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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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 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.

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.


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.

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!

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...

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.

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.

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...

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 | | 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.


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'.

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.

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!

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

Monday, March 13, 2017


You may recall, in my last knitting-related post, I made mention of a project called the Wrought Iron shawl, a.k.a. the Endless Colorwork Shawl of WTF Was I Thinking. I started working on it in October and had set it aside for NaNoWriMo and the holidays and pussy hats and, well, you get the idea. I knew it was going to take me a long time to finish. I even said so in that post in January.

Well, it's done.

To goad myself into finishing it, I signed up for a how-to-steek class with Ann Weaver at fibre space, our closest local yarn shop. Steeking is a technique that's used in colorwork -- i.e., knitting that incorporates two or more colors of yarn in the same row. Rather than cut the yarn every time you change colors, you carry the yarn you're not using on the back of the work, so it's right there when you're ready to start using it again. Now when you're making a regular old flat knitted fabric with just one color of yarn per row, you turn the work when you get to the end of a row and knit back with the wrong side facing you. But when you're doing colorwork, it's difficult to knit back -- the floats make it hard to see which color you're supposed to use next. So knitters devised a way to join the sides of the work with a panel of extra stitches, so you can knit the project in the round, with the right side always facing you. That panel is called a steek. And when you're done knitting the thing, you take a pair of scissors and cut down the center of the steek.

I am not even kidding.

The class I took was designed to introduce knitters to steeking by using it to remodel old sweaters. Ann brought in a bunch of sweaters she'd picked up at thrift stores, and most people practiced their steeking on these recycled sweaters. But I brought the ECSofWTFWIT.

The trick is to stabilize the steek on either side of where you're going to cut. In class, we learned how to stabilize the edges with both hand-sewing (backstitch, if you know embroidery stitches) and crochet. You can also use a sewing machine, which sounds like it would be quick, but it can be awkward -- bits of yarn will get hung up in the feed dogs or on the presser foot.

Anyway, I decided I liked hand-sewing best. In the first photo (which Ann took), you can see the ends of the light gray yarn I used to stabilize the edges. I took the second one after cutting the steek. You can see the ragged edge on the side at the front edge of the chair.

Ann is a terrific instructor and I learned a great deal in the class. I also met my goal -- I cut the steek on my shawl. Yay!

But I wasn't done yet. I still had to finish the edges by knitting a border -- and that meant picking up stitches all the way around all four sides of the shawl. It, um, took a while. The next photo shows what it looks like when you've got 800 stitches, give or take, on a 60-inch circular needle. They were packed on pretty tightly. As I knitted the border, I had to keep stopping to manually shove the stitches around the cable. Binding off all those stitches wasn't a boatload of fun, either.

But at long last, the ECSofWTFWIT is done. Here's what it looks like, border and all. It's beautiful. And I am never, ever doing one of these again.

I heard that: "But what about your writing, Lynne?" Yes, yes, I'm getting to that. Maggie in the Dark
is back from my editors, and with any luck, I'll have publishing news for you in the next week or so. Stay tuned...

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

In (questionable) honor of grammar trolls.
Alert hearth/myth readers will notice that I'm posting a day early this week. That's because today, March 4th, is National Grammar Day, and I promised the fine folks at Grammarly that I would give y'all a heads-up about it.

The topic for this year's observance is the grammar troll, as you can see by the graphic at the left.

If you've spent any time at all on social media, you've seen them: those all-knowing jerks who spring into action whenever they spot someone using to when they meant too. Or their when they meant they're. Or...well, you get the idea. It's embarrassing enough to be corrected in public, but the grammar troll kicks the correction up a notch by making sure you feel like an idiot.

The thing is, a lot of times trolls don't know grammar rules half as well as they think they do. For instance, there's no actual rule that prohibits a sentence from ending with a preposition. I know, I know -- you learned it in school, so it must be true. Except it's not. This so-called rule is a holdover from Latin grammar, and it doesn't really work in English. Consider this example:

Me (looking at the bottom of my shoe): "Eww!"
You (attempting to speak "correctly"): "In what did you step?"
Me (looking at you funnier than I just looked at the bottom of my shoe): ...

Yeah. Doesn't really work.

I attracted a grammar troll on Facebook a few years ago. Well, technically, I guess he was a punctuation troll. Another author had challenged me to post a few paragraphs from my current work-in-progress -- you know, one of those "turn to page 7 and post 7 lines starting on the 7th line down" exercises. I don't remember what the rules of the challenge were, and anyway, it doesn't matter for the purposes of this story. I duly went to my WIP -- a first draft which, as writers know, is often full of half-readable stuff that's pounded into shape during the editing process -- and copy-and-pasted the requisite number of lines to my Facebook page. And a fellow I barely knew took me to task for a misplaced comma. The sentence looked fine to me; it looked fine to a number of other authors, some of whom are professional editors (as am I, by the way); but this guy was sure he was right. He was, in fact, so sure he was right that he began insulting the people who disagreed with him -- especially when it became apparent that he had no professional writing or editing credentials and yet he kept arguing with us.

I ended up recasting the sentence in the final draft for other reasons. As for the troll, I booted him off my timeline. It's one thing to inquire politely after a perceived grammar or spelling infraction, and quite another to become insulting and abrasive in the process.

So a word to the wise on this National Grammar Day: If you're going to correct someone's grammar/punctuation/spelling, be kind. But first, make sure you're right.

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring has sprung early.

On Friday morning, as usual, I walked out the door of our apartment building and crossed the parking lot to the bus stop. And stopped. Because on the street right next to the stop, there's a cherry tree, and it had burst into bloom overnight.

Keep in mind that it's still February. It ought to be the dead of winter here. And yet our cherry trees are beginning to bloom. (There's photographic proof over to the left.) And a friend told me today that her daffodils are blooming.

We've had an odd sort-of-winter here in the mid-Atlantic. Despite what Punxatawny Phil predicted on Groundhog Day, spring appears to have sprung several weeks early here. We had a run of 70-degree days this past week. And while snow is not out of the question -- we've had storms in mid-March that have dumped several inches of the stuff on us -- my gut is telling me it's unlikely this year.

The problem for me isn't the outdoor temperature -- it's the indoor temperature. You see, our apartment building uses hot-water radiators for heat. Turning the central boiler on and off is a process, so the building management picks a day in late spring, typically in May, to switch off the heat and turn on the air conditioning. They do the same thing in reverse in the fall. And although we have thermostats in our apartments, they only work so well: even with the heat turned to off, the radiators still radiate. 

Invariably, we have some days during each transition period where the indoor temperature is sub-optimal; either we're baking inside because it's hot outside and the heat is on, or it's freezing inside because we've had a cold snap while the a/c is on. It happens every spring and fall. And every spring and fall, like clockwork, somebody in the building complains.

I try to be sympathetic, but please. I grew up in a house with no heat in the bedrooms. My father built the place as a summer home, so he installed wall heaters in the common areas, figuring that was all we'd need. Once we moved there permanently, we made do. If I wanted to be warm in my bedroom when I was a kid, I had three choices: a) burrow under the covers, or b) keep the door open, or c) both.

Plus I've lived in places with radiators before, so I know the drill: When it's too hot inside, you put on shorts and open the windows. When it's too cold inside, you fire up a space heater or two, and put on extra layers.

Explaining that to the complainers, however, gets me nowhere. So I guess I'll keep smiling and nodding, opening my windows and wearing shorts inside, until it gets cold again, or until the management turns on the a/c -- whichever comes first.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Japanese internment camps.

Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain
Today is the 75th anniversary of the start of a dark chapter in US history. On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered everyone of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the United States to be rounded up and relocated to internment camps. We had been at war with Japan since just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and it was feared that people of Japanese heritage living in the US would betray our country. About 120,000 people were affected by the executive order. They lost their homes and their savings, and were uprooted for as long as four years.

I had no idea about any of this until George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on the original Star Trek TV show, started talking about it. He and some Broadway producers and writers were developing a musical called Allegiance. Takei himself was interred in one of the camps; his family was held in a camp in Arkansas when he was a child. Allegiance opened on Broadway in September 2012 and closed last February -- but not before one of the live performances was filmed. The resulting movie was shown in a limited engagement this past December, and sold out nationwide. Today, it was shown again.

I missed the screening in December, but I'd heard good things about it, so I made it my business to go today. It was well worth it. The story follows the Kimura family, farmers in Salinas, California. Tatsuo Kimura's wife died while giving birth to their son Sam, and it was up to the widower and the couple's daughter, Kei, to raise the boy. Sam is a college kid, applying to law school to make his father happy, when the executive order goes out. All three of them, plus Tatsuo's father, are sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming.

I won't say much more about the plot -- the movie will be released on DVD someday and I don't want to be accused of spoiling it (although if you want more info, there's a plot summary on Wikipedia). Suffice it to say that the experience takes its toll on the Kimuras, finally causing a rift that separates Sam from his family for decades.

The show is both wonderful and heart-wrenching; I blubbered at multiple moments. I was so wrapped up in the family's story that I was shocked when the US military dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's not that I didn't know it was coming. It's that I realized the characters in the show might well have had family and friends in those cities. How awful to find out, in such a callous way, that your relatives and friends are likely dead.

The topics dramatized in Allegiance have a special resonance in the United States today. We're seeing the same sort of mistrust of Muslims -- and Hispanics and blacks -- that caused Roosevelt to go to the extreme of ordering the incarceration of Japanese Americans without due process. It's a sad, shameful chapter in our history, and not enough people know about it.

It's easy -- too easy -- to categorize people of another color or religion as "other," and it's a short step from there to treating them as less than human. But the cost of such behavior is always too high.  Allegiance is a reminder of that cost. See it if you get the chance.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Why the words must come. | CC0

I have a confession to make. I haven't been writing much of anything for the past couple of months. I've posted a lot on Facebook, and I've written my weekly posts here, and my monthly posts at Indies Unlimited. But it's been hard to get myself to the computer to write fiction when there's a virtual fire hose two blocks from my day job, spewing streams of shocking stuff each day. And if that's not enough, I've also been distracted by some personal business related to my mother's estate.

And yet, I need to write. All of us who tell stories need to write. Because art -- which includes literature -- is one of the few things that will help us get through this crazy time with our minds intact.

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison wrote about it in The Nation in 2005. She recounted a conversation with a friend that had occurred just after George W. Bush had been declared the winner of the 2004 presidential election. She blurted to her friend how much the election had upset her -- so much so that she couldn't write.
I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting, "No! No, no no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work -- not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That's our job!"
I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.
Despots, she goes on to say, "routinely begin their reigns" by destroying art. Imagination, as well as critical thinking, are their enemies. The dictator's subjects cannot be allowed to envision another way to live. They cannot be allowed to think any truth other than the party line -- because as soon as the despot's facade cracks, it will come tumbling down.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
The concerns of 2004 seem almost quaint, compared with what we're facing today. But Morrison is right. It's at times like these that our stories are more important than ever.

So please excuse me for this shorter-than-usual post. I've got some writing to do.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Curmudgeon Corner: Why I hate football.

This is not my high school band. This is the US Navy's
7th Fleet Band. I guarantee they sound much better than we did.
Wikipedia | Public Domain
I heard there's a game on TV tonight. The Superb Owl or something? I gather it's been going on for several years now. Anyway, I'm not watching it.

Why? Because I don't like football.

My dislike of the sport began early. You see, I grew up in Indiana, and as I've mentioned before, basketball is the big deal in the Hoosier State. My high school, Elston Senior High, routinely won the annual sectional tournament, and we even won the state basketball championship in 1966. But football? Not so much.

Our high school consisted of three grades -- 10th, 11th, and 12th. I played clarinet from 4th grade through my first year of college (Fun Fact!), and in high school, I was required to be in the marching band. Not every kid in the band was in pep band (which played at all the home basketball games) or jazz-rock band, but everybody marched. We had wool uniforms -- red coats and black slacks, if memory serves -- and a ridiculous, furry shako hat that was at least eighteen inches tall. We marched in one or two parades each year, but our main job was to perform at all our football home games: we played between quarters and did all the halftime shows. That playing-music-while-making-pictures-on-the-field thing? Been there, done that. And at the end of the game, we played the pep song if we won, or the alma mater if we lost.

Here's the thing about fall in Indiana in the '70s: It got cold at night. Sometimes it snowed. And cold and snow are not kind to wind instruments -- brass goes sharp and woodwinds go flat. I remember doing a halftime show on a field that had started out snow-covered before the players made a mudbath out of it during the first half. It was not fun.

Plus we were required to sit in the stands for every home game. Which would have been okay if our team was any good, but it wasn't. In the three years I attended high school, our varsity football team tied one game, and lost the rest. (We played the pep song at the end of that tied game; our band director declared it close enough to a win. Good thing, too, as we never got another chance.)

So I was already lacking any warm fuzzies for football, and then I went to Indiana University -- where once again, basketball was king and football was, um, not very good. Wikipedia says the Hoosiers football team went 2-8-1 my freshman year, 1-6-1 in the Big Ten. That same year in basketball? We were 32-0 and won the NCAA championship. You do the math.

The only saving grace for me was that I turned down the opportunity to be in the IU marching band.

After that, pro football held no charm for me. By the time I got to Washington, DC, the Redskins were long past their glory days. The only time I've been even mildly interested in football was in 1999, when I was attending paralegal school in Denver, and the Broncos won some big game. The Superb Owl, I think it was called.

So y'all enjoy your big game. It's just not my thing.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reading list for our new dystopia.

Occasionally, as folks have stopped to take a breath during this last chaotic week, some have recommended one or another (or more) novels that speak to a society sliding into authoritarianism. The one most often cited is George Orwell's 1984, and in fact, in the wake of Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway's coining of the term "alternative truth," it vaulted it to the number-one spot at Amazon (it's currently at number two).

While 1984 is significant for a number of Newspeak concepts it introduced to common usage, including the phrase Big Brother is watching you, it doesn't cover everything that's going on right now. So here's a short list of other dystopian books I've either read or had recommended to me over the years. The majority were written back in the 1930s and 1940s, when Communism was taking hold in Eastern Europe and authors were concerned about whether it could happen in their own countries.

1. Another book by Orwell, Animal Farm, is perhaps more relevant to the current political climate in the United States. I read this book when I was in the fourth grade (long story why) but didn't fully realize what it was about until many years later: a group of farm animals decide their farmer is a horrible dictator and overthrow him in order to gain their freedom. They agree on a set of rules to live by, which are painted on the roof of the barn. Pretty soon, though, the pigs -- who were given the farm's administrative role -- decide to take advantage of the other animals, and conditions become worse than they were when the farmer was in charge. And before long, the animals notice that their new society's number-one rule has been amended; to the original, "All animals are equal," has been added, "but some are more equal than others."

The book is a satire based on the Russian revolution in 1917 and the nation's subsequent descent into Communism. But it's a case study for what can happen when someone unscrupulous hides behind the banner of freedom.

2. Another title folks have been mentioning is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In the novel's consumer's paradise, everyone is blissed out on a drug called soma. They all love their jobs and, in their spare time, pursue mindless activities cheerfully -- all except for Bernard Marx, a psychologist who knows too much about how society is kept in line. He and his girlfriend travel from London to visit a Savage Reservation in New Mexico, whereupon they discover a non-native woman and her son, whose name is John. The young man is the natural child of Bernard's boss, which is scandalous because sex is all for fun now and nobody has children the regular way anymore. Bernard and his girlfriend bring John and his mother back to London, and from there the novel is about John's inability to integrate into this new society.

Brave New World was prescient in its depiction of our consumer culture -- but we've yet to get to the point of mass hypnosis or mass medication, unless you count TV. Still, it's relevant. I remember liking it better than 1984 when I read both of them in high school.

3. I read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 earlier -- in junior high. The main character here is Guy Montag, a fireman somewhere in the American Midwest. His job is not to put out house fires, though, but to burn books. The novel's title is the temperature at which paper ignites. In the dystopian society of this novel, the government controls all information, and TV is the opiate of the masses. Guy begins to question the party line, and begins collecting books himself -- and that's when his life begins to unravel.

Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World are often mentioned together as the classic dystopian triumvirate. Bradbury's book is the newest of the three -- he wrote it during the McCarthy era in the 1950s -- and it ends on the most hopeful note. One character likens civilization to a phoenix that forever reinvents itself, ideally without the flaws that doomed the last go-round.

4. I'm going to add just one more to this reading list: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. I have never read this one, but it's next on my list due to recommendations from a couple of people. Here's part of the description from Goodreads: "Written during the Great Depression when America was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a President who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, rampant promiscuity, crime, and a liberal press."

Sounds astonishingly relevant to what's going on today, doesn't it? I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.

I'm sure you all have suggestions to add to this list. Have at it.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Alternative facts and other lies.

Pixabay | Public Domain
As a sort of part 2 to last week's post on gaslighting, we now have a new concept to wrap our brains around: the alternative fact.

In case you've been out of touch, this all started when the media posted side-by-side photos of the crowd on the National Mall during Barack Obama's first presidential inauguration in 2009, and Donald Trump's inauguration this past Friday. Then, following the Women's March on Washington yesterday, further comparisons were made among the crowds at all three events.

By any objective measure, the crowd at the Trump inauguration came up short. I won't post the photos here (they're probably under copyright anyway). But the New York Times ran a story yesterday about a couple of British crowd-sizing experts who said the same thing: the Trump inauguration drew the smallest crowd of the three events. (I agree with those experts on the parameters of the Women's March; my daughters and I attended the march, and I am here to tell you that Independence Avenue was wall-to-wall people from the Capitol grounds to 14th Street. We had to keep ducking down side streets to get to a spot where we could see and hear what was going on.)

None of this sat well with our new President. White House press secretary Sean Spicer called a news conference yesterday to read a statement that said, basically, the Trump inauguration was not only huge -- it was the most-watched in history. Which is also not true, even if you count in television ratings. But Spicer took no questions from the press -- he just read the statement and left the room.

It was left up to Trump's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, to try to explain the whole thing away. In a heated exchange this morning with Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press," Conway claimed Spicer's comments were "alternative facts." Todd, to his credit, immediately responded, "Alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods."

I suppose Conway should get some credit, too, for keeping a straight face throughout the exchange. There's video of it at the link, if you care to watch it. Be sure to pay attention to the part where Conway threatens to cut off Todd's access to the White House if he keeps challenging her.

Alert hearth/myth readers have already drawn the correlation I'm driving at here. This whole thing, from denying the numbers, to discounting the photographic proof, to accusing those who challenge the official narrative as promulgating "fake news" -- my friends, this new administration is gaslighting us. And it's only day 3.

I'm not saying the news media always get the story right; they don't. But serious journalists don't willfully get things wrong, either, and certainly not something as easily disprovable as this. Anyone who tries to tell you they do is lying to you. Don't fall for it.

In more cheerful news: Other Realms Vol. II hit the virtual shelves at Amazon this week. The stories in this volume don't pretend to be anything but fantasy (unlike some of the news coming out of the White House...okay, I'll stop), and I'm pleased to have a short story -- an epic fantasy called "The Auguror's Apprentice" -- included in the collection. I continue to be impressed by the caliber of writing in our group of authors, and I think you will be, too.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

On gaslighting, chiefly.

Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight" (1944) | Public Domain
This week, I'm going to continue my policy of no political posts -- even though we're about to swear in a new President whom only 37 percent of Americans approve of, and whose behavior toward the traditional media has earned him the nickname "Gaslighter-in-Chief," to go along with all the other unflattering nicknames he's picked up.

So what is gaslighting? Unless you're familiar with 1940s Hollywood movies -- or unless you've been unlucky enough to come into contact with a psychologically unstable individual who wanted to make you crazy -- you may never have heard the term before.

Gaslighting is a technique used by people with certain mental disorders, including Narcissistic Personality Disorder, to control their victims. The perpetrator uses a variety of tactics to isolate his victim, and then repeatedly calls into question facts and events that the victim knows to be true. The perpetrator's aim is to divorce the victim from reality. Eventually, the victim becomes filled with self-doubt and believes she's going crazy -- making her fertile soil for the perp's continued abuse.

The term comes from the 1944 movie "Gaslight." Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her performance as Paula, the niece of a dead opera singer whose murderer was never found. Paula enters a whirlwind courtship with a man named Gregory, played by Charles Boyer. They marry within a few weeks of meeting, and move into the dead woman's London townhouse. Gregory then proceeds to isolate Paula, telling her it's for her own good because she's become a kleptomaniac -- and indeed, it appears she stole his watch and placed it in her handbag without remembering she had done it. She also hears footsteps in the attic where the dead aunt's things have been stored -- but the attic entrance has been sealed up. And she is sure that the gas light fixtures in the house periodically dim, but Gregory tells her it's all in her imagination. (Boys and girls, natural gas was used for home lighting before electricity became popular. My grandmother's house had wall sconces with both a light bulb socket and a gas nozzle.)

Spoiler alert: Paula is not crazy. Gregory is her aunt's murderer, and married her to gain access to the house to search for the dead woman's jewelry. He'd be okay with shipping Paula off to the nuthouse -- it would give him free rein to conduct his search.

As it does in the movie, gaslighting starts gradually. The perpetrator's behavior may seem a little weird to you, but you make excuses for him. Then you begin defending yourself as he criticizes things you do that you thought were normal. Eventually, you doubt your own perceptions and can't tell what's real any more.

So how do you cope with a gaslighter? The best advice I can find on the intarwebz is to get away from him as fast as you can. Unfortunately, the US will be stuck with this Gaslighter-in-Chief for four years. Just remember, folks -- no matter what he says, we're not crazy.

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