This past week was indeed full of awesome. It was yet another reminder of how my life should be and what I’m striving for.
Temping at the Computer History Museum is a wonderful thing. It reminds me of working in high-tech before the bubble in 2001. There’s no one setting me up for a fall, or as I told the person who trained me, “There’s no one looking at me like ‘What are YOU doing here and how is it going to hurt me?'” Everyone is very welcoming. And I’m back in cubicle land with 72″ purple walls. Thank goodness for no more open space offices, those really were the worst for me.
My schedule needs some adjusting. I’m still trying to figure out how everything fits in. My commitment to being creative every day remains, it’s just figuring out how to do that with two days in the middle of the week given to earning steady money. I don’t mind, it’s worth figuring out.
A friend sent a new, larger rice cooker. This one is 16-cups! Yes, that’s exciting to me too. Now I can make my meals ahead more easily knowing there’s enough rice already cooked.
Overall, a really good week. For which I am very grateful.
As I come close to finishing this doorstop of a book, it’s not a bad time to remind myself that Ovid’s stated intent with his epic poem was to tell the story of Roman history from the beginning of time until Rome’s founding by Romulus.
That is a lot to write. As I said in my review of Book One, Ovid had an ambitious goal. I’m also discovering that while I may “know” some of the stories in Metamorphoses, I don’t know Ovid’s versions. I know Odysseus (Ulysses) from Homer. The same with the Trojan War. Ovid’s audience would have known Homer’s work well, so while Ovid pays homage to the authors who came before him, he does not tell the same stories. Which can be confusing.. To add to the confusion, Homer was Greek; Ovid Roman.
This book may be the most disjointed of all. The stories are all over the place, jumping from metamorphosis to metamorphosis without much plot cohesion.
It begins with a return to the story of Glaucus and Scylla. Book Thirteen ended with Scylla rebuffing Glaucus who, seemingly, went to Circe in a huff. Book Fourteen reveals that Glaucus was not seeking out Circe to heal his broken heart, but to plead for a spell or potion to be whipped up that would make Scylla love him. And, as we have become used to, jealousy rears its ugly head. Circe refuses Glaucus’ request, wanting him for herself. Instead, she turns Scylla’s lower half into dogs. Glaucus continues to spurn Circe, and no one ends up happy.
Ovid briefly mentions Scylla being turned into a headland of rock, just across the way from Charybdis’ whirlpool, making the strait of Messina difficult to navigate for sailors. Between Scylla and Charybdis is the origin of “between a rock and a hard place.” Scylla being the rock and Charybdis the hard place.
A poorly executed encounter between soldiers who once fought on opposite sides of The Trojan War, leads to the story of the aftermath of Ulysses’ men in Polyphemus‘ cave. Great care is taken with the details of a blind, angry cyclops who pulls Mt. Etna apart and grabs every human he can feel and eats them whole. This is some gory stuff which Ovid’s audience would have loved.
Now the other soldier in this encounter relates what it was like to be traveling with Ulysses and get stranded on Circe’s island. Entering her palace, twenty-two men are greeted by friendly animals of all kinds. The animals are wagging their tails and licking the hands of the new arrivals. Circe greets them kindly, while the men notice that her women are not carding wool or spinning thread, but rather sorting grasses, flowers and herbs.
Circe directs the women to make a potion for the visitors. As they drink, she taps each one on their head and they become pigs. Here again, Ovid dwells on the details of this transformation.
… I started to prickle all over with bristles. My voice had deserted me, all the words I could utter were snorting grunts. I was falling down to the earth, head first. I could feel my nose and my mouth going hard in a long round snout; my neck was swelling in folds of muscle; the hands which had lifted the cup just now to my lips were marking the soil with hoof prints. (lines 279 – 284)
One of the men, Eurylochus, does not drink the potion and is able to alert Ulysses, outside of the palace, who comes in and convinces Circe to return them all to human form.
While lingering at Circe’s, one of her maidens tells the story of the statue of Picus to Macareus. As is common in these tales, Picus is gorgeous and young. He is also married to Canens, a beautiful young woman who could move anyone and anything with her singing.
One day, while out picking herbs, Circe gets an eyeful of Picus and falls in love. She is determined to have him, but Picus keeps denying her because he’s married to Canens. Circe becomes so incensed she casts a spell and turns him into a woodpecker.
Picus is searched for but, of course, no one can find him. Canens wanders for six days and six nights and finds herself on the shore of the Tiber river. As Canens sings her sorrow, she wastes away to nothing.
Once again, I’m reminded of the Roman audience who would have loved this sort of gossipy story. That it also explains the name of a physical space called Canens is a bonus.
Pomona is the goddess of orchards, who cares only for trees which bear fruit and nuts. She’s decided to spend her life away from men, which is difficult because the males don’t take no for an answer.
One, Vertumnus, changes the seasons, and can change his appearance at will. He disguises himself as an old woman so he can go into the orchard and talk to Pomona. In this guise, he gives her many reasons why she should marry him.
He doesn’t wander all over the world in search of new women; he sticks to his own patch. Nor does he fall in love with the latest girl he has seen, like most of your suitors. You’ll be his passion, his first and his last; he’ll devote his life entirely to you. (lines 679 – 682)
Then old-lady-in-disguise Vertumnus tells her the story of Iphis and Anaxarete, which does not end well.
Iphis is a shepherd who falls in love with the lady Anaxarete. He fights his feelings because of their differences in class. When he can no longer fight them, he goes to her home and pleads with her. He asks her servants to help him woo her, but Anaxrete has a cold heart and spurns him repeatedly. She even makes fun of him.
In an act of desperation, he goes to her front door and beseeches her one last time. When Iphis is rebuffed yet again, from behind a closed door, he commits suicide where the servants find him.
Still Anaxarete is unmoved which makes “a vengeful” god angry and she is turned into a statue.
At the end of this story, Vertumnus changes form into his own beautiful self, ready to rape Pomona, if “necessary.” But his story has changed her mind about men and she gives herself willingly to him. At least it’s another rape avoided.
Which brings us, at last, to the founding of Rome by Romulus. Ovid does not mention the twin brother Remus or the myth of them being raised by a she-wolf here. As with most well-known stories written by other authors, Ovid either glosses over them or focuses on different details. As I’ve stated many times, his Roman audience would have been familiar with these stories, so Ovid didn’t need to retell them.
Rome has been founded during the festival of Pales, the god of shepherds. But war broke out with the neighboring Sabines, because the Roman men abducted and raped Sabine women for wives. After a sufficient amount of blood being spilled, peace is negotiated and Romulus rules over both Romans and Sabines.
The last story in Book Fourteen is brief and relates the story of how Romulus became a god. Mars fulfills his promise to Romulus who takes the name Quirinus once deified.
His wife Hersilie is left behind and grieves the loss of her husband. But Juno has plans for her and sends Iris to fetch her to Romulus’ Hill, where she is transformed into a goddess and joins her husband as Hora.
It was a tumultuous week. In the best of times, it’s not easy to ask for help. But there I was in a fluorescent lit, tile floored room filled with people of all ages and races, asking for help because I just couldn’t do it anymore. Taking care of myself nutritionally had become so difficult and made me feel so low. In many ways, asking for this sort of governmental help made me feel like a failure, a loser. I had been brought up in a home which believed asking for help was for “them.” And there I was, one of “them.”
But on Friday, when I could go buy groceries and put fresh produce and protein other than chicken in my refrigerator, I forgot about “them” and was simply grateful.
Mid-week, the temp agency called. I have become skeptical when they ask if I’m available to work. Two years of not being picked have made me jittery. But this time, it was my turn to be picked. Later this week, I will begin a part-time job doing data-entry in a facility not far from where my high-tech life began.
Evie Mae, she of the electric blue hair, has been talking to me so I guess we have some stories to tell. She’s very reluctant to tell it to me all at once and, as I’ve read many times, writers don’t necessarily need to be linear when they start the story. So I’ll take what she gives me when she gives it to me. I have so many questions for her!
It has been extremely hot the past few days, it’s hard to get anything done in this uninsulated stucco apartment which absorbs all the days’ heat. I took a couple of days off to reground myself from all the excitement of last week. I feel better able to work now, which is a thing I’m sure my stories appreciate.
This week has proven yet again that the universe watches out and provides for me. I must get back to my part. Who knows what good surprises are in store for me?
My mind works in funny ways. It always has. If I had to explain it, I’d probably say something about that’s just how the creative mind works. But since I don’t have to explain and I’m used to the idea of being what others consider quirky and odd, I’ll just say this, “Yup, I’m weird.”
A post on Facebook by author Baer Charlton, sparked an idea. Proving, to me at least, that inspiration comes from anywhere.
Baer was discussing the lack of character development in a book he’d just read and listed all the things he didn’t know about the protagonist, including what color her hair was. And I thought, “oh, her hair is electric blue,” like it was the most obvious thing on the planet.
I don’t much trust myself with fiction because I’m not sure I could bear the weight of consistency which fiction requires. But Baer’s list struck me as an interesting exercise. As did his quote about how bad the character development was in this book he’d read.
This book was the worst case of stick figures being pushed around in a story line.
What follows is my response to Baer’s post.
Her hair was electric blue, in a straight cut just below her ears. She hated when it was long enough to cover her neck, but not long enough to pin up out of the way. She also hated having to do anything other than wash and comb, so she kept it short.
She also kept her hair short so that it wasn’t awful to deal with when she hit the open road in her 1955 ruby red Thunderbird. At least the last guy she lived with had been good for something. His restoration job was gorgeous. But when she caught him online having some sort of weird sexual orgy with people from all over the world, she knew it was time to pack up and leave. Besides Nellie Belle, a box of books, a box of clothes and a laptop, was all she owned anymore.
Twiddling with the radio, looking for the comedy routine called church radio, which could only be found on the AM dial and was best enjoyed on the back-roads of Middle America, she heaved what used to be an ample bosom in a deep sigh.
The moonlight reflected off the deep burgundy color of her fingernails. She still hadn’t figured out a great story to tell when people asked why she was missing part of her right pinkie finger. Telling them her father thought it would be funny to see what else garden shears could cut was just too painful to relive. Mostly, she shrugged and smiled when asked.
Hating that she was nearly 60 and there was still so much she wanted to do, the trip from Ohio to New Mexico was yet another attempt at sorting things. She had a score to settle with her parents. Her mother died before the score had even been tallied, and one of the things on her long list of things to do before she died was to settle up with her father.
Grinning as yet another preacher profaned the word of God while making a plea for money, her stomach rumbled. “Oh, hungry,” she said out loud. Didn’t seem that long since the last bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings, and the cherry shake had gone down.
And now she was out on a two-lane in god knew where Indiana. A night owl by nature, it’d be another couple of hours before she would be ready to bed down somewhere. It was unlikely there’d be a burger place open at 2 or 3AM. Damn, she was going to have to settle for an energy bar stashed in the Wonder Woman lunch box on the seat next to her. When she stopped for the night, she’d look for WiFi and figure out where the next really great burger place was. The internet was good for things like that.
It was also good for things like talking to people in murky places with even murkier morals willing to help one quirky older woman settle her scores. Her father would never know what hit him. Too bad it wouldn’t get her the finger and the years he took from her back.
Book Thirteen has 967 has lines on 48 pages and is the longest book in Metamorphoses.
In “The Judgment of Arms,” Ajax and Ulysses argue over who should be awarded Achilles‘ armor. Ajax’s basic argument is that he is descended from nobility and braver in battle than Ulysses, because Ulysses skulked around at night hiding from actual battle.
Ulysses, on the other hand, addresses his comments to the chiefs who are to make the decision, not to the onlookers. He speaks of his tactical abilities which, among other things, involved skulking around at night spying and negotiating.
The notes in my copy say that the speeches both cover a spectrum of rhetorical style that Romans would have recognized. Since it is not my intent to give a close or more technical reading, I will leave it to the experts.
After Ulysses is awarded the armor, Ajax commits suicide. Which in Ovid’s hands reads like a pathetic attempt to hurry on to the next story. The retelling of the Trojan War has allusions to Homer but doesn’t address many of the details which would have been familiar to Ovid’s audience. In other writings, Ajax was driven to madness and then committed suicide. Here, Ovid just makes Ajax seem like a petulant little boy who didn’t get his way.
In many ways, Book Thirteen is a relief to read. There’s not so much violence or rape or such goings on. That is not to say that it doesn’t have a share of sadness.
The story of Hecuba is one of those. At the end of the Trojan War, Hecuba and two of her children are just a few of the remaining survivors. One son, Polydorus, was sent to live with King Polymestor In Thrace. Priam sent gold with his son so if Troy fell, Polydorus would be able to support himself. As in most stories involving gold, Polymestor was greedy and killed Polydorus to keep the gold.
Hecuba is aboard a ship in Agamemnon‘s fleet which has anchored off the coast of Thrace waiting for the right winds so they can continue on to Greece. The slave women and Hecuba convince Agamemnon to go ashore and avenge Polydorus’ death.
But as they touch shore, Achilles’ ghost arises and demands the death of Hecuba’s remaining child, Polyxena. Polyxena’s final speech is so brave and moving, telling her killers that she goes willingly but they must not sully her maidenly body by touching it with their male hands. Achilles will be more appeased with the blood of a willing victim. This sweet daughter goes to her death knowing nothing will save her, or her family’s name, and goes bravely.
Poor Hecuba. She has now lost her husband and all her children and is now a slave to the Greeks. Yet she does not lose her dignity. She connives a meeting with Polymestor by telling him she has more gold to give him in return for the release of her son.
Greed overrules smart in so many of these stories. Polymestor thinks he can get the best of Hecuba and keep all the gold for himself. But he soon learns that a mother avenging her children is someone to be reckoned with.
And then she grabbed hold of him tight, with a shout to her posse of female captives, and dug her fingers into his treacherous eyes … (lines 559 – 560)
I’m going to end the commentary on Hecuba with this, “posse of female captives.” Posse?
The last two stories in Book Thirteen are those of unrequited love.
First, the story of Galatea, a sea-nymph, who spends her time in the arms of Acis, a human, and avoiding the advances of Polyphemus, a cyclops. Polyphemus is beside himself that nothing he does can gain the attention and love of Galatea.
He combed his hair, trimmed his beard, and cut back on his slaughter of ships as they anchored in port. One day a seer puts into port and tells Polyphemus he will lose his eye to Ulysses.
The Cyclops replied with a laugh, “Your are wrong, most stupid of prophets, My eye has already been robbed by another!” (lines 773 – 774)
Polyphemus catches Galatea and Acis in each other’s arms and sings a song about what she’s missing out on by not choosing him. He is so angry that his voice causes an earthquake on Mount Etna. Grabbing a piece of the mountain, he flings it at Acis and kills him. Grieving Galatea uses her power to turn Acis into a river.
Here is the lesson, obviously old as time, not to try to make yourself over just to win the love of someone who doesn’t love you. In Polyphemus’ case, it’s literally destructive.
The last story is of Glaucus and Scylla. Scylla, preferring to be alone, has found a cove in which to shelter. She encounters Glaucus, but is wary of him. He swims up, begging her to hear his story and to fall in love with him, as he has done with her. (The Romans were apparently big on love at first sight.)
He tells her that he used to be a fisherman. Once, while letting his nets dry, he discovered the grass he was sitting on sent the fish he’d just caught back into the ocean. Taking a taste for himself, he found himself turned into a sea-god.
It was then that I first set eyes on this beard encrusted with green, on the hair which sweeps in my wake as I swim far over the sea, my colossal shoulders, my blue-coloured arms and my curving legs which vanish away to a fish with fins. (lines 958 – 961)
“My colossal shoulders? My curving legs?” Glaucus is certainly full of himself.
Scylla rejects him and leaves the scene. Enraged, Glaucus goes to see Circe.
The way this is written, my first impression is that Glaucus is just another fickle male, who stomps off to some other woman for comfort when he is rejected.
Although Erin, owner of ARTIS PURA Custom Framing, and I have been friends for many years, she is a delight to work with. Framing is technical, and her patience in explaining terms and ideas was a great help. I’m looking forward to working with her a good long time.
Retailer Target did something very important this week. By announcing they are phasing out gender-based signage around the store, they have signaled they listen to the concerns of their customers over the pigeon-holing of children.
Friend and mentor, Melissa Atkins-Wardy of Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies was on the forefront of this movement and continues to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the way we think and raise our kids. Be sure to read her blog post about it.
People are losing their minds over this move, and not in a good way. I’ve seen comments about how this is political correctness run amok, or how this move will confuse children about their sexual identity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Now there’s only toys. Not toys for girls and toys for boys. Just toys. And kids get to pick the toys they want to play with without getting the not so subtle message that there’s something wrong with them if they want to play with a toy identified as a different gender from the kid. Girls who want to play with green army guys can now just go to the toy aisle to find them. Boys who want to play with a doll can now just go to the toy aisle.
In case you’ve missed it, society has become over-sexualized with gender expectations narrowing what is “proper.” Women get the brunt of this. We have to correct this notion that women have specific roles to play, and one way to do that is to teach both boys and girls to have respect for themselves and be who they are at any given moment in time. As Melissa says, “There are many ways to be a boy/girl,” and “colors are for everyone.”
I got it. The advice I’d been reading most of my life finally hit home. Finally. Sometimes I’m really slow.
This is my work now. Developing the discipline of meeting myself at the computer every day and creating.
If none of what I have been doing looking for a job has been working, and my heart longs to create, why not just spend my energy there?
I thought talent and creativity just came into being. Really. My father was a musician with perfect pitch, yet I never saw him practice or sweat over a composition. We only model what we see, and if creativity seems to come out of nowhere, how was I supposed to know it took practice?
I didn’t know it was a craft to be honed, and that the way to hone it was to create all the time. Instead of creating, I would go back to not creating and worrying incessantly about how to pay the bills. My dysthymia would become full-blown depression and I would lie in bed and cry. (I still worry incessantly about bills.)
Then I read a book of essays by Anne Lamott about life. I hit the part about “shitty first drafts.” Seriously, that’s what this crazy writer up the freeway from me in Mill Valley called them, “shitty first drafts.” Well, huh, I thought.
It began to sink in. This advice I’d been reading most of my life began to hit home. It was the very realization that I have to put my butt in the chair every day and do something. Butt-in-chair does not mean publishable every day, nor does it mean a strict word count or number of hours. Why Anne Lamott was the one who got through is anyone’s guess.
What “shitty first draft” and butt-in-chair mean to me is, go to work. Every day. Go to work and create. If it’s shitty, who cares? I don’t even have to care. The only care I should have is that my butt is in the chair and I am working. Two hundred words a day, five hundred? Doesn’t matter. Hands on keyboard, butt in chair, go.
Thank you to all the mentors I’ve never met. To Richard Kadrey who shared a picture of one of his outlines. To Wil Wheaton who writes honestly about his own depression and anxiety, and who taught me the two best words to string together; “depression lies.” To Anne Lamott who taught me about shitty first drafts and letting go. To Annie Liebovitz who makes it look effortless but who said “I’m happy if I get one shot a year I really like,” while I was in the same room with her. To Gordon Atkinson whose writing resonated with me while he was RLP and who was open about his own process.
It’s really called discipline, or work ethic, or something silly like that. But to me, it’s shitty first drafts and butt-in-chair every day. No lie, it’s that simple and that difficult.
My first paid piece was published this week for ARTIS PURA Custom Framing. Erin and I have been friends for years, her business is now so successful she needs to (and can afford) to hire someone to write for her. I write, she frames. This is what happens when two creatives come together.
Book Twelve is mostly about the Trojan War. But instead of describing the war itself, as Ovid’s predecessors Virgil and Homer did, Ovid describes it as yet another brawl breaking out at a wedding reception (see Book Five).
Next is a seemingly unconnected story about Rumour. I’m particularly fond of the way Ovid describes Rumour’s home.
… who chose to live on a mountain, with numberless entrances into her house and a thousand additional holes, though none of her thresholds are barred with a gate or a door. … the whole place hums and echoes, repeating whatever it hears. … (lines 43 – 45, 47 – 48)
There are 23 lines which exquisitely describe this home and its denizens. This is why I continue with Metamorphoses, the language can be so beautiful and interesting.
Then there’s the story of Cycnus, yet another man who metamorphosizes into a swan. This Cycnus brags to Achilles about needing no armor. Comically, Achilles keeps trying to kill Cycnus by throwing his spear multiple times and always missing. Even more comically, while Cycnus is boasting he can’t be killed, Achilles strangles Cycnus with the strap of his own helmet.
The after battle story telling around the fire leads into Nestor’s story of the transgender Caenis/Caeneus.
His exploits won him renown, the more surprisingly so as he started life as a woman. (line 174 – 175)
The story of Caenis makes sense, since she was raped by Neptune who offers her anything she wants. She asks to be made something other than a woman so that she will never have to suffer rape again. (lines 199 – 203)
The core of Book Twelve is “The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs,” Ovid’s comical version of the Trojan War. At the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodamia, the drunken centaur, Eurytus, decides he’s going to make off with the bride. Which never goes over well. There erupts an epic brawl in which weapons are improvised from the furniture and table settings.
One line in particular caught my fancy. There’s a centaur passed out drunk in the midst of this chaos with a cup of wine spilling from his hand. A lapith sees this and takes action.
Now you must mix your wine with Stygian water! (line 322)
Book Twelve ends with the death of Achilles, as cowardly Paris’ arrow is guided by Apollo through Achilles’ heel.
If Priam, after the death of Hector, had cause for rejoicing, this surely was it. So Achilles who’d vanquished the mightiest heroes was vanquished himself by a coward who’d stolen the wife of his Greek host. (lines 607 – 609)
The death of Achilles ends with preparations for the dispensing of Achilles’ belongings.
In my research, I keep being reminded that the Romans were a blood-thirsty lot and all these tales of battles and wars would have been greatly appreciated. Even as I caution myself of this, I can’t help wincing over the detailed gory events. Eyeballs dangling onto faces just isn’t a very nice thing to think about, no matter how much the antagonist might have deserved something horrible.