Sunday, April 11, 2021

On balance, some book news.

Just last week, I promised that I would write about writing again, and here I am, doing it. You're welcome.

Authors are often asked where their story ideas come from. It's not a question most of us enjoy answering. Oh, sometimes we can pinpoint the moment or event where the first germ of an idea originated (the Transcendence trilogy, for instance, sprang from a wholly unplanned stop at the Newark Earthworks in central Ohio, and Seasons of the Fool came about because I wanted to write a novel set in the neighborhood where I grew up). 

But sometimes there's nothing in the real world to point to. Once in grad school, when I had a short story due, I wrote an opening sentence by stringing a bunch of words together and then wrote a story to fit the sentence. The story came out okay, but how would I explain how I got there? The Muse works in mysterious ways.

And so it is with my upcoming novel, which I drafted during NaNoWriMo this past November. I was pretty sure, when the first draft was done, that I'd written a steaming pile of crap. But after a couple of rounds of self-editing, I decided it wasn't as bad as I thought -- and could even be salvaged. So I sent it along to my editor late last night. And I now feel confident that The Payoff -- yes, at long last, the book has a title! -- will be published on or about Beltane, May 1.

The germ of the plot was a Facebook post or meme or picture -- which of course I can't find now -- about how readers would love to have a story about an elderly woman who solves mysteries or crimes or something. Hey, if there's a market for books where the main character is old, I'm happy to oblige. So the main characters in The Payoff are a man and a woman in late middle age who haven't seen one another in forty years. Deliberately. Because they didn't want to run afoul of an older woman who tormented them all through their growing-up years. Now this woman is back, and she's causing trouble for someone else who doesn't deserve it, and Our Heroes have decided it's payback time.

After the first round of editing, I sat back and thought about the novel's themes. I came up with three: balance, patience, and justice. Having those concepts in the back of my mind helped me shape my steaming pile of first draftedness into a novel that I'm pretty proud of. So I thought I'd talk about each of them in turn.

This week, the topic is balance. 

ElisaRiva | CC0 | Pixabay
(I could have gone for a pile of rocks beside a rushing stream to illustrate this post, but this image feels more true-to-life to me.)

The main characters are Janis Fowler and Jan Marek. Jan (who is male) has the ability to See people's futures; Janis can See people's pasts. Their talents cannot be called up on command; they happen when they happen. But over the years, each of them has figured out how to create circumstances that will kick their talents into action. 

In a way, Jan and Janis are a matched set. They balance each other. Together, they have a full picture of a person -- the experiences that shaped them, the choices they've made in critical situations, and how all that will play out in their future lives. Janis and Jan realized early on what takes some of us a lifetime to figure out: Choices have consequences.

While balance within ourselves is always worth cultivating, it isn't enough to ensure a peaceful life. We have to interact with others. Some of these others are seriously unbalanced; sometimes they have power over us, holding the tightrope we're forced to walk. One unhinged choice on their part and boom! Down we go.

If we're lucky -- if we live long enough -- we may get to see that person suffer the consequences of their bad choices. We might even be given the chance to deliver the consequences ourselves. And if we do it right, our balance can be restored.

That, right there, is The Payoff

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I'll put the book up for preorder here shortly. I'll let you know when that happens.

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These moments of balanced blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and social distancing! The end is in sight!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

QAnon and the New Age.

You would think a person who purports to dislike DC so much would have raced to eliminate all ties to the city (other than those to friends and relatives) immediately upon moving away, wouldn't you? And yet I still have a digital subscription to the Washington Post, and probably will keep it for the forseeable future. It's not super expensive (I'm looking at you, NewYork Times) and their coverage of national news is excellent.

Sometimes, however, they kind of go off the deep end. So for the second time in as many weeks, I'm using a WaPo story as a springboard for a blog post. (I'll get around to writing about writing again eventually, I promise.)

PublicDomainPictures | Pixabay
This week, an article in their Sunday magazine set me off. It's entitled "QAnon's Unexpected Roots in New Age Spirituality," and in it, the author strives to make a connection between the New Age movement and the guy in the furry headdress who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. I'd read a little bit about this character, whose real name is Jacob Anthony Chansley but who goes by Jake Angeli and who is also known as the "QAnon Shaman." I'm sure you've heard about him, too; he's the guy who complained that his jailers wouldn't serve him organic food, so a judge ordered him transferred to a different jail.

The get-up he wore to the insurrection was a mishmash of quasi-spirituality: the horned headdress was a call to Native Americans, sorta kinda, and among the tattoos on his torso is a rune associated with white supremacy that Heathens in the Pagan movement have disavowed. The author of the WaPo article, Marisa Meltzer, says she recognized the combo as a "cringeworthy and offensive display of appropriation." I agree with her. She goes on to say that Chansley is the founder of the Star Seed Academy, a New-Agey place in Arizona that promises to help people "awaken, evolve and ascend!" His lawyer told Meltzer that Chansley is committed to ahimsa, a principle in some Asian spiritual traditions that relates to nonviolence.

When I read that, I said aloud, "Then what the hell was he doing in the Capitol on 1/6?" 

Well, he's also a follower of QAnon. And Meltzer says that fits because of this thing called conspirituality, which she describes as a "politico-spiritual philosophy" based on two beliefs: that humanity is undergoing a profound awakening in consciousness, and that there's a shadowy group out there somewhere that's controlling society.

She says Robert Bly's 1990 book, Iron John, is one of the seeds of conspirituality. Bly's book created a counter to the women's movement by highlighting masculine tropes in Jungian archetypes and fairy tales. In order for men to claim their true masculinity, he claimed, they needed both to perceive themselves as warriors and to make themselves emotionally vulnerable. 

I remember when Iron John was published. It sold really well. And there's nothing wrong with a man being emotionally vulnerable in his relationships; it kind of helps, actually. 

But then Meltzer tries to tie this view of masculinity to those held by groups like the Proud Boys and evangelical Christianity, where the ideal of men as women's protectors morphs into a belief that women should stay home and shut up. From there, it's a short hop to QAnon. 

Okay, but QAnon attracts a lot of women, too. And whatever happened to Bly's belief that men need to be emotionally vulnerable?

Look, there are some shady New Age characters out there. In my opinion, the New Age movement is less a religion than a self-help phenomenon; misappropriating Native American practices is just one of the sketchy things I've seen. I'm not against self-actualization, but you have to be really, really careful when you search for a "guru"; a fair number of them are only in it to separate you from your money.

And I'm thinking the QAnon Shaman might need to spend some of his time in prison reading Iron John

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These moments of appropriate blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up! Wash your hands! And get the vaccine when you can!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

When architecture is Brutal -- and where it's not.

I'm no expert in architectural styles. But I lived in the Washington, DC, area for enough years that I can spot a Brutalist building on sight, and I freely admit that I'm not a fan.

So the title of an article in the Washington Post caught my eye this week: "Brutalist buildings aren't unloveable. You're looking at them wrong." Well, maybe. Anyway, I was willing to entertain the possibility long enough to read the article.

Brutalism was kind of a fad in the middle of the 20th century. The article describes it as an "architectural style characterized by unfinished concrete, recessed windows, top-heavy design, and a proclivity for bulk and heft". The term doesn't come from brutal, by the way -- it comes from the French phrase b├ęton brut, or "raw concrete." The author of the article notes the Brutalist style gives buildings a sense of permanence and stability -- perfect for government buildings in the nation's capital.

It also makes them kind of blocky and ugly, if you ask me. But sometimes an architect will figure out that you can make more out of concrete than a big box. Take, for example, the Hirshhorn Museum in DC. 

Valerie Hinojosa | Flickr | CC 2.0
The Hirshhorn is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so admission is free. Its collection concentrates on contemporary art and its sculpture garden is a lot of fun to visit. (The museum building is closed right now due to the virus, but the sculpture garden is open.)

Look at that cylindrical shape. It's unusual, right? Substantial, certainly, but also almost organic?

It occurred to me at about this point in my reading that I know of another city that features a distinct architectural style that uses organic shapes, yet gives the appearance of stability and permanence. 

Give up? Here's a hint:

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

This is the New Mexico Museum of Art on the plaza here in Santa Fe. This style of architecture -- with the flat roof, visible ceiling beams (they're called vigas), and adobe exterior -- is called Pueblo Revival. It's meant to mimic the sort of architecture you see at Indian pueblos in New Mexico, including the iconic Taos Pueblo

Wikimedia Commons | CC 3.0

(You can tour Taos Pueblo, but it's closed right now due to the virus.)

I recently learned that Santa Fe didn't always look the way it does now, architecturally speaking. In the 1800s, the city fathers pushed for a more traditional American downtown. The city never really went for Victorian gingerbread, but Greek Revival style was big. Anyway, then the powers-that-be realized if the city wanted to attract the tourist trade, it ought to give tourists what they expected to see in the Southwest -- and in New Mexico, that meant Pueblo style. So a lot of building facades were converted in the early years of the 20th century, and newer structures like the art museum went with the Pueblo Revival style from the get-go.

Here's another thing that occurred to me: Pueblo Revival and Brutalism both reflect their surroundings. Pueblos are built with adobe and adobe is made from earth, so of course the structures are the same color as the earth where they're built -- brown, tan, or terra cotta. And Brutalist buildings are made of concrete, which is gray -- again, kind of perfect for housing government bureaucrats.

I was happy to give DC's Brutalist architecture another chance. But upon reflection, I still prefer Pueblo Revival.

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These moments of architectural blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Don't unmask yet! Keep social distancing! 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Now commencing: Retirement 2.0.

Yurumi | DepositPhotos.com

I'm sure you've heard the word by now: This past weekend was the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, also known as Ostara. We are now officially out of the dark half of the year that started in September at Mabon; the Oak King has vanquished the Holly King, if that's the Pagan mythos you follow, and will reign for the next six months.* 

Regardless of your spiritual bent, though, for everybody north of the equator, the hours of sunlight will keep increasing until the summer solstice -- and unlike in the days just after the winter solstice, the increased daylight is more obvious now. This is the season for planting seeds, both physical and spiritual/mystical, in the hope that they will bear fruit come harvest time in the fall.

So it seemed fitting to me that the temp job I've been working since the beginning of November ended at noon on Saturday, the day of balance. Having labored for the Man during the darkest part of the year, I am ready to take a significant amount of time off to rest. I'm calling it Retirement 2.0.

Oddly, I now find myself experiencing some of the doubts that keep people in their later working years from retiring at all. 

In the last few years leading up to my retirement from the law firm, I was driven so hard by my need to get out of the job and get out of DC that I was in "by any means necessary" mode. It didn't matter to me how much I had in my 401(k) or how I was going to fill the endless amounts of time I'd have without a job to show up for; I had a plan to execute to get to Santa Fe, the pool of money I had would work if I got a part-time job, and the rest would sort itself out.

So here I am, almost eight months post-retirement. The move has been executed; the part-time job I'd envisioned as being a few hours of work per week throughout the year got slammed into a few intense months; and now I'm out the other side, shell-shocked but standing, blinking, in the sunlight.

In retrospect, I think I may have jumped into the part-time job too soon. I got out here at the tail end of July and started training for the legislative proofreading gig on November 1. I had only three months to decompress before I started working again, and these past two months have been particularly intense: seven days a week, nine hours a day on weekdays and slightly shorter hours on weekends, and no breaks during the day. By the halfway mark, it had stopped being fun. In the final two weeks, I resorted to adding stickers left over from my retirement planner to the wall calendar to help me mark the days 'til the end of session.

Still, the money was good. And that's the lure, isn't it? You show up for the job and in return the company deposits money into your bank account every couple of weeks. What happens when you lose that security blanket?

Not to mention how much people invest of their self-image in the work they do. I thought I'd escaped that mental pitfall; I was always very clear that I wasn't a legal secretary -- rather, I worked as a legal secretary. For the past few months I've worked as a legal proofreader. But now I'm...not working. 

Oh, I'm still an author and editor, but I've done nothing with either of those since NaNoWriMo ended in November. I have the first draft of the NaNo novel to edit and publish (still aiming for Beltane!). That will be my CampNaNo goal for April.

By May, I hope, I'll be vaccinated, and all the things that have been closed since I got here (the performing arts theater a block away, the bookstore and coffee shop across the street) will have reopened. 

For now, though, I'm going to treat myself to a soak in a thermal pool and the luxury of not setting an alarm. After that, I guess I'll let things sort themselves out.

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* In some Pagan traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King trade off at the summer and winter solstices. From the standpoint of the annual cycle of sunlight, that makes more sense -- but in terms of the growing season, it makes more sense to put the handoff at the equinoxes. And lots of Pagans don't incorporate the myth into their traditions at all. 

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These moments of balanced blogginess (and only a day late!) have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and social distancing! We're gonna beat this thing together!