shanmonster: (Default)
This is my first post on DreamWidth since evacuating from LiveJournal. I wish I didn't need to abandon ship, but the new terms of service are untenable. I'm part of the rainbow brigade made illegal by the Russian powers that be. I'm still waiting for all the comments from LJ to be ported over here, and then I plan on doing a computer backup of all my files. I'm gonna miss you, LJ. You were my electronic home for at least 18 years.

In cheerier news, I have passed the first round of selection for the Arctic expedition. My references have been contacted, and their deadline to get their forms in is the 14th. I think I have an excellent chance of getting selected, and that's exciting.

I've been steadily working at getting my health and fitness levels back up to snuff, and it's not comfortable. Stepping outside your comfort zone is always uncomfortable, by default. On Sunday, I did a couple hours of escrima and then went for a run. Yesterday, I did strength training at the gym, went for my first bike ride of the year (~7 km), and did a flamenco class. Today, I went for a run, and tonight I'll be working on gymnastic skills at the gym.

My strength and endurance continue to improve. In the meantime, I'm stuck always feeling a bit sore and tired. The first couple of weeks after increasing activity levels are always like that. Here's a clip of my most recent session playing on the rings. My equipment wasn't quite set up ideally.

shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
"Why Ancient Greece Was Awful": This was the title of a lecture I recently attended, hosted by a historical association. As a classics civilization major in university, the topic intrigued me. The lecturer introduced himself and announced that the topics he'd be covering included coarse language and sexual themes. A mother and child excused themselves. Another woman followed shortly afterward. The lecturer looked crestfallen. I attempted to assuage him. "I'm not afraid of a few swears," I said, "and I'm a classics graduate." He didn't look soothed.

He had a nervous tic where he slapped the sides of his legs simultaneously. This he did so regularly that he looked like he was trying to fly away. He put me to mind of Bubo from the original Clash of the Titans movie. It was distracting and annoying, but I wanted to hear what he had to say.

He opened by asking us to name some of the things that were great about ancient Greece.

"Olive oil," I said. Other people chimed in. "Democracy." "The Olympics." "Theatre." "Acoustics." "Art." "Marble."

He looked startled. "Yes," he said. "All of those things are great. You are doing much better than I would."

This perplexed me. How could someone lecturing on the ancient Greeks not be able to list a few positive traits about ancient Greece? Then he told us his area of expertise wasn't ancient Greece at all, but early modern English theatre (ie. Shakespeare and his contemporaries). He said he didn't actually know much about the time period aside from what he'd learned in a seminar on Athens. Now I was thoroughly boggled. Why would he be talking about something he admitted to knowing little about? This was especially bizarre considering there was a decent chance that at least half of the people in his audience had a solid education in ancient Greek history. We were at a historical conference, after all.

He told us he'd read some plays by Euripedes, who had written extensively on the disenfranchised people of ancient Greece. Now, if he'd stuck to the points of views of these characters from the plays of Euripedes, he may have had a thesis. But instead, we were subjected to what would essentially be an unplotted, unthought-out rant like you might expect to read in YouTube comments.

He said that the ancient Greeks didn't refer to their country as Greece at all, but he didn't bother telling his audience what they did refer to themselves as: Hellenes. He posited that it was acceptable to judge this culture by our current culture's standards. He then made many objectionable, if not outright incorrect, points:
  • People who study ancient Greece are unusual in that they all consider ancient Greece to be the pinnacle of human existence, and they all believe the ancient Greeks could do no wrong. As a classics graduate, I honestly have never come across anyone who believes everything in ancient Greece was sunshine and roses. I mean, c'mon! They poisoned poor Socrates!

  • The ancient Greeks had no sense of morality. I think it's pretty safe to presume the speaker has never heard of arete. And there are all sorts of moral virtues which crop up again and again in Greek writings: hospitality, loyalty, honour, glory, justice, wisdom, revenge on the battlefield, the importance of family, and temperance are some classic (heh) examples.

  • The only ideal for men was to be a hyperaggressive, violent, rapist (such as Herakles or Zeus). This notwithstanding the high esteem with which the Greek philosophers, orators, and Homer were held. To be able to recite The Iliad and The Odyssey by heart was proof of great standing.

  • The ancient Greeks were into slavery more than other cultures. Uhh....

  • Slavery no longer exists in western culture. Several indignant people called him on this. He backed down somewhat, amending his statement by saying, "Ok, there are no legal forms of slavery in Western culture now." I immediately said, "Prison labour." He flapped his hands on his legs a few times, then pretended I'd said nothing at all.

  • The ancient Greeks were all child molesters. While pederasty was widely accepted, in Athens, consent was more important than age. That being said, the Athenians did believe there was such a thing as too young, and too young to give consent. (More here).

  • The advent of Christianity stopped pedophilia. There was a widespread "Uhhhhh...." emitted by the audience at this point. His arms flapped and flapped and he flew away to his next point without elucidation.

  • The way women were treated in ancient Greece had no counterpart. Although the ancient Greeks were pretty darned misogynistic, they were certainly not alone in this regard.

  • No Greek women were allowed to have jobs. At least in Rome, women could be prostitutes Roman women could do a lot more than that, but that's beside the point. But if we use that as a baseline, well, there were plenty of female sex workers in ancient Greece, including pornai and hetairai. It has been posited that the hetairai, along with being independent workers who could potentially save up enough to own property, were also intellectual elites. Highly-educated, they held their own in symposia alongside foremost Greek philosophers.

  • Women were never portrayed as dominant or equal to men. Medea kicked Jason's ass, and the Amazons were a force to contend with.

    14th-century depiction of riding Aristotle

  • Aside from in Sparta, no women had property. The hetaira Phryne was said to be so rich that she offered to fund the rebuilding of the walls of Thebes.

  • Women were completely uneducated, and there were no women writers. I immediately burst out with "Lesbos. Sappho." He flapped his hands on his pants a couple of times and just soldiered on.

  • No Greek women had positions of authority. The words of the Delphic Oracle could make or break a powerful man. And despite ruling in Egypt, Cleopatra was Greek.

    Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra



  • Greek women held no power in the home. "What about Penelope in The Odyssey?" I asked. She wouldn't have been able to hold off her suitors if she'd had absolutely no power. He slapped his legs again. "I've never read The Odyssey," he said.

  • The ancient Greeks were more racist than any other culture. They definitely didn't hold a monopoly on xenophobia.

  • That the ancient Greeks had no real religion. The Hellenes had religions out their wazoos. I don't even know where to begin, so here's an encyclopaedia entry on the topic: Ancient History Encylopedia: Greek Religion.

  • The world became a much better place thanks to Christianity. This is a whole kettle of fish I didn't bother jumping into. There was a religious history graduate in the audience who tore him a new one in this regard, plus another audience member who called him on his obvious biases.

  • That if Christianity hadn't replaced the beliefs of the ancient Greeks, Norse religions would have certainly become the religion of western civilization. Considering the inroads made by Mongols throughout Europe, I think they stood a decent chance of disseminating their religious beliefs. Not to mention there were plenty of other religions amongst indigenous peoples which could have become more influential.

  • The culture of the ancient Greeks has absolutely no bearing on current religion/culture/etc. in the western world. Even Jesus Christ's name is Greek. Aside from that, we still have the Olympics, the Hippocratic oath, feta cheese and souvlaki, a rather lot of words, tragedy, comedy, iambic pentameter, and the concept of history. And on the negative side of influences, well, misogyny is a Greek word, and it sure does still exist.


I graduated with my classics degree way back in 1994. I could have given a better talk on the downsides of Greek history without even brushing up. Heck, I'll betcha almost everyone in that classroom could have. So why on earth didn't he talk about early English theatre instead? Then again, English drama was my other major. I just might have caught him talking another steaming pile of shit there, too.
shanmonster: (On the stairs)
I've made these a couple of times. They're delicious and quite filling. The recipe is based off Chai-Spiced Almond Butter Bites. The recipe yields approximately 15 ~1.25" balls.

I like these as a quick snack before/after a workout. I've had them as part of my breakfast, too.

The recipe is vegan and paleo-friendly, if this matters for you.

1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup almonds
1 cup pit-free dates
1/4 cup nut butter (I've used peanut butter and almond butter. Both are good.)
2 Tbsp hemp seeds
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp coconut oil

  1. Pulse coconut and almonds in food processor until there are no large chunks.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until everything is combined to a dough-like consistency.
  3. Press dough with hands and then roll balls up about 1.25" in diameter.
  4. Place in an air-tight container and store in the fridge. The cooled coconut oil will firm them up.

Eeeee!

Mar. 19th, 2017 06:04 pm
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I sent a short story out for possible publication in a science fiction anthology last week. I haven't had a story published in ages, so it's high time I get my arse back in gear. I hope it gets published.

I sent out my application for the Canadian ocean expedition on Thursday as soon as I got confirmation from my china painting instructor that she would be a reference. Eeeee!

On Friday, I purchased airfare for my trip to Africa this summer. I'll be travelling through Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia (~1300 km), seeing the Namib Desert (where Fury Road was filmed), the Kalahari Desert, meeting Bushmen, hopefully seeing elephants, lions, zebras, and more, and then ending my tour at Victoria Falls. Eeeee!

Later on Friday, I went to the gym and during my squat set, something freaked out and tried to lock/spasm on my lower back. Different kind of eeeeee. Eeeeeeeouch. I have no idea what happened, there. As far as I know, I wasn't using bad form, and was only lifting five pounds more than I usually do. I tried to find a massage therapy clinic that was open, but none are ever open on the Friday evening of Saint Patrick's Day. I managed to find someone yesterday, but that someone was a tiny sadist who was the roughest massage therapist I've ever experienced. She started with elbows in my back. There was no warmup. I feel just like I was in a fight. I'm pretty sure I'm bruised from head to arse, but I do have mobility now: enough that I was able to go to the gym today and do a full training session. I skipped burpees in favour of jump rope (I didn't want to do fast movements which could have negative impact on my lower back), and all my squats were with an empty bar.

I leave for Toronto tomorrow morning for a week of butoh training. I plan on hitting the gym a couple of times while I'm there. I'm determined to get back in shape. I'm registered to compete in two races this spring/summer: a 5km obstacle course race, and a 14km trail race.

Over the past year, due to health issues and the disruption incurred by buying and renovating a house, my training has been spotty at best. This month was going very well until my back freakout on Friday. I feel strong again, and my endurance is slowly returning. I've been paying much closer attention to what I eat (not calorie-wise, but content-wise), and I'm gradually losing the extra padding I put on. So far, I have lost about ten pounds of fluff and my clothes are fitting much better again. I'm still about twenty pounds heavier than I was when I was competing regularly five years ago, but I have faith that my body will continue to get healthier as I work hard to take care of it.

I had every intention of writing up applications for a travel writing scholarship yesterday, but life and massage therapy got in the way. I hope to be able to get the applications done tomorrow while I'm on the train and killing time in coffee shops in Toronto. If I get the scholarship, I'll be travelling through southeastern Europe (eg. Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro, etc.).

What if I get accepted for the ocean expedition AND the scholarship? I'll be travelling all over the freaking world this year! Eeeee....
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I goofed up. I'm applying for a travel writing scholarship, and I misread the write-up. I thought I was supposed to write 2500 words about being out of my comfort zone, but it's actually only 2500 characters. Oops. Well, lest it was all in vain, here's what I came up with. I reworked my travelogue about travelling from Quito to Pimpilala, Ecuador. Enjoy! )
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
Possible video application for the Canadian ocean expedition. They want to know my name, interests, passions, and why participating is important to me. They are looking for enthusiastic people. Think I qualify? I hope I qualify.



If the video didn't embed properly, here's a link.
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
I've reworked my write-up on my view of future Canada. I tried to make it more positive and less denunciative, and I tried to take into account the advice you folks gave me. How does this one look?

Canada can be a land in which people live together in harmony with the environment. Picture a future in which our natural resources are no longer squandered and mistreated: old growth forests of Quebec no longer become toilet paper, drinking water no longer sells at a pittance and returns to us at exorbitant prices, waterways no longer poisoned with acids which kill waterfowl upon contact, rich farmland no longer parcelled into subdivisions with shoddily-constructed houses, and oil pipeline and tanker mishaps no longer cause irreparable harm to soil, water, wildlife, and us.

Imagine custodians of our land and water who do not prize profitability above access. There would be sufficient food and potable water for all. Indigenous people will no longer be deprived of both, and the genocidal crimes of the first Prime Minister will be well on their way to being rectified.

We must work toward sustainability, decreasing our reliance on non-renewable resources while at the same time safeguarding and replenishing renewable ones. When the coal-powered generating stations were closed in favour of alternative power sources, we removed the smog which blanketed the most populous parts of the country. We’ve shown more environmentally-friendly methods can be implemented. Now let’s apply them to even more aspects of our culture.
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
Part two of my application for the Canada 150 ocean expedition. The topic is my vision for Canada's future. How the heck do I do this in less than 250 words without sounding like a beauty pageant contestant? Feedback is appreciated.

My vision of Canada’s future is one in which people live together in harmony with the environment. Although Canada is rich with natural resources, they are being squandered and mistreated. The old growth forests of Quebec are turned into toilet paper. Our drinking water supplies are given to bottled water companies at a pittance and sold back to us with exorbitant markups. Our waterways are being poisoned with acids so powerful that waterfowl die upon contact. Rich farmland is parcelled up into subdivisions with shoddily-constructed houses. Oil pipelines and tankers have disastrous leaks, causing irreparable harm to the soil, to the water, to the wildlife, and to us.

It is irrational that a country as rich as this one has people living with insufficient food and without potable water. It is inexcusable that indigenous people were deliberately deprived of both by the first Prime Minister and that this has still not been rectified.

We must work toward sustainability, decreasing our reliance on non-renewable resources while at the same time safeguarding and replenishing the renewable ones. We’ve shown it can be done. When the coal-powered electrical generating stations were closed in favour of alternative power sources, we removed the smog which blanketed the most populous parts of the country. We must act as custodians to the earth, and not rely upon other people to fix things we are capable of fixing. We are other people.
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
I have worked on writing the following over the past couple of days when I've had spare time. It's part of my application to be part of an ocean expedition. The theme is reconciliation, and how it affects me personally.

Critiques and comments are encouraged. I still have another short write-up to create before the deadline, but what do you think of this bit?


I am part of a lost generation, the child of an indigenous parent who did not know he was indigenous himself. I grew up in a gatherer/hunter family, living off the land using a lot of traditional ways. I gathered mushrooms, berries, and fruit. I picked Labrador Tea for medicinal use, and smeared black alder mud on bee stings and scrapes to bring down swelling. I helped harness the dog team to haul in the winter’s firewood. I ate bannock by the campfire, smacked my lips over moose meat, and I helped with butchering and with cleaning and gutting fish. I delighted in tales of Glooscap, and although I turned my nose up at seal meat, I enjoyed throat singing and playing in little igloos. I experienced so many trappings of a culture I had no name for, yet spoke none of the languages of my ancestors. I was raised to think of “Indians” as other people

My ancestors were people of sea and snow, tundra and forest. I am Innu; I am Mi’kmaq; I am Lnu. And yet, through no fault of my own, I was far removed from this.

I am working at reclaiming my lost heritage. I wrote a play about Inuit folklore. I attend powwows. I consider getting an Inuit women’s tattoo. I share what I learn with other people through my blog and through conversation. I need to know more, learn more, share more, and experience more. I want to embrace a tradition which has been all but lost due to generations of cultural genocide.

Last year, I downloaded the Truth and Reconciliation report. Reading it helped me understand why my grandmother never spoke to me about her history and upbringing. So many of my family were taught to be ashamed of their traditions. So many hid who they were. The only thing I know of my grandmother’s younger days is this: she was so light and swift of foot that she appeared to fly when leaping from ice floe to ice floe across the sea’s frozen skin. My grandmother walked on water.

I yearn to visit the sea again. I will see it through her eyes as well as mine, and then I will share what I have seen. I will reclaim what was taken from us and be a part of setting things right.
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I learned recently that I've created my own personal Pavlovian response. I've been using asthma inhalers for over twenty years, now. In case you've never used one, it goes kinda like this:

1. Shake inhaler.
2. Exhale fully.
3. Raise it to your mouth.
4. Spray it in your mouth as you simultaneously inhale.

I also have been using a steroidal spray to help counter post-nasal drip, which is a big trigger for asthma. It goes like this:

1. Shake bottle.
2. Exhale fully.
3. Raise it to your nose.
4. Spray it in your nose as you simultaneously inhale.

I've recently started taking Vitamin B12 supplements in the form of an oral spray. Whenever I go to use it, I do the first two steps every time. There's no need to exhale. I drink the stuff; I don't breathe the stuff. Yet it takes a major conscious effort to avoid exhaling. Not that exhaling makes a difference, one way or the other. It's just fascinating to me how I've formed this habit.

Conditioning is "a behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement, with reinforcement typically being a stimulus or reward for a desired response" (Encyclopedia Britannica). I'm not even getting a reward for my reinforcement. Well, not an immediate, perceivable reward, at least. So I guess it isn't conditioning, after all, but ritual, instead: "A ritual is...any act done regularly, usually without thinking about it" (Cambridge English Dictionary).

What are your rituals and conditioning?

(Elder Squirrel Demon Ritual Summoning Circle)

shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I had every intention of getting to the gym today, but transit woes put the kibosh on that. I spent 90 minutes trying to get from downtown Kitchener to the Conestoga mall (which is about a 15-minute drive). I ended up on four different buses and walking several blocks because construction has changed bus routes and also because I falsely believed the express bus would get me there faster than the not-an-express bus.

I should have cabbed.

And once I got to the mall, I had to wait for two hours for my phone to be repaired. By the time I got home, it was late and I was famished. Argh. I'll see if I can manage to get to the gym tomorrow after I teach dance and before I go to tap class. I hope I can manage all that!

This morning, I met with a local fine arts graduate I met through LARP. We hope to put together an art show based on birds, since we both have a body of work on feathery critters. The exhibit is tentatively called "Of a Feather." Although I used to work in art galleries and have had my art shown in several exhibitions over the past twenty years, I don't have much of a clue of what it takes to launch an art exhibit in this city. We brainstormed a few ideas. I live in hopes that we shall have a show this year.

In other news, I've also been brainstorming ideas about my personal experiences with the truth and reconciliation movement in Canada. Not only is this a great mental exercise, but it just might land me berth on a Canadian ocean expedition. I sure would love to see the Arctic Ocean up close and personal. I've been on the Atlantic and the Pacific, but the Arctic eludes me. I want to see what my ancestors saw, and what my cousins see. I want to take off to the great white north.

(Australian Raven. Soft pastels on pastel paper.)
Australian Raven
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I dreamed I was going to visit a friend in Toronto and had to take public transit. I knew roughly which stop to get off at, but then I had to look up the route on my phone, because I couldn't remember how to walk there. For some reason, the first part of the address was "Front Line Assembly." I typed it in time after time after time, and each time, autocorrect took over and turned it into something completely different, and wrong. The frustration was building and building. What did my phone have against industrial music, anyway?

I never did get to my destination. My friend must still be waiting for me.
shanmonster: (On the stairs)
Yesterday, with some amount of trepidation, I attended a handstand workshop. My energy levels have been generally waning over the past year or so, and my endurance has been getting pretty shitty. Nevertheless, I've been working hard at improving my endurance, and I was able to make it through the entire workshop without needing to take numerous breaks. Despite not having done a handstand in ~8-9 months, I did quite well. My strength, range of motion, and flexibility were up to the challenge, and I believe that if I can practice regularly, I will have an unsupported handstand within a few weeks.

I did have one major whoops. While doing a partner exercise, I kicked off too hard, overbalanced, and came down on my head and shoulder. I didn't damage myself, but it was a reminder that being klutzy hurts. My next kick-off was much better.

......

Over the past year, combined with my fatigue issues, I've also gained a fair amount of weight. At the beginning of the year, I was the heaviest I've ever been, and it did not feel good. Over the past two months, I became proactive and have been monitoring my diet, doing daily exercise (burpees and regular strength training), and taking some vitamin supplements to help with general health and sleep issues. I'm feeling a gradual change, and two days ago, for the first time in many months, I noticed muscle definition again. I knew the muscles were still there, but it feels good to see them peeking out at me again. Hi there, guns.

(Self-portrait circa 1997. Pencil crayons on textured paper.)
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
Quite a while back, I was gifted with a $50 gift certificate to a local independent art supply store. The other day, I finally cashed it in and got a high-quality set of watercolour pencils. The night before last, I decided to play with them and painted this. I call it Skeleton Tree.

Skeleton Tree
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
It's been far too long since I did any substantial blogging. I do a lot of posting on FB, but it's not at all the same thing. FB does not encourage active conversation. The threading on posts is borked, and on more than one occasion, misunderstandings have arisen from replies made in these threads that were so severe that they resulted in people dropping me as a friend. In one instance, I was busy formulating a carefully-worded response to an earlier comment in a thread. While in this process, they were responding to other things and making other points. By the time I'd finished my write-up, there'd been several messages in the interim and because of simple timing and non-threaded discourse, it made it look like I'd completely blown off the points they were making. I tried to send a private message to explain what had happened, but they'd already blocked me.

This sort of platform does not make for good communication. It does not make for lasting friendship. Now, I'm not completely dismissing FB. It is excellent for sharing photos and links, and for networking and sharing events. I have missed the nuanced conversations and friendships I made in my years of blogging on my own defunct site and, later on, on LJ.

My intention is to resuscitate my old website. This is a daunting task. I hand-coded every single one of those many hundreds of webpages. It was years of work. Can I port things over without destroying my old formatting? How does FTP even work anymore? I haven't done it in so long that I've forgotten almost everything.

In other news, I've been working hard to promote my artwork and get more regular practice in. I started an Instagram account where I share artwork regularly. I've been updating it daily since I started paying attention to it. I haven't sold anything via that venue (yet). I have, however, sold several pieces through FB. Go figure.

I hope to go back to university at some point to pursue my fine arts training. In the meantime, I'll practice independently.

Here is my current major work in progress. If you click on the picture, you'll go to a gallery of my progress shots:



In other news, this afternoon I'll be going to Brass Butterflies (an aerial studio in Waterloo) to study handstands and acro-yoga. The training will never end until ten minutes after I'm dead.

Haiku

Feb. 21st, 2017 10:26 am
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
Fountain pen-tilled soil
Reveals chthonic love letters
Harrowing the soul.

An Apology

Feb. 1st, 2017 02:06 pm
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
I remember not having empathy. Or, I remember having far less, at least. I suspect it was a coping mechanism. My religious upbringing made me think everyone was doomed unless they recanted their ways and became a Jehovah's Witness. Not a single person I met was ever convinced to become a JW, which meant that everyone around me was going to die in Armageddon. Rather than despair, it becomes easier to just not give a shit. It wasn't even a conscious thing. Looking back, I cringe at my callous behaviour.

The most egregious example is how I dealt with a coworker. I knew her from high school. She was neither a friend nor one of my bullies, ergo she was neutral. She was 17, going on 18 years old. I knew that her birthday was coming up but paid it no heed. Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays. The day after she turned 18, she came into work in a state of distress. My other coworkers asked her what was wrong. When she'd come home from celebrating her birthday, she was locked out of her house and no one would let her in. Her father had changed the locks and evicted her. In his distorted reasoning, once someone turns 18, they should live independently. Unfortunately for her, she'd had no warning. She wasn't allowed to get any of her belongings. She wasn't given so much as a quarter for a pay phone to call for help.

She managed to find a friend in the city who let her couch surf temporarily, but she had no way to get to work. She had to hitchhike 25 miles there and back to get to work. I listened to all this dispassionately. It never even occurred to me to offer to put her up at my place.

As time went on, she was becoming more and more desperate. She started carrying mace because she was so frightened about hitchhiking. After a while, she started sleeping on the floor in the back room at work rather than hitchhike every day. We worked at a campground, and some of the kids from the campground would bring her food to eat. Again, it never occurred to me to share my food with her, even when she commented on how good it smelled. I didn't think to give her clothes or offer to clean her work uniform at home. I did nothing for her. Nothing at all.

When I look back at this, I feel shame. How could I be so blind as to someone else's suffering? And yet I was.

For what it's worth, she did end up ok. I'm glad for this. I'm also glad that I'm no longer the same person I was then. Sometimes people tell me I don't have to save everyone. While I realize this, I know I have a lot of making up to do. I'm sorry, Andrea. I let you down.
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
In the mid-80s, I was a high school student raised in a Christian apocalyptic cult in a rural, conservative part of Canada. I was a homophobe, because I'd been raised to be one. My parents did not believe in public sex education, yet were supportive of my self-motivated learning. I was an unpopular child, and threw myself into academic research. I was fascinated by AIDS, and I read everything I could find on the topic.

I read everything from tabloid articles (Rock Hudson and Liberace had reams of articles written on them) to medical journals. Where most kids I knew would hang out with one another and play hockey or chat on the phone, I would beg to be taken to the university an hour's drive away. There I'd sit and read articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. I had a written correspondence going with the World Health Organization, the science editor at Time magazine, and the head of AIDS research in Canada (I've long since forgotten his name). I talked to doctors, nurses, and professors of virology. I researched everything from social ramifications to medical testing and treatments to safe sex practices.

This latter topic was the one which landed me in the most trouble. I purchased educational pamphlets from safe sex organizations in San Francisco. Here I was, a homophobic virgin, reading about anal sex, fisting, docking, poppers, and all sorts of things for which I really had no understanding. Poppers were as mysterious to me as retroviruses, but I kept reading, hoping that eventually, I'd be able to understand what it all meant.

As a result, I ended up becoming one of the most educated people on the topic of AIDS in Canada for that short period of time. Professors started coming to me for information and my opinion. I put together an education system on teaching about AIDS in junior high schools. Suddenly I was introducing safe sex topics to rural New Brunswick. The principal accepted my program, with the exception of any sympathetic talk about homosexual behaviour. I accepted this because I figured some education was better than none. There was already one reported AIDS case in the region, after all.

I wrote up a survey to be given to the students before and after taking the lessons on AIDS education. It demonstrated that the message was getting through to the kids, and that they were learning about AIDS transmission, safe sex, blood transfusions, and IV drug use.

I took my findings to a regional science fair, and that's when things got nasty. Some of my materials (ie. the safe sex pamphlets from San Francisco bath houses) was sexually explicit. One kid kept showing up and taking my materials, taking off with them to snicker and show his friends. I had saved up my allowance to purchase these, and didn't appreciate having them taken, let alone to have them being laughed at. I managed to get them back, and put them away in my purse.

While I wasn't looking, the kid came back and stole them from my purse. I had no idea anything was wrong until an angry mother stormed over to me with my pamphlets. She screamed at me, told me I was a pervert who was corrupting her son, and then she tore up my pamphlets and brought over science fair staff. They went through my materials, ensuring there weren't any more "dirty" materials.

I was not reimbursed for my stolen and destroyed property.

I received an honourable mention for my science fair project. I was invited to address a class at a local university (I demurred, because I thought that since I was just a high school kid, I'd have nothing to teach to university students). And when I went on to the provincial science fair, I had all my materials searched for contraband perversion before I was allowed to set up.
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
(This unfinished bit has been sitting in my buffer for far too long.)

I woke up before sunrise to the cacophony of crowing roosters. I was used to being up this early. I can't say I was used to being awoken by noisy chickens, but it wasn't new to me. This was the alarm clock of my childhood, since I grew up with freerange chickens doing their thing. I enjoyed the boisterous narcissism of the chooks. Every time a rooster crows, he's telling the world how amazing and important he is. He's also telling people they have no business being in bed. I didn't mind, but I'd gotten to sleep early. Most of the others had stayed up late, shooting the shit and knocking back Ecuadorean lager. I squirmed my way past the mosquito netting, shook my shoes out (in case of scorpions and bullet ants), and wandered to the bathroom. Once there, I again checked for bullet ants before making my urinary libations.

Although I'd like to wander, I didn't dare leave the homestead. I may feel at home in Canadian wilderness, but the western Amazon basin is far outside my purview. I know the warning signs for rattlesnakes and moose, but I recognize very little in the Amazon aside from a few plants I'd seen in florist shops (eg. bromeliads). This little patch of jungle is the most botanically diverse place in the world. An area of 100 square meters can contain over 500 tree species alone whereas the same area in northern Canadian taiga may contain only three. This doesn't even include the profusion of herbs and critters. In all of North America, there are about 900 species of birds. In Ecuador alone, which is not a large country, there are about 1,500. This morning I was in luck. I'd be going on a walk with Delphin, the patriarch and shaman of the household. He would be teaching us about how the Quichuan coexist with various species in the jungle.
shanmonster: (Default)
Sunday morning, September 6, 2015

(Rough draft as I'm typing on a touch screen and editing is difficult without touch typing.)

Kyle and I awaken bright and early for a hearty breakfast of plantain, coffee cake, eggs, fruit, juice, and coffee after a good sleep. We meet up with the other ten people of our group and load up into a small private bus. Our guide, Carlos, warns us again about the difficulties of the five-hour bus trip to come. Personal space is not a valued trait. People may lean on us. Just push them off if they do. No guaranteed bathroom breaks. Thievery is common on buses. Never leave our stuff unattended. Don't stash anything overhead. Don't carry our money all in one spot. Beware of having things on floor as a common ploy is for thieves to cut hole in the bag and pull things out from other side of seat

We drive for about half an hour to an enormous bus terminal. It was once an airport and is by far the hugest bus station I've ever seen. Our bus fare is only about $5. Transportation is incredibly inexpensive here. We are lucky and all get to sit together in one section of the bus. I choose a seat where we are surrounded by group members. This way, I felel more secure in holding my satchel between my feet.

Our five-hour ride is much longer than 5 hours. We are possibly on the slowest bus in all of South America. Everyone passes us. Maybe moseying centenarians with walkers could pass us, too. The bus regularly farts and belches clouds of thick, black smoke. The five hours stretches to seven with one short bathroom break. I don't get off the bus as I am paranoid of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning, and the air vents are a rule deception. Even worse, the heaters are on for all seven hours. Some windows are open. I do not have the benefit of an open window for most of the trip. I am concerned I'll collapse from heat exhaustion before I even make it to the jungle.

We journey from the huge, metropolitan sprawl of Quito which seems to extend to infinity in all directions. The local architecture is blocky and distinct, comprised primarily of right angles and chipped, once bright, and now faded colors. Houses cling to cliffside and are pink, orange, blue, green, etc. The demure shades of beige and white of suburban Canada are in the minority here.

After a few hours, we leave the precarious mountain- and ravine-side housing of Quito and make it to rural areas. Cattle, horses, chickens, and dogs of many breeds wander and graze. Switchback highways are standard throughout the mountains. So are drivers passing with no room to spare going around those turns. Several nerve wracking and horn blaring close calls happen, but we eventually reach our next destination of Teno unmaimed. One person, not valuing Kyle's personal space, sits on his shoulder and farts.

Tena, scorching and dusty, sits near the beginning of the Amazon jungle. Travel-stunned, sweaty, and blinking, we clamber out of the bus and stand blinking and gaping beneath the brutal equatorial sun. Carlos ushers us into a tiny scrap of shade and tells us we have ten minutes to go to the bathroom or get to a store before the next part of our trip. I queue up to go to a bathroom. An attendant charges us variable amounts of money to use the toilet. I scrabble through my wallet looking for the correct amount of change, finally locating fifteen cents. The pee is worth the money. Some people are charged more than I. Some less. Some are charged more than once. The bathroom attendant is ruthless, but the need to not piss ourselves wins out over stubborn haggling.

A pickup truck and van arrive. Our bags are tossed into the back of the truck and we squirm our way into the van. It's a tight squeeze. I only just fit with copious Shanspreading. I'm not sure how Kyle fits at all. I'm presuming his hips retract into his midsection. The van bounces and shudders down the winding dirt road into the jungle. The dense flora seems determined to swallow up the track which snakes its way through. We pass numerous small clearings which look like desperate holdouts against a juggernaut of jungle, but the opposite is true. The deforestation is happening at an appalling rate. Huge swathes of jungle are stripped from the earth leaving desiccated grass, lonely stumps, and millions of acres of lost habitat. Humans are winning out. The lushness we see is a holdout.

We arrive at our destination: the tiny village of Pimpilala. Our host family are Quichuan, one of the many indigenous people of Ecuador. Delphin and Estella are the patriarch and matriarch of the family, and their children, and a couple of young local women also live and work at the household. Two yellow dogs (Pollo and another who may not have a name) guard the property, and numerous chickens roam and roost all around. The property consists of a main building, several thatched sleeping quarters, a hammock area, and a couple of outbuildings with cold-water showers, toilets, and sinks. Kyle and I are given what I consider a spacious room. It holds a bed with mosquito netting, a battery-operated lamp, two benches, and three coat hooks. I'd been expecting something much more rudimentary. Considering the dining area has electricity, this is luxury! My quarters in rural Peru were far more spartan.

After we claim our rooms and stash our bags, we are led back down the road while supper is prepared. The chitter, buzz, and siren wail of insects and birds is loud in my ears. We follow a circuitous tendril of a path through thick jungle. One of the host's sons is our guide. He is having a blast and fashions hats from enormous leaves for several people in our group. He plucks small ferns from the underbrush and slaps them against dark clothing leaving perfect ghost images of the ferns behind on our clothing. And then we crest a hill and are met with the wondrous view of a river, mountainside, and jungle at the pale yellow cusp of sunset. Another short walk and we see yet another glorious river view, and a fragile cliff face. Rocks and clay are held in place by vines and sheer will. Darkness approaches rapidly, and we hurry back to the homestead before the mosquitos swarm us. The bugs which I'd already thought were loud turn it up to eleven.

We dine on a savoury vegetable soup garnished with popcorn. The Quichua don't really eat bread, so plain popcorn serves in its stead. I'd never had popcorn on soup this way before. It is delicious, and I intend on doing this from now on. A garnish of peppery onions and tomatoes is also used on the soup. The main course is tilapia roasted over coals I nside a rumipanga leaf (rumipanga translates to "leaf from the fire" and is used for roasting chicken, fish, etcetera. It has a unique and delicious flavor. I'm sad I won't be able to taste this outside of the Amazon.) We sip on lemongrass or cinnamon leaf tea. Afterwards, some drink Ecuadorean Pilsner.

Afterwards, most of the others in the group continue to hang out in the hammocks chatting and drinking beer, but as for me, I am done, and I shroud myself with mosquito netting and sleep deeply.

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