Voices of the Dead: Terry Pratchett

To me, it’s always a little strange to hear or see recordings of someone who I’ve loved, admired, or been a fan of after they’ve died. In some ways I’m grateful. Preserving the way they talk, and move, and interact with the world is a beautiful thing, a little piece of the way we keep them around. But it’s also just a bit…creepy. We are literally listening to the voices of the dead, speaking from beyond the grave. In certain times and places, it would probably be a burnable offense to do that. That person is no longer with us, and yet in a way more concrete than just a static image or their written words, they still are.

This doesn’t affect me much for people who died before I was born, whose lives have always been part of “the past” for me. I’m fascinated by video footage of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking. He is a man who I respect, and honor, and whose legacy is preserved for us in film and I’m grateful for that. It’s somehow completely different than my grandparents, or even the few celebrities who were hugely important to me, beloved figures of my childhood or teen-years, or whatever. The more personal the connection, the more strongly my feelings of “something not quite right”. (It’s actually not until this blog post that I realized, while I love all the many pictures of my grandparents, I’ve never once watched a video or listened to a recording of them since they’ve passed away, and I don’t think I want to.)

Anyway, this all brings me to Terry Pratchett and the book he cowrote with folklorist Jacqueline Simpson, The Folklore of Discworld. It’s a fascinating book, full of great stories from our own world, and showing how those played into the wonderful Discworld books. Some of it was things I knew about, and some I never would have guessed were inspired by earthly folklore. It’s a bit focused on British Isles and European folklore, but definitely fascinating. As I’ve been doing quite a bit lately, I listened to this as an audiobook during my daily commute. At the end, there was an “interview” with Terry and Jacqueline, recorded presumably sometime around its publication in 2008. The interview was really just a recording of two friends having a conversation about the book, folklore, bits of history, the way the world is changing, and that one weird story they heard this one time that someone swore was totally true.

Honestly, I loved this book, and the interview was just the icing on the cake. But I realized, with a bit of a jolt as it began, that was the first time I’d ever heard Terry Pratchett speaking. And his voice sent a little chill down my spine. A voice of the past, and yet unknown. What had been merely words on a page to me, much beloved though they might be, was now given sound. There are things about a person that, no matter how excellent the book/diary/biography may be, it simply cannot convey. I had no idea that Terry could sing, and beautifully too, yet he broke out in snatches of song repeatedly during the recording. Despite the very (very very) Britishness of the humor of Discworld, it had never quite penetrated how VERY British the author’s accent would be. And here I was discovering all these new things about one of my literary heroes, yet knowing there was now no possibility of ever encountering this person in the flesh.

Listening to this recording was a strange, precious, weirdly satisfying experience. And the book itself reminded me how very much I love folklore and myth and legend. I love it all so much, from all around the world. This is why I read fantasy more than science fiction, because it is so often a retelling or remixing or extension or just influenced by the folklore and legends of our world. And not only do I love that, but its fascinating the ways in which it evolves.

Which just makes me think, I need more books on world Folklore, Myth, and Legend.

The Carrot is Mightier Than the Sword

((Also posted on my Wattpad.))

The 1st Battalion, Heavy Hop Brigade, known as the Carrot-tops in most circles and Dragontamers in certain circles, stirred restlessly in their ranks. Colonel Brun Auribus rested impassively on his lance, the twitching of his brown ears the only indication of his impatience. Corporal Terti “Dragongirl” Daucus waved the carrot under Hexematia’s nose.

“Come on, you big lunk, it’s time to earn your carrots.” The corporal’s tone was conciliatory with an edge of exasperation.

The dragon Hexematia crouched, shuffling her wings and shaking her head, refusing to accept her handler’s proffered treat. Her scales rustled, the only sound among the massed ranks of the army. She reared up suddenly to her full height, bugling her deafening call over their heads. A few of the younger hoppers clapped paws over their long ears.

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TV Show One Day at a Time

Last weekend I had a very bad mental health day, spending the day in bed watching Netflix and crying. I was looking for a show to watch, and I’d been hearing good things about this new Netflix Original “One Day at a Time” so I figured I’d take a chance on it. I was hooked immediately, and I’ve already watched it all the way through twice since then.

The show is a remake of a 1975 tv show about a single mother. This one has been modernized for 2017, and stars a Cuban family. The grandmother is played by Rita Moreno, who is hysterical and perfect. The others are less well-known actors and actresses, but they all do amazing jobs, so I hope this is a jumping-off-point and we start seeing them in more big roles now.

The writing is pretty amazing as well, being funny and heart-wrenching by turns while also being one of the most progressively feminist pieces of television media I’ve ever seen. They cover issues like mental health, veterans services, LGBT coming out, experiences of people of color particularly Latinx in America, faith, immigration, and privilege without either preaching or tiptoeing around the topic so much it’s obscured. That’s a delicate balance, and the writers/show-runners manage to hit the right note more often than not.

The show is pretty ground-breaking in a lot of ways, but it’s not perfect. It has a few moments that make me wish it had gone a different way, or make me squint a bit at the screen. But none have been so glaring and offensive as to make the rest of the show unpalatable, and it has fast rocketed up to one of my regular rewatch shows. I’m about to start rewatching it for the third time, but this time I’m going to go a little slower.

I’ve been wanting to do another series about a tv show again. I enjoyed doing the West Wing recaps even though I didn’t get very far. SO MUCH happens in the 50 minutes of those episodes, it was far too time consuming to get everything into a recap. With One Day at a Time, it’s only a half-hour show, so each episode shouldn’t be quite so time consuming. Plus, there is so much good material on issues I care deeply about, that the posts are going to practically write themselves. I’m going to focus less on recapping the episode, and do more of a ‘watch along’ style, with commentary.

Those will be starting this weekend. Each post will have spoilers for the episode in question, but I won’t spoil any of the future episodes. So if anyone truly does want to watch along with me, they can.

This introductory part was meant to go at the top of the first post, but it turned out I had too much gushing to do, so it needed it’s own post! Anyway, look out for the first One Day at a Time Rewatch post in the next few days!

Oh, and yes the posting of this on this day is no coincidence. Because in the terrifying new world we find ourselves in starting today, this is a show that gives me hope about the future. And we’re going to need all the hope we can get.

“The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For”

I first read bits of Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For strip online in my late teens. I couldn’t find all of it, especially not the early bits, but I found what was there strangely compelling. It was one of the first queer bits of fiction I found with realistic relationships between women. Queer male stories I had found, but not so much between women. It was probably also the first place I heard the term bisexual, though probably not in a very positive way.

When I saw The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For  on Kindle Direct, I was so excited. And rightfully so. I could NOT put the thing down. I’m used to not being able to put down a book, but not usually comic books. This one was different. There were parts I didn’t like (bit too much biphobia and transphobia exhibited by some of the characters), and characters I wasn’t super fond of (Mo and Sydney entirely deserve each other, talk about unpleasant jerks). But Bechdel still created compelling characters and story arcs. And I was entirely disappointed when it ended.

Bechdel also includes bits of current-events politics woven in among her stories. The course of Essential Dykes takes place throughout my early childhood (or perhaps slightly before) and continues into my college years. It was fascinating seeing an adult perspective on events I remember, but only barely, and another view of events I had just begun to notice in early adulthood.  It covers Reagan, to Bush Sr, to Clinton, and back to the Bush Years, and finally Obama’s election.

But most important to me was all the different configurations of women’s romantic relationships. From monogamy, to non-monogomy; lesbians, and bisexuals, and trans men and women, they’re all included. Even the relationships involving characters I didn’t much like, or the unhealthy ones, or the ones which ended before I wanted them to made me happy. We need more depictions of women in romantic and platonic and all sorts of relationships in our media.

The Witch’s Crow

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Crows gathered by the hundreds, sitting in the trees, on the roof of the small cottage, scattered among the out-buildings. Shoulder-to-shoulder, they sat silently, watching the human woman digging a hole in her garden. A small bundle wrapped in a flour-sack sat on the ground beside her. The young crow known as Crest tilted his head this way and that, watching the woman, his family, and his extended clan, only occasionally returning to the still bundle that contained the earthly remains of his uncle. The witch worked with tears in her eyes, and Crest knew somehow that she mourned the passing of her companion as much as his clan did.

The Pinewood Valley Clan watched in silence, only the occasional rustling of feathers and the gritty crunch of the metal biting into the soil marring the solemn stillness. Crest liked watching her, and he liked the way her hands matched the color of the soil, but today he got no joy out of it. Eventually, she completed her hole, and placed the bundle in the bottom. She spoke in the twittering human tongue, like a skylark’s voice, then began filling in the grave. As she did, there was a rustling among the Clan, and soon the sound of feathers filled the air like a storm of falling leaves. As the woman patted down the last of the dirt, all the crows set up a racket of calls, each one screaming a defiant tribute to their fallen brother in the dirt. The woman looked up at them, watching until they finished. She made a strange gesture, touching her head, mouth, chest, and stomach, then pressing her hands together and bowing slightly. Crest blinked, pondering the meaning. But before he got very far, Grandmother SilverSky, the eldest crow in the clan, cawed for quiet and order.

“Pinewood Valley Clan, my brother Duskwing has passed to the realm of The Blessed Four, and thus it comes time for us to choose among our people who will take his place by the Witch’s side, as is our sworn charge. One among us will fill Duskwing’s place as her companion and assistant in all her work.”

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A New Year, A New…well not really much Hope.

Look, it’s not that I’m a pessimist. I am, in fact, an inveterate optimist. But I’m also a historian (somewhat). I really hope I’m wrong about what the next several years hold, based on the complete garbage fire that has been 2016. I do. But I’m not holding my breath for it. Unfortunately, one of the problems is the complete powerlessness of the average person to stem the tide of insanity coming, or even to adequately protect herself and her loved ones. Especially someone like me, who is, at heart, a bit of a coward. I’m anti-confrontation (even online confrontations, from the safety of a screen, leave me shaking and nervous for days). I’m no good at speaking up against bigotry and bias around me in person, and not much good about it online either. I’m not the sort to attend protests, and I can’t really claim I’ll be much good come the revolution. I know this about myself, and I’m attempting to come to terms with it.

But silence is complicity. Silence is what allows this poison to grow and fester and become the steaming pile we have now. The racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, and every other ism imaginable floating around this country right now continue to float because good people say nothing, do nothing, and pretend not to see there even is a problem. I also haven’t been much good at doing anything besides wring my hands about it either. I try to change that, but thus far I’ve been trying to work against my own talents and personality, rather than with it.

This isn’t really a “New Year’s Resolution” post. More like a statement of rebellion. I’m not going to sit around and do nothing anymore. But I also need to play to my strengths. I’m a writer. I write. And in the coming storm, fiction is going to be unbelievably important. So I’m going to write, but more importantly I’m going to post things for people to read. I’m not waiting for publishing anymore, for my short stories. This is too important to wait for some mythic “good enough” in the future. The world needs stories of comfort, and hope, and subtle radicality. I can provide some of that. Even if it’s only to a few people. Even if it’s not always the best that it could be. Even if sometimes I don’t want to, and lose hope myself.

In the immortal words of the ever-wise Sir Terry, “Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” Stories show us how the world is and how the world could be. I want to put more stories into the world that reflect the sort of place I want to live in. More stories with diversity of all types, more stories with acceptance and love and joy and hope in them. More stories where the world is a kinder, more just place, where the heroes defeat the evil, and the world is saved.  “You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?” (Terry Pratchett again.)

So. That’s what I’m going to do this year. I’ll be posting semi-regular stories here and on my Wattpad. And in light of that, here is a link to the first one, The Witch’s Crow on Wattpad. It will also be posted on this blog immediately after this post. Please enjoy, and Happy New Year. May it be less horrific than we fear.

Digital Art!!

So, just before we left on our min(working) vacation to Williamsburg, I went out and bought myself a new stylus to work on my tablet. I’ve always wanted to get into doing digital art, but I’ve never been able to afford the high end art supplies of a Wacom tablet for my computer and the expensive software etc. But it turns out a bunch of places, including Wacom, are also making digital pens which work with any touch screen!

I bought the Wacom Bamboo Solo. So far, I love it. The price was reasonable (under $20), and the stylus itself is both comfortable for me to use and accurate. It is on the smaller side, so I can see how someone with larger hands than mine might feel it was too delicate. But it’s perfect for me. As for drawing, the microfiber tip really does glide smoothly across the screen as easily as a pen across paper. The only difficulty I have is where to rest my hand without making a mark on the digital “paper”, but thankfully the app I use has an excellent “undo” button to erase those. The pen does occasionally “skip” a bit (no mark appears while it’s pressed to the screen for a moment), but it hasn’t done that too much on me. I’ve only had it for a few days, but it has absolutely revolutionized my attempts at digital drawing and painting. I am hoping it is as durable as Wacom is supposed to be, but it’s a bit early to tell on that!

The Wacom Bamboo does have an associated art App for iPad (Bamboo Paper for iPad), but I don’t love it. Firstly, it has in-app purchases. The app is free, but it only comes with a basic pen and pencil tool, and basic notebook covers. I’ve been using it for writing freehand, but that’s about it (and I like it for that!) But for doing art, I’ve found an entirely free app from a (chinese?) company called ZHU YI called Sketch Pad. It is entirely free from the get-go, and has a ton of different art-tools, as well as customizable color wheel, automatic saving to a gallery and easy export options for my art. It does have ads across the top in a banner, but they disappear while I’m drawing, and are a minor annoyance for an entirely free app with pretty good quality functionality.

Anyway! Here’s the first two pieces I drew with my new stylus! The cat started simply as a doodle to test out the different pen tools with my new stylus and see how I liked them, and ended up being cute enough to keep! The landscape was something I drew yesterday in the car ride, and I’m actually fairly proud of it.

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Professor X Has Summoned Me!: Discovering I have the MTFR Gene Mutation

First, yes I’m a huge nerd. On the other hand, the coolest part of this whole frustrating journey of discovery is that now I can truly say I’m a Mutant. Sadly, my powers are even more nonexistent than Jubilee’s, and I can’t do anything cool. Anyway! Yes, this week I discovered I have a compound heterozygous MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) mutation. In other words, my MTHFR gene is mutated in two spots (on both alleles), with two different mutations. This seems to mean that my cells do not methylate folate/folic acid properly (apparently this is an important part of their job). This also apparently leads to elevated homocysteine levels, which is apparently bad.

So much I have been able to learn through fairly incessant research in the last couple of days. However, beyond that is a huge mire of murky controversy surrounding this particular disorder. The range of possible issues this may or may not cause stretches all the way from “nothing, you’re fine, quit overreacting” up to “the sky  is falling, you’re going to die early, and all of your past/present/future health issues are caused by this”. There isn’t even a consensus on what’s the simplest and most effective treatment, or even if it always requires treatment in the first place.

Needless to say, I’m irked, frustrated, and feeling a little lost. My new primary care doctor, who was recommended by a doctor I trust, I’m worried about being able to trust her with this particular issue. I’ve been prescribed an extremely expensive and un-insured medication (which is one of the more common treatments), but trying to figure out an alternative is a bit overwhelming given the entire lack of consensus surrounding that.

On top of all that, my blood tests revealed a wide-spread inflammation in my body, with an unknown cause (possibly the MTHFR mutation given some of the literature, possibly not) and unknown effects. Most likely this inflammation is the source of me various joint aches, swellings, and stiffnesses that occurs from time to time. Meanwhile, the same new doctor suggested I attempt to remove gluten and processed sugars from my diet in an effort to reduce the inflammation. I’m trying it, because it seems worth a shot. (Two days of success, and one fail-day out of the first three so far!) However, I feel like a complete douche trying to eat gluten free, like one of those fad-dieters who “go gluten free for their health” and the hell of it. I have no qualms about being gluten-free if I have a real allergy/sensitivity/issue that warrants it. I just worry that my doctor may be one of those caught up by the Gluten-Fad sweeping the western world these days.

Anyway. Healthcare is a weird, scary morass to navigate, and science is hard and confusing. *grumps*

Also, I want my superhero name to be The Bookewyrme, and I want to use books as my weapons.

(For anyone interested in reading a bit more, here’s a couple of links I’ve found helpful in all this: Here and here)

Goin’ To the FAAAIR!

Most people who read this probably already know my history with the Renaissance Fair circuit. But I haven’t worked one in several years, for various personal reasons. This weekend (today) was the beginning of the little local one run by the city (which as a Rennie Rat born & bred, that’s a WEIRD combo, but they do a really nice job with it, and I love this fair, small and temporary though it is). Anyway, I’m working it, back in the costume booth working for the woman who has been our family’s fairy godmother for longer than I’ve been alive (and through all the permutations of my family).

Now that I’m working a regular 9-5 type office job, Monday through Friday, I was a little hesitant to take on the extra work for this weekend and next, basically ensuring I’d have no days off. They’re both long days, in service-oriented jobs (which can be a little hard on introverted me). But I ultimately agreed, and I’m so glad I did!

My feet hurt, my finger joints are swollen (a post for another day) and I’m exhausted. But I’m unbelievably elated. This morning was filled with frantic activity, typical last-minute dashes trying to organize and set up the booth before the gates opened. Yet all I could think all day was “This is it. I’m home. This is where I belong.” I don’t mean here, in this town, at this specific fair. I simply mean there, in that whirl of hustle and bustle, exhaustion and fun, that is a job at the RenFaire.

Anyway. It sure was nice to be where I belonged again, and I’m excited to go back tomorrow for day 2! Hopefully I’ll even be able to catch my friend performing in the living chess set!

New Collaborative Project!

At last, I can announce that I’m part of a collaborative writing project creating a fun, campy, ‘spooooky’ story, complete with audience participation! That’s right, it’s

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!

Ok, so basically, six of us are each creating and writing a character in a silly-scary story. The six characters are all staying in a remote lodge, and the first night someone dies. After that, each character continues to drop one-by-one, until one survivor is left. The catch is, the readers get to vote on who lives and who dies! Every other week, voting will happen, and then you’ll get to find out who gets offed in a SPOOKY manner!

Click on the image below to visit the site and see what’s already set up. February 3rd the story itself will start to be put up on the website/Wattpad!

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My character is Emma, whose profile is below. Click through to the site to see the other characters you can “vote off the lodge”!

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We’ve all been having a lot of fun with this project, so I hope you’ll all join us and cast a vote this February. ^_^