Saturday, January 31, 2009

Entheogenic Studies

Long have I studied the world of entheogens, or psychotropic plants. Starting the late 1950s, I was introduced to mind alteration through plants and lifestyle by the Aborigine People of Australia, with whom I spent some of my childhood. See, from shortly after my birth, a series of events and circumstances have guided me - sometimes gently, at other times far more forcefully - down a path of Inner exploration and expansion.

Along the way, the inclusion of altered states was a natural tool. There was a time when I needed the stutter of a drum or rattle, or the injestion of a psychotropic plant to achieve an altered state. But once I gained some knowledge of the paths that led to my inner landscape, I only needed to be still and go within. Exploring that landscape and tending my sacred garden is something I now do while waiting for a plane or standing in line, as I sit in the car waiting for a friend shopping, pretty much anywhere, any time. It's really very pleasant.

Still, I would very much like to experience ayuhausca and ibogaine, but that will likely require a trip outside the U.S., as both are controlled substances here.

There's a documentary on the subject of entheogens now available on dvd, Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within. You can watch the trailer here. I love the quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast, Ph.D - Benedictine Monk, Professor of Religion, ""Obviously, Americans are least of any people in the world afraid of drugs, because there's a drug store on every corner. So, if they are so afraid of mind expanding drugs, obviously it's the mind expansion they're afraid of."
From the film's website comes this description, which I cannot better:

Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within is a feature length documentary which invites the viewer to rediscover an enchanted cosmos in the modern world by awakening to the divine within.

The film examines the re-emergence of archaic techniques of ecstacy in the modern world by weaving a synthesis of ecological and evolutionary awareness,electronic dance culture, and the current pharmacological re-evaluation of entheogenic compounds. Within a narrative framework that imagines consciousness itself to be evolving, Entheogen documents the emergence of techno-shamanism in the post-modern world that frames the following questions: How can a renewal of ancient initiatory rites of passage alleviate our ecological crisis? What do trance dancing and festivals celebrating unbridled artistic expression speak to in our collective psyche? How do we re-invent ourselves in a disenchanted world from which God has long ago withdrawn? Entheogen invites the viewer to consider that the answers to these questions lie within the consciousness of each and every human being, and are accessible if only we give ourselves permission to awaken to the divine within.

Stan Grof, Marilyn Schlitz, Ralph Metzner, Alex Grey, Terrence McKenna, John Markoff, Daniel Pinchbeck, and Kat Harrison among others, postulate how the disenchantment of the modern world may be remedied by summoning the courage to take the next leap in the evolution of planetary consciousness.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Between the Dream and the Deed

I'm stuck. I mean really stuck. Stuck like a car that whirred helplessly in a slurry of muddy ice for an hour and then was abandoned to the cold; frozen in place until a miraculous thaw. I am deep in the doldrums, my sails limp. Not even a whisper of wind to push my tiny vessel forward.

Still, "Between the dream and the deed lie the doldrums" reads a favourite quote from Herb Payson.

Langston Hughes once wrote:
Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly,
Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams go,
Life is a barren field, frozen with snow.

And part of Sylvia Plathe's poem Ennui reads:
Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.

So what shall I do to break from of this pattern of listless lassitude? I have joined a class with Tam in which I hope to gain some skill with artistic whimsy. The closest I feel I've ever come to whimsical could be closely compared to any attempt thereto Oscar Wilde may have made. Sardonic, satirical...but with the best of core intentions might be a better description. Sadly, a talent with all things cute and/or whimsical I fear I have naught.

But perhaps learning to paint with a flourish of violet, a spangle of copper, or even a lyrical spray of lilac or lavender will push me suddenly into the sunlight again. And perhaps, just perhaps, the most delicate touch of pink (oh, not PINK! Gad!) is in my near future.
And who knows? Maybe I will come out of the tunnel on Willy Wonka's mad boat ride with a fresh attitude of appreciation for things light and silly. Maybe my sails will suddenly luft with a freshening breeze, and a school of flying fish in silvery pastels will lead me back to the current.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Crusty The Duck

Once upon a time, I had some wonderful feathered friends. Most of them simply found me from up or downstream where someone purchased an Easter gift or thought ducks and geese would look pastoral on the river, but once released never gave them another thought. My friends called my place "Els' Home For Wayward Waterfowl." Last I heard, everyone was still healthy and showing up twice daily for a nice trough of chicken scratch and some bread.

One of the ducks was the only egg hatched in my homemade incubator, and thus immediately and forever thereafter imprinted on me as "mama." Crusty the Duck, so named because of a bit of her shell that stuck to her head on the way out, followed me everywhere the first part of her life, spending her first month living in my kitchen. I was accused of feeding her better than the humans of the household, with fresh greens, boiled (and cooled) potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, eggs (yes, it was a bit cannibalistic, but she loved those hard boiled eggs!), and bread. Eventually, she made friends with my other duck and goose friends, who lived free on the river that flowed past my house, and stopped following me, though she usually came when called. There were also coyotes and fox in the area, and one morning Crusty was no more. I survived the loss by telling myself the coyote mamas needed to feed their families, too, but I never could bring myself to have another duck as a pet. Geese are another matter. They are simply phenomenal creatures..intelligent, funny, intense...and the softest creatures this side of a chinchilla. Turns out you can diaper ducks and geese, which - in my experience, is a GREAT idea.

It is my hope that I'll have a piece of property of my very own again someday, where I can happily have some goats and geese and of course, a smattering of feline and canine friends, too.

Next time a duck or goose becomes my friend, though, I think I'll follow the lead of other waterfowl lovers, and diaper them so they can live with me. Wonderful friends that I highly recommend as good companions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Pragmatic Romantic

I am a pragmatic romantic. I don't ask for a mansion or jewels or all the material wealth so many seem to believe is essential for happiness, but rather for true love. A love completely true; honest, authentic, utterly credible. I ask to be cherished, and to be allowed to cherish in return without fear of humilation or rejection. I ask for someone who will hold my hand and laugh with me, dance and sing and fight with me. Someone who will stand their ground and be steadfastly by my side when I tremble and shake and find myself unsure, who will always see me as beautiful because they see me. And I will promise the same in return, until the end of our days and beyond.

Am I asking too much?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Uplift - The Line And The Dot; "To The Vector Belong the Spoils"

A favourite animated piece from the 60s is your uplifting moment today, narrated by the delightful Robert Morley.

Herein lies a tale of love - a love triangle, if you will (oh, stop your groaning!). I always rooted for Line, of course, and felt bad for the well-intentioned if disorganised Squiggle, but I have little positive to offer in defense of that utterly capricious Dot, who will doubtless end up breaking poor Line's heart by leaving him for some wretched Platonic Solid, French Curve, or Gordian Knot...never realising, of course, that Line was capable of being all those and MORE! Ah me, such is the whim of one without corners or edges, locked forever in a circular motion...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Tolerance and Less Fear, Please

In the same country that prides itself on being founded primarily in the name of "Freedom of Religious Expression," live an abundance of so-called Christians who apparently believe that freedom should NOT extend to anyone lacking a belief in any form of religious expression. Bush denied Wiccans and other Pagans their beliefs as genuine, saying "I don't think that witchcraft is a religion. I wish the military would rethink this decision." (George W. Bush to ABCNEWS, June, 1999), and now the Christians would have us disenfranchise the non-believers, too. I ask you, what's a nice Druid-Buddhist girl who doesn't believe in God to do?

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
- Rumi

(Jan. 23- AP) - Not everyone was happy with President Barack Obama's nod to nonbelievers and non-Christians in his inaugural address. And some of the stiff criticism about Obama’s religious inclusiveness is coming from African-American Christians who maintain that no, all faiths were actually not created equal.

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness," the new president said. "We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth," he also said. Nothing too controversial, proclaiming that America's strength lies in its diversity.

But between those two statements, the new president got specific: "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers."

By mentioning, for the first time in an inaugural address, the 16.1 percent of Americans who check "no"’ when asked about religion, Obama turned it into the most controversial line in his speech -- praised by The New York Times editorial board and cited by some Christians as evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.

With that one line, the president "seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian," said’ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. "The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.’"

Earlier this week, Jackson was a guest on the popular conservative Christian radio show 'Janet Parshall's America,' where a succession of callers, many of whom identified themselves as African-American, said they shared the concern, and were perplexed and put off by the president’s shout-out to nonbelievers.

Parshall noted that atheists were celebrating the unexpected mention, and indeed they were: "In his inaugural address … President Barack Obama did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of America as part of the nation's great strength, and including 'nonbelievers'’ in that mix,’" said Ed Buckner of American Atheists.

"His mother would have been proud,"’ Buckner said, referring to the fact that Obama’s mother was not a church-goer. "And so are we."

Jackson said he and others have no problem acknowledging that "this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.’" Yet Obama crossed the line, in his view, in suggesting that all faiths (and none) were different roads to the same destination: "He made similar remarks in the campaign, and said, 'We are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were. We are a Jewish, Hindu and non-believing nation.'"

Not so, Jackson says: "Obviously, Jewish heritage is very much a part of Christianity; the Jewish Bible is part of our Bible. But Hindu, Muslim, and nonbelievers? I don't think so. We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation."’

With all the focus on Obama as the first African-American president, the succession of black callers to Janet Parshall's show was a reminder that the "community"’ is not a monolith, and that many socially conservative black Americans are at odds with Obama's views, particularly on abortion and gay rights. Nor do they all define civil rights in the same way.

The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president's reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. "It's important to understand the heritage of our country, and it's a Judeo-Christian tradition,"’ period.

But his even bigger beef with the president, he said, is that a disproportionate number of "black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that's a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fear Is The Mindkiller

I feel as though I and many others from my Nation and around the world have just awakened from a dark and terrible nightmare, only to find there's an entire segment of people standing by with dangerous syringes full of bile and poison, hoping to drug us again insensate. Fight the urge to believe the lies founded in fear! Trust in the Good that is surely at the heart of All! I cannot put it better than the passionate 13th Century mystic poet, Rumi did in the following three poems:

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

Don't go back to sleep, people.

Come on SPRING!

With a song of joy in my heart and a wrapper of hope and love to keep me warm, it seems as though the beginnings of life anew are already starting to appear all around me. And so, I present, without further adieu, a favourite cartoon and Ode to Spring.

Hope Over Fear...It's a Choice We Can ALL Make

Soak it in, folks...we can breath and smile again for awhile. Meanwhile, over on Fox News, the Fear Mongers have ramped up their rhetoric in a renewed attempt to peddle their wares. *sigh* I've been preaching hope over fear for so long to so many, and now...well, now I feel as though I can relax my shoulders and maybe even get some deep rem sleep again...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inaugural Ball

My little town of 8,000 folks is so frakkin' COOL. I'm just back from being outside with the Demented One (the aging wiener dog, who no longer knows where his butt is or why he's outside) and there are dozens and dozens of cars simply POURING into the Fairgrounds. Now this is very quiet little place, where the sidewalks get rolled up after dark most nights, so I had to come check the Port Townsend Leader's Community Calendar to see what was up. Here's what I found:

Yes We Can-Can Inaugural Ball
celebrates the new presidential administration, 7-10 p.m. at Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Live music, dessert potluck, inauguration rerun and campaign highlights on big screen. Admission by donation; proceeds benefit the Port Townsend Food Bank. Dress: funky to fancy.

I've spent the entire day, all by my lonesome, watching CNN, etc., thrilled and weeping and laughing and shrieking with joy to see Bush out and to see oh-so-authentic Obama in. And NOW I discover there's a Ball just across the street where I could actually share this wonderous moment with others, and I am SO not prepared. I don't think they'd even let me in at the "funky" end of their Dress code. Bag Lady is closer to the truth.

But ain't it cool that my little burg is and involved with life enough to have such a thing? I just love this place...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Grace and Peace

Watching the first hand accounts of yesterday's US Airways flight's ditch into the Hudson River, I was struck, over and over and over, by the sense of calm and peace that pervaded all the statements of the passengers. It's not often we have the opportunity to talk to an entire group of people who came so near their own deaths, and I am overwhelmed by the sense of quiet and centered peace so many of them experienced during and after the event. Person after person recounted the calm that pervaded the scene, even after the plane was down and filling rapidly with water. There simply wasn't any panic. Instead, it seems almost every person aboard put others needs in front of their own. "It wasn't about me," I heard people say, "it was about helping others."

All their steady selflessness has made me especially contemplative. Why, I silently wondered, were all those people so calm in that terrible situation? Why was there no panic or shoving to save themselves instead of one person after another helping others make their escape?

And because this happened on the Hudson River, within easy distance of lower Manhattan, because it was New York City and involved a jet plane, because of all that I couldn't help but think of how we've changed as human beings in the seven years since that terrible day in September of 2001.

Before 9/11, would people have been so solid, so ready to jump in and help each other survive such a terrifying event and situation as they were here? Did we all, as a Nation, come so close to death on that terrible day that we are now calm and solid in the face of horrible events and situations, whether personal or societal? Or were we like that all along?

Perhaps the true beauty of human beings is our ability to endure, and not just endure, but endure with grace and peace of soul.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life After the Hydrogen Bomb At My House

The Seal, 3 .5 x 1"

Remember those objects I mentioned yesterday...the odd melted metal objects dad brought home from Eniwetok? You know, remnants from all those lovely Hydrogen Bombs that were tested on Eniwetok? I thought you might like to see some photos.

The Fetus, 12 x 8 x 2"

I confess to some curiousity about whether these brutally melted bits of metal would register any activity on a geiger counter, but I haven't any thought of where I might find such a device locally. Locally, of course meaning on the Quimper Peninsula. I'm not interested enough to drive to Bremerton or Seattle.

Comma Madonna, 4 x 2.5"

Dad brought one more thing home from work, but this ceramic-esque triangle came from Hanford. I (very) vaguely remember him saying it had some function involving the reactor, but I have NO idea what that might be, do you?.

Triangular Reaction, 3/4"

I only remember the little I do because of my mother's extreme alarm about the safety of this object. Mom had good reason to question dad, btw. One of the things I remember playing with in my dad's workshop was a tall baby food jar full of mercury. I remember holding some of that very strange liquid metal in my hand, letting it roll around. It was very cold and very heavy. Dad didn't really see the harm, but mom made him get rid of that, as I recall. Yeah, well...what's a little mercury poisoning amongst friends? Besides, the absorption rate through unbroken skin is only about 1%...surprising, eh? Arr, tis the fumes ya must watch fer, matey...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

DIS EASE or I'm Radioactive...

I grew up in the direct shadow of Nukes. As a kid, I lived in a lot of places in the world where nuclear research and testing took place, all because of my dad's still-mysterious job.

One nuclear facility's effect on the local population that is especially well documented is the Hanford Project which directly adjoined Richland, part of the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.

From 1961-63, as an 8/9 year old, my dad worked at Hanford, and we lived in Richland. Summers were spent swimming daily in the Columbia River, just barely downstream from Hanford. Hanford was in the business of producing weapons grade plutonium, and was at its peak production between 1956 and 1963. U.S. Government documents have since confirmed that during that period, Hanford released significant amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the Columbia River, causing distress and dis-ease in the residents and ecosystem of the area.

One clear memory I have is of seeing all the little white boxes sitting on most front porches as my bus went to school and back. The boxes were for the Government to collect urine sample from the Hanford workers, in order to measure their exposure.

I also vividly remember the terrible sadness all the kids in our grade school felt when two different boys lost their fathers to cancer, and the tight fear that gripped my stomach when my mother found a lump in her breast that same year. Breast cancer eventually killed my mother, but not for another 37 years. Dad fished and hunted (pheasant and quail, primarily) all the time in the area of Hanford, and we ate everything he brought home with great appreciation.

So I swam in radioactive material, drank radioactive water, and ate the "irradiated" wildlife of the area. Over the years, my immune system began to show multiple signs of malfunction, and by the end of 1999, I finally discovered a very specific ailment linked to my days of Radio-Active living; a thyroid gland that was slowly shutting down.

My sister read in the newspaper that thyroid disorders are predicted to be the single largest ailment of my generation...the cause? Above-ground nuclear testing. Yep, I'm radioactive...

Life-threatening at it's worst, though fairly easily controlled through a daily dose of the hormone produced by the thyroid (the synthetic form isn't NEARLY as effective for me as the natural dessicated variety, btw), our thyroid glands are treacherous components in our wonderfully complex systems. Without the proper level of thyroid hormone in my system my hair became dry and broke off, my skin suddenly (as in, almost overnight) wrinkled and made me look older, and a general sense of malaise overtook my life. I didn't sleep well, had what I thought were hot flashes, and simply didn't want to get out of bed. When my thyroid levels were brought back up to a healthy level, the wrinkles went away, my hair regained it softness, and life looked good again.

My dad took his radioactive lifestyle a step further, accepting work in the places where more testing was taking place, but this time without my mother and me. His final stop on the Atomic Express was the tiny island of Eniwetok (aka Enewetak) way out in the South Pacific, in 1966-69. His job there, I found out MANY years later, was to help in the retrieval of all the materials left from the Atomic tests held there in the 40s/50s, and the ongoing missiles being launched and dropped into the lagoon of the island...formed a decade before by hydrogen blasts. Yeah...

Dad absolutely loved the islands, and raved about the fantastic fishing and day trips to Japtan and Bikini, where the skeltons of ships and remnants of the war were everywhere. He used to bring interesting objects home from Eniwetok for me to see...I still have some of them. One sits just inside my front door, upstairs from where I type this. It's a very odd piece of melted metal. About twelve inches long by six inches across, it looks like a human embryo, which is precisely why dad picked it up. I remember mom asking him, "Ken, is this stuff safe for us to touch?" And of course he insisted it was fine (meaning radiation-free), but knowing him as I do, he probably never tested it or gave it another thought.

See, it's my firm belief that my dad lived as long as he did because of the radiation. My theory is that long-term, low doses of radiation will either kill you or kill any dangerous entity in your system. So you either die from the radiation, or you live a very long time.

My father lived to be fairly ancient (96), without a single disease ever taking hold in him that anyone ever discovered. I say that last because I now understand that his dementia and increased skin and hair problems, along with a number of other symptoms were very likely due to a thyroid gland that slowly declined, and finally shut down. You see, thyroid hormone influences the rate at which cellular factories all over the body turn out proteins, including the brain. Decrease the hormonal signal that make critical proteins in the brain, and we don’t think so well. Repress the signal long enough, dementia and ultimately death is the result.

Yep. It seems that dad was radioactive, too. Guess I wasn't hallucinating all those times that I thought I noticed us glowing in the dark.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Homer Simpson: Evolution or Intelligent Design?

Although some might reasonably argue that Homer Simpson HASN'T evolved, I see him as having some redeeming traits. For example, there's little doubt that he is a loving husband and father, though pretty lame in his expression of same. No matter, this isn't about Homer's (dys)functionality, or even, really, about Homer. Rather, this is about evolution. And please don't write to me about intelligent design re: Homer Simpson....I'm just not brave enough for that discussion. Ever.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Uplift: Who's a Bad Bad Bird

If this sweetheart doesn't charm you and make you laugh out loud, then you're a heartless cur and should just go away!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Are The Books By My Bed Who I Am?

Earlier today, on Backyard Inspirations, was a discussion of how the books on your bedside table say a lot about you (the spectre of the actual bedside table representing us was also raised). The final question asked by Eliza was "So what’s on your bedside table?" I started to leave a comment, but after the far more enviably spartan lives I glimpsed through other's words (one example, "Dust, my clock radio, and a lamp. And at night, my glasses..."), I thought I should stand up and let my profoundly cluttered and bookish soul be counted.

First of all, I have a small (two shelves, plus the top) bookcase on one side of the bed, a drawered chest on the other. Atop the chest of drawers, there's a lamp, a small crystal dish for earrings, a lovely little olive wood bowl from Spain that I use for hair ties, earplugs, and lip balm. There's a square box of tissues, a stoneware crock filled with a variety of pens and pencils, and a rock or two from the beach whose matte black smoothness appealed to my hand, then got carried around and finally dropped on the bedside table. And lastly, more often than not, my favourite 25 lbs of Norwegian Forest Cat perches atop the chest. His Grace, Big likes to survey his territory (me) from there, and repel all borders. Arrr...he's a bit of pirate, that one, and very proprietary when it comes to his woman. The bookshelf holds a lamp, some wonderful vulture feathers from Texas in a wood cup, a strange little tiger figure, and a pair of fur-lined "slave" eyeshades from a wonderfully odd period in my past. Dom or sub, you ask? I'll never tell...let's just say that experiment is finished.

Were I to list the many titles on, in, and around my bedside stands, it might cause a worldwide system overload and launch the much-feared blue screen of death. So instead, allow me to simply state a few facts and let them speak for themselves.

1. Earlier today, in an attempt to tidy the overflow, I removed thirty-nine books from around and under my bed. Plus magazines, a flop of loose papers containing a story I've begun writing, and a list of level codes for a game I play now and then in bed on my Gameboy.
2. In and on the bookcase are 95...yes, I said ninety-five books. Soft and hardback, all but three are books I plan to read by the time summer rolls around. As I blow through a book every couple of days (not through Finnegan's Wake, but certainly through Interview With a Vampire), that's an entirely reasonable goal.
3. The drawered unit holds a mere seven books, including my journal, a book on Buddhism and another on Hinduism, both of which I have find comforting when the nightly head noises start their Greek Chorus of complaints about me and my all-too-human behaviour.
4. IN the bed (*SIGH* yes, in) are six library books and two art books I'm currently reading.

The library books are as follows:
Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts
Blasphemy by Douglas Preston
Mirroring People; The New Science of How We Connect With Others by Marco Iacoboni
Operation Roswell by Kevin D. Randle
Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers by Barbara Hambly
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
When You See The Emu In The Sky: My Journey of Self-Discovery In The Outback by Elizabeth Fuller

And what I've listed here's not everything in my current stack...not by a long shot. Most of the other stuff right now is source and/or inspirational stuff to help me with the layout and illustrations I'm currently hard at work on for a children's book I just finished writing.

Maybe all this will be a little easier to grasp if you know that there are at least 5K volumes in this house. Fiction, non-fiction, paperbacks, oversized...all of it. The genres barely represented are political intrigue/thrillers (*yawn*), Westerns (unless you count Tony Hillerman), and mysteries (unless Preston-Childs/James Rollins thrillers count). I grew up reading, not watching television, and last year's Writer's Strike just jarred me completely out of the habit of tv. I like to read, and having books nearby sooths my psyche as does little else. As my Edward Gorey book bag reads "Books. Cats. Life is Good."
Since writing this piece earlier this evening I've added another twenty books - all but three from our wonderful, well used library - to the pile on the bed. I am, utterly and completely, hopelessly and happily, head over heels in love with books.

Familiar Foreign Food

For only the second time in 30 years, I made a trip recently to my favourite Asian supermarket...Uwajimaya. Say it slooowwwly with me... "you-WA-gee-maya." See? That wasn't so hard. A basic rule of thumb with Japanese words is that the entire set of letters in a word is pronounced, unlike idiotic and utterly useless English language bits such as the silent e.

Anyway. I used to frequent Uwajimaya back in the 70s, when it was a single, fairly small store down in Seattle's International District. I bought a great Bruce Lee t-shirt there that I treasured. And then I moved to Texas, where Asian groceries carry of lot of Thai and Vietnamese ingredients, as well as a bit of Chinese. Generally, though? Asian groceries in Texas are OFTEN in East. In fact, that's where my love of Bollywood started, renting videos from the Indian market in Austin. But that's not what this is all about today. This is about a return to the glorious shopping experience that is Uwajimaya.

See, I'm one of those people who feel my security is ensured if my pantry is bulging. And not just the mundane things of life, either. I mean, sure. I have peanut butter and tuna and pasta and rice a-plenty, but it's the really cool stuff that makes me all warm and fuzzy. Stuff such as pickled ginger, a bottle (and a back up bottle) of my favourite DARK Chinese soy sauce and one of the light variety. Things like lop cheong (a hard, dried Chinese sausage), or the myriad of varieties of rice and seaweed and wasabi snacks that I so love! Uwajimaya is a Superstore now, with a fabulous selection of ALL things Asian, not just food. I try VERY hard to stay away from the book/cd/art supply section, but can't resist at least one Re-ment toy, a complete addiction for someone who loves miniatures as I do. I would KILL for the furniture and room boxes...

And I haven't mentioned the insane food court at Uwajimaya, either..starting to drool here.

So, a couple of hundred dollars and two ferry rides later, I am one very happy girl.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I Love Bollywood

I am seriously alone amongst my friends in this, but I simply adore Bollywood movies, especially the musical comedy variety, though some of the dramas are really fantastic, too. But the musicals almost always have a surreal quality to them that won't let me just ignore them, and the dance moves by gorgeous people to the great music...well, these films are simply a feast for the senses! Peter understands my love of Bollywood enough that he's given me two FABULOUS collections of music, one only available outside the U.S. BTW, the songs are NOT sung by the actors/dancers. The singers are stars in their own right in India.

You say you're interested but not sure what to reach for first? Give Monsoon Wedding a shot. A lovely film with comedy, a couple of quite dramatic sub-plots, and it's not all sub-titles, which may help ease you into appreciating these wonderful films. Or, in the same vein, Bride and Prejudice or Bollywood Hollywood are both terrific starting points. You really can't go wrong with anything from directors Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair.

If you prefer to try a drama, I highly recommend Dil Se from 1998. Starring the incredibly FINE (pant, pant) Shahrukh Khan, this film left me completely stunned with an utterly unexpected ending.

As usual, Wiki offers a lot of information on Bollywood worth reading, and a very helpful list of top films, too.

Trailer for Monsoon Wedding

Trailer for Bollywood Hollywood

Bharati - Bole Chudiyan (song from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, or "KKKK" its short title in Hindi)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Frog In Boiling Water Effect

Image by purpleslog via Flickr

In my ongoing attempt to adhere to Catherine Aird's statement, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning," I thought I'd more closely examine the parable of the frog in boiling water.

Most of you have heard this didactic anecdote, usually presented as an example of how gradual habituation to a devilish situation leads to acceptance of an even worse one. It says if you put a frog in boiling water, he will try to escape. If you put him in cold water and heat it gradually, the frog will remain in place until he's boiled, because that's the lesson, to him (and consequently to us) gradual change is not perceivable.

I decided to determine whether there was any truth in this anecdote, or whether it was simply a wonderful example of a terrible warning.

One source from 1897 lists an experiment done in 1882 at Johns Hopkins Institute as evidence that "a live frog can actually be boiled without a movement if the water is heated slowly enough; in one experiment the temperature was raised at a rate of 0.002°C. per second, and the frog was found dead at the end of 2½ hours without having moved."

Subsequent experiments that supposedly proved the 1882 study incorrect contained a - shall we say "fatal" flaw - they increased the water temperature at a much faster rate than the original experiment. As least to me, it is clear that at a faster increase in temp, the frog's internal sensors will actually notice the increase and thus jump out of the water before it becomes a deadly bath. I liked the summation of Prof. Douglas Melton of Harvard's Biology Department, "If you put a frog in boiling water, it won't jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot -- they don't sit still for you."

So although there may be issues with underlying scientific truth of the frog in boiling water legend, as a parable it stands the test of time. For me the best use is in conjunction with any form of abusive behaviour. It's easy to deal with an employer or government or individual doling out a difficult task, and once you've done that, it's easier the next time and the next and the next, but pretty soon the water's coming to a boil and you don't even know it. That's how we get stuck in bad relationships, jobs, a myriad of horrendous situations.

So here's my advice:

* Love yourself. If you don't, who will?
* Learn to trust your body wisdom.
* Listen to that inner voice. Unless you're schizophrenic, in which case the next two items are essential points.
* It IS possible to be happy and have hope, and you deserve both.
* Don't be afraid to ask for help.
* Don't be afraid to give help.
* If your instinct is to run, DO IT. There's zero shame in self-preservation.
* Anyone who shames you for turning tail is best avoided.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday Uplift - Three For Laughter's Sake

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain plays the theme to "Shaft" (don't miss the words)

A pretty great cast performs Prop 8: The Musical

And last, but certainly not least, a Japanese Orchestra plays "Smoke On the Water"

Happy Tune

Love this...can't stop listening to it. Just a happy little tune that puts forth a positive message..."if you want to stay, you stay..if you want to go, you's easy to roll with the punches." I mean, any song with "nah nah nah nah" begs bopping along to, doesn't it? Friendly little tune, this...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Six Biggest Sex Mistakes Men Make With Women

The lingering cold weather and broken furnace has caused me to bemoan my cold, solitary bed, and turn to thoughts of how I kept warm as a young woman; pleasures long past, though hopefully not gone altogether!

So, in a continued theme of matters sexual between men and women, comes this lucid and, in my fairly knowledgeable opinion, accurate article from WebMD on the six most common sex mistakes men make with women:

Six Biggest Sex Mistakes Men Make With Women

Hey guys, think you know everything there is to know about having sex with women? That erotic encyclopedia you carry around in your head may contain a lot of basic errors and omissions about women's sexuality -- errors that can lead to sex mistakes.

That's because -- after learning the facts of life -- most of us are left to figure out sex for ourselves. Guys tend to take a lot of cues from adult movies, and we all know how true-to-life those are. Experience may help, but many women can be shy when talking about what they like.

WebMD asked two acclaimed sex educators, Tristan Taormino and Lou Paget, to tell us what they think are the most common sex mistakes men make with women.

Taormino is a prolific author, lecturer, and video producer. Her latest project is the Expert Guide educational video series from Vivid Ed.

Paget is author of The Great Lover Playbook and other sex manuals, and she gives seminars nationwide.

Sex Mistake No.1: You Know What She Wants

Men often make assumptions about what a woman wants based upon what they've done with other women. But women aren't all the same.

"You develop a repertoire as you mature sexually, but you should never assume that what worked for the last person is going to work for this person," Taormino says.

That applies not only to sexual predilections, but also to relationships, she says. "There are women who can have no-strings-attached sex, and women who can get attached very easily, and then everyone in between."

Sex Mistake No. 2: You Have All She Needs

Some women can't have an orgasm with less than 3,000 rpm. No human tongue or fingers can generate that kind of vibration. But men typically think something is wrong ifa woman needs a vibrator.

"If the only way that a woman can achieve orgasm is with a vibrator, she's not broken," Taormino says.

Think of a vibrator as your assistant, not your substitute. Many couples use vibrators together. "While you're doing one thing, or two things, the vibrator can be doing something else," Taormino says.

Sex Mistake No. 3: Sex Feels the Same for Men and Women

Paget says there tends to be a "huge disconnect" between men and women in the ways that sex feels good.

"When a man has intercourse with a woman, and his penis goes into her body, that sensation is so off the charts for most men, they cannot imagine that it isn't feeling the same way for her," Paget says. "It couldn't be further from the truth."

The inside of the vagina is probably less sensitive than the outer parts for most women. Also, deep thrusting may not feel so nice on the receiving end. If the penis is too long, "it feels like you're getting punched in the stomach," Paget says. "It makes you feel nauseous."

Sex Mistake No. 4: You Know Your Way Around a Woman's Anatomy

Most guys know generally what a clitoris is and where to find it. That's not to say that they really understand it.

More than 30 years ago, at the start of the "sexual revolution," a best-selling book called the Joy of Sex got Americans hip to the orgasmic importance of the clitoris. But the belief that women must be able to orgasm from vaginal penetration stubbornly persists.

"I still get letters from people who say things like, my wife can't [orgasm] from intercourse unless she has clitoral stimulation -- please help," Taormino says. "I want to write back and say, 'OK, what's the problem?'"

"For the majority of women, it's not going to happen that way," Paget says.

Men also lack information about how to touch it and how sensitive it is, Taormino says.

A touch that's bliss for one woman may feel like nothing special, or may even be painful for someone else. Some prefer indirect stimulation.

How can you find out how she likes to be touched? Try asking her.

Sex Mistake No. 5: Wet = Turned On

Guys sometimes get hung up if a woman doesn't get slippery enough for easy penetration. Don't worry about it.

"I think there's a myth that if you're turned on, you're wet," Taormino says. Not necessarily.

Some women tend to get wetter than others, and how much natural lubrication a woman has can change from day to day. It varies by the phase of her menstrual cycle, and it's subject to influences like stress and medications.

Sex Mistake No. 6: Silence Is Golden

A lot of guys think they should be silent during sex, but unless you speak up, your partner has to guess what's doing it for you and what isn't.

If you're respectful about it, a woman who wants to please you will probably appreciate some directions.

"I'm not saying push her head in your lap," Taormino says. "I think that, 'this is how I like it,' is a very useful conversation to have."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Men > Women > Brain > Sex

I happened across an article written about a study on orgasms by neuroscientist Dr. Gert Holstege, of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, recently presented in Copenhagen. One thing I found very interesting with this study were the different ways the story was reported across the world, ranging from sensational to erudite to positively dreary. That last's not an easy task, either, given the subject matter. One example, the BBC News, where a more circumspect approach might be expected, used the somewhat misleading headline "Scan Spots Women Faking Orgasms!" Okay, so there was no exclamation point, but it was implied. I guess the British Broadcasting folks are fighting the gossip rags for readership now.

One wonderful quote from Dr. Holstege came out of the BBC story, though, so all lovers of women, please attend: "When you want to make love to a woman, you must give her the feeling of being protected." Yep, works every time with me. And if you want to make love to a man, you must give him the feeling of being physically stimulated. Hey, I'm serious here. I wouldn't make stuff like that up!

Here's one news report out of Ghana:

An orgasm is literally a mind-blowing experience for a woman, scientists have revealed.

Much of her brain shuts down when she reaches a sexual climax.

The discovery was made during experiments in the Netherlands when couples' brains were scanned during lovemaking.

Neuroscientist Dr Gert Holstege, from the University of Groningen said it appeared that shutting down the brain during orgasm ensured that obstacles such as fear and stress did not get in the way.

"When you are fearful or have a very high level of anxiety, then it's hard to have sex because during sex you really have to give yourself and let go."

Men were studied in the same way but because the male orgasm during ejaculation takes such a short time - typically 20 seconds - it was difficult to obtain meaningful brain scan data.

Another part of the study in which couples stimulated each other for two minutes without reaching orgasm showed distinct differences between men and women.

In both, a "fear centre" called the amygdala was deactivated. But in men alone, the scientists saw activation of an ancient, primitive part of the brain linked to emotion called the insula.

There was also a difference in the way touching the genitals affected the somatosensory cortex of the brain. Women merely experienced a sensory feeling, whereas in men emotions were involved.

"Men are seeing it as a big deal, the interpretation of what is happening is important to them," said Dr Holstege. "Women apparently do not have this idea that, OK, this is so important. With women the primary feeling is there, but not the interpretation."

Another odd observation was that the hippocampus, which deals with memory, was deactivated in women. The researchers have no idea why.

A total of 13 women and 11 men, ranging in age from 19 to 49, took part in the experiments at Dr Holstege's laboratory, all were partners and recruited through advertisments in Dutch magazines.

Since it was vital to remain completely still in the scanner, volunteers had to have their heads restrained while being stimulated. The rest of the body was free to move.

The men and women, who were all heterosexual and right-handed, stimulated each others' genitals, but did not have full intercourse.

Participants lay naked on a table with their head inside the scanner. Dr Holstege said a major problem was that they got cold feet - literally. A solution was found in the form of socks supplied by the scientists.

The key appeared to be to reduce fear and anxiety - as was illustrated by the aphrodisiac effect on alcohol.

"Alcohol brings down the fear level," said Dr Holstege. "Everyone knows if you give alcohol to a woman it makes things easier."

My favourite bits from the above?
  • "because the male orgasm during ejaculation takes such a short time - typically 20 seconds - it was difficult to obtain meaningful brain scan data." (yes, all of this tallies with my own experience, but I confess an extra fondness for the final phrase as I have found it difficult to obtain meaningful brain scan data with men no where NEAR the throes of orgasm!)
  • Participants lay naked on a table with their heads inside the scanner. (I can see where this was a very stimulating environment for the participants...I know how hot I get whilst having a CT Scan)
  • all (participants were) heterosexual and right-handed (did they reject left-handed participants, and if so, why? How would it have skewed the results? Did the room layout dictate the need for right-handed participants? How did right-handedness present? Masturbation? Delighting one's partner? Or perhaps through the far more mundane writing and eating test?)
Least favourite bit?
  • "Everyone knows if you give alcohol to a woman it makes things easier." PARDON ME? "makes things easier?" Easier as in alcohol will artificially reduce a woman's fear and anxiety so it will be EASIER for you to get YOUR jollies? Grrr.. Curious choice of phrasing, bub, especially from the same person who said "When you want to make love to a woman, you must give her the feeling of being protected." Gee, I guess giving alcohol to a woman must make it "easier" to give her a feeling of being protected. What? No? Oh, I makes having sex with her easier in that you don't have to bother with giving her a feeling of security. Say, that is easier! Rat Bastard...
Assuming the "news" organisations who reported this could have misquoted or slanted Dr. Holstege's words, I went in search of more information, and wasn't disappointed. At least my lip is not longer unpleasantly curled in the good doctor's direction.

All in all, the premise and circumstances of this experiment are questionable at best, just starting with "what kind of volunteers does one attract to such a set of parameters?" There are SO many questions I want to ask, such as "Did they get magazines or videos to watch?" "How much privacy did they get? You know, lights, one-way mirrors, what?" "Did participants have to have a good track record of achieving orgasms with one another?" "What were the some of the decisive questions asked for the purpose of selecting participants?" mind just races with curiosity.

Dr. Holstege was interviewed by Kate Sullivan of, an interesting addition to the above story.

Another, excellent story on orgasms and the science behind them was published by the LA Times: "The Science of Orgasms," or you could read the marvelous SF Chronicle's Mark Morford's diatribe on "Female Orgasm: Proof of God."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Top Ten Earworms

I was struck by my first earworm of the year after listening to The Humpty Dance over on The Vigilant Lens. That's the bad news. The good news (and bad) is that I immediately replaced THD with Jizz In My Pants.

***WARNING*** Some of you may be offended by this song, and for that I am most heartily sorry, but I find it hilarious.

Finally, calmly to match the grey rainy day outside my window, I surfed a set of waves down the coast until I found my way back to the saftey of Chris Cornell/Eddie Vedder. Deep sigh.

After all THAT, I thought I'd go see what the pundits have to say about earworm infections. I found the following article on WebMD that includes the TOP TEN EARWORMS! I ask you, could there BE a more reliable source for medical information this grave? Of course, THEY took it from someone else, but hey, that's the Information Age for you!

Songs Stick in Everyone's Head

'Earworms' Bother Women, Musicians Most
By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Feb. 27, 2003 -- They bore into your head. They won't let go. There's no known cure. Earworms can attack almost anyone at almost any time.

No, it's not an invasion of jungle insects. It's worse. Earworms are those songs, jingles, and tunes that get stuck inside your head. You're almost certain to know the feeling, according to marketing professor James J. Kellaris, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati.

Nearly 98% of people have had songs stuck in their head, Kellaris reported at the recent meeting of the Society for Consumer Psychology. The 559 students -- at an average age of 23 -- had lots of trouble with the Chili's "Baby Back Ribs" Jingle and with the Baha Men song "Who Let the Dogs Out." But Kellaris found that most often, each person tends to be haunted by their own demon tunes.

"Songs with lyrics are reported as most frequently stuck (74%), followed by commercial jingles (15%) and instrumental tunes without words (11%)," Kellaris writes in his study abstract. "On average, the episodes last over a few hours and occur 'frequently' or 'very frequently' among 61.5% of the sample."

Here's the students' top-10 earworm list:

  1. Other. Everyone has his or her own worst earworm.
  2. Chili's "Baby Back Ribs" jingle.
  3. "Who Let the Dogs Out"
  4. "We Will Rock You"
  5. Kit-Kat candy-bar jingle ("Gimme a Break ...")
  6. "Mission Impossible" theme
  7. "YMCA"
  8. "Whoomp, There It Is"
  9. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
  10. "It's a Small World After All"

Stuck song syndrome annoyed, frustrated, and irritated women significantly more than men. And earworm attacks were more frequent -- and lasted longer -- for musicians and music lovers. Slightly neurotic people also seemed to suffer more.

Kellaris hasn't yet found a cure. Women are more likely to try to get rid of the offending ditties. Men are just as likely to do nothing as to fight their earworms.

What helps? Kellaris doesn't know. But he found that when people battle their earworms, nearly two-thirds of the time they try to use another tune to dislodge the one that's stuck. About half the time people simply try to distract themselves from hearing the stuck song. More than a third of the time people with songs stuck in their heads try talking with someone about it. And 14% of the time, people try to complete the song in their heads in an effort to get it to end.

SOURCE: "Dissecting Earworms: Further Evidence on the 'Song-Stuck-in-Your Head' Phenomenon, James J. Kellaris, PhD, presentation to Society for Consumer Psychology, Feb. 22, 2003.