It’s dark when we wake up, this time of year. Sometimes, I go out before the chickens are up. I come into the chicken coop, and they are all still sitting on their perches. They see me and look down for a good spot to jump down to and start their daily routine of poking around outside all morning, then taking a nap under the tall weeds around noon.
The rooster, belligerent that I have announced the morning before he did, hastily crows a “Cock-a-doodle-do,” looking askance at me like, “I was going to do it! Why are you rushing me?”
Sometimes, after the bus takes Big Z away, BAH and I go for a walk up the road. The sun is just rising over the hills. The leaves are all changing. A mist floats around us, as though Dracula himself will materialize. He might just become visible, only for a moment, a shimmering form in the haze of morning. And then, he will disappear as quickly as he came. We will be left to wonder if he was ever there at all.
Just like these October mornings will disappear, soon enough. But for now, they remain, shimmering in the haze.
I just finished, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s a historical fiction/horror novel about Dracula— but calling it that really doesn’t do it justice. Here are seven reasons I loved The Historian:
1. Immediately, I was drawn into this book. Kostova is a master of language. “My dear and unfortunate successor,” begins the letter that changes everything. (I now want to start every blog post here, “My dear and unfortunate reader.”) She writes in a few different styles, depending on who is speaking, but it’s always old-fashioned. To read this book is to enter into a world where cat memes never existed. And that is good.
2. The story is complicated, but it all makes sense. Kostova uses the found letters approach to telling the story. The narrator finds letters which tell a long and moving story from the past. And the people writing those letters also find letters (letters inside letters inside letters.) Meanwhile, the narrator’s present is also becoming more and more perilous. There are actually four timelines going on:
1. The present day, referred to in the forward and afterward.
2. The 1970’s, when the narrator was a teenager.
3. The late 1950’s, when the narrator’s parents met and went searching for Dracula. These stories are first told to her by the narrator’s father, and then later told in found letters from her father.
4. 600 years ago, when Dracula was alive. (Alive and not undead.) This is told in letters from monks. The monks’ letters are honestly a bit tedious, but well done. I’m actually not sure if the author made up the monks’ letters, or if they are truly historical artifacts from the real world.
3. The idea that books themselves can be powerful and dangerous is a prevailing theme. It’s scary to read, because this thought pops in, “Should I really be reading this?” People in the story who read books about Dracula are given a special blank book, with a wood cut print of a dragon in the middle. Then terrible things happen to them. (If you really want to freak me out, just leave a blank book with a dragon picture in the middle somewhere around my house. I won’t sleep for a week.)
4. The narrator remains nameless throughout the story, which begs the question, “Is the narrator really Elizabeth Kostova? Is this a true story?”
5. I’ve never been to Eastern Europe during the reign of the Soviet Union, but now I feel like I have, a little bit.
6. This book reveals the inner workings of a secret society!
7. The Historian is a fairly long book, over 600 pages, and if you really love the writing style like I did, it’s nice to luxuriate in that story for a few weeks. I liked that it was long.
So, basically, I liked everything about The Historian. I rate it five out of five Birds in Beards.
My favorite comic is Teresa Burritt’s Frog Applause. I check it every day. To my delight, Teresa Burritt is also a fan of my work. I know this because she told me once. And also, I know this because (to my delight) she included a mention of my Birds in Beards Coloring Book in her comic today:
How cool is that? Pretty cool, in my opinion.
If you are a member of Gocomics, or if you don’t mind signing up for a free membership, I have a wee little favor to ask: Could you go to the bottom of the screen at the web site for this comic and leave a comment that somehow indicates that the Birds in Beards Coloring Book is actually a real thing? Thank you so much. I would be exceedingly, incredibly grateful to you. In case the link over the words doesn’t work, here is the link for the comic:
I took my daughter to piano lessons one day, and waited in the piano teacher’s living room while she taught a small class of students downstairs. A father was in there, too. I was getting ready to butcher chickens in a few days, and I was taking orders for chicken meat from the piano teacher and anyone else who might like some. I mentioned that to the dad,
“I use the pastured poultry method espoused by Joel Salatin,” I said. And that was all it took. He just started an endless monologue about raising chickens. The only problem was that he had never actually raised chickens at all.
“Oh, you raise chickens for meat?” the man said, “There was this guy I heard of from Australia who raised chickens for meat and he said…” This Dad talked about something he knew nothing about for I don’t know how long. Fifteen years or so, it seemed like. It was a true manologue. He had many misconceptions about chickens, in general, and every time I tried to interrupt him and tell him he was wrong, he didn’t even hear me. He went right on talking.
So, basically, this is a textbook definition of mansplaining (if only there were feminist textbooks): A man goes on and on in a condescending way about something he knows nothing about, talking to a woman whom he assumes to know nothing. The woman knows more than the man thinks she knows, but he will never find that out. The thing that makes mansplaining different from simply talking too much is the assumption by the man that the woman knows nothing. He has unconsciously assumed she knows nothing because, you know, she’s a woman.
How does this happen so often? It’s been proven by sociologists that men talk more than women do in mixed groups of people (groups with both men and women). And women encourage it. Women talk less and interrupt less frequently than men do, especially, again, in mixed groups of people. Women worry about negative consequences for speaking out, and sadly, our worries are founded! (Source: Yale University Study) Women who speak out more do experience backlash, in the way of being thought of or referred to as too aggressive or “unlikable.” And so, we speak less. Even though we may know a lot, we don’t always say so. We don’t want to brag. We want to be ladylike. And maybe that man knows a lot, after all. (We also have a confidence problem, as a group.) Which in turn gives men time to speak more.
From the get go, women are told in subtle ways that we do not count as much as men do. Look at this game my daughter and I play together. It’s called “Guess Who?” It’s a two player game, and each person has a board that only they can see. The board looks like this:
Each person draws a card with one of the characters on it. Then the players ask yes/no questions until they guess who the other person drew. The winner is the one who guesses the other person’s face correctly first.
If you draw a woman in this game, you’re probably going to lose, because of the twenty-four characters represented, only five are women. Your opponent need only ask, “Is your character female,” and they have already narrowed it down to five. Now, beyond making the game sort of stupidly unfair, this arrangement is really annoying. In a game where you are choosing from a sampling of people, why are only 21 percent women? I don’t know. Maybe because whoever conceived of this game didn’t really consider women to have the same amount of value as men?
My daughter likes this game a lot, so I haven’t thrown it away or anything. I just make sure that every time we play it, I say,
“I can’t believe there are only five women in this game. That’s so stupid, because you know fifty percent of people are women.”
Okay, so now you probably are saying, “So what?” And in the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. Except… well, except that so many things are like that. Most main movie characters are male and speak more than female characters. Even when princesses are the main character, they speak less than the male characters in their movie. (Source: The Washington Post ) And then there are all the women’s magazines constantly telling women how to please men. Men, it seems, don’t want to hear all of your “thoughts.” It’s better to just look good (and be good in bed) than to sound good or be intelligent. Look thin. I think these magazines are so prevalent that we don’t even see them anymore. At least, I don’t. But look:
For comparison, this is what a search of men’s magazines looks like:
When the men are wearing clothing, my eye automatically goes to their head, which is of course where I think we should be looking on the women, too! And notice how when these famous men do a photo shoot, they aren’t required to be half naked. If you see a naked person, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say your first instinct is not to ask them to explain serious subjects. Your mind goes to… other things. But when you see someone wearing business attire, or even a nice fitting teeshirt, and he is looking right at the camera, my first instinct is to actually wonder what he has to say.
So, I don’t know how to cure society’s ills, but I do want to say this: If you are a woman, stop doing this if someone doesn’t know what he’s talking about:
Interrupt and say, “You’re wrong because…” I should have done this to the chicken guy. I didn’t. I waited for someone else to come along, and then I slipped out. I left him mansplaining to another woman! I’m sorry, Sister. You deserved better. I was afraid of being rude, but this man was being incredibly rude to me, and I should have called him out. Louder. So that he heard me.
Another way to make women’s voices heard is to, when you are in a mixed group, listen for intelligent things said by women, and then repeat them to the group. Example, “I like what Jeanette Andrews said when she mentioned that…” And build on it. Do that improv trick, “Yes, and…” But always make sure to mention the woman by name. Validate her. If you have a choice between quoting a man or a woman, all things being equal, quote the woman. Together, we can have a bigger voice.
If you are a writer, make sure you write female characters who talk about more than how to impress men. If you are a board game designer, please have as many female pieces as male pieces (if your game has characters with gender). If you are parent to a daughter, turn a blind eye sometimes to yelling, to burping, to telling bad jokes, to stating opinions about subjects that interest her. You have to stop her when you would stop a boy, is the idea. It’s hard to figure out where the line is, sometimes, but please try. You might also try letting her get really dirty and blowing things up out in the yard, letting her shoot arrows, build rockets- you get the idea. If she’s into that stuff. And teach her that humans both male and female should try not to make assumptions about someone else’s knowledge, or lack of knowledge.
Of course, we all need to listen to one another, most of the time. And we almost all talk too much, sometimes. When all else fails, I hang out with the chickens.
This is the Cutest Sheep in the Universe, Mimi. Mimi is a pure bred Jacob Sheep. She is one of Yoshimi’s spring lamb twins from 2015. (The other is called Yoshi.)
Mimi’s horns go straight out and curve down in front of her face- not a common sight. I wonder what the world looks like to Mimi? Is it like having giant stripes of cataracts in your eyes? When she was first growing the horns, I was afraid they would go out so far that she wouldn’t be able to graze (because the horns would touch the ground before her mouth did). Luckily, that did not happen.
Mimi has the most amazingly thick eyelashes. She’s like a camel. She could be a mascara model, for sheep make-up, if that’s ever a thing. (There are sheep shows. It could happen!)
Mimi’s personality is somewhat shy and sweet, like most sheep. The only time I have ever seen her upset is when her mama, Yoshimi, had triplets this past spring. Then she tried to chase the new lambs away, and I had to put Mimi in a separate pasture. It’s not easy when you get three siblings in one day. I felt for her.
With all of the hoopla around this U.S. presidential election and that crazy dude Tim Kaine saying all of his crazy stuff (I mean really, can we go a day without hearing something crazy that Tim Kaine said?) the news stories that really matter seem to have been largely ignored! Namely, this picture of the Loch Ness Monster, taken by Ian Bremner:
Unlike most photos of Nessie, this one is crystal clear. Bremner (a whiskey warehouse worker) said he wasn’t looking for Nessie, he just noticed this later, after he took the picture. He wasn’t even really a believer in Nessie, before this.
Wow. I mean, wow, right? Unbelievable.
I don’t know how anyone could still be in doubt about the Loch Ness Monster. Illustrious filmmaker Werner Herzog has even made a documentary, Incident at Loch Ness. Watch the film, and then you will see. Nessie lives.
Keep looking for magic, and as Fox Mulder would say, “The truth is out there.”
My ultimate goal in life is to read everything Dwayne Fry has written. But my “therapist” (that voice inside my head that I feed Port wine and Wheat Thins) says, “Baby steps, Shoshanah. One book at a time.” Most recently, I read Dwayne Fry’s book, Sarah With The Black Hoodie and Other Rotten Tales. And, honestly, I didn’t even finish it. I was just so taken with the first story that I had to write a blog post about it.
For those who have never read Dwayne Fry, the thing to know is that he is king of the short story. And then the other thing to know, not about Fry but about me, is that I have read Little House on the Prairie out loud a few times. I live in Wisconsin, where the original Little House in the Big Woods is set. This really kindles our imaginations here abouts, especially for the younger folk.
And the thing I’ve learned, reading the Little House books out loud, twice over? Don’t think about it too hard, or you’ll realize that “Pa” is a freaking crazy dude, not right in the head, that his wife is his slave, that he makes his family pick up and leave, every time life gets almost bearable. And why? Why do they have to move again? Across the tundra? Why do they have to build a new house and start all over again? Well, Pa thought there were too many people. Or Indians. Or something.
Which brings us back to Dwayne Fry. The first tale in Sarah With The Black Hoodie and Other Rotten Tales is a parody of Little House on the Prairie. Apparently, I was not the only one who read the Little House books and thought Pa was a jerk. And that makes me happy. Very happy. And it’s a good parody. I laughed out loud, as they say. A lot.
I suppose I should read the whole book before writing a review, but you know what? It’s 99 cents. Just that first story is worth 99 cents.
Thank you, Dwayne a Fry. I no longer feel alone in thinking Pa was a freak.