Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Blasphemy Day

Being, as some readers are aware, a church-goer, it may seem less than obvious for me to post about Blasphemy Day as a good thing - yet I have this compulsion, as a Christian, to dismantle RELIGION as opposed to FAITH - and the spiritual.

Religion is nothing more than a system, a tool - the regulated means by which we humans grapple with the ineffable to see if we might not eff it after all.

Of course, there is effing, and there is effing.  I can't say I believe we honestly have the right to eff the ineffable, no matter how much we want to.  I look at myself, for instance, and think - what makes me think I deserve answers?

And so, necessarily, the dogma and tenets and expectations (and, yes, even the congregation) of religion are, for me, not merely secondary but outright beside the point.  As a bishop-blessed Episcopalian, I have a three-legged stool (scripture, tradition, reason) - and, while I belong to a faith with more "trappings" than all matter to me most deeply, I have also applied some of those physical and verbal fixtures of religion to my belief in ways that are relevant.  What's interesting to me is that, as many more rules and particulars as my chosen religion has in  practice, it has far less concern for *dogma* than I was familiar with.  Its concern is not to have knowledge, but to honor the desire to learn - even if spiritual knowledge may, in the end, be impossible to attain.

Here lies my blasphemy:  I belong to a strongly trinitarian community of faith, and I have never, not once in my life, understood the point of, believed in, nor seen any need for the trinity at all.  This "holy spirit" thing is meaningless to me, in the most profound way - if it is possible to put it thus.  For me, the important - the *wondrous* - core of the divine is that G-d came and LIVED amongst us.

This is, for me, spiritually, the bit I'd run into the house for in a fire.

Crossing myself, the Nicene Creed, formulated prayer, the calendar - it's all good learning material, but it's all like the workbooks they gave to us in grade school - it's not what we need to know, but the exercise that helps us find that.  What we need to know is that G-d so loved the world that He extruded Himself (and, please understand, my liberal readers, that "he" is for me non gender specific in this context - I think that assigning biological plumbing to the divine is reductive beyond countenancing) into our life, our population, our *flesh*.  And then sacrificed that flesh.

Christ.  As demonstrative goes, that's the G-d for me.  Who takes us on to the point of taking on our skin and bones and pains.  The ultimate expression of divinity - in our own *stuff* ...

For most Christians, I have to think that that incredible identification with the divine is very deeply the point of accepting this faith.  A certain vanity - G-d in OUR image, as we in His.  A certain reassurance - that we are not alone, that whatever it is we don't understand is closer than we thought.  A relationship with G-d.

I adhere to religion not because I have faith, but because I need somewhere to PUT that faith, some container, some structure - some community in which to express it, to share it, to learn from, and to give to.  Discipline ... disciple.

I had all kinds of faith (rather literally) for years and years before I placed it into the hands of an established church.  And the church I chose, I didn't come to because some magic fish led the way or the wizard's beans grew up to heaven and led me there.  I chose it because of Betty, who sat next to me my first time.  I chose it because the building is beautiful, all wood and brick, and it felt unquantifiably AND quantifiably comfortable to me.  The beauty of the place mattered, and I was blessed to come to know a few wonderful people, and then we got our priest, who now has just left, after too short a time - but, apparently, the right amount of time.  I have faith in that not because religion is infallible and miraculous, but because I am open and we all must be, and it's not like the Devil's going to trot in where a fine, fine priest has vacated.  Life doesn't work that way; we have a good interim, the same man who presided when I first came to this church.  And I trust the church to give our opportunity to someone fine, once again.

The expression of my faith is entirely anathema to most religious people throughout the world and our histories.  My approach to religion disrespects it, even discounts it.  I'm infidel in as many traditions as concern themselves with blasphemers.  As with religion itself, I bypass this and attach my motivation to the interest of G-d, above any worship.  My chief prayer, "May I bring YOU satisfaction and joy."

But my second, importuning, wish:  "May we all bring one another satisfaction and joy."

That's what most of us want, really.

Happy Blasphemy Day.  How will you celebrate ... ?

Monday, September 29, 2014


It is a truism that no matter what is going on in our lives, “life goes on” – and that this can sometimes mean more than one thing is going on on our lives at once.  When losses meet, it can be overwhelming.  One may affect the other, and situations we might otherwise bear with dignity amplify other emotions, causing us to lose our footing.

In the past two weeks, someone I like enormously has announced plans to leave this state.  My priest has been called to work away from my church.  Two loved ones have had health setbacks, and one had surgery today; the other will have her own some time soon.  In the early hours this morning, a widely beloved person at my work died most unexpectedly.

And so, yesterday, I participated in the farewell of a woman of G-d I love very deeply indeed, which was sad enough, but it ended in the physical laying on of hands of all the congregation who were with us, in silence and in prayers offered by several, a physical matrix of human hands and love – something I have never experienced before (it was not the sort of expression the church I grew up in would have come up with).  The name of one of those I am concerned about arose in a hymn, and I lost all control.  And today I attended the impromptu memorial of a man who meant so much to so many that the CEO broke up and could not even speak at first – and, when he did, he ended our gathering by saying, “If you are having trouble today, go home.”

He happened to say this in the moment that I knew my loved one was literally in a doctor’s hands.  This person is hub of a kind of matrix, too – the hands that link together at this moment of crisis for them are hands I have held many times.

The past month or two have been a fertile time for events of great moment.  Writing, home, family, and friends – another of whom was dealt a professional blow which has ramifications across a web of relationships of it sown – great things have been afoot … and not all these great things have been good things.  My own health, my own security and peace, have remained inviolate – I am blessed beyond thanksgiving – and what I have to offer, as those around me endure and endure and endure, seems so little.

Surrounding this personal experience are the stories of secret taping of meetings at the Federal Reserve, the stabbings and beheading at a food distributor by a terminated employee, days of massive disruption of air travel because of a fire set by a suicidal employee in Chicago … war … bad economy …

I look at the strain even on those who DO have work right now, and am ever more grateful for my own.  That I work at a place which observes our humanity so overtly, so much as a community.  It’s not the first time I’ve been struck at how strongly the executives here respond to the distress of our people, and this makes me so grateful and so proud.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


The talented and charming Meg Medina, whom I dearly hope to see soon at this year's JRW Convention, got a nice plug on her blog recently.  Love the title for her most recent post, Banned on the Run.  though now I have that running through my head!

Twitter as a resource - Day al-Mohamed posted about the ancient French  boomerang, dating 2000 years back ...  Well, that's just neato-spedito!

English Historical Fiction Authors has a typically in-depth post about wool in the British isles, its particulars and history.  Material chronologies like this are so often a great way to look at the wider (and deeper) aspects of history - it's an interesting story.

As Halowe'en comes upon us - for those  of you seeking a costume, American Duchess is certainly inspiring (though ... I could never accomplish her results!!).  Behold the steampunk goodness of her latest corset ensemble - I adore this skirt and the hat/veil combo.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Blood for Gender

It’s a funny thing in its way – and what’s odd is that it’s not ghoulish to me … the only scenes with much meat on them I have written for the WIP so far seem much preoccupied with blood.  Apart from the view of Clovis through Amalasuntha’s eyes, the only writing with any meat on its bones consists of the scene of Amalasuntha’s birth (the opening setpiece, the first piece of “writing” I ever did on this WIP), and a consideration by Ama of the advent of womanhood – and how rather frustrating and repellant she finds the process.  Another sketch is that of the execution of a slave, which she is forced to witness.

The two scenes involving women’s blood, it occurs to me, are directly biological entre’s into female characters.  I have written for so long from Clovis’ POV, perhaps this has been a necessary subconscious impulse – to approach Amalasuntha and Audofleda, her mother, by way of the most obvious expressions/functions of their bodies, their genders:  in menstruation and childbirth.  The torture of the slave, too, is in its way related – Ama is forced to watch as the man she has lowered herself to mate with is punished for his presumption in taking her.  Sex.  So, his blood in that one, but still someone bleeds.

I’ve taken a look at Amalasuntha’s son, and have contemplated, too, her daughter (Matasuentha), but at this point the novel largely fixates on Ama.  The flexibility and freedom of omnipotent POV means I don’t have to hew so tightly to her as I did to the single character (… protagonist … ? the readers will decide …) in Ax.  So this novel may evolve into a more balanced three-generations-of-women story, but I never have seen Audofleda as central at all.  *She* bleeds, in the WIP, only so that other women may take the stage in their turn …

As to the shadowed figure of Matasuentha—the daughter, perhaps the trickling-down of story, the disappointment or denoument (?)—the glance I’ve cast in her direction is bloodless, but concerns her marriage.

I’ll leave you with one thought about Audofleda, the sister of Clovis, the tie that did not bind him to Theodoric the great, the queen, and the mother (a line surely to be cut … but starting something, and that is still good) …

The queen took pride in her own forbears, but she had committed to leave them behind—brides always left their own behind, even as their blood was the currency of alliances and peoples—and she never spoke of herself as a Frank.  She would speak of her brother with a transfigured glow, but not of herself as if she were them.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Today Was the Day ...

… when Word shook its head, threw up its hands, and said “There are too many misspellings for me to keep cleaning up after your profligate ignorance, I quit” (… or something of that nature).  It’s the “How in the name of G-d you live in this filthy pigsty you call a room” moment of my writing – and for those who caught that wonderful reference, congratulations but I am afraid we have no bananas today for prizes.  Bask in your pop-cultural knowledge.

Anyway …

If I went to the trouble of adding all the ancient names for my characters to its database, Word wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble with me.  **Oh, and the guilt, she is so great**.  Hee.

But at this point in the game, the manuscript consists mostly of (public-domain) images I want for reference and inspiration, timelines, notes, transcriptions and broken scaffoldings imported from Gaul, and scraps of writing here and there which may or may not ever become “actual writing” as the embryonic mess evolves its sloppy way out of the protoplasm.

It is perhaps a perverse part of my glee that the very mess is its own mess now, coming into being, even if flailingly so and yet so unformed.  As a mark of “progress” – this Word warning is decidedly indicative of how EARLY in the going the WIP still is.

But it’s GOING.  And that is the point.  Punctiliousness can wait. (And if you could start a band or write a song or release a big-budget flop with that for a title, I’d be mighty grateful.  Thankee.)

The point is, to set this pile up with the dignity of its own terms – well, I am either too lazy, or I suppose I haven’t enough respect just yet for my own creation.

It seems like a long time ago that this happened with The Ax and the Vase; and now here we are, the WIP finally reaching this milestone, having lain dormant almost since I conceived the first novel.

I feel a bit like Mr. X did when his son got a McDonald’s toy for some movie tie-in and said, “But dad, it’s not to scale” and X prompltly dissolved in a puddle of choked-up, model-making nerd dad pride, all “That’s my Special Little Guy.”  My second baby’s hit a milestone:  Word *already* can’t even deal with it anymore.

I couldn’t be more proud.

Home (and Other) Improvements

Regular readers will understand that a number of the things I’ve been doing around this house were initially spurred on by a plan to throw my mom a birthday party.  I remember so clearly when dad and I worked on a party for her together, and at the same time he was making sure she had a new microwave in her kitchen, and so on.  Guests get us going, I suppose, and when there’s a good “reason” I know I enjoy a bit of nesting.

One of the major excitements around here, of course, has been the new writing desk.  It’s been in the house just under two weeks, and I have been enjoying it to bits.  The thing is six feet by three, and I joked before it came along “It would eat up all the space in that room and burp happily” – but as imposing a piece of furntiture as it is, it’s not out of place nor proportion.

Ohhhhhh, and having a huge desk.  I come home to it every day, and it’s so much easier getting a bit DONE on this desk.  It amuses the cat, of course, to get in my way – but overall this investment has been a good choice.

So far, it’s seen perhaps as much bill-paying and administrivia as it has writing, BUT … it’s been a pleasure to get a little bit into the WIP, and to have a place where my research and writing are capaciously accommodated.  A positive luxury, actually.

The hugeness of the desk allows both the resource of space to work, but also physical comforts as a writer I have never had.  Contemplating the need for a foot rest, I’m not sure my grandmother’s old footstool wouldn’t fit just fine down there, and that gives me a little grin.  It has a rightness about it, writing while surrounded by family artifacts, writing on a desk I fell bewilderingly in love with.  All of my family are teachers – whether by formal profession or not – and the books and chairs and *things* of them and their minds mean a little something to me, as I crack a new book of my own, to do the reading and research I must, or as I noodle about with actual-writing which isn’t actual at all, but only exercise, to learn about my characters, my scenes, my setting, as I go.

Many historical fiction authors have a set process by which the research for x-amount of time, outline, collate, and writing is a separate thing, done after all the rest.  I never was a fan of steps, and to hold back from writing now, at the point where I feel it’s been so long since I “finished” Ax (… which time … ?), would just be punitive.

And pointless.

The thing is, the writing I am doing now is not work I expect to make the final cut, it’s not even something I’d consider draft work.  The writing I do when research is still new is writing both to flex my creative muscles and to find my inroads into the next novel.  Given the connections between Ax and the WIP, much of it is swing lines – taking a point from the one, and finding its connection to the other; traveling, Tarzan-style, from the branch of one tree to some hold on the next.

The WIP has never, in my mind, been a sequel – but perhaps I need to reconsider that, or perhaps I’ll learn better.  It has little to do with Ax in some very fundamental ways:  not told first-person, setting more cosmopolitan, multiple generations and character focal points, the story of women rather than one man …  Each one will stand alone.

But, too – it’s an obvious starting point, to approach this WIP, by taking a look at the moments and effects where these two stories touch.  And so, I grasp the line in the first novel, which leads to the next – where Clovis’s sister marries south – where his niece grows up daughter to an inimical ally – where she actually visits her mother’s homeland, as a girl, and *meets* this branch of her family.

That last point, too … I had a little fun, taking a look at Clovis through this new character’s eyes.  For one, there was a perverse pleasure in minutely describing him physically – which is NEVER done, in Ax.  My feeling is, readers often invent their own faces (I always have) and anything laid out may be ignored.  More to the point, Clovis’ novel was told first-person through his own eyes, and this was not a character much given to gazing upon his reflection, even apart from the fact that he lived in a world siginificantly lower on mirrors than our own.  I also got to learn a little about Amalasuntha at thirteen-ish; how she felt about the smells, the chills, the sights – and the people – of this strange world from which her blood had flowed, but which was so foreign to her.

That scene, though perhaps in a much-altered/entirely gutted form, I expect will survive, in some way, into the WIP proper.

But, for now, there is a freedom in writing, knowing it is commitment-free if I need it to be … and in working, at my new desk.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Writers of nearly every sort have a fondness for what we call “voice” – the tone and unique patois of a character, the way one speaks as opposed to the next – the very feel of a novel, a screenplay, a poem, a story.  Setting can have, and contribute, to voice.  Age and education, native intelligence, expectations, fears, and desires.

Many authors, too, read our work out loud.  It’d be impossible not to write, to some degree, in our own voices, and as important as reading a work out loud is to making sure its weight and rhythm and the feel are all right, even this imposes us upon the work.  Public readings, if we’re fortunate enough to publish, reinforce the imposition of our own voice on a work, and audio books can bring new voices, in performance, to a piece.

And through all this, we have to maintain the integrity of the characters themselves.  Characters mustn’t break under the weight of interpretations and expectations – and, the more I read, the more I know how very difficult it is for a character to remain itself.  Right now, I’m reading a novel told in omniscient 3rd person, but incorporating literally hundreds of years of voices – rendered in spoken word, chronicle, correspondence, and secondhand reportage.  It’s a piece with remarkable scope, and quite well put together – yet there are times I can see the author too clearly.  A habit of beginning sentences with the word “and” … certain unique phrases appearing generations apart, recalling some other character’s voice … the reiterations of descriptions of setting, from points of view which should be more distinct.  It’s an author’s job to notice detail.  It is not their job to put the same detail in the perspective of EVERY character, unfortunately.  Lush as certain points of interest may be, not all voices should desribe them the same – indeed, not all characters should even care.  Once seven different scenes from markedly different periods and focusing on wildly different players – scenes concerned with very different action and motivation – have pointed at the same beautiful plant in the same way, I not only lose patience with vicariously gazing at the plant, but I lose my place in the world itself.

Ahm – so plants don’t need to have voices in a novel.

Back to my point.

The problem with an author’s voice overcoming their characters’ is that, of course, the book stops being about what it is about, and begins to be about the author’s preoccupations.

Now,of course, none of us would ever write, if we didn’t have preoccupations.  It’s in some way entirely the point.

This is why we have editing.

I have a problem with “just” and “actually” – fortunately, writing historical fiction set in Late Antiquity, I am somewhat freed from this foible:  the likelihood of an ancient Frankish throwing around quantities of qualifiers is blessedly remote, and so I hope Clovis suffers little from this predilection.

My other problems, which anyone here knows all too well already, are loquacity and a confidence in my own intelligence, which are most likely the issue I have to watch the hardest.  I’ve edited and polished and worked, but have little doubt that the characters in The Ax and the Vase are perhaps more culturally and educationally homogenous than they should be.  Personalities set them apart, but I could not bear to make any of them less than truly clever (see also:  my overarching defensiveness about “Barbariansand The Stupid, Stupid Past …).  We have one boyish colt, and one oafish drunk, but as a whole, the population of The Ax and the Vase are a canny lot.  One hopes this does not constitute too much of a problem.

I like to hope that the key is *listening*.  Listening to the characters, and the story itself.  Each scene tells me what its participants need out of it, and that helps.  Each man and woman has a past, and a future.

I can discern the actual VOICE of Clovis – the breath, the timbre, the power and the volume – in everything he has said through the novel.  I know his youthful tone and the creaking changes of his voice with age.  I know the speed at which words came from his mouth, with every line he speaks, and can tell you where he breathes, where he doesn’t.  When he pauses.  When he silences others with his own silence.

I know the sound of his kinsman, Pharamond – and the rumble and grind of his other supporting player, the profligate, the comes, the older idol, Ragnachar.

It’s not enough to see their faces – to know the very quality of their skin, their hair, the color or the brightness and clarity of their eyes.  It’s not enough to know that one character has a club foot, and another is leathery and scarred, almost blue he is so tanned and aged and hard.  I have to know that that latter man has a voice reedy and thin with age, incongruously small in his warrior’s frame.  I have to hear not only the lilt and laughter of the crippled woman, but to hear how the slide of her walk syncopates with her words as she walks.  I have to know that she has hands and feet and a belly and clothes, how she moves, how her breath moves with her, how the words will be affected by that.

I have to remember Clovis is fifteen in this scene when I edit it, and almost forty-five the next day, when I’m looking at the other end of the novel.


The most beautiful speaking voice I have ever heard, live and in person, was that of Mikhail Gorbachev.  It was over twenty years ago, when he was still one of the most famous men on Earth, and realized – I had never heard him before:  only interpreters.  His voice was magnificent, not at all blustering nor loud, mellow, mellifluous, simple, and beautiful.  I found myself ignoring the translator, and lost only in the sound of this unassuming, astoundingly powerful figure, quite overjoyed to forget his speech and simply revel in the sound of beautifully spoken Russian.

I have never been a fan of French, and as much love as I have for the German language – for sheer loveliness of sound, for its curve and sharpness and audible precision, the most gorgeous language in the world, for me, has always been Russian.  I find the curved shapes of its verbal Ls  entrancing, the glottal bounce of its coupled vowels delightful.  Spoken with an honestly attractive voice, Russian is an incredible pleasure for the ear.  Its edges, sharp and pure, never cut to bleed, and its lightness and speed are exciting.  Women who swoon for the congested sound of French have never quite made sense to me.  But give me a few phrases thrown away in rapid-fire, carelessly crystal-clear Russian, and the wonder of language lights up my brain.

The deliberate and convicted sound of a man who literally changed the world, speaking with a mellow voice no less powerful for its lack of volume, was an experience I frankly treasure in a sacred way apart from politics or seeing-a-famous-person or romance or anything else.  Beauty IS, sometimes, its own reward, and Gorbachev’s speech is one of those unexpected moments in memory, which illustrated something about beauty well beyond the perfectly arched brow or a total babe everyone wants to get to know.  That I understood not a word without the translator only enhanced this.

Clovis spoke a language I would never recognize, even if I spoke all the living tongues in the world today.

But I know his voice.

Rougher and sharper than a Russian statesman.

Never quite so guttural as a brute of a “Barbarian”.

Not quite a low voice, not for a long time – he came to the throne in the barest flush of his youth.

But balanced.  Measured.  Strong, if not beautiful.

And … I hope … compelling enough to echo through fifteen centuries …

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Okay - a pair, more than a proper collection today:  but here we go!

I have always wondered why the mealy, leather-skinned Red Delicious was so dominant on our produce aisles.  Here we have the money-centric answers.

The Peabody Essex Museum in the UK has an exhibition of Indian textiles I wish I could see - and shows us why these patterns, colors, and pieces for export have been popular for centuries.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 17

Image:  Wikipedia

This date was the day, in 1849, when Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and began a journey which freed so many others from inhuman bondage.  She was the builder and the conductor of the Underground Railroad, that route out of the American South that has become legend in our history.  We often romanticize the idea – yet the origin terminus of the Railroad tends to be lost in the telling.  We like the idea of escape from harrowing straits, but history, as it was taught to me anyway, tended to focus on freedom over slavery.  Even when the conditions were considered, it seemed to be from the white point of view – “we were bad” – not really about those who were sinned against.

Yet all my life, even here in the white-flight south, contained threads of truth.  Sojourner Truth, of course.  Maggie Walker, one of the most important figures in the history of finance in the United States, whose name is not enough spoken.  And Harriet Tubman.

Harriet was the figure of excitement, when we were kids.  Sojourner’s spirit may have been beyond our grasp, and Maggie’s accomplishments those of a boring adult.  But Tubman was a real *story* – the story of how my people did wrong, but somebody escaped.  The story of how she helped others to freedom.

Not being an adventure-story seeker, perhaps the tales appealed to me by assuaging some formless seed of White Liberal Guilt, but hers was the figure, of all these Black women, who seemed to mean something to me when I was very young.  Her powerful physical presence, her turban, her manifest *liberty*.  Easier, perhaps, to contemplate her than to imagine than those thousands of others who did not escape, not even with her indomitable struggles.

Harriet Tubman’s mother is said to have stood up to the masters when hers agreed with another to sell her youngest son – and to have succeeded.  Her father was manumitted in 1840, at the death of his master.  She married, before she herself was liberated, a free Black man.  Enchained she was, but freedom was no faraway concept in Maryland in those days.

But Harriet Tubman was enslave, even after she was a married woman, even after she adopted the name of her formidable mother.  She suffered beatings and being loaned away from her family, from that remarkable mother she loved and longed to be with.  From a young age, she was given the hardest work in the field, and endured illness and labor without respite.  She had her skull cracked open for standing up to a white man, and later wrote that it was her hair – her tight and thick hair – which saved her, perhaps, from bleeding to death, from life slipping through the break.

And yet, today, the culture in which we live dares to shame black women for wearing natural hair, even stealing from them the right to make a living.  It sounds, to lift a phrase from those who feel just as free to expend bigotry upon arbitrarily defined periods of time as some feel to wield it against other souls, “positively medieval” to punish, so brutally and in such extraordinary ignorance, someone for the way their hair grows.  For the way they are made – designed, if you will, by the very G-d we have presumed to invoke in defense of the institution of slavery.  Shameful as that was, we are hardly stainless today.

Imagine being wronged and physically injured – reaching to your head and feeling the wound – feeling, even, the bone, no longer whole.  Imagine that you can feel your very HAIR staunching the blood; or knit, perhaps, thick and strong, over two pieces of yourself where once there was one piece.  Imagine feeling that here, like Samson, was the thing that held you to life.

One hundred sixty-five years ago, on this day, one woman escaped for the first time (she was forced back and had to flee again) – and, by her will and her power and her conviction, eventually dozens of others found the liberation she had.  Though not without allies along her way, she was utterly alone in flight, and became a stranger in a strange land.

By the time she had begun the Railroad, white slaveowners presumed some white abolitionist must be siphoning away their slaves – it was unthinkable a Black woman could have succeeded as a leader, taking so many to freedom.  Yet she rescued her own family.  She worked with John Brown and with Susan B. Anthony.  She refused to allow her “passengers” to quail, to quit, to fail, she assisted the Union in the Civil War.  She offered this lesson to President Lincoln:

(T)he negro can tell master Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the negro free. Suppose that was an awful big snake down there, on the floor. He bite you. Folks all scared, because you die. You send for a doctor to cut the bite; but the snake, he rolled up there, and while the doctor doing it, he bite you again. The doctor dug out that bite; but while the doctor doing it, the snake, he spring up and bite you again; so he keep doing it, till you kill him. That's what master Lincoln ought to know.

Asked to speak a word of Harriet Tubman for a biography of her, Frederick Douglass said:

The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.

September 17 was the first time she escaped … and, in some way, she spent the rest of her life – escaping, again and again, and bringing with her so many others.  One hundred sixty-five years.  It isn’t all that long a time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

More on the Not-So-Dirty/Stupid Past

Madame Isis has a marvelously detailed, and SOURCED, piece today on the hygiene of the past.  Regular readers know I have a history here of expressing frustration with the contemporary bigotry against the past as a seething mass of filthy stupidity, miraculously evolving into Bright and Shining Us, we who are today so wise, so enlightened, and so clean.  A-hem.

Isis covers a great deal more than I have, including feminine hygiene, though she is more period specific.  That said, her sourcing provides a list of resources for anyone interested in researching further.  Hers is a wonderful blog for anyone interested in or writing about the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially for beauty and costume.  She also includes a wealth of beautiful and instructive images, including some which may rather shock the viewer who thinks of most history as prudish as well!

September Sunday Sunset

The rays stealing across the office are gone, but the kitchen window is filled with the dazzling, long light of late sunshine.  The work of the past several weeks has been good for this home.

My office is wonderful, and my friends helped me to build it, getting the new desk in.  I hung my two prints of Diana the Huntress in there, both of which my mother has given me over the years, and one of which is in a frame which dates back three generations in my dad's family, and my mom restored when I was a kid.

The library is clean and finished and comfortable - the very narrow old desk/vanity/dresser now the sideboard in there, between couch and a long, low bookshelf built by my dad.  (Hidden in the drawers of the old desk, which is facing back-side out, drawers to the wall, are copies of research and early, early, EARLY writing on The Ax and the Vase.  I didn't want to trash or recycle them, but I don't care to see them either!)

The house is clean, much laundry is done, and supper is on the beautiful new stove.

Yet this weekend has been another of those times where I witness myself useless to be of practical use to those I love.  I rage against this impotence, I strategize and bargain and beg G-d *and* those I even theoretically could help - and find myself blessed and inert, comfortably fruitless.

And with a writing desk I may forever associate with the piece of scary family news I got the hour before it came in the house.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Grammar Gods' Gift: Free Will

Though the Arrant Pedant is not a prolific poster, he's an essential follow in my book - an excellent author, and perhaps one of the greatest patrons of our language I've ever seen.  He's made it fun for me from time to time to really enjoy letting go of youthful prescriptives.  Today, he reminds my why I love the Oxford comma, as some of you know I do (and why I used to love The Onion, when I was a regular reader!).

I find the arguments in favor of including the serial comma stronger than the arguments in favoring of leaving it out, but I don’t pretend that my preference is an ironclad grammatical law or proof of my superiority. It’s just that—a preference. You are free to choose for yourself.

Broad Appeal

We of the Sarcastic Broads Club have not been busy lately in our online presence (gracious! over two years since the last post!?) - nor, sadly, in our actual meetings (though nowhere near that long).  Perhaps it's because we're a busy lot; certainly, it is not because we don't love each other and get an enormous inspiration from our meetings.  Plus, Leila bakes the BEST cookies and brownies!

Leila published Hot Flashes several months ago, and Kristi Tuck Austin is burgeoning into several areas of work, with media escorting and authorial assisting ... and Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie just put out her new anthology, Even in Death, which is getting great reviews.  Kristi with an I details the release here, very nicely.  I can't wait to read it!  Leila and Kristy with a Y have made me so glad I got a Kindle (though I do have Leila's novel in pulp-and-printing form as well: for I am greedy).  Now, I'll get to have KFG in deluxe, hard copy pulp-and-printing as well.  Many happies ensue.

As for me - though I haven't taken much time to blog about it of late (I may have overdone it in the past as it is!) - querying and, oh so blissfully, dipping into the WIP.  It feels like the WIP (still untitled, and still not a sequel to The Ax and the Vase, as such) has been with me nearly as long as Ax has, and yet its writing has been definitively backburnered until I could commit to it.

Joyously:  at last, I can.  And it is exciting.  Research will take a bit of vacation time I think, and I look forward to taking that and doing that as we approach (YEEP) the holidays.  I've done some bits of writing, but this early in the going that is more a matter of luxuriant indulgence and exercise than creating any sort of text destined to end up in the manuscript.  In its way, that ephemerality makes the writing even more pleasurable, because I don't have to sweat it.  And it's exercise in a very different, new main character and setting.  It's exercise in just writing at all, which I've done not just on the WIP, but on a certain short story actually born at an SBC meeting, with the Broads.  It's something I've toyed with tiny bit by tiny bit for a long time now, but now seems to be its time - its power is growing, and its hold on me is stronger.

Writing is exciting - and it feels like it's been ages since I "really" wrote, creatively, not to further the place of Ax in the world or for my blog or for my work or just to communicate with friends.  Reeeeeaall writing.  The kind that makes you feel something other than, "Got that said.  Good."

Seems like, with the Broads, there's a bit of that going around.  I'll enjoy sinking into a story of two of Kristy-with-a-Y's, and talking with Leila and Kristi-with-an-I about editing and giving birth to new works.  All of us will get to see each other - and SO many others - at the JRW Conference so soon I can't believe it.

Until then ... great things are afoot.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"I Like to Really CURATE My Sharks"

Being a language nerd and a writer (… they CAN be different things!), the trends of language within popular culture capture my attention.  Being, too, old enough to have actually said “like totally” unironically – and, indeed, to have known the term irony unburdened by 90s/2000s hipster baggage – I’ve seen some linguistic habits come and go.  Val-speak, only a little overstated in the ancient Nicholas Cage outing, “Valley Girl”, was actually and honestly a “thing” – just a bit before “a thing” became a thing.  Southern people once ate an evening meal we called supper.  And the particular pronunciation my dad used for the word restaurant is long unheard except in memory.

Some trends within the English language do little more than irritate and engender speechifying and complaint.  Corporate-speak is the shining example here, with people in the 80s “interfacing” (conversing) and developing their skill sets and so on, through into the odd tic I ran into at my previous employer, where every sentence began with the word, “So.”  Question, statement – didn’t matter, there was a pervasive inability to commence any utterance without it.

Some, though, are not bad at all.  Or, perhaps, they’re sad hipster jumpings-of-a-verbal-shark.  You decide.

Over the past two years, I have noticed the increasing prominence of the verb, to curate.  Because this is a highly useful term, and hasn’t come across my desk in any memos, I’ve been happy to see its widening utility.  It doesn’t seem to be thrown around improperly, and its unspoken limitation to museum collections never had any basis in any case – and it has a nice feel to it, the word curate.  I like its spelling, its sound, its pronunciation, its slight, soft lilt bouncing between strong consonants.  It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

But recently it made it way into a commercial, in the form of a chubby, bearded, hipster bartender saying, “I like to really CURATE my herbs” as he makes a drink.

Now, we all know that the hipster beard had to be over once the wildly expensive realm of television commercials were using it widely, and we’re required to insert-meta-ironic-post-snark-viral superiority here, because a trend, once over, must be reviled, and publicly, or without the backlash who will know they are being punished for being out of step …


Is the word curate now victim of the inevitable public flogging all the slobby youngsters who followed a trend just last year are on the tipping point of enduring, because it has now been associated with them?  Has “curate” jumped the shark (a phrase, itself, both a tool of all backlash and simultaneously dismissed as having been overdone and missing important artistic points because it is reductive)?

Words absolutely go out of style.  Some stay – some for centuries.  Another fascinating study in the fashion of language is just how OLD some slang we think we invented really is (see also:  every damn word Shakespeare ever wrote – the OED certainly does).

But many, many, many terms and manners of speaking are ephemeral.  This is how Old English became Middle English became Tudor speech became American English, modern British English, pidgin, and a hundred thousand dialects.  This is how sentimentalist contrarians like me choose to pronounse rest-runt like their dads did, despite never saying it that way for 40 years – or choose suddenly to bring “supper” back, because it’s a word with a certain feel, a connection to literature we love, or just to be different.

When Teh Intarwebs was new, it was a big deal just figuring out how we were going to spell email (shall we hyphenate? shall we spell out the whole words, electronic mail?) and in 1999 (… and still …) figuring out what to call the first decade – and second – of the new millennium was the subject of ad nauseum discussion.  When the automobile came along, it was much the same, with options from motor car to horseless carriage coming and going perhaps in a way that seemed almost as fast as the newfangled machines themselves.  And we ended up with multiple solutions, around our various earthly “ponds” …

The older I get, the more aware I am – and glad I am – how deeply irrelevant my outrages are, especially where the English language is concerned.  My ex husband (who graduated magna cum laude in ENLGISH, as he spelt it when he told me about it via electronic mail back in the early aughts) and I get along better and better where grammar is concerned, as the years go by, and I find it almost bewilderingly pleasurable to find out how many rules I grew up on – or just decided on, in a stubborner state of youth – are dead-assed WRONG.

Or incorrect, if you simply must prefer.  Heh.

The non-native prohibition on dangling prepositions imposed on us by Latin-writing monks.  The which/that conundra so widespread most people don’t even compute they exist at all.  Spelling itself.

I still hold to the fact that the word “hatred” exists, but have come to accept that the noun form of that word is going to be “hate” whether I like it or not … and, in fact, that the usage predates even the ancient century in which *I* was born.  By a few more.

I won’t ever buy an INFINITI vehicle, because its name gives me hives (and I’m not a prestige-sucking-by-“exclusive”-brands kind of dilettante …).

I’ll hew, probably always, to standardized spellings – and even insist upon the apostrophe in Hallowe’en – but not because I believe there’s anything like a definitive “correct” way to render our language.  Just because … I’m a heedless maniac in enough ways; linguistically, I gravitate to discipline, even if the discipline is arbitrary and even imaginary.  As in religion, sometimes we just choose a set of rules.  Humans like both to make them – and break them – and, oh sometimes, even to follow them.  Sort of.

So … what do you think?  Has “curate” jumped the shark, along with “jumped the shark” and ironic, slobby hipster boys with beards?  Or will you use it proudly – for your herbs or museum collections or choices in dog food?

Thursday, September 4, 2014


It's a funny thing someone happened to hit this post today and remind me of it by bumping it onto my stats.  The white egret is a close cousin of the blue heron - and its symbolic connection with self-determination has come to mean a lot to me.

Gossie took a mini vacation this past weekend, and it reminded me that I have not linked Janet Reid for at least a minute and a half.  So here we rectify this lapse, with her advice to authors about First3Chapters.  *Eyebrow*

Dusting the vestments ... ?  Fabric over a millennium and a half old is, as anyone might guess, vanishingly thin on the ground - and its conservation is a fascinating science, craft, and story spanning far, far longer than St. Ambrose's life.

For this link, do you prefer Door #1 (NatGeo), Door #2 (BBC), or Door #3 (Nature) to read about the tantalizing possibility of Neanderthal art nearly forty-thousand years old ... ?  This is one of those stories where the debate in the field (har ...) is almost as interesting as the hopes and theories themselves.  The questions are wonderfully unanswerable.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Vacation Time?

Everybody gets a vacation but me - even Gossie took a short trip to NYC again!

Withdrawing From the Moral Bank --- OR --- "I Want the Vaccuum"

The odd thing about this article, and a few others I looked at when I found it, was the repeated idea that transactional rectitude is unconscious.  How many times a day do you witness someone saying, or do the office break room chat-and agree, that “if it’s for someone’s birthday, the cake has no calories” or fill-in-your-equivalency … ?  Or the “I worked out, I can have more – or I’m GOING to work out (I swear!), I can have more”, or what have you.  Not only is this conscious, the joke of it is culturally enshrined by now – that we acknowledge some foible with a laugh, but we foible away nonetheless, even seeking approval for some exchange or other.

It’s most often caloric, in American culture at least, but I’ve certainly seen people explicitly note their moral or social cred before whipping out some racist or privilege-blind remark or other.  The old “but I have (such and such minority) friends” clause seems to go far, for a lot of us, in excusing saying things it would otherwise be unthinkable to voice publicly.  I’ve heard someone describe Blacks as “monkeys”, who then went on to use that old saw.  (Fortunately, not someone I’ve been associated with for decades now.)

As to the gas-guzzling vehicle owner boggling minds by purchasing locally or ecologically, I’m highly amused by the use of Whole Foods as some sort of example of the ultimate in moral retail.  Whole Foods is a wildly cache’ brand, affordable frankly to few, and appealing more for its elitist snootery than for its marvelous righteousness.  I am acquainted with exactly nobody who could ever afford to shop there exclusively for food, and those I know who shop there at all do so precisely to splurge in one way or another.  Splurge.  Not the baseline I would have used, in terms of examining the motivations and/or behavior of the population at large, who would go broke in a week trying to feed a family at their prices.

I drive a Prius, but it is not a motorized reservoir, for me, of opportunities to waste in other areas.  Per the comments at the first link above, I drive it because it reduces my gas consumption – which, while nicely affecting my carbon footprint, is also cheaper in what I hope will be a long run.  I also put out recycling every time they come to pick it up – but produce, as a single-person household, barely enough garbage to fill the extremely huge rollaway bin provided by the county in the space of a *month*.  This isn’t, for me, a matter of morality except insofar as I consider profligacy in any form – drinking, eating, spending, or using the resources of my environment – generally to be avoided.  I like my driver’s license, current wardrobe, credit rating/savings, and planet more than I do the rewards of most behaviors which could, in excess, endanger these things.  It would be a pretty tough row to hoe, at that, destroying any one of these things – for myself OR for anybody else, depending on the scale of my effects in this world.  I like the garden growing as it is, as it were.

Like a lot of women, I certainly enjoy some level of Martyr’s Complex – “ahh, I work so hard, and it’s just never done” – but I keep two things on hand at all times to prevent too much self indulgence.  One is gratitude:  that my life is cram-STUFFED with blessings (and, that thing noted above, with privilege I never did anything to earn nor deserve).  Two, self awareness.  If I let myself believe for one second I ever deserved any of the good I’ve got, I won’t deserve one iota of it.  Ever.

It’s like this, in shorthand:  I live my life striving to be good enough for those who love me.

I used to say “my dog” – but now I have dog and cat, and let it be said, I also understand the enormity of the love of those who’ve proven willing to tolerate me in their lives.  I have a LOT to live up to, if the love in one’s life is any measure, and to deserve it all will take beyond all my life to even hope to attain.

If I dented whatever wee and paltry contributions my life provides in this world, because I believed my contributions were a sort of personal savings account – an annuity of “goodness” I could DRAW from as if there were some right to that – then there is no contribution at all.  And if I make no contribution to the world, attaching the strings of self-indulgence to even the smallest of “good” acts (with, of course, myself as the judge of what may be good), I’m lost to ever being good “enough” for the abundance I have been given.

You never get to be good enough for your dog, being an emotional/moral/righteous accountant.  You can never pay back anyone – if you consider life anything that can be balanced like a checkbook.

Yeah, I’ll eat far too many Chee-tos in one sitting, and I accidentally leave the AC on too cold for too long, when I set it to “hold” while I was sweating and working, and forgot to put it back on schedule.  When it comes to my writing - my unpaid job - I am excuse-maker extraordinaire:  "fallow time" or "my computer is on Safe Mode" or "I've been wiped out from work for three weeks - and I haven't had a vacation in three YEARS now" make it all to easy to do other things than quering or researching.  That desk I was on about this week is in some ways, "I'll start the diet Monday" of my unpaid/unpublished authorial career.  I just failed, for three weeks, to do my little calesthenics at my desk, and don’t think the size of my arms doesn’t reflect the lassitude.

But:  don't think I don't know when I'm bargaining with myself (a.k.a. "the Devil") - and cheating myself, all in the same acts.

But #2):  I also don't exchange eating crap for drinking a diet soda, and I don’t tell myself there’s no sin nor effect, when I push life’s balances out of whack.  I even participate in the “well someone worked so hard to make these brownies, surely I have to have another one” games we all sometimes play.  Frankly, playing games SOMETIMES is a part of the pleasure of life.

Just ask my dog.

Then watch, and see if she cheats on her taxes because she was nice to ME today …

"And, Reader, I Purchased It"

Surely, it is fated.  THIS is the post that put me over 100,000 hits on this blog!  And I called this morning - they still had the desk - and I paid for it.

As I understand it, the desk was much loved by its previous owner, a guy who had it for many years and ran a business - and was also at some point (I don't know whether it was when he had the desk) an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys.  They're planning to tell him it's going to someone who'll love it, too - and he'll be so pleased.

I told 'em they could leave out the part about how I'm no football fan ...

Well, this poor desk is in for a change.  But I think it'll find it interesting around here.

99,991! Nine more to 100,000.

Could happen any minute here!

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Life. Don't Talk to Me About Life."

I love Scientific American.

Life is a concept that we invented.
… an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not.
(T)his division does not exist outside the mind.

There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark.
We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place.