Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why I Left My Writer's Group...

Some months back I was invited to join a writer's group in which all the writers were working on pieces of fiction and/or poetry and were actively writing. I was flattered and pleased to be invited and I looked forward to our meetings. The form the group takes is that at each meeting (we met ever other week) we would bring something we were working on with enough copies for everyone to have one and then we would read our pieces to the group while they followed along on the copies handed out to them. Then they would give feedback and suggestions.

This is a reasonable way to get feedback from people who know a few things about writing and a very good way to discover whether you are getting your ideas across. I went to a few meetings and loved listening to the others read their work and tried to give good feedback but I was struggling with the pieces I was presenting. I finally figured out why.

In my experience with writing fiction – both short stories and novels – there are two stages to the process. The first is getting the story, the second is refining, polishing, structuring, creating dialog, making everything beautiful and logical and cohesive. I think of these as the Story Stage and the Refining Stage. What I have learned through my experience with the writing group is that, while the help of others is crucial to the Refining Stage, you are really on your own during the Story Stage. Back when I taught writing I used to have one guiding principle: First get it down, then make it pretty. The last few months of writers group have made me realize how true that is.

When I began the group I had been working for a few months on an idea I had for a story. Actually this story and part of its cast of characters have been buzzing around in the back of brain for years. But I wasn't working seriously - I had too many writing irons in the fire. Each Angel Burns had only been out for a few months, I had just completed Fry Bacon. Add Onions and I was toying with ideas for a young adult novel, a second knitting book, and a sewing book on using unique fabrics creatively. The idea of beginning the arduous process of another novel was not appealing but my characters were getting pushy, they wanted to be born. Characters can be like that. Consequently the third novel, tentatively titled Depraved Heart, was not happening.

So, I joined the writers group and it gave me the push I needed to start writing. Within a few weeks I had completed the first writing of six chapters and for each meeting I took a chapter, read it, and made notes on the feedback. Sounds good, right? But it turns out it wasn't. well, that's not fair – the feedback was good, I just wasn't ready for it. I was coming home and re-working those first few chapters over and over instead of continuing on with the story. I wasn't entirely sure where the story was going and I was making refinements without knowing exactly the direction I was headed in.

You might be wondering how this could be so. Don't novelists know where there story is going before they begin it? Yes and no. We may have the bare bones of the story but surprising things always happen along the way. You may know your main characters but interesting secondary characters can show up. Secondary plots emerge. The plot may take some unexpected turns before developing into what you intended to write about. Frankly, it's an adventure and you have to be willing to take it and let it unfold without inhibiting it by worrying about what the character wore that day or what they had for breakfast.

I'm a firm believer in obsessive character development. Like J.K. Rawling, I've written entire biographies for each of my characters outside of the story and I know everything about them from what their sign is to what kind of underwear they buy even if none of that appears in the story. But first I have to know the story and that's a solo trip. I can rely on the feedback of others to know whether a character is working or not, whether the settings are interesting, whether the dialog is working, whether the ambiance is right, whether the suspense is building and the clues are where they should be. But I have to be the one who knows what's going to happen and why. With Depraved Heart I'm still working on that.

So I made the hard decision. I told the members of my group I have to drop out until I get the story down. I can't keep reworking chapters one through five until I know what is going to happen in the rest of the chapters. And I have to stay home and sit here in front of the page and write until I know these things. Only then can the Refining Stage begin. It's a long tough process, this writing business, but if I'm going to do it, I have to do it right.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hey Fellow Knitters, I Need Help!!!

Just came home from Coveted Yarn with a lovely bag of luscious Lamb's Pride. The colors re succulent and I want to make an afghan but I need ideas --- something that will really let me show off these pretty colors:
So I am open to suggestions. I thought about an old fashioned Granny Square one but crocheting is too hard on my wrists so HELP! Point me to a lovely knitting pattern.

I haven't done much knitting this summer. I made this adorable headband out of KnitPicks' CotLin:

And this headband, which needs blocking, out of their Elegance, an alpaca/silk blend:

And yesterday I started this one out of a Yarntopia Treasures cotton yarn:

But that's about it. So, help me out with some design ideas. My brain is exhausted!!!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sister Mary Picks-The-Grapes

Yesterday on her blog The Monastic Mirror, Sister John Paul OSB, from my home town in Pennsylvania, had a great blog about picking Concord Grapes at Sceiford Farms in Northeast, PA. When I was in college in Erie we used to make trips to Northeast at this time of year to buy apples, pears, grapes - whatever was being picked at the time. In fact some of the orchards in that area would hire students to pick fruit when they had the time. They would pay us, feed us, and send us home with a basket of whatever we had picked that day. It was great fun.

So, as I was thinking about Concord Grapes, which are the only grapes I really like, I started thinking about the excellent things you can do with them. When I worked at StockerYale in New Hampshire one of the women who worked there had a bunch of Concord Grape vines and she would bring me a shopping bag full of them in the fall. My approach was to eat a lot of them before I even got them home but then to remove the grapes from the stems, wash them well, and put them in a big kettle and just simmer them until they had all burst and were producing lots of juice. It helps to add a few green apples, washed and cut in chunks - this adds pectin. Then you scoop them out, run them through a Foley food mill to remove the seeds and put them back in the pot. Now you lower the heat and cook slowly being very careful not to let them burn. When they are reduced by half measure the fruit and add an equal amount of sugar. Cook until the sugar is completely melted and the jam is nice and thick then ladle into sterile jars, seal, and save. This makes a delicious, very "winey" tasting grape jam.

Another good treat is Concord Grape Conserve which is made in a similar fashion except after you remove the seeds and return the pulp to the kettle you add an orange, seeds removed, sliced very, very thin (rind and all), a lemon, seeds removed, sliced very thin (rind and all), 2 c. of raisins, and 1 tsp each allspice, cloves and cinnamon (more cinnamon, if you like). Simmer this as above, add the sugar, etc. This is delicious, spicy grape treat that is good as a jam but is also nice as an accompaniment to roasts.

Sister John Paul, above, is a very talented nun and one of her skills is that she runs a backhoe to bring income into the convent. She's really good at it and in St. Marys she is known as Sister Mary Backhoe. Now she can add Sister Mary Picks-the-Grapes to her list of accomplishments.

It's Autumn, revel in it.

Thanks fore reading.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Random Stuff

It has been very, very, very busy here lately so I haven' been able to blog. I love busy though - busy is good. So here is a random sampling of stuff that may or may not be of interest to you:

1. Espresso Italian Grille & Pub now has a web site. Yep, they not only moved from downtown to E. Main street but they have a fabulous new menu and their (very busy) web master is in the process of putting their web site together. It is at http://www.espressoitaliangrille.com and it looks like this:
A friend and I went out for their Wednesday night dinner special - two entres and a bottle of wine for $30. I had the eggplant parm and my friend had the linguini with clam sauce and it was delicious! You should try it out.

2.) If you are a sewer and an eBayer go to The Fabric Room and stock up on their goodies while you can. They are having a huge sale and I got a ton of sewing machine needles -- including twin needles, wing needles and blue jean needles for a fraction of what they would cost in most stores. Now is the time to do it!

3.) See this gizmo:
I know, it looks funny. But you can pick it up at the Dollar Store for a dollar (amazing). What does it do? Well, if you have long(ish) hair you just pull it up in a ponytail, slide the gizmo on to it, snap it shut, roll it down, twist it around and - presto, change-o - you get this:

Is that cute or what? Now that I am a lady of mature years I think having a bun is quite cool. Plus you can find  videos on YouTube for how to make it. Didn't your grandmother make her bun with the help of YouTube?

4.) I found out tonight that one of my friends, who is a few years older than I am, once dated a biker guy and participated in a cornflake wrestling tournament. I can't think of anything to add to that revelation.

5.) If you go outside in the middle of the night and look up that huge shiny thing close to the moon is Jupiter. Yes, Jupiter! And if you have binoculars to gaze through, the shiny thing behind Jupiter is Uranus. Is that cool or what?

6.) My GoodReads free books finally got delivered (don't get me started) and I will be mailing them off tomorrow. I'M SORRY IT TOOK SO LONG!!!! I'm including a pretty nifty free prize as an apology.

Okay, time to get back to work. Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Crochet Your Own Buttons?

Admittedly I have not done much knitting this summer, though I've been sewing constantly. But I am nearly finished with the lace cardigan I'm knitting from some super soft pink-with-sparkles cotton yarn I bought on eBay. This is the back when it was in progress:
Now that the pieces are all knit I am in the process of sewing them together and then I intend to crochet around the cuffs and the front of the sweater to make a nice, stable border. This was a very, very easy lace pattern to learn and I think it is going to be comfy to wear.

So I was thinking about buttons for it and I got the idea to crochet some buttons based on some I'd seen in The Button Maker. Using a small crochet hook and some of the leftover yarn (I have a LOT of it) I wound a couple loops around the end of my finger and crocheted 6 stitches into it then I pulled the tail up tight to close the hole. I then went around three times crocheting 2 stitches into every sc. I then crocheted a single round without increases, then crocheted three rounds decreasing every other stitch.

As the opening got smaller I made a very tight little ball of yarn with another piece of the yarn about the size of a marble and I tucked it into the middle of the ball. In some books I've seen they put a wooden bead inside but I like using the ball of yarn because, for one thing, it doesn't show through ,and, because it is softer, you can stitch through it to anchor the button more securely. Finally I crocheted the last six stitches to close up the hole, cut a long tail and looped it through the stitches to secure the closing. This is the result:
Aren't they cute? I can't wait to finish the sweater and sew them on. In fact, I like them so much I might make some yellow ones for the cashmere/silk Estonian style sweater I made last year. I put Czech glass buttons on that one but they are too heavy and I do have some leftover yarn:
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Muzzle for Pollyanna, Please

Now, I want to preface what I am about to say by stating that I think it is a beautiful thing to approach life with a positive attitude but, please do so with some sensitivity...

Recently, as I've been talking with people about the unfortunate circumstances of a dear friend I have been reminded of what I call The Tyranny of Positive Thinking. Let me explain. It seems since the emergence of New Age-ish you-create-your-own-reality thought there are a number of people who have become so focused on looking on the bright side that they have not only forgotten that people need to mourn their losses and grieve their injuries, but are in denial that such things are a part of the human emotional makeup.

When I told one friend about our mutual friend's accident she immediately responded, “She is SO lucky! Just think how much worse it could have been!” This is not something a person with a multiple, compound fracture wants to hear. Another friend responded to the same news by saying, “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. It could be the opportunity she needs to change how her life has been going.”

I'm not arguing that these are both valid points but it reminded me of the comments made to me during a recent deep loss of my own. It is a wonderful, beautiful thing to give support to a friend who needs it when the time is right --- I repeat, when the time is right! But when a person's world has just been shattered by a huge loss or injury they need to have room to grieve and express their fear and their hurt and their loss. If they are denied that bad things happen not the least of which is a deep and pervasive guilt that may compound the trauma they have just experienced.

Not long ago I was talking to a woman who had lost her husband far too young a few months earlier. She was weepy and miserable (who could blame her) and she said to me, “I feel so guilty for not being able to get over this. Everybody keeps telling me I should be glad I had him as long as I did but I wanted him for the rest of my life.” She was in a lot of pain and much of the pain came from her inability to seek comfort and solace from the friends who claimed to love her. It reminded me of the friend who responded to my loss of someone I loved by saying, “Aren't you lucky to have loved someone so much that you could miss him so much.” Yeah. Thanks a bunch.

When people are denied the right to mourn their losses and grieve their injuries and disappointments they turn those negative emotions inward with self-destructive results. In more primitive times people had some mourning practices that seem over-wrought to us now but anyone who has experienced the loss of someone they genuinely loved can understand. The practice of keening, weeping and wailing aloud in the company of trusted family and friends, sounds horrible but when you are weeping and wailing on the inside the notion of being able to let it out without people rolling their eyes and telling you to toughen up is alluring. The old-fashioned habit of wearing black for a year after the loss of a loved one held much appeal to me when I was in that year. It was a signal to the world, just cut me some slack – I'm mourning.

This is not to say grieving should go on without end but one thing I've learned is that grief takes as long a it takes and, while it is a good thing to have friends who will help through the process, denying someone the right to their grief by forcing “positive thinking” on them before they can handle it is cruel.

A couple years have passed since my own loss and now I do I appreciate those friends who encourage me to move on, cheer up, see my life in a new and different way. I'm ready and I'm glad for the support in moving on. But when the wound is raw and fresh don't rub salt in it by denying someone the right to their feelings. Just put a muzzle in your Little Mary Sunshine-self and help them keen and wail. Have some sympathy and compassion. Those are virtues the world seems lacking in many areas. We need to bring them back.

Thanks for reading.   

Friday, September 17, 2010

An American Story 2010

This happened to a friend of mine but it could be anyone's story so let's call her Anna. Anna grew up in the 1950s in a nice, middle-class family in a big city. Her grandparents had come from Ireland around the turn of the 20th Century and did well. Anna attended Catholic schools where she got good grades and she went on to college and got two advanced degrees. She found a decent job, got involved in various activities, had a circle of friends and had a nice life but then her father died and her mother became ill.

So Anna did what a good Irish daughter does, she began helping her mother spending her evenings and weekends taking care of her mother so she could stay at home. For awhile things went pretty well, she didn't have much time of her own but her mother needed her and she was a good daughter. But then September 11, 2001 happened and the economy began faltering. She got laid-off from her job but her mother was really ill and needed full time care so she decided to take care of her mother and worry about finding a job later. Her mother eventually died and Anna helped the family settle their mother's affairs.

Anna decided to leave the city and moved to a much smaller city in Massachusetts where her sister lived. She found a nice place to live, got a good job working in the office of the office of a local church, and began making friends. Everything seemed to be going fine until a devastating fire burned down the church. During the long, difficult process of trying to recover from that loss the congregation suffered from financial difficulties and Anna was laid off from her job. That's when things started becoming difficult. She found out that in Massachusetts people who work for religious institutions cannot collect unemployment because their employers are not required to pay in to unemployment. So, here she was, in her late fifties with no job, no unemployment during the worst recession since the Great Depression. Fortunately she had some savings she could live on as she set to work applying for jobs.

Anna had good computer skills and,while she was sending out dozens of resumes every day, she also taught herself some new, useful software skills. She also started some small online enterprises, selling stuff on eBay, and designing a line of products to sell through Cafe Press and other online shopping services. That helped a little. Weeks went by and she received very, very few responses to her dozens of resumes. When she followed up with phone calls she either could not get anyone to respond or was told they were not accepting phone calls at that time. She found a part time job and then another one but the pay was meager and she still found herself dipping in to savings just to make ends meet. The expense that was most difficult was paying for health insurance. She decided to look in to Massachusetts Health Insurance and switched to their plan which made the drain on her savings less.

Over the course of the next three years she was lucky enough to find a number of part time, temporary jobs, and often wound up working 60 or more hours a week just to survive. It was very challenging but she kept going. Occasionally she had an interview from the resumes she continued to send out but nothing came of them. She blamed the tough economy and her age. Over the summer she started bicycling to one of her jobs to save money. She enjoyed getting the extra exercise and fresh air but then the accident happened. She was biking home from work and stopped at a crosswalk. A car stopped at the Stop sign so she started pedaling across when the driver for some reason accelerated slamming in to her, knocking her off her bike and breaking her leg. It was a bad injury, a compound fracture and she was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where it was decided she needed to be in a trauma center so she was transported to a city medical center. There she waited three days for surgery on her leg. Of course during this time she could not work and had no income. Both her jobs were part time and paid low wages anyway. She began to worry.

The day after her surgery she was told that she needed to be in a rehab facility – she could not stand up on her own even to get to the bathroom. However, she learned that none of the area rehab facilities would accept her insurance. The hospital needed to release her but she could not go home because her apartment was on the second floor and she couldn't even go to the bathroom by herself.

Luckily she had family members who could help. She could stay with her sister for awhile while she recovered but, without rehabilitation, her chances for recovery sufficient to allow her to work were slim. She made the decision to spend the rest of her remaining savings to pay for two weeks in a rehab center but the only one that she could get in to was quite a ways from the town she lived in.

I talked to her a little while ago. She said she never thought at the age of almost sixty she would be in such a predicament. She said, “Thank God I have family and friends who are willing to help me.” She doesn't know when she will be able to walk again and if she will ever be able to find work again – and the money she saved is gone, or will be after rehab.

This is just one American story of an intelligent, well-educated woman who did all the right things, worked hard, tried to do her best and what was right, and is now broke, unemployed, and facing a frightening future. And, like I said, this is just one such story.

Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rosa Ragusa Marmalade

Our buddy Joe at Good Morning Gloucester has a post about his sister's Rosa Ragusa Jelly so I thought this would be a good time to post my recipe for Rosa Ragusa Marmalade. Rosa Ragusa, or Beach Roses, can be found all along our coast and at this time of the year most of the roses have gone by and left behind their "hips", plump, round colorful fruit that is very, very rich in Vitamin C. You can gather the hips and cook them up for jelly as Felicia did on Good Morning Gloucester, or make them into marmalade by adding orange, lemon and apple.

For this recipe you'll need 2-3 qts. of plump rosehips that have been washed, stems removed, sliced in half and the seeds scooped out. Chop the rosehips into small pieces to make 4 cups.

Cut the ends off of an orange and 2 lemons and set them aside. Remove the peelings and set them aside also. Chop the pulp into small pieces and add this to the rose hips. With a very sharp knife slice half of the orange peel  into fine slivers and remove strips of zest from lemon peel, add this to the fruit and add the remaining peeling to the ends.

Peel and core a large green apple. Put the peelings with the reserved fruit peel and grate the apple with a coarse grater and add to the fruit pulp.

Place all of the fruit pulp in a heavy kettle and add 4-5 c.water. Place over medium heat. Gather up the discarded peelings, seeds, etc. and place in a cheesecloth bag. Wrap tightly and seal add to the pot (this adds pectin to the mixture). Bring  the pot to a hard boil and boil for 20-30 mins.until the fruit peel is tender. Remove the cheesecloth bag and place in a bowl to cool. Once it has cooled enough to handle, squeeze the juice out and add it back into the pot. 

 Add 5-6 c. sugar to the mixture (if you add 1 tsp.of butter it helps reduce the foaming) and bring to a gentle simmer stirring often with a wooden spoon. You can test the quality of the jell by placing a small amount on a plate that has been in the freezer. When the proper consistency is reached, you can can in sterile canning jars or pack in containers to keep in the fridge.

This is a delicious mixture for use on breakfast toast to bring a little beach sunshine to brighten winter.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Way Books Were

These days with the emergence of Kindle and Nook and iPads and e-readers of all sort, books have become quite a bit different from what they were like when I was a child -- or even a couple of decades ago. Remember The Woodstock Craftsman's Manuals, those handwritten, hand-drawn guides on how to do everything from make candles and knit to weaving and making pottery? I still have both of mine. 

Since I have been so into sewing this summer I got thinking about the creative sewing of an earlier phase of my life and the books that inspired it. In the late Sixties I stitched up a bunch of cotton muslin peasant blouses and embroidered colorful flowers all over the boob area. In the Seventies I made a bunch of patchwork shirts covered with embroidery and little mirrors from India stitched in to them. By the time the Eighties came I was into belly dancing and Folkwear had launched their fabulous patterns which included lots of Arabian and Middle Eastern designs that I made from silk saris purchased in Houston's sari shops. I sewed them in to dance costumes and absolutely loved them.

All of this made me remember one of my favorite books from back then. It was hand-drawn with a combination of hand-lettering and typewritten text. It was called Design & Sew it Yourself: A Workbook for Creative Clothing by Lois & Diane Ericson. I remembered having a copy but I'd lent it to someone who never gave it back so I went looking for it online and, sure enough, I found a used copy. It arrived today.
Not only is this book full of memories, it is full of stuff I had forgotten about and am so happy to re-learn. The first part of the book is a collection of garment designs based on traditional ethnic clothes. The Ericsons have another book, Ethnic Clothing, that expands on this theme. I still have my copy of that.
The second part of the book is just packed with cool and unique ideas. My favorite section is the one below on creative closures. I'm working on a silk shantung patchwork kimono jacket right now that these will be perfect for!

This section on pintucks was another favorite back then. I used a combination of pintucks and machine embroidery to make a couple of shirts with French Heirloom Details out of soft, pure cotton lawn. They were so pretty.

And there are lots of ideas for creative sleeves, collars, cuffs, etc.
So I'm going to post this and then go curl up with this book. The days are growing shorter and the long dark evenings ahead are perfect for creating pretty stuff. With this book I'll have no shortage of ideas to try.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another accident that didn't have to happen

Friday afternoon my next-door-neighbor and good friend Clare was riding her bicycle home from her job at Gloucester Stage Company when she was struck by a car. She told me she had stopped at an intersection and so had the car so she got on her bike and proceeded across when the driver, for some reason, accelerated and smacked right into her, knocking her off her bike and breaking her ankle. Luckily a person nearby was an EMT and he called for an ambulance, the police also arrived. At the present time, Clare does not know who hit her, people who witnessed the accident have the license number.

Clare was taken to Beverly Hospital but the injury to her ankle was more than they could repair so she was transported in to Boston Medical Center to await surgery. While I was speaking with her this morning someone came in and said they were going to prep her for surgery. She had to go.

I realize that accidents happen and that it is easy to be confused by traffic but I know Clare and she is a cautious person. She rides her bike to and from work everyday and also walks a lot so she is well-accustomed to looking out for traffic and being cautious. Heaven only knows why this person decided to proceed through the intersection. And why they didn't stop to check on her is an even greater mystery.

So, for the next few weeks my friend will be in a lot of pain, unable to take care of herself and also to do her jobs. She is a serious, dedicated person who works part time at Gloucester Stage and is also the Executive Administrator for seARTS. I've offered to help out at seARTS until she is able to go back to work and I am also looking in on her two cats, Chloe and D'Arcy. Clare loves her cats!

If you know Clare and want to contact her, let me know and I'll send you info. If you have a prayer or a healing thought to spare that would be appreciated. And if you know who hit her that information would be welcome too. I don't know how much information has been given to the police but you never know.

And be careful out there. Whether you drive or bike or walk, keep your eyes open. In recent months I've become increasingly aware of how often someone will come flying up behind me when I am driving on these narrow streets and then impatiently let me know that they are annoyed that I am not going faster. I have no ego when it comes to driving, I pull over and let people pass all the time. I always think I'd rather have those morons in front of me than behind me. Twice in the last month I've had someone fly up behind me on Rogers Street and then zoom around me on the right. In one case I passed the guy who did it at the lights on Bass Ave. when I turned right onto E. Main while he was waiting for the light to change. He really accomplished a lot with that stunt.

I don't know where all this anger and impatience comes from but I'm tired of it. All it serves to do is make the people acting that way look ridiculous... and cause a lot of pain when someone gets hit like my friend did on Friday. Wise up, people, you and your plans are not that important.

Okay, enough from me. Think a good thought for Clare and slow down. We live in a beautiful area, relax.

Thanks for reading.  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Two from the Vault...

Remember last week I blogged about reconnecting with an old friend from childhood, thanks to the Loving Local Blogathon. Mike Belsole and I went to grade school together and part of high school (until he transferred) and haven't seen each other in over 40 years but, thanks to the blogathon we have been back in touch. Today he sent me two wonderful old photos I'd totally forgotten about. Both are taken on the altar of Queen of the World Church in St. Marys, PA where we both grew up.

This is our First Holy Communion picture:

And this is from our Confirmation:

I LOVE these pictures. I have been studying them trying to identify as many of the dear old faces as I can. What a treat! It's so wonderful to have a dear old friend back in my life. Thanks, Mike, and thanks, Tinky, again! It wouldn't have happened without your blogathon.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Some thoughts about hate and intolerance...

I've been watching all the news coverage of the despicable plan by a so-called “preacher” to burn Korans on Saturday, the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. I simply do not have words to say how utterly contemptible and horrid I find this man and his plans and, while I wish everyone would just ignore him, I know this has gone way too far for that to happen.

Over the summer I've read several novels that seem to have, as their theme, hate and intolerance. A couple of them (The Physik Book of Deliverance Dane and Susannah Morrow) were about the Salem Witch Trials in which a group of people, acting out of religious (Puritain) fervor, imprisoned and tortured dozens of their fellow citizens and ended up murdering (yes, it is murder when innocent people are killed) some of them. That was in the seventeenth century. I also read some books set in New Orleans during the era of slavery and the “gens de color”, people of color, the children of white slave owners and their black slave/mistresses. That was in the eighteenth century and the treatment, abuse, and murders of these people was ubiquitous and taken very much for granted.

This prompted me to get out a book I read some years back, Fire and Roses, about the burning of the Urusline convent right here in Charlestown by a group of Protestant laborers following a series of fire and brimstone sermons by Protestant preachers against the evils of Catholicism. The convent was burned, the grounds destroyed in a fit of enraged vandalism, and Catholics were persecuted in Boston for several subsequent decades. That was in the 19th century.

I don't even need to say anything more about the hate-mongering that led to the Holocaust in the 20th Century and now here we are in the 21st Century and Muslims are the current dreaded “other” chosen to be persecuted. Haven't we learned a damned thing? No, we haven't.

So the question is why does this keep on happening? I heard something very interesting on a news program today, something I hadn't thought about before. Two circumstances seem to be needed to precipitate such events – a population that is essentially fearful and basically ignorant, and a few hate-mongerers to whip them in to a frenzy. That's all it takes.

When I say that the people who follow these leaders are basically ignorant I am speaking literally. They are not stupid, but they are ignorant about the essential humanness of those they are being encouraged to hate and they know nothing about the reality of those people, be it their religion, their race, or their way of life. They have been fed lies which they make the choice to believe rather than searching out the truth. Because they are ignorant of the truth and because they have allowed the lies to influence them, they let their fears take control of them and they act out of a misguided belief that, if they do not crush those they fear, their own well-being will be at risk. The stunning thing is how tenaciously they cling to the lies rather than consider the possibility that they might have been blinded by lies.

But it is the fear-mongerers who are the most diabolical and I don't use that word symbolically. There is a certain sort of pathology that exists in certain individuals that feeds on being hated. They see themselves as bold and brave and seething with righteousness and, consequently, despised because they have the courage to “tell the truth” when others are too blind to see. I've met people like this throughout my life and they are twisted, but often dangerous, people. They revel in being despised because they see it as a mark of being superior to others. They can “take” the contempt of lesser beings because they are holding fast to their own supposedly moral code regardless of how demented or ridiculous it is. I once knew a guy who announced to me after his third day in a new job, “I found out today I'm the most hated guy in the office.” He said this with a big grin and a puffed out chest and a pomposity that he seemed to think I would be impressed by. I wasn't and steered clear of him after that.

I suppose it is easy to say that these are the people who, as children, discovered that getting negative attention from mommy was better than getting no attention but that's not much help when this type of negative grandiosity leads to hanging witches, beating slaves to death, burning down convents full of nuns, and attempting to annihilate entire groups of people including Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and, yes, Catholics, too.

So what can a civil society do when the hate-mongerers find a platform and an audience? I don't know, I wish I had an answer. But when a herd of sheep willingly follow the bleatings of a self-confessed “rodeo clown” or a bunch of religious zealots follow the hate-filled rantings of a Cotton Mather or a Terry Jones or a Fred Phelps or an Adolph Hitler, the rest of us need to stay vigilant. There is danger brewing and is history is any indication, it will get a lot worse before the rest of us come to our senses and stop writing them off as a bunch of nuts. These are people who cannot be shamed into decent behavior, cannot be made to face the truth, and cannot respond to logic. I don't know how we should respond to them but we have to stay aware of them – now more than ever.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Fascinators and More Frou-Frou....

Over the summer I've posted pictures of some of the fabric I've been buying and projects made with it. I love beautiful fabrics and I love sewing but, as you sewers can imagine, this can lead to acquiring a lot of scraps that are semi-useless but too pretty to throw away. I've been trying to sort out lately and have tossed out lots and lots of leftover fabric but I can't quite part with silks, velvets, etc. So I now have 2 big bags of lovely scraps that will either wind up in a crazy quilt like the one from Carnivale I posted a picture of or something else.

I made this hat from scraps several years ago and on very, very cold winter days it really comes in handy. The hat is just a simple cloche made from some leftover Malden Mills faux fur. I lined it with cherry-red satin and made two roses from the satin to sew on the back. The leaves are made from some emerald green velvet left from a jacket made for a Christmas party a very, very long time ago.

I was thinking that now that my hair is long and I wear it up most of the time, now might be a good time to make some fancy fabric hair ornaments. I found a few metal hair clips in my notions box and I made this rose out of some leftover blue and gold French ribbon. I like it though I don't know if I'll ever wear it.

But I could not quite bear to part with the remaining scraps of plum-colored silk that I used for a jacket and the bag I posted in a previous blog. I cut two strips about 8” long, fringed the edges, lay them on top of one another, ran a gathering stitch down the center, drew it up tight and sewed it to a barrette. I've been wearing it ever since and like it especially because the color is so muted. The bow below is made from silk velvet left from a jacket made years ago...

So, I dug out my bags of fancy scraps and plan to try a few more. It's a lot of frou-frou, I know, but pleasant to do with pretty results. My friend Elizabeth Payne of Damselfly Studios makes amazing hair ornaments that she sells in her Etsy shop. I doubt I'll ever make anything is beautiful as her designs but she is my inspiration. I see on Etsy there is a new name for pretty concoctions worn in the hair - “Fascinators”. I love that. I'm not sure if I'd ever be bold enough to try to be that fascinating but it gives me the excuse I need to hang on to all these scraps. Like I needed one.

Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Susannah Morrow by Megan Chance

In July I wrote a blog about Megan Chance's novel, An Inconvenient Wife which I enjoyed and which lead me to purchase her novel Susannah Morrow. I finished it recently and it has stayed with me much as the former novel did. Susannah Morrow is set in Salem, where I once lived, during the notorious Salem Witch Trials. I had also recently written a blog about Katherine Howe's The Physik Book of Deliverance Dane which had a similar theme. The Physik Book of Deliverance Dane moved back and forth between the 17th century and the present and included a romance that was downright silly and immaterial to the story. Susannah Morrow is firmly fixed in the 17th Century and contains a romance that took my breath away.

Romance may in fact be the wrong word, this is the story of a passion that is both breathtaking and tragic. The story is fairly simple (most really good stories usually are). Susannah, an unmarried woman from London, travels to Salem, Massachusetts to be with her sister Judith who is married to Lucas and who is about to give birth to her third child. Her oldest daughter Charity is fifteen and has recently had an intense and forbidden romance of her own that did not end well. The story is told in alternating sections from the perspectives of Charity, Lucas, and Susannah. I'm fond of this style of writing because I love getting inside the heads of the characters and Ms. Chance does a very good job of allowing this.

Shortly after Susannah arrives, Judith dies giving birth to a third daughter and from this point on emotions are intense, confusing, and irresistible. Charity is devastated by the loss of her mother, resentful of her aunt, and desperately craves the affection of her father. Lucas bitterly misses his wife, is baffled by how best to raise his three daughters in a devout and modest fashion, and conflicted by his growing attraction to his sister-in-law who, according to the laws of the time, he is required to regard as is actual sister. Susannah, who was raised in a brutal home environment, ran away at sixteen and has lived her life as a kept woman by a couple of lovers. Because of her life in London she does not understand and cannot relate to the intensely strict, humorless, and unyielding behaviors of many of the people she finds herself living among. And then the witch hysteria begins.

Throughout the tale Ms Chance seamlessly blends in real characters of the time including Rebecca Nurse who was a beloved member of the community but, once accused, still hanged as a witch. I have visited the Rebecca Nurse Homestead and loved being able to envision that as part of the setting of the story. Rebecca's son Samuel is Lucas's friend and a kind and sympathetic character in no small part because of what happened to his mother. Other real characters enter the story, the peculiar Sarah Goode and her little daughter Dorcas who was jailed at the age of 4 as a witch.

But, despite the background being that of the Witch Hysteria and its events being the primary means of moving the story forward, the author never strays too far from the real story, the forbidden love of Lucas for Susannah, the endless kindness of Susannah for her sister's family, and the adolescent angst and confusion of Charity for all the disappointments in her young life.

I loved Susannah. She was a beautiful, appealing character who was both kind and passionate as well as intelligent. Like An Inconvenient Wife, the story touched on the themes of the powerlessness of women. Like Lucy in that story, Susannah is an intensely passionate woman who has to find a way to get though a terrible time using her wits and her skill. And, even though I wanted to swat Lucas for being thick-headed at times, I loved him, too. He turned out to be the hero I wanted him to be.

The ending of the book, like the ending of An Inconvenient Wife, is open to interpretation, another thing I love. I like stories that allow me to imagine alternate possibilities. But I loved this book and I loved Susannah and look forward to more novels by Megan Chance.

Thanks for reading.