“Can’t you even hedge a bet that a snow storm is UNLIKELY to hit in April!!??”

(The immortal words of Dr Rieppel upon a similar occasion last year.)

Tuesday was weird in many ways. It was also good with puns.

(Sunday, Olivia asked Pastor a linguistic question about the difference between hearing and understanding, and he wound up his answer with “The point is sound”, which may have been unintentional, but was pretty good.)

It began with Olivia and me barging off to SMSU almost as normal, except that she nearly forgot snacks and had to run back inside for them. (Those looking for proof that she really does have a cold, look no further.) On Classical MPR the announcer said the programming today was sponsored in part by the Guthrie, now playing Cyrano de Bergerac, and he had two pairs of tickets to give away, so if you have a nose for theatre, call the usual number.

We stopped at the cemetery for the first time since winter (they never plough the cemetery road and with all the snow we had, it was impassable), and at the time it was perfectly clear of snow, and the road hadn’t even washed out.

Then while Olivia was in class a girl walked by, all smiley, and sat down nearby, and asked if I always sit there and so on, and a few minutes after the favourite-book question I mentioned Mere Christianity, and she said she has it. So. . . that was interesting.

After class, by arrangement, we and Nolan were going to have lunch with one of their classmates, Henry by name, because he’s pro-choice and made some interesting points in the abortion debate they had to start the semester. One of the things he said was that if any of the pro-lifers were in an inconvenient pregnancy “they would want that choice”, which goes to show he didn’t know them very well (Nolan wants him to see Unplanned at any cost). He came when we’d finished eating, and we started actually with a bit of small talk (he’s from our town too), and then got into abortion. Except we didn’t stay there very long, because it so quickly got into the question of authourity — what’s the ultimate standard for knowing, well, anything? He was polite and articulate but also very very wrong. Except he believes people are fallen and flawed, which is a good place to start. He seems open to talking more, although we shall see. He did say he didn’t think he was too opinionated about abortion, but then when he asked us what would change our minds and received a chorus of “Nothing” he said “Yeah. Nothing”, although perhaps as a good Relativist that doesn’t bother him. (Nolan advertised Unplanned to him.)

In the middle of the conversation someone leaned on the railing above us and loudly opened his mouth in dark sayings. All four of us froze and looked up. My first thought was that we were going to get told off for debating abortion so publicly, which would be a shame, especially as I’d been in a philosophy class with the speaker before. My second thought was that perhaps he had something to add. But pretty soon he got to the subject of his sentence and it became clear that he was not talking to us — he was in fact talking to a classmate who was on our side of the room but on the upper floor.

Once Henry hesitantly said (trying to be polite) that it seemed to him, personally, that to derive answers to moral questions from one’s religion seems very, well, closed-minded. So of course I said, quoting Chesterton, the object of having an open mind, as that of an open mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. And again he said “I don’t believe there’s any moral commandments set in stone”, which was an interesting unintended pun. And a third time he said “I don’t believe God’s going to float down out of the sky and talk to us,” and both Nolan and I said that as a matter of fact he had. Only a bit more concretely, of course.

Eventually Nolan stood up and said he had to print a paper before his one-thirty class, and for the next eight minutes by the microwave clock he stood with his hands on the back of his chair, continuing the debate. But both guys had one-thirty classes, so eventually they had to leave.

And then as Olivia and I were leaving the little cafeteria, a guy eating lunch at one of the tables near ours said, very shyly, “Excuse me?” and we both knew exactly what he was going to ask. And he did, and we explained we’d started with abortion and gotten around to epistemology — and that’s how we met another Baptist on campus. He’s pro-life, too.

Then it was all fun and games until suppertime, except that Olivia said while she was copying music in the FA office, Diana (the person who singlehandedly keeps FA sort of organized) had said three people near her had died recently, all of them per accident, all of them young. Olivia had said she understood exactly, and then had to explain that remark. . . so she and I printed out copies of the obit and Mr Dale’s letter, and delivered them to her later.

We were just done with supper and tidying up when a guy walking by upstairs leaned over the railing and said, “Does the orchestra rehearse right here?” It was a sensible question, but we didn’t know who he was or how he knew how we were in the orchestra (do we look that much like musicians?). We said no, it’s in FA, but we eat supper here.

“What do you play?” he asked, pointing to Olivia. Violin, she said. “And you?” pointing to me.

“She’s orchestra manager and librarian,” she said.

“Friend of yours?”

“She’s my sister!” Olivia said with a trace of indignation.

He knew Georgia was viola, and said “Hope it goes well for you. You guys are awesome!” and went away. Georgia told us how she knew him, so then it wasn’t so weird.

During rehearsal, at a spot in Finlandia which involves cymbals, the orchestra got stuck and our guest conductor had them go over it several times, so I chose the opportunity to go upstairs and see if Diana was still in her office, and if she was to ask if she had read the things we gave her and what she thought.

I got to the top of the stairs and saw her light was on, but she wasn’t in. Several theatre students were taking costumes apart and putting them back together in the lobby, and Diana was talking to Michelle the custodian and someone I didn’t know. Well, I certainly wasn’t about to slither up and say, “So, want to talk about suicide?” in that company, so I dithered at the top of the stairs. But she saw me and called “Were you looking for this?” holding up the cash box.

I panicked a little and said I had just been going for a walk, but it wouldn’t hurt to get it now, so I came over and took it. And then. . . she said she’d read the things we gave her (without prompting!) and we had a nice long conversation about that, in the middle of all the kids running around with bits of paper and fabric, and she hugged me twice, and I was more than ready for things to stop being weird.

And then in orchestra Mr Fortner made an elaborate analogy about a GPS and then added that Dvorak added a certain part “to drive the point home”, which may or may not have been intentional, but was still good.


In other news I am behind on Camp NaNo, because I’ve been working on at least two, sometimes three, other writing projects, which have been demanding, and I’ve written more than two thousand words today, but not in the TLL, so it doesn’t show in the stats. And I work all day Wednesdays, so there’s no getting anything done.

Posted in Ordinary life, So That Others May Live | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Having run out of witty titles

The silence last week was quite accidental. We’re approaching the end of the orchestra season (concert on Saturday! Anyone want to come?) and I’ve actually worked a little bit, and am not too far behind on Camp NaNo, although the stats only record progress on The Two-Legged League and I’ve got four or five things to work on in total. . .

I’m reading The Man Who Was Thursday, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone as their first taste of Chesterton, because it is rightly subtitled A Nightmare, and the plot’s a little hard to grasp. But it’s well worth reading, of course, at some point. And the opening poem is — well. He writes to E. C. Bentley “who shall understand but you?” but the things he recounts, the horrors they faced together, have persisted, and the reader can say “I understand”: things like “Science announced nonentity and art admired decay”. Here’s Chesterton writing this to his best friend, and they aren’t alone.

I’m also reading Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment, and it’s kind of fun seeing the arguments I’ve given and received for the past three years set down in tidy scholarly form. I’d recommend it to anyone curious what the important differences between Rome and the rest (minus the East) are. Although if you’re looking for a book which will triumphantly confirm your opinion that Catholics are all wrong all the time, you will be disappointed.

Since I’m running short on time again, have a little scene from the TLL.

  “Is there a reason we’re putting these [poems] up on lightposts out here?” Thew asked, struggling to get out of a length of tape which had wound itself around his fingers.

  “No prejudice against the poorer classes having recourse to the same joys as us,” Blair returned. “I wouldn’t chew it if I were you.”

  “Help me!” Thew turned to Rosamund and held out his pinioned fingers to her. She laughed and unstuck him.

  “I’m going to come back with chocolates,” he declared. “I’ve seen so many kids around. Food will go far where letters can’t.”

  “Speaking of which, we should go see Peter again soon,” Poppy told them. “I haven’t been since a little after Epiphany; have any of you?”

  “Food,” continued Thew, “hath charms to soothe a savage beast. I believe it is so written. We should do some baking.”

  “What,” Rosamund inquired, “do you like to bake?”

  “Muffins. Except I can’t when we’re in school, you know. They don’t like it if you set things on fire in your digs.”

  Blair methodically cut tape and hung poems, watching them flutter from the telegraph poles when a small breeze passed through, but his mind was on something else.

  Crocuses were beautiful. Purple, gold, or white, they were beautiful. One comes back from war, from days on end of unutterable dullness, or else of mortal danger — little in between — from a place where there used to be trees growing, now trees splintered, trees broken, mute casualties only noticeable because they were bigger than the animals and smaller plants which had gone down together into the mud, and one finds flowers growing uncrushed and animals devotedly tended. It seems as if, in an honest universe, a world which contained so much of waste and evil could not be the same place where crocuses bloomed every spring. But they did. Pointless beauty, unless one believed the scientists that it was all for generation — pointless beauty, not like a woman’s delicate attention to her hair and clothes and what not — the crocuses didn’t care what people thought of them. They just went on being beautiful while they lasted. And they would come back next spring. God would say ‘do it again’ to the sun and the moon and the dandelions, and they at least could be called ‘very good’. This is what the phrase ‘the bad still exists, but so does the good, and the one doesn’t render meaningless the other’ I put in all those letters meant all this time, he realized. He had a fleeting feeling that a war to defend crocuses would be the only kind of defensible war.

Posted in Books, Historical fiction, Reading, snippet, The Two-Legged League, work in progress, Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

As I go puffing out germs like a puffball with its spores

I’ve been at home with a cold these three days, coming down with it at the end of a long day with the orchestra. On Wednesday I read four library books; yesterday I re-read one (The Castle Behind Thorns, Merrie Haskell, historical fantasy and quite good) and wrote 2,000 words in an article for Story Embers, which probably won’t get published for a long time. (It says on their site about three months after submission, which isn’t actually that long, but feels like that.) Today I polished it up and submitted it, and am trying to knock into shape the last segment of a short story that takes place after the end of The Two-Legged League, which I mean to submit to a contest, although the deadlines is the 31st. And it’s hard to type when you have small nosebleeds about once a paragraph. And it’s hard to go on making sense of a delicate balancing act between characters when your brain’s a bit fuzzy because of irregular sleep.

On the other hand, the birds are singing in the mornings now. The ground’s frosted early in the day, but slowly the water wakes up and starts running instead of sitting still, which naturally brings a lot of chaos if you’re near a river (we’re having so much flooding), but is still beautiful. The fields are striped three colours now: white, black, and yellow, because enough of the snow has melted you can see what’s left of last year’s stubble. And Of the North has woken up again (to be promptly sent back to bed when I got sick — but I’ll get back to it).

I have a guess as to why the story fell asleep last summer and why it’s waking up now instead of some other time. It gets into some scary personal things which would need more than half a blog post to get into, especially since I still have a lot to do before I give in and probably take another nap, but, anyway, there’s a hypothesis and I just have to trace it out to my other books and see if it fits.

Oh! And I’m doing April Camp NaNo. You can follow my rollercoaster progress here.

Posted in Historical fiction, Of the North, Ordinary life, The Two-Legged League | Tagged | 5 Comments

A Remedy: for Historical Inaccuracies

Two things that would go a long way toward increasing historical accuracy (to the point that I, with a concentration in the late Anglo-Saxon era, can ask intelligently about the plausibility of things in a story set in 15th-cent. Bohemia): consciousness that medieval human nature was much like modern human nature, with the same capability for sublimity and grossness, although with different priorities and ideals (and you ought to have a working knowledge of what those were); and a knowledge of what kind of question to ask.

Knowledge of the former point keeps you from saying “but everybody was unwashed and illiterate and the Church oppressed women!” which if you’re going to attempt a story about real people is possibly the most damaging mindset you could have. Do better (it’s not hard!) than my anti-theistic Brit. Lit. classmate who, on the day we discussed the Wife of Bath’s Tale, went off about how in “ancient times” (never mind that Chaucer was practically yesterday) women weren’t valued outside of marriage and if your first husband died, too bad, you’d better get another one. Now the Wife of Bath is not a role model in every point of behaviour, but an important fact about her situation is that she sought out at least four of her five marriages (and she says she’s not opposed to number six!) despite that after her first husband died people told her it was fine to live off her inheritance and be a sedate widow, according to custom. She’s also very outspoken, and when my classmate (who claims he is a feminist, because that riles up Christians too) talks over her that way — at that point you’re not even reading anything into the text, you’re just not reading the text. Let the woman speak for herself! That’s principle one: let the people of the time and place you’re writing about speak for themselves.

That means reading what they wrote as often as possible, but also setting aside your preconceptions of what they were like before coming to the work. The essentials of human nature don’t change over time — which is part of what makes things made in, or written about, past times so wonderful in awakening us to a knowledge of shared humanity and something almost like the massive continuity of ducks. However, lots of the fluff around the core changes wildly, to switch metaphors, and understanding, for example, that lots of the customs we consider so important would be as ridiculous to our great-great-great-grandparents as we consider theirs, is also valuable.


For point two, you don’t have to know whether hams were wrapped in waxed paper in 15th-cent. Bohemia; you only have to ask. And then go find out. It’s already a much better question than “what food did medieval people eat”.

Here’s a thing that will help you a lot in researching anything: don’t ask about “X in the Middle Ages”. The Middle Ages, although definitions differ, encompass about a thousand years, and if we’re talking only about Europe, half a hemisphere. That’s huge, to start with. Marriage customs in eighth-century England are not like those in eleventh-century Italy (the geographic location; it wouldn’t be all one country for several hundred years), or in fourteenth-century Spain, or sixteenth-century Russia, or. . . you get the idea. You can Google “medieval marriage customs” but I can guarantee you will get inaccurate sources. (For example, every. single. listing of ‘medieval wedding dress’ — they’re white, and princess-seamed, and all kinds of other inaccuracies. Part of that is the market they’re catering to doesn’t know or care about accuracy, though.) Instead, be specific about time and place. “Marriage customs in fifteenth-century Bohemia” is a lot better right from the start. There’s actually hope that someone’s written a book, maybe even one called Marriage in Bohemia in the Fifteenth Century, and that the authour consulted the proper primary sources about it. Library databases are a good place to look (Jstor especially); Google Scholar is not half bad; I highly recommend Academia.edu, even though they e-mail every week asking you to upgrade (which involves money; the basic account does not). Re-enactors’ blogs are also good and sometimes provide lists for further reading.

See, I don’t have to have crazy in-depth knowledge of everything under the sun to be good at this. A lot of the important things boil down to two questions: “How do we know that X?” (for x=anything, like ‘waxed paper was used to wrap meat in 15th-century Bohemia’; I don’t have to know, just notice the detail and question it) and “Are these sources reliable?” The latter is a bit trickier; a statue from the time and place is a reliable source for thirteenth-century Norse carving, but not necessarily for telling what thirteenth-century Norsemen wore on their feet. The sculptor may have depicted men with “what looks like” boots (you’ll hear variations on that phrase all the time), but was he accurately representing what he saw, or were his priorities in the art something other than strict realism? With regard to the style of sculpture, that’s a primary source; with regard to shoe styles, a secondary. A paper written about sculpture in the time and place, using pictures and analysis of the statue, is a secondary source; on footwear, using same, a tertiary. The reliability of the papers varies depending on how well they interpret their evidence and how critically they engage with conflicting evidence from comparable sources, and opinions of other writers. A random blog post on “Medieval Men’s Shoes” (way too broad a focus, you can see already), which references a paper which cites the statue but badly misinterpret’s the artist’s intention (maybe archaelogical evidence proves something the opposite of what we get from the carving), and lumps 13th-cent. Norway in with 15th-century France because they’re kind of close, right? is a Very Bad Source, and also quaternary if we’re still counting.

And so on.

N. B.: I am not actually working on anything of my own set in 15th-century Bohemia; it was a convenient example because I was beta-reading someone’s short story set then and there. And it’s not actually all that bad. I had a lot of related rants waiting to come out. 

Posted in Historical fiction, History, Research | 6 Comments

Guest post by Jack

As part of promoting Through A Glass Darkly before it comes out, Jack Lewis Baillot offered to do a guest post on my blog. So, since we don’t know each other terribly well and haven’t a lot of formality to get through first (though I will let y’all know when the book comes out), here she is.


First of all I’d like to thank Sophia for having me visit her blog today. Second I must admit that I don’t feel prepared or up to the challenge to write this post but I am going to do my best for all of you.

Those of you who follow me on  http://anthembirdwithabrokenwing.blogspot.com know I’ve had a rough past. I won’t go into details on here except to say it was full of pot holes. As a result I suffer from mental illnesses one of which is PTSD.

There has been much in life that has helped me begin to heal but nothing quite like writing.

It might seem somewhat strange since I only write fiction and have yet to write down my own story.

I guess the question comes up then, can fiction really heal? Can writing heal for that matter?

Healing comes in all forms for different people. Writing won’t help everyone but I firmly believe any art form is one of the best healing medicines. When one is in despair, to paint those feelings, write them down, play a song, or any other art form. God gave us arts for a reason, creativity and a small means of being able to create.

Creation in any form brings us close to God, our own Creator. And being close to God is healing.

For me I find healing mostly in writing. I write of the pains and joys of life, the falls and rises, of characters suffering with what I suffer. I put it in a fictional setting and watch to see how they cope, and I find a means of copping through their healing. It’s like we heal and find hope together. Walk along life’s valley of the shadow of death and assist each other as we go.

For me I find that fictional characters helps me heal the fastest. For others it might not work and maybe you would write about true events. Either way never underestimate the power of the arts in getting through rough times of life.

God is a creative being and made us to be as well. So no matter your interest and God given ability, pursue it and maybe it bring you hope as it did me.

Posted in Books, Fiction, Non-fiction, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Seamy Side

The job search continues. I am not exactly sanguine about the prospects of anyone in the area wanting me, but I’m staying, and I don’t know for how long — it could be quite a while. (Not that I want anything the area has to offer me, in terms of jobs, but such is the artist’s life when marrying for money and then quietly tipping the guy off this mortal coil is not an option.) And then, you know, one has to give up one’s time to doing boring things just to stay alive, when one would much rather be working on art and things that matter — not that boring and money are wrong in themselves, it’s just frustrating when they demand three-quarters of one’s waking hours and leave one burnt out afterward. If anyone would pay me (enough to live on) to write articles about Anglo-Saxon culture that would be great — as well as impossible.

Perhaps I’m being pessimax, but so it looks just now. In time I’m sure I’ll look through the archives and smile at being reminded of how it actually turned out.

I want money enough to live, from a job that doesn’t suck away my imagination, and an apartment where I can grow a few things on a windowsill or balcony, and people to not offer unwanted advice about backup plans or their definition of success: Stability in which to make art, and good art to make. Even a full-time job is really a side gig.


In more cheerful news, I’m almost done with the historical part of the first draft of my documentation for the Black Wasp garb, and have come a long way on the project itself. All the hemming is done (except for the sleeves, which I haven’t even cut out yet), so that’s good. On the other hand. . . the course of garb-making never did run smooth, as I think Shakespeare says, and Tuesday I discovered that one of the two extra gores I cut (adding centre front and back ones was a new addition to solve another problem) has one side longer than the other. Don’t ask me how that happened, but it did, and that would just make the hem more uneven, and other things I want to avoid.

Fortunately one of the side gores has to come out anyway, on account of being mostly done in nylon thread, so I’m going to swop them, and the current side gore will end up in the back. That might be difficult, as it’s the one made of two pieces, but we’ll find out. (Normally for four gores there’d be two made of two pieces, but I did such a bad job cutting the one out that it simply did not work.) That means ripping out a significant portion of handspun, which will destroy it, as I did backstitch. I am not happy about that.

But I got to use my bone needle for the first time on Tuesday, and I’m getting consistent 2 or 3 mm stitches with it (I measured)!


Shown slightly larger than actual size

Nolan (a new addition to the Motley Crew) saw me working on it and said, “That’s a big needle.”

“It’s bone,” I said, and thought it wise to add, “Cow bone.” (I may be Baba Yaga when I’m old, but perhaps it’s early to start forming that reputation.)

“So is it unbreakable or something? What’s the plus of using it?”

“Historical accuracy.”

“Oh!” The word kind of trailed off.

That’s all, except for this.

Come back on Saturday for a proper exciting post!

Posted in Ordinary life, SCA | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Some geeking out over obscure Anglo-Saxon art



Detail of  the Annunciation, from the Benedictional of S. AEthelwold, 963-984, Add MS 49598, Folio 5v

  According to the Bodleian Library’s online entry for the Benedictional of St Aethelwold, this page (of which only half is here shown) is a miniature of the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (I have left Gabriel out of the picture here, but no doubt he is relieved to have escaped the presence of so formidable a lady), “preceding the benediction for the first Sunday in Advent”.

  This manuscript, a collection of benedictions with lavish illustrations, is an example of the “Winchester School” of illumination around the end of the tenth century, a style recognizable by its creative ways of avoiding blank spaces and lavish use of colour. In the eleventh century a Continental influence asserted itself and brought in the line drawings and tiny fluttering draperies which characterize later Anglo-Saxon art, and this style came to be unfashionably baroque. The Benedictional shows a lot of women, and a lot of them, as here, with books of some kind — sometimes singing, or, as here, writing!!

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that people in medieval art were expressionless. It’s true that some artists are better than others at doing faces — and Anglo-Saxon artists were best at 3/4 views — but if you see the whole page (here), you can guess that the artist took his inspiration from the point at which St Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin and have not known a man?” and poor Gabriel has to try to answer her very logical question in a way that kind of makes sense.

She’s left-handed!

It might be the artist accidentally mirroring. It could be for the better composition of the picture. It’s possible it was a mistake not noticed until too late. But whatever the reason, there can’t have been much of a stigma against left-handedness if it can appear in a full-page picture in the image of the Blessed Virgin herself. As a lefty myself, and knowing SCAdian lefty scribes, it’s fun to see that kind of thing.

Anyway, I can’t believe I only discovered this highly favoured Lady only two days ago, as I like her so much I’m considering changing my profile picture.

(Do you know how hard it is to find ladies without mantels on in the Benedictional? Probably not. I was looking for a good clear picture for the research half of my project for next year’s Northshield Arts and Sciences Competition.)

Posted in History, Research, SCA | Tagged , | Leave a comment