So. Sleepy.

Apr. 27th, 2017 12:38 am
archangelbeth: Bleary-eyed young woman peers up, pillow obscuring the lower half of her face. Text reads: SO not a morning person. (So Not A Morning Person)
[personal profile] archangelbeth
So I slept most of the day. And wound up getting food around 4 in the afternoon. We went to the 99. Where the greeters were oblivious (when I say we CANNOT sit in the bar, I do not mean "we don't want to"; I mean "my child will have a panic attack breakdown and no one will like this"), tried to seat us in a booth with clear sightpath to the bar AFTER I said "a quiet booth out of sight of the bar," and then the waitress tried to argue with me about whether I could swap out turkey skewers for a baked potato. When A: I'd done it before (she said, "But it's only been on the menu 2 weeks" and I said, "And I've had it like this before," and she said, "They're not supposed to do that" and jump to C), B: the skewers are cooked separately and laid upon the greenery (not baked into anything), and C: I DO NOT CARE IF IT IS ON THE "FIT FOR ME" MENU. I DO NOT GIVE TWO WHOOPS IN HELL ABOUT IT BEING "FIT FOR ME." I AM ORDERING IT THAT WAY BECAUSE I CAN EAT EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE PLATE, EXCEPT THE DEAD BIRD.

When I actually say "two whoops in hell" out loud to someone, you can tell that I am about }this{ close to "I want to talk to the manager."

She went away with a doubtful "I'll see if they can do it."

Obviously, reader, they did it, and I got my baked potato with all the other stuff on that plate.

Because I am far too nice, I did not actually stiff her on the tip more than a little (I rounded .53 to .50 instead of up to $1 as I normally would). Also, she did not give me a peep of trouble after that. (All the waitstaff are supposed to box up people's take-home leftovers, I guess; they always ask. But no, I am going to separate out the chicken Parm from the pasta because otherwise it will get REALLY soggy and none of the leftovers will get eaten at all.)

Do. Not. Argue. With. The. Customer. About. Something. Clearly. Possible.

Because people are stupid, you can say that it will change the calorie count. In case someone actually thinks that it's not just a ballpark figure anyway (the kitchen totally skimped on cucumbers; hmph). Fine, whatever, that's just information.

You don't say "they're not supposed to do that." No. The kitchen is 100% supposed to make an easy substitution like that, or I will have WORDS and should those not suffice, I will stomp out and write even MORE scathing things on Twitter. Which I did not have to do in this case, but I was about ready.

Anyway. The rest of the day has been spent keeping stressed-out kid company and now I am having an introvert breakdown.

Havva Quote
Vot vould dot cute high priestess from de Temple of Nyx say if she could see hyu now, hey?
--Oggie, with Maxim's mirror. http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20170419#.WQF5gBTTyns


INwatch+Bookwatch )

Dragons under fold )

Gidget and the laser

Apr. 27th, 2017 12:39 am
musyc: Text only: Oh, dear, I really ought to do something, but I am already in my pajamas (Text: Already in my jammies)
[personal profile] musyc
Like a lot of cat owners, I have a little laser toy for the cats to chase around. All four of them adore it immensely, and Jesse makes the most hysterical bootlegger's turns on the linoleum of the kitchen.

But poor Gidget. She wants to chase it so badly. Two things make that difficult.

A. the boys are much bigger than her and she doesn't have the kittenish bravery that Cinders has to just DIVE in there regardless of their pounces.
B. when she does manage to chase it, she can't play for more than a minute before she starts wheezing. (Kitty asthma.)

I just feel so bad for her. Sometimes I'll lead her into the bathroom with the laser so I can close the door and she can play without the others shoving her out of the way and she doesn't have to work as hard to chase it.

On the other hand, when she really gets into it, she's the fiercest hunter ever. XD So there's some adorableness on top to make up for her troubles.

wednesday reading

Apr. 26th, 2017 09:44 pm
boxofdelights: (Default)
[personal profile] boxofdelights
• What are you reading?

The Summer Without Men, by Siri Hustvedt.

• What did you recently finish reading?

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars, by Jeff Lemire. A robot who is also an adorable little boy survives terrible and mysterious catastrophes. He may hold the key to understanding and preventing their return. The other characters and the settings are interesting. The art is beautiful. I would have loved this if I had read it when I was young. Now, I have read enough stories to notice when the plot is steered by the Rule of Cool, when the answer to "Why didn't the characters do the smart thing?" is "Because the author wanted a torture scene/a robot gladiator scene/a woman dying, gasping a slogan." Also, I have read enough stories that treat women as people to find the Weasley ratio really annoyingly noticeable. There's one female main character, one female supporting character, a few more who get a line but not a name. And only one of these female characters is human: the robot boy's dead mom.

• What do you think you’ll read next?

I've got suggestions to read or reread for my SF economics panel:

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow
The Peripheral, by William Gibson
The Marq'ssan Cycle books by L. Timmel Duchamp

More suggestions still welcome!

achievement unlocked

Apr. 26th, 2017 09:52 pm
kareila: Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It!" with a DW swirl (dw)
[personal profile] kareila
I set a personal goal of resolving 30 issues and/or submitting 30 pull requests in the month of April.

Assuming everything I have in the queue right now is eventually accepted, I can take credit for closing 31 issues and merging 34 PRs, and I've still got 4 days left.

Honestly, if I hadn't been pacing myself, I probably would have done more but been more frazzled as a result. As it is, I'm thinking I could probably do it again in May, as long as my wrists hold up.

Everyday stuff

Apr. 26th, 2017 10:43 pm
buttonsbeadslace: drawing of a high-heeled boot (Default)
[personal profile] buttonsbeadslace
 I got a lot of work done today, plus the official Least Pleasant Errand (getting a big 35-pound bucket of cat litter, and carrying it from store to bus stop and from other bus stop to home). And then I spent all my spare time doing some online research into my birthday present ideas for Sparkly. I've got one thing all picked out now.

I'm also reconsidering getting a phone case; the body of my phone really is kind of smooth and slippery. I haven't dropped it but there have definitely been times where, like, if someone had joggled my elbow at the wrong moment I totally would have dropped it. So. I've decided that a thin case is more of a priority than a thick protective one, and now I just need to find a nice-looking thin, grippy rubber one. It's probably going to look very similar to the case I had on my iPod, surprise, surprise. 

Writing and depression

Apr. 26th, 2017 07:26 pm
yhlee: I am a cilantro writer (cilantro photo) (cilantro writer)
[personal profile] yhlee
I don't think I have anything new to say about writing and depression, but I'm struggling with it right now and trying to reboot myself out of it, so I thought I'd talk about that.

For anyone who's new here: I have bipolar I, which means that I spend significant periods of time depressed. I also cycle very quickly sometimes, so I can go from elated to suicidal within a single day or the course of hours. Needless to say, besides sucking in its own right, it makes writing, which I think of as a somewhat neurosis-inducing career [1], an additional challenge.

[1] I am pretty sure there are non-neurotic writers out there! But I am literally, professionally diagnosed crazy, and I have spent time in the psych ward for suicide attempts, so...

When writing gets hard, it comes down to routines. Writing is easy when it's a fire in the mind and the words blaze to be let down on paper (or typed into the computer, or whatever--I write both longhand and on a computer depending on my mood or the particular project). But inspiration is completely unreliable, especially when depression comes calling.

My routine goes something like this. Note that I don't claim that this works for everyone! Just this is what I do, and it more or less works for me. Sometimes better than others.

1. Get out of bed. Sometimes this is the hardest step.

2. Get food into myself. I have this rule that no writing happens until I have eaten something, even an oatmeal packet. Bodies are weird (or anyway, mine is! maybe yours is perfectly fine :p). If my blood sugar drops, I turn into a depressed suicidal wreck. I find this completely maddening considering that I'm overweight so you'd think that I could survive for a couple extra hours off fat reserves, but nope! Not so lucky. So I try to remember to eat at intervals. Even so, there's this period in the late afternoon/early evening where I usually have to take a break from writing no matter when I started because my blood sugar is too low for me to concentrate. (This is usually because I'm trying to time dinner to be convenient for my husband and daughter. If it were just me, I would eat smaller meals every four hours and that might work better.)

3. Get exercise. Sometimes I skip this, but I read somewhere that you should try to do the most important things first in your daily routine. I figure exercise is more essential than writing, or anyway, it should be higher priority. Also, I sort of cheat in that right now I'm mostly doing the world's wimpiest exercise biking, on a bike that has a built-in desk, and I use that time either to do reading (right now I'm beta reading for someone, for instance), or write fanfic. I could even use that time to do work-writing rather than fanfic-writing. It all depends.

4. Get shower. Because I am so wimpy, even wimpy exercise-biking leaves me drenched in sweat.

5. Make tea. I allow myself one cup of caffeinated tea a day. Right now that's a Republic of Tea black tea flavored with almond, which honestly I don't like all that much--I tried it out of curiosity and discovered the almond flavor didn't agree with me. So when the tin runs out I'll switch it for some other black tea. After that runs out, I start making herbal teas instead. Too much caffeine can trigger mania or hypomania, or just generally screw with my sleep (and screwing with sleep can mess with bipolar cycling--it's a whole Thing), so I try to not to overdo it.

6. Settle in to write. I turn on iTunes, set the whole thing to Shuffle, and attempt to write at least one sentence/song. Most songs are pop/rock songs of 3-4 minutes. This is not a recipe for blazing fast writing. What it is, is conditioning. My brain gets the idea that every time we switch to a new song, I should get back in gear and get writing. My philosophy is that slow and steady wins the race. I don't produce words particularly fast--I know there are fast writers out there, but I'm never going to be one of them. But I do believe that accumulating words a little at a time consistently will also work.

One of my problems is low morale, and a related problem is being intimidated by high goals. So I set low goals. One sentence during a song of that length is eminently doable. In fact, spurred by one thought, I usually end up writing more than one sentence. And that's good! Likewise, when I am at my most depressed--when I can barely string two thoughts together, or when I feel like everything I have ever written is completely worthless, I set my goals very low. As in 250 words/day low. These days I have novels to write so I can't do that forever, but even 250 words/day is better, in terms of sustaining momentum, than 0 words/day. It's simple mathematics. If you write 250 words/day, you can eventually write a novel, even if it takes you a while. Whereas with 0 words/day? You'll never get there.

This is not to say that you should never take a break! I have 0-word days. Weekends are usually dead time because I have family obligations. Sometimes the depression is just too much to deal with. But there is a difference between occasionally taking a break, and never writing. The latter is what I seek to avoid.

In the meantime: what helps you when you're dealing with doubt or depression? Tell me one thing you like about your own writing, if you like. :)
radiantfracture: (Default)
[personal profile] radiantfracture
In the week between classes, I've been trying to take proper long rambles each day, to make more space in my head and all the spaces in me.

Trying isn't the word, really. I'm compelled up and out of the house to wander the earth. Fortunately this bit of the earth is damn pretty right now.

Here, then, are some photos from various park-hunting expeditions of the last few days, organized around the theme of awesome local species rather than chronology, because I'm too tired to explain the chronology.

Distinctive Regional Species and general springiness )

{rf}

Downward Dog Video

Apr. 26th, 2017 03:22 pm
jesse_the_k: Macro photo of left eye of my mostly black border collie mutt (Default)
[personal profile] jesse_the_k
As my icons show, I'm a dog lover. This 12-minute video features an adorable mutt named Martin. He's played by a ~40 pound hound mix with expressive ears named Sadie. The video comprises seven brief episodes on topics of deep concern to Martin, including: Friendship, Walking, Driving and One Good Thing. The voice you hear is Martin's; the video's creators expertly manipulate the dog's mouth so I totally buy he's saying those things. To prove that the world is upside down, this web series is being transformed into an actual TV show on ABC (US) in May.
video includes dog illness, but no death )

(no subject)

Apr. 26th, 2017 12:51 pm
auguris: black and white photo of a keyboard and mug of hot coffee (working)
[personal profile] auguris
New employee refused to follow instructions. Told me I was 'disrespecting him'. By... telling him what to do, apparently? New employee is no longer in my department. Really not sure what he thought was going to happen.

(The latest, and thus last, thing I asked him to do was wipe down the counters. Combined with a few other observations, I'm pretty sure he didn't want to do it because it's women's work. So he can fuck right off.)

We have a bit of a green-eyed monster

Apr. 26th, 2017 02:47 pm
conuly: (Default)
[personal profile] conuly
When Finn goes near something Moonpie considers hers, she tends to lunge and steal whatever it is back. If she thinks she can get away with it (she can't) she'll snap at him at the same time.

95% of the time they get along fine, but that 5% of that time is killer. I've been handling it the same way I handle similar issues with cats, by putting Moonie out the door for a few minutes, but results are slow. She's gradually switched to waiting for Finn to drop whatever-it-is on his own, then stealing it back from him, which... I guess is progress? I need to put these dogs in training, stat. At least they're in the same weight class.

In other news, Finn has learned to fetch! Well, I mean, he's learned the chasing part of fetch.

Skill challenges

Apr. 26th, 2017 06:32 pm
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
DnD 4e and 5e introduced the idea of skill challenges. Basically a unified framework for handling various things other than combat or parallel to combat that should involve more back and forth than a single roll, like a chase scene, or defusing a bomb.

The idea is, instead of a single "defuse bomb" roll, you need multiple things, open the panel without setting something off, find the deadman's switch, choose the right wire, cut it.

And these might be things that require a variety of skills.

4e designed a version which really rubbed me up the wrong way. It optimised for designing a scenario that could be run mechanically for different groups and present a particular level of challenge, and assumed that each challenge would be defined by "achieve N successes before X failures, using skills A, B, C or D".

I've only skimmed the rules for 5e but it seems to be somewhat more freeform. Because I thought this was a *great* idea, basically codifying something that a good GM would do automatically, but I really didn't like the way it was hard-coded, and presented to the players up-front.

Ideally, it should be obvious without specifying to the players. For the bomb, maybe each failure makes the bomb arm itself, then begin flashing, then finally explode. You don't know for sure how many steps, but you can tell things are getting critical. (And if you're aiming for fun rather than challenge, the GM can escalate or descelate the requirements according to how challenging this encounter should be compared to other ones that have happened this session.) It should be obvious which skills might apply, but they might lead to different paths -- a knowledge skill might open up an easier path to success, not count as a success/failure itself; different skills might stack or not; etc.

Or it ties into combat, each failure makes combat more difficult (it makes the platform you're standing on move dangerously or lets more enemies catch up), or you need to coordinate making skill rolls with other characters doing combat.

If you're improv'ing, that's all fairly easy to do, even though it's hard to spec in advance.

I said on twitter, skill challenges are a great idea, but I find it more fun if it's "how the GM designs the scenario" not "a mechanic the players need to be familiar with". Now I think of it, I see the same contrast with "what monsters you encounter". That easily can be pre-specified, and the players know, basically, the mechanics are "here's the monsters who exist" or "they spawn every two rounds" (as in 4e)[1], and know everyone faced a similar challenge. Or it can be improvised -- if the players faff around, the reinforcements arrive early, if they players have a lucky plan to bar a door, they can't come in, etc, etc. (as I'd like it).

[1] This makes sense from a tactical combat perspective, but I found very frustrating. Every 2 rounds skeletons climb out of a sarcophagus. No, you can't look inside. No, you can't judge how many skeletons could fit inside. No, you can't judge what sort of spell or effect is responsible (well, you can, but you can't expect it to matter). No, you can't try to block the lid. It's screaming "accept the premise and desperately avoid imagining being there". Except that if you do that, you have no way to judge "having the infinite spawning skeletons finished or will they continue" and are punished for guessing wrong. I feel like you could have 90% of the effect by saying "there's a pile of bones, a skeleton assembles itself out of them, there's still 3/4 of the pile left" or "the sundered skeleton parts begin to reassemble themselves" or "the air shimmers and a skeleton warrior sprouts from the ground".

UK general election stuff

Apr. 26th, 2017 06:15 pm
rydra_wong: The display board of a train reads "this train is fucked". (this train is fucked)
[personal profile] rydra_wong
If you're not registered to vote, or know people who aren't, or simply wish to spam your social media with this handy link to register:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

You have to be registered by the 22nd May to vote in the election on the 8th June.

A lot of people, especially young people, seem to be registering. This is a good thing.

Earning A Living

Apr. 26th, 2017 05:10 pm
k_a_webb: (Default)
[personal profile] k_a_webb
One of the most important things to me is that I start to earn something from my original fiction. This is something I've talked about before. It's something I'm going to talk about again. For now I'm going to ask anyone who's read something and mine that they've liked for a favour. Can you share a link to any story you've really liked, for whatever reason. That can be a link to the community, if you can find it there, or the website. I'd really like to get some more regular readers, or commenters, so any help is truly appreciated.

Robin Hobb

Apr. 26th, 2017 03:49 pm
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
[personal profile] damerell
I've been chewing through quite a lot of Robin Hobb lately, and have come to the Farseer trilogy, which was her first. I was pretty amused when I read this:

"A very faint scent of her clung to my shirt from her brief embrace, and I agonised over whether to wear the shirt that day, to carry the scent with me, or to set it aside in my clothing chest, to preserve it."

I laughed because in the last chapter a weasel vomited on his shirt. (This is a bit unfair - on careful review, he does spend a sentence changing clothes "hastily", but wouldn't he still be a bit weasel-vomity?)

More seriously, it's not as good as her other stuff. The youngest prince forms a murderous plot, they thwart it, inexplicably they decide he's learned his lesson, rinse and repeat. The protagonist has trained as an assassin, so after a few rounds of this, really, you had one job, Mr Protag. Kindly stab him up so we can get on with the zombies^W Forged ones.

I have not agreed to the new Livejournal TOS (they do it with javascript) but I suspect this is my last crosspost.

OMG an actual uterine replicator!

Apr. 26th, 2017 02:57 pm
ceb: (squee)
[personal profile] ceb
https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15112

In 50 years time we will look back on this as second only to the washing machine in the revolutionising-womens-lives stakes.

(IHNJ, IJLS "labour-saving device")
oursin: Photograph of small impressionistic metal figurine seated reading a book (Reader)
[personal profile] oursin

What I read

Down the JA Jance Ali Reynolds rabbit hole: Fatal Error (2011), Left for Dead (2012), Deadly Stakes (2013). I did start the novella A Last Goodbye, but am now holding off until I get to the right place in series internal chronology.

Alexis Hall, How to Bang a Billionaire (2017). This is a book that one would think had a lot of my NQOSD things all over it - at first glance it was the m/m version of 50 Shades, but I looked at the preview just to see, and okay, it still has a lot of things that are not my usual things, like it is All About The Relationship, at least so far there are no other stakes in place (but there is a sequel forthcoming), and the billionaire thing means a lot of plain practical difficulties do not operate. The title is a bit misleading, on account of the billionaire character is what in a woman would be considered pretty much stone butch - does but will not be touched or done to - it's more 'banged by the billionaire'. The narrator is a somewhat hapless and gauche, though at least not completely naive, gay guy just on the cusp of graduating from Oxford. The billionaire is pretty much on the Violet Winspear romantic hero template:

I get my heroes so that they're lean and hard muscled and mocking and sardonic and tough and tigerish and single, of course. Oh and they've got to be rich and then I make it that they're only cynical and smooth on the surface. But underneath they're well, you know, sort of lost and lonely. In need of love but, when roused, capable of breathtaking passion and potency. Most of my heroes, well all of them really, are like that. They frighten but fascinate.
But, dr rdrz, I could hardly put it down.

On the go

The end is almost in view with the Inchbald biography!

I am on the edge of my seat in re The Course of Honour

Up next

Well, the thing for review I intend to read on the train.

And new Sara Paretsky VI Warshawski!!!

(no subject)

Apr. 26th, 2017 09:12 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] ookpik!
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
All right. In hindsight of the continuing exodus from LJ, the third of April feels a bit like an international day of social media mourning, but I regret nothing about my decision to cope on the night by self-medicating with Leslie Howard. [personal profile] skygiants had sent me the link years ago for a propaganda short called From the Four Corners (1941) which I had never gotten around to watching despite it being a grand total of fifteen minutes long. It was directed by Anthony Havelock-Allan and produced by the Ministry of Information; there are no writing credits per se, but we are told that "[t]he incident originated with Leslie Howard and A. G. Macdonell," one of the co-writers of Pimpernel Smith (1941). With a title like that, you might as well brace yourself for Empire, especially when it opens by quoting the title music from the Kordas' The Four Feathers (1939). Like Howard's wartime features, though, it's subtler and stranger than simple flag-waving and it set off a thoroughly unexpected chain reaction in my head.

The story sounds like the set-up for a joke: three soldiers from the Dominions all meet at Nelson's Column, where two of them are looking for a pub and the third is sightseeing. Specifically, he is taking a picture of what he dryly terms "Typical scene of London air-raid panic"—four Londoners on a park bench in different attitudes of total unconcern. Embarrassed by the effusive patriotism of a woman who rushes up to praise them for "coming all those thousands of miles to answer the Motherland's call to arms . . . splendid fellows!" the soldiers are rescued by the drawling interruption of one of the park-bench Londoners, the one who was smoking with his hands in his pockets and his hat knocked over his eyes. He is credited as "A Passer-By"; he is Leslie Howard and he knows where to find a pub.1 Over pints all round, he quizzes the soldiers on their reasons for joining up, each of which furnishes a miniature flashback. Corporal W. Atkinson of the Australian Imperial Force co-owned a bicycle shop in Sydney; he made his decision after catching his business partner in a newsreel, marching to the troopship with the rest of the new recruits. Private J. Johnston of the Black Watch of Canada hails from a farm outside of Vancouver; his father was killed at Vimy Ridge and he not entirely jokes that he ought to finish his job. Private R. Gilbert of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force was a law student in Auckland, finishing up his degree when he wondered suddenly if common law would mean anything in the event of an Axis victory; he walked right out of his exams and into the recruiting office next door. They may be standing in for their respective countries, but they are also real-life servicemen playing versions of themselves, and they bridle when Howard professes himself unsatisfied with their answers. "Kick[ing] Hitler in the pants" may be an admirable goal, but what makes it so? What are they really fighting for? If not the Empire ("That's a lot of hooey!"), what have they left their homes and families to defend?

Like the academic he so often played, Howard takes it on himself to answer his own question. He brings the three soldiers up to the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral—itself already a vivid symbol of national resistance—and gives them a bird's-eye crash tour of London, pointing out its landmarks and sites of interest, tying each to a resonant moment of English history. Kingston, where the coronation stone of the Saxon kings still stands in the market square. Runnymede, the signing of the Magna Carta which formed the heart of all the Commonwealth's laws. For the Canadian Johnston, he points out St. Peter's Church in Petersham where Captain George Vancouver is buried. For Oceanians Gilbert and Atkinson, Greenwich Hospital because "Captain Cook had a job there once." When he shows them Bankside, he stresses that the audiences of Shakespeare's plays would have included far-flung soldiers on leave just like themselves. "And that's where your fathers and my fathers stood when we were threatened with the Armada and invasion," though most of Howard's forefathers in 1588 would have been somewhere quite different from Tilbury.2 Finishing up at the House of Commons allows him to (optimistically, in June 1941) include the Americans among the inheritors and defenders of their shared ideals. "Well, it's all yours," he concludes, "all part of London and part of ourselves . . . Yes, it's all there—British city, Roman city, Saxon, Dane, Norman—English." All the while he was talking, I was thinking that I had heard something very like it before, the visionary, scholarly, slightly laughing and slightly otherworldly voice layering time through itself and rooting it in the present day, spellbinding its listeners and waking them up to their history and inheritance, and the moment I made the connection I was seized with a desperate and conflicted longing because Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale (1944) is the reason I love Eric Portman, but I would love too to know what the movie would have been like with Leslie Howard as Thomas Colpeper, JP.

Let me be clear: I don't think the Archers could even have approached him for the part. He was already under the Bay of Biscay when shooting began in August of 1943, and in any case their first choice for the magistrate of Chillingbourne had been Roger Livesey, whom I will always thank for turning them down. He found the role "off-key." He wasn't wrong. Colpeper is a deeply peculiar character, as difficult to pin down to a single interpretation as his signature wrongheaded act. He has the vision of a poet and the blinders of a missionary, the superiority of a judge and the guilt of a penitent; he gives mesmerizing lectures on local history and keeps breaking the slide projector. He loves his country and its deep, distant past that to him is as immediate and tangible as the warmth of the sun and the smell of wild thyme and he does some very silly, very dangerous things to try to fix history right where it is, not yet understanding that the earthquake of modernity will not erase the echoes of his beloved Kentish village any more than the last two thousand years have washed the Roman road away.3 He's a crank and a trickster, a magician and a fool, and like the other characters he's trapped until he gets his miracle, which comes in the last form he expected and the first he should have known to watch out for. He's not unsympathetic. He's never quite safe. I'm not knocking Livesey as an actor—he made three films with Powell and Pressburger and in all of them he was exactly what the part required, a tragicomic English archetype in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), an unforeseen romantic alternative in I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), and an adroit and skeptical advocate for science and love in A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Someday I'll even see him in a film by some other director and I expect he will continue to be very good. But I think he was right to refuse Colpeper: he would not have been weird enough for him. Portman was. And as Howard had proved almost from the start of his stardom, he would have been, too.

That's the trouble. You believe in miracles. )

This is fantasy casting at its finest. If any practical link existed between Leslie Howard and A Canterbury Tale, given my interest in both of these things I can't imagine I wouldn't have run across it before now. I believe what I'm seeing is a case of parallel evolution, drawing on the same shared resonances of myth and literature and national archetype like a collective unconscious of the country, and I have neither the scope in this post nor the professional credentials to diagnose exactly what that is. I just can't believe I didn't see the fit before. Howard had even worked with the Archers once before, playing one of his disarming intellectuals for 49th Parallel. I'd love to know what either of them thought of Pimpernel Smith, since I stand by my assertion that it comes the closest of any other British war picture to the off-kilter numinous of their work in general and A Canterbury Tale in particular; I've found nothing in the two volumes by Powell that I own. I need to get a biography of Pressburger sometime. To get back to the short that started this whole megillah, From the Four Corners is not A Canterbury Tale or even Pimpernel Smith, but it served admirably as a celebration of Howard's hundred and twenty-fourth birthday and an antidote to a really depressing evening and you can watch it yourself thanks to the good offices of the Imperial War Museum. I apologize about the watermark. I got used to it after a few minutes of dialogue, but it interacts unfortunately with the opening titles. Anyway, it'll take you less time to watch than this post did to write. The version where I actually did all the research I thought about would have gone on for even longer and run the footnotes off the bottom of the screen. At least I didn't pour glue in anyone's hair. This monograph brought to you by my transcendent backers at Patreon.

1. Honestly, in a film of this era, I feel it may be safe to assume that any angular, pipe-smoking person looking especially careless in public is Leslie Howard. If he's wearing an overcoat and has a tendency to lecture about abstractions, that clinches it.

2. Although the character is explicitly identified as the actor himself—glossed for non-British viewers who might not recognize the name by Atkinson's description of the local weather as "too Pygmalion cold"—I found myself thinking of him as Howard's Passer-By, like Dante's Pilgrim. He can say the line about his fathers at Tilbury (our fathers of old) and mean it literally. He's autochthonous.

3. Powell and Pressburger use it for wonder rather than horror, but the way they conceive of history leaving its imprint on time is interestingly close to the idea of residual haunting that Nigel Kneale popularized with The Stone Tape (1972) or the endlessly reenacting myth of Alan Garner's The Owl Service (1967): once a thing has happened in a place, it is always on some level happening there, echoing forever in the land. Where it happened transcends when. "And when you see the bluebells in the spring and the wild thyme and the broom and the heather, you're only seeing what their eyes saw. You ford the same rivers, the same birds are singing. When you lie flat on your back and rest and watch the clouds sailing as I often do, you're so close to those other people that you can hear the thrumming of the hooves of their horses and the sound of the wheels on the road and their laughter and talk and the music of the instruments they carried."

4. It is completely not Howard's fault that I flashed on The Magician's Nephew (1955) when I hit the line "Most of you, I'm sure, will know what I mean when I speak of the curious elation which comes from sharing in a high and mysterious destiny," especially since he meant just about the opposite from Andrew Ketterley by it. It does kind of make me wonder if Lewis heard the broadcast. If so, I guess he wasn't impressed.

5. It took me an absurdly long time to realize that none of the blessings received by the four modern pilgrims of A Canterbury Tale has to do with things changing for the better: each has to do instead with seeing things as they truly are, not as the characters have feared or convinced themselves they were. They are revelations, realizations. They are like archaeology. Nothing of the beloved past has been lost, not a girlfriend, a fiancé, or a vocation; things believed not to exist have come as naturally to light as an old coin in a field, reminders that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. They prove the constancy of time.

6. There is a tangential question here which I am not sure I am qualified to engage with: the degree to which it is possible or useful to read Howard's intellectual heroes as neuroatypical as opposed to merely very smart, knowing there's a significant Venn diagram of the two in popular representations of intelligence. Certainly I feel as though a case could be made for several of the characters discussed here, but I've seen Howard in seventeen movies and IMDb gives him thirty-eight acting credits; I don't think I have enough data. I also feel this study should be conducted by someone with a better idea of what "normal" behavior looks like. When Atterbury Dodd says, "I don't like parties. I don't know what to say to people. I just sit in corners and wish I might go home," I mean, that was me and socializing for years. All that changed was I started getting invited to a better grade of party.

7. I have appreciated for years that Howard, national treasure that he was, never had too much vanity to play against audience sympathy for as long as a script required. Smith may have some cold, abrasive moments on his way to rethinking the primacy of Aphrodite, but Higgins carries scientific detachment to the point of being a stupendous jerk; it is one of the reasons I suspect so many people, myself included, find the ending of the 1938 Pygmalion and its immediate descendant My Fair Lady more satisfying than the impervious curtain of the original play: he gets absolutely kicked in the ass by his own human susceptibility and he never sees it coming. Dodd is never deliberately insensitive, but he has to learn how to see people—including himself—as people, three-dimensional, fallible, worthwhile, not just numbers or functions. Even the narrator of The Gentle Sex, while he understands and appreciates intellectually that women will be part of the war effort, so repeatedly underestimates the extent and the impact of their contributions that by the film's end he's had to give up trying to predict what they'll do next and simply trust that it'll be all right. Alan Squier, let's face it, is a really charming trash fire.

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