A blog about the hearths we come from and those we make for ourselves; the myths we create, both cultural and personal; and the stories I write about them.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The map of art: interpreting symbols.

Have you ever seen something and wished later that you'd taken notes? That's where I am right now.

Earlier today, I saw an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum called "Joan Miró: Instinct and Imagination". Miro is sometimes called a Surrealist, but he himself refused labels, and anyway this show focused on his work in the last twenty or so years of his life. The works from this period are primarily abstract, although he never completely gave up realism in the way, say, Mondrian or Jackson Pollack did. Still, you can see the roots of abstract expressionism in his work -- as well as found art. They guy would go walking on the beach in Palma de Mallorca where he lived, pick up junk that had washed ashore, and make sculptures out of it. They're kind of whimsical and kind of troubling, all at once. (I wish I could show you some pictures so you could see what I mean, but alas, he hasn't been dead long enough for his work to be out of copyright.)

Anyway, one of the captions on the wall of the exhibit mentioned some of the symbols Miró often used: woman, bird, and stars. The caption also gave explanations for their meanings in his work. That's the part I wish I'd written down, because now I can't remember what they were. The stars are meant to convey imagination, I think; the birds, freedom, maybe? That would make sense, given that the guy escaped Nazi-occupied France only to end up under Franco's regime in Spain -- and that would go along with another of his favorite symbols, the ladder, which would seem to me to symbolize escape. But the purported symbolism of the woman escapes me. It wasn't the Divine Feminine, I can tell you that much.

Anyhow, interpreting symbols in art is always an arcane endeavor. If you're lucky, the artist is a voluble sort who has flat-out told some interviewer what it's supposed to mean. But more often, it's just guesswork. Sometimes historical context will give you a clue; sometimes you can read between the lines of letters or a journal. But it seems like the farther away you get from the artist's life and times, the more you're just guessing -- and the more you have to take the work at face value and see what reactions it evokes in you.

Literature is like that, too. Authors weave symbolism into their work, sometimes deliberately and sometimes subconsciously, and readers are left to figure out what it all means. And the farther you get from the author's life and times and work, the more you're on your own. We sometimes say that the books we write are created again by the reader, because the reader brings his or her own experiences and emotions to the work.

So maybe in the end, it doesn't matter what Miró meant by putting stars and women in his work. Maybe your guess really is as good as mine.

***
A heartfelt thank-you to those of you who have already bought a copy of Dragon's Web. I'd like to say it's available everywhere by now -- but alas, owing to the fact that I uploaded everything in a hurry on my way out the door to the airport last week, the book is not yet available anywhere except Amazon and Smashwords. Because of all the snafus in getting it out to wider distribution, I'm going to extend the 99-cent introductory price for another couple of weeks -- to Sunday, June 14th. Hopefully that will give everybody enough time to pick up a copy. Apologies, and thanks as always for your support!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dragon's Web is coming...

I've been traveling for most of the day, and right now I'm wrestling with a hotel internet connection. Here's hoping I can get this posted....

But I wanted to share with y'all that in honor of Sage's birthday this week, Dragon's Web, the first book in the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology, will be available at Amazon and Smashwords (and maybe some other places, too, if Smashwords distributes to them in time) this Wednesday, May 20th. (The date is now fixed. This is what I get for trying to figure it out without a calendar when my brain's mushy from traveling....) I'm going to leave the price as 99 cents through the end of this month. After that, it'll go up to $2.99. Like a dope, I didn't upload the book cover image here before I left home, but I promise to post it on my Facebook page in the morning.

Also, good news if you're just getting started with the Pipe Woman Chronicles (or if you know someone who hasn't read the series yet): Seized is now free at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and will stay that way forevermore. I've pinged Amazon about putting it free there, as well. I'll let you know what they say.

That's it for right now -- as I said, I've been traveling and my brain is pretty much mush. I'll be back in my usual posting mode next week, I promise.

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These moments of short and sweet blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day spinning.

Pschemp | wikimedia.org | CC 3.0
Today is Mother's Day here in the United States. My daughters Kat and Amy took me out to dinner -- brunch is too early for us -- and then Amy pulled out a couple of drop spindles she bought recently and let me play with them for a little while.

A drop spindle is basically a low-tech, but quite efficient, way to create yarn or thread from carded wool. (Carding cleans the sticks and other junk from the wool, and lays the fibers straight so they can be spun into thread or yarn.) Last fall, Amy talked me into taking a learn-to-spin class at the yarn shop where she works. She took the class, too, and has gotten really good at spinning. I have not practiced much, and so I am not as good at it. (Actually, I'm not very good at it at all. I need a lot of practice.)

The spindles in the top photo are all top-whorl drop spindles, the "whorl" being the circular chunk of wood (or other material) at the top of the shaft. There's a hook on the end of the shaft above the whorl. You wrap your wool around the hook to anchor it, then pull on the supply of fiber to thin it out, and then you set the spindle spinning to put twist in the yarn. The twist makes the yarn stronger. Once you've got a length of spun wool, you unwind it from the hook and wind it around the shaft below the whorl; then you wrap the unspun end around the hook and do it all again.

Pschemp | wikimedia.org | CC 3.0
There are bottom whorl spindles, too, including what's known as a Turkish spindle. Its whorl is two interlocking pieces of wood that, when assembled, make an X shape. There's no hook at the top of this type of spindle -- instead, you make a half-hitch knot near the top of the shaft (the spindle in the photo has a little knob at the top to keep your half-hitch from sliding off) and then spin just like you would the top whorl spindle. When you've spun a length of yarn, you undo the half-hitch and then wind your yarn around the arms of the whorl. The big advantage to the Turkish spindle (to me, anyway) is that when the spindle is full, you pull out the shaft and the arms, and you've got a ready-made center-pull ball of yarn.

Other bottom-whorl spindles have a point on the end. You use them by putting the point in a bowl or on the floor, and spinning the spindle like a top.

I say all this like I have a great deal of experience with spinning -- which, as I said above, I don't. At all. I have a bit of yarn that I spun with the very basic top whorl spindle we got in class, and that's it. But I've been wondering whether part of my lack of enthusiasm is due to the fact that I don't really like the spindle we got in class. So Amy (bless her heart!) got me a gift certificate for Mother's Day, and I've just ordered not one, but two new spindles. One is a bottom whorl spindle that's flat on the bottom, so you can set it on the floor to "park" it while you're stretching out the next bit of fiber (the other options being sticking it under your elbow or holding it between your knees). The other one is a spindle that you can use as either a top or bottom whorl. If I hate both of these, I'll try a Turkish spindle. And if I end up hating all of them, well, Amy's going to get a nice collection of spindles out of it.

***
The game is afoot for the release of Dragon's Web, the first book in the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology. As the first step in my nefarious plan, Seized is now free at Smashwords, and the price is never going back up. If all goes well, it will also be free everywhere else by the end of the month, including -- with any luck -- Amazon. I'm hoping this will bring lots of new readers to the series.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A word on climate change.


I've been nattering on for the past couple of weeks about my real life stuff -- to the point where I've managed to bore myself. So enough of that junk. Let's talk about Sage and Webb's story.

If you've read the Pipe Woman Chronicles or the Land, Sea, Sky books, you know that I have a habit of using real-world problems as a springboard for my plots. Well, one of the springboards. My brain is kind of complicated, as it turns out, and weird stuff gets associated with other weird stuff when I get going on plotting a book.

But I had a bit of a problem when I started thinking up a plot for the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology. I  wanted to write these books for adults, which meant Naomi and Joseph's kids had to be at least 20, or pretty close to it. I mean, I guess you can write an adult book with a kid as a protagonist -- but the kid had better grow up in a hurry or the grownups reading the story are going to get bored pretty fast. (Yeah, yeah, Harry Potter. But think about it: when did the series really start to get interesting? When the kids got older and the tone of the story got darker, right?)

So okay, Sage has to be at least 20 years old at the start of Dragon's Web. Which makes Webb, oh, 17 or 18. (Sage's birthday is May 25th or so, but I never have picked a birthday for Webb. Maybe I'll let you guys do that.) But that posed another problem: the gods would have been in charge on Earth for 20 years by then. They brought most of the recalcitrant humans into line ten years before, when Darrell, Sue, and Tess took on Lucifer. So what could possibly be left for Them to fix?

Then I read Mayan December by Brenda Cooper. And on the very first page of that novel was my solution: climate change.

Earth is a closed ecosystem. Moreover, even if we took our lifestyle back to the Stone Age right now today, and stopped spewing any manmade pollution into the atmosphere anymore ever, it would take something like another hundred years to get greenhouse gases back to pre-Industrial Revolution levels. I could very easily see the gods saying to us, if They came back today, "Yeah, well, We're really sorry, but there's nothing We can do to clean up the mess you guys have made. There's a natural system in place that takes care of that, and it's hardwired in. We can't modify it to make it work any faster." And then They'd leave it up to us to figure out a way to fix it.

I can hear the howling from the tinfoil-hat brigade -- about how the 97 percent of scientists who agree that we should be worried about climate change isn't 100 percent, and anyhow scientists once agreed that the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around us, and so on. While I acknowledge their right to be skeptical, I also think it's foolish. When 97 percent of experts tell you, say, that your car needs a new timing chain or you're going to find yourself at a dead stop on the expressway in 55-mph traffic, you'd be an idiot not to shell out for the new timing chain -- even if the car's working fine right now.

In any case, what I write is fiction. So I've chosen that the premise of these two books is that climate change is, in fact, underway; that we're 20 years closer to disaster at the start of these books; and that it's up to humans to figure out a lasting solution.

In reading a little bit about the subject, I've discovered that there are a number of proposals for getting greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere. Some of them are really pretty simple. But we're not going full-tilt on them because it's hard to get funding. Why? Well, because the people who could fund them want to develop projects that would make them more money. Never mind improving and sustaining life on Earth -- if they can't make money at it, it's not going to happen. Is it me, or does that seem short-sighted?

I hope we can get to a point soon where saving humanity is more important than making money.

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These moments of pie-in-the-sky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.