Sunday, May 14, 2017


Casey Karp's blog is a new favorite, not just for his talents in wordlery, but also because he brings the learn-y stuff. This week, take a look at some of Amazon's REALLY chilling new problems. One, the new world in gig-economy logistics, and two, the Authors Guild article he links from that post, about how a new algorithm may cost the publishing industry - and authors. The final sentence here is pretty frightening.

I enjoy Jeff Sypeck's unique outlook; here is an interesting area of cultural context leading up to the American Civil War. Excellent quote from Mark Twain on this. Looking at what we consume as relating to what we enact.

"Rubber ducky, I love you - and the writing you help me do!" Maggie Maxwell has a great strategy, apparently used by IT programmers. I've never heard of talking to the duck, but it does make a kind of sense. (Though, personally? I tend to use actual coworkers or other writers or readers, depending on my issues ... Writing buddies really DO make great ducks. Heh.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Another Five Years

Right at the moment I was thinking of one scale of time, I was missing out on multiple others. This year, I managed to forget not only TEO's birthday, but Gossamer's (May Day) and Penny's (my April Fool).

Last night, I saw something I have never seen before. Goss has closed his eyes in the *presence* of Penelope before, of course. But last night, as I got up from the laptop and TV to go upstairs and go to bed, I saw Gossamer closing his eyes AT Penelope.

For those non catters among us: a cat's closing its eyes "at" another living thing is a specific communication. It means "I trust you", and is a profound cue to its relationships. Cats aren't famous for handing out their trust lightly. So to see Goss gazing clearly and fixedly on Penny (who was on the couch and oblivious), and repeatedly almost-closing his eyes at her was a revelation to me. I wished it were possible for Pen to understand. But she didn't even see it. She was as unaware of Gossie in that moment as she was of current events in Southeast Asia.

Which is a shame. But I saw something wonderful.

Between the two of them, he tends to be the aggressor when they scuffle, and their scuffles - while not worrisome - don't feel like play. It's not because he doesn't mean to play, it's because Pen doesn't understand him as playing. The two of them speak completely different languages. Shoot, Pen and I speak completely different languages.

I have wished, since the two of them were kidlets, that they would ever become snuggle buddies. But I realized not long ago that Penny actually doesn't know how to snuggle. (Well ... not REALLY.) When she wants to be near me, she can't sit still. She demands pettin's, or just needs to wiggle. She's actually very physically awkward with affection, has been all her life. On the occasion she is allowed on the couch or on the bed, she can lie down, but rarely is she touching me. When I try to cozy up with her, she gets actively confused - and by actively, I mean that the physical contact, no matter how relaxed my demeanor, drives her to activity, even anxiety. She can't sit still and just snuggle. She cannot even seem to conceive of it. So approaches to snuggling confuse her and set her off.

Now, Gossamer: he is a nestler from way back. He likes body heat, and he likes stillness. Sure, he loves a good pettin', but he can settle in for a good sit without being attended to, and often prefers that over any form of movement. Petting itself tends to end in lying still and snoozing.

So obviously, the lack of snuggle-ation between these two has never been antipathetic, it's just that one party is incapable of it. They have their moments. And since I realized Pen doesn't know how to snuggle, I've tried to work her towards at least understanding snoozy physical contact. When she's been allowed on the bed of late, I put my feet against her back and just say the word, "Snuggle." Once or twice, I've been able to achieve non-petting contact when she's been on the couch, and said the word, "Snuggle."

Communicating. I'm slow, but I learn.

Happy fifth birthdays to my Poobahs, yellow and grey. They are my ongoing adventure, most of the laughs in my life, and constant blessings.

I still aspire to be good enough for either one of 'em.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Strangely, considering how much I lean on them for content around here, it's been a while since I did a Collection post. Let's make up for that, shall we?

This post from Casey Karp is a funny bit of truism - on procrastinators, writers, and the facts of documentation. He has a nimble way with a word, go read his blog for this, or many other things!

Who watched Feud, the recent "anthology series" (we used to call these miniseries, kids) about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford? One of the things that captivated me was its production design. From the brilliant cutout-animation of the credits to the airless, sky-less sets - even the outdoors feels indoors in this film - there is a set-bound feel, for such a sprawling piece, covering decades and many cities. The returns to a single home for each star (Crawford had many over the years, but writing historical fiction does involve elision and compilation), the visitation of one windowless and symmetrically-posed restaurant booth, the sets within the sets. It's all among the most amazing visual arts pieces I've ever seen done in a movie or show; there is a realism to the details, but an overwhelming, airless enclosure about the whole.

Many of my friends and family know, I've barely ever been able to tolerate Susan Sarandon at all, but of COURSE she was almost literally born to the role of Davis, and she probably edges out Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford here. Vocally, neither of them puts in a full-time job of sounding much like the original stars, but Sarandon does provide several moments looking and sounding like Davis which are spine-tinglingly eerie. Lange never even attempts the flinty twang of Crawford, which is a shame given that Crawford's voice is so much a part of her persona for those of us who've really spent any time watching her performances, but she doesn't fail as utterly as Faye Dunaway did with her voice. The smoker's modulation she does use is at least entirely appropriate to Crawford's aesthetic, and makes sense as a character choice.

Okay, enough of that. How about the history of the American grin - and the import/export problems with it? Very cool piece by The Atlantic; nicely detailed, but not a long read.

(D)ata showed that flight delays got worse as more people based purchases mostly on price. Airlines didn’t have to compete at being good—they had to compete only at being cheap.

Who doesn't love a good victim-blaming? I don't! In "the evolution of how we do things" news: aaaaahhhhh, airlines. Turns out it's all our own fault we're miserable with air travel. There is a complex web of implications here; not all of it bad, and some of the worst of it perfectly persuasive. Personally, I'm creeped out and concerned about The Uber-ization of Everything, but the wider implications could be interesting, should they actually play out. Hmmm. Lots of hmmm.

Ten high-quality products manufactured in the United States - I had no idea ANY shoes were manufactured domestically any more, and will keep New Balance in mind for my next pair of sneakers. Which may be sooner now, just because I know this.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Murder, I Wrote

I used the tag GREAT writing on this post, because sometimes writing *feels* great ... and you can just about believe your own work might be so, when that happens. Last week's momentum reached a bit of an apex in The Murder Scene ... wherein one of the main characters finds herself about to be burned alive, without touching the fires slowly cooking her life away. And it's as harrowing as it sounds.

Most writers know, reading our work out loud is important, and as I am ruled by rhythms (and a former theater major), I like doing this. It's hard to stifle the desire to read to anyone who makes the mistake of speaking with me on the phone, or coming over, and sometimes I fail. Such as Friday night, when I read the murder scene to my brother.

We both came away kind of shaking our heads. I realized that one key descriptor calls up the very birth scene which opens the novel (and the life of the woman about to meet her end). I wrote that birth scene maybe a decade ago; it was one of those backburner moments during research and side work on this WIP, while I was writing The Ax and the Vase, and I've never wanted to change it (yeah, you're not supposed to edit before you've even finished writing - for me, that "rule" is like typing; I self-correct as I go, you can't ask me not to do that, it is my way of doing things). My brother even approved of that callout; and I trust him as a critic. He's never been shy to criticize me! Heh.

But, yeah. Right now, it is all I can do not to post this scene here, and on my cube wall, maybe a couple billboards, and everywhere in the world.

This is what writing can feel like. It's been a long time since I attained this sense of accomplishment, and the way it followed on (Heaven help me) a THEME showing up uninvited - a theme which will work to create tension ... I mean, wow.

Yes, exquisite phrasing, is it not? "I mean, wow." Me writer. Me college gradual. Look, this is a blog, I'm allowed to save some of my best for the work meant for sale, right?

Few of us are at our most eloquent when things get truly exciting, but the excitement is real.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

This Long Now

Being far from someone you love. It is hard.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Picking and Choosing

Scenes come to me when they will. The term "pantser" doesn't appeal to me, but I am not an outlining writer, and the idea of composing a novel in order confounds me. I follow the research first, and the inspiration second. Usually because the latter doesn't precede the former, and I have a harder time capturing it.

Not long ago, I was working on that quiet moment, knowing what has got to come after it. The scene stands alone (though I do still need to get rid of that research-y bit about natron), but really there's no novel if anything does that. And so I must proceed.


I don't want to write the pogrom. And that is what follows, there.

Writing one of the first riotous, violent religious purges in the storied history of Christendom all but makes me long for a battle scene. And I hate writing battle scenes.

But even to contemplate this is so much worse. The only redemption before me is that I will not write from within the perspective of the murderers, the looters, the rapists, the cruel. But it is little consolation; knowing one is only surrounded by looting, rape, and killing doesn't take away the looting, rape, and killing.

So, today, I got back to the murder scene.

It's strange how preferable this is to writing the pogrom. It is smaller in scale, of course, and so I have more control, more ability to move through the mechanics of each moment - realization, sensation, progression.

It also takes place with a character who has come to a philosophical place of relinquishment. She's lost enough to eschew the rest, and life appears all but pointless by this moment. Losing everyone else was hard; losing herself, even painfully, may be a relief.

I've watched this relinquishment, of course. I've been witness to plaintive, righteous begging for death. It's hard, but great Christ do I understand it.

And so the crux of this murder is that it becomes manumission; the killers will free this woman, and she will accept escape at last, if only when she sees there is no other choice.

Thematically, of course, this links to my post from yesterday. So I had to go to this scene. (That is my excuse, and I'm sticking with it.) I had to find the sensations of the ground under her toes, the air down her throat, the sweat of her skin.

It's got me thinking of another death scene too. A character I can scarcely bear to see die, but who eventually must. A person can only live so long, and in the sixth century CE, even less than we tend to expect now.

When I emailed the manuscript to myself last night, as I do periodically as a kind of backup - the chronicle of my "versioning" (and progress) - I put a subject line on the email: "What good is this life edition" ...

There is an ancient religious philosophy - not only in Western schools of faith, but certainly predominant in Europe for centuries - that this life is a vale of tears, and the only existence worth contemplating is the eternal destination of the soul.

Think of Heaven. For kings and peasants alike, this was the mindset encouraged by so many aspects of so many ways of life.

Even as kings needs must strategize every single day.

Even as peasants must tend and bring in the harvest, the flock, the catch. Must learn how best this is done. Must feed the body, for letting it die - no matter how useless this life may be - was still a sin.

All these contradictions.

I'd rather write death than massacre.

Writing. Like everything else, it comes down to choices.

So. How's YOUR writing going?

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Something happened with the WIP today. Well, I should say, something happened with me - with my philosophy, my spirit, my self. And I turned to the WIP, and put several plug-ins to prompt myself to the theme, in different places.

Something happened with my writing.

How was your Thursday?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Like Ray-ye-yain On Your Admin Day!

"They" always say to be careful what you wish for. Let us add to that the codicil, perhaps, to be careful what you're thankful for.

Today was Administrative Professionals Day, or if you prefer, this week is AP week. I, of course, prefer "secretary", but that has been done to death on this blog. For now, anyway. Let it be said, the memories are still kind, regarding the one guy I ever worked with who found a Secretaries' Day card. That's thoughtfulness, right there.

And today I said to a couple people how much I like where I work now - how they don't fiddle away excessive funds on expensive dead flowers, but give us things we are likely to use/enjoy/appreciate. Last year, enormous live potted plant arrangements, in my case a big geranium mingled with the spiky fronds of a grass of some sort. It is still with me, just went outside this morning for the new spring. Year before that, it was Harry & David gift boxes - nice fruits and not all sorts of fattening things.

Given the past year and a half or so of working on that waistline and so forth, I particularly treasure the latter point, the absence of waist-busting shows of appreciation.

Naturally, putting too fine a point on that item was poor thinking on my part. This year's gift came from clients. Translation: a Taste of Chicago box, filled with such goodies as a cheesecake sampler (four kinds) and a true Chicago pizza from a famed place I actually have been to.

Thank heavens for family. I have a handy-dandy mom and stepfather close by, and keep them around for just such occasions. And it turned out almost too perfectly, in fact - our usual Friday family night looks bad, as my stepfather has a procedure Friday which will leave him either out of it and/or in pain. And mom had been planning pizza for supper, too.

And, you know, with his ongoing health issues and my mom's extended commitments as caregiver, it doesn't feel awful to show up now and then with a really good treat like that. It seems to break up the grind for her sometimes, and of course an enjoyable meal doesn't go amiss with him.

The title above refers to the amused chagrin you can feel, bragging that your employer - even while so massively involved with almost every variety of food on the continent - doesn't fatten you up ... and the happiness that when they ruin your brag, you can turn around and dent the caloric damage by celebrating family night a couple days early.

When your stepfather can enjoy eating, and your mom was planning for pizza.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Droppin' Science

On Saturday, I went to the March for Science in Washington, DC.

Though I am the kid of a physics professor, my own field of study was Theatre (sic/ugh) and Dance (also sic; it was that small a department), and I became a secretary. But dad's influence in my life endures, of course. And also I care that our country should not impose upon itself the very Dark Ages I'm always saying are a myth.

The day before the March, I drove up to Maryland to stay with my dearest and oldest friend, The Elfin One, and her family. She and I went on our own, but not before enjoying some pretty wonderful family adventures. Starring rather a lot of science!

TEO was always the smart one between us. No very great trick when it comes to ME, of course, but she is and always was natively brilliant, and is a teacher (not of science).

Almost within minutes of my arrival at their home, the heavens burst forth, and we had a ten-minute, torrential storm. After eight-ish traffic jams making a 100-mile trip drag on for upwards of four hours, I was glad I'd missed being IN it, by that much. Still, I do enjoy a good storm. And this one came with HAIL.

Younger son and mom and I went outside to investigate the hailstones when it subsided and gave way to more sunshine than I'd seen all day. I was the one who explained the rising/falling cycle of updrafts and accumulation creating the layers of a hailstone, almost like dendrochronological rings. I also pointed out to them how the steam was rising off the street, using the spiff sunglasses TEO had commented on. Because they are polarized glasses, they cut glare. I didn't explain the mechanics of light waves and the glasses' control of same via polarization, but they're still a gee-whiz exemplar of science.

For the evening, we had a wonderful meal prepared by TEO's husband (science has proven, men can cook), and then he read one of the kids' books out loud for a while as we made our signs. I got a bit of permanent marker on my nail. It is still present, three days on. Science!

The next morning, I wore a shirt of my dad's from CEBAF - the original name of Jefferson Labs (or "Jeffy Labs" as the geeks I personally knew liked to call it when they changed the name), the national Accelerator. The shirt is a double-bonus for me, as it dates to 1991, and is Star Trek themed. Well, Star Trek: The Next Generation (probably my least favorite of the series), but it was all we had at the time.

I also wore a necklace with a few charms on it, one of which is the companion to a pair of rutilated quartz charms I once gave to my nieces. TEO thought at first this little bauble might be a tiny bottle with something in it, perhaps something of my dad (she may have feared I had his ashes with me, come to think of it, but I would not have brought that into their home, they are Jewish and that would be unguestmanslike of me). So we showed this to the boys, and I explained inclusions and we talked about how rocks have veins, something like our bodies do.

So before we even got to the march, we were SEEING (and spontaneously - we did not have to force science into the visit; and kids do get into these odd and neato things) plentiful wonders courtesy of scientific understanding.

On the Metro, TEO and I immediately found companions with the same destination. We chatted and shared signs, and this went on all the way into the city.

Off the train, it was immediately mucky. So it goes. We headed along the wide walkways I haven't trod in probably thirty years, joyously surrounded by others going the same way. That the one guy who liked our signs and suggested we get our pictures taken with the sole religious protester we saw all day looked like Pretty Caucasian Jesus was a good laugh, and of course that's my type anyway, so we enjoyed a little irony and I got to enjoy a pretty face to boot.

As for religion ... well. My dad told me all my life, he was a scientist precisely BECAUSE what G-d had built was so exciting to him he felt it was worthy to study it. Take that, kids I went to grade school with, who used to tell me my dad couldn't believe in G-d because he was a scientist. Also: ugh.

In fact, I think there were many people of faith (read: not just Protestant Christians) there. More than anything else, there were people of integrity. Belief in something greater than themselves, whether that wears the face anyone recognizes as G-d or not. We were photographed many times, and we photographed others. We saw a Nichelle Nichols sign and a Carrie Fisher sign (interestingly, I saw no male Trek or Wars character/actor signs - but I do not call my study of these signs any indicator of conclusions to be drawn; the minuscule sample would not stand up to peer review). We saw only one Lorax, but it was a good Lorax, complete with his sign, "UNLESS" ...

TEO and I were there for hours, and in the cold and rain we heard the voice of a child from Flint, Michigan, the passion of Maya Lin, good music - many voices. Our signs wilted and drooped, but stayed intact for us bravely throughout the deluge and beyond. We finally "retired" them at The Castle at the Smithsonian. Our feet were profoundly wet, and pants up to the knees. Mine were wet down to the knees as well, and my jacket (unfortunately covering up that CEBAF tee) was all but pointless by the end of the day. TEO recalled ruefully the science of wet denim and rolled up her jeans, to minimal effect. My own pants grew from about a 31" inseam, weighted down by water and textile fatigue, to something on the order of a 34". My shoes were not even dry by the time I returned home late that night. My socks were sodden. But Penelope (and her inquiring scientific nose) was fascinated by the scents of Washington, of rain, of the thousands of people's footsteps we had shared, and the several dogs we saw as well, all collected in my clothes.

But we had a brave and a reaffirming few hours. We were inspired, and people said nice things to us about our signs, and just generally. People can be lovely things, sometimes.

And so, because there was no food inside the officially-barriered confines of The March itself, when we grew hungry, we reviewed our feelings about what we'd set out to accomplish, and agreed: "we've checked the boxes." It was time to leave, even though the actual marching part was about to begin. New troops were still arriving. We exited, to leave them space. We went back up the Metro a ways, and found a good, warm sandwich to eat. And then made our way home, to shuck wet things and have a lie-down.

This is the first event I have gone to, since the election. TEO had been to the Women's March, with that younger son of hers, and many of my friends and my beloved family have been to many. I shared this event with all of them, cities away, even a continent away (one Washington and another; nicely bookended?), and perhaps most importantly my oldest, OLDEST (hee) friend and I were able to embark on this together.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Donna Everhart celebrates making it halfway through a WIP. I very, very literally have no idea what that is like - because I don't know when it is.

"(B)limey, what's that?" Simultaneously cool and creepy, BBC shows us one of the creative innovations in security, as the global definition and even concept of privacy leeches away. "The ability to choose when and how to divulge information about ourselves is one of the things that make us human, argues graphic designer Leon Baauw"

Also at BBC online, this piece of art and science history took my breath away, but do be warned, for the squeamish there exists the possibility this could take your lunch away. Have you ever heard of dissectable "Venus" waxworks? The art is incredible - but, for a historical novelist like me, the look into the psychology of another age, the attitudes, is INVALUABLE. These sculptures are eerie and undeniably lovely.

More RULES for writers! Y'all know how I love those. Still, analyses like these do yield some intriguing data. Such as: the average published author relies on about 1/4th as many exclamation points as the average amateur writer. (I am not published, but if I had ten exclamation points in both my novels combined, I'd be surprised.)

Ever since learning what vocal fry is, I have become fascinated by the science of speech. Here is a GREAT piece on hating women's voices:

"[By] propagating ideologically inspired amoral theories, business schools have actively freed their students from any sense of moral responsibility." Depressing, but certainly true. Take a look at Newsweek's in-depth piece about the ascendancy of the shareholder - a pretty good history of Wall Street and business education over the past generation.

Have you ever been to a marketplace where haggling is common? Many Americans have not, but I have smiling memories of "special for you!" pricing on a vacation or two. The Atlantic analyses some of the history - and the future - of the way we shop. Hmmmmm.

What IS "Knowing Better" Really?

Ahhhhhhhhhhh good intentions, fellla babies. They pave the road to hell, they lead us to think we're trekking toward heaven.

But then you try to choose the right way to file your taxes.

I had good intentions, not taking the bundle deal and paying the better part of $40 to my tax tool to file state taxes along with federal. $39 was a significant portion of this smaller refund, it seemed ridiculous when there are ways to file this return for free.

And then you spend two and a half hours on one of Virginia's sanctioned free filing sites, rebuilding ALL of what you did to file federal, and find in the end that the thing has hit a logical loop and cannot cope with even taking you to state returns, never mind actually filing them.

For non-US readers, the federal deadline was Tuesday, but we have a little bit longer to complete state filings. Even so, I wonder whether the tool I used today was not electro-fretting about the federal deadline (it wasn't aware that all I wanted to do was state returns). Whatever the issue was, the upshot is this: you can't create workarounds, and you can't explain to a software what you really want out of it.

The other upshot is, $39 represents less than the value of the time I have wasted on saving that amount, at this point. I'm taking the approach of not getting angry (this amount of money is not worth that amount of energy), but opting for the easy route. I took the day off to accomplish this filing, and it's stupid to dig a rabbit hole as far as the mantle of the Earth insisting upon the good intentions I had with the free-filing idea.

Because I also took the day off to get OTHER things done, and it is time to get to it.

*Hopping to it*


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Research is Showing - Excerpt

There are times you just have to write the scene that follows your research. It may not be an action scene; it may not quite be a character scene. And yet, it still propels things.

Re-reading a certain passage, I found myself wanting to share. Those who've read much of my curmudgeonliness know I'm not big on excerpt-ery, but I like this scene - precisely because of the research that (ahem) bore it.

Image: Wikipedia of course

It was a whole child, four-limbed, red, wrinkled, endearingly ugly. No deformities seemed present, and the mouth and ears and eyes were clear. Its cleft was clean and correct, its anus a perfect, pale pore. Zeniv placed the baby on a stone bench, and it protested lustily, screeching at the cold and indignity. She placed soft towels beneath the child and with two fingers pulled first at the child’s right arm, then its left, its right leg, then its left. The right side felt stronger; a good sign. Left-sidedness was suspect. When she held her finger before the face of the babe, its quaking arms gravitated inward toward it, but were unskilled yet to grab her fingertip. When she gently put the finger on its chin, its eyes widened a moment, and then closed. It was aware. It seemed to be healthy.

The placenta still hung off to one side, and Zeniv reached for the knife in a sinus of her apron, and cut the cord and placed the afterbirth in a bowl. She turned the babe onto her side and brought this near, squeezing the blood from her wound into the bowl as well. The child was a squalling protest, but so tiny she was easy to hold.

Twisting long fingers nimbly as she could while one hand held the infant safe, she looped a thread of wool around the stump, and tied as close as she could to the belly, pressing the protrusion back into what would become her navel.

Then to clean the child. Natron, the magic powder that preserved the dead in Egypt, was the same magic that brought the royal infant into the world. With this and the towel under the child, Zeniv softly chafed the body, the arms, the legs. In the crevices, she dipped a finger in olive oil and then in the powder, and cleaned where skin met skin. In its still-protesting mouth, she slipped the slightest bit of it across those all but translucent, toothless gums.

The baby gleamed. She was red—flesh and more flesh, from the inside of the mouth to the feet, still wrinkled and compressed from the long stay in the womb.

Last, and softest, clean, warm water. She held the infant to soak several moments, and with free fingers sloshed water over the shoulders, cradled its head and baptized the child with warm, soft water. All protesting abated; the water felt good to the child.

Still it was not complete. One last once-over, with close attention to cleaning out the openings, making sure breathing and elimination should be free. The infant princess wailed as if she were becoming tired, her arms finding direction as if to push Zeniv away. And yet they seemed also to begin to cling to her.

She put olive oil over the little swollen eyes, which closed readily enough and seemed almost ready to be peaceful, to rest. Her body moved only to emit its tiny, wheezing breaths as Zeniv completed the first ablutions with a wad of wool dipped in the olive oil, which she wrapped with a bandage around the belly to cover the baby’s navel.

Finally, the wheezing softening and the eyes closed and tight as beans, she swaddled the child and turned, at last to look to its mother.


I feel like it is a lot of detail, but also that it is a brief enough expositive scene it doesn't burden the flow overall. This is close to the top of a new chapter, and so is the pause before more action--action which becomes, essentially, the first pogrom in the history of Christendom. It needs to be this quiet, and it needs to be this brief before the heat, literally, builds outside the palace. (The main sentence that is probably too much scholarship is the one about Natron.)

Of course I would be extremely grateful if anyone has feedback or reactions.

Friday, April 14, 2017


It's weird. Being 49 doesn't wig me out, but my age in comparison to others is what gets me sometimes. Years ago, with Daniel Craig's first Bond outing: finding out I was several weeks older than James Bond gave me a turn. That one's still some cognitive dissonance for me.

Finding out today that Sarah Michelle Gellar is turning FORTY. Well. I pretty much can't deal with this at all.

Buffy indeed lives.
Image: Wikipedia, duh.

Thank heavens Tony Head is still older than I. It's the little things.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Paleoburrowing is perhaps the most winsome new word I have seen in a long time. It has a nice, soft syncopation to it, and lots of my favorite vowels. It is also connected to this neato story about gigantic prehistoric burrowing animals, and I want to see a myth or an allegory to go with the artist's renderings of what these creatures must have looked like! The tunnels they have left us are pretty impressive to see, and the implications make for ... well. Ancient, giant plot bunnies armadillos?

(I)f a 90-pound animal living today digs a 16-inch by 20-foot borrow, what would dig one five feet wide and 250 feet long?

Indeed! Writer pals, you tell me.

Still another story about the perils of The Internet of Things - care to get into potential litigation (or just become the public subject of this sort of discussion) just to open your garage door? I still don't.

Aww. My cat thinks I'm cool. But then, I didn't need Scientific American to tell me that. He's a big old kiss-up, and tells me all the time. (There is this philosophical question, though - given that I am the BRINGER of treats and food and toys, does he really like me better, or does he just cultivate me in order to keep them coming? I am also the bringer of body heat, and that's as good as a sunbeam, when the light is not available.)

Last night, I took "Salem" for a spin on Netflix, and was unimpressed both by the racism and sexism on display. Like, "how did this even get WRITTEN, much less made?" unimpressed. So I turned back to the lesser-explored corners of my queue, and tried different magic, with "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell". Much more to my liking, this even provides a fantabulous setpiece fairly early in the going, set in York Minster and starring all my favorite statues. I may need to watch that alone several times just for the myriad overlapping dialogue from every direction.

Monday, April 3, 2017


What RuPaul says about identity here resonates with me. Take a look at my header sometimes - and playing with all the colors in the crayon box? Yes. That. Full audio of the interview here.

There is so much to unpack at this link. The main article is a fascinating view, but the fact is it took me to some personal places it frustrates me nobody ever seems to give a hang about. To wit: the juxtaposition of a woman professor being mistaken for a secretary (itself a fascinating word choice, ahem) and “There are any number of little indignities that do befall female professors” is, if not personally insulting, an interesting coincidence I frankly think is not one. It’s things like this that bring me to that “except the admin” place, and marginalize my not at all insignificant career and life choices. It’s things like this that lead me not to concern myself (“enough”?) about the gender pay gap, because admins get paid less than everyone else in any office, and we’re mostly women, and that’s the bed I seem to have made. I see no interest from anyone who’s NOT an admin in this, and so it’s hard for me to get on board complaints of other women getting paid less. My entire line of work gets paid less and nobody cares but me. Why am I supposed to freak out that other women get paid less for jobs men actually DO do more commonly? Oh, because those are real jobs.

Here's a great look at the way we look at stats and studies ... and the lenses that distort what gets seen after a study.

Heh - I do love a sarcastic take on The Wrongers. Take a lovely look at all the things you are probably messing UP! Repent! Or just smirk and shrug and laugh at those who ruin perfectly simple things for the rest of us. This one is the best, for (a) the absence of the supposed content (have to click another link - hey guys, you did it wrong!) and (b) the comments. Heh.


The WIP, currently being called Generations of Sunset, though this perhaps doesn't even qualify as a "working" title since it doesn't (*), is in fact still a thing.

I haven't had much to say about it of late, being distracted by such epochal life changes as a haircut, getting some cabinets for my kitchen, a sick puppy (who is fine now, she just gets an upset stomach now and then), a tiny travel plan or two, and the joy of watching someone I care about a lot falling for someone new. But I do still play around with WRITING.

For my writer pals who stop in here sometimes, I have a question. Have any of you ever given a character some trait that suits your purposes, more than necessarily follows reality?

I'm writing in a period when life expectancies were not what they are today. In The Ax and the Vase, the historical character Bishop Remigius of Rheims was extremely long-lived indeed, but this was true of the actual man, and indeed I used that longevity to speak to his charisma; that he was so venerable marked his holiness for the other characters. In GoS, though, I have a serving woman living a very long life.

It was perhaps easier for anyone, servitor or queen, to get in an extra decade or three, living at a royal court, as opposed to squalor or slavery outside of a palace.

Some people did of course live past thirty-five, even in the "Dark Ages" (well, or just before them). What I am doing, stretching this character across generations, isn't exactly fantasy. But the character's life is directly tied to my need of her presence in every place, at every birth, even through the deaths, through her time.

I don't ask other authors whether they've done this in order to get approval, but out of curiosity. Zeniv has to live a very long time because she is not merely important, but she views the coming of new generations, and is part of the setting, the changing world. She is one pair of eyes witnessing what may be a death (the dynasty of Theodoric the Great) or a birth (a new age, what we came to call the Dark Ages), or may just be the world as it is.

This doesn't quite rise - or sink - to the question of ethics in writerly choices, but I am curious about choices like this that other writers make.

Has any of you ever stretched the parameters of your setting, of history, or usual expectations to accommodate your needs for the story? How?

* As with so many things I think to be clever, the title is a bit of a pun. For many of us, sunset marks an ending - it is the end of the day. But we forget, that is only one way to look at things. Sunset is the beginning of the next day; your dreams are not a closing out of the day past, but the first thing in your mind before you wake to a new day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I'm not sure whether this is amusing or not

I'm a writer, so let me tell you a few stories.

Somewhere around fifteen or sixteen years ago, I'd been rocking a longer-haired Bettie Page thing for a while. It amused me - all it takes to "get Bettie'd", as I used to call it, was having brown hair and cutting bangs. But after a while it bored me, so I decided to grow out my bangs.

In those days, I hung out at a blues bar a lot. Enough that I was apparently a fixture - perhaps more than I had realized. One of the resident drunks, a woman I was acquainted with, but not particularly friends with, commented on my hair one night, and I told her I was growing out the bangs. She *wigged out* on me. "But you're our Bettie!"

Needless to say, this rather cemented my resolve than made me trim the fringe.

The fact that I shortly thereafter met a guy online who literally wrote the (crappiest-reviewed-on-Amazon) book about Bettie didn't hurt, either. This was, by the way, pretty much a complete accident. We only dated for four months (four too long), but my divorce from Bettie-ness was complete.


Then there was the time I went as Clara Bow for Hallowe'en. I got a little wig, wore a drop-waist, hankie-hem satin dress, threw a couple strings of pearls down my back instead of down my front. I under-painted my lip line, over-painted my eyeshadow and liner, and tweezed my brows to nothing.

Some time later, when I had photos in costume, I happened to see one of my aunts. She peered at the pics, and SWORE that was not me.


One of the few moments from my middle and high school years that sticks with me was the time one of the more popular kids said to me that my hair looked different every single day. It's a throwaway thing to say, it doesn't have deep meaning, but it has always somehow informed my self-image. I liked being a human mood-ring, or whatever it is that meant to me - and maybe still means. Certainly, I don't want to be the same thing every day, even if that were a pretty thing - how drab, never changing.


For years now, my hair has been the same day in and day out, 95% of the time. Maybe for decades. This is "not a good look" as the kids really don't say these days.

Right now, I have a new hairstyle every five minutes. Short hair can be awful versatile, kids.

Amusingly, one of the first impressions I had of my new haircut, after the stylist made it sort of big and round, was that it resembled Clara Bow. I remembered my beloved late aunt and laughed a bit.

Then, after I'd emailed mom a few pics so she could have and share them, I heard  that another of my aunts, and my uncle along with her, were saying, "That is NOT Diane!"

(I wonder - if I put on a pair of glasses, would they call me Diana Prince, maybe? It *was* my dream, lo these forty years ago ...)

Let it be said, none of them, including mom, seems to have noticed I got a second piercing in my right ear, the short side of the asymmetry. Observational skills, y'all. (SCIENCE! WOO!)

I was a long-haired person most of my life. After the initial tug-of-war (usually literally, with a hairbrush) with my mom over hair length, it just became a battle of wills, and I internalized long hair. Mind you, I've always loved it. I loved having a living cape, I loved playing with it, I loved the way it felt. I like long-haired men quite a lot, too.

It's been many years since I found my long hair to be pretty.

And I wasn't playing with it so much, and never had it down anymore, to feel it.

Hmmm, sed I.

But you know how that post goes.


Now, I am no Dena Pawling, but when I saw this particular legal story, I had to share. Mind you, it's gross and involves a mouse and a food product, so click if you dare. Grossest defense strategy ever? It certainly outranks the Twinkie, and may even be more unhealthy too.

Sigh. Y'all. It is 2017, and even now there exist ... well, "people" who think this is okay:  "Legs-it". Ms. May, for most women in the world, who don't have your power, this really is not "a bit of fun."

Aaaaaahh, semantics and lawers and supply and demand! On the difference between flavoured (by actual vanilla) and flavour (or, as my brother and I spell it when we're discussing horrible fake fruit tastes: flav-o, which is often to be found in extruded "fud" products). Hey, at least nobody's citing the old tulip story again. Let us applaud The Conversation for such restraint (or, if you are okay with just the flavour).

REALLY interesting look at bigly data. How many "Likes" does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootie Pop? Well, three of course, as we all learned from that owl. But a mere seventy can buy you an actual human being's psychology. Creepy. Anyone who still thinks it's nifty-spiffy to hand over your entire life to data-collecting corporate concerns, please raise your hand.

A kind of placelessness

Another interesting tech article - on the way Facebookification turns extreme body modification into bland (dead) commodification. The Wal-Mart of teh intarwebs.

Blue lies: how to draw some people together, while driving others away (or marginalizing them completely - FUN!). Fascinating concept. One wonders whether Cambridge Analytica is using this dynamic. Also, sigh.

Edited 3/29 to add this one, because GOOD BLOODY LORD. Calling Maxine Waters' hair a James Brown wig? Again, we are living in 2017. The million layers here of racism, sexism, entitled horsepucky, and utter, complete disrespect for a longtime public servant are more than I can unpack, and far more than I can stomach. Click again for extra helpings.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


For my costume or textile loving readers, Luciakaku has a beautiful post about her collection of kimono - well worth a click if only for the luscious photos. The peacock one is my favorite! ("Of course," says everyone, with indulgent rolling of eyes.)

Believe me, they feel your indifference.

Food for a very great deal of thought here. In the past, I once said of a woman who married an unrepentant bastard that I knew (not an abuser - that I know of, but a greedy, narcissistic, cheating sociopath), "She signed up for it." This woman knew what he was, and she married the jerk. But this link ... Well. As my oldest friend and I used to say: "It is to sigh." It's never as easy as that. And it isn't as funny as this. So read this link, please read it - and take it to the final paragraph, which is incredibly important.

Have a while to get lost in a beautiful, detailed tree-style map of the history of world languages? Sure you do! So enjoy. It's gorgeous.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Poem of Sorts

Today, I wrote a poem of sorts to Mr. X in an email ..., that wasn't written today. But it's my heart again today.
I want to cut my hair. I want another piercing in my right ear. I want a new tattoo.
I want you.

The thing about cutting my hair ... it would be hard for anyone who has never met me to understand just how "big" a statement that is. My being long-haired is so much a part of who I am it's almost a point of stubbornness. Well, it IS stubbornness. Resistance of my mom's utter loathing for long hair. Resistance of What is Expected of me - of women. Resistance of making anybody happy but myself.

So it's weird, these thoughts - this near-obsession I've been nursing for a couple or three months now, of cutting my hair. I'm forty-nine, for goodness' sakes. I resisted cutting it when I reached A Certain Age - now I want to chop it all off?

But here's the thing.

I look around myself, and more and more women my age - and older - are long-haired, and what they seem to be resisting is their age.

Hmmm, sez I. Hmmm.

When I was very small, I had long hair and bangs for a very short time. Tangles and my sensitive headbone screwed that up for me. I was horrible for my mom to work with, brushing my hair - and so, in the seventies, when super long hair was in, when hippie chic was my equivalent to Disney Princess glamour, I lost my long hair and got a PIXIE cut.

I hated that cut. I hated the shags that followed, and every iteration of NOT LONG HAIR my mom dictated to every stylist she ever dragged me to. I managed longer hair in middle school, but somehow (still under maternal control as under the paternal roof) ended up yet again with Mackenzie Phillips's layers come high school. If you look at the old photos of me at the link above, though, you'll just manage to perceive - I also managed a sort of take on Cyndi Lauper's hair, senior year. The cut as produced by a stylist was as seen in the purple sweater, but as it grew out, I would razor it myself, and it was much shorter. I kept it this way for some time, but eventually I tired of maintaining the shaved-right-side.

(Side note - being My Brother's Little Sister, he of the punk rock and scariness: I did not know at all that shaving one side of my head was the least bit odd, for many years. It honestly was just easier for doing schoolwork - I didn't have to constantly throw my hair out of my own way.)

By my freshman year in college, it was plain old shaggy, and I had my eyes on the prize: out of mom's control, my hair could be under my own control. I grew it out. And grew it, and grew it.

I never got Crystal Gayle with the stuff, but it was long enough at times it'd get caught in my armpits sometimes. Heh. That grossed my sister-in-law out once, when I said that. I never could sit on it, but I've always sat BACK on it. Even today, if I didn't wear it up most of the time, it would be long enough to hang between my back and any seat-back.

But I wear it up most of the time.

Hmmm, sez I. Hmmm.

There was a time I didn't wear my hair up all the time. I liked to let it fly. I wore it differently all the time; one of the hallmarks of my style was the time in my teenage years when someone said to me my hair was different every day. I liked that.

These days, it is limited to knots, braids, and very rarely I'll do a barrette on top (and then I end up knotting the hanging length half the time) or a hair band (and then I end up knotting the hanging length more than half the time).

Even when I am alone at home, I twist it out of the way. The stuff is almost never down.

And these women - a lot of them even older than I - with long hair. I don't like their aesthetics. I don't like the sense they're clinging to youth gone by. The sameness. The sadness. I never had much problem with ageing, even though people do tell me I am relatively poor at it. Jamie Lee Curtis's story about Jessica Tandy has long stuck with me. JLC kicks copious amounts of bootay. And she has uber-short hair: undyed.


And the older I get, the more keeping up with my roots annoys me. I got to about an inch and a half of white showing last month, and my most recent dye job is already growing out. Not obvious to anyone but me - YET - but the point is, the upkeep is constant. And it takes two bottles for me to dye my hair.

Mind you - I LOVE my contrasts - the fair skin and dark hair. The light brown eyes and freckles. Playing with makeup and coming out Morticia.


I have said for maybe 15 years now, that when I get around 50 and I have "enough" white hair (my hair is WHITE-white, like my mom's and my grandmother's; not steel, not grey), I'd strip it and cut it. I had images of a 50s style and a body wave, something soft and sophisticated.

With the onset of the earliest symptoms, I think, of menopause, have come more concrete ideas in this direction. It began amorphously - jokes with my friends about using bright color in it, once I do go white. Random interest in certain haircuts. The realization of just how edgy it could be, even before I let it go white. A glossily dark bob, curled. A crunchy zhush of short, crispy layers, framing my face. Letting the bangs grow out. One long, soft dark wave.

And, frankly: the fun I would have, shocking the crap out of everyone I know. Not least of all: my sainted mother. She would love me to cut it, of course. She'll both hate and laugh with anything more subversive I do. She will never believe it. That's a fun mental game, right there - just showing up one day, shorn and  super stylish. Crazy colors or spiky bits or no, she would DIE.

The thoughts: they have become more specific. More focused. And they're sticking with me.

The Gift of the Magi
I had a beautiful moment recently with my beloved friend Cute Shoes. She gave me an absolutely stunning hairpin; a vintage Deco piece, with grey rhinestones. Graceful. Meaningful. Gloriously beautiful. I had my hair down the day she gave it to me, and immediately put it up. I've worn it several times since.

I had all but set an appointment for a cut that very Thursday. Of course I could not bring myself to do it, suddenly.

A few days later, I researched ways to wear a hairpin in short hair. (This is, by the way, almost as tricky as researching ancient Carthaginian women's names.)

The cut I had in mind, I don't know how well it would work ... but hair grows, too. And I have many styles in mind; I plan to change things regularly.

It came over me again today - how exactly I want it to be, how I'd need to explain to a stylist about the inconvenient cowlick on the wrong side. Working out twice in a fitness room filled with wall-sized mirrors, I mentally pictured it. Looking at those high school pictures, I looked at that short-on-one-side thing.

Tonight, I'll let my hair down. And leave it.

And tomorrow, I'll be wearing a beautiful, gorgeous hairpin. And I love you, CS. And I'll figure this thing OUT.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


This is REALLY funny. It may take a nerd like me to get all the jokes about Braetwalda etc. (or an English reader), but this is funny even if you're not a pre-Conquest history lover.

Unraedy, by the way, actually means ill-counseled. I'd say 'merica is witnessing a bit of that these days.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Okay. Y'ALL. I love my country, but even apart from the sulphurous-tinted mass metastasizing in the White House, there are reasons much of the rest of the world finds us bewildering (not to say bat-splat cray). I ask you: kitten. fur. perfume.

Nobody's beating the sweet, bread-baking scent of my Gossamer, no way no how.

"The HELL you say?"

Casey Karp has an insightful post about security and yet more pitfalls of modern technology. Now doesn't Luddite little me feel all smug I never so much as connected my Bluetooth? But man. I can remember when I used to change the oil and even my pads and rotors. And yeah, I'm going to keep linking stuff like this. When did privacy become so recklessly unhip?

Maggie Maxwell has another uplifting one - on how to handle that bad review. Oh, ow. But she's right!

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Take a trip over to American Duchess's blog, where the saga continues, with the 1820s dress and its restoration. Post 1, linked previously. Post 2, here's how they dated it. The comp dresses and fashion plates are fascinating; but then, I'm a research nerd. Post 3 - the guts of the gown! - coming soon.

Grammar pedant and/or legal story time - why the Oxford Comma matters. A labor dispute digs into gerunds and forms, and drivers get better overtime terms.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Indirection Misdirection

"Say WHUT now?"
(Image: Wikipedia)

One of the things about office life that has always confounded me is the absolute refusal and/or inability of many, many people to take a direct route.

This morning, I received an email which was sent to me, a few other admins, and a few people I wasn't familiar with. It was in regard to an expense for "John Doe" - how should this be processed?

To the first email, I responded with, essentially, "Good luck/not mine" and went on about my day. To the second email about it (a complaint that nobody ever notes their location when setting things up), I took six seconds of my day and looked up John Doe. Turns out, JD is an employee in IT at our location, corporate headquarters. Admins copied on the initial inquiry? Did not include the admin for IT. Maybe one of the other folks is in that department.

But the point is, this is a person IN OUR BUILDING. This is a person, clearly, with functioning email and possibly even a telephone of some sort. Maybe they even use our instant messaging function! (I took *four* seconds and checked. He does. And users' telephone numbers are imbedded in IM; all you have to do to call them is type their name in and hit the green phone icon.)

I've been a secretary for thirty-plus years now. It's in my nature to shorten routes as much as possible. It's ABSOLUTELY part of my job to be a guide for others to do that too - I make it my business, and it is my bread and butter, to know to-whom-to-go-for-what. Playing Julie McCoy Your Cruise Director is an important function I fill, and I enjoy it most of the time. I especially enjoy assisting my own team when they need to find where they need to go.

So perhaps I am uncharitable for being confused. Perhaps I miss some important part of another person's process when I field their questions. It is possible I'm uncharitable when I think to myself it's just another a LMGTFY moment.

I was about to link that acronym, but you can look it up if you do not know it. It may cause you to blush, or it may give you a smile. (My intent would be the latter, of course, dear readers.)

So my second response, to the second email, was to look up John Doe, screenshot his deets, and cut-and-paste them into an email reply, asking, "Have you tried to contact him?"

It is not for nothing, ladies and germs, I often say I am passive-aggressive for a living. The key to doing it right is to perform the passive-aggression for all the world as if you could not imagine all the world is not smarter than yourself - as if surely there must be some *reason* NOT to take a direct route - while pointing out the direct route.

It's the opposite of the old "My locker door is stuck." "Oh, did you jiggle it?" scenario - where everyone in school in succession asks - and usually tries - to jiggle the catch. Instead of trying at all, when confronted with something we don't know, we just ask someone we think does know.

Let it be said: with basically a *generation* of experience in my job, I don't hate it that people think I am so good that they come to me with All the Questions. It reinforces how good they think I am, when I get 'em there. It reinforces my own confidence, too.

More often than not, my own kids tend to come at me with things that are easy for me, but which are not inherently obvious. There may BE a direct route, but it was not marked. Like the guy who called me this week asking how to extract a receipt from our travel tool. (You can't; our travel agency emails receipts, and email is not where they're used to looking, so they don't. Easy question, maybe - but only if you know that.)

The thing about going to people you know instead of asking the person whose expense is at issue is - this is SOP for every office in every industry I've ever worked in. There is a worship of PROCESS in play, that overrides even the most basic intellect, no matter who walks in the door of an office building. Because process itself can be so confounding, people self-confound, and forget how to get from point A to point B almost prophylactically. Because there are so many things that work indirectly, people don't even look at anything directly anymore - they just ask the admin.

A friend of mine and I often laugh about the years we spent in a department together, before the big changes of 2008. We were in a regulated industry, and we were used to PROCESS (and even prossa-SEEZ, but that's another rant for another day). She and I still get a grin out of That One Guy we worked with.

That One Guy called me one day - he worked at the suburban location, I was downtown, literally in the executive suite. "Diane, what's the process for me to get a box?"

The idea of walking into the copy room and removing a few reams out of a paper box and taking that box was inconceivable.

We are so hemmed in we call the admin downtown to help us find the special requisition form or online widget just to get a box.

But there is more to it than that. PROCESS is one part of the issue, but hierarchy also plays in: people sometimes do not take a direct route because the relevant personage is significantly higher in an org chart than they are.

Direct routes aren't always practical or career-enhancing.

This is where being Just a Secretary is oddly helpful; we're off to one side on the org chart: but we can pretty much knock on any door we like. I will go direct to most any executive any time, and am both allowed and justified to do so.

Is there a problem with one of our drivers somewhere out in the field? Is the Transportation Manager not available? Diane Major goes to the Vice President of Operations, and nobody ever blinks. Is my boss (a Senior Vice President) in a meeting? I can open his door and pop my head in, when even directors and management will hesitate, even when they have urgent issues. I'm not into pestering the CEO, but my boss's boss? He likes me, and I can get in front of him easy as pie when need arises.

So I *understand*. I get why we have lost the thread and become a web. I don't even condemn this, not in itself. PROCESS develops because one too many nits went off and did something unexpected, and they did it with a purchasing card, or the company name on their vehicle, or they just did it wrong. PROCESS isn't a bad thing; and even hierarchy has its place ...

But I still don't get the John Doe question.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Fröhliche Geburtstag, Herr Professor Doktor Einstein

My grandfathers were not close by in my childhood. One died when I was seven, and the other became very ill for some years. So it was that I adopted Einstein as my granddaddy. He was always there; just above the couch. I'd lie on it, feet up along the backrest, my back twisted along the seat, looking up at him in our cool, shadowed family room.

Portrait of the Old Man by an Artist 

The painting was done by a student of my father's. He was from Malaysia, and once went home to visit his family. When he came back to school, he brought gifts. I still have the shells he gave me, one thick with mother of pearl, pink-veined and shaped like a fan. The other is a delicate, spiny spiral.

We got close to a number of dad's students when we were kids. I remember some of them so vividly, though none of them have I seen for twenty-five years - and many far, far longer. We had wonderful picnics at our house, volleyball, and hot dogs on the brick grill dad built, too many sweets, and cases of soda from a specialty place called The Poppe Shoppe (I think it was spelled so).

The artist who painted the above piece was one of the early ones. I would have been three or four at his advent. Memory of him is hazy; and yet, I have always been grateful for his kindnesses. So distinct, they still mean something to a toddling moppet near half a century on. And his great talent. The portrait was painted in mere hours, part of an art class he took because he wanted to be well-rounded. It is glorious, and was the great gift my father left me when he died. We discussed it when he was ill; my brother would get the pocketwatch, I the portrait. Nothing - no *thing* - could have meant much more to me, from him. We all love the painting; my mom has wished from time to time that she could have it. But, though I try to be undemanding with her, this I will not give up. It is a very literal legacy.

Dad was a physicist, you see. Einstein was practically a fixture in our family culture, and literally part of the furnishings, in this painting. Dad's students were part of our lives well beyond their graduations; we followed careers, dad received beautiful invitations to important events for them; his university, his colleagues, his advisees and lab assistants were ingrained with us.

The painting is more than a sentimental present, it is the history of our nuclear foursome AND the history of our nuclear understanding in the scientific sense.

The painting is a bold thing, marvelous in its execution, beautiful to look at - formative not only of my philosophy, but very much of my aesthetic. I love its incredibly powerful reds, yellows, negative space. Its seventies mod-ness. Its connection, almost beyond dad, to the *influence* he had in this world, in this place we occupy even now without his presence.

The painting *is* his presence - and it is his absence. That is relativity for you.

A year or so back, I had a contractor out to the house, quoting me a job. As he stood in the front door saying goodbye when he'd inspected the pertinent area of the home, he stopped cold - transfixed. He fell in love with the Einstein portrait instantly, and we ended up talking a good while longer about it, about its presence. Closest I've come to falling in love since Mr. X. I still think about that (the guy didn't get the job in the end, possibly unfortunately).

The presence of the dead can be exquisitely random, and yet it can be predictable. I know every time I go to the dentist, I'll cry - not because I've been hurt, but because the guy I go to was one of my dad's advisees. And he always has memories - such respect, such almost AWE at my dad's intelligence. His goodness. My dad had an elegant expansiveness; he was more than a marvelous teacher, he was a teacher of marvels, and he cared immensely about the students.

I remember the year he went from being the kid on the physics faculty, to being the oldest. Just the right retirements, a couple new hires - boom, suddenly he was the old war horse. He wore it so well.

The thing about the painting. The thing about the student who painted it. The thing about the guy transfixed by the portrait. The thing about my dentist, and the very books I inherited and the dog he never knew and the dog now years-gone, whom dad did love though she was so hard on his lungs ... the thing about the flotsam and the furniture of my life ... is that dad is part of none of it now - not the way he was. But he is part of all of it - and always will be.

My dad is me. He is my brother. He is my mom. He is the reason, and the question, and the answer, and the causation. He is how I came to be. What I hope *to* be. He IS, even still, a good man.

He gave me Einstein. And so did that student.

And all three of them - though not alone, not by a long shot - taught me gratitude. All these things are me.

And old Albert ... he made a good substitute granddaddy, when I had none left to "give me a little bit of that applesauce" or to love, quietly, while grandma took care.

Happy 138th birthday, Herr Professor Dr. Einstein. And thank you for *our* little corner of relativity.

And how has it always escaped me ... that Einstein's birthday is Pi day?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Purim Post

A blessed holiday ... a bit of a different take on the sacred story!

(If you don't like a little irreverence/blasphemy with your Bible stories, maybe don't hit Play. Disclaimer, I did get this from a rabbi. You should see the link I got from my priest one time!)

Monday, March 6, 2017


Haha! Here's the thing about the medicine beat in journalism. By nature, it goes for the shiny and the positive. "NEW BREAKTHROUGH" is a headline. "FURTHER TESTING QUASHES HOPES" is not. I recently included an NPR headline in a Collection post, even saying then that I tend toward skepticism. Here we have NPR explaining how headlines like that can be misleading. Which: exactly.

Because shiny. And sigh.

Teach your children well, fella babies. Critical consumption is, well, critical.

Image: Google image search, Labeled for Reuse
The Blue Diamond Gallery

Here is a piece on what it's like for perfectly legal people of Mexican heritage to live in the United States these days. If you don't want to read the whole piece - if you can't take the politics of it all - scroll down to "On whether her life has changed after the election of President Donald Trump" and take in the STORY, because it's a terrible and a great one. Here is how the disadvantaged are forced to work around the bigoted. I don't care how much you think this doesn't apply to you: please click.

It's a good thing sometimes to view the news from outlets outside of the United States. Hindustani Times has a look at a video from Ohio and a website lamenting the "Indian IT Mafia." But for those described, it's wrong to feel creeped out or threatened, of course.  Because throwing the words mafia, notorious, and outrageous at a group is totally friendly!

So, has anybody else heard of the "farewell address" from the leader of the so-called Islamic State? Yeah, me neither, until I pulled up news outlets outside the U.S. Do a Google News search on his name, and I don't even see any American outlets appearing in the search results - none current, and note covering this story. Shouldn't a retreat like this from the "supreme leader" of the so-called Islamic State be kind of big news? I could not find this on NPR, CNN, Newsweek, or the New York Times online.

Also, I Write

For my reader-readers, and my author readers, and anyone with an opinion to spare (it is, by the way, amazing to me how often it is possible to ask for opinions and not get them in blog world!), a question for you ...

If you were just geek enough to catch a nerd reference in a novel essentially unrelated to the genre of the geek-check, would it give you a grin that you were in with it, or would it throw you out of a story?

The reference in question title-puns a work by L. Sprague deCamp, Lest Darkness Fall. It's a seminal work in what has become known as alternative history, and happens to take place in the world (ish) of my WIP. This is the only commonality, but the fulcrum on which I wrote the line (it is the last of my novel, currently) is almost the fulcrum of the WIP itself, for me.

Everyone who reads here knows I am not a believer in The Dark Ages. I refuse to accept that the lights went out all over the world, as it were - pretty much ever. The very idea that any one age of humanity is actually any smarter (or dumber) than any other is not merely ridiculous, it's offensive to me.

So it came as a surprise to me when I found myself making the WIP about the dawning (dusking) of the Dark Ages.

As an author, I justify this by pointing to many excuses: "I am not an historian!" ... "This is a metaphor and doesn't have to answer to my IRL philosophy." ... "Blah blah blah 'redefining the term' blah blah blah."

I've actually even GIVEN the advice, "Follow your story" to other authors. But never thought I'd beget a story of my own that so directly contradicts my way of thinking. "There is no such thing as Barbarians/The Dark Ages/Whig history/human progress as a redemptive narrative OR degeneration" - oh and I'm about to write about the Dark Ages and make it a progression downward. I don't even believe in dynasty (please note, one of the most popular of these, the Tudors, lasted THREE lousy generations, kids) - and here I am writing about the end of one like it's a ... hey, a descent.

Dust had tamped the fire of the Great King, long in his cracked tomb and efficiently forgotten. There would be, there could be rest, and obscurity. The boy’s horizon had no sunrise. The man would walk alone, no burden but his own to carry.
Let darkness fall.

The major dramatic question is not so much "how will this ruling family survive - or die out?" it is "What is the point?"

de Camp's work was all about saving the world from the Dark Ages. Mine is about letting go and letting be. It's less a question of devolution, within the world and the pages of the novel, than of succumbing with grace to forces which have different meaning and priority over the course of generations.

THIS is human development: that the driving force of one person, or of one time, cannot sustain its power.

Is appropriating the *fear* "Oh dear, lest darkness fall" and overtaking it with a bit of Lord, it is Night resignation inappropriate and jokey (never mind the question of obscurity)? Does it betray a reader, or the story itself?

The fact is, the question is more intellectual than applicable. I don't expect this sentence to survive even one revision (with hope a more authentic ending will voice itself instead), and this isn't asked as a critique session. More an opportunity for philosophizing - on the appeal of "crossover" references. On the revulsion of smartassed irony. On callouts to external worlds.

On whatever aspect might interest you, reading this ...

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Baby boomers are offloading all kinds of things.

One of the interesting things about the Baby Boom generation, in relation to the "boom" size of the demographic relative to others currently wandering around the globe, has always been its market impact. As these denizens retire and downsize, the latter dynamic is leading to a boom of sorts in museum donations. The interesting part is *what* they are donating. Including "The Butt." Talk about diversifying the archives ... !

American Duchess received the most remarkable treasure recently, a gown on which they're going to do more than one post. Peek #1 at this find includes the fascinating chemistry of reviving 200-year-old textile, and comes with great photos of a dress which is in truly stunning condition. This is a great look at conservation, construction, and style. The surprising scientific side of all this really engaged the geek in me. Can NOT wait for more.

Some buildings are pickled in aspic by the heritage industry, but the best adapt and change, their architecture reflecting the social changes since they were built.

This post from Tom Williams makes a good companion to the AD link above, in a way; the above quote puts it in a nutshell. Over time, conservation and transformation go hand in hand - in our clothing, in our architecture, in many of the material aspects of our lives. Take a trip to St. Helens, Bishopsgate for an 800-year-old example!

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Well, NPR is trying to make me fall in love with them today.

This story may only be exciting for ME, as a sufferer, but as we get into the warm-and-itchy season of eczema, I'm interested in research and treatments. I've heard of nemolizumab in a rash (har) of ads for a drug for psoriasis, and even wondered why psoriasis seems to get all the attention. Well, it seems it has been looked at for eczema too. For now, I'll stick with my old standby, but I'll keep an eye open as this progresses.

A little splotch of history

"How much would you expect to pay for ALL THIS ... mold?" As astonished as I am that developer-of-penicillin Alexander Fleming's mold was preserved at all, the price tag astonished me just a little more. The writing here is HILARIOUS, it's a fun piece - give it a click ... and discover the many luminaries who have also owned a piece of the mold.

Other projects that were vying for Lego production included depictions of the Addams Family Mansion and the Large Hadron Collider.

Plastic Figures. Legos! Legos immortalizing just a few of the women of NASA!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Archaeogaming. It's a tantalizing word, an interesting idea. As I said to my favorite gamer and my favorite archaeologist, I should figure out how to apply this to writing. But then - "Oh. Wait. I became a writer exactly so I wouldn't have to play nicely with others."

My daughter and I are as different as fire and rain and as alike as ice and water.

Isn't that a glorious sentence? Subtle, poetic, evocative - and yet concrete, communicative. There is a whole essay's worth more here, from Elyse M. Goldsmith, and a shout-out to Bowie. Make with the click, y'all.

The History Blog has a pair of great posts this week. First, footprints not in the sand: an ancient child's tootsies, captured in three millennia old mortar. Also, how cool is the name Manfred Bietek? Second, interested in a project? You can transcribe WWI era love letters for posterity. Cool.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Music and Fashion - Not Always the Passion

Not long ago, I took in a long-ago recorded documentary some may recall, The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2 - The Metal Years. Apart from Chris Holmes' notoriously bleak, drunken turn before the camera, a great deal of this outing was devoted to poking fun at glam metal even while having a little bit of fun in the scene. The fashion is RIGHT out front, and is presented precisely as many of us saw it even at the time - pretty much ridiculous.

Let it be known, by 1988, I was dating a guy in a band (the eventual, inimitable Beloved Ex, in fact), and I had a few run-ins with spandex myself. The only lipstick in my repertoire for probably the entire stretch from 1985-1993 was a sturdy magenta that went with everything: black. On rare occasion, I will admit - I wore white minidresses and white spike heels. But mostly just black. I had a couple spiral perms, of varying burned-out 80s-osity. I had this great HAT. I wore that hat to my office job sometimes. I owned and took out of my closet more than one bolero, over the pink suede bustier I was able to afford because it had a broken snap. Indeed, I had several hats. I was remembered for one of them by a colleague of my dad's (I worked at his University on my college breaks) for decades.

Yeah, so I committed 80s fashions. I was NOT much for big hair; I never have been much for doing a lot of styling with my hair - but I just recognized how ugly it was. And damaging (though, again: spiral perms). I once got sneered at by a girl who wanted very much to scam on my husband, "I wish I could wear my hair FLAT like yours!" I brightly replied to her all the hairspray in our town seemed to have sold out after she hit the drugstore. *Shrug*

Over the top fashion does not have a way of ageing well. See also: the would-be Victorian polyester bridal fashions of the early 1970s - complete with giant floppy (matching pastel) hats. See also: 1960s Nehru jackets (the faddishness of which actually I think is a shame; men's tailoring in the West has been stagnated for nearly TWO HUNDRED years now - across three centuries, and a millennial divide!).

So, this morning, when I had nothing of this sort on my mind whatsoever, and I turned on a Grace Jones mix to accompany my work, it took a couple of hours before I began regarding her fashion extremity and remembering that other extremity, and comparing them.

Jones is iconic. She is still, also, unabashed in her presentation. It's something beyond fashion - her headdresses and makeup and her very hair are more than clothing, or style choices. She is living performance art. Confrontational and beautiful, powerful, visually stunning, dazzling.

Why is it Grace Jones' headdresses and cutout appliques to her face, her stripped-down gorgeousness and her sumptuous, presentational costumes have not become ridiculous, like the extensive array of hair and makeup and pleather donnings of the kids and performers of Western Civ?

Even the other two Decline documentaries, both of them focused on punk rock in different ways, feature looks which still are dominant today, in certain subcultures, and even on runways. My old punk brother and I sometimes get a grin realizing kids are still rocking mohawks like they're new and shocking. To us, it's actually adorable. "Aww. You're rocking your granddaddy's rebellion. You're EDGY!"

Punk has influenced fashion since the 1970s, but its widest evolved callback is probably the many Goth looks still prominent in subcultural scenes and on runways.

Grace, of course, is entirely her own. Even when she's not "trying" to be visually arresting - all but nude, or wearing a suit - her art pared to nothing - she is visually arresting. There's no such thing as minimalism with her, because anything she dons is automatically endowed with Grace.

And Grace does not go out of style. Which is rather astonishing. She's either enclosed or encompassing - either way, she bears fashion well outside of fashion itself.

As I have maintained since high school, and she embodies: there is a difference between fashion and style. (And I'd rather have the latter.) Or, as my punk-turned-old-dude of a bro once gleefully laughed about my saying, "Nerdliness is next to youthfulness." Perhaps agelessness.

My theory: the glam fashion was adhered to its connection with youth. Five years on - never mind all these decades down the road since then - if it survived at all, it was not prettily. Some things have very short half lives. Because Grace goes outside concerns like that, she survives, her outrageousness doesn't pall, because she's not acting like a fifteen-year-old. Sixty-eight years of age and OWNING that sh*t, it's not like she's rocking Baby Jane's pinafore and curls. What she started with wasn't anchored to its age. And so she gets to keep her own age, now. And keep the style she brung with her.