Barbarians, Castles, and (naturally) the History of the Toilet

I spent about six hours today reading up on British history, only to realize that I should have been researching central Europe. I’m working on a fairy-tale-based series of short stories (and novellas because this is me we’re talking about), and the longer it sits in my head the more I realize that I want it to vaguely follow history. While I do have another series idea that’s just retellings of fairy tales in a different world, this one instead takes elements of fairy tales – magic, curses, trolls, elves, witches, and other elements of Grimm folklore – and applies them to real time periods.

This wasn’t the plan when I woke up this morning. I’d decided that that all sounded like too much work and/or a good excuse to never get around to writing the series, so I was just going to go with the Brother Grimm style of setting, where you have a basic idea of time period but you apply whatever historical and or made-up details as they pleaseth you. And then the six hours happened. All because I asked Google “when did castles and kingdoms start to be a thing.”

But really, I just can’t let go of the idea of eventually writing a story that takes place between the industrial revolution and WWI, in which part of the debate of the age is whether science has surpassed magic. But I want to start off earlier in history with castles and princesses, so of course I had to look up when castles were a thing, and discovered they were later than I thought and also power was too centralized for the stories I have in mind.

(Of course I forgot that die Brüders Grimm were German folklorists and so their collection is naturally predisposed to the more scattered nature of power in Central Europe. But that’ll be tomorrow’s  research.)

The search started and then six hours later ended in the Primary Homework Help website, a collection of 90s-esque web pages of historical facts collected and written by a teacher for British elementary/middle school children. Naturally, I fit right in. But seriously, because it’s written for kids, she summarizes 2,000 years of British history (sometimes I forget how old the rest of the world is) in an easy-to-pick-up manner. Who were the Celts? What did they eat? What did they wear? What weapons did they use? And all the violent stuff is brilliant: “They beheaded their enemies and stuck them on spikes outside their gates!” she writes with an enthusiastic exclamation point because, let’s be honest, anyone on this site is going to be more excited by the death toll than anything.

Anyways, it’s the everyday stuff that I need. In every single age, insane stuff has been happening, but most of us are just plebes living our lives while the battles rage elsewhere, only occasionally sweeping through to cut multiple branches off our family tree. I’m not going to write this series around major historical events. I just want to make sure I understand the general political landscape going on behind the scenes, that I describe their houses correctly, that I don’t have them digging latrines when they should be pooping into the moats (looking at you 11th /12th centuries), that I know when kids started going to school, and that they’re eating the proper food and getting married at the right times.

[That said, my goal is to stay out of the weeds. I’ll look as far as I need to and wave the hand of imagination over the rest. There’s no point in 100% accuracy because it’s impossible in English. So much of culture is wrapped into language; I already know I’m going to be using idioms and phrases that didn’t show up until the 19th or 20th centuries because it’s more important that your readers understand a character/setting/plot point (and the feelings attached to them) than it is to be 100% accurate to the details. In Old English the sea was called a swan road (swan-rad), a spider was a gangelwaefre (walking weaver), and your body was a ban-cofan. Bone cave. This stuff thrills me to no end, but there’s no time for the linguistics lesson in your story, unless that’s the point of it.]*

With that aside aside, let’s talk about the fact that the Romans conquered Britain, built the settlement Londinium (you can still find Roman structures in London), introduced flushing toilets, central heat, heated floors, built a 73-mile wall across the UK to keep the Scottish out, and then left in 410 AD to protect borders closer to home. The Angles and Saxons rolled in and just stomped the Britons, because the natives had no professional soldiers of their own, Rome having kept the doors locked and guarded for the previous 350 years. The Saxons didn’t bother raiding as they had in the past, just attacked, burned out who they wanted like cockroaches, and settled in.

What’s fascinating is that the Romans, though they were there for nearly 400 years, hadn’t really bothered with roots. They inserted Latin into the language and introduced the Roman calendar, their legal system, and coins, but when they left the culture went with them. Their economic system broke down within 40 years. By 450, the Britons were back to trading goods, having punched holes in their coins to wear as jewelry. By then only squatters remained in London and pretty much every other Roman town and villa had been abandoned. Goodbye, too, Christianity. Welcome back paganism.

From a different site: “The loss of Christianity in this part of what had once been the Roman Empire is very bad for historians because with the disappearance of Christianity goes the disappearance of literacy as well, and the disappearance of written records. What we know about Anglo-Saxon England and this period is derived almost entirely either from archaeology or from accounts written after Christianity is reintroduced, and often dating hundreds of years from the events they purport to describe, or from Celtic authors living in Scotland or, perhaps, Ireland who were somewhat removed in time and space from Anglo-Saxon England.”

And that, as I understand it, is why they’re called the Dark Ages. Talk about a dystopian collapse. The entire country just dissolved into darkness. What happened? Who knows! Maybe some Irish bloke a hundred years later can tell us.

From there I read over another 1,030 years of history before I quit, which was long enough to realize that I want the chaos of the multiple kingdoms from the dystopian age of the Anglo-Saxon takeover but also the aesthetic of castles, which, in England, came about 600 years too late to the game. William the Conqueror introduced those at the same time he introduced the feudal system (oh yeah, and England became a French-speaking country for 300 years), making him head honcho by renting out all the land to his nobles in exchange for soldiers whenever he needed them, rather than operating as autonomous kingdoms allied with one another.

I’m pretty sure ye olde German barbarians – those tribal, pagan Anglo-Saxons who collapsed Britannia into the Dark Ages – have got my back on this one. With fingers crossed that I stay out of Eastern Europe. I think that’ll keep me clear of the Huns.

*Admittedly, “Bone Cave” is probably going to be the name of one of my stories someday. Or my band. Or used in the sentence: “Don’t believe that myth about the seven gangelwaefres and your ban-cofan, which are swallowed before uht**.”

**Uht = the time of day just before dawn when the last few stars are still out and the mist hangs heavy over the fields and lakes.

The Week in Review, Season 33 Episode 1

I own a ridiculous looking notebook that is decorated with about forty line drawings of cats surrounding the words “Live. Laugh. Meow.” I’ve taken to writing the best points of my day before I go to bed, and though I don’t actually manage it every night, I’ve done it enough this past week to gather some shareable highlights:

  • What a joy to sing among Lutherans, good voices and bad joined together as the harmony breaks out.
  • Had the rest of the afternoon to myself. Love the quiet after a nice brisk walk in the freezing rain.
  • Found my favorite brand of conversation hearts at Walmart. Ate 1/3 of a bag within the course of an afternoon. I love chalky sugar.
  • Bought a new exercise game for my VR and now I can’t lift my arms.
  • LSB 740
  • Played soccer. Remembered why I liked it.
  • Feb. 5: I should do something for my birthday. I always tell myself I’m not going to bother, and then I change my mind at the last minute.
  • My legs ache so good after playing soccer both Wednesday and Thursday. There is no pain so satisfying as that of micro-tears in your muscles healing stronger.
  • Feb. 7: Never bothered to make plans or even tell anyone about my upcoming birthday, but my parents succeeded in tipping off my coworkers to the fact that my birthday is tomorrow anyways, by sending flowers to my workplace. Likely to make doubly-sure, Mom ordered the bouquet shaped like a birthday cake. Look at this absurdly pink thing—it has candles. As my niece would say: I LOVEIT. 
  • (But seriously: I LOVEIT.)
  • Consequently, I now have birthday plans for tomorrow. Dinner followed by a Komets hockey game with one of my favorite families here in Fort Wayne.
  • Feb. 8: the Komets (down all their best players due to either injury or fighting-induced suspension), finish at a dismal 3-6 against the Oilers, but the Johnsons and I laughed through and spent the time we didn’t grumble about the Komets making fun of the row behind us, who showed up in the second period and filed out five minutes into the third, taking their 90 decibel rated voices with them. (FYI: 60 dB is normal for conversation; they conversed at the approximate volume of lawnmowers.)
  • Happy 33rd birthday to me! What a satisfying day.

Writing accomplishment of the week:

  • Johnson looked like a dad. He had the wife, the kids, and the dad bod, and though he rarely told jokes he always enjoyed them; the subtler the better. He was also the only member of the team whose entire family history didn’t hail from Europe, and it hurt Patty’s misplaced sense of advocacy every time Hench called him Token Black Guy, which was why Johnson sometimes called himself Token Black Guy too.

Bonus points this week awarded to best spam:

First place: “You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest websites on the net.” I will take it under advisement, totally not fake username ΝΤΕΤΕΚΤΙΒ.

Runner-up: The spammer who copied and pasted “âàæíî” into a comment 54 separate times, which, naturally, made me think of a cartoon character falling over a cliff.

(Admittedly, not the best example, though a magnificent dub. UUUUUUGGHHHHHHH. A better representation for AIEEE!!!: Sid from Ice Age.)

8/9 Central

If I was unknowingly the main character in the Truman Show (which, full disclosure, would have been canceled years ago for lack of compelling action and character development)—but say it hadn’t been canceled and there were secret cameras telecasting my every move—I’m pretty sure there’d be fan theories on those TV show discussion forums about whether or not I was secretly insane. I live alone in a single bedroom apartment with a cat and a loftice, which means I go no holds barred crazy person, especially at night when the sun goes down. What it has to do with the sun going down is beyond me, but there it is. I leave the bathroom door open at all times, talk to my cat in a Muppet voice, and laugh suddenly and without warning as amusing thoughts come to me.

Case in point: tonight I was getting ready for bed, thinking about the original Star Wars (like you do) and about that awful CGI George Lucas added to his series because he can’t keep his mitts to himself, and I was specifically visualizing that moment in the special edition of the first movie where Han Solo walks on Jabba the Hutt’s tail like the crime boss wouldn’t have immediately had him shot by his minions for blatant disrespect, and, naturally, Pizza the Hutt from Spaceballs popped into my head. So I’m standing there in the shower in a dead quiet apartment, save for the sound of running water and the quiet desperation of an old bathroom fan trying to keep up with the steam, and out from behind the dark of the full bath’s curtains (because I find it relaxing to shower in low light with only a nightlight casting weird shadows up the wall) comes this single, dramatic line:

“…and he ATE himself to death.”

I have said nothing else out loud this entire evening. I am going to giggle once, a little shrilly, tell my cat I love her in Mokuba Kaiba’s voice, and take myself off to bed. Check back here tomorrow at 8/9 Central for our next installment of the Truman’s Going Insane Show.

Don’t look at me, I only work here

Lately I’ve taken to calling my cat “Booger” in a stupid voice, goodness knows why; so much so that I’m afraid she’s going to start thinking it’s her real name. Naturally, to combat this I’ve started immediately following up “Booger” with her real name, said in a lower, more serious tone. I’ve been doing this for a couple of months at this point, so by now she undoubtedly thinks her name is “<muppet voice>HiBooger!<husky voice>HelloHarper.”


In other news, a new tenant has moved onto my apartment landing. He’s crowding my apartment door, but I missed my chance to evict him when he was first setting up shop. He’s built quite the mansion now, so I guess I’m stuck with him. Here’s a shot of him being neighborly:

He’s also taking care of other unwanted intruders, leaving their desecrated corpses to litter his walls like some sort of macabre decoration. More unfortunately, every time I see him he’s less likely to go screaming into his hidey-hole. He’s taken to holding his ground, undoubtedly glaring at me as I lock or unlock the door on my way in and out. I can’t help but imagine he’s got bigger game in mind:

If you never hear from me again, you know why. Any silence from here on out definitely has nothing to do with my work ethic.

Shiver me timbers

LOOK AT IT. *Loud oohs and aahs follow*

In other news:

Long on earth the battle rages,
Since the serpent’s first deceit;
Twisted God’s command to Adam,
Made forbidden fruit look sweet.
Then the curse of God was spoken:
“You’ll lie crushed beneath His feet!”

Please note: I am, in fact, in this video. Or at least my voice is. I happen to be placed perfectly in the path of the director. And yes, I realize this is not a very good update for a site called “The Story Folder,” but at least it will please my mother. That and it gives me chills, and there is nothing I like better than to share thrilled shivers. Someday I may actually do so with writing.

I know, I KNOW

I very nearly made it two months without an upload. If it weren’t for my meddling IT Guy, I would have gotten away with it too. He sent me notice that he had performed some housekeeping on the tech side of the site, and then very gently insulted me. (“Also, haven’t commented on there yet, but you be approachin’ that two month mark. :P”) The nerve of some people.

(Also, a good deal more seriously: Danke schön, Herr Schtep-Hen!)

Part of his email also included instructions on ways in which I could fix some of the problems I’ve been complaining about for the past two and a half years. You likely won’t notice any of these edits, but since I have nothing else to talk about I am going to point them out. I’ve spent the morning cleaning up my menus (the only thing of real interest here is that I added a rhymed description to the Poetry Page and created a novella section on the Story Page; it only seems fair to let people know what they’re in for when they click on a link) and going through my blog, scouring each post for videos that I can replace with links to my YouTube page. Yes, I have a YouTube account. It exists solely as a repository for my videos.

But the real discovery this morning was this: that the titles for my blog posts are ludicrously unhelpful. That said, these titles do—when viewed in order with the chaff removed—imply an intriguing story, involving the murder of an officer of the law:

This is not how I want to go
A Nickel’s Worth of Free Advice
I find public confession cathartic – don’t mind me
For Blood and Money
We Attack at Dawn
I’d say I have a good excuse, but
I guess it actually WAS me, officer
Well – There you go
I don’t get no respect
My Honor demands I pick up that glove and give satisfaction
Flying Officer Irv Peterson Bites the Big One

The story having turned ugly, we then get into the psychology of guilt and a possible motivation behind the tragic death of Officer Peterson:

And I would’ve gotten away with it too
They Found Me
In the meantime
I’m Back (sort of)
Requiem for a missed chance
Radio Blackout
All Quiet on the Midwestern Front
In fact
Foiled Again

In the next section, a desperate escape attempt follows:

Nine Million Feet in the Air
Yeah, but who’s driving this thing
What SAY you
Point Is
Congrats, I guess
Liquor on Isle 2
Whoa buddy
Well, here you go
Abandon All Hope
Until Morale Improves

Morale, however, never improves, as the story ends, like all tragedies do, in Chicago:

Unseen Crackdown
No Harry Don’t Look at the Light
The Last of the Light Bleeds Out
The Black Hole of the Midwest

Mind you, this does not take into account such posts as “Eyebrows in Heaven”; “I live somewhere in the vicinity of the Wood Between the Worlds and an English-to-Idiom Dictionary”; “Rhymes with Idiot”; “Schmidiot”; “The Many Faces of the Lernaen Hydra”; “Adventure Time with These Guys”; “By Hook or by Crook”; “King Friday Speaks”; and “There is no entry in Microsoft’s thesaurus for the word snot.”

(Though, now that I lay these out in order too, it appears there was also a high-adventure epic fantasy woven between the grittier threads of the noir novel at play in the foreground.)

On a totally serious note, it must also be pointed out that, since I’ve only tagged approximately 5% of my posts with appropriate descriptors, your best bet for locating anything on my site is to Google it. Still, I do find it poignant that the blog post left standing for nearly two months as the most recent update to was the diatribe about Chicago (“The Black Hole of the Midwest”). The obvious implication being that the city truly did exhibit a gravitational acceleration strong enough to hold everything from particles to electromagnetic radiation to a 32-year-old office worker, once more inexorably sucked into an airport capable of deforming spacetime.

The Black Hole of the Midwest

Today’s mid-travel adventures go like this:

  • Get through security at the Fort Wayne airport at 12:38 p.m.
  • Settle in to the waiting area for my flight, which will begin boarding at 1:40 p.m. for departure at 2:11 p.m.
  • Please note: this flight has nothing to do with Chicago. The plane will not approach Chicago, it will not take a shortcut through Chicago, it will not give Chicago a passing glance as we make our way south and west, headed towards Big Sky country. Instead we will fly under Chicago, to Dallas/Fort Worth. When we take off, we will be exactly 190 miles away from Chicago O’Hare by car (if you take US-30 W; 211 miles via IN-14 W or 227 miles by US-24 W) and that distance will immediately begin increasing at a speed somewhere between 460-575 miles per hour. I have, in fact, purposefully scheduled my flight plan to not involve Chicago in any way. At most, I will gesture rudely out the window at Illinois as we bisect the state on our way to Texas.

  • Announcement at 1:41 p.m.: We’re all here and ready to go, but the airplane scheduled for use in this flight from FWA to DFW is delayed in holy bananas how are they still ruining my plans Chicago. It is waiting on the tarmac at O’Hare International Airport, ladies and gentlemen, while flight control attempts to unsnarl the traffic jam on their runways. It should arrive at 2:15 p.m. and we’ll do our best to offload, load-up, and take off at 2:45. Come talk to us at the Gate 8 Desk if you require assistance.
  • Nerves start in, but no need to stand in the line at the desk for a missed connection: I will no longer have time for dinner in Texas, but if I speed walk (and/or run, depending on arrival and departure gates) I can still make the next plane.
  • Still no sign of a plane at 2:15 p.m., but the rolling grey of a storm has spread across the horizon and is rapidly approaching. Less than two minutes later, an almost-literal sheet of rain hits the large airport window to my right, the wind blowing so hard and suddenly it shoves an unused but prepped boarding ramp at the building. Everyone looks up at the window as it groans in protest, watches the rain continue to rapid-fire against the glass for a moment, then goes back to their phones.
  • The rain tapers off in time for the announcement at 2:23 p.m.: Due to weather, the airplane from Chicago—which had been circling the skies above the mess of clouds over Fort Wayne—has been diverted to Detroit. They will wait out the storm, refuel, and try again. Flight board now reads, “Departure Time 5:11 p.m.”
  • By 2:24 p.m. I’m third in line at Gate 8. At 3:00 p.m. I head downstairs to reclaim my checked bag and text my ride, hoping he’s available to pick me back up at the airport and drop me off at my apartment for the night. I have been rescheduled for a flight that leaves first thing tomorrow morning.
  • At 6:53 a.m. To Chicago.

Copyright Violation

Somewhere on my blog is a tagline that reads: “A folder of ideas, stories, ramblings, and rhymes”. I am, however, beginning to realize that the tagline should read, in its entirety and in all caps: RAMBLINGS.

Also: I’m back, kids. I don’t know yet what that means for my post schedule, but time—as always—will tell. While on the plane between work conferences, I filled out a couple of pages worth of notes for a quarter-baked story I’m hoping to throw into a cake pan later this month, but time will only tell that too. In the meantime, I could scalp some of my other projects to fill out this post, but as they deserve full development, I’ll fight off the temptation this time. Save for this set of lines, which will someday serve as the synopsis on the back of a book:

“What’s the ‘E’ stand for in ‘E-Team’?”

Standish crossed his arms. “Evil. Obviously.” The hello, duh was implied.

“Let’s be honest here,” Hench added without looking up from the paper. “It certainly doesn’t stand for ‘exceeds expectations.’”