Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Music I Really Have on Vinyl, the Winter Edition

Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon I found out I was losing my mind
--Heart of Glass, Blondie

I feel the need to apologize.  I fell off the face of the earth a couple weeks ago; holed myself up into a sweet vacuum of internet silence.  I have missed out on so many wonderful things you all have had to say and I will never catch up.
I could claim it was a planned break.  I had to cook turkey for 85 guests.  I was wrapping presents for homeless Weimaraners.  I briefly joined the Holiday Rockettes as a roadie.  There was an unfortunate kale incident, but the incision is healing nicely.  When the Solstice came, I went home for a while to my own galaxy. 

Alas, the truth is I have no good excuse other than feeling a bit overwhelmed and underinspired.  I just haven't felt right.  Or write, as the pun may be.
I'm anxious, which is typical for year's end.  The process of reflection tends to poke me where it hurts, and sometimes the idea of a new year is more daunting than refreshing.  So I felt a need to disconnect from bright and shiny things for a while.  I guess for Christmas I gave myself a little present . . . taking the time to be really present.
A while back I discussed my love of vinyl.  Records that is.  Although I have a fantastic pair of pleather pants that make me look just like a Nebraska mom version of Dominatrix Barbie.
Anyway, when I feel low or unfocused, I have always found music brings me through.  It soothes the savage gypsy, so to speak.
So here’s another look into my album collection.  In no particular order of obsession, mind you.

Brian Setzer remains one of my faves.
Peter Steele was at times crude and definitely not PC, but the raw emotion in his songs has always hit a nerve with me.  He died just when it seemed he had championed over his demons. 
Electropop before we knew what it was.  Alison Moyet has a great angsty voice.
You likely don't know this guy, but he is Swedish guitar goodness.  The name might have held him back from commercial success.  Americans do better with Justins.
This is the only Christmas song that I truly love.  My mother would play this over and over for me when I was a kid.
Just watched this with the kids the other night.  Still better than most of the scifi movies out there now.  Same guy scored Close Encounters of the Third Kind, too.
Love this musical.  And according to some, 2012 is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
The album's title reflects revolution--and a handgun.  Interesting to wonder if it was meant that way.
Had the hugest crush on Joe Elliot, and the hugest amount of respect for Rick Allen, the band's drummer who returned to the scene despite losing his left arm in a motor vehicle accident.
Their remake of Sweet Jane is pretty amazing.
I desperately wanted Deborah Harry's hair.  And her cool.
This was the hair I got instead of Blondie's, courtesy of Aqua Net.
Only the Dead can mesh the birth of Venus and a skeleton into a cohesive album cover.
One of the first metal albums I listened to.  Probably inspired my love of platforms.
In the garden of Eden,  baby.  Lexiconfusion at its best.
Great Society was Grace's band before Jefferson Airplane, and she sings White Rabbit on this.  We will not speak of Starship.  Remember what the Dormouse said.
Pre-dread locked Axl.  I think all that torque on his scalp did something to his brain.  Should have stayed with the ratted hair, could have saved the band.
A recent purchase given my burgeoning Blues fetish.
This movie/book disturbs me.  Especially the giant padded codpieces.
Listening to this is the only thing I remember from kindergarten music.  And I just shared it with my son, who thought it was pretty cool, too.

I hope you all had a beautiful holiday and have great things planned for the new year.  I leave you with a neat little thing a friend sent me on the origins of dance music. 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before--aka The Deja Vu Blogfest

I've felt the hate rise up in me
Kneel down and clear the stone of leaves
I wander out where you can't see
Inside my shell I wait and bleed
--Wait and Bleed, Slipknot  

Have you ever wanted a do-over?  A chance to just step away from the cakes that say "Eat Me". . . or perhaps you would take an even bigger bite.  I wrestle with the do-over desire daily, although the things I end up wanting to do-over most are the things I didn't do.  And that sucks doo-doo.

The quirky quantum quartet of Creepy Query GirlNicole Ducleroir, Lydia Kang and DL Hammons have given me the chance to have a do over--at least with a blog post.  The Deja Vu Blogfest is a chance to dig out a dusty post, slap a new dress on it and call it shiny and improved.  Sort of like turkey leftovers.  Or Joan Rivers.  That being said, when I was looking through my posts, I didn't really think there was anything so earth shattering that it needed to be replicated.  So I chose something near and dear to my romance writer's heart.  Because if anything is worth repeating, it's got to be some hot sex cliches.

Top Ten Things Romance Novels Oversell

Disclaimer--not for those uncomfortable with images of sexy times.
It’s no secret I am a huge fan of romance novels--I love to read them and write them as well.  I even love the “bad” romances, embracing every cliche as I sink happily into HEA bliss.  However, I don’t think it has altered my perception of reality, as some would assert.  Susan Quilliam says just that in her recent article, which falls into the same tone as the YA argument that examining darkness breeds darkness.  I tend to disagree; I think most readers enjoy a good romance novel for the temporary suspension of the real, not-so-titillating parts of actual relationships.  Like laundry.  And paying bills.  And being dog-tired after a day of work but still having to make dinner and change diapers.  But I’m confident those readers are well aware of what is real, and what is artistic license.
Some of the fantasies portrayed in romances are good--the strong, self sufficient heroine who meets the hero on equal ground, demanding respect and orgasms.  Some are not so good--unrealistic physical ideals, coercion, or unsafe sex.  Some are just unbelievable as hell--the brooding male scoundrel suddenly transformed into a sensitive white knight faster than you can say throbbing manroot.  But I believe I’m far more likely to become disillusioned by watching the five o’clock news than I am by picking up the latest NYT bestseller.
I would like the pseudo-intelligentsia to stop assuming that readers are silly feeble-minded lemmings who cannot possibly discern fiction from day-to-day living.  That a woman with a romance novel is a slobbering porn addict unable of creating a fulfilling relationship outside of fiction central because she’s looking for Mr. Perfect.  Hogwash.
So I made this list, just in case anyone out there is having difficulty separating reality from the realm of romancey goodness:

Top Ten Things that Romance Novels Oversell:
10. Men with long hair.  I’m a huge fan of this image, and there’s definitely some Hollywood long hairs that make me swoon.  But in my experience, most hirsuit Joe Blows either resemble the sensitive ponytail man that Singles made famous or one of the dudes from Sons of Anarchy.  And not Jax or Opie.
9. Funtimes in the shower.  My hubby is 6’4”.  I am 5’3” on a proud day.  Sharing a shower always results in one of us (i.e. me) nearly drowning and the other shivering in the periphery of the shower spray.  And if you don’t have those plastic appliques that your grandma used in her bathtub on the floor, hip fracture is a real possibility.  
8. The heroine and hero getting it on in the middle of a fight/escape/apocalyptic scene.  Really, if you have enough time for sexual banter and a quickie, things can’t be that bad.  If the world is coming to an end and the dude I’m with is thinking about his pulsating loins, bring on the zombies, because the new civilization is so screwed.
7. The heroine has just gotten her ass kicked by avenging vampires/shape shifters/mall cops and upon sight of the hero, the first thing she thinks of is her raging lust.  Jeez, I get a hangnail and that’s enough for me to say “Not tonight, honey.”  If I just went jujitsu on someone, pretty sure I’m wanting a massage or an ice pack, not a hot beef injection.
6. Chicks with super long hair fighting like warriors.  Or doing other things that require another human in close proximity.  I have hair that is almost to my waist.  My husband hears the words “You’re on my hair” probably as much as “I love you.”  Long hair goes everywhere, gets yanked out by wayward elbows or stuck between butt cheeks or wrapped around vital parts like a hair tourniquet.  If you’re into acrobatics, I suggest a good tight French braid. 
5. Men who are vocal.  This scares me.  Romance heroes often cry out or shout or give a hedonistic war whoop during sexy times.  No one just grabs the headboard with white knuckles and makes a face that could be confused for seizure activity in any other situation.  For the longest time I thought there was some button I was missing that would make a man lose his mind and speak in tongues.  While a little sound is normal, I think most men are on the quiet side.  It’s bred in them from years of hiding the girlfriend from mom and dad in the next room and then years of trying not to wake the kids.
4. The hero picks the heroine up in his bulging arms and heads for the bedroom, but is so overcome that he can’t even wait to be horizontal.  Sex standing up--unless you have a partner who has He-Man quadriceps--is inviting a charley horse from hell and coitus interruptus via herniation.  After he stops screaming, the mood is kind of killed.
3. The virgin thing.  This still permeates a lot of romances--you know the scene--the heroine goes from quivering neophyte to raging porn queen in sixty seconds flat.  Always gives me a mental flashback of my own deflowering, in which I stared at the popcorn ceiling in my parents’ house and thought, “When does all the shouting for God start?” and “I’m missing COPS for this?”  
2. The overdeveloped olfactory systems of heroes.  The heroine always smells like jasmine or bergamot or rose water.  The hero’s nostrils are tantalized and somehow his nasal passages are connected directly to his groin.  Hmmm, guess I missed that nerve pathway in medical school.  Unless he’s a perfumer, the likelihood of a man being able to identify your smell without coaching is fairly slim.  My hubby is equally as enchanted by the smell of my deodorant as by my favorite scent.  And that’s OK.
1. Sex in the Great Outdoors.  Maybe this has to do with location, location, location.  I’m sure somewhere there is a beautiful field of daisies or a secret waterfall where lovers are transported into a perfect sexual landscape where no one sweats or risks attack by small rodents.  In reality, sex outdoors during a Nebraska July invites a plethora of blood thirsty arthropods to suck out your marrow.  So unless you would like the added sensory pleasure provided by hives on your nether regions, you slather on the OFF, realizing too late that citronella is a lousy aphrodisiac.  So now you smell like a candle, sweat’s dripping in your eyes, and one wrong move puts your ass in a patch of sandburs or worse.  You know the saying: leaves of three, let it be. 
Happy Friday, everybody!  To see more Deja Vu, follow this link!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Flipping Out: The Origin of Peace and the Bird

I am a new day rising
I'm a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight
I am a little divided
Do I stay or run away
And leave it all behind?
--Times Like These, Foo Fighters

I would like to thank L.G. Smith for the inspiration for this week’s Sunday Mythbusters.  Last week, I talked about the nebulous origins of the peace sign.  L.G. asked why two fingers raised in a “V” with palm out (little Bunny Foo-foo for those of you with children) is recognized as a modern gesture of peace.

31 years gone.
It may surprise you to know that this harmonious gesture is just a turn of the hand from obscenity.  When the knuckles are out, the “V” sign takes on an entirely different--and vulgar--meaning.  According to urban legend, the knuckles out “V” sign is derived from a gesture made by English armies during the Hundred Years’ War in 1415.  The story claims the French would cut off the arrow shooting fingers of captured English archers.  Thus, the gesture became a sign of defiance--a sort of “come and get me, Frenchie.”

Liam Gallagher of Oasis fame is a repeat offender.
Snopes.com effectively busts this myth, citing the lack of any written evidence that the practice of mutilating English bowmen ever occurred.
No exact origin for the sign (forward or backward) has ever been cited.  Some claim the two fingers represent the feminine chalice and flashing them can either be a blessing--or a crude way to encourage copulation with the fairer sex.
The gesture got a chance to turn it around during WWII when the BBC, led by a Belgian French-speaking director, used the V as a call to nations joining together against Germany.  V stood for victoire--victory--in French and vrijheid--freedom--in Dutch.  Winston Churchill eventually put his stamp of approval on the “V for Victory” campaign and became an avid user of the sign--in its appropriate, palm out formulation. 

In the 1960s, the sign was adopted by the hippie counterculture.  Many believe that while presidents were using it to proclaim victory, the protestors were using it to represent freedom.

Occasionally the knuckles-out vs. knuckles-in orientation confuses people.  In the UK, the vulgar “V” sign is occasionally called a “Harvey” after Harvey Smith, a British equestrian champion.  Smith was disciplined in 1971 after he gave the sign to judges following a near perfect performance.  He later claimed it was a Freudian mixup of the obscene gesture and the virtuous one.  Former president George H. W. Bush committed a similar faux pax when touring in Australia.  Upon meeting with a group protesting American farm subsidies, he tried to show a peace sign.  Unfortunately, he did it knuckles out and insulted the group instead with his two fingers.

Could have been worse.  He could have used air quotes.  Now that’s offensive.
Since the discussion of the peace sign is strangely intertwined with gestures of obscenity (I'll try not to dwell on the potential meanings of that), I feel compelled to discuss the holy grail of insults.  The finger of all fingers.  Those of you not keen on the middle digit salute may want to stop here.  

Flipping the bird dates back over 2500 years.  The first written record was documented by Aristophanes, who made a crude joke using the middle finger as a phallic symbol in his play, The Clouds.

Socrates: Polite society will accept you if you can discriminate, say, between the martial anapest and common dactylic — sometimes vulgarly called “finger rhythm.”
Strepsiades: Finger-rhythm? I know that.
Socrates: Define it then.
Strepsiades [Extending his middle finger]: Why, it’s tapping time with this finger. Of course, when I was a boy [grabbing his genitals], I used to make rhythm with this one.
Some believe the association of middle finger with the penis mimics the genital grabbing done by primates to assert authority.  And it's a lot easier to do out the window of a Caprice during rush hour traffic. 
The ancient Romans adopted the middle finger gesture from the Greeks.  The gesture was so popular among Romans that they gave the middle finger a fitting name: the digitus impudicus.  Caligula often would have his subjects kiss his middle finger as an insult.
The Hundred Years’ War urban legend arises again in discussion of the bird.  In this version, showing the middle finger was a way to tell the French that no matter what, the English would continue to “pluck yew”.  Bowmaking 101 tells us that yew was the native wood used to create English bows.  Thus, plucking yew = fighting.  Over the years, etymologic distortions turned a bizarre insult into. . .well, you know.  Some even go as far as to claim “the bird” is a play on the feathers used on arrows.  It's a fun story, but it turns out it was created sometime during the 1980s.  The word, the word of the bird, has its etymology based in Germanic languages and was derived from terms for breeding and copulation.  So no pluck for yew.
The bird disappeared during the Dark Ages, possibly due to the influence of the Church.  Ooze.com did an expose on the finger, linking the origins of its use to finger pointing no-nos in the Bible.  God does not appreciate a finger pointed in scorn according to Isaiah and Proverbs.  

In 1644, John Bulwer compiled a guide to common hand signals for the deaf. The finger, or convicium facio (meaning, I provoke an argument) was a "natural expression of scorn and contempt." 
The first recorded American appearance of the finger was in 1886 when baseball pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn of the Boston Beaneaters gave the third finger salute in the team picture.

Hard to see, but there.  
Americans took it as a symbol of rebellion and humor.  We’ve been flipping the bird in portraits ever since.  It's become a ubiquitous part of our lexicon and culture, just ask Holden Caulfield.  Even Vice President Nelson Rockefeller expressed himself to a group of hecklers using his fool’s finger during a campaign rally in 1976.

Nelson Rockefeller shows his ability to embrace youth culture.
Ira Robbins, a law professor from Washington D.C., wrote a law review article called Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law in 2007.  In it he details the historical and legal implications of flipping the finger.  The gesture is generally covered under the principles of free speech.  When contested, there have been no cases (assuming no other criminal behavior) successfully prosecuted about the use of the finger alone representing a criminal act.
In celebration of that truly American form of expression, I give you a few of my favorite birds.
Went up against a Russian MiG with just a finger.

Right turn, Clyde.

Galileo's middle finger is now preserved in an Italian museum after it was removed post mortem by a souvenir seeker.
No one flips the bird like Jean Luc Picard. 

Have a great weekend!  And I wish Bunny Foo-foo to you all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At least I don't sell funnel cakes anymore.

She’s long gone with her red shoes on
Gonna need another loving babe
--Nobody But the Baby, Allison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris
This Insecure Writer’s Support Group post isn’t exactly about writerly insecurities, but about the decisions we make in order to be secure.  Because lately, most of my insecurities have to do with my Day Job, which isn’t writing.  Writing is my salvation, my dream--the highlight of my reality.  The Day Job is becoming less and less emotionally fulfilling for me.  The reasons I went in to medicine are incongruent with what medicine is becoming.
So I should quit, right?  Find a better fit?  Well here’s where that insecure part of me comes in.  Down deep, I am a practical gypsy.  A gypsy with a mortgage, and school loans, and health insurance costs for two little boys.  A gypsy that knows I am fortunate to have the security of any job in this economic climate.
I dedicate today’s post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to being too insecure to give up security.  To embracing the jobs that put money in your pocket while you chase other dreams.  The jobs that you’d change in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.
I have had a variety of craptastic jobs in my life.  I have been employed as the Wal-mart snack bar queen, forced to wear a smock and distribute liquid cheese.  I was a construction strumpet (see Vibrator girl for further info).  I offered my body to medical science as a guinea pig for an experiment on acid reflux.  When someone comes at you with a tube they want to stick down your throat, don’t believe them when they tell you that anesthesia is not necessary.  Unless you’re in to that sort of thing.
I was thumbing through an advertisement the other day when I was triggered to recall one of my favorite sucktacular jobs.  The good folks at Bed, Bath and Beyond have now made it possible to own--for the low price of $14.99--your very own funnel cake maker set.  Because families out there are so desperate for food implements that this will become a crucial part of daily food prep.  And heck, with the obesity crisis looming, why not support a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a funnel cake maker in every pantry? 

Begin flashback to a sultry Nebraska summer in 1988, complete with acid washed cutoffs and explosion bangs as far as the eye can see.  
Setting:  The Dawson County Speedway concession stand.
Occupation:  Funnel cake maker.
For those of you who have no idea what a funnel cake is, think bastardized fritter.  It involves batter.  Not the tight pants and Skoal batter of baseball fame, but pancake batter.  Overly sweetened batter that still has the gritty texture of its powdered mix origins.  Put said batter into a device reminiscent of the Tin Man’s oil can.  Heat a skillet of fluorescent yellow industrial grade vegetable oil until sweat drips off your brow from the radiant heat.  Place a piece of circular metal into the pan--this is your funnel cake “mold”.  Now pour the batter in a frenetic pattern resembling something a schizophrenic spider might make.  This is out of necessity, not design, because quick movements are required to avoid splattering scalding grease on lily white skin.  The scars of the summer of ’88 will be with me forever, literally.  
The batter should puff up and turn golden brown.  If it resembles the last time your cat Mr. Snuggles had the runs, there is a problem with the mix to liquid ratio.  Flip the cake and cook the other side. 
Once both sides are complete, transfer the creation onto a layer of paper towels to soak up extraneous grease.  Or if you work at the Speedway, add a pound of powdered sugar to serve the purpose instead.  Because nothing says delicious like a powdered sugar/oil slurry.  Whipped cream is also your friend and can camouflage breakage and overzealous cooking.  Throw the thing on a styrofoam plate, making sure it’s still hot enough to melt holes in the pseudo-plastic and increase your carbon foot print two-fold.  Serve with a sprig of mint and a smile.  
The funnel cake was a popular item at the Dawson County Speedway.  Something about the sound of roaring engines and the smell of burning rubber makes a person crave oil saturated dough and things that are white and powdery.  Eau de Fryer was the perfume of the concession stand jezebel that attracted rotund Nebraskans from miles around.

Perhaps not the worst fair food, but I'm biased.  My kingdom for a deep fat fried twinkie.
Our motto was:  “Ignore the numbness in your arm.  That’s just saturated fat giving you a hug.”
Every morning when I get up without the stench of fried dough clinging to my hair, I feel thankful for my current job, even if it’s not exactly where I want to be.  

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had to pay the bills?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Peace of My Mind: Investigating the Peace Symbol

I am looking for someone who can take as much as I give
Give back as much as I need
And still have the will to live
--Blood and Fire, The Indigo Girls 
December is here and I find myself feeling sort of introspective, trying to look back at the year and decide what direction to head in the new.  I guess I’m searching for inner validation, the big tattoo of a peace sign on my soul.
from teachpeace.com
But would that mean what I thought it did?  Or would I be like those poser chicks (here’s looking at you, Britney) who get Chinese letters inked on, only to realize later they now have a recipe for egg drop soup on their shoulder?
This Sunday’s mythbusters focuses on that ubiquitous circle of hippie code, the peace sign.

Artist Gerald Holtom is credited with designing the peace symbol as we know it for Britain’s pacifist organization against nuclear war, the Direct Action Committee.  It was first publicly displayed in the Aldermaston peace marches of 1958.  Holtom said to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, that he was in “deep despair” when he created it and took inspiration from Goya’s depiction of a peasant in front of a firing squad.  
Francisco Goya's Peasant Before the Firing Squad
Finding resistance in using depictions of the cross as part of his design, he decided to use downcast “arms”, taking a cue from semaphore code.  Supposedly, he combined the letters N and D into a unified structure to represent Nuclear Disarmament.  
Later in his life, Holtom expressed regret to Ken Kolsbun in his book “Peace: the Biography of a Symbol” that he did not stick with his original idea of upwardly cast “arms” given the negative connotations with the downcast model.
What negative connotations, you ask?  Some claim the origins of the peace sign were anything but peaceful, most citing its ancient links to paganism.  Indeed, the upright symbol resembles a Norse rune and some refer to it as “the Druid’s foot”.  The rune Algiz, aka the “elk” rune, is a protection rune symbolizing spirituality and the divine might of the universe.  Many anti-peace sign writers claim it is a “rune of death”, but most pagan scholars believe that in the reverse it simply means lack of protection or no connection with inner spirituality. 
The Elk Rune
The peace sign became an anti-Christian symbol in the first century A.D.  The Roman emperor Nero is historically known for his early persecution of Christians.  Some scholars attribute the execution of the Apostle Peter to him as well.  Peter was crucified upside down.  There are two possible reasons why--some literature claims he requested this as a symbol of his unworthiness when compared to Christ.  In the Catholic church, many still view the upside down cross as a symbol of humility.  However, others believed this was Nero’s attempt to denigrate Christianity.  Nero’s cross, aka “the broken Jew,” is still seen by many as a symbol of the “anti-Christ”.  Anton Levey, founder of the Church of Satan, supposedly uses the symbol as a backdrop for his altar.  Black metal and pop culture also encourage the Satanic implications of the symbol as an upside down cross/crucifixion.

The anti-Christianity tag stuck with the sign during the early A.D. centuries.  The Saracens, a group of desert warriors living in ancient Arabia, reportedly used a similar image on their shields. This group has been described originally as pagan or polytheistic, but towards the 1000s became synonymous with Islam (Wikipedia). This “broken cross” symbolized their refusal to accept Christianity. 

The Saracens now battle as a rugby team from St. Albans, England.
German calligrapher Rudolph Koch proposed a different meaning for the symbol.  In his “The Book of Signs” from 1930, the inner “witch’s foot” represents the death of man, while the outside circle is eternal life or the unborn child.  Some scholars argue this is simply a depiction of a pagan circle of life.  However, the Nazi's use of the symbol in their 3rd Panzer Division from 1941-1944 and on the graves of some SS soldiers led some to believe it represented the eternal destruction of mankind.
Rumor says the peace sign made its way to America in 1960 with Philip Altbach, a leading member of the Student Peace Union based at the University of Chicago.  This nationwide student organization expressed pacifist and humanitarian sentiments.  Much of their focus was on anti-nuclear protests and the peace sign eventually made its way across the country.  The ideas of pacifism and anti-war were often interpreted as cowardly--leading some to dub the peace sign "the footprint of the American chicken."  In cold war conspiracy theory, some claim that the Soviets were behind the proliferation of the symbol in an effort to cause political and social clashes.  The theories of Communism were seen by many as anti-Christian, and thus equated with the symbol. 

The desire for peace is far from cowardly.  Vietnam era helmet.  Taken from warrelics.eu

Nowadays you can go into any department store in the U.S. and find articles emblazened with the peace sign, but I doubt most consumers know about its history.  When you see someone wearing a peace sign, I think for most it is an attempt to convey love and hope for a better tomorrow.  At least that’s what it is for me.

Peace to you all.  Don’t forget about Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group coming up Wednesday.