Log in

No account? Create an account

plotbunny astray

eird thing happened to me in the shower this morning (not for the first time): I got hit by a plotbunny meant for someone else. Even if I were going to write a fiction book, this wouldn’t be a book I’d want to write and it probably wouldn’t be a book I’d read – but I think lots of other people would like it.

It would be called “The Younger Sons”, from the Robert Service poem, and would basically be competence porn about a bunch of childhood friends, English younger sons who didn’t inherit and left to do other things. There would be multiple story lines, each centered on a different person: one not unlike Kipling’s Stalky and Kim, who lives in the shadows of Her Majesty’s rule over India, helping things go well in his small part of it by working together with and respecting the locals. There would be one in the Klondike Gold Rush; I think he’d be a bartender or supplier to the miners rather than a miner himself, because that was the way for sane steady men to get rich, but I think he’d end up involved in a lot of adventures and rescues that didn’t get talked about much. Others might settle in South America or Australia; maybe one would be a diplomat in the mold of Peter Wimsey. They’d all be quiet doers, who would get stuff done without much in the way of resources, and most people wouldn’t notice them because they’d prevent calamities rather than getting there too late and doing more visible metaphorical firefighting. I’m not sure how to link the storylines; maybe it could be epistolary (though you’d need to include letters from others besides the main characters, since they’d tend to minimize their own doings) or maybe the diplomat could travel enough to provide a link.

You can tell I haven’t thought this out thoroughly, but I can already see a number of issues with it. The smaller challenge is making the historical timeline come out correctly: Kim was published in 1901 and Stalky & Co in 1899; presumably their adult adventures at the end of each book were supposed to be more or less contemporary with publication. The Klondike Gold Rush was 1896-99, so that works out, but Peter Wimsey was practicing his diplomacy in the 1930s; you’d need an older generation version of him. The bigger issues, though, is that this could become a very masculine book and the challenge would be to keep it from being a complete sausage fest. Still, there were women who Did Things at the time; I recently came across the photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, for one; there could be a Younger Daughter modeled on her, or on another photographer she collaborated with (who was born in England, in fact), Zaida Ben Yusuf. Or on Isabella Bird. The other challenge, especially after the writer immersed herself in the amount of history and fiction of that time that she’d need as research, would be to keep it from being yet another encomium of the jolly old British Empire, never mind those poor brown fellahs starving over there, they’re jolly grateful really.

Still, Kim and Stalky managed to avoid thinking that way to a surprising extent, given they were born into it. So it should be possible, right? Anyway, clearly this plotbunny wasn’t meant for me – I can’t imagine wanting to write a book I don’t wish I could read – so I’m writing it down to release it back into the wild, in hopes it finds its person.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.


a funny thing just happened

I’ve just reread A Wrinkle in Time, and it’s actually changed my thinking about the movie (which I have not seen yet). As important and fundamental as that book was to me as a child whose brain was built by books, and as heretical as it sounds, AWiT is about due for an update.

For one thing, the whole beginning of the book, where Meg and Charles meet Calvin, struck me as way too abrupt. This might be partly just because it’s written for who I was at 9 when I first read it rather than who I am at 51, but I think some of it is also because the slang and feel of its time would have made the relationship feel more real to its original readers. These days, “you’ve got dreamboat eyes” isn’t a line that would make a character feel more solid and trustworthy. Maybe I’m just old and cynical, but the whole bit where Calvin says “for the first time in my life I feel like I’m going home” just feels way too rushed – I need more time there for empathy to build. On the other hand, the relationship Charles Wallace has with the Mrs Ws feels more real to me – he’s only supposed to be about 5, after all, and he may not be much like a typical 5yo but he’s not emotionally mature either.

But what feels mosted dated to me is Camazotz as the instantiation of evil. The fight against the Dark is eternal and it’s in all the best children’s books, from Little Women to AWiT to The Dark is Rising to Harry Potter and on up, but the depiction of evil as onventionality feels very mid-century to me. It’s in The Screwtape Letters (published 1942) but I think it shows up most strongly
in the 1950s and early 1960s, when L’Engle was writing AWiT. It’s what Malvina Reylnolds excoriated in “Little Boxes”; it’s what the entire counterculture movement was rebelling against. In that period it shows even in writers as mainstream as Rosamund Du Jardin (I’m thinking of some passages in her Pam and Penny series). And thus we have Camazotz, where everyone is alike because they have surrendered their individuality. Lengle herself said, in her Newberry accenptance speech, “There are forces working in the world as never before in the history of mankind for standardization, for the regimentation of us all, or what I like to call making muffins of us, muffins all like every other mufifn in the muffin tin.”

I don’t believe that is the scariest shape of evil in the world today. Sure, they’d like to establish some kinds of people as the dafault, the main important type the world should revolve around, but they’re not trying to make everyone else fit in that mold; they’re just trying to ignore everyone else. But if you liten to what the spouters of hate are saying today, they aren’t preaching conventionality and the status quo even while claiming to want to MAGA; they’re more likely to proclaim themselves as rebels and brave fighters against the groopthink that keeps insisting with such (they claim) boring conventionality that all people are valuable and that our differences should be not only tolerated but celebrated.

The battle against the Dark is eternal, but its manifestations change over time. The one constant may be its use of Despair as a weapon: the idea that the world is so terrible that resistance is futile, change is impossible, and the battle not worth fighting. But it *is* worth fighting. In every age we can see it as a continuing battle or a new beginning, but we don’t have to win it; as Rabbi Tarfon said, we don’t have to finish the work of perfecting the world. We only have to keep the fight going (I am writing this as hundreds of thousands of American children are walking out of their schools, fighting their own part of the greater battle, and I am cheering them on in spirit.) In the light of a changing battle, an update of AWiT seems most appropriate. I’m sure Camazotz will still be a bastion of convention in keeping with the book, but after rereading the book, I am thinking that maybe a biracial Meg and more diverse Mrs Ws (whose outer forms were only ever a disguise anyway) is exactly what we need.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

Yakima winery weekend

Ever since the time Ted surprised me with a trip to Venice for my birthday, he’s planned trips as my birthday presents more often than not – this works out well because I emphatically don’t need more stuff! and because organizing is his superpower. In recent years, we’ve been visiting some of the wine regions around here; we’d done Dundee and McMinnville in previous years, so this year we went further afield, to Yakima, WA, where they specialized in big red wines rather than our local Pinot Noirs. We took Friday off and started with a drive along the Columbia River Gorge, with a stop at the Gorge Interpretive Center’s nice little museum.

There’s supposed to be a good art museum along the way, but it doesn’t open for the year until March 15th; likewise the observatory we drove by as we headerd north turned out to be closed. Once we got to Yakima, we tried to stop at Wilridge Winery, just above town, and that was closed as well; I was beginning to wonder if this trip was going to be a total bust (also, we hadn’t eaten much, so I was definitely getting a bit grumpy). We checked into our hotel and, after a quick nap for Ted and some lunch for me, headed out to a couple of the downtown tasting rooms. Once there, things started looking up; we actually hated the wines at the first winery, which were very dry and had some off flavors, but it was a pleasant place to hang out, and the guy serving the tastings was friendly and gave us some good advice about other places to visit. (We didn’t tell him he hated his wines, of course!) The wines at the next place were much better, and we ended up buying two whites and two reds; the ones at the third place were decent, and we finished up with dinner at Cowiche Canyon restaurant, where the food was excellent though the noise level was uncomfortably high. Friday wineries: AntoLin, Gilbert, Kana.

There are actually four winetasting areas in the Yakima Valley, so on Saturday we headed further afield into the Prosser and Rattlesnake areas. It was a gorgeous day, with intense blue skies and temperatures that eventually got up into the sixties. We made a quick stop at the Teapot Dome gas station, then visited five different wineries, finishing up at our favorite of the whole trip, which specializes in sparkling wines. The tasting was free, and when we ordered a Mediterranean platter to go with it (hummus, tapenade, etc) the food proportions were very generous. The wines there are only $15-20, so I have no idea how they make their money unless it’s just volume; the place had lots of tables and was full, whereas at some of the other places it was just us and the person running the tasting room. Saturday wineries: Bonair, Two Mountain Winery, VanArnam Vineyards, Masset Winery and Treveri (the sparkling wine place).

On Sunday, since it was another beautiful warm day, we were able to take the northern route home (when we left Friday, there was snow on the ground at White Pass and traction tires were required, which was why we took the Gorge route that day). It was even more spectacular than the Gorge: towering cliff, clear streams, capped with a spectacular view of Mt Rainier.

After unpacking and a bit of erging at home (rowers don’t get weekends off!) we finished the weekend with a trip to one more winery – because we had to pick up our wine club shipment there! No wonder Ted looks a bit tired.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

Black Panther and building empathy

This is somewhat related to my last post. I nearly wrote the following as a comment on FaceBook, but came to my senses in time. I have a long-time online friend, a Black woman and an academic who specifically studies minority representation in YA and kidlit, who is excited about the upcoming black Panther movie. I almost wrote a comment that I think this movie is important to white people too, and instantly I could hear her saying, “Oh my God, we finally have this, are you going to make even this all about you?”

So I backed away from the keyboard and out of her space. I think it’s okay to say this here, though, in my own space and where it’s not derailing any other discussions.

I am taking it as axiomatic that we need more diversity in books, movies and TV, and that a primary reason is that kids need to be able to see some heroes who look liek themselves or someone they could become. Not all their heroes, but some – if a girl sees that it’s always a boy in the spotlight, a Black kid sees that it’s always White people who do the important things, a kid with a disability sees only able-bodied main characters, only cisstraight characters, only physically attractive characters, only, that is, people who are Not Like You, how much does it hammer home the message that you are only good enough to be a supporting character (if that) in your own life?

So yeah, that’s important and I get it. I think it’s a two-sided problem, though.

The other side is the kids who are male, white, straight, able-bodied, well-off or whatever. How much do those kids get the message driven home, not only that they can be heroes, but that their story is at the center and everyone else is there to support them? (Judging from our current politicians, quite a bit!) We’re all born solipsists, but we’re supposed to grow out of it as we grow up – at least to the extent of realizing that sometimes we are there as supporting characters in someone else’s story. What’s a better way of learning empathy and the importance of other people than falling in love with a story and identifying with a character who isn’t like you?

I think that is what Heinlein was trying to do by revealing that Johnny Rico is Filipino in the final sentences of Starship Troopers – the book, not the execrable movie. I don’t think he succeeded, though – because inside his head, Johnny is no different than any of Heinlein’s middle-American teenaged heroes. The differences between the US and the Philippines, the residue of having first learned to think in Tagalog rather than English, haven’t affected him visibly at all – and the first is in first person, so those would be visible. The whole point of learning empathy is not learning to be colorblind – not in this real non-Utopian world – but in understanding how other people’s experiences shape them, and how their differences from yourself are as valuable as the ways in which you’re alike. I mentioned The Kane Chronicles in my last post; I don’t know how Rick Riordan’s legacy will last compared to Heinlein’s (maybe it will, but it’s harder when you come into a crowded field rather than one in its first big lowering) but in the Kane trilogy and his following series, Riordan does a better job on this. Carter and Sadie Kane are siblings, but their different skin colors have shaped their lives in different ways. Similarly in his series after that, characters aren’t just painted different colors; they’ve been sculpted by their experiences in multidimensional ways.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

I’m still a little ambivalent about a Black Meg Murray in the upcoming Wrinkle in Time movie. My feelings against it are easy to explain: in my totally book-biased opinion, movies made from books, especially beloved ones, need to stick as close to the book as possible. If I am recalling correctly, Meg has mouse brown hair that turns to a rich chestnut as she grows up. I don’t think her skin tone is discussed; her eyes are said to be beautiful but I don’t remember offhand if their color is mentioned. So based on all that, I’d be fine with her being biracial. Further, her mother is likely to be white (or biracial herself) having auburn hair, which oculd actually add a level to the story line. At the beginning of the story, she gets a lot of flack because her husband is missing; it’s easy to imagine the gossip being even meaner if he’s Black.

Also, sorry, Calvin is Irish-American, period. It’s canonical in the third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, as well as in the description of his red hair and freckles.

The argument for changing their race is also clear, though: we don’t have enough places for kids of color to see themselves and for white kids to see their real selves in someone who doesn’t look like them – and that goes double in older books. L’Engle had a terrible time getting the book published; maybe it would have been impossible with a Black MC. (Andre Norton managed it at least once – but it wasn’t her first book.)

Of course a Black girl can connect to Meg as written, just as I did – even though I didn’t live in a big house in a small village with Nobel-prize winning parents. And that would be fine, for one book ….. but not for a girl who has to see book after book after book after book about kids who don’t look like her, or see kids who like her only in there when there’s a specific plot reason for it rather than just because they are humans and this is what that particular human happens to look like.

What would be optimal, clearly, is to go back in time and change society so we inherit more diverse books. Since that’s not happening, well. I’ve got my Meg, in the book, the one I first went to Camazotz with. And my prejudice for sticking to the book is pedantry, far less important than a girl who is still building herself and looking for the books (and movies) to do that with.

(I still kind of wish they’d picked a biracial Meg, though, with brown hair – and given Daniel Radcliffe green contacts when he played Harry Potter. But I might be OK with a Harry who had the canonical black hair, green eyes … and Afghani roots.)

For anybody who’s wondering why I haven’t brought up the far-too-many movies who cast black characters with white actors or even make them white characters, yes, I’d hate that too. I’m just very much not a movie person; I’m only noticing these cases because they’re books I already care about. Make a movie of, say, The Kane Chronicles, and you’ll see me royally pissed off if they don’t get *both* Kane siblings’ physical descriptions and skin colors right – especially as their matter to the plot.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

Succumbing to the lure of the Kitchenaid

This past weekend was completely wasted, with us being ill – not sure if it’s flu or a cold, but Ted was pretty much bedridden Wednesday through Friday. It hasn’t hit me quite as hard (same temperature, it just doesn’t seem to fell me in the same way) but I’m still taking today as a sick day. We wasted much of the previous weekend too, with both of us having headaches that might have been precursors to this. There was one bright spot to that weekend though: I succumbed to the hype and bought the KitchenAid stand mixer I’ve wanted for years. Stupid, really, as I don’t do that much baking and the thing I do most is no-knead bread – it takes under ten minutes to start a batch and I mix it in 60 seconds with my hands. Still, it was a pretty good deal – $249 at Costco for the version with 590 watt motor and lift bowl. (A.k.a. what’s marketed as the Professional line elsewhere but it didn’t actually say that on the box – maybe they make a cheapie model specially for Costco? Oh well, if it doesn’t last as long, it cost a lot less.)

Unexpected uses so far: 1. it shreds chicken beautifully. 2. I found out while washing dishes, you can blow bubbles with the paddle attachment and dish soap 🙂 Also. I’ve just taken a batch of olive oil cookies out of the oven. 10 minutes to make, 15 to bake, 5 minutes to clean up. Not bad. (Though my cookies stayed lumpy, not flattening like the ones in the recipe photo.) ETA: maybe I should have flattened them, to make them come out drier and crisper after baking. As it is, they’re not bad, but definitely oily in texture and the olive flavor is noticeable.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

giving thanks in the right places

An old friend of mine (the kind you’ve known all your life but really only talk to on FaceBook) was just in a bad car accidenct. She’s fine, if a little sore; the car was crunched and will probably be totaled.

She’s saying “only God could have saved me,” and that maybe a close friend who just died was watching over her. (Side note: it’s astonishing how many Jews and Christians engage in ancester worship, believing that dead family and friends watch over them – I’ve even seen things (though not from this person) like “Mommy and Daddy, please help the Eagles win today”) But that’s totally not what I see. It’s common to have a car totaled in a crash that the driver nad passengers ‘miraculously’ walk away from – and also to see cars totaled from what seem to be relatively minor accidents. That’s because they are designed to crumple and absorb the impact, to keep it away from human riders. A new sedan can’t take the punishment that a ’57 Chevy could – but those inside it are a lot better protected.

Gratitude is a good thing, but I don’t think people realize how often they ought to be grateful to the engineers who design the things that keep them safe.

(Of course, if you want to thank God for steering those talented people went into that field and had the opportunity to make a difference, go for it – that’s when you’re in the realm of opinion rather than fact, and yours is as valid as anyone’s. I’d rather be thankful for free will and a society that allows us to use our talents, but that’s only my opinion – and there could still be a role for a deity in there.)

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

getting back into it

Break’s over, back to work.

I seem to be ramping up gradually; I was completely useless at work on Tuesday, got some stuff done Wednesday, accomplished a fair bit yesterday. Today – well, I’m writing this. (Fridays and Mondays tend to be my slower days.)

Having completed my 14th/16th Holiday Challenge (depending how you count) with 250,000 erg meters, it’s also time to get back to strength training. I can feel I’m weaker than I was a few years back – can’t even do the smallest beginning of a pull-up currently – so yesterday I went to the gym at work. I’m currently feeling a bit stiff around the hip joints; I worked out late in the day and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) tends to hit about 24 hours later, so we will see how bad it gets. Not too bad, hopefully; my first time back to lifting always tends to leave me sore, so I went easy on myself. I still need to erg a fair bit, because I’m shooting for 15 hours erg time in January (a new Concept 2 challenge).

Plans for the weekend: a fancy dinner downtown, just because we haven’t done that for a while; going to one of the local wineries we belong to, to pick up our club allotment; the inevitable grocery shopping and erging, and casting on a sweater – either Rock the Lobster, for which Ted just gave me the yarn, or Wanderling, which I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I think I’d wear Wanderling a lot more but since Ted picked out the Rock the Lobster kit from Kitterly, I don’t want him to think I didn’t appreciate it! (It has a steek, though. Eeek!)

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

Dec. 28th, 2017

If all goes well, kinahorah, I’ll have completed 25 knitting projects this year. That’s a lot for me. More often it’s around 17 or so; in 2015 I completed 16 and last year only 13. I had no smaller projects, though, except for some dishcloths I knit for gifts. This year I had a nice range of big and small projects:

  • 4 hats (two pink pussy hats, one cabled beret, one baby hat/li>
  • 3 kippot – two color brioche
  • 6 pair socks, one currently still in work but it’s worsted weight and going quickly
  • 2 toys, a doll and a dodecahedron
  • 3 sweaters: two simple and sleeveless, one complex with cables and a hood (I hope to seam that one todayj
  • One lap blanket
  • 3 cowls
  • One very large shawl
  • The annual dishcloths, for my FIL’s Christmas stocking, in memory of his mother
  • So that makes sense of the numbers; if you subtract the hats and kippot, none of which took more than a few days, that would make it 18 projects, a more usual number.

    It’s not that there’s any race to finish, or any prize for making more stuff other than the knitted FOs themselves, but it does provide a look at how I felt during the year, about my knitting and overall. I’m more of a product than a process knitter, so I know I was frustrated last year – I started the year with two big sweater projects and didn’t finish anything at all until March, and I think I had less time for knitting overall. This year I started a new job, and the increased flexibility has not only been a joy in itself, but has also let me knit (simple projects) during the telecons I take from home. I firmly believe this is a help to focusing on the telecons; your hands are busy and there’s just enough going on to keep you from wanting to check your email or all the other things people usually do to distract themselves during long calls, especially during the parts where they are listening but not actively engaging. So it’s a win-win, for me and my company…. as long as I don’t try to, say, turn a heel or do complex lace.

    (Why does spellcheck keep trying to turn telecons into telecoms? When you’re talking about a meeting, it’s short for teleconference, not telecommunication.)

    Obligatory photos:

    Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

annual Chanukah poems

Getting ready to head out to the lake house for the holiday; Ted gets back from Korea today, then we’ll drive up tomorrow. I’ll work from home next week (the real home of my heart, not just the place I live during the week) then be completely off from Christmas through New Year’s Day. I’ve been saying for years that I wish we could celebrate 12 days of Christmas – I love the one in The Dark is Rising, where the Yule Log makes the family’s life a festival for twelve days and nights. But really, I suppose what we do isn’t too far off; we usually manage to make the last two weeks of the year special, and it doesn’t end at Christmas but goes all the way through New Year.

Anyway, as bad as I’ve been about writing here, there’s one annual tradition of mine I didn’t want to miss – here are two villanelles for Chanukah. The light-in-darkness theme might be a bit less closely tied to the holiday than usual; it has been a very, very dark year for a lot of us.

Lighting Candles, Just in Case
When I’ve finished cursing at the night,
I light a flame. The game is worth the candle,
I want to be the one who tends the light.

I may not help myself, try as I might;
when I’ve got all the trouble I can handle
and haven’t finished cursing at the night,

When all is dim, where once it was so bright,
And seems a trudge, where once it was an amble
I want to be the one who tends the light.

I cannot know what others have in sight
my beacon, when their way is rough with bramble;
Although I’m not done cursing at the night,

My flame might show the way and calm their fright,
As might-could-be’s gleam out in its example ….
I want to be the one who tends the light.

Though I’m not finished cursing at the night,
I want to be the one who tends the light.

Because Mr. Rogers’ Mother Said So
The darkness is so very dark this year,
but light is found in unexpected places.
Seek out the helpers – cross my heart, they’re here.

With dross abounding, gold becomes more dear
Though foulness seeks to hide its shining traces –
The darkness is so very dark this year,

But always, when disaster is severe
Humanity unfolds its kindest faces –
Seek out the helpers – cross my heart, they’re here.

Disasters loom, in Man’s and Nature’s spheres
while fear and hatred make their strongest cases –
The darkness is so very dark this year.

Although it’s faint, there’s reason still for cheer;
each setback turns up unexpected graces.
Seek out the helpers – cross my heart, they’re here.

Though darkness is so very dark this year,
Seek out the helpers. Cross my heart, they’re here.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.