Sunday, March 30, 2014

All Richard, All the Time

As the review begins regarding the reinterment of Richard III's bones (I did not find a resolution, if there's been one on this since 3/11 here is a timeline), so recently unearthed ... the questions begin.  What color were his hair and eyes?  Where was his chapel?

... and, inevitably ...

A poll to determine who believes it's really RIII they've found (to heck with science, let's vote! ohhh do I love contemporary "journalism") ... and the matter of doubt itself.


Madame Isis has an educational look at wire cap construction in the 18th century, but the collection of portraits she has here is worth a look for far more than historical costuming reasons.  A remarkable array of painting styles and faces, some are just mysterious and some beautiful.

Also with an eye to historical costume, English History Authors has Gabrielle Kim and Deborah Swift in a post here to discuss historical costume design onstage ... and in their novels.

Jeff Sypeck brings us a GREAT poem - "Zip it winter, you wasteful shit" ...

The History Girls ask the pertinent question:  is there history in your kitchen artifacts?  I know there is in mine and all my family's kitchens ...

From Telegraph UK, the Black Death:  not all about the rats - or, lessons on pneumonic and bubonic all over again.  (The article does include some different information than the video, so take time for both!)

Nyki Blatchley notes, English is a funny old language.  Indeed - it's rather a lot of them!

Aspirations:  the Good Housekeeping seal of approval (ish ...) and being in a magazine with Joanna Lumley on the cover.  Way to go, Nancy Bilyeau!

How Worcestershire Sauce Got and Lost Its Name.  Fantastic fun with a budding author at Marie Antoinette's Diamonds.

Ian Mortimer takes us on a Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval Shopping (in England, that is) at BBC's History Extra.  Cute Shoes:  I don't think this trip is for us ... !

Glorious images of the Staffordshire  Hoard and a blog about seeing these treasures first hand.  Here is a VERY quick look at its scope when laid out all together:

Video Sunday #2: James River Writers!

This is my favorite conference of the year, every year.  JRW is my community.  These are my friends.

I'm so grateful!  I'm so proud.

Video Sunday #1: 1940s Chicago

The History Blog once again has an excellent post about the video below, not least of which is a little investigation into exactly when it was produced.

The clip is not short; it's a full length (nearly 32 minutes) promotional film, extolling the architecture, infrastructure, and industry of Chicago.  The footage is worth taking in the full length, if you're interested.  And, as our friend at HB is, I kind of enjoy the stentorian delivery of a good old mid-century educational film.  We were still watching these in the 70s when I was in school; the style is pretty unmistakable - and everything about this video takes you back!

Friday, March 28, 2014


Something of an odd little plot bunny collection today - sometimes, I read too much and my eyes aren't even big enough for me to bite off certain temptations.

Such as:  goblin church!  I love English names, and if the children's book hasn't been written, it should be.  Get on that, okay?

Or, the first playwright in post-antique Europe was a woman.  Go to it, because she's a fascinating character - but, with a novel in agents' hands, a WIP in the works, and a third having finally been promoted to the back burner, I don't have time to do Hroswitha (or her many names -which, just perfectly, mean "strong voice") justice.  Someone, please take on that "she's only a woman" nonsense, please!?

This one may or may not be a plot bunny, but it IS an unexpected story.  Once again courtesy of the History Blog, we have an ancient Sudanese Christian-symbolic tattoo on a woman's inner thigh.  Escandalo!  Didn't see that coming, did you?  Includes a nice short video clip, too.

In another vein, CONGRATULATIONS to Tom Williams on his upcoming publication, His Majesty's Confidential Agent - coming in May (at least in the UK ...).  I'll post updates as he does!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

ACTIVE Voice(s)

The first moments of my day this morning were spent in the usual way, but with a soundtrack that nagged me almost from the moment I turned on the TV.  I tend to listen to old movies in the morning rather than watching any news; a holdover from a schedule that had me out of the house before any news even began airing, I've learned it is a far nicer way to start the day than with the important boxes ticked off - what will the weather be, what terrible thing has happened or is about to, what pontificating on the economy can we do at this hour?  NPR always tells me exactly what the "news" does, so first thing out of bed, a gaggle of people long since dead and gone acting out stories I don't even have to look at on the screen turns out to be a peaceable starting point.

Today, though, my peace was niggled.  One of the actors in the day's pre-code romantic comedy (Oh the scandal!  A wife trying to wile her husband back into her own arms!) had a voice it took me only syllables to know I had heard before, but which I could not quite identify for a few minutes.  That sort of thing can drive you to distraction at the best of moments; at six-thirty a.m. when you've hardly washed your face, it can topple you outright.

I did get to it, though.  The voice was attached to cartoons.  I knew that almost right off - a voice I had HEARD, but knew that was the end of it.  It wasn't a familiar "actor" I was hearing, but a voice-over.  I let it percolate as I brushed my teeth, coming in and out of the room, and once I was getting dressed for work I knew it wasn't just voice promotions or narration, but cartoon work.  And yet - not character work, not per se.  This wasn't Mickey Mouse talking to  me.  It was the voice, in a cartoon, that comments upon action otherwise scripted and drawn as pantomime comedy.  It was the very particular voice of the man who had explained to me what was up onscreen in enough cartoons to stick in my head, and I sensed it wasn't Looney Toons, but couldn't put my finger on it.  Thank goodness for TCM's movie schedule and this little career summary.  As coolness goes, he couldn't have much outdone this cultural contribution.

When I got into my car to go to work, the necessity to appear as if I am not entirely ignorant generally prompts me to listen to NPR rather than music in the morning, and I was rewarded once again with a voice from my past - but not one I had heard before, this time.  Athol Fugard was a playwright during a little-known (now) period in my life, when I believed I was going to go into theater.  *Master Harold and the Boys* and Zakes Mokai were the chords through which his voice played in my life, so I knew the structure and shape of his voice without knowing its sound.  Zakes' voice was quite fine enough, and I remember it to this day - but the words and the shapes were written by Fugard.

It got me to thinking (I'm nothing if not self-absorbed) about how many people will know the shape, the structure of my voice, who may never *hear* it either.  Less and less, perhaps, as the age of information progresses - yet I have always found some charm in not "knowing" the authors of the works I love best, and suspect that the sacred-space of reading may not drive all readers into personal relationships with authors.  One may hope, anyway.

It doesn't even take the publication of the novel to create this strange, intimate remoteness either.  I think of the friends I have made online - some, over the years, have become the dearest "real" friends I have; but most are people I will never meet in life -and am struck by the realization, not that we'll never see each other in this world, but that we will never hear each other.  There is a power in a voice, which brings to immediacy people we may never meet otherwise.  I had team members at my last job - the resume phrase was "highly virtualized team" - I never met at all, but we did talk, and many of us regularly.  The number of "my kids" I never met in person was remarkable, really - and that's far from my first at-bat on vocal relationships I'll never realize face-to-face.  Back when I was the assistant to the president of the largest of four nationwide divisions, I trained the other ADMINS without ever meeting them - and still think fondly of "my guys" whom I took such care of, but who never had occasion to come to our little satellite office to visit.  I've had countless encounters and acquaintanceships which took place through work and/or strictly by phone.

The girl from a finance company who own the loan on the windows I had installed  years ago is familiar to me by name and by speaking with her "Thanks, I don't need a new loan today, but you have a good one!"  The guy who's been calling, trying to sell my boss some service or other, who keeps his follow-ups regularly enough he feels "bad" for "bothering" me "all the time" is fine by me; we're both doing what we get paid to, and he doesn't treat me like a menial, so he gets the polite treatment.  The person who once called a job I had, to report a crime relevant to my employers, who was scared ... and whose fate I will never know, but which matters to me to this day ...

I have to imagine I'm not unique in this curiously modern development; that there are more voices in all our lives than we realize from day to day.  Then one voice pops up, saying something we don't recognize, but with tones so particularly familiar we're taken back into childhood ... and another voice reveals itself, thirty years after his words spoke to us first, through others ... and a day is filled with echoes of voices, and that is a good and interesting thing.  How many people do you speak with in a day, develop lightweight rapport with, perhaps even "get to know" over time, through repeated transactions ... whom you will never meet in the way we used to think of that word signifying?

How much does it matter, if you meet them - or hear them - or never do at all?  I can say I still care about my friends on Twitter, though there are few I expect ever to know outside of the internet.  I want the best for 'em, we find encouragement together, we're cheerleaders and shoulders and wisecrackers and pals.  It may not be friendship like I have with Cute Shoes, nor engender the compassion I have for my family - but it cannot be said I'm indifferent to the fate of those I know online, either.

Are you indifferent enough not to need to comment ... ?  Or does this happen to you, too?

Edited to add:  Smart Woman is apparently the movie I was watching, with the extraordinarily familiar voice of  Mr. Edward Everett Horton.  Remarkably:  his voice did not age from 1931 to 1964 - the latter of which was the period of his career from which I came to know it ...  (Hear here.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Breaking the Rules

In The Ax and the Vase, Clovis occasionally refers to his wife and queen Clotilde as “Cloti.”  Linguistically, there is zero defense for this – not least as “Clotilde” itself is a Romanization of a name pronounced with very little relationship indeed to the adaptation.  I’ve discussed Clovis’ own name (given to him, not by his father, King Childeric, but by his mother, Basina).  His own Romanized epithet takes us from a name more like “Hludo-vechus” to something more familiar to the modern eye, raised on two thousand years of Romance language and an affinity for clipped phonics.

As do many in the family and the dynasty as a whole—Chlodomer, Clotaire, Chrotilda, and so on—Clotilde herself shares the primary root of her bigeminal name with Clovis.  The Clo- root word derives from “hlud” – a cognate for fame, and most often translated thus – but it also is a cognate and shares kinship with the modern word “loud”.  This informs, in a way, much of the plot of Ax.  Clovis spends a great deal of energy on what we could call propaganda; he not only makes his own myth, but he tells a particular sort of story—a spectacular sort of story—in acts calculated for maximum shock-value and impact.

In Clotilde’s case, the root is, interestingly, most often translated as “bright” rather than “famed” – and that may be a gender bias dating back centuries which continues to be regurgitated, a feminine interpretation of a root used both for men and for women alike.  Where Clovis’ name is said to mean “famed warrior”, hers is given as “bright battle” (the latter root of which tends to beg the question, what is “girly” anyway, in the context of Germanic naming?).  I can’t cite hard data that this is a gender bias, but the consistency of the different meanings given for the same root for Clovis and Clotilde is striking.

Anyway.  To the point (yes, there is one).

And so I have an early Frankish king being cutesy and calling his wife either bright or loud, depending on how we look at it linguistically … and the point is that linguistics went absolutely by the wayside in this conceit.

I felt it necessary to evoke perhaps the solitary area of tenderness in Clovis’ life and heart, by expressing it in his words to his wife.  Humans are creatures of nicknames – but how an ancient Germanic reiks might nickname his wife, his queen, is frankly beyond my ken.

And so, without justification and I am sure without the slightest reality, I created a diminutization with abbreviation.

As false as it is by the rules, it’s authentic in terms of human behavior.  Today, name-shortening is the way we most commonly create pet names (and have for centuries … even if not the centuries in which Clovis and Clotilde lived).  It’s also a deliniation of how close an orbit is between two people:  there aren’t many people who get away with calling me Di, but those who do are VERY close to me indeed.  There is a brevity in affection which creates intimacy between us – if someone in my office calls me Di, they’re likely to get an eyebrow-raising wry smile.  But when X uses it, it is a sort of bond – he’s known me for so long, and he has earned the right to choose a name for me.  Oddly enough, a former coworker almost created a bond with me by calling me Lady Di – which bugged me so much I finally told him to stop it, and his utterly priceless response (you really had to know the guy to see how this could be endearing) was, “But I like it!”  He stopped it outright – and, in the end, I found I missed him calling me that.  And I still have affectionate memories of him to this day.

Nicknaming is a bilateral sort of leveling, a mutual sharing – and so, when Clovis speaks with his “Cloti”, it is a signpost of their unique rights to each other.  No other person would nor could even think of such a name for the queen.  And no other person would have the right to use it, either.  I gave him no nickname from her, but people sometimes share a thing only one of them actually wears, so to speak.

It is in things like this historical fiction finds its little freedoms.  There will be guitarists at the back of the bar of course, who scoff at such apalling license.  I’m not writing for those purists, apparently.

Every word I put down is translated through a modern mind which can never honestly nor completely capture the character, the period, the etiquette and protocol.  I can evoke them and study – but, being the product of the world I’ve lived in, forty-six years of hopeless modernity will inform the set construction.  On occasion, such as in this little license, I’ll use a screw, if it holds better than a nail – even if that’s not authentic.  If the wall stays up, and holds its own corner of the story, that is authenticity enough.  I want the story to stand.

I won’t write a feminist Mary Sue character, whose presence would outright tear the story and its setting down; but I’m not above allowing myself a bit of “modern technology” to get a point across.  If the ancient nails are rusted away, and there’s a Philips head and a screwdriver to be had … I’ll call my Queen-Saint “Cloti” in the bedchamber with her king, and apologize to nobody for it.

When looking in a Saint’s bedchamber, there is some license you can take … and some, of course, you really can’t.  All things considered, I hope I chose the right infraction!

Saturday, March 22, 2014


We all have them – the ones when it’s hard to believe we bring much good to the world, when accidentally driving over a bridge might not seem so bad.  It’s not a real desire – any more than the desire to kill off an inconvenient relative or spouse is, though we may have those ideas sometimes too.  And they make you ache the worst when something goes horribly wrong with no intent, no malice.  The thing you say wrong in front of someone who didn’t know crucial information, the moment you step on the cat after a hell of a long day and it just makes you feel like a horrible, horrible person – and the fact he’s so dear and forgiving and purrs up on you almost instantly only makes you feel all the more evil and guilty.

Remorse – I think it’s the most horrible feeling.  Remorse when I broke that vintage bakelite radio that my dad actually got to work when we were kids.  Remorse when the cat himself broke the most beautiful earthenware bowl, given to me by my best friend, a piece which had belonged to her singular, beautiful, beloved mother.  Remorse when someone I love is in pain and there’s nothing in my power that can possibly make it better.

Remorse carries the doom of sitting outside the principal’s office (I never sat outside the principal’s office, of course) with the desolation of helplessness, of powerlessness.  Remorse when you are alone is particularly sere and dessicating.

As you might guess, it’s been a stressful week, and I keep doing idiotic things like losing a knuckle in a cheese grater and getting frustrated at people because of miscommunication – and being mean about it.  I was mean to the cat and the dog both, for which there simply is never an excuse.  I can’t breathe well and keep having problems swallowing and/or choking.  My back’s been killing me for weeks, so I’ve neglected my home – it is a serious pigsty, and I’m running perilously low on socks at this point.  The sink is full both of clean *and* dirty dishes, and the dry leaves that blew in probably DAYS ago, I haven’t picked up nor even looked at twice, in the kitchen.  It’s a neglected house, and it’s the first sanctuary both of my worship, and of my stewardship in life.  It’s the concrete blessing I know I need to take care of, and lately, I just have not.  And, just as I did when I was a child, when I am clumsy and something goes wrong (a constant thing, for someone physically graceless as I), I sometimes, tantrum-like, throw it further and make things worse.  I miss the shoe rack putting away my shoes, I throw them at the back of the closet.  I have a problem taking care of some little task, I QUIT – because who can make me do it all, and who’s it going to hurt but me?

I pray every day, more than once, “may I bring satisfaction and joy.”  To my G-d, to my family and friends, in my work, to those who will someday read my novels, to strangers I just deal with in the routine of life, to X, for whom I have so little to offer really.  It’s not because I’m saintly in the least; rather, it’s because I’m selfish, and the way people make ME feel, who can do this thing for others – I want to make people feel like that.  I want to be the source of the kind of gratification *genuinely* nice people generate in others.  Yeah, morally and spiritually I certainly aspire to it.  But mostly it’s a self-oriented prayer.

And even knowing that, I still blunder into other people and make a mess of more than my stupid shoe rack.  And indulge in remorse, which is only more self-absorption.

Then I find myself driving toward home, cogitating on this post, a beautiful second day of spring, my windows open, Leonard Cohen singing with that inimitable, unhurried cadence – and he says to me, “forget that perfect offering.  There is a crack, a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.”

The older I get, the better I am at recovering from remorse’s drama and compulsion and license, to spend attention upon my tender, all-important expectations.  The only way to get past it is gratitude – and nobody can say my life is not abundant with blessings for which to be grateful.  I’m many things, good and bad, but I am humbled at the people who put up with me.  And, at the end of the day – if I don’t get on with things, that house will fall apart around my ears (and even I am not so dramatic as to hope for that).

And, if I don’t get on with things, the estimable folk who take the time to care for me … will find reasons (and they’ll be valid) to be otherwise occupied.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian!

"Ahh, Bach."

Anyone who gets the reference quoted in the body of the post wins a shiny nickel.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

*Read* the Comments?

I was poking around LinkedIn earlier, and found this post on successful and unsuccessful people.  I don’t like articles like this, honestly – facile and peppy, they tend to be low on solutions but high on advice which has all the generic applicability of a bumper sticker.

Why I read it I can’t say, but – most unusually for me – I stayed tuned for the comments, which were a huge improvement on the content itself.  It’s reassuring to find people being thoughtful – and, dare I say it, even engaging each other (if real discussion isn’t easy online, at least this much is).  So the easy, if over-long, list of How to Be Simply Spiffy turned out to be thought-provoking, and it was nice to see both a bit of deconstruction and CONstructive consideration of a subject.

The real issue isn’t “success” (as it’s presumably defined here, by professional advancement/material gain etc.) but satisfaction.  And the article doesn’t address that at all, not with any honesty.


Janet Reid takes a couple of good looks at agently idiocy.

Leila Gaskin on the 5-second rule, which takes more fortitude than I have in me.  I'm more a "If the idea really loves me, it will come back" and let it be gone if it wants to be sort of lazy-pants, but she's probably got the wiser method ...

The History Blog once again with the fascinating stories - this time, the foundling Faberge' egg.  I love the commenter who says they want to become a scrap metal dealer so they can drop $14k at a flea market.  Hear, hear!

Edited to add The History Girls' guest, Tansy Raynor, who has a little something to say about women, Rome, and Sulpicia (whom, actually, I had heard of).  The old "She wrote it - but ..." problem.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hopewell Hopes Went Well

Okay, feels very good to have been some tiny part of this success in preservation.  How gratifying!

Even more so, you can still contribute - and, now, without the fear that it will be for nothing.  Here is the PayPal-enabled link.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Hah!  Following on the post I just finished putting up, this is an amusing companion - new knickers at Pour la Victoire.  Nice work by the ever self-deprecating Gabriela.  Next piece - pour la directoire?  *Grin*

Arrant Pedantry has a review of a book which gives us the compound word for kicking through autumn leaves, which sounds like a wisely considered and highly desirable book all around.  Idol chatter can sometimes be quite diverting ...

... and now for something not completely silly ...

You can help to save the Hopewell earthworks in Ohio.  Even if you can't contribute, take a look at the article, which is a nice look at a piece of native American history from the always wonderful History Blog.  The Hopewell culture is not unknown to me, nor is Ohio.  I'll be looking into doing what I can - because I believe in preservation over McMansion development every time.  HB has the links, but here and here are the opportunities to help.  (The second of these two links offers the opportunity to donate instantly online.)

Edited to add:  The auction of the Junction site is TOMORROW as of this writing, March 18.  I'm finishing my checkout.  Here is a vid that adds to the post at HB:

Bloomin' Bicycling, Barefoot Little Heathen, and There Shall Be A Multitude of Hats

Though the transcription here (from the digized copy of an old newspaper clipping, included on the same page as an image) suffers, the points made by the writers of letters to an editor asking “Should women wear bloomers?” in the Los Angeles Herald, circa 1895) are worth winkling out – that clothing defines far more than the statement of an individual, but their affiliations within their societies, their communities, their expectations of themselves (and others … should those critics mired in the depths of vulgarity see and judge).

(Quotations left with transcription errors intact.)

The ill health of American women has long been deplored by all who have thought on the subject and all agree that lack of vigorous out-door exercise has been the chief reason for that Ul health. The bicycle promises to be the greteat boon to health that American women have known. It should oh that accoont he welcomed by men and women alike,for men suffer quite as much from tbe Ul health of women ns women themselves. Tbe continued newspaper comments on tbe suoject frighten tbe nervous, timid women wbo would be most helped physically by tbe use of the bicycle, and wbo would, but for this constant criticism, be using tbe health-giv-ing wbeel.

Tbat tbeie ia anything immoral to be feared from its adoption it the argument pf a sensualist, and shows the depth of vulgarity to wbich criticism may descend.

I have words of censure for the immodest exposures of person tbat every ball room furnishes, and for tbe extravagance of style which dictates tbat yards of material aball be put into sleeves serving no purpose but to jostle tbeir owner into prominence, and force her upon the attention of every passer-by. I abhor the untidiness of the long skirt on the street, and I deplore the wickednessof the tightly corseted waist, but for tbe bloomers, which make out-door exercise for women a fascinating delight, I nave only commendation and admiration.  ...  

My profile says “I contain multitudes” and one of the central ways this has always been expressed in my life is through the way I dress.

When I was a little girl, I was MAD for “twirly skirts.”  There are a LOT of you reading right now who are immediately nodding; you know precisely the garment I’m describing, and you remember exactly the appeal of a dress or a skirt, cut full, which either belled or entirely fanned out when you spun in a circle, round and round.  I can’t say how many conversations I’ve had in which fond memories of The Twirly Skirt arose, but it’s something many of us recall as being a fond and fun, and very particular part of childhood.  I have memories, too, of a certain flame-haired imp I know, not so very far past these years (perhaps not at all), the sight of whose vivid coloring, in a bright pink tutu skirt, capering across the green of a lawn only the Pacific Northwest could produce – who might nod as gravely as any old lady my age might, understanding the joys of twirling across the grass, barefoot, in a properly designed flounce, with a properly calibrated spin …;

But I wore many things other than twirly skirts, as most of us did.  Shorts were fun, and bathing suits, and – oh joy! – the new Mary Jane patent leather shoes every year, in time for Easter.  Because – there was Sunday Best, and then there was EASTER Sunday Best.  White tights, a pale green dress with a pink satin flower, or yellow bow – and patent leather shoes.

You didn’t get to wear Sunday Best every day, and so it held both the excitement of a luxury held in some reserve, but also the powerful association of pretty things with A Sense of Occasion.  To this day, I still dress up for church, though it’s by no means necessary to do so in my congregation.  Dressing on a Sunday morning carries with it the memory of family bustle, the feeling that you present yourself at your best for G-d and the gathering.  Dressing on a Sunday morning – wearing those things I wasn’t allowed to wear “just” for school – had all the sartorial anticipation, beauty, and pleasure of a party dress.  Dressing on a Sunday morning was probably half the means by which I could be persuaded into two hours (Sunday school, then the church service itself) to behave at all like a civilized child and go to church at all.  If I went to boring-old-church, at least I got to do so all decked out.

And yet, after church, coming home and changing into play clothes was exhilarating, too.  I learned the utility and comfort of different clothes early – and so, I learned early, that as much fun as it is to get dressed up, there is also reward in “boring” every day clothes, in which I could curl up and read, or run around outside, or hang off my mom’s elbow, whining about how there’s nothing in the world at all to do.  (It is a sad truth that the latter of these comprised perhaps the bulk of my childhood …)

Clothing imparts a rhythm to life.  Sundays had this heightened activity in terms of wardrobe; weekdays, I’d come home from school and almost certainly not change until time for beddy-bye and a nightgown.  Going out to supper with my family, we’d dress up a bit, but not like for church.  If family or friends were coming over, we may not change, but there’d be a hair-combing and a bit of a wash on tap (yes – har) for us, after a quick but effective inspection.  The energy my mom imparted, from more attention or frustration for those occasions calling for more formality or visibility, set the energy for given events.

In me, this translated into an ongoing extension of that same sine wave of intensity in my habits of dress.  I don’t get stressy over work clothes, but I do plan what I wear and how I hope to look – in recent times, this has resulted in the careful modulation of Interviewing Clothes worn on days I didn’t want anyone to think too hard about how I was looking, and an adjustment from a fairly formal place of employment to a new job in which I can get away with glittery nail polish – but am still forty-six years old, and not trying to look like a teenager.  I’ve gained a little freedom to indulge the Frowsy Middle-Aged Authorial look around here … but I’ve also lost my key spectator, too.  Because dressing for work is dressing for those friends who’ll ooh-and-aah over the latest new pashmina in my collection, or the great little vintage shoes I bought while out shopping with my friend and former workmate Cute Shoes, or (on rare occasion) showing off that I’ve dropped a pound or two.  Dressing for work is about indulging in seasonal change by indulging in new colors, and pieces that have been in storage for a while.

But dressing for work, I have found, has lost MUCH of its charm since Cute Shoes and I no longer get to work together.  And here we  have the truth of the statement:  that women dress for *each other* …;

After work clothes, for me these days, it’s dog-walking pants.  For shopping trips and errands, it’s jeans and either brisk or bohemian casual tops or sweaters.  For church, still, it’s low heels and dresses or skirts.  I never feel I fit well in my nicer pants these days (and there lies at least one sewing project I’ve been putting off for too long).

There are men and women, I know, who never have to change their mode of dress, or who don’t want to.  TV reality stars seem particularly prone to enslavement to an “image” – heavy makeup/false eyelashes, ridiculous stillettos, and evening and/or cocktail dress no matter the day, time, or occasion.  Certain tatty magazines or shows produce GASPING images of “stars without makeup” as if (a) the stars’ looks reside only in pots of pigment, and/or (b) celebrities actually *sin* by ever appearing in anything but their approved, stylist-generated masks and costumes.  It looks to me exhausting, and surely must take all the fun out of getting dressed up.  Their states of undress are duly recorded and regurgitated for audiences, talking around makeup artists or their stylists or supposed-servants as they are outfitted for some scandals-on-tap scripted fiasco, providing entertainment as we see them how they “really” are (always a minimum of 75% of the way through any given process, so those “no makeup” shockers are actually not to be).

Likewise, there are certain people – famous and not – who formulate a more particular look for themselves early, and somehow end up unable to get out of it or develop it beyond a certain point.  There’s a particular starlet, actually not far from my own age in fact, who’s spent some years rocking the insouciant vintage pinup girl thing, and as we age, I find myself wondering – how is this woman going to be able to grow old?  Even Bettie Page stopped modeling at last – and, though honestly I think she made a very lovely old woman (the photo or two of her in her seventies are difficult to find, but they are out there), she consciously preserved her image by retiring both from it and the public eye, so her actual youth would never be compromised by ever-diminishing returns in the attempting-to-hold-on-to-it department.  One of the truly odd things about that statement, above, that I don’t look my age, is that … it is because I’m not trying to look younger, per se, either.  There isn’t too much jarringly age-inappropriate fadishness drawing attention to how old I really am – yet there isn’t too much holdover-from-when-I-*was*-younger, either.  The clue-catcher 80s bangs don’t give me away, nor the untied LA Gear high-tops and scrunched down socks.  If I look young enough, it’s precisely because I’m not working too hard to do so.

We’ve all seen examples of those who do; the pinups who end up, as Queen Mary was once described as appearing, basically enameled into an image they’ve lost forever.  Epoxied, some of them.  Or those who gracefully let go, and are castigated for ageing.

It goes both ways, of course, with those who can’t/don’t/won’t dress up for any occasion either.  I’ve become acquainted of That One Person who has a matched set of sneakers/hoodies in multiple neon colors.  It happens to be someone I like, and it’d be asinine in the first degree to think this person needs to vary their wardrobe beyond the eyeball-smacking palette.  We don’t all have the same rhythms, and why should my multitudes apply to ANYONE but myself?  As long as we’re all clean and covered to the current mores of society/our friends/our office/whatever, it’d be boring as hell for us all to dress the *same*.  And, of course, the sneaks and hoodies look won’t age poorly; someone in their eighties or whatever is perfectly endearing, running around not letting him or herself become invisible, and blissfully exempt from any uniform of expectations the rest of us may choose to hew to.

… and when I am old, I shall say to heck with wearing purple – or a red hat – I shall wear whatever is comfortable to me in whatever mood I find.  And – bless me – I’m old enough to do that now!  When I am old ... I shall wear *hats*.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Prehistoric Burial

Thanks to HFO, here we have two articles looking at the 4,000-year-old cremation burial of a young woman.  The grave goods include not only her tin and Baltic amber jewels, but the fur in which they were buried with her bones and the box in which they were sealed, under a peat mound.

At the second of the two article links, the photographs are accompanied by a very good summary of the objects found, including decoration and basketry which are of extremely fine craftsmanship.  Very much worth a look; even the information about the animal artifacts is illuminating.  Also interesting is the judgment that the subject of the burial was female, based on the jewelry.  This assertion may be backed up by objective factors I am not privy to, but the bald face of it is "pretty stuff equals gurly stuff" - which is an interesting reduction in itself ... perhaps ...

As to the jewelry, the possible wooden ear plugs are made *exactly* the same way modern ear-stretching plugs are today.  As my brother put it, "They buried a hipster!"

Aww.  Hee.

Also, "peat hag" is the coolest phrase I've come across today.  I'd have said "all weekend" but I got together with the SBC yesterday, and my writing friends and colleagues would be hard to top, cool phrase-wise.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ZPG ... and Little Beasts

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned my dad, whose chief pride, joy, and commitment in life were his kids and his love for mom, actually worried a lot about having children.  He was extremely concerned about global overpopulation – and this was fifty years ago, kids, back when the world’s population was a mere pittance at just over three billion (we’re around seven billion now, if you believe The Internet).  He had no such qualms about marriage itself, interestingly enough – my parents were wed within three months or so of meeting one another – and the story goes that he was asking my aunt (his sister, married before he was) “Is it true two can live as cheaply as one?” very quickly once he met my mom.

I had a bit of the good, old-fashioned population fear myself when I was younger, intermingled with the “do I want to bring a child into *This World*” angst I think many of us get, without really allowing it to take concrete form.  But, above all, my failure to procreate stems from the lack of desire to do so.

My mom and I were antiquing one day, and somehow it came up – a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, and I learned that dad had once been very concerned about global population growth.  Coming along well after this question had become moot for him, of course – I knew only a dad whose greatest fulfillment was in his kids and wife.  I can’t honestly remember whether she asked me, but I told her I had not had children because I never experienced that driving desire some people have, and it seemed to me that, lacking that, it would be incredibly unwise to have kids anyway.  She seemed to accept this; either because she knows me well, or because she herself has not endured the world’s most painful urge for more grandchildren (she does have two), it’s always seemed to me that she wasn’t het up about my providing them.  I can recall a time when people pushed me a bit about having children, but I can’t recall my mother being one of those to whom it seemed to mean a great deal to dictate my procreative habits.

Mom’s strongest guidance in that department, in fact, always came in the form of explaining in no uncertain terms the very negative consequences of my becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and the expectations of my continence in this department.  (Indeed, she was still having nightmares about my showing up on the doorstep knocked up after I turned forty, though I haven’t heard about such a dream in the past year or two.  Heh.)

Truth be told, I used to have a potent fear – and I’m not really cured of it, though the point is to my mind clearly moot by this time, aged forty-six – that I would be abusive.  This is not owing to any such example, but when I reached twenty or so I just had an instinct about my impatience and temper – my twenties were not good years for equanimity and tolerance – and this stuck with me even to the point I still feel guilty about the way I treat my poor pets sometimes.  Pen doesn’t behave like an abused child, but I’ve given her a shout or two – partiuclarly during the house-training months - not proud to remember.

It doesn’t come up much anymore, that people find me unnatural for not having children – but, at this point in life, I do sometimes catch the glimmer of strangeness when people realize I have not.  The discomfort is hardly what it was during my “child bearing years”, but it remains an unnecessary awkwardness I wish people could avoid, even those who don’t know they’re reacting to it.  At times like starting a new job and so on, the failure to be a participant in a 4-member nuclear family in the correct neighborhood does come up again and again.  Given the photos of my nieces at my desk, too, there’s always the explaining to do.

So after all these years of the subliminal layer of my life, in which dealing with my unnaturalness in this regard is a perpetual, but very quiet, buzz in my eardrums, it was interesting to consider my father … as a man who wasn’t perhaps completely sure he wanted to be a father.

Well, he WANTED that.  But he was capable of questioning it.

Let it be said, once he plunged into the wide world of parenthood, there was no way to tell if he ever questioned it again.  My suspicion is:  no.  He was committed to us, to my mom, in a way I’ve rarely seen anyone commit to anything.  The worst memories are the confirmation of this – the time I verbally beat him up when he all but did a term paper for me – and I didn’t like the way he did it.  (Eesh.)  The time I rejected a present he was so pleased to have bought for me.  That one still makes me queasy, and it’s been probably twenty-five years.  The fights I picked, with my brother and/or my mom.  I wasn’t a nice kid any more than I was a nice twenty-something, and if his devotion EVER flagged, he concealed it utterly.  And dad is the person in this world who knew more about me than anyone living except for Mr. X.

I think about the generosity of his love, its limitless capacity and tolerance and patience and bounty, and it makes me weep and I am humbled.  I’ll probably never love like that in my life – though what I felt for and wished I could give to Mr. X is more than I ever would have imagined when we met.  What I have given.  I may not love like my dad, but I am damned steady, maternal instinct or no.

Years on, and ageing somewhat now, it’s hard not to look back on my thinking when I “could have” done this or that, and not think I was making excuses.  But the omission of parenting has never been in doubt.  I can remember naming babies when I was eighteen years old, with my First Love.  But I cannot recall a single moment in my life, hearing the tick-tock of the Biological Clock, nor wishing anything had been different in this.  I’ve never regretted not becoming a mother, either.

Maybe my omission is the balance to dad’s allowance.  I held off where he sallied forth.

Or maybe I’m just my own odd and lonesome beast, wandering the plain on the margins and enjoying untrammeled grass.  It can get lonesome – and even scary, knowing jackals pick off the loose ends.  But I seem never to have needed to contribute more little-beasts to the herd.

Concrete ... Fantastic

One of the frustrations and joys of writing in fifth and sixth century Gaul is the dearth of primary sources.  There is a great mix of reportage and legend, some of it one and the same, and choosing how to treat certain stories can be either a minefield or a liberation.  For me, it was both – I dismissed some of the bloodier tales of Clotilde’s Burgundian family (and, indeed, was able to somewhat skip over some of the tales of the Queen-Saint’s own bloodthirst, which tend to be attached to stories about her sons and daughter, and take place after Clovis’ death).  I sufficed, in her case, by creating a woman growing up – gaining confidence and even hauteur as she grows in her role as queen, in her role as wife.  Strong she had to be – but as to repeating legends of her vengeance, I didn’t believe the legends, and was glad to be excused from repeating them.

It is the legend of Clovis’ time, though, which fascinates and eludes me.  It might have been possible to write a novel far less grounded in the concrete – to weave the magic of the times and tales into the story, and come up with a tale just as gripping, and yet more fantastical.  I’m not that writer, unfortunately; as much as the mystical appeals to a certain frame of my mind, it would have been impossible for me to apply it to Clovis.  And already I see the new story framing up with a similarly practical bent – practical in the sense we use it when discussing set design, practical in the sense we use it when describing a tool, not a person.  Parts must have a purpose, and my mind isn’t well suited to remembering magic and legend and making them palpable.

And yet, I can imagine Clovis’ life as told by his mythology – there is no lack of myth to be had – and it is a pleasurable idea.  Seeing the same places I trod in writing him myself, cloaked in mist and that peculiar darkness of the preternatural, endowed, imbued, with something beyond the human.  Clovis was said to have descended from a god of the sea, bestia neptunis - seduced by a woman back in his father’s line.  What a story that would make.  Or the tale of Basina, Clovis’ mother, who sent his father Childeric out into the night three times the night she conceived their son, and wove a dynasty’s fate out of the sights Childeric saw and reported to her.

The magic of those women.  The divinity of the men; their charisma, their power, their increasing wealth, culminating in Clovis himself, as a shining scion of a race touched by greatness.  The Catholic mysteries; the echoes of Constantine – surely cultivated, but still humming with the echo of the legendary.  The role of king as priest, the role of king as warrior, the elusive charisma of blood, the rallying power of deeds – dux ex nobilitate, rex ex virtute.

I brought some legends to down earth, and omitted more than one.  A tale where he finds his way to victory on the spoor of a stag.  Passing references to the fleur de lys, or the pagan practices of burial – the explicit argument of Clovis with St. Remigius, discussing the tenet of divine descent … versus that tenacious – still *with* us – tenet of divine right.  The ineffable importance of law – Clovis’ reasons for recording it, synthesizing it from tradition, and between two cultures within his realm.  His driving need to see it done – and the legacy of a code most have heard of, even if they don’t know who laid it down.  The Salic Law.  Most know its effects upon male heirs (though few know that in Clovis’ time, male heirs shared and divided – as did his four sons – as did the sons of the Merovingians for three hundred years) – and females.  A law later much famed for its deprivation of regnal rights to women … set down by the son of Basina, the king whose consort was the formidable Queen Saint Clotilde.

No sacred ampoule descends from Heaven at the moment of Clovis’ baptism in The Ax and the Vase … yet some tales could not be omitted.  The oft-told displays of his vengeance, the Vase at Soissons, the deceptions of avaricious soldiers who would kill their own rulers for gold, the story that by the end of his life, Clovis ranted in lamentation that he was alone and without kin … having killed off so many of them himself, for their lands, their crowns.

“In the end … so history has said …”

Who needs magic – I had to feel – writing such a story as Clovis’?

And yet, I do love magic, I love to see tales grounded in the mythical rather than the tangible.  I’d love to see stories told from Clotilde’s point of view, or seated on the legend and the lurid – that special light that illuminates beyond-natural happenings, that special echo of footsteps creeping down the halls of the gods, or the eye-bending mists of powerful pagan priests.

I’d love to see Clovis bloom across English-speaking publishing, and to be a part of a varied library of short stories, poems, and other novels than my own.  Right now, my Ax stands alone – and there’s pride in that, in taking on something that has not been done before – and, too, there is anticipation that this story might inspire someone else, might intrigue and take hold as the Tudors have, as the Pharaohs have, as sorcerers and goddesses have.  I’d love to be part of a sorority and fraternity, of those who all shared this story, and found different passions in it and coming out of it.

As for mine … I am still so proud of it.  And excited, where it stands right now – in the hands of good agents, getting the attention it deserves, to make its way out into the world.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Back Down

My back has been bad again this weekend, and today I've been on the couch with pillows behind me.  Two errands were necessary, but other than that I've been trying to stretch out and rest the muscles.  This immobility has made PBS's streaming channel a particular frustration today, as it just cannot seem to play anything - the natural result of which is that all I really want to watch is Frontline or Sherlock.

The good news is that there's less evening, after Daylight Savings, to worry about these pressing problems.  The bad news is that there appears to be little improvement in my bones and I've got to work tomorrow.

In truth, I've found that the best thing *for* back pain tends to be an office chair (or, at least, it is the "least-worst" thing anyway).  Driving to get to one, unfortunately, somewhat sucks; fortunately, my neck is not too bad, and the pain being in the upper back rather than lower means I'm better able to move in general - the pain bugs, but in different ways when it's higher.

In the meantime, Netflix is working fine and I'm at that stretch of Angel where I object to Cordy not because she went bad but because she's so damned poorly written.  At least Willow's is visiting in the ep I am watching.


From English History Authors, the real Christopher Robin's story, fame, and troubles.

Nancy Bilyeau interviews Michael Hirst, writer and showrunner for Vikings.  One of those shows that has me thinking I might subscribe to a streaming service with more current programming than Netflix can offer - I have not kept up with it since watching its premiere last year.

Thomas Aquinas and a look at the question, "Who am I?" (extra-appropriate, probably, as I restart watching the rebooted version of Galactica ...).

Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo:  this was *not* a fishing hook.

A great look at drunkenness - its ehnancers, its suppressors, its lore - at The History Girls.

Yet again, the modern perception that we're the first to come up with an idea or a question must be exploded.  A text on "May a man marry a man" from eight centuries ago shows us, too, that the reasoning on prohibitions of gay marriage are pretty antiquated as well.

Cat Layering

Goss loves being online.

Wait, THAT'S not how you do it!

How about this ...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Excess and Express Dress

Last night, I looked into Fast Fashion, a book about the devastating effects - economically, ecologically, and psychologically - of the evolution of the fashion and clothing industry into another instant-consumption-and-throwaway economic juggernaut.  The comments section at Amazon might have been the most intriguing product of my curiosity - and not entirely reflecting on the content of the book itself.  There's a worthwhile indictment here on a certain part of the publishing industry, but nobody illuminates the reason for the problems people find (editorial departments are overhead, and many have been stripped to the bone).

Even with the problems some editions of the book seem to have (unfortunately, it's not clear how to find cleanly edited printings ...), I have to admit a strong enough concern about the issues it raises to overcome the editorial quibbles.  The effects and costs of our consumption may not be perfectly reported, but they MUST be reported, and I want to learn.  Insty-wardrobing is something I've thought about before; unfortunately, there aren't a wide array of options to look into these things.

Today I did find other angles, of sorts, on the same picture.  One of these, I suspect, points to why this pattern of purchasing has taken hold in the United States in particular.  Populism is a fundamental part of our national psyche, and insty-clothes are a great equalizer.  They can even provide a good feeling inside, "I am not being wasteful when it comes to money" - even as we are wasteful in opting for ten cheap tops which won't survive two years, and which are made of

The final article I'll link is the second I saw today on the subject of cost and clothes, which looks into why some garments are so expensive.  At exactly the other end of the spectrum from the populist H&M $99 wedding dress, we investigate why a wedding dress should cost $8,000 - and indict the wedding industry in the process.  As you might guess, I have a whole RAFT of nasty and completely irrelevant opinions I'll keep to myself for now in the interest of brevity.  The point is that, as much as populism appeals to us - so do elitism and status - and weddings are the occasion upon which symbolism and consumption mean the most to many.

What is the monetary value of the image you leave behind for your descendants?  What do we want it to say?  What do we want it to take away from, or add to the world itself?

What are the dog-walking pants and ratty sweater I'm wearing right now going to become as years pass and their matter travels into the waste stream enveloping more and more of our planet ... ?

What part do the economics, the chemicals, and the totemistic and cultural importance of our clothes play in our lives individually ... and collectively?

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Wolverine is history!

Pollen forensics - almost as cool as dendrochronology.

That's all for now, but I'll bring you - or maybe even WRITE - a fuller post soon, kids!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stay Tuned

The darling and delightful Butter Toes himself, Mr. Nimble Foot, the wee and timorous (... not) Gossamer Puss Fuss will be making his debut on someone else's blog soon, and I'm getting a big grin out of that.  Never even has to meet someone to charm them to pieces, my boy.

Stay tuned for Gossie Online.  I'll link you in a few days.


Today, I enjoyed a few posts and images, and thought they ... shall we say, created a flow (Tom, I hope you will pardon the pun!).

So here is a quick moment to share Mojourner's signposts (good for a look even if you're not in the mood for a brief read)...

Tom's Thames (still more images here) ...

The History Blog teaches us, sometimes you don't (quite) have to crack the egg.

And an exceptionally beautiful sermon from Rev Mibi, whom I have not forgotten (and who I would venture to say hasn't forgotten me, to the tune of sharing this - I've noticed those hits!).  Worth *reading*, definitely.  She's no slouch with a word.  Or "The" Word, if you will.  I did not go to services today ... but it was not because I did not want to ...

Puppies Suck

When I was younger (and could still breathe properly … and even sing competently, if not remarkably well), I had this idea that I was going to start a band and call it Puppies.  Chiefly, this would be because I longed to hear people screaming, “PUPPIES ROCK!” – and because nobody could boo us.  Nobody can say “PUPPIES SUCK!”

Who likes a critic, after all?  My imaginary band, Puppies, was critic-proof … and that was really what I wanted – recognition without criticism – not to be a vocalist.  Imaginary creations have a great deal of charm in this – and I imagine it’s this desire to escape negative feedback which keeps so many creative people in the “’nartist” category.

When it comes to Ax, I am intellectually aware that there are going to be guitarists at the back of the bar, snarking on the historicity of my fiction – but I am blissfully ignorant, thus far, of what the reality is going to be when it comes out.  It’s not something we like to theorize about, is it?  People may hate everything from the fact that that I don’t fold in the Merovingian Heresy somehow to the fact that I named Clovis’ horse without research.  There will be those, indubitably, who can’t stand my style of writing, and I expect there will be many who don’t buy into my presumption in writing first-person from a male POV.  Some will find a way to complain that my feminism compromises the book, and others will decry my abandoning it (and, certainly, there are the LGBT issues, though not front and center).

As brave as I am with professionals in publishing, and the work itself, I have to admit to gibbering, if intermittent, horror at reader reviews.  One hopes those I’ll get from reviewers with wide readership for their opinions will be professional, of course – but the individual people on Amazon and the like are the ones that weaken me.  People are emotionally partisan about their opinions on books, and if someone feels their time wasted by some shortcoming, or overlocution, or missed expectation with The Ax and the Vase, I’m going to FEEL their meanness when they unleash it and I make the mistake of not looking away fast.  I can rise above critique, but individual reviews have a unique nastiness to them I’m going to either have to learn how to avoid completely.  Individual reviews are so often *personal*, of the ilk of “this author SUCKS” in just the way I didn’t want Puppies to endure.

Part of the pain is that I didn’t just peel this novel off a large stack, it has meant so much to me and every scene had its place, even the many which ended up, as it were, on the cutting-room floor.  Every edit taught me something – every cut and everything that remains has its considered, deliberate fate.  Yes, some of it is pure fantasy; but I’m not a textbook author.  Yet it isn’t slipshod, it isn’t careless nor even ignorant.  When I look at it, I’m excited by it.  When I think of sharing it, I’m excited by that.  And, when we share something like that, finding that people consider it insufficient – or too much – or distasteful – can be hard to take.  Like a host serving a meal he or she prepared personally, the book was quite literally made to please, and so to be met with offense at its contents or seasoning … or its presenter … is painful.  The work that went in was never meant to upset, but to delight.

Failing to delight, I find, is perhaps the hardest thing in my life.  That sounds unbelievably ridiculous when I read the sentence out loud – and yet, there it is.  I haven’t produced the blessing of children in this world, I don’t contribute a lot to my community nor my country.  I’m an outstanding friend, but even there still find myself impotent to do any good for some of those people I care for most in this world.  The older I get, the more it means to me to bring satisfaction and joy to my friends and family.

Ax is my first real try at bringing it to those I may never meet.  It’s just a story.  But it’s such a story.  And what greater thing is there to offer than a story?  We each are our own story; Ax is just one of mine.  It’s an offering with nothing but its own inspiration and my own goodwill behind it.

And so, as dispassionate as I can be with its bones, with its parts – with Ax itself, in the end, I am profoundly invested, and proud.  I want it loved.  Because:  CLOVIS ROCKS.

Because, if he does – in some way, the shine reflects back on me.  And I’m vain.  I want that, too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


HAPPY NATIONAL GRAMMAR DAY!  Also, hurrah:  Arrant Pedantry has a new post!  "Good writing breaks (the) rules all the time, and following all the rules does little if anything to make bad writing good."  What an extraordinarily intelligent, generous-minded, and useful blog this is.

The History Blog takes a great look at what it takes to conserve The Staffordshire Hoard.  Thorns and puffs of air, along with other non-damaging methods, as it turns out.  As innovative tool-choosing goes, the idea of eschewing modern blades for a precision point found in nature excites me - what a marvelous idea!  Click through for more detail and photos of the exquisite workmanship of these treasures.  Mmmm:  foiled gems.

Is it too late to say, "But wait!" ... ?  Ask Richard III's bones - and Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, who would like to see a stop put to their destruction and testing.  Now that he's gotten the answers he wanted out of the testing ...

And finally, a quote:

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.
--Emile-Auguste Chartier

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Courtesy of my Beloved Ex, please enjoy this potentially mindbending exercise in timelines.  I suspect that, for a lot of my readers, these facts are not as surprising as they were meant to be for a more general audience - but it *can* be fun to get a look at what-came-when in history ... and in our own lifetimes!

At the History Blog this week, we find the question "just how well aged do you like your cheese?"  Mummification might take it too far ...

Leila Gaskin has a pithy good word on the care and feeding of authors (and our works ...).  Also, her "Hot Flashes" will be on sale next week.  I bought my e-copy the moment it was available, of course, but anyone interested in the crusades of dragons is encouraged to get theirs!

The agent at SlushPile Hell is still having a fine time of it, I see.  I should query this poor person - thanks to my other agent-blog addictions, Query Shark and Janet Reid (one and the same, for you first-timers), I don't make the sorts of mistakes seen here.