MFA Update: Research Appt. Booked

I got in touch with the curator at Fort Ticonderoga, because I want to conduct some research there, and set up an appointment for my trip next month. He asked me to look through the online manuscript catalogue–which I estimate at being 1,000 cards in size–to see what I might want to view.

I whittled it down to a list 89-strong.

I’m going to become a member because I believe in supporting museums whenever and however possible, and because I anticipate that one research trip will not be enough. I haven’t even gotten my eyes on their card catalogue for books yet–that’s not digitized.

So my plan is to look through that when I get there, and then spend the rest of the time reading as many of those 89 manuscripts as I can. I made a spreadsheet of them so I can track which ones I view. That’ll make it easier when I go back to the fort. I’ll probably try to get there in the autumn, since travel to upstate NY can be annoying in the winter and I won’t likely want to wait until spring.

I could try to shuffle some things around and go up a day early to get more research time in but I’m hesitant because the play I’m in is the weekend before my trip. I wouldn’t mind a day off in between performing and taking a four-hour drive.

I also have to see what resources my local libraries have. I should do that before I go to Ticonderoga, to make the most out of that trip. I’m looking forward to wandering around the fort, too. I’ve been through the area but never to the fort itself.

I have to say, I was impressed with the manuscript catalogue, which ranges in time from the 17th century through the 20th.

MFA Update: Research Trip

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Later this summer, I’ll be taking a trip to upstate New York. My main goal is to do some research in the collections at Fort Ticonderoga, but I can tell from their massive card catalogue on manuscripts alone that one journey won’t be enough. So, I think I’m going to go ahead and get a student membership for the year.

What I’m Hoping To Find

I haven’t looked through the card catalogue of manuscripts yet but I definitely want to check out any first-hand accounts of the early years of the fort. I’d also love to take a look at the artifacts from the mid-eighteenth century.

Now that I’m moving my book up about a hundred years, it’s amazing how much more information there is. I mean, that was sort of predictable, but I’m really excited about it since I was having trouble finding a lot of primary sources before.

The Rest Of The Trip

Since research appointments can only take up the morning, that leaves two afternoons to explore the fort and the general area surrounding it. This is perfect, I think, for my needs right now.

I’ve invited my mom to come along, because I think she’d enjoy it, and if she does join me, we’ll also take Zoey, our dog, along. Though it will be important to keep Zoey away from any weapons demonstrations as muskets and the like are loud enough to scare her.

Hopefully the weather will be decent, but I will go regardless.

Hotels

There was one hotel that tries to provide a sanctuary from the modern world. I was so tempted to book that one but because of that sanctuary feeling, they don’t offer WiFi. It’s not that I can’t go without the internet, but I don’t really want to–plus the chain hotel where I booked a room is much closer to the fort and accepts pets.

Final Thoughts & Discussion

I’m so excited to take this little three-day trip! I’ve never actually taken a research trip far enough away that an overnight stay was merited. But the idea of traveling to connect with the past in this way, to gain a more intimate understanding for my novel, enthralls me.

If you’re a writer, where have you traveled for your research? How was the trip? Would you take another?

Rings of Saturn: Part 8 – Aug. 15, 79

Rings of SaturnIt was official: Evie preferred sleeping in villages or even temples. Sleeping outside on the ground wasn’t just uncomfortable, but without an app to tell her the forecast or wondering whether they’d be attacked in the middle of the night, Evie had trouble falling asleep in the wildnerness. After the ordeal in the cave, it was nice to find a barn with a pile of hay. Hay was scratchy and soft at the same time.

Marcus woke her with the sun and said they should get moving because they didn’t exactly have permission to sleep in the barn.

“Relax,” she told him, stretching and yawning, “let’s enjoy the village for a little while. We have the map. Finding Hercules will be simple now.” Had she just said those words? Evie still wasn’t sure if she’d had some kind of psychotic break. 

Marcus wasn’t having it. There were no lazy mornings on a quest, it seemed. Reluctantly, Evie left the barn and they walked through the village, seeking an opportunity to either buy or take breakfast. Evie stopped in the middle of the main road and Marcus didn’t realize it until a few steps later. 

“What? Why’d you stop?” he asked.

Evie let her mouth hang open and pointed to a small hut across the street.

“By Jupiter…” Marcus whispered.

Tatius wasn’t facing them, but he wasn’t turned away either. He held the door open while someone talked to him from inside. Evie couldn’t hear the other person but she saw Tatius nod and walk around the building toward the back. Evie crossed the road.

“Leave him, Evie,” Marcus said.

She ignored him. He continued to protest that Tatius would only slow them down. Rounding the building, she saw Tatius poking at a haystack. 

“What’re you doing here?” Evie didn’t mean to sound accusing, but she saw his shoulders tense.

Tatius turned from the hay. “Evie. I’m glad to see you’re still alive.”

She repeated her question. Tatius told her the mule was stolen from him, and so he never returned to Publius Sepunius Columella’s farm, afraid the old man would fire him anyway—or worse. 

“But he was so kind to me.”

“He wanted you to leave without causing him any trouble with the guards.” 

“Who stole the mule?” 

Tatius shrugged. “I didn’t stop the bandits to introduce myself.” 

A smile twitched on Evie’s face and then she broke into laughter. She laughed until her stomach and sides ached. Tatius didn’t laugh, but the fact that he’d made a sarcastic comment was so out of place, so unexpected, that she couldn’t help but laugh. Her laughter drew Marcus, who glowered at Tatius. 

“He’s not joining us,” Marcus announced.

Evie’s laughter ebbed and she caught her breath. “Who said anything about joining you?” 

Tatius leaned on his pitchfork. “Join you where?”

“Oh, get this,” Evie said. “A priestess sent us to find Hercules. Apparently he alone can stop Mount Vesuvius from blowing its lid and killing everyone in Pompeii. We’re supposed to find a third—” Evie paused and recited the first line of the prophesy. “Rings of Saturn and companions three…” She turned toward Marcus. “Tatius is the third!”

“What? No,” Marcus said.

“I can’t leave,” Tatius protested.

Evie grabbed Tatius’s hand and dragged him away from the haystack. “You have to come with us. We’re supposed to find a third companion and Hercules and stop the volcano in just ten days. If it’s not you, then who are we supposed to find?”

“Anyone else,” Tatius said. “I let you lead me away from my last home. It’s not happening again.” 

“I don’t think he has what it takes,” Marcus piped up.

“Tatius, if you come with us, don’t you think the gods will reward you?” 

“Erm…having a home and work and food in my belly is reward enough.” 

“We need you,” Evie said.

“No we don’t,” Marcus added. Evie glared at him and mouthed the words be quiet. 

“This is my quest. I need you, Tatius, like I need Marcus. Like we need the map and Hercules and these,” she held up her wrist. Evie looked around and then dragged Tatius to the village bathhouse. Marcus followed. Except she didn’t lead them into the public part, but to the small structure behind it, where a fire burned to heat the water. Evie stuck her hand and wrist in.

“No!” Tatius yanked her away from the fire. 

Evie held up her wrist to show the glowing runes wrapped around it. “The gods need you, Tatius. Look. This isn’t some…some dream or vision, or some crazy, imaginary thing.” Well, maybe it is, she thought. “We need you.” 

It took some more convincing, the promise of coin upon completion of the quest as well as her word as the mortal chosen by the gods that his life would be markedly improved in exchange for his participation. Tatius told his new employer that he was leaving. The man wasn’t as kind about it as Publius Sepunius in that he didn’t give them money but rather chased them out of the village with a knife. When they were several hundred yards’ out, Marcus said he would have fought back, except it was funny to be chased so by a man who’d obviously never killed anyone.

Once out of the village, Marcus went to gather or hunt for some food since they were chased out before they could get any. Evie sat down with Tatius and the map. “Do you know where this is?” she asked, holding it out to him. There weren’t any place names labeled—just a zigzagging line through mountains and valleys. 

Tatius examined the map. “I have a good guess,” he said. Turning the map in his hands a few times, he looked around them in a circle. “I think we have to go to Positano.”

“How long will that take?”

Tatius rolled a shoulder. “Three days?”

Evie nodded. “Giving us just over a week to get Hercules back to Mount Vesuvius. I think it’s doable. When Marcus comes back, we’ll start walking.” Evie put the map away and ran her fingers over the runes, no longer glowing, on her wrist. “Why’d you really stay near Campania, Tatius?” 

“I told you already. Mule was stolen and I didn’t want to return without it.” 

“I think Publius Sepunius would have accepted an apology. You’re not a fighter.”

“He would not have. I have seen his anger before.”

“What’d he do?”

According to Tatius, it was three years ago. One of the Publius Sepunius’s slaves was sent out to get the goats. Two of them escaped and could not be recovered. Publius Sepunius had two of the slave’s fingers removed. Both pinkies. The story made Evie gasp and cover her mouth with both hands. 

“That’s horrid. And you saw this?”

Tatius nodded. 

“But…you are a freeman. Surely, he wouldn’t do that to you…” 

“I don’t know. Probably not but that wouldn’t stop him hurting one of his slaves.”

Evie hesitated. “I’m just…I’m surprised. He was so kind to me and he didn’t have to be.” 

“Publius Sepunius fears and honors the gods, as we all do. Showing you kindness was his way of preserving himself and his home.” 

Evie wrapped her arms around her legs. “Oh.” She rested her chin on her knees and said, “Well, then I guess it’s good you didn’t go back there.”

Tatius nodded. “What did the priestess tell you about this prophesy?”

“All I know besides the fact that the three of us have to find Hercules is that he’s trapped somewhere.” 

“Trapped?”

She nodded.

“He must have angered Jupiter. Or Juno. Juno hates Hercules.” 

“I bet she does.”

Evie and Tatius fell into companiable silence until Marcus returned. He couldn’t find any meat but he’d gotten his hands on some bread, milk, and olives. Evie thought he must have skirted around the village to sneak in and steal from people. She secretly hoped he took the food from the villager who chased Tatius and them out with a knife, but she didn’t ask. While they ate, they told Marcus where they had to go and he agreed it would be best not to linger too long. If she hadn’t been convinced before that he stole the food, she would be now. 

With the whole afternoon ahead of them to walk toward Positano, Evie hoped they could put some distance behind them. The sooner they found Hercules, and released him from wherever he was trapped, the sooner they could go to Mount Vesuvius. The sooner she could go home.

Rings of Saturn: Part 7 — Aug. 14, 79, continued

Rings of SaturnThe tunnel grew brighter, the voices louder, until it dropped out from under their feet. Evie bounced onto her tailbone and winced, then tumbled over Marcus. The pair of them somersaulted like the twins of Gemini into a brightened cavern. When Evie opened her eyes, about two dozen men surrounded them. Some carried torches, some spears. 

“Are they alive?”

Evie didn’t budge, but watched through her eyes, open just a crack, just enough to see one of the men jab Marcus with the butt of his weapon. A puff of air escaped Marcus, who was trapped under Evie’s legs.

“He is. Check the girl.” 

Evie waited to be jabbed at. The spear never came. Instead, hands wrapped around her upper arms and lifted. She went limp, let her head loll to the side. 

“I don’t think she is. Must have snapped her neck.” The man who spoke this time was one of the one’s holding her. She held her breath.

“Search her for money or jewels. Then dump her off the cliff.”

Evie lifted her head then. She wasn’t going to let anyone dump her off a cliff. “I’m alive.”

Spears clattered to point at her and Marcus. She tried to pull her arms free but the meaty hands wouldn’t relent. Evie stood now, supporting her own weight at least. One of the men told two others to get Marcus up, and then he was standing beside her. Marcus refused to look at her and she could tell from the set of his jaw that he was angry. He wanted to sneak up on these men, not roll right into their midst. It wasn’t her fault though—the tunnel had been dark, the rocks slick.

Evie took a quick glance around. Beyond the circle of men there was an opening wide enough for one person to shimmy through. That must be how they got here. She guessed they were on the other side of the mountain, and that the caves connected one valley to another. 

“We’re not here to start trouble,” she said. Marcus hissed at her to be quiet. Evie stood straighter. “You don’t have to dump us off any cliffs.”

Now Marcus did look at her, ferocity in his gaze. “Be quiet,” he ordered through clenched teeth.

The apparent leader of this band of bandits walked through the circle, the men parting like the Red Sea for Moses. “If you don’t want any trouble,” he asked, looking Evie up and down, “then why are you here?”

“We were lost,” Marcus said.

At the same time, Evie answered, “We’re looking for a map.” 

A ripple of laughter echoed around them, bouncing off the cavern walls. “Maps are useful when you’re lost. Why do you think we’d have a map?”

“I—” Marcus started, but leader held his hand up, palm facing Marcus, as though he could create a wall to hide him from view. He commanded Evie to answer.

“We were told the map would be here.”

“Who told you that?” 

Would these men be frightened of the gods? Would they bow before them if they knew they were on a so-called sacred quest to fulfill some ancient prophesy? Or would they kill them? Evie performed a quick catalogue search of what mythology she knew. The gods were famous for getting humans to fight amongst themselves. They were entertained by it. What if these men were sent to work against them? Blabbing about the prophesy could get them killed. Then again, any answer could get them killed. The leader came closer so that he was a breath away from Evie. His buried his fist in her hair and tugged her head back. She whimpered. He repeated his question.

“One of our companions. Gone now.” It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t really the truth, either.

The man released her head, shoving her backward so the men holding her arms had to shuffle to keep from dropping her or being knocked over. “Tie them up. We’ll see if we can’t get a more…complete answer from one of them in the morning.”

The bandits fetched some rope and tied their wrists and ankles between two stalagmites, so that Marcus and Evie were back to back. Two of them were posted guard at the back of the cave wtih them while the others went back to their celebrations. Eventually, they fell asleep. Evie’s own eyelids were starting to droop when she heard a whisper rasp behind her.

“We’ve got to get out of this before morning,” Marcus warned. “They’ll kill one of us then, maybe torture first.”

Evie felt like she’d swallowed a stone. “What do we do?” 

“I don’t know yet.”

Evie nodded and chewed her bottom lip. If she died here, in this cave, would someone thousands of years in the future find her remains and think she was an Ancient Roman? They’d have no reason not to except for one: a filling she got in one of her molars when she jumped backward into a pool and cracked it. She was just old enough to have gotten her adult teeth, and her parents had vascillated between worry and anger that it wasn’t her first set of teeth she damaged. Thankfully, the tooth was able to be filled and she’d forgotten about it until now. 

People now could have fake teeth, if they had the wealth for it, but they didn’t have amalgam fillings. Evie ran the tip of her tongue over the tooth. She couldn’t die here. It would spark too many unanswerable questions. Her thoughts shifted next to the bracelet that brought her here. Was Pete searching the museum for it? Did he wonder where she went? Did he think she stole the bracelet? Her purse and coffee were there—would those be evidence enough to clear her name of any theft charges if she returned without the bracelet?

Evie felt heat radiating from her wrist. She looked and saw all the symbols lighting up. The rope tied around her wrist began to smolder. It never erupted in flames but it burned away to nothing, and she had a hand free. Evie eyed the two men guarding them. One of them was seated, his head resting back against the cave wall. Was he asleep? The other man stood looking out, his back to her and Marcus. Evie slowly crossed her free arm over her body and worked the knot on her other wrist loose. Then she untied her ankles. She turned and untied Marcus’s bindings next. 

What now? She mouthed the words, afraid even a whisper would catch their guards’ attentions. 

Darkness settled in Marcus’s eyes. He didn’t have to say it; Evie knew what was coming. Marcus turned from her, walked over to the standing guard, and snapped his neck. Evie lunged forward and took his spear, holding it while Marcus lowered the man’s body to the ground and dispatched the other guard. He opened his hand for the spear, and she was all too relieved to give it to him.

Marcus motioned for her to follow into the depth of the cave, where the bandits stockpiled their stolen goods. As Evie drew near one of the crates, the symbols on her wrist lit up. She rifled around until she found a wax tablet, a map carved in it. Evie studied the map and then tucked it under her arm. 

“How do we get out?” she whispered. 

Marcus pointed the sphere toward the opening on the other side of the sleeping bandits. He mimed drinking and gestured to them. Evie hoped he was right, that they’d gotten too drunk to wake easily. They creeped along the wall, toward the opening. When they were almost there, Marcus accidentally knocked over a jug, but Evie managed to catch it before it shattered on the ground. Mead glubbed out of it to run all over the map and toward the sleeping men. Her eyes widened. Marcus grabbed her shoulder and urged her ahead of him.

She reached the exit and slid through. She heard Marcus grunt behind her as he squeezed through the tight space between the rocks. There was a narrow goat path that Evie could just make out, and she followed it. The path zigzagged down the mountain. About halfway down, she heard shouts from the cave. The bandits were awake. 

“We need to get down to the valley and hide. Go faster. Run.” 

Running on the goat path was impossible. Evie stumbled down it, her feet catching up just fast enough to keep her from faceplanting onto sharp rocks below. She looked over her shoulder. Torchlights bobbed behind and above them. Her heart thudded, heavy in her chest. Marcus prodded her from behind and told her not to stop. 

Rock turned into soil and grass. Marcus clasped her hand and broke into a sprint, leading her toward a thicket at the base of the mountain. There was a small farm with a house close by and Evie asked why they didn’t go there instead. Marcus shushed her.

The bandits spilled into the valley and ran straight for the farm house. Marcus took Evie’s hand and led her back the way they came, but not up the mountain. They ran until her legs ached and throbbed, and then ran some more. 

“Enough!” she finally said, the word forced from her lungs on a panted breath. She yanked her hand free from his. “That,” she gulped, “has to be enough distance between us and them.” 

Marcus studied the landscape past Evie, and harumphed. “I suppose it’s far enough. What does the map say?” 

“It’s too dark. I can’t read it.”

“Well, didn’t you look at it before?” 

“Yes, but then we had to run for our lives. I’m sorry if I don’t have a photographic memory.”

“A what?”

She waved her hand back and forth. “It doesn’t matter. We need to get somewhere with enough light. A village, maybe? Or we could stop and make a fire.” 

“Village is safer. Come on.” Marcus turned and led the way at a brisk pace—but at least they weren’t running anymore.

Guest Post: Traveling in Times of Unrest by Wendy Brown-Baez, Author of Catch A Dream

I’m so grateful to Wendy for sharing this post with us. Her experience and insight are inspiring, and I’m adding her book to my post-MFA reading list when I have the chance to read just for fun again! Enjoy!

cover (1)-1What I remember about being in Israel is that normal daily life went on through the Palestinian uprising. In 1988, we traveled around by hitch-hiking and were picked up by all sorts of people, including soldiers in military jeeps. We joined business men, male and female soldiers, college students, even seniors at bus stops to other cities, hitch-hiking while waiting for the bus. But by 1989, people would walk up to me and place shekels in my hand, saying, “Please don’t tramp. Take the bus. It isn’t safe.”

I eventually rented an apartment in Haifa and got a job as a nanny. I never felt afraid because of the intifada but I was followed due to being blond, more than once.

In Jerusalem, the violence became more ominous as my character Lily explains, “But in the morning there is a radio report that sends the mind reeling, brings into sharp focus the tension, the hatred, the frustrations seething beneath every life here. A Jewish man opened fire on a group of Palestinian workers waiting to be picked up for work. Seven people were killed. Ahmed informs us that massive demonstrations have begun in the territories and six hundred people have been wounded.” Her parents have come to visit with a tour group and “they tell us that Benyamin recommends staying out of the Arab quarter of the Old City. Everything has been shut down.  

“…We had planned to stay another night but instead I decide we should go back to Haifa. It feels too strange to be here; I want to go home. We gather our things and head for the central bus station. Everything is eerily quiet, every building shuttered and closed. The tension is suffocating. Police vans cruise by with steel meshing over the windows; otherwise, the streets are completely deserted. Teen-agers are rolling over a parked van to set it on fire. At the bus stop, police are asking youths for their identity papers. We stand apart until the local bus arrives to drop us at the central bus station, glad to get away.” –excerpted from Catch a Dream.  

I recall one incident in which a group of us including my nine-year-old son and a babe in arms arrived at Hezekiah’s tunnel and encountered village boys wrapped in kafias armed with rocks. Just as we were backing away terrified, a young man came riding up the road on a donkey. He yelled at them: “They are Americans, not Israelis” and escorted us to the Arab village at the top. The women insisted we come into the courtyard for tea and cookies. “The Israelis have arrested all the older males of the village,” they explained. “That’s why they are angry.”

I also became aware that the reason the radio was always on in the local busses was that was the way soldiers heard the call to go on active duty. These soldiers included people you knew personally: your son, your brother, your school mate, your boyfriend, your boss, your co-worker, your colleagues. High school graduates do army serve after high school, the boys three years and the girls two, but the men give up a month each year until they turn 45 for army duty.

The violence was an undercurrent in daily life and yet daily life went on. Shopping at the shuk, hanging out in cafes and at the beach, going to the synagogue or the disco or the movies, riding public transportation to work or to visit the museums and ancient sites, and making friends with these amazing generous, gorgeous, vibrant Israelis—I would not give up my experience for anything. It changed my life. I fell in love; I wanted to stay. 

You have to be alert and on guard and yet, remain with an open heart to the possibility of hospitality. Every person I spoke to wanted peace. It was heart-breaking to see no end to the conflict in sight.

About Wendy Brown-Baez

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Wendy Brown-Báez is the author of a poetry CD Longing for Home, the full-length poetry collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, ’09), and chapbooks: transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, ’11) and Elegy for Newtown (Red Bird Chapbooks, ’14).  She has published both poetry and prose in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both in print and on-line. She received McKnight, Mn State Arts Board and Saint Louis Park Arts & Culture grants to bring writing workshops into non-profits and community centers.

 Wendy has facilitated writing workshops since 1994 including at Cornerstone’s support groups, the Women & Spirituality conference at MSU Mankato, Celebrate Yourself women’s retreats, All About the Journey healing center, The Aliveness Project, Unity Minneapolis,  El Colegio High School and Jacob’s Well women’s retreat. Wendy received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants through COMPAS Community Art Program to teach writing workshops for youth in crisis. The project at SafeZone and Face to Face Academy developed into an art installation showcasing their recorded writings. When it was noted that students’ reading scores improved, she was hired as Face to Face’s writing instructor.

In 2012 she was awarded a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to teach writing workshops in twelve non-profit arts and human service organizations. She continues to teach at Pathways: a healing center, in Mn prisons, and in community spaces such as public libraries, yoga studios, churches, and cafes.

Wendy has taught memoir at MCTC continuing ed and through Minneapolis community ed.

In addition, Wendy has managed shelters for the homeless and visited incarcerated teens. She is trained as a hospice volunteer and as a facilitator of Monologue Life Stories. Wendy studied alternative healing, ceremony, and spiritual traditions with Earthwalks for Health and lived in Mexico and Israel. She has collected wisdom teachings from these diverse cultures, as well as written memoirs of her adventures.

Read more about Wendy and her book, Catch a Dream, below.

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