Being a practiced liar doesn’t mean you have a powerful imagination. Many good liars have no imagination at all; it’s that which gives their lies such wide-eyed conviction.—Philip Pullman, Northern Lights
We have a silver maple that’s been battered a bit the past few winters and has some dead branches that need to be removed. Until we get around to taking care of them, it looks like the local woodpeckers—and there’re a lot of them these days because of the Emerald Ash Borers that are marching through the village’s trees—the woodpeckers are going to have a go at them.
The woodpecker in the video is as big as a cat and he went on like this for a few days. He’s clearly digging into the wood rather than looking for bugs under the bark, and so, I thought maybe he was gauging out a nest. But when he finally decided he was done, he took off and started hacking away at the stump of an ash tree we cut down last spring, a stump he soon abandoned in turn. So in the end, I’m not sure what he was up to. Until I learn better, I’m going to call it “play.”
Whatever the case, the maple branch is torn to pieces.
When I was a young kid saving change to buy comics from the rickety wire rack at the 7-eleven, one of my favorite superheros was Storm. I thought her long white hair and the cloak attached to her wrists were regal and cool, and I thought controlling weather was just about the best power you could have.
Reading comics in those days wasn’t like it is today. What I read was what was on the rack when I had 35 cents in my pocket. So I didn’t follow storylines. I dropped in and watched episode of action, without much sense of how it came together with other episodes across groups of issues. So my history of Storm’s character is fragmented and partial, and there are only three specific moments that my brain has stored for easy, casual retrieval.
Moment One: Storm freezing a Sentinel with cold rain and then telling Banshee to scream at it and Cyclops to hit it with pulsed lasers. Inflexible and vibrating at two frequencies, the robot tears itself to pieces. This is a trivial moment really, only a few frames of the story, but I remember it for Storm’s dramatic posture as she’s flying in the wind.
Moment Two: Storm going out to “commune with the earth” after her months in space fighting the Brood. Unfortunately, Earth feels abandoned and is mad at her. Storm calls up the elements and for the first time in her life feels the cold of the rain. Rejected, she retreats back to the mansion. I remember this moment mostly for how I felt when I read it: the earth wasn’t being fair. Storm had been through a lot and needed its support. It didn’t seem right that after all she’d been through, this was happening now too.
Moment Three: Storm, not long after, showing up in black leather and a mohawk. She looked great and seemed really cool to me. Why do I remember it? This is tougher to figure out than with the other images, but I think that, in part, it was one of the first moments when I realized that people change, and so as crazy as it sounds, it’s a moment where I started to figure out something important about the world. I think too that I must have picked up on the barely-crypto queerness of the transformation ( cf. image and dialogue above). And finally, however silly it sounds, I also think that I remember it because it established what I take to be a nearly inviolable rule of life: sometimes, and especially after major events, and definitely after traumatic experiences, you need to change your hair.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing: this blog. After the stress of the past two weeks, I think I need to fiddle with what things look like around here. It may not be pretty. It may get ugly. But in the same way hair grows back, theme options can be restored. So I’m going to play around, experiment and trust that things will find their way to the good.
So buckle up, hang on, and stay tuned.
Sixteen days ago, my site went down. I called my host to see if something was wrong with the server. They said “no,” then checked some logs and then asked to shut down access to my site, saying it’d been hacked.
Things were a mess and trying to get them cleaned up was a long exercise in frustration. A few days ago, I more or less gave up hope and tried to resign myself to the fact that I was going to lose what I’d posted and that if I kept blogging, I’d be starting over from scratch. I’d been telling myself for the few days before that that I was at peace with the possibility and that if I lost everything, I lost everything. But once this possibility was no longer simply a hypothetical that I could be philosophical about, once it was about to become a reality that I was going to have to come to grips with, I discovered I wasn’t okay with it at all.
Then that same day, as I was writing off the site and trying to convince myself it was okay that I was writing it off, I was talking with a few friends, and they asked some questions, made some suggestions—good questions and good suggestions—and something clicked in my head and I saw what to do.
And now today, the site is fixed, cleaned up, and running on a new server with a new host. The story of how that happened is too much to tell this evening. (Maybe I’ll fill in the details later.) For now, I just wanted to post and say “this happened” and also that hackers—and all other people who enjoy breaking things just to break them—suck.
I read these novels in the omnibus edition which arranges them according to story time. I don’t usually read books outside of publication order, so doing it here was eye opening.
The novels in the series, listed in publication order are Patternmaster(1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay’s Ark (1984).
Patternmaster offers a very simple plot: boy arrives at a bad place at the wrong time but escapes, runs toward safety, but is caught and must fight to survive. That’s it, that’s all. Yet the seed of each of the other novels is present.
Mind of My Mind explains the origins of “the pattern” introduced in the first novel, identifying it as the product of a centuries long breeding program by a dangerous and seemingly immortal being named Doro. The novel also introduces Doro’s counterpart, a mysterious black woman who cares for young telepaths in a community she has built and maintains in a black neighborhood in a late 20th century city.
Wild Seed tells the story of this same woman, beginning with her early life in Africa centuries before during the first years of the European slave trade. Immortal like Doro but gifted with powers very different from his—she’s a shapeshifter and healer—she finds his breeding of telepaths that he then feeds upon cruel and inhuman. The two are at odds for centuries before he relents and agrees to limits she establishes on his behavior. (Wild Seed was written one year after Butler completed the research for and published Kindred. It shows and the novel is richer for it.)
Clays’ Ark reconnects the now elaborate history of the Patternists back to the post-apocalyptic future of the first novel. This novel tells of a world torn apart by climate change and explains how an alien infection that transforms a farm community into something strange and bestial escapes into the population at large.
Of course, the order I’ve described the books is not the order I read them in. In the omnibus, I’ve read the third book first (Wild Seed), then the second (Mind of My Mind), then the fourth (Clay’s Ark) and only then, at the very end, the first novel that launched the series (Patternmaster). Which means that until I was nearly done, I was reading prequels, which made for a strange experience. The books work in story order, but I see in retrospect that moments of excitement and suspense in the first books I read were only partially visible to me because I didn’t have the ironic positioning created by knowledge of what was coming in the last book I’d read.
This didn’t ruin anything. In fact, it made the final two books a fairly disorienting set of surprises. I had no idea I was headed to a vision of the future that would remind me of, in different ways, both Fury Road and The Dragonriders of Pern. And I really liked these books. But wow, order matters.
On a whim and fed up with pointy eras and spells maybe, I picked up Rousseau’s Confessions last week. I read the first of the two books which covers his childhood and youth.
Rousseau, the man on the page and voice conjuring him up from memory, is a charismatic figure, compelling, seductive and also annoying. He reads as very much alive and so I can’t keep myself from wondering if I’d have liked him if I’d know him. I can’t decide, mostly because I’m not sure he would have been available to be liked or not. He seems drawn to rough sorts of men in a way that, of all things, made me think of Jean Genet. (He’s not Genet, but their Romanticisms are of a similar kind regarding this point even if wildly different in their intensity and extent.)
I’m walking away from the book with two favorite moments. The first involved a Moor being converted to Catholicism alongside Rousseau. This Moor, after touching and kissing for days, finally attempts to have sex with him. Rousseau refuses but documents the man’s ejaculation and a priest’s insistence, when Rousseau tells him what happened, that he’s only revolted by the possibility of having sex with the man because he imagines it will hurt, which it won’t. Fascinating stuff.
The second is Rousseau’s confession that he’s been saved from becoming a degenerate by his peculiar perversion: a childhood punishment by a woman he adored had made him desire above all else to be spanked by a woman, something he could never bring himself to ask for even with the most compliant of women. And so throughout his life, he claims to be awkward and restrained around women. Although he admits that for awhile at the age of sixteen or seventeen, he would moon women on the streets and in the gardens and then run off. Again, fascinating stuff.
Money in one’s possession is the instrument of liberty; money one pursues is the symbol of servitude. That is why I hold fast to what I have, but covet no more.—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions
When I moved to Montreal at the end of the nineties, I left my books (boxes and boxes of them) in a storage space. Because of some bad planning and incompetence on my part, they stayed there too long, and when I finally went back to get them they’d been given away.
Up until that moment I still had every book I’d ever owned: the first Tarzan book I’d ever read (Tarzan and the City of Gold), my second copy of Moby Dick (I’d lost the first in study hall in ninth grade and had to replace it), all the fantasy series I’d plowed through, my university textbooks, everything. Because these copies matched my visual page-memories, I could find things in them in a flash. They also had my notes and drawing. So losing them felt like losing part of myself and was devastating.
Well early last year I was on Abebooks and wound up searching the titles of a few of the books I’d remembered and had been thinking about. (It seems like me wondering about Steven Brust’s later Vlad books was maybe the starting point.) Anyway, as I searched, I realized that if I put some effort into it, I could probably reconstruct segments of that lost library. Anyone who’s seen me and the Beav in used book stores knows that setting either of us loose in the stacks with a project rather than simply to browse is asking for trouble. Browsing happens slowly shelf by shelf and takes time, but a project is going to be pursued monomaniacally and with the kind of detail only people operating outside the ordinary limits of time and hygiene can muster.
Aware of the danger—and of both the realities of my budget and the possible foolishness of the project (I mean, do I really want all these books again after all this time?)—I’ve kept things in check so far, buying in bursts to make sure I’m still interested in going further and starting with a lot of the inexpensive Bantam paperback fantasy series I’d collected and that haven’t maintained a strong following, which makes them easier to find with the exact cover I owned.
The good (or is it bad?) news is that project has been a great success. I cannot really explain why it’s so exciting to see all these books find a place on my shelves again, but it absolutely is. Looking at them sitting there for the first time in twenty years, I feel like I’ve found old friends. I remember where I was when I read them, who was nearby as I did, what was going on in my life, and how I felt. And I also think I remember the books themselves: the plots, the characters, the worlds and the relationships.
Obviously though this raises questions because memory is fallible. So are the books I have in my head—and some of them are fundamental and character-shaping documents of my childhood—are these books the same books printed on the pages I can now pull off my shelves and flip through? Or over time have these stories shifted in memory? Or, going further, have I remade them by using them as part of the process of making myself?
I truly don’t know and I’m curious to find out. So, having run across the phrase “a year of nostalgic reading” recently in a passing comment on a web page and finding it inspiring, I’m thinking about dipping into these books now and again as a break from other things. When I do and when I log them, I’m going to tag them so that I can pull them together in a series. My starting point and first tagged book is Split Infinity by Piers Anthony, which I’ve already started. This first foray into the past makes me think memory’s glass is in fact warped and rose-colored and in very interesting ways.
I found this movie pretty boring, but again, there’s so much going on in the book that there’s barely time to hit the essential points. Nuance and color isn’t going to survive even a two and a half hour adaptation.
I will say this though: there is joy in the source novel stemming from Harry’s struggles and successes in the early stages of the tournament which make its tragic conclusion—Cedrick’s death—that much more devastating. Worse, learning that the Death Eater impersonating Mad-Eye Moody has been cheating for Harry, which suggests the early joy was a cheat as well, feels like betrayal. It’s a bitter discovery to add to the already devastating finale.
In the movie however, the tournament struggles to make any sense at all, and so, to hope that subtleties of character and situation will survive is foolishness through and through. But with these subtleties gone and the tournament reduced to three action set-pieces—they’re all race-or-chases— the early joy goes out the window too. The thing is that I see that joy as the last truly pure, truly childlike happiness Harry experiences in the books, and I missed it not being there.
All that said, I have two principal take-aways from the movie:
- Robert Pattinson is a Hufflepuff. This explains everything.
- The scene in book in which Harry deciphers the second clue by bringing the golden egg to the pool in the prefects’ bathroom seemed to me when I read it to be very much—and very awkwardly—about Harry’s nakedness. Watching the movie, I now know that I am not the only one to have understood this to be the case, and for the record, I’m relieved to know that I am not the only one. Because who wants to be a perv?