Monthly Archives: September 2013

Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-House . . .

The Coffeehous Mob, frontispiece to Ned Ward, Vulgus Brittanicus, or the British Hudibras part iv (1710)

The Coffeehous Mob, frontispiece to Ned Ward, Vulgus Brittanicus, or the British Hudibras part iv (1710)

…were written by A. Genius in 1763. In the year of 2013, the spirit of A. Genius has filled my cup. To be honest, as the originator of “Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl,” I’m the only genius around these parts. Some might argue with that assertion. Let them; see if I care. Returning to the anonymous, yet self-esteeming, author of “Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-House,” I downloaded the Kindle edition of his 250-year-old book and have been reading it while performing the tricks necessary to make sense of garbled, public-domain e-texts. As an 18th C nutcase, I’m at home reading an ƒ as an , given the context and a desire not to sound like Elmer Fudd during monologues and recitations. These garbled e-texts, though–egad!! They’re difficult, even for my generally mixed-up mind that is at home with Dpftor is undfer fome apprchenfions and other strange characters.

In usual fashion, my mind began to wander to more amusing reading material, such as what comes after the frontispiece to Ned Ward, Vulgus Brittanicus. Those were the days, weren’t they? When a man could enter a coffeehouse and slam down a text of Descartes in front of a perfect stranger and demand an intelligent opinion, the world was a better place. It had to be. How else do you explain the image above? The frontispiece mob must have been a true history in its depiction of a real coffeehouse event because men with tri-cornered hats were known for throwing coffee in the faces of their detractors. Fie! Fie! Your separation from your mind has been too long, you pot-bellied looby of a litckspittle! Ah, how a fine brew stimulates the mind! It stimulates right down to the merriest insults.

In all my numerous coffeehouse days, I’ve never seen anything so exciting as a coffeehouse mob. Can you imagine if this occurred in one of our modern smooth-jazz-playing, corporate Bohemian cafes? No, it never would. Those are the places of pretend free-speech and intelligent thought, which allow no buffoonery, except during scheduled events, where the scheduled parties find themselves amusing and avant-garde, even though Jack Kerouac did it better in 1959. Nowadays, the coffeehouse has become the internet. There is where you will find the mobs, the creative insults, the doggerel, the ad hominems–all right alongside intelligent critiques and philosophical essais.

I have no idea who A. Genius is–certainly not me, as I find the text to be gibberish. Ned Ward, however, was an actual man, regardless of whether he wasn’t a genius. He was a publican and a satirist–a High-Church Tory who once had to stand in the pillory because he accused the queen of not supporting the Tories in Parliament. Although the pillory may sound like an amusing punishment (sort of pillowy, really, where silly people lob marshmallows at you), it certainly wasn’t. People could die while in the pillory, owing to the free-for-all mob allowed to throw more than coffee at the head of the accused. Criticizing the monarch, in those days, was an act of sedition. So much for the world being a better place.


How are you enjoying the atmosphere of this particular internet cafe? Are you drinking a fine strong cup of coffee as you read the wit-verging-on-stupidity you find at I’m not. I’m thirty seconds away from a glass of wine and my bed. Sleep is what comes before coffee, coffee before a day of work, a day of work before wine and bed. What a mobless life I live, dripping time through a coffee sieve.*

*That was to give you a taste of doggerel.


The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow

Jessica Thomas is the purveyor of a new spec fic zine! And guess what? I have a story in the first issue, as well as a review of my book, Anna and the Dragon. Check it out: The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow! This is exciting to me for many reasons. For a start, Jessica bravely stepped up to the plate to start her own publishing imprint, which this zine is housed under. It’s my opinion that she’s going to hit a home run. I just finished reading the first book from the imprint, her very own Moon Dust Castles. I’ll write a review of it as soon as I get a chance. Meanwhile, check out the quality of her writing and editorial skills.


News of the Week: Doing Away With Denialism

Regular readers of this blog (my loyal facebook friends who all think I’m really smart and cool, a little redneck named Jed, and Dan) know how I feel about being a Denialist. When I first stumbled across this term in Scientific American et. al., I was skeptical of its usage in the proper English of scholarly writing. However, Michael Shermer, my favorite man about town, defined its usage by his own excessive usage of it, and I’ve come to understand that Denialism is not only real, as well as perfectly grammatical, but also a disease that needs to be quarantined in order that those susceptible won’t catch it. Free inoculations from the PED haven’t yet curbed the spread. Geneticists currently suspect that people, especially those with a Y chromosome, are genetically prone to catching the disease, even post vaccination. Therefore, the only answer, really, is emergency quarantining to curb the contagion.

Thankfully, Popular Science has performed an emergency quarantine by shutting down their comment threads, in which the bacterium known as h. delirium was spreading at an alarming rate. I applaud their decision. If you are a denialist on this being a good idea–having been exposed at any number of internet sites–I would suggest you listen to the voice of reason and seek out appropriate medical treatment. Denialing the word of science experts is dangerous. Negarismo [sic] la palabra de los expertos es peligroso. ¡PELIGROSO! Let’s all be critical thinkers about this. If you don’t yet believe in the dangers, Popular Science is nothing if not scientific:

LaBarre cites a University of Wisconsin, Madison study that, among other things, found that: “Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.” . . . LaBarre says the often politically motivated debates erode the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics, such as evolution and the origins of climate change. She says that on occasion they will still open the comments section on select articles that “lend themselves to vigorous and intelligent discussion.” The windows of communication will also remain open on other platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and the hope is that readers will still chime in there.

“Don’t do it for us. Do it for science,” she says.

If you read the above NPR article and the comments–which have, oddly, been allowed to propagate unchecked–you will notice that there are those who pretend to be reasonable, such as a woman who calls herself Bernadette. “I understand Popular Science’s intent, but I think it would be better if they used a pre-approval moderation system with strict rules,” she opines. While the idea that censorship of speech is better than the outright monstrosity of preventing free speech, this woman obviously doesn’t understand the risks inherent in spreading the h. delirium bacterium. She has not experienced the side effects of the disease–the useless limbs that cause shuffling limps, impotency in males (who are more susceptible than females, as new research shows), and head tics. As Sinead O’Connor so wisely sang some twenty years ago, “These are dangerous days. To say what you feel is to make own grave.” Although denialists may claim that they aren’t stating what they feel at all, but what the facts suggest, the experts don’t agree with them. The h. delirium bacterium, when allowed to infect the mind, will cause great emotional upheavals; it will eventually cause death. You will, to speak poetically and literally at one and the same time, be digging your own grave. Indeed, these are dangerous days.

Please, for the sake of Western Civilization, stop spreading the disease of denialism. Para salvar a la civilización occidental, por favor, dejar de ser un negadoralist [sic].


Embrace the Cardboard Troglodyte

Rose finally convinced me to travel to the Capital with her for a shopping extravaganza at the mall. Truth be told, I’d avoided the proposed trip for almost a year and a half, even though Rose, along with my other friends, gushed over the 80% off sales they hit there. I couldn’t have cared less, really, except that my children did need shoes. While I doubted the 80% off claims, I was still reasonably certain that the price-to-quality ratio of shoes found at the Capital Mall would be better than could be found in our pauxdunc town. So before I sent the kids to my mom’s house for the day, I drew outlines of their feet on paper and folded the little paper feet into my purse. As an opposing force to me, Rose preferred shopping with a crowd and, hence, forced her two eldest boys to make the trip with us. Her other four kids she, too, sent to my mom’s.

Rose was an enthusiastic woman who embraced motherhood right down to her physical appearance. Side by side with her, it didn’t appear that I had birthed multiple children as she had. After all these years, I hadn’t managed to add a single inch to my hip measurement, and that was not to mention that I retreated from being an overweight, energetic mom. I don’t know what it is about women who pack pounds on the general hip region. They run around as if fueled by the EFAs stored there. Oh, yeah, and they make me dizzy. As soon as Rose and I entered the mall, I realized my mistake in making the trip with her instead of going solo. She would drag me around like a recalcitrant child, as she always did. She reminded me of my mom. To this day, I’m not certain why my mom never believed me when, as a child, I complained that the mall gave me headaches. The piped-in synthetic fragrances and new materials were enough to knock out the heartiest, even Rose, who suffered from sinus problems. Yet, Americans still continued to crawl all over the malls, twenty-odd years past their 1980s heyday. What did they think the mall would accomplish for them? Good God above, please let the 80% off myth be true just this once! Maybe that was it.

Rose had already decided that her errands were ten times more important than mine. She ran off in one direction, and then another, as if somebody had fired a Go! shot, but she didn’t know where the fabled finish line waited. Her sons were soon caught in her tailwind and drifted off with her; I didn’t try to keep up. That’s not exactly true. I did at first. Rose needed to visit formal dress shops–her eldest son was to be married in May. He couldn’t manage to feign interest in what his mom would wear to his wedding, but she did all the feigning for him. He was simply along for the ride with a to-do list from his wife-to-be, which I guessed he would not do. He was the type of young man who gave compliant murmurs, and proceeded to do whatever he wanted. In fact, after compliantly following us to various shops that would ostensibly have fulfilled his to-do list, but where he purchased nothing, he slunk off toward the bookstore with a mumbled excuse.

I wished I could be like a compliant young man who wasn’t. For some reason, Rose insisted she needed me to help her pick something that would slenderize her. Rose never listened to me, regardless, and that was part of the pretense. She needed somebody along who would listen to her, not somebody who would advise her. I was, therefore, to feign interest and pretend I had no needs of my own. Her second son was in this for new soccer cleats and would get his heart’s desire if he followed his mom around long enough. As for me, my desires ran to quickly ferreting out suitable shoes for my children. Afterwards, I would find it pleasant to sit on a bench, drink coffee, and stare at the odd cross-section of people who passed through the mall.

Despite the direction-less stumbling around, the three of us managed to find the main plaza. This was the place to be because it had maps of all the shops and eateries, which were centered around an enormous fountain that appeared to be an Aztec pyramid. Rose, true to form, ran down the wet fountain steps as a short-cut to the formal-wear store she wanted. Although I tried to run down the steps, too, I slipped on the top step and realized that what was simple for Rose might be deadly for me. I would come crashing down and, possibly, crack my head on one of the decorative rocks. I took the long way around, hoping I would catch sight of Rose on the other side. To my chagrin, I couldn’t see her or remaining son, not down any of the mall corridors.

At first, this turn of events annoyed me. Rose was an annoying shopper, but she was my best friend, as well as my ride back. I shrugged. She hadn’t exactly waited for me. We both had cell phones and could find each other later. Remembering the paper feet tucked in my purse, I studied the list of stores until I found the Shoe Emporium on one of the maps and headed in that direction. I never did find it in the maze of stores and eventually stopped short by a healthcare booth in the center of a corridor because I recognized one of the two women who were helping people choose health plans there. Back when I was in my twenties and still had hopes of a writing career, the woman and I had joined the same critique group. She was a woman of mysterious charm, no doubt owing to her enormous smile. She stood smiling between two cardboard cutouts that represented the healthcare options. One cutout was of a cartoonish mad-scientist, wearing a monocle and a white doctor’s jacket. The other depicted a hunched-over woman who resembled a Disneyesque old crone.

“Pat?” I shouted at my old friend.

The woman squealed, ran over to me in her signature three-inch spike heels, and caught me up in a hug. She was nearly sixty, yet smelled of perfume that cried out her remaining attempt at sex appeal. Her cheeks glittered with gold dust.

“Wait one minute,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

I watched her sashay over to the next booth, which was filled with gold bling. She waited on some young gang-bangers there, turning on the charm for them. She had always dated younger men, but these “men” were practically boys. Aside from that, during a group chat with some of our other writer friends, I’d learned the young men weren’t falling for Pat anymore. When somebody dared to ask her why she didn’t date men her own age, she claimed men her age were boring and conservative, two of the worst traits a human could possess, in her not-so-humble opinion. Somehow, she’d given my boring life and libertarian views a pass a long time ago. We were artist friends, soul mates. The same martyr blood beat in my veins that beat in hers. Or so she thought.

Back at the healthcare booth, she engaged me in conversation on the typical subjects for discourse among old friends: writing, politics, and universal healthcare. Whenever we stumbled on a controversial topic, she would mysteriously find she had customers at the bling booth and sally off in order to avoid confrontation. After a while, this annoyed me, and I directed a point-blank question at her about the healthcare plans she was selling (healthcare and bling–aye, what writers have to sell for a living!). She already understood that being forced to pay into a corporate health plan enraged my normally calm self. But because I had to have a plan by mandate, I asked her about the options.

On a national level, there were two: I could have care with the Troglodytes (as represented by the mad scientist) or with the Gobernadoras (as represented by the bruja). The Troglodytes were a group of conservative, anti-abortion males, whom Pat despised. The Gobernadoras were traditional curanderas who would provide abortions at their own discretion. Ah, abortion–that was a controversial subject for most people. Pat ran off to her bling booth before I could manage to form any words. The other healthcare woman, quiet up to that moment, gave me a pitying look.

“Don’t worry, the Troglodytes are outlawed in this state,” she informed me. “But it’s the national law to tell you they’re available as an option.”

“I don’t understand. Why would one of the two options be outlawed?” Better still, why were we just hearing about this now?

“It’s part of the culture here. The Gobernadoras are considered to be the protectors of society, and so they sued to keep it that way. They’re the ones who decide whether an abortion is necessary when they divine the baby’s heart post-birth. They’ve been protecting society here for hundreds of years. We don’t need outsiders to take that role from us.”

I swallowed. I’d heard of such things, but when I’d written up reports on the local medicine tradition back in college, I was only allowed to cite the propaganda. According to the official documents, the native herb ladies were Holy Healers who didn’t involve themselves with divining. I shook away my unease as I stared at the mad scientist. Then I studied Pat, whose cackle of laughter assaulted my ears, even though she directed it at the young man examining one of her gold watch bands. After all these years, Pat and I were nothing alike. Writing was no longer a career I longed for, and I wasn’t certain why I’d remained a member of various writing group forums. I liked Pat; that was why. She was my sixty-year-old friend who was destined for loneliness. I liked her, as well as the other writers who moaned and groaned about the sorry state of publishing and the world.

By contrast, Rose never moaned and groaned and, yet, I was nothing like her, either. She directed her energy toward happy endeavors. Likely, her happiness was owing to never choosing to wear spike-heeled shoes. She wasted far too much money on shoes, but her choices ran to expensive exercise wear. Pat clicked back over to the health booth, the smile and gold dust intact on her face. She handed me our state healthcare pamphlet, which detailed the one available option. I pretended to absorb myself in reading the fine print, but thankfully, my phone vibrated. It was a text from Rose, sent to me and her missing son. If others had joined us on this shopping trip, she would have sent the message to all those who couldn’t keep up with her mad sprees. MEET ME AT ROMANO’S! she shouted at her son and me in text.

Unlike both Rose and Pat, I directed my life toward banal endeavors, such as shoes for the kids. Sometimes, though, I needed what others barred from me, and not because it was barred, but because I didn’t prefer to have old crones examining what I brought into the world. Therefore, I needed my own friendly troglodyte, even if I had to leave the state to find him. An overwhelming desire to embrace the mad cardboard scientist washed over me. I determined to snatch him up and run away with him, and I smiled to myself as I imagined Rose’s amusement at discovering my cardboard health provider sitting next to her at our lunch table. I also imagined him ordering a dish not on the menu, and recommending I do the same. Troglodytes were like that.


The Archetypes Inside

The last couple of nights, my husband and I watched a string of older movies together. We watched Drop Dead Fred (1991), Benny and Joon (1993), and Flash Dance (1983). Story-wise, all these movies are very well done. I tend to focus on story symbolism to the point that many might think I’ve gone the way of obtuse scholar critics who simply aren’t in touch with the real world, that is, the real “story” world as given to us by a real author living in physical reality. One dynamic of story I haven’t focused on as much is the archetypes of people rather than setting. However, in any successful story, classic archetypes will play out their roles in the lives of the characters. In unsuccessful stories–the ones, which for me, don’t quite ring true–the authors have an apparent lack of understanding for archetypes. So call me obtuse; I don’t care. I like discussing these aspects of story that the subconscious recognizes as truth.

In Drop Dead Fred, we have a young woman named Lizzie who loses everything, and I do mean everything, in the space of an hour: her husband, her job, her car. She’s the type of woman who’s mousy, dresses like a little girl, and who wouldn’t know how to stand up for herself if she had to for any reason. In fact, after losing it all, her controlling mother forces her to move back to her childhood home against her will. Once there, Lizzie opens a jack-in-the-box that sets free her imaginary friend, Fred. Enter Lizzie’s shadow. Drop Dead Fred creates trouble wherever he goes. He doesn’t allow anybody to step on him or Lizzie because he’d rather be the one to step on others in the name of fun. Through Fred, Lizzie is able to break free from her controlling ex-husband, which allows her to unite with her helpful animus (her new romantic interest), who in turn encourages her in her new erratic behavior. In the end, she breaks herself free from her controlling mother figure and is united with her divine child (herself as a child, and then as the girl child of her animus). Drop Dead Fred doesn’t ever leave her, as he says he must, but turns up as the imaginary friend of the animus’s girl child. All of these elements are overtly done. It’s a campy movie. Lizzie even banishes her mother while in a dreamscape of her childhood home, and that’s not to mention that the entire story thus far has moved forward like a dream. Although the plot is quite effective, and the film has something of a cult following, it doesn’t rate very high on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s far too overt in what it’s trying to accomplish.

I’d like to write a little more on this subject throughout this week, but I’m going to pause after describing the bare bones archetypes of this first film because if you want to learn about Jungian tropes and how they work in stories, this movie is a good place to start. You don’t have to do much analyzing to understand what happens in Lizzie’s mind and why it happens. I will leave you with this tidbit that will end in advice: I watched Drop Dead Fred in the theater when I was eighteen. I rejected its campiness without too much thought. It lacked subtly, and I was at an age when I didn’t want to acknowledge my shadow side, otherwise known as all the things about myself I was ashamed of. Now that I’m forty, I watched the story in good fun and found it incredibly cute, funny, and rewarding. But I had to mature in order for that shift to occur. Because there is no guarantee that a reading or viewing audience will have the maturity to be self-aware, at any age, Drop Dead Fred may make a very good case for erring on the side of subtly. If the archetypes are subtle, the reader may be effected in a subconscious way and may not realize why he or she either hates the story or, conversely, loves it. If you haven’t seen this film, though, I recommend it for further study of archetypes.