Tag Archives: academic rambling

A Draft Excerpt From “Little Earthquakes In The Sea”: Time For Goodbye

Content Warning: this piece discusses the death of a child and is based on a true story that took place almost a hundred years ago. For those wishing for a soundtrack while reading, I recommend this.


It rained that day in Bonaventure. The men in linen raincoats slicked with wet wax pried her blue and purple infant from her arms with kind eyes as they stood by the gravesite. He never cried. His eyes scrunched shut and mouth hung open to reveal white gums and a tiny receding purple tongue that never knew her breast. His little hands balled into stiff rigor mortis – the same little hands that once pressed through her skin to feel his parents’ palms. The wood and hammered metal wheelchair creaked beneath her in the gusting wisps of distant thunder carried on harried fat dollops of weather.

It was time to say goodbye.

Having never taken a breath of the sweet earthy air, she knew he only ever lived inside her. Her eyes hesitated on his blue lips. A different blue than the eyes she knew he must have beneath those unopened angelic lids. She imagined how if they had fluttered open she could have seen…

“Anna, it’s time to go.” The captain clasped a firm hand on her shoulder. “You have to say goodbye.” His body trembled, but his feet remained firm in the soggy ground.

Ever the polite grave diggers at Bonaventure – their patient spades waited for the captain’s call. To have her baby’s birth documented at all was a luxury. In the eyes of the state of Georgia and the city of Savannah, he never existed. At least Bonaventure gave her and her husband the dignity of recognizing the agony of her feverish labor after carrying her child for all those months; the right to mourn after knowing him all that time only to lose him before ever hearing his scream of life or giving him a name on paper.

In the distance, a bird flew into a patch of blue sky over the ocean on the blue-gold horizon beyond the mouth of the Wilmington River. Another drop of water hit her as she gazed over her child’s face once more. Her hand grazed the place on her stomach where she felt his final kick before the labor began – where she saw his little foot press through her skin. She let go – her tears hidden by the rain.

The men wrapped his little form in a thin damp cloth dusted with perfumed talc from a pouch on one of the digger’s belts. Smudging dirt on his forehead, the digger knelt and placed her unknown son as if asleep into the soft soil of the small pit. Beneath the morning clouds, the scene took on a light blue glowing hue. She closed her eyes and began to hum the lullaby she’d sung to him every night since she’d first felt his presence as the captain’s jerk of the chair indicated him turning away and processing along the ground. The exhaustion hit her again with a wave of nausea. Her baby boy gone forever as if he was never there at all.

In Bonaventure’s records they added:

1929 – Baby B— – Stillborn


If you want to read more, keep an eye out for future additional updates and excerpts from ‘Little Earthquakes In The Sea’. Liking, commenting, and sharing all helps me know which posts my readers prefer. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today!

Do You Know This Woman?

The Mystery Of Hattie Reams Vande Riet – Part 1

What we know

“Hattie” Reams Vande Riet sat still in an ornate wicker chair at New York Art Gallery at 305 E. Broad St. in Richmond VA approximately one hundred years ago. This posed cabinet card captured her green, light hazel, or dark blue eyes and brown hair rolled into an ornate nest Gibson Girl above her head. Her neck scarf collar and broach with necklace and pinky ring are all carefully selected indications of her class. She was stunning and when I found her at Luxor in 2010 and fell in love.

What I know so far is that Hattie is a nickname for Harriet, Henrietta, Henriette, Helen, or many other traditional female names. Based on the type of cabinet card, photography chemicals used (gelatin bromide over Baryta I think – cannot confirm without damaging the photograph), and the style of attire, the photograph is from the 1890s – 1910s. Hattie appears to be at least 16, placing her year of birth to be in the 1880s – 1900s if she is exceptionally young looking and in her 20s. Given her lack of pierced ears, her jewelry, and her ring placement, she is educated and affluent or hoping to appear as such. It is unclear whether the photograph is pre or during World War I given the hairstyle, though the Gibson Girl fell out of fashion after World War I and during the Influenza Epidemic placing the photograph as no later than the 1910s.

One possible option I tracked down is here. There is some conflicting information between the name on the card and the name listed here. The cursive on the back of the card lacks the spaces and capitalization. So far this is my best lead, but unfortunately, all of the relatives listed on this family tree are deceased.

Based on the year of marriage listed to John Van De Riet, could this have been her bridal/bachelorette portrait? The hairstyle and dress are accurate to Virginia in November of 1906.

Do any of those names look familiar to you? Are they your parents, great grandparents, or great great grandparents? Is Hattie your family member?

Why?

I collect cabinet cards, but Hattie is special. Whenever I obtain a cabinet card with more information than a face, I can’t help but try to find out who these pictures captured. Early photography was a synergistic art form between timing, chemistry, and the capturing of minutes as opposed to hours in time in a way that was lifelike and included human flaws, and thus souls in the opinions of some, unlike portrait painting where commissioned manipulations by the upper-classes were more common (a study of the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous on this topic).

Hattie is someone’s relative and because I have her name I want to reconnect her though this archiving. So this is where our story begins with the first cabinet card I hope to digitize and reconnect with her descendants.

At the time I purchased her photograph, I also found one of an unnamed blond-haired post-mortem (the 1860s – 1880s based on photography method) toddler boy forever alone in his Christening clothes and forgotten by the family that knew him so briefly. I find it important that he never be alone again. I will never digitize his photo for ethical reasons. (I have a love of Hidden Mother Photography and other early child portrait methods. They fill me with warm fuzzies. I will go into these in another post dedicated to early child portrait photography.)

The Cabinet Card Descendants Project

The first cabinet card that is part of this project is Hattie. She was the first cabinet card I purchased with this level of detailed information and therefore I will focus on her first.

Very few cabinet cards have enough information to connect them with their families once they’re separated. My mom’s family is lucky enough that every cabinet card we’ve ever had taken is still in our family’s possession (that we know of) – including the (sometimes broken) glass negatives. Photography became related to spirituality in the South, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as family members died farther and farther away from home without the constant love and contact they once had. Families dispersed across the United States, mailing cabinet cards through the United States Postal Service to loved ones back home with the superstition that each one of these cards contained a small piece of their soul – a gift to be cherished. This bit of superstition was one relayed to me through family legend and is not one I can put much stock in (hope you enjoy the pun there), but many did at the time the photos were created.

I do not fault families for giving these away. Superstitions die over time and are entirely relative to where you are from. The belief in a soul and the afterlife is questionable in the face of modern skepticism. That said, I am making an effort to digitize every cabinet card I get that has names associated with the faces. I will then provide research to attempt to reconnect to the original portrait studios to see if I can start adding names to the other cabinet cards. This way they can be digitized and added to other genealogy websites.

A Note On Cultural Differences

For readers in the UK, please note there are cultural and chemical differences in cabinet card photography between our continents. I have run into the issue previously with discussing old photographs where readers from the UK (and for some reason only the UK) try to impose assumptions on antique photographs from the US based on cultural history and expectations associated with the Edwardian and Victorian eras elsewhere in the world and argue this without doing their research and fact checking. Please do not do this. This is not how history works. At all. Seriously.

The United States experienced a massive social upheaval from the 1840s through the 1940s in a very different way than that of the UK and rest of the world. Every culture and even subgroup has its unique history that can be contributed and needs to be exposed as opposed to erased. This project is about exposing what is objective. I cannot work based on incorrect cultural assumptions here and I need to be able to make corrections so I can reconnect individuals. Some of the unique experiences in the United States had to do with the size of our country and how its population spread out with the rise of the railroad and westward expansion. The rise of the Spiritualism movement (very different from Spiritualism in the UK) also had a role to play in photography at the time, but likely had to less to do with this particular photograph.

How You Can Help

If you have information that can help track down Hattie’s living family members, either by knowing someone that shares a name or if you recognize her face as a relative of yours, please feel free to share any leads you may have. I will take my time to check out each one and provide updates on this website. If anyone wants, I may even start a YouTube series dedicated to this project and tracking down the descendants so they can meet their long lost great grandparents through photographs.

You can send tips to lopotterwrites at gmail dot com. You can also help by liking, sharing, and talking about Hattie! Let’s help find Hattie together.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today. I look forward to helping Hattie find her family and moving on to the next cabinet card in my collection with information and will continue to post information on cabinet cards and the history of portrait photography and how it relates to superstition and spirituality in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Twitter Is A Strange Tool For Geospatial Analysis Of Emotion

The Sentiment Tool

Previously, when I discussed onemilliontweetmap.com I left off a feature from my discussion. Today, I’m going to show you why.

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:38PM 30 July 2020 US MT – baseline sentiment

Time for The Sentiment Tool.

To get an idea of how people feel about a certain keyword or hashtag you can look at how it is being used in association to the connotations of the words in the same tweets. The idea is that words within a language have connotations that can be used to convey how someone is feeling on a subject. The above map is the baseline prior to implementing any keywords or hashtags to narrow it down.

For these I decided to include the Daytime/Nighttime layer since this is a 24 hour visualization. I’m not doing top 5 countries for these images, and instead am focusing on the overall sentiment patterns and I’m going to explain why I’m not the biggest fan of this tool.

1. Keyword: Party

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 1:45PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword party

This one is fun because it is so ambiguous. “Party” can be related to a birthday party or a political party. Some would claim the word “party” has a preexisting positive connotation. Some regions of the world are more negative than others. Africa and the Americas are the most negative based on the tweets from the past 24 hours.

What’s fun about this tool is that you can zoom in on specific tweets to see what some of the positive vs. negative examples are. What I did find was that there’s a lot of inconsistency as to what is counted as “positive.”

Here’s a false positive via Hawaii:

Well… that doesn’t seem very positive.

Let’s try another one! This tweet turned out to be a true positive and is way more wholesome:

What about the negatives?

Oh, well that is sad. A Back To The Future V watch party would be fun.

2. keyword: Election

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 1:56PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword election

Well, more people feel negative or neutral, rather than they feel positive on a global scale. That’s… not good? Maybe the world hates politics! Election itself has a fairly neutral connotation, so I would have expected a neutral sentiment overall.

Based on example 1, we can tell that tweets inclusive of the string “Hitler” can still be detected as positive with a combination of words that still convey a positive connotation by the sentiment algorithm used by onemilliontweetmap.com – so, there’s some work that can be done in regards to reliability.

In summary, many of the positive, negative, and neutral tweets in the US have to do with the suggestion that Election day be moved. Due to consistency, I’ll spare the examples.

Let’s do something more fun!

3. Keyword: Chocolate

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:05PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword chocolate

The assumption often goes that everyone likes chocolate, right? Maybe not! I assumed chocolate would have a neutral or positive connotation to it because it’s food and not everyone likes the same food. But 70% of the world is tweeting “positive” things about chocolate. Delving into the connotation question more, it seems that this is a major barrier for ESL speakers and authors, particularly because the words selected, though direct translations, may not be appropriately based solely on connotation instead of denotation.

4. Keyword: Sadness

To get an idea of how untrustworthy the sentiment tool is I decided it was time to do a test.

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:09PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword: sadness

Okay. Hold up.

This was meant to be my 100% of people don’t think this is happy. Something isn’t right here. Let’s look into this.

False Positive #1:

False Positive #2:

Most of these false positives are celebrations of life – cases where positive language is used in combination with language of grief. Clearly this confuses the heck out of the sentiment tool.

5. Keyword: Fantastic

source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:54PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword: fantastic

So what about false negatives? Well, those can happen too! Using the keyword “fantastic” with the assumption of 100% positive results, I was able to find an example.

In this case it looks like the algorithm may have been confused by the word “missed”? Otherwise, I am uncertain as to why this tweet was counted as a negative sentiment.

The Sentiment Tool In Summary

It’s important to remember how flawed these tools are in the face of judging human emotion. While it’s powerful to be able to look at large populations to gain an understanding of their overall attitudes, as you begin to break it down everything falls apart. There’s too much nuance to trust an algorithm to determine what is objectively positive, negative, or neutral without additional data. Each connotations is determined by social research that is flawed and fails to capture the diversity present within language, instead focusing on a standardization model that homogenizes word sentiment. This is done by some set of people deciding the connotations for words within the sets their algorithms scan for.

Connotations around language are based in culture and regional dialects, rather than the denotations found in dictionaries. Here are some examples of positive things to say where I grew up that would not be interpreted that way elsewhere:

  • Well, she/he/they ain’t ugly.
  • This food is just terrible – I’ll do everyone a favor and finish it.
  • I’d hate to meet you under better circumstances.

What are some regionalisms from where you grew up that don’t match up with the assumed connotations of words? Do you think these would be confusing to someone not from there?

What is your opinion of the sentiment tool? Would you find it helpful in writing? Do you think it’s helpful or does it introduce more confusion?

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Thank you so much for reading this and I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. If you like what you read, please consider liking, commenting, or sharing. This helps me know which posts my readers enjoy the most. And as always – thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to spend with me.

Things In Writing I Pay Attention To That Other People Might Not Care About

If Haskell gets any closer Nyxie will show him the consequences

Yes A Does Really Have To Get To B Eventually

Cause And Effect

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Unresolved situations are frustrating.

Example: If a character experiences trauma, they will be traumatized and then display signs of trauma as a result of the event.

To not experience trauma in response to a traumatic event indicates something other. This could be used as a literary device. If it is not being used as a device it is distracting and takes away from the work. Make sure all actions have consequences.

Does The Characterization Of Each Character Match Up With The Timeline?

Characters are on a journey. Each character is moving from A to B and some will go on to C or D. Along those paths each character is changed. This creates the timeline of a book. How a character is portrayed in a scene needs to match the point in the timeline a character is at.

Example: A character that is in her twenties thinks about bills and her job as opposed to a character in her teens that is thinking about school. Because of this, the relationships formed around these areas are most important in life and are the most emotionally impactful outside of family and those that might as well be family.

We Didn’t Go Anywhere

When the setting of a story changes it’s important to have some form of transition to show movement of time and place.

There are some stories that don’t include enough details about objective indicators of passage of time and check that they are consistent such that all of the details of the story align temporally.

There are some stories that don’t include them at all and it’s somehow eternal summer somewhere bizarre like Alaska.

There are some stories that include way too much detail. It’s overwhelming and distracting from the story. I am suddenly studying the passage of time and the changing of the seasons instead of the nature of man.

There are some stories that include lots and lots of details. So many details. All the details. But none of them align temporally, so suddenly April was both 6 months ago and 2 months ago with Winter only 3 months away. This is when I start getting headaches. James Joyce does this. A lot.

Characters Have Hidden Lives

It’s Okay To Have “Offensive” Characters

There’s a huge difference between an “offensive” character that upsets readers and an overdone inaccurate stereotyped character that upsets readers because it doesn’t resonate.

The best offensive characters speak to the group they’re offending because they are too accurate and too real. This will be upsetting to some people. That’s the kind of “offensive” I relish. There may be those that demand a content warning. Good – research is showing that content warnings increase the reads a piece gets much like good tagging because people are seeking them out.

I don’t care who the author is – I promise if you have done your research and shaped your character in a way that reveals truths in your observations, I will love your character even if people get really upset with you over it. Cut the wound deep and hit where it hurts, not where it’s been done ad nauseum unless it’s real. Reveal something no one else has, but remember that pen names exist for your protection.

Your Characters Have Conversations The Reader Doesn’t Know About And Doesn’t See

An author cannot document everything. They are writing down a snapshot of a potential alternate universe that could exist because someone thought of it, right? That means all of those characters have private inner lives the reader can’t possibly know in its entirety. This means characters can have relationships with each other that are implied instead of explicitly stated. All of this helps to create depth.

It helps to come up with a full backstory for every character in a story even if it’s never talked about or mentioned. This will influence how dialogue is written and how hidden relationships between characters are revealed.

Your Characters Have Moods

Depending on your character’s internal state they will have a mood. This mood will translate into action or inaction in response to a stimulus and that will result in some consequence. Moods and energy levels related to exhaustion as an effect of the story timeline should all be cohesive.

Your Characters Of Different Cultures Are Going To Have Trouble Getting Along

Culture clash is real. The minority of people will be peaceful and fine and that’s great, but your characters aren’t the saints you think they are. Nope. They are averse to change and other cultures and view other as dangerous. This goes all ways. Be real – your characters from different cultures are going to be uneasy around each other and hesitant to make friends for legitimate reasons evolutionary wired in (if they’re humanoid).

Settings Are Places That Can Only Be Known Through Experience

Setting Descriptions Have A Time And Place With Characters In Them

It is not uncommon that I run into setting descriptions that are detached from the story either by the characters not interacting with the setting features or by the characters existing completely separate from setting descriptions.

By integrating setting details with the story as a whole the sensory experience can be the focus. The integrated sensory experience of the setting provides the reader with a greater sense of passage of time.

Settings Indicate Culture

Think about it – In the United States, if I set a story in the South a reader is going to anticipate a lot of passive aggressive saccharine manipulation straddled by y’alls happening. If I set a story in the Northeast, there’s a more WASPy social norm puppet show expectation.

But that’s based on the dominant culture of an area. What about when you’re writing about an area’s subculture?

I like to refer to framing subculture structures in writing as “country clubs” – it’s exclusive, you need to know someone to be someone, and there are generally specific central gathering places.

TL;DR

  • Make sure everything makes sense temporally
  • Ground the reader in temporal details outside the character
  • Offend by speaking the truth and make very effort to ensure that truth resonates in an effective and impactful way with the audience
  • Characters have conversations the reader won’t see but totally influence what the final dialogue will be.
  • Characters have inner lives, states, and energy levels that change as a result of the story. Write that.
  • Culture clash is real. Observe it and describe it. Be curious and nuanced. This gives a story so much depth.
  • Details of setting can be added to show passage of time in the story and immerse the characters and action in the location.
  • Settings indicate dominant culture and can somewhat indicate subcultures.

Thank you for reading! If you like this post on writing please like and let me know. What are things in books that drive you crazy?