And now, a few words about history

In CNN’s reporting on T***p’s remarks yesterday, this, among other choice bits, would have made me laugh if I weren’t so angry and heartbroken about what the man is doing to our country:

On Tuesday, though, Trump defended his 48-hour delay in denouncing white supremacists, arguing that he took his time because he didn’t know the facts.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” Trump said, calling his initial comment a “fine statement.”
He added: “I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement.”


But I’m just going to leave that there and instead address this portion of his remarks: “‘You are changing history, you are changing culture’ by taking down statues to past leaders.” [He was referring specifically to the dismantling of statues of Confederate leaders.]

A) If by “history” you mean the actual facts of the past, well, they don’t change, although they can be discovered, buried, overlooked, newly revealed, etc. Here are a few actual, pertinent facts about US history: our nation was born from invasion, genocide, kidnapping, oppression, and abuse. The Confederate leaders were not US leaders; they were (self-evidently, one would think) leaders of a polity that rejected and violently turned against the United States. Whether or not you think the Civil War was about slavery, the Confederacy was clearly enabled by institutionalized white supremacy–which existed in the rest of the country as well and has yet to be laid in its grave once and for all.

B) If by “history” you mean the way the facts and events of the past are interpreted and retold, well, this is changing all the time as new facts come to light, new ways of looking at them become possible or relevant, new methodologies allow data to be analyzed in new ways, and so on. As historical awareness shifts and grows, why wouldn’t a consensus arise that, for example, the leaders of a violent movement to destroy our nation should no longer be regarded as heroes? That doesn’t mean that we forget the events of the past–it just means we tell them in a way that makes sense given our current knowledge and understanding.

C) Given that our nation began with war crimes and wholesale human-rights violations (see A above), ‘changing culture’ has become part of the American fabric. Our nation has been on a fairly consistent (though not steady) trajectory to expand and ensure human and civil rights to ever more people, embracing differences of every kind and recognizing the commonality and fellow citizenship of all Americans. Events like Charlottesville remind us that we still have a long way to go, but they also remind us of how important it is that we continue to strive to be better than our beginnings, and of how many people remain committed to the ideal of an America that embraces all–even if our so-called president isn’t one of them.

Imagine the American Dream

One of my hobbies is genealogy, and one of the cool things about genealogical research is the variety of information you can get from census records. Not only can you learn facts such as who was regarded as the head of the household, what your ancestor’s occupation was, where her or his parents were born, and what each family member’s first language was, but, because the census takers went from house to house (or flat to flat) in order, you can see the same kind of information for your ancestor’s neighbors. In 1920 my mother’s great-grandfather Henry Lupton (whose father was an immigrant from Yorkshire) lived on West 5th Street in Elmira, New York. His next-door neighbors were a Syrian couple and their Canadian- and American-born children; the census taker lists every family member’s “mother language” as “Syrian,” which may have been Assyrian (or, of course, Arabic). Next is a Pennsylvania family, then an Irish widow, then another Irish widow, her son, and two lodgers, a couple from New York. Down the street are two or three Irish-speaking families, with some family members born in Ireland and some in the United States. Then comes a Swedish family, the parents born in Sweden and the children in Pennsylvania, all speaking Swedish. The final entry on this census page is a man from Germany. The majority of the people on this multicultural street own their own homes, and most of them (women as well as men) are employed. The range of occupations is fascinating: owners of a shoe repair shop (the Syrian family), lineman for the water company, machinist, railroad car inspector (the second Irish widow’s son), salesman in a butcher shop and saleslady in a candy shop (the widow’s lodgers), railroad brakeman, nurse, milliner, hemmer at a knitting mill, carpenter, guard at a factory, stenographer, telegraph operator, railroad section boss (the Swedish father), bookkeeper and telephone operator and teacher (the Swedish daughters, ages 25, 22, and 20 respectively), and inspector in a factory. Imagine visiting this street, hearing English, “Syrian,” Irish, Swedish, and German; imagine the pride these people took not only in their own homes but in their neighborhood. Imagine how they must have supported one another’s businesses and other endeavors; imagine how they must have asked after one another’s children and looked in on the elderly and the ill. Imagine how they saw and heard (and perhaps even appreciated) the differences among them, but no matter what respected one another’s work and contributions to the community. Imagine everyone in this neighborhood was part of “us” and there was no “them.” Imagine the American dream.

Fear and Hatred Only Beget More Fear and Hatred

What happened in Nice is beyond horrible, and there is no excuse for anyone taking the lives of others in that way. However, we must be careful not to generalize from the murderous actions of one individual who may have believed he was acting in the name of Islam. If the majority of Muslims supported the ideology of groups like the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda, the violence and terrorism would be ubiquitous and nonstop; the world would be (perhaps literally) on fire. On the contrary, the majority of Muslims are trying to live their lives decently and peaceably just like most of the rest of us–and they have a harder time doing it not only because of suspicion and prejudice, but because they are the ones who are most often targeted by IS and similar groups. For our part, to look at an act of terrorism by one man (or even a group of men) and say “It’s Muslims” is gross overgeneralization, equivalent to looking at the acts of terrorism committed by Eric Rudolph (aka the Olympic Park Bomber) and saying “It’s Christians.” Moreover, when we engage in this kind of generalization, we are playing into the “Islamic State’s” narrative of the West vs. Islam. The more we stoke fear and hatred and suspicion of Muslims, the more we play into the terrorists’ hands, and the harder it is for us to make allies with moderate and progressive Muslims. Hating and fearing a group of people only succeeds in convincing those people that they need to hate and fear us. That’s how the terrorists win.

Following the North Star

I have known many people (including myself) who at times have despaired at the impossibility of being morally or ethically perfect. For people who follow the Ten Commandments or other specific sets of guidelines, they may seem very concrete, but fulfilling them all is still a challenge–and then there are all the situations that those commandments and rules don’t cover. People who follow a single moral precept–whether it is “Love one another” or “Harm none” or some other overarching principle of ethical conduct–can have an even more frustrating time. How, after all, is it possible to go through life without ever causing any harm of any kind?

Some years ago, I finally found an answer to this question that made sense to me. More importantly, it relieved me of a tremendous burden of guilt, and without the weight of shame and self-reproach, my heart became more open, making me better able to follow the path of doing good rather than harm in the world. This is the answer as I first encountered it, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace:

The problem is whether we are determined to go in the direction of compassion or not. If we are, then can we reduce the suffering to a minimum? If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.

I recently came across another elaboration of this analogy on the website of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs (which is quoting Thich Nhat Hanh’s For a Future to Be Possible):

To practice nonviolence, first of all we have to practice it within ourselves. In each of us, there is a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of nonviolence. Depending on our state of being, our response to things will be more or less nonviolent. Even if we take pride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny microorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by being vegetarian, we are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want to head north, we can use the North Star to guide us, but it is impossible to arrive at the North Star. Our effort is only to proceed in that direction.

Will I ever reach the North Star? No, I won’t–but it will always show me the right path to take, even if I temporarily stray or lose my way. And so the ideal of nonharming, of perfect love, ceases to be a self-defeating absolute imperative but becomes an inspiring vision, a gentle push to keep going in the right direction.

Music Review: La Luminosa

Rivka Levin’s La Luminosa is well named–as anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Levin perform at the Georgia Renaissance Festival or Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern knows, “the luminous one” perfectly describes her voice and spirit. Levin’s clear soprano and the crystalline sound of her harp complement each other perfectly. Most of the selections here are from the British Isles, but there is one in Italian, one in Spanish, and one in Hebrew (a setting of Ruth 1:16-17–the “whither thou goest I shall go” section, which is often read at weddings). Five of the tracks are instrumentals, which show off Levin’s sensitive and masterful harp playing; I love all of these, but I think my favorite is the Welsh tune “Llydaw.” Of the vocal selections, my favorite may be “Star of the County Down,” which Levin infuses with a sense of gentle longing that I have not heard in any other interpretation of this song. La Luminosa is a lovely CD that will appeal equally to fans of the harp, Celtic music, and/or Renaissance fairs–and, above all, to anyone seeking an experience of beauty.

The Healer’s Choice Playlist/Soundtrack

I love music, but I usually don’t listen to it while I’m writing; I find my attention too divided. However, I often listen to music while I’m warming up for writing, and I get a lot of inspiration and energy from music at all times. I do a lot of prewriting and development in my head, with scenes playing out in my mind like my own private movies–and of course, movies have soundtracks. Some pieces of music seem like the perfect complement to the scenes, situations, and characters I imagine; occasionally a piece of music even inspires a scene or plot development. So, as many writers do, I have a playlist for my book; in my case, it’s like a soundtrack for the Healer’s Choice movie-in-my-mind.

After I first put the list together, I reconstructed it on YouTube, although I had to substitute in some pieces that weren’t available on that site. Here, now, is the original playlist/soundtrack with artist and album information; I’ve also indicated which scenes or characters I think the pieces go with, hopefully in a way that doesn’t give spoilers for readers who haven’t yet finished reading the novel. Most of the selections are available on iTunes or Amazon, but for independent musicians I’ve generally linked to CD Baby or Bandcamp, which in some cases are the only sources for their music. Happy listening, and if you like these songs, I hope you’ll support the artists who created them!

[opening credits] “Four Doors to Elfland” by Emerald Rose (Archives of Ages to Come

[healing] “Opening Om” by Celia (Sound Spirals) or “Ground, Center, and Shield” by Celia (For the Asking)

 [night journey] “Veli” by Hedningarna (Karelia Visa)

[the Sanctuary] “Hiraeth” by Carreg Lafar (Ysbryd Y Werin)

[Taras] “Branle des chevaux” by Stefano Pando (Lute Works)

[Corvalen] “Lady in Black” by Damh the Bard (Sabbat)

[heron flight] “Chant et danse (2 duduk et percussion)” by Jordi Savall (Istanbul)

[in the stars] “Fortune” by The Canadian Brass (English Renaissance Music)

[devotions] “Ispariz” by Irfan (The Eternal Return) 

[all is not well] “Ice Storm” by Alexander James Adams and S.J. Tucker (Ember Days) or “Para Barei” by Corvus Corax (Seikilos)

[apprentices] “Ahven” by Kardemimmit (Introducing Kardemimmit)

[the Kel Sharha] “The Caregiver’s Song” by Celia (For the Asking)

[confrontation/the Watcher of the Beeches] “Vinda” by Leaf (Lys) 

[news] “Cymbeline” by Loreena McKennitt (The Visit)

[prisoner] “Lady, We Must Flee” by S.J. Tucker (Ember Days)

[the Mothers] “Ancestor’s Song” by Kellianna (I Walk with the Goddess

[the colors of night and blood] “Viima (Cold Wind)” by Hedningarna (Karelia Visa)

[Rossen’s chase] “Polska” by Garmarna (Vedergällningen)

[homecoming] “Basse dance sur jouissance” by Stefano Pando (Lute Works

[mentor] “Night in That Land” by Nightnoise (Shadow of Time)

[procession] “Hymnus Apollon” by Corvus Corax (Seikilos)

[farewell] “Lisa Lan” by Carreg Lafar (Hyn)

[watching by the pyre] “Märk Hur Vår Skugga” by Pia Fridhill (My Swedish Songbook)

[the Council] “Sol” by Leaf (Lys)

[a daughter’s blessing] “Lullaby” by The Canadian Brass (English Renaissance Music)

[soldiers’ songs] “Wee Be Soldiers Three” by New World Renaissance Band (Where Beauty Moves and Wit Delights) or “Bache, Bene Venies” by Philip Pickett and the New London Consort (Sinners and Saints)

[the ford] “Krummi” by Valravn (Nordic Voyages)

[coming to terms] “Mieleni Alenevi” by Värttinä (Vihma)

[to the trees] “Robin Hood and the Tanner” by Richard Searles (Scarborough Faire)

[under the beech] “In All That Is Green” by S.J. Tucker (Ember Days

[sister and brother] “Peace” by Sarah Jarosz (Follow Me Down)

[treaty] “Closing Om” by Celia (Sound Spirals) or “Awaken” by Celia (Letting Go

[horses] “Rince Briotanach” by Clannad (Clannad 2)

[alone] “Dark Wings” by Wendy Rule (The Wolf Sky)

[the riverbank] “Afon yr Haf” by Carreg Lafar (Hyn)

[the Watchers] “Täss’on Nainen” by Hedningarna (Trä)

[to the Sanctuary] “Fram á Reginfjallaslóð” by Ragnheiður Gröndal (Þjóðlög)

[the House of Healing] “Corrente” (track 14) by Rolf Lislevand (Nuove Musiche) or “Sarabande” by Rolf Lislevand (Scaramanzia)

[swordplay] “Baba Yaga” by Annbjorg Lien (Baba Yaga) or “Luseblus” by String Sisters (String Sisters Live)

[the prince] “Scheidt: Galliard Battaglia” by The Eastman Brass Quintet (Renaissance Brass Music)

[sleepless] “The Window” by Wendy Rule (The Wolf Sky)

[playing and plotting] “La guerre” by Ensemble Clément Janequin (Janequin: La chasse)

[Rossen] “Where Are You Going” by Dave Matthews Band (Busted Stuff)

[riding circuit] “Kecharitomene” by Loreena McKennitt (An Ancient Muse)

[fight] “Chwedl y Ddwy Ddraig” by Calan (Dinas) or “Oro Se Vie” by Corvus Corax (Seikilos)

[Pieran] “Hey, Brother” by Avicii (True)

[spinning] “New Set” by Calan (Jonah)

[tribute] “Stella Splendens” by Philip Pickett and the New London Consort (Sinners and Saints)

[Healer, Listener, and Summoner] “Prayer of Intention” by Trinity Demask (Crucible

[harvest festival procession] “Walking the Labyrinth” by Celia (“Carry Me Home”) 

[ritual] “Gula Gula” by Mari Boine (Voices of the Real World)

[harvest festival dance] “Saltarello” by Dead Can Dance (Aion)

[harvest festival] “Lille Dansa” by Gjallarhorn (Sjofn)

[harvest festival] “Wine and Water” by Arthur Hinds (Tome of Mystery

[harvest gift] “Flamme” by Leaf (Lys)

[curse] “Tuuli” by Hedningarna (Trä)

[enmity] “Antiokia” by Garmarna (Vittrad)

[realizations] “I Can See Now” by Dead Can Dance (Toward the Within) or “Trecensis: Dum Pater Familias” by Philip Pickett and the New London Consort (Sinners and Saints)

[Treska] “Neidon Laulu” by Hedningarna (Karelia Visa)

[the Common] “Evolution” by Wendy Rule (The Wolf Sky)

[nightmare] “Brostnar Borgir” by Eivør Pálsdóttir (Krákan)

[new paths] “The Village Lanterne” by Blackmore’s Night (The Village Lanterne)

[closing credits] “The Mothers’ Land” by Arthur Hinds (Dance in the Fire


book review: Cloak of the Two Winds

Piracy! Magic! Strange creatures! Sword fights! Love!

Like The Princess Bride, this book combines a number of beloved fantasy elements into a riveting story that satisfies on many levels. Yet despite the familiar tropes, there is nothing derivative about this book; the world of Cloak of the Two Winds, called Glimnodd, is entirely its own. The book’s main characters are Iruks, from the south polar region. In some ways they are similar to our world’s Inuit, but they have no problem switching from hunting to piracy when a likely target appears. The Iruk hunting party’s boat is as versatile as the hunters: with a quick conversion, it can sail as easily on ice as it can on water. This is a necessary capability because the waters of Glimnodd change to ice, and back again, at a moment’s notice–and the shifts are becoming more and more unpredictable and drastic. The Iruks’ piratical venture soon embroils them in Glimnodd’s climate-change emergency, which all revolves around a stolen cloak with the power to control the winds that cause freezing and melting. Of more immediate concern to the Iruk hunting band, one of their members has disappeared. The only person who may be able to help them find and rescue her is the witch whose ship they raided–a witch who is being pursued by at least one of Glimnodd’s most powerful magic workers.

This book had me at “ice pirates,” but the story was even richer than I expected. I quickly came to care about the characters, and the devotion the members of the hunting party had for each other was truly moving. I found the magical system intriguing and loved its mystical elements of seeing into the Deepmind, a kind of collective unconscious. We meet a few different cultures in this book, but the Iruk culture is the primary one, and its customs are portrayed so deftly that it is easy to imagine being part of that society (which appears, by the way, to practice full gender equality). In sum, Cloak of the Two Winds is a riveting fantasy adventure set in a fascinating world, and I recommend it highly. (Also, while this is not a YA novel per se, I think it would make a great YA read.)

Here’s hoping there will be another book soon to follow!

Us and Them

“Us vs. Them” is a false dichotomy. The smaller our Us is, the more heartache and suffering there is–in ourselves, in our communities, in our world. The truth is, there is no Them; we are all Us.

book review: The Red Khémèresh

I read Mab Morris’s absorbing, fascinating novella The Red Khémèresh in one sitting and found myself still thinking about the characters and setting for days afterward. The author does an impressive job of evoking a Mongolia-like steppe society and creating a fully developed mythology as a matrix within which the characters pursue their goals. And I love the protagonist, Phayaden, a seemingly failed shaman who may or may not be mad, walking a thin line between this world and the spirit world, trying her best to fulfill her duty to her family even as a mysterious stranger pulls her into a conflict that ripples out far beyond anything she has previously known.


The Forty: a review!

Kimberly Richardson–photographer, anthologist, novelist, and short-story writer, whose books include Tales from a Goth Librarian, Mabon and Pomegranate, and The Decembrists–has given The Forty this fine review on her blog:

The Forty [is] a delightful idea brought to life by photographer Fox Gradin and writers Kathryn Hinds and James Palmer. The concept is this: deep in the Cave of Wonders are the Forty Thieves of Ali Baba. However, Ali Baba is away on an adventure, and so the thieves decide to tell their stories to each other to pass the time. Whoever had the best story would win all of the bottles of the Forty and enjoy a very good drink. The Forty are men and women, cowboys, samurai, petty thieves, and vampires, and each story is compelling. A photo of the thief accompanies each story, breathing life into the tales and the diversity of the Forty.

Although I enjoyed reading each story, my personal favourites were The Dandy Dealer, Duo Marceau, Jenny Cutpurse, Phantom of the Dunes, and Fortunato. To me, those stories stood out in my mind due to the “interactions” the thieves went through before they arrived at the Cave of Wonders. At the end of the book are the stories of Morgiana and Kasim, Ali Baba’s brother; they explain the real reason behind the Forty and why Ali Baba used such measures to lead them to the Cave of Wonders. I found it to be a rather interesting ending and would love it if there was a “sequel”. This is a book worth reading again and again!