Now What?

Saturday, I couldn’t figure out why my ability to focus seemed to have gone out the window. I’d gotten the edits for the next Merchant book in, those that had already come in. I’d finished the d’Vosges story draft. Day Job was pretty much wrapped up aside from one admin thing that had to wait on a third party. So why was I staring at a story, unable (or unwilling) to buckle down and write? I had a similar problem reading. I have a thick TBR stack to get through this summer, and sitting and reading for more than a chapter at time seemed impossible. I had too much energy, or I was fighting to stay awake.

The weather played a role. We’ve gone from drought to flood. Literally flood, as the Canadian River is reaching levels not seen in over 25 years, and other streams are bursting their banks and causing major transportation snarls as well as inundating homes and businesses (Hereford, Texas and Rita Blanca Creek did not get along well this past weekend.) Palo Duro Canyon state park has had lots of flooding and road closures, and the hiking trails were also closed because of wash-outs and mud. Lakes that people assumed were empty forever abruptly have water in them again. This is great, but it also gets old if you are not used to daily rain and high humidity. The constant grey and other people’s worries were chewing on me.

Part of it is trying to sort out transportation to and from an event. In the big scheme of things, it’s a very minor concern, but it’s still there.

Then I realized the problem. A chunk of my feeling scattered came from the lack of urgent deadlines and pressure. This spring has been odder than usual, for a host of reasons, most of them far outside my control. Everyone around me was running at flank speed from April 15 until this past Thursday, or so it felt. As event and deadline piled on each other, tension got higher. Some things happened that left grumbling, muttering, and frustration in their wake, mostly because it was a case of “Oh please, not NOW. I have no time to deal with this.” Except my associates and I dealt with it. That’s what grownups do.

And then it stopped. Everything stopped. No more race-stop-race. Welcome or unwelcome, everything wrapped up. There was no gradual taper down as often happens, no steady slowing. Instead it just ended, period. That’s … odd. And so I found myself without a looming deadline, without stacks of incoming and outgoing pages. No outside pressure remained. I stared at the screen, thinking I had to be doing a lot of something else, or fighting off a nap. (The cool, humid, grey weather wasn’t helping that bit.)

Once I realized what the problem was, or rather, the lack of problem, I pushed through and got things done. I can force myself to get back into the habit of concentrating. But it still feels odd not to have an external deadline trying to run me over.


Mothers’ Day

Mothers’ Day started from two threads. One was a woman in the upper South who worried about the living conditions of women in Appalachia, and about maternal and infant mortality before and after the Civil War. The other was a poet who urged mothers’ to work together to oppose war and work toward peace.

Anna Jarvis was the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had worked to improve the lives of women in Appalachia, and had formed assistance groups during the Civil War. Julie Ward Howe wrote poems and tried to organize a women’s peace movement centered on mothers. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor all mothers, and to encourage more recognition of the contributions of women to everyday life. Julie Ward Howe had started a local Mothers’ Day, but it had not caught on well. Anna Jarvis pushed harder, and the idea spread. Eventually Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the second Sunday in May would be a day to honor mothers. The cards, flowers, gifts, and other things came later.

Not every country honors Mothers’ Day on the same day as the US. I know that about 13 years ago, several countries postponed Mothers’ Day when it would have coincided with the Western celebration of Pentecost. There was much (quiet) grumbling from the choir and assistant minister when the church where I sang at the time opted to postpone Pentecost instead. We wore red vestments anyway, and glared at the top of our lungs, so to speak. Anyway.

For Catholics, May is a month to give special consideration to the Virgin Mary, so it is especially fitting to honor all mothers then. Since roughly 1990, the day has expanded to include step-mothers, adoptive mothers, “mother-figures in our lives,” and pretty much all care givers. Even so, there are people who snarl about “well, some mothers are abusive and honoring mothers will offend/ distress someone.”

Since, thus far, without mothers, there would be no one around to grumble or to celebrate, I tend to fall down on the side of honoring mothers.

We’ve come a rather long way from the days of hoping to mobilize mothers in order to prevent war. I suspect Anna Jarvis would not be pleased with the commercialization of what was supposed to be semi-religious and quiet. But that applies to most holidays.

So Much for Stereotypes!

I was reading Metal Hammer magazine for the interviews with Floor Jansen and an article about Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish. Those were interesting. I disagree about “best Nightwish album,” but hey, he’s the composer and boss, I just listen.

However, one of the first articles was about a member of the band Obituary and his feline rescue charity. Yes, he has a cat shelter and also does trap/spay/neuter/release in the Tampa, FL area. The charity is called …

Metal Meowlisha.

Farther into the magazine is a full page ad for the Mystic Festival in Gdansk, Poland. Ghost is headlining, along with Gojira, Danzig, and there will be a “few” other bands. In the fine print at the bottom, it says “Dinner: from 4 Euro., incl wide selection of vege and vegan options” The site is 10 minutes walk from historic downtown Gdansk [Danzig] and 15 minutes walk from the beach. Vegan and vegetarian catering at a metal fest.

OK, given the number of metal musicians that say they are vegetarian, I’m not entirely surprised, but it sort of ruins the stereotype.

Of course, I ruin the stereotype. A lady in my semi-pro chorus was looking at one of my Avantasia shirts and asked what it was about. When I told her, her jaw hit the floor, because she could not imagine me, Alma-the-soprano, listening to rock, let alone metal, even symphonic metal. So I played part of “Raven Child” for her. It wasn’t quite what she was expecting (but we didn’t get as far as the chorus, where the metal aspect really kicks in.)

Oh, and just for fun, there’s also a history article about metal musicians and fans, and Dungeons and Dragons™. And a few of the songs and albums based on D&D.

Since it’s a British publication, there are also some fascinating euphemisms in the music reviews. Because you can’t come out and say, “This album stinks,” quite like you can in the US, so you find work-arounds. (And there are a number of bands reviewed that I wouldn’t touch without wearing a hazmat suit. I’d also insist on clergy backup. Erk. To each their own. There are also some songs by bands I generally like that I heard once and deleted, or skip when I play the CD.)

I Miss Louis Rukeyser

Friday nights at RedQuarters were reserved for Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser™. This program ran on PBS from 1970-2002, and featured discussions about current events, financial matters, stocks and bonds, and other things. Louis Rukeyser was low key, began with a little humor and (usually) a few terrible puns, and then the panel would take up the discussion. The panel included stock brokers, bond people, corporate financial specialists, the occasional economist, and sometimes historians and Mr. Rukeyser senior. The elder gent had been a financial reporter who covered the stock market in 1928-1970s and brought a very long-term view to the program.

One of the points repeated over and over on the program was that short-term investments are not everything. Investing for the very long term is the smarter way to go. Mr. Rukeyser and his associates looked five to ten years down the road. What did the company produce? Was it something people could use? What was the price to earnings ratio? Dull, pedestrian companies that made goods or provided services that everyone needed (like light bulbs, or lawnmowers, or basic groceries) would be better than the stock-of-the-moment.

I also remember this:

Part II:

And part III:

It is the opening monologue after the Monday market tumble in 1987. “It’s just your money, not your life.” His guests included two of the most important men then working on Wall Street, and a retired power in the market. Rukeyser’s observations as to the purported causes of the Crash sound rather familiar. His calmness was a refreshing reminder that there are more important things than the folly of the week.

That incident introduced me to the concept of “bottom fishing,” where long-term investors buy stocks of steady, producing companies after the crash. At the time, this was before day-traders and personal computer-based investing, so it tended to be regional—Midwestern investors bottom-fished after the East Coast gurus panicked and dumped solid stocks at fire-sale prices.

I miss the calm, mature voice of reason in financial news. Today it feels as if the entire purpose of shares, bonds, and so on has vanished into the past, and nothing exists but gambling. I know part of that is how trading has developed, with personal investing and the federal governments requirements for all sorts of things. Some of those requirements are good. As we can see with certain personnel at Silicon Valley Bank, some of those requirements led to less-than-ideal people in certain positions. The days of John Templeton, Louis Rukeyser, and that generation are gone.

Still, I wish Louis was still around to give a bit of calming, gentle humor and steady perspective to the events of the day, week, and year.

If Only English Were Fonetik . . .

but it’s not.

I could not figure out why spell checker kept flagging “tournaquit.” That’s because it is “tourniquet.” Around here, instead of an “i” sound in the second syllable, we say more of a “uh” sound, sort of a schwa e. Since I spell by ear, I get red flagged every time I try to write the word as pronounced.

Part of the problem is my limited available memory. By the time I load 1) the idea, 2) the words, 3) grammar, 4) how to hold the pen and write, or type, I’ve run out of active memory. Something has to go. So I never learned to apply spelling to writing. To complicate life, I learned spelling and basic grammar during the phonetics craze in the late 1970s-early 1980s, when you were supposed to learn the letters in words that went with the phonics codes, like the upside-down e for the terminal “uh” sound and so on. Some I remember, the sound codes that is. The rest? Did not help me at all. I ended up writing like someone from the latter 1500s-mid 1600s, that is to say, partly phonetically.

I have no problem spelling Spanish, German, Latin, or even Hungarian, once I learn letter combinations (like “sz” for “s” in Hungarian.) Grammar, that’s different, but spelling causes me no, keine, 0 problems. Alas that I have to function in English 95% of the time.

Spill chuck is knot my fiend. I know what words should look like, most of the time, ish. But sometimes my “it sounds like” spelling is so mangled by dialect and regional pronunciation that even on-line dictionaries run screaming. OttoCorrupt on the phone? Oh lordy. Once you get past “it’s never duck. Never, ever ‘oh duck’?” Some very odd things have been sent before I could catch the “correction.”

I have the most difficulty with words English borrowed from French. Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Persian, Russian, or Japanese or Spanish? Far fewer difficulties. So of course English absorbed French with wreckless abandon.

Dictionaries require at least getting close to the proper spelling. Oops.

Abbreviation Confusion

A&P, or A&P, or AP? One is a federal certification, one is a grocery store chain, and one is a type of college credit test. That’s one difficulty with only 26 letters – they tend to get reused in ways that can lead to a certain lack of communication.

“Down with the BLM!” Which had nothing at all to do with a relatively new political movement and everything to do with complaints of overreach by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Society for Pediatric Radiology shares initials with Stop Prison Rape, which led to some quick web address re-working.

Then you get abbreviations that would be fine in English but that are not used because of associations in another language. For example, when historians write about the early German Socialist Party, Sozialistische Partai Deutschland, instead of a quick flip from English to SD, we use the same abbreviation as for the modern party, the SPD. Why? Because in German, SD is used for the East German security police, better known as the Stazi. And for a while, OttoCorrupt was trying to change SPD to STD. Oops. That got changed rather quickly!

I still blink when I see PMU, the French horse-racing wagering group. To me that’s pregnant mare urine. The signs didn’t help, at first.

Original source:

I’d say that we need more letters, but that would probably just make it worse. Because English would steal the strangest characters, or most esoteric. We’d probably end up with “Association for Computerized Learning and Teaching” or something being a deadly insult and accidentally causing WWIII when translated into Finnish, or something.

Everything I Need to Know About Catholic Traditions I learned from John Bellairs

OK, maybe not, but his books were the first time I heard about the mystical traditions associated with the urim and thumim, about the Blood of Hailes, and a lot of other things that are not part of the modern school curriculum. Which tells you that Bellairs did not write down to his young readers.

I first encountered his books either through the PBS TV show Once Upon a Classic or the Saturday morning book dramatizations on one of the Big Three networks. It was The House with the Clock in its Walls, which was published in 1973. I remember it being creepy and cool, the story that is. I didn’t read the book until later, and then to my delight, the public library had a lot of Bellairs’ books with the Edward Gorey covers and interior pictures. (I met Gorey through Mystery on PBS, and then crossed paths with his Odder work here and there.) Bellairs had three main series for younger readers, all of which were Gothic mysteries with a touch of horror, and all of which I enjoyed. I suspect that’s where my “eccentric relative of main character with esoteric knowledge” sort of characters originally came from.

His three main young reader series all feature a boy and either an eccentric relative (uncle who just happens to be a wizard) or mentor (Miss Eels the librarian in the Anthony Monday books; a slightly odd professor in the Johnny Dixon stories). In each case, something has happened to the boy’s parents that either they are out of the picture (death, deployment to Korea for Dixon, financial problems so that the boy has to work for Anthony Monday). The boys rise to the occasion with some help from their mentors, and from minor characters with even more eclectic knowledge. There is spiritual danger, physical risk, mystery, all sorts of neat stuff. Evil is punished, and the merely irritating get what they deserve.

Through the books, I learned important things like, oh, how to make a Hand of Glory (please don’t try this at home), what certain relics might do, how the gems of the High Priest’s ephod related to the Ark of the Covenant (don’t try that one at home, either), the joys of dropping a drawer of a card catalogue (which I knew already, alas), and so on. Granted, some of those were probably not all that relevant to a kid growing up in the Great Plains, but one never knows.

I highly recommend the original books, those written between 1973 (House with a Clock in its Walls) and 1991. Bellairs died young, and although others have finished his existing manuscripts and expanded some of the story ideas, the reviews for those are mixed, and I have not read most of them. His adult stories are also dang creepy, well written, and fascinating.

*It turns out I was not far from Hailes Abbey. If only I had known . . . Roslyn Chapel had to suffice my itch for the Esoteric. (Go for the Katherine Kurtz stories. Skip Dan Brown. Please.)

Iron 1: Alma 0

So, on Saturday, the iron won. That 50 LB barbell was not, I repeat not, going up as far as my collar-bone, let alone over my head, no matter how good my back felt. After the third failed attempt, I returned the barbell to the rack and got the lower-weight bar, and finished the session with that one.

I was philosophic. That’s only twice now I’ve had to either dump plates (bench press) or couldn’t even start the lift. At my age, with my problems, and since i don’t have a spotter, that’s not bad at all. If I’d had a spotter, then I might have tried to do at least one shoulder press. No safety back-up, no lift. I’ve seen what happens when people get the bar up and then lose control of it. No , thank you! The next morning I was appropriately sore, but nothing new hurt, so I didn’t injure myself the previous day. That’s very good.

If you are serious about lifting, a time will come when the iron will win. It happens to all of us. You might go very well one session, and then two or three later? Nope. That mass is not going to move, or is not going to return to the rack without someone else’s help. Or in my case, without very carefully tipping the bench press bar and letting the plates slide off one side, then repeating the process on the other side. (This is why I do not use a lifting collar or weight stop on the bar.) Ideally, I’d have a spotter watching for trouble and intervening before things to too rodeo. My world isn’t ideal.

Life’s like that. There are times we fail. Sometimes we can shrug it off, change tactics, and get it done sideways (higher reps with a lighter weight to finish the day for the same total poundage lifted). At other times, it just wasn’t going to happen. We don’t have the genetics, or we’re female (lower upper body strength), or have hit the limit of what sheer determination can accomplish. I’ll never be a public historian of the stature of David McCullough. I’d love to be. I’d love his income. It’s not going to happen. I’ll never be an opera singer, or a Prix St. George-level dressage rider. But I tried, and I learned, and I enjoy what I CAN do.

I’ll go back in a few days and try the iron again. For a very long time, forty pounds was all I could press. Then it was fifty. For a long time, sixty pounds was all I could bench. Now it’s eighty five, although I might be hitting a wall because of my back. Eventually, I’ll find my natural limit. But I’ll be in a lot better shape than I would have been otherwise.

The End User Should Have the Final Say

It is my opinion, and an increasingly vehement opinion it is indeed, that certain products should not be designed by males without final say by females, and vice versa. This vehemence is inspired by a product that I use on a regular basis. It was “improved and redesigned!”

As with most things, this phrase served as a warning. The warning was well merited.

Said “improvements” reduced the comfort and usefulness of said product, moving it from “useful and about as comfortable as possible given the usage” to “uncomfortable, borderline impossible to use, and prone to self-destruction during removal from wrapper.” Happily, I was able to find a supply of the old version, and used up the last of “new and improved” with a feeling of delight at having rid myself of the odious item.

I have a strong suspicion that it was designed by an anatomical male, perhaps with the assistance of a female who did not think that other women might, perchance, wear underpinnings of a design that varied from her own. Delicacy and a certain respect for the feelings of my male readers forbids me to go into further detail. Suffice it to say that “one design works for all” failed in this case, as in so many.

Likewise, women should not design certain products used only by anatomically male individuals without having said item tested by a variety of men.

In fact, there are a number of things that obviously never, ever passed into the hands of an end user on the path between design and sale. Overly gee-whiz cars with computer displays that reduce safety by having more warnings and alerts than does an airliner, with less logic in the presentation. Certain types of packaging that require a dedicated tool to open, or the strength of Superman, or a very sharp knife that tends to slide on the plastic. Sofas and easy chairs that swallow anyone shorter than 5’8″ tall. Which also applies to movie theater seats. Overly-sensitive side airbags on pickups designed to be used in places where brush might brush against the door while the truck is in motion. Foomp! That led to the addition of a deactivation switch in the next year model and subsequent.

The statistically perfect person does not exist. Would that designers of all types remembered this.

And leave my preferred product alone unless you ask women of all sorts, who wear all different types of clothing, to test it and provide feed-back!

Fads and Angels

Does anyone else remember the fad for angels back in the late 1980s-early 1990s? It started, I think, when the “End Times are Nigh” strand of Christian thinking collided with the New Age “spirit guides and visitors,” with a dollop of free-market retail tossed in. Everyone was selling goodies with the two putti (cherubs) from the bottom of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”, despite multiple protests by the copyright holder. I recall angel tee-shirts, angel posters and mouse pads, and lots and lots of books about angelic spirits and summoning angelic spirits [!], and so on.

I read one or two of those books. First off, once they start presenting a list of names that goes beyond the four I’m used to – Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel – I start getting a touch curious. Meaning that my “I sense bunkum” detector goes off, along with a quiet alarm. Then the guided meditations and cautions and hints and so on make me itch. Not all of them, especially in books that start with two chapters of warnings about “if whatever shows up does this, this, or that, run,” but most. Too much New Age, too much woo. The book about how to get angelic spirits to make you rich didn’t quite make me back away and reach for the jar of crushed garlic, but it was close.

Angels seem to have fallen out of fashion in pop-culture. I don’t see random angel stuff in shops anymore. Occasionally I still see the decorative wall crosses (which don’t do anything for me, but that’s just me), but not angels, unless it is in a shop that markets to Christians, especially certain Protestant denominations. Angels appear to be Out as pop-culture goes. In a way I’m glad, because treacly-sweet winged children in white nightgowns have never really seemed angelic, aside from church Christmas plays and so on. All the angels in the Bible, when they appear as angels, say, “Fear Not” as their first words for a good reason, at least based on the reaction of the people they appear to.

(Interestingly, fluffy pop-Wicca seems to also have disappeared. Wicca-related accessories and general books are no longer common in the New Age-type shops around here.)

I’m not quite sure what’s trendy now in terms of small, decorative items and poster art. It might be all over the map, given the huge range of things available on-line. And perhaps I’m just not going into the right shops. But I don’t see books on angels in the local bookstores, again aside from the religious bookstores, and even those are sparser than they were in the 1980s-90s.

I suspect the general decline in clearly defined religion plays a role. And fear of someone at a workplace declaring that he or she is offended by anything obviously Christian of Jewish. The darker side of pop-occult stuff, however, I do see more of: divination tools, urban fantasy and paranormal romance with strong negative occult themes, very dark jewelry and fashions. I don’t think that’s a good replacement. In my experience, people can accidentally open doors they don’t intend to, even if those doors are only into their subconscious. If they are fortunate, they just spook themselves.

I’m sort of glad that I no longer have to run a gauntlet of overly-cute angel things as I shop for cards. On the other hand, they were generally harmless as long as I didn’t brush against one and knock it over. The same can’t be said for some other things.