blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Stoicism: Exit Stage Right

          Remember the stoics?  Those guys in togas who sat on their front porches and solved the world’s problems in Ancient Greek?  They came up with the idea that avoiding hedonism and facing danger with a stiff upper lip would save them from… from…they thought that being stoic was a very good thing.
          I don’t know when or how I got the idea that bearing pain and not complaining and carrying the rubber plant on my poor little ant-back would make me… better? stronger?  less likely to end up in… in… that admitting pain and complaining were not very good things.
          I have gone through many years of being strong, and stoic and confident. I have perfected the art of masking pain, sorrow, and feelings of anxiety or indecision. In fact, at different times I have walked around with clinical depression, debilitating anxiety, slipped discs, badly sprained ankles, and rotator cuff tears that went unacknowledged. And I thought that was a good thing, until recently.
          I awoke one morning in December of 2012 with a nasty kink in my neck. It was a very tough month emotionally, and I figured the pain would go away along with the stress I was under at the time. Then it was February and my neck was still hurting. I made an appointment and informed my family doctor that my neck was terribly sore, and I probably needed physical therapy. It had worked well before! He said a few things about pain relievers and x-rays or MRI’s if necessary, but he agreed.
          I went to therapy twice a week for a month and a half with good intentions and a sunny attitude until last week.  I decided that all the exercising was great, the heat and stim and ultra-sound treatments were wonderful, but I was still, in fact, in pain. And I had had enough of that. I went back to my doctor and said that muscle relaxers might help quiet this one stubborn spot on the right side of my neck, and he mumbled some things about orthopedists and second opinions, but he agreed.
           Armed with a new attitude and my Doctor’s prescription, I walked into the physical therapy office and  told them I was not going to do everything they wanted as many times as they wanted today. And the fun began.
          “It sounds like we better start with the stim first. Then we have to evaluate your progress for the insurance company.”
“That evaluation is going to hurt,” I said. “I probably won’t be doing much after that.”
“Let’s wait and see what happens,” he said, followed by that smile that says he knows exactly what will happen.
“I won’t do much more, I don’t want to hurt myself.”
“Well, why don’t you just do some lifts, like this…”
          And so it went. I whined through the evaluation, even though I was secretly pleased with how well I did. I said I’d had enough after one rep when he had asked for three. I made faces, sighed, and did everything I could to signify my lack of cooperation short of stamping my feet and yelling “Waaaah,” like a 2-year old. Finally, I heard my name and laughter rippling up the hall through three therapists and two assistants. I had to ask.
“What’s so funny?”
“Michelle wants to know if you’d like some cheese to go with that whine.”
          And I really didn’t care! I laughed along, but secretly acknowledged to myself that I liked being kind to my body. It doesn’t deserve punishment any more than I deserve pain. In a younger state, I would have said, “she’s getting old and weak.” In fact, I am getting wise and more respectful of my body’s future. Healthy food, gentle exercise, relieving stress with yoga and meditation – these are finally becoming very high priorities. And right up with those is the refusal to tolerate pain.
          My proud immunity to weakness can Exit Stage Right. When I hurt, I will whine -- with or without the cheese.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Air Travel, 1950's

Pilot ready to go, DC-3
(You'll agree, a wonderful shot!)

I was young when we took our first trip to the British West Indies.  In those days, air travel wasn’t quite the routine it is today, and the air route to Bridgetown, Barbados, was not a single hop. One reason for this was that although jet planes had just entered the commercial sphere, travel to the West Indies was not the popular run-of-the-mill destination it is today. The piston-driven planes and prop jets on which we’d travel had top speeds of a mere 200-350 mph v. the 550 mph of true jets like the Boeing 707.
Vickers Viscount
We’d fly from Syracuse, New York on Allegheny Airlines to La Guardia, on a trusty DC-3 or one of the newer Convairs. Then, the next day, somehow or other—I remember, sometimes via small planes, taxis, and buses—we’d travel across NYC east to Idlewild (now JFK). From there, we’d fly to Bermuda, and then the long leg to San Juan, where we’d pick up flights that took us to Barbados.  Mom was an Anglophile, so we often traveled BOAC, (British Overseas Airlines Corp.) though sometimes we’d go Pan Am for that first long leg, flying in DC 6’s and 7’s, or on TWA on the famous “Super Connies” (Lockheed Constellations), whose stick-insect bodies and three vertical stablizers marked them out. 

 Super Constellation
My Dad had wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and he loved aircraft, so he always managed to have a few words with the pilot.   In those days, we could go up front and  look in at the flight deck, at the impressively uniformed pilot and co-pilot in their dial-and-gauge filled cockpit. Once on BOAC, we had a memorable ride from Idlewild to Puerto Rico on a Bristol Britannia, a 4 engine “whispering giant” turbo prop, which could fly with a top speed of 385 mph, and at the serene (and then remarkably pressurized) altitude of 20,000 feet. That was a real change from the noisy piston planes barging and bumping through turbulence and clouds. The older planes would drop for what seemed thousands of feet and then leap up again while still within a big cumulus, tossing overhead luggage down upon us and leaving our stomachs somewhere up on the ceiling. From those, we’d emerge almost deaf after so many hours of banging and rumbling.  

On the island hops, we’d be on feeder airlines again. BWI, British West Indian Airways, flew some Vickers Viscounts on the grand run from San Juan to Trinidad, Caracas and on into South America. Often, though, it was back to the good old DC 3’s again, where, lugging my carry-on, filled with books, teddies, a Swan Lake L.P. and sundries, I’d clamber up the steep rise of the gangway to find a window seat. Once in the air, I could see the islands and reefs surrounded by azure water and white caps, an astonishing change from the filthy frozen piles of snow we’d left behind in New York a mere 24 hours ago.
--Juliet Waldron

About the pictures:
 Love this image of boarding a plane, the way it used to be done, by lining up on the tarmak with luggage in hand. This appears to be a period shot of a DC-9, SAS. The Super Connie with her 3 tail stablizers appears to be in an air museum. It was a pretty singular looking plane.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Insomniac #1

Art by Milosaur

It’s 11:11 p.m. Sometimes it’s 12:12 a.m. And other times it’s 3:33 or, maybe, it’s 4:56.  These are clock times which snag my imagination. They happen mostly the dark hours, when I wake up, check the time, shake my head and stagger off to the bathroom, or to let the cat out, or to wander around the house for a bit until my old joints unkink a little so I can go back to sleep. I suppose I shouldn’t waste time thinking about whether it means anything, but the problem is that during the 60’s I dabbled in numerology, and that even earlier, sitting on the floor to the off-stage right of a Barbadian bar, I read books about ancient aliens visiting earth, prehistoric collisions with Venus, or African tribes who knew all about the invisible-to-the-naked-eye-dwarf companion of the blue giant star, Sirius. I’ve been soaking in this other-worldly, one-brick-shy-of-a-load content since I was a post war child, with predictable results.

Whenever I wake up I always look at the clock, and because there is usually some variation of what I take to be a “meaningful” configuration, I’ve begun to imagine these are messages—from somewhere, about something. Don’t ask me what, although I’ve spent plenty of nights wondering.

Are these omens, messages from a hitherto uncommunicative universe? 

Will the TARDIS land in my bedroom?

Is something from some hideous Lovecraftian dimension with three toes and along snaky snout waiting just behind the door?

Is my ship—long awaited—about to come in?

Or is it all simply a series of unrelated events, just “random chaos ”(as one of my friends has it) business as usual on this particular plane?

Juliet Waldron

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dr. Clelia Mosher

Dr. Clelia Mosher was born during the height of the Civil War. Her master's thesis disproved the belief of the day that women only breathed from their chest, rather than their diaphragms. Her research showed that apparel, namely corsets, were responsible for the erroneous assumption, and women were not inferior to men.

Afterward, Mosher attended Johns Hopkins in order to pursue a medical degree. She turned her attention to the subject of menstruation. She created breathing exercises for women who suffered from painful menstruation. Once again, her research showed that common beliefs about women were wrong, and that women who failed to stay active while having their periods usually had worse pain.

In 1900, Mosher received her medical degree, and she opened a private practice. During an era with few female doctors, she struggled to get clients and finally accepted a research position at Stanford in 1910.

Dr. Mosher is best known for her unique research that she began in the late-nineteenth century and continued through 1920. She surveyed forty-five married women about health issues. The questions ranged from background, education, and how many children. More interestingly, the topics she examined also explored sexual practices and birth control. By no means is the study an exhaustive, scientific one. All of the women were from the North or West, most likely white, and well-educated, clearly biasing the sample selection. But the study lends an extraordinary rare glimpse inside Victorian life.

Contrary to the stereotype of frigid Victorian women, Mosher's survey revealed that most women enjoyed sex. The women responding to the survey varied as to what they knew about sex before marriage from nothing at all to having read advice manuals of the era. All but four (two refused to answer) women admitted to using some sort of birth control. In fact, the women weren't shy and 75 percent admitted to having orgasms.

For some unknown reason, the survey got buried and wasn't rediscovered until the mid-twentieth century. Dr. Mosher's sex survey was finally published in 1980, forty years after her death.

Kim Murphy

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sacred Soundsharing

Have you ever wondered how certain combinations of sounds, in a voice, a song, even a written phrase can bring such deep pleasure that all of life seems somehow so much better, more alive, and more harmonious?  
In Celtic shamanic studies women and men learn the power inherent in words, in the ancient poetry and songs, in the repetitive beat of the drum, the spangle of the rattles and the call of the spirit animals. Some have been surprised to hear of the high degree of influence held in Ireland during ancient times by the migrant poet/bards for they could sway public opinion to or from the ruling monarch/ leaders of the scattered clans. Daily life circled through simple prayers of greeting the morning light, for lighting the hearth fires, for safe passage through to evening return. In the Celtic world view all of life was intertwined and sacred sounds wove through from beginning to end and then to start again, like a refrain sweet high and low.
Chanting, singing and the resonance of musical instruments can be found in spiritual ceremonies throughout human history, continuing to our present time. Cultural traditions and paraphernalia continue to migrate along with traveling people. In North America we enjoy open and easy access to Tibetan singing bowls, Irish bodhran drums, and a seemingly endless variety of music-making tools. Certain sounds open and expand our most inner core, alter our perceptions, and sometimes enable us to walk a lighter path.

The following is a variant of The Kalevala, a compilation of folklore poetry/ songs collected by Elias Lonnrot in the 19th century. Previous to the effort of Lonnrot and many other history gatherers Finnish poetry was primarily an oral tradition. The poems were often performed by two people, singing alternatively, chanting and replying in a form of verbal dancing.
Kalevala Day is celebrated in Finland on February 28 to honour Elias Lonnrot's first version of The Kalevala in 1835.

I am thinking           I am wanting
To arise and go forth singing
Sing my songs and say my sayings        hymns ancestral harmonizing
Magic verses we have gathered                        kindled by wild inspirations
There are other words of magic                        variations I have learned
Claimed in passing from the wayside   when the frost was singing verses
Many a rhyme the rain recited           with the drumming in the leaves
Other poems the wind delivered        through the saplings songs came drifting
Magic charms the birds have added     and the treetops incantations

There are still other songs           magic words learned in silence
Plucked from the wayside           broken off from the bracken
Torn from thickets             dragged from saplings
Rubbed off the top of hay           ripped from verges
The cold recited me verses          the rain kept bringing me songs
The winds brought me many whispers            lake waves drove some to me
The birds added harmonies        the trees magic sayings
These I wound up in a ball           arranged in a circle
I put it up in the granary loft       safe in a round metal tin
For a long time my songs have been in the cold       housed in darkness
Shall I pull my songs out of the cold?   Draw the verses out of the frost?
Bring my box into the quiet house?      At the end of the long bench?
Shall I open my chest of words?                        Unlock my song box?
Clip the frayed end of the tangled ball?           Undo the knot in the string?
I will sing from a leaner mouth              intone over water
To gladden this twilight                to honour this memorable day
Or to delight the morrow                        to begin a new day

In honour of all the individuals who find magical power in sounds and do the sacred work of gathering and translating the old words and music, making them available for others