Tuesday, November 14, 2017


(T)heir guy isn’t well known enough, that the stories are now so plentiful that offenders must meet a certain bar of notoriety, or power, or villainy, before they’re considered newsworthy.

I told you it's not just powerful, rich men. Here's a reporter to tell us that those're the only guys who'll get any ink.

Here is the thing about this lengthy piece, about what we "all" have to reckon for: I've reckoned before. When I worked at The Federal Reserve, and a contractor who knew I worked till 5:30 p.m.  himself stayed late one dark evening, and held out to me on a napkin a cherry stem, tied in a little knot, and said only "No hands" ... I was revolted. The next morning, first thing, I spoke with a manager - not mine, and a woman at that. And she essentially dismissed me as a hysteric. I chose to put the issue to bed, moving forward, concerning myself only with my future and my feelings.

Much later, when I saw from a strong physical reaction to him, by a woman with less power than I, it was clear to me that I was not the only person he had "made uncomfortable" (see also: repulsively harassed). I thought about the issue again, and discussed it with one or two trusted people.

Later still, when The Stem decided to apply for a permanent position, I instantly - I mean, within five minutes - went into my boss's office and phoned him while he was travelling. HE took me deadly seriously, and HR had an executive meeting with me almost immediately.

I thought about this guy's kid. Yep. But I also thought of that woman I had seen squirm. The Stem took his risks, knowing he had a kid. He behaved execrably, knowing he had a kid. Oblivious as he was socially (this is a man who discussed with me on scant acquaintance the extreme gruesomeness of his ex-wife's labor in bearing said son; he was ALL kinds of awkward, this guy). If, in his book, the "no hands" approach seemed even POSSIBLY valid - never mind potentially impressive - he needs a new book, and I'm not responsible for reading the text he was working from. Nor am I responsible for his son.

I was, in my knowledge, responsible for that woman I had done nothing to help. I was, too, responsible for the reputational risk to my own employer, who would have been exposed to legal risk by allowing a serial harasser on board. My employer: who kept me in mortgage payments, and that woman's family as well.

The woman manager, who dismissed my concerns? She didn't dismiss me because she was covering for a valued or powerful colleague, she shut me down for thinking what he'd done was an issue at all. His power, in the moment he flummoxed my pungent personality to the extent of an awkward joke and sheer befuddlement, was transient. And, in the end, mine was greater: my report had more power than his resume.

I have often thought about the background and experience that leads to attitudes like that manager's, though. These days, I imagine she's scoffing a great deal about all the precious little daisies enduring Weinstein's casting couch, so-called "consenting" to Louis C. K.'s displays, and on and on and on. Blaming them for being so sensitive. And maybe she has dismissed other women, too. Very possible.

I pity that woman more than myself. But, for her initial reaction to me and my opting for silence, I am GUILTY: about the other woman who worked there, who transferred away from our location I suspect to get away from The Stem. Whose price to pay I do not know, and is among the debts on my own soul. I pity the manager, whom I did not name but did talk about in that meeting with HR. But the other woman lives with me in a much more direct way.

I will leave this post with the following excerpt from the link ...

I struggled a lot internally about whether to name the Harasser at my former job. I decided not to, largely because I understand something about how things have turned out. In a rare outcome, I — along with some of the women he pestered — now have more power than he does. He is, as far as I know, short on work, not in charge of any young women. And so I decided, in consultation with former colleagues, not to identify him.
But here’s a crucial reason he behaved so brazenly and badly for so long: He did not consider that the women he was torturing, much less the young woman who was mutely and nervously watching his performance (that would be me), might one day have greater power than he did. He didn’t consider this because in a basic way, he did not think of us as his equals.
Many men will absorb the lessons of late 2017 to be not about the threat they’ve posed to women but about the threat that women pose to them.

This is not a gotcha. This is: manning up.


This is a short, but achingly clear essay about the forced intimacy of disability (author's word choice). It's both obvious and something most of us probably never think about. And it's heartbreaking. Go read it - please.

Shrew are you? Super neato-spedito piece about the winter shrinkage of the shrew. Because shrews' heads were not NEARLY small enough. Amusingly written, and may provide some excuses for human seasonal lassitude as well.

Why do men who have never experienced this form of attack get to define what an attack is?

Like great writing? Funny, but honest - the humor that comes not merely from that certain kind of anger that engages us, but also reaches out to consider the anger together? Click here. Yes, it talks about sex. It also talks about things that definitely are not sex.

I have neglected this blog's penchant for fashion, style, costume, and beauty of late, so here is a curious look at (sniff of?) Commes des Garçons' strange brews. Personally, I love sandalwood. But did you know that concrete is absolutely devastating to the environment? Won't buy. Might sniff ... if I ever actually go to a department store.

Question for my writer pals, Reiders, readers, and anyone generally a nerd for a word: HOW COME NONE OF YOU EVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE OED BLOG??? Because I am mad at each and every one of you. Y'all going to make me caterwaul, I'm all tears and flapdoodle I never saw this site before. Another sample: litbait. Hee.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Last Year

I set out my clothes for the next day, after I get home from work every day. The ritual is this: come in, greet Penelope and Gossamer, put down some kibble for them, put my cell phone on the couch so I won't miss important messages from my boss. Check the mail. Pen's done eating by now, or has had enough to start following me around, so she goes in the yard. Goss and I go upstairs. On the best days, he races me, and he ALWAYS wins.

In the bedroom, I put down the things of the day, take off the jewelry - always a nice moment, a physical relaxation - change clothes, check the weather, and decide on what to wear the next day.

I rarely dither, in this wardrobe selection. But last night, instead of weather, that local channel served up two campaign ads in quick succession, so I forwent the forecast. And laid out shoes, pants, and a short-sleeved blouse. It took me a while to pick something, even the purse to carry. But it had to be something with red in it - to remind myself: "tomorrow is election day."

Wearing red/white/and/or blue is rather on the nose, but I am all for obvious symbolism for any occasion. (On 11/9 last year, I wore cream and pale aqua - laid out the night before - meant to be a celebration of our freedom from the long, stressful campaign ... things did not turn out as I had hoped,of course; but I wore the cream and aqua anyway.) (And I wore brown on 11/8; good fall colors - and a locket with my dad's picture.)

So yesterday I had my nod to patriotism ready - but when I came up for bedtime, I saw the weather forecast at last, and found (hurray!) it was not expected to be short-sleeve weather. Time to rethink.

Today I am wearing a soft sweater, light beige.

So far this morning at the office, I have spotted: two red sweaters, and another work pal in royal blue.

Seems I am not the only one who goes in for symbolism - whether they did this consciously or not.

Accessorized to the nines.

How do you observe election day (even if today is not one for you)? Some do it with a memento, I know. We often respond to participating in democracy with something less concrete - prayers, even tears.

Do you carry something with you? Do you find yourself wearing a color or a shirt that gives you confidence, makes you feel bold?

Do you vote?

I voted today. Whatever else comes, that is a magnificent privilege still to treasure. That is a blessing to be thankful for.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


The (Not) Just No Stories ... Casey Karp tells us about yet more ways for The Internet of Things not just to run, but to ruin, our lives. Not scary at all!

Art history, religious history - on the history of the fig leaf, all the way to Instagram. Spiff.

Reider reading! I am shamefully late to getting to it, so probably anyone here who frequents the comments at Janet Reid's blog has read this already, but Jen Donohue was published recently, and her short story is very good. Hop on over to Syntax and Salt, sink into it slowly, and enjoy.

Can we please dispense with the precious little phrase "open secret" now? In the past three weeks alone, we've encountered an open secret in Hollywood - oh, and in politics - now it's academia - and media-curated regions of the world or remoter reaches of the United States - and it's been discussed about Silicon Valley for many years, at this point. "Casting couch" is a phrase probably nearly as old as the phenomenon is, which may be about a century at this point (if you only count *film*). THIS IS OUR CULTURE. Not some isolated little "secret" - open or otherwise - affecting isolated little islands of people other than ourselves. This is the world. Women have never not-known this. So who thinks this is any sort of a secret? Oh yeah. All those men who're so surprised that rape and sexual extortion/blackmail/revenge is a thing. And it's not a secret, even from them. They've just enjoyed the privilege of obliviousness.

Happy Hallowe'en, Y'all!

Not too bad, for a six a.m. makeup job. Maybe could lose the glasses, but that was the pic I took.


"Do you like my face? I just put it on!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Take the Con 17

Two weeks ago, I was in Savannah for work. On Thursday, the 12th, I was home before midnight with nearly a thousand miles on my car ... and Saturday the 14th kicked off the annual James River Writers conference.

In the past, I've often done postmorten posts about how inspired I was and re-energized as a writer, after the conference. Well, or just gushed in real time about how amazing the events are. In the fifteen years of JRW's excellence, I've attended for fourteen of the annual conferences. (Thanks again, Mojourner!) I've watched friends chair the event itself, and met countless others. It's always inspiring.

But this year, I was so focused for so long on the meeting immediately preceding the Conference, I spared no time to get excited about it. (I was actually excited about the meeting - there was toy shopping.) For a while there, I also wasn't sure I'd be able to go to the Conference this year at all, and studiously tamped down any thinking about it.

Not only did I coordinate the meeting in Savannah, but I presented there. Speaking up in class, as it were, has never scared me - but speaking before the class was nerve-wracking. And once my nerves got bored, I finished off okay, and it was okay. I handed out little dart boards with my picture on them to people to whom it is generally my job to give bad news. I got to know a lot of people I work with constantly, but rarely or never have seen before. Feedback has been that the meeting was good. Travel was too (no flying!). I spent Friday in a dim drizzle with my mom, coming down off the big event, and NOT really thinking about or getting ready for the next one.

Coming into the Conference without expectations can be a good thing. I've long since put The Ax and the Vase to bed, and the WIP isn't even advanced enough to have announced to me what its TITLE is, so meeting with agents was off my list (and, in any case, I'm ever more persuaded by Janet Reid's objection to conference pitches - and, in any case, it's rarely the case participating agents even "do my genre" as it were).

The rub is, it's also been a long time since I spent time writing.

So I attended the "so you think you're an impostor - no you're not" session ... and, of course, came away feeling all validated but still knowing for sure I am an impostor.

And I spent $72 at the JRW Bookstore before 8:30 a.m. on day one.

And I talked to my new friend Sarah a lot, a writer who is eighteen years old and better organized (and more motivated) than I am, at damn near fifty.

And I spend time with my good writing friends, and Leila Gaskin said she would read some scenes for me and look to the knotty problem of whether I need all my characters ... and, if so (oh, I so need my characters!!!!), how to balance them ...

... and I finished the weekend more excited about the fact that the Festival of India had coincided with our event than about the Conference.

It was when I began drafting my email to Leila, and my very first writing partner, The Elfin One, and choosing scenes to share toward that question of characters and balance ...

... that it finally happened.

My ass was in the chair, and I sent off the scenes dutifully - and, writing to TEO in particular about writing ... I wrote.

"Also, I'm a Writer."


The ghouls, the freaks, the impersonators ... they are everywhere!

Image: pxhere.com free images

Every day, we're assaulted with clickbait, dressed up as headlines. For those of us grown wary, they words call attention to their true calling as propaganda ... but apparently enough people are still beguiled by them that the things still exist, and proliferate ...

So, far from being the monstrosities *I* see, the must be really great words. Right?

How about some scary Hallowe'en flash fiction?

Here are the prompt words (and do you think Janet would mind if I borrowed her rules?):

  • Insane
  • Chilling
  • Revealed
  • Creature
  • This one thing/this one trick

I'll post mine if you'll post yours!!

But YOU will win the wild acclaim of the masses. As for this prize, I recuse myself from eligibility. Not least out of the spine-tingling fear Colin Smith or John Davis Frain might post a story in the comments ... !!!


I am NOT afraid of spiders. Prettiest creature of the Hallowe'en season. Any season.

Pretty little liars.

They're just jealous. It’s the *witches’* holiday, and that’s me.

Remembering the seven-footer, an insanely huge web from the kitchen window to the stoop railing. Remember the filament I all but ate last night. The air was finally chilling, walking the dog, one tenacious string, stretched across the sidewalk. Never revealed, it just hit me in the lip.

I am not afraid of spiders. They’re afraid of me.

I do my own weaving. That filament was Arachne’s last insult.

This one trick …

Monday, October 23, 2017

Preying Animals


And again. And again. And again. And again.

The Weinstein (etc. etc. etc.) scandal in Hollywood might seem to beg comment from a blogger such as myself, but the simple fact is my main reaction to the whole thing was, for a good while, mere exhaustion. The fact that MEN are surprised and offended ... I don't know. Maybe it's nice. But there isn't a woman I know who's taken aback at the information unearthed so far. No, not even the scope.

Remember, kids: we just watched a proudly bragging sexual predator take the White House. Oh yeah, and the supposed fall of Bill Cosby, though that story seems to have been forgotten ("Thanks again, Trump's distracting Tweets!") You think we are shocked about a movie mogul?

Watching the astonishment of *men*, who rather loudly insist upon swearing they had NO IDEA about all this, might be almost be amusing for some, but - again - merely a bit tiring for me. Talk about bad acting: "gents", you are either criminally incompetentintellectually compromised, or lying your asses off. (Same goes for women.)

So, why am I bringing it up at all?

The drumbeat right now is all about men in power taking advantage of women who cannot reasonably consent, given that consent requires autonomy, and so few have it in the situations encountered.

That is an important dynamic to consider, it's important to fight.


For men power comes in other forms, and other magnitudes, than Trump or Weinstein or congressmen or kings.

Sexual harassment comes from the contractor at work, whose only power lies in the fact of his maleness and his speaking up after-hours in a deserted office. Sexual harassment comes from an awful lot of guys at work, in fact - just everyday guys in cube farms - the guy leaving anonymous notes which are TERRIFYING evidence of being covertly *watched* by unknown eyes, the guy cornering a woman in the break room. It comes on the street. It lives in every possible environment.

It could by ANY guy. That's what's got me mad: that in sanctioning this "Hollywood is the dangerous place" "Powerful men are the ones to watch out for" groundswell, we are safely defining boundaries around predators, pointing to the most unusual varieties as if they encompassed all the perniciousness women face every day. And thereby nullifying the fact that indeed it IS every day. Everywhere. Not just these rich monsters. NOT just desperate actresses.

It's every woman. And it is, potentially, every man we meet.

It is pissing me off that the sudden vogue for pearl-clutching focuses so narrowly, so significantly, on plutocrats alone.

Not all power comes in the form of famous men using women who think they need these men in order to advance in an industry - or politics. These situations are not limited to the casting couch, or to some town or business the majority of people aren't in.

And not all blame belongs to these wealthy ... "exceptional" ... men.

#NotAllMen? Sure. Certainly not anyone I'd even call a "man".

But more than just a few, kids. And not just the one percent. Not by a long damned shot.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Collection of GOULS

Tis the season, after all ... let's have some gruesome collections for October!

You can't buy a doll in rigor mortis.

Starting off, we have Frances Glessner Lee, a nice little old lady who created meticulous, scientific dioramic recreations of murder scenes - still used today by police departments, and now in conservation and on display for their many interests even beyond those of justice.

Hallowe'en vacation trip ideas? We got 'em - how does the Cornell library sound? Well, honestly, pretty good to me any time of year - libraries are churches, for readers and writers. But right now, they are putting on The World Bewitch'd, a display of witch trial writings, spooky drawings and manuscripts - interestingly, exploring the gendered portrayal of witches in (European/American, I suspect) history. Didn't we just do this? Yes. Yes, we did. And I, for one, don't mind one bit doing it again: “It’s a time of year when people are thinking about the subject …"


Oh, the library isn't scary enough for you? How about a trip to Tokyo, where the headlining photo alone might make you yelp? Or, if you're feeling oldschool: Transylvania? The catacombs of Paris are a classic ghastly destination. London offers an ever-so-British tea celebration, featuring Night of the Living Tarts. (Which describes all to many American prefab costumes aimed mostly at women.) Keep scrolling for some surprisingly disturbing smiling bananas, or start your planning for a trip to Croatia ...

Okay, and the next story I am not going to link, because it has stuck with me, and its presence in my thoughts is the point of interest. I'd be curious what others think. The Anne Frank (or "refugee girl") costumes that came out this year, and were rapidly yanked. Objections point to the extreme insensitivity of co-opting the identity of a tragic victim of war for trick-or-treats, and I cannot say this is not a terribly ill-considered product ...

... but, the fact is, I keep coming back to "because little girls have to be princesses and witches." And I don't like the implications there. As poor a route as it may appear, at least the idea of an Anne Frank costume brings with it the possibility of discussing who she was and what she went through with a child - and what the elements of the costume MEAN. So many costumes *are* appropriations - and exoticizations/sexualizations of cultures to which a given child doesn't belong ... and the inevitability of that sexualization part - well, see my "joke" above regarding Night of the Living Tart, and don't kid yourself it waits for legal age.

A part of me is not sure I want to simply mute the subject of Anne Frank, because ... a part of me actually thinks this COULD be done without the heartless indifference shown by this offering. Minus mass-production. Definitely minus the cutesy-attitude pose of the poor child who modeled this monstrosity.

Is it trivialization to make of Anne a mass-produced costume? Yes. But was it trivilization when my brother went as Nathan Hale, and isn't the entire holiday predicated in many aspects on the trivialization of death - a defiant raspberry in the face of mortality? The core of Hallowe'en in its original costumes was to elude the specter of Death by aping someone already dead. Of course, that has "evolved" (eroded, changed, become subject to market concerns), but at the end of the day it's all about remembering those who *have* passed, and the line is sometimes difficult for some people to see or frankly even to think about. It's a gross-out holiday, it's a time for scares and ENJOYING morbidity, it's a festival.

It hasn't been so long since I found the idea of friends dressing up as dead-John Jr. and dead-Bissette-Kennedy pretty funny, even though they decided against it because it was "too soon." Nor since I dressed up as Sarah Palin and found out *I* was the one scared and grossed out all night, thanks to the utterly disgusting reactions of men who apparently felt there was no human in the suit, and it was okay to explain every last thing they'd like to do to the costume. Aieee.

We know (I hope) that I am not a costume. We may know it's "too soon" for, ahem, the Dead Kennedys, or 9/11 "joke" costumes, or disgusting would-be-but-not-actually commentaries on the volatile political climate of the day (are you bracing yourself for all the khakis, white shirts, and torches this year? or people dressed as toppled Confederate statues? because you need to). But we don't flinch at a ghost soldier from some bygone war, or the purely grotesque. Poe is literature, not cruelty ... and yet, the imagery in his stories is genuinely harrowing.

Oh my. That got long. And in a collection post, no less - one I started in hopes of lighthearted Hallowe'en fare. Oh, dear.

Hey, who still uses the apostrophe in Hallowe'en?

Ahem. And on we move ...

Maybe you need something to read. John Davis Frain always has splendid flash fiction on tap, and this Hallowe'en season is no exception. This is a guy well schooled in ways to die!

My online writing pal Colin Smith was recently published, and I failed to observe the occasion in a timely way, but I am so rarely timely it is to be hoped he'll consider "belated" (as we do in my family) only prologation of the celebration. It's a GREAT, creeping-atmospheric tale - not specific to Hallowe'en, but appropriate to it nonetheless.

Say the travel ideas I threw out above aren't on your menu - staying close to home this year? Well, then, how will you decorate? An AT-AT of your own (the caption on the headline photo here is worth the click all by itself)?

Or you could just find something that might be interesting and paint it black. Here is a little history of the color for inspiration. The click beyond this time? In fact is the article where I found this link - and well worth a look, for the history of the Little Black Dress. Above average research and depth for a fashion article.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Ooh - has *anyone* here been reading my blather long enough to remember mere exposure? Well, fair enough, to be honest, I'd forgotten the phrase myself, or at least failed to use it in a long time. Still, seeing it again in this look at remote work dynamics at The Atlantic brings to mind other ways mere exposure affects us. So often, "normalization" was a phrase we heard during the campaign (and since). What "normalization" is is mere exposure.

Also, what "fake news" is is propaganda. I'm all for allowing the evolution of language, but this is not evolution, it is distortion and misdirection. As well as stupid. It is one glossing-over too far, at a time when misdirection is literally dangerous, and terrifyingly successful.

Anyway, I know someone who's heavy into the Agile model (mmmm - scrummy!), so - neato. Now go make with the clicky above.

Awrighty then, in other news (or not) ...

In my entire life, I have never been excited about the choice of a presidential portraitist, but the upcoming work from Kehinde Wiley has me all but squeeing. The first time I ever heard of Mr. Wiley was on a museum legend at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, next to one of his portraits. I was GOBSMACKED, and fell in love with everything about the painting, not least simply its appearance. It is glorious, and beautiful, and what it has to say is poetry and joy. Cannot. Wait. to see this new work.

Interestingly, there was a "declined to comment" in regard to whether the woman artist painting Mrs. Obama will be paid equally to Mr. Wiley, to which I say "sigh" - but it is so predictable that there would be inequity that the unspoken answer is exactly no surprise. Double consciousness.

The Washington Post has one of the most uplifting things I have read in a long time. It's not a new article, in fact it dates back just a hair more than one year. But it's in-depth reporting on a redemptive tale that is splendidly worth reading. On the heir of Stormfront .. and how he renounced "white nationalism" - not just as an ism, but even as a phrase. Perhaps even better than that simple headline: the way this came about is wonderful to read.

Viking-Arabic textile design? I'm skeptical. But The Atlantic raises enters the dialogue of medievalism, racism, and today's socio-political climate - I am thinking of you, Jeff Sypeck!

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Marine biology geekness: Oct Tale of Two Cities ... Octlantis and Octopolis. I am not making this up. Even Sponge Bob isn't making everything up. Huh! (Plural-wise, though, they missed opportunities to use the super-fun word, "octopodes" ... oh well.) The click beyond - biomimetic architecture. SO COOL, and finally that word escapes Star Trek babble. Yay!

You can get the dirt off Donnie, but you can't get Donnie off the Dirt.
--RIP, Dirt Woman

And next, a tale of two dirties. It was a big deal around here - front page news - when Dirt Woman died. And there was a sort of bookend appropriateness to Hef, that dirty old man, dying right after. I won't link HH's obits; if you cared, you've read them - and I, frankly, do not. But Donnie? Yeah. RIP, with Dave Brockie, Donnie.

The Americans of, say, 1970 genuinely had more in common with each other than will the Americans of 2020. Their incomes banded more closely together, and so did their health outcomes. Almost all adults lived in married households; almost everyone watched one of three television evening news programs. These commonalities can be overstated, but they can also be overlooked. ... One more thing they had in common: a conviction that the future would be better than the past.

Sentence #2 above ... nobody has lost sight of the ravaging effects of wealth disparity, not only in the United States, but worldwide. As our lifestyles have diverged, the working class and poor have been left so far behind the famed one-percent, and the effect has been devastating. A worthwhile read (and possible TBR pile toppler) from The Atlantic - Politics must be affirmative. Opposition is a mood, not a program. (Personally, I'd put "obstructionism" in where opposition stands, but the point is well taken.) Two clicks beyond, for those really interested in layered views.

Pointing to the economic costs of bullying—in tandem with highlighting the psychological, physiological and academic ramifications—can be an effective way to garner high-level attention and spur positive change.

So what *does* bullying cost? Well, $276M in one single state alone - and that's just the K-12 educational budget. Add bullying in the work place, and the price of bullying becomes, at least for my wee and paltry brain, inconceivable. The cost in lives, of the contributions of those who are silenced, to the wellbeing of our community and culture ...

Monday, September 18, 2017


Great Zot in drag Heaven. Katya is Annie Lennox.

(Go to 1:00 below for the Lady Herself)

And now, if you'll excuse me, I really, REALLY need some purple eyeshadow and matching lipstick.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

More Space Nerding

Played this for my mom yesterday, we had a little fun. I am grateful, fortunate, and so glad my parents raised me with constant interest in nature and science, as well as art and people.

And here we have almost all of that, wrapped up in one clip.

Also: any questions why I love Star Trek?

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Look. I don't do the online crush thing, I really don't. But scrap the romance attached to "crush" and give me some leeway to crush away, because John Davis Frain just came up with the BEST TITLE EVER for a flash fiction piece, AND it all hinges on an Oxford comma. Glorious - go and enjoy this spiffy, quick read. And the click beyond? Special bonds with Mr. Schroedinger. Dead or alive. So. Many. Science jokes. Loving it!

(And, John? I swear I started this Collection post days before you stopped by and commented!)

We do not want to make public health recommendations based on five sponges from Germany

Who else loves to read the latest science or health/medicine headlines while indulging in many grains of salt? Have you ever joked about how eggs are healthy now, but used to be vicious little cholesterol time bombs? Or fat is good, but bad, but what'll it be next week? Welp, here's the latest - on "regularly cleaning" your kitchen sponge ... or not. Thanks go to NPR for actually looking at the science without taking too long a trip into the deep weeds.

Prayer where the gods moved the Earth. In another blow to the myth of The Dirty, Stupid Past, we find that ancient Greeks not only could identify tectonic zones, but may actually have sought this real estate as a sort of direct conduit to the worship. To caveat the point: this is another one of those may have done theories. I encourage anyone reading the link to do so critically (and not just because it's Newsweek), because correlation is not causality.

... and just a little more of the not-so-dirty, not-so-stupid past - a map drawn in the 1500s, which turns out to be accurate to modern satellite mapping. So, nearly half a millennium ago, we were not utter morons. Only our tools have changed. GO SCIENCE!

Still. It's an intriguing theory, and I am sometimes more interested in intriguing ideas than empirical proof, when it comes to history. Even those ideas I tend to dismiss, I can still enjoy thinking about. Even writing about. I mean: how irresistible, for a writer? To contemplate the characters, the place, the time - where earthquakes and the fear they engendered were manifestations of the divine? And this, fella babies, is why I say I am not an historian. It gives me the out to indulge creativity ...

Friday, September 8, 2017


(W)ealthy people manage their discomfort with inequality, which in turn makes that inequality impossible to talk honestly about — or to change.

Ooohh, this is interesting. When wealth is treated like dirty laundry - the elite distancing themselves from being elite. I am reminded of the little old lady guest star on Taxi, who expressed that she was "filthy comfortable." A well-written and considered piece on making class divides invisible. (Interesting too is the point that the women interviewed for this piece appear almost afraid of husbands finding out what they disclosed, even anonymously. "He would kill me.")

(T)he wholesale adoption of garbage disposers in all five boroughs could, in theory, significantly reduce waste, cut costs, and offer the city a highly efficient, alternative renewable energy source.
... and they weren't even LEGAL there until the nineties!

Am I the only dork who finds the environmental science of garbage disposals genuinely interesting? Probably not, as this is an article about it. The sheer volume of waste we produce - NYC's stats are startling indeed, not least in the financials - is stunning, and yet we really do not think about it much. Even as a single-person household, I feel like my volume of refuse is small, even in the recycling bin - but the proportion of it that is food IS terribly high. This owes to the fact that when I need to stop eating something, I do better to dispose of it than to save it for later, because later is all too often sooner than it should be. Oh the twisted psychology of American weight and trash ...

Speaking of weight, how about this piece of science? "A gallon of water weighs about 8.34 pounds. And by one estimate, Harvey dropped 33 trillion gallons of water--" ... and it turns out that upwards of three hundred trillion pounds of sudden weight gain can deform the crust of the Earth itself.

Let's not even ask where the bubble in the wallpaper might be. (Not in China, though the water-weight research there might be instructive for us, even though the context was the filling of a dam and not a massive storm.)

What can we learn from a refrigerator light bulb thirteen billion miles from Earth? Find out now, Voyager.

Women clad mostly in soft towels, softly filtered. Women smiling at salads. Stock photography: you've come a long way, baby. NYT has an interesting, inspiringly hopeful, look at this year's trend. The bits about babies and how images are used/by whom are not exactly progressive, but at least it's not all pearly-lighted, calm, blank naked shots anymore.


It's dangerous ground.

Writers sometimes find ourselves in territory that is upsetting, criminal, perverse, perilous. We address not merely human behavior, but the least-traveled corners of our minds, many of them deep in shadow. Sometimes, the shadow is time itself: an historical author, writing about a period with scant or no primary resources to research. Sometimes, the shadow is more elusive, and all the darker: those places we don't want to look.

Sometimes, the shadows are simply what we cannot bring ourselves to understand, because what lies outside the light we have is too disturbing.

You can't get to civilization except through human sacrifice.

I come from a family of teachers - scientists and historians, both vocational and avocational. My brother is an anthropologist and archaeologist. I obviously have a strong affinity for the study of history, even as I avow strenuously that this makes me no expert. With me, it's the difference between learning and interpreting.

With me, it's the realm of feeling.

Writing is a striving to understand.

And so (and yes, being dried up and childless undoubtedly affects this), having recently had a conversation in which the quote above played a thematic part, I have of late been trying to understand human sacrifice. Child sacrifice.

That I have a character from (post-sacrificial era) Carthage plays in, but the more immediate dynamics of her life are unrelated to this practice.

That no reading on the subject you can find with casual ease seems able to address it without the use of the word "bloodthirsty" - and why that frustrates me - is much more the crux.

We've lost much of the concept of "SACRIFICE", in modern America. The word is bandied about, and people even give of themselves; I don't mean to say the practice, the impulse, is dead.

But the sacred tenet of SACRIFICE - the actual blood, and giving-up and giving-over - this is something we all but revile.

Americans today, meat-eating or not, consider the idea of killing an animal and offering it to G-d antiquated beyond all propriety. It is offensive to such a degree we unthinkingly find it actually immoral - pagan - barbaric - every word of which I choose carefully, and y'all can see with an easy click what I think of "barbaric" in particular, and any cursory reader must be able to guess what I think of "pagan". The judgment is so deep even the words we've loaded up with pejorative meaning are only tools to load the concepts we apply them to.

It's all denial. The need to distance and to Other a thing, so that we may prove our credentials in fitting the current definition of morality, or rectitude, or just fitting in.

The very idea of understanding taboos has become outre' - to understand barbarity is to know it, and to know it is to be guilty of it. And we don't like to claim, to admit, culpability.

There's a screed in there on contemporary politics, but that is not today's text.

And so, we have avidly removed ourselves from the deeply human impulse to (blood) sacrifice.

It's cruel.

It's ignorant.

It's extraneous (and not merely in secularists' minds).


But the lightest gloss of real study of human sacrifice - of child sacrifice - is not one of BLOODTHIRST: it is the revelation of what a society, what an individual, values most highly.

One of my recent readings of Carthaginian child sacrifice stated that parents gave up their children as lightly as if it were nothing. Even provided the queasy observation that child sacrifice worked for the city as population control, and actually conferred benefits on the society there over time.

The fact is, population control may have been some sort of benefit of child sacrifice.

But no society kills off its young without any greater justification than that ... even if it does factor into wider dynamics, to kill our fellow citizens, to kill our offspring is no light matter - no matter of logistics, especially in a city known for centuries for its wealth and culture. A parent might expose a child for many reasons, or sell into bondage, or abort, or kill with their own hands, in desperation and penury. But the development of ritual and sacrifice are not matters of immediate need, and centuries of religious practice are not explained by civic planning, by mere bloodthirst.

Religion is developed in OFFERING, not murder. Sacrifice is transactional, but with the Divine, not with mankind, not with our neighbors. We develop faith and religion with our neighbors, but its practice is pointed elsewhere.

The simple idea of giving up what means the most to us is washed out at the time we live in now. And not the objects we think we love, and imbue with emotion, but things more ineffable, more genuinely powerful.

Things with life. Things with souls.

Sacrifice is the commitment to our god(s) to give up a part of our hearts, perhaps something that grew from the deepest loves we have known. In the case of a child, the very living fruit of consummation, which itself means so much to us, in all its good and ill and hardship.

The sacrifice is TREASURE.

The seed germinating in a shadow, in this writer, in the dark loam of my mind and my own heart - is a story of sacrifice.

Of what it means to consign love itself, and life itself, in worship.

Of - not the thirst for, but the *price*, the bone-deep value, the cost we set on giving to that we adore. Of the dust on the fingers, the stones on the ground, the orange, windy sky, and the young eyes ... of giving.

And how that is forgotten. And those fingers will be remembered only for barbarity. Bloodthirst.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Well, crap on a damn cracker, it's 1982 all over again. Ya know, even I thought this was a bit old fashioned. Shame to be wrong. But apparently, women still have to invent men to stand behind while they actually get things done.

I seriously CAN NOT.

Oh, but wait, there's more.

The majority of women came from outside the area, probably from Bohemia or Central Germany, while men usually remained in the region of their birth. This so-called patrilocal pattern combined with individual female mobility was not a temporary phenomenon, but persisted over a period of 800 years during the transition from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age.

So, women on the move formed a major part of the fundamentals of European culture and history. Literally "go" women!

... and more ...

GEE. I wonder why sexual harassment is so common in SFF events. Any questions about it?

Okay. How about another look at gender stuff, but a much more interesting, curious, and historical one? On the gender crime of witchcraft - a good, not-too-long, and wittily written piece about the evolution of its association with women.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Voyager's Golden Record

Have you ever heard it?

Because talk about a click beyond. Please take this trip.

It is record of the gloriousness of our very planet, and the finest accomplishment of which humanity is capable. Not merely the sounds - all of which share some piece of Earth's magnificence - but the Voyagers, the record, the images. Sharing life.

Here, the official tracks, courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory archive (not created by JPL).

Also, we need to make t-shirts that say, "Out there, our concepts of velocity become provincial." (Meanwhile, every sound on the record is provincial! Though some might disagree about The Laughing Man.)

Here is MIT's unofficial copy; for those of you who know what HiFi means, it brings with it the enjoyable pops and cracks of the albums we played on those. Which has an Earthling charm of its own.

PBS's as-usual wonderful special on the 40-year-old Voyager twins.

Collection - the Deconstructed Edition

The Atlantic has a splendid essay on being a fashion historian and costume curator. "There’s something transgressive about touching other people’s clothes—especially dead people’s clothes." An arresting conclusion: "dress codes and sumptuary laws are free-speech issues" ... This is a wonderful read sociologically, historically, personally, or just as an exercise in curiosity about the how-it's-done of historical curation and study. (The click beyond - Balenciaga - a designer I find fascinating, deconstructed, without breaking a single stitch.)

The first draft is for the writer. The second draft is for the editor. The last draft is for the reader.

Another Atlantic essay, this time from Tom E. Ricks, deconstructs (most literally/literarily) the process of an author fundamentally revising a book. On getting out of the way of the story; you can almost hear how much better the revision is than the original, in the way he talks about the process. Bonus - all the surprises, after the first one, are good ones.

Respect and responsibility are the two most important words in this article about the limitless ways people destroy artifacts in their bids to make every moment about themselves. Here is the question I have yet to see answered in any of the articles about this heedless piece of dolt-ery: have they contacted the family who orchestrated this defacement, and will there be any financial responsibility for them? If I walk in a store, "if I break it, I bought it." What is the responsibility when we break our own cultural history? The crossword-puzzle example after the headline lack-of-details makes me especially cross. (Personal bonus: I accidentally typed mement within the link above. Might be the the right word, in the end.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

This is what I have

Right now, I am sitting on my little loveseat with Gossamer, as he sleeps. He's doing that cat thing, where he's got one paw up against my leg. Just touching me. I reach down and take one of his little back feet in my hand, and his body is utterly relaxed. There is trust with him so complete that having his foot grasped in his sleep doesn't even faze him.

Most people know, it's no small thing to get this level of trust with a puddy. And it's not just me that he trusts; this isn't just a bond between two creatures. This is a boy so secure in his safety in his world that he just doesn't worry about little things like a random touch when he is *asleep*. The most vulnerable possible moment. And his relaxation is that complete.

Penelope used to be the sort of pup who would wig out and bark if there was an unfamiliar car parked in the neighborhood when we took our walks. I mean, her back would go up, she was afraid of everything. And a bit of a protector, even then.

She is still wary of the unfamiliar, and will always be exciteable with new people. She is a dog. But the animal she is now, compared to the little baby bag of wiggles I adopted? She is magnificent, and I love her more all the time.

The things I am proud of in this life have always related to the people I love, and who are generous to love - and even respect - me in kind. It means the world to me that any animal I was ever blessed to live with felt safe like this. When Sweet Siddy La used to try to live in my armpit because she was afraid of storms ... this big, strong, brave girl - was turning to ME when she felt fear? I was the thing she trusted to keep her safe?

Holding a limp, warm cat's paw in your hand is so much more than a little gesture of affection on a Saturday afternoon.

Loving my pets. It's not just an "aww they're so cute" thing in my life. It is an honor. It is the deepest kind of pleasure.

It's also fun, pretty much every day of our lives. Little Poobahs.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


The surprisingly interesting history of the Slinky. Enslinkyment for all!

It is a curious truth that, when I hear the words "General Lee", they are words to me, more than a name - well, or they are the name of a car. Not of the man himself. (Take a look at the proportions, here, of car versus portrait for an understanding.) History distorts in this way all the time, perhaps most often at the hands of those with the intention to distort it. Still. Critical thinking is still possible - even if unpopular. Indeed, it may be our redemption.

The Atlantic has a canny and very wide-ranging/in-depth look at the deterioration of rationalism. Being American now means we can believe anything we want. In the opening paragraphs, there is an unfortunate tendency to sneer upon religion, but if you stick with the read, the historical points here are intriguing beyond ... well, belief. Caveat: there are some problems here. The religious flogging, of course. The statement (by a white male Boomer) that "by the 80s, Civil Rights seemed like a done deal." (That whole paragraph had me cackling/dismayed, and he restates the supposed reality of racial and gender equality in his conclusions.) Some of his statistics seem unsupportable by their mere lack of measurability ("Fewer than half of all Americans inhabit fact-based reality"). He makes more than one beautifully irrational statement in defending rationality, is what I am saying. Still, the background and organization and arguments overall touch on a LOT of things I have thought of saying myself, and never put forth this way.

"A profound interruption of the world as we know it" ... and I, for one, can't wait to see it! Who else is an eclipse nerd? Make with the clicky for some very beautiful artwork, and neato solar eclipse facts, especially about the animal world.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

the thing he loves

May I say ... something?

Oh it did annoy me when they called me Little Nell.

But when I told Chuckie he mustn’t—when he stopped, I found I missed it. Gruff old Chuck. And only I got to call him Chuckie. My duckie, my fellow. And just after I turnt twenty-one, he called me Missus, and I confided to him the secret, I had liked to be *his* Little Nell. He allowed then he would be my Chuckie.

Chuck had all the flattering words for me until we married, but the garrison must be obeyed, and once he'd dipped me and done me, he was off ... and I sighed relief.

My pain I could not feel.

I never let it be heard. But Charles. He frightened me. No idea the tiger I had gripped by its tail. And when his tail was limp, it was his fists grew hard. When he found he could not be hot, then he grew cold, and Regent's Park—a place *I* never saw—made itself my refuge.

He loved me little, but long enough to make me his claim to shame.

It was a lucky thing; perhaps still thinking me their Little one, mum and da opened up and let me come home. We called me Glendell.

But the claim. Twas a noose on me.

Would I have worn it without a sigh? Had I known?

Did we play only the roles playwritten for us, or was my life—was Chuckie's—such a dark disgrace? Perchance he found the honor in it, and maybe just as well. The Wilde might have meant that was redemption.

Where lies the collateral? To Chuckie's—to Charles'—propitiation?

What is the measure of his death to mine?

A ballad. And eleven inches. More than the tiger's tail.


He must have thought I might actually come. Summoned to Regent's Park, where I had not been permitted to darken the doorways an they called me Mrs. Woolridge, I sent instead the letter asking him to 

Beat my face and snap your fingers, thinking I will come for more? Not so long as there is a bolt-hole, and I will bolt under a labor of moles, if it is safe from your visitation.

Those men. They did not wish him married in the first place, and they encouraged his dissent against me in the second—she has been untrue, she is posting more than the mail, old boy—and in the third, my neck and a razor.

Monday, August 14, 2017


It is depressing how adamantly attached a certain type of person is to the idea that people of color never existed before the 1960s, except as slaves in America. Even Egypt is subject to the most bewildering whitewashing. And yet, here we are - arguing about a black person in a children's cartoon set in ancient Rome. Good Lord.

This post was begun before Saturday. I've taken out of it a more lighthearted link. These two will stand alone.

If we refuse to engage in the patient and difficult work of reconciliation ... If we sell away those with whom we disagree, what do we lose?

I love you, Mary. Thank you.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


Mmmmmmmm! Palimpsest joy. Taking us back to the sixth century, no less. Speaking as an historical novelist writing in that period (indeed, the place and the people involved in Justinian's law itself), and having struggled with the dearth of contemporary primary resources: YAY!

Also, Palimpsest Joy would make a great name either for a band ... or maybe a porn star.

Oh, hey - speaking of pornography. I was having a "hmm" about how to frame this next link, but that may do nicely ... The Caustic Cover Critic has a good laugh for anyone who wants to see book covers NOT featuring that magical body part that might make Palimpsest Joy such a big star. It's technically SFW, but click at your discretion. But do click. The CCC is always worth it!

Another BOO from the cultural zeitgeist: hey, it's perfectly okay to ask female politicians discriminatory questions which are literally illegal in, say, the context of a job interview. (Prepare for the phrase "deliberately barren" to exist well past the 19th century, because it does.) Sigh.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Surface tension linguistics - how cities and bubbles build dialects. This is an article about population centers and the creation of dialects; fascinating research for *most* writers, I might say.

A very cool look at developmental spelling science, because there is NO SUCH THING as too many linguistics links, and kids' brains are neato.

Can you imagine a policy that prohibits white girls, many of whom are born with straight hair, from wearing their hair straight? Absolutely not!

White readers: imagine having your hair policed. It's all but inconceivable to you, right? The politics - and systemically discriminatory policieis - of hair. For anyone who finds themselves distracted by braids - the problem is not the hair: it is your perception of the person whose hair it is. It is you.

Okay, a lighter note. Now imagine a world without windshield wipers! Well, that's messy. Score one for the woman who invented them - thank you, Mary Anderson! "She didn't have a father; she didn't have a husband and she didn't have a son. And the world was kind of run by men back then."

Kind of.

History! Now that we've had time to cool off about the U.S. election (or not), how about a look at another electoral upset that was so profound it ended an entire type of democratic process? The fact that ostracism is still practiced - just not with pottery - doesn't lessen the interest of this story! Courtesy of Gary Corby.

And a click beyond worth a little blurb all its own here in Collection-post town, a little further reading in Gary Corby's blog took me to the Met's FREE ONLINE DIGITAL BOOK COLLECTION. Holy drooling reading/history/art nerd Heaven! FREE BOOKS, y'all! Available to read online (Google Books), for download to PDF, or print-on-demand. A look at the very first title displays a good, clear digital copy, too. So: free and clear. Literally. (So many puns...)

Friday, July 21, 2017


Kenneth Jay Lane was a jewelry designer. I can't say I love his work across the board - I can't say I seek his pieces when I am browsing jewelry on eBay (which I do a LOT, just for fun). But his line in the article here struck me: "Our jewelry is designed for people who want to be noticed."

On my first day at my previous job, I wore a necklace my mom had given me at some point. I didn't know who'd made it, and never wore it often (I still don't; it's a heavy piece), but I always thought it was special. I wear it when I want something even a little more profound than a Pop of Color.

My friend Cute Shoes took a look at the new admin, and the way I was dressed (simple navy dress, big bold necklace) and decided there might be something to this chick.

Never trivialize fashion, clothes, style. And never forget that you are always visible - but you can punch up your visibility, without a doubt.

She told me about that first impression early in our friendship, and a few years later she even found the necklace herself, trolling eBay in the same way I do. Hers even had the original box, and earrings! I think that was when I even learned who designed the piece at all.

The other association I have with KJL is one of those elusive things I saw once, looking at a particularly large search result on eBay - a big, chunky necklace which wasn't even really my style ... but which had the single best copy of one of Childeric's Bees that I have ever seen. I recall being tempted to buy it, and kicking myself when I didn't. So, ever since, whenever I'm bored and happen to do a KJL search, that is what I am looking for. The bee that got away.

There is plenty of bee jewelry to be had on the 'Bay. Joan Rivers had a big line in bees, and I own at least one - a gift from Cute Shoes, one I just love. But KJL's bee was more like the stylized, possibly fleur-de-lys-prototype bee so famously excavated in 1653. And he has done s-necklaces that recall royal collars of office, and clearly he enjoyed playing with history in his designs, not merely shape - but story. And that is what attracts me in true couture fashion - the way it harks, intentionally, to history. Fashion and design are at their pinnacle when they are SMART - not just "smart".

And I could care less that Jackie O wore his work.

I care that Cute Shoes noticed when I did.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


A drag queen('s) ... identity is created, but no more so than the identity that each and every one of us have created for ourselves.

Nietzschean realness, y'all.


I have a question. Do I TELL my mom, who still clings to the last very few pills she has of Darvoset N (not available on the American market - or, possibly, anywhere at all - for decades now), that she was right all along? I made her throw out my 1986 Rx for Percodan at least a dozen years ago, when she was getting rid of things before marrying my stepfather and moving to his home. Did we destroy precious relics?

I think maybe no. I won't tell her. But still, pretty interesting science (and worth the clicks beyond for a wider view of the expense of medical waste). Maybe mom and I should have invited some researchers over when we threw out those painkillers. TEO's father, a pharmacist, may be spinning in his grave ...


Something of a different kind of archaeology here:

The Museum of Modern Art on somewhat less-modern art installations. Oh my gosh, this is such a cool confluence of several of my pet obsessions. Art, conservation/preservation, technology, the questions of relevance and impermanence, and - for me perhaps the most absorbing part - a detailed look at the process of resurrecting art by way of old tech. One of the most interesting aspects of this is that the installation in question isn't completely being brought out of its old medium by reproducing it digitally, and the driving force in reinvigorating the pieces is reversibility. The guts of the original computer code take us into a rather wonderful and tense procedural - "the elegant motions of the robotics". A lesson in writing - how to build tension! Stay tuned for the payoff.

(There is a small amount of male nudity at the link, in case that is an issue.)


Ever since Blogger inexplicably chose to redesign the dashboard so as to hide the Reading List of blogs I follow and reduce the view of information that used to be easily available, I've been poor about, you know, FOLLOWING the blogs I follow. One of the least-posted ones is also a very good one, Madame Isis' Toilette, which posts detailed beauty tricks and recipes, as well as sewing, mostly for the 18th century. Recently, several of Madame's 2013 posts have popped up on my Reading List ... here is a SPLENDID one:

The recipe for Queen's Royal - and, far more interestingly, a varied consideration of what the stuff was for! Her first positing post on the matter is here. One point worth noting in the first link I point to (her second post) is that she questions a clove-and-cinnamon heavy recipe's use as a lice repellant. But y'all regular readers here know - American Duchess has actually noted the specific use of clove for this very purpose, and even today, it is suggested as a natural mosquito repellant (please note: research is inconclusive on any uses noted at this last link; I include it as a demonstration of known USAGE, not as any kind of recommendation).

Critical reading, folks. It's a good idea, and I'm not excepting this blog from that standard.


And here is some critical Googling. I did an image search on Kamala Harris, because though I've heard her testimony of late, and know WHO she is, I wasn't sure I had a face to put to her name, and ... this is what I found:

Image: Google screen-grab
PLEASE embiggen this.

Yes, folks, the most important aspect of an image of a United States Senator is: her body. After that, because she is after all a woman, it's mostly family relationships. "Senator" is not among the categories Google has seen fit to choose for her. Not even "Politics" or her home state, constituency. Nothing but traditional feminine roles.

First and foremost comes her body. (And let us not even get started on the latest news in assessing women's bodies. Again.)

For comparison, a Google image search for John McCain falls thusly: Family, POW, Arms, Wife, ISIS. His body and his family do come into play, but then John McCain's body is very much in the news this morning, and the attention to it is largely born of his status as a former POW - not his sexual charms as a man. Possibly his cancer will change the labels above. And that is not ALL there is to see about him. On the other side of the aisle, Bernie Sanders yields: Quotes, Family, 2016, Socialist, and Bird. His body is clearly a source of amusement, but it comes in last, and again nobody's concerned with his physical appeal.

I would say this qualifies as Nietzschean UNrealness.


The final point made, I should also add that in fact my prayers are with Sen. McCain and his friends and family.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Voice Crush

A man's voice has always been one of those things I find deeply attractive. Many people these days go for Benedict Cumberbatch, and I will say, I understand how he's become the thinking person's crumpet. But when he speaks, frankly, I just hear a smoker's voice. It's got more fry than a man his age perhaps ought to have, and is so dry there are times I wonder about the quality of his breath.

For my idea of a classic Englishman's voice: Tim Curry. Much more velvet there. And who ever had a finer sneer? American? Frank Langella, of course. He doesn't even bother sneering.

But the voice I love most is Peter Egan. Perhaps not so well known by many Americans, I first "met" this actor in the BBC historicals I grew up with (introduced by Alistair Cooke). The first one was "Lillie" - and his performance here still all but makes me cry (minute 41). Yes, it's a claustrophobic costume showcase, yes it's basically only the story of a popular girl getting by on her looks. (Francesca Annis, though, is splendid in it.) But Egan's turn as Oscar Wilde is THE best Wilde I have ever seen - and, indeed, I do include Stephen Fry's go at the role.

There is something about Peter Egan's use of his breath that creates some sort of sympathetic response, and I find myself squeezing at oxygen when he plays intense emotion, precisely because he does it so quietly ... but his breath is attenuated and silent and desperate, and it brings me to the place he is portraying. No bombast, no effort. He just has that Thing.

And that Thing, he emanates in his breath. His voice.

Watching him read aloud, I suddenly recognize something else - something itself pretty resonant with me.

Without resembling him, without sounding like him really at all - Peter Egan's cadence, even the way he moves, looking at the book and looking up, making some small gesture - reminds me powerfully of my dad.

Dad was a teacher. As much as any actor in the world, the great job of a teacher is to communicate. To build the sympathy of *understanding*.

Without, perhaps, admitting I have for decades been a bit in love with Peter Egan: I would say, at least, that he is a consummate builder of sympathy.

And seriously: that voice. You could NUZZLE with that voice.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Not too long ago, I said I was going to do a post about the twentieth century transformation of evening and formal textiles/jewels into day wear. The idea is one I've cogitated on for many years, not as a blog post, but in a more philosophical sense. I was reading one of Ann Rice's Lestat novels, probably Queen of the Damned, in which he had awoken to the modern world and observed how everyone now had access to glimmering clothes and finery. Written in the 80s, and read by me in the 90s, the idea did stick with me - that we had an abundance of riches, in the modern world, which were unreachable in centuries past.

A little age, education, and experience puts a great deal of perspective on the equation of flimsy acetate with cloth-of-gold. But the point of abundance is not quite negated, and the point that we're a flashier lot these days holds pretty firm.

As much as I rail against the idea that humanity has "evolved" (oh, and the semantics baggage in that word) from stupidity and filth into any new-and-improved form, it doesn't do to deny we've invented a whole lot of stuff. Good and bad. But production is a different question than quality - see also, the difference between centuries-old handmade cloth of gold and mass manufactured lame or acetate of any variety of shiny-ness, boldness, etc.

And so we turn to quality, and the evolution of its usage.

As a younger lady, I was addicted to Miss Manners. Sure, what she actually had to say was always splendid, but the real draw was her writing. Like Roger Ebert (with whose movie reviews I almost *never* agreed), I read her columns faithfully, because she could express ideas with eloquent insight. AND so often the ideas were something much more than answers to straightforward questions.

One of the more concrete things you can learn from the study of etiquette is the language of gems. Like the language of flowers, certain stones denote certain implications, not all of which have to do with the months of our births.

All this may seem very quaint and perhaps romantic to many people, but the value and magic of nonverbal communication never dies. We just find different ways to do it.

It was the concrete rules of dress that laid the groundwork for the somewhat more subjective messages sent by what we wore - and when. Ask a fan.

And so it was: there was a time diamonds would never have been worn during the daytime. In the evening, they conferred elegance, glamour, and conspicuous consumption upon the wearer, but during the day, anyone in any glittering gem (pearls and I believe mourning jet were acceptable; if anyone knows more than I, I'd love your comments!!) was nothing but gauche. Display had rules. Getting the rules wrong only demonstrated someone's ignorance of wealth, but probably what we now call "trying too hard" (if not, worse, actual depravity).

Then diamond engagement rings became de rigueur, and the rules began to shift.

Certain necklines were acceptable only in the evening as well, and dress followed the appropriateness of the hour of the day, the age of the wearer, their status and station (see above), and the activities they had afoot. Morning dress, riding habits, low gowns, certain hats.

Oh, hats. There is a wonderful fun bit in one of the early episodes of "Are You Being Served", iterating the acceptable hat styles for various levels of employee at Grace Brothers department store. Bowlers are right out, unfortunately, for Captain Peacock, a floor walker - higher in status than the sales staff, but not so high as manager Mister Rumbold.

And yet, a bowler suits Peacock ever so well.

Another fine scene involves the proper fluffing of a pocket handkerchief.

These things matter, was the issue - and big issues they were, even so late as the 1970s. It wasn't so long ago. Mrs. Slocombe might wear any color hair she desired - but Captain Peacock needed dispensation to sport that bowler.

For a look at an encapsulated moment in the timeline of women's fashion, watch seasons one and two of the American show, "Remington Steele". Most famous for bringing Pierce Brosnan onto the Hollywood scene, what tends to be forgotten now about this series is the driving "sit" of this particular com, which was that a woman in 1982 presuming to act as a private investigator was so utterly outre' she had to invent: "a decidedly masculine superior." Hijinks ensued, and a jolly good heartthrob I still don't mind taking a gander at.

In season one of the show, Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist), our inventress, spends an interesting amount of time in hats. Fedoras in particular. She heads to a horse farm wearing a more tweedy ensemble (and woolen cap), but more than one episode sees her costumed almost for one of the old movies Steele constantly invokes as they follow their cases. But she's not costumed like the femmes fatale of these classics; she is modeled more on Sam Spade - or even Columbo. Structured tailoring, subdued colors, sturdy textiles. And always covered. She presents entirely feminine, but her character design still does not flutter nor blush. Even her most spangled evening wear (and spangles there are) speak to power, to her skill in the work she does and the refusal to become a conquest, even as most eps end in breathless kisses in the early going.

The upshot is a woman in "a man's world" - demanding respect and commanding authority.

Season two plays up, in every possible aspect, the Bondian parallels (we will not point to aspirations on Brosnan's part) of HIS character. And hers shows up in shorts and bathing suits rather suddenly. The season premiere is a lesson in what producers felt they had on their hands, and even all but cops the famous Bond theme music.

The good news is, Laura Holt is not reduced to being a Bond girl, but the contrast in production design - in costume design - captures something else of the time. By season three, she's almost always sporting elaborately swirling hairstyles - more Gibson Girl than Big 80s Hair, but still a notable change from our introduction to the character, who only got Gibson for special occasions, and not even all of those.

Even in 1982, as realistic as it was to portray a female lead in need of an imaginary man to make it in business, the fact was, women's place in American society was not quite what it had been years before, when the series was actually conceived (1969).

So, season two. They stopped presenting Laura in the clothes of male private detectives partially because the series changed in tone - and because she had nice legs and so forth - but also because women overall were becoming a little less likely, even then, to package themselves mannishly in order to make it. A little.

Fast forward a couple of years, and we have Maddie Hayes in "Moonlighting" - conceptually similar on several counts, and trying to push even farther. Hayes hardly ever wears anything but brights, in silky fabrics, and always with heels. (Note that Cybill Shepherd famously rebelled against heels, herself.) The fact that this character (and Shepherd) was a former model provided the excuse for the frippery, and the sexual tension in "Moonlighting" was if anything even more prominent than that in RS, but the difference in the female leads' outfitting was fundamental.

Women didn't just gain knees in the early 80s. Take a look at the textiles I mention. From Laura Holt to Maddie Hayes hardly represents all womankind by a long shot (pretty, young, white), but the fashions on these shows make an interesting microcosmic study of the decade. Because Hayes' fashion actually WAS a bit like what we were seeing in the real world. Jacquard silk drop-waist/slim-skirt dresses DID get very popular. My mom wore a baby pink chiffon dress like this for my 1993 wedding.

Following this advent/onslaught of affordable, light, silk or faux silk dresses, I recall a big surge in men's short-sleeved silk shirts, sometimes with mandarin collars. Beloved Ex wore this look well, and I had silk right down to a pair of *pants* in the material, and many long scarves did dedicated duty as belts. In the early 2000s, the light men's shirts of this sort were still on tap with Mr. X as well. This is the transition of a sort of evening fabric firmly into the daylight.

Belts - we got to like showy little belts in the 80s. Skinny gave way to more cummerbund sizes (that scarf wrapped around me twice, back then), and even leather belts were soft, wide, and more and more sash-like. Buckles became increasingly jewelry-like. And then rhinestones crept off buckles and into our workaday earrings, even onto shoes. BLING burgeoned. There are reasons even that word gained the traction it did, when it did.

And more evening daringness made its way into our days.

(Notoriously, of course, many people's hair got excessive. I can't pretend guiltlessness in this, but I did fail Clue-Catchers 101. In some things, it is good to be a slacker.)

Another thing that burgeoned in the 80s was designer labels. It's hard to overstate the nature of this change to anyone who hasn't lived on both sides of the designer era. And this, too, is something of an evening concept brought through the rest of the day. I had heard of  a "Halston gown" when I was little, but nobody was wearing specific-maker-anything in the 70s during the day, to speak of.

In the 70s, it was in fact just weird to wear a shirt that advertised its maker. We'd gotten some memo or other, about a thing called "designer jeans" - but it took the Reagan 80s to cement product placement in our wardrobes. In my world, knowing about Aigner and Izod led almost faster than we realized, to the Hilfiger style revolution still with us, in which everything from sunglasses to purses to jewelry and clothing are logo'd, and that's actually desirable.

(Not so much with me, but that is another day's rant.)

And then came the body parts formerly reserved for special occasions. Grrl Power midriffs have given way by now to "cold shoulder" and side-boob/side/butt, but it is still conceived as special to show the nighttime bits during the day. (Even though this isn't really new, in 20th century terms and thanks to humanity's chronological myopia, it was.) Statement Necklaces and ever-expanding eyebrows ("called it!!") came in after giant implants and fake tans with frost lipstick. Even minimalism seeks a certain boldness. More than the workaday.

And, along with wearing chiffon tops in the middle of any ordinary day, the very textiles we are dressed in are ever more ephemeral, which makes an interesting counterpoint to the perception of ever more "glamour" in their deployment. When clothes are meant to be trashed six months out, can they really be all that elegant ... ?

Things don't change, not really - but our deployment of them keeps us thinking we are brand new.