Monday, July 10, 2017

The Unused Staircase

There is a staircase down to the train tracks
Not a station -
  Just the tracks.
It's miles from a station.

There are no sidewalks
  and nothing on the other side of the tracks -
  just a fence and the freeway.

Probably no one ever uses
  those charming metal stairs
  bright and quaint
  on a rocky hill
  with a lush green park at the top.

If the train would stop here
  I would climb them and explore
But the train never stops here

Who was the last person to use those stairs?
Who will use them next? Will anyone?
Why were they built -
  those bright quaint stairs?

Long may they endure
  speaking silently
    of imaginary adventures
      that shall never be

Free Verse

I never was very
by free verse

I hated
  that poem about plums*

I thought it
the high and difficult task
  of poetry

No, I didn't think much of free verse.

After all,
  it seemed so easy
    that even I could do it
which surely meant
  that it wasn't

Forget that it requires
  a movement of soul
    which just may
      be something

I underestimated,
I think,
the difficulty
  of seeing
    and feeling
      and speaking
not of the surface
  but of the essence of a thing

  I was also running away
  from the deadly responsibility
    to find poetry
      in the prosaic

* "This Is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams

Friday, January 29, 2016

We May Always Love

I may love him, I may love him, for he is a man, and I am only a beech-tree.  -Phantastes

Today I finished reading Phantastes by George MacDonald for the first time.  Beautiful book.  Read it.  I had no choice but to try to write poetry after reading it; so here is my best attempt at a tribute poem.  I wish I were better at poems with actual rhyme and meter; that would be more appropriate for a Phantastes poem; but I comfort myself with memory of Anodos' own disclaimers, that his poems are just poor shadows of what he found in Faerie.

We may love, we may love,
we may always love -
Only not to claim, and grasp, and own.
We may yearn, we may yearn,
we may always yearn -
Yet for their good, and their heart's home.
We may treasure them up in our heart,
And we may pray, we may pray,
we may always pray
That they may find mercy.

Yet we may not always serve,
For our service may be a burden.
Not for us to give milk to the child of another,
When for its own mother's breast it cries.
Not for us to wait upon every desire
When our beloved does not need yet another toy.
Not for us to throw ourselves at the feet of one we love
When his own wife already stands by his side.
But we may love, we may love,
we may always love,
And be glad every time another we love finds his dear companion,
And feel sweet pleasure to see him holding his child,
And pray with tears of love for all.

We may love, we may love,
we may always love,
And into such love no jealousy or hurt can enter,
Only compassion, and concern, and tender pain.

Offer your services where they are wanted and needed,
But love widely - love more widely than your steps can ever go.
Love the one weeping in the arms of her mother,
But hold to your bosom the weeping child who has no other.
Love those in distant corners of the world;
Love those who sit on street corners;
Love those who have died long ago;
Love those yet to be born.
Love the suffering, love the blissful,
Love the weak, love the strong,
Love those with needs you have no way to solve,
Love those you have no right to embrace.
Love those who flee from you;
Love those who spit upon you;
Love those who curse the name of your God -
Love all and serve whom you can.

You will find enough, and more than enough,
That your hand may do.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Best of the Hugos, Part 5: The Artwork of Sarah Webb

Continuing the series on the Hugo Awards:

From previous posts:
Part 1: The Must-Reads
1. "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky
2. "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard
3. "Time" by Randall Munroe
Part 2: The Most Addictive
4. Parasite by Mira Grant
5. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Part 3: Mary Robinette Kowal
6. "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal
7. Writing Excuses by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler
8.  "We Have Always Fought" by Kameron Hurley

9.  Sarah Webb's art

The Hugo voting works like a runoff system, except that you put in a preference vote ahead of time so they don’t need to hold separate runoff votes.  It’s very rare for anyone to do so well in the voting that they get a majority before going to a final runoff round between two candidates.  That is, it’s rare for anyone to be preferred by more people than the next two combined.  This year, only two nominees did that well:  Ancillary Justice (which I'm planning to write about soon; it's one fine novel) and one other.

The other?  It did so well in the voting that it didn’t need any runoffs at all.  A majority of the Hugo voters voted for it to come in first in its category.  Not just in the top two or three.  First.

That’s crazy rare.  I don’t feel like sifting through all the historical data to find out just how rare - but it’s rare.

I am among that majority, and happy to be.  I was overwhelmed.

I didn't even realize until researching to see if I could find any free online reference for all of you:  To my shock, the person who won that distinct honor is a 19-year-old college student.

Sarah Webb is one talented young woman, and her landslide victory in the Best Fan Artist category is well-deserved.  As one person I saw online put it, we expect to see her return to the Hugos - but in the future it may well be for Best Professional Artist instead of Best Fan Artist.  She certainly deserves to get some commissions.

We shall see.  In the meanwhile, here’s a link to her portfolio.  It is stunningly beautiful work.  I can’t talk nearly as intelligently about art as I can about writing, so I’ll just say that her paintings transport me to another world and fill me with awe; that they are many and varied; and that I have fallen even more deeply in love with these paintings than I did with the paintings of Charlemagne and of the Angel of Death in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and that is saying a lot.  That they're realistic, yet with a curve, a character, a turn of line that captures a feeling of wonder, of escape.  That the scenes they depict are sometimes things that could be real and sometimes things that couldn't; that they're drawn from multiple cultures and times; but always the people in the paintings feel like people I want to meet.

How many different ways can I say CLICK THAT LINK AND SEE FOR YOURSELF?

Be sure to zoom in as much as you can - her work stands up really well to zooming in.

Okay, and there are a lot of good ones, but here is a direct link to one of my very favorites.  I can't stop looking at it.


Edit:  I just realized my links are to her lower-resolution website.  Here's a link to her higher-resolution portfolio.

The Best of the Hugos, Part 4: "We Have Always Fought"

Continuing the series on the Hugo Awards:

From previous posts:
Part 1: The Must-Reads
1. "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky
2. "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard
3. "Time" by Randall Munroe
Part 2: The Most Addictive
4. Parasite by Mira Grant
5. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Part 3: Mary Robinette Kowal
6. "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal
7. Writing Excuses by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

8.  "We Have Always Fought" by Kameron Hurley

Blog posts.  Nice little amateur things.  Easy ways for anyone to be heard, to get their voice out there.  I'm glad you're reading my little blog post.

And then there are blog posts.

This is easily the best piece of short nonfiction I've read all year.  It won the Hugo for Best Related Work.  Kameron Hurley won the Hugo for Best Fan Writer, a highly competitive category, since there are a *lot* of bloggers out there - I heartily recommend all the nominees and will give at least four of the five their own posts.  And A Dribble of Ink, the online magazine that posted this, won the Hugo for Best Fanzine.  I highly recommend A Dribble of Ink just generally and it'll get its own post at some point; it's a very well curated magazine and contains lots of really impressive pieces.

But this is the most impressive of all.

So.  You should really read this award-winning blog post.

When we tell stories as a culture repeatedly, we get blinders on.  Sometimes our stories start to seem more realistic than the truth.  This is a much-needed pushback.  A push back towards the truth.  And it's long overdue.

It's primarily an opinion piece.  If you want more links proving her point, well, as she says, "Foz Meadows does a better job with all the linky-links."  Click on the link she gives there and then start following links and you'll have a fun clicky linky-linky time for quite a sizeable stretch of time.

Ode to a Postcarious Broom

You stood
Tall and proud
Against the table
Until you didn't.

(Dubious title credit: Quettandil.  I'm sorry, everyone, I couldn't resist.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Best of the Hugos, Part 3: Mary Robinette Kowal

Continuing the series on the Hugo Awards:

From previous posts:
Part 1: The Must-Reads
1. "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky
2. "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard
3. "Time" by Randall Munroe
Part 2: The Most Addictive
4. Parasite by Mira Grant
5. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

6.  "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal

My first introduction to Mary Robinette Kowal was listening to Writing Excuses, which - well, see #7 just below.  I have since learned that she has been a professional puppeteer, that she loves the Regency period, that she has sewn her own historical costumes, that she writes delightful novels in a Jane Austen-y time period (I'm in the middle of that series now), that she is a rather delightful person by all accounts, and that my sister-in-law has met her at English country dancing events and talked to her about Regency-era dancing and also likes her.  But I didn't know any of that when I read this story.  All I knew was that I liked her on Writing Excuses.  Well, after I read this novelette, I knew that she was a wonderful writer and I wanted to read all her books.  And so did lots of other people - this story won the Hugo for Best Novelette.  

Although it was a wonderful, wonderful story, I'm afraid I didn't actually want it to win because "The Waiting Stars" was among its competition.  But I was incredibly torn about that vote and waffled a bit before settling on "The Waiting Stars," and when you know how much I love "The Waiting Stars," you realize how much it means that I would agonize about a vote.  And given that "The Waiting Stars" did win the Nebula, I don't feel very sorry.

Enough with the preliminaries.  This is a wonderful story!  It's about space travel.  It's about the dream of space travel.  It's about an older woman, a rare thing in itself - she's in her sixties.  It's about the stresses of choosing between family and vocation, a theme it pursues from several angles.  It's about friendship and mentorship and what a single kind gesture can mean.  About where we find inspiration.

Honestly, this is another must-read and I couldn't give you any solid reason why I didn't stick it up at #4 above Saga and Parasite and tell you everyone should read it just like the others.  In fact I'm rather tempted to do that now, but I'll leave it be and just tell you that these rankings depend in part on my mood, and in many a mood this one is right up there with the very best - even leapfrogging "The Waiting Stars" up to #1 or #2 in a few rare moods, which is why it was so hard to vote.  I have no caveats.  It's a masterpiece.  Like my official "top three," this 8,047-word beauty makes my eyes tear up and teaches me something about the world I never saw before, a perspective I'd never come across anywhere else.  Like them, it's a short read and available for free, so there's just no reason not to read it.  (It should take about 30 minutes for an average reader.)

Just the part where it's about an older woman is enough to make it a very important story to tell.  In her acceptance speech, Mary Robinette Kowal thanked her grandmother, who lived to be 109 years old, for showing her that "even when you are old, you can still be wonderful and powerful."  She got that concept across in this story.  Few people try to express that idea.  She tried and succeeded.

7.  Writing Excuses by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

"Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart."  Their tagline is endearing, but it's blatantly false.  They ARE that smart.

Writing Excuses didn't win a Hugo this year, but it did last year.  This whip-smart weekly podcast of writers giving writing advice was a nominee for Best Related Work, as is its habit (four-time nominee, one-time winner).

I've known I wanted to listen to it since learning that Brandon Sanderson was a part of it; his books are among my very favorites by a living author and I fully expected him to give superlatively good advice, especially since he's totally had the day job of working as a writing instructor.  But it's even better than I expected.  Especially because of Mary Robinette Kowal.  As I said just above, she's amazing.  (I didn't intentionally put both her nominated works next to each other - it just happened that way!)  But there's no weak link on this four-person team.  They're all great.

Seriously, if you have any interest in writing whatsoever, you MUST listen to this podcast.  Their advice is superb.  They very consistently come out with one a week and by now you have almost nine full 52-episode seasons to choose from.  The titles are clear, so you can choose topics you feel like you particularly need help with.  But even their treatment of topics I don't particularly think I'm interested in (Pets?  I don't think I want to write a pet story...) always turns out to be interesting and at least tangentially applicable to things I need to know to be a better writer.  They always end with a writing exercise related to the topic of the podcast, something to develop your skills with.  I haven't been doing them... but I suspect that if I do work on becoming a more serious writer, doing them would be one of the biggest favors I could do myself.  They also include a book recommendation - it's always an audiobook available from Audible because they're sponsored by Audible, but of course you can get it in any format you want.  :)  I haven't been reading those either, but, well, when I've already read the book in question, I can always tell that it's perfect for the topic and generally good to read.

Meanwhile, I just like them.  The four of them have great personalities and interact with each other in a completely endearing, mildly goofy, respectful, fun way.  You get to listen to four friends acting like awesome friends do as they teach you.  To my Torrey friends, it reminds me of nothing so much as what happens if you put Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Sanders, Dr. Spears, and Dr. Llizo in a room together... It makes me smile, and it's so much fun, I'd probably enjoy it a fair amount even if I had no interest in writing!

That said, if you have no interest in writing, this probably isn't for you.  But if you do, it is!