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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Note: This post is long but both Ray Bradbury and Jane Austen make an appearance, so there’s that.

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We keep a little pad of paper stuck to the side of the fridge to use as a grocery list. Every couple of weeks I get tired of crossing things out and trying to remember what we actually bought and what I only think we bought, and I start fresh. Yesterday I pulled the latest iteration of the list off the pad and turned to toss it in the recycling bin, when the back of the sheet caught my attention. It was blank.

Not a big surprise there, think of all the Post-its you’ve used one side of in the last decades. But! It struck me how much times have changed. Wealth is a continually moving target, and so are our measures of it. 

I mean you’re warm in winter and cool in summer and can watch the World Series on TV. You can do anything in the world. You literally live better than Rockefeller. His unparalleled fortune couldn’t buy what we now take for granted, whether the field is—to name just a few—transportation, entertainment, communication or medical services. Rockefeller certainly had power and fame; he could not, however, live as well as my neighbors now do.

— Warren Buffett, quoted in Getting the Goalpost to Stop Moving

And I’ve always liked this Ray Bradbury quote:

“To hell with more. I want better.”

* * *

In the case of paper, we’ve got both more and better.

Once upon a time, people had to use both sides of the paper. Heck, once upon a time, people didn’t have paper, and after its invention it took centuries to become what we think of today: cheap, high quality, readily available, reliable information storage, bird cage liner, and paper plane in waiting.

Even after paper became widespread in the Western world, wood pulp paper was terrible. Like, sheets of nasty grey pulp held together with weird glues and chemicals that slowly (or not so slowly) destroyed itself.

“Unfortunately, early wood-based paper deteriorated as time passed, meaning that much of the output of newspapers and books from this period either has disintegrated or is in poor condition; some has been photographed or digitized (scanned). The acid nature of the paper, caused by the use of alum, produced what has been called a slow fire, slowly converting the paper to ash.”

— History of paper – Wikipedia

* * *

Depending on the circumstances, writers also did their best to use every inch of a page. Part of that was the paper itself, and part was the cost of postage. (Insert obligatory statement of love for modern postal services here!) 

Click through to see a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra using cross writing, designed to condense as much information as possible onto a given sheet:

Autograph letter signed, dated Godmersham, 20–22 June 1808, to Cassandra Austen | Jane Austen | The Morgan Library & Museum

Here’s another example from Ontario:

crossed letter written by Mrs. F. L. Bridgeman to Fanny West, December 15, 1837. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

* * *

It turns out that paper wasn’t quite as expensive as I’d thought, but the good stuff still wasn’t cheap. 

Based on paper purchases by individuals from the 1570s to the 1640s, paper was “roughly a penny for six sheets… To put this in perspective, the average laborer making 6-12 pence a day could purchase up to 75 sheets of paper with a day’s wages. (Was early modern writing paper expensive? – The Collation)

Later, Regency-ish England did have additional duties that made quality paper, particularly in book-sized quantities, more expensive.

“The excise duty on paper was a frequent problem for all printers and publishers. The reorganisation of the duty in 1794, whereby it was charged by weight rather than ream, had the effect of making the burden heavier”

— Half the cost of a book | OUPblog

So, not prohibitive for a person of good fortune in search of stationery or a good novel, but not nothing.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

* * *

In researching this I came across a wealth of fascinating economic information. For example, what was one shilling worth in London during the mid-1700s? So many things!

  • Dinner in a steakhouse – beef, bread and beer, plus tip
  • Sign-on bonus for army recruitment: The king’s Shilling
  • Admission to Vauxhall Gardens
  • Admission to Ranelagh Gardens (although it could be as much as 2 guineas on masquerade nights)
  • A dish of beef at Vauxhall
  • 1lb of perfumed soap
  • Postage of a one page letter from London to New York
  • 1lb of Parmesan cheese

— 18th century cost of living – redcoats history

Aaaaand this is where I fell into an internet black hole on commodity pricing vs. real wages in Regency etc. England, and had to take a break. (Step away from the seminal economics investigation of Seven Centuries of Real Income per Wage Earner and Super-cycles of commodity prices since the mid-nineteenth century!)

Photo by David Nitschke on Unsplash

* * *

Since we’re discussing costs, let’s sketch a quick portrait of sample economic expenses for gentlefolk around the time of Jane Austen:

Costs of Living During the Regency Period

  • Silk stockings — 12 shillings (£20.38 or $40.24 in today’s currency!)
  • Woolen stockings — 2 shillings 6 pence (£4.25 or $8.39)
  • A white silk handkerchief — 6 shillings (£10.19 or $20.12)
  • A pair of gloves — 4 shillings (£6.79 or $13.41)
  • A simple white dress — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
  • A fan — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
  • Simple shoes 6-11 shillings (£10.19-18.68 or $20.12-36.89)
  • Walking boots 2 pounds (£67.92 or $134.12)
  • Cotton fabric — 1 shilling per yard (£1.70 or $3.36)
  • Enough cotton fabric for a dress — 6 shillings ($20.12)
  • Velveteen fabric — 2 shillings 10 pence (£4.81 or $9.50)
  • Enough silk fabric for a dress — 1 pound 6 shillings (£44.15 or $87.18)
  • Shawls — if real silk or Kashmir could run £200-300
  • Shoes — men’s shoes went from 10 /6 to several pounds for boots so I think the ladies shoes will be in the same range.
  • A silk purse– a coin purse sort of thing– 2 s

For more of the nitty gritty, including detailed tables (3 cows equalled a pair of coach horses), see “How Wealthy is Mr. Darcy – Really? Pounds and Dollars in the World of Pride and Prejudice” by James Heldman.

* * *

How did we get here? Right, a grocery list, and my appreciation that so many of us now have access to things like affordable paper, postal service, and oh yes, literacy!

Photo by Nav Rashmi Kalsi on Unsplash

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Me: You know, I feel like we haven’t talked much lately. Was it something I said?

Muse: No, no, nothing like that. It’s just…

Me: It’s ok, I’m listening.

Muse: Thanks, this is hard for me. I just haven’t been feeling like myself. I know you want to write and I’m trying to come up with fun ideas, but I keep getting distracted.

Me: Interesting. What’s catching your eye?

Muse: Pretty things. Colorful things. Bright, shiny, fun, sometimes practical but maybe not always Things. 

Me: So you mean…

Muse: Yes! Concrete, physical items like turned wooden bottle stoppers are fun, or if it’s digital, something colorful. And self-contained. Writing a few pages in a big story feels so small, you know?

Me: I do know. Is that why we’ve been playing with photo processing?

Muse: Yep. I love it when you bring my ideas to life. Not in months or (god forbid) years, but right f-ing now. Pardon my Fffrench.

Me: No worries, it’s my second language. 

Muse: Heh. But do you see?

Me: I think so. You’re saying we should either write faster or stop focusing on writing alone. Shake it up a little. Stretch. Experiment. Do more and don’t worry about genre boundaries or shoulds or “Seriously? That is a crazy idea!” and see what happens.

Muse: Yes!

Me: Ok, then. Let’s do that:)

* * *

Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

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Here’s a heaping helping of free fiction, with a side of motivation. John Scalzi’s first novel is posted free to read on his site. It’s the web version, with each chapter its own link and charmingly antiquated page design, but the novel is fun.

Agent to the Stars

After a long day of work sometimes you just want to dust yourself off, meet an alien at the corner bar, and laugh a little. At least I do:)

Scalzi refers to this as his practice novel, but it’s well written and entertaining. (If you’d rather get the full version, the book was eventually published via traditional means, so visit your favorite retailer.) It’s also a great example of what can be done if you just knuckle up to the keyboard and see what comes out.

Which I will absolutely do. Tomorrow.

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Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

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Busy day today, and none of the three ideas I had for this post came together. Instead, have some fiction, this time read to you by Levar Burton. (You know, the Jeopardy host, and oh yes, Roots and Star Trek and Reading Rainbow and a few other things as well;)

His podcast is Levar Burton Reads, and he picks some of the best speculative short* fiction out there. So when you have a few minutes, sit back, listen, and relax.

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

* Shortish, anyway. Reading aloud always takes a bit of time, so a typical episode is about an hour.

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How does fiction help us reimagine the future of worlds, including our own? This essay explores the history of that relationship:

A Century of Science Fiction That Changed How We Think About the Environment

If we think about science fiction (sf) in terms of the genre’s connections to pressing issues in 21st-century culture, no topic is more urgent than climate change and the ways it promises to transform all aspects of human life, from where we live to how we cultivate our food to what energy sources will fuel our industries.

Preparedness discourse responds to change, understood as disaster, through strategies of containment. But science fiction offers something much more. It offers us a way of thinking and perceiving, a toolbox of methods for conceptualizing, intervening in, and living through rapid and widespread change — and the possibility to direct it toward an open future that we (re)make.

Here’s to thinking new thoughts, building new worlds, and making them.

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Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

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One of my favorite reads is the terrific* Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.  

Here’s the first book:

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1) by Ilona Andrews

This husband and wife team also have a number of other great books, all starring kick-ass women willing to go to any lengths to save what needs saving.

The writing is excellent, the plots fresh and unpredictable in the best ways, and the characters, even the bad ones, are complex and well-drawn. (The authors are particularly adept at helping readers understand, and at times forgive, even the darkest characters.)

What’s not to love?

* * *

So when I decided it was time to learn how to make a vintage-style travel postcard, I thought of Atlanta. Not the vibrant city it is now, but as Kate sees it after magic returns to the world, complete with mysterious denizens, vampire Casinos, witch jungles, shapeshifter Keeps, ruins and one lone high rise. 

Welcome to Atlanta.

* * *

Original photos by Shashidhar SMorica PhamHidayat AbisenaMichael DenningCory GazailleToa HeftibaAustrian National Library & Christopher Alvarenga on Unsplash

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* Feel free to disagree with me, I don’t mind. Just know that I am right;)

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Have I mentioned that I have a museum? Its archives are mysterious and its vaults are deep.

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Shadows of multi-dimensional butterflies, visible only once every two-hundred thirty-four years. Faithfully recorded by Miss Kara Ellen Swanlea.

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Drabble for a Monday morning.

Today might be crap. Wake to rain, the car won’t start and the kid’s hamster is under the weather too.

You’re out of coffee.

Steam builds and you dash headlong toward the Scylla of anger and the Charybdis of self-doubt. You seriously consider a cup of despair.

The boss asks you to step in last-minute for the most important meeting of the year or the kid’s hamster dies or it really is uphill both ways or (fill in the blank here) and you think, “I just… can’t.”

I hear you.

But. 

What if this is the ‘verse where you can?

— J.R. Johnson

* * *

Photo by Tom Henell on Unsplash

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This is an entry from my book of beginnings. It’s fiction, but inspired by my grandmother (yes, the whippersnapper).

She was loving and kind and sweet. She also lived through an alcoholic father, abandonment, and the Great Depression, and was a lot tougher than she looked. She and my grandfather were enthusiastic travelers. The family story was that she kept a series of journals about their trips, starting with their honeymoon. In Cuba.

If I’d ever found those journals, it would not have surprised me if she was also a spy.

* * *

Cuba 1937

I was 24 when my grandmother died, the same age she’d been when she got married. My father called to give me the sad news. She’d been sick, but she lived a full life. She was the neighborhood bridge and poker champion in her neighborhood circle for most of the half-century she lived there and she led the women’s golf game every year. The next day I went to the house, to help my father sort through her things.

She was my favorite grandmother, and not just because she was a fantastic baker. My brother and I would sit at her kitchen table, eating pound cake and cookies while she told us stories. That’s what I liked best, the stories. She and Grandpa were travelers, starting when they got married and only stopping months before their deaths. That’s what they lived for, and listening to Grandma talk about souks, the Amazon rainforest, the glaciers of Alaska and the mountains of Italy, I thought I knew why.

“She left you something.”

My father had opened the door in a T-shirt, dressed for what was sure to be a messy task. Sorting through the remnants of eight decades would take us a while. I followed him into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of tea. I stood at the table waiting for the hot liquid to cool, and wondered what minor treasure I might receive.

“You’re lucky. The box they were in was sealed up nice and tight.”

The bundle was solid, and heavy. I set it on the table and unwrapped the musty fabric covering.

“I didn’t know anyone used oilcloth anymore.”

“These go back a long time.”

Inside the oilcloth envelope was a stack of books. They were different sizes and shapes, starting with a school notebook and progressing to leather-bound hardcovers. Each one had a short title written on the cover in my grandmother’s elegant script.

Looking over my shoulder, my father smiled.

“She knew how much you enjoyed her stories, so she wanted you to have her travel journals. This should be every trip she took over more than fifty years.”

Treasure indeed. Realizing that the most recent accounts were on top, I re-stacked the journals to uncover the oldest, her first trip. The black and white cardboard cover was grayed with age and blank except for her name. The pages were stiff, and for a moment I was afraid that the paper had completely fused together. A little work at the edges, though, and I was able to gently open it to the first page. Yellow with age, the corners cracked but the ink was still dark and bold.

She’d put the title inside, as if unwilling to announce it on the book’s cover.

“Cuba,” it read, “1937.”

This was where it all began.

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Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash

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Sunday

Istanbul-Cappadoccia

I’m in seat 34 and already seven minutes late. We’re on the night bus to Cappadocia and I’m settling in for a ten-hour ride into the heart of Turkey. The old woman ahead of me is getting feisty, pounding on the window and demanding to leave, loudly. This little drama is all in Turkish, of course, but it’s hard to misunderstand this kind of impatience. Most of the country seems to travel by bus and this is the largest terminal I’ve ever seen. The station is huge, complete with hotel and shopping complex, mosque, 200,000 lira WCs, and plenty of air guns to keep the kids occupied. 

What’s this? We’re leaving right on time, only 14 minutes behind schedule.

Tops in Turkey: Topkapi Palace, cherry juice and jam, beer on a rooftop terrace with a view of the Haghia Sofia and Blue Mosque.

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Photo by Fatih Yürür on Unsplash

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