The Grey Dog Grief

When I took a part-time job, it seemed only logical that I should use my new days off to Write the Novel, or to keep a proper blog, or something – because that was what I’d always said, that I didn’t have enough time.

But the months ticked over and I hadn’t written much of anything. If you play a stringed instrument, you’ll know when a string goes dead; it’s got a flat quality to it, and the note doesn’t hang in the air after it’s plucked. You’ve got to restring it, then. A lot of people won’t notice the difference, but you will.

A musician cannot abide a dead string.

That’s how my writing’s been for the past few months – lacking reverb, painful. I’ll wince at how the notes don’t hang together, how the writing lacks its shimmer and sends you away with an empty belly. It is not something that inherently needs curing; it’s just not what I want on my blog.

I’ve been circling around a post on Tolkien and history for twelve weeks like a maddened knitter searching for a dropped stitch. Where is the thread that ties this all together? Without the good kernel at its heart, it’s just ten pages of angry research, nothing we haven’t read before. It doesn’t have to be good, and god forbid I should ever make anything perfect; but it’s got to be honest and ring like a struck bell.

Writer’s block occurs when you try to draw up water from an empty well. It happens to everyone. I had just hoped it wouldn’t happen during my nine valuable once-in-a-lifetime months of part-time work. The only solution is to fill the well.

But first you must know why it’s empty.

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The Bowl, The Ram And The Folded Map: Navigating The Complicated World

The writer Carlo Levi said:

The future has an ancient heart.

Consider these two traditional bowls. Later there will be a short quiz on them.

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the ram

The problem with having two evolutionary biologists in the car is the arguments.

We were driving past the wet English pastures, carpeted as usual with gentle sheep. Their fleeces were heavy and baggy, saturated with rain, but they moved in their usual dreamy trance across the landscape like rainclouds passing across the fields of heaven. It was a few days after Christmas and the rivers were starting to rise. Dr Glass was driving.

“What are you thinking about?”

“A thing I saw on Tumblr,” I said. “A vegan group had put up a picture of a badly shorn sheep to claim that wool is a product of animal cruelty. Below it was a discussion between shepherds and vegans. While there are many ways to be cruel and abusive while raising sheep, a problem with the statement that wool=cruelty is that domestic sheep do need to be sheared.” I looked at the soggy sheep. “That’s what I was thinking about, looking at these wet sheep. Imagine carrying around all of those pounds of soaking wet wool, like a sponge. I know it’s somewhat waterproof, but I can’t imagine how they don’t get… mildew.”

Need to be sheared.” Dr Glass pounced on this. “Why do sheep need to be sheared?”

I responded with knowledge I had received from shepherding friends and family: “If you don’t remove their fleeces, they can collapse of heat exhaustion. They’re heavy and dirty, and inconvenient and uncomfortable for the sheep.”

Sometimes you can hear Dr Glass think. Right now he was slightly annoyed, in the pursuit of something: obviously a product of domestication, but how/why/where/when? What kind of animal “needs” human intervention to survive? “And what do sheep do in the wild?”

I had to think about this.

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Under Glass Around the Net

Three Places where I’ve Written This Week That Weren’t Here:

 

  1. The first Logbook entry at “Oh! Sweet Cleo,” my experimental narrowboat blog. The Grey Forest.
  2. A New Guest Post at Memetic Drifting. Illustrated Compendium of Search Terms: Memetic Drift Edition.
  3. A new Guest Post at Captain Awkward. Muddling Productively In Search of Romance.

 

Perhaps, if you are interested, you may enjoy partaking of them.

The Ballad of Birdy Bum

Dear ones, I have been distracted by the looming mass unemployment of the House of Glass, which will be tempered by the possible migration of the House of Glass onto a type of ludicrous-yet-adorable vessel called an English narrowboat. So since March 12, the last post here, I have:

  • had a bank-holiday canal boat trip to see if we turned out to be allergic to boats, and faced the remarkable store of characters and landscapes that England keeps in its back pockets for these occasions. There were gongoozlers and attack swans and madmen and magical locks and bridges that swung open and stopped traffic with a secret key, and early mists and dappled sun and cold mornings with hot tea and ducklings, landscapes like Narnia, like the Shire, like Wind in the Willows and Watership Down and Harry Potter. I covered myself in grease and glory and spent most of the time half-terrified wishing we had packed alcohol. I am sure that I almost lost Dr Glass and the 50-foot steel narrowboat to a vicious attack lock which tried to hold them underwater, and I certainly almost killed myself pulling them off the cill, which proves that I am either wildly exaggerating the danger or actually capable of superhuman feats of strength under duress.
  • gone to Crick Boat Show to see if we proved to be allergic to boats upon closer inspection.
  • performed stand-up comedy in the name of Science, doing a Science Showoff double act with the clever and interesting Emily.
  • stopped biting/peeling my nails, breaking the habit of a lifetime, becoming an instant devotee of fine manicures and nail polish.
  • gone on job interviews, as our funding sources are drying up. got shot down. picked selves back up, dusted selves off, and started looking at slightly smaller boats.
  • had my first first-author paper come out.
  • had a different bank holiday in the South of France, clambered over Carcassonne, hiked the giddy crumbling heights of Peyrepeteuse, and saw the vines, the golden fields, the Mountain at the End of the World. Dr Glass does not do French, and I remain obtusely American. At one point, while purchasing groceries, I realized that everybody else had brought their own bags. Madam, I addressed the clerk, forgetting the word for “bag,” Have you a box – but a box that is not a box? She answered, as graciously as possible: A bag, you mean? I said, Yes, Madam, thank you, a bag, we will have two. And then I immediately forgot the word for “bag,” and can only remember a-box-that-is-not-a-box. Hopefully it will not come up again.

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And we just came back from a weekend spent viewing some narrowboats with an eye to purchase, which will underline how star-stoppingly unreal our lives have gotten.

So now that we have piled up the Excuses Not to Blog, here is a guest post on Captain Awkward for you to read, and the Ballad of Birdy Bum.

The Ballad of Birdy Bum

Walking to work this morning, I saw this on the sidewalk. This is a baby birdy bum sticking out into the street. He has stuffed his tiny head into this tiny hole in the stone wall.

Walking to work this morning, I saw this on the sidewalk. This is a baby birdy bum sticking out into the street. He has stuffed his tiny head into this tiny hole in the stone wall.

I was immediately overcome with sympathy and empathy. This baby birdy bum has a big problem. He has fallen from the nest onto a busy Bristol street. He is about the size of a large date, he is the most vulnerable thing in the world, his situation is far beyond his skills or abilities to cope with, and he has no friends or family to help him. His solution to this problem is to scope out the gigantic stone wall separating himself from safety, and to stuff his head into a tiny hole in it. THERE, FIXED NOW. WE CAN'T SEE HIM. SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL

I was immediately overcome with sympathy and empathy. This baby birdy bum has a big problem. He has fallen from the nest onto a busy Bristol street. He is about the size of a large date, he is the most vulnerable thing in the world, his situation is far beyond his skills or abilities to cope with, and he has no friends or family to help him. His solution to this problem is to scope out the gigantic stone wall separating himself from safety, and to stuff his head into a tiny hole in it. THERE, FIXED NOW. WE CAN’T SEE HIM. SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL

 

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I know those feels, baby birdy bum. You are like a symbolic representation of the Millenial Generation. I am so sorry about all this.

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We’ve all been here, haven’t we? We laugh at him, sure, but we can’t really judge.

It’s a common misconception that if you touch a baby bird, the parents will not take it back because THEY SMELL THE TAINT OF HUMAN HANDS ON ITS FEATHERS. If you think about this for more than five seconds, you’ll realize how stupid this is – the actual reason that you shouldn’t handle a baby bird is because you will injure it, possibly fatally. Do NOT pick up, grab, squeeze, grip, pinch or drag a baby bird. I would not do this, and am confident enough in my small-animal-handling skills that I can give a baby mouse a manicure, pedicure and attractive ear piercing before it realizes I’ve picked it up. Think of the damage you can do to a tasty barbecue chicken wing, then look at birdy bum’s little body and how crushable it is! So: you can rescue a baby bird, just don’t close your fingers over it.

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You CAN give it a little nudge with your finger to get its attention (AWW LOOK AT THE LITTLE FACE) and encourage it to hop aboard a leaf elevator. You can lie to the little bird and tell it that this is a magic elevator, if it is still very young.

 This bird was young enough to believe that the leaf elevator was indeed magical. The correct thing to do with a healthy, nearly-grown nestling like this is to place it in a high place, where the parents will find it. You can also pretend you are sending them to Hogwarts.


This bird was young enough to believe that the leaf elevator was indeed magical.
The correct thing to do with a healthy, nearly-grown nestling like this is to place it in a high place, where the parents will find it. You can also pretend you are sending them to Hogwarts.

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Baby birdy bum rescued! ResCUTE? He promptly hid his face behind a leaf, which works better than the hole idea, since the leaves are actually big enough to hide him. Anyway, he should be fine here – and if he isn’t, it’s all part of the Great Circle of Life.
It is tempting to think that it would be cute to collect and raise the birdy bum if his parents don’t find him, but he would probably die more quickly in our care.
The moral of the story is to give things the help they need, not always the help you want to give.
Here ends the ballad of birdy bum.

 

Plains of Paradox: Lost Villages, Great Bustards and Evil Badgers

Plains of Paradox: Lost Villages, Great Bustards and Evil Badgers

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Wiltshire! The mystical land that my husband hails from. It’s a rural English county that is mostly made of green velvet and gently glowing scenery. The natives decorate the rolling hills with white horses (see above) and sprinkle them with sheep.

Actually, pretty much all of the landscape looks like promotional posters for some a rural propaganda campaign:

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COME TO THE COUNTRYSIDE. LOOK HOW HAPPY THE SHEEP ARE.

Wiltshire is the kindly West. It’s basically the Shire.

With abandoned tanks in it.

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TANKS FOR STOPPING BY!

Which is kind of a contradiction, and one that interests me.

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The Rainbow In Your Hands: Protocols for Hand-Painting Yarn

this is an artsy craft blog now. artsy craft blogs are cool, right? ...?

Figure One.

What did you do this weekend, Elodie?

Nothing much. Met the Awkward Army, put the world to rights. Learned a bit of materials science and inadvertently created a new kind of polystyrene plastic in my kitchen.

Made a rainbow.

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In the aftermath of the unicorn dissection…

The richly glowing skein in Figure One is a sumptuous, hand-painted rainbow yarn that I dyed myself. With food coloring. And SCIENCE. You won’t find colors like that in a store…

And at the risk of becoming a craft blog (SCIENCE CRAFTS!) I’m going to tell you how to do it.

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Elodie’s Compendium of Illustrated Search Terms, Volume II

Let’s lighten the mood in here with another Illustrated Compendium! All of these search terms are 100% genuine reasons why various people found my blog. What were they looking for? Did they ever find it? What do they want? Who are they? The following illustrations are my attempts to solve these mysteries. (For the interested and confused, partake of Elodie’s Illustrated Compendium of Search Terms Part One)

“A wild animal shouting is also tired”

a wild animal shouting is also tired

wild animals get cranky!

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SMASH SEXIST SCIENCE REPORTING: “Lady in the Lab”

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Cover of “Heart Matters,” Jan Feb 2013, vol 47. A woman must be an angel in the kitchen…

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog that is not affiliated with any research institution, funding body or charity. The British Heart Foundation is a very nice charity that does amazing things – donate your used goods to them today! This piece has not been endorsed by Professor B. Casadei or any member of her research group, and should not reflect upon her or her opinions in any way. As someone who writes frequently about sexism in science culture, I believe that criticizing the following article from a gender-egalitarian perspective will move the field forward, reduce the levels of sexism in science, and possibly improve reporting quality in the future.

       The British Heart Foundation is a popular and beloved charity in Britain, funding over half of the cardiovascular research performed in the British Isles. Non-academic readers may be surprised to learn that charitable funding is how a lot of scientists pay the rent.

   For me, this is one reason why consistent, trustworthy, high-quality science communication is so important. The public pays our wages, whether by charity or by tax dollars. Public interest and public trust is vital if we want to cure cancer, heal hearts, save the environment, fight off meteors, survive climate change and understand the meaning of life. None of this can happen without you guys. Thank you so much for your help and support.

    So when I see really terrible, sexist science reporting occurring in the pages of the British Heart Foundation’s magazine, well … it breaks my little heart. (Which is ironic.) I believe that science communication at every level is charged with moving the field forward, and I believe that it should be held responsible when it breaks that trust.

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