Reprinted and edited from a comment I left at The Belle Jar.

Every December, G. plays a part in the Mummers' Play, at the Flying Cloud Yuletide Celebration. So far, he's been the Doctor's Horse, the Fiery Dragon* (there never is a fiery dragon in the play, but the fiery dragon who isn't in the play is always the youngest child), Charles Darwin (in cotton-ball beard with a sea-turtle backpack on his back), and, this year, John Barleycorn, who brought in the evil triumvirate of Stephen Harpercorn, Dalton McGuintish, and Rob Barleyford. Every year, after the candle-light chorus sings, and the first story is read, we hear a jingling, and John the Master of Ceremonies announces the arrival of those practitioners of what he calls "socially sanctioned extortion," the Mummers.

The mummers come once a year, in the dark of winter. They don’t exist any other time. The rest of the year, they’re children and teens. They go to school. They do homework. They practice the piano or guitar. They play soccer and Minecraft. They don’t see each other, much, because their parents all live in different places.

Once a year, in the dark of winter, they tell a story. Adorned with the same costumes they wore last winter, they each act a part, familiar to us all from years of watching these same costumes, these same characters, this same story told with different words by children who know the story because they told it last year. Everyone quiets down when the mummers come into the room. We have a role to play, too. We have lines.

Here’s Old Bette. Her chin has sprouted whispers since last year; the actor who plays her no longer quite fits into the ancient bridesmaid’s dress. Old Bette threatens to kiss the men, and tells us all the story has begun. A gangly teenaged boy in an old bridesmaid’s dress, she lets us know that this is an upside down time, a time of misrule, a liminal time.

And now the story begins. Here’s St. George, brave and bold, her sword held high, bringing light to the darkness and hope to despair. We cheer for her bravery, and for her youth.

But you can’t have a hero without a challenge. In comes the fiery dragon!

There ain’t no fiery dragon in this play! choruses the audience, and the very young fiery dragon subsides, making room for a more serious threat.

In the muddled mythology of our play (which is like, yet unlike, any Mummers’ Play anywhere else in the world), St. George must face the threats of darkness, cynicism, and despair in the guise of a current known evildoer. One year it was Stephen Harpercorn. Another it was Rob Barleyford. The name doesn’t matter, so much. What matters is that this force of cold, darkness, meanness, and death will fight our brave Saint George and will not rest until St. George is vanquished. Also, he cheats.

And by treachery, St. George is slain.

Terrible horrible, see what you’ve done? You’ve killed our own beloved one!

All is not lost. A series of characters are summoned to try to revive St. George: Charles Darwin, an old man who wears the bottom of his trousers rolled cannot revive him. A wizard who pulls a rabbit from a hat cannot raise him. A series of singers fail to breath the breath of life into him. Pickled Herring (I don’t know, it’s *Tradition*) cannot entice him back to life. Finally, the Doctor comes, on his horse (the second smallest child plays the Doctor’s Horse.) The Doctor gives St. George some of his magic elixir, and St. George springs back to life, six times as strong as before. He kills the evil knight, and informs the ever-hopeful fiery dragon that there really is no fiery dragon in this play.

It’s the same story, every year. It has to be the same story every year: St. George must be brought down, be mourned, and be revived: Youth, warmth, life, and hope must fall before darkness, cold, cruelty, and cynicism, and be revived by the concerted efforts of, well, everyone. It’s John Barleycorn, Jesus of Nazareth, Orpheus, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, and it’s a story that we need to tell and to remember in the darkest days.

The mummers have gone to their pot-luck feast now, well compensated both with praise and with treats for their annual effort. The fiery dragon, who is three and a half this year, is asleep under the desserts table. St. George has put down her sword and is enjoying a half-pint of beer under her mom’s supervision. The Doctor and his Horse have gone home, bundled onto the subway by their tired parents. And we know that just as St. George rose again, so to will the sun, and that we need to wait, and hope, and hold and share the memory of warmth against the cold, light against the darkness, hope against fear, and community against the loneliness they can bring.

We tell this story every year because it’s a story that must be told, to remind us that spring comes from winter, that life comes from death, and, above all that life isn’t a tidy narrative. Most stories we encounter are: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and by the end the lesson is learned, the problem resolved, the loose ends woven in or cut off. The Mummer’s play is not that kind of story. It’s the story of the year: summer and harvest cut off by winter, then born again, and we wind up back where we started, except a year older. The year itself isn’t a unit, separated from previous years by a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, it is, but that’s just convention: the earth, the weather, and we ourselves don’t observe these arbitrary demarcations. So open the door for the Mummers:

A merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer,
A penny in our palms won’t do us any harm,
May your days be merry and your homes be warm

Our Mummers' Play is written anew every year, always using the same cast of characters and structure, but with political content relevant to the past year. Here's a database of historical mummers' play scripts, for your interest

* This was the year I learned that we'd lost the Fiery Dragon costume at 9:00 p.m. the night before the play. I won some sort of good parental-adjunct prize, coming up with a tail and a toothy hood out of red scraps. I was not gratified to hear a voice from the audience complain "But the fiery dragon is supposed to be green!" If I'd known before the fabric stores closed, we might have had a green dragon. Folkies can be such traditionalists.
Apparently this is my week for weird gendered interactions.

I'm in Stephen King country. Specifically, I'm at Indian Acres Boys' Camp, near Freyburg, Maine. I'm here to help the ever-amazing Susan de Guardiola teach a week of Titanic-era dances at an International Folk Dance camp (the dancers rent the camp from the boys' camp). It's stopped raining, and the organizing committee, who are mostly about my parents' age is bustling around putting up "etnhic" decorations and pinning people's names to their cabin doors. 

Camp starts tomorrow, but in order to save the committee some money, I travelled here yesterday with a fellow I know from the Hogtown contra dance community, who, at 54, is one of the younger members of the organizing committee. Walter is a nice-enough fellow, whom I've known well enough to dance with for about 15 years. After 10 hours in his car yesterday, I feel that I know him rather better than I did before, but I don't think I'd go so far as to say he's a friend. He is, however, the only person here so far that I've ever met before. So, when we arrived yesterday, he introduced me around, and we went out to dinner with a bunch of the other people from the camp.

Today, after breakfast, as I was cleaning up my plate, one of the older gentlemen—let's call him Marv—spoke to me. "I just want you to know," he said, "that I think you're a very nice person, and if you and Walter stay together, I hope you'll be very happy." 

I blinked, smiled, and said something like "Umm, thank you, but Walter and I just travelled down together, we're not an item." Then, to forestall any further peculiar assumptions, I said "I am actually seeing someone in Toronto."

Now, of course, I believe firmly, on no further evidence than this exchange, that Marv is carrying a torch for Walter (who, in 15 years of Saturday night dances I've never observed to have any romantic interests at all, so who knows what his orientation is?), and was trying, sweetly, if misguidedly, to be gracious in perceived defeat. 

zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Aug. 17th, 2011 11:54 am)

More reporting from a Toronto High School: It's the 1950s now, so most of the "Baby Bags" have graduated. For context, I have just edited an entire page that lists all the citywide athletic championships that the Boys' athletic teams won.

Oh authors with your casual sexism! 

When the old auditorium was converted into the Boys’ Gym, the girls inherited the smaller upper gym. The gym rang with giggles and laughter at 3:30 most days while girls played whatever sport was scheduled. The girls’ teams also participated in Hi-Jinks, the Track and Field Days and Cadet Inspection Day. It was a huge honour to be chosen as a cheerleader.  It required stamina and quite a bit of athletic ability to do cartwheels and jumps in formation. The Drum Majorettes group was also always popular.  The 1952 squad was the largest in any school that year.  They performed at the annual Red Feather Tournament of Champions sponsored by the Community Chest (later the United Appeal). It had been organized to raise funds for needy Torontonians. The Majorettes also marched at Varsity Stadium at the City Football Championships and in the Santa Claus Parade.

N.B.: This is the pre-edited version. I'm fixing up the awkward phrasing.

Giggles and laughter! The Boys' teams won citywide championships. The girls giggled and laughed. 

Oh, 1950s. 

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( Jan. 8th, 2011 10:59 am)
Last year captainmushroom gave a home to an amaryllis plant. We watched it grow until finally, in February, its crimson blooms burst out and brought a bit of breathtakingly lovely colour to the February greyness.

So when amaryllis bulbs went on sale this Season, I decided Dictionopolis could use a bit of colour and brought one home. Today, it repaid my $6 investment and benign near-neglect*:

Pink and white amaryllis flower in full bloom. Flower is placed against a greenish background. Shot shows stalk and leaves as well as bloom.

Extreme close up of the inside of a pink and white amaryllis, showing stamens. The sun is lighting the bottom right of the bloom.

*Seriously, these things are incredibly rewarding plants, even for black-thumbed people. All you need to do is put it somewhere the cats won't eat it, water it when the soil starts to feel dry, and marvel as it grows really blessed quickly. I swear, I could see the flower unfurling when it started to bloom.
I was travelling around on work, meeting with clients. I was in Newfoundland, and then I went to Iceland, and thence to Sweden. My hotel in Sweden was adorable—genuinely boho, a kind of Art Nouveau apartment building, with hanging silks and a proprietress who had a crystal ball. 

It was there that I became uncomfortably aware that I was being followed. Strange men appeared in the lobby. My clothes had been rifled in my room. The proprietress of my hotel was upset and gracious about it. She seemed to know who the culprits were, and apologised and changed my room to one for which there was no way to duplicate the key and promised me security. But as I was waiting in a hired car for my mom at the airport, they appeared again. I had no choice but to drive away, leaving the driver (who may have been one of Them) waiting at the airport. There ensued a high-speed car-chase, through the highways, overpasses, and back roads of Sweden. This was inconvenient, because I can't actually drive, so in addition to being terrified and annoyed by the people chasing me, moderately lost because I was in Sweden, and confused by how to operate a car, I was worried that the police would notice my erratic driving and pull me over, and then discover that I don't have a license, don't speak Swedish, and don't know how to drive.

Eventually I ditched the car, and took a bus back to my cute hotel, where the proprietress informed me that she'd put my mother in the room adjoining mine, and the rest of the guests on the third floor.

Further adventures inspired by Pushing Daisies, Steig Larsson, Naomi Klein, Cory Doctorow, Die Hard and others )
I'm at the cool part of things again--the part where I come up with ideas about what's going to go into a resource. In this particular project--a literacy resource for primary students--we're using a lot of poetry. I'm rediscovering Dennis Lee, of course. And Raffi.

I'm also encountering a lot of poets whose work I've never read before.

There's a lot of bad kids' poetry out there, I can tell you. But, it is also amazing and humbling what some people can convey, using very simple words. Here are two that hit me today:

From Thanks a Million: Poems by Nikki Grimes, Illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera

I wish these walls were ours,
I wish this bed were mine,
that dinnertime meant just us three,
my brother, mom, and me.

I wish I had a room
that I was forced to clean.
I'd gripe for my best friend, then say,
"Come to my house and play."

Things could be worse, I know.
At least, I'm not alone.
My mom and brother hold me tight
when I cry late at night.

Dear Author

When my father died last year,
Somebody threw a switch and turned me off.
I couldn’t breathe. Or cry.
My family wondered why.

Months passed, and they figured
I must be okay. But they were wrong.
I leaked sadness everywhere I went.
No one seemed to notice or understand.
Until Lotus, the girl in your last book.
She was also drowning deep inside.
Some nights, I’d crawl between the pages
of that novel and hide for hours.

The two of you made all the difference.
I just thought you’d want to know.


zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Mar. 23rd, 2010 08:39 am)
A fringe benefit of Community Sing is that it's given me another reason to go looking out lyrics for songs, and stumbling across vintage video. Which video I can share with you!

Sister Rosetta Tharpe sings "Down by the Riverside"

Mahalia Jackson "Joshua Fit the Battle" (can't embed, sadly. You'll have to click through. It's totally worth it.)

zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Feb. 17th, 2010 11:41 am)
Dan Wineman explains why the Flash on your retail website needs to go:

Me: (tries to visit a local restaurant’s website via iPhone)
Restaurant website:
I require Flash. Fuck off.
Me: I just want to know how late you’re open.
Website: Nope.
Me: But I’m on my phone. Don’t you have a little “HTML Version” link up in the corner or something?
Website: I’m ignoring you.
Me: What if I’m on my phone because I’m out, looking for a place to eat? Didn’t that ever occur to you?
Website: Fuck entirely off.


That is all.

I haven't posted about the wedding in Ottawa, mostly because other people have, and I've been swallowed by my life.

I received the beautiful invitation from [personal profile] commodorified , [personal profile] fairestcat , [personal profile] random , and [personal profile] rayne in the mail, after [personal profile] mycrazyhair  warned me it would be coming, and I arranged to take two whole days off work to travel to Ottawa with her, despite my trepidation about travelling the week before the Dance Flurry, meeting new people in general, and weddings in general.

We had an awesome trip. I am really glad I got to see the MacFlails get married, to dance with them (and with [personal profile] dagibbs—finally!); and to visit [ profile] audrawilliams and see [ profile] human_loser once more before he vanished back to the west; to experience the most breathtakingly epicurean vegetarian cuisine I have ever eaten, to hang out and breakfast with [personal profile] toft , [personal profile] curgoth , and [personal profile] neeuqdrazil ; to meet whole bunches of very interesting, kind, funny people; and to dress up pretty and dance with my girl.

To the MacFlails: It was lovely to meet those I met, to spend some time with you, to witness your marriage, and to laugh and danc

Thanks to the MacFlails for inviting me, for having an awesome wedding, and for providing me with an opportunity for such a very enjoyable weekend. [personal profile] commodorified , you sure know how to make a girl feel welcomed and appreciated (or at least ogled). You are a lovely, lovely family, and I'm so glad to have witnessed your beautiful wedding.

[personal profile] dagibbs , after all that geeking out at various parties, it was lovely to finally dance with you—thanks for taking me out on Saturday night. Thanks to [personal profile] neeuqdrazil  for driving us all home.

And [personal profile] mycrazyhair  wins an AWESOME SWEETIE award for organizing everything, and being generally awesome.

My life, it does not suck.

She's totally right:
Comic below cut. )
Bad grammar kills the mood.

I link because I care.

In other vaguely related news, a team of researchers at King's College, London, have failed to find experimental support for the existence of the G-spot. They studied 1,800 women. Half of the women were pairs of identical twins; half were pairs of non-identical twins.

If one [G-spot] did exist, it would be expected that both identical twins, who have the same genes, would report having one.

But this pattern did not emerge and the identical twins were no more likely to share a G-spot than non-identical twins who share only half of their genes.

I'm not sure about the methodology of this study, though. If you're dealing with a subjective mechanism for gathering data—individual reports of personal experience—how do you control for differing sexual experiences between women (even—gasp—women with similar appearances)? Presumably the breadth of the study would in some wise address this. Among that many women, researchers might expect some trends to emerge, I guess.

Personally, I like what Dr. Petra Boynton (who appears to be the Beeb's pet sexologist; whenever they report on G-spots or other aspects of women's sexuality, she seems to give them a nice quote) has to say about the entire question of a G-spot: "It's fine to go looking for the G-spot but do not worry if you don't find it."

Other research suggests that some women do have a G-spot and some don't. A much less comprehensive Italian study in 2008 used ultrasound to locate an area of thicker tissue in the vaginas of women who reported having powerful orgasms when that area was stimulated. The study examined 20 women (I did say it was much less comprehensive! However, it wins skience points for using ultrasound.)

Ultrasound was used to measure the size and shape of the tissue beyond the "front" wall of the vagina, often suggested as the location of the G spot.

In the nine women who reported being able to achieve vaginal orgasm, the tissues between the vagina and the urethra - which carries urine out of the body - were on average thicker than in the 11 women who could not reach orgasm this way.

Again, Dr. Boynton gives sensible advice for those worried about their girly bits (or those of their partners):

"We're all different. Some women will have certain area within the vagina which will be very sensitive, and some won't - but they won't necessarily be in the area called the G spot.

"If a woman spends all her time worrying about whether she is normal, or has a G spot or not, she will focus on just one area, and ignore everything else.

"It's telling people that there is a single, best way to have sex, which isn't the right thing to do."
zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Jan. 2nd, 2010 10:44 am)
I think anyone who works with kids, has kids, deals with neuroatypical kids or grownups, likes Mythbusters, or likes robots (or children who like robots) needs to read [personal profile] toft 's fic Robots Need Love Too.

Adam likes robots and math, and has a cape. He and his mom have just moved to a space station, where he meets Jamie. Jamie likes quiet, and math and doesn't like being hugged. He thinks robots are pretty neat too.

A snippet:

"Well, I guess we can be friends as long as you don't mind my behaviour abnormalities," Adam says.

Jamie wonders what they are. He rolls the dark blue cylinder in his hand, then opens his pen and slots it in. He draws a little cube on the top corner of his datapad, then another.

"Those are really neat and tidy," Adam says, leaning over to look at his work and almost touching him, but not, so Jamie isn't annoyed and doesn't have to push him. "I can't get them that neat and tidy. I always smudge them."

"Quiet now, boys," Educator Kari says. "It's time for first period." Jamie thinks that's hardly fair, as he wasn't the one talking, but he concentrates on booting up the math programs and inserting his earbuds. He leans over to check that Adam has the right programs up, and he does, so Jamie ignores him for the rest of the period. Adam falls of his chair a couple of times, and once tries to talk to Jamie, but Jamie ignores him. Jamie likes math.
Toft has created an entirely believable space station, and two entirely believable small boys. She tells the story from Jamie's POV, and this is the best fictional representation of the way a child with Autism-spectrum traits might see the world that I've ever read. Adam's behaviour is entirely reminiscent of some small boys I've met—I love the exchange with his mother over Jamie's mother's hydraulic chair, where Adam doesn't understand why his curiosity makes his mom uncomfortable. The story is, as other commenters have said, sweet and adorable, without being cloying or sentimental.

Even if you don't follow Mythbusters (I don't), you should still consider reading this story. It's quite excellent.

Now I'm off to clean out the fridge.

zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Dec. 2nd, 2009 06:11 pm)
Do I have to read Twilight in order to have an informed opinion of Monica Hesse's theory concerning why smart, literate, feminist women find themselves being bitten by Meyer's execrable prose and frightening worldview [warning, link contains some abelist slurs]?

In "Twilight," Edward Cullen waffled between wooing and eating new girl Bella Swan. He chose love. In "New Moon," the darkest installment of the series, Edward becomes convinced that his girlfriend would be safer without him, so he dumps her in order to protect her and then vanishes. Bella, catatonic from the pain, finds solace in Jacob Black, the devoted friend who has just learned he is a werewolf, and their relationship grows deeper, and this description is utterly, utterly useless because none of it gets at what the "Twilight" series is actually about, which is being 17.

It's a time capsule to the breathless period when the world could literally end depending on whether your lab partner touched your hand, when every conversation was so agonizing and so thrilling (and the border between the two emotions was so thin), and your heart was bigger and more delicate than it is now, and everything was just so much more.

I'm not sure I want to be reminded about being 17. I was really dumb then. Yes, things mattered more, but they hurt a lot more too, almost all the time, and I'm pretty sure I was insufferable.

So I'm pretty sure I shouldn't read Twilight, which is good, because I've no desire to. But I don't fault those who do. After all, I like Die Hard movies.

I posted a new status on Facebook this morning:

[zingerella] would very much like to spend the day building a fort out of blankets and pillows, and hiding out there, eating carrot sticks and cookies and reading comic books with you.

I am not in a blanket fort, of course. I am at the office, on another interminable phone meeting. But in another branch of the quantum, I didn't go to work today. I took the cushion off the papasan chair, and put it on the floor. I propped the cushions from the loveseat against each other, and draped the afghan my mother knit over it. The cats were initially confused, but now they're snuggled with me, as I lie on my tummy, legs poking out of my fort. I have a big mug of Good Earth Original tea, with milk and honey. I have a plate of carrot sticks (but no dip, as that's just tempting fate and cats), and a plate of chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies (chewy ones). And maybe an apple, for nutrition. I am listening to Mozart, and reading my way through [personal profile] sabotabby 's graphic novel collection. And I never got out of my pyjamas this morning.

Wanna hide out in my fort? What are you bringing?



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