Saturday, February 19, 2005

Thoughts about the WIP

I've linked this back to the livejournal that I'm using as a sort of brainstorming place for what I want to work on next. I don't actually plan to be cross-posting like this, often.

Lately I've been thinking about Henry II and the murder of Thomas a Becket.

...The monks were solemnly chanting vespers to Almighty God, as he entered the sacred temple of Christ, shortly to become an evening sacrifice. The servants of Satan pursued having neither respect as Christians to his holy order, nor to the
sacred place, or season; but attacking the dignified prelate as he stood in prayer before the holy altar, even during the festival of Christmas, these truly nefarious Christians most inhumanly murdered him. Having done the deed, and retiring as if triumphant, they departed with unhallowed joy. Recollecting, however, that perhaps the transaction might displease the person in whose behalf they had been so zealous, they retired to the northern parts of England, waiting until they could fully discover the disposition of their monarch towards them.
Source: The Church Historians of England. Vol. IV - Part II. Translated by Joseph Stevenson. London: Seeley’s, 1856; pp. 465-7; 478-81; 493-5.
A terrible thing to love a king, and find yourself set against him. Even worse to be the king, though. The seeds of tragedy lie within human fallibility.

Divine King of England: A Study in Anthropology, by Margaret Murray, supposedly suggests the murder of Becket was actually a ritual substitute sacrifice, a Sacred-King sacrifice. Katherine Kurtz played with this idea in Lammas Night, sort of an alternate-WWII-history fantasy.

The problem IS that Murray and many of her ideas have been co-opted by more marginal new-age sites and proponents. I'm unsure as to the quality of her actual scholarship. I have a lot of work to do, there. I can't find an actual copy of her book, Divine King--which might at least help me distinguish what has been sensationalized and taken out of context. I'm off to the library as soon as I have a free day--because I just don't trust the internet for reliable sourcing.

Meanwhile, I'm completely infatuated with the picture of Becket, murdered at vespers, monks chanting, candles lit... during the Christmas season. I'm not alone in my interest, of course. There is also the French play, Becket.

Henry, legend has it, walked barefoot to Canterbury as penance. Becket and Henry, by all accounts, had been closer than brothers, at least at an earlier point in their lives and relationship. Henry was apologizing to Becket, or to the Church? Probably both, life and history being complex and fraught with rich nuances of relationship and politics. And he didn't actually cover as much ground barefoot as he might have.


The idea of the murder as a voluntary laying-down-of-life for the king--his close friend and almost brother--as a surrogate sacrifice...hmm.

Gawd, what a story, though. No matter HOW it really played out, once upon a time. You just KNOW the real story is infinitely more complex than history can really tell us.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Very bad news.

(CNN) -- Doctors reported for the first time Wednesday the ominous spread of a strain of the AIDS virus that is resistant to protease inhibitors, the medicines
that have revolutionized care of the disease.

I also heard on an NPR sidebar that there is apparently a drug-resistant strain that converts to full-blown AIDS much faster than the old-style HIV.

God. What if we just spent a third of the money we spend invading other countries on microscopic killers, instead?

This could be a very bad thing for the already floundering health-care system.

Friday, February 11, 2005

A Passing...

"As of 11:12AM Friday, February 11th, 2005, Jack Lawrence Chalker has now passed away and is now in a greater place. We thank all that have kept Jack in his thoughts and prayers." --from

Midnight at the Well of Souls was one of the first sff books I remember reading.

Godspeed, Mr. Chalker.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Worthless damn spell-checker

A friend of mine recently returned to school for her graduate degree. The other evening, she told a story about a member of her creative-writing class who is hell-bent on submitting his stories with a sort of neo-spelling: laff for laugh, enuff for enough, thru for through--or threw, presumably--and so on.

My initial incredulity wore off just enough for blatant hostility to set in.

Apparently the guy belongs to an organization that promotes the simplification of spelling, and he firmly believes that if people start submitting stories and articles with simplified spelling, the whole thing will catch on and spread like wildfire.

I immediately started planning to lose a lot of sleep fretting over this thing. I love English. I love our words, and their idiosyncracies. I love the funky spellings that make little or no logical sense to the modern mind; words that send me off to the dictionary, where I can lose hours--literally hours, I kid you not--looking up etymologies.

I started looking for someone I could send my donation to, someone who was standing on the wall, in the gap, dictionary in hand--someone to halt the barbarians clamoring at the gates of civilization, demanding that we all start ignoring silent letters as if they'd never existed.

Information is power. Besides, I'm ever curious, and with too much time on my hands that I would only otherwise only spend constructively, I did some googling.

One web site tells me:

"The Simplified Spelling Society was founded in 1908 in Great Britain. The Society first proposed a fully phonetisized system. Its outcome was a basis for
the Initial Teaching Alphabet. This is a regularized spelling system which was used in several schools throughout the 1960s to the 1980s. The Simplified Spelling Society does not offer only one proposal to reform spelling. The
Lojikon (1995) proposed a reformation of consonants only, whereas Cut Spelling (1996) removed the 10% redundant letters."

The site lists George Bernard Shaw as one of the movement's early proponents. That bit of knowledge put an end to my original thought that these people obviously just hate the language, and/or are congenital bad-spellers, and bitter about it.

I've actually always sort of liked Shaw. I've read a couple of his plays, and perhaps an essay or two. I'd never found his spelling to be particularly eccentric. I'd have a hard time believing he hated the language. I felt oddly betrayed.

So I felt I must dig a bit deeper to make sense of the motivation behind the whole thing; because, frankly, spelling just doesn't seem that damned hard to me.

Turns out this is far from a new thing. Organizations promoting the simplification of spelling have been around for quite some time. Better than a century, in fact. It also turns out that hardly anyone but me is particularly worried about the simplified spelling movement. Far fewer sites exist, promoting the preservation of archaic English spellings.

Turns out the movement has actually gained some ground over the last century or so--just a bit.

This site informed me that "Webster's plan for reforming English spelling centered on 10 main classes of words":

1. "-our" to "-or"
2. "-re" to "-er"
3. dropping final "k" in "publick," etc.
4. changing "-ence" to "-ense" in "defence," etc.
5. use single "l" in inflected forms, e.g. "traveled"
6. use double "l" in words like "fulfill"
7. use "-or" for "-er" where done so in
Latin, e.g. "instructor," "visitor"
8. drop final "e" to give: ax, determin, definit, infinit,
envelop, medicin, opposit, famin, (others)
9. use single "f" at end of words like "pontif," "plaintif"
10. change "-ise" to "-ize" wherever this can be traced
back to Latin and Greek (where a "z"/zeta *was* used
in the spellings) or a more recent coining which
uses the suffix "-ize" (from Greek "-izein")

I don't have a primary source for this assertion about Mr. Webster--only what the website tells me. They drop a bunch of other names, too--Mark Twain and Teddy Roosevelt, for example. Mark Twain, I don't worry about, so much. He might well have had his tongue in his cheek--and I've seen some of the fun he poked at the language. And Teddy Roosevelt...well, I'm just not all that surprised.

But having gotten this many concessions, the philistines are only emboldened: This site has a list of proposed new systems.

Strangely, many of the links don't work. Heh. Imagine my pleasure that so many of these pages have already vanished into obscurity.

I suppose I don't really think the language is in any real danger. I suppose there is no burning need to actually pick up arms and defend the "s" that sounds like a "z"--but that guy in my friend's creative-writing class is awfully lucky I'm not teaching the class.

Also, this whole strange excursion resulted in the unwelcome discovery that my MS Word spellchecker recognized "thru" as a legitimate spelling.


I already knew the damn spell-check was next to worthless.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"...a very interesting thing to know..."

I was cleaning out desk drawers the other day--in lieu of actually writing--when I came across a scrap of paper apparently from years ago.

I sat and looked at the little piece of paper, on which I'd written: “One of the things that is a very interesting thing to know is how you are feeling inside you to the words that are coming out to be outside of you.” --Gertrude Stein

I know it had to be from years ago, because the last time I actually read any Gertrude Stein, I was in graduate school. That would have been sometime just after the Louisiana Purchase. (Not really, unless we're speaking in terms of geologic time, but the phrase pleased me.)

I don't really know exactly what Gertrude Stein meant by that sentence, you understand. In fact, I really don't know what she meant by a lot of the things she said--except, of course, for those things she said so directly that it seems there is no way to misunderstand her. Even those things, I don't quite trust to be as straightforward as they seem. It makes me question my own perceptions.

She's tricky, that way.

I understand what the words themselves string together to mean, in a conventional sense. It just seems very much as if something altogether deeper and more complex sits at the heart of that sentence.

Take the whole "rose is a rose is a rose" thing, for example: Of course it is. Except when it isn't. Which is part of her point. I think.

Now, admittedly, I'm getting myself all tangled up in semantics, reading a woman who--legend has it--once received a rejection from an American publisher with the kindly advice that she should write in her native tongue and employ the services of a good translator.

The more I think about the deceptive simplicity of the sentence on that scrap of paper, the more intriguing it becomes. "...a very interesting thing to know is how you are feeling inside you to the words that are coming out to be outside you."

Then I put it aside and went to work actually writing, instead of pretending I was writing when in fact I was really cleaning out desk drawers. Then an odd thing happened. I was writing a scene taking place on a porch. Suddenly, the word "porch" looked very wrong.

Now, I'm not a particularly obsessive soul. At least, not about most things. But the more I looked at the word "porch", the worse I felt about it. I had to stop and look it up. make sure it really was a "porch" I was talking about, not a patio or a veranda.

The dictionary definition sounded all right, for the context. The etymology was unenlightening: "Middle English porche, from Old French, from Latin porticus, portico, from porta, gate."

But it still looked...wrong.

The experience was akin to the discomfort of having bit the side of your tongue, and for a day or so afterwards, your tongue seems to fit awkwardly in your mouth--uncomfortable, and the wrong shape for the available space.

So I moved the scene to the yard.

"Yard" is a good word. Nice, solid-feeling. Old English roots. I can depend on a word like that, I think, not to go all strange and uncomfortable.