Thursday, July 28, 2016

Collection, With A Lot of Villainy

It’s the wrong Donald, Gromit.

Apparently (in certain others' minds, anyway) I am a ... PANK. Hm. Sounds distasteful. I'm not persuaded this is a label worth accepting - indeed, I'm not entirely persuaded by this article. Still, it's interesting to note that, invisible as I am being an old biddy aunt, I'm an impressively fast-growing demographic.

NPR did a piece today on why villains are always the interesting characters. I'd argue against the old "good guys are always boring" routine; a good writer doesn't leave the protagonist drab. As good writing goes, "good guys are boring" is lazy right there. It is right after they say villains are always the interesting ones, using Shakespeare's Iago (I am NOT linking that for you, if you don't know the reference, look it up) as a juicy example, that I immediately think of Claudius. Not Graves' Claudius (nor Derek Jacobi's), but Hamlet's. He does not steal the show. James Bond villains often don't either - Bond villains are MacGuffins, simply there to set everything in motion. Captain America: Civil War was the same - a villain we spend no time with, care about not one whit, and who in the end has nothing to do with anything at all. Surprisingly good movie, out of that.

But still. The montage of famous villains' voices at the top is worth the ride. Could use more of the Star Wars evil march music, though.

The MOST fascinating part of this story is its point regarding villains' never thinking they ARE bad guys or women. No matter your place on the political spectrum - right now, this year, there is no way around seeing that as a reference not to movies, but to this election.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Specificity, Magic, and Getting Lost in Cover Art

Talking with Colin Smith recently at his blog got me thinking about the subjective effects of good illustration. We were discussing those pieces of art inside a number of books, but I'm struck time and again by the impact a photo cover has on me versus good old fashioned paintings and drawings. Even a photo of a sculpture is not the same.

When I was a kid, you still saw matte painting in movies and television. Science texts sometimes employed artists for renderings of various objects of study - space, in particular, was fertile ground (so to speak ...) for magnificent paintings of detailed scenes, worlds away from our own, exciting phenomena rendered in bold colors and evoking intensity, heat, movement - danger! - beauty ...

For over a century and a half, there has been a lament that photography destroys art, that it is soulless, that it is unworthy of contemplation. Of course, this is untrue.

And yet, there is something about a photograph - not least the limited and terrifyingly recycled library of stock images used these days in book cover design - that lacks, in comparison with the inspiration of a drawn or painted image.

For one, there is the specificity. As a reader, I dislike being instructed by a book's cover with quite the concreteness a photo provides.

Colin and I talked of the ability to get lost in a simple oil pastel drawing or watercolor, and I remembered the million worlds of Richard Scarry as absorbing adventures that could hold me for hours.

There is also the charm of style. There are covers of books I read growing up I still remember. In histfic, ersatz portraits that took real-life inspiration and transformed old paintings into compositions and costumes that ended up more 60s or 70s in their vibe. Historical figures' new pictures paying homage to known portraiture, but presenting attitudes perhaps less formalized than such images. (Seriously, click on the link, Robert Dudley is kind of perfectly conceived - and not even headless!)

Then there are the comparative studies - the 80s cover whose male model I crushed on, versus the 60s extravaganza of Historical Epicness. Even the 80s one isn't just a straight photograph; its sky is a painted vista, its background a world like so many of those matte paintings I knew from Star Trek as a wee little nard.

Even the most specific, detailed painting or drawing is still in some way subjective, and therefore invites inspiration over being a dictation.

Photo book covers, for me, have all the appeal of an over-sentimental film score. Bad scores are didactic - telling me how I must feel, taking away from me the opportunity to come to an emotion on my own with a character or characters.

I believe in the transportive beauty of photography, but I literally cannot THINK of a photographic book cover that has ever taken me to a new world the way other graphic forms can.

And, again, there is the issue of the strangely limited stock of images publishers seem to use. There are websites and fora all over Teh Intarwebs sharing "oh look, this pic again" images of cover after cover after cover - following the extremes of recycling costumes or particular photo shoots, or even single images, again and again and again and again. Some of the costumes used forty years ago in Elizabeth R have had almost embarrassingly over-recycled afterlife in modeling sessions for cover photos for historicals.

Even if you don't know the provenance, where an image has been used but differently cropped or tinted a hundred times before, a photo (so often of the old headless-woman) has only so much power to invite exploration. It feels like photo design covers are by far more prone to anachronism and even inappropriateness. Amongst all those discussions of "this one again" covers online, there are many conversations about how inauthentic design choices are.

A particular floppy red velvet ruff bearing no resemblance to any actual piece of clothing from any period of history ever is notorious, having graced every kind of novel from the Plantagenet to Victorian and back again. Novels taking place in one century sport covers evoking another, or one culture in the world is plundered just to decorate another. Female models wearing makeup abound; everyone must be pretty, after all.

And, not that the covers I've linked are not cosmetically enhanced in their own ways, but at least the living and breathing reality of a girl tottering about in a bad costume and pouting her strong lipstick isn't slamming me out of a story with all the power of ... well, that book I've been reading in which yards and yards of lace have appeared in a time three hundred years before its existence ...

This may be the power of the subjective graphic forms. They don't look entirely "real" to begin with, so their deviations from authenticity are less concrete, less jarring than a photograph's quantified, concrete, recorded verity. There is something banal in the carelessness of recorded anachronism or inappropriateness.

And I know I've couched a lot of my blather in historical fiction, but it is, honestly, in historicals that photography grates *me at least* the most. Because the medium is modern, it feels wrong right at the start, and because so many of the photographs chosen currently seem to have little depth (never mind being threadbare from frequent use), there is no allure.

Like any human attraction, specificity can both amplify and kill it. Specificity - that adorable mole just in front of a lover's ear, or the way they breathe when they first see your face - is magic. But it is also murder - the zipper you can see on the Elizabethan gown, or the Elizabethan gown fitting poorly on the headless model for a Regency romp ...

Richard Nixon's Phlebitis

Dena Pawling has a great blog not only reviewing a lot of books, but throwing around some of the legal facts of life, often to amusing effect. We have her to thank for this link.

Well worth a click should you need a laugh at the expense of a super-rich sexual harasser in his undies. Right now, I can tell you, this was a much needed distraction for ME.

Fair warning, though: there IS a photo of the plaintiff in said (black ...) underpants. Pure comedy black gold. But worse to behold even than a man in black socks and mandals.

Monday, July 25, 2016


“How do the breasts look?
“She was always very fancy.”
“I don’t have nothing to hide.”

So, yeah. Eep, the world ... ... ... but for now, there are puppies. Thoughts from E. M. Goldsmith (and a couple comments from me, too).

"23 shipwrecks in 22 days" is a lot of discovery.

And, because I needed MORE blogs to provide me perpetually renewing online TBR, Benjamin Clark on researching wet paper towels - and so much more!


Like Benjamin Clark wasn't bad enough, then I found Nate Wilson's blog and, on top of having the AbFab theme running through my head, now I want to write science haiku.

And finally, Stephen Parks' post on automation actually reminds me that the fiction he cites, fearing exactly the same things we fear now, is generations old now. Reassuring? Could be ... But I did think of the comments Jeff Sypek recently had regarding some of the less-observed socio-economic aspects of the self-driving car question.

Missed FF

Busy with family this weekend, I was disappointed to miss entering Janet Reid's latest flashfic contest. In any case, it might have gotten the "not quite a story" comment (if any), but I thought I would share mine anyway.

Prompt words:


"The problem with seven-league boots is balance."

Petyr scowled. "There can be no problem, covering a week's travel in one step!"

"Ahh, but should you fall as the boots stride - or one slip off one foot - you may be dragged down the road, head tripping along the ground." The old man smiled. "Must be spry.

Petyr gawped. “Imagine, conked in the brainpan, leagues from anyone!”

The old man nodded. “You see why I am reluctant to sell them, at any price,” he said, regretful. “It is a bridge you need, not boots. I have one for you …”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Creative Not-writing

Most creative and/or artistic types express their limber right brains in ways other than being writers, painters, musicians, sculptors and so on.

I rock a bit of the Ageing Bohemian Authoress style in my wardrobe and home, and I also have this thing where I have to change things every now and then. There is a semi-regular seasonal rotation of my living room and bedroom furniture that just gives me a little pleasure looking at the same things in a different way.

Like my mom, I also have a collection of decorative items and wall art far exceeding space to exhibit it all at any one time. I haven't switched those things around much in the past year or two, but used to shift out a small portion of my dad's pewter collection for colorful dishes and Israeli enamel around the kitchen, or put out different knickknacks in the living room from one mood or season to another. Of course there are Christmas decorations, too.

Finding places to put things is a major recreational and practical habit for any homeowner; often, this comes with the question of "How do I store X, Y, and Z?" but some of us just have fun with what's actually out.

This week (I hope!), I'm having my basement foundation jackhammered to the footing and waterproofing updated in this beautiful 66-year-old home, which I moved into fifteen years ago this month. Step one in this job is MY contribution, which has been to move everything down there away from the walls.

Any homeowner can tell you, any project involving moving every single thing in one room in a house ends up feeling like a massive undertaking. As a pushing-50-year-old woman with multiple back injuries to my discredit, it's also one you have to be careful about. Gossamer has fallen in love with my back for smelling like off-brand Icy/Hot, because the wintergreen drives him mad, and I've certainly been keeping the naproxen sodium business going. Hooray for NSAIDs!

And for subterranean dreams.

Moving everything down there presents the opportunity not only to open up a new line of credit debt in the name of resale value I hope not to realize any time soon, and also to Get Some Things Done.

Washing the walls is job one, once the contractors clear out. Just taking a hose to the whole place. Whether I'll follow that with a paint job I'm not sure. in some ways, being able to see the flemish bonding that goes all the way down under the house proper charms me. And exposed brick is a thing.

I *am* rather tempted to paint the floors with something glossy enough to take a good sweeping.

The clothes lines will probably move, but I haven't decided where. Some things will have to develop as things are shifted back into place.

The major workbench will be dismantled and its true two-by-fours kept for some other wonderful purpose, its massive legs saved likewise. This will free up a massive amount of space down there, and some of the furniture in storage will be put to use AS storage, as well as cleaning up the look of the place.

I don't intend to finish it completely, but I may let paternal grandma's easy chair and maternal grandma's dresser and vanity/desk serve some decorative and practical purpose. I have my eye on the vanity/desk as a spot I could set up my sewing machine, which currently stays stuck behind a filing cabinet, but which could have a living/working function in a safe, cleaned-up full basement.

The extraordinarily well-built shelves at the bottom of the steps, I think may be little gussied up, but cleaned and called for duty to hold some of those miscellaneous decorative items not always in service themselves. If I do anything to prettify this spot, it will be simply to hang a shower curtain to keep things safe from the worst dust.

Mom and I have some of our best conversations, stimulating each other's decorator brains on projects like this. It distracts her for a time, too, from the difficulties of being a constant caregiver, and I hope is some relief from the tension.

If nothing else, spending fifteen or so minutes actually starting that job we agreed upon, of dismantling the largest workbench seems to have provided some frustration working-out. She bashed every board off the top (NO damage; mom and I both get physically sick watching the careless destruction inherent in most "demo days" on HGTV shows) before I could even say I still needed it to stack the shelves on as I deconstructed those!

Along the way with creative projects of any kind come the surprises. The incalculable cache' of Gossamer poops, hidden away when he's been in some kind of mood or other. The ASTONISHING weight of a tiny vanity made out of hard rock maple. The fact that the smaller workbench, laden with firewood and appliance boxes I have saved because I am *that* person ("keep the boxes in case you ever have to move!") ... was missing a leg, and just propped against the wall. For who knows how many decades! The exact size of cave cricket poo.

But in a week or so (I hope! I got the call Friday the county permits had not been completed ...), I will be able to indulge some of these fantasies.

Right after I scrub down the falls and remediate the dust. Shew!

So. What's up with you this summer?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Collection

Gossamer is currently FLAT on the living room floor, even his chin - tail swishing, and in stalk mode. He got a new toy for his adopt-iversary, and he likes it. (7/14 marked our fourth year since he first came home with me.)

The house is clean, and another project I have going in the basement is going well.

The world at large and at small seems to be a difficult place of late. We all know the large pictures. On the personal scale, someone I know just found out a parent was discovered dead at home with their pets also deceased. One of my oldest friends is dealing with the latest variety of symptoms of several chronic, incurable diseases, her husband may have pneumonia, and her father is heading in for minor (we pray) surgery Tuesday. My stepfather continues a precipitous decline from the ongoing status that he is dying in the first place.

Distractions are in order. And so, ironically, my first link today will echo the points made here ...

Advanced Style (the documentary) looks at the denial of death by way of fashion in a way more uplifting than my post above. When death comes closer, denial of it can be more affirming than oblivious, and the result is literally and figuratively beautiful. There is also a blog, which goes beyond NYC. Everything about Beatrix Ost's style, I adore. The boots look like American Duchess!

I'm not a great follower of celebrity, and so to me Jennifer Aniston is one of those word-pairs that generally keeps me from clicking. And yet, something or other got me here last week, and I have to admit: if this is her actual voice, her words, I entirely respect her thinking. On the subject of her own celebrity - and the resultant headlines about her life (and fantasies projected thereupon).

Less escapist, but something I have followed for about a dozen years; the FLDS church, the Jeffs family's power, and escape from Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. In the wake of the recent escape of Lyle Jeffs, this is especially relevant and important to know.

There’s not always one right answer. Sometimes you just have to pick one and stick with it.

The Arrant Pedant is always a pleasure, but especially so when he deconstructs prescriptivism. In this book review, I especially appreciate his points on consistency. Sometimes, it's more about choosing your approach than knowing there is any single "right way".

Saturday, July 16, 2016

In Other Positivity ...

... Janet Reid has offered herself up as a Redshirt for her community of writerly fans. Now, that's giving.

Life is Ghastly.


I proffer this instead of the short story inspired by events in the life of someone I care about a lot, because it would be ghastly of ME to let that thing write itself, and because it's not even my own story. Yet.

This pup is chosen in tribute to the GOOD things happening in the lives of some OTHER people I care about a lot. Who recently adopted a little blond of their own (this is not she). Plus, I really do feel this is like my Penelope, 1/60 scale. Which is adorable.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Faces of Death

We've got to start off with the following phrase: the denial of human creatureliness. My stars, what a great twist of words, as cruel as any knife.

(B)eing an animal is threatening because it reminds people of their vulnerability to death...
--multiple authors, see link above

A few days ago, doing those things we do that we don't share with most others - showering and getting a look at my body's age and particulars - I was thinking, as I have before, of how I wish it were a different sight. Thinking about how age has changed things, how annoying bodies can be, not trapped in amber and constantly energetic and healthy got me to thinking (a) of all those things we are told we can do about that and, inevitably, (b) the people who do the most to give some plausible lie to the necessity of age and our animal nature.

Image: Wikipedia
Obvious choice? Heck yes.

If I'm honest, Dita von Teese actually occurs to me most often when I think about these things. She actually is lovely, but the image she's crafted - I sometimes wonder how well it will age. Perhaps it is her vintage spin that makes me look to the ways some of the Hollywood glamour goddesses who inspired her ended up; and at forty-four, you wonder how much mileage is left in her career of being alluring. The Kardashians are an industry, and nobody expects humanity of them, so contemplating how they age just means looking at Momma K and shrugging a bit.

But the fundamental point is, artifice is the denial of the animal.

There are times I revel in artifice. But the thing with me is, there are also times I revel in being an animal - in the biological status of my existence, as much as the spiritual or intellectual (or silly). In some ways, the best PART of getting dolled up (and note the word choice there, hah) is the way we start off - sweaty, sparse-eyebrowed, with imperfect skin and no ornament. For me, "gooping up" as my friend TEO and I used to call it, is an emphasis of artificiality, not of myself. When I go out in any sort of drag, it's not a presentation of myself, but of the things I like or find funny or a neat idea I had with hair or makeup, something archly and specifically NOT myself.

Anyone who believes I have purple hair - or those eyelashes - is not my responsibility to counsel.

Anyone who believes I am significantly younger than I am - well, I have two lovely parents certainly to thank. Assuming we take the cultural worship of youth as read.

For those less than eager to take on the entirety of the paper whose abstract is linked above, consider this. An interesting look at death, indeed, and possibly informative of more than America's own current state of politics.

Study subjects who were prompted to talk about their own death later rated their support for Trump 1.66 points higher on a five-point scale than those who were prompted to talk about pain generally.
--Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post

The old "May you live in interesting times" joke comes to mind. Not only because ALL times for humans have been interesting, harrowing, joyous, and terrifying all at once, but because the first and foremost draw of Trumpery has been how interesting he is. He's entertainment, as well as a valve for the release of all those unseen things we hold inside; hatred and anger and fear. He's a really big show.

Image: Wikipedia
I chose this because it's about as dignified a shot of The Donald as I can find in fair use rules,
and the juxtaposition with someone notorious for his flamboyant looks was irresistible.
And he's really smiling.


It is common received wisdom that art and comedy are born out of our knowledge of death. Fashion and cosmetics are too, which is interesting given their connection to human sexuality, itself the only means toward immortality in providing for procreation.

Politics is death. And sometimes suicide is the way humans meet death.


I both revel in my creatureliness and play with those toys of denial. Most of us do the same in one way or another, saving contemplation of death for special occasions, but not actively denying it. Life just doesn't leave time for it, mostly. We get caught up in the day-to-day, and that works both in our favor and against us - it is all to easy to forget to deal with those parts of life that have to do with its cessation.

It is perhaps precisely because all times are interesting that we simultaneously gorge on it, and then need to retreat from it, and on a humankind scale this leads us to bewildering socio-political behavior. American media would have it that the Brexit vote came largely because people voted for exit thinking "this will never happen" and now they all wish they could take it back. How far this gibes with reality is debatable, but not a debate I wish to be party to. It's an interesting sort of finger-shaking version of "journalism" (a word that's been in scare-quotes for years now), but a curious look at the fear of death in itself. A few weeks go, Brexit looked like Roman decimation in broadcast media; right now, we're forgetting about it and "la-la-la-I-cant'-hear-you"-ing all the way to Sodom, most of the day-after pearl-clutching forgotten, at least amongst us unwashed masses. There isn't time to think about it.

Three days ago, I'd never heard of this dang Pokemon walking game, and now it is EVERYWHERE, both in hilarity and more finger-wagging ("don't play Pokemon games in the Holocaust museum" was an actual thing this morning).

Fantasy is our way of denying death - if we focus on what we find most beautiful, desirable ... death loses its hold in our minds, because those things are as strong for us as the unknowable inevitabilities of our bodies.

By writing, I revel in the creatureliness of my characters, and my own - and because I write fiction, I can deny it ALL. Nothing is real, and if I write about those things that frighten me most, that is not real either.

This is the essential appeal of horror.

The ultimate fantasy is control.

We seem to be exerting the fantasy of control by going out of control an awful lot lately.

Why *wouldn't* people rather contemplate the curiously human and artificial face of a Jenner or Kardashian ... ?

Monday, July 11, 2016


The Atlantic takes a look at the imperfect ecosystem of copyright infringement, exposure, and some hope in the world of self-publishing. One of the many things I have to think about. A point of particular interest is the demand to publish frequently. Y'all know, I am not a speed-demon. Hmm.

Unusually, for The History Blog, this entry frustrating. There is an immense amount of verbiage, for one, which has nothing to do with the artifact in the title - and is all about yet more rich vintage white folks ... but tucked into a litany (again, having nothing to do with the Egyptian mask of which we see so little in the post) is the story of Mathinna, a Tasmanian child stolen and then abandoned by the wonderful wealthy folk. Her family's lives are by far more interesting than the tempestuous rich girl's bio (the link on her name shares much richer detail). Oh, and by the way - again, the post was supposedly about an Egyptian mask.

On Janet's latest flash fiction contest: the results are in!

In other agent-ness, a post by Jessica Faust I read when it was fresh, but chose not to comment on because frankly the framing of its premise irked me. But Colin Smith linked it and looked for others' thoughts, so I had to get a little authorial adversarial. Am I am author? HELL YES. There isn't an agent in the world who can take that away from me, published or not. Period.

Mondo Bond-o and Beyond(o)

Daniel Craig's Bond has been an interesting progression. Casino Royale felt, at its debut, very new and different. By Skyfall, Bondstalgia was in play, and that was kind of a lovely ride. For full pun effect:

Image: Wikipedia

Whether the nostalgia played SO well they decided to indulge in it to excess, or it's just been enough decades since Roger Moore that we can finally go for his era's over the toppery and sumptuousity ... Spectre brought me, at least, full circle in Bond-age.

I grew up on 70s Bond, Moore Bond, Sunday Night Movies on ABC edited and family Bond - the Bond who wore Sears Bend Over pants, the Bond whose bow tie, when he wore it, took up a fairly impressive segment of his height as a whole.

So Spectre's snowy, modernistic sets, its romping from Mexico to Rome to Austria to Tunisia and all the pauses in London in between ... I ate it all up, with a large spoon, and a smile on my face.

Craig's grittier, more realistic Bond is still good in my book. I was all aboard for Casino, and I'm one of the like three people, apparently, who liked Quantum of Solace and didn't even make fun of the title.

But Bond Guignol, the madness of some of the great entries in the franchise, the sharks-with-laser-beams-on-their-heads daft-ery that was the only way I could watch these movies as a little girl (what did I care about spies? but the eye candy was great fun!), has returned in full effect. Bond's brain is drilled, and he prevails. The bad guy dies, but we know how that can be. Craig recalls, for me, his amusing turn as Jemmie in The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders. His clear enjoyment in providing the spectacle is quite a bit of fun.

In short: I'm this fan. (Hit this link, seriously, it's very funny writing!)

Part of the pleasures of loving Bond is how the franchise provides a pocket history of half a century of the blockbuster-movie as an art form and as an ongoing concern. You watch the ’70s become the ’80s ... You watch film styles come, go, return.
--Darren Franich

Why the late, late movie review? Well, for one, it runs in my family. And also, I had a Spectre re-watch last night, first time since the theater, and I just had fun so it was on my mind. And also, with other new movies coming out and glimpses forward in the franchise - Craig will do a couple more, and it looks like we might have Cristoph Waltz back as Blofeld to join him.

And then there's Star Trek. Star Trek: Beyond is the focus of a certain trepidation amongst fans.

I'm one of those fans who prefers to know as little as humanly possible before I see a new film. I don't even much like knowing there may be division or doubt; I'm a great taker-as-they-come sort of fan, particularly when it comes to Trek. I'm passive in the extreme till my butt's in the theater seat and the endless previews are over. Unless grossly offended (and I have been, by Trek - I still think we need a t-shirt or bumper sticker that says CAN WE PLEASE STOP RAPING DEANNA?), I'm not just going to watch what you make, I'm almost certain to rewatch till whatever is produced is also pretty much committed to my memory.

With Bond and with Trek, my love is deep, and less concerned with market forces or even production values than the experience of a story. Give me a good one, I'm on board for the run.

I want this Beyond to be as good as Far Beyond the Stars. I want to be as excited as the day X and I finally saw the reboot together, and (yeah, I'm tellin' on him) he got a little misty at the birth of Kirk.

So far - not there. I'm not in that seat yet.

But we shall see.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


Janet Reid is running another flash fiction contest this weekend. The entry right before mine is splendid, but I put mine in anyway ...

She trembled, sighed. Filled the pitcher with tonic. A tablespoon of sugar. Ice cubes.

The gin was in the freezer. Grand, she thought, it's just enough. Time soon to get to the store for another bottle, replace that wretched not-Bailey's Irish cream.

The forgotten thrill – down her throat, under her ears – strong, cold alcohol. She sat on the back porch and watched traffic at the intersection. The light changed, the cars surged. Coming, going, gone. But always more.

It took 16 surges, 16 cycles of the light. The phone rang.

He was coming in October.

16 cycles.

12 years.

Rabbit Holes

Today, I was talking with my oldest friend, The Elfin One, and she asked how my mom and stepfather are doing. He is the one to whom I've alluded a time or two, who has for some years now been slowly dying. A part of this has been deterioration of his cognition. ... and my mom has endured a chronic, profound disruption of her sleep patterns, as he loses track of time completely. The result is she's not quite the woman of stunning recall I have always been used to her being.

TEO asked me whether this is stress or some reflection of an organic problem. I think it's the sleep issues, the fear and unceasing demands. But it's so easy to forget ... that she forgets. With my stepfather, we've grown used to his lapses.

Last week, she came to my house and thought she had never seen the painting I did in my upstairs bathroom ... six months ago or more.

My mom is fully down the rabbit hole with my stepfather. And honestly, she's getting a little rabbity.

The next question is, "Diane, how are you?"

My response to this tends to be some combination of bewilderment and dismissiveness. I'm *aware* this is hard on me too, but I'm much more aware how much easier it is for me than it is for my mom. There's a tendency to push off sympathy so people will spend it, and their prayers, on my mom instead.

Not with TEO. With my oldest, best friend, I can be honest (with my brother too). And I realized where I stand.

I'm like standing guard at the entrance to the rabbit hole.

G-d has been especially kind to me of late. A few months ago, it was stress helping them do their taxes, and for the past few months I've been doing all I can to be not only on call if they need me, but also to just spend time as much as I can. To be an escape valve and a social distraction that is NOT demanding for them.

There's been a lot of social distraction for them lately - family, after family, after family - and my mom is incapable of not *hosting* her family. So for some weeks, as much as we LOVE them, visit after visit has had her fretting over what to cook, had her shopping, had her squiring loved ones around, had her socially "on" in a way that alone can be demanding. As someone who's lived alone for the bulk of my adult life, over twenty years now, I know how exhausting joy can be. Simply smiling all day - it is a pleasure to be with people, but I come home absolutely shot, and aching for my solitude, my home, the furbabies.

For me, there's been a lot of work distraction lately. Three solid weeks now of quite HIGH productivity - prep for our annual meeting, onboarding an exec I've been waiting for over a year and half, and this past week has been an apple pie hubbub. Multitasking extraordiaire.

I'm the lucky one: I'm not down in that rabbit hole, my world is still the real world. I get to sleep normally. And I have a job with the most extreme level of satisfaction I have ever enjoyed - which is saying something very significant.

So now my own question.

How do you hope your mom can have a life like that - productive, healthy, stimulating ... knowing what has to come for her to have that?


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Final Voyages and Beyond

Tonight, I finished off a sporadic Netflicking of Enterprise, which (along with all the other Trek the 'flix has to offer) is always in my queue. This finale wants to be a Trekkie/Trekker love letter, but is one of those notorious fails that cheapened what came before. Since it was early yet, I decided to finish off my *evening* with the next-up episode of DS9, "Far Beyond the Stars".

FBS has been next-up for some days, if not a week or two, because it's so damned good I don't just watch it any old time as background noise. Every time I see it, this episode is new again.

In the best possible way, this script is tight and taut. It runs like a well-oiled machine, but is not a device, is not a tool. It is story within story; one of the best frames on TV, even though it uses an unremarkable conceit to take us where it literally goes. After the cruel framing device used in Enterprise's finale, this one shows all the world how it is DONE.

Synopsis - The diverse crew of the 24th-century space station Deep Space 9 play different roles in the old "is it all madness/a dream?" scenario, through the character of Captain Benjamin Sisko. Now set in 1950s NYC, the cast are now an ensemble of neighborhood and office characters who know Benny Russell, a science fiction writer enduring racial prejudice and the question of his own sanity.

Stock setup. Stellar (har) execution.

This episode would make a perfect exemplar for a non-fan of the best of Star Trek - why those of us who love it so much, do. It's also deadly goddamned good TV completely apart from its Trek-ness. The production values are strong, the acting is wrenching (a good thing), the comedy is not neglected, and the characters each get the most fascinating workouts. Penny Johnson, who interestingly is barely noted in any of the links above for the ep (perhaps her understatement and naturalism make her work seem effortless), is marvelous, and brought me to mind of Nichele Nichols in "The Lieutenant".

Notable, too, is Michael Dorn's sole outing in all his Trek experience, playing a human being. His exceptionally warm smile and non-Klingon voice are perfect as he plays a smooth baseball hero himself up against the fact he's alone, playing in a white league.

Freed of heavy makeup, Armin Shimerman (there's a Buffy inside joke, by the way), Rene Auberjonois, Marc Alaimo, Aron Eisenberg, and Jeffrey Combs are all quite good.

Cirroc Lofton is a revelation, now no longer Sisko's son, but a savvy young man whose lines are almost the perfect commentary on the episode's racial themes. He is heart-rending and almost as innate in his character's skin as Johnson is. It probably doesn't need saying that Brock Peters is good; but I'll say it.

Those who know DS9 know the complex, maddening, yet charismatic Marc Alaimo - originator of the Cardassian species on Trek during the TNG years - and his role here is, even for those familiar with his villainous Gul Dukat, honestly bone-chilling. I say this on a 90-plus humid night in Virginia in July, sitting on a leather couch.

Rene Auberjonois has a thankless role in an alter-ego which echoes, without the comedy, his role as Clayton Endicott in Benson; unlikeable, and scarily authentic in the punctilious, officious skin of a character the actor himself, I believe, could not less resemble.

Avery Brooks' sometimes over the top performing style is harnessed here (under his OWN direction) in one particular scene of unhinged horror that is powerfully effective.

Even the music is excellent, and used practically, not just sound-tracked over scenes as an emotional instruction how we should feel. One brilliant use of a free-form so famous even I have heard it, though I cannot name it and am not going to throw more links around, uses the cacophany and melody of the instrumentation in a harrowing moment where the main character fears he is losing his mind. The moment he clings to Johnson is sublime, animal, gripping in the physical and the metaphorical sense; his eyes are hunted and his intelligence is both at its height and teetering upon madness. Live brass in the streets, the noise of mammoth crowds, the traffic and a little stock footage of NYC - even Brooks' own moment of song - are the best music Trek ever used.

The editing is a great tool in service of this story; it moves the story subtly, alarmingly, follows the overarching arc, and picks out fine detail.

Keith DeCandido and I have swapped a grin and a lie in the past about this story, either at RavenCon or on Twitter. I've had his "rewatch" essay bookmarked for yeas. I like his take on this piece.

All this is to say - this is why I love DS9 the best. This is why I love Trek. This is what I'd tell people who know me, but don't understand why I am a fan. This is where I might point someone, if they were not and were curious. This would be a hell of a gateway drug (the fact that some areas of the Trekverse might thereafter disappoint notwithstanding).

I love it. And now for bedtime.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Work and The Wrong Work

The past three weeks at my job have been busy, productive, and VERY gratifying. I've made great progress on our annual meeting, onboarded a long-awaited exec in the area of my department for which I provide the most support (and I like him!), and finally begun denting a digital organizational nightmare for that department, which is going to a satisfying accomplishment when it is done.

That last one took up a decent part of my day today. Shew, tedious. Not fun, like being ahead of the game on the meeting, and knowing what I'm doing. Or exciting, like meeting someone who looks to be eager to tackle the work I've been trying to get my arms around for a year now.

But I gave it a run for its money today. So.

Oh, and the other part of this post. "The Wrong Work" - what'd she mean by *that*??


Y'all know what a plot bunny is?

Do you ever find a work  you've deliberately planned can be a plot bunny?

It's a funny thing. I'm actually little prone to chasing story ideas around; I seem not to be very promiscuous when it comes to subjects to write about.

All those years ago - when I attended my first JRW Conference with my brother - when I first entertained the delusion I could be an author - when I found, not long after, Clovis I ... Well, not long after *that*, I found a related subject, which is the WIP now.

And I also happened to work on that family history.

And I knew the third novel was going to be that story.

That story has not distracted me, through these years. I still assume it'll be my third novel, in the way you assume the sun will come up in the east. You don't think about it much, but you count on it anyway.


Guess why I'm asking y'all about plot bunnies. Thoughts?

Monday, July 4, 2016

One Fifth

Yesterday at church, our sermon opened with the comment that the United States is turning 240 years old, and I was reminded of the Bicentennial, when I was eight.

It's a funny thing, I know how old the nation is, I know how old I am; yet, for some reason, I have never really thought about the proportionate relationship between these ages.

I am one fifth as old as my country.

That's a hell of a thing. In 1969, I was one one hundred ninety-fourth as old as my country, and now my life takes up a full twenty percent of our living tenure on earth. Twenty percent of Chinese or Russian or pick-your-European(-or-divorcing-therefrom) country measures in centuries. It would take many generations to cover twenty percent of the history of many countries ... and here I am, at that point, and not even entirely decrepit.

This home and this heritage are of great pride for me. I love my country, and pray the best for us.

Now for that "perfect union" part.


Saturday, July 2, 2016


My mom recently learned the phrase "food porn", and she has had the slightest bit of fun and a certain moral consternation at the use of a dirty word (porn itself is a dirty word) to describe an apparently wholesome, if pointless, exercise. This one's for you, mom: The Arrant Pedant on how to tell a hot dog isn't porn ... or a sandwich.

... and, if you're the type who'd like that musical moment wiped out of  your brain, how about a run through the Prelinger film archive, digitized home of an eye-popping variety of clips, from advertising, to what my mom could legitimately call porn (vintage) to instructional films of the quaintest kind. Watch out, some of the 1961 prom kids are dancing AWFULLY close! (Semi-obscure cultural aside, some of the young ladies in 1961 gripped their long skirts in exactly the same incorrect way the generally-perceived-to-be-tacky women on reality shows do today with their would-be formal wear.)

Dena Pawling brings us more legal hilarity - on Citigroup's suit against AT&T for the use of "thank you." More proof that lawsuits are EVEN stupider than people sometimes. And we know how stupid people are.

I'd swear I wasn't sharing this link because it touches on Snorri Sturluson, which is one of my favorite names in the history of ever - but yeah, Snorri is right up there with the surname Snoddy and Hoyt Axton for OSUM names. Okay, okay - and the story here, which is about Vikings and a famed ivory chess set carved by a woman now called Margret the Adroit, intrigues me. Her name is bad-motor-scooter too, and I am officially fascinated with her as a character. Bonus name: Gudrid the Far-Traveler. (For those who ever find themselves in mind to buy me books, feel free to click through for a couple of ideas.)