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Poem: "The Steamsmith" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Steamsmith"

This poem came out of the November 1, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a detailed character prompt from marina_bonomi who also sponsored this poem.

"The Steamsmith" is steampunk, and features an odd form of alchemical science; the physics, biology, and other parameters in this setting differ considerably from those in our consensus reality.  I've included some vocabulary notes below the poem; the etymology is largely Greek.  You can read more about the classical elements online.  There is a matching poem, "The Four Humours," which delves into interactions between that alchemical science and various types of people.

Also, I've asked someone to britpick this but it's gotten sponsored before that could be completed.  I did make time this morning to run the poem through a British English spellchecker.  If anyone spots something that doesn't seem to fit the context, please let me know.  I'm a lot more fluent with British than most Americans, but there are still things I miss -- and I'm only somewhat familiar with steampunk as a genre.


The Steamsmith


It was quite a sensation
when Maryam Smith moved into
the quiet middle-class neighbourhood
full of tailors and bank tellers and tutors.

She didn't come in a hansom with a baggage cart
drawn by a team of ordinary horses,
nor even in a fancy new steam-waggon
with its engine chuffing and whistling
in the brisk London air.

No, she came marching in her own black boots
with her tommies clanking along behind in a parade,
bright gears whirring as they carried her worldly goods
up the front steps of the little brick house.
Her walking stick clicked against the cobblestones
as she came, and she waved it in the air
to organise the tommies in their work,
deft as a conductor directing an orchestra.

The neighbours leaned out of doors and windows
to watch, for they had rarely seen such a sight.
Her white gloves were very crisp
against the smooth dark chocolate of her skin.
When she smiled, her teeth stood out
like almonds in a dark-toasted tea biscuit.
Her hair was done up in dozens of tiny knots
all over her head, fastened with shiny brass fittings.

Gleaming proudly on the lapel of her frock coat
was a pin made of silver and gold --
the silver crescent of the moon for Water and
the gold circle of the sun for Fire,
its edge notched with teeth to form a gear --
the emblem of the Steamsmith guild.

(They hadn't wanted to let her in, of course,
but she was more intelligent and more refined
than any three of them put together,
and after she demonstrated how to
crack light into its component elements,
separating a molecule of phos
into an atom of aer  and an atom of pyra,
they would have looked like complete cads
to keep her out, and they couldn't have that.
So Maryam Smith got her guild pin.)

The women in the neighbourhood gossiped,
of course, but it did them little good.  She would
disappear into her carriage house for days at a time,
having turned it into a private laboratory
from which colourful plumes of smoke
emerged at unpredictable intervals.
The men swore she would blow the place up,
twiddling around with things a woman
had no business handling,
but she never did.

Then one rainy afternoon,
a steam-carriage sent to pick up a tutor
broke down in the street near her house.
Maryam popped up next to the chauffeur.
"I say, old chap, from the sound of the engine
there's a leak in your hood that's letting in water --
and the least bit of hudor  in the arche
will shut your fuel cycle right down,"
she said cheerfully as she propped her umbrella
against the upraised bonnet of the steam-carriage.

With that she stripped off her white leather gloves,
meticulously dried off the engine with her handkerchief,
and wedged a bit of putty into a tiny hole in the bonnet.
"That should do until you get home," said Maryam,
"though you'd best get that hole soldered properly
as soon as possible.  Good day, lads!"
She tipped her hat at them and strode away,
leaving the chauffeur and the tutor staring dazedly
as she sprang up the steps to her front door.

The next day, the tutor's wife called with an invitation to tea,
and the chauffeur brought a calling card from his lord,
and that was the end of the rude talk for a while.

* * *
aer -- the element of Air

arche -- a prime steamwork fuel; a molecule consisting of one atom of aer (Air)  and two of pyra (Fire).  It quits working if exposed to hudor (Water).

hudor -- the element of Water

phos -- light; a molecule consisting of one atom of aer (Air) and one of pyra (Fire)

pyra -- the element of Fire

steamsmith -- an expert in alchemical science and technology

steamwork -- alchemical science and technology

tommies -- automatons, robots, androids; fairly sophisticated models that resemble people

***************************

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Comments
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 2nd, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
That third verse begs to be painted, I wish I had the talent.

Do I see another series in the making? ;-)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>That third verse begs to be painted, I wish I had the talent.<<

Well, I can think of at least two options:
1) Give it to meeksp as a prompt for Story Sketches.
2) Show it to your husband.

>>Do I see another series in the making? ;-) <<

Yep. I figured that as soon as I read the description in your prompt, and then "The Four Humours" emerged later, so there are two poems in this setting to start with.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

LOL, I read it to him as soon as you sent the preview.
He's not really into steampunk illustration *but* he'll definitely paint a portrait of Maryam for me (and I'll pass it on, of course).
She's been in my mind for a while and 'Maryam' is my user name on a steampunk site I occasionally visit.
You gave me a start with her hairdo,I hadn't put it in the prompt but that's exactly how I visualize it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>LOL, I read it to him as soon as you sent the preview.
He's not really into steampunk illustration *but* he'll definitely paint a portrait of Maryam for me (and I'll pass it on, of course). <<

*happydance* I look forward to seeing that. I really admire his art.

>>She's been in my mind for a while and 'Maryam' is my user name on a steampunk site I occasionally visit.<<

That is so cool. Also, if you're familiar with steampunk, you can help me get a handle on this genre. It's something I've read on occasion, but very rarely written.

>>You gave me a start with her hairdo,I hadn't put it in the prompt but that's exactly how I visualize it.<<

Yay! I think the hairdo is a riff off of some traditional African ones that involve metal rings or other doodads. You still see it over here with things like beads on the ends of braids.

Maryam is loud for a character. I think her life has made her assertive and it just carries over. Most of my characters don't 'notice' me or interact with me directly, though there are always a few who do. She swept into my office and dumped an armload of stuff all over my desk; that's how I got most of the alchemical science/technology, enough to know where to look up the remainder. So I'm not surprised that she's perceptible to both of us independently. I've had this sort of thing happen to me before, enough times that I just acknowledge I'm usually writing things down rather than making things up.

Also, I'm really pleased to have a black female lead, who is a sort of scientist-mechanic, and a new genre to play with. Hee! I need to see if I can figure out a way to render my little pencil-sketch of the steamsmith pin in a way that could be shared online. It just begs to be made into jewelry, or at least printed on a button. And I am so going to look for metal embellishments at the scrapbooking store -- I did that once for "Artifacts of Intelligent Design."
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: November 2nd, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Seriously: I have a friend who does buttons and has a source for jewelry. I'll point him at this and ask if he could come up with something for the guild pin.

Fair warning: It would not be free, since he makes his living doing that sort of thing.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Seriously: I have a friend who does buttons and has a source for jewelry. I'll point him at this and ask if he could come up with something for the guild pin. <<

That's a thought. It's an eye-catching design that might well appeal to more steampunk fans than just my own.

>>Fair warning: It would not be free, since he makes his living doing that sort of thing.<<

I could probably come up with the $1-2 typical for a button. Custom jewelry is likely to be outside my foreseeable price range, alas. I know enough about jewelry design to know that what I described and drew is perfectly feasible, but not exactly cheap even if done in steel and brass rather than silver and gold.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 2nd, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Pin

I'm getting into steampunk as a fashion style (love the 'handmade' approach) and I'm definitely interested, I bet members of the steamfashion community would be too.

Or...Wouldn't it be cool if the pin ended up linked to Maryam and other PoCs, promoting chromatic steampunk? How could it be done?
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 2nd, 2011 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>Maryam is loud for a character.<

She definitely is, 'assertive' is the right word for her. And she might just have made another 'victim'.

Over dinner I was chatting with hubby about the poem and that third verse and, out of the blue, with a twinkle in his eye he commented 'it's inspiring' (note: he has said long and loud that he likes steampuk to look at but is not his genre to paint and he had been busy as a beaver for months with industry work).
When I told he that he had just committed himself he laughed in a definite 'I knew it' way. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 07:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> She definitely is, 'assertive' is the right word for her. <<

Sooth. I am further reminded of a distinction that I make: If you can back it up, it's confidence. If you can't, it's arrogance.

>> And she might just have made another 'victim'. <<

Hee! Maryam is as sticky as the tar baby.

>> Over dinner I was chatting with hubby about the poem and that third verse and, out of the blue, with a twinkle in his eye he commented 'it's inspiring' (note: he has said long and loud that he likes steampuk to look at but is not his genre to paint and he had been busy as a beaver for months with industry work).
When I told he that he had just committed himself he laughed in a definite 'I knew it' way. :) <<

Yay! That's so exciting. I can sympathize -- I haven't been much into steampunk, but oh, I like this version.

I'll try and remember to share what I discover, puttering around. So far I'm realizing that this London doesn't look the same as the usual steampunk, which tends to be smoky and dark and gritty with a gleam of metal. This has its grungy parts, I'm sure, but much of it seems to be a softly glowing London of fog and gaslight, metal and glass. They're actually replacing a lot of early industrial stuff with cleaner options as they learn more about steamwork. So the gaslamps, when switched over to phos, aren't exactly burning anything. (Maryam thinks that burning things is filthy, and she kind of has a point there.) The science shapes not just the culture, but the aesthetics.

I'm betting their cameras work by somehow crystallizing phos into solid form.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

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<<So far I'm realizing that this London doesn't look the same as the usual steampunk, which tends to be smoky and dark and gritty with a gleam of metal. This has its grungy parts, I'm sure, but much of it seems to be a softly glowing London of fog and gaslight, metal and glass. They're actually replacing a lot of early industrial stuff with cleaner options as they learn more about steamwork. So the gaslamps, when switched over to phos, aren't exactly burning anything. (Maryam thinks that burning things is filthy, and she kind of has a point there.) The science shapes not just the culture, but the aesthetics.

I'm betting their cameras work by somehow crystallizing phos into solid form.>>

Developing the science here could be really fascinating, a clean industrial revolutionhas great implications for the future of the world, and at the same time it doesn't take away from the 'real' grittyness that would be the impact of a relatively new technology on people, and the possibility of social commentary 'Maryam-style' on social issues.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Developing the science here could be really fascinating,<<

I think so, yes. It's so different. A lot of steampunk has a strong fantasy element. This is solidly science, just ... some of it is the kind that resembles magic until examined closely.

>> a clean industrial revolution has great implications for the future of the world, <<

Yes. From what I can tell so far: The nobles and the wealthy have as much of the new technology as they choose to adopt. (Not everyone likes it.) The middle class is just starting to get the innovations, often secondhand or as a perk of service. The lower class still makes do with mostly older options. But there's an increasing push to make some things generally available, precisely because they are cleaner and better for society at large. That point is fought mainly by enlightening people's self-interest.

The new technology mostly does seem cleaner than earlier options. Of course, some of it is dangerous or at least volatile, but then coal dust can explode too and it's filthy. The ground-engines may well be grungy places to work. Things that run on water power are apt to be wet. But a lot of the gear runs on fire and/or air types of energy, and thus less messy.

>> and at the same time it doesn't take away from the 'real' grittyness that would be the impact of a relatively new technology on people, and the possibility of social commentary 'Maryam-style' on social issues.<<

Right. I think much of the conflict comes as people are realizing more about how the world actually works, and it's not always what they thought it would be. So they're confronted with things like smart women and capable foreigners, which makes them uncomfortable, and uncomfortable people often get defensive and belligerent. There are questions about what a society should provide for its people and how; not every society answers those questions the same way.

One thing I like about Maryam is that her combination of qualities and circumstance will place her firmly in the central action -- no matter who else shows up. The steamsmith is at the hub of a wheel, that connects with other wheels.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Right. I think much of the conflict comes as people are realizing more about how the world actually works, and it's not always what they thought it would be. So they're confronted with things like smart women and capable foreigners, which makes them uncomfortable, and uncomfortable people often get defensive and belligerent. There are questions about what a society should provide for its people and how; not every society answers those questions the same way.

One thing I like about Maryam is that her combination of qualities and circumstance will place her firmly in the central action -- no matter who else shows up. The steamsmith is at the hub of a wheel, that connects with other wheels<<

Yes *and* yes, she is definitely the main character, and I love how this setting is shaping up to be 'steam' and 'punk' in a very unusual way, most of what I read seems to be very 'Victorian with technology grafted on', this.is.different.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Yes *and* yes, she is definitely the main character, and I love how this setting is shaping up to be 'steam' and 'punk' in a very unusual way, most of what I read seems to be very 'Victorian with technology grafted on', this.is.different.<<

I've been exploring some of the other scientific and technological differences, trying to spot the major ones; and the branches of medicine; and trying to figure out which cultures have focused on what. I haven't gotten to the stage of collating those impressions yet though.
moonwolf1988 From: moonwolf1988 Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't notice much when I went through this earlier, sorry I couldn't get back to you before it got sponsored (I've had a pounding headache most of the day), but colourful needs a u if you're using British English. You picked up on neighbourhood though, which was the only other thing I was going to mention.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Fixed!

Thank you for pointing that out. Spelling seems to be harder to switch tracks with than vocabulary.

I really appreciate you looking over this for me. Don't worry too much about speed -- marina_bonomi can be a very fast pounce on sponsoring things. Ideally I try to do any necessary proofreading before I post a poem, but it's not always possible given the way several of my sponsors watch the fishbowl like eager cats. But that's okay; people are also tolerant about me going back to revise things that I've posted. Crowdfunding often involves open-source, in-view editing.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
*giggle* I like her. I like her a lot.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that. Feel free to prompt future appearances.
siliconshaman From: siliconshaman Date: November 2nd, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh now I DO like her, and her universe!

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm glad to hear that. I think Maryam is gaining fans rapidly.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I love the bits about Alchemical Elements and Molecular Structure! Science! But different!<<

*wink* "It's science, Jim, but not as we know it."

That is, it can be studied rationally, experimented with, and replicated. It has laws and patterns which can be discovered and described. From what I've seen, I think they understand the four main elements pretty well, but they have only a partial grasp of aether so far. They know some common molecules, but nowhere near all of them yet and are still figuring out which is made of what and how many. So we're at the exciting part of their industrial and scientific revolution...

>>And yes, Maryam is certainly a character who demands one's attention. In the best way, of course.<<

... and there's a smart black gal applying a whetstone to the cutting edge of it. Won't this be fun?

I've noticed that Maryam is an interesting blend of quiet and conforming vs. flashy and individualistic. She's a black woman in a field dominated by white men, so she stands out; she tends to dress and act like a gentleman, which sort of makes her blend in when she's with them, but outside that context if someone looks closely, it stands out instead. She can be gloriously flamboyant with her automatons, then discreetly pop up and fix something in two minutes. The contrast fascinates me.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 05:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>And she's relentlessly Competent. I'm willing to overlook a lot in a protagonist who's just solidly Competent, and when one comes along who's otherwise cool on top of that, well, I'm sold.<<

Aye, she is that -- infuriatingly Competent, even, in the opinion of many other folks in that culture. She's living proof that some of their dearly held beliefs about human nature are bollocks. When you're living in an industrial revolution with a newish faith that science is Good And Right, black sheep and white crows can be tremendously discomfiting. Small minds can rip a muscle trying to accommodate such things, and that's painful. She is so skilled and so useful, they can't afford to ignore her. She doesn't try to demand acclaim or reach outside her skills, just insists that people give credit where credit is due and won't accept anything less.

>>And yeah, "Science" really stays the same. It's just being used here to study a Universe different from ours.<<

*nod* I'll have to do some poking around, but I suspect that the philosophical principles of science apply, while the nature of scientific information in that setting differs from our own.

This process of scientific method works.

Exploring the similarities and differences could be fun. Some of the fundamental differences influence how things in this setting work in ways alien to our own, like the interactions between personality and technology. That loops around to affect the culture and characters.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Pretty much, yes. Some of the most interesting experiments aren't done with the expectation of a particular result, but just to see what will happen. It's all about trying to figure out how the world works.

Now in this series, I'm thinking it would be fun to see what happens if some of the characters are a little more serious about their science than people were (sadly, still are...) in this world. That is, if you can provide evidence proving that some dearly-held belief is wrong, some of them will (however grudgingly) abandon it and attempt to find a new hypothesis. This steampunk version of London is not as grungy and smoky as the historic version or most steampunk versions. It's a little brighter, and somewhere in there is a clue machine.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>I've noticed that Maryam is an interesting blend of quiet and conforming vs. flashy and individualistic. She's a black woman in a field dominated by white men, so she stands out; she tends to dress and act like a gentleman, which sort of makes her blend in when she's with them, but outside that context if someone looks closely, it stands out instead. She can be gloriously flamboyant with her automatons, then discreetly pop up and fix something in two minutes. The contrast fascinates me.<

All true, your poem has put her into focus for me, now I see her as a kind of trickster, the one who is a coltural hero (the inventor or discoverer) and who uses humour to throw the status quo off-balance or to make people see under a different perspective.
Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>All true, your poem has put her into focus for me, now I see her as a kind of trickster, the one who is a coltural hero (the inventor or discoverer) and who uses humour to throw the status quo off-balance or to make people see under a different perspective.<<

Ooohhh!!! She corresponds to Papa Legba! He loves to wander through worlds and stories, changing guises along the way. NOW a whole bunch of things make ever so much more sense: the body language, the way she dresses, the genderbending, the sense of humor, the elegant blend of magic and science. It all fits together quite neatly.

Yeah, you really don't want to leave your precious cultural apple cart parked in the road when Maryam is in a hurry. There will be ... applesauce.

I love characters who challenge preconceptions and upset assumptions. It's easy to look at her and think you know something, but you'd be wrong more often than right.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Ooohhh!!! She corresponds to Papa Legba!<<

Oh,my, guardian of doors, trickster, master of disguise...yes, yes yes!!!
I wonder whether her African ancestry is Fon.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 02:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Hmm ... I don't know. I may need to do some digging. Fon is a possibility. So are Yoruba and Igbo.

I've been thinking about Maryam's appearance and background. I see her as tall and slim, with small curves. She has a long straight nose in an oval face, more handsome than beautiful; there is just enough 'pretty' about her that she can appear feminine if she chooses to play it up. Otherwise it's easy for people to glance at the clothes and skills and assume she is a man. She's basically got British build but African coloring and hair.

So that got me thinking about her background and how she came about, because she's just such an odd combination for that setting and yet she still manages to make a place for herself there. Once upon a time, there was a minor lord who married a wonderful woman, but sadly they never had any children and the lady died after a lingering illness. The gentleman went home and very quietly, very thoroughly fell apart in private. His black maid -- quite lovely in a short round way -- provided some physical comfort in the process of scooping up the pieces and putting him back together.

Well, once was enough, and Maryam was born. Since her father had no other children, he treated her more as a son than a daughter, and enthusiastically encouraged her to develop her skills. (He takes a very dim view of men who father children and then shirk responsibility, which does not endear him to his peers.) So her 'imprint' of British society is that of a gentleman, and what ability she has to function as a lady came about later and secondhand. From her mother she gained an appreciation of the service class and some tidbits of African background, but it didn't stick as much.

I am retrospectively amused by another turnabout: there's a cliche of a white person moving into any ethnic group and outdoing them at their own game, whereas here we have a black woman making a better British gentlemen than most of the blokes in her guild.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I like her backstory,I'd love to know more about her parents.
You know, in a way her background reminds me of another remarkable coloured person, General Dumas, (but I like Maryam's dad better than his).

Now that I think of it, many of my favorite characters cross-dress for 'functional' purposes, I've always had a soft spot for Oscar François de Jarjayes and my favourite roleplaying character is a Rohir, a member of the King's Eored who is passing herself off as a man for obvious reasons (and that's just a couple of them).
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> I like her backstory, I'd love to know more about her parents.<<

I'm gradually feeling things out. We can have fun writing them up.

>> You know, in a way her background reminds me of another remarkable coloured person, General Dumas, (but I like Maryam's dad better than his).<<

I'm pleased that she has two likable yet plausible parents, who are both still living at the time of the first poem. Her father actually did offer to marry her mother, that being his idea of the decent thing to do after getting a woman pregnant; she politely turned him down, preferring to keep their previously established relationship. And that works for them as a family, for sufficiently flexible definitions of "family."

I've been jotting down notes regarding his opinions about how a gentleman should behave. There are all sorts of fascinating hints about religion and science and society and personal responsibility. Some of the old chivalric code of honor is in there, refracted and refined.

>>Now that I think of it, many of my favorite characters cross-dress for 'functional' purposes, I've always had a soft spot for Oscar François de Jarjayes and my favourite roleplaying character is a Rohir, a member of the King's Eored who is passing herself off as a man for obvious reasons (and that's just a couple of them).<<

Yes, I love that sort of thing. I'm also historian enough to know that it happened early and, if not often, repeatedly enough to leave a diversity of tracks. Maryam would probably have had a much easier time if she had abandoned her family, changed her identity, and passed herself off as a man. But that's not her style.

I've been contemplating her sense of self. I wondered whether she was innately trans, in the sense of feeling that she had been born in the wrong body; or if she was simply possessed of traits and skills that her society considers mannish and therefore she dresses the part because that is the social role she has taken on. I'm leaning toward the latter. I suspect that Maryam is simply fluid in ways that few people are, finding her way through life like water pouring through stones. I rather like that about her. She is not easily definable. There are ways in which her culture has vividly imprinted on her ... and yet ways in which it cannot touch her.

And of course, most Trickster figures cross-dress and blur other social lines. There is power in it, which is why it's often discouraged.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>I'm gradually feeling things out. We can have fun writing them up.<<

Yes! :) it would be wonderful to have a 'shared folder' for world-building and brain-storming. I wonder wheter it could work as a setting for 'mixed media': poetry and prose for instance, I have a few scenes in mind that might coalesce in something more, but the main elements of the setting should be firm for that to work (anything I might write will go by you before being made public, of course).


<<I'm pleased that she has two likable yet plausible parents, who are both still living at the time of the first poem. Her father actually did offer to marry her mother, that being his idea of the decent thing to do after getting a woman pregnant; she politely turned him down, preferring to keep their previously established relationship. And that works for them as a family, for sufficiently flexible definitions of "family." I've been jotting down notes regarding his opinions about how a gentleman should behave. There are all sorts of fascinating hints about religion and science and society and personal responsibility. Some of the old chivalric code of honor is in there, refracted and refined.<< This sounds more and more interesting. :) <<I've been contemplating her sense of self. I wondered whether she was innately trans, in the sense of feeling that she had been born in the wrong body; or if she was simply possessed of traits and skills that her society considers mannish and therefore she dresses the part because that is the social role she has taken on. I'm leaning toward the latter.<< Yes that's how I 'sense' her too. Whatever gets the job done... It's interesting to compare the characters that came out from my involvement in your Poetry Fishbowls. The Origami Mage seems the most at ease in her culture and her role, she nudges and flows, tries to leave things better than she had found them but doesn't 'fight' openly. Fiorenza (on whose birth I had no hand but I feel I've 'adopted' since) is very down-to-earth, she goes her own way when she needs it but she knows the boundaries and seem to know very well how much she can push them before reaching the limits for her village. Maryam might not be smarter than either of the others but she is also cultured, and a big-city woman with a specific set of abilities that are much valued. She knows it, moreover she is on the treshold, half in, half out and knows how to use her different perspective. The variations fascinate me, it's a great journey to see them all develop and grow. Thank you for creating two of them and taking the third one in. :)
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Sorry, I tried to format the comment decently but LJ runs everything together...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> it would be wonderful to have a 'shared folder' for world-building and brain-storming. <<

Yeah, if we could find a way to make that work conveniently. There are file-sharing options online but I tend to make them all crash. :P We could just pass stuff back and forth. I so need to collate some background material files for this project, as soon as it stops, um, fizzing wildly in my brain and foaming all over everywhere.

>>I wonder wheter it could work as a setting for 'mixed media': poetry and prose for instance, I have a few scenes in mind that might coalesce in something more, but the main elements of the setting should be firm for that to work (anything I might write will go by you before being made public, of course).<<

That would be cool. It's such a big setting, both in terms of global scope and social import. Some stories (whether prose or poetry) are really going to depend on precise scientific details or unique historical twists. Others may be more general or more personal. I am trying to figure out some of the major characteristics of the setting.

>>Yes that's how I 'sense' her too. Whatever gets the job done... <<

*nod* Maryam is pragmatic without being provincial.

>> It's interesting to compare the characters that came out from my involvement in your Poetry Fishbowls. <<

Oh yes, I love doing this! It has come up in various posts, dealing with gender or ethnicity or what-all else. I always have to laugh when someone says that a writer's characters are all just like the writer. Mine aren't even like each other.

>> The Origami Mage seems the most at ease in her culture and her role, she nudges and flows, tries to leave things better than she had found them but doesn't 'fight' openly. <<

Yes. She is a good fit for her culture. So are Shahana and Ari, for all their world is on the rocks right now.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> We could just pass stuff back and forth. I so need to collate some background material files for this project,<<

That would be good, I already have a 'Maryam' folder on my PC (most empty now, but I think it will be bulging in no time).

>>as soon as it stops, um, fizzing wildly in my brain and foaming all over everywhere.<<

You too? :D , today I caught myself driving to the wrong place for a job appointment because my brain was in Maryam's London.

Do you have my email address?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!


>> Fiorenza (on whose birth I had no hand but I feel I've 'adopted' since) is very down-to-earth, she goes her own way when she needs it but she knows the boundaries and seem to know very well how much she can push them before reaching the limits for her village. <<

I think that Fiorenza is almost a good fit for where she is. She just needs that little bit of wiggle room to accommodate being plunked into office at a very young age, and being smarter than most of the folks around her. She is clever and wise and well-versed in the kinds of information that she needs, with a very practical and down-to-earth approach.

You really have had a lot of influence in shaping Fiorenza, particularly the local color that makes her and her village come alive, and the complexities of the character that were only hinted in the first poem. Just adding Don Candido opened up a whole new dimension with interaction between two people who often rub each other the wrong way, but are still essentially on the same side.

>> Maryam might not be smarter than either of the others but she is also cultured, and a big-city woman with a specific set of abilities that are much valued. <<

I think Maryam really is a genius. She has not just a high speed of thought, but that way of thinking around corners that so few people have and generally leaves bystanders wondering what just happened. She also has enough of a knowledge base to maximize that potential. A key difference is that she is -- unlike the Origami Mage or Fiorenza -- a theoretician. She can figure out how and why things work, and use that to do whole new leaps of possibility. I suspect that she's not quite as wise or worldly either; while she isn't foolish or inconsiderate, there are things she'll miss just because she's moving through a complex world and only understands part of it. That's actually an interesting place for growth.

>> She knows it, moreover she is on the threshold, half in, half out and knows how to use her different perspective. <<

Yes, that's both an advantage and a disadvantage. She has more parallax but less acceptance, or at least, she has to fight for the acceptance. She has her preconceptions, as everyone does ... but if they suddenly part company with the observed evidence, she'll probably stop and shake her head and backtrack to see what's really going on.

>>The variations fascinate me, it's a great journey to see them all develop and grow. Thank you for creating two of them and taking the third one in.<<

Sooth. I love the interaction. And I am just thrilled to pieces that you've introduced Maryam and me.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Yes that was the point that was in the back of my mind, she is a researcher as well as an engineer, Fiorenza has an empirical approach.
What Maryam isn't is street-wise, I feel her perception of what life is on the streets is theoretical, she *knows*it from her mother but knowing and experiencing are two very different things.

>>She can figure out how and why things work, and use that to do whole new leaps of possibility. I suspect that she's not quite as wise or worldly either; while she isn't foolish or inconsiderate, there are things she'll miss just because she's moving through a complex world and only understands part of it. That's actually an interesting place for growth.<<

Exactly, I'm really looking forward to her development and growth.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 5th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Yes that was the point that was in the back of my mind, she is a researcher as well as an engineer, Fiorenza has an empirical approach.<<

I get the impression that Fiorenza just doesn't care much about most abstracts. She's smart enough to do research, it simply doesn't interest her and she has enough intuition that it's rarely needed.

Ironically, I don't think Fiorenza and Maryam would like each other much. Their personalities are oriented in such opposite ways.

>>What Maryam isn't is street-wise, I feel her perception of what life is on the streets is theoretical, she *knows*it from her mother but knowing and experiencing are two very different things.<<

Yyyyeah, she has a British gentleman's awareness of what goes on in a back alley. Almost nil. That could be a useful weakness to exploit.

Her mother has a job as an upper-class maid, whose view of the underclass probably comes more from her own childhood rather than recent experience. So Maryam's knowledge of such things is secondhand at best and more often thirdhand. I'll probably know more about this when I pin down the state of slavery in Britain.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 5th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Ironically, I don't think Fiorenza and Maryam would like each other much. Their personalities are oriented in such opposite ways.<<

Yes, likely each of them would find the other incomprehensible to booth, never mind that Maryam works with machines and Fiorenza grows things and raises animals.

>>Yyyyeah, she has a British gentleman's awareness of what goes on in a back alley. Almost nil. That could be a useful weakness to exploit.<<

°Nods° that could open quite a few possibilities, yes.

>>Her mother has a job as an upper-class maid, whose view of the underclass probably comes more from her own childhood rather than recent experience.<<

True, but in 'our' Victorian England maids were more or less free game, and more often than not if one found hersef pregnant she was thrown out.
Maryam's father is definitely not average, but her mother might have seen more than one friend working in a different house ending up on the street or in a workhouse.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 6th, 2011 08:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>True, but in 'our' Victorian England maids were more or less free game,<<

That depended on the noble(s) who ran the house. There were various schools of thought on this issue, and people argued about it, including but not limited to:
* those who believed in treating people decently regardless of class
* those who didn't care about lower classes, but would not sully their own pure flesh by having sex outside their class
* those who felt that nobility and/or wealth entitled them to do as they damn pleased

When I looked up materials on Victorian culture and what it means to be a gentleman, I found remnants of and references to that argument -- whether nobility depended more or character or on birth, and whether or not the nobles had (or practiced) any degree of responsibility to commoners. That's just as much an issue in Maryam's world as it was in ours, but some of the details vary because the context is different.

>> and more often than not if one found herself pregnant she was thrown out. <<

True, probably in both worlds.

>> Maryam's father is definitely not average,<<

Right. Plenty of his peers find his morality annoying. He's not entirely alone, though; he's just up toward the top end of self-expectations.

>> but her mother might have seen more than one friend working in a different house ending up on the street or in a workhouse.<<

Very likely, yes. She really does have a great job for someone of her skills; I can't blame her for wanting to keep it rather than venture into a different role she knew nothing about.

Also worth mentioning: If you mistreat the help, they become a lot less helpful. They might just be nervous and drop things. They might spit in the soup. They might steal things. They might quit without notice. If they're really upset and opportunity presents, they might take a bribe for information or access to your personal space or what-all else. They certainly aren't liable to stick up for you if you need it. Households with a lord who likes to futter the maids -- especially if they aren't wholly willing -- tend to have a high turnover and other hassles. No amount of wealth or prestige can alleviate those problems entirely, and that was quite well known and often talked about. It made for a lot of gossip because households varied, but most of them had at least one way of treating servants shabbily. Some of the antagonists will likely be this type of upperclass.

Conversely, a household that treats its servants well can attract the best skilled and most loyal ones, often even if the pay isn't as good as some other house offers. The service is usually competent and faithful, and the turnover considerably lower. It's a very subtle form of power to have, because most society personages just don't think of it -- but it's real and it can make a huge different at the right moment. Maryam got this one from both of her parents, different aspects of it, and it's very useful to her.

A service family may have members spread over a number of employers, and servants talk to each other, so they know who the bad and good employers are. You can tell a great deal about a man, based on whether and what his servants say about him.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: February 14th, 2015 03:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Awesome! Very interesting character.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 14th, 2015 03:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like her.
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