Thursday, August 16, 2012

Green Eyed Monster

Ain’t good looking, but you know I ain’t shy.
Ain't afraid to look a girl in the eye.
--Rambling, Gambling Man, Bob Seger

Eyes are my favorite feature.  I believe they truly are the windows to your soul.

Perhaps that’s why novels always offer up detailed descriptions of the eyes of their characters.  Seems you can’t walk through an aisle of books without the quintessential green-eyed redhead, blue-eyed blond, or hazel-eyed chestnut brunette staring back at you.

Probably one of the most famous green eyed pictures ever.
Green eyes are the rarest eye color for humans, although they are one of the most common colors of cats’ eyes.  It was this association that got green-eyed ladies tagged with mystery and possibly supernatural powers.  In the days of wigs and lice combs, witches were believed to have green eyes, and able to shape-shift into cats at will.  The glowing green eyes were the only proof of the human that was still there under the fur.  Fur Far fetched?  Maybe.  Then again, our ancestors may have been just snorting wig powder.

For the real origin of green eyes, forget all you learned in grade school from Mendel and his pea plants--eye color is no longer felt to be an example of a simple genetic trait.  Instead, it is the result of variation at several different genes.  No one has exactly the same color eyes--and this variation is why two brown eyed parents can spawn a green eyed child.

Green eyes probably originated from a mutation in proto-Celtic peoples during the Bronze Age, and then with the aid of pillaging and wars, came to be spread throughout the world.  The highest number of green eyed people is actually seen in Turkey and Iceland.  In 2010, the inhabitants of Liqian, an isolated Chinese village, were found to be direct descendants of a lost Roman army--all based on their green eyes.

A Liqian citizen--descendant of Romans in China?
Green eyes are said to be related to passion and sexual prowess.  Their owners are reputed to have a curious nature and an overall zest for life.  On the down side, they tend to be jealous and fiercely independent to a fault.  Shakespeare may have coined the term “green eyed monster” and its association with jealousy in his plays, first in The Merchant of Venice and then Othello.  Here’s a quote in which Iago explains a man who knows his wife is cheating is better off than the man who just suspects.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:
But O, what damn├Ęd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!
A far more palatable green eyed monster.
If you read any paranormal literature, you may find that many characters--good and evil--seem to have green eyes.  Perhaps this is due to their rarity, but the green eyed malicious and/or magical mythos has long been propagated.  Have you ever noticed all the Disney villains seem to have green eyes?  And where are the green eyed princesses?

I was told as a girl that green eyes meant you harbored an evil spirit.  There are many myths of otherworldly creatures with green eyes and sinister plans.  Some of the first vampire myths gave the vampire glowing green eyes and red hair.  The Eastern European Rusalka is a mermaid-like creature with eyes of green that haunts waterways, seducing and drowning young men who try to come to her aid.  Sort of like the modern-day cougar.  Or Jen Aniston.  
The Rusalka.  
Other cultures, like Gypsies, believe green eyes represent a person with an “old soul”, or the reincarnated version of a shaman long gone.  Because Harry Potter has green eyes, dammit, no matter what color Daniel Radcliffe has.  

My eyes are green.  They’re also slightly different sizes and for whatever reason I get red eye from hell in every flash picture I take.  I know that the physics side of me explains this away by just simple reflections off the retina and the color of blood vessels.

But then again, there's been times I've been accused of harboring a demon.

Hope your week is going well.  Mine is going fantastically, despite what my horoscope says.  Sometimes, the stars lie.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Will O' the Wisp: Go ahead, go into the lights.

Are you the future or are you the past?
Have you been chosen or are you the last?
--Supernova Goes Pop, Powerman 5000

It seems fitting that my re-emergence into the blog scene be spurred by Lydia Kang, since she got me into blogging in the first place.  But a random email from Miss Lydia about a movie was all it took.  

I’m that easy.

Honestly, it’s time for me to wake up again--to rise from the ashes that I left you with in April.  The past few months I have been that girl in the too-tight yoga pants, hoping to the god of Ashtanga that my seams don’t split when I downward dog.  I suffered some disappointments in my writing, and I let it mess with my head and steal my muse.  So in response, I immersed myself in my day job, starting some projects that are grand and scary and exciting and completely different from what I was doing.  I’m creating a curriculum on quality improvement and patient safety that combines resident physicians with administrative leaders.  I’m helping in the roll out of an Electronic Health Care record for my hospital.  And now, I received a scholarship to obtain an executive MBA in health care.  I have been fighting some personal wars--i.e. figuring out what I want out of life.  You know, to paraphrase Patrick Swayze in that cinematic masterpiece, Roadhouse, deep existential type bullshit.

Swayze getting his zen on.

And what was my epiphany?  Have I had a Chopraesque moment?  Maybe.  I discovered that I’m thinking too much.  I need to put away the self-imposed pressure and concentrate on living life to the fullest, day by day.  Hour by hour.

And most importantly, to throw fear to the wind and follow the lights.

Fake? will o' the wisp in Finland
Which leads me to the subject of this blog rebirth--the will o' the wisp.  Apparently in the Pixar movie Brave (highly recommended by Miss Lydia), there's quite a bit about this entity.  Although I have not seen the movie, I do know about the will o' the wisp--my grandmother used to say it was the souls of babies who died stillborn, which is a Czech superstition.  
Pixar's will o' the wisps.
Yes, my ancestors were a wee bit morbid.  
The will o’ the wisp is a ghostly light seen by people at night, usually over bogs and marshy ground.  It looks like the flicker of a lamp and has led many a traveler astray as they try to follow the light.  Other names for this phenomenon include ignis fatuus, hinkypunk, pixy light or jack o’lantern.  Numerous folk tales involve the will o’ the wisp, and generally involve a malevolent character that leads people astray and “off the beaten path.”  People will follow the lights for miles, thinking they are beautiful fairies or angels, only to become hopelessly lost or worse, drown in the bog.  Perhaps this is a disguised social more about the importance of conformity.  Don't go off the path, or you'll be sorry.

Ignis Fatuus, a 1990s Doom Metal band from Finland.
In some European tales, the light represents a lost soul, trapped between heaven and hell.  These poor souls are desperate to get to their final resting place and will try to kill another person in order to "piggy back" onto their soul.  If you are confronted by these souls in limbo, you should first turn your cloak inside out.  However, given we are in less cloak wearing times, another alternative is to stick a knife into the ground.  Apparently the spirit will then try to destroy itself on the knife and you can escape.

This clip from The Princess Bride covers cloaks and accounting in one fell swoop.

Eastern mythology has a different take on the will o' the wisp, linking it to the magical part fox/part human creature called a kitsune.  The will o’ the wisp has been said to represent the foxfire that these creatures produce, also called the "hoshi no tama".  Foxfire holds the kitsune's magical power, and some traditions believe it represents the soul.  In some myths, the kitsune is portrayed as a seductress that will possess a human's soul, and lonely travelers are warned to avoid areas known for foxfire sightings.
Artist's rendition of a kitsune with its foxfire.
In South America, the will o’ the wisp is called Boi-tata and is a serpent with fiery eyes.  Believed to be a type of anaconda, this creature only leaves its cave home at night in order to eat the eyes of its victims.  The light collected from all of this eyeball feasting makes it glow.  In Argentina, the phenomenon of Boi-tata is dreaded as it represents otherworldly activity, specifically the appearance of Satan.
Snake eye humor.
Science has attempted to explain the phenomenon of the will o’ the wisp.  Methane is a highly combustible gas produced by decay of organic materials, which are in abundance in marshy areas (as well as in the human intestine).  Other chemical agents like phosphine oxidizing can produce photon emissions, igniting on contact with oxygen in the air and then spreading into adjacent methane pockets.  The combustion is said to occur at lower temperatures, which explains why nothing around the flames is burned and that we don’t have swamps on fire all over the world.
Methane gas ignited in a marsh.
Skeptics argue that these lights almost seem to have intelligent behavior, following a viewer and seemingly receding and approaching.  Two professors in 1993 proposed that tectonic strain produced the lights by heating up rocks that contained piezoelectric particles (quartz/silicon).  Piezoelectricity is simply electricity that results from pressure.  Movement of the earth puts these rocks under significant stress, thus producing electrical charges that are channeled to earth’s surface.  Other natural reasons cited for the will o' the wisp is bioluminescence of certain types of fungus found commonly in marshy area.
Bioluminescent mushrooms.

Whether caused by spirits, nature, or a trick of the mind, the will o' the wisp provides a cautionary tale--or does it?  I think at some point in life you have to decide if you are going to continue on a safe course--or are you going to be wooed by the mysterious and potentially dangerous flickerings of possibility?  Will you allow the things that paralyze you with fear to become reality, or banish them as spirits in the night?  (Or if you’re of the scientific ilk, like a fart in the wind.)
I’ve made that decision now.
And I’ve never been a beaten path kind of girl.

Thanks to everyone who sent me words of encouragement these past few months.  I've missed you, and the gypsy now has a fire in her soul.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Phoenix from the Flame

But I will rise
And I will return
The Phoenix from the flame
--Troy, Sinead O’Connor

I have left the poor blog desolate, dusty and seemingly dead.  But there’s still some life left.

Perhaps I can coax something to spring from the ashes.

The Phoenix is a fitting mythical beast for me these days.  For ancient scholars, it was the feathered embodiment of rebirth and immortality.  For current theologians (myself included), the idea of a personal rebirth keeps the mythology of the Phoenix alive.  Not to mention that whole Harry Potter character thing.

Fawkes, the bird that saves the day.

The earliest reference to a Phoenix-like bird is found in The Book of the Dead and involves the purple heron. The ancient Egyptians believed this bird sprung from the chest of Osiris, the god of death and the afterlife.  The heron, aka the benu, represented the soul of the rising sun--an entity that could never be entombed.  As the heron took flight every morning, the ancients believed it brought the light for both life and consciousness.  As it dived into the fiery sunrise, it brought the chance to be reborn.  So is a purple heron Fawkes’ long lost ancestor?
The purple heron.

When the Greeks came along, they put their own spin on the myth of the bird of the rising sun.  They dubbed it “phoenix”, a word that can mean either crimson or palm tree.  Greek historian Herodotus claimed the sacred bird was a real species that lived in a well by Phoenicia on a nest of palms.  He described it with crimson and gold feathers, resembling an eagle.  The Greek Sun god Helios was rumored to stop by each morning to hear the beautiful song of the Phoenix as it bathed in the well.  Let’s hope the people of Phoenicia had an alternate water source.  

The Roman poet Ovid also wrote about the Phoenix, claiming it ate nothing but air and frankincense.  Ovid gave detailed accounts of the bird’s fiery demise, although given that sort of diet, my professional opinion is that the bird died of starvation instead.  Especially since spontaneous combustion cases usually are linked to the more corpulent birds among us.

The Greek Phoenix had a 500-1000 year lifespan and was said to be a solitary creature (generally male).  So perhaps the spontaneous combustion gig is actually a consequence of being lonely and sexually frustrated for a millenia.  Then again, maybe he was just tired of having Helios stop by every day for a little cheap voyeurism.  
"Yeah, wash that wing a little longer."
Raphael Mengs "Helios as Midday"

According to ancient historians, at the end of its life, the Phoenix built its nest from oak branches or palm trees, anointed its wings in spices and aromatics in a disturbing sort of self-basting, and then settled in for the big bang.  Fear not though, after the parent bird bit the proverbial dust, a new Phoenix arose.  As a last tribute to its predecessor, the young Phoenix gathered the remains of the funeral pyre into a sacred egg and took them to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, depositing it in the temple of the Sun.  This cycle of adult to egg was a symbol of the cycle of life and its continual flow.

Tacitus, a Roman historian, supported the claim that the Phoenix was indeed a real animal in his Annals of Imperial Rome, citing that one was seen during Claudius’s reign.  He espoused the healing powers of the ashes of the Phoenix--although certainly with a 500 year production wait, probably not the best pharmaceutical out there.  

The poet Martial also included the phoenix in his works as a symbol of Rome’s eternity.  From there, some early Christians used it as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection before the cross caught on.
Roman fresco showing Christ with a Phoenix

Of all the myths of the Phoenix, I find the Chinese myth of the Feng Huang the most intriguing.  In Chinese mythology, the Phoenix is the symbol of sacred power granted to the Empress--a symbol of the female power.  It is often pictured together with the dragon, a symbol of the male power.  Together they represent the merger of the yin and yang (male and female).  It is a bird of grace and elegance, with courage, wisdom and was seen as a sign of good luck and justice.

The Feng Huang has been described with a cock’s head, a snake’s neck, a swallow’s beak and a tortoise’s back.  However, in most artists’ renditions, the creature is transformed into a magnificent bird reminiscent of a peacock.  The colors in its feathers (red, white, yellow, green, and black) represent the qualities of virtue, duty, integrity, humanity, and dependability.  The symbol was so well known in Chinese culture that Confucius used it in his philosophical teachings, saying that "the phoenix appears no more,”  when he spoke of corruption in the Chinese government.

In literature, the Phoenix is a popular piece of symbolism.  Shakespeare and Hans Christian Anderson both have poetry dedicated to the creature.  Eudora Welty’s character Phoenix represents the regeneration of the South in the short story, The Worn Path.  Sylvia Plath in
Lady Lazarus alludes to the Phoenix in the line “Out of the ash, I rise with my red hair.  And I eat men like air.”
Terri Rosario's interpretation of the Phoenix

There’s even a flower with the moniker, and is connected to a Chinese folktale.  The Phoenix fairy flower came to be after Ling-Li, a virtuous woman sews herself a beautiful wedding robe.  Unfortunately, her evil neighbor steals the robe and destroys it out of spite.  The scraps are blessed by fairies, and begin grow in Ling-Li’s garden.  The story is a tale of the triumph of a pure soul and its ability to rise above devastation.  In the states, the Phoenix fairy flower is related to a wildflower called jewelweed.
Jewelweed, a relative of the Phoenix fairy flower

Spring is a time of renewal for me.  The miracle of watching the seasons change fills me with inner unrest--a demand that I clean out the closet of my soul.  This year, I’ve hit a wall.  The hard fact that the things I want are not materializing as I had hoped.  I have to create something from the ashes, so you may not hear much from me until I’ve filled my feathers with spice, laid on my nest of palms and let go of the past.  Let's hope I'm more successful than these dudes doing the cinnamon challenge.

I will return.  Like the Phoenix from the flame.

How do you rise from the ashes?


Friday, March 23, 2012

But don't feed them after midnight: multiplying memes

My end, it justifies my means.
--Before I Forget, Slipknot
Bloggy Memes are the internet form of Mogwais.  They multiple quickly, and it can be difficult to figure out what to do with them.  Still, they are damn adorable, and I love you all for thinking of me. 
I have received some fab awards here of late, and it’s now time to acknowledge the fab people that passed on their bloggy lovin’ to me. 
Trisha over at Word + Stuff gave me a Kreativ Blogging Award.  The tithe is to list 6 things about little ol’ me.

Kathleen over at Reading, Writing and Life gave me a Sunshine Award, which is just such a great thing.  Makes me want to dance to Katrina and the Waves.  It comes with some specific questions to answer.

Wendy at The Red Angel gave me a Sunshine Award and a Lucky 7 Meme.  The Lucky 7 is pretty cool, you take your current ms, go to page 77, go 7 lines from the top and those next 7 lines are your tithe.

Suze at Analog Breakfast gave me a Versatile Blogger award, too, and she wants 7 more random facts about yours truly.
So without further ado, here is a plethora of memes.  You might want to make sure your blender is working--not sure what these things will do once I start to feed ‘em, and it’s getting close to midnight.
Six random facts about me:

1.  I find commercials that feature talking food really creepy, especially that Chips Ahoy commercial where the cookie has eyeballs.  Why would something I'm going to eat tell me how good it tastes and want me to eat it?  

Ooooo. . .wait, is this Freudian?  Because if I think like an anthropologist (see my last post) that means Chips Ahoy is trying to make me think of sex and chocolate chips. 

2.  I love garage sales with a mad passion.  My dad and I spend spring and summer digging through other people’s junk.  I’m hoping to have an American Pickers moment of greatness one day, maybe find a Monet and live for the rest of my life on easy street.  Or maybe I'll just find Suze's Cap'n Crunch Fire King mug, which would be almost as good.
I'm coming for you, Cap'n.

3.  This is one of my favorite pieces of art, an oil painting by a Polish guy named Beksinski.  They're apocalyptic lovers, and it really strikes a nerve in me.  To me, it symbolizes the kind of love that if you had just moments to live before annihilation, you'd wrap yourself around the other person and never let go.

4.  I am double jointed and can put both legs behind my head like a pretzel.  Strange how I didn't have more dates in college.  

5.  I was a Teacher’s Aide for a Human Physiology lab in college.  Consequently, I can castrate a rat in less than 5 minutes.  It takes me a little longer if he gets to his car first.

6.  The first real concert I went to was Metallica (pre-haircut and Napster) in Des Moines, Iowa.  I was almost smashed on the mosh pit floor until this giant burly dude pulled me from the fray like a tattooed god reaching from the heavens.  I'm still a fan of big burly tattooed guys, just look at my romance selections.  FYI, Gena Showalter has awesome tattooed warrior dudes.  
And another seven random facts about me:
1.  My husband and I are the product of a one-night stand that has turned into 15 years.  You can meet someone you'll love forever in a bar, I'm living proof.

2.  I love to be scared--one of my dream trips would be to go to the Stanley hotel (of The Shining fame) and spend a night.  Just as long as there are no clowns involved.  Clowns scare the freaking hell out of me.

The Stanley Hotel.  Just looks scary.

3.  When I’m tense, I pick at my pinky toenails.  As a result, they are horrifically deformed.  Think Hobbit feet.

4.  I hate turtlenecks on men.

5.   I’m a huge fan of musicals--Pippin and A Chorus Line are my favorites.  I briefly entertained a musical theater major in college.  Now I just sing in the shower.

6.  I know all the lines to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  My fave song is “Toucha Toucha Toucha Touch Me.”

7.  I can do a pretty good imitation of Animal from the Muppets screaming “WOMAN!!”  

Specific questions about me from the Sunshine Award:

Favorite Color: Green.  

Favorite Animal: The Honey Badger.  They’re small, ferocious, can use tools, and secrete a substance from their anal glands that can calm bees.  What’s not to love?  

Favorite Number: 13.  No triskaidekaphobia here.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: Ice tea, unsweetened.   On the alcohol side, I love red wine and red beer.

Facebook or Twitter:  I like Twitter, because it’s one of those things where the name really does describe what it is.  I find Facebook odd--there’s a lot of sharing of things I don’t think necessarily should be shared, even if it is only with 10,134 of your closest friends.  Facebook also makes me realize that some of the people I know are narcissistic, self righteous assholes.  And the rest of the people I know just like cat videos.

My Passions: My family.  I have two little boys that hung the moon and make me remember what living is all about (some days the definition of success is watching Scooby Doo videos while wrapped in a warm blanket).  I also love to run, and I don’t feel right if I don’t go at least five times a week, even if it’s only for a mile.  Finally, I love to make people laugh--humor is what gets me through the day.

Getting or Giving Presents:  I am obsessed with gift giving--it’s nearly a sport to find the perfect gift for people I know.  I love finding something unique that totally defines that person.  I'm so not a gift card gal, unless I'm desperate.
Favorite Pattern: Paisley.

Favorite Day of the Week:  Any day I don’t have to work my normal job.

Favorite Flower:  Irises and lilies are tied.
Finally, here is the Lucky 7 meme.  This excerpt is from my novel, “Wheel of Fortune.” It's the story of Jorga Volf, disgraced plastic surgeon forced to move home and reconcile with her family--a clan of Czechoslovakian carnies who run their tiny town like a redneck mafia.  Page 77, seven lines down goes a little like this:

About three years ago there was an earthquake in Nebraska, only about an hour from here.  It lasted fifteen seconds and rated 3.5 on the Richter scale.  My fourth cousin Joey became a local celebrity after the ABC affiliate from Omaha came out and interviewed him regarding his injuries.  He’d been on the toilet when it happened, and a bottle of Liquid Plumber fell out of the cabinet and beamed him right on the head, putting him in a coma for three days.  Guy still stutters.
I was perched on the bathroom vanity, trying out this purifying facial masque Stasia had when the house suddenly shook with a force so violent, I accidentally poked myself in the eye with a clay covered finger.  Limited by monocular vision, I stumbled out of the bathroom into the hallway just as another shock went through the house, this time accompanied with a deafening explosion of glass.

Thanks all of you for sending me your memes and thinking of me; I hope I didn't miss anyone.  Lately I've been a little thin in the blogging department--when life starts getting hectic, it seems to be one of the first things I have to put a hold on.  Stuff like this makes me remember how much I love the writerly community.  Have a fantastic weekend!!

And for those of you (Mr. McCarthy, where are you?) who came solely for the nudity I promised?  Here ya go:

Will Ferrell, naked.  You're welcome.