Thursday, February 27, 2014

Footprints - New and Old

I recently spent a little money on something I’ve been wanting for probably twenty years:  at last, there is a headboard for the bed.

The master bedroom at my house is a sancutary of light and peace, filled with memories, a good closet, and – often – two of the mighty finest pets ever brought forth into the world.  It is such a great space even my mother loves that room.  It’s just a place of relief and seclusion, even renewal.  It’s a pretty room with beautiful, oblique light, perfumed, jewel-colored, and comfortable.

The bed has always been suitable and quite nicely dressed.  The storage is capacious and the furniture well-situated.

But my night tables have always left something to be desired … and so, a storage headboard, “proudly made in North America” (not the USA, but not imported from China, at least) costing nicely under $200.  I’ve looked for many years at antique shops, and even considered making a headboard, but in the end I wanted a storage one.  Most of the vintage storage ones are either wildly expensive or (more often) the wrong size, and so I opted for a new one.

It arrived yesterday, and naturally all plans to ignore the thing went the way of the dodo in a serious hurry, and I spent an hour and a half last night, listening to NOVA telling me about a conspicuously luxuriant (but technologically interesting) skyscraper imperiled by the economic hijinks of 2008, and having a largely very easy time of it with the assembly.  There was that one step where the correct connetors were unclear and I did a bit of huffing and hammer-banging, but the good news is, that is a minor issue and the thing itself is going to work out very nicely.

It’s sufficiently rare for me – or, indeed, most of my family – to invest in furniture which is brand spanking new that, inevitably, the transaction has me thinking about how much recycling I do in general.

As most who know me well are aware, I am almost entirely clothed and bejeweled thanks to the good sellers of eBay.  I’ve been a user for probably eighteen years or so, and it’s been an interesting study to watch the site go from individual human sellers, to siginificantly larger companies using the site as an outlet, to large-scale entrepeneurs dedicated to eBay sales (even with vintage and pre-owned items), to a massive conduit for goods straight from Asia … and, in the past two years or so, finding a new balance with more and more domestic sellers once again.

One of the reasons I like eBay is that, with a magnitude of goods in at least my own areas of interest, it’s possible to refine both my searching and my resulting wardrobe etc. to a highly satisfying degree.  It’s possible, of course, to customize searches to exclude sellers off our continent, or outside the US at all – indeed, even to peruse goods within certain mileage-points of my location.  This is especially useful in excluding, say, sellers in California – which can tend to be a conduit for Asian sellers, and which is three thousand miles from me.  Why reach so far for a single pair of shoes, for instance, when it’s eminently easy to find plain black pumps sold far closer to home?

It’s also possible to perform a general search for harder to find items and then, within the results, to make distance an eliminating factor.  If there turns out to be one fantastic aurora borealis rhinestone choker for a good price in Pennsylvania, and a similar one for a similar price in Texas, suddenly there is the luxury of choice.  All feedback and criterion for desiring something being equal, I’m going to give my business to the Pennsylvania seller.  And that one seller I ran across in the process, who didn’t have the right thing but did show great prices and happens to be less than fifty miles from home?  I’m saving that seller, even if I don’t buy from them today.

Another of the great features is the “condition” filters – and I probably use pre-owned, vintage, or otherwise non-new more than any other option (except when I’m buying shoes; don’t ask me to put my feet in shoes which have belonged to a stranger, I don’t CARE where they live …).

Some sellers make a great point of being “green” in selling pre-owned items, and vintage purveyors are often proud to point out both this and the uniqueness of their pieces.  They play to individualism and the environment all at once, promising you’ll stand out if you buy this mid-century handbag or that vintage wool swing coat – and praising you for not sending your money out of the country and/or contributing to resource depletion by giving new life to beautiful and useful older pieces (often manufactured domestically, which is also a selling point).  Or, as with vintage tools, cookware, or the like, durability and defiance of the idea of obsolescence may rule – and “you will not find this anymore” is a fine come-on for sales of working (and sometimes even non-working, but at leat intact) watches, machines, etc.  Not long ago, I bought an old Longines watch head on a Speidel band; it does not use batteries, and keeps perfectly marvelous time.  I’ve also invested in a retro space heater – bright orange and very seventies-looking, and apparently in good working order (I need to test it, actually – the seller did NOT pack it well and it is at least cosmetically damaged) – because, once again, why buy new?  My toaster, a marvel of a machine, is half a century old and shiny and cool-looking.  Sunbeam is a wonderful name to see in the kitchen and it works a treat.

Not long ago, after an afternoon together, my mom and I were in my basement perusing some of her mother’s furnishings, when she looked over at an ancient ceramic planter I have had since I was in college.  She lit upon it and said, “I think that is the liner for the hot fudge machine!  I thought that was gone!”

My grandmother had once run an early ice cream and fast food stand much like a Dairy Queen.  In one corner of my kitchen today, I have the big hot fudge warmer – people love the sight of it, and I’ve often thought about seeing whether I might even eBay up the missing piece, the crock that goes inside it, which actually holds the sauce.

Apparently, I had it all along.  I emptied the old potting dirt out of it into another old planter, mom and I took it upstairs, and I slid it into the appliance.  The fit was so smooth it actually glided down into the pot, slowly pushing out air as it nestled in place.  With a good scrubbing and not a few random yelps of joy at the curious furbabies (and, oddly enough, a cut that drew blood, from the smallest of chips bouncing onto my arm light as a feather), the thing is home – and what once was a peculiar piece of d├ęcor which would heat up but could no longer be used is now a retro aluminum dream of hope, that one day I might find a way to resurrect both my dad’s homemade hot fudge recipe and his mother-in-law’s tool to make a living, and share joy with my family, my friends, some group of wonderful people who will appreciate it.

Of the artifacts occupying my home, an awful lot of them were handed down by family.  My father’s things, my grandparents’ furniture and pictures, my mom’s contributions, even a great deal of food canned and shared by my wildly-beloved-for-it brother (yes, shipped from rather far away …).  There are antique bargains in my kitchen, in my dining room, in every room and the basement – I can think of only a single piece of furniture I bought new in my whole home, in fact, and even that by now is fifteen years old itself.  Few of my clothes are new with tags, which means I’m not contributing to that industry of resource-consumption.

I put out recycling that exceeds the single bin afforded my household every two weeks when they come – but I take out the rollaway trash can about once a month, and even then the thing is rarely anything like full (unless my next-door neighbor borrows space in it to discard yard waste).  My output to the sanitation department, then, is markedly low – and my output in terms of household donations is substantial in terms of per capita quantity.  I’m well overdue for a trip to the Salvation Army, and there are more “things” in my house than I have a right to, but the overall footprint isn’t oversized, and I have good periods when I work hard to streamline my life and my consumption/contribution.

Spring is one of those times.  I’ll put out some things on the annual collection day in spring or summer, when you can set old furniture or goods or outright trash on the curb and it will be picked up (and not always by the trucks designated for the rounds; there are people who make rounds the night before, scavenging treasures from other people’s discards, which are by no means always trash).  I may get back in the habit of posting things on Freecycle (a truly excellent means of clearing out possessions you don’t need, but which are not refuse and you don’t have time or perhaps transportation to donate).  I’ll do the spring cleaning – as satisfying, at least, as assembling a headboard – and perhaps help my mom do the same, or have a day of help from her, ploughing through my basement or yard, the two of us on an efficiency/beautifying mission.  We’ll liberate some things, find uses for others, maybe swap one or two, and discard a little bit.

In the process, laugh here and there, get a lot done, and work very hard.

We’ll find our footing in our footprint.

Things Are ...

... Looking Up!

If you buy just one book of medievalism-influenced, gargoyle-inspired neoformalist verse, let it be this one!

Jeff Sypeck infuses medievalism with a nice sense of humor - and poetry! - in his blog as it is.  Take a look at Looking Up and enjoy.  He may be reticent:  but I'm not ...  *Grin*

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Customer-Facing

I’d forgotten what it was like, through a decade and a half at an executive level, or working in tech and/or with engineers, what it was like to have a job in which there’s much contact with vendors and clients.  It didn’t even occur to me, taking on a new job with a company which sells actual products, but among many other adjustments, this one is a fundamental gear-shift for me.

If I’d thought about this and had a chance to say whether it’d be appealing, I almost certainly would have found a way to stay where I was.  I might have felt that dealing with salesmen (our own *and* those seeking our business) and – “worse” – customers, or people with complaints would be a deal-breaker.

I’d have been an idiot, of course, but the underachiever in me never was a sharp tack.  Nor even a comfortable person – laziness isn’t ease, not by a long shot.

What has turned out to be ease, and a great surprise to me, is this very dealing with people which almost certainly would have done me out of this job.  Among other things, I take calls from people who have had issues of one sort or another with our drivers.  Fender-benders, poor parking, bad attitudes, or dangerous driving in the winter storms ravaging almost all of us so far this winter.  The interesting part is, the worst I’ve encountered so far has been stress – not actual nastiness nor even griping.  People are so very glad to have a human being to speak with that when I simply LISTEN, they seem to come away satisfied.  Of course, I go farther than that, explaining to them what I will do to follow up, and I give them my name and direct number – which almost none of them will ever need again (one hopes …), and THAT is customer service solid gold.  We all see those “How’s my driving?” numbers – and for many years, the facility to use one was limited – but then came cell phones, and you can reach out in real time to discuss truck number such-and-such’s high speeds in the snow and so on.  In one case, the complaint was about noise – our driver’s radio was on too loud – and the insurance office calling did so while the driver was still there, explaining how they’d approached this driver in the past and wanted to call the law.  Once they talked with me, there were no police involved.  It didn’t take much, but it saved our company a certain amount of nuisance, and – I would imagine – money as well.

I’m not per se surprised that I’m good at this.  There’s enough of my mom in my DNA and mentality, it’d be impossible for me to be bad at it.  What surprises me is that, unlike my facility for math – and unlike my expectations of myself – I don’t HATE picking up my office phone.  So far (and it’s early days yet, yes), there’s no dread nor grudging attitude toward this part of my job.

Perhaps, at the tender age of forty-six, I am doing a little growing up.

Or, just maybe, I’m actually providing something worthwhile professionally.  I bet they pay people to do that …

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

TBR

Cincinnati Public Library
Image:  Retronaut (1874, photographer unknown)
Reasons I fear the Kindle app ... and embrace it ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Disillusionment

... and yet.  And yet.


One of the great poisons of fandom is the tendency to learn about those whose entertainments or other work engages us for whatever reason.  Having grown up in a town where Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, and Led Zeppelin dominated the radio (and radio dominated our music; in the seventies and eighties, even our own mix tapes or collections weren’t always available and/or all that comprehensive), I went through a long period of avoiding much of what even then we called “classic rock”.  It’s only been during the past ten years that I and many of the people my age I know, both from my town and well beyond it, have been rediscovering just how good some of that music was.  Springsteen I’m never going to love, but at least I can hear his voice now without fighting off screaming rants.

But it’s Zeppelin I’ve had the most conversations about, with people who say, in sum, “Turns out, if you go a decade or two without hearing them constantly, and can actually HEAR them again, they’re amazingly good.”

I’m not what you’d call a frothing fan (it’s been over thirty years now since I tried to ZoSo up my jeans), but with age comes a tendency to attach something of your own youth to something you always did like, or have rediscovered, and so seeing Jimmy Page at the British Olympics a few years back was a serious kick.  White hair and all, nobody can tell me he sucks.

So it DID suck – and profoundly – when I learned recently that, along with all the rock-star trappings it’s rather easier to dismiss, Page appears to have been an open pedophile.

Buried in just a sentence or maybe two, in a long Wikipedia article noting how many Greatest-lists he’s been on, detailing his entire career back to age fifteen, and outlining the guitars he prefers to play, was an undetailed notation about how he once had a lackey kidnap a fourteen-year-old girl, whom he then kept locked up and had sex with for what appears to have been an extended period of time.

Her name was Lori Maddox, and she seems not to have looked back on the incident(s) with victimhood – the article linked in Wikipedia’s references notes that she was “in love” with him the moment she saw him – but her perspective, important as it may be, cannot (from the vantage point of her early teen years) refute the perverse criminality which appears to have been perfectly true, but also unprosecuted.

That she was “only” locked up in order that she and Page could enjoy each other’s company without his being brought up on charges, nor caught at all, does nothing to mitigate just how appalling this is.

It’s difficult not to look at this case and be reminded of Woody Allen or Roman Polanski – and I once read an extended investigative piece, including the output of in-depth interviews with Polanski’s victim, her family, and his friends, which *emotionally* softened the horror of what he also clearly seems to have been guilty of doing – but, again, doesn’t lighten the cultural taboo nor lessen the repulsion (yes, I chose THAT word).

These are all men of the greatest power in our society:  wealthy, successful, providing prosperity for those around them as well, and far, far older than the girls who have been – or, to put the finest legalistic point on it, may have been – their victims.  To bring them down would not cause only their own losses, but in each case would have caused economic pile-up collisions for hugely successful enterprises in the music or filmmking industries.  Take a look at the furor which arose just in the past month, when Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter to Hollywood and the world, detailing with candor and harrowing emotion what she says she experienced at Woody Allen’s hands.  And take a look at the professional summation of a Twitter friend of mine, a professional investigator of child abuse and molestation.

Lori Maddox seems not to have made any public statement of suffering, and even the quotes about her being “in love” with Page seem to come secondhand.  I would have said I was in love with George Harrison, at that age.  Would that have made it okay for him to imprison and have sex with me?  Would the imprisonment become forgiveable if it was ‘only’ done for the purposes of making sure they didn’t get caught, and I personally thought it was okay – with the great maturity, discernment, and autonomy of my fourteen-year-old intellect and heart?

Is a girl less raped if she has a crush on the man doing it?  Is the age of consent actually irrelevant, as long as everyone thinks they are consenting, and capable of it?

Mr. X and I have talked, over the years, about what we were like when we were fourteen or so.  Each of us has said we had an innate sense of “that’s not for me” about sex and all sorts of other human involvements and debaucheries.  We were both well served by lacking the desire to get into what our parents would have forbidden anyway … and, the fact is, there was nothing innate about our sense of “nope” then.  I was taught fear of consequences all my life, and still AM, even at forty-six.  Mr. X no doubt was too – but we both internalized what we had shown and told to us, and we both accepted unquestioningly that there was behavior inappropriate to us (this holds true still, in fact – even geriatric as we have become).  It’s not always a matter of what you like or what you want, or what fascinates, even.  We were given the gift of protection – not only by our parents, but a society which even in the seventies and eighties, did tell tales of awful lurking things that can happen to the innocent.  We weren’t stupid.  We were privileged, and accepted the sanctuary that can provide for children.

Faced with any kind of reality approximating The Baby Beatle (still twenty-five years MY senior) actually seducing me, I would have known it was wrong, no matter how much I liked his pictures.  It would have been a job to make a Lisa Maddox of me.

But Lisa was fourteen years old.  Just because she wasn’t as fortunate as I – just because that unthinkable fantasy actually came true for her – doesn’t mean she was a legal participant in her own abduction and molestation.

Just because Page can do blues, hard riffs, and exquisite acoustic doesn’t exempt him from guilt, either.


Makes me want to go listen to the Who.  Maybe … not Teenage Wasteland, though …

Maybe Bach.  Yeah.  Switched-On Bach.

LGBT History - and My Culpability

Tom Williams welcomes Christopher Hawthorne Moss for a very good post, looking at another "invisible" population in history (and contemporary historical writing).  One of the personal conflicts I had in writing The Ax and the Vase, along with the fact that it's yet another European royal, is that the sole glimpse of a gay relationship is pretty graphically negative.  I could have rewritten the pejorative legend of Ragnachar, I could have found another way to handle it - but ... I didn't.  He was an archetypal villain in all the sources, and as I felt my way around the limits of the "fiction" in my historical fiction, somehow I just did not find the time to redeem this character.

This isn't a small matter of passing guilt, either.  It's something I have contemplated for years now, and something I hope to be able to address and to face with readers and with the world I live in - both explicitly and by a more general example.  I also expect to find more freedom in future works, not least because (at least at the moment) I don't have any more novels which will be written first-person from the POV of a ... well, a bigoted white king.  Clovis had charisma - and I consider his story necessary and fascinating - but let it not be said he suffered from a gapingly open mind, by the standard I expect of myself.

Even as much as I believe in Ax, I believe that this part of it - that accepting the historical propaganda against the one character who indulged non-heterosexuality - is problematic, and I expect to answer for it as Ax comes out.  In the meantime, consider Moss's work - and Tom's.  And give me time.  If I don't redeem Ragnachar, maybe I can redeem myself with future works.

"Dropbox" ... Is Apparently A Pun

Though the more subjective points here are a bit glib (girlie-types are a-skeered of Trek posters and superheroes), the realities are deeply true and deeply disturbing.  Dropbox (pun apparently very much intended by the male hiring staff, even if they don’t realize it) comes in with an engineering staff consisting of barely over six percent women, and in the past twenty-nine years, computer science graduate statistics have gone from thirty-five percent women down to eighteen.  You might have thought a career opportunity so new then, which has come into such a dizzying maturity, might ATTRACT women – yet the men who form its core evidently have gone the Alfalfa route and systematically turned this vital industry into a very literal boys’ club.

Please click through on this – to understand how scary and alienating it is that the world contains a PROFESSIONAL SPACE named the “bromance chamber” ...

It’s one of those things which, being as old as I am, leads me to a geriatric prone-ness to judge that we have moved backward.  While I’m aware I have my long-held and some long-developing prejudices, this really does seem to me to be objectively true in too many ways to ignore or be comfortable with.  Yes, I am a woman able to live on my own and on my terms, which historically has not been an available choice for my gender without exceptional circumstances – yet I am also the product of a culture dominated by corporate over human interests, in which a certain mega-beauty brand (DOVE) pretends to glorify “real” women even as it spends billions creating the neurosis that our armpits need to be prettier.

It doesn’t make me Henny Penny, either, to look at plain stats – and to realize how apart-from-average I am – to see that the odds are stacked against my entire gender, if they don’t have the strength to be apart-from-average, or if they just want to make a living and not have to jump through ridiculous hypothetical nerd scenarios in order to do so.  I find it so sad and also outrageous that we’ve come to a place where, basically, *anyone* really wanting to make a living feeds themselves at a young age into a massive machine and just manages along.  It’s not just the economy, either – it’s the fact that so many of us are limited by circumstances and resources into “taking what we can” for a living, rather than having the luxury to make a living by work that actually inspires us.

If I had gone into computer science in 1985 … there is little doubt I would not have left it by 1993.  I am not a crusader now, even having realized at something like age 45 that I have a voice at all – but when I was twenty-five or so, I would have quit on a dime.  “It’s hard” would have stopped me in my tracks, not whetted me to push all the harder and change the way things were.

That may make a wuss of me, but the world isn’t necessarily populated by those willing to fight just to pay their mortgages, and that’s not a moral shortcoming, when we’ve had recession after crisis, and more people are likely focused on their relationships than on their offices.  Goodness, and I hope they ARE more focused on their lives than the means to pay for them, honestly.

And yet, and yet.  The lack of energy to fight for our rights, or even just for professional visibility, equity, agency … so far, it seems to be leaving us with this.  With men holding ninety-four percent of the cards at Dropbox.  With “successful” (which is to say – backed by enough money and resources to make a wide impact) innovation coming only out of the minds of a fairly narrow and particular portion of the world’s population.  With that segment of the world guiding technology and methodology which reaches more and more OF the world every single hour.

What super power would I give my best friend?  The ability to cut through the BS.  And I’d give it to all of them.  Women, minorities, those with their heads tucked down just getting by.  All of them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Collection

Thinking recently about pretending away the people of color in history, there is a good post at The History Girls introducing a site I will follow, Medieval People of Color on Tumblr.  The post on top today includes not only diversity in peoples, but also a remarkable sampling of material arts - the sculptural bust is a breathtaking piece of art, and there is also a couture costume and an array of paintings as well.  What an excellent resource, and a beautiful curation online of aspects of history we are too often blind to.  The page is clearly not limited to *medieval* people of color - the feature right now is the 19th century.  Looking forward to seeing more, and doing some exploring.

Two Nerdy History girls has found a short clip looking at the (literal ...) foundation of The New Look.  Worth the minute or so to watch the video - the old way to build the New Look!

Marie Antoinette's Diamonds has a good read about The Lockkeeper's House in Washington, DC.  She links further on to information at the Library of Congress - and the photos turned out well.

Mojourner defends the much-maligned month of Feburary ... when the days finally grow longer, when birds begin chipirping (when I just saw my first cardinal of the season yesterday!) - and when we have forty-two day!  It's a great month - not least because it's least.

Seasonal Migration

There come several points in every year, when I cannot take my domicile quite the way it is anymore, and must begin shoving the furniture around.  The focus of these transformations tends to be the living room, but it does happen around the house.  The living room, though, is a spacious and long room, which gets excellent light with a southern exposure timed such that the longest rays reach in to warm certain furry inhabitants in the winter, and in summer time the sunshine retreats agreeably, only poking in a little way but always keeping everything bright.

It does happen that these periodic redecorations follow a general pattern, but on occasion innovations creep in, when I am exceedingly bored.  The couch may go (gasp!) under the window before it moves to the far side of the fireplace, in preparation for the smaller-circumference, cozy setups of winter weather.  In warm weather, the furniture backs away from the room’s center, filling the ends of the space, opening up to cross-breezes from opposing windows.

In nearly fifteen years here (holy crud), it’s been possible to time and refine the seasonal deployments.  I can’t take much more than three weeks of the Christmas tree and decorations, for instance.  September is too soon to pull the furniture in tight for the cold-weather, huddled configuration.  But interestingly – Valentine’s Day is not too soon to open things up again, to stretch out the seating and widen the room for warmer weather, to anticipate spring’s advent and enjoy a new space without having to waste money on a decorator or even new furnishings.

I discovered the date’s utility some years ago, when my mother and I spent the day moving an inheritance.  My best friend TEO’s father was moving out of his apartment, and I was extremely grateful and happy to receive his red slate coffee table.  It’s a gorgeous thing, warm and wide, masculine in the best decorative sense of the word (if that phrase isn’t too much an oxymoron for certain sentiments, heh), distinctively earthy.  It also, as you might imagine, is heavy as hell.  Fantastic for inviting friends over and enjoying Chinese takeout, or several pizzas.  Beautiful just standing there, just the right books in a nice stack, a plant, a wooden bowl.  (For years, it held a beautiful pottery bowl also given to me by TEO, but that came to a crashing and incredibly upsetting end when Gossamer, all of three ounces, leapt onto the table and knocked it for a loop.  Alas.)

And so, spending the lovers’ day of red hearts and candies with my mom, manhandling a table between the two of us (I did send her home in time for supper with stepfather)_, I learned – Valentine’s is a good day to shake up the house a bit.

This year, I cheated a little bit, and did most of the shoving last night.  This on top of the snow-shoveling duties out front and behind the house have not damaged me too badly, but do seem to provide the gentle reminder that my back is not what it should be (and here begin the fantasies of finishing my basement with a floor, and purchasing used gym equipment, so I can work on my core strength …).  I’d alas about that, but am just grateful I can live on my own, and CAN shove these things around.

Some women get bored and change their haircolor or cut.  Some people get a tattoo.  I am my mother’s child, and I poke at furniture.  Don’t put it past me not to take a shot in the bedroom, too.

But it is nice to spruce up your personal environment.  It’s a good feeling to clean on Saturdays, but it’s good, too, to come home one day and feel a fresh new room, all for the price of an hour’s exertion (or even less).  It’s invigorating just to keep things from stagnating … but, the February move carries with it the promise that spring is coming.  That the reason for opening things up, taking a deep breath that fills the room a little more, is the crocuses are coming, the daffodils (… the pollen, the allergies …).

I'd be hard put to live in a place without seasons.  I've been to Hawai’i, and know those who have lived there for years.  It is marvelous and beautiful – but I know, too, some who've missed autumn leaves and even winter’s chill and grey.  At least a little, anyway.

I'm nesting for spring time.  While I worked from home yesterday, calling and calling the airline over and over about travel problems born of the winter storm, I washed the wall in the kitchen next to the stove, and tweaked where my little convection oven sits, smaller redeployments as I thought about the larger one for the living room (yes, I think about these moves in advance; for a couple of weeks now, I've been looking forward to the longer days of February, to the change of seasons – and the change of room).  I may take all the pictures and coupons off the fridge next, wash it down, and put them back up.  I may scrub the cabinets.  You never know, with me …

Or, I may just paint my nails some bright and spring-like color.  It’s always fun driving mom insane, going turquoise or age-inappropriately sparkly.

February – Valentine’s day.  It means spring is coming, y’all.  You ready for short sleeves?  Or for a new spot for your couch??

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shining Moment

There is a photo on my cubicle wall at work, of some of the finest photographic composition I’ve ever seen – color, motion, subjects … and an ineffable *presence* in a moment – better captured than 99.9% of all images I’ve ever seen, professional or candid.

It is of two girls, one small and pale, with a shock of bright hair; the other a little older, face joyous in a paroxysm of laughter.  They are holding each other, the bigger sister leaning sideways and the younger turned toward the older, one hand delicately on the other’s arm, her other tangled in a mass of curls, planting a firm kiss on the big girl’s cheek.  Knowing these girls as I do, the sight of this image gives me very real, personal joy – but even a stranger would be hard put not to smile at the photo.  It is boldly lovely, filled with glee, and features the best parts of humanity, affection and laughter.

It was taken almost three years ago, and it was only a couple of months ago I learned the secret, the suffusion of giggles I can *hear* when I see this picture.

The little one had just farted – and was holding on to her sister, to prevent any escape.



For me, this does nothing to dent the feelings the photo inspires.  Knowing these two as I do, being able to hear their gulping, awkward breaths, the younger one’s high. strong cackle and the older one’s horror in amusement, her resisting laugh – knowing she was TRAPPED, but okay with that – knowing who taught them their gleefully improper joy in harmless infractions against normality … my smile only settles more deeply.  I can think of how far back in the generations this kind of giggling response to a little subversion goes.  In my family, the phrase “Oh my LAAAAANDS” is connected to a similarly not-at-all-guilty(-but-a-little-maybe-furtive) chortling smile.  This laughter beats in our veins.

Little Red has, I think, always been fearless, always been a little evil in the way most of the people I love seem to enjoy the most.  Her big sister is has this edge too, but the one I called “monster baby” almost from the time she was born at all may be more the evil-humor showman.  (May be ....)  She once asked the Mass of Curls to sing a song for her, and when big sister demurred, she said, “Good” – a taut riposte from a wit nimble even at a very young age.  Who needs sour grapes when your sense of timing is perfect and you have the funniest/meanest response handy?

Mass of Curls, for her part, could give “dry” and “wry” a run for their money, and go far toward wearing out out their utility.  She’s owned me outright for every minute of her XYZ-number of years, and I find myself frankly honored if she ever laughs at a word I say, or enjoys a moment of time spent with me.  As amazed as I am when I look at the remarkable people generous enough to love me or call my friend – when these girls love me even for a moment, it grips me at my very core.

I witness these two lives, even from afar, with absolute fascination and no small amount of glee of my own.

I may not have been there for the fart a few years ago.  But I can share in elder sister’s entrapment and giggles, even beyond that moment’s fleeting experience.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

But Wait ...

European and Eastern ruins have fascinated us for centuries (perhaps in much the same way swords do – crumbling castles and all those sites on which we’ve done battle … or Henry VIII simply did “dissolution”).  American ruins, though, have barely passed beyond our daily life.  Many of our ruins still make a home for the homeless – or, at least, a night’s squat out of the worst of this winter’s deadly cold.  There is a sense, in images of our ruins, of “but wait” … that these places, or their contents, are not wholly irretrievable.

That there may be redemption.  The beauty in our ruins is that our past is still so close, still so small we must surely be able to bring it back, to take back our failures, to NOT obliterate memories still sighing their last.

This is the reason one of my new favorite shows is Rehab Addict – perhaps the only series on HGTV which doesn’t glory in unrecycled destruction of the material parts of our lives which have sinned no further than to go out of style.  Rehab Addict is about a woman who buys decaying homes and restores them – not as artistic antiques, but as functioning domiciles, which may still function very much on their own original terms.  She holds up tiny artifacts – a tooth brush holder, the hardware of a generations-old window – and revels in the workmanship, finds life and beauty in bringing them back to their own little life, letting them do their own little jobs.  Some of her completed works still show pockmarks and scars.  But all of them end up fresh and lived-in again.  They don’t crumble away.

As beautiful as crumbling-away may seem … when you look at the scope of this country, if we let everything go that could be on its way out, we will waste resources beyond monetary, and even cultural calculation.  We will become the most prodigious archaeological site in history.

Blade People

(One of mine is here ...)



It is a curiosity of antiquity/Late Antiquity, that there were major populations (to use the term “nation” calls to mind too many modern notions to be useful or worthwhile) who took their names from weaponry.  The ultimate derivation of the name now pronounced "Franks" is their throwing-ax, the francisca – which, interestingly enough, seems to bear a fundamental kinship also with their word for liberty (again, “freedom” is the wrong word, evoking certain specifics beside the point of what was meant in ancient context).

The Saxons, too, took their name from a blade, the seax, which was more a dagger than an ax – but equally as much a part of daily life as the Franks’ tool of choice.

Digging (perhaps with a pickax) farther back, we find the labris, the ancient Minoan double-headed ax, which gave its name not to a people, but to that classically enshrined place, and concept, the labyrinth:  “the place of the ax”.  There is an archaeological site in Turkey, the city of Labraunda, whose name also seems to derive from that of the weapon.

For some of us (though hardly for all) today, the idea of imbuing a weapon with spirit – indeed, with the spirit of an entire people (or a people’s being imbued with the spirit of a weapon) – is perhaps strange.  Yet, throughout human history, weapons – especially blades – have been the subject of our most sophisticated technology, the axis around which entire economies might revolve, the expression of our liberty – as in the Franks – and the ultimate statement of our power, our autonomy, our ingenuity … our purpose.  The highest arts are employed in the making of our blades, the greatest resources, the most skilled of our craftspeople, and the limits of our innovation.

Swords are not merely beautiful, but of extraordinary material value.  Anyone familiar with the +Ulfberh+t, the katana – with pattern welding, or the advent from bronze to steel, understands that the chemistry and artistry of blade-making surpass their concrete presence, and easily pass into a mystical reverence, into symbology we carry with us every day and no longer even see, after sometimes thousands of years of history.

In North America, the pipe tomahawk was an explicit reference to the choice our indigenous peoples had, in dealing with the Europeans:  weapon, or peace-pipe.

In Rome, the fasces – an ax lashed together with a bundle of rods – was a representation of the unity of its citizens (the many rods, held together as one), and its blade … or the absence thereof … spoke to the power over life and death held by the man before whom it was carried.  The fasces’ adornment with a laurel wreath meant, not peace as we define the concept today, but *victory* for Rome.

In Egypt, victorious pharaohs were buried with, and depicted with, the khopesh, the monarch’s blade.

In my own home as a kid growing up, the saber of my grandfather, accoutrement of his World War I uniform, was a symbol of his service.  Of the service, indeed, of all American veterans, perhaps all the way back to our Revolution – a concrete emblem of pride and protection, which we honored silently, but very definitely, as an artifact of one part of what patriotism takes from its people in order to provide for our freedoms.

Antenna Swords
Image:  Wikimedia

Even rarefied, as attenuated as possible from the implication of actual death or warfare, polished and embellished and more the product of art than … well, saber-rattling intent … the sword’s beauty is not that of an idyll, a human face or a landscape.  The charisma of a blade is – literally – edgy, and I don’t intend a joke, but the real observation.  We are put on our guard by certain types of beauty, and we like the brand of wariness an inert blade can still instill.  Precious metals and jewels make us marvel, but it is the (again, I don’t mean to make a joke here) point of the thing which creates the energy of our admiration of a magnificent weapon.

I could say the same for our attraction to certain types of people, or relationships, but that is perhaps a post for another day …

We wear jewelry wrought in blades.  Damascene designs favor beautiful scimitars, ships of war – and goth girl and boy baubles, certainly, focus on daggers and swords and bleeding hearts and blood red glass jewels – but brooches I could wear easily to work come in the form of a great variety of figural weapons.

This post could descend into all the psychosexual implications and images of blades, but I think that truly is irrelevant at the highest level.  Humanity is a bitter – and beautiful – tangle, but a sword can be breathtaking without the breath being too hot and heavy (and I write this blog, as we recall, to the standard that my mom, my nieces, or my coworkers can read it).  In any case, sexuality in symbolism is a post I’ve been saving up, so I don’t want to blow it and use that material here.

Are there artifacts in your home, in your jewelry box, or simply the clutter of your mind, tied to swords or axes or daggers?  We are STILL – all – people of many blades, even those of us who have not named our national identity after a weapon.  You may not even see yours, or the ones lurking around you.  But they are there …  Where are they?  In the painting in the hall?  In the little bronze your great aunt once had sitting on a mantel?  Actual swords, or art reproductions … even just the tiny crest on some forgotten heirloom emblem passed down from someone’s government, or actual military service …

Where are your blades … ?  And what do they mean to you?

Monday, February 10, 2014

SlushPile Hell

When overlocuting does not equal sounding market savvy.  Oh, my.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Agent See

Not for the first time, and perhaps not for the last, Ax is out with a positively tantalizing agent.  At the moment, the other two who had it have provided their rejections, which was expected given genre and other limitations, but I wasn’t going to not-query these agents who, in person, said I should.  I have two more priority queries I NEED to get out, as well as several requeries now that the revision is complete and I do have a long weekend staring me in the face (now if someone would just clean my house:  bliss!).

Most of the time, when my work is in an agent’s hands, I find it impossible to “feel” the situation – to get anxious about the waiting, to be truly aware and concerned about a professional READING my WRITING.  In part, this is due to the fact that you just can’t know *when* someone is actually looking at your MSS.  In part, it’s also due to one of my first full requests falling into the hands of an agent (I met in PERSON, who requested the story with some excitement, mind you) who never responded to my two requests to confirm she had received the manuscript (I sent twice) and never spoke to the submission at all.  I gave her my due diligence, but if that was her way of doing business with those she eagerly responded to in person, all I could think was (a) good riddance to bad representation, and (b) woe betide the poor souls querying this person cold.  I can’t imagine how she ever chooses anything to represent at all, but that’s decidedly her problem.

And she may have cured me of that brand of nervousness authors aspiring to publication are meant to be riddled with – so it’s not as if she was completely useless.  Just not in her stated role.

It used to feel like handing someone naked pictures of myself to look at, having my work read.  One suspects it’s a good thing not to hold onto that feeling forever, though I imagine many authors always have it, at least to some degree.  It probably helps that I feel more like a conduit than a creator – I sometimes quite relish killing off my little darlings, and I have to admit to sometimes finding my work so good I find *myself* insufferable about it.  Heh.  Certainly, I’ve been mistaken on that point in the past (or I would never have revised), but beneath the willingness to educate myself in how best to sell my product, there’s always been that confidence that the product is eminently sellable.

And … this new year, this new job, this time in my life of change and expectations:  I’m really ready to give up the comfort and safety of being an unpublished author.  It’s time Ax gets out there, and it’s time the WIP goes somewhere, too.  I am working on these fronts, and as presentable (as far as the publishing industry is concerned) as I’ll ever be, and Clovis’ life, his story, *must* be read now.  Enough of the coy sense of vulnerabilty that – GASP! – someone might be reading my writing.  Enough of the illusions that I was the exception to all the rules of first-time author-dom.  I’ve learned those, and have assets to spare.

It’s time, at last, to become a debut author.

And to get that stupid house clean …

Monday, February 3, 2014

Three Links

The latest find in British bones, Blanch Mortimer - there was a coffin in her tomb, and she was in the coffin (although, gruesomely "there wasn't much left" ...).  It is interesting, reading about multiple exhumations, reburials, cenotaphs, and lost remains, how unusual this actually is.  Click for a vid of the vicar of St. Bartholomew's discussing the surprising find.

The latest find in German psychiatry - Mad King Ludwig, not mad after all?  Might the monarch have been a victim of homophobia?  Conspiracy?  Poor diagnostic method?

Finally:  courtesy of The Rags of Time, a martial arts demonstration, circa 1919.  Exceptional!




(The hair product here alone is made of the sternest of stuff ...)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Collection

Have you ever heard of Jan van Rymsdyk?  An artist of the most arresting work and a most intriguing life as well.  His most famous works depict the unborn ... as drawn, not from life, but from death.  Theirs and their mothers.  Eighteenth century ethics may make this link a squick-inducer - yet the work is undeniably arresting, and poignantly skillful.

Believe it or not, murder holes and other castle defenses may make for a lighter post.  A quick study in Castles 101, from English Historical Authors - and the second link here, this week, courtesy of Maria Grace.

"Why ... do we continue to airbrush black Africans out of Tudor England?"  This is a good question, as their presence in Tudor England is undeniable and very interesting; as an American, I had no idea the population included enough for records to indicate actual complain about there being "too manie" (the implications of which are a study unto themselves, especially for an American; this inescaspably brings to mind the image below).

"Willem van Heythuysen" by Kehinde Wiley
Image:  Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


(In searching for the image above, I found this one, which is beautiful.  Completely unrelated to this post - but very much worth a peek.)

I don't always find "bloodthirsty Roman" portrayals any more persuasive, if I'm honest, than I do the portrayals typically bandied about for "barbarians" - yet, because Romans even a couple of millennia on, still seem to induce a state of breathless fandom for so many, I do give less glowing assessments of their worth equal time.  Here we have them as headhunters, courtesy science, a lot of skulls out of Londinium, and the BBC.  Charming lot, those Romans.  Still, getting past the tendency to put white or black hats on or favorite or least-favorite historical populations, the forensics are still a draw.  If I really needed to cheer complete strangers on - or revile them - I'd be watching the Super Bowl.  (Tonight at my house, Sherlock on the PBS Roku box.)

And now, BBC journalists:  may we please discuss and define such slippery terms as "headhunters" and publish further findings which might explain exactly what happened to these men?  The meat here is missing.  Literally and figuratively, yes ...

Speaking of Rome - as we who read any sort of history are wont to to - yet another book I may need to pile on my toppling tower of TBR.  It's Peter Heather, it's my period (both for Ax and for the WIP), it's some of my CHARACTERS.  *And she sighs quietly to herself, resigned to need more books*

Alfred or Edward - the Events Thus Far

With the "discovery" of a fragment of hip bone which has spent some years in storage since its excavation, focus similar to that given to the skeleton of Richard III has proceeded apace.  Here is a nice, and brief, summation of this progress.

These ongoing stories have been a fascinating study in our attitudes toward royalty, death, human remains, our concern for those gone - and, probably, our concern for our own eventual material fate.

Valentine's Chocolates

Public domain image


Another of the great chocolate tie-in holidays is upon us (Valentine's - not Easter - though, of course, candies for all of the above have been available in stores for weeks already), and Hampton Court is celebrating.  They're not pandering to the M&M Mars company, but opening an interesting culinary door to the past - by opening the 18th-century chocolate kitchen, not seen in generations.  There will be live demonstrations and lots of information about Georgian chocolate-making, as well as a look at the period fixtures and methods.

Here is History Extra's link.

And here is the History Blog link.

And here is a nicely ironic companion piece - an article on how Georgians institutionalized dieting as we know it today.  Enjoy!  (I won't judge you on which of these you enjoy ...)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Collection

After yesterday's post about bones, this is an amusing article to see - turns out, the bones of Charlemagne are in his tomb.  Tidy, that.  Yet the embarrassing litany of exhumations in the name of burnishing many other kings' reputations with some of the glow from Karl der Grosse's halo is anything but.

Erik Kwakkel comes up with some intriguing questions about a thumbprint in a medieval manuscript.  Casual gesture ... or a judgment upon what a printer thought was obsolete?

Leila discusses cover design, good and bad - and has a mighty fine cover of her own indeed!