Monday, September 22, 2014

All Things Four

Here is the non-mathematical scoop on four. You should hope to be as solid and square as four, but most of us seldom are. Four is an even number which often leads to boredom, but it is the most stable of numbers. Designers often use odd numbers to prevent that stasis, but four is also considered the most balanced of numbers, and a sacred number, to boot. Here are the symbol representations of four.
~ * ~

Cardinal: FOUR
Hindu-Arabic: 4
Ordinate: Forth

Roman: IV
Greek: Delta
Pythagorean number: The tetra
1+1+1+1; 2+2; 1+3; 1x4; 2x2

Four is the first square number, and not because a square has four sides, but because is the square of 2 (2 x 2 = 4). However, the four-sided square is a symbol of four. From the sheer number of groups of four, it is an important number. We have the four seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. The ancient thought there were four elements of earth, water, fire, wind or air (or aether), and traditionally the four winds of east, south, west and north. The four ages of man include infant, adolescent, manhood, old age. The four-color process uses magenta, cyan, yellow & Black. President Franklin Roosevelt espoused our four freedoms of speech, worship, and freedom from want and fear.

Roman used quattuor for four, which we changed to the prefix quat or quad for quarter, quartet, quadruplets, and quadrangle. The Greeks used tettares for four, which gave us tetrad, tetrahedron, and tetrapod.

April is the fourth month, and in the Northern Hemisphere, fulfills spring's promise of regeneration in many blossoming flowers, and the ceasing of winter’s bleak fury. Wednesday is the fourth day of the week when Sunday is the first day, often called hump day because the work week is half over.  Wednesday comes from the Germanic god Woden, who is related to Mercury. The hours have four quarters, and the year has four seasons. In the United States, the Fourth of July is a National holiday celebrating the birth of the nation. If, however, your week starts on Monday, Thursday is the fourth day.

Before discovery of atoms, matter consisted of four universal elements, fire, wind, water, and earth. In today's matter, Beryllium’s (Be) atomic number is 4 on the periodic table. Time is considered the fourth dimension. North, east, south, and west are the four points of the compass. In money four quarters equals a dollar, but four bits is slang for fifty cents. Every gallon contains four quarts. Egyptian pyramids have four sides, not counting the base, and the sides of great pyramids line up on the compass points. The ancient Egyptians believed the four sides of the world rose to a conjunction point where God existed, and so the eye of God is at the top of the pyramid's point. Through various permutations, the pyramid was printed on the U.S. great seal as represented on the one-dollar bill.

The Christian religion has four evangelists or apostles, Matthew (symbolized by an human or angel), Mark (symbolized by a lion), Luke (symbolized by a calf or an ox), and John (symbolized by an eagle). It also has the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Conquest, War, Famine and Death). The Fourth Commandment is “Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy.” In the Bible, the river out of Eden parted into four heads, which is often confused with the four rivers of Jordan. Four represents the cross, and the cross was an early sign of the four compass points. In other religions we have the Four Noble Truths of Buddha, and Druids believed the 4-leaf clover had magical powers giving the holder of one supernatural sight. Many ancient cultures had four-lettered names for God: Allh (Arabian), Adad (Assyrian), Amun (Egyptian), Itga (Tartar), and Esar (Turkish), showing four as a sacred nature.

Four plays a part in the Bible’s Revelation, too.
Revelation 4:7 In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.

Revelation 6:7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!"
Revelation 6:8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by (1) sword, (2) famine, and (3) plague, and by (4) the wild beasts of the earth.
Revelation 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
Revelation 9:14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates."
Revelation 9:15 And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.
Revelation 16:8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire.
Revelation 21:19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald...

Sports and games also have many representations of four. We have a golf foursome. A 4-Bagger or home run happens in baseball. If a four-horse team pulls a carriage, the drive has four-in-hand. You can have a four spot, a four hander, or four-of-a-kind when playing cards.

In numerology, the alpha letters of four are d, m, and v. (Adding up the number derivations in the letters of your name and then adding the numbers of the resulting sum gives you your personal number.)  In Astrology, the Fourth House is that of Cancer and the moon. These lead to many prophetic references for four. Because the square has four sides, it is the basis of solidarity and stability. The Pythagoreans esteemed four as the primogenitor number, the root of all things, the fountain of Nature and the most perfect number. Pythagoras believed that the soul of man consisted of a tetrad, its four powers being mind, science, opinion, and sense. Four is also an intellectual number and the first geometric solid. Four represents the world, the Earth, the Establishment, the number of foundation and solid matter. The points of the compass, the seasons, the elements, the winds. Four is a ‘safe’ feminine number. Four’s keywords are impetuosity, strength, the key keeper of nature and harmony (mother nature), and it is often associated with Hercules, Mercury, Vulcan, and Bacchus. How did Bacchus get in there?

In Tarot, the fourth card is the emperor card, which represents leadership, thought, domination, war, and power. It is a card of authority and fatherhood, showing the fruits of toil, and the results of actions taken. The emperor is the embodiment of promise of the magician in the first card. When reversed it shows the opposite, a loss of power, injury in battle, a weakling or remaining under parental control. Four also has negative connotations like being off balance or off kilter, imperfect, rootless, vapid, flat, insane, stupid, or unholy. Each of the four suites also have a four card, and it usually indicates a time of thoughtfulness, a decision needing to be made, or inaction.

In music we have had The Fab Four, the Beatles, and the Motown singing group, Four Tops, with Abdul 'Duke' Fakir, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs, and Renaldo 'Obie' Benson

Four shows up in common slang usage, too. You can go to the four corners of the earth, run into many four-footed beasts, and still find four-square monuments and buildings. Here are some more:
4-F (unfit for military service)
4-Striper (Captain in the Navy)
Four wheeler (All Terrain Vehicle)
Four way (goes in all directions)
Four Bits(50¢)
Four O’Clock (a flower)

Four part harmony
Four poster (a bed)
Forth class (cheapest rate)
four letter word (damn!)
fourscore (4x20)
Four Leaf Clover (One leaf for fame, one leaf for wealth, one leaf for a faithful lover & one leaf to bring glorious health)

So there it is — all aspects of four, but certainly a list that is not all-inclusive.
~ * ~
Wikipedia has a page on four. Sources
Some information was drawn from:
The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin
A Complete Guide to the Tarot by Eden Gray
The Numerology Workbook by Julia Line
The Dartmouth Number Symbolism in the Middle Ages site offers much info on numbers in Christianity.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fourth Friday Six Bits from Crewkin

Friday Freebits have been discontinued as many of the authors dropped out. I'm continuing with Ginger Simpson's idea, but I have changed the post titles to Six Bits. In this excerpt, one of Renna's new crewmates, Lock, guides her through the Vagrant Spirit.
~ * ~

Lock didn't need a participant in his conversation so Renna listened. She liked the organization and felt the first surge of optimism in ages. She could acclimatize to the colorful interior. The crew was a strange group, but someone knew ship business. Dom Jake’s influence? The unseen Zak? Or Cutter’s? The ship wasn't as desperate as she first thought, well supplied. Not the newest equipment, more tried-and-true with much well applied sub work. She felt comfortable with an existence of pared down, yet adequate technology. If the crew were experienced, they might very well do in numbers. She let out a low, pent-up sigh of relief.

“Life-support, pumping station, ventilation and climate system, and access to lateral engines are along here. This is Ezry's hydro-farm.”

He pushed the hatch open and walked into a lush, brightly lit compartment filled with plants. Ezry worked there. The dark woman gave Lock a slow smile which vanished when she saw Renna. Her expression was a look Renna recognized from her other short runs, one shouting, ‘you’re not wanted here, podder.’ She felt lucky hydroponics wasn’t listed in her work repertoire. Lock and Ezry exchanged disrespectful words for a few minutes with outrageous impertinence.

“Crazy bitch,” Lock said as they left. Ezry’s laugher followed them out of the compartment.

“We'll go aft now to the main engine compartment.” While he talked, Renna examined the ship. Even here, color danced on the partition surfaces. She wanted to touch the surfaces, to see if the color made her feel as alive as the partitions looked.

“Ship Dog! Showing the new crewman around,” Lock shouted as they entered the engine compartment. The burly engineer turned from where he disemboweled a console’s innards. He abruptly left for the far inner reaches of the compartment.
~ * ~

Friday, September 12, 2014

Third Friday Excerpt from Crewkin

Shortly after she reaches the designated deck, Renna's new captain literally pulls her onto his ship, the Vagrant Spirit, before she can change her mind. She then meets the crew of this very short-staffed ship.

~ * ~
After several minutes of silence, the man Cutter, who worked alongside her, asked, “What position Jake hire you to?”

Renna flashed a glance to him and back to her work. She didn't look at him again. In her experience norms didn’t like it. “Jake is Captain?”

“You didn't know?” Lock asked, his voice both androgynous and exuberant.

“I knew him as Captain, not by name,” she said as she carefully attended her duty. “He didn't specify a position. I've handled communications, ship’s systems, piloting, astrogation, maintenance, exvee, and engines. What position is open? What's the ship’s designation?”

Someone laughed. Renna cringed, sorry now she’d not cared enough to check the registry with the port authority. Earning laughter so soon was a bad sign.

“You hired on not knowing the captain's name, the ship's name, or your position? Jake found a podder as desperate as himself.” Ezry laughed and turned back to stowing gear.

“Crewkin,” Renna repeated. No one paid any attention.
~ * ~

Monday, September 8, 2014

Attitudes Change So Slowly

Our college has an across the curriculum theme book as a teaching device this term, Annie’s Ghost, A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg. It is a nonfiction (shouldn’t we have come up with a better name for true stories long before now?) narrative about a Jewish family in Detroit. In the 90s the Luxenberg children learned shortly before their mother’s death that she had a sister. They grew up believing their mother an only child. Steve set out to find his lost Aunt Annie. We (professors) talked about how to use this book yesterday. It has multiple themes, the first being, as the title indicates, family secrets.

As composition instructors who frequently assign narrative essays soon learn, it is always surprising what horrors students are willing to disclose. Not all of them had my secure childhood.  It's scary, really. We talked about how sharing family secrets could cause trouble. Authors should feel free to tell anything about themselves that they wish to, but when telling the secrets of a family member or members, other issues rear up. Two of these concerns include ethics and the possibility of harming someone. We talked a lot about family secrets. It seems we all have them. As an author, Steve Luxenburg was well aware of the duality dilemma of his position as author and family member. What could or should he tell?

There was more. Annie was both physically and mentally handicapped, possibly raped. In 1940, at age twenty-two, Michigan incarcerated Annie at Eloise in Wayne County, an asylum for the homeless and those deemed insane, because her parents were too poor to get better care. She was supposed to stay for a three-day assessment, but that shortly turned to a life sentence that had little to due with Annie's diagnosis. She lived there until her death in 1972, visited by her mother when she could find someone to driver her to Eloise, and no one after her mother's death. At the time, families still often hid from public notice any member who might embarrass them, especially those with various types of mental conditions such as low IQs to those with obvious mental disturbances. This of course lead us to a discussion of how we treat those different from us, and not just the mentally ill or handicapped. For Annie and thousands of other men and women it meant oblivion. They were literally lost as individuals, forgotten by their families, their names, life histories, diagnosis, and even burials, often lost in bureaucratic labyrinths.

A few decades ago many of these ‘insane asylums’ were closed. I remember seeing the 1966 edition of Christmas in Purgatory, A Photographic Essay on Mental Retardation by Burton Blatt and Fred Kaplain. Their photo essay alerted the public about the dismal and inhuman conditions found in many institutions. Now we don’t have enough psychiatric beds in hospitals to treat all of our soldiers coming home with PTSD, let alone the requirements for our non-military population. I remember walking in Washington DC after the Vietnam War and seeing homeless soldiers. How do I know they were soldiers? They told ever passersby about how their country showed appreciation for their service. I now wonder how many of those homeless suffered PTSD with no help or understanding. Perhaps their claims as soldiers were not true, but I think they were, and I doubt our facilities were any better then, perhaps worse. Such conditions tell a lot about us as a people.

There are more intriguing themes in Annie's Ghost such as why such a large Jewish population migrated to Detroit. It gave some background on Detroit’s history that interested me as a Michigander, and an example of the horrors Jews faced in Eastern Europe (Ukraine) during WWII. In the last few years I've met many Christian refugees from the Ukraine, I can't imagine what it was like being Jewish. Besides learning of previously unknown family, Luxenberg told of his problems tracking family genealogy, and the frustration of hitting one dead end after another in research. All edifying topics, not only for students, but for me.

I will use this book in one of my classes, but it will be challenging. On the other hand, as a writer, I know the impact of this narrative reinforced many human conditions I can use in my own writing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Second Friday Freebit from Crewkin

Although the voice for her Crewkin, Renna is socially inept on a personal basis with outsiders, so her job results were predictable as shown in these six paragraphs.

~ * ~

Two ships later, Renna sat in a station eatery on Port 53, unemployed. Her prospects looked dismal. If she landed another ride with similar results, she’d lose her rating. Two releases after successful runs for the ships, earned her black marks in the hiring registry. She had read the captains’ notations. The first wrote ‘crew finds her freakish, too different to accept, even with her qualifications,’ and the second, ‘skillful, yet disruptive habits, too submissive, and unwilling to improvise.’

She found norms strangely erratic—disrespectful, defiant, disorderly, argumentative, and hostile—with peculiar ideas about crewkin. Her last crew boss ordered his team to shave her head after he saw her crewkin’s composite in the ships’ licensing log. When the captain noticed, he smiled, dismissing the episode as a prank. “They’re just hazing you.”

Renna shuddered. She pushed her untouched food away. Her failure. She’d been unable to treat them with crewkin respect, or to adjust to their baffling expectations.

“You Renna Markham3?”

She froze. The voice was abrupt, a little too loud, and startled her. Crewkin training prevented any improper reaction. She looked up. “Just Renna.”

The man shrugged, snagged a chair sitting by her table. Ragged blond-brown hair, a bristle-lined face, and creased spacer’s overall proclaimed him a norm spacer. “Heard you crewed.”
~ * ~
Renna has just met her new captain, Jake Terran. She is about to join her strangest crew yet.

Friday, August 29, 2014

First Friday Freebit from Crewkin

Crewkin is one of my favorite stories and deals with a possible future scenario where corporations use gene manipulation, brainwashing during childhood, and intense education to make their ship crews. The resulting adults are little more than slaves. The captain and senior officers were 'doms.' All other crew 'subs.' 

These crews, who spend their lives on one ship in deep space became known as crewkin. In developing such a restricted social group, one result became the inability of crewkin to reintegrate into society as a whole, so if the ship was destroyed, any surviving crew committed suicide. In fact, corporate policy encouraged this outcome as show in the excerpt selection of Crewkin on this blog's excerpt page.

I hope you can sense Renna's emotion in this six paragraphs (actually seven — I'm pretending I can't count) from a little further on in her journey.

~ * ~
Renna swallowed the painful gasp swelling in her throat, ignoring those regarding her exit. Good kin performed joining before committing the heresy of desertion... so Markham taught. Their notice made her exit a judgment.

Renna stopped before the massive plasmetal hatch disguised as elaborate carved doors which defined the Markham Company boundary. Through a transparent section of the gate, Renna watched the norms crowding the space station's causeway. A memory of walking with her kin out of this portal flashed before her. They had left as a group. All dressed in their neat tan utility suits. All heads bore the same short blond hair, except for her. Dom Dukan demanded her head remain shaved to eliminate her unkin colored hair. She swiped her scalp, felt the prickle of growth, and swore to never again cut whatever grew. He could do nothing about her dom-matching height, or her colorless eyes. Markham Company had deemed his request to change her eye color frivolous.

The automatic portal to the astroport opened, closed, and opened again while she hesitated. Her kin had found leaving their ship Markham3 difficult; leaving Markham territory terrified them. Safe among her kin, Renna remembered her excitement for the chance to explore the space station alive with so much noise, so much color. Stepping through the doors, she remembered, how upon returning, Dom Dukan refused to leave Markham property again. She quashed the memory, refusing to look back. She would never return, no matter what.

Now everything looked gray. The resonance in the port swallowed individual sounds forming a cacophony of white noise, which created an odd noise construction of silence. Unfamiliar smells permeated the air, mixing into a repugnant strange atmosphere. The difference divorced her from any response as effectively as the hatch closing behind her severed her past life. With steady steps she headed for the station's main concourse.

She focused on the people. Some stood, turning their head to read signage, looking for their direction. Others talked in small groups. Often a jagged burst of laughter erupted around them. Still others rushed, carrying, pulling or pushing packages, crates, or luggage.

People…strangers...norms, no matter what you called them...they crowded, jostled, and shouted in fast flung sounds she didn't understand. Each one appeared different in shape, size, color, and clothing. Their smell curled within her nose. Each seemed at once both selfabsorbed and attentive, threading through one another's journey with little interest in other travelers. So different.
~ * ~

The story starts there!
Visit Ginger Simpson's Blog Miz Ginger for more Friday Freebits!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Character Takeover

This month's Round-Robin topic is about secondary characters taking over a story. I have to admit I have read stories where I found the secondary character more interesting than the main character or really wanted to read the story of the secondary character. It happens. I believe it has happened in one of my stories.

Magic Aegis was not the first book I wrote, but the first published. The idea was to have several strong women's viewpoints giving insight into the heroine's plight and help the reader understand plot implications the main character could not know. A great change was taking place in the country, Kaereya, and the heroine, Vesper, was symbolic of that change. Now, I don't believe there is anything wrong with Vesper as a character. She is intelligent, perceptive, loving, and courageous. She will show up in some Friday Freebits one of these days.

The Magic Aegis Series
However, when the mercenary Kissre and her horse Bother showed up, my perceptions changed. She kept telling me she was a soldier first and a mercenary from necessity; and yeah, she knew her problems, but those wouldn't affect her duty, her determination, her abilities, or her loyalties. She also new her limitations, and she didn't give a damn what anyone else thought of her as a woman soldier in a male dominated profession.

She entered as a minor character with a specific mission, and proceeded to kick everyone's ass, with deference if needed, including mine, but with weapons and skill if required. As an author I had a character who took thought. Ultimately, she informed me, "No, that's not how I would do that, that's not how I would act. This is how..." With subtle suggestion, she changed the story. Kissre eventually saved the lives of the heroine, the hero, and the heroine's father without dominating the story or making it her own. Her obedience to her orders, especially mine to not overdo her presence, her differences that estranged her from the other characters' expectations, and her love for her animals, earned her the telling of her own story, Acceptance. Snippet paragraphs from her story have already been published in Friday Freebits, and her sister Tyna's story, Change, just finished yesterday. While Change takes place before Acceptance, it wasn't written or published until after — not until Tyna informed me her side of the family argument needed telling — another character takeover.

What I learned was sometimes a writer can introduce an unexpected character whose personality is stronger than those of the main characters. What matters is the story, so use them but control them, too. Hopefully their presence will make the story more believable and increase the reader's enjoyment.

Be sure to check out the blogs of the following writers to read their take on secondary characters taking over. Enjoy!
Marci Baun
Anne Stenhouse
Fiona McGier
A.J. Maguire
Beverley Bateman
Diane Bator
Margaret Fieland
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Geeta Kakade