Showing posts with label New Years. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Years. Show all posts

05 January 2017

Gifted

by Eve Fisher

Necklines plunged further, needing a chemisette to be worn underneath. Sleeves widened at the elbow, while bodices ended at the natural waistline. Skirts widened and were further emphasised by the addition of flounces.
Victorian Ladies, a/k/a Wikipedia
I trust that everyone had a Merry Christmas,  Happy Hanukkah, Silly Little Solstice, a Happy New Year, survived the holidays (this is harder for some than others - come to an Al-Anon meeting over the holidays some time and I'll show you), and were/are/will be gifted with good things.  We had a lovely time, thank you.

Other than the fact that our furnace went bad on Boxing Day, and we had a couple of days of Victorian temperatures in the house (50s and 60s) while waiting for parts to arrive. (BTW, now I understand completely why Victorians wore 37 pounds of clothing.  It wasn't all about modesty.)  We were lucky.  Considering it was 14 degrees outside, with a windchill of minus 5, when this happened, we were VERY lucky. Our plumber showed up by 8 AM, and our furnace, thank God! is fixed!!!  Huzzah!!!!

I did almost no writing over the holidays - too much going on for concentrated work, and when I did sit down at the old computer (or even the old pad and paper), I managed to distract myself really well. But I did get a lot of reading done.  I always get a lot of reading done.  I have a gift for reading.

I am very fortunate.  I started early.  My mother taught me to read when I was three years old.  (She always said she did it because she got sick of reading the same story to me every night before bedtime, and I believe her.)  One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor of the old living room in Alexandria, VA, with an array of word flash cards that my mother made out of plain index cards.  I specifically remember putting the word "couch" on the couch.  I don't know how long it took me to actually learn to read, but I know that by the time I was four, I was reading [simple] fairy tales on my own.  I can't tell you how magical, how full, how rich, how unforgettable it is to read fairy tales at the right age, all by yourself.

Someone once said, they liked books rather than TV, because books had better pictures.  When you start reading young enough, they do.  Then and now.  I can still remember the worlds that those fairy tales created in my mind - so real that I shivered, walking down a snowy lane.  I could smell the mud under the bridge where the troll lived.  The glass mountain with the glass castle on top of it, and the road running around the bottom.  And it only increased over time.  I know the exact gesture that Anna Karenina made as she turned to see Vronsky at the ball; have heard the Constance de Beverley's shriek of despair, walled up in Lindesfarne; have seen the drunken Fortunato bouncing down the stone walls of the tunnel to the wine vault; have shivered slightly as drops of cool water fell upon the sunbather. For me, reading is a multisensory experience.

And I get drunk on words.  Let's put it this way:  when I read John Donne's poetry, I fell in love with a dead man, and cursed my fate that I never, ever, ever got to meet the man who wrote such burning words...  And I've had the same experience with others:  Shakespeare, Tennyson, Chaucer, Cavafy, Gunter Grass, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Laurie Lee, Rostand, Emily Bronte, Dickinson, I fall hard and deep and willing into words.

My office.  And this isn't the only wall covered with books.
When something gives you this much pleasure, you get good at it.  For over fifty years I've read every day, obsessively, compulsively, constantly. When I was a child, I knew that reading was the best thing in life, and there were too many books and too little time.  So I taught myself to read faster - not speed reading, I don't skip (although thanks to graduate school, I do know how to gut a book) - but I can read every word at an accelerated pace.  (My husband says I devour books.)  And I remember what I read. My mind has its own card catalog, dutifully supplying (still) plot and main characters (sometimes minor ones, too), as well as dialog and best scenes from a whole roomful of books.  And I think about a book, while I'm reading and afterwards.  I analyze it.  I synthesize it with other readings.  I'm damn good at reading.  It's probably the thing I'm best at.
BTW, this was one reason I really enjoyed graduate school, because (in history at least) you spend most of your time reading books - a minimum of 1 per class per week - and then writing an analysis to present to the class, as well as reading everyone else's analysis and arguing away about it.  I was in my element at last.  
Scenes from a Marriage DVD cover.jpgAnyway, constant reading as a child inevitably led to wonder about writing my own.  The real breakthrough into writing came when I realized that the Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote the "Little House" books was the same as the Laura Ingalls character in the "Little House" books.  Wow!  Real people actually wrote these! So I started writing.  I wrote very bad poetry on home-made cards for my family, and I wrote short-shorts (now called flash fiction).  I tried writing novels, but as a child I thought that you had to start at the beginning and go straight through until the end, without any changes or editing, and it never occurred to me that people plotted things out.  So I was 24 before I wrote my first novel (a sci-fi/fantasy that has been sitting on my shelf - for very good reasons - for years).  

Before that, I went through a folk-singer / rock star stage and wrote songs.  I wrote my first short story in years because someone bet me I couldn't do it (I won that bet), and then many more short stories that were mostly dull.  Until I had a magic breakthrough about writing dialog watching - I kid you not - Bergman's "Scenes From A Marriage".  I stayed up all night (I was so much younger then) writing dialog which for the first time sounded like dialog and realized...  well, I went off writing plays for a few years.  Came back to writing short stories.  Along with articles, essays, and blog posts.

And here I am.  Good to see all of you, damn glad to be here.

Meanwhile, Constant Reader (thanks, Dorothy Parker!) keeps on reading.  And re-reading.  Speaking of re-reading, I don't see why people don't do more of it.  I mean, if you like going to a certain place for lunch, dinner, picnics, weekends, or vacations, why not keep reading stories / books that do the trick?  If it's a real knock-out, I'll read it a lot more than twice.  By now I've practically memorized the "Little House" books, "Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass", "David Copperfield", "The Left Hand of Darkness", "Death of a Doxy", "The Thin Man", "Pavilion of Women", "The Mask of Apollo", "In This House of Brede", "The Small House at Allington", "Cider With Rosie", "Nemesis", "Death Comes for the Archbishop", "The Round Dozen", and a whole lot more, not to mention a few yards of poetry. Because I want to go to the places those books and stories and poems take me, again and again and again...  Or I'm just in the mood for that voice, like being in the mood for John Coltrane or Leonard Cohen or Apocalyptica, for beef with broccoli or spanakopita or lentil soup.

So, this Christmas, I reread some Dickens, Miss Read's "Christmas Stories", "Hans Brinker & the Silver Skates", and Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales".  BTW, I have "A Child's Christmas in Wales" in the collection "Quite Early One Morning", available here, which includes "How To Be A Poet", the most hilarious send-up of the writing life I have ever read.  Excerpt:
"The Provincial Rush, or the Up-Rimbaud-and-At-Em approach.  This is not wholeheartedly to be recommended as certain qualifications are essential...  this poet must possess a thirst and constitution like that of a salt-eating pony, a hippo's hide, boundless energy, prodigious conceit, no scruples, and - most important of all, this can never be overestimated - a home to go back to in the provinces whenever he breaks down."  [Sound advice for us all...]
Reading, writing, good food, good company, good conversation...  life doesn't get much better than this.  I've found my calling, which makes me a very gifted person indeed.

Happy New Year!







03 January 2014

Starting Over

by R.T. Lawton

What's that, buddy, you say it's a couple of days after New Year's and you're feeling a little disoriented? Your mind is uneasy and your hand hesitates when it comes to putting the current date in that upper right hand corner of your check when it comes to paying bills? You have to stop and think what year you're in?

Well, you're not alone in this, my friend. That's been the way of the world since civilization began. Different people have started their new years on different dates for centuries and some of us still aren't on the same calendar.

Take for instance, the Babylonians some four thousand years ago. Yeah, them guys what invented the original Hanging Garden. Their new year arrived on the first new moon following the vernal equinox--the day in late March which had an equal amount of day and night. This was the day they cut their barley. I assumed they then used it to make bread and beer for the resulting celebration. Happy New Year!!! I wonder if them guys were also the ones who came up with the idea of blowing horns at New Year's parties while sipping beer?

Ancient Egypt, on the other hand, pinned the first day of their new year to the annual flooding of the Nile, which made their fields fertile again for another year. This date also coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. Not sure how they got it to rain enough upriver for the flood to arrive in time for the star to shine, but that was probably enough to make an ancient Egyptian religious.

Then along comes Romulus, the founder of Rome in about the 8th century BC. He gets credit for the early Roman calendar consisting of 10 months, or 304 days in a year. Time was short in them days. His new year also started on the vernal equinox, although many subsequent rulers commenced their new year on whatever date they began their rule. Talk about having trouble planning your New Year's Eve parties in advance. Later, King Numa Pompilius decided to stretch things out, so he added the months of Januarius and Februarius. Gradually, the calendar fell out of synch with the sun, so when Julius Caesar got to be the man in charge, he put together a bunch of astrologers and math guys. With their input, he then invented the Julian calendar, obviously named after some fellow he knew and admired. Caesar declared January 1st as the first day of the new year, in honor of Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings. If I remember right, that Janus guy used to wear a mask. Citizens then attended raucous parties. Probably drank some of that Babylonian brand of beer. However, I think them Romans, to show they were a higher degree of sophisticated civilization than anybody else, were actually partial to the consumption of wine.

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated Harold at Hastings and therefore declared January 1 to be the start of the year. It was his opinion that his coronation in England should start the year, especially since that date was also supposedly the the date of the circumcision of Christ (the 8th day after his birth on December 25th as they reckoned it). Seems the ruler got to make the rules, and it was good to be the king. This January 1 decree soon slid into disuse as England joined the rest of the Christian world to celebrate the new year on March 25th, which was known as Annunciation Day or Lady Day, the day Mary was allegedly told by Gabriel that she would bear God's son Jesus.

Not to be left out of the ongoing situation, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII got an educated fellow to reform the Julian calendar with January 1 as the beginning of the new year again. Pope Greg then named it the Gregorian calendar after some guy he thought highly of, much like Julius did to the old Roman one back in his day. Turns out, Julius is the one who gave us Leap Years, but it took Greg's math geek to figure out which Leap Years got skipped so as to put us back on schedule with the sun.

Even though Pope Greg told all the Christians what day New Years fell on, it still took time to get all the different countries in line. France converted in 1564 with the Edict of Roussillion, Scotland in 1600 and Russia in 1700. Britain, Ireland and the British Empire waited until 1752 (Scotland evidently didn't want to be part of the British Empire in those days), while Thailand didn't come around until 1941. In the meantime, what date started your new year depended upon whether you had your date determined by the Easter Style, the Modern (or Circumcision) Style, the Annunciation (or Lady) Day Style or some other method. And, some ethnic groups still stick to their own calendars.

So, Friend, if you find some hesitation in your thinking about the what the date is during this new year, you probably come by it honestly. The first of the year date has long been subject to change in the past. Of course that same hesitation you felt could be due to the amount of Babylonian beer or Roman wine you consumed at somebody's raucous party. As for me, these days the wife and I tend to watch New Year's celebrations on either London or NYC time via television and then call it a night. Been about five years since we even bothered to watch the fireworks set off on top of Pikes Peak at midnight to mark the incoming year.

Hope you had a good one.

It's now January 3rd on my calendar of the year 20...uh...14.

04 January 2013

Tsagaan Sar

by R.T. Lawton

Our traditional New Year has come and gone. Some of us sat at home watching celebrations from various parts of the globe on TV and tried to keep our eyes open long enough for the clock to say it was midnight somewhere and that a new year had rolled in. Others, no doubt, went to parties and celebrated this year's turnover to the next with friends, libation, snacks and loud noise making. Either way, the past was hopefully behind us and we looked forward to a good future. New Year's resolutions were probably made with the best of intentions and then sometimes broken before the week was out. And that pretty much covered most of the Western World as we know it.

Musician with Horse Head Fiddle
On the other side of Mother Earth, in the vast northern steppes of Asia, is an ancient celebration continued on into present times for their new year. For centuries, the Mongols have gathered in large groups to sing, eat, dance and drink to celebrate an occasion known to them as Tsagaan Sar, or the white moon, the first day of their new year. One of their biggest festivals, it comes during January or February, and is celebrated two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice.

At these large gatherings, small bands of people see relatives again after long absences and also meet other Mongols they had not previously known. Many times, a celebrant met his or her future spouse at one of the Tsagaan Sar celebrations. The traditional greeting at this festival can be roughly translated as "Are you rested?" [NOTE: In the old days, if I were resting on New Year's Day, it was probably because I had been over-served, but then that has been Western tradition.]

Days in advance, the women prepare buuz, a dumpling stuffed with minced beef or minced mutton seasoned with salt and onion or garlic. Some flavor their's with rice or cabbage or various herbs according to personal tastes. The dumplings are then frozen until ready for eating, at which time they are steamed. Other dishes eaten are dairy products, rice with curds or raisins, a grilled side of sheep and a large platter filled with traditional cookies formed into a mountain or pyramid. Airag, fermented mare's milk, is served and gifts are exchanged.

The Communist government once banned Tsagaan Sar and tried to replace it with a Collective Herder's Day, but after the 1990 Democratic Revolution in Mongolia, the Mongols returned to their old holiday and they still celebrate it today.

A Ger, or traditional Mongol residence
Bituun, the name for their day prior to the new year day, is a time for cleaning around the home and for herders to clean their livestock buildings in order to have a clean start. This day is also a time for the immediate family to be together before the large celebration of Tsagaan Sar begins. Candles are burned and three pieces of ice are placed near the doorway so that the horse of the deity who visits each household that night can have something to drink. All old issues for the Mongols are settled and all debts for the year repaid by this day, so as to start out the new year with a clean slate.

My reason for researching the Mongols was that early on I had inserted a little Nogai boy into my Armenian series as a piece of local flavor for some of the many peoples residing on the steppes along the Terek River during the mid-1800's. Then later at a breakfast with my editor in NYC one April, I happened to ask if there was anything she would like to see in my future writing. She immediately replied, "Yes, a story from the POV of the little Nogai boy." Prior to that, the kid only had a few lines of narrative at best in any of the stories. Now, he had to have his own story. Much research soon followed.

SHORT HISTORY: After the death of Genghis Khan, the Mongols separated into two groups: the greater horde also known as the Golden Horde, and the lesser horde also known as the Nogai Horde which carried the name of their general. Now you know where the name Nogai came from.

Anyway, this once-minor character, the little Nogai boy, soon ended up with his own story. Being an orphan on the frontier, he needed to be tough, so I named him Timur, the old Turkish word for iron. The editor bought this story and it became a Derringer Nominee in 2011. Well, there's your history lesson on Mongol culture and one of the characters in my Armenian series.

Hope all of you have an excellent and prosperous new year.