Sunday, August 13, 2017

What would Naomi do?

eric1513 | 123RF.com
Like most of you, I've spent the last 48 hours alternately outraged and horrified by what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend.

To catch you up: Three people died and 26 were injured in connection with a protest conceived by alt-right groups to protest the Charlottesville city council's plans to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One of the dead is Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was attending a counter-protest when a car plowed into the group. The driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fisher Jr. from Maumee, Ohio, is being held on charges of second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and hit-and-run. The Justice Department is investigating and may file additional charges against Fisher. His high school history teacher says Fisher was enamored with Nazis even then.

The other two dead were Virginia State Troopers whose helicopter crashed on landing in a wooded area not far from downtown. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Reaction to the events has been almost unanimously against the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK members, and fellow travelers who conceived of the event. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have condemned the groups' actions. About the only people who have spoken out in support of these groups, in fact, are other white supremacists.

And then there's President Trump, whose remarks could most charitably be described as noncommittal. Instead of condemning the march's organizers, he spoke against "the egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides."

He also tweeted condolences to the family of the dead woman and "best regards to all of those injured."

"Charlottesville sad!" he said in another tweet.

I keep saying I'm not going to turn this into a political blog, but that guy in the White House, who has at least a couple of white nationalists on staff, keeps testing my resolve.

However, I will forbear. Instead, I'll risk turning this post into a shameless plug for my own books by dreaming aloud about how the characters in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe would react.

As it happens, the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy -- which is part of that universe -- is set in DC, mostly, and not too far in the future. Thanks to the return of the gods to Earth some years before, a powerful coalition of military, industrial, and legislative leaders has been watching its power slip away. The co-conspirators are organizing what they believe to be a foolproof plan to defeat the gods and put themselves on top again. (You may see a parallel here with the white nationalists who would like to claw back majority control of the United States by staging protests like the one in Charlottesville.)

The good guys in Land, Sea, Sky include Sue Killeen, who works as a project manager for a nonprofit called Earth in Balance; Tess Showalter, an investigative reporter for the New World News Network; Darrell Warren, a Potawatomi healer turned Navy SEAL; and their gods. All the gods, actually. And I included cameo appearances by some of the main characters from the original series: Naomi Witherspoon Curtis, Joseph Curtis, and their children, Sage and Webb.

Any of the humans would give the alt-right a run for their money. But I'd especially love to give Naomi a crack at them. Her special talent is pushing people to do the right thing, and she would have a field day with the boys of the alt-right. And in the White House, too. If Naomi could get hold of President Trump, his tweets would sound very different. Believe me.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Counting calories.

I've posted here before about weight loss, but not for quite a while. That's because I decided to quit trying to lose weight. I've been dieting, off and on, for nearly 50 years. At first I counted calories, then carbs, fat grams, and Weight Watchers points.

For a short while, I was on NutriSystem: prepackaged foods, a bunch of supplements, and no bananas. Seriously, no bananas. It had something to do with the way their diet handled potassium intake. I lost weight on it -- but anybody would. It was an 800-calorie-a-day, high-protein diet. They achieved the protein numbers by putting protein powder in everything -- even the prepackaged hot chocolate mix.

I've managed to stay away from gimmicky diet aids -- Ayds "candies" (remember those?), Slim-Fast shakes, fasts and cleanses, fen-phen. Haven't done any of them, ever. In most cases, I'm glad. I've also glad that I've never fallen for the siren song of bariatric surgery; nearly everyone I know who's had it done has gained the weight back, and some have had medical complications, to boot.

I've met with nutritionists several times over the years. I even signed up for a clinical trial for some weight loss drug, but I quit when the nutritionist gave me information that conflicted with information that another nutritionist had given me years before.

In short, over the years, I've lost hundreds of pounds...and gained them all back.

So I related to the New York Times story that came out this past week. It turns out that Weight Watchers has an image problem. People are tired of thinking about their weight. They're tired of thinking about food all the time. Instead, people today want to be healthy. They want to be strong. They want to eat clean (whatever that means).

Weight Watchers solved their problem by reinventing their program yet again (they tweak it every couple of years, anyway) and hiring Oprah to be their spokeswoman. Sign-ups skyrocketed. I highly doubt whether their results are any better, though, and here's why:
Diets don't work.
We have known this for years. One big reason is this one, from a Psychology Today article published in 2010:
Obesity and overweight can be conditions that are caused by early life trauma... In one early study of 286 obese people, half had been sexually abused as children. In these cases, "...overeating and obesity weren't the central problems, but attempted solutions." For these people, therapy might be a prerequisite to healthy weight loss.
Programs like Weight Watchers address physical hunger. They focus on the scale -- on measurable results to show investors and prospective clients -- and they basically tell you that if your problem is emotional eating, you just need to change your attitude, gosh darn it, and here are some tips for that.

Of course, there's a lot of recidivism in diet programs. As the author of the New York Times article says, if you want to be successful at Weight Watchers, you basically have to resign yourself to being a member -- counting points every day -- for the rest of your life.

No wonder I got discouraged and quit.

Unfortunately, that means the pounds have come back. So I'm trying something slightly different this time. It's an app called Noom Coach. You can download the app for free, but to get full use of the features, you have to pay for the coaching and group meetings. So far, I've been using it for a little less than a week. I haven't learned anything that I didn't know already, and the group chat feels a lot like a daily Weight Watchers meeting (for good or ill). But it's easy to log my food and the app does the calorie counting for me.

That's right! I've come full circle. I'm back to counting calories.

I'll let you know how it goes.

***
These moments of calorie-free blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

American Gods is -- wait, what?

In casting about for a topic for this year's Magic Realism Blog Hop (and thanks to Zoe Brooks for organizing once again!), I reviewed a list on Goodreads of books purported to fall under the category of magic realism. Not too far down the list, I spotted Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

I read the book several years ago, before I'd really begun studying mythology, and thought it was pretty weird. I mean, I liked it, but a lot of it seemed surreal. And confusing. I was fairly far into the book before I twigged to the fact that (spoiler alert!) Mr. Wednesday was Odin, the Norse Allfather.

So when I saw the book on that Goodreads list, I hesitated. I remembered several key scenes from the story -- the "Russians" living in genteel poverty in Chicago, the car in the lake, the hanging tree -- but not much else.

And then I remembered Starz had recently created a series based on the book. So I began to stream the episodes, in order to refresh my memory, and discovered -- oh haha -- season one don't cover the whole book. There's going to be at least one more season. Welcome to video storytelling in the 21st century.

Also, I was right -- American Gods is weird. But is it magic realism?

We've had our share of "what the heck is magic realism?" posts on this blog hop over the years. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to use Merriam-Webster's definition:
A literary genre or style...that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.
If that's strictly what we're going by, then I suppose both the series and the book qualify. The main character is Shadow Moon, a black ex-convict who runs into a mysterious con man named Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday hires him as his personal assistant. His duties become increasingly weird as things around him get more and more surreal.

Eventually, we figure out that Wednesday is a god, that a whole lot of gods immigrated to America with their followers, and that new gods -- the media and technology -- are staging a takeover. In the America of the story, gods survive only so long as people believe in them.

But back to the show.

The question for me is not whether American Gods is sufficiently fantastic; the question is whether it's realistic enough. It's set in America, but much of the action seems to happen on a different plane of existence. For example, Shadow suffers a pretty severe beating and lynching in episode two. But apart from a nasty torso cut that requires staples, his wounds seem pretty minor. Why isn't his face swollen? Is it because the whole thing happened on a different plane? Or is that just TV not being realistic? (I don't watch a lot of TV, so you'll have to tell me.)

Gaiman has written a number of great books, including some wonderful magic-realism novels. I'm not sure, though, whether American Gods qualifies as magic realism. Fantastic, yes; surreal, for sure. But magic realism? For me, the jury's still out.

What do you guys think?

***
These moments of magically real blogginess have been brought to you by Lynne Cantwell and the 2017 Magic Realism Blog Hop. Please check out the other posts in this year's hop!




Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reasoning vs. rationalizing.

We live in rancorous times. Here in the United States, we're split by political views -- conservative on the right, liberal on the left -- and each half is further fractured. Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress, but they have been unable to get much done; major pieces of legislation have been shot down by moderates who think they're too harsh, and by members of the Freedom Caucus who think they don't go far enough.

Democrats are okay with that. But they can't get themselves together, either. Neoliberals, who has been in charge of the party for the last several decades, are still trying to figure out how they lost the presidential election last year -- while progressives are frustrated that the party is not embracing their farther-left economic stances fast enough.

Each side keeps trying to convince the others of the rightness of their position, using poll results replete with charts and graphs. "Proof!" they cry. "Why won't you listen to us? We're headed for disaster! Why won't you change your minds?"

It turns out we're not hardwired that way.

A whole host of studies have been done on decision-making behavior and how preconceived notions affect it. One of the most striking was done by a Yale law professor in 2013. He set up a fairly complex math problem and had the study participants come to a conclusion from the data given them. I won't bore you with the details (you can see the questions at the link). But the upshot was that when the question was about a skin cream that caused a rash, people who were better educated at math were more likely to get the answer right.

However, if the question was about concealed-carry laws and whether they made crime better or worse, knowing more math didn't help. In fact, people did worse if the data were presented in a way that went against their stance on gun control. In other words, conservatives did well if the right answer showed that the ban didn't work, but poorly if the right answer was that the ban did work. The same was true in reverse for liberals. And the people who knew more math were worst at picking the right answer if it didn't support their stance.

This goes back to confirmation bias: humans' tendency to form an opinion first, and then seek out facts to back it up. Moreover, when confronted with facts that don't back up our opinions, we tend to reject them -- or figure out some convoluted way that they actually fit our opinion. Knowing that, we should all be searching out opposing viewpoints to challenge our opinions, but of course we don't. And the harder we're pressed to change, the more likely we are to stick our fingers in our ears and go, "LA LA LA LA LA!" until those annoying nonconforming facts go away.

So if we won't challenge ourselves, and we won't listen to the other side, how do we bring everybody together again?

In the past, major historical events have been catalysts. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 both caused Americans to rally 'round the flag. Examples of positive events are harder to come by, although the moon landing might fit the bill. In each of these cases, opinions became divided some time after the event: many people now are second-guessing our going to war against Iraq as a result of 9/11, and some folks are questioning the money we spend on space exploration. But in the first flush of excitement -- or horror -- we all pretty much reacted the same way.

We must find a way to come together again soon. We cannot continue to function as a democracy (or, to be more precise, a democratic republic) without some degree of common ground. Let's hope that this time, it's a positive event that brings us together.

***
These moments of reasonable blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Oh, what a tangled...

I have news!

1. The latest anthology from Five59 Publishing dropped this week, and I have a story in it. The book is called Free for All because there's no theme; some folks wrote short stories, some wrote poems, and some wrote creative nonfiction. My offering is a bit of my work-in-progress memoir -- a shaggy dog story about getting my mother to the eye doctor. I've already posted part of the story here, but the version in Free for All explains why I had to take Mom halfway across the country to get her eyes checked in the first place. Anyway, the ebook is only $2.99, or free to borrow if you have Kindle Unlimited.

2. Maggie on the Cusp is in the hands of my editors. And in a burst of inspiration, I began plotting the third and final book of the Transcendence trilogy this week. The next book is going to require more research, but I'm confident I can get going on it shortly. By the way, have any of you ever driven to Mexico City? Asking for a friend...

3. You'll recall that last week, my latest knitting project had stalled out because I was running out of yarn. Good news! The indie dyer who makes the yarn I'm using is going to make a skein for me. It won't be an exact match, but that's okay.

The bad news is that it'll be at least another couple of weeks before I get the new skein of yarn in the mail, since she has to spin it and all. So I've been casting about for something else to do in the meantime. I picked up an afghan project I started months and months ago -- but summer is not the best time to be working on an afghan, air conditioning or no. So I picked up on another project that's been on hiatus for a while: my first real attempt at weaving.

When I was a kid, my mother bought me an E-Z Weaver loom. Here's how Marx Toys advertised it on TV:


Looks like a piece of cake, right? Eh, not so much. I got two or three inches of my very first project done before Mom yelled at me for pulling the yarn too tight. Then some kid who came over took the loom out to play with and broke it. It sat in its box in my room for years before we finally threw it out.

A few months back, my local yarn shop sent out an email saying they had some very simple looms in stock, for people who wanted to try weaving. You can spend big money on a loom; the one Elsie uses in Seasons of the Fool probably cost a couple of thousand dollars. It sits on the floor and takes up a good-sized chunk of her living room. In contrast, the loom I bought cost $30. It's about the size of a piece of notebook paper -- and it came with how-to-weave directions!

I sketched out a design on notebook paper and started weaving. The fringe along the bottom -- they're called ryas in weaving -- turned out okay, so I pressed on. By the time I was four rows into my design, though, I realized it was way too complicated for a first project. (Diamonds? Really? What was I thinking?) I set the project on a corner of the dining room table -- and there it sat, silently rebuking me, for several months.

Yesterday, seized with determination, I pulled it out. Using my original sketch as a rough guide, I finished weaving my design -- yay! Unfortunately, the woven piece was very much compressed from the drawing. Six or seven inches of design-on-paper made about three inches worth of weaving. Rather than make myself completely crazy, I decided to fill in the top with stripes. Also, by the time I got that far, I was sick of weaving in ends and decided to just braid the tails from the stripes.

Here, then, is the finished product. Feel free to laugh. A third grader could have done a better job.


I have no earthly idea what I'm going to do with this thing. I'm thinking I should shorten the fringe, at least -- but why? I'm not going to put it up anywhere.

Maybe I should stick to knitting.

***
These moments of badly-woven blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Playing yarn chicken.

I was going to do a knitting post this week because I thought I'd have a cool, new project done. Alas, the project is not done because I'm running out of yarn.

See, there's a game knitters (and crocheters, too, I imagine) play. It's called "yarn chicken" and it goes like this:

  1. (a) You see a pattern that strikes your fancy and dive into your yarn stash (or your favorite yarn shop) to find something that will do it justice; or (b), you fall in love with a skein of yarn at your local yarn shop, bring it home, and then head to Ravelry to find a pattern that will show it off to its best advantage.
  2. The pattern calls for a little more yarn than you have in your favored skein, but you go for it anyway. Everybody knows designers factor in an extra ten percent when they figure yardage for their patterns, right?
  3. About halfway through the project, you begin to eye what's left of the pattern and what's left of your yarn, and you get nervous. Very nervous.
Sometimes the designer really did factor in that ten percent extra, and you're good. Sometimes you're not good.

Which brings us to my current project. The yarn is Sparkle Sock by the Lemonade Shop, an indie dyer -- which often means that when a colorway is gone, it's gone. Fire Pit is the colorway I lost my heart to: it's gray, with short stretches of yellow and red (and a little green for variety), and it has stellina spun into it so that it sparkles. The pattern I chose is called Fire Dragon Wing, and it calls for 100 grams, or 430 yards, of fingering-weight yarn. My skein of Sparkle Sock had 100 grams and 428 yards. Totally within the ten percent fudge factor, right?

So I cast on and started to knit. And I was so pleased with the way it was turning out that I posted this photo on Facebook a few days ago. Looks cool, doesn't it? With the wedges of varied widths and the bits of fire here and there? It put me in mind of the dragons in the Pern novels. I could envision it as the wing of an ancient dragon -- a blue, maybe, the color of her hide faded with age, and battle-scarred from fighting Thread.

Then I kept knitting, and watched my yarn dwindle. The photo below is from tonight. I have three more wedges to go, plus a final wedge. Oh haha. It ain't happening. I've been weighing my yarn after every wedge completed to figure out how much yarn I've used and comparing that to how much of the shawl I still need to knit. I'm going to be about 25 yards short.


All is not lost. The company is still making this colorway, but not with the stellina wound in. I have a message in to them to see whether they might have a skein of the sparkly kind still laying around (though it's highly unlikely). I've also messaged someone on Ravelry who has a skein in their stash, on the off-chance they'd be willing to part with it. I could find another gray yarn with stellina in it -- Amy has one, but it's not really the right color gray. Or I could buy a skein of the non-sparkly yarn and mix it in, row by row, and hope nobody notices the diminished sparkle (and likely the gray in the new skein would be a slightly different shade, too).

Another option would be to frog the whole thing and re-knit with a needle that's one size smaller. That, also, will not be happening.

In any case, the shawl will not be ready to show off tonight. Sorry, guys. Maybe next week. But don't hold your breath.

***
In other news, I am preparing to hand off Maggie on the Cusp to my editors directly, once I fix a continuity issue. I'm hoping to get the book on sale before summer is over, but my window of opportunity is closing fast. Sales of novels historically tend to slump after Labor Day -- people are busy getting back to work and school, and marketing folks begin aiming for holiday promotions -- so the timing isn't ideal. But I need to move on and get going on the final book of the trilogy. More news as it happens...

***
These moments of blogging chicken have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thoughts on giving, and on getting taken.

Pixabay | CC0
"Bitch," the man said. I turned and flashed him a smile, because I didn't know what else to do.

This was a few weeks ago, before I left on vacation. I was on my way to a meeting in Old Town Alexandria, and had just enough time to stop and get a sandwich for dinner. I parked on the street near the restaurant and went to pay for parking. Old Town has converted to a centralized metering system; there's a station in each block where you pay for your parking and receive a slip of paper to put on your dashboard. The meter takes only coins and cards; it took me a minute to figure out there was no slot for the dollar bill I had in my hand. I shoved the dollar back in my wallet, used my magic plastic to pay, put the receipt on my dash, and headed for the restaurant.

That's when I passed the guy. He asked me for money -- I can't remember what he said, maybe that he hadn't eaten all day -- and I said in a rush, "I'm sorry, but I don't have any cash to give you!" It wasn't a lie, exactly; just because I had a dollar in my wallet, it didn't mean I had the wherewithal to give it to some guy on the street. But I'm sure he saw that I had that dollar. Hence his comment.

I always come away uneasy from these sorts of interactions. Not this one, necessarily; once he called me a bitch, I was even less inclined to help him, even if I could see his point. But in general. I work in a big city, and in the block between my office and the Metro station are a few regular panhandlers: the guy who plays the trumpet every morning; the woman who frequents the corner by the Metro, child in tow; the guy who sits in the middle of the block in the evening, chanting change change change like a mantra. Then there are the folks who sell Street Sense, the newspaper produced by the homeless. I pass all of them every day, and I feel terrible about it, like I ought to hand in my "progressive" card (if I had one) because I never give any of them any money.

But see, I've been taken. Once, on a Metro platform, I was approached by a woman who claimed to be a lawyer. Her purse had been forgotten/lost/stolen, and could I help her out with cab fare? I opened my wallet to give her a $5 bill, and she insisted I give her the $10 bill in there, too. At that point, I should have told her to call her secretary and have her call the taxi for her -- but it happened so fast that I didn't think of the rejoinder until much later.

And I always wonder what these folks are going to do with the money they collect. Will they use it to get food? Booze? Drugs? The easy answer is to give to charities, and I do. But even then you have to be careful. We've all heard the stories about so-called charities that are in business mainly to line the pockets of the people running them.

The homeless and the down-and-out hear those stories, too, and so maybe they'd rather not ask for charity. Or maybe what the charity is giving isn't what they need. There's a van from a local charity that stops at the park in front of our office building every evening. They hand out sandwiches on white bread to the homeless folks who line up for them. Seagulls follow the van -- they know some of the people who get sandwiches won't want them, or won't be able to eat them, and the gulls will have their own dinner from the scraps. It's not that the poor folks are ungrateful. But what if they can't eat the sandwich for health reasons? It's like if you offered a peanut butter sandwich to a hungry kid with a peanut allergy. Should he give it back and risk being called ungrateful? Or should he eat it and risk suffering anaphylactic shock?

I guess the fact that all of this bothers me is proof that I'm not a jerk -- but that seems too glib. So does, "I gave at the office."

I wish I had a better answer.

***
These moments of unsettled blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What I did on my summer vacation.

I was sure I'd hung out the "On Vacation" sign here before I left for the airport... Sorry. I guess that was one of the things that slipped through the cracks.

Clearly I needed this break. A lot of things have been slipping through the cracks lately. One of them is editing Maggie on the Cusp, which -- given my publishing schedule over the past few years -- ought to be for sale already. Never fear; I'm going to dive in this week, I swear.

So anyway, I've been gone to Colorado for about a week and a half. Alert hearth/myth readers know that I've been there many times over the years. For this trip, I promised myself that I would do a road trip to take in a bunch of sites I'd never seen in person before. So even though I've been to Denver about a gazillion times, this time I rented a carriage house in the Congress Park neighborhood for a couple of nights. While I was there, I paid a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens, both before I'd never been there before and because they're featuring an exhibit of Alexander Calder's works this summer. I'm a big fan of Calder. This one in particular caught my eye. The exhibit brochure called it vaguely man/machine-shaped. But come on -- it's a crow. Or maybe a Raven.

And even though I've driven west on I-70 before, I'd never driven up Mount Evans -- one of two 14,000-foot-plus mountains in Colorado whose summits are reachable by car. (The other one is Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs.) So I did that. It was cold and windy (46 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill of 36) at the top, so I didn't stay long. But I wish I could have bought a t-shirt that said, "I survived the Mt. Evans Highway." Not only was the road narrow, but it had no shoulders and no guardrails. Aieee...

I drove from there to Glenwood Springs because I'd never been in a vapor cave before. It's kind of like a steam room on steroids.

I drove from there to Aspen -- or as the tourist brochures call it, "glamorous Aspen," although somehow I managed to circumvent all the glamor. First, I took a city bus up to Maroon Bells because I'd seen a million photos of the two mountains but had never been there. They're just as beautiful in person, as you can see.

In downtown Aspen, I found a bookstore and bought a book to read (Anne Hillerman's Song of the Lion, if you must know), then found the city library and spent an hour getting into the story -- as well as out of the heat.

I also stopped at the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen. Denver lived in Aspen, and after he died, the city set aside a few acres on the banks of the Roaring Fork River downtown for a memorial. One section features a little waterfall and pond surrounded by trees and wildflowers, and another is a small amphitheater featuring more flowers, as well as boulders on which lyrics to several of his songs are engraved. It could have been really tacky, but I thought it was tastefully done.

One boulder featured the lyrics to "Rocky Mountain High," of course. This one has the lyrics to "The Eagle and the Hawk," which is an excellent one to sing at the top of your lungs when you need to declare yourself large and in charge. (Don't ask me how I know.) Anyway, it's a great song, even though it was never a hit, and I was glad to see it included in the park.

I had never made the drive over Independence Pass (a famously twisty road east of Aspen) before, so I did that next. It was a piece of cake compared to the Mt. Evans Highway. From there, I stopped in Leadville, which was a big deal during the silver rush in the mid-1800s, and toured the Tabor Opera House. Then I stayed for a couple of days near Nathrop, in a cabin with a little, private pool fed by a hot spring. That was very relaxing.

I also made a day trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, again because I've seen many photos but had never been. And I spent a day in Salida, which has a cute downtown that's classified as a Creative District by the state of Colorado.

The only problem with this trip is that I kept hearing about a bunch of other places in Colorado that I also should have visited. I guess I'll just have to go back.

***
These moments of vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Happy 50th, Summer of Love.

Open ClipArt Vectors | Pixabay | CC0
Time flies. You blink once or twice, and suddenly it's 2017 and it's been 50! Years! since the Summer of Love.

My pal Shawn Inmon reminded me about this yesterday when he posted about the anniversary on Facebook. He asked where we were in the summer of 1967, when the hippies were bringing peace, love, and music to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Me? I was nowhere near that scene. I was nine years old and living at home with my parents. But I wore love beads (because Davy Jones did!), and I had a transistor radio tuned to WLS Radio in Chicago -- and really, that was all I needed.

The official song of the Summer of Love was Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco." It embodied the innocence of those days, and called everyone to the city by the bay.


In truth, of course, there was more going on than just a love-in. Drugs got Janis Joplin, as they did many '60s artists. Too bad -- she was a powerful performer. "Piece of My Heart," which she did with Big Brother and the Holding Company, is my favorite of her tracks.


What strikes me is how the music of that time would be sliced and diced into categories today. "San Francisco" would be folk-rock; "Piece of My Heart" would be blues; and the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" would be...hmm. We don't really have a category today for psychedelic rock. But the kids on "American Bandstand" didn't seem to care.


The British invasion was a few years old by the time the Summer of Love rolled around, and some British bands made the scene -- including the Animals.


And then there was Grateful Dead, whose music still defies explanation. Country? Rock? Regardless, they kept truckin' until just a few years ago.


So where were you in the Summer of Love?

***
These moments of rockin' blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Why I'm learning Irish.

"City Wall" in English and Irish, Kilkenny | Copyright Lynne Cantwell

I ran into our Irish instructor on the Metro a few weeks ago. I'd mentioned during the class that I'd studied Czech (more on how it came up below). So when he asked me on the train why I was learning Irish, I said, "Well, I've already studied one useless language, so..."

I was joking, mostly. Czech is a living language (although not for lack of invaders trying to kill it, first the Hapsburgs and later the Nazis), but as the Czech Republic isn't strategically important, studying the language is not likely to get you either a job with the CIA or a promotion at work. But still, about 10.5 million Czechs speak it every day.

Irish, too, is a living language (although not for lack of the English trying to kill it), but the number of those who speak it daily is much smaller -- about 74,000 people, according to Ireland's 2016 census -- and shrinking. Irish children are required to learn the language in school, but most adults say they haven't retained much.

So why am I bothering with these weird languages? The short answer is that it's part of my heritage. My mother's side of the family is all Czech, and a chunk of my father's side is Irish. But there's also the challenge of gaining insights into how people in other countries think, and grammar is one way to do that. No, really. In Czech, for example, you don't say something happens on Tuesday, you say it happens in Tuesday. It's kind of a neat concept, don't you think? Here's Tuesday's bucket, and you put the things that are happening that day inside of it.

It's also fun to see how language has changed over the centuries. All of the languages I speak or have studied -- English, Spanish, Czech, and Irish -- have a common proto-Indo-European root. (In fact, there are only a handful of languages spoken in Europe that aren't Indo-European in origin, Turkish and Finnish being among them.) So some really old words are at least a little similar. The word mother, for instance, is madre (pronounced MAH-dreh) in Spanish, matka (MAHT-kah) in Czech, and máthair (MAW-hirz) in Irish.

Did you notice how the Irish snuck in that z sound after the r? Irish, I'm learning, has two ways to pronounce nearly every consonant: broad and slender. In English, we do this with only a couple of consonants, particularly g (discuss: is gif pronounced with a hard or soft g?), but the Irish go whole hog. And the way you tell whether a particular consonant is broad or slender in Irish is by the vowel next to it.

So the i in máthair is silent -- it's there only to tell you that the r is slender. A slender r sounds kind of like rz in English, and similar to my old Czech friend ř -- r with a caron on top -- except Czech rolls its rs the way Spanish does, and Irish doesn't at all (which is going to take some getting used to).

Anyhow, it was the slender r discussion in which I brought up Czech. Another way Czech and Irish are similar is that nouns are declined in both -- that is, like in Latin, each noun changes in form, depending on what it's doing in the sentence. Irish only has two cases, though, whereas Czech has something like seven. And Irish has only two cases for nouns -- masculine and feminine -- while Czech has three. So Irish should be easier for me, right? Right. Other than all those extra vowels.

I've heard it said on separate occasions that the hardest language for English speakers to learn is either Czech or Irish. Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Happy Memorial Day.

I will write a post today. I will write a post today. I will, I will, I will...

I've been busy most of the day, producing a video tutorial for writing a fantasy novel for Indie Author Day. This year's event, on Saturday, October, 14th, will be the second annual, and Indies Unlimited is one of the sponsors once again. It's designed to get indie authors and libraries together. If you're an indie author, you too can participate at your local library. Click through and see if your library's already on the list; if not, there's a spot on their website where you can ask them to contact your library and talk them into participating.

Anyway, I have vowed that I will not let that project keep me from writing a post tonight.

I was going to write about why I decided to study Irish, but I'll leave that for next week, I think. Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the United States, and so I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.

Wikimedia | Public Domain
We have both Memorial Day and Veterans' Day here in the US, and it's easy to get confused when they both honor veterans, and when they're both basically excuses to take a day off work, shop, and maybe have a cookout (depending on where you live -- Veterans' Day is in November, which is pretty darn cold in much of the US).

The difference is that Veterans' Day is for those who fought for our country and survived, and Memorial Day is for those who didn't survive. My parents sometimes called it Decoration Day, because that was what it was originally called. The last Monday in May was designated as a day to lay flowers and wreaths on the graves of those who have died for our country. The first observance came in the 1860s following the Civil War, although it wasn't until 1971 that Congress designated it as a federal holiday.

My most enduring memory of the holiday is from high school, when I marched with the Michigan City Municipal Band in our city's Memorial Day parade. Marching with the municipal band was easier duty than with my high school band -- there was none of that high-stepping stuff and no goofy hats. Just sober black uniforms, and muted drums as we made the turn into Greenwood Cemetery.

One of the most moving parts of the ceremony was when the trumpeters played "Taps." I'm sure you've heard the song. But you may not be familiar with the version where a second trumpeter moves a short distance away from the lead trumpet and plays as if echoing the first. If you've never heard it, I encourage you to hit the button below.


Have a pleasant day off tomorrow. But please spare a moment to remember those who've given their lives to protect and preserve our nation.

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These moments of bloggy remembering have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Life moves pretty fast.

Alan9187 | Pixabay CC0
Did ya miss me?

You all know how reliable I am. If I'm going to take a week off, I always tell you. Right? But for the past two Sundays, I've been a lousy correspondent. Last Sunday, I was out of town (and very busy the day before, putting the finishing touches on the first draft of Maggie on the Cusp). But I have no excuse for missing the May 7th post. It just...happened.

I guess I could blame fatigue. I had plenty to be tired about: I'd won Camp NaNoWriMo the previous weekend, and was also finishing a shawl. We've had plenty of weird weather -- some days as hot as July, some as cold as March -- and the air conditioning in our apartment building has often been broken on the hot days. And for some inexplicable reason, I decided to sign up for Irish lessons -- the language, that is -- and the first class was May 4th.

But there's also been this thing going on down the street from my day job. Stories have been coming out of the White House thick and fast since Inauguration Day, but lately the pace has sped up, with new revelations hourly. It's hard to keep up -- even for someone like me, who used to make a living by keeping an eye on dispatches from two wire services at once.

In the midst of this week's tsunami of revelations, the Washington Post ran a story called "Trump is mirroring Nixon's final days." That headline pulled me up short. See, I remember Watergate. The congressional hearings occurred while I was in high school; some teachers had TVs in their classrooms and would watch the proceedings between classes.

Here's the thing: The Watergate break-in occurred on June 17th, 1972, and President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. That's a span of about two years. (Wikipedia has a timeline of events leading up to Nixon's resignation.) Compare that with the timeline for President Trump's troubles: It's been barely a year since the Democratic National Committee announced its server had been hacked and the job pinned on Russian intelligence sources. (Journalist Bill Moyers is keeping a timeline of events relating to Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election.) And Trump is already mirroring Nixon's final days?

Part of the difference, of course, is the style of the two men. But another part of it is the speed at which news is disseminated today. Back in the '70s, newspapers and television news operations each had only one deadline per day. Cable news wasn't a factor -- CNN didn't go on the air until 1980. If you had a scoop, you had to wait hours before you could get it out to the public (and hope nobody stole it from you in the meantime).

Contrast that to today, when cable news is on 24/7 and newspapers release stories online at all hours of the day and night. Journalists can begin building on each other's scoops within minutes, and can release new details immediately -- and we mere mortals viewing the news on our smartphones can share them seconds later.

The danger is that we may all burn out. Lately I have my phone in my hand almost constantly, and I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing. And it's going to get worse before it gets better; the special counsel is just beginning his investigation.

Maybe this is a good time to recall the immortal words of Ferris Bueller.


Thanks, Ferris. I promise to put down my phone and look around once in a while.

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Why you should write what you know - with a caveat.

One of my fellow minions at Indies Unlimited, Gordon Long, posted an article this week about how, in his opinion, scientists shouldn't write science fiction. You've heard the saying, I trust, that you should write what you know. Gordon's argument stands that saying on its head.

His premise is that scientists tend to geek out over their subject matter and include way too much detail -- which, while accurate, will bore the reader to tears. He does allow for the fact that sci-fi readers expect infodumps of technical information about the way things work in the story's universe. That's pretty much a given in sci-fi. But he says it's too easy for overly enthusiastic new authors to include too much information in an infodump, or too many infodumps in a story, or appendices (in a novel!) with an excruciating level of detail.

Gordon's got a point, and it doesn't happen only in sci-fi. Years ago, I wrote a horror story that was set in a TV studio. I spent a lot of time in that story describing the layout of the studio, down to the position of the lights hooked up on the racks above the set. It was way, way, way too much detail -- so much detail that on a re-read years later, I was embarrassed I'd written it. (No, you can't read it. I think I lost it in a move -- and good riddance.)

The thing is that there are good reasons for scientists to write sci-fi. Regular readers of the genre do expect infodumps -- but they also expect the science behind the whiz-bang special effects to be plausible. The fiction part can't violate the rules of the science part; if it does, readers will call you on it. Or they'll call you an idiot. Or both.

What Gordon is arguing for, I think, is moderation -- authors should include only as much description and background information as is necessary to tell the story. Some authors resist the temptation to include too much detail by not inventing an extensive backstory at all, although that can get you into trouble in other ways (say, in book two).

Perhaps the best way for an author to avoid tedious infodumps is to enlist a layman or two (or more) as beta readers. You're looking for the holy grail here -- somebody who not only knows just enough to realize when the author is heading off into the weeds, but who is also willing to tell the author that those weedy bits need to be excised. An author could also trust their editor to tell where to cut, but editors cost money. Beta readers can help with the rough polishing before an author sends the book to the editor.

At the end of the day, I don't think Gordon's view is far from mine. Feel free to write what you know -- with the understanding that all those details that are so fascinating to you may bog down your story for your readers.

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Good news on the Transcendence front: Today is the last day of the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo this year, and I was able to "win" last night by topping 45,000 words on Maggie on the Cusp. While camp is over, the book is not; I have a handful of scenes yet to write. But I expect I will wrap that up here in the next week or so.

Also, and speaking of sci-fi: Plan 559 from Outer Space Mk. III is out! I had a little fun with the characters in my story, "Shreeg." See if you can tell who Captain Lodestone is based on. First person with the correct answer wins an autographed paperback of Maggie in the Dark. Good luck!

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These moments of bloggy moderation have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

World Book Night: Touchstone novels.

Happy World Book Night! This is a UK celebration, but I don't think anyone would complain about people in the United States participating. One of the suggested activities is to recommend a book that has made a difference to you. Not one to do things by halves, here are four novels that resonated with me during various periods in my life.

My first touchstone book was Heidi by Johanna Spyri. The edition I owned looked like this -- it was an abridged version that I received for Christmas from a relative when I was little. This book may be responsible for my obsession with craggy mountains -- as well as my interest in tiny houses, come to think of it. I was enchanted by the account of Heidi living with the Alm-Uncle in his alpine hut. I was especially enchanted with the description of Heidi's bed in that hut. The Alm-Uncle beds her down in the hayloft. One day I did my best to recreate it by tucking in my quilt along the end of my own bed. I didn't have any hay to use as a mattress, though, which was disappointing -- and anyway Mom, who wasn't charmed, made me take it apart.

Later on in elementary school, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott became my favorite novel. Again, I had an abridged version, with only the first half of the book. I was shocked later to discover that there was more to the story -- not only did Meg marry John and have two kids, but Amy ended up marrying Laurie, Jo marries a German professor, and -- most heart-wrenching of all -- Beth died.

Sorry for the spoilers. I thought it would be okay, as the book's been out for almost 150 years.

Anyway, that was my favorite novel until, in eighth grade, I read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Her sister's novel Wuthering Heights is read more often in school, but Jane's story resonated more deeply with teenaged me -- the tragic heroine, the star-crossed lovers, the brooding Mr. Rochester. I deeply felt the injustices the world handed to poor Jane. And then to snatch her chance at love away from her! And how selfless she was, to give so much of her inheritance to the Riverses! I found it fascinating that the most recent movie version, with Mia Wasikowska as Jane, dropped the unlikely coincidence that Jane and the Riverses are related. It did stretch credulity -- even more so than Rochester's eerie cry across the moors that sends her running back to him in the end.

The cover of my paperback copy looked like this -- so very 1970s! -- and I read the scenes between Jane and Rochester so many times that the book fell open at the juicy bits by itself. And all that angst cost just 50 cents!

And then, in the early 1980s, I found The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, the epic fantasy series by Stephen R. Donaldson. I was working at my first radio job in LaPorte, Indiana, when I checked the first trilogy out of the library, and devoured them. Covenant is the quintessential anti-hero -- he's a leper, which was incurable back then, and the disease shatters his life. Somehow he's transported to a magical Land where his leprosy is cured and he's hailed as a hero reborn. Or maybe not. Covenant is faced with a dilemma -- not whether the Land is real, but whether, in the end, it matters.


Covenant's moral quandary resonated with me as a young adult, and gave me a framework for making ethical decisions. What Covenant learns is that no matter how unbelievable the situation you find yourself in, the most important thing is to be true to yourself.

Little did I know how much of an impact that series would have on my life. In 2000, while idly searching the web, I came across several sites dedicated to the series -- including one called Kevinswatch.com. I considered that site my home on the internet for more than fifteen years. Thanks to the Watch, I've met people from across the United States and around the world, many of them in person -- including the author.

Which books are your touchstones? I'd love to hear about them.

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These bloggy touchstones have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

My tiny house adventure.

Three years ago, almost to the week, I posted about my then-new obsession -- looking at photos of tiny houses on wheels (THOWs for short) on teh intarwebs. Just because I haven't mentioned it since then doesn't mean I've given up the habit. In fact, I have found a couple of manufacturers whose websites I sometimes visit just to drool over the new models.

To recap: A tiny house is a dwelling that's less than 500 square feet in size. A THOW is a tiny house built on a trailer; these rarely run more than, say, 350 square feet. Much bigger than that, and you need a semi to tow it.

One of the most drool-worthy (in my opinion) THOW manufacturers is Escape Homes in Wisconsin, and as soon as I found out they were opening a dealership in Virginia, I started looking at my calendar. Because it's one thing to drool over photos, and another thing to stand inside a tiny house and decide whether you could live there.

Yes, I said "live there." And yes, I do think I could downsize from our current 1,150-square-foot apartment (which I share with my two daughters, so that's less than 400 square feet each...) to 350 square feet or so. And now that we've established that many of you will think I'm nuts, we can proceed.

I've had my eye on the Vintage XL and Traveler XL models in particular. Both are in that 350-square-foot range; both have a ground-floor bedroom, full-size kitchen appliances, and a washer-dryer. The bedrooms are basically just the bed (which is true of nearly every THOW floor plan I've ever seen) and the living/dining space is, well, tiny. But most people who live in these units consider the outdoors an extension of their living space.

Anyway, this weekend, I drove five hours to southwestern Virginia to see what this new dealership had on offer. And I found I liked the Traveler XL better than the Vintage XL. Here are a couple of shots of the Traveler XL interior. The first one is from the bedroom doorway, looking toward the bathroom. To the left, out of the shot, is an electric fireplace with a TV above it. You can see a corner of the optional couch, which folds flat for extra sleeping space. And yes, there's a loft, which you can use either for more sleeping space or an attic (ding ding ding).

This next photo is of the bedroom. On the right, out of the photo, is a closet that's maybe 24 inches wide, tops. Clearly you need to keep your wardrobe very basic if you plan to live in one of these. The little nightstand is built in, and there's a shelf above the windows with LED reading lights built into the underside. They had a TV hung on the wall to the left of this photo, but I think two TVs in 350 square feet is overkill. Although maybe that's just me.

The problem with any THOW is where to park it -- especially if you plan to live in it year-round. Cities and counties have a strong bias toward permanent improvements to real estate, because that way they can collect more in property taxes. THOWs are not permanent structures -- they aren't attached to the property. So the authorities are okay with you buying a 500-square-foot condo in a high-rise, but they are generally not okay with you parking a THOW on a parcel of land and living in it -- even if you paid as much for your THOW as you would have for the condo.

Some cities are coming around, but they're eyeing THOWs mostly as units for homeless people, or for low-income workers who can't afford to live in the city where they work. Retirees are mostly out of luck. I've read many comments on various sites from people nearing, or in, retirement who would love to live in a THOW (or its 400-square-foot cousin, a park model RV) full-time, but they can't find a place where zoning regulations would allow them to do it. Even rural counties are getting cranky about it.

So as cute as these units are, I would need to have a site lined up before I bought one. Which is to say that I'll probably end up with a condo.

On the way back, I drove part of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. This weekend and next weekend are fee-free days at all national parks in the US (so get out next weekend and find a park!). Skyline Drive was a little crowded today, but not as crowded as it usually is in the fall when the leaves turn. When I was there today, the deciduous trees hadn't really begun leafing out yet. Still, it's not a bad view.

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I'll be back in the Camp NaNo saddle this week, continuing work on Maggie on the Cusp. I was far enough ahead on Friday that I was comfortable with taking the weekend off for my little jaunt.

Have a great week, everybody.

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These moments of tiny bloggy living have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Maggie's crazy old ladies.

Alert hearth/myth readers will recall that last week, I mentioned that all the older women in the Transcendence trilogy have memory problems. And I promised that this week, I would talk about why that is.

So here we are -- and here I sit, wishing I'd left myself a few notes about the topic. Ironic, right?

Pixabay | CC0
I could try to jog my memory by talking about what a growing problem dementia is. In 2015, the World Health Organization said more than 47 million people worldwide live with dementia -- and Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's Director-General, said that number is expected to triple by 2051. "There's a tidal wave of dementia coming our way" as the world's population continues to age, she said. The WHO is advocating for a worldwide plan for dealing with dementia, treatment for which is projected to cost upwards of $1.2 trillion by 2030.

I could also mention that Alzheimer's Disease, which gets most of the press, isn't the only type of dementia. There's also vascular dementia, which can occur following a stroke; Lewy body dementia, which happens when abnormal proteins appear in nerve cells for reasons as yet unknown; and frontotemporal dementia, which happens when certain regions of the brain shrink, causing behavior and emotional changes as opposed to memory problems. In fact, any disease or condition that damages brain or nerve cells can cause dementia.

And some other things cause memory issues, too. Stress is a big one; drug interactions, particularly in older people, are another. The good news is that those conditions can be reversed. Others can't yet, though. So the trick is figuring out what's causing the memory loss -- and in the case of Alzheimer's, where the cause is a buildup of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain, you can't know for sure without an autopsy.

But I'm pretty sure I wasn't thinking of all that last week. So let's talk about Maggie's crazy old ladies for a minute. (Hey, I made them up. I can call them crazy if I want.)

I mentioned Granny last week. She is a kindly but mysterious figure in a pastel track suit. She travels around the country with Zed, her assistant, in an ancient VW bus. She keeps calling Maggie by the wrong name, which she says doesn't matter because "it's not your real name anyway." She claims to be channeling a Shawnee Indian creator spirit, and she believes she's supposed to rescue or renew or reach 1,054 people before the next major lunar standstill in April 2025. (I talked briefly about lunar standstills last week.) Granny seems to have made peace with her occasional lapses of memory, maybe because Kokumthena is filling in the gaps for her in Her own way.

Ruth Brandt, Maggie's former mother-in-law, is a pill. She believes she knows best how to live everyone else's lives, especially those of family -- and she still considers Maggie family, even though Maggie's been divorced from her son for ten years. Ruth is stressed out because of her cancer treatments, but that's only part of her problem. She's been keeping a big secret for decades, and the stress of that is also wearing on her. In Maggie in the Dark, it falls to Maggie to bring that secret out into the open.

The third old lady in Maggie's life is her mother, Shirley Muir. Maggie talks about her at the beginning of Maggie in the Dark; then we meet her at the end of the book, when Maggie returns home after a couple of months at Ruth's. Shirley's memory issues are a crucial element of the plot of the second book, Maggie on the Cusp, which I'm writing now, so I won't say much more.

Maggie herself is no spring chicken, and the stress she undergoes while she achieves her transcendence is bound to have an effect on her. I don't think it will make her crazy. But then, I'm only partway into Maggie on the Cusp. Our heroine still has a long way to go.

By the way, if you haven't yet picked up a copy of Maggie in the Dark, here's where to go to get one. And thank you!

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Camp NaNo progress: I had a great writing day yesterday -- Maggie on the Cusp now stands at about 15,000 words. I hope to add to that tonight, as I'll be out of pocket for a good chunk of the next two weekends, and I won't be able to employ my usual strategy of slacking off during the week and catching up in a marathon weekend session. The advantage to Camp NaNo is that in case I fall really far behind, I can adjust my goal so that I still "win". But that would mean finishing the first draft in May, and I'd really like to have it out of the way by the end of this month. Time will tell...

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These moments of memory-addled blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

What is Maggie transcending?

Big publishing news this week: Maggie in the Dark is out!

Big hugs to those of you who have already picked up a copy. I know the book is a bit of an unknown quantity; I haven't talked much about it, other than mentioning that it has something to do with the giant earthworks that the Hopewell and other ancient Native American civilizations built in the Eastern and Midwestern part of the United States.

As it happens, the series doesn't have a whole lot to do with the earthworks themselves. But archaeologists have speculated that the Newark Earthworks in Ohio were built to mark the passage of time -- not just of seasons or years, but of the moon's transit across the heavens on its 18.6-year cycle -- and they've further speculated that ceremonies were held when the moon appeared to stand still, at the northernmost and southernmost points in its cycle. Presumably, the thinking goes, the ceremony or ceremonies may have involved an effort to renew both the moon and the earth. So the idea of renewing the Earth was one of the jumping-off points for me, when I began planning the series last year. As Transcendence is the series title, it makes some sense that someone may have to transcend something in order to accomplish Earth's renewal.

Renewal was a theme in the Pipe Woman Chronicles, too. The whole thing was put in motion by White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman, who believed monotheistic religion was preventing humanity from becoming all it could be. Her solution was to send all the gods and goddesses back down to Earth to knock heads and persuade everyone to behave. But that turned out to be harder than it looked. The peace that Naomi and Joseph fought so hard to attain in the first five books was almost constantly under attack. In the end, the gods couldn't solve every problem. Humans still had to save themselves.

Pixabay
Where the Pipe Woman Chronicles went for a global renewal, the Transcendence trilogy is much more personal. Here, the gods don't show up on anyone's doorstep; they send messages by way of mysterious strangers, gut feelings, and dreams. The main character, Maggie Brandt, meets an elderly woman named Granny at the Great Circle Earthworks. Granny charges Maggie with -- you guessed it -- Earth's renewal. Maggie's journey is a personal one, done face-to-face: she must revisit turning points in her life by visiting the people who were involved in them, and she must then repair the damage she did back then. Her reparations are sometimes more painful to others than the original wounds, but like surgery, they're necessary for healing. It's not easy. To make matters worse, she's going largely by gut instinct; her only road map is the copper turtle effigy she found when she was a child.

Another aspect of the series is that several of the characters are elderly women with memory problems. That's no accident. I'll talk about that next week.

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For the next few days, the Kindle edition of Maggie in the Dark is available at Amazon for just 99 cents. Please feel free to stop by and pick up a copy, if you haven't done so already. And thanks in advance!

Oh, and one more thing: If you know of anyone who might enjoy the Pipe Woman Chronicles, please let them know that they can get a copy of Seized for free at Instafreebie. Thank you! And I hope your friend will thank you, too...

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These moments of bloggy transcendence have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Being paid for being there.

Kevin Phillips | PublicDomainPictures.net | CC0
I guess last week's post about the hawk was a little too woo-woo for some folks. It happens.

Anyway, this week, let's talk about something less esoteric: money. Specifically, a universal basic income -- a guaranteed income for everybody.

The idea has been around for a long time -- since at least the late 18th century, according to the authors of Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy. This book by Phillippe van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght was originally published ten years ago, but the authors have recently released an updated version.

Anyway, back to this radical far-left idea of giving money to people who haven't worked for it -- you know, like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute have suggested in recent years. (Hint: these two outfits are conservative think-tanks.)

As I said earlier, the idea has been kicking around for about 250 years, but it's come into focus lately because of the continuing problem of income inequality in the West. Futurists -- and I don't just mean people who write science fiction -- believe the disparity in income between rich and poor will only get worse in coming years, largely because of automation. We're already seeing the effects of automation on jobs here in the US, even if we're reluctant to admit it. Robotic machines are already commonplace in automobile factories and slaughterhouses, to name just two places that used to hire a lot of people for dangerous, repetitive work.

In another telling sign, online ordering and in-store kiosks are beginning to invade fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. There's a Panera Bread outpost down the block from my day job that has positioned ordering stations armed with tablets so that you have to dodge them to get to the counter. You can still place an order with a real, live person, but it's clear they'd rather you didn't.

In short, it's estimated that one-third of current US and UK jobs are liable to go away due to automation. Granted, those people won't all be out of work, necessarily; during the Industrial Revolution, people left farming to go to work in newfangled factory jobs. But not everyone did; some folks were left out, just as is happening today. And we're already seeing the effects of our economic paradigm shift. Middle-aged whites without college degrees -- the demographic most deeply affected by our shift away from heavy industry to a service economy -- are dying younger now, often from drugs, alcohol, or suicide. Some researchers are calling them "deaths of despair."

And here's another problem with widespread automation: If too many people are chronically out of work, fewer people will have enough money to buy the things our businesses sell. Shopping 'til you drop requires disposable income. The rich have it, but they tend to hoard their cash, as we saw during the Great Recession. Lower demand for goods and services means lower production, which means more layoffs -- and that's when the service economy will begin to circle the drain.

In this context, researchers like van Parijs and Vanderborght think it wouldn't be a bad idea to give everybody a little cash -- just enough to keep them out of poverty. Before you think this is a "free money" scam that would encourage people to sit home and be lazy, let me tell you that the authors are suggesting these payments equal one-quarter of the country's average personal income. Here in the US, that amounts to about $12,000 a year. I don't know of many people who could live rich on that kind of money. But it would keep people from worrying about paying their basic bills: rent, utilities, food.

I mentioned laziness a minute ago. Yes, Americans tend to be suspicious about giving people something for nothing. But van Parijz and Vanderborght suggest thinking of it not as welfare, but as a payment for our "social capital" -- the riches in natural resources and institutional know-how that has built up over centuries, and in which we all share without ever contributing to it. And the payment would go to every adult, not just those who are out of work.

I can see an advantage for artists and writers. I can't tell you how many indie authors I know who launched their writing careers after they retired. I haven't taken a poll, but I suspect many of them waited until they had an income stream they could count on -- from Social Security or a pension -- and were then free to pursue a career they would have embarked on sooner if money weren't an issue.

I expect we'll be hearing more about this idea in the months and years to come. Finland is beginning a multi-year experiment with a universal basic income this year. It will be interesting to see their results. I'll let you know what I hear.

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Writing news: I'm just about ready to pull the trigger on Maggie in the Dark. Look for a newsletter about it this week. What's that you say? You're not subscribed? Then you should use the QR link below to sign up. I'd do it now. Just sayin'.

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These moments of universally basic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Happy red-tailed spring!

Tomorrow is the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and it's also the day many Pagans observe Ostara.

I don't plan to be awake at 6:28 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time to welcome in spring on the dot. But we will be coloring eggs (I bought a set of dyes with glitter this year -- it'll be a glorious mess!) and munching on chocolate bunnies. (Eggs and bunnies are ancient symbols of fertility that the early Christian church co-opted to encourage pagans to convert, but I digress.)

Usually, here in DC, we welcome spring with daffodils and blooming trees -- pink magnolias and cherry blossoms. This year, however, we had a ridiculously warm February that sped up the blooming schedule, followed last week by a winter storm that featured snow, sleet, and freezing rain. That storm, together with too many nights in the 20s, put paid to the pink magnolias, as well as about half of the blossoms on the celebrated cherry trees that ring the Tidal Basin. We'll still have trees with flowers this year, but it won't be as pretty as usual.

skeeze | Pixabay
So I'm pinning my hopes for this spring on a different herald: the red-tailed hawk that I saw from our dining room window this morning. He (or she -- there's not much difference in their coloring) looked a lot like the one in this photo.

Our apartment is on the sixth floor, so we see a lot of birds. There's a flock of crows in the neighborhood, and some of them fly past our windows (even after dark! I think of them as juvenile delinquents with nothing better to do than cruise Shirlington in packs, looking for the tastiest offerings from the local restaurant dumpsters). And we have blue jays, robins, sparrows -- the usual feathered crowd. But I don't see a lot of hawks here. So this one caught my eye, with his typical raptor flight style -- soaring slowly with wings outstretched, eyeing the ground below for a little something for brunch. "That's a hawk," I said. And when he obligingly circled away from our building, I amended my statement: "That's a red-tailed hawk!"

Ted Andrews, who died in 2009, knew a thing or two about animals and their magical connections. He devoted four pages to hawks in his book Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, and two of those pages cover the red-tailed variety. It's fitting that I saw my new friend when I did; Andrews wrote that hawks' power is greatest at the spring and fall equinoxes. Like other high-flying birds such as crows and eagles, hawks are considered carriers of spiritual messages. But Andrews said the red-tail "has ties to the kundalini, the seat of the primal life force... It may pop up as a totem at that point in your life where you begin to move toward your soul purpose more dynamically."

Red-tailed hawks are fearless -- and deadly. Andrews said he once saw a red-tail attack a snake and carry it off, the snake's head hanging by only a shred of skin. He suggested those with a relationship to the red-tail should be careful in expressing themselves: "There will unfold within you the ability to tear off the heads of any snakes in your life, or anyone or anything seen as an enemy." (As some of you know, I've been in a lengthy struggle to sort out issues related to my mother's estate. In light of that whole mess, I found this part of red-tail's message very interesting.)

In any case, my new friend seems to be saying that delays and wheel-spinning are coming to an end for me. That's a much more positive message than dead cherry blossoms. I'll take it.

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Speaking of progress: I'll be putting the finishing touches on Maggie in the Dark this week; look for publishing news next weekend. Which is good, because I'm hoping to draft book 2, Maggie on the Cusp, during CampNaNoWriMo in April. And I'm already thinking about writing some spin-off stories featuring two characters who only get a couple of scenes in this book.

In addition to that, I'm working on a sci-fi story for the next Five59 anthology, which should be published in mid-April.

Why, it's almost like a dam is breaking...

Happy spring!

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These moments of red-tailed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.