Sunday, September 29, 2013

Crunch, Skitter, Yaaay

Two weeks ago on a Friday, I was walking out of the office toward the parking lot, and an executive I know was walking in.  This is a great guy, someone it's always a pleasure to see.  Even as I was breathing in the golden day and noticing the first few leaves on the ground ahead of me - he came to a little drift of them, and began happily kick-walking in them.  It's not just the unself-consciousness of it that made seeing that little moment joyous, but the simple truth that some play never changes.  Humans need play, and one of the greatest things we have to play with is the Earth itself, its teasing promises of seasonal changes on the way, its coldness, its hotness, its wetness, its beauty.

No executives appear in the images here.  Still, some of them are fun, some nostalgic, and all are very beautiful.


Are you interested in the castles-and-nobles aspect of history or historical fiction?  Enjoy a nicely fleshed out summation of the history of Stafford Castle in the UK, by Nancy Bilyeau.

Yesterday, I spent a great deal of my day shoving furniture around and toting tables up and down to/from the basement, because watching HGTV as you're just starting with the weekly housecleaning is a bad idea.  One of the best parts of that network is the truly BAD decorating ideas they come up with.  But I think keeping a living hermit on your premises for the fashion of it takes even Marie Antoinette's cake (though Le Petit Trianon hits much the same mark).  Hard not to wonder how professional hermiting stacks up to working as a WalMart greeter, as retirement jobs go.  ...  The final sentence is an intriguing plot-bunny-hopping idea.

Adrian Goldsworthy discusses first person perspective and the various ways it can be done or used in combination with other options.

As the British hold onto their own artifacts - it's nice to know there is also repatriation across the globe.  On a silver gryphon going home from here in the U. S. to Iran - and it is a gorgeous object, too.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

JRW News Release

September 25, 2013


Contact: Sheila Sheppard Loveladay, Program Director

2013 James River Writers Conference Brings Publishing Professionals to Richmond

Richmond, VA — What has been declared “one of the best writing conferences in America” by nationally renowned author and book doctor, David Henry Sterry, returns for its eleventh year this October.

A part of the Virginia Literary Festival, the 2013 James River Writers Conference will include speakers such as award-winning book designer and author Chip Kidd, award-winning author Lee Smith, best-selling and award-winning author Christopher McDougall, National Book Award-winner Kathryn Erskine, award-winning novelist Lydia Netzer, five literary agents available for one-on-one sessions with attendees, book doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry hearing live pitches at “Pitchapalooza,” and many more.

“JRW is known for its camaraderie. Some of the most respected literary agencies, a designer who changed the face of books, and innovative publishers are in central Virginia's backyard for one weekend and everyone is invited,” says conference chair Kristi Tuck Austin. “Mingle with agents over coffee, chat during lunch with nationally-renowned authors, and form relationships that will grow with you and your art for years.” 

On Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, the JRW Conference will be held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Pre-conference master classes will be held on Friday, October 18th at the Virginia State Capitol with workshop subjects ranging from “DIY Book Apps” with app designer Michael Portis and award-winning author Gigi Amateau to “Getting in Your Character’s Skin” with National Book Award-winner Kathryn Erskine.

“Panels are designed to be relevant no matter where writers are in their careers,” continues Austin. “Attendees can follow one track that includes panels covering everything from finding ideas to the submission process. A craft track delves into topics like character and plot; another furthers their business savvy.”

James River Writers is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build community by connecting and inspiring writers and readers in central Virginia. The 2013 conference is supported by BrownGreer, VCU Libraries, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Fraga Studios, CultureWorks, Dominion, Hunton & Williams, Art Works, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Registration for the two-day conference is $240; one-day passes are $170, and pre-conference master classes are $40 each. Visit for more details.

Friday, September 27, 2013


There is a disease, supposedly rare, which seems to have determined to hit my family with everything it's got (and, no, it is not genetic; indeed, by "family" I do not mean people who are all related to each other).  This disease is the reason I stopped watching House years ago; it seemed always to be the first BS idea they threw at the wall to see whether it'd stick, and after a while I found myself shouting "STOP IT" at the television more than was comfortable.

One of my loved ones is facing a re-run of cruel loss, and another, who has become one of the funniest people I know through a course of illnesses now running a couple of years now, is facing mortality itself.  It's a bitter thing, and there is nothing to offer these two people who mean so much to me.  My heart contracts for those who make it expand, and I am angry at the diagnosis, angry that prayer feels powerless, angry that life just is not fair.

We all must die of something.  Why is it so many I know seem to have to die of this supposedly-rare, murdering disease?

Prey It Stops

If your way of flirting scares and repulses people, then you need to stop and find a new way of flirting.  --Soraya Chemaly



Yes, I have been a busy little bee today, fella babies.  (I call all my pals on Twitter fella babies, we're going to start doing it here too.  I'm no Dr. Johnny Fever, but it's still a great show and a worthwhile turn of phrase.)

The final polish on The Ax and the Vase is going very well these days.  I've been productive at work and at home (today I had two contractors come over to give me quotes on restoration of The Amazing Exploding Bathroom AND I finally CLOSED on a refinance of my home! woo!), and the work on Ax is no exception.

As of right now, I'm still less than halfway through, but I still hope to have the thing in sellable shape by the Conference (less than a month away! eep!).  It's amazing to me how much a revelation writing - and reading my own work - is, no matter how long I've done it.  I feel at once intimately connected with the work and completely amazed with it when I read it.  I truly find I don't "recognize" large swaths of it at all, even as many times as I have read it.  It feels like something someone else wrote, and I mean that in a good way:  it is still fresh to me, it still has the urgency of reading a novel someone else wrote, which I want to stay up all night enjoying.  Perhaps that's wrong/bizarre/alienating, but to me it seems like a good thing.  We all work differently, and where some authors must make their words their darlings, I make mine my lovers - they surprise and tease even me, they are fresh even when they are frustrating, the little bastards.

At some point, I may put up some excerpts again.  We'll see.  But by now, at least, we're finally getting closer to the point where my little lovers can get out into the world.

British Jewelry

The Brits (entirely understandably) are not interested in letting their historically significant baubles get away.  Here, an Iron Age bracelet in Yorkshire.  Here, Kelly Clarkson doesn't get the turquoise after all.

Janet Reid, Query Shark

Janet Reid also gets her own post today, because what she's been doing with her Question Emporium posts recently deserves expansion.  I posted her comment recently about what her job is(n't), but that too begs further discussion.

So, read this post for her elucidation on what doesn't sell and the crucial point that what SHE can't sell isn't necessarily un-sellable.  It's important to keep these things in mind.  Though you don't have to go the Special Snowflake (... or is it Highlander ... ?) route in seeking an agent, it is not the case that *any* agent is okay, nor that all agents provide the same opportunities for success.  Agents know this.  We need to remember it too.

And read this post for a quick look at the realities of profit and return in publishing.  What ho!

Kim Rendfield

Kim Rendfield has a lot of exciting goings-on and good posts, so I am not burying these within a larger "Collection" post.  She deserves her own, and I don't say that just because I dig the Franks so darn much either.

Wallpaper is a pain, sure.  But the innovation in decoration beat out tapestries because it was still more practical than the textile wallcoverings, especially in an age when the production of paper was on the rise.

Speaking as an author dealing with long-haired Frankish kings, I'll always link to posts about tonsures of the period.  The power of locks wasn't only a masculine concern.  She also has another great guest-post here on the surprisingly contentious subject of clerical haircuts.  (I'm not hair-obsessed at all, why do you ask ... ?)

Finally, her upcoming work is discussed here.  Kim is definitely going to be the toppling point of my TBR pile.


First and foremost, a story about how human tampering in the land doesn't have to be irrevocable.  It's not just the salmon who'll be restored in this project - and the whole thing under quarter of a mil.  What a human investment in the habitat we seem to forget we are a part of.  "We're pretty mellow about the project."  Beautiful.  If you are exceptionally clever, you will know why I love the bit about the fountain.

Leila Gaskin and Arthur C. Clarke on immutable laws, elderly scientists, the impossible, and exploding bowling ball frogs.  Love!

Jeff Sypek and Renn Faires in the American counterculture.  Anyone who's wondering what to get me for Christmas, here's an idea!

Zoe Saadia proves to my narrow, creaking mind once again that "history" does not equal "European kings during the Common Era" - and I'm grateful for the reminder!  On Aztecs and the Five Nations.

Linguistics across the millennia.  This is a true piece of gee-whiz theoretical science, complete with an ancient story, dramatic reading, and wonderful sleuthing through prehistory.  I know I use this word too much, but:  fascinating!

Richard III stories:  a part of his battle standard is about to go on auction, and the proposed design of his tomb is contentious and money-tangling.  Make no mistake - dead for over half  millennium, Dickie is a going concern.

Something of a gruesome story, this one - George Orwell's bloody anti-fascist neckwear going on auction.

The White Queen:  this one is for Cute Shoes - and anyone else who might be interested in Elizabeth Woodville.  Interested in vacationing in her digs?  They're winning architectural awards.  Ahh, the vacations I'd plan if I were stupidly well-off.  Some of these rooms do look beautiful to me.

DaVinci's Codex.  I love the History Blog.


Mark Chappelle is one of the best friends I've made on Twitter, and the perfect example of the best that short-form social media has to offer.  He once said to me, after looking at my blog, "I am provisionally jealous" and that was meaningful enough a compliment it's obviously stuck with me.  His own blog is more specific in intent and spiritually motivated/directed.  Here is his latest post.


You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.
--James Allen

Friday, September 20, 2013

Portrait Dignity

In the time before pocket cameras, capturing someone's image was not a matter for grins ... but why, really?  I've always figured on dignity, but here is a bit of an expansion on that, along with centuries-old images of smiles which seem either strange or disjointed from their time.

Janet Reid, Query Shark

My job is not to find good books.

Forget that, and forget ever getting an agent at all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Singing Pup!

My mom sent me this because this little singing star reminded her of Sweet Siddy La.  Aww.

Rambling Arose

This morning, sitting in one of those very large pep-rally sorts of meetings where my brain simply never escapes the ‘except the admin’ clause in everything that is said, I got to thinking, too, about how the role has changed.  We still remain that necessary evil some types of management wish they didn’t have to have at all (nothing but overhead, an administrative position ... and, yes, I have actually worked at places where that was pretty clear and overtly the outlook) – and yet, particularly at the level I’ve attained, having been doing this work for the best part of a whole generation now, being a secretary ain’t what it used to be.

I’ve long stressed that a good admin is a relationship manager and a project manager.  Lacking the gumption for meetings, classes, and tests, I don’t have the legitimacy a PMP confers, but if I had a schedule of meetings the like of which pretty much all my coworkers endure every day, I’d shoot myself in the neck in a New York minute.  From my chair, I get to PLAN the meetings.

But everybody knows the admin does that.  The changes are more profound.

Every couple of weeks, I round up my two executives and have a short come-to-Jesus with them.  Here’s what’s done, here’s what I’m working on, what have you got for me?  During our most recent one, a hotel issue came up, and – the head honcho decided it was easier for him to handle the problem.  Assistant Vice Honcho said the same, and I was pretty chagrined and joked about me calling them together to make them do my job.  This actually turned into a fruitful conversation, though.

The Moneypenny position used to make every bit of sense.  Executive has important things to do, so part of what secretary does is manage the administrivia.  But ... these days, an awful lot of administrivia has reached a level of convenience for which that irritating joke is apropos:  “there’s an app for that.”

After the 2008 financial crisis and massive job losses across the country, the greatest sector affected was administrative workers.  The evil overhead positions were cut, divvied up, and a shocking percentage of those eliminated will never come back.  I’ve read about this and heard it most recently on NPR, but there’s plenty of material out there (I am being too lazy to link for you; this time, I won’t be your secretary and do it for you ... heh) illustrating this sea change in our career culture.  There are many who think the day of the secretary is over, thanks to helpy little apps and all the functionalities in the calendars we carry with us, which “personally” manage so much more than schedules (without so much as a person involved).

And yet, the death of the admin is just another buzzing in my ear, like the death of Real Books, the death of rock and roll, the death of civility, and so on.  People like to honk on about this stuff, but what I see is evolution.

As my bosses strategized a path forward where, as the best writer, the best editor, the creative core of our group, I’ll take on more presentation work and thereby gain the benefit along the way of a better understanding of the technical side of what our team really does, I heard echoes.  None of this is new.  I have done newsletters for the better part of twenty years.  I was the customer service agent for orphan insurance clients who did not have an agent, at one job.  I assisted the house attorney in penning a book about estate planning (no, it never published; still, I did the work, and typed the phrase “death tax” more than a body ought to have to ...).  I have been in ownership of our staff recognition program for nearly two years now.

I’m still the secretary.

Yet I own all these things, and have owned this sort of thing for almost the length of my career.  If I saw myself leaving the title of “admin” behind, it would always be in the name of taking fuller ownership of a function like this, with a much more sophisticated level of involvement and execution.  A friend recently left the title behind to take on video conference coordination at her location.  It’s nothing she hadn’t had plenty of exposure to before; as an admin, we have exposure to all sorts of things.  Indeed, to take on a job like that is a NARROWING from the breadth of a secretary’s job duties – but a deepening of the authority over this area.  From a coordinator, she’ll become much more of a technician, and build a niche with an identity people relating to her will find more concrete.  The change is, I have no doubt in my mind, something that people will perceive as a “better” job.

Me, I love my job.

But it is hardly beyond my ability, to imagine that little recognition program I own, and remembering when I was part of that much much larger quality assurance program, and when I wrote that newsletter way back when, and to believe that in the right universe, that could be a job unto itself, and a more complex and interesting tool than it is.  It isn’t beyond my ability to perceive that so much of what I have done for many years includes entire programs, managed by me, because budget isn’t “there” for those programs to become something bigger.  What has kept me from acting on dreams of “I’m going to rule the world of” (fill-in-project-blank-here) tends to be corporate structure and money.

Since September 11, 2001, tasty little jobs devoted to telling people they’re simply spiffy are thin on the ground, at best.  More to the point, since that day, my career has been one of sustained *sustenance*.  I lost my place with a boss I loved (shoot, I even miss his wife and his dogs) and spent eight months unable even to *volunteer* my time because everyone else had lost their jobs, too, and you literally couldn’t give it away back then.  Habitat for Humanity didn’t even return my calls!

Then I got in with WS – interestingly enough, in their quality assurance division.  I parlayed that temp job into a low level gig which represented a massive pay cut for me, something over twenty percent.  Networked and WORKED, and parlayed that into a midlevel gig.  Networked and WORKED, and parlayed that back up to executive status.  I was at the top echelon of one of the largest securities firms in the country (working with the guys who *didn’t* want to hand out credit to every Tom, Dick, and Fido) when, thank you 2008, the economy once again collapsed.  In the seven years since it’d done that last, I had promoted myself three times.  And once again I found myself at mid-level and thanking my lucky stars to be even there.  When the next layoff came, it took only three months for me to get a senior administrative gig, and I have been grateful ever since – and, frankly, baffled that I even got seen.  My resume hit this employer electronically, I knew nobody here, and I got my foot in a door most people can’t even get close enough to knock on.

Even today, I still haven’t regained the trajectory I had begun in 2001, or rebuilt by 2008.  In 2007, it was possible to imagine building a job all its own out of the responsibilities which have always been part of an admin’s roster of projects.  That isn’t the world right now, and that is okay.  It is probably one of the unseen motivators which got me to write a novel, and to take on the great load of work that brings with that, which can be so much harder than the actual writing.  I wouldn’t want to give that up for a “real” job, either.  It doesn’t mean I’m not motivated, and don’t dream at my job.

It just means that I never forget, I work because it pays for my life.

I write because that’s a big part OF my life.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You Will Believe ...

... a Moai can walk!  Goodness, NOVA is so great.  Don't raise your kids without it, please!  Here is the show plus details on Netflix.

Image:  PBS


I have noticed this about ambitious men, or men in power—they fear even the slightest and least likely threat to it.
--Mary Stewart
Plus, she wrote my beloved Arthurian novels!

Monday, September 16, 2013


I found this before I knew about this and got all sad.

Frogs have a long history of symbolism, but my personal favorite is their role as avatar for fidelity and faithfulness.  A lot of animals have that honor, of course, but frogs have always exerted a peculiar charm on humanity.  For over twenty or so years now, I’ve had little silver frogs of one sort or another; the very cute tiny marcasite pin, the shiny, polished articulated tree frog who would sit politely or open his little mouth wide.  That little fellow was stolen, and I still miss him.  The sterling ring I still have, which my younger niece used to kiss whenever I saw her (she gave it a smooch when we were together again as a family this spring – clearly a child with her finger on the pulse of what faithfulness to affectionate traditions mean).  The newer articulated frog pin I hardly ever wear because, though I squee’d out loud when I saw it, it’s still not ... quite ... just like the original little guy.

A good friend of mine, who was a nanny for a while when he still lived around here (yes, he), had the care of a towheaded tot he always called “tree frog” – I honestly can’t even remember the boy’s name, he was just Friend’s Tree Frog.  Aww.

The 17th-century purses linked first above fascinate me – not only as one of the many proofs that ‘fads’ were popular well before the twentieth century, and aside from tulips – but as evidence of the care we put into those things which seem to have the most meaning in a certain place and time.  Silk thread and meticulous wire limbs; these little carriers, whether as purses or for holding needles or sweetmeats, are amazingly realistic and finely made.  Even the striated coloration on the belly of one shows the care with which these were made, and an importance we may have lost, even if the charm remains for us.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Back in Church

Mibi, how did you know I'd be back after several months gone??

A good sermon today, I do recommend it.

Anna Boleyn

Netflix has been steadily improving their instant offerings in classic and silent films, and this week I took the opportunity to stream "Anna Boleyn", a 1920 German flick from Ernst Lubitsch with a remarkably good-looking print.

It's an interesting take on the Tudor story.  As histfic, it's got its weaknesses, as an awful lot of Tudor tellings do for some reason (as if the truth were insufficiently fascinating and dramatic) - but, in this case, the inaccuracies themselves make for a good enough story, so suspending disbelief far enough to simply disbelieve this is even Henry and Anne works out fine.

In fact, there is a large cast of true historical figures, and a rather long running time for a movie of the period (nearly two hours).  Anne's early relationship with Harry Percy is lost, with Henry Norris essentially taking his place.  The musician Mark Smeaton is, interestingly, one of the villains of the piece, with the Duke of Norfolk.  And of course there is Great Harry, who's most often villainized, and this film is no exception.

This film has aged very well indeed both in terms of its condition, but its effectiveness (*with caveats).  The casting, only in Anna's case, may not have survived quite as successfully.  Henny Porten was about thirty when she played the role, and looks it from the first frame (there is also a massive compression in time in this film, by the way; the whole film takes place in something like one year, here; where Anne's own drama in life spanned 1526-36).  Though we have plenty of authority that Ann herself may not have been a beauty of the fashion of the time, it's well documented that she was lively and charming, and many did describe her as beautiful.  A charisma of some sort seems necessary for the part - even with the liberties taken with her character.  Henry, as portrayed in this film, was highly interested in cute young things, and Anna here seems hardly to be cute, young, nor personally magnetic.  She's strictly a pawn, a victim.  Though that itself has intriguing storytelling possibilities (portraying Anne as the creature of others, the woman limited by her time and her gender), it isn't fully realized here.  Even what little autonomy she attempts to assert in this telling is fleeting.

Anne is outcast from the moment she arrives at the English court, hapless against the lust of a king she (in this story) does not want at all.  Given a crown she prefers not to have, Anna doesn't do much with it; her having it at all seems fairly arbitrary, given that the King is happy to lust without putting it on every girl he goes for.  Anne's specialness is not expressed here.  Whatever may be said of The Boleyn, she was always described as vivacious, and indeed it is her very autonomy which dis-enamored her to so many and ended by causing her downfall.

Interestingly, the Jane Seymour storyline is as time-compressed and liberty-taken as Anna's, but I have to admit I enjoyed seeing a portrayal that fell significantly short of sainting her.  Perfect, plain Jane gets tiresome to watch.

(*)  And now for a caveat.  Alongside the storytelling, the performances may bear discussion.  Particularly from Ms. Portin, and toward the end of the film especially, the thespian standards of the time and a general look which seems overwrought to our view in the 21st century do stand out.  These conventions don't bother me at all, but if you're offput by "what we think" silent film looks like, this movie won't dispel those expectations.  I won't recommend it except to say it does have its rewards.

The production design here is particularly good overall.  Though some of the women's headdresses occasionally veer 150 years off course (into the 14th century, or outright fantasy) and one dress has an Elizabethan cut and all of them lack the partlet, the silhouette stays fairly accurate.  The textiles appear appropriate, though it may be hard to tell (even with the quality of the reproduction, hundred-year-old filmstock can only tell so much) whether it's rigorously accurate.  The men in particular tend to be correctly costumed, and many of Henry's own iconic hats do make their appearances.

The soundtrack is strictly piano/melodic (no sound effects) and is wall-to-wall; there isn't a single pause in the duration of the film.  It's not bad music, but I wouldn't have minded a rest from time to time, being someone who finds the "silent" part of silent film to be worthwhile dramatically.  The visuals are crisp - however, blue intertitles (the dialog cards between live action) in elaborate goth-esque font on a black background are no favor to ageing eyes.  The rather saturated sepia and blue color washes can be slightly distracting at times, but the impressiveness of the images overall is pretty amazing for a 93-year-old film.

The sets have a very different aesthetic to the romantic atmospheres we've grown used to in historical productions, and their practical feel does the story a lot of favors.  Though there are bits of late-anachronistic designs creeping in, which feel more 17th-century than they should, there are also some rough-hewn pieces (particularly at the joust) which actually lend a more medieval feel, and that is a *good* thing. (See the Aristotle link here and this post for thoughts on why things older than the time period of a setting are appropriate.)  If this is an example of film set recycling/reuse, it's a particularly effective series of choices.  If it is all original design to this film, it may be the more impressive for showing such a swath of styles and levels of luxury.

As I said, if you aren't interested already in silent, German, or historical films, this will not be your gateway drug.  However, I'd recommend it as an artifact - and, for those who can accept the terms - as entertainment.  Obviously not as history.  If you do watch it, or have, let me know what you think.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I can't think of the right Weezer joke, but if you can please let me know.  If you want to destroy my sweater ... just don't because it's an Iron Age artifact and priceless  - and kind of heroin grunge chic, at that.  (Meanwhile *I* have a hell of a time finding a good boatneck!)

An interview with Ben Kane about Spartacus:  Rebellion.  (He's probably right about Spartacus' being the greatest slave rebellion in history, especially if fame has anything to do with it ... but I do have to say, Gabriel's rebellion is more meaningful for me.)

Marriage age in the ancient world from Leslie Hedrick - I'm staying tuned for further research here, but an interesting summation!  Can't beat her images, she has a great sense of humor.

Kim Rendfield discusses a court's progresses in the Carolingian world.  I remember reading about royal progress when I was a kid, in "My Enemy the Queen" - and being curious about why a whole palace-ful of nobility would run around like that.  It's clearer to me by now, but always interesting to learn more.  I had Clovis travel both with and without his court, and discuss the deputation of authority across his massively increasing realm a great deal as - ahem - things progress through the course of The Ax and the Vase.

Read an interview with Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie about her Jaded here!  Kristy is one of the Sarcastic Broads, and a friend.

At last!  A cookbook with recipes for herring, tripe, codswollop, and unicorn (complete with a great illumination for the latter)!  NOM NOM.


NSA Trek.  Somewhere between creepy and neato.  Mostly creepy, though.

Reges criniti.  One point here - I'm curious how the author claims Gregory of Tours said he had seen Merovus personally, when he lived two generations AFTER the death of Clovis himself (Clovis was most likely Merovus'/Merovech's grandson; certainly he ruled two successions on from the half-legendary king).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

One More Thing

Lookit, lookit!


Y'all don't think I forgot that Star Trek's birthday was Sunday, did you?  Nope.  Just late.  Also:  I agree - the animated series is fanfoogootastic.  "(W)e've got tribbles on the ship, quinotrintacali (sp?) in the corridors, Klingons in the quadrant--it can ruin your whole day, sir!"  Plus, Doohan as Koloth!

Crazy old cat lady?  Crazy like a healthy fox.  Or something.

From Trek to Aristotle - how accurate do we really need to be in histfic?  Opinions - obviously - vary on this point.  Consider historical paintings throughout the centuries, depicting biblical figures in dress and settings contemporary and local to the artists who created them.  Here's what Aristotle says, courtesy of David J. Cord.  Do you write or read poetry, or history ... ?  (My take is here.)

I failed to get to this when Mojourner told me about this over the weekend - and now I'm wracking my brain to remember the OTHER cool thing he told me about.  Well, here's one:  more parasites in archaeology - ahh, the history of gastrointestinal distress and disease is such fun.  Richard III had roundworms.  Yum!  Not bad reading if you want to skip a meal ...

Oh, but wait - there's more Dickie to enjoy!  How about a 3D model of his skeleton?  He had such an INTERESTING skeleton, after all.  I'm trying to be nice by not linking directly to the full PDF article, but don't think for a second that won't be my leisure reading when I can scrape up the time.

More from the History blog (of course) - this time, pre-Reformation tombs in England.  By pre-Reformation we seem largely to be focused on Tudors, but hey, Tudors are always popular!

Elizabeth Chadwick giveaway, y'all!  I may have linked this a few days back, but am too lazy to check and it belongs in a collection post anyway.

Vintage shoes at American Duchess - or - reasons I'm so glad 1930s inspired styles are so popular right now.  I have about five pair of shoes harking back to these shoes, and at least a few 50s type styles as well.

And, finally:  one of the most fascinating (and, apparently, wildly successful) ad campaigns ever conceived.  Courtesy the intriguing blog of Jeff Sypek, I give you:  medieval maiden Maidenform.  If you don't click on this one, you truly are missing out.

Fashion, Frivolity, and How Clothes Matter

I’ve had a few rants lately about designer labels and clothes, the latter post linked actually garnering the reaction I look for when posting about costume on this blog – a bit of enthusiasm from a decidedly non-style-obsessed quarter.

The thing about the human tendency for self-decoration is that we take it too far, of course.  Yet, as much as any other anthropological study - and, in rare preserved instances, archaeological as well – human costume and beauty are a fascinating discipline.  As little use as I like to admit I have for fashion, that’s not because I am ignorant about it.  I have favorite designers, from the haute level on down (from century-plus-old Worth couture to modern Balenciaga and even Calvin Klein, I find fashion and design to be a fascinating art and an enormously respectable craft).  Among the most astonishing costume closets on earth is the BBC’s collection of period pieces, from Elizabeth R to Blackadder, a treasure trove of some of the gorgeous, best made recreations on Earth.

Equally absorbing to me is a look at Otzi’s tattoos and garb, along with the technical aspects of how ancient clothing was made.  We can see that certain techniques have been with us for millennia, but over time there have been remarkable innovations.  Seams were one – inset components were another.  Imagine one-piece-of-textile clothes – the utility and beauty of the toga, or the astonishing longevity of the tunic – then look again at a sleeve, created separately and connected to a body piece; perhaps by ties, as once they were (sleeves were extraordinarily expensive, and provided opportunities for sumptuary excess, in their early days); perhaps permanently, as they are now.  Cap sleeves, flutter sleeves, bell and balloon sleeves, puffed detailing swelling to leg-o-mutton proportions, or even the humble, cuffed workaday arm on a polo shirt.  There was a time such things did not exist.

In more recent centuries, innovation has been heavily focused on dyes, synthetic fibers, and (more and more) unexpected materials.  PVC, latex, even the notorious meat dress Lady Gaga once wore, which has (I kid you not) been preserved in a jerky form.  Do with that what you will, there are obvious jokes aplenty, kids – but that dress has its own Wikipedia page.  And its implications *are* interesting, no matter how resistible the model’s need for attention may be.  Yet we still also like to hark back, either spectacularly (feathers and fur) or with more understatement (silk, wool) to those materials which have served to clothe our bodies since time immemorial.

Synthetic dyes I have discussed before, and at the “clothes” link in paragraph one I do go on a bit about what plastic will do to your garments, but synthetic textiles themselves I haven’t engaged with much enthusiasm here.

If I could afford to dress exclusively in naturals, I still probably would not – but it is an irony that naturals are by far the most expensive means by which to cover ourselves and/or express ourselves anymore.  Even cotton can cost more than a polyester piece – and, of course, it’s easy to prefer clothing which we not only don’t have to care for so meticulously ... but which, frankly, we can use up and get rid of without thinking about it.

I read recently a questionable statistic I’d love to see some sourcing for, that the average American owns a particular piece of clothing for six months then discards it.  The discarding method is not explored by the info-bit I saw, but he implication was “trash”.  I believe discarding may be in the form of donation, selling, or “handing-down” – one form of exchange or another – for a significant percentage of clothing in circulation.  Some probably just languishes in closets until a move or a death, and may no longer be viable clothing by the time it’s unearthed again.  Still, it’s certain that far more often than we care to look at, the discarding of clothing takes the form of throwing something in the trash.

In the current economy, I find the six month period quoted above easy to doubt.  Even so, I do recognize – as do a growing movement – that there IS a massive segment of the population who treat all products (not just clothing but also appliances and cars and all manner of goods we once used to call “durable”) as disposable.

Insert obnoxious older lady phrase here:  When I was a kid, the only reason to throw something away was actual damage.  Outgrowing, out-moding, just never wearing something:  these were reasons to fill up a few bags and give your kid’s clothes to the somewhat younger/smaller neighbor’s kids (I *loved* these days, especially with that one girl across the street – and I know we regularly received hand me downs like this from at least two neighbors), or to take a load to a charity shop.  We shopped regularly at consignment stores, and I still find almost all Goodwill stores to be great resources, and the rather high-end one in the boutique shopping area not far from me is always a fun trip.  And, as you might guess, I don’t trash my clothing either.

Yet, for every item I eBay or secondhand-find, we all know there are people emptying their closets into a landfill instead.  I do it with pantyhose (but did you know that No-Nonsense now has a recycling program?), we all do it sometimes.  We all create exceptions for every best intention, and as unpopular as I know they became in the 90s, I can’t become a non-pantyhose-wearer, for a hundred reasons.  I ought to become a pantyhose-recycler.  I’ll try to get there.

But I’m not there.

And, as a nation, goodness knows America’s not there.  We whip up tens of thousands of tons of chemical clothing every single year (okay, and we import most of it, but that’s another screed, and how many of us are thinking about the fate of what we wear?  How many, of those who are even thinking about it, actually do anything about it?  Again in the 1990s, there was a popular move to “DIY” (do it yourself) in many areas, and wardrobe was a prominent part of this trend.  Since then, recycled textiles and “green” fibers have gained visibility as well.  Raise your hands if you’ve seen bamboo clothes and bags.

But not until we think about it is it going to make the difference it must.

I think a lot about fashion, about style, and about clothes.  That’s not entirely a frivolous pastime.

It is a fascinating skein in the tapestry of history, and humanity itself.  It’s both a revelation ... and a symptom.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


"Diane, you don't understand!  You don't understand!  There's no Towers!"

I will never forget.  And, Zuba?  I really do love you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

THINGS I Know About Clothes, With a Side of Advice

In some ways, I know more about clothing than most people do (to be explicit, this is as distinct from fashion and design).  Not long ago, I had a fun little wigging-out on Twitter, that Rachel Zoe, a celebrity stylist/designer who has a reality show, apparently keeps all of her clothing in its dry cleaning bags.  Her assistants were going through her archive of past wardrobe, and every bit of it was plastic bagged.  Then there were several shots in her home closet, showing her whole family’s clothing, all in bags and (YEP) on wire hangers still sporting those “WE HEART YOU” paper hanger covers unique to drycleaning shops everywhere.

Now, I’m no snob, but this woman is, and she also puts money into fashion like few people in the history of the planet have ever conceived of.  I know that one of the first rules of your schmanzy label clothing (and, indeed, of many lesser beings, who simply prefer to take care of their clothing properly) is NO WIRE HANGERS.  We all think of that wretched film I won’t steal a still from, nor name, nor quote – but the thinking behind no wire hangers is that a wooden or padded hanger does not cut into the textile and seams of a garment, and therefore will both keep it shaped properly and not cause it damage.  The secondary effect of no wire hangers is the forced spacing of hung clothing in a closet – preventing a certain amount of wrinkling and simply being able to see everything, while everything has room to hang as it was designed to, and allowing the textiles all to breathe.

Which brings me back to those saran wrap bags.

On Twitter, I was all faux-shouty that Rachel Zoe (she is, by the way, the final poser – heh – here at this post) keeps her clothes in plastic bags.  Deliciously, so as to prolong my absurdity, one of my “fella babies” online asked me why that was a bad thing.

Much as it is with babies, so it goes with textiles:  plastic cuts off the air supply.  Nothing breathes inside a plastic bag.  This traps moisture and heat, which both have their deleterious effects upon fibers.  Also:  plastic bags are born of petroleum products and chemicals, and chemicals play with each other and perform that oh-so-fragrant game of chemical decomp:  outgassing.  Even if this were not terrible for the fibers of your clothes ... why would you want your garments to SMELL like that?  And finally, there is the simple practical matter of identification.  I can’t see anything so clearly as when it’s unimpeded by unnecessary packaging.

And so, though I wire hang and mush my clothes, that’s largely a private affair between me and my very odd closet – but, when a woman who makes millions based on her supposed expertise with clothes stores them in plastic bags, she’s opened herself up for critique on her total lack of care of her obscenely priced wardrobe.


The problem, of course, with the knowing-of-stuff is how frustrated a certain type of extreme twit such as myself can get when other people louse up a day not-knowing-stuff.  Trying to search online for a boat neck dress or sweater, it can get you a little crazy the number of vee-necks you have to slog through.  Don’t even try searching “bateau” – what few people are aware of the word invariably misspell it.  Likewise exotic shades such as “burgandy” and features including “sequence” (sequin is the singular, my little drag queens; sequins is the plural) – and one I ran across recently, “prolonged sleeves” ... I have to assume this is some sort of special long sleeve my paltry expertise does not encompass.

The sole justification I hold for getting uptight about this brand of ignorance is that, if you want to sell something, and you actually do make an attempt to describe it (surprisingly few actually do ...), then getting the description flat out wrong is irritating and will lose you sales.  If you list something as having long sleeves, and I buy it, and it turns out that they are ¾, your ignorance may well have been innocent – but I despise wearing ¾ sleeves.  HATE them.

This is, of course, one of the reasons that when I do buy online, I prefer to find measurements of a particular garment (size charts are worse than meaningless; they tend to actually be misleading).  Sellers who don’t automatically provide these, or who won’t answer the question of particular measurements when asked, I won’t buy from.  Your loss, kids – my money.  I don’t give it to the slipshod nor recalcitrant.

When I accidentally give it to the ignorant (see also:  ¾ sleeves), I generally forgive, but when I give it to the actually deceptive (people who pin garments to fit in ways the garment actually cannot hang in reality) I get mad.  So does every buyer on earth.  The skirt with the long side slit – I don’t like those, they make me feel cold on one leg, and they look stupid and can be inappropriate for work.  The apparently fitted sweater dress you snugged up on the mannequin, which in reality fits like a bag.  Tell me it’s a 42” waist or expect me to neg you at feedback time because you altered/hid the nature of your product.

And try, at least try, to categorize your items sanely.

  • Things that are not blazers:  cardigan sweaters of fluid cut and fabric; jean jackets; winter outerwear coats; any coat made of plastic; blouses.
  • Things that are not “wear to work”:  strapless dresses; lame’ anything; micro minis; bridesmaids and/or mother-of-the-bride suits; anything made of PVC, or more than 5% leather (if it is not a shoe).
  • Things that are not dresses:  two piece skirt sets; cardigans (those things show up in EVERY dadgum category on eBay); lingerie; boots.
  • Things that are not size fourteen regular women's clothing:  size XS junior; size 22W; jewelry; purses; shoes; car parts; vintage lamps.
  • Patterns that are not accurately described as “solid”:  plaids; stripes; leopard prints; paisleys.

All these bullets are to say ... yeah, the occasional misspelling or omission, or even inaccuracy is forgivable, sure.  But there’s no way to justify listing fuschia leopard print pony-hair “do me” shoes under “dresses-->wear to work-->silk blend” (or, for that matter, under “shoes-->flats”).  There’s no reason I should be cruising the pants category and have to look at your antique porcelain kitten lot, MUST SEE PLZ VISIT STORE.  Kittens are all very cute, but when I have 158 returns on a clear and specific search I’ve built, I don’t feel much but antipathy for anyone wasting my time on stuff so far outside the parameters.

Likewise, black is not white, wool is not chiffon, and – oh – juniors are not misses.  Let’s just get that one straight right here.  If the hips are the same width as the waist, I’m not going to be able to wear it, and I’m not going to thank you after I click through to find your product doesn’t even remotely conform to my size.  It doesn’t happen a lot – most juniors styles, I *am* far too old (and know it) to mistake as appropriate – but poor photos sometimes lead to poor choices, and if I like your fabric or the impression the blurry pic leaves on my mind, when I look and find you’re hawking a “skirt” smaller than most of my own sleeves, I’ma be ticked.  More to the point, if I find the same seller doing this sort of thing a lot (it does happen – particularly with Asian sellers, who winkle their way into “US Only” searches by having an awful lot of outlets on the West Coast), I’ll get to know you and skip you in future without so much as a clickthrough.  Shop online enough, and that gets surprisingly easy – your brain recognizes the mannequin/set they use, or the style of photography or titling, and goes, “oh that’s the seller with the cruddy feedback for selling way-too-small clothes” and so on.

If you want anyone to find your items – know what they are, and describe them.  It takes all of thirty seconds to verify that that thing you’re calling a crew neck is in fact an extremely low cut scoop neck – and it matters, even to those who don’t see the difference plainly by looking.  If they searched “crew neck” it might be because they wanted that, rather than a chest-baring extravaganza of a sweater.

If I searched “long sleeves” – it’s probably because I don’t like ¾ sleeves.  Nor, even, prolonged ones.  Nobody wants a sleeve to overstay its welcome ...

Caustic Cover Critic - Interview

The CCC has a very interesting interview, with a remarkable array of images, with editor John Betram.  Bertram discusses Lolita - the Story of a Cover Girl, which takes a look at the remarkable breadth of cover designs for this novel.

One of the remarkable things about the covers is the division between those which avoid exploitation and those which go for it with, quite literally, cartoonish gusto.  The interview discusses the character of Lolita, too, versus the popular image of "a Lolita" (not a Goth Lolita, but the more generalized cultural assumptions) - and thank goodness.  It's been so long since I read the novel that even I have forgotten what the girl herself was like.  The false image, instead, of the willing and precocious coquette has thoroughly papered over Nabakov's original writing, the character; it is an injustice almost as cruel as that described by the novel itself.

Much could be said about the culture which so reveres and obsesses over child rape.  I'll leave it to the interview, and the images, and for you to consider.

One Good Thing Deserves Another?

At last, the Unleaded Writing post will go up on Thursday!  I've had some setbacks on all those good things from a month and a half ago (ugh), but we're getting there.  Stay tuned for that much vaunted interview with Elizabeth Chadwick (who has a giveaway of her own up now!) ...

American Duchess Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Those of you who follow me much (and Cute Shoes, with whom I've admired their shoes before), know American Duchess is one of my favorite sites - and they're giving away a pair of the Claremonts which, if I had this kind of shoe money, I would have in both colors and be pestering them for more.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dead Men's Limbs, Flumps, and Eggs - Oh My!

My elder niece has said that, if she had to have a health condition and could choose, she would choose synesthesia.  This is the sort of thing we discuss in my family.

One Londoner, blessed with the condition himself, has mapped the fruits (and veggies) of his crossed wires.  Voila!  I give you the synesthesiac map of the best tasting Tube stations in London.

Mojourner and I agree, though - recipes beginning with suet are for the birds ...

Last of the Unemployment Wine

It's hard to believe that it has been the better part of three and a half years since I was laid off from my last employer (along with a whole lot of other folks who were surprised to be part of such a move by one of the most legendarily "secure" employers in our whole state).  At the time, one of my managers was so outraged I was cut, he reached out to me personally and asked permission to come by.  We talked, and it was nice - we'd always had good conversations - and he even brought three lovely bottles of wine in thanks for all I had done.  He felt my job loss was an injustice ... but, the fact was, I had never felt a good fit at that place, and by the time they laid me off I had been looking for three months.  My loyalties at a place of work run deep, but a bad fit is a bad fit.

The wine, of course, coming on the occasion it did, got me a couple of jibes - "nice! you're unemployed, now you can become a wino!" - but I *have* always been grateful for the sentiment behind it.  I've been laid off many times (I might make quite the case study in our economy, since embarking on the embryonic idea of a career in 1986), but only a couple of my bosses have made a point of reaching out *personally* after the fact.  LinkedIn is all very well, but of course I mean something more substantial.

Anyway ...

This week has been oddly chopped up, and sad.  A neighbor and friend who's been fighting a pretty good fight for a long time indeed, has accepted a job in another state, and our whole neighborhood is sorry - we are losing her.

On Wednesday night, I went to her place for a "packing party" after work, and brought with me the last bottle of the unemployment wine.  It is, though I am no aficionado, a delicious red, with a clarity and lightness, almost a coolness about it - but not too dry, and very pleasing lingering flavor.

Yesterday, I took the day off of work to help her shrink wrap furniture, sort through the last of the pack-able items, roll up and bag rugs, and assist with the young men she'd hired as truck loaders.

Around three or three thirty, my mom came over; she has always liked Neighbor.  She knows how generous she has been, and we have shared a few holidays with her, too.  Mom found herself admiring Neighbor's home enormously.  It *is* a beautiful place, lovely and comfortable.  Mom started off by running an errand I had been slated to take care of, but was so grubby I could not take myself out in public to do it.  Then she stayed for hours.  Another friend came to help, after her own work day, and the three young men helping to move items into the truck were there for probably at least four hours themselves, well into the evening.

As a way to say farewell until we meet again (we all still hope for Neighbor's eventual return, including the lady herself), it was good for those of us there.  Sweat equity in friendship is emblematic of Neighbor's own generosity and the contributions she's made to our little community and to those around her.  It was also, very quietly between me and mom, the most appropriate way in the world for the two of us to spend the day that was my dad's seventy-sixth birthday.  Hard work in the name of helping someone we care for so much.  Dad would have been there too - and barring that, I know he would love to see "his girls" working as mom and I did.

I was pretty proud to be her kid yesterday.

Mom is a machine when it comes to a big job like this.  She and I have on a few occasions tackled things like pruning and trimming work at my house, or basement cleanup, and even as a lazy little underachiever, she taught me well  - I do work like my mom.  Already hours in even before she came into the picture yesterday, I didn't let up until about eight o'clock, and I thought to provide us a nice lunch as well.  But mom, at seventy-four (this month anyway), certainly had Neighbor and the other friend impressed.  She didn't hoist heavy tables nor exert too ambitiously, but she bagged and wrapped and devised "how should we do this piece" over and over, often ingeniously, and improving on the ways we were considering doing things.  She helped me finish off the shrink-wrapping of a gigantic painting, using the "excelsior" from a shredder as packing material to protect it.  Not all trash is trash ...  And more hands are always a treasure, for things like this.

I tried to remember to take a lot of pictures, and got some pretty shots of the gorgeous garden Neighbor has always cultivated.  Evening light in dazzling halo around glossy green berries.  A view through green leaves to my own little Pen-Pen.  The tiniest fragment of the progress as we made it.

This evening, I mowed my grass in the dazzling golden light of September then went over again to empty her fridge.  I sit in the dark now, and it is quiet, so quiet.

The wine is quiet, too.  But somehow it is bittersweet - even if it is still delicious.  Not the same, un-shared.

It isn't a bad thing ... but I feel the solitude of my life right now, as perhaps I haven't since Neighbor (and her handsome, wonderful dog) have lived here.  Not because we spent so very much time together.  But because she embodies community and neighborliness like nobody else I know.  With her gone, our little corner of the city really won't be the same.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dull, Boring, and Orange Sheep Taking Scotland Postmodern

The History Girls are up to some wonderful hijinks, check 'em out (complete with photos)!

There's Aplomb and then There's Aplomb ...

This weekend, in addition to house cleaning, I finished several mending projects, arranged some assistance to someone I care about who's in need, and lobbed a couple of balls into other people's courts.  Today I had a reasonably good and productive day at work, and have finally set up my profile at Unleaded Writing.  If I can clear my mind long enough, I'll find new questions for Elizabeth Chadwick (I gave up the idea of resurrecting the original ones, sadly lost) within a day or two, and y'all will finally begin to see some of the fruits of those Good Things I've been on about for a month or more now.

It's a silly sort of nice evening; the earrings came today, and with a polish will be *perfect* (an exact match, and I'm pleased, because I missed this pair!).  My mom's birthday present also came, on Saturday, and as dippy as the idea was I'm looking forward to making her laugh.  I provide her enough stress and negativity, giggles are worth anticipating.

The seasons are changing, and so is life.  A Great Egret visited the manmade lake near our office last week, several times - and I learned that this beauty is a symbol of self-determination, guiding one's own future.

I learned, too, from Mojourner, that it is invasive.  But as self-determination goes, that isn't unpredictable.

I seem to be determining my present reasonably well these days.  As to the future, I'll have to see the bird in flight to know.  We'll see.

Image:  Wikimedia

Monday, September 2, 2013

Literalism versus Favoritism

Growing up in my family, it didn't do to be reductive.  Superlatives and absolutes tended to be greeted with deconstructive comments (not un-constructive, but rather debunkingly analytical), and so I learned early to avoid stating many extremes.

Well, I didn't learn not to state them.  But I did learn that if I took anything to a descriptive limit, there would always be someone standing by that boundary to prove it was far more distant than anything I could quantify, or that the very boundary itself was imaginary.

So I began at a young age to take the concept of "favorite", for instance, to its illogical conclusion, and to avoid the idea assiduously.  I can actually recall taking my idea, that green was my favorite color, and lying in the backseat of my parents' very green indeed Plymouth Fury station wagon, peering at the physical greenness of my surroundings, and imagining green as the ONLY color I could ever have, and being disappointed.

It's one of the million ways we affect one another as humans, this sort of tiny influencing commentary of a family, which becomes a very silly part of someone's being, far far beyond any real intention or even expectation.  My parents and brother might have wanted me to become a critical thinker, but to provide me a mild neurosis about favorite things could hardly have been their point.  It means (per my blog's very headline) that I contain multitudes, but it also means I make a rotten interview, because I snark on about how reductive questions are instead of answering them.

And so I am aware that people are capable of feeling that one color is best, or one food is peerless, but the idea of choosing gives me the distantest echo of Sophie's dilemma, in that I despise to pick one superlative because everything apart from "the best" still creates the richness and variety and context that makes anything truly shine.  Intellectually, I can know that loving one thing most doesn't doom all else to destruction - and yet, the only context in this world in which I can honestly say I have a favorite is in Mr. X, who is my most favorite person in the world with whom I don't share DNA.  I peek around from time to time, just to be sure, but at almost eleven years knowing him, it seems reasonable to state he really did ruin me for all the other boys.

It can be bewildering, though, to run across other people's favorite things, because there can be hard lines in this world it's trickier to negotiate if you don't draw your own.  Other people can put you on a path or hem you in with their ability to hold absolutes - in religion and politics, of course, this can get dangerous.  And, at times, it can be more comfortable to be persuasable ("where do you want to eat?"), but of course there are those who see a certain type of flexibility as waffling.

I have my convictions, but I keep them pretty close and refuse to hand them out to anyone I am not pretty intimate with.  Most of my own hard lines took me decades to draw - and, as I have grown older, I have discarded some of those things I thought were non-negotiable when I was a younger person.  Few of my deepest ... expectations (beliefs can be a different thing) ... have ever actually changed - and yet, I have seen my methods of managing their presence adapt in amazing ways over my lifetime.

This calendar year has seen some of the profoundest philosophical changes in me - without compromise, and yet without radical outward alterations.  It is at the deepest level I've let go of certain boundaries, and in the quietest solitude of my soul I have found liberty it astonishes me to have given myself and my heart.

Relinquishing certain expectations has only solidified the power of what drives and matters to me most.  Letting go of certain ideas of practical living, of faith, and even love, has only deepened these things by providing clarity.  There is great peace in the understanding this can give, and such emotional power, and all over again I find myself grateful with the blessings that seem to provide themselves to me, all undeserving.  Paths are easier to follow, fears are fewer.

I don't know a lot of people who can claim the assurance I feel, simply by letting go of certain ideas about conviction, by questioning those things which are supposed to be "given" for us as human beings.

Question something you hate, or love, or fear.  Really let yourself be wrong ... or, more terrifyingly, right.  There's almost no liberty like it.  Almost no power at all.  It is joyous.