Color Therapy

Since about last May, I’ve been doing a whole lot of sewing. (Fortuitously, I replaced my ancient sewing machine a couple of months earlier.) Most of it has been masks. With MaskUpNM, a volunteer group, I’ve been making masks for health care workers, women’s shelters, the Navajo Nation and other New Mexico tribes, impoverished school children, and so on.

In December, the group started making scrub caps for ICU nurses at local hospitals, who have been exhausted and overwhelmed taking care of Covid patients. Many of them don’t get issued scrub caps by their employers, or only get disposable ones that are uncomfortable and wasteful of resources. After replacing my ancient serger, which seized up halfway through this project, I just finished the second round of scrub caps for this effort – 48 caps.

Continue reading “Color Therapy”

Narrative and Agenda

I just finished reading Prairie Fires, a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I recommend highly. The author of the eight Little House books, she wrote about her childhood during the push west by homesteaders and farmers. “I told the truth,” she said. “But not the whole truth.” The books are a “good parts” version of her life, but some important “truths” were omitted, because Wilder (and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who was her secret beta reader, line editor, and editorial advisor) took out things that didn’t underscore her narrative. The narrative? That her family (in particular her adored father, Charles Ingalls) survived and flourished through hard work, love, and self-reliance, and that self-reliance, a core virtue of westward expansion, is a uniquely American virtue.

This is a weird time in American history to be reading this book, let me tell you.  The message Wilder was crafting seems to me to have curdled, fueling rage and insurrection. Rose would have loved it. Continue reading “Narrative and Agenda”

A Quiet Moment

So many people around me have found distractions help in dealing with the extraordinary times we’re living through. This post is my present to you. Big stuff happens in the US on 20 January. This is a breath. A break. A moment before everything changes.

For me this week is an anniversary. This time last year I had been evacuated to Melbourne because of the bushfires. The air in Canberra was dangerous for me. Tonight my windows are wide open and I’m up late, cooling everything down as much as I can, for we have an incoming heatwave. Earlier today, however, everything was shut, for the dust storms in NSW sent a bit of frazzled air our way. That reminded me that I’ve been mostly indoors since June 2019. Bushfires followed by pandemic. Every now and again I get out and do things and this reminds me that the world outside is real. These incidents come from that real world. I think this is also the moment to celebrate that.

The first story is from Sydney in 1956, for tonight someone reminded me about the torch carrying for the 1956 Olympics.

A group of university students didn’t like the link between the torch and Hitler. Also, they were Australian. Of course they were Australian.

They painted a chair leg silver and put a tin on the end. They filled the tin with a pair of men’s underpants and set it on fire. Two students carried that torch. One of them successfully handed it to the Lord Mayor of Sydney at the Town Hall. The Lord Mayor didn’t realise at first that this was a hoax, and the torchbearer had time to slip away into the crowd.

The second story is from Canberra, quite recently.

A writer-friend was telling us on Twitter tonight about a time… let me give you the story in her words:

“Was at a con sitting at the signing table under a poster with “K.J. TAYLOR” on it and behind a nameplate which also said “K.J. TAYLOR”. A guy came up to me and said “Is K.J. Taylor here?” I patted myself down and said “I’m pretty sure I’m here!” He looked so confused.”

My third tidbit is a bit older, and is from the US. I collect interesting stories about food history. How fast molasses can burst out of a factory on a cold day, for example, and where to buy meat pies in London in 1250. I didn’t know that, on 16 May 1902, there was a kosher beef war on the Lower East Side in New York. Some describe it as riots. Kosher beef riots. This one deserves a link.

I live in a city where there are 300 people who admit to being Jewish. I can’t see us rioting. We used to hold food fairs, where our numbers were drowned by the crowds who wanted to eat bagels and felafel and lokshen kugel and particularly tasty curry from Jewish India.

I used to cook Medieval Jewish dishes for my stall, and people would ask, “Were there really Jews in the Middle Ages?” I gave those asking morsels of history along with their plates of food. Other days I’d talk about the persecution and the murders, but not at the food fair. We all need times where we don’t bear the burdens of history. Take that time today. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Assigning Blame

It’s all your fault. You — you personally — didn’t do enough to stay safe from the pandemic.

For that matter, you didn’t do enough to prepare for retirement or for getting laid off or for getting sick or injured so you couldn’t work.

You borrowed too much money to go to school or buy a house and now it’s your fault that you don’t make enough money to pay it back.

And it goes without saying that you bought too many things, took too many trips, and didn’t recycle. You caused climate change.

I could go on, but you get the gist. It’s all about personal responsibility here. If things are wrong in our society, our world, it’s all your fault and my fault and the fault of every individual who ever had to make a decision on the fly in an over-complicated world.

Bullshit. Continue reading “Assigning Blame”

Still True: Seeking Emotional Sobriety in Troubled Times

Back in 2016, I wrote a series of essays following the presidential election, entitled “In Troubled Times.” Some of these strike me as valid now, “In Tumultuous Times” as then. This one is on “Emotional Sobriety.”

Most of us who drink alcohol have sooner or later imbibed too much of it. Setting aside the embarrassing and unhealthful effect of such overindulgence, we then got to experience nature’s own payback: a hangover. Not only do we feel wretched, we grapple with the fact that we inflicted this misery on ourselves by our own choices.

Recently I’ve noticed behaviors (other than drinking) that leave me with a feeling of emotional or spiritual malaise. Not “What was I drinking?” but “What was I thinking?”

When I take note of the symptoms of “spiritual or emotional” hangover, I become aware of the situations, topics, or even people that lead me to abandon my center. While it is undoubtedly theoretically true that no one can make me feel or behave in ways I will regret, in practice my will power needs help.

When I am already anxious, distracted, confused, or all the other things I have been feeling since the election, I’m not at my best. My judgment can be unreliable. Ditto my self-control. If I put myself in compromising situations, I am likely to say things I will regret. The regret stems not so much from external consequences but from how I then feel about myself. No matter how I value kindness, I can behave in harsh, unkind ways when I’m in over my head. Over the years I’ve gotten very good at admitting error and making things right, to the point that I would much rather avoid acting badly to begin with.

Many of us have remarked how social media is both addictive and inflammatory. In a fit of irritation or self-righteousness, we zip off a caustic comment and push ENTER. Then we keep coming back for another dose. It’s an engraved invitation to insanity. Very few of us are capable of going cold turkey, and I’m not sure that’s really a solution. When we return to social media, as most of us will, we will be in exactly the same state in which we left it. We won’t be any more skillful in detaching ourselves or of passing by the temptation to be cruel or snarky. We won’t be any closer to finding communities, people, topics, or environments that help us to feel calmer, kinder, and more hopeful. We’ll be like alcoholics who stop drinking but never address the underlying issues or the consequences.

In addition to being careful about situations that may provoke me to things I’ll regret, I can ask myself what keeps me coming back. Is it the illusion that news (including gossip) will somehow make me safe? Or popular? Or smart? What do I get from visiting those sites (maybe there is something positive)? Is there a grey area in which the positive benefits become negative, and if so, how can I better discern it?

What situations leave me with heart lifted and spirits mended? Who or what gives me hope? In what settings do I act my best? Who brings out the qualities in me that I value? How do I seek out such encounters?

Gossip and Community

The internet is practically an engraved invitation to indulge in gossip and rumor. It’s so easy to blurt out whatever thoughts come to mind. Once posted, these thoughts take on the authority of print (particularly if they appear in some book-typeface-like font). Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to question something when it appears in Courier than when it’s in Times New Roman? For the poster of the thoughts comes the thrill of instant publication. Only in the aftermath, when untold number have read our blurtings and others have linked to them, not to mention all the comments and comments-on-comments, do we draw back and realize that we may not have acted with either wisdom or kindness.

To make matters worse, we participate in conversations solely in print, without the vocal qualities and body language that give emotional context to the statements. I know a number of people who are generous and sensitive in person, but come off as abrasive and mean-spirited on the ‘net. I think the very ease of posting calls for a heightened degree of consideration of our words because misunderstanding is so easy.

I’ve been speaking of well-meaning statements that inadvertently communicate something other than what the creator intended. I’ve been guilty of my share of these, even in conversations with people with whom I have no difficulty communicating in person. What has this to do with gossip?

Gossip is either one of the forms of glue that bind a community together — “news,” as it were — or else a pernicious form of social control, of putting people down/who’s in-who’s out/of taking glee in the misfortunes of others, of basking in reflected and unearned glory.

Where this is leading is that such statements can be hurtful and damaging whether they are true or not. They are particularly embarrassing to the tellers when they are false and that falsehood is revealed. Human beings are peculiar creatures. When we have injured someone by passing on a rumor, false or not, instead of doing what we can to ameliorate the situation, we set about defending ourselves. “But it was true!” is one tactic, or “I didn’t know!” or “Blame the person who told this to me!” Or we find some way to shift responsibility to the person who is the subject of the gossip. Even well-meaning people, people who see themselves as honest and kind, people who should have known better than to spread rumors, do this.

I believe that when we engage in gossip or rumor, we damage not only the person we have spoken ill of, but the bonds of trust in our community. We divide ourselves into those who are safe confidantes and those who are tattlers, between those who are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt and those who will use any excuse to criticize and condemn us.

A huge piece of the problem, in my experience, is that we are inundated with role models of gossipers. We are told overtly and covertly that it is not only acceptable but enjoyable to speak ill of others and to relish their misfortune. If they have no discernible misfortune to begin with — well then, we will create some! If media portray the pain of those who are gossiped about, it is often to glorify retaliation in kind. Almost never are we taught what to do when we speak badly. Saying “I’m sorry,” or “Shake hands and make up,” (as we’re forced to do as small children) does not make amends.

Certainly, we must begin by looking fearlessly at what we have done or said (or left undone and unsaid), but we must also be willing to accept that there is no justification for our behavior. It doesn’t matter if what we said was true or not if it harmed someone. It doesn’t matter if we were hurting or grieving or too Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired.

What we have done does not make us unworthy, unlovable, inadequate, or anything except wrong. Good people can be wrong. Good people, when wrong, strive to make things right.

When we do this, we strengthen not only our relationships and our communities, but our own ability to choose better next time. As we have compassion for others, we owe ourselves compassion — not excuses, not defenders, not “who’s on my side,” but gentle understanding, encouragement, patience, and courage.

Horses in The Seven-Petaled Shield

The stories that gave rise to The Seven-Petaled Shield began with my love of horses and a special exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County of the art of the nomads of the Eurasian steppe. I marveled at the beautiful gold artifacts of the Scythians, depicting horses, elk, and snow leopards, and the lives and adventures of these people. The Greek historian Herodotus described the Scythians as “invincible and inaccessible,” and Thucydides asserted, “there is none which can make a stand against the Scythians if they all act in concert.” This world, its people, and its marvelous horses practically begged for stories to be written about them.

The Scythians were only one of many nomadic horse-faring peoples who roamed the Central Asian steppe from the beginning of the first millennium before the Common Era into the 20th Century. Sarmatians, Cimmerians, Massagetae, Alani, and many others were followed by such groups as the Hun, Kazars, Uzbeks, Bulgars, and Magyars. Although these peoples differed in culture, language, religion, and place of origin, they shared the characteristics of nomadic horse folk. They were highly mobile, superb archers, and their survival depended on their horses.


I based the Azkhantian horses on those used by these historical peoples. Typically, their horses were small and hardy, not particularly beautiful but capable of great endurance. Some sources compared them to “primitive” types like Przewalski’s Horse. As I developed the Azkhantian culture more, I delved into the literature about Mongolian horses. I wanted a breed that could withstand extremes of weather, thrive on poor food and scarce water, and able to cover great distances, equivalent to or exceeding modern endurance races. Although the 20
th Century brought many changes to Mongolia itself, I found photographic records and journals from travelers who visited this area before or shortly following World War I, when mechanized technology had made few if any inroads into the steppe. The Long Riders Press has reprinted a number of these travel journals, in particular Mongolian Adventure: 1920s Danger and Escape Among the Mounted Nomads of Central Asia. Henning Haslund’s tales of his travels through pre-industrialized Mongolia provided not only descriptions of the peoples, landscapes, animals, and traditions, but examples of the poetry and songs, the latter with staff notation. “The Horse With the Velvet Back” and “The Dear Little Golden Horse” are examples of the importance of horses in this culture.


Haslund wrote: “Most Mongolian horses are finely built, but the animals from the mountain districts often remind one of the Ardennes horses on a smaller scale. The average Mongolian horse stands barely fourteen hands, but what it can do on long journeys is unparalleled. … My new horse was … small but powerful, and had such control over his legs that he always set them with precision in the right place. If he snorted and refused to go forward, it always turned out that he was standing on the edge of a place where there was a risk of slipping.”

 

Shannivar’s favorite horse, Eriu, was modeled on Haslund’s description. Here she races her cousin, Alsanobal:

Alsanobal gave the red his head, and they raced back the way they had come. Shannivar tapped Eriu with her heels. The black gathered his hindquarters under him, then burst into a full-out gallop. The coarse hairs of his mane whipped across Shannivar’s face. She leaned over his forequarters, secretly pleased that they would have their race after all.

Eriu’s speed was like fire, like silk, as intoxicating as k’th. Even on the rough downhill footing, he never missed a step. The air itself sustained him.

By day, you are my wings, the poet sang to his favorite steed. By night, you never fail me.

They plunged downhill, caught Alsanobal on his red, and passed them. Shannivar whooped in triumph.

I based the Azkhantian horses on the Mongolian breeds, for their hardiness and endurance, their weather-sense and nimbleness. Given the extent of the inhabited steppe, it made sense to me that there would be variation among the types of horses, not just of conformation and temperament, but the same sorts of characteristics that mark the difference between breeds. I introduced two particular variations: tundra horses and gaited horses. The Tundra Horse was a strain of “primitive” horse (like Przewalski’s Horse) living in the Arctic Circle, sighted as late as the mid 1960s (in northeastern Siberia). The Yakut pony has the same geographical distribution and is able to survive extremely severe climactic conditions. So I mounted the northernmost of the Azkhantian tribes on these shaggy white horses.

I became interested in “gaited” horses through a dear friend, a lover of Tennessee Walking Horses. All horses have gaits (walk, trot, canter, gallop) but some are capable of ambling, a four-beat, extremely smooth and often rapid pattern of movement. These are genetically linked (it’s a mutation on the gene DMRT3), the way the propensity to either trot (front and hind feet move alternately) or pace (front and hind feet move together) is. When I began to research gaited breeds, I realized that the special smooth gaits were actually a group of distinct patterns, and that some version of a soft-stepping horse can be found throughout the world, from the Peruvian Paso to the Missouri Fox Trotter, the Icelandic horse, the Indian Marwari, German Aegidienberger, and Greek Messara ponies.

Just as people are not uniform in language, customs, food, or many other aspects, neither are animals  or Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus). In our own history, doubt remains whether onagers were ever domesticated, being thought too “unruly.” I thought a strong, hardy, intelligent equine – quite amenable to training, for this is a fantasy world — might provide a reasonable alternative to the horse.

The Gelon “stone-dwellers,” to the southwest of the steppe, would not use the same type of animal. Gelon was originally loosely based on the Roman Empire, with an Italian climate – much warmer and wetter than the steppe. I decided to not stick with horses, but to explore parallel agricultural evolution and use historical precedent in giving the Gelon a strong preferences for the onager.



The carving of the Mongolian horse is by Taylor Weidman/The Vanishing Cultures Project and licensed under Creative Commons. The photo of the grazing Mongolian horses is by Brücke-Osteuropa and is in the public domain. The image of the onager is in the public domain.

The Pandemic and the Economy

Masked Creatures with Graph

Nancy Jane Moore has one final post on the Edge of Chaos Blog symposium: What the Pandemic Shows Us About the Economy. She advocates for establishing economic systems that can pause for crises. Comments and discussion appreciated.

The essays in this symposium will soon be available as a PDF.

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”

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.