blaugust #17: thrill me.

“The thriller proper is a work of art as delicate and precise as a sonnet.” – Margery Allingham

A couple of weeks ago, The Guardian published a review of Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham, in anticipation of a special edition that Folio Society will release next month. I am, as previously blabbed, a huge fan of mysteries – particularly the old school British classics. Margery Allingham is definitely in that category, and I’ve read several of her Campion stories. Albert Campion is the traditional old school detective hero: a brilliant peer who prefers the life of a gumshoe to the social grind. I am oversimplifying, because that makes him sound insufferable and he’s not – he’s startling and fresh and likable. Allingham is a wonderful storyteller, but she’s also a magnificent writer – sharp and clear, short and precise, funny and oh, when you aren’t really ready for it from a clever, witty thriller, so human and devastating. The Guardian piece had some great background on her, as well.

I’d never read Traitor’s Purse, so on the strength of this very loving review, I got a copy from the library. I finished it last night. I won’t rehash the review here, because it’s already been done perfectly, but the book was everything it promised. A perfect thriller that manages to be both a departure from the other Campion stories, and also utterly canonical. The descriptions of place are drawn with a very fine hand, using wonderful words in just not quite expected ways:

“A broad road, still paved and flanked with squat houses, rises slowly to the Corn Exchange and the Nag’s Head Inn. The hostelry, fourth oldest in the country, is three storeys high and its centre gable, gallant but drunken, leans appreciably westward, lending the whole structure a note of ancient and irresponsible festivity both laughable and endearing.”

Ancient and irresponsible festivity. That’s the most vivid description I’ve ever read of an old and lilting English building.

“He had no idea where he was and the velvet dark was warm and faintly anaesthetic…Another door brought them to a flight of wooden stairs and a surprising change of atmosphere. It was still warm, but the air now smelt of paper and floor-polish and the gentle, exciting odour of old wood.”

Who gets to put the words gentle and exciting together to make the exactly right description of a smell? Margery Allingham, that’s who. Go thee to the library for some books.

(This is day 17 of the Blaugust initiative; I’m a survivor!)

blaugust #16: Tyria, try again.

GW2 - Tristis - Lion's Arch 8-16-15f

I’ve finally gotten Guild Wars 2 reinstalled and had that run around I was craving earlier in the week. Tristis is a bit shambolic at the moment. They’ve changed the character builds since I last played, and I’m still finding my way around the skills ring. She’s got half of one outfit on, and half of another outfit. We are badly in need of transmutation, but I don’t have any charges and don’t want to buy any. She looks a bit naff, but I’m just going to live with it for now.

GW2 - Tristis - Lion's Arch 8-16-15b

My first impression, once I’d had my pretty run around over hills and through forests, was that I was bored and would rather be playing something else. I logged out and came back a couple of times over the course of this week. But two posts I read this week have convinced me to stick with it for a little while and see what develops. The first was this tempting collection of screenshots of the new Lion’s Arch, which I hadn’t explored yet. The second was MMO Gypsy’s Blaugust post for yesterday: “What makes me happy in MMOs.” Some of the things on that list are things I can relate to: windmills creaking, my cloak fluttering in the wind, getting that mob down against all odds. But a lot of them are things I’ve not played long enough to experience: getting to a place where I feel competent and my gear looks crazy good.

I seem to start MMOs, and be super invested for a while, and then my interest kind of peters out. I keep starting over again because I’m interested in reaching that point of competence and ownership. But then drying up in the middle all over again. There are specific and identifiable reasons for this dry spell I always experience. For one, I don’t like crafting. I have yet to find a game where the crafting interests me, but it’s important for leveling up and optimizing your gear. For another, while I love the physical environments of most of the games I’ve tried, I’ve not been able to get invested in any of the lore or storylines. I enjoy the mechanics, the scenery, the dressing up. I love getting a better weapon and seeing my stats go up. I like the little moments of understated interaction: getting to res another player, or having a total stranger take a moment to demonstrate how to climb a vista just because they can see I’m having trouble. Those moments are really fun. But I struggle with activities that require greater interaction or communication between players, because I’m shy and because I’m not particularly confident in my skills. The first dungeons I ever did as a healer in WoW were the most terrifying thing I’ve done in years. Actual sweating palms and shaking hands and social anxiety. I am shy in person, and an introvert, but I don’t experience social anxiety. In game, though, I am a bundle of social anxiety. This makes it hard for me to team up with other people in a way that’s meaningful and progresses my character. So I just sort of dwindle away and wander off.

These two posts have convinced me to try sticking with Guild Wars 2 for a while, though. Yesterday I explored a new section of map, did a couple of events, and was rewarded with my first exotic gear drop ever. I want to earn the right to wear that at Level 80. Today, I spent a couple of hours in newly rebuilt Lion’s Arch, taking screenshots and rediscovering vistas. The bank is a giant stone octopus, with a fish tank for a head. Who would want to miss that? It was fun to reclaim that territory, figuring out what was different and what remained the same. Standing under the windmill that’s one of my favorite things in the entire Tyrian world, I felt that urge to keep going.

(This is day 16 of the Blaugust initiative.)

blaugust #15: gimme that old time sparkle.

I spent a lot of time today cleaning up my work trays and putting supplies back where they belong. In the process, I found part of a necklace I’d started making a while back, inspired by something Lady Mary wore on Downton Abbey. The piece had never been finished – probably because I’d just lost track of it in the shuffle. So I played around with it a bit, and the result is a new necklace with a distinctly 20’s flavor.

Lady Mary necklace, due to appear at Leaves of Glass next week.

Lady Mary necklace, due to appear at Leaves of Glass next week.

That got me thinking about jewelry and costumes in several different period dramas that I like. This necklace has flapper elements, but it’s nowhere near long enough to really deserve that name. My favorite antique necklaces are the insanely long and heavy cut glass flapper necklaces from the Art Deco period, often worn tied in a loose knot, or with a beaded tassel at the end. You can feel the weight of them when you look at them, and they’re just sooooooooo glittery. I’ve always intended to recreate one someday, but so far I have yet to have enough of one bead to do it. Most of my materials come in limited, small batches.

Thinking about this, I kind of fell down a rabbit hole googling screenshots of Miss Fisher, Lady Mary and Ariadne Oliver from the Poirot series. Initially, I was looking for the Downtown Abbey necklace that inspired me (no hope of finding that, really, and I didn’t). Before long, though, I got seduced by one costume shot after another. I mean, come on. I want to wear every single one of these outfits. If I can’t do that, I want to make things inspired by them.

Downton Abbey images copyright Carnival Film/Masterpiece; Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery images copyright Every Cloud Productions; images of Ariadne Oliver in Poirot copyright itv.

I have no point here, other than I’ve had a nice day appreciating the artistry of old things and trying to build on it with new things. See you tomorrow, I’m gonna go make more stuff.

(This is my fifteenth daily post for Blaugust.)

blaugust #14: artifact.

Last night I was scrolling through my draft blog posts in search of some things I could finish up and use for Blaugust. It’s pretty slim pickings in there, to be honest. Most of it was a couple of photos with no text (deleted all those), and some poems I’m collecting for next year’s National Poetry Month. There were a couple of things that I thought could be interesting, and then there was this little snippet of a list:

in the past year I have:

gone 36 hours without food only to eat 3 full meals in 4 hours.

done without milk/peanut butter/laundry detergent in order to buy silver/beads/bubble mailers.

spilled tomato sauce on my ottoman and liked the resulting color story so much I went back to work before cleaning it up.

watched 19 straight episodes of Dark Shadows while preparing inventory for holiday sales.

worn the same pair of pajama pants from Monday-Thursday. WHAT.

claimed deep tissue massages as a business expense.

Well, that’s interesting. I have no idea how long ago I wrote this, or what I was planning to do with it. This blog originally lived on a blogger site, and when I ported all of it over to WordPress, the drafts came too, but their dates didn’t survive. So what year was this when I went without groceries and was utterly slovenly in the service of color? The draft had a title – “My name is Kateri & I’m a crafter” – but that doesn’t tell me anything about where I was going with the post, or what else might have been on that list.

It did make me think about how the life of making has changed for me in the last few years, though. I’m much better at self care than I was when I started out in small business. I’m careful to eat (mostly) healthy food at almost regular intervals. I’m better at budgeting, and have also been in business long enough to have a pretty substantial supply inventory. I don’t offer what I can’t produce with materials on hand, so although there are still some very thin months, I don’t go without peanut butter in order to keep stocked. My day job now is so much different than it was when this was written, and I no longer have summers off or two week holiday breaks.

Other things remain the same. If Dark Shadows was still on Netflix, you can bet I’d still be marathoning it while I work (there’s never any chance of running out of Dark Shadows, there are 9 frillion nearly identical episodes). If I get four uninterrupted days at home, I am definitely wearing the same pajama pants the entire time. There’s even a word for this now, thanks to Shawn Hampton: pajampion. (That’s actually a good dating device for this draft post – it must predate the word pajampion, or I’d have used it there. So no later than 2010 by the linguistic yardstick.)

There is no way on earth I’d leave a tomato sauce spill in situ now, as the tiny ants that plague Portland would be all over it. Honestly, I can’t really imagine doing it then, either – I may have exaggerated that one for effect, who knows. Not the spill, I spill everything all the time. But leaving it while I made something might have been made up.

My takeaway from this is that the life of making is messy and compelling. It takes your time. It makes you forget time. It teaches you to care more for the thing you make than for your own body. The thing you make feeds you just as surely as food, and it is necessary sustenance. And it makes order out of chaos. From all the tumbled stashes of materials, a steady thread of coherent design is woven. I can see it stretching from that draft post to this one, from that home in Chicago to this one in Portland, from the thing I make now to the thing I will make ten years from now.

As I write this, I’m surrounded by piles of messy making supplies. Part of my plan for this weekend is to do a proper clean and sort so that I can start on new work for fall with a fair idea of what I have to work with. But not too much, not too clean. The work lives in there, and it’s my happy job to dig it out.

blaugust #13: what’s the macguffin, morning glory?

Today is Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday. I’ve been having something of a Hitchcock revival this summer. It started when Phil was here, and we got tickets to see a restored 70mm print of Vertigo at Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre. Last weekend we watched Strangers on a Train. And in between we’ve been watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Netflix. It’s been especially fun to watch that with a fresh pair of eyes. The opening sequence and his somber “Good evening” are just so iconic. I love that you can see a wrinkle in the bottom left of the backdrop with his caricature silhouette. The stories are good – most of them, anyway; we’ve hit a bit of a drab spot just now. The best part, though, is Hitchcock’s introduction and follow-up to each episode. Someone else obviously agrees with us, because there’s actually a montage of all 271 intros on YouTube. I have not got 46 spare minutes lying around today, so I didn’t watch it, but I’m ridiculously pleased that someone took the time to make it. We’re particularly enjoying the ones where he takes the piss out of his sponsor just before or after the commercial break. I remember my mom telling me years ago how much Hitchcock resented advertising interruptions on his shows. His dry, straightfaced loathing is hilarious. I can’t imagine any director or writer being able to pull that off now – sponsors are as gods to networks. (Unless you count the fake ads for real corporations that air on Welcome to Night Vale – those are pretty excellent.) But he managed to get away with some plots that horrified those sponsors; there’s a pretty interesting piece about it here.

When we’ve run through those, there are a surprising number of full length films and episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour on YouTube, so I think we’ll be down this rabbit hole for some time. Happy birthday, Hitch! You’re so creepy.

(This is my thirteenth post for the Blaugust initiative.)