Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yarny things.

Brace yourselves. It's a post about knitting.

You can blame Kriss Morton, a.k.a. the Cabin Goddess, who wants me to post a photo of the mittens I made for her this summer. Kriss, here you go!

Yes, that's right -- I knitted a pair of mittens that say, "Cold as Fuck." As you might imagine, there's a story behind them.

Kriss lives in Alaska, and last winter she found the pattern for these mittens on Ravelry. She doesn't knit, so she asked me to make them for her. As it happened, my daughter Amy had the yarn that the pattern calls for. And I thought mittens would be a good summer project (mainly because they don't create a pile of knitted-up wool that pools in your lap). So Kriss has her mittens and I had my fill of knitting in two colors and reading a chart.

After the mittens, I thought I'd work on something easier. So I decided to knit myself a cowl. I bought some bulky yarn (because it knits up quick), and a pattern called "Grace." But of course I couldn't just knit the thing in one color, like the pattern calls for. No, I had to go all psycho and make each side of the cable a different color. Here, you can see what I've got so far. (The glasses are holding down the edges so you can get the full effect.)

You can't see it in this picture, but there are five strands of yarn coming off the top of the project. Five. How this is easier than the two strands I was using for the mittens, I have yet to figure out. I might finish this "quick" project in another month or so.

So that's been my knitting foolery this summer, except for the shawl project that I took with me to Albuquerque and never pulled out to work on, except on the plane. Here's a shot of the finished product. The yarn was awful -- it kept breaking on me -- but the finished product looks okay.

Yarn seems to be a theme this summer for us. The girls and I, along with my friend Kim, trekked to downtown DC yesterday to visit the Corcoran one last time before the National Gallery of Art takes over and closes it for renovations. As we were going to be down there anyway, Amy mentioned that the Smithsonian staff had yarn-bombed the Castle to promote a show at the Sackler next door. So of course we had to see it.

Our first clue was the gate to the Haupt Memorial Garden, which was covered in knitted fabric. The little tags hanging from the knitting are cards advertising the show at the Sackler.

A pillar outside the Sackler.
When we went into the garden, we discovered that the gate wasn't the only thing that had been yarn-bombed. The railings along the grass and the pillars leading into the Sackler were also wrapped in red knitting.

With a knitted effort like that, we had to go in to see the show.

The artist's name is Chiharu Shiota, and the installation, called "Over the Continents," is pictured on the right. It's made up of shoes, all tied together by red yarn to a central point on the wall.

The shoes were all donated by people in Japan. Shiota asked for shoes that the person didn't ever intend to wear again, but didn't want to throw away. The donors all filled out little cards with the stories behind their shoes, and the cards are tied to the shoes -- but they're all in Japanese. Thank goodness there's a computer terminal nearby with translations of some of the stories.

The artist apparently attracted quite a crowd while setting up the installation -- a bunch of kids gathered around to watch her.

The installation will be up through next June, if you're interested in seeing it. But the yarn bombing will only be up for another few days. 

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On beginnings, endings, and carrying on.

Before I get to the post, I wanted to mention a couple of housekeeping things:
  • Indies Unlimited is featuring the trailer for SwanSong today. (Thanks, guys!) If you haven't had a chance to see it yet -- or if you would like to see some pictures of swans, accompanied by 30 seconds of classical piano music -- click on through and check it out.
  • Voting in the BookGoodies Cover Contest continues through September 7th. My covers for Seized and Annealed are finalists in the Fantasy category. Big thanks to everybody who has voted so far -- you're all my new best friends. If you haven't had a chance yet, I'd appreciate it if you would click through and leave a comment on the cover of your choice.

"Letting Go" by gnuckx -
It's been one of those weeks here at hearth/myth.

To begin with, my nephew is starting college this fall, and he and my sister-in-law stayed with us for a few days before he was allowed to move into the dorm.

I've always considered college to be a rite of passage. The ultimate objective of child-rearing, after all, is to turn a child into a functional, independent adult. Going off to college gives a young adult the opportunity to take a big step toward that objective while still living in a relatively structured environment.

Of course, this means the parent has to let go of the kid. A lot of parents today pay lip service to the idea, but in practice, they still want to shield their kids from everything bad that might happen in their lives -- up to and including running interference for them. The technical term for this is helicopter parenting. Sending the kid to college is often a rude awakening for these parents, because the administration treats students as adults, even when the parents don't want them to: "What do you mean, you won't send me a copy of my kid's grades? I'm paying for his education! I have a right to know whether I need to call the professor!" Um, no. No, you don't. Your child is an adult in the eyes of the law, and his success or failure in college is between him and his professors.

College administrators work to establish this with parents during freshman orientation. They set up a separate set of meetings for the parents, and they also note on the orientation agenda the date and time for the parents to go home. Otherwise, some parents would hang around until classes start. Maybe even beyond.

Anyway, kudos to my nephew for attending orientation on his own, and congrats to my sister-in-law for not insisting on accompanying him.

While all that was going on this week, I got word that the friend of a dear friend had died. Yesterday, I attended her memorial service. It was lovely, with much singing and laughter along with the requisite tears.

I'm told that the woman who died believed that her purpose in life was to give and receive love. That's a pretty good life's purpose, I think. And judging by the outpouring of grief and love that I saw and felt in the church yesterday, I have no doubt she succeeded.

Going away to college is an end to childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Death is the end to life on this planet and the beginning of the spirit's next adventure. In each case, we leave things behind -- not the least of which is people who remember us as we were, and who must now carry on without us. And that -- the necessity of carrying on when the people we love have moved on -- may be the hardest rite of passage of all.

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Raising the musical question.

(I was going to title this post, "Begging the musical question," but Grammar Girl set me straight on what begging the question actually means. You're welcome.)

Over the past couple of weekends, I've been spending some quality time importing most of my CDs into iTunes. Yes, I know, digital music has been around for several years now. But old habits die hard. It still seemed easier to me to plunk a CD into the Bose player than to pull all of the discs out of the drawer and load them, one by one, into the computer.

Also, the last time I tried importing CDs into iTunes, several years ago, the process seemed unintuitive and time-consuming. But maybe that was because iTunes defaulted to playing each CD as I uploaded it. Or maybe Apple has improved the program.

Whatever the reason, I had never done it. But I've been thinking about it for the past couple of months, ever since a friend remarked to me, "You don't really listen to music, do you?" Um, well, no. Part of it is that I have really weird musical taste, which I've written about here before. Also, it's been difficult for the past couple of years because one or another of the kids has been bunking in my living room pretty consistently, and not only is the living room where the CD player is, but of course they'd rather listen to their own music than Mom's. Especially when Mom insists on singing along.

And too, there's the problem of certain songs or albums being tied in my memory to people or events I'd rather not think about.

But this is certainly a sorry pass for someone who used to know how to play four instruments and who went off to college with the intention of majoring in music. So I decided it was time to bite the bullet and just load the CDs into the computer already.

The project went faster than I thought it would. And you know what? I've got a lot of really good music. The late 1960s and early '70s (well, except for disco...) produced great pop albums like Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, Gerry Rafferty's City to City, and Billy Joel's The Stranger -- albums that don't contain a single song I would skip. And I have a fair selection of classical music: J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Haydn's Symphony No. 94, Smetana's Ma Vlast, and several classical guitar CDs -- including the one I'm listening to as I write this post. It's called Rameau, Scarlatti, Couperin, Bach, and the guitarists are Sergio and Odair Assad. It's somewhat unusual, as classical guitar albums go, because it includes only one Bach transcription ("The Well-Tempered Clavier") and nothing by a Spanish composer at all.

I'm looking forward to spending some quality hours reacquainting myself with my own music collection. Please forgive me if I start to sing along.

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Magic Realism Bloghop: Labyrinths.

I was first introduced to magic realism in the Spanish-language literature class I took during my first semester in college. One of the books we were assigned was a collection of short stories by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Borges quickly became one of my favorite writers -- partly because I had to work so hard to understand his stories in the first place, but also because of the elements of the fantastic that he wove into his work. One of those elements is the labyrinth.

Among the stories we read that semester was "La casa de AsteriĆ³n" -- "The House of Asterion." In the story, which you can read for free at the link, Asterion begins his story by refuting the gossip about him:

I know they accuse me of arrogance, perhaps also of misanthropy, perhaps madness too. Such accusations (which I shall castigate in due course) are laughable.

(I'm reminded of the opening line of another of my favorite short stories, Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart": "True! -- nervous -- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" Poe was writing horror, of course, but the reader gets the same feeling that we're about to hear from a narrator who is not altogether reliable.)

Asterion goes on to explain that he is a prince, but that people are so frightened of him that he never leaves his great, rambling house. "Each part of the house repeats many times," he says; "any particular place is another place." His house, in other words, is a labyrinth. In fact, it is the labyrinth -- the one built by Daedalus to imprison the Minotaur. We only learn that Asterion is himself the Minotaur after Theseus has slain him. But Borges has another surprise for us, for unlike the Minotaur of legend, Asterion goes to his death without a fight. It makes one wonder whether Theseus changed his story to make the Minotaur more of a monster and the ending more dramatic -- to make him seem to be more heroic. It is true, after all, that history is written by the victor.

The labyrinth as plot device turns up again in Guillermo del Toro's movie "Pan's Labyrinth." Set in Spain during the early years of the Franco regime, it's the tale of Ofelia, a girl on the cusp of puberty. She and her pregnant mother have been brought by her new stepfather, who's a military officer, to his forested estate. A stick insect leads Ofelia to a labyrinth on the property, where she meets a host of fantastical creatures, including a faun who convinces her that she is the reincarnation of a fairy princess. Her adventures amongst these odd beings play out against a backdrop of the government's brutal crackdown on anti-Franco rebels.

With its host of fantastical creatures and its mysterious and potentially unreliable narrator, "Pan's Labyrinth" could almost be seen as a descendant of "The House of Asterion." And in fact, del Toro has said that Borges' stories were among his inspirations for his screenplay.

Over the past few years, it has become fashionable to use labyrinths as a meditation aid. Those who walk the single, spiraling path into the center and out again have been known to experience a spiritual epiphany. I wonder whether that feeling is akin to the sense of wonder a reader feels in reaching the center of one of Borges' stories.

I'm thinking of tackling magic realism for my next writing project. Maybe I'll incorporate a labyrinth of my own.

Thanks for stopping by hearth/myth on this year's Magic Realism Bloghop. I hope you come back and visit again. And don't forget to check out the other blogs participating in the hop.

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

That fraudulent feeling.

First, some bits of news:
  • This past Friday was Lughnasa, and to celebrate, my pal Kriss Morton let me play on her blog for my fourth Fourth-Wall Friday. In this one, I got to tour the NWNN studios on a crucial day during the plot of Scorched Earth. I love writing these things. Figuring out a way to insert myself into my books is just a ton of fun. Kriss, bless her heart, posted links to my other three appearances on this Friday's post, so if you missed one of the earlier ones, feel free to click on through and read 'em all.
  • Next weekend's post will be going up early, on Thursday the 7th, as part of Zoe Brooks' second annual Magic Realism Blog Hop. She has about 20 bloggers signed up to participate in this year's hop, including one of my co-minions at Indies Unlimited, Yvonne Hertzberger. Reading everybody's posts last year was fascinating, and I'm looking forward to having another great time this year. I hope you'll join us on the hop.
This week, Bob Mayer posted at Genreality about feeling like a fraud. He tailored his post to writers, but almost anybody who's high-achieving can fall into this trap.

Impostor Syndrome is a legitimate psychological condition. Sufferers believe that their achievements aren't due to skill or brilliance. Instead, they feel that they simply lucked into their success, and someday somebody's going to figure it out and humiliate them. As you might imagine, anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with Impostor Syndrome, and depression sometimes does, too.

When first identified back in the 1970s, researchers thought the syndrome only affected women, but more recent research has shown that men can suffer from it, too. And minorities are somewhat more susceptible -- which makes sense when you think about some of the opinions on affirmative action floating around out there (i.e., the feeling that minorities are unfairly being given jobs that ought to go to whites).

This syndrome often hits when the person is thrown into a new situation and expected to perform at a higher level than previously -- like, oh, say, writing the first draft of a novel. But it's not just a feeling of being in over your head; any sane person will have some doubts when tackling a new project. It's the sense that you never should have been given the project in the first place.

The American Psychological Association recommends some coping skills for those suffering from Impostor Syndrome -- among them, recognizing that nobody expects you to be perfect (since perfectionism also can accompany the syndrome), and building up your confidence by acknowledging what you've already achieved.

Mayer suggests stepping away from the space inside your head to view your achievements as if they belonged to someone else, and then asking yourself the likelihood that an impostor would have been able to amass such a resume.

Personally, I think that above all, you should avoid comparing yourself with other people. No matter how good you are at what you do, there will always be somebody who's better at it -- someone who wins more awards, sells more books or widgets, or makes more money. Comparing yourself with others can motivate you, sure. But if the comparisons tend to make you feel like you'll never be any good and what were you thinking when you got involved with this and maybe you should just quit right now -- just stop. Better to keep your head down in your work, and remind yourself of all the things that make you the fabulous person that you are.

Because, as I've been known to tell my kids, you're unique -- just like everybody else.

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