Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Distance Day

The sky, above me, opens
Its vast palms, releasing
Shreds of clouds, lifting
High into the hatless blue

The wind sashays, its skirts
Swirling in time
To the pounding of feet
On grapefruit-skin track

Left, right, one, two
Slippers of fire, slippers
Borrowed from the sun
Around and around

We go ungently
Into that bright day
Face down, arms up
The perfume of turf and sweat

Curses, plagues, oaths, rage
Pearls of soot, roseless thorns
For the inside walkers, the cutters,
Those wide-eyed cheaters

But pause: one moment. Look.
The sky, above, opens its palms
Wisps of cloud float free
Up into the summer noon.

--

Written May 2012.

Yes, it's about PE.

(By the way: I just started revising the last chapter of TUP. Four pages until the end. I'm not freaking out yet.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Retracing Summer's End

Today is my last real day of summer vacation. The weekend will be filled with Italian summer homework (watching movies with friends, I'm not complaining) and band staff, and then on Monday band camp starts! Excited about that - my team captain and I are already planning on converting freshmen to the lower brass.

I've been thinking about how to best spend the rest of today. For guidance, I went back to my confidantes (the term I prefer to diaries) for the past two years. What did I do on the Friday before band camp?

Freshman year: we moved to our current place. Yeah, not repeatable (though I do want to think about redecorating my room a little).

Sophomore year: working on TUP in the morning (check), eating lunch, going on a walk in the local park and planning how I will keep my soul during the school year, practicing euphonium, going on Tumblr.

Hm. Sounds good (though I will stay off Tumblr).

-

"Planning how I will keep my soul."

See this post.

Sophomore year was much better for creative output than freshman year. I read a lot of books, I wrote a lot, and I...I sketched a little. I still had good grades and I stayed with my friends. I got really good at euphonium.

What do I want to be junior year?

My soul-searching will happen in the park, among the sheaves of golden sun. But I know this:

1. I'm probably going to finish revising TUP next week.
2. I want to learn how to program.
3. I'm not going to like my humanities classes very much.
4. I'm going to write a lot anyway because English teachers cannot keep me down.

The summer is ending, but I? My great work still lies before me. As I did last summer, I will go on a strategy retreat with me, myself, and I to plan how I can Be Myself when the pressures of junior year, and the whole college/SATs/etc. rat race really gets started.

-

Kindly indulge my vainglory.

I am better than the juniors last year who collected standardized testing stats and freaked out over AP classes and think they'll die if they don't get into Stanford.

I am better than my mother thinks I am, and the SAT is not the most important thing in my life.

I am a Chinese girl but my intelligence must be measured by the depth of my thoughts and how well I can convey them, not how many tiny little bubbles on my Scantron don't have marks next to them.

I'm going to take the SAT word book my sister gave me and use it to write short stories.

When most of the rest of my class is daydreaming about a 2400 on the SAT I'm going to daydream about the villa in which I'll live when I retire (it's going to be awesome. As soon as I write down the details, I'll share them here).

Dear school system,

I am not your drone.

Sincerely,

Future Author/Engineer

-

Summer's ending but my mind is still full of magic and I still see things in terms of story. Do things with defiance and do them with joy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Good Hunting

An alternative method of teaching. And learning.

I just finished reading Welcome to Bordertown and really really wish the other books were at my library. Good thing I have the series site to peruse.

Introduction to rune reading.

Do you know who the Sogdians were?

From the Inkpunks blog: Things I Got from the Surrealists. The post did for me what the exhibit did to the author: "It made me want to stretch a canvas and fill it with stuffs from the deep things buried in my psyche."

Jorge Arranz has some really awesome art of buildings/cities.


The Power of Story - Ken Burns, via the indomitable Terri Windling. Waking the dead. It's okay.

 Another video via Windling:
Art: Jeanie Tomanek. Music: Arvo Part

What's the only good thing about sophomore year English class' poetry unit? Pablo Neruda.

More poems, probably discovered through Hecate Demeter's blog: The Nightingale's Nest by John Clare and Sometimes a Wild God by Coyopa.

Sometimes my left and right brain fight. Why does magic have to make sense? Right brain wins this round, though I still believe that magic should have rules. They just need to be more intuitive than mechanical.

Some stuff about MBTI:
"INTJs are used to living in their minds, mostly disregarding their physical and emotional needs...the intensity of their own emotions usually represent the main factor that throws them in distress." True. All too true. (Why am I crying? This is just a movie. Stop crying, fool!)
Ancient World History blog. Good as a resource. How to Plan Battle Scenes, from the blog of PCWrede. Guidelines:
  1. read up on strategy and tactics (see children's section for comprehensible guides) 
  2. consult a military buff/army person and note what kinds of questions they ask 
  3. decide how you want the battle to end in terms of military defeat/victory and story 
  4. develop two battle plans, one for each side, that will surprise the other side 
  5. diagram/figure out what goes on at the macro level in the battle   
An essay on objective taste. Featuring the below painting:
Hunters in the Snow - Pieter Bruegel
(source)

They have also had a good hunt.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Meditations

I've posted quotes from Marcus Aurelius here before, but because of their immense importance to me I will compile notes and such here.

Note: some are not complete/coherent sentences, because I chose to record them that way. Sometimes all that's needed is a fragment of a thought.

Enjoy. Become enlightened.

--

Self/Acts | Possessions | Morals | Duty | Other People | Death | Etc.

--

Self/Acts

-simplicity and reason

-"gravity without affectation" (6)

-"entirely free from passion, and also most affectionate" (7)

-"knowledge without ostentation" (7)

-keep an even keel

-"ready to forgive, and...free from all falsehood" (8)

-few secrets

-observe

-to know yourself is enough

-examine everything in relation to yourself and the universe

-no one can stop you from being happy "if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound you utter" (20)

-always be ready to understand how the human meets the divine

-be like a fire and use everything to rise higher

-physical retreats < the refuge of your own soul/the tranquility afforded by a well-ordered mind

-go to your own mind often

-"let thy principles be brief and fundamental" (22)

-keep it simple

-you are enough

-body < soul

-whatever happens, you can take it

-puppet < strings

-"About what am I now employing my own soul?" (27)

-by chance in how the universe changes you exist

-"Look within. Let neither the peculiar quality of anything nor its value escape you." (30)

-"If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance." (34) - don't take it personally, you want to know how to be a better person

-if there are no gods to decide for me, then I can decide for myself

-"Show good humor and not a proud air." (38)

-be content when your mind is firm and your desires/aversions are within your power

-"Does the light of the lamp shine without losing its splendor until it is extinguished: and shall the truth which is in you and justice and temperance be extinguished before your death?" (44) - senescence of body =/= senescence of mind

-improving yourself = freedom

-"Speak...appropriately, not with any affectation; use plain discourse." (46)

-soul: fountain > well, because it renews itself

-accept that bad things exist in the world

-"Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my opinions." (51)

-"The healthy eye ought to see all visible things and not to say, I wish for green things, for this is the condition of a diseased eye...And accordingly the healthy understanding ought to be prepared for everything which happens" (54)

-"Think not: this is ill fortune; but rather: to bear this worthily is good fortune."

Possessions

-be content with what you have

-on the good things in life: "used without arrogance and without excusing himself; so that when he had them, he enjoyed them without affectation, and when he had them not he did not want them" (9)

-beauty needs no audience: "Is an emerald made worse than it was, if it is not praised?" (23)

-value what you have over what you want, but not so much that you'd care losing it

-"Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go." (47)

Morals

-love kin, truth, and justice

-if it makes you break promises, lose self-respect, hate, suspect, lie, etc., then it isn't good for you


-"with all they soul...do justice and...say the truth" (19)

-leave no space to do evil

-happiness and rightness go together

-"Whatever anyone does or says, I must be good." (38)

-"Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever well up if you will ever dig." (41)

-you can always be just and have control over your thoughts

-"I see no virtue which is opposed to justice." (47)

-"If it is not right don't do it, if it is not true don't say it."

-"no longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such." (59)

Duty

-"a disposition to do good, and to give to others readily, and to cherish good hopes, and to believe that I am loved by my friends...no concealment of...opinions" (7)

-do what needs doing without complaining

-after you've thought sth. over and chosen what to do, follow through resolutely

-don't do it for pride, do it to get it done

-focus: "every moment think steadily...do what you have in hand with perfect and simple dignity...and...give yourself relief from all other thoughts" (11)

-"In the morning when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bedclothes and keep myself warm? But this is more pleasant. Do you exist then to take your pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Do you not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And are you unwilling to do the work of a human being, and do you not make haste to do that which is according to your nature?" (25-26)

-"so a man when he has done a good act, does not call out for others to come and see, but goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in season" (26)

-"let it make no difference to you whether you are cold or warm, if you are doing your duty; and whether you are drowsy or satisfied with sleep; and whether ill-spoken of or praised; and whether dying or doing something else" (30)

-"what more do you want when you have done someone a service? Shouldn't you be content that you have done the right thing, and not feel you have to be paid for it?"

-you are what you do

-"that no man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live" (41)

-one thing at a time

Other People

-"receive from friends what are esteemed favors, without being either humbled by them or letting them pass unnoticed." (6)

-don't be coy: always make it clear where people stand with you and what you do/not want

-don't resent people who can't spend time with you

-no envy for betters

-I will meet with jerks, but since I know good from bad they won't injure me

-you can be happy without prying into others' thoughts, but if you don't know yourself you will definitely be unhappy

-know your place as a part of the whole

-if someone is malodorous, don't get mad, tell him

-men can be obstacles and thus become things that shouldn't affect your mind (hindrance -> help)

-"How strangely men act", as if future > present, though it is not so

-just because you can't do it doesn't mean it's impossible

-if someone has hurt you, avoid him quietly, without anger or suspicion or hatred

-"Be not ashamed to be helped." (38)

-understand where people are coming from

-people will always do things that irritate you, so relax

-"If anyone despises me, that's their problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt."

-"Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them." (50)

-"who can change men's opinions?" (52)

-"The best revenge is to be unlike he who performed the injury."

Death

-anything that happens equally to good and bad people is natural, not good or evil

-don't fear death

-the present is all you have

-even if there is no afterlife, you'll be free from your earthly body

-"short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of earth where he lives: and short too the longest posthumous fame" (18)

-"Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good." (20)

-"Time is like a river...as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too." (23) (Confucius said pretty much the same thing.)

-"end your journey in content, just as an olive falls when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree it grew on" (24)

-everything is transient

-in the end everyone is the same

-"Depart then satisfied." (61)

Etc.

-"For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be" (24)

-divinity moves less obviously than the elements

-"Is any man afraid of change? Why, what can take place without change?...And can you take a bath unless the wood undergoes a change? And can you be nourished, unless the food undergoes a change?" (38)

-look at the stars to purge the earth from your mind

-if you are cut off from nature, you are like a severed limb; unlike the limb, you can reconnect

-"for nothing is injurious to the part if it is for the advantage of the whole" (55): take one for the team

--

Quotes with page numbers are from the George Long translation. Quotes without page numbers are from Goodreads.

Stoicism 101 is helpful.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Small Adventures

I am discontent.

This always happens once the halfway mark of summer vacation has passed and the long slide back to the school year begins. When I look at what I've done during the summer it doesn't match with what I wanted to do. I begin to feel as though I've wasted my time.

Such defeatist thinking is unacceptable in a magician, especially a magician who is also a hero. The cure?

I'm still working on that. But I suspect it involves seeing the world through the lens of story: of recognizing and creating adventures.

-

It would have been nice, this summer, to go on a quest to restore balance in the universe, to battle Titans, to foil a plot to poison a king. I did not do any of these.

What did I do?

-go on long walks and runs, getting lost in my own hometown
-buy used books from my library
-climb a fence to get to the band room
-read under the blankets by flashlight
-write out a web of ideas for a venture called protagonist club
-sprawl beneath my desk with a book
-sit on a bench in the rose garden of the local park coming up with story ideas
-eat lunch on a second-story open area
-inspect a middle school mosaic encrusted with keys and pendants
-conclude through inductive reasoning that "dead end" is often a lie

Adventures are no less adventures because they are small.

-

More await. I go from far to near:

Band camp starts a week from Monday and my team captain and I will discuss who we want to draft.

Next week I have plenty of free time in which I can read and go on walks and draw, since I haven't done nearly enough of that.

Tomorrow my dad is going to start teaching me how to drive.

Tonight, I'll watch a movie and work on a picture of Sir Thomas Boone and his sister Lady Euphrosyne Barrington wielding, respectively, a dragoon musket and a cannon.

Even before that, I will sit, in a dusty golden solitude, and with the real-life Euphrosyne play the song of summer's end.

--

Postscript: as I wrote this post I read this piece about INTJs, ending with this line: "they will make a game out of their actual life".

Replace "game" with "story" and you have, precisely, my point.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chelsea's Escape

She was nine years old when they killed her family.

Lady Chelsea was the youngest daughter of Duke Randolph of the House of Verdensch, ruler of the Southmarsh. She was a quiet girl, red-haired, freckled, who liked to play chess and the flute and pranks on her older brothers. Also, she liked to explore the marshes and pick medicinal plants.

This saved her life.

-

It was a summer morning, the sky a blue shell overhead - uncracked, flawless, growing bright. Chelsea felt the sun on her hair and back, but she was up to her knees in cold mud as she searched for the red blooms of the piuror. Granna Terine said that the piuror was good for fevers, or as salamander repellent.

Though she was expected to marry the younger son of the Lord of Cral Forest, Chelsea secretly had fantasies of becoming one of the wise women who sat in their reed houseboats and dispensed advice to adventurers. To be so she’d need a thorough knowledge of the plants of the marsh. She’d already paid off her tutor for the past week to let her go off searching for healing plants instead of learning the history of the Sarend.

The mud squelched pleasantly between her bare toes as she scrambled onto a hillock rising out of the marsh. A flash of red caught her eye. She moved toward it, digging her feet into the webby grasses to keep from falling.

Then she saw what it was and stumbled anyway. It was a strip of embroidered cloth, and it was soaked in blood.

Further, she recognized it. The embroidery was from the Jester’s City, part of the Duchess’ dowry - the collar of her mother’s favorite dress. So what was it doing here, bloody and bedraggled and twisting in the current, wrapping limply around the reeds?

Chelsea carefully made her way down to the other end of the hillock. It wasn’t real, she thought, it couldn’t be real. Maybe she’d made a mistake. But when she wrapped her fingers around the scrap of cloth, she knew she’d made no mistake. She’d run her hands over the cloth numerous times, knew the twistings of the fine thread and the constellation of tiny beads.

Her stomach heaved and she dropped the cloth, sat down heavily on the grasses. There was blood on her hands: her mother’s blood.

For a moment she sat there, trying to understand and trying not to understand. Then, an acrid smell punctured through the familiar heavy scent of the marsh. She looked up, looked across the landscape of grassy islands through the silted water, looked toward the house, and saw a tendril of smoke, almost invisible against the dome of the sky.

Something knocked into her leg. Chelsea found it easy, so smooth and simple, to turn her face from the tattered gray ribbon waving from the house to the silk slipper kicking at her. This was her sister’s.

As if in a dream, Chelsea looked up the river to see more things floating down to her: her second brother’s dagger scabbard, a wide piece of white cloth that could have come from a dress, a flat shiny piece of metal on a string - her oldest brother’s amulet.

Why, she did not know, but without her prompting her hand shot out and grabbed the string. She brought the metal disk to her face, stared at the effigy of the Poison Man, then put the amulet around her neck. The wet cord was cold against her sunburnt neck.

And then, shouts. Angry shouts. Chelsea slid off the hillock into the water and waded to the other side, keeping her ear at attention. What were they saying? The voices got louder, harsher, and - oh. Now she could hear what they were saying. “Find her. Kill her.”

For a moment her legs threatened to give way, but then Chelsea gripped the amulet. The cold edges biting into her palm sharpened her mind. She couldn’t afford to be careless, to get caught. She had to plan, like a move of chess. Her pride wasn’t at stake here, but her life.

Quickly she scanned the landscape around her. Who was it that had killed them all? It couldn’t be an uprising: she’d been spying, and the people were eating well. Yes, they complained about the taxes, but her father had explained clearly that it was for the maintenance of the waterways and roads. The people of the Southmarsh had not done this deed. Then who?

But that was beside the point. If it was not her father’s subjects, then it was someone who did not come from the Southmarsh. Here, then, was her advantage. She knew the land, and they did not. No one knew the Southmarsh better than one of its children, from the beggars to her, daughter of the duke.

The voices were perilously close now. Chelsea knew she could not outrun the pursuers, so she must hide. She stuffed the amulet into her shirt and began making her way to the larger hillock to the west, away from the house and the voices shouting to kill.

There were secret ways through the marsh, and she knew them all. To fight the panic, she planned her route. Through the hillock, to the stilt-house of Granna Terine. She couldn’t ask the old woman to shelter her, but she could hide beneath her house while they passed by. Then, then…she had to get out of the Southmarsh, get someplace safe.

Chelsea thought of her intended, in the Cral Forest. Could she reach there? But her mind quailed at the thought. It took trading parties weeks to get there and back. The Jester’s City, her mother’s home? That was almost just as far. The Eastmarsh? But east was toward danger.

Who did she know outside of the Southmarsh? The answer crashed around her: no one. There was no one who could help her. Mud sucked at her legs as she reached the large hillock and found the secret way through. There was no one to help her. She fought back terror with the need to keep going, to get away. The shouting, now, was louder. It was poised to crash on her.

“Where is the brat?”

“I hear the Duke is giving whoever brings him her head a fleet of canoes.”

“You there!”

Chelsea flinched; her hand contracted on the hill’s muddy inside. Her heart beat fast, pulse throbbing in her throat. They’d seen her, they’d seen her…

But a voice answered, “Who, me?” It was a boy’s voice. Same pitch as her youngest brother, with an accent she’d never heard before.

“Yes, you! What are you doing out here? You’re not from around here, are you, boy?”

Chelsea pinpointed where the voices were coming from, but didn’t dare poke her head out to see if she was right. She crouched against the hill’s inside, among the reeds, mud soaking the hem of her dress, toes digging into the muck. If they can’t find me, they can’t kill me. She wished she could sink into the side of the hill, like a fae. But she came from mortal stock; hadn’t the bloody embroidery proven that?

The boy’s voice came again. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m not from here. I’m a traveler.”

A cruel laugh. “A deserter, more like. You sound like a northerner, boy, and I hear there’s been some trouble lately up there. Say, have you seen a girl? A little girl, about ten, with red hair. Her father’s getting worried about her.”

Chelsea withdrew even further into the hillock. If she hadn’t seen the boy, then was it possible that he hadn’t seen her? But she didn’t think, based on his voice, that he’d been far.

“No. No, I haven’t seen any kids around. Sorry I couldn’t help you out.”

From where she thought the pursuers must be, there was a muttering. Then, a different voice said, “If you see the girl, bring her back to the big house over there. I’m sure her father will be very glad, and maybe give you a place in his household. You look like you could use it.”

“All right,” said the boy. Footsteps. Chelsea held very still as heavy boots marched on past the hillock. Then the pursuers were gone; she had broken through their chain. Relief stood ready to welcome her into its house.

But something bothered her; her foot paused on the doorway. Who was the boy? She hadn’t heard him move. Where was he? If he found her, then would he bring her back?

“Don’t yell. I’m not going to capture you.”

She froze. Then she looked up.

A face was peering down at her - a boy’s face. He looked to be about fourteen, the same age as her youngest brother. He had dark hair and dark eyes, just like her second brother.

“I heard what they said about killing you,” he said. His accent made his words shift, slide; it sounded like murky water. He paused and blinked. “I can help you escape,” he said.

Chelsea stared up at him. It was a trick. It had to be. Help couldn’t come just like that. She had plans: she had to get to Granna Terine’s, to stow away…but she was nine years old, and her family had been murdered, and all of a sudden she felt unbearably tired. It was too much for her. She couldn’t get away on her own. All she wanted was to be safe. Escape…her nails dug into her palms and she stared up at him mutely.

“My name is Vin,” he said. “I’m a…I can use these thresholds, they’re called, these doors that can take you to other places. I’m not a sorcerer yet, but that’s the goal.” He reached out a callused hand. “Come on. I know someplace you can go.”

She did not know yet that Vin Linden had, four years previously, lost a sister when his mother miscarried, and that he still felt cheated out of someone to play the older brother toward. She did not know that he could sense the protection of the Poison Man around her and that he, too, bore marks of that god of illusions.

She did, however, know that her instincts were usually right, and at the moment her instincts were telling her that this boy was trustworthy.

“Okay,” she said. He smiled at her encouragingly. She took hold of his hand and he pulled her up, up, up out of the muddy hidden paths into the brilliance of the summer sky, broken open into full day.

-

A week later, the healer Phaedra (who happened to be live next door to the Linden family) brought the Blue Butterfly Inn a new kitchen maid. She was quiet, and hardworking, and beat everyone at chess. She called herself Chelsea Mullane.

--

Written March 9 2012 for English class. What do you think?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Revising Utopia Project, Part XV

I last wrote about my progress in mid-May. Lots of work done since then.

-

By the numbers.

Since last time:
-chapters: 3
-scenes: 10
-words: 30000+

Left:
-chapters: 3
-scenes: 11
-words: 26000

-

What have I learned?

Go deep. Stay in the dark waters of your mind. Let your story wind its roots into you.

I write to expunge the poison from my blood. In some ways you have to be every character you write, even the one who convinces a group member to sacrifice himself, even the good girl who volunteers immediately for the chance to kill.

Know thy characters. Understanding the emotional trajectory of a scene will lead to adjustment of external events. Some characters might be reactionary and be guided only by circumstance; fair enough, I've got some of those. But water, which takes the path of least resistance, is plenty powerful.

A tool for you: Google Maps. If you choose the walking distance and make all sorts of extrapolations, you can get rough estimates for how long overland travel will take. I'll check later to get more precision.

Blaze through or slow down? If you're reading this post while in first draft stage, I'd lean toward blazing through. The past few weeks I have been doing just that, but for the scene I finished yesterday I slowed down because I was writing a scene the emotional content of which I'd forced in first draft.

Let your characters surprise you. Writing the confrontation between characters X and Y was a lot better when X knew intuitively that Y had done some shady stuff.

Refrain from despair. The quote I've been repeating to myself for the past, say, eight months, follows thus:
"Think not this is ill fortune, but rather, to bear this worthily is good fortune."
-Marcus Aurelius
When I need to remind myself of it briefly, I think: I am striving for ataraxia. Certainly I need it when I read the second to last grouping of five scenes and feel astonished at how poorly organized they are.

But that's okay. This is the time for fixing things: not fixing things as in making them rigid, but making them better.

-

For fun:

Here is where I was two years ago in first-draft stage. Some comments:

"When you stick a girl in front of the computer for 4-5 hours a day, miracles (and procrastination) happen."

True enough (though the last few days band staff work has cut into my writing time). Also - 4-5 hours? Last week, when I did a lot of heavy-duty morning writing sessions, I'd write from 1030 to 1330 and get my words in. Steadier pace, perhaps.

"My perennial enemy, writing emotion, plagued me this chapter just as it always has. How do you build up and then crush hope?"

Writing annoyed, angry people is easy for me. As for the rest of it? Still working.

"Note to self when I go back to revise: make sure to write in clearer examples of X character trait."

Check.

--

Happy writing. Tomorrow's the weekend - I can afford to go to bed after midnight, can't I?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rome

Some disjointed notes from my sophomore year history textbook.

--

Roman Republic

-Necropolis of Pantalica (Siracusa)
-Roman dress: toga + short cloak
-rape of Lucretia: die > seen as unvirtuous
-consuls: war; praetor: justice; quaestor: finance; aediles: games + grain
-praenomen (personal name), nomen (clan/family group), cognomen (personal name, later family name [differentiate btw. branches in clan])
-enemies of Rome: Etruscans, Sabines, Volscians, Aequi, Samnites, Greeks
-in Italy, can spare men for troops in summer
-Portunus: god of harbors
-Rome's patron god: JUPITER OPTIMUS MAXIMUS
-priests: pontiffs; augurs read auspices
-Vestal Virgins
-what is Octavia's story?

Roman Empire

-Varus: general who lost 3 legions to German tribes in 9 CE
-emperor common title starting w/ Flavian dynasty (reign of Vespasian 69-79)
-citizenship as reward
-Ovid's Metamorphoses
-how-to poems
-law used as cohesive
-Satyricon by Petronius
-"Where a society invests its money gives an idea of its priorities" (Spielvogel 164)
-laserpicium: Roman medical plant
-Aurelian (270-5) restored Roman boundaries @ Danube, defeated Queen Zenobia of Syria in 272
-socioeconomic crises in 200s
-Roman state religion: GrecoRoman gods, state priests, ritual, imperial cult of Roma + Augustus -> people want Hellenistic mystery religions that promise a better life after death (cults of Cybele and Isis, Mithraism [initiation baptism w/ sacrificial bull blood, men only])

Late Empire

Diocletian (284-305): redistricted the Empire and created a political tetrarchy because the vastness of the Empire made it difficult for one person to rule.

Constantine came into power in 312, continued Diocletian’s policies and increased the power and status of the emperor. Also separated military and civil offices, ambitious building program.

Economically, D + C used heavy-handed edicts b/c Empire's finances failing. Taxation increased for the lower classes -> discontent.

Constantine converted to Christianity after winning a victory at the Milvian Bridge of the Tiber. All following emperors except for Julian (360-3) were Christian. Contradictions of doctrine -> the emperor closer to church.

Western Empire began to decline in the late 300s. Germanic tribes began to enter the Empire. Threats from the Huns -> Visigoths + others deeper into Rome, where they eventually became integrated into the army. Imperial troops withdrew.

Germans began to form their own kingdoms in the fifth century.

By the historically accepted end of the Western Empire in 476 with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer, the emperor was essentially a figurehead. The military officials known as the Masters of the Soldiers, of which Odoacer was one, had the real power.

--

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization, Seventh Edition. Canada: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

--

Why do I say nothing of the Five Good Emperors?

Friday, July 6, 2012

To Break the Smiling Mirror

"We discovered (such a discovery is inevitable in the late hours of the night) that mirrors have something monstrous about them."
-Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

-

It wasn't her choice to have the mirror in her bedroom, but there it was at the foot of her bed - rectangular, shiny, and cowardly. How else can you describe something that does nothing but reflect back what it sees - and that imperfectly?

She started noticing after the first week.

At the time, she was looking into the mirror, scrutinizing her clothing. She couldn't remember ever wanting to impress people with how she dressed - before, it was enough to please herself. But, she thought, frowning, there was something not quite right with today's ensemble -

She looked up and saw a girl with a wide, pretty, vapid, weak grin. It was her face.

But that's not right, she thought, taking a step back. I'm not smiling. What the hell is going on?

As she watched, the smile changed, metamorphosed into a look of confusion - cute, coy, and disgusting. It was a simpering face, a pouting face, it was -

She backed out of the room, hoping it was only her imagination that made the smiling figure in the mirror toss back her hair and laugh a silent laugh that, she was sure, could sound like the crunch of sugar crystals if only her ears could hear it.

After that she tried not to look in the mirror. She dressed in the dark and always asked if her hair looked all right before going out.

It was useless. She began to see that face everywhere she went - in the windows, in computer screens, even in the dark gleaming wood of the piano. Everywhere she turned the simpering smile, or childish pout, greeted her.

She became, she thought, more polite, as if by good behavior she could lift the curse. Her voice rose half an octave, she hid her laughter behind a hand, she apologized for troubling everyone, she dwelt endlessly whenever she erred.

Often, she wondered what it would be like to disappear into the walls.

Tears, she found, came easier. She had only to think - I've disappointed - and a mist arose in her eyes. I've failed, I'm a failure, no one loves me as I am. She wondered if she could make everyone else happy, if that would make her happy.

How selfish! she thought - thinking of her own happiness! She had more than she needed; she saw she was spoiled and soft and she spoke of her purchases as though they were a badge of shame. She could not take pleasure in anything. How silly it all seemed!

She found that if she didn't want anything too badly, if she apologized for her success, that the guilt eased. Guilt - of what? Of having more than she deserved. Of daring to daydream. Of not having anything she could have died for.

When she looked into the mirror she saw a girl with a pretty a smile, a smile she now knew was strained, was infected by the fear that others might not like her, that she could only ever be accepted if she was a sweet, earnest girl. Why, if she was pleasant, then wouldn't all her other faults fall away? It wouldn't matter how much she had or didn't have, or how much she did or did not endure.

No one could blame such a dear, dear girl.

Of course they couldn't. She excused herself: "Oh, I'm really no good at this, I've no talent for this kind of thing." She was sure everyone was saying What an admirable young lady, admitting her weaknesses so honestly!

She acquired the sweet dolefulness of a self-selected martyr. When she came across a mirror she looked into it hungrily, so she could admire the gentle, limpid countenance that faced her.

If she was only sweet enough, darling enough, nice enough, then surely everything would end up all right for her. It was the only way she'd get anything, anyway: or hadn't she seen, hear, read the disappointment in all their faces>

Maybe not. After all, it was so embarrassing, she didn't have any powers of observation, oh no, not her, not her -

Excuses and excuse-mes slipped out of her mouth like diamonds and roses. Her delicate shoulders couldn't bear any strain of responsibility: not for her actions, and not for any discomfort she might cause others.

"Hey." Someone picked up a diamond of hers, that had tumbled out from those meekly smiling lips, and examined it. "This isn't diamond. It's glass."

And eyes turned on her, eyes that seemed to see into her trembling heart. Her mouth flickered between a smile and a pout - "Love me" and "Please oh please don't hate me."

"You can do better than that."

Her lips parted, ready to let forth another excuse. But then she closed her mouth and for once, it was a line straight across.

She went home.

She climbed the stairs and opened the door to her bedroom and she stood in front of the smiling mirror - she with her mouth tightly closed so no more glass diamonds or wilted roses could fall out. If she was not smiling, and the mirror was...

"You are not me," she told it. "You are a lie."

Her reflection looked back at her, so confused, a lost little lamb, oh, what beast of stone heart could look upon such a pitiable soft-eyed creature with such a scowl-?

She slammed her fist into the glassy, lying surface. And then she did it again, and again, and again, so the cracks spread and met and rippled across the whole goddamn monstrosity. She laid into the mirror until there was nothing left distorting who she was.

Just her, standing there with glass dust all over her bleeding knuckles.

Her breath was coming fast and heavy. Her eyes focused on her destruction.

She laughed then. Not hiding behind a hand but fully, a laughter as rich as a thick stew. She laughed herself crying, and then she smiled. Not very prettily, and not very sweetly, but with the determination that she was no one else but herself, that there was no need to apologize for existing. Everything would be all right, but only if she made it so.

Because - and she had forgotten - she had that kind of power.

-

"Our weaknesses are always evident, both to ourselves and others. But our strengths are hidden until we choose to reveal them - and that is when we are truly tested. When all that we have within is exposed, and we may no longer blame our inadequacies for our failure, but must instead depend upon our strengths to succeed...that is when the measure of a man is taken."
-James Owen, Here There Be Dragons

--

Written the first day of this year. It's an ongoing process.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Road Map

This summer, I feel as though I'm working my way to another person. Maybe something spectacular will happen on my sixteenth birthday. Maybe I'll discover previously-unknown skill with halberd fighting, or weather magic, or something.

My point is that I'm in a state of flux. I'll be sure to write about the process - unless I'm too busy to. Which might happen: I don't know what the reception is like in the Otherworlds.

Anyway, here's what I see happening on this blog this summer:

As I have done in the past, I'll post Tuesdays and Fridays. I've got an enormous backlog of notes/stories/poems I've never posted (in fact, I'm still in the process of typing stuff up), which will make for regular Tuesday postings for at least a couple of months.

Fridays I'll be here live, reviewing the week or blathering on or endorsing awesome books like the following:
  • The Dragons of Eden (Carl Sagan)
  • Welcome to Bordertown (ed. Ellen Kushner + Holly Black)
  • Genesis (Bernard Beckett)

Or something else.

(Incidentally, the order is reversed this week. This Friday you're treated with a short story.)

I have a lot of ideas percolating in my head, and writing about them will make them come clear. Since I've decided to think of this blog as my magician's notebook, some of these ideas may seem strange - but if you were adverse to strangeness, you probably don't want to be anywhere near this blog.

I seem to have lost my point again. Damn, what is this? Even the map is getting lost?

Yes, ma'am, or yes, sir. I am wandering in a fog with a compass pointing wherever it wants and the moss is growing all around the trees (in suspiciously-shaped characters) and it is interesting if not marvelous. Care to join me?