Quote: Don’t Worry, This is Totally Natural

“Childbirth is natural, and not an event that has to be conducted in a hospital. I am here to help women understand how natural this is. But I will have to go in just a moment. How may I help you?”

Rourke had delivered at least three babies in the back seats of cars and taxi cabs, and thought he was qualified to assert that there was nothing whatever that was natural about it. It was the craziest thing in the world. Women were the kind of people that people came out of, for crying out loud, and he thought it was the kind of thing best monitored by world-class doctors and sophisticated electronic gear, maintained closely by teams of nurses with graduate degrees in astrophysics. But that was just his opinion.

Evengellyfish, by Douglas Wilson, pp. 86 – 87

Those Creepy Fates

Left to right: Broken Top, South Sister, North Sister

There is a trio of mountains in Oregon called the Three Sisters. In fact, the town of Sisters, OR, is named for them. In this picture, you can only see two of the them (the third is hiding behind).

I use this picture for my illustration because, while there is a lot of great art portraying the Three Fates, it’s a little hard to find a picture that I can use without copyright infringement.

I recently read, with my kids, The Black Cauldron. My imagination was captured by the three swamp-dwelling little old ladies (if human?) who guard the Cauldron: Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch. As far as I can tell, Lloyd Alexander made up these ladies and imported them into his story. Though triple goddesses are a recurring feature in Celtic mythology, they are not really the same as the three fates and it’s even a falsehood that they always came in the form of maiden, mother, and crone, as you will see if you read the scathing 1-star reviews of the book The White Goddess by Robert Graves.

The Greek fates are named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho spins the thread of a mortal’s life, Lachesis measures out its predetermined length, and Atropos cuts it. Norse cosmology also has fates, called the Norns … in some versions three, named Past, Present and Future; in some versions a large but unknown number, according to this article. Evidently the idea of fate personified as three or more women (or woman-like beings) goes way back in Indo-European cosmology. It shows up as late as Macbeth’s three witches.

I had ignored the Fates for some time (as one does); but reading The Black Cauldron made me wonder whether you can write a fantasy that draws on Indo-European cosmology and not at least tip your hat to them.

By their very nature, the Fates are creepy. Lloyd Alexander does a great job of making this feeling come through when he introduces Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch. The heroes of the book, on first seeing the fates’ house (and by the way, the word ‘fates’ is not used), think it is abandoned because it looks so run-down and blends so well into the swamp shrubberies. There’s a loom set up inside the house, on which is a tangled mess of a weaving. (Don’t touch!) Then the ladies show up. Rather like Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings, they seem cavalier about things that ordinary people regard as matters of life and death. Orddu keeps offering to turn the travelers into toads (“You’ll grow to like it”). Orgoch is excited about this because if they were toads, it’s implied she could eat them. Orgoch, the only one of the three who is clad in a black cowl, seems to want to eat everything. As Orddu says, “It’s hard to keep pets with Orgoch around.”

The three ladies light up when they hear that the travelers know Dallben, who it transpires they discovered as a foundling and raised. They refer to him as “little Dallben.” (Dallben is over 300 years old.)

The travelers stay the night in an outbuilding belonging to the three ladies. Taran, the main character, wakes up in the middle of the night and sneaks up to the window of the dilapidated cottage, which is now alight. He returns, reporting, “They’re not the same ones!” Orwen, Orddu and Orgoch now look young and beautiful, and they spend all night working on their weaving. The next morning, however, they appear looking just as they did before, and with the same apparent disregard for human life.

Lloyd Alexander has set a really high bar with this fictional, Welsh version of the fates, and I’m not even sure I could approach it. Here is an article that dives more deeply into an analysis of the fates and of all of Prydain, the fantasy world in which the book is set. Be warned, the article assumes you are familiar with the whole series.

Quote: How Moms “Vacation”

What, oh what, will I do to fill the days that are usually taken up with errands and housecleaning and laundry and Max and Ron and their various time-sucking wants and needs? Don’t for one minute think I don’t absolutely adore my life as a wife and mom. But even the best lives need a vacation and, let’s face it, renting a house with your family at a ski resort is NOT a vacation. It’s basically moving your life from one location to another. Unless someone else is making the beds, doing the laundry, and cooking, it’s just the same old life with the added inconvenience of not knowing where anything is in the kitchen.

from Class Mom by Laurie Gelman, page 219

Quote: The Kindest of Lies

We waltzed slowly around the room, between the rows of booths, past the pool table and the chairs, never hitting anything. I guess the loser had spent so much time in that bar that he knew where everything was. He had the gift of all the best dancers: he led you so that you felt as though there was no leading or following involved … The scar tissue above his empty white eyes was furrowed with concentration, and he smelled of sweat and gin.

“Are you beautiful?” the loser whispered toward the end of the song.

I lied a little. “Yes,” I said. “Very.”

The loser smiled to himself and closed his sightless eyes.

Fulton County Blues, by Ruth Birmingham, p. 52

Props to the Bald Guys

“But … but …,” Taran stammered. “Coll? A hero? But … he’s so bald!”

Gwydion laughed and shook his head. “Assistant Pig-Keeper,” he said, “you have curious notions about heroes. I have never known courage to be judged by the length of a man’s hair. Or, for the matter of that, whether he has any hair at all.”

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander, p. 24

Chronic Pain: Poorly Understood

Chronic Pain Could Have a Unique Genetic Basis in Women

You might think this article is going to tell us that women are more likely than men to suffer from chronic pain, or to be underdiagnosed for it.

It’s not.

My main takeaway is that the causes and manifestations of chronic pain are super duper complex, tied up with immune and psychiactric stuff, and (this is the only new bit of information) on a genetic level they appear to operate very differently between the sexes.

We already know, based on our experience living in the world, that women in general are more likely to get sick than men in general. We know that female athletes are more likely to suffer injuries. But this doesn’t mean that men don’t get sick or injured, just that the circumstances are usually different.

We know that different people experience pain very differently and that pain can be made worse by a variety of factors, including being clinically depressed; being hormonal or pregnant (trust me, it’s true); having red hair (sorry, Dutch and Irish ancestors!); or suffering the effects of diseases such as dengue, malaria, fibromyalgia, or Lyme disease. We know that amputees can experience pain in their missing limb, which seems really unfair, and that pain can take on a life of its own and linger in a person’s system long after the initial cause has passed.

The bottom line is, I think we all would like a world where no one experiences chronic pain. Failing that, we’d like to help sufferers as much as possible, above all by believing them. This article nudges us a little closer to that, mostly by confirming: Yep, it really is really really complicated.

I Really Do Love Lucy

(Don’t cry, Lucy, I love you!)

I Love Lucy is one of those shows that everybody feels like they’ve seen, even if they haven’t. Or perhaps they have only seen one or two episodes, such as the famous Vitameatavegamin episode:

(This one was not her fault. The “medicine” had a high alcohol content.)

That was me until recently. I started watching it with my kids because in our chronological study of history, after several years of study we have made it up to the 1950s and 60s.

The first episode came out the year my parents were born. Now, their grandkids, of the generation that loves Anime, Minecraft, and Mario, watch it and they enjoy it. In TV terms, that’s practically Shakespeare. Timeless.

I’m no comedy professional, but here are some thoughts about why the show has aged so well, and what make Lucy so good (besides Lucy herself, of course).

Lucy and Ricky don’t have kids (in the show). This makes all their marriage foibles more lighthearted. The stakes are lower. It makes for a smaller cast (basically just them, Fred, and Ethel as regulars). It means things are less complicated, and the show doesn’t have to deal with all the problems that come up when you have a multigenerational family involved. In that way, it’s almost like Seinfeld, but less bleak because they are not living in New York City.

The show doesn’t always tie up at the end. Unlike the later generations of sitcoms were infamous for, Lucy doesn’t try to “solve all the problems in half an hour.” Sometimes it does, especially in the sense that the characters’ relationships usually reconcile. But often, things just get more and more chaotic, and then end suddenly right at the most chaotic point. Here are some examples of how shows have ended in the season I watched with my kids. Lucy is in tears because she got on the cover of Life magazine dressed as a hillbilly. All the extra meat, which Lucy hid in the building’s furnace (long story), has just been accidentally cooked. Lucy’s increasing efforts to get Ricky to stop ignoring her have escalated until she is dressed as Carmen Miranda.

The men and women are different. Different from each other, that is. Nay, they are stereotypes. And by stereotypes I mean the old-fashioned kind, not the generally much less pleasant modern kind. Ricky and Fred, though perfectly capable of cracking wise, are basically straight-man types who just want to go to work, come home, and eat a good steak. Lucy, while not dumb, is obviously a bit flaky, and prone to take a random idea and run it all the way out to its ridiculous conclusion. And her friend, Ethel, is usually willing to encourage her in this. These stereotypes of men and women stopped being used in entertainment, frankly, before I was born. Or at least before I started watching TV. By the time I tuned in, the women were all super smart, capable, and morally serious, and the men were either their sidekicks, the villains, or the incompetent weights they had to drag around.

Now, I strongly dislike being treated like I’m not capable. But for comedy at least, I’ve got to say, Lucy’s stereotypes of men and women are both funny and refreshing. I actually did not realize that being “the zany one” was even a role that was available to me, much less that such a character could be beloved and not an object of contempt. Ricky seldom loses his temper (beyond an eye roll), and he always still seems to respect Lucy, even when she has (in my view) humiliated herself. The standards are a little lower for respect in Lucy. You don’t have to be genius, perfect, or even competent all the time.

A Special Valentine’s Day Excerpt from The Strange Land

If you are a father of daughters, and you are in a Mugrage novel, just be warned you might find yourself in this situation.

* * *

Hur grinned as he saw out of the corner of his eye his daughter Amal slipping away with some young man. Then he took a sharp second look at the man’s tall, lean silhouette. He darted into the dark and seized his daughter’s wrist.

She jerked back, pulled for a second between the two of them. The man realized what was happening and came to a halt. He approached, and Hur’s face fell.

It was as he had feared. Amal had her eye on Jai, Endu’s eldest son.

“Absolutely not,” said Hur.

Now it was Amal’s face that fell. “But, Papa!” She looked at him in dismay. Her face was round and pale in the twilight; her black hair was falling loose around it. She looked on the verge of tears.

Jai was not on the verge of tears. He was, as always, master of the situation. He took a step closer, looming over Hur without letting go of Hur’s daughter’s hand.

“Do you have something to say to me, Uncle?”

“I do,” said Hur. “No daughter of mine is going to marry a son of Endu. That is final.”

“Oh, Papa!

“It has happened before,” said Jai.

“I am ending it now,” said Hur.

Jai shrugged as if to say that his heart was not broken. “I will take this up with the chief,” he said. He let go of Amal’s hand. Then he walked away, trying to appear nonchalant, off into the darkness.

He stood head and shoulders taller than Hur. Hur could remember when Jai was born.

He could remember when Amal was born, very vividly at this moment.

“I am nineteen years old, Papa,” she snapped.

“I held you nineteen years ago,” he replied, dragging her back towards their hut. “I made a covenant then to protect you. And I still intend to.”

There was no further confrontation when they reached home. Amal hid herself in her bunk, white-faced and crying.

Hur’s wife looked at him with a question in her eyes. Hur cast up his hands and sank to a seat, elbows on knees. He felt weak and dismayed.

He did not say to himself, What was my daughter thinking? She was a nineteen-year-old girl; he did not expect her to think clearly. It was his job to think for her.

And he had failed, or at least left it a bit too late. “It has happened before.” Had Jai been lying, trying to rattle him, or had he told the truth? Hur thought it was the truth. He could think of a few times recently when Amal had been unaccounted for. Well, now she would hate Hur when he forbade the match. She would just have to hate him. Better that she should hate her father for a little while than that she should suffer an abusive fate.

* * *