Sunday, December 30, 2018

That New Year's baby had better be smiling.

I thought I had a topic all set for this week's blog post. I mean, here we are, in the liminal days between Christmas and New Year's, when the Lord of Misrule is in charge, and...yeah. Turns out I wrote about that last year

Which is too bad, because 2018 was quite the dumpster fire in a lot of ways -- worse than 2017, which was pretty terrible, and way worse than 2016, which only got super sucky toward the end. Remember our 2016 dumpster fire ornament? Boy, did we ever jump the gun.

Now 2019 is looming around the corner, and Baby New Year doesn't exactly look like he's ready to give us a joyous smile.

For me personally, I'm pretty sure this coming year will be better than the last few. We're in a much calmer living situation, for one thing, having fled the continuously-under-construction apartment building this past spring. (It's still undergoing renovation. Unbelievable.) And we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the denouement of the decade-long saga of my mother's house and estate. (For more information on that, go here.) I thought publishing the memoir would be the end of it, but old family stuff never dies. I've spent the better part of this past year processing that, along with a bunch of other stuff.

But I'm ready to start writing again. I won NaNo last month, after all. And by the way, I want to thank y'all for your kind words the short-short story I posted last week. I'm going to dive into editing Rivers Run and writing the sequel as soon as I finish posting this. No, really. 

And for those of you following the #escapevelocity countdown, today's magic number is 341. 

Have a terrific New Year's celebration. See ya in 2019!

These moments of anticipatory blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A holiday tale for my readers.

Alert hearth/myth readers will recall that last Yule, I wrote a short, holiday-themed story for the blog. I had so much fun with it that this year I've done it again.

The main character is Raney Meadows, who also happens to be the protagonist of Rivers Run, the NaNo novel I wrote last month. This story is a prequel to the novel, but not by a lot. Hope you enjoy it. 

Happy holidays!

Copyright glayan |

So here’s why I gave the ex the old heave-ho. I refer to it as the Christmas mermaid incident.

Don’t look so surprised. Elementals celebrate Christmas, more or less. My mother, who’s an undine, knows Water Elementals who were there when Moses parted the Red Sea. They weren’t acquainted with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, of course, since they lived in the desert and all. But the sylphs of the Air carried the story to the Land, Fire, and Water Elementals, although some details might have gotten lost along the way. Sylphs are Air-headed, my mother always said.

Anyway, the point is that Elementals do celebrate human holidays, particularly when they’re passing as human, as Mam and I were. I’m half human anyway, and Mam thought the best way to keep my father from finding us was to live as if we weren’t Elementals at all. “Hiding in plain sight,” she called it.

I didn’t learn why we needed to hide from my father until much later.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Focus, Raney! Do you want people to think you’re a sylph?

We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Mam would get a feeling that my father was closing in on us and she’d whisk us off to a new place. A lot of the time, we left in a hurry, with not much more than the clothes we were wearing. But Mam always made sure we saved one thing: a Christmas ornament in the shape of a mermaid. Now this wasn’t one of those Disney princesses, or some sexy siren in a coconut bra. This lovely lady wore a black off-the-shoulder bodice with white trim, and her blond hair was in marcel waves. I thought she was the most beautiful, most elegant creature in the world. She’s probably the reason I decided to become an actor. I wanted to be just as beautiful and elegant as her.

Anyway, wherever we washed ashore, she was the first thing we hung on our Christmas tree. Mam said if she was there, we were home.

When I got my big acting break – the lead in a TV crime drama – and I bought the beachfront house in Malibu, Mam gave her to me. “She’ll like it at your house,” Mam said. “It will be like going home for her.” She pretended she wasn’t crying, so I didn’t say anything. I just got a stand for her and put her on a table in the living room that overlooked the ocean. That’s where she was when the ex moved in.

I don’t want to say his name because it might draw him back, but you know who I mean. Our relationship was in all the magazines. He was tall and hunky, and I was short and cute (I could do beautiful, but not without a couple of hours in a makeup chair). Unfortunately, he knew how good-looking he was. And the only thing he was really interested in was money.

Why did I let him move in? It was the classic Hollywood story: We shot a movie together, during which we spent several hours every day in and out of bed. Pretty soon it felt real.

The trouble started the first time he didn’t see me in the pool. As an undine, I have an affinity for water. Which is to say that when I’m in it, I can become one with it.

It’s not a thing I let many people know about, because they tend to react the way T&H did: “Where did you come from? One minute the pool was empty, and the next, you’re climbing out of it naked! It’s like you materialized or something!”

“Or something,” I said. “Hand me that towel, would you, sweetie?”

He struck a pose and smirked. “Maybe I’ll just let you get out on your own.”

It took several months, but eventually he got the full story out of me – and then he started pestering me to go public with it. “You should tell Sid,” he said one day as we sat on my sofa together. The French doors were open to the pool deck and the ocean breeze.

Sid was my agent. I got cold chills just thinking about what Tall and Hunky was suggesting. My father was still looking for my mother – if he heard about the undine in the movies, it wouldn’t take him long to track me down, and then her. “That would be a bad idea,” I said to T&H.

“Why? You could make millions of dollars from this gimmick!”

“It’s not a gimmick,” I said. “It’s part of my nature.”

“Nature, schmature,” he jeered. “You just don’t want to be rich.”

“I thought we were doing pretty well already,” I said, pointing to the view. The conversation was giving me an urge to run out onto the deck, pass the pool, and swan dive into the waves. Strong emotions do that to me.

“I’m sick of this, Raney,” he said, pulling out his phone. “If you won’t call him, I will. What’s his number?”

I took the phone from his hand – he was strong, but I was Elemental strong – and tossed it out onto the deck. “No!” I said. “It’s too dangerous! You don’t understand what you’re asking me to do!”

He stared hard at me. “Oh, I understand, all right,” he growled. Then he pushed past me – to retrieve his phone, I thought. But he snatched the mermaid ornament from its stand. “You care more about being a mermaid than you do about me!” he said, clenching her in his fist.

I gasped in fear for her. “I’m not a mermaid,” I said. “Give her back.”

“Call Sid!”

“Not until you give her back!”

An evil smile lit his face. He wound up like a major league pitcher and threw the ornament out the open door. It sailed in an arc over the pool and the deck beyond, and was gone. “You were never gonna call him,” he said.

I was so livid, I didn’t stop to think. Instinct caused me to call upon the water in the pool. It rose up in a towering wall and, with a surgical strike, swept T&H off his feet and out my front door.

I followed and watched him tumble down my driveway to the street, screaming all the way. “And don’t come back!” I called. “I’ll ship your junk to your wife!” I slammed the door and locked it.

Then I sat on the sofa, trembling, as loss and relief tumbled around inside me. True, I’d averted disaster for my mother and me – but at what price? The man I’d spent three years loving was gone. He’d proven himself unworthy, but still. And I’d lost the mermaid ornament – my only tangible connection to my childhood.

I walked to the other side of the deck and peered over the side. It was a sheer drop of hundreds of feet to the surf below. Nope, she was gone for good.

I turned and and bleakly regarded my empty pool. If I hadn’t been so upset, I would have thought to leave enough water in the bottom for a soak.

My bathtub was a poor substitute, but it did the job. I submerged and dissolved, letting the water leach my overwhelming emotions from each individual molecule.

Sometime later, after I’d reassembled and gotten dressed, I called Sid. “Look,” I said. “I need to get out of town for a while and clear my head. I’m going to…to…” My eyes lit on a Blu-Ray that T&H had left behind: A Walk in the Woods. I smiled and said, “I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail.”

Now? Can’t it wait ‘til shooting wraps for the season?”

“No, it can’t,” I said, thinking fast. “If I want to start in Georgia, I need to go now, before it gets hot.”

He gave me a long-suffering sigh. “Okay, Raney, I’ll call the producer and see what he says. But you know the show’s teetering in the ratings. If you take off, the network might just cancel it.”

“I won’t be gone long,” I said. “I just need to get out of town for a while.” Long enough for T&H to convince himself I wasn’t magical – just crazy.

As I ended the call, I thought I heard a giggle and a distant splash. Puzzled, I walked into the living room – and stopped. 

A watery trail led from the deck railing to the table where the mermaid used to hold court. To my surprise, she was back – dripping wet, but otherwise undamaged. I swear she winked at me.

I rushed to the railing and yelled, “Thank you!” into the wind. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to deserve the mermaids’ favor, but I was grateful anyway.

Little did I know that payback time was coming. In just a few weeks, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, I would find the body of a kayaker who wasn’t a kayaker but who was definitely dead.

But that’s a story for another time.
These moments of damp but festive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Cookie weekend 2018.

This year's spoils. One more batch to go!
This weekend was my annual cookie baking blitz, and I am happy to report that the Awesome Kitchen that came with the new apartment has performed every bit as spectacularly as I thought it would.

For my holiday cookie recipes, I rely mostly on old favorites, as I suspect most people do. I've been using the same recipe for Toll House chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies for 40 years now; I got it from my mother, who used it for as long as I can remember.

Every now and then, though, I try something new. Sometimes it works (the gluten free almond-cardamom snowballs are really good) and sometimes it doesn't (the chocolate molasses cookies at the far right are meh). But I'm struck by the differences in the way recipes are written now. Come with me as I don my Old Farts hat and compare a recipe of today to one of yesteryear...

Let's take those almond-cardamom balls. Basically it's a shortbread cookie with spices and stuff mixed in, except it uses gluten-free flour that has xanthan gum already added so it behaves like regular flour. The result is still kind of crumbly, but shortbread is mostly butter anyway, so it's not as noticeable here as it might be in other cookies.

My mother's Betty Crocker Cookbook (copyright 1950) has a recipe for almond crescents that's pretty similar, so I'll compare it to the almond balls I made today. That recipe came from our local grocery store. 

The snowballs call for confectioners' sugar instead of granulated in the dough. I have no idea why, unless it's to make the ingredient list a little shorter. Betty calls for less flour -- 1 2/3 cups to 2 cups of GF flour -- but that's not a huge difference. 

The big difference is in the directions. Betty's are very short: "Mix together thoroughly" the shortening, sugar and ground almonds, then "stir together and work in" the flour and salt. Then, "chill dough," she says. Her directions for forming the cookies and rolling them in confectioners' sugar are similarly perfunctory. 

The directions for the snowballs, by contrast, take up half a column and assume you're an idiot in the kitchen. Step 1 is to use a food processor on the nuts "until very finely chopped but not pasty." Step 2 tells you to use a hand mixer or stand mixer to mix the dough, then "cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight." Step 3 starts with, "Remove cookie dough from refrigerator" -- no, really? Then you're supposed to line your cookie sheets with parchment paper (they're full of butter -- what's the parchment for? It's not like they're going to stick to the pan) and then, "with mini cookie scoop, scoop and roll dough into 1-inch balls." Step 4 is to bake them; step 5 is to roll them in confectioners' sugar. Of course, the directions are far more detailed than that.

I know kids today don't have to take home ec., but wow. 

I was a rebel. I used a hand chopper for my nuts, a hand-held pastry blender to cream the butter and sugar, and a spoon to scoop my dough. The cookies still turned out fine.

Here's the recipe, with the directions re-written for those of you who aren't idiots. It's from the December 2018 issue of "Savory." 

Gluten-Free Snowballs (Almond-Cardamom Variation)

Cream together:
1 c. (2 sticks) butter
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar

Mix in:
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

Work in: 
2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 c. chopped almonds
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Chill dough for 2 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheets 1 inch apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then roll in confectioners' sugar. Let cool thoroughly and roll in confectioners' sugar again.

(The recipe says it makes 28 servings but neglects to mention how many cookies are in a serving. I got 4 dozen cookies. You do the math.)

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

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hark! A madrigal or two.

One of the joys of the holiday season for us is taking in a performance of the Christmas Revels. There are a number of Revels organizations around the country -- our local branch is the Washington Revels -- but in all of them, everyone involved is a volunteer, and every year they put on a holiday show that features a different historical era or nation or both.

In DC, this year's show is set in Elizabethan England. There's a very loose storyline -- Elizabeth I travels to the town of Norwich to celebrate Yule with the country folk, and there runs into Will Kemp, a former member of Shakespeare's theater troupe. Kemp has just completed a marketing stunt: he has Morris danced the 100 miles from London to Norwich (which really happened, just not at Yule). Anyway, the point of a Revels show is the music; the storyline is a convenient scaffolding on which to hang a bunch of songs and dances. And they make the audience get up and sing, too. (One of these years I'm going to nail the arpeggio in the third part of "Dona Nobis Pacem," I swear it.)

Fun fact to know and tell: I went off to college intending to major in music. My first semester disabused me of the idea pretty rapidly, but I did gain a few things, among them an appreciation for Renaissance music. So I was pleased, but not really surprised, during yesterday's show when I found myself fa-la-la'ing along to a song I recognized because I have a recording of it.

I couldn't have told you the name of the tune, however; I had to look it up. It's a madrigal called "Hark all ye lovely saints above" by Thomas Weelkes. Wikipedia says Weelkes was the organist at Winchester College around 1600. Then he moved to Chichester Cathedral after earning a music degree from Oxford. He is best known for writing vocal music -- madrigals as well as music for Anglican services. He also apparently had a drinking problem and was a "notorious swearer and blasphemer." That last bit endears him to me, but apparently not to the church elders, as eventually he was fired. He died in London at the age of 47.

Okay, so what's a madrigal? It's a type of secular choral music developed in the Renaissance and featuring up to eight people singing in harmony. The part about harmony is important. Until medieval times, every piece of music was monophonic -- in other words, it had a melody and that was it. Gregorian chant, for example, is monophonic. But in the Middle Ages, composers began introducing a second melodic line as a counterpoint. By Weelkes' time, 400 or so years later, things had gotten crazy. In fact, the Elizabethan age is considered to be the greatest era for music in English history. (Until the Beatles, I guess.)

The thing about Weelkes is that he created moods with his music. Here's "Hark all ye lovely saints above" with the lyrics so you can follow along. The song is in a major key, but when he gets to "why weep ye?" it switches to a minor key. The same thing happens later, on "ere ladies mourn." It's a little like a tone poem. (Think of the fa-la-las as the Renaissance version of shoo-be-doo-wop and they won't seem so weird.)

This is not the recording I own, by the way. Mine is on Welcome Sweet Pleasure by the Waverly Consort, an album that was never released on CD. As it happens, the title tune from that album is another madrigal by Weelkes. Here's a version of it. (Fair warning: More fa-la-las ahead...)

On that happy note, have a great week!

These moments of polyphonic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Welcome, Yule!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

All I want for Christmas.

You may have seen the meme that's begun floating around Facebook about the difference in the nature of holiday wish lists. Here's the version I saw today:
Christmas is so much worse as you get older. It's like, "What do you want?"
"Financial security. A career. A sense of purpose. A nap would be nice."
I can relate.

When my daughters were small, the rule was that they had to make their holiday wish lists when the TV was turned off. The idea was to have them put down things they actually wanted, and not whatever new shiny thing was featured in whatever commercial they happened to be watching at the time. It wasn't that they never asked for a thing they'd seen advertised on TV, but at least the desire for it had stuck with them after the show was over.

Then they wanted a list from me. I had several problems with this request:
  • I knew how big their allowances were.
  • I was doing the "simple living" thing, or trying to, so I didn't want to encourage anyone to buy me a bunch of stuff I didn't need and wouldn't use -- least of all my kids, in whom I was supposed to be instilling values and whatnot.
  • The stuff I actually needed -- grownup things like a new car or enough money pay off a credit card -- I knew they couldn't afford to get me.
  • And to make things even more complicated, my birthday is a little over two weeks before Christmas, so I had to come up with enough realistic gift ideas for both occasions.
So I would compromise. I would list a few things I could use that I knew they could afford, and then I'd add some ringers. World peace made the list every year. "An end to hunger" did, too. Sadly, I never got either one.

Now that the girls are much older, we still exchange wish lists -- but these days, filling them out is usually a matter of poking around on Amazon plus a hobby-specific website or two. Too, we try to buy local and support small businesses. And as I head closer to retirement, I'm once again considering stuff with an eye toward whether I'll want to move it in a couple of years -- not to mention whether I'll have space for it when I downsize.

But two things will always make my list: world peace and an end to hunger. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll get 'em.

A nap would be nice, too, though. Too bad Amazon doesn't sell them.

Speaking of holidays, Hanukkah starts tonight. We here at hearth/myth wish peace, joy and love to those who celebrate it -- and everybody else, too, for that matter.

Oh, by the way, I won NaNaWriMo. And the book has a name at last. The series title is Elemental Keys and the title of the first book is Rivers Run. I've already started writing book two, which shall remain nameless for now, mostly because I came up with the title before I wrote the book outline and now I'm thinking I might change it. Stay tuned...

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

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The cost of border wars.

We're wrapping up a lovely, restful, four-day Thanksgiving weekend here at La Casa Cantwell. On Thursday, I made turkey with all the trimmings and we ate ourselves into oblivion. I've spent the rest of the time alternately working on the NaNo novel (the WIP is finished -- yay! -- but I have another 8,000-ish words to write before I can claim victory this year) and picking out decorations for the balcony that we didn't have last December but we do now.

As always, though, the respite is coming to a close. Some returns to reality are harsher than others, and this weekend's seems to be among the more brutal variety.

News reached us last week that a Christian missionary named John Allen Chau had broken the law by trying to land on North Sentinel Island off the coast of India and convert the members of the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world. It's illegal to get within three nautical miles of the coastline. The regulation is there to protect both the Sentinelese and outsiders: Indian authorities fear that contact with modern people would transmit diseases that the tribal members have no immunity to, and the tribe itself has communicated its desire to be left alone -- its members shoot arrows at anyone who gets close.

Apparently none of that mattered to Chau, who was so bent on spreading the gospel to people who clearly didn't want to hear it that he paid some local fishermen to take him to the island. That was on November 14th. Chau reportedly spent two days shouting verses from Genesis at the islanders from a kayak. On the morning of the 17th -- just over a week ago -- the fishermen saw the Sentinelese dragging Chau's body along the beach. No one's seen him since. And the Indian authorities have been unable to retrieve the body because the Sentinelese won't let them onto the island.

Chau was 26 years old and a graduate of Oral Roberts University. By all accounts, he had his whole life in front of him. He told friends that he was willing to risk his life to bring Christianity to the Sentinelese. Looks like his God took him at his word.

Then this afternoon, word came from San Diego that U.S. border agents had fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants as they protested near the border between Mexico and the United States. More than 8,000 migrants from Central America are waiting in Baja California to cross, but processing has slowed to a crawl and the official border crossing was closed today because of the protest. While the march itself was peaceful, some of the migrants tried to breach the concertina wire at the border and others threw rocks at border personnel. That gave the agents the excuse they needed to open fire with tear gas. No one was reported hurt, and the border crossing has since been reopened.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the tear gas was used "because of the risk to agents' safety." Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, "DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness."

Except the "lawlessness" was minor: Rock throwing.

On the surface, these two incidents are similar only in that they both involve defense of a border. But they rhyme for me in another way.

Here in the United States, we have prided ourselves for generations on being a haven for all those who have been oppressed -- and yet we have a history of suspicion and outright hatred of those who come to America from other lands. The Chinese and the Irish were among the first targets of distrust. Then it was the Japanese during World War Two. More recently it's been Muslims and anybody who's brown -- even Native Americans, which is particularly laughable when you realize that for them, whites are the interlopers.

And as for these latest waves of Central American migrants, they're coming here because the United States has long worked to destabilize the governments in their home countries. Why? Because it was helpful for U.S. companies doing business in Central America if dictators were in charge. We are responsible for the migrants' plight -- and now that they've come to us for sanctuary, we're turning them away.

This isn't a Democrat-vs.-Republican thing. The clandestine effort to stick our noses into Central American politics has been going on at least since the end of the Cold War. Administrations of both political parties have been complicit.

I'm ashamed at the way we've treated these people and at the way we continue to abuse them.

And that's where I see an intersection between the migrants at our border and the Sentinelese. John Chau had no thought for the people he wanted to convert beyond his own personal interest. Just as the United States has used the people of Central American as economic cannon fodder, Chau was determined to sacrifice the Sentinelese in service to his God -- even if it killed them.

May the gods forgive us for what we have done.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Weaving, or: another crafty distraction.

For starters, I want to reassure you all that I am making steady progress on this year's NaNo novel. In fact, I'm right where the NaNo folks say I should be -- 30,000 words today. Together with the 12,000-ish words I wrote for this book prior to the start of NaNo, I'm basically at the point in the narrative where things should begin hurtling toward the denouement -- and they have.

Neither the book nor the series has a title yet, but I'm sure that will fix itself by and by. It always has before.

I'm saying this upfront because I didn't want to scare y'all by telling you I'm picking up another hobby: weaving.

The term "fiber arts" encompasses a multitude of disciplines, and aside from creating my own fiber from scratch (as in raising sheep or cotton or something), I've tried nearly all of them at one point or another. As I kid, I learned sewing and embroidery. Crewel work was a natural outgrowth of embroidery, as it uses the same stitches. I picked up needlepoint when I was in college. Most of that stuff went by the wayside when I started raising kids. But then some years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to knit, so I got a book and taught myself. 

Some fiber arts I've taken to more than others. Crochet and I have never gotten along, despite my mother's best efforts to teach me. Then there's spinning. A couple of years ago, I learned how to spin yarn with a drop spindle, and managed to spin a whole skein of yarn myself -- but while I like collecting pretty spindles, that's probably as far as I'll go with it.

So with some trepidation, I signed up for a two-day, pre-Halloween "weaving retreat" at fibre space, our local yarn shop in Alexandria. It was an intense couple of days; our instructor, Liz Gipson, confessed on day two that she called it a retreat because if she called it "Weaving Bootcamp," nobody would come. But there was a method to her madness. On day one, we worked in pairs to warp our looms. Warping is the process of putting the long threads on the loom so that you can weave the cross threads (called the weft) through them. It's also the thing that gives most new weavers fits, so doing it twice on the first day was a genius move. Also, we started with a small project -- a 24-inch-long table runner -- which we easily finished in a day. Here's mine. I hadn't yet washed it or trimmed the fringe when I took this photo, but you get the idea.

On day two, we warped our looms again and started a new project: a scarf that incorporates colorwork in the design. The pattern called for a light main color and a contrasting accent color; I had to be different, of course, so I used a dark variegated yarn for my main color and a light gray for the contrasting color. Here's the project in progress on the loom. I'd tucked the shuttles in between the warp strings so I could take the loom home.

Both of these yarns were leftovers from earlier projects, and the scarf turned out so well that it's giving me ideas for all the leftover yarn I have from all my other projects. Plus my enthusiasm for knitting has been waning a bit lately, and weaving has the same kind of Zen appeal while using up yarn a lot faster. And you can weave more than just long, thin things; this little loom won't do rugs or tablecloths in one piece, but there's nothing saying you can't weave a bunch of strips and sew them together. Or weave your own cloth and use it to make clothing.

I haven't yet warped the loom for project number three, but that's only because of NaNo. Come the New Year, I see placemats in my future. And maybe a handwoven kimono-style jacket -- possibly even featuring that yarn I handspun.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

NaNo'ing again, for the eighth time.

I haven't made a big deal about it, as concerned about this past week's election as I've been. But yes, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year.

For the uninitiated, the idea is to start writing a novel on November 1st and keep writing every day, 1,667 words per day. If you can stick to it, you will write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. I mean, it's math: 1,667 per day x 30 days in November = 50,010 words. So really you could slack off on the final day and write just 1,662 words. Or you could write 1,666 words two out of three days and 1,667 the rest of the days. Your choice.

How many pages is 1,667 words? If a page is 500 words single-spaced, then your goal is to write a hair over three pages per day.

This is my eighth time participating in NaNoWriMo -- and if I fail this year, it would be my first time ever. So I don't plan to fail. (My previous NaNo novels, for those keeping track at home: The Maidens' War in 2008, SwanSong in 2009, Seized in 2011, Gravid in 2012, Undertow in 2013, Spider's Lifeline in 2015, and Maggie in the Dark in 2016.)

Which is why I'm doing it again. This has not been a very productive year for me, writing-wise -- which is a roundabout way of saying it has sucked. I usually publish three or four books per year, but this year I've published just one -- Mom's House -- and I've got nothing in the pipeline for the rest of this calendar year except maybe an omnibus for the Transcendence trilogy. There are a lot of reasons for my lack of productivity, but mostly it can be attributed to fallout from the sale of my mother's house in January and our sudden move in the spring. I've started a couple of things, but haven't finished anything. So with November coming up, I figured an arbitrary and capricious deadline was just what I needed to get back on track. After all, it's worked for me before.

The new book doesn't have a title yet. The working title for the series is Elemental Truths, but I expect that will change. This first book is set in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and the main character is a TV actor who decided she needed to hike the Appalachian Trail. Near Harpers Ferry, she finds a body in the Shenandoah River. The police believe the guy was a kayaker who drowned, but Our Hero is an undine -- a Water Elemental -- and she knows the guy didn't drown. Things get weirder from there.

I'm kind of cheating with this novel. For NaNo in November, you're supposed to write a brand-new book -- but what I'm working on this month is one of the projects I started earlier this year. When I dusted it off, I was surprised to learn that I'd written about 11,000 words before I set it aside. So although my official NaNo word count right now is about 19,500 words, really I'm about 30,000 words into the book. My books typically top out at around 53,000 words, so I expect to finish this book well before NaNo's over. If I do, I plan to start working on the second book in the series. In any case, I'll keep writing 'til I've cranked out 50,000 new words this month.

I'm not worried. It's not like the NaNo Police will come looking for me.

I'll keep you posted on my progress, and on whether I come up with a name for the book.

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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Two more days.

I'm sure you've heard by now -- even if you don't live in the US -- that this coming Tuesday, Americans will be going to the polls. (I'm pretty sure everyone in the galaxy has heard. We've certainly been making enough noise about it.)

This is a midterm election -- it happens halfway between the four-year Presidential elections -- and even though we're voting on candidates for every Congressional seat and one-third of those for US senators (as well as a ton of state and local offices), the current occupant of the White House wants everyone to believe that he's on the ballot again this time. In a way, he is; a lot of Americans are disgusted with the way he has conducted himself so far and with the way his fellow Republicans in Congress have refused to make any meaningful moves toward reining him in. There's been a lot of talk about a "blue wave" coming, and a fair amount of hold-your-breath hopefulness about the percentage of early ballots being cast around the country.

So here we are, two days out. And FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregator that has a reputation for being pretty even-handed and maybe even a little conservative, gives the Democrats a 6 in 7 chance of capturing the House, and Republicans a 5 in 6 chance of keeping the Senate.

But polls can only tell you so much. Two days before the last Presidential election, the polls had Hillary Clinton as the winner. A lot of Democrats still aren't over that abrupt loss -- and they're trying hard not to get too excited right now, lest it happen again. As the saying goes, he who expects nothing shall not be disappointed.

The suspense is getting to me, too, a little. I had planned to be out of town this coming week, so I got an absentee ballot and mailed it in several weeks ago, and now I'm ready for the votes to be counted and the hoopla to be over.

The process of voting by mail was easy and painless. I don't know why more states -- including Virginia -- don't allow everyone to vote by mail.

Wait. Yes, I do.

Once upon a time, or so I've been told, Republicans in Virginia Beach tried to get more involvement in the city's elections. Now at that time, the Virginia Republican Party used the caucus system to select their candidates, and the party officials in Virginia Beach wanted more people to show up to their local caucus. So they hired a consultant, and he came up with a whole bunch of ideas for increasing turnout. I can't remember what they were, but let's just say they involved things like holding the caucus at a more convenient time for working people. To which the horrified officials responded: "But if we did that, just anybody might show up."

That spirit is alive and well today. That's how you get dumb rules like the one that requires Native Americans in North Dakota to present an ID with a street address in order to vote, when state officials know good and well most folks who live on reservations don't have street addresses. It's also how you get Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp throwing out tens of thousands of African-American voters' registrations on a technicality because he's running for governor against a black woman. After a judge slapped his wrist for it, he then charged his opponent's party with hacking and launched an investigation despite having zero evidence.

Aside from that, there's the gerrymandering that both parties have engaged in. And hey, the Russians are still out there playing their own games with our electoral system, and nobody in charge seems to be too concerned about stopping them.

The odds are long that our election will be 100% fair. But we can overwhelm those odds if we all just show up to vote.

Tuesday. Mark your calendar. Show up. Vote.

This bloggy get-out-the-vote exhortation has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The final brain post, and a plea for kindness.

This post will be somewhat disjointed. I promised y'all I would post the sugar skull cowl when I finished it. As Samhain, Halloween and Día de los Muertos are all coming up this week, I need to do that today. But my head and heart are elsewhere right now, and I imagine a lot of you feel the same way. I'll get to that in a minute.

First, the cowl. Double knitting turned out to be perfect for this project. As you may recall, the idea behind double knitting is that you end up with a double-thick item that has a colorwork design on one side and the negative image of it on the other side. You knit both layers at the same time. It's a fun technique that I'll likely do again someday.

Here's the finished product:

I put some corkscrew fringe on top of the hat for fun.

I find that which side I wear depends on the color of my coat or jacket. With my navy blue quilted coat, I've been wearing the multicolored background. With my brown jacket, I've been wearing the side with the blue background showing.

Of course, it's now supposed to be 70 degrees on Wednesday. Maybe it'll be cold enough in the office for the cowl.

As I mentioned, Samhain is coming up this week. Many Pagans consider this our New Year's Eve. As the Wheel of the Year turns, Samhain marks the start of the dark half of the year, a time to go within ourselves and contemplate our personal harvest and what we might want to accomplish in the year to come.

It's also said to be one of the times of the year when the veil between worlds becomes thin. That makes it easier to reach those on the other side -- magical beings as well as those who have gone ahead of us in death. The veil doesn't thin all at once, for an hour at the stroke of midnight on Halloween or anything like that. It's a gradual thing. I've even heard some folks say that in general, the veil is thinner now than usual. 

Anyway. I don't mean for this to sound dramatic, but several days ago I received a message from the other side that I'd like to share with you. Here it is: It's going to get worse before it gets better.

I was dismayed but not surprised. Our country -- as well as much of Western society -- has been deteriorating pretty steadily into two polarized camps, and those in charge don't seem inclined to lead us out of it. In fact, they're egging us on. It gets them votes, after all, and keeps them in power.

And so just this past week, we've learned that someone thought it would be a good idea to send pipe bombs through the mail to many liberal political leaders and some news organizations. And just yesterday, someone thought it was a good idea to take a gun into a synagogue and shoot a bunch of old people -- some of them survivors of the Holocaust.

A lot of us are sick at heart over this poisoned atmosphere we're all living in. How do we clear the air? It's like we're at war with one another. How do we stop the madness?

The Associated Press talked to Robb Willer, a sociology professor at Stanford University. Willer calls this "the question of our time:  Are we going to choose to continue the war, or are we going to choose peace? And we don’t know yet what the answer to that will be, because while a majority of Americans are fed up with the extremity of our political divisions, it does feel like we’re stuck here." And then he says, "It's going to get worse before it gets better."

Gee, I've heard that somewhere before.

I know this is going to sound like liberal snowflake claptrap, but you know what would fix this? If we all just decided to be kind. I'm serious -- that's all it would take. Be kind to everyone you know and everyone you meet. Assume the best instead of the worst. And if someone is trying to scare you into hating someone or a group of someones, ask yourself why. 

There's an election coming up on November 6th. It's too late to register in most jurisdictions, but if you're not registered and you still can, do it. Then cast your vote on election day -- or sooner, if they'll let you. But don't vote out of fear. Vote for kindness. It may sound like the weenie option, but I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that will save us.

These moments of bifurcated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get out and vote!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Skull Month, week 3: Brain and brain!

I admit it. Sometimes I make obscure cultural references just to make my kids wonder what's wrong with their mother.

One of the things I sometimes say is, "Vagel, I'm coming!" It's from Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need duology. One of the characters is a master mage gone mad, and he has a tendency to hop through mirrors while yelling to another master mage that he's on his way. (The Watchers in the audience are saying, "I knew that!")

Another phrase that pops into my head occasionally is, "Brain and brain! What is brain?" I expect more folks will get this one -- it's from the opening episode of the third season of the original Star Trek. The episode is called "Spock's Brain" and in it, a crew of marauding women procure said brain from Spock's head and make off with it. Kirk and the gang track them back to their home planet, where they discover that the women -- who are called Eymorgs -- have installed Spock's brain as a sort of planetary CPU.

In case that doesn't refresh your memory, here's a four-minute condensed version that I found on YouTube:

As you can see, uninstalling and installing a brain requires advanced technical knowledge, but it's clear the Eymorgs don't have any. In order to complete their task, their leader must don special headgear called The Teacher. The device temporarily imparts sufficient information to the leader so she can do what needs to be done. It's kind of like cramming for a test. And Mr. McCoy must resort to using the same device to put Spock's brain back where it belongs.

Supposedly this is the worst episode of the series. I have no opinion either way -- other episodes annoy me more -- but it does underscore the way the original Star Trek was a creature of its times, particularly when it comes to portraying women.

Don't get me wrong -- the series made great strides for women. Uhura, who was both black and female, was a bridge officer, and the voice of the computer was female. One presumes there were more women on the crew than just Uhura and Nurse Chapel, although we never see them -- or at least I don't remember seeing any. (Yes, I know that Majel Barrett was both Nurse Chapel and the computer's voice. And yes, I know she was married to Gene Roddenberry.)

But then there's Kirk's constant womanizing. And you also get the story lines like the one in "Spock's Brain," in which the women are dumb bunnies who are looked upon by their male counterparts as "givers of pain and delight." To be fair, the men don't appear to be any brighter. Why "the builders" -- the ancestors who built the underground facility where the Eymorgs live -- thought it would be a good idea to keep their descendents stupid is a question for the ages.

Be that as it may, I find this women-as-other attitude in a lot of early science fiction, and it keeps me from appreciating it as much as I otherwise might. For example, I enjoyed Robert Heinlein's early work, but then he started relying on horny old Lazarus Long as a deus ex machina who got him out of every plot hole. And I remember thinking when I read Dune that Frank Herbert didn't have much use for women.

I get that these guys were writing for other guys, or for themselves. But still I'm glad that science fiction has progressed to the point where women are captaining starships instead of asking what a brain is.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

This post may be in eleven dimensions.

Maybe I'll make this brain month. Last week I talked about knitting my sugar skull cowl; the skull, of course, houses the brain. So today I'm going to peer inside the skull at the brain, or something very like it.

geralt | CC0 | Pixabay
I admit that I don't make an effort to stay up-to-date on scientific breakthroughs, so I wasn't  surprised to learn that this bit of news slipped through the cracks last year: A couple of experts in algebraic topology (who knew that was a thing?) published a paper in which they described the brain as being capable of thinking in eleven dimensions. These dimensions don't actually exist, mind you. What the researchers did was apply algebra to the firing of neurons in a rat's brain, and kept track of the number of neurons involved in a particular stimulation. The connection between two neurons, as between any two points, is a line, which is two-dimensional; when more become involved, in what researchers call a clique, the interaction becomes three- and four-dimensional (the fourth dimension being time). When cliques begin interacting with one another, though, they routinely operate in seven dimensions and even up to eleven. Mathematically, at least. It's not something tangible, and the clique connections dissolve when the information exchange is done. One of the researchers likened these virtual structures to sand castles that fall apart at the next high tide. Another thing: cliques form around empty space, and this researcher speculated whether those empty spaces are where memories are stored.

I'm no scientist, but I can't help but wonder whether those empty spaces are not so much storage pods for memories as crucibles for creativity. Sometimes when my brain catches hold of an idea and begins pinging it around inside my skull, making associations on the fly, it feels a little like I'm building something out of thin air. A virtual sand castle, maybe?

I wondered whether these eleven-dimensional structures had anything to do with neural networks, so I looked it up -- and they don't. A neural network is a set of algorithms that allows computers to make decisions based on evolving sets of data. Neural networks are supposed to mimic human brain activity -- but they're pretty clearly primitive compared to the sort of thing these researchers in algebraic topology have found.

Anyway, the mathematicians behind this are affiliated with the Blue Brain Project, which aims to create a digital simulation of the brain. It's been in operation since 2005 and it's headquarted at a university in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization plans to simulate a rat brain first, and then move on to simulating the human brain.

If rats can model eleven dimension in their tiny rat brains, it makes you wonder how many dimensions humans can do. Maybe more! Or maybe less. Time, I guess, will tell.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Knitting skulls as relaxation.

I'm skipping past the opportunity to write a topical post this week. The Supreme Court nomination process has stressed me out so much that I've been knitting every evening. So I'm going to talk about my latest project -- which, if not topical, is at least seasonal.

Alert readers of hearth/myth have figured out by now that I have kind of a thing for sugar skulls. So last year, when a friend showed me a pattern for a Day of the Dead cowl that featured colorwork sugar skulls, I was determined to make it. And then I got busy with other stuff and never started it.

Last weekend, I got together for a knitting session with that friend and another one, and the cowl pattern came up. We decided it would be a perfect project for the three of us to work on at the same time, with the goal of finishing it by Halloween. A cowl out of worsted weight yarn does not take a long time to make -- even if it's not plain knitting. Plus it gave us an excuse to go to the yarn store.

You can click here to see what the project looks like. (I'm not posting the photo because I don't have the rights to it.) The rainbow-striped yarn used in the original has been discontinued, but we thought a variegated yarn would be a decent substitute. A knitting blogger used variegated yarns for both the main color and background color -- and then she swapped them and made the cowl a second time. That gave me an idea: What if I made my cowl reversible?

The technique is called double knitting, and I've been intrigued by it ever since Amy began using it to make things for her fellow Ingress players. Essentially you knit two fabrics -- one the negative image of the other -- at the same time. The resulting fabric is double the thickness, which is not a bad quality in a winter cowl.

Anyway, it's going pretty fast. I've already finished the bottom half of the skull, including the nose hole, and am about to start on the eye sockets. Here's the side with the dark background. There are plain stripes at the bottom and a flower-motif border under the skull.

And here's the reverse.

I'm really pleased with how it's going. In fact, I should have enough yarn left to make a hat to match. I'm not sure whether I'll finish the hat by Halloween, but we'll see.

I'll post photos when the cowl is done.

Publishing news: Speaking of Halloween, I'm pleased to announce that I have a story in Boo! Volume 5, a.k.a. A Fifth of Boo! My story is called "The Atherton Vampire" -- it's a prequel to the vampire novel I've been working on off and on. A bunch of other awesome writers also have stories in this volume, including Laurie Boris, JD Mader, and Mark Morris, and proceeds are going to cancer research.

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

I believe survivors.

I don't want to write this post.

It's already been a tough week for many of us who have suffered abuse in the past. Survivors of sexual abuse have had the worst time, I expect; a lot of them have been triggered by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony against Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Her account of what happened to her at a party 30 years ago brought up memories -- for some of them, memories they'd thought long buried.

The good news, if there is any, is many of the folks -- both women and men -- who were triggered sought help. The National Sexual Assault Hotline operated by the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network (RAINN) saw its traffic spike by more than 200%. (The hotline is still open, by the way; you can call 1-800-456-HOPE any time.)

None of the junk I went through would qualify as sexual abuse, thank goodness. There was one time in college when I was on the receiving end of an unsolicited dick pic. Some guy came up to us at a bar (Nick's English Hut in Bloomington, Indiana) and offered to show us a photo of his "friend" -- and then did. He'd even framed it. Unbelievable. Seriously, gentlemen -- if you have a photo of your junk, keep it to yourself.

Anyway, it never went beyond him shoving the photo at us, which is nothing like what Deborah Ramirez says Kavanaugh did to her when they were in college. And yet I still remember it, 40 years later.

Still, I learned this week that when it comes to triggers, abuse is abuse. I mentioned in my memoir, Mom's House, that one way I learned to cope with the emotional and verbal abuse I endured as a child was to binge eat. This past Thursday, I spent the day at work avoiding live video coverage of the hearings; instead, I read live blogs of the proceedings to keep up. I might as well have watched the video. I went home Thursday night, ordered a pizza, and ate the whole thing.

The lines between types of abuse aren't clear-cut. After all, abusers typically use more than one tactic to keep their victims on the string. "Don't tell anybody -- this will be our little secret" is, of course, emotional abuse.

Anyway, I'd rather be doing just about anything than writing this post. I'd rather be telling you more about my most recent vacation and how it relates to that #escapevelocity thing I talked about a while back. Or I could be writing about my new knitting project, in which I've adapted a colorwork cowl pattern to double knitting. Heck, I could be working on that cowl right now.

But it's important for us to keep talking about this stuff, no matter how painful. For me, that dick pic is wrapped up with the anger and humiliation I felt when my brother teased me, and it's also attached to the memory of a radio station program director who told me, with a straight face, that women shouldn't work morning drive (from 5:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m., the most lucrative time slot for air talent) because studies had shown that nobody wants to wake up to a woman's voice. Which I took to mean that hearing a girl on the radio in the morning would remind our male listeners of their unresolved stuff with Mom.

And then there was the time when I was covering an event while pregnant and a local businessman told me he was sure I was carrying a boy, because I looked happy, and every woman was happier with a little Peter inside her. He thought he was hilarious.

I swear to all the gods, I am not making this stuff up.

Which is why I believe Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez. I believe any women -- and any men -- who didn't come forward when the thing happened, 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, because they were embarrassed or too young or didn't think anyone would believe them, or maybe they did tell someone and weren't believed, and now some of the details are fuzzy. But the pain is seared into their souls.

I wish I didn't have to write this post. But I'm not going to shut up about this stuff. Because the only way to make it stop is for us to keep making noise.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What you wrote and what readers think you wrote.

When writers gather, one of the perennial topics of discussion is the comments readers make about our work. Sometimes readers understand exactly what we meant when we wrote the thing we wrote; other times, not so much. 

I've seen this in action when I've attended Q&A sessions with various authors. Someone -- often a fan -- will suggest connections between this scene and that, or similarities and/or differences between or among certain characters -- and the author will say something along the lines of, "Hmm. That's interesting. I never thought about that before."

Of course, sometimes authors run across people whose interpretations of their work are so far out in left field that you have to wonder whether they read the book at all.

Be that as it may, this phenomenon of readers reinterpreting authorial intent really bugs some authors -- particularly when it results in a fewer-than-five-star review on Amazon. The thing is, though, there's no point in getting upset about it. Once the author has written the words and put them out there for the world to read, his or her part is done. The rest is up to readers -- who, by reading the author's words, bring the story to life anew. And readers always bring their own life experiences and biases to the work. So it stands to reason that they may see things the author didn't put there consciously -- or things the author never put there at all.

It's not just a bane of writers; all sorts of creative types have this experience. This past week, I was on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I paid another visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. O'Keeffe's work has been misinterpreted from the get-go; her paintings of close-ups of flowers, for example, were viewed by the men of the art world as abstract depictions of female genitalia. O'Keeffe hated that. She was interested in the shapes -- the lines and curves -- so she painted them. It had nothing to do with sex at all. 

Later in life, O'Keeffe traveled around the world -- to Japan and to Machu Picchu, among other places -- and she would paint the things she saw in her travels. Which brings us to this painting. It's called Tan, Orange, Yellow, Lavender, and it was first displayed at a New York gallery in 1961, when O'Keeffe was 74 years old. 

At the O'Keeffe Museum, a card on the wall explains that the dealer who owned the gallery thought it was a painting of a tree. It's not. It's a system of rivers O'Keeffe saw from the window of a plane. But she didn't correct the dealer: "As for me," she said, "they were just shapes."

What we as authors put on paper are also "just shapes." If we're lucky, our readers will see the same shapes we meant to put there. But not always. And that's okay. Really.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Out of office.

Forgot to mention last week that I'm gone a-wandering this week. Sorry about that.

I fully intend to post next Sunday. See ya then. Have a fab week!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Way down yonder.

This blog is nothing if not educational.

Yesterday, Kat, Amy and I braved the damp to head out to a pick-your-own-produce farm that we've been to before. Kitty was most interested in their late-season peaches; Amy wanted apples; and I was up for Asian pears. The farm's weekly email also mentioned a thing none of us had tried before: pawpaws. So of course we had to snag a few.

Pawpaws grow on trees in a wide swath of the Midwest and South. The trees often grow together in clumps. You may be familiar with "The Pawpaw Patch," a traditional song (as near as I can tell) about sweet little Nellie, who's run away from her friends to harvest pawpaws.

The song has the technique right. Pawpaws are ripe when they fall off the tree. You harvest them by picking them up from the ground -- and they are beat-up-looking things. Here's a photo of a few on a tree (upper right corner), plus some on the ground. One of them must have split open when it fell.

Here's a clearer shot of the pawpaw's innards, plus a few others we harvested.

Whoever first tried eating one of these things must have been a brave soul. They don't look very appetizing, do they? But the flesh is sweet, very soft, and creamy like a mango, with hints of banana or maybe citrus. Pretty tasty. The skin is kind of bitter; Mama Google recommends peeling your pawpaws before eating them.

The seeds are round and flat, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. I'm told they'll germinate. However, don't expect to see pawpaws at your local Safeway anytime soon: they bruise easily and they don't stay fresh for very long. Apparently you can freeze them or dehydrate them. But Big Ag has other, hardier fruits to make money from.

Now that I've tasted a pawpaw, I can't say that I'm a huge fan. But they're uncommon enough in our urban area that I look forward to finding them again next year.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The "good enough" post.

Bear with me -- this will be a writing post eventually.

It has been years since I did any embroidery. I used to do it quite a lot, but let's face it, a lot of the designs of yesteryear were pretty bland: flowers, vines, more flowers and more vines. One can only embroider so many dresser scarves and pillowcases before one needs to move on.

Well, gods all bless the Millennials, because they are making crafting edgy. Even embroidery.

I stumbled on a bunch of embroidery kits in a shop in Old Town Alexandria a few weeks ago and was charmed by these new designs -- so much so that I picked one up. The kit is by cozyblue and the design I bought is the Lunar Blossom. Here's what you get in the kit: preprinted cloth, floss, a hoop, a needle, and a photo of the finished item with directions on the back.

I'll be honest -- I picked this kit partly for the moon phases and partly because of all that running stitch. I knew it would work up fast. And yet it's been sitting on the coffee table for the past several weeks, while I've been beating myself up over the knitting and writing I was supposed to be doing.

Now here it is, a three-day weekend, and the highs are supposed to be in the 90s, which is way too hot for knitting. I figured I could get the embroidery project done this weekend and I could say I'd actually accomplished something. So I started working on it yesterday.

Have I mentioned that it's been a while since I did any embroidery? Like decades? I tell you what -- my eyesight was a lot better when I was in my twenties. I finally broke down today and got out my needle threader, so it wouldn't take me five minutes to re-thread the needle every time I pulled the floss out accidentally. (Of course I do that. So do you -- don't lie.)

The directions say you can do any stitch you want, but if you want to do what the designer did, to use running stitch for the petals, backstitch for outlining the moons, and padded satin stitch for filling in the moons. Well, the running stitch went fine. I got three stitches into outlining the moons and realized I was doing split stitch instead of backstitch. But it looked okay and she said I could do whatever I wanted, so I kept going.

Padded satin stitch, though. Regular old satin stitch I was familiar with, but padded? So I asked Mama Google and she gave me some sources. Basically, before you do your satin stitch, you outline the section and then fill it in with whatever stitch moves you; most folks seem to prefer straight stitches, but I also saw some do chain stitch. One woman cut a piece of felt to fit and stitched it in place for the padding. Then once you've done your padding, you do your satin stitch perpendicular to the direction of your infill stitches. 

I watched one video where the woman doing it had a very soothing voice -- kind of like Bob Ross but for embroidery. She recommended using one strand of floss for the satin stitches. Her reasoning was that a single strand would produce a more uniform appearance, as multiple strands would twist and not lay flat as nicely. So I tried it her way. It took forever. I did the next moom with three strands, which was a lot faster, plus I liked that it was more poufy. Also, I'm not doing museum-quality work here. Have I mentioned that it's been decades since I've done any embroidery at all?

Here's what I mean. On the bottom is the lovely, uniform single-strand satin stitch; in the middle is the poufy three-strand satin stitch, and at the top is the padding.

Note that the padding isn't even. It doesn't matter whether it's even -- no one's going to see it. You might (if you're picky) notice that my satin stitched sections aren't perfectly perfect, either. Now, I could go back and pull all of that out and re-do it until it's perfect. I'd use a lot of floss and waste a lot of time. And who's going to notice?

A lot of writers agonize over their work. They re-work paragraphs and sentences until they're perfect. They spend a lot of time doing that. Some writers work so hard on the details that they never actually finish anything.

Listen: At some point, you've got to let it go. 

Over the years, I've learned a few phrases for just this situation:
  • You've probably heard this one: "Close enough for government work." 
  • I learned this one from a former co-worker: "Ain't making a watch." 
  • And here's one I heard fairly recently: "If a man riding by on a horse can't tell the difference, it's good enough."

Perfect is good -- but it's also a trap. It's okay to settle for good enough. 

I'll probably go back and re-do that single-strand moon with three strands, though. Just so it'll match.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A tale of two authors.

The girls and I just got home from a weekend trip to Philadelphia. In all the years I've lived in the DC area, I've never been to Philly until now. Which is crazy -- it's closer than New York City, which I've visited several times. So when a great hotel rate came together with an Amtrak sale, I figured it was time.

Philadelphia is known more as the birthplace of the United States than as a hub of literary activity. The Second Continental Congress was held there, after all, at which the Declaration of Independence was approved in July 1776. And the Constitution was adopted there as well, in 1787.

Present for both events, though, was Philly's homeboy -- a well-known and well-respected printmaker named Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is known best nowadays, perhaps, for flying a kite in a thunderstorm. But he started life in Boston as the youngest son of Josiah Franklin, a candle-maker and soap-maker, and his second wife Abiah Folger. Franklin the elder fathered 17 children by his two wives. That's a lot of mouths to feed -- and so young Ben was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer in Boston.

He hated working for his brother. At 17, he ran away to Philadelphia and worked for printers there. Eventually, he set up his own print shop and published, among other things, the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper and Poor Richard's Almanack.

In Franklin Court, not far from Independence Hall, the National Park Service runs a museum devoted to Franklin. There's a cool archaeological exhibit outside where you can view the foundations of Franklin's house (the house itself is long gone). And the NPS has also set up a printmaking shop, so you can see how Ben plied his trade. The most time-consuming part of printing is setting the type; once that's done, a printer who knows what he's doing can print a page using this printing press in maybe 20 seconds.

Later in life, of course, Ben Franklin got into politics. Besides signing all those founding documents, he was the first Postmaster General of the United States, and he also served as ambassador to France. In addition, he became well known for his witty sayings -- and for more practical inventions. If you wear bifocals, for example, you can thank Ben Franklin for inventing them.

But publishing was in his blood to the last. His last will and testament begins: "I, Benjamin Franklin, of Philadelphia, printer..."

And now we fast-forward about fifty years to another famous writer who called Philadelphia home: Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was also born in Boston, but his parents were actors; his father abandoned the family and his mother died the next year. John Allan and his wife in Richmond, Virginia, took the boy in and raised him, but eventually John and Edgar had a falling-out over money; Poe attended the University of Virginia for a year, until the family ran out of money to keep him there, and then joined the Army. Eventually he entered West Point, but he abandoned his military career to become a writer full-time.

He married his first cousin Virginia before she'd turned 14, and her mother moved in with them to run the household. In 1838, the family moved to Philadelphia, and there Poe wrote and published many of his best-known short stories: "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the first detective story ever published. He also worked as editor of several literary magazines -- and he battled melancholy, in part due to his wife's ill health (she died of tuberculosis in 1847). He also had a problem with drinking.

The Poes moved several times while they lived in Philadelphia, but only one of those houses survives. Today the National Park Service runs it as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The part on the right in this photo was a later addition, and now houses a small gift shop, some exhibits, and a room where visitors can watch an introductory video. The Poes' rooms are only partially restored, with wall murals standing in for how things might have looked in Edgar's time. The overall effect is somewhat creepy -- in keeping, perhaps, with Poe's writings.

Today, we'd put most of Poe's tales in the horror category, and shunt him off as a genre writer. But he worked for literary magazines, and his fondest professional dream was to publish his own literary journal -- which he did, briefly, before it failed. Financial problems were a recurring theme in his life; even then, it was hard to make a full-time living at writing. But Poe found acclaim for his poetry and literary criticism as well as his prose, and many authors have cited him as an influence on their work (Yours Truly included).

In early October 1849, Poe turned up, ill and incoherent, on a street in Baltimore. He was hospitalized that night and died a few days later, at the age of 40. No one knows why he was in Baltimore. His medical records and his death certificate are missing. In the end, his death was as mysterious as his works.

The Poe National Historic Site is away from the typical tourist trail in Philly, but it's within walking distance of the Liberty Bell, and it's well worth a visit if you're a Poe fan.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Behold, the Scroll

I kind of wish the news would quit giving me ideas for blog posts.

This week, it's a little gem of the-opposite-of-tautology uttered by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on one of the Sunday morning gabfests earlier today. A tautology, to refresh your memory, is a statement that cannot be false. "Bears are bears" is one example. "1 + 1 = 2" is another.

One could be excused for believing "Truth is truth" would be another tautology -- but according to Giuliani this morning, truth isn't truth. Social media derision immediately followed. The phrase reminded a number of commenters of George Orwell's Newspeak -- specifically, what he referred to as doublespeak: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and so on.

What Giuliani meant to say, though, I think, was this: People remember things in different ways. Two people can be at the same meeting, say, and remember the events of the meeting differently. Another way to put it would be to say that truth is relative.

Except it's not.

For everything that has ever occurred, there exists somewhere an objective account. That's the capital-T Truth. But people have faulty memories; in addition, they bring their own beliefs and points of view to situations, and those may color the way they remember the event. And as time passes, people's memories become fuzzy. Moreover, sometimes the spin doctors get busy and the "official" account of the event in question gets bent out of shape. By then, we've gotten pretty far from objective Truth.

Which is why we have investigators and lawyers, judges and juries. Their job is to find and/or listen to all the evidence -- all the different recollections of the event from everyone involved. From that mountain of evidence, they reconstruct the capital-T Truth to the best of their abilities and mete out justice, if required.

I don't want to get into how "truth isn't truth" is awfully close to the concept of "alternative facts," because -- all together now -- This Isn't a Political Blog. You've gotta admit, though, the two concepts appear to be very similar.


The show's host, Chuck Todd, suggested Giuliani's statement would instantly be turned into a bad meme. Here at hearth/myth, we are nothing if not helpful.

I swear I'm gonna write about writing next week.

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Maybe hate won, after all.

You may have heard that we were anticipating a little dust-up here in DC today. Thank the gods that things didn't get out of hand in any way. But I don't believe we got off scot-free.

As you may know, this weekend is the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, just a few hours away from DC. The event was organized by a bunch of white nationalists and fellow travelers, ostensibly to protest plans to remove a statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue showed up to protest and to counter the protestors, sparking numerous violent incidents while police basically stood by and watched it all happen. Then on Saturday, August 12th, a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Police arrested James Fields, Jr., and eventually charged him with first-degree murder and several hate-crime-related counts. His trial is set to start in November.

Things have not gone all that well for white supremacists since then. Many of them lost their jobs back home after being identified as participants in the rally. One fellow, Christopher Cantwell (no relation, thank goodness), became known as the "crying Nazi" when he posted a video of himself freaking out after learning the police were after him for the trouble in Charlottesville. Cantwell turned himself in shortly thereafter and has been in jail ever since. Last month, he pleaded guilty to assault and battery, and the judge reduced his sentence to time served; however, he is barred from entering the commonwealth of Virginia for five years.

More infamous white supremacists have also had a rough year. Rally organizer Richard Spencer, who last year moved into Old Town Alexandria, VA, to the horror of his liberal neighbors, has apparently broken his lease and moved out. And the host of InfoWars, Alex Jones, lost the vast majority of his social media platform when Facebook, YouTube, and Apple banned his accounts for violating their terms of service.

But the other organizer of last year's Charlottesville rally decided to do it again anyway. So Jason Kessler applied for a permit for an anniversary rally in Charlottesville. When city officials there were less than accommodating, he decided instead to move the rally to Washington, DC. Perhaps he thought a big rally in Lafayette Park, in full view of the White House, was just the shot in the arm the movement needed (never mind that the President wasn't going to be home). At the same time, organizers went ahead with plans for a commemorative march in Charlottesville, and counter-protestors again made plans to show up and shout them down.

Here in DC, we have seen our share of protests over the years. Besides the big marquee events -- the Million Man March, the Women's March, and so many others -- rallies and protests are practically a daily occurrence in Lafayette Park. The city had to issue Kessler a permit -- and they had to issue a permit to the coalition of counter-protestors who intended to demonstrate against Kessler's group. And then they had to figure out how to keep the two sides from killing one another. Extra security was scheduled; road closures were announced from Foggy Bottom to the White House. A proposal by the board of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Agency to reserve a special train for the Unite the Right ralliers fizzled when the transit workers' union, whose membership is 80 percent people of color, refused to run it.

In the end, it was the rally that fizzled. Fewer than 30 people showed up. Facing a heavy police presence and thousands of counter-protestors, Kessler stayed just long enough to make a speech. Then, as rain began pouring down, they left -- half an hour before rally was originally scheduled to start. The counter-protestors gave them a hearty chorus of "Na na, hey hey, goodbye" as security officers loaded them into vans and drove them away.

It's tempting to be giddy over Nazis turning tail and running from a crowd of thousands arrayed against them. But I'm reminded of some of the cautionary comments made in the days after 9/11, when security measures were being ramped up all around the country: The point of terrorism is to terrorize -- not just to blow things up, but to make people afraid. One guy gets aboard an airliner with an explosive in his shoe, and suddenly all of us are unpacking and undressing in order to get on a plane -- or paying the government a hundred bucks for the privilege of not having to undress and unpack. The goal isn't the bomb. The bomb is only a means to an end. The goal is to make people afraid.

This weekend, in both DC and Charlottesville (where the police seemed more sympathetic to the Nazis than to the counter-protestors), city officials scrambled, platoons of police were mobilized, money was spent on security, and normal people rearranged their lives -- and in the end, it was for no good reason. Sure, we had to be prepared. But no matter how few white supremacists showed up, they still got what they wanted. Even before the event was over, the damage was done.

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