An electrifying museum

Spark museum signThis little town where I now make my home, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Cascades, would not be the first place you would think of if you were to consider the establishment of a museum dedicated to electricity in general and radio in particular, but here it is.

When I did a Literature Live event at Village Books for the Worldweavers series, the guy from this museum, Tana Granack, turned up with a portable Tesla Coil and proceeded to wow everybody with a fireworks display  never before seen in the Village Books reading room. The museum has a particular fondness for Tesla and he is amply represented in the exhibits. How could he not be, the New Wizard of the West, the man who invented the 21st century.
Alma and the Tesla coil pgotoAlma and the Tesla sparks
There are five unique collections which lead into one another. They are a mixture of audio-visual presentations, dioramas, more traditional discrete exhibits on shelves and in glass cases. There’s a little bit for everybody out here – for the kids who come to learn, for the adults who come to indulge in unashamed nostalgia.

You make a sharp right as you come in, straight into the The Dawn of the Electrical Age: Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries gallery. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Age of Enlightenment – the time in which electricity began to be more fully understood not as magic but as science. But it was STILL magic, this early on. This was the era of Ben Franklin and his legendary kites, Leyden Jars, experiments with static electricity.

You remember the times you got zapped when you were a kid – I recall climbing down a staircase in our high-class hotel on a winter holiday, and making the mistake of reaching out for a metal banister while wearing a woollen sweater positively stuffed with static electricity. The blue-white spark that leaped between the banister and my fingers – and which HURT! – was a Mystery of Life, the spark of life itself. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on the awe and majesty of the actinic blue arc which spanned the empty space between myself and that metal tube.

It was one of the most fundamental WOW moments of my childhood – it must have been because I can’t have been more than eight at the time and I still have an extremely clear mental image of this event.  

This museum – it just brings back that WOW moment. The early age of electricity-as-miracle gives way to the next gallery – Electricity Sparks Invention: Electricity in the 19th Century, the Industrial Age, the entry of electricity into homes where it brought light and a myriad other useful applications, the telephone, the telegraph. The world changed, fundamentally, and the way we all lived and thought and behaved and believed changed with it.

This place has the telephone used in the first transcontinental phone call – how cool is THAT? And how suddenly astonishing and somehow almost unbelievable it is to equate this to the way we take it all for granted today, that we can call somebody in Japan or in Germany and be instantly connected, that we all wander around glued to our cell phones.

This whole thing led to The Wireless Age: The Rise Of Radio. Again, it is difficult to imagine a time when radio contact was not a given. This particular gallery has a room dedicated to the event which helped to bring radio and its blessings into the forefront of human endeavor and imagination – the Titanic disaster, and recordings of the radio distress call placed by the ship as it met its epic end in the icy ocean. This is a living moment of history; listen to the tinny crackling voice on the recording, close your eyes, you’re there, you’re with that proud ship as it begs for help, your heart can’t help but beat faster. You learn – first-hand, from a moment so long ago – what it means to be IN CONTACT, what it means not to be alone. Electricity did this. Radio did this. The science of the human race and kindred did this. WE did this.

These days we can track a ship, an airplane, or a spaceship in trouble, we can communicate with miners trapped a mile underground, we can talk to the stars. We’ve come a long way from the Titanic, baby.

But we had to start somewhere…And we started by adopting this whole new technology, as a given, as our due, and we built a civilization on it – Radio Enters the Home. News broadcasts. Cultural events. The harbigingers of “War of the worlds”. By the end of the twenties almost two thirds of American households owned a radio set… and we were on the threshold of something else altogether.

The Golden Age of Radio. This particular gallery shows off the radio sets which were so much part of an average household – the kind that even I (pipsqueak that I am) begin to remember clearly. The large sets with woven yellow rattan kind of frontages, the large black bakelite knobs you turned to tune the thing and the whine and crackle of static as you rolled across the airwaves seeking the frequency you wanted. They crowd the shelves of the museum, these radios, some of them large enough to be free-standing pieces of furniture on their own. And already they were becoming obsolete, because a new thing was coming… TELEVISION. Poor old radio could not compete. Oh, it’s still around – but it isn’t the same thing that it was all those years ago.

Looking at these magnificent specimens, we’re straddling Then and Now, one foot firmly in the twenty first century as our cellphones slumber in our pockets and one ankle-deep in nostalgia, washing around our toes like the ocean on our first sight of the sea – just as memorable, just as intoxicating, a part of our shared past and our shared curiosity as a species, our history disappearing into the static as the knobs are turned and each new shining discovery is superseded by the next incredible and amazing thing that we have managed to put together, to comprehend, to find uses for. We really can be something special when we set our minds to it.

You step out again, into the real world, feeling just a little intoxicated with it all. It’s AMAZING. And it’s all right here, in little old Bellingham by the sea, unexpected and invigorating and wonderful.

But let me leave you with a story about another aspect of the museum – its sense of playfulness.

You see, it boasts… a theremin. And the last time we were there, the theremin had been discovered by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee. We know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it!“ The kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. You could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.

And perhaps that was a good envoi for us all. The world is a place where we trip over impossible dreams with every step that we take.

Sometimes it takes a museum to make you remember that.


Visit the Spark Museum HERE

~~~~~
Terry Prachett photoHorizontal vs. Vertical Wealth

What happens when a horizontally wealthy person like Terry Prachett goes from $30,000 a year to $3 million?

Read the whole story HERE

~~~~~
The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

He didn’t do it alone,

Read the whole story at The New Yorker HERE

~~~~~
Cat’s Best Romance Reads of 2016

I had a great reading year with so many 5 Star reads.  And I needed it with so much going wrong. Here is a little sweet to ease the sour of this day. Here are my best Romance Reads…in no particular order. 1. Dark Deeds by Michelle Diener- Excellent Science Fiction Romance. 

See her choices HERE

~~~~~
‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile
A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.
Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

~~~~~
author illustrationYOU CAN HELP ME WRITE: As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

~~~~~
About me    My books    Email me    

If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway. 

My life in a castle

When I was a young teen living with my family in Swaziland, my parents decided to ship me off to Lowther College, a well-regarded English boarding school, for a year. Don’t ask, it’s complicated.

Now Lowther College was situated in a castle – this one:
Castle AutumnBodelwyddan Castle was a real honest-to-goodness Victorian pile of a castle, turrets and portcullis gates and wood paneling and all. It was a magnificent place to go to school.

And, BTW, it was haunted. By a real ghost.

Using the ghost stories as a basis, the senior girls attempted to scare the junior boarders spitless one year by having one of their number dress up in a trailing white sheet and wander the halls wailing, carrying a pumpkin under her arm as her ‘head’.

Things went swimmingly until the ‘ghost’ turned around and saw… the REAL ghost… standing at the head of the stairs which she was about to go down. Let’s just say the screaming wasn’t just the JUNIOR boarders.

The place had odd things happening in it all the time. There would be footsteps in the corridor when nobody was there. And people woke up in the middle of the night in time to see the bedclothes on their beds indent gently, as though somebody had just sat down on the bed, when it was painfully obvious that there was nobody there to have done so. I heard that ghost myself, walking the halls. I swear it.

Lowther College folded in 1982, only a few short years after I left it. The castle, from what I could gather, went through an attempt at gentrification where it became a corporate retreat resort for a time. In the end it became… a museum.

The Lowther College years were acknowledged in an exhibit and I suppose I really am a wandering exhibit of that particular section of the museum myself, being a Lowther girl.

But the rest of it… has been prettified and restored and redone to the point that I couldn’t really find my way around when I visited the castle years later. I couldn’t pinpoint which room I had slept in, where exactly the wood-paneled library was where a visiting author came to speak to my class and, with her words, handed me my life wrapped up like a Christmas present, ensuring that I too would become a writer.

Nor could I find the refectory hall, where we ate food completely unlike the Hogwarts feasts of Rowling’s books and where I acquired a lasting aversion to any food which is PINK. But I did acquire a lasting addiction to Bourbon Creams, Custard Creams, Ginger Snaps and other English cookies with which they graced our English afternoon teas. I could not find any of it, any living trace of that schook, amongst the halls which are now festooned by portaiture and landscapes in ornate gilt frames and period furniture on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Lowther exhibit let me step through it into my own past. It all came back to me, ethereal like that drifting ghost whose identity I never learned.
There comes the echo of laughter – of my crying into my pillow some nights when my housemistress was particularly mean to me (and she WAS mean to me) – of a room-mate in one of the castle rooms which had been changed into sleeping quarters for the boarders standing on her bed and acting out Helen Reddy’s “I am woman hear me roar”, a song which I still cannot hear without vividly remembering that girl planted firmly on her bed in her stocking feet, one hand on hip and the other flung out theatrically to point at the rest of us as if in exhortation.

Other memories: the dusting of first snow, and our running out to take photographs in the winter wonderland with the castle as the backdrop – of the oogy dirty-old-man history teacher who would occasionally preside over a table in the refectory at dinner and offer a plate of exotic fruit around with a leer and a sleazy, “Would you like a date dear?”

– of the old-fashioned claw tubs in the bathrooms – of the clock ticking in silence while we all bent over our exam papers in the great hall – of the time the school choir, to which I belonged, took part in a multi-choir and choral society public concert of Benjamin Britten’s “St Nicholas” in St Asaph Cathedral – of the chickenpox scare that threatened a swift and inglorious end to my boarding school year and graduation from high school with a British diploma

– of outings to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company (which included Glenda Jackson, Patrick Stewart and Alan Rickman) perform “Antony and Cleopatra” – of days of persistent grey English rain, of games in soaking green fields where you sometimes had to be rather careful of the resident flock of sheep’s “calling cards” in the grass.

To today’s visitors, all of this is now part of a museum. To me, it’s part of a life, a life I’ve lived, my own personal history, my own past. Sometimes, a museum is not just dusty exhibits under glass.

Look at me.

I am a living part of this museum.

Me, and that ghost, who I hope hasn’t been driven away by all the hoopla. I never got the impression that it was malevolent or evil – perhaps it rather enjoyed having the company of all those shrieking young women, something that gave a sense of fun and a sense of purpose to its afterlife.

If you ever visit Bodelwyddan Castle, look out for the ghost. And tell it I said Hi.

~~~~~
“Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile

A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.

Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

~~~~~
Quote of the Day

Quote Josh Whedon poster
~~~~~
author illustrationHELP ME WRITE: As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Go HERE

~~~~~
About me    My books    Email me

If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway.

Most Romantic Quotes In Literature

Romantic quotes posterAlice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” ―Alfred Tennyson

Read more at Buzzfeed HERE 

~~~~~
Three Romance Novelists Discuss Their Craft

Q: What makes the romance community such a fun and vibrant one?

CD Reiss photoCD REISS: I used to write mysteries…and I picked up a few fans. I thought I really had something going there. But when I started writing romance I discovered what real fandom was. I never met a group of people more passionate about their genre.

I think the reason is that romance touches the heart instead of the mind. When you reach readers who want you to open them up and break their heart, you’re reaching people who prioritize love and understanding.

See the whole story at the LARB website HERE

~~~~~
Striking photos of readers around the world

Reader in Serbia photoMKS Steelworks, Serbia, Yugoslavia, 1989 (Credit: Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos)

Steve McCurry’s photos of readers, spanning 30 countries

Readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment,” writes Paul Theroux in the foreword to the new Phaidon book Steve McCurry: On Reading.

Read the whole story HERE

~~~~~
‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile

A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors you may know – e.g. Jane Yolen– and some who may be unfamiliar to you but have a visceral connection with the pain of exile. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Loosely translated it reads:

Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky
Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven
Bitter is the bread in that place
Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.

Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

~~~~~
Quote of the Day

There is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading” ~ Paul Theroux

~~~~~
author illustration As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

~~~~~

About me    My books    Email me    

If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway.