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25 Feb 09:00

Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes from Jane Austen’s Novels and Letters

by Maria Popova

Mr. Bingley’s white soup, Lady Middleton’s apricot marmalade, Margaret Dods’s pigeon pie, and more literary treats from Georgian England.

As a hopeless lover of imaginative cookbooks, especially ones with a literary or art bend — from homages like The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook and Modern Art Desserts to conceptual masterpieces like The Futurist Cookbook to actual recipes by Alexandre Dumas, Andy Warhol, Liberace, George Orwell, and Alice B. Toklas, and especially The Artists & Writers’ Cookbook — I was delighted to come across Dinner with Mr. Darcy (public library) — a collection of recipes inspired by the novels and letters of Jane Austen, conceived and compiled by Penguin Great Food series editor Pen Vogler.

From Mr. Bingley’s white soup in Pride and Prejudice to Aunt Norris’s lavish and prolific jellies in Mansfield Park to the everyday edibles Austen discussed in her letters to her sister Clarissa, the recipes capture both the spirit of the era and Austen’s singular sense and sensibility in creating an atmosphere through food.

One recipe comes from Martha Lloyd, Austen’s longtime friend and eventual sister-in-law, who lived with the Austen sisters for the final decade and a half of the author’s life. Lloyd kept a small “household book,” included in which were a number of recipes. One entry reads:

Pease [sic] Soup

Take two quarts of pease. Boil them to a pulp. Strain them. Put ½ lb of butter into a saucepan. Celery, half an onion, and stew them til tender. Then put two anchovies, powdered pepper, salt, mint and parsley (each a small handful) and spinach, and heat of each a small quantity. Half a spoonful of sugar. The soup be boiled as thick as you like it and the whole be ground together, boiled up and dished.

Vogler adapts the recipe into a contemporary version, featuring proper spelling and the use of a blender:

FRESH PEA SOUP

Pea soup was an Austen family favorite: Jane wrote that she was not ashamed to invite an unexpected guest to “our elegant entertainment” of “pease-soup, a spare rib and a pudding” (letter to Cassandra, December 1, 1798.) This was a perfect way of using up the older peas from the garden to produce a fresh, vividly colored soup.

2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
Scant ½ stick (50g) butter
Few springs of mint and parsley, chopped
3 anchovies or 6–8 anchovy fillets, chopped
Freshly ground white pepper
4 cups (500g) frozen or fresh peas
Generous 1 quart (1 liter) light vegetable or chicken stock
Pinch of sugar
4–5 good handfuls of spinach (you could use lettuce and/or chopped cucumber instead of the spinach)

  1. Gently cook the celery and the onion in butter until it is soft but not browned, then add the mint, parsley, and anchovy, grind in a little white pepper, and cook for a few minutes.
  2. Stir the peas into the mixture, add the stock and a good pinch of sugar, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach (or lettuce and/or cucumber) at the end of the cooking time, and cook for a few minutes more. Let it cool, then whizz with a blender. This gives a nice grainy texture, but push it through a sieve if you would like a smooth soup in the Georgian manner. Reheat gently to serve.

Another recipe surmises where Austen’s jam fancies may have come from and turns to The Experienced English Housekeeper, a popular 1769 book by Elizabeth Raffled. Vogler adapts Raffled’s recipe thusly:

APRICOT MARMALADE AND APRICOT “CAKES”

Lady Middleton successfully deploys “apricot marmalade” (which we would now call jam) to stop her daughter’s attention-seeking screams. The apricot cakes are made from thick purée, which is dried in the oven to make delicious, chewy sweets.

Makes 2 quarts (2 liters)

18 oz (500g) fresh apricots or dried apricots, reconstituted overnight in apple juice
1 ¼ cups (250g) preserving sugar for marmalade
1 ¾ cups (350g) preserving sugar for cakes

  1. Pit the fruit and boil it until tender — about 30 minutes. Then rub through a sieve or purée in a blender, stir in the sugar and bring back to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. To make apricot cakes, spoon the mixture into oiled muffin cups and smooth down. Leave in a very low oven, 175°F (80°C) to dry out for 5–6 hours, turning them over halfway.

Another recipe cooks up one of England’s most popular specialties from that era:

PIGEON PIE

It was the custom to put “nicely cleaned” pigeon feet in the crust to label the contents (although sensible Margaret Dods says “we confess we see little use and no beauty in the practice”). Georgian recipes for pigeon pie called for whole birds, but I’ve suggested stewing the birds first, so your guests don’t have to pick out the bones.

Serves 6–8 as part of a picnic spread

4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
Slice of lean ham, chopped
4 pigeons with their livers tucked inside (the livers are hard to come by, but worth hunting out)
Flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
9 oz (250g) steak, diced (original cooks would have used rump steak, but you could use something cheaper like topside, diced across the grain of the meat)
Butter
Olive oil
Finely chopped parsley
2 white onions, roughly chopped
A bouquet garni of any of the following, tied together: thyme, parsley, marjoram, winter savory, a bay leaf
Beurre manie made with about 2 tsp butter and 2 tsp flour
1 lb (500g) rough puff pastry, chilled
Optional additions: 1 onion, peeled and quartered; 2 carrots, roughly chopped; 1 celery stick, roughly chopped

  1. Brown the bacon and then the ham in a frying pan, then add the onions, if using, and cook until they are translucent. Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan
  2. Flour the pigeons well and brown them all over in butter and olive oil in a frying pan, transferring them to the same large saucepan. Flour and brown the steak in the same way
  3. Put the pigeons in a saucepan, and push the steak, bacon, and onions down all around them (choose a saucepan in which they will be quite tightly packed). Although the original recipe doesn’t include them, you may want to add the carrots and celery stick to improve the stock.

    Add approximately 1 ¼ cups (300ml) water, or enough to just cover the contents. Cover the pan, and simmer slowly until the meat comes off the pigeon bones — at least an hour.

    Do not allow the pan to come to a boil or the beef will toughen. Remove from the heat.

  4. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the steak and pigeons with a slotted spoon, and carefully pull the pigeon meat off the bones, keeping it as chunky as possible, and put it, with the livers from the cavity, with the steak. You should have a good thick sauce; if it is too thin, stir in the beurre manie a little at a time.

    Wait for it to cook the flour, and thicken before adding any more, until you have the right consistency.

  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Roll out two-thirds of the pastry and line a pie dish about 3 inches/8cm deep, keeping a good ¼ inch (5mm) of pastry above the lip of the dish to allow for shrinkage
  6. Prick the bottom of the pastry and bake blind for 12 minutes. Add the meat mixture and pour in enough gravy to come to within an inch of the top.

    Roll out the remaining pastry to cover the top, crimping the edges together. Make a vent in the center, and use the trimmings to decorate.

    You may like to use the point of the knife to make small slash marks in the shape of pigeon footprints — a nod to the “nicely cleaned feet” of the original recipe. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden, and cooked through

  7. To serve, this is a juicier pie than we are used to for picnics, so you will need plates, and knives and forks, in the Georgian manner

Dinner with Mr. Darcy contains many more edible delights inspired by the beloved author’s life and literature. Complement it with some recipes inspired by Lewis Carroll.

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04 Mar 15:49

Dear Little Daughter

by Shaun Usher


W.E.B. Du Bois was a man of many achievements. In 1895, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D at Harvard; he co-founded, in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; his influential 1903 book on race, The Souls of Black Folk, is considered a classic in its field. He was also a tireless civil rights activist. In 1914, his soon-to-be 14-year-old daughter, Yolande, left the family home to study at Bedales School in England. He wrote her the following letter of advice soon after her arrival.

(Source: The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois, Vol. 1: Selections, 1877-1934; Image: W.E.B. Du Bois, his daughter, Yolande, and his wife, Nina in 1901, via Wikimedia.)

New York, October 29, 1914

Dear Little Daughter:

I have waited for you to get well settled before writing. By this time I hope some of the strangeness has worn off and that my little girl is working hard and regularly.

Of course, everything is new and unusual. You miss the newness and smartness of America. Gradually, however, you are going to sense the beauty of the old world: its calm and eternity and you will grow to love it.

Above all remember, dear, that you have a great opportunity. You are in one of the world’s best schools, in one of the world’s greatest modern empires. Millions of boys and girls all over this world would give almost anything they possess to be where you are. You are there by no desert or merit of yours, but only by lucky chance.

Deserve it, then. Study, do your work. Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life. You will meet, of course, curious little annoyances. People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkley hair. But that simply is of no importance and will soon be forgotten. Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual, whether it is beautiful, fine or not. You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin—the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.

Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.

I shall write each week and expect a weekly letter from you.

Lovingly yours,

Papa


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05 Feb 20:00

Watch Philip Seymour Hoffman's films online

by Jason Kottke

Synecdoche Poster

Understandably, lots of folks are wanting to wade into the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's formidable body of work. Netflix Watch Instantly doesn't have a whole lot of available titles and Hulu has a mere two, but Amazon has quite a few for rent or purchase. Some of my favorites: The Master, Synecdoche, New York, Almost Famous, Magnolia, and Boogie Nights. I need to find time for a Synecdoche viewing this week.

ps. The links to Amazon include my affiliates code...proceeds from purchases made through those links will be matched by me and will be donated to the Labyrinth Theater Company, which Hoffman co-founded and where he served as creative director for many years.

Tags: movies   Philip Seymour Hoffman
05 Feb 22:15

How McDonald's makes their Chicken McNuggets

by Jason Kottke

McDonald's Canada continues their series on how their business works with a video on how Chicken McNuggets are made.

Best part of the video: the casual reveal that McNuggets come in four standard shapes: the ball, the bell, the boot, and the bow tie:

McNugget shapes

I had a McNugget over the weekend, the first one in probably more than 10 years, and it tasted and felt like chicken. Not bad for fast food. See also how McDonald's fries are made and how McDonald's photographs their food for advertising.

Tags: food   McDonald's   video
06 Feb 16:26

The frequency of humanity

by Jason Kottke

Death 1.8 Hz

Every day on Earth, an estimated 371,124 people are born and 154,995 people die. When you ask Wolfram Alpha about these rates, the scientifically inclined site returns a curious corresponding quantity: the frequency in hertz (aka the number of cycles/second in a periodic occurrence).

The frequency of humanity

Measurement in hertz is an unusual way to think about living and dying; hertz are typically reserved for things like human-audible sound frequencies (20 to 16,000 Hz), how fast your laptop's CPU runs (1 to 4 Ghz), or the frequency of the power running into your house (50 to 60 Hz). But if you subtract the death rate from the birth rate, you get a net rate of 216,129 new people a day, or about 2.5 Hz. That's the frequency of humanity. While that's a lot slower than your computer, it's in the same frequency ballpark as a human's resting heart rate (1.3 Hz), steps taken while walking briskly (1.8 Hz), or moderately energetic dance music (2.25 Hz).

Note: Illustration by Chris Piascik...check out his shop, where you'll find prints, tshirts, iPhone cases, etc.

Tags: science
06 Feb 18:30

How to buy great extra virgin olive oil

by Jason Kottke
Valtron3030

Basically what I've been saying for years, but smarter. ;)

On his site Truth in Olive Oil, Tom Mueller tells us how to buy great olive oil and, more usefully, which brands to buy at the supermarket.

Unlike many wines, which improve with age, extra virgin olive oil is perishable: like all natural fruit juices, its flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of milling, a decline that accelerate when the oil is bottled, and really speeds up when the bottle is opened. To get the freshest oil, and cut out middle-men who often muddy olive oil transparency and quality, buy as close to the mill as possible. If you're lucky enough to live near a mill -- common around the Mediterranean, and more and more so in other areas of the world with a Mediterranean-like climate, like Australia, S. Africa, California, Texas, Georgia -- visit it during the harvest to see how olives are picked, crushed, stirred, and spun into olive oil.

Mueller is also author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, which was published a few years after his olive oil exposé in the New Yorker.

In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.'s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force. ("Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks," one investigator told me.) The E.U. also began phasing out subsidies for olive-oil producers and bottlers, in an effort to reduce crime, and after a few years it disbanded the task force. Yet fraud remains a major international problem: olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but it is costly and time-consuming to produce-and surprisingly easy to doctor. Adulteration is especially common in Italy, the world's leading importer, consumer, and exporter of olive oil. (For the past ten years, Spain has produced more oil than Italy, but much of it is shipped to Italy for packaging and is sold, legally, as Italian oil.) "The vast majority of frauds uncovered in the food-and-beverage sector involve this product," Colonel Leopoldo Maria De Filippi, the commander for the northern half of Italy of the N.A.S. Carabinieri, an anti-adulteration group run under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, told me.

Tags: food   Tom Mueller
07 Feb 17:04

Every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013

by Jason Kottke

For BEAT magazine, Gary Card drew an illustration of every hairstyle worn by Prince since 1978.

Prince's hair through the ages

Tags: Gary Card   music   Prince   video
12 Feb 15:35

How to survive falling through the ice

by Jason Kottke

Don't breathe. That's the first step to surviving if you fall through ice into near-freezing water.

Ice Fall Survival

(via mr)

Tags: how to
13 Feb 15:12

Massively multiplayer online Flappy Bird

by Jason Kottke

This is way more fun that regular Flappy Bird.

Flappy MMO

Would love to see a realtime graph of the distribution of scores for the last 1000 players or so. (My current high: 3 4! [Also, the second I put this post up, the server went down. :( ] I'm the guy repeatedly dying at the first pipe.)

Tags: Flappy Bird   video games
13 Feb 17:13

Photos of the first 12 Winter Olympics

by Jason Kottke

Andrea Mead Ski

1948 Pentathlon

Following the film footage of the 1932 Winter Olympics (ice skating on stilts! Keystone Cops ski jumping!), here's a collection of photos from In Focus of the first 12 Winter Games, from 1924 to 1976.

Tags: Olympic Games   photography   sports
13 Feb 19:14

The Bible's anachronistic camel problem

by Jason Kottke

There are too many camels in the Bible. Evidence suggests they were domesticated in Israel centuries after the events in Genesis took place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham's servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories "do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium," said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, "but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period."

Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of "how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another."

Update: Added "in Israel" to clarify the camel domestication timeline...they were domesticated much earlier in the Arabian Peninsula.

Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE.

(via @arbesman)

Tags: religion   science   The Bible
17 Feb 17:59

Bike messenger with one leg

by Jason Kottke

Not sure if he's still out there or not, but Dexter Benjamin has been a bike messenger in NYC for more than 20 years, navigating his bike around the city on only one leg. He lost the leg pushing a boy out of traffic in his native Trinidad. Here's a 2006 interview with Benjamin:

And from the NY Times in 2005, a brief profile.

He came to New York to participate in a marathon, decided to stay, and before long was leaning on a crutch and panhandling in Grand Central Terminal. He spent many nights sleeping in a shelter, and more than one dawn wondering who would stoop to steal a one-legged man's shoe.

Another Trinidad native, Steve Alexis, eventually hired him as a messenger. "He could walk with crutches," Mr. Alexis says. "I figure if he rides a bike, that's even better."

After learning to shift his weight for proper balance, Mr. Benjamin was soon darting through Manhattan streets in a triumphal blur. "I love their reaction when I pass them," he says of others. "They're seeing something impossible."

(thx, porter)

Tags: cycling   Dexter Benjamin   NYC   video
19 Feb 17:34

Bar talk

by Jason Kottke

I don't care if all of this vocabulary of NYC's best bars is made up (it sure sounds made up), I still loved reading it. You can totally tell which places are about the drinks, which are about hospitality, which are bitchy, and which are all about the benjamins.

Sipper: A small pour (typically Mother's Milk) gifted to a colleague, loved one, regular, etc.

Amuse-booze (experimental term): A tiny sipper to acknowledge a guest an reassure them they will be served soon.

The Cousins: Affectionate term for other cocktail bars (after the British secret service's name for the CIA in Le Carre's Smiley novels).

Even if it's fake, it's real.

Tags: Ben Schott   food   language   NYC
19 Feb 04:26

[Musique du Monde] – ‘Le Nouveau Son’ – Vol. 4 (1969-1976)

by Soundslike

On my latest trip to Paris, in a little hole-in-the-wall in the Montparnasse, I chanced upon another forgotten compilation from the venerable Musique du Monde label, which has also given us the ‘Le Tour du Monde‘ series, ‘Les Miniatures,’ ‘Le Mystere de la Musiqe,’ and ‘Les Rythmes du Monde. . .  Ok, I admit it.  There is no Musique du Monde, sad to say (nor do I make it to Paris very often, sadder to say).  Truth is, these are some of the hundreds of tracks I’ve earmarked over the last few years (along with a few old favorites I never mixed before).  Making mixes with any regularity hasn’t been feasible, but I’ve continued to seek out new music as voraciously as ever.  Over the last few years I’ve had the good fortune to live in Portland, Rome, New York, Chicagoland and now New England, and I’ve collected the tracks I feature at Musicophilia at some of my favorite shops (Exiled, Soul Food, Rockit Scientist R.I.P., Dusty Groove, Weirdo Records).  These are some of the tracks that that have really stuck with me, and I think anyone who is still listening will be pleased.  Those unbelievable beats and hooks are there, as usual (some of the best, in fact), and there’s an emphasis on the synthesizer, but on the whole ‘Le Nouveau Son’ is an enchanting, mysterious an moody, late night affair.  The second disc especially enters deep into goosebump territory, the realm of the timeless.  I hope you enjoy–spread the word, and as always, please support these artists and the labels that reissue their work.   Tracklist and download after the “more…” link.  Edit: download link corrected.

Artists featured include Todd Rundgren, Silver Apples, Ananda Shankar, Eroc, 10cc, Amon Duul II (sounding rather post-punk, a la Television), John Cale, Syreeta (with Stevie Wonder), Duncan Browne, Hall & Oates, Sensations Fix, Catherine Ribeiro, Francisco (who also does quite amazing abstract work), Brian Eno, Placebo (whose Marc Moulin is the Zelig of Belgian art rock/jazz–look him up and you’ll see what I mean), Harry Nilsson, Marcos Valle, Roxy Music, Wolfgang Dauner, D.R. Hooker, These Trails, Tim Buckley, Franco Battiato, Michael Chapman, Jacqueline Thibault, and Comus (sounding nothing like you’ll expect, if you’ve only heard their first LP).

Various Artists – ‘Le Nouveau Son,’ Volume Four
(Musique du Monde, France – 1976)

Disque A

01  [00:00]  Todd RUNDGREN – “International Feel” (A Wizard, a True Star, 1973)  United States
02  [02:45]  Silver APPLES – “You and I” (Contact, 1969)  United States
03  [05:43]  Ananda SHANKAR – “Snow Flower” (Snow Flower, 1970)  India
04  [08:40]  EROC – “Abenfrienden” (Eroc 1, 1975)  Germany
05  [10:52]  10cc – “The Worst Band In the World”  (Sheet Music, 1974)  England
06  [13:38]  Amon DUUL II – “Trap” (Vive la Trance, 1974)  Germany
07  [17:15]  John CALE – “Sylvia Said” (Fear, 1974)  Wales
08  [21:19]  SYREETA – “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, 1974)  United States
09  [25:41]  Duncan BROWNE – “Ragged Rain Life” (Duncan Browne, 1973)  England
10  [28:37]  Hall & OATES – “When the Morning Comes” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973)  United States
11  [31:35]  Sensations Fix – “Do You Love Me?”  (Fragments of Light, 1974)  Italy
12  [34:43]  Catherine RIBEIRO – “Un Regard Clair” (L’Home des Champs, 1974)  France
13  [39:13]  FRANCISCO – “Heal Yourself”  (Cosmic Beam Experience, 1976)  United States
14  [43:34]  Brian ENO – “The Big Ship” (Another Green World, 1974)  England

Disque B

01  [00:00]  PLACEBO – “Balek” (1973, 1973)  Belgium
02  [04:23]  Harry NILSSON – “Black Sails (Alternate)” (Unreleased, 1974)  United States
03  [06:54]  Marcos VALLE – “Mais do Que Valsa” (Previsao do Tempo, 1973)  Brazil
04  [09:40]  Roxy MUSIC – “Pyjamarama” (7″ Single, 1973)  England
05  [12:42]  Wolfgang DAUNER – “Kamasutram”  (Rischkas Soul, 1972)  Germany
06  [16:25]  D.R. HOOKER – “Forge Your Own Chains” (The Truth, 1972)  United States
07  [20:50]  These TRAILS – “Psyche I & Share Your Water” (These Trails, 1973)  United States
08  [26:13]  Tim BUCKLEY – “Song to the Siren” (Starsailor, 1970)  United States
09  [29:44]  Franco BATTIATO – “Aria di Rivoluzione” (Sulle Corde di Aries, 1973)  Italy
10  [34:31]  Michael CHAPMAN – “Night Drive” (Wrecked Again, 1972)  England
11  [38:19]  Jacqueline THIBAULT – “Lover’s Prayer”  (Evening Colours, 1976)  France
12  [41:31]  COMUS – “To Keep From Crying” (To Keep From Crying, 1974)  England

[Total Time: 93:40]

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19 Feb 05:58

How does a Badger get to Carnegie Hall?

by Neil Gaiman

Last year I was asked if I wanted to be my favourite literary character for an exhibition at the Oxford Storytelling Museum. I chose Badger, from The Wind In The Willows, for my own reasons.

After I had had my photo taken as a Badger, by eminent photographer Cambridge Jones,  Philip Pullman stopped by for tea, and it wasn't until much later I realised that I was still made up as a badger when we spoke. (You can hear us talk about it, and many other things, on this "in conversation" at the Oxford Playhouse.)

If you want to know what my reasons for being a Badger were, or who Mr Pullman was dressed as in his photograph, you will need to visit the 26 Characters Exhibition at the Storytelling Museum, in Oxford, between the 5th of April and the 2nd of November, where you can learn about all of us, and see me as Badger, Terry Pratchett as William Brown (from Just William) and the rest of us. All the information you could need about it is at http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/26Characters



...

Today the Audie Award nominations for Best Audiobook were announced: I was thrilled to see that my reading of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is nominated for two awards (Fiction and Narration by the Author or Authors), delighted that Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman's The Fall of the Kings, in which I perform, and which is part of the Neil Gaiman Presents line was nominated for two awards (Audio Drama and Multi-Voiced Performance) and I was cock-a-hoop when I saw that John Hodgman was nominated for Solo Narration - Male for Robert Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles, another of the Neil Gaiman Presents books, and one I'm really proud of having brought into the world...

But, oddly, the one that put the biggest smile on my face was learning that I was nominated for an Audie Award as the narrator of someone else's book: The Dark, by Lemony Snicket is nominated for best children's book up to the age 8. I don't read other people's audio books, and I always say no when asked, but, unfortunately, Mister Snicket knows exactly where the bodies are buried, and he has photographs and mummified hands for souvenirs. Also, the book was very short: six minutes, altogether.



I have won Audie Awards over the years, and been nominated for more, so I do not mind whether I win or lose, but hell, it's fun to be nominated.

...

Just a reminder: I'm really not doing Social Media currently. Even the little blitz of posts of links to ticket info on performances of THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS this morning was automated -- I plugged them into WhoSay the night before, which then sent them to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Google + as the tickets went on sale.

You can find out where I'll be and what I'm doing at Where's Neil: http://www.neilgaiman.com/where/ and it's worth checking back on it, as things get added.

For those of you who missed it:

June 25th, I'm onstage with THE TRUTH IS A CAVE at the Warfield - with the amazing FourPlay string quartet, and pictures by (and, in person) Eddie Campbell.

Location: San Francisco, CA
Wednesday, 8:00-10:00pm

Showtime: 8:00 PM
Doors open: 7:00 PM
Ages: All Ages

TICKETS:
http://www.axs.com/events/248155/neil-gaiman-tickets
Advanced Ticket Prices*: $40.00
Day of Show*: $42.00
* Service and handling fees are added to the price of each ticket

WHERE:
The Warfield
982 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

While on June 27th we do it again onstage at the Carnegie Hall in New York:

Location: New York, NY
Friday, 8:00-10:00pm

WHERE:
Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Carnegie Hall
881 7th Ave
New York, NY 10019

http://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2014/6/27/0800/PM/Neil-Gaiman-The-Truth-is-a-Cave-in-the-Black-Mountains/

Ticket prices from $39-$129.

Then we go to London and do it there on July 4th and 5th... http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?id=16044

Let's see. I should answer a question. It's been ages:

hey!
our name is Ina and Simen we go on Gausel skole.Her school Harvi a literacy project and we have been asked to ask a writer about this: what did you read when you were 11-12 years old?
please reply instantly.

With Kind Regards Ina and Simen :-)


I read anything I could get my hands on. At that age I was particularly obsessed with Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Roger Zelazny and Samuel R Delany, but I would read anything, and I did.

15 Feb 20:38

Love Redux

by Pat

So last year I made a post on Valentines day that happened to be about love.

I wasn’t happy about that, as I’ve got a strong iconoclastic element in my personality. And writing about love on Valentines day is just… it just feels so fucking Hallmark.

But something happened a couple days ago, and it’s been spinning in my head ever since. When that happens, I have to tell a story about it, because that’s just how I’m wired.

So. I’m writing about love again, not because it’s Valentines day, but despite that.

I just want to make it clear this isn’t going to be a yearly thing. Okay? Okay.

*     *     *

A couple days ago, my baby boy smiled at me. A little crooked smile, a smirk.

Cutie - 8 weeks

(The onesie was a gift from a fan. Honest.)

A few days before that, I got my first smile. Today I got several. He also said, “goo” a couple times. I’m not even kidding. It’s amazingly cute.

Here’s the thing. He also smiled at the ceiling fan. He *really* likes the ceiling fan. Given the choice between the ceiling fan and me, the fan will win 3 times out of 4.

But you know what’s strange? I don’t mind. I really don’t.

I don’t mind that he smiles and coos at his mom more than me. It doesn’t make me sad that the ceiling fan takes second place, and that almost any window with a sunlight behind it is a close third.

I’m fine being fourth in line for smiles. I’m just happy to be on the list.

Standing there, holding my new baby, I had a strange sort of revelation. I was feeling a type of love that was in no way jealous.

I think this might be the purest type of love.

*     *     *

Here’s the thing, I’m not a fan of LOVE as a singular concept. It’s a ridiculously broad term that can be applied to pets, sex partners, or Oreos. When a word accretes that many definitions, it becomes virtually nonsensical.

If you’re hunting for more specific words for love, Greek is a good language to start with. They have Eros, Philos, and Agape. Those three do a pretty good job of breaking the great multifarious monolith of LOVE into slightly more manageable pieces.

I’m assuming you know about them, but just for reference:

  • Philos is friend love. Family love.
  • Eros is “I want to bone you” love.
  • Agape is… tricky. Some people call it “unconditional love.” I’ve heard it referred to as “True love” “God Love” or “That love which instils worth.”

There’s also lesser-known storge: “Kindness love.” Which is the sort of love you feel for something that’s dependent on you. Like an infant or a dog.

So. I’m standing there, looking at my sweet baby, and he’s smiling at the ceiling fan. And I realize I don’t mind. I’m just happy that he’s happy. I’m just happy that sometimes he smiles at me. I’m just happy he’s around.

This is a strange and wonderful sensation. This is, I feel, a different type of love.

Now it might seem like I’m talking about agape-style love here. Or storge. But I’m not. This is something different.

What I’m talking about here is love-without-expectation.

*     *     *

We need to stop for a moment and make a word.

If I’m going to spend some time trying to describe a largely unfamiliar concept, I need a name for it. Love-without-expectation-or-desire isn’t going to work. It’s not elegant. A newish concept needs a newish name. It needs its own space to grow. You grok?

Plus I just like making words. It’s kind of a thing that I do.

From what I gather the Hebrew concept of “חסד” is pretty close to what I’m looking for here. And it’s one of the Sephira, which gives it extra gravitas. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work because when you transliterate it, it’s spelled “chesed” and that looks too much like “cheesed” to me.

Fuck it. I know it’s not linguistically sound, but I’m going to call it Eleutheria.

*     *     *

Remember where we were? Me. My baby. Ceiling fan.

20140214_122916

(In his defense, it’s a really nice fan.)

I simply love him, and I expect nothing in return. This is strangely, delightfully freeing. I don’t feel bad that if he pays more attention to his mom. I don’t mind that he smiles at the fan or his big brother.

I don’t mind if he falls asleep. I don’t mind if he throws up on me.

Elutheria – Love which demands nothing. The love that expects nothing.

This is an odd concept for me. Because I am a creature composed almost entirely of expectations.

This isn’t entirely a bad thing. The ability to anticipate, desire, and plan is important. It gives us control of our lives. It gives us the ability to see forward in time a little. It gives us the ability to steer our destiny a little so we can avoid wrecking our lives against the rocks.

Not always, of course, sometimes your ship is going to wreck no matter your best efforts. Shit happens. But if you’re able to anticipate the future, you can at least brace for impact. That’s better than nothing.

Without the ability to predict and therefore exert control on the future, we are helpless. Subject to the constant random battering of a largely entropic universe.

The ability to predict and anticipate isn’t bad. The desire for control isn’t bad. If you put those things together with a love for language and a vague compulsion for storytelling, you get The Name of the Wind.

If you combine these characteristics with a love of charity and a desire to make the world a better place, you get Worldbuilders.

If you combine them with a relationship… it’s not so good.

Because trying to control the people you love isn’t good.

For one thing, people don’t like it. (For the most part.) But also because controlling someone means hanging expectations on them. And if people don’t live up to your expectations, you’re disappointed. And disappointment leads to frustration and anger. This spiral continues down to the dark side of the force.

How much nicer would it be to simply love someone? If you expected nothing from your beloved, you could never be disappointed. Nothing could jeopardize that love. It would be unassailable.

This would be Elutheria, the love that expects nothing.

*     *     *

What I’m talking about here, is the diametrical opposite of selfish love.

Selfish love demands things. It demands attention. Most of all, selfish love demands love in return. Typically it usually demands ALL the love in return. It demands primacy. Exclusivity. Ownership. Control.

What I’m talking about here is what’s commonly called “Romantic Love.”

Romantic love is championed as being awesome in our culture. It’s the sort of love you’ve seen a thousand times in movies and literature. You’ve seen it the lives of your friends and family members. You’ve probably experienced some version of it yourselves.

It’s the sort of love where you where you fall for someone, and they don’t love you back, and then you kill yourself. (Actual results may vary.)

It’s the sort of love where you see you girl talking to another guy and you feel jealous.

It’s the sort of love where you see your guy looking at another girl and you feel angry.

It’s the sort of love that makes you think it’s okay to consider someone “your girl” or “your guy.” As if you owned them. As if they were under your control. As if your affection made them somehow beholden to you.

And as I stand there, smiling at my baby, (who is smiling at our ceiling fan) I am perfectly happy. And I wonder to my self, “At what point did loving someone become an excuse to be a greedy asshole?”

*     *     *

I bounced my idea off a couple people over the last week or so. Love without expectation. I explained about my baby and the ceiling fan. I talked about the chains of desire….

“Well,” someone said. “It sounds nice, but I don’t think that’s something that could exist in an adult relationship.”

Several people said this, or something very close to it. These comments came up almost compulsively, in a knee-jerk way.

I think people have this automatic response for two reasons.

First, I think they feel attacked. As if I’m telling them they’re loving wrong.

I’m not. That’s not what this is about. When I talk about how much I’d like a Tesla, it doesn’t mean I think you’re a dick for driving a Prius. I’m not trying to start a fight here. I’m looking to discuss an idea.

Second, I think people react badly because Elutheria a profoundly unfamiliar concept. We all grew up reading stories about Lancelot and Guenevere (or permutations thereof.)

The Arthurian legend is one of our mythic cornerstones. It echoes through the last 1000 years of our art and literature. Well… 800 years, if we’re talking about Lancelot. You see, he wasn’t in the original story. The French added him in the 1200′s.

dicksee-belle-dame

(Yeah. I know that’s not Lance and Gwen. I just really love Waterhouse.)

And you know what? It’s a better story with Lancelot in it. More drama. More tension. More universal appeal.

The downside? Lancelot and Guenevere are generally held up to be the villains of the whole Arthurian schtick. They ruined Camelot. Their dirty, dirty lust wrecked the golden age.

But the truth is, if Arthur hadn’t been such a douche about the whole thing, there wouldn’t have been any problem. If Arthur had just gotten over himself and admitted that Lance was pretty hunky, it could have been cool. If he’d just wanted Gwen to be happy, he should have just stepped aside. Or at least turned a blind eye.

Either that or jumped into the sack with both of them. Because… y’know… hunky.

Imagine the glorious world we’d be living in if *that* was one of our mythic cornerstones, folks. Imagine a world where slash fiction didn’t exist because we were, all of us, constantly living the dream.

Okay, back on track here.

Generally speaking, everyone agrees that Arthur overreacted. But Lance and Gwen? They’re traitors. It’s their *fault*. Traitors deserve the lowest, darkest circle of hell.

Arthur was a little hot headed, sure. But it was justified, right? Lance and Gwen, their actions were a betrayal.

What were they betraying?

Expectations.

*     *     *

Those of you who have studied any Buddhism are probably nodding along by this point. Believe me, I’m very aware that the more I roll the concept of Elutheria around, the more similar it seems to the four noble truths that lead to the eightfold path.

For those of you who haven’t studied Buddhism, here it is in a nutshell:

  1. There is suffering.
  2. Suffering comes from thwarted desire.
  3. Therefore, if you eliminate desire, you eliminate suffering.
  4. Profit. Moksha.

There is an unassailable simplicity here. There’s a reason I’m fond of Buddhism.

*     *     *

I wish I had a strong closer for you, but I’m not really making an argument here. I’m not heading for a conclusion. I’m merely working out my thoughts in text. Writing things down helps me understand them better. It helps me knock the rough corners off my new ideas. (It’s my attempt at “Right Understanding,” the first step of the eightfold path.)

But is Elutheria something a person can realistically achieve?

With my baby, the answer seems to be yes.

But then things become more complicated. You see, I have responsibilities.

My older son is four. And while it would be pleasant to simply love him and let the chips fall where they may, if I were to do that, I would be failing him as a parent. I need to provide guidance and discipline. I need to control his base monkey instincts with the hope that he may eventually rise above them and become a fully-formed human being.

There’s that word again: Control. It’s my job to control him. It’s my job to have expectations.

Still, I think discarding Elutheria entirely would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are certain expectations that are essential. I expect him to be polite. I expect him to be honest. I expect him to be mindful and kind.

Those are the requirements for being a good human being. It’s my job to guide and coach him until he gets there.

Any expectations beyond that, I should be wary of. I shouldn’t expect him to be all those things *all* the time. I shouldn’t expect him to be tidy. Or quiet when I’m trying to work.

I shouldn’t expect him to be straight, or a democrat, or a painter. I shouldn’t expect him to love books.

Oot and book

Expectation is a trap, you see. There’s nothing to be gained from it. I don’t feel *more* joy seeing him read because I hoped for it. I only leave myself open to disappointment if he doesn’t.

Similarly, my relationship with Sarah consists of more than simple love. We are engaged in the partnership. We maintain a household and the purpose of that household is to raise children that are physically and emotionally healthy.

Her cooperation in these things is essential. I expect it.

But other things? Should I expect her never ogle the pretty college boys on the track team who jog around town every spring? No. Foolishness. Should I expect her to want to organize the kitchen the way I would? To want the same color paint in the dining room? To have dinner cooked and ready for me when I come home from work?

Should I expect her to always love me best, and most, and only?

No. I think not. I think that would be selfish and self-centered.

The more of these expectations I can let go of, the happier I will be.

But it’s hard. Oh it’s hard. It goes against a lifetime full of training. It goes against my obsessive desire to control. It goes against my meticulous nature. It goes against what so many stories told me was true.

Inconclusively yours,

pat

13 Feb 19:25

"Heavy Metal provided a place for me to belong and feel powerful. It still does."

by GIRL'S GONE CHILD
Boatwright_214205_D1_BB-041Punk Love. City Terrance, East L.A. August, 2013


I first met Angela in 2002. She was the only other girl in the room and we bonded instantly over our love of boys on skateboards, music and not going to college because, EFF AUTHORITY!  I've written about Angela before so I'll spare you our soulsisterlove story but it goes a little something like this: girl meets girl, girl becomes lifelong friends with girl, girl interviews girl about her amazing new East-LA punk scene docu-series.

And here we go. 

GGC: First, tell us about yourself. Three things about Angela Boatwright ready go...

Angela Boatwright:  Haha, let's see: I love roller coasters, but I don't like cliff jumping (although I would love to skydive one day). And I'm terrified of slugs and worms (but I don't mind spiders at all.) Is that 3 things? I have a huge sweet tooth. That's definitely three!

GGC: Let's talk about your project. Why did you choose the east LA backyard scene to feature in your docu-series?

AB: I had been on tour documenting various heavy metal bands for 3 years prior and I really fell in love with all the fans that came to see the shows. They're the ones that buy the tickets, the CDs, the mp3s. And they live for the music! So I knew I wanted to feature metal and/ or punk kids in my project. I had recently moved to Los Angeles so I thought it might be a good idea to feature some punk/ metal kids from L.A., my new home.
Boatwright_EastLA_PUNKS_5-6-13_006
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GGC: I know you've said many times that music saved your life. Can you talk a little about that?

AB:  Ahh, when I was a teenager hair metal was my thing! I was absolutely obsessed with it. I would scan the thank you credits included on all my favorite LPs, (this is before the internet of course - 1987, 88, 89) I would call long distance information and attempt to talk to some of the thankees! I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with Axl Rose's tattoo artist, Robert Benedetti once. How cool is that? And he's an incredibly famous tattoo artist on top of his relation to Axl! But back to how heavy metal "saved my life," I didn't fully fit in in school, my parents had just divorced. I felt pretty isolated and alone and that combined with phenomenal amounts of teen angst-rage... heavy metal provided a place for me to belong and feel powerful. It still does.
me_1***
me_27***
me_26
GGC: There's a lot of anger in these kids (and most kids, really) but all of them mentioned that the music is a sort of salve for that. A release. An exhale... For an outsider, watching kids slam to punk and/or metal might seem counterintuitive but your series shows that angry music heals angry souls. (Which my teenaged-punk-rock-loving-soul totally gets.)

AB: Yes! Music for whatever reason is often considered the problem when in fact it's either a symptom or in most cases the solution.
133475_10151101784839385_919331642_o
Nirvana concert, 1991, Angela, pictured in gray, just behind man holding mic

GGC: What's next for Anthony, Lauren and Nekro. What's next for backyard shows and the kids who depend on them? What's next for you?

AB: Lauren just turned 15 and is still in school. She's already planning on college and wants to be a marine biologist or maybe (and I'm serious) a coroner or a crime scene photographer. She's not afraid of things that most of us find gross or frightening; she's a really brave girl!
Boatwright_214205_D1_X-055Boatwright_BW215206_V-029
Nekro has a ton of shows coming up with his band, Proyecto Makabro, and he continues to visit his grandmother (once a week, at least). One of his dreams is to go to school to learn how to do make-up for horror movies.
Boatwright_215206_D-006
Anthony still attends shows regularly, and is doing well. He hopes to teach English one day.
Boatwright_214264_D3_M-010A
...And the backyard scene is still going strong! And what's next for me? Not sure yet! I'll have a new website up in a couple of weeks for starters.

GGC: What surprised you most while working on this project? What changed you? Moved you? Frustrated you? Inspired you?

AB: So many things inspired and moved me while myself and the crew were creating this project. The one thing I found most surprising however: I've been hearing a lot of talk about how corporations (such as Vans) shouldn't be involved in punk rock whatsoever. And with respect to my project, I'm listening with an open mind. I used to be that person that thought everything was a jab or a farce. I hated the government, authorities, "the man", everything. And although I still harbor a healthy sense of suspect I'm happy to report that I'm nowhere near as paranoid as I used to be. So it's been very interesting to be on the other side of things. (Don't get me wrong, I still think people should question absolutely everything.)
Boatwright_EastLA_PUNKS_5-6-13_D-054
GGC: Perfect segue for my next question. This series was paid for by Vans. Can you speak to that for a moment? I think people automatically write off sponsored content when in reality it is something we should come together to support when done well/with integrity. Can you talk a little bit about your process and how this Vans/Angela Boatwright collaboration went down?

AB: Sure. Back in April Vans approached me to pitch an idea that represented their motto "Off the Wall". As previously mentioned I really wanted to focus on the kids, the fans that support the bigger bands. I did some research online and discovered a couple of articles written for L.A. Weekly about the East L.A. backyard punk scene. The articles were incredibly inspiring so I stalked the writer, Javier Cabral on Facebook and long story short, he ended up taking me to my first show. A few weeks later I pitched the fully fleshed-out idea to Vans and they loved it. They honestly didn't give me any parameters, although I would check in with them from time to time. So I spent the next 6 months with all the kids in the scene.

I did a massive amount of research and talked to everyone I could. I absolutely adore every single human I met along the way: all the kids, all the scene participants, the generous families that own the homes where the shows were held, the families of the main characters, Nekro, Lauren and Anthony, their friends, the entire production and camera crew, Javier for introducing me to the scene and Nacho from Corrupted Youth for doing so much work within the scene to make this happen... I have so much love for everyone involved. This project is my baby and I hope I did it justice.
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***











***



GGC

All photos in this post c/o Angela Boatwright. You can check out her website here, tumblr here and watch more fron the #livingoffthewall docuseries, here.
23 Jan 15:36

Oh God for one more breath

by Shaun Usher


On the morning of May 19th, 1902, a huge explosion ripped through Fraterville Coal Mine in Tennessee, its devastating power instantly killing most of the 216 miners who were below ground. For the 26 who survived the initial blast, a side passage of the mine proved to be a safe haven, but not for long—when rescuers eventually reached them, all had suffocated. Found next to a number of the those 26 bodies were letters to loved ones, one of which can be seen below. It was written by Jacob Vowell to Sarah Ellen, his beloved wife and mother to their 6 children, one of whom, 14-year-old Elbert, was by his side in the mine. ("Little Eddie" was a son they had lost previously.)

All but three of Fraterville's adult men were killed that day; over a hundred women were instantly widowed; close to a thousand children lost their fathers. The Fraterville Mine disaster remains the worst of its kind in Tennessee's history.

(Source: United Mine Workers of America; Image above: Jacob Vowell with his daughter, Lily, via.)



Transcript
Ellen, darling, goodbye for us both. Elbert said the Lord has saved him. We are all praying for air to support us, but it is getting so bad without any air.

Ellen I want you to live right and come to heaven. Raise the children the best you can. Oh how I wish to be with you, goodbye. Bury me and Elbert in the same grave by little Eddie. Godbye Ellen, goodbye Lily, goodbye Jemmie, goodbye Horace. We are together. Is 25 minutes after two. There is a few of us alive yet.

Jake and Elbert

Oh God for one more breath. Ellen remember me as long as you live Goodbye darling.


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23 Jan 10:00

Much Loved: Portraits of Beloved Childhood Teddies

by Maria Popova

What a forty-something bear might know about the meaning of life.

Most of us grew up with a beloved stuffed animal, to which we pressed our tiny noses as our tiny hearts swelled with adoration. Mine was Laika, a white bear semi-explicably named after the famed Soviet space dog that became the first animal to orbit Earth. Psychologists call this a “transitional object” — an attachment bridge that helps us separate from our mothers without feeling an overwhelming sense of lonesome insecurity. What’s both perplexing and endearing, however, is that many kids continue to love their “transitional objects” well past the toddler stage, many even into young adulthood, bringing said teddy along to the college dorm room or even setting it in a sacred place in their grown-up bedroom. That’s precisely what Dublin-based photographer Mark Nixon explores with equal parts fascination and tenderness in his project Much Loved (public library) — a moving portrait gallery of people’s beloved bears and the occasional rabbit, monkey, or giraffe, many hugged and kissed down to bare threads to emerge as affection-ravaged amputees and bittersweet survivors of the immortal combat of growing up.

Peter Rabbit

Age: 10

Height: 16 inches

Belongs to: Callum Nixon

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

It all began when Nixon witnessed the complete adoration with which his own baby son enveloped his Peter Rabbit, a gift from his 99-year-old grandmother — “the way he squeezed it with delight when he was excited, the way he buried his nose in it while sucking his thumb, and how he just had to sleep with Peter every night.” Inspired by his newfound insight into the emotional world of childhood teddies and fueled by his admiration for legendary photographer Irving Penn’s ability to illuminate the dull and familiar in new and entrancing light, Nixon put out a call for people to bring their own beloved bears and other beings to be photographed for an exhibition at his studio space.

But what had begun as merely a fun creative project soon took Nixon by surprise as a psychological experiment with far more depth and dimension: He had expected mostly children, but the people who showed up were primarily grownups, and they brought with them not only their stuffed animals but also an outpouring of highly emotional memories and stories. Nixon writes:

It was as though they had been keeping a long-held secret and could finally tell someone what their teddies really meant to them. Their strength of feeling took me by surprise. They would tell some usually funny story about their teddy … or would speak emotionally about what it meant to them. So the stories and memories became integral to the photographs, adding significance to them and bringing them to life.

Teddy Moore

Age: 43

Height: 14 inches

Belongs to: Daragh O'Shea

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Daragh’s father was given a pound from his parents for his birthday and he bought Teddy Moore for her. Under his hat and clothes, Teddy Moore is held together with nylons.

Although he looks like he was in a fire, in Daragh’s own words, she kissed the fur off him.

He lives in the locker beside her bed; she doesn’t like him sleeping in the bed in case she smothers him.

What makes the project most compelling, however, is that as we look at these inanimate creatures, we can’t help but peer into the souls of their soulless fabric bodies and imbue them with human feelings, confer upon their manufactured mugs human expressions: How joyful some look, happy to have been loved this hard, and how sad others, confused and devastated by their inevitable replacement with a child, a husband, a dog, or some other token of what Tolkien called “grownupishness.”

Ted

Age: 3.5

Height: 13 inches

Belongs to: Anne Marie Lents

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Ted lost his eye defending me from a terrier at day care. (That’s the short version of the story.) He also keeps all my secrets in the compartment created by his flattened nose.

Joey

Age: 44

Height: 11 inches

Belongs to: Jean Cherwaiko

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Samuel

Age: Unknown

Height: 12 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Pedro

Age: 47

Height: 9 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Giovanni

Age: 40

Height: 17 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

I knitted Giovanni (formerly Joe) in primary school when I was about eight years old. When Joe was completed, he had a misshapen head and a too-large nose, and I didn’t like him very much.

Many years later when I was in medical school, I took pity on him and performed some cosmetic surgery, giving him a new nose and a better head. My mum made him some new clothes (as he had been attacked by a moth.)

To celebrate his new look, I have him his new name, Giovanni. He is best friends with Pedro.

Teddy Tingley

Age: 45

Height: 5 inches

Belongs to: Nicky Griffin

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Teddy Tingley belonged to my oldest brother, who gave him to me the day I was born.

I remember when I was three years old and we were heading off on holiday by train. I had just settled down in the carriage with my brothers for the journey and as the train started moving, I glanced out the window to see, to my horror, Teddy sitting on a bundle of my comics left on the station platform. Thanks to my mum roaring like a madwoman out the window, “The teddy! The teddy! I just want the teddy!” some kind person picked up Teddy and ran with him as the train picked up speed, reaching up to the window just in time for Mum to grab him. She then had to sit down and face the other passengers for the rest of the journey…

George

Age: 44

Height: 17 inches

Belongs to: Audrey McDonnell

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Among the private stories are also little-known fragments of popular culture, like the story of the bear U2′s Bono and his wife Ali inherited.

Greg’s Bear

Age: Unknown

Height: 4 inches

Belongs to: Bono and Ali Hewson

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Ali Hewson writes:

This little bear is a memory of one of the most incredible men in my life. Greg Carroll became a great friend to me and Bono in the early 1980s. In 1986 he died at the age of twenty-six in a motor accident in Dublin, and he left a giant hole in our lives. Greg was a Maori, and at his tanti, the traditional Maori funeral rite, a mate of his handed us this one-eared teddy bear. It was Greg’s, and it has been with us ever since… a fragment of Greg’s reality, gone but never forgotten.

U2′s “One Tree Hill” was written for Greg and all the great men and women whose river reaches the sea too quickly. Greg’s teddy smiles when his good ear hears it played.

Much Loved is impossibly endearing in its entirety.

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19 Jan 15:29

Concerning Cake, Bilbo Baggins, and Charity

by Pat
Valtron3030

I love pat. This totally brought tears to my eye holes. What a hero.

So a couple days ago I did an AMA on Reddit.

It was fun. I enjoy goofing off, interacting with my readers, and answering questions. So this sort of thing is a good fit for me.

Kvothe pants

The day after the AMA, I went back in to see if I’d missed any particularly important/interesting/clever questions.

And I found one. A really good question.

I started to answer it. Then I kept answering it. Then I realized I’d written about 400 words and stopped myself from going any further.…

So rather than post my answer there, buried deep in a thread at the bottom of a dead AMA. I’m answering it here with the author’s permission.

*     *     *

This is going to sound pretty awful, but why all the charity work?

I’ve always been… well, financially challenged (at young Kvothe-like levels at times), and from what I’ve read, you were in a similar state for a long time. I can’t imagine doing so much for strangers even if that changed, and sometimes…

Well, it kind of bugs me. There are loads of things that you do that I would love to give you money for, but when you do them for charity, I feel like I wouldn’t be supporting you, my favorite writer, by supporting those charities.

This sounds intensely selfish, I know, but it comes from ignorance, not malice.

Thanks for being honest here Jason. This is an interesting question for me to see. And I think it’s an important question to answer.

The simple truth is, Jason, at this point in my life, I have enough money to live comfortably. And in my opinion, if you have enough money to live comfortably and you keep trying to get more and more and more money… well… it’s kind of an asshole thing to do.

It’s like this: if you have one piece of cake, and you eat it, that’s fine.

If you have two pieces of cake, you should probably share some with a friend. But maybe not. Occasionally we could all use two pieces of cake.

But if you have a whole cake, and you eat *all* of it, that’s not very cool. It’s not just selfish, it’s kinda sick and unhealthy.

portal(No lie.)

And if you have *two* cakes, and you keep trying to get more cakes so you can eat ALL the cake? Well… that’s really fucking mental. And awful. And about as close to real evil as actually exists in the world.

Right now, I have… well… probably somewhere between 2-4 cakes, financially speaking.

But some people out there don’t have any cake at all. Some people don’t even have dinner, let alone desert.

That’s why I run Worldbuilders. Because some people out there have no cake at all. There are kids out there that are hungry all the time. There are kids out there with no books at all to read. There are kids out there with no beds to sleep in. No homes to come home to. No safe places. No sweet dreams.

That’s why I do all the charity work. Because the world isn’t as good as I want it to be.

We all feel this way sometimes. Because honestly, the world is a fucking mess. It’s full of dragons, and none of us are as powerful or cool as we’d like to be. And that sucks.

But when you’re confronted with that fact, you can either crawl into a hole and quit, or you can get out there, take off your shoes, and Bilbo it up.

Rankin and Bass Bilbo it up(So What’s It Going to Be?)

The work I do with various charities is my attempt to Bilbo the fuck up.

Now it’s true that I could just devote myself to making a ton of money, then donate however much I liked to charity. A lot of people have suggested this to me. Smart people. People who care about me.

And y’know. It’s not terrible advice. That’s what Carnegie did…

But honestly, that’s not for me. I don’t like the thought of spending my whole life being utterly rapacious, getting *all* the cake it is humanly possible to acquire. And then, ten years before I die, giving a chunk of it back to the world.

One reason I don’t like this philosophy is that it means you have an excuse to act like a total bastard until you’re 60 years old. And y’know, Carnegie did a lot of ethically dubious things back in the day. There’s a reason they called him a robber baron.

My other problem with this is that after 60 years of being a bastard, most people aren’t going to make a sudden transformation into being kind-hearted humanitarians.

But the main reason I don’t like this way of thinking is that it’s predicated on the thought that you, my readers, are selfish, self-centered individuals. Carnegie’s philosophy implies that I should take as much money off you as I possibly can. Then, eventually, I should do something good with it, preferably getting my name on a building the the process. Because *obviously* the lot of you are not smart enough to make the world a better place on your own.

I don’t believe that. My philosophy is that people are inherently good. I believe when given the chance, people will happily line up to make the world a better place.

I think this is doubly true of fantasy readers, and trebly true of my readers in particular.

As evidence, I give you Worldbuilders. Over the last five years the geek community has given over two million dollars to Heifer International.

This year, I hope to raise another half-million. (Though I wouldn’t cry if we managed more.)

The truth is, you don’t have to be a billionaire to change the world. You don’t have to build a library. The truth is, if you donate 30 bucks to Worldbuilders, it will change someone’s life. Forever.

chicken 2

And sure, when you donate you get the chance to win a bunch of cool books, too. But that’s just a perk.

I know the truth. I know why you’re all *really* here. I know why you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this post. It’s because you’re good. It’s because you want to make the world a better place.

The truth is, Jason. I don’t think you’re selfish. You want to support an author whose work you enjoy. That’s not a selfish thing.

But here’s the thing. I don’t need twenty bucks from you. That’s not the support I want. That’s not the support I need.

I need you to help me make the world a better place.

You can do that by donating to Heifer International over on the Worldbuilders team page.

If you can’t because you’re broke, that’s fine. Believe me, I’ve been there. But you could still lend your support by spreading the word about Worldbuilders on facebook or twitter. You could write a blog. You could make a video. You could tell a friend.

Thanks for helping everyone,

pat

  • 12:30 – Since posting three hours ago, we’ve raised $3,000.

That’s enough to provide 150 families with flocks of chickens.

Chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available scraps; this allows families to make money from the birds without spending much. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year, so a flock of chickens provides a steady source of nutrition and income.

  • 2:30 pm - Five hours after posting, we’ve raised $6,000.

That’s enough to purchase biogas stoves for 6 villages.

“For most families in the places where Heifer International works, cooking usually means gathering firewood by hand, which often depletes the soil and robs the environment of its trees. In addition, smoke inhalation in poorly ventilated homes often leads to chronic lung and eye diseases.

A biogas stove is a better option. It runs off methane gas captured from animal waste, and burns cleanly, reliably and efficiently. This is not only better for the environment, it is more sustainable and healthier for families feeding their children.”

  • 7:30 pm – $10,000. 

That’s enough to train and equip 50 Community Animal Health Workers.

In many countries, access to veterinary care is limited. So Heifer International trains Animal Health Workers. Participants receive training in animal health, husbandry, breeding, and nutrition as well as tools such as thermometers, stethoscopes, hoof trimmers, gloves, disinfectants, medicine for animals, and more.

This training and equipment gives someone the ability to support themselves in a lifelong career. What’s more, the presence of an animal health worker improves an entire community with healthier animals, more successful farms, and better education about sanitation and disease.

  • 6:30 am – $15,000. 

That’s enough to supply clean water to 50 communities.

In many communities where Heifer works, most homes lack running water, and some families do not even have a well nearby. Instead, they spend a huge portion of each day fetching water. This is often a chore left to children — especially girls — leaving them no time for school. Without a good education, those children have little hope for good jobs in the future.

Heifer helps families and communities install irrigation pumps, usually muscle-powered treadle pumps that are easy to maintain and repair. Heifer also provides education in terms of water conservation and sanitation, improving community health and making local farms and gardens more productive.

  • 24 hours after making this post… 

…lovely people have donated an additional 18K to Worldbuilders, bringing our total at this moment to more than 317,000 dollars.

That’s enough to start 850 small businesses.

Enough for 2600 goats and the training to care for them.

Enough for 10,000 hives of honeybees that will improve crop yields.

Enough for 17,000 trees that give fruit, provide income, and prevent soil erosion.

I won’t be updating our total on this blog any more. Instead I’m going to put in our donation thermometer so you can watch it climb yourself.

If you want to be a part of this, it’s easy. Click here to make it happen.

(P.S. For every $10 you kick in, you get a chance to win books.)

ShelfJanuary

 (A LOT of books.)

15 Jan 20:40

Ditch The Rock? Ctd

by Andrew Sullivan

Couple w/ engagement ring

Readers pivot on the thread:

Here’s another aspect of the engagement conundrum: what do we gay folks give as a token of our proposals?  I imagine lesbians (some, at least) will go the traditional diamond route, as our culture clearly accepts a diamond ring on a woman’s hand in a way they don’t on men’s hands.  But guys (most of us, anyway) aren’t interested in a delicate band with a shiny rock perched atop. So what to do?

Here’s what I did when I proposed to my husband six years ago: I bought him a very nice watch (Omega Seamaster, if you must know), and told him (in a romantic setting) that I wanted to spend “every day, every hour and every minute” of the rest of our lives as his husband.  Then I said, “and so you will remember that, I want you to wear this,” and pulled the lovely red box from where I had hidden it.

I think the gift of a watch makes a perfect modern tradition – it has utility, not just attractiveness, plus the added symbolism of marking the time of a relationship intended to last a lifetime.

Another asks:

You’ve probably mentioned this already, but how did you and Aaron signify your engagement?

All I gave Aaron was another round of margaritas.  Another reader on the “perfect male engagement ring”:

Before I proposed to my now-husband, I had seen a handful of friends and acquaintances go through the same process.  There was no consensus on how to propose to another guy, but what I often saw was that one partner would propose to the other with a gold or platinum band, and then either reach into his pocket and pull out another ring for himself to wear, or (in one case) ask the partner to buy him a matching ring.  That all seemed a little odd, and frankly those were wedding rings they were really talking about, not engagement rings.  After all, what were they going to exchange at the ceremony?

I gave it some thought and got my boo the watch he’d always dreamed of, and I had the watch engraved.  It’s the perfect male engagement ring: it’s a piece of jewelry signifying time spent together, it stands on its own (as a diamond ring does) without requiring reciprocation, and, well, it’s a lot more masculine than a diamond.  And we exchanged bands on our wedding day, and it was perfect.

I’m curious as to what other same sex couples have done – and whether the diamond ring tradition sticks with the lesbian community.

Another guy:

My husband and I got engaged a few years back when marriage was made legal in Washington, DC.  When it came to figuring out rings we decided on two inexpensive (“cheap” feels harsh, but they were about $10 apiece) stainless steel rings we bought in a bead shop off Dupont Circle.  We figured they were just engagement rings and we’d get around to buying “real” rings at some point.

Well, life got ahead of us, and after losing our first dog to cancer, the wedding got put on hold for a few years (first grief, and then just the rolling tide of life).  Two years ago we finally got around to getting married. Among all the preparation for the big day, we kept putting off the buying of super expensive rings. Our brother in-law is a master jeweler and had even offered to design special rings for us.  But the funny thing is, we’d gotten very attached to the simple rings on our fingers.  In the end we stuck with those stainless steel rings.

Here’s what made it special for us and more than our engagement rings: our marriage rings – our simple public ritual – included exchanging our rings through all of our assembled friends and family members.  We thought it would be a quick passing of rings through the crowd, but Andrew, the thing that stunned and humbled us was people took their time.  I’m not sure what was going through their minds as we stood there in front of these 120 folks and as music played sensed them blessing these symbols with their thoughts, meditations and prayers.   What was supposed to have taken about 10 minutes took about 20 or so.  Many of our friends have told us it was their most important memory of the day for them, getting a chance to hold our rings for just a few seconds.  Looking at this simple little $10 ring on my hand reminds me that every one of our friends and family, each of them that were there on that truly happy day, held me and my husband’s ring.

I treasure that more than any diamond.

(Photo: Couple with engagement ring, circa 1950s. By George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images.)

15 Jan 23:16

Poverty Is Bad For Your Health

by Andrew Sullivan

Hypoglycemia

No shit:

The basic idea is that people struggling to make it paycheck-to-paycheck (or benefits-to-benefits) might run out of money at the end of the month—and have to cut back on food. If they have diabetes, this hunger could turn into an even more severe health problem: low blood sugar. So we should expect a surge of hypoglycemia cases at the end of each month for low-income people, but not for anybody else.

That’s what researchers found when they looked at the numbers for California between 2000 and 2008. As you can see in their chart [seen above], low-income people (red line) were <27 percent more likely to be hospitalized for hypoglycemia in the last week of the month than in the first. There was no week-to-week difference for high-income people (orange line). …

Okay, but isn’t it possible that poorer people just tend to be less healthy in general?

Sure. That’s why the researchers also looked at when people go the hospital for appendicitis, which doesn’t depend on diet. So there shouldn’t be any end-of-the-month increase for low-income people if tight budgets are the problem. There wasn’t. As you can see above, appendicitis cases were flat across the month for both high (blue) and low (purple) income people. In other words, poorer people don’t need more care at the end of the month for every kind of condition. Just the ones that get worse when you don’t have enough to eat.

Adrianna McIntyre sees this study as an example of what gets ignored in our health policy debate:

Policy wonks have a terrible habit of focusing on insurance and health system design (and here I count myself, because health care financing is the research I find most interesting, so it’s what I write about). This gives short shrift to the “social determinants” of health—upstream factors related to lifestyle, environment, and socioeconomic status—that cannot be corrected by medical interventions. We’re fond of highlighting how much more the United States spends on health services, but an idiosyncrasy that receives less attention is how much less we spend on other social services.

15 Jan 19:20

Sarajevo Reopens 477-year old library After Wars Destruction

by birdie


Via Boston.com:

Shown above: Bosnian security worker passes by old books on display during opening ceremony of Gazi Husrev-bey library in Sarajevo, on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. Sarajevo reopens the 477-year old library on Wednesday, that contains the biggest collection of oriental books and manuscripts in Southeast Europe, after it was rebuilt with the financial donation from Qatar. Dodging bullets and bombs during the 1992-95 Bosnian war and the city's siege, Sarajevans moved the manuscripts eight times to different locations to save them from destruction. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

14 Jan 16:59

Photographing the Tube

by Jason Kottke
16 Dec 23:22

Henry's Concepts

by Jason Kottke

Alex is 2-year-old Henry's nanny. She's also a photographer. One day, at Henry's behest, the pair took photos of each other in the same pose. It turned into a project called Henry's Concepts.

Henrys Concepts

Each of these photos is strictly Henry's idea. He chooses the location and the pose. I take the photo of him and then he takes the photo of me.

(via cup of jo)

Tags: photography
17 Dec 15:21

Wind map of the Earth

by Jason Kottke

Wind Map Earth

You've probably seen the cool wind map of the US, but there's one for the whole Earth now. (via df)

Tags: Earth   infoviz   weather
17 Dec 16:03

Apple's best advertisement ever?

by Jason Kottke

So, there's the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial for the Macintosh. There was the Think Different campaign. And the Mac vs. PC ads. But I think Apple's newest effort, Misunderstood, is perhaps their best ad ever:

Or maybe I'm the biggest sap in the world...either way, I'm totally crying at work.

ps. But of course, that can't be the best Apple advertisement ever because that title will always and forever be taken by a drunk Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the iMac's internet capabilities:

Great, now I'm crying from laughing at work.

Tags: advertisements   Apple   crying at work   Jeff Goldblum   video
19 Dec 16:22

R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013

by Jason Kottke

Nieman Journalism Lab asked me to write a piece for their end of the year series, Predictions for Journalism in 2014. I don't know a whole lot about journalism, so I wrote about something I'm pretty familiar with: The blog is dead, long live the blog.

Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.

I am not generally a bomb-thrower, but I wrote this piece in a deliberately provocative way. Blogs obviously aren't dead and I acknowledged that much right from the title. I (obviously) think there's a lot of value in the blog format, even apart from its massive influence on online media in general, but as someone who's been doing it since 1998 and still does it every day, it's difficult to ignore the blog's diminished place in our informational diet.

Through various blogrolls (remember those?) and RSS readers, I used to keep up with hundreds of blogs every day and over a thousand every week. Now I read just two blogs daily: Daring Fireball and Waxy. I check my RSS reader only occasionally, and sometimes not for weeks. I rely mainly on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Hacker News, and Stellar for keeping up with news and information...that's where most of the people I know do their "blogging". I still read lots of blog posts, but only when they're interesting enough to pop up on the collective radar of those I follow...and increasingly those posts are on Medium, Facebook, or Tumblr.1

But anyway, I'll be here, blogging away until 2073. I figure 100 is a good age at which to retire. If I have a point to make, I'll have made it by then. Man, I wonder what crazy YouTube videos there will be to post in 30 years? Probably Wes Anderson filming trials riding in a wingsuit on Mars or something. I can't wait.

[1] And yeah, what about Tumblr? Isn't Tumblr full of blogs? Welllll, sort of. Back in 2005, tumblelogs felt like blogs but there was also something a bit different about them. Today they seem really different; I haven't thought of Tumblrs as blogs for years...they're Tumblrs! If you asked a typical 23-year-old Tumblr user what they called this thing they're doing on the site, I bet "blogging" would not be the first (or second) answer. No one thinks of posting to their Facebook as blogging or tweeting as microblogging or Instagramming as photoblogging. And if the people doing it think it's different, I'll take them at their word. After all, when early bloggers were attempting to classify their efforts as something other than online diaries or homepages, everyone eventually agreed. Let's not fight everyone else on their choice of subculture and vocabulary.

Tags: Jason Kottke   weblogs
19 Dec 18:20

The taste of freedom

by Jason Kottke

People waiting in line for food in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s:

Lines Soviet

The opening day line for the newest outpost of the Shake Shack in Moscow:

Lines Shake Shack

That's nothing, though, compared to the line to get into the first McDonald's in the Soviet Union, which opened in Moscow in 1990.

A year later in Moscow, an estimated 1.6 million people turned out to see Metallica in concert. Look at all those people:

Tags: communism   food   McDonald's   Metallica   Russia   Shake Shack   Soviet Union
16 Dec 19:28

The Computers You Grew Up With

by Andrew Sullivan

B 145 Bild-F077948-0006

David Banks maps his life through the gadgets that thrilled him as a young nerd in the 1980s and 1990s. On his family’s first computer, the IBM 5150:

[W]hat I remember most about it was how mechanical it was: All the different, almost musical sounds it made when it was reading a floppy or printing something on its included dot-matrix printer. The spring-loaded keys on its impossibly heavy keyboard made the most intriguing sound; when all ten fingers were on that keyboard it sounded like a mechanical horse clacking and clinking. My favorite part of the computer was when you’d turn it off and it would make a beautiful tornado of green phosphorus accompanied by a sad whirling sound. It sounded like this almost-living thing was dying a small death every time you were finished with it. I loved killing that computer.

Why it’s difficult to abandon even the crappiest phones:

I find myself imprinting a small portion of my love for people onto the device that connects me to them. When I switch phones I get a pang of nostalgia. Not for the phone itself, but for the news I got on it. The anxious moments I stared at it waiting for a crush to text me; the bizarre friendship I made with someone who also owned the Motorola PEBL; the phone I used to tell my parents I was engaged. These are intimate moments that are about people, but are mediated through these tiny devices.

(Photo: A child with an IBM 5150 in April 1988. By Engelbert Reineke)