Happy Halloween!

I can’t believe it.  Only one more day to Halloween.  The drama.  The suspense.  The yards of hand-hemmed rose velour.

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

Screaming children running through the streets!  Filing lawsuits when they  trip and break their heads open on the steps to your muddy front yard!  Heath bars for breakfast!  Three Musketeers for lunch!  A rent in the very fabric of civilization!

So, how about some hats?

Very important–

Don’t forget to buy candy.  And if you still haven’t got costume, a gypsy is always good choice.

Leafy flower fairy skirt.  Come see.  It will make you want to caper.

You knew I wasn’t going to leave her in rags, didn’t you?  Cinderella goes to the ball!

The cat doesn't care.


My weaving blog has all the costumes: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/

Poor Cinderella!  Her footmen are lizards again, and her beautiful ball gown is turned all to rags!

This is a salamander.

You can see the costumes here: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/

New costumes every day for one more week!

Where are the ballet girls? you say.  Where are the can-can pants?  The saucy aprons?  The horned hamburgers?

My weaving blog: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/

The reports from my sister came in.  The box was unpacked in a happy frenzy.  Can you guess what my nieces latched onto first?  Hint: they are featured in today’s stop on my Tour of the Costume Box, and they didn’t have ribbons.




In which I question the morals of the Salvation Army and exult in my eggcups.

With costumes.  And props.

Daily costumes on my weaving blog: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/

Costumes can do so much more than provide children with entertainment.  They can be educational.  They can teach old fashioned values, the old fashioned way.

Viking values, the Viking way.

http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/  for new costumes every day.

I don’t like to bore you with a bunch of link posts, neither do I wish to put any costume voyeurs to the trouble of finding their own way to my weaving blog. What to do!

Cat picture to assuage my guilt

New costumes every day until Halloween: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/

Continuing our tour of a costume box, I bring you Scarves and Other Lady Things here at my weaving blog: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/category/tour-of-the-costume-box/

Because I like you, and because I don’t want to let this blog lapse on a morbid note, I hereby invite all costume voyeurs to join me on a two-week tour of the costume box I made for my nieces.  First up is the Queeny Wizardy Robe.

It’s at my weaving blog, here: http://trapunto.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/tour-of-the-costume-box-general-notes-and-a-queeny-wizard/

Which came first, the cat or the crinoline?

Death Lore

June 20, 2011

For hundreds of years Christians prayed for a good death.  A good death was as much worth asking for as something to eat and your cow not falling in a ditch.  Not all deaths are good.  As a Medieval European (my ancestors were) you would have seen a lot of deaths, you would have known this without thinking about it.  We all get one.  I want a good one, you’d say, like hers, not a bad one, like his.

Depending on where you lived this changed some time in the 19th or early 20th centuries.  If the afterlife was supposed to be All That (so the reasoning went) one’s own death ought not to matter so very much.  Downplaying a sentiment so crude as ownership when faced with death could only be seen as a vote of confidence in the kindly (we hope we hope we hope) universe.  It was nothing new to believe the afterlife must be pretty damn great, but it was new to feel the burden of making the Better Place exist through sheer force of combined assertion.  Once upon a time, life was life, the afterlife was the afterlife, and the thing that got you from one to the other was a momentous occasion.  No longer.

Dying became “passing on.”  A passage manages to be neither an object nor a discrete event.  Instead of approaching a door that must be opened and shut, we might push aside a veil as we wandered down the hall from one state to a more exalted–or, if we didn’t believe in God or the afterlife, moseyed into poetic oblivion. When I am dead my dearest . . .  This must have required a lot of denial (strength of will?) in an era when we were still dying visibly, in pain, and often.  Yet even as a sunny boosterism took over the public side of death, all the lore pertaining old fashioned private dying stayed in place.  The home deathbed.  The laying out.  The wake.  The funeral procession.

The lore faded more slowly than the boosterism.  I think this is because even the most lugubrious 19th century notions of “passing” still acknowledge that death was about the person who was dying.  Now our jargon lulls us with intransitive end of life issues: managing care, preparing for the end, letting go, saying goodbye.  For all the rest–everything physical and specific–we are supposed to look to the experts in the appropriate institutions.  Our ignorance and incompetence is assumed in every detail of the way these institutions are set up to work.  We are required to be confused.  To trust.  To remain passive, both those of us who die and those who bear witness to death.  If we meet these requirements and the institutions are working properly, what is our reward?  The conveyor will hurl us along until it is all over: a successfully negotiated non-event.

In my grandmother’s case the institutions failed.  She had broken her right shoulder; it was set with three metal pins.  She was sent to a rehabilitation center to recover.  I made a trip to visit her there and traveled home again uneasy without knowing why.  A week after my visit I found out she had been moved to the hospital.  At the hospital I gradually pieced together most of what had happened: while at the rehabilitation center receiving physical therapy, the metal pins in her shoulder had been slowly working their way out through her flesh and skin.  The changing of the wounds went unremarked by her caregivers.  She contracted an infection and suffered spinal compression fractures. When taken to the hospital, she was mistakenly admitted to the cardiac ward rather than ICU.  According to hospital policy it was not possible for her to be moved into ICU after having first been admitted to cardiac.  Her shoulder could not be reset nor the protruding pins removed because anesthetic was contraindicated due to her COPD.  Pain medication was also contraindicated.  Because of her infection, her lungs had been filling.  She would not speak.

As soon as we arrived at the hospital my husband and I began trying make up for what we quickly recognized as the climax of a massive institutional failure.  This is like trying to drive a horse from inside its belly.  Here is the only example I can bear to recount: nearly every new nurse, technician, and doctor who came into my grandmother’s room–automatically assuming she was a cardiac patient–went to lift her up from her bed by her unset broken shoulder with its open wounds and protruding pins–and in fact did lift her by it, if one of us was not there to jump up and prevent them.  For three days my husband and I were the only companions of her suffering.  We were the only ones to learn the language of her pain.  Her professional caregivers did not learn this language, and did their best to make us powerless to act in even the smallest ways on our knowledge of it.

A language can be learned, even a language of groans and desperate postures.  But lore must be passed down.  As my grandmother died I understood that there are ritual responses to mortal suffering–gestures that create succor where there can be no relief.  I did not know the responses because I had never been shown them, but my body knew they existed.  All along it was a physical event for me, too.  When I left her dead body I felt myself reaching out with phantom limbs to the mirrors that should have been covered, the clocks that should have been stopped.  We have lost the lore for dying.  When we need it, we can only try our best to make it up on the spot.

There is no question in my mind that there are good deaths and bad ones or that it matters what kind you have.  It mattered to my grandmother.  She wanted a better death.  The entire time she was dying she fought, with all her strength, to remove the painful pressurized-air breathing apparatus she had been forced to wear because it was admitted by the “soft” interpretation of her advance directive that her out-of-state nephew had approved.  Literally, physically, she struggled for the death she wanted, not the one she got.  It was a bad death.

Relying On My Middle Finger

January 18, 2011

A few days ago I injured my right middle finger. I gouged the top knuckle. If you’ve never been involved in a freak apple-grating accident, you may not know how little is between your knuckle bone and the world just there. Or how much blood is in those few millimeters of the stuff that you are.

My knuckle starts bleeding again whenever I leave the bandage off. I have been favoring my middle finger in order to keep the bandage clean so I don’t have to replace it as often. Too, the bandage makes my middle finger clumsy and unsure of itself: self-conscious, in fact. I keep thinking, “Surely that’s a job for my pointer anyhow,” but I am wrong. My pointer and my middle finger are collaborators on almost (almost) every worthy task. And in every case (almost every case), Pointer gets the credit.

Because there was nothing else to eat for breakfast, I was making a frittata out of leftover potatoes. Two eggs were needed to make it stick together. I cracked the first egg into a bowl. Noticing how potentially bandage-soiling this was, I then gently hyper-flexed my middle finger out of harm’s way and picked up the second egg between my thumb and forefinger alone. It fell on the floor. I cursed, glanced at the ooze slowly leaking out from beneath the top dome of the eggshell, saw how many eggs were left in the box. Without thinking I used all five fingers to scoop up the broken egg. The yolk was whole and there was still a little white. I beat my eggs, made my breakfast, and ate it up.


December 17, 2010

I washed a canvas grocery bag, and it was like Shrinky Dinks.

Then, in a single instant, I grasped the whole grand purpose of Twitter: to keep that sort of remark from cluttering up the Internet.

Which got me thinking about the clutteredness of the Internet, which made me start to itch.

Or maybe it was just my hat.



December 12, 2010

If two different strangers tell you “Cute hat!” and one is a developmentally disabled young man at Goodwill, and the other is the clerk at the liquor store, should you conclude that your hat is cute, or merely that it is noticeable?

Does anyone else remember that place in Daddy Long-legs when Jerusha Abbot has just read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and she cries from the heart: “How can there be a man like Heathcliff?”

I didn’t care for Heathcliff.  In fact, when I first read Wuthering Heights at age fifteen or so, I remember asking pretty much the same question in disgust.  Whatever floats your boat.  It’s just one of those things.  Wuthering Heights, or Jane Eyre.  Heathcliff, or Rochester.  A jar of Miracle Whip that has been left out in the sun for five hours, or fresh-whipped French egg mayonnaise made with real lemons.

Now that I’ve alienated half of you, I would like to bring up the delicate subject of CUTE SHY GUYS or perhaps, SULKY SMART GUYS WHO ARE SO COOL, or even NAKED WIZARDS IN THE BATHTUB in the fiction of Diana Wynne Jones.  I didn’t want to be the first, but . . .

I’m just going to assume that none of you (now that all the Wuthering Heights lovers have left the room; and at this point the straight men can go too, and anyone else so inclined) are so silly as to think I want to leave my my husband for 12-year-old enchanter in training.  What I’m talking about isn’t a fantasy roll in the hay, but personal magnetism.  Diana Wynne Jones does male mystique like no one else!

You will find very little overt romance or love in a typical Diana Wynne Jones novel.  Characters learn about each other, become friends, admire one another, understand one other (sometimes) and have adventures.  Then, rather abruptly from the reader’s perspective, they occasionally announce their engagement–or in the next book they happen to be married.  You could just say Jones doesn’t do lust and standard romantic conflict because her books are written for children who would say ick to those things.  I don’t think that’s the case.  I think she is simply inclined to hang her characters’ relationships on a more equivocal framework than “love story” because she finds that more interesting.

Writing about young people (and others whose lives are ruled by forces greater than themselves, like magic-users) gives Jones’ a lot of scope for this preference.  Some writers forget that not only are teenagers They of the Raging Hormones, but also They of the Raging Ideas, They of the Raging Anxiety As To How They Can Possibly Find A Place In The Adult World, Raging Creativity, Raging Independence, and the Raging Need Not To Turn Into Their Parents.  Most real teenagers aren’t looking around for a Prince or Princess Charming and a happy ending; they are too busy negotiating the relationships in front of them, doing battle with evil, and generally surviving.  These are the ones Jones writes about.

Teenagers!  All that raw energy going off in all directions!  A lot like magic.  As readers of fantasy know, unharnessed magic can be very dangerous.  It comes on you without warning.  You must learn to harness it.  You must learn how to live with it.  Remind you of anything else?  Despite the lack of overt romance and desire in her fiction, Jones’ books are not asexual.  Drama (good drama, not melodrama) is sexy.  The raw energy of adolescent self-definition is pure aphrodisiac.  Magic is hot.  Why?  Because like the best sex, each of these things creates a raised pitch of emotion, a sense of revelation, and a feeling of commonality.  A metaphor made in heaven.

I will not harp on the mallet-over-the-head trend to capitalize directly on this connection in certain popular fiction.  Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy characters are a different breed.  They are real people first and foremost; they weren’t created as vehicles for magical sexiness, and they never do the same song and dance twice.  Jones can write a novel that appeals to a third grader for its sly humor and inventive plot.  An adult can read the very same book and find deep wells of motivation, multi-faceted characters, scenes full of teasing undercurrents.  That is Jones’ virtuosity.

In her essay (from a 1992 lecture) on heroes, she remarks, “I do find, myself, that the Hero, the protagonist, is the story. This is not to say that the other people in it are of no importance. Before I can write about anyone, I have to consider them as my close personal friends, even the Baddies.”

The more I read Diana Wynne Jones, the more flattered I am by her good opinion of her readers.  Whatever our age, without fail she treats us as if we were smart enough to take as much as we like from her books, be whoever we like in them, and scratch under the surface as deeply as we please–trusting us to find the way (or one of the ways) she has laid out for us.  She repays our enthusiastic blundering by packing her stories with ideas and crafting them on multiple levels.  Reading her comment on submerged alter egos in the essay mentioned above, I suspect she would take it for granted that it is possible both to want to be an eccentric wizard and find him hot at the same time.

Because it does not revolve around wanting a guy to ask you to the prom or turn you into a vampire, the sexiness in a Diana Wynne Jones novel not does not depend on your identifying with one character and desiring a different one.  (Readers aren’t known for their compliance in this department, but still.)  The sexy intensity is embedded in the story and everything that comes together to make it.  When the story is the hero, and the story is sexy, that makes the hero sexy too.

I can only speak from where I’m standing, so you will notice all of the following characters are male.  I don’t doubt there are readers crushing on Mig and Polly, but Jones happens to have a particularly fine hand with men and boys (for reasons that may become clearer if you read the essay I mentioned above), and she has written a lot of them.

So get comfortable and channel your inner fourteen-year-old.  Without further ado I bring you an incomplete list of–

The Hotties of Diana Wynne Jones

Jamie:  An intelligent urchin who gets handed the rawest of raw deals and turns out to have a backbone of steel and a heart of gold.  Triumphs over the odds then gives up his winnings.

Tom Lynn:  Shadowy, prickly professor who refuses to pull his intellectual punches, never condescends to youth, and still knows how to enter unabashedly into the delights of a pretend game.  The man with a secret sorrow.

Nick Mallory:  Here is a cocky trickster who, as a teenager, is willing to dance an impromptu witchy dance in public with his older girl cousin.  Astoundingly healthy self-image, clear goals, good sense, and no illusions about his mother!

Howl:  Gorgeous, mercurial, preening wizard who shelters his shrinking heart behind a multiplicity of just-barely-self-conciously humorous personae, and conceals his virtues from everyone, including himself.  The most powerful sorcerer, but off-handed with it.  Surprisingly good with kids.

Sirius:  Dispossessed angel.  Kindness perfected through suffering.  The empathetic sweetheart.  The otherworldly, perceptive male.  And sometimes is a dog.

Chrestomanci:  Ah, Chrestomanci!  (If I said it a third time I’d be in trouble.)  I am rendered nigh speechless.  Frock coat, I blurt.  Dressing gown.  Tangled mess all better.  Will recklessly risk his life(s) and his impeccable dignity in the pursuit of Sweet Magical Reason.  The steady hand on the pull-rope of the Deus Ex Machina.  The Maestro.  If you find competence sexy . . .  (Unfortunately also a married man.)

Conrad:  Harried, responsible teenager.  The underdog.  The good guy.  The unwilling rebel trying not to get taken for a ride.  Everyman.  With good hair.  In footman’s togs.

Dagner:  Unreliable artist.  The young tragedian with the fatal flaw.  If you ever went through your parents’ or older sibling’s record collection, found an old album with the face of a long-haired young man, played it, and suddenly understood that you were grown up and that the world was a sad place and poetry was its only hope . . .

Moril:  Down-to-earth mystic.  The worried, hardworking soul who attracts the Profoundest Magic.  A boy with his own concerns who tries, but will never quite be able, to give you his whole attention.  The craftsman.  The humble Lancelot.

The Ghost in Aunt Maria:  Harlequin.  Refracted personality.  A self-abnegating jester who knows all the tricks and tries to do what good he can, under the radar.  The martyr.

Charles Morgan:  Mastermind.  Cipher.  The Cold Face of Vengeance. . . and he wears glasses with the same threatening air as a shoulder-holster!

Rupert Venables:  My most recent addition.  I re-read Deep Secret a few months ago.  This time I was struck by his capacity for accurate self-assessment.  A bit of a stuffed shirt, but he knows it.  Prejudiced against tiresome people, but owns up to it as prejudice, and is willing to have his mind changed.  Proud of his magical ability, but justifiably so, and equally aware of his limitations.  I had no idea this quality could be so endearing!

So now my big question is: Who is your top Diana Wynne Jones heartthrob?  Is he on the list?  Did I miss one?

And one last:

How can there be an enchanter like Chrestomanci?

Plan for July

July 1, 2010

Since I have racked up a couple of dozen un-blogged books this spring, July is going to be my blog-a-book-a-day month.  (Drink-a-mug-a-milk-a-meal!–does anyone else have those milk trucks with the floating head of the creepy space-alien cow?  Admonishing you to drink milk?  As if she has just enjoyed a tall, frosty glass of her own–hence the lascivious wink?)

What this actually means is I may post every other day or so, not including weekends.  I played with the idea of not letting myself read any other blogs until I write my own post for the day, but quickly backed away from it with the skittishness of an addict.  Maybe I could just not comment on any blogs until I write my own post.  Yeah.  That would work.  Or, maybe I could just not comment on any blogs posts about books I haven’t read.  Or…

Why the backlog?  Well, I have been variously working like a targent (family saying), sick, and hostessing house guests this spring, but there was another problem.  In April I read a book so good that when it came to write about it, I was like the centipede who thinks about his legs.

There was so much to extract and praise and identify with in The Makioka Sisters–comparisons to Jane Austen’s characters, the historical context, eastern vs. western feminism, reminiscences about my childhood next-door neighbor, Japanese art.  To make things worse, after reading the Makioka Sisters I read a whole slew of good books.  If they weren’t good, they had themes that interested me.  Its easy to write breezy posts about dumb books.  It’s hard to write thoughtful posts about smart ones.  I feel I owe it to them.  Which is silly.

I had to take The Makioka Sisters back to the library a month ago.  I am going to start with a different, easier book, and I’m going to do my best to make it short.  That is my sideline goal for my blog-a-book-a-day month: short posts.