Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Spark that was Pamela

Pam_ca_1979
Pam in 1979

Pam Menas was the first person I thought of as a force of nature. Anyone who ever heard her sing knows what I’m talking about, but she had immense gifts in many areas other than music.

We went to high school together, were in each other’s weddings, and got together often during our 20s as we worked towards finding our places in the world. As we reached maturity, we continued to share our journey. Each of us forged new paths when the earlier ones didn’t quite work anymore.

Pam had been a successful opera singer, traveling Europe and the U.S. to sing many roles, including Gilda in Rigoletto and The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. After some soul searching, she decided to leave her musical career. It was then that she revealed a fierce intelligence and talent for both mathematics and science. She earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and went on to serve as an oncological pharmacist at James Lovell Federal Health Center.

No matter how you met Pam, whether in school, in the music world, as a medical colleague, or patient, you couldn’t help but notice her warmth and her generous spirit…once you got past her staggering abilities!

Pam_2011_web
2011

I’m sure I thought 59 was old when Pam and I first met, but knowing her taught me better. Pam was still a force of nature in 2016. She was taken from us suddenly, bewilderingly, and far too soon. Barton and I will always love and miss the woman he called “Sparky.” We hold her loving (and much-beloved) husband Lee in our hearts.

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Serial Box

This is something I’d like to see The Writing Journey (my local group) attempt. If it ever happens, I’ll be sure to let people know!

Medusa's Library

Serial Box is a new form pf publishing that purports to take the concept of a television season and bring it to the book world. The serials are created by an author and then co-written with a team, much like a writers room for a tv show. The episodes come out weekly and the season has a definite end in sight. You can subscribe to a whole serial or just shop a la carte.
indexingThe model is not entirely new. Kindle serials have been doing this, with Indexing by Seanan McGuire being a delightful example. And, of course, Charles Dickens’ works, along with those of many other writers, were originally released serially in newspapers or periodicles. The digital age has opened up the option to bring serials back in a very big way. The Serial Box episodes can stand alone, but work better in the network of the whole season…

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Starman

In addition to his music, David Bowie was also reported to be a true gentleman; incredibly well educated in the arts, culture, and history; and genuinely interested in others.

I was lucky enough to see David Bowie Is when it was in Chicago, and my thoughts from that exhibition appear below.

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Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973
Design: Brian Duffy and Celia Philo; make up: Pierre La Roche
Photo: Brian Duffy
Photo: Duffy © Duffy Archive and the David Bowie Archive

This retrospective of David Bowie’s amazing career ran in Chicago from September 23, 2014–January 4, 2015. I enjoyed his music, but was not the world’s biggest fan of David Bowie before this exhibit. However seeing his archive gave me a new appreciation for the man. The range of his talent astounded me, but what struck me most about him as an artist was the combination of his fearlessness and his hard work.

The show includes 60 costumes, numerous storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics, and some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores, and diary entries. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has so far been the only U.S. venue for the exhibition, which was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is currently in the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands through March of 2016, and should be in Japan—though I don’t know where exactly—in 2017.

Of course, his music has been running through my head since his passing. I’m grateful for the music, acting, and design, of course. But what stays with me is all he did—and he was conscious and intentional about doing it—to promote “oddity.”

Whatever tolerance that’s finally being extended to people who don’t hew to a conventional, static view of gender or sexuality owes something to the courage David Bowie displayed decades ago.

Here’s the link to an entertaining conversation he had with Lin Brehmer of WXRT-FM in Chicago, which I’ve always enjoyed.

A Squee for Uprooted

Uprooted_Novik

The novel I most recently could not put down was Uprooted. Unless I have the opportunity to buy a signed copy, I tend to get my novels from the library, as I seldom reread books.

I finished my library copy, and then I bought this book.

I wish I could write the way Naomi Novik does. I have enjoyed all her Temeraire novels, but I really wanted to study Uprooted, see what Novik does to make it work so well. A little deconstruction, if you please. I have only barely started that work, but I’m looking forward to it.

This post does have a few gold stars about some of the awesomeness I found in the book. If you’re worried about spoilers, go read the book first!

We can start with the protagonist, Agnieszka. I found her completely believable as a peasant girl. She starts out in awe of people who might consider themselves her betters. Still, she has a wonderfully strong sense of self, an unwavering conviction about what’s right.

The novel’s stakes are big, and ones I applaud, having to do with love of family, friends, and home. Sure, there’s an ancient evil in the land that must be dealt with, but you learn about it through the eyes and ears of characters you care about.

Then the world-building is wonderful. You get totally immersed in this eastern European, medieval fantasy world, but Novik takes her time getting you there. First you care about Agnieszka, then you care about her family. You care about the Dragon, for Pete’s sake. There’s romantic tension between Agnieszka and the Dragon, and despite their different statuses, you have a feeling that deep down, they’re equals. That thread takes a while to reveal itself, however. In the meantime, you learn that the Dragon has lived long enough to know more about the Wood (the location of the aforementioned ancient evil) than anyone else, but not as much as he needs to know in order to take care of the problem. Which is where Agnieszka comes in. I expected her to be crucial to fixing things; the book seemed to promise that much early on. I don’t want to say too much about how things work out.

One thing I especially appreciated was that when Agnieszka does an amazing job dealing with a problem (like the abduction of her bestie, Kasia), it usually brings on more difficulties. This is not because she does anything stupid; she usually just has to deal with a horrendous event in a short time with little help. However, aforementioned difficulties sure keep the plot clicking along. Masterful!

Love, love, love this book.