Image by Clifton_58 via Flickr

In addition to NaBloPoMo, it’s also NaNoWriMo. How a month short a day and leading up to Christmas became the writer’s New Year, I cannot say, but in my lack of wisdom, I am playing along.

Why not?

I am missing fiction and an idea for my Eubie Blake character has been plaguing me since our trip to Penticton in August, so I will tap it out and see what happens. The worst that could happen is nothing. And since nothing ventured is precisely as much gained, there isn’t much risk involved as I am way over the need to “win” at the end of the 30 days.

It’s time I got back to serious starving artist stuff anyway.

*Just a reminder that the clock is mercifully winding down at the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs contest where I cling to the top five. You can vote still and daily, so if you haven’t and are inclined to boast my ego a bit, click here.

Garden Spells Collage for blog

Image by The Daring Librarian via Flickr

OPHELIA (from Hamlet, Act IV scene IX)

There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.—There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end (sings) For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy
That’s one of my favorite bits from Hamlet. I have favorites within Hamlet. I just think the character is a pathetic whinger.
It’s the symbols. I love symbolism. In this case flowers and herbs are likely as medicinal as they were moral rebukes though 16th century folk aren’t likely to have benefitted much from herbs. The church had done a good job of demonizing anyone (and by “one”, I mean “woman”) who practiced medicine via herbs.
I thought about Ophelia‘s little monologue when I sat down to write about the book, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, because one of the main characters practices a form of magic using plants and herbs she grows in her back yard garden.
It’s a delicious little read. Southern simmered and magically realistic, it centers on the Waverly family and the strange magic that emanates through them via their family roots – figuratively and from their enchanted garden.
The garden is a hoot. It writes thank you notes and is watched over by a petulant apple tree that throws its fruit at people, trying to get them to eat of it and dream about the greatest moment in their lives.
Something that the Waverly family strives to prevent. The sisters scold the tree and bury the apples that it throws. Eating them is no joke because the greatest moments in the lives of most people are their deaths.
In typical women’s literature fashion, there are rivalries and man trouble. Sex looms and lives are … not so much transformed but freed of self-restraint and resumed.
I don’t want to say too much more and give it away as the story is formulaic enough that it telegraphs a tad bit more than it should, but I throughly enjoyed it. Coming in at 286 pages, it’s light and warm and perfect for the late summer.

Wolf Hall was, maybe still is, the ancestral estate of the Seymours. Jane was Henry VIII’s third wife and the mother of Edward VI. She came in between the headless wives and contrary to popular myth, Henry did not routinely murder his wives. His first and third wives died of age and childbirth respectively. He’d divorced number one because he became convinced he’d sinned in marrying his brother’s widow, as she was, and that this was the cause of his son-less state. A hugely big deal in the Middle Ages. Well, let’s be real, being without sons is still considered tragic to lesser or greater degrees depending on where in the world you stand. He annulled his fourth marriage on grounds of ugliness and bad breath, and wife six survived him but only just. Wives two, five and six were adulterers to varying degrees with two and four losing their heads over it and six barely managing to outlive him before being arrested for treason herself. Wife two’s guilt isn’t proven but five and six were definitely involved with other men which given Henry’s reputation was just plain stupid.

Wolf Hall is mentioned infrequently in the novel of the same name by Hilary Mantel. In fact the Seymours only appear when the author wants to foreshadow or make a specific point about creeping evil. Jane Seymour’s father was a lecher who carried on with his daughter-in-law at one point and may have even fathered his own “grandchildren” on her. Jane herself is a quiet voice of practicality who is continually affirming Cromwell’s (the main character’s) information about the debauchery that goes on in her childhood home.

Wolf Hall represents the slip on the slope and it’s not until the end of the novel, after Thomas More’s head is piked on London Bridge that Cromwell heads off on his first visit to the Seymour’s. But an astounding amount of teetering on the top of the slope has taken place by this point and even if I didn’t know that Thomas Cromwell will lose his own head at a not to distant point in the future, I’d be able to guess it.

I love Tudor England. Sometimes I wonder if my affinity suggests that I lived a life or two there. There are only a few other time periods I am drawn to so perhaps.

It was not a simple or simple-minded time. Henry is neither monster nor misunderstood. Thomas More is no saint and Cromwell not as soulless as the history books would like us to believe.

History is suspect. It’s written by the winners and the vanquished never get to tell their side of the tale. Tales, being multi-sided like houses and books, should represent, don’t you agree?

Wolf Hall is a sumptuous read. It’s so hard to find decent fiction anymore that I am a bit sad when I finish. Thick text though so be aware that an audio version might be better. I found a delightful discussion about it at The Slate and will leave you with a pulp version of Tom and Henry.

Opening note: Unexpectedly Dee and I are both ill, so nothing got done yesterday aside from articles I needed to write-up for the new education blog (live soon).  I don’t know what losing a day will do and I am going on holiday with the family next week, so factor that. Comment or suggestion as you please. It’s a rough draft but for a couple of chapters I wrote long ago and plan to work in.

It’s a Trailer Park Kinda Life

Karen’s divorce finalized just after the start of the new year. The for sale sign which had popped up in the yard in the fall after her husband, John, had moved in with the 20-year-old Hooters waitress he’d knocked up became a sold sign. And just like that another of life’s foundations shifted uneasily beneath the weight of Julie’s world. Six months earlier, the four of them cranked up the grills every Friday night, potlucking between patios while their teenage children raided the grilled goodies and disappeared into  sticky August evenings. Fifteen years left little new to discuss but plenty of memories to rehash. Without trying Julie realized she’d become the mother half of her parents. She recalled summer nights playing kick the can until the fireflies were the only illumination in the fenceless backyards that made up the playing field while her parents and her friends’ parents laughed, drank and played cards. They hosted by turns, but the formula never varied. Seared meats, a relish tray, chips and an assortment of homemade desserts to sample.

Karen and John had moved into the house next door after a rapid succession of renters pushed Jimmy into putting up a privacy fence that exceeded the subdivision’s code by an even two feet.

“Someone’s going to turn you in,” Julie pointed out. Rules were immutable in her worldview but from Jimmy’s vantage they were flexible to the point of being guidelines at best.

“That’s what a saw is for,” he told her.

No hurt. No foul.

And then the rental agency, tired perhaps of the revolving door, abruptly sold it. Karen was pregnant with Roth and dragging her four-year old Bailey from the car when they met. Julie, a newlywed and struggling instant mom of a five-year old girl, instantly recognized her kindred spirit trapped inside the body of a stay at home mother.

“I hate this,” she told Julie. “I shouldn’t be moving away when you guys need me.”

“You moving two blocks,” Julie said. “I think we’ll be okay.”

“That’s not the point,” Karen said. “None of this should have happened the way it has.”

They were in the kitchen like Custer at the Little Bighorn  by  half-packed boxes mocking their attempt to divvy up 18 years worth of Correll, Pampered Chef and Tupperware. The boxes were labeled “me” and “douchebag”. Douchebag’s boxes were brimming with the tattered and mis-matched.

“If it’s ugly, stained or came from his mother, put it in those boxes,” Karen had instructed.

Julie didn’t comment on her friend’s observation. The day after Jimmy’s diagnosis, she’d decided that dwelling on thoughts about fair or what should be would only be distracting and in the kind of way that turns a woman into a bitter cat lady. Fatally jaded and living among creatures that would lick anything off themselves was not a healthy life’s path in her opinion.

“Dave should be dying and not Jimmy,” Karen said.

“Don’t say that,” Julie said quietly as she sorted through the flatware. There were no fewer than three complete sets in the drawer. Her own cutlery drawer harbored fugitives from nearly every stage of her adult life. Spoons from the Currier Hall dining room. Two matching place settings she’d bought from a next door neighbor of her parents who held a garage sale that summer before she’d moved to Nogales for her first teaching job. And the garish Fiestaware inspired survivors she’d schleped back two years later when the job market loosened and she finally found a position at the local high school where she’d taught on and off ever since.

“Why not?” her friend countered. “It’s true. No one will miss Dave. Except for that idiot minded little slut who thinks a forty something with an ex and two kids is the romantic equivalent of the Powerball and our equally without taste dog. Even the boys won’t talk to him and they’ve pretty much forgiven him every asinine thing he’s ever done until now.”

“You make it sound like some people deserve to die and others are too good for it.”

“And that’s not true?” Karen didn’t look up from her seat on the pantry floor where she was arbitrarily assigning the generics to her ex-husband’s boxes of foodstuffs.

“He’s making you divide up the food?” Julie asked.

“No, it’s just easier than making a run to the food pantry today, and you didn’t answer my question,” Karen replied.

“No, I didn’t,” Julie said as she dumped all the utensils into a douche box. “Let’s just go to Target and get you a new kitchen.”

She didn’t want to debate the ideas of a destined universe without karmic overtones versus a chaotic, uncaring one. It really didn’t matter in light of reality. What is mattered and what should be was the stuff of Disney Princess movies.

Karen looked up, beaming.

“What an excellent idea.”