I sat at the spinning wheel. Grey afternoon light fell through the window behind me. The spinning wheel clicked gently as I moved my foot up and down. Pinch the wool. Draw. Release.
Besides the clicking, the log cabin was quiet. Faint traces of wood smoke lingered, but the hearth was growing colder. With no one else around, I let my mind wander.
Pinch. I hope they’re taking care of him. I wonder if he misses me. I wish I was there—I should be there. Draw. It’s meant to be me. I trust Mairi, but it’s meant to be me.
He’s my son.
Ha! Startled some of you, I bet.
So, here’s what is happening. I think the Victorian Dark Fantasy is starting to gel. The novel has changed throughout Stonecoast—I think the plot’s getting there, now I’m bearing down on voice and character. To help with this, my thoroughly brilliant mentor posed me an interesting challenge:
One thing you might want to do, and this will sound less strange to you as a playwright than to other people, is to go around being each of the main female characters for a while, and do things the way they would do them. How do you feel as those characters? How do you walk and talk?
I laughed in delight upon reading this. So…I thought, grinning, I spend most of my days wearing period-appropriate clothing, doing period things…
Plus…I kind of stole half our buildings.
Heck, I can reconstruct entire scenes in these buildings, mapping out exactly where this character was standing, where that one paused before coming around the corner. It’s like being on a movie set.
So…I have the right clothing (mostly—for two of them, I really need a crinoline, and I only wear that in the brewery), I’m doing the right things, and I’m in the right place. Sometimes, it’s almost a little disorienting.
It’s also taught me a lot.
I’ve always talked with my characters. Usually as mental knitting—on the bus, while walking, during quiet times at work. Just relaxing, asking questions, hearing what the response is. Sometimes full-on conversations develop; Serafine, for instance, rarely shut up once she got going.
It’s one thing to invite a character into your head. Thus far, it’s been quite another to invite them into your skin. Really, really cool, but different. Because this way, I’m not guiding the discussion. I’m not prompting anything. I’m essentially retreating to the sidelines and seeing how my characters assert themselves once they have the space and freedom to do so.
- One worries far more than she lets on; she’s clinging by her fingertips.
- In another time, place, and culture, one could be a geek girl. As it is, she’s sensitive, carefully (and constantly, my God!) analyzing and observing.
- And the last POV character…I don’t think I ever really understood the depths of her possessiveness, her sense of entitlement.
My circumstances definitely give me a leg-up, but it’s also interesting to take characters on field trips. Point out a streetcar, stop in a grocery store. What do they think, how do they react to this world so unlike their own?
It’s been fun—and I still love working on this story, still love exploring these people and their lives. Even after so long (yeah…longer than I anticipated…) the joy hasn’t ebbed.
Let’s just hope that I never, ever answer visitors as my villain.
Actually, that’d be hilarious.
I’ll be good. 😉
Cool Thing of the Week
So, there’s the solar system, right? Then our galaxy, then our “local group” of galaxies, then our galaxy cluster, then our supercluster…and then the filaments.
The thought makes me shiver. So many stars and worlds, so much void between them…
More than anything, it makes me want to write.
“I think the word this year,” quoth Tee Morris at the Shared Desk live cast this past Balticon, “is perspective.”
Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help agreeing. “Perspective” fits this year’s convention on many levels, both in terms of my professional path and in terms of the people walking that path with me. Cons always function as creative pressure cooker and reset point for me: a place to get fired up, but also to take a sober look around and ask, “Whither hence?”
So let’s look at the community first. At any con, there are always “I love you, man,” moments. This Balticon felt like those moments lasted for four days straight. This was one of the first cons I’ve been to where I could walk into a room and know more people than not. More than that: I could walk into a room and have more friends than acquaintances.
That’s growth. And I felt calmer and more confident than at any other con. Lauren “Scribe” Harris put it well, remarking that this crowd has become like family; we don’t need to be ON around each other all the time.
So, perspective: I am very, very lucky. I have always said this, but it’s good to be reminded of it. One of the strengths of the writing community is that it is a true community. We come from all different walks of life, all different parts of the world, we are all different ages. As such, we can teach and support each other in so many diverse ways. Sometimes – especially with social media, where mini-scandals erupt like bushfires – it’s easy to forget the fact that really, the broader community is driven and united by the same passion: for good stories, good writing, and dragons and starships and suchlike.
Seriously. I love you, guys.
The flip side of all the hugging and socializing is the cold, hard look at the professional path. 2013 was a lost year, but 2014 is almost half-over. Where am I going? What are my goals: short, medium, and long-term? How can I get there?
One simple thing for starters: I need to be producing more. Yes, yes, dayjob and schooling, we’ve all heard that before. When I put my mind to it, I can write a LOT. Like, a LOT. Part of the problem has been working harder, not smarter…I say yes to ALL THE THINGS, relying on youthful energy to bull through. That works, but then I’m too drained for MY projects.
It’s partly a matter of prioritizing, partly of allocating my energy better. And I do mean energy – I have the time, I’m just too exhausted to do anything with it. Thinking of this along the lines of an energy budget might help. As might…you know…actually getting sufficient sleep and iron.
Perspective: this was the sickest I’ve ever been after a con. Probably coincidence, but maybe also indicative of the fact that I was running on empty beforehand; I just didn’t have the reserves this time around.
The other perspective gained dovetails with some advice from Stonecoast. Here’s the thing: I write often and well. On a purely technical side, my prose is already pretty clean. That got me a head start, but relying on technique isn’t really enough. Diving into analogy, I could put out table beers that taste fine and ferment in 24 hours…but I want to put out really complex, aged porters. Lagers. Heck, let’s say some 16-year-old scotch. It’s remembering to focus on art as well.
But the only way to get there is to keep writing: well and often. Refine those techniques. Use that head start like a springboard. Depth will come with time – but only if I keep writing, learning, and growing.
Perspectives, man. Perspectives.
COOL THING OF THE WEEK
EAST O’ THE SUN AND WEST O’ THE MOON premiered last night. The kids have SO much to be proud of – they did a great job with a very challenging score and libretto (Norbert and I did not pull punches). Also, I truly do have amazing family and friends… 🙂
Just like the unfurling leaves and May 2-4 Weekend, Balticon is a sure sign that summer is coming. This is my favourite con: relatively accessible from Toronto, just the right size, heaps of wonderful people, and great programming. Between bringing the nice young man, some really cool panels, and the chance to see some dear friends, I’m SO EXCITED for this year.
Of course, because it’s a con, I totally haven’t packed yet and I’m awaiting the appearance of my usual outbreak of convention hives. Plus, I feel barely organized enough to get the nice young man and I safely on the plane, but hey—it always works out in the end.
Want to find me during the con?
Beyond Medieval History (panelist), 4:00 pm – 4:50 pm, Chase
Reading (with Veronica Giguere and Val Griswold-Ford SQUEE), 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Pimlico
The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (presenting), 5:00 pm – 5:50 pm, Derby
Writing Real Children (panelist), 7:00 pm – 7:50 pm, Salon B
Skool Daze: Pursuing a Writing Career While Still in School (panelist), 11:00 am – 11:50 am. Parlour 1041
How Hard Can It Be? Jumping out of Genre (moderator), 1:00 pm -1:50 pm (Chase)
When I’m not doing panels, I’ll be roaming. You can probably find me hanging around the New Media/Literary side of things, or drooling over steampunk things in the dealers’ room (I’ve somehow acquired a tendency to accumulate stuff for the dayjob…). Come say hi, if you’re around—I wear a pounamu necklace and I am bespectacled.
I am so looking forward to this. Can’t wait to see everyone!
Cool Thing of the Week
Um. Balticon. ‘Nuff said.
The above quotation popped up in my feed this week. Usually, I don’t pay much attention to these sorts of quotes-and-images, but this one struck me. Maybe because I’m back at the dayjob.
As I’ve discussed many times, I steal places pretty shamelessly. From the dayjob, our Second House shows up in my story “After the Winds” as the heroine’s home; it reappears as the Braes’ house in the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Burwick House also shows up in both stories; the Doctor’s House is the main set piece in another. I fell in love with New Zealand, too. Its impossibly green hills roll through the “text-based interactive online game.” If you look closely, you can spot its caves and long white clouds in one of my Stonecoast workshop submissions.
Call it the historian in me, but I like this notion of things we love living on in stories. In fact, I’m writing a story on similar lines: an alternate Toronto, one which contains everything in this city that was lost, destroyed, or covered up and buried.
It all lives on.
Writers are like sponges that way. We absorb everything around us, often not even aware that we’re doing so, and even we don’t know when, where, or how things will rematerialize. It’s like catching partial reflections from shards of mirror. All of these memories and experiences get broken up and glued back together: rearranged, reimagined, and reversed.
Ray Bradbury wrote about this much more poignantly than I can. If you haven’t read Zen in the Art of Writing, go find it. Even if you’re not a writer, his insights can be applied to most creative processes.
In one of the essays, he asks, “What do you want more than anything else in the world? What do you love, or what do you hate…there is zest in hate as well as in love, [and it will] fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.”
So what do I love?
Well, specifically looking at how much Black Creek pops up in the Victorian Dark Fantasy…I love the way the sun sheens off the barn roof on crisp autumn mornings. I love the fallen leaves crunching under my boots, the sharp smell of smoke when the fires get lit. I love the steam that curls along the brewery’s ceiling when we cool the wort. I love the way the loaf pans are all dented along one edge, because that is where the peel jams into them as we remove them from the bake-oven. I love the bleached-bone paleness of the bricks inside the bake ovens.
There is joy in these small details, the little things which, as Bradbury says, “…at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” It’s this notion of “looking and re-looking.” What makes this inn, this farmhouse, this hearth different from all the others?
As writers, it’s our job to find out and explain. If we’re writers in love, then part of us already knows.
Cool Thing of the Week!
At last, I have obtained my own teapot and kerosene lamps. My church does an attic sale every May, which means that every April, I volunteer to haul the goods up from the basement. I salivated over the lamps the moment I saw them two weeks ago, so I was very disappointed when I arrived at the sale and couldn’t find them anywhere…but then, one of the sales volunteers exclaimed, “Oh! You’re the girl! We have your lamps!”
My lovely church ladies had stashed them safely away for me, to prevent anyone else from making off with them. My ladies are awesome.
Edits for the Victorian Dark Fantasy continue apace. After weeks of poking at it every so often, it’s like the pressure in my head has built up to that point where I no longer have any say in the matter. All good books are like that, I find. You hit the point where writing it stops being a choice—you have to.
Which is a good thing. A very good thing. There are some pretty deep edits here; nothing that actually changes the story that much, just reordering of scenes and characters that are a little tricky to effect. This isn’t editing with a chain-saw; it’s performing delicate surgery.
One of the major changes? Swapping one of the POV characters. The Victorian Dark Fantasy is written from three first-person point-of-views: our heroine, the villain, and our heroine’s husband. Only then I realized that the husband’s sister actually has more at stake and a more interesting/pronounced character arc…from a craft and structural perspective, it made more sense to have her narrate.
Here’s the thing, though: it’s not as easy as going through the husband’s scenes and switching pronouns. (She looked at me quizzically > I looked at him quizzically) We’re literally seeing the scene through a new pair of eyes, which means that every single detail gets interpreted differently.
Voice changes substantially. It should, anyway. You, me, Bob down the street, we all have different takes on the world and a unique ways of expressing ourselves. Charlotte’s more tightly-wound than her brother. Throw in some high-stress situations, and she becomes downright prickly. Which tends to manifest in a harsher, more sardonic tone than we previously had in those sections.
It’s kind of like dialect and accent. There’s an external stimulus; how does your character take it in, make sense of it, and then express it back to the world?
Thoughts Hidden, Thoughts Revealed
Unlike in omniscient POV, where you can dip into multiple characters’ heads in a single scene, first-person and third-person limited narrators can only relate their own thoughts. This is hugely fun. Maybe I’m just a jerk, but I sometimes enjoy using POV limitations as almost a sleight-of-hand. Sort of a she-doesn’t-know-he-knows-she-knows thing.
Yeah, I’m a jerk.
But the point is, I’ve had to edit out the husband’s thoughts and replace them with external action. Same thing with Charlotte.
It’s probably easier to show you. Here is the original, from Ned’s POV:
Charlotte cocked her head. “What are you thinking?”
I meant to tell her about the whisperings I’d heard, but instead I blurted, “I miss Sara.”
Charlotte gave me a sad smile, gazing down on me much the way she had in our nursery days. “I know. I miss Findley.”
Despite myself, I felt like a child once more. “I wish I could write her a letter, let her know when I’ll come home. Too much longer without any news and she’ll start fretting.”
“So will the Braes. They think I’m sick, remember?” Charlotte rose to check the fire. She tossed more wood on it, adjusted the crane so that the kettle hung over the hottest part. “Sometimes,” she continued, her back to me, “I can’t tell if it’s a good thing that Findley won’t worry.”
And the edit:
He fell silent, gazing across the cramped space towards the smouldering hearth. Subdued, unusual for him. I cocked my head. “What are you thinking?”
It took him a moment to answer, conflict playing over his face. Then, he blurted, “I miss Sara.”
My heart broke a little. “I know,” I said quietly. “Less than a week, and I already miss Findley.”
“I wish I could write her a letter, let her know when I’ll come home. Too much longer without any news and she’ll start fretting.”
“So will the Braes. They think I’m sick, remember?” Needing to do something with my hands, I rose to check the fire. I tossed more wood on it, adjusted the crane so that the kettle hung over the hottest part. “Sometimes,” I continued, murmuring more to the fire than to him, “I can’t tell if it’s a good thing that Findley won’t worry.”
Same scene, same dialogue, same actions, two POVs. In the second round, we see Charlotte’s thought process in asking after Ned. We see Ned conflicted over something, but because we’re not in his head, we don’t know what (which might be a problem later on…did I mention that I’m a jerk?). Likewise, in the first version, Charlotte goes to check the fire. When she’s narrator, we see the reason why.
Which leads me into…
Every Action Originates From an Intention or Trigger
I was pretty proud of this little epiphany. Seriously, learning that actors attach a verb to every bit of dialogue has helped my writing more than I ever thought possible. What does it mean, though?
Basically, with every action you take or word you utter, you’re trying to accomplish a goal. Think about it. We’re having a really intense discussion, you get up to open a window.
Why? Maybe you’re feeling so uncomfortable, you need physical space from me. Maybe this discomfort is also having a physiological effect. Your face feels flushed, so you’re trying to cool down, as well. Both of each relate to the goal/verb: self-soothe—I want to make myself feel better.
You’re at a party. Someone you like is also there. Maybe you stare down at your beverage—I want to avoid embarrassing myself. Or maybe you strike up a conversation with someone nearby, making sure everyone nearby can hear how charming you are—I want to impress him/her.
When the scene is not in a character’s POV, we only see the external action. When the scene is from their perspective, we see the internal trigger/thought process as well.
Rewriting these scenes has been almost like playing with audio. Some parts of Ned’s track get muted; Charlotte has no way of “hearing” them. Conversely, some of Charlotte’s levels get brought way up; if we’re in her head, they have to be prominent.
There is a strong temptation to not do this. After all, the scene has played out already; Charlotte and Ned have made their choices as to what they’re doing and saying.
Except I’m the author, I have the red pen, and sometimes for the sake of the story, you have to “re-dream the dream.”
Restart. Let the scene play out again. Let it go differently.
First scene: Ned’s checking out the mysterious curtain that divides the worlds, Charlotte’s keeping him safe. Which was cool when it was his POV. But tell me, which is more interesting—a mysterious curtain, or making sure your sibling’s still breathing?
Yeah. I thought so. In the edits, Charlotte got the interesting action (because POV character), which necessitated some dialogue switching. A little rephrasing to match each character’s voice, but really, no big deal.
This is actually really fun. I’ve loved getting to know this character better. And I’ve loved writing some new solo scenes for her. So much more interesting than swapping pronouns!
ALSO: Cool thing of the week!
Remember how I fell in love with The Star of the County Down? I found this image of the song’s heroine. If anyone ever turned this book into an animated Disney film, this would be Mairi.
You may notice this site looks different.
Oh man, this overhaul was so incredibly overdue. I’d not been happy with this blog for…well, too long. The tipping point came when I looked at the banner on Tee’s site and realized, “Wait a second – I know how to do that now. I could do that!” The roomies and I attacked our house pretty good for spring cleaning, so why not go after my online home the same way?
Besides, I figured it was about time to think about the future, and this site was looking a little antiquated. You guys, I’ve been blogging here since I was twenty. I’m 23 in a few months. Also, while I tend to start adding a year onto my actual age about three months before my birthday, this year has been worse – in my head, for reasons unknown, I’m suddenly 24. Because I’m crotchety like that. I know that if I say, “I’m getting old,” I will be smacked six ways from Sunday…but time is passing. I’m getting older (happy?).
So I sat down and had a good think. And also, some ginger slice. What directions am I moving in now? What are my plans for the rest of 2014? What do I want to write?
I keep coming back to the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Ye gods, I had SO MUCH FUN writing that. I’m having SO MUCH FUN editing it. And then, there are vague stirrings of another Victorian-ish world rumbling ’round the back of my head; something set in Magical 1870s Toronto. And then, there’s the steampunk….
So I think we can safely say that Victorian-flavoured fantasy is a persistent preoccupation for me. Bearing that in mind, I started looking for cool fonts (Tales from the Archives has its own font; I wanted one, too!).
Looking through them all…I imagine it was very much like when normal people go dress-shopping. I got to try on all sorts of different ones, searching for the one that felt right, the one that said…me. Or KT Bryski. Either way.
I liked this one. See, isn’t it cool? Also, while it’s wayyyyy too early to make anything like these…I made these. The Victorian Dark Fantasy makes me too excited.
Even though 2013 was a lost year in my books, I still did some things, and those also needed to be recognized. I have a handy Fiction page now, which I’ve updated to include things besides Hapax. I’ve sold three short stories! And…erm, I’ve only ever written three short stories…
Which means that more short fiction is on the books (heh) for 2014 as well. The more I do it, the more I like it, and I’d like to have more than three in my repertoire. Doesn’t matter if my streak continues (and it won’t – my supply of horseshoes is going to run out eventually), I’d just like the experience of having written them.
Plus, over the past two years, I’ve started doing other stuff. It’s important, I think, for us to remember the things that don’t fit in the usual box we assign ourselves. I write a beer blog. I do freelance editing (for reasonable rates!). Apparently, I write opera libretti and games. Yeah, I was a wee bit surprised by that, too. One of my big fears of leaping into writing so early was that I’d have one story in me – flash in the pan, young author, didn’t live up to her potential.
Who knows? But right now, I feel stable and supported, and I’m raring to go. The last of the winter detritus has been swept away, and this weekend is kind of about rebirth anyway, right?
Let us spring forth!
Between interning for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, dayjobbing, and writing my own pseudo-Victorian fantasy, I’ve been pulling out my research fu.
I smiled when Pip and Tee asked me to post Victoriana to the Ministry Facebook page. See, after working at Black Creek, writing the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and cramming my last few terms with nineteenth century history, I know where to find Victorian things.
The Internet Archive
Ah, www.archive.org, you are one of my best friends. Sometimes, I think I may even love you. The Internet Archive is a free-access digital library. Because it’s free, it mostly has materials which are long out of copyright.
That means it’s absolutely fantastic for primary sources.
Seriously, you can read whole books online. For free! Admittedly, it can be a bit persnickety with search terms: it’s best to either a) have a hugely wide net, or b) know exactly which title you want. And don’t even bother with the basic search if you’re doing historical research: advanced search is where it’s at.
The McCord Museum/Musée McCord
I’ve used the McCord Museum for the dayjob, the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and for the Ministry. It’s a very well-maintained site—there are all sorts of virtual tours and exhibitions to explore online.
They’ve got an extensive collection of Victoriana, much of which is easily accessed online. Really, it’s one of my main go-to’s for visual references—especially Victorian clothing. (I owe what little fashion vocabulary I have to the McCord Museum)
The Victorian Web
This venerable website (and yes, it does look it—just bear with it) is one of the oldest scholarly/academic sites out there. It has articles on a wide range of Victorian topics, including some really niche ones (stained glass and gaslight, anyone). Plus, it’s a bit like Wikipedia in that you can follow a trail of hyperlinks, drifting from topic to topic…only it’s not a site that anyone can edit, which helps me sleep at night.
But come on, I was a university student in the 2010s. Of course I like Wikipedia.
Although I’ve heard the horror stories of profs purposely inserting false information to show how unreliable Wikipedia is, I maintain that it has its uses. First, it’s a good way to get a general overview of a new subject before diving into more detailed information, avoiding that grasping-at-straws feeling.
Second…Wikipedia is a good place to start your bibliography.
Let’s search…oh, let’s search Victorian Gothic.
Ignore the article itself and scroll down to “Further Reading” and “External Links.”
Aha! A ready-made list of scholarly websites and books! Gothic Revival; The Gothic Revival & American Church Architecture; An Episode in Taste, 1840–1856; Of knights and spires: Gothic revival in France and Germany; the Victoria and Albert Museum Style Guide…
It isn’t a full bibliography, but it’s a good place to start.
Public Library Databases
All history students know that articles take less time to read than books and usually have more specialized information. And thank goodness—you don’t need to be in university to access them!
Most public library websites have a section that says “Research” or “Articles” or something similar. If you’ve got a library card, you can click through until you get to the databases themselves: something like EBSCO or Gale Cengage or Academic OneFile.
Many will also have digital archives. I didn’t even sign into the Toronto Public Library site and found this 1912 picture of the dayjob’s Half Way House:
I credit my high school history teacher for a) getting me interested in history and b) teaching me how to get good at finding stuff. Yes, it’s great for writing—but also, it’s the thrill of the chase.
Which is why I sometimes get sucked down the black hole of Cool Victorian Stuff…but that’s a post for another day. 🙂
One of my required readings for school this term was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Happily, I had already purchased and read this book some years ago. I reread it, and this time, Lamott’s emphasis on short assignments and the one-inch picture frame struck me.
When everything seems too overwhelming and you don’t know what to write about, you write about as much as you can see through a one-inch picture frame (metaphorical or otherwise). At work, there’s a mysterious green bench that appeared on the porch of the big red farmhouse. It’s the green of kids’ green poster paint and my boss exclaimed to me, “It looks like a Christmas bench!”
“The Christmas Bench,” I mused. “It sounds like a kids’ story, where people sit on the bench and learn the true meaning of Christmas and all that stuff. One day, I’ll write it.”
And I kept trying to. I kept scribbling about Christmas and what it means to me, and how it’s changed, but I kept hitting walls and giving up.
Until I remembered the one-inch picture frames.
I’d like to write about Christmas now.
For three Saturdays in December, the pioneer village stays open until 9:30 pm. We do Victorian Christmas things. Oil lamps light the entire village with a soft warm glow (hence, Christmas by Lamplight). Food gets handed out, live music plays, I’m usually down in the brewery slinging beer.
But before all of that, there is dinner.
The table in the middle of our staff room serves as its focal point. Really, they are two long, narrow tables stuck together. They have shiny blue tops and shiny black legs, like the lunch tables you’d find in an elementary school. The chairs have the same shiny black legs and blue seats, but that’s some kind of easily-wiped padding, so they’re not too uncomfortable. Our lunches are split into five separate shifts; there are usually only three to four people around this table at any given time.
Lamplight is different. See, on Saturdays, we close at 4:30. We don’t need to be back out until 5:45. Some people go out. Most people seem to stay. And so, instead of only three or four people, it’s nearly everyone, all brown-bagging their dinner. Although it’s only 4:30, people grab their dinners right away, because there’s always a rush for the microwave. Tupperware and frozen dinners line the counter just in front of it, queuing while their owners claim seats around the table.
It’s always kind of anxiety-inducing when your turn at the microwave comes up, because you’re very conscious of the long line behind you, but at the same time there’s nothing worse than only partially warming your stew and biting into an icy chunk of potato. So you balance and ponder and eventually settle on a time that’s somewhere in the middle, and you probably pull it out halfway through to stir it up and check on it. Inevitably, someone hears the microwave door opening and leaps up. You feel kind of bad that it’s a false alarm, but hey, icy potatoes are gross. And by then, you can usually smell someone else’s dinner, something that smells way better than yours—leftover chicken or pizza or someone else’s stew—and your stomach pinches with hunger.
When your dinner is mostly warmed through, you take it back to the seat that you hopefully saved earlier. There are more people than spaces, so some people are sitting on chairs along the walls with their dinner on their knees, and some are standing by the sink. But maybe you left your reticule, or a water glass, or got someone to guard it for you, so you sink onto your chair. And God help you if your seat is near the back wall or the pop machine because it’s hard to maneuver around all those ballooning hoop skirts.
And then we have dinner together.
Sometimes there are baked goods in the middle for people to share: bread that didn’t sell or cookies that can’t be served to the public, but for the most part, everyone is eating their own meals. And yet, it’s still having dinner together. All of us, at the same time, in one place, talking and laughing and shouting greetings as those coming just for Lamplight sweep down the staircase in their street clothes. A half-dozen conversations fly around the room, and people keep getting up to get more water, or passing coins down the table for pop, or running off to fix their hair or change.
People you never see because they’re not on your shift are there. And people you always see are there. And people you love chatting to but never get to have lunch with are there. It’s near the end of the season, so we’re tired, but we know Lamplight. We’re wrapping things up, both at the village and with each other. Soon, we’ll be scattering for the winter, seeing each other less often, but for right now, we are together. Since it happens every year, I can breathe the sigh of relief that comes with knowing the end of the story.
It warms the cockles of my stony heart. Roughly twenty people who probably would never have met otherwise, melded into one of those strange non-biological family units that we craft from our friends. At Christmas, having everyone together becomes even more poignant because we know that soon we’ll be going our separate ways.
And that’s my one-inch picture frame on Christmas.
No matter what you celebrate, my best to you and those you care about. Stay warm and safe, and have a wonderful time with your friends and family.
Originally, this was going to be a post about Thanksgiving, and how my warm-and-fuzzy love for my friends and families (biological and otherwise) overcame my knee-jerk reaction of “Screw. You.” After all, I have a lot to be thankful for.
But then I was still feeling sad, so I left it. And then I wondered if I still talk about grief too much, and why can’t I be an adult and keep my feelings inside? And then I started panicking about being a burden and a Negative Nellie. Then I wrote a really long post about my absolute dependency on work/writing as a means of distracting my mind from itself, but I deleted it.
So, anxiety isn’t fun. Neither is grief. Mix the two of them, remove every distraction, and you have yourself quite a party.
And now I’m here, wondering if writing about the grieving process is brave or just irritating. Does it shine a light into the dark spaces to discover that none of us going this is alone? Or does it just shine it into the eyes of everyone else, making them throw their hands up and cry, “Owww!”
It’s a question of public vs private processing, I suppose. And it occurs to me that I can drag history into this. Last year, during one of our special Halloween weekends at the living history museum, I was assigned to be “in mourning.” I got to wear a special black dress, a veil, and gloves, park myself in front of a casket, and talk about mourning customs (in character). It was some of the most fun I’ve had at work.
I’m never doing it again.
But here’s where I’m going to make the connection (and adopt my Interpreter Voice). See, in the Victorian era, grief and mourning were hugely public displays. There were strict codes and timelines, depending on your relationship to the deceased. Dress was particularly prescribed. Widows wore full mourning—black clothing: especially crape, since it doesn’t combine well with anything—for a year. Second mourning followed for nine months. Widows still wore drab fabric, but with some trim and the veil worn back over the head. Finally, this all lightened to half mourning, a period of three to six months characterized by a gradual return to colours (greys, mauve, browns, etc.).
Children mourned their parents for a year.
Among the upper classes (and those aspiring to the upper classes) the grieving process was incredibly intricate and elaborate. This is where we find hearses drawn by black horses wearing black plumes, ornate headstones, long wakes with the body lying in repose…. During those first, numb days, as we were scrambling to make arrangements, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the Victorians.
After all, you’re not thinking clearly. You’re in shock. It’s very much like being in a dream; you look back on it later and wonder how any of it seemed to make any sense at the time (I remember showing up at choir rehearsal Tuesday night—two nights after—and being very confused as to why people were surprised to see me).
But I digress. My point was that while the outward display didn’t necessarily match what was happening on the inside, Victorian mourning didn’t hide itself. Somewhere along the line, we became uncomfortable with grief—our own and others’. We started shunting death aside. After the funeral, you’re kind of left to stumble along as best you can, never quite sure if you’re “doing it right.”
Of course, there is no right way, not really. That can be comforting, but sometimes, it’d be nice to know that the feelings at any given point are normal. Does this mean I prefer the Victorians’ mourning?
Not necessarily. It’s funny, though. Last fall, as I brightly responded to visitors’ comments about the casket’s small size with, “Wellington was big where it counted…in his heart!” I felt sorry for widows having to still wear mourning clothing two years on, because surely they’d be over it by then?
Now, I feel bad for the children, given only a year to mourn their parents. At least on the outside.
I guess no one, Victorian or otherwise, really knows how to handle grief. And perhaps that’s comforting. If no one knows what the heck is going on, no one expects you to have an answer.
But yeah, Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. I’m intensely thankful for all of you. Lots of hugs.