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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Out off 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.

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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.

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

Monday, August 27, 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.

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


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Behold, the Scroll of...um...

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.

Anyway.

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.


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

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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.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Knitting is like - say what?

Dana Loesch, who shills for the NRA, said this week that 3D-printing -- even 3D-printing a gun -- could be a fun hobby. You know, like knitting.

We'll return to her comment in a few moments. But hey, how's that for a topical segue?

It appears I haven't done a knitting post since February. That was six months ago. Going so long between crafty posts seemed unlikely to me, until I remembered how hectic our spring was, what with the unexpected move due to construction woes at the old apartment building. (By the way, I stopped by there yesterday to check out a package receipt notification that I had received in error. Nothing's changed. I'm still glad we got out when we did.) I got rid of a ton of stuff in preparation for that move, including some yarn I knew I'd never knit up into anything. So while I was doing yarny things, I wasn't doing a lot of knitting.

In addition, we'd had a problem with moths at the old place. Actually, we'd had all sorts of weird problems with bugs at that place. The first time I turned on the bathroom light, a cloud of gnats flew out of the exhaust vent, circled a few times, and then all died at once. Then there was the time I found a daddy longlegs hiding in the shower curtain. I never did figure out how he got in. Lest you think the bathroom was Weirdness Central, we also had a plague of ants for a while; how they got up six floors and into our dining room still mystifies me.

Anyway, the moths. In an effort to kill them, we bagged up all our fiber in vacuum bags before we moved and left everything in those bags for several weeks after moving to the new place. All of which goes to explain why I left on vacation in June without a project in my carry-on.

Not to worry, though; they had yarn shops where I was going. And the first shop I stopped in -- Longmont Yarn Shoppe -- was a winner. As I browsed the pattern books, a clerk asked if she could help me. I told her I was on vacation and had left home without a project because things had been a little nutty before I left. I believe that was when she suggested that I have a seat at the table to look at the book further, and even brought me hot water and a basket of teas from which to choose. Talk about service!

After that, I could hardly leave without purchasing anything. So I picked up the pattern book -- aptly titled Road Trip -- and materials for the Rivulet shawl in the book. The pattern was not at all complicated, which suited me for that trip. I made it bigger than the directions called for. Here's the result:


The yarn is a soft silk/cotton blend. I'm looking forward to wearing this shawl when it cools down a little.

I was glad to have a simple project to work on because my previous project was definitely not simple. The pattern for this sweater is the Killybegs, designed by Carol Feller. Believe it or not, the hardest part of this was the I-cord cast-on at the bottom, which took me three sessions to finish. (For those of you who don't knit, I-cord is short for "idiot cord," a term coined by Elizabeth Zimmerman for a super-easy knitted cord made on double-pointed needles. She said the process was so easy that even an idiot could do it.)

Anyway, here's the sweater.


I took the photo in the bathroom at work, hence the tunnel-mirror effect.

As usual, I couldn't leave well enough alone; I installed a zipper instead of the gazillion hooks and eyes the pattern called for. Getting it in place took some trial-and-error. But it zips, and that's the important thing.

Since finishing the Rivulet, I've cast on a couple of projects and set them both aside. I'm thinking now that I may wait until it cools down before I pick up one or the other to finish it.

Which brings us back to Dana Loesch, who says she "knits all the time." I get how it might be fun to use a 3D printer to make stuff. But I just don't see how printing a gun would be like knitting. Knitters do kid around about how they're armed with sharp sticks, but needles aren't nearly as lethal as a firearm.

***
I did a thing today: I posted last week's post at Medium. This is the first time I've ever posted anything there, so I'd appreciate it if you would stop by and give me a clap. Thanks!

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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Fourth Estate.

So there's this phone app called HQ. It's a daily online quiz where they give away real cash money if you can correctly answer a bunch of multiple-choice trivia questions. The kids got me into it, and for a while we were playing every day. Sometimes the questions are easy for them because they're young; sometimes they're easy for me because I'm not so young.

Anyway, one day, one of the questions was something along the lines of, "What is the Fourth Estate?" Easy peasy for me -- it's journalism. The kids told me later that they'd never heard of the term before. That's when I realized I'd never heard it until I went to journalism school.

Just in case you've never been to journalism school, I will explain: The news media are the fourth check-and-balance on the U.S. system of government. The other three "estates" are the three branches of government you're familiar with from civics or history class: executive, legislative, and judicial. Journalists are not part of the government -- and that's what makes them so valuable. Being outside the system, they can report objectively about what's going on inside the system; they don't have to keep anybody in any branch of government happy in order to keep their jobs.

With me so far? Okay. That brings us to this meme, which I have seen in a couple of different forms recently on Facebook:


I agree with the spirit behind the quote, but I'm not sure I agree with all of its implications. Because it is, in fact, the journalist's job to quote them both -- and if someone says it's not rain, but drizzle, they should be quoted, too. All sides should be presented. It's the news consumer's job to figure out which one is true.

I've talked about this before on the blog, in connection with the Keystone XL pipeline. In that post, I mentioned Edward R. Murrow, who went up against Sen. Joe McCarthy of Minnesota, a demagogue who pursued a personal vendetta to ruin everyone he didn't like by claiming they were Communists. Murrow devoted several episodes of his news show to McCarthy, explaining his methods objectively. He didn't hurl invectives or call Sen. McCarthy a liar; he simply showed his viewers what was going on and allowed them to draw their own conclusions.

Once the shows aired, Murrow had reason to attack McCarthy; the senator got mad at Murrow and accused him of being a Communist himself. Why didn't Murrow call him out as a liar? Because in attacking Murrow, McCarthy showed his true colors. Murrow didn't do editorials. He was a journalist. His method was to give McCarthy just enough rope to hang himself.

The framers of the Constitution realized how important a free press would be to our nation; that's why the First Amendment guarantees us freedom of speech and of the press. But for the Fourth Estate to do its job most effectively, news consumers have to be aware of all sides of the issue. They cannot be expected to decide what's true when presented with just one side of the story. They definitely cannot be expected to know what's true when they're constantly being told that the journalists at major news outlets -- people who believe strongly in their role as part of the Fourth Estate -- are purveyors of fake news and enemies of the people.

On July 20th, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger met with President Trump at the White House. The meeting was supposed to be off the record, but the President tweeted about it this weekend anyway. Trump said the discussion centered on "the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media."

That prompted Sulzberger to break his silence. In his statement, he said, "I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous." And he said, "I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence." (You may recall that five people were killed in a mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD, last month. Police say the shooter didn't like something the paper had published about him.)

President Trump doesn't appear to care. In a speech last week to veterans, he told them, "Just remember: what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening." Don't believe the journalists, in other words; believe only me.

I've talked about gaslighting on the blog before, too. You may recall I said that the gaslighter's ultimate aim is to convince his victim that the only person telling the truth is the gaslighter.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

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

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Results of the great date experiment.

The ingredients (except for the squash, which I didn't use).

As you may recall from our last exciting episode, I had just received 12 oz. of fresh dates and asked for recipes to use them up.

I'd forgotten how many foodies I am friends with on Facebook. I received a ton of ideas, some involving equipment I don't own (a high-speed blender) and foods I'd never heard of (Lebanon bologna, which it turns out is sort of like salami).

And then I forgot about the project until this morning.

In the meantime, I'd eaten some of the dates by themselves (which a few people suggested -- good call!). I ended up with just 14 dates -- not nearly enough to make date squares or a walnut-date cheesecake crust. So I narrowed the project to just date-based appetizers. Then I bought the ingredients you see here and began to combine them in logical ways. Or ways that seemed logical to me, anyway. I surrendered to the bacon-wrapped brigade and set aside five dates for hot appetizers; another three were set aside to be enrobed in chocolate (sans rum bath, sadly, as I'd run out of time). That left six dates for room-temperature treats. I steeled myself as I de-pitted each date, knowing that if I ate any now, I'd have even fewer for the test. Then I set to work.

And then, when they were done, I ate them all -- in the spirit of science, you understand.

Here are my creations and my ratings from 1-10, with 1 being "never again" and 10 being "why didn't I make them all this way?":


On the paper towel are the warm treats. I baked them at 375 degrees Farenheit for about 22 minutes. Williams-Sonoma suggested putting a wire cooling rack on a rimmed cookie sheet and putting the dates on the rack, so I did that and it worked pretty well. I used turkey bacon instead of the regular kind; that may have been a factor in my results. Clockwise from top left:

  • Cream cheese, fresh chive, walnut quarter and bacon: 4. Too much going on here, I think.
  • Manchego and bacon: 8. I loves me some Manchego, and it melted better than I thought it would.
  • Goat cheese, slivered almond and bacon: 5. Couldn't taste the almond.
  • Goat cheese and bacon: 7. I would make this again.
  • And in the center: goat cheese, fresh basil and prosciutto: 9. The fresh basil made it stand out for me. Prosciutto is ham cured to within an inch of its life and sliced paper thin. Technically, you don't have to cook it, but it sure didn't hurt.
On the platter are the room temperature treats. I got lucky with the perfectly ripe cantaloupe; I don't think the results would be nearly as good with the pathetic, mostly-green ones we get at most other times of the year. Clockwise from the point on the platter at the top left:
  • Cantaloupe and fresh mint: 10. Using fresh herbs makes all the difference. Next time I might put the mint leaf inside with the cantaloupe, instead of pinning it across the top.
  • Goat cheese, fresh basil and slivered almond: 8.
  • Cream cheese, walnut quarter and fresh basil: 9.
  • Manchego, fresh chive and prosciutto: 6. The fresh chives just didn't do it for me, and the Manchego is clearly better warm and melty.
  • Goat cheese, fresh mint and prosciutto: 7. Again, the mint makes it. I think I prefer the prosciutto baked, although this was pretty good.
  • Cream cheese and cantaloupe: 9. On the sweet side, but quite tasty.
  • In the middle are the three dates dipped in dark chocolate. I'd give the plain chocolate-dipped dates an 8; I found the chocolate upstaged the flavor of the date. However, I'd shoved a fresh mint leaf into one of the dates before the chocolate bath -- that one earned a 10. 
So there you go -- some variations on the bacon-wrapped-date theme. Anything with a 7 or up would be worth making again, I think. And simpler is better -- one or two ingredients inside the date got the best results.

And of course, your mileage may vary.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

In search of date recipes.

Alert hearth/myth readers will recall that some months back, I signed up for a service called Hungry Harvest. Every other week, I receive a box full of produce that would otherwise have gone to waste -- either the wholesalers bought too much of it, or the item is the wrong size or has surface blemishes that would make grocery shoppers pass it up. And it's all been perfectly fine, and perfectly delicious, so far.

For instance, this week's box included two green bell peppers and a seedless cucumber. I knew exactly what to do with those, thanks to a recipe I'd spotted in the Washington Post for Jose Andres's gazpacho. Gazpacho is a perfect summer soup -- a tasty alternative when it's too hot to cook and you're sick of salads. (Also, it's not spicy. Most Spanish-from-Spain food isn't spicy. You're thinking of Mexican food -- some of which is also not spicy. But I digress.)

I also received some apples and oranges, a bunch of kale (homemade kale chips, yay!), a broccoli crown, some little carrots (not baby carrots -- these are unpeeled and about four inches long each), and a pomegranate. Most of those will go in my lunch bag over the course of the coming week, but I think a bunch of the pomegranate seeds will end up mixed in with Greek yogurt as a snack. 

By the way, getting at the seeds inside a pomegranate is easy. Amy saw it on Facebook -- you make lengthwise cuts along the ridges on the outside of the fruit, then cut off the top, reach into the middle with your thumbs, and pull it apart. Presto! (See? Facebook is good for something, after all.)

Sometimes, however, the selections have me stumped. This week, it's my fault.

Gazpacho, pomegranates in yogurt, and those darned dates.
In addition to the regular box (which varies every time, depending on what's available), you can select add-ons. This week I bought a couple of avocados and an eight-ounce package of Medjool dates. The avocados aren't a problem; I use them in place of cheese in omelets, and there's always avocado toast. (I tried making guacamole once. It didn't end well.) 

The dates, though. I'm not sure what to do with them.

I checked through some of my cookbooks and didn't see anything date-related that floated my boat. I also asked Mama Google, but she wasn't much help. I'm seeing a lot of dates with coconut (which I'm not a big fan of), dates with bacon (honestly, you bacon people...), dates and pomegranate seeds (hey! I have those!) as a salad topper, and dates in various types of cookies and quick breads.

So dear hearth/myth readers, I turn to you: Anybody got a good recipe for dates? 

Thanks in advance. I'll report back next week.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Transcendence giveaway winners! And some news.

I have been hard at work today on the new series which still doesn't have a name. I got started on it last weekend and then realized I didn't know where I was going with it. So I took a few days off, did some more research, wrote my typical rough outline-ish thing, and went back at it.

This new series is going in a slightly different direction than I originally thought. There will still be river gods. The rest is morphing -- for the best, I hope.

But enough about a book that's not even been written yet. I know you're all here to find out who won the contest. And I am here to tell you that the winners of the paperback copies of the Transcendence trilogy are Cassandra Darensbourg and Suzanne Given. Congrats, ladies! I've sent each of you an email. Please check your spam folder if you haven't received it. 

Thanks to everyone who participated. I can't tell you how happy I am to be getting these books out of my house.

***

Quickly, some other news:

* Mom's House is getting some recognition. I had two positive reviews that I forgot to mention last week (bad author! No donut!). In addition, this past Thursday, the memoir was featured on Book Doggy for 99 cents. Hint: it's still 99 cents through tomorrow at Amazon's US site, and also through tomorrow, it's 99 pence (that's how y'all do it, right?) at Amazon UK. So if you haven't had a chance yet to pick up a copy, now would be a good time to do it.

* I keep forgetting to mention that I'm going to be at an author signing event in Las Vegas on November 8th from 3pm-5pm. I'll be one of 100 authors in the same place, signing books and meeting readers. This is a free event for fans, and you're welcome either to bring your own books or purchase some in person (although I won't have a ton of inventory, so bringing your own copy might be better - just saying). Three lucky fans of all those who attend will win a Kindle Paperwhite!

The place is Sam's Town, 5111 Boulder Hwy, Las Vegas, NV, in the Sam's Town Live! room on the main floor. If you live near Vegas or if you happen to be in town that day, come on by. Hope to see you there!


***
These moments of promotional blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (Vegas, baby!)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Great Transcendence giveaway.

I promised last week that there would be a giveaway this week. So here we go.

It's hard for me to believe that so much time has passed since the idea for the Transcendence trilogy germinated in my mind. It started with a random stop at the Great Circle Earthworks in Newark, Ohio, in the summer of 2016, and ended at my desk in our old apartment in October of last year. During that period, the events I wrote about in Mom's House came to a head. You could say the Transcendence books were as transformative for me as they were for Maggie.

But enough about me. Here's the scoop on the contest:

I'm giving away two -- count 'em, two -- sets, signed (naturally), of the trilogy, which is comprised of:

Maggie in the Dark
Maggie on the Cusp
Maggie at Moonrise

Down below is the Rafflecopter thingy, which you all know how to operate by now. The contest is live as we speak; you have until midnight Saturday, July 7th, to enter. I'll announce the winners next Sunday, July 8th, at the usual time. Anybody anywhere can enter -- I'm pretty sure I can front postage to wherever in the world you are.

The question I want everyone to answer is a sort of preview of the next series, which is on my mind because I wrote the first words of the first draft of the first book today. Alert hearth/myth readers know this series will have something to do with river gods. But my initial idea is expanding as we speak, and may end up involving more than just the element of Water. So please let me know in the comments what your favorite element is -- Earth, Air, Fire, or Water -- and maybe a little bit about why, and I'll see whether I can work any of that into this next series of books.

Oh! The prizes!
One each of these can be yours! Enter below!
As always, the usual and customary rules apply:

1. Friends and family may definitely enter.
2. Winners of previous contests may win again.
3. There will be a winner. I am getting these books out of my house, one way or another.
4. As always, the judge's decision is arbitrary, capricious, and final.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

To opinionate or not to opinionate?

TPHeinz | CC0 | Pixabay
When I was a kid in the '60s, my parents used to watch the news on Channel 5 out of Chicago, partly because Dad liked their anchor, Floyd Kalber. Then Kalber began delivering commentaries at the end of some of his broadcasts. It turned out he was kind of a liberal, or at least more liberal than my father was. Dad kept watching, but he often complained that he'd liked Floyd Kalber until he started giving his opinion about things.

I'm telling you this to illustrate that the argument over celebrities airing their opinions didn't start with Twitter. It's been going on for decades. Maybe centuries. In fact, it's probably been happening ever since Caveman Og developed the sort of standing in his community that worked best if he maintained his neutrality -- which meant keeping his personal opinions to himself.

The subject pops up in indie author circles every now and then, but it has been an almost constant topic of discussion since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A lot of authors contend that we, like celebrities and sports figures, shouldn't make political posts on social media, lest we turn our fans against us. And they have a point. I follow a few traditionally-published authors on Facebook and/or Twitter, as well as a few actors; whenever they post political stuff, they get haters and "I really wish you'd stop posting so much about politics" right along with the people who agree with them.

However, despite the complaints, none of the authors and actors I follow have dialed it back.

As for independent authors, many of us have developed work-arounds. Mine, for a long time, was to separate my author persona from my personal stuff -- that is, I would post only writing-related stuff on my Facebook author page and my Twitter account, and keep my personal views confined to my personal timeline on Facebook. That worked pretty well until Facebook started limiting the organic reach of business pages to encourage us to buy ads. At that point, I started setting all, or nearly all, of my timeline posts to public. I've had the occasional troll by doing this, but now that Facebook is getting a handle on its Russian bot problem (ahem...) the trolls have dwindled to very nearly zero. (Of course, now that I've said that, I'll probably get a rash of 'em this week.)

I do think that, like my father and Floyd, some readers are surprised that authors they admire hold the opinions they do. A lot of us are liberals. A lot of us are very liberal.

Here's the thing: Fiction readers -- particularly those who read literary fiction, often develop a finer sense of empathy. And writers are big readers. Plus it takes empathy to get inside the head of a character and write convincingly from that character's point of view. And studies have shown that liberals tend to have higher levels of empathy than conservatives (hence the term "bleeding-heart liberal"). So it really shouldn't be a surprise that authors (and actors, who also have to get inside the heads of the characters they portray) are often liberals politically.

As a journalist, I wasn't comfortable with offering commentaries on the air. I was a reporter, and as a reporter, I believed I needed to view the stories I was covering as objectively as possible. So like Caveman Og, I kept my opinions to myself. Now, though, I'm free of that constraint. And anybody who's read the Pipe Woman Chronicles has a pretty good idea of my political leanings anyhow. So I expect I will continue to offer my opinions on social media -- although I will still keep them off my Facebook author page. And I'm still not going to turn this into a political blog.

***
I said I was going to do a giveaway for the Transcendence books this month, didn't I? And here it is, the last Sunday of the month, and I'm not ready. Let's do it next week.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Pagan perspective on splitting up migrant families.

I'm trying really, really hard not to turn this into a political post. Really hard. Because I said I wouldn't write about politics on this blog, and so far I haven't.  I've skated close to the edge a few times, but I haven't done it.

So let's talk about morality. Specifically, Pagan morality, and how it relates to what's going on at the borders of the United States right now.

I'm not going to talk much about Christianity in this post, tempting as it is to do so, what with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioning a Bible verse this past week as justification for coming down hard on undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. First, I'm not Christian, or not anymore, and I don't feel comfortable lecturing followers of other religions on whether they're doing it right. Second, over the past few days, I've read plenty of criticism of Sessions' comments by people much better versed in the Bible than I. So a Pagan spin on things it is.

First, a quick primer on Pagan morality. Basically, we have two...let's call them "words to the wise," shall we? Pagans aren't really into rules, and anyway these are more along the lines of "do this and karma will bite you in the ass."

1. The Wiccan Rede, which is best known in its pseudo-medieval phrasing: An it harm none, do as ye will. Translated into normal English, it means you may do whatever you want, unless your actions hurt someone.

2. The Rule of Three, also known as the Threefold Law, which states that whatever energy you put out into the world will come back to you threefold. Put out positive energy, and all will be sweetness and light. Put out negative energy, and see karma mentioned above.

With that in mind, here's a quick recap of recent events: The US government has begun implementing a zero-tolerance policy for undocumented immigrants, particularly those from Central and South America. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents seem to be using this as an excuse to act like the Gestapo, boarding buses far from any border and demanding that passengers prove they're in the country legally. But that's not all. In one recent case, ICE picked up a Mexican man who has been in America legally for 50 years because of a 2001 misdemeanor conviction whose sentence he had successfully completed.

Immigrants who apply for asylum are the latest football. Immigration attorneys say asylum seekers are being subjected to delay after delay, and in some cases the government is losing the background documentation that supports their claim.

Most recently, Border Patrol has begun splitting up families. Undocumented immigrants and those applying for asylum are being detained -- put in jail, in other words -- and their children are being housed elsewhere. Often in another state. The children are sometimes taken under false pretenses -- the parent is told the child is being taken away to have a bath -- and hours later, the parent discovers the child is gone. I've seen one estimate that the government is holding two thousand migrant children whose parents have been detained.

Anyone with an ounce of humanity would agree that this is inhumane. And a whole bunch of people -- me included -- have said this is not what America stands for. We're better than this, aren't we? After all, we've never incarcerated people based on their race before, have we?

Oh, wait. There was that time during World War II when we put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps.

But we've never split up families this way before, have we? Taken children away from their parents so callously?

Um, well, yeah, we have. I'm sure you've heard of slavery. And then there was the practice of stealing Native American children away from their families so they could be sent to boarding school and have the Indian "educated" out of them, one way or another.

What all these horrific actions have in common is the belief that the "other" is not quite human. White Americans believed Indians were savages and slaves were stupid. Japanese-Americans were suspected of being spies. And now, a lot of people believe that Hispanics are rapists and murderers and members of MS-13, or here to steal our jobs, or all of the above.

For Pagans, this is inconceivable. Many of us are animists, who believe everything has a spirit, including trees and rocks. And if those can have spirits, surely all humans do, too -- no matter the color of their skin. All beings have innate dignity. All deserve to live without harm.

As for those who are participating in this ongoing atrocity -- from those who are incarerating children to those who are defending the government's actions, as well as those who could stop it but aren't, for the sake of political expediency? If they won't listen to their own religious teachings, they might consider heeding the Rede and the Threefold Law. Because people are being harmed by their actions, and the energy they're sending out is clearly negative. And karma's a bitch.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The #escapevelocity trip.

My Facebook friends may recognize the hashtag in the title of this post. Over the past several months, I've occasionally posted a status update having to do with my plans for retiring from the day job. (It's 544 days 'til I'm eligible, for those of you following along at home, although it's more likely I'll stick it out for 752 more days.) Hence, #escapevelocity.

Of course, I'll be moving to Colorado. But where? The state is so big and so breathtaking that I knew I'd have to simply put my boots on the ground, so to speak, in a number of places and see which one felt like home. So a couple of weeks ago, I set off on a clandestine trip to spend a few days in a several cities to see where I felt most comfortable. 

The candidates: Longmont, north of Denver; and Buena Vista and Salida, two towns in the "banana belt" of Colorado, which means they're up in the mountains but thanks to a geographical quirk, they don't get a lot of snow. (I know, I know, I'm a wuss. But it's been decades since I lived anywhere that got a lot of snow in the winter, and while I'm sure I could adjust again, why not make it easy?) I briefly visited all three locales last year -- I had lunch with a friend in Longmont and drove through Buena Vista, and while I stayed overnight in Salida, I didn't like the place I'd rented and thought the town deserved another chance.

Also last year, I drove through the tiny village of Twin Lakes, about which more later.

Longmont is a small city of about 93,000 people. It has all the common comforts you typically find in an urban area -- public transit, restaurants, movie theaters, Target, a lovely little yarn shop -- but it's nowhere near as crowded as, say, DC. Plus the city has a state-designated Creative District. It even has its own symphony orchestra. I stayed at the Thompson House Inn and loved it. I could totally see myself settling in Longmont.

Copyright 2018 Lynne Cantwell
Salida has maybe 6,000 people. This time, I stayed at the Palace Hotel, a boutique hotel in the historic district, which was fun. My suite was lovely and a fellow in a chef's toque delivered my continental breakfast every morning. Salida also has a state-designated Creative District. And it sits on the Arkansas River, which is well-known in whitewater rafting and kayaking, plus it's picturesque. 

However, the town is lacking in a lot of things that would make day-to-day life easier.

Buena Vista is about a half-hour north of Salida. It's even smaller -- maybe 3,000 -- and it also sits on the Arkansas River. Tourism is this little town's bread and butter; it's pretty much the gateway to the Browns Canyon National Monument, which is all about whitewater. You can't beat the scenery: besides the river, you have a bunch of hot springs nearby, and the snowcapped Collegiate Peaks (which include Mt. Harvard, Mt. Yale, and Mt. Princeton) to the west. And the people were friendly and welcoming. But I'm not a rafting person. And alas, if a town of 6,000 didn't have enough amenities for me, you can imagine how I would feel about having to drive an hour and a half from Buena Vista to get to Target. (Walmart is much closer -- there's one in Salida -- but to be honest, being in a Walmart makes my teeth itch.)

So it didn't take long to exhaust the stuff in Buena Vista that I'd come to see. As a free afternoon stretched before me, a little voice in my head said, "Let's drive up to Twin Lakes." So I got in the rental car and headed north.

Twin Lakes is a bend in the road on the eastern downslope from Independence Pass. It has maybe 200 people. And it is not in the banana belt -- it averages 116 inches of snow every winter. But it's got the lakes and the mountains. When I drove through last year, I thought to myself, "This is pretty."

This year, I got out of the car, toured the tiny historical area, walked a little way up a trail, surveyed the landscape, and...well. That's the place. Totally impractical, hell and gone from everything, and my spiritual home.
And this is a bad picture.
Copyright 2018 Lynne Cantwell

There are a bunch of reasons why I wouldn't want to settle there permanently. For one thing, the county won't let you put just a tiny house on a piece of property, let alone live in it full time. So I'm good with just visiting for now. And anyway, I've got 752 days to sort it all out.

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All this talk of whitewater rafting got me thinking, though. While I was on vacation, I sketched out an idea for a new series. River spirits figure heavily. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.

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I was hoping I'd be able to tell you this week that Mom's House was available in paperback, but I've been slacking since I came home and only got around to uploading the manuscript to CreateSpace today. I'm sure I'll have more news next week.

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Gone walkabout.


As I promised last week, I have gone away. Check this space again next Sunday.

In the meantime, you could be reading your very own copy of Mom's House. Just sayin'.

Regardless, I hope you have a great week!

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Mom's House has been released - almost.

I guess I should have picked a release date for the memoir sooner. Mom's House: A Memoir is now available for pre-order. If you sign up now, it will be delivered to your Kindle bright and early on the morning of Thursday, June 7th.

The cover. Copyright Lynne Cantwell, 2018.
I haven't talked much about the subject matter, other than to say it's a memoir. Basically, the story covers the period from early 1998, when my mother was first diagnosed with cancer, through her death in 2008, and the final resolution of her estate and the family home early this year. The main characters, if you will, are Mom, my brother Larry, and me; and the story is about our relationships, which are as messy as most other families and which include verbal and emotional abuse.

The house is the MacGuffin: the thing that drives the plot. Mom lived there until she died; afterward, I had to take drastic action to get my brother to buy out my interest in the place.

I see Amazon isn't providing a "look inside" during the preorder period, so here's a snippet. This one is about the kitchen, which could be considered the hearth -- however quirky -- of our home.

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The kitchen work area was in an L-shape. The fridge was along what used to be the back wall of the house, with the sink bang up against it. In the crotch of the L was a rectangular counter that ran alongside the sink and extended to the stove. That eighteen inches of counter space between the stove and the front edge of the sink was the sum total of the workspace in the kitchen, excluding the dinette table, because on the other side of the stove was a squat 30-gallon water heater in a counter-height, sheet-metal cabinet. Mom could have used the top of the water heater cabinet for food preparation, but she didn’t – it was a catch-all space for mail and other stuff.

Mom had two floor cabinets and five wall cabinets in her kitchen; the wall cabinets over the stove and fridge were half-height, and the cabinet next to the sink was half-width. There was a single drawer for silverware between the stove and sink. And that was it.

Mom reduced her puny kitchen workspace even further by stacking a bunch of junk on the one working counter: a breadbox that held junk instead of bread (the breadbox that actually held the bread was on a stand-alone wheeled cart, halfway into the family room), a coffee canister, and a pile of salvaged food containers which she used for leftovers. Mom contended that she wouldn’t have had so much junk out if she had more cabinet space; Dad said if she had more space, she’d just fill it with more junk. And so it went, on and on, year after year.

As I got older, I figured out that no matter how the bickering between my parents started, it always ended up being about the kitchen cabinets. I called them on it once as they were getting warmed up: “Why don’t you just cut to the chase and start arguing about the kitchen cabinets now?” I said. “It would save you a lot of time.” They laughed in guilty acknowledgement. And then they argued about the kitchen cabinets.

Dad eventually relented and bought more storage units, which he sort of scattered about the family room: a metal shelving unit, six shelves high; two sheet-metal cabinets with drawers; a huge double-door cabinet with a Formica countertop and two drawers. He had Uncle John come back and build another wall cabinet above the washer and dryer, and hung a doorless three-shelf cabinet next to it. Mom filled them all with stuff: cake mixes, canned goods, cookie sheets, spare sets of dishes we never used, more salvaged food containers. And still she complained that she didn’t have enough space.

Yes, Mom was a packrat. Dad used to threaten to buy another house for us to live in so that Mom could use ours for storing all of her junk. As I got older, I’d sometimes wonder whether I’d open the newspaper one day and read one of those stories about some little old lady that the county had to get after because her place was stacked floor-to-ceiling with so much trash that it was a fire hazard – only this time, the little old lady would turn out to be Mom.

I’d tell her this, and she’d laugh at herself. Then she’d save more stuff. At one point, she had a dresser drawer full of the red plastic handles that used to come on a gallon of milk, back when gallons of milk still came in waxed-cardboard containers. “I’ll use them for a craft project,” she said. What craft project, Mom? She had no idea. They were just too nice to throw away. “Save it!” she would say, making fun of herself. “It’ll be good someday!”

That’s what growing up in the Depression will do to you, I guess. Dad saved stuff, too, but his collection was out in the garage.

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If that whetted your appetite for the e-book, click here to pre-order. There will also be a paperback edition, released on or about June 7.

And with that, I'm taking a one-week break. See y'all back here Sunday, June 10th.

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