Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Collection

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.

The Trick Question is: "WHAT was terrifying?"

Janet Reid is running another flashfic contest this weekend.



Smooth, ensconsed, and safe. Comfortable. Desolate. Warm.

Oppressive.

Deserted. Alone. Imprisoned.

Hungry.

Wanted … crunch, and edge, and contrast, and cold. Wanted … out.

No chink to pry. No way to gnaw out.

The urgency was physical.

Kick. Strain. Peck. Hours, it took; eternity.

Jettisoned.

Blue sky. It was terrifying.

Most beautiful thing in the world – the whole world: outside the egg.





Okay.

Now that the contest is over and Nate Wilson ran OFF with it (and sightly ro), I want to ask about this story, and whether it works.

Given Lilac's comment on it the other day, I wonder whether a clue is necessary: that what was breaking out of this egg was monstrous. I hoped the harshness of some of the words I chose pointed that way, but that would not be so much "beautiful"as horrifying.

With a 100 word limit, this clocks in at a mere 62, but I felt no desire to add to this piece. Does it need more heft? Does it creep anyone out, or does it just read like a wee little bird fighting to find the world?

I would LOVE to hear from y'all, and not just Reiders! Many thanks to anyone who might share your opinions.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Collection

In today's collection: splendid, exhilarating, strong, and superb writing.


Who else remembers picture-day combs? The Atlantic, on behaving, duck-walking, fixing yourself up, and the ritual glamour of unison inevitability ... or not. Splendid writing.

Now listen, this isn’t some sepia-colored essay about realizing I was different, and embracing a conflicted racial identity through the experience of receiving a single comb.

Six years on a boat. Amy Schaefer's glorious OPPORTUNITY ... She writes with such exhilaration!

John Davis Frain has been doing weekly flashfic mystery posts. I am either the best or the worst mystery consumer - I don't tend to do any guesswork while reading or watching. Reveals are most often reveals for me, because I get absorbed in stories without becoming analytical. Usually. When SHERLOCK, of all things, recently dropped a "clue" that even I was like "wait, doesn't anyone know THIS though?" - I have to say, it was disappointing to witness their poor estimation of their viewers (never mind the betrayal of their characters' supposed intellect). So JDF got me this week. It's a strong story, and I almost don't care what the key is.

I said almost! Will check back soon ...

Movie MAGIC. How to get that wildly expensive model you never thought you could have, or make up a fantasy car - or re-skin your ride. The piece doesn't say whether this makes crashing extremely expensive vehicles possible as well; my violent mind goes right to that place, of course.

When "child molester" is the NICE part of what someone has to say. Erick Erickson won't allow his kids to watch the President on TV ... but gives him a B-. He says of Milo Yiannopoulos' travails this week, "Trying to cash in on someone’s alt-right fame to drive attendance cheapens the conservative movement.". And he says the representative democracy may isn't sustainable. I will leave you to grade EE's own good works.

The problem then is not in accepting legends, but being so rigid in our acceptance, that we fail to allow it when someone re-imagines it a little differently from the accepted script.

As an author of historical fiction, I'm always intrigued with questions of historicity - especially "was this person real?" - but this literary/historical question comes tied up with many other questions, too. One of them: why is paleness equated with beauty, even in an Indian tale? Why are physical beauty and lust passed for love in literature across the world? How do we feel about "history is not our concern" and "even role models need proper branding" ... ?  And, of course, without legal disclaimers - where lies the line between history and story? (Included at the link is the story of Rani Padmini - queen, martyr, or fantasy ...) The final analysis of her appeal is an intriguing deconstruction of the way we wield myth in religious politics.

The one percent at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and how mad some of 'em are. Because now #OscarsSoWhite is - some feel - becoming #OscarsSoAgeist. The New Yorker has an in-depth look at changes in the Academy now, and over generations. It's in-depth enough you won't get my one percent reference until about 1/3 the way down the scrollbar. (Also, The Third Purge makes a REALLY good name for a story.) This piece itself is engaging storytelling - and also good entertainment journalism/history. Superbly written! And ROFL on this quote:

It’s like the process of trying to win an election. It’s no longer about the material or the merit.

Finally - "Fashion is costuming." Which has long been a theme on this blog, so congrats for catching up, WaPo.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Eddies (Not in the Space-Time Continuum)

York Minster is home to a series of statues that have always arrested me outright. The effect on me is mostly with the earliest Edwards post-Conquest, we have Longshanks (I), Edward II, and III. Each of these portrait sculptures has always seemed to me among the most animated statuary I have ever seen. But there is something about the style of the art that demands questioning and study, and is for me an illumination of the reason we study art from bygone periods.

Longshanks in particular has an imperiousness that is powerful in the extreme. Pointing down at you, his forehead creased with the stress of some imperative or command, even his curling hair alive with motion and unspoken intent, his vertical stretch, his heavy but moving robes, everything about him (not least a weighty sword he carries as if it were a feather) demands not only attention but acquiescence.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


The thing about the fact these were done centuries before my generation came to be (or indeed my country, for that matter) is that there are conventions in place in the creation of these images that I almost certainly do not understand.

A modern American, the very concept of autocratic kingship is a toughie.

Edward II, whose reputation has been reduced to his sexuality in modern times, appears less martial, but no less royal. His hair, like his father's and his son's, especially evokes a kind of intensity. I have to believe this is not intended to convey that these Plantagenets had hairstyles quite so specifically reminiscent of Roseanne Roseannadanna (though her intensity stands up next to the kings'!), but speaks to something other than feature-by-feature reproduction.

The portraiture, of course, comes from a single, briefer time frame than the Edwards' reigns; these images are not real time reflections, and would not have been taken as such. Rather, the features both individual and shared communicate something about kings in concept, and each of these kings' legacies in their particulars.

Edward II, not known as The Hammer of the Scots, nor for the long and prosperous rule of his son III, has a thoughtful mien about him. His left hand raised and wrist curving, his right holding NOT a sword. The lines of his height, his garments, are more broken, more complicated. He is belted, and he is draped in multiple directions. His head bows forward ever so slightly, and at a definite angle compared to his father. He appears to be contemplating something. Possibly, his thoughtful thousand-mile gaze could be seen as thought*less*, even stupid, the gesture of his hand equivocal, less strong than the others. What was I meant to see, looking at this figure? I may not see what was intended ...

Edward III, famed for a stupendously long reign, and often seen these days as having remediated some of the perceived sins of his father, looks almost as if he is answering someone. His brow is again furrowed, pressed downward, but his chin pointing upward. His beard is the longest and least curly; the lines of his garments, indicating his body beneath, are again long and straight, but like his father and unlike his grandfather Longshanks, he is belted. Girded. His mantle is thrown over his right shoulder, his arms free; again, he indicates motion. His hair may be the most startling of the three statues.

To III's right, the nearly beardless Richard II stands; the youth, the scion, the one who faced rebellions and a changing monarchy. His cheeks seem the faintest bit chubby. His forehead, his whole face indeed, is smooth and not caught in the extremity of expression of his forbears. His hair is almost horizontal. Richard's statue retains some pigment from its former painted decoration. Like his great-great grandfather, Richard bears a sword. Like Longshanks and his grandfather, III, he is pointing at the viewer. Yet the impression is that we are looking at *youth*, looking at a king whose reign did not reach the maturity Edward III's long stint on the throne held and seasoned for England.

Richard II was the son of Edward the Black Prince, who did not live to ascend the throne. He was a boy-king, like Edward III had been before he overthrew the regency of his mother and her lover, Mortimer. Richard depended upon, and then fell out with, his uncle Lancaster and his cousin, the eventual Henry IV, whose son Henry V is reminding me for some reason of Martin Sheen in this link.

Henry has both hands full, and does not look to his viewers, eyes elevated, sword - we know - ever valiant. Ever more unto the breach, my friends.


Of all these figures, it is the Edwards who seem most alien to me, who arrest my attention. They are frankly ugly to my eyes. Startlingly so. Not as works of art, but as evocations of individuals, as portraits. The intensity is too much, the emphases uncanny.

To view the details of these statues closely, as is possible in photographs, was not the way they were made to be seen. Would have been inconceivable, when these were made. They reside, in physical reality, above the heads of anyone entering York Minster. And, for anyone standing in that consecrated place, it would even now be impossible to look at them with the care that we can in the reproductions and detail shots I have linked. It would in fact have been unseemly, in their day, to expend great attention on statues of kings - "what they looked like" - as a member of a religious congregation. And the multiplicity of these figures would have discouraged that sort of gazing.

The view when they were made did not allow the privilege of peering we have now.


As much particular attention as has been lavished on every one of the statues, the truth of the art was that they were meant to be part of a whole; elevated over the flesh-and-blood parishoners, but as much a part of the congregation gathered before G-d as lesser men. A mass of figures. These were statues glorifying the monarchy, certainly; even telling stories of each king's life and deeds. But they were ultimately part of the glorification of G-d - and the Church.

The potent energy of the Edwards may have been intended as part of a more en masse evocation of the intensity of worship, devotion, praise expected to be offered on this sacred ground.


Anyone who knows more of medieval art than I do - please disabuse me of any of these notions, or explain those aspects of what I am missing. I'd love to talk! These faces make me stop and stare every time.

All I can explain are those things I don't understand within the context of these works' creation - royalty itself; the finer points of Plantagenet politics or history; the specific legends of each of these individuals' reputations ... just how far these amazing portraits are even meant to be seen AS individuals. Allegorical implications. The filter of the history already passed between Longshanks and York Minster's decoration, so many generations later.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Collection

Happy birthday today, to someone I love kind of a lot. Here are a few things he shares with this date, and here are a few more. Happy DAY FORTY-TWO!!!!

Happy birthday, too, to Eva Gabor, Sidney Sheldon, Tina Louise, Burt Reynolds, and Leslie Nielson. Happy Peppermint Pattie day, and happy Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk day!

Donna Everhart has an interview out at Authorlink; on the voice of Dixie Dupree, her process, her path, and what's next.

Take a trip to Ars Technica for a look at what could be some of the earliest punctuation known to man. The regional communication implications, or the grammatical foundations, make for wonderful speculation!

 Dr Stefan Hanß has recently submitted a journal article on the confessional, gendered and emotional implications of forced shavings endured by people enslaved in the Habsburg and Ottoman lands.

Following on my recent link to an essay about the cultural implications of hair, how about a study from Cambridge University, looking at the social history of lengths and styles, beards and curls? Staging! It's not just for plays and selling houses anymore ...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Collection

At NPR online, Margaret Atwood discusses the next big form. I know from the moment the election was decided, MANY writers were vocal online and everywhere else about how they were already inspired to new dystopian work. To look at the form those works may take is a great exercise; and I think she may be right. The pace of traditional fiction cannot do justice to the creative juices flowing right now.

The evidence from Pech IV and Roc de Marsal clearly shows that the Neanderthals at these sites lived without fire not only for long periods but also during the coldest periods.

The Atlantic has a cool look at fire (hah). I've always been fascinated by the concept of the human hearth; hearth rights, the earliest human domesticity, the social contracts born of our control of and sharing of flame for warmth, protection, and cooking.

When a question is asked perfectly, it doesn’t need a tidy answer.

TA also has a wonderful link for writers (and readers!), just with its opener (well, or Faulkner's) on this article about asking the right questions. I have talked about the problems I have with creating tension on the page; as a writer of historicals set in known events and amongst characters who actually lived, it's too easy for me to think the (hi)story itself is enough. But it's necessary to know both WHY anyone else would find that enough, and to entice them to want to know. What gifts do we as authors bring to our characters ... ?

Which gets me thinking about my WIP's first line ...

The heat had begun to feed upon the red tile roofs of Ravenna, as if with a hostile will, when Amalasuntha was born more than eight days late.

Now, the CLOSING sentence (currently) is a literary in-joke. I love it, though it may not survive. It's worth reading the whole to get to it. Let's hope I'm getting the hang of this tension thing ...

(Confidential to my nerd readers: anyone else watch Caprica?)

Yeah, and it's a lot from The Atlantic today, but bear with me; they have some excellent writing!

Who else recalls Mike Mulligan and The Little House? Staples of my own childhood, I was thinking of the beautiful art for The Little House just a couple of days ago; the way it depicted time, especially; the way the house had a face, filled with emotion. This essay picks up those memories, and finds the relevance right now, with a powerful punch at the whole idea that innovation was invented recently. Y'all know how I love a good recency illusion and a The Dirty, Stupid Past refutation! (Want to get away from The Atlantic? Worth a click is the New Yorker story about Virginia Lee Burton.)

(S)uccessful in eliminating hair, and also in causing muscular atrophy, blindness, limb damage, and death.
Hoo baby!

Okay, back to The Atlantic, for another of my obsessions, hygeine! On the industry, social and cultural implications, and pain of feminine hair removal. Evolutionary racism, and Darwin's culpability. Ow.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Literate Celebrations

Happy birthday to Eddie Izzard, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, Gay Talese, James Spader, Charles Dickens, and Eubie Blake.



I mean, how stupendous is Mr. Blake?

Also on this day ... (still loving Dena's dedication to this daily treat!) Here are the notable lists from Wikipedia. Ooh, Pete Postlethwaite!

Monday, February 6, 2017

"Well, Dang."

It's become clear to me with age that I'm one of those people who "won't go to a doctor." The thing is, last time I did go - with labyrinthitis, an illness I know ALL too well - they decided to do tests on me ... and told me I had: labyrinthitis. Go home, take meclizine.

Which was what I knew before I took the DIZZYING step of leaving my home, exposing strangers to the virus, my mom insisting on across town to drive me and make me go (and exposing her - and by extension my ailing stepfather), and experiencing a few hours of matchless torture for the privilege of being told what I knew already.

And that test cost me $285.



So, this past Wednesday, when I felt a sore throat coming on, I turned into one of those treat-it-yourself morons. I spent a day at work, possibly quite contagious, downing NSAIDs and thinking I was beating this thing.

Yeah. I know. Just be glad you aren't one of my cube farm mates, I guess. I suck.


I took my laptop home that night just in case, so I could work from home, and not infect anyone.

Thursday wasn't great. I did work, though. You can get good electronic housekeeping done with a puddy and a pup for company.

Friday, though - no way. The fever that had begun the day before was 101.6. I don't know when I've had a fever to speak of; it's been long enough I was actually in incomprehension, looking at the thermometer.



See, my mom raised us skeptical. She wasn't one to easily believe her kids were sick - we were NOT going to get away with malingering - and so, to this day, I often tend to disbelieve it when I am sick. Which is funny, because at heart I am an underachiever, often enamored of the idea of not being at work, home wrapped up in a blanket.

One of my bosses and I once had a conversation about the phenomenon of not being able to malinger; in his case, the superstructure for this was Catholic Guilt. In mine, Mom Guilt.

She's good, no doubt.

So for me to be out of work for two days is almost intolerable; I feel like I'm stealing.

Which is why this weekend - when it got so much worse - was not exactly relaxing. I think Friday may have been the worst of it, but Saturday wasn't the world's most breathtaking improvement. Yesterday - well, yesterday I made myself clean the dang house.

To be fair, being sick in a dirty house is the PITS. But it's a bit more of that mom thing. I wanted to be comfortable - but I also was insisting to my body, "I am better."

Well. Ish.

The cough still hurt a lot, though the fever was gone. I had energy enough to clean. "See!?" Clothes were laid out for today at work (oh yes I did go).

And then before bed I had to admit - that cough had blood in it. Old blood at one time, bright and fresh new blood at another.

Neither of these bears good implications, and I am not a complete ass. Though I did go to the office. Which ... actually may be completely assy. Fever or no, the likelihood where blood in the cough is concerned is "infection" (likely bacterial), and that means that, five days on, fever or no, I could be contagious.

Sigh.

I actually did feel remarkably good this morning. Which is odd, as I've had insomnia unlike anything I've experienced since my twenties for two nights running (and no nap yesterday, because housecleaning!).

I also called the doc.

One prescription later (seriously, I can take the cough; do just give me an antibiotic so I'm not Typhoid Mary over here), I can at least put to rest the Complete Ass of a Coworker concerns, and get on with things.

Thank goodness it didn't cost me $285.

Now to wait for the bill.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

This Day In ...

My dad had been diagnosed terminal about two years previous, but he wasn't one who spent his time dying. He fought the dragon - his attacks of airlessness, the cruelty of pulmonary fibrosis - he took to a wheelchair when he had to, he toted his concentrator. But he lived.

So the day he and mom were alone at the house, and asked me to just come be with them; that was new. He was in bed, and mom had just come home with cell phones; including one for me. Just in case.

Mom's was the FANCY phone. It was a flip. Mine was a little silver sneaker of a thing; rubber buttons, an antenna encased in more rubber. It seemed tiny, and had the brightest blue screen. I figured out how to play with it; producing pings and buzzes and what passed, fourteen years ago, for music on a cell phone. Tinklings and twangs. But it seemed neato.

Dad being a scientist, and just possessed of a curious and analytical mind, he 'gee whizzed' a bit about this new tech, and we spent the afternoon in their bedroom, figuring the little things out.

We spent the afternoon listening to footage and sadness.



It would come as a shock to me, years later, to find that there had been a Space Shuttle disaster just before my dad died. I remembered that day at their house. I had forgotten, utterly, what we'd had on the tube. While we played with the new phones - "just in case" anything happened with dad's condition - we had no idea there would be no condition at all anymore, in just a week.

So that event obliterated my recall of Columbia.



Resentfully, I can relate that I do recall (with painful clarity) the soundtrack of dad's actual final hours. It was Martin Bashir's documentary about Michael Jackson - about which I cared nothing, but which back then was about all there was going, for someone shuttling back and forth between hospital and home, grabbing scraps to eat and scraps of sleep in between thinking "this is the new normal" and ... "this is the last day."

I didn't have cable. Being alone in the house with no sound - even with my Sweet Siddy La there with me; her heartbeat and her sweet face - I could not take it. I would turn on the tube, and there he would be, protesting innocence and normalcy. Seemed to go on all day every day for the sacred time that is Waiting for Death.



The things you remember. Snow in square Xs on the sky lights below dad's room. Moving him to another room. Almost immediately losing his voice, his presence, to morphine. Knowing we'd lose him all the more, never to speak with him again.

Holding his hand. So soft; and that thick, heavy wedding ring, glowing against his grey-mauve skin.

My brother and I had left in the night, mom climbing in the bed to spoon him, as he died. She called us each at about four a.m., and we both arrived back at the hospital at the same moment - having both been listening to the same music on NPR. Something called Autumnal, by Brahms I think it was. It was perfect. Snow and elegiac strains. And holding hands with my brother, possibly the only time in our lives we've ever done that. Walking in through the bewildering route to quiet, and darkness, and mom and dad.

Holding hands. Dad's hands.

The way his muscles tightened on my hand after he had died.



When I was small, dad and I would sit in church, mom in the choir, and he would just lift up one big, warm paw in a gesture so old between us I cannot even place its origin. I would ball up my own paw into a fist, and place it into his. Ball-and-socket dad and kid.

Dad had warm hands all his life, till the diagnosis. Soft, dad was hairy too. Fuzzy Wuzzy was my dad - except, of course, on top of his big round Charlie Brown head. He was warm and reassuringly stocky; not what I can call stout, but solid, firmly on the ground. Not tall, but never a negligible physical presence.

He had this warm, gravelly-gruff voice.

There was a voice mail on that little silver sneaker. I had it for a long time, but after some period they auto-delete. I lost my dad's voice maybe six months after he died.



He was the best.

I miss my dad.


1986, just before the prom
... holding hands ...