Matters of Definition; or, Why Definitions Matter

Let’s talk for a minute about this petition in support of Congressional Resolution 642, and why it’s a good thing.  The petition asks for Congress to declare magic – stage magic, that is – an art form.  That’s all.  (And if dance – which also requires a high level of skill, and takes years of practice to learn, and is performed for the benefit of an audience – is an art form, then stage magic certainly is, too.) The resolution doesn’t ask the government for money, or for special laws; it only asks for a definition.

What difference, one may ask, will an official government definition make?  It means protection, for one thing:  Everybody who works in a creative or performing field knows that “art” gets more respect, and gets cut more slack, than “entertainment” does if it happens to upset the powerful or well-connected – or just the easily-offended – people of this world.   It also means preservation: It’s a lot easier to find sponsorship and funding and archival resources for the history of an art form than for ephemeral entertainment.  (We pause here to weep for lost Dr. Who episodes, and early movies where the only surviving film stock was destroyed for the sake of retrieving the silver nitrate, and the countless comic book collections thrown away in the spring-cleaning trash.)  And it can mean promotion, especially in the form of funding:  If stage magic is an officially-designated art form, then it becomes a lot easier for magicians to apply for grants and similar programs that will allow them to develop and refine their art, and to pass it along to another generation.

Which brings me to another, related matter of definition (or, strictly speaking, orthography).  I used to get vaguely irritated by the use of the alternate spelling “magick”, as used by Wiccans and other pagans to refer to an aspect of their spiritual practices, mostly because the sorting-box in my brain kept putting it into the same container as “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe” and other faux-forsoothery.

But over time, I’ve come around to an appreciation for the alternate spelling.  If its use can keep stage magicians from being denounced as tools of Satan by the sort of people who think that Satan has nothing better to do than seduce people into iniquity with a linking-rings routine, and keep practitioners of Wicca from being asked to pull rabbits out of hats or do card tricks . . . then I say it’s a good distinction, and we should keep it around.

Not Your Usual Job Opportunity

Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire, is looking for a new Wolfman for the 2016 summer season.

Clark’s Trading Post is one of the first dedicated “roadside attractions” in New England, having originally been established in 1928 as “Ed Clark’s Eskimo Sled Dog Ranch.”  Tourists could view the sled dog teams and purchase souvenirs and maple candy.  In 1931, the first of the trained bears was added to the show, which differed from most trained-bear acts of the time because it used what would now be referred to as “positive reinforcement,” which Ed Clark adapted from the methods he used to train his dog teams.

(As it turned out, the bears really liked ice cream, and it remains their reward to this day – or at least that was what they were still using the last time I saw the show.)

Playing Catch-Up

It’s been a long winter.

Also an unseasonably warm one, which is never good for the local economy up here in the wilds of northern New Hampshire.  And I’ve been mostly quiet, for which I apologize – I took a wrong step at the bottom of an unfamiliar flight of stairs in the dark, and ended up straining a muscle in my back.  The alternative would have been slamming my head up against the corner of the table next to the stairs, so I can’t really regret the spine-wrenching contortions I put myself through on the way down, even if they did give me over a month’s worth of sore muscles.  In any case, there’s something about not being able to sleep comfortably for several weeks that turns one’s get-up-and-go into more of a lurch-to-one’s-feet-and-shamble.  The whole thing put me at least a month behind on everything, and I’m still digging my way out from under the resulting backlog.

A couple of things that happened while I was in Shamble Mode:

Our story “One Night in Bavaria” came out in the Tom Easton and Judith Dial anthology Conspiracy! , from NESFA Press.

The Viable Paradise Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop opened up for applications.  This year’s workshop will be held at the Island Inn on Martha’s Vineyard, from  Sunday, October 16th, through Friday, October 21st, 2016.

A thing that will be happening next month:

The contributors to Conspiracy! (some of them, anyway – time and distance happen to us all) will be doing a signing at Toadstool Books in Peterborough, New Hampshire on the 23rd of April.  Watch this space for the exact time.

Finally, a trio of links for your amusement:

An article on American Sign Language and its relation to French Sign Language, and the Philadelphia ASL accent.

An article on the New York Public Library’s Erotica collection.

And finally, a link to the University of Arkansas’s* new on-line archive of its Ozark Folk Song Collection. The UofA was my undergraduate alma mater, and I was fortunate enough to take a folklore class with Mary Celestia Parler, the scholar primarily responsible for collecting the music in the archive, near the end of her teaching career there.  Having this major resource made available on-line to the public is a wonderful thing – go Razorbacks!

*Yes, that is how you form the possessive.  The state legislature officially said so.