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.