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Through Woods to See the Wizard

October 6th, 2013

It’s an aspect of the nature of light, because it travels uniformly in every direction from the point of its source, that upon encountering any evenly distributed scattering of objects, it produces the illusion of an enclosing sphere. This is perhaps most familiar in the globe that surrounds headlights seen through a rain-fogged window or a distant streetlamp observed through heavily falling snow.

Early fall reminds me of a slightly different manifestation of this same effect. Overcast light, diffused through deciduous forest canopy, strikes thinning, yellow-green leaves in such a way as to transform trunks and branches into arching pillars and a gold-carpted trail through woodland to a corbeled, green-golden cathedral vault, like the grand passage leading through the Emerald City to the doors of the Wizard’s audience chamber.

   Fall, Religion, Transcendentalism | No Comments »

Summer Mushrooms 2013

September 10th, 2013

A mild, wet summer makes for a mushroom cornucopia! I’ve done this before, so I’ll try not to hit any repeats. I found all these in my local woods, Bald Mountain Recreation Area North Parcel, Lake Orion, MI, between July and August.

bankera_carnosa
White Hedgehog, Hydnum albidium, purportedly edible, but I was flush with chanterelles at this point.

old man of the woods - Strobilomyces floccopus
Old Man of the Woods, Strobilomyces floccopus
Old Man of the Woods
tremella_reticulata
White Coral Jelly Mushroom, Tremella reticulata. Heavily rotted oak stump.

Horn of Plenty - Craterellus cornucopioides
Horn of Plenty, Craterellus cornucopioides, also known as black chanterelle, black trumpet, trompette de la mort or trumpet of the dead. So velvety and beautiful. Again, could have eaten this but had a basketful of yellow chanterelles already.

And these are just the ones I could identify and take a decent picture of before the mosquitoes found me!

   Fungi | No Comments »

Bloom

July 3rd, 2013

“Blossom where you’re planted.”
—Saint Francis de Sales

   Quotes | No Comments »

Readercon Jitters

July 2nd, 2013

Behold, my schedule for this year’s Readercon, which is next week.

Friday July 12

12:00 PM    G    Writing Others I: Theory. Michael J. DeLuca, Andrea Hairston, Rose Lemberg, Maureen F. McHugh, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. Authors who want to write outside their own experiences of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality face a multitude of challenges. How do we present each character’s unique perspective while celebrating their distinctive identity and avoiding stereotypes and appropriation? How is the research and writing process affected by differences between the author’s and the character’s levels of societal privilege? Is it possible to write about future diversity without oppression, or does today’s reality require us to write in today’s frame? Which authors have handled this well, and what form does “handling this well” take?

Proposed by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca.

1:00 PM    G    Writing Others II: Practice. Michael J. DeLuca, Rose Lemberg, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski, Sarah Smith. This practical discussion, led by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca, is for writers who have read Writing the Other, or otherwise carefully studied the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, and decided to take the plunge of writing about people whose experiences differ significantly from the author’s. How does one go about acquiring sufficient understanding of another culture, gender, or sexuality to write about it respectfully, productively, and effectively? We’ll discuss research techniques and writing methods used by successful writers of the other, as well as problems and solutions we’ve encountered in our own work. Attending “Writing Others I: Theory” is recommended.

Saturday July 13

10:00 AM    VT    Reading Michael J. DeLuca reads “Remorse and the Pariah,” a mini-epic poem published in Abyss & Apex.

Sunday July 14

10:00 AM    G    Digital Marginalia: A Conversation with Your Future Self. Neil Clarke, Michael J. DeLuca, David G. Shaw (moderator), Ruth Sternglantz, Gayle Surrette. Electronic reading devices allow us to carry huge libraries wherever we go. They also provide us with the ability to highlight, annotate, and share what we read. In a 2012 blog post, Clive Thompson described this enhanced reading experience as “a conversation with the author, with yourself, and in a weird way, if you take it along as a lifelong project… a conversation with your future self.” According to Craig Mod, “The book of the past reveals its individual experience uniquely. The book of the future reveals our collective experience uniquely.” What tools will we embed within digital texts to signal this shifting relationship with literature, and how will readers use them?

I’m the token white guy on those Writing Others panels. This comes as no surprise—it was partly my idea—but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. I have only the shallowest command of the theory, have not read nearly as widely as I should (though struggling to correct that as we speak) and have participated not at all in the great debate. Believe me, I will be showing up prepared, with copious notes and humility. Not that it will do any good. You know what might do some good? A friendly face or two in the crowd. So please come. Because it’s an important topic, getting more important pretty much in real time. Because it’s something we all need to know. And because I have put myself in the unenviable position of really, really needing it in order to keep writing what I want to write.

Nerves aside, I’m sure it’s going to be a great weekend with people I love dearly and don’t get to see enough.

Come to my reading too!

   HM, News | No Comments »

Ring Cairn

June 21st, 2013

ring_cairn
Votadini ring cairn, circa 300, Caerketton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

“Votadini” was the name Roman occupiers used to refer to those Iron Age hill tribes, nearly lost to history, whose descendants were celebrated in the ancient Welsh war-poem Y Gododdin:.

Men went to Catraeth at dawn:
All their fears had been put to flight.

Happy solstice.

   Altars, Stones, Summer | No Comments »

Sleeping Bear

May 29th, 2013

Sleeping Bear Dunes

I spent the weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and have returned with the resurgent impression that it would be more fulfilling and about a million times more effective if I laid off writing fiction and computer code and became an angry environmentalist full time. At this moment I literally would rather sit around watching my garden grow than struggle with some story that progresses at an equally glacial pace towards far less bountiful fruition. Nothing I make will be as beautiful as that which no hand hath made. Were all I’ve made to disappear, who would care?

This is not meant to be bleak or mopy. On the contrary. Thank God there is still something other than the internet.

   Angry, Environmentalism, Mountains, Summer, Transcendentalism | No Comments »

That City, with Cherry Blossoms

May 2nd, 2013

Cherry Blossoms, Boston, April 2013

I suffered through the recent horrible events in the city that was once mine from a distance of about seven hundred miles. I tried not to look at the news; I didn’t do very well. I didn’t know anybody directly involved. Until recently I didn’t think I had any great attachment to my city beyond that it was the only one I’d ever really known. I don’t love cities, though I can’t say I’m not fascinated by them. I love trees. I don’t consider myself a particularly emotional person. But for some reason, distance and homesickness combined with disturbing current events to make me cry silently while watching the news, wait to wipe away tears when my wife wasn’t looking, and dread the moment when what had happened came up in conversation (inevitable, since it was all anybody seemed able to talk about, even from seven hundred miles away).

Then, a few days after it had all wound down (except for the questions), I found myself obliged to return, as a result of an entirely unrelated tragedy, a sad, strange, serendipitous coincidence that allowed me an excuse to walk around and feel the breeze and drink beer and hug people and take pictures of spring in the city I only irrationally realized I missed when fear and uncertainty and mortal danger beset it.

Everybody seemed a little jittery, shell-shocked, not sure how to act. Freshly printed t-shirts for sale everywhere said “Boston Strong”. But otherwise everything was still there, pretty much how I’d left it, except for the person I’d come there to mourn. And even she, wiser heads soon made me realize, was still there too.

Happy spring.

   Horror, Realities | No Comments »

I Bail on GoodReads

April 2nd, 2013

GoodReads is a social reading site I had come to be quite a fan of and used extensively to track what I read and wanted to read. The other day they were bought out by Amazon, a bookstore-devouring, everything-selling, future-eating juggernaut I do my level best to avoid interacting with whenever possible. I hemmed and hawed a bit, asked some people I trusted if I might be overreacting, but came to the conclusion, based on who I am and where my money comes from, that I should sever ties.

To that end, as soon as this post here gets syndicated over there (yes, I told GoodReads it could follow my blog, an indication of just how much fun I was having tracking my books in public where some mindless corporate algorithm could track everything I read and rub its hands together maniacally thinking about how much money it would make advertising to me based on that information), I’m deleting my account. I’m removing GoodReads from the sidebar of this blog. I have already removed it from Weightless Books.

And now we at Weightless and some others are thinking about how we might go aboutcreating something GoodReads-like that isn’t owned by our corporate overlords. If you’re interested, please join us.

   Angry, News, Reading | No Comments »

Stuff (Fiction) I Have Coming Out in 2013 (in Theory)

March 14th, 2013

To remind myself when I forget. Also, once in awhile one must break down and do a little self-promo. Alphabetical by title.

  • “Construction-Paper Moon”, a father-daughter SF story, in Space & Time #118, reprinted from The Homeless Moon 1.
  • “Deer Feet”, a YA urban fantasy story set in my old neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, Boston, in Urban Green Man.
  • “Other Palimpsests”, a Borgesian horror story, in Bibliotheca Fantastica.
  • “Remorse and the Pariah”, a mini-epic poem about the cyclops from Homer, in Abyss & Apex.
  • “The Unicyclist’s Fate”, an electropunk love story set in the ’30s, in Airships and Automatons, reprinted from The Homeless Moon 3.
  • “The Urchin’s Dark Kite”, a fairytale, in White Cat, reprinted from the now-defunct A Fly in Amber.

I think that’s everything so far. Three new stories, three reprints.

I need to write more.

   HM, News | No Comments »

Layers, Echoes, Decay and Its Lack

February 6th, 2013

zaculeu_ruined_shrine

This is an unnamed shrine southeast of Plaza 1 at the Zaculeu archaological site, Huehuetenango, Guatemala: an example of the temple-within-temple phenomenon I mentioned in the last post. Hard to say what happened to leave both inner and outer layers exposed like this. I’ll hazard a guess: a somewhat more judicious use of the excavation-by-dynamite technique employed by early British explorer Thomas Gann (and no doubt others) to disastrous effect at Chichen Itza and elsewhere. At least here—if that’s what happened—they only blew up this wee little outlier shrine instead of the main attractions. The white structure you can see in the near distance is a corner of the ballcourt; the mound on the right is Structure 9, an unfinished temple whose construction was interrupted by the conquest.

Then there’s the other layer, not immediately noticeable: click the above to zoom in and you’ll see that this entire bombed-out shrine and even a couple feet of earth surrounding it has been covered over in concrete. The United Fruit Company, in 1946, hired another incompetent non-archaeologist, John M. Dimick, to ‘restore’ the temples at Zaculeu as part of their PR campaign to appear to be improving Guatemala’s infrastructure and protecting its cultural heritage while sucking its land and people dry. Dimick, a building engineer from Iowa who’d caught the Mayanist bug, came to the understandable but stupid conclusion that all the weird angles in the pyramids were the result of incompetence, and the ancient Mayans had really intended everything to be at nice clean right angles if only their engineering skills had been up to snuff. Concrete was the obvious material of choice: cheaper, harder, withstood earthquakes better and lasted longer than the traditional Spanish colonial stucco (which was already falling into disuse), never mind the orginal Mayan cooked limestone mortar.

100_1678

Zaculeu’s concrete-encased temples are the only ones I’ve ever seen without weeds, or even whole trees, growing from cracks between stones. They’re the only thousand-year-old temples I’ve ever been allowed to climb and leap all over like in a Prince of Persia video game. They’re also the only temples, with the exception of the Castillo at Chichen Itza (also restored, though with infinitely more painstaking faithfulness and care) with any kind of functioning acoustics: not the effect its original architects intended, for certain, but it’s not like I was ever going to get that anyway. Shout in front of the ten-terraced Temple 1 at Zaculeu, you get back ten harsh, staggered echoes, like yelling into one of those toy echo microphones with a vibrating spring inside you had as a kid. The effect is disconcerting, dissonant: it forced a halt to our conversation until we’d reached a point oblique to those unassailable planes. Interestingly, though, when two hundred people gathered in the plaza before the temple, the press of bodies dampened the effect; instead of feeling shouted down by several angry copies of myself, it just seemed like there were twice or three times as many people in the crowd, clapping, cheering, babbling.

Gonzalo de Alvarado conquered Zaculeu in 1525, after a protracted, horrific siege during which the entrenched Mam resorted to eating their dead. For 421 years, it decayed. Then it stopped decaying. The effect is something like that of an alternate history Mayan ruin replica as conceived by aliens. No, not that kind of aliens.

You know what it’s like? Those concrete tipi motels on Route 66. Or the miles of parking lots and concession stands surrounding the Niagara Gorge, the Grand Canyon or Old Faithful. What was maybe at one point a well-intentioned effort to allow regular people to interact with this beautiful, unfathomable thing without destroying it has in the intervening generations become an ageless, indestructible monument to epidemic cultural disconnect. And the doomed effort to traverse all these layers of misinterpretation and time becomes part of the point of being there.

100_1658

One of the “traditional” Mayan costumes centers on a mask depicting what I can only interpret as an absurdly stylized roly-poly German gentleman, complete with rosy cheeks and ridiculous moustache. These costumes also come in red monkey, black monkey, jaguar, black moustache guy, demon, tiger, etc.

What does this effigy mean to the guy wearing it? I get the impression this style of costume is a throwback to a different time, where the relationship between the colonizing and colonized culture was simpler, more black and white, though still weird and screwed up. And maybe it’s trotted out now only when called for by political pageantry (such as a PR tour for a future presidential candidate) or tourism (such as Oxlajuj Baktun). Certainly I only saw this style of costume in the context of the government-funded 13 Baktun celebrations when there were armed police present and helpful educational banners strung up everywhere, as opposed to the more intimate events where real Mayans followed their own beliefs with less regard for the crowd watching.

Traditions change, things cease to mean what they meant, and it happens over and over. Other things, though, seem as transparent now as ever:

100_1667

 

   Guatemala, Monumental Metaphor | No Comments »

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