Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wandering the labyrinths of my mind

This summer, if nothing else, has turned into an enormous excuse for me to feed my various obsessions with research.  Said obsessions are basically a protracted love and fixation on the Minoans, the Etruscans, labyrinths, ghosts, and various Greek monsters, most of which got their start when I read the Doctrine of Labyrinths books (an awesome series of fantasy novels not designed for the weak of heart, stomach, or mind).  I’ve been studying these various topics seriously since I was a junior in high school (I’d had a vague, unformed interest in all of them that predates my actual access to the necessary information and the Doctrine of Labyrinths), and officially hit a point this year where easily accessible books have ceased to be of any use to me.  So I use the wonder that is interlibrary loan and haul in more advanced tomes from all over the country.  The end result is a heap of enormous technical and scholarly volumes that I’m devouring at a prodigious pace while I consume a metric ton of tea and listen to replicated Ancient Greek music. 
Why these obsessions took hold in my psyche as deeply as they did is anyone’s guess to a certain degree.  Most certainly I grew up reading books of Greek myths and even at that tender age I was fascinated by the sheer freakiness of some of the stories.  My home being in Dunwich also didn’t help, as I was growing up in a place with weird folk tales aplenty and a mythology all its own.  So, in the final assessment, one could consider me the adult version of Pan’s Labyrinth’s Ofelia:  A girl/woman whose love of the strange never took a hike the way it does for most human beings. 
As for the books themselves, I began with an enormous volume on surviving Etruscan superstitions in Tuscany, as well as a very small volume on the sacrificial rituals of the Minoans.  Then there was a huge technical volume on magic, ghosts, and necromancy as it related to ancient Greek and Roman culture.  Then there was a large chunk of several books on Sumerian, plus essays on Minoan culture and pottery, and I wrapped things up with a book on Minoan religion.  I can now tell you far more than you want to know about sacral basins and pillar crypts. 
After I got done with the technical books, I took a jaunt off to the realm of fiction.  In summary, I read the following:
-           Casino Royale, which I absolutely loved.  The slow story pace and fixation on luxury make it an absolutely delicious, decadent read.
-          The Half Made World, which bored me to tears but had to be done in the name of good reviewing ethics. 
-          How to Live Like a Lady, a book on manners that, aside from a few good tips, turned out to be extremely obnoxious and rude.  Oh the irony.
-          Just After Sunset, by Stephen King, which was awesome and horrifying as is to be expected.  The short story N. was particularly good, as has been said by many readers and critics besides myself, so I won’t rehash it.
-          What to Do When You Meet Cthulhu, a Lovecraft manual that will prove very handy, I am sure.
-          Kraken, by China Mieville, which I will be reviewing, and which is freaking AWESOME.  It is the best urban fantasy story I have ever read, balancing humor and seriousness perfectly. 
-          House of Leaves.  It technically doesn’t belong on this list, as I haven’t finished it yet.  But it’s worthy of note that I’ve been working on this mind rending monstrosity of a book for over a year now.  It is absolutely one of the best books I have ever read.  Also I think it may be destroying my sanity. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Running Silent and Deep

Back in Innsmouth.  Again.  If I was to be totally honest, the endless back and forth across Lovecraft country does wear a girl down, but I endure, as I always do. 
More to the point, however.  There has been, as followers of all my varied internet functions (this blog, Brass and Brown Leather, my Twitter, and my Youtube channel) know, a long lull in my productivity.  And I suppose you all must wonder why that is.  What exactly is it that provokes a creative individual like myself to suddenly go into what amounts to hibernation? 
Obviously there are many answers to such a question, and the strain of everyday life is first on the list.  Managing a social interactions (never my strong point), as well as household responsibilities, my own obsessions, and the often overwhelming sense of existential angst that seems to be common to most 20 somethings with a brain can easily gang up and drag me away from my writing.  Then there are the times when my muse simply ups and leaves on me.  Why that happens tends to vary between the arcane and the utterly obvious.  In this case, he (my muse) simply got sick of me torturing myself with an intensely boring book and took a vacation.  That sort of writer’s block is sudden, and on the occasions where the issue is obvious I can usually stop the unproductive behavior and kick start my creativity back into action.  Unfortunately, I had to read that damned book regardless of my opinion on the subject, and as such even after I’d finished it my muse opted to sulk and refused to return.  This, in collusion with my life becoming its own, subtle sort of deeply screwy, kept me locked in unproductive torpor far longer than I should have been.  Like Cthulhu or his many star spawn relatives, the stars weren't right, and I hung in stasis waiting for reallignment and the return of my 'powers'.  Eventually, however, my muse returned, and I’m functional agai
.....And hot damn, I am glad he’s back.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Recent Developments

1.  I’m back at Innsmouth, and unlike the other weekend trips I’ve made over the last two months, I’m here for a week.  Thus far I have established rigorous schedule of doing a grand total of nothing other than what pleases me.  And at this juncture, it pleases me to lounge in a hammock with a margarita and/or beer in easy reach and read enormous books on the Minoan empire.  Or it will as soon as I’m done writing this.
2.  I’ve been slogging my way through The Half Made World, which has held up Steampunk Reviews for over a month.  It’s a good book, but it wins no love from me.  Too bloody dense.  Expect a review in the next week.
3.  My mother has suggested I send my rant regarding Atlantis to the National Geographic.  I’m debating whether or not to do so. 
4.  I’ve been trying to lose weight this summer, but Innsmouth always throws a spanner in the works as far as that is concerned.  You can get some of the best food and drink for miles ‘round here, and it’s really, REALLY hard to resist stuffing one’s face.  There are dozens of farms around that supply all manner of fresh produce and meat, and of course we never want for fish.    

Friday, July 1, 2011

My feelings on Atlantis, or Historian Eruption no. 1

An acquaintance and I got into it recently in regards to the supposed discovery of Atlantis in Spain.  He’s very persuaded by the findings, me, I’m not so sure that Atlantis as we think of it EVER existed.  So let’s examine some facts, shall we?
The story of Atlantis was relayed down, supposedly, from an Ancient Egyptian priest, to Solon, a legendary Greek lawgiver, to Critais, a contemporary of Socrates and Plato, and thus to Plato who wrote it down to plague archaeologists forever more.  Atlantis is described as a city of rings located near the Pillars of Hercules, which is generally accepted as being the strait of Gibraltar.  Said city was supposed to be highly advanced, produced several kinds of metals, and then, shortly after launching an attack on Athens, sunk into the ocean. 
According to Freund, one of several people to posit this theory and the main one behind current explorations, Atlantis is located in the mudflats of a national park in Spain, which was originally a bay.  Some satellite photos have supposedly shown concentric looking rings that might match the tiered description Plato gives.  Then there is the fact that there appears to be remnants of manmade structure in the ocean nearby.  Finally, there are some geological readings that seem to suggest that there is a layer of methane – a gas caused primarily by living things – beneath the surface of the mud flats, and some bumpy marks that might be walls.  A nearby area is also known for producing several kinds of metals, and there is a supposed ‘memorial city’, built in the memory of the supposed Atlantis, located inland from the site.  Two tiny carved figures found in the surface by the team also are used as proof.
As a historian and a skeptic, however, I have issues with all of this.  If you go back and reread the prior paragraph, you will notice that I use words like ‘appears’ and ‘supposed’ and ‘might’ a lot.  And that is not just my bias talking – the documentary that posits all of these elements uses these same subjective terms throughout.  For a start, the rings on the ground are pretty vague and don’t match the overlaid diagram conclusively.  You can see what you want in them.  And is there any real proof that they are manmade?  Nothing yet.  Find me a wall that was made by actual people and I’ll take that part seriously.  One should also remember that the earth is spectacularly good at creating bizarrely regular shapes.  Anyone who has ever been to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland can tell you this.
The underwater rocks, meanwhile, the actual geologist in the documentary states are natural formations.  One of the other researchers insistently suggests that people might have used the natural rocks to build, but insistence is also NOT PROOF.  The geological readings and methane are also nothing without some actual physical evidence of people living there.  The fact that three kinds of metals are mined in the area is worthy of note, but even that points to an entirely other city, named Tartessos or Tarshish (the former pronunciation is Greek, the latter Hebrew), which the documentary suggests is ALSO Atlantis. 
As for the memorial city and the figurines, the former is impractical and the latter decidedly odd.  That the ‘memorial’ was probably a religious site I do not doubt.  That it was specifically modeled after the destroyed city?  This makes very little sense.  The design provided for Atlantis is round.  The ‘memorial city’ is square.  If one was going to replicate one’s own city, I would think one would bother to match the original shape.  As for the figurines, their appearance has more in common with those found in the Roman and Etruscan or else Mesopotamian civilizations, and were found on the very surface of the plateau, which seems a bit odd given that everything else of supposedly Atlantean origin has been buried for millennia.  It gets even weirder when one considers that the supposed ‘symbol of Atlantis’ that Freund proposes (a man standing next to a series of rings and holding something) is of a decidedly petroglyphic and Neolithic cast, thus not matching the style of the figurines.  Also, the concentric rings in the image have much in common with basic spiral and labyrinth patterns found all over the world, thus making the image nothing special when put under scrutiny.
And if we return to the story of Atlantis itself, there’s the fact that even in ancient times, people were arguing about Atlantis.  There was not necessarily any agreement on just how real Plato’s story was, and whether or not it was bald faced invention.  Also bear in mind that, even if the story’s origin was true, it had been passed down orally through at least four different people.  Anyone who has ever played telephone can tell you that information mutates as it is transmitted.  Now think about a transmission spanning generations.  The story is bound to be inaccurate.  
Add on top of this the fact that there is at least one other area in the Mediterranean that also suffered catastrophic collapse, one that sounds a helluva lot like Atlantis.  Santorini, once called Thera, is the example in question.  Thera suffered one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history, which destroyed most of the island.  In a single day, a powerful trade center of the Minoan Empire sunk into a volcanic caldera and was lost.  Notably, like the Atlanteans, the Minoans were also a powerful trade power, were technologically advanced for their time, at one point were in control of/launched an attack on Athens, and Thera itself was a city of rings, an island surrounded by an island.  The documentary tries to discredit this theory by saying that the collapse of Thera did not immediately destroy the Minoan Empire, but that does not change the reality that the Minoans suffered heavy damage from tsunamis and earthquakes, as well as the loss of a major trade route, all in the course of a day or so, and their culture went belly up and was conquered not long afterward. 
And what is the point of all this ranting?  Well first, I’d like people to not take things at face value.  There may be a city buried in the mud flats, but insisting that it is Atlantis without anything but an arseload of inference and assumption and NO PROPER EXCAVATION is just plain stupid.  I am also of the opinion that reading history too literally, especially a story that was debatably myth even when it first surfaced, is unwise.  There is, as shown, more than one place that has elements of Atlantis.  The supposed city in the Spanish mudflats possesses the correct location, but it lacks concrete evidence aside from some nearby mines.  Thera possesses an accurate course of events and appropriate technology for its people, but its explosion was not an immediate death knell.  What can we deduce from this?  That the story of Atlantis is, most likely, an amalgam of tragedies.  Whether Plato heard the story or made it up from whole cloth, it seems to combine elements from the falls of several different cultures or areas, all of which are cobbled together and passed down to form what we think of as Atlantis.  This does not, however, make the site that may or may not be buried in Spain less important, but it should be valued as an archaeological discovery in its own right and not hampered with the baggage of the Atlantis mythos.  If the excavation team becomes too fixated on the idea that they’ve found a legendary city, evidence to the contrary could be discarded and the whole thing would go to hell in a handbasket. 
As Sherlock Holmes more succinctly puts it:  It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The fish!

The fish in question
Ever since I was little, I have loved fish.  They were my first pet, the first non-human living thing I loved.  My mother to this day tells stories of planting my bawling infant self in front of the fish tank to finally get some peace and quiet (I was a notoriously cranky child) as I watched the lovely shubunkins and Black Moors waft their way through the water, silky fins flowing in the current.
And now, I have a goldfish all my own.  He is, admittedly, not my first fish, but he is the first fish that requires serious upkeep I have ever owned.  Up till this point I’ve only had Siamese fighting fish, which are considerably less than high maintenance creatures, capable of living in tiny bowls with virtually no care whatsoever, besides feeding and making sure their water doesn’t dry up.  My new goldfish, however, is a step up the care chain.  I have to filter and/or change his water and, at present, am also searching to find him some tankmates before the lonely little thing loses his mind.
As for himself, my goldfish has been subjected to some interesting naming debacles.  Owing to the fact that when I first tried to get him into his tank he swam right back into the emptying plastic bag I was trying to get him out of, my sister named him Stupid.  Initially, I wanted to call him Grell, and name his tank mates after Sebastian and another Black Butler character (probably Agni or Claude) but then other names were suggested and I now find myself in a bit of a pickle.  As such, I’m happy to take suggestions from the peanut gallery.  Be serious, be silly, just toss out ideas.  Post them in the comments or on my twitter.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Innsmouth Entry, at long last

Innsmouth by day

The week before the Expo, my mother and I drove to Innsmouth to open our family’s summer home, as well as that of my grandmother, and the various work that entailed was dull and, on occasion, profoundly annoying, but had to be done anyway (one must be careful lest eldritch horrors start nesting in the attic.)  The process has also resulted in some interesting events, such as my nearly getting skewered on a curtain rod, which has at least provided me with some good stories to tell.
As for itself, Innsmouth is a lovely place.  The restaurants out here are some of the best, as is the beer and the wine.  Indeed, during our trip I had to recover from a vicious hangover, courtesy of four glasses of Innsmouth cider that I downed the night before in a fit of bravado.  The people are also great, gills aside.  If you know them and they know you and know that you aren’t going to climb out a window and try to convince people in Newbury Port to drop dynamite in Innsmouth waters, they’ll show you a good time, help you out in a neighborly fashion, and invite you to Esoteric Order of Dagon meetings (go at your own risk).  They also run absolutely awesome stores, which include some of my favorite jewelry boutiques and sources for antiquities. 
Outside of the town itself, the fields and forests in the area are of a vastly different stripe from Dunwich land.  The terrain is often unwelcoming, and it is chock full of mosquitoes who all seem to want to take a bite out of ME (aristocrats apparently taste better than plebeians).  There is one upshot, however:  the woods are home to morel mushrooms, which I, as an intrepid mycophage, pursue with a zeal bordering on the suicidal.  During our time there I spent hours scrambling up hill and down dale, basket in hand, pursuing my elusive quarry.  I also had to fend off the aforementioned bugs, dodge poison ivy, and even face off against other mushroom hunters.  A word to the wise:  If there is one person who you do not want to cross, it is the mushroom hunter.  We HATE other people infringing on what we view as our territory, and though the meeting I had was relatively cordial, all things considered, neither party involved could fully conceal their distrust and abject dislike of the other. 
All good things had to come to an end, however, and I soon had beat a hasty path to the door of the Expo, which I’ve written/am going to write about on my other blog (link forthcoming).  Go have a look!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome to Dunwich

I’m currently perched in my favorite chair at home, which is upholstered in tapestry fabric with dragon heads carved as the finials on the arms, my laptop balanced on one knee and a teacup balanced on the other, and to say that I am happy to be home is the understatement of the damned century. My home town, Dunwich, is a gorgeous place at this time of year. When I came home to visit during the winter, the trees were unwelcoming skeletons. Now they’re fully clad in leaves so green it makes the mind spin and the mouth water. This is the place where I grew up for the most part, and just the smell of sun warmed chlorophyll sends my mind rocketing back to a childhood spent playing in and amongst the estates and the mysteries that dot Dunwich.

It’s a place with more than its fair share of eldritch secrets. Wandering in the woods can and will lead the intrepid into the amazing and the bizarre. There is the sensation that one has walked out of reality and into some parallel dimension, like the realm Ofelia supposedly hails from in Pan’s Labyrinth. Old manor houses, beautiful gardens, statues abandoned in the darkness of the woods, all can be found if one knows the way in and knows where to look. And like Ofelia or the girl from Arthur Machen’s The White People, I know the way in and have known since my childhood. Running wild in those woods provided me with a plethora of strange stories. None of them are fantastic or beyond the bounds of reality, but when you grow up with what amounts to a fairy tale world for your backyard it can be taken for granted that you will come out with some odd tales. And from those weird experiences grew the roots of my interests in so many areas, from my desire to become a museum curate to my obsession with Mycenaean Greece and the Minoan Empire.

And with that, I welcome you to Dunwich. I hope you enjoy your stay.

Next week I’m going to Innsmouth for several days before heading to the World Steam Expo. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue posting, but Innsmouth internet access can be a tad unpredictable, so don’t be surprised if there’s a brief lull in activity.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The last push for freedom

The Miskatonic school year is almost done, and I’m already starting to tear my room apart in an effort to be ready to get the hell out of dodge. Ironically enough, however, this is the one time of year when attending Miskatonic is actually really pleasant, at least in terms of climate. Spring/summer has hit like a ton of bricks, and with it comes flowers, and grass, and frogs singing at night. This place, which is such hell to live in during the winter, did a quick change into heaven in a matter of days, just in time for everyone to go home. I, for one, am not amused by the irony.

In the meantime, when I’m not packing or admiring the fine weather, I oscillate between studying diligently and watching the freakiest horror films I can get my hands on. Why horror you ask? Mostly because the jump scares and general terror in the films wears me out, providing me with an adrenaline rush that fades and leaves me thoroughly knackered. Without that exhaustion I sleep fitfully at best, and usually not at all, winding up staring at the ceiling, my brain roiling with thoughts of exams and all the information I’ve been studying. 

And in other news, I was recently deliberately not invited to a party by one of the graduating seniors. This same senior, who I will refer to as Hatsumomo, for the purposes of anonymity, was the old president of Miskatonic Film Society. She also apparently has had something against me for quite awhile according to various sources, though what exactly that something is remains rather vague. From my own perspective, I was initially very fond of her and sought her approval. This fondness quickly faded as all my attempts to build bridges met with wintry disdain on her end. Now, apparently, she has opted to exercise her waning power by snubbing me in various ways. And while I won’t say I’m not angry about it, I’m refraining from a response. If I was Maleficent, I would have the option of cursing her first born with a spindle-induced coma. If I was Iago, I could arrange a Shakespearian plot. But I am neither of those fictional characters, and I find my best weapon is just not paying it any mind. After all, she’ll be gone soon. Why waste the effort?

Finally, my exams themselves, thus far, have been some of the better ones I’ve ever taken. A student’s life is made so much easier when professors are clear in their instructions on the final and stick to these guidelines. The subject matter itself hasn’t been easy, mind you, but knowing what to study has eased a lot of the exam anxiety I usually suffer from.

So, how does anyone like the new blog? Have I made a good choice in separating my day-to-day life from my Steampunk info blog? Tell me what you think!