Garden of Steel Magnolias

Mother’s Day

One of my earliest memories is of going out the back door to the camellia bushes before going to church on Mother’s Day. My mother always cut red camellias for my sisters and me, and another for herself.  I remember the year that she cut a white one for herself. When I asked why, she answered that white was for a mother who had passed away. I remember thinking at her funeral that now I had to wear a white camellia on Mother’s Day.

My mother was an enigma when I was little. She slept from the time my brother and sisters left for school to the time they got home in the afternoon. I didn’t recognize the signs of depression for a few decades, despite being immersed in it myself since my teens. Every so often, I could rouse her to talk to me about the plants she loved, but it often made her yearn for an acre of deep, dark, earth that would respond to her touch, rather than the red clay of our Atlanta back yard. I hated to make her sad.

When I was in college, my mother convinced my father to let her take art courses at the same women’s college I attended. She bloomed there in a way I had never seen before. My mother was intelligent, with an intellectual curiosity and love of learning she passed on to me and my siblings. She excelled in art, enjoying every medium, but falling in love with textiles and pottery. I remember seeing her with her friends in the campus center, laughing and smiling, as she shared some hard-won life lessons with them.

After my mother’s death, my sister found hundreds of pictures that had been kept in the attic for decades, all dating from before my parents’ marriage. Neither she nor I had ever seen them before. The mother we knew was quiet, almost dour. She did not complain, but she did not seem to enjoy her life. These pictures showed a vibrant, laughing young woman having dinner with friends, or shockingly, posing with a young serviceman whose hat she had placed on her own head. The serviceman was not our father, either.  

In them I saw the smile from her college years. I recognized that young woman, confident and smiling with her friends, vibrant and playful. I often wonder what happened to that young woman in the intervening years. My guess is that she was forced to choose between marrying and taking care of a husband and children or staying unmarried and taking care of her parents. I think she would have chosen to live alone until her mid- or late-twenties, something that is no longer unusual. I write about women in the middle ages with limited choices about how to live their lives, yet am surprised at the lack of choices my mother had in the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps I am not the only one born in the wrong century.

 

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Garden of Steel Magnolias, WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday Christine the child

Flipping to another WIP, a novella based on the life of Christine de Pizan (1364-1431), the first woman in France to make a living as an author. I give you 18 sentences, adding 9+10, and well, minus 1, because that’s where the piece stops.

If you want to join in, post a snippet from a current WIP that has some connection to the date, and link to the blog hop here. It is hosted by K L Schwengel–thank you!

“Christine, please pay attention to your spinning. It is a disaster, yet you refuse to learn. You must use both your hands in concert.” Christine thought, Synchronicity, like Papa explained about the celestial spheres.

Her mother continued her rant, “Look at the lumps in your wool! Your father thinks he can make you into a scholar, stuffing your head full of Latin and science. It’s not right for a woman to know how to write. How we will ever find a husband for you, I do not know!”

I’ll find my own husband, Christine thought. Stifling a yawn at the perennial argument, she searched through her Latin in a familiar game. Oscitate, yes, that’s yawning, she smiled to herself. Out loud, she said dutifully, “Yes, maman, I will try harder.” She picked up more roving to bear out her promise.

She loved her maman, but she wanted more than her mother’s life.  Christine yearned to be a scientist like her father, famous at the French court for his knowledge of astrology and the humours of the body.   She wanted to discover whether the pestilence that had ravaged the world was due to the conjunction of three planets, as some thought, or from a miasma, a mala aria in her native Italian. She would be as famous as her father, some day, and not for her spinning. She would be a new sort of woman.

EM

 

Creativity

My Writing Process

The lovely and supportive writer S.J. Maylee tagged me in a writing process blog hop.  I have four questions to answer, so let’s get started!

What am I working on?

My day job involves a fair amount of writing, but I won’t go into that.  The work closest to my heart is a novel set in 14th century France about the struggles of a young widow who runs a publishing concern.

A few days ago, I set this novel aside because I am so dissatisfied with my fiction writing. I have a novella simmering about a British WWII war bride, but I’m having trouble breathing her in right now.  I have therefore returned to a memoir I started writing as a NaNo rebel last November, but shelved in December.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My narrative non-fiction is more poetic or evocative than most, since I am allowed some of the little darlings that are edited out of fiction when they do not advance the plot or character arc.

My historical fiction is heavier on history, and tends more toward literary fiction, than that which leans to historical romance.

Why do I write what I do?

What else am I going to do with my graduate degrees in medieval literature? Seriously, I enjoy exploring the lives of strong women in a culture that was legally and socially set against them.

How does my writing process work?

I’m a plotter, although I often have characters who decide to take over, so I leave some flexibility in the outline.

I’m also an inveterate editor, so it’s hard to chain my infernal internal editor in the closet to let me write.  I often write a zero draft, then run through it, editing lightly as well as expanding and contracting where needed.  Then come the substantive edits.

In other words, lots of wash, rinse, repeat.

Thank you, S.J., for tagging me.  Who wants to carry on the torch?  If you want to post these questions and answers, let me know, and I’ll be happy to link to you.

Words from the Nerd Side

History of Profanity

This post originally appeared on my blog of literary history and words, which has become moribund.  There are some great comments on the original post, which is here.

 

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few weeks now. At first, it hit me that all the terms: cursing, swearing, profanity, are somehow deficient. Cursing, in the sense of wishing someone harm, or damning them to hell, and the like, has become pretty mainstream in the 21st century.  There are still people who do not like it, but most people are more comfortable saying “damn” than the notorious f-word.  My husband has an Irish friend who would easily say that it was “pissing down rain,” but would never in his life say “goddamn.” My Irish-American father would never say either, at least in my hearing. In stark contrast, during the Hundred Years War, the French called the English soldiers “goddams,” because they heard it so often from them.

Swearing also does not mean “bad” words, but swearing oaths as we do when we testify at a trial or join the army or get married. Swearing is in the background of expressions like the British “bloody,” which began as “sblood,” from swearing oaths on “God’s blood,” or “swounds,” on “God’s wounds.” “Swounds“ is now only seen now in centuries-old novels set in earlier centuries yet. To my knowledge, only a small number of religious sects, like the Amish, refuse to swear any oaths, no matter what the circumstances. It seems that swearing is pretty normal for most 21st century people as well.

Profanity is an interesting term.  It comes from the philosophical split of the sacred and the profane, the holy and the human. To profane something is to make something which is holy into something human, to bring sacred things to the level of human existence, the normal, the everyday. In the twentieth century, Canadian French had the only “bad” words that were truly profanity, in that they were religious terms used in instances of anger or frustration. “Hostie” and “tabernacle” are the words for the Roman Catholic Eucharist wafer and the large receptacle where consecrated wafers were stored on the altar, respectively. However, what most of us consider profanity has nothing to do with the holy and much more to do with human sexual and other biological functions.

Also, many of our “bad” words in 21st century English are Anglo-Saxon. All right, I’m a nerd and have studied far too many medieval languages. However, I have to stifle a laugh whenever anyone says, “Pardon my French.” Why would I pardon your French, when the word you belted out is Anglo-Saxon, and ironically, was made into a “bad” word by the very French you are blaming? In 1066, the Norman French who conquered England decided to marginalize the prior occupants of the island by recasting them as barbarians who could not even speak correctly. A former colleague, with whom I taught medieval legal history, used to say that the words used by the people who tended the animals were different from those used by the people who ate the animals. Look at “sheep” versus “mutton,” which comes from the Middle French mouton. The French terms became a sign of more polish, more culture, than the Anglo-Saxon terms.

This juxtaposition runs through all of our language, not just the “bad” words. Consider: “keep” versus “maintain,” “get” versus “obtain.” The feel of the words is so different, or at least the Norman French campaign to make us see the French as more refined succeeded, didn’t it? Is it any wonder that all of the “bad” words that cause a sophomoric giggle amongst 12-year-olds are Anglo-Saxon: “fart”, “ass,” “tits,” and the rest (which I leave to your imagination as this is not an 18-and-older blog)? I draw odd looks when I apologize for my Anglo-Saxon, but most of my friends know I am just being a pedant.

I love the history of language, and the history of rude words is even more fascinating. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. I’d love your thoughts and comments.

Excerpts

Imago feminae

This flash fiction was written to fit a couple of rules.  I had to use the words imago, oscitate, lacuna, miasma and synchronicity in under 200 words. I’d love to hear your honest thoughts about it, especially as it is a piece I want to expand.

“Christine, please pay attention to your spinning. It is a disaster, yet you refuse to learn. You must use both your hands in rhythm.” Christine thought, synchronicity, like Papa explained about the celestial spheres.

Her mother continued her rant, “Your father thinks because I did not bear him a boy, he can make you into one, stuffing your head full of Latin and science. How we will ever find a husband for you, I do not know!”
Stifling a yawn at the perennial subject, Christine searched through her Latin. Oscitate, yes, that’s yawning, she smiled to herself. And that hole in my spun fiber, that’s lacuna. Out loud, she said dutifully, “Yes, maman, I will try harder.” She picked up more roving to bear out her promise.
She loved her maman, but she wanted to be a scientist like her father. She wanted to discover whether the pestilence that had ravaged the world was due to the conjunction of three planets, as some thought, or from a miasma, a mala aria in her native Italian. She would be as famous as her father, some day, and not for her spinning. She would be a new sort of woman.