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Losing an Author, and Read Harder Book 2: A Retelling of a Classic Story

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I hope that, by now, everyone knows that the beloved Sir Terry Pratchett died recently. I hope that people know that, because for a few days after I found out (which was pretty much as soon as the articles started going up, I think), I kept accidentally being the bearer of horribly depressing news when I went to talk to people about my feelings. And then I’d get a rather odd look from my fellow Discworld “fan” who has no idea why, when they compliment my Discworld shirt, I respond with immense sadness. (I put “fan” in quotation marks because, I mean, I feel like fans would know.)

I’ve never lost an author before. I mean, I’ve read books by dead people, of course. And I’m sure authors I’ve read books by have died in my lifetime since my reading of their books. I don’t really know. Or if I do, it’s something I find out much later, and say, oh, well, that’s unfortunate, she was good. And, to be completely honest, I’ve never quite understood the hysteria surrounding the death of a famous person. Please don’t leave angry comments, but: When Robin Williams died last year, and everyone I know began acting like he was their favorite actor to ever have existed when I know for a fact that a few weeks ago they had said something about how he’s not all that funny anymore, and suddenly they’re in full mourning–well, I grew up listening to the Evita soundtrack, and there’s a certain song that gets stuck in my head. Please know that I’m not saying that Robin Williams’ death wasn’t horrible or sad. He suffered from terrible illnesses and I really do hope that whatever happens after we die, he’s found peace. I do. But I didn’t feel it personally, and I had a hard time believing that all the hysterical mourners on my Facebook wall did, either. But after losing Sir Terry, I think I get it a bit more.

I think the first time I ever saw a Discworld book, I was in middle school and some girls I knew loved them. They were geeks, so I kind of wrote them off as books for geeks, completely ignoring that I could basically recite from memory every Harry Potter book. I came across them again in high school, again in the hands of geeks (different geeks, since it was a different school), but suddenly I had found that these geeks were my close friends, and oh, wow, I’m a geek, too! So they started lending me their books. I read a few and, honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with them. I didn’t dislike them, though, so they lent me more. I soon realized that I wasn’t all that into Rincewind (and, well, Sir Terry himself never recommended starting with A Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, so maybe that’s not my fault), but I really liked the others. I read EricThe Wee Free Men, Small Gods, and a couple of others, and I soon found that my worldview had changed completely. I wasn’t brought up with religion, but the way things worked in Small Gods made a whole lot of sense to me, and I still look at theology through that lens. Still, though, I wasn’t what you’d call a Discworld Fan. I had read a few of the books and mostly liked them. I borrowed a copy of Good Omens from a teacher who then got fired so I never had to give it back. It’s still on my shelf.

It wasn’t until college that someone gave me the right Discworld books, that I read about Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax and Moist von Lipwig, and I realized I’d been going about it all wrong. My copies of the City Watch books are almost as beat up as that copy of Good Omens, I’ve read them so many times. The pages are dog-eared so I can always find the funniest bits, though when I lend them to people they always kindly unfold the pages for me because they know that, as a book lover, I must hate it when pages get like that. (In a $30 hardcover? Yes. In a $7.99 paperback with frayed corners and 12 cracks in the spine that I’ll have to replace with the new taller edition anyway so the shelf lines up right? No.) I devoured the first two books in the Long Earth series, and finishing the rest, well, I’ve got a 2’4″ stack of books I have to make some headway on before I can buy anything else, but I can’t wait to get to it.

So even though I’ve never returned to the Rincewind books–until tomorrow, that is, when I will finish the book that I’m reading (A Slip of the Keyboard, Pratchett’s collected nonfiction, because how could I have picked up anything else?) and pick up The Color of Magic again, this time as an actual Discworld Fan–Pratchett’s work has been a huge influence on my life. Half my thoughts about life are in the form of sarcastic footnotes. The City Watch series is something I’ve been able to share with Mike, who better hurry up and read Night Watch and then Thud! because those two are my favorites, and I love being able to share books with someone and laughing hysterically at 1:30 in the morning at the suggestion of naming a future potential child we may have Dorfl.

Reading A Slip of the Keyboard is eye-opening in a way that feels similar to how I felt when Small Gods made so much sense to me eleven years ago. I want to write, and I’m realizing that I’m going about it all wrong. I’m reading all the wrong things, and, well, I’m not going to stop reading the things that I love, but there’s a lot of stuff out there aside from science fiction and fantasy, a lot of nonfiction, classics, mythology, science, whatever, that could inform me as a theoretical writer much more than just reading the types of books I want to write. You don’t bury an apple tree to grow an apple tree.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for all that you’ve given to me and the world. I cried a whole lot (awkwardly, at work, but fortunately with a boss who also loves him and understood), but I realize now that you also helped to create in me the mechanisms necessary to deal with this. You taught me that “a man’s not dead while his name’s still spoken,” and that DEATH is actually not too bad a guy, and maybe this is heaven and when we die we’re actually being born, and that after you die, you’ll end up wherever you believe you’ll end up. And I’m hoping that you’ve ended up on the Discworld, and that if you have, it’s somewhere that can offer you Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably-Priced Love, and a Hard Boiled Egg.

All the little angels rise up, rise up,
All the little angels rise up high!
How do they rise up, rise up, rise up?
How do they rise up, rise up high?
They rise heads up, heads up, heads up,
They rise heads up, heads up high!

(If you’re just here for my update on my Read Harder challenge, I’m not remotely sorry about all that. But the other part’s starting now.)

In the winter, I like to read fairy tales. Not necessarily classic fairy tales, but books that make me feel the way I imagine Lucy first felt when she stepped through the back of that wardrobe into a snowy Narnia with a lamp post sprouting out of the ground in front of her. I think I’ve inextricably linked that scene and snowstorms in my mind, which is why I always feel like something magical is going on when it starts to snow, while real adults just sit and complain about the shoveling. (At a certain point every winter, though, I’m over it. It’s pretty, but it can go to Hell.) It’s for this reason that I decided my second Read Harder Challenge book should be a retelling. There are so many retellings with so much magic in them, I knew I’d find the perfect one. So one kind of dismal and slow day at work, as I walked around neatening up shelves, I pulled a few off and read the backs, hoping to find the perfect fairy tale retelling to fulfill this slot on the challenge. And then something jumped out at me. Something I’d bought ages (okay, months) ago and had sitting on my TBR shelf at home just waiting for me. Something I’d been meaning to read since I did an independent study in epics back in college. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

Not a fairy tale. Not what I was looking for or expecting to want to read. But the perfect book nonetheless.

When I say I did an independent study in epics, what I mean is that in the course of three months, I read The Odyssey and two modern epics that are heavily based on it, one of which was Ulysses, and guys, if you ever want to hate yourselves, design an independent study that you need a good grade in to graduate that requires that you read Ulysses in a month. And understand it. I guarantee you’ll never want to look at the book again. That’s besides the point, though.

At some point, something happened, some discussion occurred, and my professor recommended The Penelopiad to me. I hadn’t read Atwood at that point, so while I vaguely remembered the title, I wasn’t about to rush to the store to get yet another book based on The Odyssey. I’d had quite enough, thank you. But I’m pretty sure the discussion that led to this recommendation was about the maids. I’m pretty sure I didn’t like their death. So now, all these years later, I’m happy to say that Margaret Atwood didn’t like it, either.

The Penelopiad is a slim volume where Penelope recounts her experiences while her husband was on his famed Odyssey from a safe distance of a few thousand years, which she’s spent mostly in the sort of afterlife she believed in. The book was surprisingly straightforward. Penelope’s been planning this story for thousands of years; she’s not about to waste her time making things convoluted for us. She has something to say, and she’s finally ready to say it, and what it is is her story. Her side of the events. What she was doing the whole time he was gone. How she ran the household, built it up, tricked people who needed tricking, raised a frankly thankless son, kept an eye on the suitors while keeping them at bay, and how she lost everything for it. How the suitors took most of what she had, and when Odysseus returned, he took the rest, her twelve favorite maids who acted under her orders and were loyal to her throughout. All for the crime of having been raped.

The maids get their say, too, though not in the way you might expect. They’re the Chorus. They appear between chapters and sing a song, or tell a story, or, in one instance, give a university lecture on their significance to the story of The Odyssey.

If you’ve ever read The Odyssey and you’ve ever got a little free time, this book is worth picking up. It’ll present some new ideas, and those ideas that aren’t new will be put under a different light. Atwood doesn’t make much up, really; she tells the story so obviously lurking in the background of the classic–so obviously that most of us never really even notice it.

ALIVE. With ANSWERS.

Every once in a while, something happens that causes me to disappear completely. Nobody sees me except for Mike and the people who see me in class and usually the barista at the Starbucks near school. (Which I can’t explain, because I don’t even do caffeine. I should cut that shit out.)

School starting is one of those things that happens that causes this. For the past few weeks, I have been overwhelmingly busy with homework and this neat new internship I’m doing. On the days that I’m not doing one of those things, it’s because my brain broke down and can’t handle to do anything other than sit on the couch and stare at the NCIS marathon that is inevitably playing on USA, or obsessively read through the archives of Overcompensating, or find out that there’s this book series called The Hunger Games that I somehow missed out on and then accidentally read the entire series in two days and then refuse to acknowledge any inquiries as to whether I cried at the end. I’m kind of a book addict. Sorry. P.S. Anyone who comments with a spoiler will get hunted down by one of my trained assassins, just in case someone else hasn’t read them and wants to.

TL;DR: I’ve been super busy, and on the days that I’m not super busy, I’m fucking lazy. Also kind of burnt out. And really all that’s going through my head most of the time is that I love one of my professors and hate the other, and if I’m honest with myself, you don’t want to read about that.

I’m trying to start keeping a list of things worth blogging about as they come into my head so I’ll at least be able to think of something when it occurs to me that I should write a blog post. If you have any suggestions, I’m willing to take them, but no promises.

Anyway. You’re probably wondering about that “with ANSWERS” thing up there, aren’t you? No? You think I was referring to everything I just told you about why I suck at updating my blog when I also have other things to do? Well then you’re WRONG. (Thought that would be a very reasonable conclusion to draw. Now that I think of it.) I discovered these questions that some dude who was French and had a TV show used to ask every guest he had. They seemed fascinating. They are called PIVOT’S QUESTIONS and I thought I would answer them for you, so here goes.

(Are you excited? I’m excited.)

What is your favorite word?
Do people actually have favorite words? That’s news to me. Does it have to be in English? I wonder how Pivot would have reacted if someone’s favorite word had been in Klingon or something. (I won’t judge you if your favorite word is in Klingon. I just think he would have.) Okay. Mine’s schadenfreude. Which is German but is also technically in English dictionaries now so I guess it’s both. If you’re not familiar with it, it means “happiness at the misfortune of others,” and if you want to really understand it, you should go listen to this song from Avenue Q. You’ve felt it before.

What is your least favorite word?
Chunk.

What turns you on, excites, or inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Books. Good books can do anything the above question implies. Though most of the stuff I ready is too dystopian to actually, y’know. Turn me on.

What turns you off?
In the middle of the night, a train pulls up to a quietly sleeping city. The sounds emanating from the train gradually wake everyone. Just as they’re getting out of their cozy and safe houses to investigate, the train’s passengers burst out. Clowns. But not just any clowns. Fucking clowns. And I mean that literally. A fucking clown train. And I have some very special people to thank for this very specific mental image.

What sound or noise do you love?
Silence. Is that allowed? Probably not. Wait, no. I don’t want complete silence anyway. How about the sound of an air conditioner? Or a loud fan? Or a car engine? I don’t really like noise most of the time but those sounds are very comforting to sleep to. Now that we have the air conditioner off it is hard to sleep in the silence. (Ooh, add that to the reasons I’ve been absent. Lack of sleep. Fucking miserable.)

What sound or noise do you hate?
The voice of Mike’s Grand Theft Auto IV character saying “Howdy, partner” over and over and over.

What’s your favorite curse word?
If I say “fuck,” can it include “fucking”? Because nothing feels better than saying “fuck yes” when something is awesome except maybe saying “fucking” for emphasis. Fucking fuck yes. “Fucking” is more versatile, so I’ll go with that.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Whenever I’m watching NCIS I’m overcome by a desire to be a super badass federal agent. My spy name would be Raptor Fury. Either that or that’d be the name of some mission I was involved in. Or leading. That would be so fucking cool if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a total wimp and would not survive a day as a federal agent.

What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in?
I don’t want to be a teacher. Ever. Or a professor. Too few students would actually care for it to be worth it, and I’d constantly be a nervous wreck about that. I’d end up completely convinced that they hate school (or whatever class I’m teaching) because they hate me, even though it’s more likely that they just hate it in general anyway. Some people say it’s worth it for the one or two kids in your class who actually care and are excited to learn what you’re teaching, but I’d be way too broken up about the rest to be excited about them.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
I wouldn’t want him to say anything. Going back to NCIS for a second. You know how when Gibbs is really happy about something, he just kinda tilts his head a teensy bit and gets a slightly bemused look on his face and nods a tiny bit? Almost imperceptibly? If you watch it, you know what I’m talking about. That is what I would want him to do. Failing that, I would accept a Caff-Pow.

I hope this has been eye-opening for you. It would be really cool if you answered your favorite question in the comments.

Horrible Medical Advice of the Week: The Bible’s Got Your Answers

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You may have noticed that I sorta suck at keeping up a weekly schedule, but I’m going to keep putting the “of the week” in there so I’ll at least continue to try. It’s the thought that counts, right?

This week, we need look no further than the Bible.

Mark 9:43: And if your hand offends you, cut it off.

(It is important to note that the site I found this on said “Mar” and not “Mark” and I did some extra research in order to find out what the hell “Mar” meant. Because I care. About you guys, that is.)

So the real question is: Should we stop at hands? And the answer, I feel, is “no”.* Taking the Bible too literally has gotten us into all kinds of messes before. I mean, look at the Spanish Inquisition. Do you want to start the next Spanish Inquisition? Didn’t think so.

I guess we could look at the definition of “offends” here. The most obvious would be phantom hand syndrome–when you cut the corpus callosum, which is occasionally used as a last-resort treatment for seizures, you’ll lose conscious control over one side of your body. And it’ll do whatever the fuck it wants. So it might actually offend you in the way you’re used to the word. Maybe you’ll be sitting there talking to someone and your hand will flip you off. Or it could be like in that House episode where the dude punches his girlfriend.

But there’s a second definition of “offend” which most people aren’t aware of and this passage in the Bible probably wants you to be aware of.

“To be displeasing or disagreeable to; to vex, annoy, displease or anger; (now esp.) to excite a feeling of personal upset, resentment, annoyance, or disgust in”

And that’s straight from the OED.

So now, if we’re not taking the Bible too seriously: If [some body part] [vexes/annoys/displeases/angers] you, cut it off.

Think of how many problems this could solve:
Bruised leg? CHOP. Not bruised anymore!
Carpal tunnel syndrome? CHOP. You won’t be getting that again!
Performance anxiety keeping you down? CHOP. Imagine how ballsy you’ll look!
Migraines? CHOP. Now you’re migraine-free AND can do a kickass Marie Antoinette impression!

Obviously, there will be times when this isn’t quite so easy. Stomach ulcer? You’ll have to go get surgery to have them cut your stomach out, and then you might have some issues with doctors thinking that’s a bad idea. You could probably say you want it done AMA, but then you’d have to fill out paperwork. And your insurance wouldn’t cover it. Oh, and they have the right to refuse to do it, anyway.

So, the next time you have a problem with something that isn’t an internal organ, you’ll know what to do. Don’t thank me. Thank the Bible.

 

Dr. Boyfriend Says: Please don’t cut off your extremities. This is horrible medical advice. Don’t listen to Rachael. She’s never even read the Bible.

*Note to Grammar Nerds who are annoyed at the placement of this period: That’s how David Crystal does it, so nyah.

Why Wil Wheaton Totally Could (But Shouldn’t) Start a Religion

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I try to stay away from politics and religion as much as possible, but recent events have made me consider both of them more than I generally like to. Mostly, I’ve been getting angry about people who are complete assholes and use their religion as an excuse for their behavior. It doesn’t matter what religion you subscribe to: none of them have “act like a total douche” in their codes of behavior. Mike and I were discussing this last night when I began to reiterate a believe I’ve held for quite some time: most religions have pretty much the exact same message if you take out the stuff specific to their God or Goddess or whatever. And I came to an Awesome Realization.

(A Few Isolated Examples Of The) Ten Commandments (Christianity and Judaism)
Thou shalt not murder: murdering people is kind of a dick move.
Thou shalt not steal: stealing things is something only a dick would do.
Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife: you’d have to be a complete dick to covet your neighbor’s wife!

A few Islam Rules
Do not confound truth with falsehood: because if you lie, you’re probably a dick.
If you do not have complete knowledge about anything, better keep your mouth shut. You might think that speaking about something without full knowledge is a trivial matter. But it might have grave consequences: if you spread rumors based on hearsay, you’re a dick. (There are actually quite a few rules along these lines according to my research.)
Spy not upon one another: because if you do, you’re a dick!
Treat kindly your parents, relatives, orphans and those who have been left alone in society: being mean to these people just makes you more of a dick.
Do not expect a return for your good behavior, not even thanks: mostly because if you do things expecting to have people treat you well in return, you’ll end up feeling entitled to everything just because you drive a hybrid and then you’ll be a total dick.

Some Hindu Rules
Ahimsa: non-violence: because violent people are dicks.
Satya: to live in the truth: like the lying thing up there–dicks.
Daya: compassion: if you are not compassionate, chances are you’re a dick.

The Witches’ Rede
Eight words the witches’ rede fulfill: an it harm none, do what ye will: do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone because harming people is totally a dick move.

Okay, so I think I’ve covered a few of the major religions up there. From everything I’ve read, the rules in all of them boil down to three things: (1) worship God(s/dess/whatever), (2) public health measures from millennia ago, and, most importantly, (3): DON’T BE A DICK.

Where have we heard that before? If you’re any sort of geek, probably from Wil Wheaton. That’s right–some celebrity dude’s personal motto and code of conduct has perfectly summed up that of ever major religion and probably most minor ones. (Also, I didn’t include all of what Jesus is said to have said, but it all boils down to “don’t be a dick.” I mean, come on: “Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn” [note: I’m not sure if that’s one of the translations of the Bible or Rent’s summary], “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” etc.)

Your New Leader

So basically, Wil Wheaton is telling us the exact same thing as all the religions AND he’s already got a huge following. If he wanted to, he would have no problem starting up his own new religion. I mean, come on. You’d be Wheatonist, right? He is a nice person (I know because I follow him on Twitter) and he wants you to be a nice person, and that’s the point of the religion. Sounds pretty solid to me.

Why he shouldn’t: Here is the problem. You see the caption for that image up there? Did anything in your brain rebel against that? Even if yours did, I bet a lot of people’s wouldn’t. Even though I totally can’t imagine Wil Wheaton purposefully starting a cult, any religion he started would turn into one just because people love him that goddamn much.

Things I Overheard Wil Wheaton Saying in a Hypothetical World Where He’d Started a Religion:
-“Hey, what’s with the robes? D&D? Huh. Okay. Whatever.” (A few minutes later, different group) “Hey, what’s with the robes? Need a DM? Dammit, why are you bowing to me?”
-“Is that a 50-foot statue of me? Why are you building a 50-foot statue of me? Fuck, NO do NOT hang the non-believers from the statue! Take that down right now!”
-“Why are you repeating everything I say? And what’s with the monotone? Stop calling me Master!”
-“Guys seriously I did not call for a mass suicide on this day what are you doing STOP IT–” (Moments later, every single one of Wil Wheaton’s followers killed themselves. Aside from Wil himself, everyone left on Earth was a dick.)

Wil Wheaton already has enough of a cult following as it is. A religion would only make things worse, but I do hope that his cult following actually listens to his “don’t be a dick” thing. It’s kind of important.

Collating Papers For Your Sins (via The Bloggess, who also shouldn't start a religion for pretty much the same reasons)

Wil Wheaton, if you’re reading this, please don’t start your own religion.

Easter Dildos. Jesus would be so proud.

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I would hope that anyone reading this knows that the day after a holiday is often much more important than the holiday itself. If you don’t, I’ll explain why: all the candy is half off. So Monday night, Mike and I made our trek to the grocery store to obtain some precious discounted Reeses eggs. After a lot of wandering, we finally found the “discounted Easter shit” table right by the entrance to the store (there are two entrances, dammit) and stocked up on Reeses eggs. It’s a good thing Mike wanted to look closer to make sure we weren’t missing any Cadbury Creme eggs, because if he hadn’t, I never would have seen these:

A kids toy. Right. *wink*

Easter dildos. Except they’re not supposed to be dildos at all and you’re all perverts for even thinking that. If you’re confused, look closer at the image in the upper corner. Here:

It claims to be a great gift idea. You know, for that friend who whines too much about not having a boyfriend.

See? Not a dildo at all. Just a toy that you squeeze and the top ejaculates er, flies across the room. And you want to be careful not to get it in anyone’s eye, because projectiles are dangerous.

And they had to go and name them “bunny rockets.” As if bunnies and rockets aren’t associated with sex toys enough as it is. In fact, you might want to check out this comparison:

They both look pretty happy to be sitting on top of that thing, don't they?

Don’t these look an awful lot like these?

Via goodvibes.com

They’re missing the nifty textured caps, though.

I searched goodvibes.com for “bunny,” “rabbit” and “rocket.” “Bunny” got me 11 results. “Rabbit” got 26, and only some of them were overlap. “Rocket” only got 8 and one of them was a bunny. Is this so deeply ingrained in our society that we can’t create a fucking Easter toy without making dildos? Apparently. Apparently it is impossible to combine “bunny” and “rocket” and NOT get a dildo.

So we have something that is clearly a sex toy. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s double-ended. One side has thick ribbing (for your pleasure, obviously) and the other side has fancy nubs and bumps that are probably guaranteed to hit all the right spots or something like that. The plastic on the ribbed end is pretty flimsy, though, so be careful when you use it. You could squeeze it too hard, and you don’t want the tip flying off and getting anyone in the eye.

Now I have to figure out what the hell to do with four Easter dildos. Maybe I need to have a blog giveaway.

(Edited to add: “Bunny Dildo” originally brought to my attention by my friend Siren, whose post about hers might be the only reason I noticed them in the first place. Then she wrote another one after I planned this one and dammit, I was not going to not post it, but here is her second one too. It seems like there is some natural human reaction to Easter dildos.)