Friday, November 27, 2009

Body Image in Little Girls

Body image seems like an appropriate topic to me, while I'm writing about Helen, the most beautiful of all women in mythology. Apparently a new study shows that an alarming number of girls between the ages of 3 and 6 are worried about being fat-- 49% seem to worry either sometimes, or almost always.

Forty-nine percent seems like kind of an alarming statistic to me. But there's a silver lining, I guess. Those feelings of concern about being fat, and body image, AREN'T influenced by animated movies like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, with the idealized princess beauty and the tiny waists.

So what does all this mean? I think it tells us something we are already well aware of--children are more than capable of differentiating between real and imaginary. They can look at animated drawings and renderings and say "that isn't what people look like." This brings us right back to the old argument over Barbie dolls, too. Barbie has unrealistic proportions. If Barbie were a real person, she wouldn't be able to walk. But what if that very unrealistic image is the reason that children have no trouble playing with those dolls? The proportions are so obviously wrong that it divorces the doll from reality altogether-- just like Belle's overly large eyes, tiny waist, and animation (to say nothing of the monstrous beast she's held prisoner by) keep her from becoming an example of what a girl should look like.

Media representation of the ideal is of course still an issue. Women who are as thin as models make up an extraordinarily low percentage of people on the earth-- but because we see them everywhere on television and in magazines, we're tricked into believing that it's more "normal." The problem with models, is that they're people. Real live, breathing people, not imaginary princesses or obscenely busty dolls. But it isn't just the media that's perpetuating this myth of idealized beauty and the compulsion to change to fit it. All you have to do is walk into any woman's bathroom at home to see the cosmetics lining the shelves, or take a walk through your favorite drug store to see all the many products that women bring home. Adult women. Mothers of impressionable children. And don't get me started on tanning...

We buy pounds and pounds of makeup and gallons of hair dye to make ourselves "pretty enough." To feel better about our body image. And if you think that kids aren't watching that, aren't witnessing that, aren't paying attention to every comment their mother, sister, cousin, aunt, or grandmother is making about how they don't like the way they look, or how they wish they were skinnier, then we're deluding ourselves.

So what do I think about this body image study? And the results? I think it's less about the cartoons and more about real life. And good body image for children starts with Mom, and Big Sis, not with the imaginary characters in animated cartoons, or the totally fake-looking Barbie dolls.

As for Helen, I suspect that after Leda's rape by Zeus, she heard all about the burden of being beautiful from her mother--and how she needed to be careful not to attract the notice of men. Helen probably wished she could do away with her beauty altogether, to avoid the troubles that would come with it. So that perhaps just one man would look at her as more than just a pretty face. I expect that men wouldn't be held responsible for what her beauty drove them to.

And on that note-- a new pair of letters between Meneleus and Helen are up on GeekaChicas for your reading pleasure!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Letters!

Head over to GeekaChicas for the next installment of the Not-Yet-Of Troy letters! A set between Theseus and Pirithous.

Pirithous kind of strikes me as the friend that always kind of gets you into trouble, or comes up with the harebrained schemes and expects you to go along with it. I think his heart was in the right place, but maybe he was kind of an adrenaline junky, or at the least, loved to take a little bit of risk. Like, if there wasn't some risk, or some terrible way it could go wrong, it wasn't worth doing.

Happy day before Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Unstoppable Bonus Content Through Thanksgiving!

I'm spending this week with my family in upstate New York, so my posts are going to be kind of brief.

I haven't quite wrapped up Helen yet, which is driving me a little bit crazy. I was hoping to have it finished yesterday, before I hit the road to travel, or at worst, in the car on the way up, but it didn't happen. What I DID finish up, was writing the letters for the Not-Yet-Of Troy series on GeekaChicas. Even though it's Thanksgiving in the USofA, GeekaChicas is going strong all week with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posts of my series!

Today you can read Theseus's response to Helen. And I urge you to go check out the previous letters if you haven't already. They're all linked to in the post on GeekaChicas for ease of access, and each one comes with some historical background. Or writerly background, in this case, as I discuss the challenges of writing from the outline of a well documented myth.

On Wednesday, there will be a pair of letters between Theseus and Pirithous, and Friday will bring a set between Helen and Meneleus. The series will wrap up on Monday next week, the last day of November, while National Novel Writing Month participants scrambled to get their last words in and their novel validated for the win.. If you're waiting for the series to finish before you dive in, I'll be recapping all the links on December 1 on this blog.

Happy Monday!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Elephant Vengeance

A new Not-Yet-Of Troy post is up over on GeekaChicas! A Letter from Helen to Theseus, for your entertainment!  Now, on to the science!

This article is old, but I think striking all the same. There's a theory, apparently, that African Elephants may be seeking revenge against humanity for the murder of their fellows.

The thing is, it's so rare that we attribute these serious emotions to animals. Usually we reserve that sort of thing for chimps and other great apes, alone. Elephants are one of the  exceptions where there has been enough evidence of seemingly bizarre and uncalled for behavior, that we look at them and actually find ourselves wondering if they're driven by emotion more than just instinct. There are plenty of anecdotal stories about elephants in captivity becoming depressed and despondent when one of their "friends" is relocated to another zoo, or elephants in circuses going on rampages against their trainer for the abuse they've been subjected to over a lifetime. A program on the discovery channel even went so far as to suggest that African elephants Grieve for their dead, pausing as they journey on their annual migrations and lingering at places where a member of the herd had died in a previous year.

Personally, I have no trouble believing that animals are experiencing emotions-- and not just the animals who show these behaviors, like elephants that seem so human in nature. Grief. Revenge. Mourning. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence for domestic animals too. My husband's dog, while he was in college, would often mope around his parents' house for days after he returned to school, unwilling to even eat. And the dog was always thrilled to see him when he arrived home after months away. As a child I had a cat that would wait for me to walk home from school, meeting me on the street corner at the appropriate time if she had been let out of the house, or else sitting in the window watching me approach the house. And I distinctly remember once my cat disappearing for three days, but when she finally showed up at our front door again, I was given an overwhelming impression of her own joy to see me again when she didn't even feed herself before jumping all over my lap, demanding I pet her and sit with her.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Essential Thor (no footnotes, just gut.)

I've been working with the character of Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning, for years. Years of research and reading and false starts and conversations in the dark with the ceiling that resulted in terrible stories and drafts while I struggled to pinpoint what was there. Years of trying to understand what was at the heart of this god, who was so loved by his people, honored even in many ways above Odin the All-Father. Loved so much, even now, that he was re-imagined and transported into the medium of the comic book for the modern world. Thor, who we will soon be over-saturated by, in the quest for world domination and movie marketing schemes. Hollywood always knows how to run a good man into the ground. But for myself, I'm hoping they do him justice, because after years of trying to find the answer of this god's character, this god's essence, this god's spirit within the scraps of mythology we're given, he became my most favorite of all mythological heroes. (Theseus may be coming in at a close second, but don't tell Thor. He'll start going on about how Theseus is "unworthy".)

I think that there was a very good reason that Thor was the preferred god of the everyman, and I don't think that it was because he was stupid, or because he was always getting into brawls and slaughtering giants, or because he was often drunk on mead and loved to feast with the best of us. I don't even think it was because he cross-dressed, although Mimzy tells that story better than I've ever heard it before. I think the reason Thor was so beloved was because he always helped his people. Thor was the god that could be depended on, no matter what had happened, to go out and do what had to be done-- whether that was beating down on Loki, or killing off giants, or drinking a ton of mead, or dressing up as a woman. Thor was intensely loyal, unwavering, and good.

That's not to say he couldn't be led off track every so often. Loki makes this perfectly clear in all the stories where they travel together to accomplish some task, or just for the sake of getting out and about. Perhaps Thor is trusting to a fault. Certainly he doesn't seem to take to deception very easily when he's forced to employ its arts. He's not at all like Loki in that way. He'd much rather bust down the door and employ a frontal assault, even if he can't win. And that in itself is something admirable, too-- it's one of the things that I have always respected in those people who also share that characteristic. The people who throw their punches and then shake it off, and buy one another a drink afterwards.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Icelandic Language Day!

Hey, It's Icelandic Language Day! Celebrate by greeting your friends in Icelandic!

Here's a quick lesson:

Spread the news! Make it happen!
Learn Icelandic!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Bonus Content

In case you're anxiously anticipating, the latest installment of the Not-Yet-Of Troy series is up and awaiting your pleasure to read it! If you're not caught up, links to the other two letters are in that post as well. I'm just that thoughtful.

This is a pair of letters, written between Theseus, King of Athens (oh, Theseus. What will we do with you?), and King Tyndareus of Lacedaemon/Sparta and Helen's father.

As far as NaNoWriMo goes, I'm up to 65K, but I'm procrastinating because I know there is no happy ending, and I just feel bad for Helen and Theseus. My goal is to finish it up by Sunday, so it's all done before I head home for Thanksgiving with my family, otherwise I know I'm going to be sitting around staring at my laptop all week, cranky that people are interrupting me while I try to write. Wish me luck!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fiction, Faith, and Mythology

Over on Gary Corby's blog, there have been some really good posts about religion in Classical Greece, and it's gotten me thinking again about where we draw the line between mythology and fiction, a discussion I've been wanting to begin here for a while.

The word Myth has some serious connotations of religious aspects, while at the same time carrying with it the implication of fiction. When you take a minute to consider the things we call myth, and consider to be mythology, you generally end up looking at religious stories of now defunct, or practically dead religions. Religions which, for one reason or another, are no longer recognized or state-sanctioned, though at one point they may have dominated in a particular region or area of the world. Myth is a politically correct way of calling the stories of an entire people, an entire faith, fiction. Myth is what we say when we're talking about gods, heroes, and faith traditions, that we have decided as a culture, as a race, as a country, as an individual, are invalid and utter hogwash. The things we don't believe in, but somebody else does.

Generally speaking, you don't see people going around accusing The Bible of being mythology-- although the reality of the situation is that it isn't any better or any worse than most of the other collections of stories and beliefs of religions that didn't survive the spread of Christianity. I guess in some ways the word Myth can be compared to the term Barbarian. Originally, Romans and Greeks used the term Barbarian to describe anything Other and outside of themselves. The Germanic tribes, for instance, were considered barbarians. Others. A group of people culturally different from themselves. Myth is what we call the beliefs and stories of those others in a parallel way. Our personal beliefs are not Myth, but Truth. Everyone else on the other hand... That's another story.

But here's the tricky part. Somewhere, somewhen, and to someone, those things we call myths were Truth. History. Fact. They were part of reality, woven into culture and religion and daily life. They were the real thing (whether they actually happened or not). They were The Bible of another race, another culture, another country, another person. So what exactly is the process which results in turning those Truths, yes, with a capital T, into Fiction? And, can it be argued that Fiction itself can become myth?

Monday, November 09, 2009

A new Not-Yet-Of Troy Letter! Et Cetera.

Hey guys! I thought you'd be interested in getting the heads up that the next letter in the series of Not-Yet-Of Troy posts for my book on Helen is up!

This letter is from Pollux, in response to Helen's previous warning and plea. Pollux is Helen's brother, and is often attributed as being a son of Zeus, born of the same Rape of Leda as Helen. Clytemnestra and Castor are usually considered to be the full sons of Tyndareus, without the same demi-god/immortal father aspect. I wonder if they had inferiority complexes...

The next letter will be between the Kings Tyndareus of Sparta/Lacedaemon, and Theseus of Athens. You'll be getting two, because they're rather shorter and much more formal in context, so keep an eye out for the link!

In other news, I just cruised by the 50K mark last night, but my goal is to finish the book-- so I'm still going to be writing and sticking with the less frequent posting over here for the month. Let me tell you, there will be a lot of revision work to come when I'm done!

I'm formulating some thoughts on Mythology and what constitutes "Source" for an upcoming post, but have been somewhat distracted by writing, and haven't put it together coherently yet. There have been a lot of challenges with this book that I didn't exactly anticipate, and will hopefully be able to discuss tomorrow.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Delusions and Hallucinations

NaNo Stats:

31872 / 50000 words. 64% done!

I'm not sure why I've come across so much on hallucinations and delusions lately on physorg, but I figured it was fitting to write a post up about it in honor of all of those people taking part in National Novel Writing Month. Especially for those who are going without sleep, and putting their mind and bodies through the grinder to pump out that 1,667 words on top of their already overfull schedule of working full time, parenting, and school. If you're feeling haunted by your characters, it's okay! Even "normal" people can start hallucinating extremely quickly, under the right circumstances!

Yesterday I linked briefly to a post discussing how children (mostly young girls) can sublimate imaginary friends into dear diary personalities, and then later, if they're writers, into the characters they write about (Abstract can be found here!). Basically, writers are expected to be nagged by their creations. Right now, I'd be more surprised if in the sleep-deprived-overly-stressed state that NaNoWriMo can sometimes subject us to, people weren't feeling haunted by their characters, even if it weren't relatively "normal."

The study I linked to above talks about how, placed in a sensory deprivation room, even people who aren't necessarily prone to hallucination may begin to experience them in as few as 15 minutes. And this is what they suspect:
One of the researchers, psychologist Oliver Mason, said the results of the experiment support the idea that hallucinations are produced through what the scientists call faulty source monitoring: the brain misidentifies the source of its own thoughts as arising from outside the body.
Personally I find it kind of interesting. It's another example, I think, of believing being more powerful than actuality. Of the brain having this incredible power of belief over its surroundings and the body.  We know this is true, we see it every day, but we don't really give it the research and study it deserves, in my opinion. For example, WHY would our brains decide, in the absence of other stimuli, to believe that our own thoughts are external? What's the pathway that allows something like that?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Imaginary Friends Are Not Just For Kids

If you're a writer and often find yourself talking with your characters, reassure yourselves!

It's okay, apparently 46 out of 50 of us do it, too!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Some Teaser Content

If you're interested, and even if you're not, I've released an original letter from Helen to her brother Pollux, unearthed after all these millennia from my brain, over at GeekaChicas!

These letters will be published periodically in honor of National Novel Writing Month and my Work-In-Progress about Helen's story and the Trojan War. I'll give you guys a post here to let you know when they go up. The next letter will be Pollux's response to Helen's plea.

Yes, I'm absolutely aware that letter writing is, technically speaking, not necessarily historically accurate for the time. (That was a lot of adverbs.) But if Ovid can do it, I figure in the interest of artistic license, fudging things a bit can't hurt.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A (slightly disorganized) Tale of Two Fathers

NaNoWriMo Wordcount Update: 

15031 / 50000 words. 30% done!

Remember that show, My Two Dads?

Yeah, I don't really remember it either. But today I was surfing through Plutarch's Theseus, skimming for reference to the Helen abduction, and, yes, I'll admit it, reading Theseus's entry in Wikipedia, (in my defense I also read about him in Apollodorus) and I came across some things that hadn't fully sunk in before.

For instance: Theseus has two fathers. And he isn't the only Greek Hero suffering from a redundancy of dads.

To understand this, maybe I need to go into the philosophy a little bit. You see, back in the day, men in their infinite wisdom operated under the common misconception that women really weren't more than just an oven. The sperm did all the work of making a baby, and the wife contributed little if nothing at all to the resulting offspring, other than providing the space for incubation. I'm pretty sure that I read this from an excerpt attributed to Aristotle in my Women in History course in college, but I can't promise it so don't quote me. Anyway, semen was the provider of all...well, they didn't really consider it genetic material then, so lets say, life-forming matter. As a result of this understanding (Aristotle did write before Apollodorus, who is a major source for Theseus, and certainly long before Plutarch and Ovid), if a woman had intercourse with two men in the same day, or the same night, the child born COULD be a mix of those two men--fathered by both.

We see the Dual-Dad syndrome in children born of the gods, pretty exclusively as far as I know, which is convenient because it relieves them of the burden of being illegitimate heirs. I have to admit, I'm not exactly sure what the lot of an illegitimate child was, but the fact that the children are labeled as such in works like The Iliad leads me to believe that they were probably not given the privileges of their legitimate brothers and sisters. Certainly Hera had no love for Zeus's bastard children, and legitimacy seems at the very least to be required of one who will inherit any kind of land, wealth, or kingdom.