So Many Blessings

A burning candle surrounded by vividly colored autumn leaves. Text: Something for Sunday; November 24, 2019; So Many BlessingsThanksgiving in the US is coming up this Thursday, and as usual I will have a small group at my house: me, my husband, our two children, and our son-in-law. All our other family members live too far away to visit, but I’m content. I have so many blessings, more than I can count.

  • My family. Our children both live locally, and come to visit every week. Everyone is healthy and is in a good place mentally, socially, and financially. There is nothing more precious to me than this.
  • My life. I retired this year, and find my new situation very rewarding. Our finances are more than comfortable, we are both in good health, and I’m enjoying the extra time I can spend on things I choose: writing, gaming, and music. I’m also able to work more diligently on maintaining my health into old age, including a much more regular workout schedule. I have a network of friends, in real life and online, and am looking forward to the future.
  • My country. I know that there’s a lot going on here that is, shall we say, less than ideal. Right now it’s hard. But we will get through it, and uphold our core principles: the rule of law, and that nobody is above the law. With all its blemishes, there is no place I would rather live.

I am very aware of how privileged my status as a well-off white person in the USA makes me. I try to be constantly mindful of this privilege, to remember that I owe it to much more than just my own efforts and to do what I can to spread it to others. But today, in this season of thanksgiving, I will give myself wholeheartedly to gratitude for what life has given to me.

Every year at this time, I’m reminded of a saying I’ve seen attributed to Native Americans:

Give thanks for blessings yet unknown, already on their way

I hope you and yours find your blessings, and come to a place where you have the peace, security, and love you deserve.


ON ANOTHER NOTE: Starting in January 2020 I’ll be posting only on my official author website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me there: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

 

Ho Ho When?

This week’s Lens Artists challenge is about waiting. I found the perfect example this week in a visit to our local mall. Though it won’t even be Thanksgiving for another week here in the US, the stores have already gone into full-on holiday shopping mode, and the mall decorations are hard-core Christmas. Not only that, but Santa is already there, eager to find out what you want so someone can buy it for you. I felt bad for him, because nobody was paying him the least attention. When I asked if I could take his photo he first invited me to come sit, but agreed that a photo would be just fine.

A mall Santa sits on his throne, surrounded by Christmas decorations, but with no children presentSo here is Santa waiting for customers. I hope he brings joy to some children in the weeks to come, and hope that no matter what the time of year, all the world’s children find the joy, peace, security, and love they need.

Posted in response to Lens-Artists #72: Waiting, with thanks to Amy for posting this week’s challenge.


ON ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve made a rather momentous decision. I will officially be switching my blog from this free WordPress location to my actual author website. For the rest of the year I will post all my blog entries (including this one) on both locations, and I’ve disabled subscriptions to Word Wacker. Starting in January 2020 I’ll be posting only on the website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me at my site: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

Through the Looking Glass: Nancy Drew Then and Now

Stack of Nancy Drew books, with Nancy's image enlarged with a magnifying glass. Text: Something for Sunday; November 17, 2019; Through the Magnifying GlassLike every woman I know, I grew up reading Nancy Drew books. Mine were the 1960s versions with the bright yellow spines. I devoured these stories about the intelligent, generous, loyal, and fearless girl detective. She reinforced my conviction that I could be anything I wanted in my life, if I just had the nerve to do it.

I was reminded about this teenage obsession when several things came together recently:

  • A few months ago I read an interesting history of the creation of this venerable franchise, focusing on the two women most responsible for “Carolyn Keene,” the name given to its author: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak. I enjoyed learning about these two strong, capable women and their fruitful, if sometimes testy, relationship.
  • A new Nancy Drew TV show launched in October that features a very different sort of heroine. The Nancy I grew up with was chaste and upright, for all her spunk. This show opens with a sex scene, and which point I turned it off. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this show, it just doesn’t align much with how I remember Nancy Drew, so it’s too unsettling for me.
  • Last night I rewatched an old episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Choices,” first broadcast 1999). In it, the young witch Willow has been captured, but gets out of the room she’s held in. Elsewhere in the building she finds the Books of Ascension detailing the mayor’s evil plan and sits down to read them, wanting to solve a mystery more than she wants to escape. When Faith, the Slayer who’s turned to the dark side, finds her, she says, “You just can’t stop Nancy Drew-ing, can you?”

That last event was the third time charm that triggered this blog post, looking at Nancy Drew then and now. (I’m drawing some information from two great sources: an article by Olivia Rutigliano in Crimereads.com, and a Master’s thesis by Jennifer Shaw on how the books addressed issues of gender roles, race, and authority.)

Nancy Drew Then. The original Nancy Drew was born in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression. Although financial hardship never touched her, her family, or her friends, she embodied the cultural expectations of the era of independence and grit. Women in the US had only been able to vote for a decade, and were reveling in their hard-won power. By the 1950s she had morphed into a more sedate, rule-following post-war woman, while still supporting the ideals of female empowerment. This was my Nancy: a “good girl” who was a respected member of her community, one who fought for what was right. She emphasized keeping a cool head and solving problems, not being swayed by fear or worrying what others think. As she never did anything wrong, everyone always thought she was wonderful, except for the bad guys she thwarted. Mainly, she was the preeminent example of a young woman who used her brains and her courage to help others. There was no other cultural icon for young women representing that ideal at that time, or at least not one so widely known.

Nancy Drew Now. One thing Nancy Drew did was start a trend toward media representations of feisty, clever, capable young women. Here is a very scattered, incomplete list of TV shows featuring such characters, based only on my own viewing and interests:

  • The X-Files (1993-2002; 2016-2018) This show had two main characters, but Scully, the woman FBI agent, more than held her own, demonstrating intelligence and courage in facing both paranormal threats and government coverups. She is an adult, obviously, not a teen, but represents the independence of thought young women could strive for.
  • Star Trek: Voyager (1994-2001) This series in the long-running franchise featured a woman in command of a starship. Captain Janeway, another adult, embodied many of the virtues of Nancy Drew: brave, loyal, clever, a respecter of rules but more interested in doing what’s right.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) Though Buffy was not a detective, and never claimed to be clever, she was obviously tough, loyal, and brave. She fought to protect the defenseless and do the right thing.
  • Veronica Mars (2004-2007; 2019) Veronica is the clearest follower of Nancy Drew, since she’s a detective who started out while still in high school, working to solve cases alongside her extremely supportive widowed father (a detective himself, instead of the Nancy’s lawyer father, but still very close).

The modern Nancy Drew is different from the original because she has to be to compete. The ecological niche for smart, brave, and loyal girls has gotten rather crowded, and the cultural mindset of teens and young adults today has clearly progressed in 60 years. The beauty of Nancy Drew is that she is able to be whatever girls look up to as they map out how to become the women they choose to be.

Thank you, Nancy.


ON ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve made a rather momentous decision. I will officially be switching my blog from this free WordPress location to my actual author website. For the rest of the year I will post all my blog entries (including this one) on both locations, and I’ve disabled subscriptions to Word Wacker. Starting in January 2020 I’ll be posting only on the website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me at my site: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

Creeping Along

In this week’s Lens Artists photo challenge, we’re asked to post our creepy images. At first I thought I wouldn’t have anything, but a browse through my files turned up a few examples.

First, an old photo (so lower resolution) of the dense crop of icicles dangling over a friend’s front porch

A night shot of an inverted forest of iciclesNext, a stark tree on the beach at Pultneyville. Why someone cut the top off but left those two desperate branches, I don’t know. (This is another older photo.)

A dead tree on the beach, with the trunk chopped off 20 feet up and two twisted branches reaching into the airThis shot is from Rush Rhees Library on the campus of the University of Rochester. It’s not in the Ivy League, but you wouldn’t know it from these thick vines, looking stark in winter dormancy.

Thick vines, decorated with a few dried leaves, twist around the corner of this brick buildingFinally, a visitor I found creeping up the molding in my kitchen. Personally, I think it’s gorgeous, but it does, literally, creep!

A bug with an intricately patterned brown shell creeps upward on the door moldingPosted in response to Lens-Artists #71: Creepy, with thanks to Ann-Christine for posting this week’s challenge.


ON ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve made a rather momentous decision. I will officially be switching my blog from this free WordPress location to my actual author website. For the rest of the year I will post all my blog entries (including this one) on both locations, and as of today I will disable subscriptions to Word Wacker. Starting in January 2020 I’ll be posting only on the website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me at my site: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

Brain Stories: Storytelling and Human Consciousness

An image of a reconstructed human skull. Text: Something for Sunday; November 10, 2019; Brain StoriesAs I work on editing one novel and beginning the planning of another, I’ve been reading books about craft. I recently started Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and so far it’s fabulous. I will definitely be working through her process for both stories, and have no doubt that they will be better for it. I’m not surprised: I mentioned her before, with respect to her first book, Wired for Story and how much I loved it. She has a TEDx talk about the importance of story that writers may find valuable:

One of her major points is that our brains are wired to be caught up in stories. When a story is working right, it delivers to the reader a hit of dopamine, a neurochemical related pleasure and addiction. She points out that every human society ever has used story for teaching and building community. Writers can apply this understanding to construct stories that will draw readers in and keep them engaged until the last page. I completely agree with her on this.

Another part of her argument is that the reason stories work this way is that we use stories to develop our understanding of the world, allowing us to develop the responses that will allow us to survive and thrive. Early humans who didn’t pay attention to story, she says, didn’t learn how to be effective in the world and died out. That little pulse of dopamine is there specifically to push us into paying attention to stories so we can learn the lessons they teach us. She may be right about this, but there’s another way of thinking about stories and the human mind that might also be involved. To get there, we have to take a side trip into cognitive psychology (my favorite thing, along with writing).

Cognitive Psychology Digression

We humans possess a conscious awareness of ourselves that not many animals have. That is, we not only know what’s happening around us, but we can reflect on ourselves as something that knows it. We can think back to our own past experiences, instead of simply reacting to what’s here. We have a sense of ourselves as entities with a past history, and can project ourselves into the future, imagining who we might be and how that might come about. Where this conscious awareness comes from and how it emerges from the physical activity of the brain is something cognitive psychologists think about a lot. It’s what philosopher David Chalmers called the “hard problem” of cognitive science. There has been much too much work on this hard problem for me to summarize it in any meaningful way, but here are a couple of accessible resources: a story in Psychology Today addressing the reason why the question is hard and why people are trying to solve it, and an article in Scientific American focusing on some brain regions that may be crucial to consciousness.

The theory I find most fascinating claims that consciousness evolved as a direct result of two related properties of human beings: our social nature, and our behavioral flexibility. (This is related to, though not exactly the same as, a theory of the social nature of consciousness developed by Michael Graziano: see this scholarly article and this more recent popular description.) Here’s how it works.
• Humans live in complex, interconnected social networks, even more than our primate relatives. It is essential to our survival that we are able to interact smoothly with lots of other humans. In order to do that, we need to understand the goals and motives of other people and predict how they will react to any number of situations, including unexpected or unusual ones. From their very first days, babies are focused on understanding and connecting with the people around them, as shown by their strong tendency to look at human faces and, as soon as they have any physical control at all, to respond appropriately to them.
• Humans have very few hard-wired reflexes. Babies are born with a handful fixed behaviors that are necessary for survival, such as suckling, but within weeks their behaviors start to show more flexibility. This is essential, because the way they will be expected to act will vary widely depending on the specific social group they are part of. A baby goose will have no choice but to follow the first moving object they see after hatching; there is almost no behavior humans engage in that they can’t consciously choose.

This is a cognitively demanding situation. People can act in ways that are not determined by their biology, but understanding and predicting how they will act is critical. How do we pull it off? We have to build within our minds little models of all the important people in our lives, keeping track of how they behave and making inferences about their thoughts and beliefs. We have powerful neural structures that evolved for that purpose, and this may be one major reason why we developed such big brains.

If you’ve got a complex brain structure just for the purpose of building little mental models of people, it makes sense for that model to be applied to the most important person in your world: You. In my brain, alongside all the ways I understand my family, friends, and co-workers, there’s something dedicated to understanding me. Keeping track of my past behavior, deducing my motives and goals, and predicting how I will react in future situations. In this theory, that model of me is the source of my conscious awareness.

Meanwhile, Back in the Story

Cron makes the argument that we enjoy stories because they serve real, tangible benefits that help us survive; in an evolutionary sense, they are adaptive. Let me emphasize that this may be completely true. However, there’s something else that may be true as well. Something that was adaptive at some point early in human evolution doesn’t necessarily benefit us today. Think about the drive to consume sweets and fats, which was a definite plus when eating wild plants and animals on the African savannah, but not so much in today’s fast-food world. Or, something that has a real, adaptive purpose may also have another effect that is purely accidental.

When we read a compelling story, we are pulled into someone else’s head. The author leads us to build mental models of the various characters, and their behavior plays out in a series of situations. When the story is well constructed the characters are interesting, their behavior complex but well motivated, and their responses satisfying. In other words, it triggers our ability to model people in a big way.

There is very good reason to believe that our ability to effectively model the people around us is a critical survival skill. As with many critical survival skills, our system has evolved to encourage us to engage in it. Giving us a hit of dopamine when we indulge in that skill is one way to do this. It means that when we get pulled into a story, it feels good.

I’m not suggesting that stories, like chocolate ice cream, are bad for us! But it might be that getting drawn into a story is not really related to survival at all. It could be just a side effect of our social modeling ability, which is definitely related to survival. Even so, it’s a fascinating and very enjoyable side effect. Stories are pleasurable, and indulging in them has essentially no down sides. I still intend to read as much as I can, and to create engaging stories others sink into. Cron’s book looks like a good way to learn how to do that.


ON ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve made a rather momentous decision. I will officially be switching my blog from this free WordPress location to my actual author website. For the rest of the year I will post all my blog entries (including this one) on both locations. Starting in January 2020, though, I’ll be posting only on the website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me at my site: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

All the Colors

This week the Lens Artists are looking for monochrome images. This most often means photos shot in black and white, but it can also mean any picture where just one color dominates. I don’t have much in my archives in black and white, but did find some monochrome images in various colors, and decided to post one in each of the four primary colors in human vision. Yes, I know, most color systems focus on three primary colors (red, green, blue), and the color receptors in the human eye also respond predominantly to one of these three hues. However, the visual system then turns this input into three opponent systems: red vs. green, blue vs. yellow, and black vs. white. This means that, at one level in human vision, there are four colors, just like in the song I used to sing with my children:

Red and yellow, green and blue,
All the colors over you.
Red as an apple, green as a tree,
Yellow as the sunshine, blue as the sea.

So here are four images, one representing each of the four colors.

Red: Amazing fall colors from 2018

Closeup of dense, bright red leaves on an autumn treeYellow: Part of a dazzling display of twinkle lights I spotted in a hotel this past spring

Shimmering yellow twinkling lights in a hotel lobbyGreen: A single white blossom stands out against its dark green leaves

A white morning glory flower in a bed of green leavesBlue: A vivid sky, painted with swirling clouds

White clouds swirled against a vivid blue skyPosted in response to Lens-Artists #70: Monochrome, with thanks to Patti for posting this week’s challenge.


ON ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve made a rather momentous decision. I will officially be switching my blog from this free WordPress location to my actual author website. From now until the end of this year I will post all my blog entries (including this one) on both locations. Starting in January 2020, though, I’ll be posting only on the website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me at my site: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

Hello, NaNo: My First NaNoWriMo!

Closeup of a computer keyboard. Text: Something for Sunday; November 3, 2019; Hello, NaNoSince 1999, thousands of writers have signed up to focus on writing by committing to producing 50,000 words during the month of November. The event is called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and is hosted by a fabulous nonprofit organization, sponsored by a number of wonderful businesses. I’ve never been able to participate in this event because, as a college professor, my November was already completely packed (though I have done a spin-off event called Camp NaNoWriMo). This year I’m retired, so I planned to do the real NaNo for the first time.

Things got complicated, though, because I’m in the middle of editing my book. Yes, I’ve been editing it for a LONG time, but I’m committed to getting it finished by the end of this year. So I’m not ready to start a new novel now. I worried that this would mean I couldn’t do NaNoWriMo after all.

Guess what – I decided I’m doing it. I will log and track all the work I do while editing, by which I mean I’ll count the final, edited version of each chapter I work on during November. I will also count the notes I write for myself as I work through the revision. If I finish all that and still haven’t hit 50,000, I’ll log the planning on my next project.

This means my first actual NaNoWriMo is kind of a Franken-project, combining editing one book with the planning of another. I figure if it gets me moving more efficiently with my writing, then I’ve met my goal!

Wish all of us diving into the NaNo waters this year good luck!


ON ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve made a rather momentous decision. I will officially be switching my blog from this free WordPress location to my actual author website. From now until the end of this year I will post all my blog entries (including this one) on both locations. Starting in January 2020, though, I’ll be posting only on the website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me at my site: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope to see you over there!

Doubles

The photo challenge this week is for photos of doubles; two similar things in one image. Here are a few examples from my archives.

The flags of two countries fly from this staff at the Navy Point Marina. It’s in the US, but near that border with Canada and frequently visited by Canadian guests. (The small pennant at the top identifies the marina.)

A staff bearing the flags of two countries: Canada and the USA patch of day lilies caught my eye with these two brilliant blooms.

Two brilliant orange daylilies against a field of green leavesThese two charming baby dragon sculptures were the cake toppers at my daughter’s dragon-themed wedding. The groom designed them and had them 3D printed, and the bride painted them.

Two dragon sculptures: one has a wreath of flowers on her head, the other is taking a bite out of his top hat. Their tails curl together to suggest a heart.Posted in response to Lens Artist #69: Seeing Double, with thanks to Tina for this week’s challenge

Lines and Squares 4: Perspective

Pattern of pale gray square tiles. Text: Something for Sunday; October 27, 2019; Lines and Squares, Part 4: PerspectiveBecky B runs a photo challenge four times a year for a whole month. In the Squares Challenge, people post an image for each day that meet two criteria; they are based on the month’s prompt, and their format is square. This October, the prompt is Lines. I’ve chosen to bundle my images into four batches and post one batch each Sunday in October.

This batch of images features perspective lines (lines that pull your eye into the distance). This brings me to a total of 32 square photos (eight in each of the four Sundays I’ve posted on this challenge). You can see the other three sets here, here, and here.This has been a wonderful experience, and I’m looking forward to participating in future Squares Challenges. Thank you, Becky!

Click an image to navigate through the gallery. Enjoy!

Sky Layers

This week’s photo challenge is to illustrate layers: images of things that are stacked in front of and behind each other to create depth. I’ve always been fascinated by the sky and clouds, which is a rich source of such images. Here are three from my archives. I hope you enjoy them!

A flock of puffy clouds in the blue sky over Black River Bay, piled up all the way to the horizonFluffy white clouds against a dark blue sky, receding toward the horizonSame spot, different day, this time with darker clouds and rain falling on the far side of the bay

Clouds piled up over Black River Bay, with rain falling in the distanceA gentle sunset over water, with a tree-covered bluff in middle distance and a bit of beach in the foreground

A bluff by a lake silhouetted against a pastel sunset, with a beach and small waves in the foregroundPosted in response to Lens-Artists #67: Layered, with thanks to Amy for this week’s challenge.