Monday, August 27, 2012

The Time Has Come

Yes, I've had this song by The Chambers Brothers stuck in my head all day as I prepare to start my Grad School classes next week. For those of you who don't know I'm starting my Geospatial Information Science Program at the University of Maryland next Tuesday. GIS has been one of my passions for a while now and I am beyond lucky that my work is paying for part of my schooling.

This means that I will become a bit scarce on the internet (and in real life) in the coming 2.5 years as I juggle my full time job that is ramping up with part time Grad School. What this blog will probably turn into is a journey along with me through my Grad School activities and projects. Because of my interests most of the maps, databases, websites, etc that I will be creating through this program will be Anthropology related.

Along with that in the month of October I will be participating in a month long blog run by the Samhain Sirens. More details to come as we grow closer to that date but it's going to get pretty exciting on the blogosphere that month!

Also, some equally exciting news: my novel Summer's Hollow is officially going through the editing process right now by the immensely wonderful and talented Rosa Sophia! It will be finished with her edits by the end of October and then will go through the publishing process at Behind the Curtin Publications! I'm so happy that my baby that I have spent over 7 years of my life creating is finally going somewhere. Stay locked into my Facebook page and blog for news on a release date!  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Taboos of Death and Nudity

Recently I've been watching the show on National Geographic called Taboo. It's all about different people with strange obsessions, cultures, hobbies, etc. The two that have stood out to me the most was one on death and one on couples getting married in the nude. These are two taboos that are very much taboo in our society but were thought provoking to me.

If death is so taboo in our American society then why is it everywhere? We have TV shows, movies, video games and music that all glorify death in different ways. I mean for me death is a regular part of my everyday life. I write horror stories that have constant death in them, for my undergrad spent a great deal of time studying burials and dead bodies, and I see and talk to spirits pretty much everywhere I am. Weirdly enough though funerals make me extremely uncomfortable. This is all a weird paradox to me. So is death really taboo? Or are we supposed to think it's taboo since we are taught to fear death?

Nudity is something that is banned in many places in the United States. It is against the law to walk around naked displaying your "goods" for everyone to see. We are taught that our bodies are temples and that we are to keep them covered up and to be shown to only our significant other. This is another paradox since we have people in our society who parade around in extremely skimpy clothing.

There are many places around the world and even some in the U.S. that have nudist communities where people are simply naked. On the episode I just watched last night of Taboo this was the case. They talked to couples who went to Jamaica to participate in a group nude wedding ceremony. They all thought it was completely normal. One gentleman brought up a great point. He went on to talk about how clothing in our society (and in many others) denotes our place in society. When you strip away that label, everyone becomes equal and comfortable with each other. This concept is fascinating to me.

So whether it's death or nudity, I think these are two things that don't need to be taboo. We already see that in some places, among some people, they are not. I think we can learn from this.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My Symbols

Many of you know that I love the concept of symbols. I use them all the time in both my writing and in everyday life. There's something really awesome about having one entity that stands for so many different things to different people.

What first comes to mind when talking about my personal symbols is all my jewelry. Those who know me know that I've never been one to wear a lot of jewelry. Honestly all those "He went to Jared" commercials make me sick. Instead all the jewelry that I wear are symbolic to me. I have four necklaces that I circulate. The one is a silver Celtic cross that my aunt brought me back from Ireland, another is a silver triquetra with a thistle and an amethyst stone that my dad got me from the Celtic Festival, the other a silver pentagram and last a silver turtle that Grant got for me at a seafood festival. In addition I have two rings that I wear. One is my claddagh ring that used to be my Aunt's and she gave it to me and the other is a simple silver, gold and diamond ring that my parents gave to me after I was confirmed (yes ironic I know, but it's still special to me). Most of my piercings that I have also have meanings to me (two I got in memory of my friend who was killed two years ago).

The other symbol that is very important to me is my totem. Many different cultures have totems, spirit animals, guides whatever you want to call them. Mine happens to be the turtle. Ever since I did a report in 2nd grade on the sea turtle, there was something about it that spoke to me. The turtle was never my favorite animal (that would be a penguin) but for some reason they intrigued. It was something about the hard shell exterior protecting the soft insides that seemed to pretty much describe me.

When Grant and I first started dating the first thing he ever gave me was a silver turtle necklace. He got it when he was playing with one of his bands at the Annapolis, MD seafood festival and he thought it would be perfect for me. Little did he know that this was actually my totem. Honestly it was at this moment that I knew that Grant was the one for me (see I can be sappy too sometimes... lol) that my totem was bringing us together.

Lately though I've been noticing another totem in my life, the spider. Now I kind of don't like spiders. They are one of those creatures that are pretty and awesome as long as they're outside and far away from me (even though for some reason Tarantulas don't bother me). Since Grant went to India a week ago though, spiders having been popping up everywhere. They're in our bathroom, living room and even one has made a giant web outside on our door frame.

The other day I was at the bank depositing some checks for work and there was a spider web on the screen in the drive through. When I went walking this morning there were many spider webs that I ended up walking through when walking along the path through the woods. This has led me to believe that maybe the spider is my other totem. It's weird for me to admit that since they do creep me out a lot but at the same time I find it comforting.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Christian School Chronicles

Let me preface the following stories by saying that there are many Christians who display the opposite behavior of the people in these stories. In fact I still go to my church that I attended for years simply because I love how open and inviting the people are there (and also to see my Grandparents who also go to the church). Most of my friends and family are actually Christian and I love them to death but there are a select few who are no longer in my life for the reasons that follow in these stories.
            Perhaps the best place to start off is my trek into kindergarten. I have always had a late birthday (November 10th) so when everyone else was starting to go to school I was only 4 (rather than the age of 5 which kids usually went into kindergarten). The thing is I have always been advanced for my age so my mom, instead of holding me back to Pre-K like many other parents did, my mom wanted to enroll me into kindergarten. What you have to realize is that living outside of DC some of the school’s aren’t the best so my mom decided it was right to send me to Private school.
            My mom is agnostic but she was baptized as a Lutheran like the rest of her family. She rarely attends church, believes that her religion and relationship with God is personal and is open to any other religious ideas yet she heard about this great Christian private school in the area. Right away she saw how great the academics were so she was hell bent on getting me into this school.
            Well low and behold they told us that I was too young and they would put me into Pre-K but not kindergarten. Needless to say my mom was pissed so she enrolled me in another private school (this time strictly a Lutheran run school). This school had horrible academics. We were learning things that the Pre-K students were learning at the other school.
            My mom (the stubborn and amazingly strong woman that she was) then went back to the original school and demanded that they test me for kindergarten. They did and on my 5th birthday I tested at the 1st grade level. So you better believe they let me in and even gave us a scholarship (since the school was quite expensive). And you better believe they loved having me there since their test scores went up.
            Throughout my elementary school years I wasn’t hit with much adversity but the Christian values were hammered into my skull. We studied the bible, catechisms, devotionals and other biblical texts along with the other basic studies and I really enjoyed the stories. I also enjoyed the weekly “chapels” that we would have where we would come together and sing and listening to people talk about their experiences with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
            It wasn’t until 4th grade that I started to question things because up until this point I was happy in this little bubble that my school had stuck me in. I vividly remember the conversation that started the fall of my faith in Christianity and more importantly so called “Christians.” We were all sitting in class, our desks in a U shape in the classroom; my teacher was in the middle.
            She started a discussion on different Christian sects and I was fascinated to learn about all the different protestant sects and how Martin Luther started the whole movement. I was even proud and raised my hand saying that I learned all about Martin Luther and his 95 thesis in Sunday school at my church. My teacher said how great that was so she started everyone else going around the room telling what sect they belonged to and if any had been in multiple. Thus the snowball started. My one friend started out saying she was raised Catholic but now was Baptist. Another friend stated that he used to be Catholic but his parents decided to switch to being Presbyterian. Three more friends in the class had similar stories. When it got to my turn I stated that my dad’s family was Catholic and I was baptized Lutheran but attended both services throughout my life. It got strange looks from both my teacher and my classmates but they moved on and finished all the students’ stories.
            My teacher then applauded the students who had moved on from Catholicism and stated that she had had a similar experience. It was at this point that I raised my hand and politely asked “Why is it so bad to be Catholic? It’s just another part of Christianity right?” My teacher went on to talk about all the horrible things that the Catholic Church had done over the years and how it was best to get as far away from Catholicism as possible including Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist churches. This left my 9 year old mind confused and wanted a better explanation, one that I wasn’t going to get from this teacher.   
            That moment has always stuck in my head and honestly I have never gotten closure from this teacher on why she felt this way. I remember going home to my mom almost in tears not understanding why certain sects of Christianity were better than others. For years though I let it slide but fast forward to 7th Grade Bible class.
            Once again I can remember this moment like it was yesterday. This time we were in a circle shape with our desks with our Teacher in the middle. We were in a deep discussion about predestination and what it really meant. My teacher, who I usually adored, then went on to explain that some Christian sects didn’t believe in predestination and what was one of those sect? Well Lutheranism of course. So once again I raised my hand and told my teacher that I was in fact a Lutheran. He asked if I believed in predestination and I said no.
            Then one of my fellow classmates raised their hands and asked if that meant that I was going to hell. In the very meaning of circular logic my teacher informed the students that it was God’s choice of whether I was going to hell or heaven because it was already predestined. Shocked from the question of my classmate I kept quiet and didn’t press the subject. In my mind I thought of all I had been taught about not being judged and what not.
            From that point forward I was determined to read as much of the bible as possible and begin studying it extensively to find out everything I could. In the process of this I found I also was fascinated with other religions and began studying them as well. I became especially enthralled by Paganism, especially the Irish and Norwegian pantheons since my ancestors with from Ireland and Norway. I of course started sharing what I had learned any chance I could get in my classes including writing papers.
            In those next few years that I was at that Christian school I pissed off many a teacher and administrator with my incessant questions and subsequent obsession with all other religions. I was labeled the “rebel” who was way too interested in the occult and other “sinful ways of thinking.”
I then began to question all the past situations that I had written off as nothing but now were coming to light with my new eyes that I had found. We weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter or any other stories that had witchcraft in it, couldn’t watch movies that had any references to the occult and at one point weren’t even allowed to listen to the band Bewitched (No I am not making this up, incredulous I know). From that point on I used any opportunity to argue against these mandates. I was chastised for watching horror films cited that “We don’t serve a God of fear,” told I was going to hell because I believed it ghosts and was sent to the principal numerous times for showing similarities in Christianity and Paganism.

The third story that I remember so vividly came in 8th grade. I walked outside during recess in and to my surprise saw a bunch of elementary school students having a May Day celebration. They had made a may pole and were dancing around it holding their colored streamers and many of the girls had flowered crowns on their heads. At the sight of this I actually grew excited and thought that finally my sheltered school had embraced another culture and religion’s ritual. Oh was I ever wrong.

At the time I was right by one of the middle school teachers so, me being me, decided to say something about it. I proceeded to tell her that it was nice to see that the younger students were learning about other religions and their celebrations. At this comment the teacher stopped, looked right at me and asked me what I meant by that. I told her that I thought it was great they were learning about Beltane. She thought I was confused and started to go into that it was called May Day and that it was to celebrate the Virgin Mary. I then corrected her and started to tell her what I had learned from my Irish heritage. Went into how this celebration was around long before Christianity was even around (first stike) and how it was actually associated with many pagan holidays that took place around the time of the year (second strike).

Obviously this didn’t go over well at all and she insisted that I was mistaken and wanted to know where I had heard that. I very nonchalantly explained that I had many books at home that explained different pagan rituals especially Celtic ones. From there I was told I shouldn’t be reading about that and instead should be reading the bible or my devotional books. She went on a long rant about how I should study more about Christianity and understanding it and went on to talk about how there were plenty of books that explained what May Day was really about.

Still I didn’t let go that this wasn’t originally a Christian Holiday but she kept ignoring it and soon recess was over. From then on if I ever brought up that or any other holidays or rituals that were derived from Pagan holidays I was told to stop talking about it. Of course I would try to bring it up as many times as I could, even going so far as to write a papers about how most Christian Holidays were moved around to appease the Pagans (one which I was sent to the principal’s office for).

Now I wish I could say that my talking about this constantly made my teachers and classmates think differently about May Day and the other holidays but sadly it did not. They just ignored it, pretended that I was just spouting off crazy talk. That May Day incident was the breaking point when I realized that there were many Christians that were so judgmental and stuck in their ways and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be part of their “group anymore.

Needless to say after 9th grade I left that sheltered school and starting going to a public school. Not only was I able to write about other religions all I wanted but I got to take classes on Comparative Religions and Mythology. But even at the public school I was met with adversity. Take my Creative writing class for example. Many of my stories that I wrote for that class had occult undertones.

During one of our “sharing sessions” (ironically our desks in a circle) I read a story and was told by a fellow classmate that it was really well written but she didn’t like all the “morbid stuff” as she put it. To my surprise, before I could say anything, the guy sitting next to be chimed in that he loved the way I worked the occult into my story and the tone of it. This shut that girl up and I actually blushed since of course this was the guy I had a crush on.

After that class another one of my classmates came up to me in a computer lab and asked me if I was Wiccan. She said she noticed the Celtic cross I always wore around my neck and the themes of my stories. I told her that at this point I didn’t know what I was but I commended her on noticing both things. This experience showed me that everyone wasn’t completely horrible and that there were plenty of people out here in the “real world” that were open to new religions.

Of course though there were still the close minded people even out of the Christian school bubble like that girl in my creative writing class. Yet another vivid story came senior year in my Mythology class. My teacher (who was beyond amazing) introduced the material of the class on the first day and went over all the mythological texts that we would be studying. Then came the part that made my eyes twinkle and my smile to grow so wide it almost fell off my face; among those mythological texts we were studying was the Bible.

She had barely uttered the word when at least five people’s hands shot up. They all had the same thing to say. “The Bible isn’t myth.” My teacher very gracefully explained that we were here to study the explanations of creation, how the world works, etc. set down by the stories of different cultures. Still these students argued that that’s what real, thus not a myth. She then told them if they didn’t agree with her teaching of the Bible as a myth for the class then they were welcome to leave. Three people left the class and never came back. My faith in humanity had been restored and I realized that not everyone was out to get me. Finally I found a place that I belonged.