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Picturing a World

Bark as fabric; women as trees

Blog post alert: A report from the History Blog that the world's oldest preserved woven fabric was made of bast from oak trees rather than from linen or wool somehow deepens a mythic connection between women and trees.  I don't yet know what to do with it, but surely something!

Image at National Gallery, London

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Seven basic emotions

An article in the Guardian about the inner lives of dogs includes an observation on "the theory that all mammal brains share seven primary emotional systems: fear, rage, lust, 'seeking,' panic/grief, care, and play." Sort of like the Seven Deadly Sins for the 21st C? There certainly seems to be a human proclivity to list things in sevens; and it might be interesting to try to write a series of stories, each to illustrate one of these seven basic emotions (or those from another list). Perhaps with an animal in each!
Image via The British Library

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Runkel Bros. Sweet Vienna Chocolate

Blog post alert: One of my heirloom treasures is a wooden Runkel Bros. Sweet Vienna Chocolate box from my great-grandmother's kitchen. I have used it as an ornament in my own kitchen, as a computer stand, and as—oh, I don't know—a talisman of some sort. Looking at it in this season when chocolate becomes important sent me off on an internet search. It landed me on A Golden Age: Chocolate in New York, 1850-1900, which has a section on the Runkel brothers and lots more. Enjoy!

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Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach

Couldn't this image prompt a story about being a female student in Paris early in the 20th C? The Japanese print on the wall. The young woman's serious expression. A pen ready to take notes. The coat worn indoors against the cold (when I was a student in Aix-en-Provence, we had heat from a stove for only two hours a day). A jug of flowers—always remember: tuppence a week for beauty. Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach is new to me and maybe not a major find; but both she and her student are reminders that, yes, art and literature and learning matter. For more of her work, click here.

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Nine steps to a ghost story

A look at Christmas ghost stories this year somehow sent me to Tales of Moonlight and Rain by the 18th C Japanese master, Ueda Akinari. In his introduction, the translator, Anthony H. Chambers draws on an analysis of Chinese stories about anomalies—the weird, the uncanny, the ghostly—to derive a typical structure for Akinari's tales (see pp. 22–24). Following it step by step can turn into a dandy writing exercise.

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Onset of winter

With snow on the ground out my window on this first Sunday in Advent and first day of Hanukkah, I'm ready to consider today the onset of winter—even if the Solstice is still more than three weeks away. Besides, it gives me a chance to celebrate the illustrations of Danielle Barlow. Let's be grateful for whatever sustains us in these troubled times!
Image via Myth and Moor

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Cloud bowls

Blog post alert: In the midst of my annual rereading of Greer Gilman's Moonwise and while I'm writing a short story about an artists' collective, along comes Bloomsbury Jamboree 2021 at Spitalsfield Life. Wonderful! It will certainly make you wish you could go to London and may give you ideas for your own holiday crafts or artistic ambitions. (And if you read Moonwise, you will know why I call Matilda Moreton's bowls Cloud Bowls.)

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Importance of dialogue

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow is full of interesting discoveries and arguments. One idea grabbed my attention. Neuroscience, they say, seems to show that self-aware thoughts on a problem generally last about seven seconds. "[T]he great exception to this is when we're talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems for hours on end" (p. 94). Graeber and Wengrow point out that many ancient philosophers framed their writings as dialogue. I would add, think how often writers have written as though there were a devil and an angel or two sides of personality arguing with each other when they want to depict a mental struggle. The device can seem contrived, but maybe it arises out of more than convention.

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Treacle Walker

The news that at eighty-seven Alan Garner has just published another novel—Treacle Walker—is reason enough to celebrate. No surprise: it's superb. As always, Garner's prose has the compactness, rhythms, and multilayered power of poetry. His imagination is vivid and odd. And it's all rooted in the part of Cheshire where he grew up and has lived almost all his life. Another reason to celebrate: he has made a gorgeous promotional video that shows the house in which the story is set, a copse that plays a part in it, and three talismanic objects.

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Essential Vermeer

Website alert: Attention art lovers and historical novelists: Essential Vermeer has links to all sorts of illustrated articles about topics such as Vermeer's palette, his paintings in their frames, music during his time, sources on the web of high-resolution images of his works, and much, much more. If you want to learn about the artist, his family, and his society, start here!

Image via Wikipedia.

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