Black Wasp garb

My mom was shopping one day and found almost five yards of 60-inch wide wool at a thrift store. It’s very thin and very very dark blue, and a bit shiny — really high-status stuff. And there’s a lot of it. The colour and sheen remind me of what I like about black wasps, hence the name.


I’ve been wanting to make new garb for a long time, and trying to figure out how the mantle or sleeveless overgarment seen on my profile picture (as well as lots of other places) is made. So I consulted my trusty Dress in Anglo-Saxon England and looked up pictures and made a few guesses. I can find one picture of someone having made one, but it doesn’t look quite right, and I can’t find the source.

So. There’s plenty of fabric there to make me a new cyrtel and a mantle and maybe something else too. And with such nice fabric, it could have the v-shaped sleeves seen on late-period queens or something extra. Since the blue is so dark, maybe embroidery in bright colours at the cuffs would be a good contrast (white, green, light blue, yellow, orange, red. . .), and I bet it would be absolutely glorious with my copper arm-ring.

Owen-Crocker says, “In some illustrations the gown hangs loose, in others it appears to be pouched over the hips, as if over a concealed girdle. Some figures wearing the draped, sleeveless outer garment appear to have a broad, self-coloured sash at the waist. A diagonal line suggests that the sash may be wrapped round twice or arranged with a twist in it.” Also, “There are never, in late Anglo-Saxon art, any pendent girdle ends with or without strap tags, nor are there buckles. No tools or personal ornaments hang from the girdle or sash.” (Both on page 217) The Virgin Mary in the New Minster Liber Vitae has what looks like a belt ( Mary in the Judith Gospels has no belt (picture in the book, you’ll have to take my word for it), and Mary in this picture: has what might be a belt securing her mantle (since the horizontal wrinkles would be highly unusual in the way the overgarment drapes). So the presence or absence of a belt, if we’re holding onto the assumption that the artist is being realistic, does not seem to be tied to class. (I only need a belt for putting my distaff in to spin, take that evidence for whatever it might be worth.) So I might make a belt which can somehow fasten without buckles or hanging ends out of the same fabric.

What is this mantle thing? Owen-Crocker summarizes the mysterious article thus: “Women are often depicted in a loose, sleeveless garment which hangs from the shoulders, and which might normally cover the arms. When the arms were raised (the position in most illustrations) the garment hung down between them as far as the knees, in a point or curve. At the back it was more voluminous and longer” (213). There’s a bit of debate whether it’s an allegorical thing introduced to English art from the Continent, and never actually worn in England, though there’s some evidence to the contrary (supposedly on two figures in the Bayeux ‘Tapestry’, Queen Edith and ‘AElfgyva’, though I’m not sure about the latter — she could just as well have long sleeves). She adds, “The garment may have been an aristocratic one”. It’s certainly well-designed for getting in the way of working women. It is however possible that a poncho-shaped cloak, with or without a hood, as depicted on the exasperated woman in folio 8r of the Harley Psalter, and the woman in folio 76r of the Hexateuch, would be a practical winter garment for a non-aristocratic woman, but of course it would be in much less expensive wool.

It’s a bit of a mystery what shape the mantle is. I tried draping my semicircular veil the way the front of the mantle goes and the curve wasn’t right, so for some of the pictures I’m inclined to think the front, at least, is an oval. (Perhaps an egg-shaped piece of fabric with the hole for the head somewhere between three-fifths and two-thirds of the way forward?) On others, like Philosophia, the draping of the part in front is consistent with what I get with a triangle.

For a slightly unusual example (since we’re familiar with Philosophia by now) let us take Mary in the New Minster charter: She’s obviously a high-status woman by this point, and whether or no the many colours of her clothes are to show off her wealth or just an illustrator showing off his, at least the layers are all clearly distinguished from each other (unlike a lot of the uncoloured line drawings like Philosophia). (She also has interesting sleeves.) Her mantle might well be roughly oval-shaped with two sort of corners crossed in front and pinned on her left shoulder, because you can see what looks like two overlapping corners hanging down in front. Most women’s mantles of this period have a single point or a curve in the center front. In the back it hangs almost to her feet, but even with her arms raised (common, as Owen-Crocker notes, in pictures depicting these mantles) it doesn’t look like the front corners come down any farther. The slope up to them on the sides might come to her knees?

So perhaps there were different patterns, and which one a woman chose depended on which one she liked. I might make a few mock-ups on a smaller scale (almost a pity we don’t have dolls anymore to be models) out of cotton sheets or something. The new wool is so high-status it demands something frivolous, and what better than an unnecessary garment which gets in your way if you try any work, and showcases its material’s drape the whole time?

A note on colours from Owen-Crocker, while I’m at it, who from pp. 209 to 212 discusses “Colour in art and reality”, in examining the artistic evidence: “we cannot take it as proven that the Anglo-Saxons literally lined their sleeves with a different colour. The variety of shade conveys the difference between the outer and inner surface of the sleeve. . .” (209). A general principle to keep in mind, so as not to fall into the trap of “that kind of naivety which led one costume historian to believe that Anglo-Saxon men habitually dyed their hair and beards blue because they are painted blue in the Hexateuch” (211). But they did love their bright colours.

(Note: Harley Psalter, woman presenting a torque to her son, fol. 67v, has a hood very similar to the one I made, even to fitting close under the chin.)

Today I began to cut into it. I got the body pieces and the gores done before I had to leave for work (unexpectedly).

Apologies for the horrid quality of this picture — I had to take it myself, holding my laptop upside down, because Olivia was gone. But it kind of gives you an idea of. . . something. I’m not sure what. But I like it. Maybe it’s the contrast of the green and the blue, sickly as the cyrtel looks in this photo.


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Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax

This is going to be a long post. This “artist’s statement” was supposed to be a lot shorter, but you know how that goes. I even tried to abridge it and then found too many gaps in the argument that way. It is about 3,300 words, so if you haven’t got time, go and come back later. Maybe it’s nothing you haven’t already read here, but it’ll be more complete, and hopefully the thread of the argument is pulled tight.

Feel free to poke holes in it, though. It was written for an audience which I already knew disagreed with me, but that doesn’t mean any of you are obligated to pat me on the back. Or if I wrote a sentence so winding you still can’t figure out what it means, you can ask.

What is the value of Story? Why do I devote so much time and effort to putting words together in exchange for loss of sleep, skipped or forgotten meals, fear of rejection or failure; when my only (immediate) reward is the complete devolution of my reputation for stability, replaced by terms like “insane” or the euphemism “not all there” (or perhaps the pitying “Well, she hears voices from upstairs”)? What makes all this worth it?

In a world of wars and rumours of wars, nuclear bombs, humans destroying the places they have the greatest duty to protect, splintered families, depression and anxiety as common as the flu, and other great overwhelming evils making life so difficult for so many of our race, why do I choose to give my life to pursuing the art of yarn-spinning when I could be doing something useful as, say, a social worker, instead — not withdrawn from the real world, but descending into the very darkest depths of it to try to pull people out? Would not a practical career like this be much more good than spending my days and nights with various combinations of letters in the English alphabet?

What people believe or think affects how they act and choose to live. Humans communicate ideas to one another most clearly by means of words in one language or another. It is not the gun in the soldier’s hand which is most directly responsible for killing the enemy he shoots, nor even the bullet: it is the man himself, acting based on an idea in his mind, which he may express according to his situation perhaps as “I’ve got to do this for the sake of keeping my family alive” if he was forced into the war, or perhaps as “The other guys are all evil and I’m doing humanity a service by getting rid of them”. Without these words he would never have picked up the gun in the first place. Words are, in the end, the most powerful weapons we have. In the words of Amy Lowell, “All books are either dreams or swords: / You can cut, or you can drug, with words”.

As those who know how to wield a sword have a responsibility to do so properly, we whose weapons are words must not be lax about our duty to know how to use them. This doesn’t mean only the mechanism of our art, the ropes and pulleys behind the  scenery on our stage, which the audience will never actually “see”: it means also thinking through the implications of what we write, and how it is likely to come across, and whether we are advancing the cause of ideas we should be advancing, and so on. Stories matter as more than simply a temporary escape from our dreary or painful lives. (N. b. I can’t go into enough depth here to do justice to any of the ideas I bring up. The best I can do is point you to Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories” and his poem Mythopoeia as much more masterful elucidations of what Christianity does for art, and the art of Story in particular. Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker is very good too.)

I started writing when I was about eight or nine, without having yet connected the facts that people who write stories are writers, and people who are alive today are writing the stories which get published every year. I had a hard time getting to sleep at night when I was small, and started making up stories in my head to tell myself in the time between being put to bed and dropping off. Eventually I came up with one I thought was good enough to write down, so I didn’t forget it (objectively considered it is no good, but we all start somewhere). I found I liked doing that, so I kept writing stories (awful pastiches of fairy tales with attempts at Tolkien’s style) and not showing them to anybody. Not knowing others like me existed, I didn’t seek them out or think I could pursue writing to the extent I am now.

I did try a few times to stop writing, but that never lasted long. When I was fifteen, in my very first semester of college (at another school) a professor told us to make a list of certain things we liked to do, and put a checkmark by them if certain statements were true — as that we did them regularly, over time had to do them more than when we’d started, thought about them when we weren’t doing them, and tried to stop but couldn’t. Afterward he revealed these as the symptoms of addiction according to the APA’s website (it was the basis for an assignment of some sort). I stared at my sheet of paper, seeing the checkmarks for every statement next to the word Writing, and tried to come to terms with the meaning of the sentence “I am addicted to writing”. I eventually decided it didn’t change anything. It did, however, tell me this was serious and I had better think about how it fit in the rest of my life. I started taking the craft more seriously and actively trying to learn how to write well. (It was in the same class I heard, for the first time, the injunction to “Show, don’t tell”, which was and remains the most important thing I learned there.)

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, as the catechism says, but each particular instance of the universal Man, being an unique variation on the theme, will have a different way of doing that. As Dorothy Sayers says, in the second chapter of The Mind of the Maker: “In the beginning God created. He made this and He made that and He saw that it was good. And He created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. Thus far the authour of Genesis. The expression “In His own image” has occasioned a good deal of controversy” (Sayers, p. 20). She goes on to say it isn’t a physical likeness, though she adds later in the book that if this God were ever to reveal himself to any part of his creation, it must be under such conditions as to be recognizable and comprehensible: in other words, incarnation as one of the members of the species to which he appears, whether that is in complete and perfect clamhood, if appearing to clams, or complete and perfect manhood, when appearing to men (p. 90). Here, while asking what it is in man which the authour of Genesis might mean by “the image of God”, she says, “It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the ‘image’ of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created’. The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things” (22). Our word “poem” comes from the Greek poiea (as in Mythopoeia), which is a making. Man, as God’s handwork, could be said to be God’s poem.

I have come to realize writing is my vocation, as marriage is for some, teaching for others, or music or some other art.  Telling stories is my main, though not sole, way of fulfilling my chief end. People rarely have only a single means of making art. In the words of Anton Rubenstein, “The grape, that is nature. The wine, that is art.” So could we draw from that analogy, “The baby, that is nature. The good human being, that is art”? If that’s the case, then who makes that work of art — who takes the raw materials (baby) and transforms it into the finished work of art? Whoever they are, they are artists. So a teacher or parent can be an artist, as well as a musician or writer. The good human being, choosing to align his life to a set of principles, might be in some measure (others having laid the foundation) the artist of his life. So living can be an art and a means of making art: your interactions with the cloak-room clerk, to take an example from Chesterton, can be just as much art, with all the power of it, as sitting at home and drawing up a masterpiece.

Sometimes my sub-creation (to take Tolkien’s word for a very similar idea) takes the form of historical fiction, in which I delve into past times and the lives of those now long dead, and explore our similarities and differences and try to bring to life the people of Then so that those Now won’t be short-sighted, and the way they lived Then so we can consider whether what we have Now is actually better, and what is the good life after all. Historical fiction can teach its readers about the past, but it is not (and shouldn’t be) like a textbook, giving names and dates and dry facts: it should make the battles and treaties and voyages spring to life, and make us love the learning to be found (I enjoy the challenge of researching obscure periods, at any rate, and it will be enough if I can keep something worth remembrance from being entirely forgotten).

People do tend to pay more attention when their affections are involved, than when we’re appealing solely to the head. This goes for all stories, not only historical fiction: stories are not the place for a sermon. “Christian Fiction”, which sets out to teach a lesson mainly, pushing aside considerations of what the art calls for because its authours are more concerned with being “inspirational” and “safe”, never reaches the heights of stories like Dante’s Commedia, or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Suzannah Rowntree’s Pendragon’s Heir; those authours know, what “Christian Fiction” authours almost never do, that good art will reflect God anyway, and aren’t too concerned about making sure everyone gets the point; neither were the great authours afraid of showing evil for what it is, in order that the good may show through all the brighter for having the strength to defeat so fearsome an enemy.

At other times I write contemporary non-fiction, as the firm belief that “real life” is just as much a story as anything we could make up translates easily from the historical genre to this. (The main difference seems to be that in the latter, the characters are still living; which is sometimes a snag when it comes to getting permission.) At other times I dip into fantasy or another genre, and occasionally add a little magic to history to get historical fantasy, which takes a lot of work but often has the best of both sides.

I try to avoid the formulae so common to genre fiction because that is an inaccurate representation of reality: life is not a problem with a tidy solution ascertainable from the facts. Humans are not the stock characters whose lines push the plot along but who have not “come alive”, being constantly bent to serve the authour’s will. For, as G. K. Chesterton said, “With the adequate brain-power we could finish any scientific discovery, and be certain that we are finishing it right. But not with the most gigantic intellect could we finish the simplest or silliest story, and be certain that we were finishing it right. That is because a story has behind it, not merely intellect which is partly mechanical, but will, which is in its essence divine. The narrative writer can send his hero to the gallows if he likes in the last chapter but one. He can do it by the same divine caprice whereby he, the authour, can go to the gallows himself, and to hell afterwards if he chooses. And the same civilization, the chivalric European civilization which asserted freewill in the thirteenth century, produced the thing called ‘fiction’ in the eighteenth. When Thomas Aquinas asserted the spiritual liberty of man, he created all the bad novels in the circulating libraries.”

I try to write literary rather than genre fiction also because I want to create something dealing with universal themes, and in noble language, which will (barring future incidents like that of the Library of Alexandria and the little monasteries’ libraries which fell to the Vikings) last through time. Fiction mass-produced and designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator hardly ever has a chance at these qualities; further, modern fiction has a shortage of proper portrayals of the good, the true, and the beautiful, as so many modern writers either define the Absolutes incorrectly, or devalue them.

Joy Clarkson, a writer and student of theology at St Andrew’s University in Edinburgh, told the story of one of the raided monasteries. She said in the introduction to a podcast on the film The Secret of Kells, “What do you do when the worst happens seventeen times in fifteen years? You can build a wall, or you can make a book.” You can erect plain practical material defences against the invaders to protect the physical lives of your monks, which in itself is not a bad thing. But do not focus too much on merely preserving lives: remember that which makes life worth living. Give the monks something to do other than huddling behind the stone wall and waiting for death to break through. I choose to make a book.

Hope can come from many things, as (for example) confidence in one’s own strength, or the love of family or friends. Ultimately, I would content, the only constant and sure ground for hope is God, specifically the Trinity. Hope does not mean closing our eyes to the evil in the world, but affirming the evils to be only half the picture. Hope does not deny the pain, but denies defeat. Hope means not becoming jaded on account of litter and skyscrapers and the deplorable condition of modern art and education, but resisting that temptation. To cultivate and draw attention to beauty is not to say naively “The world is a perfectly happy place” but to be making it better. Stories remind us of these important things so easy to lose sight of otherwise. The best stories tell us the darkness exists and is formidable, but that others have held on and won through it to see the sun rise, and we also may see the dawn.

I try to sub-create after this manner and according to this view of reality. I can do so only very imperfectly as yet. But I hold with Tolkien that my efforts are not entirely in vain: not nearly as vain as surrendering to the modern notion that “realistic fiction” with its emphasis on the reality of horrible things and the vanity of dwelling on good ones, under the mistaken assumption that evil is winning and good (however worthy) a lost cause (if not redefined entirely).

To use Tolkien’s own words, an excerpt from Mythopoeia:

The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Yes! `wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem ?
All wishes are not idle, not in vain
fulfilment we devise – for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is dreadly certain: Evil is.

The Christian Myth, itself a story, hallows Story as Christ, in taking on human flesh, hallowed it. Tolkien might truly have written of the writers of the Gospels “They have seen Death and ultimate defeat” on Golgotha (and lost hope for a time). But, like the other writers of whom he is speaking, in the end they too “would not in despair retreat, / but oft to victory have tuned the lyre / and kindled hearts with legendary fire” (Mythopoeia). The victory of the Resurrection would hardly mean anything if it did not come after the Messiah’s death.

As Tolkien says of the requirements of fairy-stories in general: “But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairystory. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function. The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur” (On Fairy-Stories, 22).  

The Resurrection changed everything, including all subsequent stories. Tolkien says of the Christian Myth: “But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men — and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused. But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending’.”

I can’t discuss all sides of anything here, or go into all the implications of this belief concerning art (though I probably will elsewhere). It is how I look at the art of story-writing, though, and I am trying to write stories which, without being preachy or watered-down “Christian Fiction” (you won’t find any prohibition against magic in my stories), are soaked through with this way of looking at the world. I love writing, I’m reasonably good at it, I can’t stop doing it, and it needs doing. People who write well about the good true and beautiful are rare these days, though fortunately for us the quantity of good books from before our time is so vast it would be difficult (I’m leaning toward impossible) for one person to read them all. It is hard to say “This is the final cause of my writing, this is the ‘that for the sake of which’ I work and strive and grieve over lost documents”, but I think this comes as close as I presently can. In the words of Chesterton once more, this time from Orthodoxy, “Fairy-tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

Tolkien said of Eucatastrophe, “It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Posted in Fiction, Historical fiction, History, Non-fiction, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

In which I talk about art

Because I’m still not over that bad writing workshop. (Although a lot of this is prompted more by a continuing classmate than that professor.)

I have been thinking for a long while, off and on, about deliberate ugliness in modern art, that is, artists focusing on ugliness and ignoring beauty or saying it’s somehow less real and important because look at all the mud, as if ugliness is necessarily more like “real life”. And I’m not entirely sure, but I think it partly has to do with the rules for good art (which include absolutes like truth, goodness, and beauty, and showing things for what they are), and how a lot of modern artists are deliberately turning away from those rules and the worldview behind them.

So an artist ignorant of the rules might hit on something by accident, and produce good art done well, because he was trying his best to do something with even the fuzziest of notions about the absolutes. The kind of artist who likes to subvert the absolutes will produce stuff which, even if technically good (if he hasn’t gone the next logical step and thrown rules for skill out the window) is morally bad, because he’s trying to make it that way. If he’s trying to subvert the rule, let us say, “Thou shalt not murder”, he’s probably going to create a world in which murder is occasionally or often a good idea.

Now I’ve got to add that simply having the right ideas about art does not make your art good. Christian Fiction would not be what it is if a crowd of well-meaning people with generally the right theology didn’t believe “it’s the thought that counts” and turned their noses up at skill for being “artificial”, with the result that they prefer a badly-rendered Amazing Grace, because it’s done “honestly”, to a performance of Bach with skilled musicians, and somehow think the former is objectively better than the latter. (There is also a school which is so scared of deviating from the usual pattern that all their work is formulaic and predictable, not in good ways, and they’re the kind who’d take Amazing Grace over O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, because the latter was written by a Catholic, and, well, that’s just (their favourite word). . . that can’t be right.)

Tolkien and Augustine of Hippo, naturally, have good related things to say.

From On Fairy Stories (p. 21):  “[under the modern idea of “real life”] goodness is itself bereft of its proper beauty. In Faerie one can indeed conceive of an ogre who possesses a castle hideous as a nightmare (for the evil of the ogre wills it so), but one cannot conceive of a house built with a good purpose—an inn, a hostel for travellers, the hall of a virtuous and noble king—that is yet sickeningly ugly. At the present day it would be rash to hope to see one that was not—unless it was built before our time.”

And from Augustine — it’s hard to interrupt him and take out part of an argument, starting in the middle and not waiting for the end, so you’ll have to let your minds leap ahead to this part, I’m afraid —

“What is evil is the turning of the will away from the unchangeable good and toward changeable goods. And since this turning is not coerced, but voluntary, it is justly and deservedly punished with misery. . . . If you take away everything that is good, you will have absolutely nothing left. But every good thing comes from God, so there is no nature that does not come from God. On the other hand, every defect comes from nothing, and that movement of turning away, which we admit is sin, is a defective movement. So you see where that movement comes from; you may be sure that it does not come from God.” (On the Free Choice of the Will)

Story is hallowed in the Christian myth, as Tolkien says; ignorance may make good art, accidentally stumbling over the Beautiful, drawn perhaps by some longing of the heart it does not understand; but rebellion is trying not to follow any of the laws, and necessarily fails to live up to the standards for good art.

I should like to know why, in our art, should we not seek the True, the Good, and the Beautiful? Can a man say he does not think they are important to the discipline without deceiving himself? Of course, if you believe you can’t possibly find them, you may give up the search in despair, but some people do believe that just because you can’t get a thing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Oh look, a whole post without a Chesterton reference! I’m sure he said something relevant somewhere.

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Summer and a love letter (not mine)

Summer in my local area means pop-up thunderstorms and toads on the road afterward; people setting off fireworks on dates not limited to Independence Day, and late at night without considering that other people are trying to sleep (our nearest neighbours may be a mile away, but that doesn’t entirely do away with nuisances); swallows all over everywhere; rabbits legging it across the road in the evenings on my way home from work; that wren waking me up to hear a serenade meant for somebody else (either his wife or a trespasser) every morning at about the same time, and going on for longer than is amusing. It hasn’t yet been unbearably hot, though the cicadas make it sound hotter.

If we had a garden this year I could talk about what’s in season, but the only annual in that part of the yard — the only one which the grown-ups view as having any inherent use — is a parsnip which must have been accidentally planted last year, and has flowered and given the bees a lot to talk about. We missed our early crop of raspberries because the deer ate the young plants.

I don’t know about the swallows at work, but our young swallows flew today. It’s the first time in a few years, for various reasons, a brood has not only hatched but lived this long. (I don’t think the parents this year are the original pair, maybe some of their offspring; their age might partly be why.)

Out here, where our roadside flowers are usually wild roses, morning glories, and occasionally someone’s asparagus gone feral, we’ve got a patch of tiger lilies. In the wooded part of the river valley, next to the highway, there used to be the remains of a house, mostly wooden except the foundation, and a garage of concrete blocks. One four-paned window in the peak of the roof on the southern side remained intact, and at about two points in the year the sun would shine right through it, through the house, and into our eyes when we came to church in the morning. They took both down a couple of years ago. It had the remains of a garden which had sort of run away, and the thing doing best is the tiger lilies. This is the second week of their blooming — it was just a few in the ditch on Monday last, and now as you come round the corner by them it looks for a moment as if the ditch is on fire. The first year we lived here was an early spring; we moved out in April and the lilies were already blooming.

And unrelated to anything (mostly), if you haven’t read this letter from the young G. K. Chesterton To Frances, you should. It’s not your average love letter — of course, being Chesterton, it’s better.


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What I hope to be up to for the rest of the summer

We heard cicadas on the 30th of June, and all at once we passed into high summer. When you hear six weeks until first frost it’s as if you’ve crested the tallest in a series of hills and are looking down to the end; and then later you go into a valley, and climb a hill which, though not as tall, still shuts out your view of the ending, and so on, up and down, more and more quickly as you reach the last slopes.

It doesn’t help that my to-do list for the rest of the summer is expanding. If I wrote it down it would look something like this: 

Find a way to request books

(Work on OtN)

   Don’t panic.

Business meeting notes

Think about looking up application requirements and maybe brushing up on languages?


Perhaps contact Hofstetter and ask about the Vestal story — likelihood of the central plot point etc? He can point you to books so when you’re done with OtN and need a new one it’s there.


   Don’t panic.

Die and come back to life.

Eventually finish Of the North (this round).

Get books for your last term.

   No really, don’t panic.

I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something I wanted to do, but I’m not sure I’ll have time for anything more.

So far the summer has been very pleasant, if we count it as starting at the end of May. I’ve gotten to stay home quite a lot and read and write — or at least had the opportunity to write — and gotten a shiny new story idea. And I’m not rationing my strength based on insufficient hours of sleep anymore, now that I’m recovered from the end of the semester and May. (Last night, though, we had thunderstorms, but at least now it’s gloriously windy and the windows are open. It’s an ill wind blows nobody good, as they say. Maybe this one will blow a man’s hat over the hedge, followed by himself.)

I hope to finish Of the North by the time school starts. I’ve only got eight credits and a class I’m auditing, so it should be a bit less work than usual, and I can keep working on stories — starting to seriously research the 1920’s one, and continuing with the Vestal one.

(Then I’m done with college and need to find somewhere to live and find out how many of the places I hypothetically applied to want me or not. . . help. I went through my closet yesterday and got rid of all the clothes I’ve had for ten years and haven’t worn in ages and that was weird enough.)

Anyway. I did decide to do Camp NaNo, and you may watch my progress — or lack thereof — here.

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June wrap-up


I read Ender’s Game in May and forgot to mention it then, but a friend from church has since lent us all four books. I finished the series, my dad’s still working on it. The first book was a bit too much military strategy and science, and I figured this was just why I don’t read science fiction. But I was curious enough to keep going, since it was the first novel. And you can tell as the series goes on that the authour is becoming a better writer. The other three are much more the ethical dilemmas (and people having relationship drama, which got a bit old by the end), and the writing is less choppy. I don’t know that I would want to re-read them, though I don’t regret having read them either. The beginning of the very last book had some lovely lines about marriage which sound true, although never having been married myself, it’s hard to say.

I also read Chesterton’s Twelve Types, a book of essays, before I knew it was research.

Also I’ve been reading the University Library, but I’m only four volumes in just now.

The Mystery of the Scarlet Daffodil was a new find this month, I believe, and in searching for a quote I ended up re-reading the two Story Girl books by L. M. Montgomery.

Speaking of quotes:

“She would notice him or not. She would speak to him or not. She still loved and needed him. Or not. But no matter what, at the end of this day he would have weeded in the same field as his wife, and her work would have been more easily done because he was there, and so he would still be her husband, however little she might now want him in that role.” (Children of the Mind)

“Suppose we put it another way,” my father said. “The things you’re taught at school wouldn’t be of much use to Sylvester, but we’ll hope they’re going to be useful to you. If you lived Sylvester’s life, then you’d want to know all the things Sylvester knows. It’s just a question of suiting the right knowledge to the right job.” (The Mystery of the Scarlet Daffodil)

“I don’t believe [Shakespeare’s] fit to read on Sundays,” exclaimed Felicity. “Mother says Valeria Montague’s stories aren’t.”

“But Shakespeare’s different from Valeria,” protested Peter.

“I don’t see in what way. He wrote a lot of things that weren’t true, just like Valeria, and he wrote swear words too. Valeria never does that. Her characters all talk in a very refined fashion.”

“Well, I always skip the swear words,” said Peter. “And Mr Marwood said once that the Bible and Shakespeare would furnish any library well. So you see he put them together, but I’m sure that he would never said that the Bible and Valeria would make a library.” (The Story Girl)


Of the North, as you know, has only made progress in the last two weeks of June. And that new story idea is more than a plot bunny now (I never get plot bunnies, as I recall, no such luck) and has its own document of scribbles and brainstorming and even a working title.

I have not yet begun research, though — I am very stubbornly holding off on it until I finish this round of Of the North. That seems to bear repeating, in case I forget. At some point when I can explain the concept coherently (attempts to this point haven’t worked) I will tell you all about it. Until then, unless you’re among the privileged few, in which case you know who you are, my lips are sealed. Believe me, I want to tell you. I am willing to tell you. I am waiting to tell you. It’s just a bit premature.

Something Dr Rieppel said at a Wednesday camp concert a year or two or three ago finally gets a home, though, so that’s nice.

In Of the North, however, I’m seeing my outline in the side of the document, with the little (finish) notes there, and some of them are disappearing as I pick up and finish scenes I started and dropped. There’s still a lot to go, though — the bulk of three chapters with a lot of important things in them, and all the things related to liturgy like the Easter and Michaelmas scenes (which I can’t do till I know what I’m talking about, for which I have to request books ILL), and of course the ending. And smaller bits, mostly in the second half.


Nothing, alas.


Olivia and I started work, and that’s kind of been it. Nothing very exciting outside the new routine, which I’ve told you about before. I did get my first paycheck — after several days of me forgetting to bring it home, Olivia left me a note on my timecard.

After the whirlwind that was May I don’t think any of us a mind a quieter month. I am still waffling about doing July Camp NaNo, mainly because of Camp taking up the last week of it, and it will be revisions and possibly a bit of reading, if the books come in fast enough. This is not a good time to still be wavering on that decision.

Posted in Books, Of the North, Ordinary life, Reading, work in progress, Writing | Leave a comment

Snippets — Of the North, mostly

asdfghjk asdfghjk cut

asdfghjkl ;;’snip snur’

trim trim

* * * * *

This is what happens when your sister comes home from work and you’ve left your computer unsupervised while you’re making lunch. (She said, “But those are snippets!”) It’s also a not entirely inaccurate representation of the writing process. (We can’t be coherent all the time.)

But you want real snippets.


  “What gives that colour?” AEschild asked, looking over Cynethryth’s shoulder at the orangish contents of the dyepot. She was on another errand to Agenild and feeling confident enough in her pronunciation to stop and chat a little.

  “What do you know about dyeing?” Cynethryth asked.

  “Not much,” she admitted. “And not with plants from here.”

   Cynethryth spared her a glance with eyebrows raised. “And you a grown woman! Whence came you?”


The guidelines for romance novels (which I looked up before starting revision, to make sure OtN couldn’t possibly be mistaken for one) said the main character and love interest should meet before page 3 if at all possible. Well, mine don’t meet until chapter five, but I do give a whole chapter to the circumstances.

  She was just debating whether to yell for help, on the off chance that there might be someone around slightly more friendly than a bear to hear and come to her aid, when someone did the calling for her.

   “Aye you, there! Want y’ some help?”

  She twisted around to look behind her, grimacing at the way the mud squelched its way farther up her calves, and saw two young men standing about a yard away. They were smiling at her plight, standing close together. The one with darker hair had his arms crossed. The other, who was carrying a staff, bumped the other with his elbow even as she watched, and said, more quietly but still loud enough for her to hear, “She must be mute.” She had seen them before with the thegn and his wife — someone had told her they were the thegn’s sons. They were the stuff of legend appeared before her, though they wouldn’t know what she knew of their fate, so young and so alive they were now . . . She became aware that she was staring.

  “Na,” she said. “For help I would be glad.”

  The darker one took his companion’s staff and stretched it out toward her. She took hold of the end and held on tight as he walked backwards with it. For a moment, as her arms strained, she was afraid either the mud or her hands would let go suddenly and she’d fall on her face. But then one foot slowly lifted and came out with a sucking sound, and she was able to swing it forward and safely set it on the bank. She stretched out one hand for help, one of the men took it, and then her other foot came free and she was on terra firma again.


Æschild turned the lamp on and pressed the camera button.

  “Hello, everyone, and good morning,” she said, waving at the blinking lens. “It’s the morning of Fall Crown, and it’s about time for my monthly vlog anyway. I’m going to do something a bit different this time. Mistress Yelena asked about what goes into the layers of my garb, and I have a little time this morning — besides, you know SCA time — so I thought I’d show you, because it’s easier than just, you know, describing it. Last night Kat asked me to retain for TRM because one of their retainers has a family emergency and won’t be at Crown today, so I’m going period from the skin out.”


And I’m still eating lunch and supposed to leave early for work today, so that’s all you get. Comments, as usual, much appreciated. Comments telling my sister how crazy she is, doubly so.

Posted in Of the North, Revision, snippet, work in progress, Writing | 9 Comments