Friday, December 30, 2016


I haven't linked American Duchess's blog in a long time, but this week there is a DELICIOUS, detailed post about researching historical costume with a view both from the costume point of view and someone with an artistic education. Many pictures to study, and some interesting aspects of design and portraiture to consider.

"What happened during my transition from one language to another did not become memory."
"It is hard to feel in an adopted language, yet it is impossible in my native language." Yiyun Li at The New Yorker takes a keen and poignant, eloquent look at the way language works in our brains … and in our hearts … Absolutely beautiful writing and thinking, and an incredibly generous expression of personal experience that is meaningful to all of us. Please read this!

The marginalia of Marlene – Dietrich’s books and notes, again at The New Yorker. Being an inveterate marginaliist myself, this appeals to me *so* much ... and some of her commentary brings her right into the room with you as you read. Evocative!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Holy crud, that was FAST

Remember that depressing and frightening Collection post I JUST put up like a minute ago? With this post linked?

Yeah. Well. Now this.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cookbook Memories

Yesterday, I spent a good while looking through old cookbooks - the Betty Crocker, of course, but also the little binder style book my mother-in-law gave me, complete with several of her family recipes and into which I've put decades - generations! - worth of my own grandma's recipe cards, old magazine recipes, a couple sheets of paper with my dad's handwriting; the bread I used to make, but haven't since he died.

Fourteen years goes by ... well. Not fast.

And yet ... there he is. Right there; my dad, his egg salad. His handwriting. His mother's gingerbread; like velvet.

Cookbooks like this, or recipe boxes, are in their way perhaps even more evocative than photo albums. The memory of food is so strong, so meaningful. The fading handwriting. The stains, and the little notes about special tricks with this icing or that casserole.

Wishing you and yours the sweet - and savory - memories of the season. May we all be blessed, and enjoy a time of peace ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


In tech news, a really interesting aftereffect of virtual reality - the dispiriting re-emergence from god-hood into the real world. Courtesy of The Atlantic.

Oooohhh. Neato technology again - and more queasy questions about it. "What outstanding performances from young actors will we miss in the future" ... ? Vanity Fair takes a look at the looks of ageing actors - and de-ageing actors. Complete with poignant irony.

Ars Technica looks at cooking ten thousand years ago. And no, it wasn't all spitted meat directly over a fire! On the first kitchens in the world, human migratory habits, and a kind of stone soup. Yum!

NPR's All Tech Considered has a look (well, listen) into the world of a child. It is far, FAR creepier than it sounds. On the absolutely horrifying doll listening in on your kid. There is a similar post here, on the gimcracks supposedly wiser grownups voluntarily bring into their homes to harvest their lives for marketers.

Cover-age ... The Caustic Cover Critic has been doing a year-in-review of covers (not of 2016 novels, but of his 2016 reading), and post #3 of 3 provides some truly intriguing TBR offerings. The other review posts are worth a click, but this series for me provided the most thought-provoking descriptions along with their covers. Proof that judging a book by its cover can be a mixed bag; keep an eye out for older books the CCC missed out on thanks to indifferent cover art!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Writing Music

Over the years, I've had periods when I've paid attention to the music I often have on VERY quietly while writing, and periods when I have not. There was a nice time long ago, when I had Fiona Apple and Bowie's Hours on random mix, that worked curiously well.

Of late, it's been seventies easy/funky rock - Gerry Rafferty, Atlanta Rhythm Section, that sort of thing. This is among the many kinds of music I grew up on, but not exactly because it was anyone's "thing" particularly. It's good stuff, often really good stuff (not quite the white bread same thing, but another groove I really love - Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine, or just about any track of his).

Something about the buzzing funk but the soft rock goes-down-easy-ness of this music really works for me creatively. It reverts me out of the present time, almost firmly taking me out of my own head and sitting me down with a rhythm that can be dramatic, but also comes to the calling. It's easy and crunchy at once - the echoing rasp of "Driver's Seat" opening up a space for my creativity to work - or the infectious but gentle "Couldn't Get it Right" bouncing my brain along.

For the writers amongst my readers - or just for those who like to work with music propelling their time along, especially the work days - what is the soundtrack of your productivity?

______ Porn

Life being what it is these days, I recently had to explain to my tender-eared mother the concept of "food porn." You can't always trust that your little parents won't be exposed to such outre' things; you can, of course, take control of how you explain them to your family.

Food porn is this thing where people take photos of their food so they can share both the deliciousness they are about to enjoy, and tease others with how well they are eating.

It's the ubiquity of television food shows, reveling in exotic ingredients and watching judge after judge ooh-ing and ahh-ing over delicacies we may never be able to enjoy. It's both a sharing and a teasing with food. It's the basis of, at this point, SEVERAL industries - not just one.

The key to food porn of the description in quotes, roughly what I said to my mom, is the teasing, the punishment, the 'better than thou' art eating aspect. Tantalization is *meant* to be a bit cruel.

Substitute other words for "food" and we have all the teasing habits and infotainment making cultural forces we barely knew about when I was a kid.

Tantalization is meant to be cruel.

HGTV specializes in, essentially, architectural porn, a lifestyle on sale - with all the sponsors clearly delineated along the way, so you can ensure your life is properly equipped with hardwood floors never walked upon by anyone before you, white custom cabinetry, granite kitchens, stainless steel appliances.

Wealth porn has been around a long time. Pioneered during the Great Depression in movies of opulence and glamour, it was industrialized for the first time by the likes of Robin Leach, and by now the cultural landscape is rife with people essentially famous for living wealthily, and people becoming wealthy by selling their lives in order to finace ever-more eye-popping lifestyles.

Not so long ago, the sellability of economy porn - specifically, financial scare porn, brought us that glorious year, 2008. (HGTV's specialty, selling homes beyond the means of buyers, indubitably deserves credit for marketing tie-ins.

We've come to a place of generalizing this last variety, to where FEAR PORN all by itself is an engine not merely of lifestyle, but now commands politics worldwide.

Tantalization  is meant to be cruel.

The world is populated with scab-pickers. It hurts. We shouldn't. We do.

Ow, ow, ow. Do it again.

Selling the pain of fear clearly works. Fear the crime rate: ignore real-world statistics; just fear crime, fear that The Other is coming to murder you in your bed. Fear The Other: forget that immigrants are mostly children and their mothers; just fear that *some* of them are men who by dint of their color, or religion, or both, are terrorists. Fear that others' advantage is your disadvantage. Fear everything ... except those most stridently crowing about FEAR.

For them, please vote. Early and often. Leave facts, or facticity (*), to them; only fear, and come to them for protection.

Fear porn. Because it sells. And it's making somebody money.

(*Having not checked the copyright on "truthiness", I coined this term as a pointer to the many statistics and explicit/specific/blatant lies we are being sold of late. But alas, it turns out to be an actual word! Even though spell Czech gives it the red-squiggly underline. Well, durnit.)

All links - which are the same link repeated, involve the language of domination. Hover over the link to read the URL and decide whether you are too sensitive!

States Rights and Wrongs

Today is the 156th anniversary of the first secession leading to the American Civil War.

Even I cannot be facetious enough to call this a happy anniversary.

But it is a good and right thing to remember.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Costume nerd alert - that thing you see on the back of this seat? The "cracked" appearance in the silk? This is called shattering. Also, is that a stain I see on the front upholstery, under the cushion?

After all my television viewing reviewing of late, I'm interested in others' ethical takes on popular entertainment. Here's an interesting piece from on the fascism of The Walking Dead. I couldn't watch that show past one episode because of the violence, myself - as compelling as even just one show was, but being aware of its force, it's pretty arresting to see who has chosen to advertise with them - and why.

Curiously, and (ahem) blood-related to the diversity issues touched on in the TWD article above, here's a story about Trek's first Woman of Color as a main character. Sad that it's taken 50 years since Nichelle Nichols' turn as "ain't no maid" to reach this point, but Trek has always had a reputation for progressive inclusion and has had POC and women at the fore before. And now for intersectionality.

Today in "calling it Medieval means it's a relic of The Stupid, Stupid Past" news: our American junta. The thing about the stupidity of the past is? Like many artifacts, we DIY things back to life. Just because a dress doesn't fit anymore doesn't mean some asshat isn't going to recycle it as a scarf.

YAY! The Plague!

That glass? It's half full. Why?

From the vantage point of "seven hundred years later", the Black Plague is a safe little tragedy to examine. We may wince, we may even feel for individual stories of towns utterly ghosted - perhaps it's even scary, in a way. But overall, the plague is an object of study rather than the inspiration for deep personal feeling. It's not "our" horror.

In a new time, with different horrors, there are of course a lot of people feeling deep personal feelings, direct fear, and actual threats. Who needs medieval barbarity? We unquestionably have our own.

One of the received lessons of history is that after the Plague, society changed for the better - with the decimation of the population, "upwardly mobile" became a thing, the middle class was born, prosperity prospered, and ironically the general state of human health actually improved, along with innovation. Eventually, the feudal system died, democracies and republics were born ...

Oh, wait.

It's a complex question, and the happy ending here is neither unquestionably happy nor even remotely an ending. Even if human progress did occur (and I am not the Whig to comment), was the price worth it?

It doesn't matter.

Let us not forget: democracy existed centuries before the plague, as well. And died then, too. Tragedy is the nature of life, just as much as joy. There's no avoiding it, even when its particulars might be headed off in one way or another. Sometimes it's manmade, sometimes not, sometimes humanity gives an assist to a virus and what was a natural disaster is exacerbated to staggering proportions.

Good and evil are constants. Not cycles.

For all those republics born after the population shift, for all those inheritors a generation after 1348 who owned more and were able to leverage it, for all human innovation - there exist crimes great and small, there are oppressions, there is theft and cruelty and utter, pigheaded stupidity.

The older I get, the more I believe, humanity honestly does not change.

Unfortunately, I've also begun to believe humanity honestly likes to be stupid, as well. It's easy, it transfers responsibility to those who feel they must think, it absolves us of even understanding the consequences of our own slovenly communal behavior. It is also an act of will.

I can put quite a few faces of people I know to the sentiment "I just don't know that much about politics." And it does kind of make me angry, but more than anything it makes me despair, because that is a choice.

And yet, and yet. And yet.

For all we endure shock on an international scale at Brexit, at Trump, at what-have-you outrage of the day, I am the kind of researcher, burrower, study-er, learn-er, need-er who must find the other side of a coin.

"Nearly a quarter of the population of the world died in a pandemic? Yeah, but look at what happened next."

We're not going to survive if we don't contemplate what might happen next.  Humanity can't NOT look to tomorrow, it's how we are wired. It's the mechanism of both how we hope and how we fear. "Even if not for me, there will be a tomorrow - for someone, for almost everyone."

This is how causes are born; we fight today in the name of tomorrow, and we fight for ourselves in the name of everyone else. It's not altruism: it's a relay race. Someone must carry the baton of hope, of dissent, of anger or righteousness. The baton becomes the thing, and we carry it for ourselves but we don't fail to pass it along so it can keep going.

I don't believe evolution - history - has been a progression from ignorance to enlightenment. But I don't believe it's a cultural decline, either.

I don't believe in the end of times, I don't believe in complete human degradation, even when so many examples can be found.

For many, religion is the tool to manage fear that humanity's going to end someday. For me, it is entirely the opposite. It's the tool with which I grapple up and down the eternal landscape of mankind's own eternal good and evil, right and wrong. They are always with all of us, always options. So I have to daily make the choice - today, right, or wrong. Today, goodness or wickedness.

Because: the sun's going to come up tomorrow. Even if it doesn't come up on me.

What hope is there for our fears today? Bipartisan cooperation reborn? That could be good. Indeed, a redefinition of the terms that even give rise to the idea of "bipartisan" - the end of the two-party system? As tired as almost everyone is of negative campaigning and candidates who fail to engage us (American voter turnout is horrifyingly low), that could be an improvement, if a bit giddy-making for those of us codgers used to easy (hah) duality.

Let's find out, shall we?

Friday, December 2, 2016

All the Books

All the books I've bought lately have had their own distinctive, incredibly satisfying feeling in my hands. Of one book, I bought four copies. Its pages enchanted me. The resonance, when you tap the stack of them, that echo inside the minuscule spaces between them, the space inside the books, their universe.

Image: Wikipedia

Of another, I bought two. These are older books, hardcover, each of them with the mylar slipcover. One is a first edition, a gift. The other is for me. The instant I opened it, and my hand touched its cover, and I felt that soft vibration, heard the sound of its thump - that soft thump when you pat a book, that satisfying thump as warm as the thump I give Penelope on her furry, deep chest ...

That book had the best thump I have felt in a long time.

Penelope has good thump.

I knew I had to buy another copy of this book for someone I love. And that one, when I found it - that soft, quiet, warm sound. Of a book.

That glorious sound - when you *have* opened a book, when you've been using it as G-d intended, filling yourself with it - and you have to close it again. That sound, of closing a book. Closing a hardcover. That soft, soft, but definitive closing, the almost invisible sound of the mylar, the indescribable movement of paper against itself, and the covers coming together, protecting it, saving the rest of the pages for you, saving them all for you.

What is the best-feeling book you have held lately?