How Movies (and TV) Fail at Writing with Quill Pens

by Ariela

I don't know of any profession that feels it is well and accurately represented by pop cultural portrayals. Lawyers complain about courtroom dramas, police complain about crime procedurals, etc. So it probably won't surprise you that media portrayals of people writing with quills are, well, less than realistic.

Exhibit A:

Hermione Granger, portrayed by Emma Watson, using a quill all wrong.

Hermione Granger, portrayed by Emma Watson, using a quill all wrong.

I love me some Harry Potter, but the quills in the movies make me growl inarticulately. I mean, leaving aside the fact that all quills in the HP universe must be enchanted, because there is no other way that a child who grew up using pencils and biros (ballpoints, for those of us reading the US editions), could possibly just pick up a quill and write with it. No chance. 

Feather anatomy, courtesy of Ask a Biologist, Arizona State University

Feather anatomy, courtesy of Ask a Biologist, Arizona State University

*ahem* As I was saying, the movie's portrayal of writing with quills is actually pretty standard for onscreen depictions. And it's wrong. Those super wispy bits down by Hermione's hand are called the downy barbs, and I don't know of any scribe who doesn't trim those away. Apart from making the quill harder to grasp, they will pick up ink every time you dip your nib. Yuck. Most of us trim further up the shaft as well, right into the vane (see handy guide to parts of a feather). Some trim all the barbs away and leave the pen as just the central shaft.

Also, most of us clip the opposite end of the quill. Writing with a pen that has an overlong barrel will unbalance the pen, whether it's a felt-tip or a quill. And, depending on how you sit while you write, you might wind up poking yourself with the opposite end in the eye or up your nose. Yeah, not fun.

An illustration of the issues mentioned above. Using a quill that hasn't been properly trimmed is terrible.

An illustration of the issues mentioned above. Using a quill that hasn't been properly trimmed is terrible.

Holding Quill Correctly - Geek Calligraphy
Holding Quill Correctly - Geek Calligraphy

Yet pop culture persists in this myth, and I persist in being cranky about it on Twitter.

So piqued by it was I that, while wandering the National Gallery in London last month, I started snapping pictures of paintings of people writing with quills. Since these paintings date to times and places when people actually used quills, they're all correct depictions. I had thought that it would make a good tumblr - Paintings of People Depicted Using Quills Correctly - but I was prevented from starting it by my utter bewilderment at the tumblr interface. (Anytime anything gets posted to tumblr for Geek Calligraphy, Terri is the one doing it. G-d bless managers.) But Mary Robinette Kowal suggested that I could make a Pinterest board instead.

So, behold:

There's not a whole heck of a lot there yet, but it will grow.

Also, as a bonus, please enjoy pictures of these souvenir "quills" which I found in the Tower of London gift shop. Appropriate placement, really, as these are not writing devices but torture devices. [cowers]

The image does not properly convey the terrible quality of the metal pen nib slapped on the end of this "plume."

The image does not properly convey the terrible quality of the metal pen nib slapped on the end of this "plume."

Yes, that's a ballpoint shoved in the end of this quill. Because the untrimmed shaft wasn't enough.

Yes, that's a ballpoint shoved in the end of this quill. Because the untrimmed shaft wasn't enough.

New Greeting Card: Parents' Day Card

by Terri

Did Hallmark neglect to create a card for your non-binary identified parent? Are you forever searching for a less saccharine card to acknowledge those who may have acted as a parent to you though not precisely family? Spoon Dragon is here to help!

Parents Day Greeting Card from Geek Calligraphy

How it came to be:

Both Ariela and I have lamented the sameness of the Mother's and Father's Day cards currently available. We wanted to have a card that had imagery that spoke to geeky kids and geeky parents alike, knowing that those don't always overlap in the same family. Also, sometimes your geeky adult isn't your biological parent. That doesn't make the mentor or parental role in your life any less, and it's natural to want to give them a card at this time of the year. Families come in all sorts, and we wanted to make a card to acknowledge the wonderful relationships that are parental, even if they are not with a mother or a father.

So we turned once again to Spoon Dragon. This time they are in the company of a griffin who seems to be Spoon Dragon's parent.

We have deliberately created this card without gendered terms, equally applicable to parents of any gender, or to anyone who fills a parental role in your life. The interior text doesn't mention a specific Hallmark Holiday, and really is appropriate to any time of the year that you want to acknowledge a person to whom the card applies.

The card is $4 and comes with a white envelope.

Off For Passover!

by Terri

Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Passover, or פסח in Hebrew. As this post goes live, I am in a car on my way to my mother's home in New Jersey for the seders. Ariela is in Boston with her parents. While we will be accepting orders, shipment will be delayed until after the holiday is over on April 18. There will be no blog post next Monday. 

Normal business (including our April product release) will resume on April 19. For those celebrating, we wish you a חג כשר ושמח.* Everyone else, enjoy your bread. We'll see you on the other side.

Chibi Terri cooks for Passover. (Chibis are really not proportioned to stand at stoves.)

Chibi Terri cooks for Passover. (Chibis are really not proportioned to stand at stoves.)

*Khag Ka-sher Vi-Sa-me-akh - A happy and kosher/correct holiday

 

Love Interests and Agency in the Face of Adversity: Analyzing Lois McMaster Bujold Characters

by Ariela

Be warned, this post contains spoilers for Mira's Last Dance, and everything else written by Lois McMaster Bujold.

This post did not turn out the way I thought it would. I have been wanting, for a few weeks, to burble about Lois McMaster Bujold's latest novella, Mira's Last Dance, the Penric series in general, and LMB's ouvre as a whole. I was all set to talk about how LMB writes male protagonists interested in women, but that the women they are interested in are not Love Interests but rather fully-realized characters with their own motivations and how awesome that is. Shortly before I could take some time to sit down and write it, Lindsay Ellis came out with a review of Beauty and the Beast and why it is not about Stockholm Syndrome but does have a bunch of other problems. At 14 minutes in, Ellis starts a thought that culminates in this quote:

[Women's] narratives usually have them being less active agents than being thrown into circumstances which they must then survive

Ouch.

"Thrown into circumstances which they must then survive" sure sounds like it describes a lot of LMB's love interests. (Note, this is female characters who are not the primary protagonist and are the subject of romantic interest by the male protagonist; Cordelia Vorkosigan, Royina Ista, and Fern Bluefield aren't included.) But does the first part apply? Let's take a look.

Love Interests or "Love Interests," And does that Preclude Agency?

I'm going to start with Miles Vorkosigan's love interests, because for me the Vorkosiverse is the baseline of LMB's writing.

Elena Bothari

Elena Bothari

Elena Bothari

Miles' first love interest, Elena, is definitely born into circumstances which do not endow her with much agency. The daughter of a deeply disturbed father who views the degree of her success at the societally prescribed female role as the measure of his redemption from his past sins, she is also the foster daughter of Cordelia Vorkosigan who views Barrayaran society with a mix of anthropological indulgence and Betan horror. The social messaging surrounding her says that the only worthwhile vocation is to be a soldier, but bars her from enlisting by sex. Barrayar is, to Elena, a situation to be endured.

Miles creates the Dendarii Mercenaries for a whole host of reasons, but in the processes uses them to gift Elena with her childhood aspiration of becoming a soldier. But Elena does not then turn around and fall into his arms. She takes the opportunity he offers her, but refuses to be beholden to him for it. Instead, she marries someone even lower on the Barrayaran social ladder than she, a deserter; someone who has been completely excommunicated by Barrayaran society. Marrying Baz is a complete repudiation of her father's expectations of her, but also of the narrative's expectations of her as a Love Interest.

Later on, in Memory, Elena quits the Dendarii as well.

"All my childhood, all my youth, Barrayar pounded into me that being a soldier was the only job that counted. The most important thing there was, or ever could be. And that I could never be important, because I could never be a soldier. Well, I've proved Barrayar wrong. I've been a soldier and a damned good one...And now I've come to wonder what else Barrayar was wrong about. Like, what's really important."

Elena was certainly born into circumstances she needed to survive, but when she was offered an out, she took it. And after some time, she also re-evaluated her life goals and changed direction. This doesn't sound to me like a character lacking in agency.

But Elena was never actually Miles' lover. Let's take a look at some others.

Elli Quinn

Elli Quinn

Elli Quinn

Quinn is the one on this list who fits neither clause of Ellis' statement. She is not put in circumstances she is forced to survive more than any other mercenary. She chooses to be a mercenary, chooses to become Miles' lover, and when he leaves the mercenaries, she refuses to go with him. She wants Miles on her terms or she won't have him. While her motivation is never delved into much, she clearly loves her job and wants to do it to the best of her abilities. She will not sacrifice her career or herself for a boyfriend. Quinn has as complete agency as anyone can who chooses to live in a society with rules and in relation to others.

Sergeant Taura

Taura

Taura

Taura is in many ways Quinn's polar opposite on this scale in that she gets to choose almost nothing. Bred as an experimental genetically-engineered super-soldier, she grows up as a prisoner. When she meets Miles, he is on a mission to retrieve her creator and kill her, or rather, recover the tissue samples her creator had stored in her and dispose of the evidence. Miles offers her the chance to leave the Dendarii at Escobar after her rescue, but considering that would leave her in a strange society, knowing no one, with no coping tools, it's not surprising she refuses. She is bred to be a super-soldier, after all, and she does grow into her role in the Dendarii. Later she sets out to live life as fully as she can and seems to succeed. Based on characterizations, if she decided later that she wanted to give up mercenary life and take up woodworking, or anything else equally disparate from being a soldier, I believe Miles would have supported her fully. But the fact of the matter is that of his love interests, she seems to be the least independent, to have her choices most constrained by circumstances. I don't think this necessarily makes her a less realized character, but in light of general trends of the narrative arcs of female characters, it's kind of troubling.

Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson

Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson Vorkosigan

In many ways, Ekaterin is the embodiment of the kind of female story arc Ellis named in the quote up top. We first meet her trapped in marriage with an emotionally abusive man, held to it by her son, her social conditioning, and her family's expectations. It is the quintessential circumstance a woman is forced to survive in the Western narrative. When her husband is killed, the range of possibilities available to her opens up somewhat, but when she returns to Barrayar in A Civil Campaign, her family promptly tries to marry her off again, being unable to conceive of her in any role other than wife and mother.

While she has more options in A Civil Campaign, she still feels herself to be in very straightened circumstances. Miles, having apparently learned nothing since his effort to give Elena a military career, attempts to give Ekaterin a career in gardening, or at least a jump start on one, as a ploy to keep her close to him. His plot comes apart, he asks her to marry him at entirely the wrong time, and Ekaterin feels backed into quitting both the garden project and her association with him lest she lose her independence. This is one of the points where Ekaterin's agency becomes apparent: her rejection of her other suitors up until this point could have been a plot device to have her end up with Miles, but here she shows that it's an intrinsic character trait. But honestly, while it's agency, it's really minimal agency. She has said no to Miles, but she has not had any chance to say yes to herself yet.

Ekaterin does eventually choose Miles after her family forbids her from interacting with him. Ekaterin herself lampshades the reverse psychology involved by comparing it to how her son carried on about toys. And ultimately she chooses him not because she feels backed into a corner by her family but because she decides that Miles can aid her in her self-actualization, now that he has been talked out of trying to do it for her. Still, the lack of exploration of other options for Ekaterin in the narrative - aside from her insistence that she is going to remain single, which is brushed off by all the other characters - is troubling. We do see her stand up to Miles in later books, but "I can stand up to my husband" is not much of a life goal.

Ivan's love interest: Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua

Tej

Tej

Like Ekaterin, half of the story of Tej and Ivan's romance is from Tej's point of view. And the main character arc of the story is hers: how will she reconcile the demands her family places on her with her own inclinations? Ivan's arc, realizing that he loves Tej and enjoys being married to her, then trying to get her to stay with him, is not nearly as interesting.

Tej almost seems like an answer to the profusion of Strong Female Characters TM* that we have in the genre. Tej's family wants her to be a Strong Female Character TM (for their purposes, of course), and she wants none of it. Her self-actualization involves sitting on a beach drinking fruity alcohol and reading. Her character arc highlights the difference between action and agency. And marrying Ivan is not the way she fulfills herself; the way she does that is by refusing to go back to Jackson's Whole with her family. If anything, Ivan is the reward she gets for standing up for herself.

So ultimately, Tej is not a standard Love Interest with no motivations of her own, nor is she a woman who lacks agency and must merely endure. She surely has to endure at the beginning of the story, but it is the same sort of endurance any hero might have to undergo whose character arc is started by the murder of their family; the difference is that LMB doesn't give short shrift to the emotional toll and the exhaustion such a tragedy would evoke.

Not Pictured Here

I'm going to skip Rowan Durona, who is only briefly present in the narrative of Mirror Dance, Beatriz from The Curse of Chalion, because she very nearly is a standard Love Interest off the assembly line, and Ijada from The Hallowed Hunt, because I didn't actually like that book all that much. Which brings me finally back around to the character who inspired this post in the first place.

Nikys Arisaydia Khatai

Nikys Khatai

Nikys Khatai

When we are first introduced to Nikys, she has definitely been thrown into circumstances she must survive. Her husband, chosen for her by her brother, has died after a long, lingering illness. Now a ward of her brother's, she endures his imprisonment on false charges and his refusal to take advantage of her attempt to rescue him. And then she must endure the flight to save her brother's life, to a destination not of her choosing.

At the end of Penric's Mission, it seems like she will end up together with Penric. At the end of Mira's Last Dance, it seems like she has declined, but Penric is staying to pursue her. But while she exercises a choice not to follow Penric back to Adria, it seems like a choice made from a place of fairly profound powerlessness. She is, ultimately, being asked to choose between following her brother or following Penric, with no option to follow herself.

No, Nikys is not a standard Love Interest in that she is a fully realized character with her own desires and motivation, but of all the women listed here, she seems to be the one most lacking in agency. Nikys seems to fit Ellis' description of women's narratives.

My Fave is Problematic. Now what?

Cover of Mira's Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover of Mira's Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

There really ought to be a "My Fave is Problematic Dance." Whenever I realize something uncomfortable about something I love, I am taken with a desire to run away, and frequently I do put down the book, or pause the movie/tv show, and take a lap around the room before coming back. It would be a lot easier if there were a short dance I could do that would also communicate to anyone watching why I suddenly have shpilkes (Yiddish for "nervous, restless energy").

But after I would do that dance, I would come back to the thing, whatever it was, that I put down, because it is okay to like problematic things. Sometimes the good aspects outweigh the problematic ones enough that it doesn't stop you from enjoying something. And that's okay! Just don't pretend like the problematic parts aren't there. And maybe also seek out some works that are not problematic in that way (though they may be problematic in others).

Speaking of different ways to be problematic, a word about the criteria used in this post. When Lindsay Ellis referred to the troubling trend of women's narratives involving less agency and more survival, it was not a blanket condemnation of survival narratives. Survival narratives, where characters are thrown into untenable, uncomfortable, or even lethal situations they must then endure can be fascinating! For people suffering oppression in particular, such narratives can be empowering because they recognize the truth of their experiences and the strength it takes to persist in such circumstances. Problems arise when those are the only narratives told about certain classes of people.

I adore Lois McMaster Bujold, and she is generally quite good about not writing Love Interests TM who are woman-shaped props in the narrative there for the male hero to win. But it would be nice to see her write some more narratives where women aren't merely enduring. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen was a lovely break from this pattern. More, please! (Also more non-white, non-straight, non-cis protags, too, while we're at it. A Bel book, maybe?)

My Garden, Let Me Show You It

by Terri

A collage of washcloths, tawashi,* and a bath mat in progress

A collage of washcloths, tawashi,* and a bath mat in progress

The tail end of winter in Boston can drive me a little nuts. The weather gets warm, then cold, then it dumps a whack of snow on you in mid-March. I cope with this in one of two ways. Either I start a bunch of knitting projects, or I start some seeds. This year, I went on a washcloth knitting binge AND started 5 small trays of seeds.

I'm an incredibly amateur gardener. I pretty much choose seeds based on "will the resultant plant produce edible food" and "will that food look pretty.**" Hence my ordering of purple basil seeds, choggia beets, three different colors of cherry tomato, and multiple colors of pod beans & snow peas. My garden is run on the principles of watering when I remember to and fertilizing sometimes. I'm usually really good about starting seeds and shepherding them to seedling stage, then getting them into pots. Typically, small animals will get the seedlings, then I go to a nursery and buy bigger ones. Eventually, the plants will produce very small amounts of fruit or vegetables, which we will eat as they are picked. 

I'm trying a little something different this year. I'm being helped by the prolonged cold snap, as I can't actually plant out any of the seedlings that are trucking along on my office window. I'm trying to leave the seedlings indoors as long as possible, to ensure that robust plants are what go outside. Also, it's nice to have some green in the office.

So here's my garden. I'm hoping to enjoy it more in the coming months:

Incredibly shaky panoramic image of all the seedlings on the windowsill. There are cucumber, squash, pea, tomato, shallot, carrot, scallion, beet, various herb and flower seedlings poking up their heads.

Incredibly shaky panoramic image of all the seedlings on the windowsill. There are cucumber, squash, pea, tomato, shallot, carrot, scallion, beet, various herb and flower seedlings poking up their heads.

Close up on the pea seedlings. I have a feeling that these will do just fine, and that they'll be accompanied by some wonderful friends. There's also a cucumber seedling.

Close up on the pea seedlings. I have a feeling that these will do just fine, and that they'll be accompanied by some wonderful friends. There's also a cucumber seedling.

 

 

*Tawashi is the Japanese word for small cotton cloths used for face cream and makeup remover. I'm trying to knit my own and thus not need to go through throwaway cotton pads.

**Seed catalogs are my nemesis. 

Visitor Friendliness and Hostility: On Airports and Disneyland

by Ariela

My geekery takes a lot of forms. I like things that are considered culturally geeky: comics, SFF, etc. I also have a day job in tech. But today I want to geek out about something I haven't spoken about much on this blog: usability.

In between aspiring to be a professional artist when I was a child and then circling back around to actually become one as an adult (with an ongoing dog-leg into non-profit technology), I spent my high school and college years wanting to go into exhibit design for history museums. This meant that I spent some time learning about visitor flow in physical spaces as well as in websites.* Since I spent a week in London recently, I thought a lot about usability in the real world, between doing touristy stuff at historic sites and museums and flying in and out.

Heathrow security prep station. This photo is from futuretravelexperience.com. I did not get my own as I didn't want to hold up a line by taking photos.

Heathrow security prep station. This photo is from futuretravelexperience.com. I did not get my own as I didn't want to hold up a line by taking photos.

Let me say, for all the terrible things that people say about Heathrow, I found it quite visitor-friendly. Before going through security, they have preparation stations set up. They're little counters where you can sort your stuff out. They not only have trash cans, they also have designated receptacles where you can dump liquids out of your bottles, and they have plastic bag dispensers for your small liquids. At security itself, the bins are bigger than in American airports. Not only that, but instead of having carts of them at the head of the line, the empties are returned to the start point by gravity rollers underneath the conveyor belt that brings the full ones through the screener. They had security personnel at each conveyor belt assisting you. Oh, and you get to keep your shoes on. It not only made the onerous process of going through security rather less terrible, it also made it faster, so there wasn't much of a wait.

This image of dense crowds at an airport is from TravelAndLeisure.com. Sure looks leisurely to us. Oh wait, no it doesn't.

This image of dense crowds at an airport is from TravelAndLeisure.com. Sure looks leisurely to us. Oh wait, no it doesn't.

Contrast this to an American airport. There's nowhere convenient to prepare to go through security. There's nowhere nearby to dump liquids, which means that the person who inevitably forgot to empty their water bottle has to run back to find someplace, holding up the line. They certainly don't provide plastic bags for small liquids either. No one assists you as you prepare your stuff to go through the screener - the security personnel near that side of the conveyor belt tend to walk around shouting reminders to put your laptop in a bin by itself, etc. There's no automatic return of bins, so that can be another holdup. It's not actually designed for maximum inefficiency and misery during the process, but it seems to come close. Nobody likes being in an American airport, and security is everyone's least favorite part.

Water fountains for people of all heights in California Adventure.

Water fountains for people of all heights in California Adventure.

If I had to name the opposite of an American airport, I would choose Disneyland. I went to Disneyland for the first time in September 2016, and I was blown away by the user-friendliness of the place. A lot of this was just because it was actually designed with the idea that people who aren't adults have a right to be accommodated. There were changing stations in all the bathrooms, usually multiples. Water fountains came in several different heights. As an adult who needs shoes to see 5' tall, believe me, there's a difference in the comfort of seats designed for multiple heights and ones designed for the average adult. But a lot of it has nothing to do with children.

I can't speak to the actual accessibility of Disney for people who are vision, auditory, or mobility impaired, but I sure noticed all the notations on the map about accessibility, pictured below. The fact that it was there up front, as opposed to having to go looking for it to learn about it, impressed me quite a bit.

Map of Disneyland with a legend on the right highlighting ALL THE SERVICES. Click to embiggen.

Map of Disneyland with a legend on the right highlighting ALL THE SERVICES. Click to embiggen.

This is a text payphone! How cool is that? So necessary for anyone hearing impaired who doesn't have access to a cell for whatever reason!

This is a text payphone! How cool is that? So necessary for anyone hearing impaired who doesn't have access to a cell for whatever reason!

Disposal cans at Main St. USA

Disposal cans at Main St. USA

The trash cans are a thing of Disney lore. Websites give conflicting stats, usually citing either 20 or 30 steps maximum between trash cans. I didn't stop to count it out - my poor spouse had to wait for me to take pictures of them, I suspect neither he nor the other visitors would have appreciated me stopping to measure out paces between each of them - but they appear at much shorter intervals than I have ever seen trash cans anywhere else. The same websites cite Walt himself as instituting the policy of so many trash cans as part of lowering the bar to guests throwing out their rubbish properly. I suspect that we don't see this outside of Disney not because institutions are not interested in lowering the bar to using trash cans but because of how many staff hours it would take to empty that many cans. Space might also be a consideration, too, as who wants to give that much footprint to trash cans?

One type of space that the trash cans at Disney don't take up so much is visual space. They are incorporated into the decor of the attraction, so they don't stick out as utilitarian, they're part of the experience and novelty. The other place Disney does this really well is in the waiting areas to get into rides. Like airports, Disney hosts people who inevitably spend a large amount of time waiting in lines. However, unlike airports, Disney tries to make this wait time as pleasant as possible, and they dress the waiting area in decor matching that of the ride, essentially trying to make the wait itself part of the ride, too.

Of course, airports can't make your wait more entertaining by making the waiting resemble being on an airplane because the vast majority of fliers are far more interested in their destination than the ride. But there are definitely things they could do to make the wait, and the ride less miserable. Unfortunately, there's no incentive to do so. People don't pay to use airports, they pay the airlines, and no airline is going to spearhead improvements in the general airport when they won't inspire anyone to fly with them more often. In fact, there's incentive not to improve, as that "calculated misery cost" is what causes people to pay for things like TSA PreCheck and visitor lounges. Ditto coach vs. First Class on the planes themselves.

There isn't really a point to all this rambling, except to say that user-friendliness has a lot of aspects and that they can make a huge difference to our experiences, even for something as simple as waiting in a line. Necessary but unpleasant experiences can be mitigated by user-friendliness, while good experiences can be enhanced; conversely good experiences can be soured by user-hostile environments and bad ones are transformed from annoying to miserable. This is true on the web as well as in the real world, but I rarely see people comparing the two outside of niche interest sites.

So next time you have a really unpleasant experience somewhere, ask yourself if there's something that could be done to make it more pleasant. If possible, give feedback on it; few places are as user-hostile as airports, and many want to make themselves more welcoming.

*If you ever see me in a museum exhibit, you may find me staring at the ceiling to check out their lighting configuration, or critiquing the layout of object labels.

New Product: All Others Must Bring Data

by Terri

Have you been feeling frustrated by people who think that the plural of anecdote is data? For that matter, do people that can't correctly conjugate the plurals around the word data make you cranky? Then you're probably the target audience for this print.

In God We Trust All Others Must Bring Data - Art Print from Geek Calligraphy

How It Came To Be:

Both Ariela and I are quite concerned about how established scientific fact is currently being maimed and mangled to fit current political needs. That's not what data are for. A friend suggested we might do a print based around a quote attributed to Galileo, but it seemed too obscure to convey what we were feeling. Instead, Ariela picked a pointed quote attributed to W. E. Deming.

The graphs and spreadsheets in the background are all from Kaggle, a crowdsourcing platform for data-mining and analytics. As such, Kaggle is an enormous library of publicly available datasets, covering everything from Aviation Accident Synopses  to Dogs of Zurich to the Anime Recommendations Database, and many that are much weirder or more depressing. Also an enormous amount of data about Pokémon.

Which dataset is featured here? Why, the metadata on Kaggle usage! It's data about data, for a lovely, self-referential, navel-gazing loop. How are we presenting it? Honestly, our presentation here is nonsense, with graphs made out of data that show no particular results and spreadsheets juxtaposed just for the heck of it. This probably seems like an odd decision to make here of all places, particularly from an artist who makes much hay about the fact that she doesn't put nonsense text, binary, or even musical notation into her work.  It is there as a commentary on Deming's quote, to act as a caveat. The artful rearrangement of the data into pretty but meaningless patterns reminds us that data is only useful if we know how to analyze it well. If we don't, at best it is noise, and at worst it can lead us to conclude that ice cream causes drowning.* The Deming quote is pithy, but the truth is always more complicated.

This print is relevant for many situations, whether encouraging good decision-making at work or screaming at politicians and talking heads on the news. It is available in two sizes, 8" x 10" and 11" x 14" (matted dimensions) for $35 and $45 respectively.

 

 

 

*This is a famous example of "correlation does not imply causation." As ice cream sales increase, so do drowning deaths. Turns out both are just more common the hotter it gets. 

Be Back on Wednesday...

by Terri

Image shows 5 Mardis Gras** masks over many strings of beads.

Image shows 5 Mardis Gras** masks over many strings of beads.

Ariela is making her way back from London and I have just thrown my very first Purim seudah.* Thus, a short blog post accompanied by festive graphics and a slightly hung over Artist Wrangler. We will be back on Wednesday for March's Product Release!

Somebody get me two aka-seltzer and an economy size bottle of Advil....

 

 

 

 

*The festive meal that we are commanded to have on the holiday of Purim. Traditionally one invites friends to partake in copious amounts of food and alcohol. There were certainly both in abundance at my table.

**While Purim isn't precisely analogous to Mardis Gras, the mask is a recognizable symbol of the holiday, and Mardis Gras has a similar amount of festivity.

Fun with Quill Grips Part III

by Ariela

Quill grips knitted by Terri

Quill grips knitted by Terri

Back in May I wrote about the discomfort I was experiencing as I started to write with a quill due to the shaft being narrower than was comfortable for me to grip. Terri knitted two quill grips for me to use, proving that she is a wonderful manager and best friend and sometimes just as inclined as I am to do weird stuff just because the idea is there.

Alas, I discovered I have a tendency to get ink on them. And when you get ink on yarn you are gripping firmly, it comes back out. Sometimes I just got it on my fingers, sometimes it dripped, and sometimes it gooshed out in truly unfortunate ways. No photographic evidence of this part exists, because whenever it happened I was occupied with grabbing for blotting rags rather than reaching for a camera. I refuse to attempt to recreate it for the interwebs - I have some dignity to maintain.

So I turned back to the Rainbow Loom grip that I made. It is significantly less comfy than Terri's knitted ones, but rubber bands have zero absorbance, so I just wiped it off whenever I got ink on it. It did not get quite as sweaty as I had feared it would, but the knobbiness got to be a problem if I wrote for more than an hour.

Around the same time that I was inspired to upgrade my nib organization, I was similarly inspired to look into solving the persistent irritant of my quill grip. I knew that what I really wanted was molding rubber, but that I also didn't want to deal with making a mold. Fortunately for me, other people have also had a similar desire, and some time spent googling around introduced me to Sugru.

I ordered some Sugru and after a number of delays I finally got it. Based on all the images and gifs I have seen of people putting it on wires and showing how bendy it is I assumed it would have a decent amount of squish to it after it cured. Between the formulation of that sentence and the photos of people using it to hang pots on the wall, you have probably guessed that this did not turn out to be the case. Yet somehow I failed to reason that out. So I wrapped the entire packet around it in an effort to increase the girth of the quill as much as possible to counteract the assumed squish. Turns out, Sugru is only bendy when small amounts are wrapped around other things that are bendy. When you wrap a chunk around something that doesn't have a heck of a lot of give to it, it's pretty solid.

The new quill grip made out of black Sugru. I chose black so that it won't show any staining from the ink.

The new quill grip made out of black Sugru. I chose black so that it won't show any staining from the ink.

I've been busy with other projects since I did this, so I haven't had a chance to test out the new grip for an extended period, which is always the proving ground. I may trim it down, or I may use another packet to make a narrower grip, perhaps with a bit more contouring, though I have never been a fan of those super-contoured pencil grips they make. But I think that Sugru is probably the solution I have been looking for.

Upgrading Nib Organization

by Ariela

When I feel like I cannot control what is going on in my life, one of my coping mechanisms is to clean and organize. Clutter makes me tense, and it acts as a good proxy for things I cannot actually control. Last year, during a particularly bad couple of weeks at work, I labeled every ten-inch span of the shelves in my pantry.

A few weeks ago, inspired by I am not sure what, I decided that I needed to upgrade my nib organization system. I mean, I know why I needed to improve the situation, I'm just not sure what prompted me to decide that now was the time that it needed to be fixed.

 This was my old organization system:

One box with slots, seven little envelopes, three little plastic bags, and one box labeled "random nibs" with utter chaos inside.

One box with slots, seven little envelopes, three little plastic bags, and one box labeled "random nibs" with utter chaos inside.

The plastic case with the different slots for 10 nibs, a piece of magnet, and reservoirs, was originally a set of Manuscript nibs that I bought years ago in a state of naivete. (I have since learned that I hate Manuscript everything, from their nibs to their cartridge pens.) I moved the Manuscript nibs somewhere else and put my primary set of nibs, right-handed Mitchell Roundhand nibs from John Neal Booksellers, in there. It's not space efficient, but it meant that I could find the correct size nib easily.

Not so for the rest of my nibs. My left-hand Mitchell nib set, used for certain Hebrew hands that require a different pen angle, I continued to keep in the little envelope John Neal sent it in. Every time I wanted a nib, I had to dump out the entire set and sort through them to find the right size. Ditto my backup sets of nibs for both right and left Mitchell nibs. All my other nibs were jumbled together in a small box held closed with a rubber band.

I thought about trying to get more cases like the one my Manuscript nibs came in, but it's not particularly space efficient.

The two nib organizers that don't meet my needs.

The two nib organizers that don't meet my needs.

So I googled for "pen nib organizer." I came up with surprisingly little. Artbin has a container similar to the Manuscript one, but it has several compartments in which to put multiple nibs, which would still require a bunch of sifting through a bunch of nibs to find the right one. There was also an Etsy listing for a block of wood that would store the nibs pointing upright, perfect for stabbing yourself when trying to get the next nib over. But the second image result led me to this blog post from Studio Chavelli.

So over the following weekend, I made my own. I continue to be terrible about taking process photos, but here is my finished Nib Organizer Wallet:

Head-on view of the new nib organizer wallet, with my hand

Head-on view of the new nib organizer wallet, with my hand

Side view of the open nib organizer wallet

Side view of the open nib organizer wallet

The first two rows or "pages" of nibs are both Mitchell Roundhands, righty nibs in front with the yellow paper, lefty second with the purple paper. The two remaining rows behind are both covered in white paper and contain my Brause poster nibs, a selection of Hunts, aka Speedball, and two random singletons with space for more at the back. Each is labeled, but the color and order tells me at a glance what is where.

The inside of the organizer is all corrugated cardboard, but I wanted the outside to be more durable. I used a different kind of cardboard that is much denser but also thinner and taped both a front and a back on just like extra pages. I added two additional pieces to create a top flap that lapped the front over. I covered it with some tan pleather I had lying around, gluing it in place with PVA glue. Then I cut a small notch in the front of the outside cover so that I could settle the socket half of a large snap in place. I then sewed the snap down with doubled button thread. I used a piece of durable blue fabric leftover from a bookbinding project to cover the inside of the front cover; cut it to size, pinked the edges, and then glued it into place with PVA. The blue cloth covered up the edges of the pleather and the ugly side of the stitches on the snap socket.

I cut a piece of the same blue cloth to cover the inside of the back cover next. I sewed the stud half of the snap to that fabric before pinking the edges and gluing it into place to keep from having to sew through the cardboard and leave the stitches showing on the other side of the pleather. I glued the pinked fabric with the snap sewn in to the inside of the back cover with PVA. And that was it.

I brought the new nib wallet with me to Capricon where I was doing some art demos. I could tell when a fellow dip-pen user walked by because they would stop and goggle at the open nib wallet next to me. I got nearly as many exclamations over the nib wallet as I did over the calligraphy in process. Clearly I am not the only one who has felt the absence of such an item in their life.

All Art Is Political

by Terri

"At this point, assume all art is political unless proven otherwise" ~ me

Image is text that reads "Assume all art is political until proven otherwise. Then question that proof."

Image is text that reads "Assume all art is political until proven otherwise. Then question that proof."

I'm angry a lot these days. I'm angry at the government, I'm angry at everyone who doesn't understand just how dire the situation is. But a special sort of anger is reserved for people who are angry at artists for daring to be "political."

You know those people. The ones who can't stand Meryl Streep's acceptance speech at this year's Golden Globe awards.* The folks who think "Born In the USA" and "This Land is Your Land" are patriotic anthems, rather than the protest songs that they are. Your uncle who watches Fox News and thinks that Beyonce's costuming choices for her Super Bowl Halftime performance last year were anti-police and beyond the pale.

The underlying message that those people are trying to convey is this: "you are a robot. You many speak the words that we place in your mouth and no more. You may sing the songs that we like and no more. You may paint pretty pictures that we like and no more. How dare you express opinions that I** disagree with." 

I'm sure that some people think that our art is "too political." Neither Ariela nor I keep quiet about how we feel about institutional racism, systemic misogyny, antisemitism, ableism, or any other form of bias that keeps people from achieving their all. We have greeting cards and art prints that refuse to place boundaries on love.*** Our ketubot all have an option to come with a text that places no limits on the gender of the people getting married.

We will not be your performing monkeys. We are humans, as are movie stars, famous musicians, performance artists and anyone who is on stage and entertaining you. We are entitled to our opinions and we are entitled to broadcast them in any way we choose.

You've been warned. My patience is up.

 

 

 

 

*There were problematic elements to that speech to be sure. But they were the inherent ableism, rather than the political message.

**Notice how the people complaining about "political art" are usually on the right. Your average liberal might boycott or protest movie stars, musicians, etc that they don't agree with,**** but they don't tell them that they shouldn't speak their views.

***Granted, they depict zombies in them. But hey, we refuse to have exclusively heteronormative zombies on greeting cards.

****There is an underlying assumption working here that "political" means "thing I don't agree with." I honestly don't have the time and energy to unpack that in this post. Maybe next time.

New Product - "Take Care of Yourself"

By Terri

The news is horrible. We're all in danger of succumbing to outrage fatigue. Hang this on your wall to remind yourself to take the steps necessary to stay sane and keep fighting.

How It Came To Be:

This is not actually the print we had originally planned for February,* but Ariela made this because it was something she needed to hear herself, plus she was somewhat creatively burnt out. Thus creating this print was also an act of self-care.

The print is riotously colorful, because it needs to be happy to remind others to be happy. All of the activities listed require relatively little money, because Ariela wanted them to be widely accessible. Yes, we're aware that if you are poor enough, they're not all accessible. We're also aware that making a high-end art print that is aware of this limitation is somewhat ironic, but artists need to eat. We should not be cutting our own bottom line out from under ourselves to further our commitment to social justice.**

Self-care is not selfish. You are precious. And you cannot take care of others or fight for what you believe well if you are run-down and burnt out. This is a long haul kinda thing and burning up in a blaze of self-sacrifice at the beginning isn't the way to go.

The print is available in two sizes: 8" x 10" and 11" x 14" (matted dimensions) for $30 and $45 respectively. $5 from the sale of each print will be donated to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), who are currently doing some amazing work supporting refugees trying to come to this country.

*To be honest, it's not even the second print scheduled for this month. We've both been overwhelmed and burnt out since the election. Overwhelmed and burnt out artists and their wranglers edit their production calendars like sensible people.

**In addition, when you cut the bottom out of your own bottom line, you also cut the bottom out from other artists, too. So making a charitable print and taking a loss on it might cause people to buy your thing rather than someone else's who cannot actually afford to take a loss. Which is why it is good artist practice to encourage others to price themselves properly, even when starting out.

 

Con Schedule: Capricon with Bonus Boskone

by Ariela

Image shows the Capricon 37 flyer Tagline: And the Children Shall Lead Author Guest of Honor Beth Revis, Artist Guest of Honor Nilah Magruder, Fan Guest of Honor Meg Frank, Musical Guest Tim Griffin

Image shows the Capricon 37 flyer
Tagline: And the Children Shall Lead
Author Guest of Honor Beth Revis, Artist Guest of Honor Nilah Magruder, Fan Guest of Honor Meg Frank, Musical Guest Tim Griffin

I am off to Capricon this week!

Capricon 37
February 16-19
Westin Chicago North Shore
Wheeling, IL

In addition to hanging art in the show, I will be sitting on a number of panels.

Friday, 1:00 PM:  Theology in SF
Room: Botanic Garden Ballroom A
Panel # 96
How are real world and fictional religions portrayed in SFF? What authors get it right, and how does it go wrong?
Note that this panel will definitely cover Fantasy as well as Science Fiction regardless of the panel name. How do I know? I'm the moderator, that's how. Mwahahaha.

Saturday, 1:00 PM: BFFs in SFF
Room: Botanic Garden Ballroom B
Panel # 100
Our panelists explore the power of female friendship in fiction, media, and gaming.

Saturday, 5:30 PM: Art in the BEFORE TIMES.....
Room: Birch A
Panel # 10
A look at the way art was produced before digital tools were readily available.

Sunday, 10:00 AM: Getting Started in Costuming and Cosplay
Room: Birch A
Panel # 110
Is there a better way to show your love of a character than to cosplay as them? We don't think so. Creating original costumes is an amazing way to express your creativity. Panelists and audience exchange costume creation tips.

Sunday, 12:00 PM: Diversity Programming
Room: Birch A
Panel # 26
What does diversity programming mean? How do we move from being purposefully diverse to organically diverse?

I will also be doing art demos at the art show at X times. Come stop by!

Bonus art show: Boskone!

In addition, we are sending art to the Boskone 54 Art Show, February 17-19 at the Westin Boston Waterfront in Boston, MA. Terri might stop by on Sunday, but no guarantees. If you were not able to snag a piece of art you wanted at the Arisia show, stop by Boskone, it might be there!

More Advice for Artists: On Contracts

Including Sample contracts for Ketubot and Teaching Workshops

by Ariela

In addition to the "Judaism's Influence on SFF" panel, I also sat on a panel on "Consulting & Contracting: How To Make (For) Money." We covered a lot of practical advice, ranging from answering specific questions from the audience to general advice (Find a nice person to do your taxes for you, they are worth every penny!).

This is what a sample of the first page of Ariela's boilerplate contract looks like.

This is what a sample of the first page of Ariela's boilerplate contract looks like.

One of the "brass tacks" sections that I insisted we cover was the basic parts of a contract. For me, they are:

  • Deliverables - make sure everyone understands what is being promised and what is not within the scope of the project.
  • Timeline, Breakdown, and Deadlines - make sure everyone knows what has to happen first and that deadlines work both ways; you cannot deliver the product on time if you don't get the necessary answers and pieces on time.
  • Copyrights, etc. - lay out who holds the rights to what once the project is done.
  • Payment - set the payment schedule and the projected cost, with a caveat that changes to the scope of the project along the way will change the price, probably increasing; include late fees if possible.
  • Provision for changes - lay out the process by which a party can request changes to the deliverables or contract, plus cost renegotiation.
  • Escape Clause - how can the contract be canceled?

We also talked about finding contract templates online. There are lots of them available. The Graphic Artists' Guild has some good examples. However, I mentioned that since my commission work - ketubot (Jewish marriage documents) - is so niche, none of the samples I found really covered the particulars I needed. At which point the other panelists turned to me and asked "Have you put a sample online for other artists?" And I went, "Oh, yeah, that would be a good thing to do."

So here: Sample Contract for Ketubah Art and Calligraphy

Please feel free to download it and alter it to suit your needs. It is not watermarked and does not have the Geek Calligraphy logo on it, and you should feel free to remove the attribution at the end when you adapt it for yourself. I want this to be as widely available as possible.

You may notice that it is long. Many sample art contracts are just one page. This one covers a lot of specifics to the ketubah trade, and there are many fiddly details to be worked out when the contract is to produce another contract.

While I am at it, I also want to make available my other mainstay contract, the one for teaching engagements. I mostly teach in my safrut (Jewish ritual scribing) hat, but I am available for teaching regular Hebrew or English calligraphy as well. And I won't teach without a contract.

Sample Contract for Teaching Engagement

This one is a lot more generic, and there are plenty of other sample contracts for teaching isolated gigs out there. Find one that covers your particulars.

Some Words of Warning

Now remember kids! Don't ever work without a contract unless you are willing to be stiffed completely for the project.

Unfortunately, even having a contract is not a guarantee of getting paid. Sometimes just getting a lawyer to write a threatening letter on official stationery is enough to inspire a client to pay. But then there are times you have to make a decision about whether it is worth contacting a collections agency or taking the client to small claims court to get paid or just needing to eat the loss. But if you don't have a contract, the chances of not getting paid are much, much higher. I know this from experience. And if anyone balks at signing a contract run away fast.

This goes just as much for work you do for friends and family as it does for work you do for strangers. Many friends are lovely and respectful about it, but others turn out to be nightmare clients. Spend some time on Clients from Hell and you will see complaints about people whom you thought were close to you expecting hours of free labor by dint of relationship. Your work is valuable and people do not have a right to impose on you just because they are friends or family.

While we're talking about the worth of your work, a topic on which I have expressed strong feelings in the past, let's talk for a moment about pricing. I won't go into specifics because I can't even begin to create a price chart for my own work, nevermind for someone else's, given the number of potential variables. But don't think that just because you are new to professional art-ing that you shouldn't get paid. Particularly please do not think that you are doing other, more experienced artists a disservice by charging. When you charge too little, you a) set up expectation that your prices will be too low in the future, and b) you cut the market out from underneath everyone. So for the love of whatever higher power you embrace, please charge what your time is worth and get a contract signed.

The Saga of a Knitting Project, or Why I Don't Knit Wedding Presents Anymore

by Terri

Note: unlike Ariela, my creative skills did not manifest in an ability to draw with any proficiency. While this post will be liberally illustrated with photographs, it will not contain chibis.

Back in 2008, two of my best friends announced that they were engaged and would be getting married the following June. I was asked to be a groomsmaid. Ariela was making their ketubah, and I was going to knit them a beautiful heirloom afghan. At that point, I'd been knitting pretty steadily for around 3 years. I'd made socks, a much smaller blanket than I was planning, scarves, hats, and a lace shawl. I'd even designed a fingerless mitt pattern.

I was going to use pattern squares from The Great American Aran Afghan book and alternate them with some plain stitch pattern squares. I was going to borrow a technique from the blanket I'd already knit and get myself out of having to sew every square together. It was a brilliant plan, and the blanket would be ready by their wedding. 

HAH.

Image shows one of the plain squares in progress. It is a dark blue yarn, knit in seed stitch.

Image shows one of the plain squares in progress. It is a dark blue yarn, knit in seed stitch.

I started knitting the afghan in October of 2008, after confirming colors with the recipients. I was chugging along on a project that I had no idea was biting off way more than I could chew. Initially, the afghan was going to have 5 strips of 4 squares each. I'd done a little swatching, so I knew how to get a one foot square from the yarn and needle size I thought would work for all the squares* in the plain blue squares. I was working from cable charts that I wasn't entirely sure how to read, and disregarding actual pattern instructions willy nilly.** 

It's now too long ago to remember exactly why I slowed down the work. My personal life was kind of a mess, I was working full time and beginning to start part time community college. The notes in my Ravelry project page are sparse. I just know that Josh & Liz were married on June 28, 2009 and that the afghan was far from finished. I have a note saying that I needed to get working on the afghan again from December 2010. By then, they'd been married for a year. I think I had finished one strip of 4 squares.

In February of 2011, I got engaged. Both Liz & Josh were going to be in our wedding. By March of that year, I'd picked up the afghan knitting again, thinking that it would be a good "thank you for being in our wedding party/2 year anniversary gift." I finished a second strip and attached that to the first so I could have an idea of what the thing was actually going to look like. That was when I should have noticed that ignoring how I was measuring things was going to make the project hard to fit together, but the bulldozer in me decided it was all going to be FINE. It's a good thing I didn't plan on knitting anything for my actual wedding that August, since wedding planning basically ate my life. 

Ariela and Benjamin's afghan in progress on a lovely sunny day in New York City.

Ariela and Benjamin's afghan in progress on a lovely sunny day in New York City.

Every so often, I would pull out the afghan and knit a couple of rows. It bored me at that point. I would joked with Josh & Liz that it would be done for their "X anniversary." When Liz went to California to do her PhD and Josh had to stay behind in New York City, I told them that it would be done by the time they were living in the same city again (giving me a three year window for Liz's coursework to be completed), or at the very least before their first child was born. In the interim, I cast on and completed another wedding blanket - this one for Ariela and her husband. In contrast to the epic afghift, this one only took just over a year to complete.*** In 2013, I got pregnant with my daughter, and then baby knitting consumed my entire brain. Then my daughter was born, and I had no brain left to think about knitting anymore.

Image shows afghan as of August 18, 2015. It is composed of three strips of 4 squares each. 8 of those squares are blue seed stitch, 8 of those squares are green (the light is very yellow saturated, but I promise they're green) in various cable patterns.

Image shows afghan as of August 18, 2015. It is composed of three strips of 4 squares each. 8 of those squares are blue seed stitch, 8 of those squares are green (the light is very yellow saturated, but I promise they're green) in various cable patterns.

In 2015, I decided to do a project running around on social media called #yearofmaking. I would dedicate more efforts into my various projects and finish some of the things lying around my baskets, documenting the process along the way. I decided that this would be the year I finished knitting that damn afghan. The fact that Liz had moved back to New York to write her dissertation and they were expecting a baby may have motivated some of those decisions.

I'm not a monogamous knitter by nature. I have a big problem with startitis, and people did persist in having kids that year that needed wee baby sweaters. But by August 2015, I had finished the third afghan strip. I seamed it with the other two and realized that If I made the entire afghan as I'd originally planned it, It would be huge. And that I had no interest in doing that. So culled two pattern squares from the 4 left in the initial project plan and decided that they would be it. And to my credit, I did finish the afghan by September 21, 2015. Well, I finished knitting it anyway. And I got a baby sweater done for Josh & Liz too.

The thing about knitting a project this big is that just finishing the knitting isn't enough. The picture accompanying this paragraph demonstrates this to significant effect. The edges are really funny looking, pulling in in some places and puckering out in others. The pattern squares aren't the same size as each other, let alone all the plain squares. There are yarn ends all over the place from changing colors and balls of yarn. In order to turn that mess into something that would look respectable on someone else's couch, you need to employ the magic of blocking.

The afghan as of September 21, 2015. All of the pieces are knit, seamed together and edged in crochet.

The afghan as of September 21, 2015. All of the pieces are knit, seamed together and edged in crochet.

Image shows me holding a very small steamer over the afghan all pinned out on our IKEA sofa bed in the bed position. This is what one kind of blocking looks like. 

Image shows me holding a very small steamer over the afghan all pinned out on our IKEA sofa bed in the bed position. This is what one kind of blocking looks like. 

Depending on the size of your project, blocking can be simple or it can be complicated. When I block a pair of fingerless mitts, I dunk them in the sink with some wool wash, wring them out, then lay them out on a dish drying mat until they are dry and ready to go. A baby sweater can take the same dunk, but needs to be wrapped up in a hand towel and then stomped on to get the bulk of the water. As you increase size and various elements of complexity, wet blocking stays relatively simple, but you start needing bigger surfaces to dry the project on.**** With a shawl, you often have to pin it into the correct shape while wet so that it drys in that shape.

With something as big as this afghan, I'd have needed to soak it in the bathtub for it to get properly wet. And it still needed a huge surface to dry on. Also, since the edges were so weird, it would need to be severely pinned in place to ensure that they would dry straight. And in our first Boston apartment, we didn't have any space that big. We did have a futon, but ever since setting up the crib in our daughter's room, it stayed a couch. There was also a desk in that room, so it was hard to open the futon. And our little baby was no longer a lump that would stay put. She was mobile and inquisitive. I honestly didn't know where I would be able to block the afghan. So it sat in a box for almost another year.

December 20, 2016. The afghan is seamed, edged, blocked, and all the ends are woven in. 8 years after casting on, the afghan is done. It is 4 squares by 4 squares.

December 20, 2016. The afghan is seamed, edged, blocked, and all the ends are woven in. 8 years after casting on, the afghan is done. It is 4 squares by 4 squares.

When we moved to our new apartment in July of 2016, we got a third bedroom. We purchased the IKEA sofa bed the previous tenants had in that room, put our big heavy desk in there, moved all my yarn in, and made it the office/craft room. It would also be the spare bedroom for when we had guests stay over. 

We unpacked the house, got rid of the boxes, and still I had a box labeled "Hibernating WIPs***** and Josh & Liz's afghan." It never seemed the right time to deal with the monster. 

In December, we had some good friends stay over. I was unmaking the bed from their stay and noticed the box in the corner. I decided that I would just take care of the afghan right then and there. I pinned out the blanket so that it covered most of the bed's surface. I plugged in my teeny handheld steamer and ran it over and over the afghan, relaxing the stitches with the warm water vapor. I let it sit drying for over a day. And when I unpinned it, it stayed basically the same shape. I sewed in all the loose yarn ends and trimmed them. On December 20, 2016, the afghan was finally finished. I wrapped it, put it in a box, and mailed it off to Josh & Liz, where it now sits on their couch.

The afghan in its correct home, only 7 years too late.

The afghan in its correct home, only 7 years too late.

I learned a number of things knitting this afghan. Here are some of them, though this is not an exhaustive list:

  • The definition of "portable" is malleable and really means "anything that will fit in my messenger bag."
  • I hate crochet, but I can do it smoothly enough, and now know how to turn corners.
  • I can fix cable mistakes from the wrong side of the knitting
  • When I began the project, I vastly underestimated this particular undertaking
  • There isn't much I won't do for friends. Introduce them to the love of their lives, crochet, shackle myself to a seemingly unending project...
  • Two rounds of single crochet around 16 square feet will use most of a 50 gram ball of yarn.
  • No matter how much I love you, I'm getting something from your registry as your wedding present.******

Now that it's done, I am trying to reassure myself that I'll never take on something this ridiculous again. Check back with me in a few years to see how that went, OK?

 

 

*SPOILER ALERT: I was wrong

**This wasn't the first time, and it sure wouldn't be the last time

***I thought that this project was much more reasonable. It was a single pattern, knit from the center out. I still wound up hating it.

****And bigger towels to wring the project out with

*****Works In Progress

******This is why there is a line in the Fiber Artists Oath that says "I pledge to be honest with myself about my production speed and remember that it really is okay to give even very beloved people a gift other than a handmade Something."

Judaism in Dialog with SFF Fandom

by Ariela

On Saturday, January 14, I sat on a panel at Arisia entitled "Judaism's Influence on SFF." The irony of the timing aside, the room was packed beyond capacity and it went very well. The last question the moderator, Michael Burstein, posed was not about SFF stories, but about fandom, namely "How has Judaism influenced your fandom?" This is the substance of my answer, expanded slightly and with added context.

Judaism has influenced almost every aspect of my life, and fandom is no exception to that rule. In fact, I sometime refer to Judaism as my first and primary fandom.

The Jewish culture in which I grew up bears some striking resemblances to fannish culture, and perhaps it prepared me to move into fandom by dint of familiarity. For context, I grew up in an observant but gender egalitarian household in Boston. My parents are Ashkenazi, meaning we are of Eastern European descent, as were the communities in which we lived and participated, though not all of our communities were gender egalitarian.

Here is a short, non-exclusive list of things from my Jewish upbringing that is also true for fandom:

Part of the Oz VeHadar edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Image from zolsefer.co.il.

Part of the Oz VeHadar edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Image from zolsefer.co.il.

  • Books. Books books books. Did I mention books?
  • Learning the contents of those books well is not only encouraged, it is a means of accruing social status. People who can cite wide swaths of text to back up their opinions are given social points. Points, too, for being able to recite large portions of text from memory.
  • Books are also used for social display. More books is better, and buying expensive multivolume sets of Talmud and Codes is considered a laudable expenditure.
  • Debate is an enormous part of the Jewish body of texts, and is still enthusiastically practiced today. Debate over minutiae is encouraged and debate over ridiculous hypotheticals is practically an art form. Again, social status awarded to those with the best arguments, eloquence a plus.
  • It's expensive. Kosher food is expensive. Jewish education is expensive. All those books are expensive. More money makes participation easier.

So Judaism made fandom more accessible to me through familiarity. But what about the other way around? Has fandom enhanced my Judaism?

I have not found that my personal observance or my spiritual life has been advanced by my fandom. However, I have discovered that fandom is a wonderful vehicle to explain my Judaism to my fannish friends.

Being an observant Jew means that Judaism affects almost everything about my life. From taking the holidays off work to saying a blessing each time after I use the bathroom, Judaism is not just something I think about but something I am actively doing all day, every day. For friends who mostly grew up with some flavor of Christianity, whether they adhere to it or not, this isn't something that's easy to process. To them I explain, Rabbinic Judaism is a 2000 year long LARP.

This sounds like a flippant thing to say, but bear with me; I say it in all respect with the intent to convey some of the important aspects of how living an observant Jewish life is a lens through which we view the world. Also, here is the disclaimer about this being an analogy and not being or trying to be a perfect representation of Judaism.

Rabbinic Judaism is not the Judaism described in the Torah. In this analogy, the Torah is more like the list of books that you see when you open a DnD manual, the ones that you loved so much you want to participate in them, the ones that inspired you to start playing but don't actually give you any mechanics by which to play.

Our first attempt at a set of rules was the Mishnah. Like the first edition of DnD, it was incomplete and buggy. (In fact, it wasn't actually a rulebook at all, but a selection of legal discussions, in the course of which some laws are decided. Details, details.) No one uses it now, but it was the place where the project started. The rulebooks expanded out from there, the Gemara, the Commentaries, and then out to the Codes. Along the way we get significant geographic variations in our rules, as well as extensive discussion about said rules ranging from polite to vitriolic. The flame wars, ooooh, the flame wars we have.

Where the comparison really becomes useful is to explain how we use these laws to govern our daily lives. Halacha, Jewish law, is our world mechanics.

Take, for example, the prohibition on mixing milk with meat. On the surface that sounds simple enough. But what counts as mixing? Answer: we have rules for that! Let's say you accidentally get something meaty into your dairy dish, doesn't matter how. By Jewish law, it's okay to eat as long as you cannot taste the meat in the dish. But what if you taste it and discover that you can taste the meat? Then you will have violated the law? The obvious solution might be to find a trusty Gentile friend, who has no such prohibition, and ask them. But what if you have no trusty Gentile friend available? For much of Jewish history, we couldn't count on having non-Jewish neighbors who would be friendly or accessible, so a heuristic was developed: if you have a liquid dairy dish, as long as the meaty thing that was accidentally dripped in comprises less than 1/60th of the total volume, you can assume that it doesn't affect the taste. There are different rules for solids. Being hot or spicy is also taken into account. There's a whole decision tree. Are you starting to see the parallels between this and rolling a Diplomacy check when trying to convince the guard to let you into the city?

Extrapolate from here. Whenever I run into a situation where Jewish law applies, which is extremely often, this is the sort of check I run in my head. We have Jewish law on business, ethics, food, charity, clothes (there is a preferred order of operations for putting on shoes with laces). These are the mechanics by which I engage world.

Of course the purpose of a LARP is for everyone to have fun and the purpose of Jewish law is for people to lead a moral life in accordance with the commandments of G-d and improve the world. The analogy only goes so far and the ethical monotheism component of Judaism is neither trivial nor optional. But when trying to explain to my fannish friends how Judaism influences my life when I am not having theological discussions, it's a useful analogy to make.

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from every person. -Ethics of the Fathers 4:1

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from every person.
-Ethics of the Fathers 4:1

Well, That Was A Thing

by Terri

Image shows all of our art neatly hung on its pegboard display. There is quite a lot of it.

Image shows all of our art neatly hung on its pegboard display. There is quite a lot of it.

As we said back on January 9, Ariela and I were both at Arisia this year. I attended* panels, went to a party, spent way too much money on really fun things, had some awesome conversations with Ursula Vernon (the writer Guest of Honor), and we both had a stake in the Art Show.

This year, Arisia completely changed their art show format. In past years, pieces were entered at a starting auction price with a "quick sale" price option.** If you wanted to sell multiples of your work, you had to put them in a separate area of the show referred to as Print Shop. This format is largely a holdover from when most of the art brought to a show like this was original pieces, rather than print reproductions. There's still a whole lot of original art at these shows, but since quality prints have become much more accessible to a small-scale artist, it's less common to bring your original paintings.***

The new format did away with auctions altogether, with every piece of that was art for sale entered at a fixed price. Multiples of any piece were permitted. This means that if you are primarily a print based artist, you could bring up to 10 of anything you could fit into the panel space you paid for. We brought a couple of some pieces, more of others, mostly as a test run to see what would actually sell at Arisia. Last year (with the auction format), only two pieces from a single panel full of art sold. This year... Well, they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so have a picture of what the display looked like before we checked out.

Image shows Ariela in her chibi outfit next to two panels of mostly empty pegboard. There are a few pieces of art (and lots of greeting cards), but most of what you see is brown.

Image shows Ariela in her chibi outfit next to two panels of mostly empty pegboard. There are a few pieces of art (and lots of greeting cards), but most of what you see is brown.

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming when art starting growing legs and money during the Friday night reception for convention staff and Guests of Honor. At various points during the weekend, I would wander into the Art Show to "be nervous at the art." This was my shorthand for going into the display, straightening things and surreptitiously counting what we'd sold. Every time I went in, there was less art to be nervous at. By Sunday, we had 5 or 6 prints left (and lots of greeting cards). We had brought 74 pieces of art (this includes the cards). By Monday morning checkout, we had sold 38 pieces, mostly prints.****

We are still somewhat stunned at the results of this. The con crud hit both of us hard enough that the sheer jumping up and down for joy has not yet been able to happen. But I'm starting to make plans for us to be at other art shows, and both Ariela and I have some confidence that people actually want our art and will pay us money for it. That this isn't just a pipe dream, but a viable business proposition. We thank everyone who bought a piece or told someone that they should buy a piece for helping us know this.

See you next year!

 

 

*This being the 4th year of having a certain Small Human at the convention, but only the second year having her in the convention's full time babysitting, actually getting out and doing the things I wanted to do was kind of a novelty.

**Rather like eBay's "Buy It Now" pricing on auctions.

***For one thing, the prints take up way less space and transport far more easily.

****It turns out that people in the Northeast want Valentine's Day cards and cards telling people to take care of themselves, but not much else. People in the Midwest are nicer and like sending cards for all sorts of occasions. 

New Product: Police Box Mizrach (מזרח טרדיס)

by Terri

Have you been searching for the right piece of art to indicate your love of a certain Doctor? No matter which one is yours, his iconic Police Box can guide your prayers in the right direction.

Police Box Mizrach - Art Print by Geek Calligraphy

How it came to be:

Since the Jewish diasporas began in 8th-6th century BCE, Jews have been turning towards Jerusalem and the site of the Temple Mount there to pray. Much of the diaspora has sent Jews westward of Israel, and thus that means facing east.* Typically a synagogue will put the aron (cabinet containing the Torah scrolls) on the eastern wall to remind the congregants which direction to face during prayer. But in a home, especially modern apartments which don't always have windows in the right places, intuiting which direction is east can be difficult.

Thus a decorative, yet functional piece of art came into existence - the mizrach/מזרח.** Usually containing the Hebrew word, it is a pretty thing that you put on the eastern wall to let you know which way to face while praying.*** Many of them feature pictures of Jerusalem, for the obvious reason.

Ariela had been wanting to do a geeky mizrach for a while but was stymied as to how. Inspiration struck in a most unexpected form: at a shiva minyan, one of the mourners was wearing a Karen Hallion t-shirt, and it suddenly occurred to Ariela that perhaps a certain Police Box-shaped object might visit Jerusalem.

The Police Box Mizrach will be available in two sizes: 8" x 10" and 11" x 14" (matted dimensions) for $30 and $45 respectively.

 

 

 

*Of course now we can live in really cold climates, and are often more northeast than actually due east. Someday you can ask me about shenanigans involving prayer in Poland.

**The Hebrew word for east. Pronounced miz (like a married woman keeping her maiden name) rakh (cheerleading RAH with that guttural sound at the end)

***Of course, it doesn't have to be the eastern wall. Our friend Liz embroidered the Hebrew word tzafon/צפון (north) with a decorative border and framed it. You can find east if you know due north. Pedantry can be fun.

Back on Wednesday

by Ariela

Terri and I are in the throes of the final day of Arisia and expect to be Ded of Con this evening. We will be back on Wednesday with our January product release.

Ariela is a bit drained.

Ariela is a bit drained.

Will we see you at Arisia?

by Ariela

Arisia Logo

Arisia Logo

For the first time since the official founding of Geek Calligraphy, Terri and I will both be at the same con! We will both be attending Arisia later this week, January 13-16 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

Much of our website inventory will be hanging in the Art Show, so if you have had your eye on a piece of art but didn't want to pay shipping, stop in and see if one is to be had! While all the prints on our site come matted, some will come framed at the art show. There is also a bonus, con-only piece.

We can't fit one of everything or all sizes of everything in the show, but we will have a bunch of stock with us that isn't hung. Please tweet at us @GeekCalligraphy or text us at 805-399-2244 if you would like to ask if we have something not on display. Be aware that we will not answer on Friday night or Saturday until 6:30pm, though, due to Sabbath observance. (Arisia's art show gets its money from panel fees rather than commissions, so we are not shorting the con any money. We wouldn't do that.)

Con Schedule

Mark your schedules!

Mark your schedules!

I will be sitting on a number of panels at Arisia this year.

Friday, 8:30 PM:  Practical Considerations for Costumers
Room: Douglas (3W)
Panel # 310
Our panel of veteran costumers talk about everything from pockets, to footwear, to how to wear your badge in character. They'll address costume and prop transport and storage, ways to increase your own personal comfort in costume, and safety tips for costuming in crowds.

Saturday, 10:00 AM: Funding Your Muse
Room: Marina 3 (2E)
Panel # 541
We all dream of making a living doing what we love. How do you make your art profitable without losing your inspiration? Several artists who have managed it talk about choosing a direction that satisfies both needs.

Saturday, 1:00 PM: Judaism's Influence on SFF
Room: Adams (3W)
Panel # 621
Jewish theology and culture permeates science fiction across all mediums. What effect has Judaism had on the development of SF/F and fandom in general?

Saturday, 10:00 PM: Consulting & Contracting:How To Make (For) Money
Room: Marina 3 (2E)
Panel # 533

Sunday, 10:00 AM: Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make Fantasy
Room: Marina 2 (2E)
Panel # 172
From Susan Pevensie's lipstick to fan-hate for Sansa Stark, feminine characters often get shortchanged by fantasy authors and fans alike, losing out in comparison with the Strong Female Protagonist archetype. Why does this happen? Which feminine characters manage to succeed against this stereotype? Is the trend changing, and why?

 

There are Friday Night Services at Arisia this year that are open to anyone who wishes to attend. They will be held at 5:30pm in Alcott (3W). We will both be in attendance.

And you can always tweet at us (we just won't be looking at Twitter from Friday afternoon to Saturday at 5:30pm).

Can't wait to see you there!

ETA: The official Art Show Opening reception will be at 10pm on Friday night, and we will both be there, wearing green and purple to match our company colors. Come say hi!