Lord Send Me Daggers

Lord send me daggers,
          Brakeless Trucks,
          Poison trees,
          Or Madness,
An Elf-touched life:
          I'll die to save my children,
Or to vindicate my wife,
          Or better yet,
To give an enemy their life,
I'll do it, if you take me by surprise.

It isn't arrogance or pride
That makes me fear the dishes
          Or an unswept floor,
          A day behind a desk,
          A soap-cake,
          Ballpoint pens,
          Or small mistakes
It's more a gnaw
          That chews at me with dreary teeth
A dullish saw
          Of tidied corners, fixed computers,
And my own lethargic awe
Of all the pretty things I prize.

It's not ennui -
I love these little things!
          The kissing of a cheek
          Or skill at rubbing feet
          Or eating butterscotch
          Or washing cabinet-fronts
My life inside a drawer
          of dishtowels, neatly stacked,
It's just - what if a tidy floor,
          A well-packed lunch,
          A tidy stitch,
          A buttonhole,
Is all I am, and nothing more?

Image by sniffles

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My book was accepted!

I can't believe it! I've kind of kept it quiet, but I wrote this book, about growing up as a teenager in a Mormon house in the upper midwest, and I HONESTLY didn't think it was going anywhere, but Simon and Schuster is picking up Bathe, it should be in bookstores this fall! I never thought I'd be a writer, much less a teen writer...

OK, not really, this is one of those little meme things - Amanda challenged me to it, so this her fault. See her blog, for a really stellar fake book cover...

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A Narrative on Books, by Unknown (Weekly Geeks 2009-28)

What a surreal challenge this week. I won't even start repeating it, you'll have to read the instructions. For those not interested in delving into those directions, the gist is simple - guess, below, whether this scene is from a real book, with a few words and phrases substituted, or is something I made up. No googling!

I read books bad and good -- some bad and good
At once: good aims not always make good books;
Well-tempered spades turn up ill-smelling soils
In digging vineyards, even and this trade,
Extremist charms a crown: some books that prove
God's being so definitely, that man's doubt
Grows self-defined the other side the line,
Made Atheist by suggestion; moral books
Exasperating to escape; genial book,
Discounting from the junior dignity;
And merry books, which set you weeping when
The sun shines -- ay, and melancholy books,
Which makes you laugh that any one should weep
In this disjointed life, for one wrong more.

The world of books is still the world, adapters,
And both worlds have God's providence, thank God,
To keep and hearten: with some struggle, indeed,
Among the breakers, some hard swimming through
The deeps -- I lost breath in my soul sometimes
And cried 'God save me if there's any God.'
But even so, God save me; and, being dashed
From error on to error, every turn
Still brought me nearer to the central truth.

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Fantasy Comes in Stages

Nymeth wrote a review on Octavia Butler's Cheek by Jowl, yesterday, that continued the conversation she started in an original post on the subject, which went on into the comments below, which I reflected on in a Weekly Geek on a somewhat unrelated subject recently. Poor Ms Nymeth! Poor dear lady, she hasn't learned the art of ignoring me yet. Perhaps noone gave her the notice that I can't shut up on a subject once I start to Nova Scotia it, as Amanda calls it :P. So, I started writing a response to her review, and it was kinda long for a comment. So, I'll just write it here.

Having never READ Cheek by Jowl, this isn't a response to the book, per se, but more to the ideas Ms Nymeth presents in her review of it. Disclaimer ends here. Also, Ms Nymeth knows about 120 times as much about fantasy as I do, it seems, just fyi, my gentle readers. Second disclaimer ends here.

First off, I just want to quickly address the idea of there being a bias against fantasy and science fiction. Yes, there is, I will not disagree with Nymeth or anyone else on that one. However, I believe it has reached it's wax, and is starting to wane - honestly the current feeling on sci-fi novels reminds me of the old 19th century attitude towards novels of any sort, an attitude that lasted through at least the early 20th century, as shown in 'Anne of Avonlea' by L.M. Montgomery:

And I can tell you, you redheaded snippet, that if the cow is yours, as you say, you'd be better employed in watching her out of other people's grain than in sitting round reading yellow-covered novels," . . . with a scathing glance at the innocent tan-colored Virgil by Anne's feet.

At first glance it might be thought that by Ms Montgomery's time, snobbery against novels was something that old farmers such as the one in this scene felt, but it's worth pointing out that Ms Montgomery apparently found it pertinent to tack on the fact the the book wasn't a novel - it was Virgil, a more suitably highbrow choice. This was the time when novel writing was developing into some of it's highest forms, at the turn of the century. So, I guess the point is that, obviously, snobs will as snobs will, and it is frustrating, but novel-writing wasn't too low brow for great artists to take it up then, and that's the only snobbery that would have truly mattered. The same is true of sci-fi fantasy today. Not to belittle the problem, just to offer the comforting veil of history - this too shall pass.

Now, for my points about this book in specific. First of all: I thought one point Ms Nymeth brought up was interesting:

Fantasy is often accused of being nostalgic and anti-progressive; of offering escape from contemporary problems by constructing pseudo-medieval societies... But focusing on something other than contemporary society doesn’t mean avoiding human concerns. It just means remembering that we are not alone on the planet, that there are things beyond us, there were things before us, and there will probably be things after us.

I thought this point was interesting, because it puts a wrinkle into the nature of the conversation we were, originally having, where we (sort of) lumped in Fantasy and Sci Fi together. Understanding, of course, that there is great breadth of variety in both sci fi and fantasy, and that the two genres definitely meet, I'd nonetheless make the point that one might suppose that the two would have basically diametrically opposed viewpoints. I'm actually not the only one who has noted this: David Brin, a sci-fi writer, pointed it out several years ago in an essay attacking Tolkien's fantasy writing (not that I agree with his particular position on the subject but the idea of there being two different basic ideas is an interesting one). Perhaps it would be better to say that there are two different kinds of fantastical fiction in general - stuff that looks forward to a bright future, and stuff that looks backward to a golden past, and sci-fi might classically have a tendency to the former, fantasy the latter, because there are certainly many exceptions to the rule, but nonetheless, the idea is an interesting one - and actually one that points out something very interesting about fantastical fiction in general: that it really has become a venue for honest debate about the big questions of humanity, particularly the destiny of the race. I know, though I can't cite it, Kurt Vonnegut made a similar point about why he wrote Science Fiction, because it let him grapple with questions of what we are as a race. In a sense, it's always been this way, for whether it was conscious or not, I'm sure that's part of what the greeks were doing in the Illiad, or the Hebrews in the Old Testament. Mythmaking is a way to couch real questions in a place where we can look at them and think about them. Much like a physicist creates an artificial environment to test theories, by removing as many complicating factors as possible (testing in a vacuum for instance, or outside of the pull of gravity), a writer can, in fantasy or science fiction, construct an environment uniquely suited to testing their theories in. There are a number of good examples of this in literature: dystopian literature, for instance, takes the world, presupposes certain conditions, and shows what those conditions will result in, as a way of warning humans to avoid those conditions.

However, there is another point I wanted to make, and it's one that I really appreciate Ms Nymeth for sparking in my mind, because it made me think of an idea that might clear up why there are so many conflicting ideas abotu what sci-fi/fantasy is FOR. The idea of animal fantasies is where I originally conceived of the idea, so let me discuss this idea with these as an example.

Alright, to start with go back to the explosion of popularity of Grimm's fairy tales and the other fairy tale revivals of the Victorian period, back in the mid-Victorian period. Look at the stories in these fairy tales about animals: the Frog Prince (a man is forced to become a beast and is transformed by marriage back into a man), the Swan Maidens (a man attempts to force a beast-woman to be human, but she reverts into beast form), or Snow White and Rose Red (two girls love a bear, and change him into a man). Then, read the literature of the period - book after book after book talks about how the changing world of the industrial revolution forces men to be bestial and cruel. Books like North and South try to find a way to transform these powerful beast-men into civilized society (notably, the main character begins thinking with beastly idea that success is measured by profit, and by love is transformed into someone who loves his fellow men and wants to help them). Books like Oliver Twist present a world in which Beast-men (like Sykes) can be temporarily transformed, but the savage, bestial power cannot be bottled up forever. Eventually it bursts out, and the main becomes beast again. Did these books seek to reconnect men to the natural world by way of their animals, the way Le Guin seems to say animal literature does? No, just the opposite. The natural world is a symbol of the unknown, the terrifying, the uncivilized, and it's pictured as being TOO much a part of men's souls, rather than not enough. Then, we get into the early 20th century, and we have books like Beatrix Potter's wonderful stories, stories in which the animal world is little more than a simpler, child-like version of the human world, where creatures can be pardoned for their childishness, and not expected to grow up. This is the same period as Peter Pan, it's worth noting, and it's the same period as such paeans to childhood as 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn', or books that struggle with the disillusioning, impossible truths of adulthood that books by Joseph Conrad or Ernest Hemingway protray. By this point, the Industrial Revolution had run it's course, and the world was in the terrifying period of the world wars. This was the age of immigration, the age of socialist internationalism, an age when the centuries long traditions that made nations be nations (a shared history, shared language, shared faith, shared folklore) began to dissolve, particularly in America and Britain. People had no real moorings, and were searching back to their childhoods to try to understand the simple rules, to try to find the bedrock that everyone could agree to build a society on. Now move into the 70's, when books like Watership Down and the Rats of Nimh were written, books that truly tried to leave the human perspective altogether, and talk about societies outside of humanity. This was a period where people were losing faith in their institutions, the Hippie era, the Vietnam era, the Watergate era, when on the one hand people had learned what power there governments had (they had atomic bombs, they could fly to the moon) and on the other, they learned how little they were prepared to weild it properly. The books, thus, go back and forth between talking about the problems of the outside human society (they are destroying the ecology of the rabbits home, they are experimenting on the rats in ways they don't even understand), and showing alternative ideas, or simpler insights into how those dynamics work (the simple loyalties of the rabbits are much more effective than the more human-like organization of the General's warren in producing happiness and welfare).

This is true in general sci-fi and fantasy as well. George MacDonald is much different from Tolkien, who is in turn much different from Rowling. The point is that what Le Guin describes as the power of animal stories is a very apt description of why we need animal fantasies right now. It may have nothing to do with what they did for us 50, 100, 1000 years ago. I don't think this invalidates her argument - I think it broadens it, because the power fo the best of these stories is that they are so primal and mythic that we can project them over whatever our current needs are. Fantasy, after all, is highly akin to myth and faith, and myths are often written to explain, to understand, to grapple with the incomprehensible ideas of their ages. Explaining Narcissi with a beautiful boy looking into a pool isn't REALLY so different from explaining Russian Communist dictators with a group of sneaky pigs and a beleagured horse. Whether we believe the stories literally, after all, is somewhat irrelevant.

Anyway, I don't think I have the idea fully worked out in my head yet, but I thought I'd throw it out there, and see what everyone else thought.

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Ink Notes #2: "There are two kinds of purity"

It's a shame this poem didn't turn out, because I love this song, but that's always the way - it's harder to write something honest if you love it, and honesty was never my strong suit in the first place.

There are two kinds of purity,
       The first is to be clean:
1) The plump-faced tidy smiling one
       Who know where her hands have been
2) The pretty little meadow with
       The purple-paley blooms
Of violets
                     3) The well-swept floor
       Of a fresh hospital room.
4) The handsome white of new-scrubbed hands
       5) The freshing scent of mints
6) The smell of elementary schools
       Where other souls were sent.
7) The burn of bleach on bloody sheets,
8) The sound of freshly butchered meat
9) The clean cut limbs of paper dolls
       Before they touch your hands.
But don't forget the second strand
Of purity reserved for man -
       For if you are not neat
You only need a pretty way
Of putting all your parts away.
Perhaps inside a little box
       Or underneath the sea
       You might consider it to be
An injury -
I disagree.

(No more, in it's peculiar way
Than other purities.
The soap that scrubs can dry the skin
       The mint can burn the eye.
The pretty child can snap a heart.
       The violet can die.)

A hurt is not defined by pain,
       A wound, not circumscribed by blood,
              A broken breast not evident.
To injure - is to fail.
Cleanliness is injury
To she whose made of crumpled leaves
And last December's soil.

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Writing in Pixels (Weekly Geek 2009-27)

(Image by Nallstar)

OK, so, I don't watch a lot of movies, and I don't read that many books, particularly new ones (which are more likely to have movies based on them, it seems), so this is a tough one for me. As such, when I revert to my childhood in the following essay, please, oh gentle readers, do not laugh. I could write something uninspired but solid, I guess, about something like the BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre (in which I loved the girl who played Jane), or Pride and Prejudice (which was lots of fun). That would uphold my nose-in-the-air credibility. But, I really don't mean to be a snob, and it kind of breaks my heart to look back at my blog and realize I sound like one sometime, so I'm going to go backward from these 'grownup' books, and talk about something else.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Now, having said that, I could get some counterculture credibility by talking about how great the old version with Gene Wilder was (it was, I won't deny it). OR I could go for the cool-kid credibility and talk about how hot Johnny Depp looks in pancake makeup and a page boy (he does, I admit it). OR, I could go psychological, and talk about how weird it is that we feel the need to defend our affection for Gene Wilder's singing, or how mildly disturbing it is to realize an affection for androgynous child-men. But, god forbid, my friends, I subject you to that.

The thing is, BOTH of the reproductions of Charlie are great fun. Comparing them and trying to pick the better is kind of silly - they're not even the same plot, really, when you look at it. It's like trying to decide who was smarter between Da Vinci and Goethe - judging them against each other entirely misses the point. Don't believe me? Try to imagine Gene Wilder's Wonka in that creepy scenette where they pass the pink sheep being sheared. Try to imagine Johnny Depp's Wonka singing "Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure imagination?" See how silly that sounds? They are totally different characters - and that's what's so great about them. Gene Wilder's whimsical slightly alien, vaguely drug-addled, distinctly grown-up Wonka feels like Gene Wilder, like the man who played in Mel Brooks comedies. Johnny Depp's eerily disturbed, larger than life, Peter Pan character feels like Johnny Depp, the man who played Captain Jack Sparrow and, dare I say, J.M. Barrie (not that it doesn't carry a tough or two of Tim Burton, too, but really, can you seperate the two in your mind? It's hard for me...).

The bigger question to me, having enjoyed both movies, is, why this book? Why Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as the exception (twice mind you) to the popular maxim that the movie is never as good as the book? (I love the book, too, mind you) After all, I frankly hated both adaptations of Lord of the Rings, the old cartoon and the new movies. Though I didn't watch the last two of the latter, to be fair.

Charlie and the Chocolate factory has a few things going for it:

1) It is simple. The book is not intensely subtle or complex, it's rather straightforward. The characters are pretty stereotyped, in fact, if you think of it, mostly.

2) In that vein, there is one simple central theme to focus on: in the case of this book, Willy Wonka. Really, to be honest with yourself, can you imagine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being anything but dull without Willy Wonka? Everything else is window dressing (given, sometimes very fun window dressing) on that central theme.

And, both movie makers did something, in my mind, very clever - the made a movie less about the book and more about the reader. I mean, the Wonka in the book is actually a pretty straightforward tycoon type of fellow. The book is ALMOST a satire, really, with the jerky dryness of the characters. The movie? No. The Wonka in the old movie is the Wonka you REMEMBER from the book, not the one that's actually there. And the new movie? The Wonka of the book has no real history outside of the candy business. The Wonka and Charlie of the Burton version are not pieces of the author at all - they're pieces of the viewer - in fact, the movie is, in my mind more like a whimsical exploration of the same theme that's in 'Finding Neverland', the theme of childishness vs childlikeness, of growing up vs maturing. Of course, the book is useful in this search, because it's such a fable, and such a simple framework to work in - but that's just it, the book is a means to the movie's ends, instead of the movie being a means to tell the book. You want to know what's in the book? Read the book, right?

I'm not going to say ALL good movie adaptations are like this (Pride and Prejudice, mentioned above, has all the deviation of a doctoral thesis). But, it is to say that looking for movies that adapt books faithfully isn't always the way to find great adaptations.

Other examples of movies about readers instead of about books:

Return to Oz - based, kind of, on several of the first several Oz movies. A lot of people don't like this movie, but I haven't seen it since I was, maybe, 10, and it STILL sticks in my mind.

Dune - no, sci-fi geeks, not the new one that I'm told is good but I've actually never seen. The old one. Yeah, the really screwed up, weird one.

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Invocation to the Pierides

I am trying to put something up every Thursday, but this week I've been doing more ruminating than writing because I have a bloated idea floating through my brains.

The Pierides, if you don't want to go Googling, are nine daughters of King Pierus, an ancient Greek king who thought them so skilled that they surpassed the Muses. The Muses, miffed at such an affront, turned the nine girls into noisy birds, like jackdaws and finches. As this is only the invocation and praepositio of a longer work, so I guess I'm cheating, a little ;).

I sing of travails and a house
It's just a little sort of tale.
The souls in it are long-forgot
Despite the house and the travail.
And though I've spoke with each of them,
Perhaps they never even were -
Perhaps they're just the poet's whim.
But tales are not particular
Of facts.
          There is no business here
For muses - it's a song for birds -
So I'll invoke the Pierides
To sing their keening jackdaw dirge
Beside my fairy words.

Remind me, pretty Pierides,
Of what Sister Iolanthe told
Of Evy, child of the Count
Arcadia - of how the cold
Of winter licked her swollen womb
While swam she through the spring-slushed snow
The term of her travailing come.
Remind me of the icy fall
Of March's first unfrozen rains
That struggle for liquidity.
Her child, low upon her bones,
Petitioned for an opening
To human finity.

(Image by Foucalt

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Deconstructing the Kiss-In in Salt Lake City

What an interesting news story! I have to admit, I have a mix of odd bias on this issue - on the one hand, my wonderful parents, and the majority of folks I'm related too, are vigorously Mormon. I grew up in the Church myself, and am not one of those people who holds a deep hatred of the faith, now. The church and I do not agree, but I have the ability to be amicable on the subject. On the other hand, my beautiful wife is bisexual, and even apart from that, I have strong feelings about the rights of LGBT groups. The subject is a challenging one - but challenging isn't necessarily bad. IT strikes me as the sort of story that can help people understand each other on this subject, the sort of story where diametrically opposed groups can understand with the needs of the other group are.

So, here's the thing. The original incident itself is, on a gut level, difficult to comment on. Honestly, as USA Today's religion reporter mentions in her piece, it seems entirely possible that both the church and the couple could have handled things better. The church kicked people off of an open square, for a light peck on the lips, and the couple reacted by swearing and stomping. So, apart from the emotional reaction, here, what are the rights of each of the parties involved?

Not being a lawyer, of course, I would say submit to you, reader, that the constitution, if it cannot support laws against sodomy, would seem to not to be able to create a double standard for public affection behaviours, either - if President Monson and his wife held hands walking down a public street and he pecked her on the cheek, I imagine they wouldn't be arrested. As such, it seems clear to me that we can't legally prohibit the same public behaviour between, say, George Takei and his husband.

But, from a legal standpoint, there's a wrench in all this: the land that the two men were standing on when they kissed was private property, owned by the Church. An organization has the right to apply certain standards to what can and cannot be done on private land - just not public land. If I held a barbecue in my yard, I think I ought to have the right to apply rules to how said barbecue progresses - for instance, while it is legal for someone to carry beer down the sidewalk in front of my house, I don't want them to bring it into my yard. I personally disagree strongly with the opinions of the Mormon church in this particular matter, but to paraphrase Voltaire, I will defend to the death their right to have them. I think it would be appropriate legally (morally being beyond the bounds of this conversation, because I don't imagine the two sides will agree on morals) for the Mormon church to ask someone to leave if the kissed inside a Mormon chapel, just as I think it would be appropriate to ask somebody holding 'God Hates Fags' signs to leave a Gay bar.

That being said, there is three problems I can see for the Church's position on this. First of all, even a private location cannot have complete control over what is and is not permissable within it. They must, for instance, make it reasonably clear what is and is not allowed within the space, and I'm not sure there's a sign around Main Street Plaza that says "No Boys Kissing Boys." One might reasonably suppose that the Church would prefer homosexuals not to kiss on their property, but then, the church doesn't kick people out for, say, wearing sleeveless dresses. It is possible to imagine that a homosexual couple might assume that, because the Church has opened up the grounds as a public forum of sorts, that they wouldn't dictate the morals of individual visitors.

Secondly, there is the location itself. From what I can tell of research, Main Street Plaza is not just the grounds of the temple itself - inside the fence, as it were - it is an open area beside said fenced grounds. See for instance this map or this image/ The area would seem to be, more or less, a public thoroughfare that for some odd reason is owned by a private institution. What reason? Well, apparently, the church gave the city some land to build a community center on, and was given this land in return - given, again, an open thoroughfare. The whole deal makes me a little squeamish, and I am apparently not the only one. The church has apparently banned protesting on the site. Now, on the one hand, I can understand this - understand, that this is the main entry to a very personal site for many Mormons, and (having visited the place myself) some of the protestors are none too pleasant about their protests, hassling wedding parties for instance who are enroute to the temple. But, to some degree, one is left wondering, first of all, if the city can, in good faith, sell a public thoroughfare off under normal circumstances, and second, if an organization as implicitly political as the Mormon church, who after all are explicitly involved in certain political issues, ought to be allowed to shut down a site of legitimate social protest - imagine, for example, if the United States government sold the National Mall to a private contractor, who banned protests afterwards.

Finally, from a practical standpoint, there are different layers of private in private property. Imagine, for instance, if the church developed a racist position, and banned black people from walking through the Plaza - or more analagously, said black people could walk through, as long as they didn't hold hands or kiss. Would this be legal? That's a difficult question. Should it be legal? I don't think it should. If a church is openly racist and wishes to ban people from their services, I can accept that - I think they're wrong, but again, I defend to the death their right to be wrong. But a public, unfenced thoroughfare through the heart of a major American city? I'm just not sure that's the same thing. After all, if a bus company is privately owned, they still shouldn't be allowed to force blacks to ride the back of the bus. Now, the question will arise, as it always does, whether there is some substantive difference between blacks as a group and homosexuals as a group. A homosexual can abstain from sex, but a black person can't abstain from having dark skin, after all, right? But, even if one accepts such a position (which I personally don't) - what if black people COULD flip a switch and be white? Would we want to legalize banning them when they choose to wear black skin? Or would we allow a ban on, say, people who dye their hair?

Given the sceptre for the day, what would I suggest? I think both sides have a perfectly valid right to attention in this issue. I think that the church has a right to it's privacy, and to enforce certain reasonable standards within it's own walls - but only within it's own walls. I do not think two gay people should legally be allowed to kiss inside Temple Square itself, for instance, if the church makes it clear that they don't wish such behaviour. However, when the church purchased the Plaza, I would submit that they also purchased the precedent of said plaza as a public thoroughfare, and while they can make reasonable restrictions in order to beautify and market the place (I believe it was changed to a pedestrian only walkway, which I can accept), they cant' be allowed to restrict any fundamental rights of indivudals - rights of speech, rights of assembly, rights of religion, etc. Homosexuals, on the other hand, have no right to antagonize Mormons. The street cannot simply be a convenient place to piss off the owners. But, there should be a right to have assemblies, and right to the quiet, everyday self-expression that is reasonable for people to have.

I'd be interested to see what other people think?

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Book Giveaway at Color Online

FYI - Color Online, a really worthy-sounding community group from Detroit, is doing a book giveaway this week, with a couple titles that I know some of the people who read me would like, especially if you're looking for a little more diversity in your reading (some LGBT books, hispanic authors, women authors, etc.). I'm signing up for two of them :).

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For all you Potterheads

FYI - Harry Potter, the Musical by StarKid Potter has been reposted, after some copyright concerns. I imagine I'll be spending some quality time watching it with m'wife. Hurrah!

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New Layout

Got tired of the stock layout from Google. Home alone with boys. Stayed up too late.

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Where the Frigate Berths (Weekly Geek - 2009-26)

This week's Weekly Geeks asks you to tell us about your globe trotting via books. Are you a global reader? How many countries have you "visited" in your reading? What are your favorite places or cultures to read about? Can you recommend particularly good books about certain regions, countries or continents? How do you find out about books from other countries? What countries would you like to read that you haven't yet?

There is no frigate like a book
  To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
  Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
  Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
  That bears a human soul!
--Emily Dickinson

I can't really write much of a response to this question. I don't read a lot of international books - I know people who do. I deeply respect (kind of envy) people who do. But I can't manage. Instead, then, of telling you about my paltry literary passport stamps, I'll tell you why they're so paltry.

It's not that I don't love the world, I do. I grew up travelling - my father was in the Army. But, when I think of childhood, I don't remember travelling - I remember moving. Most people think of travelling as an adventure, something you do, a search for an experience to bring back home. Moving isn't like that. A new country, a new state, a new city, these weren't searches for experience, they were searches for a home. I joke with people, when they ask me where I'm from, and say I was a wandering gypsy without root or homeland, but as with most jokes I tell repeatedly, there is a kernel of truth and a kernel of falsehood.

This makes it sound like I'm sorry we moved all the time - I'm not. Everywhere we moved, I was looking for something. Because I never found it (I've still yet to find it), nowhere felt like a home. I was never ostracized, never, not anywhere I lived. People have always been wonderful, welcoming, ready to envelop me into their world. But, I've always found just that: people, belonging, a place. And I liked the people, I liked the places, I just didn't like what I was when I was there.

The thing about a home is that it becomes a piece of me. I guess, for most people, this is just life, sort of like your siblings become a piece of you, or your experiences with childhood pets. I had the blessing/curse, with each place we lived, of having the option of allowing the home to be a home, and every time I would settle in and find a me, I'd go look for a better one somewhere else.

But, like everyone else in the world, I reached a day where I wanted a home. I did not have one, so I began to fabricate one. That sounds innocent - it wasn't. I wrote a whole essay on it recently, actually, if I ever clean it up, I'll post it, I guess. Home was a place inside my head, though, and that was easier than learning what a real home was. My home-making muscles sort of atrophied. Now, every place, no matter where, is sort of terrifyingly foreign. I don't know how to live in a real city, or a real country, only in a brain-country, one where life has characters instead of people, settings instead of places.

And that is where books come in. Books are as close to home as I ever feel. This isn't to say I don't love people around me - I do. I probably have a bad habit of latching and clinging, in fact, for the very reason that I don't have a sense of place. A character without a story is a horrible thought, after all. I love my wife and my children, not only in the normal glorious way that one gets to love one's wife and children, but also in the way one might love beneficient fairies, who come and care for and love you in an eternity that you are not grand enough to fully comprehend, which makes it all the more wonderful. It's the sort of love that thrives and aches and impels.

But, I'm not very good at it, at the normal, beautiful, gentle love of everyday, at the workaday process of being a good soul. The books are my secret home, and my continuous taskmaster, in the process of becoming human.

So that's just it - a great book, great writing, is great because it reminds a reader of who they are. If you aren't really completely anyone, though, then catharsis can be a dizzying, self-destructive process - it feels good until you realize that it doesn't. I've done it before, leapt wildly from one part of a soul to another, and I don't make for a nice person when I do. So I've learned to read in slow waves, more the way that I travelled as a child. I come to a place (At the moment, I'm reading "The Golden Bough", "Fairies in Tradition and Folklore", and just finished "Fingersmith", which may not seem related, but really actually are, in my little self), and I settle into it, I live in it, I make little bits of me in it, until I find I need something that I have to find somewhere else, and then I travel onward. I'm sort of a gypsy cart reader. As a result, there's places I've travelled more heavily, covering the same roads over and over (19th century writers, for instance), and places I've never been to, that I probably ought to go, but have never found a road to (I've only read one book, ever from Africa. IT was for school).

Sorry, this is a little scattered. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, anyway, because I have the same pattern in fantastical literature, and a post by Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot got me thinking about why some of the fantasy and science fiction books I read as a child mean so much to me (I still cry when I think about Galadriel, and I don't think I've ever tried to write a novel that didn't have a character that I later realize is in some way based on Alia from Dune). I commented on her post, asking why she thought Fantasy was so important to people, especially now. She gave some excellent answers. I sometimes wonder if another one is that the world has a lot of people like who me to some degree. Western life has no real sense of community, usually, anymore. The feeling of homeness is slowly disappearing for so many people. A place that is outside of normal reality gives, at least me, a place to keep things that are beautiful, but that I can't keep in front of my eyes all the time.

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Surprise appearances at the ALA Conference

With Amanda going to the upcoming ALA conference in Chicago, I dreamt last night that she called me, the first night. We chit-chatted, for a bit, and finally she said, "Oh, guess who I saw today?"
"Who's that?"
"Rikki Zengel!" Ms Zengel is a friend I knew at work, until she moved, she's a librarian.
"Oh that's cool."
"Guess who else? Mrs. Reusch, your high school librarian!"
Oh, yes, that's right! She's a Librarian! I thought...
"Yes, and guess who else? Obama!"
Oh, that's right! He's a librarian, isn't he?
"And, guess who else I met - Mr. Clean!"
Yes, that's right! Mr. Clean, he's a librarian too!

So, who do you think would make the best unlikely librarians?

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Some poems are contrivances

Some poems are contrivances
Composed of hinges, hooks, and clasps.
Unlatched, they trigger secret springs
That snag the skin, and snap and grasp

Toward a center point. Undone,
The reader finds the poem's core -
It's fleshy heart, composed of flesh
Of readers, snagged and grasped before.

(Image by //amy//)

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The Way a Lady is Made (Ink Notes 7/6/09)

I'm participating in my beautiful wife's 'Ink Notes' weekly writing activity - every week, she'll be selecting a piece of music for us to listen to and write a story. I can't say my writing will add much, so at least I can advertise :P. If you like to write, and would like a weekly prompt to get your juices swishing, come join in - need not be anything fancy, it's just for fun :).

Song: La Serenissima
Artist: Loreena McKennitt

Miss Lucy was a lovely girl -
Her skin as clean as tallow-wax
Her hands like finely-feathered birds,
Her hands so soft the bark would crack
The skin - that's how we find them out
You know, a branch or bramble cries
"Too smooth! Too smooth!" A murmur flies,
The woods speak to the meadow-grass,
The meadow to the pool.

The coppice always tells the pool,
And we - we wait - we sing the lay -
"Come quick, come quick, ye sorry souls,
Come find the way a lady is made.
The sun will slap your pretty cheeks-
Come, then! To shady, tinkling glade!
And learn the way a lady is made!
In our green and stilly pool - "

And Lucy came, like all the rest,
As straight-stalked as a paperwhite.
She cried the same old salty tears,
She sighed the same old lonely sigh -
No, nothing special - just another
Failure of the tired moon,
Come here to ask a little room
In the lady-making pool.

Her hands are clumsy - she unclasps
Her boots, she slips her stockings off
And steps on the familiar stone
That hangs above the lady-pond.
She stares, and turning back recalls,
And slides a stone into her gown
Then steps into the air - and down -
With a plash into the pool.

The water's rich with bits of green,
Like tiny balls of velveteen
Upholstering her slender throat.
The seaweed is a glossy skein
Of shining yarn, or else a roll
Of verdant ribbons, tied to trim
A coverlet on Lucy's limbs,
To pull her weary, struggling head,
To rest upon the cushioned bed
Of the slowly settling pool.

The mud is thick and finely grained
And draws her slow into a sleep
She frets and rolls to find a nook
Within her bed - the soil seeps
Into each tiny, pearl-like ear,
Across each pink and pretty lip,
Across, between her narrow hips,
And draws her neath the pool

Now, little Lucy, now you rest!
And let the little crawling life
Of pools your pretty limbs undress
And make of you a water-wife!
Ye marry man or marry earth,
Ye marry soul or marry space,
At least we ask but one embrace
In the mossy nuptial pool --

Before your soul becomes a shade,
Before your hopes are told to fade,
Before you are, a lady, made.

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Look for America (Weekly Geek 2009-25)

If you are an American citizen, share what the Fourth of July means to you and how you celebrate it. Do you think of it as the true start to summer? If you are from another country, other than the United States, share what national holidays are significant to your country. Are any of them similar to our celebration of Independence Day? Are there traditions around their celebration? Do they suggest the beginning of a season or something other than the National purpose? Go a step further...let's talk books. Have you read a good fiction or nonfiction book which centers around a country's search for independence? Do you have any book recommendations which embody the traditions or celebrations of your country? And since the Fourth of July brings to mind summertime ... are there any great summer reads you are looking forward to reading over the next month or two?
America is wonderful. That's the fundamental fact. There are few words in the history of the world that have become so universal, and so widely inspiring of wonder and amazement. It's been so for a long time - De Tocqueville was already raving about what America meant as far back as 1835, when America had hardly decided what she meant, herself. By the end of the century, thousands and thousands of souls crowded into boats, armed with little more than the one word: America. They could not even say it, sometimes, in proper English, but they knew it with the intimacy of lovers. I recently finished reading "The Jungle", a book deeply engaged with the word 'America.' America, the land, was a hell-hole unless you were rich - if you didn't have America, in short, you wouldn't get it by going to it. You'd simply be given a scrap to live in and the dubious task of fulfilling the America of others. When I was young, I heard the standard histories of this, that America was there, but that some people were frightened of a big-tent America. That, these immigrants came, and it was hard, but they, too, got their America. American history is a long, gentle bloom of revolutions: slaves were freed, then suffrage, then immigration, World War II, Civil Rights, the Feminist Movement. Manifest destiny was not, in my mind then, a slow growth of borders, but a slow destruction of them, towards the day when all men might, eventually, be free and equal, be truly in America. As I grew older, I learned better. I learned that America was always a sham. I read about the Trail of Tears, and realized the Native Americans were now just shoved into miserable reservations where they relied on casino money. I learned about the Ku Klux Klan and the virtual reenslavement of blacks that still hasn't fully been undone. I saw the way Hispanic immigrants are treated today, and I learned about the ways we keep ourselves rich now - we've just moved our slums into China and the Third World. There is no America, only a big lie told by the rich to sucker the poor, a complex kleptocracy as insiduous and cruel as the worst excesses of kings and emperors. Can you say that America exists or does not exist? America is not and never was a place. When I think of the Fourth of July, or when I think about the election last year, or when I think about the American flag, I think of a poem by Langston Hughes, one of the most beautifully honest works of patriotic literature ever written:
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose-- The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-- America will be!
(The entire text is available, for instance, here) A holiday? Perhaps. Perhaps in the old sense, of a holy-day, not holy for what we've done, but holy for what we meant, and what we've dreamt, and what we may yet do. That's America to me, and I do very little on the Fourth. I will light fireworks, when every man, of every nation can say the word, without the veil of distance or ignorance, like an epithet, like a cry of it's own particular meaning. I'll light fireworks, when there is only one America, when the America of the grafter and the world-leech is gone, when America is not just a nation, but an honest, pure feeling. I'll light fireworks, when what cannot be done is done, when finally, we have stopped waiting for the world to hobble on through history, and have drawn America up to her feet again, and crowned the good, so often forgot, so often ignored, with brotherhood, sisterhood, fraternite, ahimsa, agape, metta, or whatever word each local tongue can dream.

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Weekly Geek - Trivia Answers

A couple of good answers, this week - here's the answers, if you wanted to knows...

  1. What do the characters in the Hitchhiker's series discover to be the question to which '42' is the answer? Those of you who answered this are ALMOST right. The giant computer in Hithchikers was built to give the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything. After many centuries of thought, it gave the answer - 42. It is then revealed nobody actually knows what the great question of Life the Universe and Everything actually is. As such they build a much larger computer (the Earth) to calculate what the question is. It is suggested (though arguable) that the question is "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?"
  2. Which author owned each of the following dogs:
    • Keeper, a mastiff: Keeper was the dog of Emily Bronte. Emily Bronte was a great animal lover, and the people of the moors largely indentified her with her dog. The dog outlived Emily, and when Emily died, it followed the procession to her grave, and is said to have acted as if it were in morning for the rest of it's life.
    • Carlo, a newfoundland: Carlo was Emily Dickinson's dog - for bonus points, she named her dog after St. John Rivers' dog in Jane Eyre.
    • Flush, a spaniel: Flush was given to Elizabeth Barret Browning after she was bedridden with one of the first of the debilitating illnesses that eventually killed her. She was initially sorry to accept the dog, since it would have to be confined to her bedroom for it's entire life, and she thought this would make the happy little creature miserable.
    • Charley, a poodle: John Steinbeck, whose book 'Travels With Charley' recounts his travels across America in a pickup-camper with his dog.
    • Toby-Chien, a bulldog: Colette, the french authoress, owned a number of bulldogs throughout her life, and had a great affinity for animals in general. Her story 'Barks and Purrs' is told from the vantage point of her bulldog and her cat.
  3. What is the only subject in which William Blake received formal training? William Blake was apprenticed to an engraver, and the subsequent training in engraving was the only formal training he ever received.
  4. What is the origin of the name "Fiver" in Watership Down? For extra credit, what is his name in the original Lapine tongue? Fiver's name is translated from Hrair-Roo, in the Lapine language (the language rabbits speak. Because rabbits cannot count higher than four, the word for any number or amount greater than four is 'hrair'. Roo means little. "Little Thousand", or "Fiver" refers to the fact that Fiver was the runt of a large litter of rabbits.
  5. What animal swallows Gepetto in the book Pinocchio? Yes, to you guys! He was swallowed by a shark, not a whale, or more precisely, a giant dogfish.

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Guilt is a brain that remembers

Guilt is a brain that remembers
     And then gnaws what it recalls
Digests, extracts, and concentrates,
     And serves it to the host.

Image from Anyhoo

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