Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A chalice, a compass, a shield

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
The weather has turned from glorious sunny autumn to rainy, semi-chilly autumn – the trees are still showing their fabulous colours, though they are shedding leaves at an alarming rate. Or a rate, at least, that increases on windy days. No surprises, there, really: it is late October, so what can you expect other than rain and wind? And days growing shorter (if that makes sense).

I am busy knitting socks and more, writing, teaching, getting ready for November – all the usual, in short.

Among other activities, I’ve joined a sci-fi group on LinkedIn – and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a microstory competition running over there as well as on FWG!
The monthly deadline is on the 22nd – so this Monday, I had to decide whether I was going to participate straight away or lurk for a while before trying to answer the question: 
Can I write sci-fi?
The required elements for this month’s stories were deception and fire, the word count 600. I sat down at my laptop without a clue: no story, no idea. I typed in


An image came to me, I wrote it down; and from there, a story emerged. So a couple of hours after having nothing but the keywords, I had posted a story.
There is to be an anthology – or several, actually – of these stories; for this, one is allowed to edit the story to a maximum of 725 words. My ending could certainly use some clarification, so those extra words will come in handy.

And then, of course, I had to edit my October Skeletons story for the FWG contest to post it before the deadline on the 25th. I ended up rewriting half of it, as it was too long – 1,189 against a maximum of 1,000. It came out at exactly 1,000 words. Phew.

This microstory writing is fun. It reminds me of school assignments, except of course with a lot more freedom; but I enjoy working from prompts.
This is one reason why I have a set of Rory’s Story Cubes, the Voyages version. The set contains 9 cubes, each with 6 different images. So, you can grab three random cubes, roll the dice, and get 3 images to write from. Like this:

An elephant, a ladder, and a mushroom or toadstool.
A map, a circus tent, and two people of very different sizes.
A sunrise or sunset, a bowl of something hot (porridge? popcorn?), and a doorway.

Sometimes, the images go suspiciously well together:
Waves, a crab, and a submarine.

So far, I have only played around with these cubes – one day (ha!), I will challenge myself to write a microstory from such a roll of three dice and see what comes out of it.

We are all back at school and work, now that the autumn break is over; the count-down for the Christmas holidays hasn’t quite started yet, but it will.

I gave my students another little test this week, and thus gave myself a pile of tests to grade. That was ... interesting. Most of them still have quite some work to do, before they are ready for the exam in December; these mid-term tests are intended to help them focus on their weak points – to strengthen them, of course – and to show them the layout of the exam, so they know what to expect.
I’ll give them another one sometime during November. Mwahahahahaha ...

It’s been a long time since I last commented on podcasts; I follow quite a few, both radio produced and indie, on a number of subjects.
Recently, I was told of a new podcast called Ewe University. This is hosted by Kristine, a.k.a. halcyarn on Ravelry, a psychology professor from Illinois; she talks of knitting, sewing, and psychology at an introductory level. She does speak a bit slowly at times, but it makes for comfortable and cosy listening.

In the short story arena, I have taken up The Moth podcast again, which features real life stories told onstage. Selected Shorts pretty much speaks for itself; and I’m trying out Snap Judgment from NPR.

The complete list of my current listening choices can be found in the sidebar, and all these podcasts are available for free on iTunes.

The Knitting
I’m done with the first of the Coalminer socks for Thomas and onto the second – yay! The plan is to finish them before I’m off to England on Friday, so I am knitting along.

And the pattern is done and done, revised, edited, beta knitted by my sister, and up on Ravelry as Foot Hugger Socks. Yay again!

My Mermaid dress hasn’t seen much action; I knitted about 15 cm of it, realised I had the wrong stitch count, and frogged it. And this week I have mostly been knitting socks, so I haven’t even re-knitted the frogged part yet.
Maybe this afternoon will see some progress: it is the last Sunday of the month and thus time for my local knitting group.

My sister invited me to join a group for the knitting of hexipuffs for a Beekeeper’s Quilt for the Great Ormond Street Hospital. I have seen and heard about the Beekeeper, as has probably everybody on Ravelry, but never felt inclined to make one. It’s the same with any blanket made from many smaller parts, be it squares or hexagons or what-have-you: the barrier for me is the sewing up of the darn thing – so contributing individual hexipuffs to a joint project is a lot easier.
The required yarn is hand-dyed sock yarn. I have a bunch of half-skeins from plant dye experiments; they are too small to be useful for much and thus obvious for hexipuffs. I believe this is exactly what people do: use leftovers and scraps.

The Books
I am reading Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer, a selection (well, obviously) of stories from five different shot story collections published over a span of several decades. These are South African stories, dealing with questions of race and apartheid – the introduction notes how the stories are dated by, among other things, the appellations for black people: are they natives, Africans, or black? – of love and loss, life and death, money and the lack thereof, identity and roles – and all of it set in the nature of the land, the veld and the city.
The stories, though separate entities each with a value of their own, blend into a picture of life in South Africa in the twentieth century, seen from a white perspective; but seeing through inconsistencies and hypocrisies.
A clear example of this is the story Happy Event, in which two women find themselves unwantedly pregnant. The white woman goes to a nursing home for a couple of days and afterwards rests to get over ‘that business’, before she resumes planning her and her husband’s trip to Europe. Her black servant gives birth alone, in secret, in the middle of the night; she is grudgingly allowed a day’s sick leave when she cannot handle the week’s laundry the next morning. She is later found out to have smothered the child and is sentenced to six months’ hard labour.

My audio book of the week has been The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, read by William Hope.
This is a Western set in 1851; Charlie and Eli Sisters – Eli is the narrator – are gunmen, killers in the employ of a shadowy figure known as the Commodore. The central job in the book is finding and killing a man who is said to have stolen something from the Commodore and is currently located in San Francisco; so the brothers travel from Oregon, where they live, towards California. On the way there, they encounter a number of more or less savoury characters, who all have an impact on the journey. And once in San Francisco, they find events turning out rather differently from what they have been led to expect.
The tone of the narrative is down-played, matter-of-fact, but thoughtful. Eli tends to ponder deeply on the nature of things; his life, his relationship with his older brother, and horses. The outdoor life of the travellers is described convincingly: nature, weather, the frailties of the human and equine body.
One thing I missed was a clue to the ages of the two brothers: they are obviously experienced in their work, and Eli in particular thinks of retiring. The reader gives Charlie a slightly wheezy voice that sounds aged to me, or worn. They are not old, though, not even middle-aged; they could be in their early thirties.
All in all, I enjoyed this book; recommended for anyone who likes a classic Western.

That’s it for this week; next week I will be posting early, on Thursday, before Andreas and I are off to Nottingham, UK, for the Black Library Weekender.
Until then: have a great week, be happy, be healthy, take care!

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