Friday, January 29, 2016


My eldest niece's eighteenth birthday is upon us.

On the afternoon she was born, I was on my way into a job interview. I knew my sister-in-law had gone into labor, and called my mom from a pay phone to find out I was an aunt for the first time. I recall the day (accurately or not) as windy and bright, one of those blustery but not very cold winter days that can make your chest swell - and, if you have happy family news, can also make you turn up the radio in the car and drive with a smile on your face.

Instead of getting into my car, I got into the building, and ended up taking a job that was, on its face, the worst I ever had ... but which changed my life in a lot of very, very, very good ways. I'm grateful for that job. And I'm grateful for the photo I still keep on my desk at work now, of my infant niece, on her tum and lifting her face up, mouth full of little wet tongue, looking incredibly cute and incredibly funny.

That pic got me through that job. She'll never know how important she was, before she could even talk; her mere existence had the power to create joy in the hideous slog that was That Damned Job.

I'd been working at one of those big insurance agencies that sells itself as a financial planning outfit, assistant to some of the larger producers (agents) there, and custodian of the newsletter, orphan clients, and (bizarrely enough, for a luddite) the second-string IT go-to. It was a good job, and I worked with one of the best managers I've ever seen; she spotted what people were good at and what they liked to do, and did whatever she could to balance their duties upon these things.

At some point along that way, I impressed one of our clients, a guy we'll call Rick, and one day he sent me a note or gave me a call and dangled the old "I have a super high paying job of the sort you are in, know anyone who might be interested?"

I was pretty naive back then, but not entirely obtuse, and I thought, "Huh, that sounds like he might be asking me." I talked to my dad, he said, "Yep, you're being thrown a feeler there." I interviewed with the guy at a restaurant around the corner from my job, and we went from there.

When I walked in the door on my first day, I learned that Rick's current assistant had not been fired, and I was expected to lie about whom I worked for (another president, a new guy, whom indeed I was to support in addition to Rick). Um.

I also learned I was the fourth assistant in this position this CALENDAR year. I started that job in May, having begun these proceedings in, as has been noted, January.


When September came, and I was fired for not working enough overtime on the morning the CEO sent all the admins flowers because we'd stayed very, very late the night before, I have to say I all but danced out of the building as the daily stock prices posted on the front door went plummeting, and the company made headlines in the Wall Street Journal for all the very worst of reasons. The CEO, I was given to understand, sighed and rolled his eyes when he found out I had been terminated.

Nice attention to exposure to lawsuits, dude. But I didn't sue, I used their computers to look for a new job, as they had given me permission to do so, and got one I ended up loving, with a man I respect and still like to this day. Rick, whatever else he did that was risible and idiotic, had put me on a financial footing that commanded a much better fee in what was an employee's market.

I have a lot to be grateful for, from the worst job I ever had.

But the thing I remember most about it is: my niece. Whose nativity coincided with this sudden uplift in my career, and whose face got me through the trials it represented.

The improvement in my circumstances is tied oddly, but tightly, to her existence. When she was born, so was my own ambition, my professional drive and talent: my career, as it came to exist in real earnest.

I miss my nieces so much. They astonish me constantly, and seeing the older one this past summer was a revelation in: "Wow, she is NOT a little girl anymore." They are brilliant in such unexpected and distinct ways, and yet there is the constant temptation to see in them the threads of our family. Complete individuals, and scintillating ones, still they are shot through with this skein or that of recognizeable traits of my mom's and my dad's side of *our* side of their family.

Being an auntie and not a parent, I get to indulge in silly old lady surprise at how they've grown, how smart they are, how beautiful, how talented, all the "oh my how you've"'s privileges silly auntie-dom confers. Meeting elder niece's boyfriend this past summer, he was marvelously forbearing of my making a point of liking him.

Seeing HER, and the shape of the woman she is becoming, she was at least tolerant of those silly auntie privileges. At seventeen, you can't ask for enthusiasm from a lot of people, but she put up with me almost as if I were actually tolerable. And we laughed. There was a lot of laughter, with all of us, this past summer. And good food. Her dad's a mean cook, no matter how bratty a brother he was in a former lifetime.

I have a fire laid in my hearth, set up during the blizzard, and I have a mind to celebrate my niece's birthday by burning it. We sat around my brother's fire pit this summer, and there is both a beauty and a rite to a good fire that seems right as a small remembrance of my niece's celebration.

Of course, it's supposed to be like sixty-plus this weekend ...

... but maybe it'll cool down enough to accommodate a good fire.

Learning to Fly

The First Love and I were talking about how hard it is to find someone, and it brought to mind Douglas Adams' lessons on how to fly ...

All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.

(The link, by the way, is eminently worth the click for the brief but full text.)

It's all very funny, of course, but there is an extremely bittersweet and painful truth in it: you can't get what you want most by concentrating on it to the exclusion of all else; and yet, distracting yourself from what you want most is almost impossible.

Almost impossible.

But that means ... it's still possible.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

KD James and Donna Everhart

KD James is a fellow Reider, and in a fit of clicking on other community members' names today, I found this post about a wonderful birthday gift. This is so worth a click and a grin, if only to read the things she photographed to share with the post itself, but I highly recommend reading the post too. Great gifts are enough to restore your faith in humanity. And happy VERY late birthday, KDJ!!

Also, apropos of my Reider friends - I am still crooked-smiling that Donna Everhart told me my writing voice is very Cormac McCarthy-ish, and then told the whole gang over at Janet's blog today.

Is Quantification Worse Than Objectification?

I have decided not to devote a whole big post to the article that had me so disturbed last night. I'll just leave it with a few quotes from the article ...

“(T)he thrill of quantification merging with the thrill of the chase” …

“The systematic, quantified pursuit of women tends to make men bitter and resentful.” …

You know,’ his grandmother told him, ‘we’re women too.’” …

“I didn’t even know this sphere existed in humanity.

And just to cleanse the palate of THAT human sadness, please enjoy this image, which Google says is labeled for re-use, so I am stealing it based on the plausible deniability that I trust Google's rulings on usage rights ...


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Funny the Way a Day Can Go

Today was the first day back in the office for an awful lot of the Eastern Seaboard, and I made it an especially early day, getting right to it by 7:15 this morning and starting off running.

It wasn't a bad day, but after leaving early and getting home with a scrap of afternoon left to me, I read a long and especially disturbing article (blog post on THAT to follow, but I don't want to contaminate this post with a link), did a little more shoveling, did the pet thing, and ... kind of found myself mired in a place of dread and fear.

Hormones'll do that to ya, when they don't take you to the lush, weepy place. If something honestly disconcerting gets into your brain, it can leave you seriously upset, sometimes without even quite realizing why. It gets worse when you are alone: the other heartbeats in my house do go a long way to keeping me from going completely hermit-daft, but Gossamer and Penelope can't TALK with me, they can't laugh.

Thank G-d for good friends.

Cute Shoes called me around eight, and pulled my head out of my navel, and we laughed and rolled our eyes about a few things, and she let me off the phone in a better mental place. Cute Shoes is pretty OSUM like that (including when she induces me to evil, pointing out the sale at American Duchess, and then joining with me in the "I own a pair of American Duchess shoes" club). And, indeed, she's OSUM in other ways as well.

It put me in such a better mood I was able to call my mom, and she and I laughed for a while too. I turned on the episode of Fixer Upper she had on, and watched what ended up turning out to be about my favorite design of theirs they've EVER done, a mix of modern and cozy, light and warm, family memories and new design. And Fixer Upper stars a couple who do make me laugh.

Mom and I got off the phone to keep watching, and then I had to call her to laugh that the unfinished natural cedar planks they were using on one wall looked like bacon strips. Then she called me at the end (while I was resisting the urge to call her and ooh and ahh over how beautifully the house turned out) to ooh and ahh over how beautifully the house turned out. It MUST have been gorgeous, because mom and I don't really have similar aesthetics.

Friends are a good thing. I am so grateful.

Even so, I wouldn't have minded having Mr. X around to improve my mood. He's probably my favorite person in the world to watch laughing. And to *make* him laugh - well, just even thinking about it makes me happy.

Hooray for hormones!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow in the Gloaming

Two days can be a very long time, spent alone.

Of course, I have Gossamer the Editor Cat and Penelope the Publishing Pup. But human contact is human contact, and even as much as they both want it, there is a limit to the amount of attention you can expend on your pets when they are, frankly, accustomed to not having you around 100% of the time.

It's beautiful outside, and my instinct is that there isn't much reason to fear a power outage. We are having wind gusts, but they don't appear quite to live up to the 50 MPH gusts so breathlessly advertised earlier this week. (I'm also not hearing thundersnow, that eerily lovely thing I'd never experienced ever in my life before I turned forty, but which seems to have become "a thing".)

The snow was light for many hours before getting sleety and stopping for some hours, and today's edition has been light all along (no *ting*-ing ice droplets against the windows). There's little on rooftops or trees though cars and trucks are decreasingly visible in drifts. But those drifts are getting impressive, for the south. Opening doors and gates requires some patience.

And it's still coming down.

It should stop within the next several hours, and tomorrow will be one of those blinding, bright winter days that honestly I don't love. Yes, it'll be the beginning of the end of the blizzard; digging out, maybe some thawing. Main roads will be safer, and people will come out - as if two days inside were the greatest imprisonment - there are those, of course, for whom human companionship is just as inconvenient as my own solitude. It may even be possible for me to get something to eat other than the homemade soup I've been nursing for some days  now.

So I'm safe, I'm warm, the house is cheering and snug and filled with sweet Poohbas. I've been writing and doing laundry and cleaning - still need to accomplish some small things like mending jobs, installing a toilet paper holder and towel rack in the downstairs bathroom. If tomorrow isn't clear (... and Monday ...), there'll be time.

It hasn't been a bad blizzard for us.

How about you ... ?


Lauren at American Duchess has a wonderful post looking at a complete shoe-button tool kit she has recently acquired. It's an interesting artifact on its own, but her photos show how remarkable the condition is, and also include great diagrams and a look at how the tools worked, as well as a shoe from her collection to illustrate what the finished buttons would look like. A nice, complete view of a DIY job we could probably still benefit from now and then, though the quality of most shoes we can get today doesn't live up to much other than wear, tear, and discard.

The Caustic Cover Critic has another jaw-dropping collection of ill-conceived howlers - his own captions are almost as ... "good" as the covers themselves.

Many of the blogs I follow, I wonder whether they've ever had a bad post ...

... as an example of this, take a look at The Arrant Pedant's takedown of The Atlantic's conclusions about pants for dogs. Yes. Apparently, in this world, we have time for utterly ludicrous theoretizing (read "arguing") about the proper definition of "pants." Oh, internets.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Quick Trick Brick Stack

It looms.

It looms, and SOME days it lours ... but most days, it is invisible.

The stack in my cube. The monolith. The file cabinet, full of those things I actually can get rid of now, can send away and make room for other things. The chair next to it, on which are piled the first things out of the cabinet, to ship away - pulled out of the cabinet so I cannot forget them, and so far not shipped for almost a week now.

On top of the pulled things to be shipped, the box in which to fit at least some of them - not yet shipping-labled, not yet filled, not yet taped shut and banished to some shipping company's good offices.

On top of the cabinet, a hodgepodge archive of meeting binders from my boss's looming stack, now in my possession for maybe a year and a half. These date as far back as 2003 (sez the theoretical label taped onto one of them, in an early attempt to get him to let me recycle these things).

On top of the binders, that one Christmas gift of chocolates, from that one vendor, sent to our former corporate guy, who moved out to work at one of our locations.

This stack, dense an edifice as it is, is not disagreeable; though it takes up much space in a cube not overabundantly blessed with square footage.

It isn't even an embarrassment; I would venture to be it's as invisible to everyone else as it is to me - as their cubes and offices are to me.

And it isn't even a problem. The sorting out of binders dating almost to the era in which my dad was still a living soul is not what one might call a pressing engagement.

And yet, and yet.

The day you do that huge stack of filing, before tax time and managing THAT task ...

The day you finally get 'round to cleaning out the basement ...

The day you reinstall the printer or clean up your workdesk or go through all that stuff in the pantry or linen closet ...

The day you *DO* ...

It's a good day, isn't it?

My mom was over in December, and she and I tackled my basement, as we had a month or two previously, tackling some weeding and trimming in my yard.

My mom is GREAT to work with, on projects. My sister-in-law, I remember painting my living room with her. Kind of oddly fun, making the house pretty together. Mr. X used to be a great working partner, too; I recall us cleaning house, or wrestling my lawn into shape with an odd amount of affection. Even that weekend we took on so much - packing, shipping, shopping, errands, prepping - so he could go so many thousands of miles away, for so long ...

Working partners are wonderful, and they help get you doing those things you WANT to do, maybe don't even find distasteful - and yet somehow never quite seem to get to ...

Soon, a couple of the best friends I have and best writers I know are coming over for a working session. We'll spend a nice chunk of time in parallel play, just writing - and then we'll talk, looking for feedback, direction, encouragement. Then maybe pizza and Sherlock, if they don't get entirely sick of me.

We'll knock our stacks down.

Who're your best writing friends?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

William Golding

In 1986, I was privileged to meet William Golding. He had a family member living in my state, and during a health crisis the doctor somehow extorted from Mr. Golding the favor that he visit their child's school.

(Have I mentioned that I went to the most obscenely privileged school in the region at that time?)

So William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was thrown amongst the children - a curious fate - and gave us maybe an hour or two of his wisdom.

Often times, high schoolers are the least likely to benefit from, care about, nor comprehend wisdom, but I was at an especially dramatic point in my life, and the heady opportunity to meet a writer whose work had graced my brown formica desk was enough of an impression to get my wee and paltry brain to pay attention.

The immediate impression of William Golding in 1986 was first of his smallness and second, notwitstanding girth, the inescapable association of his white hair, beard, and twinkling eyes with Santa Claus. It may not be he was so very jolly, but high schoolers are so little beyond Santa maybe I had few mental options to associate him with someone more appropriate.

... Golding, 1983 - not so unlike he was in 1986 ... (Image: Wikipedia, credit below)
"William Golding 1983" by Unknown - [1] Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 Bestanddeelnummer. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Commons

He was overwhelmingly generous to give us his time, and appeared happy enough to do it. And his intelligence was of the sort that does not loft above anyone, but lifts those around a thinker to their own level. Inspiring.

He discussed Lord for some time, and opened the floor to questions, and I managed to stand up, spiral in hand, and ask him "Why weren't there any girls on the island?"

This may have been an early attempt at feminism, or it may just have been the internal sensation of being left out that books (movies, plays, YouTube videos) engender in anyone who does not see themselves in their world. I could not tell you with any integrity, but it was my question. And Mr. Golding's answer was as abundantly generous as it was simply bloody smart. I remember it vividly, in two of the key phrases from a slightly longer response.

"Well, I've never been a little girl. And if you bring girls on, sooner or later dreary old sex enters the picture."

It was of course hilarious, and I felt that frission you get when you find someone brilliant responding to you as if you were valid, and they do so in memorably hilarious form.

Lord was not meant to be about sex, it was something else. He first sequestered his characters in a setting uninterrupted by reality, and then from influences beside his point.

He talked about the liberty and joy of just making shit up.

As a writer, he could have researched and checked his facts and created an island following the geological dictates of the planet Earth: but he built his own island, rich in pink granite cliffs he apparently later understood to be geologically impossible. He excluded from his world and his characters those things which would have brought him back to what we so carelessly call "reality" and he wrote and wrote and wrote.

He pulled the trigger, is what he did.

To this day, William Golding stands the end of my line when I begin to go too far down the rabbit hole of research. Sometimes: inspiration STOPS us, too - from doing that work that distracts us from doing the truly inspired work.

The signpost to stop researching and get writing: "If William Golding can get away with pink granite cliffs: I can stop researching after fifteen sources and just name this slave Glykeria."

I even made UP a Frankish name, writing The Ax and the Vase, and said so in my notes, and did not ever edit it out.

There is a need, in any fiction, perhaps most of all in historical fiction, for that pink granite cliff that will make a reader go "hm" and then go read history itself, and learn more, and go from there.

I can also still delete Glykeria - her name alone or her entire character, if I want to. This is where we are in the writing.

Some of what I do is making shit up. Research is a wonderful thing, but making up is even better (much as it is after a fight!).

Some of what I do is taking a trusting leap off a pink granite cliff.

I can assure you: it is OSUM.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

August 24, 1983

Apparently, this was the date we saw Bowie.

And this was VERY nearly the view I had; I was to his right, not his left: but this was it.

Image: The Virginia Pilot, 1983

I adore the distortion of this perspecive; it's perfectly Bowie-esque. And a little mantis-like, too. Also good.

Also, I Write

Sometimes, you just have to pull the trigger.

The thing about writing is, once you pull the trigger, you can edit the gun out entirely.

Researching historical fiction set in Late Antiquity has some tricky bits attached. Scholars love writing about Rome, and though, say, the world of Theodoric the Great gets attention along the way, the details about his furniture and sleeping habits - and, say, the schooling of his daughter - are less attended upon. Ironic given these are royals and all.

So, you go in for, say, an attempt to name a slave in the royal household at Ravenna, and you get all sorts of information: about Rome. Very quickly, you begin to note that highly similar tidbits repeat in different sources, none of them *quite* addressing exactly what you need, and yet all of them reflecting one another. This alone can be instructive, even if it's not to the point you wanted to drive to.

Many later Roman slave names were Greek. Not all of the holders of these names were Greek, by, apparently, a long enough shot to mention it.

Slaves' origins were a noted point in buying or assigning them. There were stereotypes of Egyptian and Briton slaves, there were expectations about types of work and types of workers. The concept of "wish-names" - slave names indicating desirable traits or accomplishments - is especially intriguing. "Hedone" is a poignantly telling sobriquet for a woman available for sale.

And then your question becomes: how much does this Roman research apply to my only semi-Roman setting?

How much can I USE, when discussion of place-settings (guitarists please note, this anachronism is an intentional joke) and sleeping habits for the Ostrogoths is less than ubiquitous?

And then the question becomes: how long before I stop thinking about the guitarists, trust myself and my research, and focus on the story ... ?

Research is a wonderful way not to write, sometimes. It's a great excuse, believing "I have to get it right, before I write."

And it's so easy to forget: anything I write, I can edit. The fat lady doesn't sing until you have a contract; even at the query stage, you are still allowed to correct yourself, if you find you actually did write a firearm into a scene starring Theodoric the Great's only daughter, in the year 535. Even when you have an agent - if you're lucky and open to it, an editorial one - the book's not done until the publisher sticks a fork in and it's tender.

Sometimes, you have to pull the trigger.


I've been writing. How about you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fractured Light

Speeding up a long afternoon freeway, winter sun glorious and low, rays strobed; daytime shattered by the shadows of ten thousand trees.

She is driving. Set mouth. Day-weary face of freckles and fatigue. Tear-glossed eyes - dry by the grace of G-d(less self-preserving control) - behind large, dark glasses. Music, loud. Very loud.

Picture it ("Sicily, 1933 ..." - no, wait) - music so pulsing the image is made a silent film; even words spoken to herself muted by the utterness of sound; even breath and heartbeat blotted out.

And so, no sound; only thinking.

Thinking of herself on a dancefloor. Imaginary self a stomping Joan Jett wannabe, a black-booted and leather-jeaned stretch of negative space around which everything in the world creates a void. Imaginary self swirling and swirling, the music all a turning, swaying to the sound of the demonic beat ...

She might have become many things.

Somewhere beneath the promise of the girl with a gold locket, she is (still and too) the result of the threat of that out-thrust lip, that early violence and anger, that thing she didn't have to be and half aspired to be, and - almost forgotten - sometimes regrets that she isn't. The bummed cigs and boys' jackets, the always-magenta lipstick, the resentment of her own privilege - ahh, the boys who weren't; the friends who weren't. The girl who hated admitting she went to the preppie school, the rich kids' domains. Could not bear to be one of *them* ...

... and yet never was successfully anything else, either ...

Sometimes ... sorrow is, in us, the most brutish, juvenile rebellion. Sometimes, it is a look into possibilities - who we might have been, when the skin of who we are is so tight that surely it must split and we break free, new and unmade and ready to take shape again.

Sometimes, you have to let the sun strobe to prove it has not died yet, and that you are not in the dark.

And sometimes, you have to listen to deathless music at top volume. And dance; even if only in your head.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Stuck on my Eyes

Time Takes a Cigarette ...

All images, this post: Wikipedia

Just before 6:00 a.m., I got up with the alarm - which has been a challenge for me over the past couple of months. Got cuted up and dressed, fed the resident beasties, wrapped myself up warm. Took Penelope the Publishing Pup for a walk, where it was cold and dark and still so quiet.

Got in the car and got out onto the road.

And heard that David Bowie has died.

I won't go all schmoopy and pretend to be profound. I'm forty-seven now, not thirteen, and it is harder to respond to news like this as I did when John Lennon was murdered.


Bowie means a lot to me. He always has. Seeing him live was the second real concert I ever went to (my first was The Clash; all the rest had a lot to live up to); I caught his towel, along with my friend MM. When my mother WASHED the towel the next morning, I reacted as any good teenaged Bowie fan would have, circa 1984: "Muh-THURRRRRR!" Like, ohmigawd, she'd never understand. I cut that towel in half, gave the proper piece to the other catcher, and still have my piece to this day. It is an indifferent towel; light, creamy beige, with a poorly-rendered flower border. Yet, once, it held the sweat of a superstar.

I was never quite able to throw that towel away. I found uses for it. It cushioned a television set from scratching my grandmother's cedar chest for some years. It was wig-stuffing. Nowadays, it is just folded, put away. Artifact of an icon.

I remember the summer I stayed at my Aunt L's house, when my parents were somewhere, my brother was somewhere - even Aunt L's kids were somewhere. I spent time alone in that house, which I thought was the coolest house in the world (so much more mod than where I grew up), and listened to Space Oddity.

It was So Important, once upon a time, that "Five Years" made me weep, over and over.

Diamond Dogs - it freaked me out, the way only a real STORY album can, the way albums used to be conceived and built, as experiences - and I was so susceptible to experience. Album cover art, in those times, was a gateway drug to what music lay inside; a beautiful (visually readable) size, rendering something more than mere product.

Ziggy Stardust - the studio album, the live one. I knew every moment from the latter; his banter, the sounds of the crowd, the asides of laughter and the grind of the guitars.

That time First Love and I were going to name our son Jareth, if we had one. (Like y'all didn't know I was a dork.)

When I gave my brother a copy of "Hours", the gift in its turn received one of the best thank you's I have ever been given for a present I gave: "I hope you got this for me because you've heard it."

Bowie was even more powerful than The Clash in my old-lady cred of the "I saw all the cool concerts" variety.

And yet, this morning, the tipping point arrived, when a guy at work (not excessively young, even), responded to my mentioning it with, "Who is that?" and was not kidding.

A guy who out-earned Michael Jackson in his day, a guy who existed in the earliest, highest stratosphere, who helped to invent the very concept of "rock god" ... "Who is that?"


Of course, I must get his final album, Blackstar, soon; from all reports, it is a fitting epitaph for the terpsichorean muse. For tonight ... Hours it is. Or Scary Monsters ... or Space Oddity ... or Aladdin Sane ...

If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn’t exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.
--Douglas Adams, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Beautiful ICE

Because Mojourner doesn't seem to mind when I steal.

Little Darlin'

At some point in the past month or two, I DVR'd "Little Darlings", a movie that horrified me when it came out. I was five years younger than the girls in this movie, but even by their own age, I was far too much the Good Girl to be able to stand the thought of a whole movie about a bet over losing virginity.

And so, I've never actually seen "Little Darlings."

Watching it today, as a bright and gusty warm winter Sunday wears into evening, the sight of Kristy MacNicol in her opening scene, walking through her neighborhood in jeans and a jean jacket, smoking took me SLAM back to the Marlboro Country where I grew up. (My high school had a smoking area. For students.) I dressed like that, I had the little scowl like that, I had the fluffy hair that looked different every day.

This is one of those movies I enjoy because it looks real, not production designed. Matt Dillon looks so much like the real live boys I crushed on and hung out with, his youth is almost heartbreakingly gorgeous. The girls in camp look like we did - thick-haired, thin-haired, fat, babyfaced, dorky. Beautiful.

One of the great highlights of the story is Sunshine, the hippie child who defends virginity in the end - and is, hilariously, played by Cynthia Nixon (later famous for her long run in, of all things, Sex and the City). She's rather more likable here.

The emotions, as they come in "Little Darlings", are raw and tender and bear all the importance of youth and first-ness. It's both perfectly nostalgic for those of us Of A Certain Age and acutely immediate; the performances really are good.

I recently re-watched "Valley Girl" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", which also feature kids who look pretty much like we really did back then, and have a very particular feel that is specific not only to the time but to the movies of that period, which went in for a grimy sort of sexiness that has been lost, polished over and production designed and plastic surgerized out of all humanity.

Next up from the DVR: "Smile" - an earlier still peek into teenaged beauty pageants, where you can find Melanie Griffith, Anette O'Toole, and other stars in early roles. And Barbara Feldon, whom I wanted to be when I grew up when she showed up on my TV as Agent 99 in Get Smart.

Some of the details of films from the seventies and early eighties are shocking - the extreme ease of a guy who's been accused of sex with a student; the careless way sexually obsessed young boys stalk pageant girls; sex, and abortion, and the expectations we have now versus those in play decades ago. Some of the honesty is astonishing (the judges in "Smile" are both creepy and dead-on portrayals; the way kids who've been used badly  deal with and consider sex; the gender roles).

I think I need to actually collect these movies, instead of parking copies/taking up space in the DVR. Will have to look on Amazon streaming or get them on blu-ray.


"Death by PowerPoint." (I TOLD you!)

"Since 1994, 15 billion mobile phones have been made"
(and it's up to two billion annually at this time)

It's things like this that spark my interest in what I did this weekend: shopping (yes, online) for a vintage wind-up watch. I have a lovely old Longines in a gold tone, a beautiful timepiece and one that keeps excellent time - and now I'd like to have one in a silver tone or gunmetal. A wind-up watch doesn't bring new resources into the environment, AND it doesn't require batteries. Even if I lost it or threw it out, it would not poison anyone. ... and I ended up getting two beautiful watches, tested and working, for under twenty dollars.

“Eternally white, I am confident.” Colorism is a worldwide market phenomenon demonstrating how very well bigotry pays. And pays.  And pays.

Maine's governor brings us the latest in hideously blatant racist statements - part of an ongoing series spanning the history of ever.

... and then there were the thousand or so guys who celebrated New Year's Eve with sexual assault including rape, and called it "amusement"  ... This happened in city after city, and only the slenderest fraction of suspects has been apprehended at all. Plus: the coverup, the queasy racial/political overtones (see also: the ubiquity of the phrase “North African or Arab appearance”), AND victim blaming. ... Eight days on: the chief of police in Cologne consented to resign. About two thirds of suspects identified have been identified as asylum seekers.

And finally, in lighter news - sometimes a clean slate isn't all it's cracked up to be. More of those 1917 blackboards discovered in an Oklahoma school. Some wonderful preserved artwork here.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Rhythm of the Boogie the Beat

Janet's community has been at its best today, and inevitably it's all got me thinking. Thinking things like this ...

What a lot of us fail to see through our privilege is that "white is the default." I place that in quotes not for sarcasm, but because the words are not mine; they are at the base of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the issues with diversity (not just in publishing, but I'm trying not to go off the rails here). I grew up understanding that whitneness is the signifying quality of American-ness, and never thinking about that. I lived in a suburb that was the product of white-flight, and went to a school named for a proponent of segregation and massive resistance. So-called "genteel racism" was (and even remains) not hidden.
THE major reason I decided to shelve The Ax and the Vase was that, no matter how good the writing is, nor even how interesting the story is: American publishing is not suffering from a dearth of tales of white dudes in power. There isn't a single POC in that novel, and I thought that was completely valid, and I WAS WRONG. I guilted about it, but didn't change it. The WIP is an entirely different matter.

... and this ...

Diversity is not an agenda.
Diversity is the reality of our world - in the past, where I write, in the present, in every part of the world, no matter what. There is diversity of age, of gender identification, of color, of religion, of tastes in ice cream, of economic/relationship/educational/class/intellectual status. We don't all have the same resources. There is no world without differences: yet many of us grew up not seeing that. Many grew up feeling invisible because "white is the default", and faces and voices of color were not proportionately seen and heard - even still, there's no money in it, as far as certain industries are concerned.
Dis-inclusiveness makes for poor writing. 
I write precisely because I want to see something of the word other than where I live. The inside of my navel would make an awful setting for a story. Story is for many readers not merely an escape, but a venture OUT - out of the day to day, out of what they already know, out of their own skin.
And diversity is not all about skin. Remember that it's much, much wider than "political correctness" or complaining about old white dudes. Old dudes need representation too, in cultures obsessed with youth.
Diversity is not a punishment for privilege, and it's not even the political rectitude so many who fear this punishment find so abhorrent. It's just the real landscape of the world we live in.

... and this ...

And too: diversity is not (only) about color/ethnicity.
I am mystified by those who can stomach Pandora bracelets or licorice or team fitness challenges. These things horrify me to a point it's hard not to think "You are doing it wrong" about those people who love this stuff. And I left out a lot - diversity in our health (mental illness and its challenges have been much on my mind of late), and stigmatizations that do not relate to ethnicity even tangentially. We "other" people for as many reasons as there are people marginalized or brutalized or CELEBRATED.

... and this ...

(D)iversity is not a quota system. There is no magic number to get all the people we're not to stow this talk of diversity.
Failure to include is the failure to reflect the world. ... I grew up in Downtown White Flight, but one of my closest friends was a Black girl named Holly. She wasn't invisible; she introduced me to the concept of Michael Jackson outside of The Five, and when she did Rapper's Delight, I damn near fell over in awe at the speed of her singing-speech.
Diversity is not a didactic directive that we all have to write about POC/disabled/young/old/mentally ill/poor/disenfranchised/licorice-loving/religiously alternative/gay/differently pinky-toed people. It's the distillation of the point that if we're writers, and if we pretend that non-us people are invisible, we are failing in our WORK - failing to reflect the abundance of the world we live in, or the one we're trying to build.
"I came that they might have life, and have it in abundance." Why would we want to revel in limitation?


My own final comment above brings to mind something that has always bothered me in production design most particularly, but does happen in prose.

Historicals are especially plagued with this - prop masters get so carried away finding JUST the right clothes or home furnishings or cars, or location scouts just the right place to shoot, that any other period than the exact year of their story is neglected. Nineteenth century homes contain nothing from the seventeenth or sixteenth; girls in 1970s productions wear only Dorothy Hamill haircuts and wedgies;

The picture-perfect past is only ONE single slice of the past, one instant's place on a timeline: when, in life, we all have a lot of our own past around us right now. Why would not *our* past have had *their* past about them?

It's a silly view, and it's poor world-building. It misses out on the beautiful English Georgian portrait hanging in the home of an early twentieth-century Australian. In my own home alone, thirty percent of my furniture would be gone - and the home itself - if someone reconstructed my "set" strictly in 2016 terms.

And so it is a silly view, that the world had no black people in it, just because I wrote a novel set in ancient Gaul - that only one woman was club-footed, and maybe there was like one miscarriage as a sub-plot, and everybody was intelligent and overall healthy and all the same color.

And so it is a silly view, that all the Black people in America were offstage in the 1950s, waiting for the Civil Rights movement and Jimi Hendrix and Oprah to give them stories to tell. It is a silly view, that Black people exist only in the context of cotton fields and The Cotton Club.

It is no view at all, and no voice. It is the brutality of non-seeing, of rendering people and lives invisible. Some of those people might be white, or rich, or men named William. Diversity is many things.

But a lack of it is only one thing: a bloody bore to read.


Edited to add this: PLEASE consider going to the link to Janet Reid's blog. It is not a short read, because today we commented unfettered, and the discussion was long. But the conversation is a glorious example of the best of human interaction, debate, conversation. It closes with thoughtful words from the lady herself, our hostess, Queen of the Known Universe (QOTKU) - and comments are closed. So the thoughts it will provoke: bring them into your world. Bring them here, too, I would love that.

But, for now, Lord, it is night. G-d rest you all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My Lil' Chum

Gossamer TEC headed back up to NYC to visit Janet Reid again. His snuggles are keeping her warm.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


From The Atlantic, on the persistent trend in Hollywood to deny diversity in casting ... "(C)olorblind casting isn’t a form of acceptance or progress: It can just as easily be erasure wrapped up as benevolence."

A guy named Robert Wayne, scholars getting into fusses, “just another Preppy American”, dates of domestication, and the DNA of dogs. Giving dogfighting a new name – a great article nonetheless about a whole lot more than any particular study.

“I keep hoping these guys, who are supposedly Christian, would do the Christian thing and return these objects that they are holding illegally” ... at the intersection of finance, religion, and culture - or, why repatriation becomes complicated ...

From the Boston Globe, on the feminization of book cover design: "(H)ow does a publisher signal to a manly reader that a woman-authored book he has in his hands won’t offend him with talk of motherhood, makeup, and menstruation?"

The earliest prison memoir in the United States, from Austin Reed. Here is an excerpt from early in the book. Here is the History Blog's post on the publication.

On Vocal Fry, Bitterness, and Being a Woman

Oh squee, we have another recency illusion! On the evolution of the valspeak vocal fry: a LONG podcast, but a most interesting one, including as it does such an intensity of apparently unironic white male self-congratulation and feminine condemnation. For shorter, written pieces with a more interesting and scientifically useful bent, take a look at the debunking of the habits of vocal fry and uptalk as a privileged little American girl fashion (from the NYT – a really good look at the phenomenon and its *strategic* [defensive] utility), and here, the personal story of a woman who took a stab at rehabilitating her vocal creak – and then didn’t.

Full disclosure: I am EXTREMELY guilty of judging young women by their voices. I have ranted alone at my television and even talked with my mom about the buzzy, baby voices younger women use – the very picture of the judgmental old lady in my hatred of the sound. There will be a long and serious review of how much of my prejudice is born of self-hatred (my own tendency to valspeak as a kid, and many years of self-training to get over the noise) and how much of it is the bigotry born of age and the privilege that my own voice is so often *heard*. From the NYT link … "young women were generally interrupted more than men and so it’s a defense mechanism" …

In a mental review of the voices of the women and some of the men I love, there appears little creak among them, but uptalk (rising terminal inflection) is very common. My mom has a strong voice, and just on Christmas, I heard once again what I have heard since I was nine or so, that I sound just like her. I take this as a compliment; my mom has a jolly way of speaking. My oldest friend, TEO, has a soft way of speaking, but not lacking for authority; she is a mother and a teacher, and speaks smoothly and gently, but is not breathy. She uses lilt in the strategic ways noted in the New York Times article, and may not always assert dominance with her voice, but her confidence is complete.

Cute Shoes has a particularly beautiful voice. Low but never nasal and buzzing, she uses uptalk inflection with precision – again, a mother, and a professional manager, she nudges vocally with great effect.

My brother sometimes uptalks – he is a father of two girls, and guides them with a questioning voice, prompting them to display what they know, rather than telling them as if they don’t.

Mr. X, a man of six-feet-four and an impenetrably dour resting expression, can appear physically intimidating in a way, but has a manner of speech that focuses on his breath in a way that makes it more noticeable to me than I find it to be in other people. His speech most often is quiet, modulated. Modulated or even regulated. His breath is plosive, strong as Rowan Atkinson speaking the letter “B”, if he’s pressed to humor or surprise or passion. But most of the time, his voice is held back; he speaks with what I’d describe almost as another kind of “creak” – the softness of restrained pressure. I think of the way he says “Hello” on the phone, or the first time I really heard him speak, and am struck by the idea he often seems almost to be holding his breath. It’s not an unnatural sound – he doesn’t seem strained – only holding in reserve; typical of him psychologically too.

My dad had a warm and gravelly voice. No creak there, just the patina of a man of great experience, some years of smoking, even more of teaching, many of parenting, and all of loving. Like the satin-ing silver sheen of wood handled and handled again over long ages, it was strong and beautiful and deep and weathered. I can’t remember my dad’s voice at thirty; but, by sixty-five, he had a distinctive, soft growl.

Even dad used upspeak, though. He prompted his students, pulled his kids along on the upturned lilt of the inflection of his sentences, not all of them interrogative. His rising terminal was unlike that we think of when the term “uptalk” crops up – a promontory, not a steep rise. A place inviting you out to its tip, to take a look at the vista.

In 1981, still in middle school, I had left the small world of grade school behind, and came across people with the early-80s Eastern hippie inflected speech that seemed to me then and now to share a lot with what we soon were calling valspeak. Then high school, Zappa’s daughter, horizontal-striped shirts with puffed sleeves … and my own regrettable teenage speech.

Maybe I don’t really regret it.

But I did spend some years in remediating it.

I was never raised to be a woman out to form myself in the shape to please a man, but one or two points my dad made about the appeal of a woman did strike home (eventually). The major one was that a woman walks with grace, not a bounce. I feel like I saw Grace Kelly swiftly descending a long staircase, a long gown hiding all evidence she owned legs and feet, her head smooth as if on a gimbal, yet clearly RUNNING down, to catch a Cary Grant perhaps, in “To Catch a Thief” – but the image stays with me, real or imagined, transplanted from the wrong movie or not – that was grace the thing, in Grace, the woman.

Grace was one of the few things dad exhorted upon me as his girl child, and it’s not one I ever resented – and another measure of grace, aside from movement (which I cannot generally do so beautifully) is a womanly, beautiful voice.

I may not have attained any more beauty in my voice than in my physical comportment – but it is true I treasure the compliment once received, that my voice sounds like brownies baking.

It used to be I’d get joked at, “You should have your own 976-number.” This was a thing, kids, twenty years ago when porn was performed live by phone – and presumably I had a SENSUAL voice, which may or  may not have been typical of real sex-operators’ voices, but the general idea was meant to convey that I sounded good. (Or quite naughty …)

And, of course, the oldest comment of them all, “You sound like your mother.”

At work, in particular, I cultivate a variety of voices – for “my kids”, a warm and southern style – for new calls, professional and modulated, lapsing easily into laughter and friendliness where possible – or occasionally slipping toward interrogative-inflected passive (aggressive) voice, depending on how things need to be guided.

With my friends, mom, and brother, I like to think I am most often laughing or listening. We like to think a lot of positive things about ourselves, I suppose …

What about you?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year

This year has begun with friends, fun, forgiveness, and a little bit of sad fear. There are those who are in distress; but I have much to be grateful for, that I am not.

May 2016 treat you well, bringing joyous surprises and blessings both expected and not. May you have laughter!