Sunday, December 29, 2019

Wrapping up the decade.

What are we calling this decade, anyway? The '10s? The Teens? I'm partial to the Aughts for years 2000-2009, and the '20s sounds just right for the upcoming decade, although whether we'll have a recurrence of the Roaring '20s remains to be seen. But this decade -- the one we're bringing to a close at midnight Tuesday -- I dunno. I guess I'll refer to it as the Teens for this post and see how it feels.

I hear the pedants out there: "There was no Year Zero! The first decade started with year 1 and ended with year 10! We won't be done with this decade for another year!"

I hear you, I say, but I don't care. For me, 2019 marks the end of several cycles. I turned 62 this year, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, which means I'm eligible for Social Security. This year was also my 20th year at the day job, which means I've worked as a legal secretary for 20 years. And more to the point for this blog, The Maidens' War was published in 2010 -- which means I'm in my tenth year as an honest-to-goodness published author. (This blog, hearth/myth, won't be ten years old 'til August 2021. Mark your calendars now...)

2019 is also going to be my last full year in the DC area, as I'm planning to retire and move away in July. But now that the calendar is actually kicking over to 2020, my long, long period of anticipation is nearly over and some anxiety is setting in. Where will I live? How will I live? I'm pretty sure I'll need a part-time job for a few years -- where will I get one? What kind of work will I be doing? How do I tailor my resume for job hunting in the 21st century?

I spoke with someone this week about the job hunting stuff. I told her I might want to go back to journalism, but it's been -- all together now -- 20 years. "How do you feel about networking?" she asked. With people I haven't talked to in 20 years, and in a market I've never worked in? I'm not even sure where to start.

Then there's the topic of decluttering to move. Our last move was less than two years ago, so I shouldn't have to dump too much stuff. But with this move, there's also a sense of turning a new corner -- of starting a new chapter. So some old habits need to go.

For years, I've had a habit of picking up crow feathers. I'd amassed quite a collection, and many of them were looking tatty. So I decided today was a good time to get rid of them, and that Great Falls Park would be a good place to do it since I wanted to go out there and pick up a National Parks Senior Lifetime Pass anyway. I set aside the nicest one and counted the rest: 20 feathers to return to nature to kick off 2020.

Today was rainy but not cold, with a high in the low 50s. I layered up and headed out to see the falls. I'd intended to drop the feathers in the Potomac, but I never got that close. Anyway, it's done. And I got some cool atmospheric photos, too. (I mentioned in Rivers Run that kayakers sometimes run the rapids at Great Falls. I wasn't surprised to see none out there today.)

All photos copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019

Happy New Year! Here's hoping 2020 will bring you nothing but good things.

These moments of atmospheric blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (10 years, 24 books published -- whew!).

Sunday, December 22, 2019

An Elemental holiday.

The problem with this time of year is that every religion's holiday celebration is on a different day. The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (which isn't really a major holiday, but has become one as Christmas has become commercialized) is probably the most well-known -- it's determined by the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar. That means Hanukkah can begin any time between the end of November and the end of December. This year, it starts tonight.

Most Pagans celebrate the winter solstice -- the shortest day of the year. That date, too, moves around, although not as dramatically as Hanukkah: the solstice can occur on December 20, 21, 22, or 23. This year, owing to time zones, Yule was yesterday for North Americans, but it's today for those on the European continent (while Down Under, they're celebrating Litha, the summer solstice).

And of course Christmas is always on December 25th, which this year falls on a Wednesday -- a highly inconvenient day for those who like to make three- or four-day weekends out of their holiday celebrations.

So as I write this on Sunday, December 22nd, the Jewish readers of hearth/myth are just getting their festivities underway; the Christians are in their last-minute buying/wrapping/baking/cooking frenzy; and here at La Casa Cantwell, we're in post-holiday relaxation mode, having had our Yule feast and gift exchange yesterday.

As you know, I've been writing a series about Elementals all year, and it's my opinion that Elemental spirits -- to the extent they celebrate holidays at all -- would mark the solstices and equinoxes. So my gift to you this year is a ficlet featuring a winter solstice observance in Raney's world.

So I’ve mentioned that we moved around a lot when I was a kid. Like, a lot. Every time I turned around, Mam was packing our bags and hustling me out the door to somewhere new. She had to keep a step ahead of my father and his desire to recapture her – an actual undine – for his collection of unique things. Of course, if he caught her, he’d also have me. And while I’m only half-undine, my other half is his DNA, which made me unique in a whole different way.

Anyway, I was forever the new kid at school, having to deal with a new group of schoolmates. Sometimes the kids would be nice and sometimes they’d be jerks. On a few occasions, we didn’t stay long enough for me to find out which they were.

So by the time I hit high school, I was heartily sick and tired of living on the run. I literally could not wait for the day when I would turn eighteen and blow my mother’s weird, furtive popcorn stand forever. It’s not that I didn’t love her. It’s that I longed for permanence: a place where I could unpack and settle in. A place where I could relax, fear-free. A place nobody could jerk out from under me.

Eventually I got my wish. After I became a TV star, I bought a beach house in Malibu. It has a soaking tub and a pool overlooking the Pacific, and it’s mine, free and clear.

But when I was in high school, my reality was packing and running, packing and running. So when I came home from school for winter break one year to find Mam packing our clothing in a box, I exploded.

“You can’t be serious!” I wailed. I wailed a lot back then. Human hormonal changes wreaked havoc with my ability to keep my emotions in check – which was never very good anyway, thanks to my undine half.

Mam looked at me in surprise. “Dearest,” she said, cooing, “it’s not what you’re thinking.”

“‘It’s not what you’re thinking,’” I said, mocking her. “Every time we move, you say it’s the last time and we’ll never have to move again. And then you pull out the suitcases, and I know you’ve lied to me. Again!” I was fuming and crying at the same time. “We can’t leave now. I can’t let the dive team down! And I’m signed up for tryouts for the school play next month!”

“I know,” she began.

“And you said we could have a tree this year. A real Christmas tree!”

“A solstice tree,” she corrected.

“Whatever! You said we could have one!” I was full-on ugly crying now. “I just want to be normal!”

Mam waited a moment to make sure I was done yelling. Then she said, “We’re not moving. We’re going on vacation.”

My tears dried up immediately. “What?”

“We’re going on vacation,” she repeated. “I’ve packed your winter coat and boots. Where’s your hat?”

“In the drawer with my scarf,” I said automatically.

“Go and get them,” she commanded.

“Are you serious?” I said, in quite a different tone than I’d used when I first got home. “We’ve never been on vacation, Mam.”

“We are now,” she said with a small smile. “We’ve been invited to a celebration. And it’s going to take several days to get there, so hurry up – I need to get this box of clothes to the post office before they close.”

I peered in the box as she spoke. Along with our coats, she’d packed all of our warmest sweaters. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere cold, obviously. Go on!” She flicked a hand toward me, shooing me away.

“Okay, okay,” I said, and ran to find my things.

We left the next day. The house we were renting was on a big lot that bordered a creek. We ran down to the water’s edge, stashed our clothes in the cubby where we always put them when we went in the creek for a soak, and dove in. Immediately, we both dissolved, and as always, I reveled in the caress of the water as it cleansed every fiber of my being. But nothing could take away my excitement. Vacation! What an amazing concept!

When Mam had said our trip would take a long time, she wasn’t kidding. I followed her essence down the creek to the river, from the river to the bay, and from the bay out into the wide Pacific Ocean. I was entranced by everything: the dolphins that raced us, chattering; the schools of fish that tickled as they cut through my watery molecules; the pod of whales that circled us as if serving as our honor guard.

We moved north and farther north, until several merpeople met us and escorted us into a bay where houses fronted a frozen beach. When we emerged from the water, it was dusk, and bitter cold. “Where are we?” I asked, as the merpeople hustled us into a warm cabin next to the water.

“Alaska,” Mam said. “Above the Arctic circle. Dry off and get dressed. We don’t want to miss the party.”

Alaska! It seemed impossible that we’d come so far. “What day is it?”

“Today is the winter solstice. We’ve been traveling for three days,” said Mam. That seemed impossible, too.

When we emerged, it was full dark. But the lights in the little village were blazing, and so too were the lights above the village. We Water Elementals sang and danced and feasted under the dancing Northern lights. I’ve never been to a more magical party.

That vacation kicked off a magical year. We got the solstice tree Mam had promised me. Then I won firsts in all of our dive meets that winter, and I got the part I was hoping for in the school play. That summer, when Mam told me we had to move again, I almost didn’t mind.

These moments of bloggy reveling have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Wheel keeps turning.

I'm feeling pretty good about our holiday preparations here at La Casa Cantwell. The tree is up and decorated, as I mentioned last week; the shopping is done; and most of the baking is done. I have one more batch of cookies to make tonight, and a gluten-free option or two later this week. And I still have to wrap all the gifts. But I feel confident I'll have everything done by Yule, which this year is Saturday the 21st in North America.

What a contrast to the current drama just up the road in DC. In case you've been living under a rock, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Trump this coming week. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday, and it's a foregone conclusion that the House will impeach Trump. Then the drama moves to the Senate, which is obliged to hold a trial on the impeachment articles. A couple of the folks in charge -- namely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham -- have already made it clear they expect to speed through a sort-of trial and vote to exonerate the president.

This is not a political blog, so I won't express my opinion on any of that here. (I already spend more than enough time posting about politics on Facebook.) But I expect you guys have gathered my opinion of President Trump anyway. And like a lot of other liberals and progressives, I find it hard, some days, to be upbeat about it all. Some of my friends are wondering why the House is bothering to impeach Trump when the Senate is going to clear him anyway, thereby giving him carte blanche to keep doing what he's doing. It's easy to fall into a pit of despair, especially since the House vote is coming just after Britain voted to keep their Conservative Party in power, which means Brexit will happen now for sure.

It's easy -- and profoundly depressing -- to agree with Medium blogger Umair Haque, whose post last week was titled, This is How a Society Dies. He compares the death spiral of the Soviet Union to what's happening today in the United States and Britain, and suggests that we may never recover.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, it did seem to happen overnight. One day the USSR was the Red Menace, the Communist global superpower that could take us down as soon as look at us; the next, they were a third-world country with nuclear weapons, and we, the United States, were the lone global superpower left standing.

But in the years since then, income inequality has hollowed out our middle class, and our poor never had a chance. About a year and a half ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared the United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world. Forty million Americans live in abject or extreme poverty, according to the UNHRC report, and 40% of us couldn't come up with $400 to cover an unexpected expense.

We're the only developed nation without universal healthcare, and yet any proposal from the left to rectify that insanity is met with criticism from the center and the right about how it's too expensive and anyway it doesn't work as well as those deluded lefties would have you believe. Never mind that it was the health insurance industry that wrote the arguments against universal healthcare.

So is the United States just a third-world nation with nuclear weapons? Some days I wonder. Some days it feels like the smartest thing to do would be to escape -- to emigrate to some other country, maybe somewhere sunny, with a stable government and decent healthcare, and hunker down 'til it's all over.

I brought up Yule for a reason. John Beckett wrote a lovely column this weekend about the solstice being the real reason for the season. People on Earth have been celebrating the turning of the seasons since the Earth itself began turning. In the Northern Hemisphere, the days have been getting shorter since June. In North America, this coming Saturday will be the culmination: the winter solstice. The longest night. In ancient times, people would sing, pray, and light bonfires and candles to beseech the sun to return.

And it always does. The Earth turns, and the days begin getting longer again. The singing and the candles don't have anything to do with it -- time turns, and the Earth turns, and the sun returns.

A lot of Pagans rely on the Wheel of the Year for their spiritual observances, but I think time is really more of a spiral. This coming spring will and won't be like last spring. Summer 2020 will be like all the other summers we've ever had, and yet it will be its own thing.

Maybe Trump will still be president then and maybe he won't. When President Nixon faced impeachment, the smart money was on his removal from office -- until he quit. Maybe Trump's impeachment will be like that: he won't leave office until he does, abruptly. And he'll probably let us all know by tweet.

Bernie Sanders tweeted this last week:
It's far from the first time he's said it. But it rings especially true for me, in this season, when the Earth is turning and the sun will soon be returning. We can run, or we can stay and do what we can to make things better. I know which one feels right to me.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have one more batch of cookies to make tonight and they're not going to make themselves.

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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Time passages.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I'm in the home stretch of my career of working full-time for someone else. In mid-November, I clocked 20 years with my employer, WilmerHale. And yesterday, I turned 62 -- old enough to begin receiving Social Security benefits.

I can't quit yet. For one thing, I haven't applied for Social Security yet (and everything I'm hearing indicates it's a good idea to apply sooner rather than later, as the government has been known to screw up paperwork -- hard to believe, I know). Also, the lease on our apartment runs through July, and I can't afford the rent here without the current job.

But hitting that 62nd birthday is a milestone, even if it's mostly psychological right now. I've been counting down to the date for a few years. I even installed a countdown app on my phone so I could keep track as the days dwindled down.

Of course, hitting a milestone isn't the only effect of passing time. We got our Yule tree today, and while decorating it tonight, I weighed whether this ought to be the final year for our three elf ornaments.

These guys have been hanging on our tree every year since I was a kid, which makes them at least 50 years old. Originally, the wide-awake fellow's costume was a bright green. His has faded the most, but all three of them have lost some of their vibrant color. And the red guy has nearly lost his head several times over the years; we've braced his neck with toothpicks and glue each time, but what if, next time, there's nothing left to brace?

And what if I decide not to bother with a tree next year? By the time I went off to college, I was mostly in charge of putting up the tree. I'd assemble it, Mom would put on the lights -- those old-fashioned C7 lights with the sockets hooked up in series, so that when a bulb blew, the whole string went out -- and then I'd put up the decorations and she'd do the tinsel icicles.

Eventually she let me do the lights, too, but she didn't trust me with the tinsel. She let me do it one year when I was in junior high, I think. I put it on in handfuls instead of strand by painstaking strand. She took one look at my handiwork, yelled at me, and went back to doing it herself. That tinsel is out of fashion now, and good riddance.

Anyway, by the time Mom hit 60, she was over the whole Christmas tree thing -- and now that I'm there, I can kind of see her point. It's a lot of work.

On the other hand, when I turned on the lights tonight for the first time this year, I let out a little gasp of pleasure. They're so pretty.

And those elves are still cute, even if they're faded. I guess I'll pack them away again when the holidays are over this year and see what happens.

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Retconning the Elemental Keys.

Part of the fun of writing a series of novels is making sure events in the current book follow logically from events in the last book or books. Or as Stephen R. Donaldson once said, "Internal consistency is a bitch."

The quote came to me several times while drafting the fourth and final Elemental Keys book during NaNoWriMo. Fun fact: NaNo concluded yesterday, but thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I was able to reach 50,000 words on Friday. The book is tentatively titled Astride the Wind. I have a cover image in mind but it needs some work -- I'll post it soon.

Another fun fact: It's December, y'all. How did that happen when I wasn't looking?

Anyway, back to NaNo. Several weeks ago, I posted a question here: If you had to envision a Tool of Ultimate Destruction, what would it be? You know why I asked? Because at that point, I didn't know what the Tool of Ultimate Destruction would be, let alone what form it would take. I'd written three books in which my characters went haring off after a villain who was after a Tool of Ultimate Destruction, and nobody knew what it was, least of all me. And I was supposed to be driving.

Here's another secret: Before I started writing the five books of the Pipe Woman Chronicles, I meticulously plotted each book's overarching theme and place in the cosmos. By book 3, I had the final showdown half-written in my head. Did I develop a similarly meticulous overarching theme and stuff for the four-book Elemental Keys series? Haha, nope. The whole thing amounted to, "Let's go on an adventure!"

I did draft an outline for each book, and I hit the high points of the outline in each book, but not necessarily in order, or in the way I initially envisioned doing it.

So when I started writing Book 4, I knew I would have to clean some of that up. I found myself spending a lot more time than usual going back to scenes in the earlier books to make sure I had the details in this new book right. And when I finally fleshed out the scene for the final showdown, my brain did sort of a half-gainer and changed up a few crucial things, which made the ending make better sense but which played havoc with stuff that had happened before. I actually wrote in my notes at this point, "So let's retcon this revelation."

Retcon is short for retroactive continuity. It happens a lot in comic books, but it has migrated into other types of longform storytelling. Basically, it's when the creator of a series inserts new information about a character or situation that gives a different interpretation to earlier events. For example, retconning is how we got the most recent Star Trek reboot. (TV Tropes has an article on retconning that goes into more depth.)

In the case of Astride the Wind, I had to explain why an assumption that everybody made at the end of Rivers Run wasn't true. I won't say much more than that, because spoilers. But keep in mind that in Treacherous Ground, when the River Nore told Raney, "It is our understanding that you are meant to stop the door from opening," the river spirit's understanding could have been wrong.


I realized after I won NaNo that while I was rushing headlong for 50,000 words on Astride the Wind, I left a couple of things out. So I need to fix those before putting the book aside to ripen. I'm thinking February or March for publication. I'll let y'all know.

These moments of bloggy plot twists has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The gaslighting of Ukraine.

Vasudevan Kumar | CC0 | Pixabay
Have you ever had a feeling of deja vu while watching a congressional hearing? Probably not. I don't think it has ever happened to me until this week.

This was on Wednesday, during the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union. Sondland had already changed his story once. He testified to the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors -- and then after reading about the testimony of some other witnesses, he "corrected" his own original testimony. So his public testimony before the committee last week was his third attempt to tell the truth.

While he was flinging his co-conspirators under the bus left and right, he said something that caught my ear. The comment came under questioning from committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). Schiff was asking him to confirm that the US was withholding military aid and a White House meeting with President Trump until Ukraine agreed to look into two things: a Russian talking point that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in our 2016 election; and an investigation into corruption involving Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy exploration conglomerate, where Joe Biden's son was on the board of directors.

SCHIFF: He had to get those two investigations if that official act was going to take place, correct?
SONDLAND: [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.
Under further questioning, Sondland explained that the conditions for the announcement kept changing. At first, a statement from the government would be enough. Then the statement would have to come from a Ukrainian official. Then the announcement had to come from Zelensky himself. And he would have to do it in public. Trump wanted Zelensky "in a box," Sondland explained.

I've been in that box.

So this is a story about Basement Guy. You may remember that nickname from Mom's House, as I mentioned him in passing. I had met him in grad school.

When I was still in broadcasting, child care was a constant worry. I worked nutty hours -- often different shifts around the clock in the same week, especially after I went to Mutual-NBC Radio News -- and traditional child care just didn't cut it. I was always having to patch together something in addition to before-school care and after-school care. An au pair would have been perfect, but I couldn't afford to hire one on my salary.

When Basement Guy moved in, I asked him sometimes to watch the kids for me. His son was close in age to my daughters, so I figured it wouldn't be too heavy a lift for him. But he always balked (which in hindsight was a good thing, as he turned out to be a sociopath).

At last he came up with an offer: He would watch my kids for the summer if I'd buy him a truck. A used truck was okay. He was going to spend a couple of weeks in Costa Rica to do research, he said, so I'd have time to find him one while he was gone.

The offer appealed to me because a) I needed the help and b) he'd been using my car. So I said okay. I even asked a friend who had a friend who frequented auto auctions to keep an eye out for a truck for BG.

But then his request kept changing. He didn't just want any old truck -- he wanted a Ford F-150. It had to be black. It couldn't be any older than a certain model year. It could be a work truck, but not too beat up, and the seat shouldn't be all sat out. And he told his son about how cool it would be when I picked him up at the airport in his new-to-him truck.

In short, he was setting me up to fail. He'd boxed me in. The odds of my finding the specific truck he was looking for were slim to none. The friend-of-a-friend's report confirmed my misgivings: There were no trucks like that at the auction.

So I picked up BG at the airport in my car. He insisted that he drive, so I moved over and let him take the wheel. On the way back to my place, he said, "I guess you didn't get me a truck."

"No, I didn't," I said.

He was silent for a few moments. Then he said, "Well, I wasn't going to watch your kids this summer anyway."

Which is how I know in my gut that Trump was never going to give Ukraine the military aid, and he was never going to give him the White House visit. There would always be one more condition put on the things that were so valuable to Zelensky -- one more "favor to ask, though."

The only reason Ukraine got the military aid in the end is because of the whistleblower. The one who uncovered Trump's scheme to gaslight a foreign government in order to get dirt on a domestic political rival. The one Trump wants to meet face-to-face.

I hope that whistleblower is already in witness protection.

The NaNo project continues apace. I got behind this week due to having a life (how dare I!) but I caught up a bit yesterday. I'm less than 15,000 words away from winning, which is totally doable, given I'll be off work starting Thursday for Thanksgiving.

In fact, let me get on that...

These moments of bloggy deja vu have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and fans!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

OK Boomers, get over yourselves.

Full disclosure: I am a Baby Boomer, born at the end of 1957. In just three short weeks, I will qualify for Social Security (a.k.a. early retirement - my full retirement age is another 3.5 years away, assuming Congress doesn't dink around with the date in the meantime). So when the kids say, "OK Boomer," they're aiming it at me.

Not me personally, of course. But yeah, I'm one of the people in their crosshairs.

Let's go back. This whole OK Boomer business, as I understand it, began as a reaction to a viral video in which some idiot of an old guy criticized Millennials and Generation Z for having Peter Pan syndrome -- in other words, he claimed, they don't want to grow up. This was early last year, I guess. Who knows why this particular criticism tipped the scales, and not the avocado toast thing or the why-don't-you-work-your-way-through-college thing or the "Millennials have ruined fill-in-the-blank for everyone" thing? In any case, it did -- and like generations of young people before them, Millennials came up with a snappy comeback to all the clueless old farts everywhere:

The phrase has become shorthand, and it's aimed not just at Baby Boomers (those born between 1942 and 1963, give or take a year on either side), but at cranky old farts in general. It has finally gotten to be a big enough thing that the mainstream media -- the newspapers and magazines that, ahem, Boomers love to read -- have been doing features on it.

And I guess the phrase has made some Boomers crankier. About a week ago, Abigail Disney, heir to the Disney fortune (Walt was her great-uncle), had had enough. In a series of tweets, she told her fellow Boomers to stop being so "easily triggered." And she continued, "All things pass, you are old and you need to let history do what history does: move on."

That noise you here is me, standing and cheering.

Boomers really have made a mess of things. We were the generation of peace, love and understanding. The generation that recognized war was good for absolutely nothing. The generation that protested to end the Vietnam War, started the sexual revolution thanks to the Pill, and fought for water that was fit to drink and air that was fit to breathe. Remember Woodstock? Remember "don't trust anyone over 30"?

Then a bunch of us got haircuts and went to work for the Man, and somehow it all went to hell.

Now there's a cohort of Boomers trying to tell young adults that climate change isn't a real thing. They're unconcerned that Millennials have trouble getting jobs with benefits like health insurance, and they criticize them for not buying houses, even though rent payments eat up half their income and student loan payments take most of what's left. Boomers scoff at young adults who say the system is rigged, and recoil in horror when young people say socialism doesn't scare them. But these Boomers refuse to recognize that the world is different now -- and we (as well as the Greatest Generation) are responsible for it.

The thing is, I'm right there with the younger generations. (I keep wanting to call them kids, but they're not. Millennials were born from 1981 through 1996. The oldest Millennials are pushing 40.) So I feel compelled to explain that not all Boomers are the monsters we're made out to be. Not all of us watch Fox News (yeeeeesh). Many of us supported Bernie. Some of us even like avocado toast. (Guac on toast is even better.)

But from now on, I'm going to let the "OK Boomer" comments go. No, wait, I've got a better idea. I'm going to treat them as a call to action.

NaNoWriMo update: The word count widget is fixed - yay! And while I got a bit behind earlier this week, I spent the weekend catching up. I'm now at 28,522 words on Book 4 of the Elemental Keys series. This coming week will be challenging, with two nights tied up with meetings and stuff. But I'm hoping to keep pace -- and as always, Thanksgiving weekend will be waiting to bail me out.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pity the poor billionaires.

SIphotography | DepositPhotos
Oh, woe is our poor billionaire class. Someone has suggested that they've amassed too much wealth and wants to take it from them -- and that someone has a shot at winning the presidency next year. Why, she has even come up with a plan to tax a portion of their wealth -- not their income, their wealth -- so the government can spend it however it sees fit.

The candidate is Elizabeth Warren, and since she announced her wealth tax plan, the country's billionaires, and those who serve them, have cranked up their P.R. efforts to discount her proposal. Now as you all know, this is not a political blog. So I'm not going to talk about the plan itself. Instead, I'd like to talk about the billionaires -- and this one billionaire in particular: Leon Cooperman, chairman of Omega Advisors, a hedge fund based in New York.

As you might imagine, Cooperman doesn't much like Warren's plan. He was quoted in Politico as saying her attacks on the wealthy are unfair. "What is wrong with billionaires?" he asked. And then he said, "I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more. But this is the fucking American dream she is shitting on."

Warren fired back in a tweet: "Leon, you were able to succeed because of the opportunities this country gave you. Now why don’t you pitch in a bit more so everyone else has a chance at the American dream, too?"

In response, Cooperman sent her a five-page letter to say she had him all wrong. Billionaires have done great things for this country. Moreover, he's a signatory to a billionaires' Giving Pledge that promises they will give away half of their fortunes, and in fact he pledged to give away all of his.

In the wake of this letter, Cooperman was interviewed on a CNBC program this past Monday. And on the show, he teared up while talking about Warren's plan.

I'll be honest: I've read about Warren's plan, and I think I may have read the Politico story when it was published, but I didn't know about this spat between Warren and Cooperman until I saw the story about his CNBC appearance. And I didn't watch the interview until tonight.

Besides the part where he tears up, there's another section that I thought was key. You can watch it yourself at the link I posted above. Scroll down the page to the second video -- the 12-minute-long one. The quote that struck me starts at the 6:44 mark: "She's screwing with the wrong guy. I want to give it all away. Not 50-60% -- I want to give it all away. But I want to control the decision. I don't need the government giving away my money."

(By the bye, he's actually not giving it all away. He's giving away half in his lifetime, and putting the other half in a trust for his family to give away as they see fit after his death.)

Warren responded to all this in another tweet, pointing out that Cooperman is on the board of Navient, a student loan company that, she says, "has cheated borrowers and used abusive, misleading tactics. He even went so far as to ask how I might impact his investment in the last earnings call with Navient." And while he's worried about protecting his billions, young people can't pursue their dreams due to crushing student loan debt. The American dream worked great for him, Warren says, but on the backs of American students who now can't get ahead.

There are a lot of things we could do in this country if billionaires weren't sucking up nearly all of the country's wealth. CEOs at firms in the S&P 500 Index earned 361 times more than their average workers in 2017; back in the '50s, the ratio was 20-to-1. Taxes were a lot higher on the rich back then, too. PolitiFact says in 1952 and 1953, the top marginal tax rate was over 90%.

Back then, it didn't pay to be too rich; instead, company owners invested in their employees by paying them more. Now the rich want to pick who gets their money, instead of paying their employees more -- and instead of doing something to help the whole country. I'm just guessing here, but I'm pretty sure Cooperman isn't going to donate his fortune to people struggling to pay off their student loans.

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Curmudgeon's Corner: This is why we can't have nice things.

I shared a meme on Facebook this weekend that got a lot of comments. I can't swear to the accuracy of the information in the caption, but just look at that list of ingredients:

Morphine! Cannabis! 10% alcohol! As my father used to say, that stuff will put hair on your chest.

Yes, he would say that to me. Then I'd remind him that I was a girl and didn't want any hair on my chest, and he'd just chuckle. Today's dad jokes are lame in comparison.

Anyway, in chatting with a FB friend about this, I mentioned a particular cough syrup that my mother used to buy. Here's a photo of what the bottle looked like, back in the '60s:

Anybody else remember Cheracol D? It had codeine (an opiate, as is morphine) in it. Mom used to give it to me when I was little and had a cold. You could buy it off the shelf at the local drugstore. Then you started to have to ask the pharmacist for it. That lasted for a few years, and then you had to start signing the pharmacist's log book every time you bought a bottle. Now you need a prescription for it, and the warning list will curl your hair:
Codeine can slow or stop your breathing, and may be habit-forming. MISUSE OF THIS MEDICINE CAN CAUSE ADDICTION, OVERDOSE, OR DEATH, especially in a child or other person using the medicine without a prescription.
Do not give this medicine to anyone under 18.
Seriously? I was raised on this stuff. Now it'll kill you.

(In all seriousness, codeine can kill you. So can morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, and fentanyl -- they're all opioids, and lots of people have died from abusing them. In 2016, the death toll in the U.S. was more than 42,000, with nearly half of those deaths due to abusing fentanyl.)

There's an over-the-counter version of Cheracol D nowadays, but it doesn't have codeine in it. It might help you cough less, but you won't sleep like a baby on it, either.

Which reminds me of another thing: decongestants.

I'm allergic to a number of things: trees (specifically maple trees), dust, and mold. You know, stuff that's easy to avoid. The reaction is usually mild, except for the few weeks a year when the maples are sending their pollen everywhere. When I was in my mid-20s, I saw an allergist, had the pinprick tests (which is how I know what I'm allergic to), tried a bunch of different prescription antihistamines, and survived the series of shots. In my late 20s and early 30s, I had a bunch of sinus infections. Then we left Norfolk, VA, and things got a lot better -- I could basically get by with tissues. (Before you suggest it, I've tried a prescription steroid nose spray, but my nose got used to the regular dose too fast, so I quit using it. I've also tried a neti pot; I'm not a fan.)

But over the past year or so, it's gotten worse. I had a cold in the spring that morphed into a sinus infection, my first in years. Antibiotics knocked that back. But then this summer, I came down with another cold that overstayed its welcome, and I finally picked up a combined antihistamine and decongestant so that one wouldn't turn into a sinus infection, too.

It was heaven. I was able to breathe through both nostrils at the same time! I still had gunk pouring from my nose due to the cold, but now it could get out, instead of backing up into my ears!

Nearly all of the antihistamines I needed a prescription for in the '80s are now available over the counter. You used to be able to get the decongestant pseudoephedrine over the counter, too, but then some enterprising drug lords discovered that you could use pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth. So the decongestants containing pseudoephedrine went behind the pharmacist's counter, and you have to let the pharmacist scan your driver's license and promise that you're only buying it because you're sick.

Oh, you can buy decongestants off the shelf, but they contain phenylephrine hydrochloride, which in my opinion is pretty much useless.

I probably should lay off the decongestants, but it's just such a pleasure to breathe through both nostrils at once. I suspect the true cure will involve moving away from swampy DC to the much drier Southwest. But I expect I'll have just a few years of easy breathing before I develop an allergy to something out there.

Anyway, the point is that my life would be easier if I could get drugs that work when I need them, without having to jump through extra hoops. But too many people make big money by hooking people on dangerous drugs -- and that includes the big pharmaceutical companies that have made big money by hooking patients on opioids. My inconvenience is nothing compared to saving lives. So I guess I'll shut up now.

I might also be in a cranky mood because NaNoWriMo's word count widget is borked. The website got a major upgrade after CampNaNo in July, and the word count tracker is not playing nice with the new software. Supposedly fixing the bug is at the top of the programmers' to-do list, but I'm sure it's sharing that #1 spot with a host of other bugs that need to be fixed immediately if not sooner.

Anyway, I am at 5,417 words for Book 4 of the Elemental Keys series, which is right where I want to be. Someday the word counter on the NaNo site will be accurate, but this is not that day.

These moments of cranky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who nevertheless is grateful for breathing freely.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Political ads don't have to be true. Not even on Facebook.

Gordon Johnson | Pixabay

Truth in advertising was a topic on Capitol Hill this week, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) questioned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about whether Facebook would allow candidates to lie in their ads on the site.

Zuckerberg said he would, because voters should be able to hear all sides of an issue or dispute, so they can make up their own minds about what's true. In other words, he's saying it's a question of freedom of speech. Here's video of the exchange:

This wasn't Zuckerberg's first comment this month on Facebook's policy, and he was drawing fire from the left even before the congressional hearing on Thursday. One blogger suggested that if Facebook continues to run misleading political ads, then it should acknowledge that it's spreading misinformation -- and making money from it.

Sounds like the sort of thing a truth-in-advertising law would cover, doesn't it? In fact, the United States has truth-in-advertising laws, administered by the Federal Trade Commission, and they cover ads for lots of things. But not politics. Why the exemption? Because of the danger of placing limits on freedom of speech.

A truth-in-political-advertising law might have helped John Kerry. The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee's campaign was severely wounded by an opposition group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group challenged Kerry's record as a Vietnam War hero, among other things, and the idea that he'd lied about his record stuck -- even though vets who'd served with Kerry agreed with his version of events.

It turns out that this argument about lies and half-truths in political ads surfaces at least every four years -- not just in 2004, but in 2008, in 2012, and of course in 2016. And the answer is always the same: political ads are protected speech. The place to sort the liars from the truth-tellers is in the marketplace of ideas, and the job belongs not to those who provide the platform but to the voters.

That worked well enough back in the day, when everybody read the same newspapers and watched the same TV networks, and thereby got the same ads. But now, Facebook sells ad space that can be targeted to, say, certain zip codes, age groups, and interests. That's great when you're selling books, say. It's not so great when you're selling real estate and trying to keep blacks from seeing your ads in mostly-white neighborhoods. Or when you're selling a political candidate and looking for people who would believe anything you say about your client's opponent.

I'm not saying we should enact truth-in-advertising laws for political speech. I guess what I'm saying is that we voters should make an effort to hear what all the candidates have to say -- and make a concerted effort to determine which politicians' claims are true and which ones aren't. 

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pausing for autumn.

It's finally beginning to feel like fall here in DC. Summer seemed to extend into October, and it was a bit of a shock when our first true autumn temperatures arrived. Sixty degrees Farenheit is really quite pleasant, but it feels cold when it was 90 degrees just a couple of weeks before.

Still, the leaves are only beginning to turn here, and due to a moderate late-season drought, I suspect they won't be very showy, unlike the photo above. I wish I could say I took it, but alas, I bought it from a stock photo site.

I'm writing this on Monday night because the girls and I spent a long weekend at one of our favorite places -- Pipestem Resort State Park in West Virginia. They, too, have been suffering from a moderate drought, so their fall colors aren't as dramatic as I was hoping for. Still, I had some time to read, and to sit on the porch and knit, and listen to the river rushing by.

I did get one photo I liked a lot. It will probably look lousy on your screen -- I had to zoom allll the way in with the iPhone -- but here it is anyway. The vaguely bird-shaped thing on the branch is a crow, who kindly posed for me while I took the photo from several hundred feet away. Eh, let's call it an impressionistic shot.

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
I'm determined to enjoy the next couple of weeks of relative peace and quiet before NaNo starts. Thanks, by the way, to those of you who had suggestions for my Tool of Ultimate Destruction. I'm still pondering, but all of your ideas are helpful.

And big thanks to those of you who have bought a copy of Molten Trail -- I hope it doesn't disappoint.

So that's it for now. I'm going back to enjoying my autumn respite. Talk to you next Sunday as usual.

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

What's your Tool of Ultimate Destruction?

It's been a busy week at La Casa Cantwell. The e-book edition of Molten Trail, the third book in the Elemental Keys series, went live at Amazon on Wednesday. You can find the US version here. The paperback edition went live the following day -- you can find that here. The Zon hasn't yet linked the two, so you won't yet be able to find them on a single page. (Their FAQ says it could take from 48 hours to a week. Rest assured that I will be shooting off an email on Thursday if it's not done by then. Ah, the joys of indie authordom and all the little niggly bits you have to follow up on...)

Not only that, but I've drafted the outline for the fourth book (working title: Elemental Keys Book 4) and am just waiting for November 1 to roll around so I can start writing it.

Earlier this month, I created a graphic containing all of my book-length works (except for Live Simply in the City, about which the less said, the better). According to this, Molten Trail is my 24th book. (Which means the book that wraps up the series will be my 25th. I'm going to have to do some rearranging on those shelves.)

So there's a plot device called a MacGuffin. It's a thing that's there for the author to hang the plot on. In the classic film The Maltese Falcon, the MacGuffin is a falcon statue. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, each of the Infinity Stones serves as a MacGuffin at various times. The Holy Grail has been the MacGuffin in countless stories, from Arthurian legend to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the Elemental Keys series, our heroes are searching for several MacGuffins -- four Keys that together will fit a lock that will open a door behind which is a Tool of Ultimate Destruction. The T.O.U.D. is, of course, the ultimate MacGuffin.

Can I be candid? I haven't quite yet figured out what form the T.O.U.D. will take. Oh, I have some vague ideas, but I haven't settled on anything yet. So I thought I'd take suggestions. If you were going to create a T.O.U.D., what would it be like? What would it do? Post your suggestions in the comments.

I'm not going to do a Rafflecopter. Instead, I will send the person who comes up with the suggestion I like best a $10 (or the equivalent value in your home currency) Amazon gift card. If none of the entries please me, I'll be keeping my $10, so get your thinking caps on. Suggestions that target one or more politicians will be disqualified (we can't make this too easy, now, can we?).

Good luck! I'm looking forward to reading your suggestions.

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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What's a Pagan, anyhow?

I spent the day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which is always a good time. As usual, one of the first booths I visited was the one operated by Dancing Pig Pottery. The owner is a local potter who makes items popular with the RennFest and Pagan crowd. We've bought several of her pieces over the years, including serving bowls with the eight sabbats of the Pagan Wheel of the Year around the rim. Here's one of mine.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
While I was there today, I overheard one woman ask her friend, "What's that word?" She was pointing to the word Samhain on one of the bowls. Clearly the friend had no idea, so I piped up and told her. 

Then she asked, "What does it mean?" So I stumbled through a definition. I told her it was the name of the Celtic holiday that corresponds to Halloween. The women nodded politely and went their way. And I went mine, knowing that I hadn't done justice to the term. Because Samhain is the Irish word adopted by Pagans -- but not all Pagans -- as the name for the sabbat (feast day or holiday) that falls at the end of October. 

It's the "not all Pagans" part that makes things difficult. 

Someone asked me several weeks ago to explain the difference between, say, Paganism and Wicca. Greater mortals than I have tried to explain the Pagan movement and have walked away humbled. But let me take a whack at it.

Okay. So Paganism or Neopaganism is the big-tent name for a group of religions that...well, that don't have a whole lot in common, to be honest. Most of them are polytheistic. Some used to claim they were direct descendents of ancient little-p pagan religions that were stamped out across Europe by Christianity, but that idea has been debunked. Many are considered to be nature religions, believing the Earth and everything on it to be sacred and basing their holidays on the seasonal turns of the calendar -- hence, the Wheel of the Year. But there's no common liturgy and no single god or pantheon that every Pagan worships. 

The vast majority of folks come into Paganism through Wicca, mainly because it's the best known. Thanks to Halloween and Hollywood, people can get their minds around the concept of a witch pretty easily. But there are denominations, if you will, within Wicca. Some work with the Great Goddess, some with the Goddess and the Horned God, some with the Roman goddess Diana, and so on. Regardless, they all call themselves Wiccans and together they constitute the biggest group under the big tent of Paganism. Their commonality is belief in a Mother Goddess and that all of nature is sacred. (I'm a little nervous about making that declaration. Somebody's bound to come along and tell me about a Wiccan coven that doesn't worship any deity at all.)

Another is Druidry, which draws its inspiration and many of its beliefs from the priestly caste in ancient Celtic society. There are a number of Druidic organizations, including the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, founded in the UK in 1964; and Ár nDraíocht Féin or ADF, founded in the US in 1983. If any Pagan group ever succeeds in making the sort of Pagan religion that comes complete with brick-and-mortar buildings and a liturgy, my money is on the Druids.

A third is heathenry, or Germanic Paganism, which uses the Norse myths as a framework for its belief system. A host of smaller groups fall under this heading, including Asatru in North America. Some so-called heathen groups have been accused of being fronts for white supremacists, but certainly not all heathens are.

Wikipedia lists a number of smaller divisions within the big tent: eco-Pagans, who are often involved in Earth activism; the New Age folks, who may or may not be polytheistic; Reconstructionists, who try to make their worship as close to that of their pagan ancestors as possible (leaving out human sacrifice and other grisly bits); and so on. I'd say a lot of folks practice within these smaller groups as well as in one or more of the bigger ones. The Wikipedia article also mentions CUUPS, a group within the Unitarian Universalist Church that welcomes Pagans of all sorts.

And then there are eclectic Pagans -- the fence-sitters like me. Our beliefs don't align closely with any one group. Instead, eclectic Pagans dip in and out of several traditions, taking ideas that resonate with them and leaving the rest.

So that's how it works, kind of. I could also mention that Wicca was named the fastest-growing religion in America* in 2014, with an estimated 1.5 million "members" (which scares the pants off some folks). Or we could talk about why people are turning away from Christianity to Paganism (and to atheism, for that matter). But let's leave it here for now. Let me know if you have questions.

*The fastest-growing religion in the world is Islam. It's also the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.

These moments of eclectic Pagan blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who puts a lot of Pagan gods and goddesses in her novels for some reason.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

I need a nap.

What a difference a week makes, huh? Last Sunday, we were just beginning to hear about the existence of a whistleblower complaint against President Trump. The Washington Post broke the story about the complaint on Wednesday, September 18th. Then everybody in the media got busy adding details. By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, enough information had come to light that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially dubbed the ongoing committee investigations into Trump an impeachment investigation.

Impeachment. Boy, that word brings back memories -- none of them good.

I was in high school in Indiana when the Watergate hearings were underway. I remember walking into classrooms where the teacher had requisitioned a TV so he or she could watch the hearings during passing periods. President Nixon resigned in August 1974, just two weeks after the House of Representatives returned articles of impeachment against him. He never went to trial in the Senate. And then of course President Ford pardoned him, thereby dooming his own election chances but ensuring Nixon would never face prison for his crimes, either.

Then in late 1998, President Clinton was impeached. I have to tell you that '98 was a blur for me; that was the year I took family leave to spend the summer with my mother while she recuperated from cancer surgery. Then at the end of that summer, I was laid off from Mutual/NBC Radio News. So I spent the denouement of the Clinton saga -- the House referring the articles of impeachment and the Senate trial that ended in acquittal -- in Denver, where I was earning a paralegal certificate. I'd sometimes cast an eye at the headlines in the local paper, but to be honest, I was just as glad to be out of the fray.

Now it's Trump's turn. It's already the craziest impeachment story ever, and I have no doubt it will get worse.

Sometimes, when a big story breaks, old newshounds will ask each other whether we wish we were still part of it all. News people are adrenaline junkies. It's a rush to know something consequential before anyone else does and to be the person who tells the world. So when something big happens, "Do you miss it?" we ask one another. "Do you wish you were still doing news?"

Honestly? For this one, I'm just as happy to sit on the sidelines. Ever since Tuesday, the media has gone into overdrive. Keeping up with the headlines is like drinking from a firehose. It's been less than a week, and I'm already exhausted. And I'm only posting stuff to Facebook.

Delyth Williams | Pixabay | CC0

No, today's news business is for the young. Like, for instance, Andrew Howard of Arizona State University, who got the scoop that the US Special Envoy for Ukraine was resigning as a result of being named in connection with the impeachment inquiry. Kudos to him for recognizing he had a big story and for going with it.

These moments of impeachy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (If enough people buy my books, I'll never have to go back into news again. Thanks!)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

On balance.

The fall equinox -- known to many Pagans as Mabon -- has kind of crept up on me this year. It still feels like summer in DC (today's high was 92 degrees Farenheit; tomorrow's is forecast to be 93, and we may get another 90-plus-degree day next weekend, ugh), and we were in Europe on Labor Day, which has been the calendar marker for summer's end for me since I was a kid.

But the autumn equinox hits here at 3:50am tomorrow, so fall it shall be, regardless of whether I'm able to don a sweater without boiling to death.

Thank the gods we have more than cooler temperatures associated with Mabon. As I mentioned three years ago, Mabon is the second harvest, and as the fall equinox, it's also one of two days of the year when day and night are in balance. Which means it's not a bad time to consider how well our lives are balanced, and whether we should consider making any adjustments.

For me, this year has tipped toward travel to far-off lands. There was the Rhine River cruise I took in the spring, and the Mediterranean cruise with the girls just a few weeks ago. I've packed a lot of sightseeing into these past few months, and I expect to tip back to more normal travel levels from here on out. Which is to say I'm unlikely to do any more European travel for a few years -- although if I get an interesting offer, I might hare off somewhere. You never know.

I'm also looking with increasing anticipation toward retiring from the day job in less than a year, and the move that will accompany it. I'm balancing that with plans to hit some of my favorite places and events here on the East Coast one last time. Of course I made a list, and I've actually managed to knock a few things off of it, but I won't beat myself up if I don't get to them all. I want to be mindful of balancing my day-to-day life against all these "last chance" opportunities, and of not making myself crazy trying to do them all.

My writing life, too, needs to be in better balance. At the beginning of the year, I promised myself that I would write and publish all four Elemental Keys books this year. My original timetable had me publishing Molten Trail this week, but it's not going to happen -- I just sent the manuscript to my editor a week ago, and the book still needs a cover. So I'm expecting now that I'll publish it next month -- hopefully in early October, but certainly well before Halloween. Then I'll be drafting book 4 during NaNoWriMo in November, and I probably won't publish it 'til after New Year's.

This has been a valuable lesson for me. Some writers can churn out ten or more books per year. I've known for a long time that my best pace is three per year, but I wanted to push myself this year to do four. I know now that was a mistake -- I've spent too much of 2019 feeling guilty for not keeping to this accelerated publishing schedule, even though I knew I'd be doing a lot of traveling.

So! The new, more balanced plan: Molten Trail should be released around October 15th, and the final book will be out around late January 2020. I will let you know if that changes.

And looking farther forward, I may write a stand-alone novel in early 2020. I don't want to commit to another series, as late spring and summer will be sucked up by packing and moving. But I don't want the whole first half of the year to get away from me, either. We'll see how things are going once the final Elemental Keys book is out the door.

Blessed Mabon to you all! Here's hoping your life is in better balance than mine...

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

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The last days of a civilization.

I want to take one more look back at our fabulous cruise -- not just because I have a lot of pictures (sooo many pictures) but also because I've been thinking this week about what happens to a civilization when its big ideas are just about played out.

As I said last week, a number of cultures are overlaid on one another in the Mediterranean, owing to successive waves of battles, invasions, and cultural assimilations. Eventually the vast majority of the area around the Mediterranean Sea -- as well as a good-sized chunk of Europe -- was part of the Roman Empire. Rome struggled to keep it all under control; in 285 CE Diocletian split it into the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

The Romans who lived in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the time of their destruction by volcano in 79 CE were undoubtedly pagan. Herculaneum was named for Hercules -- he created it, according to myth -- and archaeologists have unearthed temples and mosaics of the Roman gods at both cities. In Herculaneum, this fresco depicts Hercules with Rome's three most important gods: Minerva, Juno, and Jupiter (he's the rainbow in the background). Above and to either side are depictions of the goddess Nike in her chariot.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
Ephesus, Turkey, was in the Eastern Roman Empire. It was partly destroyed by an earthquake in 614 CE -- but hundreds of years earlier, it was a base of operations for St. Paul. Our tour guide told us that in 56 CE or so, Paul preached in this amphitheater, which sat 25,000 people (and is used as a concert venue again today).
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
She went on to tell us that the local merchants got together and had St. Paul thrown in jail -- not because they were particularly faithful to the old gods, but because they had a good business selling statues of Artemis and Paul was ruining their livelihood. (The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There's virtually nothing left of it today.)

Here's the thing that struck me: All this beauty, all these colossal monuments, were built before Christianity. The Romans, and the Greeks before them, created beautiful art and monumental buildings. They developed philosophy and poetry. Western government is based on Rome's. The ancient world didn't need Christianity to come up with any of those things. So why did this new religion of Paul's get any traction at all?

Big thinkers have ruminated on this for centuries. My take is this: By the time Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire in 317 CE, Rome's heyday was nearly over. It rolled on for another hundred years or so in the West, until 476 CE. (The Eastern part morphed into the Byzantine Empire.) Well before then, corruption had crept into Roman government, and society was stratified, with regular folks having little chance to improve their lot in life. Jesus gave them a way to fight back against a civilization that treated them like chaff.

So Christianity flourished -- and then its flaws became apparent. The Romans in particular were tolerant of other religions; Christianity was not. And thus came the Inquisition and the Dark Ages and all the rest.

Some Christians escaped the religious strife in Europe to come to America. But when they got here, they enacted their own religious intolerance. So we had Christians accusing women of witchcraft in Salem, and justifying slavery with Bible verses, and using Manifest Destiny to support their treatment of Native Americans -- who, by the way, were not savages at all.
And now, here we are, at what feels like the end of an era. To be fair, Western civilization has made great strides in the centuries since Rome fell: in the arts, sciences, and technology. But today our society is stratified into a tiny number of haves and a huge percentage of have-nots. Our government is corrupt, with a tiny percentage of old white men holding onto power any way they can. And certain influential Christians support them.

Christianity got a toehold when Roman society began to break down. You've gotta wonder what will follow Western democracy when it crumbles to dust.

Sources:; and our tour guides.

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

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Cruise Year, Vol. 2, or: What I did on my summer vacation.

A couple of weeks ago, Kitty, Amy and I got on a cruise ship in Rome and got off about nine days later in Venice. In between, we toured a bunch of places. Some had been on my second-string bucket list (Rome! Venice! Greek islands!) and some had never been near any iteration of my bucket list (Turkey and Croatia). All of it turned out to be cool, and sometimes better than I'd expected. For instance, I was tickled to discover that some of the things we saw -- for lack of a better word -- rhymed.

Having never been to that part of the world before, I was struck by the way the cultures of so many countries on the Mediterranean Sea have intertwined. A lot of it is due to the spoils of war; the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Turks fought for control of the region for hundreds, even thousands of years, and so there's a certain amount of homogenization among the ancient sites. The mosaic floors at Pompeii in Italy, for instance, look a lot like the mosaic floors in the terrace houses at Ephesus in Turkey. And the frescoes adorning the walls of those Ephesian terrace houses look a lot like a wall I spotted in Museo Correr on the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Here, take a look:

Mosaic floor in Pompeii

Mosaic floor and frescoes in a terrace house in Ephesus

Wall - Museo Correr, Venice
I'm not sure, actually, whether that wall in Venice isn't a later-period homage to ancient Roman styles. Certainly artistic techniques go in and out of style -- like, say, black-on-black pottery. The ancient Etruscans made it, and so do potters from the San Ildefonso Pueblo here in the United States.

Etruscan pottery at the Museo Correr

Maria & Julian Martinez wedding vase | Wikimedia Commons |
CC 1.0

I could go on -- we saw so many wondrous places that I'm already forgetting some of the cool stuff we learned -- but I'll stop for now, if only to get some sleep.

These moments of bloggy comparative arts have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (All photos in this post: Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019, unless noted otherwise.)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Gone cruisin'.

Yup, I'm on vacation this week. Come on back next Sunday and I'll show you where I've been.

These moments of out-of-office blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (Click my name to find some stuff to read while I'm away.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Molten Trail: It's just one smoking hot crater after another.

Last week I sorta kinda promised you guys a sneak peek at Molten Trail, so here it is.

If you've read the first two Elemental Keys books, you'll know that our Elemental heroes -- Raney, Collum, Rufus, and Gail -- are chasing after Raney's father to find various Keys to a door that will unleash the Earth's destruction. They've already been to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Water Key was hidden, and to County Kilkenny, Ireland, where the Earth Key was kept. Book 3 takes them to the Big Island of Hawaii for the Fire Key. Fire is Rufus's Element, so he's pretty excited about it all.

One of the joys of writing this series is that I get to use places I've been as backdrops. So of course the gang stays near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which I visited in 2010. Here's a photo I took of the smokin' hot crater Rufus is so excited to see. The landscape is different now, though, after Kilauea's eruption earlier this year, and that's part of the story in Molten Trail, too.

Anyway. The photo, with the excerpt below it:

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2010
Gail sprang for our lodgings. I think she saw my face when I paid for the business class airline tickets. Or maybe it was when I suggested we stay in a hostel near the national park. Anyway, she went online and booked a place, and then told us about it.

“You didn’t need to do that,” I’d said.

“Look, Raney,” she said. “I may be on a fixed income, but you’re unemployed. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for this trip. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Secretly, though, I was relieved.

So anyway, what we got were rooms in a renovated historic hotel just inside the boundary of Volcanoes National Park. The dining room overlooked the smoking hot Halema’uma’u Crater – and when I say smoking hot, I mean the crater was actually smoking.

Rufus was beside himself. His room overlooked the crater, too. “I’ve never been this close to a volcano before,” he said, beaming. “This is awesome!” He dropped his stuff in his room and immediately ran outside to goggle at the blasted landscape.

“Don’t get so close that your shoes melt,” Gail called after him. Then she shook her head in amusement. “He’s like a big kid.”

“That’s our Madman,” Collum said. He’d regained what equilibrium he’d lost on the flight over, and now looked like the fierce mountain gnome I’d grown to love.

We had some time before lunch, so we dragged a reluctant Rufus away from his contemplation of the crater and trekked over to the visitor center. There I found an arresting sight of my own: a painting of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.

“That’s her home out there,” Rufus said, startling me. He pointed out the windows behind us.

“What, the crater?”

“Yep. According to Hawaiian mythology, Kilauea is where she lives.”

I turned my gaze to the blasted landscape, and back to him. “Has She spoken to you?”

“Not so far. But there’s time.” He grinned at me.

“Hey, where do your relatives live, anyway? You never said.”

“Not here,” he said with a laugh. “They’re all up on the North Shore of Oahu. And before you ask, they’re not Elementals.”

“Are they Native Hawaiians?”

“Nope. As far as I know, they’re haole, like all of us.” He twirled a finger to include me and the other team members. “That branch of the family came here in the ‘60s for the surfing and never left.”

“Sounds like the sort of people you’d be related to,” I said with a smirk.

“Yep, we’re all lazy jerks,” he replied cheerfully. “But seriously, I think that’s why my mother didn’t keep in touch with them. They were a little too counter-culture for her taste.”

“Gotcha. So you’re Elemental on your dad’s side?”

“Exactly. We’re Pennsylvania coal miners from way back. Fire is a great talent to have for that – setting charges to blow new seams open and that kind of thing.” His gaze drifted to the window. “Volcanoes are several magnitudes greater, though. This is real, raw firepower.” He focused on me again. “Hey, let’s get going. I’d like to get out into the park. There’s a road that circles the crater – we should have time to do that before lunch.”

“You’re kidding,” Gail said as she joined us. “Rufus, putting off a meal? Are you feeling okay?”

“He’s jonesing for Pele,” Collum said.

“You guys are all assholes. You know that?” Rufus said, but he was smiling. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll drive.”
Pele, Goddess of Fire by Herb Kawainui Kane
Photo copyright 2010 Lynne Cantwell
Speaking of traveling, I'll be on vacation next week. Enjoy your Labor Day! See you in September.

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