Saturday, March 11, 2023

correct taste: 1856

 from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, January 1856:

"Flounces are universally worn, the number resting entirely at the option of the wearer. Skirts are very full, and so long as to touch the ground, even when distended by the most ample under-dress. The hoops of our grandmothers certainly threaten to reappear, if we may not say that they have actually appeared again. We are confident, however, that the good taste of our countrywomen will prevent a fashion so opposed to correct taste from becoming at all prevalent."

Of course, the cage crinoline, e.g. the "hoopskirt" as we now know it, was patented and went into production in late 1856. Never say never, darlings.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Lombroso, Lie Detectors, and the Law According to Lidia Poët

In one episode of The Law According to Lidia Poët, our heroine mentions a device called a "volumetric glove." Because standard Googling is not going to get you far with this, I searched Google Books, 19th century, and found this treatise on Criminal Man, by Gina Limbroso. This business about the volumetric glove is interesting for several reasons: first, it was an early lie detector; second, it was a tool that grew out of early psychiatric testing to be used for criminal investigation, and demonstrates the close relationship of those two fields—not to mention how the tools of one can be used as weapons in the other.

Here is the transcribed text from the scanned book, edited slightly for length:

"It is well known that any emotion which causes the heart-beats to quicken or become slower makes us blush or turn pale, and these vaso-motor pheomena are entirely beyond our control. If we plunge one of our hands into the volumetric tank [...], the level of the liquid ... will rise and fall at every pulsation, [...] and variations may be observed which correspond to every stimulation of the senses, every thought and above all, every emotion. 

"The volumetric glove [...] is a still more practical and convenient apparatus. It consists of a large gutta-percha glove, which is put on the hand and hermetically sealed at the writes by a mixture of mastic and vaseline. The glove is filled with air as the tank was with water. The greater or smaller pressure exercised on the air by the pulsations of blood in the veins of the hands reacts on the aerial column of an india-rubber tube, and this in its turn on Marey's tympanum (a small chamber half metal and half gutta-percha). This chamber supports a lever carrying an indicator, which rises and falls with the greater or slighter flow of blood in the hand. This lever registered the oscillations on a moving cylinder covered with smoked paper. 

"If after talking to the patient on indifferent subjects, the examiner suddenly mentions persons, friends, or relatives, who interest him and cause him a certain amount of emotion, the curve registered on the revolving cylinder suddenly drops and rises rapidly, thus proving that he possesses natural affections. If, on the other hand, when alluding to relatives and their illnesses, or vice-versa, no corresponding movement is registered on the cylinder, it may be assumed that the patient does not possess much affection.

"My father sometimes made successful use of the plethysmograph to discover whether an accused person was guilty of the crim imputed to him, by mentioning it suddenly while his hands were in the plethysmograph or placing the photograph of the victim unexpectedly before his eyes." (Lombroso, 1887)

The "father" mentioned above was Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician, criminologist, and phrenologist. As may be inferred from above, Cesare made a career out of attempting to determine the cause of criminal behavior. Cesare's theory was that criminality or lack of morals was inherent, which was influenced by common common racist assumptions of the day and heavily leaned on by lawmakers and monied persons who wanted to keep the hoi polloi in line. Proponents believed both criminals and "lower" races were less evolved and therefore closer to animals in nature. Lombroso made much of criminal activities running in families and published several works about the physical characteristics of criminals, such as the shape of their heads and other features. An early form of racial profiling, if you will.

An early lie-detecting glove, and what a criminal looks like, according to Lombroso. 

Our modern sensibilities aside, Lombroso's work was a little more advanced that the old way of thinking that criminals were just sinners who needed saving/punishment. His theories were disputed even at the time; phrenology and other mechanical explanations for psychiatric illness were not universally accepted even in the 1880s. Other researchers built on his work, which led to closer examinations of criminal behavior, leading psychiatry and criminology further away from simple assumptions of sin and wickedness, and toward advances in treatment of criminals and the insane.

There is a very good summation of Lombroso's work and the developing "science" of criminology (forgive the ironic quotes—it's hard to take these early efforts seriously by today's ethical standards) in the book 1877: America's Year of Living Violently by Michael A. Bellesiles.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

1855 Dress Project Progress report: petticoats and skirt

Time flies when you're busy. 

I feel as if I've been moving along steadily on this project and look up to find it's been over a month since I started it. No shame, of course, just another example of how everything takes longer than you think it will––and costs more.

For instance, when I started this project I had three goals in mind: to learn about styles and construction methods of the 1850s, which is about 30 years earlier than the sartorial era I was most familiar with; to sew entirely by the treadle machine and by hand, to see how long it would take; and to use what materials I had on hand, because most frontier women would not be able to just run down to the store and pick up what they were missing. 

For the most part I had the fabric I needed. I had plenty of stiff cotton organdy from an 1880 petticoat project, and a couple lengths of hoop steel, enough for the bottom two rows on the boned/corded petticoat, and some medium-weight cotton for the petticoat itself. But as I researched methods for making early crinolines I found I either needed more boning or all the cord, depending on how "authentic" I wanted to be. 

The most popular style of corded petticoat on the internet can involve up to 100 yards of cotton cording. I knew I didn't want to pay for that, or take the time to sew all that between two layers, much less wear that weight. Fortunately, extant petticoats in museums as well as in Costume In Detail show how multiple solutions were used by dressmakers of the time. Cord, reed, wire, and spring steel were all sewn into petticoats before the patenting of the improved cage crinoline in 1856. 

In the spirit of making do, I decided to be "historically adequate" and compromise: for the best intersection of weight, cost, and functionality, I would do a boned petticoat incorporating two rows of spring steel at the bottom, and several rows of synthetic whalebone (i.e. plastic) above. 

Of course, that cost me about $50 in additional boning and boning channels. I would have had to spend money on SOMETHING, of course, and it's ironic that the cheapest option was still $50, but that's why we only make this type of underwear once, and try to use things from the stash.

Here are two images of the boned petticoat, one just after the channels were installed, the other with the boning in. 

"corded" petticoat pre-boning

under petticoat fully boned

And here is the "crinoline" petticoat, which couldn't be simpler: just three tiers of stiffened cotton organdy, each gathered onto the tier above. This is the first kind of petticoat I learned to make although I got smarter about grading the size of each tier to give it the correct shape. The bottom tier was 186 inches long before gathering, the middle was 140 inches, and the topmost was just under 90 inches. The waistband here was too wide; I cut it down from a deep yoke to a 1" band. Both waistbands are sized to sit just below the waist to reduce bulk at that area. 

Both petticoats together.

Next up was the skirt. When I started this project I intended to repurpose some plaid silk taffeta that wasn't working out for a c1880 bustle dress, but before I went down that punishing road I decided to do something simpler first. I had a big piece of burgundy linen, part of which was already cut out to make a basic gathered skirt. It was intended to be part of an 18th century-style witch costume for Halloween, but between school and everything else I didn't have time to finish it last fall.

I put pockets in the side seams, bound the back placket, and cartridge-pleated the top by hand.

Installing pockets

Skirt over petticoats, with cartridge pleats. Also the tell-tail of my shop helper.

Once the cartridge pleating was done, I promptly decided I didn't like it, and took it all out again. So the next section will be showing the skirt with deep box pleats. I hope to complete the skirt this weekend and do most of the bodice mock-up and construction so the next post should be substantial.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

1855 Dress Project for Arabia Steamboat Research

 I'm reviving this blog as a place to store the record of my making a 1855-ish dress, as part of my research into 1850's clothing. 

For those who don't know, I work part time at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City. I am mostly engaged in documenting and restoring/reconstructing clothing artifacts that were recovered in the winter of 1988-89 and preserved in the early 1990s. We have almost no women's wear in the collection, although museum lore is that there were several crates of women's ready-made cotton dresses, which did not survive 130+ years in the groundwater of eastern Kansas. We have only the buttons left... so many buttons.

So while discussing the likely design of those dresses and whether we might reconstruct one for a display example, someone asked me how long it would take to make one. Now, the dress itself is not a huge problem. I could do that in two days, assuming I had a pattern. But this is an era I have not spent much time in. I never cared for the hoopskirts look so I don't have a collection of patterns or a depth of knowledge about construction methods. A lot changed between 1850 and 1880 where I usually hang out.

Besides, a whole new Victorian outfit involves not just the dress but the undergarments. The cage crinoline or hoopskirt was "invented" which is to say, patented and mass-produced, in late 1856. But the dresses on the Arabia and the ladies on the frontier would have relied on corded petticoats or crinolines (loose-woven, stiff horsehair petticoats). I don't have those either and I don't have a lot of knowledge about how they were made.

Through one thing and another, I have decided to make an 1855 dress, to test the techniques and also to have something to wear for museum events. I intend to make a corded petticoat, a flounced and/or horsehair petticoat, the skirt, and the bodice. I already have a corset, chemise, and drawers that will work for that era so I’ll just use those; I already know it takes me 12-16 hours to make a corset and about 8-10 for the other two items. (Seriously, for some reason a dumb chemise takes a million years to finish.)

Image from The Met.

pattern drafts on a workbench

Because I’m doing this largely as a learning exercise for my work at the Arabia Museum, I will be documenting this process much more thoroughly than usual. I intend to do the work on my 1918 treadle machine and by hand. Call it experimental archeology.

I drew out the pattern for the bodice on Tuesday, just to get a feel for the proportions and fabric requirements, but the bodice will actually be the last thing I make, because it has to fit over the skirt and petticoats.

I must report, however, that I've used a dozen or so historical patterns from magazines like Godey's, which are always single-sized "for a medium-sized lady" and usually only give the vertical measurements, and I've never once had to make one longer in the torso. I'm 5'6", which is two inches above average for a 21st century woman, so I definitely look askance at the claim that people in the 19th century were "so much smaller" than we are now.

Monday, April 20, 2020

noir fiction vs gothic romance

Is there a rule or convention or expectation that every installment in a series of novels has to be the same type of story? I mean what trope is the determining factor? As long as each book in the series has the same setting and mostly the same characters, does it matter if one volume leans more toward action and the hero's journey, and the next is a romance, and the third is a dystopic allegory, and the forth a war story?

I was told once by a beta reader that Curious Weather had "too much romance" for the type of book it was. This assessment, I must assume, was based on the fact that The Curse of Jacob Tracy was a weird western—a boy's adventure book, to be blunt—with no sex and only the barest allusion to romance.

So, naturally, I doubled down on the love story in Curious Weather because the whole point of that book was that it IS a romance, albeit a gothic one.

What are the tropes of the gothic romance? Well, Barbara Michaels is/was my favorite of the modern writers, and she did a batch of supernatural-flavored ones in the 80s, so I take her as my guide.

1. Told from the POV of the heroine, who's out of her usual milieu due to a family shake-up of some kind—or in the modern stories, a professional change.

2. The heroine's new milieu is hostile or threatening in some way, because of isolation, locals, or roommates—or all three.

3. There is at least one love interest, usually two. These two heroes are foils for each other; one seemingly, the other unsuitable in some way, both attractive and/or menacing by turns.

4. Usually the charming love interest turns out to be the villain.

5. There's a mystery afoot, or some deep dark secret.

6. The heroine's efforts to solve the mystery or uncover the secret lead her further into danger.

In many ways it's the same plot as a hard-boiled detective story, just with the gender roles reversed.

I'm pleased to say that Curious Weather alternately embraces and subverts all of these tropes, sometimes both, and you could make an argument that it brings in elements of the noir novel as well. As for the idea that there might be "too much" romance in a noir story... have you read any Mickey Spillane? or Robert B. Parker?

Monday, May 14, 2018

thoughts while watching American Mary for the eighth time

If this Soska sisters had wanted to be really subversive they would have ended the movie with Billy and Mary living happily in Berlin or Argentina as legit club owners at the heart of the underground scene. Sure, some aspects of the movie could have been better fleshed out—Mary's sense of betrayal when she catches Billy getting a blowjob, for instance, or Ruby's husband's controlling streak, or the question of whether Billy actually understood where Mary was coming from in terms of her damage or if he merely had a death wish. Letting Mary come out the other side of her trauma and find some balance—even if it meant she got away with her crimes—would have been more disturbing and satisfying than killing the monster at the end. The ending was the only cheap move in the film.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

actual costs of historical costuming

I'm feeling the need to tell on myself a bit here, because once again it's convention season, and every year, every con worth its salt proposes a "costuming on a budget" panel, and I'm always strung out between wanting to help and a fatalistic sense that it's a lost cause.

One CAN do great costumes cheaply. It takes patience and ingenuity and maker skills and a lot of hunting, but we have the Internet these days so it's easier than it used to be. I LOVE thrift-store costumes, partly because I love costumes that can pass as street clothes—people walking around dressed like Velma and Daphne, for instance, or Sam and Dean (hipster or Winchester?).
But it works because the costume itself IS modern streetwear. So right away the scope of such a panel is deceptively ill-defined. I don't believe one can replicate my style of costuming—that is, compile a convincing 1860's gown or bustle dress—from found clothing. The silhouette is too extreme, the underwear too essential. By the Jazz Era the corset goes away and it becomes a lot easier, and of course for men, styles haven't changed much in 180 years, give or take a few zippers.
For me, found-costuming is never going to be my jam. I'm more like a model-railroad builder. I like the designing and the workmanship and getting the details "right," although I'm not a stitch-counter by any means. Furthermore, to me costuming is as much tactile as visual; I was drawn to it because I like the sense of putting on an older style of clothing and stepping away from the 21st century for a while, as much as anyone can. And I like the way good fabrics feel. Cotton, silk, and wool are so much nicer to work with than synthetics, and are generally more comfortable to wear and last longer. I try to buy organic fibers for my everyday wardrobe, too.
But organic fabrics are expensive, and getting more so. The price of quality cotton goods has doubled in the last five years, and some types of silk have tripled. True, you can buy cheaper synthetics or cheap cottons but then you've put all this effort into a garment that is going to fade, bag, and pill after a single wearing. In my lifetime, in America, I've seen sewing go from a skill that could stretch the family budget to a rich woman's hobby. When I sew, I'm practicing skills that have traditionally been drudge work for women, and at the same time, indulging in a mode of dressing with a quality of materials that a skilled laborer would not have been able to afford at any other point in history. Hell, a lot of people can't afford them now. And then you start getting into the issues of sweat shops and arable land and water consumption for cotton farming and waste chemicals for polyester production and animal rights for wool production and all those poor workers have to eat somehow and it just all becomes one impossible Existential black hole.
But I digress.
In preparation for this post, I started calculating the cost of my latest "quick and cheap" Victorian striped polonaise. I knew it wasn't "cheap," but the actual hard numbers made me wince. So I share them now in the spirit of disclosure.
The polonaise (overdress) alone cost a little less than $200 in new (purchased in Feb/March 2018) materials.
  • Striped poly/cotton fabric: $55
  • Black velvet belt/trim: $10 (about 1/4 yard of scrap cotton velveteen)
  • Buttons: $60
  • Lace: $25
  • Earrings: $40 (no I didn't need them—birthday present to myself.)
  • Thread, ribbon, needles, pins, etc... 
And of course I wore it with stuff I already had:
  • Black cotton faille underskirt: ~$80, made 3 years ago
  • Cotton organdy petticoat: ~$50, made 3 years ago
  • Chemise: ~$70, made 2-3 years ago
  • Bustle pad: $25, made 3 years ago
  • Corset: ~$80—I make one every year, more or less, and I recycle the boning & lacing when an old one wears out. Boning is most of the expense.
  • Shoes: $150—the shoes are more than 10 years old and have been repaired more than once, so that cost is factored in.
  • Hat: ~$35-50— made 6-7 years ago from scraps. It is however silk satin built on a buckram frame, so it would probably be closer to $80 if I made it now.
  • Belt-pouch ~$60 picked up 2-3 years ago. 
Throw in makeup, hair pins, stockings, the old costume necklace I acquired in high school, and you're closing in on $800 for that outfit. And we haven't even talked about the three sewing machines, the iron and ironing board, the file cabinet full of patterns, the reference books, the cutting mat, the roll of patterning paper, etc., etc.,

Those are costs spread over months, years, decades. Back when I made my very first corset in 2002, I saw that the cost would be considerable and I wanted my pieces to last for many seasons. So I always get a bit flummoxed when people ask me, "How long did it take you to make that?" because they're not asking the right question.

"Thirty-some years of practice at sewing and patterning, twenty of hoarding fabric and learning where to find the good stuff, the last ten collecting passable shoes and accessories (I also collect old medical equipment, which is equally useless, but doesn't it look cute in my booth? No it's not for sale) and let's not ignore that those skills, that time to practice, the expendable income to buy the good fabrics, are the product of luck and privilege, being a white American with a college education which she probably could have paid off by now if she'd quit spending money making damn costumes."

So. This is why I hesitate to do a "how to costume on a budget" panel. Because it's all too dishonest and depressing. But hey, I look pretty doing it.

Also, the perennial first and last word on the subject: Cheap, Quick, or Accurate, via The Costumer's Guide.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Me, too.

Look, I don't do memes. I've turned my nose up at going with the crowd since I was eight or ten, at least. And that, I suspect, has protected me from a lot of the shit that women put up with.

Friday, September 30, 2016

projects in the closet: midnight blue velvet

Those of you who've known me a long time may remember when, lo these many years ago, me and a friend cosplayed Darla and Drusilla in their 1880 garb. (From the Buffy/Angel crossover flashback where Dru and Spike meet.) 

That dress was the beginning of my long infatuation with the Natural Form Era (1878-1882) of fashion, and the original reason Curse of Jacob Tracy is set in 1880. Sad but true. Anyway, I outgrew this dress over the past decade-plus, and it being my first Victorian sewing project there were certain construction elements in the bodice I no longer approved of (we won't even talk about the polyester underskirt). Also, it was green.

So last winter I decided to make it over. I trashed the underskirt, took the bodice and overskirt completely apart. They are both cotton velveteen, originally white, which I had dyed green. I soaked them in dye remover to get them back to beige, then overdyed the fabric indigo. It was an interesting exercise because it was only the second time I'd used fiber reactive dyes, but the overall result was very good--it just was a bit lighter and truer blue than I'd hoped for. I was undecided about what to do next, so I threw the disassembled, indigo pieces in a drawer and let them sit for a year.

With the weather cooling off I started thinking about this project again. A couple weeks ago I was home sick and browsing through I came across this lovely crossweave silk taffeta and I knew that was what I wanted to piece out my velveteen with. 

I bought two yards to see if it would match. It doesn't. 

The discrepancy is stronger than I could capture with my camera; the taffeta is a couple clicks toward the purple. But it's much more the color I want, so I ordered a fresh batch of dye from Dharma Trading Co. and I'm going to tint the velveteen yet again. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 23, 2016

so about that Indian blood-brother ritual

Today I saw this article pop up in my Facebook feed, reiterating the old chestnut about how American Indians practiced blood-binding, or the exchange of blood between unrelated men (in popular fiction it's usually an American native and a white guy) to make them sworn allies in battle. And while it is not usually my style to argue with people on the internet, I feel this is one of those beliefs that needs to die, along with the idea that vaccines cause autism and the notion that candy corn is food.

Now, caveat: earlier in the year there was a rumor going around that I was claiming to be an expert on "Native American culture" because I had read "five books" on the subject, which is horse shit; in the first place I have read a great many more than five books, and in the second place I am neither an idiot nor an asshole, so I certainly wouldn't claim to be an expert on anything based on a little book-learning.

However, two years ago I did do a fair amount of research on Apsaalooke (Crow) culture in the late 19th century, because I was writing The Romance of Certain Old Bones. Trace and Boz were headed to Montana as hired muscle for an archeological dig, and it stood to reason they would hire a Crow guide, because much of eastern Montana in 1875 was reserved for the Apsaalooke tribes. Ergo I wanted to get a broad idea of how 15-year-old Stanley Many Tongues might respond to the strange goings-on that tend to dog Trace's footsteps.

One of the questions I needed to answer (to my satisfaction at least) was whether the Plains tribes actually did that blood-brothers thing. I wanted Trace and Boz to do it, because reasons, and I had heard differing reports on the factuality of it. I wasn't having Trace and Boz to do it because it was an "Indian thing"—neither of those characters is NA anyway—but Stanley was going to be present and I wanted to know how he would interpret such an act.

If you do just a little bit of reading into the history and anthropology of magic you quickly notice there are a lot of rituals, across many cultures, that treat blood as a sacred fluid. Early peoples recognized blood's importance to life and thus ascribed mystical powers to it; that's why there are taboos against drinking it or playing with it. That's why so many magic rituals—particularly dark or evil magics—utilize it. 

Blood is life, lack-brain.

By the end of the 19th century microscopes had gotten strong enough that scientists were beginning to be able to discern the parts of blood—red and white cells, platelets—and see how they responded to injury or disease. Mendel's work on heredity was being published in the late 1860's, and Darwin's ideas about evolution had seized the public imagination. Whole new justifications for racism cropped up using twisted interpretations of these theories, which led directly or indirectly to the "one drop" laws of segregation—legal definitions of who was white and who wasn't, who could marry whom, or sell or buy or inherit.

The point is, people understood from antiquity that blood was powerful stuff, and the notion of being related "by blood" was also powerful. The idea of taking a friend's blood into your own body and thus making them a part of you seems to be very widespread. I have seen reports, and I believe there was even a court case in which a couple was accused of miscegenation, where the husband (white) claimed he had injected some of his (black) wife's blood into his own arm, thereby making himself black according to the one-drop rule.

But I have not been able to find accounts of any of the Plains Indians (or any other Native American) tribes using the ritual exchange of blood as part of their adoption or fealty rituals. 

Some of the most widely-available books about Crow culture in the late 19th century, by Lowie and Linderman, suggest that the Crow were not averse to spilling their own blood in the name of ritual. Two of the best-documented examples were cutting off fingers as a sign of grief, or bleeding their flesh as a gesture of sacrifice to get visions (done in conjunction with solitude and fasting—one source speculated that blood loss would bring on fainting and hallucinations)

Crows and their neighbors did have myriad rituals for adopting tribesmen into their war clubs and/or religious societies; sometimes this involved handing down of sacred objects, e.g. medicine pouches and their inherent powers, which might include bones of animals or relatives. (I found one anthropologist's report that claimed some especially powerful medicine bags might contain the skulls of ancestors, which were used for divination and advice.) The Crow also learnt and modified rituals from other tribes, particularly the Hidatsa, with whom they were closely related and often intermingled. These rituals seem to have been largely abandoned around the start of the 20th century, when Christianity was widely adopted by or forced on the tribes.

However, for all the modern talk about maintaining traditions, the inconvenient truth is pre-twentieth century Native American religion was highly personal and fluid, so there’s almost no such thing as “authentic” rituals, any more than there is an "authentic" version of the Bible, or "authentic" martial arts forms. (See what I did there? Pissed off everybody in one fell sentence.)

As far as I can tell, the romantic pre-urban myth about Indian blood-brothers comes from a series of books about the American West by popular German novelist Karl May, which were published in the 1870-80s and featured an Apache "chief" named Winnetou. Karl May probably never visited North America and he certainly wasn't acquainted with any Apaches. 

So where did May get the idea?

Turns out I'm not the only one who had that question.

I found a thesis paper by a medieval historian who was looking into this very phenomenon. In every case where a ‘blood brothers’ ritual is mentioned—and there are many in medieval manuscripts—it seems to be used as a sort of backhanded compliment or self-aggrandizement i.e.: "Those savages over there were REAL badasses, but we wiped ‘em out anyway, because ours is the true civilization.”

The author of the paper concluded that NO ONE actually did this ritual except possibly the ancient Scythians, although in that case too, it seems that a Greek poet described the practice some 200 years after the fact, and again, may have made it up to illustrate what fierce, savage warriors the Scythians were.

The point is, the idea seems to have been well-worn even by the nineteenth century, and it seems to be ascribed to the romantic “other” more often than not, in a "Those guys are crazy!" kind of way. 

With that in mind, I tweaked the scene in such a way as to pay homage to the trope while hopefully injecting a nod toward factualism.

And for the record, I think my husband put it best when he said, "Why are tough guys in movies always cutting up their hands? That's the dumbest thing ever. A cut on the hand takes forever to heal because you're always bending your hand and breaking it open and then it gets infected."


Interesting side note #1: I consulted a college anthropology professor who *did* claim to be an expert in NA matters, and while he did take issue with several points in my manuscript, he didn't bat an eye at the blood-brothers ritual, which made me inclined to distrust everything else he said. 

Interesting side note #2: Deb Reece at American Indians in Children's Literature touches on the subject here, though does not offer any counter-examples or resources to refute the claim (though I admit it's pretty difficult to prove that somebody DIDN'T do something—it's the bane of historical research).

Interesting side note #3: I found a piece asserting that Chinese gang members and underworld types (again, fierce warriors of the foreign persuasion)  did this sort of thing in the late 19th century up through the 1940’s. My Chinese Kung fu teacher, who is a Hong Kong native, also insists it is so, but did not provide references.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

self-defense against schmucks who try to make you take your headphones off

This is self-defense 101, kids. Learn how and when to overcome the social expectation to be friendly with everyone. Predators rely on that conditioning.

This also works when you're in the gym working out, or doing homework in a coffee shop: any time when you're obviously engrossed in something yet someone feels you only showed up for their entertainment.

First of all, don't ignore anyone who is obviously trying to get your attention. Don't let it get to that point. If anyone moves within 3-4 feet of you, glance up. Be aware of your surroundings. Don't make eye contact, just note who is nearby, how they are dressed, what they are carrying. Cultivate an expression of alert concentration. Be alert. Be in control of your environment.

If someone moves into your personal space and stands or walks alongside you, notice them. Don't smile. Give them a rake of your eyes that says, "I see you." Go back to what you were doing.

This will usually discourage them better than pretending they aren't there, because you will have already signaled your disinterest.

If it doesn't, if the entitled fuckwhistle waves his hand in front of your face or does something else to demand your attention, look up with an expression of weary disdain, remove one headphone, raise an eyebrow. Don't smile.

Repeat: don't smile (unless of course you actually WANT to talk to this person). Take in their face and height with an expression of alert indifference, as if reading the menu board at McDonald's. Note hair and eye color, and distinguishing features.

Make him speak first. He may genuinely need information like directions or the date and year, if he's a time traveler. But if you're in a crowded place and he chose to interrupt the girl with the headphones on, odds are he's just being an entitled fuckwhistle.

As soon as he tries any conversational gambit, i.e. "Are you a student? What are you reading? What's good on the menu? Your hair is so pretty," your response is as follows:

"I'm not actually here for conversation, thanks."

Repeat if necessary. Be polite but cool. Do not follow his conversational script. Look at him until he goes away.

Put your ear bud back in. Go back to what you were doing. Maintain awareness of your surroundings.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

plus ça change...

Found a post from 2004 when I was still on Critters. This is some of the contradictory feedback I got on one of my first stories, "Galatea."

  • Master Tan's broken English is great, very authentic/is stereotypical and inconsistent 
  • The conflict between Justin and Quinn is great, well done/there is no discernible conflict in the story 
  • The development of Quinn's character is moving and believable/she's a horrible, unsympathetic person 
  • She's a rip-off of Supergirl/Dark Angel/Kill Bill/Le Femme Nikita 
  • It's a strong, character-driven story/nobody's motivations make any sense.

I guess keeping a diary can be useful after all, if only to remind oneself that feedback from the peanut gallery isn't all it's cracked up to be.