Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year In Review

2008 has been the best year of my life so far. It began with my making New Year's resolutions for the first time ever. The first of these was to give up meat, which was incredibly easy and introduced me to an entirely different way of looking at the food I eat as well as the rest of the stuff I put in and on my body. This led to me getting more healthy than I've ever been, weight loss and enjoying guilt-free eating all the time.

My second resolution was to stop smoking cigarettes, which I haven't done so great as with the first. I haven't bought a single pack, but I do sometimes bum a smoke when I'm with smokers at a party somewhere and I am all drunked up. But since I don't even crave them at all when I'm sober, I'm still counting this as a win. This changed my sense of smell dramatically and helped me to realize just how powerful the most "ordinary" toxins can be at affecting one's nervous system and overall health.

I also really revved up my exercise this year, mostly thanks to the cajoling and example of my boyfriend who got me to stop laying around and get moving. This led to my rediscovery of yoga which has had a million and one benefits in my life including but not limited to: increased flexibility, strength, muscle mass and sexual drive; anxiety relief; additional sexiness; increased stamina "in the bedroom;" better posture and breathing; and an overall sense of well being that I was previously totally unfamiliar with.

Then there's the awesomeness that's been going on here at May's Machete. Thanks largely to Tony, my readership and comment count here has grown dramatically which has made this whole blogging thing way more interesting and exciting than any other online project I've ever done before. I have been able to interact with some incredible people, 'force' my opinions on others and generally be as ridiculous as I want to me and you people seem to like it. How awesome is that?

Thank you all for reading, commenting and the like. It's been an incredible year and I expect 2009 is only going to be even better. Happy New Year, everybody!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Top 10 Books of 2008

I pretty much read constantly, usually 2-3 books at the same time. It was a hard thing to do, but I've managed to narrow down the books I've read this past year to the top 10 I would recommend. The last 3, I've already blogged about so I will simply link you to those posts. These are in no particular order, except the first one, because it was my absolute favorite.

Crossing California by Adam Langer
This book examines the lives of 4 families in Chicago from '79-'80. A mix of races, religions and social levels, these families are interwoven in many ways when the book begins, their relationships only becoming more complex as you go along. Perspective shifts from character to character, parent and teens alike. The story will suck you in while creating a unique window into the past. After I read this book, the ONLY thing I wanted to read was its sequel, which you should also check out. It's called The Washington Story.

Rumo and his Miraculous Adventures by Watler Moers
Set in the crazy-awesome continent of Zamonia, Rumo, a sentient dog-like hero, is searching for his "silver thread" - a mysterious scent he "sees" and follows to his people's city-fortress and his one true love. But finding them is just the first part of his quest. To win his love's heart, he runs off to do something to prove his love, only to return to find the entire city-fortress deserted. The rest of the book is about how Rumo saves his entire species from being forced to kill each other off as gladiators and his love from the crazy torturing techniques of a robot killer. If that doesn't pull you in, I don't know what will.

A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
This sci fi novel examines the differences between personal power and "power" over others by setting up two planet moons that circle each other, one a mechanized, highly stratified society, the other a nanotech using, biological manipulation expert, egalitarian lesbian ocean society. Sounds fun, right? The story covers how the lesbians stand up to the invasion force of the mechanized planet, even as it threatens to destroy their eco-system, lifestyle and their very existence. A great amount of detail goes into creating the lezzie ocean world and it comes alive in an impressively easy manner - not like some sci fi books. If you're interested at all in ecology, not giving in to bullies or lesbian love, you should read this book.

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar
I don't usually read vampire or werewolf books as a rule, but this one just looked so interesting that I broke with tradition and read my very first werewolf novel this year. Lonely Werewolf Girl doesn't just cover the story of any old werewolves. It's all about the ruling family of werewolves in Scotland and there wayward daughter, Kalix, a laudanum addict who runs away to bum homelessly around London after her parents banish her werewolf boyfriend. Rescued from the werewolves hunting for her by a couple of humans, Kalix's life becomes permanently entwined with theirs as she is pulled into the battle for control of the ruling family and must decide whether to lose herself in oblivion or to take her place on the werewolf council. This book was way more fascinating than it had any right to be.

Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

Wataru's life sucks. His dad left and his mom attempted suicide, so in a desperate try to change his life forever, Wataru enters the magical land of Vision where he can make any wish he desires after he reaches the Tower of Destiny. But there's a classmate of his also there, and only one can have his wish granted. This and a myrid of other problems along the way assail our hero, who has to earn 5 gemstones to gain entrance to the Tower. Along the way to collect these gems, Wataru becomes a totally different person who ends up wishing something completely different that he planned. Even though this is translated from Japanese, it is still totally absorbing and reads wonderfully. It's a bit of a read though at 824 pages! Not for the faint of heart.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

This is another book that, like Crossing California, switches between differing character perspectives: Diana, a National Park Service employee who observes coyotes, Garnett Walker, a grouchy old farmer who lives in the nearby town, newly widowed entomologist Lusa Maluf Landowski and more. Examining the interconnection of species' survival, human relations and nature as a whole, Prodigal Summer is a celebration of how the natural world enriches our lives and the ability of humans to change. This line of dialogue pretty much sums it up: "Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don't see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you, and that's the moral of the story."

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
This book will make you cry if you're anything like me. The Memory Keeper's Daughter tells the story of a doctor who delivers his own twins. This is 1964 where mother's were gassed for the birth and the only witness to the birth is the doctor and his nurse. When the twins are born and the girl is discovered to have the same disease that killed the doctor's sister when he was a kid, a tragedy his mother never recovered from. Desperate to save his wife from the same state of constant life-long depression, the doctor convinces the nurse to take his daughter to a home. Instead, she leaves town with the baby and sets up a new life in another town with the girl as her own daughter, thanks to the mostly-blank birth certificate the doctor rushed her out with. The story switches between the two families as they struggle to cope with what happened, although only the doctor and his now ex-nurse know what really happened since he told his wife that their daughter died. Tragic and beautiful all at the same time, this book is about decisions that change your life and living with them after.

Bento Box in the Heartland by Linda Furiya
This is a memoir, the best I've read in a long time. Go here to read my post on it.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman
This is a great fictionalized reality about the state of Indians on reservations. Go here to read my post about it.

Postsingular by Rudy Rucker
A fabulously insane sci-fi story that boggled my little head. Go here to read the post.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

What Women Can and Can't Do

Inspired by a list of what Saudi women can and can't do (own a car, but not drive it, for instance), Jezebel came up with a corresponding list for us USA ladies:

American women can:

— drive
— vote
— run for President
— be really rich (but it helps if you're a Walton)
— join the Navy
— compete in the Olympics (but not in boxing)
— top the New York Times Best Seller List
— become men

American women cannot:

— walk alone at night without fear of being assaulted
— buy birth control pills without a prescription (except Plan B)
— marry another woman (except in Massachusetts and Connecticut)
— be a Navy SEAL
— play professional baseball
— get fat without apologizing for it
— look plain without getting shit for it
— look hot or get drunk without "asking for it"

I'd also add that women can't expect equal pay or to have our abuse cases taken seriously by judges (who tend to blame the victim) but we can wear whatever we want (mostly). What would you add?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

George Takei Will Kick your ASS!

Being a HUGE Trekkie, not to mention one of those people who has Princess Bride completely memorized, this made me ridiculously happy:

George Takei
more lol celebs!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays


Happy Holidays to everyone. Here's something to keep you occupied after you're bored of your presents already or whatever. Find the hidden pictures in the above image!

From Highlights Kids

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Any Other Name

My friends and family had to get used to calling me "May" after I started going by my middle name in Seattle a couple years ago. It was important to me that who I was felt on the same level as the name people call me and I most definitely did not feel like a "Rachel" any more.

Even as a kid, I was hardly ever called by my full first name. My siblings all used some nickname, ranging from Rachie Bug to Rachello (my very least favorite), and most friends just settled for "Rache." My name and its meaning was constantly impressed upon me by my parents' choice of decor. On the dining room wall they have pictures of each of us six kids, one of us as babies, the other of us as high school seniors. Between the two, they've hung a placard for each of us showing our name, its meaning and a related bible verse.

"Rachel," if you don't know, means "little lamb," a concept that is totally based in Christian mythology where the believers are the good sheep and the unbelievers are the evil goats that god will turn away from him on the last Judgment Day. Like this Cake song:


As a kid I was pretty okay with my name's meaning until some friends of ours moved out to the country and started raising sheep. When I met their sheep, I realized how ugly, stupid and gross sheep are. After that, I wasn't very happy with my name meaning.

The stupidity of the sheep v. goats with sheep being held up as role models hit me even harder after I met the tons of goats another family I knew (one with 12 kids!). The goats, unlike the sheep, were intelligent, cute, cuddly and very playful. You could play with goats and have fun. Sheep just stand there and look stupid.

After I pulled away from the Baptist church and was going to Maple Woods, my name was shortened to "Rae Rae" (couldn't just be the one "Rae" cuz that' s my sister-in-law's name and as I kept telling my friends, I am NOT married to my brother), which was acceptable at the time, but my designation as a "little lamb" still felt completely false to me. A feeling that was heightened by this love letter from my current boyfriend, back when we were just fooling around behind out respective bf/gf's backs:

I believe there are two types of people: wolves and sheep; not wolves in the farmer's incorrect assessment as being sly and evil and wrong; nor their incorrect assessment of sheep as being innocent and good and right; rather, wolves in the sense of beautiful, intelligent, caring, independent, self-sufficient creatures of grace and love; and sheep in the sense of slow-witted, disease-ridden, ugly, selfish, following creatures of fear and hate.

I believe you are a wolf. [Note: this is just an excerpt]
This solidified my feeling that I was definitely not a "little lamb" any more, if I'd ever been, and once I moved to Pennsylvania I was good and sick of my name and the stupid religious future it implied my parents had planned for me. Unfortunately, no one in PA seemed to believe in nick names so I was called "Rachel" constantly and it drove me fricken nuts. By the time I was moving to Seattle, I was prepared to rename myself and it only just made sense to go with my middle name. Not only is "May" related to a lovely spring month, it is also a family name from one of my great-grandmothers. My family is important to me, even if it may not seem that way due to my crappy relationship with my parents, and I was happy to take on an identity connecting with my ancestors.

I didn't expect much to change based on my name, except that I'd stop feeling irritated anytime someone called out to me, but so much more happened. Renaming myself gave me the strength to realize I could truly define myself however I please and it was only after becoming "May" that I've begun to emotionally and otherwise grow the fuck up. I feel it's helped me come into my own.

So it was incredible to me to find out that "May" means "flower," which rocks seeing as I really feel I've blossomed the past couple years. It's lovely having a name that I want to answer to.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Climate Change Art Destroys All Humans

EarthFirst and Peachy Green both posted about an interesting art project created by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo that uses little people-shaped blocks of ice that melt over time. The project has been in many cities across the globe and hopes to bring attention to the damage climate change can and will bring to Earth's human population. But, it's also just fascinating to watch the little guys melt into nothingness. Or maybe that's just me. Does this do anything for you?





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Monday, December 22, 2008

Anxiety and My Genetic Inheritance

My Uncle George recently moved back into town, which makes me happy. George is awesome because he has no problem letting me know about all the family history I want (which is quite sordid, P.S.), and his stories always explain so much about my life that it makes me feel better about my self. You know, less like a totally crazy person who is different from everyone else. This time, he made me feel a hell of a lot better about my anxiety problems.

My uncle was over and suddenly asked my little brother and I if we had any problems with anxiety, because he and my cousin do. My little bro, being the overly relaxed type was just like "nope." But I knew exactly what he was talking about and I felt suddenly joyful that not only have I really been able to quell my anxiety these days, but also, it's always nice to know I'm not the only one with a problem.

Being ridiculously sensitive, as I kid I was freaked out just by my parents' slightest disapproval, much less the violent rages my dad would go into so I've had a lot of anxiety built up from that I never released for a long time. One symptom of that (get ready for some TMI) was my being totally constipated to the point that I had no idea it was normal for people to shit every single day. Anyway, when I was 19, I started having panic attacks where I relived a lot of fear and I also became an insomniac for the next 2 years, managing only about 3 hours of sleep a night, if I was lucky.

After I moved to Pennsylvania, I felt a lot more relaxed knowing I was far enough away from my 'rents that they couldn't affect my life in the same way, I was suddenly able to sleep again, but I was still quite anxious and I (stupidly) took up smoking cigarettes to keep anxiety at bay. That worked okay, but not great as school and relationship pressures became greater for me (also I had a miscarriage). Refusing to return to my insomniac ways, I started depending on OTC sleeping pills to help me sleep, which tended up reduce my anxiety (compared to not sleeping, anyway).

sucking on a death stick when I was in Seattle

I used sleeping pills and cigarettes as my little crutches all the way through grad school in Seattle, though was better at going without after I got my lip pierced (since removed) because then I just fixated on that when I felt anxious. Playing with a ring in your lip can be surprisingly soothing.

Once I was out of school for good and determined I was gonna quit smoking, I knew I'd need something else to calm my ridiculous nerves. I started cleaning my apartment thoroughly every Sunday while the bf was at work and found that was very grounding and calming since it drove all thoughts that might have caused anxiety out of my head. It also makes the apartment seem very calm and welcoming, which has instilled a Pavlovian response in my head so that now I automatically am more relaxed in my apartment than anywhere else.

But I was still having anxiety attacks every morning before I went to work, for no apparent reason at all. My anxiety had always seemed to make sense given my circumstances in the past, but now I realized I just had a problem with being anxious. And that's when I started doing yoga every morning.

Not only does yoga make me look fucking hot and fixed my uneven legs, it has seemed to completely do away with my crazy-ass levels of anxiety. Now, anytime my mind feels a bit twitchy, I just stretch or draw a picture or something and ::poof:: I'll be fine again. It makes me really glad that I am finding healthy ways to cope with my problems for a change, especially knowing that I can help future children in our family deal with the crazy generic inheritance we have.

The more you know...

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Friday, December 19, 2008

I Feel GREAT!

More and more, I am feeling exactly like this guy:





I feel GREAT! Although, I wouldn't mind popping out a baby, either. (It's in my 5 year plan).

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Fictional Female Role Models

I had some weird role models as a kid. Not in RL, I wasn't really impressed with the people I saw around me (since they were all culty and crazy) so instead I had a bunch of fictional characters as my female role models. Which is probably part of the reason I'm so weird... Anyway, I was thinking about the characters that made a big impression on me and how that still shows up in my life and I thought I'd share.

Princess Leia
Princess Leia was the ultimate: she had power, intelligence, looks and the ability to not only run with the big boys, but to boss them around. I totally adored her strength and the way she could get out of any tight scrape with flare. For me, Leia was the ultimate tomboy grown up and, since I was a huge tomboy it gave me hope for the future.


Anne of Green Gables/Emily of New Moon
Listing these together since they're both characters out of L.M. Montgomery series who aspired to be writers and who were orphans. I really related to not having any family you could rely on and to dedicating your time to fantasies and writing when people around you think it's a waste of time. They encouraged me to be strong and to keep writing no matter what. Also, I could totally relate to Anne's getting crap for having red hair. There was a period of time when I really hated being a red head.

Meg Murray
Meg is the main character in Madeleine L'Engle's novel, Wrinkle in Time and, like me, was an outcast with a ridiculous level of smarts. I loved how intelligent she was and how she was strong enough to put up with crap and even end up loving her tormentors. Also, I strongly related to Meg's bond with her little brother, cuz my little bro has always been my favorite sibling. No contest.

Claudia Kishi
From what I can tell, just about every American female of my generation grew up reading The Babysitter's Club books. I was no exception, though I mostly just read for Claudia. I related so strongly with her overbearing parents who forced her to hide her true self. I also adored her fashion flare and I soaked up each discription of her outfits like a freaking sponge. Honestly, I think it's the first thing that ever got me interested in fashion.

Dot
Cuteness is something I've always loved and apparently I have it in spades. I attribute at least a bit of that to how much I loved Dot from The Animaniacs and her whole "I'm cute!" thing. Plus, she was sassy and smart and didn't play by the rules. I love that shit.


Armitage
Armitage the Third is a movie about a robot cop in the future when robots are generally hated and someone is going around killing the most advanced ones, like Armitage. They were able to procreate, which set them apart from other robots, and she grappled with coming to grips with this while being a kick ass mother fucker. I've had tons of "womb issues" in my life and I related to this sad little robot so much. Plus, there's that whole outsider thing again. I tend to related to them. Armitage gave me hope that I could be a strong woman, have babies, and still dedicate myself to saving the world - or at least battling the evil overloads.


Ranma 1/2
Ranma 1/2 is a boy who was cursed when he fell in a pool, so now whenever he has cold water splashed on him, he becomes a girl. This show played with gender identity and Ranma slipped from being male to female so easily, each gender side of him being different and yet the same. I loved this so much because I always felt half boy and half girl on the inside. I have a lot of masculine tendancies (although more like a gay man than a straight one) and watching a character being able to have and be it all impressed the crap out of me. It's still what I consider my first introduction to a world in which gender identity wasn't rigidly defined by crazy people.

What characters have influenced you?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For the Birds

In case you haven't noticed yet, I like animals, especially birds. One notable thing I hated about not living in Kansas City was missing the birds! Other cities just didn't have the same level of wildlife encroachment that we do. I missed hearing bird song on a regular basis and I most definitely missed the huge aerial ballets you can catch out here.

These pictures, which I cleverly swiped from EarthFirst, were taken over in Europe, but look so like the amazing things I've seen here in the midwest, that I couldn't resist sharing:


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Monday, December 15, 2008

How Supernatural is Like the X-Files

Being a conspiracy theorist, I naturally became a huge X-Files fan (though not fanatical enough to see their last movie in theaters) so I was totally jazzed when Supernatural started a few years ago, because it's so like the X-Files in tons of ways. Only better. It's like they took all of the best aspects of the X-Files, polished them up and set them in a new story that is even more incredible and fascinating than all the crazy shit that happened to Scully and Mulder. (Though Supernatural has yet to produce a female character hawt as Scully... mmmmm. Man, that episode where she gets a tattoo is so freaking sexy... okay I need to get out of fantasy land, clearly, and continue writing this post.)


Similarity 1: Main characters are a duo, one all gung-ho about their mission, the other reluctant
In the X-Files, Fox Mulder is a rogue agent who insists on following cases that don't make any sense, based on his finding a bunch of closed but unsolved cases called the X-Files in the basement of the FBI. His superiors freak out that one of their golden boys has gone nutso and partner him up with Dana Scully, a by-the-book, analytical scientist and doctor who doesn't believe in any of the strange things Fox wants to believe in. This dynamic created a great push-and-pull feeling in the show, where you'd watch Scully go from total disbelief to almost belief and back again.

In Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester were raised by their father to hunt demons because one killed their mother and torched their house when Sam was a baby. Sam, now in college studying to be a doctor, has left that all behind him, hoping to exchange his crazy life for something much more normal. But when his father disappears and his girlfriend is killed by the same demon who killed his mom, he reluctantly agrees to rejoin his brother Dean on his never-ending demon-hunting mission, with the added quest of finding their father. Sam's reluctance to take part in the demon-hunting aspect is unflagging for the first season, in stark contrast to Dean's near blood-lust. He tries to stay focused on finding their father and each time they stop to track something new, he gets more pissy. There's nothing quite so fun as watching two brothers snipe at each other as they are killing monsters. Oh wait, there is, but that was neat too.


Similarity 2: Plot mainly driven by crazy monsters and the like
This one's pretty damn obvious. X-Files is interesting because of all the crazy beings and alien issues Mulder and Scully have while Supernatural is awesome because of how they re-interprete Americana and other mythologies (their take on genies was incredibly unique!) and also, a sack full of demons never hurts.


Similarity 3: Little stuff eventually adds up to one huge plot
In the X-Files, it seems for a while that most of the encounters Scully and Mulder have are totally random and unconnected. Eventually, the alien stuff turns out to be all interconnected with each other and with a secret group in the government that is cooperating with them to create an alien-human hybrid, even going so far as to turn their own family members over to the aliens for testing. The struggle with this group and with the aliens drives most of the series.

In Supernatural, the demon stuff also seems very random but it turns out that the demon who killed Sam's mom and girlfriend has big ole evil plans that include people like Sam, whom he gave special powers to when he fed them a drop of his blood as kids. Turns out, he's trying to open the gate to hell and let out his army of demons - but wants a human to lead them. All of this leads up to Sam having to fight for his life with the other "contestants" and the desperate search to kill this honcho demon and keep hell at bay.


Similarity 4: The main duo constantly cheats death
Scully and Mulder both cheat death in the X-Files as both are abducted by aliens (though not at the same time), Scully gets cancer, Mulder is devoured alive and the list goes on and on. They've got such a tenacious ability to come back, which Sam and Dean share. Both have died of natural and unnatural causes and come back (usually by making deals with demons), but Dean was even brought out of hell itself by an angel of God (whom Sam and Dean don't believe in). I know stuff like this is kinda hokey and the whole bringing people back from the dead thing can be so overplayed (Heroes seems to be proving that), but these guys do it with style!

Supernatural is in its 4th season now, so if you haven't seen it yet, you've got some catching up to do! It's totally worth it.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Google Earth for Simpsons Fans

Simpsons fans, did you ever wish you had Google Earth-like capabilities for spying on Springfield? Apparently one of you did, because someone made it. That's right, an interactive map of Springfield is yours for the clicking and viewing. You can zoom in and see "street view" type images or zoom out and view the whole town's layout. Pretty darn spiffy!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hit Me, Baby, One More Time

When I was a kid and I'd get spanked, I thought: How dare you do this to me! I don't deserve this, especially since we both know it's just because you can't control your rage and nothing to do with me. You bastard!

Now, when I get spanked, I think: Hell yeah! Do that again!

Which just goes to show that things and people change. Like Bettie Page, who inspired this post, who changed from a sexy cult pin-up to a loner-type Jesus freak and who is unfortunately in a coma, which is why I keep thinking about her, seeing articles about it everywhere the past few days. It's sad, but I had the same initial reaction to hearing that news as I did when I found out that Rosa Parks died, which was to think: She is/was still alive? Because for some reason I have this dysfunction where I think if I read about a person in history books at a kid, they must be dead.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Boys Get the Short End of the Stick

Toxins just keep coming up as a topic! But it's understandable since we're steeped in them! A New York Post article recently discussed how males get the short end of the stick in a world filled up with toxic shit that messes with our body chemistry:

New research shows that the chemicals used in some food wrapping, cosmetics, baby powders and flame retardants have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" because they interfere with hormones.

These "gender-benders," as a new report calls them, can affect the male species in vertebrate animals, including baby human boys, who, when their mothers are exposed to widespread chemicals in pregnancy, are born with smaller penises and feminized genitals.

"This research shows that the basic male tool kit is under threat," says Gwynne Lyons, a former government adviser on the health effects of chemicals who wrote the report published by the charity CHEMTrust, which drew on more than 250 scientific studies from around the world.

Wildlife and people have been exposed to more than 100,000 new chemicals in recent years, and the European Commission has admitted that 99 percent of them are not adequately regulated.

So boys, if you care about nothing else, for fucks sake, SAVE THE PENIS! And stop dumping chemicals down your drain.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I Blog


I absolutely love that when I write something it's like connecting the dots so people can see the pictures I see in my head (oddly I'm a very visual person despite my penchant for text). I don't know what I would do if I couldn't write; it is so much a part of me. I decided when I was twelve that I was going to grow up and be a famous poet, which I knew was a ridiculous goal because poets totally aren't famous these days. But I liked the idea anyway, so I gave over more and more time to poetry in my life.

I started giving up other hobbies, like drawing and computer games, to focus on reading more poetry. I even plowed through the collected works of Anne Bradstreet, Alexander Pope and Elizabeth Barrett Browning when I was 16 and 17 which is just not normal teenage behavior. I spent hours writing hundreds of nature and philosophical poems, most of which no one has ever seen and never will see since I've destroyed them all. Some of them were good, but most were crap.

I also wrote my first personal essay when I was 12, about being the inadvertent cause of death for a cat, which was definitely a sign of things to come. But I didn't write anything like that again until I got to college, where I revelled in being a creative writing major. It was worth it to leave the state and everyone I knew to get that degree (stupid MO only offers English and Journalism), because it totally informed so much about who I am and how I think.

Studying the creative writing process gave me a unique view into the workings of the mind and the interactions between the conscious, subconscious and collective unconscious. So much so that I can treat my unconscious like a team player in my thought and creative process - anytime there's something I can't figure out I'm just like "hey, unconscious, why don't you give this a whirl?" and it never fails to give me some new connection and insight I forgot I knew.

At this time I had moved away from writing poetry a little and had broadened my range to short stories. That was my focus and I wrote a collection of short stories for my thesis, but I was also writing poetry and what we at Behrend called "creative non-fiction," which I used as a conduit for all the emotional issues I was having (and pretty much ignoring otherwise). It was a life-changing and constantly humbling experience to have constant critical feeedback on everything I wrote. Extremely eye-opening and it helped me stop using some of the crappy little quirks I had picked up (my thesis director kept calling it "cheating") and forced me to find a voice of my own.

In fact, I often feel that the only reason I can talk well is because of that experience. Never mind the writing side of it, constantly debating literature taught me how to communicate an idea clearly and to navigate conversation in a way I'd never been able to do. I wasn't exactly a mute as a kid, but I certainly never said more than I needed to since anything I said could and would be used against me if some other kid decided to be super "religious" (aka bitchy) one day and turn you in for something to the thought police.

At first I used writing as a replacement for my voice and eventually it led me to creating one.

Plus, being able to create something out of nothing is an incredible experience that can be absolutely euphoric, although normally, it's just a little glow of contentment in my belly. Add to that the instant gratification factor of self-publishing in a venue where people actually read it, and I'm one happy blogger.

Related posts:
Personality Bursting from my Fingertips
Personality Analysis for Bloggers
Create Your Own Reality

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Turning Into Mother

It's weird to me to see how I'm growing up to be more and more like my mother, though happily not in any way that I don't like. Like her, I prefer to wear my hair short, to avoid wearing makeup except for special occasions and to wear skirts. Also, I have started jumbling up my cats' names the way she did for us kids (which was especially funny when she'd list all 5 of my other siblings before giving up and saying "whoever you are!") The similarity that is the most... significant is our ridiculous physical sensitivity.

I've always been emotionally sensitive... "too sensitive" by many people's standards, and now it's like my body finally caught up or something. Luckily I watched my mom go through this stuff when I was a kid otherwise I'd be totally freaked out by the changes I've been experiencing. Luckily, I know I can chalk it all up to hereditary stuff.

The first ridiculous sensitivity I have now is being really affected by changes in temperature, however slight. I used to think it was sooo weird that my mom wore a jacket even in the spring and summer but now I totally understand. Every single change in temperature, even if it's just from sudden shade or a change in the wind makes me shiver. Even in the summer time when it's all hot and gross and normally a cool breeze would feel nice, I just have the urge to throw on a jacket anytime one springs up because it makes me so darn cold. It just seems so silly to be cold even when I'm hot but such is my silly little body.

The second ridiculous senstivity is having incredibly sensitive skin, which is just one reason why I've been all detox obsessed this year. It's really weird because when I was a teen my mom's skin started breaking out in rashes around her mouth all the time. She had to go to a dermatologist to figure out what was going on and it turned out that since she was using the same products on her face as us teen girls (Noxema and the like), it was making her skin react. I started having the same weird rash around my mouth if and when I use, for instance, mouthwash. So now I have to avoid all sorts of things - including organic products with too much scent.

It seems so odd that my body would suddenly decide to be more sensitive, but I suppose if it happened to mom, it was only a matter of time before it happened to me since I take after her the most of us 3 girls. But this stuff happened to her much later in life and I think that's the weirdest bit of it for me.

What weird thing(s) did you inherit from your parents?

Related posts:
Now and Then
Living With Emotional Blackmail
Becoming a Mysterious Lady

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Skirts = Fetish

A while back I wondered if skirts have become completely fetishized. I think I am perfectly willing to say "yes" to my own question now. Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon wrote about the creepy trend of men taking upskirt (that means just what it sounds like, folks, looking up the skirt) pictures of women - some of the minors! - with camera phones and posting them on the internet.

Check this out:

On a warm summer day two years ago, a 16-year-old girl put on a skirt and headed to the SuperTarget in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla. As she shopped the air-conditioned aisles, a man knelt behind her, carefully slid a camera in between her bare legs and snapped a photo of her underwear. Police arrested the 34-year-old man, but the charges were ultimately dropped on the grounds that the girl did not, as required by the state's Peeping Tom law, have "a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy," given the public location. In non-legalese: Wear a skirt in public, and you might just get a camera in the crotch.
So basically, ladies, you aren't allowed to control what people do with pictures of your body - even if you're covering it up - as long as you are in public places. How fucked up is that? This kinda stuff really pisses me off, besides the fact that I like wearing skirts, because I have struggled my whole freaking life to try and keep men from taking sexual advantage of me, and believe me, it's been a struggle. But the legal system cares so little for a woman's body and rights that any old douche, with what amounts to totally normal levels of technology these days, can invade my privacy, take a picture of what I wouldn't even be able to LEGALLY show in public, post it online for others to see and this is perfectly legal?

Fuck that. I may have semi-naked and naked pictures of me online, but I fucking put them there and that makes a huge amount of difference. Why does a woman's consent mean so little in the sexual arena? It pisses me the fuck off.

Related posts:
Skirting the Issue: Fashion and Fetish
Your Mamma Shoulda Told Ya: Don't Treat All Women Like Whores
Sex and Fashion

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Science Fiction to Mess with Your Mind (Book Reviews)

I finished reading a couple of crazy-awesome sci fi books this weekend. The first one, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, was given to me by my friend Eric on my recent visit. It's one of those stories told mostly in flashback so I spent most of the novel being like "get on with it already! What happened on that alien planet?" By the time I got to the end, I almost didn't want to know what happened, but it was like a car wreck you couldn't look away from. Incidentally, Brad Pitt's (supposedly) going to star in the movie adaptation soon so if you don't want to know what happens until then, stop reading now.

The Sparrow's title is taken from the bible verse about god seeing all sparrows that fall and is basically a meditation on the fact that the sparrow still falls anyway. The books' "present day" events take place in Italy where a Jesuit priest - the only person left from a mission to an alien planet - is recouperating from his experience that left him with eviserated hands, constant nightmares and chronic headaches and the bad opinion of all his peers. The Jesuits are looking after him, waiting until he is strong enough to be interviewed/interrogated by the Father Superior. The second mission to the alien planet found and returned the priest, Emilio, before they too fell into radio silence. Spooky right?

The flashback scenes tell the story of how the alien planet was first detected as a radio signal carrying otherworldly music. The group of friends the radio engineer calls just happened to include Father Emilio who gets them all worked up about being THE people who answer this alien call and go out exploring the way Jesuits used to be the first explorers in the Americas in many places. So everything just happens to fall divinely in place it seems for these friends and they hurtle through space in an asteroid that mines itself for fuel as they travel until they arrive at the world where "the Singers" live.

They make contact easily and Emilio, being a brilliant linguist, helps them communicate quite quickly and they are instantly enveloped in the aliens' culture. They are traders and simply accept the humans as guests. Except it turns out that these aliens are "the Singers" and they're definitely not the dominant species on the planet. When Emilio and the others finally meet them is about the time they are doomed. I won't give away anything more than that, but it is seriously messed up, so be prepared. It's one of those books that is going to stay with me for a long while, like House of Leaves did, in that my mind will keep puzzling over it when normally I've already mentally moved on.

The other book that I read was messed up not because it was disturbing, but because it was really weirdly sexual... like inter-species dating weird and the heroine was a 15 year old girl. Trust Orson Scott Card to put kids in weird world-saving situations like his Ender series (coming soon to a comic book near you) does. In fact, Wyrms turned out to be very similar to the Ender series (minus the first book) at least in so far as weirdly interconnected alien and inter-species relationships are concerned.

Patience is the daughter of a high-ranking slave/public official whom she discovers is really the true human ruler of the planet in a long line of ancestry that has remained unbroken for three thousand years. Taught to serve as an assasin and diplomat, she runs away with her father's, and now her, most trusted slave to avoid being killed after her father's death. This sets her off on the path to fullfill the prophecy that when "the seventh seventh seventh human Heptarch," by blood this is Patience, is in power, she will bear the Unwyrm's child and cause the destruction or redemption of their world.

The planet where Patience lives is also home to several species of aliens, each with varying levels of influence and intelligence and particular social relations. The humans treat the aliens with little respect and receive little in return. Human society has developed strangely here since the original colonist captain, rumored to have gone mad, destroyed all large metal deposits in the planet. So society is in many ways similar to Middle Age European society with random technological improvements.

Patience leaves to save her life but ends up on a quest to follow "The Cranning Call" which seduced all the smartest humans who subsequently disappeared. Everyone knows that the Unwyrm is the one who calls them - the being born from the first species on the planet and the original "mad" colonist captain. The Unwyrm has incredible psychic powers and can control and affect just about anyone's thoughts which makes the journey all that more difficult for Patience - not because he doesn't want her to find him, but because she wants to get there on her own terms, which turns out to include finding ways to bring all the other various species together in harmony.

Because it turns out that either all the other species or the Unwyrm will survive, because all the other "indigenous" intelligent species were also born from the Wyrn/space captain coupling which is why they all have so much in common. The Unwyrm is the only one that is the most like the original species who ruled the planet and he's been waiting thousands of years to take it back. The ending is such a weird mixture of sex, ickiness and totally random events leading up to the saving of the world, you'll love it. Some of the philosophy behind this book is how we create god through our desires and actions. It actually does an even better job of blending philosophic thought with nifty sci fi stuff than The Sparrow did. But that's Orson Scott Card for ya - he's a Mormon, you know.

Okay, now I promise not to let myself talk about books again for a good long while... But I don't think I can say the same for other sci fi topics.

Related posts:
Smelling Outer Space (Dumb Science)
When Elephants Rule the Earth!
Growing Up Different (Book Reviews)


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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tony's Take on Racism in the Kansas City Area [Guest Post]

Holy cripes, people! I was so busy laying around reading and eating leftover pumpkin cheesecake yesterday that I totally forgot it was Friday and I was supposed to post my guest blog from Tony. Whoops! Here it is...



Let's start with a definition of terms.

I'm a Chicano.

I'm also a blogger and the combination of these two conditions is probably why May has asked me to write a guest post on her blog . . . (Even though I'd like to believe that she is secretly in love lust with my sexy online persona. Natch.)

The term Chicano doesn't have much significance anymore because it's more political than anything else. The world fell out of favor because of more genteel government language was used in its place. Chicanos are known as Hispanics or the more politically correct "Latino" nowadays despite the fact that the word Chicano once elicited a sense of solidarity among U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. The idea behind the word "Chicano" has almost been effectively driven out of existence. However, Cheech & Chong are back on tour now so "the movement" epitomized by a single word has not yet perished from the face of the earth.

But let's not get hung up on definitions when the most important aspect of any discussion on the topic of racism starts with people and perceptions.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions regarding Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos and/or Mexicans in Kansas City (I'm fairly certain the names keep switching simply to confuse white people):

  • We just got here i.e. we're all illegal immigrants.

  • We're all only qualified to do lawn work or merrily perform some task related to harvesting produce.

  • Creating problems for this nation's largest minority group is an essential part of the "War on Terror" not only because it involves securing the borders but also because it resists the inevitable change that's taking place in American culture.

  • There are logical, data-driven and historical arguements to all of these ill-informed perceptions that are usually ignored. For anyone who wants a greater understanding of Latino history and culture in the Midwest, a great place to start is "Mexicans in the Midwest (1900 - 1932)" by Juan R. Garcia.



    But so little of any real debate regarding racism is about facts or hard data (no homo) . . . It's about hysteria and fear and who can move the crowd the most by using it in their argument.

    So, for a second, let's pretend that all of the chicken little fear tactics of anti-Latino reactionaries and racists are true. Let's ignore the fact that the legacy of Mexican immigration is deeply interwoven and an integral part of Kansas City's history.



    For a second, simply consider that IF all of the scare tactics related to an increasing number of Latinos in this nation (illegal or otherwise) are true THEN we're still left with the annoying problem that . . . THE SKY HAS YET TO FALL!!!

    Ironically, at their very essence - racism and fear regarding growing Latino numbers and influence represents an inherent distrust in the very ideals that have defined the progress of the United States thus far. Even worse, my little hypothetical scenario ignores the long history of racism and bigotry that the people of Kansas City have committed against Latinos.

    Let's not dwell on it but the following facts are the first to come to mind when we talk about racism against Latinos in Kansas City:

  • My parents (baby boomers) were both forced to eat at segregated restaurants and were educated at segregated schools during their formative years . . . That is when they weren't swimming on "Colored Days" at the old Fairyland Park.

  • The neighborhoods that Latinos now occupy were basically devised in the era of racially restrictive covenants championed by the people who built this town like J.C. Nichols and almost singularly responsible for the current segregated state of modern day Kansas City.

  • My Grandma tells me this story: Post-WWII Kansas City hosted a policy of reporting suspected illegal immigrants of Mexican decent at a reward of $30 a head. These people were often rounded up and shipped off on trains without a trial . . . And whenever I lament the current anti-immigrant climate I always try to remember that things have been far worse and yet the only real result has been even more people who look like my Grandma in Kansas City. A close study of history will show that anything short of direct violence has been unable to stop a mass migration of people . . . Getting angry at the weather would prove more productive.


  • And I'm not listing these facts because they have impacted me personally . . . I've always tried to avoid "Transgenerational transmission" which is kind of a funny phenomenon and allows the ethnic (but still white) friends of TKC to claim persecution . . . I'm simply offering a bit of historical perspective regarding Kansas City's troubled relationship with the Latino Community. On a personal level, I've always thought that invoking racism, discrimination or bigotry was only really effective in either winning barroom arguements or in hitting on liberal white chicks. In his writings on guerrilla warfare, Che Guevara noted that (when outmatched) a principle for success in a conflict is to turn every liability into an asset and leverage the opposition into a confused state in which all of their power is turned against themselves . . . I've only tried this out on really hot chicks but it's surprising how often it works.

    Anyhoo . . . The point here is that (IMHO) racism, discrimination and bigotry are political constructs most often used to attain or reinforce power and they rarely serve to define the people they are used against or the folks who benefit from their employment. Still, the fact remains that we live in a city that has been realized and built on racism and the story of Latinos in this town is merely one part of the intricate tapestry which has created a metropolis with an inordinately high murder rate, crumbling infrastructure and an unpopular mayor whose wife used racial slurs like "Mammy" at City Hall. Things haven't changed as much as people would like to believe but the debate regarding racism has not only become so much more nuanced but also proven to be an "entry way" into starting conversations with hot white chicks which elicit mutual understanding and provocative talk much more so than buzzkill chats related to feminism.

    Related posts:
    Racism in the Kansas City Area, 1900 - Present
    Racism in the Kansas City Area, Western Expansion - 1800s
    Racism in the Kansas City Area (My POV)


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    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Racism in the Kansas City Area: 1900s - Present

    Continuing from yesterday's post, today I will be talking about racial relations in KC from the 1900s, bringing it up to pretty much were we are today.

    55% of the black population of Missouri had migrated to the cities by 1900. Just ten years later, 67% of blacks lived in cities, confined to ghettos with crowded, unsanitary conditions where crime flourished. Bad housing led to more health problems which low incomes made hard to purchase medical care, especially as white doctors and hospitals frequently denied care to African-Americans.


    Jim Crow laws were in effect, barring blacks from trying on clothes at stores, using public transit, and continuing segregation of schools and unions. Additionally, attempts to move into white neighborhoods were often met with violence and police brutality was common.

    According to the 1930 census, blacks were usually laborers with 30.8% working in manufacturing/mechanical industries and 34.3% working as domestic/personal service or janitors. 80% of black women over 10 years old were servants, hair dressers, boarding house operators, laundresses, laundry workers or waitresses. Discrimination blocked most other opportunities and education for blacks often stopped in their teens when they would join the workforce.


    A chapter of the NAACP and the Urban League of Kansas City were created in the early 1900s in an attempt to bring equality, employment assistance and recreational activities to the black population of Kansas City. These efforts were met with limited success, but did lead to the creation of a YMCA on 19th and Paseo, which provided the black community with a recreational facility to call their own.


    During WW1 blacks were encouraged to enlist and 9,200 from Missouri did although they were not allowed to fight usually and were instead forced to load and unload ships and drive trucks. During this time, many moved from Missouri to the north to fill labor needs in shipyards, railroads, car factories and meat and flour packing houses. After the war, blacks expected to share equally in the benefits of victory but instead found the 20's and 30's extremely hostile.

    Post-war job and housing shortages caused many blacks to be homeless and others to move into white neighborhoods, which scared and angered all the whiteys, some of whom moved away and others threatened to cause personal or property damage. This kind of hatred was also extended to Jews, "Communists" and any other faction whites considered to be less than 100% American. The Ku Klux Klan enjoyed a burst of membership growth during this period. While mostly centered in rural Missouri, there was also a strong faction in St. Joseph where a pro-Klan paper was published.


    After the stock market crash of the 30's, even more hostility was directed towards minorities and segregation continued to rule. New Deal policies eventually helped the economic situation, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (office pictured above) especially was a boon to the black community as thousands of young people were hired to reforest areas of stripped land. The National Youth Administration also empowered black students to earn a college degree or to learn a trade.


    WW2 also gave blacks new opportunities for employment in both jobs at home and in the military. 1 million black soldiers served in WW2, but after the war things were still no better for them. And once again a post-war job crunch caused minorities to be slighted. In the 1950s there were 109,024 blacks in the Missouri labor force; 59,081 were in service employment; 18,000 were laborers and 23,305 were connected with industry. Promotions were rare and white collar jobs even more rare. Blacks were the first to be fired during layoffs.

    In 1954, the Supreme court declared racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional and in 1955 caused public swimming pools to desegregate. Theaters, libraries and parks also desegregated at this time. Desegregation caused massive job loss for black teachers but achieved little else in terms of equal treatment for blacks and other minorities.


    Public protest and organized demonstrations on both a local and national level helped to bring about more legislation changes, but blacks were still largely denied acceptance at white colleges and universities, unemployment rates remained high as did poor housing and a generally low quality of life.

    In 1968, Kansas City refused to close its schools in honor of Martin Luther King's Death. In response, 300 black students marched to city hall in protest. They were met by police with tear gas who dispursed the crowd. Cops then went to Lincoln High School - an all black school - and used tear gas on students standing outside of it, driving them inside and then back out again with tear gas. At dusk, fighting broke out between police and black protestors, who used molotov cocktails against them. The National Guard was called out and 2 people were killed, 44 hurt and 175 arrested. Fighting broke out again the next day and 5 blacks were killed, 10 wounded by sniper fire and 275 arrested. Public officials later stated that law enforcement had overreacted.


    Violence of this type drew attention to the horrible conditions of ghettos, but since violence also often took place in those areas, it made homelessness and job losses that much worse. But any strides towards social justice that took place in the 60s were once again halted by economic problems in the 70s. A revival of racism and anti-black violence marked this decade as the KKK once again rose to prominence. A mid-70s recession caused many in the US to struggle for their survival, especially blacks who lost twice as many jobs as white workers.

    Additionally, a 1975 Missouri Human Rights Commission study showed that schools were still largely segregated and Urban Renewal programs displaced blacks while poverty and racial discrimination kept them from finding affordable housing. Black owned businesses were still laregely service oriented, two major exceptions being Ollie Gates & Sons and Arthur Bryant's. The most successful arena for blacks in the 70s was politics with Missouri ranking second in the nation for blacks serving in state or legislative bodies.

    In the 80s, Regan stopped the national enforcement of civil rights. Ghettos remained poor places to live, experiencing the highest murder and premature death rates from rampant cancer and AIDs. But politically, blacks still had power and many were elected despite continuing racial hatred in Missouri where in 1988 the most incidents of racial harassment in the nation were reported.

    To this day I think it's safe to say that politically blacks win the most compared to economic and social arenas where the overwhelmingly white population still is terrified of difference. By and large white people still avoid the inner city and the schools there, deeming them "not good enough" or "not safe enough" for them and caring little about the communities that do live there.

    Overall I still think that we are stuck in the past with this stupid mentality that skin color somehow really does make a difference in how someone is judged. Whites seem to keep making excuses for racism that I just find more and more outmoded and ridiculous as those crazy people who think abstince-only sex education makes sense.

    What has really changed? Cops still use more brutal force on minorities than on whites. Blacks are still segregated largely into "their" neighborhoods and "our" neighborhoods. Racism is rampant throughout our society and hate crimes still happen all the damn time. We even have the stupid assholes from the KKK back in prominence because of all the white folk up in arms about Obama's election. All in all, I feel this little video still sums up the whole problem: white people are freaked out for no reason and refuse to move past their social conditioning in order to create change and accept others.



    Sources:
    Take Up the Black Man's Burden: Kansas Cities African-American Communities, 1865-1939
    Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them, 1763-1865
    Missouri's Black Heritage


    Related posts:

    Racism in the Kansas City Area: Western Expansion - 1800s
    Racism in the Kansas City Area
    How Obama Gave Me My Pride Back

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