Thursday, January 31, 2013

SUPER String

This is one of my all time favorite searches leading to my blog!

merovingian dynasty stupid
... well, if you mean "the Merovingian heresy is a stupid idea" - yes.  Yes, it was.

Thanks again, Dan Brown.

Louisa May Alcott's Lurid Side

Something on the order of thirty years ago, my brother gave me an anthology of Alcott focusing on her lesser known, darker writings.  Short stories and novellas of deceit, danger, seduction, and even drug use, I was fascinated by the revelation-to-me that Victorian literature contained anything but fainting, repressed heroines and priggish or brooding males.  Following on the heels of recent forays into The Mysteries of Udolpho (yet unfinished, so stay tuned in case I come back with a review or other response to that reading; though, so far, it is nothing but a sentimental and extraordinarily wordy - even to *me* - travelogue), Stoker, and The Monk, A Romance, Alcott's Behind a Mask is hardly the sternest stuff, but it has the charm of being, if formulaic, perfectly *believable* at least.  Melodramatic and probably over-familiar to a modern reader, but in strictest terms of human behavior, recognizable.

One of the nicer touches of Alcott's writing is to present a character who might appear shallow or undeveloped, and to endow them, if not with depth, at least with dimension.  The motivations are dynamic, even as the action may seem quaint or perhaps stagy (yes, that is spelled correctly without the E; I was a theater major and am a writer, trust yourself in my bloggerly hands).  The endings, even when it's possible they might not satisfy certain expectations or even preferences, are plastic, not predictable or boring.

Linguistically, Alcott's wit is energizing, and her language provides good momentum at times.  Her tendency to start in media res, particularly in dialogue, challenges but crackles, and the action, while slow to modern eyes, is loaded with tension.  The very deliberation of its unfolding can ratchet up the power.  Above all, most of the thrillers or darker stories as they're usually called, are not extremely long.  "Behind A Mask" can be read in two or three lunch hours, and some of the other stories are good for one sitting - so trying one or two doesn't rob much life away.  Give Alcott's ghastly side a try, and let me know what you think!


It was one of those days today where I spent much of the first half of the day enjoying that phenomenon where, though I have been steadily doing better at work than I was a couple of months back, EVERY dadgum error I happen to make is visible to my upper boss.  He and I spent a nice long time having one of those forbearing instant message conversations, and segued into a call with him, me, and our other executive, batting around process improvements for my job.  It actually wasn't a bad day, but very much a matter of chagrin when everything goes well but the details that matter to them.

Truth be told, though the top boss on our team is keenly able to spot mistakes, he's not one who takes unseemly pleasure in finding fault.  His expectations are high, but nothing like unreasonable, and it makes you mad not to live up to them.  When I first started this job, one of the people on my team who had the most to do with training me said, "If you do your job, you will like him."  I hadn't met him yet, but that assessment made clear to me the expectations, and seemed to me actually a pretty high compliment to pay a manager.


The entire rest of today was exhausted by the constant, unrelenting balancing act of taking care of all the things proceeding from my talk(s) with them, finalizing all the to-do's for multiple large meetings in three cities, trying on travel plans for two people for all these trips, setting acres of additional meetings, fielding needs for my team, taking notes and closing them all out ...  Sitting at my desk and not even getting up enough for my little calesthenics or to, ah, take a proper break.

It's tiring and stressful, but I look back at year-end and the build up to that, and am still grateful to have moved forward.  On top of trying to stay on top of the runaway horse that is my job lately, I've also been consciously trying for the past week or two to Project a Positive Attitude (rah rah whee).  It's a facile fake it till you make it strategy, but the damnable thing is it has a way of working, even if by "work" you define terms strictly on the practicals of relationship management with the people you don't love working with the most.  Heh.

At the end of this long day, I asked a friend/coworker for an objective view, whether the better attitude was apparent.  Being a friend, she said to me she was biased and that my attitude had never appeared to her to go downhill.  She then couched that in terms of the way I deal with those who need me, saying I haven't faltered in that customer service context.

But the fact is, I've let sarcastic humor step in where actual attempts at pleasantness used to be SOP, and it makes even me roll my eyes listening to myself sometimes.

It also makes me realize, when it comes to criticism or assessment, I've really trained myself out of any ability to tolerate niceties in their place.  Even in the worst years of my vanity issues, I used to have debates with my ex on the nature of beauty (the symposium I once tried to give him, explaining that "classical beauty" is actually a term with measurable traits I decidedly do not possess).  Mr. X and I have MANY times clinically discussed the objective merits of my appeals, and this usually ends in his smilingly pronouncing, "I am a man and when it comes down to what a man might find attractive about you, I have the last word - not you."  Again:  heh.

The same is true of my writing, of course, and it chafes and frustrates me *badly* to get non-feedback such as "it's really good" with zero thoughtful content.  This is why Mr. X and the Sarcastic Broads are about the only people I feel comfortable sharing work in progress with.  I know my writing is *good* - I don't always know how to make it its BEST.  Good is for macaroni and cheese.  And I love macaroni and cheese.  But going to the trouble of writing something?  Deserves better than comfort food.


Anyway, work at an office, not My Work.  It's hard, and it's painful these days as things ramp up toward unknowable conclusions.  It's demanding, and I come home less than motivated with the house, the beasties four days out of five (and, for a while there, seven out of seven ...).  Even still, I am grateful I have one boss - some years younger than I, it may be said - who says to me, "I said you weren't old, not that you're not senile" and another with whom I can chat and laugh about old BBC historical dramas and the way they affect your diction, even as I reach Penelope-like heights of wiggy frustration with myself in my eagerness to please.

And, again: heh.

I'm re-remembering how lucky I am, and the gratitude is infusing me with the energy it takes to work ... at my best.

Or, at least, to work back toward it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Biblical Baddies - Dogs and Catties

My pets are evil little boogers, frankly.  On a biblical scale, even.

Penelope and Gossamer have this tag-team act they have been working out together almost since day one together.  Gossy knocks something down.  Penny destroys it.  They KILLED a really cool ring I had, custom made from a vintage old clip rhinestone earring mounted on a shank.  I left it on the counter, Gossy thought it was a toy, Penny thought it was a snack.  Bat, bat, BOOM, *nom nom nom* delicious plastic and rhinestones ...

Right little nimrods, my fur-bearing ones.

This morning, they were both downstairs and I was unnerved a little about Penelope being unsupervised, but she's come so far so fast I didn't chase 'em down.  Turns out, Goss knocked down two of my four Gala apples and Penny was gnawing and batting them around all over the house.  As messes go, not at all bad actually.  But I lost my snacks!  And one apple (I actually HAD 4) remains unaccounted for ...

I'm going to start calling Gossy "Eve".

And people thought GOSSAMER was a girly name.

Monday, January 28, 2013


I like a lot of the observations in this post, but the images bring it home.  A great post - though I am too lazy right now to add "me three times" on my own ...  *Grin*

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Special Effects

The continuing themes at this blog, touching on the history of hygiene, beauty, and costume, get me to thinking specifically about the use of cosmetics in the human pursuit of self-beautification.  I haven't posted a great deal specifically about makeup and paint, but the fact is that as I have long said, "Makeup is one of my favorite toys."

Several months ago, I was sitting with a friendly acquaintance, out on a Saturday night having fun, and schmanzied up per my usual going-out excess.

He is someone who has on occasion flirted a bit, and without being judgy it may be said I believe he had enjoyed a couple of cocktails.  By way of compliment, he said to me, "You don't need all that makeup."

Never minding the way we train men to relate to women in our culture, nor the presumption of judging someone to her face, I realized what an odd compliment it really is.

"Hon.  This paint is not remediation.  This is special effects."

My favorite aunt once saw a picture of me dressed as Clara Bow for Hallowe'en, and she swore to me for half an hour "That is not a picture of *you*."

I had put on a wig, altered my eyebrows, under-drawn my lips, even goosed my actual expression for photos.  The point had been to achieve a period effect, to look more like Miss Bow - to be in a costume, not to look like myself.

Still - bit of a surprise that someone who'd known me all my life could not see *me* underneath a very simple layer of paint.

The makeup and wig above, the makeup my pal was trying to pooh-pooh out of necessity - not about being fixing any kind of ugly.  And not, indeed, about hiding who I am, either.  I was wearing a fabulous dress, fabulous shoes.  Gotta give fabulous face, it's all drag.  It would look weird to wander around dressed up and sporting my freckles, which I love but which I get to wear ALL the time.

For me, there can be no interest in looking the same way all the time.  I revel in what I am today, a makeup-naked hausfrau playing with my pets in sneaks and comfy pants.  I also revel in impeccable shoes for work, or a great jacket to go with jeans for an outing with friends, and - yep - long, soft dresses and impractical heels for a night out.  It is fun for me to change from situation to situation, to shift, even to surprise sometimes.  As far back as high school, I was told "you never look the same way one day to the next" - and this has turned out to be one of the formative compliments I've ever heard.

I contain multitudes.

I look at people who are always "on" and don't understand the appeal - but, then again, for me to never *ever* be "on" would be a bit of a drag too.  My personality isn't suited to stagnation, and playing with the way I look stimulates some creativity.

And so ... painting my face is not about fixing something (I think/anyone else might think is) wrong.  I go around without any makeup at all, and I go around with a lot less than in this photo, MOST of the time.  Something like this shot is about, if anything, heightening and emphasizing what I might feel is right with my face.  Or just having some darn fun (yeah, wigs itch, but getting told I look like Barbara Feldman is enjoyable indeed).

Special effects can also be about capturing something other than beauty - period authenticity in a costume, for instance, or simply creating a look which evokes a certain reaction.  Makeup can be used for a sense of personal change, too; the way some people get haircuts - or *surgery* - or redecorate ... I can make a change in my face (and still wash it off later, no damage done).  For me, this is not about a lack of self-esteem, or denial of self, but the simple diversion of change.

It is also a frank indulgence - to spend decidedly un-counted time physically pampering myself, to bathe, to scent, to primp, to dress, to pick out overstated earrings, to take care of myself.  Cosmetic application is fun - which way will I do my eyes today, how well will this method of blending, this color, this painting of my mood or attitude work.  It's my theory that some part of the reason people say I don't look as old as I am is that my mask is not set - indeed, was not set in 1986 - because I am always trying some new thing, never allowing myself to petrify visually.  I don't have clue-catcher bangs and a spiral perm - and I don't tan and wear frosted lipstick either.  Nerdliness is next to youthfulness, after all.  Heh.

Since Summer

At the same time a bad time can seem to drag by, it can also slip out of your hands all too easily.  This summer's litany of crises - the car accident, the cancer scare, the this and that and the other not even worth reiterating - left me in poor form at work, and not exactly overachieving at home.  My job I have been doing far better, over the past month or so, and see no reason to expect another backslide.  At home, I tend to just be.

Ill for a week at New Year's, I really missed the advent of a new period, in a way, and it has caused a mild kind of cognitive dissonance.  The holidays properly finished, the new year usually feels ... like *something*, anyway.  But this year I just feel like Christmas happened, I got sick, and came unmoored.

It's not altogether bad, but some of the more domestic symbols of passing time have been blunted.  Christmas decorations went up, to be sure - but not all of them, in the name of the pets.  Then the two of them blew the last remaining good fuse on my good new/old-fashioned lights, and so the final week or so with my tree all messy thanks to Gossamer climbing it, it was also unlit, on top of being ungarlanded and not much decorated.

They also did the most horrific things to Joseph and the baby Jesus from my nativity, but that is a separate story.

Just that - a major signifier of the season, at my house, never was quite complete, and ended at a bit of a limp really.  I took the tree down Christmas Day, and may have demolished everything.  I honestly can't even remember for sure, because the illness came on three days later, and I was out of things for the next week.

Back to myself, somewhat, back to work before everyone else was, cocooned in a period of hermetic oblivion and solitude, January got off to a hurry, and I have hardly seen it come and go.

Have gotten things done, but not enough things.  And so, today, instead of housecleaning, some things to *do*.  I made four calls to local fencing companies to request they call me to set up estimates.  One was actually there, so that one is set.  I reached out on a consultation too.  Dug into the SEVEN months of bank statements I haven't checked off (ugh).  And started in on those stacks of books for research.

Next up - mending the little hole in that one sweater, and a button to sew on that one coat.

As I said to my mom a little while ago, "It's amazing the amount of stuff you can accomplish without ever getting up off your butt."

"That sounds good ... and bad!" she said.

Exactly, mom.  Exactly!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Third Time This Week

Penelope's getting to be an old hand at snow:

Also - KITTEN IN A BOX!  *Squee!*

Jabba the Hutt Is No Constantius II

... nor Theodosius II ... nor Justinian I, at that.  Maybe it's the substitution of a word for all those Roman numerals, but putting a porculent (word courtesy of my Beloved Ex) villain in something looking like Hagia Sophia has got some folks ticked.  Thirty years late-ish.

Portrait Identification

One of the fascinations of studying history and its artifacts is how often errors end up repeated as facts.  The portrait of Catherine Parr, for example, with its wildly out of period headdress (Parr would certainly have been in a French hood, a fashion partly popularized by none other than The Bullen) - which is actually of Catherine of Aragon (article here, and a triumph in illustrating the relevance of period/silhouette!).  The discussion thread in the first link is a great example of why I love Historical Fiction Online, and also includes a VERY nice mis-identification, of the Earl of Southampton for his own great-great granddaughter!

Frontline - "The Untouchables"

As disappointing a piece of Infotainment for the Underachieving as NPR seems fully to have become in the past few months, PBS is a blissful reassurance.  I'm one of the few non-addicts of Downton Abbey (this may come as a surprise given my histfict-nerdlery - but for those who know my contrarianism, it should be predictable).

Try as I might to keep this blog to the themes I've worked hard to construct, it's a simple fact that fifteen or so years in the financial industry, from the year we cheered when the Dow first topped 10,000 and I helped one of my managers literally write the book on "the Death Tax", to the period of increasingly giddy credit offerings when I worked for the guys saying, "Hey, maybe not?", to working outside the commercial mainstream but at the heart of the economy ... I've experienced the recent history of our greatest crises in ways few people have.

Yeah, yeah.  I'm "just a secretary."  Let it be said:  given that role and responsibility, I have had views pretty rare in this world.  My brain is still perfectly functional (wee and paltry as it may be).  Believe me, chickens.  When, in 2007 and 2008 I was recording secretary for the interdisciplinary Risk committee at one of the largest securities firms in the world, I was listening.  Even if I wasn't talking.  I saw this coming.  And that's only because I had good sense, too.  It hardly took rocket science to see the excesses in lending practices at that time.  Many people I knew who had nothing of the exposure I did knew it.  People aren't stupid, not entirely.

Greed just gets in the way.  For the key few who have the reins.

Al this is to say:  watch this.  Not only the usual magnificent reportage Frontline has traded in for so long, presented excellently - but also about the best editing I have seen in years.  Pay attention to what is said, followed by cuts to facts and findings.

And be outraged.  It's not too late.

Couple of Good Quotes This Week

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are... Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
--Mary Jean Irion

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
--Henry David Thoreau

Silly Strings

Search strings leading here:

longhaired boys
groupie peter steele
how do you pronounce celtic horn carynx
medieval dog house
middle age woman in lingerie

There's something so ... aging 80s Ren-Faire/metal bimbo about this lot.  Which is right, and yet completely inaccurate too, for me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Style and Fashion - En Francais - and In Your Head

For those of my readers who don't have so much background in costume and the history of fashion, the single concept to know about the evolution of style as far back as we can even find evidence for the use of garments is:  the silhouette.  Silhouette is the atomic measure, the elemental baseline, the building block on which everything in human costuming is built.  Yes, EVERYTHING - I include all you who are scoffing, saying to yourselves "I don't dress for fashion."

You might not - but you are unmistakably a member of the century, the society, the world in which we live right now.  No amount of resisting affectation can change that all possible clothing has its effect.  There's no way out of it.  We're not all at one place in the current spectrum - but none among us is going to be mistaken for an Elizabethan, pre-Christian Etruscan, or Neanderthal.

For that matter, as to the MOST fashion, fad, trend, or style-conscious:  you're here and now as well, no matter how you express your participation in it.  The seven inch heels are going out of style at this point, but they're still ubiquitous.  The maxi dresses are going to be passe' in five minutes (and I will cry), but they're still a part of all this, along with you and me and the rebelliously unhip.  Right along with the hideously unflattering box-pleats-over-the-pelvis look and Mad Men and Downton Abbey vintage and (lord give me strength) sagged jeans, men's pleated-front khakis, and popped collars.

The vid here is a very good way to get a remarkably wide view of this point, and can help in understanding how silhouette forms the basis of clothing across cultures and eras.  If I mention bustles, most people would be able to come up with a mental image of a woman in 19th-century dress.  LATE 19th-century, specifically.  "Men in tights" brings to mind European clothing generally from the medieval era, not Han imperial court dress nor "American" pre-Columbian peoples.  You know these things, too.

Enjoy the vid.  And I bet you could have named every silhouette for its decade ...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Group Writing Exercise

A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, condemned to repeat itself over and over again.
--Guillermo del Toro

Leila brought us this quote when the SBC met today, and we've decided that at our March meeting each of us will bring a story (or perhaps some other piece, we're not cruel with our rules, the Sarcastic Broads).  We plan to post these at our to-be new and improved site (I'm not linking because we've taken it down for the moment to take some time to think about and tinker with it), and at our February meeting we'll look at the works in progress and push each other in the right direction as we go.

Stay tuned for more ... !!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Artist

I finally got around to watching "The Artist" tonight, and I have to admit, it's been a surprise.  Undeniably a good looking film, well designed and performed ... it turns out to be the story of a vain, wealthy, privileged, and deeply self-entitled cad who is meant to represent a figure of tragedy because he doesn't actually get to keep his privilege and entitlement in the face of being pretty much of an un self-aware nit.

I don't know, it's difficult for me to feel extraordinary pity for a character who so arrogantly presumes his right to extreme wealth and adulation.  It's surprising, too, that a film presenting this guy as sympathetic - with the Great Depression as a mere backdrop to his personal "loss", no less - claimed quite so much acclaim.  Maybe its arrival before that Quarter Billionaire tried to claim his own "right" to run our country was a time we could be more attuned to the bitter pains of those who must endure on ordinary persons' terms, having fallen from the heights of popularity and prosperity.  Maybe we just really are that uncritical - or ... as I fear ... just that interested in wealth-porn to watch something like this as if it actually is emotionally fulfilling.  A man goes from riches not even to rags, but to ordinary suit-wearing and failing to pay his faithful SERVANT, and we're supposed to pity the guy because he had a nice smile in that gregarious first scene.


This guy fires James Cromwell, people.  Not a character who'll gain my sympathies, ever.  Cromwell, who can wring more pathos out of one heel kicked in the dust than the entire rest of this film.  Cromwell, whom I wanted to see slap this guy and say, "That'll do, pig."  Cromwell, who because of what *his* character is - not what the Valentin one is - carries all the heart and integrity in this thing.

The main character, George Valentin, is dubbed "The Artist" because he stubbornly and egotistically pitches a conniption when talkies come along, and he doesn't want to do them.  An actor who's never bothered with "art" before, suddenly decides to become a director and producer, not because these are things deep in his bones, but because he wants to thumb his nose at innovations he fears and resents.

This isn't the wellspring of art - all debate about the relative merits of advancing technologies aside.  This is the shrill hubris of a guy too well accustomed to his own power and position to understand that they are not not a gift, but a blessing, and that we must cultivate our blessings.  A cheeky grin at his own bigger-than-life-sized portrait in the mornings and the occasional pat for a dog which has apparently lived its entire life in service to this guy's career too (he never shows any affection for his wife, presented as a villainess because she fails to be charmed by him and is "old" and "ugly" - which is a whole analytical movie review in itself, as far as insulting and reductive themes go) do not, for me at least, simulate a worthwhile character, never mind one I empathize with or find appealing.

The film does look great, and apart from a very minor hemline-height issue or two, is impeccably designed and produced.  Some of the shots are exactly as good as the director clearly got excited about their being.  It's hard not to feel the filmmakers in the room, though.  Strangely, I find this film's comparatively minor (if you don't consider silent film to be a conceit, which I don't) conceits actually more intrusive than I did the gimmick setup for this year's Anna Karenina, centrally because I couldn't invest as much in this film in the first place, George Valentin being the character he is.  ... and that says a great deal, because it's not like I have much self-identification for insufferable lady of privilege Anna, either.

Also - seriously - was there NO other image he could delusionally prod himself with in a drunken slump than a whole hallucinated tribe of (miniature, of course) African jungle warriors, trying to rouse him to be a success again?  It's one thing for a film MADE in the silent era to go in for this sort of quite-literal diminutization, stereotyping, and subjection of minority characters to a white man, but ...  This one wasn't made NINETY years ago.  That wasn't a cute moment.

The charm on this character struck me as false as the charm of Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise always has, and the astounding selfishness accompanying his "downfall" (seriously - again - I'm supposed to cry because he has to sell a vase and heedlessly destroys his own work (in which act, not for nothing, he ruined other people's property and put lives at risk)?) is hardly endearing.  He remains self-centered and self-indulgent to the last reel, which, inexplicably, is supposed to leave us laughing and overjoyed.

Strangely, this appears to have worked - on *most* viewers.  I've never heard a bad word spoken about this film.  I can't find a solitary protest against its wildly outdated themes, nor a breath about the irony of casting a white man of such wealth as the figure of tragic(omedy) in this economy.  It depresses me that critical thoughtfulness about the economic and racial issues seems to have passed this film blissfully by.  My brain is really twisted, now that I have seen this thing - not least because, in the entire film:  not one single artist is characterized.  A bewildering blockbuster, and very frustrating.

"No 'Poo, Sherlock."

Enjoying Janet Stephens' demos recently has me thinking, as I am wont to do, about the history of personal beautification.  I still want to take a look at ribbon styling, a popular weave method used (to my current knowledge) most prominently in Renaissance Europe, but likely going well beyond what I know today.  But first, I accidentally ran across the marketing history of shampoo, and the way this product has changed the way we live during the past century.

The No 'Poo movement comes out of multiple motivations - the desire to get away from chemical exposure, the wish to go "more natural", simple curiosity, frank economizing on a product which can lead to a lot of expense when used at the rate currently encouraged in the mainstream ... and, even more frankly, a certain vintage fashion trendiness which goes in for Mad Men, mid-century longer-wearing hairstyles, a little dab of pretension, and the kind of moral or cultural seeking that leads us to try new - or old - things for one sort of benefit or another.

The Great Unwashed
(New York Times)

I've always been vaguely aware that hair-washing is its own reward, at least for the "lather, rinse, repeat" crowd of the beauty industry.  In my usual, non-confrontational and conformist (lazy) manner, I have always also agreed to go along with what I've been taught, and so I am a regular shampooer.  I used to be every other day or even every three, but the haircut I got four years ago left me with a LOT less hair to hold the oils, and I had to become a daily washer.  Once my hair grew back to its former length, I kept in the daily habit as much because it had just become exactly that as because ... well, to be frank, with age, we get a little smellier in general, and I do like to do what I can to minimize what may debatably be thought of as "natural" body odor.

Another recent haircut, while less radical than the one four years ago, has reminded me once again:  six inch strands seem to look dirtier more quickly than fourteen inch locks, which either hold oil with more aplomb, perhaps using it - or just hide it better.  So it goes.  I like my shampoo, and use it these days as much for its scent as I do for the squeaky-cleanliness.  At least I can use less, with so much less hair to deal with.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Death Star

The most cogent statement on the Death Star petition I have seen!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Cravings

This week in my free time, I've been cruising Amazon's network of booksellers, looking for copies of texts for my research.  I came to this method after the demise/swallowing-up of Bibliofind, one of the grand old tools of Teh Intarwebs, and one which brought me to one of our finer family moments many years ago.  After his terminal diagnosis, my dad conceived a desire to read a well known series on the history of Wester civilization, authored by husband and wife Ariel and Will Durant.  My college creative writing prof had told me about Bibliofind for one reason or another along the every-year-or-three communications we've had over the years, so I found a good set and bought the lot, with input and of course pooled financing from my brother and mom.  Come Christmas morning, dad could not have been more pleased to open a giant Hammermill paper box filled with volume after volume - all in very good condition, still bearing even their mylar dust jackets, we figure from their library home.

Dad made it as far as the Renaissance before he died.  The photo of him receiving this gift, though it shows him wearing his canula I think, is as so many pictures of my dad were:  beaming with satisfaction.  He was wonderfully surprised, and lived up to the gift with gusto.

Even run by The Demon Amazon, I remain dedicated to the booksellers who open their business to the internet, offering books I'd have a hard time finding - or paying for, brand new, from Demon Amazon - and keeping in circulation books which have been previously loved, used, read, ignored, and fortunately recycled rather than discarded.  What you can find, buying used books, is an almost magical treasure trove compared to staying only on the path of new books, major retailers, chains in malls, mainstream recommendations and outlets.  It may not be Bibliofind any more, but the ease of use and access remind me EVERY time I use it of that long ago excitement, as my whole family planned and purchased this set for dad.

I have those books now - it was far too much for my brother to include in belongings carried across a continent, several years ago - and more than my mom wanted to bring into a second marriage.  I have not "read" them recreationally, not sitting down and just enjoying them for themselves, as dad so avidly did.  But I've dipped into them (there was precious little to be said for Clovis I, sad to say) and have that irrational, materialistic attachment to them as an artifact of my dad which we sometimes conceive even where the one remembered was not materialistic nor even emotionally attached to the object we prize once they're gone.


This week's used-book cruising has been a game of choose-and-cart or save-for-later, trying to find the right balance of subject matter and how much to spend (and of course losing my chance as a book is bought from a particular seller, too), wondering how much to get all at once and considering what is most important right-now.  Considering, really, how much to spend.  I spent too much, but I did whittle my way to a core set of texts last night, and already the email "your order of (fill-in-title) has shipped!" notifications are pouring in.

From a standpoint where histories of Byzantium, especially texts on Justinian (and Theodora), histories of the Goths, and examinations of Ravenna and the 6th century rage of Plague, I carved away the Byzantine Empire and finally Justinian, his plague, and (most reluctantly) "Ravenna - A Study", and saw my way clear to focus on some of the Goth works (particularly one wildly expensive textbook I found used for an acceptably discounted price in good condition) and Theodoric the Great.  Even narrowing down this far, I still came away with five texts, which - being core to the work (I will work my way outward from my characters) - should keep me busy for some time.  As it stands, I need, too, to revisit the research Clovis brought to me, which introduced me to Audofleda, Amalasuntha, and Matasuentha in the first place.  My system in that first round of research was to use yellow highlighter for Ax when it was my WIP, and to highlight in pink the passages to go back to for Matrilineage (again - working title, and (I am aware, yes) not working all that well).

Right now, I'm not even sure whether Amalasuntha will end up being my sole main character.  I resist, somewhat, putting Audofleda very close to the center of my concern.  She was Clovis' sister, and though this work is born out of my creating The Ax and the Vase, I don't see them as necessarily related, and don't want to create links which could make the new work anything but an independent piece.  Her daughter, Amalasuntha, almost represents a divorce from Ax, because  she would have been as alien to the Franks as this work itself will be from the last.  This novel, whatever else it may or may not become - is first and foremost a novel of women, whereas Ax was entirely focused on men.  One man, of course.

As for the third generation of this matrilineal line - Matasuentha - so little is said of her in some ways she may be a letdown compared to her mother.  Amalasuntha's story is so marvelously bizarre, so bracing, she compels me as powerfully as her uncle did before.  Daughter of Theodoric the Great.  Married at fifteen - to a *slave* - executed for his trouble.  Married off again, to a cousin, and mother to Theodoric's grandson and heir.  Queen regnant in that prince's minority.  And (... SPOILER ... ???) murdered in her bath in 535, the year of Justinian's Plague - the year the (so-called) Dark Ages *began* ...

That alone makes the beginnings of a back cover blurb, of the pitch.  So I do tend to focus on her most.

Like Clovis, again, Ama has been sparsely - if at all (though I've researched Clovis' place in American publishing, I haven't looked into Amalasuntha, at least lately) - invoked in English-speaking novels.  She may be more popular than the Frank - ass-kicking Ostrogothic women being what they are - but even if so, the low mileage on my characters means they're showroom new compared to the Tudors or even Plantagenets.  Mind you, I do love me a Plantagenet or two, and as long as we don't tittle-tattle of Boleynian incest, I'll still take in the redheads for entertainment's sake, especially if Keith Michell or Glenda Jackson have anything to do with it.  But it's beyond my hutzpah to try to recreate those stages again, as if I had anything to add to their oft-told tales.  I'm interested - but not captivated to the point Clovis and that fascinating Ostrogothic tangent have had me for years now.

And so - the research, again, begins, even as sketches (not real scenes, apart from that opener I still enjoy after all these years) play in the margins, as they're wont to do.

And Amazon Bibliofind lives on, in books my dad will never read.  Not in exactly the way I remember, the way he read Will and Ariel.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Says

She writes best in the mornings, and finds ways to make that work before spousal and breakfast tasks come a-calling.  They break for breakfast together, then each works until one, and again for a couple hours in the afternoon.

Tony's writing ritual is to get up in the morning and send an email to Steven to apologize for being late.  He and his wife just got a puppy, so that has caused some disruptions as well.  Tim Reid sums up:

Don't get a dog, and find a good bar.

Doris speaks, at last, of the collaborative experience of working on a film as distinct from the solitary experience of pure writing.  "And that's what the country's all about ... that's what the film is about ... Lincoln was able to make these people do something that they couldn't do individually.  That's the mystery of leadership, and they performed together, and the country *can* perform together," she says, "and for God's sakes, if there's anything in this film that can be a symbol for the future, it is we've got to do it again."

Amen, Doris.

The Essential

Giving full faith and credit to the artist, Donnie Green, I feel a certain right to post this image - as I happen to own the original painting myself.

Donnie's reason for calling this The Essential was that it included all the elements which, at the time of its creation (2000) he needed in his art.  The boy whose face peers out from the sun, not precisely sunny, but certainly a representation of innocence (oft-repeated by a man and a muse with little innocence intact).  The small, elongated rabbits - an early-ish appearance, which in later paintings reached almost Harvey-like (Donnie Darko-like?) proportions.  The bats, the foetuses ... and centrally, enduringly ... The Creepy Old Lady.

COL came to a new level of refinement at the time of this painting; I had seen her before in Donnie's astonishing output, but she had always been nothing but a head, always been a putty grey-green, incomplete and disembodied.  Here she steps forth fully formed (but for that heart-shaped - mangled? or unfinished? - cranium and the minimal number of digits), dressed in a print which always reminds me of the guy in the Bugs Bunny cartoon who walks up a set of stairs and the pattern of his loud check jacket scrolls by, unmoving, as the man moves up the stairs.  Her Chuckie Taylors are astonishingly rendered, as is the mouse.  The cats' nose piercings are gleaming and actually creepier by far than the bats and the foetuses.

The Essential is basically a koan, a blacklight poster, the sort of thing you can stare at and either lose yourself in it, or lose it in yourself.  Its meticulously colored and twisted knotwork owes as much to Persia as the Celts, Donnie studying these designs assiduously and incorporating them in his - essential - playing-card inspired proportions and compositions.  Nothing about it seems strange nor even creepy to me, much as I refer to it as I do (the epithet COL above), and from the first time I saw it I wanted it.  It took me years to pay Donnie for it, even at the wildly generous discount he gave me on its price, and I will never forget the gallery showing where I gave him the last money, and took it away with me.  When she became mine.

I actually posed for Donnie two times, and he painted me thrice.  I have all three - he used me for practice in capturing realistic skin tones at that time he was shifting from painting strictly unrealistic monsters to portraiture and more intimate, but still strange, works.  If I could take a good photo of two of these portraits, I may post them some time; one is in black-and-white, and maintains some of the extreme austerity of his pieces before focusing on people and their faces.  The second he painted from a polaroid, and though some aspect of the nose and perhaps a somewhat rosebud-ish mouth remind me of "Kelly from (the original) 90210", there's also ... something.  Something he definitely captured, of me - at least, at that time (1997 or so I think).  The second is my favorite, and is in color, and is the real experimentation with skin tone - and was painted at lightning speed, with no model but one of the photos he'd taken of me when I was actually there.  One day he painted the black and white - the next day I came back and he'd painted the color portrait, without my even posing nor being available.

The third portrait, the second I actually sat for, wasn't a sitting but a standing, if I am honest.  It is the weakest, and was the one he did "for me" - the one which was a realization of my ideas, not Donnie's own.  Its face looks like an ex girlfriend of his, not like me, and its theme is so pompously embarrassing to me now I dare not even repeat it, though I had him spell it out pointblank on the canvas.  Poor guy - but he was generous to offer to paint for me to order.

I've had these four works of his for so many years, and three of them may never ever be displayed.  For me to hang them would be vain even by my standards, and it is beyond comprehension anyone else on the planet would ever want to.  I can't even imagine any time in all the years of our long separation(s) Mr. X. even would want to have them around.  And so this artist's work, even if it is "only" practice work, lies hidden in my guest room, not even seen nor remembered for I can't even say how many years.

I used to look at those portraits sometimes, wonder what their fate could be - how they could be seen.  And yet, then, what they had to show was only what I was, every day.  Dorian Grey's contrarian cousin am I - now that they might show a face nobody can hope to see anymore ... the youth and beauty lie hidden, and the middle-aged broad with decayed vanity issues goes out into the world.

Steven Spielberg Says

On the historical language of "Lincoln":

"Trust the language of the time, of the period."

Also chiming in, Tony Kushner, screenwriter - his advice is to go to the OED for any possible anachronisms in language (this may not work if your period is as early as mine, the 5th/6th centuries, when really no functionally recognizable form of our language yet existed).

Doris Kearns Goodwin mentions Erich von Stroheim (a very well known director of silents, for those who do not know the name from "Sunset Boulevard" ... or any of his own films), whose philosophy on acting was that, though only the dress might be seen, his actresses should wear silk underwear and period layers, to *feel* what the women in another age would have.

No word on what he expected of actors.  Maybe discussing starlets' silk undies made for a better quote ...

Oh, and Thaddeus Stephens' wig?  *Supposed* to look like that, yes.

Tim Reid Says

Tim Reid to Steven Spielberg at The Richmond Forum, on “Lincoln” and location shooting:

“Your decision to cast Richmond (VA) in the role of Washington, DC was, let’s say, ironic - to say the least - a few people are spinning...”

He is a remarkably funny guy for someone as impeccably elegant and dignified as he is.  I'm grateful he made up such a large part of my formative expectations of race and diversity, in a world which was, at that time, so very very white (flight).

Also, Spielberg apparently lost his pocket knife (we call them pocket knives around here, but he referred to it as a penknife) in Petersburg.  If anyone finds it, please let him know, it was his Boy Scout knife!

Thunder Snow

I'd never even heard of Thunder snow before I was thirty-five or so, but I swear every year lately we seem to have it.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Culture of Blame

Cultures across the globe and across time have found ways to blame women for their own rapes and harassment, but this is absolutely outlandish.  Iowa has ruled that it is LEGAL to fire attractive people.

Tell me how many men you think could ever lose their jobs, when acting perfectly correctly and professionally, for posing a threat to a coworker's marriage.  How many judges would CONDONE such a termination.

See also here, for further elaboration such as this paragraph:

When Stuyvesant says that women’s dress and bodies are distraction in a learning environment, for example, what they’re really saying is that they’re distracting to male students. The default student we are concerned about—the student whose learning we want to ensure is protected—is male. Never mind how “distracting” it is to be pulled from class, humiliated, and made to change outfits—publicly degrading young women is small price to pay to make sure that a boy doesn’t have to suffer through the momentary distraction of glancing at a girl’s legs. When this dentist in Iowa can fire his assistant for turning him on—even though she’s done absolutely nothing wrong—the message again is that it’s men’s ability to work that’s important.

Yankee Doodle Food

Between Two Nerdy History Girls and Isis' Wardrobe/Toilette and American Duchess, this week has been a fascinating ride indeed.  Check out the girls' post on macaroni, circa 1774 (or not - read the discussion in the comments section for details on the date/cookbook noted), and how to knit a king's stockings.

For all that I sometimes lament the ephemerality of experience and, yes, even knowledge (I'm a thoughtkiller, remember) - sometimes, the availability of fascinating studies in those areas of history old folks such as myself didn't get in history books limited by the old paper-and-binding technology and a less-diverse society and dynamism can still be exciting.

Not New Hair!

My fifth grade teacher used to make much of us kids when someone got a haircut, gleefully greeting us with "New hair!" if we came in cut or curled or the like.  Today, let's take a look at *old* hair - and styling.  From the link here, it's possible to find not only ancient Roman earring styles (DIY!), but also still more forensic archaeological hairstyling theories and demonstrations.  My personal favorite, ironically made impossible for me just today by a *new* hair(cut), is the Aphrodite Knot, and Agrippina the Younger's is also very nice (if also for longer hair than I have , as though I've kept the overall length, I'm now all full of layers).  Be sure to look a the "you might also like" tiles if you're interested.

Thank you, Leila, for leading me to this place by way of the Vestal Virgin hairstyle link!

These links, by the way, lead mostly to somewhat long-for-YouTube instructional vids for very intricate and ancient hairstyles.  At 9 to 17 minutes, they will mostly be of interest to the *very* curious, or those with a particular interest in hairstyles from the ancient Roman, Renaissance, and 18th/19th-century Western eras, or cosmetology and its history.  As many require hair from waist to even THIGH length, these aren't going to be for most of us - yet the ideas are fascinating and could be adapted.

One aspect of many of these is how common actual sewing is in hairstyling.

Having long hair myself, and a brother who carves, I've long used hair sticks (what Janet Stephens, the hairstyling archaeologist refers to as bodkins).  When men or women who would never use this method ask me how I make them "stick", I usually note that it's something like sewing - use the point to pick up hair on one side, cross over the twist of hair to be secured, then pick up another section on the other side.  Hairstick styles generally depend on some similar form of "stitch" or others.

The extent to which I've used stitching in my hairstyling is NOTHING compared to the actual needle and thread methods theorized/shown in Ms. Stephens' demonstrations, and it's kind of gratifying to watch clear, simple instructionals on methods I never would have figured out, but which both fascinate me and also bear out some of the nebulous ideas I've had about "how it's done" ... or how it *was* done, once upon a time.

Image found at:
(c) trendstop

I might have to get into some of the ribbon-lacing and woven hairstyles I've known about and studied a little bit in the past.  Some of it not such distant past (or, perhaps, actually the future ...):

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Day of the Dead Horse

If it were not for the wee beasties in my life, I would not laugh even a quarter as often as I get to.  Penelope's fairly stressful introduction period has reached a much smoother spot (though she still does wee a bit when certain people come in the house ...), and she and Gossamer have come to several working understandings.  If I ever shoo them into laying off each other, it's probably more about me at this point than either of them (okay, the kitten) having real distress.  I have a little fun from time to time piping up with "Pen, stop biting the cat's butt" or "Please stop eating the cat" or, an obscure favorite, "Touch not the cat" (which is the title of a novel written by Mary Stewart, who wrote my much-beloved Arthurian novels - no, it is not one of the Arthurian novels).

Laughter is good right now - after a slump at work, the holidays, a week's illness, and not the re-influx of all the people who took off over Christmas and/or New Year's, I've been very positively productive - and seriously busy.  One of the things about working with a team who aren't all sitting around in one big cube farm:  sometimes the day is just getting started at my 5:00 p.m.  Last night, I kept going until 6:15, and it's hard not to be glad this comes at this point, rather than when Pen-Pen was still so insecure a bit of OT might really have set her back.  As it was, I got home last night and she was okay, but somewhat higher strung than usual.  But it was the cat who fell in the toilet bowl.

*Hilarity ensues*

Today was the kind of day at the office where I got four expense reports set up in the morning, published our most recently updated org charts, was able to semi-competently make my way through most calls and questions, and more than once things which should have taken a minute dragged on rather, because deeply, DEEPLY helpful people are slightly like puppies with bones.  As inefficiencies go, though, I'll be happy to admit those are preferable over the sort that make me want to *punch* puppies.

(I never punch puppies, least of all my own, who was not harmed in the writing of this post.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Poetry of Physics

Another charming post from Kim Rendfield's dad, this time on the poetry of Brownian motion - and Lucretius of Epicurus - and non-Epicurian morality in history ...

Anyway - a nice read.  Brownian motion is so cool (and *not* just because of Douglas Adams!).  Maybe we all like watching dust dance in golden light ... as long as we can keep ourselves from thinking about the particulates we're not seeing, going up our noses!

Dickie III - Well, It IS January ...

... but apparently, the CONFIRMATION that the car-park bones actually are those of Richard III has been around for a while - and I missed them.  Boo!  And yet - sort of yay, too.  I love history geeking.

Image from Daily Mail
It IS sticking in my craw, though, the obsessive coverage of the scoliosis of these bones.  I've read any number of debunkings of the "Richard was a hunchback" stories, pretty much as long as I've been reading history at all (and remember, kids:  I am old!).  So this being trotted out as "proof" now just still seems so bizarre to me ...

Bram Stoker: Cultural Landscaping

Breaking out this (public domain) passage of Bram to take a look at something I actually meant to write about yesterday.

This garden in front of my room is the old Italian garden.  It must have been done with extraordinary taste and care, for there is not a bit of it which is not rarely beautiful.  Sir Thomas Browne himself, for all his Quincunx, would have been delighted with it, and have found material for another “Garden of Cyrus.”  It is so big that there are endless “episodes” of garden beauty I think all Italy must have been ransacked in old times for garden stone-work of exceptional beauty; and these treasures have been put together by some master-hand.  Even the formal borders of the walks are of old porous stone, which takes the weather-staining so beautifully, and are carved in endless variety.  Now that the gardens have been so long neglected or left in abeyance, the green staining has become perfect.  Though the stone-work is itself intact, it has all the picturesque effect of the wear and ruin wrought by many centuries.  I am having it kept for you just as it is, except that I have had the weeds and undergrowth cleared away so that its beauties might be visible.

But it is not merely the architect work of the garden that is so beautiful, nor is the assembling there of the manifold wealth of floral beauty—there is the beauty that Nature creates by the hand of her servant, Time.  You see, Aunt Janet, how the beautiful garden inspires a danger-hardened old tramp like me to high-grade sentiments of poetic fancy!  Not only have limestone and sandstone, and even marble, grown green in time, but even the shrubs planted and then neglected have developed new kinds of beauty of their own.  In some far-distant time some master-gardener of the Vissarions has tried to realize an idea—that of tiny plants that would grow just a little higher than the flowers, so that the effect of an uneven floral surface would be achieved without any hiding of anything in the garden seen from anywhere.  This is only my reading of what has been from the effect of what is!  In the long period of neglect the shrubs have outlived the flowers.  Nature has been doing her own work all the time in enforcing the survival of the fittest.  The shrubs have grown and grown, and have overtopped flower and weed, according to their inherent varieties of stature; to the effect that now you see irregularly scattered through the garden quite a number—for it is a big place—of vegetable products which from a landscape standpoint have something of the general effect of statues without the cramping feeling of detail.  Whoever it was that laid out that part of the garden or made the choice of items, must have taken pains to get strange specimens, for all those taller shrubs are in special colours, mostly yellow or white—white cypress, white holly, yellow yew, grey-golden box, silver juniper, variegated maple, spiraea, and numbers of dwarf shrubs whose names I don’t know.  I only know that when the moon shines—and this, my dear Aunt Janet, is the very land of moonlight itself!—they all look ghastly pale.  The effect is weird to the last degree, and I am sure that you will enjoy it.

My maternal family line include a number of diggers and gardeners, and go back in a line of farmers whose memory makes me blush.  My brother, especially, is the living branch (you must excuse the fancy) of this in our generation, probably more than anyone.

It was from him I first heard about planting for the long haul.  Beyond the locally inevitable crepe myrtle, azaleas, and boxwoods, few people put much thought into landscaping.  Their own, or the increasingly corporate variety which surrounds us.  My own yard owns all of two trees, and some very rare and beautiful camellias and azaleas which predate my tenure, and are kind enough to get on with what they are do without much input nor attention from me.

When Mojourner lived closer by, in the days even before our dad died - there was a greenhouse in my front yard, and a richly interesting garden in the back.  I did nothing for them, but let it be said I did benefit from them.  The back garden was more for food than artifice's beauty, but it was a wonderful sight in its day.  Peppers, and these amazing marble-sized tomatoes, positively *blooming* - and in such profusion even the birds never got them all.  Sweet, and delicious right off the vine.  Lettuce lived in the protection of the eastern wall of the house, a spot with enough sun to thrive but enough shade not to wilt - and popular with mockingbirds, who were not shy to strafe (and, indeed, even touch) you should someone venture out for a little greenery for a sandwich ...

In the greenhouse out front, there was a once-huge collection of ti plants (for Virginia!).  Some had slender, inky-dark leaves, with the reddishness and greenness deep and mingled into an almost raven-wing iridescent purple.  I used to have many of these inside, but none survive today to grace the place.  Others had larger, richly green leaves.  For a long time, I still had two of these.  By now, only two ti's with these wonderful, verdant leaves still lives.  At less than 24" tall, each of them would be considered "cute" by Island standards - and shockingly small, at probably eleven years of age now.  Mojourner has laughed with his friends before, about the stunted growth of transplanted ti's.  But for me, these two plants are the only Hawai'ian life my home has seen since he moved so far away, and I am protectively in love with it.  The cat catches, if possible, even more grief than when he meddles with the memorial plant I bought after Siddy La died.  (And he does meddle with that one, and it's lost two of its major shoots, too - little bugger.)

Obviously ... I am not the family botanist.  The garden is a vague, disappearing hump along the east side of my backyard.  The lettuces are long since gone.  Even the greenhouse - what, once, our mom thought looked like a big plastic coffin in front of my home - is no longer, its denizens distributed long ago.

Mo knew the magic of planting for years' growth, for putting together trees or bushes or flowers which, ages down the line from his involvement, would still relate to one another, to their environs, in the way Bram Stoker describes so richly, above.

My family - my grandmother, my mom and dad - my brother - have all known the richness of nurturing and growing.  But I never have.  Like the bone-deep urge for procreation, it's one of those things I simply lack.  Unlike The Baby Itch, though - I do, from time to time, regret this omission in my makeup.  It disconnects me both from my family and my earth - particularly from an important experience in the kind of stewardship of my blessings, my literal *estate* on Earth, which I do think is important.  I remember my mom's mother - one of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen in my life, a photo of a blue bucket, filled with her potatoes, tomatoes, squash, whatever it was she had grown and one of her kids had collected.  I remember helping Mo collect from our own parents' garden, when we were kids.  The year he grew that huge musk melon.  My dad's father, who cultivated tall asparagus and roses and almost certainly corn.  The berries I've eaten with my nieces, and the snow peas, sweet as those tomatoes - as fresh - as beautiful.

I'm not the sort to make New Year's resolutions, and I'm to aware of my weaknesses to become a person who thinks about shoring them up.  It's unlikely I'll *ever* plant for food - or for the ages - or for the almost melancholy, evocative beauties above.  My creative outlets ... are the most passive and undemanding kind.  I write.  I put together the occasional stylin' outfit.  I revel in a laugh from someone who thinks I am momentarily clever.  I do take pride, always aware it may be disproportionate, in my own accomplishments and talents - and I don't regret those I have not (hah) cultivated enough to feel I'm truly "less" as a person.

But I know that ... I've missed out.  And so, I fancy - I sit back, arms crossed like our dad, and watch with pride what my bro does and I do not.  What my mom and dad planted a long time ago.  Planted by other generations.  And I think we've grown, as a clan, to a mellow, fascinating balance.  To ... perhaps ... the right composition ...

Friday, January 4, 2013


18th, 19th, and 20th century literature often refers to older literature, and Through the Wonder of Teh Intarwebs, sometimes you find fun things.  To wit, this quote (hunted down after that reference to Sir Thomas Browne's "Quincunx" from that passage I quoted in the last post):

"Time hath spared the epitaph of Adrian's horse, confounded that of himself."
--Urn Burial

I adore the oddments of archeology and the capricious preservation of history - and that's just a damn good quote.

Bram Stoker - Not Dracula

I haven't read Stoker since middle or high school, though exposure to adaptations of course is hardly slim.  The thing, of course, is that all the adaptations focus on That One Novel, and the resultant sensibility, that there's really not much need to *read* him (admittedly this may only be my issue ...) leaves him as an author whose work, oddly enough, is far less regarded nor considered than the movies and other works inspired by it.

Which is a shame, because his ability to construct, using the epistolary and other "documentary" indirect storytelling forms than straighforward omniscient or POV narrative is very good.  He's also interestingly observant of his times (the interest is not least in the lens of a century's time and social sensibilities' having gone by).

I have been going about for the last few days amongst the mountaineers and trying to make their acquaintance.  It is a tough job; and I can see that there will be nothing but to stick to it.  They are in reality the most primitive people I ever met—the most fixed to their own ideas, which belong to centuries back.  I can understand now what people were like in England—not in Queen Elizabeth’s time, for that was civilized time, but in the time of Coeur-de-Lion, or even earlier—and all the time with the most absolute mastery of weapons of precision.  Every man carries a rifle—and knows how to use it, too.  I do believe they would rather go without their clothes than their guns if they had to choose between them.
I do not think I have seen a single man (or married man either) without his rifle since I came here.

The passage above (please note that the "..." line indicates that there is a passage omitted between one paragraph and the last) comes from The Lady of the Shroud, in the public domain an available at Project Gutenberg.  Reading this just now, after the tragedies ending 2012, tends to underline how deeply provincial This Great Country can be.

Literarily speaking, though, I do recommend Bram for a read.  Every time I go back to novels 100-250 years old, I'm struck by their wit.  It's unfortunate and deeply trite, that 18th/19th/early 20th century work has a reputation for being dusty and lame, because its survival isn't merely a function of age, but of the nature of storytelling itself.  Beyond a story's own interest, its telling brings along with it humor, the quirks of language and contemporary culture, and observations which are necessarily singular in some way.  These are the ingredients which leaven the whole, which make stories memorable and worthwhile.

And Bram, in particular, is a breezy read.  His works aren't lengthy, even by *our* contemporary standards, and they move along nicely - which is a trick, given that the conceit (epistolary, documentary - *indirect*) might by nature almost be distancing.  In Lady, he manages to create stretches of more familiar POV storytelling, but the opening "book" sets up the whole with an ingenious series of pieces put together not only to explicate our scene, but even "Easter egg" some callbacks which the novel itself refers back to.  Take a look - and come back here and let me know what you think, too ...

Thursday, January 3, 2013


One in five children in our country goes hungry.  The wealthy in power DO NOT CARE.

School shootings generate an almost queasy level of excitement and attention in our nation - but, as often as we hear the statistic that twenty percent of our children suffer from deprivation, the excitement (the outrage) just isn't there for headlines without the perverted appeal of gruesome and random barbarity.

But hunger is NOT unpredictable.  It is NOT random.

And the wealthy in power are more concerned about THEIR PERSONAL WEALTH than other people's children (or other people at all).  There is no tenderness for children suffering in ordinary ways.  Hunger doesn't have the shock, commerce, or (let's be frank) entertainment value extreme violence does.  And it doesn't make anybody a buck, not reliably.

So bills like this week's watery soup get passed, and we try to consider it a triumph.

It is not.

And the kids aren't mine, so perhaps I am the perverse one.  Because I do care - and I know I don't do more than work the food bank on rare occasion, or the Salvation Army holiday charity event, or sign petitions (the link is a petition focusing on gun violence, not on hunger) ... an otherwise just go to my job, pray in thanksgiving and in supplication for those in need, and giggle about my new pets in my nice warm house.  I suck.

As the wealthy in power work hard to sin outright against everyone but themselves.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 - the Best Part

It's that beautiful time of year when people wish each other temporarily (or perhaps just hypocritically) well, condemn the old year with all the smarm they can muster, and speak with hope about All The Stuff they intend to accomplish in the new.

While I do wish people well, this isn't my chosen forum to do so - and while I have hopes for the future, none of them is particularly tied to the calendar.  I have a reverence for anniversaries and commemoration, but commemorating the new year continues to be fairly meaningless to me for the most part - and, having spent 100% of my new year's holiday SICK (a perfect record of non-productivity - whee), I'm feeling snotty, cynical, and negative.  Also contrarian - but I'm always that.

Which brings me to my incomprehension about *others'* negativity - to wit, the annual social habit of complaining about the year just past.

2012 went by so damn fast, apart from the irritations of Tea Party economic saboteurs, I'm not sure how there's been time for anyone to accumulate enough to complain about.  Even my friends who've been HOSPITALIZED multiple times aren't kvetching - but turn on the computer, and I see more "oh it was so *awful*" in all the anonymous well-wishing than it's safe to stomach, as dizzy as I have been for four (and a half, actually) days now.

Yes, sure - I am old (and selfish), and old people think years go by faster - but *everyone* I know seems to be saying 2012 rushed by at top speed.  Those I know who could actually lay claim to "a bad year" aren't doing so, either.  Just marveling at this year and its brevity.

This year, I want to see Ax agented - hey, even sold.  Not something I can set as a goal, as if I have final control over it.  But a hope.

This year, it'll be intriguing to see what comes next at my job.

This year, watching my fur-bearing little-uns grow will be beautiful and fun.

This year will hold surprises I can't name, dream of, nor ask for today.

And that is the best part.

Have a lot of unexpected best parts, my friends.  And be well.  I certainly recommend that much, after this week!