Tag Archives: family

Tesseracts 17 Interview: Megan Fennell

SF, tragedy, speculative fiction, Tesseracts 17, anthology

Megan Fennell’s story “Bird Bones” talks about the monsters that live among us.

Tesseracts 17 is now available. In continuing with the Tesseracts interviews, I have Megan Fennell, whose story “Bird Bones” is in the anthology.

CA: Family is at the core of this piece. Have you explored what family means in other aspects of your writing?

 Absolutely. In most of what I write there will be at least some screen time given to the concept of families, either family by blood or family by choice. People do truly incredible things and make enormous sacrifices for family that they wouldn’t dream of doing for anyone else. Upon reflection, my stories tend to include a lot of sibling characters, albeit with varying degrees of oddity and functionality. This is probably a side effect of having possibly the best kid sister in the world and thus being intrigued by the nature in which the sibling dynamic can turn bizarre.

 CA: Do you think humans run the risk of the god complex by too much scientific tinkering or do you think there are restraints that keep us in check?

There are absolutely restraints that keep us in check, which is why the first trick of writing a mad scientist character (at least in my experience) tends to be isolating them. You mentioned Dr. Frankenstein… Add to that list a few more of my favourite brilliant madmen: Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Griffin from the Invisible Man, and you’ll notice that secrecy, isolation and working within limited means play a big part in what they were doing. None of these folks were exactly in line for a government grant. In ‘Bird Bones’, Feyton’s controversial experimentations in his day-job are plagued by protestors and review boards. It’s his secret side project where he can really go wild. I believe that the all-seeing public eye and our tendency to ask this very question will ensure that cutting-edge science never galavants too far ahead of morality.

CA: What else are you working on these days and will we see other tales of transformation or escape?

You’d better believe it! Along with shopping around my short stories and trying to find the illusive market interested in love stories about squid-like aliens, I’m presently in the honeymoon stage with a new YA novel. This typically consists of me wandering around in a smile-y daze like a lovestruck teenager, murmuring happily about these wonderful new people who’ve turned up in my head. I’ll get to the hard work soon enough and start grumbling about it as is good and proper, of course! But yes, the crux of that one will be the nature of being human and the relative weight of what you are versus who you are, so more variations on some of my favourite themes for sure.

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Megan Fennell was born in Victoria, BC, but has spent the majority of her life in a variety of Albertan cities and considers herself a creature of the prairies. Having disqualified herself from the great Calgary versus Edmonton debate by obtaining degrees at both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, she now lives with her two cats in Lethbridge, Alberta, drawing inspiration from the more rugged beauty of the Badlands. She has previously been published in OnSpec Magazine and the charity anthology Help: Twelve Tales of Healing

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/megan.fennell

Twitter: @FennellFiction

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/MeganFennell

Leave a comment

Filed under art, entertainment, flying, people, Publishing, science, science fiction, Writing

Supporting the Arts

I’m highlighting a few worthy causes today. One is local, taking place in Vancouver, and the other takes place somewhat virtually through Canada.

COLLABORATIVE ART

First is the Magpie’s Nest Community Art Space Events. This is a group of local artists who are trying to create pop-up art spaces for artists to come by and work in, and just spread the fun and love of art.

artists, community art, Vancouver art space, painters, collage, creativity, local events, Vancouver

May 25 at Astorino’s
1739 Venables Street, Vancouver, BC

Magpie’s Nest Community Art Space invites you to create a patchwork of ideas and creativity with your neighbours, young and old.

The completed collaborative mural will be a tapestry of painted and embellished circles – each circle being made up of four quarters.

Each quarter completed by an individual will connect to the work of three others, creating a visual representation of continuity within and encircling our neighbourhood.

The Community Circles Collaborative Mural will be kept and put on display by Britannia Community Centre.

All supplies will be provided by Magpie’s Nest. We will provide paints and printing inks, objects to print with, and ephemera to embellish with: beads, buttons, ribbon, embroidery floss, yarn, and needles.

artists, local events, arts, Vancovuer, East Van

June 2: if you’re in Vancouver, come out and get good food and support the arts.

As well, they have a fundraising dinner for more of those community supplies. East Feast takes place on June 2 and for $20 you get a meal, entertainment and three artist presentations that you can vote on.  I find I love public art, whether it’s a mural paint on the wall by the community (see my previous post on East Van wall art), the knitted cozies wrapped around trees and fences, people bursting into song in a mall, the zombie walk, the machine animals of Nantes (see previous post for this as well) or a myriad other things. These pieces are not done for more than surprising people and bringing smiles to our faces. We need more of this in our everyday lives and to recognize that we are community.

CROWDFUNDING AN ANTHOLOGY

Canadian award-winning author Ursula Pflug is editing an anthology called They Have to Let You In. It is due for a 2013/2014 release through Hidden Brook Press.

Details can be found at the site (by clicking the title above) but here are the basics:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 Whether or not we agree, we have probably heard Tolstoy’s famous quote. “What is unarguable is that our family shapes us as nothing else.” Family elicits our strongest emotional responses, whether joy and love, or rage and fear. For this anthology don’t feel you have to sugar coat your work—we aren’t timid and want to include stories and poems that explore the darker aspects of family life. After all, healing requires our truth as well as our forgiveness. But also—please don’t forget to include work that expresses the deep sustaining joy our families can provide. The love we give and receive within families is irreplaceable.

This month’s government cuts to CSUMB (the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit ) will put more families on the street. 100% of royalties from the sale of They Have To Take You In will benefit the shelter system in eastern Ontario.

This anthology will have poetry and fiction and is open to almost any genre. If you’re Canadian or expat you can enter. And instead of crowdfunding to buy a video from drug dealers on Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s alleged drug abuse, why not put the money to something that can doubly benefit people: both the family shelters in Ontario and to writers who submit? And, like all crowdfunding, by donating you’ll also get cool stuff. Go here to support and read more about it: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/they-have-to-take-you-in/x/2238410

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, family, home, poetry, Publishing, Writing

The Cornucopia List

Bridge in Trim Ireland

In the continuing effort to battle bad news and dire prophecies of the future about rising prices and taxes and population, wars, defects, ill will and political rivalries, I have my second installment of the Cornucopia List.

I will be continuing the list once a week with five items, ever expanding it and making me more of a shiny happy person. It will encompass everything inner and outer, physical and spiritual, visceral and ephemeral that I cherish in my life. Here are this week’s five things for which I am grateful.

  1. My Aunt Elsa, who is very ill right now. She reached across a family rift that happened when my parents divorced. Being one of my father’s sisters there was little contact with that side of the family and because I never saw my father from that day forward, the contacts disappeared. But my older brother kept in touch and one day Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred called me up, as they still lived in Vancouver then but were about to move away. I met all my cousins but have really only seen them once. Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred came to town from time to time and we’d get together for lunch or dinner. Elsa gave me the Anderson family tree, which I have just found. And my aunt and uncle were the only people to attend my university graduation (it being during a work day and most friends working and family far away.) Elsa has always been gentle, humorous and nonjudgmental, and I cherish that.
  2. Birds: many of them are annoying little buggers and some are downright scary beasts. But birds remind us that we can soar, that we can leave the earth. Albeit we must do it by means of devices (planes, gliders, parachutes, hot air balloons, Apollo missions) but we can do it. And even if it is only this way that we can unshackle ourselves from an earthbound existence birds help us see farther and indeed gave humans the idea of flight. They come in a range of sizes and colors and purposes from hummingbirds to condors and ostriches. They have feathers where we have skin or others have scales or fur. They are related closely in some ways to our dinosaur history and they add a natural chorus of song to nature’s backdrop.
  3. Chocolate: Yes, yes, I’m a chocoholic. I’ve done month long elimination diets and the only thing I craved throughout was CHOCOLATE! Where would we be without the ancient Mexicans (the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs) and all those folk who had the cacao bean. The world would definitely be a lesser place and the Dutch and everyone else would be diminished without it. Definitely a food of the gods, the darker the chocolate the better it is, and toss in some chili or orange or nuts and it’s even better. Yes, I’m am smitten by and unequivocally grateful for chocolate. Just imagine what life would be like without it: no chocolate cake, eclairs, sauce for ice creams, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cocoa, etc. A dull place I tell you.
  4. Writing: without it we would not be able to share our thoughts, except with a small group of people and not in a long term way. There would be an internet of pictures only. But more than that the many worlds that people imagine, the histories of nations, the stories of our lives, the workings of a myriad things would be mostly lost to us. Our history would be thinner and not as longlasting and fewer people would know of much. I can learn of events, places, things and I can curl up and get away with a tale. And I am of course grateful that I have a little bit of a gift and a lot of hard work and can write to some degree.
  5. Stars: One of my very first blog posts was about being a kid, growing up near the edge of the city and going to this empty lot to lay in the weeds and grass and stare up at the millions and millions of stars. There was less light pollution then but stars are amazing from what we can see from this angle of the galaxy. They range in sizes and colors and types. Stars make our night world brighter and mystifying, adding questions and searches to our lives. I love stars for bringing out my imagination. And no matter what we do to our Earth, there will always always be stars by the billions.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, family, flying, food, history, life, nature, people, Writing

Weird Foods

Okay, everyone probably has their weird concoctions or Dagwood sandwiches that they used to make. Unusual combinations put together or some bizarre family recipe that others looked at like it would crawl off the plate and bite. Sometimes you could pull someone over to your side, and introduce them to the delights of strange delicacies.

I’ve already talked about some of my gross childhood foods. Well, there were other foods that were a bit of a mystery why we liked them, or even why we would eat them. Probably the oddest was “Beans I Like.” Yes indeed; that is what we called this culinary delight. Here are the three ingredients to this uh…unique vision of nutrition. Lima beans, watery tomato soup, wieners. That’s it. We seemed to like it too, from the name. But all I can surmise is that compared to those mushy frozen vegetables that I mentioned in gross foods, these were heaven. I don’t understand it either.

Then there was Velveeta Cheese and its creamier cousin, Cheeze Whiz. Cheeze Whiz could at least be scooped onto celery or crackers but Velveeta was the closest thing to eating plastic that ever existed in a pseudo cheese. I mean really, what was in that stuff? Granted they make cheddars in bright orange and Velveeta tried to mimic that, but it was molded into these thin plasticky pieces of milk product. Of course, kids love crap and that was a parent sanctioned piece o’ crap. Sure these “foods” still exist but I think I’d rather eat a leather shoe and probably get more nutrition though I did love those Velveeta days for grilled cheese sandwiches.

A somewhat odd food I was introduced to by a boyfriend was radish sandwiches. You take bread of your choice, smother it in butter, slice a lot of radishes, stack them in, salt and pepper them, and voila. An interesting vegetarian sandwich, which could be  a challenge to eat with little disks of radish slipping left and right, yet there was something good and crunchy about it.

When I used to eat hot dogs, or for that matter some sandwiches, I would toss a lot of potato chips into the bun/bread. Like I mentioned in Gross Foods of Childhood, I don’t really like mushy textures and I do like crunchy. It added another dimension of crunchy if unwholesome goodness. I’m not beyond the potato chip trick now, should I have potato chips and bread hanging about.

That really is it for the memorably weird foods of the past. There were truly good foods and the truly gruesome. One I didn’t mention before was those Jello molds with little bits of canned fruit and marshmallows in them. I know that during the War people didn’t always get fresh fruit in the days before massive shipping by every route possible, so canned fruit was sometimes a treasured treat. It falls into that mushy fruit category to me. Pineapple, not too bad. Peaches, meh. Pears…pallid corpselike mounds with no flavor. (shudder) And then in some ponderously jiggling, translucent green or orange blob reminiscent of a bad scifi B movie. Even as a kid I found that hideous and nightmarish beyond belief. No wonder I started writing speculative fiction.

It didn’t help that I ended up in the hospital at one point and was fed nothing but Jello, apple juice and consomme soup. Guess what I hate to this day? And Jello shooters (vodka used as the liquid when making Jello), please, just give me the straight vodka.

I was one of those odd kids that loved the crust on bread and always wanted the end piece (chewy) and liked what we then called brown bread, the pre-cursor to whole wheat bread. Though I do remember taking bread and compressing it (sans crust) into a dense dough ball to eat.

My family was probably a typical, whitebread Canadian family. Nothing to adventuresome except for once in a while when my mother brought home fresh crab or a coconut. Other than that, short ribs, pork chops, roast, hamburger, wieners, (tongue!), liver, fish and chips, maybe salmon, meatloaf, etc. were the common fair. Ah, those good ole days. When it comes to food it’s only my mother’s baking that was truly wonderful. The rest is happily relegated to memory.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, family, food, humor, life, memories

The Gross Foods of Childhood

I’m sure I was like any kid and was given foods that were probably good for me but were too gross to consume. Some were the bane of every child, like liver. A strangely dark meat resembling shoe leather, tasting like congealed blood and smothered in onions left an indelible print on my memories. But it wasn’t the only organ meat that my mother tried to make us consume.

Beef tongue--Blech!

Tongue was fairly common and I imagine cheap enough for a family with four kids and not a lot of money. Boiled in a pot, my mother would then make soup of the stock and slap that giant cow tongue on a plate, looking like a…giant tongue. She would peel back the outer layer of taste buds and then slice the tongue into little roundels. It had a texture unlike any other meat I’ve ever tasted. Light, sort of airy, long fibers like muscle but different. It wasn’t too bad, actually, but it grossed me out. I got so that I would only have the soup that had macaroni shells and veggies in it.

Organ meats were firmly marked in my book as disgusting: tripe, heart, kidney, haggis, tongue, brain, prairie oysters, pope’s nose (turkey bums), blood sausage, all of those meats still rank number one on my grossometer. My mother did try heart once but somehow, accidentally…we let it burn. Saved from the brutal tortures of organ meats.

gross foods, eating, tongue, frozen vegetables, cooking, childhood
Only second to tongue in grossness. Creative Commons: stevendepolo Flickr

And on the top of veggies, there were a few gross ones there too. Not the turnip that most kids sneer at. That might have been refreshing. And we didn’t have Brussels sprouts too often, which one of my boyfriends used to call budgie heads. No, the absolutely most disgusting vegetables known to my youth were…frozen vegetables! Yes, those bags of little sliced up peas and carrots with an errant green (but really sorta gray) bean. These were boiled to a texture resembling pudding and heaped on the plate every night. I would gag over these repulsive, maggoty soft things. In fact to this day I don’t like soft textures in food and I think I just realized why. I guess I’m lucky we never had canned vegetables.

Of course I lived in a landlocked area that had real winter and in those days, fresh vegetables in the winter consisted of potatoes, carrots, celery and a few root vegetables. My mother was big on making things from scratch but not when it came to veggies. I would take those disgusting peas and carrots (the corn mix was pretty rare) and try to hide them in the husk of a hollowed out baked potato. Sometimes that didn’t work. One night I took a piece of bread, buttered it, slapped those degenerate suckers onto the bread and poured gravy over them, and ate it all like a sloppy joe. And guess what? My mother got mad at me. I still don’t know why but I should have been congratulated for my ingenuity.

Not all foods fell into the realm of nasty meats and slimy vegetables though. I also disliked malted balls, you know those balls covered in chocolate. I have no idea why but there was something in the taste that I didn’t like. I seemed to grow out of that around twelve though. I also never liked milk and would add the choco powder to try to get it down. And milk on cereal: there was that extremely mushy slimy texture again. The only two cereals I could stand were puffed wheat because it didn’t get too soft, and shredded wheat (the big ones) if I ate them quickly.

I feel pretty much the same about organ meats and half-dead veggies to this day and prefer my vegetables fresh and crunchy. I’m sure other childhood foods may come to the surface like a skin on steamed milk, but for now, that’s enough to dampen any appetite.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, family, food, home, humor, life, memories

Hair Fashion: Brent & the Peaky

When we were kids it was common for mothers to cut their kid’s hair. Maybe that’s still common but no kid would be getting their hair colored or streaked, which is possible today. Haircuts weren’t fancy and involved the most basic; either a shearing like a sheep or a cut across a straight line and that was it. These hairstyles were pretty much pre-teen years because by the age of twelve and up my mother definitely heard some complaints on her skills.

Mothers often cut their children’s hair in a way that’s manageable for mom or for the children: not too long or tangly, not having to deal with frequent groomings, barrettes, clips or getting in the eyes. My own hairstyle was what is known as the pageboy; bangs with a square cut ending around the chin. With my little round face I looked like a pumpkin. I didn’t particularly like it and it sometimes involved some sort of thinning thing that pretty much was a razor blade to cut layers into the hair. By the time I was eleven I was begging my mother to let me wash my own hair (her treatments were brutally painful) and to grow it. I was allowed to as long as I kept it clean and neat. That was the end of short hair forever for me, except for one hairstylist disaster in my early 20s.

My brothers, on the other hand, may have actually had more travails with their hair than I did. And my sister might have escaped it all. I’m not sure as she was older and I believe had long hair even as a child, when there were fewer of us to get in my mother’s hair.

My mother gave my brothers a pretty utilitarian haircut, which involved one of thus buzzers and something shorter than a crew-cut, which is usually long enough on top to stand up like astroturf for an inch. No muss no fuss. However, my mother had the habit of getting into a role when she cut. I don’t know if she’d seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s doing haircuts to Elmer Fudd and singing Figaro, but  it’s reported that she did sing Figaro while cutting my older brother’s hair. My mother isn’t a singer but she gave it great gusto, her hands getting involved in the emotive piece. And my brother’s buzzcut was so short that he had a pink landing strip down the middle of his noggin. He went to school like this where a teacher commented that he looked like he’d been hit by a low hanging beam.

My younger brother Brent, the youngest of four, the monkey, that kid who threw caution to the wind, had a slightly different style. It involved the short back cut but for some reason, maybe even it was the fashion for little boys at that point, he had a swath of hair that came from midcrown to a point on his forehead. Brent was probably four or five when this style began and he named it his peaky. I think he quite loved that peaky and it served to help in the future when he had a little mishap.

Brent was always the one most likely to break something, whether himself or in the house. He liked to chase my sister and me around the house, when he was about three or four, with a stick in his hand, calling out that he was going to beat us and make us cry like babies. Brent was quite adventuresome as a child. One night Brent went to bed, but instead of just sleeping he fell asleep chewing gum.

One’s mouth does tend to relax during sleep and the gum went walkabout, ending up stuck to Brent’s very short hair, missing his peaky. However, instead of alerting my mother to the problem, my brother surreptitiously clawed the gum out of his hair, leaving a nice clear-cut patch of pink on the side of his head. He was quite a sensitive kid and luckily for him it was winter. He wore a toque for the next month until his hair grew back.

We all survived the hairstyles of childhood. My sister and I still have long hair. My brothers have varying stages of baldness so haircuts are not as much an issue. And my mother; she retired from her thankfully short hairstyling career.

1 Comment

Filed under art, Culture, family, fashion, humor, memories, people

Cultural Flavors: Sex and Living Alone

When I went to India and Nepal, I travel for a month on my own. Nepal, compared to India, is very used to tourists, and understands they are part of the economy. India, at that time, had many restrictions, as well as poverty, and service or helping tourists was not very near the top of their list. Nepal was almost too much so.

In Kathmandu you can find all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs, and Western food. Well, it’s sort of like Western food. It looks the same and has the same name but sometimes it just tastes different. Chocolate cakes were not quite chocolaty. Cheese bread was a huge favorite. In another Nepalese town I’d ordered a garlic pizza. It came with a full bud of garlic on it, mostly raw. Halfway through I had to pull of the cloves because they were burning my gut.

Still, Nepal tries to cater to the tourists because they make so much money off of them. Many Nepalese therefore can speak English. Kathmandu is beautiful with a myriad of twisting and winding streets, stupas of varying heights and a cornucopia of merchandise and foods. Elsewhere I would run into little children who would speak a couple of words of English and then want to be paid for this.

One young guy latched himself on to me in Kathmandu and told me he was going to learn to be a jeweller in Flin Flon, Manitoba. That’s a pretty obscure place to know of, which lent credence to his statement. Except that there are thousands of people who visit Nepal every year and a savvy guy can pick up all sorts of information about the world. What they do with it, I don’t know. Get a date, have sex, offer a “massage,” make some money, become a tour guide; all of the above possibly. They definitely offered all of these to me.

Still there is an innocence about sex. People of India and Nepal see the movies of North America and presume a promiscuity of Western woman that isn’t quite reality. As I was once asked in India, “In your country, sex is free, isn’t it?” How do you answer that one? Yes, but I don’t have sex with everyone. No, some people pay.

The Flin Flon guy lead me around to various temples (which I could not enter because I wasn’t Hindu) and point out items of interest. At one point outside the Shiva temple he showed me this garden/park that had a area about 6-8 feet square in it. In it were a variety of concrete and stone cylinders varying in height from about two feet to just a few inches and around four inches in diameter.

This young guy asked me if I knew what they were and I said yes. They were representations of Shiva’s phallus, called lingam. I knew what they were but not exactly what they meant. But what was odd was that this man’s breathing grew rapid and deep and then he wanted our picture taken in front of them. It was then that I realized this might be porn for Nepalese or that it meant we were engaged. All I knew was that he was clearly excited and I didn’t know the culture, so I let our picture be taken but not in front of the linga. 

At another point in Kathmandu I was visiting with a merchant who sold masks. He was cute and young and we were attracted to each other. We ended up sharing information about our lives, which ultimately were about our culture. He told me that he lived with his parents and when he married his wife would move in with him and his family. I talked about how in North America, we moved out once we finished school and how it would be thought unusual for a person to stay with their parents, especially into our thirties. He said it would be unusual to live alone.

It was at that point that I realized just how different our cultures must be, where family units are meant to separate and live alone while there were others where the family unit includes generations. I think overall, North America is more the aberration there, where even many European families follow the old nuclear family lifestyle.

But just as some men in India and Nepal thought that a North American woman would kiss or have sex with anyone, I too thought that they understood my culture. It taught me a valuable lesson about assuming and about respecting another culture, especially when you are the stranger in a strange land, because you just don’t know what you could be getting into or who you insulted. In past history, people were often killed for such infractions and it can still happen today. It also taught me that humanity is diverse and that there are many fascinating customs, and more I’d still like to see.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, family, food, life, memories, people, relationships, security, sex, shopping, travel

Society and Death

We have moved into a period in this culture where death is not part of life, nor the every day. Although death continues to happen to young and old, ill and hale, through accidents, disease and murder, still we talk about it in an all-encompassing way but ignore it in the intimate of the every day.

There may be somebody who will say death is not part of life and for the person who dies, life indeed is no more part of them. But for those who know someone who has died, death is very much part of their lives. It used to be that in small communities, such as mining or fishing towns, when someone died they were laid out upon the table in the family home. A table is where people break bread, eat of the earth, communicate and come together, and it is a place big enough to lay a body. Where it will be cleaned and dressed by family members. A place where a person lays in state for people to pay their last respects before being taken to the church and then buried. Funeral parlors weren’t in every small town.

Death now is the last great taboo of the Western world. When someone dies, people have no idea what to say and so say nothing at all. They’re uncomfortable with the concept of death and avoid it like the plague. Veer around the person whose loved one has died, maybe send an innocuous card. A brave soul might say, I’m sorry to hear about your mother/brother/wife.

The griever is expected, after missing a few days of work, to act normal, to show no emotion that may be seen as sad, maudlin, angry, or grief-stricken. Crying is verboten. After all, people will feel edgy and avoid the grieving. So act like it’s life as normal.

The truth is, grief takes time. There is no set limit but it often takes a year to process through a person’s emotions. People who deny their grief and don’t go through the process can actually do physical damage to themselves. The storing up of such emotions, rather than releasing them through a natural process, can also affect the person’s psyche for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that you can’t put off your grieving for too long, that there is a crucial period when the grieving should take place.

And yet our society tries to make everyone a stoic, free from any emotions except those that are uplifting and bright. By doing this, we cauterize ourselves from the full range of what it means to be human, effectively castrated from all but the most superficial feelings. You cannot have joy without experiencing pain. A constant state of euphoria cannot last and becomes the norm on which a person then judges bad or good, happy or sad. What would normally be sad becomes huge trauma and depression, with no end in sight to it.

I believe it is this unhealthy avoidance attitude that society has to death and negative emotions which have caused an increase in drug use, both recreational and with anti-depressants, to handle what once our bodies could do on their own. We have fewer ways to cope naturally and must go to the drugs. Drug addicts cannot find that constant euphoria so they hunt it in the addiction, afraid to face a life that encompasses happiness and pain.

And death–we can’t avoid it. It will happen. I never knew what to say to anyone when their family member or friend died. We don’t hug our coworkers, we don’t pat them on the shoulders. We maintain distance. We don’t wail at funerals and beat our breasts. And yet we should, for in those acts we express the grief that otherwise builds up in us. We have an outlet that lets us return to a healthy mentality faster.

I regret that when my sister-in-law’s parents died (at different times) that I didn’t know what to say and said nothing at all. How callous. How ignorant. It took the death of a friend for me to experience the grieving process and to understand how people can feel, and just how long it can take to think of that person without crying and feeling as if someone has crushed your heart. I began to understand that a person grieving can feel very cut off and alone, and as if no one cares.

It is almost like being shunned, when someone has to grieve. Letting a person or a community grieve publicly, sharing memories, talking about the person who passed can help. It validates the feelings and a person will recover faster from mourning if they are allowed to express themselves. And yes it can take a year or longer. I have only lost friends and that affected me greatly. I can’t imagine the depth of the pain and loneliness that their spouses felt.

We can all change this debilitating trend by not being so scared of death and the process that we pretend doesn’t exist. The TV show Six Feet Under took a black humor look at death, from the death that opened each episode to the dysfunctional and very real lives of the mortician family that dealt with their own issues and the mourners for the dead. It was an adventuresome show because it touched on death in a very real way that we shy away from. And the show was a hit; witty, tender, irreverent, strange and examining some aspects of life we would rather avoid.

Now, when I know someone who has lost a loved one, I try to let them grieve, to make sure they know it’s all right, to help them and to express my condolences so that they don’t feel isolated. It is the best way to make life more meaningful, by acknowledging the death of friends, family and coworkers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, family, health, history, home, life, people

Memories: Firebugs

Everyone makes mistakes in their lives or does things innocently without considering the consequences. We learn sometimes in a trial by fire. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, or smarter or at least thinking, I sure won’t do that again.

My first true experience with fire was when I was about eight and my brother six.  We weren’t in the habit of burning candles around the house. Still, there were matches to be found because my father smoked. My little brother and I would come home from school at lunch hours and light paper straws and smoke them, or pretended to. I guess no one was home at the time because we surely wouldn’t have got away with this if my mother was around.

This was all well in our enactment of adult activities, but then we proceeded to candles (there were a few around the house). On Saturday mornings when all the older folk were asleep my brother and I would get up to play in our unfinished (cement floor and that fake wood paneling on the walls) “rumpus room.” Since we couldn’t make too loud a rumpus at that time, we’d play with my dolls or his cars. There was an old bed in there, an ideal place to play. At one point I dropped a piece of doll’s clothing under the bed, so my brother went to look for it, where it was dark, with a candle.

Yep, before we knew it the bed was starting to smolder. We ran back and forth from the bathroom downstairs filling glasses of water and tossing it on the bed. But the fire was underneath and happily consuming the dry interior. After some minutes of our futile attempts and the house slowly filling with smoke, we made the hard decision and trucked upstairs to my mother’s bedroom to wake her. And of course we said, “We were just playing and all of a sudden this fire started.”

My mother got my older brother up who took the mattress out to the yard to hose it down. No real harm done, thankfully. Surprisingly, we didn’t get the living daylights beat out of us but instead were chastised soundly, me especially, because I was older and should have known better. The chastisement worked. I was so ashamed that I didn’t tell my firebug tale until I was in my late twenties.

My second run-in was at a comedy dinner show. I believe it was a Fawlty Towers theme which worked well through the dinner. After we ate, half the table had to turn to see the stage. The tables had tealights all over and I had hair nearly to my waist at the time. I heard this shout behind me and someone batted at my head. Apparently my hair was flaming from the tealight and I hadn’t heard anything…yet. Someone else was about to pour a pitcher of water on my hair but they got it out before I knew what was happening. The whole restaurant smelled of burned hair, which the actors used to say their next show would be “Hair.”

And my hair? The burned part was mostly indiscernible. It had only burned a surface layer. There was that one purely stupid move one time, where I lit a pillar candle on my mantle. But then I wanted to see if it was scented and what scent it was so I picked up the candle and looked underneath, with the flame burning. And I burned my bangs.  Duh, that was a smart one.

What have I learned from all this? Don’t play with fire. Be cautious and know your surroundings when fire is present. Don’t do stupid things near fire. Pretty simple really. There is one last fire tale, which is long but I’ll try to shorten it.

At one point I was in Pennsylvania camping with a very large group of  people (very very large group) enough that we wandered from campsite to campsite partying. On the last night, it was raining hard enough that we were pretty wet, but it was a warm rain. There was mud everywhere so we left our shoes in the campground because they were getting destroyed, and we wandered, with alcohol.

I was actually not drunk yet when I decided to bellydance around one fire. I was ankle deep in mud and I ended up slipping on the slimy surface and going down on my right knee and both hands into the fire. Luckily two guys pulled me out immediately. My hands weren’t burned and I decided it was a sign from the gods to quit.

As we wandered away in the dark, I pulled up my still wet (from the rain) pant leg, touched my leg below the knee and said, yeah, I burned myself. Then I proceeded to drink the night away and ignored the burn for another 12 hours. When I eventually, the next day, looked at my leg, it was black and crusty. The medics on site tried to clean, which put me into shock.

When I flew home I had to go to the hospital for burn treatment, which put me in shock again. I also needed antibiotics for a bacteria that can set in after 24 hours and be very serious. And I needed burn treatment (cleaning, burn cream and rewrapping every day) for two weeks. Luckily the burn was below the knee as opposed to be on the joint, and I was in Calgary where their walk-in clinics were equipped for such things.

I figured out what had happened that night was that my cotton clothing was wet from the rain. My hands didn’t burn because I wasn’t in the fire long enough. My pants weren’t burned because they were wet, but there had been a bar (for roasting meat) in the fire and I had been steam burned that night, receiving a third degree burn and a permanent scar. The only good thing about a third degree burn is that it doesn’t hurt much because the nerves have been killed.

To this day, I have no feeling in that one spot on my leg. The scar is relatively small and I have a stupidity award. I don’t drink tequila anymore. Even if I wasn’t drunk when I slipped up, I figure why tempt fate with more. What did I learn that last time? Don’t play with fire, don’t dance in the mud, don’t fall into fires. I really do hope that’s my last life’s lesson with fire.

Leave a comment

Filed under family, home, humor, life, memories, people

The Power of the Swastika

There is hardly anyone who doesn’t know what a swastika is, and, because 20th century Nazism understands the stigmatization of that symbol as it relates to hatred and racism. There are those who still support and believe in that particular symbolism, and are often called nationalist or neo-Nazi. The symbol is now so abhorred that Germany has outlawed it (along with a few other countries) and cringes as a nation every time it is seen. Games or other products in Germany can in no way display the swastika. They are a nation carrying great shame from Hitler’s crimes of the past.

So when someone of Western culture uses the sign, it is suspect ,and the person will be taken to be a neo-Nazi or white supremacist/nationalist as a woman in Winnipeg was seen to be. When her daughter inscribed a swastika on her arm, went to school and the teacher scrubbed it off, the mother decided to re-inscribe it the next day and send her daughter to school. Which resulted in social services taking away the two children. The couple began the fight to get their children back, citing freedom of political views.

As the case is beginning today, the mother, now separated from her partner, has softened her tone. Earlier interviews showed she was adamant about her beliefs and that the removal of her children had strengthened them. On CBC’s “The Current,” the woman stated that if she needed to change her beliefs to get her children back, she would. Perhaps her lawyers finally coached her that adamantly voicing her belief in her political beliefs damaged her chances of ever getting her children .

She also stated that she wasn’t a racist and believed only in white pride and going back to her Norse (she might have said Nordic) roots. That the swastika symbolized peace and love. But she also said she didn’t believe in interracial marriage. Umm, that’s racist or at least bigoted. Maybe not the big racism (you know, beating people and destroying their property) but it is still racist, as in you’re okay but I won’t mix with you because of the color of your skin.

Is there any truth to her claims of the swastika going back to her Norse roots? Yes. In fact, the swastika is pretty much a symbol once used universally throughout the world, just as the Greek key design was likewise used in Celtic lands and Mexico (and elsewhere I’m sure). There are conjectures of how and why the sign arose, from basket weaving designs to religious symbols, but the swastika and variations thereof is very old. It dates to neolithic and Bronze Age times. Some of the groups that used the swastika in one form or another were: Celtic, Germanic, Native American, Navajo, Hopi, Japanese, Baltic, Etruscan, Finnish, Hungarian, Polish, Tibetan, Indian, and Slavic. The meanings have varied but it could symbolize the sun, man, god, fire, majesty, power, good luck, wandering, etc.

The swastika can be a variant of the sun wheel or sun cross  (a cross in a circle), which is older than the Christian cross and can represent the four directions. It is also very prevalent throughout Hindu and Buddhist culture to this day and figures largely in Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Japanese culture. Items have sometimes been shipped to Western countries with these symbols on them (which may mean vegetarian or be a good luck symbol), which has caused considerable consternation and protest at the cultural misunderstandings.

So, in essence, anyone in our culture knows what the historical connotations are and should you want to exhibit pride in your skin color there are probably many better ways to do it, unless in fact you are racist and believe white is better. This woman (who can’t be named for protection of her children’s identities) doesn’t really get my sympathy. But maybe her song is changing.

The thing I always find amusing was that Hitler picked a symbol used for centuries by many races of color. That it was also Germanic probably helped but this indicates his ignorance of the great scope of symbols and culture. He also wanted a pure “Aryan nation” (and I believe this woman may have been a member of the Aryan Guard). What Hitler didn’t know was that India would have been considered an Aryan nation because the way anthropologists interpret Aryan is through the root language. It’s linguistics not racial types. And really, people in India are of the Caucasian race (people of the Caucasus region) to begin with. Bet that would have had Hitler spinning like a top. I wonder what the modern Aryan nations and neo-Nazis and others who want “Aryan” supremacy think of that and I wonder if this woman would marry a Hindu from India, since basically he would just be a very tanned Caucasian.

But maybe the next time this woman sends her kids to school (if she ever gets them back, and whether social services can intervene in political views is another matter) maybe she’ll have a higher wattage bulb turned on and realize the swastika has negative symbolism in Western culture. Unless she proves she’s Buddhist or Hindu she’ll have to keep her views secret and raise her children to be happy, peace loving racists.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, family, history, life, myth, news, people, politics, religion, spirituality