Monday, April 28, 2014

"Crysta Goes Visiting" in Print and My Latest Short Story Publication

The latest issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal is out! You can come in to the store and pick up a copy, or wait a few days for it to pop up at local carriers (I boxed up the bundles yesterday and they are being mailed out today). You can also click this link and read it online. My column "Crysta Goes Visiting" is on pages 10 and 11. The picture of me in front of the books was taken by my boyfriend Greg, and the editors credited him, his very first photography credit. (I'm so proud.) 

I've already been thinking through who I want to visit for the next issue's Visiting column. Already contacted some people, but no one has gotten back to me yet (boo). Also, my work email seems to be down, which is vexing since I had planned on taking advantage of my day off and getting some things done there. The power keeps flashing in my apartment, and maybe these two things are related and something is going on region-wide. (I'm thinking aliens.)

On another front, I have a short story "The Waiting Future" being published in the upcoming steampunk erotica anthology Valves & Vixens being edited by Nicole Gestalt. As far as erotica goes, my story is relatively tame, and is heavier on the romance and excitement of the time. 

I wanted to do something different with this story than what I see a lot of other authors doing in steampunk. Namely, I didn't want to write anything in the Victorian London scene (I've never been to London, and I hate writing about real places I have never been), nor even in America, which would be the second most common location I see in steampunk. I went with a place I do know a little something about, Japan. Given my degree in Asian Studies with an emphasis in Japan, I probably know more about Meiji era Japan than I do about Victorian America. (And I am ok with this.) 

I just sent the contracts in last week, so it will still be a little bit before we see this one in print. I can't wait, though! This is an English publisher, which presented the unique challenge of coercing my computer's spellcheck to only use UK spellings. It was totally fine with adding UK on top of US, but it took a frustrating amount of time to get it to ignore US spelling conventions. I once had it programmed to believe it was a Japanese computer, so I really don't think asking it to ignore US spellings in favor of UK was such an absurd request. Apparently, I was mistaken. 

I will be sure to keep everyone posted on both of these projects, as well as any future endeavors as they come up. Whoo-hoo!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts

Me with Thoreau statue (left); the Alcott's Orchard
House (above right); Emerson's home (lower right)
I don't remember when I first learned about Transcendentalism. I know we studied it in high school, and possibly before that. I had already been made aware of the concepts and way of viewing religion and God by my father, who may not have been, strictly speaking, a Transcendentalist, but certainly had taken many of their beliefs to heart. I know he admired Emerson and Thoreau and had many - possibly all - of their books on his shelves, which I often pulled down and glanced through. (Perusing my father's personal library was one of my favorite childhood past-times.) My father had a great reverence for nature that I readily absorbed from him. 

Inside the recreation of
Thoreau's cabin.
For many years, I have counted Henry David Thoreau as one of my top personal heroes. He wasn't a man to be bothered by what people thought of him, admired nature, and did much as he pleased. Much like my father, and much like me. I've often figured that how people feel is up to themselves and not up to me, and I am not one to curry favors. If I like people, I do my best for them, but I can't grant wishes, and if people don't impress me, I don't really bother about them, and I certainly don't take their mean feelings to heart. People are always going to judge you, and they aren't always going to agree, so it's best to just be yourself.

Thus I was unspeakably excited about traveling to Concord, Massachusetts to walk in Thoreau's footsteps. Emerson, Alcott, and Hawthorne aren't to be sneezed at either, and all of them lived in this beautiful little town. (Hawthorne also lived in Salem, and I visited the house he grew up in, as well.)

the Old Manse as viewed from the river
Our first stop was the Concord Museum, which was equally devoted to the American Revolution as to the Transcendentalists - perhaps more so - since Concord is where "the shot heard round the world" was made. This skirmish, in fact, took place practically on Ralph Waldo Emerson's grandfather's back porch. This house is now known as the Old Manse, a title given by Hawthorne, who lived there for a time after marrying his wife, Sophia. Thoreau planned the garden for them as a present, and you can see that, too. (And thus I've  immediately related critical American history to writing. History shmistory, I'm all about the literature.) We also saw at the museum the lantern that was alleged to have been the actual lantern that spurred Paul Revere's ride, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's terribly catchy poem Paul Revere's Ride. (Oh, look, I did it again.)

Emerson's study at the
Concord Museum
Across the street from the museum is Emerson's old house, which wasn't open for the season yet, so I could not get inside. The museum had recreated his personal study, though, so I did get to glorify in that, even if I wasn't actually allowed inside to roll around on the carpet and rub my cheeks against those books. Err... What was I saying?

I had wanted to see inside Orchard House, one Louisa May Alcott's homes and where Little Women basically took place (I was reading it at the time), but the entry fee was a bit much after having just paid at the museum, so we decided not to go in and move on to the grandpappy of all literary sites in the area (for me, at least): Walden Pond.
Walden Pond
Winter still had a firm grip on Massachusetts, though it was loosening in places. As the Pond was revealed through the trees to me, my breath caught in my throat at the beauty of the ice that still floated on the water and piled itself against the shore. I instantly fell in love, and I took many, many pictures. At some point in the past, some group of people decided to make one edge of the pond into a beach, and there was a building for what I am not sure since, as I've said repeatedly in my posts about this trip, it was the off-season and it was closed. I'm glad I was there when it was so peaceful, though. I could have lain down and spent hours in meditation. It was so beautiful! I have been to Rome, the Vatican, and countless beautiful old cathedrals across Europe and North America, yet none come even close to achieving the sense of the sacred that I felt at Walden Pond. Someday, I would like a pond of my own with a little writing house that I think I could build myself.

Ephraim Wales Bull,
giver of the Concord grape
After this, we went to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to pay our respects at the authors' graves. We also stumbled upon the grave of Ephraim Wales Bull, the man who gave us the Concord Grape. Greg and I thought it funny that nowhere else had we seen anything about this man and his contribution to American food culture. I grew up on peanut butter and Concord grape jelly sandwiches! Anyway. The authors.

Most of our Transcendentalist friends are buried right around each other at a place now called Authors Ridge, which is easy to find as there are signs pointing the way. There is a large stone for the Thoreau family and only a little marker with "Henry" for my hero. Very appropriate, I thought. He stayed simple into death. People had left twigs, bits of branches, and stones. Hawthorne's grave says equally simply "Hawthorne." Emerson's is quite unique and has an epitaph that he wrote himself. The Alcott family's graves are arranged much the same as the Thoreau's. At Louisa May's, someone had spelled out "Little Women" in stones on the grass. There had also been left offerings of pencils. I wish I had thought of that! 
Authors Ridge, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, MA
Interesting bit I learned about Louisa May Alcott recently: she wondered if she had been a man put into a woman's body. She admitted that she had never loved a man romantically, though she had loved a great many beautiful young women. I think I need to read more about this lady. I love her character Jo for straddling the gender divide and finding love despite this (very unlike the female character Stephen in Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, which has an ending just as depressing as the title implies). I wish I had been able to finish Little Women before this trip.

I would love to return to Concord in warmer months, but alas, I don't have the foggiest notion of when such a trip could occur. Maybe, when I can afford it, I can find an inexpensive abode and rent it for a writing retreat. Concord is really such a sweet little town. I fell in love with it, too! I bet it's so pretty in the Fall. Sigh...

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Day Spent in Salem, Massachusetts

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of the TV show Bewitched. That might be where my love of witches originated, I really can't remember. I only know that my favorite Halloween costume was a witch, and one of my earliest best friends and I used to play witches all the time in the neighborhood. I was supremely pleased that my first pet was a black cat named Boo-Boo (Boo for short, and no, I don't know how she got that name), and I often pretended she was my familiar.

I realize the whole witch fiasco of Salem was a travesty and probably none of those women and men were actual witches, as we know witches now or as the legend makes them, and it's a bit perverse to so associate the city of today with witches and witch culture. Still, I've always wanted to visit Salem. I recently found out that I had ancestors in Salem during the infamous trials, which made the region all the more enticing. 

There are a number of museums dedicated to witches in Salem. My boyfriend Greg and I visited the most famous, the Salem Witch Museum, which turned out to be much smaller than I had anticipated. Greg very much enjoyed it because he thought it was like being inside a Hammer Horror Film. I did learn some things that I didn't know. I had never heard that Ann Putnam recanted as an adult in hopes of saving her soul from Hell, for instance. I also didn't know that modern words "witch" and "pharmacist" have the same root in Greek, pharmakeia. I know wicca comes from Old English, and I can't actually find the etymology on this Greek relation. It amuses me to think that my dear friend who is a pharmacist is a magic-user, though.

Incidentally, they also told us at the museum that "warlock" is an insult, and male witches do not use this term. That is not true. Though many people believe that "warlock" is an insult and do not like it, and many do not use it, it is because they have been taken in by the Christian redefinition of the word that made it an insult, or at least dangerous to be called one since it meant persecution and possible death. Many claim that "warlock" means "oathbreaker" or "liar," but there are just as many claims that say it means "cunning man," a position in early Scottish pagan religions that Christians dubbed as evil. Also worth noting, cunning has changed meanings since then and has a totally different connotation now than it did then, probably thanks to the same Christians who made the holy warlock into a minion of their Satan. Warlock might also come from the Norse "vardlokkur," meaning "spell singer," a rather pretty term in my opinion. (Click here for a concise rundown. There are plenty more sources if you do an internet search.) Oh, the stickiness of letting your enemies define you. Moving on...

The author Nathaniel Hawthorne (who supposedly changed his name from Hathorne to distance himself from his ancestor John Hathorne, one of the leading judges of the witch trials and who is said to be the only judge who did not repent) was born in Salem and grew up there. I read his novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables right before our trip, and I really enjoyed them! Both the house where Hawthorne grew up and the house on which the book was based are preserved in Salem, and of course I had to visit. The House of the Seven Gables was one of the few attractions that was open while we were there as we were visiting in the off-season. 

I would like to return to Salem in the on-season. Really, so many places were closed or were open very limited hours and so we missed them. I also really enjoyed the place we stopped for lunch, Gula-Gula Cafe, and would like to try more of the items of their delicious menu. There were those other witch museums that I'd like to poke into, and a lot of witch-themed shops. 

I actually think I could see myself living in Salem for a time. The atmosphere is so very different from the religiously conservative place I grew up, where I wasn't even allowed to wish people a "happy Halloween" at my jobs for fear of offending them and getting into trouble. (If only I had $1 for every time I've heard "we don't celebrate that devil holiday; we honor the harvest"...) I think Salem was welcoming me with open arms. One of the two flags blowing in the breeze outside the Hawthorne Hotel was the State of Michigan's. Coincidence? Or... magic?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Washington, D.C. Days Two and Three

Click on the pictures to enlarge them!

On our second full day in D.C., we stayed in bed a little later and had a leisurely breakfast. First on our list of places to see that day was the splendid United States Botanic Garden located on the Mall. They were having a special exhibit called Orchid Symphony with orchid plants from all over the world. It was really quite beautiful! And, oh, so fragrant. Greg took well over 100 pictures to share with his coworkers back home (he works at a plant nursery that has a florist attached). The orchids were not only of all shapes and colors, but sizes, as well. He had me stand next to one plant so as to get a proper size comparison. 

You may not be thinking that a trip to a botanic garden sounds all that interesting, but it was just so beautiful and very spacious. If you make a trip to D.C., and especially if you visit the Mall, and you don't stop by, you are doing yourself a very serious disservice. Unfortunately, while we were there, the outside gardens were still hibernating, so we didn't get to see any of them in all their glory, but we did spend quite a bit of time enjoying the inside. I think if the outside gardens had also been in bloom, we would have spent all morning there. (We already spent most of it in the conservatory.) 

Next up was the National Museum of the American Indian. For such a very large building, there didn't seem to be a lot of exhibits inside. This isn't to say that the museum is not interesting - it really is! Greg was particularly impressed that each tribe exhibit is curated by members of those tribes. I found it especially interesting that although most tribes seem to have basic beliefs in common - the sacredness of the four directions, each direction signifying a different stage of life, and each direction also being represented by a different color, for instance - they did not always agree on the meanings. For some, north meant one life stage while for another tribe, it represented an entirely different life stage. Childhood for one, old age for another, etc. 

There was a particularly large exhibition on Mesoamerican art and artifacts that we sort of breezed through because it was getting late and we were hungry. A number of people and books had advised that we eat at the cafeteria on the main level. Am I ever glad that we did! Everyone should! Be warned, though, it is expensive. Also keep in mind that admission is free, and the museum must make its money somehow so that it may continue to bring us its wonderful exhibits - and food!! 

The cafeteria is divided up into the various regions of North and South America. Each dish is made with native foods, though probably served with much fancier flare than the originating tribes used. Greg and I chose smoked salmon, bison steak, blue corn salad, okra cooked in tomatoes, and another salad that I can't recall all from the Pacific Northwest. We also got some frybread with blueberry wojapi which was so delicious. I once made strawberry wojapi and frybread that did not turn out nearly so fine. 

From there we headed across the way to the Smithsonian Castle where we observed a lot of goofy historical souvenirs and the Smithsonian building made out of Legos. It was neat. (By the way, the Lego Movie was fantastic.)

Our last stop of the day was the National Air and Space Museum. Everything looked like it was made out of tinfoil and paper mache. I understand that they need to make things as light as possible to shoot it out into space, but effect was somewhat underwhelming. 

The next morning, we made one more stop before leaving Virginia and D.C. behind and heading to Massachusetts: the Exorcist stairs. In the movie The Exorcist there is a scene in which someone is thrown down an exterior flight of stairs. Those stairs are located in Georgetown, and there is a convenient gas station right next to them so that one can both refuel the car and park for some quick snapshots, which is precisely what we did. 

The drive to Massachusetts took us through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, most of which I had never been to before. We hit Connecticut right at sunset, and it was beautiful! 

Next week, read about our adventures in Massachusetts, including Salem and Concord.