The Monday Muse

Just supposing you were scrolling through your social media and came across a photo of a civil rights demonstration that looks interesting, and perhaps a little nostalgic.

You click to enlarge, and there they are, all those pure and innocent faces, shining in their determination…and you can clearly recognize your mother there. A few rows back, and it’s a little grainy, but definitely: it’s her. You know it.

The photo is dated as 1963.

Your mother died in 1961.

  • This is a new thing. Basically, it’s part writing prompt and part flash fiction, and I don’t promise to get one up every Monday….

A Break from the Seriousness…

An awesome recipe might cheer us all up.

Crab Cakes

Ingredients

  • 12 oz crab meat (Approximately. One time, I was short, and filled in with that fake pollock stuff, and no one noticed.)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise, or maybe a little more. This is a lot of what binds it together, and sometimes the mix doesn’t like to co-operate.
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp Sriracha sauce (Or something similar. I used Louisiana hot sauce last time and it worked just fine.)
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (Sometimes it isn’t worth buying those big bunches for one recipe, so, ummmm, use your own judgement here. I can’t recommend skipping it, and dried isn’t quite the same, but it’s tricky, isn’t it?)
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs (I use Panko, but any fine white crumbs will do.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, for frying

  • Dump all the ingredients (except the olive oil) into a bowl and mix it all together. Some people recommend gentleness here, but I don’t. Just get it to a stage where it hangs together.
  • Form the crab mixture into patties. For meals, I go to sort of “burger size”, but as an appetizer, you could make them smaller.
  • In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Place the patties in the skillet, a few at a time. (My big frying pan gets 5 at a time) Cook until golden brown, about 5 min per side. Gently flip them over and cook for another 5 minutes until golden brown. Repeat with remaining patties.
  • Serve with cole slaw or something similar. I know a lot of people go with fries, but there’s only so much cholesterol my body can take at one sitting.

You can bake these instead of frying. Preheat your oven to 375 F degrees and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Maybe flip them at around the 7-minute mark.

And the real problem is…

Nothing will change.

Hear me out.

What the President-elect needs to do is to come down hard on these thugs.

Not just the USA, but the entire world needs to see them all tried and behind bars, from the lowliest little looter of the Capitol offices to every politico and pundit who incited, aided, and abetted this travesty.

But he won’t do it.

Biden is too enamoured of his nice-guy image, and too wedded to his belief that people can be reasoned with. He’s too in love with the idea that if we just all make nice with the fascists, if we just “build bridges/reach out”, that somehow this can all just fade away and we can all go back to whatever middle-aged white people think of as normal life. He’s mired in a decades-old image of America as a place filled with basically “decent folks” and the idea that if you give the bully some candy or let them have their turn on the swings, they’ll become your friend.

But schoolkids everywhere know that bullies will just take the candy and punch you in the nose – that once having got into the swing seat, they never give it back up.

They might, if a teacher is watching, hold off till the adult attention is somewhere else, but that’s how it will go.

These cretins will say “Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to, I’ll be good – I promise”, and the next thing you know, some other government building will be under siege.

There needs to be a purge of law enforcement and related agencies: Defense, FBI, the lot of them.

Churches need to be taxed, and their involvement in politics needs to be severely curtailed.

Corporations need to be taxed at 1950s percentages, and forced back into a place where actively contributing to their communities is a requirement, not just a slogan.

The only thing these kinds of people understand is force – you have to force them into behaving like citizens, because left to their own devices, they will burn their own houses down and blame it on their neighbours.

And the world needs it because this stuff spreads, and spreads fast.

Just look at the pro-Trump rallies happening here in Canada, and tell me I should not fear the lacklustre response I expect Biden to issue on January 20th.

That “peaceful protest”…

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. – Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A Capitol police officer looks oout of a broken window as protesters gather on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pro-Trump protesters entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital during a joint session Congress to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Rioters break TV equipment outside the the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, during a chaotic protest aimed at thwarting a peaceful transfer of power. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A member of a pro-Trump mob shatters a window with his fist from inside the Capitol Building after breaking into it on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation’s capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., stops to look at damage in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Here are some other considerations:

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/07/capitol-hill-riots-doj-456178?fbclid=IwAR1–beXwXmtU_75lTZPyhvn92FK8BvnUF54lQYoGWsPvRGI3gNqTgyPOiw

And a straight-up confession that you totally need to watch:

https://fb.watch/2U7hBBn0I6/

At what point will America actually own this?

At what point will the appeasement of Nazis stop?

Just another day…

I know.

It’s something we all know.

In the same way that we have constantly blamed the year, and have for several weeks been proclaiming how good it will be to say goodbye to 2020, having completely forgotten that we said much the same about 2019, we know, deep down, that it’s not about one year, and that one day will not change very much at all.

Humans love ritual, though, and “tradition”, unfortunately, is much harder to change than laws are.

And sure – the ritual of making a fresh start is not a bad one.

If only, like our fitness regime, commitment to read more classics, or learn to make our own spaghetti sauce, we didn’t also know that the likelihood of making good on our best intentions will last maybe two weeks, if we’re lucky.

This year, though, we really do need to make good on something more substantial.

We need to make deep systemic changes in how we live, how we care for others, how we will ensure an actual future of humans on this planet. We need to make these resolutions into reality.

And I don’t know that we will.

Strangely, I have some hope, though.

So here’s to all of us. I hope we make it.

Un-Boxing the Day

Apparently, the way to escaping the Christmas blues was – for me – to work the graveyard shift and then sleep for most of Christmas.

I did stay up for stockings-and-gift-opening, re-emerging to eat turkey and do the dishes, before collapsing into a coma till six a.m. today. It was a pretty effective way to get through the weirdness of going nowhere and seeing no-one outside of the immediate household.

But the start to Christmas…oh, that was a real 2020 moment, let me tell you.

It’s an assisted living facility for seniors. I don’t normally work the kitchen night shift – I’m the Visitor Liason person, which is basically the bouncer making sure no one virus-risky enters these hallowed halls.

But in the spirit of giving, I agreed to work the Christmas Eve/Day kitchen shift, because someone who had requested this as a vacation day back in February wasn’t going to get it if I didn’t.

It was near the end of our shift. A shift where the request from on high to make two extra kinds of cookies in addition to the night’s regular baking, plus the added complete “Covid cleaning” of every door handle and handrail in the building, along with a bit of a problem with the cleaning of the steam tables that slowed us down, and the much higher volume of laundry that accompanies everything about this year and the pandemic meant that the two of us on duty had to cut short our supper break, and still only barely managed to get the necessary tasks accomplished.

In came the early cook.

Who immediately flipped out because we had not gotten the turkeys roasted for her.

Now, I get it. Someone – yesterday’s late cook, for example – should have prepped those birds, at the very least, and left us a note, telling us where they were and what time they needed to go into the ovens. That is only sense. We aren’t psychic.

And I also get that no one – absolutely no one – is ecstatic about working Christmas Day.

But the flip-out was nasty, and all out of proportion, because, after wasting a full hour in screaming at us (and reducing my co-worker to tears) the cook parted out the turkeys and threw them into the ovens, in the full knowledge that they would now be done in plenty of time.

That’s actually normal practice for most large institutions (hospitals, hotels, catering outfits) when they aren’t going to make a public display of the carving of the birds into an event, and since the cook knew that…

Well, that’s some classic 2020 Christmas “spirit” right there.

This Christmas…

For just about my entire life, people have been moaning about the commercialization of Christmas.

Not just the buying frenzy that has escalated every year, to the point where jokes about bankruptcy aren’t even a little bit shocking. Not just about the ways in which every shop, service and huge corporation uses the season to make us think they care the tiniest bit about any of us.

People have complained that the entire enterprise had/has become simply a gimmick, and that the “true meaning” of Christmas (and this is not necessarily a religious complaint, because plenty of atheists make these complaints as well) has been shopped out of existence.

They wanted a simpler holiday spirit. One with real meaning and less engineered sentiment. One that got back to a simpler, more genuine expression of hope, and charity, and love.

They wanted fewer obligations, fewer commitments, fewer forced moments of required cheeriness.

Or so they said.

This Christmas, they are being given it, willy-nilly, and apparently, the last half-century of whingeing was just so much window-dressing, because most of those people are absolutely outraged at the thought that they will have to spend this holiday in very much the same way that their grandparents and great-grandparents did.

Isolated, with only their immediate family and possibly one or two close friends, without a lot of the trimmings, both tangible and psychological, that they have been accustomed to.

Economic uncertainty, for a start, is forcing many to cut back on the gifts, too, and while it is possible that people will still run up huge debts with online purchases, a lot of the retail store-owners and restauranteurs who agitated so hard for early re-opening last spring and summer are reaping their bitter harvest now. Their most profitable season has just gone up in smoke.

This is the “simpler, uncommercial” Christmas you all pined for.

Because back in, say, 1930, this was what Christmas was like.

Alone on your prairie farmstead, miles from your nearest neighbours, and possibly with half a continent and an ocean between you and the European family you left behind, with little money for “extras”, so the best gift you got might be a pair of hand-knitted socks, you feasted on whatever you could muster, and counted yourself lucky if there was enough kerosene in the lamp to let you read a story aloud.

Or in a cold-water flat in a city, unable to find the cash to get a train ticket back to that farmstead, maybe singing carols with a couple of other tenants, and hoping there might be a job in your future.

This year. This Christmas.

You’ve got Zoom, and Netflix, and Amazon, and if the thought of not being able to go home/have everyone over on the 25th is so devastating to you – even knowing that by sacrificing this now means that those people might actually survive till next Christmas – if this is so life-altering and untenable that you are spending the last week before the day in fuming rage….

Welp.

You didn’t want that simpler, truer Christmas at all.

So let’s not, in the coming years, hear that faux-nostalgic BS anymore.

The problem with Rudolph or Not the Nicest pre-Christmas thoughts

Every year, we all have that discussion, online and in person.

About Rudolph. About the way it’s a metaphor for how people only are nice to someone else when they want something, how most of society engages in making sure that those who are different are socially punished, and how adults in authority enable bullying, or at least turn a blind eye to it.

And nothing seems to change. For all the rhetoric and workplace/school training. We haven’t gotten the real message.

Time and time again, the people who are bullied are made out to be the problem.

In schools and workplaces all over the world, the bullied child/adult is disbelieved and considered the instigator, and/or the responsibility for managing the situation is laid on them:

“Just walk away!”

“Stand up for yourself!”

“Try to make friends with them!”

“Tell an adult!”

That last one? That’s the kicker, because the instant response of almost every adult authority is simply “What did you do to make them mad at you?”

The bullied child in the schoolyard or adult in the workplace is NEVER believed when they do tell. Double that statement if the bullied person is female.

Until something happens – something that cannot be ignored.

Something dire.

If that something is that the person being bullied does finally retaliate in kind, they are the ones who are punished.

If that something is self-harm or suicide, the handwringing, the pearl-clutching, and the victim-blaming begins.

“Why didn’t they TELL someone?”

I do not believe, having watched so many children and adults go through this, that anything has changed at all, except cosmetically. We’ve altered the narrative so that watching a video or attending a seminar means the problem is solved.

Back-pats and self-justifications all round.

And that’s why, despite all those videos and workshops and training seminars, we still sit down and weep sentimentally as a big fat guy in charge of a large organization steadfastly ignores the isolation and shaming and bullying of a slightly-different reindeer emplyee, until they all need those unique differences to perform their own roles in life – as if it showed what great, magnanimous folks we all are.

That’s why the Rudolph story is still acceptable.

And that’s why, for many people, Christmas kind of sucks.


The perils of Pauline: How writers really build a convincing world

There’s a lot of stuff out there about world-building.

Blogs. Websites. Books. Master classes. Youtube videos.

Anyone and everyone will not only tell you how important world-building is for fantasy and sci fi novelists, but will tell you how to do it.

They’ll give you booklists for your research. They’ll tell you how to make a map of your world, and how important architecture is, and why you need to devise a unique language that only the aliens on Planet X speak.

They’ll remind you of each and every tiny detail that you need to figure out before ever you put your fingers on your keyboard and type in the words “Chapter One”.

But what they don’t tell you is how to use all that stuff once you’ve got it.

There’s really only one word, and it will, for many of you, sound like a complete contradiction – not to say an utter negation of the time you’ve spent doing all that work – but it is essential that you take this in.

One word: SPARINGLY.

The trouble with all that research and decision-making that writers need to do before they start writing is that they feel impelled and driven to use every last bit of that work. They feel that they must squeeze every last detail into the text, and, moreover, because they didn’t understand the monetary system or the cooking methods or the way in which different kinds of hats denoted social status before they did all that work, they feel compelled to explain it all to the reader as well.

But that’s a recipe for boredom.

The writer has to know everything.

The reader does not.

The important part is that the writer can very occasionally twitch aside the curtain and reveal those tiny details, but only when absolutely necessary, and in ways that do not sound like a first year university lecture.

Moreover, they must resist the temptation to add in irrelevant or distracting scenes in order to use information or created items or concepts, just because they spent thirty hours of deep research or design on something.

The reason the writer has to know everything about the world they are making is so that they can write with confidence.

If they can do that – if they can write the story without extensive and elaborate description of every single detail of the background, but simply allow the reader occasional glimpses of the structure underneath, an incredible thing happens.

The suspension of disbelief will occur.

It’s like a magic trick: the reader knows they are in good hands and that the world they are immersed in feels real and holds together for them.

Not to toot my own horn, but “A Spell in the Country” has had the world-building aspect noted for its verisimilitude and conviction – and, oddly, its detail – numerous times.

But if you read it carefully, it will become apparent that I don’t actually explain very much. I let context and situations and attitudes expressed in dialogue tell the reader what things mean or how they are constructed, or whatever.

I know the value of every coin used in Averraine – many of which weren’t ever mentioned at all – and I know exactly how the clothing was made and how the food was cooked, and what musical instruments were played, but an enormous amount of that stuff never made it into the book, and even if it had, I probably wouldn’t have explained it anyway.

Even when I did explain or describe something in the book, I kept it to what minimal detail was absolutely necessary.

The writer has to trust themselves.

 More importantly, they must trust the reader.