These seem to me to be the obvious implications of Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission, and the White House’s response to it:
1. Bush & Co. have always made it clear that they believe intelligence-gathering and analysis should be secondary to, and in the service of, policies they’ve already decided on. It should not come as such a surprise that they treated the anti-terrorism analyses and programs they inherited from the Clinton administration as though they were arbitrary political creations.
2. A man doesn’t break a lifetime’s habits of honor and integrity just to promote one book, and it is contemptible of the Bush people to suggest that Richard Clarke is doing so. It does, however, let us know that that’s what they’d do if they had a book to promote—aside from the part about having a record for honor and integrity to start with.
3. Since the event itself occurred, it’s been a foregone conclusion that there would at some point have to be a public hearing on 9/11. Bush & Co., knowing they can’t avoid it altogether, have all along been trying to reduce the 9/11 commission to window-dressing, starting with its original wholly inadequate budget and schedule (to say nothing of originally appointing Henry Kissinger to run it).
Their reaction to testimony there has all been spin control. This has been most evident in the case of Richard Clarke—so far, the most clear, thoughtful, incisive, and well-informed person to testify before the commission—against whom they’ve mounted a large, centrally organized campaign meant to discredit him.
That is: they’re not interested in finding out what happened. And if they’re not interested now, and they weren’t overwhelmingly interested right after it happened—which they weren’t—then they can’t have been interested in the question during the intervening months and years; which means that the laxity and light-mindedness that characterized their security policies before 9/11 will have continued to undermine whatever efforts they’ve made since then.
(And no, they weren’t interested right after the attacks happened. It’s long been known that on the day itself, before the blood was dry on the rubble, they were already working to pin the blame on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. That wasn’t a response to events. They already wanted to go after Iraq and Saddam Hussein before the start of this administration.
As I said to Patrick when that story first came out, it has two possible implications. One was that they knew enough about the attacks beforehand, that afterward they weren’t worried that whomever-it-was might pose a greater threat than Saddam Hussein. The other had to be that they didn’t give a damn.)
Real security takes a long-term committed attention to the details. We’d know it by its effects if it were present in the administration’s efforts. The indicators all point the other way. We could recite a long, long list of them here. To pick a few at random: blowing up Chemical Ali’s house, rather than securing and searching it for records relating to presumed WMDs. Casually and needlessly alienating our potential allies and information sources. Not lifting a finger to increase the security of containerized shipping. Et cetera. Yadda. More. Very long list.
This means that if we’re lucky enough to still have people of Richard Clarke’s caliber working on our national security at that level, you should imagine them, several years in the future, testifying before yet another commission investigating yet another disaster, about the derelictions that are going on right now.
Is there anything about the current hearings that does interest the administration? From the evidence so far, they’re interested in controlling what you and I find out about what happened, and what the administration did and didn’t do about it. But they’re only concerned about that because we vote, and because Dubya’s perennially sensitive about the lustre of his reputation. Our actual safety doesn’t enter into the calculation.
The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports on a wedding that took place last August. Is this another gay wedding story? It is, but this one’s about someone I know: Andrew Bertke, a Minneapolis conrunner, who has finally gotten to marry his high-school sweetheart Joe Agee. Moreover, they got married at the Toronto Worldcon.It was a fortuitous thing. They’d already been planning to attend that convention when the news came down that Canada had legalized same-sex marriages.
“We would’ve been married much sooner if we could have in the States, obviously,” Agee said. “We decided not to do the commitment ceremony kind of thing. We were kind of holding out for the real thing, I guess.”Joe and Andrew were one of four gay couples who were married at the Worldcon on 28 August 2003, in a ceremony which an unnamed member of the con committee helped them to arrange.
“My parents didn’t have a commitment ceremony. Your parents didn’t have a commitment ceremony,” Bertke said.“They had a wedding,” Agee said. “And we couldn’t have a wedding. I don’t remember any big political debate, but it was kind of like, well, we’re really just throwing a party. Standing up in front of people and saying we love each other. That’s not really a wedding.”
I love the photos. Gay or straight, this is my tribe: two couples in nice suits, one couple in t-shirts, and one couple in matching Jedi robes. And how did this all come off? Same way it always does: they were radiant. (Thanks, Lydy.)
Nora’s freezing on the trolley.
Hey, look at that—our first finished copy of the mass-market edition of Jane Lindskold’s The Dragon of Despair. It’s very pretty: embossed gold foil on the title and author name, good color repro on the cover image (which has shot down quite well), back and spine a nice persimmon-red color picked up from the art—definitely looks good. Well, yay rah.
The other news of the day is that her agent has asked to have bound galleys of her standalone next novel, The Buried Pyramid, sent to a couple of studios that have expressed interest. As it happens, that book has an especially spiff bound galley. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a nicer one. The Buried Pyramid is a fantasy adventure about archaeologists in Egypt in the late 19th c., and the designer ran wild with public domain Egyptian-themed Victorian engravings. The title page is art from top to bottom, and every chapter start has an ornate little engraved ornament.
(These things are not predictable. Sometimes a designer takes a liking to a book. It’s plain good luck.)
Default bound galleys have three components: the first-pass uncorrected typeset pages, which become its text; the descriptive copy from the entry about that title in our sales catalogue, which becomes the galley’s back-cover copy; and the title page, which becomes its cover. An ornate title page maketh a posh-looking galley.
It’s all good. I’m happy.
Okay, that settles it: this is National Whine About Publishing Month. Avenue Victor Hugo, a thirty-year-old brick-and-mortar bookstore in Boston, is going out of business. They’ve announced this on their website, and followed it up with a long twelve-point whine about the death of the small independent bookstore. I’m not saying independent bookstore owners don’t have anything to complain about; but Avenue Victor Hugo deserves some kind of prize for contriving to blame absolutely everyone for their demise.
They blame: Corporate law, Publishers (“marketing their product like so much soap or breakfast cereal”), Book buyers (“those who want the ‘convenience’ and ‘cost savings’ of shopping in malls, over the quaint, the dusty, or the unique; who … prefer what is popular over what is good”), Writers (who “write what is already being written or choose the new for its own sake”—a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t formulation that caused me to inhale part of a chicken-and-pesto sandwich), Booksellers, Government (local, state, and federal), Librarians, Book collectors (“now mere speculators … putting books on the same level with beanie babies”), Teachers, Editors (“offering authors the Faustian bargain of fame and fortune, while pleading their best intentions like goats”), Reviewers (“for promoting what is being advertised, … and praising the obscure with priestly authority”—another damned-either-way formulation), and of course The Public (“those who do not read books, or can not find the time; who live by the flickering light of the television, and will be the first to fear the darkening of civilization—for not caring about consequences”).It ends, apocalyptically:
Thus, we come to the twilight of the age of books; to the closing of the mind; to the pitiful end of the quest for knowledge—and stare into the cold abyss of night.It’s such a fine and mournful and elevated sentiment—Emmeline Grangerford herself couldn’t have done no better—that you almost don’t want to tell him that by our best calculations, using every scrap of reliable data we can lay hands on, at this very moment more people are reading more books, reading a greater variety of books, continuing to read them later in life, et cetera and so forth, than ever before in the history of civilization.
I expect he has a point, though, about changing patterns of commercial traffic on Newbury Street.
(All you aspiring writers? Please don’t read that AVH jeremiad and get depressed about the state of publishing. Like the imminent death of the internet, the death of the publishing industry is frequently announced, and so far has failed to happen. Not that it couldn’t happen; but in our case, these fruitless announcements have been appearing for centuries.)
I’ll mention separately that John Scalzi has been on a tear about writerly subjects. On March 17th, he posted about his Book of the Dumb franchise; on the 18th, his take on Is it me— (he confirms that he’s the author of Patrick’s whom I mentioned but didn’t name); and on the 19th, the spectacular Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice, which he thoughtfully divides up under ten headings:
1. Yes, You’re a Great Writer. So What. 2. I Don’t Care If You’re a Better Writer Than Me.Here’s a nice bit from #3:
3. There is Always Someone Less Talented Than You Making More Money As a Writer.
4. Your Opinion About Other Writers (And Their Writing) Means Nothing.
5. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, You Know.
6. Until You’re Published, You’re Just in the Peanut Gallery.
7. Did I Mention Life’s Not Fair?
8. Don’t Be An Ass.
9. You Will Look Stupid If You’re Jealous.
10. Life is Long.
…Some fat bastard has been rewriting the same book for the last 25 years, and each “new” book is even more of a pointlessly smudged photocopy of his last book than the one before it, which in turn was a smudged photocopy of the book before that. And after his thick, retarded lummox of a book is planted in its own stand-up display smack in the middle of the store’s primary traffic pattern, the author is going to take that money, buy a gorgeous house on Lake Tahoe with it and use the excess cash to charm smart, pretty, ambitious girls and boys to have rampaging sex with his flabby, liver-spotted body while he watches Nick Jr. on his 83-inch high-definition plasma television. Because he can. Meanwhile, you’re lucky if a single copy of your achingly beautifully-written trade paperback, for which you were paid barely enough to cover three month’s rent on a bug-infested Alphabet City 5th-floor walkup, is shelved spine inward in a forgotten limb of the bookstore for a month before its cover is amputated and sent back to the publisher as a mark of abject failure. Welcome to the literary world!As I said in a comment there, my sole quibble with this is that trade paperbacks are whole-copy returns. Aside from that, it’s spot-on.
As I just now said in the Slushkiller thread, “I knew my readers were brilliant, but this is the first time you’ve started commenting about something before I’d finished posting about it.”
The subject that’s cropped up is this article in Salon. Read it, even at the cost of having to watch today’s more-tedious-than-usual admission advertisement. Inane articles about publishing we have with us always, but this one do beat all.
I’m going to post this much, to give the commenters a thread, then come back and keep writing.
On top of all the other recent instances of lèse-majesté, I hear from Erosblog that my credibility has been called into question on matters of Intermountain West Mormon cooking. This goes back to a piece I wrote in June of last year, La cuisine de Nouvelle Zion, in which (among other things) I mentioned candle salad. Not surprisingly, Erosblog picked up on the candle salad link shortly thereafter. Now someone’s turned up there to protest that old link:
“I am LDS and I find it appauling you incline we have food like that. We do not and I do not know where you get your information from.”Hmmmmmmf! I posted a comment in reply:
…my family’s been Mormon for about as long as it’s been possible to be Mormon. One of my great-great-great-grandfathers got thrown into jail with Joseph Smith, and one of my great-great-grandmothers was born under a wagon on the other side of the river from Nauvoo, the first night out when the city was evacuated; and believe me, if I’d been given my choice of General Authorities to be related to, it sure wouldn’t have been Boyd K. Packer.But Erosblog’s got what has to be the last word on it:
I learned to make Candle Salad one night at MIA, and so did all the other girls my age; and not a one of us thought it was anything but swell. It couldn’t be more obvious that it’s part of the same cuisine that produced funeral potatoes, jello poke cake, and all those other Saintly delicacies I wrote about.So there.
I don’t know which is more funny: the fact that a Mormon is reading a sex blog and condemning the food reporting, or the fact that that a sex-blog-reading Mormon can’t spell and doesn’t understand that the source of my information is right there in the post behind the little underlined words…
I have finished copies of Sethra Lavode and you don’t. Just thought I’d mention it.
Thursday, March 18, 2004, Statesboro, Georgia — A couple who got into a dispute over a theological point after watching “The Passion of the Christ” were arrested after the argument turned violent.I’ll say. They were well on their way to re-inventing the Arian Heresy. Next on Crossfire: The Filioque Clause!
The two left the movie theater debating whether God the Father in the Holy Trinity was human or symbolic, and the argument heated up when they got home, Melissa Davidson said.“It was the dumbest thing we’ve ever done,” she said.
Davidson, 34, and her husband, Sean Davidson, 33, were charged with simple battery on March 11 after the two called police on each other. They were released on $1,000 bail.Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. They’re hardly the first people to wander into that tar pit. The night before the final balloting at the Council of Nicea, Saint Nicholas of Myra punched out Arius in a bar fight arising from a very similar argument.
According to a police report, Melissa Davidson suffered injuries on her arm and face, while her husband had a scissors stab wound on his hand and his shirt was ripped off. He also allegedly punched a hole in a wall.“Really, it was kind of a pitiful thing, to go to a movie like that and fight about it. I think they missed the point,” said Gene McDaniel, chief sheriff’s deputy.
So just remember, kids: when you hear someone talking about “traditional Christianity,” this is what they mean.
— or has the entire universe been unnaturally irritating lately? I’m not so far gone that I can’t tell that the former is the likelier explanation, nor yet so perky that I’m ready to let go of the latter hypothesis.
Patrick and I are still getting over this whatever-it-is bug. As mentioned earlier, I wound up in the ER, unable to breathe, which was unsettling because I’ve been breathing for decades and thought I had the technique down pat. The nice people at New York Presbyterian put me on a combination of antibiotics and steroids which helped my breathing but made me unprecedentedly irritable. After noticing that I seemed to be biting a lot of ankles here and in Electrolite, I went off and did other things for a while. Chalk it up to social responsibility.
Then, yesterday morning, I found a perfectly loathsome letter in my mailbox from some guy I’ve never heard of before. He was taking exception to my use of the word idiot to describe A. A. Yngve, a supercilious semi-troll who’d turned up in Patrick’s weblog. Yngve first appeared over in Electrolite with a comment that included a prominent link to his webpage, where he advertises his six self-published novels. I initially suspected the link was the real purpose of Yngve’s appearance there, but he stuck around to argue. I was in the ER at the time, so his first several posts survived, and by the time I got around to checking out what had happened, kicking Yngve out would have been like depriving a bunch of seals of their ball. I don’t think I was grumpier about him than was warranted. At the time, I felt positively virtuous in my restraint.
Yngve himself took the epithet in stride. The letter’s not from him. It’s from some other guy entirely, one who appears to have no connection with him. The letter’s author is some kind of online writer. He’s been writing online for a long time: has a journal, writes a lot of fiction and poetry. I don’t know whether he’s tried to get anything conventionally published. He appears to have it in for his girlfriend’s editor, but his writeup of that makes it sound like it’s more a girlfriend thing than a writer thing. But I don’t know; maybe it’s a writer thing.Below is the text of his letter, with comments to follow: not because it’s such an extraordinary object that it deserves the attention, but because this kind of crap is one of the less-well-known recurrent aspects of the editorial life:
Hello Teresa,Hello, unidentified person with whom I have had no prior contact, who isn’t bothering to introduce himself.
I was sitting here wondering what business an editor at Tor has calling a writer, any writer, an “idiot.”I have the same business anyone else has, and I have no time for people who appoint me to strange roles in their rich inner fantasy lives. I’m not responsible for what I do in their dreams.
“Tor” and “business” don’t belong in the same sentence as “my weblog.” It’s not a Tor website; it’s mine, and I can say anything on it that isn’t contrary to the laws of Ghod and man or the guidelines of my ISP. I very seldom speak ex cathedra as Tor in any context (writing the Tor Books FAQ or the Tor Submission Guidelines doesn’t count), and if on some occasion I did, I’d start by explicitly saying that’s what I was doing. Sending me this letter is like giving someone who works at Apple a hard time because they’ve called a software developer, any software developer, an idiot.
I’m truly not impressed by this guy supposedly trying to take a bite out of me on Yngve’s behalf. This is one of my least favorite varieties of online behavior: showing up out of the blue to try to collect on guilt I allegedly should be feeling for the sufferings of some uninvolved third party. The usual example of this I cite is the white guy who comes busting into a well-established discussion of (say) colonial policies in North America, yelling at self-indulgent length about how we’re callously ignoring the fact that the indigenous peoples were genocidally dispossessed of their lands.
Let us now consider the matter of writers. I’m a writer. So’s my husband. So’s the guy who wrote me the letter. So are most of you. For pete’s sake, this is the internet—we’re all writers!
Even if you take a narrower definition of the term, am I supposed to regard as sacred every person who conceives a set of writerly ambitions? This chucklehead can’t have been paying nearly enough attention to the people around him if he hasn’t yet noticed how many of them fit that description. I seldom have the urge to describe any of you as idiots, but I’d like to retain the option, because if I didn’t I’d be a poor toothless lion in a den full of roaring Daniels. (Note.)
Besides, it’s not like this guy has himself been respectful to other writers. I knew that much going in—no writer respects all other writers—but I went and Googled him up anyway. Sure enough, there it was, in spades. The most notable instance I found was back in 2003, when he devoted considerable column space to trashing an author whose novels Patrick had bought a few months earlier. Come to think of it, that may be what’s going on here. I occasionally catch flak from people who don’t feel up to confronting Patrick.
I’ll wait a minute while everyone who knows us stops laughing.
Anyway, as I say, this guy thinks it’s perfectly all right for him to judge other writers. He just doesn’t think—and loftily, too—that I should do so.
In a way, it reminds me of those periodic eruptions of hot air you get in SFWA where they deplore the passing of the days when editors were automatically impressed by a letter that had the words “Member: SFWA” at the bottom. Never mind that this supposed golden age is as hard to track down as the ruins of Atlantis. What always gets me is that NOT ONE of the people who make this lament would automatically be impressed by a letter that had “Member: SFWA” at the bottom. Far from it. Their opinions of their fellow SFWAns are frequently quite vivid. Nevertheless, they’re recurrently distressed to think that editors aren’t automatically impressed by those magic words.
They’re not stupid. They’re just having an attack of that most basic auctorial insanity, “This is all about me, isnï¿½t it—me and my books? That is what youï¿½re talking about, right?” What they mean is that in spite of their poor opinions of many of their fellow SFWA members, they think editors should be impressed by “Member: SFWA” at the bottom of their letters.Perhaps the same thing is going on with my correspondent, in which case what he’s actually saying is either “How dare you judge me?” or “Please don’t judge me.” If so, he’s taking the wrong approach by sending me specimens of his writing. Or possibly his message is “Please don’t tell me you’ve never heard of me,” in which case it’s only fractionally less daft.
It seems beneath you, both personally and professionally.None of my immediate reactions to that line are printable. An approximate and abbreviated translation would be, “And who the bleep are you?”
On reflection, I find I can’t improve on that. He’s the one sending a spectacularly rude and condescending letter to a total stranger. Besides, if I’m so triffically elevated, how come I don’t have the power to squash him like a bug? For that matter, if I’m so triffically elevated, why isn’t he being more respectful, hmmm? In fact, if I’m so triffically elevated, and yet he thinks it’s appropriate for him to be this condescending to me, his opinion of himself must be pretty darn glorious.But we knew that already.
It is one thing to disagree, another to insult, and still quite another to hold someone up to ridicule —Assignment: Show me where the bright line’s drawn. Justify drawing it on the near side of a single descriptive adjective. Alternately, identify which of those three things I’m doing right now.
— when you know a good portion of the people there are kissing your ass (and your husband’s) in the hopes you’ll notice them and publish their attempts at fiction.Let me get the heavy stuff out of the way first. Someday I won’t be acquiring any more. I know that when that happens, there’ll be some people I quite liked, and thought of as friends, who won’t have nearly so much time for me anymore. That’ll hurt. And until that day comes, I can’t really know exactly who they’ll be. But in the meantime, I refuse to regard people as being that mercenary. It would be unjust. Better that I be hurt in the future than that I hurt my real friends now.
End of heavy stuff, back to lampoon, starting with my firm resolve to never, ever get into a game of Spin the Bottle with a guy who thinks that ass-kissing is the name of the game. (One irresistibly wants to hear what Gardner would have to say about it.)I thought everybody knew by now that sucking up to editors isn’t cost-effective behavior. We can like you perfectly well, indeed love you dearly, without feeling the least obligation to buy your work; and then we’ll turn around and buy a book from a complete stranger, for no better reason than that we loved his book and didn’t love yours. Jim Frenkel was once approached at a convention by an attractive young lady, who said, approximately:
“Golly, Mr. Frenkel, I’d do anything to be a published author.”Patrick has a little “Rejection Avoidance Kit” in his office, sent to him some years ago by Maureen McHugh. I forget who was making them. It’s a Smokehouse Almond can wrapped in a bright scrap of fabric. Inside are little Guatemalan worry dolls, each one labeled with the name of an editor who was acquiring at that time, plus various bits of equipment for tormenting the dolls, and a sheet of instructions on how to use them. Patrick hadn’t been an acquiring editor long, but already there was a little doll in the kit with his name on it. I won’t say this kind of auctorial scrutiny doesn’t get to me sometimes. When it does, the internet has a lot of venues that don’t require a credit card and won’t display your e-mail address. I don’t go there to misbehave. I just hang out and talk, like any other fan, and get ignored or listened to in just measure. It’s reassuring. Then I come home.
“Anything.”“Then write me a good book.”
I didn’t read the comments. I didn’t want to see the pile on.If he didn’t read the comments, he’s got no right to say anything about them. But if he had, he’d have found out that there wasn’t a pile-on. Or perhaps he did read the comments, but said that anyway.
Perhaps your illness has impaired your judgement.If it has, I wouldn’t know it; but his name is near the bottom of the list of people whose word I’d take on it.
In any case, an apology to Yngve is in order. Not expected, but in order.I’m sorry I don’t have time for this crap. I’m sorry this guy’s life is unsatisfactory. I’m sorry that it seems to him appropriate to take that out on me. I’m sorry Yngve is a twerp; and yet, I’m also sorry that Yngve doesn’t have a better defender than this. I’m genuinely sorry that Yngve may have suffered a professional mishap, and I’m likewise sorry that this guy didn’t read the comments and see me discreetly tipping Yngve off about it, because he might have learned something. I’m sorry my imaginative sympathy fails me when I try to reconstruct the mindset that would think it was appropriate to send a letter like his to someone with whom I have neither business in common nor prior acquaintance. And finally, I’m sorry that my correspondent’s poetry is frequently indistinguishable from prose with wordbreaks; that his intentional prose consists of utilitarian expository sentences which stack up into paragraphs that mean less than the sum of their parts; and that he’s earless about punctuation in the vicinity of parenthetical phrases, because having those ineradicable tendencies in one’s writing is enough to make any ambitious writer feel cranky.
By the way, I don’t know Yngve from Adam.I’m not confused on that point.
And I sent this through email (rather than throwing it into your comments) —Because he’s a wuss?
—to save you from embarrassment.I am in fact suffering occasional brief moments of feeling intensely embarrassed on this guy’s behalf. I hate that.
I hope you’ll greet this in the manner it is intended.I hope you intended to get the response you got.
I think you’re a fine, fine writer, —You’re still not getting my Bud Light.
but I also think you’re an influential editor—Hah. Shows how much he knows about the business.
and therefore have no business—You, the horse you rode in on, and your little dog Toto too. Wanker.
getting into online catfights—One adjective does not a catfight make; and remember, this is coming from someone who has himself gotten into significant online brangles. Whatever this letter is really about—and there I can only speculate—it’s not about my calling Yngve an idiot.
—with those much weaker than yourself.I hate crap like this. I’m just an editor. I work on books. Sometimes I buy them. That’s all.
When you see someone cherishing this bizarre belief that you’re this hugely powerful figure who can’t be hurt (which in their minds invariably turns out to also mean that the jerk who in reality is going after your shins with steel-toed boots is a tiny fragile creature in danger of being horribly oppressed by you), you know the person you’re dealing with is operating in the Dream Time. This particular psychodrama is about him feeling like he doesn’t have enough power, which usually means he either thinks I’ve stolen his away, or that I simply have too much and will imminently squash him like the insect he is.
Cripes. Don’t I just wish.
I was too optimistic about getting over the scrud, and spent part of yesterday in the ER (SOB, SAT 100, peripheral edema, fever). Be assured that you lot are not forgotten; I’m just incapacitated.
I’d have more regret about not being there to squash that idiot Yngve, over in Patrick’s weblog, if everyone hadn’t had so much fun playing with him.
Tlak asmnogt yvorlusees.
Dept. of Our Ancestors Were Gullible about Religion, Not; from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, in re the pre-Shakespearian comedies The Pardoner and the Frere and Johan Johan:
Two of the sham relics exhibited by the pardoner in The foure P. P., “the great toe of the Trinite” and “of all Hallows the bless’d jaw bone” reappear … in The pardoner and the frere. But, possibly, more indicative of a single hand is the parallelism in the respective lists of the “buttocke bone of Pentecoste” and the “arm of sweet Saint Sunday,” and of the eyetooth of the Great Turk, which prevents blindness, and the “brayn pan” of “Saynt Myghell,” a preservative against headache.
The image I’ve been looking at is actually a mourning picture in watercolor and ink on silk, done by Miss Sally Miller in 1811 while she was attending the Litchfield Female Academy.
Mourning pictures were a deeply conventionalized art form, usually consisting of one or more mourners drooping over a memorial stone or urn, often with a willow tree nearby. (Here’s one. And another. And two more.) The willow tree is there as an image of resurrection, because willow trees have been known to re-root themselves after being uprooted—though their suitably droopy and easily-drawn shape may have had something to do with it as well. The pictures were painted, or embroidered in silk, or sometimes made from human hair. They belong to the same streak of American culture immortalized by Mark Twain in the Emmeline Grangerford section of Huckleberry Finn.
Mourning pictures were a sincere expression of grief by the friends and relatives of the deceased, but one feels the impulse to say that they were also the product of an increasingly prosperous and self-consciously genteel society that was turning female mourning into a consumer lifestyle.
An oxbow-shaped digression: Nineteenth-century American women didn’t just cultivate weepiness for its own sake. What had first been praised during the Romantic revolution as “sensibility”—a sort of impressionable authenticity and naturalism, as opposed to the perceived aridity, formalism, and callousness of the preceding era—had mutated into “delicate sensibilities” (soulful natural virtue minus the revolutionary leanings), and then just “delicacy”, a state in which women still had that labile, sympathetic impressionability, but were incapable of being led by it into undesirable behavior. This was an advantageous characteristic. A display of delicate principles and sensibilities was evidence of a female’s worthiness for elevated social position and refined company. Behaviors that now strike us as bizarre make more sense if you understand it as a demonstration that one possesses Proper Feeling. Mourning behavior (which is not the same thing as grieving) was of course heavily influenced by all this; which brings us back to that picture.
What the Metropolitan Museum of Art says about it is:
The Litchfield Female Academy (1792–1833), where this picture was made, was one of the few schools that provided both academic and ornamental educations for young American women. Parents sent their girls to Litchfield expecting them to return home knowing English grammar, arithmetic, history, geography, and religion. But any ladies’ academy, no matter how progressive, was still expected to provide instruction in needlework, music, and painting. This painted silk mourning picture is one of eight known from the Litchfield Female Academy. All are almost identical in size, composition, images, and coloring. The painted faces in all eight appear to be by one artist, possibly Flora Catlin, an art teacher at the school from 1815 to 1831.(Drawing and painting, music, and fine needlework are “feminine accomplishments”: skills which are neither quick nor easy to learn, and are extremely hard to pick up on your own. Like her brother’s knowledge of Latin, a young lady’s accomplishments were an index of a genteel education.)
What I find most striking about this picture is that either the Litchfield Female Academy was seriously scanting their students’ basic drawing lessons, or this picture (which, as noted, exists in multiple nearly-identical versions) was the art project for students who had no talent for art, because the thing looks like it’s been put together out of clip art. Three small evergreen trees are repeated five, seven, and nine times. There are two identical specimens each of three different funerary monuments, and the side-by-side female mourners at the far left are likewise identical. The man and women at the far right of the foreground group have been flipped and duplicated in the group at the upper left—the man twice, the woman once but with a different headdress.
The background elements are clearly swipes from other pictures. The city visible to either side of the willow tree, on the other side of the hill-climbing river, was drawn by somebody who understood perspective, but it’s been tilted to make its shoreline match the line of the river. If you zoom in on those bits, you can see from the ship masts and trees and building walls which way was originally up. And the house on the far right is as impossible as anything in Escher, mostly because the area between the two trees, which should be its near corner, is a flipped-over window segment from its facade. That is: whoever put this together hadn’t even been taught to draw a cube.
I wish the image were sharp enough for me to read the inscriptions on the monuments. There’s a lot of room. You could probably work in most of your family’s dead from the last generation or two: a very worthy project for a young lady to be working on. You could take it home to your parents at tne end of term to show them that you were getting a real education.
Wicked Andrew Willett suggests as a side dish a reading of the poetry of Julia Moore (1847-1920), the “Sweet Singer of Michigan.” He poetry was the model for Twain’s complete known works of Emmeline Grangerford; and, as Andrew says, “She had an ear of tin and feet of lead.” I’ve always been fond of I Wonder Where My Papa Is?, but Little Andrew, Ashtabula Disaster, and Little Minnie have much to recommend them.
Mike Ford is also a fan of Julia Moore, and says:
Like McGonagall, she was stone-blind to the actual nature of the “praise” she got from people like Twain and Bill Nye. Her greatest achievement may have been Lord Byron’s Life, which ought to have been read out above the poet’s grave; if it hadn’t brought him up, snorting, nothing would.
The best comment on her is probably from Bill Nye: “Julia is worse than a Gatling gun; I have counted twenty-one killed and nine wounded, in the small volume she has given to the public.”
I once found a pile of sheet music from just before the Civil Wah, and was surprised at the depressing nature of the subject matter. Long story short, I left the book sale without the majority of the music, which was in two pieces, so I don’t have the actual titles. I will reconstruct them from my infallible memory.Rivka contributes a link to Scarlet-Letter.com, which manufactures kits that exactly reproduce historical samplers (some of which were worked by students at the Litchfield Academy), thus enabling you to work your own mourning picture. Rivka’s passing up the opportunity to work this one instead; whereas I, being into the skiffy stuff, have my own reasons to appreciate this one.The Poor OrphanI’d go on, but I’m crying on my lunch already.
The Pathetic Widow
The Miserable Amputee
The Touching Plight of the Baby Bird
O, Can Such Things Happen?
The Hideously Affecting Ballad of the Wronged Son
All Dead On The Battleground
The Dead Child
The Dead Family
Mummy’s in Heaven and We’re All Sick
Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow
Finally, clever Nicholas has provided the inscriptions from the monuments. It failed to occur to me that the Signature, Marks, and Inscriptions link, which on other items had meant the old labels stuck on the backs of paintings, or the potter’s marks on the bottom of a vase, would in this case be the text on the monuments. It reads:
Inscriptions: [in ink on upper monument] Memory of a Brother / Stephen Miller / timber, April 3d. 1793 AE 25y / To thee this morning sun / shown bright, / But ere evening sat in / endless night; [left obelisk] In Memory of a Mother / Mrs Thankful Miller / Oct. 12th April 1777 aged 38 years / There expectation failed. and / hope fond hope’s in disappoint / ment lost; [left tombstone] To the memory / of Gordon Miller / who departed This / Life in 5th year / of his age / Sept. 1776; [right tombstone] To the memory of Hannah Miller / who departed This / life July 1776 / in the 3rd year / of her age; [central obelisk] To the Memory of a Sister / Mrs. Mary Starr / Oct. 20th May. 1811 aged 25 years / The tribute of a Sister / who lov’d thee living, & who mourns / Thee dead; [two tombstones to right] To the Memory / of an Infant / Francis Miller / Born Nov. 1780 / Died Feb. 1781; To the Memory / of a Babe who / died in infancy / July 8th 1782 / Aged 3 weeksAnd yes, thank you, I believe I’m starting to feel better.
Hello, all. I got the same bug as Patrick, and haven’t been up to doing much more than dragging myself back and forth to work and falling over once I get home. I’m hoping I’ll be more myself soon. There are a bunch of half-finished posts sitting in my queue gathering dust.
The Ralph Nader one (provisionally titled “Fck ff nd D, Rlph”) is clearly not worth resurrecting. The tidal wave of eloquent and articulate disapproval that rose in response to his announcement of his candidacy has come and gone. I remain grateful to Candidate Nader for one thing only. He was the occasion of my finally sorting out what it is I dislike and distrust about the “things have to get worse before they can get better” meme, and its less commonly seen sibling, “we have to deprive ourselves of power in order to seek power.”
In the end, my answer to people who say “things have to get worse before they can get better” is, “How much worse? Can you specify, exactly?” Because what I always find, if I ask enough questions and they’re willing to answer them, is that the measure of how much worse things supposedly have to get is, “bad enough that people will be willing to adopt our viewpoint, policies, and platform.”
Have you noticed that? “How much worse?” never turns out to be “only about halfway to the point where our position looks good, so we’ll have to persuade the electorate to go the rest of the way,” or “we’re afraid that if things start moving in that direction, it’ll get so bad that the real hardline weirdos will look good, so we’ll have some repair work to do at first.” It’s always “things need to get bad enough for the electorate to wake up and see things the same way we do.”
(Testing, testing: “We have to let the other side overrun our front-line positions in order to convince our troops that those guys are firing at us and we ought to fire back.” Nope, doesn’t work.)
Does someone who makes this argument understand themself to be saying that hundreds of millions of people should sacrifice the good that might be had by things incrementally getting better, and accept the suffering implicit in things getting worse, in order to bring their own particular faction into an effortless preeminence, and spare them the long hard task of persuading their fellow beings to share their point of view? I doubt that they do; but that is what it means.
It’s my feeling that “we have to deprive ourselves of power in order to seek power” means “I perceive you as a potential follower once I attain power, so how’s about you stay out of power until I get there,” but it’s such an obviously stupid position—right up there with “don’t vote, it only encourages them”—that I don’t think I need to take it any further.