Using folk motifs to write stories of your own

As a child, I drank in folktales in all colors, from the olive book of fairy tales to the crimson and lilac books.

And then, I tried rustling through the coats in our large wooden wardrobe to find Narnia, or sweeping under the rug to find a virtuous girl’s golden coins.

No luck.

So I decided to write my own stories in the clip art-filled Creative Writer computer program.

The hardest part was inspiration. And now I wish I’d realized how these interests in folktales and in writing could be combined!

Exploring Folklore Types, or Motifs

As an anthropology librarian, I often get asked for help in finding folk stories, as with a researcher who wanted all the medieval stories about pear trees and fertility.

Luckily, we have folklore indexes.  (more…)

Why I Don’t Always Share What I Write

I love David Sherlock’s post on the blog posts he didn’t write in 2017. It lets him set aside some rather unwieldy beasts, yet share what he’s been wrestling with. His never-posts range from education to gendered toys to ‘everything that is shit in academia,’ which is exactly the Schadenfreude-y sort of post I enjoy reading.

Below, I’ll share a few topics I chose not to attempt in the last year. The rest of my half-drafted posts, hopefully, are forthcoming!

1. The posts I got bored by writing

From libraries and librarians, to data and analytics, to transcribing archival documents online. I draft these as I’m learning about a topic. Yet I often decide that a) I don’t have a good hook to carry the story, or b) why would I repeat what others have said?

Book reviews fall here as well. They’re good to write and useful to read, but (more…)

Giving alternative gifts at Christmas

I still remember getting an apple, an orange, and a crisp two-dollar bill one Christmas. When my great-grandfather handed us each a piece of fruit, I carried it to the car, tucked my cold feet on the heater, and compared the crisply scratched apple with the spicy rumpled skin of the orange.

A small gift, but it stayed in my mind.

And now that we’re grown, my friends and I face the dilemma of what to give to grown siblings, nieces and nephews, and friends. I hope this post’s ideas and reflections help when you’re deciding what to give!

Why do we give, and why wouldn’t we?

There are lots of reasons–it’s fun to prepare a gift you know someone will enjoy. They might need what you’re giving; you feel closer after giving; you can help someone out.  Maybe giving is your “love language,” how you give and receive love. And most of all, opening prezzies can be fun!

Yet it can also be wise not to give one physical object to every person you care about:  (more…)

Get your family name game on

I’ll be back to Maine next week for Thanksgiving with my husband’s folks.

It should be fun. The day after Amos and I got married, I met my new Aunt Beth. She brought out a long genealogy that outlined my husband’s mother’s family’s place in the world.

These, of course, are my relatives through marriage, or in-laws.

But what about the people who marry into Amos’ family, or the family my brother married into?

Amos and my sister’s spouse, at least, have taken to calling each other outlaws. If in-laws are the folks I married into, outlaws are (more…)

What do we know about medieval Kazakh women’s names?

I’ve previously shared what I know of modern Kazakh names, as have other authors. But what about ancestral names?

My motivation here is a growing connection to the SCA, a group fond of historical fencing, archery, brewing, and crafts. These American hobbyists connect to European history by developing a historical persona, complete with costume, a period name (documented in historical records), and a backstory.

There are a lot of resources in historic names and costumes for western Europe, but it’s harder for English speakers seeking to reenact historic Japanese or Mongolian cultures. So I was curious if people ever develop names and costumes from steppe nomads, but not even sure if that “counted” in the imaginary medieval world of SCA.

Not Kazakh. Hulagu and Dokuz Kathun, from Rachid Ad-Din's History of the world, 14th century

Yet I believe they do. Central Asian tribes had plausible contact (more…)

A librarian’s guide to research and writing tools

I’ve been asked to present about my research process, so I thought I’d share here what I’ll be presenting to other librarians soon. Below are some of the steps I take when doing academic or nonfiction research; I’d love to hear if you have a different process.

For printed books, I start with my college library catalog for academic books, and public library catalogs for popular books. Used book sales and Amazon are options as well. If it’s hard to find, WorldCat lets you search across thousands of libraries worldwide, and find where the nearest copy of a book is.

For ebooks, I scour (more…)

What to do when you feel culture stress

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You’ve probably heard of “culture shock,” that initial wallop when everything’s different. Some folks, like Debbie Stephens, hit a wall when they’ve “bathed and washed my hair in a bucket… eaten with monkeys, been roommates with scorpions… and eaten foods I can’t pronounce.”

But you can also experience “culture stress” when you move between places or social groups even in your own country. This is a more sustained experience of not fitting in, and can hit you whether or not local habits and values jive with your sense of self.

Wildcat Canyon, East Bay, San Francisco area, panorama

And it can feel rough. (more…)

What happens when you hide all the women on Facebook

As I mentioned, I recently tried being a guy on Facebook to see what would happen.

But even as a guy, I still only see the ladies.

Not that my lady friends try to be dominant; in fact, many are quite self-effacing. But with 400+ lady friends, the posts-photos-ads-articles all reinforce each other: inspirational girl pilots and body positive quotes, cute children and embracing couples.

And the cuteness can lead to subliminal stress: Am I fun enough, colorful enough, tall enough? Should I share more of my work and travel and home life? Am I witty and touchingly honest enough?  (more…)

How I turned into a guy on Facebook

Recently, I got fed up with being a lady on Facebook. The marketing. The advertisements for empowered baby clothes (“she’s a rocket scientist!”) and faintly healthy food (“try three papaya-sweet corn bars for only $12.99!”).

I tried adjusting my ad settings, denying my prior interests in travel, science, and art. But I was still getting advertised to on the broadest of parameters: a female aged 18-55 in America needs… baby clothes. For me, it was bemusing.

For my infertile friends, it was heartbreaking: every scroll a reminder of the child they would cherish but could not have.

The only way around this, I realized, was to change myself. And so, I tweaked my profile and became a 55-year-old man living in the middle of England.  (more…)

Adding layers in painting

2017 Study Abroad 2 first paint
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After far too many pages of verb tenses, K and I left our study abroad classroom for a late-afternoon lunch in southern Kazakhstan. She was surprised at the sheer size of the margarita, and I was delighted with her expression.

Above, you can see how I progressed:

  1.  Sketching in pencil over an ill-fated flower painting.
  2.  Blocking in the color.
  3.  Starting on facial expressions and hair.
  4.  Dear Lord, what’s happened to this face?
  5.  I widen the face, and add white eyebrows, apparently. I got fed up and left it for a week.
  6.  Honestly, I should have stopped here. It’s beautiful. But it doesn’t look like my friend. So I forged on.
  7.  Just as things were shaping up, I realized the eyes, nose, and mouth all needed to move left. Oops.
  8.  I got the teeth and eyes… and I don’t want to mess up anything else! So I may come back and even out the shadows a bit, but I’m pretty happy with it.

Comments? I’d love to hear what strikes you!