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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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Sources: https://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Empire/https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephesushttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herculaneum; and our tour guides.

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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.

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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.


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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.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Did someone say "knitting?"

I know you're all here for the knitting, but first: I finished the first draft of Molten Trail, the third book in the Elemental Keys series, earlier this week. It's shortish -- just over 41,000 words. But I'm confident I'll be able to add another 5,000 or 6,000 words in my next pass, which will be happening here presently. In any case, we're still on track for a late September-ish release. More news as it happens -- maybe even next week.

In the meantime, I offer you a post filled with lovely knitted things.

Time sure flies when you're having fun. My last kniting post was in March, and here it is, late August. Summer isn't the best time to knit, and certainly not to knit with wool. But that's why the gods invented air conditioning, right?

These last five months have been all about shawls. I already have about 30 shawls and shawlettes, which is a little embarrassing to admit. I keep thinking I should stop making them. But then some lovely new skein of yarn catches my eye, or I see an intriguing pattern, and I'm off.

Speaking of intriguing patterns: Last time, I showed you the Level in progress. Here's what mine looks like, now that it's finished:

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
In this project, I learned the importance of using yarns with more or less the same heft. The copper yarn, it turns out, is a DK; the blue is fingering weight; and the speckled yarn is single-ply that's more of a light fingering. I found I had to duplicate-stitch over some of the places where the yarns met, as the slanted ends of the lines weren't as obvious as they were meant to be. The colors go well together, at least. (And isn't it impressive how this shawl coordinates with our circular rug?)

The next project falls into the "lovely skein of yarn caught my eye" category. There I was at my local yarn store, minding my own business, and this skein of fingering-weight yarn nailed me at the door. So I brought it home and looked for something to make with it. The Hitchhiker Beyond pattern won.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Unlike most shawl patterns where the detail is at the lower edge, this has straight lower edges and a sawtooth design along the top. It was fun and quick to knit -- all good things.

The pattern for the next one is called the Ridgeline. The designer is in British Columbia, and had the Canadian Rockies in mind when she created the pattern. But I had yarn in my stash in Southwestern colors, and the Rockies stretch into New Mexico, so I thought my color choice was justified. And I love the way it turned out.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Finally, we come to the Amulet. Now, alert hearth/myth readers know that I'm not a lace knitter. And I also never knit with black, except under extreme duress -- it's hard to see the stitches and makes what's supposed to be a fun hobby way less fun. But then I realized I could use a black shawl. Then somehow the black yarn I found (the colorway is called Raven - I can't imagine how that caught my eye) got paired with a skein of red yarn. And as long as I was going there, I figured I might as well go completely nuts and add beads, too. 

I finished knitting it a couple of weeks ago. But thanks to Molten Trail and life in general, I didn't get around to blocking it until yesterday. It doesn't go as well with the rug as the Level, but you win some, you lose some.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Earlier today, I pulled out the blocking wires and pins and put it on. Instantly, I was in love. I'm sure I'll find somewhere to wear it.

***
The more I think about it, I think I may post an excerpt from the new book next week. 

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

On the "r" word.

I expect I'll get in trouble for this post.


This past week, Toni Morrison died at the age of 88. She was one of my favorite authors. When I was in grad school, I wrote a paper about her -- which in no way makes me an expert, but it did give me an enduring appreciation for her work. 

Morrison was a major voice in American literature. The power of her prose was strongest when describing and explaining what we might call the black experience -- including the effects on blacks of racism, as in The Bluest Eye, and of the institution of slavery, as in Beloved.

I was reading a whole bunch of hyphenated-American literature back then: among them, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, and Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (which he later adapted into the screenplay for Smoke Signals, a movie I highly recommmend). All of these books are magic realism, and so too is Beloved. And in all of them except Allende's book, racism plays a role.

I grew up with the classical definition of racism -- which, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2a : a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
b : a political or social system founded on racism
3 : racial prejudice or discrimination
But the "r" word has gotten thrown around a lot in recent years, to the point where it almost means anything the writer or speaker wants it to mean. I know English is a living language and the meanings of words change -- but too often, over the years, racism as a term has been co-opted and redefined to benefit a particular political agenda. 

Ten or twenty years ago, I was running into conservatives who would call me out for my support of things like diversity policies in the college admissions process and accuse me of reverse racism -- of favoring other races over my own, to the point of advocating discrimination against whites. At the time, I filed their opinions under Things that make you go "Huh?" Nowadays, it appears conservatives have shortened the term to just racism, which is really confusing to those of us who are used to hewing to the dictionary definition of the word. Of course, for folks who like to keep people they think of as smartass liberals off-balance, that obfuscation is part of the charm.

Lately I've been seeing a similar but opposite co-opting of the word on the left. Many African-Americans correctly maintain that many white people don't understand or acknowledge the privilege their pale skin affords them in our society. But then some make a sweeping generalization and say all whites fall into that category -- that is, no white person anywhere understands or acknowledges their white privilege. And then some black folks go even further and say all whites, by definition, are racists.

That seems like an unfair generalization -- particularly when racist has, for years, been an insult. But pointing that out opens me to a charge of trying to move the focus back to me and my experience as a white person, which is not my aim at all. And let me make it explicitly clear that I am not equating this usage of racism with the pretzel logic conservatives employ when they use the word.

But we can all agree, I think, that sweeping generalizations are almost always wrong. I think we can all agree as well that the word racist has historically been considered an insult. If you want to keep your allies on your side, insulting them is not a winning strategy.

Certainly, there are racist white people out there who Just Don't Get It, like the interviewer in this video of Toni Morrison that went viral in the days following her death. But not all of us are like that woman. We get where you're coming from. We support you. Please don't run us off.

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


Sunday, August 4, 2019

On peak retirement age.

My head is full of Elementals and my Facebook feed is full of the mass shootings over the past couple of days, neither of which I want to talk about right now. So for this week's post, I'm going back to an idea that I threatened to write about a few weeks ago.

Gerd Altmann | CC0 | Pixabay
What piqued my interest was an article in The Atlantic about how long people should plan to keep working. The article is not about finances. If you talk to any financial planner, they will tell you to keep working and saving 'til you have a million dollars in your retirement account. Right? And how realistic is that when the average amount people ages 55 to 64 have in savings is $107,000? (Even the article at the link is on this train; it says people in their 60s need to have saved eight times their annual salary. Yeah, right.) The longer you listen to these folks, the more depressing it gets. You may end up feeling like you'll never have enough money to retire.

That's not realistic, either. Most American workers retire at 62, which is not-so-coincidentally the age at which Americans are first eligible to collect Social Security. Often, people intend to work longer, but they underestimate how long they'll stay healthy enough to keep their jobs. The most realistic approach, then, would be to figure out what your retirement income will be, given where you are right now, and rearrange your lifestyle to make that work.

But that's not what the Atlantic article is about, either. In a sense, it's about people who work too long -- folks who try to keep up the pace they sustained when they were younger.

The author is Arthur C. Brooks, a former president of the American Enterprise Institute. He says in many fields, people do their best work in middle age.
Looking at major inventors and Nobel winners going back more than a century, [Benjamin Jones, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management,] has found that the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s. He has shown that the likelihood of a major discovery increases steadily through one’s 20s and 30s and then declines through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s. Are there outliers? Of course. But the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20—almost nonexistent.
The outlook isn't much better for writers, according to Brooks: "When Martin Hill Ortiz, a poet and novelist, collected data on New York Times fiction best sellers from 1960 to 2015, he found that authors were likeliest to reach the No. 1 spot in their 40s and 50s. Despite the famous productivity of a few novelists well into old age, Ortiz shows a steep drop-off in the chance of writing a best seller after the age of 70." (So maybe don't leave writing your Great American Novel to after I retire.)

It's a long article and has a lot of interesting ideas in it. But Brooks does finally get down to a prescription for coping with this earlier-than-you-want-it-to-be decline: walk away from the hard-driving career world while you're still at your peak; take time to think about your spirituality and what you'd like for folks to say about you in a eulogy; and connect with others, and not just your friends and family. He suggests older folks should serve as mentors or teachers, and thereby pass their hard-earned wisdom along.

I'm not suggesting all of us old farts take up teaching. But if you feel yourself slowing down at work earlier than you thought you would, know that you're pretty typical -- and that there may be life after whatever job you have right now.

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These moments of encouraging blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who's still contemplating whether to write a Great American Novel, and what it would be about if she did).

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Notching another Camp NaNo win.

I know, I know -- I was supposed to do a blog post on Sunday. Sorry, but I didn't have time -- I foolishly put off starting work on Book 3 of the Elemental Keys series, and then dawdled some more, and... The point is that I've just now validated the project.


The working title is Molten Trail, and thanks again to those of you who helped me brainstorm a title for a novel featuring a volcano that didn't make it sound like porn.

Camp NaNoWriMo lets you set your own goal -- unlike the November event, it doesn't have to be a whole 50,000-word novel -- and so my goal for July (after I futzed around for the first part of the month) became 25,000 words. I expect I'm about half done with the first draft. I have at least 20,000 words of plot left, and then the final scene or two. But for now, I can hit pause. And maybe sleep.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bread and circuses and trashy TV.

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay
It's common knowledge by now that television programming has less to do with entertaining viewers than it does with making money. Programming is a vehicle for the ads, pure and simple. The more viewers a show can attract, the more eyeballs that will be exposed to the commercials aired along with the show.

This is why TV executives went nuts a few years ago when viewers started to figure out ways to skip over the ads. We've always had the random viewer who would leave the room to get a sandwich or use the bathroom during a show -- but now that technology has evolved to the point where viewers could record programming to watch later or watch shows online, and miss the ads altogether, it may reach a point where it becomes prohibitively expensive to produce any new programming at all.

But that's a side issue. What I wanted to talk about was the quality of the programming that's shown to all those eyeballs.

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about a study done in Italy. It found a correlation between the trashy programming on one of the country's two channels and viewers' belief in simplistic political thought. Beginning in the 1980s, viewers could choose light entertainment provided by Mediaset instead of the more educational programming offered by public broadcaster RAI. The researchers correlated people's viewing choices with political believes, and discovered that "more exposure to Mediaset’s vapid programming was followed by an enduring boost in support for populist candidates peddling simple messages and easy answers."

This effect was seen most starkly in kids who were under 10 and people who were over 55 in 1985. The kids have since grown up, and a lot of them became supporters of Italian populist politician Silvio Berlusconi.

How did it happen? The Post says, "In Italy, it’s not that television made voters more conservative. Instead ... it seems to have made them more vulnerable to the anti-establishment stances favored by the country’s populist leaders of all persuasions." In other words, viewers who opted for trash TV instead of more challenging entertainment -- reading a book, say, or watching the news -- lost the ability to think skeptically and to reason effectively. Or never developed it, in the case of the kids.

Feel free to extrapolate from this the current situation in the US, where adult-oriented cartoons, reality TV, and Fox News became popular during roughly the same time period as Mediaset did in Italy.

And then step away from all your screens and exercise your mind. Read a book or something. Please.

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These moments of commercial-free blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who, by the way, writes books.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The future of housing, maybe.

Alert hearth/myth readers know I'm a big fan of tiny houses and I'd love to own one myself as a retirement place. The problem I keep running into is where to put it. City officials and urban planners see the words "tiny house" and envision a bunch of little boxes as a solution to homelessness. Which is a step up from their initial opinion, which put them in the same class as RVs -- which means they're illegal to live in full-time, and too mobile to be considered housing at all, really. 

You could put a tiny house out in the middle of nowhere, but that makes them impractical for older folks who want to age in place. At some point you'll be too old to drive, and then how are you going to get to town to do your shopping and see the doctor?

But designers keep playing with the concept. And this past week I toured one* that might finally put paid to the notion that tiny houses have no place in urban America. It's called FutureHAUS, and it was developed by students at Virginia Tech University. For the next few weeks, it's on display in Alexandria, Virginia, just down the street from La Casa Cantwell and, not-so-coincidentally, only a few blocks from the future site of Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus.

FutureHAUS Dubai | Flickr
I borrowed the exterior photo from the project's Flickr account, since I forgot to take one when I was there. The rest of these are mine. (If you'd like to see better ones, check out the Flickr link.)

The house is designed as several modules. Here in Alexandria, they literally put up the whole thing in two or three days. But it's no unfinished shack. The interior is a tech gadget lover's dream, from the solar panels on the roof (the house generates more electricity than it can use), to the special Amazon delivery closet just inside the front door for your drone deliveries, to the induction range top that only heats up where you put your magnetic pot. The wall behind the range and sink is a giant monitor that can show anything from a video chat to a TV show to the recipe you're using. 

Induction cooktop and backsplash-sized monitor.
The living room and office are split by a movable wall, so you can adjust the size of each room depending on what you're using them for. 

The bedroom has a drop-down Murphy bed; when it's closed, the bottom of the bed features a full-length mirror that can not only suggest outfits for the day based on the weather and your calendar, but can also tell you where in the closet you can find your choices.

The magic mirror.
And then we have the bathroom. This is a either a technological marvel or a privacy nightmare, depending on how you look at it. 


The toilet raises and lowers (as do the countertops and cabinets all over the house) as a way to encourage aging in place. The sink has three spigots, and has another smart mirror on the wall above it. The bathtub and shower are separate, which is kind of nice. But the tub -- ah, the tub. Not only is there another monitor built into the glass wall between the shower and tub, but you can program either one to have your bath or shower ready at a specific time with the water at a specific temperature -- no waiting! And the tub itself has whirlpool jets. And it's self-cleaning. 

"Self-cleaning?" I said to the student conducting our tour. "I want one of those."

"You can get one right now," he assured me. "It's a Kohler."

"For a mere several thousand dollars, I'm sure," I muttered. And I was right -- I looked it up. They're in the neighborhood of $5000 each.

Which begs the question: How much would one of these pop-up houses cost? Our tour guide said this particular model would retail for about $900,000. But the team is studying ways to bring the price down to as low as $100,000, depending on the features a buyer would be willing to pay for.

Still -- 900 square feet, $900,000. And the design won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 in Dubai. Maybe eventually, city planners will get the message that tiny houses are more than just boxes for the homeless.

* To be clear, at 900 square feet, FutureHAUS is a "small house." Tiny houses are typically 400 square feet or less. I can't find a definitive upper limit for a small house, but I seem to recall it's somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet. By comparison, the average size of a new house built in the US today is 2,600 square feet.

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Adventure awaits.

Oh hey -- before I get any further, I should let you know that Treacherous Ground is now available in paperback.

And now, this week's post.

***

We're wrapping up an extra-long holiday weekend here at hearth/myth; the day job shut down (as much as a law firm ever shuts down) on both Thursday and Friday for the Independence Day holiday. I was off so long that I was losing track of which day of the week it was. Pretty sure today is Sunday, which means I owe y'all a blog post.

I have to tell you that it's been really, really nice, having this string of days off -- which is either a preview of how great it will be when I retire in about a year, or a rotten tease because it's Not. Here. Yet.

To beat back the "rotten tease" part, I'm creating a sort of hybrid calendar/journal. You can buy these as blank books -- they're called planners. And as it turns out, planners are where the paper crafters went after scrapbooking went digital. All the pretty papers, stickers, diecut shapes, and so on work as well in a planner as they do on a scrapbook page (although everything needs to be downsized from 12" x 12" to 1.5 inches square, give or take). A number of companies have created blank journals, with Staples' Arc brand being perhaps the least twee.

My problem with a lot of the preprinted planner stuff is the same problem I had with a bunch of the scrapbooking stuff: It's not me. Anything with a Bible verse on it is a non-starter for this Pagan -- but that's not my only issue. A lot of the offerings are either aimed at young women (pastel narwhals! cute sushi!) or busy mothers (little stickers featuring washing machines, school buses, vacuum cleaners, coffee cups, and for the really bad days, martini glasses and suitcases). Then there are the words in various fonts that are supposed to be encouraging, but are basically nagging you: "Gym," "Laundry," and so on. (I saw one sticker that said, "Do your damn laundry." Even though I'd be the one putting it on the page, if I ran across that in the wrong mood, I'd throw the planner across the room.)

It just seems like all this stuff is aimed at people who are trying to keep up, when here I am, trying to wind down. Oh, I've seen some retirement-related stuff, but most of it looks like it's for a scrapbook page for a retirement party. Or it's meant for what comes after -- the Winnebago, the Adirondack chair, and the joke about what you call the person who's happy on Monday.

So I'm falling back on different images: dream catchers; dragonflies, which symbolize transformation at a mature, permanent level; and this Death Tarot card, which for me encapsulates the true meaning of what's often seen as a scary card: killing off that which has outlived its usefulness in order for new, healthy growth to occur.

Although there's room for fun stuff in my planner, too. I've laid in a supply of llama stickers. And if you're looking for stickers for the days when you just want to throw your computer out the window, here you go.

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