Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Very Incredibly Horrible Ways of Bad Faeries

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" If you think all faeries look like Tinker Bell and act like Snow White, I'm here to straighten you out! Oh, faeries can be terribly, terribly bad!

There's a notable book called The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, by W. Y. Evans-Wenz in which the author interviews people who have had faerie encounters or who knew lore about faerie encounters. One of the unifying themes of Evans-Wenz's investigation is that our Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Breton, and Cornish forebears were respectful at least and fearful at best of "the gentle folk."

I like to swagger around unafraid of anything. Therefore, the only thing that has kept the faeries from spiriting me off completely is that it's more fun to torture me day-to-day in picky ways. They know I believe in them, so they need not make the point that they exist. All they have to do is annoy me when I get too cocky.

Last week they took my Netbook.

They warned me that they were planning to do it. As I was driving home from a teacher workshop last Wednesday, I became so convinced I'd left the Netbook at the workshop venue that I literally pulled into a parking lot and looked in the back seat. There it was!

But do you think I could find that Netbook a day later? It wasn't in the car. It wasn't in the house. Since I had last seen it on the back seat of the car (and the door was unlocked) I assumed someone had pinched it.

Yes, someone had pinched it, all right. The faeries pinched it! They kept it for five days and then left it right on my bedroom floor, smack dab under a big pile of dirty laundry!

But that was just the warm-up.

I've been doing this "alternate route" teacher certification gig for quite awhile now, trying to get fully certified to teach in the state of New Jersey. Remember all those night classes with Mr. Bigwand? (*shudder*)

Get this: All the other people who took those classes are now certified. My certificate is being held up by one online application that would take two minutes to fill out. Except I've been in this program so long that I don't have a user name and password in the system, and so I can't get in to fill out the application. All of my other paperwork is there, including long, labor-intensive assessments done by my school principal AND all of my night school grades! I even had to take a Loyalty Oath witnessed by a Notary!

One stupid, friggin, senseless piece of e-work, and I can't get it done.

Faeries consider our technological age a marvel of new opportunity. To them, the Internet is a playground, both whimsical and sadistic.

Ask me what I'm fixing for supper. I'll tell you: humble pie.

Gentle people, please give me my New Jersey state certification in Language Arts instruction, grades 9-12. Did I not give to you the beautiful ceramic mug with the school insignia that all first-year teachers get? Take the doggone Netbook if you must, but certify me! I AM CERTIFIABLE!

Are we gonna be nice now? Are we gonna see mice growl? Are we gonna need an ice towel? And how!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Anne Gazette

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," gumming up the Internet with meaningless drivel since 2005! Today's post is going to be lengthy. There's a lot of ground to cover. So take a look at the Table of Contents and see what matters most to you, then scroll to that headline. And hey, if you've got time to read a lot, go for the gold!

Today's sermons:

1. Margot Berwin
2. International Vulture Awareness Day
3. Adventure with Spare
4. Pilgrimages to Asbury Park

Off we go!

1. Margot Berwin
 Today was the day I was supposed to review Margot Berwin's novel Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. Except I screwed up. If you're here to read about Margot, check out my August 23 post, in which she herself speaks as a guest blogger. This is your last chance to be in a drawing for my copy of the book! If you leave a comment on that post site, you could be a winner!

2. International Vulture Awareness Day
Yes, o ye who serve the Sacred Thunderbird! There is such a thing as International Vulture Awareness Day! And it's this Saturday, September 4, 2010! This nonprofit, and truly international, event highlights the catastrophic die-off of essential vultures in Africa and India, where they succumbed to poisoning from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs given to livestock.

This is a unique opportunity for my three readers.

I will be attending a sanctioned International Vulture Awareness Day event at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary outside Allentown, PA. It will be difficult to miss me, as I will be wearing a bright red t-shirt with a turkey vulture on it, and probably my Mountain Tribe hat as well. So if you would like to come and worship the Sacred Thunderbird with me, Mapquest that park, and I'll see you there!

If you can't make it to Hawk Mountain, in all seriousness please take some time on Saturday to raise a petition to the bored gods on behalf of all Old World vultures. Rituals for the recovery of their numbers will be a way of showing your dedication to the Great Balance that we humans heed when it suits us, and ignore when it doesn't.

3. Adventure with Spare
I'm sure you know how it is. You want to go home for a visit, but you don't want certain members of your family to know about it, for whatever reason. On August 10-12, my daughter The Spare and I went home to the family property in Appalachia to see the Perseids meteor shower. Spare is very interested in the universe, and I was keen to have her see it without any light pollution. We decided, without making a big fuss, to go watch the meteors with my uncle and cousin. (What would have made it a fuss would have been telling my sister, who would have wanted to join us with several of the seven pets she has adopted in the last calendar year.)

Spare and I set out from Snobville and drove west through the heat and humidity, all the way to beautiful Berkeley Springs, WV. There we put up at a swell Bed & Breakfast. By the time we got to Berkeley Springs, the temperature had settled from its daytime high to a measly 97 degrees. The sun was mostly hidden behind clouds that weren't big enough to bring rain but sure were thick enough to hide meteors.

At about 7:00, Spare and I set out for Polish Mountain. It's about 25 miles northwest of Berkeley Springs. At a fast clip on Interstate 68, you can be there in about 30 minutes. But anyone who drives at a fast clip at twilight in the mountains just deserves to tangle with Bambi Daddy. I took it easy, and we got to the family farm just at dark. The hills were still shrouded in clouds.

My uncle Foggy (that's his real name) is going to be 85 in October, and he's almost completely deaf. His hearing aids have broken, and he says he can't afford new ones. Sadly, a deaf Uncle Foggy is better than one that can hear, because now Foggy doesn't listen to Rush Limbaugh anymore. His one-sided conversation centered around the doings of my cousins that I never see who live in Cleveland, instead of the world from Rush's point of view. Since I take an interest in my cousins and their welfare, it was pleasant to get a lengthy oratory on that topic, rather than an earful of right-wing rhetoric that would have soured my stomach for the rest of the night.

While Foggy talked on one side of the room, Spare and my cousin chatted on the other. My cousin (Foggy's son, but without the homey name) has traveled all over the place, including a very long trek into the mountains of Nepal. Spare found that interesting. Then they moved from conversing about Buddhism to the pluses and minuses of Facebook. Two-way conversations will drift like that if you give them enough time.

The midnight hour approached, and Spare began to nod. She's not one of these all-nighter kind of teens. Her volunteer work starts at 9:00 a.m., so she doesn't loll in the sack like many of her peers. By midnight she may still be awake, but usually she's headed for the sack.

At about 11:45 I said to her, "Okay, Spare. I'm going out on the back porch. If those clouds are still hanging low, we'll leave and try again tomorrow. If they've lifted, we'll stay and take our luck with the Perseids."

The clouds had lifted.

On that mountainside, with no moonlight or electric glare, the sky shone with a trillion, billion, million stars -- some close, some far, some pulsars, some planets. The sky presented an unbroken, limitless miraculous hour of starshine.

Spare stepped gingerly into the darkness of the porch. (I neglected to mention that she's a city girl through and through who had voiced anxieties about everything from bears to no-see-ums, and all sizes in between.) After begging assurance that there were no snakes about, she looked at the sky and gasped. Did I mention she's a city girl? She had never truly seen the night sky.

"So," Spare said. "How long do you think it will be before we see a ........ WHOAAAA!"

That was her response to the first of about three dozen fireballs we saw over the next two-and-a-half hours.

If Spare had been sleepy, she forgot all about it. We got our eyeglasses from the car. Cousin spread a big bedspread out on the mountainside, and we all lay down to stare at the Milky Way. Since the Perseids radiate toward the north, and our farmhouse faces west, we stretched out with our legs higher up the mountain than our heads (this was tricky). But there's no level ground around the house. It's on a mountain. Mountains are hilly. Maybe you've never noticed that, but I'll bet you have.

It was absolutely sublime, lying there in the pitch darkness, staring up at our fabulous galaxy, and "whoa"-ing every time a meteor streaked across the sky -- which was frequently. In between meteors, the three of us talked about this and that. Mostly my cousin and I teased The Spare about all the critters that were just waiting to eat her, should she dare move off the bedspread. He discoursed on a strange pit viper he'd seen that didn't look like it belonged in these parts. I stuck strictly to the stories I'd gotten as a girl (The Black Dog, the Boogey Man), and added frightful tales of the flying electric armadillos. But all conversation ground to a halt when the Bored God Perseus treated us to a display of His majesty. Starry, starry night.

Finally at around 2:30 a.m. the crescent moon rose, and when it did it bleached away the Milky Way and many of the dimmer stars. That seemed like a hint that the celestial party was over, so Spare and I bid farewell to Polish Mountain and headed back toward Berkeley Springs. When I say I drove slowly, that's putting it mildly. I would hope you'd do the same if you could literally see dozens of deer on either side of the road.

I've led a rather quiet, sheltered life. I'm bookish. And what adventure I craved I mostly found at Polish Mountain, where you can still walk for ten hours and not see another person. In the basically uneventful life of Anne Johnson, that fabulous meteor shower is one keeper of an experience. I may never set foot in the Rocky Mountains, but I am the Appalachians. They complete me. And now my daughter knows why.

4. Pilgrimage to Asbury Park
"Well, Anne," you ask. "If you love the Appalachians so much, how come you don't live there?"

That's a question I often ask myself, and usually answer this way: "My life ain't over yet."

In the meantime, I live in New Jersey. Both of my daughters were born and raised in New Jersey. My older daughter, The Heir, adores this neon-and-asphalt swampland. Absolutely worships New Jersey. We do tend to feel that way about the place where we are raised, even if it's a scum sack.

The Heir had one singular ambition this summer. She wanted to go to Asbury Park.

Heir's not a big Bruce Springsteen fan. That's not why she wanted to go. She wanted to go because Asbury Park is a seaside resort that's down on its luck and therefore has crumbing architecture and strange abandoned buildings belonging to a bygone era.

I've always loved The Boss's music, but I'd heard that Asbury Park wasn't such a swell place to stroll. Thankfully, my Fairie Festival nemesis, Otter the River God, teaches school there. So I asked him about it, and he said yes, it is weird, and no, it's not dangerous.

Heir and I made two trips to Asbury Park this summer. Both were mother-daughter outings, but Heir is 21 now, so it almost seemed like girl time with a buddy. Our second excursion was last Wednesday. And on that day the cloudiness was absolutely dedicated. It looked like the sky was going to fall into the sea.

Never mind. The Stone Pony was gearing up for an evening outdoor concert, and the Boardwalk was full of young music fans. Heir and I sat on a bench and listened to a sound check. Then we played pin ball, then we strolled, and then we watched the surfers as the evening fell and one little speck of blue sky split the storm clouds.

I never owned many record albums, but I had copies of all of Bruce Springsteen's except "Greetings from Asbury Park." And I listened to The Boss more than any other rocker (except Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). Last Wednesday, in Asbury Park, I finally figured out Bruce. And I understood why his message had never resonated with me before.

You see, we expatriate Appalachians are always singing about the beauties of home, and how we want to go there, and how (if in no other way) we want to be buried there. "When I die, won't you bury me on the mountain ... far away in my Blue Ridge Mountain Home."

Bruce is basically all about getting out and not looking back. "It's a town full of losers ... I'm pullin' out of here a winner." Gosh, I sure have absorbed enough of New Jersey to understand that! But seeing the Stone Pony all lit up for a concert, amidst the relict piers and abandoned rehab projects, I finally got The Boss. Now, instead of listening to "Thunder Road," I'm gonna be riding on it.

Thank you, Heir, for teaching a parent well. Finally, finally, I am down with New Jersey.

For any of you who have gotten this far, you might want to put Asbury Park on your radar. They actually have town-sanctioned bonfires on the beach in the wintertime! Yes, all you Pagans out there, you heard me right. I'm drooling too! A perfectly legal beach bonfire! Who's with me?

This extended navel gaze represents the end of summer for me. Not that it was much of a summer -- I spent most of it at teacher workshops, fighting the sinking feeling that the brass in my school district seem to think I'm not measuring up. So beginning tomorrow, I sally forth to try to measure up. I go back to school teaching. First, getting the room ready and putting together a Classroom Management Plan. Second, buying the supplies and books that the district can't give me (and if you want to help again, I sure would appreciate it). Third, planning lessons. And more lessons. Lessons according to what the district wants, and lessons according to what Anne thinks her students need to know to connect what they're learning to what their life will be about.

All this is my way of saying that, starting tomorrow or the next day, "The Gods Are Bored" will return to its regular length and subject matter. Believe me, friends, you will be hearing about International Vulture Awareness Day!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fridays with Twain: Restoring Honor

Two of my dear old aunties got Alzheimer's Disease, and sometimes that makes me worried. I'm already showing a scary tendency to get stuck in the middle of a sentence, unable to finish a thought because I can't find the correct (simple) word.

Let all morbid thoughts be banished! Now. What was I talking about?

Oh yeah! I promised that, in response to Keith Olbermann's "Fridays with Thurber," I would start posting witty literature here at "The Gods Are Bored" every Friday night so that you could sleep through my blog instead of Keith's bedtime tales.

Here's a nice little snippet from Mark Twain that aptly sums up my opinion of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" campaign.

I have a religion--but you will call it blasphemy. It is that there is a God for the rich man but none for the poor.....Perhaps your religion will sustain you,will feed you--I place no dependence in mine. Our religions are alike, though, in one respect--neither can make a man happy when he is out of luck.
- Letter to Orion Clemens, 10/19-20/1865

Pray and grow rich! It's the American way.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where we are blissfully free of the peskiest varieties of vermin! We've seen many unwelcome bug and mammal infestations here at Chateau Johnson, but just now things are pretty calm ... except for the fruit flies. And we love fruit flies! So all is well.

I'm sure you've read or heard that a certain particularly despicable vermin is making a comeback. That would be your bed bug. Or, not your bed bug, I hope. Someone else's bed bug. May the bored gods protect all my readers from bed bug infestations!

There was an article on Yahoo about the mounting bed bug problems, especially in the big cities. The article was factual and gave a few tepid tips on how to rid yourself of the little nocturnal bloodsuckers. I did a quick perusal of the subject matter, noting that people have been carting bed bugs home from movie theaters and department store dressing rooms. Well, that sounds reasonable enough to me. If you can cart a cockroach home in a bag of groceries, and a tick home on the back of Fifi or Fluffy, you could just as easily wind up with a bed bug on your jeans, if you draped them over a fitting room chair.

Bed bugs are making a comeback.

You know the expression. "Good night, sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite." Ever wonder about it? The "sleep tight" part stems from an era when mattresses were suspended by ropes. If the ropes were tight, you slept better, because the mattress didn't sag.

Have you ever seen a rope bed in use? Me neither. Sometimes you see them at antique stores. No one buys them. Hence, the "sleep tight" is probably an old, old saying. And the bed bug part too. They've been around, these bed bugs, for a long time.

I don't have any free advice on how to rid yourself of a bed bug infestation. I know I cleared my house of a bad mouse problem by adopting Alpha, a cat who had lived in a dumpster for an unspecified period of time. But there's no peppy pet you can adopt to send the bed bugs packing. If we got them here at Chateau Johnson, I would probably just wring my hands helplessly and get bitten.

If you scare up Yahoo and look for the bed bug article http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/health/4-places-bedbugs-hide-and-how-to-avoid-them-2371120/which I've tried to link here, probably with scanty success, let me tell you something. The comments are better than the article. To date there are more than 450, most of them displaying thoughts and beliefs that do not encourage faith in humankind. Random samples:

* If you go to Wildwood, NJ, don't stay at the *** ***** Hotel. Those things will pick you up and carry you to the toilet in the middle of the night.

*The worst bed bug is in the white house and he is sucking out our blood.

*These come from illegal immigrants. Everyone knows Mexico is filthy. Those people are bringing in the bugs, and we're letting them.

*It's no wonder bed bugs are in hotels. That's where the foreigners stay, and everyone knows foreigners aren't as clean as Americans, especially people from the Middle East.

And on and on and on like this! I only read about the first 50, and all four of the above were there. Of course some reasonable comments followed, in which sensible writers pointed out correctly that bed bugs are equal opportunity vermin, completely disconnected from the sanitary conditions around them. These voices of reason get shouted down in that comment thread by morons who insist that bed bugs are riding around on the bodies of illegal immigrants and Middle Easterners, and anyone who suggests otherwise is a no-good liberal who ought to have swarms of bed bugs leeching every last drop of blood from his blue body!

You can learn a lot about people by how they source an infestation of insects in their homes.

Here at Chateau J, we've had a bad infestation of fleas in the past. I blamed the handyman who was fixing our kitchen. It couldn't have been my cats Alpha and Beta running around the yard! No way. They'd never gotten fleas that bad before. Trust me, you've got to keep these white, Christian, Vietnam veterans out of your home.

When I lived in Baltimore, in several different apartments, I was surrounded and confounded by cockroaches everywhere. Not a single living space I could find was free of them. Well, we all know that extremely intelligent people don't practice good hygiene. And after all, I was a student at Johns Hopkins. Know where those roaches came from? The briefcases of some of the finest minds in this country, that's where! Keep your kids away from the Ivy League, and if you can't, don't let them bring their luggage home with them. Make them strip in the front yard, do a cavity search, and only then let them inside for the parental hug. Smart people are buggy people! Word.

Which brings me to my final example of how despicable insects invade your home through human hosts.

There must be a whopper of a hornet nest in my attic. Can't see it, because that same handyman (uh oh) built a room on the third floor for The Heir. For about five years I've seen big-ass wasps fluttering in and out under the roof eaves. This, I tell you, is directly related to Halliburton. Some of the tar in those roofing shingles was probably fondled by Dick Cheney. Need I say more? The dude is a human wasp, isn't he? How else could I have gotten wasps in my roofing?

The moral of this sermon is that you have to watch out what kind of people you deal with. You could get bugs, and of course it would never just be by chance or bad luck.

Pinky swear, if I get bed bugs in this house, I'm going to haul Glenn Beck to court for extermination fees! He's got 'em, you can tell. Don't let the suits and hair fool you. At home he's a slob. With foreign friends, illegal household help, and sheets he stole from a hotel in Wildwood, NJ.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

World Congress of What?

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," offering the opinions of a certified nobody since 2005! I'm that nobody, and it's all good. I roll with it. Every now and then I'm asked to throw on the "somebody suit" for a few days, and it still fits. It has never gotten a whole lot of wear.

Jason over at The Wild Hunt has a post up today about the commencement of the World Congress of Ethnic Religions. Of course this is a wonderful, terrific get-together, sponsored in spirit by the entire staff here at "The Gods Are Bored."

It's just that name. World Congress of Ethnic Religions.

The word "ethnic" is a freighted term. It suggests a community that is insular due to some set of circumstances. In this case it ennobles the "ethnic" religions in question, but it also (no doubt unintentionally) suggests that those religions belong to their praise and worship teams, and no one else. One of the comments on Jason's post, perhaps not surprisingly, declared, "Heathen proselytism needs to be an oxymoron."

For those of you not up on your Language Arts terminology, the comment might say, "Heathens shouldn't promote their religion outside their narrow ethnic boundaries."

The fact that the large, monotheistic religions have proselytized relentlessly -- and by doing so have earned enmity in some cases -- does not suppose that "ethnic" religions cannot also attract new members to their praise and worship teams. Are we to throw up our hands and say, "Okay, if you want to be a Heathen, you have to prove through DNA extraction that your ancestors were Nordic?"

If the busy god is blind to ethnicity, then the bored gods had better be blind to it too. Otherwise, in our increasingly pluralistic world, it will become more and more difficult to sustain "ethnic" religions, no matter how badly we want and need them.

Bored deities cannot afford to have the badge of a certain ethnicity slapped onto them. I'm sure some will disagree with me, pointing out that people should know as much as they can about their ethnic heritages, and that religion is a big part of that. I would counter that religion must be the part of that heritage that you are willing to share with anyone, of any stripe, who wants to explore your praise and worship team and get to know your deities.

Would you rather your religion be run like a country club or a free outdoor rock concert? The busy god opted for the latter, and look what it's gotten Him. Time to push back a little.

World Congress of Ethnic Religions? Rings hollow. How about World Congress of Essential Religions?

Our operators are standing by to take your call.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Times, They Are A'Changin

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" It was nice having a guest blogger yesterday. And now I have an offer for you. If you leave a comment, I will put your name in a drawing for my reviewer's copy of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. You'll just have to give me some way in which to contact you -- your own blog or an email so I can get your snail mail address.

On Monday, I celebrated 26 years of marriage. Please don't ask me where those years went, or how my little babies have become young women. I think we dream of Heaven as an eternity because our lives rush by so fast.

But today's sermon is about the changing face of news-gathering and democracy in 21st century America.

My husband will go in to work this afternoon at the newspaper where he has worked since 1987. He will have to vote on a negotiated contract that contains a 6 percent wage cut, some of it through unpaid "furlough" weeks. Everyone is heaving a sigh of relief that there will be no layoffs (at this time) of a workforce that has shrunk by about 75 percent since Mr. J arrived here.

This is your diminished daily newspaper. And trust me, readers, your politicians local and national, your corporate CEOs, your sneaky lobbyists, they are loving it. No more pesky investigative reporters watching them! Add to this with a groundswell of resentment against government regulations, and you've got a world run by the wealthy few with nary a roadblock in their way!

If you couple the diminution of daily print journalism with the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend all the money they want on political campaigns, you get a serious challenge for the rank-and-file citizenry. Who is going to run this country?

We are. You and me. Let's get busy.

It has already begun. Think back to the recent presidential campaign. What do you remember -- the slick commercials, or that couple in their living room singing about Sarah Palin hanging around with Godzilla? One YouTube gone viral!

If corporations can spend what they want on elections, We the People can post YouTubes, spend nothing, and perhaps deliver a vote.

Net Neutrality on the line? We'll figure out how to bypass it. Many, many fine minds will be on the task in the days and weeks to come, and they will share their discoveries ... for free.

I used to get so upset about WalMart. Giant corporation, mistreating its employees, foisting shoddy goods made by underpaid workers on the lower echelons of our social structure. Guess what, WalMart? We the People are pushing back! Sites like this, "People of WalMart," slap you with a negative image through satire that even Keith Olbermann would be too polite to try.

My daughter The Heir was telling me last night that someone went into the produce aisle at a WalMart, whipped out a little techie device, and took a film of how filthy the shelves and floors looked. Loaded it onto YouTube. "The Aisles of WalMart." More bad press than the store would get on the front page of the New York Times.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your investigative reporter of the 21st century. It's you, with your phone and your links. Help us, ObiWan IPad, you're the only hope we've got!

Needless to say, my husband and I were talking about the future of print journalism in this century, particularly as it will impact the decade to come. We concluded that newspapers will not disappear entirely, because print journalists, with their reputations, will still be allowed to have interviews with people of interest. If I, as the author of this fine news-gathering site, "The Gods Are Bored," called the Philadelphia Eagles and asked to interview their new quarterback, I'd get hooted off the phone. But my husband, who is a sportswriter for the daily -- that's an entirely different story. He gets the slot.

I am worried about corrupt politicians getting away with murder (anyone who reads Carl Hiaasen becomes particularly paranoid). Well, that's where we all have to step in. A man named Michael Carnock is trying to boondoggle his way into the construction of a huge housing development on the edge of a wildlife refuge in Western Maryland. Google his name, and up come my rants against him and his project. Go to my site and find a link that says "Save a Little Stream." I'm determined that Michael Carnock will never break ground on his development, and so are just a few more people. We're watching him and reporting on his every move -- through a chat group and a web site, and places like this blog.

Pick your battle, reporter. It's time to go to work. Don't feel guilty that you're putting print reporters out of a job. That ship hasn't sailed yet (*knocks vigorously on wood*). But there are fewer print reporters and many more ordinary people with cell phones. Look out for your interests, and act accordingly.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Blogger Margot Berwin

Hi readers! Earlier this summer, a publicist for novelist Margot Berwin contacted me to review Margot's novel. Margot has an MFA in creative writing. I read the book and decided it would be best if Margot took the floor and wrote about the book herself. So please give a "Gods Are Bored" welcome to Margot Berwin!

I’m new at guest blogging so I want to start by saying thanks to Anne for giving me space on her blog! I’m so excited—I get to reach some new people and actually say the things that I want to say.

So my book is called Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. It’s been published by Random House, Its been translated into 15 languages and it was optioned (just once) by Sony pictures.

Hothouse is the story of a woman and two men who meet in NYC and travel to southern Mexico in search of the nine rarest plants on earth. As they say at Sony, think The Orchid thief meets The Alchemist. Two of my favorite books by the way so I didn’t mind the standard Hollywood descriptor.

The woman, Lila Nova, works in advertising, Armand owns a Laundromat, and David Exley works in the green market in Union Square. Lila is not the most adventurous woman going and she more or less gets shoved onto the road less traveled as opposed to taking it, herself.

The book moves from the advertising and modeling world of New York to the rainforests of the Yucatan peninsula. From the plant dealers at the green market in NYC to the curanderos, healers and herbalists of Mexico.

A lot of people are curious about how I managed to get my first novel published. I have to correct them immediately and let them know that this was the THIRD novel I wrote and the first and only one that was published, so the road was rather…um…arduous. While I was writing Hothouse Flower I said to myself, Margot, this is your third book, if you don’t get a green light on this one, it’s going to be your last. Thankfully it was published so I can go on writing and now guest blogging too.

I’d been interested for a long time in all kinds of paranormal experimentation. I’m a huge fan of Carlos Castaneda whom I did my graduate school thesis on (much to the chagrin of the fiction department). I was focused primarily on shamanism and various techniques of plant and trance induced ecstasy.

I didn’t know quite enough about plants at the time to write a book so I had to do a huge amount of research.

I spent a year in the south of Mexico and several months in Guatemala where I became more and more fascinated by the magical, spiritual, and scientific properties of plants-the way they could affect the physical, emotional and mental states of human beings as well as the symbiotic relationship between people and plants especially through, of course, medicine.

A lot of people including writing teachers will tell you to write about what you know. Personally, I think that’s kind of boring. The joy in writing for me is that I can learn new things all the time. In this case I learned a lot about plants.

But that said I couldn’t quite figure out how to write a novel on this topic without sounding annoyingly new-agey until one night I had the following experience:

I was at a birthday party in the east village for my very best friend; the party was in a hot, smoky bar, on a warm may night. It was very crowded so we decided to go outside and take a walk.
As we were strolling down the block I noticed an old, decrepit Laundromat. Not unusual for the neighborhood, except for the fact that this one was both open and filled to the brim with plants. I wanted to go inside and check it out. My friend of course had no interest in spending the night of her birthday in a Laundromat, so she said goodnight and I went inside.

Even though it was very late the owner happened to be there and I asked him why he had so many plants in his laundry. He said he was from Colombia and they made him feel at home. He told me that the mist from the washing machines and the heat from the dryers created a perfect greenhouse for his plants and he considered his Laundromat to be a greenhouse with some clothes going around in circles. He gave me a cutting and told me to come back if it took root and he would give me another.

I left the Laundromat clutching the cutting to my chest like a lunatic and I walked home the 14 blocks to my apartment. During that walk the entire book downloaded into my head like it was coming from a piece of computer software. I began writing that night and didn’t stop until the book was done. Now I had a place to hide the nine plants of desire, a myth I had already created, I would put them in a back room of a Laundromat in Manhattan. A place no one would ever think to find rare tropical plants.

And that’s the story of how the book really came about.

I would also like to say that one of the most consuming problems I had at the time of writing this book was a kind of desperate need to escape from Manhattan.
I was living in a tiny studio and I was experiencing an illness that everyone in this city has had at one time or another. It’s called
I-must-get-out-of-new-york-or I’m-going-to-kill-someone-itis.

I would lay on my bed for hours, avoiding both the thought of employment and unemployment, which I think is quite a talent, and dreaming about getting away. Beaches, jungles, beautiful men, blue, blue water. My brain was a font of stock photography. In fact a lot of reviewers have called this book escapist, which of course really annoyed me-this was my literary baby, not a work of escapist commercial fiction. But then I thought yeah, it kind of is. It’s a bit of a romp through New York City, the world of advertising and high fashion modeling, and then it moves into the magical world of plants and the rainforests of southern Mexico, so I’ve learned to live with the escapist description.
I was personally in the mood for adventure, so I created this myth of the nine plants of desire and I used plants as a way to discuss shamanism, magic and ecstasy. All of the things I’m trying to get closer to in my life.

Someone asked once me if I believed in magic and I said yes, it’s what keeps me going. It’s what keeps me interested.

I have this feeling, and I may be the only one who does, that as a culture it’s not only celebrity we’re after, or fame and money. But underlying all of those things what we really want is magic.

 We have a deep desire for ecstasy and dreams and visions. We want to be surprised! We want gods and demons and spirits and myths. We want to dance around fires on sandy white beaches and sing until the sun comes up. So I thought a lot about magic while I was writing this book. And I came up with the thought that magic is simply the feeling of surprise. And that’s what I wanted for Hothouse Flower and the nine plants of desire. I wanted the people who read the book to be surprised.

Before I close, I’d like to share some thoughts on getting published.

If you’re out there trying to sell your work, I’ve got a few tips I’d like to pass on. And believe me I know they work because I spent many years trying just about everything.

1.      Get published in smaller venues first. I went right for the big novel but I might have gotten published sooner if I’d had some smaller pieces out there. Getting published in journals or magazines, literary or otherwise, online or off, lets editors and agents know that you have an audience and that someone else believed in you enough to publish you. They love this.

2.      I really hate this one but it works. If at all possible, get an MFA. While it’s true that no one can teach you to write, editors use this degree as a weeding out process. They’ll say they don’t, but they do. They get so many manuscripts; they have to separate them out in some way, and having an agent plus an MFA and a few published short stories, really helps. On another note, people in MFA programs become very close. They share information. Three people in my class of twelve have the same agent and two are being published at Random House. It’s a place for serious networking that actually works.

3.      Go to readings. Read your work at readings. Network at readings. Being on the shy side, I never read out-loud. I was the only person in my class who skipped the reading portion of the MFA graduation. When I finally got published and Random House called me to tell me they were sending me on an 18-city book tour, I acted excited and then immediately got a prescription for beta-blockers. It was terrifying and I wish I’d practiced all along. And besides, I met my agent at a reading for Amy Hempel and he’s since signed two of my MFA classmates.

If anyone wants to connect and chat more about publishing or my novel, contact me on facebook. I get back to everyone. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the book!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Haunting Issue

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," weighing humanity in the balance and finding it wanting since 2005! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. That's me in the picture. I'm the one who's alive.

Ever since I read in National Geographic that fossil-hunters found a 400,000-year-old Homo sapiens skull with a larger brain case than our modern noggins, I've been wondering about that person and the people who surrounded him (I think it was a male).

So far as I remember, sloppy blogger that I am, the entire human race had a common female ancestor who lived about 135,000 years ago. This means that if any DNA from that larger-brained sapiens is in us at all, it's not a thimble-full.

So what do you think these larger-brained people were like, 400,000 years ago? Take away all our stuff, all our techno, and they were probably smarter than we are. Maybe they had enhanced psychic powers.

Maybe they were so intelligent that they were free of hate -- and thus fair game for haters.

Because it does seem to me that much of the goodness we do as a species is counterbalanced by hate, hate, hate. If you have one person, he or she will sit down and write a rant. If you have two people, they will either argue, or they'll agree that the other guy is wrong. If you have three people, at least one of them will be hated by the other two.

Figure this one out. Among the students of my school who are Hispanic, there's a degree of animosity between the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans. You cannot convince these kids that Dominica and Puerto Rico are two islands, very similar, in a similar part of the world, and after all, the kids themselves all now live in America. Why can't they get along?

In the area where I grew up, Appalachia, there were gangs that fought one another. Go and figure that one out. We all lived in the mountains, but it mattered which mountain and which high school you attended.

So if you take this tendency to hate, and you lard onto it genuine differences in opinion, then your species just will never get along like a happy herd of wildebeests. Even if your species is supposed to be so much more intelligent than wildebeests.

Then we take this tendency to hate, and we lard onto it popular leaders who stoke the hatred with their rhetorical fire, and just look at us now! Makes you long for the Maya to be right about 2012. Turn the planet back over to the ants! They've got it going on.

What do you think? Were those long-ago humans superior to us? Could they have lived in a society free of hate? Are we actually devolving?

Personally I weigh in as at least wishing we knew more about the Big Brains. And less about haters.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fridays With ...

We all make promises to our dying parents that just don't get carried out. Heck, I promised my dad that he would have a funeral that reflected his ambivalence about the Christian faith. Instead he got an old-fashioned tent revival that would have put William Jennings Bryan in a blissful mood.

Although I love Keith Olbermann, I can't quite get over his decision to sit in an armchair every Friday night and read aloud from James Thurber for upwards of ten minutes. Therefore, in the honor of blossoming egos everywhere, we at "The Gods Are Bored" are inaugurating a new series. We call it "Fridays With ..."

Off we go!

Mosques of the Illuminati

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," doling out obscure wordplay since 2005! If you get this title, you can't help yourself. You are Discordian!

Before today's sermon gets under way, I want to direct your attention to an interesting new blog called You, Me & Religion. This is an ongoing interview site in which people of various faith paths answer the same series of questions, from the point of view of their religions. It's the kind of broad spectrum forum that we of "The Gods Are Bored" find fascinating. The administrator only posts once a week, so it's an easy follow.

And now, on to today's sermon: The mosque at Ground Zero.

Yawn, yawn, yawn! Hasn't enough been said about this, and loudly, and with liberty and justice for all? Rants from the Right about a religion so evil that it celebrates the killing of 3,000 people and now wants to rub (Christian) America's nose in the destruction! Rants from the Left (yeah, Keith, that would be you) about our Founding Fathers weeping in their graves because those opposing a mosque near Ground Zero are trampling on the sacred Constitution... Rants, rants, rants!

It's time for some calm.

America (and here I include Islamic America), make yourself a cup of chamomile tea. Ground. Center. Breathe.

Now, let's be sensible.

If it is indeed true that Islam is just another religion with no motive beyond the worship of Allah (busy god, that Allah), then it would be good form for the people wishing to worship close to Ground Zero to heed the pulse of the nation and relocate. Polls indicate that the majority of Americans (myself included) think that this chosen site near Ground Zero is not the best for an Islamic community center. You will convince me otherwise if this center will be serving a resident Islamic community in that neighborhood. If there aren't Muslim kids playing stickball in the street around where that center would go, I say ... relocate.

However, having said that, I find it disgraceful that so many Americans would lump every follower of Allah into the same tarball as the jihadists who bombed the Trade Center. Are you serious, America? If Muslims were that dangerous, who would dare go to the shopping mall?

I guess some Muslims would want to tell me that building a community center near Ground Zero would be their way of memorializing the Muslims who were killed on 9/11. Point taken, but can I politely tell you to seek another means to that end? Now I will tell you why.

There's been so much publicity about this building, and so much hate and vitriol aimed at it, that I would be very surprised if the place got built and used without any social friction. This is my polite way of saying, "If you build it, they will bomb." And by they, I don't mean the grieving 9/11 families. I mean the nut cases out there who really believe every Muslim wants to bash buildings and brag about it.

The Muslim people who want to use that building will not be safe. It's as simple as that. Some maniac, inspired more by the Second Amendment than the First, will do a vigilante thing.

So, what exactly is the point of proceeding with this community center at this location, at this time? Reader, you know how I feel about the First Amendment. I'm not arguing their right to open a Mosque near Ground Zero. I'm arguing their reason for doing it. Did Allah tell them they had to buy that building?

So I guess if I was on a show called Countdown with Anne Johnson, I wouldn't spend 11 minutes railing about freedom of religion. I'd spend two minutes counseling a little common sense. Then I would have nine minutes in which to show you how to remove that pesky chocolate smear from your favorite recliner. There's high-minded principle, and there's everyday reality. And in everyday reality, if you're gonna build a place of worship that will serve your people safely, you heed the social tenor before breaking ground.

As our ushers pass the plate, it's time to remind you that Druids don't build any kind of structures for their worship. We're not smarter or better than Muslims. But in today's America I think we run less risk of drawing nutcase ire ... and hence, nutcase fire.

Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Always Loved Badges

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," polytheism for your soul and polyester for your sofa since 2005! We're dedicated to the notion that One is the loneliest number and that newer ain't always better. In fact, let's just trash that whole idea of "better." Two-thirds of what's wrong with this world is that people think their religion is better than the other guy's. How about this? The other guy's religion is different, not better. Vive la difference!

When I was a Girl Scout, I was in this gung-ho troop run by some Alpha Mom who never thought small. In those days we wore sashes, and we earned cloth badges that we would sew on our sashes. It was a point of pride to earn so many badges that you had to sew some of them onto the rear of the sash because they wouldn't all fit on the front. This Alpha Mom pushed us relentlessly, and we earned badges by the barge-load.

Would you believe I still have that sash? My daughter The Heir used it last year on Halloween. Don't ask for details.

I'm really hazy on how I earned all those badges, especially ones for art (can't draw) and international relations (never have been outside the USA). Probably about the only two I really deserved were the reading badge and the camping badge. Honestly, where I grew up, if you walked out on your porch you were practically camping, and since there's not much to do while camping, you read a lot.

All of this by way of saying that I got an email telling me I'd won this award for Best Pagan Blog, 2010. Okay, that's like a Girl Scout badge. I don't know what I did to earn it, I don't know how they found me, I don't know what it was they liked about me ... I don't even know who they are. Maybe it's that Alpha Mom Girl Scout troop leader again! Still out there hunting down badges for her babies. Thanks, Mom!

Anyway, the pretty trophy matches my blog color, and as my three regulars know, I'm very choosy about color schemes on my upholstered furnishings. So what the heck. This badge goes nicely with the background, and I'm told it's stain-resistant (two words I look for in anything I use).

The honor of a pretty new badge brings with it a short mission statement for "The Gods Are Bored," based on the ever-so-slight possibility that someone has wandered in without seeing the trailer.

Here at "The Gods Are Bored" we honor the ability of humans to perceive and connect with Higher Powers. We do not discriminate between the Higher Powers being praised and worshiped today and the Higher Powers that have been lost to the mists of time. Any and all deities are divine, whether they were painted on rock cliffs with ocher 30,000 years ago or pressed onto a t-shirt yesterday. In fact, we here at "The Gods Are Bored" make it a point to seek out the Ancient Ones and give Them a nod, because who is you to say They ain't holy?

Our other mission (please pass the plate) is to enliven this crazy world with a little bit of humor. The first medicine the gods gave us was shrooms .... emmmm .... yeah, well, the second medicine They gave us was laughter! And now there's a law against shrooms, but you can chortle, guffaw, snicker, roar and LOL to your heart's content. We're here to help with that.

Now that "The Gods Are Bored" has won a badge, we ought to have a pledge. The two are inextricably linked in my mind somehow. So here goes:

Place your pointer and middle finger in the air, wide apart. Smile.

"On my honor, I will try, to do my duty, to the bored gods and their countries, to help other people at all times, and to obey ........"

Obey. What should I obey? Stuck here. Let me think......

Got it!

"... and to obey the rules of the road."

We at "The Gods Are Bored" appreciate the award. Our operators are standing by to take your call.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My bloated wage as a government employee

Welcome to "The Gods Are Laughing Their Butts Off!" Hey, we give them plenty of entertainment, don't we? If they don't laugh, they're taking afterlife way too seriously.

I didn't know that President Obama dedicated federal government money and part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to re-hiring laid-off public school teachers. But boy-oh-boy was there a rant against this decision in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

In a shameless waste of ink and newsprint called "Bureaucracy gets a bailout," Jim Powell (senior fellow at the Cato Institute) writes:

"In voting to spend $10 billion to save schoolteachers' jobs last week, Congress bailed out government employees who have fatter paychecks and pensions than those doing the same kind of work in the private sector."

Guilty as charged, Jim ol' boy! I'm a public school teacher, and my bloated salary of $46 and change is higher than those in the regional parochial schools. Some of our local Catholic schools pay as little as $36,000.

So why should I get a better salary than a private school teacher? Okay, fathead Jim Powell, you tell me.

It's not only parents and students who opt out of public education. It's teachers. I went to night school. I know. When Mr. Bigwand wasn't blabbing, I heard the Catholic school teachers bragging about the "better quality" of their students and the "fabulous" parent involvement in their schools. I also heard them complaining bitterly about their salaries and even more bitterly about having to seek state certification for their continued employment at their Catholic schools.

Well, maybe the state of New Jersey could give Catholic school teachers a break on that certification. This does seem unfair to me. However, their lower salaries do not. Private schools can pick and choose their clientele. Public schools can't. We public school teachers fling wide our doors for every child.

Does this sound like the evil doings of a bloated bureaucracy to you? Does this sound like a terrible inequity for the "private sector" in my "industry?"

Jim Powell, please floss before you bite me. I am a public employee. I'm working with kids who have nothing, trying to give them skills so that they can get something. Be something. Take a shot at the American dream. You know the dream I'm talking about, right Jim? It's the one that's easier to reach if you go to a private school.

God forbid we pay public school teachers more than parochial ones! And I really mean God in this case, because it's God who's running those Catholic schools, where they work religion into the curriculum and put crucifixes with poor Jesus above every blackboard.

I make no apologies for my "bloated" government salary and my pension (which will be pennies, since I just started teaching last year and I'm already 50). For my wage, I teach kids who can't afford private school, I teach hard, I care if they learn, I put in long hours, and I love my students one and all. AND ... and here's the biggie, Jim Boy, the BIGG-GIE. I do not teach religion, espouse religion, encourage or discourage religion, or express my personal views on spiritual matters. Right there's where I deserve the higher wages and better pension. I teach English and keep my mouth shut about both Jesus and the Salmon of Wisdom.

I believe that public schools are America's crowning achievement, and I am proud to be employed by one of them. Jim Powell, when you begin collecting Social Security checks, the money to pay for them will be coming from the paychecks of people educated in public schools. Again, I will ask you politely to floss before you bite me. I don't know where your teeth have been.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fightin' Fire with Fire

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored" on a rainy afternoon! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. Today we're gonna talk about flag-burning, specifically the Confederate battle flag better known as the "Stars and Bars."

Depending upon where you went to school, you learned this about the Civil War:

1. It was a war aiming to keep the United States together rather than allowing it to break into two nations. The issue that caused the division was human slavery and a state's right to decide whether or not to allow said slavery. When the North perceived it was winning the war, President Lincoln freed the slaves. The North won the war, and the United States remained united, thus beginning an international superpower state that today is one of the dominant nations in the world.

2. It was a war of aggression foisted upon a peace-loving group of states whose economy was influenced by the gentle use of agreeable domestic servants. Though a vast majority of its soldiers fought not because of slavery but because of states' rights, the cause was in vain. This brave attempt to create a nation was brutally crushed, in some cases by slash-and-burn methods. Nevertheless, almost a century and a half since the end of the conflict, a nationalist pride still burns in the breasts of the people so brutally treated, especially but not exclusively those who can trace ancestry to soldiers who participated in the failed attempt at nationhood.

I'm gonna let you figure out which history lesson you're likely to get in New Jersey, and which you'll get in Mississippi.

However you feel about the good ol' Confederate States of America, you can't deny that its battle flag (which was never the national flag) still has a mighty potency as a symbol. Many of the people who wear it, fly it, display it, or revere it, are racists. A few are nationalists who've never accepted Lee's surrender. There's also another core group of people who use this flag as a symbol not because they're racist, or want the South to rise again, but just to look like badass rebels.

You'll see the Stars and Bars all over the place in West Virginia,  even though that state exists because the people living there in 1860 did not want to secede. Just recently, I saw a teenager in the Eastern Panhandle with the Stars and Bars on the back of his t-shirt. The caption read: "This shouldn't piss you off, but if it does, oh well." The kid knows he's gonna piss people off by wearing that shirt ... and most of the people he'll piss off aren't black people, because there aren't very many black people in that area. This kid is probably racist, but more probably he's rebellious. If he can fight you one-on-one and win, what does it matter why he's fighting? He's a big badass, a tough guy, someone who ought to get laid by pretty girls.

I'm a big fan of Jesus' General, one of the blogosphere's premiere commanders in the War on Morons. JG has begun a Facebook group called "Burn the Confederate Flag Day" and has named September 12, 2010 for the first conflagration. Why 9/12? Because it's a big Tea Party rally day. What better way to expose the racism in the Tea Party than to set the Stars and Bars ablaze at counter protests?

I joined the "Burn the Confederate Flag Day" not because I intend to burn a Confederate flag. (I'll get to that in a minute.) Principally I just want to see the level of vitriol that Jesus' General is going to incur by suggesting such an affront. So far the spectacle has been interesting, to say the least -- and the concept hasn't gone viral yet.

Yes, I am a little afraid that "belonging" to such a group will get me hacked. But I love a good debate.

Here's why I'm occasionally in favor of burning Old Glory but not in favor of burning the Stars and Bars.

Burning Old Glory generally happens when a portion of the populace is disgruntled by the decisions being made by the national government. It is therefore a protest against a national policy.

Burning the Stars and Bars is different. It sends a message of contempt to a certain segment of the population, not to the government. And whenever you heap contempt on certain segments of the population, you reflect badly in the glare of the fire.

And yet the glorious Jesus' General has had to take this step because no one with a reasonable agenda has risen to oppose the Tea Party. Where are the organizers of "Wear a Red Cross If You're Uninsured Day?" How about a nostalgic, "Make Love Not War" protest (considering that the Tea Party's aim is to cut government spending, but they don't ever say a word about the defense budget)? As a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I would personally be thrilled with a "Go Back Home If Your Ancestors Weren't Here in 1776" Day. Quick! Someone tell me how that would affect the population of the USA? If you said there would be a much higher percentage of African Americans, BING! You're right.

We at "The Gods Are Bored" heartily endorse counter-protests on Tea Party Day. It's just the whole Stars and Bars flag-burning thing we don't like. They lost the war like egg-sucking dogs, and they're still waving that flag. Isn't that pathetic enough? They used it to frighten black people, and now our president is black. Isn't that statement enough about the power of that loser flag? Gosh, if you burn it, how will we know which ones are the moron rebel racists?

My solution for Jesus' General? Let's collect the Social Security and Medicare cards of the Tea Partiers and burn those instead! Assuming, of course, that the Tea Partiers aren't going to resort to such effective statements themselves.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Isaac Bonewits

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where we've swapped the great I Am for the great We Are! There's a long line of deities who would love to have your attention -- why direct it to One who is chock a block with followers? Explore, explore!

We at "The Gods Are Bored" add our sorrow to the many who are marking the passing of Isaac Bonewits to the Summerlands. What a wise and interesting man! Isaac was possibly the most visible Druid in America, author of many works on magick and theology, founder and leader of the ... oh gosh, we declared war on acronyms here ... Ar nDraiocht Fein (accents missing), translating to A Druid Fellowship. It's hard to pin numbers on Druid activity in America, but Ar nDraiocht Fein is probably either the largest or second largest group in the United States.

Several years ago, Spare and I went to an Ar nDraiocht Fein gathering in the Jersey Pine Barrens at which Isaac spoke at length about the founding of ADF (okay, I give up) and its organizational goals. He said two things that day that sat in my mind: First, that Druid leaders should be as scrupulous about their theological educations as pastors of other faiths; and second, that doing praise and worship out of doors eliminates not only the costly church buildings that become drains on personal and outreach income, but also "boxes" that shut humanity off from the fabulous world in all its majesty.

We did a Ritual that day in the Pinelands, but Isaac did not preside, nor did Skip Ellison, who was the Archdruid at that time. One of the principal glories of Druidism is that no one in particular "presides." We stand in a circle, the tall and the small. I like that.

From personal experience and from everything I've ever read by and about Isaac, I can only conclude that he was a first-rate champion of the bored gods whose life was dedicated to Them. May Queen Brighid the Bright guide him to the gates of Avalon!

Postscript: Isaac was a freelance writer and speaker whose costly medical treatments were not covered by insurance. If you would like to donate to his memorial, you can go to http://www.neopagan.net and put a little jingle toward his expenses. If everyone who reads "The Gods Are Bored" would do that, Isaac's family might be able to buy a few bottles of mead with which to toast his memory.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News

I'll bet I'm not the only school teacher who tries to catch up on doctors' appointments in the summertime. But I went to one appointment, and it led to tests, and now I need blood work and more tests, and in the meantime I scheduled other routine maintenance, plus I have teacher workshops all week. Any deity who's bored will need to lob some meteors or something, because things aren't looking good here for our daily little chit-chats.

My three readers know I stink at doing links (but take a snobby pride in it). So here's the URL for a cool site that reports "pings" every time there's a meteor passing over an observation site in Texas.


 Considering that this is the Perseids week, you might like the cool white noise, with an occasional "whoosh" of fireball. The Perseids will reach their peak in the wee hours of Friday morning, but any night this week, especially after midnight, you could spot Perseus streaking across the sky.

Perseus has stopped by here a few times -- never for a very long stay. He declares that he's never bored, because in August everyone starts looking for him.

I expect "The Gods Are Bored" will be back in business by Thursday. In the meantime, here's a philosophical question. Would you attend a rally at which someone burned the Confederate battle flag, otherwise known as the "Stars and Bars?" Would you be willing to burn a "Stars and Bars" yourself? If so, why? If not, why not?

(Damn, that does sound like a school teacher, doesn't it?)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Rules of First Lady Leadership

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," pledging allegiance to the flag since 1964 without really knowing why. Seems so medieval to me somehow, pledging to a banner. Like you'd expect Richard the Lionheart to ride off with it affixed to his lance or something.

Ever since there's been a President of the United States, there has also been a First Lady, or at least some female who served tea in the White House. My first memory of a First Lady was Mrs. John F. Kennedy. I loathed the woman because she dressed her daughter Caroline so well. You see, Caroline and I are the same age, and my mother always used to say, "Caroline Kennedy doesn't complain about crinoline slips or Mary Janes." Then Mom would point to the t.v. -- at a very well-dressed and perfect Caroline -- and I would just seethe.

Of all the First Ladies I can remember, the ones I liked best were Hillary Clinton (because I felt like I was getting twice the bang for my taxpayer buck with her in the White House) and (now it's your turn to seethe) Nancy Reagan.

Just because Hillary's been acting like a queen for the past two weeks or so doesn't make her permanently queenly. She's a hard-working, serious person who helped her horny husband run the USA for eight years.

Nancy Reagan was more of a "traditional" First Lady. She had her soft little "Just Say No" agenda, but mostly all she did was stand beside Ronnie and beam. Did you find it embarrassing that she consulted astrologers about Ronnie's schedule? I didn't. Say what you will about Nancy ... go ahead, I mean it ... but she loved Ronald Reagan. How that is possible is not for me to judge, but she did it and did it well.

In today's New York Times, Maureen Dowd (a progressive columnist) took aim at our current First Lady. While her husband celebrated his 49th birthday in Chicago, Michelle jetted off to Spain, where she has been living large with her daughters in tow. The Spanish government closed a public beach so that she could bathe serenely with her kids and her friends. While her husband turned 49 half a world away.

According to Ms. Dowd, this is just a recent chapter. Quote Dowd: "When health care passed after a difficult year and the president celebrated with his staff on the Truman Balcony, the first lady was with her daughters on Broadway to see 'Memphis.'" On the night when her spouse faced the nation to talk about the Gulf oil spill from the Oval Office, Michelle was at a Lakers game in L.A. (and staying at the Beverly Wilshire).

Here's the message we at "The Gods Are Bored" are drawing from the behavior of our current First Lady:

1. She doesn't love her husband enough to celebrate his birthday with him. Okay, maybe President Obama is a very secure man, but my husband would FREAK if I went to Spain with Heir and Spare on his birthday. Even if this trip is all hunky-dory between the two, it can be inferred that there may be a lack of conjugal bliss.

2. I do not like acronyms, so. What the fuck? Lakers games, Broadway ... while the husband is dealing with difficult national issues? Do you really think Hillary would have let Bill take all the credit for that mostly meaningless health care reform without standing at his side to celebrate?

Okay, okay. It's easy for me to sit here and say what I, Anne Johnson, would do if I suddenly woke up and found myself to be First Lady. But I mean this, because I've lived it. When my husband works hard, I try to help him as much as I can. When he celebrates (he gets a lot of awards), I usually go along. And for the love of every fruit fly buzzing around every peach in every orchard in America even as I write this, I would not leave my husband on his birthday to jet about Spain with my daughters and my chums!

Michelle, I hate to say this, but if you can't rest as high in my regard as Nancy Reagan -- and I'm as blue as Lake Michigan in the sunshine -- whatever are the right-wingers saying about you? Stop playing like a First Lady and work like one. What Would Eleanor of Aquitaine Do?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Understanding the Ancient Goddess

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" If you were with us yesterday, you'll recall that an extremely ancient (and therefore presumably bored) Goddess has dropped by for a visit. This Goddess is from so far back in the mists of time that nothing remains of her praise and worship team except one 400,000-year-old Homo sapiens skull found by fossil collectors in Africa. She brings a whole new meaning to "older than dirt," because she is literally older than the dirt as deep as you can dig.

There's an incredible cultural divide between me and this Goddess. She keeps looking at me like I'm a moron. Which, as you know, it's usually me looking at other people as if they're morons. I'm tempted to turn on Fox News and point to it, in hopes She'll find a bigger moron than me to scowl at.  But I don't think that would work. She seems to regard the lot of us as lesser mortals.

There could be something to this. The African Homo sapiens skull from so long ago actually had a bigger brain than the brains we have now. We have devolved.

(Before I proceed, please understand that this Goddess, like so many who come here to "The Gods Are Bored" for interviews, is part of a distinct pantheon, attached to a culture and an era. She's not a universal Goddess, nor has she indicated that she was ever as busy as Yahweh is today.)

The most recent science traces the whole human race back to a single female ancestor who lived 140,000 years ago. This Goddess, so far as I can tell, came from a different, and far more ancient, gene pool.

Let me tell ya, this snobby Goddess is making me think that the best of Homo sapiens is dead and gone.

She has sneered at my house and everything in it. Not surprisingly, she aimed an absolutely withering glare at the television while The Spare was watching iCarly. Her deepest disdain, however, seems to focus on our domestic pets. She hissed at Alpha. Which was enough for me, because no one hisses at my Alpha!

That hiss was the only sound she has made. Considering that my ears ring every time I get close to her, I'm going to postulate that her praise and worship team communicated by reading each other's minds. Whoa, trippy, I know. But I'm not going to argue that evolution always moves in a progressive fashion. They say there's Tyrannosaurus rex DNA in canaries. If you were to put the two creatures on a timeline, which one would you say was oldest?

Well, excuuuuuse me if I happen to be inferior to some bunch of big-brained lugs way, way, way back in the day! I have to work with what I have at my disposal! Tonight I'll put my fiber-optic light-up lawn gnome on the Shrine of the Mists and set it on High Glow. Hopefully that will send Goddess Superior packing. If She's that superior, she must lack the capacity for boredom anyway.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to clean the coop in which I keep the foster kittens, then clean Alpha and Beta's cat box, then go to the store for cat food, and then fix dinner. I won't have a moment to think!

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Difficulties of Communication with an Extremely Ancient Goddess

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," for god's sake! Great to have you on board.

Yesterday I came home from a long teacher conference. I sat out on the back porch for awhile, and then I noticed the hammock. It's hard not to notice the hammock in my back yard, since the hammock nearly fills the whole doggone yard.

It occurred to me that I'd never taken a nap on the hammock, ever. So I laid down in it. My cat Beta promptly joined me.


I didn't fall asleep. Instead, after a few minutes, I heard a small, sweet cough, like someone clearing her throat. Beta hit the ground running. Isn't it funny how cats can sense the supernatural better than people?

I looked, and in the yard sat a bored Goddess. I quickly assembled the Deity Translator software and asked Her if She wanted to do an interview.

Turns out this Goddess was so ancient that Her language caused the Deity Translator to crash. We were thrown back on the oldest form of communication ... gesture.

Somehow this irritated the Goddess. She seemed to be frustrated by our inability to communicate. Finally I got the idea that she was trying to speak with me psychically, but all I got in my head was a buzz that sounded like those annoying horns they used at the World Cup.

(Just FYI, it's impossible draw any conclusions about bored deities from their clothing. They all dress really nice.)

Whenever I'm at a loss for how to entertain a bored deity, I always propose a home tour. Chateau Johnson isn't fabulous in any way, but ancient deities are almost always interested in all the gadgets. I've had a few that just couldn't get over stretchy material. Once a bored god shut Himself in the freezer ... just to see what it was like.

This Goddess was totally different. She wasn't at all interested in any of the technology, the art work, my fabulous upholstery (this is usually a winner), the kitchen appliances, peanut butter, chocolate. No, not even pie. The one thing that she found fascinating was the cats. Currently we have five -- three foster kittens and the permanent residents, Alpha and Beta. The Goddess was not terribly surprised that I could hold the kittens, but when Alpha came purring up asking for supper ... that was a shock. When I picked Alpha up, and Alpha nuzzled me and purred, the Goddess was nearly overwhelmed. The Goddess acted like she'd never seen a domestic cat before.

Okay, I thought. This deity has really traveled through the mists of time to be here. Wow! My shrine works!

Sadly, the Goddess and I quickly came to a stalemate after that. Nothing but the cats brought any shock and awe. Trust me, I've had bored deities who played with my easy-clean windows all afternoon! This one didn't even reach out to touch the glass. She seemed, well, disappointed.

Last month I read in National Geographic that scientists in Africa had found a Homo sapiens skull that was 400,000 years old. The remarkable thing about the skull was that its brain case was larger than our own. I began to wonder if this Goddess could possibly have been praised and worshiped by those big-brained Homo sapiens from the super-distant past.

I still had the magazine. I showed her the picture of the fossil. It rang a bell, I could see it in her expression. So she has to be the most ancient Goddess ever to visit "The Gods Are Bored."

She is still here, sitting in the ivy next to the shrine. I'm wishing I could be more psychic, because the Deity Translator software has never let me down before. (Oh well, I can't say never, but always in the past it's been user error, not a fault of the software.) Anyway, I really want to learn something from this exceptionally ancient deity. And where there's a will, there's a way.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


The surest way to screw something up is to brag about what a good job you've done on it. Wouldn't you agree? Is this Karma or hubris? I'm too tired to look it up.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Chelsea and Me

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Today some stranger sent me an email that said, "You are a nut case." Well, I must admit this never would have occurred to me. Everyone else is a nut case. I'm the sane one. I think.

With a Lughnasadh observance and a little prayer to Faerie Aine in between, I will now continue to explore the pitfalls of lavish and expensive weddings. Frankly I'm superstitious about them. I've seen many that have crashed and burnt, a few more where that day was the highlight of a long and soggy marriage, and a few that have gone awry due to participant intake of alcoholic concoctions.

It's not fair to disrespect big weddings in a vacuum, though. What if I, Anne Johnson, had a largish, expensive, scrupulously-planned nuptial? Then I would be a hypocrite.

I'm not a hypocrite. Let me, in a nutshell, describe the Johnson marriage ceremony.

Mr. Johnson and I had been living together, on and off, for about four years before we tied the knot. I therefore felt it bad form to plan and execute a lavish wedding. I know, I know. How 20th century of me! Besides, my dad was a school teacher in Appalachia, earning something like $35,000 a year at the time. I had paid my way through college, and I wanted to keep the independent streak going.

Quick Facts about Anne's Wedding

1. Contacted minister on Tuesday, scheduled wedding for Thursday ... but only after minister cleared it with Anne's notoriously temperamental mom.

2. Went through wardrobe, found white skirt and top. No white shoes. Wore brown ones.

3. Applied for marriage license in home town. Picked it up the next day. Ordered a corsage from a local flower shop.

4. Loaned my sister a dress that sort of matched mine.

5. Made a luncheon reservation at hometown's upscale-but-not-at-the-top eatery.

6. A few phone calls, inviting family and arranging carpools.

The Ceremony

1. Held in small chapel of one of the smallest country churches in the county. No video. No professional photos. No music. No sermon. No scripture. No fancy personalized vows. No tears.

2. Fourteen guests, plus pastor makes 15 in attendance.

The Reception

1. Fourteen hosted for lunch at the eatery. No booze. (I let Dad foot the bill for this. It was less than $150 with tip. He was pleased.)

2. About 60 hosted at the home of Mr. Johnson's mother a few days later. She made all the food. We reimbursed her for costs, using money our family members had given us in congratulations cards.

You would think, wouldn't you, that many a trailer park gunshot wedding has more flair than this. True, very true. But this little teeny tiny wedding has stuck for a quarter century.

I'm superstitious about big weddings. If you had one, and it was fun and the beginning of a great life filled with love and happiness, please challenge my superstition. But do me one favor. Wait a few years, until my daughters are married, before you sing the praises of a high-ticket nuptial!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Lughnasadh 2010

Lady Aine of the waters,
My first harvest is brought to the table.
But I have so many more crops to tend,
So many people whose needs are more important than mine.
Queen of Faerie,
Make me laugh.
Be with me now.
Guide me across when my work is done.