Curiously, both this and "To Kill a King" (see my last post) are about severely depressed and blocked writers, and both were put on the net on 9th May, 2013. Can this possibly be a coincidence?
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Exasperating article today on whether Prozac b teh deth ov ART, horrors horrors.
Which has so many unexamined assumptions festering away in the subtext...
One thinks that there have been many creative artists who were not, in fact, bipolar, or suffering more than the kinds of normal unhappiness that are part of human existence, and it is really not necessary to have distressing problems of brain chemistry to produce worthwhile works of art. No, really, not all artists are 'tortured' and it is not the precondition of entry. Mi Romantyk Phallusy, I show u it.
One also considers that there have been artists who have needed a certain degree of uproar and upheaval in their personal lives to get them going, which I think of as Robert Graves syndrome, and recommending marriage guidance counselling would probably be beside the point, alas. (One perhaps feels less sympathy for these artists than for the people within their ambit who are dealing with the fallout from this.)
Above all, however, one wonders whether people were going around, following the discovery of salvarsan/penicillin, and the introduction of isoniazid, bewailing the likely effects on creativity of the eradication of cerebral syphilis and consumption.
I am also, about the allusion to Freud committing suicide, seriously WTF: Freud was over 80, terminally ill with cancer and in excruciating pain for which medication was no longer working; this surely comes under the heading of self-euthanasia rather than being assimilatable to the 'suicidal artist' model that precedes it.
Also, depression is not some romantic gothic black pall, pierced by occasional amazing shafts of light: it's a grey slime of apathy covering everything. At least one of the cited descriptions of the effect of some psychotropic drug sounded exactly like depression, which suggests that it wasn't actually working.
I am never about magic bullets, and there are problems of individual response to particular medications, of an overly pharmaceutical quick-fix approach to mental distress, and, ultimately, it's always more complicated.
But: the drugs can help even if they're not the complete answer.
Okay, perhaps one could slot people who violate norms into the category of microaggressors?
It is possible that Lucy M has already captured some of this ambivalence:
And, like political correctness, it is both a) a brilliant and fundamentally sound idea that would, if properly practised, result in greater happiness for a greater number of people; and b) capable of quickly leading practitioners down spiralling corridors of guilt, anxiety and negativity that hide the original departure point from view.
And while I rather like her concept of 'microniceties', I regret to say that I am probably not going to notice people who are holding their parting conversation in such a way that they are not blocking the top of the stairway to the egress (something I came across in the course of this week) as much as people who, neglectful of the fact that people might want to get past, do thus hinder the free flow of traffic.
Niceties, perhaps, are about reducing the friction and not negatively snagging one's attention.
I suspect that niceties have to rise above the level of micro to be noticed.
(For some California local definition of 'morning'!)
About 30 minutes ago one of our databases (sb-db03) locked up and stopped serving traffic. This was an active database, so the site quickly stopped when it could no longer serve requests. Alas.
I have failed us over to a backup database and now everything should be working again.
I'm not sure yet what happened to db03, but am currently investigating and will update this post if I come up with a root cause for the problem. Edit: It's back up and doesn't have any visible problems. Disks are fine, data's intact, etc. The graphs and logs show nothing. We'll have to keep an eye on it and see if it manifests further issues.
Sorry for the trouble, please let me know if you still see any problems!
Cool Thing I discovered - glancing through an auction catalogue at work and riffling fast through the section on medieval illuminated manuscripts, my eye caught a woman's name and she was the person to whom this particular ms was attributed and A Known Artist. Apparently this was not entirely unknown in ye medievalz: women were making books in the Middle Ages and illuminating them, some in convents and some in family workshops in the secular world. Okay, hit me again with that explanation about the very limited possibilities available to women in The Past...
Annoying thing: someone, in the debate on women TV presenters and ageism, referring to Mary Beard as 'an old woman'. Beard is several years younger than moi, and still in that phase I would consider middle age.
Puffins: not entirely cutesome. In the course of five-yearly survey of puffins in the UK 'The amount of bites and scars [National Trust rangers] are going to have will be interesting." Though I feel the puffins may have a point, as the census involves people reaching into burrows to see if they are a mated pair with an egg.
Grace Darling and her father. They are uncontroversially heroic, showing extreme bravery and saving lives in the process. If they had merely been trying to break the night-time rowing endurance record? Not so much.
Sir John Franklin. Doomed, of course - but still fairly heroic because doomed in an attempt to find the Northwest Passage - a solid geopolitical objective that would have benefited his country had he succeeded.
The Light Brigade. Not only doomed, but doomed in a futile action; but heroic nonetheless because they acted from devotion to duty rather than reckless bravado.
Ever wanted to connect with the millions of New Yorkers walking past you? Each day brings opportunities to make new friends and share experiences. All too often, we can forget to notice the people around us. Nametag Day aims to break this barrier and strengthen the human element of the New York experience, adding a bit of spontaneity and silliness to people's day.
Possibly one should be relieved that they are not also about giving hugs?
Is it just me, or would other people fill in the tag with 'Jane Smith' or equivalent? (or, of course, not Jane Smith if that was their name.)
Though I would envisage, if they tried this in London, that well-known London-survival strategy, avoiding people's eyes and not engaging, or even crossing the road.
Can I get a heartfelt eeeeuuuuwwww?
I was thinking, as I walked up the road to the Tube (I will not, dr rdrs, recount the preceding sequence of thoughts that got me there) that you don't find the concept of 'nymphomania' around these days to the extent that it was in my younger days.
Which led me to wonder whether morally-loaded terms such as 'slut' had replaced a medically-pathologising, if still pejorative, one (which was always a bit confused between the idea of a woman with a high sex drive and the poor creature who was desperately seeking an actual satisfaction that eluded her).
However, a quick google suggests that it is still at least in vernacular use to some extent, though the top hit is all about debunking the concept:
Calling someone a nymphomaniac or accusing them of nymphomania isn't something that can be defined by science. Nymphomania is a layperson's term used to label a woman, or a nympho, whose sex drive or sexual activity is subjectively deemed too high. The term "nymphomania," is not scientifically meaningful simply because there are no specific criteria that would define a nymphomaniac. In other words, there isn't a way to determine how much sexual desire or activity is too much.
The label of nymphomania is used in a pejorative and derogatory manner, almost exclusively in reference to women. To many men, the idea of a woman with a greater sex drive than their own is somewhat threatening, so they may use the label to preserve their own egos by "proving" that the woman is abnormal.
Similarly, men with sexual dysfunction might accuse their partners of being oversexed in an effort to hide their own fears or sense of inadequacy
Many years ago - it must have been c. 1970, the summer I was in New York - I picked up a copy of Playboy which was lying around the place I was sharing, and in the correspondence columns, presumably in response to former discussion about the female sex drive, was the brilliantly circular argument, 'The only women I've ever met who were as horny as men were nymphomaniacs'. And that was back when Teh Menz prided themselves on being the logical sex...
Recent report in the Daily Mirror: Two men were left exhausted and crying for help after being targeted by a nymphomaniac in Germany - but what exactly is nymphomania?
(The metamorphoses of the vampire*, what?)
I also note that the latest Lars von Trier film is Nymphomaniac.
So the concept seems to be about, still.
*Edna St Vincent Millay translates Baudelaire: squeeeeeee.
When modern mystery readers ponder the genesis of the genre, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie come to mind. All-but forgotten are S. S. Van Dine, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. D. Carr, Earl derr Biggers, Clayton Rawson, Margery Allingham, Stuart Palmer, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Edmund Crispin, E. C. Bentley, Anthony Berkeley, Ronald Knox, and Ngaio Marsh. G. K. Chesterton might be called a proto-Golden Ager in that many of his short stories featured puzzle-plots, and because he is known to have inspired many of the Golden Age writers.
It’s difficult for modern readers to appreciate the richness of the Golden Age of puzzle-plotting that stretched from the 1920s to the late 1930s.
There is even a forthcoming conference on Fr Ronnie Knox (a dear friend of my beloved G B Stern), though I think it promises to be on rather more than his role in defining the mystery genre - didn't he devise the famous Crime Club rules, like 'no undetectable exotic poisons'?
A couple of friends have been making ecstatic posts on FaceBook about dining at a Certain Upscale Restaurant where I have also been with partner (Project Posh Food Lunching), and, besides waxing lyrical about the food, have massive praise for the wonderfulness of the front-of-house staff.
And yes, that's been pretty much my experience too, fairly generally in our adventures in fine dining.
Yet I wouldn't be entirely sure that I don't have lurking somewhere some vision of superior maitre d' and snarky waiters, just waiting to put down anyone who is NQOSD and should probably be down the local chippy rather than sullying their elite premises.
While I'm sure there must be other literary sources, I feel this is probably down to my mother singing to me the song about 'you get no bread with one fishball'* in my youth.
*A version of which gets cited in the Katherine Mansfield story, 'Je Ne Parle Pas Francaise'.
Thinking further about Red Riding 1980, I can see, I suppose, that he's writing about a certain macho culture which was profoundly complicit with the serial killer of women that they were supposed to be catching (the real-life Yorkshire Ripper) -
Because it's depicted as all about dominance displays, dick-sizing, defending one's turf even against the lawn specialist who's been sent in specifically to deal with the sickly yellow patch problem (as it were), hostile joking, cutting off from any kind of emotional connections that can be used to put on pressure -
Possibly not so much 'the corruption goes right to the top' but 'nobody's hands are clean' -
And therefore perhaps the extreme marginality of any women characters who aren't either dead already or victims of violence is part of the point.
But when the only thing I get about the first person narrator's wife is 'fertility problems/miscarriages', which is a situation and not a character, really, even though fpn appears to be deeply distressed about the situation (festering away because of course he can't talk about it) -
I think I needed the book to be offering me something that this hadn't got.
And which Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha did in spite of the grot and the bugs and the general crapsackery. Individuated characters certainly helped.
Or of course it might be the 'later book in ongoing series issue', though from looking it up it would seem that the different volumes are all different viewpoints: but presumably one would have more of a handle on the players, perhaps.
What I'm reading
Re-read of Jane Smiley's Ten Days in the Hills (2007), of which I discover I wrote the first time round
Readable enough, and yes, the whole metafictional thing of stories popping in and out of the narrative worked for me, but I'm still not entirely persuaded that this isn't Smiley's 'reading the telephone directory' book (i.e. a writer who writes well enough to keep you reading even when they don't appear to have that much to say: the equivalent of an actor reading the telephone directory).
Ongoing on the e-reader: Yoon Ha Lee, Conservation of Shadows (2013: short stories).
What I've recently read
Finished Kameron Hurley, Rapture - the whole sequence is just very, very, good.
Actually even more of a crapsack world than the Bel Dame Apocrypha, and in fact given up on, David Peace, 1980 in the 'Red Riding' sequence. Perhaps this (no 3 in sequence) not the place to start? Hard to keep track of everybody and who they were and their connection with our angst-ridden narrator and what their agenda is (are they actually bent coppers or is it about the politics of him being from another force coming in on a special task force in their manor?). Has anyone else read any of these? Believe there was a TV mini-series, which might have been easier to follow (the prose has strong whiffs of aiming for acclaim for 'transcending the genre').
Also for the change of pace, a couple more of Simon Brett's 'Fethering Mysteries': The Body on the Beach and The Torso in the Town. Popcorn.
What I'm About to Read
Dunno, but one thing I have upcoming is reading half a dozen or so essays for a prize competition. Have asked for them in format I can put on the tablet and take with me on forthcoming travels.
There are few feelings so gratifying, my dearios, than having been in a state of the frantix about a number of small, but nonetheless, time-dependent things I have committed to do**, and feeling them roll off like the bundles from the backs of the March girls when they got to the top of the house.
Well within the deadline, when I was fearing I was going to have to beg an extension on at least one.
I had several things which, really, had to be done by end of this month, which = before I leave for Wiscon.
And apart from some rather minor editorial style-tweakery on the encyclopaedia article, pretty much there.
*From a 'horrors! do we rewrite classic hymns in Modern Eng?' satire.
**And finding that early May was not the quiet lull for getting stuff done that I had anticipated.
Post on the Wiscon people filter with recent photo, contact details, etc
If you're going to be at Wiscon but can't see that post, let me know and I'll put you on the filter.
This is primarily for practical and organisational matters - I normally post about Wiscon en clair, unless I'm being particularly libellous.
How often is that one's response to the problems advanced to PSC or Private Lives in Guardian G2 of a Monday, sigh.
My boyfriend of three years has.... admitted he doesn't find vaginas particularly attractive, joking that mine is especially repulsive.... He jokes that bodily fluids are disgusting and always washes after sex. I feel self-conscious and unattractive and worry that we'll never enjoy the explorative sex life I've had with previous partners.
O, PSC, why is it you never say 'dump the guy already' but talk about ways to save a relationship which sounds dooooooooomed?
I am also less than prepossessed here:
I am a woman and my male partner of 13 years likes to dress in my underwear.... Now his dressing up has escalated to him wanting to go out with my underwear on. I have reassured him about this, however my support has angered him and he says I am making him feel like freak.
How long does it take for new gadgets to become part of one's dreaming world?
Had a dream the other night in which I was either reading something on the tablet, or reading it as if it were on a tablet*.
Last night I had a dream in which, due to transport problems, partner and I had got separated and I had ended up on a bus which I was not sure was even going to the right bit of destination.
Anyway, at some point I had got off and was walking around looking for the restaurant where we were supposed to be going, in sort-of the City (of London, for anyone for whom this is not the assumed subtext) -
And I was trying to locate myself via the map on my smartphone.
*I don't think I've yet done my love-song to my new tablet - about the only nark I have is that the virtual keyboard doesn't appear to have angle brackets, chiz.
Way back on my return from Le Continong, I rustled up a loaf of Shipton Mill Organic 3 Malts and Sunflower Brown Flour.
Friday evening I was feeling wiped not in a 'maybe I'd feel better for a gym session' way, so skipped going to the gym and made a Gujerati khichchari for supper instead.
No Saturday breakfast rolls as I was working.
Today's lunch: Icelandic plaice fillets, which I poached (in just simmering salted water for five minutes, then heat turned off and left for another 5 mins or so) and served with coriander butter - melt butter, add crushed coriander seeds, dill, tarragon, lemon zest, lemon juice and ground black pepper; with steamed tenderstem broccoli, stirfried baby pak choi, and healthy grilled sweet potato (this was an experiment - I cut the washed tuber into rounds of about a quarter-inch thick, brushed with pumpkin seed oil and whomped these into the healthy-grill. They cooked through far quicker than I had anticipated, turning out v nice).
This week's bread: the Blake/Collister My Favourite Loaf: strong white, wholemeal and einkorn flour with some wheatgerm and a splosh of macadamia oil, v tasty, nice texture.