Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year

At just over an hour to midnight in my time zone, I'm sitting at home with dye on my roots, a questionable (workable, but very bad in its resting state) haircut, and the single cocktail you see above.  Yes, the ice cubes are light-up; they came free with a bottle of vodka I bought the day my friends helped me move the desk in, and I believe they say Smirnoff on them, but eyesight fails me.

Though I don't mind going out stag, it IS harder to motivate, and the fact is at my favorite watering hole there's a fine young swain whom I just cannot face on NYE, who has been trying for years to make a cougar out of me.

Tonight just is not that night, so I'm freshening up my crowning glory and looking forward to the NEXT four days of my five day weekend.

May 2015 (sheesh) be kind and gentle to you all, bringing blessings, surprises, loved ones, and the best of pets.  *Cheers!*

Makeup Styles - and Fashion Itself

Getty Images

The point of interest in this shot is the makeup – not only do both of these women have under-drawn lips (the outline of the lipstick is smaller than the natural outline of their mouths), after years of quite extraordinary over-drawn styles, but they have highly over-drawn eyebrows and eyeliner extending well away from their eyes as well.  Their upper lips still retain some cupid’s bow fulness, but in a much more natural shape, compressing the divet at the center rather than hyperextending it, and not drawing in the extreme horizontal plumpness of the 40s.

The almost lacquered heaviness of the brows is fairly rare today, but I recognize it in some of the women I know “of a certain age”, and also as a reaction against the plucking and even shaving of previous decades.  Through the twenties, thirties, and into the forties, eyebrows had been thinned to varying degrees, and the 1950s’ emphasis on the eyebrow was in a way revolutionary.  After a generation or so of thin-is-in, as it were, softer and fuller hair, and softer and fuller brows were the it look, and it’s understandable even if half a century and more along it looks just as strange in a different way.

Coincidentally, the natural life of an eyebrow may point us to a basis for the styles’ variance over time.  From the age of ten or twelve, most women have ever-thicker brows – not always wild, the way a man’s brows may be, but certainly not the perfect little apostrophe your average waxing technician would hope we all strive for.  Think about Brooke Shields’ brows in about 1982 – she was herself something of a revolution, and those dark, naturalistic, straight, emphatic brows were the frame of a face almost aggressively youthful, when she exploded into the pop-culture scene in her very early teens.  She was the subject of much tut-tutting, that models were younger and younger, that she was such a scandal, that she was so very young and her mother was using her as a tool – all sorts of projections, most of them long since forgotten.

As we grow older, the pigment in the hairs of the brow fade, and the brows themselves grow thinner.  As we can see from the image above, it is a bit of a trick to draw in thick eyebrows and make it look good – it takes a sparing hand and a HARD lining pencil, or you get a dollop of glop resembling a smeary caterpillar.  Fortuitously, it takes little “thickening” to effect the look of a youthful brow.

The extent to which we internalize the messages not only of fashion in garments, but of fashion in cosmetics, has always been apparent in my life.  My dear friend TEO once witnessed my mom scolding me that I looked trashy because I was not wearing ENOUGH makeup (specifically liptsick).  I was a teenager, and in the 1980s (and being possessed of lips with much more natural contrast to my skin tone than mom has), I concentrated on eye makeup, not lipstick.  (I was not a heavy gloss user; never even owned a Bonnie Bell Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker.)  To this day, that moment lives in infamous hilarity.So the 50s were the time of lipstick, big brows, and big, quasi-soft hair.  Compared to the 40s, it was positively pillowy.  And it was a response – in comparison to the 40s, the 30s, even the 20s.  It was a statement and an attempt at change, at modernity – just as were all the fashionable looks before.

And since.

The 60s started to diversify more, and by the time I came along we were a bit of a mess – me with my famously “New Wave” (a drab little Mackenzie Phillips shag) hair, then shaving one side of it just because.  Girls still sporting the Farrah one-long-curl-down-each-side or clue-catcher bangs, all too many forgetting the top and sides of their heads were visible to others.  Zizzy perms and spirals (perhaps the most painful thing ever expensively done to my head – but for that month or so it was new, it was pretty OSUM).  Manic Panic and asymmetricals.

Looking back, much of what seemed cool aged looking suprisingly matronly.  Looking back at today – who knows how we’ll read?  Mis-matchy, perhaps obsessed with ugly purses, and tiresomely addicted to gladiator sandals and stupidly, stupidly, stupidly high platform pumps.  Maxi dresses will be on the way out sometime, and I will be sad to say goodbye to their voluminous coverage … but maybe less sorry to see sublimation prints and chevrons go.  Anthropologie chic may garner less scorn than American Apparel skank – perhaps – but it’s all ephemeral and it’s all going to embarrass *someone*, some time.

That is what fashion is designed to do.

What embarrassments lie ahead?  Fun to watch.

What lie behind?  Difficult to admit.  But feel free, because the comments are all yours …

Edited to add this - a new brow product encouraging thicker, more youthful brows.  Saw this within days of originally writing this post, which was a little while ago.

Definitely the Last Collection

"You and I are earth" - History Extra on the history of filth (in Europe, anyway).  I like the idea that what we consider to be dirt is "simply matter out of place" - and we all know I'm obsessed with what we consider to be dirt.

A look at centuries of toys in the Thames - imagine all the little kids' treasures lost in rivers and on beaches worldwide!

The History Blog's year in review post takes us to its sexually-fixated most popular post, then hits the head.  And then tells us about those not only inspired to creation, but also interested in toilet preservation.  Because we humans like to conserve all SORTS of stuff (ask me about the archaeologist who once called me all excited because there was a petrified poop in a midden ...).  Also here we have a special edition luxury (?) item I may persevere enough to live without.

The delightful Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass was named to NBC's top ten Latino books list.  She was kind enough to sign a copy of Milagros, Girl from Away for one of my nieces a couple of years back, she wears the best glasses designs, and she is an author most of us aspirants would do well to learn from.

Happy new year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I've Been to Armageddon

In 1982, right befor the shooting at the Dome of the Rock, and not long after I turned fourteen, my family went to Israel and Greece.  I’d grown up with Jewish friends, and one of them sat me down on the steps at his parents’ house, eyeballed me slowly, and pronounced that my nose was too small and I had freckles – but, because I had brown hair and brown eyes, I was allowed to precede him to the Holy Land.

Though that was the first eyeballing I got on that trip, it was far from the last, and one of the lasting legacies of my first and only foreign travel was the exposure to a cultural phenomenon which has shaped the way I approach (literally) life.  I learned to look people (men) in the face.  At age fourteen, that’s no small asset to come by, and this trip may have been the first fundamental step in creating the persona I’ve built now for nearly forty-seven years.  It may lie behind, too, my tendency to flat-out approach a guy, making my intentions clear.  I met my ex husband by conking him over the head with a club with a pointblank approach, and a number of my serious and less-so relationships began only because I crossed the space between me and someone else.  One I remember with fondness has always told me he NEVER would have spoken to me (regardless of an across-the-room smile and my making a point of standing a little away from the friends I was with) because he assumed I could not possibly be available.

Odd things, you can pick up in Israel.

I almost picked up a husband, to be sure.  When we went to tour Megiddo, our charming guide offered to betroth me to his son or nephew or some other relation; an opportunity my mother was most flattered to have to turn down due to geographical inconvenience.  (One thing I failed to pick up in Israel:  geographical undesirability as a deal-breaker …)

This was one of the interesting facets of our travel.  My family were Very Baptist, of course (are), and I was a little suburban kid of fourteen years of age.  But my experience of Israel in particular, but even somewhat of Greece (we were only in Athens for a very few days, compared to over a week in the Holy Land), was not much truncated by being with my protective family.

It may have helped that my brother, aged seventeen, was at the height of his Intimidating Guy years – but, the fact was, my mom and dad took care of us both, without taking tons away from the experience of travel.  Indeed, some of the freedom we got one night when they went to a schmanzy hotel and the mice played, I would happily have done without.

Fun fact:  we once figured out that Mr. X was living in Israel, pretty near indeed to the family we were visiting there, at this time.  However, it has also been determined (and thank Maud) that he almost certainly didn’t cross paths with us, mice or families or otherwise.

Second fun fact:  Mr. X also never developed the habit of staring openly at women.  Though he’s extremely skilled at covert glances.

Megiddo offered perhaps the most prominent matrimonial opportunities for me in Israel, but alas it was not time for my folks to hang out a white flag and marry me off, or so they felt.  I was heartily glad of it, though it must be said the options for betrothal (and Marlboro cigarettes, which actually originated in my own backyard, which amused me greatly) would have been rich indeed, if only we’d all considered it.  Child marriage and nicotene addiction, though, were not in store.

One of the more striking things about Megiddo in particular was this:  I had no idea until college, the name of the place is inextricably linked to Armageddon.  THERE is a fact I suspect would have not only blown my pre-pretentious little mind, but also quite influenced everything I ever believed in or would.  I mean, once you’ve been to Armageddon – before even actually living a life at all – everything else has to be a piece of cake, right?

As it stands (for millennia upon millennia), thirty-two years on and a lifetime away, my memory of that day comes to the high place atop the tel … the narrow tunnel descending into it (it was at this gateway to the underwold of Armageddon my mom helped me spurn matrimonial bliss) … and the madcap driving of the relation who took us to all the sites we went to.  Kinneret stands out, too, for its wide beauty and the food (“what kind of spice is that?” “BURN”) … glimpsing the Golan Heights.  Trips to the Old City.  I don’t think us kids really did anything in Tel Aviv, except perhaps land there.  Walking the walk that Jesus walked, on Good Friday.  Lazarus’ tomb.  And such churches …

This trip fed into my nascent interests in history and faith – or, more elementally, in The Past.  Where I probably never would have said I was much into “history” until at least my twenties, I’ve always had a sense of the presence of the past, if you will, and always preferred my stories well away in time.  My earliest conceptions of time were spatial and mystical, if only because so much IS mystical to the ignorant innocence of early childhood.  The Bible, too (and by this I refer to the Pentateuch, the “old” testament) has excited me from the earliest age, even if not generally in the way most people of faith would like to see.

One of the things many Americans tend to miss, or miss out on, is the physical manifestation of the past in our lives.  Few of the populations imported and immigrated in the past half-millennium consider those who were here before very often, and the conception of native life here is not abundantly accompanied by artifacts (though a click on the links above will provide a look at one of the most remarkable recent finds you can expect to see).  What architecture and sites we have rarely date back more than 200 years.

So, to be in the impossibly OLD word – of “armageddon” or Christ or the Patriarchs or Jebus or Canaan – to touch Roman glass and mosaic stones just lying on the ground, to walk stone steps so long in use their centers are worn away to nothing, to breathe the scented air in churches as old as *the* Church itself – is almost more than a kid like me can experience with no effect.  Not only is there incredible drama in the past, but there is such mystical power it is all but overwhelming.

I got over that; there’s only so long a boy-crazy girl can sustain interest in the ineffable when she’s impatient to get to high school and have crushes and hate her teachers and so on.  When there are no answers and her emotional obsessions lie elsewhere, early awe becomes fallow-shallow; gives way to more immediate moments.

But the interest never quite dies.  I still vastly prefer my history VERY much older than the American Civil War and my hometown have to offer.  Reworkings of the oldest stories, and reading Bronze Age fiction, history, and archaeology always captivate me.  Armageddon maybe less than Genesis – but the questions behind these oldest of human stories, and the ways they came to be and changed and are received, the worlds they rebuild (sometimes excitingly, sometimes with flaws, always with ambition) are places I will always visit, again and again.

I found a lifetime commitment in Israel, in my way.  Even if it wasn’t to the unseen, Marlboro-smoking sixteen-year-old promised to me at Armageddon.  Or even the unseen, cowlick-sporting, covert-gazing American boy of my dreams.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Penelope Outside

Pen and I had some quality mommy-doggy time on Christmas day.  She seemed like she enjoyed it.

(No, her right ear didn't go the way of everything else I keep losing lately.  She was just hiding it to be funny.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Final Collection?

The History Blog takes us back to the back of a hagiography of a Bishop of Rheims, where we find a thousand-year-old piece of music, here performed by a pair of undegrads at St. John's college.  They create an exquisite window into the sound of the past; the beautiful sound of human voices in song:

The Arrant Pedant got thirteen out of fifteen on an online grammar quiz with intriguingly mercurial answers, rules, and scores.  Linguistically predictable (online quizzes are execrable), it's much more useful as a look at the reliability of Teh Intarwebs' infotainment and the interesting ineffability of "answers" found here ...

"You no longer need tennis balls in your life."

And, last but not least, Janet Reid takes us places.  This time:  "In a world ... where 'R&R' means 'revise and resubmit' ... and rejection just means rejection."  Even a really nice rejection.  Perhaps especially the really nice ones.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Inevitable Has Come, or ... It Was a Christmas Miracle

... the damned things reappeared.  No Intrepid Baby Jesus included either, dagnabbit.

Don't ask where they were, either.  Because we all know I looked in the closet where they were supposed to be hanging something like thirty-eight times, so none of us needs the awkwardness of acknowledging that's where they were the whole time.  Let's just assume they were somewhere both completely unexpected, yet somehow not batsplat insane.

Edited to add:  the Intrepid Baby Jesus was found late afternoon 12/27 ... only a little dusty, and not wearing palazzo pants after all.  He returns to the basement with tree and all the other decorations, to adorn another year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

On Christmas Day, You Can Drive as Slowly as You Want

With my local family temporarily under the weather, the holiday is waiting a day or so while they recuperate and I stay the heck out of the infectious zone.

Yesterday was dark and drear and rainy and wonderfully evocative, even if not horribly cold, and I spent a bit of it antiquing with a lovely friend.  Today, it is what my dad would have filled his lungs, smiled, and called "a glorious day" - again not very cold, bright and blue-sky-ed, clear and breezy and beautiful.

I hadn't made a plan except to wrap the interminably-delayed presents and perhaps work on some research for the WIP novel; but, this morning, when mom woke me up at 9:00 to wish me a merry Christmas, after lolling about in bed with the furbabies for a bit, it came to me.  We all got up, I put on clothes that can be seen in public, she went in the yard for a little while, and I checked email and so on.  About eleven o'clock, I went out to ask her if she wanted to go for a ride.

And we went to go see my dad.

Dad's in a memorial garden near where he taught for many years; and so, after a little exploring in the quiet, walled-in space where he rests, we took a little bit of a walk.  Penelope was bullied by the cutest, tiniest little dachshund you ever saw, and curled up as small as a sixty-pound mass of muscle can get, submissive to the one tiny little bruiser out of three dogs all out together.  Never saw her quite like that, but otherwise she enjoyed the walk.

There were some birds on the water; dark plumage and swimming unusually low, beaks longer and pointier, but just as orange as a duck.  One nearby dove under the ripples and stayed down a good while.  I was half tempted to think it was a Great Blue, but have never seen one do that and what little I saw of the body, surely it had to be too small.  Interesting, though.

Coming home, my spazzy window-hanger was actually tired, and she curled up on the back seat and I think may have gone to sleep.  Sweet.  Perhaps she liked the high-pitched music of Switched-on Bach, or really was just tuckered after going visitin'.  She'd made a beeline, when we walked into the garden, to dad's niche.

Now, I'm in the office with Gossie.  He lies on his window seat, and Pen is in the living room I believe, napping on my grandmother's thick wool rug, in the ray of sunshine in there.

I may have to take their example; napping, even if not in a sunbeam (though the chaise might be good for that).

Hoping all who celebrate it are enjoying as peaceful a Christmas as this, and even more joyous.  And, for those who just enjoy the quiet:  save some dumplings and veggie fried rice for me!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twas the Day Before Christmas ...

The morning has been dark and stormy, opening with a torrent of rain that held off the very dawn.  I'm working from home, but it's quiet, and my office is filled with presents for my family I will finally wrap today.  I am joined in this cozy spot by the two you see above.  It could hardly be more perfect and cozy (the tower heater does help), and we're half-listening to "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on the little Roku box.

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out, with my dad.  He and I enjoyed it, and I've hardly seen it since, so this is a happy thing to have at my fingertips on a pre-holiday.

My stepfather came down with the flu yesterday, so Christmas will be postponed, either by hours or a day or so, but conveniently I took a four-day weekend, so that's not a problem.  Penelope's own tummy is quietly burbling; no holiday scents to join us so far, but I hope she's feeling okay.  They've both now curled themselves up and the only sound is that of my typing, with the movie on pause.  The scent of some of the more frou-frou presents mingles comfortably with the somewhat puppy-sweet fragrance of fur that got a little damp a couple of hours ago, and the sky is lightening, though still wonderfully drab and drippy.

The work day will be a little short, and I've got a lunch date for later, one of my longtime friends, with whom I always laugh a great deal.  Tomorrow?  Still flexible there.  But Christmas is coming, even if a little late.  May yours be merry - even if it's a movies and Chinese food affair!

Monday, December 22, 2014


Let’s take it as given that everyone reading this considers themselves above reading “list” posts or anything ever written for Buzzfeed.  Let’s assume we all know this is reductive silliness with no real importance nor even validity (… maybe!).  I won’t tell anyone if you click through – but  if you do, don’t feel bad; because #25 is perhaps the best time I’ve had with words since “immaterial”, and I didn’t even have have to produce the keystrokes.  28 “Favorite” Books That are Huge Red Flags …  Enjoy! We’re all friends here.

Everyone knows disgust and politics are closely related.  But did you know disgust actually underlies formulation of our politics?  Figures.

Because my TBR pile is not tall enough to topple yet, somehow - Religion and the Decline of Magic.  For me, the title alone is catnip, but its depth of content looks entirely absorbing.  Research on antique *mindsets* is so difficult, and this, even though it's not my period, would be illuminating!

Janet Reid relieves querying authors of the burden of research - or, at least, of the pitfalls of the databases most of us create.  Truth be told, I'll still keep personalizing - I'm an inveterate researcher, and I *have* had the best luck with the best-personalized of my queries.  It makes *me* feel better.  But, in keeping with the new directive - I did quit keeping spreadsheets and bookmarking interviews etc. a good while ago.  I read, I refer, I send, I quit.  Queries stay in the "query" folder until response is clear, and then go to the "completed" archive.  That's it.


I have to remind myself, I was a "like, TOTALLY" girl.  I was, like, totally sure.  Though not what we used to call a Val, I was lousy with verbal tics it was wisest to shed before I turned twenty-five.

I have to remind myself, wasting energy finding the way Kids Today speak irritating doesn't make me superior - and, in any case, it's hardly only Kids Today whose speech irritates me the most.

Some of the newer slang I really like a lot.  "Acting like you're brand new" has a great evocative sense to it, and is a lot more fun and interesting than "Don't be disingenuous."

Some wears out with astonishing speed.  "Amazing" has, in less than a decade, entirely changed in meaning (or, at least, *usage*) from "awes and surprises" to "ohmigosh, that guy/house/car/food/cheesy internet top-ten list is so great!"

Much of the way American language-usage has changed in the past generation is just interesting, apart from pedantic superiority - the sheer proliferation and speed of language dedicated to the way technology has affected lifestyle alone has filled volumes already, and is an ongoing problem/opportunity/frustration for not only those interested in linguistics, but pretty much all of us in a world where "e-mail" has already taken on the quaintness of now obsolete, new-fangled phrases once so quaintly hyphenated at the turn of the twentieth century.

A recent emphatic which has taken on a new specific form and proliferated with the speed and intensity of a virus is HUNJAPASSENT.  This is the assertive pronunciation applied to "hundred percent" - signifying an overly vigorous application of denial, assurance or, less often, agreement.  The intriguing point with this phrase, for me, is that it is pronounced with remarkable consistency across accents.  It has the feel of an outsider trying to sound New-York-y; not quite the native shape of any accent, and almost inflection free.  Since every syllable of it is delivered with an almost plosive power (from what I've seen and heard of it, emphasis is just about always just shy of an actual shout), it is a single unit, a brick of a modifier, functioning as adjective, adverb, denial, affirmation, fighting words, support.  Men and women both deliver it with this curious homegeneity.  "I agree with you, HUNJAPASSENT."  "I never did that, HUNJAPASSENT."  And it always seems to be an "I-statement", come to think of it.

I haven't heard it southern-twanged into "hunnerperSINT" as might have seemed likely in my neck of the woods - nor even heard that J elided at all, as many American dialects might do with other formations.  It seems clear that a part of its procreative appeal is the powerful sound, even the way it must feel to speak it, physically underscoring the verbal in a way that adds to the sense of communication the way some speech magically does.

It's the "Worst. Episode. Ever." of 2014 - and the Period. Between. Every. Word, at that.  It's "totally" for the next generation.  Maybe it'll even eclipse this new "amazing" I've heard so much about; certainly its ubiquity and nimble functionality lend to the same implications.  "He's the hottest thing - HUNJAPASSENT."  It could work.

But HUNJAPASSENT seems mostly to be a negative term, emphatic and powerful almost to the point where it can intrinsically beg its own questions.  Perhaps I've been watching too much television (I have been, with Broadcast all I have in my living room lately ...), but what I've seen of it tends to be defensive and, oddly enough, kind of tenuous.  It feels right up there with "trust me" for statements that set me on guard as to whatever is asserted.

I. Did. Not. Have sex with That Woman.  HUNJAPASSENT.

Have you been hearing 100%?  Or have you been hearing usage innovations that drive you bananas or kind of tickle your brain a little?

How Do You Celebrate?

When I was a kid, I celebrated Hannukah with my best friend TEO, and Christmas with my family.  It didn’t take a lot of years for me and TEO to realize we were family, but over the lot of years we’ve been “cousins” now, our families have changed, and geography has made its inevitable marks, as she moved out of state (even, for a time, out of the country) and I came back.

For much of my life, Christmas was about kids.  Since the migration of my nieces to other climes, for the past seven (!!) years, it’s been just me, mom, and my stepfather.  (We have a nickname for him in life, but that is too sweet and too unique to use here; I really need to come up with some other way to refer to him than “my stepfather”, because he’s come to mean so much more to me than such a simple/stark designation.  Suggestions welcome …)  The first time it was just us three, I felt awkward and almost responsible, in a way – our family’s children were gone, and I made a lousy substitute, and the relationships then were not as deep, as comfortable as they have become.

And it’s Christmas, in some ways, which has helped the relationships to “get there” as they say.  Stepfather’s generosity is humbling, for one – and has affected my life profoundly, in material ways.  He gave me a laptop and mom a beautiful Mac five years ago, and out of that laptop I procured two jobs in succession, and completed (I thought … !) the novel.  It was a gift beyond conceiving, to me, but I’ve been immensely grateful for it, even since having to finally replace it just a few months ago.  But far more than the presents, the PRESENCE has been revelatory.

Mom and he and I have found that a small Christmas isn’t the sacrifice it once seemed like it might be.  We miss and always talk with the family faraway, but there is a wonderful simplicity to our small celebration.  I find myself looking forward to it as a specially intimate, above-all *peaceful* family time; and the feeling of family has become completely natural now.  He’s been unwell to varying degrees for the past three years, and the degree to which I feel protective of and tender toward him surprises and humbles me.  Gaining a stepfather at age 38, I was unwilling to accept any relationship with the word “father” in it in any way; I wanted, out of loyalty, to hold him at a distance.  But he has turned out to be dear, and so funny I’m unable to resist.

We’ve had Thanksgivings with friends many times together; my friend Zuba, last year; my neighbor, whom they love and who loves them, a couple of times, and their friends.  We’ve done it different ways; at my house, at theirs, even (gasp!) at a restaurant, this year.

But Christmas is always ours, now.  Just me, mom and him, maybe a furbaby or two; just a reasonable amount of good food, just a few gifts, and many laughs.  We’ve done it twice at my home, but mostly at theirs; it’s a pleasure, either way.

This year, I’ll go over in the morning, probably toting Gossamer the Editor Cat, but without the Whirlwind Pen, and we’ll share a little breakfast.  We’ll smilingly make our way to the tree and open gifts from each other and from family.  We’ll ooh and ahh and comment how everyone was “too generous” and spend a little time examining the peculiarities of one thing or another.  Turkey dinner … then we’ll nap.  Mom will coo when Gossie comes to love on her, or we’ll beckon him down when he peeps over the railing from the loft above the living room.  I’ll stay until wintry dusk begins to encroach, so Penelope won’t be alone too long for Christmas.  And the evening will be me and the two fuzzies, looking at my tree (seen by more friends already this year than most years, which is a small joy, a grateful blessing), and go to bed early.

I may even do all this in palazzo pants.  eBay had a pair recently I think might have been the same kind … !

What are you doing to celebrate Hannukah, Christmas, Hannumas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s Eve?  (And please tell me nothing of this Christmakah advertisers have tried to foist upon us of late.  TEO and I both know, dating back thirty-plus years by now: it’s Hannamas or Chanumas; however you spell it, the one that comes first, is the one that comes first!)

(Related note – am I the only one noticing an almost perfect absence, in any public sphere – either locally, in decorations and messages visible at businesses and homes – of Hannukah and Kwanzaa?  Kwanzaa in particular appears to have disappeared utterly.  It’s weird.)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Like This Weekend Wasn't Good ENOUGH ...

... my policy for some time has been not to specify any of the agents who've been kind enough to read me, and that's kind of hard sometimes, especially in the heat of the moment when they have the MS in hand.  However, today one of them self-outed.

I wouldn't even quote her on this much, but ... a highly talented professional has stamped my work as darn good.  There's only so much willpower in this world, and it'd be a bit of a trick for me, keeping that to myself.

The end of the story was a pass, of course.  But I never imagined I'd even get a read (or, in fact, two), from The Query Shark!  So making a friendly acquaintance online has been an extra bonus; for me, AND for Gossamer the Editor Cat.  I'm pretty sure he'd leave me for her, but he and Penelope do kind of like gnawing on each other from time to time.

So, yeah.  All this, a little bit of Christmas money, my winsome and talented friend K coming over tonight, and everything from the post *just* south of this one.  And my house is clean and smells like cookies.

Best wishes to all ... and to all a good night!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Good Friday

The holiday with this post's title is at another point in the year, but this Friday before Christmas was pretty dadgum good.  For one, the end of my last full week of work for the year.  For two, pay day.  For three:  my job, which I love.  Two of my managers came to me with a gift bag: a pen and pencil set in polished graphite-grey metal, with my name engraved on each.  Very nice, and so thoughtful!  I was a bit blown away.

I've been working with on an IT migration for which my status is neck-in-neck with IT itself, matched by no other area in the company.  So that's good, too - but I'm also working with smart and supportive folks who seem to think I'm coming up with good ideas and doing really well.  One of them is a woman of about thirty; and today she asked me what skin care or moisturizer I use, because some giveaway of my age astonished her.  Hee.  Aww!

When I got home, the bank who held a credit card I closed out a few months ago had sent me a check, following a fraud investigation - so, sixty bucks for me.

This is one of those days when the cumulative effect of events was pretty spiff.

So how was your Friday?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Seriously, Blogger?

I get the little reCAPTCHA "you're not a robot" tool has been updated a number of times lately.  I even like the new simple checkbox method.  But ... I have to prove I'm not a robot on my own blog?  Seriously?

Okay, maybe I'm not quite this far gone.  But it is pretty stupid.  The usual "upgrade means a step backward" tech feature.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


I hope I'm fortunate enough to work with an agent who is as grateful for their job as I am for mine.  There's something intensely rewarding about people who *practice gratitude*.

Mighty Hot Wind

Years ago, watching “A Mighty Wind” with Mr. X, he had a head-shaker moment, in the midst of one of the more breathless faux-interviews about folk music’s supposed sweeping importance, when he was so inside the film he actually said, “I don’t remember it being this big a deal” basically.

Which, of course, was pretty much the point.

Mighty Wind is such a good mockumentary, you fall in like that, you forget it IS a joke at times – as with Spinal Tap actually selling albums in the real world, as with dog shows actually capturing the national attention every Thanksgiving now.  It’s completely sunk into one of those things most people are aware of, but few people are quite as breathless (or windy …) about as those who dedicate themselves to X or Y or Z with the fervor of a calling.

And that breathlessness … I think there are times we all pick and choose those things we accept as epochal, and those we ignore or even frankly deride.  I don’t get baseball, but there are those who would explode with testimonial passion if they heard me say it.  Few people understand how ancient Frankish history could possibly be conceived of as interesting, but for me it’s a rabbit hole well worth the burrowing into, and I can curl up in it all warm and contented.

We all have our fan-child obsessions.  If we didn’t, how would the perfectly astounding world library of documentaries survive – hagiographies of comedians, politicians, birds, towns, pieces of interesting infrastructure … ?  Some are unintentionally hilarious (have you ever seen the “Pursuit of Excellence” series?  The ferrets one is glorious), some you get into (American Experience and Ken Burns are terrifyingly good at this), some teach, some just provide slathering tongue jobs to celebrities.  But they are everywhere, and an awful lot of people have begun to live lives unconsciously dedicated to inspiring this kind of breathless adoration in others.

See also: this blog.  Not only do I get a bit wheezy myself on certain exciting subjects like Carolina dogs, pattern welded steel, and “Barbarians”, but I write the whole thing (as an unpublished one) as my “authorial platform” – which we’re actually *supposed* to do.  When I’m dead, this blog will be the precious, precious snoflake in the internet’s blizzard of silliness and verbiage, paying homage to my own silliness and verbiage.  My testament!

I’m not done with vanity yet, clearly.

If there are times “real” documentary such as the ferrets outing, and mockumentary like “A Mighty Wind” are indistinguishable, it’s hard not to think all of us veer into parody.  For me, that’s dandy and amusing.  I enthuse, but have never expected my blather to actually matter to any but the most particular, kind, and probably acquainted-with-me audience.  I’ve worked to build readership, and had fun with it – and I do take seriously the fact that this is a major facet of my public face, even if it’s difficult to take seriously the notion that my public’s ever going to make documentaries about me, treasure the marginalia scrawled in my personal collection of books, or remember me when I’m dead longer than my nieces live.

My enduring aspiration, even with my work, which I honestly want to support, is to become that dusty book on a shelf which some desultory kid will discover on a disused relative’s bookshelf (and, yes, I mean that adjective to modify “relative” there), and accidentally fall into and unwittingly love, someday.  All the rest is business.  Worthwhile, hopefully rewarding in a real and financial way, gratifying in ways I can’t even imagine from where I sit.  But beside the point of storytelling.

We can get breathless again tomorrow (or, perhaps, in January, when the agents say it’s okay!).  For now.  Just breathe.  Maybe smile, too.

Chappy Channukah, Merry Holidays, Sweet Kwanzaa, Hippo New Year, and a blessed Christmas (and all the rest) to all.  I’m so in this season.  Hoping it is wondrous for all of you, too.

It's the Good Kind of Head/Desk

I’m my mother’s child enough that I stress out about things unnecessarily sometimes – and enough, too, that I get to have a bit of a good time laughing at myself about it when things resolve.  Something to be grateful for.

As happens in this world, there are tech problems at my job.  Starting a week or so ago, the handy-dandy “MFD” (multi-function device; a scanner, copier, theoretical fax if I were suicidal enough to request a phone line for it, and printer) stopped printing.  It kept whining at me that it was having a paper jam, and I kept gently opening its covers, looking for a damn jam, finding none, and ever so patiently closing back all its doors and drawers, to no avail.  It was not printing, and I was stuck running to the WORK ROOM with all the other worker bees.

Given that most of the hard-copy printing I do actually tends to be for my boss, and he vastly prefers the resolution on the work room printer, this wasn’t a huge issue, but it cropped up every day for a few days and generally chafed my delicates in a low-grade but consistent way.  Smartypants machine, what’s it doing not printing for me!?   But the main reason I have the MFD is for the scanner; *that* I use constantly.

In any case, I was moving too fast and doing too much to waste a call to the Help Desk (who does THAT but the truly desperate!?), and resolved to resolve the matter when it rose higher on my priority list.  My priority list being what it is, that was looking like January.  I shrugged – as I do, adapting to ridiculous inconveniences (ask me about my two bathroom home …) – and got things done.

Monday, we started a new week.  I’d had a highly productive and yet relaxing and good weekend, I was clipping along, I managed two iterations of what once was a several-day project for me in the matter of less than one afternoon.  Life was good.

At some point, I happened to open one of those printer drawers, I was going to steal a piece of paper to make a sign (and, unthinking, wasn’t going to PRINT it, but actually hand WRITE it! shocking).

Funny thing happened when I went to steal paper.  There was no paper in drawer 1 on my MFD …

So, yeah, I loaded it up and all was well.  The thing happily got printy, it’s positively sighing with pleasure, it’s fine, all is functional (except that fax functionality – and who wants THAT on their desk, I ask you!? only geriatrics and people with hand-push non-electric lawnmowers use fax machines …).

And I got a laugh at myself.

Apparently, when I was opening doors and drawers last week, I … forgot there were two drawers in my MFD, perhaps?  Was too out of my mind busy to stop and properly check my machine?  Am stupid?

Who knows.  I was prepared to deal with it as it was, and now it’s fine.  For my money – particularly given no folderol with the Help Desk, and no EMBARRASSMENT when a tech came by to check on my issues (hah!!!) – it’s all win from where I’m sitting.  I got to use the Work Room printer, which means saying hi to people and occasionally finding a snack to enjoy, perhaps.  My SCANNER never hiccupped, and that is the functionality my job most depends upon every day.  There’s been no actual problem (except in my own wee and paltry brain), and the inconvenience was pretty minor.

And I got to laugh at myself.

And now, you do too.  Hoping you got a smile out of this.  I don’t want to have to start checking doors and drawers on Teh Intarwebs now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I wanted to start off with the clip above, because it's not just interesting, but if I could get my mom (and, perhaps, about 58% of the people I know) to watch this, it would make my writing life so much easier.  But they're unlikely to savor eight and a half minutes of an agent being interviewed, explaining some of the most important information about publishing an author (most especially unpublished/first timers) can use.  (Courtesy of the BookEnds blog.  I'm terrified to hit her link to other interviews, and end up down a rabbit hole!)

Again coming from Jessica Faust (who else is inspired to sell their soul for an agent!?), the words I've wished I could shout loud enough to be heard - on agents who need to define their brand!

I asked Janet Reid a question, and here's what she said.  Once again referring to Jessica Faust in a way, we consider agents' perspectives on querying during this festive season ...  (No Gossamer included, but click through if you're into kittens winking AND sticking out and curling their tongues!  Beyond cute, all the way to precious.)

Looking for a link unrelated to authors, agents and the quest for publication?  The History Girls has a wonderfully detailed post about sainted dogs.  Read about Guinefort, not quite canonized by the Church, but revered in any case for centuries.  The post ends on a sad note, but it's most interesting.

Prefer your furbabies of the feline persuasion?  The History Girls didn't forget you: on naming a cat.  All my friends, Janet, and online pals who swoon for his name would be surprised what a hell of a time I had naming Gossamer.  I'm a little glad Grimalkin never occurred to me, though it's a great little name, and it's sweet to know I share a cat-warmer writing companion in common with Francis Hodgson Burnett.

Fashion more your bag?  Here's a refreshing post not sneering about the eighties, at Two Nerdy History Girls.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fortunate Cookie

I am one, and I am so grateful.

About one year ago, these two fortunes popped out of a cookie in my delivery Chinese:

Yep, that second one especially.

Intrepid Baby Jesus - Dustbunny Adventures - and Is it Like the Flag ... ?

So, yesterday I came home from work and discovered the donkey, the manger, and the cow on the floor, having been toppled by a happy kitten who left the Holy Parents amusingly ooh-ing and aah-ing over nothing in the stable.

Baby Jesus has been nowhere to be found.

A friend at work suggested perhaps he’s probably had quite an adventure.  Intrepid little baby Jesus.  (… or is that Baby Jesus? Does the Baby become title case in its holy use?)

In any case, the intrepid little baby Jesus/Baby Jesus was not under the couch, and couch-crouching was roughly my limit once I’d replaced the animals and non-miraculously empty manger, and so we have yet to discover (though hope springs eternal) whether Intrepid Baby Jesus (this title case thing could go on forever!) is, as I surmise, playing happily with dust bunnies under the Boob Tube (see … ?).

All this comes but one day after I put out the nativity in the first place, and it is somewhat dispiriting (har), because the entire holy family were only replaced LAST year as Christmas presents, after my 23-year-old figures in Fine Corinthian Resin suffered the loss of Joseph and Baby, thanks to a drive by Penelope-ing.

Hee.  Penelope-ing.  *Gigglesnort*

Okay, not funny.  We’re speaking of Holy Things, and being respectful (I swear).

My original Joseph had a truly gruesome head wound, in that the entire back of it was gone.  Baby Jesus, for his wee yet weighty part, was chewed in a pretty disrespectful way.  Puppy teeth just can’t resist a good, somehow-gummy-but-sturdy chew on the finest hardened chemicals.  Nom nom, Original Baby Jesus.

The good news is, New Baby Jesus didn’t fall prey to actual teeth (Penelope is baby-gated out of the living room, and Gossamer never puts anything but kibble into his mouth).  The bad news is, until I crouch again, He is lost.  Not quite so inspiring a Christmas message as His Birth, but the failure to look provides the room for hope.  If he’s not under the TV, I may resort to Pla-Doh, not sure I can ask for new Holy Family figures every year.  Mom, of course, was mildly scandalized Gossie used the Holy Baby as a toy.

Me, I don’t know how he got on the table and only knocked over the cow, the donkey, and the baby, but he’s a remarkably nimble little demon.  With velvet toes.  So there’s that.

Here is my question, as regards flags.  When you have two holy figures to retire - is it like the American flag?  Do you burn them?  (Seems contra-indicated, given that stuff about chewy chemical goodness.)  I suspect I know an archaeologist who would suggest a burial - perhaps one of them here on my coast, and the other on his, just to be smart-alec.  Perhaps the right choice.

What would you do?

The remaining/unretired Nativity set, for its part, remains where it was ... for now.  I live dangerously.

Kind of like the Intrepid Baby Jesus.  I have this mental image he’s miraculously weaving pet fur into tiny little harnesses, and riding the dustbunnies quite ragged.  Yes:  wearing palazzo pants.

Monday, December 8, 2014

34 Years

I can still remember the little early-morning crowd who used to glom onto that one science teacher we thought was cool, hanging out before first period in middle school.  It was me, and TEO – still in my life today – the girl we called “Fuzz” because she had the then-ubiquitous tight curly perm, a couple other of the cool-nerds.  The teacher liked to impart to us wisdom beyond the classroom, particularly that of good music.

The morning my mom told me John Lennon had been murdered, forty seemed an incredibly advanced age to me.  That he was still important at that age, as a rockstar, was widely regarded as incredible back then.  Of course, now, with the Rolling Stones still relevant and what Beatles we have left literally institutionalized, and Jimmy Page enjoying a somewhat disturbing sainthood under the crown of silver hair and his crinkling eyes, aged rockstars are not the shocker they once were.  But in 1980, when John Lennon died, it was still a bit of a joke.

His murder was no joke to us.  I’d hardly even begun my juvenile career as a Beatlemaniac – and, you have to remember, back then, they’d only been split up for a decade.  Even as creakingly OLD as they seemed to someone my age … they were all still alive.  There was still this fantasy that they’d get back together, somehow.

Lennon’s death was the death of that dream, and the beginning of a self-seriousness about music I never got very good at maintaining, but which seemed a beacon in my life at twelve.

Holy crud, I was only twelve.

I remember, hideously, the offhand way my mom told me at breakfast, and the fact I had to go to school anyway.  We gathered at the foot of those short stairs in the green-tiled hall, devastated.  And there was hardly time to mourn together before homeroom.

For years after that, the two years of middle school in particular, I cultivated my fandom of the Beatles.  I still have the album I bought in Greece.  I still have them all.  I can remember adoring “Dizzie Miss Lizzie” because it was my own monogram, DML.  Any connection I could make, at that age.  It was important.

I never have had the heart to give away the “Fifteenth Anniversary” (!!!) tee shirt my brother gave me back then.  It’s still important, and I don’t even know why.

For all my memories of trippy music like Zeppelin or Pink Floyd … The Beatles were really my first real music, the first *I* cared about, the first *I* sought out and cultivated and cared for.  My dad’s music, and my mom’s and my church’s, have come to mean much over the years.  But The Beatles were the first musical interest I had that was only my own.

In a post like this, there’s a powerful desire to say, “I can’t believe it was thirty-four years ago” – but, the fact is, I can feel every moment in time between the heart I have today and the girl I was then, still even working to build a heart at all.  Things affected me so profoundly then entirely because I had hardly experienced profundity at all.

Thirty-four years later, the thought of Lennon at seventy-four is an exercise, a curiosity, a sadness, a new loss.  It’s like thinking about my dad, who would himself be not so much older than that.  It’s like every what-if and woulda-coulda-shoulda we come to know between twelve and forty-six.  It’s bitter, but not hard anymore.  Not bittersweet.  Nothing sweet in the senselessness that stole from us his voice, his mind.

Lennon was a prototype of the mouthpiece rockstar that’s become so ubiquitous since that it’s lost all meaning.  But his early, activist, earnest yearning – for peace, for peace in himself, for art and rock and roll and to be a good man – has a naivete’ about it most of the celebrity cause endorsers don’t quite have anymore.  Sure, they’re naïve, but not because they believe they can make a difference.  They’re just naïve about the fact they’re not actually important.

John Lennon’s naivete’ was something different.  It was honestly innocent – he wanted to use his mega-fame the same way they want to use it today, but he didn’t have all the algorithms and management on the job.  He just had this yearning, and some dizzy understanding that, accidentally, he’d become – well, bigger than G-d, to drag out the old horse even if not for a good beating.  (He was right in the sense of that statement, no matter how it read.  Can’t fault the guy for being dumb – only tone deaf, for one epochal moment.)

Thinking about that green-tiled hall, the polished cement floors, the girl with whom I mourned the murder most deeply – the losses of relationships and lives far closer to my own – over thirty four years, sentimentality over John Lennon’s murder is almost an indulgence.  For all the connection I wanted to feel, the older woman I’ve become knows that was not about me, and feels for the family left with media stories about anniversaries.  For the older son, whose relationship was not the one with the most fulfilment going on when his father was stolen.  For the younger one, who throughout his life has endured sharing his father – and his loss – with presumptuous strangers.  For a widow reviled before and after this terrible loss.  For those who learned they would never play with him again.

My loss was so dramatic, back then.  I was angry at my mother for dropping the news without sensitivity to How Very Important it was to me, and for all those fancies one has about idols at the age of twelve.

When I listen to Double Fantasy or the Beatles, if I do so this evening, it’ll be pretty dramatic again.

But only because, even if he died too young:  John Lennon did what he set out to do.  He affected people he never met.  He made music that means something ineffeable and something individual – incredibly intimate – the world over.

As epitaphs go, I don’t imagine a single media story will improve on that legacy; this anniversary, or any other.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hacksilver, Liberty, and Equality

We've discussed here in the past that the Frankish name came from the francisca, their emblematic blade, and that this name comes from a word meaning freedom or liberty.

The problem with etymologies and concepts is that their meaning is always filtered through perspective, and the contemporary understanding of the terms freedom and liberty are affected by our experience, our education, our PRIVILEGE, and the standard of living that defines just how free "free" is, and so on.

The expectation of liberty for someone whose life is dependent upon crops or weather or military success far more directly and immediately than, say, most modern Americans, is difficult if not impossible to understand or conceive.

Equality, too, is a different matter.

All this is by way of introduction to the concept of hacksilver.

In the societies of Late Antiquity in Europe, "Barbarian" peoples enacted the precepts of equality through distribution of wealth:  specifically, to soldiers, after conquest.  Booty was collected and evenly divided - and, by even, what I mean to convey is that equal portions were allotted to all by way of cutting down precious objects, not merely by division piece by piece.  A large vase of gold might be hammered then snipped to ensure egalitarian distribution:  hacksilver (or gold, copper, etc.).

With items indivisible in themselves, the award of some particular treasure was a mark of significant prestige, and all divisions had to be agreed upon.  A king would lose face in the profoundest way, if he presumed upon the division of booty. This led to one of the most famous incidents of Clovis' early reign, the legendary shattering of a great crystal vase:  the vase of my title.

The effect of a king's failure to provide for his forces with booty - and to divide that booty equally - was the deepest betrayal of his duty as a military leader.  To fail, as Clovis did in the incident of the Vase of Soissons, was unthinkable.  His spectacular revenge, then, becomes a matter not only of legend - but, more immediately, and for him, propaganda.  Proven a failure as a king, he has to prove his authority in order to hold the throne from which he can remediate this black mark on his prestige.

So hacksilver is more than the "barbarian" destruction of treasures, it is the reflection of a society so fully invested in equality for those who defend and fight for their king and people that to short-change any of them might be the end of their king.  It is the reflection of the "barbarian" definition of liberty - and equality.

And maybe it's an interesting look at an ancient recycling program!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Synopses: Begotten, not (re)Made

This actually exemplifies for me *exactly* why synopsis-writing is frustrating. Not only is there a very wide range of quantity requested ("three to five paragraphs" or "one page" or "three pages" and so on), but there are a number of agents I've queried who in fact specify that all characters *must* be mentioned. I know this is a sure way to clunk-ifying a synopsis. And mine is clunked, because I've seen more guidelines instructing the inclusion of characters than not. Like a lot of neurotic pre-published authors - I obey like a spanked puppy.

Then there is the reworking of the clunker for almost every single query, because of all those varying particulars in submission guidelines. It's a bit like the Biblical genealogies; "who really reads The Begats?" But The Begats are canon.

Okay, here at the ranch we're not supposed to post autoerotically about querying hell, but ... these three posts at BookEnds are not just relevant to my authorial audience, but a perfect example to non-writers of what those of us seeking publication have to deal with, and an interesting point on the continuum of madness that is the path to success.

Readers here know I'm not precious about my darlings, and kill 'em off with dispassion - even with elán, often.  It feels good to improve my product, to be honest.

It feels like hell on a stick with cheese to work and rework and deploy and redeploy the tools to shill said product, just to get a professional to say "I'm willing to try selling this."  It's exhausting, and as often as you find advice on how to write The Perfect Synopsis, you find the submission guideline for which TPS is defined by entirely different terms.

Truth be told, I like the three posts above.  BookEnds' blog is a good one, and advice from those professionals you respect is worthwhile by extension of that respect.

The real point is that there is no such thing as TPS.  There is no industry standard, and there's no one single synopsis any author will ever be able to use for every single query.  Just as there is no single query.

This is both the joy and the head-desking frustration of publishing.  For all I complained on that third post at BookEnds:  for me, ultimately, this is just the minor pain that will make the pleasures stand out as they transform into success.  It's the gauntlet, the dues to pay.  And I have the luxury of choosing when to pay.

At post-ten-p.m. on a Thursday night:  I don't have to come up with a toll right now.  I can rest, get through the gate, and make better progress tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Processs of Elimination

Unpublished authors, I think, often forget that there are two sides to every slush pile.  On the one hand, agents are out to eliminate queries so they can devote time to those magical manuscripts that will set them afire - and with which they can set the publishing world on fire in turn.

On the other hand, authors (lest we ever forget: the ones who create any and all possible product in the publishing market ... ALL. OF. IT.) have to remember we must eliminate agents, too.  We can't just query 'em all, it's no way to find the right one.

And research can be grueling.

Here's the thing, though.  Sometimes, we can make it easy on ourselves.

I just eliminated an agent from my list because, though they are listed as repping histfic, their own list of what they're looking for included "women's lit, chicklit, lady lit, and lad lit".

Nope.  Not my agent.  Ever.

Also:  gag.  Gag me with a spoon, even.  GAH!

I no more accept that literature needs a pink label on it so my soft little female brain will know I'm allowed to read it than I accept that razors and soaps and automotive accessories and anything sold in a hardware store (.... or, you know, anywhere at all) need to be pink so I'll know my soft little female hands are allowed to use them.

Ya gotta have limits.  When it's 74 degrees outside one day in December, 41 the next, and bouncing back up to 66 the NEXT, it may be said that limits can get as tight as your headbone.

Still, I don't think I'll run squealing back toward this one any time soon.  I'm on the lookout for the agent who reps my genre and maybe gushes about puddy lit too.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Eddie Izzard Has a Cow

... well, or he gets into some VERY interesting negotiations to buy one:

As if there weren't enough reasons to adore Izzard wholesale.  (Surname pronunciation key - no, it doesn't rhyme with gizzard, but it's not quite a ringer for bizarre, either ...)

For a greater clue about the vid, for those who don't just click through:  did you know that modern, living Frisian and Old English are cognate languages?  Cognate languages are a complete gas to watch in action.  I once had a roommate from Finland, who could speak, in her own native tongue, to another foreign exchange student speaking in her own native tongue:  Japanese.

Never have wicked the relationship between these languages; if you have some insight beyond "people used to sail a lot", please share it in the comments!  I might need to buy a cow someday in Hämeenlinna or Okinawa.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At an Age

Very recently, I ran across a talking head in one of those documentaries I so enjoy, discussing a historical figure at age sixteen.  She described the woman as being “at an age” where she would be highly self-conscious, while events played out in her life which would have been humiliating and difficult.

In a way, the point is valid; though we invented the teenager in the twentieth century, those things that cause humans genuine embarrassment and pain are not unique to any particular time period.  Yet I was struck by the implication of tortured adolescence.

The figure in question, hardly a personage famed for a typically twentieth-century persona (indeed, almost a symbol of precisely the opposite, when that time came upon her), is not one I would readily cast in the image of tortured adolescent, no matter what happened to her at age sixteen.  I also, as an amateur student of and writer about history, find the tendency to view the population of our past, no matter how far back, through the lens of the psychological and social expectations of the past century or so a little bewildering more often than not.

A part of my personal fascination with history is not just taking myself out of the present and an ordinary world I know, but also taking myself out of the present and ordinary mindsets and people familiar from my own life.  So when I see all-too-identifiably contemporary characters waving the occasional fan or scimitar or what have you, it is frustrating.

Let it not be said that I am any expert at honestly, fully, and accurately rendering a 5th-century Frank in all his glory, but I did what I could in relating Clovis’ story to address both the misconceptions about what “Barbarian” means, and to avoid, as much as possible, turning him into a corporate raider or king of the surfer dudes.

This goes beyond *not* modeling his character on anyone I know, but into an honest consideration of those things that make up the whole of who he might have been, given what I know.  I didn’t throw around a lot of self-consciously antique language, but did work hard avoiding anachronism.  I thought about the smell of the air in his cities, northern and on down to Paris, the quality of air containing different kinds of pollutants, the manner of food, the way time would worked and been observed.  One of the deepest dives I took into Clovis was the examination not only OF his religion, but its ultimate expression in the novel.

In sum, while I didn’t gadzook my way around the place, I did *look* around it, really consider motivations, remember that humans in every age are funny … and maddening … and go from there.

This. will. NOT. satisfy everybody.

There will be some who quite love a good gadzookering, and will resent not finding it in *Ax*.  There will be others who’ll find the voice alienating and foreign even without a thou to be seen.  And that is the world WE live in.  I’m too old to try to create one where I can make everyone happy.  It would take far more hallucinogenic drugs than I am capable of dealing with, and there’d still be some guitarist with commentary about the décor.


As the child, sister, and niece of scientists, I have a pretty hard time believing in magic – much though I always wanted to.  *Superstition* - now, that’s easy, it’s just a matter of silly habits.  But actually believing in sympathetic, mystical, or merely physical magic; I’m no good at it.

Yet, since the Conference on October 18-19, there has been a mysterious and complete, inexplicable disappearance in my life, and I am at a perfect loss.


This past spring or summer, after Admin’s Day, I used the gift certificate they gave the secretaries in thanks, to buy a simply spiffing pair of palazzo pants.  They were comfortable, went with tons of my things, would have seen me through every season, and were comfortable, stylin’, and flattering.  In short, the holy grail.

I’m saying these were excellent pants.

And the things have either:  run away from home, or simply defied the law of Object Permanence.

I have looked in every closet eighteen times.  With a FLASHLIGHT.  I’ve ransacked the shelves at the back of the closet, pulled back the old box shoe rack to look behind it, inspected the items on every single hanger time and time again, gone through the cabinetry in there dozens of times, looked in the floor, peered in the dark again and again.  Every closet.  Guest room, master, wardrobe, foyer, linen closet upstairs.  Dressers too, guest room and master, because there’s been a seasonal wardrobe shift since the Con.


I’ve done laundry countless times, of course, since mid-October.  And these pants steadfastly refuse to miraculously appear – not on the clotheslines in the basement, not in the basket, not in the machines, not in the trashcan in the basement, not on the disused plumbing fixtures in the middle of the floor, not on the ironing boards.  Not behind the washing machine nor dryer.  Not in the kitchen cabinets nor drawers.  Not in any of the storage dressers.  Not in the library on the DVD shelves.


I have looked, even, in the mending, which happens to be in my office these days.  I thought, maybe I forgot an the hem was going, maybe I put the pants in the quick-fix pile I keep and never get to quickly.

Every so often, I think of some new place to look (usually:  again).  Every so often, I look.  Again.


It’s maddening, bewildering.  Inexplicable.  This mystery will not be splicked, and heck if I have not tried.  And tried.  And tried.

I’m beginning to think I’ll find an agent (and maybe even be sold) before these damned pants will reappear and satisfactorily explain themselves.


Being a woman, of course, I have *looked* for new palazzo pants.  For second-best, for something to settle for.  For (cue that Who riff) a Sub-sti-chute.

Oh, but NONE of the pants I’ve perused desultorily are the same.  Most are cheap, an *awful* lot are not black, are very heavily patterned.  None want to be replicants, rebound stand-ins for The Only Pants I Ever Loved.  None is made with as well-draped a textile, none has the weight or quality of The Missing.  Some veer perilously close to being SLACKS.  Heavens forfend.

I do not wear slacks.

I *can* not wear my palazzos.  I can’t do the great sweaer outfits they’d have been so perfect for, with my cute little shoe-booties, sophisticated colors, and long scarves, warm around my neck.

I cannot wear them: for Thanksgiving.  Horrors!  They’d have been so good for Thanksgiving.  Their kind, yoga-style (non-elastic-banded) waistband – not an option, for the holiday when it would be so very welcome.  Their long, floppy legs, soft and fine for napping in.


I cannot wear them in a car, I cannot wear them in a bar.  I cannot wear them, Sam I’m Not.  I cannot wear them, no matter what.

But the real problem is something deeper, something more profound, even, than That Perfect Garment, the comfortable, washable, versatile and good looking pants.

No.  More desperately, and more to the ultimate, mind-deteriorating, insanity-inducing point:  I can’t figure out … What. the. Hell.

It’s a COGNITIVE torture, this terrible case of non-presence.

My brain honestly cannot cope with what has become of these pants.  Never mind not being able to find them.  Not being able to understand what could have become of these things, this item in my care, this bit of flotsam in the material blessings over which I carry stewardship.  THAT’S the problem.

It would be preferable to believe that (a) my pants don’t actually possess the power of teleportation, (b) someone didn’t come in my house just to steal nothing in the world but these precious pants, and (c) I didn’t forget that awkward moment when, apparently, I was driving home from the Con, shucked my pants while in the car, threw them out the window with a whoop of deranged glee, freeing myself from these inexplicable pants, and apparently walked back in my house naked from the waist down.  *Erm*

I’m pretty serious about that (c), too.

Unless I have lost my way around a perfectly ordinary house I’ve lived in for FIFTEEN YEARS now … these pants simply do not exist anymore.  They are nowhere in evidence, in the only possible place I’m capable of *comprehending* they should be.  They are nowhere to be found inside my house.

And yes, I have looked under all the beds.  With that flashlight, and multiple times, again.  And no, I never lent them to anybody, nor took ‘em to a dry cleaner.

I take nothing to a dry cleaner, man.

These pants appear to have renounced molecular cohesion, shivered themselves into nonexistence, and dispersed, to play with the dust bunnies, mold, cave crickets, and dust.  Either that, or they actually honestly don’t exist, even in particulate form, whatsoever anymore.

They’re chimera pants.

Dare I say:  they are immaterial.

*Ducks to avoid the response to that last line*

What’s inexplicable in your life, this Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Observed Just Now

It's hard to butterfly-kiss a cat.

Cluster. You Know the Rest.

For the first time in years, I seem to have returned to The Land of the Cluster Migraine.  In some ways, "cluster" can be a misnomer for this type of headache.  When I was working for That One Guy lo these many years ago, I once endured a headache over the course of something like four months (no, it never stopped; no, not even when I was asleep - it just got worse or less-worse, with no cessation whatsoever, for actual months on end).  That ain't a cluster, that's a single nasty monster-ache, over a season or more.

Right now, though, "cluster" is about right - it's letting up from time to time.  But, I believe, my output here has been affected, and I can say for certain my output at Twitter has plummeted.  Perhaps all to the good, that part.

Unfortunately, the output in querying has been constrained as well.  I've never been an email blaster, but I can recall getting three and even six or eight queries out in one night, in the past.

So it is with tempered joy, but at least some satisfaction, I realize I've reached the point where I'm soldiering on through the pain.  Got some good submitting done tonight, and that after a seriously hectic, but rather rewarding (and long) day at work.

Not half bad, considering the unseemly relations I indulged earlier today, with a fist full of NSAIDs.

And so now:  beddy-bye time.  Anything that happens there with Gossamer the Editor Cat is strictly seemly.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Not Because I'm Christian ... Because I'm a Writer (and a Viewer)

With the latest biblical video game coming soon to a cineplex near you, I’ve been thinking about storytelling as an author and as a moviegoer.  Biblical stories have lent themselves to embroidery and retelling since the beginning; perhaps not least because the stories themselves almost ostentatiously offer a paucity of detail.  Jewish scholarship for millennia have built upon the bare bones of the Tanakh (having grown up highly Judeo-adjacent, you’re not going to catch me writing the term “OLD Testament” thoughtlessly I hope), and gentiles have been in on the same game for centuries now.

Centuries ago, when I was a liddle-*liddle* kid, some of the first stories that caught my imagination were those of Genesis.  Because of those tantalizing voids in these stories, I became obsessed with backstory.  Not even “WHY, WHY?” – though these stories beg the profoundest of moral questions, given their fundamental position in the Bible – but “WHAT ELSE?”

These questions absorbed me, and once I got old enough for purty, midcentury modern aesthetics, diaphanous costumes, Anne Baxter, and movies to arrest my attention, “The Ten Commandments” fixated me to no small degree.  Its annual event-viewing at Passover and Easter time always stopped me in my TV-viewing tracks, even when I was too young to stay up past Moses’ banishment from Egypt.  (Much like Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind, there were great swaths of this we-watched-it-every-year-when-it-aired movie I never knew existed.  Beyond Maria’s getting married, Dorothy’s beauty makeover at the Emerald City, and Scarlett being widowed, there were realms unknown.)

For me, that movie’s always been about Anne Baxter’s dramatic smoker’s voice, allure-as-evil, a fancy palace, exotic locale and time, and pretty costumes.  And Yul Brynner, who is OSUM and a biscuit.

That was really the cinematic point:  wish fulfillment.  Ten Commandments and every 1950s biblical/historical epic involving any amount of sand or religiosity (see also They Egyptian, a nonbiblical story but one so seriously Judeo-Christian it actually used sets and cast left over from Ten Commandments, and closed with a fascinating piece of 19th-20th century spiritual theorizing that captivated me at the time) was cartoonishly unrealistic, providing a great deal in the Booming Elocution department, even more in production design joy for the crew, and a curiously contemporary brand of fantasy most people find has aged amusingly in sixty or so years.

And yet, the current crop of setpiece dramatics, nominally Biblical stories, are very much the same.  Noah and Exodus:  Gods and Kings place an emphasis on CGI dramatics, the high-intensity visuals and action born of a generation’s ever more sophisticated video game aesthetics, and a manner of world-building (and, even sixty years on, STILL casting) having little to do with the people of Bronze Age and even pre- or quasi-historical Mesopotamia.  The new tellings just as lacking in story as Heston’s bombasity; only the eye-candy has changed and the spectacle delivered via a different state of the arts.

I like a good CGI popcorn flick – give me a Marvel film and I’m there, uncritical, ready to partake and ooh at the gee-whiz.  I’m a great, uncritical audience.  But.

But.  When it comes to Noah and Moses and tales which almost predate themselves, in terms of the cultural significance and enticing hints of ancient life in the Fertile Crescent … what wouldn’t I give for a quiet, intimate film, focusing on imagined *people* more than spectacle and thrill … ?  A movie looking at the strange and dark tales of the patriarchs, men (and those glimpsed women, as storied as the men) whose legacy seems to be revered not because they were moral but because they lived at the dawn of a spiritual civilization we carry unto this day.

I’ve learned that this is not necessarily usual – but, from my smallest childhood, the entire contents of those stories were taught to me in Sunday school.  The nakedness, the murder and polygamy and incest, the child and human sacrifice.  The special, spiritual morality of Abraham, who married his own half-sister, then used her beauty for gain and deceived kings through her, was lost on me and always has been – but, having gotten some age on me, the idea of his being a prophet of G-d intrigues me.  We’re all flawed, but all we know of Abraham is his flaws, all but unallayed by the assurance of his peculiar rectitude.  The binding of Isaac alone has provoked us intellectually, emotionally, and socially for thousands of years.

At bottom, it’s a queasy thing, really.  I was ENTERTAINED by this lurid stuff, this first literature I ever knew – Noah, having a bad relationship with his boys, Lot procreating with his daughters (after having offered them up as sexual sacrifices in Sodom), parent after parent scheming against each other due to favoritism amongst their children.  And Jacob, and his favoritism amongst his wives.

I never even got as far as the Midrash, where we are told those wives were *all* sisters, where we elucidate the idol worship bewilderingly present throughout the families (not just households) of the matriarchs and patriarchs.  Where the women unnamed take on lives and even speak.

Even for the sources who originally wrote down these traditions, always, there has been *more* …

And yet always less than we seem to come up with – the porcine performances (ironic, all things considered) and splashy visuals, the impressive story*telling* that omits human stories.

Tucked into the annual memories of my childhood, quiet amid the saturated brightness of movies shared every year, and my enduring fascination with Hebrew Biblical films … there is a false memory, one that cannot have happened (indeed, is not remembered at all by my mother), of one movie I watched with my mom one single time.  It is the memory of sharing faith and mother-daughter time, one couched in a generation’s depth of warm feelings – one I found, somewhere in my thirties, never happened.

For some reason, I recall it as happening upstairs in the bedroom at my grandmother’s house in Ohio.  I was unwell or perhaps just petulant that day, and on my own up there.  There’s this strongly affectionate recollection that we watched a movie alone together, that I remembered for years as being called “Ruth and the Bible.”  Its actual title, almost certainly, was The Story of Ruth, and – as I read about it today – I see that not only was the lead role played by an Israeli woman, but its reviews praise it in a noticeable way:  It was called “refreshingly sincere and restrained” and “commendably unepic” …

Now – one – this makes me highly eager to see this film again (probably to own it, to love it, to name it George – heck, I already renamed it once).

But, two, I am struck by the longing for a Biblical story to be told, to be portrayed, on a quiet, intimate level.

There is not much in the story of Ruth, which could be Blowed Up Real Good by Hollywood, and though there has been a surge in interest in the nature of the love between Ruth and Naomi (lesbianism seems not to have made it into the variety of entertaining sexuality within the Holy Scriptures), this does not beg for special effects, and so the only production-design hope for it would lie in a story of lushly attractive white girls getting their languid on in appealingly exoticized gauzy accoutrements, while Boaz stands by fascinated at this dynamic and perhaps sweatily drops a few grains for the gleaning.  Ahem.  He may not do this in Bitchin’ Velvet, but one has faith in the resurgent fashion for men in long hair, and that surety in Hollywood, the currently-sellable, pretty and white boy.

It could be done – and it could be done inexpensively.  But would it make any money?

One has to wonder.  And maybe order the DVD of that movie I affectionately recall sharing with my mom, in a time and a place it could not have happened.

The formative tales, too, could be told with this intriguing closeness, with attention to aspects other than the pyrotechnics of miracle and divinity.  Perhaps there is no other audience who would be fascinated to look into a world not peopled by obsessively styled white people, inhabiting a world in which NONE of our social assumptions holds – about family, about marital arrangements, about day-to-day life and the religion and superstition permeating an existence nowhere near so thoughtless and easy as the modern middle-class is today.  Perhaps there’s no money in world-building designed to explore, to understand – only production design and gee-whizzery.

Gee, but I’d give a buck to sink down into a movie like that.  Would you?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#AmQuerying ...

Uuuugghhh.  I can't get the next query out until I revamp that stinking synopsis YET again to tailor it to yet another set of submission guidelines.  I refuse to flub "3-5 paragraphs" to the entire page it is right now, but sometimes (after a 9-hour workday, just for instance), following the rules gets exhausting.

Don't go thinking six or seven revamps is ever enough, either.  Sure, you might have a 3-5 page synopsis, a one-pager, a 3-5 paragraph one, and the query itself, but some agent you crave-crave-crave to impress is going to turn up asking for one seven pages long, or one TWO PARAGRAPHS long.  It's not their fault there's not industry standard!

Or is it ...?  :)

Me, Too

Deaf?  Why yes, thank you.

(You and me both, Mojourner.)  And I went on to marry that 80s hair band musician, too!  Even earplugs could only help me so much, given our family and hearing ...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Darn Cat

Everyone who's ever had a cat knows that sometimes they have this charming way of going missing on you, hiding in closets, behind stray molecules of air, or ...

... occasionally taking trips to NYC.

Dagnabbit, Goss-ness!  You're supposed to be a *mama's* boy!!!!


Inspired recently by some discussion in the comments at Janet Reid's blog, please note we have a new feature here at the old homestead.  A slight scroll down on the right will show a Contact the Owner widget in the sidebar.

This emails me anything you have to say directly, without public commenting, and I stay on top of my messages on my personal time.

Thanks to French Sojourn for being my first contact!  Cheers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Corresponding, Funny Things, and Love

Some years ago, I was privileged to correspond briefly with Roger Ebert, the late critic with whose assessments of movies I scarcely ever agreed, but who remains one of my favorite writers.  I also emailed with Donald Harington several times during the period when he was writing Enduring, a novel whose title alone sends a shiver down my neck and arms it’s so wonderful.  On Twitter, I’ve had the odd drive-by-Twitting with writers from Lore Sjöberg to Elizabeth Chadwick.  I’m an uppity cuss, and most of this has come via the speaking-up-at-a-party method.  They say it’s one way to network, as an unpublished author.  Certainly, it’s fun (I had to restrain myself from going off on a “and I know these Trek designers and actors” tangent, as this post actually has a topic).

I also like ongoing parties, and at one of the many places I like to hang out, I yipped up and sucked up and got the attention of Janet Reid (a.k.a. The Query Shark) with, if not my manuscript (WAAAH!), at least the adorable Gossamer the Editor Cat.  Thanks to that little loverboy, I’ve hit her with the occasional grey Goss pic, many of which have made it to her Facebook, blogs, and so on, and we have a very occasional but very amusing correspondence as well.

After the latest Gossamer shameless-shot, we swapped a bit of silliness and she concluded with “you crack me up.”

Now:  given that she makes a living knowing her way around a witty word … if I used a few of ‘em well enough to give her a giggle, I’m pretty spankin’ pleased with myself.


Something more like seventeen or eighteen years ago now, I had a similar piece of praise, when the goddess of the boards I once belonged to online sent me a private message, “I just wanted you to know I think you are a f***ing riot.”

This came from my gut-deep, wonderful, lunatic, loving friend Zuba, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, that PM.  I pulled up my funny girl pants, PM’d her back, began bantering with her on the fora we shared, and ended up becoming something of an institution there myself.  Not even entirely thanks to reflected glory.  (I’m an institutional smartypants.)

Mellow I may be, is the point, but shy is something I lost my talent for long ago.  Innocence and wonder and even fear I have held on to, but … an inability to speak?  Not me.  All of the significant romantic relationships of my life seem to have started with me conking some poor, helpless boy on the head and dragging him off to my cave.

Or, you know – saying hi to him.

I can still remember the first time I made my brother laugh – really belly laugh, so hard we both ended up half falling over.  It was something or other about Double Stuft Oreos neither one of us can EVER recall anymore.  I remember making Zuba laugh, that first time – or, at least, her telling me about it.  I remember just two years ago, the way it felt to be in the same room with Mr. X, to laugh together, for it to be a physical experience shared for the first time in a long time, and how transformative the moment is.  And how much we both missed that.  And now miss it again.

The most indelible, important images in all my memories seem to be of laughter – ex boyfriends’ beautifully crinkled, contorted faces – actual photos I have of Mr. X laughing – that Oreos moment with my brother – the gruff, wonderful sound of my dad’s voice in mirth – my mom’s laugh; and how, throughout my life, I’ve been told my laugh is like hers.  I’ll take that.

One of the pinnacle compliments of my lifetime was Mr. X’s “You use your wit and your intelligence as if your appearance has no power, and the effect is devastating.”  “I just want you to know I think you are a f***ing riot” is right up there on the list, too.  And now we have the up-cracking of someone I highly respect.

Perhaps I should be a comedy writer instead …