Monthly Archives: June 2009

Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Museum

Ireland 2007–Glasgow Museum

I have now hit the last of the Irish photos from Fall 2007¬†and these are the last of the trip spent in Glasgow on the way home. I’d love to write more on Ireland but that will take another trip and if anyone is willing to send me, I’ll gladly go. ūüôā But my other travels will now be more local.

 

Our lovely trip to Ireland ended and on Monday morning we flew back to Glasgow to Will and Erin’s place, wonderful people to put us up in their wee flat. I think my sister and I were a bit dragged out and didn’t really do more that snooze until they got home. If I recall Erin was still in Iceland(?) that night.

The next day we trundled off with directions and map, taking the bus to the Kelvingrove Museum . It was a cold day and just as well as a transition out of Ireland. Ireland seemed cozier and smaller (and warmer!). Glasgow’s a pretty large modern city. Even Dublin held more of a sense of age. So in a way it was good to transition back to Vancouver.

I had last been in Glasgow many many years before, when I was nineteen, and my friend and I stayed only one night. I don’t remember a lot except that it fit the dirty old town image of the time. It was one reason we didn’t stay that long.

The museum was interesting. We walked along a few streets past part of the older sections of the university. A foot and car bridge had massive statues of men and women, dressed in clothing of different eras and doing different things. Ships, books, rope, sewing, etc., various occupations. The day itself was a bit chilly and overcast. The good weather we had been graced with in Ireland had ended.

The museum was in some ways much like museums everywhere, except they’re free in Scotland and Ireland. What a great idea that is. There was a section on indigenous wildlife, including all the extinct indigenous wildlife that had once roamed Scotland’s hills. Humans have wiped out so many species and it continues. It’s sad to see that. If we could learn to populate less, farm/hunt more efficiently and in a renewable way, we might exist another thousand years but I’m having my doubts right now. The first floor was natural history plus sculptures, early Egypt and other works of art.

The second floor was mostly paintings. There were some interesting paintings and sculptures in the museum too. The small section on women’s early subjugation and suffragette movements was eye opening. I knew there were a lot of “Victorian” inventions with things like the chastity belt and that any earlier versions have never been found. If I was exploring this farther I’d want to know more of the history and dating of the objects.

The Art Nouveau/Deco section and the stuff on Charles Rennie MacIntosh, Scotland’s darling, were wonderful. I’m very partial to Art Nouveau so spent a lot of time there drooling on things. And of course seeing the jacket from hmm, what era, the Reformation, the 17th century was cool as the only piece of clothing I saw there. It was white doe skin/leather, with perfect stitching, and the bullet hole and blood of the guy who got shot while wearing it. I think there might have been a bit of museum that¬†I missed.

After, we wandered around Glasgow and had the most awful Scottish-Mexican food. A breaded cheeseball with salsa. Potatoes with salsa. My sister got glutened so it added trips to the loo. She’s a celiac and any touch of the stuff causes a reaction. This was a direct difference to Ireland where everyone seemed to know what a celiac was. We got lost trying to find our way back to my friends’ mostly because it turned out there were two buses with the same name but they went different places. We eventually found our way to our abode and the next day we were on to Canada.

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Alcoholism and Life

I grew up with an alcoholic father. Some might debate this but he drank a fair amount, did terrible things to us and grew violent. It was not pretty and it marred us with scars we bear to this day. My mother went back to school at one point and worked as an alcohol and drug abuse counsellor so she knew the signs well. It’s interesting, before she moved into that line of work, the men she dated were all alcoholics.

I also had a friend who became my best friend and lived across the alley from me. We got into various types of trouble together, went to parties, and drank underage, as most of our friends did. I cannot tell her tale as to what pushed her too far. It could be an easy statement of physiology though easy is not the way it was. By sixteen she was an alcoholic with a host of embarrassing events under her belt, making difficult for her friends to be around her. I asked my mother what to do (and I have to say my mother was very good about not berating us for drinking underage) so she gave me some pamphlets to pass on to my friend. One was a checklist of behaviors that could indicate you’re an alcoholic. Some of the statements were: do you not remember what you’ve done while drinking, do you pass out after drinking, do you feel the need to drink every day–things like that.

Of course, giving a teenager such pamphlets didn’t go over that well and as high school grew towards its end and my friend also became pregnant (facilitating a quick marriage), we also started to grow apart. I couldn’t help her and she was going to need to help herself. I don’t know if she was embarrassed by her alcoholism or felt that I judged her (and I confess that I did at that time) but we eventually lost contact. It was only many many years later that she made the effort to contact me, having been dry for a long time, with grown and growing children. I then had to get past the wall that I had left behind from that time.

In high school I had also started dating a guy who I went with for a year and a half. He was two years older than me so he was finished while I was in grade 11. And he worked at a pub. I looked old for my age and could get into the bars without being ID’d. (Oddly enough, after I turned legal age, I was ID’d often.) He too became an alcoholic, drinking too much and too often. I don’t remember if that’s what broke up the relationship but it was a contributing factor.

I’d seen enough alcoholism by my mid-twenties, including an Irish couple in Vancouver who were on a self-destructive path through their drinking.¬† We also stopped being friends. And there are others, those with the red splotchy faces, the abusive tongues, the rude behavior that had driven friend and family away. I would often talk to these people, if they were friends, expressing concern but when they continued along their way I felt I didn’t need to be in the path of their abuse either.

I was arrogant enough to think I’d never be an alcoholic because I didn’t like alcohol that much and I was aware of it. That may have been the case but I wasn’t aware of the abyss in my soul and where it was sucking me to. I was unhappy and single, while all my friends were in couples. I hated myself, my eating disorder was out of control. On top of it, I’d fallen in love with a man who didn’t love me and inadvertently probably rubbed the fact in my face with his patronizing way.

Before I knew it I was drinking to drown the pain and perceived loneliness. I stood in the back of a poetry performance night one evening, crying (from my broken heart), then going out to my car to drink a cider, then coming in and crying, and repeating in progressively drunken way. I went to a camping event and proceeded to get so drunk that I didn’t know what I did. In essence, I had a blackout. Then on New Year’s eve I went to Blaine to some friends’ party. Bored and feeling the loneliness around all the couples there, I decided to drive back to Vancouver to another party.

Lucky for me, some friends braved my wrath and took my keys away. I later passed out and left the next day. Shortly after that night I was thinking of my life and realized I teetered on the edge of becoming a full fledged alcoholic. The brink was close and I was sliding over it. Also lucky for me, with that realization, I started to reassert control over my life.

And two friends at that time, drew straws to see who would approach me and say I had a drinking problem. The loser got to come up to me, probably expecting me to tear into her. But when she said, we think you have a drinking problem, I said, Thank you for being such good friends to tell me. You have the right, if you see me out of control at any time, please tell me.

And after that, I did try to control it, and not drink to cover my problems. Alcoholism, though, can strike for a number of reasons. Some people are physiologically more susceptible. Others make it part of their lifestyle. Others use to flood the hollow spots. It is the duty of anyone who is friend or family to say to the drinker, You have a problem and you need help. But as always, it is up to the person to change and hopefully have the support of friends when they take that path. I learned some valuable lessons about drinking and about me. I wouldn’t want to go that road again.

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Michael Jackson: Shooting Star

I grew up with Michael Jackson, or his music anyways. But that’s not hard to say for most of us. After all, when a career spans forty-five years, many people can say the same thing.

As the news rolled in, people and media have expressed their shock, that they were stunned. Sadly, I can say I was not. I have said that I expected that Michael would die an early death, like Elvis, than live to a ripe old age. I have called him a shooting star for years, for he is and was exactly that. A shooting star ascends high into the heavens, or so high up that everyone can see that light. But such a bright light eventually comes to an end. As opposed to a star that shines constantly and brightly for eons and then fades out at the end of a long lifetime, a shooting star seems all the brighter for its briefer lifespan, and that it will descend much quicker. The candle burned out long ago, to paraphrase Elton John.

That Michael Jackson was a brilliant musician and stage presence, the greatest pop icon of his time,¬†is obvious by the number of albums he sold and the money he made. It’s irrefutable. That he lived a happy and normal life is arguable. The signs are not so hidden at all that Jackson was a troubled and unhappy individual. Like many of us, I’m sure he had his moments of happiness, but like many of us he was also unhappy with who he was. And he had the money to do something about it.

He was a good looking, handsome black child who grew to adulthood and was still attractive. Looking at those early pictures of Michael, you can see he is still black, his hair curly yet fashionable. Slowly his wide, broad nose, narrowed and narrowed again to the skeletal aberration that it became. I certainly hope that the plastic surgeon who mangled Jackson’s face doesn’t advertise that he did the great Michael Jackson. Of course, Jackson also had surgeries to change the shape of his jaw, his lips, his cheekbones, his eyes until the face does not resemble the earlier Michael Jackson at all. How much plastic surgery is needed for a burn of long ago? Not that much, I would think.

He took to straightening his hair, getting rid of any semblance to the negroid curl. And his skin turned white. It’s said that he suffered from a skin pigmentation problem, vitiligo. On white people this sometimes shows as a darker patch, or a pinker patch of skin. On black people, it shows as white or pinkish skin. This could possibly be true but any person I ever saw who had this condition, where the melanin starts to leave the skin, had it in patches, not an overall and even discoloration. Though it’s possible that he started with this and had a chemical depigmentation performed using monobenzone, to even out the skin tone. He also did not exhibit conditions of albinism, evident by the darkness of his hair and eyes. (The Philipines, as one example, sells many skin lightening soaps.) There are numerous ways listed on the internet on how to lighten your skin tone. Michael Jackson had the money, which gives you the means, to do this to the extreme. Perhaps it started as a pigmentation problem but I believe he went in search of being a white man.

These extreme examples of changing his body indicate how unhappy he was with who he had been born. And proves that money can’t buy you happiness. He was too famous to walk anywhere without being recognized, therefore negating his chances of having normal life experiences. As Michael grew farther away from a normal life (even as a child in a performing family he was more used to spotlight than to family life) it became more unattainable.

Where were the family and friends that could bring him back to center? His family wasn’t a good example as they all lived in the limelight to one degree or another as well. If Michael’s only friends were other stars (as often is the case) then they may have been his yes men, only telling him how wonderful he was, never saying, Michael you’ve gone too far. Or Michael, you’ve got to eat or you’re going to die. But if there were those who tried to balance Michael’s extremes, maybe he just didn’t listen. After all, he was rich and powerful in the music world.

Michael lived in fantasy palaces, with private zoos and was probably happiest when he took his creative genius into the realm of¬† music where he was an innovator and a leader. I was never that in to pop music but I would argue that there is no better music for teenagers, because pop music is catchy, upbeat and fast enough to engage a young mind. Yet Michael was seen as a god, not as a man. I’m sure he was a romantic icon for enough teens as well.

We have a tendency in our world today to put rock/music stars and movie stars upon pedestals. They are our modern gods. But we (people, the masses) are a fickle lot, that get bored too quickly and demand too much. If our gods slip up, we will pull them down, we ridicule them and we hate them for the fame and money and beauty that we cannot hang onto ourselves. We will pick at their every flaw and as their pedestal crumbles we will hack it to pieces.

And then Michael, the unfathomable recluse who invited children into his palace, was charged with child molestation. Whether true or not, such an accusation is devastating and scarring to the core. It could not do other to a man estranged from a normal life who could only live on the idolization of his fans. Even the supposed three children he had with the rather plain woman (who disappeared from the scene shortly after) were suspect. No matter how a man bleaches himself, or suffers pigmentation problems, they won’t transfer to his children. And black being more dominant than white would show in the features, yet these kids (the few pictures that exist) are more white than anything else, one especially being extremely white.

Michael Jackson’s life had become a circus, the star on its descent. The millionaire who owed millions. When I recently looked at a progression of pictures of Jackson through his life and I saw how thin he was (not just slim, but very thin) I knew he suffered an eating disorder as well. This fits in with someone so desperate to change into someone else. Anorexia starves the body on all sorts of levels. Not enough nutrients to feed the muscles or the organs and then those organs must work harder. Anorexics, unless they try to seek help and recover, often die of heart attacks when the strain on their hearts become too much. It really was inevitable.

Michael Jackson may have had other conditions too; it’s not clear. But one thing that is, is that he was fighting his body his whole life. To be so gifted and die so conflicted. Could most of us ever hope to shine so brightly? Could any of us fear to burn so painfully? I feel sad for his life, that he couldn’t have loved himself more. Michael Jackson joins the other shooting stars, the famous who died suddenly before their flame burned out naturally: Jimmy Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, River Phoenix, Princess Diana, John Lennon and many others.

Reports are saying that he died of a drug overdose or a cocktail of deadly proportions. Not really a surprise. Jackson was reportedly addicted to painkillers (Vicodin, Demerol, etc.)¬† since the face burning episode. Put on top of that, the numerous surgeries and his anorexia and you have a collapse just waiting to happen. A bit of a star’s standard way out, whether planned or accidental. This shopping list of pharmaceuticals does support my theory of a man disenfranchised and unhappy with the way his life continued to unfold. So he closed the book.

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Dublin and Keating’s Bar

This is the last day in Ireland, before we flew back to Glasgow, in October 2007.

Sunday October 14, nearing the end of our trip and our last night in Ireland. We had come back to Dublin a day earlier hoping to have some time to see a few more sights but what with getting lost over and over again, we really had time only to pack, drop off the car and get something to eat. Driving into Dublin after two weeks of driving, you think would be easier. But there were multiple lanes, the signs were unclear and once we got off the highway, we proceeded to meander with the streets.

I think we stopped twice to ask for directions and finally found the same B&B where we had stayed before, the Charleville. Whereas this place had very nice rooms when we arrived we were given one in the basement this time. It smelled moldy in the corridor, the light didn’t work right, the door knob was loose and the water cool. It wasn’t as impressive but we were only there for the one night. (So if you’re planning on staying there, don’t let them put you in the basement.)

So after wasting part of the day getting into Dublin we decided it was wise to drop of the car first, knowing how signage just doesn’t match reality. We got lost, typical by now, went the wrong direction, finally got directions that took us to the Liffey (river) where the dropoff for the car was. The guy who gave us the best directions said, take the last road before the Liffey and turn left, then go one block and turn up. Not only were the names of the streets wrong but we couldn’t turn left on the street he said we could, nor go up the street that was next (because it was one way the other direction). It seems even the Irish don’t know their city that well.

After driving in large circles for about an hour, we finally found the entrance, not marked in any discernible way to say it was the right place. And then we were hungry. We were downtown on a Sunday and couldn’t find much. Many things were closed, or looked very cheesy. So we ate at a diner with unremarkable food.

We then caught a taxi to Keating’s Bar because my friend Will in Glasgow had said check it out. We could have walked as it was only a few blocks away but we didn’t know that after our long adventures in Dublin. It turns out to be an old church that fell into disrepair. Eventually it was bought by a local restaurateur and restored, keeping both the history of the place preserved. Part of the deal was to keep in in good repair and it has more parishioners of food than anything else. The crypt in the basement (with tombs in the floor) is the wine bar, which was closed that night. The large open-space bathrooms are on that level, where you walk in and go right if you’re a man and left if you’re a woman. When you’re at the sinks you can see men and women equally. Very Euro trendy.

The main floor has a long oval bar down the middle, and the top floor, overlooking the main floor is the dining area. If we had known there’d be food we would have eaten there and had a better meal. There are plaques and tombs in the walls to different personages. I wonder if people from two hundred years ago would roll in their graves to know a church had been turned into a bar, but then I thought, it’s the Irish. They tend to be more relaxed about drinking as part of life and religion.

We had an early flight the next day so we caught a taxi back to the B&B (not risking getting lost again) and that was that. Although there were a few things I didn’t see in Dublin I would probably skip it the next time. At the least I wouldn’t rent a car in the city and would the very least take a bus to a neighboring town and rent there to save on the confusion.

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Workers Compensation: A Fallacy

There are probably many people reading this who know someone or have themselves experienced a workplace injury and WCB’s attitude toward compensating the worker. In fact, the Workers Compensation Board changed their name to WorkSafe BC, to reflect the greater scope of their reach and because they’re known for not compensating workers, or cutting compensation off arbitrarily.

This could all be hearsay but I do have direct experience. I have had to file twice in my life. The first time was for a repetitive stress injury to the soft tissue of my hand (my fingers and hand swelled) due to writing so much in quintuplicate for the movie industry (with one period that consisted of about 30 hours straight). In this first case, WCB did cover treatments but only until they thought I should be better. A known fact about the human body is that people heal at different rates and many other factors come into play. So I had to somehow manage to get better, without affording the therapy while still working.

The second time was perhaps harder to pinpoint but indicates the arbitrary decision making of case workers. I was working inside underneath three air conditioner vents. I have a couple of conditions, the major one being chronic myofascial pain syndrome (MFS). It is similar to fibromyalgia but more treatable. I can be fine for a long time and then experience a relapse brought on by certain conditions. Then I will proceed into a chronic pain cycle, which can take years to get hrough. I can function but am often in pain all the time.

Myofascial pain can be triggered by various events, some of which are: stress, cold, injury. This means, at the onset a person can try to work through the pain with exercise, which can backfire, causing more trigger point cascades. A trigger point is an area on the body that when pressed refers pain to other areas. People with myofascial pain and fibromyalgia have specific spots on their bodies which will be major trigger points. Each person may not demonstrate pain in all of them but may¬†in most of them. A trigger point is often a hard knot. I’m not a medical expert but from what I’ve read it involves muscle tissue and fascia (the thin membrane that covers muscles [like you see on chicken]). A trigger point cascade can occur where one trigger point starts a progression of spasms and knotting that create other trigger points.

At my worst, I was trying to work out and increased the problem unknowingly. I had trigger point cascades down my arms and back, to the point where I could barely hold a fork or chew. That was an extreme episode that I don’t wish to visit again. Overall, my muscles will spasm and knot up and will forget how to release. I had ten years of chronic pain before the combination of the right muscle relaxant (many painkillers and analgesics don’t always work on this type of pain), a massage therapist who understood how to work with trigger points, and about four months of very warm weather which took me out of the chronic stage.

As I’ve mentioned, stress, injury or cold can trigger myofascial pain. Other conditions can be associated with it, such as Reynaud’s syndrome. Reynaud’s is also called red, white and blue because it will be brought on by cold and the vessels in the extremities (fingers and toes) will constrict, causing the limbs to go from red to white to blue as the blood flow is suppressed. People with this condition will experience sharp, knifelike pain and numbness. I have found, when I experience Reynauds, that the only way to bring circulation back to the extremities is to bring up my core temperature.

I have given these two examples here to wind back to workers compensation. The three air conditioner vents that I was sitting under blew a lot of cold air onto my back. I’m more susceptible to cold, but was the only person in my area who was under three vents (no one was under more than one). Because the muscles tightened up, when I moved suddenly, sitting at my desk, I threw out my back. I was a contract worker so I couldn’t really take time off but I filed a claim. I went to the chiropractor a couple of times but couldn’t afford more than that.

Recognizing that this could be another chronic pain onset, I wanted WCB to cover therapy for a couple of weeks. In all, if I had had treatment right away I could have put off the chronic pain. It would have taken probably a month at most, consisting of chiropractic to adjust my back, and massage to keep the muscles from tightening up and pulling my back out again (believe me, I live with this often, muscles pulling my ribs out while I sleep).

My case worker was on holidays so I talked to someone else first. When the case worker came back, he didn’t even talk to me but denied the claim straight out. I wrote back citing the specialist that had originally diagnosed me. I was willing to be examined, get letters from the specialists about the condition and other documentation if needed. I said that the cold of the air conditioning was the problem and the case worker wrote back and said that cold never hurt anyone. Never. Cold.

I wonder what those people feel who suffer frostbite and hypothermia and die of exposure? One of the best ways to get through myofascial pain is to apply heat, along with therapy. This case worker didn’t consult any medical expert but made his own uninformed arbitrary decision. I would have had to go to a new level to fight this, to get the therapy that was now some time from the onset of the injury. And what else causes myofascial pain? Stress. Having already taken ICBC (our provincial car insurance company) to small claims court for not covering the therapy costs of the injury that originally began my relationship with myofascial pain, I knew how stressful that process was (I won, BTW). I didn’t do it and have spent several years getting out of another bout of chronic pain. And of course all the subsequent visits to my doctor for muscle relaxants (trying to find some that work), the few visits to the therapists, and days I take off work when the pain is too much, or for doctor appointments puts¬†more strain on our health care and system. In the long run, it costs way more than what the initial treatments would have been.

This is just one example of how workers compensation is a fallacy. I have heard far worse stories. And I have only touched the tip of the iceberg on what myofascial pain is all about. It is a more accepted condition these days, very hard to diagnose and many doctors pooh pooh it still.  Wikipedia has a very short entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myofascial_pain_syndrome  And should you have a workplace injury that brings on this condition, you can expect workers compensation to not compensate, to not help you get better, and like many other injured workers, leave you out in the cold.

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Fashion & Health: Footwear Fallout

I’ve heard it said that women wear high heels because men invented them. Or that it’s a man’s design for women. This could partly be true, that the high heel was designed by a man, but whether women wear it for a man or for themselves is open to debate. Face it, if a woman was the shoe’s inventor would she make only sensible shoes (probably designed by men too) or would she make flattering and sexy shoes? I think she would make the latter but there would be some women to make the former as well.

When we get down to it, people will often wear sexy, interesting and beautiful things. The Baroque period of the 18th century saw men in heels as much as women. Heels came about first for fitting the shoe/boot into a stirrup and holding it there. And there were pattens, wooden clogs to slip one’s shoe into, for protection from the wet and inclement elements. These went to ridiculous heights in Italy and there are drawings of women being supported by two assistants as they walk around in teetering towers of wood.

The 20th century certainly saw its share of high heels. There were heels right from the begining of the century and slowly they rose through the decades. The 30s and 40s saw high shoes with small platforms. Then along came the true platform shoes, reminiscent of the pattens of the Renaissance. And we also had the stiletto heel, very thin with a very pointy toe. These heels could put holes in floors with the pounds per square inch of pressure. And they were pretty unstable for supporting a person’s weight. But they were considered sexy.

Women and men have been wearing the affectations of fashion for a very long time. And I was no exception. I started wearing high heels when I was in art college. I wore them to dress up and to work in. I worked at Sears and often had to wear dresses, so therefore I wore the heels to go with them. That would often encompass four-eight hours of standing on hard floors in heels. I remember going home at night and taking off my shoes, and rubbing my feet on the carpet because they itched and burned so much from the pressure.

I continued to wear high heels, developing a callous thick enough to resist all but the sharpest implements. And then one year, in the stupidity of my youth, I walked downtown in high heels because the buses were on strike. I walked home barefoot but developed blood blisters under the callouses, which made them slough off.

I grew a little wiser over the years, no longer standing for hours or walking miles in high heels. But the damage had been done. I’m not a podiatrist but pretty much what the high heels did was cause the bones to drop or shift in the ball of my foot and crush the nerves, which resulted in pain, cramps and numbness. I believe it is plantar fascitis and the cramping can be supremely painful. Lucky for me, I didn’t develop bunions, another side effect to wearing tight or pointy shoes, but it can also come from other causes.

Along the way, wearing flat shoes, I managed to experience pain as if someone was hammering on my heels. My ankles swelled up like balloons and took a week to come down. That was the beginning of heel spurs, which I don’t believe had any genesis in high heels or not.

So these days, yes, I wear orthotics but I’ve been having problems with the new ones (now a year or two old) not quite working for my right foot. My podiatrist moves the pad around and we keep trying. I still wear shoes with high heels. Not as high as they once were and I plan. If I’m going out for dinner or some other function where I will be sitting mostly, I’ll wear them but not if I have to stand as my feet can’t take them. So, if you’re planning on wearing shoes with mega heels, consider now when and where, and protect your feet for the future.

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Traveling in India: Food Culture

Okay, maybe that title is slightly misleading. When I was in India I ended up with dysentery so bad that I couldn’t eat much at all. But I do remember some of the things I ate or chewed upon.

I was in Meghalaya for a month and the Khasis tend to eat their food fairly plainly. Rice, chicken, beef, with these green, little bullet peppers on the side. Begung was one particular dish I remember (and the spelling is more phonetic than anything else). It was a dark green leafy vegetable chopped into small pieces and fermented or aged with something savory. Think Asian sauerkraut but completely different. They also made a beef jerky over the fire used to distill the local rice drink, kyat. This was like drinking very very green saki.

Khasis also eat a lot of boiled eggs. This got to be too much for us on the second day. At one point we got takeout. There aren’t many restaurants and takeout involved getting some kind of noodle dish served in a banana leaf. All biodegradable but now days they put those dishes wrapped in banana into a plastic bag for carrying and once you’ve finished eating you toss the leaf and the bag. It was a sad thing to see that Western culture was encroaching all the bad aspects there as well.

The one other item in Megahlaya that I tried wasn’t really a food item. It would go more into the realm of entertainment, or a side, or like smoking. This was kwai, or betel nut. The Khasis eat theirs fairly pure. You take a peppercorn leave–it’s actually a betel leaf though they called it peppercorn because of the peppery taste, put a dab of lime paste on it (this is not made from fruit). Then you take chopped up betel nut (or areca nut, which is similar to nutmeg in hardness and texture) and fold the leaf over the the ingredients. Then you chew and chew and chew. It’s very hard and takes the lime and the leaf to help break it down.

Betel nut is also a slight stimulant (and has been found to be a carcinogen). It tended to make me turn beet red, which everyone found quite funny. I didn’t notice more than a little rush. Many Khasis eat it often and it tends to stain the spit and therefore the lips red. One woman called it Khasi lipstick. Betel nut is eaten throughout India but it may be sugared, have candy sprinkles, spices or a host of other items to sweeten it up as it is pretty harsh and bitter. In India it is called paan.

Although I got into the habit of trying it in Meghalaya I didn’t continue in the rest of India because it was too sweet. Just as well since it is known for destroying gums and teeth because it is so hard. I remember being in some government buildings in India and seeing corners in halls stained red as if someone had been stabbed to death. People would just spit into the corners and it was never cleaned up.

Through the rest of India, I actually didn’t get a chance to try as much as the food as I would have liked. Dhal (a lentil stew) was common but I can’t eat lentils. And I also had dysentery, which prevented me trying many of the dishes I wanted. I do remember the yogurt being remarkably creamy and not bitter like it is here. You could get a salty or a fruit lassi, made from yogurt and they were a lot of what I survived on when I was very sick.

I’m afraid I never got to try curries and other local dishes. By the end of the two months I was too sick to remember much about the food, except to stay away from the Campa Cola, which was made in Italy but shipped to India because it was carcinogenic. What fun. It’s one regret, that I never got to try more foods while there, especially because I love spicy.

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Personality: You are Who You Pretend to Be

As a child I was extremely shy and introverted. This doesn’t mean that I was weak or without personality. I was fairly strong willed but I wouldn’t talk or do anything to stand out in the crowd. The argument for nature vs nurture might play in here. My personality was imprinted at birth. My circumstances affected how my personality played out.

Growing up in a home rife with turmoil and many abuses probably made me into the shy and insecure child that I was. I was picked on, teased and remained in the background. I remember my passive aggressive act when one girl was bugging me in school. I didn’t confront her but as I walked home I spit on the sidewalk in front of her house.

In grade 7 I was still fairly shy but starting to flower in personality (as we are all wont to do in teenagerhood). I had a few friends, and was trying to fit in. However, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas (or my birthday) that year and I said a purple dress/shirt/some item of clothing. I received a wardrobe of purple; pants, tops, dresses. Everything was purple. I could not wear purple again for about ten years but today it is a color I wear frequently.

With that geeky stigma of one color, I tended to cringe and become conscious of clothing. I also looked at Margaret Parsons in my class. She was shyer than me, had red ringlets (really gorgeous red hair actually) and wore a school uniform. In retrospect I have a lot of sympathy for Margaret and Morag, who both came from school systems with uniforms. They stuck out like sore thumbs and again, moving into a district wasn’t easy. They were definitely outsiders and looked at strangely. Kids are very cruel, not yet tempered with the social skills on how to stab someone nicely in the back.

Back to Margaret; she was very very shy and quiet and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to be like her, which meant I had to change. It was important for me to fit in. My family was different, with divorced parents, not going to church, fighting. All my friends had more “normal” families. First was the clothing. Jeans and T-shirts were much the norm for teenagers.

By late high school I upped the ante again. My clothing was mostly in shades of blue and brown. I decided that if I wore brighter colors it would make me more outgoing (and had read something to that effect). Basically it became a case of fake it till you make it. I did this again in art college.

Overall it was a long, slow transition, but little by little my clothes got brighter and my personality changed. I started to wear more jewellery (some would say I wear too much) and became a clothes horse, liking fashion and trying to find unique styles. But along the way I consciously challenged my boundaries. And sure enough, I went from being a shy introvert to and outgoing extrovert.

Few of us are 100% of anything. We all have introvert and extrovert in us. I can be quiet, even withdrawn, and sometimes prefer to sit back in the sidelines and watch. But I also enjoy being at a party or around people. Had I not pushed myself I would have probably remained an introvert. Would the switch have happened anyways? I don’t know. But I’m sure it would have taken much longer.

Wearing bright colors was a physical manifestation of how I wanted to change and I think it did work towards bringing me out of my shell. And shell it was, a protective coating from a tumultuous home life and the jibes and jeers of class mates. Interestingly enough, I grew a different shell, with bolder colors that stopped a lot of the teasing once I wore them with confidence. So yes, I think a leopard can change its spots.

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Writing: British Fantasy Awards & Stuff

I’m listing the recent announcement of shortlisted works for the British Fantasy Awards. I am not nominated but the anthology Cone Zero that my story “The Fathomless World” is in, has been. But then, none of the stories from the anthology have been nominated so I wonder if that bodes ill for the anthology winning the award.

Of course, for me it would have been better if my story was nominate but that’s okay. And it’s too bad that some of the reviews really just recapped the book and my story didn’t make much of a splash. Pooh. I liked it but perhaps the most informative review was a very late, after the fact one, where the reviewer decided to leave his notes as haiku, partly because it was so late. The one which I’m sure was for “The Fathomless World” said something like, “more style than substance.”¬† That would be the middle line of the haiku if you count “style as a two-syllable word.

So it goes. I thought it had substance but I also did it in a mythic style. I continue to send works out and work on new ones. Unfortunately the whole economic crisis has affected story markets to the point that I’m thinking I should just be working on my novel and skip the stories right now. For speculative fiction, whether horror, fantasy, science fiction or other, there are not a lot of markets to submit to right now. Some have gone the way of the dodo, while the majority of the pro markets (those that pay five cents a word or more) are closed to submissions or on hiatus. A sad state indeed.

And it’s always been a sad state that the pay for speculative fiction has been so low. Definitely not a make-a-living type of wage. Literary markets as a whole tend to pay somewhat better but many of them also pay the equivalent of $100 a story, which many anthologies do. Some literary markets pay anywhere from $15-40 a printed page, which again could work out to the same amount.

Why do we write then? For fame? Partly, though that’s a long hard road.¬†Hardly for fortune. And maybe most of all, because we love words and our minds just keep filling with them and we want to tell a story and share in the mysteries of what-if. And not onto the shortlisted works for the British Fantasy Award.

BEST ANTHOLOGY

    Cone Zero(DF Lewis) Megazanthus Press
    Myth-Understandings (Ian Whates) Newcon Press
    Subtle Edens (Allen Ashley) Elastic Press
    The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 19 (Stephen Jones) Constable & Robinson
    The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror(Ian Alexander Martin) Humdrumming
    We Fade To Grey(Gary McMahon) Pendragon Press

BEST NOVEL (THE AUGUST DERLETH FANTASY AWARD)

    Memoirs of a Master Forger(William Heaney/Graham Joyce) Gollancz
    Midnight Man (Simon Clark) Severn House
    Rain Dogs(Gary McMahon) Humdrumming
    The Graveyard Book(Neil Gaiman) Bloomsbury
    The Victoria Vanishes (Christopher Fowler) Little Brown
    Thieving Fear (Ramsey Campbell) PS Publishing

THE PS PUBLISHING BEST SMALL PRESS AWARD

    Elastic Press (Andrew Hook)
    Newcon Press (Ian Whates)
    Pendragon Press (Chris Teague)
    Screaming Dreams (Steve Upham)
    TTA Press (Andy Cox)

BEST COLLECTION

    Bull Running for Girls (Allyson Bird) Screaming Dreams
    Glyphotech(Mark Samuels) PS Publishing
    How To Make Monsters(Gary McMahon) Morrigan Books
    Islington Crocodiles(Paul Meloy) TTA Press
    Just After Sunset(Stephen King) Hodder & Stoughton

BEST NOVELLA

    “Cold Stone Calling” (Simon Clark) Tasmaniac Publications
    “Gunpowder” (Joe Hill) PS Publishing
    “Heads” (Gary McMahon) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon – Pendragon Press
    “The Narrows” (Simon Bestwick) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon – Pendragon Press
    “The Reach of Children” (Tim Lebbon) Humdrumming

BEST SHORT FICTION

    “All Mouth” (Paul Meloy) Black Static 6, Ed. Andy Cox – TTA Press
    “Do You See” (Sarah Pinborough) Myth-Understandings, Ed. Ian Whates ‚Äď Newcon Press
    “N” (Stephen King) Just After Sunset – Hodder & Stoughton
    “Pinholes in Black Muslin” (Simon Strantzas) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin – Humdrumming
    “The Caul Bearer” (Allyson Bird) Bull Running For Girls ‚Äď Screaming Dreams
    “The Tobacconist‚Äôs Concession” (John Travis) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin – Humdrumming
    “The Vague” (Paul Meloy) Islington Crocodiles, TTA Press
    “Winter Journey” (Joel Lane) Black Static 5, Ed. Andy Cox – TTA Press

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL

    30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow(Steve Niles/Bill Sienkiewicz) IDW Publishing
    All-Star Superman(Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely) DC Comics
    Buffy Season Eight Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate(Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard/ Georges Jeanty) Dark Horse Comics
    Comic Book Tattoo Tales Inspired by Tori Amos(Ed, Rantz A. Hoseley & Tori Amos/ Various) Image Comics
    Hellblazer: Fear Machine (Jamie Delano) Vertigo
    Hellblazer: The Laughing Magician(Andy Diggle/Leonardo Manco & Daniel Zezelj) Vertigo
    Locke and Key(Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez) IDW Publishing
    The Girly Comic Book 1 (Ed, Selina Lock) Factor Fiction
    The New Avengers: Illuminati(Brian Bendis & Brian Reed/Jim Cheung) Marvel Comics

BEST ARTIST

    Dave McKean (The Graveyard Book) Bloomsbury
    Edward Miller (Vault of Deeds) PS Publishing
    Lee Thompson (The Land at the End of the Working Day) Humdrumming
    Les Edwards (Various)
    Vincent Chong (Various)

BEST NON-FICTION

    Basil Copper: A Life in Books (Basil Copper, Ed, Stephen Jones) PS Publishing
    Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale (Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook) BBC Books
    journal.neilgaiman.com (Neil Gaiman)
    Mutant Popcorn(Nick Lowe) Interzone – TTA Press
    What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction(Paul Kincaid) Beccon Publications

BEST MAGAZINE

    Black Static(Andy Cox) TTA Press
    Interzone(Andy Cox et. al.) TTA Press
    Midnight Street(Trevor Denyer)
    Postscripts(Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers) PS Publishing
    SFX (Dave Bradley) Future Publishing Limited

BEST TELEVISON

    Battlestar Galactica (NBC)
    Dead Set(Zeppotron/Channel 4)
    Dexter (Clyde Phillips Productions)
    Doctor Who (BBC Wales)
    Supernatural (Warner Bros TV)

BEST FILM

    Cloverfield (Matt Reeves)
    Iron Man(Jon Favreau)
    The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
    The Mist(Frank Darabont)
    The Orphanage(Juan Antonio Bayona)
    (With thanks to SFWA for supplying the list.)

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Sexy Cartoons: the Cutesifying of Society

In one of the many online apps that I check (Facebook, Google, Yahoo Groups, various independent websites, Wiki) there are ads. We’re all used to them and probably don’t notice most of them by now. They may be for dating or specific to what you’re looking at, or little gadget ads to lure you in so they can slap a cookie and spyware onto you. There are wallpaper and screensaver gadgets, little emoticons you can use and various avatars you can create.

There has been one, obviously geared toward girls and women where you can create an avatar/toon of yourself. Now I was pretty much like any other little girl and used to love paper dolls and plastic dolls and changing their clothes. What can I say? I still love clothes and maybe that was just the early interest manifesting. Women, generally, love color and pattern and whether it is clothing or decorating your home or painting a picture, this may come out in various ways. But over all humans are attracted to color and pattern; it’s just that men have been told they have to be more “manly.” Tell the men of the Baroque era, in their lace cravats and cuffs, brocades, powdered wigs, facial patches and high heeled shoes that they weren’t men. They were; they were just in fashion for their period.

So, back to these various ads. The one that caught my eye is this one:

cutesy

Not that there aren’t other similar ads out there but this one isn’t just taking some generic avatar. You seem to be able to supply a photo of yourself and then form a little Barbie/manga doll image. Why you need a toon version of yourself, who knows? Probably just because it’s cute and different. Let’s compare the toon to the person. It’s a little hard to tell in this picture (and I didn’t want to be spammed so I didn’t click on the icon) but under the “Draw Me” tab you can see that toon girl’s waist is smaller than real girl’s. And I’m gonna just guess that toon girl will have a bigger bust too. And skinnier arms.

Now both images are of the same height but the proportions are different. Toon girl has a head longer and wider than real girl. This fits with certain styles of cartooning but not all. She also has a cupid bow mouth that is about one quarter of the size of real girl’s. But the eyes take up nearly a third of her face. And her brows are arched high. They’re very cartoony and done in a style known as manga, or Japanese comic art, where artists have given these cutesy wide open, innocent eyes on little-girl-proportioned bodies but with the breasts of women (and often in schoolgirl outfits–you figure it out).

So what we have is a cartoon of ourselves. Harmless over all. Cartoons are¬†done for numerous reasons–political satire, caricatures, fantasy stories, etc. However, I see some of these cartoon avatars as an indication of what society fashionistas seem to want. I¬† admit to a certain prejudice but we have oversexed our society in the wrong ways and objectified women as well. (Booth babes, cheerleaders, pin-ups–some are fine for admiring the art of the human body but it’s gone overboard, and often that’s all people seem to want in women.)

The image of large eyes and a cute little mouth, big breasts and a tiny waist is what men hope they’ll get. What do the Barbie doll, cosmetically enhanced, botox¬†crowd go for? Big breasts, tiny waists, large, overly full lips (one difference from this cartoon), big eyes, long necks, arched brows. It may not be everyone’s ideal of beauty but it’s what the fashion media push, to the extreme. Surgical manipulation of the body is a big business.

What we as human beings need to keep in mind is that we are human, of flesh that changes, with birthmarks and uneven coloring. We are not all built the same, and looking at too many altered stars, cartoon images, and airbrushed and anorexic models gives a false ideal of beauty.¬† What is truly beautiful is our diversity, the unique combination of eyes, nose, mouth, hair color, height, movement and personality. We shouldn’t be trying to iron ourselves into sameness, nor thinking that a caricature of human proportions is what we all want to be. If people, as individuals, don’t keep a good perspective, then’ we’re closer to being Stepford wives than we thought.

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