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: (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: (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: (Tiger claw)
I worked at a crappity retail location selling knock-off Tommy Hilfiger sweaters, tiny Hong Kong women's fashions, and cheap bongs years ago. The store was in a mall, and I frequently worked the opening shift. My boss frequently set up little tests of my loyalty and competence. He hired what he called "mysterious shoppers" to check out my customer service skills. He was a strange and suspicious man.

One day, I showed up, opened the folding security doors, and was met by a scene of chaos. Pretty much the entirety of the floor was covered by heaps of plastic coat hangers--I'm talking at least a couple of hundred coat hangers. They were in tangled heaps, and there was no way the shop could be open to the public in this condition.

I hastened to tidy up the mess wondering why my boss thought it necessary to test me so. I'd pick up one hanger, and a bunch would come attached like Bizzaroland Barrel of Monkeys. I eventually got them all picked up and stashed in two giant garbage bags. The store didn't have any storage space, so I eventually stashed them in the change room. I figured that if someone wanted to try something on, I could just haul the bags out of the way.

A few hours later, my boss strolled in. He looked around the store, nodding contentedly, then said, "Good" before leaving again.
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
Years ago, when I lived in the Rocky Mountains, I stared overhead at the lurid green glow of the Aurora Borealis. Dad told me that when the night was cold enough and the air was still, I could make the northern lights move with a sharp noise. And so on those bitter, biting winter nights, I would stand outdoors and strike over and over again with a hammer hoping to make the lights dance. It didn't work, of course, although sometimes I pretended to believe it did. My attempts to influence the goddess of dawn were fruitless. Even the dog watched with disinterest while the sky glowed like something out of science fiction.

Years later, I would stare intently at the exact same coloured glow of the text on a Commodore PET screen. Sometimes, I even wished I had a hammer.
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
When I was in junior high, I was flat-chested. Other girls were wearing bras. Occasionally, other kids would come over to pretend they were going to snap my bra, and then they'd feign surprise that there was no bra to snap. I was mocked for my lack of a bra, and my lack of breasts.

I dreaded gym class, and getting changed. I wouldn't change in the changing area but in a bathroom stall, instead. Kids would pound on the stall doors, laughing at me. I didn't see the humour.

Eventually, my mother decided it was time I should get a bra. I was old enough. We went to a discount clothing shop somewhere and picked up a couple. One was white lace with a silly pink and green flower where my cleavage would be if I had any. The other was beige and unadorned. I was told I would need to wear these now, since I was getting grown up.

Obediently, I wore the accursed things. They were nothing but nuisances. I didn't see what purpose they served. Back in those days, I was horrified by breasts and bras. If a strap was showing at all, that was slovenly. If a blouse was sheer enough to show a hint of bra outline, that was trashy. And if a bra was textured and the texture pressed through a sweater, well, that was just gross. It was nothing more than an invitation for everyone and anyone to stare at that person's tits. And as for tailored tops which had darting for breasts? In my mind, that was obviously something only worn by harlots.

None of my shirts were sheer. I was already so ashamed of my body that I didn't wear anything like that. I had t-shirts and button-up shirts and a few thick acrylic sweaters. And now I had these horrible over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders to wear.

They didn't stay in place, of course. There was nothing to hold them in place. And so my days were spent surreptitiously hauling the elasticized torture garments out of my armpits and back down to my sternum.

The kids continued to mock me for not wearing a bra yet, and one day, one girl hauled my shirt up revealing the despicable garment. She laughed uproariously. "She's wearing a bra!" she said incredulously. She looked back at me. "Why are you wearing a bra when you don't even have tits?"

A new hell had been unleashed. On top of my regular abuse was this new one of having my shirt pulled up. The beige bra was the worst. It was given the name "pigskin" by the girls in my class.

When I finished junior high, and when I'd escaped the worst of the bullying girls, I ditched wearing bras full time. I still couldn't see the point of them. They did nothing but cause discomfort. I didn't tell Mom I wasn't wearing them, and she didn't ask. I still didn't have boobs, so they still wouldn't stay in place.

When I graduated high school, I was still as flat as a board, but I started wearing bras out of modesty. I'd taken a job as an activities counsellor at a park, and wore white t-shirts which would occasionally get soaked. I think that was the last time I wore bras on a regular basis.

I'm not exactly buxom now, but I only wear bras a couple of times a year. I still don't see the point in them, aside from making certain dressy blouses/dresses fit better. When I see articles on training bras for girls, I still can't help but wonder what exactly the training is for. Bras are not a necessary garment. Men with moobs don't wear 'em, and plenty of women around the world do without just fine (even the ones with big boobs). I don't think people should make their kids wear bras. Let it be their own choice.
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
I promised myself I'd never go back to LARP. My first time had been so awful. It started promisingly enough, with a personal invitation to play from a plot member. She had a role for me, and thought I'd be just perfect. I was a dryad spiritually bound to a tree, and the tree had been destroyed. Madness and grief were my motivations. And so we drove for a couple of hours deep into the New Brunswick wilderness, down a few dirt roads, well past any sign of urban civilization. There were no street lights, gas stations, or corner stores.

It was with reluctance that I got out of the car. Late summer in New Brunswick is black fly season, and the air was thick with them. I raced to put on bug dope, smearing the blood-bloated corpses of feeding insects into my skin and clothing. I was grateful I wore long sleeves and pants, then gaped in surprise as I saw a couple of bug-bitten women stride by in tiny leather bikinis and loin cloths followed by armoured men with puppy-dog eyes. There were two buildings at the site: a run-down ranch house, and an outbuilding. I went into the house and down into the basement where all the LARPers were staying. It smelled of BO, mildew, and bug dope. People were donning fantasy makeup. I tried talking with a few of them, but no one was interested in talking to me, so I went back outdoors and wandered over to the outbuilding.

"Hi," I said, smiling. A few people looked at me, but no one returned my greeting. They were busy, I suppose, putting on costumes and doing mysterious things with mysterious props. A strange thing made of duct tape and foam was right beside me. I reached out to touch it, and froze when I heard the angry shriek of "DON'T TOUCH THAT!" from a woman with murderous eyes. I backed up a few steps, then turned and left the building.

I wandered around for a few hours, not having any clue as to what was going on. Although I'd played tabletop RPGs for several years, I knew next to nothing about this game, other than it was a high fantasy setting. Realizing that no one was willing to talk to me about story or mechanics or anything at all, really, I decided to make the best of the situation and just watch how people interacted with one another.

I saw an unsupervised toddler running amok. No one paid him any heed. Most of the men I saw treated everyone else with derision. They swaggered in armour, sweat pants, and running shoes acting like they were royalty and everyone else was a lowly serf on the verge of incurring royal displeasure. Well, not quite everyone else. Attitudes changed whenever the two scantily-clad women were nearby. Then the men competed with one another for the women's attention. The other women at the game--the ones who were covered up against bug bites and tree branches--were ignored by almost all the men, and made do with interacting amongst one another. I didn't understand how they were having fun.

Hours later, I was called on to do my dryad scene, and although it was enjoyable, it was too little and too late. Afterwards, I went and waited until the wee hours in the car, wishing I'd brought a book. When we finally got to go home, the woman who'd invited me was angry for the way I'd been treated, and terribly apologetic about the whole thing.

I promised myself I'd never go back to a LARP. But about ten years later, I let another friend talk me into trying out a different one. Here it is, another eight years later, and I am a LARPer. Friendly, welcoming people make all the difference in the world.

Make Room

Dec. 3rd, 2013 12:08 am
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
When you're a kid, you know it's time to go home when the streetlights come on. I know this because of multiple self-congratulatory memes from people who think they've been brought up right, unlike kids nowadays. Well, I have a hard time relating to these sorts of memes. The streetlights didn't pull me home. Streetlights weren't exactly ubiquitous to my childhood.

When I was growing up, I didn't always have bedrooms, electricity, or plumbing. My family lived in campers and travel trailers, strangers in strange lands where the people viewed us, the aberrant interlopers, with fear and distrust. People broke into our homemade camper looking for loot we did not have, peppered our livestock with pellet guns, stole our bony old gander, and destroyed an old dory my dad was fixing up. We had to drive to a neighbouring town for potable water because the livestock wouldn't drink from nearby streams. The water was poison, and we couldn't drink from the town well. The locals polluted it with used maxi pads and other filth. We grew our own food in frigid fields. I spent hours picking and planting potatoes. I was allowed to pick out a packet of seeds for a garden row--so long as it was for food and not for wasteful things like flowers. I picked out rape seed because I thought it sounded exciting and dangerous. I was nine.

I've seen people discussing how only rich, spoiled people can afford to have horses, and I'm boggled by such a one-sided view. People who say such things must presume horses are just four-legged toys that you wear fancy clothes to ride. Perhaps they don't think Mennonites, Amish, cowboys, or seaweed harvesters are real people. Maybe they don't know that people like me have relied on horses and ponies instead of cars for transportation, or that we used pony teams to bring back wood necessary for our survival. Several of the places where I've lived were heated by wood stove. I cooked on a wood stove, too. I know soft wood doesn't burn as hot as hard wood, and if you burn wood from apple trees, it'll burn so hot the cast iron stove will glow a bright cherry red. Don't burn too much of that. It's scary.

I didn't live in a place with streetlights until I was ten, and that wasn't for very long. I lived in a campground/trailer park. We lived in a camper, all six of us: Mom, Dad, my sister, my dog, and my sister's cat. The livestock had been sold or given away. We couldn't bring the animals across the country with us. I was allowed to bring three books and two toys. There was no room for anything more.

There's no such thing as privacy when you live in a camper. There are no bedrooms. The only possible escape is a bathroom big enough for a tiny camp toilet.

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of people posting links about people living in tiny little homes: places about the size of the camper where I was squashed together with my family. People romanticize this. They say how nice it must be to not have many things, to not be materialistic, to have only what you need. Life would be so much richer. It looks so cozy.

Maybe, just maybe, if you've grown up in suburbia, or in places with large public spaces like libraries and community centres and malls where you can escape when the weather is bad, maybe then, you could fantasize about living in such a tiny space for a while. Maybe the cabin fever won't seize you harder than it did me. The closeness of space packs you in tighter and tighter, and a band of stress wraps and pulls around your chest until breathing is strenuous, your heart pounds like war drums in your ears, and all you want to do is run and run, gasps of burning air stabbing down your trachea into your lungs. Just run until there are no people for miles. But you can't do that if you live in a little camper in a little campground. There's nowhere to go but the little laundromat, and you'll be kicked out for loitering. Or maybe, like I did in other times, you'll live in a travel trailer in the wilderness. Then there is no other building where you can take shelter. If you run, you've got to come back. Unless it's the right time of year, you will succumb to the elements. You have to come back. And so you return to a one-roomed squat that smells of portapotty, damp boots, hot food, and wet dog. You do your homework in your shared bunk with your sister who has the flu. You hear your parents having sex a foot or two away and be too young to understand, but know just enough to realize it's supposed to be private. You sleep with your fingers in your ears a lot, pillow pulled uselessly over your head. You fantasize about someday having your very own room.

Do you really think that little house is so wonderful?

Bad Things

Jun. 24th, 2013 02:02 pm
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
When I was 11, I think, I moved to a little town high in the Rockies. On the very first day of school, all of the students were called to an assembly. I sat in a plastic chair, surrounded by strangers. The elementary school was a cacophony of young voices, but some of the kids around me noticed me. "Are you new?"

I nodded.

"Stay away from Mr. Smith."

The cacophony was breaking into little parcels of comprehensible speech. All around I could hear murmurs about Mr. Smith.

I looked at the kid who'd talked to me. "What's wrong with Mr. Smith?"

"He does things to kids."

"Things?"

"Yeah," the kid said. "Bad things. Don't go anywhere with him."

Though I was young, I had a pretty good idea of what sort of bad things Mr. Smith might do. He might touch my bum or something.

The principal called everyone to order, and the ruckus subsided. "I have an announcement to make," he said. "I'm sorry to say that Mr. Smith is no longer with us. He has been transferred to another school district."

A mostly subdued cheer broke out all around me, and the principal shot an angry look at the students. I was relieved I wouldn't have to deal with Mr. Smith, but I couldn't help but wonder why he'd be sent somewhere else do bad things to other kids.
shanmonster: (On the stairs)
So I got thinking about the arbitrariness of modesty. As a generalization, women have boobs. In western culture, at least, so-called modest women's clothing allows for this, and doesn't try to hide the fact that the women have breasts. And so we see images like this: )
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
Yesterday, I got thinking about the time when I wanted to do something or another, and Dad said no. I was in grade one at the time. I pleaded with him, but he was adamant. Determined to get my way, I tried bribing him. "Daddy, if you let me do it, I'll tell you a dirty joke."

He gave me a singularly awkward look (which took me years to understand) before saying absolutely not, and that I shouldn't be telling dirty jokes, anyhow.

I still remember the joke. It is terrible, and about as accurate a representation of sex as you might expect from a six-year-old. And this got me thinking that there's an unexplored oral tradition of folklore out there: dirty jokes/stories by little kids. I imagine there are all sorts of ethical conundrums with trying to study this area, but at the very least, I can share my recollections of the awful, awful dirty jokes I used to think were hysterically funny.

So here's the first dirty joke I think I ever knew.

Enjoy, if you can.

..........

Little Johnny was supposed to take piano lessons, and his teacher came to the house. He went behind the piano with her and stuck his finger up her bum.

His sister went looking for him. "Johnny! Where are you?"

He stuck his finger up a little further.

"Johnny, where are you?"

He stuck it up further.

"Johnny, where are you?"

And Johnny said, "Just getting to the gooey stuff!"
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
While working at Mactaquac Provincial Park in my late teens, overhearing a coworker talk about how they were in a hurry while camping to have sex, and decided that conditioner would make good lube. It doesn't, and there was much burning.

....

The moment of astonished surprise when I realized I was climbing a rope using only my arms, on my very first attempt.

....

Watching my step-grandfather unsuccessfully try to make the puppy we gave him fight with another dog.

....

Riding my little yellow bicycle, the one with the banana seat, by myself for the first time in Rockway Park, Saint John, NB. I was five or six. I felt joyous at my success, then wiped out in the gravel.

....

Drawing pictures of people on toilet paper tubes, then showing my Mom when I was in grade six. She started yelling at me for drawing dirty pictures, and tore them up, then looked sheepish when I started to cry in confusion. Apparently, my eleven-year-old drawing skills weren't up to snuff for drawing the flies on pants, and Mom thought I was drawing dicks.

....

Wondering why, if penises were such dirty things, there was so much preoccupation with them in the Bible with all the circumcision and such.

....

Taming a city pigeon and turning him from a sickly-looking and timid bird to a fat, glossy, proud bird who would (sometimes) fly to my shoulder when I called him.

....

My family doctor telling me I'd probably never be able to ride a bicycle because of my terrible knee issues. Going on to become a long-distance cyclist.

....

The time my university roommate barged into my room first thing in the morning, still drunk from a party the night before, demanding to know where I'd put her bike, then storming out when she realized she'd left it at the party.

....

Finding a huge nest of baby snakes when I was ten, and waiting impatiently to play with them until my cowboy neighbour Bill ascertained they weren't baby rattlers.
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
In 1999, when I was a cashier at a grocery store, there was a big advertising campaign in the deli. The posters said, "2000 is at the door. Answer it with cheese." Uhhh....

...

I remember walking with [livejournal.com profile] f00dave along a residential street. Some 10-year-old boys were playing street hockey, when they suddenly threw down their hockey sticks and ran up to us excitedly. "Can we have your autograph?" they asked Dave.

"Who do you think I am?" he asked, confused.

"You're Wayne Gretzky, silly!"

...

I was waiting in line for boxed lunches. The woman at the counter said, "We have a vegetarian option, a beef option, and a chicken option."

A clueless man asked, "Is the chicken vegan?"

...

In grade eleven, while in a haze of too much studying for final exams and not enough sleep, I, for some inexplicable reason, hooked up a piece of surgical hose to two high-pressure water taps in the chemistry lab and turned them both on. The hose exploded off one of the taps and sprayed everyone in the room.

...

When I was too young to walk, my father held me in his arms and I remember looking up at his nose and seeing nose hairs. I reached up to pull them, and he gently pushed my hand away saying, "No, no."

...

I remember [livejournal.com profile] knightky in wet, green Cornwall, creeping up on some furtive sheep amongst the standing stones and thatched roof houses. I laughed when he charged the sheep and they bolted, leaving him standing there in the sodden grass saying, "But I only wanted to give them scritches!"

...

When I was 9, I was walking with my family, my collie Shep, and her litter of hyper puppies across the dunes of northern Newfoundland. All of a sudden, Shep barked, and tore off across the dunes and out of sight. The puppies tore off after her. We crested the dune and they were nowhere in sight. We could, however, see a beached whale. It was moving. As we got closer, we could smell the rot and corruption, and it became obvious that the whale was moving because it was full of rolling dogs. Dad pulled them out, covered in maggots and slime, and he puked a few times while he threw them in the ocean to clean them off. They screamed and yiked like they thought he was trying to murder them, and every chance they got, they'd try to run back to the whale. We had to keep them all tied up for a few weeks lest they return.

...

I remember the time in university when my Victorian Literature prof., Dr. Bentley, gave us a very special Victorian Literature lecture: instead of talking about Wuthering Heights or Erewhon, he'd brought in the local Natural Law party representative, who spent the hour explaining to us how if Natural Law were voted in, that they'd teach us to yogic fly, make all home entrances southern ones, and prevent the birth of national enemies.
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
I'm currently feeling woozy and ill, and since hard physical activity is currently out of the question, I may as well do a bit of writing.

I got thinking about the things I do now (or have done) which I could not have done as a Jehovah's Witness (JW). Any one of these things could have gotten me disfellowshipped (to those not in the know, that's roughly analogous to Catholic excommunication). Here are my sins, in no particular order.

  • Reading literature critical of the JWs.
  • Celebrating birthdays.
  • Celebrating holidays.
  • Singing a national anthem.
  • Singing religious songs which are not JW songs.
  • Smoking tobacco.
  • Reading/writing/watching pornography
  • Donating money to the Red Cross
  • Entering non-JW places of worship
  • Attending non-JW religious services
  • Taking religious studies courses at university
  • Taking courses and workshops on sexuality
  • Going to a women's bath house
  • Playing Dungeons and Dragons
  • Playing Vampire: The Masquerade
  • Playing Demon: The Fallen
  • Watching movies about the occult
  • Reading/writing occult stories
  • Knowingly eating food which contains animal by-products
  • My score on the Purity Test. ;)
  • Talking to disfellowshipped JWs
  • Believing evolution is a perfectly logical theory
  • Considering the Bible a great collection of mythology
  • Thinking Charles Taze Russell was a charlatan
  • Knowing that many Bible stories have mythological antecedents
  • Fucking swearing
  • Independent thinking
  • Not keeping God foremost in my mind while having sex

There are more, I'm sure, but these shall suffice for now.
shanmonster: (On the stairs)
Why is it so many people can't see the beauty of their own potential? Why are so many people caught up in the cult of celebrity? Don't they know that they have it within themselves to shine, too?

I can't remember if I've written about this before, but I'm going to write about it now.

When I was a kid, I'd watch tv and movies, or read articles in magazines, and I'd see and learn about people with a vast array of skills, talents, and experiences. There were cowboys, acrobats, fashion models, chefs, businessmen, actors, body builders, authors, airline hostesses, scientists, hunters with spears, etc. I would always be amazed by these people. But I always considered them as something alien. Foreign. Other.

That's what other people did. It's not what people like me did.

I'd see someone with a big plate in their bottom lip, or someone walking tightrope, and I'd think how exotic that was. I'd see dancers with a pot of water balanced on their heads, dancing without spilling a single drop. And I'd think they had such a strange and different life, unlike normal people like me.

I was a normal kid. I went to school, and I went to the Kingdom Hall. The best I could hope for would be to marry a Jehovah's Witness elder and maybe be a missionary in one of those exotic foreign countries, and spread the word of God to the people who weren't like me. Heck, even the boys in the Kingdom Hall were more exotic than I was. They could at least carry the microphones around the Kingdom Hall or operate the sound equipment, because boys were important.

It never even occurred to me that I could go to university. I mean, it was strongly discouraged for Jehovah's Witness kids to seek higher education, except for maybe a trade. Higher education was a waste of time since Armageddon was surely just around the corner. And so I had resigned myself to the fate of waiting for Armageddon, and then for the resulting Paradise on Earth. That's when I might finally be accorded my chance to shine.

And so I was finishing up grade twelve, and my Dad unexpectedly mentioned to me that I might want to consider applying to university. I was pretty surprised, but sure, why not? If Dad suggested it, it must be a good idea. I applied to just one school. My grades were good, and I was accepted easily.

One day at the Kingdom Hall, one of the sisters (female JW) asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought about it for a minute, and then I said I thought I'd like to be a biologist.

Her mouth went from being shaped like a smile to being shaped like a cat's arsehole. "Biologists believe in evolution."

"Oh," I said, and then said nothing more. I'd been put back into my place.

Flash ahead to the next year. I was in university, now. I'd been taking a variety of courses, and meeting a lot of people far more cosmopolitan than I was. I met a few people who were radio DJs, another one of those things I considered glamourous and exotic. One day, I was having a conversation with an older woman in my introductory English class. I'm sure she doesn't remember the conversation. It was one of those casual, rather throwaway discussions. Just filling time, really. But it was pivotal for me.

I mentioned to her that a couple of my friends were DJs.

"You could be a DJ," she said.

I looked at her, startled. "Really?" I said.

"Yeah. I think you'd make a pretty good DJ."

I don't remember anything else in that conversation. All I remember is that was the precise moment when I realized, in more than just an abstract way, that I had the potential to do anything. And from that day onwards, if I decided I wanted to do or try something, unless there was a damned good reason not to, I went for it. Within the next week or two, I was getting training for operating sound equipment.

Screw living vicariously. I wanna live for myself.
shanmonster: (Default)
Years ago, I was walking with a guy who was drinking a cup of coffee or some such. I don't remember the specifics. I just remember that when he was through, he tossed the cup or wrapper or what-have-you onto the ground. I pointed to a trash can.

"Why would you litter when there's a garbage can right there?"

"I do it out of social consciousness," he said.

I looked at him, perplexed. "What do you mean?"

"If I threw it in the garbage, where would it end up? It would end up tied up inside a plastic bag, tossed onto a truck, and then taken away to a landfill where it would be buried amongst other tied-up garbage bags, unable to compost or break down. At least when I do it this way, it has a chance of breaking down. It's more honest."

You know, he had a point, asshole of an environmentalist that he may be. That being said, I try to limit my use of non-compostable materials. I try to avoid disposable items. I carry a steel water bottle around with me. I throw my recyclable wrappers in recycle bins, and hope that the way these plastics are recycled aren't by them being sent to off be melted into nurdles. And if I'm out in the woods eating a banana or an apple or even a pork chop, I'll throw the peel, core, or bone off into a bush where some critter will eat it or it will eventually get turned into soil and not be underfoot.

But I still won't throw paper, metel, and plastic trash on the ground. I guess I'm dishonest.
shanmonster: (Default)
I grew up differently from most people I know. Although I was essentially raised by the television, my family weren't huge consumers. We didn't buy a lot of stuff that most other people assume is what everyone gets at the mall. We grew much of our own food, like fruit and vegetables, and the vegetables we didn't grow ourselves, we still didn't buy at the grocery store. What potatoes we didn't grow ourselves, we bought from a farmer down the road. We raised our own animals for meat (pigs, chickens, rabbits, and once, a steer) and eggs (chickens and geese). My Dad hunted moose, partridge, and rabbits. We all went fishing for trout and cod. After school, my sister and I would pick berries, rose hips, and mushrooms. Sometimes we helped butcher chickens, and were part of a kiddy disassembly line plucking feathers, and pulling the guts out of chickens. Mom made a lot of the clothes my sister and I wore when we were little, and we wore a lot of hand-me-downs when we got older.

If something broke, we didn't just throw it out and get a new one. We'd fix it, instead. And so my socks were darned, and my trousers patched. Furniture would get repaired, and Dad would replace worn electrical cables on appliances.

I didn't have many toys. Instead, I played with my animals, read books, wrote stories, wandered through field and forest, or drew pictures. It was a childhood filled with hard work and lots of imagination. Maybe I didn't have fancy toys or new clothes, but I could climb trees, stand on the back of a cantering pony, build a camp fire, and tell you the difference between a doe and a stag's hoof print. Almost all of my meagre allowance went to purchasing stamps and stationery, for I had pen pals all around the world.

As I got older, I became more "civilized," I guess, for wont of a better word. I lived in a city, and was no longer able to grow my own food. Although I still went to the park to pick berries and herbs, this was only supplemental to my regular diet.

It was somewhere around my university years when I think I first heard, "You get what you pay for."

This was anathema to the frugal way in which I was raised. I was used to bartering and trading with other families, and when we did need to buy something, clipping coupons and looking for sales so we could save our money. And now that I'm well past my university years, I encounter it more and more. When free workshops are offered, attendance is often meagre, because how much value can something free have?

Some of the most lasting instruction I've ever received in dance has not been in a classroom situation, but around a campfire. I have learned incredible amounts of valuable information from libraries and off the internet.

Personally, I'm not fond of money. I think it's nasty, filthy stuff, and when I was a cashier at a major grocery store chain, I would wash my hands between shifts to get the grime of it off my hands. I won't deny its usefulness, but I believe that pretty much everyone is far too reliant upon it. To me, money takes the place of when a barter or trade is impossible or inconvenient. For instance, it doesn't make a lick of sense for me to offer dance or fitness instruction to my landlord, because he has no interest in it at all. But it makes perfect sense for me to offer dance lessons in exchange for other sorts of fitness or dance classes.

Over the past few days, I've been seeing a graphic which reads, "If you really want to Occupy Wall Street, do your holiday shopping at a small independent merchant."

My question is why do we need to do shopping for commercial holidays at all? Yes, I enjoy picking out gifts for people. But does it need to be limited to certain times of the year? Why is there such a compulsion to go to the malls in late November and early December to buy what is often shopworn, factory-made stuff? Why is there such compulsion to buy, buy, buy, especially when so much being offered for sale is not so great?

Back when Windows 95 came out, I remember being in a computer shop when a woman was purchasing a copy of the software. Ends up, she didn't even own a computer. She didn't want to be left behind. She was buying it because all the commercials were telling her she needed it.

How many useless (to us) things have we purchased? Do we need to buy another video game, or another toy? Do we need to buy certain education when knowledge is free to be had with a minimal bit of typing?

So says me, in my room overstuffed with books, clothes, and crafting supplies. It's giving me something to think about, at least.
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
I can will my mind to make things work in opposition to their nature.

Sometimes I lie in bed with my eyes closed, and it seems my bed is facing the opposite way, or that the room itself has flipped around. Or maybe it's me that's flipped around within my body, and my feet are where my head should be and my head is where my feet should be. I concentrate on this sensation, and I can spin myself around, whirling quickly or slowly until I open my eyes and I am once again lying down exactly as I went to bed, with my head on my pillow and the window on the correct side.

Several years ago, I had a regular modelling gig for an art class. The studio for this class was cold. Not chilly, or tits-a-bit-nipply-breast-get-a-sweater but cold. Something must have been wrong with the heating in the room. We could all see our breath. The artists wore their winter jackets, and some wore fingerless gloves. As for me, I wore not a stitch. I didn't even have a spot heater. So while the artists stood around, rubbing their hands together every now and then to warm them up, I held perfectly still and perspired.

How was this possible? Through concentration. I imagined that the prick of cold against my skin wasn't cold, but the feel of sun on a hot day. I wasn't freezing. I was on the cusp of a sunburn. While I kept this focus up, I didn't feel the cold at all.

Of course, once the poses were over and I had to come back to the real world, the sensation of heat went away, and I bundled myself in blankets and drank hot chocolate to keep warm.

I knew I could do this temperature change thing ever since I was about fourteen years old. Not interested in any of the suggested biology projects given by the teacher, my lab partner and I came up with our own. I'd read somewhere that Tibetan monks could keep themselves toasty warm in the Himalayas in situations where other people would freeze to death. They did this through meditation. So our project was this: could I increase the temperature of my hand measurably just by willing it so?

I would choose whether I wanted to increase my temperature or maintain it, then write this down. My partner did not know if I was trying to increase or maintain my temperature. I held a thermometer in my hand, and my partner recorded the starting temperature. Some time later (ten minutes, I think), the temperature would be recorded again, and my partner would mark down if she thought I'd tried to increase it or keep it the same.

I no longer have any of the records, but I do remember that I was able to consistently increase the temperature in my hand by a few degrees by willing it so.

I considered this to be a useful transferrable skill, and tried to find other ways to apply it. The first way was by stopping my nose bleeds. In my teens, I often had sudden, violent nose bleeds which would gush for a rather long time, and without warning. I always used to squeeze my nose and tip my head back to stop the bleeding. But I wondered what would happen if I willed the nose bleeds to stop. It sure would be nice to have shirts without blood stains.

After a bit of practice (which the frequent nose bleeds accorded me with), I was able to stop the nose bleeds almost immediately after they started.

Once I got out of my teens, the nose bleeds went away, and I no longer had any obvious reason to use my mind over matter skills. I forgot all about the meditation.

But then I got migraines. These weren't normal migraines, with pain. They were made of flashing lights, confusion, hallucination, and partial blindness. For a few years, I relied on varying degrees of medication to get them under control. The side effects, however, grew worse than the problem itself, and after a bit of arguing with my doctor, I finally got myself weaned off the pills. I thought of my almost-forgotten trick of mind over matter....

It was difficult to concentrate on the blindness and confusion disappearing, when the strobe lights and confusion attempted to thwart concentration on anything at all. But I kept working on it, and eventually, the blind spots would shrink. Each morning, before I got up or opened my eyes, I'd concentrate on making the blindness and confusion shrink and shrink. I couldn't do it all at once. I had to choose a "corner," and start from there. When I was on break at work, I'd sit in a quiet area and concentrate more. And I'd do it again at night.

It didn't work perfectly. It didn't work consistently. But it did work better than the medications had, and it didn't have any side effects.

Now, I don't believe that this technique will work on everything. Not at all. It doesn't seem to help me very much with menstrual cramps, for example. However, I believe we have more control over our own physiology than we might suspect. It's not automatic, though, or at least not for me. It requires a huge amount of undisrupted concentration.

As for now, I use it while doing physical training. I find it makes a big difference to not listen to music and to not watch the tv, but to listen and feel for what my muscles are doing, and to concentrate my attention there. How about you? Do you do something similar?

EDIT: If you've never attempted this, here's the simplest experiment I can think of using the same principles. Imagine your nose is itchy. Keep imagining how itchy it is. Eventually, your nose will be itchy. I used to use this in figure modelling, too. No, not to make parts itchy, and not even to make parts stop being itchy. I've never been able to completely remove and itch through concentration alone. But I can move it. Let's say I'm holding a pose with one hand on my butt, and the other away from my body. I get itchy on my belly. It's driving me bonkers, but I don't want to break the pose, so I will the itch to keep sliding along my belly, wrap around my waist, and then creep down my butt to where my hand already is and can scratch without breaking the pose.
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
I've been disquieted by one of the feel-good memes floating around on the social media sites lately. It is superficially adorable. It starts with a picture of a cute little girl hugging a dog. Then the flavour text goes on to say how the girl and the dog were inseparable until the dog died of old age. The little girl was devastated, so the parents explained how the dog had gone on to Heaven to be with God.

The little girl decided to write a letter to God with a few instructions as to what the dog liked, and included some photos, so God would be sure to recognize the dog when he showed up at Heaven's gates.

The letter was mailed to God, with lots of stamps since Heaven is a long way away. Some time later, there was a letter in responses, ostensibly from God, thanking the girl for the letter and saying the dog was happy, etc.

Now, all sorts of people are all melty and gooey from this, but I was left saddened. I'm sad the girl lost her dog. I really am. I even got a bit teary eyed, dang it! But I'm also sad that so many people are taking part in an elaborate ruse, when reality can be acceptable and reasonable to children. Things die. It's sad, but death is a part of life. And when they die, all sorts of fascinating processes take place, like decomposition, and fertilization of the soil, and regrowth from that rot. Fido isn't in heaven, but Fido could very well be helping new trees to grow. The bugs and worms that eat Fido get eaten by birds which get eaten by cats which contributes to the cycle of life. And yes, this same cycle will allow some other little girl or boy to have their very own dog who they love and who loves them back.

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