Memorial Day, Decoration Day

This year, 2022, Memorial Day’s observance falls on Memorial Day (actual), May 30. The United States did not have a day set aside to honor war dead until after the Civil War/War Between the States. Because so many families lost sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, the Grand Army of the Republic (northern veterans’ organization) pushed for a day to be set aside. On May 30, 1868, then US Representative James A. Garfield – a veteran – spoke these words:

Thousands of soldiers are to-day turning aside in the march of life to visit the silent encampments of dead comrades who once fought by their side. From many thousand homes, whose light was put out when a soldier fell, there go forth to-day to join these solemn processions loving kindred and friends, from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted till the light of the eternal world dawns upon them.”

The cover of what I suspect was a little history or civics book. Creative Commons fair use. Original source: https://lauriegauger.blogspot.com/2020/05/happy-decoration-day.html

He was at the then-new Arlington National Cemetery. Some in the South had already selected a different date, April 26, to use. However, after 1898, May 30 became the common date in all states. In 1971 Congress changed things so that federal employees got three-day weekends, and Memorial Day was shifted to the last Monday in May. Some people still do not care for this, or for the commercialization and loss of focus that followed.

As my readers know, this is not Veterans Day, or July 4. It is to remember the dead. Celebrate life, enjoy time with family, friends, and comrades, but we should not forget those who never came home.

The YouTube video is John Williams “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan. The images are of memorials, and US and Allied military cemeteries around the world.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omd9_FJnerY

Below are links to two history sites with more information:

https://www.military.com/holidays/memorial-day/how-decoration-day-became-memorial-day.html

https://time.com/4750347/confederate-memorial-day-history/

Character Creation: An Exercise

I used to DM RPGs. Or translated into English, I was a Dungeon Master (aka Game Master) for table-top role-playing games. Part of this role [roll?] includes developing non-player characters that are still interesting/challenging/terrifying for the players to deal with. And then trying to figure out what to do next when players went in a totally different direction than planned, within the constraints of their roles.

Sounds a lot like writing fiction, doesn’t it, for certain writing styles?

Since all monsters, magical or high tech gizmos, aliens, armor, weapons, and beasts within a gaming system have certain fixed characteristics the DM/GM and players have to deal with, dice are used to determine outcomes from actions. Dice are also used to create characters, drawing from a roster of strengths, weaknesses, and so on. I recently went back to this when I was trying to kick my mind out of a bit of a writing and imagination rut. I needed to do something creative but different that was NOT writing or working on a craft project. Out came a gaming book, and the dice.

I’m going to be rather vague here, because I don’t know which if any RPG systems you have access to. The idea is more “here’s something you can do to stimulated little grey cells to creativity” rather than a hard-and-fast exercise. So here’s an old character creation sheet from the first run of D&D™:

Used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original Source: A Weebley that won’t allow me time to copy the URL. Sorry.

The one below is for a more modern game:

From: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/425238389818625587/

Now, these are both from fantasy worlds, where you choose your species (dwarf, elf, human, half-elf, and so on) and your general character type (ranger, thief, barbarian, adventurer, bard, cleric, . . .).

Again from Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/315181673918192620/

They all are based on characters going places and doing things. To my knowledge there’s not a “farmer” or “archivist” player character in the original D&D, but I could be wrong. Someone has probably found a way to do it. The point being, you see characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. The dice make it either fun or challenging, depending on how you look at it. There are also sci-fi based games, like the Dr. Who set that I have under my bed, and more modern ones.

https://www.d20pfsrd.com/basics-ability-scores/character-creation/

As a writer, let’s say I want to challenge myself with a character I don’t design on my own – make myself work, but not borrow from another author. So, using Ravenloft™ world-data for D&D™ I start with a damphir artisan lawful neutral. My dice rolls *clatter clatter clatter* Hmm. This character is easily startled but not a coward, is an adrenaline junkie [I hear player groans], lost someone he cares about but still sees them in visions and recurring dreams, and needs to see the best in people even if that means ignoring actual malice [more groans from the team]. This character fled into the Mist to get away from something haunting him, and cannot rest. Since this is a horror-based game, you can see that there’s lot to work with, even if I as a writer will have my work cut out for me. Is this a good or a bad person? Well lawful neutral, so more like a person trying to stay out of sight, not battling evil but not seeking to cause active harm, either.

I’d probably try this with a short story or a scene first, because it’s going to be a challenge, and I do have other things I’m supposed to be working on. But the goal is to force you, the writer, out of your mental comfort zone. How would you work with a “not my usual” character? What sort of world would develop around him, her, it, your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine?

Copyright: D&D, Dungeons and Dragons, Ravenloft are all (C) Wizards of the Coast LLC, 2021.

Warm and Cool Voices

One of the intriguing things about the human voice is the sense of “color” that voices can convey. Vocalists, and some instrumentalists as well, talk about warm and cool sounds, or dark and bright sounds. It has to do with the depth and shading of the tones involved. A warm or dark tone sounds richer, with more harmonic shading while still holding a single note. A cool or bright tone tends to be clearer, with fewer overtones or less vibrato shading the pitch. Older singers often have richer, darker voices, but this is not always true [waves paw]. Certain instruments have darker “voices,” and organs can be registered for a bright or dark tone, depending on the stops chosen.*

I was thinking about this as I listened to a recording of a Spiritual that one of my choirs is considering doing. Here’s the recording:

Both the women’s section in general, and the soloist in particular, have a very dark, warm tone, especially for such a young choir. Many Spirituals and Gospel songs require a darker vocal tone, a mature voice that fits the emotions and depths of the song. (This carries over to R&B as well, where older women vocalists are preferred to younger ones. It’s probably the only place in pop music where this is true.)

Renaissance and madrigals, and some Baroque and classical music, demands a purer tone, either to keep the slight pitch variations of vibrato from interfering with the actual notes, or because of the tight harmonics. Or because they were written for boy sopranos or castratos, and so just don’t work with a darker voice. It is hard for someone with a fully developed voice to keep all vibrato and color out of his or her voice, although men in falsetto come close. The easiest way is to tense the vocal cords, which strains the voice and interferes with tone quality. Try doing that for an hour – or better, don’t do that in the first place. Mozart’s choral works, Handel, Hayden, Bach, Scarlatti, Vittoria, they all need clearer voices that blend well, especially in the quieter passages. Solos often do better with a darker voice, but not always.

Some of us have naturally lighter vocal colors. My voice is somewhat warm, but very clear, because I damaged my vocal cords when I was a teenager. (Sopranos should not try to sing tenor at full volume. Bad things happen to the vocal instrument.) My voice remained a “boy choir” voice until I was in my mid-thirties, and even today I have no vibrato to speak of. I can blend with pretty much any other voice. This makes me in high demand for Renaissance music, and as a choral-support singer. I can’t do the great soprano solos, even when they are in my range, because I sound “funny” compared to a woman with a truly developed, darker voice.

MomRed’s voice is like warm cinnamon bread with raisins, or was when she was in her prime. She’d be ideal for the solo in “In the Cool of the Day.” It was a dark, rich voice perfect for lullabys, Spirituals, and other roles. I wanted a voice like that. I’m smaller than Mom (strike one), built more like Dad (a tenor. Strike two), and then had the vocal damage (strike three). So I sing boy-choir solos and Renaissance and folk music.

*Within the constraints of the instrument. A Bach organ, or French Romantic, or Spanish Baroque, will sound very different, and some pieces won’t work as well on each one. Older instruments tend to be brighter and “buzzier,” in pert because of technologies at the time, in part because of sound preferences from different places and cultures.

Overheard in the Halls: Part Thirty-Four

Young Student [somewhat nervous]: So, um, what’s *mumble mumble* like?

Laconic Sophomore: Not bad.

Y.S.: Um, but I heard that, well, hard case?

L.S.: Only if you ask for it. [significant pause] You know, like that one class did.

Y.S. [much relieved]: Oooooohhh. Got it!

********

Sr. Scholastica [Aka the Dean]: So, Slow Senor, Silly Senior, and Skeptical Senior all need to take the final?

Me: Yes. Slow had too many absences, Silly’s GPA is below the threshold, and Skeptical wants to bump her grade if she can.

Sr. Scholastica [over reading glasses]: Skeptical wants to take a final exam, of her own free will, to raise her grade?

Me [hands raised]: Yes, Sister. I believe this is one of the signs of the end times?

Sr. Scholastica: I’ll have to confirm with Fr. Gonzales, but I believe it is.

*********

I am passing through the commons after making copies. Jaundiced Junior looks up from his sprawl in one of the lounge-ish chairs.

J.J.: Miss Red, is it true that Poland once invaded Russia?

Me: Yes, in 1603, during the Time of Troubles. Poland-Lithuania got about a quarter of western Russia.

J.J.: That explains a lot! Thanks, Miss Red.

*********

As seen on the Fridge of Wisdom. Just below it:
********

Me: Any further questions?

A hand waves frantically from the end of the second row.

Me: Yes? [trying not to sound impatient]

Frosted Freshman [sounding impatient]: Miss Red, if this is from Chapter Three, and that was last semester, why is it on this semester’s test?

Me: Because Confucian culture, filial piety, and the Mandate of Heaven come up every time we discuss China.

F. F. [sulking]: Oh.

The rest of the class glares at Frosted.

Me: Any other questions?

F.F. [looks up from his paper in great haste]: Can we go over number ten again?

Rest of class: Basso profundo growl.

Me: No, I’m sorry, but we need to move on. Please ask one of your classmates for the answer. So, number fifty-two. . .

*******

The last faculty meeting concludes, the fridges have been emptied and exorcised, and all books and grades are accounted for . . .

Catch us if you can!

. . . and the faculty disperse until August first.

A European Sort of Morning

A summer morning dawned with the usual slanted light as the sun moved north. Crisp, chilly air with a hint of flowers/urban scent/hardness eased in through the part-open window. The hour was early. At least two hours would pass, perhaps more, before it was time for breakfast. For a moment I thought I was in Central Europe.

Nope, still in the High Plains. It was a strong reminder of just how much the little details set the scene, in this case the light and the “feel” of the morning air.

I’ve spent so many Junes on the road to various places that I’ve become attuned to the differences in light. Out in the desert southwest, sunrise is at least an hour earlier than back home, wherever home happened to be at the time. So I’m up and about well before the Hour of Food, trying to sneak around so I don’t wake up those who are sleeping the sleep of the just. It’s a good time to go stretch one’s legs, take photos before the light gets too direct and harsh, and have a moment of quiet time with the birds. The wildlife, however, does require due care and consideration. The light is clear, with edges, often chilly and always dry.

Central Europe . . . In the cities, the hint of diesel exhaust is one of my markers, because trucks are only allowed to do deliveries early in the mornings. Cool soft air, full of moisture unless a cold front has passed, covers everything. The light is soft, filtered by clouds or humidity, and begins very early. By 0500 I can read without turning on the lights in the room (most of the time. Not always.) By 0530 I need a hat and long-sleeves when I venture out. Often the place is still and calm, with birds and perhaps the distant rumble of early traffic the only sounds. No, I take that back. A soft, steady Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh of a broom on cement and stone reaches my ears as an older woman in the faded floral-print uniform of matrons all over that part of Europe sweeps in front of her house or family business. We ignore each other as I pass, as one does. If she acknowledges me, I smile back. The city or town or hotel grounds are mind to meander as I please. No babble of voices comes from the market square, save on market days. The river or town stream murmurs in liquid tones as it dances through the little channels in the streets, or along its bed where the wall once stood.

Sometimes, that same light, the same cold late-spring air washes over the Texas panhandle, and for a moment I’m in a different place.

Food and Taboos

“Fish is brain food.”

“Fish will make you cold and slow and will block medicine power.”

“If it doesn’t have fins and scales, it is unclean.”

Don’t compliment a baby or you will bring down the evil eye. Don’t sit so that the sole of your shoe or the bottom of your foot is pointed at someone. Don’t touch someone on the head lest you interfere with their chi. Don’t eat within one hour before going swimming. Women shouldn’t bathe during . . .

Every culture has things that Must Not Be Done. Some of them seem odd to outsiders, and on occasion, even those inside the culture can’t explain precisely why you Don’t Do That. When anthropologists and folk-lore students start finding patterns, well, then it gets interesting.

Many Plains Indian peoples had taboos about fish – don’t eat them. Either they are just bad luck, or their are bad for medicine power, or they will make you slow, or . . . Up and down the Great Plains of North America, freshwater fish were taboo. Which made ethnographers wonder what the connection was, since these groups all moved to the Plains at different times, and had somewhat different cultures. What probably made fish bad news was the lack of fat. Most parts of the Great Plains, especially the western parts, lack carbohydrates but have lots of lean-meat protein sources. Eating too much lean meat without access to fats and carbohydrates can lead to medical problems, and that may be the origin of the prohibition. Season-dated Paleoindian bison kills show a preference for females in the fall (when they are fattier than males), but males in the spring (when females are far leaner than males.) Some archaeologists have speculated that rules of hunting might have included taboos, although we can’t tell.

The Jewish and Muslim rules about not eating pork are probably the best known food taboos in the western world, although they are not identical. Jewish rules hold pork to be unclean, but pigs may be raised and sold to outsiders. In an emergency, pork may be consumed if the alternative is starvation. Finding a package of bacon on the front step of a synogogue does not render the place of worship ceremonially unclean. The same is not true of a mosque. Pork and pigs are abominations in Islam, and are to be avoided at all costs.

Many food-related taboos are tied in with ideas of ritual purity and cleanliness. Insects and things that creep on the ground may be “dirty.” Likewise many cultures have a ban on consuming carrion eaters, because they eat decayed (and thus corrupt and unclean) flesh. For the Comanche, fish are unclean, and they won’t eat dog because Coyote is close to dogs. Other Indian peoples have no problem with consuming dog meat (the Cheyenne and Maya, for example) but the Kiowa eschew bear meat.

Ritual cleanliness also places a lot of limitations on women of child-bearing age. A woman having her menses is often ritually unclean, or might have the unfortunate ability to break medicine-power or certain blessings. In some cases, women were strictly confined away from sunlight and the rest of society, under the strict care of a post-menopausal woman, until their cycle had finished. In other cultures, the rule was that women of child-bearing age could not go near where the shaman or medicine man lived. Sometimes, women were to avoid hunters for a set number of days before a major hunt, to ensure that hunting magic would remain strong, and that the “scent” (real or spiritual) of blood would not contaminate the hunters and scare away the game.

Some cultures have a lot more taboos than do others. Entire slices of society might be under strict limitations because of a caste system, to the point that if the shadow of a certain person touches the possessions of a different person, the offender is to be executed for polluting the one of higher rank or spiritual authority.

The west doesn’t have as many religious taboos as many cultures, although we certainly have unspoken customs and limitations. Don’t talk about your income or job. Don’t tell dirty jokes or swear in mixed company. Certain cuts of clothing are not suitable for daytime or business attire. Don’t forget to leave a tip for a waiter or waitress, unless the service has been truly terrible. Men should remove their hats when entering a place of worship unless that faith requires the head to be covered. Don’t talk about sex, religion, or politics at the supper table. (Note that “religion” can include college or professional athletics in some parts of the country.)

And never, ever comment on a no-hitter baseball game in progress, or a smooth ride on a flight, or say anything like, “Boy, this equipment test is going really well!” Every fan, pilot, and tech or engineer will turn well-deserved wrath upon thee.

For an intriguing academic look at food taboos around the world:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2711054/

Armed Forces Day

Somehow, it turned out that most of the friends I’ve made as an adult (over age 18) are either military, worked around military people, come from military families, or have some other connection to the armed forces of the US, Australia, or Canada, or Great Britain. I didn’t set out to do that, it just happened. (Granted, the aviation community leans that direction, especially rotorcraft, but still…)

Today in the US is Armed Forces Day. The third Saturday in May is set aside to honor the men and women who currently serve in the Armed Forces of the US (including the Reserves and National Guard). Originally there were separate days for the four (then five) branches of the military, but the SecDef lumped them together in 1949. Note that this did not and does not replace things like the Marine Corps Birthday and commemorations of the founding of the other branches. May is also V-E Day, and Memorial Day.

Continue reading