a sliver of optimism

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

Like almost everyone else I’m disgusted and sadly, surprised by the outrages in Charlottesville. I say “sadly” because it’s not surprising that Trump’s pandering to racists throughout his campaign emboldened them. The violence in Charlottesville was all but inevitable. And now we all know that we have a Commander-in-Chief who won’t outright condemn white supremacy.

I don’t know about you, but I used to live in a country where every thinking person–liberal and conservative–could agree that Nazis and the Klan were bad. Realizing I don’t anymore has been a shock to the system.

And then I got a ray of light.

orange sliver of the sun obscured by the shadow of the moon.
I tried smartphone + eclipse glasses, but ultimately NASA takes the good photos.

No, I don’t think the eclipse was some sort of astrological “good portent”, but the way it changed mood and focus was a delight. People of all sorts were excited. Joyful. Curious. Delighted to share their glasses and pinhole cameras, gathering in parks and fields and parking lots to point and smile. The constant CNN feed in my office turned away from the national shitshow to focus on this simple, if rare, natural marvel.

It’s over now. While I enjoyed it, I can’t stare at the sky forever–with everything going on in this country I can’t afford to. But the excitement generated by the eclipse, the wonder, the interest in science and astronomy, however briefly, by those who don’t usually consider such things (like me–I’m hardly a star-gazer) was a reminder that the world will keep spinning long after we’re gone.

Did you see the eclipse? What did you think?

every girl remembers her first space probe

Forty years ago this month, the first of the two Voyager spacecraft launched. And one of my first memories is a book of the first images sent back.

I was about five, but it wasn’t a kid’s book. No, it was my dad’s beautiful coffee table book high-resolution color photos. I’d look at Rainbow-hued Saturn and Jupiter and its moons, the tiny black and white image of Death Star-inspiration Mimas, and Io’s volcanoes for hours on end. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the book, but I do remember those photos. Over the years I developed an appreciation for the sheer technological achievement of Voyager 1 and 2. I still marvel that I live in a time when such things are possible.

And then there was the Golden Record, which became even more interesting as I became a record-collecting teenager. Though I didn’t like half the music (hell, I doubt I knew the tracklist), it still struck me as The Ultimate Artifact: the first sounds any alien will hear of earth, assuming there are any to hear.

Picture of man and woman and diagram of the solar system as depicted on Voyager 1. Commentary: maybe aliens don't talk to us because we're creepy. i mean we send them weird mix tapes and we keep trying to find out where they live. Additional commentary: And we sent them some unsolicited nudes with directions to our house
Mind, the aliens might find the sleeve art off-putting. Courtesy MeMe

Imagine my thrill to discover the Voyager Golden Record project (full disclosure: I participated in the Kickstarter). Now on the 40th anniversary there’s this beautiful boxed set of the remastered disc (vinyl or CD) with a new book of even more gorgeous photos.

I know what’s on my Christmas list – for myself and as gifts for others.

unread

Full disclosure: though I’m writing fiction I’ve been more of a non-fiction reader most of my life. It’s only in the past ten years or so that the balance has shifted. As someone who tends to go narrow and deep, I’m surprised and embarrassed to realize my fiction exposure has been wide and shallow:

Much as I loved “Rebecca” I’ve not made time to read the rest of du Maurier’s work.

I’ve only read one each of the “Outlander” and “Lymond Chronicles” series. I enjoyed them but didn’t LURVE LURVE LURVE them enough to continue.

Ditto Margaret George and Philippa Gregory, two other histfic heavyweights. I can’t even tell you which ones I’ve read.

My track record in other genres is no better:

I’ve never read “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings”. I tried the former in both high school and college and found the language too dense to get into. As such I figured LOTR was above my pay grade. I enjoyed the movies though (yes, I am a prole). Maybe I should take another run at these.

Many of the classics of science fiction have slipped under my radar: I’ve never read Heinlein or Asimov, save “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” because I wanted to know what inspired “Blade Runner”.

None of McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series. I couldn’t finish the first because I found it cliché; friends in the know said it’s better if you encounter it at age twelve rather than thirty-two.

No Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle, for no good reason at all.

No Jane Austen. I know, revoke my girl card.

Very little Stephen King because “Pet Sematary” kept me awake for two weeks as a kid. According to one and all he’s a master of suspense, I want thrills, not terror so intense I can’t turn out the lights.

Stack of books; Bagwell's The Darling Strumpet, Sharratt's Daughters of the Witching Hill, Dwyer's Ghost Hunter's Guide to Portland and the Oregon Coast, Smiten's Ghost Stories of Oregon, Hieber's The Eterna Files, Gortner's Marlene, and Higganbotham's Hanging Mary
Top of my fiction “to read” pile (with some non-fic mixed in, natch). Note they are all recent releases: no classics.

I try to catch up with the old but the new is so tempting!

What haven’t you read that you feel like you ought? What classics did you finally get around to only to find they didn’t live up to the hype?

Book to screen: could you? Should you?

Haven’t we all said “that book should TOTALLY be made into a movie” at one point or another?

Black and white ca. 1940-1950 image of a young black woman threading film into an old-fashioned projector.
Susan Baptist, a projectionist, shows training films for the troops as well as more popular motion pictures. From the Library of Congress.

Yep, me too. What’s strange is that I seldom say it about a historical fiction novel. Stranger still(?), I don’t actually watch that much historical fiction.

Of these three historical fiction novels that need to be adapted for TV I’ve not read a one of them. A damn pity because they sound great: Sparta vs. Rome, WWII crime, Tudor conspiracy. When I do watch histfic it’s usually either written for the screen (The VVitch, Bomb Girls, The Americans) or adapted from a book I’ve not read (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the White Princess, Outlander [well, I read part of this but never finished]).

And I’m admittedly terrible about keeping up with TV series. I start many but seldom finish due to time and attention constraints.

That, and I have a kind of reservation about converting books to movies. Two different mediums require two very different approaches to the same story, which is where the desire to be accurate to the original collides with the need to make a textual story visually compelling. Sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone. So when pressed to come up with books that I think would make great viewing I have to strain.

Successful page to screen adaptations exist. I own all of the Sarah Waters tv miniseries: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, Affinity.  Does the The Handmaiden [trailer, YouTube] count? It’s an adaptation of Fingersmith set in 1930s Korea.

Wolf Hall, because I enjoyed the court intrigue and Cromwell’s subtle machinations. And the costumes were pretty accurate too!

I wouldn’t mind seeing Waters’ The Little Stranger (post-WWII gothic horror) put on screen. Possibly Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network (women spies in both world wars).

Don’t even ask me who I’d cast for any of these. I can barely envision my own characters!

What historical fiction would you LOVE to see on screen?

biweekly links 4-19-2017

All Tudor, all the time this week:

Crews damping down after ‘suspicious’ blaze ravages 16th century mansion: it breaks my heart that this is lost. As of this writing no word on whether the fire was intentional or not.

Rare Tudor organ on show at Romsey Abbey / Alumnus Charles Metz to perform Elizabethan music on period virginal April 19: that’s a reproduction organ and extant virginal. This kind of “hands-on history” thrills me.

How The White Princess is a Girl-Powered Game of Thrones: short version: the real Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin borrowed heavily from the Wars of the Roses but the history doesn’t need much embroidering: woman has to marry man who just killed her uncle – the uncle who may have killed her brothers to take the crown for himself. Throw in conniving relatives and shifting alliances for spice and I’ll be watching.

your brain is lying to you

Or my brain is lying to me, at least.

Lying!
Because never skip an opportunity to use Saga’s Lying Cat. Via Comicvine.com.

I’m not talking about the subjectivity of reality or how much subjective experiences do/do not matter, but something far more mundane: generalized anxiety. I wasn’t diagnosed until my twenties but it’s been a problem all my life. All these stupid things everything does from time to time are my system defaults.  Short version: I can’t trust my intuition because it’s a paranoid idiot.

Not that it’s not fixable. With treatment I no longer jump at every damn thing but risk assessment isn’t a gut thing so I have to consciously overwrite my bad mental habits.

This is on my mind because I’m on several learning curves and the constant forebrain check of the stuff my lizard brain can’t handle has been exhausting. Doesn’t stop me fervently overthinking everything though, and the writing is falling into a spiral perfectionism paralysis. I’m digging out, but it’s taking time so I just listen to my internal Lying Cat hissing lying, lying, lying.

How does your mind lie to you?

keeping sane in a world turned upside down

This is not a political post.

Princess Leia with David Bowie lightning strike makeup, Rebel Rebel written below
Via Geektyrant.

Well it is, sorta. As an American I can’t help but be aware of the current political situation. As a liberal/progressive I can’t help but be horrified. I’m not going to go into details or debate – if you agree with me you probably share my concerns and if you don’t I’m not going to convince you of anything.

Far better writers than I have discussed the value of writing in fractious times and how to persist. Incredibly I’ve managed to keep my creative momentum and am still on track to finish my second draft by June. So this isn’t a “writing while stressed” post either.

No, this is about how not to let the current situation eat you.

Or eat me, at least. I have a great talent for getting so caught in worry that I freeze. True to form I spent the first few weeks after the inauguration beating myself up for not doing enough and chasing my tail trying to find something–anything–I could do so I wouldn’t feel so useless. I didn’t go to the women’s march (cold weather + my lungs = sinus infection until spring).  I missed out on bystander training. I hate cold calling with a passion I reserve for lima beans and sauerkraut.

But.

I now cold call my representatives once a day on issues that matter most to me. I’m looking for future training and warm-weather protests. I try to remember that I should do what’s effective, not what makes me feel better. As it happens I’m more effective at a constant crawl than a sudden sprint (kind of like writing. Or fencing. But I digress).

And I try to laugh, whenever possible.

So if I’m inappropriately silly from time to time, it’s just me sane-making.

What about you?

 

my apologies

If I’ve spammed anyone’s feed in the past few days, I want to apologize.

I’ve been updating tags on my posts to make them easier to search. All my research suggested I could do this without re-deploying old posts to my RSS.

However, fresh comments this morning suggest that this is not the case. For what it’s worth I’ve finished updates, I’m back to my weekly Wednesday schedule.

Again: deeply sorry, and I’ll do my homework better next time!

 

I got nothin’

I’m giving myself permission to skip a proper blog post this week.

Between day job, fencing, holiday preparation, critique group, and attempting to finish marking up the first draft Real Soon Now I just don’t have anything prepared.

I’m not ignoring last week’s Twitter plea for post suggestions (thanks Heather Rose Jones and Lucy Kemnitzer!) but I want to do them justice.

Next week I’ll be back with my usual biweekly link dump and hopefully have something more substantial for the 21st.

how to talk about weird things (really, HOW?)

Despite my lifelong interest in the strange and unusual it took me a relatively long time to realize just how strange that is to (some) other people.

Growing up in a family where such inquiry was commonplace and getting the requisite pat on the head for my childhood faked Bigfoot plaster casts etc. it wasn’t until college that I started getting blank silence, laughter, even hostility. So I learned to shut up if I didn’t want to get into long-winded explanations of why I wasn’t a conspiracy theorist, UFO cultist, or what have you.

Alternative religion historian Mitch Horowitz’s discusses the hazards of discussing the occult in the media and many apply to discussing in company as well: the unknown is acceptable as long as you’re flip about it but any hint of serious interest gets conflated with blind belief, and hence, ridicule. This scares off intelligent inquirers and the truly off-the-wall rush in with their pet theories, perpetuating the association with crackpots.

Angry alien says to fellow aliens:
The acceptable face of  the weird. Don’t get me wrong, I find stuff like this funny too. Via.

Which is a damn shame because underneath the silliness and hysteria are some genuine questions like what really happened? and why do they keep on happening? and how do experiencers integrate their experiences into their daily lives?

Though I’m in the business of speculating I try to be aware that I am doing just that – speculating. I’m no scientist (or trained in rigorous scientific method) so I can’t make authoritative statements about the objective reality of strange phenomena. Nor can I discount or ridicule other people’s experiences – I don’t walk in their shoes.

But I can say: it’s ok to engage the weird. It can be done without sacrificing critical thought, though it is difficult. Investigate without assumptions and be ready to accept that you don’t know and may never know. Most of all, anyone who insists they’ve got The Answer(TM) doesn’t.