Saturday, January 26, 2019


Found this interesting link by prolific science-fiction author, historian, and translator Brian Stableford on Mme. de Villeneuve, the French author who first set down the Beauty and the Beast story in print in 1740. Stableford celebrates Villeneuve (Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot) as a pioneer of sci-fi/fantasy, citing her La Belle et la Bete as " the eighteenth-century work that most closely resembles modern generic fantasy novels."

However, it's the heavily abridged and altered rewrite of the tale published in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont that has become the standard version of the tale —  even though Stableford calls it  "a conscious and corrupt plagiarism of a far more innovative and interesting original." He praises the largely forgotten Villeneuve as "a far more complicated and more sophisticated writer than a superficial reading of the Beauty/Beast motif implies," and cites "the nature and intensity of her imagination."

I was aware of these dueling versions of the tale (but not in so much interesting detail!) when I wove both authors' names into Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. In my book, the Beaumonts have more or less eclipsed the power and prestige of their Villeneuve cousins, claiming the Villeneuve reputation, like Beast's disputed chateau, for their own — as Mme. Beaumont claimed the Beauty/Beast story for her own, all but eclipsing the stalwart efforts of Mme. Villeneuve.

Obviously, Mme. Le Prince de Beaumont had a much more deft hand at self-promotion, judging by this fanciful portrait by contemporary illustrator Binette Schroeder for a 1986 edition of the tale! Did La Beaumont really keep a cheetah on a leash? Or is it all just metaphor?

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Navigating Life's Obstacles, by James Aschbacher
Fate does not like to be tempted. Just when you dare to think you’ve got it all under control, she’s ready to smack you with some new, unforeseen obstacle. So it’s wise to never indulge in platitudes like, “Well, at least the worst is over.”

Remember the trash compactor scene in Star Wars? It can always get worse.

I thought the worst thing that could ever happen to me was losing my Art Boy. And that’s still number one at the top of the list, edging out the Trump administration and the zombie apocalypse. (Wait, aren’t those last two the same thing?)

But that doesn’t mean that Fate is done with me. She still has a few nasty tricks up her sleeve, as I discovered about two weeks ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t stand up. Now, diagnosed with MS about 4 years ago, I’ve been getting accustomed to mobility issues — mostly in walking distances, or standing up for too long. But to stand up at bedside, only to sink immediately to the floor and have to start crawling around? That’s new.

True, my flavor of MS is called Progressive, but I expected the progress to be a little more gradual than overnight!

Thus began my 51/2 day sojourn at Dominican. I confess, for months, I’ve been hoping for some kind of time-out, to to take a break from bill-paying, and banking, and taxes, and, you know, sorrow. I longed for time to just be still, take a few deep yoga breaths, and get a grip. But lying prone on a hospital bed was not what I had in mind.

Truth be told, there were many times in the dark days after losing James that I was ready to go too. In the old ’70s sitcom, Sanford and Son, when things didn’t go right for the rascally widower played by Redd Foxx, he’d grasp his heart and cry to the heavens, “I’m comin’ Elizabeth!” There were moments at Dominican when I started to feel like that. Is it my turn next?

Who doesn't crave a little time-out? Just say yes.
And for the first two days, overnight in ER and then in a room upstairs the next day, when I mostly slept, I was okay with that.

My best friend was feeding my cat, and texting me daily updates. (“Here’s a picture of Bella just before she hissed at me!”) And all the post-James business piling up on my actual desktop at home, most of it requiring my immediate attention, like, yesterday? I was ready to let it all go. My brain had left the building.

But, dimly, I began to perceive that nothing makes a person feel more helpless than an extended stay in a hospital. No matter how doting and caring and attentive the staff is — and the staff at Dominican was great — or perhaps because of all that doting attention, it becomes too easy to let that secret part of you that just wants to be taken care of all the time take over. To lie there and just say yes — to everything.

So at some point, I began to rally. Maybe it was when I was able to get in and out of bed unassisted, or when I discovered a bathroom around the corner in my room (who knew?) that I could use like a grown-up. Maybe it was when I asked them to bring a chair into my room so I could eat meals sitting up, not reclining on the bed like some kind of debauched Roman senator.
An urgent message from my Spirit Guide!
Maybe it was when one of the physical therapists brought me a walker (and unplugged my IV unit from the wall) so I could start navigating around the corridors outside my room, visit the nurses’ station to recycle a pile of newspapers brought by my friends, and get to the shower room where I could — finally!!! — wash my hair!

But mostly, it was James, my Spirit Guide, giving me a stern talking-to. He would have battled like a Klingon to hold onto this life, if only he’d had the chance. “Don’t even think about letting go!” he warned me. I shuddered at the amount of ’splaining I’d have to do if I opted for the easy way out, the path of least resistance.

Heartbroken is one thing. But losing heart is a choice I decided not to make.

The upshot is, they couldn’t find anything wrong with me to explain what happened. After a CT scan, EKGs, ultrasound, two days of MRIs, and monitoring my vitals every 2.8 seconds, their collective best guess was a random MS episode. A glitch.

They intended to keep trying until they found something. Another four days in acute rehab was recommended, but I’m with Amy Winehouse on that one. Home is the best place to remember how to be me again.

Thursday, January 3, 2019


"Moving On," by James Aschbacher

I recently found this lovely tribute on James Aschbacher’s memorial page online:

“Reading about James, I see this whimsical art came from his soul. Although I didn't know him, I love him through his art. I know he is creating beautiful art on the Other Side.”

That’s how I like to think of him. In fact, in my original idea for this year’s Christmas card, James was cheerfully painting a mural on the Pearly Gates.

(But I abandoned that idea because it was too conceptual, and too complicated to draw. )

Besides, not sure if I go along with the whole Heavenly Father/Pearly Gates mythology, anyway.

At the end of the Harry Potter movies I was binge-watching over the holidays, Harry, temporarily dead, encounters his deceased mentor, Professor Dumbledore, in a tunnel of bright white light. (It looks suspiciously like King’s Cross Station, as Harry says, “only cleaner. And without the trains.”)

While Harry opts to return to life and sort things out, Dumbledore says he himself must go.

“Where?” asks Harry.

“On,” Dumbledore replies.

That’s the concept I like: mysterious and unconfined by any specific rules or belief systems. Just “on.”

Or, as the late, very much-lamented Mr. Earl, master spinner of vintage rock ’n’ roll platters for the late, lamented KUSP, used to sign off, “Catch you on the Flip Side!”

But I agree with tribute-writer Claire Norman that James’ art was the expression of his soul.

In this 2011 piece of his, “Act of Creation,” I see James as the central figure, firmly rooted to the earth, but with little batons of bright ideas swirling around inside him, while the fruits of his imagination rise up like stars!

Wherever my Art Boy has gone on to, those stars must be just as bright.