Wednesday Workshop: Covering a Cabochon

A while back we talked about the artistic effect of breaking the rules—I'd like to continue that conversation today by talking about one design feature that breaks a fundamental rule: covering a cabochon. Generally when you're using a cab, whether it's something natural like a gemstone or something frothy and modern like Lucite, the rule is that the beads go around the cabochon in a frame or a bezel. The cabochon itself is supposed to be the focal point.

But every now and again there comes a piece that uses the cabochon itself as a frame, such as this labradorite ring from Anthropologie:

A blue labradorite cabochon is wrapped with gold vines. Small white diamonds glitter here and there on the vines.

Here, the rich blue of the labradorite supports the twining gold of the vines with their starry diamonds. The geometric perfection of the cabochon is contrasted with the organic, nubbly texture of the gold and the asymmetry of the diamonds. The cab might have been too stark on its own, and the vines would have looked spindly without a support structure underneath them. The combination of the two elements makes for a harmonious, unique piece.

Try This On:

  • I mentioned the Lucite? Been looking for an excuse to play with those glowy little bastards.
  • These tall Swarovski fancy stones are just waiting to be wrapped in wire or draped in seed bead flowers.

Wednesday Workshop: Pitting Color Against Shape

Nothing says "I'm a busy and responsible adult" like posting a Wednesday Workshop on a Thursday, right? Right. Today's inspiration comes from a Chanel necklace originally found on Russian Vogue, though the link appears to have gone bad. Instead, a screencap:

Chanel necklace with rounds and squares.

It is so easy, especially in beadwork where we're building components one tiny piece at a time, to believe that the colors we use have to correspond perfectly with the shapes we're building. This necklace blows that notion all to bits. The round components add one layer of symmetry, while the dark rectangles worked into the stones add a second, differently symmetrical layer. Tracing the various symmetries and asymmetries in this necklace is a full-time job.

The result is a great deal of movement for the eye, and a much more sophisticated and modern effect than a simple necklace of circular components. After staring at it for hours, slightly hypnotized, I also noticed that the round components are themselves irregular in size. This necklace is like a still of a party from a black-and-white film: a chaotic scene that happens to have been momentarily focused in time.

Try this on:

  • Any necklace made of repeated shapes, like Maggie Meister's 'Olivia' necklace (a perennial personal favorite).
  • Beaded rings of various sizes, carefully arranged -- would take some serious math-working, but would be stunning in effect.
  • Bead embroidery: the necklace base takes one shape, and the pattern on top takes another, contrasting shape.
  • Anything from Diane Fitzgerald's Shaped Beadwork could be given the same extra layer of contrast color very easily. I am tickled by the idea of a series of flat peyote hexagons in dark amber, with a bright gold or deep red line of beads wending haphazardly along the row.

This Post is About Badminton, Kinda

My senior year of college, once winter was officially gone, one of my housemates or neighbors bought a backyard games set from Walmart on a whim. And that's how I spent half my senior year playing badminton. I'd played occasionally before, like you do as a kid because—let's face it—badminton has a certain amount of whimsy built-in. Elegant rackets like the wings of dragonflies! A winged ball! That's called a shuttlecock! That makes a very satisfying thunk when struck in the sweet spot!

We even held a tournament once, though our careful brackets and fabulous prizes quickly devolved into "take a sip of your beer when anybody scores" and "this ribbon says, 'I Can Dress Myself.'"

There is a very poorly taken photo of me from this time. I have a racket in my hand and am going in for a spike shot. I'm wearing a long-sleeved grey t-shirt and an ankle-length denim skirt that looks as though it was made from a single pair of jeans. (It was not, but such were the fashions of the day.)

And it turns out, this is perfectly in line with the new badminton dress code as described in the New York Times: female badminton players are now required to wear skirts.

Naturally, as the Times hurries to explain, this is being called out as a sexist move. An extra wrinkle is that badminton is played by lots of Muslim women, who currently play in long pants. Pants would still be permitted, but only if a skirt is worn over them. And not a sheer skirt.

The reason for the change? According to Badminton World Federation deputy president Paisan Rangsikitpho:

“Hardly anybody is watching,” he said. “TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.”

So, just to be clear: sports marketing value = skirts = harder to play in for religious or physical reasons = women have an extra obstacle to playing well in comparison with men. Way to sell me on the integrity of your sport, sir.

But don't worry! A woman is wiling to go on record and say this isn't sexist! We're in the clear! Former world champion Nora Perry: "Being a woman myself I do not think that the rules in any way discriminate against women."

I guess I missed the message from the Feminist Hive-Mind saying that being held to different standards because I am female is not actually discrimination. Possibly because, um, that is pretty much the textbook definition of discrimination.

Saunas and Songs

We wanted to sing karaoke tonight, but since coming to Finland our ability to stay up past eight in the evening has been severely compromised. Strategically, we opted to not walk a billion miles in the morning, wrapped ourselves in hotel towels, and tried out the Finnish sauna instead. You guys, saunas are hot hot hot hot hot. I was worried about breathing, but equally worried about, you know, not breathing. "Oh my god," said Charles, "feel my hair. My hair is hot. I can feel my hair getting hot. We've only been in here thirty seconds." I felt his hair. He was right.

"There's an hourglass here on the wall," I said. "We can time our stay. I give us five minutes, tops."

"You're on." Another thirty seconds went by. "Does that hourglass actually work?" asked Charles.

I tapped the glass. Nothing happened. I tapped harder. A little blob of sand went plop from the top into the bottom. "Doesn't appear to," I said.

"Hand me that dipper of water," said Charles.

"You're going to make it hotter?"


"I'm worried we're going to die."


"I want to throw water on the rocks too."

"Here." He handed me the dipper.

Three or so minutes later, we had had enough. It felt like we had been swimming, or shoveling coal in the belly of the Titanic, or some such. Our hotel-issue slippers were going squish from humidity and floor condensation. That said, we felt pretty amazing -- to me, it seemed as though I had been given a thorough massage, but on my bones rather than my muscles. As though I had been turned into a limp plate of spaghetti and then rebuilt in human form. It was very intense, but ultimately pleasurable. I only wish there had been the traditional birch twigs as well as the dipper.

Refreshed, we went to the Design Museum and saw the amazing, weird, hilarious, highly technically skilled work of Oiva Toikka. Our favorite were the owls:

The rest of the afternoon was spent writing blog posts on revised Bechdel tests (me) and the implications of misunderstood ethnic food (Charles). For dinner, we wandered into a likely-looking place that turned out to be weirdly posh, like a gourmet diner from a Ray Bradbury carnival as directed by Tim Burton. I snuck a photo of the creepy chandeliers. Like evil jellyfish.

And then -- it was time for karaoke. Or rather, it was past time: they were supposed to start at six, and it was already nearing seven. We hopped on the tram, hopped off, didn't see the place, circled around, found it, and went in.

The bar was called Satumaa, which translates to fairyland and is also the title of a famous Finnish tango from a famous Kaurismäki film. If there is a better name for a Finnish karaoke bar than Satumaa, I cannot possibly imagine what that name could be.

We were the first singers there.

The internets had led us to believe that Satumaa was an upscale karaoke joint, with some serious talent. The latter was becoming obvious by the time we left, 1.5 hours and 5 songs later, but as fo the rest it must be stated honestly that the place was a dive. A lovely, perfect, cozy, wonderful dive. We were instantly at home. The English language selections were plentiful, and many of the tracks had the old karaoke videos from the laserdisc days, which I have sorely missed in this era of the CDG. Like the part of "Take My Breath Away," where the chick in the video begins to sing along while looking right back at the karaoke singer? Weird! Hilarious!

And the sound! Oh, the sound. Somehow, the microphone gods made this tiny thirty-foot space sound like a stadium. Like you were using your full voice but not losing any of the little, subtle touches either. By the time we left, exhausted and happy, the following things had happened:

  • a Finnish woman with a rough voice and thick accent had done "Kashmir" and "Hit the Road, Jack," both of which were actually really fun even though her voice wasn't the greatest
  • a Finnish dude who nervously rocked back and forth from one front foot to one back foot had done the best Robbie Williams I've ever heard.
  • the assistant host and a girl who was clearly a regular had performed a close-harmony duet by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. Dion! Streisand!

I can't decide whether it's a shame that Satumaa is halfway around the world from home, or a relief to know that a measly half the globe is as far away from good karaoke as I can possibly get.

RITA: Mary Jo Putney's 'The Rake and the Reformer' (and 'The Rake' Again)

Another week, another RITA Award-winner to analyze. Reminds me a little of the ghost waltz from the animated Anastasia movie.

Today's book is Mary Jo Putney's The Rake and the Reformer, the winner of Best Regency Romance in 1990. I hadn't read this one before, which means it's harder to pick out the details of technique. One thing, however, leapt right out at me: these characters felt like adults.

It's hard, in the world of the Regency romance, to get characters that feel like grown-ups. Luckily, the trend of the youthful, untouched 18-year-old who enlivens the older, jaded man is fading into the background --  hearts, Madame Heyer godsavethequeen -- but it still lurks in a lot of the structure.

I'm not the only one who noticed this aspect of the book. The notorious Mrs. Giggles said as much in her review: "oh, those days when heroines don't behave like ten-year olds!" But it's a thing that is very hard to pinpoint and emulate, much as I would like to. How do you quantify such a thing? The impression must be made in a series of tiny moments, well-placed words, and vividly well-drawn scenes. It requires a prodigious imagination, an astonishing amount of work, or -- this is the most likely -- both. It is a great achievement.

Mrs. Giggles' review brought something else to light: there are two editions of this book. I've read the earliest -- the Signet edition depicted to the right there -- but La Giggles has obviously read the re-release, and has this criticism to offer: "Reggie doesn't act like a jerk. But isn't he supposed to be a jerk?. . . Reggie is portrayed too nicely and too sympathetically."

Um -- really?

Because about halfway through the book, Reggie -- our hero, who is a full-on alcoholic with blackouts and health troubles -- lapses from his planned sobriety, gets roaring drunk, and tries to rape our heroine, whom he's already on mutually-consented-to-kissing terms with. Some choice phrases he uses during this scene: "Coyness don't suit you, Allie. I know what you want, and be m-more than happy to give it to you . . . Don't you think I know why you're always twitching around me? Underneath that proper face you're as hot as they come, and we both know it." And Allie is horrified and ashamed and fearful but not so fearful that it prevents her from hitting him with any number of heavy objects and yelling and fighting him off. And remember, this is halfway through our romance.

Reading this scene, I felt it was pushing the envelope -- or else it was harkening back to the not-so-long-ago days of Sweet, Savage Love and that one romance novel I read where the heroine was raped by Wagner. (Yes, THE Wagner. It was strange.) And because it was scary, and dangerous, and unprovoked, and mean, it raised the stakes like they rarely get raised for rakes these days. Every frequent romance reader knows that the dangerous rake with the dastardly reputation is not really that bad, deep down. A heroine's reputation may be ruined in the course of the book by her association with the hero, but usually instances of actual, honest-to-goodness abuse are limited to emotional distance and a slight coolness soon shattered by the Sexy Sexy Times the hero and heroine insist on having at intervals convenient to the narrative.

Reggie, on the other hand, is actually, physically, emotionally dangerous. He may well be a terrible choice as a lover, and not simply because Allie's reputation may suffer. She has a strong incentive to not want to spend time with Reggie ever again, after this incident. Of course, they end up happily -- but Ms. Putney makes it a plausible ending, which Reggie has to earn and work toward. Which means, naturally, that this scene's location in the exact center of the novel is no coincidence, but rather a canny bit of planning on the author's part.

Yes, there are plenty of moments where Reggie is otherwise proved not as bad as reputation would have it, but it does matter that we have this particular scene played out with no other witnesses, just Allie and Reggie -- and the reader.

At least, the reader who gets the Signet edition. When romances are reissued, it is not uncommon for the author to also take the opportunity to rewrite them, just a little bit. A book is never really finished, not even for novice aspirants like myself. And these are people Ms. Putney spent a lot of time with when she created them, which the reissue allowed her to revisit and relearn. Mrs. Giggles' opinion that Reggie was too sympathetic either indicates that her standards of villainy are far more demanding than mine -- or else quite a bit of the book was revised when it was put out under the shortened title, The Rake.

What I want to know is this: did she change anything about the near-rape in the reissue? The cheap copy I found on the interwebs should tell me: further bulletins as events warrant.

NGD Preparatory Academy, Vol. 3

One of the most surreal aspects of the Practical is its long passages of sample sentences. After a time, they begi to read like the finest surrealist literature. Take this paragraph, from the section on verbs: Our pastoral scene in the beginning (horse, stable, corn) gives way to an apparent family drama in the vein of William Faulkner (Robert's glance, smoke, knives, parched earth). There is a sudden and inexplicable threat from nature (a tiger!) which is just as inexplicably dispatched (the serpent crushes the tiger!). We are left with matters unresolved (the bird on the fence). The next paragraph:

The destructive violence of pagan Rome (Brutus, Mummius) gives way to the wonder of creation and the iron hand of George Washington. Birds and water in the next sentences seem to indicate the utopian ideals of the young American country on the morning of its birth, which is supported by the upright moral tone of the good man avoiding vice. The boy's stumble, the woman's sins, and the mud, however, indicate that this perfect project has become less than idyllic, even as the final sentence implies that those utopian ideals are still the goal (up the hill).

The strangest of all:

Again, the pastoral (mother, oxen) gives way to something darker (one man's debt and another's wealth). The turning wheel of the boy indicates the wheel of fate, a change in each character's position. Now it is the other man who is rich (possesses a large estate). The boy's fire is an omen of danger, of this John who has sinister plans that our narrator is prescient enough to uncover. Despite this knowledge, our narrator fails in his confrontation with John, and the last sentence on the price of the book -- the book you are holding in your hands as you read this, perhaps? -- indicates just how far he has fallen in the course of the narrative's unfolding.

Supposedly, of course, there is no connection between these sentences. They are grammatical exercises, meant to help the reader become comfortable with picking out the verb and its subject. But the fact that they are placed in paragraphs confuses the matter a little bit. If they were listed out, it would not feel so much like a story. But in paragraphs, you start to assume there must be an inherent connection between the scenes that unfold. Otherwise, how would you know where to put the paragraph breaks? Why not have just one long text block?

Somehow, this section on verbs gets near the heart of storytelling without realizing it. The Practical likes to think of itself as being clear and concise and rigid. Everything can be put into a box, classified and categorized and labeled to within an inch of its life. But then in the verb section, the reader is present with the following exercise:

Suddenly it is time for Victorian Mad Libs.

Verbs really are the heart of story. You can leave out almost any other part of speech -- adjectives and adverbs in particular, according to every piece of writing advice everywhere -- but you have to have the verbs, even if they're abstract and otherworldly things like think or worry or imagine. Even Victorian Mad Libs, with its collection of the world's most mundane nouns, can't protect itself from the potential of becoming either a stomach-emptying gore-fest (The dog exsanguinated on the grass) or a Proustian philosophical narrative (Time reverses swiftly) or anything else you like.

Not Enough Swear Words

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to say that my hard drive burned itself out today like a disco queen on laced cocaine. The love of my life was kind enough to loan me his computer until I can get mine resurrected or reincarnated, so at least I can keep writing and playing games on the internet -- oh, Prolific, my life's blood -- but even though very little is lost it still feels crushing and catastrophic.

I remember the first time I lost a story. It was summer, and I was about fifteen or so, and I had this whole huge fantasy teen romance based on Cinderella that I was very excited about and very carefully inscribing in a notebook. Invading kingdoms, false identities, magic wands -- it was intricate, I tell you, and I can't remember the half of it. And because I couldn't bear to leave it alone even for the space of a week, I took it with me on our yearly eastern Washington camping trip.

As part of this trip, we went to a water park in the middle of a wide stretch of desert, which wasn't quite as hedonistic as the indoor skiing area in Dubai but was as close as teenaged me was likely to get. When we returned to the car, I peeked in and thought it was strange that the backseat was covered with ice when it was so hot out. And then Mom started fretting and I realized that no, it wasn't ice -- it was the glass from the window of the car. Some very unsubtle criminal had busted in the window and taken -- well, I don't remember the details of what they took except that it included my backpack, a very expensive-looking hiker's pack they must have thought was full of God knows what. What it actually contained was my story notebook, the Everyman's Library edition of Jane Eyre, and about fifty Always brand ultra-thin feminine hygiene products with Flexi-wings (TM) that I earnestly hope they enjoyed.

And there I stood, feeling sick to my stomach, and not just because I now had to publicly announce why we needed to stop by a grocery store on the way back to camp.

The second time I lost stories, it was because a computer was stolen. By this time I was out of college and living in what may be charitably called a dump of a house in Seattle's University District. One of my housemates asked to borrow my computer to check his email when I went to bed, and I acquiesced. In the morning, I noticed it was not on the couch where he usually left it after such incidents, but I was running late to work and thought nothing of it. When it failed to reappear after a thorough search when I came home, I gave my housemate a call.

"Have you checked under the couch cushions?" he asked. As though a lost computer were the equivalent of paperclips and fuzz-covered mixed nuts. I told him no, yelled for a little while, and then called the police who were very polite when they showed up six hours later.

This was rougher than the first time: the stolen computer had contained all my undergraduate academic work as well as the just-for-fun things I'd managed to jot down along the way. (Three words: "Jane Austen's Medea.") I couldn't seem to stop crying. To this day I entertain paranoid fantasies that the girl this housemate was hooking up with at the time -- and who left for a study-abroad quarter in Berlin the very next day -- had been the one to steal it.

The third time was two years ago, when a software update automatically installed itself, froze the computer, and blitzed the hard drive when I attempted in my ignorance to reboot. Something about the fresh-faced superiority of the Apple Genius Bar can really bring the shame home like nobody's business, believe you me.

Today's computer death marks the fourth time I've lost things half-finished and tentative, and strangely it has made me both angry and energized. If fate decrees a fresh start, then damn it I'm going to fresh-start it like you've never seen it fresh-started before. I might try and rewrite the whole thing without even looking at the now-very-altered second draft of the story that's been giving me trouble. You think that's crazy? Probably -- but watch me!

See that, technology, you fickle and frustrating beast? You can slow me down, and make me cry, and make me swear in chains of curse words like the DNA of some vast and complicated chimera, but ultimately you cannot win. And if I still fail, at least I'll fail on my own terms.

Monsters of the Brain

Preschool me wanted to be an archaeologist because it was the longest word I could spell and dinosaurs were awesome. They had long necks! Feathers! Sharp teeth! Scaly skin! These were huge real-life monsters, totally unlike the tame dogs, cats, birds, and insects that were the only animals I saw on a daily basis in my suburban neighborhood. They had fancy Latin names that meant wonderful things: thunder lizard, tyrant king, swift stealer, bird lookalike. I read every dinosaur book I could get my hands on. . . . but fortunately not one like this.

I was not yet twelve when the alchemy of Jurassic Park turned the lead of my curiosity into pure 24-carat terror. Even I knew this was crazy: Veliciraptors are all dead, I told myself repeatedly. Velociraptors are all dead, everywhere. It did not help.

The mystery was only solved years later when I was cleaning my bedroom and came across a forgotten book from my childhood: How to Keep Dinosaurs. There were convincing illustrations of people with dinosaurs as pets, as vermin, as cattle, as transportation. The details were impressively realistic: when riding an ornithomimus, the walk and canter gaits are quite pleasant, but the trot is a bone-jarring nightmare. The riders wore those black felt dressage hats and jodhpurs. And yes, there were velociraptors in there.

I had read this book hundreds of times.

I'd been conned by my own brain.

All the time I was reading the nonfiction dinosaur books and then going back to this fictionalized dinosaur book. The contradictions had never been resolved: instead, I had kept two stories going in my head, the one where dinosaurs lived millions of years ago in prehistoric jungles, and the one where you kept a Triceratops in a paddock out back. This second story was a secret I'd kept from myself until one measly action flick gave it a poke and sent it scurrying into the light.

Fiction could mess with the world. I am still getting over the shock.

Dixitque Alicia fiat blog . . .

. . . et facta est blog. Which is to say: And Alicia said let a blog come forth, and indeed a blog came forth.

And so now you know the unsounded depths and vertiginous heights of my egotism.

But really I just cannot resist any excuse for a good Latin quotation. 4868_108559033658_500668658_2820331_3851135_n