Sunday, January 27, 2013

Imbolc and Candlemas blessings.

Imbolc/Candlemas Comments
In a few days -- this coming Saturday, in fact -- it will be Imbolc.  I posted last year about the meaning of the day, and about its significance to Pagans -- particularly to those of us who follow Brighid, since it's Her day and all.

Christians also observe the day, although for a different reason, and they call it by a different name.  Colloquially, it's known as Candlemas -- the day on which a priest would bless the candles that would be used during the rest of the year, some of which were distributed to parishoners.  But many Christian denominations have a different and more official name for the day.  Roman Catholics know it as the Presentation of the Lord. The Church of England calls it The Presentation of Christ at the Temple.  The Orthodox Church calls it the "Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple," and has a twelve-day-long celebration to match the lengthy name.

As you might have figured out by now (or might have already known), February second is the date on the Christian calendar that marks Jesus' first visit to a temple.  Moses' law deemed a woman who had borne a male child as unclean for the first seven days after childbirth (fourteen days if she had borne a female child), and must then "remain in the blood of her purification" for another 33 days (again, twice as long if she had delivered a girl).  After that time period had elapsed, she must then report (together with a yearling lamb and a turtledove or pigeon) to the temple, where the priest (or rabbi, I guess) would complete her purification.  Then she could attend services again.

In addition, every male child was required to be brought to the temple for consecration.  So on February second -- 40 days after Jesus' birth -- Mary and Joseph brought the baby to the temple to accomplish both at once.  They couldn't afford a lamb, so they brought two turtledoves.  There, they met Simeon, who pronounced God's prophecy to him fulfilled: that before he died, he would see the light that would lead the Gentiles to salvation.  They also ran into a prophet named Anna, who confirmed Jesus' role in Israel's redemption.  (This information from Wikipedia and from this site (which includes the Biblical citations).)

Why is a Pagan bringing all this Christian lore into a blog post about Imbolc (and sliding over all the slights to women in this bit of Mosiac law, to boot)?  After all, many Pagans think of Candlemas as just another holiday that Christianity, uh, adopted from pre-Christian times.  Certainly, much of the folklore surrounding the date is older than the Christian observance.  For instance, it's bad luck to bring snowdrop flowers into the house before Candlemas -- it means someone dear will die in the coming year.  And if you didn't take down your holiday decorations on Twelfth Night, you must leave them up until Candlemas (AND THEN TAKE THEM DOWN, OKAY?).

There's also debate about whether the Catholics' St. Brigid was a real Irishwoman who was simply named after the Celtic goddess, or whether the church adopted the goddess wholesale, or some combination of the two.

Anyway, I guess you could blame this post on my recent reading.  In preparation for the Big Mediation in book 5 of the Pipe Woman Chronicles, I've picked up some books about modern Pagan/Christian relations.  I'll probably talk more about my reading in a later post, but suffice it to say that we're not all that far apart on many of the things that matter.  I'm beginning to think that maybe -- just maybe -- Naomi might actually pull this off.

I've done a bit of updating to the Tour Dates tab.  There was some confusion over the dates for my stops on this latest Orangeberry tour, and although my tour technically ended Friday, some of the posts are still not up.  So I've deleted the dates from most of the events.  I've been told that all posts will be up by the 31st, which is the last day of the Big Bang tour.  I'll let you know how it goes.

In happier news, I'll be in Indianapolis on Saturday, March 23rd, to talk about self-publishing with the Speed City Sisters in Crime.  I've already bought my train ticket.  Should be quite the adventure!

Happy Candlemas and a blessed Imbolc!

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Close enough for a man on a horse.

I seem to collect phrases that cover the sentiment, "It's not perfect, but it will do."  Back in my first radio job, I worked with a guy who would say, "Close enough for government work."  (Of course, repeating that made me zero points with friends who got jobs with the federal government after college.)  The same guy would also sometimes say, "Ain't makin' a watch."  Often he'd say them both, one after another, like this:

"Close enough for government work! Ain't makin' a watch!"

Yesterday, I learned a new handy phrase for something that's less than perfect, but acceptable.  At a gathering of a group of crafters (some quilters, some knitters, some doing other handiwork), one woman said she'd once had an instructor who said of her student work, "A man riding by on a horse couldn't tell the difference."

All these phrases are ways to banish perfectionism.  Of course, we should always strive to do our best work, to catch our mistakes and fix them, and so on.  Nobody wants to be labeled sloppy.  But we're all human, and sometimes we mess up.  And sometimes when we try to fix something, the fix is worse than the original mistake.

That's where I found myself this week with the sweater I've been telling you about.  I thought I had a handle on knitting the nice, wide cable that goes up one side of the front of the sweater.  (You can see a picture of what it's supposed to look like on my post from two weeks ago.) So I tried to work on it while watching a movie.  Sooprise, sooprise, sooprise -- I made a mistake, and I didn't notice it 'til six rows later.  Because the mistake was on the front, I felt compelled to go back and fix it. Let me tell you, ripping a cable back six rows, and then trying to figure out where you are on the chart, is no fun at all.  I managed to fix the first mistake, but my fix made something else look funny, and....  I'm sure you can see where this is going.  After spending several hours over the course of two days on the same six rows of 28 stitches, I finally gave up -- but not until after it occurred to me that I could embroider some chain stitches over the tiny part that still doesn't look right and...all together now...a man riding by on a horse wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Will it be perfect?  Nope.  Will the garment still be wearable?  Totally.  Will anybody be able to tell the difference?  Probably not even if I tell them.  And it's entirely possible that even I won't be able to tell.

The point is that I could have spent another couple of hours making myself crazy, trying to get the cable absolutely perfect.  That's the trap of perfectionism -- not just in knitting or sewing, but in writing, too.  How much time should you spend on a first draft?  How much time on a rewrite?  Should you torture yourself with making sure that each sentence you write absolutely drips priceless pearls of prose before you move on to the next one?  Will you ever be completely satisfied?

Last night, I began the second editing pass on Gravid.  When I do a read-through, I pay particular attention to any phrases that jar my internal ear, and any word whose meaning doesn't quite convey what I'm trying to say.  Sometimes I move phrases around.  Occasionally I move sentences, or paragraphs, or even blocks of text, and then I have to write connections in order to graft them into their new places and bridge the holes they left behind.  Sometimes I move the attribution from one end of the sentence to the other, or embed it in the middle of the quote, or take it out of the middle and put it at the beginning or the end.

But to be honest, many sentences I don't fuss with at all.  And sometimes after I've fiddled with a particular word or sentence for a while, I decide it was okay to start with.  Not perfect, maybe, but still readable.  A man on a horse wouldn't know the difference.

Somebody told me today that she had decided she would never write the Great American Novel, so she moved on to other things.  Usually, I applaud any effort toward self-knowledge, which is a fine and necessary thing. But the phrase "the Great American Novel" struck me, and started me thinking on this business of perfectionism.

When it comes to writing, is the Great American Novel the only worthwhile goal?  If your first draft is a mess, riddled with plot holes and clunky phrases, are you a failure as a writer?  Is perfect the only thing worth striving for?  Is that what you think, Bunky?

Well, I don't think so.  In fact, I reject that sort of thinking wholesale.  The only thing any of us can do is to tell our own stories in our own ways.  Writing is a craft, to a large degree.  Plot holes can be fixed; so can clunky phrasing.  You may have to write several books before you've got one that's ready for prime time, but that's part of learning the craft.  And even then, it doesn't have to be the most perfect book ever written.  If a man riding by on a horse can't tell the difference, it's close enough for government work.  Ain't making a watch!

I had a terrific time Friday night with Coral Russell and Kriss Morton on their Blog Talk Radio show.  Both of them -- and author/blogger Leanne Herrera, too -- had such nice things to say about my work that it's a wonder I could get my head through the doorway afterward.  Thanks, ladies!  (If you missed the show, I've put a link to the left, as well as on the Radio Appearances tab.)

The Orangeberry Big Bang blog tour for Tapped is underway!  Check the Tour Dates tab for this week's stops.  And have a great week, everyone.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Socked in.

My daughter Kitty took this at 4:00 p.m. today. 

It's been an unusually foggy day here today.  We don't get fog all that often in the DC area, and when we do, it usually burns off by midday.  But this fog has stuck around for more than 24 hours.  It came in around dusk last night and it's still foggy out there right now.  It's like we've been transplanted to San Francisco, except without the cable cars and the $50 per day parking.

But the fog has brought us temperatures in the mid 50s.  In mid-January.  So really, I'm not going to complain.

As for my writing progress, it's not foggy at all.  (I know -- that segue was a long reach. Work with me.)  Here's what's happening:
  • Tara at Love of the Goddess posted a great review of Seized today.  
  • This coming Friday, the 18th, my week of stops as part of the Orangeberry Big Bang begins (check the Tour Dates page for the particulars), and a couple of those spots are for reviews of Tapped (here's hoping the reviewers are kind...).  
  • Also on Friday, I'll once again be the guest on The Indie Exchange's Blog Talk Radio podcast.  The show will be live starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, but if you miss it, you can use the same link to listen to it later.
  • I'm in the midst of writing a series of posts for Indies Unlimited on how to do writerly-type stuff in Microsoft Word.  On Friday, I tackled Styles.  This coming Friday, I'll talk about how to design your own blank document template.  Let me know if you have any questions about how to do something in Word.  My employer has given me tons of Word training and I love to use it to help folks. 
  • Rursday Reads went live this week -- and amazingly enough, I managed to review a book that I'd already reviewed on Goodreads.  No, really, I'm going to start making a dent in my to-be-reviewed pile this week.  Really, I am.  Honest.
Oh, wait.  I bet you wanted to know about the sweater, right?  I'm somewhat less than halfway done with the front.  The cable is working out okay, but I do have to concentrate.  Which means that knitting this sweater and karaoke, for instance, don't mix.  I had to keep ripping out my mistakes while Kitty was taking her turn.

What? Gravid?  Oh yeah, it's coming.  I started the first editing pass early last week.  That kind of stalled when I realized I was leaving way too many loose ends to tie up in book 5.  So I wrote a new chapter one night, and then yesterday morning I spent several hours shoehorning it in.  I think it makes sense, but I'm going to do at least one more pass before I send it over to my editor.  (How's Imbolc looking for you, Suzu?)

I also need to go through Gravid and make a list of all those loose ends, just to make sure I knit 'em all in in the final book.  And (speaking of foggy), I need to figure out exactly how I'm going to handle the Big Mediation Scene that's coming up in book 5, not that I've built up any anticipation for it or anything.  I'm looking forward to that about as much as Naomi is, I suspect -- but like Naomi, I'm kind of ready to just get it over with.

And here we go!  Have a great week, everyone.

These moments of -- bloggy fogginess? Foggy blogginess? Anyway, whatever they are, they are brought to you, as a public service, by .

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Knitting away the January doldrums.

I took down the Yule tree on New Year's Day.  Until this year, I have always left it up until January 6th -- Twelfth Night.  But it occurred to me that if I'm no longer practicing a religion that includes a twelve-day vigil, starting on December 25th, then I don't have a good reason, other than tradition, to leave the tree up 'til the 6th.  My holiday season started on December 21st and ended on New Year's Day.  So that's when the tree came down.

Still, no matter how brittle the tree gets by the end of the festivities and no matter how many needles shower onto the carpet 'twixt the stand and the door, I'm always a little sad to see it go.  It means a forced return to reality.  No more can we anticipate that things we will love will be handed to us, wrapped in shiny paper and bows.  Now we must face the hard work required of us, if we mean to reach those lofty goals we set for ourselves while still under the influence of holiday bonhomie.
copyright Berroco Inc.

So, of course, I'm stalling.

Pictured above is the fruit of my holiday labors.  It's the back (completed!) of a sweater that I began working on over the past couple of weeks. The pattern has been in my Ravelry queue for months, and I bought the yarn last spring, so I was very excited to finally begin working on it.  With any luck, the finished sweater will look like the picture to the right -- in blue, of course, instead of in the rosy-coral color in the picture.  The back has four different stitch patterns, which was awesome to knit.  The big problem with doing a whole sweater is what I call the "boring torso" -- the big swath of stockinette stitch (knit every stitch in the round, over and over, forever) between casting on the ribbing at the bottom and beginning the armhole shaping.  But this one was fun, because at about the time I was sick of the basketweave stitch (the big squares), it was time to switch to the diagonal stitch.  And when I couldn't bear another row of diagonal stitch, it was time to switch to garter stitch.  And then, poof, it was done.

The front will throw me a curve, I expect, because of that gigantic cable running up the front.  I looked at the directions already; it's one of those cables that doesn't use a cable needle.  I haven't had much success with such shenanigans in the past, but I'm willing to give it another try.  The sleeves will zip by -- they're just reverse stockinette stitch once you get past the ribbing -- and the neckline finish will be simple.  The whole thing will be a piece of cake...once I get the front done.  And I will get it done.  Look, I've already started the ribbing -- see?

Never fear, though.  Gravid is simmering away in the back of my mind, and I fully intend to pull it out and start working on it again this week.  But tonight, I think I'll put in a movie and knit.
Oh, right -- dates are up for the Orangeberry Big Bang tour for Tapped.  My first stop is on the 18th.  All the info is on the Tour Dates tab, and of course, I'll post a reminder closer to the start.  Have a great week, everyone.

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