Showing posts from 2019

Advent Calendar: The Star Wars Holiday Special [video]

Now that we've got all the good stuff out of the way, behold what is widely held to be the worst holiday special ever produced.

If you want some warning, here's a brief explanation of what in God's name is wrong with this thing. If you're brave and/or masochistic... well, here you go:

Advent Calendar: Celtic Folk & Fairy Tales [full audiobook]


Advent Calendar: "A Visit From St. Nicholas" [audio]

Clement Clarke Moore's famous poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas", aka "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", as read by Vincent Price.

Advent Calendar: "The Rabbi's Game of Cards"

From From The Heart of Israel: Jewish Tales And Types, collected by Bernard Drachman. James Pott & Co., New York, 1905.

At the time this book was published, "Israel" was more a concept than an official place; the independent state of Israel wasn't established until after WWII, in 1948. Most collections of "Jewish folklore" are comparatively modern stories from the Jewish populations of Europe. (I'm pretty sure the 'province of Posen' referenced here is present day Poznań, which sets this story in then-Prussia, now-Poland.) I tried finding something older, but there's almost nothing out there from the Middle East between the Bible and the printing press in age. I would be very surprised if there weren't Jewish variations of the tales of Nasruddin, a figure in Arabic-language lore that spreads from North Africa all the way into Turkey, who is alternately portrayed as a very wise man and a complete wiseguy. A lot of the same clever "wel…

Advent Calendar: "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" [video]

I feel compelled to point out that stories need not be old to qualify as folk tales. Though the popular notion that Santa's sleigh was drawn by flying reindeer dates back at least to "A Visit From St. Nicholas", published 1823, the story of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was written by an employee at Montgomery Ward in 1939, at the request of his boss, for distribution as a Christmas season promotion. Ten years later, the poem was set to music by country singer Gene Autrey. The famous Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation special linked below dates to 1964, and has been imitated -- but never quite matched -- many times since.

Advent Calendar: Old Peter's Russian Tales [full audiobook]


Advent Calendar

From Manx Fairy Tales, by Sophia Morrison. David Nutt, London, 1911.

Humans are so very odd about names. I spend a fair amount of time on subreddits like r/UnresolvedMysteries and r/gratefuldoe, where the denizens can be laser-focused on finding who the unknown dead are, and giving them back to their families. The latter sub was founded, in fact, after reddit managed to crowdsource a solution for the identity of the Grateful Doe, a young man dubbed thus because he perished in a car accident after attending a Greatful Dead concert. They've ID'd several Does since, many of whom have had their names and stories released to the public by their thankful families.

Advent Calendar: "The Straw Ox"

From the Book of Cossack Fairy Tales, translated by R. Nisbet Bain. George G Harrap & Co, London, 1916.

Advent Calendar: "The Woman With Two Skins"

From The Book of Folk Stories from Southern Nigeria, West Africa, by Elphinstone Dayrell. Longmans, Greene &Co, London, 1910. 

Casting unwanted things, particularly children, into the water is a motif that recurs in tales from all over the world. One wonders what it is about humans that makes them think rivers and oceans will sweep away all their sins. And what it is that makes us so afraid that things we want to get rid of will be washed back in to haunt us.

Advent Calendar: "Charcoal-Nils and the Troll-Woman"

From The Swedish Fairy Book, edited by Clara Stroebe. Frederick A Stokes, New York, 1921.

Advent Calendar: "In The Beginning"

From Stories of Greece and Rome, by Emilie Kip Baker. Macmillan &co, New York, 1913

Advent Calendar: "The Cat And The Mouse"

From The Cat & The Mouse: A Book of Persian Fairy Tales, edited by Hartwell James. Henry Altemus, Philadelphia, 1906.
One might wonder why the cat is allowed to get away with being such an asshole here. Other than 'because cat', I mean. The reference to being a "Mossulman" (i.e., Muslim) puts this story in a mainly-Muslim region, and according to Islamic tradition, cats are beloved of the prophet Mohammed. A shorter, much less-murderous folk tale holds that Mohammed had a pet cat whom he loved so much and spoiled so thoroughly, that one day when the cat laid down for a nap on the sleeve of the robe he was about to put on, he fetched scissors and cut the sleeve off rather than disturb it.
I try not to repeat that to any actual cats. I don't want them getting ideas.

Advent Calendar: "Anansi & The Pot of Beans" [video]


Advent Calendar: Japanese Fairy Tales [full audiobook]


Advent Calendar: "Thirteenth"

From Italian Popular Fairy Tales, by Thomas Frederick. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1885.

Advent Calendar: "The Queen of Quok"

From American Fairy Tales, by L Frank Baum. Yes, the same guy as the Oz books.

Advent Calendar: "Charan"

From Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts, and Fairies. Translated from the Korean of Im Bang and Yi Ryuk by James S Gale. E P Dutton &co, New York, 1913.

Advent Calendar: "The Dance for Water, or: Rabbit's Triumph"

From South-African Folk Tales, collected by James A Honeÿ, MD. The Baker & Taylor Co., New York, 1910.

Advent Calendar: "How The Hodja Saved Allah"

From Told In The Coffee House: Turkish Tales, collected and done into English by Cyrus Adler & Allan Ramsay. Macmillan &co, London, 1898.

Advent Calendar: "How Tiger Got His Stripes" [video]


Advent Calendar: "Grimm's Fairy Tales" [full audiobook]


Advent Calendar: "Ku-Ula, The Fish-God Of Hawaii"

From Hawaiian Folk Tales, compiled by Thomas G Thrum, published 1907 by A C McClurg & Co.

I don't know a great deal about Hawai'ian lore, nor about Hawai'i, for that matter. I mainly went with something interesting, that involved only a moderate amount of cold-blooded murder, and didn't have any women sold into slavery or being awarded as brides.

Advent Calendar: "The Three Golden Hairs of the Old Man Dède-Vsévède"

From Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants And Herdsmen, translated from the French of Alexander Chodsko by Emily J Harding. George Allen, London, 1986.

Advent Calendar: "Gulnare Of The Sea"

From The Arabian Nights: Their Best Known Tales. Edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora A. Smith. Charles Scribners Sons, 1909, New York.

I had a hell of a time picking something from the Arabian Nights (original title: ألف ليلة و ليلة‎, "Alf-layla wa layla", 'The thousand nights and one night') for this. It's easy to find collections of the best-known stories, but all of the collections that have passed into the public domain in the US are Victorian or Edwardian, and involve content that would not pass muster today. The point at which any given story contained a jump scare in the form of "a monstrous black" coming out of nowhere, in the same tone we'd use for "a giant slobbering ogre" now, was the point at which I stopped reading.

I ultimately went with Gulnare of the Sea for a couple of reasons. One, I was intrigued by the familiar motif of a beautiful mute woman from the sea -- similar images occur in the tale of the Little Mermaid, spr…

Advent Calendar: "Uʻtlûñ′tă, or Spear-Finger"

From Myths of the Cherokee, compiled by James Mooney. Washington Gov't Printing Office, 1902.

Have fun with the diacritical marks. I cannot speak to the accuracy of the transcription system in use here -- given our track record dealing with the natives, my guess would be 'poor' -- but the language in question has six tones, a glottal stop, and differentiates between short and long vowels. Best of luck to you all in your attempts to read Cherokee as written by a US government ethnographer.

Advent Calendar: "The Shoes of Fortune"

From Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales.

"The Shoes of Fortune" actually goes on for quite some time, but there is a limit to both my patience, and the patience of any small humans to whom this may be read at bedtime. The rest of the stories, as well as others, can be found here.


Hello, rat-fans! I hope you have all enjoyed your holiday weekend. The rats did! As a reminder, this year's advent calendar is now running on the public blog, but to see the regular weekly-ish blog entries in the month of December, you can become a Patron.

This is especially important right now, as I've just found out I'll have to move again by the end of February. I hate moving and was on track to deal with it again "by September", not "by March", so I spent my holiday weekend either in a dead panic, or trying to ride that fine line between medicating myself out of a dead panic and being in a coma. Yay.

If you're in need of some holiday gifts, you also have the option of buying some of my hand-knitcreations over at Etsy, or splurging on a Ratmas gift set. This serves the dual purpose of funding me and giving me less crap to pack later, so consider it a mitzvah.

Now that's over with, on with the show!

First we have Ratsgiving Brekfiss, a bowl of…

Advent Calendar: "Wooden Peter" [video]



I have new rats! Meet Durnik (above) and Barak (below). In accordance with internationally-recognized Rat Law, these little widgets are now the exact geometric center of my entire universe, and will be treated accordingly.

These guys are re-homes, about a year old. A short list of things Barak and Durnik like:

Each other.Humans.Food. Conspicuously absent from that list is 'other rats'. Which was a problem, because they were brought on as companions for an only whose rat-bro had sadly passed away. From what I gather, the singleton is happy and friendly and also ADHD in the form of a rodent. So while Barak and Durnik were settling down into being asshole teenagers (~6 months, for rats), Attention Deficit Rat would basically land on their heads at random going HAY LETS GO RIDE BIKES!!!11!!! or whatever the rat equivalent is. Barak would go JESUS FUCKIN Y U CHOO ON MY HED AGIN?, Durnik would follow, and it would all end in a loud obnoxious 3 am boxing match. The household ended up…
First things first, a bit of administrivia: Those of you who have been around for a while may remember that I run an "advent calendar" for the month of December. The winter holidays are two solid months with a heavy emphasis on belonging and family. I have a lot of things to say about those concepts, most of which are not what anyone wants to hear while they're wrapping presents and roasting turkeys. I queue up a bunch of fun things instead and hole up to drink until January.

This year I'm doing things a little differently. While the advent calendar will be running on the public blog -- this year it's folk tales from around the world -- the regular blog entries will be running on my Patreon for anyone who cares to pledge $1 or more. Because I'm sometimes rubbish at posting on a regular schedule, my Patreon runs on a monthly model, rather than per-piece, so if you pledge $1, you'll never be charged more than that.

You are, of course, welcome to give me as …
My response to extended periods of stress is to distract myself by cramming new things into my head. I had a terrible semester at college once and front-loaded the entirety of the FAQ into my brain. It wasn't useful at the time, but I can repair the shit out of a VCR now, so I assume I'll use it someday. I am so overloaded I am about to claw my own face off, so naturally I am teaching myself Hebrew.

I've been using Duolingo to do it, which is frankly a very bad idea. (I should really be using Ha'Ulpan, which is where you'd typically go for a crash course in Hebrew before emigrating to Israel, but that costs money, so no.) Duolingo is billed as a way to teach yourself a language, which it is not. It is a way to memorize a bunch of interactive flashcards. This might be effective for people who don't care how language works -- which is most people -- but it's awful for people like me, who hang all of their memorization off of a framework…
My roommate owns a sewing machine. I have been kindly given permission to use it pretty much whenever she's not. This machine is a 1977 Sears Kenmore 1625 behemoth that, judging from the weight, has been carved out of a single block of solid steel. His name is Pierre.

Pierre runs quite well for a chunky monstrosity approaching middle age, but apparently he was a secondhand find, and sometime over the past 42 years all of the presser feet that were not attached to the machine have gone AWOL. This is kind of a little bit important, more so after I watched my poor roommate try to put boning into a ball gown bodice by hand.

Presser feet are the little widgets that hold the fabric down onto the feed dogs -- the little tank treads that walk the fabric away from you as you sew -- and the size and shape of them determine what kind of stitches you can use, and what happens when they clamp down on the fabric. You can get all kinds of trick feet that overlock like a serger, fold the edge ove…
My craft projects tend to balloon. The problem is that I know how to do it right, and I hate having to do it wrong.

I need a shawl for flamenco. I have some practice things, but I need a real one to use for shows, on the assumption that if I've been at this long enough to buy real shoes I'm probably going to end up doing it on stage. The customary ones, mantones de manila, are made of embroidered Chinese silk brought in through the Philippines. The nice ones can run north of $300, which is not going to happen. The simple student ones made of acetate and polyester satin are about $100, which I could probably do eventually, but would rather not if I can help it.

I did some math and raw materials would run me $30-35. I can do that, probably. I know where the fabric store is, I know where to get hoops, and I know how to embroider things, technically, although I spend more time darning clothes I don't want to replace than I do decorating things with thread. I decided to splurge…
Brains are weird. I have first-hand experience in this. Weird doesn't always mean bad, however, so occasionally I rummage around the internet trying to figure out if any of the weird things work to my advantage.

If you've ever heard of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), your reaction was likely either, "Hey! It has a name!" or "You people are bizarre." It's a little complicated, but the gist is that it's the exact inverse of that cringe response most people have to nails on a chalkboard: Some sort of stimulus, often but not always auditory, makes you melt into a puddle of goose-pimpled goo. The ASMR community is pretty adamant that it's not sexual, despite the existence of ASMR erotica. (I'm inclined to believe them. I feel like this is less a case of 'the lady doth protest too much' than of just plain ol' Rule 34.) Common triggers include whispering, the rustle of book pages turning, tapping of rain on a hard surface o…
I did at one point promise to try to explain the Eccentric to you all. I just remarked to one of my other friends that he picks up dance partners like the BDSM people pick up play partners. Might as well start there.

In kinkster terms, a "play partner" is someone you get together with and act out your fantasy BDSM scenarios. The relationship is not considered romantic; it's not that kind of intertwined partnership. But to be effective play partners, you do have to click really hard, and be pretty good friends, or your weird little hobby isn't going to work right.

There is an established etiquette for picking up play partners. You have to be respectful, but also very, very straightforward about what you're looking for. You are negotiating unusual boundaries around things that most people find emotionally sensitive. If you have a romantic partner, it is also considered important to be up front about that and be willing to introduce your prospective play partners to…
I always have a hell of a time finding jobs. The conventional wisdom is that it's easier to find a job if you have a job, so take whatever you can get and keep looking. Unfortunately, the McJobs of the world don't want me. Employers who just need a warm body who can show up sober-ish and demonstrate a basic skill do not call me back. A temp agency got me an interview once -- once -- with someone who needed a phone dispatcher. It went very confusingly until the hiring manager and I compared paperwork and realized that the resume the agency had sent him was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the resume I had sent them. He then told me, and this is an actual quote, "You're too smart to be here," and that was the end of that. The only time I ever managed to get one of those jobs was by volunteering to work graveyard, which everyone else hates, and by lying on the application and telling them I'd dropped out of college.

I've been bidding on pet-sitting on …
If I read one more article on "Marilyn Monroe's dress size", I am going to roll my eyes so hard I will be stuck staring at my own frontal lobe.

Marilyn Monroe did not have a dress size. She had a range of measurements which would not have fit into any commercial garment, or commercial garment pattern, then or now, without extensive modification. The reason she looked so good all the time is that literally everything she wore was either custom made for her, or tinkered with by a dressmaker who knew their stuff. You will not look like that in anything you buy from a store. Marilyn Monroe would not look like that in anything she bought from a store. Clothing just does not come in that shape.

This rant is inspired by a shopping trip I took last week. I went to buy jeans, because A) it's my birthday on Monday, and B) all of my pants are falling off again. I blocked out an entire afternoon for this. Partly that was me assuming that if I wanted to get a pair of jeans that w…
I read a lot of advice columns. It's the best way I know to keep track of what people think of as normal. Not what's actually normal, mind you -- that is, what most of the people do most of the time. Just what people think should be normal, which is a different thing. One where I make a habit of lurking is the r/relationships subreddit. It has a decent mix of ordinary, mostly-functional folk, batshit crazy people with good intentions, and the usual appallingly sexist internet scum. The posts tend to get repetitive, what with everybody having to learn their life lessons the hard way, but as of late I've seen a new sort of post crop up. The question is something to the effect of, "My partner has announced they're non-binary, and as they've started presenting less masculine/feminine, I'm less attracted to them. Am I the asshole for wanting to break up?" Surprisingly (for the internet), the answer is usually no. They get the same sorts of responses that …
By the time you all read this, I will have spent an evening performing with my flamenco teacher and a few of my classmates, with a live symphony orchestra, in front of I don't know a few hundred people. I am asked on a regular basis if this makes me nervous.

Short answer: No.

Longer, more accurate answer: People freak out over being on stage mainly because it represents something that makes them significantly more nervous than other things they do, on account of the perceived consequences for screwing up. Performing in front of a crowd does not make me any more anxious than anything else in my life. The actual consequences for screwing up on stage are that you will have made a mistake in front of a crowd. The actual consequences for screwing up other things I deal with all the time are dying of starvation, homeless and alone, under an overpass somewhere on the outskirts of Boston. In comparison, "a bunch of strangers think I look silly" is not anything of note. I get up …
TIL I would fit into Marlene Dietrich's clothing.

There's an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts right now called Gender-Bending Fashion. It has the array of glam rock costumes (Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones) you'd expect, as well as modern pieces from couture runway shows. Some of the pieces are considerably older -- there are Edwardian women's "suits" á la Titanic that took their inspiration from men's business attire, and sporting and driving gear of similar vintage. A few of the outfits there belonged to Marlene Dietrich, who spent an awful lot of her career borderline crossdressing. One of them is the tuxedo she wore in the nightclub scene from Morocco, embedded at right.

All of the old clothing looks pretty small by modern standards. People are generally both taller and broader than they were in a hundred years ago, mostly owing to improved nutrition across the board. (Yes, there's a lot of crap out there these days, but we also put vitamin…
I'm still alive. Sort of.

In the past few weeks, I've had a grand total of twenty-one hours where things felt like they were going reasonably all right. Twenty-one. I went back and checked timestamps and counted.

I landed a short-term gig teaching dance for a bunch of kids. It wasn't absurdly lucrative, but if I could earn that much money every week I'd be fine long-term. I was on site for 6 hours a day M-Th and had a four hour evening on Friday. I wasn't even running around with the kids for all that much of it, I just had class periods separated by free time. It ruined me to the point where I was having trouble feeding myself and showering consistently. I would get out of there and try desperately to get something useful done and just stare at a wall, if I didn't lay down "just for a minute" and wake up hours later.

I don't think it's necessarily the physical activity that's the problem. I can do four hours of hardcore dancing in a day…
Not all relationship work is worth doing.

People become more who they are over time. It's not always bad; it is almost always a little bit weird, but that's because "normal" is a theoretical construct. A little awkwardness is charming when it's one of your friends. Other times, it's a disaster.

I've recently had occasion to work with another artist on something. I'd known them casually before, in a related context. They were always cranky, but the main crank was centered around a day job they loathed. I know how much having to get up every damn day and do something that's destroying your soul can fuck up the rest of your life, so okay.

This assumption was... incorrect. The details are too identifiable to share, and the point here is my own thought process and not other people's dysfunction, but the more time I spent with them, the farther afield the complaints started to range. The list of topics it was unwise to bring up in conversation grew …