a long entry, because I don’t have time to make it shorter

by dichroic in books, daily updates, knitting, musing

It’s not that I haven’t blogged in the last week – but it was a work-related rant so I made it a private entry. Also, I spent last week on a work trip to Toledo, so I was mostly either at meetings or in transit. Landed back in Portland at 1, drove home (yay me – no issues or brain weirdness this time), transferred a few things to a backpak and headed to the lake house for the weekend. Unfortunately it was fairly windy all weekend so we didn’t get much rowing in; Saturday we kayaked a bit and then Sunday I took my open-water single out but only for 5km. (Poor Ted had a headache and didn’t get to row at all. So not much distance, but I operate on a general principle that any is better than none.

Another of my general principles is that I will only knit for other people is a) they are related to me or b) I really want to. I put a package in the mail today for someone who makes me really want to – we’re not close but she’s put conscious effort into maintaining our friendship over many years and it’s really meant a lot to me, especially with all of my travel. So I guess I just ruined that surprise somewhat – maybe I’ll write more about it later.

There have been another couple of entries I’ve been mulling over. One hasn’t gotten written because it’s going to take a lot more focus than I’ve had so far to give it, but I can summarize: if you actually read the Jewish and Christian Bibles, it turns out that they talk mostly about how to regulate your own conduct (the Torah is also about how to run a communit, but in those cases it’s about structured action and setting up laws, not making your own judgement). What they don’t talk about, and in both cases militate strictly against, is judging other people’s conduct. Similarly, an online acquaintance pointed out that in the Torah, “the prohibition against pork is mentioned twice. There’s 30+ instances of not engaging in various kinds of “evil speech.” So, really, there’s a better argument for eating a BLT than there is for critiquing someone’s choice to eat one.”

The other thing I want to talk about is in response to reading Sarah Vowell’s essay collection “Partly Cloudy Patriot” (which I liked a lot in general). She mocks people comparing all and sundry to Rosa Parks, with a couple of odd and egregious examples (Ted Nugent?) including people who were actually trying to stifle others’ freedoms. But where I disagree is where she goes on to say that really, no one can be compared to Rosa Parks “except maybe that young Chinese guy who faced down cannons in Tiananmen Square”. For one thing, I’d rather stare down an angry bus drive, even if he calls the cops, than a cannon. But avoiding that comparison (because there’s plenty of praise and respect to go around and it’s not a zero-sum game), there are lots of people even just in the US struggle for Civil Rights whose bravery, I’d say, was on a par with Mrs. Parks’ – all those young people on the Freedom bus, for example. Hosea Williams and John Lewis on the Pettus Bridge, on the March to Montgomery. Anyone who walked ten miles to work rather than taking a bus during the boycott. And all the people I can imagine in circumstances I don’t know of, putting out arson-born fires, facing mobs, sitting at soda counters. More importantly, if we put our heroes and hera on too lofty a pedestal, we make them unique and inhuman – and impossible to live up to. I’m not diminishing Rosa Parks in any way when I say that she was just a woman, a good and brave one – I’m just stressing the possibility and the responsibility to live up to her example.

(In My Life with Martin, Coretta Scott King discussed the question of whether Rosa Parks’ action was preplanned, and whether she was chosen to take that action. No idea, but if it was, I don’t think that diminishes her bravery either. It’s probably harder to have to look forward to danger than to do something dangerous on the spur of the moment. And if your character is exemplary enough that the people who know you choose you to be the prow on the ship of their movement, that’s a tribute.

not buying stuff I don’t need

by dichroic in daily updates

Re the Hugo Awards: I wonder if “coming in below No Awards” will make it into the lexicon to mean something that’s terrible or that’s never going to happen. (This thought was sparked by a comment on Ravelry from someone whose relative had informed her that she was expected to make them a specific (and ugly) sweater: “stashed way down past the bottom of my to-knit list below the not gonna happen ever section”).

I wonder if I could go for some period of time – say a year or two – without buying any more items in certain categories, though with some exceptions allowed.

Clothes and shoes, for instance: I think I have everything I’d need to wear for any event or climate I’m likely to encounter, from a formal wedding (assuming I’m a guest, not in it!) to a business presentation to a hike in Patagonia. (OK, maybe I’d need more supportive boots if that hike was a backpacking trip. But I’m not planning on anything like that!) I do not need anything more unless I’m replacing something that’s worn out or gotten wrecked. This does mean I can buy one pair of shoes at the moment, because I’ve recently tossed two pair of Mary-Janes, brown and tan – the uppers are shredding on one pair and the rubber soles somehow turned hard and were cracking on the other. Also, if I ever find a replacement for my favorite skirt ever – or learn to make one, because it was just a simple tiered skirt of printed cotton with an elastic waist – then I won’t let rules stop me. It fell apart and had to be tossed probably fifteen years ago and I’ve missed it since then.

Yarn: I do not need any sock yarn for a very long time. I have enough yarn for about three sweaters for me (one winter, the rest light or short-sleeved). I don’t need any yarn unless it’s for a specific project, and I don’t need any knitted objects I don’t have yarn for, unless they’re gifts for someone else.

Jewelry: I have some earrings that I wear a lot. When those get lost they need replacing – though I also have lots and lots of beads and can make some of them myself. Otherwise, maybe some souvenir jewelry – museum gift shops sometimes have great earrings, and I value unique local things like my rhodochrosite necklace from Buenos Aires – but otherwise no.

Books: well… I’m not made of stone! I do think I need to start buying more of my books in paper copies rather than the easy gratification of Kindle versions. I don’t expect my e-books to be there for me in my old age. E-books of some sort, yes; the particular ones on my Kindle now? No, I don’t trust Amazon quite that much. If it’s a YA fluff and my life would be no poorer if I couldn’t reread it in ten years, an e-book is fine. For something I want to have with me in a decade or three, I need to go back to buying physical books, and probably hardbacks.

The problem with all of this is, I like shopping. Sometimes it’s a recreational activity rather than an errand, especially if I’m going something like going to the Portland Saturday Market. I know it’s supposed to be better to be a minimalist, but I enjoy having stuff, whether it’s wearing cool clothing (the problem is with the not-so great clothing that sneaks in!), petting colorful yarn, or wearing jewelry that has a story. The other side, though, is that my houses (plural) feel like they have too! much! stuff! in them, it’s frustrating to realize that you love something but haven’t work it in a while because you have too many other things, and I’m sure I could be using my money better (among other things, surely it would be better to give money to charity instead of buying things I don’t need or even entertainment that’s not a memorable experience). Not sure how to reconcile this.

a year’s time

by dichroic in daily updates

Today is my dad’d first yahrzeit – the anniversary of his death in the Hebrew lunar calendar.

Memory is not circumscribed by a candle

For this first anniversary of your death,
I was so happy to find a proper yahrzeit candle –
plain white in a glass cup, made to burn the
prescribed twenty-four hours.

But I don’t have twenty-four hours to sit by it –
though you’re gone, I still have a living to earn
and candles aren’t safe when guarded only by glass.
You worked so hard for our welfare – you
would not want me to lose either my job
or my house to the irony of a rogue flame.

And so I blow the candle out when I leave,
though your day has hours more to burn.
but only the physical combustion has ended.
Your memory still glows, as it did yesterday
and as it will when this memorial day, too, has blown out.

I did go to the Chabad last Shabbat. It was a mixed experience – the rabbi was welcoming and a few other people talked to me. The service was mostly him chanting at the front of the room, very fast, with a lot less congregation participation than I’m used to (I think in a more traditional and long-established setting, everyone else would know the prayers as well as the rabbi does and would be chanting or mumbling on their own, not in unison). I wouldn’t have known when to stand for Kaddish anyway. I’m glad I went; it was interesting. Don’t think I’ll be going back, or not often.

And also I got this, to have by me at work – apparently electric “candles” are just fine.
cnadle

I am having a hard time with this

by dichroic in daily updates

My Dad died last May, but in the Hebrew calendar, the anniversary of his death is next Wednesday. Jewish practice is to recite Kaddish on the anniversary of a death or on the Shabbat (Sabbath) before. It’s not something you do alone; this is one of the prayers that traditionally requires a minyan, a gathering a ten Jewish adults (traditionally, men).

There is one and only one shul near me (Jews of various inclinations use the words synagogue, shul or temple to mean pretty much the same thing. Shul is shorter to type.) It’s a Lubavitcher Chabad, part of the Chassidic movement. Those three unfamiliar words have a ton of history and explanation behind them; the short version is that this shul proclaims that its mission is to serve all Jews in the area, and though they say that “We don’t call ourselves Orthodox, just Jewish, and we serve all Jews,” their practice is very traditional.

There is a cluster of shuls in NW Portland, about half an hour away by car, 45 minutes by MAX light rail. I’m not familiar with the area and don’t know if there’s much parking nearby. THere are two Conservative synagogues, one Reform temple and a Reconstructionist Havurah within a few blocks of each other. I probably lean closest to Reconstructionist, myself. (Their self description is “Reconstructionist Jews espouse a progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life which integrates a deep respect for traditional, communal Jewish practices with the intellectual and political impulses of democracy and pluralism.”) I don’t know anyone at any of those places, and trying to phone just sends you to a machine.

I’ve spoken to the Rabbi at the Chabad. They had a place to email and he mailed me back promptly and set up a time for a call. I was worried about how unegalitarian they might be. They do have a divider between men and women, but it runs front to back, so men and women sit side by side. I can live with that. But he also told me that since I do have a brother, I am not supposed to say Kaddish for my father. All four of the other shuls are egalitarian, and the Reconstructionist havurah in particular says “Our overall community is progressive, intellectual, honest, egalitarian, and embracing of diversity. We include many interfaith families and people of various ethnic backgrounds and income groups. We are queer-friendly, and the congregation includes members in a wide range of professions.”

So it should be no-brainer, right? But I don’t know. For one thing, the Chabad Rabbi was extremely welcoming. He was very careful to say phrase it as “this is the way we do things, we’re not saying it’s the only right way”, and to tell me that I was very welcome. He specifically said no one would stop me and he himself wouldn’t say anything if I did stand to say Kaddish. He also said if I sent them my dad’s name and his parents names, they’d study a Mishnah (oral teaching) in his honor – even if I didn’t attend myself they would, if I emailed the names. They friended me on Facebook, even. And when I asked around in a liberal Jewish group on Ravelry, lots of people reported very positive experiences with Chabads, even when coming from more liberal backgrounds. And there’s the anthropological aspect – I’ve never really been to a completely traditional service. Might be interesting.

My brother thinks I should just light a candle (Yahrzeit candle, another tradition) and say the blessing myself, but I think I really want the support of a community. So do I just walk in cold to one of the farther away places, where I don’t know anyone but the outlook might be closer to mine, or go to the way more traditional place nearby that’s welcomed me, whose outlook might make me uncomfortable in some respects – but that was gracious and respectful of my concerns?

Another possibility – the Reconstructionist place has a Wednesday minyan. I could do the Chabad on Shabbat and go there on Wednesday – but it’s 8:30-9, so I’d be getting to work around 10 instead of my usual 7AM.

For the record, my dad wouldn’t care much if or where I said Kaddish. As my brother remarked, his Jewish identity was strong but mostly secular.

ETA: Oh, and I forgot to say, this Saturday the Reconstructionist place’s service is a “Camp Havurah service”: a “musical, fun, upbeat Shabbat morning service that features sing-a-long style prayers”. Nice, but maybe not when I want to come say Kaddish.

review: Five Children on the Western Front (and some thoughts about how we’re still in a post-Great War world)

by dichroic in books

My copy of my recently stumbled-upon book Five Children on the Western Front finally arrived yesterday; I read most of it last night and finished it when I came home for lunch today. And it’s pretty much everything I wanted it to be. The writing isn’t perfectly in Nesbit-voice; for instance, I’ve definitely come across “Dad” instead of “Father” or “Pater” or “Governor” in books of that vintage (L.M. Montgomery used it, for one, and I think Angela Brazil did too) but I can’t remember it in Nesbit, except for an instance of “Daddy” at a pivotal moment in The Railway Children. That’s not an isolated example, but in general Kate Saunders sticks close enough to Nesbit’s voice that it never threw me out of the story. (Which is more than you can say for most Austen pastiches I’ve read!)

She also does a good job creating two new characters, the Lamb (who was in Five Children and It and its sequels, but only as a baby with no character yet) and a younger sister, Edie. Edie especially is as likeable as Elfrida Arden or any of Nesbit’s better characters, and another new character, Lillian, feels like she stepped out of one of Angela Brazil’s books – I bet she was Hockey Captain at her school!. There are also some nice nods to Nesbit herself – Edie is shot for Edith, and the children’s father, a newspaper editor, is a Socialist. The story really does have the feel of my own A Girl Called Alice, but Saunders does what I couldn’t have done and makes a whole book out of it. I like the way the War goes from an adventure to the center of everyday life, and the way she shows the growing tragedy of it in a way that still fits into the voice – as if Rilla of Ingleside were mashed up with Five Children and It.

What was weird for me, though, was that, as I put the book down to go to sleep last night, I was thinking about why so many WWI novels, or stories set after the war and growing out of it, whether contemporary or recent, seem so resonant for me – the stories of Rilla, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Phryne Fisher for three. And I thought, “Of course, it’s because they think like us.” And “us”, in my half-asleep mind, were so many of you guys – the readers and writers whose blogs I’ve been reading all these years. You think strange things, going off to sleep, but I think this one is true. Except for Harding’s Luck, Nesbit’s stories and others from pre-War are so idyllic – the golden time will go on, children can dream of growing up to be explorers or soldiers without every worrying about disaster, and children can be sheltered. The post-War stories have had their world shattered, as we’ve seen a few more times, but they hold on to ideals and still believe that somehow, not all of the sacrifice is useless (even while acknowledging how much of it was stupid) and that maybe the world will get better if we keep faith. I know plenty of people who don’t feel that way, who think we’re on a downhill track or who don’t think about it at all, but I don’t think they’re part of my drowsing brain’s “we”. Maybe that’s the common thread in the journals I’ve stuck with over the years.

a quick one in three parts

by dichroic in daily updates

I. I have to link to this essay by Spacefem about being a female engineer / engineering manager. I think she’s a decade or so younger than I am, but this is close to my experience as well.

2. I have a trip coming up to our main office in Ohio, in which I get to challenge myself both ways. I have to drive to and from the airport here in Portland, as well as both ways between Detroit and Toledo on the other end. The drive to the airport here will be at an ungodly hour (5AM or so) so at least there won’t be traffic; the rest will be in daylight. It should be all right (not that my brain doesn’t still actu up sometimes, but I’m getting better at ignoring it); I’ve been doing well drivingwise lately and have been meaning to get out on highways more, so this is a way to force the issue.

3. Last weekend we went down to the lake, but never got out on the water. Saturday was raining and windy (and there was a collegiate regatta on – poor kids! but we could have rowed around the outside of the lake) and Sunday was gorgeous but still windy. Still, it was good to be in the other house even if just for the views and the quiet. We took the cats this time; Ted is convinced that more travel experience will make them less unhappy about that. That might work for Macchiato, but i’m not convinced that practice is helping Oolong’s carsickness. This time we stayed on the highway, so she didn’t seem to get too queasy. She did show signs of distress at one point on the way up (sitting with mouth open, glassy-eyed) but we think that might just have been that she had to poop and really didn’t want to do it in the carrier. We didn’t particularly want her to either! But once she did, she seemed to feel better, and at that house there’s plenty of room to take the carrier out back and hose it off. Not sure what we’ll do as it gets warmer and there’s more traffic on the way down; taking the back roads can be faster but they seem to bother her more than going at a constant speed on comparatively straight highways.

kerfuffling. All the cool kids are doing it.

by dichroic in books

Here’s the thing that’s bugging me about the current kerfuffle around the Hugo awards and the Sad Puppy slate:

Maia Drazhar.

That requires some explanation. You know how a lot of science fiction and fantasy fen go to cons, find their people and live geekily ever after? For one reason or another that never worked out for me. Thus, while SFF is very important to me, my interest in that world is all about the books, not the community (and it is mostly the books, much more than the novellas, novellettes, short stories or movies, though there has been stuff I care about in all of those categories). My interest in the Hugo, Nebula and Campbell awards is about what won, not who won. I like to see good books get the attention they deserve.

For that reason, of course I’m not happy about people who right-out-loud are admitting to creating an award slate based on who wrote what rather than what got written. I know the creators of that slate claim that they’re only reacting in kind to what others have been doing for years, but 1) the moral failures of your enemies are no guide for how a civilized person ought to behave (I’m pretty sure Maia himself would second me on that) and 2) bullshit. I see people fighting all the time for more inclusivity and fairer treatment within SF; some of those people are friends of mine. I see the same people talking about their craft and honing it; I’m sure there are exceptions because there always are, but the people I know and respect don’t want social justice to serve as an excuse for bad writing because that would completely miss the point. Nobody is going to get into the head of a character unlike him- or herself and be enriched thereby unless that character is as well-developed and as human as the author can possibly make it.

On the other hand I’ve seen a lot of posts about how the Hugos are completely devalued this year, with stress on the No Award option. I understand that people are hurt and want to hit back, but I’m hoping that no one goes around voting No Awards on a wholesale basis – and that’s where Maia Drazhar comes in. He’s the eponymous hero of Katherine Addison’s book The Goblin Emperor (Amazon | Powells), and he spends a whole long book trying to do what’s right in difficult and confusing circumstances. It’s a fantastic book; I think it deserves to win the Hugo and Nebula this year, and would be a winner or at least a strong contender in any year. It’s that good. I’d like to see it win an award and I’d like that award not to be tainted.

I’m sure it’s not the only deserving thing there; I haven’t read anything in the other written genres but it ought to be interesting to see how the Lego Movie, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy match up.

I’m not saying that no one should vote No Award at all – I understand that it can be used surgically, that you can say “this story should win so I’m listing it first, that one was decent so it’s second, this other story doesn’t really succeed but it attempts some very interesting stuff so I’m putting it third, and the rest of these are crap so No Award No Award No Award”. That makes sense to me.

I’d been sort of thinking about attending WorldCon this year – Spokane isn’t so far from here. But I was of divided mind and none of this is making it more appealing. I’ll probably just stick with reading books, talking about ones I like and cheering from the sidelines. And with luck maybe Goblin Emperor will win a Nebula.

boots and stories

by dichroic in clothing and style

I have a really ridiculous number of boots (well, okay, at least they’re in pairs – I suppose really ridiculous would be an odd number of them, assuming a two-legged wearer). I was just realizing this morning that it makes me slightly sad that the one I’m wearing today don’t have any story; like my earrings, most of my boots do have a story. (Actually, my earrings come in two kinds: ones I’ve made, and ones with a story attached. Some are both at once.)

There’s the high-heeled Doc Martens I bought in the Netherlands – I actually tried on a tall (I mean, comes further up the leg) version of those at a street market in Amsterdam, but decided they were probably impractical – and being sold on the street, might well be counterfeit. So back home in Eindhoven I bought the ankle-high version, something like these. They’re surprisingly comfortable; mine have more of a platform in front so the heels don’t feel as high as they look.

There are the boots I bought during shopping sprees in the US, during the years I lived abroad (in Europe, clothes and shoes cost more; in Taiwan, things tend to be either cheap and shoddy or designer and expensive). There are three pair of those: the tall brown boots, which I hurriedly replaced with nearly identical ones last year on a lunchtime run to DSW, after the original ones sprang a pinpoint leak in the sole that let water in; the tan cowboy boots I bought in a farm coop in southern Oregon, on the theory that as an American abroad, cowboy boots are my birthright even though I’m actually an East-Coast girl; and the black cowboy boots I bought the next year because I liked the tan ones so much. (Unfortunately, that last pair are much less comfortable than the tan ones, even though they’re the same size in the same brand.)

There are the really ornate boots I bought last month in Wyoming – yes I have three pair of cowboy boots – because they just straddle the line between fabulous and ridiculous, and were on sale for half price. They’ll remind me of that ski trip whenever I wear them, plus they’re just fun to wear.
boot

There are the duck boots I bought after spending the day at a regatta where it was pouring down rain all day and the gaps between parts of the dock resulted in me going ankle-deep in water – not that it made me much wetter, by that point. I wore them to work, too, one day last winter when we got a snowstorm that mostly shut this city down.

And there are the ones I think of as THE boots, my Rossi Endura boots. I’ve been wearing them since I bought them in 2009 in Tasmania on our second trip to Australia, and they have years left in them. I wanted to buy a pair of Blundstone boots, after seeing a guide on our first trip to Australia hike all over the Outback in great comfort in them, but the guy in the shoestore in Hobart didn’t want to sell them to me. They’d recently moved production from Tasmania to Korea, so he talked me into getting a pair of Rossis because they were at least made in Australia (not Tassie, though). I’ve been glad ever since, because they’re the best boots ever – I can walk for miles in them, off-trail or on any surface, they’re waterproof, yet they’re still nice enough for work even with dress slacks. (Granted it might help if I ever polished or waxed them.)

I’ve also got the dusty-red low boots I was wearing when I began this entry, a pair of gray ones in the same style (both Born Raisa; some light hikers from Merrell, I think; some black Teva waterproof tall boots. But it’s never as much fun wearing boots that don’t come with a story attached.

I love it when I stumble over a book

by dichroic in books

Huh. A while back I wrote A Girl Called Alice, a crossover fic combining two of E. Nesbit’s sets of characters, the Bastables and the Psammead from Five Children and It, set during WWI. Nesbit’s children were just the right age to end up in the trenches or supporting those who are).

No way of knowing if she ever saw it, but Kate Saunders (whose book Beswitched I liked, because it reads like a cross between Nesbit and Angela Brazil) has written Five Children on the Western Front – the original children who met the Psammead grown up and in WWI. Sadly, it currently seems to be out only in England and not in e-book format (though it can be ordered from US resellers). The Guardian seems to like it a lot. I think I’m going to have to buy a hard copy – I wouldn’t be surprised if this one never does get issued in the US.

Come to think of it, I’ve been encountering Nesbitiana a few places lately – I know I recently saw those same kids (Squirrel, Anthea, Cyril and Jane) somewhere or other, but I don’t remember where at the moment. And there’s an unmistakeable allusion to The Railway Children and to Nesbit herself in Pratchett’s latest book, Raising Steam. I first found Nesbit because Edward Eager was always having his characters praise her, so it’s nice to see more recent books mentioning her.

Oh – and while writing about books, I should mentioned that The Penderwicks in Spring came out last week, and is every bit as good as earlier Penderwicks books. Some time has past, but this book focuses on Batty, who was about 4 in previous books and is now coming up on 11 so it’s aimed at the same demographic of readers as the earlier books. I’ve read that there will be another gap between this and the last book, but there’s a new sister, Lydia, who’s just a toddler here so I’d guess it will center on her. Ben, who was two in earlier books, has grown into an engaging second grader who is very much his own person and easily distinguished from any of his siblings. It’s clearer than ever that the Penderwicks are lucky enough to have a very understanding set of adults; I was thinking about that, because it’s not very common in kids’ books. Normally for the kids to be able to have adventures, the adults have to be removed either in the literal sense, by death or absence, or by their own remoteness. Or less often (but more realistically for me) the parents are just find but don’t really understand the kids or what they’re thinking and doing. If I try to think of parents as understanding as the Penderwicks I keep going back to Little Women and Alcott’s other books (and I don’t think the March parents were nearly as good as Jo and her sisters think they were, though I understand why Louisa May needed to tell herself that story. But Rose’s uncle seems better, as do Polly’s offstage parents). With the addition of two new siblings, the Penderwicks don’t mirror the Marches as closely as they did in previous books anyway – though one plot development is hinted at here that’s all too close to Little Women, so I’m hoping that doesn’t materialize.

religious differences

by dichroic in musing

Some days I’m amazed at how much Christians and Jews differ in their approach to theology. Some Christians, anyway.

I am not even talking about Indiana’s recent “religious freedom law” now (I’m embarrassed to see in the Indy Star that people present at the private signing of that bill include Orthodox Jews as well as Catholic monks and nuns, conservative lobbyists, and so on.)

Yesterday, I received a postcard from a local church advertising their Easter service, talking about how they offer a “fresh message”. That’s the part I don’t get. First of all, if you’re going to be a Christian at all, how could any new message be more powerful than the age-old “He is Risen?” Second, isn’t some of the power of that precisely because it isn’t fresh at all but because people have been celebrating that same message for the last two thousand years? This confuses me, but maybe that’s because the whole point of Passover is to repeat the same story we’ve been telling for a few thousand years.

(Said church also mentioned their “authentic worship”. I take that to mean “we really mean the words we’re saying – we’re not just repeating set prayers”. This is also different from Jewish tradition where it’s important to say the words in community, even if they get mumbled more as a mantra than a literal prayer, but that discussion probably needs a better theologian than me.)