will be put to use AS storage, as well as cleaning up the look of the place.

I don't intend to finish it completely, but I may let paternal grandma's easy chair and maternal grandma's dresser and vanity/desk serve some decorative and practical purpose. I have my eye on the vanity/desk as a spot I could set up my sewing machine, which currently stays stuck behind a filing cabinet, but which could have a living/working function in a safe, cleaned-up full basement.

The extraordinarily well-built shelves at the bottom of the steps, I think may be little gussied up, but cleaned and called for duty to hold some of those miscellaneous decorative items not always in service themselves. If I do anything to prettify this spot, it will be simply to hang a shower curtain to keep things safe from the worst dust.

Mom and I have some of our best conversations, stimulating each other's decorator brains on projects like this. It distracts her for a time, too, from the difficulties of being a constant caregiver, and I hope is some relief from the tension.

If nothing else, spending fifteen or so minutes actually starting that job we agreed upon, of dismantling the largest workbench seems to have provided some frustration working-out. She bashed every board off the top (NO damage; mom and I both get physically sick watching the careless destruction inherent in most "demo days" on HGTV shows) before I could even say I still needed it to stack the shelves on as I deconstructed those!

Along the way with creative projects of any kind come the surprises. The incalculable cache' of Gossamer poops, hidden away when he's been in some kind of mood or other. The ASTONISHING weight of a tiny vanity made out of hard rock maple. The fact that the smaller workbench, laden with firewood and appliance boxes I have saved because I am *that* person ("keep the boxes in case you ever have to move!") ... was missing a leg, and just propped against the wall. For who knows how many decades! The exact size of cave cricket poo.

But in a week or so (I hope! I got the call Friday the county permits had not been completed ...), I will be able to indulge some of these fantasies.

Right after I scrub down the falls and remediate the dust. Shew!



So. What's up with you this summer?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Collection

Gossamer is currently FLAT on the living room floor, even his chin - tail swishing, and in stalk mode. He got a new toy for his adopt-iversary, and he likes it. (7/14 marked our fourth year since he first came home with me.)

The house is clean, and another project I have going in the basement is going well.

The world at large and at small seems to be a difficult place of late. We all know the large pictures. On the personal scale, someone I know just found out a parent was discovered dead at home with their pets also deceased. One of my oldest friends is dealing with the latest variety of symptoms of several chronic, incurable diseases, her husband may have pneumonia, and her father is heading in for minor (we pray) surgery Tuesday. My stepfather continues a precipitous decline from the ongoing status that he is dying in the first place.

Distractions are in order. And so, ironically, my first link today will echo the points made here ...

Advanced Style (the documentary) looks at the denial of death by way of fashion in a way more uplifting than my post above. When death comes closer, denial of it can be more affirming than oblivious, and the result is literally and figuratively beautiful. There is also a blog, which goes beyond NYC. Everything about Beatrix Ost's style, I adore. The boots look like American Duchess!

I'm not a great follower of celebrity, and so to me Jennifer Aniston is one of those word-pairs that generally keeps me from clicking. And yet, something or other got me here last week, and I have to admit: if this is her actual voice, her words, I entirely respect her thinking. On the subject of her own celebrity - and the resultant headlines about her life (and fantasies projected thereupon).

Less escapist, but something I have followed for about a dozen years; the FLDS church, the Jeffs family's power, and escape from Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. In the wake of the recent escape of Lyle Jeffs, this is especially relevant and important to know.

There’s not always one right answer. Sometimes you just have to pick one and stick with it.

The Arrant Pedant is always a pleasure, but especially so when he deconstructs prescriptivism. In this book review, I especially appreciate his points on consistency. Sometimes, it's more about choosing your approach than knowing there is any single "right way".

Saturday, July 16, 2016

In Other Positivity ...

... Janet Reid has offered herself up as a Redshirt for her community of writerly fans. Now, that's giving.

Life is Ghastly.

So.


I proffer this instead of the short story inspired by events in the life of someone I care about a lot, because it would be ghastly of ME to let that thing write itself, and because it's not even my own story. Yet.

This pup is chosen in tribute to the GOOD things happening in the lives of some OTHER people I care about a lot. Who recently adopted a little blond of their own (this is not she). Plus, I really do feel this is like my Penelope, 1/60 scale. Which is adorable.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Faces of Death

We've got to start off with the following phrase: the denial of human creatureliness. My stars, what a great twist of words, as cruel as any knife.

(B)eing an animal is threatening because it reminds people of their vulnerability to death...
--multiple authors, see link above

A few days ago, doing those things we do that we don't share with most others - showering and getting a look at my body's age and particulars - I was thinking, as I have before, of how I wish it were a different sight. Thinking about how age has changed things, how annoying bodies can be, not trapped in amber and constantly energetic and healthy got me to thinking (a) of all those things we are told we can do about that and, inevitably, (b) the people who do the most to give some plausible lie to the necessity of age and our animal nature.

Image: Wikipedia
Obvious choice? Heck yes.

If I'm honest, Dita von Teese actually occurs to me most often when I think about these things. She actually is lovely, but the image she's crafted - I sometimes wonder how well it will age. Perhaps it is her vintage spin that makes me look to the ways some of the Hollywood glamour goddesses who inspired her ended up; and at forty-four, you wonder how much mileage is left in her career of being alluring. The Kardashians are an industry, and nobody expects humanity of them, so contemplating how they age just means looking at Momma K and shrugging a bit.

But the fundamental point is, artifice is the denial of the animal.

There are times I revel in artifice. But the thing with me is, there are also times I revel in being an animal - in the biological status of my existence, as much as the spiritual or intellectual (or silly). In some ways, the best PART of getting dolled up (and note the word choice there, hah) is the way we start off - sweaty, sparse-eyebrowed, with imperfect skin and no ornament. For me, "gooping up" as my friend TEO and I used to call it, is an emphasis of artificiality, not of myself. When I go out in any sort of drag, it's not a presentation of myself, but of the things I like or find funny or a neat idea I had with hair or makeup, something archly and specifically NOT myself.




Anyone who believes I have purple hair - or those eyelashes - is not my responsibility to counsel.

Anyone who believes I am significantly younger than I am - well, I have two lovely parents certainly to thank. Assuming we take the cultural worship of youth as read.



For those less than eager to take on the entirety of the paper whose abstract is linked above, consider this. An interesting look at death, indeed, and possibly informative of more than America's own current state of politics.

Study subjects who were prompted to talk about their own death later rated their support for Trump 1.66 points higher on a five-point scale than those who were prompted to talk about pain generally.
--Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post

The old "May you live in interesting times" joke comes to mind. Not only because ALL times for humans have been interesting, harrowing, joyous, and terrifying all at once, but because the first and foremost draw of Trumpery has been how interesting he is. He's entertainment, as well as a valve for the release of all those unseen things we hold inside; hatred and anger and fear. He's a really big show.

Image: Wikipedia
I chose this because it's about as dignified a shot of The Donald as I can find in fair use rules,
and the juxtaposition with someone notorious for his flamboyant looks was irresistible.
And he's really smiling.


***


It is common received wisdom that art and comedy are born out of our knowledge of death. Fashion and cosmetics are too, which is interesting given their connection to human sexuality, itself the only means toward immortality in providing for procreation.

Politics is death. And sometimes suicide is the way humans meet death.


***


I both revel in my creatureliness and play with those toys of denial. Most of us do the same in one way or another, saving contemplation of death for special occasions, but not actively denying it. Life just doesn't leave time for it, mostly. We get caught up in the day-to-day, and that works both in our favor and against us - it is all to easy to forget to deal with those parts of life that have to do with its cessation.

It is perhaps precisely because all times are interesting that we simultaneously gorge on it, and then need to retreat from it, and on a humankind scale this leads us to bewildering socio-political behavior. American media would have it that the Brexit vote came largely because people voted for exit thinking "this will never happen" and now they all wish they could take it back. How far this gibes with reality is debatable, but not a debate I wish to be party to. It's an interesting sort of finger-shaking version of "journalism" (a word that's been in scare-quotes for years now), but a curious look at the fear of death in itself. A few weeks go, Brexit looked like Roman decimation in broadcast media; right now, we're forgetting about it and "la-la-la-I-cant'-hear-you"-ing all the way to Sodom, most of the day-after pearl-clutching forgotten, at least amongst us unwashed masses. There isn't time to think about it.

Three days ago, I'd never heard of this dang Pokemon walking game, and now it is EVERYWHERE, both in hilarity and more finger-wagging ("don't play Pokemon games in the Holocaust museum" was an actual thing this morning).

Fantasy is our way of denying death - if we focus on what we find most beautiful, desirable ... death loses its hold in our minds, because those things are as strong for us as the unknowable inevitabilities of our bodies.

By writing, I revel in the creatureliness of my characters, and my own - and because I write fiction, I can deny it ALL. Nothing is real, and if I write about those things that frighten me most, that is not real either.

This is the essential appeal of horror.

The ultimate fantasy is control.

We seem to be exerting the fantasy of control by going out of control an awful lot lately.

Why *wouldn't* people rather contemplate the curiously human and artificial face of a Jenner or Kardashian ... ?