Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Age Health Promise

Everyone's experience is unique.  Everyone's body is unique.

New Agers cannot admit this.

They're as dogmatic as any other religion that way.  Any evidence that you "Just weren't praying with a pure heart," or "Not focusing with pure intent," or that your karma is bad (and how can any human being judge another human's FREAKING KARMA?!) means that the promise that Anything is possible! still follows, as long as you are doing it right.  It's a lot like women who believe diets will make them beautiful.  Diets can make one downright ugly-but don't tell the dieter that.  She's in pursuit of her dream.  She doesn't want to hear that starvation will not pay off with a Cinderella moment.  It's another one of those Satanic contracts, those promises that everyone is in love with.

I've talked to two people this week who saw documentaries and decided they knew stuff.  One guy had seen "Food, Inc" and now believes that everything is about cleansing, and that no man should ever need Viagra if he's healthy enough.  I told him about my vegan, mega-yoga practitioner ex who couldn't do without it.  He was flummoxed, offended, and doubtful.  Why trust the word of someone who had seen The Promise fail?

Another guy was telling me that my migraines just needed a chiropractor.  I told him about sinus migraines.  He was flummoxed, offended, and of course, directly after, doubtful.  Then he segued directly to, "But how is your diet?"  Oh, BOY do people say this delicately when you're overweight, but when you are it's a license to take that tack because you clearly deserve it.  Your weight is your fault.  You got yourself into this.

Illness is unique and often mysterious.  In EMT class I remember talking to a number of paramedics who would witness that fact with story after story. Healthy people die for no discernible reason.  Obese chain-smokers often live deep into their 80's, and that's the worst thing of all to a New Ager-how dare people who live wrong live well?

New Agers frequently are rude, unsupportive and unkind to sick people because they've got a lot to lose if they are wrong about The Promise.  But in the Universe I dwell in, there are no easy answers and most importantly, there are no promises kept.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Magic and Responsibillity

You don't always get the cool pointy hats in witch movies, but you usually get women coming to terms with power.

For so long it was denied many women, and it can be a great challenge to manage.  I've mismanaged it, as have many women in lifetimes full of various work environments.  You learn that power can't be used to get even, no matter how badly you may have been wronged or suffered.  You learn that the only proper use of power is support of those who need it most, and in the interest of the greatest good.  If you hold yourself accountable for your actions, power is especially fraught with the perils of shame, regret, embarrassment and the rocky climb to redemption.

Buffy fans watched Willow, who begins as an outcast and geek, then becomes a very powerful witch, turn into an addict, a bully, even a murderer, all from the pain of having once been treated the same way.  In the movie Practical Magic the overuse of power results in a murder and a rat's nest of trouble; even used against an evil guy, murder is murder.  The film Bell, Book and Candle features a powerful witch protagonist who wants to give up her power because, as she says, "I won't let it destroy me as a person,".  The Witches of Eastwick find out that power has an almost uncontrollable destructive quality, and in The Craft the introduction of power tears friends apart.

Men also suffer from this problem, but they seem to wrestle with it differently.  Very powerful men seem to be marked by an absence of empathy.  Women who rule nations and armies have displayed all the faults of character that men suffer from.  But in the common woman, I believe there is a difference.

In a documentary on the Israeli army made years ago, the women who had fought on the front lines were interviewed.  Women no longer fight on the front lines because the atrocities committed against them rendered the risk intolerable.  But the ones who had fought all said they knew there was a difference between women and men fighters.

"When a man fights," said one former soldier, a middle aged woman in a long skirt and scarf, sitting with her legs crossed as her hair trembled in the wind, "He sees his enemy.  When a woman aims a gun she can't get certain thoughts out of her mind.  Who's son is this, who's father, who's husband?  It's not as simple for us,"

She was speaking for herself and her friends; who knows what the Syrian women fighting ISIS right now feel when they are in battle?  It might be a very different mind set.  Also I would imagine that any man who had lost loved ones to ISIS would have all the same feelings women have.  But men, historically, have held the most power, and for the longest time. It has been their birthright.  It's much less so for most women, and magic is the perfect metaphor for exploring the issue.

For my money the clearest and most genuine portrayal of witchcraft as a feminine representation of power is in Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, beginning with "The Wee Free Men" and finishing with his final book, "The Shepherd's Crown".  There are a million wonderful quotes, but this is one of my favorites:

“...Granny Weatherwax...walked nightly without fear in the bandit-haunted forests of the mountains all her life in the certain knowledge that the darkness held nothing more terrible than she was...”

If you want to see a brilliant portrayal of power as handled by a mature woman, watch "Penny Dreadful" season 2 episode 3, called "The Nightcomers" - a beautiful illustration of the passing of power, bravery, hard truth and wisdom from one generation of women to the next. 

The theme that resonates for me in witch stories is complex, and also at times terrifying: how do women handle power?

Thursday, October 8, 2015


I don't hand-deliver my organic heirloom pumpkins to my neighbors anymore.

That first year our garden was huge; the soil had been prepped by a long-lost goat pen in that area of the yard. I had 31 massive pumpkins that year.  No fertilizers used at all, heirloom seeds.  I was bursting with pride about it, too.  I was proud because where I come from, that's a really big thing.

I grew up in backwoods Maine in the 60's, when the "store-bought" food was mostly limp, anemic and tasteless.  You only bought food at the store as a last resort.  You gardened hard and your neighbors did, too. Through a complex and delicately balanced barter system we kept each other fed through the long, vicious winters.  It was a joy to knock on a neighbor's door (at a decent interval after dinner time) with a basket of potatoes or strawberries or greens and beg them to help you, because "We've got to much of this and I can't put it all up,"  This was always met with broad smiles and jokes ("Can't put it all up, eh?  What's wrong with you?"), and invitation inside for a visit, and usually within days afterward a visit from that neighbor with the one thing you couldn't seem to grow that year.  This system was based primarily on graciousness, but it was practical.  Food didn't get wasted and we almost always had a nice variety.  Home grown food was a connection that transcended petty disagreements.  It was survival, it was our way to nourish each other, and it was a source of thousands of deep conversations, elaborate private jokes, and a way to check in on a family with a new baby or an elder without violating their pride.  It made us a town.

I walked down my street, orange trophy in hand, ready to make a deeper connection to my neighbors.  I had no expectation of reciprocation-just a friendly exchange.  It would be a start, maybe.

A knock on the door brought the man of the house, who clearly was annoyed at the disturbance.  I said I lived up the street.  His expression changed to alarm.  Was there a problem?  No, I said, I just grew a lot of pumpkins this year and thought you might like one for Halloween.

He gaped for a second, then gave a laughing snort.  He took the pumpkin, puzzling over it.  Then he shrugged, said, "Well, OK," and closed the door.

Well, that was just one neighbor.

I went another door down with a carefully grown prize.

The door was answered by a teenage boy, breathless.  "Why?" he said, when I made the offer.  I explained that it was a gift.

"Huh," he said, took the pumpkin and closed the door.

So I left off for a few years.

Last year I was walking down my street when I ran into the teenage boy, now towering over me and with a brand new baritone and a brand new vocabulary.

"Hey, remember when you brought us a pumpkin?" he said.

I laughed.

"Well, I'm trying corn this year.  Ya know.  We need to stop depending on Big Ag,"

"Wow!" I said, "Well, I'll bring you one!"

"Cool.  And I'll try to get you some corn,"


That October I knocked on his door.  The younger brother answered, breathless.

"Your brother told me I should bring a pumpkin by," I said.

"Why?" he demanded.  "He's in Germany,"

I save pumpkins for friends who are thrilled to get them.  And I harbor no ill will to my neighbors.  But when I cut the lovingly tended fruit from the vine I have a moment of hollowness, of loneliness.

It would be nice to have one neighbor who cared.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sticks and Stones and Printing Presses and Microphones

"I know you are, but what am I?" Pee Wee

I oppose using ad hominem, or personal attacks, in human to human exchanges.  Personal attacks lower the IQ of everyone listening, because that's what stress does to the brain.  The ad hominem attack is the last resort for sloppy thinkers when they can't stand on their crumbling arguments.

To challenge someone on a point, to tell them about your anger or your sadness or to seek the truth of an issue through argument also stresses people's nervous systems, but it doesn't lower the timbre of the discussion or switch off creativity and intelligence; there is never a need to debase anyone.  It's possible to debate or even to tackle difficult topics without tearing anybody down.

As any mass-murdering dictator could tell you, the first step toward genocide is to devalue and demoralize a population in the minds of the dominant masses, starting with verbal insults. Words can hurt, and words can kill by greasing the way to atrocity. Start calling people names, and keep calling them names so it catches on. When the majority of a population is using insults as casual greetings on a minority, then you've just brought an entire group of people down a peg.  Then you can start taking everything else much more easily: their legal rights, their culture and religion, their humanity, and finally their lives. But it all starts with the words.  Words create beliefs.

Landmark advances in mass media have always been accompanied by atrocities.  The printing press was exploited by Heinrich Kramer, an "eccentric" priest who, after attempts to establish himself as an "inquisitor" without much luck, released The Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of the Witches"), a handbook for spreading fear and hatred of grandmas. Previous to the "hammer" the church denied the existence of witchcraft, but after 1400 the panic and suspicion spread by the Malleus caught on with the broader public. Then the church merely made the most of an opportunity to grab some lands, but for around 9 million people over  4 centuries who were tortured and murdered, the "hammer" brought forth hell on earth-yet, it was just a book written by a weirdo.

The reign of the Nazi party would have stalled and perhaps even died without radio. ”What the press has been in the Nineteenth Century, radio will be for the Twentieth Century,” Joseph Goebbels said, and he was right in more ways than one.  Radio broadcasts had been controlled by The Postmaster General’s office in Germany until March 1933, when Goebbels himself transferred this power to the "Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda"- in effect, to his control, and he kept that control until the end of the war.  Hitler's hatred and megalomania tore his vocal chords on their way to the airwaves, and in the climate of economic despair at the time they took root-yet these were just bloody words spewed by a radical weirdo.

When you talk for a living you learn just how powerful words are and that you will be held responsible not only for what you say, but for how it's heard.  Someone can always misinterpret you and attack you for their own reasons (though you'll find most intelligent people don't attack before at least asking for more information) but even if it's not your fault, it's still your responsibility to make the communication the best you can. 

The printing press changed the world, as the man who started the witch burning craze could tell you, and the microphone is mighty, as Hitler could tell you.

Names do hurt.  The sword follows the pen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


When it came to a Plan B for radio, I dwelt between blind panic and false assurance.

"I'm not qualified for anything else!" I'd whine, but then when asked I'd reply that master control departments at Comcast and other TV companies like to hire on-air people because they understand basics of broadcasting that it's very difficult to teach people who may have degrees in communications, but have no experience with dead air and what that really means. So, without checking the landscape much, I relied on that idea-plus having a friend in the industry who would grease my entry.

As it turns out, jobs in master control are thin unless you speak Spanish.  Well, even those are thin.

But, there are lots of call center jobs.  Some even pay 15 bucks an hour, only a buck less than an hour that I'm making on the air.

I'm not qualified for those, but I have some qualifications that are quite good:

"Excellent spoken and written communication skills,"  It may be arrogant of me, but I feel pretty confident in those skills.

"Excel, Outlook, Word,"  AH-there I've got a part-time user's grasp.  I had to learn what I could on my own as I went.  I missed all the classes in the last 20 years because they all were held while I was on the air.  So it's time to do some serious catching up.

Also, typing.  I'm well beyond hunt and peck, but not advanced. I need to be advanced if I want a job.

So I take Excel tutorials on line, I will practice when I get to work today, and I also practice my typing several times a day.  40 wpm, with high accuracy, will give me a lot of confidence.

At least I've got goals for the real world.  That's kind of exciting and it's kind of fun.