Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing “heatwave.”

Summer is here and we’re in what I like to call ‘silly season.’ Other people dignify it with more worthy names, but other people have already had Thanksgiving. Australia doesn’t do Thanksgiving, and we’re already a bit daft so… “silly season.” I’m not the only one to call December and early January by this name. I am, however, one of the most consistent.

I’m sending out short stories (three of us have joined together in this) to Australian addresses this Friday. Three writers sending out short stories to interested readers is a good thing to do in a fraught year. Also, me, I have Chanukah, so extra treats might creep into some envelopes.

Chanukah starts very soon, so I had to sort out what I was going to do this year rather early. I’m sending a very few envelopes overseas for it. Instead of doing a public call-out, I decided to surprise a few people. Those envelopes are gone. They contain nothing useful and nothing valuable. They are, however, fun.

I’ll be going to the post office again on Thursday. I’m not supposed to do messages. No-one can get blood samples for me (their blood is not my blood), however, so I’ll do the post office/library/bank/chicken run after I’ve done the bloodwork. That will take a half day and it will solve many problems.

I will wear a mask at critical times. I have very pretty masks and need to show them off (thanks, Pati!).

This means that I can send three more envelopes to less unsuspecting parties anywhere in the world. The first three people to get me their addresses (no later than Wednesday morning your time) will receive something small to remind you there’s a world out there and that you deserve time out. And stickers. This year we all deserve stickers.

For local friends, I have bowls filled with goodies. Local friends get the best of the daft presents, because they have to come and pick them up. The bowls will lurk on my letterbox, for as short a time as possible because it is warm. By ‘warm’, I mean, of course, ‘quite uncomfortable and this weather is intolerable and why is it doing this to us?’

Summer is here. We have our first bushfires to prove it. One of my friends can smell the smoke from Fraser Island. Another put up the special shutters and promptly lost electricity to the first fire of the season in the Blue Mountains. This is normal… but normal doesn’t mean nice in any way.

The return of bushfire season coincided with the US Black Friday sales. Some really-not-very-bright Australian retailers have announced ‘Black Friday’ as a sale here, too. ‘Black Friday’ in Australia normally refers to the 1939 fires and reminds us of the 2019/20 fires and a lot of Australians are annoyed at quite a few retailers. The sales are nearly done and they’ve put a blight into the shopping of those whose silly season includes 25 December.

Me, I already have all kinds of presents for all kinds of people for all kinds of seasons. The moment I earned enough money to live on, I bought books for me and presents for everyone else. I’m all shopped out. This means I can spend the next few weeks doing relaxed things while others panic, doesn’t it?

Not quite. I’m several weeks into my PhD and have a structure for it and have met all my early milestones. This means I have forty books and over two hundred articles to read before 6 January. My silly season is splendidly different to most others’, and this year I plan to enjoy the heck out of it.

 

Finding Thanksgiving

It’s Friday, November 27th.  Traditionally known in America as Black Friday. The Day After Thanksgiving. Food Coma Recovery Day.  Raise your hand if you shouldn’t have eaten that last [fill in the blank].

*raises hand*

The past few weeks here in the States, most of the conversation not dominated by Things Political  has been focused on the War on Thanksgiving, aka  “Life with Covid-19.”  Medical authorities and science-aware politicians have asked – begged – people to stay home, telling us that it’s better to miss this one Thanksgiving than to miss all the ones to come, and other words of caution.

Too many people, feeling either that they know more than medical professionals or simply not caring, ignored the warnings.  We’ll see, in a few weeks, if they’ve cost us lives, and the winter holidays, too.

Those of us who heeded the warnings may have gone into the holiday feeling like we did, in fact, “miss” Thanksgiving.  I certainly felt that way – not only was I not able to fly back east to see my family for the first time since my mother’s funeral in January, I couldn’t even gather with local friends.  And hey, those feelings were valid.  2020 has been, you should pardon my language, a shittastic fuckery of a year.  Even if you didn’t start the past twelve months with major surgery and the hanging sword of cancer like I did, it’s not like 2019 was anything to write home about either, and WHAM hello Covid-19, like the shitty kicker to the Trump regime.  Losing Thanksgiving was pouring salt into the wound of insult added to injury, and it was entirely reasonable to be grumpy, if not downright angry.

But something funny happened, at least here.  As we cooked, and baked, and plotted zoom sessions, and arranged for drop-offs and pick-ups of food; as we teased each other about not getting out of our pajamas all day, or having to clean the house for company, we also had time to look around, and see, in the shadows of what we’re missing, the light of what we have.

Caring.  Connections.  Community.

We didn’t miss Thanksgiving.  It was right here, waiting for us to notice it again. Not the whitewashed historical story we were fed as children, but something better.  Thanks. Giving.  Taking a breath to be thoughtful, thankful, and mindful not just of what we have, but what we’re able to give.

And maybe next year, when we gather with our loved ones without fear of pandemic, we’ll be able to remember some of that, and build on it.

Maybe.  That’s up to us.

I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For

Bing Crosby dines solo on Thanksgiving, in Holiday Inn.
I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
I haven’t got a great big yacht
To sail from shore to shore
Still I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
No private car, no caviar
No carpet on my floor
Still I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
          –Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn.

No, really.

2020 has been an overachiever, starting pretty much right out of the gate. Remember January? According to the Internet, January included the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by US airstrike; a complete reshuffling of the Russian government; the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter; locusts in Africa, deadly bushfires in Australia, earthquakes and volcanos and, oh yeah, Donald Trump was impeached.

That’s enough for a reasonably busy year, but no, 2020 was just getting warmed up. Since January Trump has been acquitted by the Senate; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and a horrifying number of men and women of color have been killed by the police meant to protect them. There have been bee swarms and murder hornets, many mass shootings, the Boy Scouts filing for bankruptcy… Oh, and the endless run up to the election. If I were this year I’d want to lie down, but 2020 was made of sterner stuff. The hits just kept on coming… with COVID woven like a ribbon through the fabric of the year, and 250,000 dead.

So the CDC, finally eluding the current administration’s guard dogs, has said, in no uncertain terms, Do Not Gather for Thanksgiving This Year. To which I say Amen. But not because there’s not a lot to be grateful for.

Continue reading “I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For”

Treading Lightly: Mending Revisited

socks with mendalasA while back I posted about mending—darning socks, mostly. I’ve kept at it. I sprang for a darning disk (I recommend it), and I’ve now mended all of my favorite socks that had thin spots, with the round technique I talked about in the comments of my previous post. I call them my mendalas. I think I love these socks even more now.

I also decorated a patch with a Sashiko-style scene, although true Sashiko is all done in white thread. Continue reading “Treading Lightly: Mending Revisited”

Real Life Imitates History

HildI just finished reading two books that made me realize that some people’s ideas about how to exercise power date back to the First Millennium of the Common Era.

One of those books was Maria Dahvana Headley’s wonderful new translation of Beowulf, and the other was Nicola Griffith’s Hild, historical fiction about the life of St. Hilda.

I have read other versions of Beowulf. Hild was a re-read for me. Looking at both of these stories in light of current political crises and my recent reading of Daniel Lord Smail’s On Deep History and the Brain  made me hyper aware that the concept of power held by the pathetic excuse for a U.S. president we’re stuck with until January 20, 2021, is similar to that of the kings (or, more accurately, warlords) in 6th Century Scandinavia and 7th Century Britain.

Headley’s Beowulf begins with the word “Bro,” putting a modern edge on the drunken boasting and over-valuing of physical strength and fighting inherent in the epic. That tone, coupled with the constant references to the warriors’ daddies and the repeated line “That was a good king” made me begin to reflect on those kings as warlords with a gang of toughs around them who started wars with others of their ilk.Beowulf

Hild begins with the title character at the age of three, just after her father, a prince, has been murdered to secure someone else’s power. Over the course of the book she becomes the seer and advisor to her uncle, King Edwin, who is striving to rule a larger and larger part of Britain.

In Smail’s book, he speaks of the castellans, who took over castles and hired thugs to defend them in the 11th and 12th Centuries, tormenting the people around them. In Hild we see even the noble women (not to mention the ordinary folks and all those enslaved) doing much of the work to keep the society working ¾ working in the dairy; spinning, weaving, dyeing, and sewing so that people had clothes; healing the sick ¾ while the king and his warriors train for battle or sit around getting drunk.

Beowulf does not show us the common people who make the society work, but the tone of Headley’s translation made me think about them.

So many of our histories are about all the wars, but the true building of our societies is rooted in the work of those who were not out trying to take over a neighboring king. Continue reading “Real Life Imitates History”

Interview on Writers Corner Live

In news with no political connotations whatsoever, I recently was featured on a talk show called Writers Corner Live with Bridgetti Lim Banda and Mary Elizabeth Jackson. They run a very polished operation and were great, welcoming hosts. I had a lot of fun talking to them about various aspects of writing novels and producing audiobooks. You can view it right here, or visit the Writers Corner Live page on Facebook.

Here’s the YouTube link to the interview if it’s not displaying properly for you.

Reading and Writing – an update on my book problem

I have so many piles of books in my living area (which is also my work area) that even I feel the clutter. The reason this post’s title includes the words ‘book problem’ is because occasionally they topple and I tripped over one yesterday and…

I love them all. It’s not a problem in any sense except the clutter. I’m not reading just one good book this month, I’m reading dozens. They are my building blocks for a three-year research project (1), and I’m already having fun. Gradually, the piles will diminish.

One pile is for putting away. “I’ve finished this – it was fun but not terribly useful. I’ve taken the notes I need from it but they’re not relevant to anything I’ll be writing. It can go away. No need to put it in the bibliography.”

Another pile is carefully marked up. Not the books themselves – I have special sticky paper that doesn’t harm books and I write on that. When I’m ready to write that book up, I go straight to the notes and lo, it’s ready to go. I know what page to refer to in my footnotes and I have my thoughts on the sticky paper. Then I put the details of the book in the bibliography, and then that book goes on the putting-away pile.

The third pile consists of one book right now, called Putting the Science into Fiction. It’s not a scrap of use for my research project, but has some stuff in it I want to use as a reminder for world building. The world building has nothing to do with the research project. Until last Wednesday I did it full-time, but now I’m doing it as a leisure activity. The book will be put away when I talk through what it contains with my co-conspirators in world building, which could be next Monday, or it could be in three months.

The three largest piles relate to three of the core focal points of the research project. One is on fairy tales, one is on own voices, and the third is on writing about cultures that are a bit alien or foreign.

The piles I’m working through right now, however, are none of those things. Some are on writing technique, some are on genre, and some are on what makes narrative, and some are on rhetoric or critical theory. These are my reminder piles: it’s no use launching into research without checking that you know what you’re doing. It’s not enough to know this stuff as an expert or generally. I have to know exactly what elements I need for this precise project.

That’s all for this project, for now.

A proposal I put in for an academic paper was accepted yesterday. I’m about to start an extra pile (which will link into the project, but is right now just for the paper) will be about food in speculative fiction. This one is quite dangerous. Whenever I write about food, I have to cook things.

When people ask me what I love about research I am stumped. What’s not to love about reading fiction and inventing recipes to fit the food mentioned in the story? Although in this case I’ll be doing a critical analysis. Mouthfeel has to play a part. Maybe I’ll have recipes as the slides that illustrate the paper? After all, I have a nice collection of cookbooks that I can match to the foodways in the fiction. The most mouth-watering paper at an academic conference. It sounds good to me.

Writing long fiction is on the backburner for a bit, obviously, but my reasons are impeccable, as are my piles of books. Also, I did that thing that chefs do on cooking shows. There are three objects I prepared earlier, one that is out in paperback and now affordable (earlier research!) , one that is out already and the other is coming in a very, very short time. The same applies to next year – work finished a while back means that I shall research away and books will appear and everyone will think that I work 36 hours a day.

I don’t. But I do have impressive piles of books stacked everywhere they fit.

 

  1. For all of you, a footnote. For anyone wondering, yes, this research project is for a PhD. It’s not my first PhD, however, and Australian PhDs are only three years long and we start the research on Day One. Also, I’m more interested in the research itself and in working with two tremendous supervisors than I am with shouting, “Hey, I’m doing a PhD.” Because it’s all about writers and what they put in their fiction, I shall talk about the cool stuff here, from time to time. Ivory towers are a fiction, and research relates to the real world. This research relates to culture in fiction. And I am one of those people who write stuff into footnotes that people need to read. I did it for my first novel and I refuse to stop doing it unless I’m writing an academic piece. This is due to a certain warped element in my personality.

Edge of Chaos Blog Symposium

Edge of Chaos - Boiling Water

The Edge of Chaos Blog Symposium, which is bringing complexity thinking into concepts of social justice, is ongoing. This symposium was put together by author and economist Beth Plutchak. Contributors include Dr. Clare Hintz, Debbie Notkin, Steven Schwartz, and Treehouse resident Nancy Jane Moore. Five essays are up and more are coming. Comments appreciated.

‘We Are Stardust.”

I mentioned last week that I had signed up for an 18-day virtual meditation retreat that started on Election Day.

It was the smartest thing I’ve done all year.

I was a little stressed as I watched returns on Election Day itself; I remember 2016 all too well. But on Wednesday, when it started to become obvious that the Biden-Harris team was going to win, I got calm.

And I’ve stayed that way.

It’s not that I’m sanguine about all the challenges ahead. I already sent money to Fair Fight Action for the Georgia Senate runoffs.

I’m worried about a lot of things. The Republicans seem to have become a cult. The moderate Democrats seem to be under the illusion that we can just go back to “normal” even though it’s obvious that ship has sailed.

And while our local races here in Oakland went well — we’re going to have a more progressive city council this time around — that just means that we’ve got a better chance of getting our voices heard. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to work to get something meaningful done.

I’m concerned about a lot of things, but I’m not freaking out. And that is truly wonderful. Continue reading “‘We Are Stardust.””

DT Nightmare Almost Over! Or Is It?

[Note: Personal political opinion follows. I do not presume to speak for the Treehouse…]

American flag and people - Brett Sayles

There’s no denying I’ve been breathing easier, and had much more spring in my step, since Biden won Pennsylvania to become president-elect of the United States of America. In fact, I felt an enormous weight lift with that news, a feeling of oppression melt away, an oppression that’s been with me for four year, since the DTs first set in. (Who would have thought that one man could cause so much damage? In 1930’s Germany, sure. But not here. Surely.)

But has the nightmare really ended? DT hangs on, a child gripped by a tantrum; but is it just that? If only. He knows he’s lost—the whole world knows it—and still he continues to raise money, and to sow distrust of democratic elections. Is he planning a coup to stay in office? If you were planning a military coup, what’s the first thing you’d do? Probably remove defense leaders who were resistant to your autocratic authority. Check. Keep the top leaders of your political party in thrall because they fear your displeasure, and get them to act (to their eternal shame) as if nothing of significance had happened on election day. Check. Lie, lie, and lie some more. Check.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 rampages unchecked, and the presidential transition is obstructed, hampering the new administration’s ability to hit the ground running to bring Covid under control. It’s almost as if they want Biden to face the pandemic at its worst, the better to cast blame.

Note my choice of the word “they.” It’s not just DT, it’s the Republican Party (save for a brave few who have spoken up) that’s overwhelmingly complicit in this malevolent charade. It’s disgraceful; it’s unpatriotic; it’s unchristian; it’s treasonous, really; and it’s a very dangerous game they are playing with our democracy. The Cylons could not have done it better.

We may be more dependent on the honor and oath of our military command than we (or I, at any rate) imagined would actually happen in real life. The day may come when the generals will have to say No to their commander-in-chief when he orders them to choose between serving him, and serving the Constitution. I believe they are up to the challenge.

Meanwhile, we the people, if we want our democracy to survive, are going to have to be vigilant, indeed.

[Flag image by Brett Sayles]