Friday, October 30, 2009

Public Service Announcements!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posting for these announcements!

We're moving into National Novel Writing Month, and I'm sorry to say this may result in a cut back on my posting habits on this blog. We'll see how things go once the month gets started, and I get a handle on the new book, but I'm planning right now to go with a Tuesday/Friday posting schedule for the month of November. If I happen to have more time, you'll see more of me here, but you can definitely count on me for twice-weekly posting on those days. I hope you will all still follow along with me!

For those of you interested, I'm happy to announce that I'm now a contributing writer for GeekaChicas! I don't have any posts up yet My first post went up today, and there will probably be some cross-posting going on between here and there, but I'm pretty excited to be asked to write for and with the other women who make that blog great! I hope you'll all check it out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back to Science! Superbrainpower-palooza

So maybe this statement is going to sound obvious, but research apparently shows that phantom limbs don't HAVE to obey the laws of physics.

Yeah, when I put it that way it doesn't sound that spectacular, but think about what this means for people who are bound by those same phantom limbs, and the pain induced by them. They don't have to hurt. They can will themselves not to be in pain. They can will the phantom limb into a different and impossible position to make it stop acting up.

So maybe this still seems like common sense to you. But the article takes it a step further. This isn't just about phantom limbs, this is about body image. The way we imagine and see ourselves. The way we THINK our  bodies. The study shows that simply by practicing imagining the body in a different way, our brain essentially believes it to be come so. For people suffering from diseases which stem from poor body image-- like anorexia, as the article mentions-- this could be a huge break through. This is proof that if they close their eyes and practice imagining that their body image is something different, their ideal of beauty, perhaps, that they can, essentially, program their brain to BELIEVE it's the truth.

Proving once again that funny trope that keeps popping up in everything--Belief is power.

When I read the title of the article though, I was really hoping that they were going to talk about how Phantom Limbs could actually physically pick stuff up or something. I guess that's the science fiction geek in me...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is All Mythology Created Equal?

Take a moment and put aside right and wrong, and truth with a capital T, and just hear me out.

Maybe the better question is this: Does all mythology come from one source? One missing link? And is everything else just variations on those same themes? Is that missing link something embedded in our consciousness? Is religion, like some evolutionary theorists suggest, an impulse which we bred into ourselves, therefore making mythology some instinct, some bizarre shared memory with shared meaning, so that the ideas, tropes, stories contain that same thread, no matter where on earth it's found?

Or is it as simple as this: the culture and supposed religion of a megalith people. (And regardless of the title of Wikipedia's entry, this culture stretched all the way to the far east--though there is a bizarre gap in the middle.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Holding Back

I've been holding off on starting my next book for two reasons. 1) I needed to do research, and 2) I want to participate in National Novel Writing Month.

The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago though, and ever since it's been clawing at the back of my mind. It wants to be written, and it is causing me sleepless nights to keep it contained. To wait to write it. I hate this feeling of fighting against it. Every time I read a new primary source on the Trojan War, or pick up The Iliad, I want to start writing immediately. And boy, do I wish that I could read and write simultaneously! Four arms and two sets of eyes, and one mega-brain that can absorb all that input and turn it immediately into creative output.

The thing is, it's kind of an exercise of discipline at this point. A discipline that will be important to my future career as a writer, because there are going to be times when I need to focus on revisions or editing, and I can't move forward immediately into the next project. And I need to know if holding back until the right time is good or bad for my creative process. If I CAN do it, without messing myself up. When I finally unleash all this creative purpose, this story, will it be better for my having waited to get the facts, or worse? Will I write better? Or will my brain be fogged and overrun by all the ideas to the point where organizing them into coherent sentences and chapters is impossible?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beta For The Win, and What I Love About Writing

I just got back a copy of my manuscript all marked up in red ink from one of my readers. There is nothing better than sitting down with a copy of my book and seeing all the comments right next to the words and all over the margins. It gets me excited to do revisions, and address those instances where my beta reader wanted more, and I can see why.

I love especially comments that make me see things in a way I hadn't before. A new interpretation of a line that I took for granted that adds depth or meaning. A different perspective on the motivation of a character. I remember once sending a short story out to a reader and having them come back with a response that was completely accurate, but horribly different than the impression I wanted to leave them with. But I loved that element too-- I loved that they saw that emotion, that motivation, that I had missed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I had a terrible and awesome realization yesterday. My time is running out to finish my research, and the research I need to do just exploded.

I had been concentrating entirely on the myths surrounding the Trojan War, with a few forrays into anthropology of the Bronze Age . But it occurred to me today (somewhat belatedly) that part of my story will take place in Egypt. And I have not done any research at all into that country during and surrounding the Trojan War.


As a result, my weekend is going to be taken up with power reading and power researching. And again, I'm grateful that my husband is even more interested in history than I am, and has about thirty history books I can sift through for information. From Atlas's of Archaeology to Encylcopedias of Mythology and, perhaps more importantly for my belated realization, a brand new Encylopedia of Ancient Egypt. Let me assure you that my nose will be stuck in that book for the next two days.

All that said, I'm sure you will understand when I tell you I won't be posting anything on this blog on Sunday. I'll be too busy ruining my eyes by reading non-stop, probably in less than ideal lighting, and certainly there is bound to be some small-eye-strain-inducing-print.

Any valuable links to information on Egypt between 1210 and 1170 BCE would be greatly appreciated, if you happen to have them lying around.  Otherwise, you'll hear from me Monday.

Assuming I still have my wits after my intended information overload.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why my Textbook on Mythology is Trash

I'm going to make a shocking admission, and I apologize if you feel betrayed, but the truth must come out.

In college, I never took a class on Classical Mythology.

In my defense, I did make the attempt. I registered, bought the book, and even attended a few classes. Unfortunately I found out very quickly that I wasn't going to learn well in the course. There were a number of reasons I felt this way that I won't get into here, but the fact is, I dropped the course and didn't look back.

Shame on me.

That being said, I kept the book. Because what classics major can't use another text book on Classical Mythology? Who could say no to keeping a copy of Classical Mythology, Seventh Edition, by Mark P.O. Morford and Robert J. Lenardon? Or maybe I had already unwrapped the plastic from the book and it was too far into the semester to return it--I don't remember. But I put it on a shelf and have been carrying it around with me as baggage ever since.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some (Disorganized?) Thoughts on The Cypria Fragments.

I hadn't intended on reading The Cypria Fragments, but while perusing the wikipedia article on Helen of Troy, there was a reference to it that intrigued me. Namely, the comment that the marriage of Helen to Meneleus heralded the beginning of the end of the age of heroes, and Zeus intended to destroy men and in particular, the heroes among them through the Trojan War. I have to add, too, that the phrasing was very Tolkien-esque, in the article. Anyway, this motive for the Trojan War as a way to destroy man wasn't something I had heard of before and in light of the archaeological evidence of Mycenae's inexplicable destruction following the epic, it seems quite meaningful. So I followed the reference to its source in the Cypria and dug in.

So far, I haven't found anything specific to that particular reference, but I have found what seems to me to be an event not dissimilar to Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac in the old testament. Agamemnon offends Artemis, and in order to restore himself and his expedition to her favor, he offers his daughter, Iphigeneia as a sacrifice to the goddess. At the last moment, Artemis stops him by removing Iphigeneia and replacing her with a stag instead for the sacrifice. In the old testament, the angel of God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac at the last minute, and a ram is discovered nearby to replace his son as the sacrifice. Of course, Isaac wasn't swept away and made immortal, but the trope is still there. Willingness to sacrifice one's own blood without hesitation is more important than the sacrifice itself. I can only imagine the emotional scarring that Isaac and Iphigeneia might have ended up with, at finding themselves on the wrong side of the altar. I bet they would have got on famously if they had ever met.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Apollodorus's The Library and Fairy Tales

So I'm reading  The Libraries by Apollodorus, as the Epitome deals with the Trojan war, and those events which lead up to it, and I came across this in the notes:

The story ran that all the gods and goddesses, except Strife, were invited to attend the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and that Strife, out of spite at being overlooked, threw among the wedding guests a golden apple inscribed with the words, “Let the fair one take it,” or “The apple for the fair.” Three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, contended for this prize of beauty, and Zeus referred the disputants to the judgment of Paris.
And all of a sudden, I had an ah HA! moment.

Are we looking at the origin of the evil fairy of folklore? The same fairy who becomes Malificent in Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty? The fairy, who overlooked, curses the baby, rather than blessing it? (Something about 12 golden plates, and 13 fairies, wasn't it? It's been a long time since I read my complete Grimm's fairy tales.) And the origin of the evil step-mother we all know from Snow White, with Paris playing the roll of the magic mirror? This does seem to capture interesting elements from both, and I think I can confidently say that these stories pre-date the Germanic folklore which is the source for so much of the old fairy tales.

I knew the story, but I had never seen it put exactly in those terms. Now that I have, I find it difficult to believe it ISN'T the story which resulted in those other interpretations. Very interesting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Heroides

For those of you following my journey through Trojan myth, or with any kind of passing interest, I highly recommend you check out Ovid's The Heroides. You don't even have to read the whole of it-- each letter is labeled with the writer and the intended recipient. There are three which I've focused on, personally, in regard to Helen and Paris, V, XVI, and XVII. (There are a couple more dealing with different characters from the war--Achilles, Agamemnon, and children of these--but I'm running short on time to read all this stuff, so I haven't looked at them yet.)

The fifth letter is written by Oenone to Paris. Oenone, according to Ovid, is Paris's first wife. She was a nymph, and he left her behind in Troy to go after Helen. She appears to have written this letter after his return, when he brings Helen with him to replace her as his wife. Oenone is understandably pretty upset about all of this. She was Paris's wife, after all, before he was recognized as one of Priam's sons, and was just some poor shepherd in the woods. She warns him that Helen is going to bring his ruin, and that as an adulteress, he can't trust her. I can only imagine that Paris ignores all of this. It's unclear to me whether Oenone is kept on as a second, lesser wife of Paris's, or whether she's cast out. I don't know if she's living in the palace with them or not--I think I'll have to read through it again. But until I had read this, I wasn't aware that Paris had been previously married, and that element will be an excellent and interesting thing to explore, certainly, as I write.

The sixteenth and seventeenth letters, are part of what is referred to as the double letters. These were letters paired with their responses. The first is from Paris to Helen, begging her to consider his suit for her hand, and his love, and the second is Helen's response. Paris tells Helen the story of the three goddesses, Hera/Juno, Athena/Minerva and Aphrodite/Venus, who appear to him after Hermes/Mercury drops him the golden prize and orders him under Zeus/Jupiter's command to settle the issue of who is the fairest. Each of the goddesses offers Paris a prize if he chooses them. Aphrodite offers him Helen, and that's when his obsession with her is born. It's also the source for the enmity Hera and Athena have for Troy in The Iliad. They seek Troy's destruction because Paris chose Aphrodite over them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Superman is AWESOME regardless of his perfection.

It's been a while since I've gone comic book on you guys, but I've been thinking about this off and on, whenever Superman has come up in various conversations, and I think I can stretch the truth a little bit and pretend this is a conversation about character in writing, because honestly, knowing what makes a character compelling to an audience is kind of the trick, isn't it? Not to mention the fact that comic books and modern superheros, it can be argued, are our way of reinterpreting and reinventing the heroes and gods of those old myths and pantheons. (Why is it, every time I start talking about comic books, my sentences become astonishingly long?)

Most people know Superman. I want to say everyone knows Superman, but I have to take into account that perhaps Superman is not quite so prevalent among other cultures as he is in the United States. After all, he traditionally does stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, whatever the heck that means. But the thing that always seems to come up in conversations about Superman, is the fact that he is TOO perfect a hero. This perfection seems to make him unrelatable, to some people. It rubs them the wrong way. Superman can do everything, and everything he does is always The Right Thing To Do. Personally, this doesn't bother me at all, but maybe I read a little bit more into his character, or maybe I'm just an idealist. Possibly both. Either way, allow me to makes some arguments for what makes Superman an awesome character.

1) Superman Struggles.
Maybe he always ends up making the right choice, but man, he doesn't always have an easy time figuring out what it is. Again and again we see Superman returning to his human parents (Ma and Pa Kent) and asking for help. Superman, who is essentially a god in his own right, looks to these humans for moral guidance and counts on these two people to tell him when he's going too far, or making a wrong decision. He doesn't go it alone. That's kind of the appeal of Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane, too. Superman needs them. Superman needs the connection to humanity that they provide him. He needs their support, their love, their reassurances. And as someone unique to the world, he needs their acceptance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


No exciting science or history post today, since we're off visiting with the family. I'll be back to my somewhat regularly scheduled posting on Tuesday Monday. I promise to come up with something interesting!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Food and Water as Pain Reliever?

Apparently, for rats, food and water acts almost like a drug, and the act of eating or drinking can grant them a higher tolerance to pain (and it's supposed, other externals not yet tested for).

The implications of this are huge. The article touches on what this probably means for people, and goes a long way toward explaining the problems some people have with eating until whatever is in front of them is finished. Our compulsion to overeat. (You know, like that bag of chips you sat down with in front of the television, and now it's gone? Or that carton of ice cream you JUST opened, but somehow is already half gone?) But, if it's also true that just plain water accomplishes the same state of higher tolerance to pain+ (Yes, pain+, no that is not a typo) then it could also mean we can take extra unnecessary sugar out of our habits, replace it with water, and have the same result. The article talks about substituting lollipops at the doctor's office with a cup of water instead, for kids.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Conjecture and Frustrations from The Iliad

One of the things I find incredibly frustrating when reading through Homer's Iliad is the alarming number of characters, and the excessive ongoing genealogies. There are so many people who are mentioned, along with their entire history of breeding, only so that their death can be cataloged as someone's (with an equally irritatingly elaborated upon list of forefathers) kill. Achaean and Trojan alike. It almost gets to the point where I lose track of the thread of action, and forget what's going on, and certainly all the Greek names jumble together.

Homer definitely pays no attention to the difficulty one might have in following his players. While I recognize that in part this is a function of the formula and oral tradition of the poetry, I also want to curse him for naming (for example--one of many) Agamemnon at least three different ways. He's referred to, sometimes in the same stanza, sometimes in several different ones, as Agamemnon, Atrides, and Son of Atreus, which in and of itself would not be problematic to follow, if there weren't eighty other men, far less important, being named with the same level of variance throughout the book.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Uncanny Valley and Monkeys!

I had never heard of the Uncanny Valley phenomenon until reading this article today, but now that I have, I'm kind of fascinated by it, and really interested in this research, especially as it applies to non-human animals.

Basically, the article tells us that monkeys respond to realistic and artificial images of monkeys with fear. Apparently this behavior has been seen in humans too. That when we look at realistic but artificial human faces--human but not quite human--we're disturbed by them, and respond with revulsion. Mostly this is applied to (or observed with) computer generated lifelike images (like characters in movies such as Polar Express and that newfangled Beowulf) and robotics.

I'm wondering if this applies to Wax Museum figures, and paintings that are so realistic they seem to stare at us, as well as just computer generated figures. I know that I can't stand wax museums, they creep me out. I don't necessarily have the same response to paintings though. I find realistic, almost photographical (did I make that word up?) paintings kind of fascinating to look at, and don't have any revulsion for them, but rather an admiration for the artist. Perhaps because they're static and only two dimensional, whereas wax figures are three dimensional and more lifelike? Too lifelike?

Anyway, apparently this is the first time this reaction has been observed in any other animal besides humans, and the most interesting part is, we have NO IDEA why we (or they) respond this way. I mean, there are theories listed within that wikipedia article that I linked to above, like, that the human but not quite human passive face reminds us of death and the innate fear of death we all have, and the fact that it may be conceived as a threat to our human identity, but we don't KNOW for sure what the imperative is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So what I told you is true, from a certain point of view...

My leading lady spends quite a bit of time in Greece. Mostly because this is an area of history which I'm familiar with, and for a variety of other factors that I won't get into now. The trouble is, for a woman, Greece was not a very exciting place to live. Especially if one has an awareness of how else one could be living, which my leading lady, and my gentle readers, both do. So instead of taking my readers through Greece from the point of view of my leading lady (from whom they would only see the interior of her home for the most part, long days of overseeing the slaves taking care of the weaving, while her husband absents himself to do whatever it is he does), we see it instead from the point of view of a god. A god, in fact, who does not lord over Greece at all.

I brushed on this a little bit in this post, where I talked about how the clothing my god was wearing was less important than the things he was saying and his enormity of size, when my leading lady finally meets him. An understanding of what your characters care about and would notice is important, especially when you're writing third person limited or first person. They can't see everything. They won't see everything. They won't CARE about detailing their own living space.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The pitfalls of electronics.

Monday morning I woke up to find that my modem had kicked the bucket overnight. Sometime after I went to bed, it just quit. Unfortunately this meant that I was compelled to call the customer service department of my internet service provider.

I can't be the only one who hates those menus.

Long story short, a trip to two different stores, and a significant sum of money later, I'm once again connected to the world wide web, and am now free to look up everything I ever wanted to know about weaving and free standing looms, old world-style. This is only partly because my leading lady spends a significant portion of her time in front of a loom, weaving clothing for her family through the centuries. You may expect a post reflecting said research in the near future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mystery of the Norse Mythos

One of the things I love about Norse Mythology, is that it's so piecemeal. That seems kind of a weird thing to say, but just stay with me for a minute.

What we have of Norse Mythology are remnants passed down through oral tradition, and not put down on paper until after 1100AD (as late as 1200-1300 in some cases), in the Eddas and sagas. I'm sure you've heard me talk about this before, but it bears repeating. We have no written record before this time, and the dates are not exactly during the Viking glory days, but more toward the end of the era. These facts were not the only serious factors which influenced these sagas and stories about the gods as they were finally written.

For starters, one of our greatest sources for Norse Mythology was written by Snorri Sturluson (around 1200 AD). He's attributed with writing the Prose Edda which contains a very coherent account of the Norse gods, the creation of the(ir) world, and its destruction. But Snorri himself is clearly looking at the stories of the gods which he's transcribing as MYTHS surrounding actual men who may have lived, not as truths of living gods. Not to say that he was wrong, but this context is certainly something that should be taken into account when reading. Snorri's Christian viewpoint may certainly have corrupted the stories, even if the fact that he was writing about them on the way out, didn't.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ancient History and Modern Politics

This is more of a book review than a scientific article, which is kind of odd for physorg, from my experience, but it still captured my attention. The book looks fascinating and I might have to pick it up. The article/review of the book makes some fascinating points and suggestions about how the conditions which led to the fall of democracy in Athens are disturbingly similar to the issues we face today. But let me start by saying this is not new information at all. Classicists have been seeing parallels between the fall of those ancient powers and modern ones for years. This guy, maybe, is the first one to get publicity for his book, but that's about as new as his information gets. Even non-classicists are aware of it. My social studies teacher in the ninth grade had no qualms about declaring the USA as the newest Roman Empire, on the edge of collapse, and let me tell you that the unit on the classical world was NOT big, even then.

The thing is, we know that history is important. We know that paying attention to history is the best way not to repeat mistakes. This is why there's such a huge emphasis on World War II. So that it won't be forgotten. So that the nightmare atrocities of that war will not be forgotten, and as such, committed again. We know it, but we're so caught up in more modern history, that we, as a culture, have glossed over our beginnings. Classical history is often ignored, like this article says, and in my opinion we're doing ourselves a huge disservice by it for the exact reason this book was written. Athens was facing the same issues we are, and their government fell. Democracy fell. It would be wise of us to take a look and see why so that we can try to avoid following in its footsteps. So that we can choose a different path for our nation which does not repeat the errors of history.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Clothing and Apparel, for the GODS

How do you dress a god, in the modern day, while keeping the richness of his or her heritage intact, and without making them look completely ludicrous?

Does a god wear jeans and t-shirts? Or, does a god stick to what he knows, and continue wearing the clothing of his glory days long past their expiration date? How do you dress a god in such a way that a reader (or viewer) will recognize them as more than mortal, or not quite human, but it won't tip off the rest of the characters?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Nordic Bronze Age

One of the most critical plot points in my book occurs right smack in the middle of the Nordic Bronze Age. That was the period between, oh, 1600 BCE and 600 BCE, roughly--those dates are subject to change depending on what text book you're reading. Okay, so maybe not the middle. It's about 980 or so. Anyway, the result of all this is that I've had to do a lot of investigation and research.

Unlike other periods in history, we really don't know a lot about the Bronze Age in Scandinavia. We know that the weather was much warmer--think modern day Northern France, they were even growing grapes-- and they participated in trade with the rest of Europe. There's even evidence/supposition of contact between Scandinavia and Crete. But most of our information comes from burial sites and stone paintings. There was no written language, and most of what we know of Scandinavian culture came from the Eddas which weren't recorded until much, much later. (~1000 AD--I mean, CE. That's the politically correct term now, right?)

Basically the scarcity of information leaves me with a number of challenges.

1) As far as clothing and dress go, we basically only know what people were buried in. And we don't even really know who the buried people ARE. Nobility? Priests and Priestesses? Personally, I find myself wondering if the people being buried were done so in their Sunday's finest, not unlike we do now. If that's the case, then it tells us practically nothing at all about the day to day regular Joes. Or maybe I should call them Svens? If my leading lady is the daughter of a village leader, is that noble enough to merit burial? Noble enough to mean that she had finely woven hair nets and belts? Did she have jewelry? Or was she still wearing furs? The nobles had woven wool clothing, for sure. Did the non-nobles? I don't even want to call them peasants, and nobles, to be honest, because we're not even clear on the social stratification.

2) Day to day life is even more of a mystery. They had agriculture for sure. Like I said above, they were growing grapes and making wine. But how much impact did the amber trade have on economics for villages? How dependent were these people on coastal fishing? We know that later on, Vikings are notorious seafarers. But what were they then? If they had contact with the south, and even Crete, is it reasonable to assume that they had some knowledge of boat building greater than hallowed out logs for canoes? Egypt certainly had no trouble building immense barges around the same time. Certainly the people of archaic Greece weren't slackers when it came to boat building, either. The technology existed. But even with trade, did it make it that far north? Were villages conquering one another? Fighting? Was Tribalism an issue? How was leadership decided?

3) What about the gods we all know and love? Or at least the gods that I know and love, I don't know how you feel about them. There's evidence from the pictures that the symbols later used by Odin, Thor, and Freyr, as well as Freyja were present. But the first written acknowledgment of the Norse Gods we know from the Eddas wasn't until Tacitus, who wrote around 100 AD/CE. While it's completely possible, and even likely, that the gods of the Vikings had their roots in the Bronze age, we don't have a lot of evidence one way or another to support it. Could I make the assumption? Sure. Would I prefer to have some actual research and information to back it up? Definitely.

Now, the good thing about the lack of information, is that I can make some informed guesses and make stuff up to my heart's content. But while I know my classical history better than most people, I'm a little weak with this Bronze Age business.

It's a good thing I have a lot of books.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Answering Life's Childhood Questions Through Writing

J.R.R. Tolkien had a vision for his work which went beyond simply telling a good story set within a vivid world, similar but unlike our own. He wanted more than anything to create a national mythology for his country. He wanted Britain to have gods and heroes greater than mere mortals, but still relatable and flawed. (Really. I took a class on Tolkien. I'm not making this stuff up!) To that end, he drew on the culture of his own country and the myths and legends of other nations that he found admirable to create a unique world. It goes without saying that this was the birth of The Lord of the Rings.

As a child I always wondered what to make of the many pantheons, the many myths, the many creations of the world. I always struggled to somehow fit them all together into one universe, one faith. I remember once asking my mother if the other gods, Zeus, Thor, Amun-Ra, Shiva, were the extended family of God. His cousins and aunts and uncles, his brothers and sisters, his nieces and nephews. Could they all be related? Family? Friends?

Though my mother was quick to dissuade me, the idea never left my mind completely. Despite my Christian upbringing, I still wanted to find a way to make it all fit together. Not unlike Mr. Tolkien, I wanted to create a new mythology. This was God’s world, but I wanted to find a way to let the other gods live in it. I wanted to blend the existing myths and legends, gods and heroes, into one big family.

My journey to this end began with The Book of Genesis, and Adam and Eve. It was fueled by classes in Norse Mythology and Classical History.

I'll tell you this--but the rest you'll have to read in the book that I ended up writing-- the other gods are NOT God's extended and dysfunctional family. But it was a fun idea when I was a kid. I like the answer I discovered through writing my book better though, anyway, now that I'm an adult.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More Language Fun

I was always jealous of schools that offered foreign languages to younger students. In my school, growing up, foreign language classes didn't begin until seventh grade. But I was well aware of the fact that supposedly, the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. I always wondered why we weren't starting these classes in elementary school. Just because you're too young to make a choice between them? I don't know.

But anyway, apparently Use it or Lose it is NOT a correct statement to make about languages. And apparently, also, once a second language is learned and practiced (laid down a new map over our brain when you become bilingual), we don't shut it off.

I have always wanted to learn to master a new language. I've been fascinated by it for an excessively long time. Long enough to learn one-- but I never did. I took Spanish from seventh to tenth grade, but then I dropped it in favor of study halls (I know, shame on me!) and when I got to college and actually wanted to learn again, I chose Latin for the reasons already mentioned in this post. Though they were both romance languages, it fractured my language education.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Random Language Learning!

Keeping in the spirit of my previous post on furthering education, I was researching programs and came across a completely free course of study in Icelandic through the University of Wisconsin and put together by the University of Iceland!

I've signed up with A couple of my friends, including SQRT(D) (because learning a language is always better with a buddy!) and I encourage any of you with interest to join us! If you have a background in German, you should be pretty well off--my husband was able to read over my shoulder half the stuff in the first lesson with his rusty 4 year old German skills. I do not have a background in German--though my computer thought otherwise for a period of several irritating months--and this is going to be an incredible challenge of Awesome! That means, that no matter how bad you are, I will probably be worse at it! So feel good about yourself and take a shot!

Icelandic can be compared with Latin, as far as the complexity and preservation of cases and forms goes. Not that the vocabulary is at all similar, but grammatically, it's the same level of crazy.

I say, why not?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Back to Brains!

I've been saying for years that for women, styling each other's hair and makeup is the human interpretation of social grooming in monkeys. Ever since I went to college and shared a bathroom with a whole hall of girls, where I observed again and again and again that the bathroom even more so than the lounge was where congregation on conversation happened. Women are social groomers. We bond over hair and makeup. Even those of us who eschew makeup and curling irons have been known to submit to this grooming in the interest of socialization.

So now we're back to brains again-- Monkeys' grooming habits provide clues to how we socialize.
Kind of obvious, right? Here's the twist. The larger the neocortex, the smaller circle in which they concentrate their social grooming. The larger the neocortex, the larger the groups in which these monkeys congregate, too. So, larger groups but smaller groups of friends. But it's okay, because the larger neocortex evidently allows for monkeys, and us, to balance more distant relationships. Essentially, they can be pleasant to everyone without being best friends forever with the entire group. The larger neocortex allows that complexity.

According to this article, our neocortexes (neocortegi?) are three times the size of these other monkeys. And that accounts for our ability to socialize on such tremendous scales. We're balancing relationships with hundreds of people at a time, as opposed to the 50 of even the more sophisticated monkeys. We have our close friends, who we concentrate our time and effort on, and two hundred other people we still associate with when we're put in the right situation. Go take a look at the number of friends you have on facebook or myspace. How many of them do you actually talk to on the phone? or spend time with once a week? How many of them do you just check status updates on, and call it good?

Thank your neocortex!
And remember, it isn't total brain size that counts-- it's the size of the PARTS of the brain that matters!

So what do you think this means about Hyenas and their greater ability to cooperate? What part of the brain is it that is more effectively developed? And what do their neocortexes look like?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Reflections on Further Education

You know what I love about writing? Every project is a new opportunity to learn.

Not just to learn how to write better, and improve my own skill level, but also, to research something new. Writing is a career path which allows one the luxury of never having to settle down into one particular field. Sure, in college I took English classes. Creative writing classes out the wazoo. But it wasn't the only thing I did. I didn't go to college with the goal of getting a BA in English. I hadn't intended on a liberal arts degree at all. I went to college for Wildlife Biology. My ultimate goal was to be a zookeeper, and write on the side, and while I was going to minor in English and suck up all the creative writing classes I could, it wasn't my academic priority.

Of course, Wildlife Biology wasn't really my calling, and I realized that the number and intensity of science classes it required was going to make me hate myself and my life and my education, so instead of hating what I loved, I went in a different direction. But the direction still wasn't English.