Friday, February 22, 2008

pharmeceutical envy

"Aspirin was first synthesized by chemists at the Bayer firm in Dusseldorf, Germany. Marketed first as a loose powder in 1899, it came in tablets by 1915. It quickly became the world's most prescribed drug both by doctors and home medicators. At the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Aspirin trademark became part of the Allies' war-reparation demands, forcing Germany to surrender the brand name to France, England, Russia, and the United States. Aspirin with a capital A became plain aspirin."
--from Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 by Thomas J. Schlereth.

Obviously the argument that advances in medicine should be free is not a new one.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

mood music

Lisa's post over at DangerGal reminded me that I had wanted to do a "theme music" post of my own. Also, I am trying really hard to get my head back into the 19th Century, so here's the "Trace" playlist from my iPod.

Prelude in C minor Op. 28 No. 20—Chopin
Broken Hearted Savior—Big Head Todd & the Monsters
Silence—Sarah McLachlan
Blue on Black—Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Reasons Why—Nickle Creek
Wayfaring Stranger—Trace Adkins
Sundown—Gordon Lightfoot
Leader of Men—Nickleback
New Year’s Prayer—Jeff Buckley
iieee—Tori Amos
Moonlight Sonata—Beethoven
Ubi Caritas—Connie Dover
Shelter—Sarah McLachlan
Just Stop—Disturbed
Black Widow—Michelle Shocked
Down So Long—Jewell
It’s Not Me—Three Doors Down
Prayer of St. Francis—Sarah McLachlan
Soul for Every Cowboy—Big Head Todd & the Monsters
Come to Jesus—Mindy Smith
Bring it On—Trace Adkins
Heaven’s My Home—the Duhks
Someday—Trace Adkins

Interesting and slightly schizoid combination of classical, bluegrass/gospel, and death metal, but hey! If it gets the job done....

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

further reviewness

This time at
Holly Messinger serves up an outstanding story of vampires in the Old West with "End of the Line". [...] Post-reading Googling shows that Messinger has other Trace and Boz stories. If they're anything like this one - which is to say well-written and jam-packed with non-stop, throat-ripping, blood-spattering action - then bring 'em on!

I hear ya, people! More blood-splattering!

Been home sick for five days, btw. Missed a perfectly good three-day weekend. Can't remember the last time I was this sick, and I'm mildly offended by my body's weakness. But being mentioned as a standout in the same sentence with David Brin is like a stiff shot of whiskey.

And to the guys at SF Signal, thanks for the mention!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

hey! a review!

My buddy Rob Chilson sent me this in my email:

In the Feb 08 LOCUS, the following appears in Rich Horton's Short Fiction reviews:

JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE for February has a strong novella set in the Old West, "The End of the Line", by HOLLY MESSINGER. Trace is a man who can, to his distress, see ghosts. He is employed, almost against his will, by a spooky lady from St. Louis who has use for such talents. This time, she sends him and his black friend Boz to accompany a train heading for Oregon because there have been rumors of vampires -- or something dangerous -- in the remoter stretches of the journey. They do find what they are looking for, which is plenty interesting. More interesting still is Trace's story, and his relationship with his employer, and the stories of some of the passengers. I suspect there will be more stories in this world.

How cool is that? Nice to know somebody read the durn thing, at least. Of course the SP and I promptly hopped in the car and ran over to the big-box bookstore to buy a couple copies of LOCUS, but they didn't have the February issue in stock. Doesn't seem to be a copy for sale anywhere in town, point of fact, so I'll have to find one when I go back to work on Tuesday. We're not exactly in the middle of nowhere, but we're far enough from the city that you don't waste the time and gas unless you have at least two reasons to drive there. Still, a mention! A favorable review! That's not to be sneezed at.

I'm wondering now if I should send them "Parlor Games." I don't think they're buying at the moment.

Monday, February 11, 2008

lie a little to tell the truth

Disclaimer in advance: I don't claim to have mastered all this mysterious tai chi stuff.

However. Things have been becoming clearer to me at a steady and slightly accelerating rate over the past three months or so. It's not that I've been a better student or anything. I've been my usual sporadically-practicing self, although I try to do a little form every day. The one thing I can say has changed is that my attention is not as divided. The money situation is under control. My husband and the cat pretty much take care of themselves. My brain and psyche have settled down into new routine. So I'm more calm in general, and more attentive to what I'm doing at any given moment.

As I've said before, having new students in class, while a temporary nuisance, was a gift in disguise, because nothing makes you learn faster than teaching. As I've also said before, Sit's been singling me out for small corrections. He rarely does this at the beginning levels, because you have so much to think about that extra details just make you frustrated. And usually I can see the difference in the small corrections he gives me. Some things are just old bad habits, which, when altered, make life so much easier. The classics say, "a hairsbreadth separates heaven and earth"--and believe me, two degrees' difference in the angle of your elbow can make a difference, too. It makes a difference whether you are bending your arm at the elbow or whether you are levering up the whole arm at the shoulder. There are times to do both, but you must know which is which.

So last Saturday during class Sit was running through some of his canonical moves, particularly the one where someone bear-hugs you from behind and you raise your arms straight forward, fingertips extended like you're going to dive. And as I watching him do it, I thought, I think I know how that works. So I had the SP grab me from behind. He did it at about half-strength, which is appropriate for practice. And I raised my arms and it worked.

"Yeah!" he said, sounding pleased and surprised. I've wrestled him off before, but this was strangely effortless. When you do it right, there's no struggle. It didn't hurt me to do it, and it didn't hurt him to be pushed off. In fact, when Sit does it, you don't even realize you're being moved until it's too late.

So the SP tightened down his grip. I did it again. It worked again, but about halfway up my brain started going, "What are you doing? This can't be working." and I started to buckle, but the SP said, "Fingertips!" and I stretched them out again and his arms just floated off.

It's not just the fingertips, you see. That description is shorthand for a particular alignment of the elbows and shoulders. But if you think about the elbows and shoulders, you lock up. The SP grabbed me more strongly still, and lower down, so I couldn't get leverage with my elbows, and I stretched out my hands and slipped him right off. "Yeah!" he said, tickled, and gave me a happy shake. Then I started to laugh and gasp from the exhilaration and fright in my ears and heart.

The action so defies logic, or what we think of as logic--Such a soft movement can't possibly be effective against such a crushing grip!--that when you see it, it's a bit like seeing a burning bush, I think. Your mind doesn't know how to grasp it and you start fighting for context. Also there's the thrill of doing it right, finally! and the fear and frustration because you have no idea how you did it or how to do it again. You just try to hang onto that sensation of how it felt when you did it--and that sensation is as ephemeral as a dream and slipping away just as fast.

And you realize why the Masters describe the feeling as "stretch the tendons" and don't use muscle. You have to use muscle, obviously, your bones don't move unless you use muscle, but you have to use just enough, and in the appropriate, subtle places, to generate movement without creating tension in the big muscles on the outside of your limbs. If I had tightened up my biceps, it wouldn't have worked. Tension is for stopping. It creates a wedge against your opponent that he can brace against.

I figured out a few weeks ago that this chi or qi we're always talking about wants to flow through you. All you have to do is arrange your limbs in such a way as to allow the maximum flow, which is why so little muscle tension is required. How much energy does it take to lift your own arm, anyway? Qi is like electricity, you want to remove all the resistance for the best power, and in the human body, tension is the resistance. So when the SP bear-hugs me and I raise my arms, I am not lifting against him. I am straightening my arms, turning my elbows slightly down and in so my shoulders roll forward. This makes my back round and makes me hard to hang onto. The SP's grip depends upon him being able to keep his arms close to his body, but when I round out my back and arms, I'm creating a circle, ergo creating a situation which, for him, is like trying to carry a moderately heavy but very large box. It's too far away from his body and therefore difficult to keep hold of.

It sounds simple, and it is. But it is also extremely complex. It's a combination of timing, and stretching, and flexing, and always less and in different places than you expect. And then there's the mental aspect of it--it's amazing how much detachment you have to have from the person that's gripping you. Or put another way, you have to think of them as part of you. If I move my arms, he must move with me because he is part of me.

All of this has been said to me before. All of it sounds sensible enough on its own, but contradictory when you put it together, and impossible when you try to do it. And I realize why all the old Masters speak in such frustratingly vague aphorisms--because metaphor is the only convention we can use to describe the indescribable. What is language, anyway, but an attempt to show someone else what is inside our own heads? Given that everyone's perspective is a wee bit different, something is bound to get lost in the translation. And when you are trying to describe something that not everyone has experienced, language becomes even less reliable.

I'm reminded strongly of where I was after I finished that first Quinn Taylor story, "Galatea." I looked at that with the same sense of exhilaration and dread. "Wow. I really did it. Did I really do that? I think I did. How did I do that? And how do I make it happen again?" And of course Quinn's asking herself the same questions in the story.

I dunno. I've written more stories since then. Most of them worked. The one that didn't, I can fix... I think. But I'll be damned if I can describe how the ones that worked, did.

Monday, February 04, 2008

umbrellas and knitting needles

Writer's meeting was Saturday. I took them about 40 pages of Trace--forty sequential, coherent, gapless pages of Curious Weather with some definite forward movement. "Okay, here we go!" somebody wrote at the end. I did some calculating last week and figured that I now have enough material outlined for two novels. "Horseflesh" would be the end of book one, and "Curious Weather" would be the beginning of book two; I figure book two will be somewhat less episodic than the first handful of stories.

While I was at the group meeting, Aly started teaching me to knit. It's long been a gap in my education. Mom taught me to crochet when I was little, but I never liked it much. Knitting, on the other hand, I find soothing. I'm not entirely sure why people claim it's so difficult to learn, either; I picked up the basics in about 20 minutes. I guess it's a hand-tension thing. "Soft hands, soft hands," Aly kept saying to me, and I grinned, because "Relax" is something I hear 50 times or more in a tai chi class. It did take an afternoon of practice, but think I've got the basic garter stitch down now. It's the perfect little repetitive thing for me to do with my hands, while my mind works on other problems.

Speaking of tai chi, we did a paid gig at a Chinese New Year's celebration last night. It was pretty fun. It was a variety show of traditional dances, singing, instrumental music, a firebreather, and a couple of martial artists. Three of us did the umbrella form and Sit did the taihui form. People really like that umbrella form for some strange reason. I guess it's pretty, although it's clearly still martial in nature; it's built from a lot of saber/broadsword moves.

The most fun part, for me, was going backstage. It was at a big university auditorium, and the backstage area and green room were some of the biggest I've seen. Whenever I walk into a black-painted wing full of ropes and pulleys I just feel at home, and alive with the excitement of making magic. It's weird, though, because I never pursued acting that much. I could have done more community theater--could still, if I were inclined--but the late hours and the little egos put me off. I think it's the symbolism of the backstage mechanics that fascinate me, because last night--despite the inadequate sleep--I had the "backstage" dream again.

That's a recurring symbolic one for me, where I'm slipping into dark corners and up black-painted ladders and through secret doors to get to a little isolated room full of all the wonderous things. I think that "backstage" room in my dreams is my creative space, specifically my writing space. Last time I dreamed of it was during divorce; that time I found my room crowded with people, having a party. Last night's dream was rather vague, but it looked a lot like that theater we performed in last night: unfamiliar, bigger, with some of the same important stuff in it but lots of new and intriguing things, as well.