Ridiculously meta fanfiction: Barsetshire and Madame Koska

In the last few weeks in my way of consuming books relentlessly when I can’t sleep and am feeling stressed, I’ve been reading all possible Angela Thirkell books that I could find in e-book format. They’re a ridiculous series written and set after World War I in England in Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire. The class politics are terrible and interesting and they’re a bit like reading a more complex Agatha Christie novel without the mystery solving. It’s always interesting to see how a novelist treats writing about the same group of people over time – these books would be perfect for the long intersecting arcs of a long-running tv series.

I finally hit the book “Peace Breaks Out” and felt surfeited of fancy-ass people with vaguely Trollopean names bemoaning the nastiness of their rationed food and the fact that sometimes they have to clean up after themselves. Definitely found myself muttering and cussing them all out, and hating the obvious arcs of the mawkish love stories past a certain point.

But then in the suggested next books, I noticed some mystery books starring Madame Koska – who was the detective in the books written by a fictional novelist, one of the nicest characters in Thirkell’s series, Laura Morland. Mrs. Morland writes trashy detective novels to support herself and her four sons and their household (ie their servants). It’s a running joke how while she is self-deprecating, everyone she meets gushes about how much they love Madame Koska’s exciting world of fashion design.

Perfect…. completely meta-trashy…. the meta has gone 2 levels deep as Thirkell was more or less writing Trollope fanfiction and then the Koska author is writing fanfic of the fanfic. I have just started Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch – it’s extremely fun and silly.

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Bad tests sink ships, or something

As a connoisseur of the caution sign, I really enjoyed these gorgeous, strange, slightly disturbing safety posters from WWII-era Britain. There are stylized warnings about driving at night, about putting an eye out with that thing, about what happens if you are very imprudent with boxes, giant boards, and ladders, and then a jolly man who is ominously having way too much fun with a sort of compressed air power gun.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2016/09/16/modernist_british_safety_posters_from_the_middle_of_the_twentieth_century.html

Here is my new version of the “I didn’t protect my eyes” poster specially for Firefox developers,

I Didnt push to try

And another very silly new poster for developers – based on World War II’s finest modernist art –

Make sure it has tests

Really, I do love caution signs. They’re so earnest. They try very hard to be persuasive! Here are some from my Flickr collection of signs. This beautiful, detailed image of someone falling through rotten boards on a pier and then drowning helplessly is from the long pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco.

Caution dont fall off the pier

This last one is from an old artillery testing range in Essex that you have to drive through before you can get to the incredibly dangerous and fascinating place, The Broomway. The Broomway is a submerged and mostly unmarked 6 mile long path through ocean quicksand, only usable at low tide. Did I mention the unexploded ordnance, the rapidly advancing tide, and the frequent heavy fog? Also, did I mention there is a tour that takes you over The Broomway on a giant tractor?! Sign me up!

Do not approach or touch any object or debris it may explode and kill you

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The wtf-ological imperative

On the last day of Open Source Bridge I had a hilarious random encounter. I was taking some notes and making badges while listening to the lightning talks (which were great). A guy came up to me and gave me a post it note where he had written, “Wikipedia:” and then some links to articles on the categorical imperative, Karl Popper, and a couple more.

He said something like, “You might benefit from reading these, young lady.” Not sure what I said; something like “Ummm thanks. Why are you giving me this?” He said “I like SCIENCE.” I agreed that I also like science, asked his name, and shook his hand. Then I told him it was weird to call me young lady since I’m obviously old enough to be his mom. He went back to where he was sitting and the lightning talks carried on.

I really wondered what was going on. Had I ever met this person? Was he doing this with everyone or was he fixated on me for some reason? I looked at his web site. It didn’t seem odd. Maybe this was just a slightly socially awkward act, and not a Gift of Fear moment from a member of some odd corner of the manosphere. Maybe this is how Dark Enlightenment people try to make frenemies!

At some point later I was standing next to the same guy reading the unconference schedule. I asked him why he called me young lady and why he gave me those links. “Did I do or say anything in particular, at the conference, during my talks, blogging somewhere, that made you think I am in need of special education about empiricism?” He said everyone should have it. “Yes . . . but why me today? What is it? And why call me young lady? I’m 45. You look like you’re in your early 20s.” The guy said it was because of my tshirt. I was wearing my “End Patriarchy” shirt where the word patriarchy is in html markup as an “end” tag; a mildly nerdy feminist joke. He explained that he dislikes postmodernism. I said it was an odd thing to do. He then explained further that he calls every woman “young lady” and that even if I were 70 he would still call me that.

I had to leave the conference to catch my flight so missed out on this puzzling conversation, but I added as I went away that it wasn’t very polite and it seemed even not very empirical of him to classify me as young no matter what. I don’t always care about politeness, it isn’t that really; it’s that his action and the way he talked to me were mind-bogglingly condescending!

I thought about how communication generally happens. I have passed out flyers to people on the street or during rallies or events but usually not as a shorthand to tell them that they’re wrong in real life. Argument at that level generally happens in something that is framed as, well, argument, or public discourse, or has some other teaching, learning, or activist context. But perhaps my tshirt with its feminist joke is like an invitation to philosophical debate! Yes, I asked for it by wearing this outfit…. *snort* I think if this is going to be a movement, the enlightened ones need something more catchy than a torn pink post-it note. There should be some Kantian Chick Tracts for budding deontologists to hand out on the street to anyone who expresses some identity politics or looks like they might edit the Geek Feminism Wiki. Like creeper cards, but you just hand them to people who are sitting in a chair minding their own business! There could be a whole series of philosophical and political comic books that let feminists and other wrong headed folks know where we missed the logic train. It would be especially great as part of a cult to save our scientific souls! Like Less Wrong, but *even sillier*!

Maybe trading cards or a collectible card game so that I could whip out an Instant and like, counterspell the dude’s Karl Popper with a Paul Feyerabend card drawn by Katja Foglio. It really needs more elegance and fun to be playable!

In short I could not take this moment seriously and had trouble believing it even happened. So I honor that WTF by pausing a moment to record it for all time and make fun of it on the internet.

Chick tract

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Bad Inventions: Dumpling Compass!

This is hardly a bad invention. It is sheer genius, because dumplings are fucking delicious. And because I don’t have time to create it, I give it to you. The Dumpling Compass!

Dumpling Compass is a phone app that points you towards the nearest dumpling source.

Consider the miracle of the dumpling. The basic idea is some sort of grain delicately prepared and cooked, often surrounding a tasty filling. There are so many nuances to this amazing food. Behold the Wikipedia entry for the Dumpling, and swoon in awe!

Dumplings!

Using Dumpling Compass, you can filter by the doughy substrate (corn, rice, wheat), the method of cooking (boiled, steamed, fried, served in soup), the type of filling, and the national or ethnic background of the dumpling you most desire to find at any particular moment. Your compass will point you to it.

Someone go ahead and build this. You will make ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Think how useful. Not like the Sockerchief or the Catula.

p.s. Tamales count!

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Sub-ether message

Quote of the day, because it’s silly and perfect! Give it a dramatic reading if you dare.

The photophonic visiscreen before Ranger brightened with the image of a stocky reptilian creature that looked vaguely humanoid. Its facial scales flushed violet with pleasure as it said: “Captain Farstar! Greetings from Newtonia. How pleased I am to see you again.” The being spoke good Unilingo that was only faintly slurred by a vague hissing.
“Greetings, Dr. Clay. My blood temperature is increased by your warmth,” Ranger said, using the semi-formal greeting ritual of Cretacia, the director’s native planet. “Did you receive my sub-ether message?”

This is from the opening chapter of The Treasure of Wonderwhat. I note that their ship is named “The Gayheart”.

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Furminate her!

Had tea with yarnivore and friends yesterday during a weekend of rain, cold, and sick kids. I told her about the awesome, awesome book Home Life in Colonial Days and she talked about spinning. I can’t knit, as it hurts my hands too much, but am something of a knitting/textile/ravelry fangirl.

I suddenly remembered that I’d gotten the book Crafting with Cat Hair for Christmas and so demonstrated cat-combing using this tool called The Furminator, which sounds like something stupid I would invent but which works incredibly well, producing a huge amount of fluffy, sheddy, cat undercoat. It is best to furminate your cat while saying FURMINATE HER like Darth Vader, or FUR-MIN-ATE like a Dalek. Yarnivore astonished us by spinning several feet of cat hair yarn and then demonstrating how to ply it.

cat hair

Milo and I both tried hand spinning without a spindle. You pull your hands gently apart while spinning the fiber in one direction, which pulls the fibers from the undifferentiated wad of woolly stuff into a triangle called the draft, which leads into the twisted bit that is about to become thread or yarn. Fascinating! We talked about dyeing fiber with local plants like fennel and pokeberry. The thing that fixes the dye is called the mordant; alum sounds like an easy and cheap mordant. I spent some time poking around on Wikipedia to see what it has to say about hand spinning and yarn terminology. I love all the special terminology for textile stuff. Heddle, spindle, roving, batting, loft, worsted, woolen; all very beautiful middle-englishy words.

Yarnivore also told me about FiberShed which is a sort of consortium of Northern California fiber people who are trying to encourage local production of textiles from start to finish. Apparently they are trying to start a maker space and are hoping people in other areas will do the same. I thought again of Kevin Carson’s book The Homebrew Industrial Revolution and may take a look at it in the next few days.

So, I’m hoping to learn to spin with a drop spindle! Wool, though, not cat hair. Though I wonder if cat hair yarn would be as nice and warm as New Zealand possum yarn?

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A frivolous post about tea

On my week off from work I spent a lot of time at Noisebridge. We have a little set-up there with coffee and tea supplies, coffee makers and so on, which people keep stocked with donations. As I sat there waiting for my tea to brew I cleaned up the shelves with a rag and straightened out all the supplies and cups. I had a sudden strong memory of Arrakis Co-op in Austin, where I lived briefly in 1986 after I got kicked out of the women’s co-ops on campus.

Arrakis was a beautiful but dusty and run-down little house in West Campus. (I think it was partly burned down at some point, and has now been rebuilt.) I just remember sitting in the kitchen there having tea with Jimi and Dennis as they talked with me about moving in. I was 17 years old, a little bit wild, instantly in love with the collective house’s feeling of comfortable chaos, its porch swing, and everyone’s laid back attitude. The main thing I remember about sitting there is being absolutely blown away by one thing, the 10 or so boxes of different kinds of tea. They had all these boxes of Celestial Seasonings tea. I had never seen that before in my life. Someone could have 10 different kinds of tea, in their house! The boxes had nice art on them and quotes from Emerson and funny little sayings and it was like HIPPIES had made a real THING… a business. You better believe I sat there and read all the boxes to see what they had to say. I couldn’t wait to move in and try all of the different kinds of tea one after the other. In fact I did, and I wrote them all down with my ratings so that I’d remember which ones were good.

Arrakis Co-op house

Digressing further I remember having a similar hilarious epiphany a few months later while studying with my friend Abbey in 21st Street Co-op. She declared we needed a break and some ice cream so I followed her to the 7-11 where she bought an entire pint of Haagen Daas rum raisin ice cream. My mind was once again blown. It had never occurred to me that a person could just go buy a container of ice cream and personally eat all of it right then. I didn’t drive and I had never really helped my parents with shopping and when I bought food it was things like bread and cheese or a can of soup to get through the weekend. And we had “dessert” sometimes but it was occasional and a bit ceremonious, it wasn’t just like we had ice cream lying around at random. My realization was that $2.50 or whatever it was the ice cream cost was not completely impossible. I just went, OMG, it is not outside the realm of possibility that, not only could I have 10 kinds of tea someday, I could also, at any moment, if I have two dollars to spare, exercise my free will to indulge myself in a giant container of ice cream that is just for me. It was not so much about buying things but more about “things I could do that are amazingly luxurious”. And perhaps “joys of being a Grownup”.

I could wax rhapsodic in the same way about when my boss at the library would buy a bag of Milanos and put it on the table in the break room. Or the occasional Departmental Event or talk where some of us would horn in on the meager plates of brie and grapes like there was no tomorrow. These people at college were living the life!!

This has nothing to do with anything but the memory made me resolve to buy a whole lot of tea and put it at Noisebridge this week so that some young person might have that mildly pleasant experience of a random encounter with abundance. If someone ends up stuffing their pockets excitedly with the free tea packets, I completely understand.

Noisebridge tea cart

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Poems about Francesca Woodman

I was at the SF MOMA last night for a party and noticed that an exhibit is running of Francesca Woodman‘s photos. Woodman was a fantastic photographer. Her photos often make me feel startled — caught — as if someone had been able to see into my head and had violently extracted several ghosts, or xrayed a thought, a dream or a fear. Her photos are usually of female figures, usually naked, in landscapes of houses and rooms, full of light and shadow.

woodman-scarves-photo

They aren’t just houses – they’re like non-cartographical mappings of inner geographies of House, of Room, and of embodiment and gender. I see them and have the sense of being simultaneously trapped and freed, of being shudderingly aware of the trap of gender and patriarchy and of, somehow, escaping.

woodman-door-photo

A few years ago I translated a book by Zulema Moret written about Francesca Woodman’s photos, Un ángel al borde del volcán ardiendo. I really enjoyed the project. Honestly, they aren’t the deepest poems in the world, but I liked the way they interacted with the photos & my memories of the photos, and they were fun and challenging to translate. They’re evocative and delicate. I have a copy somewhere — it was published in Buenos Aires — and am thinking of taking it to the exhibit to read while I look at the photos.

woodman-house-photo

At the party we couldn’t wander through the museum, so I’m going to have to go back to see the exhibit! It’s very exciting! I had a weird feeling just being in the building with them . . . haunted by Francesca . . . as I ate my sushi canapes and chocolate cayenne cream puffs and played with legos, a little tipsy and very exhausted since I WALKED into this party. Yes, you heard me! Walked! . . . The lights and projections of lights, and flowers, and all the food, was very beautiful. We hung out with Jon Callas a lot (restfully nerdy and culturally similar to us) and Helena (dearhelenab?) who was very amusing in her role as Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And Ryan from Wired and several more people from Long Now who I know I’ve met at conferences. I was saying to someone I hoped they would put the constructed feminist language Láadan from 1982 onto their disk thingie of all languages (along with Klingon). Talked also to an Awkward AnarchoLibertarian whose name I forgot but who is an internet pundit. I have started explaining myself at parties either as a hacker poet, or as an Internet Pundit, or both. Neither are good explanations, so I have no elevator pitch for myself… Someone asked me, Web 2.0ishly at this party, “Poetry! So how do you market, I mean, CELEBRATE, your poetry and your work?” I thought over the last 20 years of my life and poeting along and publishing tiny zines and books in very small editions and shrugged… A celebration of obscurity?

Also at the party I nerved myself to go and (interrupting his endless conversation with Edward James Olmos the Battlestar Galactica guy) to fangirl all over Stewart Brand. Hiiiiiiii, um!!!!! I live on a houseboat toooooo and by the way my book coming out soon has an enormous long poem called Whole Earth Catalog that is homage and criticism of the last 45 years of your life’s work and our intertwined cultural histories of the Internet and communes and stuff! That’s all! I just wanted to say it! Have another canapé! BLUSH. He did a polite little double take and gave me his card and seemed quite kind. I wanted to ask Kevin Kelly if he liked my moon landing poem I gave him at foo camp, but I felt like it would be awkwardly putting him on the spot if he had never looked at it, so I just said hello and chatted to the other people as we stood around.

sfmoma-party

I survived the fancy Walking Party At a Museum by sitting down a lot and trying to lure people to sit with me to make things out of legos in the big bowls by the couches. Then would pop back up for a 5 or 10 minute Ordeal of Painful Verticality. Back at home, Danny gently massaged my calves and ankles till I fell asleep.

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Pop music interpolations

This morning I was listening to the awesomely cheerful and cheesy first (and eponymous) album by Book of Love. I have to say of all the joys of civilization, aside from bathtubs, my favorite thing might be singing in the car to loud music. The privacy means I can totally belt out “Starman” while mangling the lyrics without being drunk or having a karaoke machine, but also that I can call up various embarrassing pieces of music to play at top volume without annoying anyone else.


As I sang “Happy Day” this morning I realized that when I listen to heinous pop music sometimes I’m mentally editing it, interpolating way more meaning or different meaning into it. There’s a whole category of songs I have to do this for, ones that are great but then burst into a verse that’s way too specific, like the verse about jumping into someone’s pool in Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Incentive Dealers’ “I Will Deny” or completely wrong. Book of Love is usually not so much wrong as it is simple like a coloring book. So my enjoyment of the fingerpainted lyrics and sweepy new wave music is usually enhanced by a sort of internal Greasemonkey script that shovels in the equivalent of “Howl” and several highly compressed Ani di Franco songs. I don’t think about this, it’s just what happens in the infinite spaces in between the actual lyrics, like the time compression in a dream. They’re like a shape and it’s like I”m having a complicated form of synesthesia (which I actually do get if I have some focus and can close my eyes). This morning I ended up noticing and observing my interpolations because they were so absurd. Yes. It’s like I’m high all the time and I have to suppress it actively. But everyone does that, right? Anyway!!! It went something like this, but way longer:

Can’t describe
What it was
yes exactly i can’t describe it because nothing is describable omg but here let me give it a try (long complicated holo-poem abstraction)
What shined
Shined so bright
flaming meteorites! but sort of fractal! phosphenes! some sort of magic fantasy world psychic power aura that reveals a giant glowing floating futuristic city in an alternate universe that’s infinitely complicated and sort of galaxies exploding and colliding

Hold on to the light
light! why do we hold onto it? what? LION!
Safe from the night
long thought about Novalis I don’t have time to explain
I can see
When you walk with me
but not “you” like a romantic you because that is all wrong but more like The Universe and stuff
Time to begin again
REVOLUTION!!!!!!! SWEEP IT ALL CLEAN! YEAH!!!

Lead us to a happier day
Except leaderlessly in a totally egalitarian way anarchically because that would be the best happiness!!!!!!
Happy day
Happy day

Say goodnight
Wake up you’re late for tomorrow
I’d like nothing to do
well not really
I would dream
Dream about you
YES, YOU, ANARCHY UTOPIA
Lead us
LEADERLESSLY WITH EVERYONE “LEADING” OF COURSE
To a happier day
HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY NYANCAT OF THE FUTURE REVOLUTION!!!!

book of love band posing

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Bad invention: The Sockerchief!

Imagine you have to blow your nose. You don’t have any pockets and no tissues are handy. But wait! You’re wearing your Sockerchiefs!

Sockerchiefs, the latest in my line of horrible and pointless inventions, would be a handkerchief attached to your sock with velcro.

Reach down, rip off the top half of your socks, and blow your nose. Then simply re-attach the hankie to the Sockerchief.

This is possibly even more disgusting than the Beer Hat Neti Pot! It’s extra cringe-worthy since no one would want velcro on their handkerchief. And since it’s easy enough to tuck your handkerchief into the top of your sock if you don’t have pockets (along with your money and ID) it’s also quite pointless. But I’m recording all my bad inventions because I’m still bitter about predicting the cat-ear hat trend back in 1993 or so and then failing to make millons of dollars when people started wearing animal ear hats for real. 20 years from now when the Sockerchief or Cat Egg industrial empire rules the world I can at least point here and say “I told you so”.

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